Last Thursday, rather than focusing on lactate threshold, we changed gears substantially and had a session dedicated to meditation. As we were all struggling through a much needed but difficult rest week, meditation seemed a more fitting topic. We began our Thursday night session by reviewing a recent journal article in Molecular Neurobiology (2013, vol. 48: 808-811). This article, by Jindal et al. is a review article succinctly, yet eloquently overviewing the neuro-physiological, neuro-endocrine and neurochemical substrates underpinning the process of meditation.
Perhaps we all expected the article’s summary regarding the ability of meditation to decrease stress and improve attention. And, after so many phenomenal yoga sessions with Vicky, I do not think that the article’s conclusions about decreased respiratory and heart rate with meditation came as a surprise. However, Jindal et al. also eloquently described the positive impacts of meditation on the executive functions (attention / memory retrieval) of our prefrontal cortex as well as our limbic functions of motivation. In these neural regions, stress promotes apoptosis (a.k.a. programmed cell death or I prefer ‘cell suicide’). This cell death can lead to memory impairment and meditation decreases such stress.
But perhaps even more interesting are the impacts of meditation on neurotransmitters / neuroendocrinology. Melatonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. During meditation, melatonin decreases and this likely helps to balance sleep. The feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin is increased in meditators. Finally, (and always a buzzword to athletes), nitric oxide (the superhero healer) is enhanced!
After we talked about this article, we did lunar flow yoga on our back porch while the sun was setting. We ended with a focused attention meditation. And as we allowed passing thoughts to float in and gently back out, I think we all wondered why we did not do this more often. For me, as I pictured my breath, in bright yellow, I could sense those around me and perhaps that did just as much as the meditation to bring me peace.