My fiance Nick and I are practicing some new mindfulness techniques and have decided to devote an entire afternoon every week for the next 10 weeks to developing our Mindfulness Meditation Practice.
We both have a regular am yoga and meditation practice, but we’re taking it one step further and delving into the science behind each specific technique, i.e. the latest studies on practicing meditation techniques for health benefits and for changing your brain, and we’re going to be trialling these different techniques and then sharing them along the way with you so you can follow along at home too if you choose!
How Practicing Mindfulness Meditation Changes Your Brain…..
The coolest part is, that in as little as 11 hours of mindfulness practices, (and this includes a wide array of practices that take just a few minutes each day), your brain structure and anatomy starts to CHANGE-and the areas that make you resilient to anxiety and stress start to light up like a Christmas tree, like an area of the brain called the cingulate gyrus.
In addition to the resilience pathways lighting up and getting bigger, your stress circuits, like those in the limbic system and specifically in your amygdala, will get weaker–a good thing because if these circuits are hard-wired, it makes your brain very susceptible to mood lows, anxiety, sleep problems and the feeling of constantly being stressed out.
Using the science behind these practices to change your brain chemistry and ‘hard circuitry’ so you can actually have control over you mind and body to prevent illness and to help heal from stress related health problems ranging from gut issues to anxiety and depression is the goal of Mindbody Medicine and Integrative medicine–it’s an evidence-based modern approach to the problems that have no magic pill, and that western drug-based approaches along just don’t do a great job at treating.
The best part is that this stuff REALLY works and we now can explain why thanks to functional MRI brain studies using these meditative techniques to change our brains and control our subconscious activities! Learning how to use these techniques is easy and doesn’t take hours a day, and it’s the way to empower yourself and understand how your brain, mind and body actually works so you can make your brain work for you and not against you!
Mindfulness Meditation And The Relaxation Response
There are many different ways to do a mindfulness practice, all of which activate your Relaxation Response (more on this in a moment), such as focusing on your breath or on a word or phrase and being present of what is going on in the present moment and watching without judgement as your thoughts pass over you.
So this, week, I’m going to be teaching you about one of the Mindfulness practices that I do and teach, and that was pioneered and researched at Harvard University to be a very simple but effective Mindfulness Practice and it’s Called the Benson technique, after it’s creator, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard U. It’s a really simple quick way to activate this thing in your body called the Relaxation Response.
The Relaxation Response is an inborn mechanism but most of us have forgotten how to activate these brain circuits to the highly stressful, chaotic, busy and fast-paced modern life, and certain personalities have a harder time than others ‘remembering’ how to activate this circuit because their brains get wired onto the stress pathways in the amygdala (part of the brain that lays down emotional patterns and fear).
These people who have harder wired stress circuits tend to have busy stressful jobs, push themselves hard, can be perfectionists and maybe called ‘type A’ personalities, and they at highest risk for stress related illness like anxiety, poor immunity, weight gain, digestive issues and sleep problems.
Ok so if that sounds familiar, here’s how to start rewiring your brain circuits to get out of those stress loops and tap into your Relaxation Response loops instead! Set Aside 5-10 minutes twice a day to sit comfortably in a quiet space and practice this technique and start changing your brain!
How To Activate The Relaxation Response
Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably and pick a word: if you are not religious or don’t already meditate, you can use the word ‘one.’ If you have a short prayer or meditation phrase you can use this too;)
Now breath in through your nose as you expand you belly outward and then your ribcage and then exhale all the air our deflating your ribcage and watch your belly falling as your breath out through your mouth, making your exhale LONGER than your inhale. On the exhale, repeat your word over in your head.
At first, when you are developing your breathing skills and lung capacity, you can inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3, but work towards exhaling for a count of 7 over a few weeks to a month, never straining the breath, but focusing on progressively extending your exhale as you say your word.
…..And If You Need Help Relaxing…..
Just sign up for my free mind body medicine course at the bottom of this post!