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Can Silence Heal Your Brain? Science Says Yes 

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.” 

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”. 

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think. 

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence. 

 A 2013 study on mice  published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. 

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. 

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” 

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain. 

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence 

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information. 

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.” 

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. 

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world. 

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way. 

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.” 

Silence relieves stress and tension. 

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. 

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says. 

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. 

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources. 

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving. 

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills. 

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 

Summation 

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good. 

What do you think? Will you be practicing silence? Let us know in the comments!

8 Warning Signs That You're Dating A Narcissist 


  Chaucer and Shakespeare were right when they said: “love is blind.” In a research study conducted in 2004 by University College London, researchers discovered that feelings of love suppressed the activity of the areas of the brain that control critical thought.  While it can be so tempting to want to get swept away by “love” or what one perceives to be “love,” it is important to try one’s best to enter into relationships with “eyes wide open.” In the past few years, there have been several studies published by psychologists, particularly Dr. Craig Malkin, clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, regarding narcissism and how to spot it early on in a relationship. 

        In order to understand and be on the lookout for potential narcissists in your life, you must first know the history of the term as well as the appropriate application of the term. The term narcissism derives from the Greek myth where young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected back to him in a pool of water. Broadly, narcissism is defined as extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration. That said, narcissism is a highly complex personality disorder with both covert and overt expressions. 

        Recently, there have been many blog posts and articles about narcissism that make it sound like narcissism is on the rise, especially within the “millennial” generation. In an article published in Psychology Today, the author wrote that there is “a growing consensus among psychologists says no, it isn't. True pathological narcissism has always been rare and remains so: It affects an estimated 1 percent of the population, and that prevalence hasn't changed demonstrably since clinicians started measuring it.” 

        The reason why narcissism appears to be “on the rise” is because of people’s misunderstanding and misuse of the term. The purpose of this article is to help shed light on what traits a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) exhibits and how to spot it. Narcissists can come in a wide variety, ranging from the preeners, to grandiosely altruistic martyrs, to people who are highly introverted and vulnerable. The fact of the matter is that NPD can truly only be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. Nevertheless, here are some overt and covert traits that narcissists tend to have:
 


Overt expressions of narcissism include : 

  • Absence of empathy 
  • Grandiose plans and posturing 
    • "Narcissists feel superior to others," Brummelman says, "but they are not necessarily satisfied with themselves as a person." Narcissists thoughts, behaviors, and statements set them apart from others, and this feeling of distinction soothes them, because they're otherwise struggling with an unstable sense of self. They may set themselves apart in different ways, but ultimately, the point that connects all narcissists is that they feel extremely distinct from others. 
  • Rage at being called out on the slightest imperfections or normal human missteps.
     

Covert Expressions of Narcissism include: 

  • Projected Feelings of Insecurity 
    • Narcissists say and do things, subtle or obvious, that make you feel less smart, less accomplished, less competent. Rather than allowing themselves to feel insignificant, insecure or small, they do things to try and make you feel that way instead. Some examples of this could be: a “friend” who always gives you a back-handed compliment, a boss who questions your methods after his or her own decision derails an important project, or a date who claims not to understand what you’ve said. Have you ever heard the idiom: “Don’t knock your neighbor’s porch light out to make yours shine brighter.” Narcissists love to knock out other’s lights to appear brighter by comparison. 
  • Emotion-phobia 
    • Narcissists cannot stand feeling influenced in any way because it challenges their sense of autonomy and forces them to come to terms with the fact that they can be affected by a person or situation outside of themselves. Therefore, when the subject of feelings come up, especially their own feelings come up, they tend to change the subject matter and shut down any opportunity to discuss feelings. 
  • A Fragmented Family Story 
    • Narcissist people tend to have personal histories of neglect and/or abuse. Such issues lead to insecure attachment styles. Narcissists tend to not be able to talk about their childhood or family in a coherent way. Generally their stories from childhood tend to be confusing and filled with gaps. The most common myth they tend to carry around is the idea that they came from the perfect family. 
  • Idol Worship 
    • A common narcissistic tendency you might be less familiar with is their habit of putting people on pedestals. In doing so, narcissists think “If I find someone perfect to be close to, maybe some of their perfection will rub off on me, and I’ll become perfect by association.” They tend to not understand that no one can be perfect, and beware of when the narcissist discovers that their idol may not be the perfect person as he/she originally thought. Beware of any requests to conform to any images of beauty or perfection coming from your potential mate, as this could be a sign of narcissism. 
  • A High Need for Control 
    • Narcissists cannot stand to be at the mercy of other people’s preferences because it reminds them that they are not completely independent or invulnerable. Rather than express their needs or preferences, narcissists arrange events (and maneuver people) to orchestrate the outcomes they desire. In the extreme case, narcissist's’ actions can manifest as abusive, controlling behaviors. For example, think of the husband who lashes out against his wife if his dinner's not ready as soon as he comes home. In acting out, the husband is angry because he has to acknowledge that he depends on his wife for something, which is a feeling that he’d rather avoid. Narcissist's actions are not always so clear as the husband example, so be wary of any instances where you might feel nervous to talk about a certain topic or voice your opinion about something.


It’s important to take note that none of these signs, in isolation, proves that you’re with a narcissist. That said, if you see that your partner exhibits several of the traits mentioned above, it’s best to sit up and take notice. All of the traits listed in this article are ways of dodging vulnerability, and that’s a narcissist’s favorite tactic. So protect yourself, protect your heart, and if you’re just entering into a relationship with someone who exhibits a combination of the traits mentioned in this article, whether it’s a friendship or romantic relationship, it might be best to reconsider whether that’s really a road you want to go down. 

        Depending on where people fall on the narcissism spectrum, it can be difficult to course correct or improve their personality and habits. That’s why in some cases it is best to walk away from the situation. 

        Luckily, there is hope. Dr. Craig Malkin, clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, has written extensively on this topic and believes that it is possible for narcissists to change their behavior. If you do find that you are already in a committed relationship with a narcissist, here is an article you can read about strategies for dealing with the narcissist you love: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-craig-malkin/7-strategies-for-dealing-_b_5192851.html 

        Through concerted, right effort, it is possible to create a healthy relationship with someone who has been diagnosed with NPD. It won’t be easy, but real change is possible. 

        For further reading on this topic, check out Dr. Malkin’s book: “Rethinking Narcissism”.

Article by Rajmani Sinclair

Tired of Being Anxious? Try this Simple Strategy to Reduce Stress in Your Daily Life. 

Everywhere you look these days, people seem to be professing the benefits of mindfulness. Yogis have been talking about it for thousands of years, and now Western science is finally starting to catch up with what some sages have known for ages. But what is mindfulness anyway? And why should you care? 

To put it succinctly, Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, states that mindfulness is: "awareness of present experience with acceptance." 

Sounds simple enough, but it can be trickier than you think. 

How often are you really present and aware? 

In this age of social media, cell phones, computers, tablets and smart watches, how often do you pause, disconnect from the media-saturated digital world and connect with the world around you? How often do you wait in line or for the train or bus, for example, and really just wait? Can you do it without listening to music on your iPhone or checking the latest snapchats or emails? 

The iPhone was released when I was in college, and I remember vividly the day when I looked around campus as I was walking to class and thought - Does anyone just walk anymore? I looked around and saw that nearly everyone had headphones on or was talking on the phone. Not many people were simply walking and interacting with the environment around them. With time, I started to get uncomfortable walking across campus without talking on the phone or listening to something on my phone. I noticed that it took a lot of energy and discipline to go against the sudden social tendency to never be fully present and aware. 

After I graduated I got a job, and before I knew it I was attached at the hip to my iPhone and all my work emails and texts. I was never alone - someone could always reach me. I started to resent my phone. I yearned for a simpler time when people had to pick up the phone to reach people, or had to type things on a typewriter rather than answer hundreds of emails and update several spreadsheets a day. 

Did that idyllic time ever exist? 

Probably not.

Regardless of the current technology, humans will always find ways to not be present. We are so often lost in our own thoughts about the future or past, and rarely are we fully aware and present. So I can blame technology if I want, but ultimately, as I realized, the choice to be present is mine and mine alone. 

If any of what you've read so far resonates with you, you might be wondering, "okay, so why should I care? What can a mindfulness practice offer me?" 

While it won't make all your troubles away - it will help change how you respond to daily life and ultimately live in a way that reduces anxiety and worry. 

In simple terms, here are 5 basic principles of mindfulness that, when understood and put into practice, can take you a long way: 

  • Recognize that you are not your thoughts. 
  • Observe your thoughts, but do not judge them. Don't try and suppress them or get rid of them. Just notice your thoughts and allow them to float by without engaging with them. 
  • Practice becoming immersed in the environment around you. Take off your headphones. Turn off your smartphone. Look at the world around you. 
  • Take note of patterns of thoughts that occur often and label them so that when they come up again, you can say, "Oh, there's that thought pattern again..." Acknowledge it, and move on. 
  • Return to your breath - be in your body, and take in the world as it presently is around you.

What's even more important than all of these tips is actually making time for them! We often get wrapped up in the runaway train of our thoughts because we think we don't have enough time. Don't get on that train. Pause. Breathe. Take time for yourself, even if it's just a minute, and see what happens. 

Written by Rajmani Sinclair, 05/17/2016

The Benefits of Mindful Meditation for Children 

It's always exciting when scientific studies start to show what we already know about meditation. A number of studies held in the past five years are now starting to quantify how mindfulness and meditation practices are beneficial for elementary school-aged children. In a recent blog post on the New York Times Wellness Blog, one study showed that meditation over a period of 4 weeks improved children's executive functioning and even improved math grades. Furthermore, a different scientific review published in March concluded that meditation can positively change the structure of the brain to improve academic performance. 

Studies also showed that Meditation can also have the greatest effect on the cognition of the brain if it's done during childhood, due to the plasticity of the brain during that time. Thus, the earlier one meditates, the more effective the impact is on one's brain development.

Some scientists also shared personal examples of how mindfulness practices have supported and improved the lives of their children. For example, one scientist who practices Transcendental Meditation (TM) cited that she's noticed her 9-year-old daughter turning to mindfulness centering techniques of her own volition when she finds herself getting emotional. Thus, her daughter is able to better self-regulate her emotions. 

Another researcher shared a similar observation regarding meditation and her son who has A.D.H.D and bi-polar disorder. She has seen that when he takes a moment to focus on a mindfulness exercise, he is able to resolve his mood swings or anger with more ease.

Ultimately, by teaching children mindfulness meditation - parents and teachers are providing children with the tools to learn how to process emotions better and relate to the world with more focus and self-control. These are tools that will benefit anyone for a lifetime. 

Article written by Rajmani Sinclair, May 11, 2016

How Meditation Changes the Structure of Your Brain  


Did you know that meditating on a regular basis can actually change the structure of your brain? In case you were wondering why meditation can have so many benefits, including stress reduction, the results from a study conducted by Harvard affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has some answers for you. In 2011, the team of researchers published an article in the journal: Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging where they shared their results of the first study to every illustrate that meditation does in fact produce structural changes to the brain over time. 

Sara Lazar, a senior author of the study and an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical school, shared: "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing." 

The changes that Sara Lazar is referring to have to do with grey matter in the brain. It has been shown in other clinical studies that the amount of grey matter in different parts of the brain correlates to, for example, how intelligent a person is. In the study on meditation and the brain led by MGH, researchers discovered that meditating on a consistent basis for 8 weeks increased the grey matter in the hippocampus and decreased the grey matter in the amygdala in the brains of the participants. Increased grey matter in the hippocampus leads to improved learning and memory, as well as an increase in self-awareness, compassion and introspection. The amygdala, on the other hand, is correlated with stress and anxiety. So less grey matter in that area means a person will experience less stress and anxiety. 


Participants in the study participated in an 8-week Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, where they participated in at least 27 minutes a day of mindfulness exercises. Magnetic Resonance (MR) images were taken of participants brains before and after the MBSR program. MR images were also taken of a control group who did not participate in the MBSR study, and no significant structural changes took place in their brains compared to those who participated in the 8-week MBSR program. 

As Britta Holzel so aptly sums up the study's findings: "It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” 

Written by: Rajmani Sinclair, April 26, 2016

What's Actually Happening When You Exercise? Our Workout Timeline Has Everything You Need To Know 

Guess what?! From the moment you start your workout- regardless of what it may be- the benefits of exercise begin. Within seconds your mood improves, your heart rate increases, blood is delivered to your muscles and you start burning calories for fuel.

All you need is at least 30 minutes of cardio 3-5 days per week with some resistance training and you'll add years to your life and improve its quality! Exercising is an amazing way to look younger, be happier, feel more energized and maintain a healthy weight. 

All this is great but what is really happening…

While you are working out:

1)    Smile! All those feel good endorphins are being released so you feel motivated and energized.

2)    Just breathe! During cardio, you strengthen your lungs as they breathe faster and deeper to deliver extra oxygen to your muscles.

3)    Bye, bye bulge! During cardio, your body burns primarily fat for fuel. Up your aerobic intensity and duration to further boost your body’s fat-blasting power.

An hour after completing your workout:

1)    Immune System- proteins called immunoglobulins are elevated every time you exercise. These proteins strengthen your immune system and fight off infection.

2)    Mood- serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are released in your brain to help you mellow out and feel stress-free. For optimal mood-enhancing results, do high intensity interval training!

3)    Weight- you are burning off calories even while you rest. You can increase this after-workout effect by strength-training at least twice a week.

4)    Hunger- Exercise burns through your energy stores so your blood sugar levels drop. Make sure to listen to your hunger. Refuel and rehydrate properly!

A day after your workout:

1)    Muscle- a day after strength training your muscles start to rebuild themselves and repair the microscopic tears caused by weight lifting.

2)    Heart- who doesn’t want to make sure to maintain a healthy heart? Just one workout will lower blood pressure for hours afterwards. Go for high intensity cardio for the most heart-tastic effects!

3)    Brain- as blood and oxygen flow increase to your brain, you are extra alert and focused. Capitalize on this momentum to clock in some study time. Your ability to memorize is at a high post-exercise!

The week after your work out:

1)    Reduced risk of diabetes-The more you exercise, the more sensitive you are to insulin which lowers your blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of developing type II diabetes.

2)    You can go harder and longer- your VO2 max, a measure of your endurance and aerobic fitness, has increased so you can keep stepping up your fitness routine!

3)    Think thin- you get slimmer. Did you know that reducing your diet by 500 calories a day and exercising will help you lose at least a pound a week?

In the long term after working out:

1)    You’re so strong! You can lift more/ do more reps as your muscle endurance increases.

Quick tip: when you can do 15 reps a set, switch to a weight that's two pounds heavier and go back to 10 reps. Work back up to 15 reps and then repeat this. By increasing the number of pounds you lift, you'll sculpt and strengthen better and faster.

2)    You’re so fit! As you keep at it, you are exchanging fat for muscle and looking super good.

3)    You’re so smart! As you work out, growth-stimulating proteins in the brain are activated and you get more brainpower as new cells are formed.

4)    You’re so refreshed! Cardio workouts, like running, for 30 minutes a day for three weeks improve your sleep quality. 

5)    You’re so beautiful! Besides increasing longevity, working out reverses skin aging. Exercise keeps your skin youthful and even helps it regenerate thanks to the protein IL-15 that is released while you get your sweat on. This protein stimulates skin cell’s power centers, or mitochondria, to be fitter and healthier, making skin appear and act younger. 

 

After a year, working out gets easier as your endurance and aerobic fitness increase, your heart rate lowers, your cells blast more fat on an ongoing basis, and more!

Make sure to maintain an efficient metabolism through upping your workout intensity. Keep your body guessing with different methods of fitting in a great sweat session!

Although you can snag some extra benefits by exercising outdoors, such as getting more vitamin D from the sun, the most important thing is not where you work out or what exercise you do, the key is that you keep challenging yourself so that you remain motivated and consistent.

ENJOY :) 

Author: Gal Shyli Dayan

"Nurse Cat" Comforts Injured Shelter Animals 

Meet Rademenes the "nurse cat." He may look like your run-of-the-mill feline, but he is actually quite special.


He lives in a Polish animal shelter, where he is known for his unique task of comforting sick, injured and post-op animals. The survival of a serious illness himself, Rademenes has the intuitive ability to sense which animals are the most in need. 




He cuddles, spoons, massages and grooms the weak shelter animals, apparently focusing on cats and dogs with the gravest injuries.




He is the shelter's own personal mascot, where he is known as "little nurse." He is not just treated like any old cat; he is regarded with the same respect as an essential staff member. As he should be! 



Isn't he the sweetest lil nurse in the world? See more pictures of Rademenes on the job at Imgur

Author: Nate Morgan

Meditation 101- Part I 

Whether you’re about to meditate for the first or 100th time, it’s great to ask yourself these basic questions: What is meditation? Why meditate? and How do you do it?
As you explore these questions, as I have for the past 27 years, you'll find that there are many answers from many sources, including what may be the most valuable one: your own experience.  Without fail, the simple step of asking these questions can be a wonderful way to start or jumpstart your practice of meditation.
 
Part I of this post takes a look at the first two questions, offering a variety of answers along with some resources for further exploration. Scroll down to the very end of the article for instructions on three basic meditations of varying length to get you started (1 minute, and 2 methods for a 3-5 minute meditation). And stay tuned for Part IIwhich explores the various components of how to meditate.
 
Please share your own answers or questions in the comments below! We also invite you to explore this website and discover Inner Splendor's many different supports for your meditation practice. 

Happy meditating! 
~ text & illustrations by Lila Galindo
 

What Is Meditation?
Defined most simply, meditation is the act or state of sustaining focus. This means that we are all natural meditators since without the ability to focus, no activity from driving a car to writing an article to listening to a friend would be possible. Knowing that meditation is already an innate skill, however untapped, can help demystify the practice and encourage even the most skeptical among us to give it a go.
 
Whether meditation is defined in the classic sense of “stilling the thought-waves of the mind” (Patanjali Yoga Sutra) or scientifically, as a sustained period of theta brain waves, the common denominator of any definition of meditation is that, in contrast to all other activities of wakefulness, we turn our focus inward rather than outward. In other words, meditation involves taking a conscious pause during the day to unplug from doing and tune into being. Whether the pause lasts for the span of a breath or for many minutes, that contact with the stillness and spaciousness inside ourselves, rather than the busy world outside of us, is meditation.
 
Because we frequently encounter a steady stream of thinking when we close our eyes and focus inward, the practice of meditation often comes down to how we deal with thoughts. One of the most helpful things to remember, is that we are normally moving so fast that we don't even realize that our thoughts are racing 100 miles per hour or faster. So just realizing that you're thinking, and then to actually separate the thought from your essential self, is a huge accomplishment!

Jon-Kabat Zinn, pioneer of Mind Body Stress Reduction (MBSR) defines meditation as the “process of observing the mind and body intentionally, of letting your experience unfold from moment to moment and accepting them as they are.” While this may not be easy to do at first, like any muscle, with regular use and gentle attention, little by little, practice does make it easier.

 
Why Meditate?
Whether you're building world peace by contributing your own stillness, or your doctor recommended meditation to help lower your blood pressure, the reasons for meditating are as varied as the people who meditate the world over. All reasons are valid, and my advice is to identify and then respect your own reason and that of others.
 
Whether your approach is Buddhist, scientific, or one of your own creation, be willing to explore what works for you and when needed, change it up.
 
It’s very likely that your own reasons will change over time as you discover the many dimensions of a steady practice, but the value of identifying your own intention for meditating is that it gives you an easy yardstick for noticing the benefits. At least half of a meditation practice consists in noticing its effects - not necessarily during the time you dedicate to the practice, but upon the rest of your day. 
 
Surfacing your intention – for example, “today I am meditating to learn to still my mind” or “today I will meditate as a prayer that all beings be free from pain” and following through on our intentions not only helps us feel self-satisfied but increases the likelihood of meditating again. Personally, in the face of suffering, whether it’s a global disaster or a family challenge, taking a few minutes to be still has a mysterious way of creating space and releasing feelings of impotency.

Meditating for even a short while will get you to stop for a few moments. Few us of us run our cars or other prized devices 24/7; we let them rest and recharge. Similarly, our most valuable tools - our bodies and minds- need down time in order to serve us well. 

Learning the art of pause by tapping into our most inner resources will reveal all the splendor within.

See these articles for more information and various techniques:
HeadSpace's Andy Puddicombe's video on the benefits of meditation
A round up of HuffPo articles on meditation.
Your brain on meditation:this Lifehacker article
Free Mindfulness Resources
Sample Meditations
Simple Posture Instructions
As you try any of the meditations below, follow these steps to find a comfortable position:
  1. Find a stable chair and place your feet flat on the floor. If possible, walk your feet a little forward so that they are directly below your knees and your thighs form a parallel line to the floor.
  2. Rest your hands lightly and gently on your thighs. Relax your arms.
  3. Breathe in deeply and let your shoulders broaden, letting your head come back so that it lines up above your shoulders.
  4. Breathe out fully and feel the seat solidly below you, let your spine release upward.
One Minute Meditation:
Set a timer for sixty seconds. Close your eyes and simply repeat steps 3 & 4 until the bell rings. If you don't have a timer, simply breathe slowly, deeply and at a steady pace for 10 to 15 breaths. If you'd like more guidance in this simple technique, check out Martin Boronson's 5 minute video on One Moment Meditation, which includes a guided minute.


Three - Five Minute Meditation:
Method A: One of the pillars of MBSR is the body scan. All you need is your body and a space to sit quietly and slowly internally scan your body from head to toe, or rather from feet to head. To do this you simply let your attention rest first on different places in your body, one at a time, and notice - as much as possible without judgment - how that part feels. Some people find it helpful to start at the feet and move up toward the head: scanning feet, calves, knees, thighs, pelvis & seat, abdomen, chest, arms, hands, neck, and head. Other people prefer to simply notice where they have any sensation or to check in with key areas, and again, simply notice what is present. 
If trying this technique for the first time, you may find it helpful to scan the main parts of the body in this way: breathe in and lightly clench the feet (or calves, knees, etc.), breathe and release the clench. Proceed to the next area, moving upward until you reach the head. 

Method B: For a short period of time, focus on a sound, a track of music or a mantra. Watch the video on our home page here for this 6 minute chant of OM from Inner Splendor Media's popular album, Chanting Om - Meditation on the 7 Chakras. Either chant along or allow the sound to enter your ears and permeate your body. Notice the impact of this focus after the track ends.


Here's What You Need to Know About the Total Solar Eclipse on March 20th 

This week, on Friday, March 20th, a total solar eclipse will take place over Europe, visible as a partial eclipse in much of the continent. With reductions in sunlight varying from 84% in London to an extraordinary 94% in Northern Scotland, it will be the largest partial eclipse to be seen in Great Britain since the year 1999. Many umbraphiles (or eclipse lovers) in Europe are preparing to travel north to Norway and the Faroe Islands, where the eclipse can be viewed in totality, or in other words, as a total solar eclipse (as shown in the above picture).

And if that's not enough for you, the eclipse will also occur simultaneous with a supermoon; a full moon at its closest point to Earth that, consequently, appears to be larger in the sky. Looks like the heavens are pulling out all the stops!
 
For those of you unfamiliar with solar eclipses, they occur when the Moon's orbit temporarily crosses in front of the sun, blocking it from view. The "path of totality" is the area on the Earth’s surface directly under the darkest part of the moon's shadow, known as the umbral shadow. Within this region, the sun is completely covered and a total eclipse is seen. On either side of the path of totality, observers will see a partial eclipse.Locations that will see a total eclipse for about 2 minutes include the Faroe Islands, Spitsbergen (Norway), and Longyearbyen (Norway). Just outside the path of totality, a very large partial eclipse will be visible in Great Britain, Iceland, Greenland and parts of Russia. A much more subtle eclipse may be visible in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. The below graphic shows different vantage points on the British Isles, along with the percentage of sunlight decrease and the peak eclipse time for each area.
Astronomy Now graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby

In Eastern spirituality, an eclipse is thought to be a particularly poignant time to practice meditation, mantra repetition, and chanting. The energy of an eclipse pulls our consciousness inwards, leading us to deepened spiritual experiences. Even birds and other animals will interrupt their days to prepare for sleep and refrain from eating during an eclipse. It is recommended that we follow the animals' example: eat light and, if possible, refraining from heavy traveling. Remember, nature is guiding you inward at this time. 
Image created by Nate Gonzalez
 
Some feel the energetic effects of an eclipse for a couple of days before and after the actual event, at which time emotions can become heightened. For this reason, we can mentally and spiritually prepare before an eclipse by mindfully watching our thoughts and feelings. While mindfulness is always a good practice, it may be extra necessary during a large-scale celestial event.

Needless to say, there are many superstitions surrounding eclipses. Some think they have an adverse effect on pregnant women, while others adopt bizarre rituals to ward off misfortune. In ancient times, our ancestors feared eclipses as signs of a wrathful God or apocalyptic omens, and Ancient Greeks associated them with terrifying, blood thirsty wolf demons! Nowadays, we've come to realize the futility of fear during an eclipse. To the contrary, many of us recognize such an event as a time to focus on the expansiveness of the Self.

So get ready to explore the inner realms, and have a happy, peaceful eclipse! 

Author: Nate Morgan

According to New Studies, Exercise Changes Your DNA 

We've known for years that exercise increases overall functionality and lowers the risk of disease in the body. However, certain details about how exercise leads to a healthier body have remained a mystery. A recent New York Times article shed some light on scientific findings concerning the crossroads of exercise and epigenetics. 

The human body has the remarkable ability to revise it's genetic behavior, and our genes are constantly responding to the body's biochemical signals. Depending largely on our habits, certain genes may become more active, while others take a back seat.

In an epigenetics study published this past December, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm engaged 23 men and women in physical activities that isolated just one leg. Participants bicycled on that leg for 45 minutes, 4 times per week for 3 months. Obviously, the active leg slowly began to show more power than the other. But what interested researchers were the changes within the DNA of the exercised leg.

New methylation patterns were found on over 5,000 sites on the muscle genomes of the active leg. What is methylation? Simply speaking, it's a process in which clusters of atoms attach to the outside of a gene, making that gene more or less receptive of the body's various biochemical signals. Most of the genes that were observed to undergo new methylation play important roles in the processes of insulin response, energy metabolism, and inflammation within muscles. 

In other words, the genes that play an important role in the body's overall fitness became more expressed through methylation. These changes were not observed in the unexercised leg.

These findings offer a fresh understanding of human versatility and the benefits of regular exercise. (We can't speak for you, but we definitely needed the reminder!) Still, other questions remain. How does gene expression change with different types of exercise, such as strength training? Only time will tell. 

Author: Nate Morgan

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