By Ria Brownlow, RN
To continue with our series from Dan Beuttner’s Blue Zones, Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, this month we are looking at :
“Lesson Six: Down Shift— Take time to relieve stress.”
A classic way to relieve stress is the practice of meditation. With the upsurge in brain research since the 1990’s, the positive effects of meditation have been well documented and, thus, recognized. Much information on the research is available on the Internet, and here are some of my favorites.
Condensed from an article on the Science Daily website:
Researchers at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification, (“folding” of the cerebral cortex), than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes… and… the more folding that occurs, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and so forth.
For this study, meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more.
“Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula.”
“The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification.”
To paraphrase an article published in the Huffington Post:
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain that determines how much stress we experience and that is central in modulating our fear responses.
For example, people with very active amygdalae tend to experience more depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can actually change the size of the amygdala. One study on overstressed businesspeople found that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training, the size of the amygdala actually shrank, compared to those who were not practicing mindfulness. In those eight weeks, subjects were actually able to change their brain and, consequently, reduce their stress.
There are other studies of meditation and the brain, which have shown that meditation can benefit the practitioner even if the practice is not continued, or if it is irregular. Meditation is well known in our UU Community, especially through the leadership of Gene and Andrea Heater. For myself, I find information like the above to be helpful to me in continuing with meditation, no matter the odds (!), because I can recognize that, yes, I have benefitted immensely from my years of practice.
Blessings to All, and Good Wishes for a Healthy Summer,
Your Faith Community Nursing Team