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Zen Insights: Exploring the Power Behind Meditation

Zen Insights: Exploring the Power Behind Meditation

We are going to put this in perspective for you.

You breathe so you can function and to be blunt, not die.

You workout or train in a specific way to get stronger and/or “more physically fit” so you aren’t weak and can live a long,healthy life.

You eat food for fuel during your day so you aren’t hungry.

You drink water to hydrate so you aren’t thirsty.

You sleep to recover so you aren’t tired.

So, you should meditate to improve your attention, clarity, and to manage everyday physiological stress, especially as we age. Actually, both clinical research and neurobiologists have observed that many mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, are extremely useful with respect to emotional difficulties, chronic pain, and behavioral disorders. The reason these changes are observed is because meditation can change neuroplasticity over time aka how our brain is wired.

When you are practicing a mindfulness activity such as meditation, it brings you into the present moment. When you are in the present moment you can pay attention and be more aware. Stressing about the future or ruminating about the past can have a negative effect on our brain. 

DID YOU KNOW…..

When you stress about the future or ruminate about the past our bodies release the same stress hormones as if we were literally being chased by a lion on the tundra! 

When this response happens an increase in grey matter develops in the amygdala. The amygdala is known as the “fear center” of our brain. Its primary job is the “fight or flight response”. When there is an increase in grey matter the amygdala becomes overactive, which results in an increase in the fight or flight response. Who wants to stay in high levels of stress all the time? We sure don’t! So, it’s safe to say, we don’t want an increase in the density of the grey matter in the amygdala. How do we counteract that response? Easy! With some daily mindfulness techniques. 

But, what is grey matter specifically? Grey matter serves to process information in the brain. It consists of neuronal cell bodies and unmyelinated axons and can be found in the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. The structures within the grey matter process signals generated in the sensory organs or other areas of the grey matter. The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control and sensory perception, such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. 

In an 8 week study at Mass General Hospital in 2011 lead by research affiliates at Harvard, significant results in the brain were revealed after just an average of 27 minutes of meditation a day. Images of the brain were taken two weeks prior to the study and two weeks following the end of the study. What these images revealed when they were compared was amazing! It showed a decrease in grey matter in the amygdala and increase of grey matter in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is another part of the brain which is known to be important for learning, memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. With that being said, an increase in grey matter here is way more beneficial vs. in the “fear center”, our amygdala.



How to start a meditation practice?

Start by choosing a time.

Choosing a time to meditate is entirely up to you. Many meditators enjoy starting the day with morning meditation since the mind is fresh and less distracted by work and responsibilities. Before bed can also be a great time, especially if you tend to stress or clench your jaw while sleeping. By choosing a specific time you begin to condition your body to habitually commit to the practice every day.

Next, choose the amount of time.

Be realistic. If this is something you have NEVER done before and you have a chaotic schedule. It may make the most sense to do 1-5 minutes to start with. Consistency is key here. You’d rather dedicate a few minutes daily vs 30 mins once or twice a month. 

After you chose the time of day and amount of time then you want to figure out a way to be “mindful”

You can start by focusing on your breath. Inhale for 4 seconds through the nose, pause for 4 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. You can repeat this for the designated time. Another option would be to listen to a guided meditation- there are lots of apps and even free videos available for this. A third option would be to play some calming music in the background and bring your focus to that. There is no perfect answer here. The whole point of meditation is to find what works for you to build awareness, calming, and relaxation. 

How do you know if meditation is working for you?

We use our WHOOP bands and record meditation as an activity. When this happens we tend to see an improvement in sleep, HRV, and recovery. So that is our “hard data''.” However, we find with running our business it increases our productivity day to day because our stress is being managed better so our attention and focus is improving. If your stress is low and your attention is improved you can dedicate time to what matters most.

 

 

Resources

Eight weeks to a better brain – Harvard Gazette

Grey Matter vs White Matter in the Brain (spinalcord.com)

The Benefits of Mindfulness & How to Practice It | WHOOP

What is the amygdala? | Live Science

What is the hippocampus? | Live Science