Emotional Wellness

Mindfulness Meditation for a Stress-Less Mind

Mindfulness Meditation for a Stress-Less Mind

We were listening to a radio interview we did recently, talking about the profound benefits of meditation. Deb had said, “Mindfulness meditation is revolutionary because it changes us simply by being fully present, completely aware of just this moment.” Which is absolutely true, but being in the present moment can be slippery, elusive — we want to be in Hawaii, start planning a Christmas shopping list, relive a disagreement with our partner, get distracted by the sound of the mailman outside or an aching knee. The possibilities are endless — all the many ways the mind can do something, anything, other than being present.

On average, we spend our time either living in what-could-have-been, what-might-have-been, or if-only, or in the expectation of what-could-be or what-might-be. But the truth is no matter how much we try, plan, plot, arrange, have things to do, leave the house at the same time each day, arrive at the office at the same time, pick up the kids on time, we can still never know what will happen in the next moment.

We used to live next to a glorious river in Devon, England and walked beside it each day. It was beautiful, but as much as it looked like the same river, even the same water, it was constantly changing — the water was never the same as even a second ago. Likewise, we may look the same but the cells in our body are forever forming, growing and dying; we are continually changing and renewing in every minute, we just aren’t aware of it.

Realizing the past is already gone and can never be relived, while the future is always ahead of us and consistently unknown, the only logical way to deal with this awareness is to be present with what is, whatever it is, as it is. Contrary to common belief, it can be immensely liberating to actually have nothing going on, to discover that the entire universe is contained in this very moment, to realize that nothing more is required than to just be aware and present. Imagine, what a relief! Finally, we can live without expectation, prejudice or longing, or the desire for things to be different than they are.

Being present invites a deep sense of completion, that there really is nowhere else we need to be or go. It’s impossible to think of somewhere else as being better, for the grass is vividly green exactly where we are. At a seminar someone once asked Ed if he had ever experienced another dimension. Ed replied, “Have you experienced this one?”

Right now, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. As you breath out, notice how your body feels, the chair you are sitting on, and the room you are in. That’s all. It only takes an instant to be present. Or, as a way of reminding yourself, put Post-its in strategic places around your home (on your bathroom mirror, the fridge, the inside of the front door, etc.) that say things like: NOW is the greatest moment, Be Here Now; Stop, smile and Breathe; Only this Moment Exists; There Is Just This, NOW!

It’s also essential that, as neuroscientist Brian Jones teaches, you tune down your sympathetic nervous system (the flight and fight response) and tune into your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and relaxation response). You can do this through breathing and mindfulness techniques and can learn more atrevolutionarymindfulness.com

Mindfully Meditating In the Moment 
Mindfully meditating on the flow of the breath naturally brings us into the present while bringing our awareness inward, rather than being focused outward. The breath is just breathing, and yet it is never the same, each breath is completely different to the last one. You can simultaneously silently repeat, “I am here, I am now, I am present! I am here, I am now, I am present!”

Practice: Being and Breathing Meditation
Sit comfortably with your back straight, hands are in your lap, eyes are closed. Spend a few minutes settling your body, being aware of the room around you and the chair you are sitting on.

Now bring your focus to your breathing, just watch the natural movement of air as you breathe in and out. Silently repeat, “Breathing in, breathing out.”

Stay with watching your breath. If your mind starts to drift just see your thoughts as birds in the sky and watch them fly away. Then come back to the breath.

Anytime you get distracted, bored, or lost in thinking, just come back to the breath, to this moment now. Silently repeat, “I am here, I am now, I am present! I am here, I am now, I am present!”

You can do this for a few minutes or as long as you like. When you are ready, take a deep breath and let it go, open your eyes, and move gently.

What keeps you from being mindfully here and now? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs by checking Become a Fan at the top.

Ed and Deb are the co-founders, with Brian Jones, of RevolutionaryMindfulness.com. Join to get our newsletter, free meditation downloads, community support, and learn to balance your nervous system. They are the authors of award winning Be The Change, How Meditation can Transform You and the World. See more at RevolutionaryMindfulness.comand EdandDebShapiro.com.

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.