The Nature Fix: The Three-Day Effect

Thank you to REI and Florence Williams for this wonderful read. Science is backing up what we already know about the healing power of nature. 

THE NATURE FIX: THE THREE-DAY EFFECT

written by: Florence Williams

Ken Sanders is a seller of rare books in Salt Lake City. Before that, he used to guide rafting trips down the Green and Colorado rivers for commercial clients and for his pals, like Edward Abbey. Starting on the third day, he’d notice the vibe of the whole group change.

“An awareness sets in that the river is now your new reality,” says Sanders, who’s been running rivers for 40 years. “The ritual of unloading the boats, setting up your campsite, gathering around the fire, sharing meals, etc. is now your day-to-day existence. It’s a bonding experience. Your old reality fades away.”

Sanders shared his observation with cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah. It immediately struck a chord with Strayer, an avid backpacker who noticed that some of his best ideas emerged after three days of camping out.

“Having hiked around the desert for years, I noticed in myself, and from talking to others, that people think differently after being out in the desert. Their thoughts are clearer, they’re certainly more relaxed, they report being more creative,” says Strayer. “If you can disconnect and experience being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

Strayer wanted to find ways to test what he started calling “the three-day effect,” a kind of neural reboot that might boost creativity. “I wanted to try to understand what was going on inside the brain,” he says.

So, for a study published in 2012, Strayer and his colleagues Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley from the University of Kansas administered tests to 28 backpackers before and after going on Outward Bound trips. Immediately after a trip, the participants performed 47 percent better in a word-test game that measures creative thinking and insight problem-solving. The game is called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. It poses a series of three words; for example, tug, gravy and show. The test taker has to come up with the fourth word that fits with all three; in this case, boat.

“A near 50 percent improvement is huge!” says Strayer.

What caused it? Strayer believes the frontal cortex (our executive taskmaster) of the backpackers’ brains got a much-needed break. Strayer often studies networks in the brain, especially the attention network, which typically gets pretty fried in the normal course of life these days. So many things demand our attention: emails, pings, deadlines, chores, grocery lists, elusive parking spots, and, as William Wordsworth put it, all the “getting and spending.” The world, wrote the poet, “is too much with us.” And that was in the early 1800s!

When the attention network is freed up, other parts of the brain appear to take over, like those associated with sensory perception, empathy and productive day-dreaming.

“That first day in nature, your mind is recalibrating and you start to notice things a little bit, to unwind from the modern world,” says Strayer. “You notice cloud patterns, sounds and smells, and it becomes really acute. You don’t need a watch anymore. You forget what day of the week it is.”

The Strayer team’s results caught the attention of some other neuroscientists, such as University of Nebraska researcher Frank Ferraro III, who normally studies addictive behaviors. Curious to see if he could replicate the creativity findings, he gave a similar RAT test to college students before and after a six-day canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This time he also had a control group, a bunch of students who would take the test six days apart in a classroom setting. The earlier results were confirmed: The campers showed a 50 percent improvement after the trip, but there was no meaningful change in the control group.

An older study suggests the cognitive surge isn’t just a vacation effect. In 1991 psychologist Terry Hartig and colleagues tested backpackers as well as people taking sightseeing and other types of vacations, and found increased performance only in the backpackers.

Now Strayer is drilling down further to a part of the attention network, the midline of the frontal cortex, where theta waves become active when we are performing demanding cognitive tasks. He already has data indicating those waves quiet down out in nature, but not, notably, if you’re using your phone at the same time.

His advice: Go outside for three days, and turn the phone off.

Ken Sanders agrees. “I think it takes the first two days and nights to wash away whatever veneer of civilization you have brought with you. The new reality begins on that third day.”

Borrowed on May 8, 2020 from:  https://www.rei.com/blog/camp/the-nature-fix-the-three-day-effect

Shinrin-Yoku

I’ve loved hiking in the woods ever since my Aunt Ree took me on my first walk in the woods as a small child. It felt like I entered a brand new world – a magical world of trees, moss and animals. A world apart from my normal everyday life, which was far from magical and far from peaceful. I still remember having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her on a stop along the trail. It was the most peace I had ever felt. Still today, I find solace in the woods, and hike as often as possible. 

Tomorrow I am taking a class in Shinrin-Yoku –  or “forest bathing”.  I already KNOW how great I feel after being in nature, hiking, kayaking, walking – but I’m excited to learn more about the health benefits of forest bathing from a scientific standpoint. Below is a great article written by Karin Evans and published in the Greater Good Magazine.

I’ve also added a quick 1 minute video (scroll down to the bottom) for those who don’t have the time to read the article; i.e. those of you that would probably benefit from a great forest bath  😉

Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health

From the Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health#thank-influence

Though any kind of nature can enhance our health and happiness,
there’s something special about being in a forest.

BY KARIN EVANS | AUGUST 20, 2018

“Nature deficit disorder” is a modern affliction. With more people living in cities, working in high-rise office buildings, and becoming addicted to their innumerable electronic devices, many of us are indeed experiencing a nature deficit. This is true for children and adults alike.

In his new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li presents some sobering statistics: By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division, three quarters of the world’s people will live in cities. Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep.

The Kumano Kodo trail in Japan

In Japan, there’s enough awareness about this deficit that Li heads up an organization called The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which promotes research on the therapeutic effects of forests on human health and educates people on the practice of forest bathing. His book—a companion to the center he runs—explores research on these benefits, while offering a number of techniques we can use to enhance them.

“Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being,” writes Li.

The history of forest bathing

Japan is a country that is both urbanized and heavily forested. Trees cover two-thirds of the island’s landmass, and yet a majority of Japan’s people live in crowded city conditions. Li himself lives in Tokyo, a city he describes as “the most crowded city in the world.”

Perhaps that’s why the art of “forest bathing”—shinrin-yoku—began there. Forest bathing involves slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.

In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.

Li’s interest in forest research began when he was a stressed-out medical student. He went away for a week of forest camping, and found it restored his physical and emotional health. That inspired him to begin researching the benefits of forests on human health and well-being. In 2004, he helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group, aimed at finding out why being among trees makes us feel so much better.

The healing power of the forest

<a href=“http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/052555985X?ie=UTF8&tag=gregooscicen-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=052555985X”><em>Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness</em></a> (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (Viking, 2018, 320 pages)

After years of careful study, Li has found that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.

“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier,” writes Li. And, he adds, it isn’t about exercising—like hiking or jogging—it’s simply about being in nature.

Why would this be? It’s long been recognized that humans have a biological need to connect with nature. Some 20 years ago, American biologist E. O. Wilson noted that humans are “hardwired” to connect with the natural world, and that being in nature had a profoundly positive effect on human health.

Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high levels of stress. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.

“You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,” reported Li.

To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.

The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.

How to do forest bathing

So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?

Connecting with nature is simple, writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.

Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.

 “Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.

Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”

Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.

Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.

Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.

Li’s book, which includes illustrations and a map of “40 Beautiful Forests Across the World,” is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.

VIDEO:  What is Japanese Forest Bathing and How Can It Improve Your Health?

The Biology Of Belief – Dr. Bruce Lipton

Dr. Bruce Lipton’s “The Biology of Belief” – Full Lecture

This is a must see for everyone ~ particularly those of you that want scientific proof that our thoughts do INDEED impact our reality…

The 7 (Proven) Keys to Improving Your Mental Health!

In honor of World Mental Health Day!!

THE 7 (PROVEN) KEYS TO IMPROVING YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Taken from Melli O’Brien’s blog, with permission from Melli ~ one of my FAVORITE mindfulness teachers! 

AddictionAnxietyArticlesBrain HealthDepressionHappinessHealthHelpful Habits, Mindfulness, Research, Stress

Did you know that one in five people these days are affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression? These days many of us are also struggling with stress and overwhelm as the pace and demands of life increase.

I believe now more than ever we all need to commit to making our mental health a priority.

In honour of World Mental Health Day, here are seven proven tips that will improve your mental health and boost your well being.

1.  EXERCISE REGULARLY

It’s well known that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that exercise is also vital for good mental health? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health, reduced risk of developing mental illness and greater emotional well being too.

 HOW EXERCISE BOOSTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

  • Exercise increases your energy levels both mentally and physically.
  • Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep helps regulate your emotions.
  • Exercise can improve confidence and self-esteem as you achieve a healthy goal and take care of yourself.
  • Exercise changes hormones and chemicals in the brain in mood boosting ways including an ‘endorphin rush’ that increases feelings of calm and happiness as well as improving focus and memory.
  • Physical activity can be an outlet for irritation, frustration and bad moods.
  • Exercise is a powerful way to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. For example research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication or speaking to a psychologist for overcoming mild depression.

 THINK ABOUT STARTING SMALL

Keeping physically active doesn’t have to mean working out at the gym, it can be simply going for a walk in the park. Experts advise that at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is ideal. If you’re not currently exercising why not start small with a goal that feels immediately achievable – like just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Start small and you can build up from there. This is often the best way to form new habits.

2.  PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness (a form of meditative awareness) involves training our attention and learning to have a more wise and skillful relationship with our own minds. Mindfulness teaches us to unhook from unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to steady our awareness in the present moment rather than getting lost in our heads worrying, ruminating about problems or locked into self-criticism or negative judgements.

 RESEARCH SHOWS THAT MINDFULNESS…

  • Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
  • Increases stress resilience
  • Brings feelings of peace and inner calm
  • Improves relationships
  • Improves overall sense of well being and life satisfaction

3.  EAT A HEALTHY DIET

What we eat affects how we feel. If you’ve ever watched how quickly sugar can have an effect on the mood of small children (and adults too) or if you’ve ever felt dull and tired after a heavy lunch of carbs you’ll have seen and felt the effects that foods we choose to eat can have.

But it’s not just sugar and heavy carbs. All kinds of foods can also have short-term as well as long-lasting effects on your mental health. Your body needs a mix of nutrients and minerals to function well, so making sure you’re eating a good diet is truly vital for mental health.

A HEALTHY DIET INCLUDES

  • A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • A good source of protein, from either fish meats (from good sources) or plant-based
  • Regular water consumption 6- 8 glasses per day
  • Potentially dairy, grains and complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, pumpkin etc

               TRY TO LIMIT

  • How much caffeine you drink
  • How much sugar is in your diet
  • Taking in a lot of intoxicants
  • Things you are intolerant or allergic to

4.  DRINK IN MODERATION

Many people who overindulge in drinking alcohol (or other substances) commonly do it to change their mood. Although it may numb or overcome a difficult feeling for a while, the effects are short-lived. Alcohol doesn’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings or solve our problems. It makes them worse. There are much healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings including the other ones listed in this post.

Occasional drinking in moderation is quite healthy and enjoyable for most people. As a useful guide to drinking in moderation, keep in mind that the daily alcohol limit recommended by alcohol.gov.au is no more than two standard drinks per day. 

5.  PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

Do you have a harsh inner critic? It’s common to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves but research shows this habit of self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us lose confidence, feel unhappy with our lives and even leads to depression and anxiety.

Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves more kindly and studies show it makes us happier and gives us better overall emotional well being (as well as a whole host of other benefits too).

In a report published by three German psychologists, which examined 79 studies on the link between self-compassion and well-being, they reached this conclusion: People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier.

Kristin Neff, who has been a pioneer in the study of self-compassion says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

You can try some exercises to learn greater self-compassion as well as some guided meditations here. 

6.  KEEP IN TOUCH

We humans are social animals. We crave to feel connected and supported and to feel valued by others. Studies have shown that social connection is a vital key to good mental health.

Good social connection has even been linked to having a longer life. In one study on an elderly population people with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.

Sometimes social connection can be a heart-to-heart talk over coffee but sometimes it can be a short phone call, or an email or message. Make sure to make time to connect with the loved ones in your life on a regular basis.

If you feel your current social life isn’t giving you enough connection, you can take steps to form new ones such as

  • Enroll in a class or hobby that interests you. You’ll be able to connect with others who share a common interest as well as getting out there and trying something new.
  • Join a book club, hiking club or other group such a knitting, meditation groups, fitness groups, community gardens or mothers groups.
  • Try volunteer work. Not only will you bond with other volunteers and recipients but helping others gives you that warm fuzzy feeling too.
  • Reach out and connect to people. Ask people out for coffees, dinners or to events like movies or bands. Try to get out and meet new people.

7.  DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE

What activities do you love doing just for the fun of it? You know the ones you really lose yourself in? Take some time each day to do things you love and just enjoy yourself.

It could be engaging in a hobby like music, art, gardening or going hiking or riding and bike. It could be just having a cup of tea in the sun. Take some each week (or even each day) to just enjoy life and let go of all your cares and worries for a while. Research also shows that it improves confidence and self esteem as well as improving our overall sense of well being.

New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy!

Taken from: https://www.theladders.com/p/21219/neuroscience-4-rituals-happy    on 8/18/2017

By Eric Barker   May 19, 2017

You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t trust them.

Actually, don’t trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life. Here’s what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:

1) The Most Important Question To Ask When You Feel Down

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful. Why?

Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions — except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.

And you worry a lot too. Why? In the short term, worrying makes your brain feel a little better — at least you’re doing something about your problems.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In fact, worrying can help calm the limbic system by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala. That might seem counterintuitive, but it just goes to show that if you’re feeling anxiety, doing something about it — even worrying — is better than doing nothing.

But guilt, shame and worry are horrible long-term solutions. So what do neuroscientists say you should do? Ask yourself this question:

What am I grateful for?

Yeah, gratitude is awesome… but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup.

You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. So does gratitude.

Via The Upward Spiral:

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…

Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.

Via The Upward Spiral:

One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.

I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Guess what?

Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.

Via The Upward Spiral:

It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.

And gratitude doesn’t just make your brain happy — it can also create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So express that gratitude to the people you care about.

(For more on how gratitude can make you happier and more successful, click here.)

But what happens when bad feelings completely overtake you? When you’re really in the dumps and don’t even know how to deal with it? There’s an easy answer…

2) Label Negative Feelings

You feel awful. Okay, give that awfulness a name. Sad? Anxious? Angry?

Boom. It’s that simple. Sound stupid? Your noggin disagrees.

Via The Upward Spiral:

…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.

Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

But labeling, on the other hand, makes a big difference.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.

Ancient methods were way ahead of us on this one. Meditation has employed this for centuries. Labeling is a fundamental tool of mindfulness.

In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people too. Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators.

(To learn more of the secrets of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

Okay, hopefully you’re not reading this and labeling your current emotional state as “Bored.” Maybe you’re not feeling awful but you probably have things going on in your life that are causing you some stress. Here’s a simple way to beat them…

3) Make That Decision

Ever make a decision and then your brain finally feels at rest? That’s no random occurrence.

Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety — as well as helping you solve problems.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.

But deciding can be hard. I agree. So what kind of decisions should you make? Neuroscience has an answer…

Make a “good enough” decision. Don’t sweat making the absolute 100% best decision. We all know being a perfectionist can be stressful. And brain studies back this up.

Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control…

As Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz said in my interview with him: “Good enough is almost always good enough.”

So when you make a decision, your brain feels you have control. And, as I’ve talked about before, a feeling of control reduces stress. But here’s what’s really fascinating: Deciding also boosts pleasure.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.

Want proof? No problem. Let’s talk about cocaine.

You give 2 rats injections of cocaine. Rat A had to pull a lever first. Rat B didn’t have to do anything. Any difference? Yup: rat A gets a bigger boost of dopamine.

Via The Upward Spiral:

So they both got the same injections of cocaine at the same time, but rat A had to actively press the lever, and rat B didn’t have to do anything. And you guessed it — rat A released more dopamine in its nucleus accumbens.

So what’s the lesson here? Next time you buy cocaine… whoops, wrong lesson. Point is, when you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good stuff just happens by chance.

And this answers the eternal mystery of why dragging your butt to the gym can be so hard.

If you go because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost. It just feels stress. And that’s no way to build a good exercise habit.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Interestingly, if they are forced to exercise, they don’t get the same benefits, because without choice, the exercise itself is a source of stress.

So make more decisions. Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb sums it up nicely:

We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.

(To learn what neuroscientists say is the best way to use caffeine, click here.)

Okay, you’re being grateful, labeling negative emotions and making more decisions. Great. But this is feeling kinda lonely for a happiness prescription. Let’s get some other people in here.

What’s something you can do with others that neuroscience says is a path to mucho happiness? And something that’s stupidly simple so you don’t get lazy and skip it? Brain docs have an answer for you…

4) Touch People

No, not indiscriminately; that can get you in a lot of trouble.

But we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don’t it’s painful. And I don’t mean “awkward” or “disappointing.” I mean actually painful.

Neuroscientists did a study where people played a ball-tossing video game. The other players tossed the ball to you and you tossed it back to them. Actually, there were no other players; that was all done by the computer program.

But the subjects were told the characters were controlled by real people. So what happened when the “other players” stopped playing nice and didn’t share the ball?

Subjects’ brains responded the same way as if they experienced physical pain. Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain… at one point they stopped sharing, only throwing back and forth to each other, ignoring the participant. This small change was enough to elicit feelings of social exclusion, and it activated the anterior cingulate and insula, just like physical pain would.

Relationships are very important to your brain’s feeling of happiness. Want to take that to the next level? Touch people.

Via The Upward Spiral:

One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is through touching. Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often.

Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting… heck, it even boosts math skills.

Touching someone you love actually reduces pain. In fact, when studies were done on married couples, the stronger the marriage, the more powerful the effect.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In addition, holding hands with someone can help comfort you and your brain through painful situations. One fMRI study scanned married women as they were warned that they were about to get a small electric shock. While anticipating the painful shocks, the brain showed a predictable pattern of response in pain and worrying circuits, with activation in the insula, anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. During a separate scan, the women either held their husbands’ hands or the hand of the experimenter. When a subject held her husband’s hand, the threat of shock had a smaller effect. The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex— that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits. In addition, the stronger the marriage, the lower the discomfort-related insula activity.

So hug someone today. And do not accept little, quick hugs. No, no, no. Tell them your neuroscientist recommended long hugs.

Via The Upward Spiral:

A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.

Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness big time.

Don’t have anyone to hug right now? No? (I’m sorry to hear that. I would give you a hug right now if I could.) But there’s an answer: neuroscience says you should go get a massage.

Via The Upward Spiral:

The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps you create new good habits… Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

So spend time with other people and give some hugs. Sorry, texting is not enough.

When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better. What about when they just texted? Their bodies responded the same as if they had no support at all.

Via The Upward Spiral:

…the text-message group had cortisol and oxytocin levels similar to the no-contact group.

Author’s note: I totally approve of texting if you make a hug appointment.

(To learn what neuroscience says is the best way to get smarter and happier, click here.)

Okay, I don’t want to strain your brain with too much info. Let’s round it up and learn the quickest and easiest way to start that upward spiral of neuroscience-inspired happiness…

Sum Up

Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

  • Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.

So what’s the dead simple way to start that upward spiral of happiness?

Just send someone a thank you email. If you feel awkward about it, you can send them this post to tell them why.

This really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

So thank you for reading this.

And send that thank you email now to make you and someone you care about very happy.

 

Holidays and Mindfulness

5 Ways to Infuse the Holidays with Mindfulness

tree-in-canyon

How often have you begun the holiday season with the most exalted expectations, only to stumble into the New Year burned out and disappointed? The secret to making your holidays as enjoyable and stress-free as possible is to take the mindfulness you practice on your yoga mat or meditation cushion and actually apply it in your life from moment to moment. And what better time than those frenzied, emotional weeks at the end of the year? Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Live in the moment.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of your stress occurs when you’re worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. Live in the present, and your mind naturally settles down and your anxiety dissipates. Easier said than done, of course, especially around the holidays, when your head is filled with back-to-back commitments and an endless list of things to do and buy. But you can make a commitment to yourself to stop from time to time, shift your attention from your thinking, and pay mindful attention to your experience right now—the weight of your feet against the floor, your back against the chair, the coming and going of your breath.

2.  Let go of expectations.

The holidays are fraught with promises that life and other people can’t possibly fulfill. Maybe you desperately want to take your family on vacation, but discover you can’t afford it. Or you’re looking forward to a big family gathering, but your folks get sick and have to cancel at the last minute. Instead of attaching to the way you think things should be (and causing yourself unnecessary stress), you can choose to stay present and grounded, roll with the changes –and heed the other tips in this list.

3.  Tread softly with the relatives.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em (or a little of both), family can be a major challenge to your peace of mind, especially when they’re stressed. Breathe deeply, and resist the temptation to rehash old hurts or expect more love and approval than they can muster (see above). But do relish the tender moments and the generosity and togetherness that the holidays tend to evoke.

4.  Be especially kind and gentle with yourself.

If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you need to be the one to notice, back off, and give yourself a little loving. Take a hot bath, do some yoga, get a massage, spend quiet time in nature, meditate, or call a close friend. Do what nurtures you, then return to the fray refreshed, reinvigorated, and rebalanced.

5.  Count your blessings.

Researchers agree that the key to a happy life is to appreciate what you have. Dwell on the positive, and your mood quickly lifts. Spend five minutes each night during the holiday season reflecting on the good things that happened to you that day, even if they seem inconsequential. The sky at sunset, the loving look in a baby’s eyes, a gift from a friend, a tasty meal, a funny incident at work. Human minds tend to skew toward the negative to alert us to predators and other threats, so you need to make a special effort to correct the bias.

Above all, remember to be mindful, no matter how busy you get. In the end you’re responsible for your own happiness and peace of mind. No one else can provide it for you, even at the holidays!

Written by Stephan Bodian, November 2, 2015

From: https://www.gaia.com/article/5-ways-infuse-holidays-mindfulness

The 8 Essential Foundations of Mindfulness

Reblogged from Mrs. Mindfulness ~ Check out her blog!

The 8 Essential Foundations of Mindfulness

When building a house, the foundation is a crucial element. Without a stable foundation, all your hard work is at risk of cracking and crumbling down around you.

In mindfulness the attitude that you bring to your practice is your necessary foundation.  Get this part right and you can build your ability to relax, find mental clarity and abide in inner peace.

These eight foundations will create a strong stable foundation in your mindfulness practice.

1.  Non-judging

In mindfulness practice, aim to develop the attitude of an impartial witness to your experiences. If you spend some time paying attention to the thoughts that dart in and out of your mind all day, you may be surprised to see just how often you pass judgment about things, people and situations.

The mind tries to sort and file everything into neat compartments. I like, I dislike, I want, I am, he is, she is, good, bad and so on.

It does all this quickly and automatically, so flash judgments about all that we encounter become habitual, even automatic. Often, we’re not even aware we’re doing it, but this unyielding flow of judgmental thoughts makes it difficult to find any peace within ourselves.

To experience mindfulness, you need to become aware of the mind’s habit of judging and step back from it.

Suspend judgments, labels and categorizing. What does that mean? It means we simply see our judging thoughts as just that – thoughts. We don’t have to believe them or buy into them and we don’t take them all that seriously.

2.  Patience

If a young child finds a cocoon, he may be tempted to try to break it open in his eagerness to see the butterfly emerge.

An adult though, knows not to touch the cocoon. He knows it can’t help the butterfly—and in fact, it will sabotage its transformation.

The adult knows that the wise action is to have patience. To let things unfold in their own way, in their own time. With patience, the butterfly will eventually emerge. Likewise, with patience, your mindfulness practice will improve in time. There is no need to try to force it or rush it; we can simply allow the process of any kind of improvement to unfold.

There is no hurry to get anywhere or achieve anything— there is no goal or finish line ‘out there’ in the future. The goal is to be fully present, in the moment and to be fully engaged in only whatever is presenting itself in the here and now. Any idea of striving for some future goal will only impede your practice.

You may have come to mindfulness practice in the hopes to achieve certain results (like more happiness or health), but let go of these desires during your practice and simply allow this moment and where you’re at to be enough.

3.  Beginner’s Mind

Too often we let our thinking and beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. If you’ve ever caught yourself tuning someone out while they were talking because you were already sure you knew better, then you know that attitude. You’re sure you’re right, so you’re really not giving their point of view a chance.

As they speak, instead of paying attention to their words, you’re forming your counter-argument. We’ve all done it, and when we’re doing this we’re not open. We’re rigid and closed-off.

In contrast, a beginner’s mind is open and receptive, willing to experience everything as if it were the first time. It does not try to guess what the other person is going to say or assume it already knows better. It reserves judgment. Try this next time you find yourself wanting to judge what someone is telling you: listen and think, ‘hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting?’

Likewise, when cultivating a beginner’s mind with our own thoughts and experiences, it opens us to beauty and richness of the present moment.

When being mindful, ‘listen’ with an open mind, free of expectations of what you think is supposed to happen. Allow yourself to experience what presents itself as if it were the first time, without expectations of what it should be like.

For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them. ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

4.  Non-Doing

Normally, we go through our daily lives and everything has a purpose. We do things to accomplish something, to get something or to go somewhere. This attitude is bred into us from childhood— to do things purposefully and have an outcome—but in practicing mindfulness this attitude can be an obstacle.

Mindfulness is unlike our other activities—it’s the opposite of doing. It’s non-doing. In a way it does take work and energy, but of a different kind.

Mindfulness is simply being. Being with ourselves and being in the moment—with whatever arises. When you take time out to practice mindfulness and make plans like ‘I’m going to get more relaxed now,’ ‘I’m going to manage my pain,’ or ‘I’m going to be a happier because of this, you’re already undermining the practice.

You’ve already set goals and made plans, you’ve already determined what you should be doing or where you should be—which is telling yourself the present moment is not okay.

When you’re practicing mindfulness it’s counter-productive to strive for any result in particular.

See if you can let go of that subtle desire for a better future. Instead, you simply start focusing on this moment, and accepting this moment just as it is.

5.  Acceptance

Acceptance is seeing things as they are in the present, and having an attitude of allowing life to be as it is. In mindfulness practice we cultivate acceptance by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully.

We try not to impose our ideas about what it should be, or what we should be feeling, or what should be happening. Instead, we are just open to whatever is. We accept it—as is– because it is the now.

Having an attitude of acceptance in your daily living practice of mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to be passive. You can still take action or make changes. You just do it from a place of acceptance.

For example, if your car breaks down on a deserted road you can resist what is happening. You can cry, scream it’s unfair, or you may begin to panic. You can slam doors and kick tires. The reality is this, though: you don’t have a problem – the car has a problem. The car is no longer moving. That’s what is.

You also don’t have to resign yourself, sit down on the side of the road and do nothing.

You can recognize fully that you want to have the car fixed and get to your destination. But you can narrow your life down to the moment; accept what is, and take action from there. Maybe you call the NRMA or flag down another car, but you do it from a place of allowing instead of resisting.

During mindfulness or meditation practice, there may be all kinds of emotions, impulses and thoughts– both negative and positive. With an attitude of acceptance, you don’t resist them and you also do not cling to them. You allow them to be—whatever they may be. You’ll find that when you don’t resist impulses and feelings, they tend to subside more quickly.

6.  Non-Attachment

Imagine if you were holding onto a large balloon that was being filled up with helium. As it grows, it threatens to lift you off your feet into the air. Your first instinct may be to hold the balloon tighter and resist the tug, but the only way to truly free yourself of the struggle is to let go.

In mindfulness practice it’s essential to cultivate an attitude of non-attachment—the ability to simply let go of thoughts. As we pay more attention to what’s going on inside of our own heads, we begin to discover the mind often clings to, buys into and follows certain thoughts and feelings, or we may try to suppress or wrestle with them.

In mindful awareness, aim to simply watch thoughts and objectively observe them. Non-attachment means neither resist nor cling to thoughts. Think of your thoughts and feelings like little clouds floating through the vast sky of your awareness.

Observe them arising, floating through and then disappearing. There is no need to try to hold them back or control them. If you have trouble letting go of the thoughts, then observe your ‘non-letting go’.

As we learn to no longer attach to thoughts or feelings, over time they lose their hold over us. That is, we are able to choose whether or not to ‘play them out’ or simply let them go.

7. Curiosity

In your practice, aim to foster a sense of curiosity. How do you feel emotionally? What kind of thoughts are going through your head? What does your body feel like at the moment? What happens when you focus all your attention in the present moment? How does that change how you feel?

When we were children were had a natural curiosity about everything.  Children are born scientists who aim to explore, question and understand what’s around them.

Aim to take the attitude of a curious child. Note that this is a light and open attitude – not a serious or heavy one. For a wonderful mindfulness practice you can make it a habit to regularly ask yourself, “‘what’s going on inside me right now?’ and then take a moment to truly tune into your state of mind, body and being.

Whatever experience you notice, investigate it with a curious mind.

Curiosity doesn’t condemn. It simply watches.

8.  Present Moment Awareness

The secret of awakening into mindfulness is to be fully present in this moment and to unconditionally accept this moment as it is. That means to pay attention to only what is present now– just this breath, just this step, what you see and feel.

Welcome this moment as it is – go into it deeply. Mindful awareness can only be realized in the now. Time is a source of enormous noise making activity in the mind.

Take away time from the mind and it loses its hold over us and starts to become more still. Too often our minds have us caught up in planning for, and always looking for our fulfillment in the future. This idea that one day we’ll ‘make it’ when we get ‘there’ creates so much mental chatter.

We’re always chasing a happiness that is just around the corner. When it comes to the past, the mind constantly brings up all our old conditioning and history, judgments and resentments regrets and the whole story of ‘me and my life’- Also the source of much inner noise.

You can drop all of that in an instant by becoming immersed in your present moment experience.

Life is only ever happening in the now. Everything that’s going on, all of your experiences and thoughts and emotions are happening now. If you ignore the now, you are short changing your life. When practicing mindfulness – bring awareness to the present moment, whether walking, hugging a loved one, meditating or doing some mundane chore like the dishes.

Because the great majority of our mind chatter is derived from thinking about the past and future, you may notice that the mind becomes very still and calm, yet very much alive, when you’re living in the present moment. After all, you can only exist in one moment at a time— why waste any of them?

As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.

– Eckhart Tolle

I hope these tips help you to discover and deepen mindfulness in your own life! I wish you all the best.

Love Melli

Bruce Lipton – The Power of Consciousness – Interview by Iain McNay

Breaking beliefs.  Conscious reality creation.  Really great information…..  and connection with Mindfulness explained. 

Mindfulness is the Secret to Happiness

New Research Shows That Mindfulness Is the Secret to Happiness

Reblogged from http://mrsmindfulness.com/ted-talk-happiness-is-mindfulness/

New research is shedding light on the pursuit of happiness—and most of us have been looking in all the wrong places. It turns out, happiness is not found in external things at all, but is a power we hold within ourselves.

Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth created an app in attempts to answer the question “what makes us happy?” once and for all, and the results have been an eye-opener. According to Mr. Killingworth’s data, we’re happiest when we are mindful of the moment, and we’re least happy when the mind is wandering.

Reblogged from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy5A8dVYU3k

This study took a large sampling of 15,000 individuals. The sampling was diverse—it included people across the socio-economic stratosphere, of varying levels of education, age, occupation, incomes, marital status and across 80 countries.

The premise was simple: throughout the day, at random times, participants were contacted through their phones and asked to rate their current happiness level, what activity they were involved in when the call came, and whether or not their mind was wandering from the activity.

As it turned out, what made people happy had far less to do with what they were doing and significantly more to do with whether their attention was fully present in the moment.

People who focused on their present moment experience (in other words, people who were being ‘mindful’) were significantly happier than people whose minds wandered away from the moment.

You might assume that people who let their minds wander to happy thoughts would have been happy right?—and it is true that people whose minds wandered to happy thoughts were slightly better off than those whose minds wandered to worries or regrets. But people letting their minds wander to pleasant things were still not as happy as people who kept their minds in the moment.

Even if the activity at hand was deemed unpleasant, people were still happier when they engaged their attention fully in the now.

There is plenty of previous research that supports Killingsworth’s findings. We know for instance, that money doesn’t make us happy. Studies have shown that as long as basic needs, such as food and shelter are met, additional wealth and material goods have little bearing on happiness (1).

Dr. Mihaly Chentmihalyi, leading authority on positive psychology, studied happiness extensively in the 1960’s and came up with the same results as Killingsworth. He spoke of the peak state of human beings being a state he called ‘flow’.

According to Killingsworth, the average persons mind is wandering around 47% of our day—and when the mind wanders we don’t feel happy. Spending so much time with the mind wandering makes us vulnerable to depression, stress, anxiety and other negative emotions.

As many people continue to seek external gratification as a source of happiness, their wandering minds are overlooked as the source of their discontent.

This great study by Killingsworth supports the growing body of research on the powerful effects of mindfulness. The data shows us what wisdom traditions have long taught – that the keys to happiness – to true well-being and fulfillment – depend not on the external circumstances of our lives, but on the state of our minds and the quality of our consciousness.

Want to know how to enter ‘flow'(aka mindfulness) anytime in 4 simple steps? Check this blog post on exactly that!

Would you like to be part of Matt’s research and find out first hand what really makes you happy? Join ‘Track my Happiness’ here

Do you have comments, questions or tips on this juicy topic? Jot them in the comments section below.

Love, Melli

(1) http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/14016/money-doesnt-correlate-with-happiness-after-a-certain-level

This article is from one of my favorite mindfulness teachers, Melli O’Brien, aka Mrs. Mindfulness. Check out her website at www.mrsmindfulness.com.

You can link directly to this article HERE.

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