How many of you have nothing but a passing curiosity about meditation, or are actively resistant to the very idea of it?
Are you wondering what all the fuss is about? Why on earth are cross party reviews considering funding modern meditation training for schools, front line health workers, prison workers, and even prisoners? Why are CEO’s, entrepreneurs and business leaders taking to modern meditation techniques to help them perform at their peak in business, and reach their full potential?
Well, it’s not just about ‘relaxing’ and sitting still for a while. There’s a proper science to meditation, which literally re-wires your brain for improved success, wellbeing and emotional resilience – on a scale you most probably can’t even imagine if you have yet to dip your toe in to mastering your own mind.
I think it was Osho who said so wisely…
“Your mind can be a beautiful servant. Or a dangerous master”
The chances are, if you have not yet learnt mind mastery in the way meditation allows you to, you may well be at the whim of your mind. It’s probably using and abusing you. At the very least it will be tricking you and limiting you, in ways which are so insidious and familiar, you will have just accepted them as your lot.
To cover all the key findings of Neuroscience, and how meditation changes your brain is unrealistic for this blog post, as there are thousands of studies to comb through. However I will just focus on a couple of key areas, which I hope will make sense and resonate.
Scientists working in the field of meditation, researching it’s effect on the brain now even have their own name – ‘Contemplative Neuroscientists’ – and the magical piece of equipment they use to measure neural activity and changes in grey matter, connectivity and functionality is the MRI scanner. Neural Plasticity is the term used to describe the well established fact that the brain is able to ‘collapse’ and destabilise old connections and patterns, and to wire together new ones. Although establishing new neural connections both within an area of the brain, and between areas, sounds rather sci-fi, the good news is, it’s actually remarkably easy to achieve with the right techniques.
Default vs Awareness
There is an area in the middle of the brain called the Posterior Cingulate Cortex, this can be thought of as our ‘default network’ which ( unless we have been taught meditation ) we drift into unconsciously most of the time – where we dwell on the past, ruminate, predict the future and get caught up in loops of thinking about our ‘self’, life, external circumstances, and how they might affect our ‘self’. We tell ourselves stories about our ‘identity’ – it’s the home of self referential thinking. Sometimes we can get so absorbed in thinking about our own lives we barely notice what is going on around us.
What meditation techniques teach, is to quiet this area of the brain down. When we do this, we experience ‘effortless awareness’, where we are fully aware of our selves, and our environment, without engaging in an internal dialogue about it, and what it ‘means’ to us. It is not just a form of concentration, but rather a quality of experience which is ‘non-clinging’. This state of awareness is associated with slower brain waves, it uses much less energy, and it returns us to the absorbed awareness we had as children when we were in rapid and expansive learning mode.
We may still be aware of thoughts when we are in this state, but we can learn to just notice them as they pass through, rather than jumping in to the seat of the emotional roller coaster with them. When we are engaged in self-referential thinking, we start ‘feeling the thinking’ and we produce a physiological and measurable response to it. This is how we create chronic stress for ourselves – without meditation most of us have no mastery over our self-referential thinking, and we unconsciously trigger off the ‘Physiological Stress Response’ with our own thoughts about our selves and our lives.
What researchers have discovered, is that the common element of drifting into ‘thinking’ which causes Anxiety and Stress is ‘judgement’ – as opposed to just noticing. Meditation techniques allow you, through increased awareness, to consciously notice thoughts, even thoughts about stressful events, without producing a ‘Physiological Fear Response’. So meditation is actually not about stopping your thoughts completely, instead the benefits come from forming a different relationship to your thoughts, and reducing their emotional charge. The result is having mastery and choice over which thoughts you engage with and think about.
As well as feeling good for the meditator, this also conserves a lot of bodily energy, because it is no longer being sapped by the most exhausting and labour intensive of all brain functions – unnecessary and unproductive thinking – this previously wasted energy can be directed back into the active processes of healing and repair in the body, and allowing the immune system to keep us vibrant and healthy as designed – rather than literally just muddling through in survival mode!
Shrinking the Fear Centre
Within about 8 weeks of taking up a regular meditation practice, it has been shown through research that the Amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for setting off the ‘Physiological Fear Response’ actually shrinks. So rather than it acting like a pumped up, over-exercised muscle which becomes genius at stressing you out over the slightest little thing – it shrinks and calms down allowing you to feel calm, peaceful, safe, secure and able to get on with life and perform to your full potential.
Reclaim your Attention
With the ability not to drift into stress producing thinking, or to get overly distracted by the (often pointless) self-referential thinking, we learn to reclaim our attention and to master our minds. Another main benefit of this is that we can be much more focussed and highly productive, and we listen much less to than annoying inner critic who tells us it might all go wrong / that we are not clever enough / pretty enough / confident enough etc….
Live in Flow
Stress acts like a switch. It switches off our clever, resourceful, creative thinking, and instead switches on emotional and reactive thinking. When we are free from those old stress hormones coursing through our systems ( even the ones we didn’t realize were there ) this opens up our experience to living much more in flow, accessing our best creativity, problem solving and intuition. Life and opportunities can begin to come to us more easily, instead of living with a sense of constant striving and effort, achieving becomes easier and more natural. Sometimes there is less to do than you think….
If you would like to learn a simple and highly effective technique for yourself, I have developed a practical program based on modern Applied Psychology and Mind-Body Science, called SHINE – ‘A Daily Meditation, Relaxation & Self-Coaching Technique’ which teaches you to access and nurture the optimal Brain – Heart – Body state of Psychophysiological Coherence for improved Health, Happiness & Success – SHINE was statistically validated in January 2016 through a standardised trial protocol with 40 people, for its effectiveness and positive results on health, emotional wellbeing, mental wellbeing, stress management and improving productivity.
To read more or to register for The SHINE Meditation Program – click here for the LIMITED offer for January of £67 (value = £107): SHINE
Lisa Bardell BSc ( Hons ) Psych, Dip NLP Coach Clin Hyp – is an Executive Coach, Author of ‘Shine Brighter’, Creator of the statistically validated SHINE Meditation & Coaching Online Program, NLP Master, Accredited Meditation Coach and a Registered Clinical Hypnotherapist working with private clients One to One from her practices in Cheshire and Central London. Lisa is also the Director of the Manchester ‘Damsels in Success’ group, leading entrepreneurial women in their personal and business development, through group coaching and mentoring.
To view more information on all services click website link: LisaBardellCoaching.co.uk