If you’ve ever been caught in traffic late for work, anxious about a biopsy, or dreading a meeting at work, you know first-hand how stress in your mind can wreak havoc on your physical body. You may have experienced headaches, indigestion, or broken out in hives as a result of something going on in your mind.
Organ Damage From Stress
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that as you remove stress from your emotional life, your body would begin to recover from the damage stress can do.
Last week, we identified several negative ways that stress impacts your physical organs, including your heart and arteries, brain, joints, stomach, and colon. These are all very painful and the damage can last a lifetime. As much as 70 percent of all common medical conditions are rooted in uncontrolled stress. But while we mentioned it last week, there is one organ that I want to spend more time on this week.
Stress and Brain Damage
It’s easy to overlook, but your brain is a very delicate organ, and stress can ruin it.
Your college psychology professor will make a point of drawing a hard line of differentiation between your mind and your brain. The brain is a physical organ, while the mind is more of a spiritual entity: it can be described as the sum of your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, fears, desires, and intellect.
While it is true for the purpose of study that the brain and mind are different, I want to make the case that your thoughts are stored in the electrochemical synapses of the brain. Your body’s reaction to your emotions is the result of how the synapses contain neurotransmitter information that sends coded signals to the various glands and nerves around your body. Fear may start as a feeling, but it gives very specific instructions to your nervous system, and your body interprets those signals as physical sensations.
All that to say, your physical and mental worlds are fully intertwined.
How We Treat Mental Conditions
Consider this: how do most psychologists treat depression? With knowledge? No (well, maybe the good ones do). They treat it with chemicals like Prozac.
How do they treat ADHD? With drugs, right?
How do they treat insomnia? With a pill.
These are all conditions of the mind, and yet psychologists treat them with chemicals because there is a physical component to the emotional experience.
That said, I want to explore the benefits of meditation for brain/mind health.
Exploring the Health Benefits of Meditation
My friends, Patti and Marty Hulsebos of Naples Transcendental Meditation, have a terrific website with a ton of great resources that make the case for the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of meditation. They are expert meditation teachers, and I am looking forward to having them at our next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner on February 8th. Their website includes piles of scientific studies that link meditation to improvements in:
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Autism Spectrum
These are all instances where the brain is responding to stimuli in ways that make life difficult:
- Think of how many millions of children have been diagnosed along the autism spectrum in the last thirty years, and how it inhibits their social and intellectual development.
- Consider how insomnia steals the life out of people who suffer from it.
- Look at all the soldiers, police, rescue workers, and others who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders.
What would we give up to help people we know who suffer from these disorders? Sure, there are ways to cope with all of them. We have created structures for accommodating them. It is totally possible for people to live relatively normal lives with any of these conditions.
But what if they could be free?
What if the research pointing to real and lasting improvement as a result of meditation is sound and reliable?
Answering Your Objections
My favorite part of their website is the part where they kick over the excuses people harbor about why it won’t work for them:
- What if I can’t meditate?
- I have ADHD, I can’t focus for that long.
- How can be effective if it’s so easy?
Their technique for effortlessly achieving inner quiet is so powerful that even small children with hyperactivity issues can learn to do it – and see significant results!
Which Came First – The Brain Or The Thoughts?
You can make a case that your thoughts are the result of the neurochemicals that build up in your brain over time, but you can make just as strong of a case that your thoughts trigger the emotions that activate the glands that bathe your synapses in neurochemicals, forming a chemical association between the thought and the feeling.
If you can short-circuit the process of thinking negative thoughts that your brain associates with negative neurotransmitters, you can retrain the brain to recognize and reject negative thoughts. For you Bible readers, you might recognize 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (“taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ”) and Romans 12:2 (“be transformed by the renewing of your mind”) in that statement.
There is no denying the interweaving of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms in this process. Your spiritual values determine which thoughts you accept and which you reject. By choosing which thoughts you will allow in your mind, you can reprogram your physical brain – and the rest of your body – for health and wellness.
In the middle of this, meditation is the process of reprogramming your mind and brain to entrench healthy thought patterns.
Who Can This Help?
If you’re like me, you probably know at least one person who struggles with depression, PTSD, ADHD, addictions they can’t seem to shake, or even the autism spectrum. Maybe that person is you. At any rate, it’s worth investigating for yourself what the research about meditation shows. This might be the breakthrough someone you love is looking for.
That does not mean you should get a book on meditation and start trying it out.
It just won’t work.
Meditation is an art, but it’s also a science. As Marty and Patti’s website states:
“Imagine trying to learn a natural golf swing or the violin. You know how valuable it is for a good teacher to show you the proper technique.
The TM technique is easy to learn, but requires personalized interactive guidance. For this reason, it’s taught only through one-on-one instruction by a certified TM teacher.
There is no other way to learn the authentic TM technique — and there is no evidence that anything else provides the full range of benefits documented in the published research on the TM technique.”
Take a few minutes now to look through their website. It’s not spooky. Watch the videos that explain the research. You might even want to attend one of their free local workshops in Fort Myers and Naples. There they introduce the guidelines and the research for meditation.
You might have just stumbled into an answer you’ve been looking for.
If you don’t do anything else, please take a moment right now to reserve your seat for the upcoming Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner, February 8th at my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road in Naples. You can enjoy a really nice dinner, meet two of the nicest people around, and get your questions answered directly. I hope to see you there.
In the meantime, continue reading with part 4 here.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas