(Health Secrets) Meditation is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your life. Mindful meditation is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness allows us to release destructive mental and emotional patterns, and helps us stop reacting to pressure. It changes our habitual way of reacting unhelpfully, and lets us stay calm and make sound and creative choices. To be mindful is to be present in each moment and live life with understanding.
In your journey to mindfulness, a book titled Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson (2009) may be helpful. In it a clinical psychologist and a senior neurologist explain how the brain benefits from contemplative practice and shows readers how to develop greater happiness, love and wisdom by drawing from breakthroughs in modern neuroscience
Since solid research has demonstrated that mindful meditation does change the biochemistry of the brain, we can use this knowledge to improve our emotional health. There are cultural differences between Eastern thinking and Western thinking. But often these differences are exaggerated by our own insecurities.
It can be disconcerting when meditation practices advocate letting go of your sense of self and suggest that you be impersonal. As Westerners, we tend to see Eastern practices as creating an overly compliant, dependent populace. It seems to be human nature to be negatively biased about the unknown, which may actually be an evolutionary survival mechanism. Such topics are addressed in Budda’s Brain. Many Easterners view our striving for assertiveness as arrogant and aggressive. The best place to be is living in the middle and having the ability to choose behavioral responses from either end of the continuum that enhance your life and well-being.
Constant aggressiveness creates a body chemistry overloaded with stress hormones, which is damaging to the body. Being overly compliant also creates an over abundance of stress hormones. Both behavior choices display “fight or flight” stress reaction. So perhaps Easterners and Westerners are not on opposite ends of a continuum but we are actually standing side by side, brothers and sisters under the skin.
One then sees that the best place to be is to be impersonal, letting go of excessive self-interest. It is not easy; it is a mental discipline. How many of us make ourselves sick worrying over things we cannot change. Possibly we could have a positive effect if we calmed our minds to allow creative insight and intuition.
If our sense of self is overly invested in controlling a situation for a specific outcome, we limit our possibilities. For example, think of a person being retired from a career that defined his/her livelihood and emotional sense of self-worth and self-competence. This person will wonder what they are transitioning to. This blank space will create inner tension and stress. When the ego takes over, the tendency would be to worry about the future and crave the economic stability of the past. But this kind of thinking only leaves a person feeling stuck or frozen. It is not helpful.
Mindfulness meditation helps quiet the mind and puts you in touch with your own inner knowing. It allows room for inspiration from the higher realms of Spirit. At the same time the body responds by cutting back on cortisol, the stress hormone, and releases happy, calming hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin.
According to the Huffington Post scientific research has shown the benefit of mindfulness training in these areas:
- Lowers stress chemicals in the body
- Lets you get to know your true self — when you choose your behaviors you are less reactive
- Can make your grades better — better focus and attention
- Could help our troops — helps PTSD
- Helps people with arthritis — helps with pain management
- Changes the brain in a protective way — increases emotional hormone balance
- Works as the brain’s “volume knob” — you gain psychological perspective
- Makes music sound better
- Helps even when we’re not practicing it — a generalized calm when not meditating
- Has four elements that help us in different ways — social, mind, body, spirit
- May help your doctor be better at his/her job — he is focused, you are calm
- Makes you a better person — your decisions are better thought out
- Could make going through cancer just a little less stressful
- Could help the elderly feel less lonely
- Could make your health care bill a little lower — less need for medical attention
- Comes in handy during cold and flu season — strengthens the immune system
- Lowers depression risk among pregnant women
- Lowers depression risk among teens
- Supports your weight-loss goals
- Helps you sleep better
Mindful meditation takes many forms. Some individuals such as Christian monastics, or Buddhist monks spend years perfecting their meditations. A meditation can be more like an interior monolog that becomes a real meditation when you give up rehashing negative emotions and experiences and chose to listen for insight. Prayer is a form of meditation.
Someone once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta what prayer she said. Mother Teresa responded she no longer said prayers—she listened to hear what God was saying.
I’m not saying we should be able to match Mother Teresa’s meditative abilities. But the choice to develop mindful meditation practice brings with it a lot of mind/body/spirit benefits just through an honest effort. Who doesn’t want the best life they can have?
Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, does have many step by step activities and meditations to help you develop mindfulness skills. You may not agree with all of the author’s philosophical insights, but the science is real. The author has a real desire for you to know and accept that you can change your brain chemistry, emotional outlook and physical well being for the better.
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