Mindfulness Makes Its Way to the Wall Street Journal

Screen shot 2011-02-05 at 1.54.22 PM I read a fascinating article recently in the Wall Street Journal's Health and Wellness section. The title was “Conquering Fear” (01/04/2011) by Melinda Beck. The article discussed how the concept of mindfulness is becoming a popular tool used in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. While the word meditation was never mentioned in the article, anyone who does meditate will immediately recognize how some of the principles of meditation are being borrowed by these therapists.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and renowned teacher of mindfulness meditation, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The Wild Mind Buddhist Meditation group expounds on that further saying:

“Mindfulness involves paying attention 'on purpose.' Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes…talk about 'mindfulness' and 'awareness' as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.”

The founder of this new mindfulness-based therapy, Dr. Steven Hayes of the University of Nevada—Reno, says that his new psychology movement asks patients to focus their attention on the present. He adds that one of the key tenets of his mindfulness approach is not to say, “Stop thinking negative thoughts.” Instead, his approach asks people to simply observe negative thoughts as one would passing clouds, which as meditators know diffuses the power of the negative thoughts.

Mindfulness is not just popping up in psychology treatments, but it is now being used in schools to help children with ADHD. It is appearing in hospitals to help with anxiety and panic attacks. While some may disagree with the westernization of this deeply Eastern concept, it is clear to see that mindfulness can play a very important role for improving many people's lives.

The Wall Street Journal article also stressed the importance of acceptance rather than resistance. For  example, Dr. Katherine Muller of the Center for Integrative Psychotherapy in Allentown, PA, who uses the mindfulness concept in her practice, says, “The idea is, 'These [negative] feelings are going to come. What are you going to do about them?' You don't have to react to them at all. Just allowing them to exist takes away their power.”

 Although the Wall Street Journal article didn't dive too deeply into the “art and science” behind mindfulness, an in-depth article in The Psychotherapy Networker from the movement's founder Dr. Steven Hayes explains, in my opinion, how his technique has essentially overlapped the ideas and concepts of meditation with therapy…without the actual practice of it. One wonders how truly effective this can be. For example, Dr. Hayes says in the article that one of the three basic premises in his treatment is “acquiring a transcendent sense of self.” The exercises described sound like guided meditations, yet, as I said, the word “meditation” (perhaps to hokey for the Wall Street Journal and scientific journals) is excluded from anything associated with this new therapy.

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 


Additional Sources:

What is Mindfulness?

Hello darkness: Discovering our values by confronting our fears.


Do Nothing For Two Minutes?

A few years ago someone asked me if I ever did nothing. "NO!" was my answer. Of  course I never just sat around! I was the one that got things done. I had goals. I achieved them. I was a go-getter and proud of it. It was unfathomable to me to sit and do nothing, for any amount of time. 

Ok, that person was a therapist because my go-getter lifestyle was driving me crazy. All that running from one thing to another was really just a way for me to avoid dealing with the things that hurt me. I didn't know it at the time but deep down, I had a fear of stopping and looking at my life. Busyness gave me a way to feel good because I could list my accomplishments. But, I thought about what she said and I tried it. First, I just sat in a chair and enjoyed a sunny morning. Then, I slowly started to slow down.

Screen shot 2011-02-05 at 12.43.08 PM Everyone has to take that first step if they want to calm down their life and find that little bit of sanity. I found a great website to help: donothingfortwominutes.com. It's genius, just a simple timer that runs for two minutes with some relaxing music. You could make it your homepage. Try it out and pass on to your friends.

And, if you are scared that  doing nothing will take away your ambition, don't worry, it doesn't. Following a path of mindfulness fuels your ambition. It gives you more time and more creativity to do the things you want to do because you clear your life of all the junk that was sucking up your time and energy.

 ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com


Meditation Myth #2 – You Can’t Change Your Brain

A popular myth about meditation is that it's just something to do for stress relief or to gain a higher spiritual connection, but few people actually realize that meditating can actually change your brain. There is an emerging new field of brain science in fact called “Contemplative Neuroscience,” or the study of meditation's effect on the brain.

One of the pioneers in the Contemplative Neuroscience field is Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin—Madison has been personally involved with meditation since the 1970s and studying it for 10 years. Davidson has scanned the brains of almost 100 Buddhist monks and other regular meditators during this time. He says, “We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways. Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different. It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.” 

Neuron cell Contemplative Neuroscience has also shown that habitual meditation strengthens brain circuits that help us concentrate and express empathy. A study Davidson recently finished looked at how meditation effected those who had never done it before. He found that the beginners stimulated their limbic systems during meditation–the limbic system is the brain's so-called “emotional network.” On the same token, expert meditators (monks with over 10,000 hours of meditation experience) showed markedly higher limbic system activity across the board. Davidson's conclusion? The monks had changed their brains to be more empathetic! 

So meditation can effect your brain while you meditate, but what about when the meditation is over? The answer is yes. There have been observable changes to the baseline brain functioning for meditators outside of meditation. These changes are thought to be linked to generating positive emotions. While Contemplative Neuroscience is in its infancy, this is largely due to the fact that live MRIs (allowing doctors to observe a brain in real time) have only recently become available. 

   ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 


More Information/Sources:

The Science of How Meditation Changes Your Brain

Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can

The Way of Shambhala – Level 1 Class Review

When I signed up for the Level 1 class, I wondered how much I would get out of it since I had taken three classes already at the Shambhala center in Burlington, VT. I don't know what I was thinking because you don't master meditation in three classes. I had nothing to fear, there was plenty for me to learn. This is one of those activities that you don't master, it just keeps getting better. And, three classes is just scratching the surface of what the curriculum has to offer. 

IMG_0220 I had been in a bit of a slump with my meditation, struggling every day to focus and wondering when it was going to come together again.  While I know distraction is normal, often I couldn't get past one breath before I was on to another thought. It was a major accomplishment when I could count to 3 breaths. I thought that a class might get me back on track. Fortunately, I was right. 

The class started and ended with two separate evening sessions that were part teaching and part discussion. The first talk was on how laziness causes depression (not in the clinical sense but as far as loss of energy, feeling down, etc). 

In the middle was an all-day session on Saturday. It included a lot of meditation practice where we put the teaching into action. After lunch, we had individual interviews where we talked to the teachers in private about how it was going and got instruction on posture. In my interview, the teacher told me not to worry if my mind wandered, it is the coming back part that is most important. While I know this bit of information, it still made a big difference to have a master meditator tell me again that it's ok. 

During the interviews the rest of us meditated, alternating sitting and walking. The time went fast but it was almost two hours of meditation broken up only by the interview. Due to time constraints, I am a sprinter not a marathon runner when it comes to meditation so long sessions are a treat. While it was certainly challenging, I think it was the most powerful part of the class for me. Through that long meditation I ran the gambit going from total synchronicity to total scatterbrain. In the last half hour it was difficult for me to sit still. In the end, all the struggle of the session paid off. The next day, I had the best meditation in months and felt a new alignment of my mind and body that wasn't there before. It inspired me to step up my sitting to a half hour each day from 10 minutes. The half hour is enough time to go through a little struggle and it seems to be working my mind harder. 

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 

Visit the Shambhala website for more information on Shambhala Training class Level I



Pick Yourself Up With Meditation

Is meditation effective at treating depression? According to a recent study done by Oxford University, the answer is yes. Depression is an overwhelming feeling of unhappiness or sadness. If feelings of sadness and unhappiness last for a week or less, it is unlikely to be depression. This is just “the blues.“ On an interesting side note, in the past, doctors thought meditation could lead to schizophrenia for those who are depressed. Of course, there is no medical evidence to back up this absurd claim.

Dandelion In Oxford's study, a group of 28 people who had been diagnosed with clinical depression were
broken up into two groups. One group received traditional therapy while the other group did meditation and therapy. Nobody in the therapy group was able to beat their depression, while some in the meditation group did. Professor Mark Williams who was in charge of the study said, "Our aim is to help people to find long-term freedom from the daily battle with their moods. One way that the treatment benefits people is helping them to live more in the moment, rather than be caught up in upsettling memories from the past or worries about the future.”

In her article How to Treat Depression with Meditation, Mary Gevara claims that, “Meditation can give someone a sense of control in their life, which many people with depression so desperately need.” Likewise, in her article Natural Cures for Depression, Andrea Waggener wrote, “Meditation is a natural cure for depression that can help you effect a happiness-inducing change in the way you think and perceive the world.” Research has also shown that meditating can help prevent future bouts of depression. As you can see on a number of levels, meditation has many benefits to offer someone who is depressed.

Another reason meditation is a crucial holistic therapy to look at for the treatment of depression is because antidepressants have a number of unwanted side effects. Meditation is, of course, free and doesn't damage the body or mind in any way—it does quite the opposite! Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) lead to sexual dysfunction, insomnia, nausea, and nervousness. Prozac, the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the world (also an SSRI), is associated with dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, sedation, weight gain, skin rashes, headaches, tremors, dizziness, behavioral changes, excessive sweating, bronchitis, an inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, yawning, muscle pain, back pain, joint pain, painful menstruation, and urinary tract infections.

Whether you believe depression is caused by external circumstances or a chemical imbalance in the brain or both, meditation has many strengths as a holistic treatment option. WildMind.org, an exhaustive meditation website, specifically recommends the Metta Bhavana practice (the development of what is known in the East as “lovingkindness”) for those with depression. It has been scientifically shown to be effective. It has no side effects, and it is easy and affordable.

   ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 


More Information/Sources:

How to Treat Depression with Meditation

Natural Cure For Depression–The Best Scientifically Proven At Home Depression Treatment

 List of antidepressants and their side effects

 Some Prozac (fluoxetine) Side Effects might not be side effects at all; they may be symptoms of your underlying anxiety.

 Meditation and depression

The Best Natural Treatments for Depression

Relieve Anxiety Without Medication

The ancient art and science of meditation, as it has made its way from the East to the West, has been transformed from its Buddhist roots. In the modern world of the West, meditation is used to help eliminate medical problems, bring people greater prosperity, and reduce anxiety.

Fountain Anxiety is a state of uneasiness, of apprehension—often about future events that one is anticipating with negative or positive associations. Meditation relieves uneasiness and apprehensiveness in a number of ways. First of all, anxiety is generally brought on by the incessant stream of thoughts running through one's mind whether it's the to-do list or what to cook for dinner. Meditation's #1 purpose is to turn off that never-ending voice in the head, in order to experience calmness and stillness—even for just a few precious minutes. For example, many people can understand how taking an afternoon power nap can be rejuvenating to the mind and body. Meditation takes that same state of mental relaxation to another level. While, of course, you'll know that your “problems” are waiting for you when you come out of the meditation, you'll have a renewed sense of being, peace, and tranquility in approaching them.

Blogger Shivani Wells analyzed data from four empirical studies done on the effectiveness of meditation at reducing anxiety. She looked at studies of different kinds of meditation and found that, despite some conflicting evidence:

It is clear that a number of different approaches to meditation are affective, and it also seems that many approaches share overlapping methods outside of simple seated meditation, which strengthen the evidence of the effectiveness of those elements, such as breath work and mantra repetition. I believe that the studies here clearly defend my hypothesis that meditation is an effective treatment in significantly reducing anxiety and perceived stress.”

On the other hand, studies also show that people with anxiety disorders have a hard time sticking with meditation regimens. Because of this, if you suffer from anxiety, it may be easier for you to do regular meditations in a meditation group, to learn from an expert offering meditation lessons, or at the minimum to rely on guided mediation CDs for assistance.

As you meditate, you may try any of these specific techniques to lower anxiety:

  • Do a mental scan of each part of your body from head to toe at the beginning of the meditation to see if you are holding on to stress or anxiety in that part of your body. If so, lovingly release that tension.
  • If your thoughts drift, pull your awareness back to “here” and “now.”
  • During the meditation, feel the serenity and peace that is you at the moment. Visualize carrying that tranquility with you as you sit in rush-hour traffic, referee the screaming kids, and face your demanding boss. Wherever you go or whatever you do that causes you anxiety, see yourself in that situation with the awesome power of the meditation in your being. 
  • At the end of your meditation, say a prayer or affirmation to the universe for everything you are grateful for (Family? Sunshine? A compliment? Good night of sleep? Being alive?)

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 


More Information/Sources:

Best Ways to Ease Anxiety Disorders

Meditation for Stress Reduction

Meditation Myth #3 – You Just Sit There With a Clear Mind

Many people that I talk to say they can't meditate because they can't clear their mind. They say that their minds keep going from thought to thought when they try to sit still. The biggest myth about mediation is that to be good at meditation, thinking will stop. The truth is that no matter who you talk to, everyone has thoughts, all the time. Meditation helps to tame the mind but it doesn't stop thoughts from coming up. Ask a teacher who has been meditating for 30 years what their biggest challenge is in meditating and you will get the same answer: distraction. The reason meditation is so valuable is that it teaches us to bring the mind back to focus. It also teaches us that the mind and thought are not the only way to experience the world. We learn to use the other senses and give the mind a break.

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 

Meditation Myth #4 – You Have to Be Able to Sit Still

Meditation is a great place to learn how to manage discomfort and pain. By sitting through discomfort, we find a way to separate the feeling from the emotion that surrounds the physical signal. It can create quite a sense of accomplishment to watch that itch come and finally go away without responding. When your feet fall asleep, it is another opportunity to learn how to deal with pain without the risk of hurting anything since the cause is a pinched nerve, not reduced blood circulation. All that said, the goal of meditation is not to punish ourselves or be cruel. We can wait a moment, try to separate the pain from the emotion, feel the pain as a physical signal and sit with it for a while. Then, we can adjust our position to relieve the discomfort. If the feet fall asleep, you can stand, stretch your legs or sit with your knees bent in front of you. It's ok to move, just do it mindfully. And then, settle back in to your breath.

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 

Finding Peace

I was just reading a post at one of my favorite blogs, zenhabits, about finding peace. The author talks about digging deeper to find out why we are stuck in habits that don't serve us. She says to "Find the most loving place inside you – the soft spot that melts when you encounter puppies, babies, or those most dear to you. Pour this love into the tension and painful feelings. This is the healing balm that untangles the knot."

Meditation is a good place to practice this. It gives us the chance everyday to stop and look at what is holding us back from being present and open. In meditation, we can see what is coming up and the reaction these thoughts cause. As Pema Chodron recommends, first, recognize the thought as thinking and let it go. What you are left with is the energy and the emotion of what you are feeling which you can sit with and explore without the thinking and judgement. It's a powerful exercise, one that can teach how to find and feel emotions.

  ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com 

What is Walking Meditation?

I was reading a book about adult ADHD yesterday and it said that meditation is helpful for people with the condition because it helps them to train their mind. The book mentioned that walking meditation, yoga or tai chi might be easier because the movement helps a person keep their attention longer. It said that walking meditation in nature can be particularly useful.

This sparked a discussion with my husband who had coincidentally been trying to do a walking meditation earlier that evening. He felt like it had been a failure because he hadn't been able to get to his zone that he reaches in sitting meditation. He said that he was too focused on his steps and how the ground felt under his feet to clear his mind. Actually, that is what walking meditation is about; he was doing it without knowing. The same exercises in concentration and returning the mind to one topic apply while walking. Outdoors all the senses can be used to smell the trees, see beautiful colors or hear each one of the birds sign in their chorus. 

 ~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com

More information:

How to meditate while walking

Study on meditation helping ADHD