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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Stepping along ancient cobbled stones, your senses flood with differing shades of ochre-painted houses and rainbows of flowers pouring from clay pots outside each doorway.  Winding your way to the town center you anticipate the scrumptious meal and delicious wine that awaits you. You are captivated by this community full of work, play, art and life at its fullest.  It’s hard to imagine that in the darkness of the middle ages, the world’s most visionary planners built towns like this one to promote health, happiness and productivity. As you stroll through the arched passageways of this beautiful Italian village you confirm their wisdom, as healthy and happy are exactly how you feel.

Whether this adventure is on your bucket list or conjures up an actual memory, you no doubt have experienced the amazing power of travel to literally light up your brain.  Neuroscience research is revealing how profoundly health-giving travel can be, both in the moment and for years to come.  And surprisingly, how you feel when you travel is a simple barometer for whether it is having a beneficial impact on your brain.  The more you love what you are doing, the more you light up your brain.

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Because the brain is a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition, cognitive function is highly dependent on whether we engage in a variety of interesting, fun, challenging activities that protect our brains from decline and disease.   Travel enables us to do just that.  Given that adult lives are often full of stress and everyday demands, travel becomes the perfect antidote.   It provides a welcome change from routine, new places and people to spark our curiosity, and we can take time out to rest and relax.  These positive experiences create powerful biological responses:

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  1. Feeling good releases chemical neurotransmitters that result in lower heart rate, higher heart rate variability, lower stress hormones, better sleep, and lower risk for heart attacks and strokes.
  1. Travel by its very nature taps a wide range of challenges and experiences. When we explore a variety of activities, particularly if different from everyday life, new brain cells are built and all sorts of new connections occur between brain “networks”. These help us learn to speak a new language, play a new game, enjoy different foods, or figure out which train to catch.  Drawing upon multiple and varied networks can even improve our senses, sharpen our thinking, improve decision-making, and enhance memory and resiliency.
  1. Through travel we have the opportunity to craft and enjoy activities and experiences that we love. But it’s important to go beyond the familiar.  The deeper, richer, more emotionally meaningful the experience, the greater positive impact it has on your health and wellbeing.  Activities that broaden or challenge our perspectives, that engage us with others in important ways, that drive empathy and caring – these are the gold nuggets waiting for discovery during our travels.  If you are loving what you are doing you can be assured your brain is enjoying the rewards.

Perhaps the most potent health benefit from travel occurs after you get home! Travel is the gift that keeps on giving, because the brain prioritizes positive, meaningful experiences when choosing what to remember – and the more emotional, the more powerful is our memory of it.  These memories last longer and trigger memories of other similar experiences.  So we can relive our wonderful travel adventures over and over again with the same boost of feel good neurotransmitters. In fact, these biological boosts are so powerful they can overcome future stress and even reverse depression.

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The combination of loving what you’re doing, exploring a variety of activities and deeply meaningful experiences while tapping multiple brain networks – these all add up to a virtual health bonanza in every travel adventure.  Building a rich store of happy memories is a sign of both a well-lived life and a resilient brain.

So, before you take your next vacation do your brain a huge favor:

  • Think carefully about your next travel adventure
  • Choose places you love or are excited to go to
  • Plan and anticipate with excitement and joy
  • Find a balance between new, different and challenging activities, and those that create peace and restful relaxation
  • Be curious, playful, caring
  • Make real connections with your environment and its people
  • Build empathy with others through acts of caring and service
  • Most of all, love what you do and look for the joy in every moment
  • Then when you get home, sit back and enjoy the memories as often as possible
  • Repeat

Featured photo credit: JeniFoto via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on August 13, 2020

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

12 Benefits of Meditation That Improve Your Body And Mind

As a mediation teacher, I am constantly confronted with these two questions regarding the benefits of meditation:

1. Why can’t I enjoy the benefits of meditation continuously?

I ask back: Is it maybe because you see mediation as a technique, performance, or some exclusive activity? The answer is: yes!

Or, because your mind is constantly evolving on the past negative attachments and traditional habits? After careful thinking they answer: yes, probably!

Although meditation is very simple and challenging at the same time, in the above mentioned case, it’s not easy to benefit from meditation, especially when approached with the idea that it has to be learned, studied, or applied. Meditation is to be seen as a natural, mental cleansing process that happens on a basis of awareness on a moment-to-moment experience. When that takes place, the benefits of meditation are continuous.

2. What is the purpose of meditation?

The purpose of meditation is to accomplish a level of consciousness for mastering the mind and uniting with the finest, deepest, and subtlest part of yourself as a being.

It is a conscious process of observation of the mind—helping the meditator to understand the structure of its mind and the quality of its content. During this process, countless benefits of a physical, mental, and spiritual/philosophical nature arise for the meditator.

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Meditation as a Fixer and Benefactor

In this article we’ll have a look at the primary and the ultimate benefits of mediation, which improve your body and mind at the same time. For the sake of clarity, readability, and tangible experience, I have separated the benefits into three groups.

You can change just about anything you don’t like about yourself (psychologically, as well as physically) through meditation. However, this is only possible with a specific approach, when your brain allows the benefits of meditation to do their work.

This means not to interrupt the benefit with other thoughts, but to let their effect implement itself in your body and mind. This approach is crucial.

The following exercises will make you feel the benefits of meditation instantly, but the continuity of the benefits of meditation on your body and mind depend on the discipline of your brain, how you manage external stimuli and your thoughts.

Less Physical, More Psychological

Even though the practice of meditation is more psychological and less physical, the first benefit we’re going to experience is both physical as well as mental.

This benefit happens literally immediately, right at the moment of meditation. It is the essence of mediation basically.

The First Benefit of Meditation

The first benefit of meditation is twofold:

  1. Improving inward attention (sharpening the mind)
  2. Relaxation of the body

Let’s do it right now. This benefit consists of only one step, and it is very simple to perform. It goes like this:

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Sit still and pay attention to your exhalation.

That’s it! Technically, the whole journey into the world of mediation begins here and nowhere else. And right here, you benefit from this step in the following way:

When you pay attention to the flow of your exhalation (gentle, deep, effortless exhalation), your body begins with the process of relaxation instantly (your heart rate slows down, your nervous system calms, and tension in your muscles is relieved).

When the nervous system calms, your mind calms down, and, more specifically, less thoughts are produced by your mind. How, exactly? By applying one of the most valuable mental skills—attention—the mind follows the breathing and has no space and time to generate any other thoughts. Only when the attention goes off the breath, other thoughts are constructed, and the mind is accelerating with thought production again.

Keeping the First Benefit Effective and Ongoing

Here you apply the approach of not letting the relaxation and attention process get interrupted; rather let the effects of these benefits implant in your body and mind as deeply as possible.

This is to say, the instant relaxation and inward attention happen at the same time when you follow the flow of your breath. Repeating this process—creating a constant rhythm out of the breathing and the attention—you create a process of meditation.

Keep your attention on the flow of your breath and see how the calmness of body and mind begin to rule your present moment. The longer you stay connected to your breathing, the stronger you’ll feel the benefit. Start with 3-5 minutes at a time without doing anything else, and increase to 10-20 minutes and onwards.

Can you think of a better, simpler and quicker exercise that can relax the body and improve attention in this way, at this speed?

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This benefit takes you to the second one.

The Second Benefit of Meditation

While still working with the first benefit of mediation, you slowly start to see the second benefit of mediation, which is fourfold. I call it the major value of mediation:

  1. Energy (physical and mental strength)
  2. Observance
  3. Peacefulness (stillness, and space of mind for deeper observation)
  4. Patience

Peacefulness is the source of a blissful life. The energy is the fuel to express that blissfulness. Whatever we want to accomplish in life we need: 1) Physical and mental strength, 2) Observance of that energy, 3) Peacefulness—the calmness and stillness that creates space for freedom of being and creative thinking, and 4) Patience for the process of accomplishment.

You can only get creative in thinking and boosted with physical and mental energy when you get in touch with the deepest levels of yourself—when you harmonize your mental and physiological activities. How do you do that? Let’s try it right now:

This step involves the observation of the two separate movements of your breath. After paying attention on your exhalation, you have prepared your body and mind to really see and feel what true peacefulness and true energy means.

1. Energy

Keep your attention on your inhalation (inhaling gently, deeply and lightly) and feel the new energy (new oxygen) flowing in your body. The inhalation is the symbol for aliveness and vitality. It is the the primary act that connects the baby’s body with the outside world after coming out of the womb[1]. Each inhalation is a new opportunity for your body to revive, regenerate, and renew itself.

2. Observance

The observance comes during the process of meditation, enabling you to see the physiological benefits of introducing new energy to your body. Use that benefit by utilizing its effects, and create deeper observation into yourself. With every single inhalation, this observation will enable you to generate even more energy, mentally and physically.

3. Peacefulness

Keep your attention on your exhalation, and feel how, out of the relaxation, peacefulness is spreading throughout your whole body. The exhalation is the symbol for relaxation and peacefulness. Only through meditation can you realize what absolute peacefulness means.

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4. Patience

The meditation delivers the previous benefits to you immediately and opens up the possibility for many other benefits and great virtues. A specific one to mention, which is essential for reaching the ultimate benefits of meditation, is patience. If you have experienced the aforementioned benefits, it means that you have invested a certain amount of patience into mastering yourself and your mind.

The Ultimate Benefits of Meditation

Patience is a key quality when it comes to the ultimate benefits of meditation.

Since the mind is the tool that reveals everything, mediation is the method for the proper utility of the tool.

The above mentioned benefits of mediation lead to the ultimate benefits of mediation—qualities that depict what makes a human being human. As you dwell in a meditative state of being, the following benefits begin to emanate:

  • Diligence: the persistence for righteous effort to reach an intrinsic value; inner strength.
  • Temperance: to express self-control and show excellence in managing the physio-biological and mental necessities
  • Courage: using righteous effort and braveness to look into the weaknesses of yourself and at the hardship of your life, endure it and patiently overcome the obstacles
  • Loving kindness and Compassion – a capacity to care, understand, and tolerate other people’s state of being, wishing them freedom from suffering.
  • Wisdom: the moment when you feel that mediation gives you the feeling and the knowledge that what you do relating to life and practical affairs is just.
  • Equanimity: that puts you in a state of composure, and you experience an ongoing blissful state of being.

These are the 6 ultimate benefits of meditation that put your body and mind in a state of health and balance.

Final Thoughts

Mediation exists to put order in your mind and awaken the best of you, to reconnect you to your goodness and your inborn intelligent capabilities.

Meditation is the window to your true Self. It gives you a panoramic view of your heart’s greatness. It shows you the true meaning of love, freeing you from the dungeons of ignorance and despair. The power of meditation dismantles the evil that’s trying to cloud the beauty of your heart.

Your heart, body, and soul are the bridge over which the challenges of life frequently carry their heavy load. Meditation is the support of that bridge. Make use of that support.

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Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medline Plus: Changes in the newborn at birth

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