06 Jun

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is not what you think. – Lama Anagarika Govinda

Mindfulness Meditation is a practice where you observe moment-by-moment what is happening within your emotional, physical and mental experiences. It is experiencing whatever is at any given moment without judgement, resistance or avoidance. It is accepting things as they are without wishing to change anything because whatever you pay attention to changes in quality.

The purpose of meditation is to calm the mind so that you can be aware of the whispers of the inner self which usually gets drowned in the noise of your thoughts and feelings. A deeper purpose of meditation is to tune the various aspects of your self into a harmonious whole. In our daily life we are pulled in different directions, moment to moment, resulting in stress, anxiety and depression.

Thinking is not meditation, neither is emptying the mind. Meditation is more about being able to quieten the mind whenever you want it to be quiet. So it is you who have control over the mind rather than being controlled by the fluctuations of the mind.

Meditation is a way of being, not a technique.  – Jon Kabat-Zinn

What is your current state of being? Pause and reflect on it. Is your mind scattered thinking of a score of things at once or are you able to pay attention to what you are doing at this moment?

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first person to introduce Mindfulness Meditation into mainstream medicine. He is the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme which is gaining popularity all over the world.

Mindfulness meditation practice has its roots 2500 years ago when the Buddha sat down under the Bodhi tree and gained enlightenment. This points to fact that the purpose of meditation is to realize that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. The word ‘realization’ means to become fully aware of reality as it is. We have to begin from wherever we find ourselves and start on this journey towards awakening to the higher self.

Mindfulness Meditation Techniques

Mindfulness meditation practices are gaining popularity to provide the tools to handle stress, anxiety, depression and many other conditions. Mindfulness meditation practices emphasize becoming aware of the moment and what is going on in it. It can be practiced at any time of the day just by becoming aware of your breathing.

Have you noticed how you are either thinking of what happened or what might happen in the future? Have you noticed that you are hardly ever in the present moment? Mindfulness practice helps you come into this moment and be here totally with your whole attention.

Mindfulness is about paying attention. It is about focusing your attention in the present moment and this creates positive energy in your body and mind.

Pause. Breathe. Just Be.

Some techniques to practice mindfulness meditation are:

  • Sitting Meditation
  • Walking Meditation
  • Body-scan Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation can be practiced by anyone and the benefits can be felt in just a few weeks. All it takes is 10-30 minutes of practice per day. In the following video you can see how two people tried it out. One is David Sillito, Culture Correspondent at BBC and another was Fiona Assersohn who suffered from chronic pain.

23 Apr

Exercise Helps to Grow New Brain Cells

Aerobic exercise helps to grow new brain cells

Aerobic Exercise is essential for a healthy brain and helps to grow new brain cells.

‘How can I grow new brain cells?’ is an important question for grown ups. The answer is through regular aerobic exercise. Exercise is like a magic wand for the brain because it helps the birth of baby neurons faster than any other method.

TEDxOrlando – Wendy Suzuki – Exercise and the Brain (14:03 mts)

Scientists until recently believed that after childhood the brain changed only when it began the long process of decline. Those who wondered if the healthy brain might be improved or preserved through activity or mental exercise were told not to waste their time. Things changed during the late 1960s and 1970s when scientists made a series of unexpected discoveries. They showed that the brain changed its very structure with each different activity performed, perfecting its circuits so it was better suited to the task at hand.

The idea that the brain can change (neuroplasticity) its own structure and function through thought and activity is the most important alteration in our view about what the brain can do. Neurogenesis on the other hand is the growth of new brain cells. It was found that those who exercised the most had twice the blood flow as the non-exercisers, and the increase occurred in the crucial memory area of the brain.

Exercise and the Brain (Drs Art Kramer and Edward McAuley) (8:59mts)

One of the latest studies, published in 2006, by Dr Art Kramer and his colleagues found that those over age 60 who did regular stints of aerobic exercise for six months had increased brain volumes in their frontal lobes’ gray matter indicating an increase in neurons. This did not happen for the older adults who participated in the stretching and toning non-aerobic control group. (see video)

Benefits of Exercise for Brain Health:
The most important step you can take (at any age) for keeping your brain healthy is to structure exercise into your daily routine. There are many benefits of aerobic exercise to improve brain health and keep you smart till a ripe old age:

  • Exercise provides an immediate treatment for the physical and emotional symptoms, because with chronic stress, new neuron production is slowed or grinds to a halt.
  • Exercise increases the levels of the specific neurotransmitters that promote anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.
  • Increases Serotonin levels reducing depression and anxiety
  • Exercise also raises the stress threshold of neurons.
  • Exercise can lower inflammatory chemicals. This can occur at all ages. Even just thinking about exercise activates the same neuronal systems in your brain.
  • Physical exercise, especially if it takes place in a new and stimulating environment where learning occurs, is an effective way to promote neurogenesis.
  • Exercise makes new stem cells and learning prolongs their survival.
  • Stem cells can divide into neurons or glial cells through a process enhanced by exercise.
  • The best exercise therefore combines a cardiovascular boost and learning a new skill.

Are you interested in rewiring your brain to make your brain smarter as you age? Then take the first step towards making aerobic exercise like, brisk walking, running, jogging or swimming a part of your life.

Glossary:
A Neuron is a nerve cell, a specialized cell that transmits nerve impulses in the brain. They are highly social; if they weren’t used to working with neighbouring neurons, they would die. Each neuron is capable of maintaining connections with about ten thousand other neurons. These connections change as you learn new things.

Take Action Today – Start Growing New Brain Cells

Sign Up for this one of a kind 30-day program that includes Meditation and Exercise by Professor Izumi Tabata who was a coach for the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating team:

“30x30-Banner3.jpg"

30 × 30 Total Transformation is a daily workout program that puts you in optimal states of body and mind, in only 30 days. Every day you’ll take part in a short meditation and exercise routine, designed to create transformative results.
Check it out: 30 x 30 Transformation

23 Apr

Sugar-Free Diet for a Healthy Brain

image - sugar cubes in a bowl - fortydayschallenge.com

Going on a sugar free diet for a period of 40 days was the best thing I could have done. I made this drastic decision when I read about the damage sugar can do to the brain in the book Rewire Your Brain – Think Your Way to a Better Life – Dr John B. Arden in which he says:

The brain uses glucose as fuel, but when it gets too much of it at one time, this can create a number of problems.

Dr Arden says that the pancreas, the liver, the thyroid, the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, and the brain – are enlisted in controlling the amount of glucose in the blood. He mentions that a diet high in sugar contributes to accelerated ageing. He goes into many technical details of how the excess sugar consumption can affect the brain. The most important thing for us is to understand the consequences of too much sugar in the diet.

Harmful Effects of Sugar on the Body and Brain

brain_line_drawing

Here are the most common harmful effects caused by taking too much sugar:

  • High sugar consumption is associated with depression.
  • Leads to greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and inflammation.
  • Sugars are refined carbohydrates that can increase free radical inflammatory stress on the brain. A free radical is a molecule with a rogue electron that can rupture cell structure.
  • When people were given the amount of sugar in two soft drinks (75 grams of glucose), the free radical products of damaged fatty acids, called isoprostanes, rose by 34 percent in just 90 minutes after consumption.
  • Mild isoprostane elevation has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Much more shocking is the effect on children and their IQ. As Dr Arden writes:

More than twenty-five years ago, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found a 25 percent difference between the IQ scores of children with high versus low consumption of refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour) (Schauss, 1984). The differences in glucose result in significant costs to cognition and to the brain itself. Research at Britain’s Swansea University found that dips in blood sugar are correlated with poor memory, poor attention, and aggressive behaviour.

Research in Finland assessed the effects of sugar on children between 10-11 years old and found that withdrawal, anxiety, depression, delinquency, and aggression were twice as frequent in those who had 30 percent more sucrose in the form of soft drinks, sugary snacks, and ice cream.

The Bottom Line: High sugar intake is bad for your brain and results in significant impairment of your ability to think clearly, maintain even moods, and behave effectively in a social situation. Keeping you blood sugar balanced is of paramount importance for a healthy brain.

Vegan and Sugar-Free Diet for 40 Days
It is not enough to gain information but what is important is take action after learning a new fact. My decision to go vegan for Lent and also sugar free (especially in my coffee and tea) has had a great effect in 40 days. I have continued to go sugar free, though I tried having a spoon in my coffee to see if I really miss it.

Next Step – Develop Healthy Habits:

Exercise and Sleep
The next most important thing after a healthy diet is exercise and sleep. I will be making a few changes in my life to include proper exercise and sleep in the next 11 days of my forty day challenge. You might ask why:

Exercise Helps to Grow New Brain Cells: is the best way to jump start neuroplasticity and neurogenesis and building brain resources. It also raises the stress threshold of neurons. There are many other benefits which we will be exploring.

Sleep: Sleep is critical for the maintenance of the brain. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, even after just one week. It has been shown to compromise attention, new learning and memory.

A Thought for This Week:
… the brain adapts or expands in response to repeated patterns of activity, so that in a real sense the brain we develop reflects the life we lead. — H. H. The Dalai Lama