How Meditation Changes Your Brain

How Meditation Changes Your Brain

There are a lot of reasons why people think meditation doesn’t work. It’s too simple, or I’m not doing it right. How can sitting quietly for ten minutes and trying to focus only on your breath help you get more things done in the day? It doesn’t work on me, or I can’t keep my mind still for that long. I’m just not the kind of person who meditates; that’s for people with a lot of time on their hands. I simply can’t spare the extra time during my day to focus, only on myself. Not surprisingly, these same people may be the ones most likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia because of the imbalance in their lives. Too much of their energy is focused on outward, result-oriented activity; too little attention is paid to the health of their mind. Meditation is like exercise for your brain. It stimulates the region of your brain that enables you to complete complex tasks, while simultaneously developing other regions that govern your ability to empathize with others. By eliminating distractions and training your brain to focus on a single action, breathing, you improve your attention span and deepen your sense of self-awareness. For so long, meditation’s claim that you can improve your life by just sitting in stillness has been easily ignored by skeptics. But recent studies have shown that the change claimed to be possible through meditation can actually be measured scientifically, and the results are astounding. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, has been doing her post-doc research on the measurable effects of meditation on the brain, and her findings indicate that meditation not only reduces stress, but it actually changes your brain chemistry. In her first study, Lazar looked at long term meditators and compared their brains to those of a control group. The comparison showed that those people who had practiced yoga and meditation for many years had an increased amount of grey matter in the auditory and sensory cortex. This might not seem that surprising, considering that practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation is focused on paying attention to your breathing, your surroundings and the present moment – it would seem to follow that the parts of your brain dedicated to experiencing sights and sounds would improve. What was surprising, however, was that the brains of the long-term meditators also had more grey matter in their front cortex, the part of the brain associated with working memory and executive decision-making. Many studies have shown that our cortex shrinks as we age, but remarkably, in this one region of the brain, the long-term meditators had the same amount of grey...

Read More

Take a Deep Breath, Relieve Your Stress

Earlier this year, after I lost my temper and began arguing with my partner, he took a moment of pause and said, “Take a deep breath.” Even in my anger, I knew he wasn’t trying to be patronizing, he simply knew I was irritated and wanted to help me relax. This is his thing; he spends 15 minutes every morning meditating. But I don’t. I suffer from an all-too-common condition. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, whatever the doctors have offered to diagnosis it as, I know it simply as: I can’t quiet my mind. Meditation has always felt like something that just wasn’t for me. You contorted yourself into uncomfortable positions, you had a mantra, you sat still for long periods of time. I couldn’t imagine making that a part of my life. And yet, in the midst of that fight, I decided to try. I took a deep breath. And then another. And then, a space opened up. I realized that you didn’t need to repeat some secret mantra or contort yourself into full lotus. You just needed to breathe. Just inhale, and exhale What works for me and many other beginners is called “coherent breathing”. It is a simple practice of inhaling for a count of six, and then exhaling for a count of six. For those just beginning the practice, it can be helpful to start at a count of three, working up with each new breath. You can be sitting upright or lying down, whatever is most comfortable; there’s no particular posture you need to assume to make it effective. To help narrow your focus on your breathing, you can place one or both hands atop your belly as you breath, feeling your abdomen rise and fall with each breath. When you take a moment to sit down and breathe, you may start worrying about things you have to get done that day, people you have to call, emails you have to respond to. Just come back to the awareness of your breathing. The longer you are able to keep your focus on that and nothing else, the more effective it will be at calming you down and relieving the stress of the day. Focus on your breath and the heavy stuff slips away. It sounds so simple, but there’s a complex biological process at work when you breathe deeply. During times of stress, we tend to breath in rapid, short breaths. Under duress, the oxygen levels in our bloodstream increase, carbon dioxide levels decrease and your blood’s pH comes out of balance. How breathing calms us down “Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic...

Read More

Meditation Improves Relationships

In case you missed it, emotional regulation resulting from mindfulness was discussed in Part 1. However, mindfulness can also be practiced in order to improve relationships; and no matter what gender you identify with, or what kind of job you perform, improving relationships makes life a whole lot better…and easier! “Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that determines how much stress we experience and that is central in modulating our fear responses. For example, people with very active amygdala tend to experience more depression and anxiety.” Study after study indicates that strengthening the trait of being mindful predicts: Increased response flexibility – Instead of responding in the same way to people or events with negativity, flip that emotion into something positive and see how that makes you feel. Decreased reactivity – Thinking about it, before acting on it, can be a good thing! Decreased emotional stress (in response to relationship conflict) – More deep breathing to keep things calm inside and on the outside. Improved ability to enter conflict discussion with less anger and anxiety – Clearly a winning strategy. In other words, decreasing amygdala activity through yoga and meditation can alter how we perceive ourselves in relation to others, but it also helps us deal with real life stresses in practical ways that lead to resolution. Less active amygdala, fewer emotional outbursts and more happy days! Start building your Hot 8 Yoga relationship by becoming BFF’s with yoga and meditation, and experience real improvement and satisfaction in your personal relationships! Monday through Friday, look for the “Invigor8 Meditation” classes beginning October 10th at all studios. See you on the mat! Source Material: http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Benefits_of_Mindfulness.pdf http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/11/mindfulness-emotional-stability-sleep_n_2836954.html...

Read More

Staying Cool When Things (Or Places) Get Heated

MINDFULNESS, a once obscure Buddhist concept, is now a vital component of yoga philosophy and practice. It can be defined simply as, a “moment-by-moment awareness”. In more clinical terms, it’s a state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains still and without judgment or attachment to any point of view. At HOT 8 YOGA, that familiar request by instructors to “stay in the present”, to have non-judgmental, moment-to-moment observations of the mind/body experience during class, is a constructive and comforting reminder. Emotional regulation is one of the specific benefits of mindfulness all HOT 8 YOGA members can enjoy. “When we ruminate, or get caught up in negative feelings, emotion regulation can be very helpful and healthy” [1]. Practicing mindfulness develops your ability to control negative reactions through the application of moment-by-moment awareness. For instance, let’s say you fall out of your vrksasana during class. You don’t get upset and storm out of the studio, humiliated! No way, because you check in with your body, take a breathe, sip water, pick up your foot and when ready, resume the asana, focused, in the present, and open to your outcome. When there’s stress, mindfulness helps with calming down and thinking rationally. The science shows that when mindfulness is practiced, an increase in pre-frontal cortex activity occurs; and in the amygdala, a gateway for depressive moods, such activity decreases [1]. Mindfulness techniques and meditations are also associated with increased activity within the limbic system, thalamus, and anterior cingulate cortex in the brain [1]. A regular mindfulness meditation practice can ensure: • Less rumination and negative thinking, over time • Higher positive self-awareness • Fewer depressive symptoms • Decreased negativity • Better working memory capacity and productivity • Improved attention span and focus when performing tasks INVIGOR8 MEDITATION, a mindfulness meditation class, launches at all HOT 8 YOGA studios weekday mornings beginning October 3. Come experience all the benefits of incorporating meditation into your daily routine! See you on the mat! HEIDI DILL SEP 21, 2016 Sources: [1] http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Benefits_of_Mindfulness.pdf [2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303604/ [3]...

Read More

How to manage stress with meditation

How to manage stress with meditation

Stress. All of us have it. That’s why we created How To Manage Stress With Meditation, with instructor Charlie Knoles. In this course, Charlie helps you identify the sources of stress in your life and develop a new, healthy way to deal with stresses of all kinds. He’ll also offer you a guided meditation to train your mind to react to stress in the most healthy of ways. This course is on sale for $29 but act fast! This special offer lasts until Monday, June 30th at 11:59pm EST. View the Course and Video...

Read More