The power of stillness
At the end of the day, I can end up just totally wacky, because I've made mountains out of molehills. With meditation, I can keep them as molehills ~ Ringo Starr
As defined and discussed in many of my previous posts, mindfulness meditation is the formal sitting practice of paying non-judgmental and acceptance laden attention to the present moment. In mindfulness based psychotherapy we utilize meditation practice formally and informally to understand, train and detach from the mind.
There are many benefits of meditation, but the most profound can be gleaned from Lao Tzu's words, "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear". Clarity is what most of us are seeking. We want to know what to do, where to go and how to get there. Most of the people who enter my office present with some level of confusion in some area of their lives. Meditation, mindfulness based psychotherapy and the application of it's principles clears the muddy water.
The mind has an innate ability to clean and clear itself. The mind already knows how to make itself clear. However, most of us are disconnected from this ability. Instead of clearing our minds, most of us are engaged in the practice of stuffing ourselves with over consumption (iphone, computer, career, entertainment, constant movement and thinking).
The practice of sitting still can reconnect us to this innate self-cleaning mind power. When a mind is exposed to the practice of sitting meditation, over and over, it begins to remember. A mind which was once clogged with rumination, self limiting thoughts, sluggish or volatile emotions becomes clear.
A by product of a clear mind is less emotionality or irrational reactivity to life circumstances. In one meditation study (Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Jan 2011) researchers found a marked increase in emotional regulation in meditators versus non-meditators after just 8 weeks of meditation.
A person who has a low level of emotional regulation (aka emotional dysregulation) often experiences life's disappointments in extremes, they have difficulty rolling with the punches, the punches tend to roll them. They tend to have greater difficulty returning to baseline -after an emotional upset- it takes them longer to calm down. They also have difficulty refocusing their attention in the face of strong emotion. They are highly sensitive to emotional stimuli, and may have difficulty inhibiting inappropriate behavior in the face of strong positive of negative emotions.
People who are able to regulate their emotions tend to feel better. It's not that they don't experience tough emotions (on the contrary- they do!). However, they tend to be able to navigate life's ups and downs - "roll with the punches", and return to baseline functioning more quickly than those who are less skilled in emotional regulation.
In the above referenced study, researchers took MRI scans of participant's brains 2 weeks before the 8 week meditation treatment and 2 weeks afterwards. Participants who were randomized to the meditation course showed increases in gray matter/nerve cells in the hippocampus. Participants in the no-meditation group showed no increase in the hippocampal gray matter.
The hippocampus is known to be associated with emotional regulation.Being able to regulate emotions is associated with internal well being and a higher quality of life. Apoptesis or cell death in the hippocampus is highly associated with psychological diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Meditation practice reverses this trend by increasing the gray matter in the hippocampus. Also note that SSRI's (Serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, anti-depressants like Prozac) have been shown to increase gray matter in the hippocampus.
In my practice I teach clients how to meditate and to utilize mindfulness based principles and experience to regulate their emotions, make mindful choices and enjoy all that life has to offer, good, bad and in-between. We practice meditation in sessions for short periods and clients practice at home on their own. These principles begin to bleed over into daily life and mindful living. Life becomes a mindful practice and a joy, regardless of outer circumstance.