Mindfulness and Meditation are two words we are hearing a lot about. I have seen them written up in hospital newsletters, school programs, and cardiology waiting rooms (just to name a few). Are these mere buzzwords and do they have a real impact on helping us all reach homeostasis?
Homeostasis has to do with effectors in the body that make adjustments when outside forces are affecting the body. These adjustments are done in order to maintain a relatively constant state of being despite changes (NCBI). We may feel the effect as lower blood pressure or sweating. Each person has a different constant and the body will regulate that in a window of plus or minus that constant. An example might be a blood pressure of 112/70. Should you have stress, the body may be able to regulate it between 98/65 or 120/80. This regulation happens in many areas of the body as an attempt is made to bring the blood pressure closer to your body’s “set” number. What does any of this have to do with mindfulness and meditation?
When the body experiences stress caused by loss of income, death of a loved one, tests, health issues, or environmental stressors electrical signals are sent from the brain to various points in the body asking for regulation. These regulations might manifest in the form of decreased digestion, shaking, headaches, crying, sweating, increased blood pressure, skin rashes, or blood sugar changes. Hormones are also released which may affect our ability to reason, make decisions, or be calm. Once the outside stressor is resolved, then the body is able to dial back on the orders it is sending out to the various body systems and we can relax. The difficult piece is when these stressors go on for a long time, such as the current pandemic (and all it entails), or the body doesn’t listen to the cease and desist brain order. This constant barrage has the various body systems working overtime to maintain a level state within the body so you can function. Adrenal fatigue can occur and have a ripple effect on all functions including the emotional brain and the cardiovascular system.
How does being mindful or meditating help? Mindfulness is often an open interpretation as far as definitions go. It may be defined as a state of being due to meditation, or as maintaining a state of being throughout distractions when not meditating(Harvard). The ultimate goal, it seems to me, is to be able to counteract stressors so that we don’t get into adrenal fatigue and that we can function well in the face of these stressors. Just as homeostasis relies on many parts of the body to do their part to regulate their given area for overall body maintenance, so it goes with mindfulness. Nutrition, homeopathy, energy work, meditation, and more may play a part in an individual’s ability to cope with their life. You have probably heard the phrase “Mind your manners.” We know this to mean that you are to make sure your words and actions are respectful. Mindfulness training helps a person to become aware of how they react to a given situation and make changes so that they can face what comes their way without experiencing heart palpitations, headaches, anger, or increased blood pressure. A Star Trek reference would be Counselor Troi who seems to maintain her cool in the face of almost any situation. She is in tune with her feelings and how she reacts to most situations.
Meditation is one way to get to where a person can tune in to how they are feeling at a given moment and then bring change so that the brain is more quiet and breathing is easier. Perhaps you feel meditation isn’t for you. Many don’t want to take the time (or really can’t eek out the time) to meditate. Meditation takes mindfulness when it comes to calming the brain. A well known news anchor spoke publicly about his own experience with panic attacks and how mindful meditation really helped him. He is a husband, father, and has a stressful job so meditating each day for long periods didn’t work for him. He now has a podcast where he speaks with professionals about how to maintain mental health, and he has short meditations for anyone to follow (tenpercent). Some schools began implementing meditation into their programs. Teachers found that their students seemed to “reboot” and had more effective learning after these sessions. Science is finding that meditation changes the brain in many people, allowing them to react in a more positively responsive way to situations (NCCIH).
This year has been a challenge for us all. There are days when we have thought “I can do this” and others where we can only sit and stare at the wall. Adults as well as children are feeling the stress and angst of uncertainty and fear. Add mindful meditation to yours and your families’ lives for a more balanced and homeostatic life. Be well.