Rewiring Your Brain Through Mindfulness And MeditationFor over thirty years, neuroscientists have been studying the brain’s function to determine whether neuroplasticity, the ability of the physical brain to repair, grow and develop new neurons, can be measured, predicted and even encouraged. Within the past ten years or so, research[1] has uncovered startling results showing that we can, in fact, directly impact our brain’s ability to change – improving our mental and physical wellbeing.

 

How does it work?

Firstly, a quick overview[2] of neuroscience demonstrates that brain function controls our overall wellbeing – beyond what is strictly physiological. There are six structures within the brain that control what and who we are, and that include our physical function and the mental-emotional aspects of our lives: our autonomy and conscious processes (like our six senses) as well as our intellect and our ability to analyse. Recent studies have demonstrated that there are also areas in our brains that govern our ability to engage in higher consciousness activities: our moral and ethical values, our concepts of God, and even exploration of quantum mechanics as they relate to our spiritual or cosmic realities.

 

Recent research from the University of Wisconsin shows that there are indicators for compassion in the neo-cortex and prefrontal lobes. A new study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows meditation can train our brains in a way that enables us to be more understanding, patient and compassionate.

 

What’s it mean?

Science is proving that we can actually rewire our brains so to improve physical and emotional health. Through mindfulness training, and by using techniques like meditation, we can change the way we perceive our reality and learn to respond, rather than react, to our life’s circumstances. These approaches “can make profound and permanent changes in your consciousness and your fundamental perceptions of the world.” (Andrew Newberg, M.D. in How God Changes Your Brain, 2010).

 

Sarah McLean, best-selling author, lecturer and teacher (McLean Meditation Institute, Sedona, AZ) explains that mindfulness training, and meditation in particular, trains our brains to focus on one thing at a time and to be fully conscious in the present moment. Through meditation we turn our focus inward to see, accept and address various factors which disturb our ability to maintain inner peace, balance and wholeness, regardless of our life circumstances. Meditation is brain training to create a new state of rest and relaxation, pathways and even new traits in the brain.

 

For most of us, the daily grind of the information-overload-society we live in impacts our lives by interfering with the basic components of balance and wellbeing. We lack sleep and proper nutrition. We experience increased blood-pressure from over-stressed lives, depression and dangerous levels of anxiety due to issues like personal conflicts (real and imagined), financial instability and global unrest.

 

Mindfulness and the use of meditation can rewire our brains to respond to our lives differently. After all, we are what we think. Meditation changes our brains to ‘see’ our present-reality from a different perspective – to be more conscious and accepting of our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and to begin to understand the underlying causes of the dis-ease in our lives. We begin to challenge our concepts, perceptions and expectations in our daily circumstances – to be more present with our daily circumstances and to learn to respond in a way that is healthy, balanced and transformative: a way that prohibits further damage to our physical and mental wellbeing; a way that facilitates our ability to heal and maintain ‘perfect health’.[3] Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s[4] brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

 

So now what?

Commitment to a life of living mindfully and to implementing meditation as a technique to rewire our brains is easier than you might think. The benefits of meditation are realised by committing to a practice with a minimum of ten minutes a day, although full benefits are seen from 20-30 minutes of daily meditation. There must be three ingredients present to be ‘successful’ with meditation: willingness to commit to a daily practice; having gentle, non-judgemental attention to the present moment; and, focusing attention on something specific, like breathing[5].

 

Good meditation practice is simply sitting quietly – undisturbed – focusing on your in-and-out breath for the designated time.[6] There are five essentials to a meditation practice: recognising that it’s okay to have thoughts; not trying too hard; letting go of expectations; being kind to yourself; and, perhaps most importantly, sticking with your daily practice[7]. Have a look at some of the amazing resources by teacher Sarah McLean.

Whatever your approach, know that you can rewire your brain to improve your overall wellbeing.

Paul Kenney,

Daily Zen

PaulAuthor Bio: Paul Kenney is a senior advisor in the Canadian federal government and brings nearly forty years of experience inhealth care and public health to his passion to teach the benefits of meditation and mindful living. A devoted meditator, Paul believes in the integration of mind, body and spirit as necessary for healing and bringing about physical, mental and spiritual health and wellness. Through meditation, he believes anyone can develop the ability to be heart-centred and live in gratitude, joy and peace, despite past or current trauma and life struggles.

 

 

 

[1] For an in-depth look at the science of neuroplasty and its impact on emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, see How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, Ballantine Books 2010. This book, a follow-up to the best-selling book Why God Won’t Go Away by the same authors, lays out hundreds of studies that scientifically demonstrate how the brain is wired for connecting mental, physical and spiritual thinking and its ability to rewire neurons to create total physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

[2] ibid

[3] Perfect Health – The Complete Mindy Body Guide (Revised and Update). Deepak Chopra, M.D. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2000.

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/

[5] Soul-Centred, Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation (Hay House, 2012)

[6] Meditation practice can be augmented through the use of mantras, meditation music or guided meditation sessions. It is important to be sitting upright, hands in the lap (no special mudra, or position is required), with a timer that does not require you to jump up and turn off.

[7] Soul-Centred, Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation (Hay House, 2012)

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