The number one reaction I get when I first tell someone learning how to relax the mind is the secret key to beating stress and overhwhem is that they’ve already tried meditation and it didn’t work for them or they couldn’t do it, or it took too long, or it just didn’t help them to relax.
So many people have the experience of trying to relax their mind by actually sitting down to get started with meditation but they can’t focus, they can’t stay calm or relaxed, or they just get bored after a few minutes.
It is really frustrating because meditation is supposed to be good for stress, anxiety and helping reduce overwhelm burnout, but if you feel like a meditation failure every time you try to get started in can make you feel even MORE overwhelmed and stressed and you may just end up thinking, ‘why bother?!”
But I have good news for you if that sounds familiar: there is nothing wrong with you, it’s just that you need to understand how to get around the brain’s resistance with some ‘smarter not harder’ tips that take into account how the brain actually works, especially when you are under chronic stress so you can start to relax your mind and brain AT HOME TODAY.
And there is 1 major reason, we now know thanks to neuroscience, why most people are not successful in getting started with a practice to help relax their mind: And it has to do with being about to shut down a very specific part of our brains.
Modern life is filled with countless small seemingly insignificant mental threats, little things that you never even think about, like did I pay my phone bill on time, did my friend get that text, will that guy from my date call me back, etc because we are busy all of the time thinking and overthinking and achieving. This way of living, of ‘go go go’ all of the time, changes how your brain is able to relax itself and calm your mind down.
Speficially, Modern busy life change how easily you can shut off an area in your brain called the PCC, or the posterior cingulate cortices. This PCC is actually part of your brain’s default mode network. Your default mode network is what is going on inside your brain when your mind is wandering, having mental chatter. When you are hyper focused on an intense task, like for example, when a ballerina is performing her solo on stage, this Default mode network shuts off again.
As well as being part of your DMN, the PCC is also more active in people who have PTSD, anxiety and mild concussions and links to the amygdala, our centre for fear and emotional memory.
The PCC is also really active when people report difficultly shutting off their mind during meditation. In fact, researchers found after doing MRI scans of new vs. experienced advanced meditators that the PCC was relatively deactivated in the advanced meditators vs. the beginners.
The good news is that there is also new research showing that with daily short practice of a focused meditation, that you can start teaching yur brain to shut down your PCC and the default mode network and that is when the ‘struggle’ with meditation seems to just fade away and you feel like you are ‘in the zone’ and you can effortlessly relax your mind.
I have had the most success getting people into this ‘zone’ with meditation styles that have a clear focus, such as yoga nidra and guided meditations, moving meditations like specific types of yoga and Tai chi, and also through breath work practices.
These seem to be easier for the over active western modern brain to ‘get’ and start shutting off the ‘wandering mind’ parts of the brain quicker over time. Practicing a meditation technique doesn’t have to mean sitting and expecting the mind to become calm like magic, in fact that doesn’t really work at all! I like doing one of these practices I just mentioned, so yoga nidra for example, for 10-20 mins/day.
If you do this yoga nidra for 4 weeks straight this is a good amount of time to start seeing changes in how your brain works to shut off your PCC and DMN to help you cope better with stress, and feel more zenned in a hectic paced life and finally relax your mind! Even a 2 week mindfulness training course has been proven to decrease mind wandering spells and improve exam scores so it really is incredible how quickly you can actually change your brain and teach your brain to finally relax!