Science of Meditation

‘The more modern science and the ancient science of mind come together and work together, the more our knowledge will be expanded. Then eventually we can educate humanity on the importance of our inner world, our mind, in order to promote peaceful families, a peaceful society and a peaceful world.’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Meditation and Mindfulness seems to be the buzz word at the moment whether it is in the media, every wellness magazine or at your local yoga class. The number of people practicing meditation is increasing exponentially, and I am no exception. It has not been an easy journey and it has taken me over 5 years to get the hang of it, but I am happy to say I am a regular meditator. In principle meditation is easy; close your eyes breathe and focus on quietening your mind. In reality, it can be really hard to get to that state where your mind is completely relaxed, but it is worth the effort.

There are many benefits associated with meditation and it is well documented in the psychotherapy world, and it is also increasingly being encouraged in the corporate world to promote overall wellness and productivity of employees. I work at a large bank and we have a monthly meditation sessions running across quite a few sites across the UK. For me this is not just an indication of the popularity of meditation, but an indication of the vast benefits of meditation.

Defining Meditation

Origins of meditation is often thought of as arising from ancient Eastern traditions including Buddhist and Hindu practices, but there are also evidence of meditative techniques in the west as far back as 20 BC. The best way to describe meditation is as state of thoughtless awareness. There are varieties of meditation techniques and practices, although some inevitably does involve sitting crossed legged and chatting, others most often involves sitting comfortably and focusing on breathing, and they do all have a common goal; to slow down, and eventually, stop the constant stream of cluttered thoughts and activities of our mind so you are left with pure awareness of the current moment, the NOW. For those who are more spiritually inclined, this is the point where you are often thought to connect with your higher self or the universe.

Neuroscience of Meditation

There have been several studies into the benefits of meditation, as far back as 1950’s and gaining more momentum in the last few decades as branches of science such as positive psychology have been established. There are clear evidence that long term meditation changes the structure of the brain including noticeable thicker cortex in areas processing attention, introspection (observation of one’s mental state) and sensory processing.

A study by Holzel et al., (2011) showed that meditation lead to increased brain tissue in the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory, as well as reduction in the amygdala, region connected with stress and anxiety.

Modern technology such as functional MRI scans have shown that meditative states have impact on our brain waves including reduction of beta waves (thinking state) which means that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would, therefore becoming more relaxed mentally and physically.

Other studies have also shown that people who mediated regularly had stronger activation of the brain that is associated with empathy and therefore leading more compassion.

one beautiful asian woman naked sitting with petal flowers in silhouette studio isolated on white background

 

Wellness and Meditation

The list of benefits arising from continuous practice of mediation is vast and I have picked out a few that stood out for me:

  • Boosts your immune system – studies have even shown that mediation type relaxation can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and help in reducing infections.
  • Increase physical healing – known to help in post-operative healing.
  • Emotional Balance – i.e. Meditation can make you happier by increasing positive emotions and reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Helps to build better relationships – by building compassion and increasing emotional wellbeing.
  • Increases focus by improving attention and increasing memory.

Meditation and Law of Attraction

Meditation can be a really useful tool in the manifestation process of the law of attraction. When you want to attract something in your life that you desire, meditative state is perhaps the best point to connect with the universe at a subconscious level. A lot of ‘new thought’ thinkers point to ‘theta’ waves as the key to the optimal brain state where you can manifest your desires. Theta state is the deep relaxation light sleep stage often used in hypnosis to reach the trance-like state. If you can control this state, then you have heighten ability to focus and concentrate, giving you the ability to re-programme your thinking by visualisation and re-affirming your desires.

Tips for Meditation

  1. Start with choosing the right time and convenient place; perhaps early mornings and somewhere really quite and comfortable
  2. Make sure you are sitting comfortably – spine straight and feet firmly on the ground is sufficient. You don’t have to sit crossed legged if it is not comfortable!
  3. Start with the breath – Breathing deeply slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice
  4. Meditate with Purpose – meditation is an active process and focusing your attention on single point can help; perhaps meditating to be more compassionate or meditating for general wellbeing
  5. Notice your frustrations – don’t simply try and ignore it as it is more likely to become a larger thought; so notice and then let go by focusing on your breath or the sounds around you.
  6. Small steps in the right direction can go a long way – some people click to meditation like ‘duck to water’ but others may take a longer journey to a get to a point where they can confidently say they can meditate. The key is to keep practicing; even if it is just for few minutes a day.
  7. Experiment – try different types of meditation practices; perhaps a read a book on meditation; download a meditation app or attend a local class! Different methods work for different people.

‘Quite the mind, and the soul will speak’ – Ma Jaya Bhagavati

Hardest lesson of all… Patience…

  
I have recently become a hot yoga junkie and over the weekend one of the things my yoga teacher said struck a chord with me. I was in the middle of the Fixed Firm pose ( you sit on your knees, compressing the knee joints) which is often my most difficult pose, one that always find it difficult to practice, let alone master, so at this point I often give up and sit down. At this point, my yoga teacher said ‘ you have built up resistance over 30 years in your knees and it may take couple of years for your knees to let it go, so be patient, if you don’t get it immediately’.  That’s when it stuck me; our minds are the same, we have build up years of habits and certain level of resistance to change, but once we made up our minds to change, we expect results almost immediately. When results don’t know up immediately we get disheartened and give up. 

Nowadays I try to challenge myself  when I am at the point of giving up; when what I desire doesn’t happen, even though I am doing all the positive thinking in the world and using all the tools that I know of, I think to myself,’patience’.

At the very least, next time I do yoga, I am going to give the Fixed Firm pose a real go and be patient with myself if I can’t master it; it will come to me over time. On the same basis, I know I can manifest what I want in my life, but I shouldn’t expect a neat timetable. Somethings show up in my life a lot quickly than others. The things that are slow to show up often means that there in a mental block in my subconscious, it’s just going to take a little bit of time to get around the block! 

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to to keep a good attitude while waiting” – Joyce Meyer 

 

Law of Attraction – Back to Basics

Law of attraction is the notion that we live in an energy based universe and universe works on the basis of ‘like attracts like’ and therefore working of our inner mind or our sub-conscious (energy we project out) has a direct impact on the working of the universe (energy we receive back). So if our thoughts, feelings and general attitudes are positive, i.e. we are sending out positive vibes to the universe, we will attract more positive experiences in our life. This also works vice versa, i.e. you send out negative vibes and you attract more negative experiences.

A universe that responds to our thoughts may sound far-fetched but some of the recent scientific discoveries in quantum physics and cosmology are by far stranger. The double slit experiment in particle physics tells us that at a sub-atomic level, the act of observation makes the particles behave differently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc – DR Quantum’s version of the experiment).  While in cosmology, Cosmologists have theorised that 95% of the universe is made up of dark energy and dark matter which by far has stranger properties that matter, which is the only thing we know a little about (http://hubblesite.org/hubble_discoveries/dark_energy/de-what_is_dark_energy.php).

Although, phenomenon like double slit experiment or dark energy does not necessarily prove the existence of a universe which is influenced by our sub-conscious mind, but it has certainly encouraged me to be more opened minded as there is a lot of things in the universe that we do not understand yet.

With an open mind if we accept that the law of attraction exists, then we must accept that we are creating our own reality. I don’t mean that in a metaphorical ‘motivational-quote’ kind of a way, but in a literal way. If our thoughts are influencing the universe (by default that means the environment around us), then we are creating the circumstances in our life with our thoughts, intentionally or not. Welcome to your own personal Matrix world!

Law of Attraction – Mind Tools

There are many leading thought experts and facilitators out there who devise new tools and techniques to harness this knowledge so that as individuals and as a society we can live a life for the better. Here are some of the techniques used:

  • Creative visualisation – This essentially focuses our minds to create picture of our ideal future and imagine living it at the present moment.
  • Living life though Gratitude – being thankful for what you have and by doing so attracting more situations and circumstances that we will have to be grateful for.
  • Affirmation statements – stating exactly what you want in life but using present tense so your inner mind knows exactly what you want
  • Mirror work – what does a mirror do? It reflects; a bit like the Law Of universe. So mirror work essentially an opportunity to work on yourself and your thoughts in front of a mirror.
  • Practicing Mindfulness – Being aware of our thoughts and feelings (without judgement) is the first step in understanding and controlling our minds. By practicing mindfulness you get to know your thought patterns and so that any negative patterns can be changed.
  • Practicing Meditation – Similar to mindfulness, practicing mediation, we are able to quieten our minds and able to observe our thoughts. Additionally in a meditative state, we are more likely to access our sub-conscious mind and therefore able to influence our thoughts at a deeper level.

Law of Attraction – Resistance is Futile

There are loads of reasons why many people feel that law of attraction tools don’t work; or law of attraction does not work entirely. The problem is that if you think law of attraction doesn’t exist, well then the chances are that all the circumstances that show up in your life will convince you that it doesn’t exist. So to a certain extent, a leap of faith is needed; hence why law of attraction is often thought of as a spiritual practice.

Another pitfall is that your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes must be aligned to what you are trying to attract in your life. For example, you are trying to attract wealth in your life, but in the back of your mind you think money is the root of all evil, so it is very likely you will not succeed, after all you don’t want evil in your life do you?! This is where psychology techniques come into play to have self-awareness; know yourself and know what feels right and what doesn’t.  When you want to attract something that you fully believe in then it will come naturally, it will not be a struggle.

The classic reason why law of attraction doesn’t work for people is fear. We as human being are driven and to some extent protected by fear; it comes to us as naturally as love does. Problem is when you are fearful that you are not going to get what you desire more than the love you feel for your desire then it is likely that the fear will win out. You will not get what your heart desires. Let go of that fear, especially in the manifesting process; believe you will get what you want and believe it with your whole heart and mind.

As a Practitioner of law of attraction for many years (some intentionally and some unintentionally!), knowing the law and applying it are two different things. I still suffer from resistance when I am trying to attract things I want in my life, but it is getting easier to work out what my resistance is. It does take time for you to work out what you really want and sometimes it feels like it takes time for the universe to deliver your want and you know what, that is okay! Time gives you that chance to reflect and really work out what you want.  Sometimes it turns out that something that you wanted for a long time is not something that you actually needed. So that’s where the saying come from; ‘be careful what you wish for’; because your wishes do come true!

Love vs Fear

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.”Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

It took me a long time to accept the fact that there are only two basic emotions, love and fear, and everything else is a variation on those emotions. It seems too simplistic, after all emotions are the most complicated notion for any human mind to get around. However, the more I sit down and think about it and notice my own emotions, every single emotion that I have felt, driver for it would come from a place of love or a place of fear. One of the more negative emotions I tend to feel is boredom, but surely being bored doesn’t necessarily mean I am being fearful?! Actually it properly does. My boredom properly comes from a place of guilt (I should be doing something worthwhile, but I am not) and fear of emptiness and therefore leading to more negative feelings.

Fear is important for us and for our survival, otherwise what is stopping us from jumping over a cliff for the shear thrill of it or know why we need to get out of the way of a speeding car heading towards us?! We humans have a negative set point and this has served us well in the fight for survival, but in pursuit of happiness and health, negative set point can have detrimental effect. Fear based emotions trigger release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which increases the activity of the heart (heart pounding when you are anxious is an example of this) and this helps us to get ready for any danger heading our way. However when we live in a constant state of fear or stress the high levels of cortisol can damage the heart, contribute to obesity, and weaken the immune system therefore adversely affecting our health and consequently our happiness.

Love on the other hand, is not just a fluffy happy emotion; it helps us feel more socially connected and has proven health benefits as time and time again experiments has shown that people who display more positive emotions has numerous health benefits over those who constantly display negative emotions. But more than just health benefits and the general increased happiness, love and positive emotions are fundamental to our spiritual being. Love and compassion is the central theme in many of world religions and philosophies and when we feel connected to a higher being it is often described as a feeling love, rather than a feeling of fear. Even at a basic biological point of view, without love, there is no procreation and there is no us!

Love is also a powerful tool when you are working with the law of attraction as when you are surrounded by the feeling love, you are emitting a strong attractive energy into the universe. So your emotions of love will be matched by the universal energy to bring you more circumstances and opportunities of love.

One of the things that really stood out for me in viewing love from a spiritual point of view, is a scene from the movie Interstellar, (2014 Christopher Nolan Sci-fi movie), the conversation between the main character Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Dr Brand (played by Anne Hathaway):

Dr Brand: That makes me want to follow my heart. Maybe we spend too much time trying to figure all of this out without it

Cooper: You’re a scientist Brand

Dr Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn’t something we invented, it is observable; powerful. It has to mean something… Maybe it means more; something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artefact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I am drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade who is probably dead. Love is something we are capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.

My journey through Science and Spirtuality 

“For those who believe, no words are necessary. For those who do not believe, no words are possible.”

When I initially started writing this blog, I wanted to explore if there is any relatable mainstream scientific basis for the Law of Attraction which is often described as Pseudoscience. My chain of thoughts was drawn to the field of Psychology, particularly field of Positive Psychology, which in my humble opinion, seems to have a lot of synergies with law of attraction. As I do more reading and research and started putting words together to collate my thoughts, I have realised my inner journey has taken me somewhere more than just exploring the merits of a pseudoscience , dare I say it, I have discovered Spirtuality in the process! 

Although I would describe myself as always been a bit Spiritual, I am more aware of a purposeful living in the last few months. More I read with an open mind, more the line between science and spirituality becomes more blurred. The word spirit, which comes from Latin which means “to breathe”, congers up very strong opinions in most people, from views of religious references to views of skepticism, and even images of ghosts in some cases, but for me I prefer to use the word consciousness. Consciousness is perhaps one of the hardest concept to describe, but it is the essence of our being, the “I” in all of us, the inner voice that we can’t put a finger on or dissect. 

In the recent days, I have come across the concept of “I AM” which is often used to discribe the God presence within us, our higher self. When we say “I am” ( I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am content etc) it sends out a stong message to the universe and I am concept becomes your reality. But it’s not just a matter of saying it, but feeling it and using your imagination to feel the state of health or weath or whatever that you desire. 

    Another realisation is that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. More and more there are examples in the field of medical science tackling spiritual ideas like meditiative states and their benefits as well field of quantum physics which throws out an array of questions which science alone would struggle to solve. In deed in the world of quantum particles, reality is stranger than fiction and a great example of this is the double slit experiment which shows that the mere act of observation changes the behaviour of particles at a quantum level. At the very least this shows that universe is not simple or straight forward as one would think. 

    My final thoughts come from a recent book I read by Dr Wayne W Dyer, Wishes Fulfilled, which talks about manifesting your dreams by tapping into your higher self and one of the most interesting concept I came across is the impact of conscious thinking and sub-conscious thinking in relation to manifesting your dreams. It’s generally accepted in the psychology community that subconscious is where real changes need to take place in order to have a permanent change in behaviour and this is also the accepted status quo in the spiritual community, where to make a lasting impact on your life and circumstances, subconscious need to be engaged. Dr Dyer talks about using the last 5 minutes before you go to bed to reaffirm your dreams and using your imagination to feel what it would feel like to obtain that dream as the last 5 minutes of your conscious thinking is likely to impact your sub-conscious processes while you are sleeping. 

    “The future belongs to those you believe in the beauty of their dreams” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    Common Sense vs. Common Practice

    I recently came across the concept of Common Sense vs Common Practice by the brilliant Andy Cope & Andy Whittaker (Be Brilliant Everyday) in the context of pursuit of happiness. Often most of us are clued on enough to know what will make us happy in the long run; eating healthy; exercising regularly; give up smoking; give up drinking excessively; spending money within our budget; spending time with our loved ones etc. This list can go on forever, but essentially most of what we need to do is common sense, but why do many of us struggle to put it into practice?! Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest things to do.

    Even from a law of attraction point of view, we know that we must be in happy place in order to attract more of the things we want and less likely to think and feel all the negative things we don’t want. So question is if lot of things we need to do are essentially common sense, why are they not common practice? It seems for most of us, even for the seasoned self-help junkie like me, knowing is not the same as doing!

    Let’s look at this biologically; our emotional centres in the brain are one of the oldest parts of the brain in evolutionary terms and emotions hard wired within us and therefore thinking differently does not necessarily mean that we will behave differently, especially if those behaviours are emotionally driven. Let’s take exercising as an example. I know I want to exercise more often that I am doing right now which is currently closer to zero times in a week! I know exercising will add to my happiness not just by improving my health, but also will improve my flagging self-esteem especially when I find my clothes are becoming a tad bit tighter than usual. I know exactly what needs to be done, but at the given times when I could exercise, I rather sit and watch TV and go for a run. I know at this point my emotions are driving me; my feeling of inertia is far more powerful than my thoughts around the benefits of exercise.

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    Psychologist may describe this as a ‘cognitive bias’; a term that describes many of the human irrationality in making judgement or decisions. Although most of us will think of ourselves as rational and logical creatures, there is a part of us that are influenced by wide variety of biases, including emotionally driven biases leading to errors in judgement. In the example above, I have a ‘current moment’ bias; i.e. I am choosing to experience pleasure in the current moment, while leaving the pain for later.

    So are we always destined to make irrational choices to the detriment to our long term happiness? Perhaps the only way for common sense to prevail is to make changes to our habits. Habits are things we do often and changes to our habits over time can have a big impact on our happiness.  The key is perhaps making small positive changes starting now and putting those changes into practice more often. So for me in the example above I should start with walking up the stairs or walk to the shops and do this as often as possible rather than embarking on a gruelling exercise regime in my first attempt. Chances are small changes are likely to lead to habit formation than big changes which are often more difficult to maintain in the long run.

    We may struggle to overcome our irrational judgements all of the time, but building positive habits will increase the sense of ‘doing the right thing most of the time’ we can reach a happiness-medium and being in a ‘happiness-medium’ place is a great place to start when you want to use the law of attraction to attract the life you want.

    “Happiness is a habit – cultivate it” – Elbert Hubbard

    CHANGE AHEAD

    Practical Mind Tools: Mindfulness

    The concept of mindfulness has taken off in a big way in recent years from medical psychology field as part of mental wellbeing therapies including mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to the corporate world, where numerous mindfulness based courses are popping up to improve productivity and enhance business success. What is mindfulness and how can it be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to wellness and success?

    For me the elegance of mindfulness is the simplicity of the concept; paying attention to the current moment.  That means switching off from your ‘auto-pilot’ mode and paying attention to your current thoughts, feelings, or the world around you without judgement. Although mindfulness goes in hand in hand with meditation, unlike meditation, the beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced at any time by anyone and without any prior knowledge or skill set.

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    Mindfulness example: Mindful showering

    Next time you take a shower, pay full attention to taking a shower and try and use all your senses to pay attention; feel the water on your skin; sense the temperature of the water; smell the soap or shampoo; hear the water trickle down and watch the lather of the soap. Whatever you do, pay full attention to having the shower. Chances are half way though your mind will start to wonder and think about plans for the rest of the day or the chores that you need to get done still, but try to gently bring it back to the present moment and focus once again on your senses and paying attention to what you are doing.

    Mindfulness is not actually a new concept; along with meditation practices it is rooted in two and half thousand year old eastern traditions. The reason for recent popularity is perhaps due to numerous medical and psychology studies into the practice which has shown benefits for those suffering with mental ailments including stress, anxiety, depression and medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain. By practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, you can improve your stress levels (mindfulness has shown to decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol), improve attention span, memory, mental reliance and much more as it has even proven to change the actual structure of your brain.

    Mindfulness example: Mindful eating

    By far this is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises and this is to eat a chocolate mindfully! Pick your favourite bar of chocolate and aim is to savour it and eat it mindfully as you can. Look very closely at the wrapper in your hand as you open it; smell the chocolate; feel the texture of the chocolate in your hand; feel the texture as it melts; take a small bite and savour it in your mouth; try and taste all the subtle notes of the chocolate from the sweetness to the slight bitterness of the chocolate. The more time you take to eat the chocolate, the better.

    Of course, one of the most popular methods of practicing mindfulness is mindful-meditation and there are loads of good books, websites, blogs,  and even mediation apps that take you through this practice. Some of my favourite are:

    • BOOK: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – by Prof Mark Williams (Author) and Dr Danny Penman (Author)
    • APP: Headspace Meditation App

    Having read about mindfulness and meditation about 10 years or so ago, I have only been getting to grips with mindfulness in the last few years. One of the reasons for my slow uptake is the fact that even though mindfulness is the easiest concept to understand, it is the hardest concept to put in practice, but like anything in life, it becomes easier with practice and the more you practice the better you will become to paying attention to your life. After all practice makes ‘profound changes’! (see previous post!)

    “You learn something every day if you pay attention” Ray LeBlond