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3May 22, 2010On Meditation

Posted May 22 2010 12:00am

First of all, I got my blender! Lol I was just being paranoid because it was not stolen–it was chillin’ in the apartment’s leasing office all along! So I got off work a little earlier yesterday and was able to get in before the office closes at 6pm. Annnndddd presto-cadabra! There it is! I went out to dinner with my friend P last night and I was still full when I came home so no smoothie making. This morning was slightly chiller than usual, and didn’t feel the need to cool down more with a cold smoothie so I went with a large, steamin’ bowl of oatmeal instead. Seriously, nothing can go wrong with having a bowl of oats. I even eat them in the middle of summer, when the weather is sweltering hot! ;-)
However, I did make those green smoothies for lunch today! It was almost as if i had forgotten how to make smoothies! I was slower than usual in “assembling” my smoothie materials, and I had added too little liquid initially that my blender was having a hard time to get spinning. But shouldn’t blenders be able to blend everything? In the manual it said it can even blend wet baking ingredients (i.e., pancakes, etc). Hmmm…I guess I’ll try making banana soft-serve tonight.

Sooooo, moving on to the topic of the day: Meditation.

See, so easy! Even a baby knows how!

I am certainly not an expert in the field in meditation. In fact, I’m pretty much an amateur myself. One thing I can tell you, though, is that it is not easy. Your brain is more active than you think. Heck, your brain is not even absolutely at rest when you’re asleep.

Usually, I’d try to meditate to calm myself down at the end of the day. After about 5 minutes my mind will start wandering. And I’d give up. Lol, right, I’m such an inspiration.

But what is an inspiration is this article in the June 2010 issue of Yoga Journal , called “Your Brain on Meditation.”

Excerpt from article: “Science has proven that meditating actually restructures your brain and can train it to concentrate, feel greater, compassion, cope with stress, and more.

Yoga itself is a form of meditation–it is a physical meditation. According to the philosophy of 8-limbs of yoga, doing asanas help relieve any physical stress you have bottled up. In a society where everything and everyone is racing against the clock, yoga helps the body relieve its agitated and tense state. It is often hard to just sit down after a long day at work, or after you got home being stuck in an hour long traffic, and just meditate. At that state, your mind is still buzzing, how can you calm down and focus inward?

When you do yoga, your mind naturally stops churning obsessively and slows down. Your attention starts to turn inward, towards the rhythm of your breath that lends itself to a peaceful state.

A full-on, sit down, quiet, and unmoving meditation, however, is quite a challenge. According to the article, thousands of years ago, the sage Patanjali, who compiled the Yoga Sutra, and the Buddha both claimed that meditation could eliminated suffering caused by untamed mind. Through the practice of meditation, one can actually cultivate “focused attention, compassion, and joy.”

Hmm..a pretty bold statement, don’t you think?

Well, today, we actually have scientific proofs to back these up!

In the Department of Neurology at the UCLA School of Medicine, a team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the the brain structures of meditators (5-46 years of experience) and age-matched non-meditators. The meditators had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. Having more gray matter typically means that the area of the brain is more efficient or powerful at processing information.

Scientists posit that meditation is just like any other learning task, like music or math. When you use a region of your brain time after time, connections between neurons are strengthened or even generated. When these tiny changes occur by the thousands, they can result in dramatic and observable changes in brain structure. These structural changes ultimately create a brain that is trained regularly to do better at whatever you asked it to. A musician’s brain could get better at analyzing or creating music, and a mathematician’s brain could get better at solving problems.

Same with meditation. The types of meditation determines what it is that you could get better at, whether it is to concentrate better, reduce stress, or feel more compassionate.

In concentration meditation, the meditator focuses his/her complete attention on one thing, like counting the breath or gazing at an object. This activates the region of the brain that is responsible for controlling attention.

This type of meditation also increases your focus and awareness. For this, researchers set up an experiment in which the participants had to notice two things occuring in rapid succession, less than a second apart. When the scientists tracked the patterns of electrical activity in the brain (or EEG recordings), they observed the brains of meditators spent less mental energy noticing the first target, freeing up mental space for noticing the second passing object. In a sense, it was easier for them to pay attention than the average non-meditators.

Mindfulness meditation teaches the individual to be aware of the present moment, including sounds, his/her breathing, thoughts, and feelings. The goal is to take note of all these observations without passing judgment. This type of meditation has been shown to help people with anxiety disorders–people who are opt for negative thoughts. The participants in this study was given an 8-week training course that included mindfulness meditation, walking meditation, gentle yoga, and relaxation with body awareness.

I especially like the strategy given for this type of meditation. First, you imagine yourself as a mountain. While some thoughts/feelings may be stormy and unstable with winds, lightings, and thunders, others may be like fog, with dark, ominous clouds.

When you inhale, imagine yourself being the tall, grand mountain that is unweathered and unmoved by the storms and fogs. When you exhale, you think “stable,” and imagine  the storm clearing up. If a negative thought arises during your meditation, let it go, as if it is just another storm. The key here is to notice the ever-changing process of thinking, rather than focusing on the content. If you take note of your emotions during your meditation, you’ll find that all bad comes with a good.

Lastly, lovingkindness meditation teaches you to be more compassionate. True, different people have different emotional ranges. Some of your friends may remain stone-faced through the entire screening of The Green Mile or The Notebook, and others may shed tears even when watching Disney animated films. However, researchers believe that our emotional state of compassion can be cultivated through lovingkindness meditation.

When comparing brain scans of meditators with experience in compassion meditation and those who were not, the researchers found the first showed greater responses to emotional sounds, like baby cooing or woman screaming. The more experienced compassion meditators exhibited a larger brain response in the regions responsible for processing physical sensations and emotional responding. The researchers also found an increase in heart rate that corresponded to the brain changes.

Like any new task you learn, learning how to meditate requires time and patience, but the results are rewarding. It enhances the well-being, helping you concentrate better at whatever you do, reduce your stress, and allow you to feel more compassionate and loving. Not only will you be more efficient at work (perhaps you’ll get a raise or promotion), you will also free yourself of those unnecessary burdens on your shoulders. And since you are now generally a happier person, emotionally stable and caring, more people will be attracted to you, and you’ll find yourself with more friends than ever.

I might have made it sound like meditation is one of those things that you can just get up and accomplish. It isn’t. But with regular practice, just 10 minutes of your day, you may feel an overall change in your mental state and well-being. The practice and teaching of meditation would not have lasted thousands of years if it did not work.

Yoga citta vritti nirodhah
Yoga is the ending of disturbances of the mind. (Yoga Sutra, I.2)

Dhyana heyah tad vrttayah
Meditation removes disturbances of the mind. (Yoga Sutra II.11)

Maitryadisu balani
The cultivation of friendliness creates inner strength. (Yoga Sutra III.24)

Namaste.


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