Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Mindfulness Fights Inflammation in Stressed Adults

Chronic stress undermines health by increasing inflammation throughout the body, increasing the risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others. A pair of studies, published in PLOS ONE, find that mindfulness practice may help lessen this risk in those most vulnerable to stress: midlife-to-older adults, and those with a high body mass index (BMI).

The first study included 153 people between the ages of 18 and 70 who reported moderate to high levels of stress. Each was randomly assigned to one of three groups: Monitor+Accept training, Monitor Only instruction, and a stress management program control group. 

Monitor+Accept training focused on monitoring present-moment experiences, like physical sensations and emotions, and “welcoming and accepting” them. The Monitor Only program also emphasized paying attention to experiences in the present, but did not include teachings about acceptance. The stress management program taught coping strategies like reappraising thoughts, and practicing skills for solving personal problems.

Participants in each group listened to a 20-minute recording plus three- to ten-minute practices on their smartphones each day. They also provided blood samples before and after the two weeks of training to test for changes in C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a commonly measured biomarker of inflammation. (Research convincingly shows that chronically stressed people have higher levels of CPR compared to those who aren’t stressed, which places them at greater risk for illnesses like cardiac disease, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia.) 

Mindfulness practice lowers stress biomarkers for older and overweight adults

Results of the first study showed no differences in CRP after two weeks of training for either of the three groups. The researchers concluded that two weeks of meditation may not have been enough to lower biological stress markers. Researchers conducted a second study where they assigned a new sample of 137 adults to either a Monitor+Accept course based on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a MBSR-based program focusing on monitoring only, or a no training control group. 

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Take a 3-Day Mindfulness Journey: 6 Practices for Spring

Spring is an ideal time to nourish your mindfulness practice. With the change in seasons, boost of fresh air, and longer hours of daylight as inspiration, you can consciously invite in greater simplicity, love, and compassion, and clear those habits that no longer serve you. With that in mind, we designed this three-day practice routine to help you fit moments of mindfulness into your daily life—giving you a boost of calm, focused, natural energy and awakening your inner spark as you launch into spring.

Day 1: Connect with Your natural awareness with Barry Boyce

Like any good spring cleaning, let’s get right down to the basics of mindfulness and meditation. One of the most foundational aspects of mindfulness is the ability to calm and focus the mind using your breath. By bringing your attention back to the breath each time you feel your mind wander during meditation, you can strengthen your brain’s natural ability to focus over time. Cultivate greater attention with these short meditation practices.

In the Morning • Tune In to Your Natural Awareness
(5 minutes)

In mindfulness practice, you might often hear the term “natural awareness.” By natural awareness, we mean the awareness that simply comes with being a human being. It’s free from judging and characterizing—it’s just noticing and sensing the world.

Settle into your seat. Begin by taking a seat, or if necessary, standing. The important thing is to feel where your body is touching the seat and touching the ground.Scan the body. Sense where your bottom is touching the seat. Sit up straight or stand straight but not stiff. Make sure your feet are completely touching the ground, connecting you to the earth. Your eyes are open, so take in the surroundings of where you are. Lower your gaze slightly.Connect with the breath. Pay light attention to your breath as it goes out. Breathe in naturally.Follow the out-breath. At the end of each out-breath, let there be a gap while the in-breath is happening. And in that gap you have natural awareness: It’s there already, you don’t have to create it. So, follow the breath out, and take a moment to rest in your natural awareness before the in-breath. As thoughts arise, treat them as you would anything else you encounter: Notice them, and use that noticing to bring you back to the out-breath and ride it out.

In the evening  • Tune In to Your Meta-Awareness
(5 minutes)

The moment of noticing a thought is a very powerful moment. It’s really where the meditation occurs. That’s because there’s a spark of insight at that point, what in technical terms is called meta-awareness: You’re aware of your thought process, not just caught up in it. Now at that moment, there are lots of possibilities. 

You can touch that thought and gently bounce back to attention on the breath and your body. But you might also say “Oh damn, there I go thinking again, I just can’t get away from this.” 

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Can Mindfulness Treat Depression?

Depression is a classic example of what’s referred to today as an invisible illness. When you’re depressed, you may find yourself expending precious energy just so you can appear to the world as if nothing at all is troubling you. 

This “it’s-work-to-seem-fine” coping mechanism illustrates just one way in which depression complicates your life. Not only are you exhausting yourself pretending to be OK, you may find it hard to rally support from friends, family, and coworkers who only see how well you seem to be functioning. 

While there is rapidly growing recognition of the very real difficulty and damage caused by depression, the stigma of past decades and centuries lingers. We often still hear the familiar notion that you can just “pull yourself together and get on with it,” as though keeping a “stiff upper lip” should be enough to defeat depression. But strong neurochemical, social, and environmental factors contribute to this very real, physical illness, and successful treatment requires more than maintaining an “upbeat attitude.”

Depression Is a Chameleon 

Our ability to recognize and effectively treat depression—which 1 in 14 people will experience in their lifetime—is complicated by the fact that it manifests differently in everyone affected, according to the National Institutes of Health. Anything—your age, your gender, or the stage of your depression—can change what the illness looks like for you, meaning it’s not necessarily simple to get a diagnosis, or even recognize symptoms of depression, whether in yourself or in other people.

For women, depression is more likely to appear as sadness, worthlessness, and guilt. Hormonal and life cycle-related changes, as in postpartum depression, can make women more susceptible to developing the illness. In fact, women are statistically more likely than men to experience depression. 

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How Compassion at Work Ripples Out Into Communities

Greyston Bakery makes more than great-tasting brownies. Greyston, New York’s first registered Benefit Corporation, is making an impact on the community, society, and the environment. At the very heart of Greyston’s operations are the tenets of nonjudgment, embracing uncertainty, and loving action. It’s a philosophy that extends beyond the bakery floor into the offices of the executive leadership team and the board of directors meeting room. 

“It’s imperative that business leaders think about their communities. This is our time,” says Greyston’s President and CEO Mike Brady. “How are we ever going to close this income inequality gap if we’re not progressive?”

The commercial brownie bakery pioneered Open Hiring, a system that guarantees a job to anyone willing and able to work. By answering two questions about their legal status and physical ability, an applicant’s name is added to a first-come-first-serve hiring list. When a position opens, the next person on the list joins a 6- to 10-month paid apprenticeship where they learn the skills to work in a commercial kitchen. If they complete the program successfully, they’ll earn a permanent position.  

Greyston has created more than 3,500 job opportunities and employed as many people over its 38-year history, including former prisoners who struggle to find work once they finish their sentences. Almost half of ex-prisoners have no reported earnings in the first years after incarceration, and of those who do find work, half earn less than minimum wage, according to a 2018 report by the Brookings Institute. 

Out of the bakery’s 100 current employees, 70 came through open hiring, says Brady. “We trust that everyone can be successful on a job, and we invest in that trust,” he says. “Everyone gets a chance.” 

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Rhonda Magee on Her Inner Work of Racial Justice

Talking about race isn’t easy for anyone—and teaching about race can be a minefield. One of my own most difficult moments teaching about race happened when I encountered intentionally provocative behavior from one of my students, Dan, an Asian-American cis-gendered man.

Dan was in his last semester of law school, and this was his third course with me—it was a course on contemporary issues of race and law.

A major component of the course was a research paper and the students each took turns discussing their thoughts on their projects. When we came to Dan, he said, “I want to do a paper on the Rodney King beating.” His likely “thesis,” he announced, was that the beating King received at the hands of police “was deserved.” 

Even as I write this now, I can feel a blip of reactivity. I can see the policemen in that grainy video that we’ve all seen, appearing to let loose with as much force as they could muster on Mr. King, raining strikes with their batons on the head and torso of a man already on the ground beneath them. And I can feel the empathetic pain, sadness, and anger coming up for me as a result. 

So, when Dan made this announcement to our small seminar-style class sitting around an oblong table, I could sense the tense silence that fell across the whole room. And I could feel my mouth go dry with fear and a bit of intimidation. 

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