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Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

woman meditating

Did you know that when your stress response is active, ALL OTHER VITAL SYSTEMS SHUT DOWN.

Your body perceives no need for digestion, elimination, reproduction or immunity. Over time, a stressed out body becomes a sick one. You need to REST! But most people don’t really know how.

It is not surprising that people do not incorporate relaxation routines into their lives. We are a workaholic, over-doing, stressed-out culture that strongly rewards type-A behavior and multitasking. There has been little value put on rest and relaxation until recently. Now, many leading scientists have begun to acknowledge the impact of stress reduction through the use of a variety of modalities. (more…)

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Holding hands

“To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo.

The latest research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health. There are studies showing that touch signals safety and trust, it soothes. Basic warm touch calms cardiovascular stress. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is intimately involved with our compassionate response, and a simple touch can trigger release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.” We also know thanks to neuroscientist Edmund Rolls that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.

In a study by Jim Coan and Richard Davidson, participants laying in an fMRI brain scanner, anticipating a painful blast of white noise, showed heightened brain activity in regions associated with threat and stress. But participants whose romantic partner stroked their arm while they waited didn’t show this reaction at all. Touch had turned off the threat switch. (more…)

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What makes for a successful and fulfilling life? How do we maintain a sense of balance in the face of life’s challenges and difficulties? How do we maintain a sense of who we are and what we consider to be valuable and true when life gets tough? Phillip Moffitt’s wonderful new book Emotional Chaos to Clarity addresses these questions with clarity and wisdom. It goes to the heart of what we all face as human beings regardless of our background, economic status, religion or belief system.

This book helps you get in touch with your authentic self, the genuine part of you that acts from your deepest values and intentions.
Our society conditions us to believe that our material possessions, recognition from our peers and our health are the markers for a successful life. The author argues that it is fine to have skillful goals as long as we don’t determine our self-worth by the success we have in reaching those goals. The hallmark of a successful life is how well our actions reflect the intentions that are formed by our core values.

Skillful living requires that we first have to discover for ourselves our core values and intentions. It is in life’s difficult moments, whether it be at work or in our closest relationships that we come to rely on our values and intentions to guide how we respond when we are in the midst of a difficult situation. Otherwise we get lost in a storm of reactivity which compounds our suffering. Moffitt acknowledges that living from our values and intentions is not an easy thing to do. It requires patience and persistence and the willingness to start over.

The author states that a necessary condition to bringing about more clarity in our lives is the practice of mindfulness which trains you to be present and aware in daily life. Without mindfulness we would fall back on unskillful habit patterns which cloud the mind and form the basis for reactivity.

What sets this book apart from the multitude of other books that deal with this subject matter is the author’s skillful use of pedagogy. Each chapter addresses an aspect of our lives: practicing gratitude and generosity, starting our day with clarity and making major life changes are some of the topics that are addressed. At the end of each chapter, Moffitt lists practical exercises that one can incorporate into one’s daily routine. I personally found the self-reflection exercises to be very helpful. They allowed me to pause and ask the really important questions that we all long to ask – how do I want to spend the rest of my precious life for the short time that I am living on this earth?

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A human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind wrote psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University in the Journal Science. According to these researchers, mind-wandering is a human brain’s default mode of operation.

Using modern technology, the authors created an iphone app that contacted volunteers at regular intervals throughout the day to find out what they were currently doing and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Intrigued by the researchers skillful use of modern technology to determine the causes for human happiness, I decided to sign up as a participant. Five times per day over a period of ten days, my trusty iphone would beep prompting me to answer the designated questions. The questions ranged from my current level of happiness, how well I slept the night before, what I was busy doing in the moment that I was beeped and how focussed I was with that particular activity. I was also asked if I was judging myself, the people around me or my current environment. After 10 days of answering questions , I was rewarded with a handsome set of charts measuring my level of happiness across a wide spectrum.

The results did not surprise me. I am happiest when I am doing my yoga practice or when I am helping others in need. For both of these activities, I am fully participating in life as it is happening in the present moment. Also not surprisingly the results confirmed that I am least happy when I am commuting over long distances. My mind wanders a lot when I am sitting in the car with nothing to do.

“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

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Recent scientific studies suggest that people with mindfulness traits have the ability to calm their emotions by naming them. Mindfulness is a process where one is aware and receptive to present moment experiences.

In a study conducted by UCLA researchers Matthew Leiberman and David Creswell, subjects in an MRI scanner were shown emotionally expressive faces. When they were asked to name the gender of the person expressing the emotion no changes occurred. However when the same subjects were asked to name the emotion they were seeing (such as anger, fear or sadness), the person’s right ventro-lateral region became activated at the moment that the emotion was being named and the subcortical regions that respond to facial expressions especially in the region of the right amygdala calmed down. (more…)

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In his poem, Ash Wednesday, TS Eliot writes, “Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still…

These words are like a paradox. How can we care and at the same time not care? We have goals and desires and we want things to be a certain way. What Eliot is suggesting in this poem is that we can have desires and at the same time not be imprisoned by them. Life is going to march on regardless of how we want things to be. Sometimes we will get what we want and sometimes we won’t. It’s just the way life is. However, when we hold on rigidly to the objects of our desire, we suffer.

This is the central teaching of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. In the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha instructs us “to abandon attachment to getting what we desire.” (more…)

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Our brains are composed of a left and right hemisphere connected by the corpus collosum, a small number of neural circuits located deep in the brain where energy and information is sent back and forth between the two sides. The left hemisphere is the more analytical, conceptual, fact based side that loves logical, linear, linguistic and literal communication. The right side of the brain is the more image-based side that processes non-verbal eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and timing. It sees the whole picture whereas the left sees the world in terms of either/or. The right is characterized by autobiographical memory which is non-language based whereas factual memory is dominated on the left. (more…)

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