Dhyana, the seventh of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, is meditation and concentration. The word dhyana comes from the Sanskrit word dhyai, which means “to think of.” The first six limbs prepare us for deep meditation, but we don’t have to start at limb one to gain the benefits of meditation.
Magazines, TV and internet are full of articles about meditation. I’m sure many people read these articles and are interested in learning more about meditation, but daily meditation takes time. I often hear people say something like, “I’d love to meditate but I don’t have extra time in my schedule, plus I’m pretty happy most of the time anyway, and why should I add meditation when I’m already overloaded?”
You may want to re-think taking time to meditate when you read what I have to say: Hear me out.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75% of all physician office visits in the US are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
We are all subject to stress. It has been estimated that stress costs $300 billion every year due to loss of productivity in the workforce, medical expenses, accidents and related social problems.
A few common causes of stress are:
loss of loved one
loss of job
work related issues
illness/injury — chronic or short term
The list goes on and on.
Simply said, the cause of stress is not getting what we want. You may not like that definition, but if you really think about it, it’s true. Either because we did something that keeps us from getting what we want, we didn’t do something to get what we want, or circumstances out of our control interfered and we got something we didn’t want. In one form or another, we are all subject to stress.
When we encounter a stressful situation the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. (see illustration below)
The hypothalamus is like a command center, signaling the entire body through the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls things like heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, constriction of key blood vessels and can dilate or constrict airways in the lungs. Two components of the autonomic nervous system are sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic is like hitting the gas pedal, kicking on our fight or flight response. The parasympathetic is like rest and regroup, calming the body after stressful situation has passed.
Upon activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the adrenal glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) into the bloodstream. Epinephrine brings on a series of physiological changes: heart rate increases, pulse and blood pressure go up, breathing rate increases, and airways in the lungs open wide allowing more oxygen to be carried to the brain increasing brain activity. Epinephrine also triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) which, through a series of events, supplies more energy carried by the bloodstream to the body.
THIS IS IMPORTANT:
Chronic low-level stress keeps what is called the HPA axis activated. The HPA axis is the networking between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Chronic low-level stress results in physical problems such as heart attack, stroke and weight gain just to name a few.
Meditation is an effective way to deal with chronic stress. Meditation has been around for thousands of years practiced in many traditions; almost every religion has a system of meditation. Currently a method of meditation with roots in Hinduism, Yoga and Buddhism called mindful meditation is the most researched and well known. Mindful meditation in the United States has increased in popularity since the mid 20th century and continues to grow to this day.
The primary reason mindful meditation has become mainstream is because research and personal experience with mindful meditation shows that a consistent mindful meditation practiced improves physical and emotional health and changes areas of the brain (neuroplasticity) that are tuned to chronic stress response. Over a period of time the brain adapts to the HPA axis response, and the HPA axis becomes more easily activated.
Neuroplasticity is generally accepted as one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th Century. Dr. Michael Merzenich in the 1970s was conducting experiments attempting to prove that the brain is compartmentalized and fixed. Dr. Mersenich inadvertently discovered that the brain is not compartmentalized nor is it fixed. Some areas of the brain are subject to structural change (neuroplasticity). Response mechanisms to chronic stress can be changed by using mindfulness — non-judgmental awareness in the moment.
Functional MRI technology has verified theories regarding meditation and the brain. Using FMRI technology, researchers can see structural changes in the brain after just a few weeks of meditation.
Additional studies have found meditation enhances our ability to empathize without taking on others’ negative energy. Also, mindful meditation increases our ability to nurture ourselves and facilitate a greater sense of well-being. Research also indicates mindful meditation increases density in gray-matter in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory and structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
I wish much love and success to everyone who has taken the time to read this article. Please begin a regular meditation practice today. Information is everywhere, guided meditations can be found in apps and on the internet and books.
Our website is mooncrestyoga.com
We are offering meditation workshops almost monthly.
written by Emmet Schmelig