The Nervous System and Meditation

Have you ever wondered about the role the nervous system has on our overall well-being?

What happens when it is under stress and what can support it? According to science, meditation is one of the ways of re-balancing the network of fibres that form the nervous system.

Some of the science-based benefits of meditation include strengthening areas of the brain responsible for memory, self-awareness, attention and self-regulation. Due to its wide usability in the area of mental health, mindfulness has been one of the most studied and researched meditation types.

As simple as it may sound, this practice is about bringing a quality of non-judgemental awareness to the present moment. When the natural tendency of the mind to jump from thought to thought under the influence of internal and external stimuli is consciously met by the intention to be more present and attentive, meditation happens in that space between nature and nurture. This is often the space where spiralling up to wellness begins.

Consistent practice of meditation has been scientifically proven to benefit the autonomic nervous system by calming down the sympathetic branch responsible for the fight or flight responses, and turning on the parasympathetic branch, which brings the body back to its normal functioning after the perceived threat has passed.  

Whether choosing mindfulness or a different type of meditative or contemplative practice, providing a space for the mind and the body to relax and recharge, invites also a possibility to connect to a wider field of Universal energy.

Easy mindfulness practice to soothe the nervous system

One of the distinguishing features of mindfulness is the non-judgemental witnessing aspect of the practice. Unlike other types of meditation, here the practitioner is encouraged to embody an active receptivity towards the unfolding experience: staying awake and aware as far as possible. Abiding with what arises supports emotional resilience, creates a space for working with any tendency towards reactivity, and increases the ability to centre oneself when feeling ungrounded.

The meditation instructions below offer a simple map to follow. The map is not the territory, and so, taking this journey will uncover your natural steps leading to increased awareness of where you may be at internally, what may be needed to go further, or becoming familiar with your physical, emotional or mental boundaries at a given time.

Preparation:

Creating a quiet space and putting aside some time for the exercise invites a good start. Begin by setting an intention for your practice and noticing what expectations might be there in your mind, whatever they may be today. Allowing yourself to be with this unfolding experience as best you can.

Step 1

Settling into a sitting or another comfortable position of your choice, bringing the attention on the body by feeling the soles of the feet on the ground and sensing the weight of the body being held by the chair or the ground. Being receptive to the presence or absence of sensations in your body.

Take a few moments to shift the focus of your attention to your inner experience. Noticing what might be happening in your thoughts. Watching the thoughts as they come and go like clouds on the sky. Are there any particular feelings there? Any mood or mental state on the surface of your awareness?

If you find yourself getting drawn into any thoughts, feelings or internal chatter, remember to gently escort your attention back to just witnessing your experience.

Step 2

Redirecting your full attention to the breath by finding a spot in the body where the breath is felt most clearly. Following the breath flow all the way in and all the way out.

Taking a few conscious breaths, bringing the attention to the belly and how the breath is flowing naturally. What do you notice about it? Whatever its pace, quality, strength, or the sensations felt where it passes, make a point to be present with its ever-changing flow.

Knowing when you are breathing in……. and when breathing out…….. 

Step 3

Expand the field of your present attention to incorporate a sense of your body as a whole, and sensations in certain areas. Including an awareness of your facial expression and posture and other things that may come to your attention, such as smells or sounds.

Closing

Returning your attention to just being here now, noticing your breath, the body and your general state of mind. In your own time, opening the eyes and noting where you are, and, with your full attention returning to being here.

Other meditation options:

For a quick pick-me-up, here’s a guided mindful breathing practice from Mindfulness in Real Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feeDQw9K5xY

If feeling more adventurous to experience a taste of another kind of meditation, please click the link below to watch the video of a brief introduction to meditation techniques from Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E.: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?height=314&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fedgarcayce%2Fvideos%2F3252989354716062%2F&show_text=false&width=560&t=824

Blossoming through a broken place

An online mindfulness meditation retreat attended earlier this month was an event that came at a good time of the year and brought with it renewed space for reflection, kindness and connection. Practicing meditation in a group can be one of the most enriching experiences. The Retreat was organised by the Passaddhi Meditation Centre, https://www.passaddhi.com/, and taught by Marjó Oosterhof, Meditation Teacher. Something from this experience I would like to share about here.

An exercise, we, as a group, were invited to do in our own physical space was to do mindful walking meditation and notice three aspects of the walk that brought joy to each of us. Off I went on my walk. The sun was shining outside and its light pierced through any leftover thoughts that were there internally before beginning the walk.

In mindfulness meditation, whatever comes to the attention of the meditator, is part of the landscape of awareness: no need to add or take away anything. The practice can bring up some pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral parts of life, and it is worth taking the risk to let all of it in. And this time, being asked to notice things that brought joy, was something like being invited to dip into the jar of honey, for those who love honey.

Walking by a line of trees along the road, the first thing coming to the attention was that they looked so young; the same trees, dry and brown, and that had no leaves on them just two months before. Such a transformation! Then, the mind found an explanation for what was seen, and it said quietly: “It is spring, after all”.

Being close to the trees felt like a privilege. So, the next natural step was to come even closer to them. They seemed quiet and grounded, enjoying the peace around, and as if nothing was able to move them. The tree closest to me was just like the others, the same type and hight, yet, something was different about it. On one of its branches, a twig looked almost ready to fall. Half split from its branch at a lower angle, it gave the impression that it was broken but still hanging in there, yet, a bud was blossoming from it, like from all the other twigs on the tree. Quite confusing. Moving in closer, I could see that the broken place had already healed and the twig was now securely attached to the branch although it did not look like it from a distance. Then I “twigged” that it was healed enough for the life energy to travel from the roots of the tree, to its branches, to the twig and into the bud. It felt joyful to see how life found its way in.

Can a twig that had been previously broken become securely attached to its tree again? This one did. Nature has such a quiet way of practicing being alive! Had I not moved in closer, the truth of the twig would not have been seen. And, who knows, how many other twigs share the same story? Who knows how many minds are tempted to judge things as they seem, only to discover that there is something else hiding behind the surface? Or, could it be that it is in human nature not to give up on hope for life even when the reality appears to be broken at the surface?

“Under a cherry tree, there are no strangers”. (Kobayashi Issa, Japanese poet)