Emotion

Mindfulness Could Make You Less Swayed By Immediate Rewards

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/mindfulness-rewards-positive-feedback_n_4213365.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living

mindfulness rewards

Mindfulness could help you to be less swayed by immediate rewards, a new study suggests.

A study in the journal Emotion shows that people high in mindfulness have less brain activity in response to positive feedback. Mindfulness is the act of nonjudgmental focus on the present moment.

“These findings suggest that mindful individuals may be less affected by immediate rewards and fits well with the idea that mindful individuals are typically less impulsive,” study researcher Rimma Teper, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers tracked brain activity of study participants using electroencephalography as they completed a computer task that involved receiving positive, neutral or negative feedback. Researchers found that participants high in mindfulness showed less brain response to rewarding feedback when compared with other study participants.

A study published earlier in the British Journal of Health Psychology also showed that mindfulness had benefits for self control. In that research, using mindfulness strategies seemed to help people resist sweets, Scientific American reported.

In addition, a study conducted by University of Utah researchers showed that mindfulness is associated with greater emotional stability and self-control over emotions.

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change – HuffPost

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Change

Posted: 10/02/2013 7:58 am
By Angela Wilson, MA, RYT

One increasingly popular form of meditation is loving-kindness meditation (LKM), the practice of wishing oneself and others to be happy, content and at ease. In the yoga tradition, loving-kindness is seen as an opportunity to “cultivate the opposite.”

Where many meditation techniques encourage students to explore difficult feelings or emotions directly, in loving-kindness the invitation is to send well wishes to oneself (who is in distress) as well as the other (who we feel distress toward). This isn’t meant to suppress the feelings as they arise, but instead it can be thought of as a soothing balm, something gently placed on a wound for healing.

Over the past several years, as meditation research has become more prevalent, science has become interested in the effects of loving-kindness practice on the mind and the body. Under the guidance of such well-known contemplatives as the Dalai Lama, researchers believed that LKM would offer similar benefits to other forms of meditation, such as breath meditation or open-awareness meditation.

As it turns out, LKM offers unique benefits that are subtly different from other kinds of meditation. What are those differences? Some just might surprise you.

LKM is a key tool for an optimal life.

One benefit of LKM is that loving-kindness reduces the stress response. Those who practice even a short course of LKM (say over the course of eight weeks) experience less distress than those who do not by the end of those eight weeks, according to this study. Probably no huge surprise there, right?

However, further exploration into this practice may intrigue you. The study on the effect of compassion meditation also investigated the impact of LKM on the body’s inflammatory and neuroendocrine system. At first preliminary results revealed that LKM showed no discernable differences in inflammation compared to the control group.

However, when divided into high-practice group verses low-practice group (i.e., those who practiced LKM each day compared to those with minimal practice) the results became more striking. The high-practice group saw a significant decrease in inflammation compared to the low-practice and no-practice groups. This research highlights two important findings. First, that not only can LKM subjectively reduce distress, but it can impact the body’s physiology as well (in this case, LKM reduced inflammation). The second, equally noteworthy finding is that this only happened for those who activity engaged in the practice of LKM. Simply attending a meditation class once a week was not enough to produce a change. Students had to practice at least a little each day.

Another pivotal study in the investigation of LKM was conducted by positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Dr. Fredrickson and her team investigated the impact of LKM not only on emotions, but also on how this practice could actually build personal resources (cognitive, emotional and physical). Her research team invited a group of people to practice LKM over the course of nine weeks. Participants in the LKM group had to practice at least a little every day, and researchers measured subjects on a variety of outcomes — including their experiences of positive emotions, their immunity to illness and their relationships to others. Her question: Could LKM actually build a person’s personal resources?

It did. In their seminal research paper, Dr. Fredrickson and her team write,

The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of nine weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others and good physical health… They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.

These findings are powerful.

The Brain on LKM.

So we know that LKM positively impacts our emotions, our physical health, our sense of connection. But does that translate to an impact on the brain?

Neuroscientific meditation researcher Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin became interested in just that question. He has extensively studied the effect of meditation, including LKM, on the brain. He had a simple question. Would LKM change the brain? To investigate the exact implication of this practice on the brain he invited two groups of subjects into his lab: those who had at least 10,000 hours of LKM under their meditative belt and those who were interested, but new to meditation. He invited both these groups into the fMRI scanner to see how LKM would impact the brain.

The results were clear. The practice of LKM changed several important brain regions: both the insula and the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) lit up as a result of LKM. The insula is the part of the brain responsible for our ability to empathize with others, and to make oneself aware of emotional and physical present-moment experiences. While both groups saw an increase in insula activity, the group with 10,000 hours of experience showed significantly more activation than the other group. This group was experiencing higher levels of compassion than the non-practicing group.

A similar finding appeared for the TPJ. The TPJ, like the insula, is also related to our ability to process empathy and our ability to attune to the emotional states of others. Again, compared to short-term meditators, those with a long-term meditation practice showed significant activation of this brain region.

Loving-kindness creates feelings of social connection.

Given this research, it is no surprise that LKM has been shown to increase social connectedness, even for strangers. A study conducted by a group of researchers from Stanford University found that in just seven minutes of LKM, subjects reported greater social connection toward others. Other studies have shown that the feeling of social connection can predict changes in a person’s vagal tone (a physiological measurement of resilience and overall well-being).

As a yoga teacher for Kripalu’s Frontline Providers Program, I have the opportunity to teach the Loving-Kindness practice to members of a workforce who are at high risk for compassion fatigue — health-care providers. In just the 10 minutes that I invite participants to practice LKM toward themselves and others, something powerful emerges. Some students begin to cry. Some bring their hand softly to their heart. Some physically relax. Afterward, when I invite the group to look around at each other, the sense of connection is palpable.

What is striking about the research and about the experience teaching is that these changes can happen in a short amount of time. Concentrated practice is essential. Even a few minutes creates a shift, and that shift is marked.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” And indeed, it seems that in fact, with a little practice, LKM has the potential not only to improve our connection with ourselves, but to foster deeper connection and care for others as well.

For more from Kripalu, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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.

Colleges Begin To Offer Meditation 101 « Annie Murphy Paul

While universities teach many things, there are some things that they do not traditionally cover—like how to effectively handle stress and emotions—that are important elements of learning and living, notes a statement from the University of Virginia:

“Filling that gap was one goal of a new January Term course at UVA: ‘Mindfulness as a Tool for Learning and Living,’ taught by Susanna Williams, an instructor at the Mindfulness Center in the School of Medicine, and Lynne Crotts, a doctoral student at the Curry School of Education, which offered the course.

The course offered an ‘authentic exploration of unexamined thoughts and behaviors that are obstacles to students’ effectiveness in learning,’ as the syllabus explains. Along with reading and writing assignments, the students learned a wide range of contemplative exercises that cultivate emotional balance, concentration and the ability to cope with stress, Crotts said. Mindfulness is ‘paying attention, in the moment, without judgment,’ she explained. Over the 10 days of the course, students heard from almost a dozen guest speakers who taught the class a variety of contemplative practices, including yoga, nia and t’ai chi.

There is a growing movement to teach mindfulness and growing student interest in the topic, Williams said. (UVA’s new Contemplative Sciences Center, launched in April, will offer a 180-person class this spring on ‘Buddhist Meditation and Modernity’ that will cover mindfulness. There are 50 students on the waitlist.) Interest is being spurred in part by research in recent years that is validating the connections between stress and learning.

‘Stress decreases cognitive potential,’ Williams said. ‘So mindfulness is not just a nice thing to do. It actually has very concrete, positive cognitive results,’ including sustained attention span, improved listening skills and increased emotional intelligence.” (Read more here.)

My favorite part of the statement is a comment from a student named Alan Zhao, a third-year math and statistics major:

“‘I’ve been going through a lot of stress,” said Zhao. ‘I think everyone does. It’s not easy going to this school,’ he added, noting that the average GPA at UVA is 3.2. ‘That’s sad after going through high school with a 4.0. Everyone here was taught that you always need to excel.’”

Meditation: it’s how to deal with the end of grade inflation. (But seriously, this class sounds like a great idea.)

via Colleges Begin To Offer Meditation 101 « Annie Murphy Paul.

 

Meditation for turning Tragedy into Creative Solutions

The horrific tragedy of the school shooting last week is still echoing through our collective conscience, triggering arguments on-line and in the media.

When we struggle to take premature action in response to strong emotions instead of allowing the emotions to be fully processed, our creative mind can become blocked and solutions evade us.

Our reaction to feeling  powerless and to the fears it will happen again create a reactionary divisiveness within ourselves and with others that is unproductive. This is true whether the trauma is recent or in the past, but still unprocessed such as with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

The following meditation is designed  to help us find our way through trauma by utilizing a practice of embracing strong emotions and transmuting them within us:

Turtle Breathing: Sublimation of Opposites

This meditation will help you to learn how to change your mental constructs.  With practice, this thought reversal process will become a reflex that can be applied to more complex thought and feeling patterns.

Begin by breathing easily, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Gently allow each breath to be deeper and longer than the last.

Prepare yourself for meditation by thinking of all the blessings of your life and all the beauty in the world.  Feel gratitude and well-being,  filling yourself with its radiance.

Begin Turtle Breathing.  With each long, slow, deep breath:

Breathe in the suffering, pain, fear, anger.  Breathe easily, deeply and slowly, drawing the emotion into you with your breath.

Breathe out peace, love, joy. Breathe easily, deeply and slowly, allowing the peace, love and joy to expand in all directions, with each out breath.

If the strength of the emotions is a challenge for you, start by practicing with breathing in Dark and breathing out Light.  You can then try practicing with Thickness and Lightness/weightlessness, and/or Hot and Cold.  Once you are comfortable with the process of sublimating into opposites, it becomes easier to transmute more active pain and emotions.

Here is a MP3 download from the Unwind your Mind CD to help guide you:

Karah Pino is an origami and meditation teacher working with kids and adults.  She is the creator of the Unwind your Mind meditation course.

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.