Mind Power Issue #6
Issue #6 – Monday, April 11th, 2016
Knowing that something happens (like that meditation causes a host of beneficial changes in the brain) has never been enough for me. I want to know why and how those changes occur.
I’m so fascinated by the why and how of the brain that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life searching for answers to questions like these.
In this issue of Mind Power, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned.
And, for those of you who (like me) are always hungry for more information…I published an article on BeBrainFit.com (an awesome blog about the brain and brain fitness) that talks about 7 other reasons your brain loves meditation.
You can find that article in the “Check It Out” section.
“Yes, Virginia, Meditation Does Create Awareness”
by Bill Harris
Current research shows that meditation does create awareness—which leads to something else quite amazing:
Choice. Awareness creates choice.
Scientists have been interested in meditation for some time now—especially since Harvard’s Herbert Benson wrote The Relaxation Response in 1975, describing changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry during meditation.
Meditation reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system—the source of “fight or flight”—and increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system—the source of Benson’s “relaxation response”.
Meditation has been found to reduce stress (an immune system depressant). This has led to programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to reduce chronic pain, fibromyalgia, coronary artery disease, while enhancing immune function in cancer patients.
But meditation’s biggest benefit is that it increases awareness.
Some research-based examples:
- Meditation creates “a wider, more flexible attention span”, making it “easier to be aware of a situation”, to be objective in emotionally or morally difficult situations, and to achieve “responsive, creative awareness” (a flow state).
- Meditation increases the thickness of gray matter (ie, neurons) in parts of the brain responsible for attention and sensory processing, increasing “the integrity and efficiency” of messages sent between neurons.
- These same changes allow more effective regulation of blood pressure, heart rate, and many cognitive functions including reward anticipation, decision-making, empathy, impulse control, and emotional control.
- Meditation causes an increase in white matter in the brain, facilitating connections between neurons and increasing learning ability and many other intentional abilities.Scans of meditators’ brains show increased blood flow to areas involved in attention, awareness, executive control, calmness, creativity, and compassion.
Still other studies show reductions in anxiety.
A study at Royal Sunderland Hospital in Great Britain involving Centerpointe’s Holosync audio technology (which creates meditative brain waves using combinations of pure sine wave tones) showed significant reductions in pre-operative anxiety compared to typical methods.
Another Holosync study showed a 43.77% reduction in cortisol, the main stress hormone.
Meditation also increases executive control.
Executive control increases the ability to plan complex cognitive behaviors including personality expression, decision making, and social behavior. Executive control also increases positive emotions and life satisfaction.
Again, more awareness = more choice.
Meditators more easily perceive objects directly rather than cognitively (ie, without automatically projecting qualities onto them), leading to an increase in “accuracy, objectivity, and quantity of perception” (how much is noticed).
In meditation studies done with the Dalai Lama, University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson discovered that meditation enhances attention and the body’s ability to heal itself, while decreasing anxiety, depression, fear, and anger.
Your brain’s amazing neuroplasticity…
This increase in awareness is possible because of something previously thought to be impossible: the brain’s ability to change in response to stimulation, movement, experience, or thinking—its natural neuroplasticity.
We now know that any repeated stimulus, movement, experience, or thought causes the brain to…
…assign additional neurons and neural connections to that function.
The brain of a concert violinist has many more neurons and neural connections devoted to the movements, aural abilities, and other aspects of playing the violin.
Similarly, the brain of an experienced meditator devotes more neural “real estate” to expressing awareness underlying the many superior mental, emotional, and spiritual qualities described above.
Psychiatrist and neuroplasticity expert Dr. Normal Doidge of the University of Toronto describes neuroplasticity using this wonderful metaphor:
The young brain is like a ski slope, covered with virgin show. The first skiers can go anywhere, as long as they avoid rocks and trees. Successive runs, though, create distinct tracks, then ruts, making it…
…difficult to take alternate paths down the slope.
Similarly, the young brain has many choices regarding behavior and thought patterns. As more neural connections are assigned to learned ways of thinking and behaving, choice is reduced.
Meditation, by creating new neural connections that increase awareness, reestablishes these choices. The meditator sees where dysfunctional ruts lead, allowing her to “go off the beaten path”, creating new and more functional choices.
Our work at Centerpointe Research Institute suggests that these choices fall into four categories: those regarding how we feel, how we behave, which people and situations we attract or become attracted to, and…
…the meanings we assign to what happens around us.
Meditation does indeed create more awareness, and awareness creates more choice.
Which brings us back to our dilemma: Why—with all these benefits—are most of us unable to stick with a meditation practice? In a future issue I’ll discuss research that led to a startling solution.
Check it Out!
An article I wrote was recently published on the brain blog BeBrainFit…
7 Reasons Why Your Brain LOVES Meditation…
…And why—despite meditation’s brain-changing power—most people still don’t meditate
This is a cool article (I know you’ll find it useful). To read the article, click here.
Here is an exercise to help you relax. This exercise was adapted from Herbert Benson’s book The Relaxation Response.
1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Direct your awareness at the muscles in your feet and relax them. Move your awareness through your body, relaxing your muscles one at a time until your entire body is relaxed.
4. Breathe through your nose (maintain an awareness of your breath). Breath slowly. Each time you exhale say “one” silently to yourself. Do not count your breaths. If you find the word one distracting, use a word (or sound) that has no meaning for you.
5. Breath like this for 10 to 20 minutes. When you finish, sit quietly for another few minutes. Then, open your eyes and continue to sit for another 2-3 minutes.
6. Don’t worry if you feel like you haven’t reached a state of deep relaxation. You will still experience benefits. If you find yourself questioning the depth of your relaxation, return to repeating “one” and breathing.
I suggest you practice this once a day, or whenever you feel anxious, stressed, unhappy, etc.
”It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens.”
~ Pema Chodron
This Really Happened…
“Holosync has been an amazing benefit in my life. It provided me with the gift of awareness. I’m currently meditating with the Flowering Level 1 [the 9th level of the program]– so I am fairly far along in the Holosync program.
I became unemployed in December 2009. Of course, I’m not thrilled with the “no paycheck” aspect, and I am concerned about my financial situation. At the same time, my increased awareness gives me this awesome sense of peace with the current situation. I have this feeling of “rightness” that I am learning a lot through this unemployment phase, and this is where I should be now. This is also where my loved ones and our world needs me to be now.”
~ Ellen D.
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