Mindfulness

Meditation: So Much More Than Watching and Letting Go – HuffPost

Meditation: So Much More Than Watching and Letting Go

Posted: 09/27/2013 1:22 pm

Most people are taught when sitting in meditation to watch their thoughts, feelings, everything which comes into awareness and let it go. Focus on your breath. Simply watch what arises and let it go. Focus on your breath.

The preoccupation with watching and letting go in meditation can easily continue the separation of our small mental stream from the great body of awareness of who we really are. The mental activity of watching and letting go can keep us entertained with the busyness of our ego while keeping us from deeper levels of meditation. It is in deeper meditation where we discover the love of our core self and a vast inner universe. In other words, meditation is much more than merely watching and letting go. No wonder many people give up on daily sitting. The endless thoughts, tiredness, boredom that seem to be waiting for us each time we sit are not much reward to continue a meditation practice.

Mindfully watching and letting go can lead to devaluing our thoughts, feelings, the story of our life. When we are told the life passing by our inner screen is only distraction, only clouds covering the large sky of awareness, we can downgrade important parts of who we are. The thoughts and feelings we are watching and hoping will disappear can lose their life force. We can forget there is purpose. In our detached observing and our desire to let everything go, we can be detaching and letting go instead of embracing life. The thoughts, feelings, and story filling our awareness are expressions of our life energy. These are our thoughts, our feelings which we are told are interrupting the clarity of meditation. If we are only watching and letting go we can be separating ourselves from the power, the life juice which our thoughts and feelings come from and are made of. Instead of feeling bigger, we can be left feeling small and unsuccessful. Many people try and quit meditation. They feel it maybe great for others but for me, thinking about not thinking seems like a waste of time and effort.

Watching and letting go of our mental activity by itself can be just an exercise of more mental activity. It can be an unending adventure of the ego watching and trying to let go of itself. Instead of trying to get our grasping ego to let go of itself, there is a loving presence, the love of our natural awareness, inviting us deeper within. The hope and power of meditation is to widen the river of our mental world to the ocean of being that is who we really are. Sitting and waiting for glimpses of clear viewing in the midst of a busy mental stream is not the same as clear being, experiencing awareness as a great body of peaceful presence.

The path to the great love of our core being begins with valuing and embracing the thought and feeling passing in our meditation. Instead of merely watching and letting go, we can embrace our mental stream. When we embrace the stream of thoughts, we are right away including our heart essence. Meditation is this embrace, feeling the presence of our heart in our awareness. This presence is underneath, in, and all around the inner voice, the stream of thought. As our awareness includes the greater presence we find inside, the engine of our mind slows down, the busy voice of our ego calms. Our experience of heart strengthens. We are no longer waiting for a break in the clouds, a clearing in our thoughts. Meditation is feeling the body of presence in our heart. Our meditation is bigger than the thought and feeling floating down our inner river. Meditation is the daily connection with the part of us that is much greater.

With practice, no matter what or how much thought and feeling come and go, we are identifying with something more, a brilliant stillness, the gentle vastness, the awe that is within us. Meditation is changing our identification from the narrow focus on thought and feeling. Meditation is sitting with something greater than today’s page in this chapter of our life story. Meditation is remembering the expansive peace in our heart which is so much more than the ups and downs on any page of our personal story. Meditation is directly receiving our heart essence. Our mental activity lessens as the inner well of our lightness of being is experienced. The strength of the busy mental activity decreases as the awareness of our inner silence grows. We are beginning to experience our core self, our no self with by its magnitude heals the unnecessary habit of always thinking. We can learn to be, heartfully present.

If we are going to take the time to meditate lets not just sit here watching and letting go.
More than needing to be mindful, lets be heart full. More than finding a few centering words, we can receive directly the quietude inside which carries us. There are realms of complete acceptance, an intimacy of soul and spirit to discover in deeper meditation.

As the culture of meditation grows and spreads it is important that we guide one another to the true garden, the real fruit which meditation offers. Sacred emptiness waits for us. This emptiness fulfills the part of us, our personality, that is seemingly always struggling. This sanctuary of emptiness heals the part of us that wants more, needs to be busy, that can’t have enough no matter how much we have. There is a home inside of each of us. Its walls, roof, and floor are a diamond light of unlimited emptiness. This home speaks directly to our materialism, greed, anger, and mistrust. Sacredness and holiness are words with meaning as we connect to the very real wordless encounter of a loving emptiness which is full of warm presence.

Meditation is so much more than watching and letting go. Life is much more than observing, letting go of grasping, and trying to control the events and characters of our story. Meditation takes down the veil, lightens the filter, uncovering our essence and true being. Meditation is devotion, understanding, humility, and joy. Meditation is true whenever our heart is involved. We are discovering consciousness. Meditation is washing away everything occupying the Divinity of awareness. This daily bath of our awareness is important if we are to stay in touch with our unworldly self, our true self, our innocence, and life’s beauty. Lets tell everyone hesitant to try or about to give up on meditation, the magical life of your heart and deep joy depend upon it. Meditation, absorbing the essence of our heart, frees our mind. Meditation brings forward the richness of consciousness, inner worlds beyond our imagination, and perhaps most important, the simplicity of this moment of love.

We invite you to join us in the exploration of meditation and consciousness at Silent Stay Retreat Home & Hermitage near Napa, California and Assisi, Italy.

Opinion: Meditation can remedy your sleepless nights

Opinion: Meditation can remedy your sleepless nights

From the series Working Out Happiness
Andrew Fleming, Columnist
Fri Sep 27, 2013
Andrew Fleming

Your prefrontal cortex is a blessing and a curse.

Located under your forehead, mankind’s hugely developed prefrontal cortex enables creativity, foresight and strategy. However, that same prefrontal cortex is responsible for those nagging thoughts that keep you up at night – the “what if” scenarios that become increasingly terrifying as their exigency approaches.

While these imaginary situations where you fail the test and lose the girl – or boy, depending on your anatomical preference – may not ever play out, the long term effects on your body from these thoughts actually can. When the brain invents a stressful situation (or replays something horrific that just happened), the sympathetic nervous system engages in very real fight-or-flight responses. These adrenaline pumping, heart-racing reactions are great at making you jump away from a moving car, but they can have incredibly detrimental effects in the long run. Our bodies are incapable of sustaining the stress we are capable of providing it. Stress can eventually lead to organ failure and death in mysterious and insidious ways.

Whether an increased risk for heart attack, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias or even just “sudden death,” you can, quite literally, stress yourself to death.

Hopefully you’re still reading, because there is hope. Now, meditation has long been frowned upon by Western culture as some sort of Eastern cultish religious nonsense. That being said, quieting your thoughts has nothing to do with religion, chi, Zen or anything else on a physiological level (and I mean that with absolutely no ill-words towards religions of any kind).

It has come to light in recent years that meditation is one of the healthiest things you can do for your brain, and subsequently, the rest of your body. This is coming from real neuroscientists doing real research on real brains – this is not the hippie stuff your parents warned you about.

The Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin produced hard data that short amounts of mindfulness meditation lead to increased influenza resistance. Akira Kasamatsu, M.D., went as far as monitoring the electronic activity of 48 priests and disciples of Zen Buddhism, a religious sect known for meditation. Their brain activity showed increased levels of what are known as alpha waves. These waves are heavily associated with being relaxed.

These long-time practitioners of meditation were literally able to tune their brains to a relaxed wavelength, regardless of how stressful a situation may be. Imagine being able to make stress go away with a conscious decision – these individuals don’t have to imagine that power. They already have it.

Countless scholarly articles reinforce this sentiment, explaining how mindful meditation can be used to manage chronic pain and reign in anxiety disorders.

To approach “mindfulness” from ground zero can seem difficult. The whole point of the exercise is to quiet the mind – something I struggle with on a daily basis. To begin, you need a mental focal point. Some people like to use the word “mantra,” but if that seems hokey, call it a focal point. Sometimes I just use the word “focus” as a constant reminder of what I’m trying to do. Relax every muscle in your body. Sit upright so you don’t fall asleep. See if you can sit there and do nothing but think less and less for 10 minutes. Use a timer on your phone so you don’t feel the need to peek at the time. It takes practice, but even if you don’t get it your first time, you’ll be amazed how good quiet time feels. It’s the kind of habit that takes little time and less planning. Do it in the library if you’re stressed and until you fall asleep when you’re antsy.

It’s your brain; learn to make it work for you.

Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at aflemin8@utk.edu.

For many, meditation is key for fighting stress, finding peace Video

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For many, meditation is key for fighting stress, finding peace

Meditation is a mind-body practice that’s existed for thousands of years, yet it still attracts people looking for solace, healing and spiritual enlightenment today.

Verna Sausman of Louisville was among those who gathered at a recent meditation session at Wellness 360 studio in St. Matthews. She sat in a chair with her eyes closed and her legs crossed beneath her as Dr. Peter Buecker guided a small group through a meditation session.

“This is my healing; it works for me,” said Sausman, who was using the 45-minute session to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Though some people think they can’t quiet their mind enough to meditate, “anyone can learn to meditate,” said Buecker, the studio’s owner. “… The quiet or calm mind is the product of meditation, not the prerequisite for it.”

There are many different kinds of meditation, but most have some common threads, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. People usually meditate in a quiet place in a specific posture, such as lying or sitting down, with an open attitude and a focused mind, the center says.

The Rev. Joe Mitchell, a priest and meditation teacher who is executive director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center on Newburg Road, explains meditation this way:

“Meditation is cultivating a steady and focused awareness by letting go of thoughts and desires to abide in a place of stillness and silence.”

Mitchell, who teaches mindfulness meditation from the Christian and Buddhist perspectives, said, “It’s about turning down the volume of the inner chatter in the mind.”

Buecker, an orthopedic surgeon, opened Wellness 360 in January to offer meditation and a variety of other mind-body services, after realizing that “a pill, or an injection, or a procedure isn’t always the answer” for patients going through personal crises, such as parenting, spousal and care-giving issues.

Many times, people are caught in a vicious cycle of stress that leads to tension and pain, then to the need for “more and more medicines at higher and higher doses,” Buecker said, but meditation helps give them basic skills to get their life back into control.

How Mindfulness Meditation Works | IdeaFeed | Big Think

How Mindfulness Meditation Works

June 30, 2013, 2:51 PM
Mindfulness

What’s the Latest Development?

Mindfulness meditation, a process through which the practitioner becomes more aware of his or her own thoughts and emotions, is gaining in popularity across the US, with medical studies and productivity reports behind the practice. A report issued by the German Justus Liebig-University and Harvard Medical School suggests that “mindfulness meditation operates through a combination of several distinct mechanisms: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and a change in perspective on the self.” When the processes combine, an enhanced capacity for self-regulation is achieved.

What’s the Big Idea?

The process of achieving greater self-awareness, and therefore greater self-control, has three main phases: awareness of the mind, awareness of the body, and finally, a dissociation between thought and identity. In a culture that continually emphasizes the cultivation of the self, this may be the most profound lesson that mindfulness meditation has to offer. “According to the Justus Liebig-University and Harvard Medical School report, upon achieving a strong sense of internal awareness and the ability to ‘observe our mental processes with increasing clarity,’ we begin to see the self as something that is continually arising, rather than fixed.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at The Atlantic

How Mindfulness Meditation Works | IdeaFeed | Big Think.

College Prep: Meditation 30-Day Challenge

This first time meditation experience is common to many who try meditation without finding the right technique for them. After teaching meditation to college students the last 5 years, I have found that all techniques work equally well, so long as you find the one that is easiest to fit into your life.  See my comments at the bottom.

-Karah Pino

Meditation 30-Day Challenge

So my office is really obsessed with 30 and 100 day challenges. The 100 day challenges are definitely more on a more personal level, but we tend to group up for 30 day challenges.

The curl challenge was super fun and definitely an eye-opener. It also felt good to actually stick with it. I didn’t even use our one “It’s Okay to Straighten for New Year’s Eve” cheat day.

I was really looking forward to our latest 30 day challenge. Maxie and I planned to meditate every day for 30 days. We were inspired when a career coach gave us a quick and easy 10-minute guided meditation. I’ve done mediations from time to time in the past, especially during extreme periods of stress.

I thought that committing to spending a month getting in the habit of meditating that I would be much happier, more relaxed, and generally feel better.

via

We both failed.

I tried to carve out the ten minutes every day to meditate, but it ultimately started to feel like a chore. And I simply began dreading it. It was a chore and I was absolutely horrible at it. I would sit down in a comfortable position, close my eyes, and follow the meditation guide.

Then the thoughts would start…. and they were loud, clear, and oh-so-annoying. I would ask myself how long had I been meditating. When was the ten minutes up? What should I wear in the morning. The tape tells you that it’s okay to have wandering thoughts, but to try to pull them back in to be centered. And instead, I would start thinking how dumb I felt sitting in my room with my eyes closed.

Meditation certainly works for some people. I’m not going to write it off completely, but this 30 day challenge definitely didn’t work for me. Three weeks in, I sent a text message to Maxie asking when this whole ordeal would be over… even admitting that I’d skipped a few days. I felt so guilty to let her down, but it turns out that she was similarly struggling as well.

What I did learn though was that it’s important to figure out the best way to sit down and think or let go or be present.

For me, I find that true-zen-tuned-into-myself mode when I’m showering and when I’m working out. (SoulCycle was the best meditation I did this month, but even just walking through the park alone is wonderful.)

Have you ever meditated? What’s your method or trick? Do you have any great apps or podcasts to recommend?

xoxo

via College Prep: Meditation 30-Day Challenge.

Here’s My comment:

karahapinohoponoJuly 8, 2013 at 3:27 AM

I took my first meditation class in college for headaches. It worked so I kept at it until I forgot, then the headaches would return. Years later, I studied meditation as part of my masters degree in acupuncture. We learned four branches of meditation: Moving meditation (i.e.yoga/QiGong/dance), Visualization techniques (i.e.color/guided imagery/progressive relaxation), Sound techniques (i.e.chanting/clapping/singing) and Mindfulness (i.e.Zen/Dogchen/Vipassana) After teaching meditation to college students the last 5 years, I have found that all techniques work equally well, so long as you find the one that is easiest to fit into your life. For instance, I love Vipassana mindfulness technique when I have time to sit, but after having a baby, I needed something I could do quickly with child in arms, such as breathing techniques or chanting.

Time perception altered by mindfulness meditation

(Medical Xpress)—New published research from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Witten/Herdecke has shown that mindfulness meditation has the ability to temporarily alter practitioners’ perceptions of time – a finding that has wider implications for the use of mindfulness both as an everyday practice, and in clinical treatments and interventions.

Led by Dr Robin Kramer from Kent’s School of Psychology, the research team hypothesised that, given mindfulness’ emphasis on moment-to-moment awareness, mindfulness would slow down time and produce the feeling that short periods of time lasted longer.

To test this , they used a temporal bisection task, which allows researchers to measure where each individual subjectively splits a period of time in half. Participants’ responses to this task were collected twice, once before and then again after a listening task. By separating people into two groups, participants listened for ten minutes to either an audiobook or a meditation exercise designed to focus their attention on the movement of breath in the body. The results showed that the (audiobook) didn’t change in their responses after the listening task compared with before. However, meditation led to a relative overestimation of durations i.e. time periods felt longer than they had before.

The reasons for this have been interpreted by Dr Kramer and team as the result of attentional changes, producing either improved that allow increased attention to the processing of time, or a shift to internally-oriented attention that would have the same effect.

Dr Kramer said: ‘Our findings represent some of the first to demonstrate how mindfulness meditation can alter the of time. Given the increasing of mindfulness in everyday practice, its relationship with time perception may provide an important step in our understanding of this pervasive, ancient practice in our modern world.’

Dr Kramer also explained that the benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapies in a variety of domains are now being identified. These include decreases in rumination, improvements in cognitive flexibility, working memory capacity and sustained attention, and reductions in reactivity, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Mindfulness-based treatments also appear to provide broad antidepressant and antianxiety effects, as well as decreases in general psychological distress. As such, these interventions have been applied with a variety of patients, including those suffering from fibromyalgia, psoriasis, cancer, binge eating and chronic pain.

Dr Dinkar Sharma, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Kent, commented: ‘Demonstrating that mindfulness has an effect on time perception is important because it opens up the opportunity that mindfulness could be used to alter psychological disorders that are associated with a range of distortions in the perception of time – such as disorders of memory, emotion and addiction.’

Dr Ulrich Weger, of Witten/Herdecke’s Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy, concluded by stating that ‘the impact of a brief mindfulness exercise on elementary processes such as time perception is remarkable’.

‘The effect of on ‘ (Robin S.S. Kramer, Ulrich W. Weger, Dinkar Sharma) is published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

via Time perception altered by mindfulness meditation.

 

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

The Tipping Point for Mindfulness

Posted: 06/21/2013 8:32 am

Mindfulness practices like meditation have been in existence for thousands of years, but only now are they reaching the tipping point in the Western world. Today’s pace and stress are so great that people are searching for new practices to find resilience in the midst of chaos, and mindfulness programs are helping them find better ways to live.

Mindfulness, the practice of self-observation without judgment, encompasses an array of activities in which we focus inward on our minds and our inner voices. New research studies are demonstrating conclusively that meditation and mindfulness are good for your health — and for your soul. This is why each of us should consider balancing the fast-paced nature of our lives with individual practices that cultivate mindfulness.

My Experiences with Meditation

I began meditating thirty-seven years ago after my wife Penny dragged me “kicking and screaming” to a weekend training program in transcendental meditation at the University of Minnesota. I started meditating twenty minutes, twice a day, and stayed with the practice because I felt better and was more effective at work and at home. Meditation helps me relieve the stress of the day, gain clarity about what’s important, open up creative ideas, and find added energy and a deep sense of well-being. For a practice that costs nothing and doesn’t involve medication, that’s a good bargain.

For years I was reluctant to talk about meditating, as it sounded too “new age,” especially to the media. Today, mindfulness is becoming mainstream, no longer confined to closed-door meditation circles and therapy sessions. Public interest in mindfulness is increasing, as evidenced by the proliferation of literature on the subject; an Amazon search for “mindfulness” brings up 4,006 books.

Let me describe how meditation works in my daily life. When I open my emails, I am bombarded with requests and information. There are packages to read from the boards on which I serve, messages from Harvard colleagues, inquiries about speaking, and an unending stream of requests. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing, people are stopping by my office with questions, and I am trying to prepare to teach my next class. Navigating through these issues requires constant context shifting, which can leave me mentally drained.

After I meditate, I feel calm and centered, having slowed my mind from the adrenalin-fueled, frenetic workday pace. Consequently, I am able to focus deeply on the big questions and do my most productive thinking. The clarity that comes with meditation enables me to escape from my never-ending “to do” list and concentrate on my most important priorities, not letting them be overtaken by the urgent, less important tasks that can be delegated. The self-awareness that comes from meditation helps me understand how others perceive me and how to empower them.

The Science of Meditation

Research has shown that meditation is powerful enough to alter the makeup of the human mind. Thanks to the personal dedication of the Dalai Lama and the Mind and Life Institute he founded in the U.S., neuro science researchers are studying mindfulness meditation. Breakthrough research using fMRI technology conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have demonstrated the correlation between mindfulness and changes in the regions of the brain related to learning, memory, and emotion. Other studies have shown that mindfulness is as effective for treating depression as antidepressant drugs.

A Massachusetts General Hospital study discovered that meditation has the ability to change one’s gene expression (which genes are turned “on” or “off”) in as little as six weeks, based on blood samples before and after meditation. Genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance were enhanced while genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways were reduced. Another Massachusetts General Hospital study showed that eight weeks of meditation shrunk the amygdala, the portion of the brain modulating response to fear and stress.

Meditation and its Applications

In a recent Huffington Post article, my wife Penny highlighted the importance of mindfulness in integrative medicine in connecting the mind, body, and spirit. Integrative medicine encourages patients to practice inexpensive and non-toxic activities such as yoga, massage, healthy eating, and mindfulness meditation in combination with conventional Western medicine. Mindfulness is also practiced by health professionals in order to cope with the immense stress of their work. Allina Health, the largest health system in Minnesota, offers resilience-training programs for employees that encourage mindfulness, nutrition, and exercise to manage anxiety and depression.

Most leaders do everything they can to shape their enterprises, but if they don’t step back from constant action, they lose perspective and their sense of priority, as well as their ability to create original solutions. That’s why many companies like Walt Disney, General Mills, and Google have made mindfulness an important element of their company cultures by offering it to their employees.

Thirty years ago, Disney brought in Ron Alexander, a meditation teacher, to teach seminars to inspire their creative teams. Following the meditation seminars, Disney’s teams dreamed up Tokyo Disney, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Today, the company incorporates meditative practice into its workplace and is regarded as one of the world’s most innovative companies.

For the past seven years, General Mills employees have engaged in meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices while at work. General Mills reports that 80 percent of employees practicing mindfulness were able to make better decisions with greater clarity and 89 percent reported enhanced ability in listening to others. Marturano recently formed the Institute for Mindful Leadership to bring mindfulness training to corporate executives.

In April 2012, Google announced a new program titled “Search Inside Yourself,” a free course for employees designed to teach emotional intelligence through the practice of meditation. The program was designed by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer looking for a way to ease the burden of Google’s fast-paced, demanding environment. Mr. Tan’s program is very popular among employees, generating a waiting list each time it’s offered.

Cultivating mindfulness takes daily practice. Mindfulness allows us to live in the present, bringing a deeper understanding of what is happening and how we respond to it. I urge you to give it a try. You will be glad you did, and so will those around you.

Bill George is professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of True North and Authentic Leadership. He is the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. Read more at www.BillGeorge.org, or follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.

Bill George: The Tipping Point for Mindfulness.

 

Sacred Shadow Self Opening Performance Tomorrow: Anonymous. Spontaneous. Dance. Meditation

The Anonymous Spontaneous Dancer reveals herself:

When Karah Pino first asked me to be part of The Sacred Shadow Self I was hesitant to say yes because I am in a “non-performance state”, a state of creative development, and quiet reflection.

My Mother almost passed away three times in the last several months and I had been doing a lot of advanced grieving, introspection and forgiveness work during that time and to be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed by my own shadow self and all I wanted to do was escape into the lighter side of things.

I knew I would ultimately say yes though because Karah is a spiritual sister and when she appears in my life there is always a positive lesson attached.

So yes. I will be there, with my veil on, I will be there, hidden amongst the crowd and yet obvious to the eyes of anyone who is present. I will be a shadow of my self, a ghost of sorts, a fraction of who I am. I am not entirely sure what I will be doing but maybe I will see you through the veil. And maybe you will see me.

Anonymous Dancer

Karah Pino in Mindful Meditation and the Anonymous Dancer will end the Opening performances at 8:30pm during Artwalk.

Karahs sacred shadowMind Unwind Gallery

2206A California Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 849-7222

Kripalu : Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain

By Angela Wilson, MA, RYT

One of the most well-known and utilized tools in meditation and yoga is the practice of self-observation without judgment, or mindfulness. Swami Kripalu called self-observation without judgment “the highest form of spiritual practice.” Likewise, if you go to any yoga or meditation class you’re likely to hear words like mindfulness and nonjudgmental awareness repeated throughout the class. But what do these terms really mean?

Mindfulness meditation has been defined by Jon-Kabat Zinn as “the ability to pay total attention to the present moment with a nonjudgmental awareness of the inner and/or outer experiences.” Kripalu Yoga teacher Shobhan Richard Faulds describes self-observation without judgment as “restraining the mind’s tendency to grasp what is pleasant and push away what is painful — and produce a flowing state of choice-less awareness that enables you to remain intimate with what’s going on inside you.”

Mindfulness, something once practiced only in more closeted meditation circles, has recently become a greater mainstream interest. Perhaps for this reason, research on mindfulness meditation has increased considerably over the last decade. Even the National Institutes of Health has grown increasingly more interested in mindfulness meditation, funding a number of large studies which investigate the effects of mindfulness on emotional and physical health outcomes.

Mindfulness Improves Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health

While mindfulness is in many ways a simple practice, it benefits are numerous. Physically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol and blood pressure, and to improve the immune system. Cognitively, mindfulness has been shown to decrease rumination and boost attention. Emotionally, mindfulness reduces emotional reactivity and improves resilience. While many of these studies are preliminary, they nonetheless begin to paint a powerful picture of the overall health benefits of mindfulness.

However tenuous these preliminary studies are, they are augmented by current neuroscientific research that reveals how mindfulness meditation can significantly change the brain. And these changes are not just seen in cave-dwelling monks — they also occur in average hardworking, child-raising folks — like most of us.

The Brain on Mindfulness

Research shows that, even in a short time, mindfulness meditation can change the brain. What kinds of changes in the brain does mindfulness produce? Well, first, mindfulness fortifies our ability to manage difficult emotions. Second, it alters the way we experience our sense of self. It is arguably these changes that contribute to many of the benefits reported by current research. Let’s take a closer look at how this occurs.

Mindfulness training has a notable impact on the limbic system, or the emotional system of the brain. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that determines how much stress we experience and that is central in modulating our fear responses. For example, people with very active amygdalae tend to experience more depression and anxiety.

Perhaps even more intriguing, however, is that mindfulness can actually change the size the amygdala. One study on overstressed businesspeople found that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training, the size of the amygdala actually shrunk compared to those who were not practicing mindfulness. This reduction was correlated with less perceived stress. In those eight weeks, subjects were actually able to change their brain and, consequently, reduce their stress.

Findings also show that mindfulness practices help the person reduce emotional reactivity by increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC, a brain region particular to homo sapiens, which is in charge of activities such as decision-making, planning, abstract thinking, and regulating emotions. People with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, have an overactive amygdala and an underactive PFC. The result is high emotional arousal, and a low ability to manage it.

Several studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation improves PFC functioning. Specifically, a study showed that mindfulness practice increased activity in the PFC such that attention span improved. Another study revealed that mindfulness increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex — a part of the brain that is closely connected to the PFC and is correlated with empathy and decision-making. As these regions show more activation, subjects tend to report greater emotional stability and less reactivity.

Neuroscientific research has also found that mindfulness meditation changes how we experience ourselves in the world. Generally, we spend a lot of our day in the personal narrative of our life. We obsess about the future, we dwell on that conversation we had with our spouse last week, or last year, and we remain entrenched in the storyline of our life. Researchers call this the “default network” and it’s dominated by cortical midline structures (CMS). While this “default network” has its benefit, when we spend too much time in self-referential thinking, especially if we are caught up in negative thinking, it can lead to poor emotional and behavioral outcomes, including depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness practice is about attending to the present moment. It teaches us to notice how the body feels, right now, paying attention to the breath and observing, without grasping onto our current state of mind. By definition, mindfulness moves us away from our personal narrative about how our life should be and into how life actually is, moment to moment.

It was no surprise to researchers that this practice would impact the brain. Through mindfulness practice, activity in the CMS, the part of the brain related to our personal narrative decreased, and activity in the insula, the part of the brain related to subjective awareness and body awareness, increased. Researchers postulate that this may contribute to some of the subjective benefits of mindfulness practice: When we move out of the story of our lives and into the actual lived experience of it, we feel better.

The bottom line? Mindfulness is an opportunity for the brain to strengthen and enhance itself — it’s like taking the brain to the gym. From our experience of working with health-care professionals — some of the most highly stressed individuals in today’s workforce — you don’t need to spend hours on a meditation cushion to reap the benefits of these practices. Our participants experience results with just five minutes a day of seated breath-awareness meditation or 10 minutes of mindful chair yoga. Ultimately, the impact comes from consistency of practice. Just as you wouldn’t expect to see much benefit if you went to the gym only once a week, the same is true of mindfulness training. It needs to be cultivated each day.

While the cushion is helpful in mindfulness meditation, mindfulness can be practiced at any time and in any situation. In every moment, we can choose to bring our attention back to the present and to know that when we do, we are actively involved in shaping our brains to foster more peace and inner ease. From this view, a touch of mindfulness practice each day becomes a tremendous investment in our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Kripalu : Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain.

Vocabulary refresher course in the language of mindfulness meditation – latimes.com

The vocabulary of meditation can be a barrier for people who feel that they’re entering a strange world, experts say. Here are some common words.

Buddha: meaning one who is awake, in Sanskrit. The Buddha was a person, not a god, who lived more than 2,000 years ago; from a privileged family, he became a seeker of truth and eventually became enlightened.

Dharma: often used to mean the teachings of Buddhism and meditation.

Mantra: a word — “om” being perhaps the most famous — repeated as a way to keep the mind focused on one spot during meditation.

Metta: loving kindness. In metta meditation, a person seeks to evoke such feelings for oneself or others independent of self-interest. Phrases such as, “May I be safe, may I be peaceful and happy,” can be repeated in the meditation.

Mindfulness: “a receptive attention to present-moment experience or attention to present-moment experience with a stance of open curiosity” (from Diana Winston of UCLA).

Transcendental meditation: a form of meditation using a mantra, introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and popularized these days by such people as filmmaker David Lynch.

Vipassana: another name for insight meditation to cultivate mindfulness.

Zafu: a round cushion used for sitting during meditation.

— Mary MacVean

via Vocabulary refresher course in the language of mindfulness meditation – latimes.com.