A recent Harvard study reports anxiety and depression are hitting epidemic proportions in our country.
It goes on to say that yoga and meditation are proving to be two modalities that are helping. As yogis we know this, and we practice what we preach each time we step on our mats.
Our world of 24/7, constant-go and in- formation overload is getting to us, and we are literally “losing ourselves.” So why would the ancient practice of yoga be helpful? Simply put, meditation or “Dhyana” is one of the eight essential components to a full yoga practice. The more we practice meditation, the more we stimulate and ex the different regions of the brain that strengthen and support our wellbeing.
The most recently developed part of the human brain—the prefrontal lobes— are responsible for us being civilized, moral, peaceful and focused on quality of life. These prefrontal lobes also connected into the limbic part of the brain, which is our emotional super center. Scientific studies have shown that brain scans of long-term meditators show these regions to be thick and vibrant.
For someone who suffers the highs and lows of an emotional roller coaster, this is GREAT news! MRI’s of long-term meditators have shown a “shrinking down” of the limbic brain as the attentional regions in the brain grow stronger. Meditation is almost like slowing down, or taking the extremes out of the coaster.
We know emotion responds to thought and then creates a chemical release which can make the thought appear so true as if the feeling is real. This occurs even if a thought is just speculation or guessing, which can lead us to believe these thoughts as pure truths!
I often remind my counseling clients and Kundalini students that a belief is a thought you’ve had over and over and over until you believe it to be true. I ask them if these rerun thoughts make them feel good; if not we begin to bust those mythic beliefs by testing them. A good way to test your beliefs for yourself is to ask:
What reoccurring thoughts do I have that do not serve me?
Do I hold on to judgmental or self-defeating thoughts? (Like “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve what I want,” etc.)
Meditation helps us take ahold of our thoughts and gain the clarity to recognize if they are true or not. Slowing the mind down through meditation practice, whether it’s mindfulness—simply observing thoughts or stimulation—or applying focus techniques like counting breath, mantra repetition, visualization or Kundalini yoga, is a way of developing healthy real estate in the attentional centers of the brain.
The more we practice, the more we gain. Let’s face it, we’ve practiced worrying and catastrophizing and that has taken us to places of anxiety, depression, hypertension and diabetes among others. As we calm the brain by quieting our thoughts, peacefulness, a healthy mind-body connection, love and trust are able to bubble forth as stronger thought and feeling patterns.
Yoga is known as a practice of strength and flexibility. As the brain serves as the computer that programs the body, strengthening and vexing the mind through meditation is important. Best-selling author and renowned psychiatrist specializing in brain disorders, Dr. Daniel Amen, is known for saying “when your brain works right, you feel right. And when your brain is troubled, you are much more likely to have troubles in your life.” He also was recently quoted as saying “do Kundalini Yoga as it works wonders on the brain!”
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