“The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.
Our task must be to free ourselves; by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein, 1954
Meditation can move us closer to promoting compassion within ourselves and those that we touch.
Through meditation we become more responsible. This responsibility lies in the balance we discover by unlocking the synergy of our mind….. our heart….. and our inner spirit. We propose that through a continued and ongoing dedication to a personal meditation practice, great strides are possible for ourselves, our relationships, our family, and our society. It allows us to subdue the self. It allows us to “just let go”. In doing so, a remarkable thing happens. We do not cease to be. We do not lose control. We do not lose self; instead we liberate it. We find a beautiful place of peace, harmony, and balance. We now frame the self within a much purer form of loving and nurturing energy. We begin to see a clearer picture of the world and our place in it. We learn the art of alchemy in converting passion into compassion. Our decision making process then incorporates a powerful and far reaching wisdom. We are in tune within a rhythm of life, our surroundings, and those we touch.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
A great soul once responded when asked the question, “What is the most important time?”
The response went somewhat as follows, “The most important time is this present moment. It is the only time that we will ever have control of. It is what we do in this present moment that determines the direction of our lives.”
We can use this time wisely and responsibly or we can diminish its value. Remember this; the value of this present moment is colored by our deepest feelings and subsequent thoughts and desires. Any decision in life will have their imprint.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”
Ask yourself these questions:
Who am I?
Where am I going?
How will I get there?
Who am I? Where am I going? How will I get there?
These very important questions take on a very different response when we open our heart to discover its secrets. Through the act of quieting the mind, we allow the content resting deep within the heart to awaken. When we contemplate our awareness and again ask these same questions after cultivating the heart, our responses are altered and given a much deeper meaning and significance.
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
A “loving kindness” meditation
After a long day, including some difficult personal encounters we tend to build stress within our bodies and our mind. Our mind keeps going over the situations reviewing the negative pictures and the emotions attached.
Take the time to brew yourself a cup of tea, preferably green or herbal, sit down in a comfortable and quiet setting, alone by yourself.
Sip your tea and inhale, filling the lungs while lowering the diaphragm with breath, enjoying the beverage. Review the day, the good and the bad. Continue enjoying the tea and the review. After a few minutes…..close the eyelids…..
Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “listen” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.
Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “observe” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.
Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “value” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.
Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the exhale…..say the word “embrace” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.
Inhale, filling the lungs lowering the diaphragm…..on the inhale…..say the word “I”….. then say the word “love” quietly on the exhale letting it last as long as the exhale itself.
Repeat the above, quietly feeling the impression of each word, surrendering to the emotional impact of each word and each breath.
After a few rounds, just say the word, “I” on the inhale and “love” on the exhale, surrendering to the ebb and flow of the breath. Start to let the breath find its own rhythm without any personal effort. Allow the breath to breathe you. Surrender to its mastery of the moment itself. Now is when the meditation begins. Now is when we listen to the breath…..we listen to the awakened heart. Do not be concerned when you find the mind begin to wander. This is normal. It’s what the mind does. Gently bring the attention of the mind back to the breath, back to the mantra. The mind is like a young excited child. Be loving, kind, and gentle with it. The words on the inhale and the exhale help to still and calm our mind. The relationship between our awareness and our breath is our goal. This relationship unlocks the secrets of our heart. It is only when we subdue the mind can we discover what the heart has to say. It is as if the mind is a like a pond that has stones cast into it relentlessly. It is only when the stones are stopped that the surface of the pond finds its calm. It is then that we can see the beauty hidden beneath its surface. The breath will guide us. The heart beckons us upon our journey. We just need to listen, then observe, then value, and finally surrender and embrace what we find. In this moment we are open to the very magic of the heart. Rediscover, in the solitude of your being, the very private and special tenderness that goes before no other soul. Let this place and this moment embrace you with its wonder. Let the Love and Grace found within your being expand to every cell, every breath, and every moment. Breathe Love – Be Love. Let it last as long as you will.
Upon completion of this meditation, revisit the problems of the day with this affirmation: “I let go….. I listen….. I love….. I forgive….. My heart – My love, extends to all that I meet in loving kindness.”
What do we hear when opening our heart?
…..Listen to the silence.
What do we see when opening our heart?
…..Observe the stillness.
What do we find when opening our heart?
…..Value the fullness of this moment.
What do we do when opening our heart?
…..Embrace this moment with the compassion of loving kindness.
Listen to the silence of a loving heart, observe the stillness of a loving heart, value the fullness of a loving heart, and then, embrace this special moment in time with compassionate courage, generosity, and humility born from loving kindness.
I listen, I observe, I value, I embrace…….I am…….I love…….In thee, I am…….In thee, I love.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
The act of meditation has not the goal of gaining anything. The purpose of meditation is to surrender, to release, to “let go”; to just listen and observe. We then value and embrace what remains.
What do we find when we still our mind?
“Our knowledge of God is perfected by gratitude: we are thankful and rejoice in the experience of the truth that He is love.”
When do you recall ever having taken the time to explore the depths of your own heart?
Will the discovery of the secrets lying dormant within your heart alter the direction of your life’s journey? Have you ever wondered which fork in the road to take? Have you done all the necessary preparation to make the choice valid?
May we extend this invitation to self examination.
We are all given gifts at birth. Discover them for yourself and their ultimate power for personal transformation. Explore how their cultivation can add meaning to your life and the lives of those you touch.
“I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence–we need to listen to God because it is not what we say but what He says to us and through us that matters.”
Have you tried standing on a slackline? It takes just the right amount of micro-movements to keep you from falling over.
If your leg is too high, you may need to balance it with your arm, and each body movement has a corresponding action that keeps you balanced and upright.
Our bodies are kind of like that, too. Our cells are constantly regenerating, and the systems in our body are continually adapting to the surrounding circumstances. Mother Nature wisely designed our bodies to strive for balance at all times and to provide us with all the energy, vitality, and stamina we need.
For example, think of what happens when you go into a sauna. Our natural cooling system (sweating) kicks in to lower the body’s temperature and keep it cool. If it didn’t, we would quickly pass out.
But what happens when our systems get out of whack? What happens when we’ve been putting in too many long at the office or grabbing too many meals on the run?
Well, we get stressed! And over time, this chronic stress wreaks havoc on our health—especially when it comes to our hormones.
Here are six ways meditation can help balance your hormones and keep you feeling and operating at your optimal level:
1. Meditation keeps cortisol and adrenaline in check.
Thousands of years ago, if we were being chased by a saber-toothed tiger, our bodies would release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to give us an extra dose of strength and speed. This fight-or-flight reaction is hard-wired into our bodies so that we can defend ourselves or get away from danger. Once the danger has passed, our levels return to normal.
But today, this same hormonal reaction can be triggered by several different (and less severe) circumstances, such as a car alarm, our boss dropping a last-minute assignment on our desk, or screaming kids in the kitchen.
There may not be any man-eating beasts in the area, but there are countless situations in today’s world that are going to keep you stimulated and dump those stress hormones into your system.
When this happens, adrenaline works to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, while cortisol increases the sugar in your bloodstream, lowers your immune system, and suppresses your digestion. This all stresses your body out and undermines your health.
But when you meditate, you lower cortisol and adrenaline levels in your body and normalize your blood pressure and your heart rate. It’s like the antidote to the stresses of the modern world!
2. Meditation improves your mood with serotonin and oxytocin.
Meditation releases those “feel good” hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin is responsible for maintaining mood balance and is commonly used in many of the antidepressants available. But our bodies actually manufacture this hormone on their own when we meditate.
Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, increases our bonding, romantic attachments, and levels of empathy. Therefore, meditation allows you to feel more love and relate better to the people in your life!
3. Meditation increases your melatonin levels, helping you sleep better.
Melatonin is a hormone that controls your sleep and wake cycles, and your body has its own internal clock that controls how much is produced.
When we are stressed out, our melatonin levels decrease. This is why it’s harder to sleep when we’re stressed out. Fortunately, we can increase our melatonin production with meditation and get that badly needed shut-eye.
4. Meditation improves focus and concentration by increasing dopamine.
Dopamine is a hormone that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It acts like an information filter that can help our brains get ready for peak performance. Dopamine also improves our memory, our attention, and our ability to solve problems—all pretty important stuff!
If you want to improve this area of your life, you can help your body increase its dopamine levels by meditating regularly.
5. Meditation keeps you young by increasing DHEA and insulinlike growth factor.
Whoa, that’s a mouthful! Simply put, these hormones play an important role in stress and aging, and—you guessed it—when we get stressed out, they decrease.
Not only can these hormones help reduce inflammation and restore the body, but they also help reduce cellular aging. When we meditate, we release hormones that help us counter the effects of stress and help you reduce your risk of early mortality.
6. Meditation balances your sex hormones.
Ever notice how your libido becomes nonexistent when you are stressed out? The last thing on your mind is an intimate evening for two. That’s because your body thinks it’s in danger (remember that saber-toothed tiger?) and has shifted from procreation to survival mode. It revs up the cortisol and changes your sex hormone production. Meditation lowers your cortisol levels and gets you back in the mood!
No stranger to stress, Lynne fell in love with meditation after a series of life’s crippling blows. Meditation became her life support and eventually her way of life. Feeling an overwhelming urge to offer this haven of peace and contentment to as many people as possible, she became a certified meditation coach and co-founded the OMG. I Can Meditate! app, a user friendly, lifestyle app that offers simple, guided meditations that focus on different aspects of life, whether it be with respect to weight loss, anxiety, relationships and more. For more information on Lynne, please visit www.omgmeditate.com and check out OMG. I Can Meditate! on the app store to learn simple mindfulness and meditation techniques to help you reduce stress and anxiety, sleep better, sharpen your mind and more.
Andrew Koob received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Purdue University in 2005, and has held research positions at Dartmouth College, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Munich, Germany. He’s also the author of The Root of Thought, which explores the purpose and function of glial cells, the most abundant cell type in the brain. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Koob about why glia have been overlooked for centuries, and how new experiments with glial cells shed light on some of the most mysterious aspects of the mind.
LEHRER: Your new book, The Root of Thought, is all about the power of glial cells, which actually make up nearly 90 percent of cells in the brain. What do glial cells do? And why do we have so many inside our head?
KOOB: Originally, scientists didn’t think they did anything. Until the last 20 years, brain scientists believed neurons communicated to each other, represented our thoughts, and that glia were kind of like stucco and mortar holding the house together. They were considered simple insulators for neuron communication. There are a few types of glial cells, but recently scientists have begun to focus on a particular type of glial cell called the ‘astrocyte,’ as they are abundant in the cortex. Interestingly, as you go up the evolutionary ladder, astrocytes in the cortex increase in size and number, with humans having the most astrocytes and also the biggest. Scientists have also discovered that astrocytes communicate to themselves in the cortex and are also capable of sending information to neurons. Finally, astrocytes are also the adult stem cell in the brain and control blood flow to regions of brain activity. Because of all these important properties, and since the cortex is believed responsible for higher thought, scientists have started to realize that astrocytes must contribute to thought.
LEHRER: Why have glia been neglected for so long?
KOOB: To understand this, you have to take a tour of the history of brain science. Glia were mainly a sidebar for 200 years in the struggle over the idea of the neuron. A few highlights were: In the late 18th century, scientists discovered the electrical properties of the neuron in the spine of frogs. Neurons have long tethers that are easy to study called ‘axons’ that extend from the cell body from the brain into the spine and the spine out to the limbs and body. Similarly, neurons in the senses were linked to the neurons in the brain. This is where the notion of neurons as the base of our thoughts took root. In the mid-19th century, glia were just being discovered, and researchers figured the glial cells simply held the neurons together (glia is greek for glue). What I find sort of hilarious is that scientists stumbled upon a very numerous cell in the brain, an organ responsible for our thoughts and personality, but they were so focused on neurons that they concluded the new cell was worthless. In the late 19th century a staining method was developed to look at cells more effectively in the brain. A brilliant researcher from Spain, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, took it upon himself to study the brain from the perspective of neurons. He meticulously mapped out a scheme for how they process information and are connected, which led to “The Neuron Doctrine.” (“The Neuron Doctrine” is a belief that neurons are responsible for our thoughts.) However, Cajal seemed inconvenienced by glial cells. They were very numerous and obviously hanging out all over the cortex. Meanwhile, his brother Pedro, who was also a scientist, developed the theory that glial cells were ‘support cells’ that insulated neuron electrical properties. Cajal decided to back his brother’s theory. And since 1906 when he won the nobel prize, this has been the dogma.
LEHRER: Could you describe some of the early experiments that first led scientists to reconsider the role of glial cells?
KOOB: Glial experiments didn’t get going until the 1960s. All scientists knew about glia was that if you put neurons in petri dish, you had to have glia, or neurons would die. Then, Stephen W. Kuffler at Harvard, for reasons unknown, decided to test Pedro’s accepted theory of insulation. This was around same time that cell counts in the brain revealed glial cells to be nearly 90% of the brain (this is where the neuron based idea that we only use 10% of our brain comes from). Kuffler is notable because he ironically established the Harvard ‘neuro’ biology department while he was performing these groundbreaking glial experiments. Anyway, Kuffler took astrocytes from the leech and mud puppy and added potassium, something that is known to flow out of neurons after they are stimulated. He thought this would confirm Pedro’s theory that glial cells were insulators. What he found instead was that the electrical potential of glial cells responded to potassium. Kuffler and colleagues found that astrocytes exhibited an electrical potential, much like neurons. They also discovered in the frog and the leech that astrocytes were influenced by neuronal ion exchange, a process long held to be the chemical counterpart to thought. Since then many researchers have completed experiments on the communicatory ability of glial cells with neurons, including in the late 80s and early 90s when it was discovered glial cells respond to and release ‘neuro’ transmitters.
LEHRER: Why are calcium waves important?
KOOB: In short, calcium waves are how astrocytes communicate to themselves. Astrocytes have hundreds of ‘endfeet’ spreading out from their body. They look like mini octopi, and they link these endfeet with blood vessels, other astrocytes and neuronal synapses. Calcium is released from internal stores in astrocytes as they are stimulated, then calcium travels through their endfeet to other astrocytes. The term ‘calcium waves’ describes the calcium release and exchange between astrocytes and between astrocytes and neurons. Scientists at Yale, most notably Ann H. Cornell-Bell and Steven Finkbeiner, have shown that calcium waves can spread from the point of stimulation of one astrocyte to all other astrocytes in an area hundreds of times the size of the original astrocyte. Furthermore, calcium waves can also cause neurons to fire. And calcium waves in the cortex are leading scientists to infer that this style of communication may be conducive to the processing of certain thoughts. If that isn’t convincing, it was recently shown that a molecule that stimulates the same receptors as THC can ignite astrocyte calcium release.
LEHRER: You suggest that glia and their calcium waves might play a role in creativity. Could you explain?
KOOB: This idea stems from dreams, sensory deprivation and day dreaming. Without input from our senses through neurons, how is it that we have such vivid thoughts? How is it that when we are deep in thought we seemingly shut off everything in the environment around us? In this theory, neurons are tied to our muscular action and external senses. We know astrocytes monitor neurons for this information. Similarly, they can induce neurons to fire. Therefore, astrocytes modulate neuron behavior. This could mean that calcium waves in astrocytes are our thinking mind. Neuronal activity without astrocyte processing is a simple reflex; anything more complicated might require astrocyte processing. The fact that humans have the most abundant and largest astrocytes of any animal and we are capable of creativity and imagination also lends credence to this speculation.
Calcium is also released randomly and without stimulation from astrocytes’ internal stores in small bursts called ‘puffs.’ These random puffs can lead to waves. It is possible that the seemingly random thoughts during dreams and sensory deprivation experience could be calcium puffs becoming waves in our astrocytes. Basically, it is obvious that astrocytes are involved in brain processing in the cortex, but the main questions are, do our thoughts and imagination stem from astrocytes working together with neurons, or are our thoughts and imagination solely the domain of astrocytes? Maybe the role of neurons is to support astrocytes.
Meditation can sound like a mysterious religious practice. But is this what the Bible means? What is meditation in the Bible? How are we to meditate?
In our fast-paced society, we often find ourselves rushing through our daily routine, rarely stopping to think. Briefly put, meditation is stopping to think!
It is concentrated thinking about a particular subject for a period of time. Life’s demands typically force us to do more than one thing at a time, to multitask. It’s great if you can juggle several thoughts at the same time. But you can’t get the most out of your reasoning power, your creative ability—or your ability to relax—if you never concentrate deeply on just one topic.
Meditating for spiritual purposes requires us to put other thoughts aside for a while and to focus on one important subject.
Meditation in the Bible
Psalm 63 is one example. This song or prayer was written by David before he became king of Judah when he had to “go underground” for a while to avoid being assassinated. It was obviously a highly stressful time in his life. He had been falsely accused of treason. In verse 6 David speaks of meditating during sleepless nights, as he thought deeply about how God always provides for those who search Him out. Those meditations brought back memories of how God rescued David previously, and they cheered him up.
The type of meditation spoken of in the Bible isn’t the repeated chanting of a mystical sound or phrase. There is nothing mysterious about it. It means using your mind in an effective manner to think intensely on a single subject that relates to God.
Meditation enriches prayer and Bible study
Pondering deeply on something that concerns you naturally might stir you to pray about it. Prayer is talking to God. We “listen” to Him through studying His Word. So, prayer and Bible study are the two necessary elements of communicating with God. Meditation enriches both sides of this relational communication with our Heavenly Father.
For example, David wrote in Psalm 64, “Hear my voice, O God, in my meditation; preserve my life from fear of the enemy” (verse 1). David was thinking deeply about the danger he faced, and his meditation inspired him to pray to God about protection—just as we would do in a similar circumstance.
In the famous 119th Psalm, the psalmist wrote of meditating in a different way on a sleepless night: “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (verse 148). When facing some demanding situation, this writer spent time thinking deeply about God’s Word. He could have been looking for direction on how to handle what he was facing, or he might have been simply seeking comfort from whatever the stress of the moment was.
The Bible is a guide for life, for everything and anything that life throws at us. You might be familiar with this verse, which verifies this claim: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The counsel that the Bible has to offer is often in condensed form. To derive the full benefit of its wisdom, a person has to deliberate, to ponder its meaning and the way to apply it personally.
In conjunction with prayer and the help of God’s Spirit, a believer can reinforce godly conduct by picturing himself saying or doing the right thing. That is another way to use meditation.The psalmist committed himself to doing this, so that he would discover everything God’s words had stored within them: “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways” (Psalm 119:15).
Things to think about
It is commonly known that directing your thinking on a specific behavior can change your habits. For example, basketball players who repeatedly picture making a play or a shot successfully can improve their game significantly. Many people wrestle with sinful habits that they need to replace with behavior that is acceptable to God. In conjunction with prayer and the help of God’s Spirit, a believer can reinforce godly conduct by picturing himself saying or doing the right thing. That is another way to use meditation.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Thinking about the meaning, the value and the application of these guideposts for life, as well as picturing yourself putting them into practice, will help you mature spiritually.
Lastly, concentrating your mind on a single spiritual value or a beautiful aspect of creation will help free your mind and body of stress. Genesis 24:63 tells of Isaac, at that time a 40-year-old man with weighty business responsibilities—and courtship—on his mind, going “out to meditate in the field in the evening.” Notice the setting, for it helps to have an environment conducive to meditation. A park, a hiking trail, a garden or a place with a view of the sunrise or sunset might be where you can meditate easily. Or, as mentioned above about David, maybe the quiet of your bed late at night would be a haven for you. Undoubtedly, you will find more than one place that lends itself to meditation if you look for it.
So, what is meditation? Meditation for spiritual reasons is a healthy and necessary practice with many benefits when practiced as taught in the Bible.
“…this dynamic system is the self in each of us.”
— W.J. Freeman (How Brains Make Up Their Minds)
The Basics of Brain Waves
Brain waves are generated by the building blocks of your brain — the individual cells called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other by electrical changes. We can actually see these electrical changes in the form of brain waves as shown in an EEG (electroencephalogram).
Brain waves are measured in cycles per second (Hertz; Hz is the short form). We also talk about the “frequency” of brain wave activity.
The lower the number of Hz, the slower the brain activity or the slower the frequency of the activity.
Researchers in the 1930’s and 40’s identified several different types of brain waves. Traditionally, these fall into 4 types:
– Delta waves (below 4 hz) occur during sleep
– Theta waves (4-7 hz) are associated with sleep, deep relaxation (like hypnotic relaxation), and visualization
– Alpha waves (8-13 hz) occur when we are relaxed and calm
– Beta waves (13-38 hz) occur when we are actively thinking, problem-solving, etc.
Since these original studies, other types of brainwaves have been identified and the traditional 4 have been subdivided.
Some interesting brainwave additions:
– The Sensory motor rhythm (or SMR; around 14 hz) was originally discovered to prevent seizure activity in cats. SMR activity seems to link brain and body functions.
– Gamma brain waves (39-100 hz) are involved in higher mental activity and consolidation of information. An interesting study has shown that advanced Tibetan meditators produce higher levels of gamma than non-meditators both before and during meditation.
Are you wondering what kind of brain waves you produce?
People tend to talk as if they were producing one type of brain wave (e.g., producing “alpha” for meditating).
But these aren’t really “separate” brain waves – the categories are just for convenience.
They help describe the changes we see in brain activity during different kinds of activities.
So we don’t ever produce only “one” brain wave type.
Our overall brain activity is a mix of all the frequencies at the same time, some in greater quantities and strength than others.
The meaning of all this? Balance is the key. We don’t want to regularly produce too much or too little of any brainwave frequency.
How do we achieve that balance?
We need both flexibility and resilience for optimal functioning.
Flexibility generally means being able to shift ideas or activities when we need to or when something is just not working.
Well, it means the same thing when we talk about the brain.
We need to be able to shift our brain activity to match what we are doing. At work, we need to stay focused and attentive and those beta waves are a Good Thing. But when we get home and want to relax, we want to be able to produce less beta and more alpha activity. To get to sleep, we want to be able to slow down even more.
So, we get in trouble when we can’t shift to match the demands of our lives.
We’re also in trouble when we get stuck in a certain pattern. For example, after injury of some kind to the brain (and that could be physical or emotional), the brain tries to stabilize itself and it purposely slows down. (For a parallel, think of yourself learning to drive – you wanted to go r-e-a-l s-l-o-w to feel in control, right?). But if the brain stays that slow, if it gets “stuck” in the slower frequencies, you will have difficulty concentrating and focusing, thinking clearly, etc.
So flexibility is a key goal for efficient brain functioning.
Resilience generally means stability – being able to bounce back from negative events and to “bend with the wind, not break”. Studies show that people who are resilient are healthier and happier than those who are not.
Same thing in the brain. The brain needs to be able to “bounce back” from all the unhealthy things we do to it (drinking, smoking, missing sleep, banging it, etc.) And the resilience we all need to stay healthy and happy starts in the brain.
Resilience is critical for your brain to be and stay effective.
When something goes wrong, likely it is because our brain is lacking either flexibility or resilience.
So — what do we know so far?
We want our brain to be both flexible – able to adjust to whatever we are wanting to do – and resilient – able to go with the flow.
To do this, it needs access to a variety of different brain states.
These states are produced by different patterns and types of brain wave frequencies.
We can see and measure these patterns of activity in the EEG.
EEG biofeedback is a method for increasing both flexibility and resilience of the brain by using the EEG to see our brain waves.
It is important to think about EEG neuro-feedback as training the behavior of brain waves, not trying to promote one type of specific activity over another. For general health and wellness purposes, we need all the brain wave types, but we need our brain to have the flexibility and resilience to be able to balance the brain wave activity as necessary for what we are doing at any one time.
What stops our brain from having this balance all the time?
The big 6:
Medications, including alcohol
These 6 types of problems tend to create a pattern in our brain’s activity that is hard to shift.
In chaos theory, we would call this pattern a “chaotic attractor”. Getting “stuck” in a specific kind of brain behavior is like being caught in an attractor.
Even if you aren’t into chaos theory, you know being “stuck” doesn’t work – it keeps us in a place we likely don’t want to be all the time and makes it harder to dedicate our energies to something else – Flexibility and Resilience. Next, let’s take a closer look at how neuro-feedback can be used to change brain activity. www.brainandliving.com
Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
Meditation can wipe away the day’s stress, bringing with it inner peace. See how you can easily learn to practice meditation whenever you need it most.
If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.
Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.
And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.
Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.
During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health.
And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions.
Meditation and emotional well-being
When you meditate, you may clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.
The emotional benefits of meditation can include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
- Increasing imagination and creativity
- Increasing patience and tolerance
Meditation and illness
Meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress.
While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it’s not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.
With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Sleep problems
- Tension headaches
Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of using meditation if you have any of these conditions or other health problems. In some cases, meditation can worsen symptoms associated with certain mental and physical health conditions.
Meditation isn’t a replacement for traditional medical treatment. But it may be a useful addition to your other treatment.
Types of meditation
Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.
Ways to meditate can include:
Guided meditation. Sometimes called guided imagery or visualization, with this method of meditation you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing.
You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures. You may be led through this process by a guide or teacher.
- Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation, you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment.
In mindfulness meditation, you broaden your conscious awareness. You focus on what you experience during meditation, such as the flow of your breath. You can observe your thoughts and emotions, but let them pass without judgment.
- Qi gong. This practice generally combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance. Qi gong (CHEE-gung) is part of traditional Chinese medicine.
- Tai chi. This is a form of gentle Chinese martial arts. In tai chi (TIE-CHEE), you perform a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
Transcendental Meditation®. Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural technique. In Transcendental Meditation, you silently repeat a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, in a specific way.
This form of meditation may allow your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort.
- Yoga. You perform a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you’re encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment.
Elements of meditation
Different types of meditation may include different features to help you meditate. These may vary depending on whose guidance you follow or who’s teaching a class. Some of the most common features in meditation include:
Focused attention. Focusing your attention is generally one of the most important elements of meditation.
Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the many distractions that cause stress and worry. You can focus your attention on such things as a specific object, an image, a mantra, or even your breathing.
- Relaxed breathing. This technique involves deep, even-paced breathing using the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing so that you breathe more efficiently.
A quiet setting. If you’re a beginner, practicing meditation may be easier if you’re in a quiet spot with few distractions, including no television, radios or cellphones.
As you get more skilled at meditation, you may be able to do it anywhere, especially in high-stress situations where you benefit the most from meditation, such as a traffic jam, a stressful work meeting or a long line at the grocery store.
- A comfortable position. You can practice meditation whether you’re sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions or activities. Just try to be comfortable so that you can get the most out of your meditation. Aim to keep good posture during meditation.
- Open attitude. Let thoughts pass through your mind without judgment.
Everyday ways to practice meditation
Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you can also practice meditation easily on your own.
And you can make meditation as formal or informal as you like, however it suits your lifestyle and situation. Some people build meditation into their daily routine. For example, they may start and end each day with an hour of meditation. But all you really need is a few minutes of quality time for meditation.
Here are some ways you can practice meditation on your own, whenever you choose:
Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function.
Focus all your attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation.
Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
- Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the om mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking, such as in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the mall.
When you use this method, slow down your walking pace so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as “lifting,” “moving” and “placing” as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions.
You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about possible resources.
Read and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning.
You can also listen to sacred music, spoken words, or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.
- Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred image or being, weaving feelings of love, compassion and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the image.
Building your meditation skills
Don’t judge your meditation skills, which may only increase your stress. Meditation takes practice.
Keep in mind, for instance, that it’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.
Experiment, and you’ll likely find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy doing. Adapt meditation to your needs at the moment. Remember, there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate. What matters is that meditation helps you reduce your stress and feel better overall.
Editor’s note: By now we’re all familiar with the many benefits of a regular meditation practice, but do we really know how exactly it’s affecting our brain power? Psychologist and meditation expert Dr. Paula Watkins breaks it down for us with plenty of scientific research to back it up.
Here are five ways that meditation changes the brain, and how those changes lead to tangible benefits for you.
1. Meditation keeps your hippocampus healthy to enhance learning and memory.
The hippocapmus is a small region of the brain buried deep within the subcortex. It plays important roles in learning, emotion regulation and specifically helps with the consolidation of information, from the short-term to long-term memory.
In 2011, researchers at Harvard were among the first to demonstrate that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training caused significant increase in the thickness of the hippocampus.
2. Meditation tells your amygdala to chill out and helps to lower stress levels.
The same team of Harvard researchers also found that mindfulness meditation decreases brain cell volume in the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
These changes matched with the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, demonstrating how changes in the brain correlate with subjective perception and feelings as well.
3. Meditation builds a faster, fatter and fitter frontal cortex, helping to improve focus, concentration and attention.
Since focusing our attention on an object (ex: breath or mantra) is one of the central practices of meditation, it’s no surprise that meditation should help improve our ability to focus and be less susceptible to distractions.
Improved concentration and attention is one of the most well-studied benefits of meditation.
How this happens is actually quite simple. When we focus our mind, we activate the frontal cortex and increase blood flow to this area. If we do this enough times, we start to see that enhanced blood flow activity become more stable. This activity leads to the growth of grey matter (known as cortical thickening) and can be seen in the brains of meditators.
4. Meditation increases gray matter and lengthens telomeres helping to slow the effect of the ageing in the brain.
The human brain starts to decrease in volume and weight as we age, but research has shown that long-term meditators have better preserved brains that non-meditators, as they age. They have more grey matter volume and while older meditators still had some volume loss, it wasn’t as pronounced as the older non-meditators.
Meditation also helps to protect our telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. Telomeres are longest when we’re young and naturally shorten as we age. Shorter telomeres are associated with stress and higher risk for many diseases including cancer, and depend on the telomerase enzyme to enable them to rebuild and repair.
5. Meditation activates the insula, enhancing empathy and compassion.
Empathy is about reading others — it’s defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another. Compassion is something different — it’s about sympathetic concern for the suffering of another or oneself.
In the past 10 years, research has consistently shown that meditation enhances both of these qualities. These benefits are traced to a brain region known as the insula.
The insula is a key player in self-awareness and empathy for emotions. It enables us to be mindful of our own emotional reactions, as well as better read and understand those of others. The more empathic people are, the more the insula lights up when we witness emotions in other.
Meditators show enhanced activity in the insula and greater cortical thickness in this region. More recent studies have also shown that meditation increases compassionate responses to the suffering of others.
So there you have it — why not give meditation a try. The more you commit to a regular practice, the more your brain will reap the benefits. Plus, you’ll be a lot happier and healthier overall, too.
Cover photo courtesy of the author
You may think you are really busy and that if you slowed down or took a pause of any kind you would be less effective and less powerful in life. Actually, the opposite is true—my life before I committed to a daily meditation practice was nowhere near as intuitive as it is now. Intuition is increased by meditation, and thus we take so many more right turns and this ends up saving us tons of time.
And you probably “feel” like you don’t have a lot of time. This may or may not be true, but for the sake of this discussion, I am going to introduce the concept that time is malleable. Time is increased when we increase self-care and enjoyment. Time is decreased when we introduce more stress and fear. Wouldn’t you want more time in a day if you found out you were the creator of time? I have verified through many years of meditation that the more I put meditation first the more time I have. Most importantly, the more joy I have because time that’s not joyful isn’t quite that valuable to me.
Putting your spiritual practice first.
There is a spiritual principle that is of the utmost importance when it comes to the issue of time. This principle is “what I put first in my life informs the rest of my life.” So this means that if you put anything before your spiritual practice, that aspect of your life will become your sun. Orbiting romance and finance are some of the most miserable activities a person can take on.
Mostly because even if we wrangle our most prized desire out of life, we will hardly ever be happy with it for long. Meditation offers joy. So placing it first, even if it’s only two minutes a day as a start, will begin to change the levels of joy that one experiences in all of life’s other paths and actions.
Time is money, right? Wrong.
“Time is money” is an age-old quote. Again, this is yet another example of how we totally need a rewire here for our brain. Time is not money. Money is a side effect of our usefulness in life. A side effect of how much value we bring to the world. Most importantly, it’s a side effect of remembering our own value and feeling into asking for our worth. You can run around all day long, and yeah—you will make some money. But how joyful will you be if you just spent all day running around like a chicken with its head cut off? The aim is to remember that “bliss is money” rather than “time is money,” because this paradigm will shift everything for you, full stop.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Why bother starting when I have only two minutes to meditate?” This two-minute-long commitment is a totem. It is a symbol to the universe that you are shifting your paradigm! It is a small but valiant cry that says, “I am willing.” Willingness can often seem underrated, but it is the key to all of life’s success.
So if you have only two minutes to make your start, I would recommend sitting with a pad and pen and writing over and over again for two minutes, “I now begin to turn my life over to the invisible love inside me and all around me. Please reveal to me all moments when I may turn my attention to you.”
Then you can end with a “thank you” or an “amen.” I know this isn’t a standard sit-and-breathe meditation, but it will be a start that could key open a world you were unaware of before. Try it for at least 90 days. Miracles will occur.