Meditation for the Mind and Body

Do you drag yourself around every day wondering why you’re always low on energy? You’re not alone. With the pressures to keep up with work, family, and all other facets of life, we could all use some time to ourselves. If you’re looking to slow things down, why not try a little meditation? Whether you accept that meditation works or are skeptical, it wouldn’t hurt to try it. Every day, thousands of people turn to meditation to soothe themselves. But what exactly is meditation, and what are the benefits you can expect from it?

Meditation is a technique that many people discover informally through yoga. Forms of meditation may involve deep concentration over a period of time. Within the context of yoga, this is usually performed in specific poses and may include chanting, lowering the heart rate, and deep breathing techniques. Although related, meditation is its own separate practice from yoga, and a growing body of evidence supports its many health benefits.

If you’re new to meditation and don’t know where to start, here are a few helpful tips.

  1. Find a secluded, quiet area. Ideally, this should be away from distractions like TV or your phone. You can use music but it may be best to avoid a favorite that may be too distracting. Instead, find something soft, soothing and peaceful which doesn’t have any sudden changes to rhythm and beat. An example of music that could work well is Moby’s “long ambients1: calm, sleep“. Moby says on his website that he created the playlist for “sleeping and yoga” and that its free for anyone to use. 
  1. You should dress comfortably. While full athletic gear or yoga clothing is not necessary comfort is important as you could spend an extended amount of time in one position.  As with the recommendations around music you don’t want to become overly distracted.
  1. Meditation has no prescribed duration of time. As a beginner its best to start with just a few minutes and as you become more comfortable and confident with your practice you can increase the amount of time. Try and accommodate to your own schedule and to how it makes you feel. If you overdo it you may become deterred from wanting to continue or from doing it correctly. 
  1. Choosing your sitting position is all about personal preference. You could sit on the floor, legs folded or sit in a chair if that works better for you. Close your eyes and rest your hands where they feel most comfortable. Lying down can also be an option but many find this induces sleep which detracts from goal of meditation. 

Once a regular practice is achieved the hope is that you feel an overall improvement in perceived wellbeing as well as an assortment of other amazing physiological benefits including the following small selection of examples:

Your body:

Meditation is proven to be a great combatant against cardiovascular disease. Becoming aware of your stress and controlling it through meditation can reduce blood pressure and improve heart rate. It is also an effective tool in treating arthritis, reducing inflammation, and healing the emotional repercussions of physical ailments.

Your mind:

Of the numerous studies dedicated to researching meditation, many look into its effects on the mind. This includes an increase in your ability to focus which, in turn, leads to improved cognitive functioning and decision-making skills.

Meditation is known to help people who suffer from anxiety and high stress levels; ailments that affect both the mind and body. Its therapeutic values improve people’s moods and reduce negative thoughts that are the results of depression and damaging habits like compulsive eating and smoking.

There are many reasons make time in a daily routine for meditation. It can be a challenge at first to find the time and motivate one’s self to keep up the practice but this is the case with any exercise or healthy habit. Tools like Muse, or even personal meditation teachers, music or yoga classes can provide just the motivation needed to transition from being simply curious to regularly practising and reaping all the rewards meditation has to offer. The fact that it only needs to take a few minutes from one’s day should provide solace. So, find a peaceful spot, get comfortable and begin.

Happy Meditating.

Guest Author Bio : Vineetha Reddy

Vineetha Reddy
Vineetha Reddy

Being a regular practitioner and adviser of everything related to health, fitness and yoga, I also have begun to write and contribute to this knowledge ecosystem. I strongly believe that the organic food you find in your pantry provide the best benefits for good health. Follow me for my best ideas and solutions: Twitter / Facebook

 

Meditation and its Impact on Athletic Performance

Novak Djokovic and meditation
Novak Djokovic practices meditation for 15 minutes a day

With the Olympics fully in swing there are many stories circulating not only about the physical training that athletes endure but also how mental conditioning plays a key role in performance. Sports psychologists have long argued about the ratio of physical vs mental in competition but there is no disagreement over whether the mental side of the equation is critical to success. Our lives are constantly put on hold with worries and stress; they take us out of the present. Arguably, one of the most stressful jobs is that of an athlete where, in many cases, you get only one shot to succeed. Meditation, just like weight training, for example, make up the toolbox of preparation that an athlete needs in order to prepare for the big event. Meditation allows athletes to strengthen their drive, focus on present task at hand and drop all distractions that may interfere with winning. Novak Djokovic, both an Olympian and possibly the greatest tennis player of all time, claims in his book Serve to Win that he practices mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes every day. Gold medal winning figure skater Javier Fernandez credits Muse for helping him build an ongoing meditation practice.

Olympic cyclist and world record holder Sky Christopherson, believes in the power of technology and data to help the athletes he coaches gain the upper edge. As part of that training he also recommends Muse to tackle the mental aspect of a training schedule. 

Ultimately, it is the mind that controls how the physical body behaves and is a powerful indication of what the body is capable of. Take the work of sports psychologist, Michael Gervais, a doctor who advises high-performance athletes around the world and tries to find the roots of their anxieties while aiding them in overcoming it. Meditation can yield similar results by mitigating anxiety-like symptoms. Meditation can even aid in the reduction of how chronic pain affects the mind as well as lower stress levels and help control oxygen. All of which will aid any athletic endeavor.

Meditation coach, George Mumford
Meditation coach, George Mumford

So how do prolific athletes become frequent meditators? One answer is George Mumford, the author of the Mindful Athlete. Mumford is a meditation coach or, as the the NBA’s New York Knicks call him, a “personal and organizational development consultant”. His rise to prominence stems from his work with legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson for both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. A recovered addict, now 30+ years clean, Mumford learned about mindfulness from his studies with the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Now, Mumford consults with different NBA teams to offer “the opportunity to be in the moment”. This aligns perfectly with Phil Jackson’s moniker of “Zen Master”. Mumford’s approach involves being present within the game, accepting all external stimuli rather than ignoring it. This is what Mumford, and athletes of all pedigrees, would call being “in the zone”. He teaches several different concepts, including one he calls “one breath, one mind,” meaning he gets everyone in the room “to breathe together to become one” team.

Two of Mumford’s greatest disciples were Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. When Mumford met Michael, he was sure Jordan suffered from some sort of mental disorder. His manic behaviour on court couldn’t have been natural and Mumford didn’t believe it was sustainable. However, he was blown away when he learned that this was simply how Michael was. “Michael did have to find something to motivate himself into that state” Mumford tells Vice Sports, “You have to be in the moment. You can’t worry about what just happened, the basket you missed, the foul you made two minutes ago, because it’s over. You can’t worry about what’s gonna happen the next time down the floor. You have to be right there in the moment”. But Mumford attests that Michael believes, “that Zen Buddhist stuff really works”. Kobe Bryant has a well documented history with meditation. He also learned from Mumford and continued to meditate years later, although he was skeptical at first. “Just coach” were the words a young Kobe Bryant uttered when introduced to the exercise. He now makes life decisions based on how he feels after meditation. Kobe decided it would be time to retire when he no longer found his mind drifting towards the game while meditating. Even after retirement, Kobe can be seen meditating with monks on Instagram.

Even if one’s skepticism is a deterrent against meditation, its hard to ignore the impact its had on athelete’s lives and its popularity amongst everyone who isn’t a professional athlete. Meditation becomes easier once the results are realized. The routine established by George Mumford and practiced by high-caliber athletes is a living testament to what the mind can accomplish. Whether you want to shake off the negative distractions of everyday life or break a new world record, practicing meditation is a choice you can make today.

Kobe Bryant taking time to practise meditation

Learn more about how Muse benefits athletes like Canadian soccer star Stephanie Labbé, skating gold medal champion Javier Fernandez, Olympian world record holding cyclist Sky Christopherson, professional golfer Andrew Parr, and 2014 World Junior figure skating champion Nam Nguyen.

Camp Hope Unleashed and Muse collaborate to help veterans with PTSD

The veteran campers of Camp Hope Unleased ©Tom Rudd
The veteran campers of Camp Hope Unleased ©Tom Rudd

We’re always looking for inspirational stories and amazing individuals that find success through meditation with Muse. We recently came across Camp Hope Unleashed, a program off-shooting from a collaboration between Camp Unleashed, Tails of Hope Foundation and the Faithful Friends Service Dog Foundation. Camp Hope Unleashed creates an accessible space for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their trusty service dogs. Muse teamed up with Camp Hope Unleashed to provide support by giving away Muse headbands and to observe the results. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kay Loveland afterwards and learn of Camp Hope Unleashed’s efforts to rehabilitate those with PTSD.

Resulting from their time deployed, veterans are unable to enjoy certain activities due to triggers reminding them of previous traumatic experiences. Anything from a loud sound to somebody approaching from behind could be the cause of anxiety. This became the inspiration for establishing Camp Hope Unleashed. After meeting a young woman who returned from her deployment in Iraq, Loveland came to understand the need for inclusive camps. The veteran was afraid to try out a camp because of all the potential triggers that could induce her PTSD. However when the woman eventually attended, Dr. Loveland learned that with some practice, it isn’t difficult to accommodate a veteran. With the help of fellow campers, veterans could go about their stay in peace. When the Camp Hope Unleashed pilot project was born, it was home to eight veterans accompanied by their service dogs in addition to volunteer first-responders.

Camp Hope veteran meditating with Muse. ©Tom Rudd
Camp Hope veteran meditating with Muse. ©Tom Rudd

The camp trained trauma resiliency skills, drawing from the work of neuroplasticity, aiming to reshape one’s thoughts. This made Muse an excellent learning tool for the veterans. Muse was initially met with skepticism, Loveland admitted. Although gradually, the campers took a liking to it, eventually competing in “bird-off’s”; a friendly competition comparing the Muse app’s reward system. Muse’s audible feedback loop proved to be invaluable in this circumstance. For many silence could also be a trigger, complicating meditation as a form of therapy.

Muse is now used every day by the veterans, even outside of the camp. Dr. Loveland recalls that sleep is extremely elusive according to the veterans. They claim the tool has helped them fall asleep, rethink their need for sleep medication, and was useful in keeping their cool. Loveland suspects that the appeal is in Muse’s ability to visually display results. She believes veterans and EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians) aren’t comfortable sharing their feelings and would rather, more objectively, read stats and chart improvements which is something that Muse provides after every session. “When they see they have some power to change this… to have something show that it is possible, it makes it seem more real”, says Loveland. Now, when the veterans find themselves troubled, Loveland says they look forward to revisiting the meditation tool, knowing it will help as it has done many times before.

 

One of Camp Hope's many emotional support dogs. ©Tom Rudd
One of Camp Hope’s many emotional support dogs. ©Tom Rudd

History of Meditation – Part 2 – Early Teachings and Religious Roots

This is the second post in a 3-part series, “History of Meditation”. You can find part 1 here.

The Enso. A symbol of Zen
The Enso. A symbol of Zen

Meditation was becoming more and more popular by the time we adopted the modern calendar. In the previous post, we learned that meditation had already become a lifestyle amongst past civilizations. Our prehistoric ancestors had a form of environment-induced meditation. The ancient inhabitants of the Indus Valley were the first to record their meditation practices. We also looked at the initial influence religion had on meditation. Once the Common Era began, meditation would spread quickly due to its relationship with multiple religions.

Throughout the 7th century, eastern religions were continuing to spread and prosper. Additionally, this is when Japanese Buddhism started to flourish. A Japanese monk named Dosho travelled to China where he learned and adopted a form of meditation unheard of in his homeland: Zen Buddhism’s Zazen. Zazen is a seated meditation that’s known to be a study of self. “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things” preaches Dogen Zenji (also known as Eihei Dogen), an ancient practitioner and teacher of Soto Zen. Along with the teachings of Zen Buddhism, it was vital to practice and educate others in order to excel with zazen and this is exactly what Dosho did. Upon his return to Japan, Dosho thought it necessary to spread Zen. He opened a meditation hall in Japan, the first of its kind, where he shared his discoveries.

The Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan
The Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan

During this time, many other religions were thriving. Each with their own forms of meditation attached to a religious belief. In Islam, they find meditation in Tafakkur. This is the act of deep contemplation and reflection of life. In Judaism, there is a firm belief in Kabbalah, a tradition of received wisdom. This gives root to Hitbodedut, a reflection of life’s little moments, similar to Tafakkur. In Christianity, forms of introspective thinking can be found in counting rosary beads and Eucharistic Adoration. Regardless of the religion, the commonality is that they all believe that we should take the time to reflect upon the lives we are blessed with and focus on the present.

As we near the contemporary history of meditation, it remains very ingrained in religion. In the next post in this series we will see the evolution of meditation and its widespread reach across the world.  

 

This is the second part in Muse’s “History of Meditation” series. Follow the 3-part series in the upcoming weeks.

The Road to Recovery – Meditation and Muse

Tragically, after unfortunate accidents, survivors find it hard to return to their normal lives.  This is not necessarily the case for David Todd.  A fighter at heart, 27-year-old David was involved in a near fatal motor vehicle accident in 2010, leaving him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic amnesia (PTA).  Initially unable to move, speak, or breathe on his own, doctors said he may never wake from his coma.  However, he did wake, and for the past six years, David and his rehabilitation team, including his employment rehabilitation counselor, Jo Muirhead, have developed strategies and devised treatment methods that would aid him in defying the odds and allow David to return to employment, driving and a feeling of independence.

David Todd
David Todd

On January 8th of 2010, in his hometown of Sydney, Australia, David was on his way to work when he lost control of his vehicle, resulting in his car crashing into a telephone pole.  Fortunately, residents in the area alerted medical services and David was air-lifted to Royal North Shore Hospital.  There, his family received news that David may not wake up, and that if he did, he wouldn’t be the same. Since then, David has relearned how to walk and speak as well as achieving his two goals of returning to work and driving a car.

Jo Muirhead from Purple Co

David found that meditation was an effective tool in managing some of the challenges he faces with living with a TBI.  David’s counsellor, Jo Muirhead, recommended the use of the Muse to assist with calming and meditation.  David has been using the Muse for about twelve months and finds it to be a very helpful and efficient device, which assists him in managing his frustration and anger related behaviors.

Jo Muirhead is the founder of Purple Co, a company dedicated to helping people return to work following injury, illness or trauma.  She has a background in rehabilitation counselling and her expertise comes from her own experience in navigating through different career streams for over 20 years.  Jo is a member of the Australian Society of Rehabilitation Counsellors as well as the Career Development Association of Australia.  

Every six weeks David and Jo would meet with other members of David’s rehabilitation team to brainstorm and manage David’s TBI challenges within the workplace and in social settings outside of work.  The Muse was included as an extra activity to assist with improved mood, improvement to agitation, focus and concentration, and to assist with meeting some of David’s behavioral challenges.  David continues to find success in Muse therapy where traditional meditative or calming strategies have failed.  David and Jo can attest that Muse doesn’t feel repetitive, especially when you receive different feedback after every session. 

“Muse keeps saying ‘Congratulations, you’ve made another day in a row’. It’s really motivating to to get that positive reinforcement”, explained Jo Muirhead.

After the accident David found himself battling bouts of anger and was regularly frustrated before he started with Muse. He tried forms of meditation before but none were as effective as Muse’s real time brain feedback during each exercise. David’s favorite metric is “The birds”.  Birds can be heard via the Muse app during a session once the mind is calm. This is just another reason to return to the app and see how the next session compares.  David uses Muse up to three times a day and has amassed a 137-day streak of meditation.  His daily exercise has paid off, resulting in David becoming more aware of himself and better able to control his emotions.  Jo informed us of David’s developing ability to notice social cues in conversations.  He has previously struggled with understanding appropriate times to speak and when to end conversations.  His astonishing progress is thanks to his hard work, a great rehabilitation process, and a helpful team consisting of his therapists, family and Jo. “After Muse, I just calm down”.  David admits, “Rehab is going to end eventually.  It will finally be over one day”.

“The Muse has actually given us a way of de-emotionalizing what’s going on with David and put that energy out to something quite tangible”, reasoned Jo Muirhead.

Jo Muirhead and Purple Co. has ‘a purpose for people’, as their tagline suggests. They hold workshopsprovide information on their blog, and offer many services.  For more information, visit: Purple Co.

David Todd and his dog
David Todd and his dog