Tag Archives: Meditation

60 Seconds to a Stress-Less Life – Creating the Space

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The Now Effect is based on a very simple quote from a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor named Viktor Frankl. He said, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” But for most of us that space is non-existent as the speed of the day skips right over it. From the moment we wake up, the brain already has a routine preplanned that skips over the spaces where life is unfolding. It knows that maybe after we wake up, we make breakfast, drink our coffee, read news on our phones, take a shower, get dressed and the rest of the day unfolds like this. Sadly, for many of us our lives go on like this until some crisis wakes us up. But we don’t need a crisis, right now we can train our brains to break this pattern.

This article by Elisha Goldstein articulates the need for all of us to find that space…

Link: http://www.mindful.org/mindful-voices/on-mental-health/60-seconds-to-a-stress-less-life

 

M & M: Its not just Candy

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How Are You?

How Are You?

We hear it practically every single day of our lives and sometimes more often than once or twice during the day. When we see each other in person, when we call each other on the phone, maybe even when we text each other, one of the most common types of questions involves how we are feeling.

I’m not looking to be controversial, but I have to wonder, how many of us really knows the answer. It seems, in my experience at least, I find myself on ‘automatic pilot’ as I go through my day unless I made a very conscious effort to show up to my own life. I not only go through the physical activities such as waking up, shutting the alarm clock, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, kissing my spouse, reaching for my morning coffee (you get the picture,) but there are even more internal things going on within me that I hardly am present at.

Sometimes it feels as if my brain is just keeps on going and going, like the Ever Ready Bunny, never slowing down at all, just whirring on, like the processor in my computer. The only thing is that my computer always lets me know when it is overheating and needs some time to cool down. Not so with my brain and my emotions. It is such a natural thing for me to just keep going non-stop, without coming up for air. I have to consciously remind myself to get up and move around and reacquaint myself with the moment of life I am in.

Multi-Tasking

Multi-Tasking

If you asked me, I would tell you that I’m doing quite well, I’m okay…I’m fine and more than okay because I am not “feeling” the stress that is piling up all around me. I’m dealing with it, from multi-tasking moment to multi-tasking moment. I am deluding myself into believing I am being highly productive because I am getting ‘all this stuff’ done.

Not really. It may seem as if I am doing more, but actually, I’m not focused and truly accomplishing and producing less. I’m focusing on external distractions (and believe me, there is no end to them). So when the time comes for me to reign myself in and focus on the one thing I really need to do, it is harder and harder all the time.

Meditation

Meditation

What’s a gal to do? Enter the double “M” solution. The combination of mindfulness and meditation is something quite remarkable. It helps me isolate the times when I need to focus on what is going on with me internally, my emotions or my thoughts, giving them a time and a place in which I pay particular and intensive attention to them. I acknowledge and accept them by tuning into what is going on with me internally. I become extremely aware of how it feels to breathe and take a deep breath. I become focused on how it feels when I tighten and then release muscles in my arms or legs. I allow myself to devote my energy to myself without having my attention pulled in countless directions.

This 1:1 is just what I need to refresh, rejuvenate and keep my ‘stuff’ in the right place, leaving me with the ability to dedicate all I have to give to the tasks I have to face. I am able to apply myself to what needs to be done and still honor the parts of me that get ignored when I falsely convince myself I am getting so much done. Not only am I freeing myself up to be all I can be, but I’m also teaching myself a new way to honor who I need to be. . . no judgment, just making at least as much time for caring about me as I do for all the things I feel I need to care about.

Such a different way to treat myself than what I’ve known! And it appears to be working out for me because the more I practice this, the more alive I feel and the more I find I am able to check off on my “to do” list each and every day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

The Psychology of Attention

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“Every day we we are bombarded with perceptions, ideas and emotions and what we choose to pay attention to shapes our lives, it makes us who we are.”

Attention is one of the most fascinating and highly researched areas in psychology. Psychologists have found that with training we can perform impressive feats of multitasking, we can divide our visual attention (without moving our eyes) and we are surprisingly effective at picking out just one voice from a multitude.”

Several short pieces, first published in PsyBlog, highlights some fascinating cognitive work and research on attention. See especially the piece on meditation…

http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/05/attention-how-it-works-how-it-fails-and-how-to-improve-it.php

 

Hawaiian Meditation Techniques to Get Your Energy Back

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“Meditation is part of many ancient traditions, and the benefits—a greater sense of peace, less anxiety, clear thinking—are well-known. While dramatic new findings such as the Yale study point to therapeutic benefits, meditation is also extremely useful in everyday life to boost energy.”  See link below…

This short article highlights, to my mind, one of the greatest benefits of regular meditation…that is, the restorative quality of its practice for our mental health….

http://www.naturalsolutionsmag.com/balance/mind-body-connection/5-hawaiian-meditation-techniques-get-your-energy-back

Enjoy…

Stress Relief In A Pinch

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Meditation

Meditation

I can spout page after page that would support the amazing benefits of meditation and yoga and countless other techniques that help prevent and manage stress. But the reality is that life happens and so does stress. AND stress happens during life.

So, if you I am in a hurry because I’m running a bit late for an important appointment and am smoothly traveling down the highway just about 10 minutes from my targeted point of arrival, about to make it just in time, and suddenly I see a huge bottleneck of red lights up ahead, I can’t really take a moment or two to meditate and start chanting my mantra or assuming my preferred stress-reducing yoga pose.

What I need is a method that can bring me some type of stress relief in an instant; things that will work for me while I’m in the midst of a real-life stress-producing situation. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. If we are to be able to improve our self-awareness (the ultimate goal,) and we know that stress blocks our ability to do that so we need to handle the stress in our lives as it arises (which it definitely does) then we need to be able to develop ‘in the moment’ stress reducing methods for ourselves that can help us undo the immediate damage that stress can do to cause us to waver off track. In other words, we need something that can help us handle the derailing impact that stress can have on us.

Simply put (and current research backs this up again and again), the quickest, most effective thing we can do to combat stress like this is to engage our senses immediately. This sounds vague, but only because each of us, needs to develop our own, individual stress-busting tool kit. While we all have the same senses to work with, each of us has specific and individual preferences. And each of us has to find what works best to help us combat stress in the moment for ourselves.

We need to discover what sensory experiences have the most calming effect on us and works best for us. Amazingly, there are certain materials we can touch, or specific scents we can smell that have the ability to instantly relax us and help us focus ourselves. The trick is to learn what they are and have them readily available for any time we are hit with a heavy dose of stress-producing life events.

Sensing Inspiration
This process can and should involve all our senses, the more the merrier, actually; so inspiration is all around us. Experiment with a variety of sensations with the ultimate goal being that you always have something around you that you can easily do to combat your stress and be able to relax.

• Those you Know. What do other people you know do to blow off steam? Do you know anybody who feels more relaxed after a long walk? Do you have any friends who listen to music and find that helps them unwind? Maybe if you try some of the things you’ve seen other people do to relax, they might work for you too.
• Power of Observation. Popping gum, although some may find it annoying, can help release stress. Baseball players seem to find it helpful, just watch many of them when they’re getting ready for their turn to hit. I’ve seen some performers do some type of fanning motion with their hands to generate a burst of nervous energy and rid themselves of tension just before going on stage. Talk to people who know how to handle pressure and stay focused. You may hear something that can work well for you too.
• Reflection. Did you have a favorite stuffed doll or fabric that provided you with a relaxing sense of touch. Why not put a small swatch of something tactically comforting like velour where you can reach it easily when you have a stressful event to face. Different textures can help people feel much calmer. Try different things until you find what works best for you.

Unplugged

Unplugged

Unplug Yourself
• Some moments of silence – on the way to work in the morning or on your commute home in the afternoon, instead of radio or using your cell phone, try riding in silence.
• Self-Administered hand massage – if you’re on line at the store or in the waiting room at the doctor’s, try it. Can you say “S O O T H I N G?”
• Aromatic Tea – this one employs the sense of taste and smell and can work wonders before a meeting at work that can carry tension and stress with it.

Making a habit to incorporate an off-line time for yourself on a regular basis (no phone, computers, television) can provide a no-intrusion zone and ease stress and tension.

These are just some basics to helping develop some quick stress relief habits and employ ourselves and our senses in the process. It is always something we can have with us, anytime, anywhere, a preventative defense for whatever life throws at us that we can call on to help us regain our sense of balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

The Power Within

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Mindfulness

Mindfulness

How are you feeling? As a social worker, I have asked that question countless times. As a ‘regular’ human, I have had that question asked of me countless times. But the truth is so few people ever take the time to reply to honestly.

It takes time, introspection and mindfulness to be able to truthfully get in touch with your feelings. It also takes courage. It is difficult to put into words why so many of us are afraid to face our feelings.

It isn’t the type of fear one has of physical danger, however. It is more like an anxious type of fear that propels us into some type of self-protective mode that involves avoiding confronting any of the not so wonderful feelings we may harbor.

I don’t pretend to be someone who has mastered the degree of courage required to dig deep and look inside all the time. But, I have become much less resistant to stilling myself and just existing without having to talk to someone or jump when the phone chirps or update my status.

There is something so freeing about sitting in silence and just existing, with my focus being inward instead of outside myself. I find it interesting that the process itself doesn’t hold anything that really makes me feel fearful, but thinking about it produces a lot of anxiety.

The time I devote to just being still is one of the only things I have that belongs just to me. It isn’t for anybody other than me. Interestingly, that way of thinking is one of the things that caused me to feel fearful and anxious. I didn’t have a clue as to how to just “BE” just for the sake of being, without any specific intention or cause other than that.

Bachelorette

Bachelorette

I am quite certain that millions of people tuned in last night to watch the final episode of this summer season of The Bachelorette. If you’re not one of them, I won’t spoil it for you by giving away who was chosen. Rather, during the final days prior to making her decision, Desiree Hartsock broke down emotionally and shared her feelings of insecurity because she felt unworthy of having someone in her life who was willing to love her as much as she loved them.

My getting to the point where I am with regard to granting myself permission to just be in silence is just like that! I struggled with believing I was worthy of the right to “JUST EXIST.” Sometimes I still do, but I’m learning.

We all have the right to just exist. We are here on this earth and we are uniquely ourselves. We ARE worthy. Ironically, it is by finding this inner sanctuary that we become more capable of manifesting other things in the outer aspects of our lives.

We learn to tap into our inner strength because we learn to see what lies within and face that strength. If we don’t face it, then we don’t recognize it and cannot access it as readily.

So, I invite you to find the courage to still yourself and journey into that place of silence where creation takes place.

ABOUT ME

I’m a licensed clinical social worker and have worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. I combine professional experience in the mental health field along with my love of writing to provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. I hope my down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life is easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

Link

Silence

…less questioning and criticising has long become a trap, from which consciousness seeks release in various forms of intoxication, or sleep, or suicide. There is, as it were, a catharsis of exhaustion, exhaustion with the dazzling, disturbing voice of the mind.

Link at: Silence

How facts about the brain can be used in real life

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act one: As the brain changes, the mind changes, for better or worse.

Resources
Take this quiz to learn how mindful you are.Register for our upcoming full-day seminar with Dr. Hanson on “Taking in the Good.”

Watch clips from Dr. Hanson’s Greater Good last talk.

Learn more about Dr. Hanson’s work, including his books Buddha’s Brain and Just One Thing, on his website.

For example, more activation in the left prefrontal cortex is associated with more positive emotions. So as there is greater activation in the left, front portion of your brain relative to the right, there is also greater well-being. That’s probably in large part because the left prefrontal cortex is a major part of the brain for controlling negative emotion. So if you put the breaks on the negative, you get more of the positive.

On the other hand, people who routinely experience chronic stress—particularly acute, even traumatic stress—release the hormone cortisol, which literally eats away, almost like an acid bath, at the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s very engaged in visual-spatial memory as well as memory for context and setting.

For example, adults who have had that history of stress and have lost up to 25 percent of the volume of this critically important part of the brain are less able to form new memories.

So we can see that as the brain changes, the mind changes. And that takes us to the second fact, which is where things really start getting interesting.


Fact two: As the mind changes, the brain changes.

These changes happen in temporary and in lasting ways. In terms of temporary changes, the flow of different neurochemicals in the brain will vary at different times. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they are likely getting higher flows of reward-related neurotransmitters, like dopamine. Research suggests that when people practice gratitude, they experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, and that’s probably correlated with more of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.

Here’s another example of how changes in mental activity can produce changes in neural activity: When college students deeply in love are shown a picture of their sweetheart, their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center of the brain. As the mind changes—that rush of love, that deep feeling of happiness and reward—correlates with activation of a particular part of the brain. When they stop looking at that picture of their sweetheart, the reward center goes back to sleep.

Now the mind also can change the brain in lasting ways. In other words, what flows through the mind sculpts the brain. I define the mind as the flow of immaterial information through the nervous system—all the signals being sent, most of which are happening forever outside of consciousness. As the mind flows through the brain, as neurons fire together in particularly patterned ways based on the information they are representing, those patterns of neural activity change neural structure.

So busy regions of the brain start stitching new connections with each other. Existing synapses—the connections between neurons that are very busy—get stronger, they get more sensitive, they start building out more receptors. New synapses form as well.

One of my favorite studies of this involved taxi cab drivers in London. To get a taxi license there, you’ve got to memorize the spaghetti-like streets of London. Well, at the end of the drivers’ training, the hippocampus of their brain—a part very involved in visual-spatial memory—is measurably thicker. In other words, neurons that fire together wire together, even to the point of being observably thicker.


This has also been found among meditators: People who maintain some kind of regular meditative practice actually have measurably thicker brains in certain key regions. One of those regions is the insula, which is involved in what’s called “interoception”—tuning into the state of your body, as well as your deep feelings. This should be no surprise: A lot of what they’re doing is practicing mindfulness of breathing, staying really present with what’s going on inside themselves; no wonder they’re using, and therefore building, the insula.

Another region is the frontal regions of the prefrontal cortex—areas involved in controlling attention. Again, this should be no surprise: They’re focusing their attention in their meditation, so they’re getting more control over it, and they’re strengthening its neural basis.

What’s more, research has also shown that it’s possible to slow the loss of our brain cells. Normally, we lose about 10,000 brain cells a day. That may sound horrible, but we were born with 1.1 trillion. We also have several thousand born each day, mainly in the hippocampus, in what’s called neurogenesis. So losing 10,000 a day isn’t that big a deal, but the net bottom line is that a typical 80 year old will have lost about 4 percent of his or her brain mass—it’s called “cortical thinning with aging.” It’s a normal process.

But in one study, researchers compared meditators and non-meditators. In the graph to the left, the meditators are the blue circles and the non-meditators are the red squares, comparing people of the same age. The non-meditators experienced normal cortical thinning in those two brain regions I mentioned above, along with a third, the somatosensory cortex.

However, the people who routinely meditated and “worked” their brain did not experience cortical thinning in those regions.

That has a big implication for an aging population: Use it or lose it, which applies to the brain as well as to other aspects of life.

That highlights an important point that I think is a major takeaway in this territory: Experience really matters. It doesn’t matter only in our moment-to-moment well-being—how it feels to be me—but it really matters in the lasting residues that it leaves behind, woven into our very being.

Which takes us to the third fact, which is the one with the most practical import.

Fact three: You can use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better.

This is known as “self-directed neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity refers to the malleable nature of the brain, and it’s constant, ongoing. Self-directed neuroplasticity means doing it with clarity and skillfulness and intention.

The key to it is a controlled use of attention. Attention is like a spotlight, to be sure, shining on things within our awareness. But it’s also like vacuum cleaner, sucking whatever it rests upon into the brain, for better or worse.

For example, if we rest our attention routinely on what we resent or regret—our hassles, our lousy roommate, what Jean-Paul Sartre called “hell” (other people)—then we’re going to build out the neural substrates of those thoughts and feelings.

On the other hand, if we rest our attention on the things for which we’re grateful, the blessings in our life—the wholesome qualities in ourselves and the world around us; the things we get done, most of which are fairly small yet they’re accomplishments nonetheless—then we build up very different neural substrates.

I think that’s why, more than 100 years ago, before there were things like MRIs, William James. the father of psychology in America, said. “The education of attention would be an education par excellence.”

The problem, of course, is that most people don’t have very good control over their attention. Part of this is due to human nature, shaped by evolution: Our forbearers who just focused on the reflection of sunlight in the water—they got chomped by predators. But those who were constantly vigilant—they lived.

And today we are constantly bombarded with stimuli that the brain has not evolved to handle. So gaining more control over attention one way or another is really crucial, whether it’s through the practice of mindfulness, for instance, or through gratitude practices, where we count our blessings. Those are great ways to gain control over your attention because there you are, for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, coming back to focus on an object of awareness.


Taking in the good
This brings me to one of my favorite methods for deliberately using the mind to change the brain over time for the better: taking in the good.

Just having positive experiences is not enough to promote last well-being. If a person feels grateful for a few seconds, that’s nice. That’s better than feeling resentful or bitter for a few seconds. But in order to really suck that experience into the brain, we need to stay with those experiences for a longer duration of time—we need to take steps, consciously, to keep that spotlight of attention on the positive.

So, how do we actually do this? These are the three steps I recommend for taking in the good. I should note that I did not invent these steps. They are embedded in many good therapies and life practices. But I’ve tried to tease them apart and embed them in an evolutionary understanding of how the brain works.

1. Let a good fact become a good experience. Often we go through life and some good thing happens—a little thing, like we checked off an item on our To Do list, we survived another day at work, the flowers are blooming, and so forth. Hey, this is an opportunity to feel good. Don’t leave money lying on the table: Recognize that this is an opportunity to let yourself truly feel good.

2. Really savor this positive experience. Practice what any school teacher knows: If you want to help people learn something, make it as intense as possible—in this case, as felt in the body as possible—for as long as possible.

3. Finally, as you sink into this experience, sense your intent that this experience is sinking into you. Sometimes people do this through visualization, like by perceiving a golden light coming into themselves or a soothing balm inside themselves. You might imagine a jewel going into the treasure chest in your heart—or just know that this experience is sinking into you, becoming a resource you can take with you wherever you go.


This article is printed here with permission from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Based at UC Berkeley, the GGSC studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.  More from Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author.