Your Body & Brain on Meditation
The Nervous System of A Parent
Seven years ago I sat down with my meditation instructor. I was preparing for my next long retreat where I would make a deeper commitment to working with myself. What was striking about this conversation is he was much more interested in the fact that I was considering becoming a parent. At the time his daughter was still young so he understood the kind of challenges that lay ahead for me. I’ll never forget him saying in a very sobering way that his nervous system was completely shot due to parenthood. And this was from a long time meditator!
Nobody could’ve guessed what lay ahead. Like most parents, my resiliency has been tested over and over. Some of us are wired from a young age to be easily triggered. Others develop this tendency once we have children of our own. The good new is we can remodel our brains at anytime. The goal is to keep our life force strong in order to be of service to our families and communities. Enough down time is essential. A mindfulness practice is the best way to build this into a busy life.
The practice of meditation interrupts our normal patterns. By resetting the nervous systems it allows new growth. Imagine its 8am and your child is on his third tantrum already. You still have a full day of work ahead and an important meeting in one hour. You feel exhausted. One way to prepare is to lay down and do some belly breathing followed by a body scan meditation. This can bring you into the present, allow you to recharge and let go of effect of the tantrums.
Wisdom of the Belly
There are four times more stress receptors in the belly. This is why belly fat accumulates in those with more perceived or real stress in their lives. Visceral obesity is connected with poor insulin and cortisol regulation. In the pre-industrial age this fat storage capacity was how we survived famines. In modern times it has run wild because our stress is higher than ever and we have fewer ways to discharge that are part of our normal daily routines. This is why we have to build it in. We know that meditation changes our cellular energy metabolism. If you are exhausted, the best thing you can do is lay down and reset your mitochondria. This is the power house of your cells.
Elizabeth Backburn won the nobel prize for her research of telomeres in the brain. When there is perceived stress these telomeres appear short and stubby. This coincided with more inflammation, a higher risk of cancer and a faster rate of aging. Keep in mind that perceived stress does not equal actual stress. Working with your mind is one way to protect your brain with the positive effect of aging gracefully.
For those with PCOS we know meditation can lower DHEA and androgens. It also increases oxytocin. This is the calm and connect hormone that naturally lowers cortisol. Stress is a major contributor in all disease processes. Half the population are taking antidepressants lacking any substantial long-term evidence whereas meditation has an enormous body of research. Patients tell me that their doctors prescribe them the birth control pill alongside an antidepressant to fix their hormonal problems. This is enough to make anyone feel crazy.
A Functional Medicine gynecologist I know reminds us that the pill reduces the size of the clitoris by 25 per cent. It also lowers testoterone which decreases sex drive and lowers confidence. Vaginal dryness is another common side effect. One in 4 women are taking pharmaceuticals for mental health. Anti depressants lower sex drive and are indicated in severe depression only. They are being used in mild to moderate cases where other interventions are called for.
How do I begin and what’s the dose required?
Alternatives are available. My patients shift in a few weeks by doing a Baseline Reset that includes a mindfulness practice. Research shows that meditating for 25 min per day for only three days changes the brain. Imagine what would happen if you kept going!
The conventional medical paradigm recognizes meditation as a powerful tool. You can get a ‘prescription’ for a class through our medical services plan to learn mindfulness for anxiety and depression. Heart Math is a non-profit research project in California helping people to connect with their minds and bodies.
The Human Genome
An institute in California studied prostate survivors during a residential program in which meditation was a part. What they found was the genes that prevent cancer get turned on and the ones that cause it turn it off by social connection, meditation, diet and stress reduction. Lifestyle makes a huge impact. This is proven over and over.