Gravity is an indisputable force that has an impact on everything from the subtle foam atop your café cortado to the vertical alignment of skyscrapers. It is necessary for life as we know it, but is it also essential to our perceptions of that life? In this part of our series on gravity and the body, we will explore gravity, the mind, and meditation.
That gravity has an effect our thinking is the logical extension of “gravity affects everything.” Deep thought is the result of the vibrant activity of a very large number of neurons—the average human brain contains 100 billion of them. And though neurons don’t weigh much, they do weigh something and thus are subject to the influences of gravity. “In astrophysics, accretion is the accumulation of particles into a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter… Most astronomical objects, such as galaxies, stars, and planets, are formed by accretion processes.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accretion_(astrophysics))
Perhaps our thoughtful neurons are subject to a similar kind of gravitational stimulation?
Our language certainly connects gravity and thought as demonstrated in these idioms: heavy thoughts, ideas take shape, get grounded, lift spirits, pick up an idea, grasp a concept. Science does not make that connection and most online searches about gravity’s effect on thought produce articles about time travel and mysticism. Articles on gravity’s effects on the brain, however, are somewhat more grounded and less metaphysical. The lion’s share of these focus on the deleterious effect of weightlessness on brain function.
It seems our brains are built to respond to and grow against the force of gravity on Earth. It influences such essential brain functions as blood flow, the movement of intracranial fluid, vestibular stimulation, and proprioception. While these functions may not be immediately tangible in your everyday activities, you can easily affect them through meditation.
Optimal brain function relies on healthy blood flow and the circulation of intracranial fluid. These tasks, regulated in part by the aid of gravity, can be amplified through meditation. Brain imaging techniques reveal that even short-term meditation is linked to increased blood flow in the brain. These changes in the brain have been associated with positive mood, greater neuroplasticity, and improved attention.
Try this simple gravity meditation for ten minutes each day for five days. Notice if your results support the science.
- Take a comfortable seat – A comfortable seat is up to your discretion. It can be a simple cross-legged seat on a cushion; it can be on the couch, on a beanbag, on a bench, on the floor… Ensure that your environment meets the Goldilocks requirements of not too hot, not too cold. And that you will not be interrupted (i.e. put your phone on Do Not Disturb).
- Find grounding – Place both feet flat on the floor. Or if you are seated on the floor or on a cushion, widen your seat by gently moving the flesh away from your thighs and sitting bones – lean to the left, use your right hand to scoot your right buttock outward; lean to the right, use your left hand to scoot your left buttock outward.
- Close Your Eyes – If you are not comfortable closing your eyes, keep them open and unfocused.
- Turn your attention to your breath.
- Notice gravity – Reach the crown of your head upward. Lengthen your spine against the pull of gravity. Notice how your body responds to gravity with each breath.
- Breathe – With each inhale, let your spine lengthen even more. Keep that length as you exhale, notice your ribs falling slightly, notice your weight sinking into your seat. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, soften.
- Release – After several minutes of intentional breathing and noticing, return to your normal breath and let go of the noticing. Sit quietly for a few more minutes.
- Open your eyes.
- Stand up slowly. Notice the strength and dignity of your body in the act of standing as you pull against gravity.
With simple attention, you can use gravity to increase blood flow to your brain and influence your perceptions of space and time. Could this mean that gravity affects thought? Further study is indicated.
Frontiers in Psychology, 26 February 2015. Short-term meditation increases blood flow in anterior cingulate cortex and insula. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00212/full
Cohen, Wintering, Tolles, Townsend, Farrar, Galantino, and Newberg. (2009). Cerebral Blood Flow Effects of Yoga Training: Preliminary Evaluation of 4 Cases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3155099/
Space Biology Laboratory, Brain Research Institute, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA. (1964). Effects Of Gravity On The Functions Of The Central Nervous System. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11881646
Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D (~2017). Neuroscience for Kids, Brain Facts and Figures.https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html
Luis Villazon (2016). How does gravity affect brain function? http://www.sciencefocus.com/article/human-body/how-does-gravity-affect-brain-function