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

Advertisements

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.

17146Mind

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