Thursday, October 9, 2008

What Meditation Does to Your Brain

Following up on the previous blog about meditation, I've been digging around for some interesting links on how meditative states correlate with brain waves. Here's a basic rundown on how:

(Graph from crystalinks)

The brain itself emits electromagnetic energy, and this brain activity differs according to its state (sleeping, awake, thinking etc). There is a growing amount of data about these brain states, specifically on how the act of meditation influences them. According to this chart, beta waves coincide with thinking/working/ activities, while on the other side of the spectrum there is delta, which indicates deep and dreaming/dreamless sleep. Meditation is often found with alpha/theta waves. I'd be curious to know where mindfulness meditation fits in this spectrum.

There are various sound waves that induce or help promote a particular brain state. Ever hear of the brainwave generator? It's been around for a few years now (at least). You can download the program, free and try it out. It has a very extensive list of different sounds which allegedly help for a number of tasks, from meditating to headaches. What are your thoughts on it? From giving it a shot, I admit it did induce something. I've tried it to help write papers, but I've found myself having to make an active effort to first clear out all other sounds, sit back and take it in. There does seem to be some kind of effect, for sure. I'm just not sure how extensive it is.

Next up on the list is Holosync. This project is by far a more extensive one. I haven't purchased the program, but there seems to be alot of positive hype about it. What I did manage to get is a demo CD. It did seem to have some effect, but not as strong as the Brainwave generator. This could have been because the Holosync CD had the president speaking for a good majority of the demo, while the sound waves played underneath. I found it to be a bit distracting.

Without making this too patchy, I think I'll end it here, and in the next blog (part 2) I'll dive into a related topic: the science behind meditation. There are a handful of really interesting experiments and debates over meditation and the brain. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 3, 2008

10 Tips for Effective Meditation

1. Daily Practice. Meditation doesn't necessarily mean taking a few hours out of your day. In fact, morning and evening meditation can fit easier into your schedule. Try simple breathing exercises after you lie down to fall asleep. When you wake up, spend a few minutes with the same breathing exercises. A regular mindfulness practice will gradually spill over to your every-day life. You'll notice yourself going back into that "flowing" state during the day.
2. Mindfulness. Whether or not you have more time, mindfulness can be applied throughout the day. Simply notice things, pay attention to your breathing while you walk. Notice simple and subtle bodily aspects-- emotional and physical reactions. Simply notice your thoughts as they arise. Watch the world arise and fall as you move through it. Once again, a daily practice is the most important for effectiveness.
3. Follow the breath. Inhale through your nose, feel the air fill your lungs, feel the air leave. Beginners are encouraged to count 1-10 to help keep the pace. Once you are comfortable, quietly follow the breath. This is tricky to do at first, but it is the foundation of meditation. Gradually it will become more natural for you. When you first start, don't worry about the thoughts that pop up. Just keep following the breath. When you lose count, or get distracted, quietly pause and then begin the count again.
4. Read. Digging into a good book may stimulate your thoughts, but it also may stimulate meditative states. Reading Tao te Ching, Krishnamurti or even Eckhart Tolle can help trigger you into reflective, mindful states. Reading blogs, links and anything on the internet is good for stimulating your mind and encourage self reflection.
5. Exercise. Physical meditation, you could call it. Mindfulness during physical exertion is sometimes one of the most effective ways to meditate. It lets you both be physically healthy and more aware of your body in motion. Meditation is not just about "sitting still" - that is, not just literally. It's also finding the still point while in motion.
6. If you're feeling negative emotions-- good! Or, in other words, when anxiety, anger, fear, etc. pop up during your practice, it means you are peeling off the layers and noticing things that have been brushed aside. When these feelings do arise, don't try to fix them. Just be with them, notice them and observe them. Just like you are doing with your body. This simple acceptance of their presence is sometimes the most important thing you could do for your mental and emotional well being.
7. Don't push yourself! No, really. One of the most difficult things many beginners and long time meditators experience is frustration. How can you "stop" yourself from thinking? Well, the trick is it can't be forced. If you are having trouble focusing, just notice that. If your thoughts wander, do your best to accept that and simply observe them as they stray. Once again, this bare attention is vital to a fruitful meditation practice.
8. Practice Compassion. For those of you who would like to try a more hands-on, creative approach to meditation. This form of meditation is compassion practice. Start by following the breath. After a minute or two, begin to imagine the world. Start with loved ones, and then go out to greater and greater points of view. Imagine any sickness, physical or emotional pain. As you breathe in, inhale that pain. If it helps, conceive of that pain as dark tar or black smoke. When exhaling, imagine letting that pain and sickness go into an infinite, unconditional love. You can imagine that love as an infinite blue sky or white light. Do this for 10-15 minutes a day. The results may be surprising!
9. Eat right. A healthy diet can make all the difference for your mental health. It helps attentiveness, awareness and general mental/physical strength. Not to mention-- sleep right too!
10. Music and environment helps. The right ambient (or any music, mind you) sounds can help stimulate mindfulness. Also, the right environment can help you too. A quiet day with the window open, spring or even winter air can help you induce a state of meditation. Music, it almost goes without saying, is an extremely potent tool. Don't be ashamed to try meditation CD's either!

That's it for now. Stay tuned for a follow up blog on meditation, brain waves, and Holosync.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thoughts on the Bailout, a Clue from Duck Tales

I'm sure everyone has been following this. This is a post from Reddit: a video of Duck Tales teaching kids the laws of economics-- borrowing too much loses value! It's stunning, and almost prophetic how this video could serve as a reminder and an informer for everyone, especially those responsible for creating the bailout. To me, it really seems like it's just delaying the inevitable. Patchwork on a breaking car. Do we really think that adding more debt to save us from debt works? I swear, I may be young, but how is it that leaders of multi national corporations can't seem to get this right?

This is where it gets cloudy, but it sounds like it's a matter of policy. The philosophy of "trickle down" doesn't work. I think this is partially to do with our nature. People are greedy. They keep the money. Some things are complex only because we dodge the reality of things. Is there a way to change our policy? Can there be a system that takes human nature into better account?

Following up on that, here's a graphical representation of US debt over the past 10 years.

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