Posts tagged ‘mindfulness’

April 23, 2011

Mindfulness – Right Focus


The Molly Lama

Every morning at about 9:00, I take our dog Molly out for a walk around the neighborhood. Molly is a German Shepard/Chow mix – a beautiful, feisty (at times a bit goofy looking) animal. I’ve gotten into the habit of practicing mindfulness on our walks and it sets the tone for the rest of my day.

This morning was sunny and mild – in the mid 50s, but windy. We’ve been having a windy spring here in Denver this year. Part of global climate change, I guess.

So Molly and I left the house a little after 9:00. As usual, she was anxious to explore the neighborhood. She ran down the walkway from our front porch and yanked me forward when she got to the end of her retractable leash.

“Hold on, Molly,” I told her. She looked down the street with a big smile on her face, tail wagging, as if to say, “Oh, boy! We’re going for a walk!” Dogs derive so much pleasure from the simple things in their lives. They live almost completely in the present, although I think she dreams of chasing rabbits when she sleeps.

As we started off on our walk around the neighborhood, I focused on my breath flowing in and out of my nostrils. It was windy and I observed the sensation of the cool air on my face and hands. The sun was beginning to heat the ground and occasionally a bit of warm air caressed the exposed parts of my body. So many things to be mindful of on this splendid morning in Denver.

The whistling from the steady breeze overpowered the traffic sounds from the busy street a few blocks away. Our neighborhood is a little oasis in Denver proper, with its two story houses and majestic, half-century old trees lining the streets. The sounds of traffic typically seem like an invader into our peaceful community, but on this day it was inaudible.

Molly suddenly started barking frantically as she lunged from the sidewalk into the street. I pressed my thumb down firmly on the leash brake to stop her progress, but she was already a good ten feet into the road. A German Shepard sat peacefully on the other side of the street – the object of Molly’s aggression. I backed up in a tug-of-war attempt to pull her out of the street with everything I had. At about 70 pounds of muscle, she’s a handful.

Just then I saw a van speeding down our side of the street directly towards Molly. I spun my body around, pulling on the leash. The van came within a foot of hitting Molly and continued down the street without slowing, seemingly oblivious.

“Damn it Molly!” I yelled, pulling her back to the sidewalk.

“Sorry about that,” came a voice from across the street. The owner of the well behaved German Shepard stood next to his dog, obviously concerned.

“That wasn’t your fault,” I replied, angry with myself for not being vigilant of my companion.

Molly is generally fairly well behaved, but she sometimes lets the Chow in her come out and can be a bit aggressive – never towards people, but often towards other animals. She likes to play by jumping on the other dog. That’s just her disposition. When the other dog responds in kind, the two have a good-ol’ time wrestling and play biting. Sometimes the other dog gets agitated, though, and they wind up fighting. She also goes after squirrels, rabbits, skunks (she’s gotten sprayed a few times), and I need to be mindful of her while we’re out on our walks. It’s not difficult to anticipate her moves. An attack is always preceded by an intense stare and a crouched stance, and generally, all that’s required is a firm “no” and my thumb on the leash brake to stop her from getting out of control. To do that, though, requires my mindfulness to be focused on her.

So this was a good lesson for me. While it’s important to be mindful, what’s also important is what we’re mindful of, especially when it involves the people and animals we love.

April 22, 2011

Meditation May Help the Brain ‘Turn Down the Volume’ on Distractions

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.

“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. “Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

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April 21, 2011

Mindfulness Meditation Changes Decision-Making Process

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — If a friend or relative won $100 and then offered you a few dollars, would you accept this windfall? The logical answer would seem to be, sure, why not? “But human decision making does not always appear rational,” said Read Montague, professor of physics at Virginia Tech and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

According to research conducted over the last three decades; only about one-fourth of us would say, “Sure. Thanks.” The rest would say, “But that’s not fair. You have lots. Why are you only giving me a few?” In fact, people will even turn down any reward rather than accept an ‘unfair’ share.

Unless they are Buddhist meditators, in which case — fair or not — more than half will take what is offered, according to new research by Ulrich Kirk, research assistant professor with the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech; Jonathan Downar, assistant professor with the Neuropsychiatry Clinic and the Centre for Addition and Mental Health at the University of Toronto; and Montague, published in the April 2011 issue of Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience.

Their research shows that Buddhist meditators use different areas of the brain than other people when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to make decisions rationally rather than emotionally. The meditators had trained their brains to function differently and make better choices in certain situations.

The research “highlights the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision making,” the researchers write.

The research came about when Montague wondered whether some people are capable of ignoring the social consideration of fairness and can appreciate a reward based on its intrinsic qualities alone. “That is,” he said, “can they uncouple emotional reaction from their actual behavior?”

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April 20, 2011

Quote of the day

Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us.” – Jon Kabat Zin

April 20, 2011

Free Mindfulness Magazine

This comes from the Shambhala Sun

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April 18, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2010) — Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

Constant brain waves

Whether we are mentally active, resting or asleep, the brain always has some level of electrical activity. The study monitored the frequency and location of electrical brain waves through the use of EEG (electroencephalography). EEG electrodes were placed in standard locations of the scalp using a custom-made hat

Participants were experienced practitioners of Acem Meditation, a nondirective method developed in Norway. They were asked to rest, eyes closed, for 20 minutes, and to meditate for another 20 minutes, in random order. The abundance and location of slow to fast electrical brain waves (delta, theta, alpha, beta) provide a good indication of brain activity.

Relaxed attention with theta

During meditation, theta waves were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain.

“These types of waves likely originate from a relaxed attention that monitors our inner experiences. Here lies a significant difference between meditation and relaxing without any specific technique,” emphasizes Lagopoulos.

“Previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners. The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”

“When we measure mental calm, these regions signal to lower parts of the brain, inducing the physical relaxation response that occurs during meditation.”

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April 15, 2011

Mindfulness meditation practice changes the brain

Mindfulness meditation alters regions of the brain associated with memory, awareness of self, and compassion, according to a brain imaging study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Other studies have found differences in the brains of experienced meditators compared with non-meditators, but this is the first investigation to document brain changes occurring over time in people learning how to meditate mindfully. Results were published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (Jan. 30, 2011).

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment without drifting into thoughts about the past or concerns about the future and without analyzing (or making judgments about) what is going on around you. It’s not a new idea. Religious texts have extolled mindfulness for centuries, and it’s central to Buddhism and other contemplative traditions.

Since the early 1980s, mindfulness meditation has increasingly found a place in mainstream health care and medicine because of evidence that it’s good for emotional and physical health — for example, helping to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, psoriasis, headache, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some studies suggest that it can improve immune function. And research has found an association between mindfulness meditation–induced improvements in psychological well-being and increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme important to the long-term health of cells. With advances in neuroimaging, scientists have begun to explore the brain mechanisms that may underlie these benefits.

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April 15, 2011

Being ‘Mindful’ Can Neutralize Fears of Death and Dying

ScienceDaily (Feb. 28, 2011) — Death can be terrifying. Recognizing that death is inescapable and unpredictable makes us incredibly vulnerable, and can invoke feelings of anxiety, hatred and fear. But new research by George Mason University psychology professor Todd Kashdan shows that being a mindful person not only makes you generally more tolerant and less defensive, but it can also actually neutralize fears of dying and death.

“Mindfulness is being open, receptive, and attentive to whatever is unfolding in the present moment,” says Kashdan. In his latest research, Kashdan and his colleagues wanted to find out if mindful people had different attitudes about death and dying.

“Generally, when reminded of our mortality, we are extremely defensive. Like little kids who nearly suffocate under blanket protection to fend off the monster in the closet, the first thing we try to do is purge any death-related thoughts or feelings from our mind,” says Kashdan.

“On the fringes of this conscious awareness, we try another attempt to ward off death anxiety. We violently defend beliefs and practices that provide a sense of stability and meaning in our lives.”

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April 13, 2011

The Shape of Suffering: A Study of Dependent Co-arising, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Free e-book)

The Shape of Suffering: A Study of Dependent Co-arising, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. In this book the author examines the nature of dependent co-arising (paticca samuppada) — the complex causal structure by which dukkha arises and ceases. It also shows how the factors of the path address the causes of suffering in a way that leads to its cessation. (PDF)

April 12, 2011

Meditation a powerful tool against pain

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Meditation can deliver powerful pain-relieving effects to the brain with even just 80 minutes’ training for a beginner in an exercise called focused attention, a study released Tuesday found.

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

The findings appear in the April 6 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“We found a big effect — about a 40-percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57-percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent,” he added.

[…]

“One of the reasons that meditation may have been so effective in blocking pain was that it did not work at just one place in the brain, but instead reduced pain at multiple levels of processing,” Zeidan added.

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