Here we are in the middle of the holiday season and I venture to guess that most people are stressed out. For the first time in my adult life, I can honestly say I am not. I attribute this shift to a practice I started at the beginning of November that has now evolved into a daily routine: meditation.
Meditation is a buzz word in the health and wellness space these days. For centuries, ancient cultures have documented this as a practice that transcends culture, ethnicity and religion. Not only are there anatomic connections from the body to the brain, but science has now shown that indeed, the mind(consciousness) is a separate entity from the brain. Thoughts signal your brain to create new neuronal connections, it’s called neuroplasticity. My brain( the actual physical neurons) doesn’t generate my thoughts, my thoughts generate my brain. What?!?
Let’s do a quick anatomy lesson. The largest single nerve in the body is called the vagus nerve also called the pneumogastric nerve or cranial nerve 10. It travels from the brain, going through the diaphragm and into the gut. In medical school we learned that this nerve was the conduit between the central nervous system(brain) and the enteric nervous system(gut). This is where the term “gut feeling” comes from. The vagus nerve also controls the heart, regulating the rate and variability of each contraction. What we didn’t learn in medical school is that the neural network that supplies information via this nerve is at least 100 times more abundant in the gut than the brain. This means more signaling occurs from our GI tract to our brain, thus to say that what we eat doesn’t affect our thinking or emotions is flat out wrong. We are what we eat! When we meditate, the vagus nerve relaxes. It slows our heart rate down and relaxes our GI tract.
What exactly is meditation? Simply put, it’s a state of consciousness where the mind is free from thought. It’s actually impossible to evacuate thought from the mind so the practice of meditation is just that, practicing to clear the mind by focusing on one’s breath, a mantra or word, or visualizing. To tether one’s focus onto a single aspect takes effort, which is why many people don’t meditate, it’s actually challenging. Analogous to training the physical body with exercise, meditation is training the mind with focus. Studies show that people who meditate on a regular basis, even after 7 days, show physical changes in the brain. The neuronal tissue connecting the right and left hemispheres called the corpus callosum actually hypertrophies and grows. The part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation actually grows by up to 23%. Enhanced response time and better memory are consequences of a more relaxed and energy-efficient brain. No drugs, surgery, supplements or major life changes are required!
Meditation has been an inflection point for me. When I ponder my self evolution that commenced with tweaking my nutrition, that led to resolving the brain fog, which led to a renewed enthusiasm for learning and life, which led to making the decision to get off social media and scale down my tech usage. Instead of being a consumer of information, I became a creator, thus the birth of this blog last year. The frenetic routine of daily life comes to a halt when I meditate. It’s the first thing I do before getting out of bed in the morning and it’s what I look forward to the most in the afternoon. It has improved my sleep, my emotional regulation, my relationships and my creativity. It’s truly become my superpower.
We can’t be healthy and whole until we integrate all parts of ourselves. It’s foolish to view health as just the absence of disease; it’s really the presence of wellness. Wellness is intentional and I believe we are equipped with everything necessary to be the best versions of ourselves. We don’t need a doctor to make us well. We must reconcile the brain and body with our spirit( inner being, consciousness, soul). Meditation has cultivated this for me. When I quiet the mind from thought, the body then relaxes and the true ME has access to emerge. The busyness of life stifles our spirits and enables the ego to predominate. The ego is the construct we create in order to function in this world. It is necessary but it’s not our true essence. Meditation allows who we really are to emanate. And when we are authentically ourselves, the whole world becomes a better place. This holiday season I encourage you give yourself the gift of meditation so you can stress less and live more.