From boosting our hearts and minds to fighting addiction and stress, meditation can truly transform our lives. Transcendental Meditation, one of the more popular forms of meditation, has been praised in boardrooms and box offices as an effective method of cultivating some inner calm. The practice involves sitting comfortably for several minutes and repeating a mantra. TM has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and even increase work efficiency. For more evidence of why you should pick up meditation, take a look at the infographic below. Your body and brain will thank you for it.
by Andrew Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias
Practice more than just a passing management fad as it can play role in decision-making and bring changes to emotions and behaviour
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that cultivates awareness of the present moment and clears the mind of other thoughts, often accomplished by non-judgmentally focusing attention on the physical sensations of breathing or other experience as it occurs.
Top-level managers appear to be highly interested in mindfulness at the moment, as evidenced by recent sessions on meditation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and a cover story about mindfulness in Time magazine.
Chief executives of major companies such as Ford Motor, Salesforce.com and Tupperware have publicly touted the benefits of meditation. Organisations as varied as Google and the United States military have instituted internal mindfulness-based training programmes for their employees.
Meditation … reduced negative emotion [and] facilitated [the] ability to let go of sunk costs
At Insead – in Singapore and abroad – professors incorporate meditation into executive and MBA courses.
Although there is a risk that some may write off mindfulness as pop psychology or a management fad, it is more than that.
The practice dates back more than 2,000 years to the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, and Western clinical psychologists have used secular mindfulness meditation training to effectively combat anxiety and depression for several decades.
There are many articles in academic journals, particularly in the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, that document the benefits of meditation.
Meditating regularly increases how much people habitually focus on the present moment relative to the past and future at times when they are not meditating, a tendency psychologists call trait mindfulness.
Research has linked increased trait mindfulness to increased positive emotions and decreases in several forms of negative emotion, such as rumination, depression, anxiety and anger.
Previous research has also found evidence of other benefits, linking greater trait mindfulness to decreased substance abuse, improved psychological functioning, increased self-control, decreased overconfident gambling, decreased distraction from the task at hand and improved test performance.
Recent research has also found that even a single eight to 15-minute session of focused-breathing mindfulness meditation can cue a brief state of mindfulness, which leads to changes in emotions and behaviour immediately afterwards.
For example, a state of mindfulness has been found to reduce short-term negative emotions, distraction from the task at hand and the impact of negative information on attitudes and persistence.
In other words, we were interested in whether mindfulness meditation could reduce what economists call the sunk-cost fallacy or the sunk-cost bias, which is the tendency to continue an endeavour after having already invested time, effort or money.
We collaborated with Professor Sigal Barsade from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania on a research article that appeared in the February issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Our key finding is that mindfulness meditation increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias, and this occurred in a two-step process.
First, meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion. The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.
Our findings can help managers and businesspeople, because there are so many cases in which the sunk-cost bias can destroy value.
For example, people often hold on to losing investments for too long. Businesses often continue with projects even when the costs increase dramatically or their product is less unique or marketable than it initially appeared.
Governments often continue fighting wars they know they cannot win. Managers can be reluctant to fire massively underperforming employees who they hired with great expectations.
In all of these cases, resources are wasted that could have been used more productively in another endeavour, whether that is a more promising investment or project, peacekeeping efforts, or a new hire who is a better fit for the organisation.
Our advice is that when people need to make decisions about whether to change course, that is a great moment to step back, clear one’s mind by meditating, and approach the decision again.
A potentially helpful question to ask oneself is: “Would I continue this endeavour because I truly think it is the best decision in light of all available evidence or because I am reluctant to let go after having invested so much?” As to how to briefly meditate, there are many excellent free recorded meditations available online, such as those from freemindfulness.org
There are also meditation classes and trainers in all major cities and excellent books on the subject by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
More broadly, our findings suggest that even people with little experience meditating can use mindfulness meditation in small doses at times when they need it, such as when experiencing excessive negative emotions or stress, or when thinking too much about the past or future.
For these reasons, mindfulness should be more than a passing fad, and instead a tool people keep at their disposal for use when it can be helpful.
People and corporations should seriously consider the role mindfulness meditation can play in mental and emotional well-being, task performance and decision-making.
Andrew Hafenbrack is a doctoral candidate in organisational behaviour and Zoe Kinias an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Insead.
Mindfulness is always personal and often spiritual, but the meditation experience does not have to be subjective.
Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science – and the reported mental health benefits – of the practice.
A team of Brown University researchers, led by junior Juan Santoyo, will present their research approach at 2:45 p.m on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their methodology employs a structured coding of the reports meditators provide about their mental experiences. That can be rigorously correlated with quantitative neurophysiological measurements.
“In the neuroscience of mindfulness and meditation, one of the problems that we’ve had is not understanding the practices from the inside out,” said co-presenter Catherine Kerr, assistant professor (research) of family medicine and director of translational neuroscience in Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative. “What we’ve really needed are better mechanisms for generating testable hypotheses – clinically relevant and experience-relevant hypotheses.”
Now researchers are gaining the tools to trace experiences described by meditators to specific activity in the brain.
“We’re going to [discuss] how this is applicable as a general tool for the development of targeted mental health treatments,” Santoyo said. “We can explore how certain experiences line up with certain patterns of brain activity. We know certain patterns of brain activity are associated with certain psychiatric disorders.”
Structuring the spiritual
At the conference, the team will frame these broad implications with what might seem like a small distinction: whether meditators focus on their sensations of breathing in their nose or in their belly. The two meditation techniques hail from different East Asian traditions. Carefully coded experience data gathered by Santoyo, Kerr, and Harold Roth, professor of religious studies at Brown, show that the two techniques produced significantly different mental states in student meditators.
“We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations,” the researchers wrote in their conference abstract. “When students described practice experiences related to a focus on the nose during meditation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, specifically how their attention ‘felt’ when they sensed it.”
The ability to distill a rigorous distinction between the experiences came not only from randomly assigning meditating students to two groups – one focused on the nose and one focused on the belly – but also by employing two independent coders to perform standardized analyses of the journal entries the students made immediately after meditating.
This kind of structured coding of self-reported personal experience is called “grounded theory methodology.” Santoyo’s application of it to meditation allows for the formation of hypotheses.
For example, Kerr said, “Based on the predominantly somatic descriptions of mindfulness experience offered by the belly-focused group, we would expect there to be more ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity in this group across different parts of a large brain region called the insula that encodes visceral, somatic sensations and also provides a readout of the emotional aspects of so-called ‘gut feelings’.”
Unifying experience and the brain
The next step is to correlate the coded experiences data with data from the brain itself. A team of researchers led by Kathleen Garrison at Yale University, including Santoyo and Kerr, did just that in a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in August 2013. The team worked with deeply experienced meditators to correlate the mental states they described during mindfulness with simultaneous activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). They measured that with real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Even though some politicians have derided prison yoga programs as unnecessary inmate “coddling,” there’s a growing push for their expansion across Canada.
Advocates say yoga and meditation boost inmates’ mental well-being and help to reduce prison violence. They point to the success of programs in the U.S., including one at California’s San Quentin State Prison, notorious for housing some of the most dangerous offenders.
The question – can the downward dog really benefit those doing hard time? – will be the focus of a discussion next month at a conference of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association.
“We’re interested in promoting (offenders’) return to the community with better skills than when they left it. If meditation helps them become more self-aware and helps them control their anger, then it’s really advantageous,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, which advocates for prisoners’ rights. “It contributes to the successful re-integration of people.”
The society is in the process of taking over administration of Freeing the Human Spirit, a Canadian charity that has provided yoga and meditation classes at more than two-dozen provincial and federal institutions, mostly in Ontario, using volunteer instructors.
Latimer said she is now hoping to expand the yoga and meditation programs – which she says cost very little to run – to more institutions across the country.
This summer, a study out of Oxford University found prisoners who went through a 10-week yoga program had a more positive mood, were less stressed and performed better on a computer test of their impulse control.
Expansion of yoga in Canadian prisons may still be a tough sell for some. The federal Conservatives appear to question the value of prison yoga. Asked this week if the federal government would consider
providing funds to help expand such programs, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said via email: “Our government’s focus is on making sure the correctional system actually corrects criminal behaviour. Let me be clear: No taxpayer dollars have been spent on this program.”
Edmonton-area yoga instructor Chantele Theroux, a speaker at the upcoming criminal justice conference, doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. Theroux, who also works as a provincial investigator specializing in fraud and forensic investigations, said prison inmates often have anger issues, impulse-control issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder – in other words, they’re prime candidates for exposure to yoga’s calming effects.
Addiction is a disease of “lack.” At the core level, we feel something is missing and we set out to try to fill the void through a set of behaviors that leave us further depleted. We damage the systems of our body and sap ourselves of “life force.” Our endocrine system gets taxed. Our nervous system is overworked. We live in nearly constant fight or flight, bringing on the horrible consequences of stress.
In my opinion, the 12 steps provide a wonderful path to overcome acute addiction. They work almost always, I think, if you put your energy and focus into them. The great promise they delivered to me was that the desire to do drugs and alcohol was removed altogether. That’s a HUGE statement, a miracle really. Yet, there are three important things that the 12 steps do not address: body, breath and diet. Interestingly, these three things are the irreplaceable building blocks, the essential amino acids if you will, for a stronger recovery and a more successful, enjoyable life.
Think of recovery as a multi-tiered process in which different people need different things at different times. If a person is mired in acute addiction to any of the big five — drugs, alcohol, food, sex or money — then that must be dealt with first. That is where Recovery 1.0 or the 12 steps come in. A person has to detoxify first. One must have a community to support the epic and imminent transformation that takes place in early recovery. After some time, and this varies from person to person, one’s energy and “frequency” rises up and permits the practice of yoga, breath work and meditation. This is where Recovery 2.0 comes in. This is a great benchmark on the path of recovery, and if taken with intention, awareness and proper guidance from a mentor or teacher, one has the opportunity to make a lot of progress.
I do not feel that yoga and meditation are optional for people in recovery. Life will simply be better with practice than without it. Of course, one can stay sober without yoga and meditation. It’s just that if you want to lift yourself up out of the energy of addiction and break through to a new level of strength and awareness, one will have to adopt a practice that continues the detoxification process on a much deeper level.
I learned the hard way what it means to be sober while still stuck in the energy of addiction. I had put the drugs and alcohol down, but other addictions, stresses and dis-ease plagued me for many years into my recovery. It was not until I found Kundalini Yoga and gained a deeper understanding of Vinyasa that I began to re-claim my self and break through the force field of addiction perhaps for the first time in my life.
Here I am now 11 years later. I teach people in recovery how to apply these tools to their lives so that they, too, can experience the freedom that was given to me by my teacher, Guru Prem, and these amazing practices he shared with me.
On Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. at Golden Bridge Yoga in Santa Monica, I teach Yoga and Recovery. We do one hour of yoga and then circle up to have a one-hour 12-step meeting where everyone is welcome. We will see more and more of this I feel, as people realize the tremendous benefit of yoga as a cornerstone of one’s recovery path.
if you or anyone you know has been touched by addiction and are interested in exploring what Recovery 2.0 has to offer, connect with me here.
Please leave comments here below so we can be more connected. I would love to have a better sense of who you are and what your recovery journey is like.
With Love and Gratitude,
I just released the first two titles in the Recovery 2.0 DVD series to help people who struggle with addiction of all kinds. These first two Recovery 2.0 DVDs bring together some of my most cherished yoga sets and meditations. There is an amazing soundtrack featuring the uplifting music of Aykanna and Earthrise Soundsystem. These practices are accessible to most people who have detoxed off of drugs and alcohol. They have made a huge difference in my life and I hope they will for you, too.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Though you can start meditation at any time, it’s harder if your life is chaotic, and if you’re feeling paranoid, if you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities, or if you’re sick. But even starting under these conditions, meditation will help you to clear things up a bit. Slowly you reorganize your life to support your spiritual journey, At each stage there will be something you can do to create a supportive space. It may mean changing your diet, who you’re with, how you spend your time, what’s on your walls, what books you read, what you fill your consciousness with, how you care for your body, or where and how you sit to meditate. All these factors contribute to the depth and freedom that you can know through meditation.
You are under no pressure to rush these changes. You need not fear that because of meditation you are going to lose control and get swept away by a new way of life. As you gradually develop a quiet and clear awareness, your living habits will naturally come into harmony with your total environment, with your past involvements, present interests, and future concerns. There need be no sudden ending of relationships in order to prove your holiness. Such frantic changes only show your own lack of faith. When you are one in truth, in the flow, the changes in your life will come naturally.
You start cleaning up your life when you feel that you can’t go on until you do. Cleaning up your life means extricating yourself from those things which are obstacles to your liberation. But keep in mind that nothing in and of itself is an obstacle; it’s your attachment to it or your motive for doing it that is the obstacle. It’s not an issue of eating meat or not eating meat; it’s who’s eating it and why.
If your senses can be caught and held by something, you are still chained to the world. It’s your attachment to the objects of your senses that imprisons you. Failing to break off the attachments of the senses ultimately holds you back. The minute you aren’t preoccupied with what’s out there, then that pull is lost. You are free to go deep in meditation.
It’s not easy. It’s a stinker to get to that level of purity. You start out with things like what you eat, who you sleep with, what you watch on TV, what you do with your time. Many people fool themselves and imitate someone else’s purity. They do it in an imitative way, one of fear of being unholy. Abstaining from something for the wrong reason is no better than doing it. You can’t pretend to be pure; you can only go at your own speed.
As changes occur through meditation you find yourself attracted to things that are inconsistent with your old model of who you are. Usually, for example, after having meditated in a rigorous (and somewhat righteous) fashion, I have then taken time off to wallow in television, go to movies, take baths and relax. Then, to my surprise, I found myself not being attracted as much as before to these diversions, but being pulled toward just sitting quietly. This new way of being didn’t fit with my model of who I was. It was as if I were living with somebody I didn’t know very well. My models of myself hadn’t changed fast enough to keep up with who I was becoming.
“Inside yourself or outside, you never have to change what you see, only the way you see it.” – Thaddeus Golas
– Ram Dass, excerpt from Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook
- Everyone’s A Guru: Ram Dass is the Man (writeyourchapter.wordpress.com)
I want to meditate. I do. I want to be calm and happy and live in the now. I want to try to deactivate genes associated with stress and inflammation and turn on those associated with mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance. I want to be mindful, darn it. And yet, like George Costanza, who wanted to be a Civil War buff without the bother of actually learning about the Civil War, I’ve yet to put tush to cushion.
“You want to meditate like you want to wear a bikini,” a friend observed. “You want to change your life, but only if no effort is involved.”
Who has 20 minutes a day to spare? There are detailed analyses of “Mad Men” to devour, photos of friends’ meals to “like” on Facebook, computer passwords to remember. Please don’t throw that Gandhi quote in my face — “I have so much to do today, I will need to medidate twice as long.” I’m busy.
And yet, the studies showing the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are so relentless that I need to retreat to a monastery just to get away from the news. Nothing’s more stressful than hearing about the advantages of something you’re not doing.
Researchers published almost 600 studies on the subject last year, according to the editor of a new high-end magazine sold at Whole Foods called — what else? — Mindful. That’s up from 10 in 1993, when meditation was more associated with incense than with the US Marine Corps, which recently ran a pilot Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training program.
These days, top money managers are meditating. So is US Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). He wrote a book on the subject, “A Mindful Meditation,” and says that to his knowledge, no colleagues have accused him of going New Age. Eager to lower stress-related business costs — $300 billion annually in the United States, according to the World Health Organization — corporate America is getting in on the action. At Google, employees can take a “Search Inside Yourself” course.
From a merchandising perspective, meditation has a lot to learn from yoga, but it’s making progress. In Lawrence, DharmaCrafts sells $349 Sherpa meditation cloaks and $59 zabutons (meditation cushions) for kids. Earlier this year, Electrolux tried to use meditation to promote its new ultra-quiet vacuum. “In an age of anxiety every opportunity to reduce stress matters,” the press release read. “Electrolux is now transforming the chore of vacuum cleaning into a resource for personal well-being, with a meditation program developed especially for vacuuming; an opportunity to clean your home — and your mind.”
The well-off are building meditation rooms and taking luxury meditation retreats. At the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, Calif., a single suite perched at cliff’s edge with a stunning view of the Pacific, and Internet access, goes for $1,750 per weekend.
In Hudson, N.H., former Miss Taunton Katie Boyd, a pageant-fitness guru, recently started teaching meditation at her Miss Fit Club. “It’s not always about are my boobs perky enough? How does my [rear end] look in this swimsuit?” she said, noting that meditating gets rid of negative energy.
“When these girls walk into the judging room, they’re nervous nellies, and the judges can feel it.” Now that they’ve started meditating, she added, she gets pageant-day calls from clients who are nervous because they are not nervous.
A pastry shop selling “mindful cupcakes” has yet to open, but it can’t be far off. No less a trend omnivore than Arianna Huffington is all over it (in tweets and blog posts, on TV, and at her company’s New York headquarters, where employees can participate in breathing and meditation sessions). In January, a meditation workshop debuted at the buzzy Davos World Economic Forum meeting. Perhaps most significant, the movement has crossed over to the pet world. In the book “How to Meditate With Your Dog,” the authors James Jacobson and Kristine Chandler Madera explain that “meditating with our dogs is one of the most caring things we can do for them.”
How did we get here? Barry Boyce, the editor in chief of the new Mindful magazine, said a key moment came in a 1993, when Bill Moyers’s “Healing and the Mind” series featured the groundbreaking stress-reduction work Jon Kabat-Zinn was doing at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Before that, the word “mindful wasn’t really in play,” Boyce said. “I’m 57, and when I was in college, [meditation] was considered religious and a little weird. Everyone seemed to think you had to have a beatific smile on your face and a chant going through your head. Now, 40 years later, there has been a health revolution that emphasizes self-care. Mindfulness can be a religious thing but it doesn’t have to be.”
Despite all the evidence of its benefits, most people don’t meditate, but the numbers of those who do are growing, according to the National Institutes of Health. In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 9.4 percent of American adults had meditated within the past 12 months, up from 7.6 percent in 2002.
To her dismay, Monika Lutz is not one of them. “I always seem to find an excuse,” said Lutz, a junior at the Harvard Extension School and the vice president of its student association. “If I’ve got 15 minutes free, I think I could go for a quick run or finish some task or call this professor or work on my resume. I think that if I could just get it all done then I’ll reduce my stress and I won’t need meditation.
“But when I do get it done, something new always pops up.”
Lutz went on a 10-day meditation retreat after high school, and she’s been unable to incorporate mindful meditation in her everyday life. “To say that I can only relax my mind when I’m four states away in complete silence surrounded by strangers — it’s not sustainable,” she said. “I need to be able to do it on the Red Line.”
Boston-based publicist Kate Conti is also in what might be called a pre-meditative state. With clients in the health and fitness field, she and her firm, KC Public Relations, have promoted meditation’s benefits, yet Conti is unable to reap them for herself. “I even have gone through a yoga teacher training program where we had a special session on meditation, and I struggled with being able to stay focused for a short 10 minutes,” she said. “I signed up for a Deepak Chopra online mediation e-mail, but I didn’t stick with it.”
You know who else doesn’t meditate? Elizabeth Gilbert , the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a travelogue of spiritual seeking. Even so, people regularly ask her for advice on how they can do it. “What they forget about ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ is how poorly I did it,” she said. “Even when I was in the ashram, it was hard for me. If you live in New Jersey” — where she does — “it’s even harder.”
Gilbert, also the author of the forthcoming novel “The Signature of All Things,” says she has a “pretty religious yoga practice” and finds peace in gardening. “But I completely intend to begin a disciplined meditation program,” she said. “Probably tomorrow.”
She paused, and then gave me some advice. “You should meditate,” she said.
I plan to.
Getting started is the hardest part
Everyone knows that. OK, sometimes with dieting — and exercise and dense nonfiction and house cleaning and just about everything else — the middle also presents a challenge. And the end can be tough, too. But if you’ve been wanting to try meditation but are unsure how to begin, here are tips from Barry Boyce, the editor in chief of the new Mindful magazine:
1. Go online to get a clearer picture of just what mindfulness meditation is, anyway. Mind the Moment at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care offers a series of short, fun, and accessible videos. A YouTube video called “What Is Mindfulness?” with Jon Kabat-Zinn is also a great place to start.
2. Learn how to do mindfulness practice online: A great resource is www.mindful.org — in particular the section called “Mindfulness: The Basics.”
4. Find a local group and set up an appointment to meet someone who can teach you face-to-face how to meditate. Mindful Boston offers drop-in classes.
“Guiding Rage into Power” — GRIP is a program in California’s San Quentin prison that uses meditation to help inmates address the root causes of their behavior.
The creator of the program tells correspondent Kate Olson that even though they are in prison, they are nevertheless part of a community, and they are learning not to create violence but to resolve it.
There are times when I think I’d be much happier if I could spend the rest of my life lounging on the sands of the Mediterranean, having someone fan me with palm fronds while feeding me superfood grapes. In other words, life would be better without any stress. Or would it?
According to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, a little stress may not be so bad for us after all. While chronic stress may be harmful, acute (short-term) stress may actually boost our cognitive function. The findings are supported by other research suggesting a little bit o’ stress may have beneficial effects for our brains and bodies. The key, of course, is knowing when we’re too harried for our own good.
What’s the Deal?
Before we get into the science, let’s be clear that most of the research in this area involves rats, not humans, so it’s not entirely clear that the findings apply to people. For a while now, researchers have suspected that the effect of stress on the (rat) brain is like an upside-down U: Up to a certain point, stress boosts cognitive function; after that, it starts to take a negative toll  .
In this latest study, researchers wanted to see if short-term stress really would turn regular old rats into geniuses. So they subjected rats to acute stress by confining them in their cages for a few hours. The stress caused the rats’ corticosterone (a stress hormone) levels to shoot up for a few hours, and also caused the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function.
Two days after the stressful event, the researchers tested rats’ memories, and found nothing had changed. But two weeks later, the rats’ memories had significantly improved. Then the researchers got super-techy and figured out that the cells produced after the stressful event were the same cells involved in learning during the second round of memory tests. In other words, the acute stress had made the rats smarter. The scientists concluded that acute stress has a beneficial effect on cognitive function.
Is It Legit?
Possibly. Again, we’re talking about rats here. And while the researchers behind the latest study believe the findings apply to humans as well, there’s currently no way to monitor neural stem cells in the human brain, according to study co-author Daniela Kaufer.
There’s some evidence that acute stress is not only beneficial for rats’ brains, but also for their immune system. Stress hormones released in response to acute stress may warn the immune system about upcoming threats such as an infection . On the other hand, studies of humans suggest that if the immune system is chronically exposed to stress hormones, we may become more susceptible to diseases .
Together these findings imply that acute stress — think a job interview or even a ride on a scary rollercoaster — might actually be necessary for our physical and mental health. It’s chronic stress — like being stuck in a bad job or relationship — that causes our health to decline, contributing to issues as serious as heart disease and obesity.
Still, it’s worth noting that some forms of acute stress may actually cause serious damage, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The UC Berkeley researchers say it’s still unclear why some types of acute stress have positive effects, and others can be so damaging. It might just be a question of individual experience, so it’s worth figuring out where our own optimal stress level lies.
Do you think a certain level of stress can be beneficial? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.
Does the discomfort of discontent, longing, envy, jealousy, anger, compulsion, and anxiety contaminate your life, tighten your body and constrict your heart? Feeling out of control, impulsive and addicted is a tyranny, a prison in which there is no real peace or freedom. Is it possible that cultivating awareness and a kind and generous heart through time-tested meditation practices could be the path to freedom from addiction, craving and unhappiness? Might generosity, open heartedness, peace and contentment cultivated through mindful awareness practices replace our angst?
Our modern materialistic, dehumanizing, time- and task-driven life fuels our sense of lack and cravings for such things as shopping, food, work, drugs, alcohol, sex, high-risk sports and even the Internet. Where is real peace to be found? How are we to get off the wheel and come home to our tender-hearted selves?
According to Dr. Stephen C. Hayes, “Mindful awareness facilitates greater awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions and leads to greater capacity for self-regulation and self-control.” Advances in brain research tell us that our brains, our emotional habits and responses are all malleable, that we are not stuck with our current self-limiting patterns, but that surprisingly simple techniques can actually change our brain and our lives. We are plastic. Like clay, we can reshape our brain, our thoughts, our emotions.
Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. states:
You’re not stuck with the brain you’re born with. By changing your brain, you can change your life. With simple breathing and awareness techniques it is possible to quell anxiety and panic, calm inner turmoil and fight depression by learning how to short circuit automatic negative thoughts, conquer impulsiveness, obsessiveness and anger, develop focus and stop obsessive worrying.
Joan Halifax Roshi, Abbot of Upaya Zen Center is part of a group of scientists and Buddhist teachers who have been meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 20 years. These meetings, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute endeavor to bring modern science and traditional Buddhist practices together to explore how meditation transforms our hearts and minds, our brain, our bodies, our behavior and emotions, even our communities and our world.
At Upaya Zen Center, she and Dr. Al Kaszniak, a research psychologist and Zen teacher who has studied consciousness both on and off the cushion, host a program called Zen Brain, Zen Mind. The next in a series of Zen Brain, Zen Mind retreats, Greed and Generosity, The Neuroscience and Path of Transforming Addiction, focuses upon the challenge of addiction, greed and desire and the possibility that Buddhist Meditation Practices and Buddhist Perspective and Philosophy combined with modern brain science offer a compassionate, effective and skillfull means to addressing these problems at the level of the individual, the family and the community, and most importantly the heart and mind.
Amidst the beautiful arroyos and mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico, one can experience firsthand how simple meditation and awareness practices combined with modern knowledge of brain science can heal and transform. Here, you can engage in reflection and discussion, turn inward and explore the path to freedom from greed, compulsion and desire. Whether you struggle with addiction and desire, counsel, teach or study, sit down, rest on the breath, come home to your own tender heart. Perhaps this is where you will find the end of addiction and the seeds of enduring inner peace and an open generosity with which to meet your life.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.