Meditation has become incredibly popular over the last few years and hase been touted to have an impressive list of potential benefits. That being said, lets take a look!
As a meditation practitioner of 30 years,. when I started my company, Celestial Stem, I created the name as a nod to the practices I’ve loved and benefited from, for so many years.
Common obstacles in meditation
One very common obstacle for meditation practitioners is drowsiness. You’ll see this referred to in many traditional texts as “dullness”. This occurs when the mind becomes drowsy or lethargic. To the beginner this can seem like progress. The object of your meditation takes on a watery, dream like form while the awareness of your body and surroundings start to disappear. Sounds great right? But there’s a fine line between relaxation and dullness. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to find yourself slumped over sleeping at the end of your session.
Here are a few remedies to help sharpen attention and bring yourself back to the object of your meditation.
- Straightening your posture,
- Take a few controlled deep breaths,
- Bring your attention to body sensations,
- Open yourself up to the sounds of your environment,
- Try meditating with your eyes open,
- If all else fails, you can always switch to standing meditation.
There’s been some interesting research into the mechanics of wakefulness. One study suggests activating neurons in the hypothalamus to enhance dopamine levels helps promote wakefulness. The effect doesn’t get you wired like with caffeine. It promotes alertness and gently helps dial your focus back to the object of choice.
Another common obstacle is intrusive or repetitive thoughts. The most popular excuse for people to give up is, “I just can’t clear my mind”. Think of it like a groove in a record. The needle of your mind gets stuck and goes around and around, playing the same old song. Only the song is about how you were hurt as a child, or how you were wronged at work. Maybe it’s the car that cut you off in traffic. We all have those stories we tell ourselves. With practice it’s possible to smooth out those grooves and lay new ones.
There has been a ton of research on how meditation can help. One good tool, and usually the first step taught to beginners is to have an object of your attention. Counting your breaths is a great one. Simply start by counting as high as you can until you have an intrusive thought. When you do, start again from the beginning. It sounds simple, it’s not and it’s often over looked.
Slowing down and paying attention to the breath have always been staples in meditative and yogic practices. Modern stress-reducing techniques teach that focusing on the timing and pace of our breath can have beneficial effects on our mind and body. A study in the Journal of Neurophysiology revealed that when we pay attention to our breath, several regions of the brain are activated. These areas have been linked to emotion, attention, and even body awareness. Research has shown that paced breathing exercises while focusing on the breath can not only focus attention but also regulate the nervous system.
One way meditation helps with this is by increasing dopamine production. That extra dopamine helps fill in those grooves on the record and lets you glide right over them. Researchers at Denmark’s John F. Kennedy Institute found that meditation caused a dramatic 65% boost in endogenous dopamine levels.
The dopamine receptors also increases the production of a similar chemical in the brain called anandamide. Anandamide is also known as the “happiness hormone” because of its ability to regulate mood, sensations of happiness, stress or fear. It’s a natural antidepressant that means “Divine Joy” in Sanskrit. A neurotherapeutics study in 2015 suggests an increase in production signaling while at the same time, inhibiting the breakdown anandamide.
Aches and Pains
Aches and pains are often present for both beginners and experienced practitioners alike. Nothing takes you out of a good sit more than those nagging aches and pains. One technique is to relax and “breathe into” the pain until it gradually disappears.
There is no replacement for cushion time, there is no “meditation in a bottle”. Can you improve your mediation? You can be the judge, but for me, when done consistently, there are predictable and cumulative experiences that are very complimentary to each other. I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon. Meditation has been a part of my daily routine for years.
Another addition to my daily routine.
Check out our blog on how adding CBD to your yoga routine.