Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The New Science of Smiling (It’s More Powerful than You Think)

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Smiling is something almost all of us could do a bit more often. Past science shows that smiling – especially the kind of smile that involves the muscles around the eyes – creates a specific type of brain activation that’s connected to being in a happy mood. More recent research shows that even adopting this kind of smile, known as a “Duchenne smile” leads to lower heart rate levels and quicker recovery from stressful activities. Resilience and positive brain activity are maybe good reasons to grin a bit more in our lives, but there’s even a better reason.

The following video will show you exactly what that is.

That’s right…smiling and laughter are contagious!

Set any judgments aside for right now and ask yourself, what would the world be like if there was a bit more smiling and laughter? To me, it seems like it would be a happier and even kinder place.

Try the experiment of smiling a bit more today, stick some chop sticks in your mouth if you have to. Do this with your local grocery clerk, your neighbors, friends or the person walking by you on the street. Feel free to laugh in public, it turns out it’s an altruistic act. In fact, there’s an entire movement of Laughing Yoga that backs up this understanding

Here’s a short BBC clip below with John Cleese exploring laughing yoga in India. Watch it and see what comes up for you.

Smiling and even laughing in public more often will not only make yourself a bit happier, but the ripple effects can go further than you think. Start right now :) .

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

What’s in a Mindful Moment?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Over 10 years ago I had a realization that we walk through life often times unaware of all the sacred moments that are there. I was curious whether we could become more aware of these moments as they were happening and also were they possible to cultivate? After conducting a national research study I found that not only can we train ourselves to be more aware of them and we can also cultivate meaningful moments. Not only that it’s associated with stress reduction and increased well-being, but all the interviews pointed to a common theme of feeling more connected to life.

What is sacred in life is right in front of us and we often time don’t realize it until it’s passed. We’re “too busy” in our own heads to see it.

The other day I was at a Mindful Self-Compassion training with Christopher Germer, PhD and Kristin Neff, PhD where they showed this video which reconnected me to the sacred in everyday life.

Now I’m going to share it with you.

The moments in our lives are so precious because they’re here and then gone so quickly.

Make it a point today to be more present to what’s sacred in your life. Take a moment, breathe it in and allow it to linger for a few seconds. This isn’t to grasp onto it, it will eventually pass, but it’s to live fully for the whole of it.

See what you notice as you begin to become more mindful of the sacred moments of your life. Allow your experience to be your teacher.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interactions are a living wisdom that we all benefit from.

The Secret to Taking Stress Out of Holiday Travel (and Making the World a Better Place)

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Yes, you know it, I know it, the holidays are coming up. With the holidays comes travel and when there are a lot of people traveling for most of us that’s stressful. It doesn’t matter whether it’s traveling via trains, planes or automobiles we could all use a little help in making this world a better place to move around in. What’s something we can all do that not only reduces travel stress, but also makes the world a better place?

It’s all about learning how to be the “Ambassador of Compassion” and here’s how you do it:

When sitting on a plane, train or automobile, see the “choice point” to consider all the other people on the plane, train or road who are also struggling with being an anxious traveler. Remember, up to 40 percent of people struggle with some form of anxiety about traveling. Be an Ambassador of Compassion, connecting with your heart and saying:

May you feel safe and protected.

May you be at ease.

May you be free from this fear.

May you be happy.

– Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind

We have to ask ourselves, what would the holidays be like if there were more people being kind to each other while in transit?

Make a commitment throughout the upcoming season to be an “Ambassador of Compassion.” Try this out as an experiment and see how this transforms your stress with traveling.

Don’t just do it for yourself, imagine the ripple effects it will have on others.

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

If the Children are Our Future, Teach Them Mindfulness

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

In her infamous song the late Whitney Houston said, “I believe the children are our future.” The fact is, this is simply true and if so, it seems more important than ever to provide them with the tools to be grounded in the midst of an increasingly chaotic world. Recently my wife and I led a group of teens from our CALM (Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness) program on a daylong retreat in the heart of a beautiful canyon. During part of this daylong we do a guided “Mindful Hike” and on this hike one teen discovered the root cause of all of our suffering and how we can begin opening up to hope.

mindful hike

The hike ends with us coming back to a little room, breaking the silence and my wife and I ask, “What did you notice on the hike?”

One teen raised his hand:

 “There was a moment where you asked us to reach out and touch the surroundings. In my mind I felt like I knew what all the leaves, branches and debris felt like and so I was initially resistant to doing it. You then mentioned to bring a beginner’s mind to this process and so I thought I’d give it a shot. I discovered that for some of the leaves I was completely wrong. What looked like a leaf that was alive and well was actually dead inside and cracked when I touched it. I was so surprised.”

There was something powerful in that noticing so we went a bit deeper:

“What does that have to do with the rest of your life?”

He thought about it for a moment and continued:

“I guess there are a lot of things my mind judges. At times it’s told me that I can’t do something, or that something is wrong with me. Other times it’s judges another person based on their clothing and so I stayed away from them. I guess those judgments aren’t always right and they keep me away from challenging myself, caring about myself or having new experiences.”

That was pretty profound for a teen (or for any adult for that matter).

The root cause of our suffering in this world is our brain’s snap judgments telling us what we can and can’t do, who we can and can’t like. When it comes to having stress, anxiety, depression, addiction or trauma, it goes on overload biasing toward the negative.

But are these thoughts absolutely true? And if not, how do they make us feel? Often times lousy or like avoiding the mystery of life. What would be there if these avoidant thoughts weren’t there? Maybe we’d be more curious, light on our feet and open to new experience. Maybe, just maybe, we’d be happy.

The teen’s lesson here wasn’t to throw our minds out, they can be quite useful, but it highlighted at a young age, how quick we are to judge.

What would the world be like if more of us learned to pause, put our judgments aside and let our experience guide us?

That is the gift of mindfulness.

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

Turn Your Stress Down with this Simple Practice

Monday, November 4th, 2013

pawYou may remember the story of Pavlov’s dog. Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who made the conditioned reflex famous. He rang a bell and at the same time introduced the dog to a bowl of food. Every time he introduced the food, the dog would salivate. Eventually all Pavlov had to do to get the dog to salivate was ring the bell because the bell was now associated with food in the dog’s brain. In this same way our brains have a “conditioned reflex” to try and get away from stressful or uncomfortable feelings. As it does this the body contracts and the mind frantically looks for solutions piling on more stress to the difficulty that is already there. There is a simple practice to play with that can help you break free from this stress cycle and into choice, perspective and freedom. 

From Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler:

The fact is, emotions are expressed through our bodies. Fear and anxiety are often felt as some form of tightening, a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, or maybe a clenching of the jaw. When we see the sensation just as it is, it loses its power over us. 

When you experience uncomfortable emotions standing in the line of the terminal, on the airplane, or anywhere else, try seeing what happens when you recognize it as “just a sensation.”

Take this phrase with you, and allow your experience to be your guide.

The idea that emotions can be seen as “just a sensation” to people is a very freeing experience. The neuroscience behind it is that it dials the volume down on the part of the brain that is involved with rumination. The stress cycle needs our ruminative mind to feed it and keep it alive. The moment we see the emotion as “just a sensation” it takes the story away and allows us to come back into the present moment and focus more on what we need in the moment.

The reality is difficult emotions are part of our common humanity, we all experience them, even the darkest hours.

In those moments, may we all experience clarity and self-compassion.


Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Dog listening image available from Shutterstock.

5 Essential Elements to Starting Your Mindfulness Meditation Practice

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

deckNo matter how much we talk about it, read about it, or study it, putting a mindfulness practice into practice can be challenging. But what are we to do? Science continues to reveal that an active practice has important health benefits, relational benefits and even corporate benefits (increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs). Sometimes all we need is a simple road map to get us started or restarted if it’s been some time since we practiced.

Here are 5 essential elements to creating a mindfulness meditation practice in daily life.

Prepare Yourself

Before even attempting to do any practice it’s important to understand that your practice is not a performance. Each practice doesn’t need to be evaluated about whether it was a “good” meditation or a “bad” meditation. This performance-based mindset misses the point entirely. If there is any goal at all to the practice it’s simply to learn.

For example, if someone is using their breath as an object of attention, the goal is not to stay on the breath for a long period of time, it’s to learn about what it’s like to settle attention on the breath. If the mind wanders a lot, then you learn how busy the mind is. If it wanders a lot on a particular topic, you learn to what degree that topic is on your mind. If it is on your mind a lot you learn that whatever it is, it needs attending to and you can later make the choice to focus on it.

Everyone’s mind wanders, even people who have been meditating for 50 years. It’s part of what the brain does. In fact, you could make the argument that the more it wanders the more you have an opportunity to train the mind to see “choice points” to gently bring it back. What you practice and repeat becomes a habit and so you’re strengthening the habit of choice.

Here’s a short breathing practice from The Now Effect to get you started.

Bring Heart into It

There is sometimes confusion in how people teach mindfulness practice, but in the way that I’ve come to understand it is that it’s simply not as effective unless you’re bring your heart into it. The quality of attention has relaxed curiosity and tenderness to it. It’s as if we’re bowing with respect to the life being lived whether the attention is on the breath, the body, or any sense perceptions.

When there is pain involved, there is an awareness of the pain and the attention has this quality of wanting to be supportive in some way. It is a quality of care and self-compassion.

In other words, you’re doing this practice ultimately because you care about yourself and possibly because you know that doing this practice will also be a gift to those around you.

Forgive Yourself

You’re going to be completely imperfect at this like the rest of us. If time goes by and you forget to practice, practice “Forgive and Invite.” Forgive yourself for the time gone by, investigate what took you off course, and then in that space of awareness invite yourself to begin again.

This is a very forgiving practice; you can always begin to be present to your life again. It only takes a moment.

Thank Yourself

Perhaps even the most important part of this practice is to thank yourself each time you do it. When the time is up, you acknowledge yourself for making the effort to take time out of daily busy-ness for your own learning, health and well-being.

This imprints in your memory that you care enough about yourself to pay attention to you! That self-compassionate caring type of energy is healing. What would the days, weeks, and months ahead be like if you had more of that energy circulating through your mind and body?

Keep coming back to these four essential elements of a mindfulness practice.

Find a Buddy

You could do the previous four elements of practice on it’s own, but it sure helps when we have people to do it with. Maybe you know someone who has had the interest to start a practice or you go on and check to see if there are any groups in your area. Or maybe you look at an app like Insight Timer that has worldwide online and in-person groups to check in with. Again, a buddy is not essential to start, but it can help you feel more connected to others who are aligned with this interest of yours. Ultimately that really helps motivation.

Now if you’re ready, carve out 10 minutes (on this link you’ll also find a 5-minute and 3-minute version of this), to start your practice with a body scan.

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

Couple meditating image available from Shutterstock.

Compassion: No Return Address Needed

Friday, October 25th, 2013

tunnelWhy do we have it in our heads that we’ll only help another person out if we get something back in return. Maybe it’s because at the core we always need to get something back for survival. Or maybe it’s because as kids, if you want a toy that another kid has you learn to ask for it, but it often works better if you have something to trade. Fast forward to adulthood, we’re happy to help others out, as long as we get something back. Unfortunately, the mentality of expecting something back drives mental and social dis-ease. However, if we understand at a deep level that when we give without being attached to any expectation of getting return, we get so much more, true happiness.

All research points to the reality that when we do things for other people as an act of altruism or compassion, we feel happier.

Recently a report came out saying that being compassion reduces inflammation in our body at a cellular level. Inflammation is connected to all kinds of mental and physical dis-eases.

Why can’t we get it in our heads that we are all connected and that helping another person even if you don’t get a “thank you” raises that person up and because we’re all connected it actually raises us up too?

Why don’t we understand that this same rule applies to animals and nature? When we take better care of the animals and environment on this planet that elevates the energy we are sending out and since we’re all connected, elevates us too.

More often now I see leaders in their respective fields pointing to the fact that we are not islands and are far more connected than we seem.

It’s time to take responsibility for the energy that we are putting out there day to day. When we know what we value and act in accordance with those values we feel a strong sense of integrity. Just like a building with strong integrity, it makes us much harder to push over, we are far more resilient.

It doesn’t matter whether we get something back from somebody or not, we get back just by giving, I promise.

But don’t take my word for it, go ahead and see what compassion means to you in your life. In The Now Effect I quote Thich Nhat Hanh saying “Compassion is a Verb.” What does it look like as an action? Are there people, animals or part of the environment you are interested in helping out with.

What do you notice when you act in accordance with that value without expectation of return?

Allow your experience to be your teacher.

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

Kindness image available from Shutterstock.

How Emotional Intelligence Can Help Us Lose Weight: An Interview with Dr. Susan Albers

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

albersIt’s no secret that millions and millions of people around the world struggle with their relationship to food. Today I’m excited to bring to you my friend and colleague Dr. Susan Albers, author of her newest book Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence that can be a support to many of us especially with the upcoming holidays. Susan works at the internationally renowned Cleveland Clinic and you may also recognize her from the Dr. Oz TV show, read about her in Shape or Fitness Magazine or have one of her previous books.

Today she talks to us about why emotional intelligence can help us with our eating habits (she cleverly calls this EatQ), how it can help us lose weight and a tip we can start implementing today.

Elisha: Why is EatQ important to you?

Susan: I see clients in my office at the Cleveland Clinic every day that struggle with eating healthier and losing/managing weight. I know that the process is HARD and at times incredibly frustrating. Yet, it is critical.  Wrestling with your eating robs people of so many opportunities to enjoy life to its fullest from being uncomfortable in your clothing to doctor bills for medication.  You can’t put off taking care of yourself any longer.  The good news is that I’ve seen people make successful changes—and you can do it too!

I’ve learned that deciding what to eat is much more complex than it appears on the surface.  For example, I knew from an early age that my parents had very different food cultures from each other.  On my mother’s side of the family, there are many old black and white photos of family get-togethers with tables heaping full of pastas, bread and cheese.  Every event was all about eating good food.  In contrast, my father grew up on a farm with a utilitarian relationship to food.  They used every single thing they had from the apples on their apple tree to the side of beef from their own cattle.  Food was fuel.  Food decisions were based on what they had to eat—period.  After forty-six years of marriage, you can still see remnants of their upbringings.  My mother asks, “What do you feel like having for dinner.”  My father asks, “What do we have for dinner.”

I understand that we all grow up with a very unique food culture. It shapes, for better or worse, how you think about and interact with food.  In EatQ, I tackle five topics including social eating, stress eating, pleasure eating, dieting and distress. There are also find 25 new needle moving strategies for eating better and lose weight.

Elisha: What is an Emotionally Intelligent Eater Like?

Susan: I often think of how Giada De Laurentiis, chef from the Food Network, relates to food on TV (I don’t know her personally).  Have you ever seen her eat?  On her show, she takes one bite of an amazing dish, and makes it last.  She savors each mouthful and intricately describes how it tastes—and then she stops.  She makes tasting a bite or two of luscious food look easy.  However, we all know it isn’t!  Again, avoiding overeating is not about having a vast knowledge of nutrition facts.  EatQ contains quick and easy psychological tricks that make choosing healthier foods easier.  As one of my clients said, “It’s like Jedi Knight mind food tricks.”

Elisha: How does boosting your EatQ help you lose weight?

Susan: EatQ is an easy, 3-step program to help you stop overeating for good and lose/manage your weight.  I created this concept because many of my clients are whiz kids when it comes to nutrition knowledge.  In fact, many of my readers could rattle off the fat grams and sugar content of every food you could imagine.  But what they don’t know is how to talk themselves into making the healthy choice.

Elisha: Give us an EatQ tip.

Susan: Here is an example of how easy some of the tips are: Use your non-dominant hand to eat.  A recent study showed that this strategy can reduce your eating by 30%.  This action breaks up the automatic hand to mouth flow.  You have to think about each bite similar to writing with your opposite hand.  Try it today!

Elisha: Thank you so much Susan!

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

Dr. Susan Albers image from her website Eat, Drink and Be Mindful.

Keep Your Great Great Grandchildren in Mind

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

stripesIt’s not our fault; blame it on the evolutionary impulse of our brains. We’re wired toward routine and because of that we often walk around asleep concerned about what is immediately in front of us. I was talking with a friend recently who has been jolted out of the matrix of life’s daily routine and into a space of awareness of human potential. He sat me down at his house and read me the following poem by poet/activist Drew Dellinger:

“It’s 3:23 in the morning

And I’m awake

Because my great great grandchildren

Ask me in dreams

What did you do while the planet was plundered?

What did you do when the earth was unraveling?

Surely you did something

When the seasons started failing?

As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

Did you fill the streets with protest

When democracy was stolen?

What did you do




In a recent study published in Nature, scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa concluded that if greenhouse emissions continue as they are today by 2047 (plus or minus five years) the “coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest years in the past,” said Camila Mora, lead scientist. This would have major ripple effects across the world socially and biologically.

Even if we take this research with a grain of salt, even if you’re a complete skeptic of global warming, we can’t ignore the reality that what we do today has consequences for the future. The simple fact is, how we treat our planet, how we encourage violence in the world, the objectification of people, or the growing disconnection among people is not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a simple scientific issue of cause and effect. It’s an issue of our common humanity. But the brain does a little trick on us, because 35 years from now seems far off, it may classify it as important, but not urgent. Your brain views your Facebook message or that incoming text as far more urgent and important to pay attention to in the moment. Again, it’s not your fault, it’s the way all our brains are wired. So you’re not going to default to being aware of how your immediate actions have future consequences.

How do we begin waking up to the reality that from thoughts come actions and from our actions come consequences?

Mindfulness is about being aware of how the actions of today affect the generations of the future. We might consider asking ourselves as we engage life in front of our children or our friends’ children, am I teaching them things that are going to help them and their children or am I teaching them things are encouraging the “ME” revolutions or the “WE” revolution? They are constantly absorbing our actions without us knowing it and will be more likely to pass this onto their children.

As Drew Dillinger writes, “What did you do once you knew?”

Now you know, we can no longer afford to be asleep; our life is not just about our life, it’s about the life or your future family, your friends’ families, and the family of humanity.

In any given moment, the question isn’t how do we save our great great grandchildren? It’s “Are my actions ‘serving’ my great great grandchildren?” Serve in whatever way you can.

The foundation for this starts with us, the future rests with this choice point right now.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below.

Man awake in bed image available from Shutterstock.