Train Your Brain: Meditation for Health and Productivity By Quinn Hand, ND
As the hazy, placid days of summer draw to a close, you may be all too aware of the imminent chaos that is about to besiege you. With back to school tasks and the impending work deadlines that kick in after a season of long weekends and vacation time, September can seem synonymous with stress.
But what if we could keep that stress at bay using a tool that helps us reconnect with that summer-time calm? Luckily for us, the ancient wisdom of the East has made it to the West. Once seen as some sort of New Age escape from the world, meditation is now seen for what it is: A practice that helps us be in the world in a more productive, more engaged, healthier, and less stressful way.
How does it do all this? It’s not just about distracting us from pain and stress. Rather, it has actually been shown to change us at the genetic level. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, and Harvard Medical School found that the relaxation response actually switched on genes that are related to augmenting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and fighting a range of conditions from arthritis to high blood pressure to diabetes. Furthermore, it physically changes the brain, increasing prefrontal cortex thickness, responsible for cognitive functions like sensory and emotional processing.
Functional MRI brain imaging has also shown, with a visible difference between those who meditate and those who don’t, that meditation essentially trains the brain. Such training influences the way we experience and respond to the world.
So, how can we start training our brains? Start slowly, with only five minutes per day to open the door to forming this new habit. Then build up to 15-20 minutes, or more. Here are some simple ways to get started:
- Choose a reasonably quiet place to begin your practice, and select a time you will not be interrupted.
- Relax your body. If you want to close your eyes, go for it. Allow yourself to take deep, comfortable breaths, gently noticing the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation.
- Let your breathing be full, bring your attention to the air coming in your nostrils, filling up your abdomen, and then releasing.
- When thoughts come in, simply observe them and gently nudge your attention back to your breath. This is not about stopping thoughts or judging them.
Guided meditations can also be a great way to get started. There are fabulous apps and downloads these days. I often recommend Headspace, available for Android and iPhone at www.headspace.com. Other options include: Mark Williams’s Mindfulness Meditation Recordings (franticworld.com); Buddhify (available for Android and iPhone); and Chopra Centre Meditation Podcast (free on iTunes).
Finally, keep in mind that meditation should not be one more thing to stress you out. We don’t need to “do” meditation, rather we need to allow meditation to “do us”, bringing in all its benefits. Let’s tap into that summer-calm all year!
Dr. Quinn Hand is founder and clinical director of Q Wellness, she is also a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Hand is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.
To learn more visit: Q Wellness