How Meditation Affects Your Brain

More people than ever are turning to meditation for a wide variety of reasons. The habitual process of training your mind’s ability to retain attention and awareness as well as achieving a more clear, calm and stable emotional states has been a practice used for centuries. Today’s scientific research, however, is showing exactly what it does to us, more specifically, how it changes your most important organ.

Here’s a look at 6 ways Meditation affects your brain.

Reduces Brain Aging
Promising research conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine suggest regular meditation increases the anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid receptor which can help lessen age stress in the brain. Looking at meditators vs non-mediators also suggested that meditation can improve voluntary regulation of mental activity, shifting focus and attention, as well as a reduction in rumination. In addition, when examining the brains of meditators versus non-meditators, those who meditated had brains that appeared several years younger than those who didn’t.

Eases Addiction Receptibility
1 in 7 people ages twelve and older reportedly have a substance abuse problem. Commonly prescribed in addiction recovery programs, meditation alters the way the brain functions by changing thought patterns. Studies show that just eight weeks of meditation decreases amygdala response to upsetting stimuli even people aren’t currently meditating which is a key competent in drug addiction. Meditation also strengthens a person’s awareness of cravings and allows them to address them more effectively.

Rewires for Outward Thinking
The brain’s default mode seems to be a mind-wandering state which is correlated with unhappiness along with self-referential processing. A 2011 investigation looking at the brain activity of meditators found that main nodes in the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices (the me-center) were less active than non-meditators. Furthermore, stronger coupling between the posterior cingulate, dorsal anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices were found which is the region of your brain that deals with self-monitoring and cognitive control – giving meditators a stronger ability to understand and navigate situations outside themselves.

Reduces Depression, Anxiety and Pain
Like in addiction plans, meditation is regularly part of treatment plans for numerous mental and physical stressors. “Anxiety, depression, and stress/distress are different components of negative affect. When we combined each component of negative affect, we saw a small and consistent signal that any domain of negative affect is improved in mindfulness programs,” writes Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH of the Department of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University. The active training of the mind has been shown to have powerful effects in managing the unpleasant symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and even pain.

Improves Attention Span
Paying attention can be something everyone struggles with at some point in their daily life. A clinical study looking at sixty participants sent thirty people on a three-month meditation retreat while the other thirty acted as the control group and waited for the other group to finish. At three points participants on the retreat had their visual attention tested as well as their ability to make fine visual distinctions. Participants on the retreat showed continued improvement in perception that led to a longer sustained attention span – which was retained a whopping 5 months after the meditation retreat had concluded.

Children Can Benefit Even More
The incredible neuroplasticity of a young developing brain could benefit even more with daily meditation. The brain is quicker to rewire itself making it easier to improve different thought processes. Studies suggest utilizing mindfulness programs may be an effective way of building resilience and could be used in the treatment of disorders in clinical populations. Further studies looking to bring mediation in Elementary school classrooms found that adding a regular mindfulness program as part of the curriculum improved attention and may improve overall classroom behavior and academic performance.

Meditation is something anyone can do to improve their emotional and mental health. With a great variety of styles that can be done almost anywhere and with so much known benefits – meditation daily just might be one of the best things you can do for your brain.

By Guest Blogger: Alex Schaffer


What to Do if You’ve Just Received a Chronic Pain Diagnosis

A diagnosis of a condition that causes chronic pain can be a truly life-altering experience. It’s shocking. It’s scary. It’s often confusing. The most important thing for you to know right now is that it is manageable. No matter how apprehensive you are about your future at this very moment, you will learn how to cope and things will get better. Here’s what you can do right now.

Take a breath and let the shock subside.

Your first challenge is to overcome the shock of the initial diagnosis. This is easier said than done, but if you allow yourself to feel — really feel — the wide range of emotions that come with it, you can begin to move on.

“You may feel you’re on a roller coaster of emotion — accepting one day, and angry the next. It may help to remind yourself that these feelings are normal, and will likely ease with time,” says the American Psychological Association. It’s okay to feel mad, scared, and even numb. Your plan of action can commence when you hit the acceptance phase of your emotional journey.

Start by creating a peaceful, stress-free home environment.

It’s hard to manage chronic pain in a hectic, cluttered, disorganized, stressful home. Since you spend the majority of your time in your home, it’s vital that you make it as peaceful as possible.

First, take some time to declutter, organize, and in some cases, downsize. Get rid of (or donate) items that you simply don’t use. Go through your closets and pare down your clothing collection by donating anything that you haven’t worn in a calendar year. Organize the clutter that rests on your tables and floor with organizational aids like stylish buckets, bins, wall cubes, and chests (more on that here). Check out this guide on great ways to make your home stress-free.

And once you’ve de-cluttered, you’ll have room in your home for a meditation space. notes that meditation is a tried and true method of coping with chronic pain. It may not actually reduce the pain you’re feeling, but it will teach you how to better cope with it. Your response to your pain is what you can control. Fill this meditation space with calming things – visuals, smells, and textures. Pro tip: make your meditative space one that’s filled with natural light.

Then move on to lifestyle changes.

There are many chronic pain sufferers who are able to manage their pain with prescription medication, and there are some who cannot. Even if you use medication to help deal with your pain, you can’t rely on it alone. You must make some lifestyle changes if you want to manage your condition in a healthy manner.

The first step is to limit the use of the big three: nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine. Smoking and excessive drinking exacerbate the symptoms of most chronic pain-causing conditions, and caffeine has also been shown to do the same (it can increase inflammation as well as interfere with restful sleep). During this time, many people also look for natural ways to help decrease inflammation, and some have found success with CBD oil. What’s more, cannabidiol can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, which often tend to accompany chronic pain. Of course, talk to your doctor before you begin taking CBD oil, and do plenty of research to find the best type of oil.

Another natural remedy for pain and anxiety is yoga. This ancient practice gives you an opportunity to connect with your mind and body. It also offers gentle stretching for your muscles, which can go a long way toward easing discomfort. When accompanied by meditation, yoga is a powerful and effective weapon against your own reaction to pain, and boosts your ability to control your feelings toward it. For even more relief, consider Reiki healing, which involves moving energy throughout the body to promote emotional and physical healing.

Next — and this is a lifelong commitment — is to focus on a healthy diet. This should be one that’s mostly whole foods (unprocessed), with a limit on red meat, dairy, and sugar and an emphasis on anti-inflammatory foods like fish and vegetables.

This is how you get started on dealing with chronic pain – something that you may have for years or even a lifetime. It’s not a sentence. It’s hard, but in the end, it can be an opportunity to refocus your life on being healthy, mindful, and stress-free.

By Guest Blogger: Jackie Waters
Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash


When I (blank) then…

How is it that we can make up so many excuses for when we will actually live our lives? I’ll travel when I’m wealthy. I’ll write that book when I have time. I’ll have a baby when I find the perfect relationship. I will be happy when I get this promotion.

“When I (blank) then” is a great excuse for not doing something we may really want to do. Or maybe in fact we are choosing not to do those things because they aren’t our priority or in our alignment, so let them go.

My friend Deirdra Martinez of the Uplift Movement always inspires me.  I joined her “Conscious Collective” group recently to be associated with a group of like-minded souls who are truly up to greatness and upliftment in this world. We are all life coaching each other into living our dreams and potentials.

In this group, my goal is to write a book. As a new mom, I find myself strapped for time and having to adjust to managing my full time work schedule with being present with my newborn baby.

My excuse time and time again each week at check in is that I have absolutely no time to do this.  In essence, it is very true that I have less time than before, but if I had the time would I be writing my book or creating other excuses?

What I find most interesting for me in being part of this group are the games that I play with my mind. It has been a very interesting inquiry.

Do I want to write this book?

The answer is yes, however, I keep saying, “I will write this book when I have time.” Does the time ever come?

If I’m being authentic, the book is not my biggest priority now,

like it was when I started the group.  My son is my number one interest.  And knowing how fleeting this time with him (as a baby) is, instead of admitting that the book isn’t my biggest priority currently, I keep using the excuse “I just don’t have enough time”. I don’t want to let people down either.

What I also realized in this inquiry is that I could be more creative with my time.

For example, in the car I have much wasted time here in LA. I’m in the car several hours a day commuting. During my drives, I’d listen to the radio or CD or make phone calls.  These are all well and good activities, but if I plan to write a book, I could be creative and voice record my book on an app and then transcribe it later – thank you Deirdra for this idea! I have been doing this several times now and have received about 20 pages of transcriptions back.  In actuality my book is being written, verbally!

The deeper layer of the procrastination on my book too is the fear around whether or not the subject will be of interest or if anyone will care. Or if I can organize my thoughts. Will spending all this time be a waste in the end?

This group coaching experience has given me cause to look all around my life for other excuses.  If I really want to do something, can I make it work? Or maybe that thing just isn’t my priority anymore and I need to be more upfront, authentic and honest with others and myself.  I need to release the “should do this” script which is about disappointing people and meeting expectations.

What have I learned?

If you want to do something that’s in alignment, look for all they ways that it can happen. Be creative.  And if it’s not in alignment, then let it go. Be honest. Let go of the scripts that cause you to look outside yourself for answers.  Go within.