Basics of meditation

Meditation Basics

Today, I’m sharing with information on the benefits of meditation and how it can help you transform your mind and body. Please refer to my videos for guided exercises.

Firstly, meditation is a skill anyone can learn. The key is to practice this skill each day in order to make a positive change. What you’ll notice, with daily practice, is an increase in equanimity, happiness, and an overall greater sense of well-being.

So, let’s begin with the impact meditation has on the nervous system and three regions of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus.

Let’s start with the basics of the Nervous System

  • The nervous system consists of the central nervous system, which isthe brain and the spinal cord,
  • And the peripheral nervous system consisting of the nerves outside of the central nervous system.

Functionally, the nervous system divides into the Somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.

  • The somatic nervous system is under voluntary control: such as movements of the skeleton.
  •  and the autonomic nervous system is involuntary and responsible for the automatic actions of smooth muscles, the cardiac muscle, and processes like blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion

The autonomic nervous system further divides into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

  • The sympathetic nervous system activates the fight, flight or freeze response when we encounter stress.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a balanced, relaxed state of rest.

Now, let’s look at how mindfulness and meditation can help improve three parts of the brain and their functions.

Neuroscience Basics:

Prefrontal Cortex

The PFC is the region of the brain that plays a role in performing high-level executive functions such as focus, emotional regulation, self-regulation, bodily regulation, insight, response flexibility, attainment of goals, decision making, judgment, and intuition.

Additionally, the prefrontal cortex receives information from the network of neurons within the trunk of the body and visceral organs, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, and liver. This information travels to the PFC by the nerve fibers of the vagus nerves, the longest cranial nerves in the body.

You may experience the informationreceived from the visceral organs as a “gut instinct”, an intuitive hit, or an emotion or feeling.

When you are in a state of chronic stress or anxiety, the functioning of the PFC is impaired and your blood pressure and heart rate rise.

Introducing meditation techniques during times of stress can help stabilize your nervous system, increase your ability to concentrate, self-regulate, achieve your goals, and become more empathetic toward others.

 The Amygdala

The amygdala is the region of the brain that processes fear, emotional reactions, memory, and stimulates the sympathetic response “fight, flight, or freeze.” The amygdala stores memories from past events, which may cause you to react habitually when under stress.

Meditation and mindfulness techniques help deactivate the stress response stimulated in the amygdala, so you can think clearly.

The Hippocampus 

The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is associated with learning and memory. When you are experiencing stress, it may affect this part of the brain by inhibiting your ability to remember critical information.

Neurogenesis:

The process of neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) is known to occur in the hippocampus. What’s exciting about this is that you can stimulate new neural networks based on your positive, conscious thoughts.With continuous practice and focus on the present, new information can enter the brain.

If we can understand these functions of the brain and the responses to stress, we can learn to deactivate impulsive behavior and replace it with a relaxed state of awareness. The key is to pay attention when you are in a state of stress and take the time to breathe before you react. Relaxed breathing will help turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, returning the body and mind to a state of balance and homeostasis.

Benefits of meditation.

Numerous studies have measured the physical, somatic, and psychological benefits of meditation and mindfulness. The results of these studies provide compelling evidence that you can elevate your brain to a new level of consciousness and joy.

Some of The Benefits of a Meditation and Mindfulness Practice Include:

  • Reduction in  stress,
  • Reduction in anxiety and depression
  • Reduction in blood pressure
  • Lowered heart rate
  • The enhancement of neurogenesis: the growth of new neurons and neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to form new neural connections
  • Increase in serotonin, oxytocin,  GABA, endorphins, and dopamine
  • Decrease in cortisol and norepinephrine
  • Increased memory, clarity, creativity, compassion, and understanding
  • Self-regulation/Emotional regulation: Increase in positive emotions and a decrease in painful emotions
  • Decrease in inflammation
  • Increase in telomerase: Enzyme that slows the aging process by lengthening telomeres
  • Slowing down the atrophy of brain tissue associated with aging and preserving gray matter
  • In the field of Psychoneuroimmunology: Studies suggest meditation has beneficial effects on the immune system.
basics of meditation

Practice

Let’s take a deeper look at what happens when we practice and how to create positive change. In simple terms, during meditation, neural networks are stimulated and grow, promoting neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. These changes happen due to training your mind to place your awareness, concentration, and attention on the present moment in a relaxed state. Living in the present keeps you open to novel experiences.

Through the process of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, you can create a new way of being. This process will help you let go of undesired ruminative loops, unconscious or automatic behaviors and heal from past trauma, anxiety, or depression.

This principle is known as Hebbian learning and the expression: “neurons that fire together, will wire together.” For example, as you learn to create a continuous state of relaxation and positivity during your meditation practice, you will increase and strengthen neural networks that elevate your mood and lower stress.

In turn, undesired neural networks are taken away by a process known as synaptic pruning. This action demonstrates another aspect of Hebbian learning “neurons that no longer fire together, no longer wire together.

This process will elicit a positive change resulting in an elevated state of consciousness and a greater sense of well-being.

Additionally, meditation offers you an opportunity to deepen your relationship with yourself and others. The practice increases your capacity to attune to others and experience greater love, empathy, and forgiveness.

As I mentioned previously, for change to occur, commit to practice each day. Practice feeling positive emotions flowing throughout your entire being, into every cell, and believe you can renew yourself. You will feel empowered and capable of manifesting the life of your dreams.

How to get Started with a Meditation practice

  • The purpose of meditation is to decrease mental activity. It is the practice of transitioning from external awareness to an internal, quiet state.
  • Slowly, your brain wave frequency will shift from an alert, Beta brain wave frequency to a calm, Alpha brain wave frequency. This process occurs as your place your attention on your inner world.
  • Practicing meditation enables you to start to experience pure consciousness or “the space between two thoughts.”  We are usually unaware of this space due to our constant mental activity. By directing our mind towards stillness and quiet, we can slip into this space.
  • This mental state is an expanded state of unlimited potential and connection to your true self.
  • As you practice, thoughts will naturally come up. When a thought arises, try your best to let it go without attaching to it, judging it, or drifting off.

Here are three simple techniques. They will help you develop your concentration. In yogic terms, we refer to this as Dharana. As you strengthen your ability to concentrate, your meditation will begin to flow. This flowing state is called Dhyana. The deepest level of your practice is the state of Samadhi. Here you are completely absorbed and lose a sense of time and space. In this state, you may experience intuitive or psychic insight.

The first technique is a repetition of a mantra or positive affirmation:

  • A Common Mantra most people are familiar with is “OM”: The mantra “Om” represents the cosmic vibration of the universe.
  • You may also use a short, positive, personal affirmation or prayer. Ideally, keep the affirmation in the present tense. For example, “I radiate health” “I am prosperous.”

Breath:

  • Practice placing your awareness on your breathing

Visualization:

  • Visualize a symbol or image that is meaningful to you
  • Focus on a specific chakra

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