Default Mode Network and Meditation

Default Mode Network and Meditation

Written by Jordan Yost, Perinatal Mental Health Counselor and Parent Coach

When we think of meditation, we may think “I must be calm,” or we may picture someone sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed quietly humming. These initial thoughts of mediation may feel intimidating, irritating or impossible for many reasons. As we explore what meditation is and is not, let’s look at common misperceptions and dive into what the science says behind why meditation may, in fact, support us finding that place of calm.

Calm – Quiet, not showing any strong emotions, the absence of violent or confrontational activity.

When some or most of our life experiences are patterned towards loud, intense, violent confrontation, meditating and being calm sounds like the very last thing we are capable of doing. Even if we have many experiences of calm, we may still have perceived a threat and our bodies reacted accordingly. However, meditation does not equal calm…at least not immediately.

Our default mode network is a system of connected brain areas that are active when we are not focused on what’s happening around us. This is what meditation is not. For example, when we are daydreaming or in autopilot mode as we move through repetitive routines such as when we are brushing our teeth or getting ready for work, we are acting from our default mode network. The default mode network can be helpful for creativity and for accomplishing tasks efficiently. However when we continue to operate in this default mode network and it turns into patterns of rumination on past or future events, this leads to depressive or anxious thought patterns. Over time, these patterns of rumination can lead to mental health disorders that cause major life challenges.

Meditation helps us notice when we are engaging our default mode network and come back to the present moment. Through meditation, we are engaging in a process where we learn to say to ourselves, “Oh, I’m ruminating on this thought or that feeling again. That’s ok. I’d like to come back to what’s happening right now.” Again, just as the rumination was patterned over time, so can living in the present moment be patterned. This act of self-reflection and choice around your thoughts and feelings can pattern you towards regulation, feelings of being in control of yourself and maybe even a state of calm. This is why meditation has benefits of decreasing stress and inflammation and over well being.

Spending time in nature can also get our minds out of the default mode network. Noticing small details of leaves or watching ants on the ground, awe inspiring views of waterfalls, mountains, or wildlife can immediately bring us to the present moment, which decreases brain activity in the default mode network.

The more time you spend in nature, the more time you spend meditating, the less time you spend in default mode, literally. Increasing your ability to live in the present moment brings joy, happiness and overall well being.

Meditation is not immediate relief. Meditation will not bring a constant state of calm and peace.
Meditation is confronting pain with compassion. It is traveling through chaos with gentleness.
Meditation is the boat you ride through the raging storm to create new anchors of peace.
Meditation is the path towards calm and on the way it’s a scary ride.

If you would like to engage in meditation, please explore our website for more information, particularly the Perinatal and Parenting Support groups, which have meditation woven throughout. If there ever was a period of time to reach out for help, becoming a parent would be it. If you have any questions about this article or mediation in general, please reach out to me and jordan@thegoldenwellnesscenter.com.

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