Archive for the ‘Neuro-Respiration Technologies’ Category

Meditation, Mandalas and the Brain

December 9, 2008

Greetings readers, a follow up on questions concerning choosing a visual meditation practice:

First a few words about the practice itself:

With respect to stress reduction and the desire to create a sense of inner well being, visual meditations may be ideal for

a) Those who find deep appreciation and calm in viewing visual art; and

b) Those who find the visual complexity of a mandala, the perfect sensory road to travel on in the quest for time/space centering of one’s “self.”

Put in everyday (well sorta) terms, visual meditations call on rehearsed neural circuits that enable the human brain to “pattern recognize” in ways that stretch beyond ordinary looking and seeing. Pattern recognition, after all, is basic to the acts of looking and seeing.   As the great anthropologist and cognitive theorist Gregory Bateson pointed out, “pattern recognition” is that which binds mind to life. Or as AI theorist Ray Kurzweil maintains, pattern recognition constitutes the first sign of biological intelligence (something that can be shared with non-biological intelligence, presuming we program the “thing,”).  Following this line of thinking, rehearsed pattern recognition creates the neurochemical connections necessary for the production of  new “brain maps” —  neural networks that correlate with learning and memory retention.

Practice, in other words, creates greater synaptic connections in our brains that form and correlate with sense perceptions, images, ideas, feelings and intuitions. With respect to using visual meditation as a way to reduce stress, some evidence suggests the less complex visual image, the easier it is to perceive and focus attention upon.  Let’s take. for instance, the act of attending to a single image like this week’s Hubble Telescope shot of a globular cluster of stars in the Northern Sky!

hubble

Northern Sky, Globular Cluster M13 captured by the Hubble Telescope

If you’re prone to nature mysticism (C.F. William James), then you might first sense the awesome beauty of the cosmic start system. If you’re given to the metaphysics of geometry, you might pause on the elegance symbology of a cosmic circle. But if you’re interested in using the image of a cosmic star system to train your attention toward calmness and stability, then I suggest bringing along with visual attention, your sensory awareness of ordinary breathing. As one learns from the ancient Buddhist practice of mandala gazing, its the repeated experiential pairing of “looking” and “breathing” that helps one move from image perception and analysis to image experience. Meditative looking, to put it neatly, is embodied.

Today, neuroscientists reporting on perception and cognition, tell us that visual meditation experiences, like all other visual experiences, are synthesized in the visual cortex, related to other areas of the brain, e.g. the somasensory cortex. By adding breathing to the mix, visuality is further grounded in the body of experience.

Or to put it another way,

Bringing the art of breathing to the art of meditative visual image gazing transforms the neuroscience, if you will, of the visual experience.

What then do we make of the complex patterns one finds in Buddhist mandalas or Islamic mosque imagery, such as we find anew on Phil George’s sublime surfboards?

To be continued in my next blog….

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.



Meditation or Mental Practice: Michael Phelps and his Olympiad Success!

August 20, 2008

The Platform:  2008 Bejing Olympics

The Twitter:  Brain Training for Gold Medals and more!

The Application:  Meditation, Mental Practice, Attention and Awareness Training (AAT)

 

 

A recent article in the New York times noted Michael Phelps’s 3rd grade teacher extending congratulations to Phelps and his family for the gold medal success.  As we learn, Phleps in his early years had the teacher worried that he had “no focus” in his studies. (What 3rd grader has “focus” in academic studies?!!!) With Phelps now drawing world-wide attention to the glory of his strategic swimming, the teacher apologies with a realization: Phelps just had to find the subject that drew out his focused attention.

Expectations of 3rd graders aside, Phelps’s victory is his to savor for years to come for he has proven to himself and to the world that consistent physical and mental training over time can transform our lives in ways that reach beyond our imagination.

 

Clearly, Phelps and his swim team buddies have mastered the art and science of “concentration” or “focused attention” — practices that might be considered comparable to the astounding feats of attention practiced by Buddhist monks submitted to recent neuro-scientific studies.  Turning to the neuroscience camp, we learn the years of focused attention, of bringing “mindfulness” to our actions makes significant neurological changes in the brain.  As science writer Sharon Begley reminds us in TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN,  the matter of morphing brain tissue comes down to a simple fact: You’ve got to want to change it for the brain to change.

No doubt, Phelps and his crew wanted to break records, win gold medals, perform at the top of their game.  The reason for such bold desire? We can leave that to enlightened or nefarious speculation, for the real story here is this:  Hot, passionate, and inspired human desire enables dedicated action.  Dedicated Mental Practice transforms the brain….and body.  

I vote for inviting Phelps and the American men’s swim team into the brain labs of UCLA, University of Washington, or Wisconsin to test their neuronal abilities to “pay attention.”  And then let’s bring in full tilt Olympic education into the school system so that 3rd graders can be inspired to do their thing.

Michael Phelps: You Go Girl!

And to all of the somanauts out there, a SpaceSuit Yoga tip for mental practice:

1) Best way to begin: Pay close and intimate attention to breathing, whether you’re walking, swimming, or lying down.  Notice the feeling of breathing — whether breathing takes up a lot of room or very little room, whether breathing feels fast or slow.  Visualize  breathing — get a sense of where it actually takes place in  your body.

2. Set aside a little time each day to “pay attention” to your breath and use a timer, so you don’t have to keep track of the minutes.   Master one sequence of time before adding more minutes.

 

 

 

3. Keep a written record of your time so you can 1) notice the sequence of improvements and 2) make a felt, embodied connection between your inner sense of mastery with an outer account of recorded time.

4.  Invigorate yourself with reading on how to motivate and change your brain!  Several suggestions have already been noted in this blog.   For history buffs — check out the “Zen and the Art of Archery” — a classic on mental practice and meditation.

May the breath and brain be with you!

Dr.  G.

TED, Neurological Time Outs and A Secular Sabbath

March 7, 2008

I’m working to get images from TED posted onto this blog, in the meantime, a thought about hemispheric time outs: Stroke or Rest?

I mentioned Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED 2008 talk on hemispheric activity and now after a New York Times article on “secular sabbaths,” a brief plug for a hemispheric time out. Rather than wait for the stress of living to force a neurological shut down, NY Times author Mark Bittman confesses to the benefits of a “virtual” out, that is, countering his own OCD addiction to high tech interface with a “secular sabbath.” I don’t think it’s just technology that holds us neurologically and psychologically captive — it’s the need to step off the wheel of “samasara” as the Buddhists call it, the grinding cycle of life that becomes an imprisoning routine when not embodied.

My mentor and Contemplative Movement teacher Barbara Dilley has been talking about “self-retreats,” e.g. a designated time out that gives us a chance to breath and feel our feet on ground, to listen to the sounds of silence, to look up at the stars, free of social obligations and techno-gizmos — laptops, phones or even electron telescopes (revealed at TED and ironically speaking now on the WEB!). Dilley’s suggestion echoes Bittman’s p.o.v.

The benefits? We should ask Dr. Taylor about the effects of stress on stroke victims vs the effects of hemispheric time outs.

Also see Sharon Begley’s discussion on neuroplasticity, meditation and stroke recovery.

Sending breath your way!

M. A. from L. A. a.k.a. Dr. G.

TED Day 3: ReCap: TED Breathes!

February 29, 2008

Good morning, a lot more refreshed and ready to share. TED does demand a decatholon approach to energy output and happily this morning, many of us found a space of calm: Yours truly introduced the noble and simple practice of contemplative breathing — a great group filled the room, navigating the qualities of breathing as a human ORGANISM! Yes, I emphasis “organism” as in this conference, we’ve heard one speaker, Susan Blackmore, put forth a deterministic view of homo sapien sapien and our “meme” potential. Waving her arms and stating emphatically, Blackmore claimed the envitable and absolute coupling of machines and humans, transforming us into telememe-machines.Susan Blackmore, Psychologist, Meme Theorist, TED Day 2: What is Life?

Here we find a mixed metaphor with tremendous unconscious potential to confuse us as we struggle to navigate the day to day requirements of our own biological destiny. A matter of mere semantics? I don’t think so. Thinking of yourself as a machine intends a very different picture, a whole set of different assumptions about oneself as a “closed system” that are quite distinct from the picture of being an developmental biological organism, a mammal that has evolved over thousands of years. We are an extraordinary example of an “open system,” Ms. Blackmore, producing telememes or not.

And if there is anything that can reinforce this sense of openness, is our evolutionary, biological capacity for neuroplasticity, for fluidity, for indeterminate growth and change!

All this to say, I am not denying the computational practices that can be used to show human biology, but to encourage a deep think about the difference of using biological and engineering metaphors to capture the future of our whole–brain, whole-body… whole-mind!

More thoughts to come……