Category Archives: Mindfulness

How Meditation Affects the Brain

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I’m facilitating a new class, Monday Yoga /Wellness Class, that starts Monday June 20 at 7pm (space is limited so contact me if you are interested.)

This class is aimed at developing an individual wellness/meditation practice.  We will do yoga postures to let go of any tension and to open the body up for relaxation for the first part of the class.  The rest of the class is focused on progressive relaxation, breathing, and a variety of meditative techniques.   (Props, chairs, and mats are available).

I have many people who come to see me that want a meditation or a yoga practice at home.  I created this class to help with that.  We will be exploring not only how and why to prepare before meditation but also will practice different meditative techniques for students to “try out”.

We will also discuss how meditation affects the brain.

The research is suggesting that a regular meditation practice (15-30 minutes a day) can increase gray matter in the brain, build new connections, clean out plaque that causes dementia, reduce the size of the amygdala which causes the fight or flight response, and increase our resiliency to cortisol (stress hormone).

There are many reasons to work on a meditation practice, especially if you are trying to be healthy and/or reduce stress and its effects.  Of course this should be easy enough, right? Why is sitting 15-30 minutes every day so difficult to maintain (and for some even start)?  One is that sitting in general can be painful and uncomfortable. Two, establishing any new habit or change is difficult. Consistency, consistency, consistency.  The mantra for true success ……Oh if developing consistency itself was easy.

Even if you practice now and then, it is better than none at all.  I would encourage everyone to try for 5 minutes and go from there.  You may surprise yourself that you can actually develop your own practice if you keep coming back to it when you think of it, no matter how long the in-between.

One also does not have to just “sit”.  I’m also hoping this new class will educate students on what is meditation by research standards vs other definitions.

Here are some links that discuss the effects on the brain from meditation and the research behind it:

Psychology today

Mindful.org

Washington Post

Making “Not-So-Good” Habits Work for You

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“A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” – This is SAMHSA’s working definition of recovery.  this could be recovery from Mental Health or Physical Health concerns.

Recently I have seen  a good many clients that have come in reporting very similar symptoms.  They feel somewhat down or even distressed.  They are functioning relatively okay with work and home but feel like they have lost their way.  They report feeling empty, tired, anxious.  Most of these individuals have been very involved in family and/or community.  They have been the family coordinators, the church volunteers, the community activists.

When looking at the above working definition of recovery, these folks are definitely self directive, but somehow the other two areas of health and wellness and full potential have been overshadowed by others needs (others in their own family and others in the community).  When using the needs assessment tool I incorporate into my practice (the DLA20), it is clear that many facets of their life have been neglected and continue to be drained.  There’s just not enough nourishment and recovery built into their lives to keep pace with all the other routines in their life.

We live in a society of go, go, go.  Ample supplies of caffeine and energy supplements.  Ample supplies of foods and other items to grab quickly from moving to one activity to another.  We more and more are getting out of habits of nourishment and allowing for our bodies to recover.   Recovery is not just a mental feat but very much a physical feat as well.    We have to develop healthy routines to nourish our bodies and brain.  These routines have to be consistent in order to make an impact.   Just like we consistently go to the coffee pot, check Facebook, or volunteer to help another, we need to consistently eat nourishing foods, take time for some quiet,  and get some stress relieving physical activity.  But how?  It sounds simple but if it were that simple we wouldn’t have this problem of course.

The trick is to begin by connecting one activity to another.  The activity can be good or bad.  If you drink coffee every morning or check Facebook before bed on a consistent basis, then these are great activities to link with more nourishing habits like 10 slow breaths or eating an apple.    Once you have successfully linked these habits consistently you can build in more healthy habits like a walk or some yoga.  It’s better to start small though.  Later you may decide to even phase out the original activity, especially if it was doing more harm than good.  Getting overwhelmed and not doing anything at all is not an option if you want to stop the cycle of constant drain, low energy, and feeling like you’re in a fog.

Sometimes we need reminders, so setting timers, getting others involved are great ways to ensure more consistency.  Also subscribing to a blog whether it is mine or another wellness author could also be a good way to get a tickler to continue to work on developing healthier practices.  As with much in life persistence against failure eventually develops consistency regardless, so keep trying.

Maintaining Peace Through the Holidays

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I’ve scheduled a time out in the morning for to do a little breath-work and a gratitude practice.  It has been amazing to see the difference in the mornings that I skip the practice and the days I will myself out of bed for it.   I’ve noticed also how it has helped me roll with all the holiday festivities without feeling as tired or frustrated as in the past.  Actually this season has been amazingly different and I’m attributing a lot to my morning practice.

I think many times we try to only practice meditation and other coping skills when we feel stress.    Our goal may be peace but our focus is actually on the stressful event.   It is what is prompting  our practice. When you are able to make the shift and allow something else prompt your meditation or mindfulness practice then you will make more progress during the stressful times.  I think the key is practicing as much peacefulness as possible and to do that you need to also practice when you are not very stressed.  When we get well attuned and use to having a peaceful moment it’s much easier to take that feeling of peace and apply it to other situations.

What I have learned is that using breath-work and mindfulness techniques to deal with stressful situations does work  but the effects of the practice is not nearly as beneficial  if you only use them in a stressful situation.  It is like playing an instrument only a few times a year, you may be able to play a song but it won’t necessarily be pretty or easy.     However as with anything when you practice over and over; when it comes time to really perform, it will be much easier and successful.