Category Archive Mindfulness

ByAnxious Minds

A Mindfulness Practice to Cultivate Nonjudgmental Awareness

There’s a space that opens up for yourself when you can sit with your thoughts and sensations and practice observing them without reacting to them—without trying to fix them or ruminate over them. It’s sort of like remembering your most horribly embarrassing moment and appreciating the pings of regret and shame—just finding some room to let yourself be human for a little.

The more we practice sitting with our whole selves non judgmentally (the good, bad, beautiful, and painful), the better we get at opening ourselves up to every kind of moment with discernment and acceptance, rather than judgment, reactivity and remorse.

Meditation gives us the opportunity to sit with discomfort—bored, achy, restless, and distracted, we choose to stay with it, anyway. We can find ourselves caught up in fear, disappointment, and self-criticism in any part of our day. That’s all common and normal. Meditation is the chance to practice giving ourselves permission to feel exactly what we feel, even when we’re not as okay as we’d like to be.

Meditation is the chance to practice giving ourselves permission to feel exactly what we feel, even when we’re not as okay as we’d like to be.

We don’t have to be falsely happy about anything, but we do need to openly face reality. Over time, we can more easily accept our challenges and navigate whatever we find from a place of equanimity, built through the practice of mindful awareness.

Nonjudgmental Awareness Practice

To allow you to fully experience this meditation, we recommend that you listen to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarise yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about fifteen minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position.

Sit for a few minutes, focusing on the sensation of breathing. Your mind will stay busy. Assist it in settling by noticing thoughts as thoughts, and then patiently returning to the breath. 

Now bring to mind something you don’t like that much about yourself, or that you wish you didn’t have. Choose something uncomfortable, but not overwhelming. 

Notice what arises. It might be a sense of physical discomfort, or an emotion, or an anxious thought. Give attention to all of it: the facts, your reactions, emotions like disappointment or frustration, and anything else that comes up.

If the practice becomes too uncomfortable, take care of yourself. Allow yourself a break, seek out support, and let go of the practice for now. Come back to whatever feels most appropriate in this moment.

As we continue a longer period of silence, sustain awareness. This is how things are. Each time you get distracted, come back to your practice. 

Acknowledge this aspect of experience right now as best as your able, without any need to fix or change anything for this moment. 

For the last few minutes, take time for self-compassion. On each in-breath, be aware that this is a challenge for you right now, and all people have challenges. On each out-breath, wish yourself the same happiness and wellness that you’d wish for your best friend. Perhaps: may I find strength and happiness in the face of adversity today.

On ending, come back with several breaths. End with a few minutes of meditation, simply feeling your breath move in and out, noting thoughts and letting them go. Set an intention to move forward with both acceptance and resolve

ByAnxious Minds

How Habits can get in the Way of Your Goals

Along the Pacific Crest Trail, hikers who set out to complete the entire 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada are especially vulnerable to quitting at two points: around mile 100 and mile 1,000.

Those who make it past mile 100 are the hikers who carve out new habits amid the challenge of their new lives: wake up, eat Pop-Tart, stuff tent into pack, walk. Wearing clothes clammy with yesterday’s sweat, squatting behind a tree to go to the bathroom, and eating ramen for dinner every night become the norm.

But hikers who establish those useful on-trail habits tend to get bored of them as soon as the novelty and challenge are gone. This disenchantment often hits around mile 1,000, at the beginning of Northern California.

Hiker Claire Henley Miller, who ended up quitting at mile 1,232 in 2015, described this phenomenon in her book: “It began as something new and invigorating and had lasted in this way for many suns and moons. But now, after participating in mile after mile of this one continuous event, the journey had turned into a mundane chore of waking, walking, and setting up camp; an ongoing cycle of wash, rinse, repeat.”

“Why did I end my hike with only 250 miles until Canada?” 2015 hiker Brett Pallastrini asked in his journal. “I was done hiking. I was mentally over it.”

Whether hiking a trail or pursuing other projects, the feeling of being “over it” can be so strong that we abandon goals that once excited us, even goals that we have the potential to achieve. Research into our emotional experiences around habits can help explain this phenomenon and keep us on track with our goals.

The downside of habits

Habits, those automated actions we repeat at regular intervals, help us achieve goals. Want to lose weight? Make a habit of eating breakfast instead of skipping it. Want to write a novel? Make it a habit to wake up a half hour early and write. The link between habits and goals is so compelling that it has generated multiple bestselling books.

What no one mentions—but those Pacific Crest Trail hikers saw—is that those same habits that you establish to achieve your goals can turn on you. When we get too accustomed to a particular behaviour we perform en route to a goal, we are more likely to quit. Like a marriage that has gone stale after too many years together, our goal becomes boring, and we look for new thrills.

In one study, University of Southern California psychology and business professor Wendy Wood and her colleagues asked college students to record what they were doing at one-hour intervals for a day or two: studying, exercising, or socialising, for example. They also asked students how they felt about that behaviour on a scale that ranged from very negative to very positive.

Wood found that when performing habitual behaviours, students reported feeling less intense emotions—and, in particular, less pride. This was true even when the behaviours had once been enjoyable, like watching TV or hanging out with friends. It was also true for behaviours that were important to achieving long-term goals, Wood says. Working and studying, two activities that contribute to a future career, were not especially pleasant or unpleasant for students when performed habitually.

Wood explains this phenomenon, the so-called “double law of habits”: “Repetition has multiple effects,” she says. “One is to strengthen the memory trace for an action, so that habitual tendencies get stronger. The other is to weaken your emotional response (boredom starts), so that you are no longer getting much kick from what you are doing.”

Even habits as longstanding and simple as brushing your teeth are plagued by the habituation problem, Wood says. If you give people toothbrushes that monitor when they brush their teeth, you find that most people brush consistently in the morning, to eliminate bad breath, but evening tooth-brushing gets neglected when they are too tired or busy.

“We speculate that people whose lives are characterised by large proportions of habitual behaviour can find that their emotional experiences become dull and subdued over time,” write Wood and her colleagues. One of Wood’s graduate students is currently investigating this question further.

How to combat habit boredom

While there is plenty of advice on how to establish habits to help you meet your goals, there is little research about what to do when those habits get boring. So what do we do in the meantime?

One way that people overcome this challenge is by figuring out how to add interest, fun, or passion back into those habits that move them toward their goal. You add passion back into a marriage by doing things you find fun together: going on date nights, for example. You can make habits compelling again in the same way.

For their 2015 hike, Catie Joyce-Bulay and her group downloaded a smartphone app with riddles—some of which took a day or two to solve. Her group also tried thinking of all the word combinations that PCT could stand for (Pina Colada Time, Partially Castrated Tiger). Other hikers turn their focus to blogging about the hike, or spend their hiking hours listening to books on tape they had always wanted to read—in other words, sharing their experiences with others or keeping their minds occupied.

But beware: Paradoxically, we sometimes reduce our enjoyment even further in attempting to reinvigorate our drive. It can be tempting to challenge yourself with new behaviours that set the bar higher; for example you might push yourself to work on your novel for 45 minutes every morning, instead of a half hour. But just making any change, even if it is a change that is beneficial for achieving your goal, doesn’t make an activity more engaging.

“You want to change things up to make it more fun again, not less fun,” Wood says. Thinking hard about what makes something fun for you is vital.

Focus on changing your behaviours so they bring you intrinsic joy, that sense that you love what you are doing and it is right for you. Université du Québec à Montréal professor Robert Vallerand’s work on harmonious passion finds that when we are engaged in activities that bring us that sense of joy, we tend to work harder and perform better. If you are able to introduce joy into the habits you perform en route to your goal, you may have greater success at reaching it.

Focus on changing your behaviours so they bring you intrinsic joy, that sense that you love what you are doing and it is right for you.

If your goal has gone stale, take a cue from the hikers and think about how to make it more compelling again.

For example, say your goal is to eat more healthfully. After deciding to add more vegetables and whole grains to your diet, you’ve gotten into a good routine of cooking healthy dinners for the last few months. Suddenly, you find yourself ignoring your planned recipes and stopping by McDonald’s after work more and more often. Your habit of cooking a healthy dinner has turned on you; it became boring and drove you to McDonald’s.

The solution? Sit down and brainstorm new ways to eat vegetables and whole grains that you would find appealing. Do you love going out to restaurants? Plan to go out to dinner twice a week for the next month and order only vegetable dishes. Do you think trying new recipes is fun? Challenge yourself to cook every grain recipe in the Joy of Cooking.

Of course, we don’t want to adopt behaviours that will compromise our ability to achieve our goals. “The challenge,” Wood says, “is to figure out how to change things up enough in your head while still keeping up efficiency.” If every vegetable dish you order at restaurants is loaded with cream and cheese, the additional fat you’re adding to your diet might compromise your original goal to eat more healthfully.

It is normal to be “over it” at some point as you work toward your goals. When this happens, you can decide to gut it out, or try to liven up the process. Adding fun back into a dull routine is a more successful strategy, especially when you’re further away from the finish line.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.
ByAnxious Minds

Defining Mindfulness

Mindfulness—where does it come from? Naturally, we hear this question a lot. We’ve addressed it on several occasions, including in a piece now online called “5 Things People Get Wrong about Mindfulness,” but it’s helpful to address core questions like this again and again. There is no final answer, no last word on the matter.

The many mindfulness teachers and advocates who encouraged us to start Mindful—and whom we represent in everything we do—believe mindfulness is an inherent human capability that belongs to anyone irrespective of race, creed, gender, you name it. It is our birthright.

What is it exactly?

Since it’s a quality of mind, it’s not easy (or even desirable) to have a single, agreed-upon-by-everybody, one-size-fits-all definition. Mindful’s definition says that mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness also refers to the cultivation of this basic human ability through methods, including meditation, mindful movement, mindful eating, and others. We call this “mindfulness practice” to distinguish it from the basic ability.

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Like many meditation teachers, we share the understanding that as our mindfulness is enhanced, it also arouses our connection to others—our kindness and compassion. And we can engage in practices to enhance these qualities as well. Mindful also takes a public health perspective as opposed to a popular self-help approach—thinking in terms of the overall health and well-being of communities, not simply helping a person here or there.

Concerning the question raised at the top—Where does it come from?—we can say the inherent human ability is our evolutionary inheritance, and the practices are our social inheritance, and they come from a variety of sources. The Buddhist tradition is the place where the largest number of explicit mindfulness traditions were practiced, but it seems certain that these practices predated Buddhism and were not necessarily religious in nature. There are similar practices in other traditions throughout the world, and many great Buddhist teachers—East and West—including the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, Sharon Salzberg, and others have affirmed that mindfulness and compassion can be cultivated outside of Buddhism or any religious context. If practices are helpful to people and increase their well-being, then by all means let’s practice them, from whatever tradition, whatever name they go by. We pay great respect to Buddhism and to all traditions of wisdom, and we also know that to reduce the pain in the world, we need practices that work and that can be practiced in the public square—where no one’s beliefs are given privilege.

We have seen the great benefit mindfulness can do when unleashed in public settings, in high schools in Oregon, in libraries in Los Angeles, in juvenile halls in Oakland, in grade schools in Baltimore, in hospitals in Boston, in hundreds of places. When someone’s life opens up for them, or is even saved, what we call it doesn’t matter much, but if you need a word, mindfulness is as good as any other.

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.
ByAnxious Minds

The Key to Raising Resilient Children

As part of the “Garrison Talks at the JCC” event series at the Marlene Myerson JCC Manhattan, meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg recently spoke with Dr. Chris Willard, a psychologist and educational consultant, and Dr. Mark Bertin, a developmental pediatrician and mindfulness teacher, about how to cultivate resilience in children.

Sharon Salzberg: Do you think it’s harder for kids these days? That’s sort of the common understanding or feeling.

Mark Bertin: I would say it’s a mixed bag. I think some of what we’re living with as a culture makes it feel like it’s harder for kids. It makes it really frightening to be a parent in some ways and frightening to be a kid in some ways that aren’t necessarily real. I think part of it is a lot of the information being fed and the pace at which we’re being fed the information make the perception of it seem different.

Then the flipside of that is, certainly, it is obviously a really unsettled, difficult world we’re living in. I think there is a reality to the sorts of conversations we need to be having, to the impact of technology and the internet on kids. It’s a little bit of both, I think.

Chris Willard: Yeah, I think it’s really different. There are new challenges, but there are always technologies (not screen technologies). We know more about child development. We know more about how to build resilience in our kids. We have more tools, but there are more things we need to use them on, because the world is just more complicated and more challenging. All of us who are parents, I think, can certainly see that.

I don’t know if it’s harder for kids, but I think it’s maybe harder for parents.

Mark Bertin: I think just the volume of information parents are exposed to is overwhelming.

Chris Willard:  And conflicting information. You can go and confirm what you want about your parenting style, just like you can about any political viewpoint you might have as well, right?

Sharon Salzberg: Interesting. How would you define resilience?

Chris Willard: I’ll steal Linda Graham’s definition. Linda Graham says it’s your ability to bounce back from life’s difficulties. The Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” We might say, “Life is stressful.” How well do we manage those stresses? How well do we encourage our kids to manage those? Which is different than: How well do we manage our kids’ stresses? How much do we give them the skills to deal with life’s stresses, which are inevitable?

Mark Bertin:  When it comes to family, I’ve always felt that if the basic teaching of a lot of this is that life can be pretty uncertain and challenging, and some of how we feel and live day to day comes from how we manage that situation, parenting is the crux of it. It’s a situation where we are invested more than anything else in the world, and yet there is constant uncertainty and change, and we can’t control and fix everything. So, resilience is both for parents and kids, as Chris defined it. In the midst of that, how do you bounce back when things don’t go like you feel they should?

Sharon Salzberg: Sometimes I’ve heard kind of the stress response defined as the stressful situation meeting the amount of resource we have within to devote to it. What helps create that sense of resource for a child?

Chris Willard: To me, this is where mindfulness can fit in, but I think this is bigger than just mindfulness. It’s about being able to face that stress. The stress response is fight or flea, or freeze and forget it, or kids will have a different F-word that they put in there, right? Basically, can we also face that? People are interested now in not just in the fight or flight response, but in the attend and befriend response, which I kind of think of as mindfulness and compassion. Can I show up mindfully to what this stress is? Can I maybe start to learn how to befriend that, have some compassion toward the situation or toward myself through it?

Sharon Salzberg:  Attend and befriend, doesn’t it also have to do with a sense of connection with others, like you’re not facing whatever you’re facing, in isolation, but some sense of community?

Mark Bertin:  When you look at a huge topic like resilience—obviously, all of us up here are interested in talking about mindfulness, but it’s not only about this particular practice alone. Robert Brooks, who’s just a brilliant researcher—actually, I think he’s more of a lecturer about resilience, talks about just the concept of having, for kids, what he calls the charismatic adults in your life. Just one really strong, deep relationship goes a long way to building resilience.

I think the same thing goes for adults. When I look at resilience, I think that’s always foundational to it, relationship, in addition to everything else we can talk about tonight more specific to various topics.

Chris Willard: A benevolent adult—I also think about the notion of the benefactor in someone’s life and in practice potentially.

Sharon Salzberg: I was on a panel in Berkeley, and somebody stood up and said to me, “Who loved you when you were young?” And I thought, oh, that’s an interesting question. Speaking of the parents or adults resource, sometimes I teach with Mark Epstein, who’s a psychiatrist here in town, who’s also written books on Buddhism and psychotherapy. One of his idols is D.W. Winnicott, who was a psychoanalyst in the ’50s. Mark always quotes Winnicott as saying, “Just be a good enough mother.”

He responds to the gender issue by saying, “Well, it was the ’50s. The people who were bringing the kids to see Dr. Winnicott were the mothers.” So, we’d say, “Be a good enough parent.” Someone in the room always raises their hand and says, “What’s a good enough mother?” And then Mark says, “It’s someone who can survive their child’s rage.” And the someone raises their hand and says, “What does it mean to survive your child’s rage?” And then Mark says, “You’re neither kind of intrusive and invasive nor shunning and withdrawn. You’re there with it. You’re beholding it.”And then I always say, “Well, that’s what we call mindfulness. We learn to do that for ourselves as well with the various things that come and go, emotions and thoughts, all these various states.” That’s something, that kind of holding quality.

Chris Willard: Absolutely. I come back to—people have probably seen this meme online that says: Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down. [laughter]I often think about that in terms of parenting and the work we do. What we’re trying to do is create a space in which it’s safe enough for our kids to be calm, but also safe enough for them to rage and still feel that connection, right? Whatever is going on for them, do they know that that love is still there, that that connection is still there? Does it have to be perfect? No, but good enough, hopefully.

What we’re trying to do is create a space in which it’s safe enough for our kids to be calm, but also safe enough for them to rage and still feel that connection.

Mark Bertin:  Yeah. I think that’s an important message to the whole discussion of parenting in general. There is no perfect. Even sitting up here for a night like this, it’s so easy to feel like, “Oh, just one more thing to do.” But, really, the message is kind of the opposite. It’s about having that deeper connection and relationship, in a safe space to be raised.

Some of these topics can cross over into almost any aspect of parenting. You look at a topic like discipline. There’s so much debate about it has to be this way or that way. In reality, there is no one way. It’s just important to recognise that you need a foundation of a close relationship and depth. That resilience as a parent, when things get challenging, to try to just be there until some path seems clear, not to add to the situation.

Then the flipside is, as Chris was saying, part of adversity, from a child’s point of view, is you might get in trouble once in a while. That’s part of mindfulness, and that’s part of raising resilient children, too. Within a safe environment, that’s just part of your experience, and that’s all just part of family.

Sharon Salzberg:  I’ve often said that, for a while, my favourite definition of mindfulness was: Mindfulness is several types of meditation practice that are based on becoming more and more aware of your experience in a way that’s not judging, in the sense of you’re not rejecting, and you’re also not buying into right away, so you have some space to sort of be with it in a different way.

I often quote this kid. There was an article in The New York Times, way back when mindfulness in the classroom was much more unusual. It was one of the first pilot programs, bringing the tools of mindfulness into the classroom. It was a fourth-grade classroom in Oakland. They asked this kid—I figure, he’s in fourth grade; he’s like nine or ten years old, likely—they said to him, “What is mindfulness?” And he responded by saying, “Mindfulness means not hitting someone in the mouth. That’s what mindfulness means.” [laughter]

And I thought: that is a great definition of mindfulness. What does it imply? It implies knowing you’re feeling angry when you’re starting to feel angry, not after you’ve exploded, not after you’ve sent the email, not after you’ve hit someone in the mouth. But it also implies a certain relationship to that anger. It’s like, if you are so ashamed, and you’re so upset, and you’re so frightened by what you’re feeling, you just try to stamp it out. You get tighter and tighter ’til you explode.

But at the same time, if you lose all centredness and you get consumed with the feeling and defined by it and overwhelmed by it, you probably hit a lot of people in the mouth, [laughter]’cause life is very frustrating. And I just thought: what a great definition, to see the anger quickly, to see it in a more balanced way, that holding environment. That gives us some space. Maybe, in that space, we consider: You know, I hit someone in the mouth last week. Didn’t work out that well. [laughter]Let me try this. Something like that.

It’s very empowering, actually, to have that ability.

Chris Willard: Yeah. I think one of the ways to look at it is it’s awareness and also being aware of action. So, as a parent, it’s not—I think there’s sometimes a misperception that mindfulness practice is sort of becoming like this limp noodle of acceptance of everything. But, as a parent, it can be that moment of catching yourself. Another way of looking at awareness is seeing things with clarity, just like: This is the situation right now. The last 72 times we had a problem with homework, we shouted over it, and look. Maybe today I’m gonna catch myself and try a different path a little bit. The last 72 times weren’t so effective. [laughter]

Sharon Salzberg: I have a quote from you Chris: “Contemplative practices, like mindfulness, allows kids to heal and soothe themselves rather than distract themselves from the pain.” Which also made me think about trauma. What would you say in terms of that kind of more extensive pain, like trauma?

Chris Willard: Mindfulness creates an internal space, I think, in all of us, an internal holding environment. My job as a therapist is to create a space in which kids or adults or whoever can be vulnerable enough to open up and look at their pain and then close that up again.

Ultimately, my job—and ultimately any parent’s job—is to also help a kid create that space inside, to look at their own pain, to give some spaciousness around it. Living with trauma is incredibly claustrophobic. It’s just always there. It’s always this thing that’s with you all the time. The more spaciousness we can help people create around that—ourselves, our kids, our families—the more opportunity there is for healing that, working through that, and mindfulness can be a really powerful part of that, as well as re-regulating the brain and quieting down the amygdala, which is where our fear response happens. A lot of trauma gets kind of processed through there. So, it just quiets the whole nervous system down.

Sharon Salzberg:  What about the role of self-compassion in that way? I think that’s both for the parent and the child.

Mark Bertin:  I think self-compassion is so important to be teaching our kids, to be practicing ourselves as parents. It’s okay that I’m not perfect. I can move past my mistakes. And then I can also model mistakes for my kids, and that’s going to be important for them in terms of their resilience and their learning.

I can also model mistakes for my kids, and that’s going to be important for them in terms of their resilience and their learning.

Chris Willard:  There’s a growing discussion, both in the world of mindfulness practice but also psychology, about this idea of self-compassion. I think the easiest way to imagine it is just recognising that there’s a certain perspective we would take towards a close friend going through a challenging situation, or who makes a mistake, or is having a hard time with their kid. We can just sort of—you can even do it now and just imagine your best friend comes to you and just had this terrible fight with their teenager.

Just think: What would you say? What perspective would you take? What sort of words of reassurance would you use? Really, for most of us, our natural inner voice, in exactly the same situation, is much more harsh and abusive and down on ourselves. The first thing that happens when you realise that you had that same homework discussion on the 73rd time, even though you promised you weren’t gonna go over 60, but now we’re doing it. And you just have this voice that just says, “Oh, my God. You’re so bad at this. You’re such an idiot.”

It’s nothing we would ever do to anybody else, so the concept of self-compassion is that we can actively work on changing that inner voice. Self-compassion can sound a little fuzzy, but it’s really not. It just means that we can work toward giving ourselves the same benefit of the doubt that we would anybody else. There are many aspects of practice that build on it. I think, for all parents, it is part of just cutting through the perfectionism that just drives us to be doing more and fixing more and scheduling more and constantly worried.

That’s how you get to a point of feeling like a good enough parent, is to sort of catch that voice and eventually just say, “Thanks anyway…”

Mark Bertin:  And the research really finds, on self-compassion, that people who are higher in self-compassion are more likely to bounce back from mistakes that they make and are more likely to take healthier risks in life, because they’ve got that soft landing of: I’m not gonna judge myself so harshly by being so perfectionistic all the time. Then they can actually take the right risks and do all those things that they wanna do, and bounce back from any mistakes that we do all make as parents. So, it really does build our resilience.

That’s also what we want our kids to internalise is not that harsh voice but that kinder voice for when they make mistakes. They can just learn from them. I was listening to something on the way down about how different cultures deal with mistakes so differently. American culture is just: If you make a mistake, you’re just an idiot. We’re just so harsh on ourselves. It’s just seen as part of the process of learning in so many other cultures. We give lip service to that, but we really don’t practice that, and we don’t model that for our kids, either.

I think it is really important to model how we make mistakes and how we forgive ourselves, in front of our kids.

Chris Willard: It also is another place that overlaps a lot. If you’re parents, you’ve probably heard of the concept of mindset. The concept of mindset is Carol Dweck’s research, which says that: In any situation, focus on hard work and effort instead of a fixed mindset and expected outcomes helps you sustain motivation, in essence.

So, for kids, they’re much more likely to work harder and persist when they hit the first bump in the road if they’ve learned that effort is what got them to the starting line in the first place. It is an interrelated concept to the bigger idea here. We would tell our child, “Yeah, you fell down. Get up. Do it again.” But that isn’t how we’re often talking to ourselves.

Sharon Salzberg: It’s interesting. What do you think about actually teaching kids meditation and at what age? Before that, I was thinking, really, it’s for any of us. Okay, so I learned it first at 63. It’s all right. It’s sort of the same principles.

Mark Bertin: Yeah. I always look at family mindfulness—I always feel like working—I always work backwards when I talk about mindfulness in families, both in terms of your kids are learning—I almost feel like I want to be able to talk about two things simultaneously. On the one hand, it is important to recognise that, in large part, you can’t help the fact that kids are learning from you. Family mindfulness starts with your mindfulness practice. Your kids aren’t always gonna buy in immediately. If you want to teach your kids mindfulness, you have to have some familiarity yourself. All of that’s true.

You want to tie that very closely to a self-compassion practice, because you’re never going to be mindful all the time. You’re gonna lose your temper and all those things also. But when you talk about mindfulness with children—and I’m interested to hear how Chris talks about it—I usually find it easier to just conceptualise moving backwards. If you look at teens, it has a lot to do with making it accessible to teens, but the practices aren’t fundamentally different.

Then, as you move younger and younger, you have to simplify the concepts some and maybe shorten the practices a little bit. Then you just keep moving backwards to the point where, in early childhood, as with like one of Chris’ new books, it really—early childhood is all about play, in many ways. That ties together many of the threads we’ve already brought up today, in that play, first of all, in early childhood, is a large part of how children develop executive function.

One of the things about seeing early childhood with clarity is sort of cutting through all the messages we’re getting from everywhere else and recognising that just playing is one of the most important things kids can do. In the modern world, that sometimes takes an active effort to protect that time, because we get busy. But then, when it comes to mindfulness in early childhood, it means making the activities that have to do with meditation often play-based; or even if you’re doing a breathing practice, you add some imagery to it, you make it more—you connect with them differently.

Chris Willard: That is, to me, how I really think of teaching kids mindfulness. Sometimes I think we’re really just teaching the elements of mindfulness, not even teaching them mindfulness, per se. I look back at experiences I had as a kid, and I remember going to nature camp and just sitting and listening to all the sounds in the forest. “Can you hear the trees whispering to each other?” Or we’d walk as quietly as we could in the woods.

When I first kind of heard the word “mindfulness” many years later, realising: Oh, walking as quietly as we could took so much focus. That was almost like the mindful walking that I also learned. It’s building into what kids are maybe already doing, building it into play, as Mark said.

There’s a child development researcher from the last century named Lev Vygotsky. He did this experiment where he was trying to get eight-year-olds to stand still, which went about as well as you would expect. So, he got out his stopwatch and he said, “Okay, everybody stand still.” Of course, five minutes later, everyone’s running around all over the place. So, he thinks about this for a little bit, and he has them come back, and he says, “All right, I want you to stand still, but this time imagine that you’re the guard at a factory, or that you’re a knight guarding a castle.”

And what happens now? The kids can stand still for like 10 or 15 minutes. He makes it playacting and fun and an image, just like we might use in yoga or might use in a visualisation practice, but in a way that’s really accessible or kids. Those are some of the ways that we can start sharing some of these practices with kids. They start to grow up, and then they maybe are just focused on their breath, or maybe some of us still do focus on images, and it’s really powerful.

This article originally appeared on GarrisonInstitute.org.
ByAnxious Minds

Seven Lessons from Mr Rogers that can help US Be Neighbours Again

Fred McFeely Rogers was a shy, somewhat awkward, and sometimes bullied child growing up in the 1930s. After going to college for what he called his “first language”—music—he prepared to enter seminary and study for the ministry. But on a visit home for Easter, he saw television for the first time. He hated it—people on the program were throwing pies in each other’s faces, and Fred found that demeaning. Nonetheless, he sensed instantly television’s capacity for connection and enrichment. That moment changed his life—and the lives of millions of Americans.

Fred Rogers, of course, went on to create Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, which aired nationally for over 30 years. Beginning in 1968 and continuing until (and beyond) the end of production in 2001, untold millions of children grew up under Mister Rogers’ steady gaze and faithful care. Those children now make up much of the American public, and now many of them are flocking to theaters to see the documentary of Misters Rogers’ life, Won’t You Be My Neighbour?

Somehow, over 15 years after his death, we seem unable to stop turning back to Mister Rogers again and again—with a feature film that will begin filming in Pittsburgh this fall, and a biography that will be released in September. It seems we sense that Mister Rogers, whom we used to know so well, who used to seem to know us so well, may have something to say to us in our divided, contentious, often-painful cultural and political climate. Here are some of Mister Rogers’ teachings that could help us weather today’s ups and downs, stand up for what we believe in, and come together across our differences.

1. It’s okay to feel whatever it is that we feel

From 1955 to 1961, Fred Rogers was puppeteer and organist for The Children’s Corner, a popular, live, local Pittsburgh show that he co-created with Josie Carey. During his years on that show, Fred often spent his lunch hour taking classes—first at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (then called Western Theological Seminary) and later at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied child development. It was through his studies that he met child psychologist Dr. Margaret McFarland, a member of the Pitt medical school faculty.

Margaret and Fred became good friends, and Margaret worked as chief psychological consultant for Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood from the time it began until her death in 1988. It was Margaret who helped Fred get in touch with his own childhood memories, who helped him anchor the scripts, songs, and set of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood in child development theory, and who said to him repeatedly, “Anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable.”

In other words, whatever we feel, it’s okay to feel it—even if our feelings seem chaotic and complex. And naming our feelings, speaking them out loud, and exploring them with those we love are all good ways, as Mister Rogers might say, of growing on the inside.

2. But our feelings aren’t an excuse for bad behavior

The famous video of Mister Rogers’ 1969 testimony before a Senate subcommittee shows up on my social media feeds every time government funding for PBS or NPR is threatened. But while my friends and I are busy trying to score political points, it’s easy to miss the substance of the testimony itself.

The young Fred, just a year into the national run of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, doesn’t talk, as I once assumed, about ensuring that educational television is equally available in all zip codes. He sits calmly, speaks slowly, and talks about feelings.

Specifically, he talks about anger. He quotes, at length, his song, “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?” which gives suggestions for how to channel anger: “punch a bag,” “pound some clay or some dough,” “round up friends for a game of tag.” His favourite part of the song, it seems, talks about what he calls the “good feeling of control”:

It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong, 
and be able to do something else instead and think this song:
I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish. 
I can stop, stop, stop anytime. 
And what a good feeling to feel like this, 
and know that the feeling is really mine, 
know that there’s something deep inside 
that helps us become what we can. 
For a girl can be someday a woman, 
and a boy can be someday a man.

Mister Rogers and his Neighbourhood constantly affirmed the coexistence of self-expression and respect for self and others, and this was in no way a passing interest—the song that Fred quoted in his Senate testimony appeared in 38 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, including an episode filmed 30 years later, in 1999.

Mister Rogers and his Neighbourhood constantly affirmed the coexistence of self-expression and respect for self and others.

When Fred was asked in an interview toward the end of his career about television’s responsibility to children, he replied, “To give them everything that we possibly can to help them grow in healthy ways, and to help them to recognise that they can be angry and not have to hurt themselves or anybody else, that they can have the full range of feelings and express them in very healthy, positive ways.”

3. Other people are different from us—and just as complex as we are

In a time when people on the left and the right dread family holidays with each other in equal measure, we’re hyperaware of differences between people. Our media diets, our social media feeds, and even our in-person relationships lock us into silos of agreement, where it’s easy to demonise and oversimplify those with whom we disagree.

But Mister Rogers showed us another way. As if he had spent a Thanksgiving or two around a family table, he wrote a song that said, “It’s the people you like the most who can make you feel maddest. It’s the people you like the most who can manage to make you feel baddest.”

In another song sung frequently on the Neighbourhood, he reminded his television neighbours,

Sometimes people are good, and they do just what they should, 
but the very same people who are good sometimes 
are the very same people who are bad sometimes.
 It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me…

Isn’t it the same for you?

However tempted we may be to call others “bad,” however tempted we may be to call ourselves “good,” all of us are more than we seem. Fred Rogers’ favourite quote from his favourite book was this: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” In English: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

4. It’s our responsibility to care for the most vulnerable

Mister Rogers was as gentle and loving in real life as on screen, but he also had an iron will and perfectionistic standards, and he kindly and firmly demanded excellence from himself and from all who worked with and on behalf of children.

Fred Rogers built his life and work on a bedrock of conviction. Though he studied and appreciated many religious traditions, he was, at his centre, a Christian deeply committed to the values he read in Christian scripture. He believed in—and worked every day to emulate—a Jesus who welcomes children, loves us just the way we are, and calls us to love self and neighbour.

An ordained Presbyterian minister with a one-of-a-kind charge to minister to children and families through the mass media, Fred took seriously the scripture mandate to care for the most vulnerable. He worked with prisons to create child-friendly spaces for family visitation, sat on hospital boards to minimise trauma in children’s health care, visited people who were sick or dying, and wrote countless letters to the lonely.

In a 1991 speech to the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, an organisation of lawyers, judges, educators, and counsellors whose work included arbitration of custody disputes, he said,

“The problem is that when we deal with a group of people—one or more of whom is a child—we just can’t be impartial. None of us who have anything to do with families with young children can.”

Just last month, Megyn Kelly asked Fred’s wife Joanne Rogers what Fred might say to America in 2018. Joanne replied, “It would be about the children. It would be about the immigrants who are having children taken—the children themselves. It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks everybody’s heart.”

5. We can work to make a difference right where we are

As Michael G. Long points out in his bookPeaceful Neighbour: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, Fred’s work for the greater good did not take the form of marching, rallying, or picketing. He occasionally wrote a note to a member of Congress, and of course he testified before that Senate subcommittee.

More often, however, Fred did his work in and through his own context. Fred didn’t march against Jim Crow; he cast black actors on his program. He didn’t travel to Birmingham or Selma in support of integration; he set up a pool and invited Officer Clemmons (played by black, gay actor François Clemmons) to soak his feet and share his towel.

Marching, writing, calling, and organising are all good ways to make change, but Fred’s life reminds us that we can work for the well-being of the most vulnerable wherever we may be, in whatever work we do. In other words, “There are many ways to say ‘I love you.’”

Fred’s life reminds us that we can work for the well-being of the most vulnerable wherever we may be, in whatever work we do.

6. It’s important to make time to care for ourselves

Fred was a vegetarian, he didn’t smoke, and he rarely drank alcohol. When he traveled, whether for business or pleasure, he never changed his watch—or his personal schedule—to local time.

Wherever he was, he began each morning with prayer and Bible study, followed by lap swimming at the local athletic club. Swimming, as Mister Rogers sometimes shared with his television neighbours, was a way he could express emotion, especially anger. What he didn’t tell his television neighbours was that he often stood beside the pool and sang a quiet hymn before diving in. Fred also made time, almost every day, to sit and play the piano.

Fred spent his life giving of himself—on screen and off, to those he knew very well and those he met only in passing or in the pages of a letter. But he could only do so because he was absolutely committed to doing what he needed to take care of himself. Making time for self-sustenance meant he had more to give away.

7. We are neighbours

Mister Rogers didn’t call us “acquaintances” or “friends”; he didn’t call us “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen.” He called us neighbours.

When Mister Rogers called us neighbours, when he hosted us in his own Neighbourhood for over 30 years, he was calling us—gently but firmly—out of our structures of power and our silos of sameness, into lives of mercy and care for one another.

Admittedly, maybe he was overly optimistic. Maybe he was calling us something better than we actually were. But maybe he believed that if he got to us while we were young, if he told us, again and again, that we were good, that we were lovable, and that we could extend mercy, maybe we could grow into real neighbours to one another.

Maybe we still can.

Lyrics by Fred Rogers provided courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company.

This article was adapted from  Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.
ByAnxious Minds

Alleviating Anxiety with Zensight Process

Rachel looks in the mirror and notices a mark on her cheek. Immediately her breath becomes shallow, her heart races, her chest tightens, and she feels nauseated. She checks the spot more closely, and sees that it’s just a speck of dirt. She washes it off and tells herself firmly that she is fine – it wasn’t the beginning of skin cancer, it was nothing. It’s gone. She is okay.

Although she keeps telling herself she is okay, hours later, Rachel still doesn’t feel okay. What if seeing that spot was a “sign”? What is she is about to develop skin cancer? What if she already has skin cancer and she just hasn’t seen it yet? Should she go see her doctor? Recurring thoughts of cancer hover in the back of her mind for the rest of the day. Weeks later she notices she is still spending an increased amount of time inspecting her skin for unusual marks or blemishes.

Like an estimated 13-16.5% of adults, Rachel has an anxiety disorder. Types of anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.

At times the symptoms of anxiety can become so debilitating that those affected will not leave their home or attend social functions – and their lives may become consumed by the effort to avoid people, places or situations which are likely to trigger feelings of anxiety.

Traditional treatment for anxiety disorder has involved medication to help to lessen the symptoms of anxiety, and behavioural therapy to assist with coping and challenging irrational thoughts. Treatment is generally expected to be long term.

Zensight Process offers new hope to those with anxiety. In many cases, a practitioner who is very skilled with both Zensight and in working with those with anxiety, can help someone to experience dramatic improvement – and in some cases a complete elimination of symptoms – in just a few sessions.

In most situations, many individuals will be able to use Zensight on their own – without ever consulting a practitioner at all – to considerably improve and sometimes even eliminate their symptoms altogether. Those who do choose to work with a therapist or practitioner to help support and accelerate their healing will also benefit from doing Zensight self-healing in between sessions, in order to obtain the best results.

How to Use Zensight Process

Zensight Process involves working with the subconscious mind in a way that is similar to hypnosis – and yet no hypnosis is actually used. Instead, we begin by creating a “healing symbol”. This symbol can be a word, picture, or colour. Some people choose to use a symbol such as “ocean”. They then can focus on the word “ocean” when that feels right, and at other times may actually visualise the ocean.

When this healing symbol is used or focused upon with intent, it allows the fears, concerns, and “blocks” that someone is experiencing to gently heal and transform.

The healing symbol is then used together with healing statements and visualisation, to soften, dissolve and release the concerns that are being experienced.

In a situation of anxiety, the individual is instructed to stop and notice any visual image that comes to mind when she or he thinks about one of their specific concerns – and then focus upon this image while connecting with the healing symbol that was chosen.

This use of visualisation helps to greatly accelerate healing because it does not rely upon the limits of our conscious mind and awareness. The visual image that comes up may be an actual representation of a specific fear or issue that is being experienced, or it may be something that is metaphorical in nature.

I have had people tell me that they suddenly see a picture of themselves with their leg caught in a trap, or that they see a large grey object that they can’t identify or make sense of. The different images that come up are highly variable and are not always understood by the person. The beauty of it is that they don’t need to be understood. The image is simply focused upon while connecting with the healing symbol, and is allowed to transform.

What generally happens is that the image spontaneously transforms in a way that feels healing. The individual watches as the trap that was holding the leg simply dissolves and disappears. They see themselves then being able to move about freely and with a sense of contentment and peace. The big unexplained grey object morphs into a big egg which opens up and releases light and a feeling of peace that the person senses themselves absorbing as she or he watches.

If the picture doesn’t change, if no picture is seen, or in order to resolve any remaining upset, the individual uses healing statements. After each statement, the person takes a deep breath and lets it go, and focuses upon the healing symbol. Upsets are then healed and transformed, as positive feelings grow and strengthen.

Examples of healing statements are:

  • I heal all of the fears that any parts of me have, that I can’t get free of this problem
  • I heal any and all feelings that any parts of me have, that I am trapped.
  • I let all of the parts of me know, deeply and completely, that I am safe.

All of the different parts of me now experience a growing sense of peace and comfort.

My entire body is relaxing now.

Sound simple? It is – extremely simple, and yet powerfully and deeply effective. Best of all, the effects are lasting – providing that energetic imbalances are addressed and healed, results will in most cases be permanent.

Energy Balancing

Zensight can be used for much more than simply targeting specific symptoms. In the case of anxiety – especially experiences of pervasive fear and anxiety – it is best to begin by targeting energetic imbalances that are most likely being experienced.

Someone who experiences frequent and/or pervasive feelings of fear has an imbalance in his or her triple warmer meridian. The energy meridians have been widely recognised in Eastern medicine as impacting upon our emotional, physical, and mental concerns. Acupuncture is only one of many modalities which focus upon bringing healing to the energy meridians.

The triple warmer meridian is the meridian in the body which governs the fight/flight/freeze response. Sometimes – often in response to an original event or series of events in which the individual felt intense fear or terror – the triple warmer meridian becomes overenergised. In the case of anxiety, the emphasis will be upon the “flight/freeze” response, and the individual will quickly respond with fear to many situations which may to others appear innocuous.

Trying to talk someone out of their fear often has little effect. Rachel rationally knows that the mark on her face was simply dirt and was no more an indicator of cancer than is a stain on her jeans. However, in spite of this awareness, and in spite of her logical mind which tells her she is safe and is overreacting, Rachel can not let the fear go.

The problem that Rachel is experiencing is not in her mind so much as in her body and in her energy system. Often patterns of triple warmer overenergisation begin in childhood, in response to repeated experiences of terror. Sometimes this may be due to experiences of abuse that were either experienced or witnessed, and sometimes it may be connected with less obviously traumatic experiences that were nevertheless fear-producing for the particular child involved.

Rachel knows that she is safe – but her body and energy system need to know it too. In a sense, they need to be reprogrammed. With Zensight, this “reprogramming” can occur gently and easily during a rapid yet extremely relaxing process.

Other energetic imbalances may also be involved. Homolateral energy (where the energy runs straight up and down the body rather than crossing over it) may also be involved. Once any energetic imbalances that are involved are addressed, many symptoms of anxiety will lessen immediately. The work then becomes focused on targeting the concerns more directly.

Bringing Healing to the “Whole” Person

The emphasis which Zensight Process places upon using both visualisation and verbal “healing statements” ensures that both hemispheres of the brain are involved during the healing process. This assists people in linking logic with emotion. After using Zensight, not only does Rachel logically understand that the spot on her face was not a sign of impending doom – she emotionally “gets it” as well.

Zensight also addresses the experience of parts of self. All of us have parts of self. In many situations where healing is not experienced even when highly effective modalities are being used, the issue is that the person on some level – in some small part of them – may believe that it’s not safe to heal the concerns. Rachel may be afraid to completely heal her anxiety because some small part of her may fear that if she stops worrying about and expecting to develop cancer, that she will pay less attention and will miss warning signs and thus be unsafe. Zensight allows the individual to access and bring healing to – through the use of visualisation and targeted healing statements – to even those parts of us that are afraid to heal, or believe it is not in our best interests to do so.

By ensuring that the individual is treated at as a whole – physically, emotionally, mentally, and energetically – Zensight enables even concerns that are usually considered to be difficult to impossible to resolve, to be as gently and quickly healed as possible.

ByAnxious Minds

Mindfulness Meditation

Mediation is good for the soul. This is a statement many of us heard before. However, did you know that meditation can be good, even excellent to the body as well? This technique can actually have stunning results after a while of having been practised regularly and could have effects on the immune system.

Recently, more and more studies have proven that meditation, notably in the form of mindfulness, can have an impact on DNA and the immune system. Let us first take a look at what mindfulness exactly is. Mindfulness implies to experience every moment during a given time, to fully embrace what is happening at the level of our thoughts, feelings, sensations in our bodies and what is happening in our environment. The things that happen during those moments should be accepted without judgment. Nothing is right or wrong; we are just tuning in to the present moment and experiencing what it is offering to us. Things should not be put in perspective in comparison to the past, or to what we expect to happen in the future.

At first, mindfulness finds its roots in Buddhism. There, it serves three distinct purposes: knowing the mind, training the mind and freeing the mind. With the usual speed of time in our daily lives, we easily get lost and end up having trouble identifying what is really motivating us, what is the nature of our feelings and reactions. It has become hard to be fully aware of the mechanisms that operate us, deep within. Mindfulness will help us in the process of discovery, as the latter emerges better in stillness. When we stand still, it instantaneously becomes easier to notice what is going on both around us and within us. It becomes clear whether your mind is agitated and thoughts are rushing in at a crazy pace. The difficulty here will be to look at your thoughts without judging them, just taking note of what they are. What emotions are present? What is the mind? What thoughts and beliefs am I experiencing? These are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself when practising mindfulness. When you learn that way, the benefits are doubled. Not only do you know something new, but you also know that you know, you are aware of this newly acquired knowledge. When you are learning just for the sake of knowing, you will not try to change things. You will only see them and notice that they happen.

Still, the mind is something that can be shaped. It is not set in stone, static, but is instead malleable. In that regard, the mind needs to be trained, as if we cannot take responsibility for it, some external forces will. Those can be the media, advertisement and other people, may they want the best or the worst for us. Taking responsibility for your own mind is an important part of the Buddhist practice. So now, how do you train your mind? For many, a good starting point can be found in kindness and compassion. Indeed, when experiencing mindfulness, you will soon find yourself surrounded by conflict in the form of aversion, anger, despair or confusion. Of course, the solution is not to answer with more conflict. As you will have guessed, one of the solutions is to answer with kindness and compassion. Training our minds to be kinder and more forgiving with ourselves will help with being more at ease with how things are. Day after day, what will happen is that we will not try to change the world, to swim desperately against the current anymore but we will accept what is happening. This is the first step in being able to make the best out of our situation. Once your mind is properly trained, you will be more relaxed and take things coming at you more easily. This will trigger more and more success as you will not rush into things with a blind eye anymore. One of the most efficient ways of reaching that stage is to focus on one quality at a time. We can take as examples here courage, ethical virtue, concentration or the capacity to release clinging.

Once the mind is known and has been trained, it is time for it to be freed. All the previous steps are meant to lead to this final one/ knowing your mind will help you realize and accept that you are clinging to certain things in your life, and training your mind will help you release the clinging. Ultimately, when you free your mind, your heart so that there are no barriers left to its freedom. When the heart and the mind are freed, they are at peace. Complete freedom though is hard to reach. A lot of learning and training will be required. The freeing of the mind can only be accomplished by taking small steps, by not rushing in.

To stay that way, the mind will have to be taken care of regularly. The training has to be constant. If you follow these simple steps of mindfulness, you will soon get free of all suffering. Take a deep breath and jump in!

ByAnxious Minds

Mindfulness Meditation and the Immune System

While mindfulness meditation can have tremendous effects on the mind and the heart, it can also greatly influence the body in a physical way. In some cases, the mind really is over worked, and more and more studies are now managing to prove that. For many researchers, the mind could have this wonderful power of affecting health. That being said, the effect can be positive as much as negative.

You probably must have heard about the negative effects the mind can trigger on one’s health, for example through the consequences of chronic stress and anxiety. Indeed, it is now well known that stress can be the cause of sleeping issues – themselves causing a whole lot of new negative physical effects –, digestive problems, muscular trouble and even some forms of cancer in the long run.

Now, what you may not be aware of is that the mind, notably thanks to the processes of positive thinking and mindful meditation, can also cure the body, improve your health when the body is sick.

Recently, a group of Canadian researchers led by Dr. Linda E. Carlson discovered that mindfulness meditation and support groups – in which positive thinking is very often practised and experienced with other patients – are associated with preserved telomere length.

As we dig into scientific terms, let us quickly define what a telomere is (I have to admit here I myself had no idea before I actually did some research for the sake of this article). Well, a telomere is something that prevents the chromosomes from deteriorating, they keep them in a sort of ‘good health’.

They are part of the DNA, stretches of it more exactly, and cap the chromosomes to protect them. If the telomeres happen to shorten prematurely, conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are very likely to develop. Indeed, scientists had previously discovered that people dying from ‘old age’ were actually dying from the shortening, the wearing down of the telomeres, causing exhaustion of the stem cells.

Let us come back to our main topic now: how can mindfulness meditation can help keeping the telomeres long? How did the scientists find that out? A study was conducted on 88 women who were breast cancer survivors. These women were divided into three groups: one group practising mindfulness meditation and yoga for eight weeks, one group assigned to twelve weeks of group therapy, and one group receiving a six-hour stress management course.

Of course, the telomeres were measured before and after the study. At the end of the project, results showed that while the first group roughly kept the same telomeres length, the latter shortened in the third group. Also, Dr Carlson stated that “generally healthy people I a work-based mindfulness stress reduction program have been shown to produce higher antibody titers to the flu vaccine than controls, and there has been promising work looking at the effect of mindfulness in HIV and diabetes”.

There are several good news in that statement. First you do not need to be sick to experience the benefits of mindfulness meditation physically, on your body. Indeed, what is implied in Dr. Carlson’s statement is that this type of meditation could strengthen the immune system of persons in generally good health. Then, mindfulness meditation could prove to help HIV and diabetes patients in the fight against their illness.

Twenty years ago, a group of scientists from the Department of Medicine at the Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo (Norway) had already managed to prove that mindfulness meditation could be a way to improve the quality of the immune system, especially after the body had been put through a strenuous physical stress.

To conduct their study, they used a panel of twelve males running regularly and taking part in at least one competition over 10 kilometres every year. Half of the group practised meditation, while the other half did not. You may ask now why use men were exercising regularly, as we might assume they are in better health than the average population. Well, intense physical training may actually be responsible for a decrease of the normal immune response when the body is facing infectious agents. As a matter of fact, infection susceptibility tends to be higher among athletes compared to the rest of the population.

The thinking pattern of the researchers was the following: if stress, physical in that case, could be the trigger of a poorer immune response, stress management and reduction, through meditation, could well be the solution to bring the immune system up again.

What mindfulness meditation is actually doing is that it is modifying the response of the immune system when exposed to intense physical stress. In other words, what happens is not that the immune system is brought down after the effort and then brought up again thanks to meditation, but the meditation actually suppresses the decrease of the immune response.

Further studies still need to be conducted in the years to come to confirm these first theories, and the good news is that the scientific community seems to be taking a particular interest in the topic. This is yet another great example of what the mind can achieve when you put it to work. If we become fully able to prevent illnesses or to slow their growth (in the case of HIV for instance) when they are already there then truly, anything is possible.

ByAnxious Minds

Why Mindfulness is so Beneficial to Mental Health

Oxford Dictionaries defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.”

It may surprise you to know that huge companies like Google and Starbucks use mindfulness to maintain their staff welfare, particularly at leadership levels. Google actually created its own mindfulness programme.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that a high number of hospital visits are work stress related and in the U.K. work stress, anxiety and depression accumulated a loss of 11.4 million work days in just one year.
This vast number could be brought down by the use of mindfulness and meditation; scientific tests show that taking time to be in the moment and to focus on peace rather than on the past, present and future at the same time offers huge benefits.

Increased neuroplasticity, this is the neural connection changes in the brain through behaviour and environment changes.

  • You’ll enjoy a more efficient immune system.
  • You’ll have the perspective to view situations as they truly are.
  • You’ll end conflicts more rationally and swiftly.
  • Mindfulness is your brain health tool; you’re in control.
  • Better decision making.
  • You’ll observe or listen without judgement, in the moment.
  • Happiness increases.
  • Enjoyment of work and life grows.
  • You are a better communicator.
  • Improved creativity.
  • More effective working with others.
  • Serenity and clarity of mind.
  • Greater focus and productivity.

Mindfulness is about being fully in the present and giving whatever you are doing at that moment 100% so if you’re meditating then thoughts about the laundry, shopping list or what might happen if you don’t pay the gas bill tomorrow cannot reside in your head. You are in the process of meditation and in the here and now that is all you are concerned with, the rest will have to wait its turn, your brain health is vital. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time so pay it your full attention.

For instant serenity hits try to take a few moments to stop, sit back and focus entirely on your breathing. For each in breath think of your body being positively energised and for each out breath just let go of everything. Another method is to stop, check for points of tension and how you feel and then don’t restart an activity until you are calm and less tense.

There are courses, groups, programmes and online help available, some people need to have a structure to their mindfulness activity to kick it in to action, that’s where meetings help.
We’re striving to make the community mentally healthier and mindfulness is key to achieving this.

ByAnxious Minds

A Touch of Mindfulness

I’m one of the worlds biggest worriers. Often worrying about things I can’t control and worrying about my loved ones as they carry on with their lives without a care in the world. The part of my body that feels these stresses the most is my neck and shoulder area, so I do a lot of yoga to try to counter the pain.

While yoga helps relieve pain and de-stress me for the time I’m doing it, I needed to find a way to relax my mind and my body for as much of the day as I could while just getting on with life. A friend put me on to a meditation class and as part of it the tutor taught us a thing or two about mindfulness.

Now I guess that most of you would have heard of mindfulness before but probably not all of you would have tried it. Just to explain the term: Mindfulness is a form of meditation that you achieve from concentrating on your breath for long enough so that you stop acting on your thoughts. In other words, thoughts come in and out of your mind but you simply observe them from an objective viewpoint. You don’t judge them or plan to do anything about them – you just let them be. So imagine a negative thought coming into your mind, you are able to let it float straight back out as if it were a cloud knowing you can deal with that thought at a later time.

With enough practice – and I’m warning you now it takes a lot of practice – you then learn to be in control of thoughts rather them controlling you and bringing on stress and anxiety.

Let me list some of the benefits mindfulness can give you, once you’ve learned to do it properly.

This list isn’t exhaustive, neither can I vouch for them all as my experience isn’t that vast. But here goes … Mindfulness:

• Decreases stress, depression, anxiety and irritability
• Prevents feelings of exhaustion
• Reduces how emotional you become when in pain
• Reduces pain
• Improves mood
• Improves memory
• Is good for anger management

As I said, these are just a few things, but they’ll do for a start, right?

At this stage, I should say that lots of clinical research have been undertaken over the years into the benefits of mindfulness. If you’re considering giving it a go or taking to mindfulness in a serious way, you might like to do a little research into it yourself. Perhaps find a class as I did.

So now on to my experience of mindfulness. My instructor, who was very knowledgeable and offered his classes for free, led us through some guided meditation. What that means is someone is giving you prompts to get you to a state of relaxation and then to a state of mindfulness.

Firstly, you are guided to look at your breath and concentrate solely on your breathing. In doing that you are guided to relax all parts of your body one by one. If you feel any parts tensing up again, you focus your breath on those parts, and the tension should ease away. The instructor stops talking, you feel completely relaxed, and from here your only concern is the pattern of your breathing. Naturally, thoughts will come into your mind, but in time you learn to allow them to float out again. And that is the start of achieving mindfulness.

One exercise we were given was to try using mindfulness as we go about doing simple day to day tasks. For example, if you’re making your first cup of tea of the morning, instead of thinking about the stack of ironing in the basket, the weeds outgrowing the roses in the garden, the fact that your boss has put you on lates again or whether you’ll get a report out in time at work, you solely concentrate on the process in hand. For example: Fill the kettle and think of nothing else. Put the bag in the cup and push the picture of the linen basket out of your mind – and so on. You get the idea.

I did manage to do this quite well at one stage, and I have to say that I found it calming. I only wish I had carried on. Especially on a week like this when there have been a few upsets around me and, without a coping strategy, I can feel the tension building in my shoulders again. Maybe it’s time to allow a touch of mindfulness back into my life. In fact, we could all do with some couldn’t we?