What one 7-year-old said to me, as we were practicing meditation.
Meditating 10 – 15 minutes twice a day adds years to your life, heals many ills, and keeps us focused and happy.
Regular meditation is one of our very public ‘secrets’. Ask anyone who does it regularly and they will tell you how much calmer, focused, happier they are. Their moods are just better, they say.
I see a frown. You doubt me? Many people do, and scientists have spent a small fortune trying to find out just what it is that makes us yogis appear so happy. 6 million people in US alone can’t be wrong….
Wandering Yogi has pulled together all the latest research here in this one blog. Grab a green tea, and have a read…
It all starts here…
You’ve seen us, sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, just breathing.
This is step one in meditation. As we slow our breathing, our heart rate and respiration slows, blood pressure drops. And our brain slows down. Our parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘brake’ for the body) becomes engaged. The act of breathing has all these side effects. But wait there’s more….
Some stress can be a good thing. For example, hard physical exercise is stressful, but is good for our heart in short doses. We have this ‘fight or flight’ response when we feel threatened, a part of our brain called the amygdala sets off an alarm bell. Our blood is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure. Up goes the respiration. This is all about getting oxygen to muscles quickly so we can “act fast”. This heightened state once helped us with the physical threat of a sabre-toothed tiger. But it does little to help us with today’s worries, such as when we drop our mobile phone in the toilet and remember we didn’t back up our contacts. However, the effect on our body is still the same as being chased by a tiger.
Constant activation of the fight or flight response (our sympathetic nervous system – the accelerator) is extremely damaging to our body and definitely shortens our lives.
But the constant activation of our ‘brake’ is restorative and healing for the body, brain and heart.
The longer and more regularly we do meditation, the brain starts to reshape itself, shifting away from the primal fight or flight response. Goodbye Stress.
Focus and Discipline
This is about setting goals and accomplishing them. So put away the birch twigs.
The scientists have discovered that mindfulness (maybe meditation as a term appears too new age?) training improves our attention – reducing the white noise in our brain.*
I know I find the act of sitting for 15 – 20 minutes a day and ‘doing nothing’, great for building mental and emotional discipline. It appears so do many others.
*Jha AP, Krompinger J, Baime MJ (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience 7 109–119.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are not the same, but they often occur together. It is common for people with depression to experience anxiety and people with anxiety to become depressed. Symptoms are similar to both, like nervousness, irritability, problems sleeping and concentrating. A US study suggested that one in 10 people will experience a depressive episode at least once in their lifetime.
I know I have been depressed, more than once. And I know that meditation some days was all that kept me going.
Mental health professionals now see anxiety and depression as disruptions to brain health. This perspective means we need to take care of the brain, just like we do other organs in our body. What we eat, how we move, the quality of our sleep, our emotional state impact the functioning of our brain. The University of Minnesota recommends yoga and meditation as a mind-body health therapy. Research also shows that continued meditation (ie, 2 months and longer) helps reduce symptoms and brain effects on those who have major anxiety disorders.**
**Teasdale JD, Segal ZV, Williams JMG et al. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 68 615–623.
**Zabat-Zinn J, Massion AO, Kristeller J et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 149 936– 943.
Heart Attacks, Hypertension – and Hypochondria
The Mindful Report (2010) commissioned by UK Government Health Commission, was all about mindfulness training (there’s that term again), including how to include it as part of hospital and therapy practice. This report analysed professional health studies, and noted ….”regular meditation practices increased blood flow, reduced blood pressure and protect people at risk of developing hypertension. They also commented on its capacity reduce the risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease.
And can you believe this? People who meditate have fewer hospital admissions for heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases. They also visit their doctor half as often compared to people who don’t meditate.
Now for the real reason us yogis meditate. Psychologists and other mental health therapists will tell you that compassion and self-awareness are keys to happiness. Apparently, as humans we are wired to serve others, and when we do, our happiness quotient improves. Being a good parent is one example of this.
A research team from the USA analysed the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation.***
The study concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
Above are before and after pictures of the brain of a person who has moderate to severe depression.
The picture on the right is what their brain looked like after meditation for about 15 minutes a day for 2 months. Picture on the left is the brain before meditation, lots of neuron pathways firing off, some even over worked. I don’t know about you but I would definitely prefer to be living in the right brain.
***Massachusetts General Hospital research on mindfulness and meditation with 20 patients suffering mild to severe anxiety disorders.
And the final word…
The millions of people in the world who meditate will tell you that they are a better person for meditation. The science just confirms what all of us already know. Being the best you can be, live a happier, peaceful life, meditate every day – 20 minutes.