Sunday, March 24, 2013

Basic Training

When we begin to talk about the ways and whys of training the brain into mindful and attentive paths, we could end up all over the place. Basically, from a scientific point of view it is simply this:

Mindfulness is good for you and helps your health!
All around the country science has been researching the impact of meditation on people of all kinds with all types of issues. Some have studied Tibetan monks; others have worked with terminal cancer patients. With the rise of newer technology such as functional MRI scans we can look at things in the living brain that reveal more mystery than answer- but show the positive ways meditation and mindfulness can touch our lives.

One way it has been described is that positive emotional states can be a learned skill. In other words, we don't have to stay locked into negative emotions. We can learn ways to help ourselves move into new ways of thinking which can have benefits in many areas, physical as well as emotional.

Remember that all signals and information transferred around our bodies from toe to head and back again are through physical interactions- electrical and chemical. If things get short-circuited (electrical) it can throw off the chemical balance. And vice versa! There is a fine and critical balance in our brains between chemical and electrical that simply change the ways we feel or can feel. Different physical or emotional events can throw any of these off. Some of these are even genetic.

For example:
  • Pain- we produce too much of some chemicals as a buffer, or response to pain. We are thrown off.
  • Depression- perhaps for many a genetic concern that doesn't produce the right balance of the right chemicals.
  • Stress and anxiety- the fight or flight response is sure a chemical reaction that changes things quickly.
  • Substance Abuse- talk about throwing off the chemical balance!

These areas, by the way, have been shown through much research to be positively impacted by mindfulness and meditation! That does not mean that all we have to do is learn to meditate and these things will go away. Oh, if it were only that easy. But to train our brain- or in many instances, re-train the brain- is to improve the foundation on which can be built new coping skills, positive emotional responses, stress relief, and recovery.

The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.
Carl Sagan

Note: When I talk about "training the brain" I am not referring to the idea that we should keep training the brain as we get older. That concept is a narrow focus and isn't where I am going when I talk about it.

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