How Meditation Helps Your Brain: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
It’s Saturday morning and I have so much to do. Decisions like shall I walk to the market or sit down at my writing desk. Accept that new job, make an appointment with the physio, help my daughter in her classroom? Life doesn’t stop just because it’s the weekend. If you add kids, perhaps aging relatives, shake and stir, it’s a cocktail for a terrific, frantic, and stress-filled life.
My remedy is to stop. Just stop.
Before I haul my bones reluctantly out of bed, I press a different sort of snooze button. I pile my pillows to make a generous, comfortable seat, pull the shawl (a warm wooly one) from my bedside table, and I sit. To hell with all the frantic. It will still be there in 5 minutes or 30 minutes.
I keep my expectations very low in meditation. I could sit for 2 minutes, or rarely for an hour or more. But I nearly always sit. Oh, unless I lie down. However, after four decades of trying to meditate lying down, it’s still not working for me. But occasionally when it’s chilly, or I’m tired, I feel inspired to give it a go. Who knows, maybe this time?
Over years of attending seminars and satsangs, sangas and self-help seminars, I have acquired a plethora of meditation practices. Research demonstrates that using any variety of method of stilling the mind for at least 5 minutes a day, yields big results in even 6 weeks. Our grey matter actually grows, neural-imaging shows increased connectivity between the right and left sides of the brain, our blood pressure lowers, anxiety and non-clinical depression lessen, our HRT (a stress measure) lowers.
I use and teach 3 primary techniques, though there are thousands, and the technique is just a tool. Being present to this moment and the next one, with attention, letting go of judgements, that’s the important bit.
- Breath Focus: simply notice all the sensations of your natural breath moving into and out of your body; the movement of ribs and belly, sensations at nostrils, warmth, length and changes, inhale, exhale…
- Mantra Focus: mantra is a sound or words that help focus the mind, a tool to keep the mind from straying (as it will again and again). Some people use ‘in—out’ with the breath focus, some use a word or words that are meaningful or helpful such as ‘Sat Nam’ or ‘Peace’. The mantra and breath synchronize and become a blended focus that can be a powerful anchor.
- Compassion Focus: Next week…
Bringing self-compassion to meditation practice has been liberating for me. It allows me to let go of the stick of I ’should’, and instead pick up my fluffy pillows and cozy meditation blanket and do what I can, for as long as fits on this day. Just this day. One day at a time. A little mental floss to start the day. Brush off the mental/physical plaque of high acid stress, of sugary distractions, all those clinging negative thoughts that get trapped in the brain synapses.
Once a day, a mental floss, with emptiness.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjXXvtGEZQQ (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Bs0qUB3BHQ (Deepak Chopra)
Free APPS: Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace, Buddhify, Smiling Mind
http://www.mountainsmindfulness.com.au/ (MBSR in the Blue Mountains)