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Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

We live in an increasingly frantic world where life has become a non-stop bombardment of the senses. Younger readers have never really known any other reality, but most people born before the 90s will remember what life was like without the now ubiquitous internet and the dawn of social media. These changes to the culture within which we live in have undoubtedly had more benefits to the global population than they have negative repercussions, but it can all get a little bit overwhelming sometimes.

Many people thrive on the hustle and bustle of modern life, but a lot of us also feel a little bit spun out by it all. In what I see as a direct response to this, practices that were traditionally associated with the East have gained more and more popularity in the West. Yoga and meditation, with their roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, have been popular in some circles for decades, but their rise into the mainstream continues at a pace today.

Stepping out of Samsara

For those that don’t know, Samsara is the Buddhist notion of the material world in which we live as being nothing more than a illusion which we should all be seeking to escape through enlightenment. Or by becoming the Buddha.  This may sound quite like a dramatic goal to set oneself, but it is the basic aim of all Buddhist traditions.

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Becoming the Buddha may be too much hard work for most of us to take on in this cycle of life, but the practice of mediation is an excellent one for those people out there who want to take a step back each day and simply observe.

This may in itself not seem like much of a challenge, but the practice of sitting in meditation is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds.  It’s only when you come to try it for yourself that you will appreciate just how difficult it is to just let go of things and empty your mind, but at the same time you will also get an immediate grasp of its benefits.

Meditation is Not Enough

If you can settle into the habit of doing meditation each day that is awesome. Getting into the practice of meditation will almost certainly have a positive impact on your life and allow you to feel a little bit more in control of the world around you, but in my experience that is still not enough.

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I believe this is particularly true as you get older and fall into the bad habit of doing little or no exercise. In my experience I also realised that one of the biggest difficulties of feeling comfortable with meditation was that I had too much nervous energy in my body when I came to sit down. A great way to counter this was by implementing my meditation into a daily work out.

I have to admit that this ideal combination of meditation and exercise that I found was actually one that was given to me through my interest in the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral theory. The regime I found there is a 35 minute work-out that can easily be done in the privacy of a medium sized room and needs nothing more than a towel or yoga mat.

The beauty of this simple work is that it gives my body a solid daily work out, and after 35 minutes I’m feeling focussed and able to concentrate much more when it comes to my meditation.

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Maintaining the Practice

As with all things, the novelty of doing exercise and meditation does wear off after a not very long time. At least it did for me. There are just so many things that can get in the way. One night you may go out with friends and have one drink too many and not feel like getting up earlier to maintain your practice the following morning. Or you may go on holiday, or a business trip, and have your routine broken that way.

There are a whole host of other reasons why you might let go of your meditation and exercise practices, but I think the most important thing is that you don’t allow a break to ever become a definitive one. Genuine habits take a long time to form. Just because you stop once does not mean that you have to stop for good.

When you do find yourself in a position where you have fallen out of your practice, you should just take the time out to think about how you and your perspectives on life were different when you were sticking to your regime. I’m almost certain that you’ll look back on that period as one where you were feeling more in control and had a greater sense of overall satisfaction with the way things were going.

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Be Flexible. Be Kind

There are not all that many ways in which you can approach meditation. All you need to do is sit down and concentrate on your breathing, or a mantra, or on completely emptying your mind. Exercise on the other hand can take up so many forms. And one of the great benefits of living in this digital age is that we can never complain of not having access to lots of interesting and inspirational resources to help us get back on track.

One other key thing is to make sure you never get frustrated at yourself for not sticking to your routine. If you take your failure to stick to your meditation and exercise regime as a sign that you were just wasting your time anyway, you’ll probably find yourself getting pretty down.

The reality is probably more likely to be that the routine you had found just wasn’t the perfect one for you. Be patient, be kind, and you’ll be getting back into those good habits in no time at all.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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