How Meditation Can Restructure Your Brain

According to Kelly McGonigal, more and more neuroscientists, like Eileen Luders from UCLA Brain Mapping Cbrain on meditationenter, have started to think that learning to meditate is no different from learning mental skills such as music or math. Like anything else that requires practice, meditation is a training program for the brain. “Regular use may strengthen the connections between neurons and can also make new connections,” Luders explains. “These tiny changes, in thousands of connections, can lead to visible changes in the structure of the brain.” Those structural changes, in turn, create a brain that is better at doing whatever you’ve asked it to do. Musicians’ brains could get better at analyzing and creating music. Mathematicians’ brains may get better at solving problems. What do meditators’ brains get better at doing? This is where it gets interesting: It depends on what kind of meditation they do.

Over the past decade, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.

http://www.mindful.org/your-brain-on-meditation/

Real Life Benefits of a Meditation Practice

Here is a true story I am sharing as an example of real life, real time, benefits of a mindful meditation practice.

images

I did my usual morning yoga/meditation practice.  Then, I went to play a friendly doubles tennis match.

Here is the scene (my story):

I show up on time and wait 15 minutes for the other women to come onto the court.

We have a shitty warm up and then the other ladies go to the bench to check cell phones, hit the water bottles and chat.

(My head says: lets get this game started…. umm.. hello? I don’t want to be rude but we did come to play tennis?…)

I am waiting in the AD box… stretching, breathing and practicing positive cheer leading in my head. 5 more minutes.

Game starts… finally.

It feels like I am swimming in a pool of mud.  The game is moving soooo slow.  The ladies on the other side of the court are moving like snails to pick up balls between serves.

(My head says:  Why are they moving so slow? Are they moving this slow on purpose? Do they KNOW how slow they are going?  HELLOOO????)

The other side announces wrong score. I think they are wrong, but maybe I fell asleep for a few games and actually I am wrong? I check with my partner. Nope, they are wrong. I do my best to correct them in a friendly way.  Snooze.  They are turning the corner to switch sides…. check cell, hit the water bottled (gosh is their anything left?) and chat some more.

It’s my serve. All 3 balls are on the ground, on the other side of the court. The ladies are chatting on the T.

(My head says:  Are they strategizing or doing this to piss me off?  I am so bored.  I need to shake things up. I hate standing around, I feel like a zombie).

I run to the other side of the court to pick up the balls.

(My head says:  This running feels good, I can finally get myself into my tennis groove. This is kind of funny actually.  I could make a game of this.  Obstacle course tennis. Hit, Run, Pick Up, Serve, Hit, Run, Pick Up, Serve.)

One of the ladies says, “What are you doing?”

I say, “Picking up the balls, You guys are taking forever over here”

The game continues.  There were many great shots, rallies, returns, serves. It was a solid tennis match as far as the actual play goes.

When the match was over I approached the net to shake hands.

The ladies on the other side diss me.

“Good game ladies” I said.

“You were rude and ruined the entire match” Lady A said.

“Really? I am sorry, I thought I was being funny ” I replied.  “I felt like things were moving really slowly”.

“I have never had a problem with you before, but that was not funny, it was rude. You never would have run across the court if you were playing with the other ladies”.  Says Lady B. “You could have just asked us to get the balls. We didn’t know you needed them”.

“We come out here to play a friendly tennis match, you really didn’t need to do that” Continues Lady B.

And they turned around and walked off the court.

WOW.

I left the tennis court feeling really bad.  As I was driving home I practiced RAIN.

RAIN is the four step process of: Recognizing what is happening, Allow (it to happen without feeling connected to it), Investigate with kindness, and Non-Identification.

I know why I ran to the other side of the court, I was sick of WAITING.

Why was I sick of waiting?

Because I couldn’t stay in my “zone”, focused and energized.  The waiting between points was distracting me.  Dragging me down.

Were they being slow on purpose or is that their state of play all the time?  I don’t know. But if felt like THEY were using time against ME.

THIS ISN’T ABOUT THEM, THIS IS ABOUT ME!

This is about me.  My mindset was “play, play, play” and “go, go, go”. I didn’t take a pause to see what was happening around me, AND what was happening inside of me (triggers). I was too busy REACTING.  I was caught up in my own story, my own drama, my own ego.

UH-OH.

I certainly did NOT mean to ruin anyone’s morning of tennis.  Even slow tennis is great tennis. It brings me TREMENDOUS joy to play tennis.  Playing tennis, for me, is a direct link to my inner-child.  Pure Joy. (Side note: When I am playing tennis I feel 10 years old, and if you ask the people who I play with, I act 10 years old too, for better or worse!).  I digress.

What could I have done differently?  I could have used this slow pace to challenge myself:  how long can I stay focused on that ball ?  What can I do while the ball is not in play so that my head is still in this game?  Do not let the pace of the game throw your calm mental state.  Just breathe.

I immediately picked up the phone and called Lady A and Lady B to apologize.  I own my frustration, my impatience, my unattractive imperfect human qualities that reared it’s ugly head today.  And I will not be a slave to my ugly self either.

I owned it.  They didn’t see funny, they saw snarky and rude.

I learn from it.  I was impatient, but I never wanted to insult them or make them feel bad.

I release it.  I apologize.  I am not going to hold onto this tension, or create another story that would make playing tennis with Lady A or Lady B uncomfortable for me, them or anyone else.

My point is that, there was a time in my life when I would have walked off that court and made a phone call bitching to someone about what happened at the end of game.  I might have BLAMED Lady A and Lady B.

Now I am in a place where I see CLEARLY this had nothing to do with either Lady A or Lady B- it was all ME, my ego and my edgy competitiveness.

A steady practice of mindful meditation and I am free of that negative thinking.

I look forward to playing tennis with them again 🙂

 

 

 

Follow

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: