An Apple a day keeps the doctor away goes the old adage. But, the present thought is that a little yoga and meditation a day can keep a doctor away. Research studies that were done to estimate the effectiveness of mind-body approaches which includes yoga, meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behavior, and positive psychology indicate that the volunteers who participated in such relaxation programs were able to reduce the use of medical services in a year by up to 43% when compared to the previous year when they did not practice any such techniques. The number of tools and techniques as well as benefits of the tools so large that it is possible for you to choose a tool that would be effective and lead you to the path of wellness physically, mentally and without a doubt spiritually, too.
Stress and its effects on the brain
Stress is an intangible attribute that produces considerable unfavourable effects on your mind and body. But, you will realize it only at a later stage. Stress to a certain degree is considered as an important aspect to help you up your performance. This is because when you are under a pressure to perform well in a sport or even in a competition, the stress you experience will quicken your heartbeat, which will boost your adrenal glands which are also known as the gland for fight or flight. it is called so because it secretes a hormone called cortisol which will help you perform under stress. But, when the stress becomes a constant phenomenon, the overexposure to the cortisol hormone could indeed spell danger. The effect will be pronounced in the brain, organs as well as your immune system.
Nature of stress
Incidentally, stress is difficult to understand and tackle stress because of its nature. What is considered as a stressful situation by you might not be stressful at all for another? So you will be the person to identify what the root of stress for you is?. The sooner you realize the root of stress the better it will be for you so that you can avoid the detrimental effects of chronic stress such as anxiety, depression, headache, heart diseases and even death in certain cases.
Mindfulness – what is it?
Mindfulness is nothing but awareness of whatever you are doing. Mindfulness is considered as the best tool to handle stress because it is supposed to prevent you from dwelling on the past. When you embrace mindfulness you will focus on your thoughts and feelings. But you will be doing it without judgment as to whether it is right or wrong. Though it is difficult to focus on your thoughts without being judgemental, you can try to practice it. There are a number of ways to add mindfulness to your day. Even if the time you devote to mindfulness is less the key to success is consistency.
Spending 10-15 minutes to include mindfulness at different times in a day. These include
- Starting a day with surya namaskar or sun salutations which is the most beneficial yoga exercise that can benefit your body and mind.
- Taking a break and check in with your breathing.
- Do a body scan.It will help reduce stress and tension
- End your day in a relaxed manner with a guided meditation that you like and would allow you to follow it regularly.
You could practice the variety of approaches, but sticking to an approach that you deem fit, judiciously is the key to keep stress, anxiety, and depression at bay and to improve your brain health.
Meditation is a term that encompasses various styles and practices that are based on one underlying principle- awareness of your inner self. Meditation is considered to be as effective as an antidepressant. Meditation focuses on taking care of your emotional and mental health and thereby improves your physical health. Some forms or types of meditation include
- Concentration meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Walking meditation
- Tai Chi Qigong
- Heart-centred meditation
- Mindfulness meditation.
The mindfulness meditation is considered better than others not only because it involves the practice of focussing on your thoughts but also does not prevent you from focussing objectively on negative thoughts when it passes through your mind. This will help you in practice and will help you achieve a state of calm easily.
Mindfulness, meditation and brain health
- The neuroimaging studies that were done n 300 meditation practitioners showed that it could bring positive effects in the brain areas associated with emotional regulation, self-awareness, body awareness and memory consolidation.
- It helps in the neuroplasticity of the brain. The neuroplasticity of the brain is considered to be the ability of the brain to change and adopt overtime by making new neural connections. This again can also be considered as the capacity of the brain to reorganize itself. When mindfulness is practised you become more aware, more observant and less reactive and judgemental. This change will facilitate the brain to function in a different way- that is mindful. The capacity to make the structural and connection changes to facilitate improved reaction or performance in a situation or a task is called the neuroplasticity of the brain. It is very important.
- The claims that mindfulness and meditation produce positive outcomes as far as the general health and cardiovascular health are concerned can be attributed to the fact that the practice of meditation can increase the thickness in the cortex. The cortex plays an important role in the sensory processing as well as general cognitive functions such as attention which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Likewise, long-term meditation is also found to be linked with the increase in the grey matter that is dense and found in the brainstem. Ths area of the brain is linked to cardiorespiratory control and the increase in grey matter promotes better cardiovascular health.
- The use of MRI to assess the changes that occur in the brain after an eight -week mindfulness course showed that there was heightened activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex experienced increased activity and connectivity. There was also a decreased functional activity in the amygdala even when exposed to emotionally charged stimuli. This goes to show that the practice of mindfulness made parts of the brain associated with higher level of functioning active and the areas of the brain that handles stress and other strong emotions recorded less involvement.
- Studies also indicate that mindfulness activated parts of the brain related to memory retrieval, attention and decision making which can help you in academics and job performance.
Having elucidated the effect of mindfulness and meditation on the brain structurally as well as in its functioning, which is still a topic for research which may reveal much more connections, you must also note that you can expect results only with consistent practice. Finding the right meditation, the right place, the right time and the right posture that will make you to practice it regularly is the key to improve your brain health.