Meditation Techniques – Loving Kindness Meditation


In the last posts we discussed beginning meditation practice building up to open monitoring meditation practice.

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 4 – Open Monitoring Meditation

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 3 – Breath Following 2

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 2 – Breath Following 1

Today we will begin to discuss other meditation techniques and practices, starting with Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). This is a simple but very powerful practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. This is a seemingly ridiculously simple technique, but research has demonstrated that it is very impactful. This is true even if you are already a kind and compassionate person. Engaging in the practice will further reinforce and enhance it further. (see Loving Kindness Meditation and the Disease of the West

In western culture it is quite common for people to have a negative view of themselves, often feeling inadequate and unworthy or simply disliking themselves. So, for westerners, practicing loving kindness to themselves is particularly important. It is essential that we learn to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves. This is the foundation for honest and sincere kindness and compassion for others. So, pay particular attention to and carefully practice LKM toward the self.

LKM starts exactly like every meditation in a comfortable posture with the eyes lightly closed. Begin whatever meditation practice is your current practice and continue for a couple of minutes until you feel calm and focused. Then begin by bringing lovingkindness to yourself. Envision a time when you felt completely loved and accepted. Let yourself fully engage in the memory, feeling what it was like, feeling the inner sensations and the ease of well-being. Once you have this fully present begin slowly and meaningfully to say to yourself while maintaining the lovingkindness feelings:

“May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

With each statement use the lovingkindness feelings to reinforce the wish to yourself. Wholeheartedly engage in honestly wishing yourself well and visualize how it would feel to truly be happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Sincerely make these wishes in the unshakable knowledge that you deserve to be happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Repeat the process around three times. But, you can adjust this as you get experience with the meditation to a number that is comfortable and seems appropriate to you.

After completing sending lovingkindness to yourself move on to wishing lovingkindness to others. Start with someone who you are close to and care deeply about. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with sincerity, truly wishing them well. Repeat the process around three times.

Now move on again to a person you know who may be going through hard times and difficult challenges. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with a heartfelt desire that they feel happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Repeat the process again around three times.

Next move on to someone you know but are not particularly close or have strong feelings about, perhaps a neighbor or a work associate. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases with a heartfelt desire that they feel happy, well, safe, and peaceful. Visualize that your words actually take effect within that person. Repeat the process again around three times.

Finally comes the most challenging practice. Think of someone who you truly dislike or who has harmed you or simply someone who you have a particularly difficult time with. Visualize that person and hold him/her in your heart and repeat the lovingkindness phrases. See that person as a human being who, like everyone, needs happiness, wellness, safety, and peace. This may be difficult but recognize that for you to be a truly compassionate person you must really want everyone to be well, unconditionally.  Repeat the process again around three times.

Depending upon the length of your meditation you may repeat this whole process by going back to wishing happiness, wellness, safety, and peace to yourself, to a loved one, to someone in need, to a neutral person, and again to a disliked person.

There are many variations of the lovingkindness words. Find a set that feels comfortable, natural, and real for you, a set that you can repeat without having to think about it or search memory for the exact words. In fact the actual words don’t matter. It is the engagement in wishing well and really feeling it that is most important.

Try this practice. You may be amazed at how good it makes you feel and how much it alters your view and approach toward yourself and others. Remember that it is a practice and has to be engaged in repeatedly over time to be effective.

So, practice lovingkindness meditation and strengthen your compassionate nature.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 4 – Open Monitoring Meditation


In the last two posts we discussed breath meditation practice.


Today we will discuss open monitoring meditation. This is the next logical step in the development of your practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

We left off with following the breath meditation practice. As we moved from counting every inbreath and every outbreath to silently following the sensations associated with breathing we moved from a very focused task with internal speech (counting) to a silent, much more unfocused, task of attending to all of the body sensations associated with breathing. The idea is to remove the mind from the process and thereby let the mind quiet.

Open monitoring meditation goes one step further. In this practice we open up our awareness to everything that we’re experiencing regardless of its origin. We still pay attention to the sensations associated with breathing but open it up further to all bodily sensations, including the feelings from the skin of touch, coldness or hotness, the pressure exerted by gravity on our rear ends sitting on the chair or cushion, tingling sensations on the skin and elsewhere, sensations from muscles and joints, sensations of balance and body position, the subtle feeling of our heart beating with the consequent blood pressure surges, and the feelings from our internal organs such as from our stomachs, bowels, bladder, etc.

In addition, we open up our awareness and pay attention to external stimuli, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Even with our eyes closed we can perceive visual stimulation, some due to light penetrating the eyelids and some due to spontaneous activity in the neural systems underlying vision. In open monitoring meditation we let it all into awareness and don’t try to focus on any one thing or exclude anything.

The openness extends to thoughts. Although we don’t try to engage in thinking, thoughts will inevitably arise anyway. In open monitoring meditation we don’t try to stop them. We just watch them rising up and falling away. As a friend remarked we let them in the front door and out the back and don’t serve them tea! We don’t judge them or censure ourselves for having them, no matter what their content. We just observe them and let them go.

There’s a lot going on and it is impossible to take it all in at once. You just let it happen. Let attention go where it may. But, don’t hold onto anything. Just let it naturally flow. Don’t try to pay attention to one thing or another. Just let whatever captures attention capture it and allow it to shift whenever it does. Don’t judge the experiences that you have as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, right or wrong, interesting or dull. Just experience them as they are.

As Adyashanti likes to say, we simply “let everything be as it is.” This sounds simple but it is devilishly difficult. The mind easily drifts away and our mind wanders. There is nothing to hold it, nothing to entertain it, so it wanders away. This meditation involves frequent mind wandering. This is different than simply watching the thoughts. You’ve been taken away by your thought and aren’t watching them, you’ve become them. But, don’t worry. This is what happens normally and to some extent will continue even after years of practice. When you notice this happening, just gently return to your open awareness feeling grateful for reentering a peaceful state.

Be patient, slowly but surely, the mind wandering will happen less and less often for shorter and shorter periods and open monitoring will increase in duration. All of the mind activity will slowly dissipate and you’ll open up to a beautiful, peaceful, quiet experience.

After you’ve completed the proscribed length of the meditation again review your experience. Ask yourself what thoughts arose and why. It may be as simple as some sight or sound captured your attention and the mind followed, dwelled on it, and free associated to it. But often there are repeating themes that can be seen as indicative of your wants and needs or unresolved issues. It can be very illuminating to follow up on these. Ponder them for they can be very revealing.

Often during the meditation you will begin to go deep into the experience when suddenly the mind takes over and tries to control the experience. This sometimes occurs with an overt sensation of fear. Take a careful look at this. The mind may be acting as if it’s threatened and doesn’t want you to proceed further. This is a wonderful indicator that you’re really making progress. You may not think so, but it is. Deep, deep, meditative states are often resisted by the mind. When this happens take it as a sign that you’re on the right track.

The mind will often subtly silently take control and direct your attention to one thing or another. It takes some experience to detect the difference from true free open experience and that directly silently behind the scenes by the mind. You may think that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be. The mind can be tricky. Stay with your practice and persevere. These mind takeovers will occur less and less often.

Practice open monitoring meditation and begin to see things simply as they are.


Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 3 – Breath Following 2


In the last post we discussed breath meditation practice as a beginning point for the development of meditation.

Today we will discuss breath meditation further and suggest some next steps. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

After you feel comfortable with counting the breaths on both the inhale and the exhale, the next step is to just count on the exhale and do not count on the inhale. So, it becomes inhale, exhale “one”, inhale, exhale “two”, etc. up to ten and then back to one. This is slightly more difficult than counting on both inhale and exhale as this provides the mind more opportunity to drift off.

You will note that we used the expression when “you feel comfortable with” as opposed to when “you master.” This is because you probably will never completely master any of the practices. That is not the point. The techniques are aides to quieting the mind and they work to a degree. But, the mind is far more out of control than can be tamed by these simple methods. Just look for progress, where the mind becomes quieter than it previously was. Don’t expect to perfect it, or even do it very well, just develop longer periods of quiet over time.

You can probably extrapolate what the next step should be after you become comfortable with counting the outbreaths only. You begin to just follow the breathing without counting at all. In this practice you try to pay close and continuous attention to all of the sensations associated with breathing. You pay attention to the movement of you belly, diaphragm, and chest as they expand and contract. You pay attention to the sensations of the air moving through your nostrils and windpipe. It’s simply paying attention to all of the sensations arising from the process of breathing. You can even take note of how the sensations in your belly arise and fall and then for a moment disappear only to reappear shortly after.

This like all of the preceding practices is focused, but there is now a wider focus on the entire process of breathing and all of the sensations arising from throughout the body as you breathe. This is even more difficult to maintain. At the beginning there is a lot to occupy the mind, but as you continue the mind gets bored and inevitably drifts away. As we tell everyone, be prepared to fail. This form of meditation is a continuous process of focus, mind wandering, detecting that the mind has wandered away and a return to focus.

Don’t feel bad. This is what happens to everyone. Just look for a slow increase in the amount of time you are focused and a decrease in the time spent mind wandering. This can take a while, sometimes many weeks. But, if you stick with it, it will happen. It is sometimes a good strategy when your mind is busy and focus is difficult to return to the previous practice of counting the breaths for a brief period to regain focus and then go back to simply following the sensations of breathing.

At the end of each session, spend a few minutes reviewing what you have just experienced. You can note as before that is extremely difficult to control your mind. Look though at what you’re trying to do. You’re asking your mind to control your mind. You’re trying to use an uncontrollable entity to control an uncontrollable entity. No wonder you repeatedly fail.

Eventually in meditation practice you will need to completely give up trying to control the mind. But, this is for a later practice. For now, do the best you can trying to quiet the wild creature that you call your mind.



Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 2 – Breath Following 1


 “Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.” – Rick Hanson.

 In the last post we discussed some thoughts on various meditation positions to use in beginning meditation.

Today we will discuss what meditation technique you should use in starting out with practice. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

 “The best meditation of all is . . . the one you will do.” – Rick Hanson.

There are literally thousands of meditation techniques and it can be very confusing sorting out which are best for you. We recommend, though, that you start out with a very simple form of focused meditation; following the breath. Later we encourage you to explore some of the other forms of meditation to discover what works best for you and your particular goals. We’ll be discussing some of the other techniques in future posts.

Keep in mind that the most fundamental goal of meditation is to quiet the mind, to quiet the incessant internal voice that is constantly giving instructions, criticizing, planning, ruminating, and just simply jabbering in a repetitive and persistent fashion. The basic idea is to reduce this implicit speech, quieting the mind so that everything else that is here in the present moment becomes much more aware.

Following the breath is a great way to begin. It is simple, yet it can be very effective. The mind is always looking for something to do. Following the breath gives it something to do and can thus be of great assistance in quieting the mind. Later, you should begin to withdraw from giving the mind even this simple task to do as doing this tends to reinforce the mind’s belief that it can control everything and the implicit speech that is doing the counting. But, for now, we can use it against itself.

The breath is always there. So it can be used as a meditative anchor regardless of what else may be going on, where you are, or the state of your body. It is obvious and thus doesn’t take any special ability to notice and follow it. Even when you’re a very advanced meditator starting a meditation following the breath is helpful in centering and moving into another form of meditation or when concentration drifts, as it inevitably will, the breath provides a wonderful reentry point to transition back to the current meditation.

To begin a focused breath meditation, sit in your preferred posture, in a quiet place, and close your eyes and relax. Let your breathing be natural. Do not try to control it. Your task will be simply to watch it. Every time you breathe in or breathe out count, starting at one and continuing up to ten. Breathe in count “one”, breathe out count “two”, breathe in count “three”, breathe out count “four”, etc. until you get to “ten” then return to “one and begin again. That’s all you do. It’s that simple.

As you continue this simple task, your experience will be a revelation! You will inevitably find that very quickly your mind drifts away from counting the breaths and engages in all kinds of thoughts, perhaps plans for the future of reviewing the past or in response to some event in the immediate environment. Regardless, you mind drifts away from its designated task. When that happens, as it often will, and you recognize that your mind has drifted off, simply return to counting the breaths, either picking up where you left off or starting again at “one”.

It is important that you don’t feel recriminations for going off task. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Understand that this is normal and happens to everyone, even experienced meditators. Instead, congratulate yourself on detecting it and return to you object of focus, the breath. Gently go back to counting the breath, feeling good that you’re returning.

Don’t be surprised if you lose concentration before you can even get to finish the first ten. Don’t be surprised if this happens over and over again. It will and it will for many meditations to come. Just know that this is the natural course of meditation and is perfectly normal.

Continue the meditation, following the breath, drifting off, going back to the breath, drifting off, going back to the breath etc. until the allotted time is over.

Following the meditation it is useful not to immediately get up and resume your day but to spend a few minutes reflecting upon what you have just experienced. There is a tremendous insight just waiting to be noticed; you cannot control your mind. Given the task to control your mind performing a very simple task over a very brief period of time, you find that it is almost impossible to do. Reflect on this fact. It is very important and the beginning of the wisdom that emerges from meditation.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the next steps in developing your meditation.


Beginning Meditation – Getting Started 1 – Positions


Meditation allows us to directly participate in our lives instead of living life as an afterthought.” ~Stephen Levine


In the last couple of posts we presented some thoughts on things to consider prior to beginning meditation.

Today we will discuss finding a comfortable position for meditation. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

It is essential for successful meditation that you find a comfortable position that you can maintain throughout the meditation period. It shouldn’t be so comfortable that you’re liable to fall asleep, or so uncomfortable or painful that you can’t relax and pay attention to something else other than the pain or how uncomfortable you are. You should adopt a position that you can sustain comfortably and pain free for the entire duration of your practice. Keep in mind that being a little uncomfortable at the beginning may be OK as you’ll adapt to it and it will get more comfortable as you continue practice. But, don’t endure pain. Back off if it hurts.

Sitting cross legged on a cushion on the floor or a meditation pad (lotus or half-lotus position) can be challenging for many. If you can do it comfortably then this is the position that you should use as it is a highly recommended position for meditation. See for descriptions of the various positions. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “How to Sit For Meditation – Meditation Postures”

But we recommend that you don’t adopt this position initially if it is not comfortable. You can work on it later. But, many people will either not try meditation or stop after only a few sessions because they find this lotus or half-lotus position too challenging or painful. It is more important to meditate comfortably than to adopt an uncomfortable position even one that is highly desirable and recommended.

Another alternative is a kneeling posture. This is the posture that I personally prefer. It is comfortable for me and it leaves my spine straight and my breathing unrestricted. But, everyone has to find the correct on for their body and flexibility. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “Using a Meditation Bench” Often people find a kneeling posture difficult to maintain and painful to the knees. It, like all meditation postures requires practice. If it’s not comfortable to you initially, then don’t use it. You can experiment with it later.

For initial practice we like to recommend sitting in a chair. This should not be considered as the position that you stay with forever. Rather, it is a simple place to start. Here is a link to an excellent video entitled “Meditation for Beginners -Sitting on a Chair”

Regardless find a position in which your spine is straight and the head sitting evenly on top of the spine. It should be like there’s a string hung from the ceiling that goes through the top of your head and without bend continues down the spine to the pelvis. The fewer restrictions there are on your breathing the better. So, try to find a position where the back behind your lungs is free and unrestricted. Better yet are positions where there is nothing touching the back. Try to adopt a position with the neck straight above the spine with the chin tucked in slightly to minimize the strain on the neck. But, most importantly, find a position that you can stay in comfortably for the duration of your meditation session.


Beginning Meditation 1 – Preliminaries 2

Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” – Saint Francis de Sales

In yesterday’s post

we discussed some of the preliminary considerations before initiating a meditation practice. Today, we will discuss some additional considerations. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

It is important in beginning a meditation practice to set aside a place to meditate. Select a single place to meditate. You can meditate outside of this space, but use it for the majority of your practice. It is possible to meditate anywhere. But, I recommend that to begin with you pick a quiet place where it’s unlikely that you’ll be interrupted. By having a quiet consistent place there are fewer distractions and it becomes easier for your mind to settle.

In you meditation space learning will occur. The objects, sounds, smells and feel of the place become associated with your meditation. Conditioning will happen slowly and unconsciously. If your meditations are pleasant, the stimuli in the space will become associated with that pleasantness such that as soon as you enter the room you begin to feel good and relax. Even the meditative state becomes associated with the space and in this familiar place you more easily quiet the mind and slip into a peaceful state.

It is important to make meditation pleasant. Don’t set it up at a time and place that is uncomfortable or rushed. There are some forms of meditation that suggest that you must endure and withstand discomfort to progress. I don’t subscribe to that notion. Progress occurs more readily when you’re comfortable, relaxed, and relatively pain free. So, decide in advance that you’ll make it pleasant and not make it a physical challenge or an endurance test. If you are uncomfortable or in pain during meditation then you should consider changing something, perhaps shortening the time of meditation or changing your position or posture. We’ll discuss this in a later post.

There are often questions as to whether it is better to meditate in a group (class, sangha) or alone. I find that it’s useful to do both if possible. I recommend that you start off alone and establish the practice. Starting off in a group can be difficult as you’re often immersed with experienced practitioners who will meditate for longer than you’re presently comfortable. A group or class with beginners like yourself could be a good place to start. But, it is often difficult to locate an appropriate one. So, for most people it is best to start off by yourself until you feel comfortable with meditation.

Later finding a meditation group that you can sit with on occasions can be very beneficial. This should not replace your daily practice alone but rather should supplement and support it. When you’re ready the group can be of great assistance in your progress. The support and companionship of others on the same path can be a tremendous help. Interacting with others can reveal that they are struggling with the meditation as much as you are and can make you feel more comfortable with your own experiences. There is also a subtle group pressure that can provide extra motivation to keep you practicing. In addition, there can be great power and energy produced by the group that can subtly, positively, and unconsciously affect your meditation and experience.

A final note in preparation for beginning your meditation practice, it is helpful to begin reading about meditation. Select some good books written by teachers and experienced practitioners and spend a few minutes each day reading. Meditation can produce some unexpected twists and turns and sometimes it can be psychological and physically troubling. Reading prepares you for the journey by learning in advance the kinds of things you might experience. Hearing of others experiences can also be helpful in coming to understand that what you’re experiencing is not unusual but shared with many meditators.

Now you’re ready to begin your meditation.


Beginning Meditation 1 – Preliminaries


“Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

We’ve been asked by a number of people how to begin a contemplative practice. In looking around we’ve found lots of advice but very little that is appropriate for people trying to start on their own. So, we’ll be making several posts with ideas and suggestions for beginners. We’d appreciate hearing comments and suggestions from others. There are many paths!

To begin with take a clear and thoughtful look at what exactly you want to accomplish with meditation. Do you wish to meditate to improve mindfulness, or to improve attention, or to reduce stress, or for spiritual exploration, or to improve relationships, or to improve your health, or to better cope with emotions. There are many reasons to meditate and to be really clear as to what you hope to accomplish is useful. It can help to focus and motivate you.

Once you’ve established for yourself what you want to accomplish realize that patience is required. You will not likely accomplish this goal overnight. It takes a reliable disciplined practice with a willingness to invest time and energy to progress. Be prepared for ups and downs. Meditation practice doesn’t progress linearly. Don’t expect that every day you will get a little better. One day you might improve, the next be much worse, and the next unchanged. Know that this will be the course of development, accept it, and have faith that over time you will improve. It will just be variable day to day.

Even though you’ve clarified a goal, take an open minded attitude. The goal of meditation can change and develop over time. Let it happen. Relax and let the natural course of change occur. One of the key elements in successful progress in meditation is not to try too hard. Don’t try to control or manipulate what you experience. Don’t push yourself too hard. Progress will happen by itself if you relax and let it.

It is very important to establish a regular time each day when you can meditate comfortably without interruptions. I find that early morning is a good time before the business of the day can fill your mind with thoughts and plans and before the need to accomplish tasks becomes dominant and usurps your meditation time. Regardless of the actual time, you should establish a regular time and then defend that time against all other tasks that will vie for it. Make it your special time, a time devoted to you, a time set aside to develop, grow, and nourish yourself. I’ve found that you need to make it a very high priority otherwise other priorities in your life will replace it and before you know you’re no longer meditating consistently.

The actual amount of time you meditate or set aside is less important that the regularity of the practice. Start off with just a small amount of time, say 5 minutes. It’s relatively easy to set aside this much time and the notion of sitting quietly for only five minutes is not particularly challenging or intimidating for most people. Increasing the time you spend meditating should be an expectation, but increase it at your own pace. Increase it as you feel comfortable and feel that it would be enjoyable and beneficial. If it is difficult to complete the entire time allotted then reduce it so that you’re comfortable. It is important that you don’t make meditation a chore. Rather it should be an enjoyable refuge that refreshes and energizes you.

The preliminaries for initiating a meditation practice will be continued in another post tomorrow.


Spirituality, Mindfulness and the Brain

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.” ― Carl Sagan

Mindfulness training has been shown to alter the brain in profound ways. It activates certain areas of the nervous system and if practiced for a period of time it will alter the brain structurally, increasing the size and connectivity of some areas. These significant changes will be reviewed in an upcomiong post.

 There has also been research into how spirituality and spiritual experiences affect the nervous system. There has been, however, very little study of brain activity during spiritual practice. As a result it is unclear the extent that spiritual and mindfulness practices affect similar or different brain areas.

In today’s Research News article “How similar are the changes in neural activity resulting from mindfulness practice in contrast to spiritual practice?”

Barnby and colleagues summarize the research on brain activation produced by the practices of mindfulness, spirituality, or both. In this research spiritual practice was defined as focusing on an internal and external sense of connection to a higher entity, or embodiment.

They find that mindfulness practice that is either secular or spiritual or both increase the activity, size, and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex. This area has been associated with executive function including planning, complex thinking, and decision making, all of which improve with mindfulness practice. It is also associated with the regulation of emotions and responses to emotions. These are again traits associated with mindfulness practice. So, regardless of whether the practice is secular or spiritual these same benefits accrue in parallel with similar patterns of brain activation.

In contrast mindfulness practice that is secular produces varying changes in the parietal lobe while spiritual practice tends to reduce parietal lobe activity. The parietal lobe has been implicated in producing a sense of self as distinct from the environment and others. Hence, spiritual practice, by focusing on powers outside of the self, tends to reduce self-referential thinking. Spiritual practitioners think more about a deity than of themselves. This is reflected both in self-reports and behavior and also in their brains.

So, engage in spiritual and mindfulness practices and reap their benefits.


Control Thinking and Feeling with Mindfulness

In a number of posts we’ve presented evidence and discussed the very positive effects of mindfulness on thinking, emotions, health and general well-being. The accumulated evidence makes a compelling case that mindfulness has a myriad of positive effects promoting physical and mental well-being.

It has also been demonstrated with neuroimaging studies that mindfulness training produces enlargement and increased connectivity of the frontal lobes of the brain. This area of the cortex has long been known to underlie executive function and emotional regulation. Executive function regulates cognitive processes, including attention, working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. Emotional regulation involves regulation of our experience of emotions, fully experiencing them yet preventing them from spiraling out of control and adversely affecting behavioral responses to the emotions.

It can be speculated that the effectiveness of mindfulness in promoting well-being results from the changes in the frontal lobes producing higher levels of executive function and emotional regulation and theses in turn produce the positive effects of mindfulness. In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness in Relation to Emotional Self-Regulation and Executive Function.”

Lyvers and colleagues address this very question. They measured indicators of frontal lobe function; prefrontal cortex dysfunction, impulsivity, and alexithymia and correlate them to a measure of trait mindfulness. They find that the higher the mindfulness the lower the levels of prefrontal cortex dysfunction, impulsivity, and alexithymia, clearly suggesting that mindfulness is associated with heightened frontal lobe function.

Prefrontal cortex dysfunction indicates an impairment of attention and planning, impulsivity indicates impairments in controlling and restraining behavior, while alexithymia indicates an inability to identify and describe emotions, lack of emotional awareness, and difficulty with social attachment and interpersonal relationships. In other words, these are measures of the problems that arise with impaired executive function and emotion regulation.

Lyvers and colleagues further show that mindfulness is inversely related to negative moods, depression, anxiety and stress scores. This suggests that mindfulness improves well-being by promoting frontal lobe activity. This results in improved executive function and thereby improves attention and ability to analyze experience and realistically plan for the future, improving our ability to effectively deal with whatever experience we’re having.

The facilitated frontal lobe activity also produces improved emotion regulation with its consequent facilitation of the ability to identify and regulate emotions. Hence, all other factors being equal, negative moods are experienced less often or less intensely and responded to more appropriately compared to someone who has low levels of that emotion regulation.

So, practice mindfulness and improve your frontal lobe function and general well-being.


Aging Healthily – Yoga and Cellular Aging

Aging is inevitable. We can’t stop it or reverse the aging process. But, it is becoming more apparent that life-style changes can slow down the process and allow us to live longer and healthier lives.

The genes govern cellular processes in our bodies. One of the most fundamental of these processes is cell replication. Our bodies are constantly turning over cells. Dying cells or damaged are replaced by new cells. The cells turn over at different rates but most cells in the body are lost and replaced between every few days to every few months. Needless to say were constantly renewing ourselves.

As we age the tail of the DNA molecule called the telomere shortens. When it gets very short cells have a more and more difficult time reproducing and become more likely to produce defective cells. On a cellular basis this is what produces aging. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. So, processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process.

Previous research has shown that an intensive meditation practice can increase telomerase activity and slow telomere shortening. These results suggested that meditation could slow aging and increase life span. It’s been anecdotally reported for years that people who practice yoga  tend to live long lives. There has, however, not been any systematic empirical evidence obtained to confirm or deny these anecdotes.

In today’s Research News article “Telomerase activity and cellular aging might be positively modified by a yoga-based lifestyle intervention.”

Kumar and colleagues produce evidence from a single case study that yoga practice increases telomerase activity. In addition they show that markers of oxidative stress, another indicator of aging, are reduced with yoga practice.

These are very exciting findings that must be interpreted cautiously since they are from a single case. But, should they be seen in controlled future investigation could suggest that yoga practice, like meditation, can slow cellular aging and perhaps increase longevity. It should be emphasized that the yoga practice used by Kumar and colleagues included meditation. It remains to future research to identify if the observed effects are due to the postures, or to breath control in yoga or to the meditation component or all three.

So, practice yoga and age slowly and healthily.