Tag Archives: neuroscience

Ep 161: Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

Welcome to the More Than Sound podcast. 

In this episode…

Richard Davidson is a neuroscientist and the founder of The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. In a conversation with Daniel Goleman, he discusses innovative practices in cognitive control for children, including ways to help them quickly recover from upsets and return to the task is at hand.

The rest of their conversation is available as an audio download, Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function, which also contains supplemental guided exercises you can practice at home, in the office and in the classroom. Available at morethansound.net.


“Attention works much like a muscle: use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows,” said Daniel Goleman. “In an era of unstoppable distractions, we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to contend with, let alone thrive in, a complex world.”


In Develop a Healthy Mind...

Richard Davidson talks with Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence  highlighting the latest scientific research tells us about our brain functions, common psychological conditions, habits, and what it means to have a healthy mind. They also answer the following questions:

•  How can attention training enhance emotional intelligence abilities?
•  What are the different types of attention – and how can we recognize them?
•  Why is it crucial to teach our children how to focus?
•  How can we develop an attention training practice that suits our needs and style?

Also included are guided exercises by Danial Goleman and Mirabai Bush, to help you practice attention-training skills at work, at home, and in the classroom.

Sensory Focus – for adults at home or work
Body Scan – for teens at home or school
Breath Exercise – for kids at home or school
Listening Exercise – for teens at home or school
Breath Count – for adults at home or work
Enhancing Listening and Communication – for adults at work
Managing Negative Emotions – for adults at work

What is Mindfulness?

by Ari Pliskin

With the growing popularity of mindfulness, it seems worthwhile to pause and ask this simple question. 

 

Art and Mindfulness at Kirby Museum

Admiring works of art may help develop mindfulness. Credit: kirbymuseum.org

“Mindfulness has reached such a level of hipness that it is now suggested as a cure for essentially every ailment. AnxiousBroke? Sneezing? Definitely try meditating. This vogue is in part due to the real benefits of mindfulness, a form of attention and awareness often (but not always) achieved through meditation or yoga. It’s a trend for a reason. But its increasing application to every situation under the sun has some people concerned.” The Mindfulness Backlash, the New York Times, June 30, 2014

References to Mindfulness in Books, 1930-2008

 

Roots and Meaning

Those who popularized the term mindfulness were influenced by Buddhist traditions. “Right mindfulness” translates from the Pāli words samma sati. This is not “right mindfulness” as opposed to “wrong mindfulness.” Think of “right” as complete, wholesome, thorough, or ideal.  

Samma sati (right mindfulness) is part of the Eightfold Path, which is the last of the Four Noble Truths foundational to Buddhism. According to the Four Noble Truths, we suffer because we personally identify with our experiences of craving and attachment, when they are really just universal struggles. We could let go of that identification–as well as the suffering that results from it–through the Eightfold Path, which involves cultivating wholesome intentions, actions, and mindfulness, among other virtues and the wisdom and compassion that arises through this cultivation. 

The What is Mindfulness? Podcast

To avoid advancing a particular partisan agenda and instead help you understand a few different perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness, More Than Sound has interviewed contemporary mindfulness instructors and scholars from a variety of traditions. You can listen to their descriptions of mindfulness for free as part of our What is Mindfulness? podcast project. We hope these leaders and their decades of experience help provide clarity and add to the conversation surrounding the subject, allowing you to formulate your own opinion about mindfulness.

Our contributors include:

Podcast contributor Mirabai Bush with famed spiritual figure and author of Be Here Now, Ram Dass.

Mirabai Bush with famed spiritual figure and author of Be Here Now, Ram Dass. Credit: ramdass.org

Present Moment Awareness

Most of the teachers in the podcasts first describe mindfulness as being aware of the present moment. Mindfulness in this regard is a type of awareness, attention, observation, or focus.

Different teachers highlight slightly distinct aspects of attention. While Joseph Goldstein emphasizes “bare attention,” Wendy Hasenkamp describes adding a “meta-awareness” of what you’re doing while you’re doing it, in addition to your regular everyday attention. Surya Das describes mindfulness as having an open, friendly, and incandescent quality to it.  From these teachings and others in the project, we can summarize some basic themes:

While Practicing Mindfulness, You…

ARE

ARE NOT

focused on emotions, sensations and thoughts in the present. ruminating about the past OR unproductively worrying about the future.
accepting of what is. fighting with your mind because it doesn’t conform to your idea of what you want it to be.
friendly to yourself and others. judging, blaming.
fluid. attached, getting stuck on solid, fixed ideas of reality.
aware of yourself as interdependent with other people and things. self-centered.
consciously proactive or responsive. reacting out of habit.

 

Bestselling author and psychologist Daniel Goleman on The Colbert Report. Credit: colbertreport.cc.com

Ethics & Wisdom

A characteristic of being mindful in the Buddhist tradition is remembering our ethics and wisdom. While Buddhist scripture does include the Buddha’s teachings about awareness and focus, it also includes more literal uses of sati. In the text Samyutta-nikaya, the Buddha says:

“And what, monks, is the faculty of sati [mindfulness]? Here, monks, the noble disciple has sati, he is endowed with perfect sati and intellect, he is one who remembers, who recollects what was done and said long before.”

Our podcast contributors also speak to mindfulness’s connection to memory and intellect.

Joseph Goldstein explains that mindfulness can be understood as remembering both what is wholesome (generosity, love, and wisdom) and unwholesome (greed, hatred, and delusion).

Juliet Adams asserts that mindfulness helps us choose the “wise response.”

Surya Das describes mindfulness having an intelligent, peacemaking quality, that includes insight into interdependence, impermanence, and the nature of causation.

What Mindfulness is Not

Those interviewed for the What is Mindfulness? podcasts also pointed out what is decidedly not mindfulness. Here are a few of their helpful observations:

Mindfulness is Not Passivity

It is worth noting that “accepting what is” and “avoiding judgement” should not be interpreted as tolerating hardships as they are, without expressing preferences or working to improve circumstances.  By contrast, in developing the ability to clearly observe situations and accept them as starting points, mindfulness can makes us more capable of effectively engaging in our relationships and working in ways that will have truly beneficial impacts.

Mindfulness is Not Mindlessness

The interviewees contrast mindfulness to a few other states in which you are likely to habitually find yourself. Mindfulness, they explain, is the opposite of mindlessness or inattention. Even though the black lab chasing its nose or the cat chasing a mouse might be very focused on the present moment, they do not have the heightened awareness that is a defining characteristic of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is Not Attachment

Mindful attention is free from our clinging attachments to desire and our powerful habits of aversion that are considered to be the central causes of suffering in the Buddhist tradition.

Mindfulness is Not Religion

And while this article highlights the Buddhist origins of the concept of mindfulness, it is also important to note that the psychological benefits of mindfulness practice are enjoyed by secular people as well as practitioners of other traditions.  You don’t need to be Buddhist to reap the benefits of mindfulness.  Furthermore, as Surya Das explains, there are parallel and compatible concepts in a variety of other traditions.

 

 

To access these podcasts, scroll to the top of morethansound.net/mindfulness, and use the filter buttons. You can either “Search by Topic” or “Search by podcast guest.”

You can also listen to brief mindfulness practices at the right of the page. We will continue to publish more podcasts, blog posts, and audio practices as we expand this project. Thank you for your interest in mindfulness.

 

Ep 149: A Force for Good – Partnering with Science

Welcome to the More Than Sound podcast. 

A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for our World by Daniel Goleman (book cover)

Partnering with Science

Daniel Goleman uses case studies from the field of neuroscience to teach us about selfishness and compassion. This is an excerpt from his audiobook — A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. Available June 23 from morethansound.net. Every day this week (June 22 to 26, 2015), More Than Sound will release an exclusive audio excerpt from A Force for Good.

About A Force for Good

Daniel Goleman’s A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World highlights the Dalai Lama’s core beliefs, presents evidence that supports their relevance, and explains how these can be applied to promote a better future.

With specific advice for implementation, Goleman and His Holiness explain how compassion can be used to:

  • Educate the heart by teaching ethics, conflict resolution, and compassionate values in schools.
  • Help people help themselves by empowering the world’s most vulnerable.
  • Rethink economics and make business meaningful, not just profitable.
  • Heal the Earth through a more precise analysis of how to lessen our impacts.
  • Be compassionate with others and yourself.
  • Be tough in applying transparency and accountability in the service of fairness.
  • Act now to help those in need in whatever ways you can.

 

It’s Time to Demystify Meditation

meditation research

[Image Source: Know Your Images]

Meditation’s Unlikely Champion

Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, had a panic attack on air several years ago. As he recounts in his latest NPR interview, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

“My heart started racing. My mind was racing. My palms were sweating. My mouth dried up. My lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe,” he remembered.

After the ordeal, Dan discussed ways to address his panic attacks and stress with friends and health providers. Meditation was frequently suggested. But Harris remained a skeptic. “That’s only for people who are into crystals and Cat Stevens, use the word namaste un-ironically, and live in a yurt.”

Meditation still has a “bad rap” as too weird or difficult. But fortunately that’s changing. What helped changed Dan’s mind was the growing neuroscience research on the real benefits of the ancient practice.

Talk About the Research

Mirabai Bush and Daniel Goleman spoke about their experience of introducing mindfulness techniques to secular audiences – including the US Army. Here’s an excerpt from their discussion in the new print edition of Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations.

Mirabai Bush: For a long time there was a lot of resistance to introducing mindful techniques in some of the organizations I worked with. But as soon as people agree to try it, the benefits become very obvious. Participants become more calm, more clear. They begin to have better insight into what’s happening, and they begin to get along better with the people they’re working with. So once people agree to try it, there’s really no problem. But there is still resistance to trying it, although much less
since the publication of the neuroscientific research on mindfulness. All the work that’s come from Richard Davidson and others has really helped people get past a certain level of resistance and skepticism.

Daniel Goleman: I can give you a little background on that change. You mentioned Davidson. He is now a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Richard and I were fellow graduate students at Harvard. He was the other one who was interested in meditation. He did his dissertation on attention and so on, and he has gone on to develop a field called Contemplative Neuroscience, which has upgraded the quality of the research on mindfulness and meditation.

Until Richard’s work, frankly, some was great, and some was terrible. Now this research is using fMRIs and state-of-the-art brain imaging. What it’s showing is what we knew intuitively when we were in India, which is that these practices can be quite transformative. And if you practice them a lot, it’s really transformative. If you practice a little, it’s still transformative.

What we found in the research on relaxation was that one of the byproducts of focusing your mind is that your body lets go and relaxes. And the reason it lets go is that one of the things that keeps us stressed is these tight loops of thoughts and ruminations—what’s on my mind, what’s upsetting me—which are hard to let go. Meditation training, whether it’s mindfulness or any other kind of meditation, teaches you how to drop those upsetting thoughts. Our understanding is that it’s the letting go of those thoughts, putting your mind in a neutral or present place and keeping it there, that causes the body to be able to drop the tension, let go of the stress, and then get deeply relaxed.

10% Happier

Harris’ positive experience with meditation led him to write a book: 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found self-help That Actually Works – A True Story.  The somewhat tongue-in-cheek title says it all. The hard-nosed reporter is still grappling with his new “identity” as a meditator. But the benefits aren’t lost on him, and he wants to encourage others – especially the chronically stressed, highly driven professional like him – to think twice before scoffing at the idea of sitting still to notice your breath.

He talks more about the book’s mission in the interview. “I honestly believe meditation is the next big public health revolution. The big problem is that there’s this PR issue around meditation. People think it’s either too weird or too difficult. And so my goal is to dispel both myths and to say, A, if a skeptic like me is doing it, you can do it. And, B, if somebody with the attention span of a kitten, like me, is doing it, you can, too.”

Resources

Articles:

Meditation: Breathing New Life into an Ancient Practice

What Mindfulness Is – and Isn’t

What Makes a Good Mindfulness Coach?

Mindfulness at Work: An Interview with Mirabai Bush

Videos:

What is Meditation? It’s Not What You Think

Bringing Mindfulness to the Mainstream

Mindfulness at Google

Podcasts:

Guided Exercise: Sensory Focus

Focus and Leadership

Finding Time for Mindfulness

Books, Audio, Video:

Working with Mindfulness (CD and download)

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

 

From Dazed And Distracted To Attentive And Calm

Welcome to the More Than Sound Podcast.

This episode features an excerpt from the Bridging Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference, developed by University of California San Diego’s Center For Mindfulness, along with Stressed Teens. The conference was held in San Diego, in February of 2012, and this excerpt comes from Amishi Jha’s keynote, From Dazed And Distracted To Attentive And Calm: What The Neuroscience Of Mindfulness Reveals.

Managing The Caveman Brain In The 21st Century

Welcome to the More Than Sound Podcast.

This episode features an excerpt from the Bridging Hearts and Minds of Youth conference, developed by University of California San Diego’s Center For Mindfulness, along with Stressed Teens. The conference was held in San Diego, in February of 2012, and this excerpt comes from Rick Hanson’s keynote, Managing The Caveman Brain in the 21st Century.