Breathe I Day Two
Nourish Your Mind
Yesterday we talked about the way the brain "fires and wires" to forage neural pathways that create the framework for who we are and how we interpret and respond to the world around us. Today we are going to deepen our understanding of this process by exploring how our brainwaves affect how we feel and function in our day-to-day lives.
If you are alert and awake and reading this sentence, you are more than likely in beta brainwaves. Beta is the default setting for the brain to function in the physical world and is how we make decisions, analyze sensory inputs and engage in moment-to-moment judgement calls.
Beta isn't inherently a bad thing. It is an absolutely necessary brain state for carrying out a large portion of our lives. The problem comes when we trigger the brain into high-beta and then never allow it to rest into more soothing brainwave patterns.
Associated with "fight or flight," high-beta switches on in the brain when we feel threatened or agitated. This could be when our nasty boss walks in the room, when we get in a fight with our spouse or partner, or when we're white-knuckling our steering wheel in five o’clock traffic. The brain reads our distressed thoughts and translates them into a hormonal release that warns the body to prepare for a predator. This process is a remnant of our evolution when it was important for the body to have a quick way to respond to an actual threat.
When the cells of the body receive this message, they know that it’s time to buckle down and get ready for what comes next. That could be a full-speed sprint out of the situation (flight) or the use of strength and energy reserves for a showdown (fight). Either way, it is not time for any other function. It’s not time to heal. It’s not time to rebuild. It’s not time to grow.
When the body is constantly triggered in this way, the cells don’t have time to perform their primary functions, and they begin to deteriorate. Immunity and digestion are put on the back burner, leaving our metabolism off balance and our defenses against sickness vulnerable. This is the beginning of disease and imbalance in the body.
Meditation gives the brain a break from that stress and allows the body to resume the functions vital to maintaining health. When we open our focus our brain waves change from the high beta of stress to the more calming alpha frequency (and eventually into theta and delta associated with deeper meditation and restorative sleep) where healing and regeneration begin to occur. Suddenly the brain is not firing in compartmentalized, erratic patterns and instead rhythmically begins communicating across hemispheres to create coherence and greater brain function.
As with anything else, the more we practice slipping into alpha and theta brainwaves, the easier it becomes. A highly-trained, meditative brain can be triggered by an outside stimulus that would normally cause high-beta agitation and within seconds regulate itself into calming alpha waves. It's simply a matter of firing and wiring the pathways for calm with more intensity and frequency than those that have been fired and wired for stress. This looks like a simple, daily practice in the direction of your peace and joy.
BUILD YOUR PRACTICE
Open-Focus, Part 2: Breath Awareness
Today we are expanding on the first Core Meditation Technique. Yesterday we practiced using parts of our body to focus and then diffuse our attention, and now we will practice using the breath.
This building block technique is a vital and easy way to slip into alpha brainwaves within seconds. It is the go-to method I begin with almost every time I personally meditate before adding on other Core Meditation Techniques in a meditation session.
Remember that meditation is simply the return to the focus. This isn't about how long you can hold your focus or how many times you get distracted with thoughts or sensations. It is about faithfully returning to the focus again and again. Allow the practice to soften your heart and strengthen your resolve, and lovingly stick with it. You've got this.
Focus Your Attention
Keep at it
As you embark on the guided meditations this week, I invite you to stay in each meditation session for the entire duration. No matter how much your mind or body are telling you otherwise, commit to the time you allotted for yourself. Freedom is always just on the other side of that resistance. Bliss is always waiting right on the other side of that doubt and pain. Love yourself enough to keep at it.
Likewise, make a promise to yourself right here and now that you will practice each day. No matter how many days you miss. No matter what challenge you face. Will you promise your heart that you'll meet it each day for at least a handful of minutes? That even when you fall, you'll meet yourself there again in the stillness.
This course is about creating a foundation for a lasting, nurturing meditation practice. If doesn't matter if you miss a day or if you fall out of practice; it only matters that you begin again. Set an intention to always faithfully return to the sweet stillness within yourself.
Expand Your Awareness
When I first began experimenting with meditation, I kept a log of all the amazing things that began happening in my life called "Meditation Miracles." It helped remind me of the magic all around and kept me motivated on the days when my monkey mind tried convincing me to be anything but still.
Begin logging in your journal all the meditation miracles you see happening as you devote yourself to this practice. Perhaps you're noticing a lightness of being or a new perspective in your everyday life. Maybe you didn't fly off the handle with someone when normally you would.
The deeper I have gotten into my own practice, the more I notice that life flows with ease and love. There is way less force and lots more synchronicity in my life. Things happen effortlessly. Like thinking about a friend and then bumping into her out and about that day. Or desiring a particular book and then randomly receiving it in the mail. Chronic pains have lifted and emotional burdens have totally dissolved. Allow space for the magic to happen, and make sure you're paying attention when it does.