Meditation and Fried Lizards

Do you ever feel run down? Burnt out?  How do you break the cycle of chronic stress and burnout?  Most people choose unhealthy ways to relax when feeling fried-think overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and just about any bad habit or addiction out there.  These are all the result of normal people trying to feel better.  What can you do that will help you feel more restored, rested, and less run down?

Meditation is becoming widely recognized as one of the top ways to relax, restore central nervous system balance, and even live a longer.  Meditating is one of several primary ways to elicit the relaxation response, a function of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.  What is that?  Why does it matter?  

Skip this if you understand the central nervous system.  You have a central nervous system comprised of two parts:  the sympathetic (think of it as sympathetic to your fears) and the parasympathetic.  Chronic stress is another way of saying that your shifts are stuck somewhere between the two, putting you in no man’s land and generally putting wear and tear on your body.  The best way to alleviate chronic stress and decrease circulating levels of cortisol is regular, daily elicitation of the relaxation response.

Research on the brains of Tibetan Buddhists, those who have mastered the skill of meditation, have shown interesting differences in the corpus callosum (the middle part linking the left and right hemispheres) of their brains versus the normal population.  It’s much thicker than the average Joe’s, and the parts of the brain associated with negative emotion are smaller than ours might be. Conclusion?  This means that those who practice meditation regularly are more detached from their negative thoughts and less likely to feel negative emotions.

Detachment from thoughts is the key to decreasing anxiety and any emotion generally thought to be negative like sadness, guilt, resentment, or anger.  In her book entitled, “Finding Your North Star,” Martha Beck suggests a quick visual exercise that has the same effect as meditation.  Since fear is generated from the reptilian brain, she suggests personifying one’s fear……as a lizard.  That’s right-as soon as you hear those anxiety thoughts kick in, envision a lizard.  Dress it up and personalize it in the most ridiculous way possible, and visualize what the lizard might say to you with the same thoughts that generally run through your mind when feeling anxious.  If you’re feeling fried or anxious, it’s your lizard brain kicking into high gear.  Practice this exercise to help you detach from your fried lizard on a regular basis, and you’re bound to reap benefits similar to those associated with meditation.

Remember-our emotions and stress levels begin with your thoughts.  Detaching from your thoughts instead of identifying with them will help you break the cycle of chronic stress, find restoration in the midst of chaos, and provide countless health benefits.  Meditation and the fried lizard exercise can both be tools for you this week.  Meditate for 10 minutes a day, or try a form of “meditation in movement” like yoga.  You’ll thank me later!!

That’s all from this Florida mom today, folks.  I have enjoyed having the munchkin home more this summer-kids are the ultimate Buddhas since they force us to stay in the moment, aren’t they?  Ta-ta for now!