Category Archives: Brain

Navigating Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR) Surgery with mPEAK and Mindfulness

logo-mpeak

Read this very personal story from a recent mPEAK participant and Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

By William R. Matthews, MA, LPC

Medical literature contains numerous references proclaiming the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on cardiovascular health and pain management. But to me, these were merely academic case studies, as I had not personally known anyone who had successfully used mindfulness to manage through a major medical procedure. That is, until August 17, 2016, when I had aortic valve replacement surgery.

I need to back up a moment. In March of 2016 I participated in the three-day mPEAK intensive that included six weekly one-hour conference call follow-ups. For me the follow-up sessions were critical for integrating the didactic and practice sessions taught in the three-day into a consistent meditative practice. mPEAK was my first hands-on experience with mindfulness. At that point in time, I had been aware for several years that I had a bicuspid aortic valve that would “eventually” need replacement (in fact it kept me from fully participating in the five-mile mindful walk that is part of the program), but there had been no discussion of surgery with my primary physician or cardiologist. Two months after returning from mPEAK, my new primary care physician sent me for an ultrasound of my heart. The results indicated significant blockage of the aortic valve, and that started the ball rolling for surgery “as soon as possible.”

When a date for surgery was set, I emailed mPEAK ccf9e-headshot2program director, Peter Kirchmer, asking if he could provide me with additional mindfulness resources on pain management, since that seemed to be a big concern connected to surgeries. In response, Pete wrote “Forget about additional resources. You have everything you need already. Just continue developing the skills you already have.” Wise counsel indeed. So I loaded up my iPod with all the meditation files mPEAK had made available to us on its website, added John Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, and a few other meditations. I played these every evening before bed, in the waiting lounges of airports, and in my office sharing them with my clients. Ultimately, my iPod was headed with me to the hospital.

The night before surgery I slept soundly without the benefit of any sleep aid other than my meditation-filled iPod. I arrived at the hospital at 5:40 AM surgery day and was taken back to pre-op shortly thereafter. The nurse remarked that my blood pressure showed no signs of anticipatory anxiety.  I too was surprised at how calm I was considering someone was about to cut my chest open and mess with my heart. I told the nurse about my mindful preparation and she asked a lot of questions of interest to learn more. A brief chat with a family member, a friend and a short prayer from the rector of my church was all I remember before waking up almost six hours later.

I awoke in recovery to see the same three faces that I had left there that morning. After a few minutes I was taken to cardiac ICU. A nurse and a member of the physical therapy team armed with a pillow were waiting for me. The PT announced that she was there to help me get into bed by “leaning into my pain and clutching the pillow” as my incisions were on the right side along with two chest tubes. Even in my post-anesthesia fog, my mind went immediately to a body scan, noting that my left side was incision- and tube-free. I also made a mental note that at home my bedroom is set up so that I can only get into bed from my left side. I got up off the gurney without assistance walked around the end of the hospital bed, sat down and got into bed on the left side of the bed without assistance (with minimal pain) and said, “I think I’ll do it this way instead.” The PT could only respond, “I guess that way’s OK too.”

The nurse waiting her turn with me announced that she was there to help me with pain management. She advised, “The key to pain management is staying ahead of the pain.” I interpreted that to mean don’t wait until the pain gets bad, keep taking your medication. At that point my mind recalled an activity from mPEAK where we were asked to insert a hand up to mid-forearm into a bucket of ice water and keep it there until the pain started to hurt. Most people removed their hands from the buckets in under a minute. The teachers explained that a large part of managing pain is changing our relationship to the pain. After sharing techniques and mindsets for doing so, we were given the opportunity to try immersing our hands into the ice water again. Most everyone were able to keep their hands in the ice water for considerably longer the second time around. With this recollection I informed the nurse of my plan – to measure my pain on a scale from 0-5 every hour or so, and if the pain number was not any higher than the last “reading” I wouldn’t be asking for pain medication. I received medication for pain only twice: 1) shortly after arriving in the ICU and 2) later that day when they removed the chest tubes. By the next morning, the day after surgery, I had discontinued all pain medication for the remainder of my hospital stay.

Prior to my surgery, my cardiologist and cardiac surgeon both agreed that I would need to go to a rehab facility “for at least a week” after being discharged from the hospital because I live alone. However, I created a dilemma for them because my recovery was so quick and complete. The discharge social worker advised me that I didn’t meet any medical criteria for rehab placement. She even had PT and OT evaluate me one more time in hopes of coming up with some reason to get me admitted, but neither could come up with a medical need. So I was discharged after 4-1/2 days, with my doctors agreeing that I could stay with a friend who lived within a mile of the hospital. I had a return visit to the cardiac surgeon four days afterward. At that appointment my cardiac surgeon said I was free to go back home and decide for myself when I would go back to work. I was back to work half-time three weeks after surgery and returned to full-time work the following week.

While I wouldn’t necessarily put AVR surgery in the category of a high performance activity, I am convinced that the skills and tools I learned from mPEAK, played a central role in my recovery.

William R. Matthews, MA, LPC is in private practice with the Great Lakes Psychology Group. Bill works out of GLPG’s office in Clinton Township, Michigan, where he counsels with children, adolescents and adults using family systems, EMDR, Mindfulness and sports psychology approaches. Bill is also a volunteer trainer and curriculum consultant for the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today educational program. Bill can be reached at bill.matt.GLPG@gmail.com.

Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Program Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

Mindfulness Shines A Light on Anger

by Margaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito Pons

margaretMargaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito retrato-gonzalo-argentinaPons, co-authored “The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook. Join them for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (MBEB) Teacher Training Intensive, April 9-15, 2017 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance is an empirically-supported 9-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness meditation and emotion training.

It’s such a shame to think of how often we deride ourselves, and each other, for being “emotional.” It’s like jumping on someone for breathing. Emotion is a process that is a vital part of being alive. As the pioneering psychologist of emotions Paul Ekman has said, emotion is a kind of rapid, automatic appraisal of what’s going on. It’s influenced by our evolutionary past as well as our personal past, such that when “we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring…a set of physiological changes and emotional behaviors begins to deal with the situation.”

You’ve been endowed with a nervous system that has evolved over thousands of generations in a way that you didn’t choose. By the time you actually realize that you have a mind and a brain, the basic rules of how they work are already in place. The events that trigger our emotional responses are sometimes universal and sometimes personal. Almost anyone would feel fear at the sight of an oncoming car, but only some of us are afraid of hiking down steep trails while others happily scramble down them like a mountain goat. The triggers that each of us carries with us often come from early childhood and can continue quite unconsciously into adulthood.

And opportunities for emotion abound. Remembering, talking about, or imagining a past emotional scene or thinking of future scenarios can trigger emotions. Observing another person’s emotions (even on a TV screen) can elicit an emotional response. Role playing or theater can elicit emotion; and so can seeing an event that offends our sensibilities, like someone talking on a cell phone at the symphony or throwing trash into the street.

One of our most potent emotions—whose inward and outward effects can have disastrous consequences—is anger. In evolutionary terms, its main adaptive function is to remove obstacles that thwart us. When we feel anger, it’s because the primitive brain is trying to tell us something needs to change. We share this emotion with other mammals and even with reptiles. Baby humans come already well equipped with the capacity to get angry. If you hold a baby by her arms from behind, preventing her from grabbing a toy, she will get pretty angry, furrowing her brow, tightening her muscles, trying to move forcefully to get the toy, and perhaps shouting with a squeaky voice. When the baby grows up, she can have an analogous reaction when someone cuts her off on the road, especially if she’s already late for an important meeting! Anger also shows up when you—or others you feel connected to—are treated unjustly, or when someone or something prevents you from meeting your goals and needs.

Regardless of what triggers them, emotional responses can be either functional or dysfunctional. If we automatically swerve from an oncoming car, the fear response is extremely functional. If we’re afraid to leave the house for fear something terrible will happen, we are now in a disorder that is on the very dysfunctional side of fear, a disorder that no doubt is being triggered by an imported script from past trauma.

Until around the 1970s, it was commonly believed that the nervous system was essentially fixed throughout adulthood; that brain functions remained constant and that it was impossible for new neurons to develop after birth. If you were born with a “glass half-empty” attitude, it would be a life-sentence of unhappiness. Neuroscience has changed all that with the concept of neuroplasticity, which suggests that, in reality, human brains are flexible and change through experience. Although there are some fixed rules about what minds and brains can do, it’s also true that there is a space of freedom to respond rather than react that can be cultivated through mindful observation and practice. And in that space, we have an opportunity to work creatively with the dysfunctional aspects and enhance the more functional aspects of our emotional life.

Consciously or not, we’re constantly training our minds and brains to respond to circumstances. By virtue of repetition, our reactions crystallize into emotional patterns and neural pathways, which, in turn, influence the way we perceive reality. This is particularly true when we’re in the grips of a strong emotion, which is sometimes called the refractory period, a period of time when we’re only able to take in information and evoke memories that confirm, maintain, or justify the emotion we are feeling. This same mechanism that guides and focuses our attention can also distort our ability to deal with both new information and knowledge already stored that does not match the current emotion. We can all think of countless examples when we have missed obvious cues or forgotten historical data when we were “blinded” by a strong emotion. It’s not called “blind rage” for nothing.

Blind and Blaming

MindfulnessBasedEmoBalanceWB-CF.inddAlthough it’s quite possible to get mad at ourselves, the energy of anger is generally directed outward and it’s often linked with blame. This tendency to blame, strike out, punish, and retaliate makes anger especially challenging to sit with, and a big source of interpersonal suffering. When we feel anger toward someone, our sense of “self” and “other” gets very solid. In this state, we exaggerate all the negative qualities of the other person and become blind to positive attributes, which in turn feeds the aversion. The complexity and nuance of the other is reduced to a monolithic negative cartoon called “the enemy.”

We often wonder why we’re angriest at those we’re closest to. For one thing, people who know us intimately also know what can hurt us the most. Someone said, “Your family knows how to push your buttons because they actually installed them.” But a less glib reason is that it tends to be safer to show anger to an intimate than to a stranger. You can express aggression to your partner when you’re actually mad at your boss, probably because it’s less likely your partner will fire you. We can be frustrated about ourselves but direct our anger outside. It’s uncanny that we can even get quite angry at inanimate objects—a door, a table, a wall, or a shoe.

And that very fact reveals something that illuminates what’s really happening: although it feels as if the source of anger is out there, the anger comes from within. Other people are just pretending to be the real enemies. In fact, it’s possible to see them as our “patience coaches,” offering us opportunities to explore and tame the anger habit. If everyone was nice and considerate, how could we train in patience, how could we learn to tame our anger?

There’s an old story about a man who was sailing his boat on clear and sunny day, when a dense fog rolled in. Just as he had decided to return to shore, he noticed the profile of another boat coming in his direction. “Keep your distance!” the boatman shouted, concerned about a possible collision. But the other boat just kept approaching. The boatman used all his skills to swiftly shift direction, so there was more room for the other boat. He got really upset when he saw that the other boat changed its own course, now coming directly to him. “Stay out of my way!” he shouted again, but the other boat just kept coming closer, until it finally crashed into his boat.

The man was enraged: “You idiot! What the hell are you doing?!” He got totally worked up and continued his rampage until the fog lifted enough so that he was able to see that the other boat was empty—it was just an old abandoned boat floating downstream. Now he was perplexed and frustrated: To whom could he express his anger? Could he project his anger onto an empty boat? Without a person to blame, it was impossible to keep the story of anger going.

Ask yourself: Do I ever get mad at “empty boats”? If so, where does this anger come from? Where does it go?

Becoming aware of the inner terrain of anger can be helpful in catching it sooner and sparing ourselves and others the hurt and regret that often ensue from acting out anger. To work with anger, we need to see the space between trigger and reaction in order to mindfully look within.

Door Number Four

Anger is tricky because there’s a cost both to showing anger and to suppressing it. Suppressing doesn’t actually solve anything. It only postpones having to deal with anger while it keeps quietly simmering under the surface, wreaking havoc with our bodies. But if we show it, almost invariably we either hurt others or provoke retaliation. Another common habit is unconsciously “feeding” the mind states of anger with our stories of blame and victimization, thereby reinforcing the anger habit.

It’s rare that therapists nowadays advise their clients to act out their anger with real or symbolic others (punching pillows, shouting loudly in an empty room, and so on), partially because brain science has demonstrated that each time anger is expressed it gets rehearsed and strengthened. The idea that if you let your anger out you will reach peace and calm is simply not true—the satisfaction of the discharge will invariably be transient relief. And the anger will be saying, “I’ll be back.”

Most of us know we can get a certain satisfaction or relief when we express aggression. There can be a seductive quality to the anger, and an adrenaline rush, and that’s why it can become a habit, even an addiction. Anger is like a fuel. When we get angry we can feel energized, stronger, bigger—picture an angry cat with a curved spine and raised hair, pretending to be bigger than it is to scare away what it’s actually scared of. However, anger isn’t a very efficient fuel, because it burns hot and costly. It can be quite polluting on the inside and outside, and it’s heavy and corrosive in the system.

Fortunately, there are other options besides the “three doors” of suppression, expression, and unconscious fueling. When insults or obstacles are perceived, it’s normal for an anger response to arise. It’s just our nature and evolutionary history at work. Though we may succeed in becoming angry less often, it will always be a part of our emotional lives and it is therefore critical to learn how to relate skillfully with this challenging energy. As soon as you remember that you’re not just a victim of your anger, that you can actually use it as a path of self-discovery, you can practice being present with the feeling of anger, connecting with it, and allowing its energy to arise and pass away without acting on it or suppressing it.

This is “door number four.”

Don’t underestimate the power of this simple method. As with mindfulness generally, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.

The capacity to work with anger mindfully is not a binary, either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t proposition. It’s a practice that builds gradually, strengthening the muscle of mindfulness in the face of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Instead of identifying with, rejecting, or being unaware of anger, we can learn to approach it with openness and curiosity, trusting that anger has something to teach us, and that this can be a very productive part of practice.

Anger is not a special problem getting in the way of mindfulness practice. It actually provides you with an exceptional opportunity to practice mindfulness, to open up when habit tells you to shut down, to connect with experience when habit makes you disconnect, and to question if the image you’ve constructed of yourself and others is as solid as it appears.

There’s a Cherokee story that captures the nature of anger beautifully. A boy tells his grandfather about his anger at a friend who had done him an injustice. His grandfather replies: “Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One wolf brings happiness. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. But the other wolf…ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

Training in mindfulness is remembering that every moment is an opportunity to practice peace, no matter the circumstances. Our thoughts, words, and actions are food for the wolves we all have inside. There’s no need for guilt when you notice you’re feeding the angry wolf (we all do this, and guilt won’t help). Instead, know that you have the freedom to learn from your experience and keep practicing with patience. Trust that it’s the small—often invisible—steps that take you forward.

MindfulnessBasedEmoBalanceWB-CF.inddMargaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito Pons, co-authored “The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook. Join them for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (MBEB) Teacher Training Intensive, April 9-15, 2017 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance is an empirically-supported 9-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness meditation and emotion training.

 

 

Being Mindful of Your Character Strengths: The mPEAK Program

by Pete Kirchmer

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Program Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

Using our personal strengths can enhance our mindfulness but mindfulness logo-mpeakcan also help us better use our strengths in life, work or sport. In the mPEAK program, participants become aware of how and when they are using their strengths and the results that they’re getting so that they can understand how to use them to the best effect.

The informal practice the mPEAK participants use is called “Strengths Spotting”which is the practice of purposefully bringing mindful attention to what strengths are working well in either their own performance or in the performance of others around them. When directed towards others, Strengths Spotting is a powerful practice for counteracting our evolutionarily inherited negativity bias and cultivating the ability to look for the positive rather than for what is annoying or broken.

According to Strength Researcher Alex Lindley, when we are practicing strength spotting with our co-workers, teammates or family, we attempt to name or label what it is about a person that shines. This can be done in conversation with someone you know but it can also be done while observing the way people interact from a distance. It requires us to take a deep and non-judgmental look at the people around us and ask the question of ourselves, “what does that person do well?”. Test it out for yourself and see what happens when you hold people in what humanist psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard” and choose to see them for their strengths rather than judge them for their weakness. Participants regularly report a greater sense of connection, empathy, compassion and report.

Bringing mindful awareness to our own strengths means paying closer attention to what we refer to in mPEAK as “PEAK Performance Events” and flow experiences. By waking up to the experiences of being “on” and then curiously mining those experiences for strengths, participants start learning how to further develop and refine their strengths as well as create more opportunities to use them.

According to the Center for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), Realize 2 Assessment, my own highest realized strengths are Mission, Growth, Self Awareness, Empathic Connection, Spotlight, Enabler and Listener. Each of these strengths has a direct positive impact on my commitment to mindfulness practice as well as how I show up in relationships, how I perform at the gym and in my work as a Life Coach. Again, strengths represent who we are when we’re at our best and there’s value in learning to leverage them to increase performance.

However for many who are already “high achievers”, the real growth opportunity lies not in continuing to embellish strengths but rather mindfully marshalling their use.

Strengths out of Balance

We’ve all heard the phrase, “your greatest strengths can be your greatest weaknesses.” Has that ever been true for you? Let’s take a look at how strengths can be both an asset and a liability to your performance, depending on how you use them. Here’s the description of someone, like me, who wields the CAPP strength of Spotlight. “You enjoy being the centre of attention. Whether in a meeting or in a social gathering, you naturally speak up and hold the floor. You like holding people’s interest and focus, and usually find this easy to do. You find that you can get people to listen to you and keep their attention – whatever else might be going on.”

With this strength I’ve been able to get up in front of teams and large organizations, facilitate workshops and give presentations to hundreds of skeptical strangers. Given that public speaking is generally a fear greater than death, I’d say this strength is generally serving me well. But it doesn’t always. There is a shadow side of being in the spotlight, as we know from the lives of movie stars and sports celebrities. Even at it’s worst, my Spotlight is hardly paparazzi worthy, but it has gotten me in enough trouble to warrant continual mindful management.

In my 20’s when my need for the spotlight was the strongest, I was attracted to dating girls whose strengths naturally included being a good audience to the “Pete Show”.  With all the charisma of a frat guy with a new philosophy fetish, I would dominate conversation on double dates and woo the crowds at dinner parties. While telling tales of wild adventure, sharing esoteric theories and violently flaunting my charm, my date and all other poor bystanders were inevitably left in the dust. When my strength of Spotlight was out of balance, there was no room for anyone else to show up and be heard. In the end, I learned the hard way that this is NOT the best strategy for making real connections.

Even a seemingly noble, ethically grounded strengths can be dangerous when out of balance. My strength of Mission has been a North Star guiding my personal practice and professional path as a coach over the years. A “man on a mission” is usually a desirable trait and exactly what’s needed to make real change in the world. But when the strength of Mission is overplayed in my life, everything else that doesn’t perfectly align or directly contribute to furthering my vision is neglected. This includes family, friends, significant others, finances, fun and upkeep of the home. I’ve found that a myopic pursuit of meaning and purpose can lead to isolation and frustration, not the higher performance we’re looking for.

In my many years as a coach I’ve worked with big hearted, compassionate animal lovers who’s strength out of balance lead her to adopt so many stray creatures she could no longer house them, afford to feed them or ever even consider leaving the house for a vacation. I’ve coached a fitness enthusiasts who’s self regulation out of balance constantly bordered on control freak, a single woman who’s fierce independence closed her down to receiving any kind of support from men and an interior decorator who’s attention to detail started showing up as OCD. With mindfulness, each of these people were able to become aware of what it felt like to use their strengths in and out of balance and gained the power to intentionally dial them up or dial them back to fit the circumstances…and this my friends is power.

Beginning to Work With Your Strengths

By now it’s pretty clear that mindfulness and strengths work together to enhance performance and create more opportunities for flow. If you’d like to explore how using strengths could support you along your path, follow these 4 steps:

1.     Discover Your Strengths. There are several strength assessments including the CAPP Realize 2, VIA Character, and the Clifton Strength Finder 2.0. You can also choose to do a self-evaluation by brainstorming what you see as your strengths or by doing a strengths interview and asking others who know you well.

2.     Practice Mindfulness of Strengths. Start intentionally becoming more aware of when and where you’re naturally using your strengths. Take note of the impact they have on your attitude and energy. You may also become aware of how they impact others around you.

3.     Apply Your Strengths. Start intentionally using your top strengths at work, in your relationships, and toward your personal goals.

4.     Manage Your Strengths. Mindfully monitor their use, making sure you don’t under or over play them.

logo-mpeak
3-Day Intensives mPEAK course Programs activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credits are available.

May 14-16, 2016 UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA

June 17-19, 2016 Brescia University College, London Ontario, Canada

 

 

 

June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

Mindfulness Training Leads to Important Changes in the Brains of World-Class BMX Cyclists

By Lori Haase, Ph.D.

mpeak-medals copyResearchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine who have been working with Olympic BMX cyclists to improve their athletic prowess have documented areas of the brain that appear to respond to mindfulness training. Specifically, recent results suggest that these peak performers were better able to appropriately anticipate challenges and found that they could remain focused and aware of their performance in the midst of the split-second stressors that arise in a BMX race that can be intense and often lasts for fewer than two minutes with multiple competitors vying for a place at the finish line. These results suggest that BMX performance may be enhanced through the regular practice of mindfulness meditation.

Reporting in a recent issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (abstact, full article) researchers show that a 8-week intensive mindfulness training course, known as mPEAK, altered the cyclists’ brain activity patterns in two performance-relevant ways:

As measured by fMRI activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula were enhanced during the anticipatory and recovery phases of a stress-provoking exercise. The ACC and insula are believed to play a strong role in interoception, the ability to sense bodily sensations such a heart rate and integrate them with external stimulation and emotional overlay.

“Prior to the test, their brains were ramping up for activity,” said first author Lori Haase, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We interpret this as meaning the athletes are anticipating the stress and getting ready for it.”

The second measurable change was an apparent reduction in the level of connectivity between posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and both the right medial frontal cortex and ACC, during the stress-evoking test, in which athletes were asked to breathe through a narrow straw that restricted air flow. The PCC is implicated in self-awareness and self-referential thoughts. A reduction in connectivity to this brain area is consistent with the idea that mindfulness training heightens a person’s awareness of bodily sensations, with less self-referential processing added to what is being experienced physically. “This can potentially help athlete stay present to their performance ,” Haase said.

Taken together, these results suggest that significant changes in the brain, directly related to performance in intense and physically demanding activities like BMX cycling or other athletic endeavors, can result from a relatively brief and focused program like the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness’ mPEAK course.

About The Author: Lori Haase is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and in addition to her clinical training, she is also a neuroscientist investigating the neural substrates of resilience and optimal performance and their modification through mindfulness training. Dr. Haase is Director, co-developer, and teacher of the Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness and Knowledge (mPEAK) program.​

Learn about the mPEAK 3-Day Intensive mPEAK program February 13-15, 2016  at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego, CA. Activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices. CE credits are available. Register here.

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. The next course starts in January 2016.

 

What Time is It? Inspiring a shift from tic-toc to lub-dub.

by Royan Kamyar

royanRoyan Kamyar, M.D., MBA is Founder and CEO of Owaves, a lifestyle medicine technology company based in Encinitas, CA producing software tools for wearable devices that inspire and motivate the next generation to engage in healthy lifestyle activities.  Royan has presented at TEDxUCSD and been quoted by Forbes, Reuters, FOX News, Xconomy, U-T San Diego and the San Diego Business Journal.  Royan earned his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, MBA at the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego, and BA and BS in Biochemistry and Business Administration at UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business.  He serves on the Formative Board of Directors for UC San Diego Center for MindfulnessMindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute and is an active member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Image Credit: Dadara

[Image Credit: Dadara]

Imagine a flowering plant. A baking cake. A rising stock price. A healing wound. Time passing can be a beautiful thing.

Why then does the cartoon above resonate so deeply with us? Is it our fear of mortality? Our never-ending list of to-do’s and things left undone that haunt us moment-to-moment? Are we as a culture, as a species, doomed to brood on the past, fear the future, and run away from the present?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies our sense of “time scarcity” as a leading source of stress in the United States — a primary cause of heart disease, our number one killer. Meanwhile, growing positive psychology research demonstrates the healing power of “being in the present.”

What if our relationship with time shifted? What if we began to view time as a source of inspiration instead of dread? What if each glance at the watch put us more “in the moment,” made us feel more focused, centered and alive? Few realize that our modern timekeeping system is fundamentally arbitrary. Hours, minutes and seconds have no home in cosmology, but rather the digits of our hands…

Technology is evolving as we speak to put smartphones on our wrists. The era of smartwatches with heart rate sensors and real-time monitoring systems is dawning upon us. With processing powers greater than the earliest mainframes and NASA spaceships embedded into our timepieces, we are no longer compelled to settle for a construct of time rooted in hand gestures, ropes and rocks. What if we, as a community of innovators and healers, took the first step in evolving our modern-day answer to the age-old question, “What time is it?”

Mindfulness & Innovations in Timekeeping

The mindfulness community actually has a long and storied track record of innovation in timekeeping, centered around spiritual observations, holidays, rites, rituals, meditation and prayer:

32,000 BCE – Cave art found in France and Germany depicts lunar and seasonal cycles of the “heavens”, representing the first known calendaring system. Its creators are believed to be astronomer-priests of the late Upper Paleolithic Cultures.

4,200 BCE — Ancient Egyptians calculate 365 days between alignments of the sun and Sopdet, goddess of Sirius the Dog Star, marking the Nile’s concurrent flooding and enrichment of the soil.

3,000 BCE — Stonehenge in modern-day England demarcates the annual winter and summer solstices, serving as burial grounds and a venue of ancestor worship and rituals.

2,400 BCE – The first known clocks are the shadow clocks or “obelisks” of ancient Egypt, erected by clerics in pairs at temple entrances for ritual observances.

2,100 BCE — Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians of the Middle East establish twelve phases of the moon, or “moonths”, per lunar calendar year. Holy days are declared on the first, seventh and fifteenth of each month.

1,000 BCE – Egyptian clerics develop water clocks or “clepsydras” to continue tracking proper timing of rituals throughout the night, i.e. in the absence of sun and shadows.

100 BCE – Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhist monks advance incense timers to replace the more flammable and inaccurate candle clocks of the day. Utilizing various scents, one smells the time change.

1200-1300 AD — Benedictine Monks of Western Europe become the first clockmakers of the region and create the mechanical clock. Adding weights and escapements to water clocks automates ringing of the communal prayer bell.

1582 AD — To more accurately celebrate Easter in its relation to the March equinox, Pope Gregory XIII spearheads the Gregorian Calendar widely used today. The Gregorian Calendar arrives closer to the tropical or “solar” year than the preceding Julian Calendar.

The Origins of Tic-Toc

The divisions of years, months and days are rooted in cosmological events and account for consistent measurements across disconnected cultures. Subdivisions of weeks, hours, minutes and seconds, however, are largely arbitrary and varied more greatly throughout history.

Weeks, for example have seen lengths of 3 to 13 days depending on prevailing leadership. Decisions usually hinged on what was deemed a reasonable workweek as per autocrat or religious text, i.e. “… on the seventh day he rested.” Papal States used six hour days as recently as the 1800’s with 6 o’clock pointing fixedly to sunset, and the Japanese had a twelve hour system with intervals that varied in length according to the season. Decimal time was used by China throughout most of its history dating back to 1000 BCE, was espoused by the French Revolutionary thinkers of the late 1700’s and resurfaced in 1998 when the Switzerland-based Swatch company proposed “Internet Time” of 1000 beats per day.

The sexagesimal system which lies at the heart of our modern-day “tic-toc” was similarly devised for convenience, not derived from scientific fact or basic principles. The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used sixty as a mathematical base due to its ease of counting with two hands. Each finger segment on one hand represented a number one through twelve demarcated by the thumb, and each digit of the other hand represented a multiplier. Multiplying twelve finger segments by five digits provided a max count of sixty. The number sixty is also considered a “superior highly composite number” in mathematics, meaning it is easily divisible and lends itself well to fractions.

hands

[Image Credit: Ministry of Education, Brazil]

The Problems with Tic-Toc

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn presents a valuable anecdote from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in his manuscript Full Catastrophe Living:

Linda described feeling as if a large truck were always right on her heels, driving just faster than she can walk. It was an image people could relate to; the vividness of it sent a wave of acknowledging nods and smiles through the room…

Her mind was the truck. It was always right behind her, pushing her, driving her, allowing her no rest, no peace.

In the modern age, feeling overwhelmed and out-of-sync is an increasingly common experience. Heart disease is real, heart attacks are real, and the CDC sobers us with the knowledge that this “time scarcity” mentality is a chronic stressor.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that one of the central tenets of mindfulness-based stress reduction is to encourage patients to adopt the present moment. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn explains:

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

The ancient Greeks embraced two definitions of time to help carry this distinction. “Chronos” was used to discuss chronological or sequential concepts of time, with which we are most familiar and tic-toc describes quite well. “Kairos”, on the other hand, translates to the “eternal moment” in which everything actually happens. This latter concept is missing from our current communication of time and resonates with Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s teaching.

Among pools of evidence collecting around the importance of present moment awareness, Science published a Harvard study in 2010 demonstrating a link between “mind-wandering” and mental health. Over 250,000 data points from 2,250 subjects between the ages of 18 and 88 shows our minds are focused on the past or future 46.9% of the day, leading directly to poor mood. As summarized by study co-author psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

The tic-toc almost by definition puts us in a sequential frame of mind rather than in the moment. This shift first took hold in the Western world during the Middle Ages with the spread of the mechanical clock. Benedictine Monks lived ascetic lives centered on punctual communal prayer six to seven times per day. Bells (Celtic = clocca or “clock”) were rung manually to inform the community of established timetables. By adding weights and escapements to water clocks, a bell could be rung automatically without requiring a brother present, and more dependably as well.

As the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association notes:

Time no longer flowed like water through a clepsydra — it ticked. It was no longer a seamless continuum, but a succession of short periods.

The streaming of water, passing of a shadow or burning of a flame became replaced by the now familiar “tic-toc”. With the dawning of the Industrial Revolution and mass scaling of clock and watch production, “dollar watches” put everyone in a mechanical state-of-mind and helped synchronize the workforce. Time became money as factories calculated hours worked as key labor costs and employees as wages. As per American historian Lewis Mumford, “… the archetypal model for the industrial era was the clock.”

The tic-toc represented a major departure from cosmological cues for the average person organizing her or his day, as the sundial became officially obsolete in the 1800’s. Perhaps the greatest divorce came more recently with the International Committee for Weights and Measures decision to re-define the second in 1967. A “second” no longer represents an arbitrary fraction of Earth’s rotation around the Sun, but rather:

9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133-atom.

While this advances our computer networking capabilities and satellite communications, the tightening of our “tic-toc” does not necessarily serve to heal our emotional relationship with time. In fact, the focus by such governing bodies on the physics and engineering components of time misses the human implications that actually define it.

Within some of our lifetimes, Albert Einstein brought forward the general theory of relativity, which proved without a doubt that a second for you is not the same as a second for me:

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

Our speed, our culture, our circumstances, our environment, our climate, our neighbor, our mindspace all dramatically impact our individual perceptions of time. Further, Einstein’s contributions to quantum mechanics helped show the existence of time actually depends on our perceptions of it. No consciousness, no time. So these changes in perception that we feel and experience on a regular basis are not simply novelties or asides in the calculations of time, but real occurrences that get neglected in our current approach.

In the 1950’s, University of Minnesota biologist Franz Halberg coined the term “circadian” (Latin = around a day). Known as the “godfather of chronobiology,” he helped establish a fundamental, evolutionary relationship between our biology and time. We now know that every cell in our body, down to the DNA level, has some “awareness” of (or dependency on) the time of day. This is true for virtually every known organism, even those that are single-celled.

The implications of these “circadian rhythms”, or physiological patterns dictated by the rise and fall of the sun, are both broad and deep. Recent research encouraged the World Health Organization to label night-shift work as a “probable carcinogen”, in the same class as UV radiation, due to its devastating impact on circadian rhythms. Poor circadian rhythms are also linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and mental health disorders. Our 24/7, hyper-connected, always-on smartphone culture makes the bulk of us “social-shift workers,” exposed to blue light late into the night… and shifting our hormones into dangerous patterns.

circadian

Why then has nothing changed? Does our new subjective, dynamic definition of time, no longer static and mechanical, not change the underlying formula? Does the realization that our biology has a fundamental, natural and overarching relationship with time not beg us to re-evaluate why this is not factored into the perennial question, “What time is it?”

Introducing Lub-Dub

The arbitrariness of our current timekeeping method, combined with the facts that it is out-of-date and fosters a stressful mindset, presents us with a wide-open opportunity to improve. Coupling our evolved understanding of time with modern needs and the latest technologies, perhaps we can imagine a way to re-define the concept so that it better serves our bodies, hearts and minds.

Consider your daily routine. It might look a lot like this: wake up, meditate, eat breakfast, drive to work, work, eat lunch, go for a walk, work some more, drive home, cook dinner, spend time with family, relax and read a book, go to sleep. What is the optimal way to get you from one “daily milestone” to the next? When you realize the bulk of these milestones don’t generally change from one 24-hour block to the next, you begin to sense there might be a better way to organize and track your day.

Peter Galison, physics professor, historian and philosopher at Harvard University defines clocks accordingly:

We’re always looking for things that repeat, over and over again… and that repetition, that cycle of things, forms a clock. That’s all time becomes, is some repetitive process.

So since my daily activity patterns generally repeat from one day to the next, what if they became my “tic” and my “toc”? So my cadence became linked to “breakfast time” and “exercise time” rather than some mechanical, arbitrary construct that lies beneath it? In essence, I become my clock. Lub-dub.

What we can imagine is a shift from a quantitative, mathematical and mechanical view of time towards a more heartful, experiential and soulful view of time — one that makes sense on an emotional and psychological level.

Amazingly, this approach has a biological basis as well. In his study of circadian rhythms, Dr. Aschoff also coined the term “zeitgeber”, German for “time giver” or “synchronizer. ” The zeitgeber is any external or environmental cue that “entrains” or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to Earth’s 24 hour light/dark cycle and twelve month orbit.

Decades of chronobiology research tells us that these same types of intuitive markers for progression of the day, or daily milestones outlined above, are in fact biological zeitgebers. Meals, exercise, and socializing each play a role in establishing our cyclical physiological relationship with the solar environment. This has implications for: our sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, patterns of hormone secretion, blood pressure, digestive secretions, levels of alertness, mood and reaction times just to name a few.

brain

[Image Credit: Nature Reviews Neurology]

Timothy Monk, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute summarizes the value of this framework well:

Circadian rhythms are driven by endogenous processes, are self-sustaining, and rely upon circadian time cues (zeitgebers) to remain appropriately oriented to the individual’s environment and desired routine. The gold-standard measures of human circadian rhythms have been core body temperature and salivary or plasma melatonin levels. However, one can also make the case that the behavioral circadian rhythms related to the timing of sleep, meals, work and social interactions are just as valid circadian rhythms as the physiological ones. Moreover, these are the rhythms most salient to the individual himself or herself.

An additional “bonus” of shifting to this type of intuitive, biologically-based system is that these same behaviors — nutrition, sleep, exercise and socializing — are deemed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to be the fundamental building blocks of a long, healthy life. Also called “lifestyle vital signs,” measuring and monitoring these parameters might be more meaningful in predicting long-term morbidity and mortality than the traditional set of vital signs for current and future generations (due to an overall shift from acute to chronic and preventable disease). Following the age-old adage that you cannot manage what you do not measure, taking these health fundamentals into account would help prevent and treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and more.

For example, we know that heart attacks are most likely to occur shortly after dawn due to concurrent rises in blood pressure and cortisol levels. We also know they are more likely to occur at the beginning of the workweek, when stress from anticipating future events reaches its peak. What if your timekeeping tools took this knowledge into account, and helped you time activities accordingly? Perhaps optimizing algorithms to discourage Monday AM work meetings when possible? Or suggesting stress-reducing sounds or images during these times? Something as simple as a picture of a loved one, left in ambient view on your wristwatch at the right time, might go a long way in dipping your odds for a cardiac event.

CFM OWAVES

[Image Credit: Owaves]

Now time becomes something we can control, name, juggle, design, manipulate and relate to according to our personal biology, desires and needs. Granted, a universal timekeeping system would always need to lie at its base. Meeting times must be coordinated and train crashes prevented. And yet, analogous to “personalized medicine”, we can evolve or grow from this generalized base to create a truly individualized and relevant concept of time that inspires and heals rather than stresses and reduces.

Commonly in mindfulness courses today, we are taught that certain external stressors cannot be changed, and are best addressed by mobilizing our internal resources to better respond and adapt to our environment. Yet our maligned relationship with time seems to be universal and we know now, increasingly, that our historical perspective of time is incomplete, arbitrary and malleable. Perhaps we should learn from the mindfulness leaders of millennia ago, and play an active, creative role with regard to understanding, communicating and measuring time.

As we speak, physicists and engineers continue to develop incredible methods for fine-tuning existing calculations of timekeeping tools to better run the machines of the world. I propose it is our duty, as a community of healers and innovators, to ensure that human health and well-being is plugged more squarely into the equation.

Continue to explore the Mindfulness courses presented at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Registration is open for our local 8-Week Mindfulness programs along with our Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Programs that are held in various locations in North America.

 

The Soul of Mindfulness

Written February 19, 2015 by Pete Kirchmer.

Pete Kirchmer CPCC

Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

The Meditative Experience

I can still recall one of my first experiences at a meditation course. The instructor sat nobly on stage dressed in flowing white clothing that I imagined he’d bought near the Ganges during pilgrimage in India. He recounted vivid experiences he’d had while in deep meditation, dancing with Krishna on the tongue of the Buddha. Energy flowing and vibrating down his spine. Chakra’s whirling and glowing; he was one with the Divine Mother, in a state of pure bliss. I recall being inspired and even a bit jealous at this man’s deep inner journey. A fire had been lit inside me and I knew that it was my turn to visit these magical, meditative realms. Sitting upright with dignity on my meditation cushion, I was fully committed to repeating my special mantra, over and over again, confident in it’s powers to elevate my soul.  But after twenty minutes of diligence, there were no dancing deities, vibrating energy or elevated soul. My back hurt, my knees ached and the only state of consciousness I managed to reach was one of agitation and exhaustion.

After nearly a decade of meditation practice, I’m comfortable admitting that I’ve still never danced on the tongue of the Buddha, nor do I imagine I ever will. My back and knees still sometimes hurt but I’m no longer all that agitated by it. I’m actually agitated by far less these days, which is one of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.

There are many traditions and styles of meditation, each with their own practices, intentions and aspirations. There are forms that use Mantras, Mudras, Yantras, and Mandhalas. You can meditate with gongs and crystal bowls, chanting, singing and in silence. Some forms of meditation are to express devotion or prayer, others are seeking transcendence and expansion. All are beautiful and all are beneficial. From the buffet of traditions now available to us in the west, mindfulness meditation is the practice that has called to me. It’s simple yet deep and seeks nothing but a clear experience of what’s already happening in the present moment. It’s nothing special and at the same time, infinitely magical.

Evidence Based Practice

Part of the reasons mindfulness has so successfully integrated into medicine, academics, corporations and government is because it’s incredibly inclusive, accessible and easily integrated into everyday life.  Although Mindfulness practice has its roots in Buddhism, the modern day Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBI’s) have intentionally dropped the cultural and historical baggage of religious mythology and tradition. Some say it’s “Buddhism without the Buddha”. Mindfulness is now often described as an integration of Eastern Philosophy and Western Psychology, supported by Neuroscience (referred to as, “Neuro Dharma”). Given the absence of any language or teaching that would offend or exclude anyone’s beliefs, it’s becoming an appealing practice for people of all religions and atheists alike.  There have now been thousands of research articles published on the various benefits of mindfulness from improving health & wellbeing, decreasing pain, depression and anxiety, improving attention and memory, decreasing stress and burnout, enhancing relationships, and improved performance in life, work and sport.

Has Modern Mindfulness Sold it’s Soul?

“As the history of Buddhism shows, it is a process of continual reformation in accordance with the present needs of those in front of us.”

-Edel Maex, Zen Psychiatrist

Like an Indie Rock band that’s gone mainstream, many question and even criticize the “Mindfulness Revolution” for it’s new trendiness and quickly increasing popularity. The concern is that without the context of Buddhism, modern mindfulness will lose it’s ethical framework and it’s true ability to heal and liberate. Traditionally the intention for practicing mindfulness was to end suffering and awaken to the true nature of reality. There are precepts around not harming or stealing and there is a path laid out for right living. Some fear that excluding these domains of practice will reduce mindfulness to a technique that could be used for say, training Military marksmen to focus on their targets. Or for pacifying the corporate masses so they continue to be overworked with less absenteeism or the health insurance burdens of chronic stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Although Buddhism doesn’t directly teach the existence of an eternal soul the way other religions might, it’s far from “soul-less”. It’s true that on occasion modern forms of mindfulness have strayed from the path, becoming myopic, watered down and over hyped, leading to the new and catch label, “McMindfulness”.  But from my perspective, much of modern mindfulness has actually successfully maintained the richness of the tradition while being “re-contextualized” from it’s Buddhist origin to better meet the needs of our culture. While on retreat at Mt. Madonna Center I had the opportunity to have lunch with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness. Cramming as many questions as possible into our short time together, I hastily made a comment about his course, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as being “Secular Mindfulness”.  He quickly corrected me by making the distinction, “MBSR is not secular, it’s non-dual.” I then understood that the MBSR approach to mindfulness is not overtly “spiritual”, but it’s also not, “non-spiritual.”

Later in the retreat, Jon Kabat-Zinn warned all of us Mindfulness Teachers in training against a limited view of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is not a technique”, he said with firmness, “Mindfulness is a way of being”. It is in this particular “way of being” that we find the soul of mindfulness. As Kabat-Zinn explains, the Asian word for mind and the word for heart are the same. “Hearing Mindfulness without the Heartfulness is a misunderstanding and will lead us to mistaking it for a purely cognitive exercise.” Ethics, although not directly taught, are imbedded into and cannot be separated from a true understanding of mindfulness.

The Soul of Mindfulness

Students of mindfulness meditation are taught to rest in a non-conceptual knowing that comes before thinking, which we may refer to as “awareness”. This awareness is not purely objective but rather has the inherent quality of loving-kindness. Sounds, sensations, sights, and smells as well as mental objects such as thoughts, feelings and sensations all arise and are held gently in this “kind awareness”. This awareness is open and spacious, accepting and inviting. It is our innate goodness; it’s infinite and boundless, indefinable and knowable only through direct experience. Trying to use thought to understand awareness is said to be like trying to use a flashlight to find the source of the flashlights light. As you wave the light around the dark room it could only fall on objects but never illuminate the source.

Although profound and maybe even abstract sounding for those who’ve never practiced, this “kind awareness” that is the heart of mindfulness is actually quite utilitarian in it’s application to everyday life. It’s not reserved for advanced mediators with completely silent minds or limited to formal periods of meditation, in the morning on your special cushion. You can directly experience this “heartfulness” the next time you face something challenging in your life- however big or small.

We are conditioned to react to stressful events by automatically fighting or fleeing. Blaming, criticizing, “shoulding”, or numbing out, denying and repressing are some of our most common reactions. In these moments you can wake up to feeling the grip and contraction of stress in your body. Rather than going into your reflexive habit, you can pause, take a few breaths and allow whatever is happening to happen, without judging it. You can choose to stay with your fears rather than abandoning yourself, noticing how the thoughts come and go and how the body eventually begins to soften. Allowing life to unfold the way it is rather than resisting it, is actually a radical act of mindful self-compassion. Holding our small, conditioned selves in the light of this infinite, kind awareness is the catalyst for healing and transformation.

Although we may or may not find ourselves during mindfulness meditation, dancing with Shiva and radiating pure white light, we may eventually come to see that the whole of our lives is made up of an ever-changing present moment experience of our senses and self concepts, all arising in this vast, spacious, kind awareness. And if this realization allows us to become more grateful for this precious life, more gentle with ourselves and more compassionate to others, what could possibly be more soul-full than that?

logo-mpeakYou are invited to join and learn with Pete at our next mPEAK trainings. mPEAK is a cutting-edge training program for those seeking new levels of performance and success in their work, sport, or other challenging endeavors. mPEAK is built around the latest brain research related to peak performance, resilience, focus, and“flow”. The mPEAK program enhances mindfulness through established and empirically supported practices and exercises, tailored to fit the needs and desires of the team or individual.

Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credts are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.

 

Linking Mindfulness and Peak Performance

by Pete Kirchmer

mPEAK Flow

“Performance Enhancement” is a popular goal in my line of work that is typically associated with the supplement industry or return on investment (ROI) business strategies. Images are conjured up of competitive athletes in bright lycra crossing finish lines, a lone climber sumiting a mountain with ice picks or people in suits shaking hands on big business deals. This is in stark contrast to images that come to mind when thinking about “mindfulness”. This ancient wisdom tradition inspires peaceful images of stacked stones, Zen gardens and people sitting with serene posture on beaches at sunset. So how exactly does Mindfulness fit with Performance Enhancement? Although seemingly opposites, research with the US Olympic BMX Cycling Team suggests that mindfulness practice actually has a lot to contribute to those aspiring to enhance their performance; and it’s not all beaches and sunsets.

logo-mpeakCorporate leaders, extreme sports enthusiasts and everyday people who are looking for a competitive edge have been flocking to mindfulness training programs such as mPEAK, to help them cultivate presence, resilience and emotional regulation for greater success in work, sport and life. As a Mindfulness Based Health Coach I’ve been exploring this link between mindfulness and performance with my clients for the last decade. The path to improving performance is not always a straight one but there are several consistent themes that have emerged in my work.

Presence & Flow

When all of life’s circumstances align and conditions are just right; meaning you’re engaged in an inspiring and novel activity, you’re being challenged but feel competent and there is a degree of risk involved, you’re granted access to a deep state of presence called “flow”. According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow, also known as “The Zone”, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. But how often does life offer us this perfect set of circumstances? When was the last time you found yourself in a state of flow? Occasionally you might find yourself naturally engaged in conversation, attentive to a project, deeply immersed in a book, hobby or sport. But what I’ve found in my practice is that people more often default into a state of distraction; they’re lost in thought, zoned out, ruminating, and mindless. In this state, peak performance and enjoyment are unavailable.

Luckily, it’s not necessary to passively wait for the perfect storm of conditions before you find yourself in flow. The specific mindfulness practices I teach my clients offers access to the present moment no matter what the external circumstances. With a blend of focused concentration, physical embodiment and a sense of allowing things to be as they are, mindfulness is a necessary and powerful precursor to experiencing flow. My clients and the participants of the mPEAK program are challenged to bring a sense of curiosity and a “beginners mind” to every moment, expanding the possibilities of experiencing flow in the high performance activities they’re involved in as well as in every day situations.

Emotional Regulation & Resilience

mPEAK Tour BikersMost of the people who seek my coaching are already pretty good at what they do and have had their fair share of successes. Their strengths and skills have gotten them far, but still they have a sense that something is holding them back from performing at their peak potential. Does this sound like you? There are times when it’s all coming together; you’re making consistent progress and seeing gains but then all of a sudden…SMACK! Life happens, right? You fumble the ball, pull a hamstring, miss a deadline, blow a deal, or worse. To add insult to injury, perhaps your temper flares and you say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Or maybe your pattern is to shut down and spiral into self-defeating thoughts. If so, you’re hardly alone; this happens to everyone at some point whether you’re a pro athlete or even a mindfulness professional! The reason we react to challenges this way is that our brain interprets these setbacks as a threat to our survival, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s fight/ flight reaction. With adrenaline and cortisol running through the veins; anger, blame, self-criticism and escapism are automatic, habitual reactions. These unconscious stress-driven reactions make the initial problem exponentially worse and lead to lower self confidence and higher stress levels.

What I’ve found is that life, work and sport will all offer consistent challenges but what separates the high performers from the rest, is how we respond to these challenges. For instance the best thing that ever happened for my sport and life was to rupture a disc in my lower back. You see, before facing the possibility of never running again, I took this body for granted. It wasn’t until I was faced with the pain of losing my identity as an athlete that I really began to understand what a gift it is to freely move and lift and play. Rather than let it stop me, this challenge eventually inspired me to levels of performance that far exceeded my original state. I’ve had clients with similar experiences of transformation after big events such as facing the loss of a business or a marriage. With a perspective based in mindfulness and self-compassion, these challenges can serve as the bell to finally awaken to our lives and our purpose.

In my practice, I’ve seen time and time again how mindfulness practice can lead to greater awareness of potential obstacles as well as more skillful decision-making; so the frequency of life smacking you down becomes less. And when life does inevitably deal you a rough hand, these practices can help you respond more skillfully, get up faster, turn challenges into practice opportunities and ultimately do less harm to yourself and others.

As the lead trainer of the upcoming 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March, I’ll be teaching high performers from around the country how to pause and maintain a centered, balanced perspective and find resilience even in the face of challenges. With these new capacities for resilience and access to flow states, participants can begin to perform more consistently at their peak potential.

If you’re ready to sign up for the 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March please click here. If you have any questions regarding the mPEAK program, please contact me at mpeak@ucsd.edu.

Perhaps someday in the future, when we think of mindfulness we’ll imagine athletes in uniform sitting with serene posture on playing fields and people in suits pausing silently before meetings. The more research that emerges, the more obvious it becomes that Mindfulness and Performance are truly on the same team.

peter_kirchmerPete Kirchmer is a lead trainer in the the mPEAK program designed and developed at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. He is founder of Mindfulness Based Health and specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. Pete has completed training as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher through the UMass Oasis Inst., holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through the Coaches Training institute, Center for Applied Positive Psychology and Wellcoaches. Currently Pete has a private coaching practice with clients around the country.  He is a regular presenter at Rancho La Puerta, a world-class wellness resort in Tecate, Mexico, is an active member of the Harvard Institute for Coaching and is on the Board of Directors for the Encinitas Mindfulness Community. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

 

Conference Keynote Speaker Daniel J. Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist, on Why Our Teenagers Feel Compelled to Connect on Social Media

by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. republished from The Huffington Post , Dec. 30, 2013

n-TEENS-TEXTING-large570

bridgingTile_forUCSDWe are inviting you to start the new year by reading this insightful post on the effects of social media from Dr. Daniel Siegel  (author of the forthcoming book (Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain). Hear, see, and meet him at this year’s Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference! Dan will offer a keynote talk on Saturday afternoon following the regular sessions. The general public will be able to purchase tickets to hear his talk, and attendance will be free for conference registrants.

In these fast and furious days of digital overload, we parents often worry about our teenagers’ interactions with one another on social media. Who hasn’t seen a teenager deeply absorbed with a smartphone or breaking off a face-to-face conversation to take a picture for their friends on Snapchat? With heads down and screens lit up, watching our teens plug in can feel confusing, disappointing and even like rejection to us.

It can, however, be helpful to realize that the teen years are a time of incredibly important brain changes. Changes that drive an adolescent to turn toward peers rather than to the parents they leaned on for support during their childhood years.

In one way, it’s simply evolution: Throughout history, adolescents banded together to find safety in numbers as they moved out into the world, a world that was unfamiliar, uncertain and unsafe.

That world remains risky, even with all the advantages that modern gadgets provide us to map out our routes and pinpoint our coordinates. But to leave home and feel safe, we need to belong to other teens on the same journey. As teenagers, we are compelled to turn towards one another.

In order to get ready to leave the home nest, adolescents seek out membership in groups of other adolescents in order not only to feel good, but to survive. And feeling connected to others doesn’t just seem crucial to contemporary teenagers. In fact, the very engrained genetic programming of our brains gives us a feeling that connection is a matter of life and death.

Understandably then, social media can become a modern medium of connection that is deeply compelling for adolescents.

Here’s the great news: Social media provides a way for our evolved (and evolving) teenagers to find that connection in one another. That’s because social media actually provides the opportunity for creating relationships, and even can promote more face-to-face time.

Our traveling son, headed out to a new country without any contacts, checked on Facebook and found some college classmates headed to exactly the same town — with a spare room in their rented apartment! Years ago, when we traveled, such a connection would have been impossible to create.

While this medium may not be right for all teens, especially those with social challenges like anxiety, phobia or communication difficulties such as those on the autistic spectrum, some studies suggest that social media actually enhances positive relationships in adolescence — as it did for our son. And these relationships not only influence us, supportive relationships actually create health in our lives. Isn’t that something we all want for our adolescents? (And, yes, for ourselves too!)

Indeed, many of the changes in the remodeling adolescent brain can be seen to support a drive to explore novelty and to take risks, just like it encourages teenagers to make and sustain social connections. These adolescent changes are not signs of immaturity, but signs of preparation.

The emotional spark and social engagement, the novelty seeking, the courage and creativity of adolescence all have downsides and upsides, but the essence of these changes is to prepare for the transition between childhood dependence and adult responsibility. And social media may just be a modern means to make us become more deeply social and even more fulfilled in our lives.

Instead of viewing their behavior as impulsive or irresponsible, we can now see the adolescent period as one of wonderful transformation, of needed exploration of a new and changing world. The key is how to best make these vital means of social connection deeper, more meaningful and more likely to cultivate a sense of well-being in all our lives.

In the Wisdom 2.0 meeting held in Northern California each year, these are the very issues we toss around in our in-person meetings. You should see the pre-meeting buzz on social media channels that gets us all connected and primed to engage with each other face-to-face!

Together, we can cultivate a new conversation in our culture about how to make the most of these channels of communication, our collective effort to create media with meaning.

Brainstorm_Cover_LGLearn more about ways to communicate with your teen in Dan’s new book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain available on January 7, 2014.

Like Dr. Dan Siegel on Facebook
Follow @DrDanSiegel on Twitter (#Brainstorm)

“Bridging” Conference Keynote Speaker Daniel J. Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist, on the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

by Molly Petrilla republished from Smart Planet, Dec.7, 2013

Photo: Son of Groucho/Flickr

Group of Teens

Siegel unravels the courage and creativity of adolescents — and reveals that teens are both impulsive and hyper-rational.

Teenagers don’t have the best reputation. They’re often called reckless and immature or written off as self-obsessed adult-haters. But as neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel watched his own kids make their way through adolescence, something occurred to him: This was nothing like all those pop-culture stereotypes.

When he couldn’t find a book written for adolescents about the changes happening in their brains, Siegel decided to write his own. He began looking into the science behind the teenage brain and “I was shocked to find the disparity between what science was saying and what popular views of adolescence are,” he says. “Then I thought, maybe this book should be for adults, too.”

The result was Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, which will be released later this month and is aimed at both teenage and adult readers. Several weeks before its publication date, the book was already ranked the second highest-selling book in Amazon’s parenting-of-teenagers subcategory — but Siegel is no stranger to bestsellers. A psychiatry professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, he has already written several of them, including The Developing Mind and The Whole-Brain Child.

He recently spoke with us about the brain during adolescence — a period that spans ages 12 to 24 — and explained why he says, with complete confidence, that “the reason we’ve populated every aspect of the planet is because of the courage of adolescents.”

Taking the second half of your subtitle first: What is the purpose of the teenage brain?

DrDanSiegelDr. Dan Siegel (James Reese)

Going from the dependency of childhood to the responsibility of adulthood requires not just a leap, but a transformation. The brain needs a transformative time to prepare for that. At a species level, for us to adapt to everyone on the planet, you can’t just accept what the current adult population has learned and transmitted to you in your childhood. You’ve got to push away from that and start thinking in new ways. For the individual, at a very basic level, there need to be changes in the brain that allow you to leave home and start changing out the combinations of genes so we diversify the gene pool. If you remain in the role of dependent child, you’ll never figure out how to approach dangers and challenges while you’re doing all this. It’s a time where you have to court danger and take risks so you’re ready for adulthood.

In Brainstorm you talk about four major aspects of the teenage brain, all of which seem geared toward those broader purposes. What are those aspects?

I love acronyms, and I call this one ESSENCE. ES is emotional spark. The lower parts of the nervous system rise up and affect the higher part of the brain — the cortex — which gives us this passion and vitality. The SE is social engagement. The brain is literally programmed to start having you turn to your peers rather than your parents and engage socially with your peer group. The brain’s change in dopamine drives you to experience novelty [N] as very rewarding, and that allows you to go out and take risks. And CE is creative expression. The brain is achieving new levels of complexity that open the mind up to creatively exploring the nature of reality in a new way.

Digging into that last one, you write that adolescence is “a golden age for innovation” and “the gateway to creative thinking.” Why is that?

When adolescence comes, we’re programmed from an evolutionary point of view to push away from the status quo. In concrete terms, we push away from our parents and parent figures. But from a more abstract sense, we start imagining the worlds that don’t quite exist yet. Those are the sources of creativity: this push against what exists to not only think out of the box but to actually re-imagine the world. If you look at the data even in science, which is a hard field, a lot of the new ideas come from people in their adolescence. That’s true in art and music, too, and obviously in technology.

How does ESSENCE apply to adults? Is it something we can hold on to through life, or at least reclaim now that we know about it?

The ESSENCE of adolescence is something you don’t ever have to let go of, but if you have and now you need to reclaim it, there are things you can do. To get your emotional spark back, I would suggest using mind-training practices to enhance your awareness of non-verbal signals that arise from your body. You also get used to the familiar and the routine as an adult. To bring back novelty, simply try new things; introduce new things into your life on purpose.

You also write that it’s inaccurate to dismiss adolescents as simply impulsive. In fact, you say that they can actually be too rational when making risky decisions.

The research term is hyper-rational thinking. It’s related to the idea that the appraisal centers of your brain highlight and emphasize and amplify the meaning and significance and import of a positive aspect of an experience. If I’m going to drive a car 100 miles an hour, it would be how thrilling that will be. The potential cons — I could crash into a tree, I could kill someone, I could kill myself — are minimized. When you hyper-rationally do your calculation, you say that the chances are very likely everything will be fine. There may be a five percent chance I’ll crash but a 95 percent chance I won’t. Sadly, the hyper-rational thinking accurately assess probabilities, but it de-emphasizes the severity of the negative outcome, simply because there’s only a slight chance it will happen.

What are some of the other major myths you discovered about adolescence?

One is that to grow up, adolescents need to be totally independent of adults. In fact, adolescents need adults in their lives. We don’t have much in the structure of modern society that provides trusted, non-parental adult figures that the adolescent — whose brain is naturally pushing away from parent figures — can turn to during this transformative period of life. We need to rethink that as a society.

I also disagree with the belief that adolescence is this horrible time of life that you just have to get through. I think the courage to creatively explore the world is an untapped resource for humanity. If we don’t work together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with the help of adolescent minds, then we’re not going to do so well.

Is there something that still puzzles you about the teenage brain, even after writing a book about it?

So many things! Mostly there are fundamental questions about how we can reach individuals entering the adolescent period to minimize danger to themselves or others. We need to really think deeply about how to develop communities of support for teens.

bridging2014badge

The 2014 Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference is pleased to announce the welcome addition of Dr. Daniel Siegel (author of the forthcoming book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain). Dan will offer a keynote talk on Saturday afternoon following the regular sessions. The general public will be able to purchase tickets to hear his talk, and attendance will be free for conference registrants.

Can self-compassion improve through mindfulness?

This post originally appeared on the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) blog, and is written by Ruth Buczynski, PhD

You shouldn’t kick yourself when you’re down . . .

. . . but sometimes it’s hard not to. Even if we’re compassionate toward others, we can still be our own worst critics. Mindfulness meditation really works. And self-compassion is one of its key benefits.

Kristen Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas-Austin, and Christopher Germer, PhD, from Harvard Medical School, wanted to find out whether self-compassion could be developed through training.

Mindfulness meditation and self-compassionDrs. Neff and Germer randomly assigned 54 people to either an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program or a waitlist control. The MSC program combined weekly 2-hour meetings with homework and a half-day meditation retreat. The program began with an explanation of what self-compassion is, and incorporated both formal and informal mindfulness practices.

Before the program, participants completed surveys to measure self-compassion, mindfulness, and other internal states. They took the same surveys immediately after the program’s completion, and then 6 months later as a follow-up. And, as it turns out, Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer have good news for people who’d like to develop self-compassion.

After taking the program, participants reported significantly greater gains in self-compassion, along with mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction when compared with the control group. What’s more, researchers found a large statistical effect size in self-compassion. This is relevant because many previous studies of mindfulness programs have found substantially smaller effect sizes – suggesting that this program might be particularly effective.

Of course, since the research involves only self-report data, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions. When people reply that they’re more compassionate or mindful on a survey, what does that really mean about their mental states? What’s more, this research involves only a waitlist control. That means we can’t be sure what made the difference. People might develop self-compassion just from getting together twice a week. Or maybe doing “mental homework” of any kind helps all sorts of internal states.

So, while I think this is a good foundation, I’d like to see more research that uses objective measures of self-compassion and an active control.

If you’d like to read the whole study, it’s currently in press in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Of course, to see the benefits of self-compassion with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively. That can be complex, depending on your client, so that’s why we’ve put together our Making Mindfulness Work webinar series. Just click here to sign up for free.

Has mindfulness training ever transformed one of your clients’ capacity for self-compassion? What about your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

At the UCSD Center for Mindfulness we offer
two great ways to explore Mindful-Self Compassion

The first is through participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program right here at our UCSD CFM Meditation Room. We are the only center currently teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.  The next 8-week MSC program begins in January 2013

The second way to explore self-compassion is by attending our upcoming Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Training Retreat, May 12-17, 2013, at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA with Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff.

This program is designed for members of the general public, as well as for professionals who wish to integrate self-compassion into their work. Participating in a MSC program satisfies a prerequisite for becoming a MSC program teacher, and teacher training will begin at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness in 2014. A modest, regular meditation practice is required to become a MSC teacher but meditation experience is not necessary to participate in this professional training. All are welcome!