Archive for Meditation

How I Stepped out of the Blues and Into Happiness

happiness

I hate everything and everyone.

That’s not true.

It used to be. I wasted the majority of my twenties, the last years of youthful freedom and the first years with my children, stewing in depression and bitterness. And the sadder I got, the fatter I got. 

I wasn’t always like that. In high school I was Mr. Social: the homecoming king, class president, football team captain. I was a student body president in college. Twice.

Then real life hit, and I was faced with living in a strange place, waking up too early for an awful commute to go a job I didn’t like and facing a team of “coworkers” that only wanted me fired so they could move up the ladder. It was enough to wipe the fresh faced optimism out of even the brightest soul, and I let it take over my life.

I was a bitter, cynical mess, and nothing fixed it. Not getting a new job, getting married, having a child. Neither did drinking, smoking or any other substance I would dabble in. No one wanted to hang out with me, and my wife...well, let’s just say I wasn’t invited to her side of the bed very often.

I knew I needed to improve, that I was wasting valuable time being a putz, but I didn’t act until my ten year high school reunion. It was there that I was reminded of how I impacted so many people simply by being kind, or offering rides, or helping a teammate off the ground. It dawned on me that when I focused on being good to others my own life was enriched in return. I was happier because I created happiness.

After the reunion I shared drinks with an old friend who had gotten into meditation. She claimed that just 15 minutes of quiet focusing on positive thoughts can trigger chemical changes in the brain (she's right). 

So I meditated. The more I meditated, the more aware of the good things in my life I became. Even things that others might construe as trouble I began to see as blessings, like a long commute (it allowed me to do things like these). 

My life changed within days. I got closer with my wife, my kids wanted to spend more time with me, I built a network of friends. I got involved with my church and charitable groups as well. It turns out, people enjoy being around happy people, not cranky bastards!

Since I felt happier, I wanted to look better too. So I started training for a triathlon, and you can read all about that here.

Depression is a serious disease for many people and always worth seeking help for. But for some of you, there is an opportunity to change today. Make the choice and commit to opening your eyes, because the positives are there, just waiting for you to see them. 

Meditation and the Brain: What Happens

meditationandthebrain2

It started when the girl was nine. She would go to a quiet place, sit in
silence and slowly push the muck and chaos of her world out of her mind.
No more bullies, demanding parents, loud classrooms, or anything else
that comes with the tough life of the elementary-age schoolgirl. Just
her; absorbing stillness, basking in tranquility.

Meditation is so nice, even nine year-olds get it, right?

This particular youngster was Lena Dunham, popular actress and creator
of the HBO show "Girls." Dunham told a crowd at an NYC benefit that she
thought any busy lady could benefit from the practice of meditation.

"It gathers me up for the day and makes me feel organized and happy and
capable of facing the challenges of the world, both internal and
external," she told the audience.

We talk a lot about meditation on this blog. We've even created a
tutorial on how to get started. The proven benefits are just innumerable, and the only cost is your time.

But what really happens when you meditate?

First, your brain calms down and stops trying to keep up with every
little thing around you. Scientific studies have shown a decrease in
beta waves - or brain waves, if you will - even after just a few minutes
of meditation. Literally, your brain just stops caring about irrelevant
things.

Imagine your brain as a busy downtown during a workday. Lots of moving
parts and things rushing to and fro. Then you begin meditating, and the
frontal lobe, where you're emotions and problem-solving skills come
from, goes into sleep mode, as does your parietal lobe (home of
sense-related stimuli.)

Then, your anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex
fire up. The former regulates your worry, the latter risk and fear.

It's the equivalent of someone kicking out all the crowds and putting up
barricades for you and you alone to relax in the park. If your brain is
still downtown, meditation takes it from a busy weekday to a cool,
gentle Sunday morning.

In other words, meditation isn't just a bunch of mumbo jumbo - it's a
process that causes very real, and very beneficial chemical changes in
the brain that reverberate through the rest of the body. You'll feel
better, worry less, be more inspired, focus more and have a sharper
memory to recall it all - and that's just in the brain.

Your kids may not get into it like you want them to (timeout, anyone?)
or like Lena Dunham did, but you can start today. For those of you who
have tried meditation, what benefits did you see? Let us know in the
comments!

Nothing: The Key to Mental Health

The power of Nothing

Sunset was Terri's favorite time of day. She would sit out on the porch and watch as the massive ball of cosmic fire would set below the horizon of the ocean, its soft glow careening off the surface of the water in serene peace.

 She had gotten a lot accomplished today. She had been focused at work, focused at home. Tomorrow would be a new day full of challenges and problems to solve. But for right now, as the cool, gentle breeze of the Atlantic Ocean grazed her face, she sat there, listening to the wonderful sound of nothing.

 Her chair rocked back and forth on that old wooden porch, a cup of warm coco in her hand.  She stared intently, noticing a single seagull, its intentions unknown, land in the water in front of her. Terri drew in a deep, slow breath, filling her lungs with the smell of seaside air and did her best to clear her mind.

 This was her time to unwind. This was her time to listen for no particular reason or look for any particular sight. This was her time to do absolutely nothing. And she wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

 Imagine the power to think of nothing. Go ahead. Give it a try. Right now. Think of absolutely nothing. Its’ hard, isn't it? Well, to be fair, right now would be kind of tough considering you're reading this. But for thousands of years, humans have been trying to master the art of meditation. What the heck is meditation and how does it affect us upstairs?

Meditation is the practice in which the only goal is to slow down and eventually stop all the crazy conscious activity in our minds. To strive for the perfect peace and tranquility. That sounds amazing! It is easy to try and almost impossible to fully master. But even basic meditation can have tremendous benefits to our bodies! Research shows that meditation can affect us in many ways including:

  • Improving memory – I thank the big guy upstairs that my head is attached to my body or I swear sometimes I'd forget where I put it. I'm sick of forgetting things. In a recent study, meditation was shown to help with short term and long term memory. Images of the brain show after as little as two minutes of meditation, the brain becomes more focused.
  • Feeling Cranky? - Meditation may help you actually be nicer. That sounds like something this world sorely needs. Why not start with you? During one experiment researcher took part in, they noticed that when the subjects were shown pictures of other people, the ones who'd meditated or practiced meditation responded in a kinder, gentler way. Imagine that.
  • Bring out your inner Mozart! - People who practiced meditation also seemed to show more “creativity” with the projects they took on, being able to focus better on the task at hand and come up with new ways to get those things done. So go meditate and write a symphony! Maybe all that extra stress in your brain is preventing you from blasting through that glass ceiling and reaching for the stars!
  • You’re only as old as you think – Another powerful weapon in our constant battle with aging is meditation. It’s a proven way to encourage the gray matter to stay healthy in our brains. I'm not a brain surgeon (although I bet they meditate) but gray matter keeps your brain healthy, happy and focused. It’s a little dry but the University of Mass released some fascinating information on the preservation of brain matter and meditating.

Okay, now that we've talked about a few of the things that meditation can do for you, it’s time to take up that challenge and go think of nothing. Who knew that “nothing” could be the key to a happier, healthier you?

 

 

How Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Can Improve Your Life

Meditation can improve your life

In the middle of the most important test of his life, David found himself wandering away. Not physically; no he was stuck in a classroom with a teacher monitoring every movement. His brain was the one wandering off. A question on the test about rodents set him to thinking - of the filthy bar he spent the previous evening in, about the girl he met there; who reminded him of his girlfriend in high school and how they would try unsuccessfully to get into bars way back when, and on and on and on.

 It must have been ten minutes or more that he sat there, pencil idle in his hands, while his classmates powered through the important mid-term exam. By the time he snapped out of his daydreaming, there was no way David was going to complete the exam on time. He failed it miserably.

 The following week his professor asked him to stick around for a few minutes after class. He wanted to discuss David’s daydreaming. He had seen David’s potential - when he was focused, David was as sharp as a knife, surpassing all of his classmates.

 Dr. Reavis had a proposal for David: meditation.

 Like so many, David had heard about meditation and associated it with monks and hippies. But Dr. Reavis was insistent that regular meditation would help him knock out that nasty daydreaming habit, as well as reduce the stress from David’s nocturnal party lifestyle.

Dr.Reavis was onto something. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of California, located in Santa Barbara, found that students who practiced mindfulness meditation were more focused and performed much better on their tests.

 Mindfulness meditation focuses on corralling the mind and its incessant thoughts by finding total awareness of the mind-body connection. When the mind begins to float away from the task at hand, mindfulness is being able to steer it back to where it needs to be. Mindfulness meditation trains folks like David to have that ability.

 Like the students in the research, David meditated four days a week. By the time his final rolled around, he was in complete control of his mind. He aced the test.  It is results like this, that meditation is so popular in corporate America, as well as schools, hospitals, churches, and countless other organizations.

 There are spas and centers where you can learn the practice, but there are also a few things you can do on your own to get some mindfulness of your own:

  1. Find a quiet place (which is pretty standard in all forms of meditation)
  2. Assume a comfortable, but not too comfortable position (cross legged with straightened back is obviously common)
  3. Focus on the mechanics of breathing - the expanding lungs and rib cage upon inhaling, the relaxing of muscles and stillness upon exhaling
  4. If you find your brain wandering away, pull it back to yourself. Do this over and over again; just like a sport or profession, the more practice you get at reeling in your thoughts, the better you'll become at it.

 If you do this routine daily, for just 10 minutes or more regularly, you'll see results. You will find you are more productive at work, more focused on the important things at home, even entertainment will be more enjoyable because you'll be able to immerse yourself in it.

 If you are a student, like our friend David, you’ll nail your tests, or at least not spend half your allotted time daydreaming about bars.

 Really, we can't say enough about the benefits of meditation. Read our blog long enough and you’ll see why we promote the practice of meditation. Speaking of benefits, sign up for our elite program today and you'll learn much more about this ancient and beneficial practice.

 Do you currently have a meditation routine? Have meditation tips? Let’s hear them in the comments!