Thursday, 28 August 2014

New Website - Daoscape

This blog is becoming less active since the author has gained a qualification to teach Western secular mindfulness and has created a new website containing information and articles here:

Monday, 7 July 2014

Daily Mail News: Stressed at work? Meditating really does work - and you'll see a difference in just three days, say researchers

On 4th July 2014, The Daily Mail online posted an article in the Science section titled: Stressed at work? Meditating really does work - and you'll see a difference in just three days, say researchers.

Here are some key quotes:
"Meditating can have an almost instant effect on reducing stress, researchers have found. 
For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment.  Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.  Published in the journal 'Psychoneuroendocrinology,' the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people's ability to be resilient under stress. 
Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.  The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience.  More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness meditation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity. 
'When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it — especially during a stressful task,' said Creswell.  'And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production."  Creswell's group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity."

Saturday, 28 June 2014

TIME: 25 Minutes of This Will Get Rid of Your Stress

On 27th June 2014, TIME online published an article in the Health > Mental Health/Psychology section titled: 25 Minutes of This Will Get Rid of Your Stress.

Here are some key quotes:

"Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University investigated how effective mindfulness meditation can be in countering the body’s stress response.
They randomly assigned 66 volunteers to either participate in mindful meditation for 25 minutes for three days, or go through a cognitive training program in which they learned how to analyze poetry passages. The people who meditated reported less stress, and even showed that they were better at coping with stress compared to those who relied on their behavior training.
The new study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, is not the first to show the positive effects of mediation [sic]."

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Guardian: Mindful eating? How to get more from your meals

On 23rd June 2014, The Guardian online published an article in the Life & Style>Live Better section titled: Mindful eating? How to get more from your meals.

Here are some key quotes:
"...mindful eating, the newest offshoot from meditation folks Headspace, the wildly popular secular app created by Andy Puddicombe, a witty ex-Buddhist monk, and his business partner, Rich Pierson. It’s an online course, split into three levels (each is 10 days long requiring around 10 minutes a day) to be done whenever you feel like it, wherever is convenient.
The approach is less about calorie counting, more about increasing your awareness of what you are eating. In other words, eat cake, just think about what you’re eating and why you’re eating it.
The idea is to listen to the app before you cook and adapt your behaviour accordingly by approaching food in a focused way, thinking about the ingredients, where they come from, how they smell, then examining how they taste, how they move on your tongue. It sounds overly holistic but in practice, pretty sensible. The first few days are tough. Before meals, mindful eaters are asked to rate how hungry they are. I mentally note my level of "mind chatter" (distraction) and how I feel, out of 10. After I’ve eaten I ask myself the same questions."

ABC News: Happy snap your way to inner calm

On 20th June 2014, ABC News published an article online in the Health & Wellbeing>Features section titled: Happy snap your way to inner calm.

Here are some key quotes:
"In 2012, Johnstone created "I had a black dog", a whimsical five-minute video about depression, for the World Health Organisation. He has also written and illustrated books about depression, meditation and the practice of mindfulness, which he describes as "being more aware of what you're doing and [being] more present".

Johnstone now works as creative director at the mental health organisation Black Dog Institute and says mindfulness played a key part in his recovery from depression. (For more about the growing body of evidence that mindfulness can be helpful in managing mental illnesses, see Meditation: the healing force of a quiet mind.)
...a mobile phone camera is the perfect tool for an "eyes-wide-open" meditation on the go. And the beauty of using your phone camera is you probably have it with you all the time. (Just make sure you switch it to aeroplane mode first so you're not distracted by texts, tweets and the like, he says.)
"A camera in your hands is the reminder to consciously slow everything down from your breath, to your walk, to your thoughts... To take photographs, we have to stop, look around, focus and capture. It brings our awareness to what's going on [here and now]."
When we do this, we start to realise we're often surrounded by "beautiful light, beautiful shapes, beautiful colours. But all too often, we just pass them by".
"It doesn't matter what the photograph is, the important thing is the process.""

BBC News: Game of Thrones star Flynn meditation lessons for pupils

On 15th June 2014, BBC News online posted an article in the UK>Wales section titled: Game of Thrones star Flynn meditation lessons for pupils.

Here are some key quotes:
"GCSE students at Ysgol Dewi Sant are taking an eight-week course in relaxation and meditation to reduce exam stress.
Actor Flynn, who lives in the county, visited the school to talk to students.
Head teacher David Hayes said it was helping pupils concentrate in lessons, and focus on their exams.
Head teacher David Haynes said he has been impressed with the results: "The impact has been outstanding in terms of stress relief, concentration for lessons, and the wider world of performing on stage and sports activities.
In some parts of Wales free courses have been set up by the NHS and a parliamentary committee has begun examining whether it could improve outcomes in a variety of public policy areas including business and education."

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Guardian - Mindfulness: 'I was just more chilled afterwards'

On 4th June 2014, The Guardian online published an article containing contributions from Labour MP David Lammy in the Life & style > Live Better: Health and Wellbeing section titled: Mindfulness: 'I was just more chilled afterwards'.

Here are some key quotes:
"Finding 10 minutes a day to practice it was among Dr Laura Marshall-Andrews's key recommendations for boosting health and wellbeing. As David explains below, he was keen to learn more about mindfulness and how it would benefit him. [...]
It's really good to be self-aware. I like the state of being self-aware, it's interesting when you start to look at your own habits. I've had friends and family getting in touch about the challenge. One friend, a lawyer, rang me up and was laughing and picking my brains about what he should be doing."

The Guardian: Mindfulness, purpose and the quest for productive employees

On 3rd June 2014, The Guardian online published an article in the Professional > Guardian Sustainable Business section titled: Mindfulness, purpose and the quest for productive employees.

Here are some key quotes:
"In addition to Google's various lauded - and often lampooned - perks, which include everything from on-site massage therapists to a fleet of bikes for employees to use at will, the tech company routinely offers employees workshops in skills to boost their wellbeing and productivity, ranging from yoga to the popular "search inside yourself" class (now also a book), which teaches mindfulness.

Google may have blazed the trail when it comes to employee satisfaction, but it has been joined by legions of tech companies in the last year, particularly in Silicon Valley and the UK, which currently find themselves in the middle of another dot-com style talent war.
"In tight labor markets like California, you really do have to be good at this to retain talent," says Jane Dutton, PhD, professor of business administration and psychology at University of Michigan. "It was more trendy before and I think it's now real economic imperatives, but there are multiple imperatives, it's not just about retention and the attraction of talent."
Within the positive organizational universe, the experts tend to divide into two camps: those who feel that employee happiness hinges largely on a sense of purpose, and those who feel that relationships are the secret sauce. Dutton falls into the latter camp. "Having positive relationships at work is seen as a major predictor of employee engagement, and that's a major driver of customer engagement," she says.
When it comes to cultivating health and well-being among workers, Dutton says that the most important consideration is community. "Meaning or purpose is part of it, but I would bet on positive relationships," she explains. "Evidence on the almost instantaneous effect of positive human connections on people's bodies convinces me that if I had to choose whether my workplace had purpose or positive connections, I'd bet on connections.""

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Guardian: How two minutes of mindfulness can calm a class and boost attainment

On 3rd June 2014, The Guardian online posted an article in the Professional > Teacher Network section titled: How two minutes of mindfulness can calm a class and boost attainment.

Here are some key quotes:
"Caroline Woods teaches year one and two at The Dharma primary school in Brighton and starts her class every day with a few minutes of silent mindfulness practice. She says getting the children to sit still and in silence isn't the struggle you might imagine. Students actually look forward to a time when all they have to do is stop, be calm and listen.
Although teaching at the school is based on Buddhist values, Woods insists the practice is not about religion or philosophy, it's about gaining control of your negative thoughts and emotions. These skills not only help young people cope with academic stress, but also enable them to deal better with the pains of growing up and day-to-day pressures of life outside the school gates.
"The whole process of mindfulness has the knock-on effect of making people more receptive and open," Woods explains. "What we are trying to do is help them become more aware of themselves in a non-judgemental way. By the time the students leave in year six, they have an emotional intelligence and a set of skills that really equip them to cope with everyday life."
...take a very short pause in the middle of whatever you're doing. This can be done at school by inviting students to stop what they are doing, close their eyes and recognise what is happening in their mind and body right now. Then focus on the breath and really feel a sense of contact with the floor. It can take just two minutes, but once done, students are often ready to carry on in a much calmer way.
Any mindfulness programme in school must, however, start with the teachers. Former teacher Claire Kelly is operations director for the Mindfulness in Schools project which offers training and resources for teachers. She says it is vital the teacher embodies the practice if the students are to follow suit.
"If you are not living the mindfulness principles yourself, the kids will know, they will be very cynical and you will probably put them off," she says. "Likewise, if you teach them a lovely mindfulness lesson and then go out and kick the photocopier in the corridor, they will notice."
"You are giving them a toolkit. Whether they use those skills is up to them, but the chances are they will draw on them at some stage.""

Reuters: Aerobics for the brain? Fitness experts praise mindfulness meditation

On 2nd June 2014 Reuters posted an article titled: Aerobics for the brain? Fitness experts praise mindfulness meditation.

Here are some key quotes:
"Fitness experts call it bicep curls for the brain and aerobics for the mind. Whatever the name, athletes and gym addicts are discovering how mindfulness meditation can enliven a workout routine and invigorate a sports performance.
They say that mindfulness meditation, which focuses on the present moment to clear the mind, can help an exerciser overcome boredom and an athlete zero in on the task at hand.
“Mindfulness meditation is a hot topic actively studied in sports medicine,” said Gregory Chertok, a sports psychology consultant with the American College of Sports Medicine.

The art of living in the present moment is a critical skill in sports, Chertok said, because all performance occurs in the present and lamenting past failures can lead to muscle tension, anxiety and mental chatter that impairs concentration.
He said recent research indicated that meditation improves attention and sharpens impulse control.
One 2014 study published in the Psychological Science journal showed that 15 minutes of focused-breathing meditation may help athletes and exercisers make smarter choices.
“Among the factors that prevent people from exercising is fear of boredom,” said Chertok, who advises clients to use the many meditation apps that are available. “I know a lot of athletes do,” he said.

“If you think you have no time to meditate, how much time do you spend worrying?” she said."

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Daily Mail: Take the stress out of family life

On 27th May 2014, The Daily Mail online newspaper published an article as part of a series in the Femail>Femail home section titled: Take the stress out of family life.

Here are some key quotes:
"...this major series shows you how you can conquer stress  using mindfulness...  Yesterday, we taught you ingenious ways to stay calm at work. Here, in part three, we reveal how mindfulness can  de-stress your family life, too...
Psychotherapist Padraig O’Morain, author of the new  book Mindfulness On The Go, says: ‘When it comes to parenting, mindfulness on the go is the gold standard. Maintaining an attitude of mindfulness is immensely valuable in dealing with the demands of parenting.’  The benefits can be huge, as O’Morain explains: ‘If your attention vanishes into the business of parenting, you stand a good chance of ending the day in a state of physical and mental exhaustion.  ‘However, if you remain mindful as much as you can, you could meet the same demands and end the day in much  better shape.'"

Monday, 19 May 2014

YiQuan: Holding the Tiger and Push hands

YiQuan Master Yao Chengguang performing 'Holding the Tiger' posture.

At the beginning of May 2014 I attended another YiQuan Academy residential intensive for 8 days.

I began practicing a new posture called 'Holding the Tiger' which further opens the hips. The visualisation involves imagining one is holding a tiger that wants to get away.

The author in the 'Holding the Tiger' YiQuan posture.
I also began practicing single arm push-hands - the same as shown in this video of the Yao brothers:

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Guardian News - Google's head of mindfulness: 'goodness is good for business'

On 14th May 2014, The Guardian online posted an article in the Professional>Guardian Sustainable Business section titled: Google's head of mindfulness: 'goodness is good for business'.

Here are some key quotes:
"...he hopes that one day, his role will become commonplace. A growing awareness of the importance of our emotional fitness, he says, is mirroring the same journey of acceptance that physical exercise took in the last century. And he believes that scientific evidence of the benefits of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness will be instrumental into catapulting it into the very heart of the business world.
"If you are a company leader who says employees should be encouraged to exercise, nobody looks at you funny," Tan says. "The same thing is happening to meditation and mindfulness, because now that it's become scientific, it has been demystified. It's going to be seen as fitness for the mind."
But what has all this got to do with the cutthroat world of business?

Tan says that mindfulness opens the doorway to loving kindness, which is at the heart of business success.

"In many situations, goodness is good for business," he says. "If you, as the boss, are nice to your employees, they are happy, they treat their customers well, the customers are happy to spend more money, so everybody wins.

"Also if you treat everybody with kindness, they'll like you even if they don't really know why. And if they like you, they want to help you succeed. So it's good for your soul and it's good for your career."
But if that is so obvious, why is it so difficult for companies to practice altruism? Tan points to the fixation with the short-term which rewards those managers who drive profits at any cost, even if it eventually leads to a loss of talent and productivity.

He suggests the other main reason is that employees often fall into the psychological trap of engaging in destructive behaviour by acting out their unconscious judgments.

"If you don't have the foundation of peace, joy and kindness it is very hard, day to day, to always do the right thing," he says. "If somebody says something negative, your first thought is 'that guy is an asshole' and you want to defeat that guy. So it takes a certain amount of practice to say 'Wait a minute, that guy's just doing his job. He's a good person and so I have to work with him by understanding why he's doing that, and then help him succeed.'"
For those who worry that mindfulness takes years to have any impact, Tan insists that it can create a measurable change in 100 minutes. For those who want a more fundamental impact that can change their lives, this can be achieved in 52 hours, although Tan says there are innumerable depths that mindfulness can help you to uncover.
So far, around 2,000 Google employees have been through its Search Inside Yourself mindfulness course, the most popular of the company's training programmes. Tan says research on long-term impacts hasn't yet been done, and he has only anecdotal evidence of the program's success.

But the main barrier to expanding the programme is a lack of experienced trainers, whom Tan insists need to have completed at least 2,000 hours of meditation practice. That's because "when you're in front of a class, they don't remember what you say, they don't remember what you do; what they remember is how they feel, and that comes from how the trainer personifies the practice, even if they just sit there and say nothing."
"I always align the qualities of peace, joy, compassion with success and profits," he says. "It's starting from where people want to start and helping people succeed in the way they want to succeed.

"And I would say that if you want to try it, you're free to try it and if you don't try it and Joe does, Joe's going to make more money than you and you're free to come and try this any other time."
"The current view of practice has been you have to work so hard to gain these states," he says. "I would like in my lifetime to reframe the whole practice, not as a sacrifice but as a doorway, as a path along which every step is joyful. If I can do that, then the practice becomes far more accessible, and then I can die."

New York Times Blog: Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits

On 12th May 2014, The New York Times posted a blog article in the Well>Mind section titled: Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits.

Here are some key quotes:
“There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking A.D.H.D. medications,” said James M. Swanson, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of the study. “But mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in A.D.H.D.”

“That’s why mindfulness might be so important,” he added. “It seems to get at the causes.”
According to a recent report in Clinical Neurophysiology, adults with A.D.D. were shown to benefit from mindfulness training combined with cognitive therapy; their improvements in mental performance were comparable to those achieved by subjects taking medications.

The training led to a decline in impulsive errors, a problem typical of A.D.D., while the cognitive therapy helped them be less self-judgmental about mistakes or distractedness.
Stephen Hinshaw, a specialist in developmental psychopathology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the time was ripe to explore the utility of nondrug interventions like mindfulness.
Dr. Swanson agreed. “I was a skeptic until I saw the data,” he said, “and the findings are promising.”"

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Guardian News: Politicians joined by Ruby Wax as parliament pauses for meditation

On 7th May 2014, The Guardian online posted an article in the News>Society>Mental health section, titled: Politicians joined by Ruby Wax as parliament pauses for meditation.

Here are some key quotes:
"Sceptical MPs have joked it is becoming "a cult in parliament", but mindfulness meditation stepped into the political mainstream on Wednesday when MPs and peers gathered at Westminster, closed their eyes and went silent for a minute.

Joined by the comedian Ruby Wax, now the poster girl for the benefits of mindfulness to overcome mental health problems, politicians including former ministers Lord Haworth and Jim Fitzpatrick straightened their spines and focused on their breath at the launch of an all party group to explore the potential for mindfulness in health, education, criminal justice.
It was just a taste of what 95 MPs, peers and parliament staff have already experienced on mindfulness meditation courses inside parliament. The practice – based on Buddhist meditation but updated for secular users – is catching on across a stressed-out Britain.
Its popularity has spawned more than 800 courses nationwide and a Headspace meditation app with 50,000 paying users. The most popular guide book is selling 2,000 copies a week and mindfulness based cognitive therapy is now recommended by the NHS to prevent relapses into depression. Now politicians are falling back on it too.

Lord Andrew Stone told the meeting he used it to steady himself after he became "scared" when he was dispatched to Cairo for meetings with Egypt's military leadership earlier this year.
"I didn't know how to cope," he said. "But these practices made a massive difference. I was talking to some pretty serious people there, but I was being compassionate to all sides."

Co-chair of the group, Tracey Crouch MP, one of only a small number of MPs to publicly admit using anti-depressants, revealed mindfulness practice had helped her come off the drugs.
"I have given much better speeches in the House since I started mindfulness," she said. "We genuinely can turn the UK into a mindful nation."
But there are concerns. "There is still no quality control and there is no standards people need to stick to to deliver this important therapy," said Dr Florian Ruths, clinical lead for mindfulness at the Maudsely hospital. "I worry that quite vulnerable people with quite serious problems might being going to courses led by people who aren't aware of the consequences."

Nevertheless it was the testimony of a group of school children, thousands of whom have been exposed to the practice in the last few years, that most moved the politicians."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Daily Mail News: Forget Greed is Good... now Mindfulness is City's mantra: Growing number of financiers finding solace in form of stress relief

The Daily Mail online published an article on 5th May 2014 in the News home sectioned titled: Forget Greed is Good... now Mindfulness is City's mantra: Growing number of financiers finding solace in form of stress relief.

Here are some key quotes:
"A so-called ‘quiet revolution’ is gripping the City of London – with soaring numbers of fast-paced financiers finding solace in ‘mindfulness’.
The CFA Institute for investment professionals is said to be considering launching a meditation programme, while KPMG, Goldman Sachs and Unilever have promoted mindfulness in wellbeing seminars.  The Bank of England has also run meditation ‘taster’ sessions attended by dozens of staff as part of a series of ‘Working Lives’ seminars.

Other firms are said to be reluctant to publicise their meditation initiatives for fear of being perceived as ‘new age’.  But Sally Boyle, a human resources director at Goldman Sachs, said: ‘In years to come we’ll be talking about mindfulness as we talk about exercise now.’  Professor Stephen Palmer, founder and director of the Centre for Stress Management in London, believes the credit crunch has prompted business executives to look for an outlet for anxiety.   He said: ‘We can blame Lehman Brothers. When people have their worlds turned upside down like that, it offers a chance to reflect on life and ask “What am I doing?”' "

Guardian News: Why we will come to see mindfulness as mandatory

On 5th May 2014 The Guardian online published an article in the Comment is free section titled: Why we will come to see mindfulness as mandatory.

Here are some key quotes:
"Once a poorly understood New Age fad, it has moved from the margins to the mainstream. Nothing demonstrates that better than the launch of an all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness on Wednesday.
...increasingly, academics such as Willem Kuyken, a psychologist at Exeter University, are asking whether, if mindfulness can work for depression and pain, anyone else might benefit? What role could it play in schools, and could it help our national epidemic of mental ill health in adolescents?  The analogy that Kabat-Zinn uses is with jogging. In the 1960s when he started running, people thought him a bit odd. Now on a Sunday morning parks and streets are full of people pounding away. The take-up rate for mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn says, is much sharper than for jogging. In another decade, one can imagine that it will be widely accepted and understood as a valuable way to look after your mental health. Just as physical exercise is vital to a desk-bound workforce, so mindfulness will come to be seen as vital for dealing with the complexity of our information-rich lives.
Another risk is that it becomes the privilege of the stressed middle classes who can afford the courses. Some of the most inspiring work is being done by people like Gary Heads in County Durham who is working with unemployed people. Or the project in Cardiff which taught the single mum who recently stood in front of a gathering of Welsh Assembly members to describe movingly how mindfulness had helped her to be a better parent, as well as to find the confidence for public speaking.  The point is that, diligently practised, it very quietly and slowly revolutionises lives in multiple ways – sometimes small, sometimes big. And when you start noticing that process of change – both in yourself and in others – it is quite simply astonishing."

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Reasons to Smile while Practicing Mindfulness

"...just sit, just breathe, and if you feel like it, allow yourself to smile inwardly." Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p436.
"Smile to your whole body as you breathe in, and send your love and compassion to your whole body as you breathe out. Feel all the cells in your whole body smiling joyfully with you." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat HanhAnger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), p226-227

Seated mindfulness practice can be reduced to bathing one's body in awareness as one's whole body breathes while smiling inwardly. The Awareness, breath, and smiling filling every cell, with this whole process supporting itself moment after moment - the inward smile of one moment giving more reason to smile in the next - smiling because one's whole body is smiling - naturally, peacefully, wholesomely. This practice can be tricky to put in place, however - especially the inner smile part, since actively smiling can seem fake, forced, or diplomatic, so here are 6 methods of kindling the inner smile as part of mindfulness practice which can be used alone or together:

1) Enjoying the relaxation of mindfulness meditation.
The increased sensations of lightness from letting go of our physical tension after sitting in minduflness meditation for 5 minutes or more can bring us joy and we can smile because of this.

2) It feels and looks nice to smile - it is a gift to our bodies and others around us.
Smiling has been clinically proven to increase our health and make our perceptions more positive.

3) Watching our automatic bodies - recognizing a deeper positive and wholesome dimension supporting our existence.
The life process is taking care of us whether we consciously recognize it or not. Watching the breath continuing automatically gives us direct evdidence of this positive process operating within every cell of our being, and this can be a great source of joy, bringing a gentle smile to our faces.

4) Sending gratitude to our cells and organs.
Our breath and our hearts have been working to keep us alive over the years no matter what we have done. Smiling lovingly to our organs and cells reduces the physical tension within and around them and allows them to continue operating more efficiently and safely.

5) Immersing ourselves in nature.
Recognizing that we are natural and a seamless part of a greater natural world means that a flower, a bird's song, or even the waves of our breathing, can comfort us and make us smile in awe.

6) Recognizing that we are consciously taking care of ourselves and deserve more inner peace.
After sitting in meditation for 10 minutes it is undeniable that we are looking after ourselves and that we love ourselves - otherwise we would have stopped doing it. The increased relaxation we are feeling from watching the breath is showing us that normally we have a lot of anxiety and fear - of 'tigers' we perceive on the outside or inside of us. We have been out in that wilderness like a panicking monkey most of our lives so it's time to return home to a safer place - to the inner peace which is our birthright - the joy which is the default natural experience of a human being.

The above methods can be summarized as 6 enjoyable activities which kindle our smile as follows:
  • enjoy relaxing
  • enjoy feeling beautiful
  • enjoy the positive life process
  • enjoy feeling cared for
  • enjoy nature
  • enjoy caring

We can make a guided meditation from these activities to be used 5-10 mintues into a formal mindfulness meditation like this:
"Recognizing I am relaxing, I smile gently as I enjoy the feeling of becoming lighter.
Being aware that my gentle smile is beautiful, I present my smile as a gift to all life in and around me.
Understanding that the life process in and around me supports me, I smile with my whole body.
Watching my reflexive breathing caring for me, I smile with gratitude to all my reflexively caring organs.
Understanding that my body is a product of nature, I smile at the awesomeness of nature within me.
Realising that my nature has brought me to this caring practice, I smile at my caring nature."

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Living Mindfully in an Urban 'Jungle'

"We live immersed in a sea of information. The new technology has made this an information age. Are we not exposed to a steady "diet" of information, which we take in daily through newspapers, the radio, and television? Does it not influence our thoughts and feelings and shape our view of the world and even of ourselves much more than we are apt to admit? Does not information constitute, in and of itself, a major stressor in many ways?" - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p414.
"When we drive through a city, our eyes see so many billboards, and these images enter our consciousness. When we pick up a magazine, the articles and advertisements are food for our consciousness. Advertisements that stimulate our craving for possessions, sex, and food can be toxic. If after reading the newspaper, hearing the news, or being in a conversation, we feel anxious or worn out, we know we have been in contact with toxins." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (1999), p32.
"...troubled by various delusions and defiling passions as dense and entangling as a jungle." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p96.
"The question for us, living today, is how to view the city, and we may be ambivalent in our opinions. Is it a concrete jungle; a place of pollution and pressure, sleazy theatre of the exhausting rat race and to be avoided at all costs? Perhaps we dream of living at the end of a lane in the country, or somewhere with trees and open fields, or on a remote island with only half a dozen neighbours. Alternatively, could the modern city be seen as a potential urban utopia - a place rich with possibilities for enlarging the human spirit?" - Buddhism teacher Adam Ford, Mindfulness & The Art of Urban Living: Discovering The Good Life in The City (2013), p16-17.

When we sit down to meditate, our busy thoughts can disturb and irritate us like annoying flies or howling monkeys. Our body can ache and itch as if we have been bitten by mosquitos, and we can feel hot and begin to sweat as if we have a fever. Where do these emotional and anxious reactions come from and why do they happen? Anxiety can easily be triggered by an intimdating person who sits next to us while we feel trapped on a bus, or by the rude unchecked behaviour of someone else's kids, and these events can be carried with us from the 'urban jungles' in which we live - carried in our minds and bodies, as we try to resolve the trauma associated with them when we sit down in a more peaceful, less emotionally-engaging environment. In this way stressful experiences are practically unavoidable in a city and can colour our day for many hours following the event.

Reacting emotionally to potential threats is only useful to us when we are trying to survive in environments which are particularly wild and unpredictable; where individuals lack necessary skills to manage the threats and need to instinctively fight, freeze, or flee, or urgently group together to support one another, as Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School Ronald D. Siegel points out in his book The Mindfulness Solution (2010), p21:
"A human infant wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in the jungle or on the savannah without a parent. Luckily, we have evolved powerful emotional responses that prompt parents to take care of their kids and prompt kids to seek care from their parents. Related feelings connect sexual or romantic partners to one another. These emotions bind us together in couples, extended families, tribes, and larger cultural groups. They enable us to nurture and protect one another, dramatically increasing our chances of survival."
However, this emotionally-driven survival instinct - on it's own, without deep reflection and attention, will only perpetuate the stressful situations if we cannot overcome them with skill, because emotional reactions colour our judgements with cognitive distortions which undermine our ultimate goal of seeing our situations clearly. Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says the following about this in his book Understanding Our Mind (2001) with reference to the Buddhist term 'manas', p174:
"Earlier, I mentioned the function of manas as our “survival instinct.” Because it is attached to the idea of self, it always acts to preserve the self. When we are sleeping and something startles us, that reaction is due to manas. When someone tries to hit us and we move to avoid the blow, that rapid self-protective response belongs to manas. Mind consciousness has not had enough time to consider the situation and set an action into motion, but manas behaves automatically, instinctively. This capacity of manas is akin to what biologists call the “primitive” brain, which functions solely in the interest of survival, of self-preservation. Whenever we are in any situation of great danger, manas works hard, persuading us to run or to do whatever is necessary to save our life. But because manas is blind, because its nature is obscured by delusion, it can often take us in the wrong direction. To describe the potentially self-destructive aspect of the “survival instinct,” modern psychology uses the image of a snake that has a mosquito on it. In order to get rid of the mosquito, the snake lies in the road so a car will drive over it—killing the mosquito but also the snake. Human beings also act like this. We want to punish someone, so we destroy ourselves in order to make the other person suffer. Manas is the force behind this kind of thinking."
In order to begin to deal with our potentially severely destructive emotions we need to understand the evolutionary history of the psychological mechanisms which can trigger them. Siegel illustrates our basic yet daunting situation in The Mindfulness Solution as follows, p21:
"So here we are: smart monkeys who are instinctually programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, trying to enhance our rank in the troop, living in a world in which illness, aging, and death, along with myriad smaller disappointments, are unavoidable. On top of this we have the capacity to imagine things going wrong all the time. It’s a wonder we don’t find life more difficult than we do."
Mindfulness for Dummies (2010) highlights how constantly imagining things going wrong is perfect for survival in a jungle where ambushes from predators are always a strong possibility, p189-190:
"The human brain is designed to remember things that go wrong rather than right. This is a survival mechanism and ensures that you don’t make the same mistake again and again, which may be life-threatening if you live out in the jungle and need to remember to avoid the tigers."
In order to be more skillful and reduce the stress we must remove ourselves from the stressors - the jungle dangers - and then work with the origin of our warped judgements; our thoughts. Fearful thoughts can be actively countered with gratitude - to rebalance the perception of life being an overly negative fear-driven experience by emphasising gratitude for life acting in our interests where it can:
"If you don’t live in the jungle, focusing on the negative is a problem. The antidote for the human brain’s tendency to look for what’s going wrong is gratitude. And gratitude has been found to be very effective."
However, even if we make a big effort to focus on the positive as we go about our business, there is still the advertising, imagery and symbolism present in a city flowing into our nervous systems, bypassing our conceptual filters - appealing to our basic instincts and triggering emotional reactions. It is impossible to avoid it, as mindfulness teacher Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p415:
"...all the advertisements we are exposed to are taken in. You notice this when you meditate. You begin to see that your mind is full of all sorts of things that have crept into it from the news or from advertisements."
One way to avoid this 'sensory pollution', of course, is to not live in a city. This can be a powerful way of gaining some inner peace and emotional resilience, as Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book The Sun My Heart (1988), p37-38:
"A beginning meditator may want to leave the city and go off to the countryside to help close those windows that would trouble his spirit if left open. There he or she can become one with the quiet forest, and rediscover and restore himself or herself, without being carried away by the chaos of "the outside world." The fresh and silent woods help you remain in awareness. When awareness is well-rooted, when you can maintain it without faltering, then you may wish to return to the city and remain there, less troubled. But before you reach this point, you must be very careful, nourishing your awareness moment by moment, choosing the surroundings and sustenance that assist you the most."
However, for those people who lack the time, resources, and teachers to be able to do such a thing, they remain trapped in the urban jungle and have to find other ways to cope - they have to resort to their private spaces, or if even those are lacking, their internal world as a last remaining bastion of personal influence and refuge. While remaining in those refuges, watching one's emotional reactions and becoming more attuned to the more subtle physical 'warning' sensations that precede them is an essential step. As Siegel states in The Mindfulness Solution, monitoring internal muscle tension is the key, p192:
"...our evolutionary heritage sets us up for anxiety. Our fight-or-flight system, so well suited to dealing with emergencies, becomes stuck on “on” because of our nonstop thinking. You’ll recall that one aspect of this arousal system involves muscle tension. We (and other animals) tense the muscles in our body when we perceive danger, preparing to fight, freeze, or flee. You may also recall that this tensing occurs not only in response to external threats, such as the tiger in the jungle, but also to internal threats—the tigers within. This is Freud’s signal anxiety, the tension we feel when an unwanted thought or emotion threatens to surface." 
In order to become more sensitive to internal tension, however, one must find a way to bring more habitual calmness into one's life. This most often requires a peaceful meditation space where one feels safe and will not be disturbed - an oasis of tranquility within  the urban jungle. Eventually, however, we can carry the peacefulness of this space within us wherever we go. Thich Nhat Hanh writes of this in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, p27:
"Calming allows us to rest, and resting is a precondition for healing. When animals in the forest get wounded, they find a place to lie down, and they rest completely for many days. They don't think about food or anything else. They just rest, and they get the healing they need. When we humans get sick, we just worry! We look for doctors and medicine, but we don't stop. Even when we go to the beach or the mountains for a vacation, we don't rest, and we come back more tired than before. We have to learn to rest. Lying down is not the only position for resting. During sitting or walking meditation, we can rest very well. Meditation does not have to be hard labor. Just allow your body and mind to rest like an animal in the forest. Don't struggle. There is no need to attain anything."
Taking shelter from a thunder storm, if even for a short time, is not cowardly but is often necessary and sensible, and similarly taking shelter from the potentially traumatizing 'social storms' whipped up by the pace and proximity of city life is apparently also necessary. Kabat-Zinn gives the following instructions using the imagery and conditions of a lake to guide meditators to a more peaceful place, in Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p141:
"Breathing with the lake image moment by moment, feeling its body as your body, allow your mind and your heart to be open and receptive, to reflect whatever comes near. Experience the moments of complete stillness when both reflection and water are completely clear, and other moments when the surface is disturbed, choppy, stirred up, reflections and depth lost for a time. Through it all, as you dwell in meditation, simply noting the play of the various energies of your own mind and heart, the fleeting thoughts and feelings, impulses and reactions which come and go as ripples and waves, noting their effects just as you observe the various changing energies at play on the lake: the wind, the waves, the light and shadow and reflections, the colors, the smells. Do your thoughts and feelings disturb the surface? Is that okay with you? Can you see a rippled or wavy surface as an intimate, essential aspect of being a lake, of having a surface? Can you identify not only with the surface but with the entire body of the water, so that you become the stillness below the surface as well, which at most experiences only gentle undulations, even when the surface is whipped to frothing?"
Over time, if allowed to, this disturbed body of water and any sediment caught up in it settles. Professor Mark Williams relates one MBSR's practitioner's experience of this in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011) as follows, p86:
"Seeing her mind as a lake, Hannah saw how often it had become disturbed by a passing storm. ‘Then,’ she said, ‘the water becomes murky and full of sediment. But if I am patient, I can see the weather changing. I can see the lake in all its beauty gradually becoming clear again. Not that this solves all my problems. I can still feel discouraged sometimes. But it helps if I see it as a process that I repeat time after time. I can see the point of practising every day.’ Hannah was discovering something profound: that none of us can control what thoughts rampage through our minds, or the ‘weather’ they can create. But we do have some control over how we relate to it."
Without actively practising tethering our flighty 'jungle' mind to our bodies (for example to our breath), however, we will not be able to remain in the peace of the present moment enough to settle like a calm lake. This is something American Zen teacher Jan Chozan Bays refers to in How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p14:
"The Buddha pointed out that when a wild elephant is first captured and led out of the jungle, it has to be tethered to a stake. In the case of our mind, that stake takes the form of whatever we attend to in our mindfulness practice — for example, the breath, a mouthful of food, or our posture. We anchor the mind by returning it over and over to one thing. This calms the mind and rids it of distractions. A wild elephant has many wild habits. It runs away when humans approach. It attacks when frightened. Our mind is similar. When it senses danger, it runs away from the present. It might run to pleasant fantasies, to thoughts of future revenge, or just go numb. If it is frightened, it may attack other people in an angry outburst, or it may attack inwardly, in silent but corrosive self-criticism."

Our urban jungles can often feed and encourage this "wild elephant mind" in us. We can be quick to follow the intoxicating perfume of a flower - our minds drawn off into fantasy realms, and in the body, twitchy irritation can manifest as if one were being bothered by persistent rainforest mosquitos or flies, p85:
" soon as there is a small itch, the hands fly up to scratch it."

If, while we meditate, we manage to catch ourselves and notice the habitual emotional or daydreaming responses, we have time to alter our behaviour and reframe the situation. Itches and any other discomfort can often be a psychosomatic echo of the busy urban jungle in which we as city dwellers are immersed most of the time. However, merely reframing our experience and applying a conceptual label is not enough - one must go beyond concepts and explore our sensations with full acceptance. In this vein, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams advise to investigate any discomfort peacefully rather than react in any way, and therefore allow the possibity for deeper insight to occur, in The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p101-102:
"This distinction between thinking about the body and directly experiencing the sensations in the body is critically important. Often we see the body as if from a lofty citadel in the head. We look down on the body (physically and metaphorically) and think "Oh, yes, there's a bit of a pain there, a bit of an itch there-I must do something about it." But there is a different possibility. We can learn to bring the mind right into the body and inhabit the whole of it with awareness."
Jan Chozan Bays' relates something similar in How to Train a Wild Elephant, but beginning with physical posture, p86:
"When we relax our hands, the rest of the body and even the mind will relax, too. Relaxing the hands is a way of quieting the mind. We also found that when the hands are quiet in our lap, we can listen more attentively."
Working with small irritations such as itches in this way can allow one to identify a process of acceptance and resilience which unfolds the more one practices. Kabat-Zinn and Williams relate a story illustrating this in The Mindful Way Through Depression, p149:
"After a day or two, the stings had stopped being painful but had become intensely itchy. Anthony had been told emphatically not to scratch, but he could hardly bear it, so strong was the itch. He decided to experiment with bringing his awareness to the itching and discomfort, "breathing into it" to investigate it more closely. He noticed that the itching was not just one sensation but many. What's more, this bundle of sensations changed from moment to moment, some of the sensations shifting rapidly, some more slowly. Later, Anthony was able to apply the skills he had developed in dealing with the physical discomfort of itching to discomfort related more directly to emotion. When his body felt tense, rather than getting fed up or trying to ignore it, he was now able to stay inside the tension, breathing with it, moving up close to it, in intimate contact with the various sensations associated with it. He found that he was able to bring a greater sense of compassion toward his body and a more accepting attitude toward himself."


By regularly finding a peaceful environment to take such a step back from the urban jungle, and by tethering our wild elephant minds; thus allowing the itchy mosquito bites and suffocating feverishness of the mind and body to become less significant and even heal and fade away, we begin to experience our city life as less overwhelming. But this can only happen if we can stop the itching and scratching which keeps our 'jungle adventure' wounds open and unhealed. In this way mindfulness helps us to overcome anxiety regarding the inherent dangers in our environment - giving us more comfort and options, as Kabat-Zinn relates in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p73:
"A calmness develops with intensive concentration practice that has a remarkably stable quality to it. It is steadfast, profound, hard to disturb, no matter what comes up. It is a great gift to oneself to be able periodically to cultivate samadhi over an extended period of time. This is most readily accomplished on long, silent meditation retreats, when one can withdraw from the world a la Thoreau for this very purpose."

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Times: How to be in a mindful marriage

On 12th April 2014 The Times online published an article in the Life>Relationships section titled: How to be in a mindful marriage.

The article began:
" Being happier is not dependent on income, success or beauty — or so say the new gurus of self-help. Rather, the key to an improved life is, apparently, mindfulness: the state of conscious awareness that allows us to live “in the moment”, wreathed in positive self-acceptance.  While “mindful” eating, sleeping and relaxation techniques have long been in fashion, mindful marriage — an area that may benefit most from its teachings — has been neglected. Which is strange given that, when we're bristling defensively or hissing abuse at our spouses, it's gentle benefits could prove life-changing."

Guardian News - There's no price tag on a clear mind: Intel to launch mindfulness program

On 8th April 2014, The Guardian online published an article in the Professional>Guardian Sustainable Business section titled: There's no price tag on a clear mind: Intel to launch mindfulness program.

Here is the main article text:
"At any given moment during the workweek, there's a high possibility that employees at Silicon Valley tech companies are trying to disconnect from the very same products they have developed. Whether it's via deep breathing, meditation or a quiet moment to reflect, companies like Google, Twitter and Medium encourage the use of mindfulness techniques as a way to trade digital clutter and stress for greater clarity and purpose.
But away from the spotlight, one of the sector's oldest companies is quietly making plans to expand its program to a greater level than ever before. 
After two years of running an under-the-radar program at two locations in California and Oregon – initiated by a manager in its engineering department, no less – Intel is moving to make a nine-week mindfulness program available to its workforce of over 100,000 employees in 63 countries across the globe.  "There's going to be a quantum leap," said Lindsay Van Driel, the Hillsboro, Oregon-based manager who co-founded Awake@Intel with Portland leadership consultant Anakha Coman.  Using a train-the-trainer model, the program will be rolled out over the next six months to its first office locations. An employee is currently being trained in India, and others in China, Chile, Costa Rica and Ireland have expressed interest. Van Driel is adamant about making sure that Awake@Intel grows slowly so that the course is implemented in a way that stays true to its original intention.  "The right teachers [who will all be employees] will have to emerge as leaders before we can offer it there," said Van Driel, who is also a certified meditation and yoga instructor. "It's not something that anyone can teach. It has to be lived and embodied." All sessions will be held with teachers and students in the same room.  Though Van Driel did consult with Chade-Meng Tan, the Google engineer who co-wrote the company's Search Inside Yourself course on mindfulness and emotional intelligence with meditation teacher Mirabai Bush and San Francisco Zen Center priest Norman Fischer, she and Coman created a program that met the needs of a company mainly comprised of scientists and engineers, and one that cultivated the Intel values of innovation, candor, possibility thinking, risk taking and moving quickly and decisively. The curriculum was developed in three months.  Before the first weekly session, each participant identifies what he or she is most interested in improving. During the first month, the class learns to quiet their minds. They set intentions and explore the components of emotional intelligence. For the last part of the course, participants are exposed to mindful listening, delve into BrenĂ© Brown's ideas on the influence that vulnerability has on innovation, then discuss Otto Scharmer's concept of collective mindfulness. Each week, participants share their experiences and insight utilizing what they've learned over the course of the past week – for example, talking about how they moved from compulsion to choice.  "People get more authentically related to each other – beyond competency levels and their roles. So real ideas are heard and received, and people are much more generative together. The corporate mask that people put on when they walk through the door comes down," Coman said.  Evaluation results have been notable among the 1,500 employees who have participated in 19 sessions to date. On average, participants responding to pre- and post- self-evaluation questionnaires report a two-point decrease (on a 10-point scale) in experiencing stress and feeling overwhelmed, a three-point increase in overall happiness and wellbeing, and a two-point increase in having new ideas and insights, mental clarity, creativity, the ability to focus, the quality of relationships at work and the level of engagement in meetings, projects and collaboration efforts.  Since the program is voluntary, it seems that employees aspiring to be mindful would surely be derailed by colleagues. But there's still value, according to Coman. If one person can maintain presence in a conflict it won't escalate, and it can help others to stay calm, she said.  How did a top tech company make the decision to invest in such a large program without a clear numerical return on investment?  Van Driel said that she focused on presenting scientific studies showing the health benefits of meditation, as well as the effect of the program on workers' ability to relate better to each other and improve team performance. The company has not determined the amount of money it will put into the program at this time.  "If we show people pages and pages of our feedback, there's nothing that anyone can say that takes away the validity of that experience," she said. "If I have an engineer that says 'I can solve a technical problem in two less weeks [after applying what was learned during the class]', you can monetize it anywhere."

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Guardian News - Thich Nhat Hanh: is mindfulness being corrupted by business and finance?

On 28th March 2014, The Guardian online published an article in the Professional>Guardian Sustainable Business section titled: Thich Nhat Hanh: is mindfulness being corrupted by business and finance?.

Here are some key quotes:
"Thich Nhat Hanh, the 87-year-old Zen master considered by many to be the father of mindfulness in the west, says as long as business leaders practice "true" mindfulness, it does not matter if the original intention is triggered by wanting to be more effective at work or to make bigger profits. That is because the practice will fundamentally change their perspective on life as it naturally opens hearts to greater compassion and develops the desire to end the suffering of others.

Sitting in a lotus position on the floor of his monastery at Plum Village near Bordeaux, France, Thay tells the Guardian: "If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you'll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way."
"If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose," he says. "It may look like the practise of mindfulness but inside there's no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It's just an imitation. If you don't feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness."

As he puts it: "If you're happy, you cannot be a victim of your happiness. But if you're successful, you can be a victim of your success."
Thay was recently invited by the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, whose favorite book is Thay's The Miracle of Mindfulness and who praises the Zen monk's practice for being "deeply passionate and compassionate toward those who are suffering," to the organization's Washington headquarters for an event that was hugely popular with staff.

This did not prevent some senior colleagues, who were nervous about how such a visit would be seen to the outside world, from criticizing the move before the event. The Economist did, in fact, publish a critical article.

But Kim remains resolute. He tells the Guardian he fended off criticism by pointing to multiple scientific studies showcasing the benefits of mindfulness.
He and a group of monastics spent a day at Google's headquarters, spending time with the senior management as well as leading around 700 employees through mindfulness discussions and sitting and walking meditation. So many staff wanted to take part that the company had to open up two additional locations to live stream his lecture.
At the day-long retreat with the CEOs, Thay led a silent meditation and offered a Zen tea ceremony before talking to the group of largely billionaires about how important it is that they, as individuals, resist being consumed by work at the expense of time with their families: "Time is not money," he told them. "Time is life, time is love."
Back at his Plum Village monastery, near Bordeaux, Thay says of his trip: "In all the visits, I told them they have to conduct business in such a way that happiness should be possible for everyone in the company. What is the use of having more money if you suffer more? They also should understand that if they have a good aspiration, they become happier because helping society to change gives life a meaning."
The trip was just the beginning, he adds. "I think we planted a number of seeds and it will take time for the seeds to mature," he says. "If they begin to practise mindfulness, they'll experience joy, happiness, transformation, and they can fix for themselves another kind of aspiration. Fame and power and money cannot really bring true happiness compared to when you have a way of life that can take care of your body and your feelings.""

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Wall Street Journal: Westin Hotels Invites Travelers to Discover a World of Well-Being with Launch of Multi-Million Dollar Campaign

On 20th March 2014, The Wall Street Journal online published an article titled: Westin Hotels Invites Travelers to Discover a World of Well-Being with Launch of Multi-Million Dollar Campaign.

Here are some key quotes:
"Renowned as an industry innovator with a history of firsts in the wellness space, Westin Hotels & Resorts today announced the global launch of the Westin Well-being Movement, an ambitious $15 million brand-wide campaign designed to enhance the well-being of guests and associates around the world. The year-long initiative will introduce a string of innovative partnerships and programs across Westin's six brand pillars: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well and Play Well.
The Westin Well-being Movement will launch globally with Headspace, a leading force in the field of health and well-being. This first new partnership of 2014 is aimed at helping guests "feel well."
Headspace co-founder and meditation expert, Andy Puddicombe, will lead the charge as the authority for the brand's "Feel Well" pillar and is the first appointee to the Westin Well-being Council - a diverse advisory board composed of renowned thought leaders, each of whom aligns with a specific wellness brand pillar.
The new partnership with Headspace will encourage guests and associates to look after the health of their minds, with simple guided meditation exercises that help them smile more, listen more, worry less and sleep better.
Westin is the first hotel brand to launch a brand-wide mindfulness and meditation program. The partnership with Headspace will provide guests with customized content through a dedicated space on, including videos and audio files. Specifically curated for Westin guests, the program is designed to address the needs of both leisure and business travelers, pre and post-stay and including programs to help guests get ready for their onward journey. Westin will also introduce Headspace modules to help promote wellness in the workplace.
"We are very excited to be the official launch partner for Westin's Well-being Movement. The health benefits of practicing mindfulness are widely recognised, and this partnership highlights Westin's commitment to improving the well-being of their guests and associates," said Andy Puddicombe, Co-Founder, Headspace. "We believe that the simple and easy to learn mindfulness techniques we have developed at Headspace will help both guests and associates alike lead happier and healthier lives."

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Daily Mail: Always craving chocolate? MEDITATION could help

On 14th March 2014, The Daily Mail online published an article in the Health>Health home section titled: Always craving chocolate? MEDITATION could help: Study shows achieving 'a sense of detachment' reduces cravings.

Here are some key quotes:
"A study found that achieving 'a sense of detachment' through mindfulness mediation can reduce cravings.  The Canadian researchers say identifying and distancing oneself from certain thoughts - without judging them - weakens chocolate cravings among people with a sweet tooth.

‘There is now good evidence that mindfulness strategies generally work at managing food cravings, but we don't yet know what aspect of mindfulness and what mechanisms are responsible for these effects. This is what motivated this research,’ said lead study author Julien Lacaille, a psychologist at McGill University in Quebec.
‘They developed less intense cravings for chocolate because they now perceived it as generally less desirable,’ Mr Lacaille said.  ‘Something we can all take away from this study is that we are not our thoughts and that we can take control over our thoughts in a relatively short period,’ added Patrick Williams, a postdoctoral researcher and psychologist at the University of Chicago who not involved in the study, told Reuters Health."

Friday, 14 March 2014

Mindfulness and The Chimp Paradox

"When you believe in your way enlightenment is there. But when you cannot believe in the meaning of the practice which you are doing in this moment, you cannot do anything. You are just wandering around the goal with your monkey mind. You are always looking for something without knowing what you are doing. If you want to see something, you should open your eyes." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p101.

The England Football team hired a sports psychologist, Dr Steve Peters, to help boost their performance in the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Peters' previous clients include the snooker champion Ronnie O'Sullivan and the gold medal cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.

He has authored a book outlining his methodology; involving a simplified model of the human mind, titled The Chimp Paradox: How Our Impulses and Emotions Can Determine Success and Happiness (2013). He explains the basic premises of the model as follows:
"The Psychological Mind is made up of three separate brains: Human, Chimp and Computer.
• You are the Human.
• Your Chimp is an emotional thinking machine.
• Your Computer is a storage area and automatic functioning machine.
• Any one of them can take complete control but usually they work together."
He says the reason for the presence of the chimp is genetic:
"When you were in the womb two different brains, the frontal (Human) and limbic (Chimp: an emotional machine), developed independently and then introduced themselves to each other by forming connections. The problem is that they found they were not in agreement about most things. Either of these two brains, or beings, could run your life for you but they try to work together, and therein is the problem. The Human and Chimp have independent personalities with different agendas, ways of thinking, and modes of operating. Effectively there are two beings in your head! It is important to grasp that only one of these beings is you, the Human. The Chimp is the emotional machine that we all possess. It thinks independently from us and can make decisions. It offers emotional thoughts and feelings that can be very constructive or very destructive; it is not good or bad, it is a Chimp."
And a little further on:
"To reiterate, the Chimp within your head is a separate entity to you. It was born when you were born but actually has nothing to do with you as a Human. It is simply part of your machinery. [...] It is a living machine that is built to serve a purpose, which is to ensure the next generation. It has a personality of its own and it can run your life for you, usually not very well, but it can do it! It is an extremely powerful emotional machine."
This chimp-like dimension is in line with what evolutionary psychologists posit as a kind of quick-acting survival instinct which carried our DNA through challenging circumstances to where we find ourselves today, as stated in Evolutionary Psychology - An Introduction (2004, Cambridge University Press), p299:
"Not responding to a life-threatening situation might have had dire consequences for our ancestors. [...] If there is one core emotion that has clear survival implications it must be fear. People who have no fear do not make for good ancestors. [...] Panic and agoraphobia, for example, may be seen as adaptations which prepare the body, both physiologically and psychologically, for attack. Blood circulation is re-routed to the muscles, and the mind becomes highly focused on finding escape routes. A number of evolutionists have argued that ‘negative’ emotions such as fear and anger generally serve to narrow the focus of attention and increase vigilance (see Fredrickson, 1998). Anyone who has ever felt either intense fear or complete rage will be aware that, once we are attending to the object of such negative emotions, we are not easily distracted from them. [...] Whereas fear is manifested by the urge to retreat, anger is clearly related to the urge to attack and injure. In either case the tendency to take action is quite specific."
Since we now have a lot more control over our environment and potential predators than we used to, there is not as much need to allow our chimp to run our lives as when we lived in forests or jungles. Dr Peters writes:
"The Chimp operates with a ‘Jungle Centre’ that is based on instincts and drives. The Jungle Centre is an area within the Chimp brain that gives the Chimp the characteristics and attitudes needed to survive in a jungle. This Centre contains beliefs and behaviours that work well in the jungle but not so well in a society! Major problems arise when the Chimp applies its jungle drives in a Human society."
The idea of a "monkey mind" lying at the core of our stress and unhappiness is also an idea at the centre of mindfulness - albeit a very ancient idea, as Diana Winston highlights in Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness (2010), p44:
"Most of the time our minds are wandering all over the place, awash in a variety of stimuli. Some Hindu and Buddhist meditation texts compare our minds to chattering monkeys jumping from tree branch to tree branch—they call this “monkey mind.” Being generally aware, without a center focus point, is possible, but not easy. And in the long run it can be tiring or perhaps a little overwhelming."
Theravada Buddhist monk Ven. Henepola Gunaratana also refers to this in his book Mindfulness in Plain English (2011), p69:
"The monkey-mind phenomenon is well known. It is something that every seasoned meditator has had to deal with."
Peters illustrates the presence of monkey mind in The Chimp Paradox through the following example:
"‘Why do I sometimes become so irrational in my thinking?’ The answer may now be clear. It is not you thinking at all, but your Chimp taking over and thinking for you. The solution therefore is to understand how your Chimp thinks, recognise when it is taking over, and intervene."
This recognising is apparently left to chance by Dr Peters, however, as he gives the following advice:
"Try to improve your ability to recognise when your Chimp is hijacking you with thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you don’t want to have. By doing this, you are learning to recognise the difference between yourself and your Chimp and who is in control at any point in time. This will help to make clear that there are two brains operating within your head and only one of them is you."
He says that feeling emotional or uneasy is one indicator that the Chimp is in control:
"The easiest way of recognising that the Chimp is thinking for you is when either you are becoming emotional or you are calm but have uneasy feelings. Remember that the Chimp offers you its feelings and then you have to decide what to do with them. If you can recognise that the Chimp is using emotional thinking then you can address it with some specific techniques. For example, if the Chimp is thinking in black-and-white terms, stop and ask yourself what the alternatives are or if there is any middle ground."
However, it seems that noticing this in the first place and catching oneself can be tricky since many people tend to lack this level of habitual sensitivity and enter into emotional behaviour on autopilot. Paying a psychiatrist like Dr Peters to watch and notice on one's behalf could be beneficial, but it seems mindfulness can enhance our ability to notice when our monkey minds are running things beyond a hopeful intention or our limited finances, since mindfulness trains us to watch and notice and remain within our bodies with increasing ability as time moves on. It is strange that Dr Peters does not seem interested in harnessing and utilising this now well-known and rigorously tested mindfulness methodology, since it is being used by other sports psychologists to good effect in the NBA, American football, volleyball, and many other sports.

The closest he comes to recommending a regular meditation habit is what he refers to as daily 'development time':
"Simply put, ‘development time’ is time specifically set aside that is dedicated to reflecting on how you are managing yourself. You will benefit most from the model of the Chimp, the Human and the Computer if you spend time thinking through the concepts involved and then implementing them. The best way to make sure that you establish ‘development time’ is to make it into a habit. Habits are formed when they are easy to do. Therefore, setting aside a specific time in the day that is sacrosanct for development thinking will increase your chances of it happening regularly. This session must be easy to do otherwise your Chimp won’t agree and you won’t do it! So making the session just ten minutes long is more likely to establish the habit than making the session an hour long. Try to establish ten minutes a day. By reflecting during development time, the Human is reviewing what is in the Computer and modifying it. As we will see in future chapters, this is critical to managing your Chimp."
He outlines a number of strategies for managing the chimp - for example understanding that the chimp has needs - to feel physically secure, or have some personal space - and by meeting these needs then the chimp will be willing to listen to the human's plan:
"If you meet the needs of the Chimp first then the Chimp is in a position where you can talk to it and it will listen."
When stress is inevitable, however, then smiling and laughter can be an invaluable tool:
"Smile when you can. Depending on how serious the situation is, try to see the lighter side of it. Laugh at yourself if you have overreacted. Key Point Laughing at yourself, or situations, is one of the most powerful ways to remove stress from the Chimp."
Professor Mark Williams of Oxford Mindfulness Centre gives the same advice in Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p106:
" may begin to smile at the way the mind works so cleverly to get back to its own agenda! And in the smile is the awakening, the coming back to a direct sense of what it is like to be fully alive in this moment."
Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is also a big fan of smiling to one's habitual negative behaviours, as he states, for example, in Dharma Talk: Taking Good Care of Our Habit Energies, p8
"...the practice is to recognize the old habit, the negative habit, the bad habit, to recognize the energy of our habits and smile to them."
When stress hits and we find ourselves reacting emotionally, however, Dr Peters has a 7 step procedure which can be quite self-explanatory:
"1. Recognition and change
2. The pause button
3. Escape
4. The helicopter and getting perspective
5. The plan
6. Reflection and activation
7. Smile"
Mindfulness, however, offers a more sensitive and useful skill because it allows one to notice the build-up to emotional reaction as one's practice develops deeper, and then one has an opportunity to change one's circumstances - to relax the tension that is building up before emotions even kick off, or if it is too late to do that, akin to Dr Peters' methodology, to reframe what one is perceiving or make physical changes to oneself or one's environment so that one can recover one's peace and calm as quickly as possible. Ven. Henepola Gunaratana writes in Mindfulness in Plain English:
"...put your effort on concentration at the beginning until the monkey mind phenomenon has cooled down a bit. After that, emphasize mindfulness. If you find yourself getting frantic, emphasize concentration. If you find yourself going into a stupor, emphasize mindfulness. Overall, mindfulness is the one to emphasize."
Already one can see there are many overlaps between The Chimp Paradox methodology and mindfulness practice. Dr Peters even emphasises that one must accept impermanence in the here and now [bold his]:
"Your Chimp and its insecurity are driving this need for fixed elements in your life. Your Human needs to educate the Chimp. The main point here is that if you hold an expectation that anything in your life will remain constant then it is very likely to be a source of stress when it doesn’t. To remove stress you need to live in the here and now and accept that changes are normal and work with them for the future."
Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes exactly the same thing in Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p247:
"The ultimate effect on our health of the total psychological stress we experience depends in large measure on how we come to perceive change itself, in all its various forms, and how skillful we are in adapting to continual change while maintaining our own inner balance and sense of coherence."
He then goes on to highlight the dependency of the above on being mindful:
"This in turn depends on the meaning we attribute to events, on our beliefs about life and ourselves, and particularly on how much awareness we can bring to our usually mindless and automatic reactions when our "buttons" are pushed. It is here, in our mind-body reactions to the occurrences in our lives that we find stressful, that mindfulness most needs to be applied and where its power to transform the quality of our lives can best be put to work."
Again, it is surprising that Dr Peters does not consider mindfulness - the focused practice of directly noticing and accepting whatever is necessary in the here and now - to be a useful method of living in the here and now while accepting change.

Still further philosophical overlaps exist, for example, regarding advice for practicing non-attachment - where The Chimp Paradox illustrates an aspect of 'monkey mind' which tends to stubbornly cling to whatever it has in it's grasp, often preventing us from being free to pursue more healthy alternatives:
"Start by cementing a vase into the ground. Now push a stone into the vase, which only just pushes through the neck of the vase, so it can’t be taken out of the vase again. The monkey will come along and put its hand in to grab the stone and try to pull it out. Of course the stone only just fitted in. Now with the monkey’s hand around the stone, it definitely won’t come out! The monkey cannot let go of the stone because it wants it. Even though the stone is of no value to the monkey, the monkey is not going to let go and remains stubborn. It is easy then to throw a net over the monkey, who threw its freedom away for a worthless stone. Think what this means to you. If you allow yourself to hold on to ‘worthless stones’ you may end up giving your freedom away. If you continue to allow stress to dominate your life because you are clinging to things that are not good for you, then you must accept that you will lose your happiness. Have the courage to let go of any ‘worthless stones’ in your life. Don’t cling on because of fear or familiarity or just plain stubbornness. Your freedom and happiness are worth more than any stone."
Kabat-Zinn relates exactly the same example in Full Catastrophe Living, p39:
"Letting Go

They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through, and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they put a banana inside the coconut and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in and takes hold of the banana. The hole is crafted so that the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. But it seems most monkeys don't let go."
There is one major area where the terminology does not overlap, however, and that is where the word 'autopilot' is used. Being mindful is considered the opposite of autopilot - being mindless, as Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School Ronald D. Siegel writes in his book The Mindfulness Solution (2010), p27:
"We spend most of our time lost in memories of the past and fantasies of the future. More often than not, we operate on “autopilot,” in which our mind occupies one space and our body another. It’s as though the mind has a mind of its own."
Professor Mark Williams supports this in Mindfulness as follows, p38:
"When you become more mindful, you bring your intentions and actions back into alignment, rather than being constantly sidetracked by your autopilot. You learn to stop wasting time pointlessly running through the same old habits of thinking and doing that have long since stopped serving any useful purpose. It also means that you are less likely to end up striving for too long towards goals that it might be wiser to let go of for a while. You become fully alive and aware again"
Dr Peters, however, defines 'autopilot' as a kind of useful program stored in one's 'computer brain' as a habit, skill, or ability:
"Autopilots are all the positive, constructive beliefs, behaviours and automatic functioning that help us to be successful and happy in life. They can be placed into the computer at any age. So Autopilots could include, for example: riding a bike; staying calm when something goes wrong; focusing on solutions rather than problems; tying a shoelace; being organised and disciplined as a routine; having a positive self-image."
Any negative habits or beliefs stored in one's computer brain are given another label: 'goblins' or 'gremlins':
"Goblins and Gremlins are more or less the opposite of Autopilots. They are unhelpful and destructive behaviours, beliefs or automatic programmes that are stored in the Computer. A Goblin is usually put into the Computer when you are very young. During the very early part of your childhood your Computer tends to hard-wire any information put into it. So Goblins are more or less hard-wired into the Computer and are very difficult to remove, so you need to learn to contain them."
So mindfulness considers autopilot a mindless state of mind, while The Chimp Paradox considers an autopilot a positive program one can install for skilful use, so this is a terminology issue, rather than a model issue. One must necessarily 'install' mindfulness practice as a positive habit at first, so mindfulness teachers follow the same approach of creating new habits to provide a new set of tools to combat stress. However, mindfulness considers all automatic thinking as a potential obstacle, and trusts the body's reflexive programs - for example, the breath - to be sufficient 'autopilots' once mindfulness has been accepted as a positive default state for a human (a kind of Chimp Paradox autopilot), and that dropping thinking allows our reflexive non-thought-based programs to help us through potential chellenges. Installing mindfulness as a positive behaviour tends to take many years for most people, so considering mindfulness practice as a Chimp Paradox 'autopilot' appears acceptable, even though mindfulness intends to eventually go beyond all autopilot behaviour, since being mindful - at peace - is considered the 'default mode' of a human being which exists beyond mental programming.

Pursuing more truth and realistic perspectives is another overlapping theme between The Chimp Paradox and mindfulness, which requires the practitioner to consider potential changes to their social values and lifestyle. Dr Peters explains:
"Life can be a bed of roses but that means there are lots of thorns. If you want to be happy picking roses then be mindful of the thorns. Watch out for things that you know will make you unhappy and actively avoid them whenever possible. Avoiding things that cause you to have unwanted feelings is a sensible way to stay happy. If you can’t avoid them, then have a plan on how you will deal with them; don’t be unprepared for the thorns. The Gremlin is ignoring reality and the Autopilot is being prepared to deal with reality."
Thich Nhat Hanh refers to the above thorns as toxins, in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p32-33:
"When we drive through a city, our eyes see so many billboards, and these images enter our consciousness. When we pick up a magazine, the articles and advertisements are food for our consciousness. Advertisements that stimulate our craving for possessions, sex, and food can be toxic. If after reading the newspaper, hearing the news, or being in a conversation, we feel anxious or worn out, we know we have been in contact with toxins."
So The Chimp Paradox takes on an intriguingly moral stance at times, for example, regarding monogamy:
"Many people have Humans that are determined to be faithful and monogamous. However, their Chimps have a different agenda with a powerful sex drive and this frequently takes them in search of encounters. Recognising and dealing with seriously powerful drives such as this is a skill and one that takes effort."
So to conclude this small analysis, it seems The Chimp Paradox holds a lot of potential value for someone interested in practicing mindfulness - especially the simplified model of the human mind and the evolutionary psychology information. In the same way, mindfulness would appear to hold a lot of potential value for someone using The Chimp Paradox methodology in their lives - for recognising when they are in Chimp Mode more effectively, and reducing their mental chattering. Maybe in the future someone will create a skillful synthesis of the two approaches.