Mindful eating: 5 easy tips to get started

From what not to eat when you are pregnant, to the endless lists of the latest must-have superfoods, discussion about healthy eating tends to focus on what we eat.

Much less attention is paid to the question of how we eat it.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that changing our attitudes and practices around meals and mealtime rituals may be every bit as important as obsessing over what it is we actually put in our mouths. Mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating), a concept with its roots in Buddhist teachings, aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating — and enjoying — our food. Sometimes referred to as “the opposite of diets,” mindful eating is based on the idea that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of consciousness about what we are eating and why. The goal of mindful eating, then, is to base our meals on physical cues, such as our bodies’ hunger signals, not emotional ones — like eating for comfort.

The idea was featured in a New York Times article last year, in which journalist Jeff Gordinier visited a Buddhist monastery where practitioners were encouraged to eat in silence, and chew every morsel of food as they explored its tastes, textures and smells in minute detail. The article inspired a somewhat skeptical response from our own Robin Shreeves, who noted that in her household full of young boys, the notion of eating in silence seemed like mission impossible, and might even be detrimental, given that mealtimes are often when the family gets a chance to actually converse.

But mindful eating doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair.

In fact, as the New York Times article stated, there are plenty of ways to work mindfulness into your daily food habits without the need to become a fully robed monk, or masticate on a raisin for three days straight.

As a registered dietitian, I am a firm believer that finding ways to slow down and eat intentionally are all a part of developing a truly healthy food culture. And some early research into mindful eating would seem to back this up. One study, for example, tracked more than 1,400 mindful eaters and showed them to have lower body weights, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer symptoms of eating disorders.

But mindful eating will only work for you can make it compatible with your lifestyle.

Here are some of my favorite tips to introduce mindfulness to mealtimes in an easy, accessible fashion.

Eat slower
Eating slowly doesn’t have to mean taking it to extremes. Still, it’s a good idea to remind yourself, and your family, that eating is not a race. Taking the time to savor and enjoy your food is one of the healthiest things you can do. You are more likely to notice when you are full, you’ll chew your food more and hence digest it more easily, and you’ll probably find yourself noticing flavors you might otherwise have missed. If you have young children, why not try making a game of it — who can chew their food the longest? Or you could introduce eating with chopsticks as a fun way to slow things down.

Savor the silence
Yes, eating in complete silence may be impossible for a family with children, but you might still encourage some quiet time and reflection. Again, try introducing the idea as a game — “let’s see if we can eat for two minutes without talking” — or suggesting that one meal a week be enjoyed in relative silence. If the family mealtime is too important an opportunity for conversation to pass up, then consider introducing a quiet meal or snack time into your day when you can enjoy it alone. The NYT article, for example, noted that one dietitian simply savors a few sips of tea in complete silence when she is too busy for a complete mindful meal.

Silence the phone. Shut off the TV.
Our daily lives are full of distractions, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat with the TV blaring or one family member or other fiddling with their iPhone. Consider making family mealtime, which should, of course, be eaten together, an electronics-free zone. I’m not saying you should never eat pizza in front of the TV, but that too should be a conscious choice that marks the exception, not the norm.

Pay attention to flavor
The tanginess of a lemon, the spicyness of arugula, the crunch of a pizza crust — paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully. After all, when you eat on the go or wolf down your meals in five minutes, it can be hard to notice what you are even eating, let alone truly savor all the different sensations of eating it. If you are trying to introduce mindful eating to your family, consider talking more about the flavors and textures of food. Ask your kids what the avocado tastes like, or how the hummus feels. And be sure to share your own observations and opinions too. (Yes, this goes against the eating in silence piece, but you don’t have to do everything at once.)

Know your food

Mindfulness is really about rekindling a relationship with our food. From planting a veggie garden through baking bread to visiting a farmers market, many of the things we locavores have been preaching about for years are not just ways to cut our carbon foodprint, but also connect with the story behind our food. Even when you have no idea where the food you are eating has come from, try asking yourself some questions about the possibilities: Who grew this? How? Where did it come from? How did it get here? Chances are, you’ll not only gain a deeper appreciation for your food, but you’ll find your shopping habits changing in the process too.

Like I say, mindful eating does not have to be an exercise in super-human concentration, but rather a simple commitment to appreciating, respecting and, above all, enjoying the food you eat every day. It can be practiced with salad or ice cream, donuts or tofu, and you can introduce it at home, at work, or even as you snack on the go (though you may find yourself doing this less often).

And while the focus becomes how you eat, not what you eat, you may find your notions of what you want to eat shifting dramatically for the better too.

Credit: Jen Glover

which meditation technique is best for you?

The data is in, and meditation works; not only does it help us live happier, less stressful lives, but it has measurable effects on physical health too. But if you’ve tried and (feel like you’ve) failed at meditating, it might be because you haven’t found the right meditation type for you. Below, you’ll find seven different ways “in” to a meditation practice; the benefits of each type are similar once you are practicing regularly — whether you find your way into meditation via walking and chanting, taking a class from a Transcendental Meditation teacher, or via meditation paired with your existing faith.

The most important part of meditation is not doing it a certain way, wearing particular clothes while doing it, or being in a specific place — or whatever your preconception of the “right” way to meditate is. It’s about finding what works with your life. Unlike a spin class, there are no rules you have to follow (though it’s useful to get a grounding in how other people meditate). There is only the regular practice and sticking with it, day-by-day. Think of meditation more like making a positive, life-long shift to a healthy eating, rather than a specific diet program (with celebrity endorsement and a thick book) that you follow for a month and then abandon. A truly beneficial meditation practice will take time and persistence.

So check out the styles of meditation below, and try them out — play with what works for you, and what doesn’t. Don’t be rigid about what meditation is, or looks like, or what you think it’s going to feel like. Ask yourself questions: Do you like to move, or does stillness work better for you? How about vocalizations? Do you want to focus on something or nothing? Your particular way into meditation may be different, but the stress relief, reduced anger, feelings of well-being, lowered blood pressure, and other benefits are available to everyone

Focused meditation is an umbrella term for any kind of meditation that includes focus on some aspect of the five senses, though visualizations are the most popular. Focusing on an image of a flower, a flame, or moving water are all ways to keep the mind gently focused so you are less likely to become distracted. You can also try concentrating on the feel of something — your fingers against each other, the way your breath feels moving in and out of your body, or the alignment of your spine. Focusing on a simple sound (a gentle gong, a bell, or music) or sounds from nature are another option.

Guided meditation is a focused meditation that is led by someone other than yourself and usually includes one or more of the techniques in focus meditation, above. You will get led through breathing instructions and some kind of visualization, body scan, or sound, or perhaps a mantra (see below).

Spiritual meditation is interchangeable with what most of us understand as prayer. If you are already part of a spiritual tradition, this may be an easier way into meditation, because you have already been practicing some elements of it. You can try it as an extension of what you already do in your place of worship if being in the church, sanctuary, mosque, hall or synagogue helps you dive into a quieter, more reflective state, or you can conjure up that feeling at home or in another place. Start with the words you have heard or said yourself, but instead of stopping at the end of a prayer or song, keep sitting quietly. You can ask a question and listen for an answer — sometimes people feel that an answer comes from outside of them; or you can enumerate what you are grateful for. Use your experience of prayer to access that quiet, meditative mind space.

Mantra meditation is when you use a sound or a set of sounds, repetitively, to enter and stay within the meditative state. It may seem like a contradiction to make noise when meditating, because many people have the idea that meditation equals silence, but that’s not the case at all, and mantras have a long history within the tradition. Of course, you can chant quietly, or even whisper your set of words, draw them out, make them more sing-songy, or even quite loud. You can say them in your head and maintain outer silence. You can choose a word or words in any language: (Peace and love and happiness, for example), or a sound like “Ohm.” You can make up sounds or words if you like or take them from another language; the sound or words you choose are really up to you and are simply a way to prevent distracting thoughts.

Transcendental Meditation (often abbreviated as TM by practitioners) is the type that’s most likely been studied by scientists when you hear about the various physical and mental benefits to meditation. With over 5 million practitioners worldwide, it is considered the most popular form of meditation, with the bonus being that it is usually easy to find free or low-cost classes in most places. It is a little more formalized than some of the other meditation types mentioned here, but it useful for beginning or exploring meditation if you are new to it. According to their site, TM is: “… a simple, natural, effortless procedure practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle.”

Movement meditations are exactly what they sound like; instead of sitting quietly, you get to move around the room, the house, a woodsy path, or the garden (or wherever) — usually in a relatively simple and calming way. Walking meditation, most types of yoga, gardening, and even basic housecleaning tasks can be moving meditations. This meditation type is great for people who already sit all day at work and want to move and meditate when not at a desk, and for those people who find sitting still to be a distraction from being able to meditate at all.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that is an ongoing part of life, rather than a separate activity. A great way to address stress in the moment it is happening, and over time becomes more like a mental skill than a time separate from the rest of life. It can be easier to get into a mindful state of mind if one has already been practicing meditation separately.

Credit:Starr Vartan

What is energy medicine

The term energy medicine usually refers to putative energy fields (energy that is presumed to exist). Although it can’t be measured in conventional ways, therapists or energy healers say they can see it, sense it or feel it.

Energy healing or energy medicine is based on the fundamental premise that everyone’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs and attitudes are made of energy. Therefore, if we are all infused with this life force often referred to as qi (pronounced chee), we can channel or use its power for healing.

In Chinese medicine energy is called qi; in Ayurvedic medicine it is doshas; in traditional Hindu metaphysics the word is chakras (illustrated in the photo at bottom). Therapies such as acupuncture and acupressure, reconnective healing and reiki work on these energies to restore health and well-being.

“In Chinese medicine the theory is that energy flows through 12 channels that cover your body. When you are healthy, this energy flows smoothly and your body remains in a state of balance. When you experience a physical, emotional or spiritual trauma, the energy gets disrupted, depleted or stuck,” says Tom Ingegno, a licensed acupuncturist with a masters of science in Oriental medicine and a certified animal acupuncturist in Baltimore.

Acupuncture is a form of energy medicineIf left in this state too long or if the trauma is severe enough, disease or pain manifests. “By placing needles in points along these pathways we can help restore proper flow of energy and allow the body, mind and spirit to heal itself,” says Ingegno.

“What reiki does is actually use the universal life-force in association with the qi of our own body, so it’s a combination of those two,” says Dr. Kathy Gruver, a massage therapist, reiki master and author of “Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques.”

“The great thing about reiki is I’m not using my energy, so when I put my hands on somebody, they’re not getting my bad morning, my illness, my karma; I’m a conduit. I’m a total empty vessel for the energy to flow through.”

How reiki works

To do reiki, practitioners have an attunement, which consists of a reiki master giving you reiki energy. They teach you the symbols and the hand positions and perform a ritual, which awakens your hands and allows you to perform energy healing on someone else. Gruver advises people to receive an attunement in person, never over the Internet.

“I think it’s a complete misconception that there are these special gifted people that can do it. Certainly people have gifts that are unexplainable, but reiki is not one of them; anyone can do it,” says Gruver.

During a session Gruver lays her hands on or hovers them above the part of the body she wants to heal or send energy. She also does it unconsciously when she rests her hand on her husband’s leg during a movie, for example. If he has any pain or something going on emotionally, the energy goes to where it’s needed.

The majority of people seek reiki for emotional issues, physical problems or because they are terminally ill. Reiki provides peace, comfort, healing and relaxation. Cancer patients often say it’s the only thing that helps their pain. There are some preliminary studies that suggest reiki can knit bone back together more quickly and heal wounds faster. The American Hospital Association says 15 percent of hospitals (more than 800) offer reiki in the U.S.

After a session people are relaxed. They may fall asleep, giggle or cry; it opens up many emotions. Some find it completely energizing, while others want to curl up and sleep. It’s also a powerful treatment for grief, loss and sadness.

Chakra energy centersA massage for the soul

Shani Enns, spiritual coach, energy healer and founder of www.embraceyourhumanity.com in Kansas City, grew up around energy healing. She has certificates from many modalities but says she’s practiced her own brand of energy medicine for the past 10 years.

Enns performs energy healing along with spiritual coaching and says whatever problem someone comes in with, she works to shift their beliefs, patterns and habits with both coaching and energy healing.

Some people come in with cancer, some with health problems, others with depression; many come for emotional issues. It usually goes in tandem. “People who don’t feel good physically also don’t feel good emotionally,” says Enns.

Someone once described her work as a massage for the soul.

Similar to reiki, Enns lays her hands on various parts of someone’s body such as their head, heart or belly and sends energy inward. She frequently works with entrepreneurs who are looking to manifest wealth and success in business.

During or after a session people feel buzzing, tingling, dizziness, a sense of heaviness, and may see colors, Enns says. Many feel a state of peace or nothingness. Occasionally people say they don’t feel anything other than well rested. Enns says one of the most gifted energy healers she knows doesn’t feel anything giving — or even receiving energy work. He goes on faith because his clients experience amazing effects.

Results are very individual for any type of energy work. Enns says she had a client in kidney failure who was cured and didn’t need further dialysis. She also had a client with advanced breast cancer who was comforted and benefited from pain relief. “Sometimes healing means being OK with dying,” says Enns.

There are many ways practitioners provide reiki. Some use crystals and gemstones; others play music; some chant. “If it’s too weird for you or too mainstream for you, find another practitioner,” says Gruver. Enns offers her first session free for just this reason.

Many practitioners provide distance energy work via phone or Skype, and many offer animal healing. Enns explains that practitioners of energy medicine draw energy from the endless source that the universe provides. She always comes out of energy work feeling better than before she gave it. “I feel joy, peace and bliss giving it.” People who receive energy healing often feel the same way.

credit:JenniferNelson  sources:mnn.com

Meditation helps alleviate gut symptoms by altering genetic signals

If you thought meditation was only good for your emotional well-being, think again. A new study shows that meditation may actually alleviate the symptoms of two gut disorders by altering certain genetic signals.

The study looked at people who had either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD). It found that doing yoga and meditating regularly for two months eased the symptoms associated with the two gut disorders, the researchers said.

This mind-and-body intervention seemed to work by inducing genetic changes in the body, the study authors said. The findings suggest that stress-relieving meditation can suppress the activities of certain genes responsible for causing inflammation and other immune system problems in patients suffering from IBS or IBD, the study stated.

Previous research has shown that meditation can change people’s gene expression in some ways, but the new study is among the first to show an impact on gene expression in patients with a specific disease, said lead researcher Dr. Braden Kuo, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study used a mind-body technique called Relaxation Response, which a Harvard University doctor developed in the 1970s.

The new findings are especially interesting given that researchers have established a relationship between stress and digestive problems. Research has shown that psychological trauma can contribute to IBS, a disorder that leads to abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.

The condition is fairly common in the United States, affecting about 1 in every 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Yet scientists do not exactly know what causes the disorder. [7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

Although IBS and IBD can be mistaken as the same condition, they are actually very different, and IBD is much less common. Unlike IBS, IBD involves chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis, which affects the colon, and Crohn’s disease, which mostly affects the intestines, but can also occur anywhere in the digestive system.

However, IBS and IBD also share some common factors: Both can be triggered by stress, and neither one has real treatment options. The drugs currently available can only lessen the severity of symptoms and bring some temporary relief.

In the new study, researchers enrolled 19 patients with IBS and 29 patients with IBD. They all underwent a nine-week program that included breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. The patients met for a 1.5-hour group session every week, and practiced the activities at home for 15 to 20 minutes every day. The researchers assessed the patients’ symptoms before, after and midway during the study, and took blood samples for genetic analyses. However, the study design did not incorporate a separate control group of patients who did not practice meditation.

At the end of the study, the patients reported a reduction in their symptoms compared with what they experienced at the study’s start. A genetic analysis of their blood provided evidence of changes in genetic pathways related to the two disorders.

Significantly, more genetic changes were observed in IBD patients than in patients with IBS, said Manoj Bhasin, who co-authored the study and is the director of bioinformatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Researchers found that more than 1,000 genes were altered in IBD patients over the study period, whereas only 119 genes changed in the people with IBS.

There was one inflammation-related gene, called NF-kB, whose activities were suppressed in both groups, according to the study. This indicates that meditation and similar practices can offset stress and inflammation, the researchers said.

“In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response,” Dr. Towia Libermann, a senior researcher in the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement. It’s possible that relaxation techniques could help both people with IBS and those with IBD, he said.

The researchers noted two important limitations in their study: First, two tests that measured certain markers of inflammation in the blood showed no changes over the study period. Second, previous research has shown that even a placebo can sometimes produce adequate relief of IBS symptoms.

More studies, such as randomized trials that include a control group, are needed before a program of meditation and yoga could be suggested as a treatment for patients with these disorders, the researchers said.

The study was published on April 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/at-one-with-the-belly-meditation-may-ease-gut-ailments#ixzz3fA79EBoi

The Puzzle of Reincarnation

Many cultures down through the ages including Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, Greek Rationalists and even some Christian and Jewish thinkers have come up with the idea of reincarnation. It has a certain obviousness about it. Yet there is one HUGE problem. That is if people do not remember past lives how can one be said to be reincarnated at all. Now, it would be one thing if we REMEMBERED our past lives and could learn lessons from them but if we do not remember them then it is no different than if we were not reincarnated at all. It is just a kind a fairy story to ease the sting of death.

Moreover, if the Eastern religions, the Dharmic religions, were true then there would have to be (a) a discrete individual soul; and, (b) some sort of divine judge who could determine who was coming back as a frog and who was coming back as a human being. If karma is mere cause and effect then how in the world would this work? If we are going to dismiss gods, magic and the supernatural how can we account for the process of transmigration of souls. That raises the question “what the hell is a soul anyway?”.

Ancient peoples had no answer for this. They simply took it as an article of faith. Buddhists were more sophisticated coming up as it were with the concept of mindstream. However, until fairly recently this was something which still smacked of the supernatural. Then in the last half century or so we have discovered that our DNA is far more than a blueprint for building bodies. In fact recent discoveries have shown that DNA contains even more storage capacity than we ever believed and only a tiny fraction of DNA is needed for coding bodies. What the hell? We know that nature is stingy. She does little without cause. Evolution demands that mutations have a useful purpose to be passed on. It is an article of faith. So why all this excess storage capacity? Even when we factor in genetic switches and modules there is still this immense storage capacity. It is as though our DNA has a petabyte of storage and the DNA we can identify fits on a flash drive.

Now we are discovering that this DNA contains coded information. How it is read, processed or utilized we do not know. Yet. One thing is clear though and that is that somehow real life experience is coded into the sequence. This then is the connection. Every strand of DNA in existence be it a man, a mouse or a virus comes from some original strand. One. One original strand and in the 3.5 billions years or so we have added to it. Sometimes by mutation. Sometimes by colonization from other organisms. Sometimes … well … we don’t know yet. We are all one creature when viewed from the vantage of four dimensional space time. All traced and connected as islands are connected under the sea.

Here then is the process divorced from any idea of the supernatural. Yet, for this very reason, even more fascinating.

A Master of Memory in India Credits Meditation for His Brainy Feats

The young man sat cross-legged atop a cushioned divan on an ornately decorated stage, surrounded by other Jain monks draped in white cloth. His lip occasionally twitched, his hands lay limp in his lap, and for the most part his eyes were closed. An announcer repeatedly chastised the crowd for making even the slightest noise.

From daybreak until midafternoon, members of the audience approached the stage, one at a time, to show the young monk a random object, pose a math problem, or speak a word or phrase in one of at least six different languages. He absorbed the miscellany silently, letting it slide into his mind, as onlookers in their seats jotted everything down on paper.

After six hours, the 500th and last item was uttered — it was the number 100,008. An anxious hush descended over the crowd.

And the monk opened his eyes and calmly recalled all 500 items, in order, detouring only once to fill in a blank he had momentarily set aside.

When he was done, and the note-keepers in the audience had confirmed his achievement, the tense atmosphere dissolved and the announcer led the crowd in a series of triumphant chants.

The opportunity to witness the feat of memory drew a capacity crowd of 6,000 to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stadium in Mumbai on Sunday. The exhibition was part of a campaign to encourage schoolchildren to use meditation to build brainpower, as Jain monks have done for centuries in India, a country drawn both toward ancient religious practices and more recent ambitions.

But even by Jain standards, the young monk — Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, 24 — is something special. His guru, P. P. Acharya Nayachandrasagarji, said no other monk in many years had come close to his ability.

“Munishri’s mind is like a computer during the download process,” the guru said during an interview in a temple in central Mumbai on Monday. “Many processes can happen in his mind at one time.”

“Like when I forgot No. 81,” Munishri chimed in. “The rest of the processes continued, and then, later, that one process began and I remembered it. It takes no effort. I’m simply able to extract it from my subconscious, where I have stored it.”

He sees brainpower as directly proportional to sacrifice, however, and he and his guru have made some great sacrifices.

The guru, now 58, said he had worked in a diamond-cutting workshop as a young man, but at 23 he became disillusioned by the material world and renounced it, including his family and profession. Three years later, he took a vow of almost complete silence and solitude, and set out to walk across India barefoot, living off alms, chanting, praying and translating Jain scripture from Sanskrit into Gujarati.

In 2000, he passed through Unjha, a town in Gujarat State, where Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji was a 10-year-old boy known as Ajay. The guru made such an impression on the boy that Ajay gained the blessing of his family to join the guru in his travels, and two years later he, too, began a life of itinerant solitude, meditation — and total recall.

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Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji has committed more than 20,000 verses of Jain scripture to memory, the guru said, adding that in the privacy of the temple, he has been able to retain as many as 800 random items in order.

The monk does not see himself as specially endowed, or some kind of rare genius. “I have sacrificed everything, and that is why I can do this,” he said. “Anyone can do this, it is not a miracle. My message is this: When you know your own capacity, when you get rid of your distractions, the power of your mind is immense.”

Many followers of the Jain religion have been successful in Indian politics, science and business, particularly in the diamond industry. The recollection event on Sunday was financed by a private nonprofit group called the Saraswati Sadhna Research Foundation, using donations from a lengthy list of Jain benefactors. The foundation says that more than 14,000 children have received training in meditation at its centers, and that the goal is to reach a million children in the next 10 years.

Jainism is the smallest of India’s major organized religions, with around five million adherents. Some Jains revere gods and goddesses that Hindus also worship, including Saraswati, the embodiment of knowledge, creativity and intellectual enlightenment. Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji follows a knowledge recollection method centered on devotion to Saraswati.

A trustee at the foundation, Girish Shah, said that for India, a country whose education system is largely based on rote memorization, meditation is a way to strengthen the mind so that the hours students spend studying will pay off. “Memory, I.Q., concentration ability, interest in studying and moral upliftment will all increase with meditation,” Mr. Shah said. “It offers many practical advantages for young people.”

Four other young disciples of Munishri’s guru have also performed feats of recollection, but so far only 100 or 200 items. Munishri is working his way up to 1,000.

Citing an obscure historical text, the guru said the last time anyone did that was in the Mughal court of the Subahdar of Khambhat, six centuries ago.

Zen and the art of commuting

Here’s how mindfulness experts say you can be more calm and focused and less hostile:

1. Turn your attention from when you’ll get to your destination (it’s often out of your control, anyway) to your surroundings, particularly what you notice via your senses: Sounds, the feel of your feet on the ground or your rear in a seat, places in your body that feel tight or hot from tension.

2. If you’re not driving or riding a bike, focus on your breathing. Take five breaths, with deep inhalations and slow exhalations. Then return to normal breathing, but try to notice each breath. You can gaze ahead, or slightly down, at a fixed point or close your eyes.

When you notice you’ve become lost in thought (hint: You find yourself in a thought-spiral of “Oh no, I’m going to be late. My boss is going to be so ticked. I’ll probably get fired. Then I’ll probably starve to death …”), gently return your attention to your breathing and the sounds around you. Allow thoughts to come and go without attaching any significance to them.

3. If you’re driving or riding a bike, cut the music and become more aware of the sights and sounds around you: the view of trees or taillights, the sound of birds, the feel of wind on your face. When you notice yourself lost in thought, come back to your senses.

4. When angry or annoying thoughts are triggered, notice the physical sensations of those thoughts (a tight chest, feeling of heat, tense shoulders) and consciously relax. Try a silent mantra, such as “It’s OK” or “This is out of my control. I’m doing the best I can.”

5. Use red lights or stops on a train or bus as a reminder to notice whether you’re lost in thought. Then refocus on your breathing or your senses.

6. When you walk, focus on the feel of your feet connecting with the ground, your breathing, the sounds around you (even if it’s the steady thrum of traffic) and the feel of the air on your face. When you notice you’ve become distracted or lost in thought, return to your senses.

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits More Than The Mind

I can see clearly now, my sunk-cost bias is gone.

Meditation has long been known for its mental health benefits, but new research shows that just a few minutes of mindfulness can improve physical health and personal life as well. A recent study conducted by researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School found that 15 minutes of mindful meditation can help you make better decisions.

The research, published in the Association for Psychological Science’s journal Psychological Science, comes from four studies (varying in sample size from 69 to 178 adults) in which participants responded to sunk-cost scenarios at different degrees of mindful awareness. The results consistently showed that increased mindfulness decreases the sunk-cost bias.

WOAH, hold the phone. What’s a sunk cost and what’s a sunk-cost bias??

Sunk cost is an economics term that psychologists have adopted. In economics, sunk costs are defined as non-recoverable investment costs like the cost of employee training or a lease on office space. In psychology, sunk costs are basically the same thing: The time and energy we put into our personal lives. Though we might not sit down with a calculator at the kitchen table when deciding who to take as our plus one to our second cousin’s wedding next weekend, we do a cost-benefit analysis every time we make a decision. And we take these sunk costs into account.

The sunk-cost bias, then, is the tendency to allow sunk costs to overly influence current decisions. Mindfulness meditation can provide improved clarity, which helps you stay present and make better decisions, the study says. This protects you from that manipulative sunk-cost bias.

“We are really good about getting wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the each day,” said Dr. Adam Naylor, a sports psychology consultant and clinical assistant professor at Boston University. “Even seemingly benign hassles chip away at cognitive freshness and physical readiness. Meditation can be a way to cleanse oneself of the performance sapping, mental clutter.”

Say you realize that the guy you’re dating in a total doofus. Do you break up with him? Our trusted friend the Magic 8 Ball says all signs lead to yes. But wait, you’ve already invested so much time and energy (sunk costs!) in this relationship, not to mention the $1,000 you spent fixing that dent in his car last month, maybe you should just wait it out. No! All signs led to yes! You’re sunk-cost biased!

Cue meditation.

So how does it work?

“The debiasing effect of mindfulness meditation in sunk-cost situations was due to a two-step process,” wrote study co-author Zoe Kinias, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behavior at INSEAD in an article about the study for the journal. “First, meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion. The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.”

But mindfulness doesn’t just help with the big decisions. It can help with the little ones, too. Should you eat an apple or a brownie? Should you go to the gym or watch Netflix? Rather than convincing yourself that you’ll be too tired if you go to the gym, mindfulness practice can provide the clarity you need to realize that’s just an excuse and that you should go.

Mindfulness meditation can have physical benefits, too. Fitness experts say that mindfulness meditation can increase your focus so that you actually get more out of your workout.

“Purposeful meditation givess the mind a moment to reset, so it can be creatively and fully engaged on the tasks we choose to embrace,” Naylor said.

So start meditating, break up with the doofus, and head to the gym.

Source: Boston.com

Letting Your Mind Wander During Meditation Can Help You Process More Thoughts And Feelings

What gives you heightened concentration, more willpower, higher cognitive functioning, less stress and better sleep? The lengthy list of benefits to meditation for the mind is more than a little striking.

But there’s still limited research on what exactly happens in the brain while meditating, and if any particular form of the soothing practice is best.

“No one knows how the brain works when you meditate,” Jian Xu, a physician at St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim, Norway and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) said in a statement recently. “That is why I’d like to study it.”

Xu, along with a team of researchers from NTNU, the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney set about doing just that, in a small new study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. They administered MRI testing to 14 regular meditators and monitored their brain activity while resting, while meditating by focusing on a specific thought and also while meditating by focusing on the breath but allowing the mind to wander. This latter form of meditation, called nondirective meditation showed the highest amount of brain activity.

“I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person’s thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused,” said Xu. “When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during nondirective meditation.”

Typically, brain activity is at its highest in these areas when we are at rest, co-author Svend Davanger, a University of Oslo neuroscientist said in a statement. “It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” he said.

An estimated 20 million Americans meditate, according to a 2007 survey, which rose from 15 million in 2002, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. “Meditation is an activity that is practiced by millions of people,” Davanger added. “It is important that we find out how this really works.”

What Laughter And Meditation Have In Common

Joyful laughter and meditation look similar in the brain, new research suggests.

A small study from Loma Linda University researchers shows that when people engage in humor-associated mirthful laughter, their brain wave frequencies are similar to that which are seen when a person engages in meditation.

“Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain,” study researcher Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, of Loma Linda University, said in a statement. “What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain — it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being, ‘in the zone.'”

The study included 31 people who were hooked up to an EEG monitor — which measures density of brain wave frequencies — as they watched 10-minute video clips. The clips had either humorous, distressing or spiritual tones.

When the participants watched the humorous videos — which provoked humor-associated mirthful laughter — their brains produced significant gamma wave levels, similar to what you’d see when a person meditates. Meanwhile, when they watched the spiritual videos, their brains produced significant alpha brain wave bands, similar to what you’d see when a person is at rest. And when they watched the distressing videos, their brains produced flat brain wave bands, similar to what you’d see when a person is detached and doesn’t want to be in a situation, researchers noted.

“We suggest HAML [humor associated mirthful laughter] may be another non-pharmacological lifestyle intervention to provide health, wellness [and] adjunctive therapeutic benefits,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.

Berk’s previous research has also showed an association between mirthful laughter and blood pressure, as well as levels of hormones linked to appetite. Other research has linked mirthful laughter with improved immune functioning and decreased stress.

Source: Huffington Post