Meditation holds the power to change how we think, feel, interact within life, and ultimately transform the ways in which we perceive and experience reality. Relationships, work, parenting and the overall quality of life increase when we center our attention on the present moment. How can mindful meditation help you with the conflicts and hurdles that life throws your way? What is the impact of meditation on various cognitive and behavioral functions? The latest research in neuroscience suggests that meditation and mindfulness training can produce positive, experience-based structural alterations in brain function. By adopting mindfulness, evidence suggests that a regular meditation practice may also slow down the age-related atrophy of certain areas of the brain which supports improved overall physical well-being.
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When we truly pay attention, we experience meditation and mindfulness. No matter what method we use to get to that point, quieting the mind is the key. Meditation is a form of mental exercise that has become a popular health practice. It has achieved wide-ranging popularity in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, neuroscience, and beyond. Regular practice of meditation is reported to produce positive changes in mental state and psychological well-being that extend beyond the time of meditation.
Awareness is the essence of our existence. It is within our reach all the time, and yet most of us do not recognize it. We can think of meditation as the partner of mindfulness, and quieting the mind as a necessity of mindfulness, to recognize this awareness and the truth of who we are.
Through meditation training and a mindfulness practice, we can cultivate a non-judgmemtal awareness of experiences in the present moment. This in turn can produce beneficial effects on well-being and stress-related symptoms.
Mindfulness is an umbrella term used to characterize a large number of practices, processes, and characteristics, largely defined in relation to the capacities of attention, awareness, memory/retention, and acceptance/discernment. Research suggests meditation and mindfulness practices positively affect attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and change in perspective on the self.
At the heart of mindful meditation is detachment from the things in life we can’t control. When you allow all sensation and thought to flow through each moment, what flourishes within you is a welcoming, creative, and resilient environment for whatever comes your way.
What is the meaning of “consciousness”? Where does it come from and how does it shape our lives? There’s the scientific view of consciousness which looks at details of the brain and its functions. Consciousness is also defined as our thinking, our perceptions, our system of beliefs and spirituality, and the entirety of our self-reflection. Though our reality seems dependent on what our external world looks like – where we live, our relationships, our economic situation, etc. – in truth, it’s our consciousness that creates our reality and determines what the external world is serving up at any given time.
When faced with challenges we can easily start to feel the need to escape the suffering. We look for distractions from our reality or seek to be transformed in a way that changes everything. Mindfulness teaches us that the answer lies in concentration and focusing on the present. It is the acceptance of what is happening in the moment. Each experience, thought, or interaction is neither “good” nor “bad.” It is all part of the continuum that flows throughout our lives. Instead of escaping from a situation or a feeling, mindfulness focuses on acceptance and sidestepping the battle we can find ourselves in if we resist being fully in the present.
The amygdala is widely regarded as one of the most important limbic structures in prevailing models of stress states and anxiety disorders. It receives information from sensory modalities and projects this information to other subcortical structures. This in turn mediates stress-related behavioral and psychological effects such as stress-hormone release and blood pressure elevation. Stress has significant adverse effects on health and is a risk factor for many illnesses. Neurobiological studies have implicated the amygdala as a brain structure crucial in stress responses.
The amygdala, often regarded as the "fight or flight" center, is the primal region of the brain associated with fear and emotion, which plays a key role in the initiation of the body's response to stress. The latest research in neuroscience demonstrates in MRI scans that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the amygdala appears to shrink.
As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.
The “functional connectivity” between these regions – i.e. how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain becomes weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration become stronger.
The scale of these changes correlate with the number of hours of meditation practice the person has completed.
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