Meditation: Breathe, and De-Stress Your Brain

July 28, 2009 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

Image from Nepal - by nicolatte on Stock.XchngMeditation is a pretty amazing tool for brain health. It’s great for reducing and  reversing the harmful effects of stress on the brain, and it’s even been shown to increase brain size. (How seriously cool is that?)  Meditation is inexpensive, simple, and can be done by anyone, anywhere, without any special props.

So why aren’t more people doing it?

Some people are a wee bit afraid of meditation.

It’s true. And honestly, I don’t  blame them!
Not that meditation itself is scary (because it isn’t) but some of the louder proponents of meditation make  it sound  all exotic and New Agey, as if it’s always part of some foreign religion or cult.

They associate it with out of body experiences, contacting spirit guides, or other sometimes really wacky ideas (one popular group promotes that you can meditate your way to levitation!) – these sorts of things concern those of us who are more mainstream and conventional, and make us question the sanity of the “meditators”.

But that sense of exotic, spiritual “strangeness” doesn’t come from basic meditation techniques, but rather from how  the particular practices are shaped, and the intent behind them.

While the best known meditations are Buddhist (or Buddhist inspired) the core practices are pretty  universal and needn’t have any religious flavor at all.    And even traditional Buddhist meditations aren’t very strange – most of the basic practices are quite practical and ordinary.

Sure, meditation practices can certainly be done with the intent of deepening your spiritual awareness,  strengthening religious convictions, developing compassion and a stronger sense of empathy, but it can also be done simply as a disciplined relaxation method, without a shred of spirituality attached to it.

You might think of it as comparable to  walking as exercise –  if you chose to, you could walk in an exotic location, carrying a stick of  incense and wearing beads and chanting while you go….   or you can just toss on your track suit  and go for a quick jaunt  around your familiar neighborhood.  Either way, you’re walking, and getting the basic benefits of walking… all the rest is just added on.   Meditation need only be as exotic as you decide to make it.

Meditation is simple, but not easy!

Some people start a meditation practice, only to discover it’s a lot harder than they thought, get frustrated, and quit.  Others do it for a day or two, and think “this is TOO easy” and quit… not realizing that it’s usually somewhere around the middle of the week that those ‘simple practice’ becomes excruciatingly difficult, and the real benefits start.

Some supposedly “beginner” meditation routines available on the web are just too difficult  for most actual beginners to sustain (although they may seem deceptively easy enough to run through a few times).  Making it worse, crucial information is generally left out. It takes discipline to keep up even the simplest of meditation routines, and that discipline takes time to develop.  Additionally, they rarely include many of the tips and tricks that can help get you over the rough spots (and trust me, they can be really rough!).

For that reason, it’s best to start with a real live teacher whenever possible, or at least a more complete guide than you’ll  find in so many of the  “quick starts to meditation” articles you’ll find across  the web.    If you expect meditation to be easy, you’ll likely wind up either stressing out over why you’re struggling, or just plain quitting.  If you go in expecting it to challenge you in ways you don’t anticipate, you’re more likely to persevere, and begin to reap some of the benefits.

And what ARE those benefits, again?

When you meditate, your brain shifts both the frequency of the dominant brain waves, and the areas in which the activity is focused — one study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School revealed that the practice reduced activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain where fear and anxiety are processed… and also shifted activity from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex.   In combination, these two effects significantly reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and even depression — all of which are very harmful to the brain.   Other studies have shown that meditation practices increase blood flow in parts of the brain dedicated to learning and memory, and that it may even reverse mild cognitive issues. And disciplined meditators often find they have less of a need for sleep, have more energy, better focus, and faster reflexes.

On Thursday, I’ll be going over what to expect from a meditation practice, some recommended resources, and touching on a few of the different types of meditation that are commonly practiced.

But until then, you can experiment with this very basic technique:  Just be still for a moment, and notice your breath.  Feel your chest rise, and fall.  Notice if you breath in through your mouth or nose….  notice if you breath from your abdomen, or ribcage.  Notice the feel of the air flowing in, and out..  Don’t try and change your breath, just let it be what it is, and spend a moment or two noticing your natural patterns of breathing, … and be aware that your breathing supports your brain function, connects you to your memories, and allows you to just be.

Cool, huh?

Entry filed under: Reduce Stress. Tags: , , , , .

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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