Posts Tagged ‘Meditation and the Brain’

Last free teleseminar: Yoga and the Brain!

February 1, 2009

Head’s and Brain’s UP! Last free teleseminar on YOGA and the BRAIN, upcoming in March!

The Twitter: It’s time to grow new Neural real estate, not grey hairs!

The Big Idea: Scientific research shows that yogic movement meditation changes the brain!
brainmappictorial-head

Here at GGI, 2009 is off and running with free teleseminars on YOGA and the BRAIN! (more…)

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Yoga and the Brain: Free Teleseminar Jan 26, 2009

January 15, 2009

The Platform: YOGA and the BRAIN, Free Teleseminar Jan 26, 2009

The Twitter: It’s time to grow Neural real estate, not grey hairs!

The Big Idea: Scientific research shows that yogic movement meditation changes the brain!

brainmappictorial-head

My thought for the new year? Let mounting stress and uncertainty be opportunities to let yourself learn NEW WAYS TO CALM DOWN — and change your brain for the better!!!!!

Here at GGI, 2009 is off and running with free teleseminars on YOGA and the BRAIN! (more…)

Visual meditation is great for brain/mind training!

December 14, 2008

Welcome back to the discussion on visual meditation and mandalas!

Within major wisdom traditions of meditation, be they spiritual, religious or scientific brain and health training programs, there is typically the path of education or entrainment. Meditation or mental practice, after all, is not the default mode of a mature human central nervous system that is wired for turbo”different detecting” in space/time! Remember, difference detecting is that old survival mechanism that helps all mammals determine: Will that eat me or will I eat that? Is it safe to sleep here or is it not? And now in our modern jungle version where we communicate and travel at the speed of light, our human brains and central nervous systems race faster and faster to keep up with the deluge of information, images, and experiences we encounter day after day!

It makes sense that in response to or retreat from cultures drunk on speed, we would turn to “best practices” of earlier times, namely the ancient art and science of meditation, to help us slow down, to assist us in creating equilibrium in our bodies and in our lives. The good news is that at the dawn of the 21st century, meditation traditions practiced around the globe are finding their way into translation in order to prevent suffering and benefit all humankind. A grand project indeed!

So how does visual meditation figure into all of the hoopla about meditation as being great for creating inner peace. lowering stress and brain training?

Drawing upon both Buddhist and Hatha Yogic traditions, we find two key lessons to enable the learner: Turning Inward and Consciousness of Abstracting.

Turning inward allows us to find the most important radar signaling systems of the human body: Breathing and Paying Attention, both made possible by a “conscious” brain. [I’m using the term “conscious” in the here and now, scientific sense of brain activation.]

Paying attention enables us to “consciously abstract” or selectively focus upon a sign, an feeling, a sensation, a process of movement out of all that we might experience at any given moment.

Now, suggesting that someone turn inward seems to be completely counter intuitive to surviving in a culture that demands external focus for reading signs for survival! In gung ho American culture, think of the mockery we make of the quiet, reflective types — the teen who hides in in fantasy novels, the poet who sits and reflects on life, the college student who prefers to study Art, Sufi Dancing or Zen practice rather than ice hockey!

The irony of course is that in today’s sports training, “turning in” is one of the key training tools of Olympic training practice! (Think of Michael Phelp’s incredible ability to turn inward and “focus.”!!!). So turning inward, drawing one’s attention away from the noise of the outside world and turning it toward the space of one’s own inner life is a key step of Hatha Yoga, Zen, T.M. and Vipassana or Mindfulness traditions.

You might be saying at this point, “O.K., turn inward. And consciousness of what? How exactly do I use a visual image placed outside my own body?

Good question: Here’s the neuro-scoop and poop on using visual mandalas: (more…)

Core Neuroscience Concepts 7 & 8: The future is in our hands and brains!

November 27, 2008

The Platform: Society for Neuroscience 8 Core Concepts

The Twitter: The Human Brain….it gets curiouser and curiouser!

The Big Idea:  Curiosity is the natural province of the human brain!  

Of the 8 Core Concepts put forward recently by the Society for Neuroscience, Concepts 7 & 8 may be the most important to drive home, not just to kids and teens but to culture changers and thought leaders of any age: What makes these two concepts so special?   Gather for yourself:

7.  The human brain endows us with a natural curiousity to understand how the world works. [Notice it doesn’t say why the world works]

8.  Fundamental discoveries promote healthy living and treatment of disease.

     [http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=core_concepts]

For those of you who worship at the temple of the incurious, I guess you can stop reading here.  But if you stay with me, I bet it’s because you, like many of us, wish curiosity would come back into style, not in the form of paparazzi gossip feeders but more in the way of thirst that drives explorers, artists and scientists to wander this earth, striving to reach new vistas of insight and understanding. Those of you who saw the recent Werner Herzog film Encounters at the end of the World, will have an idea what I mean.  Or check out http://www.stellaraxis.com, a stunning project organized by my dear colleague Lita Albuquerque, who like Herzog, received National Science Foundation grants for art and science expeditions to study the biosphere of Antartica.

By emphasizing curiosity as a given condition of the human brain, SfN sets up the logic for neuroscience itself, that is, to pose questions about the very thing that enables us to be curious, i.e., the brain extended by the nervous system.  In a world suffocating with information overload and in a country like the U.S. that has shown venal scepticism towards scientific endeavors, it’s a rare day that we chance to relish scientific achievement.  Still, leaders of SfN assure us that neuroscience is that field that will astonish us with “unexpected discoveries that can benefit humanity.”

A colleague recently wrote of neuroscience as perhaps, the single most creative field study within his lifetime.  Given my reading and in light of conferences I’ve recently attended, I would have to agree: We are witnessing the rapid emergence of a science that overturns some of the fundamental questions of human physiology, psychology and philosophy while bearing out the truth of others. And with that revolution comes the development of new technologies that allow us to penetrate into the mysteries of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, TBI along with a host of other brain and nervous systems disorders!

Of the many disruptions, one of my favorites is the evidence pointing to the neuroplastic ways in which we ourselves can change our brains and transform stress, injury and unhappiness through daily practice of meditation or focused states of attention.

I will return to these subjects as they are at the heart of my mission in setting up this blog along with a new one that will launch in weeks to come!

Stay tuned and for those in the States, I’d like to dedicate this Thanksgiving holiday to all of the researchers, inventors, intellectuals, artists, coaches and teachers who dare to use their curiosity and encourage others to do so!

Happy Turkey Day!  May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Heat Wave!: Brain Cooling Tips for Election Countdown

September 7, 2008

The Platform: Post Olympic Blues — The 2008 Election Season

The Twitter: Stress Deteriorates the Brain!

The Big Idea: Save Neural Real Estate This Election Year; Cool Your Brain with Meditation or Mental Practice!                                                                                                                                                    

Sigh… the Olympics are over and now in the U.S., on to prime time political battles. Just when we were enjoying the soaring feelings of watching Phelps win his 8 golds, or drooling at the double men’s diving (when did that sport enter the fray?), our brains are already beginning to fry! Regardless of your party affiliation, the stress that mounts by witnessing the battle at home, will clearly not contribute to “neurogenesis” — what neuroscientists regards as the creation of new synaptic connections in the brain. (One has to wonder how many brain cell connections have been burned over the rise and rhetoric of the new “lipstick pitbull” — Sarah Palin.

So if you want keep your neural “real estate” intact, then I suggest the following SpaceSuit Yoga brain tip for this electoral season: Brain Cooling.

1 ) One of the most well known and empirically tested brain cooling meditative techniques is Zen Meditation. A recent post in LiveScience.com noted an Emory University study that has validated Zen’s effectiveness in quieting the brain’s tendency to be distracted by spontaneous outbursts or a barrage of information flow just as we might find in diagnoses of ADD or OCD behavior. Breath, posture, the ritual of repetition. It’s all there:  As Sharon Begley reminds us, ‘we must train the mind in order to change the brain.’

If not Zen, then start a mental practice of cooling the brain with an image of deep relaxation and restoration, supported by gentle breathing.  Whether it’s a picture of hanging out on Australia’s Gold Coast or laying down on soft green grass by a radiant blue lake in Tahoe; visualize a place where you feel most calm, a place you can easily imagine in your mind’s eye.  Bring your awareness of breathing into the space of that picture and enjoy the deep sense of relaxation that comes with every breath.

(For training in meditation and mental practice, scroll through this blog for tips or contact me for links to meditation training centers in the US and abroad.)

Other mind clearing/brain cooling options: 

3) Take a strong whiff of grapefruit or peppermint oil and let the freshness fill your awareness.

4) Try a  hot, hot, hot steam-bath, a long run, or a focused round of poker or pool.

Brain cooling, in other words, is a mindful method of training the brain to move into a zone that allows for neutrality (what the Mahayana Buddhist’s call “empty space” or a zone of positive thinking. As Alvaro Fernandez, in review of the L. A. Times special on learning and memory, points out: positive thoughts and experience lift our spirits and contribute to “neurogenesis.”  (For a brief and to the point commentary on the neural effects of stress, see Sharpbrains.com — search for “Neural Wreckage”  Feb 8, 2008 blog entry.)

Independents, Green Party Animals, Dems and GOP take note.

MAY THE BREATH BE WITH YOU AS WE APPROACH NOVEMBER 4TH!

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.