Posts tagged ‘meditation’

The Art of Rock Balancing by Michael Grab

Michael Grab is an artist that has been ‘rock balancing‘ since 2008. Much of his recent work has been done around the Boulder, Colorado area. Grab finds the process both spiritual and therapeutic. On his site gravityglue.com, Grab explains:

“The most fundamental element of balancing in a physical sense is finding some kind of ‘tripod’ for the rock to stand on. Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another.

Parallel to the physical element of finding tripods, the most fundamental non-physical element is harder to explain through words. In a nutshell, I am referring to meditation, or finding a zero point or silence within yourself. Some balances can apply significant pressure on your mind and your patience. The challenge is overcoming any doubt that may arise.”

On gravityglue you will find an extensive gallery of his work along with videos, an in-depth interview and an active blog about his thoughts that accompany his work.

art of rock balancing by michael grab gravity glue (13) Continue reading…

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How meditation can reshape our brains (and revisiting neuroplasticity)

I learned some of this at MARC (at UCLA) and found it fascinating.

Neuroplasticity is visited in this video. I often post about neuroplasticity and how that concept allows us to understand that we can heal and change our health and wellbeing by changing our brains.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Found on beyondmeds.com

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Nature That Nurtures: Hospital gardens turn out to have medical benefits

By Deborah Franklin via Scientific American Magazine

To get an inkling of what a well-designed hospital garden can mean to a seriously ill child, watch the home video posted on YouTube last August of Aidan Schwalbe, a three-year-old heart-transplant recipient. The toddler is shown exploring the meandering paths, sun-dappled lawn and gnarled roots of a branching shade tree in the Prouty Garden at Children’s Hospital Boston. “He loves to be out in the garden feeding the birds and squirrels,” wrote Aidan’s grandmother in an August blog entry. “They will all weigh 30 lbs. each by the time we leave here!”

The garden that Aidan loves—with its vibrant greenery, shaded places to sit and walk, and small, half-hidden animal sculptures that fascinate visitors of all ages—is “one of the most successful hospital gardens in the country,” says Clare Cooper Marcus, an emeritus professor in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dismissed as peripheral to medical treatment for much of the 20th century, gardens are back in style, now featured in the design of most new hospitals, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects. In a recent survey of 100 directors and architects of assisted-living residences, 82 percent agreed that “the design of outdoor space should be one of the most important considerations in the design.” But can gardens, in fact, promote healing? It turns out that they often can. Scientists around the world are now digging into the data to find out which features of gardens account for the effect.

Common Sense Put to the Test
The notion that the fresh breezes, dappled sunlight and fragrant greenery of a garden can be good for what ails us has its roots in ancient tradition and common sense. But a much cited study, published in 1984 in the journal Science by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, now at Texas A&M University, was the first to use the standards of modern medical research—strict experimental controls and quantified health outcomes—to demonstrate that gazing at a garden can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other ailments.

Ulrich and his team reviewed the medical records of people recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban Pennsylvania hospital. All other things being equal, patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.

Esther Sternberg, a physician and neuroimmunologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, calls Ulrich’s work “groundbreaking.” At the time, studies showing that loud sounds, disrupted sleep and other chronic stressors can have serious physical consequences were only just beginning. “In 1984 we all took it for granted that hospitals were noisy, smelly, disorienting mazes,” says Sternberg, who details the history in her book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. “But it hadn’t occurred to us that stress could affect a patient’s healing—or that we could do anything about that.”

Fortunately, as the evidence implicating hospitals as major engines of stress builds, the stack of data suggesting that gardens and planted alcoves can encourage healing has grown, too.  Just  three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity.

Indeed, the benefits of seeing and being in nature are so powerful that even pictures of landscapes can soothe. In 1993 Ulrich and his colleagues at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden randomly assigned 160 heart surgery patients in the intensive care unit to one of six conditions: simulated “window views” of a large nature photograph (an open, tree-lined stream or a shadowy forest scene); one of two abstract paintings; a white panel; or a blank wall. Surveys afterward confirmed that patients assigned the water and tree scene were less anxious and needed fewer doses of strong pain medicine than those who looked at the darker forest photograph, abstract art or no pictures at all.

“Let’s be clear,” Cooper Marcus says. “Spending time interacting with nature in a well-designed garden won’t cure your cancer or heal a badly burned leg. But there is good evidence it can reduce your levels of pain and stress—and, by doing that, boost your immune system in ways that allow your own body and other treatments to help you heal.”

Growing Insight
Still, research shows that not all gardens are equally effective. In 1995 Cooper Marcus and landscape architect Marni Barnes received a grant from the nonprofit Center for Health Design to analyze the physical layout and daily use of several hospital gardens in northern California. In 32 hours of observations, which included taking detailed notes and interviewing users (who collectively made 2,140 visits), the researchers noticed several patterns that have been borne out in subsequent studies of other sites.

Among their findings: users mostly visited gardens seeking relaxation and restoration from mental and emotional fatigue. Tree-bordered vistas of fountains or other water features, along with lush, multilayered greenery of mature trees and flowering plants, appealed most. Those results are consistent with Ulrich’s findings of the healing power of a “window view” and also correspond with the theories of evolutionary biologists that people prefer views that are reminiscent of the savannas where humans evolved. Throughout human history, trees and water have signaled an oasis, and flowering plants have been a sign of possible food. Open views deter surprises by predators, and shaded alcoves offer a safe retreat.

The more greenery versus hard surfaces, the better. “We found that a ratio of at least 7:3 seems to work best,” Cooper Marcus says. Less greenery signals a “plaza or shopping mall courtyard” and is not as relaxing.

What you can do in the garden is as important as what you see. The results of “behavioral maps” tracking visitors’ actions while in a garden suggested a need for private conversation areas; smooth, tree-lined paths that invite strolls but that will not trip wheelchairs or intravenous poles; lightweight furniture that can be tugged into the shade or sun; and naturalistic landscaping that lures birds, squirrels and other wildlife.

One finding, in particular, surprised Cooper Marcus and Barnes. Stressed hospital employees accounted for as many visits to hospital gardens as stressed patients, and interviews confirmed that staffers depend on the greenery. “I feel like one of the Mole People,” an employee who works in the basement radiology department of a Berkeley, Calif., hospital told the researchers. She said she comes to sit amid the trees of the rooftop garden daily to relax and meditate. “It’s a big mental, emotional lift.”

Different generations seem to value the same things in gardens, but research has turned up differences, too. In 2005 clinical psychologist Sandra A. Sherman and her colleagues conducted a study of three gardens at a children’s cancer center in San Diego to try to figure out what worked and what did not. Some of the findings made intuitive sense. A mosaic turtle sculpture that small children could climb, for example, was more alluring than a crane sculpture the kids could only look at. Other results were less obvious. A riverlike water feature where kids and parents could splash and float boats together was twice as popular with the kids as a child-size playhouse that adults could not enter.

Focusing on the other end of the age spectrum, Susan Rodiek of Texas A&M has looked at long-term care institutions. In her studies, published in 2009, of a random sampling of 68 assisted-living facilities, Rodiek talked to 1,100 residents and 430 employees. “Older people,” she found, “need and benefit from outdoor space and greenery just as much as the young.”

But the adults desire some different features. Middle-aged adults, for example, tend to look for peace and quiet in the garden, and older adults are more likely to seek stimulation. At one new senior residence Rodiek studied, the facility’s architect had created a lovely, secluded lawn and pond at the back of the apartment building. But every afternoon, the researchers noticed, at around the same time, the elderly residents dragged their lightweight aluminum chairs to the front of the building to be part of the community of commuters passing by. “You can only watch a pond for so long,” Rodiek says. “And a grass lawn doesn’t change much.”

The Search for Standards
To help ensure that outdoor areas promote as much healing as possible, Rodiek has recently created a checklist, drawing on the evidence described above, that administrators of long-term care facilities and others can use to evaluate their garden design. And she is working on one geared specifically to hospitals so that hospital-accrediting agencies can set standards.

Codified standards are needed because therapeutic gardens are becoming so popular. “New hospitals are now competing on the basis of whether they have a ‘healing garden’ or not,” Cooper Marcus says. “But when you go to look, some are not much more than a rooftop with a chaise lounge and a few potted plants.” Designing a good garden for health care settings “isn’t rocket science,” she adds. Yet basing the design on good science instead of whim will strengthen the healing nature of nature.

What Makes a Garden Healing?
The following checklist, based on research, shows what works:

Keep it green
Lush, layered landscapes with shade trees, flowers and shrubs at various heights should take up roughly 70 percent of the space; concrete walkways and plazas about 30 percent.

Keep it real  
Abstract sculptures do not soothe people who are sick or worried.

Keep it interesting
Mature trees that draw birds and chairs that can be moved to facilitate private conversation foster greater interaction.

Engage multiple senses
Gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to soothe best. But avoid strongly fragrant flowers or other odors for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Mind the walkways
Wide, meandering paths that are tinted to reduce glare allow patients with low eyesight, wheelchairs or walkers to get close to nature. Paving seams must be narrower than one eighth of an inch to prevent trips by patients trailing wheeled IV poles.

Water with care
Fountains that sound like dripping faucets, buzzing helicopters or urinals do not relax anyone, and neither does the strong smell of algae.

Make entry easy
Gardens should not be far away or behind doors that are too heavy for a frail or elderly person to open.

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5 Things You Should Do Every Morning

Morning mantras set the tone for the whole day. Here are five things you should do every morning to be healthy and successful.

Each morning the sun shines, the birds sing and it’s another glorious day. With the winter cold, dark mornings and lack of any singing going on from the birds, it’s this time of year that it’s harder to stick to feeling wonderful and gleeful throughout the day. But you can try these simple steps to keep your mornings on track and start the day for a happier, more successful start.

1. Stretch in bed
Before you throw off the covers and jump out of bed, try a few simple stretches to ease your muscles and get your blood pumping. Reach your arms out to the side and extend the legs. Bend one knee up towards your hips and roll it across the body to feel a stretch in your lower back and thighs. Straighten your legs and repeat on the other side.

2. Drink a glass of water
Next stop is the bathroom for a big glass of water. This helps hydrate the body, which loses hydration while sleeping, and will help get you started on a good habit to continue throughout the day.

3. Shower
Although this is a given for most people, a warm shower can stimulate circulation and blood flow, giving you more energy throughout the day. Use warm water instead of steaming hot to reduce dry skin, and put on lotion afterward to seal in moisture.

4. Eat breakfast
In my experience, people who eat breakfast have more energy in the morning, tend to snack less during the day and may even do better on tests. Every day, try for something with protein — from egg white omelets to Greek-style yogurt. I do a mug scrambler to save time. Simply use one cup of liquid egg whites with a quarter cup of pre-cut frozen veggies. Microwave for up to four minutes, stirring once after each minute. Then add a spoon of salsa to top it off.

5. Meditate
After your breakfast, set the timer on your smartphone for three minutes. Simply focus on your breathing and find a positive mantra you like to think about. I inhale strength and exhale fear. I also use phrases like, “I am only one person but I can make a difference in many” or “I am grateful for my family, my health and my life.” Find something that moves you and either say it to yourself or write it down in a journal. It will help clear your mind and bring focus to your day.

Every day can be the best day of your life. Start living

Via Huffington Post

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How the Science of Attention is Changing Work and Education

by Maria Popova @ BrainPickings.org

What a woman in a gorilla suit has to do with the future of work and education in the digital age.

Much has been said about how the Internet is changing our brains and what this new culture of learning means for the future of education. While much of the dialogue has been doused in techno-dystopian alarmism, from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, narrated by Orson Welles in the 1970s, to Nicholas Carr’s reductionist claims about attentionin today’ digital age. But the truth about attention, as it relates to the intersection of technology and education, seems to be a lot more layered and complex — and, if Cathy Davidson, founder of Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, is right, a lot less worrisome. That’s precisely what Davidson illustrates in her new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn — a fascinating meditation on how “attention blindness,” the peculiar phenomenon illustrated by Harvard’s famous invisible gorilla experiment, has produced one of our culture’s greatest disconnects, the inability to reconcile the remarkable changes induced by the digital age with the conventions of yesteryear’s schools and workplaces.

As long as we focus on the object we know, we will miss the new one we need to see. The process of unlearning in order to relearn demands a new concept of knowledge not as thing but as a process, not as a noun but as a verb.” ~ Cathy Davidson

In another famous experiment, Davidson, then provost at Duke, gave the entire 2003 freshman class iPods as part of their academic curriculum. Though the pilot project was at first widely derided, it quickly silenced the critics as students found intelligent and innovative ways to employ their iPods in the classroom and the lab in everything from collaborating on group project to podcasting a conference on Shakespeare around the world.

Davidson uses the insights from these experiments as a lens through which to examine the nature and evolution of attention, noting that the educational system is driven by very rigid expectations of what “attention” is and how it reflects “intelligence,” a system in which students who fail to meet these expectations and pay attention differently are pigeonholed somehow deficient of aberrant, square pegs in round holes. Yet neuroscience is increasingly indicating that our minds pay attention in a myriad different ways, often non-linear and simultaneous, which means that the academy and the workplace will have to evolve in parallel and transcend the 20th-century linear assembly-line model for eduction and work. (The assembly and the factory are in fact a familiar metaphor from Sir Ken Robinson’s insightful thoughts on changing educational paradigms.)

Refreshingly constructive and glimmering with much-needed optimism about the future of education in the digital age, Now You See It makes a fine new addition to these 7 essential books on education and offers a well-argued antidote to the media’s incessant clamor about the deadly erosion of our attention.

Thanks, Jake

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The Self-Healing Benefits of Meditation

By Susan Piver

We all know that regular, moderate exercise is good for us. But imagine what it would be like if all you did was exercise: if you ran, walked, jumped, or lifted 24 hours a day. After only a very short while, exercise actually wouldn’t be that good for you because without rest, exercise becomes counterproductive and even risky…and so it is with your mind. We spend all day (and sometimes all night, too!) in a whirlwind of thought. When there isn’t something particular to think about (what to eat for breakfast, the tasks of the day, or what you’re going to say in an upcoming meeting), we search restlessly for something to fill the gap-worries, hopes, television, and so on. We never allow our minds to rest. And without this precious self-healing time, our minds become exhausted and thoughts less trustworthy. Just as we need to stop moving our bodies every once in a while, we also need to stop moving our minds. But how? The idea can actually seem terrifying, not to mention impossible.

But it is quite possible. The practice of self-healing meditation is just this: resting the mind in silence and space, allowing it time to recover and rejuvenate. Meditation does not mean sitting in a perfect state of peace while having no thoughts. Big misconception! Instead, meditation is about establishing a different relationship with your thoughts, just for a little while. Instead of attention being drawn off by whatever thought happens to present itself, in meditation, you watch your thoughts from a different, more stabilized perspective. You’re training yourself to place your attention where and when you want. This is very powerful. It gives you the ability to direct your thoughts (and mood) in more productive and peaceful directions. And, as has been demonstrated in the last few years, this ability has profound self-healing implications for physical and mental health.

Over the last 10 years, Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama has been engaged in formal top-level dialogues with leading scientists and brain researchers from M.I.T., Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and others. Until several years ago, these annual conversations were held in private as simple but powerful inquiries into each other’s methods for understanding the mind. Recently, the results of this dialogue, and resulting studies into meditation, have been made public, and they’re fascinating.

When studying the brainwaves of meditating monks, Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, found that brain circuitry is different in long-time meditators than it is in non-meditators. Here’s how: when you are upset – anxious, depressed, angry – certain regions of the brain (the amygdala and the right prefrontal cortex) become very active. When you’re in a positive mood these sites quiet down and the left prefrontal cortex – a region associated with happiness and positivity – becomes more active. In studying meditating monks, Davidson found they had especially high activity in this area.

One of the things that is so amazing about this finding is that for a long time, scientists thought that each individual was wired with certain “set-points” for happiness, depression, and so on. This study shows that the brain can rewire itself and alter its set points – simply by the self-healing power of thought.

We’ve all read reports that stress can affect health and immunity; Dr. Weil has emphasized this repeatedly. An ulcer, for example, has direct correlation with emotional stress. An ulcer, simply defined, is the presence of certain bacteria in the stomach, plus stress. Other conditions have a noted relationship to stress, such as heart disease, lowered immunity, diabetes, and asthma. The acute stress that results from almost being hit by bus or thinking your house may have been broken into is not the kind of stress that has deleterious affect. This kind of stress mobilizes your emergency responses and capabilities. But, according to neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, chronic stress is a different story. There is evidence that it shrinks neurons on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning capacity, memory, and positive mood. The self-healing hippocampus has the ability to regenerate, if stress is discontinued. And meditation reduces stress, as shown in Dr. Davidson’s research.

Medical research has shown that there are two main contributing factors to depression: a genetic predisposition, and environmental factors such as stress, loss, and trauma. The first factor, genetics, is not within our control. The second, however, is. We can’t prevent loss and difficulty, but we can significantly alter our reactions to them. Zindel Segal, Chair in Psychotherapy in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, a pioneer in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown that MBSR participants are 50% less likely than other patients to relapse once depression is alleviated through medications and other therapies. This is because meditation teaches us, thought by thought, to alter our responses to stress, thereby increasing serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, sleep, and appetite. Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Paxil, so-called SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are drugs that increase serotonin.

As mentioned, meditation is often viewed as a way to relax — and it is. But it’s also a very precise strategy for maintaining health and training the mind in keen observation, increased power of concentration, and emotional stability.

It’s important to learn meditation from an accredited source. Although it’s a very simple practice, it’s also quite precise. Please visit my Web site, www.susanpiver.com, for a listing of resources.

Learn more about self-healing or visit Dr.Weil’s Q&A Library for more valuable health-related information.

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Hidden Beauty of Pollination

I watch a lot of films/time-lapse/animations about nature and have to say that after a while everything starts appearing semi-identitical to one another. Louie Schwartzberg‘s work, though, astounds me and reawakens my wonder at the moments he captures on film. Take a peek at his work and his TED talk below:

by 

We’ve already marveled at the macro beauty of pollen, nature’s love-making mechanism. From Louie Schwartzberg’s film Wings of Life — an homage to “the love story that feeds the Earth,” inspired by the worrisome vanishing of the honeybees, nature’s irreplaceable Cupids — comes this stunning montage of high-speed images, revealing the intricate beauty of pollination:

Schwartzberg contextualizes the footage in his talk from TED 2011:

For a related moment of humility, treat yourself to Schwartzberg’s moving and rewarding TEDxSF talk on gratitude — it gets truly extraordinary at around 3:55:

You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day — it’s the one day that is given to you, today. It’s given to you, it’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life, and the very last day, then you would have spent this day very well.”

Found at http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/01/12/the-hidden-beauty-of-pollination/

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The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office

Okay, I’ll admit I get completely geeky over findings about meditation practices, but check it out!

Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed. The alpha waves help suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information.

Read more @ The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office.

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8 Reasons to Meditate

Meditation is simply directed concentration, and involves learning to focus your awareness and direct it onto an object: your breath, a phrase or word repeated silently, a memorized inspirational passage or an image in the mind’s eye. The physical and psychological benefits of meditation are numerous and include:

  1. Helping lower blood pressure
  2. Decreasing heart and respiratory rates
  3. Increasing blood flow
  4. Enhancing immune function
  5. Reducing perception of pain
  6. Relieving chronic pain due to arthritis and other disorders
  7. Maintaining level mood
  8. Bringing awareness and mindfulness to everyday aspects of life

A simple form of meditation that can be practiced by anyone is to walk or sit quietly in a natural setting and allow your thoughts and sensations to occur, observing them without judgment.

Courtesy of Dr. Weil @ http://www.drweilblog.com/

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