Improve Your Brain in 2 Weeks

The benefits of meditation are best discovered through personal experience. When done correctly, meditation brings clarity, joy, and peace. Through consistent practice, the mind becomes stronger and we are able to handle the constant changes life brings with greater ease and grace.

man-meditating-481796_1280The studies have shown these positive effects can be experienced in just two weeks with a small investment of as little as five minutes a day. Western science is proving what practitioners have known since ancient times: Meditation reduces the cognitive decline that occurs with aging, it decreases stress, and it helps us process information at a faster rate. The daily practice of meditation also activates the parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotional regulation. In essence meditation helps us become smarter and happier, and keeps both our brain and our relationships with ourselves and others healthy.woman-meditating-596415_1280

While I would suggest you explore meditation and find the truth of these claims through your own practice, sometimes it inspires us to read about others. If you’re still on the fence about investing time into meditation, or perhaps you’re simply having a rough day, these 8 articles and studies can help remind you of the power behind sitting in silent mind.

Although the research is still in its infancy, there are thousands of studies being done about how meditation affects the brain and our sense of well-being. Here are just a few samples of what’s been published.

Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation

Pagnoni G., Cekic M.

These findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17655980

 

Eight weeks to a better brain

By Sue McGreevey

The Harvard Gazette reports on a meditation study that shows meditation appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress after only eight weeks. Read the article:
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

 

Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain, UCLA researchers say

By Mark Wheeler

Research suggests that meditation strengthens the connections between brain cells, allows the brain to process information faster and increases the ability to adapt to environmental changes. Read the article:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/evidence-builds-that-meditation-230237

 

Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering

Michael D. Mrazek, Michael S. Franklin, Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Benjamin Baird, Jonathan W. Schooler

After a two week study, results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide-reaching consequences. Read the study:
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/5/776

 

The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter

Eileen Luders, Arthur W. Toga, Natasha Lepore, and Christian Gaser

Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184843/

 

Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density

Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazara

The results suggest that participation in meditation is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

 

Change in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention is Correlated with Improvement in Psychological Well-Being

Omar Singleton, Britta K. Hölzel, Mark Vangel, Narayan Brach, James Carmody, and Sara W. Lazar

A follow up of the above study, showed individuals can improve their levels of psychological well-being (PWB) through utilization of psychological interventions, including the practice of mindfulness meditation, which is defined as the non-judgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.  Read the study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927233/

 

Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy

Eileen Luders, Nicolas Cherbuin and Florian Kurth

The findings of this study seem to suggest less age-related gray matter atrophy in long-term meditation practitioners. Read the study:
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full

RetrainYourBrain mindset-743167_1280

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Morning Smile

Every night my body turns and turns and turns, hunting for a comfortable position. Exhaustion finally takes over, and I drift off to sleep… for about twenty minutes. Then the turning begins again. At dawn, the sunlight wakes me from my half-asleep, somewhat restful state. And I smile.sun-32198_1280-smile

It’s not every morning that I want to smile, but I smile anyway. I have learned I cannot control my body, but I can control my mind. This knowledge has freed me from suffering. Especially on the tough days when I really want to wallow, if I plaster a smile on my face when the light hits my eyes, everything shifts.

My body will hurt; it’s been this way for nearly 20 years, so I don’t expect it to stop, although I would welcome the absence of pain. Even when the pain is intense, the smile opens the mind to so much more than the physical experience of tired and sore bodies. While physical pain is part of my world, so is the absence of suffering.

The smile may leave my face after I climb out of bed, but it remains inside me. I feel the bliss of eternity wash through me throughout the day, and the world looks beautiful.

In my book, Peace with Pain, there’s a chapter called Smile Before Sleeping. It’s a great technique to learn mindfulness. But now I want to encourage you to Smile Upon Waking and notice how your world changes.

Smiling gets easier the more you do it. Your face remembers how wonderful it feels, to stretch your lips and raise your cheeks. With continued practice, smiling becomes a powerful habit. Then the smile appears even when you are distracted.

Of course, it helps to meditate every day as well. Even a few minutes of silence can melt years of conditioning that was built on misery. While you are meditating, you may notice the smile appearing spontaneously. These are my favorite types of smiles, when the mind stops and the facial muscle cannot help but express the Joy beyond thought.

At whatever stage you’re at, starting your day with a morning smile can transform your whole world. Don’t take my word for it, try it, right now.

 

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THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

30 Second Change

ice-hockey-659809_1280During an NHL hockey game, the average ice time for a player per shift is 30 seconds. When a player hits the ice, he gives all of his strength and his full focus, because in 30 seconds, multiple goals can be scored and games can be won or lost. Then he sits for a few minutes and gets up to do it again.

While most of us won’t be strapping on a pair or ice skates anytime soon, we can power up our lives with a 30 second change. We have the ability to accomplish a multitude of tasks in just 30 seconds.

Here are 9 things that can be done in just 30 seconds:

  • Walk around the room to get your blood flowing
  • Catch your breath after vigorous exercise
  • File the papers on your desk
  • Stretch your neck, shoulders and touch your toes
  • Write an email
  • Tell a joke and laugh
  • Create clarity so you can see your next step
  • Center your awareness in gratitude
  • Meditate and dissolve in Samadhi

In our fast-paced world, on a planet that’s literally rotating at 1000 miles per hour, we can feel like we don’t have time to do anything. We attempt to multi-task, but what really happens is we rush through our to-do list without focusing on any one task and then we often have to fix the mistakes caused by our lack of attention to what we’re doing.

What we don’t realize in our mission to get it all done fast is we are most efficient when we do one task at a time. Even a computer’s CPU, which gives the illusion of multi-tasking, really does only one function at a time; it just does it very quickly and switches between programs seamlessly.

The next time you feel frazzled and moving in great haste, stop for just 30 seconds. Time yourself, because 30 seconds is much longer than you may think. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to feel the air fill and empty from your lungs. Focus on all the little things that bring you joy. Give thanks for all that you have right now.

After 30 seconds, look at your to-do list and pick just one task. (Don’t have a to-do list written down? Make that your first task.) Like a hockey player, give that activity your full focus and strength for 30 seconds. You might be surprised that after 30 seconds, you can keep going. Maintain this same intensity of focus for 10 minutes, and notice how much you get done.

Perhaps after 10 or 15 minutes you’ll need to check your messages or email. Give the task of checking messages your full attention. Then switch to the next item on the list, again giving your entire focus to whatever it is that you need to do.

When you get lost in the hustle and your focus begins to waver, then stop for 30 seconds to make a change.

What can you accomplish in 30 second bursts?

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Jenna

Two Techniques for Silence

My elbow has not quite healed, so instead of writing, I’ve taken a clip from my class on Saturday and turned it into a short video for you. (In case you’re wondering, apparently I have tennis elbow, even though I don’t play tennis. Well, occasionally, I’ll play Wii tennis, but I haven’t in quite a while. The elbow is much better, but not done healing yet.)

Enjoy!

 

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift, or as an ongoing Patron.

THANK YOU!

Why Meditate?

Things rarely go the way we plan. Last week the weather forecast called for a calm, wind-free day. So a friend of mine and I went to beautiful Coronado beach to make a short video called “Why Meditate” for you.JennaonBeach

Once we started filming, the wind kicked up. Although the background is gorgeous, all you can hear on the soundtrack is the wind racing across the microphone. The next day, we tried again at Dharma Center. In two takes, it seemed like we had a great video. I uploaded it to the computer and discovered at some point the camera tilted, so viewers have a wonderful shot of my nostrils. So rather than post a video of me talking down my nose while you look up it, I’m writing instead. Don’t worry, we’ll try the video again, because as you know, three times is a charm!

Let me get right into it: Why Meditate?

If you’re like most people, you’re very busy. You have a huge pile of things you need to do just to maintain your life. And then you have another long list, perhaps tucked away, of fun things you want to explore in this big magnificent world. Between the two, who has time to sit and do nothing?

The truth is, most people don’t have time to meditate. However, the successful people, those who are at the top of their field, have made time to do some type of meditation. They may not call it that, but at some point each and every day, they stop and let their mind rest in silence.

Meditation allows us to access the eternal part of our being, completely changing our perspective. Sitting in silence lets us experience unreasonable joy and a peace deeper than anything we can imagine. This time spent with our true self recharges and refreshes us and lets us find the play of existence.

Besides these ephemeral and difficult to describe states, even just the practice of learning how to meditate brings wonderful benefits to our lives. Our ability to focus and concentrate improves, along with our memory and ability to learn new things. There is an increase in our sense of well-being, self-esteem, and our overall awareness. And it gives us what every extremely busy person needs most: meditation decreases anxiety and stress.

Ancient yogis and yoginis have known about all of the benefits of meditation for thousands of years. In our modern world, we don’t want to take someone’s word for it; we want scientific studies. If you’re not ready to devote time each day to sit in meditation, then peruse a few of the articles below and perhaps that will inspire you to give this most excellent gift of meditation to yourself.

When you’re ready to learn more, come find me or another teacher at Dharma Center.

Here’s just a few of the articles that point to the studies that have been done:

Forbes: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain by Alice G. Walton

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

Harvard Gazette: Eight Weeks to a Better Brain by Sue McGreevey

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

Huffington Post: The Daily Habit of these Outrageously Successful People by Carolyn Gregoire

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/05/business-meditation-executives-meditate_n_3528731.html

Body Mind Soul Spirit: This Buddhist Monk Shows Unheard of Brain Activity During Meditation by Rachel Nuwer

http://www.bodymindsoulspirit.com/this-buddhist-monk-shows-unheard-of-brain-activity-during-meditation/

If you are not in San Diego, you can learn how to start your own meditation and mindfulness practice from my book, “Peace with Pain: Your Guide to Life in a Malfunctioning Body,” available in paperback and Kindle.

 

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift, or as an ongoing Patron.

THANK YOU!

Neti, Neti (not this, not this)

Even after 20 years of teaching meditation and mindfulness, I still sometimes forget most feelings do not originate within me. At this stage, I feel everything, but what I am most aware of is a deep stillness and peace. When ripples appear on the surface, it’s prudent to investigate. Sometimes these ripples warn us of physical danger. I have a body to take care of, and there is a certain amount of fun to be had by interacting with people, and most importantly I want to take advantage of the opportunity to shine light into this world. So when there is a disturbance on the surface of my mind, if I want to keep my job of being a beacon, I must look and see what it is.

When things become tumultuous, there is the tendency within me, like most people, to want to hide. However, retreat works best when done with a plan to return.

This past week excessive worry about money flooded me. I assumed it was because of the $600 shortage in my monthly household budget. This made sense, since it is a logical conclusion that with less income, there will need to be uncomfortable adjustments. It also meant giving up the idea for now of moving to a home closer to the ocean with fewer stairs. I knew it was coming, and have done my best to prepare. Some generous gifts from my readers have made this preparation, at least in the short term, much easier, as has the release of my new book. Then came our tax appointment, and with it another blow to the budget. Not just our current month’s budget because of the taxes we owe for last year, but also to our future budget as a new tax law goes into effect requiring tax withholding on my disability benefits because of my husband’s income. Inside, I spun out.

My energy reserves quickly burned up as the worry filled me, and I became exhausted. At first, I blamed my chronic illness; sometimes it happens like that, where the body decides to call it quits for the day without warning. Usually when this happens, I whine and laugh at the same time and find a good video to watch or I take a nap. As I rested, I pushed the worry out of my mind, but it had found a hook. Whenever we find ourselves hooked by a lower mind state, we lose a huge amount of energy.

I pulled out my journal to write about the feelings coursing through me. I owned them. Instead of dissipating them which normally happens when I write, I cultivated them and made them stronger. The desperation grew thicker. I watched my mind from a quiet space, both fascinated and confused by what was happening.  The next day, I spoke with a friend, whose money issues make mine look like nothing in comparison. We encouraged each other, but still the worry kept creeping in, sucking away my energy and motivation. A part of me wanted to burst out crying.

When the depression and despondency hit, I examined the array of feelings muddying my mind even more closely. I didn’t really want to look, but I knew I had to face it. It felt different from the other times I’ve entered those dark mind states. In a way of speaking, it came towards me, rather than from within me.

With that observation, a laugh burst from deep within my being. “Neti, Neti” The mantra of “not this, not this” rang in my mind.

Instantly I knew the bulk of what I was feeling came from the people in the world. I would bet whoever sat in the tax account’s chair before me owed even more money than we did. We are both transmitters and sponges; we pick up energy wherever we go. Because my mind was already hooked on money worry, I quickly absorbed everything in that chair, and everything floating around in the air within 100 miles of my body related to money worries. Because my attachment to control created a hook, my small worry snowballed, and collected the worry of the entire world. I am too small to carry that much weight. No wonder I felt crushed by it.

Today I let it all go. Even the hook of control inside my mind dissolves. I remind myself, “Neti, Neti.” Not this, Not this. None of this is me.

There is still work for me to do to bring the budget back into balance, but I know it will be easier to see my options now that I’ve put down the weight of the world by relinquishing my attachment to trying to control it.

Before I could not see any options; now windows are opening. Taking care of this high-maintenance body is still my first job; without the body I can do nothing in this world. My volunteer work at Dharma Center takes the bulk of my remaining time, and I could change the structure we have created of a volunteer-based group and take money, but that would pollute our model of a place for pure selfless service. Everyone at Dharma Center keeps the place running as a volunteer, as a form of selfless giving. The money we collect from public classes and membership dues all goes back into the goal of sharing Enlightenment with as many people as possible. I don’t want to change that. This leaves the option of investing more time into my personal projects, which have always been intended not only to share even more Light, but also as a way for me to support my material needs. This website, my books, and the hundreds of MP3 recordings of my classes need to be processed and packaged in such a way that people feel comfortable supporting me through them. There is also the option of expanding my private student program.

I don’t know right now where this will all lead, but by letting go of the attachment to control the world, I am free to explore. I am reminded by the writings of Shankara that I am not and can never be Iswara, the personal God in charge of managing the patterns of existence. I am Brahman – pure Awareness, the very substance of all that is.

Everyone who lives in the world faces challenges, and it’s easy to get caught up in the web of energy built from the thousands of feelings flying around in the air. When we release the attachment those feelings hook into, we are free to work on building a bright, fun life. One way we can do this is to remember: Neti, Neti – not this, not this.

 

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift, or as an ongoing Patron.

3 Exercises for Humility

Humility is seeing oneself clearly… without humility, growth stops. It is only when you can see your current self as it truly is that you can take the appropriate action to move forward. Without humility, you tend to run face first into a lot of brick walls.

If you’re tired of banging your head, or if you simply feel stuck, here’s a set of 3 exercises you can do to help yourself develop humility. Through honest self-assessment, you will discover both who you are now and who you have the potential to be.

Exercise 1

On separate pieces of paper or in a word processor document, make 4 lists of current:

  1. Strengths
  2. Weaknesses
  3. What is Important To Me
  4. What is Not Important To Me that I Spend Time Doing

Keep in mind some things may belong on both your Strength and Weakness lists.

Exercise 2

Take your list of Weaknesses and separate it into two sections:to-write-319302_640

  • Weaknesses I can change
  • Weaknesses I cannot change

We all have weaknesses we cannot change. Review your list carefully. Examine the weaknesses you cannot change. Accept them fully as part of your current being. You may begin to realize that other people have the same weaknesses. Look for role models in people who have learned how to embrace and use those weaknesses to create a happier life. Let these people inspire you to find ways of turning your weaknesses into strengths that make you more compassionate and more open to loving-kindness. For the weaknesses that you simply cannot accept, see them for what they are: attachments. Acknowledge the weight of each of these attachments, and carry it consciously as long as you need to.

With the list of weakness that you can change, chip away at the list day by day, hour by hour. These patterns have become ingrained in your being, and it will take practice to overcome them.  Each time you put energy into changing a weakness, you are empowering yourself.

Exercise 3

Take your list of What is Not Important To Me that I Spend Time Doing and separate it into two sections:

  • Things I can stop doing
  • Things I have to do

It seems odd, but most people spend a great deal of time doing things that are not really important to them. Whether it’s out of habit or because they want to spend time with someone else or because they invested a great deal of time in a project and they just want to finish it, it’s easy to get lost. Ask yourself if, for a week or a month, what would happen if I stopped doing this thing? Experiment and see. Use the time you now have by doing something from your list of Things Important To Me.

We all have things we have to do, and sometimes they appear as not important to us. Examine this list very, very closely. This is the place we often hide the Truth from ourselves. We claim something is not important, yet we feel we have to do, and this attitude allows us to wallow in self-righteous misery. We may even get together with others just to complain about these horrible things we must do. The ego loves this stuff, because it can exert its full power of control.

Look at this list again, slowly and deliberately.  Perhaps you view exercise or eating or doing laundry as something not important that you have to do. I assure you, your body views exercise and eating as important. If you have any sense of smell, then you’ll find clean laundry is also important.

With this list, what is needed is deep examination and attitude adjustment. Maybe there’s something you do that’s not important to you, but you feel you have to do it because you’re doing it for someone else. In that case, the thing you think is not important really is important to you because pleasing this other person is important to you. If you look closely enough, you’ll find everything on this list belongs in either the Things Important to Me or in the Things I Can Stop Doing list. By adjusting your view, you reclaim the power lost to the ego’s game of self-pity. Instead of the activity being a drain to your energy, you’ll feel good knowing you are doing what is important to you.

Give yourself the time to work through all of your lists. Review your Strengths often to remind you of the power you have already claimed. When you have extra time, pick something from your Things Important to Me list to do. Moment by moment, release yourself from the Things Not Important and transform your Weaknesses into Strengths.

As you continue to look at yourself with humility – seeing who you are currently – you’ll grow into the next brighter, happier version of you.

 

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My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please visit my Donate page to learn how you can help keep the work going as a one-time donor or as an ongoing Patron.