Mindfulness, the biology of bliss
Don’t just do something, sit there, a popular slogan for the meditators among you, but, it turns out, just sitting there, focusing your mind on the present, rather than letting it drift, may help lower your cortisol levels, a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, when you’re under physical or emotional stress. Prolonged release of this hormone, initiating the fight-or-flight response, does a number on your body.
- Compromised learning and memory
- Depression and mental illness
- Worse immune function
- Reduced bone density
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- High bad cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease
Actually, there’s bad stress (distress) and good stress (eustress) and your body adapts to both by releasing cortisol. The good stress causes you to rise to the occasion, then your body returns to normal when the job is done. Unfortunately, bad stress doesn’t work the same way, now that you live a more civilized existence. There are no lions chasing you. Just paper tigers, so your ancient response results in chronic, generalized anxiety that takes its toll on your mind and body.
Unless, of course, you’re turned on to meditation! There’s scientific evidence collected by the Shamatha Project, at UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, a long-term study tracking the effect of meditation training. Both scientists and Buddhists condone the project, even the Dalai Lama is in favor!
By training your mind to focus on the present moment, you ay eliminate the tendency to obsess about the past or stress about the future, both thought processes that can cause cortisol release.
You really can teach your mind good habits.
Nothing new here, but Western culture is just beginning to understand how effective meditation can be.
- Longer attention span
- Better vision
- Calmer resting brain activity
- Improved sense of self and wellbeing
Any kind of meditation lowers anxiety and so it lowers cortisol levels. A couple of deep breaths causes your Vagus nerve to signal a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure. There are meditation centers cropping up all over the place. You can stop in and get some pointers for your daily practice, or you can listen to any number of CDs and DVDs teaching you mindfulness methods. Focus on the present, meditate often and reap the relaxation throughout your long and happy life.
Remember, the Dalai Lama endorses this!