Analytical meditation for anxiety reduction and problem solving

Meditating is hard for me.  My monkey-mind jumps over and around what I’ve decided to focus on, climbs into places and spaces that have no bearing on anything  and swings from thought-branches I didn’t even know were there. 
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When I read this article written by Sanjay Gupta, MD and his invitation to meditate with the Dalai Lama I was a bit more reassured.  Here’s the HOW-To part that caught my monkey-mind attention:  (jw)
“This is hard for me,” I said. (Dr Gupta)
“Me, too!” he exclaimed. “After doing daily for 60 years, it is still hard.”
It was at once surprising and reassuring to hear him say this. The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet, also has trouble meditating.”

‘”I think you will like analytical meditation, he told me. Instead of focusing on a chosen object, as in single-point meditation, he suggested I think about a problem I was trying to solve, a topic I may have read about recently or one of the philosophical areas from the earlier sessions.”

“He wanted me to separate the problem or issue from everything else by placing it in a large, clear bubble. With my eyes closed, I thought of something nagging at me — something I couldn’t quite solve. As I placed the physical embodiment of this problem into the bubble, several things started to happen very naturally.”
“The problem was now directly in front of me, floating weightlessly. In my mind, I could rotate it, spin it or flip it upside-down. It was an exercise to develop hyper-focus.
Less intuitively, as the bubble was rising, it was also disentangling itself from any other attachments, such as subjective emotional considerations. I could visualize it, as the problem isolated itself, and came into a clear-eyed view.”
Too often, we allow unrelated emotional factors to blur the elegant and practical solutions right in front of us. It can be dispiriting and frustrating. Through analytical meditation, His Holiness told me, we can use logic and reason to more clearly identify the question at hand, separate it from irrelevant considerations, erase doubt and brightly illuminate the answers. It was simple and sensible. Most important, for me — it worked.”

Meditation for skeptics

“As a neuroscientist, I never expected that a Buddhist monk, even the Dalai Lama, would teach me how to better incorporate deduction and critical thinking to my life — but that is what happened.
It changed me. And I am better for it. I practice analytical meditation every day, usually early in the morning. The first two minutes are still the hardest, as I create my thought bubble and let it float above me. After that, I reach what can best be described as a “flow” state, in which 20 to 30 minutes pass easily.
I am more convinced than ever that even the most ardent skeptics could find success with analytical meditation.”
 

How to reduce fear & anxiety in 30 seconds . . .

Affect labeling—the act of naming one’s emotional state—helps blunt the immediate impact of negative feelings and begin the process of reducing stress.

In a small study* of 30 subjects, researchers conducted a series of brain-imaging experiments in which participants were shown frightening faces and asked to choose a word that described the emotion on display. Labeling the fear-inducing object appeared to:

  • Reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain in which the fight or flight reflex originates
  • Increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with vigilance and symbolic processing.
  • The brain’s perception of the images shifted from objects of fear to subjects of scrutiny.
  • Experientially, the fact that there is a name for what you’re going through means that other people have experienced it as well, which makes an overwhelming emotion feel less isolating.

How to “Affect label” 

30 seconds . . . as long as you don’t count the 15 minutes of moving.

*The University of California, Los Angeles. Study led by psychology professor Matthew Lieberman,

https://qz.com/989060/reduce-stress-and-anxiety-with-a-pen-and-this-simple-neuroscience-backed-trick/

Meditation Changes Your Brain for the Better

Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last few years (meditating of course), you’ve been reading the huge number of articles touting the benefits of meditating from stress reduction to better concentration.

Here are two more research areas – supporting what cave dwelling meditators have experienced but not read (cave dwellers don’t get good internet reception)- which found that meditation has very real effects on your brain and can be seen on a brain scans (which are not available in caves).

Cushy Cave by Peggy

Meditation measurably reduces anxiety.

The medial prefrontal cortex is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from our bodily sensation and fear centers in the brain to the prefrontal cortex are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong neuro-chemical reaction creating a “fear response” and you think you are “under attack”.

Meditation weakens this neural connection and consequently we don’t react as strongly to any sensations we might have . The more we meditate the betterwe weaken this connection and simultaneously strengthen the connection between the part of our brains known for reasoning. So when we experience frightening or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.

Meditation improves memory recall

Researcher Catherine Kerr “found that people who practiced mindful meditation were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity more quickly that those who did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain ‘their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.

Want to learn how?  Check out  Joy on Demand, by Chade-Meng Tan, He makes meditation seem fun and easy.

You can also type in “meditation” in our blog post search at the top to find other posts.

http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/how-meditation-rewires-your-brain-for-less-anxiety-and-faster-learning.html

Stress – How to activate your own Placebo

We often don’t realize there are many placebo effects depending on what we think a treatment is going to do for us.  Examples:

  • Fake painkillers cause the release of natural painkillers in the brain called endorphins and work through the same biochemical pathway that an opiod painkiller would work through.
  • A Parkinson’s patient takes a placebo that they think is their Parkinson’s drug, they get a flood of dopamine in the brain, which is exactly what you would see with the real drug.
  • Altitude sickness – someone at altitude takes fake oxygen, there’s a reduction in prostaglandins which actually work to dilate blood vessels that cause many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Placebo is NOT imaginary but creates biological changes in the brain that actually ease our symptoms and are very similar to the biological changes when we take drugs.

Some explanations for the placebo effect 

Stress and anxiety — if we feel that we are in danger or under threat, the brain raises its sensitivity to symptoms like pain. Whereas, if we feel safe and cared for and things are going to get better soon, we relax and are not so alert to symptoms.

Physiological mechanisms like conditioning*.   We can all be conditioned to have physiological responses to a stimulus, even immune responses. For example, take a pill that suppresses your immune system and on another occasion take a similar looking placebo pill, with no active drug, your body will mimic same immune response. Astonishingly, it doesn’t even matter if you know it’s a placebo.

Stress can rewire the brain — and create more stress

Like a muscle, the more you exercise any part the stronger it gets.

Brains are shaped by our thoughts and behaviors. Research shows your brain structure, neurochemical and electrical activity responds to and reflects how you think throughout your life.   For example: If you play a musical instrument, speak a second language, train for athletics for eight hours a day – the parts of your brain responsible for performing those activities gets more active and larger. 

If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day parts of the brain involved in the stress response get larger and other parts of the brain actually deteriorate.  Consequently, the very brain circuits we need to counter stress no longer work as well as they should.  

It’s not as simple as saying, “I’m going to change how I think now. I’m not feeling stressed.”  It takes a long time to change your brain. 

In the middle of your face – your personal placebo “pill” 

When stressed, the brain influences your body AND the body influences your brain.  The stress response speeds up your breathing to pump more oxygen when your brain perceives danger, either real or imaginary.  If you deliberately speed up your breathing when not stressed you’ll start to feel more aroused and on edge.  The opposite is true: Slow your breathing down, forcing your body into a more relaxed state.  Your brain responds with more calming thoughts and feelings.

Condition your own calming response using your breath . . . salivating optional.

* Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist, conditioned dogs so that whenever he gave them food he made a noise, like ring a bell.  Eventually the dogs associated the bell with their food and they would salivate just to the sound of the bell.

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/

A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant, PhD. in genetics and medical microbiology