PMS

The neuro-benefits of meditation

DSC_0502(45).jpgMeditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.

Studies have shown that regular meditation promotes mindfulness (sustained observing awareness), whose benefits include decreased stress-related cortisol, insomnia, symptoms of autoimmune illnesses, PMS, asthma, falling back into depression, general emotional distress, anxiety, and panic, and increased immune system factors, control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, detachment from reactions, self-understanding, and general well-being.

In your brain, regular meditation increases gray matter (neuronal cell bodies and synapses) in the:

  • Insula – Handles interoception (sense of your own body); self-awareness in general; empathy for the emotions of others
  • Hippocampus – Key role in personal recollections, visual-spatial memory, establishing the context of events, and calming down both the amygdala (the alarm bell of the brain) and production of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Prefrontal cortex (PFC) – Supports the executive functions, self-control, and guiding attention

Regular meditation also:

  • Increases activation in left PFC, which lifts mood
  • Increases the power and reach of very fast, gamma range brainwaves, which promotes learning
  • [in a three month retreat] Preserves the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA molecules; longer telomeres are associated with fewer age-related diseases
  • Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in the insula and PFC

Meditation is the quintessential training of attention. Since attention is like a vacuum cleaner – sucking its contents into your brain through what’s called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” – getting better control of your attention is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better. (For more information, see my slide set for psychiatrists that summarizes research on meditation and mindfulness; also see the references.)

The research summarized above just scratches the surface of the benefits of meditation. It is you saying to the world (and yourself): I’m going to step off the hamster wheel now. This time is for me. It is a way to center in being rather than doing (what a relief!). And a way to see the mind streaming along, transient and insubstantial, an unreliable basis for lasting happiness, not worth chasing after or struggling with.

The minutes I spend meditating are usually the best ones of my day. They feel like coming home. It’s good to be home.

How?

The best meditation of all is . . . the one you will do. So find what you like and will stick with. There are tons of books, talks, even videos about meditating, plus great teachers all over the place. Here I’ll offer a summary.

Relax. Rest. Intend to meditate. Come into a sense of presence with yourself. Know whether you are meditating in relationship to something transcendental (such as in prayer) or not. (I’ll describe a “secular” meditation here.)

Find something to anchor attention, such as the sensations of breathing, a word or phrase (e.g., “peace”), or an image. Use an anchor that is stimulating enough to keep yourself present; feel free to do walking meditation or use an audio program to guide you. Meditating with others can also help you stay focused.

Start by giving attention fully to the anchor, letting go of everything else. Center in it, becoming absorbed in it, even for just a few breaths or few minutes.

Then, with an ongoing awareness of your anchor, let your attention widen to include your body . . . thoughts . . . feelings . . . wants . . . and overall mental atmosphere. You’re not trying to make your mind blank. Let things come and go, just don’t jump on board of them. Without stress or strain, gently open to relaxing and quieting, and to an increasingly stable presence as experiencing, being a body breathing in peace.

Meditate for as long as you like. Even one minute is good – and ten, twenty, or even forty-five minutes could be even better. I suggest you join me in being committed to meditating every day for at least one minute.

Toward the end of meditation, let the benefits sink into you.

If you tend toward dissociation or getting flooded with painful feelings when you relax into yourself, then you may need to build up more inner resources before meditating. Also, try to not be self-critical; this is not a performance test! Meditation is a skill and like any other, you’ll get better at it over time, and its benefits for you will grow.

Most of all, find the enjoyment in meditation. Follow that enjoyment home.

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Tone down the negative, enhance the positive

Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish – and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart, anger can highlight injustices, fear can alert you to real threats, and remorse can help you take the high road next time.

But is there really any shortage of suffering in this world? Look at the faces of others – including mine – or your own in the mirror, and see the marks of weariness, irritation, stress, disappointment, longing, and worry. There’s plenty of challenge in life already – including unavoidable illness, loss of loved ones, old age, and death – without needing a bias in your brain to give you an extra dose of pain each day.

Your brain evolved exactly such a “negativity bias” in order to help your ancestors pass on their genes – a bias that produces lots of collateral damage today.

Painful experiences are more than passing discomforts. They produce lasting harms to your physical and mental health. When you’re feeling frazzled, pressured, down, hard on yourself, or simply frustrated, that:

  • Weakens your immune system
  • Impairs nutrient absorption in your gastrointestinal system
  • Increases vulnerabilities in your cardiovascular system
  • Decreases your reproductive hormones; exacerbates PMS
  • Disturbs your nervous system

Consider the famous saying: “Neurons that wire together, fire together.” This means that repeated painful experiences – even mild ones – tend to:

  • Increase pessimism, anxiety, and irritability
  • Lower your mood
  • Reduce ambition and positive risk-taking

In couples, upsetting experiences foster mistrust, heightened sensitivity to relatively small issues, distance, and vicious cycles. At much larger scales – between groups or nations – they do much the same.

So don’t take painful experiences lightly, neither the ones you get nor, honestly, the ones you give. Prevent them when you can, and help them pass through when you can’t.

How?

This week, take a stand for yourself, for feeling as good as you reasonably can. A stand for bearing painful experiences when they walk through the door – and a stand for encouraging them to keep on walking, all the way out of your mind.

This is not being at war with discomfort or distress, which would just add negativity, like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Instead, it is being kind to yourself, wise and realistic about the toxic effects of painful experiences.

In effect, you’re simply saying to yourself something you’d say to a dear friend in pain: I want you to feel better, and I’m going to help you. Try saying that to yourself in your mind right now. How does it feel?

When emotional pain does come, even softly, try to hold it in a large space of awareness. In a traditional metaphor, imagine stirring a big spoon of salt into a cup of water and then drinking it: yuck. But then imagine stirring that spoonful into a clean bucket of water and then drinking a cup: it’s the same amount of salt – the same amount of worry or frustration, feeling inadequate or blue – but held in a larger context. Notice that awareness is without any edges, boundless like the sky, with thoughts and feelings passing through.

In your mind, watch out for how negative information, events, or experiences can seem to overpower positive ones. For example, researchers have found that people typically will work harder or put up with more crud to avoid losing something than to gain the same thing. And they feel more contaminated by one fault than they feel cleansed or elevated by several virtues. Try to switch this around; for instance, pick some of your good qualities and keep seeing how they show up in your life this week.

Be careful whenever you feel stymied, frustrated, or disappointed. Humans (and other mammals) are very vulnerable to what’s called “learned helplessness” – developing a sense of futility, immobilization, and passivity. Focus on where you can make a difference, where you do have power; it may only be inside your own mind, but that’s better than nothing at all.

In your relationships, be mindful of reacting more strongly to one negative event than to a bunch of positive ones. For example, studies have shown that it typically takes several positive interactions to make up for a single negative encounter. Pick an important relationship, and then really pay attention to what’s working in it; let yourself feel good about these things. Deal with the problems in this relationship, sure, but keep them in perspective.

Overall, whenever you remember, deliberately tilt toward the positive in your mind. That’s not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Given the negativity bias in the brain, you’re only leveling the playing field.

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Cardiologist says meditation could be beneficial

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Recently, FOX 2 sat in on a group meditation session. You could almost feel the stress slipping away, which is good for the mind and body.

“So, what happens when we have elevated stress levels is the stress hormones in the body are produced in excess and there is a chronic elevation of those hormones. Those actually cause damage to the vascular walls, to the heart and to the other organs, and that is what raises the blood pressure,” said Beaumont [Mich.] Cardiologist Kavitha Chinnaiyan, M.D.

To mediate, all you really need is a quite place and the ability to still your mind. Dr. Chinnaiyan said just a few minutes every day could have tremendous benefits.

“Adding this aspect of meditation actually has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease blood cholesterol, reverse heart disease in some instances and actually prevent its progression,” she said.

“I go into my favorite room in the house, which is the living room, where it’s quiet and nobody’s out of bed yet, and this is where I usually find my time and my peace,” said Sandy Kovach.

“Having high blood pressure is not a normal thing,” Chinnaiyan said.

On the path to a healthier heart, Kovach is one of several local women taking part in the American Heart Association’s My Life Check Makeover. She and Kim Pratt are learning how this quiet relaxation can inspire change.

“Meditation … for one, has helped me lower my blood pressure. It’s helped me calm down and actually enjoy things around me. I just went on a trip last week, and I actually noticed the scenery more than I would normally just kind of (rushing) through,” said Pratt.

“If you’re driving and you get to some place and you have two minutes, that’s all it takes. Make it a habit. The issue is not about sitting down for 20 minutes every day. The issue is about making it a habit like brushing your teeth,” said Chinnaiyan.

Stress is one of the risk factors for heart disease. During the month of February, which is heart month, we’re focusing on how to reduce your risk of the number one killer.

To learn more about managing your stress or the My Life Check Assessment, check out the link below:

American Heart Association: Four Ways to Deal with Stress

My Life Check

Original article no longer available

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Cure PMS in 15 minutes

Robin Westen, NY Health and Beauty Examiner: Feeling bitchy, tired, depressed, bloated and can’t sleep? Got PMS? Well, don’t reach for over-the-counter meds.Close your eyes and relax. Meditation can help alleviate all your symptoms. In one study, women with severe PMS showed a 58 percent improvement after five months of daily meditation.

Although meditation has profound affects on our wellbeing, it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. For beginners, follow these basic steps:

* Sit in a quiet, comfortable place on a straight-back chair or floor cushion. Relax your muscles but do not lie down.
* Select a simple phrase or word, such as “one,” “peace,” “om”.
* Repeat your chosen word as you breath in and out. If your mind wanders (whose doesn’t?) don’t quit. Just let your thoughts go, and refocus by repeating your chosen word.
* Continue for fifteen minutes.

When you finish, sit quietly for a minute or two — first with eyes closed, then with eyes open.

Original article no longer available…

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Meditation as medication (CBS News)

The Saturday Early Show, CBS: More and more people are turning to alternative or non-traditional methods to treat medical conditions.

One such technique, meditation, is gaining popularity as a legitimate medical therapy.

Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention and mind on something that makes your feel calm and relaxed and gives you clarity about your life, says medical contributor Dr. Mallika Marshall.

For thousands of years, people have recognized that meditation has wonderful health and psychological benefits.

The medical community is becoming much more accepting of meditation as a legitimate treatment for many different medical problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. It’s being used treat all kinds of chronic pain. People are using meditation to try to quit smoking. It’s also being used for alcohol and drug addiction. And the National Institutes of Health is even recommending meditation for high blood pressure. Studies have show also that it can help women who suffer from PMS, menopausal hot flashes and even infertility.

Meditation helps your enter a relaxation state that can lower your heart rate, your blood pressure, slow down your breathing and relax your muscles. Some experts have compared it to a “reset button” for your body.

Meditation is something that most people can safely try on their own, though there are many techniques out there — so you may want to read up on different ways to meditate.

Here is a basic meditation technique to get started. Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Simply focus on your breathing, focusing all your attention on sensation of air moving in and out of your body. The other thing you can do is repeat a single word or phrase either silently or by whispering. Do this for about 20 minutes every day if you can.

In the beginning, your mind will wander and come back to the present, but don’t despair, simply refocus your mind and try again.

Since meditation involves sitting quietly for a period of time and simply breathing, it may be difficult for people who have breathing problems or can’t stay still. People with certain conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or psychosis may not be able to concentrate. And don’t forgo traditional medical treatments in favor or just doing meditation. It should be used to complement any other treatments your doctor has recommended for you.

Original article no longer available…

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