Posts under tag: Meditation

How Meditation, Breathing, and The Chorus Method Works: A Deeper Dive

Written by Ali Abramovitz 

Meditation

Not only can meditation make us feel better, but with consistency it can literally strengthen our brains. Yep, that’s right, we can actually rewire the neural circuits and strengthen physical connections in our brains. 

So, when you are meditating and feel control over your emotions, have an uplifted mood or positive outlook, you are actually training your brain how to do this in real life.

Numerous studies have found that meditation affects brain activity in some pretty awesome ways, including:

  • Reduced perception of pain (1)
  • Brain waves associated with feelings of calm become more pronounced (2)
  • Improved attention and focus (3)

Scientists have concluded that meditation leads to these positive changes by improving how the cerebral networks in our brain function. (4)(5)

Breath

But Chorus isn’t just traditional meditation. The Chorus Method incorporates controlled breathing, which assists in the regulation of our nervous systems.

Quick refresh: the autonomic nervous system is the part of our body that controls functions like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pulmonary response and others. The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts. First, the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight system, and second, the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest system. 

A common problem in modern life is that we are in a constant state of partial stress. That low buzzing of anxiety or subtle feeling of being on edge throughout our days, causing us to be irritable or impatient, struggle to focus, or have trouble sleeping isn’t just bad for our mental well being, it’s bad for our physical health as well. (6)

Good news, breathing can help! 

By using controlled breathing, like we do in Chorus, we stimulate the vagus nerve and actively control our autonomic nervous system. 

By breathing quickly and in a controlled manner, we intentionally turn on our sympathetic nervous system. This trains our minds to consciously access the nervous system, so we can control it. We turn up the sympathetic nervous system SO THAT we can turn it down and spend the rest of our days in a relaxed state of actual calm and no longer suffer from the chronic partial stress described above. 

On the flip side, by breathing slowly and in a controlled matter, we intentionally turn on our parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces blood pressure, relaxes our body, and calms our minds.

The Chorus Method

So…how does all this factor into Chorus?

The Chorus Method combines traditional meditation and controlled breathing, with music and personal guidance to make it easier and more enjoyable to improve the health of our minds and bodies.

We do this by starting off with concrete and tangible objects to focus on (breath, beat, teacher’s voice, tingles ✨) so that when we move into the traditional meditation on the back half of class, our mind is actually able to enter a calm state vs. wrestling to get quiet. You know the feeling when trying to FORCE yourself into a meditative state …yeah, we want to avoid that! 😉

You can think of the rhythmic “belly, chest, release” breathing as the “warm up” for the mind strengthening. Just like a physical workout, the warm up loosens the body up and gets the blood flowing so when you do the exercises they are more effective.

In this first part of class we harness the power of our breath, together with the music, to create space in our minds and bodies SO THAT we can effortlessly sink into that calm state we all love, and effectively strengthen our minds, by the end of class. 

Oxygen is the energy source for every metabolic process in our body and is essential to brain function. As we practice controlled breathing, we literally move oxygen through our bodies in ways that help on the molecular level to increase energy and brain capacity. Through this physical reaction, paired with mental focus, we create space in the mind so we can do the work of strengthening those “mind muscles.”

By adding Chorus to your routine on a frequent and consistent basis (we recommend at least 2 classes per week) you will feel tangible benefits outside of class like better sleep, more control over your emotions, enhanced connections with loved ones, and with time, greater overall fulfillment in your life.
Now…let’s do it!

Footnotes:

  1. “Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditators”, 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141301
  2. “Brain waves and meditation”, Science Daily, 2010: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100319210631.htm “Increased Theta and Alpha EEG Activity During Nondirective Meditation”, 2009, https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2009.0113
  3. “Mindful breath awareness meditation facilitates efficiency gains in brain networks: A steady-state visually evoked potentials study.”, 2018: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30209327
  4. “The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging”, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541490/
  5. Check out our  blog post “How Meditation Actually Benefits the Brain” for more on the physical changes in the brain. 
  6. Premier Health: “Beware High Levels of Cortisol, the Stress Hormone”, 2017, https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/beware-high-levels-of-cortisol-the-stress-hormone#:~:text=Cortisol%20narrows%20the%20arteries%2C%20while,may%20constantly%20pump%20out%20cortisol.

The Chorus Method

So…how does Chorus work?

The Chorus Method makes it easier to calm the mind by starting off with concrete and tangible objects of focus (breath, beat, teacher’s voice, tingles ✨) so that when we move into the traditional meditation on the back half of class, our mind is actually able to enter a calm state vs. wrestling to get quiet. You know the feeling when trying to FORCE yourself into a meditative state …yeah, we want to avoid that! 😉

You can think of the rhythmic “belly, chest, release” breathing as the “warm up” for the mind strengthening. Just like a physical workout, the warm up loosens the body up and gets the blood flowing so when you do the exercises they are more effective.

Once we’ve created space in the mind by using the power of the breath coupled with the music, we can effortlessly sink into that calm state we all love, and effectively strengthen our mind, by the end of class. 

As we breathe, we are literally moving oxygen around in ways that help our physical bodies on the molecular level, and carve out the space in the mind so we can do the work of strengthening those “mind muscles.” 

By adding Chorus to your routine on a frequent and consistent basis (we recommend at least 2 classes per week) you will feel tangible benefits outside of class like  improved mental clarity, mood, focus, and sleep, and with  time greater overall fulfillment in your life.

Now…let’s do it!

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The Art of Unplugging

The idea of unplugging is great in theory, but certainly difficult in practice. We are constantly bombarded with emails, texts, push notifications – it’s easy to feel spread thin, and like our attention is never our own. That’s why we love to take every opportunity we can to remind you to take a moment. Take a beat. Reflect on all that you are. Because you are enough.

When was the last time you didn’t look at a screen for an hour? 2 hours? A full day? We are so plugged in, it’s easy to forget that looking at a screen 24/7 isn’t great for us, physically or mentally. Perhaps start by taking note of your habits: do you pick up your phone as soon as you wake up? Before you even sip some water or say good morning to your loved ones? Acknowledging a habit is the first step to making change. Tomorrow morning, maybe have a glass of water, wash your face, take the dog out, and THEN pick up that phone.

After reading this, close your laptop, put your phone down. Step outside if you can. Take a deep breath, in through your nose, out through your mouth. AAAHHHH. Isn’t that nice? In the week ahead, try paying attention to your screen time; see if unplugging a little more than usual helps reduce those feelings of self-comparison and FOMO that social media so infamously creates. Observe how small conscious acts can truly change the way you *feel.*

We can’t wait to unplug with you in class this week!

Hang out with friends — it’s good for your health

Happy Monday friends of Chorus! We hope you had a wonderful weekend spent with folks you love! And not just because it’s fun to hang out with your people, but because social connection is actually extremely vital to our mental and physical health. In fact, over 70 years of scientific research has demonstrated that our relationships with other people are the single most important factor in determining our overall happiness. We need social relationships to thrive in this life!

We’ve spent the last week sharing the 7 principles of positive psychology from Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage and ways to practice these principles in our own lives. (You can check out all 7 principles on our Instagram page here.) And today we share the final, and arguably the most important principle about social investment – “In the midst of challenges and stress, some people choose to hunker down and retreat within themselves. But the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence [and happiness] — our social support network.”

Most of us do a great job at investing in our social networks – over the weekends. When we’re free from our weekly work schedules, it’s easy to carve out and commit to time with our friends and family. We can hop in the car and go explore a new place, spend a leisurely morning at the farmer’s market, finally take that hike we’ve been dreaming about, settle in for a game night – the options feel endless!

But then once Monday morning rolls around and we come face-to-face with our inbox and calendar, it seems like our investment in our social network is the first thing in our lives we sacrifice to make room for daily work and life responsibilities. We feel so stressed out by impending deadlines and agendas, that we deprioritize time with our friends and put off social engagements until the next weekend, or the next, or the next. This is a counterintuitive choice though – moments of stress and overwhelm are actually the moments we benefit most from having access to a strong social network around us. Exposure to our wonderful communities helps to increase our emotional, intellectual, and physical resources.

Mindfulness Monday Tip:
Plan a midweek friend meetup! We know it can feel daunting to think about engaging in a social activity midweek, but taking the time to check in and connect with others will actually help reduce those feelings of stress and anxiety. And we’ve got the perfect idea for your social sesh…

Bring a friend to class this Wednesday for your midweek meetup!

How Stress Works and How You Can Manage It

Not all stress is the same, and our relationship to that stress has huge impacts on our health!

We know stress can feel like a bad word, but that’s not really fair. Stress isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad” – our relationship to stress, however, can vary greatly and have important effects on our overall health.

Have you ever felt nervous for a new activity or first date? Motivated to meet a deadline for a project you’ve been working on? Startled when you walked into your apartment to find a surprise party gathered in celebration of you? Then you’ve experienced something called “eustress” – your body’s response to excitement. It’s a form of stress that most of us feel in small doses from time to time!

Have you ever woken up for weeks at a time dreading going to an activity or place? Have you ever felt panicked every time a notification goes off on your phone? Have you ever found your mind constantly racing with thoughts about work, preventing you from feeling present? Then you’ve experienced something called “chronic stress” – your body’s constant response to stressors that can have detrimental effects on your health and well-being. But don’t let that stress you out!

Meditation doesn’t eliminate stress, it changes our relationship to it. Stressors will always exist and our physiological responses to these stressors is deeply encoded into our DNA. But we don’t want to be dropping into fight-or-flight mode every time we get a work email, save that response for a time you find yourself on a sky diving adventure. Meditation helps us develop the mindfulness to pivot in those moments of stress and calm our nervous system and body to return to homeostasis; which benefits our physical and mental health.

Mindfulness Monday Tip:
Get outside this week! Leave your phone and smartwatch behind and walk around outside for at least 10 minutes a day. Take notice of the world around you – the sights, the smells, the sounds. Ground yourself in the present moment. This is an excellent type of break to take during the workday to help you feel reenergized and calm!

And for even more of a reset, head on over to one of our San Francisco classes to access those feelings of clarity and calm.

How Meditation Actually Benefits the Brain

We know that meditating makes you feel better, but did you know that it makes your brain work better? Not just your mind, but your actual, physical, brain.

For over twenty years scientists have been studying people who meditate before, during, and after meditation to understand what’s going on physically.

Benefits
Numerous research studies have found that brain activity is affected during and after meditation in ways that result in some pretty awesome benefits:

  • Reduced perception of pain(1)

  • Brain waves associated with feelings of calm become more pronounced(2)

  • Improved attention, focus, and ability to visually track multiple objects(3)

Scientists concluded that meditation leads to these positive changes by improving how the cerebral networks in our brain actually function.(4)

But what about physiological change? When we improve our muscle function – i.e. grow stronger – we can see physiological change; we get bigger muscles. Our brains are harder to observe, inside our heads after all.

Nevertheless, one aspect of physiological change has been documented. Scientists have shown that the grey matter in our brain – the area where most brain activity takes place – actually increases in mass with meditation.(5)

See! You think better; you get bigger thinking muscles.

…..Now, if you like us, have found it challenging to develop a meditation practice, even after knowing these amazing benefits, then join us for Chorus! During our signature classes, we combine different mindfulness techniques and breathe to the beat of an energizing playlist designed to make it easier to turn down the noise in our minds and ensure you feel something from your very first session. You’ll leave feeling calm, clear, and connected. Most importantly, we’ll help you change meditation from something you know you *should* do to something you actually *WANT* to do.

Until next time!
Ali & MK

Footnotes:

(1) “Cortical thickness and pain sensitivity in zen meditators”, 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141301

(2) “Brain waves and meditation”, Science Daily, 2010: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100319210631.htm
“Increased Theta and Alpha EEG Activity During Nondirective Meditation”, 2009, https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2009.0113

(3) “Mindful breath awareness meditation facilitates efficiency gains in brain networks: A steady-state visually evoked potentials study.”, 2018: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30209327

(4) “The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging”, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541490/

(5) “Eight weeks to a better brain”, The Harvard Gazette, 2011, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

(6) “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.”, 2006, https://europepmc.org/articles/pmc1361002

How Meditation Can Help You Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep

Sleep! We know we need it. We know how important it is. We know how good we feel when we get a full 8 hours of it! And yet, falling soundly asleep at night seems to grow increasingly difficult in our hyperconnected and stressed-out world. We pull our gaze away from our screens long enough to try and shut our eyes, only to find that the moment we do, our brain begins to conjure up an exhaustive array of thoughts, stories, and dramas. Well what if we told you we had a way to quiet all that noise and help you get the 7-9 hours of restorative sleep you deserve?

Because we do! And it’s as simple as focusing on your breath for a concentration of time each day. Yep, we’re talking about yet another benefit of meditation. Every time we meditate, we are training our brain to let go of the tension and stress we feel when we hold on too tightly to our thoughts. Sometimes it feels like this tension peaks when we lay our heads down to sleep and, suddenly, all we have left is our thoughts.

And you don’t even need to meditate right before bed to have it drastically improve your sleep! It’s the consistent practice that makes it easier to drop into that calm and quiet state at any time. By developing a regular meditation habit, you strengthen your brain’s ability to let go of focusing on the noise it likes to create. Which helps you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep through the night. And a full night of sleep is VITAL to your physical, emotional, and overall well-being. It improves mood, focus, energy, your metabolism, your immune system, OMG we could go on and on about the importance of sleep but we know you get it and we don’t want to stress you out if you feel like you’re not getting enough 🙂

So here are some quick tips on how to help quiet that brain at night:

1. Try to keep your phone out of your bedroom! And not just because exposure to blue light affects our REM cycles, but keeping your phone away prevents you from giving into that temptation to let your thoughts take over and wind up down a Wikipedia rabbit hole or unimportant email purging.

2. As you lay down to sleep, close your eyes and begin a body scan. Starting at the bottom of your feet, gently move your focus along your legs, your torso, your chest, arms, shoulders, and ending finally at your head. As your focus moves up your body, pause and take a moment to really FEEL that body part. Thank it for all it’s done for you that day. And intentionally shut it off, giving it permission to rest.

3. Start to count your breaths backwards, starting at 999, with every cycle of inhale and exhale as one. As soon as you notice your mind wander to a thought or a feeling, gently begin counting again at whatever number you last recall.

And, as always, we think one of the BEST ways to improve your sleep and overall well-being is to join the Chorus.

We can’t wait to see you there!
Ali & MK

Free Your Mind and Unlock Your Creativity

Do you ever feel stuck in a bit of a creative rut? You’re not alone. We have been there many a time (and will likely end up there again in the future). We talked about it a bit in this Instagram post.

It’s often not a lack of inspiration keeping us from fulfillment; it’s our focus on the busy, inconsequential chatter of our hurried thoughts. It’s difficult to access our infinite creative flow when we’re too caught up in the stories of our mind or too numb from all the patterns of behavior we use to distract ourselves from that chatter.

How often have you found yourself sitting at your desk to embark on a project you’ve been meaning to start, only to feel defeated after spending 45 minutes on a mind social media deep dive? Or felt crippled to begin at all because of some paralyzing narrative your brain has begun to weave? It can make us feel like our creativity is lacking or has abandoned us. But in reality, inspiration is waiting patiently for us, just beneath the clutter of our thoughts.

That’s why meditation can be such a powerful tool in unlocking our imaginations. We quiet the busy noise and create space in our consciousness for our brain’s ingenuity. Have you ever had an “aha!” moment in the shower? Left a challenging fitness class feeling inspired? Come up with a great idea during a long drive on an empty road? When we engage in activities that let our mind focus on one thing, suddenly it’s not focusing on all the other millions of things it usually likes to give its attention to. But these do not need to be limited to accidental moments of mindfulness, we can access them all the time through intentional meditation.

So here’s a quick meditation to start welcoming a little inspiration:

1. Find a quiet place – maybe at home, in the office, outside on a park bench.
2. Set a timer on your phone for 1 minute. Yep, that’s all you need.
3. Sit down and begin to take deep inhales through the nose and exhales out through the mouth. On your third exhale, gently allow your eyes to flutter shut.
4. And then just observe your breath. Notice its quality, where you feel it in your body, you can even start to count it. And as soon as your mind starts to wander to a thought or feeling, gently draw it back to your breath. When your timer goes off, open your eyes and take a moment before getting up and carrying on with your day.

And if you think you might benefit from a little more than a minute of mindfulness, join us for our regularly scheduled Chorus classes.

We can’t wait to see you there!
Ali & MK

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