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Monday, January 28, 2013

Mindfulness at work

A new study shows that being mindful at work can reduce your level of emotional exhaustion, help keep your emotions on an even keel, and increase your job satisfaction, Fox news reports.

The report is based on two studies from the Netherlands published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Participants noted their feelings and their level of mindfulness through the day. Those who were more mindful were less exhausted and more positive.

Emotional exhaustion occurs when people try to suppress or control their emotions. 

“The more we try to suppress these emotions or the thoughts that accompany them ('I can't make it, I will fail, I am going to explode'), the more energy it requires,” said Hugo Alberts, a co-author of the study. “Instead of attempting to avoid or reduce a negative emotion, mindfulness requires willingness to stay in contact with the emotion and allow it to be."


The study said users saw beneficial changes within 10 days. And it doesn't seem to suggest daily meditation. But I will. It's a practice. The more five- or 10-minute breaks you take throughout the workday or sessions you do at home to train your mind, the better your mind responds.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mindfulness reduces inflammation

People suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma — in which psychological stress plays a major role — may benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in the Waisman Center.

Mindfulness meditation consists of continuously focusing attention on the breath, bodily sensations, and mental content while seated, walking, or practicing yoga.

The results show that behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity are beneficial to people suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. The study also suggests that mindfulness techniques may be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms than other activities that promote well-being.

The mindfulness-based approach is not a magic bullet, said Melissa Rosenkranz, assistant scientist at the center and lead author of the paper, which was published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need,” Rosenkranz says.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Change your mind to change your world

Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.

Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: "Improved means to an unimproved end." This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man.

If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual "lag" must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the "without" of man's nature subjugates the "within," dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

Martin Luther King Jr.
1964 Nobel Prize lecture, "The Quest for Peace and Justice," 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Work out your brain, reap the benefits

This article by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain, offers a great summary of the neurological benefits of meditation:

Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.
Studies have shown that regular meditation promotes mindfulness (sustained observing awareness), whose benefits include decreased stress-related cortisol, insomnia, symptoms of autoimmune illnesses, PMS, asthma, falling back into depression, general emotional distress, anxiety, and panic, and increased immune system factors, control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, detachment from reactions, self-understanding, and general well-being.
Lots more detail about what mindfulness meditation does for the insula, hippocampus, and PFC on the link.

And here's a Ted talk about how meditation affects your heart, brain, and creativity.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

You are the universe

Learning how to be kind to ourselves is important. When we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn't just ourselves that we’re discovering. We’re discovering the universe. When we discover the buddha that we are, we realize that everything and everyone is Buddha. We discover that everything is awake, and everyone is awake. Everything and everyone is precious and whole and good. When we regard thoughts and emotions with humor and openness, that’s how we perceive the universe.

~ Pema Chodron
"Comfortable with Uncertainty"

What NOT to worry about in meditation

The New York Times has an article on what to wear while meditating that notes the availability of clothes designed for meditation, such as the $1,000 sweatpants from Donna Karan's Urban Zen line. (shown below)
It quotes self-help author Gabrielle Bernstein -- who, of course, has a new book coming out (“May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness”). 

“If you want to get more excited about your practice,” she said, “choose an outfit you want to put on.” 

This is missing the point of meditation. It is, in fact, spiritual materialism, the tendency to acquire the trappings of spiritual practice without actually doing the practice -- to look good rather than to feel good. (See Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism for more on the topic.)

The thing is, that doesn't work. Instead of reducing suffering, you're creating more by thinking that you have to have meditation clothes from Donna Karan or Lululemon to achieve liberation from attachments. That's not the way to inner peace.

Oddly enough, I recently had an email exchange with someone who asked what people wear to my meditation class. She wanted to know whether she had to run home and change into special clothes (yoga pants) or whether she could arrive in her work clothes. I don't particularly notice what people wear, but some stay from an earlier yoga class and some, including wear, wear street clothes. What's important is to wear something you can sit in without being distracted by it. I've found I can't meditate in skinny jeans because they're too tight in the knees. Some spandex is excellent.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala, believed that proper dress helped people see their inherent worth and dignity. He made his hippie students in the 1970s wash their feet and put on pantyhose. He traded his monks' robes for western suits. 

CTR encouraged them -- the men, I suppose -- to wear belts, saying the pressure around the waistband while sitting would keep them in touch with their bodies and the present moment, would help them to wake up.
But I defer to the Buddha's teaching on how to hold your attention: Not too tight, not too loose. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Am I there yet?

This is the time of year when we decide to change things about ourselves or our lives. And mid-way through Jan.1, you may be holding fast to your resolution. Or maybe you already broke it with mimosas for breakfast.

The important thing is not to give up the first time you slip. And that's what we learn in meditation. If we stopped meditating the first time we noticed ourselves thinking instead of watching our breath, we would never find any calm or equanimity. The practice of meditation is about controlling your attention (in a friendly way). When you can place your awareness, notice when it's moved and bring it back then you're getting somewhere.

Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject or skill. But you can become more mindful in a few minutes a day. And in my experience, mindfulness -- once started -- spreads on its own into all areas of your life.

Ten thousand hours sounds daunting, right? But there's another way to look at it. In the song "10,000 Hours" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, they say, "10,000 hours felt like 10,000 arms -- they carry me."

Put those 10,000 hours into meditation, and they will carry you to a place I can't even imagine. I've got a lot of hours to go.