Meditation changes behavior

A friend recently explained that he began meditation many years ago to change his behavior. I found this incredibly honest and direct. Many of us say that we want peace in our life, to reduce stress, to sleep better. Many of our yoga students look to yoga for insights and inspiration into the magic and mystery of the life, bored or discouraged by the seemingly incessant drive for satisfaction from external sources. But few of us are ready to log in the hours and years that real transformation requires. In Donna Farhi’s book, Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit, she asks us to ask ourselves, “Am I becoming the kind of person that I would like to be with?” We may reduce stress, we may open our windows of perception to the magic in even the small things around us, and ultimately, the practice changes us in deep ways.

Psychology, psychiatry, cognitive behavioral therapy, drugs, AA, gestalt, shamans, catharsis, redemption, forgiveness, begin again. How can I live more fully, clearly, cleanly. Perhaps meditation is the latest wave. But I think that we have reached a crossroads where we are beginning to understand that the solution is not outside us. If peace will ever reign in this world, it has to start within.

Albert Einstein said some variation of this “Problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them”. We know that we can shift the level of awareness quit dramatically through many mediums, including some of those listed above. What is actually happening in the body, and in nervous system, and in the brain? And are these as separate as we might once have thought?

New studies in psychco-neuorobiology and neuroplasticity show how interdependent the body is with the brain, and how pliable the brain can be with training. My interest in this process is addressed and researched by Dr. Daniel Siegal, a psychiatrist and clinical professor at UCLA, in work which he calls Mindsight. Mindsight is a mindfulness practice which the doctor uses with his clients to address emotional and behavioral complexes. He researches neural activity and the changes in the brain through various practices. He identifies the practical mechanism of mindfulness as:

  • Body regulation – fight flight vs rest and digest
  • Attuned communication – everything exists in relationship, resonance
  • Emotional balance – equals equanimity, chaos and depression (rajas/tamas) deplete us
  • Response flexibility – pause before responding
  • Fear modulation – learning to control survival mechanism, anger
  • Empathy – to be able to “see” from another’s point of view
  • Insight – a me-map which enables us to see our own mind, witnessing
  • Moral Awareness – behaving for the social good
  • Intuition – having access to the wisdom of the body, “heartfelt” or “gut feeling”

This may seem like a thesis, but the mechanism is fascinating, as it points not only to the steps we must take off the meditation cushion and off the yoga mat.

In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words:

Mindfulness has to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive. Most of all, it has to do with being in touch.”

Wherever you go, there you are.

I will summarize my readings of what happens in the brain in future posts. For now, it is gratifying to realize that the changes which happen gradually through the meditation practice are deep, and that they affect every part of my body and being. Jai Ho!

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3 Responses to Meditation changes behavior

  1. lainie devina says:

    thank you for blogging! Daniel Seigal’s list is so clear… I’ve never seen the practical mechanism of mindfulness spelled out in this way. yes!

  2. Jackie Field says:

    thanks again for a wonderful blog. mindsight!! love it! can wait to here more. i love it when things are listed so simply and precise…

    “Body regulation – fight flight vs rest and digest”

    connecting to the body is the first step right?

    • lisa says:

      Lainie, Jackie, that is what is so fascinating about this research. The body is much more than an appendicular and axial skeleton! Similar to Shakespeare’s brilliant metaphor “to see the world in a grain of sand”, the body seems to be a microcosm of everything around us. The nervous system registers everything, we are just too dense and too dull to hear, adjust, and resonate.
      Siegal states: “when I say that the mind is embodied, I mean that the regulation of energy and information flow happens, in part, in the body….. It occurs throughout the body, in the distributed nervous system, which monitors and influences energy and information flowing through our heart and our intestines, and even shapes the activity of our immune system”.

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