MEDITATION. WHAT IS IT?
That guided meditation practice opened my eyes, and the way I look at my overall health and fitness. I made a decision to explore further into this when I got home. The first thing I did do when I was back in Seattle, was to challenge myself to a 40-day meditation dedication.
The first day I started my 40-day meditation practice, I felt a little silly. I tried to remember all the things I had learned at wanderlust. The proper breath work, emptying my mind, relaxing my body, acknowledging my thoughts, thanking those thoughts and then releasing them. The competitor and perfectionist in me felt the need to be perfect. I felt that I needed a candle, a special meditation pillow and some type of chanting music playing in the background. So, there I sat with my hands in a perfect mudra sporting my newly purchased mala waiting for something magical to happen. A couple peeks at the time and 15 minutes of meditating later, I opened my eyes. I felt good yet, it simply was not the same experience as the guided mediation workshop I took at the wanderlust festival. But I was determined.
After about 20 days of just not trying so hard, that’s when the magic started to happen. I really started to look forward to my morning practice each day and would be completely blissed out when I came out of my meditation. Still to this day, I come out of my practice with a heartfelt smile and an Mmmmm, Mmmmm good feeling. It’s just like having a really good dream, and gently waking up from it. Have you ever had a dream that was so good that you did not want to wake up and when you did wake you tried and tried to go back to sleep to get back to it but couldn’t? The only difference between that and a meditation, is that you do get to go back the next day and recreate it or something even better! I remember the first time I went to that special place that meditators call nirvana. The place where you are no longer a person, in a place or surrounded by things. You are nowhere, no one and in no time all at the same time. It is a feeling of being in a dream state that is more real than our own reality. When I reached nirvana for the first time and it was time to come back, your body always knows, I felt tears in my eyes swell up in my eyes because I did not want to come out of it. I remember pleading to please let me stay just a bit longer. When I finally did open my eyes, I looked at the clock. I had been in a deep state of meditation for over an hour and 30 minutes. I do not have the words to describe the feeling of joy and bliss I had all day.
As my practice has grown and morphed over the years, I find myself aiming to reach that transcendental state in which there is, no sense of self, no time, no place. Just a state of absolute perfect bliss each time I meditate. I don’t always get there but the benefits and joy I get from my meditation practice make it my number one health hack.
What is Meditation exactly?
Before we get into the HOW’S, let’s get into the WHAT’S and WHY’S. First, we will show you a bit about what meditation actually is, then show you the real science behind it. Next, we are going to give you some simple techniques you can use to get you started on your own personal meditation practice.
Keep in mind that anything new is going to feel a bit odd and strange at first, but it won’t take long for it to become a daily practice you truly look forward too. If there is anything you get from this chapter on meditation, I hope that it is that you don’t have to be perfect. We all have an inner teacher within us, and you will find that this is actually pretty easy. You just have to commit.
Meditation, WHAT is it? Meditation is the art of doing nothing. (NO THING). By doing nothing, something greater than ourselves manifests and opens up a door for us to walk through. With meditation, we are able to move beyond our thinking, or analytical monkey mind, into our subconscious mind. Once you have moved into your subconscious mind, this is where the magic happens. What separates our conscious mind from our subconscious mind is called the analytical mind. During your meditation practice, by simply breathing, you will be able calm or hush your analytical mind and move into a state of relaxation and peace. There is nothing special you have to do to get there. Simply breathing and relaxing does the trick. In this relaxed state, your brain will take a break, go on pause, you will not be thinking of the past or the future. You are simply in the moment of breath. All you have to do is close your eyes and focus on your breath. Your body and mind know what to do and how to get there. The challenge is to keep thoughts at bay.
There are many techniques and meditations out there, but they all have one thing in common and that is to find a way to shift attention from everyday life stresses to a calming state of mind. They do this by going inward with thoughts instead of outward. Most all meditations use some kind of breath work to attain this. Our autonomic systems control a lot of functions within our bodies, breathe is one of them and it happens to be the only part of the automatic nervous system that we can consciously control. We don’t think about breathing, but yet on demand, we can change our breathing pattern. When we breathe naturally, it is usually shallow, and we are not aware we are doing it. When you consciously change your breathing pattern, your brain needs to focus all of its attention to do it. It would be as if you were trying to slow down your heartbeat with just your mind. Since your heart is also part of your autonomic nervous system, you would need to focus 100 percent of your attention to this. There would be no room for other thoughts. It takes about 5 to 15 minutes of breath work to transition into our subconscious mind and once this happens, you will be not only recharging your batteries, but healing yourself in ways you may have never thought possible, until now…
THE SCIENCE BEHIND MEDITATION
There are some real physical and chemical changes that occur within the body when you practice mediation on a regular basis. In 2012, a team of neurologists at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation and Neuroimaging published a study that clearly demonstrated the thickening of the corpus callosum in long-term meditators. The corpus callosum is the primary region of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. To prove this, 30 meditators were analyzed carefully with Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) and in combination with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This study clearly showed that meditation bridged the brains hemispheres in long-team meditators. Furthermore in 2015, a team from Harvard, published findings from an experiment in which they took participants and first gave them a baseline MRI. Then they put half of them on a meditation program. The experiment lasted approximately 8 weeks whereby they rescanned their brains with a second MRI and found that after just 2 months, there were remarkable changes to the brain in the ones that meditated. No change occurred in the ones that did not meditate. The amygdala (the fear center) had shrunk considerably on the mediation group. Furthermore, their brain stem also showed expansion. This is where dopamine and serotonin chemicals reside. This is your love and happiness center. This was a remarkable finding! When I first heard about this study my mind was blown away! You mean you can actually upgrade your brain through sitting still for 15 minutes? To think back now, to the first mediation class I took, my perception on meditation was so wrong. It is so much more than just sitting on a pillow with a lit candle and relaxing. You can physically upgrade your brain!
Meditation VS Medication
Looking at our overall health, we are in uncharted territory right now as a race. Disease and obesity are at an all-time high and the numbers are going up, not down. We know that stress is the precursor to almost all disease and is estimated to cost American companies more than $300 billion a year in health costs. In addition, take a look at these other stress related statistics:
- 40% of job turnover is due to stress
- The American Institute of Stress reports 120,000 people die every year as a direct result of work-related stress
- Healthcare costs resulting from work related stress totals an average of $190 billion a year
- Time Magazine reported in a recent cover story, clinical depression affects about 16 million people in the U.S. Americans spend about $210 billion a year in health care needs.
All of this is on the rise, and no one seems to know why! But there is hope. First, one has to understand that our bodies are designed to keep us healthy. It has incredible systems in place fighting every moment to keep us in a balanced state of homeostasis. These systems are like a well-balanced fast spinning gyroscope in our body constantly striving to point north and keep us in a plum position. Homeostasis is a natural state for all of us and works perfectly. It is just that in western society we are constantly knocking it off course. We all have some levels of stress in our lives but, if you have no way to relieve yourself from these stresses, your body will be constantly fighting to find its true north and never get a chance to rest and reenergize. Over time, these systems begin to lose the battle and eventually just stop altogether and as you probably have guessed, that is a very bad thing. The good news is, to reach homeostasis, all we have to do is let our body do what it is capable of doing and get out of its way by removing the stress related roadblocks we create in our own minds. You do this by having a daily meditation practice. You can put up an invisible shield against life’s stresses blocking them from your brain and body through meditation. Most choose medications these days to relieve stress. Over 25% of men and women are on some type of depression or anxiety medication. Over 40 percent of women have been, or will be, on some type of anxiety or depression medication in their lifetime. It is a ridiculous number when you really think about it! Medication seems to be doctors’ number on solution to the problem. There are two ways to relieve your stresses in life. Let’s take a look at both.
Medication numbs our body from feeling anything. You are basically putting your body in a zombie like state, so you don’t recognize stress. You don’t recognize any feelings except for love and gratitude at first. That is why they are so addictive. It is a false sense of happiness, a euphoric high. But what happens over a short period of time, is that eventually even those feel-good feelings start to go away leaving you in a dark depressed state. When this happens, your doctor ups your dose, and the cycle continues! Besides all the horrific side effects that are so expertly hidden from us with crafty marketing campaigns, over time these medications start to shut down your neural pathways and endocrine systems with no cure. Basically, you are destroying your ability to feel anything except more depression and suicidal thoughts.
Meditation on the other hand, lets you release all the stresses of life naturally, so when you do lay your head on your pillow at night and go to sleep, your mind is able to relax because earlier during the day you cleansed it. When your monkey mind is put into a relaxed Zen like state through meditation, that night you will sleep deeper. When you sleep deeper, that extra energy you used to use to fight off the stresses of the day, now can go to help your immune system to function stronger.
Your immune system does a lot of things to include fighting off viruses, bacteria and free radical cells that can lead to cancer. On top of those important functions, it is also constantly defending you against the consequences of all your stress related problems. When we meditate, we are able to relieve these stress related problems in advance, giving your immune system a break and chance to rest. Imagine if you were constantly running around a track and never got a chance to stop, get a glass of water or food. After a while you would begin to slowdown and eventually collapse coming to a complete stop. It is the same with your immune system. It needs rest to be ready for real threats when they do occur. Setting aside time for meditation can calm your nervous system and reinvigorate your immune system making it on the ready, to act when you need it. A healthier you will be happier you. You will find that you are functioning better at work, at play and in your relationships. And I can’t think of a better WHY to meditate then creating a healthier and happier you.
In her book “Stress Less Accomplish More” Emily Fletcher tells of a doctor that wrote to her and he said:
“If I could prescribe one thing to every single patient who walks in my door it would be this: Learn a daily meditation practice. It will change your life forever. It literally rewires the brain, calms the nervous system, and creates new neural pathways via plasticity mechanism. It lowers stress hormones (Like adrenaline and cortisol). Lowers heart rate and blood pressure, decreases inflammation, increases focus, and makes you feel centered and grounded, to name just a few benefits. You can do it anywhere and it requires a very small chunk of time with massive results”
There are 5 different brain wave states
You have 5 different brainwave states. The states we are most familiar with are our Alpha and Beta brainwaves. When we are first waking up from sleep or in a relaxed state and basically not focusing on anything in particular, we are in an Alpha state of mind. When we are wide awake, alert and focused, we are in a Beta state of mind. In Beta you are going about your everyday tasks, engaging with others and making decisions.
When you are in Theta, you are in a dreamlike state of mind, and you don’t necessarily have to be asleep to be dreaming. Have you ever been driving and got home pulling into your driveway, but can’t truly remember actually driving there? That is because your mind went into “Auto-Pilot”. This a Theta state of mind.
Delta produces the slowest brainwaves. They are found mostly in infants, and young children. They are associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restorative healing sleep. When you are asleep but not dreaming you are in Delta. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is the deepest form of sleep, but your mind is active as it produces lucid dreams. Right before you enter REM, you are in a deep restful, relaxing, recharging dreamless like sleep. This is this is when you are in a Delta state of mind.
Gamma produces the fasted brainwaves. In Gamma you are actively involved in processing information and learning. You are intensely focused, and your brain is hard at work. In Gamma, you can process information at incredible rates because your brain is at peak performance and firing on all cylinders.
Through meditation, you will begin to slow your brain waves down moving you out of your BETA conscious mind and thinking brain, past your Alpha analytical relaxed mind, into the operating system of the subconscious mind, where all your automatic programs and unconscious habits exist. At this point your brain will go into a Gamma state of mind and this is where the magic happens.
Gamma waves are able to link information from all parts of the brain at the same time. Athletes can experience this while competing. Especially extreme sport athletes like free hand rock climbers, wingsuit flyers, big wave surfers and extreme skate boarders. They call it being in the zone. During meditation when you reach this state, it is called the flow-state. Another name for it is nirvana.
During this flow state in meditation, you can literally change your DNA and reprogram or recharge your chakras and body. You are plugged into all the control system of your body. You can take control of your stress and medical related problems giving you back control of your life manifesting your future and your destiny! You literally can create any future that you desire by simply focusing on it during your meditation practice. Planting those thoughts deep into your subconscious will have profound results!
It all starts with your breath. Start by following your breath with thought. This takes major focus and is the best way to shift from the normal brain state of being in a problem solving and engaging Beta brainwave, to a relaxing and recharging Alpha brainwave. Alpha waves are associated with the first stage of sleep. This is why we do not recommend laying down when you meditate. You could fall asleep once Alpha is reached.
When we are awake, brainwaves are naturally in a Beta mode, giving us conscious thoughts. Meditation gives our mind a period of time where it gets to relax, recharge and it does not take hours upon hours to attain this! Just 15 minutes once or twice a day will relax the brain enough to move it into an Alpha and recharging state. The benefits of this practice are immense. Think of it like exercise for your brain. We exercise our body’s by hitting the gym. We workout our heart and lungs by doing some type of cardio. We workout our internal organs and skin by doing yoga, getting a massage or sauna. Our minds need to be exercised as well. The only difference is, with meditation you are actually training your mind to be still. Gamma is not always reached but you are still getting incredible benefits in Alpha.
Buddhists have used a special technique for thousands of years to move their brain into Gamma. They use breath work to stop from focusing on daily chores or events. This puts them into a state of relaxation and creativity (Alpha) and then moves them into a state of intense concentration (Gamma). They do this by imagining they are in vase open space. Instead of a singular focus on a person, place or thing, they will have an open focus on space and nothingness. They imagine being nowhere, in no time and being no one. They lose a sense of self. They begin to sense information instead of matter. Basically, they will focus on their sense of feeling and activate all 5 senses the same time. They block out people, places, things, tasks and just simply be. Like a tree, a cloud or still water. They do this by simply following their breath.
Following your breath is the fundamental principle in all types of meditation. By focusing on the simple act of breathing in and out, you bring your brains attention to the here and now. Your mind will wander a bit during this practice (and mind you, it does take practice) because that is what your mind is designed to do, to be on the go, go, go. In fact, our minds are always on the go, or more specifically, on the gotta go! I gotta go to the store, gotta go to work, gotta go pick up the kids. Thoughts pop up over and over in our mind as we try to be still in our meditation. This will be your challenge as you start your meditation journey. The experienced meditator will acknowledge these thoughts and gently move the mind back to the simple act of breathing IN and OUT.
HOW do I get started?
So, you are sold, and you want to give this a try, but just don’t know where to start? Don’t worry because we are going to get into the HOW’S right now! Let’s get you started on the right foot. With so many different meditation techniques out there from Kundalini, Pranayama, Transcendental, Mindful meditation, Japa and Mantra meditation it can get a bit confusing, but all you really need is a quiet place to sit and breath. As your practice grows you will find one that works best for you. No meditation practice is better or worse than the other. In time you will find one that calls to you. Don’t be afraid to try different things and even take a workshop. Always open yourself up to learning more about meditation. It could just be the best investment of time you have ever made. Also, don’t get stuck on one meditation practice or another. Only you can know what is right for you and never ever worry about getting it exactly right.
Meditation is within all of us, we just have to activate it and trust. Your practice will flower and blossom over time. By simply sitting still for a few minutes a day and focusing on your breath, you will get all the benefits of meditation and feel amazing! Pick a designated area in your house and sit in the same spot each time. When you are traveling that’s okay, sometimes we have to improvise. But in your home designate a spot that is only used for your meditation. Maybe you toss down a meditation pillow somewhere to change a spot in the living room into a meditation area. When you are sitting in this special designated area, you will be telling your body it is time to meditate. As we mentioned earlier try not to lay down, as this signals the body you are getting ready for sleep. Everybody’s practice will be a bit different from one and other. Your journey is going to be a private, personal and unique experience.
Deepak Chopra states that meditation is meant to be done on your own and you will awaken the inner teacher inside you as long as your intention is the highest level of enlightenment, and you have an open heart. Don’t worry if you are not ready or know what you are doing. Simply sit, breathe and focus on your breath, there is really no wrong way to meditate. Again, as we mentioned earlier, as thoughts bubble up (and they will), recognize them and simply let them pass. Here is one tip that really helps me; Try pretending you are under water at the bottom of a pool. In this special pool of water, you can breathe. When a thought pops into your “Gotta” mind, think of it as an air bubble coming out your nose and watch it slowly float to the top of the water’s surface where it pops and disappears. Then simply continue breathing.
Another technique I was taught is, as you breathe in and out of your nose, start to equal out your breath cycles; 4-counts breath in through your nose, then hold your breath for 4-counts, 4-counts breathe out through your mouth, and then hold your breath out for 4-counts, Repeat and begin the pattern anew.
This is called Box Breathing. See if one day you can get to 8 or 9 counts between breaths and holds. This is a very simply breathing technique and can be practiced anywhere. Again, simply breathe in and out and be still. That’s it. When you are ready (and you will know when, just listen to your body) finish with your hands in prayer position over your third eye or heart and bow. Or not, just nice way to end your meditation. Hell, pump your fists in the air and let out a load YAHOO if you want. It’s your meditation practice.
Don’t be afraid to take some workshops or on-line classes, and in just a few weeks/months, your practice will become something beautiful and special to you! Yes, it is a personal journey, but remember there are resources and teachers at your disposal to help guide you.
GRATITUDE AND MEDITATION
One thing my favorite things to do each morning while meditating is to give gratitude for 3 things. I pick 2 things from yesterday and one thing about today. I do this with in the first few minutes of my meditation. All meditation practices have some form of a gratitude step that is evoked during the meditation practice and it so fascinating to me that there is real science to back it. By starting off your day with gratitude or an elevated intention, you are creating an environment of HOMEOSTASIS within your mind and body. When you find heartfelt gratitude for anything that comes into your awareness during your meditation, the energy of those feelings sets in motion a cascade of at least 1400 biochemical changes in the body that promote growth and repair at a cellular level. As soon as you think of something that makes you smile, instantly serotonin and dopamine is released into your blood stream. These are your happy hormones!
It is the lack of appreciation that destroys everything in our lives, so even if you choose not to start a meditation practice, I highly recommend starting a gratitude journal to give you many of the benefits of homeostasis. When you think of anything that you are grateful for it is impossible for your body to create stress hormones, this allows your body to be able to move into a state of homeostasis. By keeping a gratitude journal, you will find that your happiness is already here right in front of you, and you were probably just disconnected.
Homeostasis is a feeling of well-being — leaving you relaxed, safe and happy with your life and environment. You will be at peace, if even just for those few minutes during your meditation or when you write them down in your journal. From this state of peace that you have created, your body’s systems will be working in harmony and with minimal amounts of energy wasted. Neural connections between the heart and brain will be functioning at an optimal and balanced manner. You will give your body that chance it needs to repair itself, to include your energy field, your endocrine system, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems as well.
By simply meditating for 15 minutes a day, you will start your day off in an elevated emotional homeostasis state, giving your body the best chance, it has to rebuild and balance itself out for the day.
Joe Dispenza, author of the book “Becoming Supernatural” did an independent study whereby students were able to feel and sustain gratitude and other elevated emotions for a total of 15 to 20 minutes per day for just 4 days. The energy of these emotions signaled their immune cell genes to make a protein called immunoglobulin A. IgA is an antibody blood protein that is part of your immune system and helps you to fight off viruses and sickness. Researchers have also linked IgA deficiency to autoimmune health problems. The significant increase in IGA through meditation is just one more example of the benefits of meditation.
Meditation brings wisdom
Lack of meditation leaves ignorance
Know well what leads you forward
and what holds you back
LifeSpanners Aging Forward- “MEDITATION” Quick Tips:
Quick Tip #1– Don’t over think it! Meditation will come naturally it just takes a little time. All you have to do is sit there and do nothing, be nothing, be nowhere and no one at the same time. Breathe and do nothing but focus on your breath.
Quick Tip #2- Select a spot in your house. Simply find a quiet place where you can sit up straight with a long spine in a comfortable position. You can be in a chair, on a pillow or even just at the end of your bed. Try to pick a spot that does not have a dule purpose. A spot that lets your body know you are about to meditate. That spot should be only for your meditation. Again, don’t overthink it. If you have to meditate in your car during lunch break that is okay too. There really is no wrong way or place to do it. It simply helps if you have a designating a quiet spot for your meditation.
Quick Tip #3- Once you have found your mediation spot, make sure you are sitting comfortably. And I do stress BE COMFORTABLE and relaxed! No need to be a contortionist in a perfect cross-legged Buddhist monk seated position with your hands in Mudra. Start off your meditation by simply closing your eyes and begin to focus on your breath. Start by breathing in slowly through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth.
Quick Tip #4 – Use a Box Breathing technique. As you breathe in and out of your nose, start to equal out your breath cycles; 4-counts breath in through your nose, then hold your breath for 4-counts, 4-counts breathe out through your mouth, and then hold your breath out for 4-counts, Repeat and begin the pattern anew.
Quick Tip #5 – After a few rounds of breath, begin to think of one or two things you are grateful for. They can be anything from the birds you hear out the window, to your family or your job. Basically, anything that invites a smile to gently grace your lips will do. As you sit there breathing in and out, you will notice that your mind will start to wander from time to time. Thoughts pop up just like jiffy pop popped corn and that’s okay. Simply acknowledge them, and gently, bring your full attention back to your breath and continue breathing. Do this for 5 to 15 minutes. That it! Congratulations you are now meditating. It truly is that easy!
Meditation builds a strong defense shield to protect us from outside stresses. It is like taking a spiritual bath, cleansing us of the daily stresses of life we all face. In real life, we all bathe daily. We can skip a day here and there with very little negative side effects (except for that occasional wrinkled nose from a friend or co-worker.) But if we skipped bathing for let’s say a year, now we are running the risk of disease and losing all our friends! A daily meditation practice cleanses our spiritual subtle body allowing our immune system to be balanced, rested and ready to strike when a virus or bacteria begins an attack on us. Get Spiritually Vaccinated with a daily meditation practice. It is the way nature intended for all of us to stay healthy, in homeostasis, to have an energetic and ultimately happy life. All this makes meditation your LifeSpanners #1 Health Hack!
READS AND SEES
I highly recommend the book “MORE” written by Emily Fletcher. Emily has a wonderful system for beginners or even the well-seasoned meditators. Also pick yourself up a gratitude journal and you will be on your way to a blissful flow state lifestyle.
For those interested in Mantras, I recommend “Mantra Meditation for beginners” by Thomas Ashley-Farrand. You can get it through audiobooks or on CD.
For those interested in the science behind mediation I recommend “Becoming Superhuman” by:” Joe Dispenza. This book is a game changer!