Why Meditation Can Eliminate The Destructive Forces of Stress

shutterstock_381784540Just like our computer has an operating system, and everything relies upon the functionality of that system, we also have an operating system in our brain. Sometimes, we have to reboot the computer due to a glitch, virus or some other problem. Other times you need to upgrade the operating system so the computer can continue to run smoothly.

Think of meditation as an upgrade to your brain’s operating system. Studies prove that by practicing meditation regularly, we rewire the way our brain processes information, and how we react to people, places and things in our everyday life. One of the slogans at twelve step meetings is “Think Differently,”with the “Think” upside down. Science has proven that we can in fact change the way our brain operates, and really think differently.

Meditation was originally an ancient Buddhist technique designed to quiet the “monkey mind.” Buddhist sutras teach that without the ability to quiet the mind, it is not possible to bring an end to actual or perceived suffering and move closer to enlightenment. Fast forward to the present where meditation has adapted these teachings for the modern world. The goal of meditation is to stay in the present, and simply notice feelings and thoughts, as they come and go.

Here is the undisputed evidence of the benefits of a regular meditation practice:

Less Fear: MRI scans prove that after an eight-week course of mindfulness, study participants’ fight or flight center (the amygdala), the primal region of the brain that handles our most basic instincts, appeared to shrink. This area of the brain is associated with fear and emotion, and is responsible for our response to stress. The degree of change was directly correlated to the number of hours of practice.

Less Pain: Researchers studied the reaction of experienced meditators to painful stimuli. The studies showed that the more experienced and committed meditators reported less pain in response to the stimuli. Even though participants reported feeling less pain, scans of their brains showed the same or more brain activity in the pain centers. So according to their brain function, they experienced the same degree of pain, but experienced less pain. Researchers attribute this to the meditators’ ability to exercise control, or become “uncoupled” in the anterior and cingulate cortex regions of the brain.

Feeling Zen: Even when not meditating, experienced meditators’ brains’ default, or baseline function, was substantially different than that of non-practitioners. Their brains functioned at the same level of non-practitioners when the non-practitioner’s were meditating. The researchers characterized this as the continuing state of “zen,” the result of years of experience and training in meditation.

There is no dispute that meditation works. Science has confirmed the benefits that practitioners have enjoyed for thousands of years.

My Experience:

When I first started meditating four years ago, I could not sit still for ten minutes. My monkey mind was all over the place – thinking about the past, the future, and everywhere in the present other than where my physical body was located.

I was never really present. In early recovery I smoked which made meditation and being present all the more difficult. Nicotine was an enemy because I always wanted a cigarette. I would have constant thoughts about whether I could sneak out of wherever I was to have a smoke. I was also constantly “craving” the smoke, so I was unable to stay in the present and enjoy.

I struggled through meditation, but over time, was able to focus for 20 minutes, then 30, then 45, and then more. Currently, I can meditate for about an hour. When I am under stress, even ten minutes is difficult, but I force myself to stay planted and focus. This helps to calm my mind, and move me past the stress. For the most part, I am able to rein in my “monkey mind.” Quitting smoking really made this easier.

I am still a beginner, and I do not really like meditation. It makes me feel uncomfortable. That’s exactly why I force myself to do it.

Recommended Reading for Beginners: Meditation for Beginners, Jack Kornfeld, The Power of Now, A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Echart Tolle.

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How I Went From The Brink of Heart Disease To A 22 Year Old Ethiopian Marathon Runner

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 11.06.22 AMVery few people come into recovery in good health. For me and many others, the reality is our health has suffered due to the consequences of long-term poor lifestyle choices, including alcohol and drug use. Rarely does someone in the throws of addiction ensure they are getting proper nutrition. My entire focus back in the day was feeding the addiction. I know that many others share this experience.

The Past

About five years ago, when I got out of rehab, I had issues with my lungs from smoking, constant chest pains, my gums were bleeding from years of putting cocaine on them and I would begin wheezing after walking even a short distance. I had my blood tested by Dr. Michael Bedecs about a month after getting out of rehab. Dr. Bedecs is a D.O. (A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and specializes in hormone replacement therapy and anti-aging medicine. When I asked him why I should have my blood tested, he told me: “Blood doesn’t lie”. He indicated that my blood work would tell him everything he needed to know about my health on the inside.

My blood test results got my attention. My blood sugar was elevated and I was in a high risk category for developing Type 2 diabetes. I had substantial inflammation throughout my body, confirmed by a higher than normal white blood cell count and a five times increased risk of heart disease based upon genetic markers in my blood.

I went into rehab at 140 pounds and weighted 177 when I got out of rehab 28 days later. I had a “muffin top” and was eating candy, bread, French fries, and ice cream like it was going out of style. I also started smoking one-and-a-half to two packs of cigarettes a day, and drinking coffee from the time I woke up until a few hours before going to bed. I smoked more cigarettes and drank more coffee in recovery than I did when I was using.

The point is, if I had continued with that lifestyle, I believe that today, I would be overweight, and my blood tests would reflect internal consequences of my lifestyle choices. Those consequences might include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health concerns that could have resulted from my early “recovery lifestyle.” Thankfully, my lifestyle changed, and that is reflected both in my outward appearance and my most recent blood work.

Type 2 Diabetes

It’s hard to not talk about sugar here at Spiritual Adrenaline, and for good reason. The number of diabetics and hyperglycemic folks in recovery for substance abuse far exceeds the general population. According to some studies, the number is as high as 93%. In December 2015, the Centers for Disease Control released alarming new data. According to the CDC, Type 2 diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure among adults. More alarmingly, Type 2 diabetes, a totally avoidable and/or treatable disease, is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Some folks have a genetic predisposition towards Type 2 diabetes, but most acquire the disease due to their lifestyle.

I have read scores of scientific studies that look at the major causes and best ways to avoid Type 2 diabetes, irrespective of genetic predisposition. In almost every study, the four factors leading to Type 2 diabetes are all lifestyle based: being overweight; a lack of exercise; poor nutrition; and smoking. The “cure” is obvious, and everything we focus on here at Spiritual Adrenaline addresses these four factors.

The Present

I have continued to have my blood tested by Dr. Bedecs about every six months for the last five
years. After every test, we go over my blood work and develop a roadmap for what I need to do to keep my body performing optimally. Dr. Bedecs described my most recent blood work as the equivalent of that of a “22 year-old Ethiopian Marathon Runner.” I feel like a “22 year-old Ethiopian Marathon Runner” and now agree with Dr. Bedecs that blood doesn’t lie. By testing my blood and working with a qualified medical practitioner, I gained insight into the damage I had caused my body and was able to implement a plan for change.

I turned my life and health around, and you can as well. With the exception of a two day cold when I finally quit smoking, I haven’t been sick for even one day in five years.

Spiritual Adrenaline provided me with the tools to retake control of my life, health and recovery. It can do the same for you. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself if we just stay out of its way. If I can turn the negative consequences of my using lifestyle around, so can you. You just have to want to change and be open-minded on how to get there.

I would love your feedback on this blog post and/or experiences. Please share on our Facebook page or email me at blog@spiritualadrenaline.me.

YOGA THERAPY FOR RECOVERING ADDICTS WITH NIKKI MYERS

Today I am excited to speak to Nikki Myers, founder of Y12SR-The Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, about how yoga can help newcomers in recovery. Y12SR integrates the cognitive work of the Twelve Steps with somatic healing of yoga. In other words, the mental and physical aspects of recovery. Nikki is open regarding what led her to found Y12SR and her own journey in recovery. Nikki is an inspiration to me and tens of thousands of others across the country and world.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Nikki. Have a great day!

Tom

HOW ALCOHOL DESTROYS STRENGTH TRAINING AND FAT LOSS

drinkIf you are serious about having a kick ass body and tearing it up at the beach next summer, there is no better gift you can give yourself than cutting out the alcohol.

So why does being sober help make the body you always wanted attainable? Here is what science tells us.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram.   Carbs contain 4, proteins contain 4, and fat contains 9. So only fat contains more calories than alcohol. Moreover, while rich in calories, alcohol is deficient in nutrients and contains almost none. So really, calories taken in by alcohol cannot help you achieve any goal in the fitness context. It can however, undercut your goals.

When alcohol metabolizes, it converts to acetate and acetyl coa. These substances signal the body to not burn any fat or sugar.

By drinking large amounts of alcohol and creating an imbalance of acetate and acetyl coa, your metabolism slows down, which interferes with fat burning and other body functions. As a result, you retain rather than burn fat.

Moreover, alcohol makes us crave food and even more alcohol. We all have gotten the munchies and sought out comfort foods while drinking. Often when I was drinking, I didn’t remember eating comfort foods until I found the wrappers or mess in my apartment the next day.   So even indirectly, alcohol increases overall calorie intake, and likely increases the intake of foods that are counter productive to strength training and fat loss.

So let’s make the most of our training now that alcohol is no longer undercutting our workouts and health.

There is one other benefit for people in the program. Early on, when people outside of recovery circles would ask me why I wasn’t drinking, I would tell them I was in “training.”   This was true, and gave me an out for having to lie to them about being on an antibiotic, or telling them that I was “sick,” or making up some other excuse to avoid telling them that I wasn’t drinking because I’m an alcoholic.

I much preferred having a healthy excuse, such as weight training, than pretending that I was “sick” and on antibiotic or some other medication. During my years of using, I had played the sick card as an excuse when I overslept, missed work, or was just barely functional. In recovery, I wanted everyone to know I was healthy and no longer wanted to use being “sick” as an excuse for anything.

 

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