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…”

4 Yoga Stretches for a Good Night’s Sleep

Before the pandemic, 25% of Americans suffered from acute insomnia every year, according to a 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania. We can only assume that number has gone up. Bills, chores, work, technology, and now a global pandemic all conspire to keep our brains constantly on, when sleep needs the opposite. We try anything in order to settle down and let go of the day, from cups of tea to writing in a journal. Here’s one more approach to consider: mindful movement.

Many studies have linked yoga with better sleep. Harvard Medical School sleep and circadian health expert, professor Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, notes that experimental trials have also shown meditative breathing can be a powerful sleep aid.

Khalsa has researched how meditative breathing can help with sleep, insomnia specifically, and he found that it increased sleep time and decreased wake time. The study had its limitations. It used a particular breathing pattern: inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 16, and exhaling for 2, but Khalsa says that he can make a larger recommendation. Slow, mindful breathing at around 3–6 breaths per minute—normal is 15–20—could be effective for falling asleep. “Anything that slows down the breathing rate will help with decreasing arousal,” he says. And since most mindful movement and yoga poses are done with some form of slow breathing in this range, “putting two and two together, it makes sense,” he says.

And as Khalsa adds, there’s no reason to wait for double-blind studies. The fundamentals for any bedtime routine are consistent. One needs to unwind the mind and the body, so the autonomic nervous system is quieted down and the production of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, decrease. The slowdown also needs a certain time investment. “While there isn’t a magic combination of poses, doing yoga certainly falls into those parameters.” It’s gentle. It’s relaxing. And, most especially, it’s lying down, and “You can’t fall asleep standing up,” Khalsa says.

Bottom line: There’s little downside to trying and only positives to gain.

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Top Research News on Mindfulness Meditation: Fall 2020

Research from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, University of Toronto Scarborough, University of Colorado Boulder, Carnegie Mellon University, and others

Fighting Inflammation

Chronic stress increases inflammation, upping our risk of many chronic diseases. Two studies find that mindfulness practice may lower this risk in those most vulnerable to stress: midlife-to-older adults, and those with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more.

In the first study, 153 stressed adults attended one of three groups: Monitor+Accept; Monitor Only; or a Stress Management education control group. Participants provided blood samples before and after training to test for changes in C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a commonly measured biomarker of inflammation. After two weeks of listening to recorded mindfulness practices, there were no differences in CRP among the groups.

In a follow-up study, 137 new adults attended either an in-person Monitor+Accept group or a Monitor Only group (both based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), or a no-training control group. Again, participants in the MBSR groups showed little change in blood CRP levels compared to controls.

Researchers then investigated whether people who tend to have higher CRP, adults over age 45 and those with a BMI of 25 or more, might react differently to treatment. They found that older adults in both control groups had higher levels of CRP compared to the mindfulness groups. For those with a BMI of 25 or more, both mindfulness groups showed lower CRP following training than the control group. This suggests mindfulness meditation programs may positively affect biomarkers of stress for those most vulnerable to its effects.

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The Gift of Loving-Kindness

Q. When I practice loving-kindness meditation, I can’t tell whether it’s working. I feel like nothing is happening. Shouldn’t I be feeling something?

A. The first time that I ever did loving-kindness practice was without a teacher. I was on a self-retreat and I thought it was a perfect opportunity.

I knew that it was done in successive stages and I began with a week of sending myself loving-kindness. All day long, I would go around the retreat building—sitting in my room, sitting in the hall—saying may I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be liberated, and I felt absolutely nothing.

At the end of the week, something happened to someone in the community and I, quite unexpectedly, had to leave the retreat. Then I felt doubly bad—not only did nothing happen but I never even got beyond myself, which was really selfish.

I was running around in the flurry of having to leave. I dropped a jar of something, which shattered into a thousand pieces. The first thought that came up was: “You are really a klutz, but I love you.” And I thought, “Oh wow! Look at that.” All those hours where I was just dry and mechanical and I felt like nothing was happening. It was happening. It just took a while for me to sense the flowering of that and it was so spontaneous that it was quite wonderful. So: Not to struggle, to try to make something happen. Let it happen. Let your mind rest in the phrases, and let the phrases be meaningful to you. It will happen.

Original author: Sharon Salzberg
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12 Powerful Women of the Mindfulness Movement: 2020

This is why we practice. As climate change, a global pandemic, a racial justice reckoning, and suffering of all kinds wrack our world, we remind each other: This is why we practice. In our second annual focus on women leaders of mindfulness, we invited these twelve women—teachers, researchers, writers, and activists nominated by their peers—to share with us what they’ve learned from their years of deep practice. In these pages they reveal the insights and experiences that help them navigate troubled times, guide others, and make transformational change in their own lives, the lives of others, and even the organizations and structures we live and work within. We hope the wisdom they share inspires you—not only to sit and practice, but also to rise and act.

1) Cultivate Equanimity, Not Impassivity

Diana Winston
Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA

One of the first, basic mindfulness practices to resonate with Diana Winston still guides her today. She was 21 years old, on a 10-day meditation retreat, learning various principles. “And one of them was there’s praise and there’s blame, and you can’t escape the two of them. And I heard this and something lit up inside me. And I knew that I was really interested in: How do you escape? I’m always seeking praise and running away from blame. And they said, well, there is an answer, and that is to develop a mind of equanimity. And here’s how you do it, you meditate.”

It’s equanimity Winston, a renowned writer and meditation teacher, reaches for when life gets stormy, it’s equanimity she’s striving to help her young daughter learn, and it’s equanimity she believes can help steady us all in troubled and troubling times.

“Just coming back to my practice, going back to my breath and cultivating that equanimity. I try to remind myself that things are as they are, not to bring impassivity, but to help me grapple with and hold space for the fact that there is tremendous suffering going on and lots of forces of greed and violence and delusion that are causing more and more of it.”

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Mindful Readers Share the Importance of Gratitude

How do you express gratitude toward those you love? 

“Making them coffee in the morning.”
@ray.mari_

“Hugs. Lots of hugs!” 
@ishta_izlitu 

“By being fully present, giving them my full attention when together, and listening deeply.” 
@selfcarespecialist 

“Sending homemade cards.”
@kira119

“I say thank you to them. I help them when they need help.”
@imaginativecreativeyou 

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