by: Victoria Frosini, MS, CPT

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She earned her Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2013, where she conducted extensive research in weight loss, social support and cognitive behavioral therapy.
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Is Meditation the Key to Evolutionary Fitness?

We live in a perceivably tech-dominated world hyper-focused on the instagram filtered definition of success. Within moments of waking, we frantically check emails and text messages, scroll through three or four social media apps; we move through life seeking stimulus and immediate reward. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to listen to our body’s internal messaging systems. 

Why the human brain seeks reward.

To take things a bit further, there’s a chemical reason why it’s nearly impossible to disconnect. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, sends chemical messages from the central nervous system to cell receptors. These signals exchange information for movement and speech, while simultaneously managing pathways for expectation and reward. Our choices are based on leveraging expectations, which cause us to seek interaction with the anticipation of connection. When we lack connection, whether real or perceived, we view the loss as a missed chance to engage in the opportunity for reward. Since our brains are hardwired to seek reward, the cycle repeats and our unconscious actions become habits.

Can meditation break this cycle ?

The accolades and health claims surrounding meditation are compelling. Meditation has been strongly correlated to positive mental health through the reduction of stress and anxiety and improvement in sleep quality. Data suggests that just 20 minutes of daily meditation can reduce anxiety by as much as 22% in healthy subjects. Meditation has been linked to increasing emotional intelligence, mental cognition, memory, and flexible leadership. Research in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease illustrate that mindfulness promotes disease prevention through the downregulation of inflammatory genes, upregulation of immune-defense markers, improved insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. 

Well known players in fitness and healthcare are pivoting from traditional programming to an expansive focus on meditation and mindfulness. Meditation has been endorsed by professional athletes, CEOs, and medical practitioners as the secret sauce for combatting anxiety and depression and improving holistic mental health and self-awareness.

Here are four steps to lean into meditation practice:

  1. Adopt a flexible, non judgemental approach to starting a meditation practice. For example, implement a dedicated time of the day to utilize a meditation app, gratitude journal, or simply take time for reflection. Find windows in your day to connect to your feelings and emotions and complete a body scan without distraction. Start small with little to no expectation.
  2. Tap into guided yoga, meditation, or deep breathing techniques. These tools are particularly helpful when you’re having trouble quieting your mind. By committing to a class you’re training the brain to form a habit around meditation practice. Eventually this habit will become second nature.
  3. Implement structured work and school breaks to connect with others, take a walk in nature, or eat a nourishing meal. When you return to work notice improved creativity, productivity, courage and self-acceptance.
  4. Practice mindful eating. Notice the smell, taste, and texture of your meals. Chew slowly and avoid distractions at mealtime. Honoring each meal helps train hunger and satiety cues and promotes a healthier relationship with food. 

xx,

WeCollab

Resources:

Stauffer, W. R., Lak, A., Kobayashi, S., & Schultz, W. (2016). Components and characteristics of the dopamine reward utility signal. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524(8), 1699–1711.

De-Sola Gutiérrez J, Rodríguez de Fonseca F and Rubio G (2016) Cell-Phone Addiction: A Review. Front. Psychiatry 7:175.

Wilmer, H. H., Sherman, L. E., & Chein, J. M. (2017). Smartphones and Cognition: A Review of Research Exploring the Links between Mobile Technology Habits and Cognitive Functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 605.

Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2014). Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(6), 751–759.

Burke, A., Lam, C. N., Stussman, B., & Yang, H. (2017). Prevalence and patterns of use of mantra, mindfulness and spiritual meditation among adults in the United States. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 17, 316.

Zeidan, F., Martucci, K. T., Kraft, R. A., McHaffie, J. G., & Coghill, R. C. (2014). Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(6), 751–759.

Khalsa, D. S. (2015). Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 48(1), 1–12.

Voon, V., Gao, J., Brezing, C., Symmonds, M., Ekanayake, V., Fernandez, H., … Hallett, M. (2011). Dopamine agonists and risk: impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s; disease. Brain, 134(5), 1438–1446.

Schultz, W. (2015). Neuronal Reward and Decision Signals: From Theories to Data. Physiological Reviews, 95(3), 853–951.

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