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Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children

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EurekAlert: Mindfulness, described as paying attention on purpose and being in the present moment with acceptance, could be an effective way to help children avoid obesity. New research published in the journal Heliyon suggests that the balance in brain networks in children who are obese is different compared to healthy-weight children, making them more prone to over-eating.

Long-lasting weight loss is difficult; this may be because it requires changes in how the brain functions in addition to changes in diet and exercise. The authors of the study, from Vanderbilt University, say identifying children at risk for obesity early on and using mindfulness approaches to control eating may be one way to approach weight management.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase inhibition and decrease impulsivity. Since obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors may be associated with an imbalance between the connections in the brain that control inhibition and impulse, the researchers say mindfulness could help treat or prevent childhood obesity.

“We know the brain plays a big role in obesity in adults, but what we understand about the neurological connections associated with obesity might not apply to children,” explained lead author BettyAnn Chodkowski, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We wanted to look at the way children’s brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are obese.”

Chodkowski and her mentors, Ronald Cowan and Kevin Niswender, defined three areas of the brain that may be associated with weight and eating habits: the inferior parietal lobe, which is associated with inhibition, the ability to override an automatic response (in this case eating); the frontal pole, which is associated with impulsivity; and the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward.

They used data collected by the Enhanced Nathan Kline Institute – Rockland Sample from 38 children aged 8-13. Five of the children were classified as obese, and six were overweight. Data included children’s weights and their answers to the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire, which describes the children’s eating habits. The researchers also used MRI scans that showed the function of the three regions of the brain they wanted to study.

The results revealed a preliminary link between weight, eating behavior and balance in brain function. In children who behave in ways that make them eat more, the part of the brain associated with being impulsive appears to be more strongly connected than the part of the brain associated with inhibition.

Conversely, in children who behave in ways that help them avoid food, the part of the brain associated with inhibition is more strongly connected compared to the part of the brain associated with being impulsive.

“Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more,” said Dr. Niswender, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This is great from an evolutionary perspective – they need food to grow and survive. But in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”

“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity,” said Dr. Cowan, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults, but so far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children.”

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How meditation helped this guy ditch dating apps — and get more dates

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Jordi Lippe-McGraw, Yahoo Health: Last year, Andy Glickman decided he’d had enough. The now-24-year-old realized that his love life essentially consisted of a string of people just looking for superficial or physical relations, with no interest in connecting on an emotional level. He was meeting people online and through apps, and would frequently receive unsolicited nude pictures from people more than twice his age. And he was tired of it.

So Glickman, who also happens to be a sought-after yoga instructor and meditation coach in Philadelphia, decided to apply his expertise in meditation to his love life.

How? Meditation …

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Can’t Sleep? Try meditation

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Sharon Salzberg, Huffington Post: Throughout my years as a meditation teacher, I’ve encountered many students who come to meditation from a place of acute anxiety. Meditation, and mindfulness practices in general, are scientifically proven antidotes to anxiety and stress, as they are about focusing the mind on what is rather than allowing the anxiety or stress itself to take over, and lead the mind into labyrinths of self-judgment, comparison, regret and other rumination.

Contrary to popular belief, meditation doesn’t always feel relaxing in real time. When I first came to meditation when I was 18, I was experiencing a lot …

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Remembering to be happy

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I’ve made and immediately forgotten too many New Year’s resolutions to be a believer in them, but the start of a new trip around the sun still makes me reflect on changes that I want to bring about in my life.

One thing that started popping into my mind toward the end of last year was the realization that I often forget to be happy.

It seems that just about any time I want, I can access happiness—or at least I can access a greater degree of peace, calm, well-being, and emotional positivity than was present just a moment before.

It works like this: I’ll be doing something, like working, reading, or browsing the web, and I’ll become aware that my experience is a bit flat or tense. I’ve become focused on what I’ve been doing in too driven a way, and this is diminishing my sense of well-being. As soon as I realize that’s been going on, I start to pay greater attention to my present-moment experience, relax my body, and allow my heart to soften. And instantly I feel happier. Often I feel much happier. I mean, really happy.

There may be unpleasant feelings present, but over the years I’ve learned how to accept those. I can have unpleasant feelings going on—sadness, or anxiety, for example—and still be happy. It’s a process, though. I have to spend a few moments with the unpleasant feeling once I notice it, and let it be, and then it becomes less solid and weighty, and it’s surrounded by a mind that’s content, or even joyful.

How easy it is to access this happiness is surprising. It’s like it’s always there, waiting for me to experience it. But I forget.

So this year I have the intention (I wouldn’t quite call it a resolution) to remember to be happy. I’m training myself to check in with my experience at least several times an hour in order to see how I’m feeling, and to note whether it’s possible for me to let go of the flatness or negative affect, in order for happiness to arise. I’ll be working, reading, or browsing the web, and silently ask, “How are you? Can you relax a little? Soften? Open your heart? Let go of that drivenness? Can you let yourself be happier, even if just a little?”

I’m suppressing joy all the time. I just have to remember not to! I wonder if that’s true for you as well?

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A meditation on meditation: learning it, hating it, needing it

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Rachel Machacek, RVANews: When I first started learning the practice of meditation, I was on a far-flung beach in Mexico, there for yoga teacher training. Every day, I got up before sunrise for a 30-minute meditation. I sat in a circle with the other 13 would-be instructors on a wooden platform, ocean waves crashing nearby, eyes closed, incense swirling. Sounds like bliss was just an OM away, doesn’t it?

Not to burst the bubble, but no. During these sessions, my eyes darted around inside my head and I would shift uncomfortably at least 50 times, and usually ended up on my …

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Accept Dependence

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Want to try a little experiment?

Stop breathing. Really. For a few seconds, maybe a few dozen seconds, and see how it feels.

For me, this experiment is an intimate way to experience a deep truth, that we live dependently, relying on 10,000 things for physical survival, happiness, love, and success.

For example, within half a minute of no air, most people are uncomfortable, after one minute, they’re panicking, and after four minutes, they’re brain-dead or severely damaged. Second by second, your life and mind require oxygen, the plants that “exhale” it, the sun that drives photosynthesis, and other stars blowing up billions of years ago to make every atom of oxygen in the next breath you take. Or think about the people you rely on – the touches, attention, and caring – or the medicines, wisdom teachings, civil society, technologies, or your own good efforts last year that you profit from today.

It’s kind of freaky and frightening to know that we live dangled by 10,000 vulnerable threads, many of which could be cut at any moment. On the other hand, opening to this truth can silence the lies of unwarranted self-criticism. Of course we need others, of course the underlying causes and conditions have to be present to succeed at anything, of course we can’t grow roses in a parking lot. We are frail, soft, vulnerable, hurt by little things, and hungry for love. When you let this in, you’re not so hard on yourself – or others.

Accepting dependence brings you into harmony with the way it actually is. All things, from gophers to galaxies, arise and pass away in dependence on all other things. Dependence is nothing to be ashamed of, in spite of our culture’s hyper-emphasis on independence. Hearing the voice of someone you love, eating a strawberry, or taking a breath, realizing your dependence brings you into an almost ecstatic gratitude when you see that the 10,000 vulnerabilities are actually 10,000 gifts.

Consider some of the many things you depend on. Imagine that for the next year you leave all your doors unlocked, give up a favorite food, and don’t speak with any friends or family. Let it sink in that you use or need many people and things each day. Try to have a matter-of-fact attitude about this, knowing that this is true for everybody, not just you.

Then look in the other direction, and recognize how so many others depend on you. They’re affected by how you smile, your tone of voice, and whether you pick up milk on the way home tonight. When I see this myself, it makes me feel good: I’m connected rather than isolated, and someone who makes a difference. It also makes me feel more tender and kindly toward others.

Much as people depend on you, you depend on you. The you that you are today has been gifted in thousands of ways, large and small, by previous versions of yourself. Like runners in a great relay race, you hand the baton each day to the you who wakes up the next morning. Think of some of the many things that earlier you’s have contributed to your life: problems solved, goals accomplished, dishes done, relationships nurtured, lessons learned. It’s simple and powerful: silently thank them. How does this feel?

Looking forward, consider how your future you depends on what you do today. Not as pressure, but tenderly, let it land that your future you is counting on you, right now. What will be important to this being that you will become? What could you do this year, this day, that would set up this future person – in his or her middle age or old age – to live with safety, health, happiness, and ease?

Last, be honest with yourself about your own needs, and the things that make a difference for you. What would be good to nourish or shore up? Paradoxically, the more open you are to the humility of dependence, the more straightforward you are about watering your personal fruit tree.

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Meditation matters for special education students

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Jeremy Loudenback, Chronicle of Social Change: While meditation has expanded in recent years from a zen-seeker’s path to higher consciousness to a best practice for hard-charging CEOs, it’s now gaining a foothold at a school in Southern California serving students with serious emotional and behavioral issues.

Administrators at the Five Acres School in Altadena, Calif., are testing whether meditation and mindfulness can help students succeed in the classroom. A new mindfulness program implemented there in two semesters over the past year has helped pupils stay in the classroom and minimize emotional outbursts that can derail the learning process, according …

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The joy of imperfection: how not to drive yourself and others nuts

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Mona Shah Joshi, Fulfillment Daily: Every year we come up with new year’s resolutions. Maybe to lose weight, to procrastinate less, to write that book or get a promotion. We want to become more “perfect” in some way. And how often have we let ourselves down in the process?

You know what to do, but so often manage to do the opposite. You know you should go to sleep. But instead of picking your body up from the couch, you pick up the television remote. You have work to get done, but spend 20 minutes surfing online for stuff you’ll …

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Want to reduce anxiety, and increase cognitive ability and memory? Try meditation

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Nicole Tsong, Seattle Times: Meditation can help your brain become more mindful and conscious, creating stability, clarity and emotional balance.

Like a workout, meditation has its good days and its tough ones. Some days when I meditate, I spend much of the time making lists, hoping desperately I’ll remember them by the end of my 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes, I can barely sit still. Some days, I feel calm. I spend more time focusing on my breath than distractions.

Like a physical workout, no matter how it felt during the activity, I always feel better afterward.

Meditation is a training …

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Four crucial things to consider if you have goals in your spiritual practice

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I see a lot of confusion about whether it’s OK to have goals in spiritual practice, and in meditation in particular. A lot of people think it’s wrong to have goals, and think of being goal-oriented as a peculiarly western phenomenon. I disagree on both counts.

The Buddha was supremely goal-oriented, and he encouraged us to be likewise. His last words were “Strive conscientiously.”

He opens one sutta with the words, “And how, monks, does a monk cultivate the heart’s release by loving-kindness? What is its goal, its excellence, its fruit and its outcome?” In a conversation with a monk he says “It’s good that you understand that I have taught the Dhamma with total liberation [parinibbana] through lack of clinging as its goal [attha], for I have taught the Dhamma with total liberation through lack of clinging as its goal.”

There’s a lot more like that! The Buddha taught us to have goals and to pursue them, so I don’t think this is a western phenomenon by any means.

The question is whether or not there are attitudes of grasping, aversion, or delusion involved in our desire to pursue goals.

With grasping we want to be there now!

With aversion we can’t stand being where we are now, or we’re angry with ourselves or our practice because we’re not where we want to be.

With delusion we think that we can achieve peace and calm by using means that destroy peace and calm—for example if we just try hard enough to change, or give ourselves a hard enough time, or just want to change enough—then it’ll happen. Or our goals may be unrealistic—setting a goal of having zero distractions in meditation is just not going to work. It’s like setting the goal of churning water in order to produce butter.

Approaching our practice through craving, aversion, or delusion make us unhappy. But we don’t have to relate to our practice in this way.

Here are four crucial things to consider if we want to relate healthily to goals:

  1. Are we able to accept where we currently are as we work toward our goals?
  2. Are we able to move toward our goals in a spirit of patience, kindness, and even playfulness?
  3. Are we able to have a goal without being disappointed that we’re not there yet?
  4. Are our goals realistic?

So if you’re cultivating lovingkindness, then (obviously, I think) you have a goal of becoming kinder. If you’re practicing mindfulness of breathing, then you have the goal of being mindful of the breathing, or you may even have very specific goals, such as staying with the experience of the breathing for ten full breaths. These things are fine, as long as we’re approaching them in the right way.

Of course it’s not possible for us to instantly banish craving, aversion, and delusion from our lives! This means that we’ll inevitably find that we do bring these things into the pursuit of our goals. And that’s something we just need to accept. That’s just where we are. That’s just where we’re starting from. Accepting that, we can let go of just a little of our grasping, a little of our aversion, a little of our delusion—and in this way make progress.

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