Tag Archive | neuroscience

Look Who’s Talking Now

Stick Snake

A root I encountered which my mind reacted to as if it were a snake. Our minds are not always reliable upon first response!

At any given moment, there is a voice talking to you in your head. Maybe it’s a positive voice. Maybe it’s a negative voice. Maybe it’s a neutral, narrator, commenting on your every move. Do you notice it? It’s processing as you read this, maybe throwing in an opinion or two. What do you find it is saying to you right now?

That voice can be likened to the weather in the Midwest: If you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it will change.

To understand why this is so, let’s define a couple things. Your brain is the organ through that functions as the machine for many physical functions, thinking being only one of them. Your mind is how your consciousness moves energy through the brain in order to function in your life.

Your brain stores every experience you have had, ever, and the thoughts, decisions, attitudes, emotions, and opinions surrounding those experiences at the time that you made them. Some of those are well-outdated, yet there they are, in the storehouse of your brain’s memory.

Your mind, in its automatic, semi-conscious state, pulls up those memories, thoughts, decisions, attitudes, emotions, and opinions as it sees fit. In neutral times, those thoughts, etc, might be simply random. Other times, the mind is quite certain that the thought, emotion, opinion, etc, that it is pulling up is quite fitting for the situation at hand, even if it might not be helpful.

For example, think about what you think about while driving. Maybe you’re singing along with a song (lyrics pulled up from your brain’s memory). Maybe you are worrying about what just happened at work or with that family member; in which case, all past experiences, opinions, emotions having to do with that person, or someone very similar from your history, come up and invade your thoughts about the current situation. This adds confusion to the current situation: Are you really upset at the thing that just happened, or is that thing not so bad, but it is reminding you of that other thing that happened, so the negative thoughts and strong emotion are actually coming from some previous experience, being dumped onto the current one? Probably both, but the current situation is getting the brunt of the past, unresolved emotion.

That little example holds about five topics of discussion; but for this article, let’s simply understand that the mind has a mind of its own, and a lot more is going on than you are often aware of.  In fact, there are many voices in your head, and often they have competing opinions and perspectives! You’ve probably heard someone say, “The committee in my head is arguing about this.”

What can you do about that mind that can be so unruly?

Notice it, step back from it, wait a few minutes and it will change.

Notice it. You can’t be in charge of that unruly inner voice unless you are aware of what it’s doing in there. Take a few breaks during the day to check in and listen to what it’s saying to you. Is it positive? Critical? Sad? Afraid? Numb?

Step back from it. Listen with compassion and non-judgment; be the observer of it. Cup both hands together and hold them in front of you. Pretend that the thoughts and feelings going through your mind are in your cupped hands. Since they are now outside of your head, watch them like a scientist watches her experiment with curiosity, not knowing what exactly is going to happen. What do you see happening with those thoughts and feelings?

Wait a few minutes and it will change. As you observe the contents of your mind, they will inevitably shift and change. See how long you can hold them before they morph into something else. How long does it take? Five minutes? Twenty? Three? One? This is a great practice in not taking your thoughts too seriously. Just because it is wafting through your mind doesn’t make it true.

This simple process is helpful especially when big emotions are on the surface. As you observe and wait patiently and compassionately through the wave of emotional dialogue and felt sensations, you will feel yourself rise above it into a clearer thinking space. As you practice with this, your conscious self moves into more of a leadership role in the mind/brain process. You can be more in charge of who’s talking to you, who gets the promotion, and which voice gets phased out.

Who’s talking within you?

How Meditation Supports Your Soul Evolution — Part 2: How Do I Meditate?

Now that you are excited about the benefits you will receive from an ongoing meditation practice, the next step is to begin making part of your daily routine. Here’s step-by-step support for your budding meditation practice:

1. Make a commitment to yourself. Five minutes a day? Ten? Thirty? One hour? Commit to a meditation practice, no matter what daily quantity, for three months; then decide if you like it or not.

2. Choose your meditation space. Make it nurturing, comfortable, simple, relaxing, and peaceful. Use this same space each time you meditate.

3. Choose your meditation time. Meditating at the same time every day builds an automatic response into your mind and body. Your whole self begins to cooperate when you sit down for your time!

4. Find a spiritual symbol that resonates with you. Why? A symbol that is steeped in tradition or meaning for you will magnetize your innate spirituality.

5. Find a methodology that works best for you. Try a few of these to find out your own meditation style preference:

a. Perhaps a guided meditation would help keep you focused. There are CDs, mp3 recordings, YouTube videos, and even smartphone aps with all sorts of guided meditations. Find two or three that you like so you can use them interchangeably.

b. Centering prayer is a wonderful tool for a busy mind! Take a prayer that resonates with you, and recite it slowly to help you quiet your mind. Repeat slowly and sincerely throughout your time.

c. Mindfulness is the practice of observing your thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and breath, with detachment, non-judgment, and compassion. Being present with what is, without having a conversation about it in your head, is an excellent and very portable meditation practice.

d. Visualization is a method often found in guided meditations, but you can create your own. Imagine yourself spreading out of your body, filling the room you are in, then stretching through your whole house, then neighborhood, then city, then state, then country, then throughout the entire planet, then universe! Sit in that expanded state without inner comment.

e. Group meditation is a great way to keep your commitment to yourself. Although it may not be feasible to meditate with a group every day, once a week—or even once or twice a month—has great value. You receive a vibration boost from others when everyone is generating energy for the common purpose of meditation.

6. Keep a journal. Meditation is going to awaken you to new ideas, experiences, and insights. Writing them down helps assimilate those new understandings into your consciousness.

7. Practice every day, no matter what! Some days, your meditation will feel extraordinary, or maybe it won’t. Either way, trust that something is happening, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. Go back and remind yourself of the benefits of your practice. Let it be okay that you don’t feel enlightened at the end of your first month. Meditation is like brushing your teeth—you just gotta keep doing it for the best results!

Now give it a try! You will be grateful that you gave yourself this gift of a meditative life!

Mindful Minutes that Last a Lifetime

ImageSince the transition into the new year, there have been many scientific revelations around the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is focused attention, the observing of sensations and thoughts without getting caught up in them. Often the breath is the focus of mindfulness meditation, and yoga is an example of mindfulness practice.

Meditators and yoga lovers have known the power of focused attention, stillness and breath awareness for a long time—thousands of years, even. Through many recent brain scans studies, science now acknowledges several physiological benefits of taking just five minutes every day to pay attention to the breath:

  • Stress reduction
  • Better memory
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased compassion
  • Emotional stability
  • Decreased pain sensitivity
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Reduced cognitive decline
  • Strengthens will power

Literally, grey matter and folds in the brain increase allowing for faster processing time—mindfulness changes the brain structure so it works better for us! We can be more flexible, efficient at learning new tasks, and resilient during times of change.

Convinced like a scientist yet?

So, where to begin? All you need in your busy schedule is five minutes. Try to pick the same time each day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Think of it as necessary as brushing your teeth, except you are “brushing” away stress from your brain!

Sit comfortably. Begin taking normal breaths. Make sure you are breathing from your diaphragm (“belly breathing”) rather than your lungs only (“chest breathing”). Rest your hand above the stomach and below the ribs, which is where your diaphragm is approximately located. As you breathe normally from your diaphragm, you will feel your belly rise as you inhale, and retract as you exhale. Continue for five minutes.

If you find your mind wandering (which you will!) during this time, gently bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice any sensations in your body, but do not let your mind have a conversation about them. Simply bring your attention back to your breathe. Notice sounds around you, but again, don’t let your thoughts go on about them. Let your belly breathing be your primary focus.

Keep a journal of the changes you notice over time. People have told me that their doctors asked them why their blood pressure was lower than their last check up. Others have noticed emotional equilibrium that wasn’t there before they began practicing. Others appreciate the sense of overall peace throughout their day.

What benefits are coming to you through your practice?

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Further reading:

‘Mindfulness’ Meditation Alters Gene Expression, Study Suggests“, The Huffington Post  |  By Jacqueline Howard Posted: 12/09/2013 7:53 am EST  |  Updated: 01/19/2014 11:49 pm EST

The science behind meditation, and why it makes you feel better“, GEORGE DVORSKY on IO9NEUROSCIENCE
4/04/13 11:28a

The Power of Concentration“, By Maria Konnikova, Published: December 15, 2012