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Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

 

 

What is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course?

Its a training programme developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn 20 years ago, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, which used mindfulness meditation to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and pain. Patients were usually referred from clinics where they had been unsuccessfuly treated for these symptoms for several years.

 

Kabat-Zinn used mindfulness meditation techniques based on Buddhist meditation practices, particularly insight meditation or Vipassana. Mindfulness has been described as paying attention in a very particular way: non judgmentally with intention. Have a look at What is Mindfulness Meditation? for more on this.

 

Initially training includes lying ,sitting and walking meditation, and later everyday activities like brushing your teeth and taking out the rubbish. Participants are encouraged to observe all of their experiences, thoughts and feelings with a detached interest. To bring awareness to the moment, to what is happening now. This tends to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, which are usually triggered by worrying about future or past events. If you are really present now, in the moment, worries fall away. As Mark Twain said “I have know a great many troubles but most of them never happened”.

 

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

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Mindfulness is a practice taken largely from Buddhism, although it is not in itself religious. It requires awareness to be brought to physical sensations, thoughts and emotions as they present in the moment. The mindful individual is aware but does not get involved or attached. Sensations, emotions and thoughts are viewed and examined in detail, from a third party point of view, with no attempt being made to deny or block them, or distract from them. This allows him to become more familar with all this mental activity, appreciating how it arises and if left alone, passes. This is useful when dealing with troublesome emotions like fear, anger, envy and with desire.

Watching the coming and going of thoughts and emotions allows the mindful individual to become aware of their transient and insubstantial nature, while taking a 3rd person perspective reminds him that he is more than this mental activity.

Mindfulness is non-judgmental, so emotions and thoughts are observed impassively- if a particular negative thought or emotion such as anger or envy appears it is not judged but simply observed. This may be helped by mental labelling: for instance thinking “there’s some anger” or just thinking “anger”. There are a number of other attitudes which are thought to be required to develop mindfulness- these include patience, acceptance, newness, trust and non striving (more on this in later posts).

The mindful individual accepts the present moment for what it is rather than feeling unsatisfied because things are not right for some reason. So if there is anger, fear or envy for instance they are accepted as present in this moment. In fact these negative emotions and states of mind are welcomed as an opportunity for learning and becoming more mindful, as they show the transient and insubstantial nature of such mental states.

Acceptance does not mean passivity, but rather awareness that whatever the goal a true understanding of the current situation, through being mindful, is more likely to produce the desired progress- with a calm state of mind.

Related Posts

Does Mindfulness Protect Us From Depression?

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mindfulness, Buddhism

How Letting Go Can Improve Your Meditation

letting go meditation

Meditation it seems is full of paradoxes. You really want to get somewhere. Improve your meditation. Get some peace. Have a better way of looking at things. Escape from the restlessness and general unsatisfactory nature of life. But it seems to be that the more you struggle and strive the further away the goal. A well-known Zen parable describes how counter productive this can be:

A student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am determined to become enlightened”. How long will it take me .” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

Non striving, letting go of expectations is one of the key attitudes in meditation and mindfulness. Probably especially relevant to modern goal driven western societies. In his book mindfulness in plain English The Venerable Henepola Gunaratana says:

“Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself. But don’t get distracted by your expectations about results. For that matter, don’t be anxious for any result whatsoever. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction.

Don’t strain: Don’t force anything or make grand exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive. There is no violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady.

Don’t rush: There is no hurry, so take you time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have a whole day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Patience, patience, patience”.

This fits in with one of the other key attitudes in mindfulness meditation, acceptance. Accepting this moment now, being content to be in this moment not thinking or wishing your somewhere else. Mindfulness helps to achieve this by encouraging you to become more fully aware of the sensations sights and sounds in every moment of your daily life.

So for example when sitting in the office working on the computer, you can allow some part of your mind to be aware of the sensation of your feet resting on the floor, your legs or back resting against chair, the breath passing the nostrils, or the rise and fall of your chest and stomach. This helps to to keep you in the present and prevent you being distracted by worries about the past or future.

The Taoist philosophy of non doing doing incorporates this attitude of non striving, acceptance of the present moment, absorption and awareness of the details of the present, into a whole way of life. An often quoted 3rd century Chinese poem sums it up extremely well:

Prince Wen Hui’s cook
Was cutting up an ox.
Out went hand,
Down went the shoulder,
He planted a foot,
He pressed with a knee,
The ox fell apart
With a whisper,
The bright cleaver murmured
Like a gentle wind.
Rhythm! Tuning!
Like a sacred dance,
like ” the Mulberry Grove”
Like ancient harmonies

“Good work!” The Prince exclaimed.
“Your method is faultless!”
“Method!” Said the cook
Laying aside his cleaver,
“what I follow is Tao
Beyond all methods!

When I first began
To cut up oxen
I would see before me
The whole ox
All in one mass.
After three years
I no longer saw this mass.
I saw the distinctions.

But now I see nothing
with the eye. My whole being
Apprehends.
My senses are idle. The spirit
Free to work without plan
Follows its own instinct
Guided by natural line,
By the secret opening, the hidden place,
My cleaver finds its own way.
I cut through no joint, chop no bone.

There are spaces in the joints;
The blade is thin and keen:
When this thinness
Finds that space
There is all the room you need!
It goes like a breeze!
Hence I have this cleaver 19 years
As if newly sharpened!
True, there are sometimes
Tough joints.
I feel them coming and slow down,
I watch closely,
Hold back, barely move the blade.
And whump! the part falls way.
Landing like a clod of earth.

Then I withdrew the blade,
I stand still
And let the joy of the work
Sink in
I clean the blade
And put it away.”

Prince Wen Hui said,
“This is it! My cook has shown me
How I ought to live
My own life!”

Chuang Tzu

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meditation, mindfulness, letting go, Taoist

Does Mindfulness Meditation Protect Us From Depression?

meditation depression

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness is often defined simply as paying attention in a very particular way. In concentrative meditation attention is directed towards a specific object like the breath as it passes over the edge of the nostrils, a repeated mantra or an external object, such as a statue of the Buddha. But during mindfulness meditation you are encouraged to become aware of whatever arises in the mind. This might be bodily sensations, such as tingling in your feet, an ache in your back, sounds around you, or various thoughts and emotions. You are advised to accept and not judge whatever comes up. To watch without getting too involved. For example if you think ” this meditation is a waste of time”, or ” I just can’t do this” then you just observe these thoughts, and any linked emotions such as fear and anxiety. Just keep watching.

How mindfulness meditation can protect us from Depression

Depression is often triggered by identification with the negative thoughts, which endlessly cycle in the mind. This is known as rumination. Mindfulness can help to loosen identification with these thoughts. To help you realise that you are not your thoughts.That they are transient, and will fade if you don’t become involved with them. In fact practising mindfulness, can make you a sort of expert on you own mind, so that you can spot negative thoughts before they take over

Can mindfulness make us happy?

Can practice mindfulness go further than just preventing depression, bringing us to a neutral state. Can it actually help us to be happy?

The Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard argues that happiness is a skill to be learnt. It is, he says, a process of eliminating negative emotions like anger and envy using specific methods. Probably the most powerful and simple is observation or mindfulness of thoughts and emotions as they arise, coupled with an attitude of acceptance.When attention is focused on an emotion such as anger, says Ricard, without looking at the cause of the anger, the transient, insubstantial nature of the emotion becomes evident. It cannot persist. However if attention slips to the reason for the anger then the emotion is fed.

How to Practice Mindfulness of Thoughts and Emotions

Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, while brushing your teeth or mowing the lawn but the most useful place to start is probably during sitting meditation. When you meditate its best to begin by establishing some stability in your mind by spending a few minutes watching your breath. You can then move on to observe the ebb and flow of your thoughts and emotions. Its best to spend just a few minutes on this before returning to the breath again.
Jon Kabat Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living, explains how to practice mindfulness meditation of thoughts and emotions as follows:

  1. When your attention is relatively stable on the breath, shift your awareness to the process of thinking itself. And just watch thoughts come into your field of attention. Try to perceive them as events in your mind.
  2. Note their content and charge while if possible not being drawn into thinking about them.
  3. Note that an individual thought does not last long it is impermanent. If it comes it will go. Be aware of this.
  4. Note how some thoughts keep coming back.
  5. Note those thoughts that are “I”, “me”, or “mine” thoughts, observing carefully how ” you” the non judging observer feel about them.
  6. Note when the mind creates a “self” to be preoccupied with how well or badly your life is going.
  7. Note thoughts about the past and thoughts about future.
  8. Note thoughts about greed, wanting, grasping, clinging.
  9. Note thoughts about anger, disliking, hatred, aversion, rejection.
  10. Note feelings and moods as they come and go.
  11. Note feelings associated with different thought contents.
  12. If you get lost in all of this just get back to your breathing.

Summary

  • Practising mindfulness during meditation and everyday life seems to be an effective way to prevent depression and cultivate happiness.
  • Its a skill, which although requiring effort, can be learnt.

Further Reading on mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn Full catastrophe Living Published by Piatkus

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meditation, mindfulness, depression, happy

Flow

flow meditation

What is Flow?

Flow is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, during his work on happiness.The term was first used by people he studied, to describe their optimal or peak experiences. Csikszentmihalyi concluded that regularly being in a flow state leads to happiness. And that flow is not a random event, but can be generated voluntarily.

Csikszentmihalyi researched the psychology of happiness for many years, asking thousands of individuals what made them happy. He determined that people most enjoyed themselves when doing something which pushed their abilities to the limit. Sometimes when people are engaged in such activities, they enter a state where they are so involved in whatever they are doing that nothing else seems to matter, said Csikszentmihalyi, it is so enjoyable that they would do it even at great personal cost.

What does it feel like?

A person in flow is completely absorbed in an activity, concentrating completely on the task at hand with no mental room for thoughts or distractions about the outside world, the activity feels effortless and flowing, there is a sense of intense enjoyment, the passage of time is distorted and there is a loss of self consciousness.

What conditions are usually required to generate flow?

Flow is usually generated during a challenging activity. More easily when there is a chance of completing the task, when there are clear goals, immediate feedback,and when the task matches the individual’s abilities. An activity which is too easy will lead to boredom, one which is too difficult to anxiety and frustration, both will disturb concentration and the flow experience.

Usually when we do something, we have thoughts like “should I be doing this?”, “am I doing it right?”, “maybe it would be better if I did that instead”. The secret of flow is to learn the skill of fully directing your attention to a task, which is just within your abilities, so that there are no mental resources left for these kind of distracting thoughts, says Csikszentmihalyi.

What occupations are more likely to produce it?

Whatever the occupation, flow is more likely when there are goals which are meaningful to the individual, and when progress can be gauged by feedback he can understand. Some people, like surgeons for example, have more obvious clear cut goals, and immediate feedback in their work, than others says Csikszentmihalyi, but all work can potentially be made into a flow activity.

Mindfulness and flow

“It is also important to develop the habit
of doing whatever needs to be done with
concentrated attention. Even the most
routine tasks, like washing dishes,
dressing, or mowing the lawn, become
more rewarding if we approach them
with the care it would take to make a
work of art”

Csikszentmihalyi in an interview with Psychology Today.

Flow often occurs during meditation, where attention is focused in this way, on the breath or on thoughts and emotions as they pass through the mind. For more on this see the review of Happiness by Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, with thousands of hours of meditation experience who makes some interesting comments about flow from the perspective of a Buddhist and scientist .

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flow, happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, goals

Does Meditation Protect Us From Stress?

meditation and stress<a
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The Relaxation Response

Meditation induces the relaxation response, a physiological state of relaxed alertness, which may protect us from the ill effects of prolonged stress, says physiologist Herbert Benson.It’s a concept developed by Benson during the 1970s, while studying practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. A state where heart rate, breathing and metabolism slow, with the mind remaining alert. He described this as a ” physiological state of quietude, giving us the ability to heal and rejuvenate our bodies”.

Benson says it’s distinct from sleep or simply resting . Like sleep, metabolism slows and the body requires less oxygen, but EEG recordings of brain activity show Alpha waves, usually only found when awake. When simply resting there’s no slowing of the body’s metabolism at all.

The overall effect on the body is opposite to the effect of the stress response (otherwise known as the fight or flight response).

The Stress Response

This is the body’s reflex reaction to perceived danger, preparing us to stay and fight or run for cover. The circulation is flooded with the stress hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin, which have a dramatic effect on the body increasing heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, metabolic rate and blood flow to the muscles. It is extremely effective when facing a danger requiring intense physical activity, but is inappropriate, and sometimes harmful when triggered by modern everyday stress and anxiety.

In fact prolonged exposure to the stress response can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.

Benson says that inducing the relaxation response, for as little as 20 minutes twice a day, can protect us from many of these ill-effects.

How to Induce the Relaxation Response

The key to inducing the relaxation response is breaking the chain of everyday thought by repetition, that is repeating a sound, word, phrase or even movement such as jogging or swimming. Gently guiding yourself back to your repetitive phrase or activity when any thoughts come into your mind, says Benson in an interview with the New York Sun.

The only other essential element, he says, is an attitude of passivity, not striving to achieve anything in particular.

Benson developed a very simple technique to induce the relaxation response:

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head and neck.
  5. Breathe slowly and naturally and as you do say your focus word, sound phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh Well” and gently returned to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
  8. Do not stand immediately.
  9. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return.
  10. Then open your eyes and wait several minutes before rising.
  11. Practice that only once or twice daily. Good times are just before breakfast and before dinner.

Conclusion

  • The relaxation response induces a relaxed alertness, physiologically very different to either sleep or just putting your feet up.
  • It’s the physiological opposite to the potentially harmful fight or flight response.
  • Inducing it ,for just 20 minutes twice a day, may protect us from the harmful effects of stress.

Further Reading

“The Relaxation Response” By Herbert Benson. Published by Harper Torch

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