Posts Tagged ‘Mental Practice’

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…)

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.

Focus Focus: More on Mental Practice, Meditation and Michael Phelps

August 21, 2008

 

Phelps, 2008 Bejing Olympics

Phelps, 2008 Bejing Olympics

On the question of mental practice, meditation and athletic training:   I noted yesterday that the great Olympic star Michael Phelps was seen as a child who lacked the necessary focus to 3rd grade academic tasks.  With that in mind, much made of the fact that Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD and it was the practice of lane swimming that helped him “channel” his all over the map energy.

                         (See http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1998.html)

I won’t debate the cultural psychology or politics of the ADHD diagnosis, but its safe to say that in listening to Phelps speak about his own training methods, we hear the mantra “focus, focus, focus.” Dedicated goal setting, avoiding negative mental chatter, and being with the very moment of his action (a.k.a. the ole Ram Dass mantra “Be Here Now”) — this is the stuff of Olympic athletic mental training.

We also learn that Phelps has the gift of maintaining a relaxed state before a meet and there’s talk that he produces less lactic acid build up in his muscles that most athletes.   No doubt, there are many online (yours truly included)  who are curious to comb through the details of Phelps Olympic genius.

And what can we learn from this athletic genius?  Mental training of Olympic athletes has long been of interested to sports trainers, kinesiologists and sport psychologists but more to the point: Phelps’s own minimalist theory (“Set a goal. Focus only on that goal”) insinuates the brain technology involved in peak body performance.  Sports psychologist Steve Ungerleider offers a somanautic perspective culled from years of researching Olympic athlete training:: 

From his 1996/2005 book MENTAL TRAINING FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE:

Breath, Meditation and Forming Mental Snapshots are two of the four mental practice traits shared amongst Olympic athletes. (The other two being building confidence by means of positive self-talk and learning to use relaxation to cool down and revvv up!)  Yep, taking time to find the natural rhythm of ordinary breathing and picturing the goal — using your imagination to see the goal accomplished — even visualizing all of the steps in getting to the goal — the power of creating a mental “snapshot”  cannot be under-estimated by anyone engaged in sport or movement training.

Here then are glorious mind/brain/body fruits for digesting:  Those fascinated by the challenge of peak performance, be you swimmer, biker, dancer, designer, entrepreneur,  corporate leader or yogic journey woman/man of health, fitness and well-being, the kernel of Olympic truth seems to lie in the story told by those who have imagined and accomplished their goals:

SpaceSuit Yoga/Olympic Mantra:  

Make a goal.

      Focus on the Goal.

          Breath into the orchestrated unity of Mind/Body/Brain.  

                Visualize the Goal.  

                         Feel into the Goal.

 

                                     Be the Goal.

The vast frontier of mental practice is before us — with neuroscience unlocking the neuronal mysteries of the brain/body mapping, and showing the neural networking engaged by meditation, guided imagery and right brain talents like mental practice visualization — students, parents, teachers, coaches, thought leaders and all those seeking the 21 century path of enlightenment are bound to reap the benefits!   

May the Breath Be With You!

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.