Thursday, June 30, 2011

Daily Practice

Isn't synchronicity an interesting phenomenon? It's often helpful when we're reinforced from several different directions in order for us to integrate the significance of a particular concept, idea, or principle.

I received that reinforcement this week from two different sources: first, when I listened to Sunday's NPR interview with neuroscientist Richard Davidson regarding his research on the brains of meditating Buddhist monks and, second, when I read Chapter 5 of Buddha's Brain.

Distilled down to their essence, both sources encouraged listeners/readers to consider the importance of a regular daily meditation practice as a way to rewire the brain and build a happier, healthier mind. Which, of course, leads to a healthier, more functional body.

In his interview Dr. Davidson described why it's important to engage in a daily meditation practice in order to effect lasting, positive change. He explained,
The classical model of Western psychotherapy which is, you know, a client coming to a therapist for an hour a week for a 50-minute session without doing daily practice in between just flies in the face of everything we know about the brain and plasticity.... So if we want to make real change, that's not a good prescription for doing it.... more systematic practice is necessary, in my view. This is something that comes directly from neuroscience.....
I think that most people still don't think of qualities like happiness as being a skill ... But if you think about it more as a skill, then it's something that can be enhanced through training. Fundamentally, I think that the kind of mental exercise that we're talking about is no different than physical exercise. People understand that they can't just do two weeks of physical exercise and then expect the benefits to remain for the rest of their lives. And the same thing with mental exercise.
In this same vein, Chapter 5 of Buddha's Brain, "Cooling the Fires," focuses on specific relaxation techniques useful for activating the parasympathetic ("rest and digest" or "pause") nervous system. The authors discuss diaphragmic breathing, progressive relation, mindfulness, imagery, meditation and the like as various ways to interrupt or intercede in the sympathic nervous system's "fight or flight" (or "simmer")response.

They also stress the importance of regular practice: The key to reaping the rewards of meditation is to develop a regular, daily practice, no matter how brief. How about making a personal commitment never to go to sleep without having meditated that day, even if for just one minute? (p. 86)

T'ai Chi Chih's creator, Justin Stone, repeatedly emphasizes the importance and necessity of regular practice. He believes that our 35 minute form can make a positive difference in our lives even when practiced for as little as 10 minutes a day.

In this morning's T'ai Chi Chih class one student diagnosed with Ataxia (damage to the cerebellum, the portion of the brain responsible for regulating movement) mentioned that he can spend as little as one minute practicing Daughter on the Mountain Top. This mini-practice allows him to walk across the yard when he's done mowing without depending upon his wife for assistance.

Here in the Western world it seems that we've only just begun to realize the benefits of regular meditation practice. It's my hope that someday soon the Hundredth Monkey phenomenon will take effect and all human 'monkeys' will engage in a daily meditation practice because, unexplainably, we'll synchronistically realize its mental and physical benefits....

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