psychology and meditation

How stress kills our ability to feel compassion

Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post: Stress isn’t just bad for our physical and mental health — it may also inhibit our ability to empathize with others, according to new McGill University research.

The study, recently published in the journal Current Biology, found that a drug that blocks stress hormones can increase the ability of both humans and mice to “feel” others’ pain.

The researchers studied the phenomenon known as “emotional contagion of pain,” a key component of empathy which has to do with our ability to experience the pain of strangers.

Previous research by …

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Meditation changes the brain’s wiring and mindset, Harvard studies show

Debra Stern, HNGN: Sarah Lazar’s voice was calming even over the phone as she demonstrated, for this interview, a typical start to a mindfulness practice. “Notice you are breathing in and breathing out. Can you just be aware and really feel what it feels like as air passes through your nostrils?” she asks, gently.

“It may sound incredibly boring,” she says with a chuckle. “But things start to quiet down inside.”

According to Lazar, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, observing your breath …

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Creating a natural anti-depressant brain?

uncovering-happinessI haven’t read the book I’m about to introduce, but I’m familiar with the author and the advance information about it makes it sound interesting.

Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion is written by psychologist and bestselling author Elisha Goldstein, PhD. It shows us the science of natural anti-depressants and gives us the practices to unlock them, building new neural structures to uncover genuine happiness.

Hardcover: Barnes & Noble, Book Passage, Indie Bound, Powell’s, Simon & Schuster.

eBook: iBooks, Nook, Simon & Schuster, Google Play Store.

We now know that we can use our minds to change our brains, but Dr. Goldstein’s Uncovering Happiness reveals techniques that help us break our negative habit loops and release these five natural anti-depressants in the brain: mindfulness, self-compassion, purpose, play and developing confidence—ultimately creating a natural anti-depressant brain.

The book integrates the findings of hundreds of academic studies and dozens of interviews with mindfulness teachers, psychologists, neuroscientists and researchers. There are also stories of many people who have used these teachings to find their personal pathway to healing.

This book contains a message of hope: Having experienced bouts of anxiety, depression or being just down in the dumps doesn’t mean you have to suffer from it in the future. As Goldstein says, “Science and thousands of people’s experience are showing that these seven simple elements can help us take back control of our minds, our moods and our lives.”

The book comes out on January 27th. You can pre-order a copy and receive the free bonus of Dr. Goldstein’s “Uncovering Happiness Training” – A 90 Minute presentation that take you step-by-step through the elements of Uncovering Happiness, by visiting the author’s site.

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The four greatest psychological discoveries of 2014

Jonice Webb, Psych Central: Every day of every year, scientists toil away in their efforts to understand the workings of the human mind. What makes us happy? How do our emotions work? What should we be doing differently in our lives to make ourselves healthier, happier and stronger?

Each year, a few studies stand out as particularly helpful by outlining a clear path to accomplish a better and healthier life; studies that everyone should know about. Here are four such studies from the year 2014. I hope they will help you …

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Three tips for developing the habit of daily meditation

https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-two-little-monks-running-outdoors-image30569393

Sometimes I find it hard to set up a good habit. Other times it’s easy. I’ve been wondering if I could look at a habit I’ve found easy to set up, and then apply those principles in other areas. Now I already meditate daily, but perhaps this is something you’ve found difficult and could use some pointers with, or maybe, like me, you’re already a regular meditator but have other areas you need to be working on (and let’s face it, who couldn’t). So I thought I’d share my observations and reflections.

One good habit I’ve been successful in setting up is going out running three times a week, with the aim of building up to running a 5k. I’ve been going out very regularly, and have been enjoying a sense of joy during every run and a glow of satisfaction afterward. I’m not even deterred by bad weather!

Now I’ve tried to get into running before, but I’ve never enjoyed it so consistently. What’s different this time?

Lesson 1

First, I have a running buddy. If he’s not available for some reason, I’ll still go running on my own, but I’m more motivated to go running with a friend because it’s much more fun when we’re together and we keep each other accountable.

What’s the lesson for meditating regularly?

You may not be able to meditate with others every day in the flesh, but you can use an app like the Insight Timer, which shows you how many other people are meditating at the same time as you. Or you can have a meditation buddy that you can text or email each other with a brief message confirming that you’ve meditated. If you haven’t heard from your partner you can send her a quick reminder. At times I’ve meditated with a friend on Skype. Of course we’re in silence, but there’s a real sense of being with another person.

Lesson 2

The second difference from my usual attempts at running is that this time I’m using an app. We have a “Couch to 5k” app that provides a structured nine-week program of running, gradually building up to a solid 30 minute run, which is easily enough time to cover 5 kilometers.

What’s the lesson for meditating regularly?

Set short but attainable targets for yourself. It’s OK to do a short meditation each day to begin with. There are lots of meditations of about eight minutes in length (I’ve made a CD of them myself) and that’s enough to make a subtle difference to our day.

And for most people, the equivalent of a meditation app is a timer or a guided meditation. Both will give you a sense of structure. A guided meditation not only gives your practice some structure, but is also like having a meditation buddy who walks you through the meditation.

Lesson 3

The third difference is that we congratulate ourselves and each other.

Our running app is structured: we’ll run, walk, run, walk, run for 25 minutes or so. At the end of each leg of running we’ll high five each other and give ourselves congratulations on our progress. The boost in mood that we get from doing this is very noticeable.

Remember it’s OK to congratulate yourself. You could get to the end of a meditation and say to yourself “Target achieved! Yay, me! That’s awesome!” and so on. Be your own cheerleader. Some of us have been brought up to be suspicious of self-congratulation, but remember that you’re not praising yourself in order to make yourself look good but so that you can associate a positive habit with feelings of pleasure, and look forward to your practice.

I think these three lessons from my running practice are something I can bring into other areas of my life — and perhaps you’ll find them useful too.

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How mindfulness can reduce negative associations

Katy Young, Daily Life: A new study has suggested that mindfulness can short-circuit our negative associations. According to research carried out by Central Michigan University, a little bit of mindfulness and meditation decreases our knee-jerk damaging bias, even when it comes to negative attitudes around race and age, reports psmag.com.

Led by psychologists Adam Lueke and Bryan Gibson, the study investigated whether 72 subjects would respond differently to images of black and white faces, as well as younger and older faces, after listening to a 10-minute mindfulness talk based on Budhist principles (essentially teaching us to …

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Cognitive therapy, mindfulness may help with menopausal depression

wildmind meditation newsJanice Neumann, Philly.com: Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research.

Too few studies have looked at whether cognitive therapies are good alternatives for women who can’t or don’t want to use pharmaceutical treatments, the authors conclude, but the handful that did mostly showed positive results.

“When I started work in this area, I was struck by the lack of alternative, non-pharmacological, non-hormonal treatment for menopausal symptoms, given the associated risks of hormone therapy and side effects of anti-depressants for some women,” said Sheryl Green, lead author of the study, in …

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Four reasons to stop pursuing happiness & what to do instead

wildmind meditation newsFrank Martela, Fulfillment Daily: In a recent conference on Positive Psychology, Pharrell Williams’ song Happy seemed to be everywhere. He asked us to “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.” I didn’t clap.

There are certainly many benefits to being happy. Positive emotions broaden our thinking and imagination. Shared positive emotions help us to connect with other people. Being happy might be good for our health too. Furthermore – and this is quite self-evident – it feels good to be happy. But while being happy can be a good thing, pursuing happiness might actually be bad for us. As professor …

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Inhibition profiles

DaddyThe inhibition profile of a particular person can be quite nuanced. For example, in terms of attachment theory, a person raised by a “dismissing” parent could worry about asking too much of others, and someone with an “inconsistent” parent –alternately intrusive and rejecting – could feel ashamed or guilty about desires that differ from those of her partner. Or, as a generalization, boys are socialized not to show fear, girls not to show anger; since what people do not express tends to build up inside, I’ve counseled relationships in which the man is anxious about the woman, and she’s irritated with him. I’ve also worked with people who:

  • Can express “armored” emotions like anger but not more vulnerable ones like hurt or sadness.
  • Cannot say “no,” so their “yes” doesn’t mean much.
  • Think they are not allowed to say what they really want.
  • Feel tongue-tied around authority figures.
  • Get really upset with themselves at the least anger toward their spouse.
  • Feel that acknowledging problems with a spiritual teacher would be disloyal.

These are completely normal inhibitions. For example, I sweated for about half an hour before I finally told a girl – for the first time in my life – that I loved her.

What about you? What’s your own history, related to self-expression? What do you find easy to say – or hard?

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Understanding depression: mindfulness and acceptance

wildmind meditation newsKate Lochte & Matt Markgraf, WKMS.org: “One of the cornerstones of treatments for depression is getting out and moving in the world in ways that matter to the individual,” says Dr. Michael Bordieri, assistant professor of psychology at Murray State University. Mindfulness can be a way to help achieve that, by becoming aware of ones thoughts and not changing them, but rather letting them go. This is the topic of the fourth conversation in our series on understanding depression: the emerging therapeutic use of mindfulness.

Mindfulness isn’t necessarily new, it’s been practiced in eastern medicine for centuries. New to western scientific scrutiny and …

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