The great sage, Patanjali defined meditation in these 4 Sanskrit words:
“Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha”
which translates to:
“One-ness is the progressive quieting of the fluctuation of the mind”
- Helps preserve the aging brain
- Decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), (responsible for the “monkey mind”)
- Reduces symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and stress
- Increases grey matter in key regions of the brain
- Increases self-awareness and empathy
- Stronger mental resilience
- Effective in helping people recover from addiction
- Improves concentration and focus
(increasing attention span)
- Great for kids in improving their working memory capability and improving mental regulation
HOW DOES IT WORK?
As it is already difficult enough to maintain or commit to a daily meditation, Frances decided to offer an easy and accessible link for clients to book themselves in for personalized meditations, offered in the comfort of their own home, workspace or wherever stillness chooses to find them. Varying from client to client, Frances offers a variety of meditation practices to promote the intention for class and what her client wishes to achieve during their meditation. Meditations include breath awareness, mantras, body scans and guided themed meditations such as gratitude or loving kindness. Frances is currently offering 20-, 30-, 60-minute meditation sessions via Zoom call.
Historically speaking, when humans lived in the untamed wilderness, we had to deal with threats in our environment, and that included protecting ourselves from very hungry saber-tooth tigers which would target humans as a tasty treat. In that moment, you needed to quickly decide whether to put up a fight, run for your life or do your best to look like a rock. This is when our Sympathetic nervous system gets activated. Our automatic nervous system consists of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is the one that activates the fight or flight response during a threat or perceived danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a state of calm. It has been shown that practices such as yoga, meditation and sound healing, can activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
When your body enters a state of fight or flight, your biological stress response kicks in and does literally what it would do historically if it were to have to either fight or flea from a saber tooth tiger.
So, what happens when this gets activated? You begin to:
Breath more rapidly
Start to perspire
Blood flow increases
Blood leaves non-critical aspects of your physiology and moves it to the arm and legs
Your digestion stops
Stress hormone surges
Blood sugar spikes as glucagon
Shuts down all non-essential functions
Shuts down your immune system, your reproductive system and growth hormone
This stress hormone response kicks in in less than five seconds. This automatic fight, flight or freeze response is no different than it is today. Our minds and bodies still respond in the same way to everyday stressors. But most of the threats we encounter are purely psychological. The saber- tooth has evolved. Our brains haven’t.
Stress has been a major contributor to the development of diseases, and while not always a direct cause, often stress is an exacerbating factor in the progression of disease.
So essentially, when we meditate, we are allowing our bodies to enter a state of homeostasis, which is a self-regulating process by which biological systems maintain stability while adjusting to ever- changing external conditions.
Neuroscientist, PhD. Sara Lazar, also an assistant professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, came through with various studies that included brain scans quite literally showing how meditation can change the size of key regions of our brains. This included, improving memory, making us more empathetic and compassionate, and resilient under stress.
It has been well documented that as we get older, across most of our cortex, it has the tendency to shrink as we get older. Part of the reason why it’s harder to figure things out and to remember things as we age. In this one region of the cortex, they found than a 50-year-old meditator showed the same amount of cortex as a 25-year-old.
Research suggests that meditation can help slow down or prevent the natural age-related decline in cortical structure. In one of her studies, she gathered a bunch of people within the Boston area and had them go through an 8-week meditation program, where they meditated every day for 30-40 minutes a day. At the end of those 8 weeks, they scanned their brains once again, and found an increase of grey matter in areas of the brain such as the:
Prefrontal Cortex, which is important for working memory and executive decision making
Hippocampus which main functions are learning, memory, and emotional regulation
The Temporo- Parietal Junction, which is important for perspective taking, empathy and compassion
And what is most fascinating is they found a decrease in grey matter in the Amygdala which is our fight or flight part of our brain, which is responsible for anger, stress and anxiety.
In other words, a consistent mediation practice has the capability to reshape our brains, for the better.