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[The following is the full transcript of this video blog. Please note that this video, like all of Dr. Chiu's blog videos, features Dr. Chiu speaking extemporaneously– he is unscripted for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!]
Hey my friends. I'm Dr. Titus Chiu. And this is the modern brain.
And so maybe you decided to give meditation a try. And so you sat down, try to calm your brain and your thoughts, but you gave up because you were frustrated that you couldn't calm your thoughts down.
Or perhaps you felt even worse and more anxious and stressed while you sat down to meditate, or simply it didn't work at all.
And so you felt broken because meditation seemed to work for everyone else. But let me tell you something:
Meditation probably just wasn't the best first step for you to take for you to fix your brain. I hate to break it to you but you were set up to fail. Let me explain why.
Imagine your nervous system is like a house and in your house, you should have a roof and you also should have a really strong foundation.
If the foundation of your house is unstable, then your roof will be weak as well. And if it rains, it'll be really difficult to keep water from leaking in.
Just like those pesky thoughts that are leaking into your mind when you try to sit down to meditate.
Well, guess what? The same thing is true for your nervous system. If the foundation is unstable and weak, then your roof will be as well.
In this case, the roof of your nervous system is what we call the neocortex. And it's made up of many different parts. The one we want to focus on today is what we call the prefrontal cortex which sits literally right behind your forehead.
Guess which area of your nervous system is challenged when you try to sit down and meditate?
Yep, you guessed it, the prefrontal cortex.
Meditation is a powerful prefrontal cortex exercise– a very powerful one indeed. And when you practice meditation, you can trigger neural plasticity in the brain cells that make up your prefrontal cortex.
And the more you do it, it can lead to feelings of calm, and compassion, presence, gratitude, joy, and all the wonderful feelings and emotions that are part of the human experience all the wonderful things in life.
But if the foundation of your nervous system is out of balance, then it's a completely different story. When you try to sit down and meditate, you can end up feeling more anxious and stressed and just uncomfortable and just not be able to do it.
And you just wonder to yourself, "Why me? Why isn't meditation work for me? Why does it work for everybody else except for me? When I sit down to meditate I end up feeling worse.
Let me break it down for you.
The foundation of your nervous system is also made up of many different parts. One of them being your brainstem.
I've talked about your brainstem in other videos but just as a reminder, one of the key functions of your brainstem is to keep you alive and keep you out of harm's way. So it's constantly checking out your environment for any signs of danger.
Think of it as the alarm system to your house. If your brainstem is out of balance, your nervous system can be set in the fight or flight mode 24 seven, meaning you can feel stressed all the time, anxious, feel like something's going wrong in your life, even if everything is actually fine in your external environment in your life situation.
Just like a faulty alarm system that goes off all the time, even if there are no intruders trying to break into your home. That's what an out of balance brainstem looks like.
And so no matter how much you try to sit down, meditate and calm your nerves, it'll be an uphill battle. Because guess who's gonna win in that fight between the prefrontal cortex and your brainstem?
Yep, you guessed it, your brainstem. Because it's one of the oldest structures in your nervous system. And, again, it's all about survival.
If you're being threatened or being chased by a lion, you're not going to sit down and write poetry and paint beautiful pictures and write gorgeous, lyrical novels.
You're going to get your booty out of there as soon as you can. That's the job of your brainstem.
So if your brainstem or the other foundational areas of your nervous system are out of balance, you'll have weakness in the roof of your nervous system and the rain will keep falling on your head, keeping you from reaping the full benefits of meditation.
When you try to sit down to meditate in challenge your prefrontal cortex, it's gonna be an uphill battle.
So what do you do instead?
You have to start strengthening the foundation of your nervous system first.
Now, don't get me wrong. Meditation is one of the best things you can actually do for your brain. If your prefrontal cortex is strong enough and has the bandwidth to be able to withstand that level of exertion and effort, it's like lifting heavy weights when you try to sit down and meditate.
I practice meditation all the time. Every single day. I've built it into my self-care routine. But when I was recovering from my concussion, and my brain was broken and inflamed, and the foundation of my nervous system by brainstem was set on high alert, it was so difficult and challenging for me to meditate as well.
And I beat myself up about it. I'd be like, why can't I just sit down and focus and meditate?
Well, then I realized, well, if my brainstem is set on high alert, there's no way that my prefrontal cortex will be able to do what it needs to do, to really reap the benefits from meditation.
And so with that realization, I stopped beating myself up for it.
And I began to be more gentle with myself.
And I encourage you, if you struggle with meditation, and you're beating yourself up for it, be gentle with yourself as well.
So if you have difficulty with meditation, just sitting still for long periods of time, and you feel stressed and anxious, and you feel worse after doing so here's a simple trick to try instead– walking meditation.
Instead of sitting down in a quiet place in a quiet room with your thoughts just leaking in through your leaky roof. What you can try instead is walking meditation.
Set aside some special time, about five minutes, find a special place where you can practice this, it can be indoors or it can be outdoors. And all you need is about the length of a room about 10 to 15 steps.
And here's how you do it:
Step one: take that first step.
Just start walking!
Step two: pay attention to the movement of your body.
So some things you can pay attention to are the movements of your arms, the coordinated movements from left to right, or the movements of your legs. And another thing you could pay attention to is the feel of the ground on your feet.
So as your foot strikes the ground, just bring your awareness to the feeling of the ground on your foot.
You can also try and bring your awareness to your breath. So as you're walking, instead of bringing your attention to the feel of the ground on your feet, or the coordination of the movement of your arms and your legs, try bringing your attention to your breathing, your breath coming in and out of your nose, or the movement of your belly or your lungs.
The point is, just bring your awareness to the sensation of the movement of your body.
That's how you practice walking meditation.
And so there you have it: one simple trick you can try instead of meditation, walking meditation. Simple, isn't it?
And the whole reason why it works, is because when you move, you're powerfully activating a foundational structure of your nervous system. In this case, this area that we call the cerebellum.
The cool thing about the cerebellum is it has a very powerful bridge, a neurological neuroanatomical pathway– that connects with guess where? Your brainstem.
So when you're moving your cerebellum helps to balance an unstable brainstem. And what does that do? It removes one of the major obstacles keeping your brain from reaping the benefits of meditation.
So if you have trouble just practicing meditation and sitting down and calming your thoughts, try this simple trick instead, walking meditation.
Now to be honest, there really is no right or wrong way to meditate. And so for those of you out there who find it difficult to meditate, part of that practice is being okay with whatever feelings come up.
Regardless if they are feelings of discomfort, or your mind racing or you feel more stressed. That's part of the practice of meditation in and of itself.
But there are right ways for personalizing the practice of meditation to where your brain is right now.
And so practicing walking meditation can be a wonderful way to ease yourself into a more advanced practice of sitting meditation, which really powerfully challenges your prefrontal cortex.
And the beautiful thing is regardless if you practice walking meditation, or sitting meditation or all the other wonderful techniques and practices of meditation out there, the more you practice them to the beauty and the miracle of neuroplasticity, you will get better at it.
So stick to it.
Whatever practice you do, try out and remember, as you're getting started out in any new endeavor, any new practice, be gentle with yourself.
If you enjoyed this video, subscribe to my YouTube channel.
And if you'd like to learn more simple tricks to strengthen the foundation of your nervous system, download my free book "COMMON SENSES". You'll learn a revolutionary approach to healing your brain by using your five common senses.
You also learned the six key ingredients for total brain health.
And finally, you'll find the top five sensory exercises that you can do to strengthen the foundation of your nervous system.
My name is Dr. Titus Chiu. Thanks so much for watching, and this has been the Modern Brain.