Plenty of followers swear by meditation to cure a long list of ails. But how does it work? Neuroscientist Clifford Saron, of the University of California, Davis, and a Who’s Who of peers, are spending millions to find out.
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Worrying can get the better of almost anybody. Work stresses, personal concerns, and sometimes even irrational thoughts can seep into your mind and interfere with your ability to concentrate on ordinary tasks. Unfortunately, stopping those worries isn't easy--there's no "off switch" that can shut your worried thoughts down. However, there are a handful of habits that, once integrated into your life, can force your worries to leave and free up your mind to focus on more positive, productive things.
Empathic concern offers the foundation for what’s been called a “caring classroom,” where the teacher embodies and models kindness and concern for her students, and encourages the same attitude among the students. Such a classroom culture provides the best atmosphere for learning, both cognitively and emotionally.
Learning in general happens best in a warm, supportive atmosphere, in which there exists a feeling of safety, of being supported and cared about, of closeness and connection. In such a space children’s brains more readily reach the state of optimal cognitive efficiency—and of caring about others.
Such an atmosphere has particular importance for those children at most risk of going off track in their lives because of early experiences of deprivation, abuse, or neglect. Studies of such high-risk kids who have ended up thriving in their lives—who are resilient—find that usually the one person who turned their life around was a caring adult.
Many educators are introducing meditation into the classroom as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation.
The body of scientific research illustrating the positive effects of mindfulness training on mental health and well-being—at the level of the brain as well as at the level of behavior—grows steadily more well-established: It improves attention, reduces stress, and results in better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy. Brain-imaging studies at Harvard and Mass General Hospital have shown that long-term mindfulness training can help thicken the cortical regions related to attention and sensory processing, and may offset thinning of those areas that typically comes with aging.
Mindfulness is widely considered effective in psychotherapy as a treatment not just for adults, but also for children and adolescents with aggression, ADHD, or mental-health problems like anxiety. (It remains to be seen whether mindfulness alone is a sufficient replacement for other therapies. In a review last year of 47 different randomized clinical trials, The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that mindfulness training wasn’t any more effective than other types of therapy, like drugs.)
In 1984, a researcher named Roger Ulrich noticed a curious pattern among patients who were recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban hospital in Pennsylvania. Those who had been given rooms overlooking a small stand of deciduous trees were being discharged almost a day sooner, on average, than those in otherwise identical rooms whose windows faced a wall. The results seemed at once obvious—of course a leafy tableau is more therapeutic than a drab brick wall—and puzzling. Whatever curative property the trees possessed, how were they casting it through a pane of glass?
That is the riddle that underlies a new study in the journal Scientific Reports by a team of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia, led by the University of Chicago psychology professor Marc Berman. The study compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space, as determined from satellite imagery and a comprehensive list of all five hundred and thirty thousand trees planted on public land, and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars—or make people seven years younger,” Berman told me.
Mindfulness is best known for its positive effects on practitioners’ brains and bodies. My research suggests it may also encourage compassion toward others.
How do you cultivate compassion? How do you ensure that at the end of the day, it’s your kindness and generosity for which you’ll be remembered? It’s a good question, for as much as we all agree that compassion is a virtue to be admired, as a society, we don’t seem to be very effective at instilling it. In fact, research by Sarah Konrath at the University of Michigan suggests we’re actually getting worse on this score.
Mindfulness meditation has lately been promoted for its abilities to enhance the brain and heal the body, but many of its most experienced teachers argue that its fundamental purpose involves the soul. As Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche, one the highest lamas in the Tibetan tradition, recently pointed out to me, meditation’s effects on memory, health, and cognitive skills, though positive, were traditionally considered secondary benefits by Buddhist sages. The primary objective of calming the mind and heightening attention and focus was to attain a form of enlightenment that would lead to a deep, abiding compassion and resulting beneficence.
Yet for all the emphasis meditation instructors place on kindness, solid evidence linking mindfulness to compassion has been lacking.
A few years ago, my research group at Northeastern University set out to change that. If meditation was indeed capable of fostering compassion—a quality this world seems at times to have in short supply—we wanted to find proof.
A study finds that wild environments boost well-being by reducing obsessive, negative thoughts.
A group of researchers from Stanford University thought the nature effect might have something to do with reducing rumination, or as they describe it, “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses.” Rumination is what happens when you get really sad, and you can’t stop thinking about your glumness and what’s causing it: the breakup, the layoff, that biting remark. Rumination shows up as increased activity in a brain region called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If rumination continues for too long unabated, depression can set it.
For many Americans, an NPR poll suggests, walking is their most consistent exercise. But how much can a moderately paced walk really help your health?
Researcher Church says walking has many tangible effects on health — lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and an overall lower risk of heart disease.
"The majority of benefits of physical activity — in this instance, walking — occur above the shoulders," he says. The walkers reaped benefits like less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression. They also discovered something many of us yearn for: more energy.
Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. The first use of the term is usually dated to a jaunty 1916 article in The Atlantic Monthly, “A Literary Clinic.” Today, bibliotherapy takes many different forms, from literature courses run for prison inmates to reading circles for elderly people suffering from dementia. Sometimes it can simply mean one-on-one or group sessions for “lapsed” readers who want to find their way back to an enjoyment of books.
Berthoud and Elderkin trace the method of bibliotherapy all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, “who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’ ” The practice came into its own at the end of the nineteenth century, when Sigmund Freud began using literature during psychoanalysis sessions. After the First World War, traumatized soldiers returning home from the front were often prescribed a course of reading.
Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics. But no one agrees on what to call that "stuff".
There are least seven major overlapping terms in play. New ones are being coined all the time. This bagginess bugs me, as a member of the education media. It bugs researchers and policymakers too.
"Basically we're trying to explain student success educationally or in the labor market with skills not directly measured by standardized tests," says Martin West, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "The problem is, you go to meetings and everyone spends the first two hours complaining and arguing about semantics."
West studies what he calls "non-cognitive skills." Although he's not completely happy with that term.
The problem isn't just semantic, argues Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the education policy program at the New America Foundation. She wrote a paper on what she called "Skills for Success," since she didn't like any of these other terms. "There's a lot of different terms floating around but also a lack of agreement on what really is most important to students."
As Noah Webster, the great American lexicographer and educator, put it back in 1788, "The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head."
Yet he didn't come up with a good name, either.
So, in Webster's tradition, here's a short glossary of terms that are being used for that cultivation of the heart.
Add two minutes of walking to each hour of your day and your risk of death drops. Even walking to the coffee machine counts.
We know that sitting all day is hazardous to our health, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, inflammation and atherosclerosis. It all sounds pretty dismal, since many of today's jobs require us to be nearly glued to our computer screens. But a tiny two-minute break may help offset that hazard, researchers say.
People who got up and moved around for at least two minutes every hour had a 33 percent lower risk of dying, according to researchers the University Of Utah School Of Medicine.
But it's not enough to meet federal guidelines.
Researchers studying the Blue Zones, five regions around the world with lots of centenarians, have come up with this rule: "Drink coffee for breakfast, tea in the afternoon, wine at 5 p.m."
The people in these five regions in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the U.S. that live to be 100 have a lot going for them. Genes probably play a small role, but these folks also have strong social ties, tightly-knit families and lots of opportunity to exercise.
In Mindful Work, Gelles, a business reporter for The New York Times, catalogues the nascent trend of establishing employee well-being programs that promote mindfulness, an activity that is perhaps best described as doing nothing. More precisely, mindfulness means drawing one’s attention to the sensations of the present moment, and noting, without frustration or judgment, any mental wanderings that get in the way. It can be done anywhere—at your desk, on the subway platform—and at any time. Decades of research suggest that setting aside time for mindfulness can improve concentration and reduce stress.
Gelles first reported on the rise of corporate mindfulness programs in 2012 for TheFinancial Times, when he described a rare but promising initiative at General Mills. In the years since, similar programs have popped up at Ford, Google, Target, Adobe—and even Goldman Sachs and Davos. This adoption has been rapid, perhaps due to its potential to help the bottom line: Aetna estimates that since instituting its mindfulness program, it has saved about $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs, and gained about $3,000 per employee in productivity. Mindful employees, the thinking goes, are healthier and more focused.
Pamir Kiciman's insight:
There's this rather significant tidbit right at the beginning of the interview. Wonder what Monsanto would be like today if this program had continued!
"Long before Google was teaching emotional intelligence courses in Mountain View, Monsanto, of all companies, tried mindfulness. They had a very progressive CEO for a moment there, who had a personal interest in this practice. He brought in a very skilled and experienced teacher named Mirabai Bush, and they began teaching mindfulness to the executives of the company.
These executives who had been in the corporate world for the duration of their careers suddenly were exposed to ways of thinking and ways of relating to themselves and to each other and even to their customers and maybe even to the planet, that they had never experienced before. Some people had these real, very emotional openings. Some people, I've heard, actually quit the company when this started to happen. It was starting to make a difference in the way some of the top executives at this company were thinking about the world.
And then of course what happened is the CEO got fired, they shut down the program, and no one ever mentioned it again. These things happen in corporate America."
New research shows that teenagers' brains aren't fully insulated, so the signals travel slowly when they need to make decisions. Neuroscientist Frances Jensen, who wrote The Teenage Brain, explains.
This insulation process starts in the back of the brain and heads toward the front. Brains aren't fully mature until people are in their early 20s, possibly late 20s and maybe even beyond, Jensen says.
"The last place to be connected — to be fully myelinated — is the front of your brain," Jensen says. "And what's in the front? Your prefrontal cortex and your frontal cortex. These are areas where we have insight, empathy, these executive functions such as impulse control, risk-taking behavior."
This research also explains why teenagers can be especially susceptible to addictions — including drugs, alcohol, smoking and digital devices.
The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG.
The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some of the most exciting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ.
Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultaneously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.
Putting off a work or school assignment in order to play videogames or water the plants might seem like nothing more serious than poor time-management.
But researchers say chronic procrastination is an emotional strategy for dealing with stress, and it can lead to significant issues in relationships, jobs, finances and health.
In August, researchers from Stockholm University published one of the first randomized controlled trials on the treatment of procrastination. It found a therapy delivered online can significantly reduce procrastination.
Psychologists also are studying other ways people might be able to reduce procrastination, such as better emotion-regulation strategies and visions of the future self.
Scientists define procrastination as the voluntary delay of an action despite foreseeable negative future consequences. It is opting for short-term pleasure or mood at the cost of the long-term. Perhaps we didn’t finish preparing a presentation on the weekend because we had house guests. That is just intentional delay based on a rational decision, says Timothy Pychyl (pronounced pitch-el), a psychology professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, who has published extensively on the topic.
Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago. City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.
These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
By charting new pathways in the brain, mindfulness can change the banter inside our heads from chaotic to calm.
Not too long ago, most of us thought that the brain we’re born with is static—that after a certain age, the neural circuitry cards we’re dealt are the only ones we can play long-term.
Fast-forward a decade or two, and we’re beginning to see the opposite: the brain is designed to adapt constantly. World-renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with this colleagues, want us to know three things:
1) you can train your brain to change, 2) that the change is measurable, and 3) new ways of thinking can change it for the better.
It’s hard to comprehend how this is possible. Practicing mindfulness is nothing like taking a pill, or another fix that acts quickly, entering our blood stream, crossing the Blood Brain Barrier if needed in order to produce an immediate sensation, or to dull one.
But just as we learn to play the piano through practice, the same goes for cultivating well-being and happiness. Davidson told Mindful last August that the brain keeps changing over its entire lifespan.
There’s a reason the restaurant kids’ menu often comes with an outline of illustrations and a bundle of crayons. Many times, coloring inside, or somewhere in the vicinity of, the lines is all it takes to channel and calm a child’s chaotic energy. Turns out, the same thing goes for grown-ups. With her new line of coloring books, local art therapist Lacy Mucklow aims to relieve and restore weary men and women with the wonder of such focused play.
“We see the joy and excitement that children have when they color a book with cartoon characters that they love to see, and we tend to get away from doing things like that when we are adults, due to added responsibilities, a tight schedule, or even thinking that coloring is only for kids,” Mucklow, 39, of Springfield, Va., said in an email. And yet, “we need to schedule self-care or ‘me’ time to unwind.”
The books follow best-sellers in the positive psychology movement, which espouses a path to happiness through redirected thinking and “natural ways to calm yourself down.”
Empathy is a quality that is integral to most people's lives - and yet the modern world makes it easy to lose sight of the feelings of others. But almost everyone can learn to develop this crucial personality trait.
Human beings are naturally primed to embrace this message. According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathise wired into their brains - an in-built capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.
The problem is that most don't tap into their full empathic potential in everyday life.
You can easily find yourself passing by a mother struggling with a pram on some steps as you rush to a work meeting, or read about a tragic earthquake in a distant country then let it slip your mind as you click a link to check the latest football results.
Music can energize, soothe or relax us. And it can also help reduce pain. Researchers found that listening to a favorite song or story helped children manage pain after major surgery.
We all know that listening to music can soothe emotional pain, but Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys can also ease physical pain, according to a study of children and teenagers who had major surgery.
The analgesic effects of music are well known, but most of the studies have been done with adults and most of the music has been classical. Now a recent study finds that children who choose their own music or audiobook to listen to after major surgery experience less pain.
If the rise of distraction is caused by technology, then technology might reverse it, while if the spiritual theory is true then distraction is here to stay. It’s not a competition, though; in fact, these two problems could be reinforcing each other. Stimulation could lead to ennui, and vice versa.
A version of that mutual-reinforcement theory is more or less what Matthew Crawford proposes in his new book, “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Crawford is a philosopher whose last book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” proposed that working with your hands could be an antidote to the sense of uselessness that haunts many knowledge workers. (Kelefa Sanneh reviewed it for this magazine, in 2007.) Crawford argues that our increased distractibility is the result of technological changes that, in turn, have their roots in our civilization’s spiritual commitments. Ever since the Enlightenment, he writes, Western societies have been obsessed with autonomy, and in the past few hundred years we have put autonomy at the center of our lives, economically, politically, and technologically; often, when we think about what it means to be happy, we think of freedom from our circumstances. Unfortunately, we’ve taken things too far: we’re now addicted to liberation, and we regard any situation—a movie, a conversation, a one-block walk down a city street—as a kind of prison. Distraction is a way of asserting control; it’s autonomy run amok. Technologies of escape, like the smartphone, tap into our habits of secession.
How to get the most cancer-fighting antioxidants in your guac (and then keep it from turning brown).
You've probably heard that avocados are full of good stuff, including cancer-fighting antioxidants. But you might not know how to get the most health benefits out of your nachos.
The aforementioned antioxidants are mostly found in the dark green layer right up against the skin of the fruit. So if you're digging the meat out with a spoon, you're probably missing out. The video at the top of this post shows a better method.
Pamir Kiciman's insight:
Make sure you watch the video at the top of this article for the whole scoop!
When emotional intelligence (EQ) first appeared to the masses, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. This anomaly threw a massive wrench into the broadly held assumption that IQ was the sole source of success.
Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the "something" in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.
Despite the significance of EQ, its intangible nature makes it difficult to measure and to know what to do to improve it if you're lacking. What follows are sure signs that you have a high EQ.
It's been called "America's untrendiest trend." The evidence that millions of people are finally walking again is as solid as the ground beneath our feet.
“Walking is the most common form of physical activity across incomes and ages and education levels,” explained Thomas Schmid of the federal CDC at a conference in Pittsburgh last fall. The CDC’s most recent researchshows that the number of Americans who walk for leisure or fitness at least once a week rose to 62 percent in 2010 from 56 percent in 2005—that’s almost 20 million more people on their feet.
Walking is already more prevalent across the United States than most of us realize. Paul Herberling of the U.S. Department of Transportation noted that 10.4 percent of all trips Americans make are on foot—and 28 percent of trips under a mile. For young people, it’s 17 percent of all trips. Americans walk most frequently for exercise, errands, and recreation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Last year the first ever Walking Summit was held in Washington, D.C., drawing more than 400 people from 41 states and Canada. A second summit is scheduled for October 28–30, 2015, in D.C.
The 2013 summit, which sold out weeks in advance, marked the birth of a new walking movement committed to: encouraging everyone to walk more; and boosting policies, practices, and investments that make communities everywhere more walkable. It was convened by the Every Body Walk! Collaborative, a joint effort involving more than 100 influential organizations across many fields to promote walking as part of the solution to problems ranging from chronic disease and health care costs, to climate change and the decline of community.
Walking also strengthens our social connections, which have been shown to be as important to health as physical activity, says Kaiser Permanente Vice-President Tyler. The more we are out walking, the more people in our community we come to know.
Americans overwhelmingly view walking as a good thing, according to a national survey . Here’s what it found:
-Good for my health (94 percent)
-Good way to lose weight (91 percent)
-Great way to relax (89 percent)
-Helps reduce anxiety (87 percent)
-Reduces feelings of depression (85 percent)
Most would agree that we need more compassion to help reduce human suffering in the world. But few prioritize building compassion in the place where we spend most of our waking time—our jobs.
Research suggests that compassionate workplaces increase employee satisfaction and loyalty. A worker who feels cared for at work is more likely to experience positive emotion, which in turn helps to foster positive work relationships, increased cooperation, and better customer relations. Compassion training in individuals can reduce stress, and may even impact longevity. All of these point to a need for increasing compassion’s role in business and organizational life.
Now, some researchers want to make compassion training more convenient and appealing for those in the best position to spread its benefits: business leaders. Dan Martin from California State University, East Bay, and Yotam Heineberg of Palo Alto University—both visiting scholars at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education—have come up with a promising format: compassion development dyads, or CDD for short. They hope that their CDD program will help to revolutionize the workplace.
CDD is a hybrid of compassion training and technology. Two people “meet” online via Skype for an hour a week for eight weeks to have structured discussions on topics gleaned from the science of personal and social well-being—topics like mindfulness, emotional literacy, and the importance of having a growth mindset.
The curriculum, based in large part on the work of researcher Paul Gilbert, the psychologist who pioneered compassion-focused therapy, helps people to become aware of how they typically respond to stress and threat in social and work situations, and then trains them to respond in more appropriate ways using tools like self-soothing, empathic listening, and compassion.