Self Awareness and Meditation: Tools for Mental and Physical Health

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           As human beings, being able to experience emotions can be a great gift: We can feel pride in our accomplishments, love in our relationships, and find meaning and joy in many of our experiences. However, we can also feel the pull of negative emotions – sadness, fear, pain, and stress to name a few. And, as opposed to the enrichment we can feel from positive experiences of emotion, negative emotions can take a toll on our mental and physical health and well-being. Fortunately, self-awareness can lessen the impact of negative emotions on our lives.

           Neuroscience provides an interesting explanation for why we can be self-aware and how self-awareness can help in the experience of negative emotions. A brief, and very simplified explanation of the brain and emotions is useful in understanding the work of Rudolph Tanzi, a neuroscientist at Harvard: Emotions develop in a primitive part of the brain (the limbic brain), whose function is to help ensure the survival of our species. Newer parts of the brain (the neocortex) provide us with the ability to be self-aware and an ability to observe the emotions we experience rather than just instinctively responding to them. Tanzi explains that rather than responding to emotions, it is best to observe them because it leads to the realization that since emotions are delivered by the brain they are not who we are as people (the distinction between “I feel sad” versus “I am sad”).

            Meditation can help us realize that we are more than patterns of thoughts, desires and memories. As Deepak Chopra teaches us, we are fields of energy and consciousness which can be shifted to correct ideas that have gone wrong (causing us health problems). If we can work to heal one mode of consciousness (the mind) it can bring about positive changes in another mode of consciousness (the body). Lissa Rankin, MD similarly believes meditation can help us to heal our bodies. She teaches that when stressed, the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms that can help us to repair various ailments are broken down (therefore, infection cannot be fought, homeostasis in the body is disturbed). Meditation leads to awareness of the stress we’re facing and an activation of a bodily relaxation response, which in turn bolsters the body’s self-repair mechanisms.

            We are so much more than our negative emotions – they do not have to rule our lives. Through increased awareness and observation of these feelings, we can avoid the pitfall of becoming our negative emotions. And, through the use of meditation, we can help to heal ourselves.

Sources:

Healthy Net Deepak Chopra Interview; retrieved from: www.healthynet/scr/interview.aspx?Id=167

Rankin, Lissa, “Meditation as a Self-healing Tool”; retrieved from: lissarankin.com/meditation-as-a-self-healing-tool

Rudolph Tanzi, “Super Brain”; retrieved from: youtube.com/watch?v=6knQk43Rtrc

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