Sunday, December 8, 2013

exSPIREment: Meditate, episode 1

In October, for my first exSPIREment, I tried reading the newspaper every day.  From that experience, I improved my knowledge of current events and have since downloaded the NPR app, to which I listen as I walk to work; I particularly like the 10 minute newscast that is updated every hour and gives short blips for the main headlines.  Staying up-to-date on national and world events is a new addition to my lifestyle to help me improve as a person.  Now, it's time to embark on my next journey...

On Sunday, December 1 (also the 6 month mark of my marriage!), I commenced on my second exSPIREment: to meditate every day for the month of December.  This comes at perfect timing, seeing that I will be proposing my PhD thesis in the middle of the month (less than 1.5 weeks away now!), and I'm going to need to stay level headed to get through it successfully.

I've long been intrigued by mindful practices.  Indeed, this is not my first time undertaking meditation as a daily routine- I have gone to various workshops and classes on meditation over the years.  I even once participated in a 21 day meditation challenge through One Yoga Philly; however, I have not yet made meditation a part of my lifestyle.  The objective of this exSPIREment is to 1) define the personal benefits I gain through consistent meditation practice and 2) identify how I can incorporate meditation into my lifestyle. 



Newspapers, magazines, online articles- you can find articles touting the benefits of meditation almost anywhere you look.  I chose to search on PubMed for the real research articles to decide for myself how beneficial meditation may be.  For once, it seems that journalism has only moderately blown the benefits out of proportion: meditation and mindfulness-based practices have been suggested as an effective treatment for various psychological problems (particularly to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress), a method to assist smoking cessation, a practice to decrease chronic pain, an adjuvant treatment for patients with neurodegenerative diseases, a way to "slow down" time, a method to improve sleep quality and cognitive function in older individuals, a practice to improve autobiographical memory specificity, etc. 

Meditation has both acute (immediate) and chronic (long-term) effects: one study showed an acute relaxation response and improved reaction time and long-term improvements in IQ and stress.  Meditative practices produce real physiological changes.  For example, MRI imaging of the brains of Parkinson's patients who underwent 8 weeks of mindfulness based intervention had increased gray matter density in the regions of the brain thought to be important in Parkinson's.  Increased regional gray matter in the brain has also been seen in healthy subjects that underwent 8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction. 

Although many studies show benefits of meditation or mindfulness training, taken together, the findings across multiple studies are inconclusive.  A review the effects of mindfulness training on cognitive abilities concluded preliminary evidence for enhanced cognitive functions but that more high quality studies are needed.  The American Heart Association released a statement that meditation is not recommended in clinical practice to lower blood pressure, due to lack of evidence; however, transcendental meditation may provide mild benefits.

I hypothesize that 

  1. Acutely, meditation will lower my blood pressure and pulse (quantitative), indicative of a relaxation response, and improve my mood and focus (subjective). 
  2. Chronically, meditation will improve my ability to handle stress (subjective).
To test these hypotheses, I will keep a log that details my pre- and post-meditative states.

Join me in meditating this December!

3 comments:

  1. I was just talking to someone who mentioned how much better she likes "moving meditation". Reminded me that we used to do this by walking in a circle in our dance studio. Not sure how to set it up at home but might be worth looking into to help combat the urge to fall asleep :)

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    1. Now that's something I haven't tried yet! I'll have to test it out- thanks for sharing. There is an older Asian couple in our apartment complex that I would see every morning in the dance/multi-purpose studio doing their Tai Chi together. They always look so fluid and harmonious. (I also constantly see them walking laps around the complex- so active; I want to be like them when I grow up!) Tai Chi would take some learning, but incorporating my own fluid, repetitive movements with a mindful state may be doable... stay tuned!

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    2. Update: Just finished an OnDemand 45 min Qi Gong video (love OnDemand work out videos!). I feel less restrained, more mobile, and looser upon finishing. My head also feels clearer. It's not as relaxing as I expected because you spend the entire time in basically a squat position, so you have to work. But doing the movements really did make me miss having some type of controlled movement/dance aspect in my life again.

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