As humans, we were designed with the ability to respond to stress in life-threatening situations to ensure our survival. However, our stress system surrounding the amygdala in the center of our brain should only be turned on a handful of times in our lifetime, as it is very primitive and only to be turned on if our life is threatened. It is a great system to have in order to save our life as it tells our adrenals to spit out adrenaline and slow down digestion and bladder etc. Therefore, there are benefits of stress response as it can be life saving! The cons of the stress response however include increased blood pressure, insomnia, migraines, decreased immune system function, limited thinking and decision-making, IBS/poor digestion, depression and anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks.
The amygdala does not know the difference between almost being killed, and just worrying about the future or thinking about bad things that happened in the past. The amygdala thinks we are being threatened and therefore stays in fight-flight or freeze response patterns, where we have limited thinking and a steadily increased production of adrenaline and cortisol, which breaks our body down over time and literally changes our DNA, This also slowly shuts down our immune system and digestive system. With meditation, we can reduce the activity of the amygdala, which means that we don’t get overly anxious and stressed about things for no apparent reason or overreact to stressful stimuli.
New connections in the brain are also formed through meditation. Grey matter is the part of the brain where the neurons are connecting to each other and this part is activated when we are learning new skills. When we meditate, we are stimulating growth of new brain cells, which means more grey matter. As we age, we are naturally losing some of the mass of the grey matter, but meditation slows down this process.
In meditation, we are exercising the prefrontal cortex in order to access it quicker so that we can have more joy, happiness, focus, attention and greater decision-making skills. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making decisions and analyzing life around you and is therefore responsible for problem solving and regulating emotions. Therefore, the more grey matter we have in this part of the brain, the better we are able to deal with our emotions and feelings.
We do this by allowing the mind to wander and bringing it back –this is where strengthening occurs! Every time you bring your attention back to the present moment by focusing on your breath and/or bodily sensations, it is analogous to doing a bicep curl, but for the brain!
*Did You Know: Your brain uses 20-30% of the calories/energy that you consume each day? That is why exercising and fueling your brain optimally is so important! Our brains are primitive and need primal movement and nutrition just like our bodies in order to function powerfully!
The many noted benefits of mindfulness and meditation include:
- Improved attention, working memory and executive function
- Enhanced capacity for self-regulation of attention and emotion
- Reduced stress, anxiety and insomnia (better sleep!)
- Greater empathy, acceptance and compassion
- Enhanced resilience
- Shifts us out of negative thinking
- We become more responsive and less reactive
- Greater ability to let go of what does not serve us
- Increases grey matter and cortical thickness in the brain
- Specifically, it can literally change your brain and therefore change your life!
WHAT Is Mindfulness meditation?
To start, let’s get clear about what mindfulness and meditation is NOT:
Mindfulness is not about clearing the mind and having no thoughts. It is also not about focusing on external objects. You do not have to sit cross-legged on the floor, visualize or sing mantras and you do not need to believe in any particular religion.
Mindfulness meditation IS exercise for the pre frontal cortex of the brain. Brain training! Rewiring the neural network for calm, clear problem solving thinking. It also activates the neural circuits associated with happiness, joy, creativity, and being energized and enthusiastic towards life. Mindfulness Meditation expands our awareness so that we can develop a different relationship to our thoughts, emotions, and ourselves.
It is a constant refocusing from wandering from future thoughts and past thoughts back to the present moment. The body is always in the present moment; so all the anchors for mindfulness meditation are in the body and are not external objects.
“Mindfulness meditation is paying attention on purpose to one thing in the present moment, without judgment”– Jon Kabat-Zinn.
HOW we pay attention is important.
Non-judgment means letting go of the story telling mind and not “shoulding” on your thoughts (judging what they mean or why they keep coming up). Pay attention with kindness in order to encourage ourselves as we begin this powerful journey.
12 Tips for Powerful Stress-Free Living:
Magnesium is a powerful mineral that helps relax the entire body, organs and has a calming effect. Magnesium is great to supplement with before bed as it helps calm your muscular and nervous system for a full restful nights sleep. Epsom salt baths (1-2 cups epsom salts per tub) with a couple drops of lavender essential oil is another great way to absorb magnesium through the skin and promote relaxation.
*See your healthcare practitioner before changing your supplement regime
- Increase water consumption to average 2.4 L /day (more if
weating a lot). This will give your body the ability to feed all of your cells with oxygen and nutrients as well as flush away stress-inducing toxins that are both avoidable and unavoidable in today’s society.
- Exercise recovery and stretching
When we engage in physical activity, especially moderate to intense exercise, cortisol (stress hormone) is released in the blood stream. Therefore, it is
crucial to cool down and stretch after every workout to bring down the stress response.
For people who exercise in the morning and do not stretch after, they bring that fire and intensity (fight-flight) from the gym into the rest of their day, which is not necessarily conducive to their work life or relationships!
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night.
Sleep is when your body and brain get the opportunity to recovery from the stress endured each day and it needs 7-8 hours of restful sleep in order to fully recover, build and strengthen.
Practicing gratitude and doing a body scan in bed is a very effective way to help fall asleep and wire the present moment into your subconscious, which has been determined to have a very powerful effect on how you wake up and go about the following day.
While optimal sleep can help reduce stress, mindfulness meditation and relaxation can also improve sleep! Take action to create a cool, dark and quiet place to unwind, destress and recharge.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
This includes taking a deep breath, focusing on bringing your breath in through your nose and into your diaphragm, expanding your belly (not your chest cavity) and then releasing out through the mouth. This helps open up your stomach area to create room and stimulation for your digestive system to work properly and get more oxygenated blood pumping through your vessels to all parts of your body, including your muscles and your brain!
- Mindfulness Meditation
To get all these wonderful effects of meditation, how much should we meditate? You can start with 5 minutes a few times a day, and build up to 15-30 minutes daily. It takes 20 minutes of daily practice to have calm, clear, problem solving ability and a greater ability to access joy, happiness and creativity.
Meditation and mindfulness bring a certain level of calmness into your life, and give you space to reflect on what is happening around you, instead of reacting continuously to every single stimulus that might pass you by (including your own thoughts). You are in better control of your thoughts, your emotions and your reactions, which makes you better able to navigate in life with a purpose, instead of just drifting from one sensation to the next. Well worth those few minutes a day, don’t you think?
- Create small and easy daily habits
Habits require very little focused energy and can be done subconsciously. Imagine if you had to expend extensive mental energy and thinking through each step of brushing your teeth or getting dressed? Habits are great if they are healthy! However, I too understand that forming new habits can sometimes be overwhelming. But it is HOW you form new habits that make a world of difference. Believe it or not, by adding small and easy habits to your life, one or two at a time, can help you reclaim your happiness, energy and your overall health. This includes implementing one or two of these tips (that you are not already routinely acting on) in this article at a time. A helpful tip is to let your new habits tag along with habits that are already hard-wired into your subconscious, as they do not trigger panic in your already stressed out brain. An example would be to use your time in the shower or while eating your meals to consciously take notice of your breathing, the sensations you are feeling, and to think about one thing you could do that day that will add value to your life and create a “win” for you. Slowly but surely, as you add this new habit to your existing habits, the two will become intertwined and almost automatic! Of course you may forget to do this every time at first, but be kind to yourself and don’t judge yourself poorly. Being aware that you forgot is the first step and a HUGE WIN!
- Positive thinking, Affirmations and Visualization
Find a quiet spot where you can focus on setting a powerful intention for the day, and visualize it happening. Visualize and FEEL what it will feel like once you have accomplished that intention. What will be the outcome and impact for you? Focus on what you DO want, not what you want to prevent or do NOT want to happen.
It is best to do this in the morning upon waking up, as it will put that energy out there, set up your positive mindset and ignite your motivation within.
Gratitude keeps us positive, optimistic, and able to keep coming back for more when life throws obstacles in our way. We are therefore more equipped to respond powerfully to challenges instead of reacting to them. It also moves us into a place of abundance where we are more resourceful, creative, generous, optimistic and kind. “Gratitude does more than make us feel good. It helps us become resilient” –Michael Hyatt.
Gratitude can be expressed through acts of kindness as simple as holding a door for someone or saying thank you with eye contact. Gratitude can also be expressed through our thoughts, and actively choosing to think about the good that comes out of each challenge you face everyday. It is also expressed through feeling your gratitude for things in life sometimes taken for granted such as your family, your home, hot water to shower in, food to eat or the amazing desire you have to be reading this article still and ability to create a better life for your personal and work life and relationships!
- Get Outside
The negative charge of the earth binds to positive ions in the body, which are inflammatory toxins, to help detoxify the body. In other words, helping rid you of stress provoking toxins in your body. Research has also informed that spending 20 minutes in nature (think soil, greenery and fresh air) stimulates the production of serotonin, your feel good hormone, to boost your mood and bring you back to the present moment. Better yet, get outside BAREFOOT. This magnetically and energetically reconnects us to our body and soul. The Journal of Environmental and Public Health reports that drawing electrons from the earth improves health in many ways, few of which include changing electrical activity in the brain, stress reduction, improved immunity, pain reduction and improve posture.
15 minutes of sunshine on 40% of your skin (think bare arms and legs without sunscreen for no longer than 15 minutes) has also been shown to provide the recommended daily requirement of vitamin D, which is vital to hormone and mood regulation and optimal brain health. This means that getting enough Vitamin D is needed to help regulate those stress and happiness hormones, cortisol and serotonin. Since meditation is a practice that promotes brain health and development, vitamin D is also crucial in assisting the process of strengthening new neural pathways in your beautiful and powerful brain!
- Get up and Move Around
It is important to move everyday, throughout the day as our bodies were designed to do! We were not designed to be hunched over a computer or sitting at a desk all day. By moving more periodically throughout the day, you can change your physiology, your attitude and literally dissipate the energy of stress in your body. This may mean standing up more while working on something, going for short brisk walks throughout your day or simply taking a moment every 30 minutes to get up and stretch. Exercise releases neurotransmitters that lead to mood elevation and increased blood circulation.
- Make a list and schedule in PLAY TIME
You can take control of your life by knowing what you need and want to accomplish in order to reach your goals. It is also important to schedule in time to rest and have fun/play in order to become refreshed and newly motivated.
Remember, everyday you have a choice to implement a number or all of these simple rituals that will supercharge your energy and motivation to accomplish what you need to while enjoying life to its fullest!
— Your most POWERFUL moment, is NOW —