How I Finally Made Meditation A Daily Habit

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Meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits to our mind and body such as stress and anxiety management, emotional wellbeing, improved focus and better sleep. Many successful people cite meditation as a valuable tool. For years I’ve recommended it to my clients, and yet, I struggled to make it part of my own routine.

There was always some excuse: an unpredictable schedule, events, deadlines, lack of time. Probably the sneakiest excuse for me of all was that I did yoga so did I really need to meditate on top of that?

I’d interview people and hear them talk about their meditation routine and think, “That sounds nice, but I could never do that. I’m too busy—and besides, I do yoga.”

How I finally made meditation a daily practiceJESSICA CORDING NUTRITION

My studio was like my second home. Aside from being a place where I’d made friends and even business contacts, it had given me a safe place to go work things out in my head. Yoga had seen me through break-ups, career shifts and even my father’s battle with cancer.

Then about a month after my dad died, the studio announced they were closing. This sounds like a total First World Problem—and it is—so I tried to stay positive, calling it a challenge to become more adaptable. Still, as a healthcare professional, I know taking care of myself helps me better care for my clients, so I was anxious to see how this shake-up to my self-care routine might impact my business.

In the midst of all this, I was writing a book, pulling late nights and early mornings. I found myself trying to multitask rest time with meditation time. I often fell asleep while trying to focus on my breath. Unfortunately, a fitful catnap did not have those same mental benefits. The combination of grief, poor sleep, and the loss of that baked-in mindfulness made me feel like my brain was short-circuiting.

You’re probably thinking, “This is New York—why didn’t you just find a new studio?” I was out there trying different places, but building a new routine takes time.

Which brings me back to meditation.

This winter, a friend of mine who was going through a different brand of tough stuff shared that getting back into meditation was helping him. After months of trying to keep my struggle to myself, I opened up about it. He suggested we do regular meditation check-ins to keep each other accountable. I’d never considered this approach but was willing to try.

It took about a week for it to feel like a daily thing, but I quickly noticed the benefits. I became more aware of when my mind started to wander, making it easier to refocus or redirect so I could stay on track with projects. If a situation stressed me out I was better able to identify exactly what was gnawing at me and respond calmly and thoughtfully. I found it easier to prioritize—my daily to-do list got smaller and I felt less pressured to respond right away to every single email. I also did a lot less online shopping.

Meditation has been shown to have many benefits, yet it can feel hard to make it a routine.GETTY

Perhaps the biggest benefit I noticed, though, was that when I got bad news or found myself awake at night with my mind on an anxiety loop, rather than let it hijack my brain, I focused on steps I could take to deal with the situation.

Making meditation a habit turned out to be easier than I’d imagined. Here’s what worked :

-I Started Small

I started with three and then five minutes. Soon 10 or 15 felt doable. On Valentine’s Day I even went to a 30-minute self-love meditation that flew by.

-I Made It Convenient

You don’t have to use an app, but I found the support of a tech tool (I chose Headspace) extremely helpful in staying consistent and tracking my progress to help motivate me. I set reminder alerts for times of day I would be likely to be in a place where I could sit quietly.

-I Found A Time That Worked

I tried out different times of day to see what felt doable. It turns out I’m still not a morning meditation person, but an afternoon reset or end-of-day wind-down works great.

-I Added An Accountability Component

This was huge for me. I’d often thought of meditation as a solitary practice, but checking in with someone every day actually helped me stick to it. Just be careful if you get competitive—it should feel like a supporting, encouraging relationship.

While I’m now meditating daily, I have to admit I’m still on the journey, learning as I go. Like so many things, I’ve found, it really is about learning to be where you are and be open to making changes one small step at a time.

 

To learn more about how to streamline your healthy living routine and enjoy a more balanced relationship with food and exercise, visit JessicaCordingNutrition.com.

5 Ways Sexual Meditation Can Help You Have Better Sex

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By now, you’ve likely heard that mindfulness and meditation come with a bunch of health benefits. The practices have the potential to reduce stress and anxiety, ease pain and fatigue, help you make healthier food choices, fight premature aging, and even boost your immunity.

But that’s not where the perks end: An emerging body of research suggests that mindfulness may boost your sex life, too, increasing desire (and even lubrication), helping with sexual satisfaction, and your confidence.

“What we’re bringing together is the mind and the body—the physical, sexual response,” says Cheryl Fraser, PhD, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and author of Buddha’s Bedroom. “Meditation is essentially the ability to focus our attention, our concentration, and our mind on whatever the chosen meditation object is—and great sex is all in your head.”

But what exactly is sexual meditation and how can you put it to use for, you know, better sex and more orgasms? Ahead, experts explain:


What is sexual meditation, exactly?

First, sexual meditation isn’t quite a term used by experts in the field. They refer to mindfulness and meditation more broadly, studying how the practices apply to sex.

Terminology aside, the idea is all about bringing the skills of mindfulness into a sexual context, explains Lori Brotto, PhD, director of the University of British Columbia Sexual Health Laboratory and author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire.

To this point, sexual meditation can be many different things: It can simply refer to a general mindfulness or meditation practice, a more mindful approach to sex while you’re in the moment, partner exercises that have sexual and mindfulness components, or specific mindfulness work that could have particular payoff during sex.


The benefits of sexual meditation

Both general mindfulness and meditation can have big benefits for your sex life. These are five of the biggest ones, according to experts:

It reduces stress, which makes sex more enjoyable.

“Sex is stressful for a lot of people,” says Brotto, who notes that this is especially true if you have sexual difficulties, such as pain during sex, insecurities, or communication issues. “During sex, all sorts of worries and preoccupations can create stress and that is reflected in the stress response system in the body,” she explains.

And as that stress response becomes activated, it becomes difficult to feel aroused. “We know when we can manage this response, we’re much more likely to experience arousal,” Brotto says. Mindfulness naturally decreases stress, since it helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system. This, in turn, balances out your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your stress response. The result: You enjoy the moment more.

It teaches you to focus on the present, leading to better orgasms.

“Focus intently on what you’re doing” is not a profound or complicated instruction, admits Fraser. But anyone whose mind has wandered to dirty dishes or the kids’ homework during sex can agree that it’s not always the easiest order to follow.

“Meditative focus makes your senses blaze.”

“Meditation is the ability to focus the mind and we’re really lousy at that,” says Fraser, adding that “meditative focus makes your senses blaze.” Learning how to hone in on the here and now—a kiss, touch, or other sensation—can help you be more present.

The benefit: “Sex itself can be a better, hotter, more sensual experience,” Fraser says. When you’re better able to tune into your partner stroking your leg or running a finger along your neck, you’re able to experience more intensity. Brotto adds that meditation can also increase activity in parts of the brain linked to interoceptive awareness—or how aware you are of different body parts.

It can increase your sex drive.

Really. Research finds that a mindfulness practice can help increase sexual desire and how much you want to have sex, says Fraser. “You’re more likely to initiate if you’re practicing mindfulness and applying it to your sex life.”

It’s not that a little Om is suddenly going to turn you on, but rather that the qualities of mindfulness—the ability to pay fairly close, focused attention to what’s actually happening, which in turn allows you to be more present and enjoy those happenings more—can build off of one another, strengthening your drive.

“When people start a mindfulness practice, they tend to continue over time because they are so motivated,” adds Brotto.

It can make you closer with your partner.

How much you enjoy sex matters. But often, sex is also about that connection and love for your partner, says Fraser. And if you’re able to root yourself in the present moment, you’ll also be more acutely aware of the other person in the room, allowing you to reconnect in a more meaningful way.

Sex will feel fresh again.

“If you can train your mind to show up, it creates novelty, it creates excitement, and it creates a type of connection that generally we have only experienced early on in our love affair,” says Fraser. That means, in many ways, retraining your mind via meditation and mindfulness can recreate that honeymoon-type feeling you may not have felt in a while, instilling a new sense of excitement in your sex life.


How to practice sexual meditation

On your own or with your partner, there are multiple different ways to pick up a sexual mindfulness or meditation practice. Here are a few ways the experts suggest you get started.

1. Start a simple, daily mindfulness practice.

If you’re not meditating or creating any moments of mindfulness at all in your average day-to-day, it’s time to start. “I advocate really strongly for, first and foremost, a general, structured mindfulness practice,” says Brotto. This might include simply sitting quietly to meditate on your own and focusing on your breathing or it could involve meditating with the help of an app such as Calm or Headspace.

Building skills and learning to focus on your breath, the moment, and other sensations can help you adopt your newfound habit in the bedroom, she notes.

2. Do this back-to-back partner activity together.

“Mindfulness exercises can be done with a partner and I often advocate doing them together,” says Brotto. One she likes: Sit or stand back-to-back and do a body scan, where you mentally scan how your body feels from head to toe, noting any parts that feel tense or relaxed. Focus on the points of contact between you and your partner. Hone in on factors such as texture, pressure, and temperature—things you can pick up on in sexual moments, too, suggests Brotto.

3. Open your eyes while you meditate, then try it during sex.

Closing your eyes during meditation can be helpful because it eliminates distraction from the visual field, says Fraser. But too often, a lack of eye contact in sex can keep us from connecting with our partner.

To refine this skill, Fraser suggests finding mindful moments when you keep your eyes open, such as sitting and looking out a window at a beautiful spring scene or staring at a plant in your apartment, taking in its different parts.

Focusing on something beautiful when you’re not in the bedroom can help you do it when you are, she says. In the moment, especially if you’re feeling yourself getting pulled elsewhere, try to gaze into your partner’s eyes. This can regroup you into the here and now, says Brotto.

4. Better yet, try this eye contact exercise.

At a quiet time during the day, sit face-to-face with your partner and gaze into his or her eyes for three full minutes, suggests Fraser. Better yet: Gaze into only one eye, which is not something people do very often but can actually be more intense than switching between both eyes, she says. It’s okay to giggle and feel uncomfortable but try not to talk.

You can advance the exercise by kissing with your eyes open, focusing in on the sensations. When you’re more comfortable simply looking at each other outside of the bedroom, it should come easier in the heat of the moment (playing up that connection factor), she says.

5. Take a distracting thought in a sexier direction.

If you notice your mind wandering during sex, drop the thought and swap it for a sexual one, suggests Fraser. While using your erotic imagination to think of something sexy isn’t exactly what it means to be in the moment, it’s something Fraser often suggests to people to help bring them closer to the sexual experience at hand. “Mental distraction is number one sex drive killer and this is a step in the right direction,” she says.

Eventually, with practice, you might not need this bridge and might be able to simply drop the thought to focus on the intensity of a touch or smell in the moment.

6. Try a ‘slow sex’ session.

In a crazy, fast-paced world, slowing down your mind is difficult. It’s also not something we do all that often. That’s why Fraser suggests that people have really slow sex from time to time (or that they practice really slow sexual activities).

Her advice: Have one session where one person is the ‘giver’ and one is the ‘receiver’ and simply concentrate on slow, erotic touch or seduction. Training your mind and body to slow down can not only improve mental focus but also curiosity, helping you to realize certain touches you might not have known you liked or sensations you hadn’t noticed before.

Freelance WriterCassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel.

When Inspiration Strikes

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When Inspiration Strikes
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Meditation practice should always be inclusive and workable. In fact, a wholehearted, mindful embrace of everything that arises in your mind is the only path to true freedom. It is critical that all thoughts—including inspiring ones—be included in meditation practice. So the moment when inspiration strikes is really the perfect opportunity to put this vision of inclusiveness and workability to the test! Here are some tools that can help you affirm your inspiring thoughts without letting them distract you from the focus of your practice:

1. Make an Agreement with Yourself
Before beginning a period of meditation, reflect for a moment on your commitment to bringing your inspiring thoughts into the heart of your meditation practice. Place a pad and a pen beside you. Make an agreement with yourself that you will allow yourself to record onlyone inspiring thought per sitting period.

2. Focus the Mind
If your mind is scattered, it is helpful to cultivate a degree of concentration and calm before bringing the awareness to thoughts and emotions. You may find it helpful to do this by focusing on the changing sensations of your breathing for a while.

3. Note Resistance
It is not uncommon to feel that the process of thinking is an interruption of what should be happening. So start by becoming aware of any resistance to these thoughts: do you feel it in your body? Where? Perhaps across the shoulder blades, or in the face, the groin area, or the stomach? Is there an experience of tightness or tension in your mind? Include this resistance in the field of your awareness.

4. Note Fear
If you are worried that you will forget the thought, fear has entered the picture! It is critical that you also include the energetic experience of fear in your practice. Where do you feel the changing sensations associated with the fear? The emotional transition from resistance to fear is a wonderful opportunity to observe the laws of karma at work. Insight into the laws of cause and effect and the interdependence of the mind and the body is an important aspect of meditation practice.

5. Use A Mental Noting Practice
If you tend to get excited when inspiration strikes, it may be interesting to examine what is happening. Mentally noting these feelings and reactions to your thoughts may help. Try: in breath, out breath, and note: “inspiring thought, excitement, thought”; then again, in breath, out breath, and note: “worry, fear, another inspiring thought,” and so on.

6. Maintain a Sense of Humor
Try giving the inspiring thoughts a humorous label as soon as they arise, like “Einstein!” The simple label will not only help you realize the cyclical pattern of your thoughts, but by not taking your thoughts so seriously you will probably dilute any impulse to turn them into a problem.

7. As a Last Resort, Write Down the Thought
If a thought keeps relentlessly recurring, document the inspiration on your notepad, maintaining awareness of each intention as you do so: the intention and sensation of opening the eyes, the intention to reach for the pen, the sensations as your arm moves, the sensations of grasping the pen, the intention to reach for the pad, hearing the scratch of the pen on the paper.

By mindfully making a place for inspiring thoughts in your meditation practice, you affirm these thoughts and—who knows?—you may even get enlightened in the process!

♦From In the Lap of the Buddha by Gavin Harrison. © 1994 by The Dharma Foundation. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc., www.shambhala.com.

 

I Don’t Like Meditating. Here’s Why I Do It Anyway

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As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m not a fan of meditation. It comes unnaturally to me, despite my 36 years of martial arts study and interest in self-improvement, health-hacking, and general enlightenment.

I realize this speaks poorly of me as a person, kind of like my opinions on aikido, jazz music, pumpkin pie, and “A Prairie Home Companion.” That I’m not fond of them doesn’t mean they’re bad, it means I’m not as good as I could be.

Worse yet, when I do regularly meditate, I find my life is better. Stress is lower, my health improves. I can focus more on my work, and am less likely to say things I regret to my friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Problems seem smaller. I seem bigger.

And I’m not alone. Over the past few decades, a host of research has supported the conclusion that meditation is good for us, and that we should all meditate a few minutes each day.

  • Meditation has been found again, and again (and again) to reduce stress, with all the physical, social, and emotional benefits that provides.
  • Multiple studies have found meditation can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • In 2003, researchers learned that regular meditation helped to boost immune function.
  • Meditation can help control pain, according to several studies, including these in 2016and 2017.

That’s just the tip of that particular iceberg. Bottom line: meditation is good for me, and for you, no matter how much we might not want to do it. Kind of like eating a vegetarian meal once or twice a week.

So, from one resistant but learning meditator to others, here’s what I’ve learned about meditation and how to make it part of improving your life.

You don’t have to just sit around

Non-practitioners sometimes imagine meditation to be boring — and perhaps if not done a certain way, it can be. But there’s more than one kind of meditation available, so you can easily find one that suits you. Here are just a few alternatives:

  • Walking meditation calms your mind when you focus on your strides and movement of taking steps (rather than, say, focusing on your breath). Walking in a labyrinth is a centuries-old practice of contemplation common among many spiritual faiths, including Catholicism.
  • Kata is the formal practice of martial arts, including tai chi. The motions of this practice are so complex it becomes impossible to think of other things, allowing for profound meditative focus. See also yoga.
  • Listening mindfully to music, especially music without lyrics, produces the same impacts of meditation by allowing you to be transported by the sounds, away from stray and extraneous thoughts.
  • Daily task meditation iswhere you take the process of a task — like doing dishes, cooking a meal, or getting dressed — and focus on it the way a kung fu master might focus on her forms.

Those are just a few examples. Other options for meditation include loving-kindness meditation, guided relaxation, breathing meditation, zazen sitting meditation, awareness meditation, Kundalini, pranayama…

The point is there’s a kind of meditation that works well with your needs, tastes, and general outlook. It’s just a matter of finding the right match.

Your brain might mess with you

Meditating is supposed to be a quieting of the mind, where you think about nothing in particular (or nothing other than the actions of the meditation) to allow that background noise to filter out and let you rest. That’s why exercise can be meditative: at a certain point you’re only able to think about the exercise.

But along the way, throughout each session of meditation, your thoughts are going to keep zooming in and trying to distract you. This happens all the time in the beginning, but here’s a secret: It happens all the time to the masters, too.

The trick with meditation isn’t to totally eliminate those stray thoughts. It’s to let them pass through your mind without you grabbing hold of them.

In the first stages of learning, you’ll fail a lot of the time. You’ll be meditating for a while and suddenly realize you stopped somewhere along the way to think about your to-do list and what you’re making for dinner that night.

Eventually, that will happen less and less, and you’ll start distracting yourself by getting frustrated that the thoughts intrude at all. You will ultimately be able to let them pass through and over you without taking root, so you can continue your meditation for as long as you wish.

Speaking of “as long as you wish….”

It doesn’t have to be for very long

Yes, I read the stories about Gichin Funakoshi (aka The Father of Modern Day Karate) meditating for an entire day while standing under a waterfall, and about retreats where people spend the entire weekend in some kind of a trance. And probably, some of those stories are true.

No, they don’t mean you have to meditate for hours to get anything out of meditation.

The studies I mentioned above had subjects meditate for less than an hour, in most cases less than 15 minutes, and even those sessions resulted in significant improvements to physical, emotional, and psychological health.

Some of the masters I’ve personally spoken with go one further, advising us to start with just one minute of meditation per day. That won’t be enough to reap huge, long-lasting benefits, but it has two advantages:

  1. You will succeed. Anybody can meditate for a minute, no matter how busy or distractible they are.
  2. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much of a difference it makes for the next 10 minutes of your life.

I personally found those two factors combined to be an excellent motivator. Under the powerful motivation of immediate success and feeling the short-term impact of that minute, I committed more fully to learning how to meditate.

You don’t have to be a certain ‘type’ of person to meditate

Meditation has shed the new age or ‘hippie’ reputation it once had. Anyone can do it. Here’s an incomplete list of groups that actively practice meditation or encourage their people to meditate regularly:

  • professional athletes in the NFL, NHL, and UFC
  • actors including Hugh Jackman, Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • SEAL Team Six and other special forces branches of U.S. and worldwide militaries
  • an impossibly long list of CEOs and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk

If Randy Couture and the guy who plays Wolverine meditate, you can do it too. It only takes a minute — literally — and you can start today.

A Meditation on Observing Thoughts, Non-Judgmentally

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A Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts

  • 20:22
  1. Take a few moments to settle into feeling the body as a whole, sitting and breathing, or lying down and breathing, riding the waves of the breath moment by moment, resting in awareness. An awareness that features the entirety of the body scape and the breath scape as they express themselves, moment by moment. Life unfolding here and now in the body, in awareness.
  2. And when you’re ready, if you care to, letting go of the breath and the body as a whole. Allowing them to recede into the background or rest in the wings, as we’ve been saying, still very much present but less featured while we invite the whole domain of thoughts and feelings and mood states to be center stage in the field of awareness.
  3. For a time attending to the stream of thought rather than being carried away by the content or emotional charge of individual thoughts, instead resting comfortably on the bank of the thoughts, river or the thought stream itself, allowing individual thoughts if and when they arise to be seen, felt, recognized and known, as thoughts as events in the field of awareness.
  4. Recognizing them as mental events, occurrences, secretions of the thinking mind, independent of their content and their emotional charge, even as that content and emotional charge are also seen and known.
  5. Seeing any and all of these fleeting thoughts as bubbles, eddies and currents within the stream, rather than as facts or as the truth of things, whatever the content, whatever the emotional charge, whatever their urgency or their tendency to reappear, whether they are pleasant or seductive, unpleasant or repulsive. Or neutral and therefore harder to detect at all.
  6. Expanding the metaphor, seeing any and all of these evanescent thought events more like clouds in the sky or bubbles coming off the bottom of a pot of boiling water. Or like writing on water, arising in a moment, lingering for the briefest of instances, and dissolving back into the formlessness from whence they came. Relating to their content as if it were of equal importance and relevance to say what you had for dinner three nights ago. Even if a thought is particularly compelling and insightful. Especially if it is particularly compelling and insightful.
  7. For now, just letting any and all thoughts come and go. Just let sounds come and go. Or sensations come and go. Not preferring some to others, nor pursuing some over others, not pursuing anything. Just resting in an awareness of thinking itself and the spaces between thoughts. Moment by moment, breath by breath, as we sit here or as we lie here.
  8. It might be helpful to be especially sensitive to the steady stream of commentary and advice you may be giving yourself as you sit here, and recognising it as such. As scaffolding. As running commentary, taking a position in relationship to it that resembles turning down the sound on a television set, so that you’re just watching the game and aren’t being sucked into the endless stream of commentary and interpretation and opinion that is so characteristic of televised sports events.
  9. Rather, you now detect the individual secretions of commentary on your moment to moment experience merely is more thinking as thoughts,, as judgments and rest in the recognizing of them in the economists attending to each event as it arises in the stream without being pulled into the past or into the future or into opinions or fears or desires, simply seeing them and knowing them as thoughts and as emotions as mental events, not as the truth and not as you watching them proliferate endlessly as they do watching the mind secrete them and throw them off.
  10. Watching how easily thoughts manufacture or fabricate views, opinions, ideas, beliefs, plans, memories, stories, and how easily they proliferate. If we feed them the one thought morphing into the next, then into the next, until we suddenly realize that we’ve been carried downstream and are no longer aware of the stream itself. The process of thinking and how in the noticing we are already back in the frame of attending to thinking, is thinking to thoughts, thoughts observing them, recognizing them, perhaps being carried away again.
  11. And if so over and over again coming back to this moment to this frame in this moment to the field of thought itself beyond all the content of the endless thinking and proliferating and fabricating and the emotions that accompany them springing from whether they are pleasant unpleasant or neutral and from what’s going on in your life in this moment.
  12. Allowing all of this to be held to bear attention in awareness moment on breath by breath as we sit here or live here resting in the awareness itself south taking up residence in awareness itself in the knowing of thoughts thoughts and feelings as feelings in the accepting of thoughts thoughts and feelings feelings whatever their content whatever their emotional charge just as an experiment in cultivating greater intimacy with your own interiority with what’s on your mind and in your heart. And with new dimensions of the possible.
  13. If we learn to observe carefully and rather than identifying with the content of thoughts and feelings to see them more impersonally as weather patterns as ripples and waves on the surface of the vast and deep ocean of the mind. As we inhabit the whole of the mind that boundless essence of mine that already knows before I thought underneath thought beyond thought that is bigger than thought. Bigger than any feeling however powerful that is capable of making use of thought and emotion without being caught and imprisoned by unwise and unexamined habit patterns developed over a lifetime of ignoring these aspects of the mindscape of the landscape of our own being of our lives unfolding.
  14. So for the remainder of our time together, until you hear the sound of the bells resting in an awareness of the arising and passing away of thoughts and feelings in the mindscape some overwhelmingly obvious, some quite subtle, some masquerading as commentary, others as scaffolding, others as neither, and simply returning over and over again to the frame, whenever the mind is carried off, not looking for thoughts or emotions or mood indicators, just resting in awareness and letting the mall come to you.
  15. Letting them arise on their own in the field of awareness to whatever degree they do. Moment by moment by moment, and breath by breath, as you sit here or as you live your life.

How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America

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There’s a reason some people laugh when I say that mindfulness meditation can save the United States—that it can dampen the political polarization now dividing the country; that it can defuse the hatreds that have propelled the word “tribal” into our political vocabulary and have led serious commentators to compare the US in 2017 to Northern Ireland, even Yugoslavia, in the 1990s.Actually, there are two reasons people laugh. One is that they can’t imagine a huge number of Americans—especially those in the Trump tribe—actually sitting down and meditating. And I, too, have trouble imagining a sea of MAGA hats enveloping a statue of the Buddha. For that matter, I’m not under the illusion that most anti-Trumpers get up every day and meditate. But for reasons I’ll explain, I don’t think these harsh realities are fatal to my American salvation scenario.

The other reason people laugh at this salvation scenario is that they think the point of meditation is to cultivate love or compassion or some other warm and fuzzy feeling that might heal the nation. But in fact, mindfulness meditation isn’t fundamentally about love or compassion. Other kinds of Buddhist meditation—such as “metta” meditation—take on that challenge more directly.

More broadly, mindfulness meditation isn’t warm and fuzzy. In a certain sense it’s cool and clinical. It involves, among other things, examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.

Obviously, America could stand for people to be a little less susceptible to getting carried away by their feelings. But the contribution mindfulness can make to bridging the great tribal divide is more powerful than that simple formulation suggests. To appreciate this potential, you have to understand how subtle the psychology of tribalism is.

Tribal psychology involves, at one level, some obvious ingredients: rage, vengeance, loathing—the kinds of raw emotions you might imagine when you imagine tribes literally at war. But the psychology of tribalism also involves—in fact, I’d say, it mainlyinvolves—cognitive biases that warp our perception of the world.

Cognitive biases have gotten a lot of attention in the popular psychology literature over the past decade. For example, confirmation bias—our tendency to accept and retain information that supports our views and reject or not notice information that contradicts our views—is now pretty famous. But the term “cognitive bias” misleads people about the nature of this problem. “Cognition” is often thought of as separate from feelings—it’s the kind of rational, logical process a computer can execute—but in fact feelings often influence cognition. And they seem to play a key role in cognitive biases.

Consider the role confirmation bias can play in “fake news,” false or deeply misleading information that spreads widely, typically via social media.

Such information is sometimes spread cynically and knowingly. But often it is spread unknowingly, by people who click “retweet” or “share” without first investigating what they’re sharing. And the reason they don’t do this critical investigation is because the information they’re sharing supports their world view—because, in other words, they are victims of confirmation bias.

I sometimes spread dubious information this way myself. And when, having discovered my mistake, I reflect on what made me do it, the answer I come up with is this: Clicking “retweet” made me feel good. After all, the information I was spreading reflected favorably on my ideological tribe and unfavorably on the enemy tribe. What’s not to like?

Indeed, if you pay close attention at the moment you’re sharing this kind of news on social media, you may observe a sequence of feelings: a positive feeling upon seeing the news, the subtle but palpable urge to spread it, and the feeling of gratification you get upon spreading it—a gratification that is deepened if this addition to the nation’s discourse then gets a lot of retweets, shares, or likes. These are the feelings that can make you part of the fake news problem.

If, on the other hand, you see information that reflects unfavorably on your tribe, you may notice a negative feeling well up, and you’ll probably feel no urge to share the information; you’ll either dismiss it and move on or inspect it critically, looking for flaws. And if you find flaws, this will feel good, and will likely feed an urge to publicize them.

So confirmation bias is a “cognitive” bias that is driven by feelings from start to finish. In that sense it’s feelings, more than thoughts, that propel false or misleading information through social media. Yes, Russian bots and conspiracy-theorist crackpots and other nefarious actors have played a role in systematically spreading fake news, but much of the false or misleading information that is now muddying discourse and sustaining the tribal divide is spread unknowingly—innocently, in a sense—by people on both sides of the divide who are acting in accordance with human nature.

This is where mindfulness could come in. In my experience, and in the experience of many others, spending 20 or 30 minutes on the cushion every morning doing mindfulness meditation makes you more aware of feelings—not just as you meditate but as you go through the day. When feelings well up that you might otherwise obey reflexively, you’re more likely to reflect on them and decide whether to obey them.

Obviously, meditation won’t singlehandedly end fake news. But I think it would reduce the fuel supply for false and slanted information. And that could make a big difference, because the problem with such information isn’t just that it confuses the people who believe it. It also has an unfortunate influence on the people who don’t believe it—the people in the tribe who didn’t spread it. It reinforces their belief that the people in the other tribe are, at worst, knowingly lying and, at best, deeply confused.And probably the former. After all, we tend to interpret the errors of our enemies and rivals in an unfavorable light, while explaining away the errors of our allies in more innocent terms.

Indeed, this tendency itself involves a cognitive bias, one that is less famous than confirmation bias. It’s called “attribution error,” and it, too, is dividing America.

In a context of intense tribalism, attribution error works like this: If people we identify as members of our tribe do something bad—if they’re mean to someone, say, or they break the law—we tend to attribute the behavior to “situational” factors. They had been under stress at work, or they were pressured by bad actors into misbehaving, or whatever. If members of the enemy tribe do something bad, we’re more likely to explain the behavior in “dispositional” terms—the bad behavior emanates from their basic disposition, their character. It’s just the kind of thing that people like them do.

Good behavior works the other way around. If members of our tribe do something good, the explanation tends to be dispositional—their behavior is a simple reflection of who they are. If members of the enemy tribe do something good, the explanation will likely be situational—maybe they were “virtue signaling” to a particular audience, or maybe they did the right thing because all other options were foreclosed.

One consequence of attribution error is that once you’ve been categorized as an enemy, it’s hard to get that label changed. The bad things you do will be attributed to your essential nature, and so reinforce the label, and the good things you do will be explained away as not reflecting the “real you.” So the more Americans there are who are looking at each other through this bias—the more Americans there are who identify with one tribe or the other, and the more intense the identification—the deeper the challenge of near-term reconciliation.

This cognitive bias, like confirmation bias, seems to be triggered by feelings. You don’t have to be all that sensitive to pick up on the negative feeling that accompanies the thought of an enemy. This feeling can infuse your very perception of the person with a sense that they possess a kind of “essence of enemy,” an essence that then shapes the way you think about them.

So with attribution error, as with confirmation bias, anything that helps you reflect on your feelings before letting them take root, before giving them your obedience, could help. And mindfulness meditation does that. It can make you less reactive, more reflective, less buffeted by unexamined emotion, more equanimous. It can make you at least a bit less inclined to embrace and hang on to that “enemy” vibe when it surfaces.

I hope all of this explains why I think that, if most Americans meditated, the prospect of ever-intensifying tribal warfare could start to recede. What it doesn’t explain is why I hold out hope for salvation by mindfulness even though most Americans don’t, in fact, meditate. And, worse still, what meditators there are seem to cluster on one side of the aisle. When I’ve gone to meditation retreats, the parking lots have featured a number of Volvos, Subarus, and Priuses, few if any pickup trucks, and zero bumper stickers that say Make America Great Again.There are four reasons that I nonetheless hold out hope.

First, parking lots can be misleading. I have a sister who is a conservative Christian and voted for Trump and has dabbled in mindfulness meditation. One reason that last part shouldn’t surprise you is that mindfulness meditation has in many settings, including the growing number of schools and workplaces where it’s offered, been severed from its Buddhist roots and packaged as simple self-help, as therapy. Such as: “mindfulness-based stress reduction.”

And viewing stress mindfully can lead to viewing other feelings mindfully. Indeed, people who teach meditation as a way of handling stress or anxiety often wind up helping students deal with rage, anger, resentment, and other feelings that warp our perception of the enemy tribe. Besides, using mindfulness to deal with any given problematic feeling naturally tends to lead to greater awareness of, and more critical reflection on, other feelings as well, including even the subtler of the feelings that may drive cognitive biases. What starts as simple self-help can wind up making you a better person and a better citizen.

Second, meditation on one side of the tribal divide can exert a calming influence on the other side. The way figurative tribal warfare becomes literal tribal warfare is through a positive feedback loop: Hatred and hyperbolic rhetoric on one side lead to more of that on the other side, and vice versa. Well, the positive feedback works in the other direction too. If there is less hatred and less accusatory, hyperbolic rhetoric coming from one side, the amount of hatred and hyperbolic rhetoric on the other side can drop in response.

Third, meditation has established a pretty big beachhead and is gaining momentum. A National Institutes of Health survey conducted in 2012 found that 18 million American adults meditated and 21 million practiced yoga, which often has an element of mindfulness. And both numbers were growing.

Finally, science is providing more reason to meditate—not just by documenting the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness but by showing that our mental processes are in need of clarifying, and suggesting that clarifying them could involve changing our relationship to some of our feelings.

In a landmark study conducted during the 2004 election, researchers scanned the brains of strongly partisan Americans as they were shown evidence of hypocrisy in three people—George W. Bush, John Kerry, and a “neutral” figure, such as a famous actor with no well-known ideology. In all three cases, they were then shown “exculpatory” evidence that offered a way to explain the conduct in question without deeming it hypocritical. It’s no surprise that, in opining about which political candidates had indeed committed hypocrisy, Democratic and Republican partisans tended to nominate Bush and Kerry, respectively. More interesting is what went on in their brains as they moved toward these judgments.

For both Democrats and Republicans, a part of the brain associated with emotion tended to be activated upon seeing signs of hypocrisy in both Bush and Kerry, but not upon seeing signs of hypocrisy in the neutral figure. But some of the details depended on whether the candidate who seemed hypocritical was from their party. If he was, the study’s authors reported, then an initial “emotionally aversive” reaction was followed by a second phase that they described this way: a “combination of reduced negative affect (absence of activity in the insula and lateral orbital cortex) and increased positive affect or reward (ventral striatum activation) once subjects had ample time to reach biased conclusions.”

In other words, our “cognitive” biases seem to rest on a foundation of affective rewards. We think what it feels good to think. And it feels good to think that our tribe makes sense and the other tribe doesn’t.

Mindfulness meditation has roots going back more than two millennia, as do the Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology that inform it. And Buddhist psychology has long emphasized the fine intertwining of cognition and affect, of thinking and feeling; our feelings make us cling to some thoughts and flee from others. Indeed, this is a big reason that, according to Buddhism, meditative practices which loosen the grip of feelings can give us a clearer view of the world, can lead in the direction of enlightenment.

According to Buddhism, these practices aren’t good only because they’re clarifying. They’re good because a clearer view of the world reduces our suffering and the suffering we inflict on others.

Modern psychology (as I’ve argued at greater length elsewhere) is broadly corroborating the Buddhist view of our situation: We are naturally afflicted by confusion, including cognitive biases, and this confusion is indeed abetted by feelings, and one consequence of all this is needless suffering. With Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament getting more and more scientific validation, maybe it’s time we started paying attention to the Buddhist prescription.


Robert Wright (@robertwrighter) is the author of The Moral Animal, Nonzero, and The Evolution of God. This article is adapted from his new book Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and EnlightenmentWright has taught in the psychology department at Penn and the religion department at Princeton and is currently visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He also runs mindfulresistance.net.

The Meditation Technique That Totally Transformed My Sleep

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Some aspects of healthy living just get easier with time. Meal prepping on Sundays, waking up early to exercise, avoiding single-use plastic—I’ve found it can all become second nature with enough practice and repetition.

I’ve always been daunted by one part of wellness, though, no matter how often I try to whittle away at it: meditation.

The benefits of the practice are what kept me in hot pursuit of it. Nearly every night for the past year or so, you could find me in my bed militantly repeating a mantra in an effort to quell anxietyincrease compassion, and refine my focus. And every night, after a few minutes of futile attempts to reel in my mind, I inevitably opened my eyes frustrated.

The point of meditating before bed was to let go of negative thoughts and worries from the day, but sometimes it left me even more stressed. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was somehow doing it “wrong.” I expected to start craving these nightly meditations after a while, but closing my eyes and coming back to the breath just remained another task on my to-do list.

The meditation technique that changed my relationship to the practice.

A few weeks ago, in the thick of my mindfulness rut, I journeyed to Costa Rica for a week of doing nothing but yoga, breathwork, and—you guessed it—meditation.

Expecting to meet the same kind of resistance in the jungle that I did in my Manhattan apartment, I figured I could just pretend to meditate during longer sits. (Nothing I hadn’t done before!) But on day two, a strange thing happened: Our leaders Erica Matluck, N.D., FNP, and Paul Kuhn, who put on healing retreats focused on the seven chakrascalled Seven Senses, told the group to essentially forget everything we knew about meditation.

For that day, which was spent in silence (no talking, no eye contact, no writing, no reading—no looking outside of yourself as a distraction), we were to leave our mantras and body scans at the door. These, too, Matluck, a naturopath and seasoned integrative medicine practitioner, explained, could be a way to turn the attention away from the self.

Instead, we were told to breathe normally and simply notice the physical sensation underneath the nostril, above the upper lip. That was it. The only directive.

Just like that, we were off. With nothing but a curtain of palm trees as a distraction, I was fully prepared to become restless and frustrated after a few minutes. But 10 minutes passed, and I was still content sitting with that feeling under my nose. Then 20, then 30. We were invited to stay for another 30-minute sit. And, much to my own surprise, I did.

It felt so much more gentle, so much less rigid, than what I thought meditation was supposed to be.

Instead of forcing my breath to be rhythmic, I allowed it to do whatever it wanted. Instead of clutching onto a mantra (and cursing myself when it escaped from my grip), I politely paid attention to the super-subtle sensations on that one area. It felt so much more gentle, so much less rigid, than what I thought meditation was supposed to be. It wasn’t a task but a delight—to catch my thoughts wandering and then happily return them to the moment at hand.

It’s the first time that I didn’t want a meditation to end.

Afterward, Kuhn, a sound healer, told us that this study in sensation was a reminder that physical feelings—like thoughts—are fleeting.

This lesson from Matluck and Kuhn, one of what felt like hundreds I picked up that week, really brought home the idea that thoughts don’t need to carry so much weight and power. Instead, we can choose to let them pass over us like a tickle on the skin.

How I’m keeping up with it.

Thousands of miles removed from the Pura Vida life, I’m still trying to keep up with this breath awareness. Since my trip, my nightly meditation routine has become less of a chore and more of a respite after long days.

I’m reminded of what mbg Collective member and class instructor Light Watkins said when he talked about making the breath an anchor. By tuning into the physical feeling of the breath, it has become easier for me to sit with. Some nights, if I’m lucky, I’m transported back to that special place where all there was to think about was the rustling of the jungle and the sensation of being alive. And what a meditative space that is to be.

Here’s How Meditation Can Help With Loneliness & Acceptance Of Your Emotions, According To Science

Author Article

Loneliness is something that everyone experiences at one point or another, but of course, just because it’s common, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. Whether you’re living in a brand new city away from your hometown, or you landed a job that requires you to work remotely instead of in an office, that feeling of being alone can be overwhelming at times. If you’re struggling with these emotions yourself, it might comfort you to know that meditation can help with loneliness, according to the results of a new study.

For the study, The New York Times reports, researchers gathered 153 adults who described themselves as “stressed out” (which, per the news outlet, was meant to distract the participants from the real focus of the study, i.e. loneliness). To establish a baseline of where the participants were at in terms of their mindset at the beginning of the study, the researchers asked them to fill out a survey that included questions about their interactions with others, their social networks, and whether they regularly deal with any feelings of loneliness.

Additionally, the researchers monitored the participants in real time over a period of three days by texting them questions about “what they were doing and with whom,” according to The New York Times — you know, kind of like how your parents would always ask you to tell them what you were doing with your friends when you were in middle school, except, hopefully less lame?

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After those baseline measures, the participants were given an app to use on their phone, and the researchers randomly divided the volunteers into three groups: In one group, the app gave the participants some general tips for dealing with stress. In another group, the app taught the volunteers about mindfulness and the practice of “paying close attention to the moment and focusing on breathing and other sensations,” per The New York Times. In the third group, the app taught the participants the same mindfulness techniques as the second group, with additional instructions to “take note of and say ‘yes’ aloud to all sensations,” according to the news outlet. For instance, if a participant noticed that they could physically feel their tongue on the roof of their mouth, or even if they mentally noticed a feeling of sadness, they would then have to say “yes” out loud. The researchers called this approach to mindfulness “equanimity.”

Each group was told to use the app for 20 minutes, then practice their respective techniques for another 10 minutes on their own, every day for two weeks, per The New York Times. To measure any differences between the participants’ baseline mindset and how they felt after using the mindfulness strategies for a couple weeks, the researchers gave them the same survey questions, as well as the same three-day text monitoring.

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The results of the study, which have been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed that the general stress management and mindfulness techniques had little to no effect on the participants who practiced them — but here’s where things got really interesting: According to The New York Times, the participants who practiced “equanimity” meditation were “measurably more sociable,” engaged in “several more interactions with people that lasted at least a few minutes,” and their survey responses showed “a decline in their feelings of loneliness.”

The researchers told The New York Times that they believe the equanimity aspect of meditation was “key” in making a difference in participants’ feelings of loneliness. And it kind of makes sense when you think about it, right? As the researchers wrote in the abstract of their study, developing an “orientation of acceptance toward present-moment experiences” — even when those present-moment experiences are uncomfortable or difficult to accept — can make a huge difference in dealing with feelings of loneliness. In other words, actively accepting negativity when it comes to you, rather than squashing it down, pretending it doesn’t exist, or worse, judging yourself for having those feelings in the first place, seems to be an effective way to deal with these emotions overall.

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Counselor and relationship expert David Bennett (who was not involved in the study) says that meditation in general can help with “emotion regulation.” He tells Elite Daily in an email, “It can help you avoid the emotional ups and downs that come from reacting to the various events in your daily life.”

In a sense, Bennett explains, meditation can help to ground you in “something deeper than just feelings that come and go,” and being grounded can not only help you feel less lonely, it can help you take steps toward avoiding loneliness — like reaching out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile to meet for coffee, or asking a co-worker you get along with if they’d like to join you for happy hour drinks.

Again, loneliness is something that everyone deals with, so don’t be ashamed if you’re struggling with it. Consider practicing this type of acceptance meditation the next time these feelings overwhelm you, and remember, if you need a little extra help, it’s always OK to touch base with a professional about what you’re going through.

3 Ways Meditation Can Catapult Your Career

Author Article

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Anyone that’s been to a yoga class recently has heard of the concept of meditation. Chances are, in 2019, you will start hearing about it more in the workplace, too. According to a report by the CDC, the number of American adults saying they meditated jumped from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2018.

The benefits of meditation can help you in many aspects of your life, but here are three ways in which the practice can benefit your career.

  • It can help you realize what you really want. For the most fortunate of us, the hunt for a job meant finding out what truly makes us happy and turning that into a career. When that dream isn’t realized right away, it can cause depression and complacency, and ultimately result in the death of that dream. Meditation can not only help you practice self-awareness, but acceptance, as well.
  • It reduces stress. Work can be a huge stressor for most people, especially if there is a large sum of money on the line. When it comes time to grind, that stress can be a real hinderance. For example, a survey from EveryDay Health found that 57% of respondents say they are paralyzed by stress. Mindfulness meditation, even done for only a few minutes a day, can help reduce stress and anxiety, as demonstrated in a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study.
  • It gets creative juices flowing. If you work in a creative realm, you understand the concept of walking away and revisiting. Sometimes, when you’re stuck on an idea that you can’t seem to work yourself through, it is best to take a walk around the block and come back to it. When you don’t have that much time, however, focusing on your breathing and meditating for a few minutes allows your brain to do a soft reset.

While it may still seem like a foreign concept to some, the importance of meditation cannot be diminished. As I tell many of the entrepreneurs and job seekers I coach, even if it feels strange, what do you have to lose? I invite you to try it today and see how you feel.

Ashley Stahl is a career coach who helps job seekers find their purpose, land more job offers and launch their dream businesses. Visit AshleyStahl.com for free courses, resources and more.

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