Category Archives: Yoga

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.

 

Seizing the Moment and Supporting the Work: Giving Mindfulness to the Next Generation

Ellyn Wolfe (2)By Ellyn Wolfe, MEd
Co-Director Workplace Initiatives & Giving
UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Within the virtually exploding field of mindfulness, perhaps no facet is growing faster and spreading wider than that of teaching mindfulness to the youth of our society. Imagine the vast potential of transforming this generation of children into a future generation grounded in a practice that promotes stability and composure, wellness and healthy relationships, and enhanced cognitive function.  This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

bridging2013badgeThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Second Annual conference February 1-3, 2013 in San Diego is uniquely positioned to further contribute to the growth and vibrancy of the field by assembling the thought leaders, program developers, researchers and educators in an environment of collaboration, connection and dialogue. From presentations by leaders like Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn, to the diversity found in innovative school-based programs such as Katherine Weare of the .b The Mindfulness in Schools Project  and the amazing work of bringing mindfulness and yoga to the inner city by Ali & Atman Smith’s Holistic Life Foundation,  it is all represented at the conference. This year the conference opens with first-ever research symposia covering a variety of topics, including interesting work by Lisa Flook of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds  on “Mindfulness in Early Education to Promote Self-Regulation”and a full symposia session exploring research around clinical interventions using mindfulness to address issues of kids and teens with chronic pain, HIV, and ADHD. This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

The conference presents an opportunity for those who actively participate and contribute, to make a real and lasting difference in the course of society, and in particular, to the field of bringing mindfulness to the next generation. The Center for Mindfulness is actively seeking the financial support of individuals and corporations who are interested in making an impact on the emergent field of mindfulness as an agent for change.  These contributions are essential to our success in connecting and supporting the hundreds of educators, researchers and experts who will attend the Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth conference and then carry the practice and research learned to every corner of the globe.  Every donation as a general conference supporter or as sponsor for the Friday night Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn public lecture (which benefits the Youth and Family Programs at UCSD CFM) is important.  Every donation makes a difference.

We welcome the support of anyone in a position to give and make a significant difference in the lives of our children through supporting the important work of this conference and its attendees. If you or someone you know is interested in supporting this work, please feel free to contact us at mindfulness@ucsd.edu or by calling 858-334-4636.

One can also donate directly via the Center for Mindfulness Online Giving site.

Author’s Note: Education that motivates the individual to higher levels of being has always been a part of my life.  With a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a master’s certificate from the Fielding Institute in Evidence Based Coaching, and Clinical Training in Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson at the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, I train corporate leaders in the art of coaching and coach clients to be the best they can be.  For the past twenty years I have worked in the corporate world teaching mindfulness-based programs for a variety of companies, including Dr. Herbert Benson’s Mind Body Medical Institute, FleetBoston Financial and the San Diego Convention Center.  What a different place the corporate world would be if employees and leaders had grown up understanding and practicing mindfulness.

To that end, I have recently been named as Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving, a newly launched arm of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.  I will be working with my co-director, Christy Cassisa, to develop programs that address corporate need and also to elicit support for the UCSD CFM. I look forward to hearing from you through the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu.

Conference Recordings Offer Mindfulness-Based Tools for Educators, Counselors, and Parents

Over the last decade, an increasing number of parents, children, educators, clinicians and researchers have studied and experienced the wide-ranging benefits of bringing mindfulness practice to youth in educational, clinical, and community settings. To help develop best practices within this growing movement, the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine and Center for Mindfulness, along with Stressed Teens, developed the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conference, which took place in February 2012.

The first-of-its-kind conference was designed to engage professionals in the ongoing discussion of the field as well as to assist their professional growth, all within the context of a thought-provoking, collegial and collaborative environment.

“We are excited about sharing the conference audio and videos of this dynamic gathering to those who weren’t able to attend, and thereby extend the discussion across the globe to people interested in this work in all its forms,” said Steven D. Hickman, PsyD, Director, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. “Our deepest hope is that our efforts will support and deepen the important work being done, and foster even more profound impact in years to come.”

Publisher More Than Sound recorded over 20 hours of presentations and workshops with thought leaders from various disciplines (clinicians, educators and researchers), including the following keynote addresses:

Rick Hanson, PhD
Neuropsychologist and Author
Managing the Caveman Brain in the 21st Century


Susan Kaiser-Greenland, JD

Author, Educator, Co-Founder, Inner Kids
The Mindful Child: Teaching the New ABCs of Attention, Balance and Compassion

Amishi Jha, PhD
Psychologist and Researcher
University of Miami
From Dazed and Distracted to Attentive and Calm: What the Neuroscience of Mindfulness Reveals

Pamela Seigle, MS
Executive Director, Courage & Renewal NE

Chip Wood, MSW
Author and Educator, Facilitator
Courage & Renewal Northeast

Courage in Schools: Connecting Hearts and Minds in the Adult Community

The following workshops and breakout sessions are also available:

Gina M. Biegel, MA, LMFT
Psychotherapist and Author, Founder, Stressed Teens Program
Mindfulness for Professionals Working with Adolescents: A Training in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program for Teens (MBSR-T)

Randye Semple, PhD
Clinical Psychologist and Author
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Anxious Children
Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Children (MBCT-C)

Megan Cowan
Co-Founder and Executive Director of Programs, Mindful Schools
Integrating Mindfulness into the K5 Classroom: Lessons Learned From Teaching Over 13,000 Students

Gina M. Biegel, MA, LMFT
Race to Right Here Right Now: An Introduction for Utilizing and Disseminating Mindfulness with Adolescents

M. Lee Freedman, MD

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Co-Founder, Mindfulness Toronto, Founder, Mindful Families and School
Mindful Parents: Resilient Children: Teaching Mindful Parenting Practice through Group and Individual Psychotherapy

Joe Klein, LPC, CSAC
Founder and President Inward Bound Mindfulness Education
Sex, Drugs, Facebook and Ice Cream

Sam Himelstein, PhD
Psychotherapist, Researcher, and Mindfulness Teacher
and
Chris McKenna

Mindfulness Teacher & Executive Director, Mind Body Awareness Project
Teaching Mindfulness to Urban & At-Risk Adolescents

Amy Saltzman, MD
Mindfulness Teacher & Holistic Physician, Creator and Director: Still Quiet Place, Co-founder and Director: Association for Mindfulness in Education
Still Quiet Place: Proven Practices for Teaching Children and Teens the Skills for Peace and Happiness

Amy Garrett, PhD
Research Scientist Stanford University
Brain Abnormalities Associated with Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents

Nimrod Sheinman, ND
Naturopathic physician and mind-body expert, Founder, Israel Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Founder, The Mindful Language Project
Bringing the Soul Back to School: Lessons Learned from over 15 Years of Teaching Mindfulness and Mind-Body Health in Israeli Schools

The audio recordings and videos are a useful resource for psychologists, counselors, educators, health professionals and parents who are working with children and teens. To purchase the audio or streaming conference videos of individual talks or the full conference, and to learn more about each talk, visit More Than Sound. Presenter biographies are available here. Sample video clips are available on More Than Sound’s YouTube channel.

The UCSD Center for Mindfulness is planning the second annual Bridging Hearts & Minds conference, scheduled for February 1-3, 2013.

Mindfulness as a Fundamental Form of Literacy, Gems from an Interview with Rick Hanson

Mindful.org logo

Mindful.org’s On Teen Life blogger Gina M. Biegel, MA, LMFT, founder of  Stressed Teens , psychotherapist, and author, has posted a fascinating interview with Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom and the newly released Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.

In her blog post, Biegel notes that “Hanson . . . says mindfulness can help young adults learn and recognize that they do, in fact, have power and control, and can adjust their own minds. He’ll often ask them, ‘Who is in charge of your attention? Are you a hammer or a nail when it comes to your attention? Most people are nails being pounded on all day long.’ Read the rest of the post at mindful.org.

Join Gina, Rick, and a number of other presenters who are at the forefront of bringing mindfulness to youth at the Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research conference, February 4-5, 2012 at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego.

Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference

Yoga as an everyday survival skill: “Street Yoga” is taking yoga to places where it’s needed most

Mark Lilly, Yoga Therapist, Author and Founder of "Street Yoga"

For Mark Lilly, yoga therapist, author, and founder of Street Yoga, yoga is an everyday survival skill, a practice he has shared with thousands of youth as founder and president of the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit organization. Mark will be presenting a session entitled Yoga at the Edge of Trauma at the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research, February 4-5, 2012 at the Catamaran Resort Hotel in San Diego.

We are also very pleased to announce that Mark will be leading an open session of “Beach Yoga” on Sunday morning of the conference, beside beautiful Mission Bay at the Catamaran. Plan to attend and practice with Mark!

After years of serving youth on the edge, Street Yoga in the past two years has expanded its commitment to serve by offering more classes and workshops for those who care for youth. These teachings aim to build an entire community of well-being with and around the young people they have always served. By supporting their parents, guardians, case workers, therapists and teachers, they help the young people by building up the health of their communities.

This work has taken a number of interesting turns –bringing them to serve parents, police officers, and front-line social workers. Most recently, Mark Lilly led a retreat for a group of community health workers from North Belfast, in the UK, a neighborhood with some of the highest levels of violence and conflict throughout all of Northern Ireland over the past 40 years. The training emphasized complete self-care as a form of community leadership, ultimately a seed to helping them better serve their many clients, young and old, Protestant or Catholic, throughout Belfast.

That front-line work has grown out of recent research by senior Street Yoga staff around the correlation between mindfulness and resilience, and between resilience and the healing from trauma. Mark will be bringing this work to staff at the Veteran’s Administration in December, and then to a wide variety of audiences throughout 2012.

One particular audience for this front line resilience work is police officers, with specialized modules currently being developed for them, and connections being made with individual officers in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

This avenue for healing will bring great benefit to communities served, allowing officers to work with less stress, and greater perceptivity to community needs. A pilot is being envisioned in collaboration with San Diego Youth Services, an innovative agency dedicated to helping homeless youth overcome significant challenges throughout the metro area. SDYS already works with police officers, as well as the US Navy, and such a partnership between those groups and Street “Yoga” Lilly says, “will bring more practical mindfulness skills into the lives of key members of our communities, and will allow us an excellent opportunity to seek solutions to intractable and intense civic issues.”

Mindfulness and Yoga: Complementary Paths of Health, Healing, and Wellbeing

By Amy Holte, Ph.D., M.Ed.

Amy Holte, Ph.D.m M.Ed.

Amy Holte

Amy teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, which is launching a new monthly 2nd Saturday workshop series entitled “Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga” starting Saturday August 13th 9-10:30am that she will teach, with registration open to anyone. The following article draws from her work teaching mindfulness, yoga, and meditation to help people suffering from stress and stress-related conditions, including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

As I’ve been teaching various forms of contemplative practice over the past dozen years or so in different settings with a wide variety of groups, I have observed that people who practice “yoga” do not always have a sitting meditation practice, and that people who meditate do not always have a contemplative-oriented movement practice. This trend seems to reflect a wider societal phenomenon evident in a number of fields, notable philosophy, psychology, and medicine, over the past few hundred years to separate the realms of mind and body. Thus, one feature of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, and other mindfulness-based programs, that strikes me as particularly powerful is the blending of both of these approaches to self-development within the same course offering. In my experience, these two approaches – sitting meditation and mindful movement — are intimately tied to one another, and, when practiced together in a complementary way, inevitably deepen one’s practice.

Mindfulness is often conceived of as a moment-to-moment practice of non-judgmentally paying attention to one’s experience, a practice that is cultivated both formally through specific techniques, such as sitting meditation, and informally as one moves through daily life. In this sense, mindfulness has developed over the past half-century or so as a means of experiencing many of the psychological benefits of meditation without necessitating adoption, or even consideration, of specific spiritual, philosophical, or religious beliefs. Thus, although mindfulness grows out of the Buddhist stream of contemplative practice (Maex, 2011), mindfulness as it is practiced today offers a secular pathway for working with the mind and body.

Interestingly, the notion of “mindfulness” is also evoked to refer to a specific mindfulness program. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a systematic approach to teaching mind-body awareness and growth that was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn over 30 years ago when others teachers of contemplative paths were also practicing and teaching mindfulness, meditation, and yoga (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Included in the program of sitting meditation, attention to the breath and thoughts, and body awareness, is a “yoga” practice that resembles the type of practice offered in most yoga studies. This combined approach of MBSR and other mindfulness-based programs (Cullen, M. 2011) has been particularly useful as a means of integrating mindfulness into the therapeutic contexts of medicine, clinical psychology, and healthcare in general.

In a parallel fashion, the practice of “yoga” has also made its way into therapeutic, clinical, and healthcare contexts both on its own as a method of reducing stress and bringing health to the body and mind, and within mindfulness-based program as a means of practicing mindfulness (Harrington, 2008). Distinct from the “mindfulness” milieu, “yoga” has become widely popular as a way of achieving health, fitness, and vigor (Alter, 2004). In this sense, for many people today “yoga” means a physical movement oriented practice of various postures, perhaps also with awareness of the breath and some deeper connection of the body with the mind and other aspects of our being, with benefits of greater flexibility, strength, and diminished stress and pain-related symptoms.

However, in the ancient tradition of yoga, and, in fact, in many non-mainstream circles today, meditation is the ground of yoga. For thousands of years, even predating the era of Classical Yoga (c. 150-200A.D.), the practice of “yoga” centered on meditative practices as the means for uniting the practitioner with the greater reality (Feuerstein, 1998). One important feature of yoga, though, is the fact that it adapts to culture, historical era, etc. Thus, the system of strong physical postures and breathing techniques that we know as “yoga” today actually emerged rather late in the history of yoga, in the 13-15th centuries, and is more accurately identified as “hatha yoga” (White, 1996). This physical and body oriented method of practicing “yoga” (transformed once again from its medieval manifestation) is what has become a popular means of pursuing health and strength of the body and mind today (Alter, 2004; DeMichelis, 2004; Harrington, 2008), whether on its own or as part of a mindfulness program.

No matter one’s entry point into contemplative practice, whether it be through the physical or the mental, I invite us to consider that these two streams of practice are not separate. Rather, these are complementary means to awareness, health, and wellbeing. Mindfulness helps deepen the process of self-inquiry during physical practice, a lesson that can then be taken off the mat when we move around in life. Similarly, a regular contemplative movement – hatha yoga if you prefer the more traditional name, or simply “yoga,” – supports a sitting meditation practice. Meditators often encounter problems such as pain in the knees and back from sitting for extended periods of time; yet, when a regular “yoga” practice is undertaken, the body becomes transformed in such a way as to allow it to remain comfortably at rest for longer and longer periods of time in a single posture that supports a state of restful awareness experienced in the mind, as well. The effects of systematically practicing yoga take root in the body, transforming it on a day-to-day basis. Together, contemplative sitting and movement practices bring more ease and free practitioners from preoccupation with the pains and limitations that we may normally experience in our body-mind, thus cultivating greater wisdom and wholeness in daily life.

A plethora of scientific and clinical research has shown that both modes of practice lead to healing and stress-reduction. For example, relaxation of tense muscles, improvement of blood flow throughout the body, optimization of heart rate and respiration, and reduction of anxiety and depression (Kabat-Zinn, et al., 1992) have all been found in research on both yoga and mindfulness (Benson, H., Beary, J., and Carol, M., 1974). Moreover, improvements in chronic stress-related conditions, such as chronic pain including backaches and headaches (Kabat-Zinn, et al., 1982, 1985, 1986; Galantino, et al., 2004; Tekur, P., Singphow, C., Nagendra, H.R., and Raghuram, N., 2008), irritable bowel syndrome (Kuttner, et al., 2006; Gaylord, S.A., et al., 2011; Kearney DJ, McDermott K., Martinez M., and Simpson T.L., 2011), and arthritis (Pradhan, et al., 2007; Badsha, et al., 2009), heart disease (Ornish, et al., 1998; Sullivan et al., 2009; Allexandre, et al., 2010), insomnia (Khalsa, 2004; Kreitzer et al., 2005), and cancer (Carlson et al., 2003; Witek-Janusek et al., 2008; Ulger and Yagli, 2010) have also been shown in populations practicing both mindfulness and yoga.  Because of this overlap of the benefits of each, and that these methods are complementary to one another, perhaps it is no wonder that they are brought together in MBSR.

So how can we make sense of the observation that different people naturally gravitate towards different types of practice? It is not so difficult to recognize that we each have unique constitutions.  Some people are more introspective by nature, while others are more action and physically oriented. So sitting and practicing meditation may be a more natural behavior for those of the more introspective constitution, while engaging in physical postures, sometimes often quite challenging movements, may offer more appeal for others.

Yet in common between all constitutions is the basic reality of the intimate connectedness of body and mind. This insight is especially relevant when we consider the possibility that the “body” is not merely, or just, “physical” as it in common understandings of the body.  Embedded within the body lies our nervous system, the physical and energetic reality of our minds. Thus, in this sense, the mind resides within the body as a continuous ever-present system that is fully interactive with the rest of the body. In this view, cognitive processes, such as attention, thinking, and problem solving, and emotions as well, are embodied and deeply rooted in the body’s interactions with the world (Varela, et al., 2009). This embodied mind orientation provides an increasingly popular theoretical stance for a holistic view of human nature that the two – body and mind – are not separate.

What does this mean for practice? The practical insight here is to spend at least some time each day on the different types of contemplative practice, both sitting and movement, because each mode of practice supports, complements, and reinforces the other. By exercising the literal muscles of the physical body, we simultaneously exercise the metaphorical muscles of the mind; and, conversely, by strengthening mental acuity and clarity through sitting practice, we also benefit the body. An integrative approach to lifestyle, behavior, and healing cultivates true health and wellbeing.

Dr. Holte is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where she completed her doctoral research on meditation and the brain, drawing from both ancient texts and current research on the neuroscience of meditation and clinical effectiveness of yoga and meditation for health conditions.

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