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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Prescription: Mindfulness (for the physician)

Would you rather be seen by a doctor who paid attention to you, who listened to what you said during your appointment, or one who was distracted, whose mind was somewhere else, who heard the first few sentences and then made assumptions?

It's not really a question, is it?

Researchers, who've found previously that pharmacists, nurses, and physicians trained in mindfulness make fewer mistakes and experience less stress, now say they also make patients feel better -- at least about their office visits.

The New York Times reports on the findings.

“We clinicians are not always fully present for patients because our minds are always working,” said Dr. Mary Catherine Beach, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “But when we don’t listen,” failing to let patients say what they need to say or ask what they need to ask, “we end up giving explanations that are too long and complicated and responses that they don’t need or want.”
Researchers found that patients were more satisfied and more open with the more mindful clinicians, the Times reports. More mindful clinicians "tended to be more upbeat during patient interactions, more focused on the conversation and more likely to make attempts to strengthen the relationship or ferret out details of the patient’s feelings," the Times says.

Mindful doctors remained efficient, getting as much done medically for their patients as their least mindful colleagues, even though they spent more time in conversation with patients.
Less mindful clinicians, on the other hand, more frequently missed opportunities to be empathic and, in the most extreme cases, failed to pay attention at all, responding, for example, to a patient’s description of waking up in the middle of the night crying in pain with a question about a flu shot.
And speaking of flu shots, get one. But keep in mind a study from 2012 that found that meditation can help fight colds and flu. The study, which followed volunteers through a winter cold season, from September through May, found that meditators missed 76 percent fewer days of work than nonmeditators. And the average duration of colds and respiratory infections was lower among meditators -- five days, compared to eight.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Precious moment, wonderful moment

Autumn sky in the the Berkshires

 Where I live, this week has had the kind of weather that reminds you why you live here. Clear, cold nights, crisp like a locally grown Macoun apple. Clear, sunny days, the temperature right in the range where we used to set the thermostat back before the energy crisis. And not just one day, but a string of them, a bracelet of precious jewels, one after the other.

I was noticing this today as I headed home, autumn blue sky overhead, trees with a tinge of color along the road.

Then I thought: I wonder how long this will last. Will it stay for the engagement party scheduled for Saturday? The Old Farmer's Almanac says it's going to be a hard winter.

The colors faded a bit

And I had to laugh at myself. Here I am, thinking how vivid and wonderful the present moment is -- and instead of basking in it, I'm thinking about what comes next.

At one talk I went to, the presented stopped often to laugh. "I crack myself up" he'd say.

I think it was a transmission of insight.

When you notice what your mind is doing, sometimes, you just gotta laugh. And that brings you right back to this moment, this breath, this awesome day.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

20 research-based reasons to meditate

Emma M. Seppala, Ph.D., a meditator and scientist, offers a list of 20 reasons to meditate at Psychology Today, with links to scientific studies, here. The list is below, but there's some additional commentary you might want to read.

It Boosts Your HEALTH
1 - Increases immune function (See here and here)
2 - Decreases Pain (see here)
3 - Decreases Inflammation at the Cellular Level (See here and here and here)
It Boosts Your HAPPINESS
4 - Increases Positive Emotion (here and here)
5 - Decreases Depression (see here)
6 - Decreases Anxiety (see here and here and here)
7 - Decreases Stress (see here and  here)
It Boosts Your SOCIAL LIFE
Think meditation is a solitary activity? It may be (unless you meditate in a group which many do!) but it actually increases your sense of connection to others:
8 - Increases social connection & emotional intelligence (see here and - by yours truly - here)
9 - Makes you more compassionate (see here and here and here)
10 - Makes you feel less lonely (see here)
It Boosts Your Self-Control
11 - Improves your ability to regulate your emotions (see here) (Ever flown off the handle or not been able to quiet your mind? Here's the key)
12 - Improves your ability to introspect (see here & for why this is crucial see this post)
It Changes Your BRAIN (for the better)
13 - Increases grey matter (see here)
14 - Increases volume in areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions & self-control (see here and here)
15 - Increases cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention (see here)
 It Improves Your Productivity (yup, by doing nothing)
16 - Increases your focus & attention (see here and here and here and here)
17 - Improves your ability to multitask (see here and here)
18 - Improves your memory (see here)
19 - Improves your ability to be creative & think outside the box (see research by J. Schooler)
20. It Makes You WISE(R)
It gives you perspective: By observing your mind, you realize you don't have to be slave to it. You realize it throws tantrums, gets grumpy, jealous, happy and sad but that it doesn't have to run you. Meditation is quite simply mental hygiene: clear out the junk, tune your talents, and get in touch with yourself. Think about it, you shower every day and clean your body, but have you ever showered your mind? As a consequence, you'll feel more clear and see thing with greater perspective. "The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind," writes Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. We can't control what happens on the outside but we do have a say over the quality of our mind. No matter what's going on, if your mind is ok, everything is ok. Right now.

What do you have to say to yourself?

I overslept today. Again. 

That's happened a few times lately. Even on days when I get up on time, my arrival time at work has been creeping back. I justify it by saying that I stay later at work to get things set up for the next day -- so my late arrival isn't a big deal.

But it's not irrelevant. I don't work by myself; I work with a team of people, and we have certain deadlines we have to meet every day, starting with internal planning ones and leading up to the shared ones that go into putting out three editions of a daily paper. My arrival time does have an effect.

Driving to work this morning, I realized that if I supervised myself, I would pull myself into the conference room and have a talk about it. I've had to do that a few times in the past.

I also realized that I would speak more kindly and gently to the person in the conference room than I do to myself. I would not ask that person why they can't get their act together or demand to know what their problem is. The thought would not flutter through my brain -- as it did with myself -- that they can't do anything right. "You're such a fuckup" is a sentence I would say only to myself.

When you love lovingkindness meditation, a lot of people trip up on extending kindness to themselves. We're not trained to do that. We're trained to achieve, to follow rules, to meet expectations. And when we don't do that, we can be hard on ourselves.

The first step toward changing that -- toward treating ourselves with the same care and respect we'd extend toward others -- is to notice what we say to ourselves. And that's where meditation is beneficial. If you sit with yourself and observe your thoughts, you notice that the same ones come around. And then you notice that out in the world.

And then, when you tell yourself that you're a fuckup, you can question that. I can't doa nything right? Really? Look around -- there's a lot here that I have done right. Do I need to improve some things -- like timeliness. Hell, yes. I know it, and I'm working on it.

Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we already are. - Pema Chodron

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mindfulness improves students' attention

A short training course in mindfulness improves children’s ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better, a study presented this month to the British Psychological Society says.

Study author Dominic Crehan said: “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”

The researchers worked with 30 children (girls and boys aged 10 to 11 years old), who took part  in a mindfulness course as part of their school curriculum in two groups. They measured the children’s levels of mindfulness using a questionnaire and assessed their attention skills using a specially-designed computer game. They made these measurements on three occasions, at three-month intervals, so that they could measure changes in attention skills over time as a result of the mindfulness course.

The results indicated that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the mindfulness course.