Rin Tin Zen
I’ve been meditating off and on since 2008 but recently committed to making it a daily habit. A month into this new behavior I can already feel the benefits of meditating 15 minutes twice daily: more patience. The good news is that neuroscientific studies show meditation also lowers blood pressure and helps combat illness, depression, and insomnia.
In experimenting with various forms of meditation, variety keeps me motivated. Meditation is simple and easy to learn, but it takes time, patience and practice. Here are some ways to kickstart your meditation using your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch:
1. Mindfulness Meditation: Well worth the $1.99, these meditations are written and narrated by Stephan Bodian, a respected teacher and author of Meditation for Dummies. Using mindfulness-based techniques for stress-reduction, this app provides 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40-minute guided meditations. There’s an audio guide on the basics of meditation, a checklist for optimal practice, and 10-minute deep relaxation exercise to prepare for meditation or to unwind at the end of a stressful day.
2. Yoga Nidhra Lite: According to Yoga Journal, nidhra or “yogic sleep” is an ancient practice for creating full-body relaxation and deep meditative states of consciousness. This free app offers nidhra meditation by Madhav, a yoga teacher trained in the Satyananda/Bihar tradition. It’s another way to vary your practice because you can do it right before falling asleep.
I’ll be posting more as my practice strengthens. Whether you’re just starting to meditate or have been doing it for years, I’d love to hear from you!
In the RSAnimate video, The Divided Brain, Iain McGilchrist makes a fascinating argument that certain activities such as art, emotion and language aren’t uniquely left or right brain functions. Rather, his humorously narrated animation offers a more nuanced explanation for modes of thinking: Our left hemisphere is concerned with narrowly focused attention while the right allows us to maintain sustained, broad alertness of surroundings. Linda Verlee Williams relates this another way in her book Teaching for the Two-sided Mind: The left sifts out the parts that constitute a whole while the right combines those parts to create a whole. Left hemisphere=fragmentation; right hemisphere=synthesis. So what does this imbalance mean?
The more left brain dominant we become, the more we fragment reality so that it can be understood, quantified. We emphasize critical thinking skills of analysis, logic, and accuracy over synthesis, creating, and relating. McGilchrist argues this results in paradoxical conditions: we pursue happiness yet mental illness is skyrocketing. We strive for freedom and technological advances but are weighed down by bureaucracy and loss of privacy. We strive for perfection, but end up feeling empty.
Can we tilt the cerebral scales in favor of more balance? I googled “brain function balance” and was overwhelmed by info touting optimal brain functioning through hormone replacement, electric shock, and i-Phone games. I’ll keep searching and share what I find. In the meantime, I leave you with this from Thomas Merton, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
Research shows we’re not good at determining what will make us happy in the future, yet setting and achieving goals is critical to our well-being. Life coach Martha Beck offers a method for setting future goals but shows you how to experience the joy that achieving them brings today. I liked that this exercise brings me back to the present and helps me identify the elements of my life I’m happy with now. These serve as the foundation for all I strive for in the future.
Step 1: Pick your most ambitious goal. Write a sentence for it. My example (please don’t laugh!): I make a living as a writer.
Step 2: Project into the future a few years. Imagine what your life looks like after you’ve achieved that goal. I’m writing in my home office, a simple house filled with light, love, and the soothing sound of waves. I look out my office window. Jack catches a perfect little wave on his favorite longboard. At my feet, a black lab naps in a pool of sunshine.
3. Write at least three adjectives to describe how you feel in this scenario. I came up with content, secure, creative, joyful, loved, strong, humble, grateful, and purposeful.
4. Here’s the interesting part. Beck says to find something you’re doing now that makes you feel those adjectives. My projects to support low-income women achieve economic independence help me purposeful. Yoga gives me contentment and humility. When I do something unexpectedly kind for Jack or take a walk with Hobie I feel grateful and loved. Writing this blog feeds my creativity. Running the gorgeous Colorado trails gives me joy.
Try it and and let me know what you think!
1. Is stress making you cranky? Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” All of us can relate. But when we’re stressed for extended periods, our bodies release cortisol at levels toxic to the body. This can cause irritability and anxiety which negatively impact work performance and relationships. Elevated cortisol has also been associated with weight gain and heart disease. Studies show yoga benefits stressed individuals physically and mentally through regulating cortisol. Consider which is more important: the quantity of the work you do or the quality?
2. Are you trying to break a habit or establish a new one? Even though my rational brain tells me I don’t need the whole pint of Cookie Dough ice cream or that second glass of wine, I can’t always control myself. Research demonstrates (Slaughter, H. & Davidson, R., 2011) that those who practice meditation showed increased “cortical thickness” in a region of the brain important to controlling behavior. Since yoga is a form of mediation that incorporates poses, or asanas, with controlled breathing, it not only offers the benefits of meditation but offers the positive effects of exercise. 3. Do you have trouble sleeping? I’m sometimes able to travel with my husband to the fun places his work takes him. But upon my return, I have to hit the ground running with work, school and other commitments. In other words, no time for jet lag! I’ve discovered yoga helps me get the most restful sleep I’ve ever had. But don’t take my word for it, there’s scientific proof. A six month study found yoga (60 minute session six days a week, with a 15 minute evening session) helped increase total sleep time compared to control groups.
Maybe it’s time to give yoga a try! If you’re in the Colorado Springs area, I can highly recommend Pranava Yoga Center owned by fellow Texan Charlotte Matsumura and her husband Mike.
Slagter, H. A., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5(17). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00017 PMCID: PMC3039118