Have you ever wondered "How can I learn more?" This article highlights how we learn and steps you can take to facilitate learning. Hint...sleeping matters.
Still wondering if you should try out yoga? How is it really going to help you anyway? This article discussing 38 scientifically proven reasons why you should get up and strike a yoga pose.
If you’re a passionate yoga practitioner, you’ve probably noticed some yoga benefits—maybe you’re sleeping better or getting fewer colds or just feeling more relaxed and at ease. But if you’ve ever tried telling a newbie about the benefits of yoga, you might find that explanations like “It increases the flow of prana” or “It brings energy up your spine” fall on deaf or skeptical ears.
What helps reduce your stress? New research is confirming what crafters have always known intuitively, that when they engage in a creative and repetitive act they go into a calming state. As a psychologist, I often recommend knitting, crocheting or other crafts as a stress reliever. This article discusses new research explaining why this is helpful. BY DR. SARAH MCKAY JUNE 24, 2014 4:39 AM EDT
Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of knitting is calming, comforting and contemplative. It’s not a stretch for you to imagine knitting as a mindfulness practice, or perhaps a form of meditation.
I’m delighted to report that neuroscience is finally catching up on brain health aspects of the trend some have called "the new yoga."
Research shows that knitting and other forms of textile crafting such as sewing, weaving and crocheting have quite a lot in common with mindfulness and meditation — all are reported to have a positive impact on mind health and well-being.
During his first year of preschool, my 3-year-old spent every morning drawing. While the other kids were doing seemingly academic activities like tracing letters and singing counting songs, my son stuck with colored pencils.
Fast-forward one year later; my son has branched out -- way out! He completes puzzles, counts abacus beads, and writes his name in straight letters. Suddenly we've shifted from picture books at bedtime to Charlotte's Web. "When," I thought, "did he learn all this?"
Well, he probably learned it while drawing. Drawing helps kids boost their confidence, improve fine motor skills, get reading-ready, and hone their critical-thinking ability, says Kenneth Wesson, Ph.D., an educational consultant in neuroscience in San Jose, California, who has studied the role of the brain in making art.
Although the arts have traditionally been considered fun frills, they're actually a central piece in the education puzzle. And it's not just the visual arts. Music can help with math and reading; dance sets a foundation for physical health and also furthers self-awareness; acting can boost vocabulary. Art can impact kids' emotional and social lives too. "It lets kids take risks without failure and builds confidence," says Joseph M. Piro, Ph.D., professor in the department of curriculum and instruction of Long Island University in Brookville, New York.
While tightened household budgets might make violin lessons a stretch, arts instruction need not be formal or pricey. You can expose your kids to dance, music, and drama at home, with stuff you already have. We've talked to researchers, arts experts, and teaching artists to come up with activities for kids of all ages.
The fact that dance builds strength, agility, and flexibility is a given, says Maria Suszynski, executive director of Wellspring/Cory Terry & Dancers, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but it also boosts confidence and problem-solving skills, and teaches kids about teamwork.
Toddlers: Jumpin' Jellybeans
Crank up the music, and let your kid have ants in his pants! Explore every aspect of movement -- hopping, leaping high and low, wiggling fast and slow. Following simple sequences gives toddlers' short-term memory a workout and develops body awareness.
Preschoolers: The Shoebox Game
Your child pretends she's in a shoe store where every kind of shoe -- antigravity boots, ice skates, shoes that have gum on the soles, or winged sandals -- makes her dance in a different way. This stretches a child's imagination and encourages her to see the world from different angles, says Theresa Purcell Cone, Ph.D., assistant professor of health and exercise science at Rowan University, in Glassboro, New Jersey.
School-Age Kids: Human Sculptures
Your child dances around you while you make a shape with your body and freeze. Have her build onto your "sculpture" with her own body, perhaps forming a letter or an animal using creativity to solve "problems," says Dr. Cone. ("How can my arms be a new animal? Oh, I can raise them like butterfly wings!")
Kids have been finger-painting and scribbling for eons, but only recently did researchers realize all its ripple effects. Dr. Wesson has found that visual art engages many areas of a child's brain, including the parts that control decision making, action planning, physical movement, and memory. Attention to detail is a critical component in reading skills too.
Toddlers: Pudding Painting
Separate a batch of vanilla pudding into a few small bowls and add a drop of different food coloring to each. Dress (or undress!) your child for a mess, and let him "paint" on a surface covered with a plastic sheet. At this age, art should involve many senses, says Susanna Carrillo, founder of Paper Scissors Oranges, an art studio for children in Darien, Connecticut. It's also a lesson on color mixing -- red + blue=purple!
Preschoolers: Macaroni Mosaics
Mix raw pasta with food coloring or liquid watercolor in a bowl. Spread on a tray to dry, then let kids glue it onto cardboard to make picture frames. Besides emphasizing fine motor skills and the fact that you can make art out of anything, these types of projects provide a fun way for getting kids to stay focused and on task to complete a project -- skills they'll need later in math, reading, and complex problem-solving.
School-Age Kids: Life-Size Self-Portraits
Have your child lie down on a large piece of craft paper so you can trace the outline of her whole figure. Then have her sketch in the details of her hair, face, clothes, skeleton, internal organs, whatever else she chooses. As she draws, she may need to examine herself in a mirror, which develops her ability to observe and discriminate details -- a key skill in reading comprehension. Hang the image on her bedroom door.
Pretending to be someone else seems like pure play, but it actually builds serious brainpower. "Acting fosters children's language proficiency, vocabulary development, and storytelling skills," says Wendy Mages, Ed.D., an independent researcher in human development and psychology.
Toddlers: Take a Trip
Flip through a photo album and help your child relive an experience. Encourage him to perform the actions along with the story and use sensory-rich details, like how the apple in a photo smelled and tasted. Having a mental picture of what words mean is a critical skill for new readers.
Preschoolers: ID the Object
Collect a bunch of items from around the house and put them in a bag. Take turns choosing an item, and try to answer the question "What else can you imagine it is?" by using the object in new and creative ways. (Perhaps the colander becomes a hat or a face mask.) Besides providing a cute photo op, this will help your child learn to think on her feet.
School-Age Kids: Bring Books to Life
Read your child's favorite book while he performs the actions. Explain how to dramatize tricky words. ("Gnash" is a toughie in Where the Wild Things Are.) Or pick two characters and put on the "play" together, trying to recall what happens next without the book. Invite an audience (stuffed animals count).
Things like beat counting, key signatures, and note values draw upon math. But researchers are finding that music may help with reading too. In one study, children who had musical instructions twice a week for three years scored higher in reading skills than kids who didn't get music lessons.
Toddlers: Echo, Echo
Even kids too little to memorize lyrics can echo you during a call-and-response song. Using a standard like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," insert your child's name and favorite things, and have her repeat after you. This builds strong memory and listening skills, says Katherine Damkohler, executive director of Education Through Music, a nonprofit in New York City.
Preschoolers: Build a Band
Help kids invent instruments from stuff you have around the house. Put raw rice into plastic containers to make maracas. Fill some glass bottles with varying levels of water and strike gently to make a xylophone. It's a lesson in recycling and physics (different levels of water make new notes!). And trying to craft something to create music involves critical-thinking skills.
School-Age Kids: Time to Tune In
Play a song by one musician and another by a different one -- say, Dolly Parton and Duke Ellington.Then have him describe things that were the same about both as well as things that were unique to each. Supply the vocabulary for what he's noticing -- fast vs. slow tempo, high vs. low pitch, names of instruments. Being able to pick apart a sound can boost language and listening skills.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
Meditating doesn't just reduce anxiety, it can make more aware of your surroundings and the needs of others.
Apr. 1, 2013 — Scientists have mostly focused on the benefits of meditation for the brain and the body, but a recent study by Northeastern University's David DeSteno, published in Psychological Science, takes a look at what impacts meditation has on interpersonal harmony and compassion.
Several religious traditions have suggested that mediation does just that, but there has been no scientific proof -- until now.
In this study, a team of researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University examined the effects meditation would have on compassion and virtuous behavior, and the results were fascinating.
This study -- funded by the Mind and Life Institute -- invited participants to complete eight-week trainings in two types of meditation. After the sessions, they were put to the test.
Sitting in a staged waiting room with three chairs were two actors. With one empty chair left, the participant sat down and waited to be called. Another actor using crutches and appearing to be in great physical pain, would then enter the room. As she did, the actors in the chair would ignore her by fiddling with their phones or opening a book.
The question DeSteno and Paul Condon -- a graduate student in DeSteno's lab who led the study -- and their team wanted to answer was whether the subjects who took part in the meditation classes would be more likely to come to the aid of the person in pain, even in the face of everyone else ignoring her. "We know meditation improves a person's own physical and psychological wellbeing," said Condon. "We wanted to know whether it actually increases compassionate behavior."
Among the non-meditating participants, only about 15 percent of people acted to help. But among the participants who were in the meditation sessions "we were able to boost that up to 50 percent," said DeSteno. This result was true for both meditation groups thereby showing the effect to be consistent across different forms of meditation. "The truly surprising aspect of this finding is that meditation made people willing to act virtuous -- to help another who was suffering -- even in the face of a norm not to do so," DeSteno said, "The fact that the other actors were ignoring the pain creates as 'bystander-effect' that normally tends to reduce helping. People often wonder 'Why should I help someone if no one else is?'"
These results appear to prove what the Buddhist theologians have long believed -- that meditation is supposed to lead you to experience more compassion and love for all sentient beings. But even for non-Buddhists, the findings offer scientific proof for meditation techniques to alter the calculus of the moral mind.
Practicing mindful meditation lights up the parts of the brain that control thinking emotions such as worry are activated. Anxiety levels are reduced.
June 4, 2013 — Scientists, like Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can reduce anxiety, but not how. Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, however, have succeeded in identifying the brain functions involved.
The study is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
For the study, 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety were recruited for the study. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or anxiety disorders. All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.
Both before and after meditation training, the study participants' brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging -- arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging -- that is very effective at imaging brain processes, such as meditation. In addition, anxiety reports were measured before and after brain scanning.
The majority of study participants reported decreases in anxiety. Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent.
"This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety," Zeidan said.
The study revealed that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, areas of the brain involved with executive-level function. During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying. In addition, when activity increased in the anterior cingulate cortex -- the area that governs thinking and emotion -- anxiety decreased.
"Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings," Zeidan said. "Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful."
Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders. The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people, he said.
Support for the study was provided by the Mind and Life Institute's Francisco J. Varela Grant, the National Institutes of Health grant NS3926 and the Biomolecular Imaging Center at Wake Forest Baptist.
Co-authors are Katherine Martucci, Ph.D., Robert Kraft, Ph.D., John McHaffie, Ph.D., and Robert Coghill, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist.
Laughing, being optimistic, staying engaged in activities, and being outgoing can help you live longer? These personality traits appear to be common among those that live to be 100. May 24, 2012 — "It's in their genes" is a common refrain from scientists when asked about factors that allow centenarians to reach age 100 and beyond. Up until now, research has focused on genetic variations that offer a physiological advantage such as high levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. But researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University have found that personality traits like being outgoing, optimistic, easygoing, and enjoying laughter as well as staying engaged in activities may also be part of the longevity genes mix.
The findings, published online May 21 in the journal Aging, come from Einstein's Longevity Genes Project, which includes over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95, and 700 of their offspring. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews were selected because they are genetically homogeneous, making it easier to spot genetic differences within the study population.
Previous studies have indicated that personality arises from underlying genetic mechanisms that may directly affect health. The present study of 243 of the centenarians (average age 97.6 years, 75 percent women) was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by developing a brief measure (the Personality Outlook Profile Scale, or POPS) of personality in centenarians.
"When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," said Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research and co-corresponding author of the study. "But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up." In addition, the centenarians had lower scores for displaying neurotic personality and higher scores for being conscientious compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population.
"Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don't know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans," continued Dr. Barzilai. "Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity."
The study is titled "Positive attitude towards life and emotional expression as personality phenotypes for centenarians." The POPS was developed by lead author Kaori Kato, Psy.D., now at Weill Cornell Medical College, who validated it through comparisons with two previously established measures of personality traits. Other authors of the study were Richard Zweig, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein and director of the Older Adult Program at Ferkauf, and Gil Atzmon, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and of genetics at Einstein.
Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and new research shows it can help with overeating. This article discusses the importance of mindfulness to gaining awareness of our eating habits and the role food plays in our emotions.
Jean Kristeller reconnects people with their hunger and other inner experiences to curb overeating.
By Amy Novotney
November 2012, Vol 43, No. 10
Print version: page 42
Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. It sounds simple, yet for many Americans, it's anything but, says clinical psychologist Jean Kristeller, PhD. Barraged by advertisements for high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods, and confronted with restaurant portions fit for two or three people, it's all too easy these days to forget what the experiences of hunger and satiety feel like, she says.
"We eat when it's time to eat, when food is put in front of us or because we need to handle feelings of anger, anxiety, depression or simple boredom," says Kristeller, a psychology professor at Indiana State University and president and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating.
Kristeller has developed an intervention called Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) that blends "mindful eating" exercises, such as being aware of hunger, chewing food slowly, tuning in to taste and noticing fullness, with mindfulness meditation practice to cultivate more general moment-to-moment awareness of self. Psychologists around the country are using it to help binge and compulsive eaters, diabetics, and people who are mildly and moderately obese to regulate their eating and avoid weight gain.
"Traditional techniques for tackling the obesity epidemic often don't take into account the strong drivers of eating: negative emotions, cravings and impulsivity, particularly in the face of highly palatable food," says University of California, San Francisco, psychology professor Elissa Epel, PhD, who has collaborated with Kristeller on several research studies using MB-EAT. "Mindfulness training gives us more control over these strong drives and makes us more aware of the triggers of overeating that come from outside of us."
Kristeller advocates no particular diet — and no foods are off-limits. She teaches students to savor their food while eating, rather than mindlessly eating while watching television, surfing the Internet or reading the paper.
It's this everyday applicability that makes Kristeller's approach so valuable, says social psychologist Ronna Kabatznick, PhD, a former consultant to Weight Watchers International. "It's one thing to have these strategies in textbooks, but she's embodied them by teaching people very specific skills such as how to enjoy a buffet or restaurant meal," Kabatznick says. "She's simplified mindful eating for everyday living."
Saying goodbye to super-size
Kristeller's MB-EAT 10-week course teaches people that, once they pay attention to their body's signals, brownies and chocolate cake are best experienced and savored in just a few bites.
"Our taste buds are chemical sensors that tire quickly," she says. "The first few bites of a food taste better than the next few bites, and after a large amount, we may have very little taste experience left at all."
Participants in her training programs — those who struggle with food and weight issues and health-care professionals interested in helping them — focus on three mindfulness practices: awareness of hunger and what it feels like in the body, awareness of what it feels like to be full, and the practice of savoring — slowing down to truly taste food and be mindful of the various flavors and sensory experiences associated with each bite. A variety of foods — including chocolate — are used in the program, and Kristeller even assigns participants increasingly challenging homework assignments, such as going to a buffet. She teaches them that by attending to how much they are enjoying the food and recognizing the point at which it stops being as enjoyable, they can eat much smaller amounts, leave food on their plates and return for seconds if they still want more.
"It's about finding satisfaction in quality, not quantity," Kristeller says. She also teaches people not to beat themselves up if they overeat, but to see this as a learning experience.
With funding from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, Kristeller has proven the program's effectiveness. She's completed two studies — one at Indiana State University, another with Ruth Wolever, PhD, at Duke University — with more than 100 binge eaters and obese non-bingers. She's found that binge eaters who take her MB-EAT program reduce their bingeing from four times per week, on average, to about once a week. When they do binge, she says, they report that the binges are much smaller and feel less out of control. Participants also report that their depression decreased (Journal of Health Psychology, 1999; Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 2011). Both bingers and non-bingers also improve significantly on other indicators of more balanced eating and emotional regulation. Furthermore, these effects are proportional to the amount of mindfulness meditation practice that is reported.
Other researchers are testing her program as a treatment for obesity. Gayle Timmerman, PhD, RN, at the University of Texas at Austin, has successfully adapted it for use with eating restaurant meals, showing a significant impact on weight and dietary intake. Epel and her associate, Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, recently paired MB-EAT with stress reduction exercises in an intervention with obese women. They found that the more mindfulness the women practiced, the more their anxiety, chronic stress and deep belly fat decreased. Obese participants in the mindfulness program also maintained their body weight while those in the control group increased their weight over the same period of time (Journal of Obesity, 2011). And in an ongoing study with overweight pregnant women, Kristeller, Epel, Daubenmier and Cassandra Vieten, PhD, director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, are teaching participants similar mindful-eating techniques in an effort to help these mothers-to-be avoid excessive weight gain.
"One lesson we've learned is that with the effort and attention to eating taught in the MB-EAT program, people can change their relationship with food very quickly, and within a few sessions, they're often starting to eat differently," Epel says.
The three-minute raisin
Kristeller's interest in meditation began as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, where she read about research on how meditation can help lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce ruminative thinking. Kristeller began meditating to reduce the stress of college and immediately found that it calmed her "chattering mind," she says. Later, as a doctoral student at Yale studying food intake regulation with Judith Rodin, PhD, and self-regulation theory with Gary Schwartz, PhD, Kristeller began using meditation to treat eating disorders.
"Judy was identifying how a lot of the disregulation in eating behavior was from people's lack of tuning in to their hunger signals," Kristeller says. "I thought you could help people tune back into those experiences."
After graduating from Yale in 1983, she joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she met Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, and took part in his eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Kabat-Zinn introduced her to an exercise where participants slowly eat three raisins as a way to begin to cultivate mindful awareness.
"A light bulb, so to speak, went off for me during this exercise," Kristeller says. "I saw it as another way to help ground people in their experience of eating, and began thinking about how to do this more systematically, particularly around the kinds of foods that people eat that get them in trouble — the high-sweet, high-fat foods. I wondered what would happen if people started engaging with those foods this way." Now, thanks to her research and her clients' enthusiastic feedback, she knows.