meditation and weight loss

Meet the New Year mindfully!

mwhklqgvzck-juskteez-vu

2016 is coming to a close — thank goodness! It’s been a challenging year, with political upsets that the pundits hadn’t predicted — from Brexit to Donald Trump’s election as US president — leading to fears of rising nationalism and racism and deepening rancorous splits in our already polarized societies. And that’s not to mention the loss of beloved celebrities such as David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Florence Henderson, and Leonard Cohen, to name but a few.

I don’t know what 2017 will be like, but I think we should prepare for further potentially traumatizing events.

A major tool for keeping your head when all around are losing theirs is meditation. My own meditation practice hasn’t exactly kept my life stress-free, but it’s definitely helped. Just last night I arrived at a meditation class I was teaching feeling rather anxious about some financial matters, and left, after leading a number of meditations totaling about 70 minutes, feeling calm and clear.

Here are some of the benefits of meditating regularly:

If you haven’t yet taken up meditation, there’s no time like the present, and Wildmind’s 31-day online course, Sit Breathe Love, is starting today. It not only teaches two meditation practices that will help you calm your mind and improve your emotional states, but is designed to help you establish a rock-solid daily meditation practice, since we know how hard it can be to establish a new habit.

Sit Breath Love will take you right up to the end of this appalling year, and leave you perfectly placed to deal with whatever 2017 is going to throw your way!

If you’re interested, you can learn more and enroll on our Eventbrite page.

Read More

Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children

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.”

Read More

Meditation gets thumbs-up for pain, more muted support for stress

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times: Meditation this week won the scientific stamp of approval from a federal panel as a means of reducing the severity of chronic and acute pain. The influential committee also concluded the practice of mindfulness has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, but it found the scientific evidence for that claim weaker and more inconsistent.

As a therapy to promote positive feelings, induce weight loss and improve attention and sleep, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality was less impressed with meditation. The group concluded there is currently an insufficient body of scientific evidence to conclude meditation is …

Read the original article »

Read More

“Never underestimate what you can accomplish”

I came across this video on Facebook recently and wanted to share it. So do a lot of other people. On YouTube alone it’s been viewed over six million times!

Arthur Boorman was a disabled veteran of the Gulf War, and was told by his doctors that he would never be able to walk on his own, ever again. After 15 years he found a yoga teacher who was prepared to give him instruction (long distance!) and Arthur’s life changed. Watch the video and see this transformation in action…

Read More

Four tips for mindful eating

Joanne Cohen-Katz, a psychologist and co-director of the Center for Mindfulness at Lehigh Valley Health Network, gave reporter Alisa Bowman some great tips on mindful eating. Although the emphasis was on mindful eating for weight loss, this advice will help enrich the quality of your life generally.

  1. Meditate on one bite. You won’t be able to do this with every single bite of food, but try to do it periodically. Try, for instance, to be completely mindful as you eat a raisin. Hold it in your hand. Notice what it looks like. Smell it. Roll it in your fingers. Then place it on your tongue, but don’t chew it just yet. What does it feel like there? Then slowly chew it, noticing how that changes the taste sensation in your mouth. Really enjoy this raisin. After you’ve finished, think about how you usually eat.
  2. Pause before digging in. Create a pre-eating ritual. Look at the food on your plate. Take it in visually. Think about how it got from farm to plate. Or you might feel thankful that you have food to eat and consider that not everyone does.
  3. Notice at least two bites. Meditate on at least the first bite and the last bite of every meal.
  4. Ban distractions. Don’t read. Don’t watch TV. Don’t play games. Tune out from your smart phone. Tune into your meal instead.
Read More

Aging as a Spiritual Practice, by Lewis Richmond

Here is a mindfulness practice from Lewis Richmond’s book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice: Think of your life and its major events as a horizontal line. Your past stretches to the left of wherever you are on that line; your future stretches to the right. The events that stretch into the past are clear and unchangeable; the future is blurred: you don’t really know what events will eventually occupy that line or how long the line will eventually be. Think of this as horizontal time.

Title: Aging as a Spiritual Practice
Author: Lewis Richmond
Publisher: Gotham Books
ISBN: 978-159-24069-0-6
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store, Amazon.com, and Amazon.com Kindle Store.

Now let’s move from horizontal time to vertical time. As you breathe in, imagine your breath moves up in a column from your cushion or chair. Breathing out, imagine the breath sinking down into the same place. “This vertical movement doesn’t go anywhere in space,” writes Richmond. “It doesn’t move from a certain past to an uncertain future. It just rests continually in the same spot.”

His book is full of interesting practices and ideas like this one.

When I read the title of the book, with its sub-title “A contemplative guide to growing older and wiser” I feared the worst. Would this book be drenched in denial and in piousness?

No piousness, I am glad to say, and no denial of reality. Lewis Richmond writes with honesty, clarity and humanity and his book contains much to interest readers of all ages. Actually he sounds like a guy you could sit back and have a beer with though as he’s a Zen Buddhist priest I assume he’ll be having the green tea.

He notes that we age one breath at a time. “When you observe your breath, you are not just passing through time; time is also passing through you.” No denial there but his concept of ageing one breath at a time adds a new dimension to mindfulness of breathing and to acceptance of what comes to us.

He is full of interesting perspectives like this. Consider non-judgemental attention. “… most people in the second half of life are paying close attention to the body in term of stamina, vigor, skin care, diet, weight loss, and attractiveness. But how many of us pay attention to our bodies without judgement? How many of us actually experience our bodies just as they are?”

That’s a fascinating question to bring to our mindfulness practice – and not just for those in the second half of life.

I was particularly taken by his “pebbles of life” practice. This comes from a fellow Zen priest who keeps a bowl of pebbles on a shelf beside a statute of Buddha. Each pebble represents a week of the rest (as he estimates it) of his life. Every Monday morning he removes a pebble from the bowl and returns it to the driveway he took it from.

This strikes me as an excellent way to cultivate an appreciation of the passing weeks but of course it involves turning towards the passing of time with death at the end of the journey. When I described this practice to a mindfulness class, all agreed it sounded like a very good idea. Then they began to change it around: how about using the practice to mark the passing of the year with a pebble for every month? Or how about putting a pebble in the bowl for every good experience we have? I was fascinated to see how quickly the need to escape from the contemplation of the ultimate ending of life asserted itself – and I have to admit that I haven’t yet gathered up the thousand pebbles I would allow myself for my own bowl.

Throughout his book Lewis Richmond tells stories of his own health and ageing experiences, of the experiences of others and explains aspects of Buddhism with admirable and enviable clarity.

In our era in the West, ageing has been described as a financial time bomb waiting to explode. People who grew up as the culture began to worship youth, now find themselves growing old. Those of us who are in the second half (or fourth quarter) of life must find a way to navigate our way through time bombs, the demands of the culture and our own health issues.

Anyone who wants to navigate with clarity,humour and mindfulness will enjoy this book.

His previous books are Work as a Spiritual Practice, Healing Lazarus, and A Whole Life’s Work.

Read More

How ‘self-compassion’ trumps ‘self-esteem’

It was the 1970s and adults were looking for a way to raise confident, go-getter children, ones who would celebrate the person they were to become.

And so parents and teachers started showering them with praise, creating a pop movement of self-esteem that played up their worth. Up those youngsters grew, with grand aspirations of becoming celebrities, astronauts — anything they wanted to be.

And then out came the beating sticks.

Children of the self-esteem movement — their identities shaped by I Am Special songs and “Princess” t-shirts — have become entitled, confused and self-critical youth and adults, raised to believe they can do anything and frustrated, sometimes devastated, when they can’t, experts say. The phenomenon seems at odds with the very definition of self-esteem: feeling good about yourself.

Title: Self-Compassion
Author: Kristin Neff
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0061733512
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and Amazon.com Kindle.

Now, decades since the praise began, psychologists and researchers say they’ve found a way to ease the mental self-battery that has become prominent in North American culture.

A new wave of research on self-compassion — the ability to treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend or a loved one — has been creeping into the mainstream, aiming to rescue people from the depths of narcissism and unreasonable standards they will never meet.

Borrowing principles from Buddhism and mindfulness, the practice demands people be kinder to themselves instead of sizing themselves up against others and beating themselves down.

Kristin Neff, a professor of human development…

Read the rest of this article…

and culture at the University of Texas, is considered a pioneer in self-compassion research. She published her first paper on the subject in 2003, and, since then, there have been more than 100 academic journal papers on self-compassion by a range of psychologists and neuroscientists.

Prof. Neff publishes her first book on the topic this month, entitled Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. In December, American psychotherapist Jean Fain released The Self-Compassion Diet, a book that applies the practice to weight loss.

But as a growing number of books advocating self-compassion roll off the presses, some academic observers are skeptical of the approach, questioning whether it will breed complacency and self-indulgence or if it’s just another self-help gimmick.

It certainly smells that way to Stewart Justman, author of the 2005 pop psychology critique Fool’s Gold. The director of the Liberal Studies program at the University of Montana said it smacks of some of the classic self-help strategies, applying the word “self” to many virtuous words such as compassion, loyalty and honesty.

“At some point, obviously, a price is paid for these redefinitions,” he said in an email interview. “I wonder if ‘self-compassion’ constitutes a remedy for the excesses of the self-esteem movement or is really more of the same.”

Narcissism expert W. Keith Campbell regarded the concept of self-compassion with suspicion when he encountered it a few years ago.

“It sounds like self-help hooey and it sounds wimpy,” said the co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, published in 2009. “I think sometimes people hear a word like self-compassion and they think ‘Oh, it’s just like making excuses.’”

Regardless, Prof. Campbell, who teaches social psychology at the University of Georgia, says the approach could have some remedying effects on a generation of narcissists.

“I’ve seen the data and it’s a way of being very resilient and strong in the face of negative feedback,” he explained. “It’s not just giving yourself a hug.”

Negative feedback is something people with unrealistically high expectations of themselves struggle to accept, adds Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

He co-authored a study, published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which found self-compassion to be more important than self-esteem in dealing with negative events. The benefits usually attributed to high self-esteem may even be due to self-compassion, the researchers say.

“This shows us it’s far more important to be kind to yourself than it is to have high self-esteem,” he says.

“High self-esteem is no good unless it’s accompanied by self-compassion.”

Studies have shown narcissism can have serious impacts on mental health, contributing to depression and suicide if the supply of adoration, adulation and attention depletes.

Low self-esteem, on the other hand, can lead to the many of the same things if taken to the extreme.

Self-compassion, its proponents say, can guard against these things, at least in part. Studies from the University of Texas at Austin have found those high in self-compassion have lower rates of depression and mental health problems.

Studies on senior citizens and HIV patients conducted at Duke University in North Carolina have found those with higher levels of self-compassion are far more likely to ask for help.

“Our research shows most people are much harder on themselves than they are on other people,” said Prof. Neff. “What we find is people who are low in self-compassion are really compassionate to others and hard on themselves.”

But Christian Jordan, a self-esteem researcher and professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says there is a danger people will mistake the “go easy on yourself” mantra of self-compassion for an excuse to be lazy.

“I think there’s a real risk, given the superficial similarities the self-esteem movement has taught people, of bringing them into that mentality when it could be interpreted as being ‘You should always value yourself no matter what and not take an objective view,’” he said.

It could also backfire if someone with too much self-esteem or off-the-charts levels of self-regard adopts the concept, offered Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., who co-authored the 2010 book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior.

“There’s always the law of unintended consequences, and there’s a long history in psychology of people getting very excited about various fads without thinking about what the consequences might be,” he said. “Plenty of people who do have low self-esteem, I’m all for raising their self-esteem, that’s good and fine. But some people don’t have that problem.”

The notion that it will lead to self-indulgence is something researchers like Dr. Neff have heard time and again.

“Whenever you talk about self-compassion now, it’s almost the first thing out of my mouth: ‘It’s not self-indulgence’,” she said. It actually demands a lot of tough love, she said, using the analogy of a mother’s reaction when her child comes home with a failing grade on schoolwork.

“If she criticizes him and says “You’re so stupid and will never amount to anything,” that’s not going to motivate him — he’s going to be depressed and take basketball instead,” she said.

“But does she say ‘That’s OK, little John, you got an F, we love you anyway’? That’s not healthy either.” A compassionate mother would tell her son an F is unacceptable, but will help him figure out a way to improve the situation and not dwell on the failure.

Sounds like common sense. Then why don’t people apply the same approach to themselves, many researchers have asked.

The head of the Mental Health Research Unit at the University of Derby published a paper last year which found that fear of compassion towards oneself was tied directly with a person’s fear of receiving compassion from other people.

The next stage of research on Dr. Neff’s horizon is figuring out why people tend not to take compliments very well.

Self-criticism is a tricky habit to shake. It’s why Dr. Neff stresses that self-compassion is a practice, an exercise that doesn’t, and won’t, come easily to most people. But she hopes that one day, instead of children in pre-school singing “I am special” in a continuous loop, they will employ some aspects of self-compassion.

For Prof. Campbell, whose own young daughter still takes home school assignments that emphasize her specialness, the change in tack could not come too soon.

“My only hope is that if this work gets out, people will start questioning uniqueness and they’ll start questioning self-esteem and maybe take some of the forces that push for those things out of our schools,” he said.

“But in terms of everyone in the country turning toward self-compassion, that’s a harder sell.”

Read More

“Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

On New Year’s Day, many of us will resolve to lose weight. But before we finalise our weight loss plans, writer Mandy Sutter recommends taking a look at Thich Nhat Hanh’s interesting new book, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.

For millions of us, overweight is a seemingly intractable problem. We start diets and exercise programmes with good intentions, and may succeed in losing weight. But our new, low weight is hard to sustain and the pounds creep back on, sometimes gradually, sometimes indecently quickly.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung, authors of Savor, our difficulties aren’t entirely of our own making. The ‘obesigenic society’ we live in makes it tricky to live in a healthy, balanced way. There’s a proven link, for example, between the rise in obesity and the rise in TV watching. And food manufacturers are generally more concerned with turning in a good profit than with safeguarding people’s health.

A significant part of Savor is devoted to observations like these, backed up by intelligent discussion and reference to up-to-date scientific studies. The emphasis on interconnectedness is no accident (we Buddhists tend to bang on about such things) and marks the book out as more than just another book on weight loss. It takes the sting out of one’s own struggle too, and relieves the self-blame that strikes as one reaches for another chocolate in front of the afternoon film.

But having put our problems into context, the authors don’t let us rest on our laurels. The book is stuffed – perhaps a little surprisingly – with practical advice on eating and exercise.

A seasoned dieter will have seen much of this before, but what’s different about Savor is that the benefit of following the advice is described not just in terms of the self but also the wider community. Interconnectedness again. For example, it’s pointed out that riding a bike to work will not only help you lose weight but safeguard the clean air in your town, as will your next step: trying to persuade local government to build cycle paths.

Another thing that marks Savor out is the meditation exercises peppered throughout, the reference to Buddhist sutras, and gems like ‘the 7 practices of a mindful eater’. The exercises and references to Buddhist texts are well explained and justified within the weight-loss context, and therefore accessible to non-Buddhists.

I do wonder, however, if exhorting us to recite Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings once a week (pg 209) isn’t a bridge too far for the non-Buddhist reader (at whom the book seems to be aimed).

And although the book’s approach will fall like manna from Nirvana to some, it will alienate others (including Buddhists fat and thin alike) who don’t buy the idea that our society is in a bad way or even that our planet is in need of saving. Very occasionally the text degenerates into hectoring, as if one is attending a very right-on party and has been trapped (on the other side of the room from the food and drinks table) by an earnest bore.

But these slips are minor ones in a book that’s thoughtful, concerned, well researched and pleasingly wide-ranging.

Ignore the blurb on the cover, which makes mindfulness sound like the new ‘fix’ to help people lose weight. In fact, the book gets it the other (right) way round: our problems with weight offer us a golden opportunity to learn to live more mindfully.

Read More

Newest weight loss strategy: Meditate before eating your meal

Jimmy Downs, Food Consumer: Weight loss needs a reduction in caloric intake, which can be realized by simply practicing some meditation before eating meals, a new study suggests.

The study led by Dr. Carey Morewedge from Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University shows people tended to eat less of a food if they imagined the eating process repeatedly before they actually ate the food. And the study found the more food a person “ate” in his imagination, the less food subsequently he would eat.

In the study, according to what Dr. Morewedge told NPR Science Friday radio program, study participants were told to imagine the process of eating M&Ms, including moving the candies into a bowl, and then asked to eat the real food. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate much less real M&Ms than those who imagined eating only 3 M&Ms.

Dr. Morewedge said simply imagining moving the food did not help.

He said you also need to imagine eating what you are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the food. The study showed when participants imagined they were eating M&Ms, and then when they were assigned to eat cheese cubes, no matter how many M&Ms they ate in their imagination, they ate the same amount of cheese.

What works behind this trick is a process called habituation, according to Dr. Morewedge. According to this theory, people are less responsive to what they got habituated to. In the study case, after the participants imagined they ate lots of cheese cubes, they felt less urged to eat the food and they ate less of the food as a result.

But Dr. Morewedge told NPR that this imagination method does not work for other habits like smoking, which involves a more complex mechanism and imagining smoking could actually boost a smoker’s craving for smokes and the smoker could actually smoke more.

Dr. Morewedge used cheese and M&Ms for the study. It is unknown whether this method would help people cut their consumption of a real meal which consists of multiple foods. Should the diners, like people going to have some Chinese buffet, imagine all the foods they are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the variety of real foods? Or would this method work at all in this case?

The study was published in a recent issue of Science, a prestigious scientific journal.

In China, two idioms describe two pitiful situations in which people don’t have water to drink to quench their thirst and don’t have food to eat to satisfy their hunger. In these situation as the idioms suggest, people may “look at prune to quench your thirst” and “draw a cake to satisfy your hunger”.

Original article no longer available…

Read More

You don’t have to diet to lose weight… just relax instead, say experts

The Mail: Women who want to lose weight should ditch their diets and learn to relax instead, research shows. At the end of a two-year study, women who followed a programme of yoga and meditation had lost weight and kept it off, while those who focused purely on exercise and nutrition had not.

The ‘relaxed’ women were also generally happier and healthier at the end of the study.

Experts believe that reducing stress stops cravings for fatty foods and sweets.

The team at the University of Otago in New Zealand divided 225 overweight women into three groups, according to the paper in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The first group took part in yoga, meditation, and positive visualisation.

The second group focused on physical exercise and nutrition, while the third received nutrition information in the post.

Study co-author Dr Caroline Horwath said all three groups of women had successfully prevented any weight gain.

But ‘the most striking results’ were in the first group –they had an average weight loss of five and a half pounds (2.5kg).

Dr Horwath added: ‘At the two-year mark, these women were the only ones to maintain the psychological and medical symptom improvements.

‘The positive results are exciting, given the limited long-term success of traditional dieting approaches.

‘By learning and practising relaxation techniques as part of a wider lifestyle change programme, women have effective tools to manage stress and emotions without resorting to unhealthy eating.’

The study suggests dieting may not be the best way to lose weight.

And Dr Horwath said that helping women ‘break free from chronic dieting’ is the key to better long-term health.

The researchers also found that the volunteers with a ‘weight-focused mindset’ were more likely to lose interest in the study and drop out early.

Read more here.

Read More
Menu