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Tame the monkey mind: health benefits of meditation

Meditation is one of those things that most people say that they can't do...either because they have tried once and struggled or have never tried because they think it's for "calm people".  The thing is that meditation is NOT EASY FOR ANYONE.  It may become easier with time but I can guarantee you that even monks who spend hours every day in meditation struggle with their practice at times.  

The reason that everyone struggles with meditation is because of  the monkey mind.  The monkey mind is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless, inconstant; indecisive, controllable".   An example of this would be a situation where you have the perfect environment for meditating.  You go and sit down on your cushion and settle into the correct posture.  Then you start to follow your breath.  Next thing you know you are thinking about that nasty thing your colleague at work said to you and then you catch yourself and come back to your breath.  Five seconds later your realize that you are hungry and start planning your next meal.  Then you realize you have a really bad itch, so you scratch.  Then you realize that you're really uncomfortable so you need to readjust your posture.  And basically it just goes on and on that way.  The monkey mind hops from thought to thought.   

Both novice and seasoned practitioners will spend most of a meditation practice continually just coming back to the breath.  It's not that their mind doesn't wander, it's just they know mindfulness is like a muscle and needs to be strengthened with diligence and patience.  They are dedicated to taming the monkey mind.

Still the fact is that meditation sounds really hard...so why should we do it?  Well, everyone should meditate because it's good for your health!  

The top four reason that meditation improves your health: 

How meditation benefits your health. 

How meditation benefits your health. 

  1. Meditation improves your brain function.  In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory.  In another recent study, participants were found to increase focus and memory in just a few short weeks of daily meditation. This showed improvement on GRE verbal reasoning exams.  

  2. Meditation reduces stress by decreasing cortisol levels.  Most individuals are in chronic "flight or fight" response.  What this means is that the body is chronically releasing too much cortisol hormone which results in being stressed. As we know stress is linked to almost all chronic illness.  Meditation can change how a person perceives life circumstances and events, it then alters how the body reacts to those events.  Things that used to be perceived as threatening can be changed through daily meditation and give an individual perspective to respond with more equanimity.  
  3. Meditation decreases psychological disorders.  Dr. Hedy Kober, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation at Yale University says that meditation does to the mind what going to the gym does to you body.  Meditation changes the physical structure of the brain.  The cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and disrupting old ones based on response to stimuli.  This quality is what researches call neuroplasticity.  This affects the neural circuits of the brain, which then affects how we respond to situations.  This is beneficial for individuals wanting to create lasting psychological changes. Studies show that meditation is associated with improvement in a variety of psychological areas, including stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders and cognitive function, among others.
  4.  Meditation is good for your heart.  Did you know the number one cause of death in the US is cardiovascular disease?  Protecting your heart is always a good thing.  Numerous studies have shown that daily mediation decreases your heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing , and muscle tension.  Groundbreaking studies by Dr. Dean Ornish of Harvard Medical School first established that a holistic lifestyle program that included meditation could actually reverse the fatty plaques blocking a person’s coronary arteries, the chief cause of heart disease.

So I may have convinced some of you to give meditation a try but you don't know where to start.  Well, there are a few ways you can start a daily meditation practice.  The first would be to simply set a timer for the same time every day and spend 10 minutes sitting and watching your breath.  The second would be to join a mediation group and get some formal education.  But if both of those still feel overwhelming, I highly recommend the app called GIANT MIND.  It's a great introduction to meditation and to top it off its FREE and EASY.  

Do you currently have a meditation practice?  If so, what has helped you stay diligent and committed?  And if you are currently not meditating, have you ever tried?  What has kept you from wanting to meditating?  I would love if you would share in the comments below.  

 

 

Sources:

  • Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
  • Melnick, Meredith. "Meditation Health Benefits: What The Practice Does To Your Body." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
  • "How Meditation Affects Your Health and Wellbeing." Mercola.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
  • "How Meditation Affects Heart Health." Chopra.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

 

 

It's time to let go!

Everyone in Santa Fe can smell and feel that Autumn is here.  We have been blessed with that cool breeze and aromatic smell of roasting green chiles.   Fall is the transition from the warm exuberant energy of Summer into the introspective cozy energy of Winter.  It’s when you begin to feel life slowing down.  Your body begins to crave more grounding foods like root vegetables rather than the light salads you may have been eating all summer.  As we move from the playful energy of summer into the soulful wanderings of winter, fall allows us the time to contemplate what is we want to bring with us.  What is essential and what is it that we need to leave behind?

In Chinese medicine Fall is dominated by the element of Metal. The primary emotions associated are grief and sadness which can be transmuted into courage (Water element).  The Lung and the Large Intestine are the organs associated with Metal/Autumn.  They work together in receiving and releasing.  The Lungs receive oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  The Large Intestine absorbs water and nutrients and expels waste.  Both help in providing energy to the body.  They are taking in what is good and pure and then letting go of that which does not serve.  When we are not living the life that nourishes and serves us, we can feel immobilized, depressed, or sad.

Letting go is the lesson the Fall brings us.  It’s one of the hardest lessons that life presents.  The entire Buddhist religion is essentially based around this concept of “letting go” – non attachment.  With the season shifting and my own transition into motherhood, I have become conscious of my difficulty of letting go of control.  I have felt unable to control my body as it grows and transforms to accommodate and nourish my baby inside me.  I have also felt unable to control how my partner relates to this experience or me.  I can plan all I want but I have realized that I have no control over how my birthing experience will be, what temperament my child will have, or how I will handle motherhood.  Pregnancy and birth is all about surrender.  I read a midwife commenting on this by saying “When the monster is coming to you and you want to fight, open your arms and surrender.  Let it have you.  It WILL eventually anyway.  Surrender to what have to go through.  The joy is on the other side”.

Letting go is synonymous to surrender.  It is not a passive act but actually one of empowerment.  Sometimes letting go means taking action and walking away from situations but sometimes it also means relinquishing control which can feel more passive.  This can be all the harder when things aren’t going the way that we have planned.   In Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart, she says, “When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.  The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell”.  When we can relax into the process, practicing radical acceptance, and letting go of things that are not serving us, we move towards our higher Selves.  How can we be open to receive if we are gripping the old?  Take a look at your relationships, beliefs, and lifestyle practices that are no longer serving you.  Where are you ready to let go?  You can use the energy of Metal/grief to let go and move you into a new cycle that can better serve you.

Foods that support you in Fall:

adzuki beans, amaranth, apples, barley, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, daikon, dates, eggplant, figs, garlic, ginger, greens, kidney beans, melons, millet, mung beans, oats, okra, onions, parsnips, pears, peppers, persimmons, pumpkin, quinoa, raisins, brown rice, sweet potatoes, turnips, wild mushroom, wild rice, yams.