Meditation & Pranayama


I’ve learned that starting small is good enough. Just softening a little when you are feeling frustrated, just reaching out to someone when you’d rather be alone, just trying when all you feel is resistance.

When you work with your thoughts and attitudes, little by little, you can change your life and your world for the better.

This is why the discipline of meditation has tremendous transformational power. Just to come back to the breath is a revolutionary act that affects every aspect of your life.

Shambala Mountain Center


Why Meditate? Science Says...

(I like numbers. They don't lie.)

LESS DEPRESSION, STRESS + ANXIETY: Studies conducted at the University of California show that Meditation practiced for 5 months, decreases brain responses to stress and pain by a comparable 40–50%.

MORE WELLBEING+ COMPASSION: Harvard University found out that short, daily meditation practices lead to growth of the gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with wellbeing and compassion while the areas associated with stress and pain actually shrink.

IMPROVED PRODUCTIVITY + FOCUS: In a 2012 study conducted at the University of Washington,researchers found that meditation leads to a significant improvement in concentration and to time being used more efficiently.

LESS PAIN: Studies prove that meditation reduces physical and emotional pain, in some cases even after just four days of 20-minute trainings.

HIGHER EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE + BETTER SOCIAL CONNECTIONS: Stanford Medical Schoolfound an increase of up to 40% in compassion (for yourself and others) which leads to better social connections and emotional intelligence -- after a steady practice of meditation for only 9 weeks.

NO MORE LONELINESS: Researchers at UCLA report that meditating for just 30 minutes a day reduces the feeling of loneliness.

BETTER QUALITY OF SLEEP: The University of Utah discovered that meditation helps you sleep better as a result of lower cognitive and physiological activation at bedtime.

INCREASED ATTENTIVENESS: A study conducted by the University of Kentucky revealed that meditation increases the performance on tests that measure attention -- even after the subjects had lost a night’s sleep!

Other studies show that meditation has incredible physical benefits as well such as:

  • lowering high blood pressure by 40 – 60%
  • increasing your immune function
  • decreasing inflammation at a cellular level
  • improving ADHD
  • preventing heart attacks + strokes



Mindfulness

"In Asian languages, the word for 'mind' and the word for 'heart' are same.
So if you're not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you're not really understanding it.
Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it.
You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention." - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness means paying attention to this moment, releasing the past and not fantasizing about the future.
It gives rise to deep strength that paves the way to compassion and connection, hence living a happy life.


The insula and empathy

Scientific research using brain imaging (MRI) has shown that the insula becomes energised by meditation. This is hugely significant because this part of the brain is integral to our sense of human connectedness as it helps to mediate empathy in a very real and visceral way.

Empathy allows you to see into another's soul, as it were, helping you to understand the predicament 'from the inside'. With it comes true

Compassion, true loving-kindness

If you looked inside your brain using a scanner you would see this area buzz with life when you are feeling empathy for another person.
Meditation not only strengthens this area, but also helps it to grow and expand.

But why is this important? Apart from being good for society and all humanity, empathy is good for YOU.

Empathy and feeling genuine compassion and loving-kindness toward yourself and others have hugely beneficial effects on health and well-being.



External Articles


Pranayama

"Healing is every breath." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do when we leave. In between that time, we take about half a billion breaths. What we may not realize is that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and can influence each other. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath. Learning to breathe consciously and with awareness can be a valuable tool in helping to restore balance in the mind and body.

Researchers have documented the benefits of a regular practice of simple, deep breathing (1,2,6), which include:

  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Lower/stabilized blood pressure
  • Increased energy levels
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm

In the medical community, there is a growing appreciation for the positive impact that deep breathing can have on the physiology, both in the mind and the body. According to the research, many of these beneficial effects can be attributed to reducing the stress response in the body. To understand how this works, let’s look at the stress response in more detail.

Pranayama as a Tool to Counter Stress

When you experience stressful thoughts, your sympathetic nervous system triggers the body’s ancient fight-or-flight response, giving you a burst of energy to respond to the perceived danger. Your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and you primarily breathe from the chest and not the lower lungs. This can make you feel short of breath, which is a common symptom when you feel anxious or frustrated. At the same time, your body produces a surge of hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which increase your blood pressure and pulse rate and put you in a revved up state of high alert.

With deep breathing, you can reverse these symptoms instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system—the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind.

In addition, with deep breathing, you engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. This conditioning of the respiratory muscles results in improved efficiency of oxygen exchange with every breath by allowing more air exchange to occur in the lower lungs. It also reduces strain on the muscles of the neck and upper chest, allowing these muscles to relax. In short, deep breathing is more relaxing and efficient, allowing higher volumes of oxygen to reach the body’s cells and tissues.

As well as reversing the physical stress response in the body, deep breathing can help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in the mind. Breathing can have an immediate effect on diffusing emotional energy so there is less reactivity to our emotions.