Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness meditation’

Resilience

March 30, 2020

If setbacks leave you unable to function for long periods of time, it can prevent you from achieving what you want and can make relationships difficult. Trapped in your own emotional morass, you may neglect family, friends, and work. The brain signature of being Slow to Recover from setbacks is fewer or weaker signals traveling from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, as a result of either low activity in the prefrontal cortex itself or too few or less-functional connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Patients with depression who are Slow to Recover have very weak connectivity there.

Prof. Davidson recommends mindfulness meditation to cultivate greater Resilience. Because it produces emotional balance, mindfulness helps you recover, but not too quickly. Mindfulness weakens the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback. For example, losing a job might cause your thoughts to tumble from “unemployment” to “no health insurance” to “lose home” to “I can’t go on.” Mindfulness strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, promoting an equanimity that will help keep you from spiraling down this way. As soon as your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next in this chain of grief, you have the mental wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind does this, note that it is an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss. Prof. Davidson recommends starting with a simple form of mindfulness meditation such as the mindfulness of breathing, previously described.

Prof. Davidson writes that if mindfulness practice does not move you as close to the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience dimension as you would like, cognitive reappraisal training may help. This technique is a form of cognitive therapy. It teaches people to reframe adversity in such a way as to believe that it is not as extreme or enduring as it could be. So, if you made a mistake at work and were barraged by distressing thoughts about it, you might think that you are not very smart, that you are likely to make the same kind of mistake again, and the the mistake is career ending. These errors in thinking are what cognitive reappraisal aims to correct. Instead of viewing the mistake as representative of your work, you are trained to realize that it was an anomaly and could have happened to anyone. Instead of thinking the mistake reflects something consistent and fundamental about you, you consider the possibility that you made the mistake because you were having a bad day, or didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or because everyone is fallible. By challenging the accuracy of your thoughts, cognitive reappraisal can help you reframe the causes of your behavior and the distress. This type of cognitive training directly engages the prefrontal cortex, resulting in increased prefrontal inhibition of the amygdala, the pattern that exemplifies resilience.

Should you wish to move toward the Slow to Recover end of the Resilience dimension, perhaps to strengthen you capacity for empathy, then you need to weaken connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. There is very little research on how to do this, but one strategy is to focus intently on whatever negative or pain you are feeling as a result of a setback. This can help sustain the emotion, at least for a time, and increase activation of your amygdala. You can also focus on the pain of someone who is suffering, perhaps describing it in writing: Nothing goes right for Aaron. HIs ex-girlfriend is using his credit card, his security job is in jeopardy because he got caught in an Internet sting, and his landlord is threatening. Use these descriptions to focus on the particular pain or suffering that you might feel in response. This exercise is likely to result in more sustained activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and amygdala, the circuitry that is involved in pain and distress.

Prof. Davidson also offers meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition called tonglen, which means “taking and receiving.” Designed to cultivate compassion, it involves visualizing another person who might be suffering, taking in her suffering, and transforming it into compassion, and it is very effective at increasing empathy. To get started, try this exercise for five to ten minutes, four or five times a week.

Visualize as vividly as you can someone who is suffering. It can be a friend or a relative who is ill, a colleague who is struggling at work, a neighbor whose marriage is ending. The closer the person is to you, the stronger and clearer the visualization will be. (If you re so fortunate as not to know someone who is suffering, try to visualize a generic person, such as a garbage kicker in Delhi, a starving child in Sudan, a cancer patient in a hospice).
On each inhalation, imagine that you take in this person’ suffering. Feel it viscerally: As you breathe in, imagine her pain and anguish passing through your nostrils, up your nose, and down into your lungs. If it is too difficult to imagine physically taking in her suffering, then imagine the suffering leaving her each time you inhale. As you breathe in, conjure an image of pain and anguish leaving her body like fog dissipating under a bright sun.
On each exhalation, imagine that her suffering is transformed into compassion. Direct this compassion toward her: As you exhale, imagine the breath flowing toward her, a gift of empathy and love that will envelop and enter her, assuaging her pain.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Self Awareness

March 28, 2020

Prof Davidson writes, individuals with high levels of Self-Awareness (emotional or physical) have greater activation in their insula while those with little Self-Awareness have decreased activation. Ultrahigh levels of insula activity seem to be associated with the hyperawareness of every little change in heart rate or respiration that sometimes occurs in panic disorder. To move toward the Self-Aware end of this dimension you need to increase insula activation; to dial it back, you need to decrease it.

As a result of research on panic disorder we know something about how to decrease insula activity that makes us too Self-Aware. The best-validated treatment for panic disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Here patients learn to reframe or reappraise the significance of internal bodily cues. So if you experience chest pain or another sensation that you interpret as a danger signal, tell yourself you have many sensations that are perfectly innocuous, and in all likelihood this one is, too. This kind of cognitive reframing, by reducing insula activity, often reduces panic symptoms substantially.

An alternative is to decrease the rest of the brain’s reactivity to the insula’s signals. The idea is to alter your relationship to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations so that you do not become entangled into an endless, self-reinforcing loop (heart skips a beat; I’m having a heart attack; heart rate spikes, repeat) and leap to the conclusion that some aspect of what you are feeling foretells doom. The trick is to keep your mind from ruminating in response to these internal cues. Rather than target the excessive Self-Awareness that comes from the insula, the idea is to reduce activity in the amygdala and the orbital frontal cortex, which form a circuit that assigns emotional value to thoughts and sensations. By reducing this circuit’s activity, the brain can start perceiving thoughts, emotions, and sensations less judgmentally and less hysterically, so that we are not hijacked by our internal chatter. You’re still very Self-Aware, but it’s not debilitating.

One of the most effective ways of reducing activation in the amygdala and orbital frontal cortex is through mindfulness meditation. In this form of mental training, you practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations moment by moment and nonjudgmentally, viewing them simply as what they are: thoughts, feelings, sensations; nothing more and nothing less.

Prof. Davidson writes that the best mindfulness instruction he knows comes in a course of mindfulness-based stress reduction. You can find courses by checking out the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness Web site at
http://www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx”id=4152.

Should you want to give mindfulness meditation a try before taking a formal course, you can begin on your own with awareness of breathing.

1.Choose a time of day when you are the most awake and alert. Sit upright on the floor or a chair, keeping the spine straight and maintaining a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy (HM has found that the reason for this erect posture is to keep you from getting drowsy. HM has had many hundreds, if not thousands of hours of meditation in a reclining position in which he did not fall asleep.)

2. Now focus on your breathing, on the sensations it triggers throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

3. Focus on the tip of the nose, noticing the different sensations that arise with each breath.

4. When you notice that you have been distracted by unrelated thoughts or feelings that have arisen, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

AWARE

September 4, 2018

“AWARE” is the title of a new book by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. The subtitle is “The Science and Practice of Awareness.” Dr. Siegel’s work has been in previous healthy memory blog posts (Just enter “Siegel in the search block of the healthy memory blog). There is a previous post titled “Wheel of Awareness.” This new book develops those
concepts much further.

This is a difficult book. One that is good for growth mindsets, but it might not be relevant to all healthy memory blog readers. The benefits he offers include the following:
Improve immune function
Optimize the level of the enzyme telomerase
Enhance epigenetic regulation
Modify cardiovascular factors
Increase neural integration

These benefits can also be obtained by the relaxation response, which is highly touted in this blog. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant blog posts. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” provides a description of the method and a listing of the potential benefits.

The post “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection” describes the epigenetic benefits from the relaxation response.

There is a large cost versus time benefit to the relaxation response. Most other techniques, including the Wheel of Awareness, require much more time. However, these other techniques might offer other benefits; it is for the individual to decide.

Dr.Siegel’s research includes mindfulness awareness practice, which science has revealed promotes well-being in body, mind, and relationships. He writes the “Wheel of Awareness gives you but one of many methods to cultivate access to the plane of possibility. Centering prayer in the Christian tradition, versions of mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, compassion practices, and other ways of training the mind may give access to this generator of diversity, the sea of potential that the Wheel of Awareness offers.”

Reading this book reminded HM that one of the pillars of mind training is kind intention. Kind Intention is the ability to have a state of mind with positive regard, compassion, and love internally (what is sometimes called “self compassion” which we are calling “inner compassion”) and interpersonal (that is sometime termed “other”-directed compassion which we are calling “inter compassion”). HM fears that this topic has been neglected. And that topic can be addressed with Loving Kindness Meditation. In the next post HM will describe how he has combined the relaxation response with loving kindness meditation. To review or learn about Loving Kindness meditation enter “Loving Kindness” in to the search blog of the healthy memory blog.

If you can’t find the search block go to healthymemory.wordpress.com.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Know How Hard It Can Be to Bounce Back When Everyday Things Fall Apart

February 22, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Reiner in the Health Section of the 6 February 2018 issue of the Washington Post. This article is about resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from obstacles that hinder one from doing what he wants to do. Although this article offers some useful tips, it makes no mention of the best technique for improving resilience, mindfulness meditation. It is amazing not only because the author is missing the main method of improving resilience, but also that the editor of the health section did not call attention to this glaring omission. Obviously these are two people who should be reading the healthymemory blog.

Go to https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson and you will find a researcher, Richie Davidson, who has devoted his career trying to understand why some people have difficulty overcoming the slings and arrows of adverse fortune and in helping them becoming resilient and overcoming adversity. The central technique is mindfulness meditation.

There are many healthy memory blog post on resilience (enter “resilience” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). One blog post, “Resilience”, discusses resilience as one of the six dimensions of Davidson’s Emotional Style. Another blog post, Improving Resilience, presents a specific technique for improving resilience.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

To Treat Chronic Pain, Look to the Brain Not Body

December 3, 2016

This post is taken from a Feature Article by Jessica Hamzelou, “Hurt Blocker:  To treat chronic pain, look to the brain not body” in the 26 November 2016 Issue of the New Scientist.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the root causes of chronic pain will require more than drugs to break the cycle.  The answer lies in how the brain processes pain.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, there are two pathways for pain.  One is from the actual physical injury, whereas there is a second pathway for emotion linked pain.  Recent research indicates that signals from psychological pain networks may take over when the problem becomes chronic.

People can be trained to more directly influence their own brain activity and, potentially, turn down the pain signal.  Neurofeedback can be provided by placing electrodes on participants’ scalps that provide a real-time display of the brain’s electrical activity.  People can learn to alter their brain activity to dial down their pain.  Initial research suggest that neurofeedback might be useful for people with fibromyalgia, as well as those with chronic pain resulting from spinal cord injuries and cancer.

Mindfulness meditation can achieve something similar.  The goal is to achieve a state of ‘detached observation,’ which can help cope with pain.  Studies have suggested that it improves  various types of chronic pain, including fibromyalgia and lower back pain.  A study of 17 people who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction found that, over time, meditators experienced increases in grey matter in regions of their brains involved in learning, memory, and emotion.  All of these influence pain perception.

The following is taken from a previous healthy memory blog post “Pain and the Second Dart:”
“A great way to return your mind to its “ground state,” neither overexcited nor torpid, simply alert and open, is to become aware of the natural rhythm of the breath as you inhale and exhale.  This is focused attention, prerequisite for the second state of mindfulness meditation:  insight.

Start by focusing on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving you body at the nostrils.  Remember, you are observing your breathing rather than controlling it.  Follow each inhalation and exhalation from the start to the finish.  Notice any slight gap between the in-breath and out-breath.

Don’t be hard on yourself if your mind wanders or you get distracted by a noise.  This is all perfectly normal.  Just remind yourself:  “That’s how the mind works,” and return to the breath.  With repetition, you will get better at noticing when you have lost focus and develop greater mindfulness of the present moment.

Now that you have quieted your mind, allow your attention to broaden.  Whenever a positive or negative feeling arises, make it the focus of your meditation, noticing the bodily sensations associated with it:  perhaps a tightness, the heart beating faster or slower, butterflies in the stomach, relaxed or tensed muscles.  Whatever it is, address the feeling with friendly, objective curiosity.  You could silently label whatever arises in the mind, for example:  “There is anxiety,” “There is calm,: There is joy,” “There is boredom.”   Remember, everything is on the table, nothing is beneath your attention.
If you experience an ache or a pain, stitch or any other kind of discomfort, treat it in exactly the same way.  Turn the spotlight of your attention on the sensation but don’t allow yourself to get caught up in it.  Imagine that on the in-breath you are gently breathing air into the location where the sensation is strongest, then expelling it on the out-breath.  You may notice that when you explore the sensation with friendly curiosity—not trying to change it in any way, neither clinging to it or repressing it—the feeling will start to fade of its own accord.  When it has gone, return your full attention to your breath.

Mindfulness instructors will sometimes talk about “surfing” the wave of an unpleasant sensation such as pain, anxiety, or craving.  Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the wave of feeling, you get up on your mental surfboard and ride it.  You experience it fully, but your mind remains detached, dignified, and balanced.  Knowing that the power of even the most fearsome wave eventually dissipates, you ride it out.

If a thought, emotion, or feeling becomes too strong or intrusive, you can always use the breath as a calm refuge, returning you whole attention to the breathing sensations at your nostrils.  Similarly if you feel you can’t cope with a pain such as stiffness in your legs, neck, or back, shift your posture accordingly.  But make your attention move to a mindful close rather than a reflex, and make the movement itself slow and deliberate.”
A previous healthy memory blog post, “Controlling Pain in Our Minds” explores this topic further and discusses the possibility of there being two different neural pathways processing the ‘two darts’.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

November 23, 2016

HM would argue that what we have most to be thankful for is our marvelous memory.  Without our memory, we would not even know who we are.  Our memory is a devices for time travel.  They use data from our senses to develop models of the external world, and we use these models to interact with the external world.  Memory is the mechanism for personal growth.

Thanksgiving is the day to be dedicated to giving thanks.  The best way we can show thanks for our memory is to develop it by employing growth mindsets.  The activity generated by growth mindsets promotes memory health and builds cognitive reserves to ward of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  They also provide for an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

Mindfulness is also essential to healthy memories.  Meditation not only relaxes, but also gives us greater control over attention, which has a tendency to wander.  Mindfulness also increases our empathy with others.

Hypnosis

March 30, 2016

This post is based on an interview Shannon Fischer conducted with Laurence Sugarman  that was titled “I can tell you how to heal yourself with hypnosis,” and published in the March 12, 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  Laurence  Sugarman directs the Center for Applied Psychophysiology  and Self-regulation at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  He is a former president of the American Board of Medical Hypnosis and is on the faculty of the National Pediatric Hypnosis Training Institute.

Dr. Sugarman worked for 20 years as a sole primary care pediatrician but found that his training was inadequate for the behavioral and psychophysiological issues he encountered.  He now believes that hypnosis can take healthcare to a new level.  As readers should know, employing the mind in healthcare is a continuing theme  in the healthymemoy blog (enter “Cure” and “The Relaxation Revolution” in the search block of the healthy memory blog for examples).

When asked why is hypnosis not widely used, he responded “In Part, because nobody knows what it is.  We first need to be able to say, this is what hypnosis is, and this is all that it is.  Then we can say how we think it works.”  Dr. Sugarman and his colleagues “propose that hypnosis is simply a skill set for influencing people.  It involves facial expression, language, body movement, tone of voice, intensity, metaphor, understanding how people interpret and represent things.  It isn’t something that you’re in, or that you do:  hypnosis is something you use.  That means that it is not a therapy;  it’s a means to a therapy.”

When asked “Where does the hypnotic trance fit?  he responded “Trance is a process of intense learning.  It happens when we change our minds in significant ways, when we become neuroplastic; we are thoughtful, we pause, change our breathing.  There is a shift in the parasympathetic  part of the autonomic  nervous system—an intensified focus of attention and narrow peripheral awareness.  Trance happens when we are traumatized and when we are in love.  There’s no such thing as “hypnotic trance” as distinct from the trance of yoga or prayer, for example.  But part of the skill set of hypnosis is recognizing and facilitating trance, because it makes whatever you’re learning more effective.”

He states that the ultimate power to change lies within each of us.  An earlier healtymemory blog post on hypnotism was titled  “Self Hypnotism” because ultimately it is the individual who either is letting herself be hypnotized or doing the hypnosis.  Dr Sugarman responded, “People can be influenced into cults and violent religious movements, be depersonalized and become the victims of abuse.  If I have poor self-esteem and self-efficacy, I may let people use hypnosis to “overpower” me.  But ultimately the power to change lies with the person who, as we say, Owns the trance.”

Dr. Sugarman says that hypnosis is a medium for delivering placebos.  He also says that mindfulness meditation is an example of hypnosis.  In other words it is one of many ways of doing mindfulness meditation.  Hypnotism provides a means for directing change.

He notes that we unknowingly use hypnosis on ourselves, and that most of our self-hypnosis  is not very nice.  Most of it is:  “I suck at that, I’m not a very nice person, I’m lazy, I deserve this abuse, every time I do that I am going to get a headache.”  If trance is this intense learning process, we use a lot of that plasticity to reinforce our ruts.”

He goes on to say, “Clinical hypnosis is a way of helping somebody change their self hypnosis, to understand what trance-formation looks and feels like, and use both the novelty and intensity of conversation to teach them to do their own trance.”