Meditation is Contemplative Neuroscience

Contemplation and being contemplative are the terms frequently used in the ever-evolving field of Meditation Sciences… Now.

Meditation to me, is a non-religious process, a Contemplation process aimed at rewiring the way brain processes and manages thoughts, emotions, stresses, feelings, the Body and the Breath.

Everything around us changes and this is true for our brains too….

Everything changes except change, thus goes the age old saying. The seasons, weather, trees, our body-literally everything we see and experience are subjected to change. But there was one organ in our body which was thought to be beyond this existential rule of change and that was brain. The brain was thought to stop growing after the childhood years. But, the modern neuroscientists believe that brain is not an exception to the rule of change. They have found out that our brains continue to grow and change, and that too even when we are old.

Neuroplasticity is that property of the brain, which allows it to change its structure and function. Neuroplasticity occurs as a result of: 

  • Our actions.
  • Our thinking and imagination.

 

What is Contemplative Neuroscience?

Contemplative neuroscience studies how a contemplative practice changes brain. A contemplative practice could be anything like journaling or singing. But the scientific studies on contemplative neuroscience have mostly focused on meditation.

Neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot of the McGill University suggests the regular use of spatial memory (recalling the routes and not depending on GPS Apps) to develop the functioning of hippocampus of the brain and thus prevent age related waning of cognitive skills.

If there is one thing that has got the fancy of neuroscientists and philosophers alike in recent times, it has been the effect of contemplative practices on brain. Most of us equate a contemplative practice to meditation. But it needn’t be always, if meditation means simply to sit in silence, far removed from the worldly distractions.

Singing, journalising, sitting and observation etc can be contemplative. This process is very personalised, everyone does it their own way. And, Btw, too much intellectualisation can take you away from your true practice. Just be…

 

Rewiring the Brain through Meditation… Is it possible?

Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and also a long time meditator believes in the affirmative. He believes that as exercise strengthens muscles, meditation strengthens the neural network. Davidson and his team have scientifically shown that meditation produces beneficial changes in the brain. 

The limbic system in our brain plays a big role in our emotions. Davidson’s team found out that the limbic system is stimulated during meditation even in novice meditators. In expert meditators, the activation of the limbic system is profoundly greater, making them more compassionate. What more, the effects of meditation is permanent and stays with the meditator even when he is not meditating. 

Various studies have proved that meditation has a profound influence over the brain. Researchers from the Universities of Harvard and Yale and from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that meditation leads to increased thickness in those parts of the brain that deals with attention 

Cortical thinning is often found in families with a history of clinical depression. A study led by Lisa Miller of the Columbia University on 103 people at either high or low risk of depression based on family history, published in 2013, found out that the thickening of the cortex associated with meditation or religious practice guards people from depression.

 

How can you start a Contemplative Meditative Practice

The best start to understand contemplation is by being silent and observing without being critical or reactive. Start your contemplation by…

 

Be Aware: Are we aware most of the time? We aren’t. We rush to office thinking of the unfinished projects. We walk around with numerous thoughts in our head. We eat staring at the T.V or chatting with others. 

The key in Mindfulness Awareness Technique is to be aware every moment.

Try to consciously bring awareness to most of your regular tasks and chore. At the onset, it could seem to be tough. You will find yourself distracted and your mind wandering during your activities. But every time you are distracted, bring your awareness back to the task gently and slowly. When one brings awareness constantly to what is being done at the moment, the brain gets reprogrammed gradually to be more aware.  

The easiest way to start a contemplative practice is by being aware of your own breath. Every day, take at least 10 minutes out of your routine to practice this breath awareness meditation. 

  1. Sit in a quiet place.
  2. Watch your inhalations and exhalations.
  3. Then, start breathing naturally. Just watch your relaxed and rhythmic incoming and outgoing breath. Slow the breathing pattern down to 5 to 12 breath cycles per minute. When you find yourself distracted, slowly bring the focus back to your breath. 

The key is to practice this regularly over a considerable period of time, so that, the mind gets to know that it needs to be aware of the breath. Over a period of time, awareness of breath becomes a part of your life.

If you get yourself acquainted with the breath awareness practice, you can then try to be aware of your emotions and feelings during the meditation session AND then work on them, if required.

 

Be Silent: Being deliberately silent and focusing on it is one of the best of contemplative practices. Try to do this practice at least once in a week. Sit in a room where you will not be easily disturbed. Keep yourself away from mobile phones. Make sure that you don’t watch T.V or listen to radio during the session. Just try to sit silently and do nothing. Don’t try to be aware even of your breath or emotions.

With awareness one can work on this chatter and the resultant reactions/responses, if necessary.

The key is to remain silent for a while. It is this stillness that can make you aware of the mind’s chatter and gives you clarity as to how you react and/or respond to issues/situations.

It is indeed possible to change our brains for the better through certain contemplative practices.

 

Contemplation is the ‘knowing’ stage of ones thoughts. Contemplation, if not followed up by action, can become any easy escape and unknowingly one can get stuck in an ‘I am aware’ bubble. 

Contemplation to Clarity to Restructuring is an ongoing process. Most remain stuck in the Clarity stage because of certain inherent flaws in ones thought (cognition) process. 

Please consult a professional if you feel stuck in your practice…

Aashish Nanda

I am not a Spiritual Guru. I am not a Healer. I am not a Coach. I am not a Transformer. After trying to define myself, with various labels, I realized that I am simply a Muser... I just pen down what appeals to me. Please consult a professional guide, in case you need any advice.

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