Mindful Awareness…Applying It To
Structure, Function, and Health, Circumventing The Stress Response.
Description: In this episode, we are talking about how meditation changes the brain, the benefits of meditation, as well as highlighting the physiology & anatomy of a stress response. You won’t want to miss this… I will talk about how the brain and the body get into a vicious feedback loop starring the big hitters, the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Even better, I will give you the tools to circumvent stress. As always we will meditate, shifting the needle from stress to calm. Peace In ~ Peace Out
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- how we can apply it to structure, function, and health.
- How meditation changes the brain
- The benefits of meditation
- Highlight the physiology & anatomy of a stress response,
- Give a solution to the stress response and
- Teach you how to meditate and shift your nervous system out of a stress response.
One of the most revolutionary of human gifts
Is our capacity to see clearly
To be present, interested, and connected
To our own lives in a
Wise and compassionate way
~ Jack Kornfield
Here is the thing…
Ancient Wisdom & Modern Science Agree that the capacity for presence, Awareness & mindfulness can be developed!
Even better news…
Research has been very clear and shows that the practice of Mindfulness…
- Is Profoundly healing
- Allows us to tend wisely to the body
- Listen carefully to heart
- Brings compassionate understanding to our mind
- Brings compassionate understanding to our fellow humans
- Brings compassionate understanding to the world
What is Mindfulness…
The HOW of Mindful Awareness
A form of meditation.
The classic definition of Mindfulness: “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”
Mindfulness is the HOW we will become aware.
Awareness is the WHAT we will become aware of.
Awareness is the ability to know and directly perceive, to feel or to be cognizant of events or happenings. More broadly, awareness is simply a state of being. Awareness is being conscious of something.
Present Moment Awareness…is more specific. It is awareness of the present moment. The WHAT…the sounds, smells, physical sensations, tastes, emotions, memories, stories, all the things happening in a moment that we are aware of.
IMO…Breath is the key!
- The fastest way to become present->breath
- The fastest way to shift the nervous system->breath
We are going to anchor in the BREATH to be certain we are in the present moment while we observe all the things occurring in that moment.
I suggest frequent, informal Mindful Moments throughout your day to keep you centered, to focus your attention, to recharge your system, and to shift your nervous system towards a calm or at least a calmer state.
Stop drop & breathe…
STOP: Observing your breath
DROP: Into your bodily sensations
BREATHE: 5 breath cycles
Try this now… join me on the podcast [11:50-ish] for a Stop, Drop, and Breathe Meditation. It’s a quickie and one that I am sure you will be able to replicate and implement in your life without any guidance whatsoever!
Why is breath the fastest, most effective, most practical way to come into the present moment?
- We are always breathing
- It is a rhythmical, predictable, always present target
- It is always with us
- It is in the present moment
- It helps us to feel safe
- Indicates we are ok…we are alive!
- Calms the nervous system
- Brings us out of the future
- Brings us out of the past
- Brings us into the NOW
The present moment is so very important because
All NON LIFE THREATENING stress comes from
Either….the Anticipation of the future OR regrets of the past
Mindful Awareness Meditation actually cultivates the state of present moment awareness. When we pay attention to our breath it is a Present moment experience
To be clear
With Mindful Awareness
- we are not changing the chaos and frenetic
nature of the world
- We are shifting our internal landscape-> NOW
- We are controlling what we can “control”
- We are observing, acknowledging, & responding
Get into your now…with Breath!
- Observe & recognize
- Be aware of your thoughts, sensations, & emotions
- Breathe….Be in the NOW…
- Breathing in the now, uni-tasking
- It allows us to recognize the monkey mind
So why is Mindful Awareness relevant?
How does it impact health, structure, and function the nervous system?
How can we use this knowledge to move the needle?
Let unpack the stress response for now, as it pertains to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The peripheral nervous system is the part of the nervous system that is outside of the brain and spinal cord
- There are two parts of the PNS
- The parasympathetic branch of the PNS
- The sympathetic branch of the PNS
The Parasympathetic NS: regulates rest & digest
- Regulates the mundane
- Vegetative states
- Sleep and restful states
- Calm and digestive states
- Dominate in all activities of rest and digest
Sympathetic NS: regulates Fight or Flight
- Evolved throughout the entire animal kingdom for life-saving purposes
- Responds to needs during a stress response
- In a fight or flight response
- Allows a quick shift from a quiet, restful, receptive state of equilibrium
- To a quick arousal readiness response (sympathetic tone).
- This system is life-saving WHEN it is elicited for an actual life-saving need
- For example when a car pulls out in front of you in traffic and you
- or when you are called to make a quick response
However…A Sympathetic Stress response that is elicited chronically
outside the context of life-saving, will quite literally zap the life from us!
Let me give you an example of this.
During our day-to-day experiences, our brain can easily access memories, thoughts, emotions, and feelings that elicit a stress response that is identical to an actual life-saving stress response. Our brain does not know the difference between a stress response elicited by a memory or the real thing. TO the brain and body, it is all real.
The Fight or Flight system asks no questions
and is a master of reaction.
The Sympathetic NS…is not to be demonized. It is in place to save our lives!
It is an amazing built-in mechanism for survival, safety, and security.
The issue is when this stress response begins to
hijack our lives as we experience our day-to-day existence
even when our safety & survival is NOT compromised.
There is a possibility of being able to identify and pay attention
when your Mind & Body is reacting in a non-life threatening stress response
A little journaling exercise…
- Write down a list of words that describe you as your best self, your calm and together self, the most connected version of yourself
- Now write down a list of words that describe you as your stressed self.
There is merit and reason to begin to become familiar and even friendly with this stressed out self… You can begin to decipher through these qualities your state of the union. Are you in Fight or Flight Or Rest & digest?
Once you determine that you are either heading into a stress response or maybe even in a full-blown stress response…Go to your breath! It is the fastest way to shift your nervous system!
We have been talking about the stress response through most likely some familiar terms… Fight or Flight…Rest & Digest….that which is occurring in the periphery, the body.
I would like to give you some information on what is happening in a stress response within the brain and how the brain communicates that to the body, and how if we deem this to be a non-life threatening episode that is based purely on memory, the ramifications of a chronic state of stress.
Meet The Dragon & The Princess
AKA The Limbic System is made up of
- Deep inside the temporal lobe of the brain
- Storehouse for memories…good and bad
- Memories are coded and recalled in categories
- Stress memories activate a stress response
- Responsible for our emotional responses to the memory
- Relays information from the Amygdala
- Shifts and stimulates hormones levels in the bloodstream to change
- Elevates adrenaline and cortisol
- Supports the fight or flight response
- Costumes the body getting it hormonally ready for fight or flight
Here is the flow…
Thought (stress memory)->Limbic system On Boarding-> Waking The Dragon
- Memory is retrieved by the Hippocampus…coded as “stress”
- Information is relayed to the Amygdala…emotional response occurs
- Amygdala relays information to the hypothalamus to drench the body
- Adrenalin and cortisol are released into the bloodstream
The Dragon is officially Awake!
Remember just for a moment what is going on in the periphery of the body
- The sympathetic nervous system is preparing the body to fight or flee
With this…a perfect feedback loop is set up
- Body elicits hormones & physical responses
- Brain checks in with blood levels of cortisol and adrenaline…denotes stress is still present
- Hippocampus continues to draw up and code memories as stress
- Amygdala continues to support the emotional reaction
- Relays information to Hypothalamus
- Hypothalamus baths the body in Adrenaline and Cortisol
- Brain checks in….and the cycle is repeated…UNLESS it is interrupted
This loop feeds itself over and over until it is interrupted
Remember in this scenario, this stress response is based on a memory, a non-life-threatening stress response is occurring repeatedly and perhaps even chronically in the body…unless it is interrupted
- Creates a chronic sympathetic arousal
- Chronic stress states
- Ultimately chronic disease in the body
This loop feeds itself over and over and until it is interrupted
- creates a chronic sympathetic arousal
- chronic stress states
- ultimately chronic disease in the body
Chronic stress responses in our body left unattended: Life Zapping!!!
- Increases inflammation
- Damages the Mitochondria of the cells (the battery packs of cells)
- Damaged cells can’t hold a charge
- Dying or damaged cells sputter out toxic waste…free radicals
- Just like car emission waste
Toxic waste products of dying or damaged cells create toxicity in the body which is represented by inflammation in the body:
- Coronary artery disease
- Type II diabetes- insulin and blood sugar responses
- Fibromyalgia syndrome/symptoms
- ADHD-> brain inflammation-> precursor to Alzheimer’s
- Implicated in cancer
The Value in Getting to Know and Befriending The Dragon
- Identify OUR well-rehearsed scripts, patterns, and triggers & themes
- Identify our patterns that make up our stress responses
- Observe them mindfully, objectively, non-judgmentally
- Pay attention in our moments
- Become familiar with what wakes up our internal dragon
- Becoming aware of our stressed out self
- Begin to know when the dragon is sovereign
- Feel empowered to do something about it
Now, Meet The Princess…
The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)
She is a Princess really in every sense of the word. The location of the PFC is The Front most part of the outermost matter of the brain
When the PFC dominant, or should I say when the princess is awake… we are
- Language based
- Full of wonderment
- Our best selves
It is through the PFC we can connect with our best self!
However, …in order for the princess to function well and support us at the highest level, we must know …
- She fatigues quickly
- She requires flawless fuel…the perfect balance of carbs, fats, and protein
- She is NOT developed until our 3rd decade as humans
- She is vital to spiritual expansion
- She absolutely brings our best self online
The PFC <~> The Limbic System
- When the dragon is awake
- The princess is asleep
- When the princess is awake the dragon is asleep
The Princess learns & thrives through novelty & curiosity
The Dragon learns and thrives through fear)
How do we consciously wake up The Princess?
Meditation! Presence! Awareness!
- Connect with our body and being
- Observe with non-judgmental curiosity!
- Allows space & pauses for observation, curiosity, and noticing
- Without judgment
- This…Lights up our PFC
- This…Sings the dragon a good night song!
The truth about the structure of the brain
- Networks of structure which get stronger and thicker the more we use them
- Thought is a neural network
- We strengthen signals and grow more networks with increased function
- The gray matter of our brain grows in density and volume with use
- What we focus on grows!
- We can use, tap into, grow, expand, and thicken our PFC!
- Turn the Princess into a Goddess
In a chronically stressed out person
The Dragon…The limbic system (the temporal lobe) of the brain
- Thickened with increased volume and density
- Just like our musculoskeletal system
- The more we use a muscle the stronger it gets
- The thicker it gets
- Increased endurance
- The brain works like this too!
Volume and density of the brain in areas unused will likewise shrink and prune themselves
Candy for the Princess…The PFC
(our best self, our highest expression of ourselves)
- Rest & digest
Candy for the Dragon…The Limbic System
(our stressed-out self)
- Thoughts and emotions
Now that we know there is something we can do… we are empowered!
Now I ask….which wolf will you feed?
A Native American elder was asked how she became so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered:
” In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate.
It all depends on which one I feed each day.”
I ask again…
Which wolf are we feeding?
Which wolf are we feeding as individuals?
Which part of our brain are we feeding?
What are we choosing?
The part/one we feed will thrive!