How to Train your Brain
The more you train your brain by meditating, the easier it is to react to difficult situations in a way that you can be proud of
Brain like a dog?
You could say that in some ways an untrained brain is like an untrained dog, it will go sniffing at and chasing after any old thought that comes along, getting easily distracted and barking up the wrong tree, possibly causing upset and misunderstanding or embarrassment, to yourself, or other people. A well trained dog on the other hand, (like a well trained mind) will still go sniffing after thoughts as they come whirling around your mind, but will be able to come back when called, so that you have a bit more control. The more you spend time meditating, or just watching your thoughts and then letting them go, not getting bogged down by unwanted thoughts going round and round in your mind, the easier it becomes to separate yourself from your thoughts, to separate yourself from any bad feelings you might have about yourself or about anyone else, so that you don't take insults so personally and don't react so quickly with anger, or upset and don't have thoughts going round and round in your mind.
Inside your brain are billions and billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. The combination of millions of neurons sending signals at once produces a huge amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using specialist medical equipment (such as an EEG), The combination of electrical activity of the brain is called a Brainwave pattern, because of its cyclic, 'wave-like' nature.
There are four common levels of brain waves the first is beta , then alpha , theta , and delta . It's a bit like how when you are relaxed your breathing will slow down and when you are asleep, it slows down even more.
Our brains emmit:
- Beta when we are conscious and alert, or when we feel agitated, tense or scared, (it has frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale).
- Alpha is when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although we are still aware of what is happening around us, like relaxing on the sofa, or in the bath. Meditation also puts out brains into this frequency of brain waves. When we slow down the brain rhythm to alpha, we put ourselves in the best state to learn new information, keep facts in our minds, perform complicated tasks and analyse complicated situations. As well as meditation, relaxation exercises, and activities that enable the sense of calm, like playing a musical instrument or drawing, also enable this alpha state. As adults, we are in naturally in the alpha state about 20% of the time. Children are in the Alpha state the majority of the time, between the ages of 3 and 7, we were in the alpha state about 90% of the time. Its frequency is around 7 to 13 pulses per second.
- Theta Can be achieved in deep meditation, or light sleep, it is a state in which you are unconcious of the world around you. It is about 4 to 7 pulses per second
- Delta is also an unconcious state, but more deeply unconcious, such as deep sleep, or being in a coma. It's frequency is between 0.1 and 4 cycles a second.
As you see it is quite useful to be able to change your brain frequency when you want to, by relaxing or meditating, because when your brain is emmiting Alfa waves, you can understand things better, think more clearly and remember information better. It is healthy for you too!
It's a kind of freedom
To have this kind of control is a wonderful freedom. If you can watch your own thoughts and, say you are feeling angry, say to yourself quietly in your head. "I'm feeling really angry right now!" and just take a step back, (it doesn't mean that you will straight away stop feeling cross) just acknowledge this feeling with kindness towards yourself. You are feeling angry for a reason after all, be kind to yourself and allow this feeling. By looking at it like this it can make it easier to be calm and look at the situation with a clearer head, so that you might decide that instead of shouting or hitting your brother (or whoever it is you are cross with), you might find a better way to deal with it. You can tell them how angry you are feeling and how the situation makes you feel, maybe write it down, or punch a cushion. It just gives you a bit of perspective, so you can allow the feeling, but then decide in a more controlled way what you want to do about it. You are simply having an angry feeling, that doesn't mean that you are an angry person, or a bad person, it's just a feeling and it will pass, just like a cloud that temporarily obscures the sun.
Having a bit more control over your reactions will also help you in your relationships with friends and family. They will probably respect you more, not only that, but if you can take a step back from your own feelings and fully allow the feeling to emerge, watch it with kindness and understanding towards yourself, but separate from it at he same time, then you will also find it easier to allow other people to do the same, allowing them their feeling but taking a step back and thinking to yourself, "They are very upset right now", but this will pass, perhaps you are the cause of their anger, perhaps not, either way, they are still angry. Everybody feels upset sometimes even monks who've been meditating for forty years can feel angry and sad sometimes, because we're only human. We shouldn't try to pretend that we're not feeling these emotions. We need to fully allow the feeling, but take a step back from it. And this can help us deal with the feeling in a better way.
Proof that meditation can change your brain
People researching about meditation at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of technology have discovered that meditation can actually alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans of people who have meditated for a long time showed increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with paying attention and processing the information that they receive from the world.
Which means that the more you meditate, the better your brain can deal with focusing on something without getting distracted, therefore you will be better equipped to understand the information you are receiving and remember it. Great for when it comes to revising for exams!
Pain in the leg!
This way of dealing with thoughts and feelings can also work well for physical pain or discomfort. Say if you have bruised your leg, or stung it with a stinging nettle, see if you can let go of the panic you felt at having hurt yourself, try just being aware of the feeling and see it as just a strange sensation not as pain, separate a bit from it, relax, breathe calmly and slowly you will probably find that it suddenly doesn't seem half as bad.
It might feel strange at first trying out these new ways of looking at thoughts and feelings, but after a while you'll find that it becomes more natural.
I like to think of this kind of awareness as like being the deep still water that is underneath the surface of a stormy sea. The stormy sea is our thoughts and feelings, which can be turbulent, but if you watch them from the deep stillness of the ocean, you can still be aware that the feelings are there, but you feel calmer and not tossed around by all the waves of emotion. Sometimes I like to imagine I'm a big blue whale deep below the surface, calm and still, maybe you would prefer to be a submarine or an octopus.
Allowing your brain periods of rest, when it can be still, but awake (through some kind of meditation) is really healthy and good for you. The more you can fit in little bits of meditation time into your life, (even just a few minutes here and there), the more you will notice the difference it makes to your life, bringing you more calm and happiness.