Meditation: The science and spirituality behind it
Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart and spiritual teacher Adam Martin partner up to answer your questions on meditation.
In this Braincare Clubhouse session, we celebrated Brain Awareness Week by exploring what meditation is, its different forms, and its many misconceptions.
(Resources can be found at the bottom.)
Benefits of meditation
When you meditate, your brain produces alpha and gamma brainwaves that enhance an overall sense of relaxation.
With regular meditation, the levels of your stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are lowered.
It improves your ability to pause before your impulses and not act out on them.
Misconceptions about meditation
Meditation is the act of gifting something our awareness and attention. It isn’t just about sitting in a lotus position with your eyes closed. It's not necessarily just stillness of the mind, it can be staring at a flame, crystal, or tuning into a birdsong. We need to understand that meditation is a much broader church than we have been led to believe.
Dance and sound
A lot of mythology is around emptying the mind, but the opposite is also true. We’ve all become lost in music and dance, so in that way, ecstatic dance is also a form of meditation.
Sound is an underused resource in terms of modulating brain frequencies. The power of music and sound has the ability to transform us mentally and physically.
A combination of dance-focused meditation and neuro-linguistic programming is another method. Neuro-linguistic programming is the repetition of messages and commands that tips over to hypnotism. At its essence, meditation is a much broader and richer framework than people think.
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The distractions of modern life
The phone has been engineered in a way to trigger the release of dopamine in your brain. Although it is a wonderful distraction, it is hard to condition yourself to tear yourself away from it and instead spend time with friends and family. It’s been designed to be addictive and distract us from the important things in life. You need to learn to unhook yourself from this bad habit that has become so ingrained and normalised in modern life.
Should I take GABA supplements?
People are very deficient in GABA, the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It inhibits neurons from firing in the brain and settles down the nervous system, producing a calming effect. Certain things like chronic stress, lack of nutrition, and no exercise can make you deficient in GABA.
Natural methods like meditative exercises can be used to enhance the production of GABA in your brain. The natural stimulation response of getting out into the natural world, sitting on a beach, or listening to birds is probably your purest form of supplementation.
The science behind meditation
A study found that women who do yoga three times a week have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than age-matched women who don’t.
Professor Amishi Jha conducted a mindfulness study on US Marines. The Marines were put into two groups- the control group who didn’t meditate, and a group who had to do 12 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily for 8 weeks prior to being deployed into battle. The results showed that the marines who meditated had increased resilience even after being deployed. Those who didn’t want to take part ended up contacting the lab when they saw the others were able to sleep and were not suffering from anxiety sweating. As they were already on the battlefield, the scientists were sceptical of how impactful the practices would be. The breakthrough results showed that even on the battlefield, mindfulness practices significantly improved anxiety, insomnia, and low mood.
How to stop procrastinating
To-do lists can be useful, but they don’t work for everyone. Instead, get up and start the day with exercise, meditation, and make sure to get out of the house before you start work. A lot of procrastination comes from the desire to try and the inability to complete tasks in a sufficient way. Doing things that will give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction is important.
Make sure you’re sleeping. Sleep is important for focus, memory, and concentration.
Change the narrative. Instead of beating yourself up about why you haven’t done something, remember that in the end you always complete your tasks.
People overestimate the amount of time they need for a certain task and end up procrastinating. Just sit down and do it. In the end, you’ll realise it was not as bad as you thought it would be.
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Claudio Naranjo’s ‘How to Be: Meditation is Spirit and Practice’
Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating’
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