Category Archives: Mediation

Lines from “Song of Myself”

Why-did-wlat-whitman-write-Leaves-of-Grass

Poem: Lines from “Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman.

6

A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any
more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction

5Benefits_Meditation_V2

One of the first steps in dealing with addiction is to discover the emotional cause of it, whether it is fear, depression, anxiety, or pessimism.  Many times these unwholesome thoughts and beliefs come from what I call the “wanting mind.”  In wanting mind, we feel that our current state of unhappiness could be cured if only we could have the money, job, relationship, recognition, or power we had and lost, or never had and strongly desire.  Often we cause ourselves suffering when we ache for something that lies out of our grasp or cling in vain to something that has already passed away. Sometimes, wanting mind involves tightly holding on to something negative: an unwholesome belief about how things ought to be or should have been, or an unwholesome emotion such as anger, sadness, or jealousy. Mindfulness practice helps us develop the capacity to see clearly exactly what we’re attached to so that we can let go of it and end our suffering. The hidden areas of resistance that emerge into our awareness can be noted and examined later so that we can make the conscious choice to reject them.

You can never completely avoid the wanting mind or any other hindrance. Desire is part of being human. It causes us to strive toward bettering our lives and our world, and has led to many of the discoveries and inventions that have provided us with a higher quality of life. Yet despite all that we can achieve and possess, we can become convinced that we won’t be happy or contented unless we acquire even more. This unwholesome belief can lead to competitiveness and feeling resentful toward, or envious of, those who seem to have an easier life.

If I have a patient who is using drugs or even food to manipulate their moods I first refer them to a nutritionist; a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist; or a holistic doctor, such as an integrative medical doctor, to break this habit.  In addition to this I recommend mindfulness meditation, yoga practice, and regular exercise as they are all excellent to help mood regulation.  These types of activities lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, increase your interleukin levels (enhancing your immune system and providing you with greater energy), and streamline your body’s ability to cleanse itself of chemical toxins, such as lactic acid in your muscles and bloodstream, which can affect neurotransmitter receptors and alter your mood (Chopra 1994; Rossi 1993).

The challenge to altering addictions is the fear that you can’t change which can push you into denial and cause you to minimize the consequences of your unproductive behaviors. Whatever you discover about yourself and however painful your discovery, dramatic breakthroughs are always possible. Research on mindfulness meditation indicates that qualities we once thought immutable that form temperament and character can actually be altered significantly. By retraining your mind through mindfulness practice, you create new neural networks. If you’re aggressive, you can find ways to temper that aspect of yourself, becoming assertive and clear about your boundaries without entering into a competitive and possibly even hostile mind-set that will sabotage you.

For many years, scientists believed that the brain’s plasticity, that is, its ability to create new structures and learn, was limited after childhood. However, new research shows that we can alter the structure of the brain and reap the benefits well into adulthood. Sara Lazar, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, discovered that the more one practices mindfulness meditation, the thicker the brain becomes in the mid-prefrontal cortex and in the mid-insular region of the brain. Changing your mind (or thought processes) actually causes changes in the brain (Lazar et al. 2005). Lazar found that, while people who’ve practiced meditation for ten or twenty years are adept at quickly achieving a state of concentration and mindful awareness, newcomers who engage in mindfulness meditation as little as four hours a week can achieve and sustain a state of mindfulness that leads to creative flow, or what I call “open-mind consciousness.” She discovered that even beginning meditators in their early twenties were able to achieve advanced states of concentration and insight (what I refer to as “mindstrength”) equal to that of senior meditation practitioners. Intention and attention of focus were the keys to reaching these states, not the number of hours spent on a meditation cushion (Lazar and Siegel 2007). From my own experience and work, I know that regular mindfulness practice allows us to set aside distractions and enter the transformative state of open mind.

Mindfulness practice may positively affect the amount of activity in the amygdala, the walnut-sized area in the center of the brain responsible for regulating emotions (Davidson 2000). When the amygdala is relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system engages to counteract the anxiety response. The heart rate lowers, breathing deepens and slows, and the body stops releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream; these stress hormones provide us with quick energy in times of danger but have damaging effects on the body in the long term if they’re too prevalent. Over time, mindfulness meditation actually thickens the bilateral, prefrontal right-insular region of the brain (Lazar et al. 2005), the area responsible for optimism and a sense of well-being, spaciousness, and possibility. This area is also associated with creativity and an increased sense of curiosity, as well as the ability to be reflective and observe how your mind works.

By building new neural connections among brain cells, we rewire the brain, and with each new neural connection, the brain is actually learning. It’s as if we’re adding more RAM to a computer, giving it more functionality. In The Mindful Brain, leading neuroscientist Daniel Siegel (2007, 5), defines the mind as “a process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” His early brain research showed that “where neurons fire, they can rewire” (2007, 291); that is, they create new neural pathways or structures in the brain. He postulates that one of the benefits of mindfulness meditation practice is this process of creating new neural networks for self-observation, optimism, and well-being. Through mindfulness meditation, we light up and build up the left-prefrontal cortex, associated with optimism, self-observation, and compassion, allowing ourselves to cease being dominated by the right-prefrontal cortex, which is associated with fear, depression, anxiety, and pessimism. As a result, our self-awareness and mood stability increase as our harsh judgments of others and ourselves decrease. By devoting attention, intention, and daily effort to being mindful, we learn to master the mind and open the doorway to the creativity available in open-mind consciousness.

It’s entirely possible that the same effects can be achieved through other practices that appear to open up new neural pathways, such as tai chi, yoga, and other forms of meditation, but thanks to researchers studying mindfulness meditation, we now know that we can actually remap the brain and affect the way it functions, as well as the way it influences the body.

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com)

For Depression Treatment, Meditation Might Rival Medication

s

By : Alice G. Walton for Forbes.com

On the list of ways in which meditation appears to benefit the brain, depression treatment may be the latest to gain scientific backing. A new review study, out yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, finds that mindfulness meditation may rival antidepressants in easing the symptoms of depression. The review is noteworthy for this reason: Its authors combed thousands of earlier studies on meditation, arriving at a small number of randomized clinical trials (the gold standard in science) for use in the analysis. Mindfulness meditation may not cure all, the research found, but when it comes to the treatment of depression, anxiety, and pain, the practice may be just as effective as medication.

The team, led by Johns Hopkins’ Madhav Goyal, MD, MPH, looked back over almost 18,000 earlier studies. They ultimately arrived at 47 randomized clinical trials, which together assigned over 3,500 participants to practice meditation (either mindfulness or mantra) or to enroll in another treatment, like exercise.

Some define mindfulness as paying attention to one’s internal processes (thoughts and/or bodily sensations) in a curious, but nonjudgmental, way. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” said Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

 In the current study, the effect size for meditation on depression was found to be moderate, at 0.3.

There was no evidence for an effect of meditation on other measures, like attention, positive mood, substance use, eating habits, sleep and weight. Mantra meditation didn’t seem to carry the same effect as mindfulness meditation, but it may be in part because there were too few studies in the former to draw real conclusions.

But the results are more impressive when you keep in mind that the average effect size of antidepressant medication, the go-to method in the country, is also 0.3. So when it comes to treating depression, which has a notoriously low treatment success rate, the effect size for meditation in the current study is actually pretty impressive.

Asked if he’s encouraged by the results, Goval tells me, “Yes, very encouraged.” Particularly so, he says, since most of the studies included in the review used very short training periods – often eight weeks or less – and one might expect even more robust results with longer training periods. “Compared to other skills that we train in,” he says, “the amount of training received by the participants in the trials was relatively brief. Yet, we are seeing a small but consistent benefit for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain. So you wonder whether we might see larger effects with more training, practice, and skill.”

Goval’s next studies will look into this question, along with whether the expertise of the trainer and the length of practice of the trainee have an influence on how meditation might affect depression.

One clear benefit of meditation is that it doesn’t carry the side effects that can accompany drug treatments.

“Also relevant for physicians and patients is that there is no known major harm from meditating, and meditation doesn’t come with any known side effects,” said Goyal. “One can also practice meditation along with other treatments one is already receiving.” It’s important to mention that psychotherapy or talk therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is known to be at least as effective as antidepressants (and the two are most effective when paired).

Though the mechanisms behind the effect of meditation on depression aren’t totally clear, researchers have wagered some guesses. Mindfulness may enhance “attention regulation, body awareness, emotional regulation, and changes in self-perspective (e.g., decentering),” which may all play a role in depression. On a purely biological level, MRI studies have shown that meditation is linked to a reduction in activity in the amygdala, the brain area that governs the stress response, and to reduced activity in the default mode network, the brain network that’s “on” when your mind is wandering from thought to thought, which is often linked to feelings of unhappiness and stress.

The evidence for meditation’s effects on the brain is becoming more and more convincing. If you’re interested in giving it a try, here’s one link to find resources in your area.

Follow @alicewalton or find her on Facebook.

In the future, doctors may tell you take two ‘doses of nature’ and call in the morning

70mb film, uppercut selectStop and smell the roses along the way, American singer-songwriter Mac Davis advised in a top 10 hit in the 1970s. In the more than three decades Davis imparted that wisdom, numerous studies have confirmed the link between exposure to nature and improved physical, psychological and social well-being. They have shown that greenery has been associated with reduced levels of asthma, improved healing times and even with making people more likely to exercise.

Over the past few years, a booming ecosystem of therapists, bootcamp coaches and others have embraced the concept of “ecotherapy,” but there has been little research so far about how much we actually need to stay healthy.

The White House on Tuesday recognized the links between people’s well being and their environment by launching an initiative focusing on the connections between climate change and public health. The administration is bringing health and data experts in to discuss strategies on how to address this issue. And President Obama has put a personal face on the initiative by talking about his daughter Malia’s asthma.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha

The question of how to help man better adapt to changes in our habitats — both due to global climate changes and migration —  is increasingly important as more and more people move to cities where pollutants can be higher and opportunities to commune with nature may be fleeting. The World Health Organization predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas within 30 years.

To address this demographic trend, a team of scientists has begun to study how to define a “nature dose” in an effort to develop recommendations for minimum levels of exposure in the same way doctors do for things like Vitamin D, vegetables or medicines. At a macro level, that information could be used by public health experts, ecologists, sociologists, and urban planners to help figure out how to plan and manage cities in a way that could boost health outcomes.

“A major consequence of continued urbanization is that more people will be exposed to the health risks associated with city living. Urban nature could provide a cost-effective tool to reduce these health risks,” Danielle F. Shanahan from the University of Queensland in Australia and her colleagues wrote in the journal Bioscience on Wednesday.

 Their goal, the researchers wrote, is “to understand how urban nature can be manipulated to enhance human health” and propose a framework for “measuring” nature doses such as the intensity (i.e. the number of street trees in a neighborhood or percentage of vegetation cover in a landscape), frequency or pattern and duration of exposure. They noted that there are some challenges in defining a dose “largely because it can be framed in a social context as well as an objective reality.”

Breathe

114059910_33753BreatheInBreatheOutMoveOn

By Leo Babauta

Breathe.

If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.

If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.

If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.

Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.