Meditation combines breathing techniques with focused attention to calm the mind and invigorate the spirit.
Whereas most Western yoga classes focus on breaking a sweat, I take a more holistic approach that incorporates meditation principles to help students achieve profound improvements in mental, physical, and emotional health. When tailored to the student, this type of yogic meditation has the ability to accelerate progress toward any personal, professional, or athletic goal.
Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
A once esoteric practice has now become an indispensable tool for rebooting in a modern world. As technology evolves, researchers are better able to highlight the undeniable mental, physical, and emotional benefits of regular meditation practice.
Mental Benefits of Meditation
Focus. Meditation requires focused attention, a skill that can be improved with practice. In a 2001 study, SPECT brain scans revealed increased cortical activity of subjects 20 minutes into meditation, a finding that indicates a heightened state of concentration and altered sense of space perception (i).
Memory. Greater focus may help the brain to better attain and assimilate new information. According to researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara, a group of students that integrated mindfulness meditation while studying saw a 13% increase on test scores, indicating a significant boost to working memory (ii).
Creativity. There are two components to creating new ideas: Knowledge acquisition, and subsequent “lateral” associations. Meditation appears to improve both, according to researchers at the Leiden University, Netherlands (iii). Most interestingly, this study showed improved creativity among both experienced meditators as well as first-timers.
Flow. Being in the zone is characterized by transient hypofrontality, a brain state in which the prefrontal cortex quiets-down. While flow state requires many other conditions, meditation seems to be a good exercise for learning to detach from critical self talk and observation that disrupts sustained feelings of flow.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Physical tension. Many first-time meditators quickly feel uncomfortable as they try to fall into stillness. Focusing attention inward, it becomes easy to feel exactly where the body holds tension. Yoga and movement practices can be tailored to improve these areas, refining posture, mobility, and strength.
Brain longevity. Consistent meditation appears to prevent brain deterioration over time, a significant benefit that could help to counteract memory loss and cognitive decline as we age. In 2015, researchers at the UCLA Department of Neurology published studies indicating that individuals who meditate suffer far less age-related brain atrophy compared to those who do not (iv).
Nervous system therapy. Breathing techniques have long been prescribed by psychiatrists to help patients calm their nervous system in response to fear, anxiety, panic attacks, and other states of heightened arousal. Although more studies are needed to measure the exact impact of meditation on the entire nervous system, it is well documented that meditative breathing techniques have the following effects on the brain:
- Calms the basal ganglia, reducing feelings of anxiety and panic.
- Soothes the deep limbic system, moderating emotions while improving motivation and feelings of bonding.
- Focuses the prefrontal cortex, improving attention span, judgement, impulse control, critical thinking skills, and the overall coordination with the limbic system.
Heart health. Try to meditate, and you will immediately notice that deep breathing slows your resting heart rate. In 2009, the American Heart Association published studies showing that patients with high blood pressure and heart disease suffered 55% fewer cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, or death) when regularly meditating, compared to similar patients who did not (v).
Stress reduction. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were among the first to publish findings that mindfulness meditation reduces the production of cortisol, a stress hormone known to cause obesity, diabetes, decreased immunity, high blood pressure, and a variety of mental problems (vi).
Epigenetics (genetic expression). In the first study of its kind, researchers from the U.S., Spain, and France reported that individuals—including first time meditators—altered certain gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes after just 1 session of mindfulness meditation (vii).
Types of Yogic Meditation
By learning to connect within, students become better able to connect with others. In this way, yogic meditation is an introspective first-step toward harmonizing self with family, colleagues, and the global community. I offer two different meditation practices, ideal for students of any skill level.
Power Vinyasa. A brief meditation is conducted at the beginning of class to center students and set an intention for practice. Class proceeds with challenging breath-to-movement flow, utilizing contraction and isometrics to build strength and flexibility in major muscle groups. Class ends with a meditative relaxation period to relax the body, refocus the mind, and embrace natural feelings of contentedness.
Yin Yoga. A slower practice, Yin Yoga uses an easy sequence of postures to loosen the body and calm the mind in preparation for a deep meditation practice. Each posture is held for 2 to 5 minutes, utilizing muscle relaxation techniques for a deeper stretch of connective tissues and muscle fascia. The goal of this class is to explore the depths of consciousness, teaching students to detach from thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. By focusing on the space between the thoughts, students learn to confront an important question that fundamentally shapes metaphysical perceptions of life and behavior: If I am not my thoughts, then who am I?
(iii) Leiden University. “Meditation makes you more creative, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141028082355.htm>
(iv) Frontiers in Psychology January 21, 2015 URL: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full