Category Archives: Mindfulness

7 Tips for Mindful, Conscious Living

driving2It is pretty shocking that most of us miss about half of our lives. That’s right. If you are 42 years old, for instance, chances are you have missed about 21 years of your life already. Your body has been alive but your mind has been disconnected. Your mind has been thinking about the past (e.g., what you did wrong, what he did wrong, things you are sorry for, things you are mad about) or your mind has been thinking about the future (worrying about what might happen, planning all of the things that you may or may not do, making your grocery list).   What’s more, when you aren’t living in the present you are more likely to be anxious and depressed (Killingworth & Gilbert, 2010). Continue reading

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Eating for the Right Reasons

Young woman enjoying ice creamHow many of you eat even when you’re not physically hungry? My guess is that would be all of you. And, from time to time this is not a problem. Once in a while it is nice to have a special treat just because something tastes good. I particularly savor my first trip to the ice cream parlor in the spring when the weather starts getting warm. However, if you commonly eat to reward and entertain yourself and to ease emotional distress there is a chance you lose control over eating and think about food a lot.

The Eat for Life class that I teach at the University of Missouri is a mindfulness-based intuitive eating program that helps people discover why they eat when they’re not hungry and how to be more in control of what, when, and how they eat. In addition, the program shows how to turn exercise into fun and eating into a healthy joy. The research I conducted indicates that after the program people are more mindful, they eat based on physical instead of emotional cues, they appreciate their bodies more, and they binge less often.

My research indicates that mindfulness training was the key to success in all of the other improvements that people experienced. To support that finding, recent research by Mason and colleagues published in the journal Appetite demonstrated that adding mindfulness training to a diet and exercise intervention called Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise (SHINE)significantly improved weight loss.  This randomized controlled trial adds to the support of mindfulness training as an important part of any weight management or weight loss program.

Summer classes for the Eat for Life program are now registering.  This is great opportunity to learn to eat and live in a way that supports your physical and emotional well-being. There is an in person class in Columbia, Missouri, and an online class that you can take from anywhere in the world.  I hope you can join me.

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Listening To Your Body Is Good Medicine

iStock_000044639012_SmallWe often regard stress as something to be avoided. Ultimately though, stress is inevitable…from the moment our alarm clock rings, we experience a “fight or flight” response and continue to experience stressors for the remainder of our day.

Although people generally regard stress as negative, stress is actually adaptive in that it helps us to strive for and achieve our goals.  When an elite sprinter is in the starting blocks, stress elevates the blood pressure and heart rate, enabling the runner to reach top speed quickly. Upon realizing I have a deadline, I experience a stress response and am motivated to stop procrastinating and get to work.

Ultimately, the problem may not be that we experience stress, but that we don’t recover from it efficiently. Recovering quickly from stressful situations may help us to harness the power of stress. In addition, people who recover more quickly from stress are known to have better physical and emotional health outcomes.

This ability to recover quickly from stress is sometimes called resilience. People who are more resilient are more able to quickly return their body to a relaxed state. Researchers are finding that mindfulness practice is one way to bolster resilience. Studies at University of California, San Diego are showed that mindfulness training can people in high-stress positions like elite athletes and Marines to more quickly reduce their physiological stress response. Another study with “normal” people who were put into a stressful situation (periods of breathlessness) found that those with low resilience had less awareness of their body, but more brain activity indicative of distress. Researchers concluded that the key to coping more effectively with stress involves bodily awareness, which can be developed via mindfulness practice.

The body scan meditation is a way to increase resilience by tuning into the body in a curious, non-judgmental way. Being more engaged with your body will help you to notice when you’re holding on to stress and release it when it’s not helpful to you. Try the body scan once a day for a week and see if you notice any changes in the way you respond to stress.

(Thanks to  Kelsey Banes for this article!)

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Meditation is Different and Healthier than Relaxation

iStock_000004778955_Resize2I regularly teach meditation to people who have never meditated before and one of the common misconceptions is that meditation is the same as “relaxation.” While meditation may have a side benefit of helping you feel relaxed and peaceful, it is not the primary intention of meditation. The primary intention of meditation is  to teach you how to be navigate your life (all of the ups and downs) without over reacting and getting stressed out. In other words, it teaches you how to alleviate your suffering.

And you don’t just have to take my word for it. In a recent study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation was shown to be more effective than either “eyes-closed relaxation” or silence in increasing awareness, reducing depression, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate in a diverse sample of people. These health outcomes are extremely important for anyone experiencing the demands of school, work, major stress-related illnesses, and difficult living environments.

This study is particularly interesting because it was comprised of African American university students and urban residents. The use of diverse populations in research is extremely important in our ability to correctly understand the impact of interventions. Surprisingly enough, many researchers in the past have ignored gender, racial, and cultural differences with sometimes devastating consequences.

If you would like to try meditation, it can be helpful to join a group and have an experienced teacher lead you through the practice. Use the internet to search for programs near you by using the words “mindfulness meditation groups.” As an alternative, feel free to use the recordings on this website. I have meditation and yoga sessions that can be help you sail through the holiday season and on into the New Year.

Enjoy!

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Mindful Leaders Matter at Work

performance level conceptual meterIf you’ve had a job for any length of time, it is not lost on you that your supervisor can have a significant impact on your day.  Your relationship to your supervisor can make you feel like being more or less productive and empowered. As a leader, it is important to know what brings out the best in your employees.  As an employee, it feels great to work for someone who understands and practices effective leadership skills.

The role of mindfulness in the workplace has increasingly been recognized as an important quality associated with better task performance, lower emotional exhaustion, better social relationships, and enhanced well-being (Narayanan, Chaturvedi, Reb, and Srinivas, 2011; Glomb, Duffy, Bono, and Yang, 2011).  Research has also examined how supervisors’ mindfulness impacts their employees’ well-being and performance (Matthias, Narayanan, and Chaturvedi, 2014).

How mindfulness can help leaders in their ability to strengthen the workplace was directly examined in a recent study of a variety of work settings (Matthias, Narayanan, & Chaturvedi, 2014). The study found that employees whose supervisors who were more mindful had less emotional exhaustion and better work-life balance. Further, mindfulness of the supervisor was positively related to overall employee performance and job satisfaction and negatively related to employee deviance.

Mindfulness, present-moment awareness with an observing, non-judging stance, can influence the workplace in the following ways:

  1. Move people from an adversarial mindset to a more collaborative mindset (Riskin, 2002)
  2. Improve social interactions between co-workers and supervisors (Wachs & Cordova, 2007)
  3. Cope better with stressful relationships (Barnes et al 2007)
  4. Understand others’ emotional states as well as better understand one’s own emotions (Arch & Craskse, 2006)
  5. Be fully present in interactions with each other in order to demonstrate respect

To become the leader that truly inspires, cultivating the skill of mindfulness can increase awareness of yourself and others in order to increase your emotional intelligence and authentic leadership ability—two concepts known to be associated with great leadership.

For more information about mindful leadership, check out Janice Marturano’s book “Finding the Space to Lead” and her website which has lots of mindfulness meditations you can use throughout the workday.   Books on the Neuroleadership website by David Rock and “Search Inside Yourself” are also good resources for enhancing your leadership skills.

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