I am a very science-based person.
“lie down on your yoga mat in Shavasana pose.”
I don’t immediately discount herbal remedies or eastern practices…
…then again, I seek out peer-reviewed evidence before I try anything new.
“...and bring to mind your Sankalpa”
But my physio suggested I try mindfulness meditation.
The first thing I typed into google was “meditation doesn’t work science-based” I found articles that described the flaws in a lot of the research, the lack of control groups and small sample sizes. Fair enough, but where are the studies proving that it just doesn’t work?
I tried an optimistic “meditation science-based evidence” and found among others, a 2013 study that piqued my interest. It was observing the changes in the brain after an 8-week Mindfulness-Based programme.
MRI scans revealed that the amygdala, the fight or flight centre of the brain, in people who practiced mindfulness appears to shrink. The pre-frontal cortex, our decision-making centre of the brain, on the other hand, became thicker and had a strengthened connection to the rest of the brain.
In other words, their primitive stress response is lessened, and the rational brain can make better sense of what is going on.
This sounded good. Real physical neurological changes. And isn’t neuroplasticity the latest sciencey buzz word?!
So I gave meditation a try. I downloaded an app with thousands of different teachers in hundreds of different styles. I listened to a man with a thick Irish accent tell me to cup my hands on my eyes and feel the warmth, a grandmotherly woman who breathed far too heavily in my ear tell me I am unconditionally loved and a Californian lady asking me to lie in Shavasana and breathe into my sacral chakra.
I gave it a good go, and it worked for me. Now every lunchtime and every evening I lie in Shavasana (on your back with arms at 45-degree angle), I think of my Sankalpa (an intention I have for my life going forward) and I scan from head to my toes. Sometimes it feels like a guilty pleasure; taking time out of the day to stop thinking and to simply be present without a thousand thoughts in my head.
Has my amygdala shrunk, and my prefrontal cortex grown? I don’t know. Stress is obviously still a part of my life as it is anyone else's; but I know that my go-to is now meditation instead of soldiering on.
“Focus on each part of your body, breathe in bone deep” she tells me, and I sneakily translate head to cranium, jaw to mandible, collar bone to clavicle. I’m allowed to keep my science.