Over 20 years ago, the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives launched Brain Awareness Week as a way to observe progress in the field of neuroscience and educate the public about brain health. Now, Brain Awareness Week, which is celebrated March 16th through the 22nd, is a global initiative. To do our part, we are exploring the positive impact mindfulness and breathing can have on the brain and sharing tips on how to start incorporating meditation into your daily routine for a clearer, happier mind.
Meditation, achieved through mindfulness and breathing techniques, is the practice of developing concentration, clarity, positivity and calm in the mind. Numerous studies have shown that meditation can physically alter the brain – MRI brain scans taken after an eight-week course of practicing mindfulness have shown that the amygdala, an area associated with fear, stress and emotion, shrinks and becomes less connected to other brain areas while the pre-frontal cortex, associated with concentration, awareness and decision-making, becomes thicker and more functionally connected within the brain. This allows for stress responses that are more thoughtful as opposed to primal and fear-driven. Better yet, the physical changes in the mind become more permanent as time spent meditating increases and sessions become more frequent.
Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned psychiatrist and strong believer in brain health as the center of our successful wellbeing, recently discussed the importance of meditation to cognitive health. Dr. Amen emphasized how meditation, which was once thought to calm the mind, actually optimizes brain function by increasing focus and promoting clarity.
Alongside long-term changes, Dr. Amen noted that the way we breathe can impact our minds and body within minutes. In order to reduce anxiety and stress, he recommends a technique called 5x2x10. When stressed, inhale slowly for five seconds, hold it in for two seconds, and then exhale smoothly and slowly – repeat the whole cycle ten times. Try this technique for yourself – you’ll notice an immediate effect.
If you wish to explore the brain-health benefits of meditation, here are five tips that we recommend to get the most out of your practice as a beginner:
- Set aside a specific time and place. Pick a specific room in your home dedicated to meditation – preferably not one where you work, sleep or will be disturbed – and play calming music or light candles to set the tone. Make meditation a habit by setting aside 3-5 minutes every day to practice.
- Experiment. Try different ways of practicing so that you find what is most comfortable for you. You may want to start off your practice with light stretches, try different seated positions or meditate with your eyes both open and closed.
- Breathe deeply. Take rhythmic, deep breaths that will help you focus. If you find yourself feeling unsettled, try counting your breath by breathing in for two counts and out for two counts.
- Meditate with purpose. Remember that meditation is an active practice for the mind. For beginners, a simple way to practice mindfulness is by concentrating on your feet, then legs, moving your focus around the body.
- Align your mind and body. Maintain your posture by keeping your back straight and your head up – slumping can lead to wandering thoughts, whereas good posture will help you concentrate.
Remember that it is normal to get frustrated in the beginning – simply take a deep breath and exhale the frustration. Whether you use the 5x2x10 technique or prefer another form ofmeditation , mindful practices will help strengthen your brain.
Home Care Assistance wishes everyone a happy and healthy Brain Awareness Week!