Illustration of a man meditating

25 min read

Why We Start Meetings With Meditation


Description: "Scientific evidence suggests that meditation improves concentration and boosts creativity."


We’re guessing that when you picture meditation, your gut isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But, here’s the thing: your brain and gut are directly connected; therefore, meditation can have a rather significant impact on your gut and digestion. So, let's dive into the importance of meditation and why we make it a must when we start our weekly team meetings!


What is Meditation


During his life, Buddha instructed his followers that to end suffering, one must have a neutral or positive mindset. Today, with our better understanding of stress physiology, we can see there is depth and actual underlying science in his teachings.1


Through the practice of meditation, one can uncover the mental state that Buddha preached necessary for the end of suffering. However, as a practice, meditation can be quite hard to define because it varies for different people. For some, meditation is the quintessential image of someone sitting cross-legged while holding their hands in a 'Gian Mundra.' For others, it's as simple as closing their eyes and listening to the world around them. Regardless of the form it takes, meditation shares the same guiding principles and goals: live more fully in the present by connecting the mind and body and creating physical and mental peace and calm.


Today, meditation is growing in popularity in clinical settings, and its treatment ability is being studied for an extensive array of psychological and physiological illnesses.


Here are some potential benefits of meditation:


Meditation May Improve Concentration


One of the main touted benefits of meditation is its ability to enhance and improve concentration. This potential benefit is backed by a study that revealed that after only a few weeks of meditation training, people saw a noticeable increase in their focus and memory in the GRE's verbal reasoning section. Overall, the increase in score was approximately 16 percentile points which is no small feat.2


Meditation May Boost Creativity


Research suggests that our most extraordinary insights and breakthroughs occur when we're in our most meditative or relaxed state of mind. While there's a variety of theories on why the most common belief is that meditation encourages divergent thinking, which is a component central to creativity.3


Meditation May Rewire The Brain


A research team led by Sara Lazar at Harvard University discovered that meditation altered the structure of the brain. Their research observed that the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory increased in cortical thickness as well as the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and self-referential processing. Moreover, they observed a decrease in brain cell volume in the area of the brain responsible for anxiety, fear, and stress. Ultimately, these studies indicated that meditation not only alters the brain but also improves our subjective perception and feelings.4


Meditation May Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety expresses itself in many different forms. Meditation as a tool at your disposal helps one navigate anxiety's many forms by reducing overall stress levels and thus, lessening anxiety.5


In a study that took place over an eight week period uncovered that people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder saw a reduction in their anxiety symptoms after adding mindfulness meditation to their routine.6


Meditation May Improve Memory

According to research, our minds tend to wander 50% of the time. Studies confirm meditation training can help control our tendency for distraction and thus, strengthen our ability to stay focused and even boost our memory.7


How Are the Gut and Brain Connected?


So, how does meditation affect our guts and digestive health? Well, let’s start with the basics: the gut and brain are connected! The gut-brain axis provides feedback between your brain and your gut through a network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones. These updates include everything from hunger to stress. We all know what hunger feels like but you know that sensation in the pit of your stomach you get after reading your credit card bill? This sensation is an example of how the connection works: the stress you feel is palpable in your stomach.8


Theories about the gut-brain connection began in the 18th-century. French anatomist Marie Francois Xavier Bichat first discovered the gut had its own nervous system that was separate and independent from the central nervous system. Incredibly advanced for his time, Bichat referred to the connection between the emotion and the gut as the “epigastric center.” By the end of the 20th century, Bichat’s concept was better and more fully defined by Michael Gershon, who entitled the intestinal nervous system the second brain.9


Like Bichat, Gershon deciphered that the gut was closely related to your mood: when your gut is running efficiently, your brain is calm. However, when “pathogens” microbes that are dangerous threaten your overall health, anxiety spikes are transferred to your brain.10


But let’s take a step back: what is microbiota? To understand what the microbiota is, you first must understand that we live in a microbial world. Our earth is packed with microorganisms or microbes that have been here for billions of years. A microbe is a form of microscopic life, such as bacteria. Microbes are found on everybody on the planet, human, animal, or otherwise.11


In every niche of the human body, there is a distinct microbiome, i.e. a collection of microbiota. The main colonizations, however, are the skin, the airways, the urogenital tract, the eyes, and the digestive system. While our oral and pulmonary microbiota are important and serve a purpose, the preponderance of our microbial inhabitants resides in the gut.


Within the gut’s microbiome is an assorted community of microorganisms, including yeasts, archaea, parasites such as helminths, viruses, and protozoa, but the bacterial population is the most well characterized.12 While our microbes have a colossal impact on our digestion, the food we eat travels most of our digestive tract before it encounters the bulk of our important microbes. The food's journey starts in the mouth, then heads down into the esophagus and into the stomach, where digestion truly begins. Shortly after the stomach, your food finds its way into your small intestine, which breaks down food even further so you can absorb nutrients and put them into the bloodstream.


The rest of your food residue is passed into your large intestine, where your food finally encounters the bulk of your microbes. The large intestine harbors about 10,000 more bacteria per teaspoon than the small intestine, and these bacteria survive, if not flourish, on leftovers, primarily dietary fiber. Any food that the bacteria cannot or does not consume is excreted.13


Until recently, the prevailing opinion was that intestinal microbes were only concerned with digestive processes. But with new molecular techniques and bioinformatics, research has interpreted the role of intestinal microbiota in various physiological processes.14 Today, more and more data indicates that the gut microbiota communicate with the central nervous system through your nervous system, immune system and endocrine pathways and therefore, influence brain function and behavior.15 To get to this conclusion, researchers have used animal model studies. Through manipulating changes to the microbiome, researchers have first-hand witnessed the detrimental outcomes these changes have on the brain and behavior.16


Meditation & Your Gut


With a clear connection between the gut and the brain, meditation can potentially impact gut health. Researchers believe that meditation activates the parasympathetic response, or 'rest and digest.' By activating this response, one can theoretically ease digestive issues like IBS, support a healthy gut barrier and encourage a reduction in inflammation.17


As you can see, meditation offers a wide array of benefits, so much so, we still can't pinpoint one definitive reason why we start our Monday all-team meeting by practicing meditation. So, we asked the three team members who lead our meditation and asked them why they lead and what meditation means to them.


Here’s what they had to say:


  • Anne Dyer, Customer Experience Manager - "I found meditation practice in my teens, initially to deal with depression and anxiety, but its benefits weigh so beyond just that! When I first joined OLIPOP, weekly meditation was already commonplace during our team meetings, and I couldn't wait to jump on board to lead! I believe that our collective participation in this practice, sprinkled in with other mindfulness and self-awareness tactics, is one of, if not the best, ways to kick off a week."
  • Leah Dockstader, Trade Marketing Manager -"I lead meditations at OLIPOP because I care deeply about wellness, and I enjoy offering experiences that can help expand self-awareness in all of us. I have personally found mindfulness to be an incredible resource myself. I know being able to accomplish what we've set out to do and how we want to do it at OLIPOP requires clarity, emotional intelligence, and personal growth, and it's a joy to support that in the company.
  • Alexa Gray, Head of Social & Community -"I lead our meditation because we spend so much time plugged into technology these days. Even when we're outside, sometimes, we're observing the outside world through our phones. By intentionally turning everything off, we gift ourselves much-needed resets to feel what's real. We can do so much with that information; it's data to help us calibrate and create the day we need for ourselves. It's a time to calm our nervous system, be kind to ourselves, and let our minds drift off to dream a little."

Want to give the practice a try? Here’s a recorded version!



Sources

  1. Placek, Katarzyna. “Microbiota in the Context of Epigenetics of the Immune System.” In Epigenetics of the Immune System, 139–59. Elsevier, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-817964-2.00006-x.
  2. Mrazek, Michael D., Michael S. Franklin, Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Benjamin Baird, and Jonathan W. Schooler. “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering.” Psychological Science 24, no. 5 (March 28, 2013): 776–81. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612459659.
  3. Emma Seppälä, “How Meditation Benefits CEOs ,” Harvard Business Review, December 14, 2015.
  4. Hölzel, Britta K et al. “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry research vol. 191,1 (2011): 36-43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
  5. Hofmann, Stefan G., and Angelina F. Gómez. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 40, no. 4 (December 2017): 739–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008.
  6. Hofmann, Stefan G., and Angelina F. Gómez. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 40, no. 4 (December 2017): 739–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008.
  7. Seppälä, Emma . “How Meditation Benefits CEOs .” Harvard Business Review, December 14, 2015.
  8. Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health (Penguin Books, 2016).
  9. Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, and Ted Dinan, The Psychobiotic Revolution: The New Science of Psychobiotics and How Your Microbiome Shapes Your Mood (National Geographic Books, 2017).
  10. Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, and Ted Dinan, The Psychobiotic Revolution: The New Science of Psychobiotics and How Your Microbiome Shapes Your Mood (National Geographic Books, 2017).
  11. Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health (Penguin Books, 2016).
  12. John F. Cryan et al., “The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis,” Physiological Reviews 99, no. 4 (October 1, 2019): 1877–2013, https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00018.2018.
  13. Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg, The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health (Penguin Books, 2016).
  14. Karolina Skonieczna-Żydecka et al., “Microbiome—The Missing Link in the Gut-Brain Axis: Focus on Its Role in Gastrointestinal and Mental Health,” Journal of Clinical Medicine 7, no. 12 (December 7, 2018): 521, https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7120521.
  15. Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, and Ted Dinan, The Psychobiotic Revolution: The New Science of Psychobiotics and How Your Microbiome Shapes Your Mood (National Geographic Books, 2017).
  16. Karolina Skonieczna-Żydecka et al., “Microbiome—The Missing Link in the Gut-Brain Axis: Focus on Its Role in Gastrointestinal and Mental Health,” Journal of Clinical Medicine 7, no. 12 (December 7, 2018): 521, https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7120521.
  17. Keefer, L, and E.B Blanchard. “A One Year Follow-up of Relaxation Response Meditation as a Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 40, no. 5 (May 2002): 541–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0005-7967(01)00065-1.
Cheat Sheet
  • One of the main touted benefits of meditation is its ability to enhance and improve concentration.
  • A research team led by Sara Lazar at Harvard University discovered that meditation altered the structure of the brain.
  • Meditation may reduce anxiety and may improve memory.
  • With a clear connection between the gut and the brain, meditation can potentially impact gut health.

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