Tag Archives: meditation

Mindfulness, Meditation and Brain Training

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I have written before about how the 2020 Covid lockdown had a positive impact on me, especially in terms of research into the science behind healing. (Read more) Perhaps what I haven’t shared is that a lot of my epiphanies came from deep, long sessions of meditation – somtimes for up to eight hours long.

Over the past year I have been running hour long Introduction to Meditation classes and ongoing guided meditation sessions for groups of public service workers – many of them with jobs in the emergency services. It has been well received and I find it a calming, relaxing experience myself.

Aside from this personal experience there is lots of research about the benefits of meditation. There is a growing body of evidence that consistently associates mindfulness with certain changes in the structure and function of the brain, as well as changes in behavior. This suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on our thoughts and feelings, including reducing fear and pain. Research concludes that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues. These findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect.

A study by the National Centre for Complimentary and Integrative Health shows that meditation was as effective as prolonged exposure therapy at reducing PTSD symptoms and depression, and it was more effective than PTSD health education. The veterans who used meditation also showed improvement in mood and overall quality of life. It can also strengthen areas of your brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and self-awareness.

WHAT EXACLTY IS MEDITATION?

Many people don’t fully understand the notion of “mindfulness” or meditation. Some think it is a simply requirement to empty your mind and “think of nothing”. Others think it is just about focussing on breath. Some give up after just a few minutes as their mind wanders and they cannot “sit still”.

In fact, there are very many ways to meditate and in tuition I offer, there is an explanation and introduction to three basic categories of meditation or “brain training”: mindfulness (or focussed); transcendental meditation (TM); and compassion-based meditation. The benefits that each type of meditation has is explained and insight provided into the areas of the brain that can be improved using different techniques. Much like going to the gym, different exercises have different benefits. When considering what is right for you, it is also important to look at environmental considerations, resilience building techniques (grounding) and body position – you don’t have to sit on the floor cross legged, as some think.

RESOURCES

There is a confusing array of “mindful apps” and Youtube meditations out there – it is near impossible to find what resonates with you. My top tips at the moment are:

·         For a down to earth and slightly sweary Irishman who has amazing knowledge on the benefits of meditation try Niall Breslin, who does an excellent podcast called “Where is my Mind” (I found it on Spotify).  His focus is more on mindfulness. I enjoy his hour long podcasts, more than his guided meditation, but he may work for you.  He guides at a quite fast pace, which can work for over-active minds.

·         Deepak Chopra’s 21 day programme also on Spotify is worth a listen.  His approach combines all three types of meditation – but mostly compassion based with some TM techniques.  He also speaks a lot about abundance, which may or may not resonate with you.

·         If you are interested in TM – then I recommend 1 Giant Mind app as a starting point.  Just a warning on TM – as it works so well, it has been monetised and you can pay up over £500 to be trained in it!

I have been practicing meditation and Qigong for over 20 years and the Covid Lockdown gave me the space and time to qualify as a Reiki practitioner and take my meditation so much further.

If you would like to take the conversation further, or you are intersted in guidance or classes, let me know. I am considering offering online guided sessions in the near future.

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Healing for Sceptics

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I love science.  Proof.  Fact.  

Lockdown happened in March 2020 and suddenly, for the first time in my life I had time on my hands to reconsider my life.  I decided I wanted to commit to some research into what I could only describe as “energy healing”. I wanted to change my life to help others and was exploring how.  I am writing this to explain my journey and what I discovered, for those who, like me, have a healthy, but well-meaning scepticism.

All my life I have worked with my hands in one way or another: I’ve fixed cars, painted pictures, made stuff.  When I was five I used to “think my hands warm” on cold days when I didn’t have gloves.  I’ve often sent friends who are ailing “good vibes” and was even told once that my voice was so calming, it made them feel that their hair was being stroked.  I was told this whilst under fire in southern Iraq.  

That’s just a very brief summary of what led me to embark on some further research.  I felt I “had something”, some kind of energy in my hands and about me that I could use for good.  I certainly have good intentions too.  I began Googling healing and was met with a barrage of purple images and insipid memes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a 1980s greeting card.  I’ve never described myself as “spiritual” or thought of myself as some kind of angel from heaven. No messiah complex here. I ploughed on through the jarring aesthetics of healing to look for qualitative and quantitative research on the matter.  Academic stuff. Testing things.  If I was going to reconsider myself as a healer, I didn’t want to be winging it.  I didn’t want mystery, I wanted to know what was going on, as best as my brain could manage.  I love science.  Proof.  Fact.

I enrolled with various healing organisations and began to talk to their members. The healers were varied – a Bristolian shaman, a Scandinavian healer, an ex-military officer who healed at hospices.  By far the most influential book I read at the time was Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing.  Written by a man who is a qualified doctor and endocrinology expert, it is a dense text laden with examples and research.  Setting aside Chopra’s Hollywood guru identity, his knowledge is phenomenal.  I read many other texts too and underlined and noted down where scientific tests had been carried out.

I am interested in three things:

Is it possible to “move energy”? I had experienced sending energy around my own body – as a child and as someone who regularly practised Qigong.  Think Chinese slow-moving arm-waving in parks if you don’t know what this is.  I am interested in where this energy comes from – from within or without – and whether it can be channeled into another person. And further, if it is, would that be beneficial?

Second, I am interested in placebo and the power of suggestion.  Many healers I discovered don’t like talking about this.  They prefer to be mysterious, I think.  But the fact that if you give someone a sugar pill and tell them it will ease pain and in generally between 30% – 60% of cases it will, cannot be overlooked. The fact that it might work for just 1% is impressive.  Someone in my family even read how placebos might ease back pain and asked their specialist at the hospital if they could be prescribed some!  The whole billion-dollar industry of advertising is based on the fact that when things are suggested to us, we go and buy them.  I found some incredible research that had been carried out with thousands of paramedics in America.  They discovered that what people were told by paramedics that treated them did make a difference to the speed of their healing.  If injured and unwell people heard paramedics telling them that the worst was over and their bodies were going to start healing from this point, they healed quicker than if they were surrounded by people shouting “Help! He’s going to die!” So when people say, “oh, it’s just the placebo effect” they vastly underestimate how incredibly powerful that effect is.

Thirdly, I am interested in our body’s natural willingness to heal.  If we cut our finger we don’t need to tell red blood cells to create collagen or send instructions to weld our skin back together.  Just as our heart beats and our lungs breath, our whole body functions without intervention.  Our bodies are constantly trying to balance themselves – to cope with the food and drink we ingest, the air that we breath, and the circumstances we experience.  Our bodies naturally produce antibiotics, painkillers, and diuretics.  They are miracles at self regulation – they want to be perfect.  It is only ourselves that sabotage that.  I’m interested in how we can eliminate the saboteur and allow the smooth running of the human machine.

I also stumbled upon evidence that what we look at in recovery has an impact on how well we heal. I learnt about the frequency of colour and its impact on the endocrine system. I learnt about neurological pathways and how to change them.  And I have tested this in recent years, unravelling all of the self-harming habits I once had. I also learnt about the genetic markers that can be improved through meditation. I improved my own genetic markers one day, by meditating for eight hours straight. I really didn’t have a bad lockdown. 

Once I did enough research to be convinced that there really was something in the idea of “energy healing”, and that I might be able to help others with it, I decided to do some training. I was able to grow my knowledge of Qigong locally with some one-to-one classes by the fantastic Master Joe Dymond who has studied in China. Joe also drives a Harley Davidson and is a DJ – my kind of guy. By chance I also landed a place studying a technique called Reiki in South Wales.  I liked that the founder of this Japanese method of hands on healing, Mikao Usui, is relatively modern, and studied the ancient arts of healing himself, saving me a lot of time. I do have a tendency to over-research things.

My Reiki teacher is a wonderful, capable no nonsense Welsh woman, who I instantly warmed to. In lockdown I studied Part 1 and passed both practical and written tests and I aim to complete my Part 2 in the next month or so, allowing me to become a practitioner.  I love that it is a structured technique, but does incorporate some intuitive aspects.  The practice patients I have worked on so far have really spurred me on.  I am fascinated by what they have felt during and after I treat them – and they of course form part of ongoing research. 

As time goes by I hope to develop my healing practice to incorporate the spoken word to help others – as I now understand better the science behind its power. I also hope to offer guidance on meditation. Given that 95% of ailments are related to stress, I am well aware that just the chance to lie down for an hour and be surrounded by good intentions can really help.  But now I know that energy healing is so much more than that.  It is a science.  And I have a growing bank of proof that it works.

Caroline Jaine