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Chapter 4: "Meditation and Brain Health"
Terms in this set (25)
Meditation is a method of acquiring access to our inner wisdom, achieving clarity, and developing compassion, with the possibility of resolving inner challenges during the process. Wisdom includes being present in the moment, and the way to wisdom is to understand ourselves as human beings.
More on Meditation
Its unique ability to elicit physical ease and mental stability provides a foundation for healing and directly influences one's ability to meet the challenges resulting from illness and chronic disease.When practiced in a disciplined manner, meditation provides many physiological, psychological, and health benefits. Evidence of meditation's health effects has been well documented. The practice offers improvement in the symptoms of various disease conditions in addition to the experience of a deeper spiritual connection
Practicing meditation once or twice a day for 30 minutes can produce measurable metabolic effects that are exactly the opposite of the body's fight or flight response. In their study on the effects of meditation on stress, Mohan, Sharma, and Bijlani (2011) demonstrated that meditation produced a relaxation response in adults who had practiced meditation regularly, as well as in adults who had never practiced meditation.
Meditation acts directly on brain chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, changing the function and physical structure of the brain. During the meditative experience, neurotransmitters and endorphins are released, neurogenesis occurs, oxygen concentrations throughout the body are increased, and blood vessel development is enhanced. All of these improve brain health, especially cognitive function, and reduce the risk of many types of chronic diseases (Horstman, 2012).
Gamma waves are the fastest brain waves and are associated with peak mental concentration, cognition, information processing, attention, and memory.
Changes in Brain
•The prefrontal cortex and the insula thicken. These sections of the brain are associated with complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, moderating social behavior, self-awareness, consciousness, and perception.
•There is an increase in the formation of brain synapses, synaptic networks, and capillary formation. This increases the delivery of glucose and oxygen to the brain.
This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go "offline" allowing the mind's mental "chatter" to cease. With practice, the frontal lobe decreases in exertion, leading to less stress, fatigue, and moodiness.
This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting a person in both time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down. The perception of time can slow or quicken and one's evaluation of space is skewed. For example, the room in which meditation takes place may seem larger or smaller. It is because of meditation's effect on the parietal lobe that many people experience "out of body" or "timeless" sensations during meditation.
The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ gathers and sifts information gained by the five senses. It focuses one's attention by funneling some sensory data deep into the brain while stopping other brain signals altogether. Meditation substantially reduces the flow of incoming information to the thalamus.
This structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. During meditation, the arousal signal is reduced and one is less likely to react irrationally to external catalysts or is less likely to be provoked by trivial issues.
Four Main Categories of Brain Waves
Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta
•Awaking awareness, extroversion, concentration, logical thinking, and active conversation occur in this state.
•A debater, a person delivering a speech, a teacher, or a talk show host would all be in beta wave state when they are engaged in their work.
•Relaxation, non-arousal, meditation, hypnosis, and accelerated learning occur during this state.
•It is often experienced just after awakening and right before sleep.
•Daydreaming, dreaming, creativity, meditation, paranormal phenomena, out-of-body experiences, ESP, and shamanic journeys may occur during this state.
•A person who is driving on a freeway and discovers that he/she can't recall the last five miles of the drive is often in a theta state, induced by the process of freeway driving. Theta states can also occur in the shower or tub or even while shaving or brushing your hair.
•It is a state where tasks become so automatic that you can mentally disengage from them.
•The ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flowing and occurs without censorship or guilt. It is typically a very positive mental state.
•Dreamless, non-REM sleep occurs during this state.
•The body often heals itself and resets it internal "clock" during this phase.
•It is ideal for accelerated learning and stimulating the release of growth hormone.
Most of a person's waking hours are spent in beta wave activity. During meditation, however, this changes, and brain waves transition through various other stages. The most common brain waves that occur during meditation are alpha waves. Alpha waves promote changes in the autonomic nervous system that calm the body and mind. Regular contemplative practices, such as meditation, actually reverse the roles of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Usually dominant, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes less dominant. Normally playing a secondary role to the SNS, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) becomes more dominant. As a result, blood pressure, heart rate, and the amount of stress hormones released all decrease. The result is a calm body and a calm mind.
During meditation the brain also produces theta waves. Theta waves help with self-reprogramming and the imprinting of new ideas with mental images and emotions so new concepts or complex skills can be attained.
Types of Meditation
There are many types of meditation that share the goal of achieving inner peace. Meditation techniques can be divided into two main types. One type is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing or on specific thoughts, and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts.The other type may be called nondirective meditation, where the person who is meditating effortlessly focuses on his or her breathing on a meditation sound, but beyond that the mind is allowed to wander as it pleases.
Sometimes also called visualization, this method of meditation uses the formation of mental images of relaxing places, objects, sacred symbols, or situations. The individual uses as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures, during the meditation as they visualize the places or situations.
Practicing Guided Imagery
Picture a sacred place: The place may be real or imaginary, such as a stream with water flowing over boulders, a mountain landscape, an ocean scene, or the image of a forest. Contemplating this scene transports the individual to a meditative state.
•Focus on an external object: This practice may involve keeping the eyes open and focusing on a single object (such as a candle flame) for a specific period of time.
•Visualize sacred symbols: The meditator visualizes certain symbols and shapes regarded as sacred in his or her culture. For example, Hindus and Buddhists use a mandala, a graphic representation depicting the universe. Sacred symbols can help individuals connect with their deep subconscious awareness and create a meditative state
Nonjudging involves the meditator releasing the need to judge or change the thoughts, sounds, objects, or emotions that occur during meditation. Nonjudging means seeing and accepting things as they are, and simply recognizing judgments.
•Patience involves practicing tolerance and the capacity to wait. Meditators remain in the present moment because they are not thinking about the future or the past. Being patient with their abilities to meditate effectively is also important.
•Beginner's mind expresses the ability to be open, eager, accepting, and have no preconceptions about what occurs during meditation. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, while in the expert's mind there are few.
•Trust involves having faith in the process and being open to the meditation experience, trusting in what is revealed, and trusting in one's intuition, awareness, and experience.
•Non-striving involves the ability to just be, and know that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do at this moment, and nothing to attain. This factor is also called "being in the now."
•Acceptance means letting go of the need to have things manifest in the way one wants them to manifest and, instead, allowing them to unfold in their own time. It also involves acknowledging things as they are "in the present moment."
•Letting go is similar to the concept of non-attachment. In particular, it means letting go of the past and the expectations of the future and having faith in the process of meditation without any attachment to the outcomes.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
•Find a comfortable posture that embodies wakefulness (such as sitting on a cushion or comfortable chair, walking, standing, or lying down).
•Choose a time of day when you are fairly awake. If you are alert, you might want to close your eyes. If you are drowsy or tired, you might want to keep your eyes open.
•Choose a time to meditate during which you will not be interrupted. Turn off all electronic devices.
•Begin by taking two or three deep breaths.
•Let go of thoughts of the past and future, and allow your body and mind to relax.
•Breathe normally during the meditation.
•Do not focus on anything specific but instead be fully aware of, and alert to, what is going on in the present moment.
•If thoughts, sounds, feelings, or physical sensations enter your awareness, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
•Sit quietly for 30 minutes and observe your breath.
Transcendental meditation is a simple, natural technique. In transcendental meditation, a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, is repeated in a specific way. This form of meditation allows the body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and the mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort
Practicing Transcendental Meditation
•Choose a mantra (a sound, syllable, word, or phrase on which to focus).
•Choose a quiet, comfortable place and lie or sit down.
•Close the eyes and relax each part of the body, starting with the feet and working to the top of the head.
•Consciously breathe slower and slower to deepen the state of relaxation.
•Focus and repeat the mantra softly for about a minute. Repeat the mantra more softly each time.
•Focus on feeling a connection to life itself, while repeating the mantra for about 20 minutes. When distracting thoughts appear, allow them to drift away. Return the focus to the mantra.
•Practice this technique 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.
•Improved airflow to the lungs
•Increased energy level
•Decreased catecholamine levels
•Decreased cortisol (a major stress hormone)
•Increased skin resistance (due to decreased anxiety and perspiration)
•Decreased heart and respiration rates
•Decreased blood pressure
•Decreased muscle tension
•Increased alpha waves (due to increased relaxation)
•Decreased pain and pain perception
•Improved mental and emotional health
•Reduced perception of stress
•Reduced anxiety and depression
•Increased degree of self-actualization
•Increased locus of control
•Decreased tendency to worry
•Improved concentration and focus
•Enhanced feelings of happiness
•Increased sense of peace and well-being
•Increased awareness and spiritual calm
•Decreased psychological "rumination"
•Increased ability to regulate behavior
•Increased resilience and adaptability