Meditation in Athletics

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health

Oh mindfulness meditation, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Even though the academic research on mindfulness meditation isn’t as robust as, say, nutrition or exercise, there is a reason why it’s been around for literally thousands of years. And we’re starting to get a better understanding of why it seems to be beneficial for so many aspects of life, from disease and pain management, to sleep, to control of emotions.

For starters, let’s define what mindfulness is: A Perspectives on Psychological Science study described it as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life. And for our full coverage on the topic, click over to our Mindfulness Meditation page.

1. It lowers stress — literally. Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, it’s also linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. It lets us get to know our true selves. Mindfulness can help us see beyond those rose-colored glasses when we need to really objectively analyze ourselves. A study in the journal Psychological Science shows that mindfulness can help us conquer common “blind spots,” which can amplify or diminish our own flaws beyond reality.

3. It can make your grades better. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that college students who were trained in mindfulness performed better on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE, and also experienced improvements in their working memory. “Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences,” the researchers wrote in the Psychological Science study.

4. It could help our troops. The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of seeing how mindfulness meditation training can improve troops’ performance and ability to handle — and recover from — stress.

5. It could help people with arthritis better handle stress. A 2011 study in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease shows that even though mindfulness training may not help to lessen pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it could help to lower their stress and fatigue.

6. It changes the brain in a protective way. University of Oregon researchers found that integrative body-mind training — which is a meditation technique — can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness. The meditation practice was linked with increased signaling connections in the brain, something called axonal density, as well as increased protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region.

7. It works as the brain’s “volume knob.” Ever wondered why mindfulness meditation can make you feel more focused and zen? It’s because it helps the brain to have better control over processing pain and emotions, specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms (which play a role in what senses our minds are attentive to), according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

8. It makes music sound better. Mindfulness meditation improves our focused engagement in music, helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we’re listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.

9. It helps us even when we’re not actively practicing it. You don’t have to actually be meditating for it to still benefit your brain’s emotional processing. That’s the finding of a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which shows that the amygdala brain region’s response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when a person isn’t actively meditating.

10. It has four elements that help us in different ways. The health benefits of mindfulness can be boiled down to four elements, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of emotion and regulation of attention.

11. It could help your doctor be better at his/her job. Doctors, listen up: Mindfulness meditation could help you better care for your patients. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgmental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients.

12. It makes you a better person. Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, “do-good” behavior.

13. It could make going through cancer just a little less stressful. Research from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine shows that mindfulness coupled with art therapy can successfully decrease stress symptoms among women with breast cancer. And not only that, but imaging tests show that it is actually linked with brain changes related to stress, emotions and reward.

14. It could help the elderly feel less lonely. Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it’s known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to decrease these feelings of loneliness among the elderly, and boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

15. It could make your health care bill a little lower. Not only will your health benefit from mindfulness meditation training, but your wallet might, too. Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows that practicing Transcendental Meditation is linked with lower yearly doctor costs, compared with people who don’t practice the meditation technique.

16. It comes in handy during cold season. Aside from practicing good hygiene, mindfulness meditation and exercise could lessen the nasty effects of colds. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.

17. It lowers depression risk among pregnant women. As many as one in five pregnant women will experience depression, but those who are at especially high risk for depression may benefit from some mindfulness yoga. “Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

18. It also lowers depression risk among teens. Teaching teens how to practice mindfulness through school programs could help them experience less stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Leuven.

19. It supports your weight-loss goals. Trying to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight? Mindfulness could be your best friend, according to a survey of psychologists conducted by Consumer Reports and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness training was considered an “excellent” or “good” strategy for weight loss by seven out of 10 psychologists in the survey.

20. It helps you sleep better. We saved the best for last! A University of Utah study found that mindfulness training can not only help us better control our emotions and moods, but it can also help us sleep better at night. “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress,” study researcher Holly Rau said in a statement.

Can’t get enough reasons to love meditation? Fine, fine — here are seven more:

See Slideshow:

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health.

 

B.R.E.A.T.H.E: The Neuroscience of Breathing Techniques TED talk

This is an extra long TED talk by Neuroscientist Alan Watkins talking about how to “Be Brilliant Every Single Day”.

In the second half he talks about how breathing techniques work physiologically.  He mentions that there are 12 different ways that the breath can be adjusted, but only talked about the most important three:

  1. Rhythmically
  2. Smoothly
  3. Location of the focus during the breath (in the center of the chest)

To remember this, Dr Watkins uses the acronym B.R.E.A.T.H.E:

  • Breathe
  • Regularly
  • Through the
  • Heart
  • Everyday

He also shows a graph which describes two variances of experience, one being the Sympathetic (flight/fight) neurological pattern and the Parasympathetic (rest/digest) pattern.  His explanation about how where we are on that trajectory is less important than the Negative (cortisol driven) emotional system vs. the Positive (DHEA driven) emotional system trajectory was quite fascinating.

He explains that we can use breathing techniques to bring us to the center of the Negative/Positive Emotional system, but that to be optimal we need to be able to regulate our emotional state and stay in the positive.  This makes sense to me as a meditation instructor because the breathing techniques are so often used in conjunction with deeper emotionally based meditation techniques such as METTA meditation, Tonglen and other methods of training ourselves to emote love and peace.

Download a free Meditation Track from Unwind your Mind here.

Flynn Coleman: Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness: “Trends” That Could Change Everything

I have a not-so-modest proposal: Mindfulness can change the world.

Okay, I’ll pause here, because I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m from California. Yes, actually, I have spent a little time in the “People’s Republic of Berkeley.” Okay, a lot of time. And yes, you guessed it, I do teach mindfulness, yoga and meditation seminars to all types of organizations, from corporations to schools. All of which is to say that, on this topic, I’m biased. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Let me rephrase: I believe that we can find ways to improve our own lives that directly benefit the lives of others, from the people in the next cubicle to the people in places that we can’t find on a (non-digital, non-search assisted) map. We can bring more clarity and joy to our own lives and, by doing so, bring joy to others. We can start small, by paying more attention to the present moment. Next, we can get a bit more ambitious, and make mindfulness a part of our educational programs and our daily lives. In short, we can change the world by fostering greater “mindfulness” — attentive awareness that promotes focus, creativity, and compassion — and we can do it at every level: personal, institutional, societal, and global.

Maybe, before we go further, I should tell you a bit more about myself. I’m an attorney and an entrepreneur. I first became serious about yoga as a college soccer player. Then, I thought of it as just another form of exercise. It was only during my sometimes-very-stressful years as a law student and a big-firm lawyer that I came to understand the incredible power of yoga and meditation to transform and improve virtually every aspect of my life. With time, I saw that this power also offered remarkable benefits for my professional life.

It’s no wonder, then, that everyone seems to be catching on. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, foundational elements of ancient Eastern beliefs and practice, have become certifiable modern “trends.” Wisdom 2.0, the non-conference-like conference (think tribe talks, yoga lounges, and nap time in the Google Chill Lounge) drew thousands of us together to discuss integrating mindfulness into business, technology, and society. From Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, to HuffPost’s own Arianna Huffington, modern thought leaders are integrating mindfulness into their lives and their institutions, and it’s working.

For individuals, mindfulness is exciting because it helps us to discover new and powerful dimensions of ourselves. For groups and organizations, mindfulness is exciting because it can lead to better communication, greater empathy, and a culture of creativity and innovation.

Dynamic corporate cultures have witnessed how mindfulness and social awareness are important components of an effective modern business strategy. Consider one of the most prominent business trends to emerge in recent years: “conscious capitalism.” From Patagonia’s “Common Threads” program to Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give A Pair” strategy, to my own company’s “OM for OM” initiative, this movement underscores the growing connection between businesses, consumers, mindful practices, and social good.

It’s because Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, spends his years outdoors that he works to protect the environment that inspires his designs. He is also pioneering the industry by challenging his customers to recycle more and buy less of his merchandise. As Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, would say, Chouinard found his bliss (being outside and protecting nature), and remains true to it. In turn, millions of others remain true to his brand. This is the authenticity and compassion that mindfulness can help us find.

So how can organizations adapt to a rapidly evolving digital landscape while also promoting social good? Well, amid dramatic technological advancements and the ever-increasing proliferation of access to information, business practices are being revolutionized. In the new “connection economy,” amidst an increasingly crowded marketplace, companies must tell their stories, attune their messages, and operate with genuine authenticity to connect with consumers. This is what moves people to buy, work with you, and believe in you. Building these connections with others starts with knowing yourself. This principle is as salient for institutions as it is for individuals.

As Dan Pink says in his book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, on the new art of selling: “Make it personal and make it purposeful.” Sales today, as Dan describes them, are about being attuned, buoyancy, and clarity. Do these words sound yogic to anyone else? Yep, they do. Turning inward is how we begin to find clarity and harmony, which allow us to be more productive, communicative, and innovative. Finding this sense of balance is vital for becoming personally effective. And instilling widespread balance and focus among employees should be a foundational goal for all companies serious about competing in this new landscape.

It’s what Bill George, former legendary CEO of Medtronic, said was the key to effective leadership: going from “I” to “we,” and why Google’s Chade-Meng Tan thinks the greatest companies have compassionate leaders. After all, to inspire means “to breathe into.” And the fact that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all come back to the breath is no coincidence.

And mindfulness at work doesn’t mean trading suits and spreadsheets for peacock-patterned leggings and kombucha tea (though I’m a fan of both). It simply means finding ways to become more aware, tapping into our reserves of creative leadership and compassion, and then practicing these skills. Because it’s always a practice.

Mindfulness is not only “on-trend.” It’s an ancient principle, as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. It can help us grow more attentive, creative, resilient, and successful. In doing so, it can create ripples of awareness and positivity that will reverberate through our communities, our society, and our world. This is why mindfulness is not only cool, but crucial for the future of our society. As Richard Branson says, “Let’s do business like there is a tomorrow.” But to create a better tomorrow, we must start by being more mindful today.

Flynn Coleman: Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness: “Trends” That Could Change Everything.

 

Say “Om” and meditate for heart health

Meditation not only calms your mind and reduces stress, but reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

Research shows impact of meditation on heart health

“With the benefits of the technique verified by over 600 scientific research studies the TM technique is the most widely researched meditation practice.”

A November 2012 study conducted by Robert Schneider, M.D., director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention and dean of Maharishi College of Perfect Health in Fairfield, Iowa, showed that subjects with heart disease, who practiced transcendental teditation regularly for five years were 48 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke or die from all causes, compared with those who attended a health education class in lieu of yoga.

“It appears that transcendental meditation is a technique that turns on the body’s own pharmacy — to repair and maintain itself,” said Schneider. He also adds that transcendental meditation may reduce heart disease risks for both healthy people and those with diagnosed heart conditions.

Transcendental meditation (TM): Getting started

Want to try meditation, but not sure where to start? We asked meditation teacher Jeanne Ball to share her tips on how to begin and what to expect.

woman meditatingSheKnows: What should a person do physically to prepare for transcendental meditation?

Jeanne Ball: A person doesn’t need to do anything to prepare for the TM technique, except sit comfortably and close the eyes, because with this particular practice one quickly, naturally transcends the physical environment and dives deep within the mind to enjoy inner silence, peace and expanded wakefulness. It’s nice if there’s a quiet environment, though not essential. One can effortlessly practice TM in an airport, in the same house with kids running around, or at the office during break.

The deeper reason why no preparation is necessary is because the technique is motivated only by the mind’s natural tendency that is always lively within everyone: the tendency to seek greater happiness. During TM, there’s no outside preparation or internal effort required, because attention settles inward spontaneously, drawn by the mind’s own nature, to fields of greater happiness and dynamism, and there’s no obstacle to that natural inward progression.

SK: What should a person think about while they’re meditating?

JB: Practicing the TM technique is very easy because the process doesn’t require you to think about peace or happiness or anything in particular. Nor does it involve controlling the mind or trying to rid yourself of thoughts. The technique is designed to effortlessly allow the mind to settle inward to quieter levels of thought in the direction of greater energy and happiness within. The mind naturally gravitates to its silent source of restfulness and goes beyond thought all together.

“The only way to take care of the whole tree is to water the root.”

SK: How do you help people let go of their thoughts during meditation?

JB: If a person consciously tries to let go of thoughts, to get beyond thoughts or forcefully get rid of them, it’s called “straining in meditation” and usually only creates more thoughts and often causes a headache. That’s not the TM technique. With TM, we don’t control the mind, we satisfy the mind. The technique is designed such that thoughts are not a problem at all and the mind effortlessly settles into the silent, rejuvenating experience of pure awareness or restful alertness, in which all thoughts and mental activity have been transcended.

SK: How long and how often should a beginner practice meditating?

JB: Twenty minutes of the TM technique morning and afternoon is enough to balance a full day of activity and to dissolve stress and revitalize mind and body.

SK: What benefits can someone expect to experience from meditation?

JB: The same benefits that a tree receives when its roots are watered: every branch, leaf, fruit, stem —everything gets enriched. The founder of the TM program, Maharishi, used to say, “The only way to take care of the whole tree is to water the root.” This means: deep within everyone is a transcendental source of energy, creativity and intelligence, and if we can restore direct contact with that inner source by diving beyond thought and contacting our deepest inner self, then we will enrich all aspects of life in one stroke. People find their physical and mental health improves, their relationships become more harmonious, they have more energy and become more productive. Peace and happiness grows naturally from within. We find ourselves enjoying life more, and, as perception becomes clearer, finding more joy and beauty all around us.

Quick tip: If you find it difficult to meditate on your own, try Headspace, a meditation app created by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. Headspace lets you try 10 days of 10-minute meditation exercises for free.

“With the benefits of the technique verified by over 600 scientific research studies,” explains Ball, “the TM technique is the most widely researched meditation practice.” She says some of the specific benefits found by researchers are:

  • Reduction of stress, anxiety and depression
  • Reduction of the aging process
  • Improvement of brain functioning
  • Reduction in symptoms of ADD
  • Reduction of heart attack and stroke
  • Reduction of high blood pressure
  • Decrease in neuroticism
  • Increase in happiness, tolerance and intelligence

For additional information and resources, Ball recommends visiting www.tm-women.org where you can read more about TM and women’s heart health.

More heart health advice

Best apps for monitoring your heart health
Yoga for a healthier heart
4 heart health tips

Say “Om” and meditate for heart health.

Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser works meditation into her routine

Women's hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser works meditation into her routine

Hayley Wickenheiser poses for a photo before the release of EA Sports’ NHL 13 game in Toronto on Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Wickenheiser has tinkered with her preparation over the years to keep her game at the highest possible level. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu

TORONTO – Canadian women’s hockey captain Hayley Wickenheiser has tinkered with preparation techniques over the years to keep her game at the highest possible level.

Now 34 and a veteran of five Winter Olympics, Wickenheiser has shifted away from the heavier weights she lifted in her younger days. She focuses more on functional strength training now, still does regular yoga sessions and has kept making improvements to adjust to the more speed-focused style on the ice.

Wickenheiser also recently added meditation into the mix and it has made an immediate impact.

“I’m a little bit more centred and I feel less anxious about trying to control outcomes in every aspect of my life,” she said. “Just letting things go. I think that’s a real key as an athlete is to control what you can and let go what you can’t.

“I’m by no means perfect, but that’s what I’m trying to do anyway.”

Wickenheiser tries to meditate for at least a few minutes each day. She closes her eyes, focuses on her breath and tries to get “truly present” in the moment.

The veteran captain has found it reduces stress and she has noticed the effects on her performance.

“I find it just settles me,” Wickenheiser said. “I can do it on the plane, I can do it walking around, you can do it anywhere. It’s just instant centring and brings you back to perspective.

“It gives me a few minutes of quietness in the day when it’s normally not quiet.”

The Shaunavon, Sask., native also makes a consistent effort to get more rest than she did in her younger days. Wickenheiser has tinkered with her food choices as well, working gluten-free and organic options into her diet.

It has all helped her stay in top physical form.

“I think I’m a better athlete,” Wickenheiser said. “I’m fitter and I move better now than I did when I was 20.”

Wickenheiser was in Toronto on Thursday for promotional work to support the Kraft Hockey Goes On program, which recognizes local volunteers involved in the sport in communities across Canada.

The national women’s team camp is underway in Ottawa, the host city of the 2013 women’s world championships.

Wickenheiser is instead focusing on other commitments this week, including her kinesiology studies at the University of Calgary and playing for the Dinos at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.

Soon she’ll be focused on preparations for the world playdowns in April, when Canada will attempt to defend the title it won last year in Burlington, Vt.

And in just over a year, the 2014 Winter Olympics will begin in Sochi, Russia. Canada won gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and will be looking for a successful defence of that title there as well.

“I think we’re in really good shape,” Wickenheiser said. “I think we’ve got a good group of core players and a middle group of players now that has one Olympics under their belt and has won at the Olympic Games and knows what that’s all about.

“You need that mix of veterans and youth to bring it all together. I think that our team has that mix.”

via Women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser works meditation into her routine.

The “best” meditation is what works for you! by Karah Pino, MAcOM

The results of a research study from San Francisco State University came out in July of 2012 that asked the question: “What is the best meditation?”

Meditation practitioners around the world would say: “The meditation I do!”  and as it turns out, the research shows that it is absolutely true!

The study followed people who learned different styles of meditation and tracked the effectiveness of the meditation program.  What was shown is that those who learned a style that suited them tended to follow up with their practice better than those that didn’t particularly like the style they were taught.  But the results of the different styles were equally effective, so long as they were practiced regularly. This confirmed what I had noticed for my students over the years.  Any technique will help you deal with stress to improve your health,  smooth your relationships, and help you enjoy your life.

“A new study just published notes the importance of selecting a meditation method that is most comfortable to the new meditator, not the one that is currently the most popular. Choosing the one you are most comfortable with increases the likelihood that you will stick with it, says Adam Burke, the author of the study and a professor of health education at San Francisco State University.”Read More

Helping people find a style that works for them is the goal of the Unwind your Mind curriculum.

Unwind your Mind Meditation CD

Meditation Instruction CD

This class is designed to give an overview of the types of different techniques to people newly interested in meditation.  The four categories of meditation techniques are: Mindfulness, Visualization techniques, Sound techniques and Movement techniques.  The types of techniques introduced in the three hour class include breathing techniques, guided meditation, chanting, self observation and QiGong.

To take this class or purchase the CD, please visit: MindUnwind.org/Meditation

mommy-and-alvin-sqKarah Pino, MAcOM has a master’s degree in Acupunture and Chinese medicine including meditation techniques for healing.  She is a meditation instructor at the University of Washington Experimental College and Mind Unwind Gallery.  Courses are offered regularly in Seattle, WA on on retreats offered through Mind Unwind.