Meditation is often thought of as being esoteric, taking a lot of time or skill, and practiced only by religious or highly spiritual people, like monks. Meditation is simply a way of paying attention, and it is increasingly being practiced by all kinds of people looking to improve their lives in numerous ways. Meditation is learning to pay attention to the essential nature of your being, what we have been calling soul self or conscious awareness. In meditation you are practicing meta-awareness (aware of being aware). Once you become conscious of consciousness, you become aware of who and what you are. As Michael Singer puts it in The Untethered Soul,
œIt’s like you have been on the couch watching TV, but you were so totally immersed in the show that you forgot where you were. Someone shook you and now you ‘re back to the awareness that you are siting on the couch watching TV.
Nothing changed. You simply stopped projecting your sense of self onto that particular object of consciousness. You woke up. That is spirituality. That is the nature of self. That is who you are.
Research has shown meditation to help with many things: calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and anxiety, and even assist immune function, among other benefits. There are now countless studies and secretss on this topic whose surface we barely scratch, so please refer to the resources in the Bibliography for more information. However, it is worth pointing out a couple of important things.
People with anorexia and bulimia are shown to have a higher-than-normal tendency toward anxiety. Many are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. One study showed that the area of the brain responsible for our emotions, the amygdala, is overactive in anorexia nervosa, similar to people with anxiety disorders. The area of your brain that puts your amygdala in check or balance and regulates your emotional reactions is called the prefTontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for a variety of functions.
Prefrontal cortex functions:
1. Body regulation sympathetic/parasympathetic (gas/brakes).
2. Attuned communication feeling felt.
3. Emotional balance level-headedness, clear and focused.
4. Response flexibility react vs. respond.
5. Fear modulation alert calm
6. Empathy see from another’s point of view.
7. Insight mental time travel, past to present and future.
8. Moral awareness think and behave for social good.
9. Intuition gut feelings, wisdom of body.
The prefrontal cortex functions on this list are also associated with mindfulness practices. It appears that meditating seems to strengthen the fibers in the prefrontal cortex and helps train this part of the brain to override the amygdala, or emotional brain. This is very important for people with eating disorders, who need help regulating and responding to emotions. So you can tell yourself that the practices we call meditation are really just how one goes about training the brain, or more specifically, strengthening the prefrontal cortex to keep the amygdala under control.
There are many variations of meditation practice such as Vipassana, Insight Meditation, and Transcendental Meditation. The many forms of meditation all involve shifting from thinking to awareness, and learning to separate your thoughts from your inner essence or soul self. Although we give some guidance here, we encourage you to explore various options to see what works best for you. In Waking Up, Sam Harris describes the importance of meditation and the profound impact it can have on our lives, regardless of any religious affiliation. The following is his meditation guide for beginners we ask you to try.