Archive for January, 2012

Mindfulness, Children and Parenting: An Interview with Amy Saltzman, MD

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The theory and practice of mindfulness as a way for children to calm their busy minds, self regulate, become more hopeful and happy has been an area of increasing interest. The potential impact on our culture is great as it affects future generations.

It’s my pleasure to bring you this interview with Amy Saltzman, MD a holistic physician in Northern California who has been integrating mindfulness with children and teens for many years. Her current research has found significant impacts on children in the areas of attention, anxiety and compassion. I’ll be watching Amy speak at Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in San Diego on February 4 -5. 

Today Amy talks to us about what the still quiet place is for children and teenagers, the impact of her research with children, and a little practice and advice to help us parents, caregivers and teachers along the way.

Elisha: What is the “Still Quiet Place” within for children and teenagers?

Amy:  The Still Quiet Place is a way for children and teens to experience pure awareness. Awareness is a concept that may not make sense to young children. However, with guidance most children can discover that stillness and quietness (aka awareness) is alive inside of them. When I introduce mindfulness to children I begin by inviting them to attend to the breath– the feeling of the expansion of the in-breath, the stillness between the in-breath and the out-breath, the release of the out-breath, and the stillness between the out-breath and the in-breath.

They are encouraged to rest in the stillness, and to realize that this stillness and quietness is always with them—when they are breathing in, when the breath is still, when they are breathing out, when the breath is still, when they are frustrated with a math problem, or angry with someone, when they are doing sports, playing an instrument, or hanging out with friends. This stillness and quietness is always with them. They can rest in this stillness and quietness whenever they want. And when they rest in their Still Quiet Place they can observe their thoughts and feelings and then choose their behavior.

Elisha: Give us an overview of your research that originally started with Philippe Goldin, PhD at Stanford and now with renowned neuroscientist Amishi Jha PhD in working with young children and mindfulness.

Amy: This research, which will be published soon, looked at the benefits of offering mindfulness to children in 4th-6th grade and their parents.  The children and parents participated in the Still Quiet Place course, an 8-week age-adapted mindfulness training. After becoming familiar with the Still Quiet Place they are supported in learning to rest in the stillness and quietness and observe their thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and impulses. Through home practice and group discussion we explore how these observations allow us to choose our behavior, especially in difficult circumstances.

For example, say a student is really struggling with math. When he becomes aware of his struggle he could take a few deep breaths, settle into his Still Quiet Place, and observe his experience- a feeling of frustration, showing up in his body as a headache, and tight shoulders, and showing up in his thinking as what I call Unkind Mind– “I am stupid. I can’t do this. I am never going to get this….”  Resting in his Still Quiet Place he can remember that “thoughts are just thoughts, and I don’t have believe them or take them personally” and then he can choose what he wants to do next. Take a quick break and get a snack, go for a run, call a classmate, check-in with his teacher in the morning, etc…

As for the results of our research, we showed that after 8 weeks of learning these skills the children had documented decreases in anxiety, and improvements in attention on an objective, computerized attention assessment called the Attention Network Task (ANT). In their own words the students reported decreased emotional reactivity, and increased ability to deal with day- to-day life challenges. Interestingly, the parents demonstrated similar improvements even though the “dose” of mindfulness was lower than that of a typical adult course. And most importantly for parents they experienced increased parenting self-efficacy; this means they felt they were more effective parents.

Elisha: What is an example you have that can show us how mindfulness has helped a child you’ve worked with to handle unhealthy stress?

Amy: This story demonstrates that mindfulness is a practice lived moment by moment. When we met, Malia was a lovely, very bright 4th grader and a competitive gymnast. She felt pressure, mostly self-induced, to perform well both in school, and in the gym. Her stress was so severe that she was suffering from migraines.  After 4-6 sessions of learning to rest in her Still Quiet Place, attend to her breath, her thoughts, her feelings and her physical sensations she was able to happily participate in both school and gymnastics for about a year.

A year later, as she approached the state meet, her stress and headaches returned; she wanted to quit gymnastics. She let her family know and they called me. As we explored this it became clear that she was afraid of letting herself, her parents, and her coach down. She thought they would be angry if she didn’t perform well. Interestingly, given her level of distress, I initially considered that her assessment of her parents’ and her coach’s expectations was correct, and my basis was that if she were simply competing to fulfill others expectations, it would be healthier for her to quit.

However in discussing it with her parents they felt strongly that they wanted her to see the season through, not to perform at a certain level, rather to learn that she could move forward in the face of fear and distress. With my support her parents were able to hear her distress, minimize mixed messages, clarify why they wanted her to finish the season, and most importantly clearly express that that they loved her no matter what.

That reassurance, along with a funny tailored ritual, allowed to her compete in the state meet with both joy and success The ritual developed out my asking what pre-meet routine would help her remember that her parents loved her regardless of her performance. She said she wanted her dad to make her bacon before the meet. So their code word was “bacon”. As she approached each event she would look at her parents and they would mouth “bacon” to her. This of course made her smile and relax, and reminded her that they did love her not matter what.

When I wrote Malia to ask if I could use her story she wrote back

Dr. Amy,

Yes, you can use my Bacon Story and you can also use my name or I like the name Molly instead of Lilly. 

By the way, I have quit gymnastics.  I think I might like to try ‘excel’ gymnastics which is less hours a week and a more fun and relaxed competitive program.  But right now I’m not doing anything so I can rest my foot and do physical therapy.  I miss gymnastics but I don’t miss the practices.  I miss bouncing on the trampoline and doing cartwheels. 

Malia

This is a beautiful example of family mindfulness. Malia was aware of and expressed her feelings. Her parents heard her, and expressed their values, and their love. They created a joyful, humorous mindfulness ritual which will serve them well for a long time to come. Together they are practicing choosing freshly in each new moment.

Elisha: What is the message you give to parents who seem to be struggling with managing the children and stress?

Amy: As parents we need to recognize that our children’s lives are stressful, and that we contribute significantly to that stress. In fact research from Dr. Georgia Witkin at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York showed that the greatest source of childhood and adolescent stress is not school work, extracurricular activities, or peer pressure, but parental stress. So as parents one of the best things we can do to decrease our children’s stress is to decrease our stress. And of course one the best ways to do that is to take a mindfulness based stress reduction course, or perhaps use the excellent Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook you co-wrote with Bob Stahl.

When we as adults learn mindfulness—paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity and then choosing our behavior, we can support our children and teenagers in bringing these skills into their lives. If we are in the present, we aren’t worrying about our third grader getting into college and we aren’t passing this stress onto them in our day-to-day interactions. If we learn to witness our anger, fear and sadness with kindness and compassion we show our children that this way of working with intense emotion is possible. If we slow down and choose how to respond to a difficult situation in daily life, and especially if we do it during challenges with our children and “out loud,” “Honey I am really frustrated, that you did X again, I am going to take a few minutes and then we can discuss this.”  Then they see that they can do the same with various difficulties.  Children learn what they live; the best way to support them in practicing mindfulness is to practice ourselves.

Thank you so much Amy for your important work and what a wonderful message.

To learn more about Dr. Amy’s work visit her at The Still Quiet Place or go see her at Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Addiction: Breaking Free from the Next Fix

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

drinking womanAddictive behaviors are universal. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in eight Americans suffers with addictive behaviors regarding drugs or alcohol and it costs society approximately $250 billion per year.

In addition to addictive behaviors potentially having a strong genetic link, the increasing stress in our culture makes it obvious why so many of us are craving avoidance and escape.

How do we break free from that next fix?

When caught up in the cycle of addictive behavior, there is an inability to accept whatever is being felt in the present moment and the mind is constantly wandering onto the next ‘fix.’ In the present moment, distressing thoughts and emotions can feel like unwanted guests that we can’t seem to get away from.

In our fight to avoid this distress, we actually amplify stress and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, frustration, irritation, shame, or guilt. These uncomfortable emotions often kick us into a state of mindlessness or auto-pilot, where we’re unaware of our environment and more susceptible to triggers, cravings, and urges.

Victor Frankl, respected Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, once said:

 Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

The moment we become aware of that space between stimulus and response is the moment we come in contact with The Now Effect; a term I’ve coined to describe that moment of clarity of what matters and an awareness of the choices, possibilities and opportunities that lie before us.

The question is, is there a way to slow time down to be more aware of that space and choice? In the addiction field specifically, the late Dr. Alan Marlatt, Sarah Bowen, and Neha Chawla, Psychologists and researchers at the University of Washington, have created a promising new approach toward addiction based on the Mindfulness-based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs, called Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP).

2009 was the first randomized control trial with 168 participants who recently completed inpatient and outpatient programs. Not only did participants show good adherence to the mindfulness practices, but showed significantly lower scores of relapse and cravings compared to a control group of treatment as usual.

Whether our addictions have to do with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, emailing, or shopping, the addictive behavior is often preceded by some triggering event that sets off a flurry of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations, leading to cravings and urges to engage in the addictive behavior. An important part of recovery is being able to recognize our triggers and how cravings and urges manifest in our bodies and minds. As soon as we have this awareness, we have stepped outside of the automatic reactive cycle that enslaves the next moment and entered into that space of awareness where the now effect takes root.

Many people have reported that the actual peak of an urge is about 20-30 minutes. In that space of awareness we can learn to bring an eye of curiosity and non-judgment to the feelings and thoughts as we watch them come and go.

Now, this is easier said than done and takes practice for many as addictive cravings and impulses can be extremely powerful. When living with addiction one of the most powerful areas of support is a group. That is the reason for the popularity with 12-step programs and other secular support groups like LifeRing. Kevin Griffin, author of One Breath at a Time runs classes and retreats that integrate meditation and the 12-steps. In the 12-steps they often say to take one day at a time and in mindfulness practice we play with that and say take one moment at a time.

Whether you suffer with addiction or know someone who does, add your comments and questions about your relationship with addiction below as it provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

May you be healthy, happy, and free from the addictive patterns that lead to suffering.

Woman drinking photo available from Shutterstock.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Mindfulness Over Mood: The Now Effect and Your Mental Health

Friday, January 20th, 2012

mindfulness and moodEvery moment of our lives our brains are rapidly taking in information and making snap judgments, interpretations and decisions based on what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Depending on how we’re feeling we’ll interpret it differently.

Even though we believe our thoughts represent reality, the truth is, our thoughts are not facts. A lot of us live without an awareness of this, operating mostly from a state of auto-pilot, sleepwalking through life.  The good news is we can train our minds to become more aware of this automaticity, get perspective and tune into what really matters.

Here’s an example I often do with my own patients to illustrate why we don’t need to believe everything we think:

Scenario one:

You’re walking down the street feeling particularly depressed, heavy, and hopeless one day and see a friend walking by. The friend looks up at you, but just continues walking without saying hello.

What thoughts come to mind? How do you feel now?

Scenario two:

You’re walking down the street and feeling pretty well, you’re feeling light on your toes, warm, with a smile on your face. A friend walks down the street and looks up at you without saying hello.

What thoughts come to mind now?

Most people I do this with usually respond to the first scenario with some self-blame or self-judgment. “What did I do,” “He hates me,”  or “I’m no good.” Most people respond to the second scenario with a curiosity about what is going on with the other person. “Is he having a bad day,” “that was strange,” or “I hope he’ll be ok.”

The fact is thoughts are temporary and fleeting and when we’re not feeling well, our minds become a magnet for negative thoughts and skewed interpretations of what is going on. When we start thinking and ruminating on these thoughts, they tend to create a snowball effect on the rest of our constitution. If we cling to exaggerated negative thoughts in our minds, (e.g., “he didn’t look at me, that’s because I’m fat, nobody likes me and nobody ever will”), this will certainly have an effect on how our bodies feel, bring on emotions of anxiety, sadness, anger, or others, make us feel like isolating and before we know it, we are either in a full blown depressed mood, a panic attack, or both.

You might say, “Well, I can’t help it, this just happens and I feel I have no control.” I would say that in that moment, you might feel that way because you are unaware of the cycle that is hijacking you. You are caught in the future worrying about the terrible things that could be, or caught in the past with memories and regrets of things you wish would have been different.

There might really be feelings of sadness, anger, or shame there.  The moment you notice this is the moment you are sitting in that space between stimulus and response, a space of clarity and choice and that is The Now Effect. The more the now effect occurs, the more often you’ll start noticing it like moments of grace throughout the day.

In this space of awareness we can apply some mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness means to acknowledge the feelings that are there, not judge them as good or bad, but let them be. This may bring up healing feelings of self-compassion and calm as you realize how much you are suffering in the moment. When you notice self-judgments arise, you can label them as such, and gently bring your mind back to just being with the feelings that are there.

There is a more gentle, compassionate and healing nature to this approach than the usual cycle of self judgment and critical mind that we’ve been used to for so long. This is not to say don’t ever have judgment or think about the past or future, but to do it on your watch rather than letting your mind run off with it and deepening your suffering.

Here are 4 steps to increase your chances of breaking free from a downward spiral and experiencing the Now Effect:

  1. Intentionally be on the lookout for the mind snowballing or when you’re in a low mood. This will prime your mind to pop out of it more often.
  2. Bring awareness in that moment to how you are feeling. Name the feelings if possible.
  3. Think about how your interpretation of the situation may be influenced by the mood you are in.
  4. If you are feeling an uncomfortable emotion or pain, apply some self-compassion and do something pleasurable or kind for you that day. This will send the message internally that you care for yourself and allow for the discomfort to come and go quicker as it naturally would.

As you practice and repeat this with intention, like all things, it will start to become more automatic. In other words, rewiring a healthier and more mindful auto-pilot.

As always, please feel free to share your own stories, comments, or questions below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for all of us to benefit from.

Man walking photo available from Shutterstock

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

What Drives Out the Darkness? Wisdom from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Today I grab a quote from a man whose dream lifted millions of people and whose inspiration is felt all over the world today. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This reminds me of an earlier blog post I did which quoted Rumi saying:

“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington to let us all know that he “had a dream.” In this dream he inspired hope, belief, and faith in millions of people.

The power of our minds and of belief may very well be one of the most awesome things in life. Henry Ford, father of the concept of assembly lines which so much of our system is currently built on said:

“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

We all have messages built into our heads from the youngest of ages that “we can’t.” If we’re at all lucky, we’ve had parents or a role model (like Dr. King) who have inspired us to say “we can.”

Here’s the rub, when we have deeply ingrained beliefs that we can’t either from childhood or from being depressed or anxious or maybe both, these negative thoughts seem so convincing. Even right now, if you’re in the depths of depression you may hear the thought, “I don’t know why I’m reading this, nothing is going to help” or “as if I could see any light or love, nobody loves me, I don’t even love myself.”

It’s sometimes not enough to just challenge our thoughts, we need something more. We need someone who is going to inspire us on a deeper level, emotionally, so we can face our pain (or keep our gaze on the bandaged place) and say, “I see that there is pain right now and I’ll care for it, I can do this.” Ultimately, even if we are inspired by a person outside of us, they are inspiring something within us that has been there all along.

So who was Dr. King inspired by? One of his influences what Mahatma Ghandi who said:

“The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts.”

In an interviewTherese Borchard, whose wonderful book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes addressed this quote and said:

This quote has been helpful regarding facing my fears. The earlier chapters of my book chronicle all of the disorders I experienced as a child and teenager-OCD, anorexia, substance abuse. I kept running away from the sadness and the depression, which would morph into these other illnesses. So when I finally sat tight long enough to feel the raw depression, that’s when I could begin to heal. As you know well, I think taking a moment of silence to pray or meditate or center ourselves everyday should be part of everyone’s treatment … because when we stop running, we are able to hear what we most need to be whole.

What have been your inspirations in life? Who have been your sources of “light?” As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Bringing Mindfulness to Schools: An Interview with Co-Founder Megan Cowan

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

If you’ve been following The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog, you’ve read and interacted around the psychology and neuroscience of mindfulness in relation to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and so much more. Today, I have the honor of interviewing, Megan Cowan, Co-founder and Executive Director of Mindful Schools bringing mindfulness to children. Megan will be speaking at the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth at UCSD February 4-5 2012. 

Today Megan talks to us about why mindfulness help children and give us some tips to begin working with our kids at school and at home.

Elisha: A couple years ago the video below came out via ABC News with some amazing responses captured by the children who were touched by Mindful Schools. Looking at this video, what is it about what you do that leads to these results?

Megan: Mindfulness, or bringing attention to ones experience, can be very empowering. Mindfulness strengthens self-awareness, the ability to recognize how you are feeling or what you are thinking in any given moment. When you have this ability, you are in a much more empowered place of choice. You can choose how to respond to anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, excitement, etc. rather than reacting automatically.

Oddly, this capacity of self-awareness is not generally cultivated in people. We don’t put an emphasis on this being an important tool in our culture today. But, it is relatively simple and the ability is so natural that children often immediately understand how to use mindfulness and begin applying it to their experiences.

The children in the video mentioned being happier, calmer, and better able to deal with difficulty. This is because they have created some space between their thoughts/emotions and how they typically respond to them. They have accessed the place of impulse or reactivity inside themselves and cultivated a spaciousness around their experience, allowing them to respond differently, or view their experience with more balance.

Elisha: Give us a couple key practices that we can start using now with our kids to help them integrate more calm, ease and focus.

Megan: When we teach young people mindfulness, we are teaching them in two ways: directly and indirectly. The key thing that adults, parents, educators, mentors, etc. will want to remember about integrating mindfulness into their work with kids is that their own personal embodiment and understanding of mindfulness will be the most powerful teacher to young people.  As a parent or educator, the way you respond to your own stress, impatience, disappointment, etc. is teaching just as much (if not more) as what you tell your children/students to do. The more you establish your own mindfulness practice, the more you will be able to impart, both through your presence and through your words.

Keeping that in mind, there are some simple mindfulness applications anyone can introduce to the young people they work with. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Set aside a few minutes everyday with your child or students
  • Establish an environment that is quiet if possible
  • Encourage children to let their bodies become still, relaxed and quiet
  • Invite children to close their eyes if that is comfortable for them
  • Ring a bell and instruct children to listen to the entire sound from beginning to end, raising their hand when the sound has faded completely (alternatively, you can simply listen to the sounds around you for a minute or so)
  • Have children bring both hands to their lap or belly
  • Take a few breaths together, guiding children by saying “breathing in, breathing out”, and then allow some time for them to do this silently
  • You can do this for 1-3 minutes or more, depending on how the children respond to it

Keep things short and simple. More curriculum ideas can be found at trainings with Mindful Schools, or other similar organizations, or at conferences like the upcoming Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth at UCSD. 

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from a parent or teacher who was struggling with a highly rambunctious child, what advice would you give them?

Megan: I was sitting in a café this morning and a mother was there with her three-year-old son. She was quietly eating while he fluctuated between sitting quietly alongside her, and bursting out in random tears or mild tantrums. She remained the same throughout!  Sometimes she spoke quietly to him, but there was no sense of speaking in order to get him to stop. He eventually settled into a routine of his own and things were peaceful until they left.

There’s no one right answer to what to do with a highly rambunctious child, but there is something mindful about neutrally allowing the child to have their process without you trying to change or control it. This, again, is where your personal mindfulness practice informs how to handle difficulty. Because when the child is rambunctious, who is really having the difficulty?

Remember, mindfulness is not about being calm. Calm is just a common natural side effect. Mindfulness is about learning how to become more aware of our entire spectrum of experience. It’s easy to forget this when you see a classroom of still, calm, quiet children doing mindfulness, or when you have a sweet mindful moment before bed with your child, and it’s natural to want to recreate this, especially when you are feeling chaotic.

Understanding that, if you want to help the child utilize mindfulness, you can inquire about their experience. If you have already introduced them to mindfulness, you can ask if there is anything they’ve learned in mindfulness that might be useful at that moment. Or you can essentially be mindful for them by saying “wow, you sure have a lot of energy right now.” You can also ask them where in their body they feel all that excitement or energy. Ask them if it is in their belly, their chest, their feet, etc. This helps focus their mind, even if only momentarily. It helps them check into their actual physical experience and begin to navigate it with more awareness. It also puts them in more control of their experience, rather than you having to manage it.

Thank you so much for your wisdom on this Megan. May your work go on to touch the lives of many parents and children and in the process, be a source of positive change to our society.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

How Do You Generate Gratitude? Watch the Unfolding of Life (Video)

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The experience of gratitude has now been well researched and documented as something that is good for our health and well-being. But more importantly, with any of experience gratitude, we experience health and well-being and that has to be the most important indicator to generate this in our daily lives.

Perhaps it’s because when we feel grateful, it immediately creates this experience of connection. If we’re grateful for something that has to do with ourselves, we’re connecting to something internally (health, body working, joy), if it has to do with something outside of ourselves, we’re connecting to something externally (e.g. nature, people, higher power).

At a recent TEDx Conference in San Francisco, Blacklight Films founder, Louie Schwartzberg shows us how if we pause and pay attention, gratitude will naturally arise. Watch this:

I guess the first thing I’m grateful for is the technology to slow time down like this so I can see life unfolding in this way. But when I come to think about it, bringing mindfulness to the various areas of life allows me to slow time down. Maybe I don’t have 24 hours to sit in front of a flower and watch it unfold, but I am able to tune into many parts of life that I wasn’t noticing before because I was so caught up in the stories of my mind.

What is something today that you can choose to intentionally attend to and watch the experience unfold?

  • Maybe it’s taking a moment to lie down and just watch the clouds floating by in the sky.
  • Maybe it’s choosing to just attend to the sensations of the water flowing on your skin in the shower.
  • Maybe it’s bringing your full attention to someone and listening.

Or maybe it’s recognizing that like all things we aren’t permanent and for the first time in a long time we start paying attention to our lives unfolding.

Let us know what you choose to pay attention to today.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Diet: It’s Not What You Eat, It’s How You Eat It

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

There’s a funny cartoon out there of some cows in a pasture eating grass. One cow’s head is lifted up with a sense of horror on his face and the caption reads “Hey wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!” If I asked you, have you ever been sitting at a meal with someone or even by yourself and been halfway through the meal without having tasted the food? In my experience, the odds are likely that you’ll be nodding your head up and down. Our heads are often simply somewhere else, worrying about where we need to be, watching television, or engrossed in conversation.

This unawareness is the seed for making poor food choices, not to mention missing out on enjoying the food. This unawareness can also drive people to overeat as a way to cope with unacknowledged feelings and emotions. You may be in search of a “quick fix” that consists of caffeinated beverages and highly refined foods that burn very quickly and spike up the metabolism.  Many people have learned to comfort and sedate themselves with food.  Sadly our “super-size” culture not only supports these tactics but also capitalizes on it.

Since preparing and eating food is such an essential component of our lives, why not bring mindful awareness to this?

I had a client who suffered from stomach pains, always complaining of a sensitive stomach. I told him that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has a system where he suggests chewing the food 30 times before swallowing (you don’t to count after you practice a few times). When he tried this he began noticing that his stomach didn’t hurt quite as much anymore because his food was broken down so much prior to hitting his stomach.

I had another client that suffered from a food addiction and would often be found going to the bakery daily, buying a cake, and eating it that night. We practiced mindful eating with a raisin in session to experience the concept of slightly slowing down with the eating and beginning to bring all the senses to the food. She took time seeing it, touching it, smelling it, hearing it, and tasting it.

She considered all the hard work it took by many people (including her own for having the resources to pay for a session to do this) to get this simple raisin in front of her today. In time, along with other work we did, she was able to slow down her eating and begin to eat in smaller portions with a greater sense of appreciation for her food. Another client I did this practice with said, “I’ve been downing raisins my whole life in handfuls, one after the other. And it wasn’t until now that I realized, I don’t even like raisins.” We both had a good laugh.

Go ahead and try this out for yourself. Whether you’re eating a snack or a meal, try to slightly slow down your eating, bring your senses to the food as if you were noticing this food for the very first time. Consider all the work that it took by so many to get it there today (including you). Whatever you do, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself!

Soon you’re brain will start catching on, interrupting the auto-pilot of eating and naturally bringing you into a state of clarity, where there’s the possibility and freedom to choose to engage with greater mindfulness. This moment of clarity is what I call The Now Effect. The beautiful thing is that it’s a skill that can be trained to become a part of your everyday life.

And please share your comments and questions below, your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Forgiveness: 9 Steps to Releasing the Burden

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I see it every day. We all hold grudges against other people who we feel have hurt or offended us in some way or another. We even hold these grudges for people who aren’t even alive anymore. We do this with the false idea that somehow we are making them suffer by being hurt and angry with them. Now, there is nothing wrong with being angry with someone, but it is how we express this anger that makes all the difference on us and our relationships . What is a grudge anyway? May it is harboring ill feelings toward another in the need to settle a score. Let’s try a little experiment.

Think of someone in your life right now (maybe not the most extreme person) who you are absolutely holding a grudge against right now. There is no way you are willing to forgive this person right now for their actions. Picture that person and hold onto that unwillingness to forgive. Now, just observe what emotions are there; Anger, resentment, sadness?  Also notice how you are holding your body right now, is it tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful and spiteful thoughts?

Most people who I do this with find this to be an uncomfortable experiment that elicits feelings of tension, anger, and thoughts of ill will toward the other person. This is not conjuring these feelings out of nowhere; this is just bringing to light what is already within stirring around. There is a common misperception that forgiveness means condoning the act of the other person. Forgiveness simply means releasing this cycle of torture that continues to reside inside.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning! Forgiveness is for the person who was perpetrated, not the perpetrator. It is saying, “I have already been offended against, I am going to let go of this so I don’t continue to be burdened by it.” You have already been tortured once, why continue letting this torture you by holding onto it with the erroneous belief that holding onto it is somehow hurting the other person. The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce stress, anger, and depression and support many aspects of well-being and happiness.

Like many things, this is easier said than done depending on the person and level of offense. In his book, Forgive for GoodFred Luskin, Ph.D. lays out 9 steps to forgiving for you!

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK.  Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better.  Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action.  What you are after is to find peace.  Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years -ago.  Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you.  Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave.  Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.  Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge.  Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.  Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

As always please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

A Nugget of Wisdom for 2012

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Here’s what I’m thinking about when starting this next year of 2012:

“May we all recognize in this New Year that the moments of our lives are rare and precious. Open to them, Bask in them, We are alive.”

The reality is we often hold things that are rare in our world to be precious. These rare things are held to have a high value, weather it’s gold, an unbroken sand dollar on a beach, or the short time that a baby is a baby before growing up.

If you peel the lens back for a moment you can see that our lives in this very same way. We’re a blip in time in relation to the life of this planet we stand on and this Universe we live in.  All the moments of our lives are rare and precious and it’s incredibly skillful to bring that awareness back to our lives.

What happens when we start seeing our time on this planet as rare and precious?

The small stuff that make up the majority of our sticky worries tend to slide off us, our minds open up to what really matters. we begin to notice more compassion for ourselves and others and we begin to play. We gain a sense of humility and perhaps begin to recognize that what is most important is who you love and how you love them.

Try taking this quote into the New Year and see what happens.

May this New Year be filled with a sense of the preciousness and value of your life and the lives of all people,

Elisha Goldstein

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com