Self Help

Meditation for the Real World - Ann Swanson

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Matheus Puppe

· 21 min read

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  • Meditation is a practice that can benefit the brain and mental well-being through improved focus, stress resilience, mood regulation, pain relief, and more. It does not require any particular religious or spiritual beliefs.

  • While meditation has roots in religious traditions like Buddhism, it can be practiced in a secular way for health benefits. It is a form of mental exercise rather than worship.

  • There are many different meditation techniques, with mindfulness meditation being one of the most popular and accessible for beginners. Mindfulness involves observing one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations non-judgmentally in the present moment.

  • Techniques include focusing on the breath, body scanning, mantra repetition, loving-kindness meditation, open monitoring, visualization and more. The best technique depends on individual preference.

  • Meditation is accessible and can be done almost anywhere for short periods, not requiring sitting on the floor for an hour daily. Regular practice helps build the skill of mindfulness in everyday life.

  • While activities like prayer, music, art and sports can induce focused states, meditation specifically refers to practices aimed at cultivating awareness, focus and presence through techniques like mindfulness.

  • Meditation involves focused attention inward while being non-judgmentally aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations. Different brain regions are activated compared to flow states or prayer.

  • Prayer involves talking to a higher power and activates brain regions associated with communication. Meditation involves listening inward and can activate visual processing areas.

  • Hypnosis involves focused attention but also immediate responsiveness to suggestions, unlike meditation which maintains awareness.

  • Non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) aims to induce a sleep-like relaxation through guided meditation techniques like yoga nidra. It is a form of deep relaxation but not technically meditation.

  • Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) refers to tingling sensations elicited by certain stimuli like whispering voices. It overlaps with flow states and mindfulness but is not the same as meditation.

  • Meditation has many high-profile advocates and research shows its benefits for performance, mental health, focus and more. Consistency is key even if starting with just a few minutes daily. Morning and tying it to existing habits can help build the routine.

  • Thunderbolt pose, also known as viparita virabhadrasana, is a kneeling yoga pose that relieves pressure from the knees. It gets its name from the shape the body forms while kneeling.

  • The pose can be made more comfortable by sitting on a yoga block or rolled blanket between the shins and knees to alleviate pressure on the joints. This helps reduce strain on the knees.

So in summary, thunderbolt pose is a kneeling yoga pose that relieves knee pressure and takes its name from the body shape formed while kneeling. Modifications like using props can further reduce knee strain.

Here is a summary of how meditation can affect the brain:

  • Meditation changes the brain both in short term brain states (after minutes of practice) and long term brain traits (after months or years of practice).

  • Electrical changes happen immediately as certain brain regions activate, decreasing cortisol levels and altering neurochemistry.

  • It decreases activity in the default mode network associated with mind wandering and increases activity in attention networks.

  • Different meditation styles impact various brain regions and networks in different ways. In general it promotes more alpha and theta brainwaves linked to relaxation and focus.

  • Long term it promotes neuroplasticity, building density and connectivity in areas linked to cognition, memory, self awareness and emotion regulation like the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.

  • These brain changes are thought to underlie many of meditation’s mental and physical health benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety, depression and improved memory and focus.

Here is a summary of the key points about how meditation works from an ioners perspective:

  • Meditation moves the brain waves from higher-frequency beta waves (associated with alertness and focus) to lower-frequency alpha waves (associated with relaxation) and theta waves (associated with creativity and inner awareness). It can also promote delta waves associated with deep sleep.

  • It causes various beneficial chemical changes in the brain, lowering stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, while increasing feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones like GABA, BDNF, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin.

  • Regular meditation leads to long-term “brain trait” changes, physically altering brain structures over time through increased gray matter and connections between areas related to focus, memory, emotion regulation, etc.

  • It enhances self-awareness and insight into one’s thinking patterns. While it may reduce ego/self-centeredness, it does not eliminate it completely.

  • Difficult emotions can come up, so start slowly and see a teacher/therapist if needed. Mind-wandering is natural but meditation training reduces its negativity and frequency.

  • Overall, meditation trains attention and awareness, lowering stress and promoting healthier behaviors, happiness, coping skills, and well-being over the lifespan.

The chapter discusses how meditation can help with managing emotions and navigating life’s challenges. It provides specific meditation practices for dealing with common issues like stress, anger, depression, anxiety, trauma, fatigue, and relationships.

Some key points:

  • Meditation calms the nervous system by influencing the vagus nerve and parasympathetic response. It can counteract the “fight or flight” stress response.

  • Practices are given to recognize and handle specific emotions like anger, find forgiveness, and cultivate compassion.

  • When feeling down, meditation can help relieve rumination and open us to light, even in dark times. It supports dealing with loss, setbacks and difficult life events.

  • Managing triggers and reacting to panic attacks is addressed through meditations focused on acceptance, breathwork and grounding techniques.

  • Social challenges are covered with meditations for relationships, public speaking, attention and focus.

So in summary, the chapter explores how meditation can become a tool for navigating life’s challenges by helping manage difficult emotions, reducing stress responses, and supporting acceptance and inner peace during hard times.

Here is a summary of key points about managing triggers and panic attacks through meditation:

  • Understanding your personal triggers for anxiety and panic attacks is important. Triggers may be things that remind you of past trauma or make you feel unsafe.

  • Meditation can help improve your body’s ability to correctly detect threats over time, reducing false alarms and panic over benign stimuli.

  • When a panic attack occurs, physical symptoms like a pounding heart, breathlessness, dizziness or tingling may be experienced. It can feel scary but trying to understand it is occurring can help.

  • Grounding techniques like noticing your breathing, surroundings or physical sensations in your body can help calm the nervous system during a panic episode.

  • Labelling your experience as a panic attack, rather than thinking you’re going crazy, gives a sense of control over the situation.

  • Seeking medical help is recommended for severe, ongoing panic that disrupts daily life. Meditation complements professional treatment by teaching coping skills.

The key takeaways are that meditation can help reduce triggers over time by improving threat detection, and provides grounding techniques to manage panic attacks by staying present and labelling the experience helpfully.

  • The passage describes symptoms of a panic attack, including heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, dizziness, excessive sweating, shaking, chest pain, and nausea. If experiencing these symptoms, it recommends getting medical help if needed and then using the 3-3-3 technique to calm down.

  • The 3-3-3 technique involves naming 3 things you hear, 3 things you see, and moving 3 body parts to help ground yourself in the present moment and calm anxiety.

  • It introduces the concept of “emotional glimmers” - things that spark joy and ease like sunshine, nature, smiles - and encourages taking moments to appreciate them. This can help offset panic attacks.

  • Several meditation techniques are provided to help with social anxiety, awkward situations, impostor syndrome, people-pleasing tendencies, strong emotions like jealousy, being ghosted, and FOMO. Many involve focusing on the breath or specific body parts/sensations.

  • Improving concentration is discussed as a benefit of meditation. Warming up the mind with meditation before focused work can boost productivity by strengthening focus muscles and resisting distractions.

  • A concentration meditation is described focusing awareness on the “third eye” area between the eyebrows to activate the prefrontal cortex and improve concentration.

Here is a summary of the key points from the article:

  • There are two types of stress - distress (bad stress) and eustress (good stress). Eustress can motivate us and induce benefits like less strain on the cardiovascular system.

  • Meditation techniques like alternate nostril breathing and the “Rise and Thrive” method can help transform distress into the beneficial eustress.

  • Alternate nostril breathing involves blocking each nostril alternately to regulate the breath.

  • “Rise and Thrive” recommends recognizing stress symptoms, reframing the stress as an energizing response, and grounding oneself with deep breathing to face challenges bravely.

  • Taking breaks from technology is suggested, as screens can disrupt our circadian rhythm and the brain is overwhelmed by constant information.

  • Short meditation techniques are proposed to manage tech frustrations, avoid message regret, break addictive app usage, and alleviate “doom scrolling” of negative news.

  • The article also provides tips on knowing when to push through fatigue versus needing to recuperate, with mindfulness practices for both energizing and restorative periods.

  • N thoughts are described as slowly floating away like soap bubbles into an open blue sky, reflecting a sense of relaxation and release from mental clutter.

  • Yoga poses like backbends, strong standing poses, and sun salutations can help energize through increasing blood flow and activating the sympathetic nervous system.

  • Breathwork techniques like upside-down and right-nostril breathing are suggested for energy, while triangle and left-nostril breathing can help relax through activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • Meditation with an uplifted gaze or walking meditation can also impart energy, while lying down with supportive props is recommended for relaxation.

  • Practices like compassion meditation and random acts of kindness are highlighted for boosting connection with others and increasing feelings of goodwill. Extending loving-kindness to yourself first is advised.

  • Meditation is presented as a way to recover from trauma by getting out of fixating thought patterns and realizing one is not defined by past events or emotions. It can help clean mental “dust” to reveal an inner peace.

Here is a summary of the key points about meditating from an early age:

  • Meditation can be introduced to children from a very young age in a developmentally appropriate way. Even preschoolers can learn basic mindfulness skills.

  • Early meditation practice has benefits like improved attention, self-regulation of emotions, stress management, and overall well-being. It can help children deal with challenges as they grow up.

  • When introducing meditation to kids, keep it simple, fun and engaging. Short 2-5 minute sessions are best initially. Use language and activities suited to their age (e.g. breathing games for young kids).

  • Create a calm, comfortable environment without distractions. Have the child sit or lie comfortably. Guide their awareness to their breath, body sensations or a calming visualization.

  • Be a role model by practicing meditation yourself. Your calm, patient demeanor will reassure kids and help them learn self-soothing skills.

  • Don’t push or correct kids. Meditation should feel voluntary and enjoyable for children. Praise any effort to stay focused quietly.

  • As kids mature, meditation can evolve to include mindfulness of thoughts and emotions. Tailor it to support their developmental needs at each stage.

  • Rates of child and teen anxiety and depression are rising globally. Meditation and mindfulness programs have been shown to help children manage stress, attention, anxiety, depression, and pain by improving social and emotional learning.

  • Schools and clinical practices are integrating these programs because research shows improvements in cognition, emotional regulation, academic performance, and behaviors like focus, memory, and impulse control. Just one meditation session can improve thinking and problem-solving.

  • Teaching meditation to young children, teens, and families can have benefits. Simple breathing techniques can immediately help toddlers feel better. Teens can learn meditations similar to adults.

  • Students report feeling more optimistic and accepting after meditation sessions at school. They take better care of their health and engage in more prosocial behaviors.

  • Techniques like RAIN and rainbow breathing can help children learn to deal with emotions in a constructive way by naming, accepting, investigating, and nurturing feelings with kindness.

  • Meditation can unlock creativity by enhancing awareness, flexibility in thinking, and openness to new ideas through practices involving opposites and open monitoring.

  • Meditating with others provides social and emotional support that aids co-regulation of stress and calm through mirror neurons and the vagus nerve. Laughter yoga is one approach that reduces anxiety through social connection and playfulness.

  • Meditation can help with struggling sleep by reducing stress, anxiety and relaxing the body. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that tenses and relaxes muscles from head to toe to release tension.

  • Resetting your biological clock by being outside during key times of day (sunrise, midday, sunset) and avoiding blue light before bed can help improve sleep. Short meditations during the day can also help optimize circadian rhythms.

  • If you wake at night, a midnight meditation like progressive muscle relaxation or focusing on the breath can help wind down and drift back to sleep. Integrating meditation into your daily routine can support a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

  1. Slowing down breathing and consciously relaxing muscles can help lower blood pressure in the moment. Focusing on elongating exhales and feeling the body sink with each breath promotes relaxation.

  2. Daily meditation practice has been shown to reduce stress hormones and inflammation over time, supporting healthy blood pressure regulation. Even brief daily sessions may provide benefits.

  3. Visualization practices like envisioning healing energy flowing through the body or imagining feeling better in the future can help one mentally and physically during an illness. They may enhance recovery.

  4. Specific acupressure techniques applied to points like the Pericardium 6 point on the wrist have been demonstrated to ease nausea and symptoms. Massaging these points brings relief.

  5. Mindful movements like gentle ankle pumps while ill in bed can aid circulation and immunity. Maintaining prone positions for better lung expansion also helps respiratory distress.

  6. Meditation can help calm the mind and lower stress and anxiety before, during and after medical procedures. It supports coping and healing through the process.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as having a reading of over 140/90. Unfortunately, only one in five people with high blood pressure have it under control.

  • Meditation can immediately lower your blood pressure if you are experiencing a spike. Long-term meditation practice could also lower your blood pressure by clinically meaningful levels.

  • The relaxation response is a technique developed by Dr. Herbert Benson to consciously lower blood pressure, heart rate, and enter a relaxed state through breathing and meditation. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • Simple meditation techniques like focusing on breathing and silently repeating a word can induce the relaxation response and lower blood pressure.

  • “White coat syndrome” is when people experience higher blood pressure readings in a doctor’s office due to anxiety. Slow breathing and relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure in this situation.

  • Humming (“bee breath” technique) has also been shown to immediately lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels by promoting relaxation and vasodilation through acoustic vibration.

Here is a summary of the key points about meditation for easing menstrual and menopause symptoms:

  • Meditation and mindfulness practices like yoga have been shown to reduce symptoms of PMS and cramps, especially for severe cases. Techniques like breathing exercises and affirmations can help promote emotional stability and reduce symptoms.

  • Bed yoga poses are recommended for cramps, lying in positions like butterfly or fetal position with support. Deep breathing focuses on relaxing the pelvic floor on exhales.

  • During pregnancy, meditation can help with relaxation, optimism and preparing mentally for birth. Deep breathing and affirmations are suggested.

  • Perimenopause and menopause symptoms like mood changes can be eased by mindfulness meditation and yoga, which help regulate mood and improve sleep.

  • Hot flashes and night sweats during menopause can be reduced by being aware of triggers and practicing breathing techniques like cooling breath that involve mouth breathing.

  • Different meditations target specific symptoms like improving sleep, managing stress/anxiety/depression, fatigue, concentration, headaches and body pains. Alternate nostril breathing can promote balance.

  • Meditation has natural analgesic effects and helps reprogram the nervous system’s pain response over time, providing an alternative to painkillers for chronic pain relief.

Here is a summary of the key points about meditation and headaches/migraines:

  • Research shows that meditation can help reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of headaches and migraines by lowering stress levels and alleviating pain.

  • One study found that meditation with a spiritual component was most effective at easing migraines and led to feweroptional pain medications being taken.

  • Mindfulness meditation can help you recognize your unique triggers for headaches/migraines and early warning signs, allowing you to do self-care like relaxing activities earlier to potentially prevent a flare-up.

  • Common triggers include disrupted sleep, stress, weather changes, bright/flashing lights, loud noises, dehydration and strong smells. Early signs can be dull pain, irritability, neck stiffness, yawning, tingling sensations.

  • A guided meditation walks through relaxing the body through facial expressions, neck/shoulder movements, visualizing knots unraveling with breath, and repeating a mantra of one’s choosing in rhythm with breathing. Relaxing the body and using a mantra can effectively reduce headache pain and frequency.

Here is a summary of key points from the passage:

  • Sound and music can enhance meditation practice rather than requiring silence. Chanting, singing, and listening to relaxing music have physiological benefits like slowing respiration and increasing heart rate variability.

  • Different sound frequencies like binaural beats, pink noise, and brown noise have been shown to promote relaxation, focus, memory consolidation, and slow-wave deep sleep.

  • External rhythms like music influence internal rhythms, slowing heart rate and breathing when music is slower. Varying tempos can bring more presence.

  • “Om” chanting specifically has been shown to deactivate the amygdala associated with fear responses. Singing together helps social bonding.

  • Sound baths using instruments like singing bowls are a type of meditation where sound vibrations are the focus of awareness in the body. Nature sounds can also be used for sound bathing.

So in summary, the key idea is that sound and music can enhance meditation rather than requiring silence, and specific frequencies and rhythms have benefits for relaxation, focus, physiological responses, and brainwaves. Both external recorded sounds and natural environmental sounds can be incorporated.

Here is a summary of the key points about using commuting time for mindfulness meditation:

  • Commuting is often done on autopilot without awareness of the present moment. This can feel like wasted time and cause stress.

  • Making commuting time more mindful can help reduce stress and make better use of the time.

  • When stuck in traffic or delays, notice physical sensations of stress or anxiety in the body rather than reacting. Tension may be felt in shoulders, jaw, or a rise in blood pressure.

  • Breathing exercises can help relieve tension. Taking deep breaths and consciously relaxing the body counters the fight-or-flight stress response.

  • Listen mindfully to ambient sounds rather than the radio. Notice sounds inside and outside the vehicle without judgment.

  • On public transport, focus attention on sensations of movement or sights outside rather than phone/screen.

  • Noting passing thoughts without engaging can anchor attention in the present commute experience.

  • Arriving at the destination with less residual stress makes for a calmer start to the day. Mindful commuting improves quality of life.

The passage discusses using nature and the outdoors to help with meditation and reduce stress and anxiety. Some key points:

  • Spending time in nature, even just glimpses like sitting by a fountain, has health benefits like reducing stress and boosting happiness.

  • Being in green spaces like parks or seeing blue spaces like oceans have meditative and calming effects.

  • “Forest bathing” or walks in nature can increase immune-boosting cells. Fragrant scents in the air may be responsible.

  • Simply listening to nature sounds or viewing scenery induces positive emotions that can enhance meditations.

  • Physical contact with the earth’s electrons through walking barefoot has anti-inflammatory and stress-reducing effects called “grounding” or “earthing”. This can be part of walking meditations.

  • Slowing down senses to focus on natural sensations like smells, textures and sounds during meditation can be relaxing.

The passage advocates using nature and its sights, sounds and tangible elements to complement meditation practice and help reduce stress, anxiety and promote overall well-being. Spending time in nature has measurable health benefits.

Here is a summary of the key points about meditating in nature from the provided text:

  • You can practice walking meditation or a three-step meditation when in nature, whether it’s a small urban park or a forest.

  • The three-step meditation involves using your five senses separately - feeling, touching, seeing, listening, smelling/tasting - then experiencing them simultaneously.

  • Any kind of green space, even an urban balcony, can enhance meditation practice by connecting you to the natural world and its benefits.

  • Certain activities like gardening and tai chi can be meditative when done mindfully. Gardening connects you to nature and provides exercise. Tai chi combines movement with breathwork and stillness for balance.

  • Nature-based practices like qi gong work with the flow of life energy (qi) through breath, movement and stillness for healing. The wu ji stance is used in tai chi and qi gong to achieve proper energy flow.

  • Being in nature can aid various types of meditation including walking meditation, using the senses, and mindful activities like gardening, tai chi and qi gong which connect you to the natural environment and its calming, healing properties.

The passage discusses how yoga can complement meditation practice. It covers finding the lao gong acupressure point on the hand and massaging it to bring calm.

The instructions guide placing the lao gong points of both hands on the lower dan tian (lower abdomen area). One should inhale and feel the dan tian expand, then exhale and feel it gently contract. This breath awareness exercise can be done for several minutes.

It emphasizes letting the body breathe naturally without forcing it. The passage also introduces the Taoist concept of “wu wei” or non-doing, where one observes their natural state of being for a few breaths without actions or forcing anything.

Overall, the instructions provide a focused breathing meditation technique that incorporates acupressure points and awareness of the lower dan tian area, encouraging a state of calm relaxation and presence.

  • Dance can induce a meditative state through kinaesthetic empathy, synchronization with music and others, and immersion in the present moment. Mirror neurons activate when watching dance.

  • Dancing enhances external and internal perceptions. It affects the nervous system by blending social engagement, energy and small amounts of stress hormones. Settings safety boundaries is important.

  • Playfulness when dancing promotes learning, processing emotions and presence. Partner dancing requires connection while solo dancing allows free movement.

  • A guided dance meditation involves choosing music, noticing the body, moving freely to the music, and observing how you feel afterward. Watching dance can also be meditative by focusing on the experience.

  • Artistic activities like painting, music, crafts reduce stress and enhance well-being similar to meditation. Creativity is natural to humans and benefits people of all ages. Creating without attachment to the outcome or judging ability allows focus on the present moment. Observing or creating art can incorporate mindfulness.

  • Expressive writing processes stress and improves mental health. Doodling while listening enhances memory. A guided writing meditation involves envisioning a spreading light and freely writing for 3 minutes.

  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and find a comfortable seat. The instructions encourage free writing and doodling without judgment on what comes out.

  • Alternate between writing/drawing and simply resting with the pen on paper. This is done for several rounds until feeling complete or inspired.

  • When finished, the options are given to either keep or tear up the creations. The benefit is said to come from the act of creating itself rather than needing to keep everything.

The exercise encourages free flowing creativity without filters or aims, through simple writing, drawing or doodling. It emphasizes the relaxation that comes from non-directive self-expression over any end product or goal. Completing multiple rounds allows for deeper exploration through alternation with rest. Once done, the suggested impermanence of tearing up the works reflects their ephemeral nature.

Here are the key points from the sources:

  • Sikkes et al. (2021) provides methodological recommendations for specifying non-pharmacological treatments for aging and dementia in a theory-based manner. It focuses on reviews related to cognitive, physical, and social interventions.

  • Chaix et al. (2017) examined long-term meditators and found their epigenetic age was younger than their chronological age, indicating meditation may influence biological aging. Several other studies similarly found meditation correlates with reduced biological aging.

  • Meditation is associated with changes in brain structure and function including increased gray matter density, thickness in cortical regions, and functional connectivity. Regions involved in attention, interoception, emotional regulation and stress response show effects.

  • Studies have found meditation associates with increased activity and connectivity in default mode network regions, suggesting it may reduce mind-wandering. However, some mind-wandering may support creativity.

  • Research indicates meditation impacts several neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine systems involved in stress response and emotion regulation, such as lowering cortisol and increasing dopamine, serotonin and GABA.

  • While meditation may weaken the sense of separate self or ego, it does not aim to get rid of it. Instead, it cultivates equanimity and non-attachment to experiences of self.

Here are summaries of the articles:

  • “randomized-controlled trials”: Summarizes findings from randomized controlled trials on the effects of progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, and prone positioning on sleep quality and insomnia.

  • “Physical contact and loneliness”: Reports on a study finding that brief physical contact, like a handshake, reduces self-reported feelings of loneliness.

  • “Laughter-inducing therapies”: Conducts a systematic review and meta-analysis of laughter therapy interventions and their effects on mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety.

  • “Therapeutic benefits of laughter”: Provides a theoretical overview of the proposed physiological and psychological benefits of laughter, such as stress reduction.

  • “The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on sleep quality and fatigue in patients with rheumatoid arthritis”: Reports on a randomized controlled trial finding that progressive muscle relaxation improved sleep quality and fatigue in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • “The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality”: Conducts a systematic review and meta-analysis finding that mindfulness meditation improves various measures of sleep quality.

  • “Progressive muscle relaxation increases slow-wave sleep during a daytime nap”: Reports on a study finding that a brief session of progressive muscle relaxation before a nap increased periods of slow-wave sleep.

  • “Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection”: Summarizes two randomized controlled trials comparing meditation and exercise interventions for reducing incidence of acute respiratory infections.

  • “Increased salivary IgA response as an indicator of immunocompetence after a mindfulness and self-compassion-based intervention”: Reports on a study finding increased levels of IgA antibody in saliva after a mindfulness intervention, suggesting improved mucosal immunity.

  • “The physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger”: Early study comparing the physiological effects of generating feelings of compassion versus anger.

Esha Vyas

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