Posts Tagged ‘Mindfulness Meditation’

Meditation: There May Be No Better Time Than Now.

December 1, 2008

For those who have been following the Mumbai Siege and the news on the New York Wal-Mart mob murder, I suspect you are as stunned and horrified by the tragedy and madness of late. These are (sigh)… challenging times.

Yet in today’s edition of The New York TimesWeek in Review, we read the following: ‘No matter how stressful the conditions, some of us are just genetically inclined towards calm…. or else we learn to manage the neuroticism.’ I’m not sure claims of suffering from high level cortical stress count in a case of neuroticism. Sure, in Jewish and Italian jokes this side of the Pacific, the motif of the suffering mother lends itself to Freudian and Hollywood overtones. But we’re in the age of a paradigm shift, where cultural stereotypes give way to real time strategies that manage the sweaty, messy corporeality of stress: Crying, Screaming, acting out — the drama of human emotion makes it damn near impossible for some of us to calm ourselves down.

One might think this is all a chicken or egg question, but as contemporary neuroscience makes clear, stress–-be it PTSD, sudden shock or chronic stress endured by those in untenable situations–shuts down thinking. Period. The effects can be neurologically devastating: In the U.S., University of California, Irvine researchers have shown that short term stress like long term chronic stress, reduces cellular connections in the hippocampus, the brain region identified with operations of learning and memory. At a time when stress levels are soaring through roofs of homes sliding into default mortgages, we really do need to find a collective way to calm down.

In weighing the options, meditation seems to make a difference, both in reducing stress and in creating some powerful neurological grown patterns. Notable research conducted at mindfulness medical clinics set up at UCLA and at Harvard signifies a movement toward using meditation to mediate stress and poor health. Harvard researcher Sarah Lazar has already shown that Mindfulness Meditation is correlated with a growth of cortical tissue in the frontal cortex and insula (the area said to integrate emotionally relevant, sense perceptions.)

insula_amygdala_brain

QuBitTechnologies, 2007

I invite readers to peruse this blogsite for how-to’s in stress-reducing, meditative breathing practice, or write in for suggestions of practices that bear relevance to your current situation and learning style.

May the breath be with you.

Dr. G.

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NeuroLeaders Pay Attention to Brain/Mind/Body Connections

October 29, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 1

The Twitter: Psssttt! It’s all connected — brain, body and mind!

The Big Idea: Rethinking leadership from an interdependent whole-brain, whole-body, whole-mind networked point of view!

David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and organizer of both the NY and Sydney meetings this year, noted last evening that today’s most urgent issue, as seen by companies and businesses across the global sphere, is the crisis of developing leadership. With that in mind, Rock invited world-class scientists to give keynote talks — presentations which should help this year’s summit partipants picture a new paradigm of “best practices” when approaching the question of developing leadership.

For yours truly, it was a deep and gratifying pleasure to be immersed in an arena wherein scientists, coaches and consultants seriously broached the topic of new neuroscience and the myriad of ways to connect body, mind and brain in human learning, performance and innovation, be it at home, school, in sport or in the workplace.

Again, time is limited to tell all (more will be fleshed out post summit) but here’s the beef on today’s keynote talks — which by the way, are followed up by generous amounts of time for question and break-out focus group discussions:

From the first keynote by Dr. Amy Arnstein to the last one of the day delivered by Dr. Kevin Ochsner, the frame for Day 1 stretched across a psychological continuum: Arnstein cogently tackled the neurochemical correlates to interrupted moments of perception and cognition (either by way of daily stress or by profound mental illness); Ochsner closed the long intense day by chunking the complex study of human emotion into a bite size expose on the neuroanatomical correlates to strategies that effect emotional experience and behavior, e.g. “reappraisal” of emotional narrative. (Arnstein gets two thumbs up for a spiffy visual presentations. As one researcher noted — the cartooned versions of neurotransmitting processes signaled well with ‘low noise’ residual.)

With the frame set by these two talks, were some real nuggets of 21st century thinking — the sort that reinforces the hard work reseachers, thought leaders and cultural changers have put forth for more than half a century in communicating

1) the value of “insight” in innovation and
2) “mindfulness” (or meditation) experiences in modifying how we use our “attention” in goal directed tasks.

Within the break out discussions, some facinating and tough questions were raised by the audience regarding cross-cultural imprinting and bias in charting the neuroscience of perception, leaving a door open to comparative cultural studies, especially with developing leaders in the global sphere is concerned.

While all of the keynotes were delivered in impeccable style, Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang’s lunchtime presentation clearly touched my brain and heart in his clear and playful deconstruction of cultural definitions of “mindfulness” experience to make room for the semantics of a neuroscientifically informed picture of brain/mind/body operations and connections that enter into the “mindfulness state.” As one who first came to mindfulness through the Martial arts, Yuan placed before us the challenge of knowing how to engage attention and awareness in a way that helps us “integrate” body/mind and brain in the experience of “being” (as to be distinguished neurologically from “thinking or doing.”) In response to Tang’s talk, David Rock offered a tip he found helpful in his study of mindfulness, namely the strategy of distingushing between narration (interpretation) and direct experience — each having their own correlates in brain anatomy and brain chemistry.

As I have noted on this blog, the brain/body/mind connection is one we can’t emphasize enough. It speaks of a new way to recognize our very humanness as a function of emergent networked processes, allowing us to integrate in a multi-dimensional fashion, a host of relations between what and how we think/feel and do.

The message from today’s proceedings: The responsibility of developing effective and even inspiring 21st century leadership rests on the shoulders of the somatically and neuroscientifically aware.

One can find the summit proceedings schedule on the NeuroLeadership.org website.

More manana.

Syaptically yours,

Dr. G.

P.S. A self-referential historical note regarding the inception of the blogsite: I wrote my dissertation in the late ’80’s on “attention and awareness training” practices used by American performing artists. Sometimes a good idea like cheese, needs time to age. Please write if you have questions about the literature on attention training.

Heat Wave!: Brain Cooling Tips for Election Countdown

September 7, 2008

The Platform: Post Olympic Blues — The 2008 Election Season

The Twitter: Stress Deteriorates the Brain!

The Big Idea: Save Neural Real Estate This Election Year; Cool Your Brain with Meditation or Mental Practice!                                                                                                                                                    

Sigh… the Olympics are over and now in the U.S., on to prime time political battles. Just when we were enjoying the soaring feelings of watching Phelps win his 8 golds, or drooling at the double men’s diving (when did that sport enter the fray?), our brains are already beginning to fry! Regardless of your party affiliation, the stress that mounts by witnessing the battle at home, will clearly not contribute to “neurogenesis” — what neuroscientists regards as the creation of new synaptic connections in the brain. (One has to wonder how many brain cell connections have been burned over the rise and rhetoric of the new “lipstick pitbull” — Sarah Palin.

So if you want keep your neural “real estate” intact, then I suggest the following SpaceSuit Yoga brain tip for this electoral season: Brain Cooling.

1 ) One of the most well known and empirically tested brain cooling meditative techniques is Zen Meditation. A recent post in LiveScience.com noted an Emory University study that has validated Zen’s effectiveness in quieting the brain’s tendency to be distracted by spontaneous outbursts or a barrage of information flow just as we might find in diagnoses of ADD or OCD behavior. Breath, posture, the ritual of repetition. It’s all there:  As Sharon Begley reminds us, ‘we must train the mind in order to change the brain.’

If not Zen, then start a mental practice of cooling the brain with an image of deep relaxation and restoration, supported by gentle breathing.  Whether it’s a picture of hanging out on Australia’s Gold Coast or laying down on soft green grass by a radiant blue lake in Tahoe; visualize a place where you feel most calm, a place you can easily imagine in your mind’s eye.  Bring your awareness of breathing into the space of that picture and enjoy the deep sense of relaxation that comes with every breath.

(For training in meditation and mental practice, scroll through this blog for tips or contact me for links to meditation training centers in the US and abroad.)

Other mind clearing/brain cooling options: 

3) Take a strong whiff of grapefruit or peppermint oil and let the freshness fill your awareness.

4) Try a  hot, hot, hot steam-bath, a long run, or a focused round of poker or pool.

Brain cooling, in other words, is a mindful method of training the brain to move into a zone that allows for neutrality (what the Mahayana Buddhist’s call “empty space” or a zone of positive thinking. As Alvaro Fernandez, in review of the L. A. Times special on learning and memory, points out: positive thoughts and experience lift our spirits and contribute to “neurogenesis.”  (For a brief and to the point commentary on the neural effects of stress, see Sharpbrains.com — search for “Neural Wreckage”  Feb 8, 2008 blog entry.)

Independents, Green Party Animals, Dems and GOP take note.

MAY THE BREATH BE WITH YOU AS WE APPROACH NOVEMBER 4TH!

Dr.  G.