Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Rodale

To Soothe Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills

Could honing your meditation technique cure chronic pain? It's worth contemplating.

Mind power: Mediation's effects on your brain could ease your pain.
Mind power: Mediation's effects on your brain could ease your pain.
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Chronic pain is estimated to affect over 76 million people, more than diabetes and heart disease combined, and back pain is our country's leading cause of disability for people under 45. And though the pharmaceutical industry seems very adept at introducing one new painkiller after another, the pills don't always help. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience, however, suggests something else might: meditation. It seems that improving yourmeditation technique could very well be more effective than painkillers at cutting down on pain, and that could save you hundreds in prescription drug costs.
THE DETAILS: This was a small study that looked at just 15 adults who sat through four 20-minute training sessions on mindfulness meditation. However, before and after the training, the participants' brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and during each scan, the researchers put a heating device that induced pain for a five-minute period on each of the meditators' right leg at varying intervals. The brain scans revealed that before meditation, the section of the brain that processes pain was very active, while after meditation training, activity levels were virtually undetectable. Furthermore, after the meditation training, the study participants reported an average 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and an average 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. The study authors noted that morphine and other pain-relieving drugs usually reduce pain perception and unpleasantness by just 25 percent.
WHAT IT MEANS: It's no surprise that mindfulness meditation techniques can help us cope with difficult situations, and this mind-body connection has been so extensively studied by researchers that doctors already know that meditation canlower blood pressure, depression, anger, and anxiety. Some evidence suggests it can boost your immune system and prevent the flu, among other illnesses. However, this is the first study to show that it can lower actual physical pain. "This study shows that meditation produces real effects in the brain and can provide an effective way for people to substantially reduce their pain without medications," the authors write.
If you find yourself suffering from some form of chronic pain, try mindfulness meditation. Fortunately, it's easy to learn, and as this study shows, you only need a few minutes a day to reap the benefits.
Get the basics down. Here are some basic instructions for starting out with mindfulness meditation from advisor Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA, and author of the Mind-Body Mood Solution (Rodale, 2010).
1. Sit up comfortably, eyes closed, making sure your head and neck are held upright.
2. Focus attention on your breathing, following the inward breath and the outward breath. This is not so much about thinking about breathing as much as experiencing the sensation of breathing.
3. Notice when your attention is drawn to a thought, sound, or sensation, and bring your attention back to the breath.
4. If you find yourself judging any aspect of what you are experiencing—for instance, if you find yourself lost in thought and judge that doing so is "wrong" or "bad"—just notice the judgment as "thought," and bring attention back to your breathing.
5. Just stay present. If what you are experiencing is pleasant and you notice any tendency to want to hold on to that experience, just let it go by retuning to the breath. If what you are experiencing is unpleasant and you notice any tendency to push it away, just notice what you are experiencing and return to the breath.
6. Remember, we are not trying to get anywhere when we meditate. We are practicing the art of being here.
Focus on your breath. The hardest part about mindfulness meditation is keeping your mind from wandering. An easy meditation tip for beginners is to focus on your breath whenever you find yourself worrying about a problem at work or focusing on whatever physical pain you're trying to deal with. Think about where your breath is coming from (your belly or chest), where you feel it (in your nose, on your upper lip), how deeply you're breathing, and so forth.
Practice daily. Begin with 10 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation, Rossman suggests, and try to work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes. You can meditate pretty much anywhere that's comfortable—on the floor, in bed, in a straight-back chair, even. Wherever you choose, try to do it in the same place every day in order to maintain consistency, and do it at a time when you aren't sleepy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Zen Parenting

When you're a parent, it's not easy to keep things Zen in your life. Work, school and the many different personalities living under the same roof are sure to make even the happiest household have its "moments."
With the school year beginning, things will be getting even more hectic very soon (if they haven't already). It's important to prepare yourself as a parent for a new set of juggling acts that will be presenting themselves in the coming months. Between coordinating your children's after-school schedules and the day-to-day grind, you can't forget about your own goals. Remember, they will ultimately help your children in the long run. So how do you balance it all? With balance, of course!
As a nanny for over three decades, I have seen first-hand that chaotic households are more common than not. I often say that the most important thing to do first is "fix the parents, not the kids." What is the best way to keep mom and dad more at ease? I believe that it's to take moments for yourself to get re-centered daily. Below are six ways to bring more Zen into your life. By making sure that you are focused and in a calm state, everyday struggles and stressful moments will be much easier to handle.
Mediation Is a Must: This is essential for new parents or veteran ones. By mediating once for twenty minutes a day, you will be taking a vital time-out for your body, mind and soul. It will help you to put things back into balance.
The Write Stuff: By writing down your most important thoughts every day, you will keep them in your day-to-day awareness. We are all more at ease when we are focusing on our personal endeavors, even if it's just for fifteen minutes a day.
Every Day Is a New Day: Each day comes as a new gift to you, so treat it as such. View each day as a brand new promise to a beautiful life. It will become easier to live in the moment and not be flustered about past woes. This will help you design your days as they arrive with grace and gratitude.
Ask for Help: A quality way of being and maintaining the person you are as a parent is also by learning to not carry the load alone. Ask the people around you to pitch in and they should be willing to carry their load, too. Keeping family peace requires a team effort. Remember, the family that takes care of each other can live, love and laugh together.
Take the Bad Days in Stride: Sometimes the responsibilities on any given day can be overwhelmingly harsh -- car broke down, the dog is sick, there is a flood in the laundry room and so on. Your other half might even be working late. Take a few deep breaths and carry on with your day by simply knowing that this is part of what it means to experience a bad day. Don't harp on it, as they are all little speed bumps that we hit along the way in life.
Here Lives the Love: At the end of your week, you will surely be tired from the bustle and hustle. The weekend is a chance to recharge in a Zen-like way that involves your family. On the weekends, sit down as a family to meals that you all prepared together. Let everyone know how much you cherish them and that you will never trade your life for anything else. This is the life and family you've always wanted and are truly grateful for.

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