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Exercise and meditation — together — help beat depression

February 11, 2016 - 8:14am
Guided Meditations for Stress Reduction (CD) is available in our online store!EurekaAlert: Meditation and aerobic exercise done together helps reduce depression, according to a new Rutgers study.

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry this month, found that this mind and body combination – done twice a week for only two months – reduced the symptoms for a group of students by 40 percent.

“We are excited by the findings because we saw such a meaningful improvement in both clinically depressed and non-depressed students,” says Brandon Alderman, lead author of the research study. “It is the first time that both of these two behavioral therapies have been looked at together for dealing with depression.”

Alderman, assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science, and Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, both in the School of Arts and Sciences, discovered that a combination of mental and physical training (MAP) enabled students with major depressive disorder not to let problems or negative thoughts overwhelm them.

“Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression,” says Shors. “But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”

The men and women in the Rutgers study who completed the eight-week program – 22 suffering with depression and 30 mentally healthy students – reported fewer depressive symptoms and said they did not spend as much time worrying about negative situations taking place in their lives as they did before the study began.

This group also provided MAP training to young mothers who had been homeless but were living at a residential treatment facility when they began the study. The women involved in the research exhibited severe depressive symptoms and elevated anxiety levels at the beginning. But at the end of the eight weeks, they too, reported that their depression and anxiety had eased, they felt more motivated, and they were able to focus more positively on their lives.

Depression – a debilitating disorder that affects nearly one in five Americans sometime in their life – often occurs in adolescence or young adulthood. Until recently, Rutgers scientists say, the most common treatment for depression has been psychotropic medications that influence brain chemicals and regulate emotions and thought patterns along with talk therapy that can work but takes considerable time and commitment on the part of the patient.

Rutgers researchers say those who participated in the study began with 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. They were told that if their thoughts drifted to the past or the future they should refocus on their breathing – enabling those with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.

Shors, who studies the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus – the portion of the brain known to be necessary for some types of new learning–says even though neurogenesis cannot be monitored in humans, scientists have shown in animal models that aerobic exercise increases the number of new neurons and effortful learning keeps a significant number of those cells alive.

The idea for the human intervention came from her laboratory studies, she says, with the main goal of helping individuals acquire new skills so that they can learn to recover from stressful life events. By learning to focus their attention and exercise, people who are fighting depression can acquire new cognitive skills that can help them process information and reduce the overwhelming recollection of memories from the past, Shors says.

“We know these therapies can be practiced over a lifetime and that they will be effective in improving mental and cognitive health,” says Alderman. “The good news is that this intervention can be practiced by anyone at any time and at no cost.”

This difficult thing of being human

February 10, 2016 - 7:20am

It’s always good to remember that life isn’t easy.

I don’t mean to say that life is always hard in the sense of it always being painful. Clearly there are times when we’re happy, when things are going well, when we feel that our life is headed in the right direction and that even greater fulfillment is just ahead of us, etc.

What I mean is that even when we have times in our life that are good, that doesn’t last. In fact, often the things we’re so excited and happy about later turn out to be things that also cause us suffering.

For example, you start a brand new relationship and you’re in love and it’s exciting and fulfilling. And then you find yourself butting heads with your partner, and you hurt each others’ feelings. Maybe you even split up. Does that sound familiar?

For example, the new job that you’re thrilled about turns out to contain stresses you hadn’t imagined. Has that ever happened?

For example, the house you’re so pleased to have bought inevitably ends up requiring maintenance. Or perhaps the house value plummets. Or perhaps your circumstances change and you find it a struggle to meet the mortgage. Maybe you’ve been lucky, or maybe you’ve been there.

Happiness has a way of evaporating. Unhappiness has a way of sneaking up on us and sucker-punching us in the gut.

On a deep level, none of really understand happiness and unhappiness. If we truly understood the dynamics of these things, we’d be happy all the time and would never be miserable. We’d be enlightened. But pre-enlightenment, we’re all stumbling in the dark, and sometimes colliding painfully with life as we do so.

This being human is not easy. We’re doing a difficult thing in living a human life.

It’s good to accept all this, because life is so much harder when we think it should be easy. When we think life should be straightforward, and that we think we have it all sorted out, then unhappiness becomes a sign that we’ve “failed.” And that makes being in pain even more painful.

We haven’t failed when we’re unhappy; we’re just being human. We’re simply experiencing the tender truth of what it is to live a human life.

So when you’re unhappy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t fight it. Accept that this is how things are right now. Often when you do that, you’ll very quickly—sometimes instantly—start to feel better. By accepting our suffering, we start to move through it.

And as you look around you, realize that everyone else is doing this difficult thing of being human too. They’re all struggling. We’re all struggling. We all want happiness and find happiness elusive. We all want to avoid suffering and yet keep stumbling into it, over and over.

Many of the things that bother you about other people are their attempts to deal with this difficult existential situation, in which we desire happiness, and don’t experience as much of it as we want, and desire to be free from suffering, and yet keep becoming trapped in it. Their moods, their clinging, their anger—all of these are the results of human beings struggling to find happiness, and having trouble doing so.

If we can recognize that this human life is not easy—if we can empathize with that very basic existential fact—then perhaps we can be just a little kinder to ourselves and others. And that would help make this human life just a little easier to navigate.

How mindfulness can help women with postpartum depression

February 10, 2016 - 6:39am
Check out “Better Parents, Better Spouses, Better People” (MP3) by Dan Siegel & Daniel GolemanCarolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post: More than 3 million American women suffer from postpartum depression each year — including up to 40 percent of women who have been treated for depression.

After working with many new and expecting mothers, Dr. Sona Dimidjian, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, began to question what her profession was doing to support these women — and decided to investigate an alternative solution to the conventional treatment. Those options, of psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals, aren’t always effective, and many women don’t want to take antidepressants …

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Calming the teenage mind in the classroom

February 8, 2016 - 8:25am
Click here for Mindfulness Meditations for Teens, by BodhipaksaKelly Wallace, CNN: At the start of the school year at Marblehead High School in Massachusetts, students started moving their desks out of the way, grabbing a mat and laying down on the floor for guided meditation before French class. Lexxi Seay, a senior, was skeptical.

“I actually never believed really in meditation. … I thought it was a joke,” she said during an interview.

That all changed one day back in September. While she was on her computer working and everyone else in her class was meditating, she just fell asleep sitting up. “When I …

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Neurobiological changes explain how mindfulness meditation improves health

February 5, 2016 - 7:10am
Check out our selection of mindfulness CDs and MP3s!Eureka Alert, Press Release: Over the past decade, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve a broad range of health and disease outcomes, such as slowing HIV progression and improving healthy aging. Yet, little is known about the brain changes that produce these beneficial health effects.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University provides a window into the brain changes that link mindfulness meditation training with health in stressed adults. Published in Biological Psychiatry, the study shows that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress, unemployed community adults.

The biological health-related benefits occur because mindfulness meditation training fundamentally alters brain network functional connectivity patterns and the brain changes statistically explain the improvements in inflammation.

“We’ve now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits,” said David Creswell, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For the randomized controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, stressed adults were exposed to either an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat program or a well-matched relaxation retreat program that did not have a mindfulness component. All participants completed a five-minute resting state brain scan before and after the three-day program. They also provided blood samples right before the intervention began and at a four-month follow-up.

The brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants’ resting default mode network in areas important to attention and executive control, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants who received the relaxation training did not show these brain changes.

The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program also had reduced IL-6 levels, and the changes in brain functional connectivity coupling accounted for the lower inflammation levels.

“We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health,” Creswell said.

This work bridges health psychology and neuroscience and falls under the new field of health neuroscience, which Creswell is credited with co-founding. It also is another example of the many brain research breakthroughs at Carnegie Mellon. CMU has created some of the first cognitive tutors, helped to develop the Jeopardy-winning Watson, founded a groundbreaking doctoral program in neural computation, and is the birthplace of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU launched BrainHub, an initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.

An honest narrative of a first meditation

February 4, 2016 - 7:38am
Here’s a guided meditation MP3, led by Bodhipaksa, encouraging awareness of the breath as a focal point of experience in order to calm the mindHunter Colvin, The Vermont Cynic: I’ve never really meditated.

Not unless you count the mini meditation I did at the end of a yoga class I took that one time. But I was too busy wiping copious amounts of sweat from, well, everywhere to really meditate.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of meditation, though. I mean, to empty your mind and focus on the present is really impressive.

I can’t even make my mind stop making “Supernatural” or …

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Meditation: what can and can’t be taught

February 2, 2016 - 7:23am
Explore the Brahmaviharas: The Heart’s Wisdom: Four Meditations for Cultivating Love, Compassion, Joy, and EquanimitySteven Schwartzberg, Huffington Post: By most standards, I’m a fairly experienced meditator. I meditate daily, and have for years. I’ve spent months at a time immersed in silent practice. I study it, teach it, and write about it.

I can still wonder if I’m doing it wrong.

Meditation is deeply personal. Except with the broadest brushstrokes, this intricate journey into one’s most intimate inner experience can not be translated or taught. Teachers may of course share their intuition and expertise, but it is not possible to get inside …

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Going forth: a look at step six again

February 1, 2016 - 10:40am


Watch your thoughts; they become stories
Watch your stories; they become excuses
Watch your excuses; they become relapses
Watch your relapses; they become dis-eases
Watch your dis-eases they become vicious cycles
Watch your vicious cycles they become your wheel of life

quote by Vimalasara 2016

Going forth is an aspect of step 6, placing positive values at the centre of our lives. Siddhartha the prince went forth from a life of indulgence because he could see clearly how it was hindering his growth. He could not find the answer to the end of suffering if he stayed in a hedonist world that was at the centre of his Mandala. When he left the palace that had imprisoned his mind, he placed renunciation at the centre of his life.

We too have to go forth from our lives. And our lives are created in our minds. So you could say we need to go forth from our minds. We must stop believing what is arising in the mind. We must stop identifying with what is in the mind. We must stop placing our stinking thinking at the centre of our Mandala. When we leave the prison of our minds, we to begin to place renunciation at the centre of our lives.

RECOVERY 2.0

If we can’t do this, we continue to be the deluded person who when they experience pain in the body – unpleasant, pleasant, neutral, they groans, grieve and grasp. The deluded person constructs mental feeling out of physical sensations, creating two kinds of feeling bodily and mental. Thinking that both are fact.

If we become a liberated person, we will experience pain in the body, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. There will be no construction in the mind of mental feelings. No grabbing, grieving, grasping. Just one kind of feeling that is bodily. Only equanimity arising in the mind that is not graspable.

AFRICAN AMERICAN WISDOM

Placing renunciation at the centre of our lives does not have to be daunting. We are all renunciates, one day we will have to renounce everything at the point of death. So we can begin to renounce now, or hang onto the bitter end, creating a life full of misery.

We can renounce by just reflecting on the three jewels, the Buddha, the dharma the sangha. Ehipassiko, ‘go see for your self’ and see what happens to your addiction.

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: [email protected]

Check out our two online meditation events, starting today!

February 1, 2016 - 7:48am

Living With Awareness (Feb 1–28)

Living With Awareness: Practical Techniques and Exercises for Cultivating Mindfulness is a 28 day meditation event, starting February 1, exploring the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with our experience. When we’re not mindful, we get carried away with our thoughts and emotions, which leads to stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and distractedness.

When the quality of mindfulness is present, we have a greater ability to choose our thoughts and emotions. It has been clinically proven to reduce stress, promote feelings of wellbeing, and improve mental and physical health.

Register today for Living with Awareness!

14 Day Mindfulness Meditation Challenge (Feb 1–14)

Our mindfulness meditation challenge is both a meditation event exploring the practice of mindfulness of breathing, and an opportunity to set up a rock-solid daily meditation habit.

With the aid of Bodhipaksa’s accessible and down-to-earth guidance, you will learn how to set up the habit of meditating daily, develop a greater ability to be present with your experience, and experience reduced emotional reactivity and a heightened sense of being in control of your life.

Register now for a daily dose of mindfulness!

Meditating in the morning

February 1, 2016 - 7:01am

By way of background, despite having been a meditation teacher for years, I used to have difficulty maintaining a daily meditation practice. I’d meditate daily for weeks or months, but then miss days here and there. For the last few years, though, I’ve been more of a rock-solid daily meditator.

Still, although I’ve meditated virtually every day for the last three years, my practice can still be a bit thin at times. This is because I’d gotten into the habit of meditating in the evening. Why? In one word, kids. Having two young kids does not make it easy to meditate in the mornings. My personal time shifted to the evenings, when I could reliably assume that my children would be sleeping. Mornings were, on the other hand, more unpredictable. For a while my daughter would wake up at 4:00AM quite regularly!

Once a habit has established itself, I find I sometimes don’t even question it. Although I’m now divorced and don’t have the children at my house most mornings, I kept sitting later in the day — sometimes in the morning or the afternoon, but most often in the evening. And sometimes, because I’m a night-owl, those sits would be really late, and because I was tired they’d be short.

But then I realized that since meditation is central to my life, perhaps it should be the first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I do? What’s normally my first thought? Email! When I wake up I usually pick up my phone to see what time it is, and then see all the email notifications, and then get sucked into dealing with work. If I’m honest with myself, it’s work that’s been most central to my life, and not meditation. And even though my work involves meditation, that’s not good.

So, apart from the weekends when I have the kids, and the occasional weird day (like the one recently when I had to be out of the house shortly after 6:00AM) meditating has been close to the first thing on my mind when I wake up, and it’s been the first thing I’ve done. Usually I sit on my bed, either cross-legged, which I’m experimenting with, or on my Kindseat meditation bench.

This has been very good for me, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, I’m becoming less of a night owl! I’ve often felt naturally very tired in the evenings and I’ve been going to bed early. This means I’ve been waking up early too, and sitting before dawn.

The other big benefit is the loss of the anxiety that surrounds having to remember to meditate. I’ve realized that meditating in the evening means that all day there’s this sense at the back of my mind that there’s something I need to remember to do. As soon as I’ve finished sitting in the morning, I feel a sense of relief: OK. That’s one less thing I have to remember.

I don’t think meditating should be something I have to remember to do. It should be something I just do.

After all, I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.

Dodging sticks and chasing carrots

January 29, 2016 - 11:52am

Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.

That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, studies have found that:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money
  • Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones

In your own mind, what do you usually think about at the end of the day? The fifty things that went right, or the one that went wrong? Like the guy who cut you off in traffic, what you wish you had said differently to a co-worker, or the one thing on your To Do list that didn’t get done . . .

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction.

And that’s just not fair, since probably most of the facts in your life are positive or neutral. Every day, lots of good things happen, such as a lovely sunset, someone is nice to you, you finish a batch of emails, or you learn something new. And lots of other good things are ongoing aspects of your world (e.g., your children are healthy, life is peaceful in your corner of the planet) or yourself (e.g., personal qualities like determination, sincerity, fairness, kindness).

Besides the sheer injustice of it, acquiring a big pile of negative experiences in implicit memory banks naturally makes a person more anxious, irritable, and blue. Plus it makes it harder to be patient and giving toward others.

In evolution, Mother Nature only cares about passing on genes – by any means necessary. She doesn’t care if we happen to suffer along the way – from subtle worries to intense feelings of sorrow, worthlessness, or anger – or create suffering for others.

The result: a brain that is tilted against lasting contentment and fulfillment.

But you don’t have to accept this bias! By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field.

You’ll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you’ll become more able to change them or bear them if you tilt toward the good, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others.

And now, tilted toward absorbing the good, instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain. In the famous saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you get your neurons firing about positive facts, the more they’ll be wiring up positive neural structures.

Taking in the good is a brain-science savvy and psychologically skillful way to improve how you feel, get things done, and treat others. It is among the top five personal growth methods I know. In addition to being good for adults, it’s great for children, helping them to become more resilient, confident, and happy.

Here’s how to take in the good – in three simple steps.

1. Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.

Good facts include positive events – like the taste of good coffee or getting an unexpected compliment – and positive aspects of the world and yourself. When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it.

Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day. There are lots of opportunities to notice good events, and you can always recognize good things about the world and yourself. Each time takes just 30 seconds or so. It’s private; no one needs to know you are taking in the good. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning).

Notice any reluctance to feeling good. Such as thinking that you don’t deserve to, or that it’s selfish, vain, or even shameful to feel pleasure. Or that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen.

Barriers to feeling good are common and understandable – but they get in the way of you taking in the resources you need to feel better, have more strength, and have more inside to give to others. So acknowledge them to yourself, and then turn your attention back to the good news. Keep opening up to it, breathing and relaxing, letting the good facts affect you.

It’s like sitting down to a meal: don’t just look at it—taste it!

2. Really enjoy the experience.

Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that’s fine. But try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else.

As you can, sense that it is filling your body, becoming a rich experience. As Marc Lewis and other researchers have shown, the longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory.

You are not craving or clinging to positive experiences, since that would ultimately lead to tension and disappointment. Actually, you are doing the opposite: by taking them in and filling yourself up with them, you will increasingly feel less fragile or needy inside, and less dependent on external supplies; your happiness and love will become more unconditional, based on an inner fullness rather than on whether the momentary facts in your life happen to be good ones.

3. Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you.

People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt, filling in old holes of loss or yearning; a child might imagine a jewel going into a treasure chest in her heart. And some might simply know conceptually, that while this good experience is held in awareness, its neurons are firing busily away, and gradually wiring together.

Any single time you do this will make only a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your self.

Meditation, mindfulness may affect way your genes behave

January 27, 2016 - 11:55am
Check out “How to Meditate with Pema Chödrön: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind”Ben Locwin, Genetic Literacy Project: In the world of psychotherapy and biopsychology, mindfulness has experienced a tremendous amount of attention recently — mostly because in many of the challenges of the mind it is put up against, mindfulness has fared very well — performing as well as (or better than) drug therapies in some cases.

Mindfulness is endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA) as a preventive therapy for cardiovascular disease and they also recommend mindfulness as a strategy for overeating.

However, for physicians and patients to fully unlock …

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More thoughts on remembering to be happy

January 27, 2016 - 8:09am

Recently I wrote a piece saying that I’m making a effort to remember to be happy. When I say that I need to remember to be happy, what I mean is that I need to pause, be mindful, and notice if there’s anything I’m doing that is inhibiting my well-being. Often I do this through asking the question, “Could I be happier right now?”

Often when I ask this question I find, in fact, that I’m being a bit willful and overly intense in the way I’m working. I get very focused on the thing I’m doing (writing an article, for example) and lose touch with how I’m feeling while I’m doing that task. Consequently I’m a little unhappy, or at least less happy than I could be.

When I become aware that there’s tension and unhappiness in my experience, I can relax my effort, allow myself to become more playful, allow the body to soften, and drop down to my heart, notice how I’m feeling, and be a bit kinder. Sometimes when there’s an uncomfortable feeling present I’ll just sit with it, allowing it to be there. Sometimes it shifts, and sometimes it doesn’t. Whether it does or not doesn’t matter.

The difficult thing is remembering to do this! When I’m very focused on getting stuff done, I can forget to broaden my awareness out and to become more mindful. Ideally I’d like to have the question: “Could I be happier right now?” pop into my mind at least a couple of times an hour during the course of the day. I’d prefer that this happened organically, rather than with the aid of a timer, but I don’t rule out the use of some kind of artificial aid like that.

For me, the word “happy” in the question “Could I be happier right now?” is just shorthand. I don’t literally expect to be full of joy all the time. For me the word happiness stands for a constellation of qualities, including calm, peace, an awareness of feelings, acceptance, and a sense of well-being. Actual happiness (joy, contentment, even bliss) may be a part of what arises when I allow myself to relax and be at ease, but it’s kind of like a delicious side-dish to a satisfying main course of well-being. It’s lovely to have it, but the meal is just fine without it.

There is in fact more than one type of happiness. In the Aristotelian tradition, there was hedonic happiness and eudaemonic happiness. Hedonic happiness arises from having pleasant experiences. For example you can find hedonic happiness through having a large and beautiful house, being surrounded by lovely objects, going out to bars and restaurants, partying, socializing, doing exciting sports, shopping, etc. Eudaemonic happiness, on the other hand, arises from a life lived well. It arises from living ethically, being honest, being kind, helping others, being patient,feeling that our life has purpose and meaning, etc. We don’t pursue eudaemonic happiness directly, because that would be self-defeating. Eudaemonic happiness is not a goal, but a side-effect of pursuing the goal of living a good life.

From the point of view of hedonism, spending time helping in a soup kitchen would make you unhappy, since you’re not just working, but also coming into contact with poor and probably unhealthy people. In fact, for the eudaemonist, this activity is deeply satisfying. Again, to the eudaemonist, bearing patiently with suffering is an activity that will lead, in the long term, to a sense of wellbeing. To the hedonist, suffering is simply to be avoided.

Although you might think that happiness is happiness, however it arises, hedonic and eudaemonic happiness even have different physiological effects. A 2013 study by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that hedonists and eudaemonists who self-reported high levels of happiness had very different patterns of genetic expression. The hedonists showed high levels of expressions of genes related to inflammation (which is commonly used as a marker for general health), while the eudaemonists had much lower levels. In other words, doing good seems to be beneficial for your health in ways that merely feeling good can’t.

Buddhism is a eudaemonic tradition, and so when I talk about happiness I mean eudaemonic happiness. Perhaps my question should not be “Could I be happier right now?” but “Am I doing anything right now that is inhibiting my well-being, and can I let go of doing that?”

Mindfulness: the craze sweeping through schools is now at a university near you

January 26, 2016 - 10:48am
2016: A Year of Waking Up!Harriet Swain, The Guardian: Slowly take a raisin and examine every wrinkle and fold of its surface. Feel its texture with your fingers. Inhale its scent. Squeeze it and hear how it sounds. Raise it to your lips, place it in your mouth, explore it with your tongue. Prepare to chew. As you bite into it, notice the bursts of taste and how these change, and be aware of when you feel ready to swallow. Finally, feel the raisin travel into your body.

This is a common introductory exercise in mindfulness – a practice derived from Buddhist meditation that involves paying attention to the …

Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children

January 22, 2016 - 7:11am
2016: A Year of Waking Up!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.”

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

January 19, 2016 - 7:50am
2016: A Year of Waking UpJordi 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

January 18, 2016 - 8:21am
2016: A Year of Waking UpSharon 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

January 15, 2016 - 8:47am

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?

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

January 14, 2016 - 6:34am
2016: A Year of Waking UpRachel 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

January 11, 2016 - 11:46am

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.