Monday, June 14, 2010

Mindfulness and Meditation in the News

Four recent articles/posts on mindfulness and meditation that are very worthy of attention - two from Huffington Post and two from Psychology Today.

3 Reasons to Meditate

Susan Piver
Posted: June 11, 2010

By now, many of us have heard of the extraordinary, scientifically proven health benefits of meditation. It relieves stress (by lowering cortisol), improves focus and memory (by raising the level of gamma waves), prevents relapse into depression by 50 percent (according to studies by Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D. and Zindel Segal, Ph.D.), boosts immunity (in one study, meditators demonstrated higher levels of antibodies than non-meditators in reaction to a vaccination), and actually makes you demonstrably happier (by reducing activation in the amygdala and increasing it in the prefrontal cortex).

My friend Jonathan Foust says if it were a drug, meditation would be heralded as the miracle of the century.

So, you might think to yourself, those are fantastic reasons to meditate. Well, actually--no.

Ahem, you might then ask, If I'm not supposed to meditate to feel better physically or emotionally, why on earth would I do it?

I was hoping you'd ask that.
Read more.

The Rise and Benefits of Mindfulness

Soren Gordhamer

I just returned from a month offering mindfulness programs in Africa through the non-profit, Between Four Eyes. It may well be that in our increasingly hectic, interconnected world, it is becoming more difficult to survive without it. Mindfulness helps us, among other things, to do the following:

1) Be More Attuned and Less Reactive

"When players practice what is known as mindfulness--paying attention to what's actually happening--not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other." -- Phil Jackson, LA Laker coach who is the winningest coach in NBA finals history.

On many days someone will do something that ignites irritation in us; it could be a request by our boss, an action of our child, or an unkind remark by our partner. No matter the details, anger and frustration bubble up. The question, however, is whether we react mindlessly from this frustration (and usually create more difficulty as a result) or if we can be aware of what we are feeling, and relate to the frustration and the situation. Essentially, our level of mindfulness determines whether our emotions control us, usually resulting in statements and actions that we later regret. If we can acknowledge what we are feeling, see the choices available to us, and consciously decide how best to respond in a given situation.

2) Have Greater Focus

"You must be present to win." -- a sign in Las Vegas
Lets face it, multitasking has become something of an epidemic, even as studies increasingly reveal that when doing so we are not only less productive, but we also make more mistakes. The ability to bring our complete focus to whatever we are doing at a given time, be it a conversation with a friend or a project at work, goes a long way in determining the quality of that effort. Ten minutes of focused work, whether it is learning a new software or writing a report, often produces more results than an hour of unfocused, distracted work. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, who has done some of the the most in-depth research on mindfulness and meditation, put it this way, "Attention is the key to learning, and meditation helps you voluntarily regulate it."
Read more.

Mindfulness-based Anger Management Online

Mindfulness Therapy teaches us how to overcome compulsive reactivity.
by Peter Strong, Ph.D.

Anger is a powerful emotion that can cause untold damage in our close relationships, our communities and the world at large needs to learn new strategies for coping with this intense concentrated form of emotional energy.

At least 50 percent of the clients that I work with online through Skype sessions are struggling with anger in one form or another and come to me because of the destructive effects that anger is having in their marriage or in their family. Others recognize that unresolved anger is at the core of their depression and want to find better ways of working with this intense energy. As Sigmund Freud often stated, depression is anger turned inwards towards the self. Others recognize the immense stress associated with anger and want to manage their anger for health reasons. Whatever the motivation to change, all feel that their anger prevents them from living life to the full and prevents them from being happy.

There are many approaches to working on the resolution of anger, but the underlying principle is the same: We must learn to take responsibility for our own cognitive and emotional reactions and NOT externalize, blaming other people or situations for how we feel. This is the beginning of the journey to freedom from anger.
Read more.

Research Suggests Meditation Increases Gray Matter

Want a bigger brain? – Meditate
by Michael J. Formica

If you are a meditator, you are likely familiar with the more obvious benefits of practice, which include a reduction in stress, an increased ability to enact mindfulness, greater concentration and a lowered tendency toward immediate and excessive emotional dysregulation. Recent research suggests that, in addition to the anecdotal psycho-social benefits evidenced by a regular meditation practice, there is some empirical indication that meditation may contribute to a measurable differentiation between the brains of mediators and those of non-meditators.

A study published in NeuroImage presents findings by a group of researchers at UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of meditators. The researchers report having found differences between the scans, showing that certain brain areas of the long-term meditator group were larger than those of the non-meditating control group. Meditators displayed a significantly larger volume of hippocampal tissue, as well as a similarly increased volume of tissue in the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus. All of these areas are recognized as playing a role in emotional regulation.

Read more.

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