Category Archives: Mindfulness and Youth

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.

 

Summertime Musings on Koru Mindfulness

It’s summer time. A time for those of us who work on college campuses to take a deep breath and reflect for a moment on the school year just past, and make plans for the year a head.For me, this means thinking about our Koru Mindfulness program, looking at the number of students we served last year at Duke and contemplating how we can continue to expand our programming to meet the growing needs of students. Not surprisingly, this activity produces a surge of gratitude in me. Gratitude for the amazing students I’ve gotten to know through our mindfulness classes and gratitude for their willingness to commit to our short course on mindfulness. Koru classes are only four weeks long and we require students to meditate for only 10 minutes a day while they are participating in the course. But even this relatively short intensive in mindfulness requires them to set aside any skepticism they might have, make time in their already too-busy schedules, and do something entirely unfamiliar to them.

“Twenty-somethings are in the best possible life stage for learning mindfulness.”

koru1

To my delight and relief, most of them do it with great good humor and almost all of them end up teaching me something along the way. For example, this year one student taught me that dynamic breathing (or chicken breath as our students usually call it) can be done to good effect while waiting in the wings to go on stage, so long as you remember to turn off your microphone. OMG, that story had us all laughing until we cried.

Most of the students we teach report some significant personal transformation as they grapple with the challenge of developing a first time mindfulness practice. It continues to amaze me how flexible their young minds are and how capable of change.

It also continues to reinforce my belief that twenty-somethings are in the best possible life stage for learning mindfulness. They are old enough to take the practice seriously, but young enough for the practice to impact some of their most significant life choices.

It was heartening this year to hear one of our Koru students talk about the way she had begun to reevaluate some of her relationships since she’d started her mindfulness practice. She was noticing that when she was with her friends, they seemed to only complain and criticize. She hadn’t really tuned in to this before she began practicing mindfulness, but she was quickly seeing the negative consequences of this in her own life.

She was beginning to think about what it would mean to create different kinds of connections, connections that mirrored her more natural optimism and generosity. You could hear her finding her way into a different way of relating, all because she was learning to pay attention to causes and consequences as her life unfolded.

And it is not just the Koru students, but also the Koru teachers I am grateful for this summer. I am just home from Cambridge, where the Center for Wellness at Harvard University Health Services hosted us as we trained 35 men and women from around the country and the world to teach Koru Mindfulness at their agencies and organizations. I feel tremendous hope for the future as I see this small army of committed individuals preparing to introduce mindfulness to the young adults they serve.

The wisdom and compassion they carry with them to their work with young adults in all walks of life, truly feels like it will change the world. The seeds of mindfulness they sow will influence the lives of our next generation of scientists, artists, healers and leaders. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

A Mindful Approach to Procrastination

Written December 10, 2014 by Holly Rogers

About the Author

Holly-RogersHolly has been a staff psychiatrist at Duke University’s student counseling center since 1996, and she is a Clinical Associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. Her professional interests include the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders in the context of young adult development. She has a special interest in using mindfulness and meditation to facilitate health and personal growth in young adults. She is the co-developer of Koru Mindfulness and a co-founder of the Center for Koru Mindfulness.

Image by Lynn Friedman from Flickr. Creative Commons Copyrigh

On college campuses across the country, ‘tis theseason…to procrastinate. Mindfulness offers a strategy to get moving.

It’s that time of year again, final’s week at many of the colleges around the country; the time when a semester’s worth of procrastination finally kicks you in the butt. For the lucky student, awareness that she has reached the bitter end will catapult her into efficient activity that allows her to complete all the necessary tasks on time. The less lucky student may find himself trapped in a paralysis of panic, weighed down by anxious dread as he sees clearly the train coming down the tracks towards him.

Of course, not everyone procrastinates, but in my experience it is pretty common. Procrastination is just one of the many ways we learn to avoid discomfort.

We get very practiced at avoiding discomfort. Our smart phones are an ever-present distraction, saving us from even a minute of boredom or restlessness. It seems practical, avoiding discomfort; what could possibly be the problem with avoiding discomfort? The savvy reader already knows the answer: not all discomfort can be avoided. Life, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not just a non-stop series of delightful events.

Somewhere along the way, we humans got the idea that if we got everything organized just right we would be able to avoid all discomfort. If we can make the work easier, the homes more comfortable, the food more tasty, the sex more available, the internet even faster, then we won’t ever have to experience unpleasantness.

Most of us have gotten pretty good at constructing a life that minimizes our contact with things we don’t like. Unfortunately, that leaves us unpracticed at managing the disappointments and losses that life will inevitably serve up. If we aren’t practiced at managing disappointments, then we easily get overwhelmed when troubles arise. We don’t have a strategy for dealing with the discomfort; even more problematic, we don’t trust that we can cope with whatever challenge comes our way.

One advantage of learning mindfulness meditation is that it helps build your capacity for tolerating unpleasantness without getting overwhelmed. If you are always avoiding discomfort, your capacity for holding difficult feelings shrinks very small, down to the size of an espresso cup, or a shot glass. When you have only a very small cup to hold tough feelings, your cup is easily flooded, and you quickly become overwhelmed. If you can increase the capacity of your cup to hold difficult feelings, say up to the size of a Starbucks’ Trenta, then you can handle a greater degree of discomfort without your cup flooding over. It stays more manageable. Meditation helps you increase the size of your cup.

For me personally, this has been one of the most tangible benefits of my meditation practice. Over time I have developed the ability to sit quietly, still-ly, and watch the way difficult feelings come and then go again. I’ve learned that if I just breathe and watch, everything moves on. I’ve seen over and over and over again that my thoughts can grab onto a situation that has produced an unpleasant feeling, and review it endlessly, forcing the unpleasant feeling to last indefinitely. Or, I can just let it go. Watch my breath. See what’s next. Maybe the feeling comes back. Or not.

I’ve been meditating long enough that I’ve developed a small amount of skill at doing this. I can do it now even when I’m not meditating, like when I’m in a rush and the light turns red. Or when I’m just about finished writing an article, and the computer crashes. I’m not even close to perfect at this trick of course, but it comes easier these days. Perfection was never the goal, anyway.

What does all this have to do with procrastination? Typically, underlying procrastination are some negative thoughts. I don’t want to do this stupid paper. I’ll never get it done. I don’t know where to start. I’m a horrible writer. This is a waste of time. What if I fail? These thoughts breed anxious dread and are of no practical use when completing a task. Rather than just tolerating these unpleasant feelings and carrying on, we try to avoid them by avoiding our work.

So how might mindfulness help with this? If you can bring some mindfulness to these moments, you might become aware of the thoughts coming up, notice the accompanying anxious dread and also notice the feeling of your feet on the floor, your fingers on your computer, your breath going in and out. The thoughts about your potential failure and your feeling of dread need have no more significance than the feel of your body in the chair. They are just thoughts passing through. You don’t have to make the negative thoughts and doubts go away, just leave them alone. Tolerate the discomfort without fretting about it. It’s OK to have those thoughts. And you also don’t need to be controlled by them or wait until your mood changes to get started. Just turn your attention to the work at hand and begin.

With practice, you can learn to notice your distracting doubts without getting caught in them or taking them too seriously. You can feel the discomfort they cause without having to react to them. You move on. The work gets done. It’s no big deal.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Can We “Be Enough” and Still Mindfully Pursue Our Goals? Part 2

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete 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.

There are risks of becoming attached and consumed by our goals. In Part 1 of this blog, we considered how striving for results and clinging to outcomes can lead to stress and anxiety, diminishing well-being and eroding performance over time. However, goals don’t need to be eliminated because of this, just approached more mindfully. I’ve found that while it may not be helpful to set a specific and measurable goal to achieve mindfulness, it can be very helpful to bring more mindfulness to achieving goals in life, work and sport. In this blog we’ll explore a few of the ways to practice working with goals that can both enhance performance and lead to greater fulfillment.

The biggest distinction of Mindfulness Based Goal Setting (MBGS for those who needed one more acronym) is to hold your goals lightly. Treating a goal as an intention or a commitment rather than a rigid destination helps to decrease attachment and clinging to an expected outcome.

The Goal is an Anchor

Participants of the mPEAK program and others who know the basic instructions for Awareness of Breath Meditation will be quite familiar with the intention and commitment to following the breath as a single point of focus. We set out attending carefully to the sensations of each in-breath and out-breath… until we don’t. When we get distracted by thoughts, feelings, sounds or sensations, the instruction is to simply notice the wandering mind and return to the breath with kindness. This is the same way to practice with our goals! We set an intention or commitment to finishing a project, going to the gym, eating less gluten or being nicer to our spouse. When we inevitably lose motivation, get distracted or begin a pattern of self-sabotage, the instructions are to simply notice and gently but firmly come back to the goal.

The word “aspiration” is related to the Latin word spiritus, breath, and comes from the french aspirare meaning ‘to breathe out.’ When we relate to goals as aspirations, they can be used like the breath as a focus for practice, developing greater concentration and anchoring us to the present moment. I often tell my clients, it’s not the one who clings tightest to the goal who succeeds, it’s the one who continually comes back to the goal over and over.

I’ve been practicing this way with my own aspiration while writing this blog. For instance I’ve been aware of a desire to stop writing and fix a snack about every twenty minutes or so. I’ve noticed that the sound of an incoming email pulls my attention away and creates a sense of imagined importance and urgency. I can also hear the thoughts of my own inner critic judging my writing, “This blog is long and boring and nobody will probably read it”. But with mindfulness, I can simply notice the thoughts and impulses and make a choice to either indulge the distraction, or continue writing toward my goal.

Goals as an Experiment

Another way to loosen our grip on goals is to treat them like experiments. Rather than measuring success only by the specific outcome, we can begin to look for value in the learning and development that comes around any goal. Whenever I set a goal that stretches me from my comfort zone, I can count on all my “stuff” being triggered. By bringing curiosity to my thoughts and patterns that arise during the process of working toward a goal, I deepen my understanding of what makes me perform well and what holds me back.

While working toward the goal of finishing this blog, I’ve learned that I’m more creative and enjoy writing in the mornings rather than in the evenings. Because of the introceptive awareness I’ve cultivated through practicing the Body Scan Meditation, I am keenly aware that 1 cup of coffee engages my body and mind, stimulating my fingers to type efficiently. However with a cup and a half, a subtle nervousness sets in that leads to more distractibility, typos, made up words and run on sentences. There has also been self-awareness and knowledge gained around how to prepare to write. I’ve found that a little prep work of reading other material on my topic can help me get into my flow. But without watching carefully, this preparation can take on a life of it’s own, becoming an all-consuming research project fueled by the fear of not knowing enough.

Goals as a Gateway

“The view changes as we walk along the path and we abandon the goals that, at first, we had in mind. It’s painful to let go of our original intentions but, eventually, they are in the way because we have been changed, we are no longer the person who set off. Our intentions gave us the journey and that is enough.” – John Tarrant, Zen Teacher

Another way to hold goals lightly is to trust that our goals will evolve naturally as our practice deepens. When I first began meditating, over a decade ago, I was clear that my goal for meditation was to be a Jedi- Samurai warrior. I had practiced martial arts for many years and watched enough Kung Fu movies to know that anyone who wanted to seriously kick butt had to meditate. Was this the wisest aspiration for a meditation practice? Ultimately no, but it’s the one I had and it’s what got me through the door. Since then my aspiration for meditation has gone through many incarnations with each new understanding giving rise to a new “goal”. Letting go of “kicking butt” gave rise to wanting to be more “spiritual”. Letting go of trying to be spiritual made space for acceptance of who I truly am, which set the stage for greater compassion towards the people in my life. Eventually this may even lead to the realized aspiration of compassion for all beings…but I’m still holding that one lightly.

Not only have I noticed that my goals have evolved with practice, they’ve also started dropping away. I’ve written a goal list every New Years since I was 13. Recently, as I reviewed goals from each of the last five years, I noticed a progression toward more simplicity and less ambition. This isn’t because I want my life to be less rich or have less impact, it’s because I trust myself more. Ultimately at this stage of practice, I know what’s in my heart. I know the path I’m on. I know the work that needs to be done and I trust that in most moments, I’ll make appropriate choices that align with my deepest values. Even without rigid goal setting I eat clean, give it my all at the gym, continue to grow my coaching practice and find fulfillment in my relationships. For me, that is enough.

When it comes to setting goals, the most important thing is to start where you’re at, which is typically right here. Look deeply into your own heart and ask yourself what you really, really want out of your life, your practice, your sport, your work and your relationships. Set goals that move and inspire you to stretch and grow. Work toward these goals mindfully and diligently with kindness and non- attachment, allowing them to naturally evolve… and evolve you, over time.

2015_3_DayMindful 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 credits 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.

 

Can We “Be Enough” and Still Mindfully Pursue Our Goals? Part 1

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete 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.

“You are perfect the way you are…and you could use a little improvement”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

This blog post began as a goal. About logo-mpeak2 weeks ago I set a goal to create a blog of 1,600 words or less by a specific date and then delegated a few chunks of my schedule for writing and editing. Now here I am in the present, looking at a list of blog topics I’d created in the past, for future consideration. Maybe because I just had a birthday or maybe because the 3-day intensive mPEAK course is about to start in June, but mindfulness and goal setting seems to be an especially relevant topic.

No GoalsNo Goals Allowed

As I begin, I’m curious how many people reading this believe I’ve gone against a fundamental of mindfulness by taking a goal setting approach to writing this blog? After all, Mindfulness is about being in the now, not in the future land where goals live, right?

If you’ve taken a mindfulness course, chances are you’ve heard the teacher say something like, “There is no goal in Mindfulness- no place to go and nothing to get.” This wisdom is commonly met by new students with the response of, “Hold on, it’s not about doing anything?” “Nope. Not improving, changing or fixing.” This can initially be a difficult lesson to grasp. In essence, Mindfulness is about recognizing that simply being present and fully accepting what’s already here, is enough.

But what about all those piles of research findings suggesting the benefits of creating specific, measurable, achievable, time dependent goals? Are they in conflict with the other piles of research findings on the benefits of mindfulness? Is the practice of already “being enough”, at odds with my goal to write a blog, or the goals of my coaching clients who want to start going to the gym, run a race, balance work and life or make more profit for their business?

“How do we successfully balance being enough in the present moment while working toward an improvement goal for the future?”

Perhaps the first obstacle to true understanding is the duality of the very questions being asked. Rather than seeing it as either/or, we might try the inquiry: How do we successfully balance being enough in the present moment while working toward an improvement goal for the future?

As I’ve worked with these inquiries over the last few years I’ve found that it’s less about the goal and more about how we hold each of our unique aspirations. There are ways of relating to goals that will increase performance while bringing more enjoyment and there are also ways of holding goals that will lead to greater stress. In this first blog, let’s explore some of the common pitfalls of goal setting so you’ll know what to watch for. There will also be a part 2 of this blog that offers insight into how to successfully bring mindfulness to goals.

Goal AttachmentGoal Attachment

One of the reasons Mindfulness Teachers warn against goal setting is that it can be very easy to get attached to the outcome of our goals. Take for example a client of mine who set a goal to lose 20 pounds at the advice of her doctor to decrease her risk of diabetes. She set out with force and ambition, walking, doing yoga, eliminating processed food and sweets during weekdays. Everything was working perfectly, until it wasn’t. The first slip up initiated a cascade of stress hormones that caused tension in the body and sabotaging thoughts, triggered by an old fear of failure. Not wanting to face her disappointment and negative body image, she was convinced that the only thing that would help her feel better about herself was more cheesecake.

“…it can be very easy to get attached to the outcome of our goals.”

When we get attached to a goal, it becomes part of our identity, which typically turns out in one of two ways. For some people like my weight loss client, one simple slip up can be elevated beyond a single failed moment, to a more global, “I am and always will be a failure as a person.” In this case, self-efficacy goes down the drain with yet another goal not achieved. For others, goal attachment leads to the opposite effect of not giving up on a goal even after it’s long ago lost value and relevance. Failure after failure doesn’t seem to loosen their white knuckled grip. Rather than just letting go, goal attachment can lead some to go down with the ship.

Striving & DrivingStriving & Driving

Many mindfulness students who come from corporate America or competitive sports are utterly baffled by the concept of “Non-Striving”. Striving is not just common in their culture; it’s a normal and expected way of being. Everyone is “striving to be their best” or “striving for progress”. Often striving does actually work to push the desired results, but is it really the best way to move forward? Just take a look at the word “Strive”. According to the Oxford dictionary it means, “to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something” or “to struggle or fight vigorously.” In fact the word strive has its origins in the word “strife”, which means “angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.” The only reason this anxious, urgent and even desperate way in which people strive ends up going unnoticed, is because everyone else is working that way too.

“Often striving does actually work to push the desired results, but is it really the best way to move forward?”

Take for example a client of mine who wanted to compete in a triathlon. Her friends were signing up and it had been on her bucket list for many years. After the long list of accessories were purchased, a new bike, wetsuit, swimming goggles, running shoes, and a new device for tracking miles, she was off to the races. Each morning getting up early to train, sacrificing time with her family, preparing meals and diligently planning out training days so that her time decreased and her mileage increased. All sights were set on race day. If results were what mattered, then her hard work was paying off and she could be seen as a success. But if well-being and enjoying life was any factor at all, then she was failing miserably.

When we’re striving to reach an end goal, we can begin to lose perspective and diminish the rewards of the journey. We might be making progress but at what cost? Even with high stress levels and an underlying sense that “something is wrong”, many of my clients still express fear in letting go of their striving. “If I didn’t strive to finish my projects, nothing would get done on time.” One of the biggest challenges for these people is that the stress caused by the striving its self, limits the ability of their mind to see any of the other infinite, creative ways to go about getting things done.

Great Expectations

At the heart of any unskillful goal setting is the belief that “If I reach that goal, then I’ll be happy.” Happy could just as easily be replaced with “peaceful, lovable, worthy etc.” The assumption is that things are not OK right now, but if I did x, y and z, they would be better in the future. This thinking leads some to disenchantment with life when they realize that one achievement after another doesn’t lead to the expected happiness. But others continue to chase the carrot year after year, telling themselves the same story. “I thought it was the 10 pounds that would make me happy but maybe what I really need is to save up for is a new car.” “I thought it was a new car, but it must be a new wife.” “I thought it was a new wife, but it must be more travel.” The reason things you think would make you happier don’t, is explained by the theory of “Hedonic Adaptation”. This is the tendency for people to quickly return to a stable level of happiness, or a “happiness set point”, despite major positive or negative events or life changes. For example, if someone reaches their goal of losing weight, getting a raise, moving to a bigger house or buying a new car, eventually his or her expectations and desires rise in tandem, resulting in no permanent gain in happiness. This is referred to as the Hedonic Treadmill…it’s a cycle that just keeps going and going, always striving to get to an imaginary “there”, but never arriving.

Now that we know what not to do, stay tuned for the next post which will give examples of how to relate to goals so that performance continues to improve, but without the stress of attachment.

You 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.2015_3_Day

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. The next program begins Tuesday evening, May 12, 2015, 6:00-8:30pm.

“Our brains are evolving to multitask,” not! The ill-usion of multitasking

By Allan Goldstein
Originally published July 2011 revised April 2015

I recently overheard a proclamation, which has become somewhat of a mantra, recited by today’s college students. A student proudly making the following declaration regarding her ability to pay attention to multiple digital screens at once said, “Our brains are evolving to multitask!” That simple yet profound statement left me wondering if this could really be true? How in one or two computerized generations of human beings could our brains evolve so dramatically? Is there such a thing as multitasking, and how is our performance affected when we are concurrently attending to computers, smart phones, iPads, and our daily chores? Recent research in neuroscience has shown that our brains are capable of forming new neural connections, known as neuroplasticity, but this student’s assertion seems to be pointing towards a rapid leap in evolution that goes well beyond that. Through my work in the field of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I have come to believe that what we commonly refer to as multitasking does not exist and that the level of our ability to perform tasks suffers as we shift our attention from one task to another. In fact, the empirical data from studies in the field of neuroscience is proving that there is no such thing as multitasking!

The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multitasking as “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” and “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time.” These two definitions divide multitasking into two distinct categories. The first definition refers to performing multiple tasks simultaneously, such as driving while talking on the phone or listening to the radio while at the same time trying to remember directions. The second definition is pointing towards moving from one task to another, such as text messaging, followed by shifting to doing homework on a computer, and shifting again to grab a hurried bite from a late ­dinner—over and over, again and again. Now consider that all of us, especially college students given their current digital, computer, screen-oriented lifestyles, are doing more and more of this all the time. If this is true, and I believe it is, we can see why it is good for our psyches to think we are evolving to do it.

So what exactly is the data derived from recent research in the field of multitasking showing? In the PBS Frontline presentation Digital_Nation, by Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin, Dr. Clifford Nass is interviewed about his studies at Stanford University on the performance levels of extreme multitaskers: “These are kids who are doing 5, 6, or more things at once all the time.” Contrary to the fact that most multitaskers think they are extremely good at it, the results of Nass’s first-of-its-kind studies are troubling: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking! They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests that they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be we’re creating people who may not be able to think well and clearly.”

Taking a step back from the profound statement “our brains are evolving to multitask,” let’s look at the question, Are students developing new skills and competence that facilitates multitasking? In “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” by Charles Calderwood, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin, findings show a correlation among college students between mutitasking and study skills: “Higher homework task motivation and self-efficacy for concentrating on homework were associated with less frequent and shorter duration multitasking behaviors, while higher negative affect was linked to greater multitasking duration during the study session”. In my experience, there is a fundamental common sense to all this. If you focus all your attention on one task at a time, it seems logical that the results would be better than if your attention is divided or distracted by other tasks. Our children may argue they are evolving to move beyond this, yet the data support what our mothers and generations before us always knew as they gave advice such as, “Finish what you are doing!”

In our culture, there is certainly a perception that people can successfully multitask and a belief that the more we do it the more efficient at it we become. After all, most of us would say we are multitasking many times during the day. So what are the motivations behind all our multitasking? In her blog article “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention,” Linda Stone makes a distinction between simple multitasking and what cognitive scientists refer to as “complex multitasking” to explain her theory of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). In simple multitasking, each task is given the same priority. One task may even be routine, like stirring pasta while talking to our spouse. Stone claims the driving force in simple multitasking is to be more productive. In complex multitasking, the motivation is not to miss anything by maintaining a field of CPA. As Stone explains, “In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.” One of these cognitive tasks may also seem more important than another, requiring our brains to be focused on it while remaining alert to the several other less important cognitive tasks requiring our attention. Stone continues, “When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel. Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.”

Stone’s theory of CPA is supported in the article “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers” by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. The abstract of their study states the following surprising findings: “that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.” It is important to note Stone’s CPA is not multitasking; rather she is referring to the kind of attention we hold while we are complex multitasking. Maintaining our attention in this state of hyper-vigilance keeps our fight or flight response activated. According to Stone, some people will feel alive, on top of things, and connected. She concedes this can serve us well at times. However, Stone claims the shadow side of being on continuous, continuous partial attention (CCPA) is a constant activation of the fight or flight response. The complex multitasker is in a continuous state of overstimulation with a perpetual feeling of lack of fulfillment that can lead to stress-related diseases. This holds true with my own experiences hearing about and seeing the conditions that create stress in the lives of participants in MBSR programs.

Indeed, neuroscientists are discovering that different parts of the brain are switching on and off, resulting in the serial processing that Stone references. This switching happens so fast that it appears we are performing multiple tasks simultaneously. We can conclude that, contrary to the first definition of multitasking, “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” (Merriam-Webster ), that our brains do not process tasks concurrently. Regarding the second definition of multitasking, “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time” (Merriam-Webster ), we see we are not really performing tasks at the same time, but instead switching back and forth between them with some of us in an unfulfilled state of continuous partial attention.

In an interview for The Atlantic titled “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” Joe Pinsker quotes David Gelles, the author of Mindful Work: “Multitasking is a myth. I think we rarely, if ever, can actually do two things at the same time. I think what we’re doing is very rapid task-switching, which leads to inherent inefficiencies.” Many naysayers may try to claim this is simply a semantic argument, and to some degree, I would agree. Words are divisive by nature and often fall short in truly representing what they are meant to describe. Perhaps it is time to throw out the word “multitasking,” as the definitions no longer fit, and invent words that better represent our current scientific understanding of the way our brains function. How about “serialtasking” or “taskswitching”?

If we identify that our lives have sped up to a point that may be causing us physical harm and if we have a desire to do something about it, there are several antidotes to our cultural addiction of the illusion of multitasking. This will require a change that most people may be resistant to make. In the article “Mastering Multitasking,” Urs Gasser and John Palfrey suggest, “We have to embrace and master it, while providing limits from time to time to create contemplative space for young people.”  We can focus more on individual tasks by bringing a strong mindful awareness to our actions while performing them. By taking breaks and time outs, we can shift our attention back to our senses. In one sense, I’m hopeful as I see a cultural shift, perhaps as a backlash to all the stimulation, to embrace mindfulness. Alternatively letting go of even one aspect of multitasking, like text messaging, can be painful for some people, let alone shutting down and going offline.

The empirical evidence supports the hypothesis that there is no such thing as multitasking. Multitasking is a misnomer. The word points to something that at best can be looked at as individual tasks being performed through a very rapid switching back and forth in the way our brains function or through performing tasks with continuous partial attention. Research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, is compiling data that show multitasking can negatively affect performance and lead to increased levels of stress. We are all part of one big current cultural experiment where we are the scientists, the laboratory, and the results, and it is not a trivial matter. The quality of our lives and our health may depend on our ability to truly understand and wisely manage the effects of our perceptions, beliefs, and actions surrounding our illusion of multitasking.

Works Cited

Calderwood, Charles, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin. “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” Computers and Education 75 (2014): 19-29. psycINFO. Web. 17 March 2015.

Dretzin, Rachel and Douglas Rushkoff. “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.” PBS. Frontline, 15 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Gasser, Urs and John Palfre. “Mastering Multitasking.” Educational Leadership 66.6 (2009): 14-19. Education Full Text. Web. 17 March 2015.

“Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster. Encyclopedia Britannica, Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

Ophir, Eyal, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2009). Web. 15 Apr. 2011.

Pinsker, Joe. “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” theatlantic.com. 10 March 2015. Web. 17 March 2015.

Stone, Linda. “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention.” Lindastone.net. N.p., Nov. 2009. Web. . 17 March 2015.

About The Author

Allan GoldsteinAllan Goldstein is the Managing Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Allan’s growth within the field of Mindfulness-Based Interventions has led him to teach extensively to groups and individuals in various health care, university, military, business, and community settings. Allan has had a passion for learning and teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs since participating in his first program in 1993. He currently provides mentorship for current and future teachers through the MBSR Qualification and Certification program of the UC San Diego Mindfulness-Based Professional training Institute and  mbsrmentorship.com.

 

Discover Koru Mindfulness: Mindfulness Sparking Joy, Mindfully

Weeks ago I read an article by Penelope Green about a woman named Marie Kondo who gives advice on de-cluttering our lives. I was quite taken by her advice, and I have continued to ponder her suggestion that if we pay attention when sorting through our stuff, we will see that some of our possessions “spark joy” while others don’t. According to Green, Kondo says we should keep only those items that spark joy. I decided to turn the search for sparks of joy into a daily mindfulness activity; to my delight, I found joy sparking in all sorts of unexpected places.Sparks of Joy MindfullyThe first thing that is remarkable about this is the fact that I remembered anything for several weeks. The half-life of my memory seems to be about 24 hours, so I’m usually completely blank about anything that occurred more than five days ago. That just tells you how compelling Kondo’s idea is.The second thing that is remarkable, is that I read this article the day after I had completed a clean out of my closet, doing the semi-annual migration of seasonal clothes between the storage boxes under the bed and the closet. During the migration, I tossed out or kept items based on some idea of what I “should” keep. If something was expensive, then I “should” keep it, even if I was not fond of it. If something was old and showing a bit of wear, I “should” toss it, even if I loved it.The sorting was mostly a cognitive exercise, without much attention paid to feelings. After all, what feelings does one expect to have for a tattered hat or an old pair of socks?

Then I read about Kondo’s advice to pay careful attention to our emotional responses to our possessions when we are clearing out our clutter. Items that “spark joy” should be kept. Items that do not “spark joy” should be honored and thanked for their service, and then tossed.

“Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day.”

I must admit it had never occurred to me to systematically assess my possessions for their ability to spark joy. I tend to think of friends and family, occasions and events, sparking joy, but not possessions so much. It seemed like a great mindfulness exercise though, so I returned to my closet and my cast offs to apply the joy-sparking test.

I was surprised to find that many of my possessions did spark joy, and it wasn’t always the ones I expected. The disparity was enough to require a re-sort of the keepers and the cast offs. For example, the pale pink sweater that is incredibly soft had been placed in the cast off pile because really, I’ve just been wearing it too long. It looks tattered. When I picked it up, though, I felt definite sparks of joy, identifying the tired sweater as a keeper. But the expensive tweed jacket that had survived the cut the day before? It was a joy kill, so into the cast-off pile it went.

Other surprises. The socks that I’d kept when helping my sister clean out our mother’s belongings after her death three years ago sparked smiles and warm memories. Strangely, her sweater just made me feel sad. So I kept the socks and gave the sweater an honored farewell. Sadness is a useful emotion, but it didn’t feel like a prompt for saving old things.

I was so delighted by this new mindfulness game, that I carried on into the kitchen. Sorting through drawers, eliminating those things that did not spark joy and noting with delight how many items surprisingly created sparks. The bright yellow lemon squeezer and the tattered old wooden spoon were definite keepers.

In our Koru Mindfulness classes, we ask our students to choose an activity that they do daily and do it will full attention and mindfulness. We call this our “mindful daily activity”. The idea is to bring the practice of mindfulness more fully into our lives by paying closer attention to moments that typically go unnoticed.

Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day; it is helpful to take notice of them. For several weeks now my mindful daily activity has been to apply the joy-sparking test wherever I go. All manner of things are joy-sparkers: evening light, brisk wind, distant laughter, salty chips, soft mittens, warm water, and on and on.

I have been delighted to find this to be a useful and transformative exercise. It has helped me see that I am surrounded by little puddles of joy that I usually fail to recognize. Yes, I have problems. Yes, life is busy and things don’t always go as I would wish. But if I pay attention, there are little sparks of joy all around me. I just have to remember to notice.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

Are you OK with a 2-and-a-half-year-old child undergoing bariatric surgery?

by Char Wilkins and Jan Chozen Bays

mindful-eating-360x200A two-and-a-half-year-old boy weighed 79 pounds, three times normal weight for his age, and he suffered from sleep apnea. After his parents’ two attempts to control the boy’s weight through dieting failed, surgery was approved.1 A laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy was performed on the boy which involved removing the outer margin of the stomach to restrict food intake, leaving a sleeve of stomach, roughly the size and shape of a banana. Unlike a lap band, the surgery is not reversible.

You might take a breath right now and become mindful of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Anger? Fear? Denial? Sadness? Any judgments?

Welcome to the world of excess that affects all of us . . . at any age.

Over a period of 14 years (199-2012), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected information about the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in the US, examining differences in the trends by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. During that time, 17.3% of children in the United States aged 2 to 19 years were found to be obese. Additionally, 5.9% of children met criteria for class 2 obesity and 2.1% met criteria for class 3 obesity. Although these rates were not significantly different from 2009 to 2010, all classes of obesity have increased over the last 14 years.3

We in this mindfulness community need to not only contemplate our responsibility to the obesity crisis which is fed by greed in its many forms, but we need to act, not react.

Dr. Rohit Kohli, MBBS Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, while acknowledging bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure, said:

There are case reports now in the literature and in the public domain in which 4- or 5-year-old children have undergone bariatric procedures. We should definitely think about this, as a community, with open eyes. There are consequences for bone development and metabolic concerns such as mineral and vitamin B12 deficiency or beriberi developing in these children. When we put all of this together as a consequence of a bariatric procedure and weigh it against the benefits that we have just outlined, it is a fine line that we need to walk.

As a pediatrician, first and foremost, I have learned to say, “Do no harm.” We need to take a step back, acknowledge that these procedures work, but in the same breath try to understand the consequences, both moral and physiological.2

But we who practice and teach mindfulness can do more than “do no harm.”

We can help people learn to eat mindfully. We can help them understand how conditioned patterns around eating can impact the way they eat for their entire life. We can help people make connections between thoughts and emotions and disordered eating. We can help them rediscover how to listen to the body so as to know what hunger, fullness and satiety are. We can help people of all ages slow down and re-discover the pleasure of eating through engaging their senses.

And we can help them find alternatives to work with a truth they already suspect: You can never fill the hole in your heart by filling up the stomach.

Our kids are eating their anger, sadness, disappointment and fears.

We tend to point fingers and talk about the issues that swarm around food, eating and body image: the media, fast food chains, genetically engineered food and stressed life styles. Most of us feel pretty helpless in the face of corporate and global forces that shape our lives. We have to acknowledge that we cannot change all these external factors. However we can change our relationship to our bodies and our food. We can choose to focus our time, energy and love on helping one person, one child.

Bridging BadgeJan Chozen Bays and I (Char Wilkins) have been teaching people for many years, individually or in small groups, how to rediscover a kinder and more joyful relationship with themselves, food and eating. A few years ago we formed a teaching partnership in order to spread the benefits of mindful eating by training other professionals in these skills. In our full-day workshop at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in February, we’ll be exploring fun ways to help children use their innate wisdom to eat for nourishment and enjoy the process.

  • What do you think about mindful eating for kids?
  • How do you feel about bariatric surgery for children? Laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or a nitrogen inflated balloon placed in the antrum of the stomach?
  • Do you have experience with mindful eating?

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

LiseeMaree-Bleicher-300x168-2Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.

LiseeMaree BleicherAlbert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Nowhere is this spark as bright than in the heart of a youth. Nowhere does there lay a stronger elixir to waken your purpose than in the sparkling enthusiasm of a child’s spirit. And nowhere is there a grander purpose than the need to ease the suffering of a child.

The beautiful thing about helping children is that buried beneath the armor and attitude is this snow-white innocence, this flawless foundation, this feral potential still connected to God, or source, or that which is greater than us individually. This goodness remains steadfast despite the harm adults have done.

Our mission is to guide them back to this place of bliss, if only momentarily. In the shift to recovery, not treatment, we have come to understand “recovery” as recovering that which was lost from us: innocence, joy, light, that feral potential. Discovering the road back to that place of purity and reclaiming our power is the key to freedom from suffering.

Our mission, should we choose to realize it, is to be the guides whose purpose is to steer youth back to reclaim their potential. We do this each time we teach that even in the unbearable moments in life and in the dark of a night of unimaginable pain, there shines a dim but powerful light that will one day illuminate the darkness. And within this light, there shines their power and their way out of suffering.

Ideally we strive to plant the seeds of patience, tolerance and acceptance in our youth.

We affirm: “Life is not fair 8359890249_ed085986b0_b-360x200-1and no you did nothing wrong. No it is not your fault. No you do not deserve what happened to you. No one can make it better, but one day if you just hang on — have faith — one day, I promise you will be OK. One day you will emerge from this stronger and more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

When the testimony of sharing lived experience trumps our cool “professional boundaries,” we make a true and lasting difference. Speaking from the heart and sharing our human experience plants seeds of hope, inspiration, and resilience in youth. Nowhere can we feel the way of freedom from suffering than knowing someone who has walked down a similar path of torment, come out standing steady despite someone else’s best effort to make them fall, and still has enough fierce courage left to tell their story.

Speaking candidly, most youth who like myself come to be in jail, in foster care, or other programs do so by force of their external circumstances. Many come from fragmented, broken homes where they witness and endure unspeakable acts of cruelty from the adults who should be protecting them. Rarely do youth land in these places by their own choice.

Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse manifest in the blueprint of our souls and spirits. Such abuse might express itself as a 4th grader bullying his classmate, a youth stealing, a youth who yells obscenities at authority figures, who refuses to eat, who is promiscuous, who skips school, who takes drugs, who cuts their flesh in an effort to feel or not feel pain. It’s the days of silence before an attempted (or successful) suicide where we often mistake the symptom for the cause and fail in our attempts to “treat” them. It’s that approach which undermines the very core of their suffering. And it’s where we as adults fail them yet again.

It was in the vacant blue eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Travis who came to live in my home when I first realized how futile, how misguided, and how inhumane this system to care for children was. It is still raw, and I am not sure yet if I can fully capture how profoundly my time with him altered my heart. This experience both expanded my heart beyond what I thought was possible and then reduced it to nothing when he was gone.

One day while we were together, Travis “disconnected.” Fell silent, withdrawn. And I asked him, “What are thinking about? What makes you so sad? You can tell me anything, and I will believe you. And there’s nothing you tell me I won’t think is important.” After awhile, he came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why sometimes I can be happy, and all of the sudden I feel sad. It comes out of nowhere.” I looked at him, cupped his tiny perfect chin in my hand, peered into his blue eyes and wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tightly and said “I know. And it’s OK. I feel like that sometimes too. And you know what? One day you won’t feel like that all the time. One day you’ll take that sadness and turn it into happy.”

All he was unable to say was conveyed in the way he hugged me back. And in that precious moment when he mumbled “Thank you.” I thought my heart would break.

There was nothing I learned from a text book, nothing from evidence-based practice, and nothing in the foster parent orientation that prepared me for that moment. I reacted from my heart.

My only desire was to ease his suffering and instill within him the tiniest notion that no matter what he felt, it was OK and that it was only temporary.

The reality is that when we come into a child’s life to aid them, they are held in a punitive, restrictive, inflexible system. We don’t always look past that to what brought them into that system to begin with. If we increased our awareness, we would see that few children are delinquent, homeless, end up in jail, or in foster care by their own volition. They come to these places battered, bruised, and sad, having been victimized by adults.

In the months that passed with Travis, after my heart ran ahead of any reason, I watched a sad little boy turn into a bright, happy, fun-loving child who didn’t need medication or to be bounced around from foster home to foster home. What he needed was to be loved.

Now, there was nothing I could have offered Travis that ever could have replaced what his parents failed to give him. My love was a Band-Aid to soothe him until he could grow enough to care for himself. But far more miraculous than anything that I gave him was what he gave to me.

One of my tendencies was to over-explain myself; to offer excuses and/or apologies for nearly everything to everyone. One day, I was going on and on to a friend about why I didn’t do something when from the top of the stairs I heard this little voice say, “LeesaMaree, stop that. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s OK whatever you do.” I froze at his wisdom and the fact that he cared to try to ease my suffering. Wow.

Then, I came to deeply understand the bigger context of this whole boundary thing. And I came to know that anytime we seek to engage in the helping of another being, it is not so simply a gift we give. It is not one sided.

The moment we think this, we have already failed. We as the perceived “givers” are really part of a mutually beneficial healing exchange connected to a greater energy. Once we come to understand and seek to increase our sensitivity and re-establish the heart in recovery and treatment, once we incorporate living testimony in our practice, only then will we make a true and lasting impact.

This time of year we celebrate thanks for Bridging Badgemany blessings. But as a “profession,” we overlook the rich and beautiful gifts that the children we encounter give us: the opportunity to care, to express our warmest compassion, and to ease suffering. All these things alter us. They allow us to ascend toward the deeper meaning of our shared human experience. The next time a child or a parent or someone else says thank you for the work you do, with humility and honor defer him or her and say, “No, thank you.”

Thankful

(a poem inspired the youth who have walked into my life and left imprints upon my heart)

The leaves fall…fluttering to the ground…landing like a thrush
Awaiting winter’s rush from summer’s dream
I remember summer… bright green and sparkling
and I remember you…your hand extended towards mine…offering me your heart
Giving me that moment…your time…yourself
You said, “Come this way. Here, let me show you… See the sun how it shines?”
Your smile confused the sun and stole starlight’s sparkle
“Listen. You can hear the grass tell its secrets …follow the burrowing bunny, he knows the way…see the Stellar Jay…as he chats up dawn…urging the flowers to wake up…he knows what I am talking about. His blue wings touch heaven”
I ran away from you…but never far… You were everywhere…in everyone
You tied me with a fragile cord of compassion…bound me to the fertile ground…tied me to heaven…left seeds in my hand
You allowed me to fall but not be crushed
Like the leaves, I too have been pink, russet, pumpkin and golden
It was the seeds you left… clutched tight in my hand
One day I remembered…it all came back in one fell whoosh
You cared …You took the time…You forgave me
You gave me another chance and a million more
You listened to me…You reignited the spark
Oh I am so thankful for You
Oh those seeds you left… I planted them under the moonlight…and when they blossomed…I crushed them and stuffed them in my heart
I knew what to do ’cause you said “the best way to show someone how much you appreciate them is to pass on what they gave to you.”
So…I watered the seeds with tears…transformed my fears…infused them with love
Oh I didn’t have it for myself…that care and concern
But I do for them…the ones that come behind me
So I scattered the seeds in the wind of each encounter
Oh, and I did exactly as you taught me …I gave my heart generously and… I fertilized the seeds with glitter…so that those who come behind me will sparkle brighter…than I ever did