Posts by Rick Hanson PhD

A head start with mindfulness

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Craig Hassed, Times Higher Education: Don’t dismiss the meditation technique as a fad: its well documented benefits for those in demanding careers make a strong case for teaching it at university, says Craig Hassed.

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days, but its potential importance to higher education has not yet been broadly recognized.

It can be described as a form of meditation and a way of living. It is a mental discipline that involves not only sharpening present-moment attention but also cultivating the attitude with which we pay attention: one of curiosity, acceptance, openness …

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How meditation and yoga can alter the expression of our genes

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Alice G. Walton, Forbes: For those who are still skeptical about whether mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi actually work, a new study goes further in laying out how they affect us—right down to the level of our genes. The meta-analysis, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, looks back over a number of previous studies on the effects of the different practices on gene expression. It turns out that the practices all seem to have a beneficial effect on the expression of a slew of different genes …

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New course formats on Wildmind, coming Monday

Believe it or not, I’ve been running online courses through Wildmind since 2001! I believe in fact that I may have been the first person to offer meditation courses online.

A lot’s changed since I started this. Although we’ve offered courses in various formats, for the entire time I’ve been teaching online I’ve provided a mixture of background reading material and guided meditations in audio format, supported by discussion.

That’s worked pretty well, but more and more people are accessing our courses on mobile devices, on which reading is less enjoyable. I think many of us are finding it harder to stay focused while reading on electronic devices.

So we’re trying an experiment with courses that are entirely audio-based.

10-Day Introduction to Meditation

This ten-day program offers sessions that are only 10 minutes in length, meaning that they’re easy to fit into your schedule.

It’ll introduce you to ways to calm your mind and create more mindfulness — an observational attitude that allows us to monitor our experience and to let go of mental and behavioral habits that lead to stress and anxiety, while also encouraging habits that contribute to a sense of happiness and wellbeing.

Try out the first meditation on the YouTube video below.

» If you’d like to find out more, click here.

Living With Awareness

This 28-day course is adapted from one of our test-and-audio courses. What we’ve done is created audio introductions to the meditations from this course, creating an immersive audio experience. The introductory talks that take the place of the readings now provide a lead-in to the experiential guided meditations.

Mindfulness is not something we do only in meditation, but also in the supermarket, in the car, while eating, and in everything else we do. This course will not only help you to learn to meditate, but will offer practical instruction on how to bring greater mindfulness into all your daily activities.

For a flavor of the course, check out the first session:

» And if you’d like to learn more about this course, click on this link.

I hope you’ll want to join us as we explore these new teaching formats!

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Mindful eating: ‘Suddenly, you have power over food’

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Jacqueline Howard, CNN: Mindful eating is rooted in the idea of mindfulness, an ancient practice that promotes being aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and environment instead of living your life on autopilot.

When applied to diet, mindful eating involves focusing on chewing your food, taking your time, being in tune with when your body signals that you are hungry or full, and being aware of how your food appears, smells and tastes.
“Over time, eating can become habitual. … We don’t even check in to see if we’re hungry. It’s, ‘Oh, …

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Meditation and neuroscience: new wave of breakthroughs in research on meditative practices

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Koyama Tetsuya, Nippon.com: Zen, mindfulness, and meditation in general are believed to promote psychological and physical well-being. But why? An emerging generation of neuroscientists is fast unveiling the hidden workings of meditation.

Legs in tights, extending from leotards and terminating in pointe shoes, briskly cut through the air. Instructions are called out as the dancers, faces aglow, carry their arms in delicate arcs and place their feet in deliberate motions. Leading the ballet class at a dance studio in Tokyo is a 27-year-old woman whom we will call Murano Kozue. The students would …

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The most important thing you need to know about life, according to Buddhism

Arguably the central teaching of Buddhism, without which the others make no sense, is that things change.

While “things change” may seem like a commonplace observation, made by dozens (at least) of philosophers and religious teachers over the last few millennia, the Buddha wasn’t content simply to pay lip-service to the concept of impermanence, but followed through the implications of this fact as far as he possibly could.

He saw our resistance to change as the source of our suffering. He talked about this resistance in terms of clinging — a desperate attempt to hold onto stability in the flowing river of time.

Clinging sometimes manifests as expectation — we want something to happen in a particular way, and we suffer when it doesn’t. This can result in huge amounts of suffering, when for example we have unrequited love (expecting the other person to reciprocate our feelings when they don’t), or when we get depressed when life doesn’t turn out the way we’d expected it to. Expectation can also work in much smaller ways, though, as when we get frustrated when we want the traffic or supermarket checkout line to move faster than it does.

One of the implications of impermanence is that things are changing in dependence on things that are also changing. The movements of traffic depend on the weather, on road conditions, on the number of people on the road, the individual mental states of drivers, and so on. Life is complex, and largely out of our control.

And so one way we can become happier is to recognize when we have expectations, and to let go of them. To give you an example from my own life, I’d often feel frustrated when my kids (who are still fairly young) take longer than I expect to do things I want them to do, like get ready to go out. I used to end up getting annoyed with them, and sometimes yelling. Now I’m more likely to see that I have an expectation that’s going to make me suffer, and to let go of it. Taking a deep breath, letting go, and accepting that I can’t control my children helps me to be more at ease when we’re getting ready to go someplace.

We can also let go of expectations that we won’t age or get sick, that the weather will cooperate with our plans, that our possessions will last forever without breaking, and so on.

While the fact of things changing can seem like a problem that we have to manage, it’s also a blessing. We’re capable of change. We may have habits that cause suffering for us and others around us, but we can unlearn those habits. And we can learn new ways of being. We can learn to be wiser, kinder, more patient, and so on. There’s nothing about us that is so fixed that it can’t change.

The Buddha’s teachings emphasized how the mind can progressively change in ways that allow us greater happiness and freedom. Without getting too technical, he outlined several lists of progressive mental states leading to the complete freedom from suffering that’s called Awakening or nirvana.

When we resist it, change is a curse. When we accept it, change is simply a fact. When we embrace it, change is a blessing.

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A new book: ‘The Mindful Nurse’

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Mary O’Connor, Hearts in Healthcare: Mention compassion and what words spring to mind? Thoughtfulness, decency, kindness, a caring nature and a willingness to help others.

We usually think of compassion in terms of other people and rarely apply it to ourselves. Yet self compassion is important for our emotional wellbeing and growth.

It involves demonstrating the same qualities of caring, kindness and understanding to ourselves when we are having a difficult time, not judging ourselves harshly for any perceived shortcomings or when we make mistakes, comforting and caring for ourselves and, most of all …

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Here’s how to find a minute of mindfulness anywhere

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Elisa Boxer, Fast Company: Everyone’s mind wanders.

Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment. So if you’re aware that your mind is wandering, you’re halfway to a successful mindfulness practice.

The other half of mindfulness is gently returning your attention back to the here and now. But this doesn’t mean you have to yank your misbehaving mind back to reality. Instead, think of it as a compassionate return to consciousness. Picture a feather on the ground, lifted up by a gust of wind and then floating back down to rest …

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Mindfulness in prenatal education can reduce risk of depression

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Rick Nauert PhD, Psych Central: A new study shows mindfulness training that addresses fear and pain during childbirth can improve women’s childbirth experiences.

Moreover, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of California, San Francisco discovered the training was associated with a reduction of depression symptoms during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

“Fear of the unknown affects us all, and perhaps none more so than pregnant women,” says lead author Dr. Larissa Duncan, University of Wisconsin, Madison professor of human development and family studies.

“With mindfulness skills, women in our study…

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Meditation as a “positivity cascade”

It used to be that if you wanted to learn to meditate you had to take the risk of entering an exotic, incense-scented meditation center, wondering if you were stepping into the domain of some weird cult. Nowadays, though, you can download meditation apps, learn meditation online, or even attend a class at your local hospital.

Yet although meditation is approaching mainstream acceptance, many people still have the image of meditation as something unusual, and perhaps even difficult. They expect something religious or mysterious.

The principles of meditation, however, are very down to earth.

But first, let’s understand what tends to happen when we’re not very mindful.

The mind does a lot of thinking that makes us unhappy. The average person spends about half of their time being distracted, which means they’re thinking about things unrelated to what they’re actually doing.

Much of this distraction involves things like worrying, being irritable, or having doubts about yourself — things that make us unhappy.

This distracted and unhelpful thinking has physiological effects, causing the release of stress hormones, leading to long-term inflammation and predisposing us to illness.

Being stressed causes us to act in ways that cause more stress — such as losing our temper, withdrawing from sources of emotional support, eating badly, and so on. This causes yet more stress.

Stress is a vicious cycle.

Next, let’s look at how meditation helps.

Meditation starts simply by encouraging us to stay rooted in sensory reality by paying attention to the sensations of the body and of our breathing. This helps us to notice when we’re caught up in unhelpful patterns of thinking.

We then let go of these distracted trains of thought and come back to the sensations of our breathing, over and over.

We learn to accept that distraction happens, without beating ourselves up about it.

As we spend more time observing the breathing, and less time caught up in distracted thinking, we find that our mind and emotions start to settle down.

We’re no longer giving rise to stress hormones, and so our levels of tension and of inflammation drop. We become healthier.

We also find, as we become less stressed, that we act in ways that are supportive of our long-term well-being. For example, when we do feel stressed we’re more likely to deal with it through relaxation, or exercise. We’re more likely to take care of ourselves by eating healthily and and so on.

When we’re in conflict with someone we’re more apt to respond in an empathetic way, and in ways that are reasonable rather than reactive. And so we are more likely to settle our difficulties and find that there is less conflict going on around us. We build more positive connections with those around us.

And so when we meditate we become happier, more focused (which itself brings a host of benefits), we’re healthier, and our lives generally go more smoothly. This all helps to contribute to a sense of wellbeing.

This is why I talk about meditation involving a “positivity cascade.” The seemingly ordinary act of observing our breathing leads to a whole series of positive changes that help to enrich our lives.

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