Fine tune your nervous system with Modern Meditation and know a different world.
28 June 2021 | Becs Mansfield
We know now that meditation, when taught and practiced properly, is widely acknowledged by mainstream medical science to be very useful in treating depression and stress related conditions. We know that regular meditation impacts on physiological conditions experienced when our natural flight/fight response becomes over extended and hyperactive.
The area of intervention is the nervous system. Meditation practice brings a rebalancing between the sympathetic (fight/flight reaction) and parasympathetic (stasis) parts of the system. This is why many people feel more centred or whole when they practice meditation regularly.
A different view
We start by ‘seeing’ the nervous system as a filter between you and the world. It’s true that you and I never experience the world directly. Instead the information that makes up the experience is received by your nervous system as it conveys the world outside. It’s down to each one of us in terms of how this information is processed and then acted on. This simple but eye-opening view means that experience could be reevaluated and changed and we have all the power to do that.
What is real?
We are hardwired for both happiness and survival – but it’s survival that takes priority. Our mind is focussing on survival. Our mind is looking for trouble, either thinking about past events or thinking about something that may or may not happen. As a result our mind is always active and our nervous system can’t tell the difference between what is happening in our heads and what is happening in the real world. As a result we can become overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.
Our sympathetic nervous system that activates the fight/flight reaction is the reason for our stress and anxiety. We’ve made incredible advances since the dawn of our existence, from hunting and gathering, however our brain has not evolved away from its primary responsibility of keeping us alive and safe. Hence our attention is directed towards both real and perceived threats. When we bring our attention to the present moment, such as focussing on the breath, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest state.
The stress response begins in the brain. If the amygdala (an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing) perceives danger it instantly sends a message to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus (a bit like a control center) communicates to the autonomic nervous system (which controls the involuntary body functions such as breathing and heartbeat).
The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system triggers the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.
After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles. Breathing becomes more rapid and the airways in the lungs open so we can take in as much oxygen as possible. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, the release of blood sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream for energy.
If the threat is still perceived, as the initial surge of adrenaline subsides, the hypothalamus activates the adrenal gland to release cortisol. The body stays revved up and on high alert. When the threat passes, cortisol levels fall. The parasympathetic nervous system is then activated.
Meditation to calm your mind and activate the parasympathetic system!
The fight or flight response was intended as a survival mechanism to allow us to react quickly to a situation that was life-threatening. Unfortunately, today the human body has the same response to non life-threatening stressors that cause high levels of anxiety.
We want to learn how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to relax and slow down the body’s response.
We can do this with Modern Meditation.