13 February 2014


Our mind is the most important thing we have, and most of us spend more time looking after our hair and clothes than our mind.

That sentiment is what got me going on meditation. Sometimes I think that everywhere I turn gives me the same message, even if I'm not looking for it, and meditation is the message I'm getting right now.

Nothing to do with meditation, but I do love reeds.
I've heard over the years how great it is, and meddled in it a few times, but the frequent migraine headaches I get have now pushed me hard in that direction.

The headaches get set off by any stress, worry etc, even if it's mild and brief, and that's where meditation comes in. It actually changes the brain. MRI studies show that certain brain parts involved with focus get bigger with daily meditation. But of major interest to me is that the amygdala shrinks. This little beast is concerned with the 'fight and flight' response (i.e. stress) and launches adrenalin release. Yes, it shrinks. Experiments with rats have shown that their amygdalas enlarge when stressful things are done to the poor rodents, and stay that way when the stress ends. I think my amygdala got pumped up quite a few years ago and it needs some serious slimming.

Since I read that, it seems like every magazine or book I pick up espouses the benefits of meditation, or the benefits of not 'ruminating' over the past or the future.

The mind-body link is powerful, no? Even thinking about food when you're hungry makes the saliva flow. Yesterday I spoke at a funeral, and in the lead up to it just thinking about the prospect made something near my stomach contract (maybe it was the adrenal glands on my kidneys?). So ruminating over things is of course causing changes in us also. Here are some snapshots of my ruminatings: I wish I'd never done that. Imagine what he/she must have thought of me. How could he/she have been so cruel. I was so useless at that. Farewell, rumination.

So, without further ado, here are my actions:

1. Begin meditating daily. I'm using an online guided meditation here which has a free 'take ten' programme, where you do a 10 minute meditation listening to a charming monk (who is also a handsome youngish Englishman called Andy, trained in the circus arts) talk you through simple mind exercises each day. Andy's TED talk is here, and it's compelling and enjoyable. He's the one who pointed out that most of us spend no time at all looking after our precious minds.

2. Enrol in a Vipassana meditation course. Johns Hopkins University have just completed a study on Vipassana meditation as a way to prevent migraines, and one of the researchers involved has told me via email that the study is just ending and the results should be out later this year. I can't wait that long. I have already managed to meditate away some of my migraines after the pain has started, so I'm diving in head first with a 10 day course that involves no talking, only fruit for dinner and rising at 4.3 0am!

I suspect that although the migraines might be what have sent me down this path, the benefits will be enormous, both to me and those around me. Maybe one day I'll even be glad of the frequent achy head I once had.

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