If you're like me, you sometimes struggle with tension, stress, and negative thoughts. In today's fast-paced, complicated world, it's just not possible to avoid these things entirely. We all face struggles that can take over our minds and lead us down the rabbit hole of worries and doubts.
If you read this blog regularly, I'm sure you've started to notice a theme that runs through a lot of my work and my affiliations. I'm attracted to practices that help us embrace our inborn potential for health and happiness. Whether through “coherence” and the heart-focused communication approach of the HeartMath Institute, the techniques of The Arbinger Institute for creating clarity by addressing self-deception, or the teachings of A Course In Miracles, which help us find peace and joy through forgiveness of ourselves and others, I am drawn to philosophies and methodologies that empower people to make positive choices in their daily lives.
Benefits of Brain Training
Whether you engage with one of these philosophies, or are simply a fan of meditation, you know the power we have to shape our “internal landscape” — either positively or negatively — by giving precedence to certain kinds of thoughts. While the benefits of meditation and “mindfulness” have been known for centuries, there is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the idea that our physical health is tied to our ability to process stress and conflict in a productive and positive way. One leader in the field of mindfulness is the neuroscientistMark Waldman, whose tagline “Change Your Brain, Change Your World” is a perfect summation of the power of positive thinking. Check out this video, in which he explores the Neuroscience of Mindfulness.
As Waldman asserts, there is a scientific basis for the health benefits of meditation and positive thinking. Makiko Kitamura of BloombergBusiness reports on a study being done by John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, on how yoga and meditation affect genes and brain activity in the chronically stressed. Using neuro-imaging and genomics technology to measure physiological changes in meditation participants, Denninger has confirmed that,
“'There is a true biological effect… The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.' One session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress. There was an effect even among novices who had never practiced before.”
How to Train Your Brain
With more and more evidence piling up in favor of meditation and relaxation techniques, the benefits are clear. So how can we harness the power of positive thinking for ourselves? There are many ways, including yoga and meditation as cited in the Harvard Medical School survey. I've discussed meditation in-depth previously on this blog, but there are other ways to check in with ourselves, find peace and positivity, and benefit from the physiological and psychological effects.
Mark Waldman suggests repeating one word for a few minutes each day, in a practice similar to the Buddhist idea of chanting a “mantra.” In reference to the Harvard study above, Waldman writes,
“Did you know that the latest research shows that you can turn on over 1200 stress-reducing genes simply by repeating a single word for a few minutes a day?
Find a word that captures your deepest innermost values (like peace, compassion, love, integrity, calmness, god, respect) and gently repeat it for a few minutes, aloud or silently. After 8 weeks, Harvard researchers discovered that unique genes that suppress stress neurochemicals get activated.”
I've found this practice very helpful in times of stress or conflict. Not only do I calm my mind and body by focusing on a positive word, I have a chance to remind myself of the way I choose to interact with the world around me. Simply repeating “love” or “forgiveness” prepares me to engage with others (or myself!) in a way that stems from positivity instead of negativity.
Give it a try yourself, and experience the benefits!