You hear it often, learn to meditate and you will find the Utopia you are looking for. Or possibly you have heard that it can cure your anxiety, stress, or even lower your blood pressure. Yes, these comments are true, but what is not always spoken about is how hard it is to get to the precipice of wellness that meditation guides you to.
Well your automatic nervous system is the biggest culprit. Lets take a look at exactly how the nervous system is the culprit. To simplify this idea, lets take it down to 2 levels within our body: sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
Our sympathetic nervous system is the ‘fight or flight’ system. Its the system that has us feeling like we are on the move, getting stuff done, living life with big gusto, and helping us have high energy workout sessions. It is also the system that contributes to the non-stop chatter in our head, the raised anxiety levels, and the constant push to keep doing more and keep reaching higher. I like to call this the burn out system, because our society tends to live in this system and frequently becomes burnt out.
Our parasympathetic system is the ‘rest and relaxation’ system. This system calms our sympathetic system. Think of it as the calming agent within our body that comes to help the sympathetic system to deescalate from the constant go-go-go. When stress is felt (i.e. workouts, intense energy output, anxiety, etc.) the parasympathetic system springs into action and comes to mend the damage the stress has incurred.
But most of us are stressed out these day. Cost of living is increasing, consumption is at a peak high, the news is full of what seems to be chaos around the world… there are a lot of reasons to be stressed out! And when these daily stresses are felt in a constant flow, the sympathetic system is overpowered and the parasympathetic system is unable to clean up the constant flow of stress destruction.
Meditation activates the parasympathetic system in several ways. By relaxing, bringing attention to the body, and withdrawing attention from stress-inducing thoughts our parasympathetic system is lit up like a christmas tress. Meditation elevates our mood, decreases cortisol, strengthens the immune system and increases physical and psychological well-being. A daily meditation practice, whether 20 minutes or one minute, strengthens the parasympathetic system.
So this is the main reason why it is hard for many of us to quite our mind. Now for the solution!
Start by taking 2-5 minutes each day to be still. Sit in a chair, take in a few deep breaths through your nose, and exhale. I recommend take a few deep breaths and exhale through the mouth first. This is an amazing way to simply blow the stress away! Use your imagination and imagine you’re removing stress and the air in the room is transmuting it into peaceful energy that blankets the room. Once you have let the tip of the stress mountain go in breath, allow your body and your breath to find a natural rhythm of breathing – in through nose and exhaling through the nose. Eventually you breath will become very calm, and your notice less effort is used to find you rhythm. I notice my breath become more shallow and peaceful, yet incredibly calming!
Now just sit. Sometimes it helps to stare out the window and look at nature, or focus on a peaceful picture on the wall, stare at a flower, or even a cup of water. But please do yourself one favor. Turn the TV off, close the computer, and put your phone on airplane mode for these few minutes. You deserve it!
With time, you will discover a calmer energy is inside you. And this is because you have made room for the parasympathetic system to do its magic! Before long you be discover that a quite mind is now part of your life, and the high paced energy you use to thrive in no longer is serving to you.
This is a 3 part series where you will learn how to help your body work with you to quite the chatter. Like many things in life, its about balance. Part 2 will discuss how our nervous system contributes to faster aging, and Part 3 will discuss steps you can take everyday to help extending your life and quite your mind.
-Nomi Shmerling, PhD (c)