Decrease Teacher Stress and Improve Mental Health with a 4-Day Intensive Mindfulness Program

Decrease Teacher Stress and Improve Mental Health with a 4-Day Intensive Mindfulness Program

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

when teachers practice mindfulness, students’ misbehavior and other stressors become like water off a duck’s back, allowing them to stay focused on what teachers really want to do: teach.” – Vickie Zakrzewski

 

Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. This often produces burnout; fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, and professional inefficacy. Teachers experience burnout at high rates. Roughly a half a million teachers out of a workforce of three million, leave the profession each year and the rate is almost double in poor schools compared to affluent schools. Indeed, nearly half of new teachers leave in their first five years.

 

Burnout frequently results from emotional exhaustion. This exhaustion not only affects the teachers personally, but also the students, as it produces a loss of enthusiasm, empathy, and compassion. Regardless of the reasons for burnout or its immediate presenting consequences, it is a threat to schools and their students. In fact, it is a threat to the entire educational systems as it contributes to the shortage of teachers. Hence, methods of reducing stress and improving teacher psychological health needs to be studied.

 

Mindfulness techniques are gaining increasing attention for the treatment of the symptoms of stress and burnout. They have been demonstrated to be helpful in reducing the psychological and physiological responses to stress and for treating and preventing burnout in a number of work environments including schools. Teachers, though, have very busy schedules and it is often difficult to find the time for mindfulness training. So, abbreviated programs may be very useful but their efficacy needs to be established.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Four-Day Mindfulness Intervention on Teachers’ Stress and Affect: A Pilot Study in Eastern China.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01298/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1373328_69_Psycho_20200709_arts_A) Song and colleagues recruited school teachers online and randomly assigned them to a wait-list or to receive a 4-day mindfulness training. The mindfulness training was based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) that consists of discussion, meditation, yoga and body scan practices. They met for 8 hours per day for 4 days. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, perceived stress, and positive and negative emotions.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list group, the teachers who received the mindfulness training had significantly higher levels of mindfulness and lower levels of perceived stress and negative emotions. Hence, a short-term, 4-day, mindfulness training is effective in reducing stress and negative emotions in school teachers.

 

The results demonstrate that a short-term intensive training can significantly increase mindfulness. Such a program is valuable in that it can be implemented before the start of a school year when the teachers have the available time to participate. In addition, it produces results that are similar to those observed in previous studies using trainings occurring over longer periods where mindfulness training decreases perceived stress and negative emotions. It will be important in future work to determine the long-term effectiveness of the training and whether it reduces burnout in teachers.

 

So, decrease teacher stress and improve mental health with a 4-day intensive mindfulness program.

 

“mindfulness training for teachers can help them cope better with stress on the job while also making the classroom environment more productive for learning.” – Jill Suttie

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Song X, Zheng M, Zhao H, Yang T, Ge X, Li H and Lou T (2020) Effects of a Four-Day Mindfulness Intervention on Teachers’ Stress and Affect: A Pilot Study in Eastern China. Front. Psychol. 11:1298. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01298

 

Stress is becoming increasingly prevalent among teacher groups, and this is problematic for education. Mindfulness training (MT) is a well-supported way to help various populations cope with and reduce stress. In this study, a 4-day intensive MT program that aimed to increase teachers’ emotional health was developed and implemented into the existing post-service education for teachers in eastern China. A total of 161 teachers voluntarily enrolled in the course and were assigned to either the mindfulness group or the waitlist group. Participants completed measures of mindfulness, positive affect, negative affect, and perceived stress before and after the program. The results showed that MT had statistically significant positive effects on mindfulness, negative affect, and stress. The present findings indicate that a 4-day intensive MT program is a promising way to decrease teachers’ stress and improve their emotional health. The practical meaning of the short-term intensive MT program for teachers is discussed. It is easier for teachers to enroll such a short-term training program, as it may have higher acceptance and feasibility than an 8-week training program in some areas.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01298/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1373328_69_Psycho_20200709_arts_A

 

Improve the Mental Health of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Cancer Patients with a Mindfulness App

Improve the Mental Health of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Cancer Patients with a Mindfulness App

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Results show promise for mindfulness-based interventions to treat common psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression in cancer survivors and to improve overall quality of life.” — Linda E. Carlson

 

Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) are blood cancers that occur when the body makes too many white or red blood cells, or platelets” (Cancer Support Community). It typically occurs in older adults and is fairly rare (1-2 cases/100,000 per year) and has a very high survival rate. It produces a variety of psychological and physical symptoms including fatigue, anxiety, depression, pain, and sleep disturbance, reduced physical, social, and cognitive functioning resulting in a reduced quality of life.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving physical and psychological health including fatigueanxietydepressionpain, and sleep disturbance, and improves physical, social, and cognitive functioning as well as quality of life in cancer patients. The vast majority of the mindfulness training techniques, however, require a trained therapist. This results in costs that many patients can’t afford. In addition, the participants must be available to attend multiple sessions at particular scheduled times that may or may not be compatible with their busy schedules and at locations that may not be convenient.

 

As an alternative, Apps for smartphones have been developed. These have tremendous advantages in decreasing costs, making training schedules much more flexible, and eliminating the need to go repeatedly to specific locations. But the question arises as to the effectiveness of these Apps in relieving the psychological and physical symptoms of cancer and improving their quality of life.

 

In today’s Research News article “Associations Between Global Mental Health and Response to an App-Based Meditation Intervention in Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Patients.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7307391/) Puzia and colleagues recruited patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) and randomly assigned them to either receive a pamphlet on MPN symptom management or to practice mindfulness for 4 weeks using the “Calm” App for 10 minutes every day. “Calm meditations are developed using a combination of techniques drawn from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, encouraging users to practice moment-to-moment awareness without judgement and to develop awareness of their thoughts, interpretations, and emotional and physiological responses in order to alter their perception or create new, more balanced thoughts.” They were measured before and after the 4-week treatment period for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and mental and physical health.

 

They found that the results differed depending upon the participants’ levels of mental health. For those participants who had poor mental health at the beginning of the trial, using the “Calm” App produced significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety. These results replicate the previous findings that mindfulness meditation training produces significant decreases in depression and anxiety in a wide array of healthy and sick individuals. The present findings extend these benefits to patients with Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) and appear to have maximum benefits for those who need it the most, the patients with the greatest mental health problems.

 

The findings that the use of an internet App is effective in improving the mental health of patients with MPN is important. These Apps make treatment available to large numbers of patients over widespread geographic areas, conveniently and inexpensively. This greatly expands the ability of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of the patients’ emotional problems.

 

Mindfulness meditation promotes present moment awareness with a non-judging and non-reacting attitude. Depression and anxiety are rooted in the individuals’ processing of past or projected future events and the judging and reacting to them. By focusing on the present moment this processing is interrupted and emphasizes what is actually present in the moment. In addition, not judging or reacting allows for a moderated emotional reaction and greater ability to regulate the emotions. This greatly improves the mental health of the patient.

 

So, improve the mental health of myeloproliferative neoplasm cancer patients with a mindfulness App.

 

“The intent of this practice is to help you begin to see that the traditional things you may consider important in defining your place in the world are often transitory. There’s a more stable and enduring part of your being, and connecting with this possibility through your meditation practice may help soothe the pain of changes to your self-image and identity that cancer triggers.” — Linda E. Carlson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Puzia, M. E., Huberty, J., Eckert, R., Larkey, L., & Mesa, R. (2020). Associations Between Global Mental Health and Response to an App-Based Meditation Intervention in Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Patients. Integrative cancer therapies, 19, 1534735420927780. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735420927780

 

Abstract

Background: Depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance are common problems that greatly affect quality of life for many myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients. App-based mindfulness meditation is a feasible nonpharmacologic approach for managing symptoms. However, previous research has not considered how patients’ overall mental health may influence their responsiveness to these interventions. Objective: The purpose of this study was to conduct an exploratory, secondary analysis of the effects of a smartphone meditation app, Calm, on depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance in MPN patients based on patients’ baseline levels of Global Mental Health (GMH). Methods: Participants (N = 80) were a subset of MPN patients from a larger feasibility study. Patients were enrolled into an intervention (use Calm for 10 minutes daily for 4 weeks) or educational control group. Results: In multilevel models, there were significant 3-way interactions between time, group, and baseline GMH for depression and anxiety symptoms, with participants in the meditation intervention who reported the poorest baseline GMH experiencing the greatest reduction in symptoms over time. For both intervention and control participants, poorer initial GMH was associated with increases in sleep disturbance symptoms over time. Conclusions: Mindfulness meditation apps, such as Calm, may be effective in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms in MPN patients, particularly for those experiencing mental health difficulties. Given the need for accessible tools to self-manage chronic cancer–related symptoms, especially strong negative emotions, these findings warrant larger efficacy studies to determine the effects of app-based meditation for alleviating depression and anxiety in cancer populations.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7307391/

Mindfulness Reduces the Impact of Job Climate on Healthcare Workers Job Satisfaction

Mindfulness Reduces the Impact of Job Climate on Healthcare Workers Job Satisfaction

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

being mindful at work can reduce your level of emotional exhaustion, help keep your emotions on an even keel, and increase your job satisfaction.” – Fox News

 

In high stress occupations, like healthcare work, burnout is all too prevalent. It is characterized by fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, professional inefficacy, and low job satisfaction that comes with work-related stress. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion.

 

It is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress and prevent burnout. So, it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress; to make the individual more resilient when high levels of stress occur and thereby make them better healthcare providers. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress and improve well-being. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnoutincreasing resilience, and improving sleep. Hence, mindfulness may be a means to reduce burnout and improve well-being, and job satisfaction in healthcare workers.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness as a Protective Factor for Dissatisfaction in HCWs: The Moderating Role of Mindful Attention between Climate Stress and Job Satisfaction.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7312809/) Ramaci and colleagues recruited nurses from an emergency hospital and had them complete measures of occupational stress, including managerial roles, relationships with other people, organizational structure, and power subscales, mindfulness, job control, and job satisfaction.

 

They found that occupational work climate was negatively related to job satisfaction. But mindful attention was found to moderate this relationship such that the higher the nurses’ levels of mindful attention the smaller the negative impact of occupational work climate on job satisfaction.

 

Stressful organizational climates are characterized by limited participation in decisions, use of punishment and negative feedback, conflict avoidance or confrontation, and non-supportive group and leader relations. The study reports, not surprisingly, that this type of climate is related to low job satisfaction in nurses. These organizational climates tend to poison the work environment leading to unhappiness and low satisfaction with their jobs. But mindfulness may help nurses cope with such a negative climate. High levels of mindfulness lessen the negative relationship between organizational climate and job satisfaction.

 

Mindfulness has been shown to decrease the physiological and psychological impact of stress. This may account for its moderating effect on the impact of organizational climate on job satisfaction. The mindful nurses are simply less stressed by the climate. It may also be the case that mindful nurses are more focused on the immediate job, with less intrusive thoughts about a negative climate. By focusing on the job itself, they are more affected by the satisfaction of helping others and thereby less impacted by the organizational climate. Regardless, it is clear the being mindful is an asset that can assist nurses in coping with the organizational climate. It remains for future research to determine causation by training nurses in mindfulness and observing the effects of this training on the stresses produced by negative organizational climates.

 

So, mindfulness reduces the impact of job climate on healthcare workers job satisfaction.

 

Mindfulness in the workplace is most likely beneficial, whether the end goal is productivity or – more broadly speaking – employee wellness.” – Marlynn Wei

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Ramaci, T., Rapisarda, V., Bellini, D., Mucci, N., De Giorgio, A., & Barattucci, M. (2020). Mindfulness as a Protective Factor for Dissatisfaction in HCWs: The Moderating Role of Mindful Attention between Climate Stress and Job Satisfaction. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(11), 3818. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17113818

 

Abstract

With the aim of investigating the possible moderating effect of job control and dispositional mindfulness between different sources of organizational stress and job satisfaction, a correlational study was designed involving health care workers (HCWs). The following questionnaires were administered and completed by 237 HCWs: (1) Occupational Stress Indicator (OSI), to measure the sources of stress at work (managerial role, climate power, climate structure, internal relationships), and job satisfaction; (2) Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to assess the individual’s level of attention to what is taking place in the present; (3) Job Control Scale (JCS) to assess the perceived control at work. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypothesized relationships between variables; the results showed that, between the different sources of stress, the organizational climate dimension was negatively associated with job satisfaction; moreover, mindfulness attention moderated the relationship between climate stress and job satisfaction; unexpectedly, the interaction between job control and the organizational climate dimension was not significant in affecting job satisfaction. This study can provide useful information for Human Resources Management (HRM) practices regarding job and mental control interventions and empowerment, and possibly offer a new interpretation of the role of attention to what is happening in the present moment and autonomy between climate stressors and occupational satisfaction.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7312809/

 

Improve Body Image with Exposure to Nature and Mindfulness

Improve Body Image with Exposure to Nature and Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Exposure to natural environments may, therefore, offer a novel and cost-effective means of promoting healthier body image,” – Viren Swami

 

The media is constantly presenting idealized images of what we should look like. These are unrealistic and unattainable for the vast majority of people. But it results in most everyone being unhappy with their body.  This can lead to problematic consequences. In a number of eating disorders there’s a distorted body image. This can and does drive unhealthy behaviors. As a treatment mindfulness has been shown to improve eating disorders.

 

People have long reported that walking in nature elevates their mood. But it has also been reported that exposure to nature improves body image. Recently it has been shown that mindfulness training in the natural environment, especially in wild environments, produces greater benefits than similar training in non-natural settings. This suggests that mindfulness and exposure to nature may interact and supplement one another producing greater benefits. But there is little systematic research regarding the effects of exposure to nature and mindfulness on body image.

 

In today’s Research News article “Nature exposure and positive body image: (Re-)examining the mediating roles of connectedness to nature and trait mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7320863/) Swami and colleagues recruited healthy adults over the internet and had them complete measures of body appreciation, exposure to nature, connectedness to nature, mindful awareness and mindful acceptance.

 

They found that all variables were positively related to all other variables. For example, the higher the levels of mindful awareness the higher the levels of body appreciation, exposure to nature, connectedness to nature, and mindful acceptance. Path analysis revealed that exposure to nature was positively related to body appreciation directly and also indirectly by being positively related to connectedness to nature which in turn was related to body appreciation. Exposure to nature was positively related to connectedness to nature directly and also indirectly by being positively related to mindful awareness which in turn was related to connectedness to nature.

 

This study was correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. Nevertheless, the study demonstrated that higher levels of exposure to nature are associated with higher levels of appreciation of one’s body. They also demonstrate that this association is both direct and indirect via mindful awareness and connectedness to nature. The direct connection has been previously demonstrated. The indirect paths, on the other hand are new.

 

The results suggest that getting out into natural settings is associated with an improved body image. It is possible that nature contains a wide variety of different shapes and sizes of all of its elements and this makes one more accepting of the naturally occurring differences in human shapes and sizes. The fact that exposure to nature also is related to higher levels of mindful awareness supports this contention. Mindfulness awareness involves seeing things just as they are without judgement including the body and this appears to be related to exposure to nature.

 

Getting out into nature has been shown to have widespread benefits for the psychological health and well-being of humans. The present study suggests that an additional benefit is to promote an acceptance and appreciation of one’s own body. Although not studied here, this suggests that getting out into nature may help prevent eating disorders that are often connected to a distorted image of the body.

 

So, improve body image with exposure to nature and mindfulness.

 

An environment that does not require undivided attention may provide people with cognitive quiet, which in turn may foster self-compassion such as respecting your body and appreciating it is part of a wider ecosystem requiring protection and care.” – Science Daily

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Swami, V., Barron, D., Todd, J., Horne, G., & Furnham, A. (2020). Nature exposure and positive body image: (Re-)examining the mediating roles of connectedness to nature and trait mindfulness. Body image, 34, 201–208. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.06.004

 

Abstract

Previous studies have reported a significant association between nature exposure and positive body image, but understandings of the mechanisms that help to explain this link remain nascent. Here, we considered the extent to which trait mindfulness and connectedness to nature, respectively, mediate the aforementioned relationship both in parallel and serially. An online sample of 398 participants (199 women, 196 men, 3 other; age M = 28.1 years) from the United Kingdom completed measures of self-reported nature exposure, mindful awareness and acceptance, connectedness to nature, and body appreciation. Results indicated that inter-correlations between scores on all measures were significant and positive. Following the elimination of non-significant pathways, path analysis resulted in an adequately-fitting model in which the direct relationship between nature exposure and body appreciation was significant. In addition, connectedness to nature – but not trait mindfulness – significantly mediated the direct relationship. Finally, we also found evidence of a serial mediation, where the association between nature exposure and body appreciation was mediated by mindful awareness followed by connectedness to nature. The implications of these results for scholarly and practitioner understanding of the impact of nature exposure on positive body image are discussed in conclusion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7320863/

 

Mindfulness Reduces the Impact of Musculoskeletal Disease and Stress on Firefighters

Mindfulness Reduces the Impact of Musculoskeletal Disease and Stress on Firefighters

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The payoff of being calm and mindful is the strawberry; all those beautiful moments in life, that if we don’t slow down, we’ll miss. And that is a real tragedy. So be brave, be kind, fight fires, and be mindful!” – Hersch Wilson

 

First responders such as firefighters and police experience stressful and traumatic events as part of their jobs. In addition, the physical nature of the job can produce musculoskeletal problems for the firefighters. The effects of these stresses and injuries are troubling problems for firefighters that need to be addressed. Mindfulness has been shown to has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress, to reduce the impact of trauma on the individual, and to decrease burnout. So, a firefighter’s mindfulness may be essential to the individual’s ability to deal with the stresses of the profession and produce greater resilience.

 

In today’s Research News article “Moderated Mediation Effect of Mindfulness on the Relationship Between Muscular Skeletal Disease, Job Stress, and Turnover Among Korean Firefighters.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7303520/), Lee and colleagues surveyed firefighters in Korea with questions regarding musculoskeletal disease, job stress, mindfulness, and intention to leave firefighting.

 

They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of job stress and intention to leave firefighting. They also found that the higher the levels of job stress the higher the levels of musculoskeletal disease and the intention to leave firefighting. Mediation analysis determined that musculoskeletal disease increased the levels of job stress and that increased intention to leave firefighting. But the higher the levels the of mindfulness the lower the ability of musculoskeletal disease to increase the intention to leave firefighting.

 

These are correlative results so causation cannot be determined. Nevertheless, the intention to leave firefighting appears to be associated with job stress and this is increased by the firefighter having musculoskeletal problems. It makes sense that having musculoskeletal problems would make it more difficult for the firefighters to perform their duties, increasing stress. So, musculoskeletal problems make the job more difficult, increasing stress and resulting in an increase in the intention to quit the profession.

 

Mindfulness has been shown in extensive research studies to decrease the individual’s physiological and psychological responses to stress. It has also been shown to reduce burnout and the likelihood that the individual will leave a profession. The present study confirms these effects of mindfulness and extends them to firefighters. Mindfulness, however, has an additional effect of decreasing the impact of musculoskeletal disease on job stress and in turn an increase in the intention to leave firefighting. So, mindfulness appears to protect firefighters from musculoskeletal diseases increasing the stress of their jobs and the intention to leave firefighting.

 

So, reduce the impact of musculoskeletal disease and stress on firefighters with mindfulness.

 

targeted mindfulness training program increases some aspects of firefighter resilience (distress tolerance, positive adjustment, and perseverance).” – AMRA

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lee, J. H., Lee, J., & Lee, K. S. (2020). Moderated Mediation Effect of Mindfulness on the Relationship Between Muscular Skeletal Disease, Job Stress, and Turnover Among Korean Firefighters. Safety and Health at Work, 11(2), 222–227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shaw.2020.03.006

 

Abstract

Background

This study investigated the effect of increased job stress, caused by musculoskeletal disease (MSD) among firefighters, on a firefighter’s intention to leave the profession, henceforth referred to as “turnover intention,” and verified the moderating effect of mindfulness on such a relationship.

Methods

A survey involving a total of 549 Korean male firefighters as participants was conducted herein, and the following results were obtained: the mediation effect of the MSD to turnover intention through job stress was confirmed, and the indirect effect of job stress was verified.

Results

We verified the moderated mediation effect of mindfulness on the relation:MSD, job stress, and turnover intention. The conditional indirect effect for middle and high levels of mindfulness is significant.

Conclusion

The result of this study is supported by proofs of the relationship between a firefighter’s MSD, job stress, and turnover intention, and these case studies reveal the moderated mediation effect of dispositional mindfulness.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7303520/

 

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

People begin meditation with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. In meditation, the practitioner tries to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories are likely to emerge. The strength here is that meditation is a wonderful occasion to begin to deal with these issues. But often the thoughts or memories are overwhelming. At times, professional therapeutic intervention may be needed.

 

Many practitioners never experience these negative experiences or only experience very mild states. There are, however, few systematic studies of the extent of negative experiences. In general, the research has reported that unwanted (negative) experiences are quite common with meditators, but for the most part, are short-lived and mild. There is, however, a great need for more research into the nature of the experiences that occur during meditation.

 

Summaries of recent studies on negative experiences with mindfulness can be found at the Negative Experiences link http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/negative-experiences/  on the Contemplative Studies blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/ .

 

Links to the Research on Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness Training can Produce Harm but Much can be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/08/mindfulness-training-can-produce-harm-but-much-can-be-avoided/

 

Yoga Injuries are Common but Most Can Be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/01/yoga-injuries-are-common-but-most-can-be-avoided/

 

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2018/01/26/the-variety-of-meditation-experiences/

 

Meditation Can Produce Uncomfortable Effects

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/11/03/meditation-can-produce-uncomfortable-effects/

 

What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/03/05/whats-wrong-with-meditation-ii-improper-instruction/

 

 

Spirituality is Associated with Better Physical and Mental Health

Spirituality is Associated with Better Physical and Mental Health

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. . . Spirituality also incorporates healthy practices for the mind and body, which positively influences mental health and emotional wellbeing.” – Luna Greestein

 

Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. What evidence is there that these claims are in fact true? The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

In today’s Research News article “Private religion/spirituality, self-rated health, and mental health among US South Asians.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297387/), Kent and colleagues recruited U.S. adults over 40 years of age of south Asian descent. They completed questionnaires on their health, daily spiritual experiences, gratitude, anxiety, anger, religious service attendance, religious affiliation, yoga practice, belief in God, closeness to God, positive religious coping, and divine hope. They were separated into a theistic group who believed in god and a non-theistic group who did not.

 

They found that in the total sample that the health of the participants was positively related to yoga practice, daily spiritual experiences and gratitude. Emotional functioning was positively related to gratitude and daily spiritual experiences. In addition, anxiety and anger were negatively associated with gratitude and daily spiritual experiences.

 

In the theistic subsample there were significant positive relationships between health and closeness to god and positive religious coping. There were significant positive relationships between emotional functioning and daily spiritual experiences, closeness to god and positive religious coping and negative relationships with negative religious coping. Anxiety and anger were related to negative religious coping and religious/spiritual struggles.

 

The results make it clear that religion and spirituality are associated with better physical and mental health. It should be noted that these results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. It is equally likely that spirituality promotes mental and physical health, that people with better mental and physical health tend to be more religious and spirituality, or that a third factor is related to both. These results also have limited generalizability as they were obtained from a community sample of people in the U.S. of south Asian descent. They may not apply to other ethnic or religious groups.

 

Nevertheless, the results present a positive picture of religion and spirituality and its relationships to physical and mental health. Positive religious coping to stress involves the belief that god is guiding the individual for good reasons and this type of coping is associated with better mental health. On the other hand, negative religious coping to stress which involves belief that god is, for some reason, punishing the individual, has negative emotional consequences. So, religion and spirituality are double edged swords depending on how the individual interprets and employs them.

 

So, spirituality is associated with better physical and mental health.

 

positive associations have been found between some styles of religion/spirituality and general wellbeing, marital satisfaction and general psychological functioning.” – Deborah Cornah

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kent, B. V., Stroope, S., Kanaya, A. M., Zhang, Y., Kandula, N. R., & Shields, A. E. (2020). Private religion/spirituality, self-rated health, and mental health among US South Asians. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 29(2), 495–504. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-019-02321-7

 

Abstract

Purpose:

Connections between private religion/spirituality and health have not been assessed among U.S. South Asians. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between private religion/spirituality and self-rated and mental health in a community-based sample of U.S. South Asians.

Methods:

Data from the Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA) study (collected 2010–2013 and 2015–2018) and the attendant Study on Stress, Spirituality, and Health (n=881) were analyzed using OLS regression. Self-rated health measured overall self-assessed health. Emotional functioning was measured using the Mental Health Inventory-3 index (MHI-3) and Spielberger scales assessed trait anxiety and trait anger. Private religion/spirituality measures included prayer, yoga, belief in God, gratitude, theistic and non-theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, positive and negative religious coping, divine hope, and religious/spiritual struggles.

Results:

Yoga, gratitude, non-theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, and positive coping were positively associated with self-rated health. Gratitude, non-theistic and theistic spiritual experiences, closeness to God, and positive coping were associated with better emotional functioning; negative coping was associated with poor emotional functioning. Gratitude and non-theistic spiritual experiences were associated with less anxiety; negative coping and religious/spiritual struggles were associated with greater anxiety. Non-theistic spiritual experiences and gratitude were associated with less anger; negative coping and religious/spiritual struggles were associated with greater anger.

Conclusion:

Private religion/spirituality are associated with self-rated and mental health. Opportunities may exist for public health and religious care professionals to leverage existing religion/spirituality for well-being among U.S. South Asians.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297387/

 

Mindfulness is Associated with Better Ability to Negotiate

 

Mindfulness is Associated with Better Ability to Negotiate

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness training increases empathy . . . enabling us to better appreciate the standpoint of the other parties to the negotiation. It makes it easier to reach a compromise and allows us to feel more connected with those we’re negotiating with – thus creating a sense of affiliation.” – Mindfulness Works

 

Negotiations are important not only in business but also in conflict resolution and mindfulness can help. It is important in negotiations to be sensitive to the nuances of behaviors. By being mindful the negotiator becomes more attentive and empathetic, making it easier to read the nonverbal cues from the other person. These cues are important for understanding their emotional reactions to each stage of the negotiations and can thereby assist the negotiator in understanding the needs of the other and thereby refining offers and counteroffers. Being attuned to another makes responses better aligned with what is needed for a successful negotiation.

 

Another way that mindfulness can be of help in negotiations is through improved emotion regulation. Mindfulness is associated with a heightened ability to recognize and manage one’s own emotions. In a negotiation it is easy to react to emotions and as a result respond inappropriately or ignore the most logical negotiating step. Mindfulness has also been shown to improve problem solving and creativity. A negotiation can be viewed as a problem-solving task to identify the optimum strategy to produce the desired outcome. Also, by applying greater creativity to the problem the negotiator can devise novel solutions, optimizing outcomes.

 

In today’s Research News article “Variables Associated With Negotiation Effectiveness: The Role of Mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01214/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1356251_69_Psycho_20200618_arts_A), Pérez-Yus and colleagues recruited adult non-meditators and meditators with a daily practice of at least 6 months in duration. They completed questionnaires measuring negotiation effectiveness, emotional intelligence, mindfulness, personality, motivation, negotiation style, and their meditation practice.

 

They found that the higher the level of negotiation effectiveness the higher the level of mindfulness, emotional intelligence, achievement motivation, extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness, the personality traits of extraversion, openness and conscientiousness, and the negotiation styles of integrating, dominating, and compromising, and the lower the levels of neuroticism. In comparison to non-meditators, the meditators had significantly greater levels of emotional intelligence clarity, mindfulness, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, a greater tendency to acquire an integrating style in the negotiation, and a greater effectiveness of the negotiation and lower levels of neuroticism.

 

This study is correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. To establish causation, future research should examine the ability of mindfulness training to improve negotiation effectiveness. Nevertheless, the results suggest that meditation practice and mindfulness are associated with better negotiation effectiveness. Meditators are better negotiators. This is associated with emotional intelligence, and positive personality traits. Meditators had higher levels of integrating style of negotiations. In this style the negotiator is more attuned to the needs of everyone involved in the negotiation. So, meditators are better able to adjust the negotiation to satisfy everyone’s needs.

 

So, mindfulness is associated with better negotiation ability.

 

The results suggest that when a negotiation was more effective, mindfulness was a causal condition.” – Jamil Awaida

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Pérez-Yus MC, Ayllón-Negrillo E, Delsignore G, Magallón-Botaya R, Aguilar-Latorre A and Oliván Blázquez B (2020) Variables Associated With Negotiation Effectiveness: The Role of Mindfulness. Front. Psychol. 11:1214. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01214

 

Negotiation is the main mean of conflict resolution. Despite its capital importance, little is known about influencing variables or effective interventions. Mindfulness has shown to improve subjects’ performance in different settings but until now, no study has shown its impact in negotiation. The aim of this study is to analyze which variables are associated with effectiveness and to determine if meditators are more effective in negotiation. A cross-sectional descriptive study was carried out. The study variables were: socio-demographic variables, negotiation effectiveness (Negotiation Effectiveness Questionnaire), mindfulness (Five Facets of Mindfulness Questionnaire), emotional intelligence (Trait Meta-Mood Scale Questionnaire), personality (NEO-FFI personality inventory), motivation (McClelland Questionnaire), and negotiation style (Rahim Organizational Conflict Inventory-II). A correlational study and a multivariate model were developed. Negotiation effectiveness was associated with age, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, achievement motivation, integrating, dominating, and compromising negotiation styles and inversely correlated toward neuroticism. The effectiveness of the negotiation is explained by the variables clarity, age, conscientiousness, dominating, and compromising style. Meditators were found to be more effective than non-meditators.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01214/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1356251_69_Psycho_20200618_arts_A

 

Mindfulness Improves the Emotion Regulation in Patients with Schizophrenia

Mindfulness Improves the Emotion Regulation in Patients with Schizophrenia

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness treatments do not aim to decrease the occurrence or severity of the symptoms of psychosis, but by helping to reduce the distress people experience, many of these treatments help indirectly to alleviate psychotic symptoms as well.” – Tania Lecomte

 

Schizophrenia is the most common form of psychosis. It effects about 1% of the population worldwide. It appears to be highly heritable and involves changes in the brain. It is characterized by both positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations; seeing and, in some cases, feeling, smelling or tasting things that aren’t there, or delusions; unshakable beliefs that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue. Negative symptoms include a reduced ability to function normally, neglect of personal hygiene, lack of emotion, blank facial expressions, speaking in a monotone, loss of interest in everyday activities, social withdrawal, an inability to experience pleasure, and a lack of insight into their symptoms. The symptoms of schizophrenia usually do not appear until late adolescence or early adulthood.

 

Schizophrenia is very difficult to treat with psychotherapy and is usually treated with antipsychotic drugs. These drugs, however, are not always effective, sometimes lose effectiveness, and can have some difficult side effects. Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health problems, including psychosis. Mindfulness has also been shown to associated with lower symptom severity of schizophrenia. Patients with schizophrenia have difficulty regulating emotions and mindfulness training improves emotion regulation. Hence, it makes sense to investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training in improving emotion regulation in patients with schizophrenia.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Programme for Emotional Regulation in Individuals with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7075335/), Lam and colleagues recruited adult patients diagnosed with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and randomly assigned them to a treatment as usual control condition or to receive a 90 minute once a week for 8 weeks Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Program (MBPP) including “engagement and empowerment, mindfulness in daily living and problem solving, mindfulness in illness management and equip and prepare for the future.” Patients also performed daily mindfulness practice. They were measured before and after training and 3 months later for the emotion regulation processes of reappraisal and suppression, rumination, psychotic symptoms, mindfulness, anxiety, and depression.

 

Engagement in the Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Program (MBPP) was high with 85% of participants attending 6 or more sessions with average attendance of 6.88 sessions. The average amount of home practice was 31 minutes per week. Hence the program can be successfully implemented and is acceptable to the patients.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the treatment as usual group after Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Program (MBPP) there was a significant improvement in mindfulness and the emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal. These improvements were maintained for 3 months after the end of training. The results suggest that mindfulness training improves the emotion regulation strategy of reappraisal in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.

 

Reappraisal is a cognitive strategy to reinterpret the origin and meaning of an emotional event to reduce its impact. This is an effective emotion regulation strategy to help the individual cope with emotions. Since, problems with emotions are common in schizophrenia, improving emotion regulation may be of great assistance to them in dealing with the symptoms of the disease.

 

So, mindfulness improves the emotion regulation in patients with schizophrenia.

 

“mindfulness-based psycho-educational intervention expressly designed for patients with schizophrenia can be well tolerated and result in better illness outcomes than either standard treatment alone or standard treatment supplemented by a more typical psycho-educational approach. This is an important finding because of the widely held belief that psychotic patients can neither tolerate nor benefit from mindfulness-based interventions.” – American Mindfulness Research Association

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lam, A., Leung, S. F., Lin, J. J., & Chien, W. T. (2020). The Effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Programme for Emotional Regulation in Individuals with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 16, 729–747. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S231877

 

Abstract

Background

Emotion dysregulation has emerged as a transdiagnostic factor that potentially exacerbates the risk of early-onset, maintenance, and relapse of psychosis. Mindfulness is described as the awareness that emerges from paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It gently pulls the mind out of the negative emotions induced by the disparity between expectation and reality by focusing on the present moment, instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past. However, only a few research has ever focused on the efficacy of using a mindfulness-based intervention to improve emotion regulation in schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Psychoeducation Programme (MBPP) on the emotion regulation of individuals with schizophrenia, in particular, to access emotion regulation strategies. The objective of this study was to find out whether MBPP is feasible for improving emotion regulation strategies, in terms of rumination, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression, with a sustainable effect at a three-month follow-up.

Patients and Methods

A single-blinded pilot randomised controlled trial with repeated-measures designs was adopted. Forty-six participants diagnosed with schizophrenia and its subtypes were randomised in either the 8-week mindfulness-based psychoeducation programme or treatment-as-usual (control) group.

Results

The results of the Generalised Estimating Equations test indicated that the MBPP group showed a significant improvement in reappraisal at a three-month follow-up (β = −6.59, Wald’s χ2=4.55, p=0.033), and a significant reduction in rumination across time. However, the Generalised Estimating Equations indicated no significant difference in rumination and expressive suppression in the MBPP group. Two participants reported having unwanted experiences, including feelings of terror and distress during the mindfulness practice.

Conclusion

The MBPP appeared to be effective for improving emotion regulation, which will contribute to future large-scale RCT to confirm the treatment effects in more diverse groups of schizophrenic patients.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7075335/

 

Exercise on the Eightfold Path

mindful exercise running swimming walking | Stress Less Kzoo

Exercise on the Eightfold Path

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“it’s possible to merge awareness and physical exercise together as one. This allows you to experience the present moment during your physical activity.” – Adam Brady

 

We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into solitary or monastic life. But it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time in the complexities of the modern world. I find that engagement in exercise is one of many wonderful contexts in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prerequisites for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Actions, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Engaging in exercise on the eightfold path can not only improve health but also can contribute to spiritual development. As a bonus it can make exercising more enjoyable.

 

As we well know, engaging in regular physical exercise is important for our physical and mental health. Similarly, practicing mindfulness is important for our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Together they are a dynamite. But what needs to be done to combine them? With a little reflection, a myriad of opportunities to practice are available while exercising. The details will vary with the type of exercise and the individual, but these same opportunities are available regardless of the nature of the exercise.

 

An important component of developing the “Right View” is the recognition that all things are impermanent, they come and they go and never stay the same. When exercising it is easy to note that everything about the workout is impermanent. The body is stressed by exercise and this is a good thing as this is what leads to the beneficial effects of exercise. When moderately stressed muscles heal, they grow stronger. Sometimes the stress is pleasant and other times not so. But no matter what it will change, perhaps getting better or perhaps getting worse, but it will not stay the same. During exercise, the physical and mental state of the individual is constantly changing. The body fatigues and grows tired. Pain and discomfort may come and go. By recognizing how fleeting these feelings are, we witness the impermanence of all things. We grow to not only better understand the body and how it benefits from exercise but also see the operation of impermanence. This produces relaxation and acceptance of the body as it is, even as it’s changing, not only improving the exercise but reinforcing “Right View”.

 

A good example of this is practicing while running. I’m older and my knees are worn out so I practice this while speed walking. Noting the sensations from the foot each time in strikes the ground and as it lifts off the ground, it’s apparent that the sensations are constantly changing and never the same. Impermanence is on display. The same goes for the surrounding sights which are constantly changing. It’s impossible to hold onto any of the myriad of sensations occurring. They are constantly arising and passing away. Impermanence is on display.

 

Another important component of “Right View” is the recognition that everything is interconnected. This is readily apparent during exercise. During yoga practice all of the aspects of the body work together. As the muscles are stressed they increase the heart rate and respiration. With each pose the muscles produce heat, causing sweating and dilatation of the blood vessels at the surface. Moving into each pose produces changes in balance which produce automatic changes in other muscles to compensate and maintain balance and equilibrium. The senses are engaged in monitoring for pain and fatigue and guiding the exercise. Try paying attention to all of the parts of the body and how they are affected in performing a forward bend, a tree pose, or a lower cobra. By paying attention to these processes during this practice, how the entire body is engaged can be witnessed even if the exercise is targeted at only particular muscles. Interconnectedness is completely apparent. The awareness of this interconnectedness allows for better exercise while reinforcing “Right View”.

 

One practice I employ with exercise is to identify the limiting component. For me it’s breathing that seems to limit what I can do. My ability to play basketball is limited by the ability to get oxygen to the muscles while sprinting down the court. For others, it’s their knees or other joints, or cardiac capacity, or body temperature. There’s always something that keeps the individual from going faster, or being stronger or more accurate. The ability of the entire body to excel is limited by this factor. All other aspects of physical function are restrained by it. All other aspects are interconnected with it. as it all works together.

 

This interconnectedness is particularly apparent in team sports. In these contexts, participants affect one another, everyone on the team and everyone on the opposing team. In fact, that interconnectedness is part of the allure and enjoyment of team sports. As every athlete knows, performance is also affected by the individual’s psychological state. At times, exercisers just don’t feel like doing it but force themselves. While at other times, they feel great and can’t wait to get into it. In both cases this psychological state markedly alters the exercise. It’s all interconnected. Hence, the “Right View” of interconnectedness is readily apparent during exercise. Make it part of the exercise to pay attention to and recognize this interconnectedness. It’s on display.

 

Still another important component of “Right View” is the recognition of the presence of suffering and unsatisfactoriness in all activities. Exercising is a wonderful opportunity to observe this unsatisfactoriness and its roots. While cycling we want everything to be a certain way and when it isn’t, we are unhappy. We want to go faster, or with have greater strength for peddling up hills, or with greater endurance to ride further. The cyclist wants the weather to be just right, the wind to die down, to always be at the back, or for it to be cooler. We want the body’s discomforts to go away. In other words, rather than enjoy cycling, we make it unsatisfactory by not accepting how things are. All things, big and small, are almost always less than optimum. If we focus on this and crave it to be different, then we suffer. But, if we simply accept these conditions as they are, we can ride our bicycle with appreciation and enjoyment with unsatisfactoriness on display. Note, how this constantly arises in thoughts during exercise. Recognizing this can lead to greater understanding of how we make ourselves unhappy, and how by simply accepting things as they are produces better performance and greater enjoyment. Practicing this will reinforce “Right View.”

 

While exercising, playing sports, or being an observer there are frequent opportunities to practice “Right Intentions.” Here reducing or preventing harm and promoting greater happiness, wisdom, and well-being for all participants can be practiced. This is particularly important for team sports. It is useful, beforehand, to set this intention to make engaging in the game be beneficial for all participants. “Right Intentions” involves targeting what to do while exercising to increase peace, well-being, and happiness, including the abandonment of unwholesome desires.

 

If exercise particularly in competitive sports, is engaged in with anger, impatience, selfishness, and resentment it is likely to produce harm to everyone involved. Sports, such as football, can be dangerous and can produce physical harm to others. Obviously, games like football are particularly good candidates to play with “Right Intentions.” This way injury or harm can be minimized. It would seem obvious, but taking the time beforehand to establish “Right Intentions” may determine if the game is fun and wholesome or negative and harmful.

 

When I was young playing basketball with friends an opponent grabbed me as I ran toward the basket. I got angry and retaliated by shoving my friend away forcefully. He fell back so hard that he was momentarily paralyzed. This scared everyone and especially me. It made me recognize the potential harm that I could cause by acting on anger. If I had simply accepted that I was fouled and let it go, no harm would have occurred and play could have continued. The recognition that anger can only lead to more harm is wisdom that can lead to minimizing harm and promoting the greater good. Seeing the situation as it is, and seeing opponents with eyes of compassion leads to skillful actions promoting the happiness and well-being of all.

 

I’ve found that playing golf is a wonderful opportunity to practice. It has always amazed me how players make themselves so unhappy while engaging in something that’s supposed to be fun. I’ve seen players go into a rage after hitting a poor shot, screaming profanities, pounding their club into the ground or throwing or even breaking the club in rage. This can create a negative atmosphere that sweeps all the players up into a negative mood and destroys the fun and happiness that is the point of playing the game. “Right Intentions” can help here. I’ve learned to approach the game as just that, a game that is to be enjoyed, to laugh at my own incompetence, and joke with the other players about our plight.

 

We go around the course laughing and having a ball. What a difference it can make, I’ve had other players remark how much they admire me, not for my play which is horrible, but for my enjoyment of the game regardless of how well or more often terribly I play. It changes the atmosphere and infects those that I play with. Just setting the intention ahead of time to have fun regardless, to promote happiness, makes a world of difference. The ripples of good feelings that are created, may spill over from golf to home or work life enhancing life in general.

 

Playing sports with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will needs to be continuously worked on. It’s a practice. “Right Intentions” are a key. They become the moral compass. They tend to lead in the right direction even though at times there are stumbles.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of actions. It is also very difficult avoid all harm. But forming “Right Intentions” and aspiring to create good and happiness will produce more harmony, good will, and happiness and for the practitioner it will produce progress along the eightfold path.

 

Exercising is another situation to practice “Right Actions.” To some extent taking care of our bodies is “Right Action” as it benefits our health and well-being, which relieves suffering and increases happiness. While working out “Right Actions” includes following the “Middle Way.” Exercising overly aggressively could produce injury while exercising too lightly is probably a waste of time. While exercising in social contexts such as in a gym or jogging with friends, there can be a tendency to show off. This can be harmful to others by promoting jealousy or decreasing their feelings of self-worth or causing them to try too hard potentially leading to injury.

 

I used to jog with a group that met at lunchtime. We would all wait around until everyone was there to begin our run. But as soon as we began, one particular runner always leapt ahead and ran well in front of the group for the entire run. At first many of us would try to keep up. This would simply lead to him running even faster to stay ahead. This was not good. We were exercising, not racing. It detracted from the good feelings and camaraderie of the group and caused many of us to run too fast for our ability and to suffer. After a while we learned to ignore him and enjoy running with the rest of the group. This was “Right Actions.” It did make me wonder what suffering was driving him to turn a healthy and fun social run into a race and what I might do to help relieve that suffering. But he always ran ahead and alone making it impossible to communicate.

 

In some sports lying and cheating occur frequently. Fishing and golf are wonderful examples. outright lied about. Golfers frequently do things such as surreptitiously move their ball to a better lie, or report a lower score than they actually had. This is not “Right Actions.” Scrupulous honesty on the long-term leads to greater happiness and well-being even in these kinds of small and often accepted dishonesties.

 

While engaging in competitive sports we should have the “Right Intentions” of promoting good and happiness, and relieve suffering in ourselves and others. We can do so by competing patiently and courteously with attention and good sportsmanship. Unfortunately, the prevalent attitude is that “winning is everything.” This works contrary to “Right Actions.” With “Right Actions” promoting happiness, and relieving suffering in everyone involved “is everything.”  We can only control our own actions while competing. So that is where we practice. But, when we compete with “Right Actions” it affects our competitors, making the game more enjoyable, healthier, and productive for everyone.

 

Verbal and non-verbal interactions are frequently present while exercising, playing sports, or even as a spectator. There are many opportunities to practice “Right Communications”. It involves communicating in such a way as to promote understanding and to produce good feelings. It is non-violent and non-judgmental communications. While engaging in exercise or sports it is important to think before communicating, is the communication true, is it necessary, and is it kind.

 

While playing golf we communicate verbally and non-verbally and try to do so with “Right Communications”. When someone makes a great shot, we celebrate with them, possibly teasing them as to why they can’t do that every time, and when they make a terrible shot kidding them that it was better than they usually do, or compare it to our own terrible shots. Note that teasing may not on the surface seem to be true, necessary, and kind. But it can lighten the atmosphere and the back and forth can promote good feelings. Non-verbally, we sometimes celebrate ridiculously, dancing around like a clown, when making a good shot, again promoting enjoyment.

 

Right Communications” often involves deep listening. It is impossible to respond appropriately to another if you haven’t listened carefully to exactly what the other said or looked carefully at their expressions or body language. In playing doubles tennis, watch and listen to your partner. They may show anger or slump after a poor shot. In this case “Right Communications” may involve encouraging the partner or pointing out that the shot that they were attempting was a great idea, or make light of it by saying something to the effect that the shot looked more like something you would do. What would be the right approach depends on the individual and the context. But watching and listening carefully can help to understand what communication may produce the most good and happiness.

 

Even as spectators it is useful to practice “Right Communications”. I’ve observed parents at youth soccer games yelling at referees, players, and coaches. My 13 year old grandson worked hard to become a referee for children’s soccer matches and earn extra money. But he has dropped it because of the abuse that these parents heaped on him for every decision. No matter what decision he made parents on one side or the other would chastise him. I’ve also seen the impact on the children as their parents yell at the referees or at them for their performance. It’s a truly sad display of wrong communications by the adults.

 

It’s quite simple to see that “Right Communications” are needed. If the parents had stopped and thought if what they were communicating was true, necessary, and kind, if they had listened deeply or watched with compassion, there may have been a completely different atmosphere at the games, my grandson may still be refereeing, and the children would feel good about playing and would be having fun. Such behavior is not confined to youth soccer. Simply observe fans at sporting events even at the professional level, yelling obscenities and insults at opponents or even at their own team’s players. Indeed, even the players are taunting, hurling insults, and “trash talking” to each other. It is clear that there is a great need to teach fans and players, not only good sportsmanship, but also “Right Communications”. We may not be able to change others but at least we can conduct “Right Communications”.

 

There are many ways that people can make a living with exercise and sports, from a professional athlete or coach to a personal trainer, to a general manager or executive. This can be itself “Right Livelihood”. It is if it is directed to creating good, helping people, keeping peace, and moving society forward in a positive direction. College coaches using student athletes to further their careers without regard to the furtherance of the players well-being or teaching player “dirty tricks” to harm or injure their opponents would definitely not be “Right Livelihood”.

 

One should reflect deeply on what they’re doing to ascertain whether it promotes good. It is not ours to judge the “rightness” of the livelihood of athletes, coaches, sports executives etc. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply. The process itself of evaluating “Right Livelihood” may heighten awareness of the consequences of participating in their careers and make them better able to see and correct where they may be going wrong. This can help move the individual along the Buddha’s path.

 

Exercise also presents a fine context to practice “Right Effort”. In fact, exercise has its maximum benefit when it is fairly strenuous but not too strenuous. If it’s overdone the body will provide appropriate feedback with aches and pains, hopefully not injuries. If it’s done lazily, the body will not improve. So, exercise is almost a perfect situation to teach “Right Effort”. It involves acting according to the “Middle Way.” That is, not trying too hard and getting hurt, but also not being lackadaisical.  “Right Effort” is a relaxed effort. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted.

 

Experienced yoga practitioners know this all too well. Yoga can be very beneficial when practiced with “Right Effort” but can be injurious when done improperly. Poses must be held at the appropriate level, slightly backed off from the individual’s limit without going beyond. Struggling to go deeper, beyond the practitioner’s capability, is a formula for injury. Entering too lightly is a formula for wasting time and receiving no benefit. So, not only is yoga practice a good place to practice “Right Effort” it, in fact, provides feedback demonstrating what the “Right Effort” level should be.

 

Athletes know that to perform optimally they must relax and not press too hard. This is one of the reasons why meditation practice has proved so beneficial for athletes. It allows them to relax into the present moment and react appropriately to their body’s capabilities. I’ve found that with swimming, if I try too hard to go fast, I actually go slower. On the other hand, when I simply swim with moderate effort but with a relaxed body, it produces and efficient stroke and an appropriate body position in the water for optimum speed. So, “Right Effort” with exercise pays off with optimum performance, physical benefit, and progress on the eightfold path.

 

Exercise requires an accurate understanding of the state of our bodies and the environment in the present moment in order to determine what level of exercise are needed to promote good performance and enjoyment.  In other words, it requires “Right Mindfulness”. Unfortunately, for most of us mindless exercise is probably the norm. While exercising many people listen to music, talk on their cell phones, watch television, or carry on a conversation. But paying attention to what is being experienced while exercising or engaging in sports can turn the exercise into a meditative practice. It creates a richly textured experience of physical and mental activities. It heightens the experience and makes it much more enjoyable.

 

A prototype is walking meditation, where the individual practices “Right Mindfulness”. The meditator pays close attention to the sensations from the body while slowly walking. Observing each step, feeling the foot hit the ground and pull off the ground, observing each breath, feeling the air on the skin and the touch of the clothing, feeling the muscles contract and relax, experiencing the sights, smells and sounds in the environment. It’s an amazingly pleasant and productive practice.

 

With exercise, the same technique can be used but greatly speeded up. Jogging can be a speeded-up version of walking meditation. I use “Right Mindfulness” while swimming laps in a pool by doing a body scan. I start on the first lap with paying attention to the sensations from the toes, on the second lap I move to the tops of my feet, next to the bottoms of the feet, to the ankle, shin, knee, thigh etc. The feeling of the water and the movement of each body part is an exquisite practice. I was tired of the boredom of swimming until I developed this practice. It makes the drudgery of lap swimming mindful, interesting, and pleasurable, not to mention that my stroke becomes more efficient and the laps go by quickly. “Right Mindfulness” can be applied to virtually every exercise and sporting activity and will not only make it better but help the participant along the Buddha’s eightfold path.

 

“Right Concentration” is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever arises, but concentration is paying attention to one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is usually developed during contemplative practice such as meditation. It is difficult to practice during the complex activities involved in exercise. But during repetitive automatized exercises such as jogging concentration on the breath can be practiced.

 

Engaging in exercise on the eightfold path is a practice. Over time I have gotten better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or my emotions get the better of me. But, by continuing the practice I’ve slowly progressed. I’ve become a better at seeing what needs to be accomplished. I am learning to be relaxed with a smile on my face when I engage in exercise and enjoy the workout.

 

Can we attain enlightenment through exercise? Probably not! But we can practice the eightfold path that the Buddha taught leads there. The strength of engaging exercise with the practices of the eightfold path is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. I like to keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, by practicing the eightfold path in our engagement in exercise leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should definitely be included in our spiritual practice.

 

“The message is that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences of physical activity become prominent. For those experiences to be noticed, one must become aware of them. . . this can be achieved by being mindful.” – Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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