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

Heart-brain coherence

heart brain coherence

Heart-Brain Coherence

During these unprecedented times many of us are looking for ways to lower our anxiety and find peace.

Learning to navigate our emotions and to understand their effects on the brain is imperative. Many of us are turning toward mind/body practices like meditation and mindfulness to help restore ourselves to a state of balance and the benefits have been well researched.

Emerging research adds another component to mental and emotional wellness.

Numerous studies, including those performed by the HeartMath Institute Research Center, suggest that the heart and positive emotions can have an impact on the brain. These studies on the field of neurocardiology explore how the heart communicates with the brain and how the activity of the heart influences our emotions, intuition, and health.

Neurocardiology Basics:

The field of neurocardiology examines the relationship between the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.

  • The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and the blood vessels.
  • The nervous system consists of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord)
  •  The peripheral nervous system (the nerves outside of the central nervous system).

Functionally, the nervous system is divided into the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.

  • The somatic nervous system is under voluntary control and the autonomic nervous system is involuntary.

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

  • The sympathetic nervous system activates the fight, flight or freeze response.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a relaxed state of rest and digest.

Additionally, neurocardiologists discovered that within the heart there is neural network that can be described as a brain, known as the heart-brain or intrinsic cardiac nervous system. The complexity of this system allows the heart-brain to act independently of the cranial brain and to send messages from the heart to the brain.

Learning to regulate the heart-brain can create a state of integration and balance termed heart-brain coherence. The heart-brain plays a role in memory, decision making, feeling, self-regulation, and intuition.

How does it work?

heart brain coherence

The Autonomic Nervous System sends messages through the body by efferent and afferent pathways.

  • Efferent: Descending from the brain to the peripheral body
  • Afferent: Ascending from a nerve receptor to the brain

It’s commonly known that the efferent pathways of the ANS participate in the regulation of the heart.

However, research has found that the afferent pathways from the heart send more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart.

To put this complex process in simple terms, information is sent from the heart to the brain by the nerve fibers of the vagus nerves also called the 10th cranial nerves. They are the longest cranial nerves and the main cranial nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system. Additionally, 80% of the nerves fibers of the vagus nerves are afferent, so messages from the intrinsic cardiac nervous system travel up to the brain by the afferent pathways of the vagus nerves.

The vagus nerves supply most of the organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities, including the heart, stomach, and lungs, and carry motor impulses to the larynx and pharynx. They innervate the heart’s sinoatrial node (SA node) and play a significant role in heart rate variability (HRV).

Therefore, with science in mind, learning to connect to your heart will help you feel more balanced.

The Practice

Heart-brain coherence:

To enter into heart-brain coherence, you are going to combine a clear intension with uplifting emotions such as gratitude, compassion, love or joy.

  • For example, you may have the clear intension “To manifest healing or abundance or a new job.”
  • At the same time, feel positive, uplifting emotions while you are visualizing your intension.

By focusing and embodying these emotions you will feel your energy shift to a higher level of consciousness, ultimately, raising your vibration.

Here is a link to a new moon meditation based on Heart-Brain Coherence.

For more information on Heart-Brain coherence please go to the HeartMath Institute website.

Energy Centers

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The chakras are wheel-like, spiraling energy centers of the subtle body. The seven major chakras are aligned along the spine. They connect the body and mind to higher awareness and are physically associated with various plexuses of the body and the endocrine system.

chakras, energy centers

Chakra One

  • Muladhara- Root center
  • Color- Red
  • Element- Earth
  • Location- coccygeal/pelvic plexus at the base of the spine, lower back, and the perineum
  • Chakra one relates to self-preservation, survival, grounding, and the action of elimination. It stores the Kundalini.

Chakra Two

  • Svadhisthana- One’s own abode
  • Color- Orange
  • Element- Water
  • Location- hypogastric/sacral plexus of the lower abdomen, genitals, ovaries, testes
  • Chakra two relates to your emotions, self-esteem, sexuality, feelings, and pleasure. It rules fertility, reproduction, and creativity.

Chakra Three

  • Manipura- Lustrous gem city
  • Color- Yellow
  • Element- Fire
  • Location- Navel, abdominal region, the solar plexus, pancreas and adrenals
  • Chakra three relates to your will, ambition, personal power, self-esteem and it rules the action of digestion.

Chakra Four

  • Anahata- Unstruck
  • Color- Green
  • Element- Air
  • Location- Heart, the cardiac plexus, and thymus gland
  • Chakra four is associated with love, gratitude, forgiveness, and your relationship to others and yourself. It rules circulation and respiration.

Chakra Five

  • Vishuddha- Purification
  • Color- Bright blue
  • Element- Ether
  • Location- Throat, pharyngeal plexus, thyroid, and parathyroid.
  • Chakra five relates to your creativity, self-expression, communication, and speech.

Chakra Six

  • Ajna- To know, perceive or command
  • Color- Indigo
  • Element- This chakra is beyond physical elements
  • Location- Center of the head in the space between the brows and the pineal gland
  • Chakra six relates to perception, intuition, and imagination.

Chakra Seven

  • Sahasrara- Thousand Petaled Lotus
  • Color- Violet
  • Element- This chakra is beyond physical elements
  • Location- The cerebral cortex, crown of the head, and pituitary gland.
  • Chakra seven deepens our connection to our higher self and higher frequencies of consciousness.

Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

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Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

The practice of yoga and meditation has many benefits. In simple terms, yoga practice aims to elevate the body, mind, and spirit. It’s an inte­grative practice that is rooted in physical health, mental clarity, unconditional love, and happiness. Yoga practice can be further understood as a form of somatic healing that can help alleviate trauma that is stored in the body and mind. These practices help create a feeling of liberation and expanded awareness in the individual.

Physically, the postures can help you increase flexibility, increase lean body mass, and become stronger. On a mental and emotional level, the practices of deep breathing and meditation have a calm­ing effect on the nervous system and improve your well-being.

Yoga Asana Practice

Yoga Asana is the third limb in the eight limb path of Raja Yoga. With respect to the idea of achieving “a steady, comfortable posture,” it’s important to approach asana practice as a way to create a balanced body and mind.

Yoga Asana is a great way to improve overall health and well-being in the body and mind by developing neuromotor skills, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. The key to a safe and therapeutic practice is to design a balanced sequence that does not overload any one area to the exclusion of another.

A holistic approach to asana, integrates the entire body and mind, so that all systems of the body work in harmony. As you practice asana, bring your awareness to all aspects of your movement, the alignment of your body, and your breathing. Practicing with mindful awareness and a sense of calmness will help you receive the greatest benefits from your asana practice.

Remember, every human body is unique and beautiful, so the postures will look different depending on one’s physical capacity, body proportions, and the anatomical structure of the joints. Approach your asana practice with the understanding that asana is a therapeutic practice informed by modern science and designed to balance the body, mind, and overall energy.

Other benefits include:

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  • Increase in muscle tone
  • Weight loss
  • Injury rehabilitation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase in bone density
  • Lower heart rate
  • Lower cortisol levels
  • Improvement in sleep quality
  • Relief from depression and anxiety

Meditation

The purpose of meditation is to decrease mental activity. It is the practice of transitioning from external awareness to an internal, quiet state. 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, but 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 our true self. Numerous studies have measured the physical and psychological benefits of meditation which include the enhancement of neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to form new neural connections.

The Benefits of a Meditation Practice Include:

yoga and meditation
  • Lowered stress, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Increase in serotonin and dopamine
  • Decrease in cortisol and norepinephrine
  • Increased memory, clarity, creativity, compassion, and understanding
  • 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
  • Slows down the atrophy of brain tissue associated with aging and preserves gray matter