Coloring Books and Meditation. What’s up with this? Why meditation is so good for us.

Coloring Books and Meditation. What’s up with this? Why meditation is so good for us.

meditation art

Wherever  I go lately people are coloring. They tell me it quiets their mind and they feel better after. This is so cool.

Meditation is the intention for attention. It’s suppose to bring us into the moment. We let go of the past and we stand firmly in the present. The more you meditate the better it gets.

Here is an article from psychology today on Meditation.

The science explaining why you should meditate every day. It’s called “This is your brain on meditation.”
“Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

For those of you who are curious as to how meditation changes the brain, this is for you. Although this may be slightly technical, bear with me because it’s really interesting. The brain, and how we are able to mold it, is fascinating and nothing short of amazing. Here are the brain areas you need to know:

Lateral prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that allows you to look at things from a more rational, logical and balanced perspective. In the book, we call it the Assessment Center. It is involved in modulating emotional responses (originating from the fear center or other parts of the brain), overriding automatic behaviors/habits and decreasing the brain’s tendency to take things personally (by modulating the Me Center of the brain, see below).

Medial prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences. Many people call this the “Me Center” of the brain because it processes information related to you, including when you are daydreaming, thinking about the future, reflecting on yourself, engaging in social interactions, inferring other people’s state of mind or feeling empathy for others. We call it the Self-Referencing Center.

What’s interesting about the Medial PreFrontal Cortex (mPFC) is that it actually has two sections:

Ventromedial medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – involved in processing information related to you and people that you view as similar to you. This is the part of the brain that can cause you to end up taking things too personally, which is why we referred to it as the unhelpful aspect of the Self-Referencing Center in the book. (In reality, this brain area has many important and helpful functions – since we were focusing on overcoming anxiety, depression and habits you want to change, we referred to it as unhelpful because it often causes increases in rumination/worry and exacerbates anxious or depressive thoughts/states/feelings.)

Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex (dmPFC) – involved in processing information related to people who you perceive as being dissimilar from you. This very important part of the brain is involved in feeling empathy (especially for people who we perceive of as not being like us) and maintaining social connections.

Insula: the part of the brain that monitors bodily sensations and is involved in experiencing “gut-level” feelings. Along with other brain areas, it helps “guide” how strongly you will respond to what you sense in your body (i.e., is this sensation something dangerous or benign?). It is also heavily involved in experiencing/feeling empathy.

Amygdala: the alarm system of the brain, what most refer to as the “Fear Center.” It’s a part of the brain that is responsible for many of our initial emotional responses and reactions, including the “fight-or-flight” response. (Along with the Insula, this is what we referred to as the Uh Oh Center.)

The Brain Without Meditation – Stuck on Me

If you were to look at people’s brains before they began a meditation practice, you would likely see strong neural connections within the Me Center and between the Me Center and the bodily sensation/fear centers of the brain. This means that whenever you feel anxious, scared or have a sensation in your body (e.g., a tingling, pain, itching, whatever), you are far more likely to assume that there is a problem (related to you or your safety). This is precisely because the Me Center is processing the bulk of the information. What’s more, this over-reliance on the Me Center explains how it is that we often get stuck in repeating loops of thought about our life, mistakes we made, how people feel about us, our bodies (e.g., “I’ve had this pain before, does this mean something serious is going on?) and so on.

Why is the Me Center allowed to process information this way, essentially unabated? The reason this happens, in part, is because the Assessment Center’s connection to the Me Center is relatively weak. If the Assessment Center was working at a higher capacity, it would modulate the excessive activity of the vmPFC (the part that takes things personally) and enhance the activity of the dmPFC (the part involved in understanding other’s thoughts and feelings). This would lead us to take in all the relevant information, discard erroneous data (that the Me Center might want to focus on exclusively) and view whatever is happening from a more balanced perspective – essentially decreasing the overthinking, ruminating and worrying that the Me Center is famous for promulgating. One helpful way to think of the Assessment Center is as a sort of “brake” for the unhelpful parts of the Me Center.

The Brain on Meditation – I Can See Clearly Now
In contrast, if you meditate on a regular basis, several positive things happen. First, the strong, tightly held connection between the Me Center (specifically the unhelpful vmPFC) and the bodily sensation/fear centers begins to break down. As this connection withers, you will no longer assume that a bodily sensation or momentary feeling of fear means something is wrong with you or that you are the problem! This explains, in part, why anxiety decreases the more you meditate – it’s because the neural paths that link those upsetting sensations to the Me Center are decreasing. Said another way, your ability to ignore sensations of anxiety is enhanced as you begin to break that connection between the unhelpful parts of the Me Center and the bodily sensation/fear centers. As a result, you are more readily able to see those sensations for what they are and not respond as strongly to them (thanks to your strengthened Assessment Center).

Second, a heftier, healthier connection forms between the Assessment Center and bodily sensation/fear centers. This means that when you experience a bodily sensation or something potentially dangerous or upsetting, you are able to look at it from a more rational perspective (rather than automatically reacting and assuming it has something to do with you). For example, when you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.

Finally, an added bonus of meditating is that the connection between the helpful aspects of the Me Center (i.e. dorsomedial prefrontal cortex) – the part involved in processing information related to people we perceive as being not like us – and the bodily sensation center – involved in empathy – becomes stronger. This healthy connection enhances your capacity to understand where another person is coming from, especially those who you cannot intuitively understand because you think or perceive things differently from them (i.e., dissimilar others). This increased connection explains why meditation enhances empathy – it helps us use the part of the brain that infers other people’s states of mind, their motivations, desires, dreams and so on, while simultaneously activating the part of the brain involved in the actual experience of empathy (insula). The end result is that we are more able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes (especially those not like us), thereby increasing our ability to feel empathy and compassion for everyone.

Essentially, the science “proves” what we know to be true from the actual experience of meditating. What the data demonstrate is that meditation facilitates strengthening the Assessment Center, weakening the unhelpful aspects of the Me Center (that can cause you to take things personally), strengthening the helpful parts of the Me Center (involved with empathy and understanding others) and changing the connections to/from the bodily sensation/fear centers such that you experience sensations in a less reactive, more balanced and holistic way. In a very real way, you literally are changing your brain for the better when you meditate.

In the end, this means that you are able to see yourself and everyone around you from a clearer perspective, while simultaneously being more present, compassionate and empathetic with people no matter the situation. With time and practice, people do truly become calmer, have a greater capacity for empathy and find they tend to respond in a more balanced way to things, people or events in their lives.

However, to maintain your gains, you have to keep meditating. Why? Because the brain can very easily revert back to its old ways if you are not vigilant (I’m referencing the idea of neuroplasticity here). This means you have to keep meditating to ensure that the new neural pathways you worked so hard to form stay strong.

To me, this amazing brain science and the very real rewards gained from meditation combine to form a compelling argument for developing and/or maintaining a daily practice. It definitely motivates me on those days I don’t “feel” like sitting. So, try to remind yourself that meditating every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, will keep those newly formed connections strong and those unhelpful ones of the past at bay.”

Amazing article. I know this is true because I feel it myself. It helps me be non judgmental 98 percent of the time. (I am human and when I have those moments I work hard at chasing them away. I thought I might get too blissed out and not care about things but it really helps with thinking clearly.

But Back to coloring. I’m very much for what ever works.

Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths. Pay attention to your body, especially around the neck and shoulders, and release any tension in the muscles. Give yourself a moment to relax.

Spirograph 2Once you’re settled, pick up a crayon or marker and start coloring. Move slowly and rhythmically. I recommend drawing or coloring circles and spirals first to get your hand moving in a circular motion because it can become rather hypnotic.

Don’t worry about staying within the lines, or about whether or not blue and orange look good next to each other, or about any other trivial details. Enjoy the process and don’t attach yourself to the end result.

Let your mind wander freely. Continue to move slowly. Simply relax, take your time, and fill the space with color.

Do this for ten or fifteen minutes.

Voila! You’ve meditated.

“Focusing on a single task like coloring pushes aside worries and stressful thoughts, helping you to develop the one-pointed concentration you seek 
in meditation.”

When coloring, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres, says psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala. “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”

In simplest terms, coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries. But it also “brings out our imagination and takes us back to our childhood, a period in which we most certainly had a lot less stress.” This leads us immediately and unconsciously to welfare, exposes the specialist.

“I recommend it as a relaxation technique,” says psychologist Antoni Martínez. “We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state,” he assures. We can also use it to connect with how we feel, since depending on our mood we choose different colors or intensity. “I myself have practiced that. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the color and the lines flow.”

I want a coloring book! I want coloring books at work!

Seriously this sounds like a wonderful way to help people get into their zone.

Let’s work together on our compassion. Let’s  be logical, balanced, see things more clearly. Lets keep those neural pathways strong.

Maybe we should be sending coloring books to our candidates instead of books about the environment.

Can one of you design one that is just for them?