spiritual practice & happiness

Meditating as a family

wildmind meditation newsAmy Wright Glenn, Philly Voice: It’s hard to imagine my life without a 20-minute pause in the middle of the day. As my son naps, I sit up tall, close my eyes and gently bring attention to the ebb and flow of breath. No matter what is going on, I can uncover insight and find rest for a joyful or troubled heart while opening to the comforting presence of peace.

As a long-time meditator, the practice of cultivating a calm inner state is woven into my experience of living. There were years when I sat in silence for hours a day. Today, as a …

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Meditation isn’t always relaxing, new study finds

wildmind meditation newsSarah Berry, Stuff.co.nz: Meditation is many things, but it is not always relaxing.

It restores clarity, relieves stress, changes our brains for the better, encourages creativity and calms our nervous system.

But a new study has found that we experience elevated heart rates during certain types of meditation.

Participants in the study were asked to practise loving-kindness meditation, thought-observation meditation and a relaxing breathing meditation technique.

The neuroscience researchers found that heart rate and effort were higher during loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditations.

“In contrast to implicit beliefs that meditation is always relaxing and associated with low arousal, the current results show that …

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The structure of gratitude

wildmind meditation newsDavid Brooks, NY Times: I’m sometimes grumpier when I stay at a nice hotel. I have certain expectations about the service that’s going to be provided. I get impatient if I have to crawl around looking for a power outlet, if the shower controls are unfathomable, if the place considers itself too fancy to put a coffee machine in each room. I’m sometimes happier at a budget motel, where my expectations are lower, and where a functioning iron is a bonus and the waffle maker in the breakfast area is a treat.

This little phenomenon shows how powerfully expectations structure our moods and …

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Your phone is not your friend, so stop acting like it

wildmind meditation newsKimberly Gillan, News.com.au: My chest tightened and my palms prickled as I flattened myself against the wall and glanced around the party, looking for a familiar face. The handful of people I knew were in the bathroom, deep in conversation or outside smoking, and I’d rather fly solo than passive smoke on a beachfront balcony on a blustery winter night in Melbourne.

I was about to hightail to the bedroom to dig my phone out of my bag and fill the lonely minutes with some scrolling — not so much because I was hankering for the latest headlines but more so that I …

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Mind your manners: mindfulness becoming a way of life

wildmind meditation newsBrian Haggerty, NorthJersey.com: Mindfulness. You may be reading about or hearing this word more often. While the word is not new, its usage among the general population as well as within education is on the rise. In essence, it is a state of mind which is achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. Originally intended as a means of therapy, mindfulness, today, is becoming more of a way of life. We are, after all, the sum total of our thoughts. Our thoughts affect the way we feel by producing chemicals, …

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Surprising science-backed ways to boost your mood

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Erin Brodwin, Business Insider: We all have a remarkable capacity to make ourselves happier.

Each of the little things we do to boost our mood — from reading an adventure story to keeping a gratitude journal or even gazing up at the stars on a clear night — can add up to greater overall satisfaction.

But happiness doesn’t come easy. We have to work at it.

Here are some of the things that psychologists and social science researchers have found that have the power to lift your spirits and keep them high.

Write down 3 things you’re grateful for

Keeping tabs on the things you feel lucky to have in your life is a great way to boost your mood.

In a recent study from psychologists at UC Davis, researchers had 3 groups of volunteers keep weekly journals focused on a single topic. While one group wrote about major events that had happened that week, the second group wrote about hassles they’d experienced, and the last group wrote about things they were grateful for.

Ten weeks later, those in the gratitude-journal group reported feeling more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives than those in any of the other groups and reported fewer physical symptoms of discomfort, from runny noses to headaches.

Go on a hike or gaze up at the stars on a clear night

Awe is a powerful — even awesome, you might say — human emotion. And a handful of recent studies have found a link between experiencing a sense of awe — that feeling you get when you look up at a starry sky or out across a wide open valley — with feeling less stressed and more satisfied.

People who’ve recently had an awe-inspiring experience are also more likely to say they feel more curious about the world around them and to act more generously toward others.

Move to Switzerland

Ok, moving to Switzerland might not make you happy, but people who live there are some of the happiest in the world, according to the 2015 World Happiness Report, a ranking compiled by an international team of economists, neuroscientists, and statisticians to measure global well-being.

One of the report’s key findings, based on decades of neuroscientific and psychological research, suggests that keeping the brain happy relies on 4 main factors, which include staying positive, recovering from negative feelings, spending time with loved ones, and being mindful.

“These findings highlight the view that happiness and well-being are best regarded as skills that can be enhanced through training,” the researchers write in their report.

Drink coffee (not too much, though)

They don’t call it “Central Perk” for nothing. As a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine doesn’t just boost alertness, it can also improve your mood.

Several studies have even found a connection between caffeine consumption and a reduced depression risk, as well as an even a lower risk of suicide. However, at least one of these studies specifically found this connection with caffeinated coffee but not tea, though others found the same effect for tea as well.

Meditate

You don’t have to be Don Draper to reap the benefits of some peace and quiet.

Multiple studies suggest that meditating — focusing intently and quietly on the present for set periods of time — can help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety. Research in long term meditators — Buddhist monks, for example — shows that these peoples’ brains have well-developed areas that could be linked to heightened awareness and emotional control. While it’s possible that people with such brains might be more likely to meditate in the first place, other studies do show that people who complete a meditation program tend to show brain changes linked with self-awareness, perspective, and memory.

Read an adventure story

You may be able to get the benefits of an awe-inspiring experience just by reading about someone else’s. A small 2012 study found that even when people simply read about someone else’s awe-inspiring experience, they were more satisfied, less stressed, and more willing to volunteer their time to help others compared with people who were simply shown something that made them feel happy.

Get outside

Stressed out? Head for a forest. One study found that a group of students sent into the trees for two nights had lower levels of cortisol — a hormone often used as a marker for stress — than those who spent the same two nights in a city.

In another study, researchers found a decrease in both heart rate and cortisol levels in people in the forest when compared to those in urban areas. “Stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

Go for a nature walk

If living in a big city has you feeling a bit down, there’s good news: A brief walk in nature could be all it takes to chase away those negative thoughts.

At least that’s the finding of a new study published last month.

In the study, a group of 38 Northern Californians (18 women and 20 men) were split up into two groups — one who took a 90-minute walk in nature and another that did the same walk in the city. The nature walkers reported having fewer negative thoughts about themselves after the walk than before the walk, while the urban walkers reported no change.

What’s more, fMRI brain scans revealed less activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), a brain region that may play a key role in some mood disorders and has been linked with patterns of negative thought, according to the study. Those who went on the urban walk did not show any of these benefits, the study found.

Do things you do when you’re happy — even if you’re not

Experiencing positive emotions not only appear to have the power to neutralize negative ones, but can also encourage people to be more proactive. “Positive emotions may aid those feeling trapped or helpless in the midst of negative moods, thoughts, or behaviors — for example, grief, pessimism, or isolation — spurring them to take positive action,” write a team of UC Riverside psychologists in a recent paper summarizing these findings.

Participate in cultural activities

Visiting a museum or seeing a concert is yet another way to boost your mood. A study that examined the anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction of over 50,000 adults in Norway offered an interesting link: People who participated in more cultural activities, like attending a play or joining a club, reported lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as a higher satisfaction with their overall quality of life. So get out there and participate!

Listen to sad songs.

Happiness is entirely subjective, meaning that what makes one person happy might affect someone else differently. However, listening to sad music seems to be a common activity that’s been linked with increased happiness around the globe.

In a study that looked at 772 people on the eastern and western hemispheres, researchers found that listening to sad music generated “beneficial emotional effects such as regulating negative emotion and mood as well as consolation,” the researchers write in their paper.

Set specific goals you know you can achieve.

If you’re one of those people who like to make to-do lists on a regular basis, then listen closely: When you’re setting your goals, it’s better to be specific and set goals you know you can achieve. For example, instead of setting a goal like “save the environment,” try to recycle more.

Those two examples were tested on a group of 127 volunteers in a study published last year. The first group were provided a series of specific goals like “increase recycling” while the second group had broader goals like “save the environment.” Even though the second group completed the same tasks as the first group, the people in the second group reported feeling less satisfied with themselves than the first group. The people in the second group also reported a lower overall sense of personal happiness from completing their goal, the scientists report.

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Mindfulness has lost its Buddhist roots, and it may not be doing you good

wildmind meditation newsMiguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, The Conversation: Mindfulness as a psychological aid is very much in fashion. Recent reports on the latest finding suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in preventing the relapse of recurrent depression.

While the authors of the paper interpreted their results in a slightly less positive light, stating that (contrary to their hypothesis) mindfulness was no more effective than medication, the meaning inferred by many in the media was that mindfulness was superior to medication.

Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism where one tries to notice present thoughts, feeling and sensations without judgement. The …

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Being mindful of mindfulness

wildmind meditation newsCathy Thomas Brownfield, Salem News: In this fast-paced world in which we live there is so little time to think about anything in depth. But that is not in anyone’s best interests. Rushing from home to work to school to home to dance classes, sports practice, Scout meetings, Lions Club Meetings, Book Club you name it. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for everyone to do all the things they would like to do or feel they have to do. This can lead to a few “issues,” not the least of which is burn-out.

What’s the first thing you think of …

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The power of presence: 3 simple ways to harness mindfulness

wildmind meditation newsShakti Sutriasa, Huffington Post: We hear a lot about being mindful – not just within spiritual circles – but more and more in the work place.

What exactly is mindfulness?

Simply, mindfulness is awareness of the present or the ability to be present in all aspects of our lives. It’s a honing of the mind to focus on what is happening right now.

Since the 1970s, there’s been a growing recognition and movement towards embracing mindfulness in the United States. This is due in large part to the many Buddhists teachers who have come here as well as the American practitioner …

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Mindfulness and chronic pain: every moment is a new chance

Pain always seems worse at night. Something about the silence amplifies the suffering. Even after you’ve taken the maximum dose of painkillers, the aching soon returns with a vengeance. You want to do something, anything, to stop the pain, but whatever you try seems to fail. Moving hurts. Doing nothing hurts. Ignoring it hurts. But it’s not just the pain that hurts; your mind can start to suffer as you desperately try to find a way of escaping. Pointed and bitter questions can begin nagging at your soul: What will happen if I don’t recover? What if it gets worse? I can’t cope with this. Please, I just want it to stop. . . .

You Are Not Your Pain Vidyamala BurchWe wrote this book to help you cope with pain, illness, and stress in times such as these. It will teach you how to reduce your suffering progressively, so that you can begin living life to the fullest once again. It may not completely eliminate your suffering, but it will ensure that it no longer dominates your life. You’ll discover that it is possible to be at peace, even if illness and pain are unavoidable, and to enjoy a fulfilling life.

We know this to be true because we have both experienced terrible injuries and used an ancient form of meditation known as mindfulness to ease our suffering. The techniques in this book have been proven to work by doctors and scientists in universities around the world. Mindfulness is so effective that doctors and specialist pain clinics now refer their patients to our Breathworks center in Manchester, UK, and to courses run by our affiliated trainers around the world. Every day we help people find peace amid their suffering.

This book and the accompanying CD reveal a series of simple practices that you can incorporate into daily life to significantly reduce your pain, anguish, and stress. They are built on Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM), which has its roots in the groundbreaking work of Dr. Jon  Kabat- Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The MBPM program itself was developed by Vidyamala Burch (coauthor of this book) as a means of coping with the after effects of two serious accidents. Although originally designed to reduce physical pain and suffering, it has proven to be an effective stress-reduction technique as well. The core mindfulness meditation techniques have been shown in many clinical trials to be at least as effective as drugs or counseling for relieving anxiety, stress, and depression.

When it comes to pain, clinical trials show that mindfulness can be as effective as the most commonly prescribed painkillers, and some studies have shown it to be as powerful as morphine. Imaging studies show that it soothes the brain patterns underlying pain, and over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself so that you no longer feel pain with the same intensity. And when it does arise, the pain no longer dominates your life. Many people report that their pain declines to such a degree that they barely notice it at all.

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