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Using Mindfulness To Stop A Temper Tantrum

Friday, October 20th, 2017

mindfulness

When we think of temper tantrums we usually associate them with children. The reality is that adults have temper tantrums too. It seems like the inner child is sometimes lurking just below the surface for some of us adults which can be a nice thing or in the case of the temper tantrum can be not so nice.

When it comes to learning mindfulness, children and adults can benefit in many ways. Reducing the incidence of temper tantrums is one of the beneficial by-products of mindfulness practice for both groups. I’ve taught mindfulness to children and adults and there are many similarities to the approach I use for both of them. There are differences too and I will discuss those differences shortly.

Temper tantrums come from a place of fear. We act out this way because we are afraid of something and feel the need to protect ourselves from that fear. Unfortunately these tantrums never get us anywhere and do nothing to relieve the fear we are feeling.  When fear is present there is a tendency to disconnect and there is also a tendency to stay disconnected for long periods of time. Mindfulness directly addresses the fear by teaching us how to reconnect to our bodies, thoughts, emotions and breath. As the reconnection gradually occurs the fear subsides. I call this the biology of fear. When we are fearful our autonomic nervous system goes into fight or flight and we disconnect. When we reconnect our autonomic nervous system comes out of fight or flight and we come out of fear. Mindfulness plays a central role in accomplishing this and the core practice of reconnecting is taught the exact same way for children as it is for adults.

Adults have an additional mindful approach that they can use to reconnect thereby doing away with temper tantrums. An adult can mindfully watch for patterns in their lives. It is important to notice patterns because it gives us the option to come out of automatic pilot and introduce choice into our lives. When we come out of automatic pilot we have access to much more information and are able to make informed choices. With mindfulness training we can teach ourselves to notice the patterns that lead up to the temper tantrum and before the pattern has the opportunity to express itself as a temper tantrum we can introduce mindfulness and the pattern will gradually dissipate defusing the temper tantrum.

Between mindfully addressing patterns that lead to temper tantrums and the core practice of reconnecting to ourselves and the present moment we have two very effective approaches for adults to eliminate temper tantrums. Children do well with the core approach and find that with mindful practice temper tantrums diminish.

Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence, Compassion, Empathy, Resilience, Leadership and Vulnerability/Acceptance and Letting Go  

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Word collageAs mindfulness continues to explode upon the consciousness of the world it is finding new applications in many areas. Since emerging in popularity as a stress reduction program from Jon Kabat Zinn in 1979, it has taken on many other areas of development that are valuable to us as people. Areas such as Emotional Intelligence, Compassion, Empathy, Resilience, Leadership and Vulnerability have become the latest buzz words in the mindfulness community of trainings. I have seen these 6 words attached to mindfulness trainings in one form or another almost everywhere and because of that people are focusing on these desirable qualities.  Since all of these qualities are beneficial to us, it is a good thing to get the added attention to these areas. However, I wonder if too much is being made of this as I notice that trainings for these 6 areas are getting more and more complicated. Simplicity has always worked for me and I notice that as there is a move away from simplicity there is also a move away from effectiveness.

It seems to me that Emotional Intelligence, Compassion, Empathy, Resilience, Leadership and Vulnerability are qualities that cannot be taught but can be allowed to emerge. My experience has been that these 6 qualities are already part of who we are but in some cases are not able to be experienced and expressed. As mindfulness begins to allow us to connect with who we really are, we start to experience these 6 qualities as they emerge naturally in the process. As the awareness and attention grows, these natural qualities grow as well and continue to develop as more and more attention is placed on them.

I think mindfulness is more about removing the distractions to rather than the development of the 6 qualities and more. Imagine if the windshield of your car was dirty and you couldn’t see out of it. Now imagine if the windshield was clean and you could fully embrace the landscape. Addition by subtraction…… Lets keep it simple.

How to Heal Yourself by Mindfully Talking to your Body

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

JFC-How-do-you-talk-to-yourself

Can we really talk  to our bodies? Will it listen and does it make any difference? My answer to these questions is “it depends”. If it is a one way conversation then I say “no”. If it is a two way conversation then I say “yes”.

Our bodies are just like any other person who we are having a conversation with. People respond to kindness, love, appreciation, forgiveness, gratitude and full attention and listening. These qualities are the hallmark of a successful personal interaction and almost always result in mutual understanding and positive outcomes.

My experience tells me that the first step to successfully talking to our bodies is first listening to them. The body has millions of feedback loops which enable it to talk to itself. A common definition of a feedback loop is “Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop. The system can then be said to feed back into itself. “ This is the miracle of the body’s ability to heal itself. This constant feedback is a self adjusting mechanism that if co operated with will keep the body in balance and heal it when it goes out of balance. This is where listening comes in and is the first step in successfully talking to the body.

It would seem like it is a natural thing to listen to our bodies and perhaps it is. However, due to a number of factors, particularly stress, we don’t always listen to our bodies. During acute and chronic stress we tend to disconnect from our bodies as a way of coping with the situation. Chronic stress can last for years which means we can be disconnected for years. This disconnection results in a communication breakdown with our bodies. Those feedback loops that are constantly giving us needed information about what our bodies require are ignored. Co operation breaks down and there is no one home to steer the ship. We know when this happens because the body begins to breakdown physically, mentally and emotionally. We need to take steps to correct this.

Mindfulness meditation specifically focuses our attention on our bodies in the present moment with the purpose of re connecting and re establishing the flow of information from the feedback loops to us. Once that flow of information is re established we can then co operate once again with our bodies and make decisions that will benefit our health and wellness. At that point we are listening to our bodies speaking to us. Not necessarily with words but mostly in non verbal communication. Call it intuition or insight but it is the way the body speaks to us most clearly.

Once we are listening to our bodies we can begin to have a conversation. We can ask questions, make requests and generally tend to our needs. The body will listen to us because we are listening to it. When we talk to the body either in words or feelings we want to be talking with kindness, love, appreciation, forgiveness, gratitude and full attention. These simple steps will make it possible to heal our bodies by talking and listening to it.

1. Practice focusing attention on the body, thoughts and emotions as they are in the present moment.

2. Listen carefully to the signals the body is sending to us about how to care for it.

3. Act on those signals and take steps to provide the necessary care.

4. Fine tune by talking verbally or non verbally to the body by asking questions and making requests. These questions and requests will set up a positive flow of energy between you and your body and will lead to good health. The body wants to talk with us and feel cared for. All healing and good health begins with this ability to converse with the body.

Want To Start Meditating? Here’s How

Monday, July 24th, 2017

sihm

Meditation is a practice which creates a change in one’s consciousness/awareness. It is accomplished by focusing ones attention on a choice of things which are known to create the shift in consciousness desired. There is a long tradition of meditation and a vast body of knowledge which is designed to guide us in the kind of consciousness experience we want to have. Some of the more popular experiences we look to cultivate from meditation include, relaxation, energy, sense of well being, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, sense of connection and understanding of reality, sense of spirituality or just an exploration of the nature of consciousness.

Some of the tools available to us in creating these changes in consciousness are mantras, sounds, visualization, imagery, prayer or simply our own bodies, breath, emotions or thoughts. Attention is the key skill to develop in meditation. It’s the engine which allows us to experience the different kinds of meditation. Attention to the present moment, or mindfulness, is the best foundation to build before exploring the other kinds of meditation. Many people make mindfulness their main form of meditation. Mindfulness is also the most scientifically researched approach to meditation.

By tapping into the vast knowledge base of meditation we can predict and choose the kind of experience we want to have based on the experience that others have mapped out for us over the centuries. It is indeed a road well traveled and it is to our benefit to travel this well known road.

Meditation takes practice. It is a skill that when developed feels natural but until developed can feel awkward and elusive. I compare it to the feeling of trying to ride a wild horse versus a horse that has been trained. All of that energy needs to be channeled in a constructive, disciplined way so that when we are riding we can trust the horse to go in the direction we want. Once we are motivated and willing to practice discipline there is the likelihood of the full meditative experience.

Here are some suggestions to help us sustain our meditation practice:

1. Set up a regular schedule. We are creatures of habit so it is important especially in the beginning to set up a schedule that is the same everyday. I recommend picking a time in the morning that allows you to practice before your daily activity. It’s a great way to start the day and the effects of the meditation will continue with you throughout the day. This will have a very positive influence on how each day unfolds for you. Studies show that habits take about eight weeks to establish so be patient with yourself as you begin.

2. Create a meditation space. Set up a space where you can be comfortable meditating. Creating comfort is important to motivation and sustaining practice. Start with setting up a comfortable place to sit. Whether it is a cushion or a chair pick out something that will enhance comfort. Also, if possible make this space an expression of your meditation practice in that it should express silence, stillness and focus. In so doing it would be good to remove anything that can cause distractions such as phones, televisions and computers. Also keep the room at a moderate temperature.

3.  Tend to your stomach. Get into the habit of meditating while your stomach is at ease. This is important and needs to be emphasized. Our stomachs have way more influence over us that we care to admit. If we are full then the stomach uses our energy for digestion. If we are too hungry then our stomach tries to get our attention to eat. Either way is a distraction. We want to be in the middle. Not too hungry and not too full. This will make meditation easier and is an important habit to create.

4. Be gentle with yourself. Some days meditation will be easy and some days not so much. Although there is a lot to be said for the discipline of sticking to a certain number of minutes regardless of difficulty there is also a lot to be said for being gentle with yourself particularly in the beginning. If you set aside thirty minutes for meditation and find that you are struggling, then it is fine to shorten the  meditation to accommodate the resistance. Meditation is a journey, not a destination so we have no need to rush for results. Your practice will flourish in time and there is a natural rhythm that you will find that will allow you to be gentle with yourself as well as able to develop and sustain the habit.

5. Make a list of why your are meditating. Once you make your list of why you are meditating get into the habit of reviewing the list a least once a week. During times of resistance this list will remind you why you are practicing. The list can be revised when necessary and can be used to bolster motivation. The list can be long or short and can contain such things as reducing stress, communicating more clearly with yourself and others, having less fear, experiencing life with more joy, having more compassion, deepening understanding and creating more peace. Write down what is most meaningful for you and revisit your list on a regular basis.

 Does Virtual Reality Meditation Really Work?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

stressVirtual reality meditation is showing signs of becoming a new popular form of meditation. It uses technology to add a new dimension to the approaches of visualization and guided imagery. Machines, apps and software are augmenting what used to be a solely internal process. Does it work?

Before I answer the question of does it work I will give you a little background of the two major approaches to meditation. I had a teacher many years ago who used to refer to these two kinds of meditation as “top down” and “bottom up”. There are a lot of ways to explain this concept but I think the simplest is to say that “top down” refers to connecting deeply with the body and the present moment and “bottom up” refers to disconnecting from the body and exploring other ways of being. They are both very valid ways of being and there is a lot to be experienced by embracing both. There is actually a third approach that combines “top down” and “bottom up” but I don’t see it being taught very much and I suspect it has become a rarity in today’s approaches to ways of being.

Visualization and guided imagery whether done the old fashioned way or the virtual reality way works. There is some science behind it but not yet nearly as much as behind the “top down” approach. Most of the “bottom up” science is in the field of stress reduction and relaxation and a little bit in the sports performance field. I think it is a hard approach to define because many of the results are very subjective outside the fields I mentioned. There are some old traditions that have made detailed studies of these “altered states” but inevitably they are limited to the flavor of that particular tradition. There are literally an infinite number of experiences to be had this way. I have noticed that in many cases the beneficial results that have been measured tend to be temporary. It’s “as if” they haven’t really “sunk in”. I also think that the virtual reality meditation approach would be even more temporary as it by-passes the inner work and discipline necessary to do it without the various aids. Nonetheless if that is the kind of experience you want then it definitely works.

“Top down” meditation has been researched extensively over the past 30 years and is driving the phenomenal popularity of mindfulness meditation. It too has been around for a long time and has always existed alongside “bottom up”. We are seeing research in the fields of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being that is suggesting that there is a much broader way that we can experience our lives in a very positive way. As science develops more ways to measure things that until recently were unmeasurable we will continue to learn what our potential to experience really is.

In conclusion I would like to recommend that if you want to explore the “bottom up” approaches that you first learn “top down”. For people living a non monastic life and/or without an experienced teacher there seems to be a tendency that without the “grounding” of the present moment experience, the “bottom up” experiences can create some disorientation. It may not be noticeable at first but it eventually seems to have that effect for many people. As I mentioned before, if you still are interested in the “bottom up” approaches, my preference is to first get firmly entrenched in the here and now.

What is the Vagus Nerve in Meditation?

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

vagusThe Vagus Nerve and meditation are intertwined. The Vagus Nerve roughly translated means “wandering nerve”. It travels from the brain stem down to the abdomen and connects with many major organs participating in many of our bodily functions such as breathing, digestion, heart rate and many more. It is intimately connected to the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic(automatic) nervous system and therefore plays a big role in regulating stress. The autonomic nervous system runs our bodies automatically without us having to participate. Functions such as heart rate are a function of the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system has two branches, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic branch is responsible for putting us in fight or flight and the parasympathetic branch is responsible for taking us out of fight or flight and regulating our bodies when not involved with a fight or flight event.

Stress levels are at historic highs and one of the reasons for that is the phenomena of getting stuck in fight or flight. For a number of reasons our nervous systems are getting stuck in the sympathetic mode meaning that the changes that take place in our body/mind during fight or flight are not being resolved after the event happens. Consequently those changes, to varying degrees, stay with us for extended periods of time. This results in chronic stress which leads to a host of physical, mental and emotional symptoms.

Science has given us a number of tools whereby we can measure various bodily functions to determine stress levels. One of the most effective ways to measure these stress levels is by studying the Vagus Nerve stimulation. When the Vagus Nerve gets stimulated it influences the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to come out of fight or flight thereby reducing stress. Here’s how that happens through meditation.

We know that meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation(full attention to the present moment) is effective in lowering stress. Mindfulness meditation is the most studied approach to meditation having over 2500 studies published worldwide with an average of 200 more per month being published. I consider it to be the hub of the meditation wheel in that it enhances all the other meditation approaches and can be a stand alone practice itself. These studies show that meditation can increase energy, reduce stress, slow breathing, decrease anxiety, reduce pain, increase blood flow and provide a sense of peace to name a few. When the Vagus Nerve receives the signals from these meditation effects it sends a message to the brain that all is well, there is no danger and there is no need to be in fight or flight. The brain then sends the message to the autonomic nervous system which stimulates the parasympathetic branch to come out of fight or flight and regulate the systems into balance. This is an example of the Vagus Nerve and the brain working together. The brain can send messages to the body and the body to the brain through the Vagus Nerve.

It is interesting to note that a function of the body previously thought to run automatically can in fact be influenced consciously through meditation. This is very important and gives us insight into the possibility of many ways that we can consciously participate in our health and well being.  This is yet another demonstration of the mind/body connection and how our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations are interconnected and how meditation can assist in the smooth running of the system.

How Does Mindfulness Help Enhance Memory?

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

memory-concept-fbWe are currently experiencing an epidemic of memory loss…short and long term. With such diagnoses as Dementia and Alzheimer’s we can track how widespread the problem is. These two diagnoses are usually associated with the older population but we are seeing varying degrees of memory loss in people of all ages. The causes are multifaceted and range from stress to diet /nutrition, lack of exercise, over stimulation from technology, genetics and environmental pollution. I’m sure I left some out but these seem to be the ones that come to my attention most frequently.

Most of these issues that contribute to memory loss can be addressed by making lifestyle changes. Environmental pollution is a tough one as we are often times held captive by our environment and environmental issues express themselves in air quality, water quality and the food chain. It is important to mitigate these issues as much as possible by making wise choices when possible. Genetics is the only one that is seemingly out of reach although I have come across studies recently that suggest that even genetics can be modified under the right circumstances. Besides scientific genetic engineering and re engineering we have found that mindfulness meditation lengthens telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. The result is the ability to keep our brains younger, longer and we look at our brains as the focal point for memory.

Other mindfulness meditation studies have shown some impressive results with different parts of the brain that influence memory.

The Hippocampus is a part of our brain that is directly involved with short and long term memory. Through age and stress we know that the Hippocampus shrinks and gets less dense over time. A 2011 Harvard study showed significant increased thickness of the Hippocampus with the 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction(MBSR) program pioneered by Jon Kabat -Zinn.

We have also seen mindfulness meditation benefits in the frontal cortex area of the brain. The frontal cortex is responsible for functions such as concentration, attention, learning and memory. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed the that mindfulness meditation caused the brain’s grey matter of the frontal cortex area to thicken because  mindfulness meditation increases the size of blood vessels and the blood flow in the region.

There is enough scientific evidence now to conclude that mindfulness meditation has a positive effect on memory.

A great book on Neuroplasiticity, the effects of mindfulness on the brain is: http://amzn.to/2qrp9pT

Three related studies/articles of interest are: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/study-meditation-improves-memory-attention/275564/

 http://www.memory-improvement-tips.com/meditation-and-memory.html

Can Mindfulness Meditation Increase Longevity?

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

110222_640For thousands of years people have been searching for ways to increase life span. What drives us to want to live longer? Many would argue that there is a biological impulse that motivates us to live as long as possible. Perhaps it is part of our survival instinct that is hard wired into our autonomic nervous system. That instinct is expressed through our fight or flight response which drives us to live as long as possible. The fight or flight response is driven by fear so perhaps we can say that fear plays a role in our quest for longevity. Even without the fear we seem to seek longevity particularly if there is also quality of life.

Ideally we want to increase quality of life along with life span and usually the two go together. Great strides have been made over the past 50 years to increase both. Medical breakthroughs, increased knowledge about healthy lifestyle changes in diet, nutrition, exercise, emotional intelligence and stress reduction have pushed the envelope of our ability to increase longevity along with quality of life. For many years meditation has been thought to increase quality of life and longevity. Up until about 35 years ago we relied on our experience to confirm the link between meditation, quality of life and longevity. Now we have a body of evidence that is confirming this and one of the most interesting discoveries recently has to do with the effects of meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation on longevity.

Mindfulness meditation seems to affect longevity of the physical body in a few different ways, starting at the cellular level. One that I find to be of great significance is that scientists have isolated length of telomeres and telomerase as indicators of cellular aging. Our cells contain chromosomes, or sequences of DNA. Telomeres are “protective protein caps” at the end of our DNA strands that allow for continued cell replication. The longer the telomere, the more times a cell can divide and refresh. Each time a cell replicates, its telomere length, and therefore its lifespan, gets shorter in a natural aging process.

Telomerase is an enzyme in the body that prevents telomere shortening and can even add telomeric DNA back to the telomere and help our body’s cells live for a longer period of time.

Shorter telomere length in cells is linked with poorer immune system functioning, cardiovascular disease, and degenerative conditions like osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. The shorter the length of our telomeres, the more susceptible our cells are to dying and the more susceptible we are to disease, as we get older.

Telomere shortening happens naturally as we age, but research now shows that it can be accelerated by stress, speeding up the aging process of the body. Meditation is known to reduce stress so research was designed to see if meditation could affect telomeres.

In 2013 Elizabeth Hoge, MD a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, investigated this idea by leading a study comparing telomere length of experienced loving-kindness meditation (LKM) practitioners with that of non-meditators. Results revealed that those with more years of meditation practice had longer telomere length overall, and that women meditators had significantly longer telomeres as compared to women non-meditators. These findings further support meditation’s positive effect on healthy cellular aging and provide fodder for future longitudinal research that could track change in telomere length over time.

Other studies using mindfulness meditation have also made the connection between longer telomeres and sustained meditation practice. These studies are at the forefront of mindfulness meditation and longevity research. As more studies are published I think we will confirm without a doubt that mindfulness meditation definitely increases longevity.

Simple Ways You Can Practice Mindfulness At Work

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Mindful-at-Work-KieferpixIt is very advantageous to extend your mindfulness meditation practice to the workplace. There are many different kinds of meditation and frankly most of them don’t lend themselves to the workplace because they involve practicing in such a way as to separate you from the interactions of the workplace. Approaches like chanting, visualization and deep relaxation are great practices but are not at home in certain environments particularly at work. Mindfulness meditation on the other hand is perfect for bringing into the workplace because it is simply paying attention to the present moment on purpose. It is a great way of extending your meditation practice into your daily life and because so many of us spend at least eight hours a day at work it gives us that much more time to practice the important present moment attention skills. Here are some simple ways you can bring your mindfulness meditation practice into the workplace.

1. When you first get to work sit at your desk for a minute or two connecting with your breath and physical sensations. This can be done with the eyes open or closed as present moment attention does not require the eyes being closed like we do in other forms of meditation. Bring awareness to how you are feeling as you prepare to begin your workday activities.

2. Use your phone as a reminder to be in the present moment. When the phone rings, instead of rushing to answer it let it ring three times all the while using those three rings as an opportunity to fully experience your breath as it is in the present moment.

3. When taking a food or drink break use the time as an opportunity to mindfully eat or drink by using all five senses to experience the food and/or drink. This too can be done with the eyes open and can be done at any speed. If you have time do it slowly, if you don’t have time, do it quickly. Present moment attention is available at any speed.

4. While talking with others be fully attentive while listening. There is a tendency to think about what you want to say while listening to others. This results in only a partial understanding of what is being said. Be fully present as you listen and that will enable you to be fully present while you speak. Your words will make more sense and you will become an excellent communicator.

5. From time to time make a point of stretching mindfully. You can do this while sitting or standing. Stretching is a great stress reducer and is an opportunity to fully experience how your body is feeling in the present moment. At the same time use the stretching as a reminder to pay close attention to your posture as you are working. The stretching will remind you how your body should feel and those feelings will guide you to the correct posture.

Begin with these five practices and you will shortly discover other ways to bring you mindfulness meditation practice into your workday activities.

Using Mindfulness as a Tool to Build Self-Confidence

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Stress MBSRMindfulness is one of the best ways to develop true self confidence. I’m talking about being self confident versus acting self confident. I’ve seen a lot of seminars that will teach you how to behave “as if” you are self confident but ignore developing the inner qualities that project the true energy of self confidence. We can sense when someone has this self confidence and when they are just pretending….and it has nothing to do with behavior. The dictionary defines self confidence as “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment. “ Let’s examine how we can develop this quality and what role meditation can play in helping us develop it.

I have discovered through my own mindfulness meditation practice that my self confidence has increased. I notice that there is a direct relationship between my fear levels and my self confidence. In order to truly have a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment one must have the level of self awareness that informs us that there is nothing to fear. Once that lens of fear is removed we are able to see clearly and function at levels of competence that put us in a peak performance mode. Our energy increases and our ability to put that energy to good use is magnified as our fear levels go down resulting in a natural rise in self confidence.

Mindfulness has been my greatest tool for reducing fear and there have been a number of studies published around this subject that come to the same conclusion. The relationship of mindfulness meditation to stress reduction has been well documented and since fear exists as the predominant experience in stress it makes perfect sense that mindfulness is a very effective tool in lowering fear and thereby raising self confidence.

In conclusion it is important to briefly discuss the concept of human potential. When the fear goes away what is left? What is the true nature of the human experience? Human nature is a multi faceted thing. Once we tip the scales away from fear we have the capacity to bring out all of the positive qualities such as kindness, compassion, gratitude, love, connection, forgiveness and so forth. When we experience these qualities and express them outwardly we are embracing true self confidence which flows naturally and effortlessly from within. Our potential to move in this direction is always present. All we have to do is cultivate it and it will continue to unfold.