There is much more to mindfulness than the popular media hype

Have the benefits of meditation been overhyped in the West? FatCamera/E+ via Getty Images

Pierce Salguero, Penn State

Mindfulness is seemingly everywhere these days. A Google search I conducted in January 2022 for the term “mindfulness” resulted in almost 3 billion hits. The practice is now routinely offered in workplaces, schools, psychologists’ offices and hospitals all across the country.

Most of the public enthusiasm for mindfulness stems from the reputation it has for reducing stress. But scholars and researchers who work on mindfulness, and the Buddhist tradition itself, paint a more complex picture than does the popular media.

Medicalizing meditation

Mindfulness originated in the Buddhist practice of “anapana-sati,” a Sanskrit phrase that means “awareness of breath.” Buddhist historian Erik Braun has traced the origins of the contemporary popularity of meditation to colonial Burma – modern-day Myanmar – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Meditation, which was practiced almost exclusively inside monasteries until then, was introduced to the general public in a simplified format that was easier to learn.

The gradual spread of meditation from that time to the present is a surprisingly complex story.

In the U.S., meditation first started to be practiced among diverse communities of spiritual seekers as early as the 19th century. It was adopted by professional psychotherapists in the early 20th century. By the 21st century, it had become a mass-marketing phenomenon promoted by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The process of translating the Buddhist practice of meditation across cultural divides transformed the practice in significant ways. Modern meditation often has different goals and priorities than traditional Buddhist meditation. It tends to focus on stress reduction, mental health or concrete benefits in daily life instead of spiritual development, liberation or enlightenment.

A pivotal moment in this transformation was the creation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) protocol by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in 1979. The stress reduction program introduced a standardized way of teaching meditation to patients so that its health benefits could be more rigorously measured by scientists.

Research on this new kind of “medicalized” mindfulness began to gather steam in the past two decades. As of today there are over 21,000 research articles on mindfulness in the National Library of Medicine’s online database — two and a half times as many articles as have been published on yoga, tai chi and reiki combined.

Scientific evidence vs. mindfulness hype

Medical researchers themselves have had a far more measured opinion about the benefits of meditation than the popular press.

For example, a 2019 meta-analysis, which is a review of many individual scientific studies, pointed out that the evidence for the benefits of mindfulness and other meditation-based interventions has “significant limitations” and that the research has “methodological shortcomings.”

Based on their review of the scientific literature, the authors warned against falling prey to “mindfulness hype.” On the positive side, they found various forms of meditation to be more or less comparable to the conventional therapies currently used to treat depression, anxiety, chronic pain and substance use. On the other hand, they concluded that more evidence is needed before any strong claims can be made regarding treatment of conditions such as attention disorders, PTSD, dysregulated eating or serious mental illnesses.

More troubling, some researchers are even beginning to suggest that a certain percentage of patients may experience negative side effects from the practice of meditation, including increased anxiety, depression or, in extreme cases, even psychosis. While the causes of these side effects are not yet fully understood, it is evident that for some patients, therapeutic meditation is far from the panacea it is often made out to be.

Putting mindfulness back into context

As a historian of the relationship between Buddhism and medicine, I argue that mindfulness can be a beneficial practice for many people, but that we should understand the broader context in which it developed and has been practiced for centuries. Mindfulness is one small part of a diverse range of healing techniques and perspectives the Buddhist tradition has developed and maintained over many centuries.

Buddhist monks in orange robes praying
Mindfulness is one small part of the healing techniques forwarded by Buddhism. FredFroese/iStock / Getty Images Plus

In a recent book, I have traced the global history of the many ways that the religion has contributed to the development of medicine over the past 2,400 years or so. Buddhist tradition advocates countless contemplations, devotional practices, herbal remedies, dietary advice and ways of synchronizing the human body with the environment and the seasons, all of which are related to healing.

These ideas and practices are enormously influential around the world as well as in Buddhist communities in the U.S. Such interventions have been particularly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic – for example, through the medical charity of major international Buddhist organizations as well as through health advice given by high-profile monastics such as the Dalai Lama.

Buddhism has always had a lot to say about health. But perhaps the most significant of its many contributions is its teaching that our physical and mental well-being are intricately intertwined – not only with each other, but also with the health and vitality of all living beings.

Medicalized meditation is now a self-help commodity that generates over US$1 billion per year, leading some critics to label it “McMindfulness.” But placing mindfulness back into a Buddhist ethical context shows that it is not enough to simply meditate to reduce our own stress or to more effectively navigate the challenges of the modern world.

As I argue in my most recent book, Buddhist ethics asks us to look up from our meditation cushions and to look out beyond our individual selves. It asks us to appreciate how everything is interconnected and how our actions and choices influence our lives, our society and the environment. The emphasis, even while healing ourselves, is always on becoming agents of compassion, healing and well-being for the whole.

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Pierce Salguero, Associate Professor of Asian History & Religious Studies, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can religion and faith combat eco-despair?

There’s a growing belief that teachings from religious faiths belong in the discussion around environmental protection. ImagineGolf/E+/Getty Images

Rita D. Sherma, Graduate Theological Union

Scientists regularly study the ongoing degradation of Earth’s environment and track the changes wrought by a warming planet. Economists warn that intensifying disasters are harming people’s quality of life. And policymakers focus on crafting rules to diminish the health and environmental effects of humanity’s growing footprint.

What is the role of philosophers and people of faith in this bigger discussion around the environment and sustainability? Rita D. Sherma is co-chair of a research initiative aimed at bringing the beliefs of religion, spirituality, and ethics to the study of sustainability. Here she explains the core ideas behind “green spirituality,” how religion and environmental protection are closely intertwined and the role faith can play in restoring hope amid the drumbeat of discouraging environmental news.

What is green spirituality?

Green spirituality is an orientation to the divine, or supreme reality, that is grounded in our experience of life on planet Earth. It respects the miracle of life on this planet and recognizes our relationship with it. Such a spirituality can have God or the divine as the focus, or it can be oriented toward the Earth and its ecosystems for those outside of organized religion. It encourages a contemplative and harmonious relationship with the Earth.

Green spirituality seeks to harness the spiritual traditions of the world to energize the effort to restore planetary ecosystems and stop future harm. https://www.youtube.com/embed/d42L4hVJmrA?wmode=transparent&start=0 The rights of nature movement wants to give sacred rivers the same legal protections as people.

Why do spiritual and religious teachings belong as part of the global conversation on the environment?

First, 80% of the world’s population practices an established religion or a spiritual tradition that offers community, support, and resources for resilience.

Second, as I have written in my new book on religion and sustainability, better technology will help human communities restore ecosystems. More and better data, such as computations to forecast disasters, will also be helpful. But both are inadequate in the face of human denial and recalcitrance.

In my book, I write: “Planetary survival is now predicated upon the alignment of our notions of both human and ecological rights with our highest principles. As such, ways of knowing that are embedded in religion, philosophy, spiritual ethics, moral traditions, and a culture that values the community and the commons – as an essential resource for the transformation necessary for environmental regeneration and renewal – are indispensable.” In other words, people on Earth need to tap into the ways of thinking from these faith traditions to address the environmental crises we face now.

Can faith and religion help counter rising eco-anxiety?

Catastrophic wildfires across the planet, extreme weather patterns that destroy homes and histories, degraded soil, toxic air, unsafe water, and the desecrated beauty of places we have loved are causing climate trauma and eco-anxiety. For those who are acutely aware of the cliff edge on which we stand as a species and as a planetary community, the despair evoked by the magnitude of the disaster is almost unbearable.

Religions, faiths, and spiritual practices can help in unique ways. In this space, people can find community, peaceful practices of meditation, prayer, embodied sacred actions that include rituals and liturgies, and a ‘long view’ informed by the tragedies and triumphs faced by spiritual ancestors. Faith can provide hope and resilience in the midst of crises.

How do different faith traditions treat respect for nature?

Religions may disagree on many things, but each contains philosophical or theological orientations that can be interpreted and applied in ways that protect the Earth.

Some traditions such as Hindu, Yogic, Indigenous and others see the self as a microcosm of macrocosm, or a part of the greater whole. And, a profound sacred immanence, or integral divine presence, is woven through their philosophies. For these spiritual traditions, religious practice integrates trees, flowers, sacred groves, sanctified terrains, rivers, mountains and elements of the entire ecosphere into liturgical and personal practice.

Christian ecotheology focuses on stewardship and the ethics of Earth justice. A well-known Muslim ecotheologian speaks of the Earth as a mosque in reference to a saying (hadith) of the prophet – which renders the entire Earth as sacrosanct. Jewish ecological thinkers have envisaged the idea of “Shomrei Adamah” (Keepers of the Earth), which connects humanity and the Earth through divine love.

Buddhism’s spiritual aim is the absolute awareness of interconnectedness and mutual causality. Ahimsa, or noninjury to living beings and the Earth, is the highest doctrinal principle in Hinduism and Buddhism, and it is intensely followed in Jainism.

How are organized religions putting environmental protection into practice?

Many initiatives and conversations are happening among religions, and among interreligious leadership and international bodies – most importantly, the United Nations initiatives.

Some important conversations include the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, which brings the dedication, impact, and moral authority of different faiths to restore the world’s rainforests and help empower the Indigenous peoples who view themselves as their protectors. Greenfaith is a global, multireligious climate and environmental movement. I also serve on the advisory board of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, a pioneering international interreligious project at Yale University started by scholars Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim that ignited the academic field of religion and ecology as a global engaged force for the greening of religion.

How are environmental advocacy groups drawing in religion?

In 1985, the World Wildlife Fund established the U.K.-based Alliance of Religion and Conservation for developing partnerships with religious groups for collaborating on environmental protection. WWF’s Sacred Earth: Faiths for Conservation program collaborates with faith groups and religious communities who are committed to the view that the Earth is a sacred charge that demands the commitment of our care.

In November 2017, the U.N. “Environment Programme,” realizing the significance of religious communities as key actors, founded the Faith for Earth Initiative to engage with faith-based organizations as partners, at all levels, toward achieving the sustainable development goals and realizing the 2030 agenda. The initiative affirms that “Spiritual values drive individual behaviors for more than 80 percent of people.”

In fall 2020, the Parliament of the World’s Religions and the U.N. Environment Programme jointly published a book titled “Faith for Earth – A Call for Action,” which provides an overview of the diversity of religious principles and practices that support action for the protection of the Earth.

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Rita D. Sherma, Associate Professor of Dharma Studies, Graduate Theological Union

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beginner’s Guide to Meditation » for a positive & productive day (part 1)

This series teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation for beginners. In this episode we practice: finding a comfortable seat, bringing your attention to the breath, and becoming aware of any sensations and thoughts that enter into the mind while meditating. We will explore what to do with these thoughts and emotions in the next video.

FEATURED IN THE VIDEO »
To watch part 2: https://youtu.be/0eKD-mDa3CA »
To watch part 3: https://youtu.be/zFotlhvCzWc »

Where I learned Vipassana meditation: http://satipatthana.ca »
Music “Garden Music” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…

Laughing is good for your mind and your body – here’s what the research shows

It’s hard to beat a good laugh with a friend. Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Janet M. Gibson, Grinnell College

Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life.

Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.

As I found when writing “An Introduction to the Psychology of Humor,” researchers now appreciate laughter’s power to enhance physical and mental well-being.

Laughter’s physical power

People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders.

Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity.

By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases.

women laughing together at an outdoor meal
Getting the joke is a good workout for your brain. Thomas Barwick/Stone via Getty Images

Laughter’s cognitive power

A good sense of humor and the laughter that follows depend on an ample measure of social intelligence and working memory resources.

Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.

To “get” a joke or humorous situation, you need to be able to see the lighter side of things. You must believe that other possibilities besides the literal exist – think about being amused by comic strips with talking animals, like those found in “The Far Side.”

Laughter’s social power

Many cognitive and social skills work together to help you monitor when and why laughter occurs during conversations. You don’t even need to hear a laugh to be able to laugh. Deaf signers punctuate their signed sentences with laughter, much like emoticons in written text.

Laughter creates bonds and increases intimacy with others. Linguist Don Nilsen points out that chuckles and belly laughs seldom happen when alone, supporting their strong social role. Beginning early in life, infants’ laughter is an external sign of pleasure that helps strengthen bonds with caregivers.

Later, it’s an external sign of sharing an appreciation of the situation. For example, public speakers and comedians try to get a laugh to make audiences feel psychologically closer to them, to create intimacy.

By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you. When you laugh in response to humor, you share your feelings with others and learn from risks that your response will be accepted/shared/enjoyed by others and not be rejected/ignored/disliked.

In studies, psychologists have found that men with Type A personality characteristics, including competitiveness and time urgency, tend to laugh more, while women with those traits laugh less. Both sexes laugh more with others than when alone.

white-haired woman laughing on a park bench
Laughter has value across the whole lifespan. Steve Prezant/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Laughter’s mental power

Positive psychology researchers study how people can live meaningful lives and thrive. Laughter produces positive emotions that lead to this kind of flourishing. These feelings – like amusement, happiness, mirth and joy – build resiliency and increase creative thinking. They increase subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Researchers find that these positive emotions experienced with humor and laughter correlate with appreciating the meaning of life and help older adults hold a benign view of difficulties they’ve faced over a lifetime.

Laughter in response to amusement is a healthy coping mechanism. When you laugh, you take yourself or the situation less seriously and may feel empowered to problem-solve. For example, psychologists measured the frequency and intensity of 41 people’s laughter over two weeks, along with their ratings of physical and mental stress. They found that the more laughter experienced, the lower the reported stress. Whether the instances of laughter were strong, medium or weak in intensity didn’t matter.

Maybe you want to grab some of these benefits for yourself – can you force laughter to work for you?

A growing number of therapists advocate using humor and laughter to help clients build trust and improve work environments; a review of five different studies found that measures of well-being did increase after laughter interventions. Sometimes called homeplay instead of homework, these interventions take the form of daily humor activities – surrounding yourself with funny people, watching a comedy that makes you laugh or writing down three funny things that happened today.

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You can practice laughing even when alone. Intentionally take a perspective that appreciates the funny side of events. Laughing yoga is a technique of using breathing muscles to achieve the positive physical responses of natural laughing with forced laughter (ha ha hee hee ho ho). Some tips on how to get started with laughing yoga.

Researchers today certainly aren’t laughing off its value, but a good deal of the research on laughter’s influence on mental and physical health is based on self-report measures. More psychological experimentation around laughter or the contexts in which it occurs will likely support the importance of laughing throughout your day, and maybe even suggest more ways to intentionally harness its benefits.

Janet M. Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Grinnell College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Just Another Political Rant

Assorted international currency notes.Power, greed and deception are the rules and conditions of politics. Almost every single politician is concerned with their own wealth and the power that comes with their elected position. Campaign promises created to get votes and bills filled with hidden earmarks and agendas fill the congress. Healthcare is only affordable by the rich and pharmaceutical companies push the medical industry to use pharmaceuticals to manage diseases instead of educating the patients or surgery.

There is far more money in selling overpriced pharmaceuticals to manage a health problem than to come up with an actual cure. This is not to say there isn’t anyone out there looking for cures, just that funding and priority for finding a cure for a disease is lower than the research for drugs that help manage a disease. Though I will give the present administration a thumbs up for the fact they are pushing the idea of better diet and physical fitness as a preventative measure in keeping good health.

It still gets me quite upset that there are some congress officials and hopefuls looking for a way to increase the retirement age and or diminish the social security plan. For one thing even if the average life expectancy is like 80 it does not mean the majority of humans will survive to that age. The percentage that are lucky enough to live to see retirement are usually not as healthy due to having to work so hard and long. With the fact that it takes the lower and below middleclass citizen 2 to 3 jobs to maintain a decent standard of living only puts more strain on the health of those individuals.

For as Medicare/Medicaid and any federal or state funded health care , it should be limited to legal citizens who have and will contribute to the tax systems both at state and federal levels. The only way illegal aliens could be a part of the system is if the government went to a national sales tax to replace the current income tax. This would insure every individual living in the united states would and could contribute their fair share to the government funds. Of course this federal sales tax should not be on food or necessities of life such as utilities only on luxuries.

One thing I have learned is if it makes sense the government will either ignore the idea or take it and load it down with so many earmarks or amendments it becomes a useless idea and bill/law. Once in a while one might actually slip through with little change but that is becoming a very rare occasion in recent years.

Well enough rambling on about politics and such.
Peace to all Raymond Barbier.

Fresh Produce and a Healthier Diet

Various fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains; ...  I have noticed in the news they have been pushing the fresh fruits and vegetable thing again and I think it is a good idea. Unfortunately most fresh fruits and vegetables are quite expensive compared to the unhealthy foods most of us like and eat. There is one way to cut costs on fresh produce and that is to grow your own and can them yourself. What you don’t eat during the season is still healthier as home canned than store bought canned. Frozen produce has been proven also to be as healthy if not sometimes healthier than the fresh produce at the grocery store. This is due to the fact the produce is frozen close to the harvest time that retains the nutritional levels unlike produce that is shipped and stored which makes it less nutritional due to the time between harvest and consumption. Fresh picked produce is better especially if you were the one to grow it because the fact you would use less pesticides if none during the growing process.

  Even Meat sources that are raised by the consumer would be healthier due to the absence of hormones and antibiotics that commercial farms use. Plus fresh meat tastes better or at least it does to me. Just remember the old saying you are what you eat so when you eat chemicals and additives in processed food your body either has to work hard to remove the toxins or it is storing it in your body fat. Do not always listen to what the media and government tries to say is or isn’t healthy just follow the rule if it is not natural then more and likely it isn’t healthy to eat. And if it is natural is is safe to eat if not healthy. Some natural things are not as healthy as others but if you balance your good with not as good then you can have a enjoyable and healthy diet.

Peace and happiness to you all

Ray Barbier

 

Ray Barbier

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