Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

The Science and Benefits Behind a Meditation Practice with Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness.

May 13, 2020

This is episode #60 on The Science Behind a Meditation Practice with a Deep Dive into Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness. 

Welcome to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator whose been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace and created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent trying to figure out homeschooling and working from home,  or someone working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.  After watching Dr. Daniel Siegel the past few weeks on his “Pep Me Up Talks”[i]  where he shares with an audience around the world about his books, tools and resources like the “Wheel of Awareness Meditation”[ii] that I’ve been using every day since preparing for his interview last year, I thought it was important to cover a deep dive into this topic to bring in the science behind meditation, to increase belief and credibility behind these practices that are now commonly seen in our schools, homes and workplaces.  We did cover the topic of meditation for beginners with Mindfulness and Meditation Expert Mick Neustadt in episode #25 with “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life”[iii] if you want to review that episode. 

I have been following Dr. Dan Siegel since 2015, reading his books, and learning from his resources, and on the interview I had with him for episode #28 on “Mindsight: The Basis for Social and Emotional Intelligence”[iv] (close to the end of the interview) we talk about what I have been learning from doing the meditation tool that he created. At the time—in October 2019, I had been doing his meditation every morning for 2 months. You can see this part of the interview here at (42:52)[v] where he asks me what I have learned from this practice, and although I downloaded this activity, and explored the Wheel in 2015, I didn’t start doing it daily until I was preparing for his interview, because I knew he would ask me what I had learned from this practice, and when I first tried it, and in the beginning, I honestly found it a bit advanced and confusing and didn’t want to tell him that so I put in some extra effort to understand it. If you have not yet tried “The Wheel of Awareness”[vi] Meditation, please do go to the link and download it, so you can see the image of the wheel, and try it out. This episode might make more sense once you do that and if you feel like I did in the beginning, don’t worry, it’s now been 8 months of practicing this daily and I’m just starting to figure out how to explain it now, so just try it and see what benefits you notice.

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I wanted to share Dan’s findings of asking thousands of people around the world, over the years first.  If you have ever heard him talking about the Wheel of Awareness, you will know that the idea came to him when he bought a custom-made round table for his office so that his patients didn’t have to sit at a regular table. His mediation has evolved over the years as he has shared it with experts, and those who hold scientific evidence of the benefits of incorporating a daily meditation into your routine and life. If you are listening to this podcast, you will want to look at the image of the wheel in the show notes so you can physically see each of the segments I’m going to describe. In his book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence, Dr. Siegel explains that there are research-based elements of mind training that should include 3 pillars: focused attention, open awareness and kind intentions towards others.[vii] This practice involves all 3 of these pillars and profound changes happen with the body when you do mind training. He also explains that a 3-pillar meditation practice (like his Wheel) changes the structure and function of the brain in these fascinating ways:

  1. There’s an integration of structure and function of the brain (integration means well-being).
  2. There’s a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol.
  3. There’s an enhancement of immune function.
  4. Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors.
  5. Reduction in inflammation via epigenetic changes.
  6. An optimization of telomerase—which is fascinating as it repairs and maintains the ends of chromosomes and slows aging.

Who wouldn’t want these benefits? The science is clear and proves that implementing a daily meditation practice improves your physical and mental health with many more benefits we will explore further.

 

Here's How Dr. Dan Siegel Breaks Down Each Segment of The Wheel of Awareness

 

Segment 1: The 5 Senses: Dan explains that we must send the “spoke of awareness” which is just another way of saying to focus on one of the senses at a time, to each of the 5 senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. With each sense, we move the spoke, so we are actively thinking and feeling about the data we are bringing from the outside world into our awareness, with each sense.

Segment 2: The 6th Sense/Bodily Sensations/Neuroception/Interoception: With this part, Dan takes us from head to toe, giving us access to the wisdom from within our body. This part helps us to become more aware of our organs, bones and muscles, and are probably parts of our body that we have rarely ever put our focused attention towards.

Segment 3: The 7th Sense or our Mental Activities

I’ve divided this segment into 3 parts to make this easier to understand.

PART A: This is where Dan asks us to bring any thought or memory into our awareness and see what happens. He reassures us that many things may come, or nothing at all. For me, this segment took some time, and when a thought finally did come, I just used this part of the meditation to solve problems I might be having, to see what kinds of solutions I might be able to think of on my own.

PART B: Now Dan asks us to examine the thought that comes in and pay attention to how it presents itself. Was it sudden? Did it vibrate or slide in? And how does this thought leave our awareness? Is it replaced by another mental activity or thought, and if not, what does the space feel like? To me, this part was really deep, and I could think of a thought, and strong thoughts would vibrate, but I don’t think I’m advanced enough yet to describe this any further.

PART C: Now he asks us to bend the spoke in the hub and just rest in pure awareness. This is where we feel fully alive, present and focused. I never really understood why he was asking us to bend the spoke, until I heard him explain it another way recently.[viii] If you have access to the show notes, look at the 3-P Diagram of State of Mind and see the shaded area under the x axis with a new axis called the z-axis. This shaded area represents awareness and it made more sense to me imagining the bended spoke, to create this shaded area. This part of the meditation many people talk about a feeling of peace, calmness and energy. This is where Dan explains that physics comes in to explain that “energy is movement from possibility to actuality” (the definition he got from asking quantum physicists what exactly energy is).  So, when we are in this part of the meditation, we can gain access to energy, peace, calmness, ideas and possibility.  This is what I have heard many people say is the reason why they meditate in the first place.

Segment 4: Our sense of connection to others. This is the final segment of the meditation where Dan asks us to focus on those who are physically close to us, friends or family, those in our community, city, state, country and around the world. This part of the practice allows us to feel a connection to others as we sent wishes of well-being towards other people in the world. This part is powerful as it really does help us to focus outside of ourselves and put some energy towards others. It’s just like sending prayers to everyone in the world you can think of.

I had some thoughts about this practice, specifically with the first segment where we strengthen our five senses. It made me think of the work I learned in the late 1990s through the speaker Bob Proctor, who taught me to live beyond my 5 senses, using the Higher Faculties of the Mind which are the will, intuition, reason, perception, memory and our imagination. This would be an episode on its own, but as we are strengthening parts of our mind, I think it’s important to include these higher faculties.

Andrea's Findings From the Wheel of Awareness Meditation

So, here’s what I learned after just 2 months of actively listening to this 30-minute meditation. I’m going on 8 months now of doing this practice daily, and the findings are more noticeable now than when he first asked me and I’m sure that another year from now, I will have a deeper understanding. I noticed:

  1. An Increase of Focused Attention with the 5 Senses: and that my awareness expanded with an increase in focused attention (which really helped to focus while working from home). Where your focus goes, energy flows, and what we are putting our attention on, grows, so you can imagine that doing this every day will increase awareness, and sensations within our 5 senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.
  2. An Increase of Awareness and Sensations Within the Body: I noticed with the focus on bodily sensations that I was developing or improving this 6th sense that I’ve mentioned in prior episodes that Dr. Stephen Porges calls “neuroception”[ix] where he suggests we must get better at sensing what’s happening within the body. When you get to this part of the meditation, Dan takes you through each body part, (starting with the face and going throughout the entire body) and it reminded me of an activity that my Mom told me she did that she believes helped her to beat Uterine Cancer in the late 1990s. She told me that during her treatment, she would go through each body part with her mind and pretend to chop up each cancer cell she saw with an axe--it sounds crazy, but she did this daily during her chemotherapy treatments and she was the only one in her group who recovered 100%. Her surgeons were so amazed at her results that they asked her to come in and speak to other patients while they were going through treatment with an explanation of what she did. As you focus on each part of the body, (just like we focused on our senses) you’ll notice with time that your awareness of the sensations you feel within your body, will increase as well, there will be insights that you can learn from these sensations like your “gut feelings” become clearer and easier to read.
  3. An Increase in Connection to People Around the World: With this part of the meditation, Dan asks you to send kind intentions to those close to you, and other people in your community, city, state, country, continent, and world. I noticed an immediate connection to others all around the world when I was thinking of them, and it had to be sincere, sending thoughts of kindness and well-being towards them. The attention was taken off me and what I want in this world, and directed towards other people, which really is a powerful experience. It made me see that even though I’m working alone, in an office, in Arizona, USA, that I am a part of a larger whole around the world and Dan believes that these words when said out loud, can make an impact on our body and the world.

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There is much more that we can say on this topic, and I know that with time, practice and as my own awareness increases, I will have a deeper understanding the 4 segments of the Wheel of Awareness.

I would love to know what you think. What insights do you see at each segment?

I look forward to your thoughts and will see you on episode 61.

RESOURCES:

[i] Dr. Dan Seigel “Pep Me Up Talks” https://www.crowdcast.io/e/PEPPTalk/5?utm_source=Mindsight%20Institute%20Master%20List&utm_campaign=8ccdbf6436-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_02_28_01_08_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_562796b3c8-8ccdbf6436-300769001

 

[ii] https://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/

 

[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast #25 with Mindfulness and Meditation Expert Mick Neustadt on “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/mindfulness-meditation-expert-mick-neustadt-on-how/id1469683141?i=1000453919865

 

[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast #28 with Dr. Daniel Siegel on “Mindsight: The Basis for Social and Emotional Intelligence”  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/clinical-professor-psychiatry-at-ucla-school-medicine/id1469683141?i=1000456048761

 

[v] YouTube interview of Andrea Samadi with Dr. Dan Siegel on The Wheel of Awareness Meditation Findings (42:52) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7pnea2Vbzc&list=PLb5Z3cA_mnKhiYc5glhacO9k9WTrSgjzW&index=21&t=0s

 

[vi] https://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/

[vii] Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J Siegel, MD Published August 21, 2018 Tarcher Perigee 

https://www.amazon.com/Aware-Practice-Presence-Groundbreaking-Meditation/dp/1101993049

 

[viii] Dr. Dan Seigel “Pep Me Up Talks” https://www.crowdcast.io/e/PEPPTalk/5?utm_source=Mindsight%20Institute%20Master%20List&utm_campaign=8ccdbf6436-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_02_28_01_08_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_562796b3c8-8ccdbf6436-300769001

 

[ix] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #59 with Suzanne Gundersen on “Putting The Polyvagal Theory into Practice” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/suzanne-gundersen-on-putting-polyvagal-theory-into/id1469683141?i=1000473826604