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  1. Often times people shy away from dance classes, afraid of not being able of keeping up with the pace of a choreography or beat. This is not the case for 5 rhythms dance. The movement meditation invites everyone, no matter their size, age, complexion, gender or flexibility to lose themselves in the dancefloor. Dance and its health benefits Gabrielle Roth, the founder of 5 rhythms describes the dance as a soul journey, but apart from this there are many benefits dancing provides to our health. According to The New England Journal of Medicine dancing frequently doesn’t only increase memory but it is the greatest risk reduction activity against dementia as we get older. During late adulthood, the hippocampus (part of the brain that controls memory) shrinks naturally and in some cases leads to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, the cerebral cortex and hippocampus rewire themselves the more you use it, resulting in greater cognitive reserves. Mobility is crucial to cognitive processes and according to the study, dancing merges several functions at once: kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity. They emphasize that a choreography is not actually necessary but that it’s the split-second decisions on movement that count. Even if dancing with a partner is not really necessary in 5 rhythms having dance-versations with someone else reduces stress built up during the day, The Journal of Applied Gerontology confirms. And whether you decide to take a partner or go solo, swaying on the dancefloor boosts your mood overall. More is better. Studies have shown that there is an improvement in balance and energy increase in people who include low impact workouts (aerobics and dance) into their lives. 5 Rhythms: The Worldwide Movement 5 rhythms started as a dynamic movement practice in the 1970s and still brings people together in the spirit of connection, collaboration and artistic expression. Elements from indigenous, world tradition, shamanistic and eastern philosophy along with Gestalt Therapy were merged by Roth- also a classical ballet dancer and dance teacher- to create a practice with the idea that everything is energy and moves in waves, patterns and rhythm. While a seemingly simple process, the 5 Rhythms practice facilitates deep and unending explorations, moving the dancer beyond self-imposed limitations and isolation into new depths of creativity and connection.” – 5rhythms.com Everyone goes on their own journey, exploring their body but sharing the collective experience of the ‘wave’ or 5 stages of dancing that mimic different aspects of life. Flow Unraveling by moving, the first rhythm you encounter is Flow. As the name suggests it refers to being fluid in our bodies, or allowing it to be and attending to its needs by being receptive. Aspect of life: birth, fear, being, body. Staccato Characterized by abrupt and stronger movements. Staccato establishes a connection by repetition. The dancers sculpt their movements and create form and self-expression. Aspect of life: childhood, anger, loving, heart. Chaos Headfirst into the beat and the unknown. Chaos is the dissolution of the structure the dancer has created so far, into a rawer version of themselves. There is a higher tempo accompanied by more complex movements. Untamable, until full release of the body. Aspect of life: puberty, sadness, knowing, mind. Lyrical Once Chaos has been processed by the body and mind, it creates space for freedom. Lyrical sets the tone for a lighter and playful dance with simpler repetitions and patterns yet aiming for the dancer to feel grounded, creative and empowered. Aspect of life: maturity, joy, seeing, soul. Stillness The vibrancy of the dancefloor slowly falls into silence. Stillness is the end of the journey in five Rhythms and where all of the other stages converge. It is characterized by slow motions eventually arriving to meditation. Aspect of life: death, compassion, healing, spirit. Good endings mean taking responsibility for the whole journey, distilling wisdom from our experience so that we may begin our next wave. – 5Rhythms.com Why movement meditation might work for you Even though arriving to Stillness is one of the aims of 5 Rhythms, the experience is good for those who struggle with the idea of sitting still directly and meditating. The reality is that there are different types of meditation that work for different types of people. Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute says that a combination of two things result in effective meditation: repetition of a word, a sound or a movement, and the ability to turn off everyday thoughts. The body then naturally triggers the relaxation response. Also, Dr. Melinda Ring, director of Northwestern Medicine’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine says many activities work as long as the practitioner has the intention of being present and focusing on the body-mind connection. After a long journey through 5 Rhythms in which you’ve integrated and tapped into your body, sweat, breath and intuition, you are ready to ride the next wave in or out of the dancefloor. References: (2010, July 30) Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter, Longer. Richard Powers https://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm (2018, February 5) Why Exercise Boosts Mood and Energy https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/workouts/boost-your-energy-level-with-exercise.aspx (2017, September 17) How to Meditate when you can’t sit still, Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-fam-how-to-meditate-1017-story.html (2014, November 20) The Many Health Benefits of Dancing by Berkeley Wellness http://www.berkeleywellness.com/fitness/active-lifestyle/article/many-health-benefits-dancing (2003, June 19) Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022252 Modelbilder von Colourbox.com Written by Guest Author We are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  2. Thích Nhất Hạnh is recognised internationally as one of the most influential figures in the fields of mindfulness, meditation and Zen Buddhism. Having been ordained as a monk in 1949, Nhất Hạnh has since written more than 100 books and has travelled the world, imparting wisdom and sharing his philosophy on life.  Over a period of almost 70 years, Nhất Hạnh has built a lasting legacy through his lessons on meditation, self-awareness, understanding, peace, love and non-violent conflict resolution. In this article, we take a closer look at his life, using some of his most famous quotes and most important teachings as reference points.  Engaged Buddhism 'Engaged Buddhism' is a term coined by Thích Nhất Hạnh, with its first known usage coming in a book he published in 1967, called Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. As a philosophy, it was heavily influenced by the Buddhism practised and taught by Master Tai Xu, who was influential in helping to reform Chinese Buddhism.  While Tai Xu advocated what he referred to as human-life Buddhism, Nhất Hạnh developed this philosophy further. Essentially, the 'Engaged Buddhism' he teaches focuses on using the insight gained through meditation and dharma teachings to ease economic, social and political suffering within society.  “When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on — not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.” This quote actually originates from an interview with Lion's Roar Magazine and perfectly captures Thích Nhất Hạnh's core belief in 'Engaged Buddhism', which became especially important to him and his spiritual community in the midst of the Vietnam War, during which they aided those that were experiencing the horrors.  Nhất Hạnh saw the help they provided as being part of their mindfulness and meditation practice, rather than something separate from it. What this particular quote demonstrates is the belief that meditation can (and should) extend beyond the self, due to the insight and perspective it provides.  The Enemies of Man Over the years, Thích Nhất Hạnh has often used his influence and wisdom to stress the importance of recognising the fact that the true 'enemies of man' are ideological, rather than physical. The most famous example of this philosophy being put into words came in the mid 1960s, in a letter written to Martin Luther King.  In the letter, Nhất Hạnh wrote that the enemies of monks in Vietnam were not man, but "intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination". He also opined that in the civil rights struggle in the US, Martin Luther King's enemies were not specific human beings, but "intolerance, hatred and discrimination".  “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.” This quote is an interesting extension of the basic 'Enemies of Man' teaching. Once again, it centres on the idea that we should not see those who do wrong as our enemies, or as people in need to punishment or retribution, but instead as people who can be helped, or who are in need of help.  Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Nhất Hạnh continued to promote the virtues of non-violence, even in retaliation to violent actions. These words help us to understand the deep-rooted beliefs that made this possible for him.  Embracing Science Another key teaching that has come to define Thích Nhất Hạnh's philosophy is his view that traditional Zen Buddhist practices can work in conjunction with science. In particular, he has embraced western psychological research and utilised aspects when teaching Buddhist Psychology at Vạn Hanh Buddhist University and Cornell University.  It is only through embracing science in this way that ancient wisdom can play a meaningful role in the modern world. This concept is explored in several of Nhất Hạnh's published works, including the 1992 book, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion and the 2001 book, Understanding Our Mind.  “Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.” Appearing in his 1987 book entitled Being Peace, this quote emphasises the extent to which Thích Nhất Hạnh discourages dogmatic adherence to any particular set of teachings, because such inflexible attitudes inevitably lead to conflict and, ultimately, suffering, rather than happiness, peace and contentment.  Instead, one of Nhất Hạnh's most important philosophies is related to the value of being open to new ideas, being willing to challenge existing ones and being adaptable to new research, evidence and technology. There is, after all, wisdom in letting go of bias and recognising that the concept of 'truth' can be fluid, rather than absolute.  Love and Infatuation In more recent years, Thích Nhất Hạnh's teachings have placed an emphasis on the concept of love and on defining precisely what it is. In his 2015 book How to Love, he argues that the ideas of 'love' and 'understanding' are inextricably linked. "Understanding is love's other name," he writes.  With this as the starting point, Nhất Hạnh is able to de-construct the difference between love and infatuation. Love, he says, is about understanding another person and their suffering. Infatuation, on the other hand, is a distraction from one's own suffering and understanding is replaced with fantasy, illusion and projecting ideas onto someone.  “If our parents didn't love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness.” Finally, this quote, which also appears in Thích Nhất Hạnh's 2015 book How to Love, neatly sums up one of the most significant conclusions he draws, which is that love is something which can be seen and learned. "If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all," Nhất Hạnh writes.  As Maria Popova points out, this is in-keeping with what psychologists know about the role of 'positivity resonance' in learning how to love. Once again, this quote shows how Nhất Hạnh's traditional Zen Buddhist philosophy can operate in perfect harmony with modern scientific research and reasoning.  Photo by d nelson - arrival, CC BY 2.0 and Duc (pixiduc), CC BY-SA 2.0 and mettabebe - Thich Nhat Hanh at festival in Da Nang, CC BY-SA 2.0  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  3. 5 Strategies To Help You Develop A Regular Meditation Practice This post discusses strategies to help you overcome common roadblocks to meditation so you can become more consistent in your meditation practice. Do you find it hard to stick to your meditation goals, despite knowing about the benefits involved setting up a meditation practice? That disconnection between knowing and doing is common, so if something is stopping you from sticking to the plan, this article can help you identify and tackle the root of the problem. Confront Your Fears A clash between thinking and doing sometimes hides a layer of fear. Common fears include self-doubt, fear of finding that meditation practice uncovers a negative self, and fearing that stillness of the mind will lead to stillness of action. All these fears are small acts of self-sabotage, which usually kick in whenever we are trying to go outside our comfort zone. To tackle this, you first need to accept that it’s all in your hands. It’s up to you to rewrite your own narrative, from a self-defeating one to an empowering one. Identify the stories you are telling yourself about your apparent inability to meditate, and create a different story by actually putting it in writing. Set aside 10-15 minutes every day to do this, and don’t underestimate the power of “self-editing” your life narrative. Studies have shown how effective this is in reversing negative or pessimistic thoughts and inspiring positive actions, so don’t let fears take over. Habit Replacement If avoiding meditation has become a habit, you should take steps to replace it with a positive one. To do this, think about how the habit you want to change became ingrained. You probably took a series of small decisions that reinforced each other and that stuck with you because they provided some sort of benefit. For example, you may procrastinate meditation because you want to have more free time. The key is to build a new habit that offers the same benefits and motivates you to stick with it. What if meditation was your free time? What if meditation helped you manage your time better? Next, find what triggers the bad habit. Do you postpone meditation when you get distracted by your phone, the TV, or other activities that are associated with free time? Write down each trigger and find a positive action to replace each one of them with. Habit replacement takes time and multiple tries, so be prepared to learn from failure. Parts Integration If you know the benefits of meditation but can’t get around to practice it consistently, there may a conflict of interest between your motivation and parts of your conscious or sub-conscious mind. This type of conflict takes time to uncover, but you can make the process easier by using a neuro-linguistic programming technique known as Parts Integration, whose objective is to help you find greater coherence between thoughts, values, and actions. Determine the conflicting parts in the behaviour you want to change (e.g. knowing it would be good to meditate is “the good part” and not doing it is “the bad part”) With your palms facing up, picture each part resting on each palm Ask each part what their final intention is, and keep asking the question until you come across a positive intention. For example, “the bad part” may want you to be productive and achieve lots of things during the day As you bring your hands together, imagine the parts’ intentions helping each other achieve your ultimate goal. Make sure you have a clear image of what this would look like Picture this new image of a successful you taking over other parts of your body Establish steps that will help you support the good intentions of the integrated parts The principles of Parts Integration are similar to those used in therapies that aim to bring unity between different parts of the self, such as Gestalt, client-centered therapy, psychosynthesis, and analytical psychology. All these strategies can help resolve internal conflict by making us pay close attention to different parts of our conscious and sub-conscious selves. As conflict subsides, focus and motivation get stronger and you’ll be able to achieve your meditation goals. Moving Meditation Another common thing that gets in the way of regular meditation is feeling that this isn’t really for you. This is particularly common if you are a very energetic person who has trouble sitting still for more than a few minutes at the time, or if you get bored easily. When thinking about a meditation session, the first thing that comes to mind is someone sitting in the lotus position. But you don’t have to feel confined to this position, as you can experiment with alternatives like walking, standing, or other forms of moving meditation. For example, you may want to try Qigong, a type of moving meditation that can help still your mind without sitting. There are dozens of Qigong movements, but you can get started with the exercise known as “Separating Heaven and Earth”. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the arms to the sides Take a deep breath while you cross your arms over your chest Exhale slowly and at the same time lift one arm while you lower the other (keep your arms slightly bent as you do this) Repeat while you alternate which arms goes up and down, for as long as you want your meditation session to last If you are concerned that moving meditation may not be as effective as sitting meditation, you needn’t worry. In several studies, Qigong practitioners reported feeling lower anxiety and stress levels, just as you would expect from other forms of meditation. Moreover, some researchers suggest that the physical exercise involved in Qigong can reduce bone loss rate and could lead to lower blood pressure. Share Accountability There’s strength in numbers and you’re not alone in your struggle, since nobody becomes an expert meditator without confronting fears and bad habits. If you don’t feel strong enough to address these issues, finding someone who is in a similar situation can help if you both agree to hold each other accountable and keep unrealistic expectations in check. Accountability partnerships work by adding an extra layer of responsibility, motivation, mutual support, and creative brainstorming, which all work together to improve goal achievement. With time and practice, you can become your own accountability partner, or help others overcome obstacles to meditation. One last thought to take away with you is: “whatever problem you face setting up a regular meditation practice, you can learn from it and thrive.” Modelphoto by Colourbox.com Written by Dee Marques A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  4. Living our lives to the fullest begins with what is already here. Staying engaged and curious can transform even routine activities. Learn how now.Have you ever felt that sometimes we go through our lives instead of living them to the fullest? Today it is common to live surrounded by distractions that make staying engaged hard, forcing us instead to continually move on to the next thing and overlook present experiences. Staying mindful and finding pleasure and fulfilment in everyday things can make a considerable contribution to your overall happiness, so below we have listed seven ways of turning routine tasks into enriching daily activities. Read on if you’re ready to increase your awareness, boost your connection with own emotions, and improve your chances of staying engaged throughout the day.  1. Start-of-the-day Ritual Cultivating enriching daily activities as soon as you start your day is crucial to your levels of engagement and well-being. Instead of waking up and getting on with your day on auto-pilot, why not create a ritual that increases your chances of staying engaged?  As you wake up, do some gentle stretching and notice your body getting ready for a new day. Acknowledge your gratefulness for a good night's rest that allows you to tackle whatever lies ahead. As you wait for your tea and coffee to be ready, take a minute or two to check in with yourself. Pay attention to physical sensations: is your body tense or relaxed? How are your energy levels? Are you hungry or thirsty? Mornings are the perfect time to incorporate other mindful practices such as mindful eating or showering, which are described further down in this article.  2. Mindful Showering Showering is a peaceful way of starting or ending the day, as it allows you to gain an appreciation for your body and to be grateful for having the opportunity to look after yourself. As you stand under the water, do a “body scan” from head to toes and take note of your feelings. The warm water, the aroma of your favourite shower gel, and a gentle massage are treats to the senses that would be a pity to overlook. Taking note of these micro-moments can help you stay anchored in the present and counter the go-go-go mindset. In the shower, it is easier to realise when your mind wanders into the past or future. Realize when you are not in the shower while taking a shower and gently bring the mind back.  Even doing the dishes is another opportunity for being mindful and curious.  3. Gratitude Walks and Walking Meditation Having a busy life doesn't mean you cannot enjoy the benefits of meditation. Simply walking and noticing all those things you have reasons to be grateful for is a way of staying engaged with the most meaningful aspects of your life. For example, you can notice your legs and feet taking you forward, a ray of sunshine helping support life all around you, the different colours of objects or plants bringing variety and making life more interesting.  To practice walking meditation, find a space where you can walk undisturbed and start walking while focusing on each movement. Lifting a foot, putting it in front of the other, placing your feet on the ground, noticing how your body weight shifts as you walk, listening to your breathing, etc. This can help slow down your mind and sharpen your self-awareness.  As if that wasn't enough, walking itself is a beneficial physical activity that can help maintain a healthy weight and decrease stress. Moreover, some scientific studies have found that walking can strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. And as you probably know, a healthy body feeds a healthy mind, and vice versa!  4. Mindful Driving The daily commute can be a source of frustration and other negative emotions, but using mindful techniques can turn this routine into one of those enriching daily activities that increase your awareness.  Before you start the engine, take a few moments to breathe deeply and state your intention to drive mindfully. You should also ensure your car is a distraction-free environment and something like a “cocoon” that protects you from the noise outside, so put your phone on silent and don’t switch the radio on. While driving, there will be situations that cause anger or anxiety, but all you need to do is acknowledge your feelings - remember that you have a choice not to let those negative emotions take over. Drive paying attention to your surroundings, try to see the streets as if it was the first time you were driving along them, and take every interruption (traffic lights, traffic jams, etc.) as a chance to check in with your sensory perceptions.  5. Mindful Eating We all have to eat, but our busy schedules often make us rush through our meals leading to all sorts of ailments, from poor digestion to weight gain.  To avoid this, practice mindful eating by engaging all your senses in a conscious exercise of appreciation.  Try the raisin mindful eating exercise Grab a raisin and hold it in your hands, imagining you’ve never seen one before. Use all your 5 senses to examine it. Look at its every detail: colors, structure, shiny or dull, can you see through? Touch it with closed eyes. Try to hear if it makes a sound if you squeeze it. Smell it. See if it smells differently depending on which nostril you use. Chew it slowly noticing its texture and flavour. Take note of the feelings and thoughts it generates. This technique is a mindfulness-based stress reduction MBSR exercise aimed at improving your ability to focus on present experiences, increase attention levels, and boost enjoyment.  6. Mindful Appreciation Staying engaged in the present and savouring everything life has to offer is hard when our appreciation is weak. To fix this, find four or five things (or people) that make your life easier or better. These could be small details like having drinking water flow as you open the tap or having a blanket to keep you warm and cosy when it gets cold. Make a mental note of those things, or even better, write them down while you ask yourself: What benefits does this bring to my life? What is special or unique about this thing / person? How would life be without them? How did they come to be? Stopping to think about this will improve your appreciation for simple (and not-so-simple) everyday things and give you more reasons to feel blessed. 7. Staying Engaged With (Or Despite) Technology Technology can be a constant source of distractions and interfere with mindful practices, so it’s important to set boundaries and know when and how to use it. Mindfulness-, meditation- and well-being-apps and podcasts with uplifting content show that technology and gadgets can be beneficial, but making mindful use of technology is also a matter of changing your habits.  For example, instead of reaching for your smartphone to take a picture of your food as soon as a plate is put in front of you, take some time to look at the food. Observe how it is presented, think about how it satisfies you, and about how much work has been put into making it reach your table. Likewise, instead of rushing to check your inbox every time a mail notification pops up on your screen, take a deep breath, pause, check in with yourself, and decide if it's worth responding now or later.  Like all other positive emotions, everyday engagement has to be cultivated. Trying to incorporate mindfulness into daily tasks will bring you a collection of memorable thoughts and moments that enrich your life and make it more pleasurable. And ultimately, these enriching daily activities will allow you to live your life and not just go through it.     Modelphotos: colourbox.com  Written by Dee MarquesA social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  5. After Apple coined and popularized the phrase "There's an app for that," and it became a bit of a running joke and an "if only" solution to all of our mobile technological woes, it's become more relevant than ever. We rely on our smartphones and on apps for almost everything: music, dating, exercising, health, transport, learning a language, finding the love of our life and tuning a guitar. But what are some of the best happiness apps?  The more smartphone-reliant happiness seekers among us want apps to help us become happier. The best happiness apps on the market are, first and foremost, free (at least for a trial run). Many also use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a basis for their concept. According to the NHS, this is a talking therapy aimed at changing thinking patterns and behaviours and is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. While applications are indeed very different than an hour of talk therapy with a counsellor, the way that apps can work within the realm of CBT is to try to modify your thinking patterns and by helping you to change patterns of behaviour through repetition.  Who uses these, anyway? There are various reasons why self-care mobile apps can be a positive addition to your life and push you a little bit closer towards your quest to happiness. They're more common than you think, and people already tend to use the iPhone, an extension of themselves, as a way to learn more about and to be more in tune with their mind: according to Nature, about 29% of “disease-specific mobile health apps” are focused on mental health. For example, two common mental health related apps for more dire circumstances are the PTSD Coach app or FOCUS for users with schizophrenia. While these two don't illustrate why the average happy hunter uses happiness apps, they have some of the same benefits.  Can an app really make you happier? First, the best happiness apps are helpful for those with a busier schedule, always available and ready to help. After all, you never know when you’ll need help - and, ideally, if you can use the same smartphone that you’re always looking at to make you just a bit more happy, structured, and grateful, there’s always an upside. The app also interacts positively with the user. Just like getting constant notifications or updates on social media might be stressful, receiving reminders to do a task or maybe an affirmation right when you need it could help you feel a lot better.  While not all the apps are free, many beat the cost of going to see a mental health professional, and, what’s more, the stigma of going to see a specialist unfortunately still exists for many.  In a nutshell,  You can practice them everywhere; If you use them as much as you use your smartphone, you'll use them regularly; It can remind you to be happier if you forget; Many of them are cost effective if not free. Still, an app can be a good first step in the right direction. Of course, it's important to remember that happiness and health apps are an excellent way to keep working towards better mental health at the forefront of your everyday life and can consolidate healthy habits, but even the best happiness apps by no means replace visiting a mental health professional, or even just simple human contact. Think of these happy apps like vitamins - supplements are great, but they can never replace the real thing.  The Best Happiness Apps: Happify Founded in New York City in 2012, Happify acts as a gratitude journal that you can share online. It comes in both website and app form, and it has various “scientifically validated tracks” that are suggested to you after you take a short quiz detailing your life. If not, you can also choose from options such as “Conquer Your Negative Thoughts,” “Get to Know Yourself Better,” and “Raise Happy, Resilient Teens” - how many are available to you depends on if you bought it for $11.99 a month or downloaded the free version. Each track has a theme and is divided into parts (usually 4). These are then divided into activities, ranging from guided meditations to reflective writing assignments, to games: one such game is a negativity bias game called Uplift, where the user selects positive words from a collection of rising balloons for points.  For the more socially minded of you, there's a community page with inspirational comments from other users. You can add your own too to brighten someone else’s day since it’s proven to make you feel happier. There are 58 “core activities” to begin with, with different variations, adding up to 1,200 various activities total. These activities were designed with the help of a professor of psychology at Hiram College Acacia Park, and they range from asking you to write down what you’re looking forward to in general, or looking forward to doing for a friend. Each of the 58 activities has a “Why it works” icon next to it, to explain you more about the science behind the fun games. Every two weeks, your phone gives you a happiness check-in, so it can continue on its quest to  “Overcome stress and negative thoughts" and "build resilience.” The reception for this simply happy app has been overall positive: indeed, users say that it changed their outlook, “especially when it comes to stressful experiences” adding that it reframes their "negative thoughts.”  Users also reported feeling more motivated and productive, indicating that it helps you to solidify positive, helpful habits that are the framework for a more confident and happy life. What’s more, users have reported that it gives them perspective, acting as a “digital scrapbook.”  Why you should use Happify:  It helps you build resilience for stressful experiences; It changes the way you have negative thoughts; It helps you build happy, healthy habits tied to positive thinking; Since even reflecting on happy memories releases chemicals that make you happy, you can boost your well-being by making a digital scrapbook to remind you of sunnier pastures when you feel blue. Happy Habits An Android app for Google Play, Happy Habits is unfortunately not yet available for us iPhone users. Happy Habits describes itself as relying heavily on the principles of CBT, and that it works by helping to "create the conditions for happiness in [the user's] life.” It starts out by giving its users a 119-item test to assess their happiness based on 14 factors; then, they administer results and suggestions, through games and through soothing audios to talk you through your quest for happiness.  Some of the things it features are Emotion Training Audios for help with managing emotions so that you can be more aware and cultivate a more positive attitude, best used when you feel overwhelmed by anger, sadness, or stress. Then, if you're feeling particularly anxious, you can also use the Relaxation Audios to unwind and to learn deep relaxation, something which is always an excellent way to relax and to benefit from life more. Or, for those of you who like to find out more about the concept and the history of the pursuit of happiness, there's their Choosing Happiness Audio to delve into the idea of and search for well-being. For those of you who like to cross things off of a list and who are conscious of their self-care, Happy Habits also features a Customisable Happy to Do list.  This reminds you to exercise, go outside, take a breath or drink some water. Like most of the best happy apps, it's game-ified, which means it turns the pursuit of happiness into a game rather than a tedious chore, with its point feature that helps you to keep track of your progress. For extra motivation (nothing like seeing how much you've been succeeding to achieve even more), it has a graph feature that then helps you to zoom out to see your progress. Users who like to write and keep track of their thoughts will be happy to know that the app has a Happiness Journal for writing personal affirmations for yourself and recording positive events to look back on later. Those of you who like to read can learn more about the science behind the app with articles on happiness and CBT. Its design is a little retro, but it uses positive colours like yellow and orange, and it’s customisable - for example, users can put their favourite picture of Hawaii, a snapshot of a beloved pet, or a family photo as their background.  Why you should use Happy Habits:  It's based on CBT, a method that has been proven to help depression and anxiety; It has a large variety of calming audios for you to listen to in the car, on the bus, or at home; It heklps you keep track of your self care list in a non-stressful way; It gives you a gratitude scrapbook to look back on when you need to cheer up and remember why you should be happy. Happier Happier is an app on a mission: to make sure you appreciate life to the fullest. This app was developed Nataly Kogan, a TEDtalk speaker who emigrated from Russia when she was young and had to go through hard times, escaping oppression in the Soviet Union while her family got on their feet in the Detroit projects. Allegedly, she vowed to find happiness, first looking towards success and wealth to achieve it. Quite understandably, this did not lead her where she wanted, so she turned towards her father's work - science - to see what next steps she could take.  She explains that what she found was that happiness lies in the small moments in life, and that you can be happier by just appreciating them more. In her own words, she wants to inspire you to say “I'm happier now because” by developing a “gratitude habit.”  In practice, the app works by helping you to be "more present and positive throughout the day," working like a life appreciation platform, or even a personal life coach. Each day it prompts you to write what you are most grateful for, be it the sun shining on your back, a moment spent with a loved one, making every stoplight on the street, or getting your favourite ice cream - you can even add pictures! These are moments that you might not notice if not for Happier, with which you can "create, collect and share those tiny positive moments." Ways you can use it are to lift your mood, take a meditation break, or enjoy the moments that make your day happier.  It's portable and can be used on Apple watch as well, acting as your gratitude journal. It also offers “bite-sized, expert-led courses,” to teach you more about the practice and science of happiness on which the app is based, breaching subjects like strength, calmness, and gratitude. What's more, it works as a sort of happiness social media platform, where you can connect to those around you (if you want, since sharing publicly is entirely optional) and get inspired by their gratitude posts. There's something very zen about Happier, an app which urges you to think of happiness, not like a feeling, but more like a muscle to be trained and on which you can rely on your day-to-day life.  Why you should use Happier:  Instead of selling you an unattainable happiness, it works to help you appreciate what you already have; To keep a picture, easily updatable scrapbook on what you're most grateful for; It helps you learn more about the science behind positive psychology; It works around a very old, uncomplicated, and trusted way to increase your well-being. The Bottom Line: Of course, using these apps along won't be enough to change your life. Spending too much time on your phone - even on happiness apps - won't give you time to find moments to be grateful for or to put what you learn on these apps into practice. Still, there is science to back up the claims behind these programs. For example, a meta-analysis of 51 “positive-interventions” like mindfulness activities, gratitude writing, and goal-setting found them to “significantly enhance well-being and decrease depressive symptoms.” More specifically, one of the main ideas behind the majority of these apps, counting your blessings, has been proven to make you happier.  We invite you to try out what we think are the best happiness apps to see what works best for you, and what pushes you to do the little things that will make your life better.   Written by Rae BathgateRae Bathgate is an American journalist based in Barcelona, where she enjoys sunlight, yoga, and bookbinding.
  6. The Internet, and especially YouTube, is packed with videos on how to meditate. But where do you start when you are a beginner to meditation? What different approaches do these meditation videos have? And are these videos really good and helpful to start or further develop your practice?  “Meditation is not just sitting in a lotus pose singing kumbaya.” “The scariest thing you can do, is to force your mind to sit still.” “Om means oneness. Om means completeness. Om means peace.” How to meditate There are many introduction videos, or “Meditation 101” videos to be found. One of the most accessible ones is How to meditate on the watchwellcast YouTube channel. This channel was part of a now-defunct website, and consists of videos that give instructions on how to do 100 different wellness exercises in 100 days. Noteworthy topics covered in these other videos include how to be grateful, how to do yoga, how to stop procrastinating, how to apologize, and how to sleep better.  This video on how to meditate is a playful and no-nonsense animation It comes with a pleasant, but slightly quirky female voice-over, made for absolute beginners to meditation. It explains what meditation does - creating focus to the mind and training the brain - and goes over some of the scientifically backed benefits of meditation: a better mood, less physical pain, more blood flow to the brain, and lower blood pressure.  The main emphasis and core of the video is a step-by-step guided introductory meditation, of counting the breath. Although not mentioned in the video itself, this form of meditation is the basis of vipassana, or insight mediation. Within the span of 100 seconds, this how to meditate video will guide you in doing your first meditation. And according to the video, by doing this form of meditation for 10 minutes every day, you will start reaping the benefits of it. If not, you can try another form or technique.  For an absolute beginner, this video is really all you need to get yourself started with meditation. It gives you some easy and compelling reasons to do so, and explains simple and clear enough what technique to use. After doing this form of meditation for a while, or when you are already more versed in meditation techniques, you will probably need deeper material. Either by developing vipasanna further, or moving on to other forms.  The no bullshit guide to meditation A more in-depth and longer introductory video on how to meditate is How to meditate - the no bullshit guide to meditation by Leo Gura of Actualised.org. His popular YouTube channel deals with many different meditation, self-improvement, and self-actualization topics.  In this video, Leo talks on-camera at length, without any cutaways or animations, about his own journey in his practice, and about the benefits of meditation for creating happiness in the present moment. Leo focuses more on the brain health benefits of meditation, ranging from increased productivity and creativity, to the melting of the ego, and the holy grail of meditation: attaining enlightenment.  Clear instructions how to perform the basic breath meditation Leo then goes on to briefly mention different techniques of meditation, before further elaborating on a mindfulness of the breath meditation as well. He gives clear instructions how to perform this basic meditation. Ranging from setting a timer for your practice, how and where to sit, to how to deal with the inevitable thoughts that will come up as you try to keep focused on your breath. Leo also stresses the importance of creating a daily habit of your practice. He emphasizing that some of the benefits of mediation will come only months or years after you have started. He mentions the importance of having a clear goal and vision on why to meditate as well, for what it can do for your life. And by sharing his personal reasons, he encourages us to formulate similar goals and vision to our own practice.  This video is targeted to basically the same people as the first video: beginners that want to start with meditation. The biggest difference between the videos is the amount of time that Leo spends in explaining the scientific background, his own journey, and the process of meditation.  If you prefer this more in-depth approach, and being challenged more about your motivations to meditate, then this video could be a good place to start. Easy mantra meditation For people that already have a meditation practice of vipasanna, including mindfulness of the breath, and are looking for a different technique to add to their practice, or that don’t see themselves focusing on the breath as a basis for meditation, Easy mantra meditation by the Yoga Vidya organization could be a good start. Yoga Vidya is a leading non-profit yoga seminar provider that facilitates retreat centers and city centers in northern Europe.  Easy-to-follow steps to get you started with Om mantra meditation In this video, a male voice-over and a female practitioner on screen demonstrate and explain the basic and easy-to-follow steps to get you started with Om mantra meditation. The difference between this form of meditation and a breath meditation lies mostly in the focus that we create in our minds, either on the mantra or on the breath. The result is the same: that we observe the sensations and thoughts that arise in non-judgmental awareness. A nice addition in this practice is the emphasis on positive affirmations at the end of the meditation that the video guides you through.  As a first start in mantra meditation, this video is a great start. If you want to dive deeper in mantra meditations, then there are more mantra-based meditation videos to be found on this channel. And if the way of instruction of the video appeals to you, then as an added benefit it could open up your practice to include yoga, to be found in other videos on this organization’s channel.  Transcendental Meditation Technique (Don't Pay $1000+) Speaking of mantra meditations: one of the popular but enigmatic examples of this type of meditation is Transcendental Meditation® (TM for short). Based on Vedic traditions, this method was developed by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM has been made famous by practitioners as diverse as The Beatles, Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, and Russell Brand. What exactly it consists of, seems to be something that you have to pay for in personalized training sessions by authorized teachers.  If you want to catch a glimpse what this type of meditation can do for you, then the short video Transcendental Meditation Technique (Don't Pay $1000+) might be right for you. A free introduction to the basics of TM In this video, a male voice-over takes us through the steps of this form of meditation. It has a static picture of a meditating man on screen as the only visual element. The transcript of the video is listed directly below the video. It might be just as insightful as looking at the video itself. Especially since both video and transcript explain how to choose your mantra. It also explains the steps of the practice, that take much longer than just watching the video. The main essence of transcendental meditation, getting to the “no-thought zone”. How to recognize it, stay in it, or reconnect to it. They are all addressed. It is this same “no-thought zone” that Deepak Chopra calls the field of pure potentially, or pure consciousness.  The video itself is not the best out there. But for people that are attracted to TM, having a free introduction in working with this mantra technique might be all they ever need. Instead of having to pay the high fees. And other videos that also explain the technique for free will show up in your suggested videos on YouTube.  10-Minute Guided Meditation for Self-Compassion For people that want to explore another technique, based on metta, or loving-kindness meditation, the video 10-Minute Guided Meditation for Self-Compassion is a nice place to start. This video is published by Sonima, a wellness brand that empowers people to live healthy, balanced, and happy lives. Self-compassion meditation as a technique has been made famous by the American researcher Kristin Neff, who in her turn drew inspiration from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  This is technically not a how to meditate video, but a guided meditation. It is narrated by Jamie Zimmerman, a doctor and practitioner of “meditation medicine” that tragically died in an accident two years ago. There is no visual instruction on how to sit or go through the practice. This guided visualisation meditation, with imagery of nature, people, and wildlife, presumes that you have sat before. That you are already versed in mindfulness of the breath meditation. It takes you through steps in visualizing children at different ages. Projecting your memory of yourself at these different ages. It invites you to use the same words of affirmation that are used in metta meditation, to send wishes of well-being: happiness, love, peace, a live free from suffering and living to the fullest.  If you have never practiced metta meditation and self-compassion meditation before, this video can be a great starter. Especially if you meditate a lot within the vipassana tradition, it can be a real eye-opener on how loving-kindness and self-compassion can further deepen your practice. Sonima states that the video is especially suitable for people that are working on making life changes or personal improvements.  10 Reasons You Should NEVER Meditate Still not convinced that you should dive into meditation yourself? Then you might want to watch 10 Reasons You Should NEVER Meditate .  This playful and funny video made by psychologist, life coach, and author Ralph Smart, gives you ten great reasons why you should (not) meditate. Ralph discusses on-camera some of the benefits of meditation. It ranges from how meditation changes the brain and the way we eat, to how meditation makes you let go of judgment and makes you stop ruminating and blaming yourself. He does all of this in a very mindful, light-hearted and insightful way.  Although not a how-to video itself, this video is a great starter if you first need to convince yourself. Or to be convinced, that delving into meditation is something for you. The promise of meditation, that Ralph stresses as well, is that it makes you live fully in the present moment. Makes you more confident. And, that ultimately, it makes you happier. Now isn’t that something you would NEVER want for yourself?  In researching this article, I watched numerous other videos that are interesting. They are ranging from techniques how to start with zazen meditation, to videos exploring the research and background of popular meditation practices. The videos above are definitely not the end-all-and-be-all to start with meditation. So if you have other videos to recommend, please share them in the comments below.    Modelpicture: Colourbox.com  Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  7. Discovering a personal meditation style might take a while, but the benefits are worth it. Developing one's personal meditation style rarely comes immediately. Even Buddha, by all accounts a naturally gifted meditator, needed time to develop his techniques. In this article, we'll discuss what influences there are on our meditation practice. We'll also discuss what techniques we can use to enhance individual practices while diminishing those things which detract us. Remember that meditation is a transformative practice. One that affects our brains and consciousness and it's best to view it as a process rather than a goal in is own right.  At its best, benefits of meditation can be seen in areas such as concentration, finding clarity and improving emotional well-being. Therefore, finding the meditative route that suits you best is generally quite rewarding. To begin with, let's examine the things that influence our abilities. Or otherwise, how to develop a personal meditation style.  If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we would eliminate violence from the world within one generation. - Dalai Lama Fields That Influence Individual Meditation Style You may think that you just meditate and that's it. If so, then all the best for you. However, most of us, if we are honest about it, have plenty of things that influence our personal meditation style. Bear in mind that these can carry both positive and negative influences. Few of us have lives which allow us, for example, to get into a meditative state at the drop of a hat. Each of these fields of influence makes us the sort of practitioner that we are.  When you are seeking a meditation style that will suit your development, lifestyle and personality best, then it is likely you will experiment a little. When doing so, try not think of there being either a right or a wrong way of doing things. What you should remember, however, is that influences have an impact on you and they will ultimately affect your chosen approach to meditation.  Type of Meditation There are countless of styles of meditation from which you might choose to practice. Although experts may recommend one method over another, you will find one or more that work particularly well for your process. Conversely, certain meditative styles may not suit you or, more correctly, suit your personal approach to meditation. Many times, beginners start with guided meditation, usually based on a visual narrative. A high-level form of meditation known as transcendental meditation and lives in the domain of experts. Kundalini and heart-rhythm meditation are both popular styles. Zazen meditation is also quite common - a Zen approach which is self-guided. Each style will have an impact on how you go about meditation. It is quite common to experiment with differing approaches.  Length of Time According to Hooria Jazaieri, a researcher, teacher and psychotherapist at UC Berkeley, the length of time you meditate will impact on how successful it will be for the individual concerned. She asserts that 10-15 minutes of mindfulness and compassion-based meditation is the right length of time for her style. Research published into how long it took smokers to reduce their intake following meditation sessions found that a mere five hours' worth over a two-week period was enough in the majority of cases.  Y.Y. Tang, et al. showed that even brief meditation training improved their group's capacity for self-control and lessened their smoking. If you are still unsure as to whether the time you spend meditating has an impact, then consider another study first published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research. The study claims that the density of brain matter in areas associated with memory, stress and empathy can increase following regular 30-minute meditation sessions.  Frequency of Meditation Of course, you should also take into account the length of time you meditate for in the context of how frequently you do it. For some, 10 minutes a day is enough because it is part of the routine. Perhaps longer periods are required if you are less frequent with your sessions. There are studies to back this simple idea up. They show that the sample groups that get the most out of meditation are the ones who do it most frequently. A notable example of this sort of research into frequency is one published in the Journal of Positive Psychology following work conducted at Stanford University.  Qualitative Considerations Not all meditation sessions can be described as great successes. Sometimes the quality of the meditation session we have gone through can be stunning and sometimes less so. Usually, there is an outside influence on us which has an impact on the quality of the meditation. You can become distracted by noise or visual stimuli. Perhaps you started to meditate too soon after being busy with something else. It's also possible you so desired a successful meditation that you couldn't clear your mind as you would have liked.  As creatures of habit, all people like to repeat what they have deemed to be 'successful'. But the truth of it is, that is not always possible to with meditation. Acceptance of the 'outcome' of a meditation session is a big part of whether it has been successful or not. Furthermore, no single meditation session should come into judgement based on its own merits. Each one progresses to the next and builds on the previous. So over-scrutiny of qualitative factors may be a detrimental consideration on its own.  Meditation Settings Being in a place that you are comfortable in and will be free from distractions is an obvious choice for developing your personal meditation style. The ability to cut out 'mental noise' is often very conducive to meditation. However, you should also consider that busy places can be fine for meditatively-minded people. Meditation in schools – not places you might traditionally associate with calmness – has had good results. Try multiple settings to find which place suits your preferred personal mediation style. Remember that a setting is not necessarily a physical location, such as being at home. It might relate to other factors, like the presence of others. Another consideration would be to have a dedicated spot or a useful place which also serves other purposes. Methods of Finding Your Personal Meditation Style Reflection is the key to understanding your own style. It is perhaps unrealistic to immediately know what has made a difference to your meditation right after completing a session. Therefore, keeping a journal of your reflections about your meditation sessions can be invaluable. Perhaps you feel the same after a session as you did before, but cannot say why. Journaling is the ideal method to use in order to work out what similarities of technique, setting and qualitative considerations there are in common between meditations.  Unlike journaling, modern neurofeedback devices provide actual quantitative measurements of brain activity during meditation, and this can be very telling if you are looking for some hard data to work with. According to Tracy Brandmeyer of the Centre for Brain Research and Cognition at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, neurofeedback is an aid to meditation which offers the opportunity to use mobile technology in ways that assist all sorts of people.  If you meditate in a group or with a mentor, feedback sessions are also a beneficial option. Members of the group or your mentors can discuss what influences your meditation has. They can also help clarify what may work better for you and what might not.  Self-Optimization and Mindfulness Making meditation a kind of target to be achieved runs contrary to many of the principles it is supposed to engender when practised. Indeed, developing a personal meditation style as a self-optimization goal is the very opposite of self-compassion. As such, striving for it can be counter productive. On the other hand, if you develop your own style along the way to a wider set of meditative purposes, then you may find more success.  Focussing on short-term aspirations about your personal meditation style can also have adverse outcomes. If you have a fragile mental state or are suffering from trauma, then being overly determined to develop your own style may not be the correct path to take. Research conducted by Willoughby Britton at Brown University has already indicated that mediation can have a negative effect on certain people. Remain mindful of what the purpose of meditation is and remember that it is a progression, not an ambition.  In Summary No two people are the same, so no two approaches to meditation will yield the same results. For many people, reflecting on the way they are going about meditating by journaling is beneficial. As is trying new approaches that will help to find a suitably accessible style. Consider all of the options available to you and don't be put off experimenting a little with your chosen practice.  Model Photo: Colorbox.com    Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
  8. Mandala coloring benefits are older than you think. You've seen them everywhere. In line at the supermarket, the bookstore, paying for gas when you fill up your car, the list is infinite. These mandala coloring books have inundated almost every aspect of printed media. But why? There are huge lists of the benefits of mandala coloring for adults. Some of these rewards are quite surprising, and others are more obvious.  Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves” (cited in Neihardt, 1961:32-33). A quick history of these fantastic circles reveals humans have been fascinated with circles for all of recorded time and perhaps even longer. Nature is full of circles. The moon, flowers, the cycles of seasons and movements of wind. Every culture on earth has some connection with circles. Whether it be from the way they construct buildings and temples to methods of meditation or dance. The symbol of a continuous life cycle, circles travel far and wide, yet remain visible in everyday life.  Various religions and philosophies look to circles and more specifically, mandalas, as a journey to the true self. Each layer of the mandala represents a different part of life. Ultimately a mandala is infinite and supports the Buddhist and Hindu claims to reincarnation.  What do they have to do with happiness? Often times mandalas are used for meditation. Some practices involve tracing the lines of a mandala with one's eyes, creating a high level of concentration and sense of present-moment-awareness. Similar to the meditation technique of staring into the blue of a candle's flame. Other times they represent prayers or gods. Like a visual mantra, offering peace of mind to the believer.  This stillness and awareness mandalas can create is what scientists want to learn from. There are many studies proving the benefits of using mandalas for gaining self-awareness, self-expression and even conflict resolution. How these 'reflections of the self' (Carl Jung) help us achieve greater happiness is simpler than you might think.  Drawing circles brings us back to our center. The circle is everywhere in nature it brings stability to an unstable situation or mind. Once balance returns, the mind and body can begin to function properly again. Thus resetting the purpose and goals one has or finding new ones in a time of uncertainty.  Here are only a few of the top benefits of mandala coloring: Helps to stabilize blood pressure increases creativity and self-awareness art therapy reduces anxiety and relaxes muscles self-confidence: freedom to color outside the lines if you want We've proved lots of interesting links in this article so you can learn more about mandalas for yourself. If you're unsure how to start a mandala on your own, there are lots of good resources to find out how. Our writer Tine Steiss has tried her hand at drawing mandalas and found them beneficial. She made one for you here to print out and try on your own.  Thanks for reading and happy colouring!  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  9. Meditation has countless forms - which of the many meditation styles is best for you? Research has proved that the effects of meditation can be to reduce pain, lower blood pressure and increase our overall sense of well-being and self-compassion. However, while there is a host of positive claims for the benefits of meditation, there is still much that is not fully understood by science. Mindfulness meditation is sometimes presented by mainstream media as a cure-all. Recent studies indicate that for anxiety and depression, meditation did not seem to be any more effective - yet still effective! - than other forms of treatment, such as medication or exercise. Bearing this research in mind, how do you decide on what personal meditation style is best for your needs and achieve the effects you desire?  Commitment is necessary in order to reap the full benefits. It is essential to find a personal meditation style that you are comfortable with. Finding the best form of meditation means you are more likely to persevere with your practice. There is no right or wrong way to meditate, it is completely subjective. You should choose a type that you feel that speaks to you spiritually.     Try these widely practised meditation styles to find the one that works best for you Below, we will describe some of the more common meditation styles. Before reading on, ask yourself a few questions that will help you discover your best personal meditation style:  Are you trying to empty your mind or focus it?  Do you find it easy to focus when sitting still or do you find it easier when active?  Do you find sounds distracting or calming?  Is darkness relaxing for you?  When assessing the effects of a particular style, you may find it helpful to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings during and after a sitting.  Focused meditation Suited for beginners and those who need assistance in focusing. Science has shown that practising meditation over years can actually cause the grey matter in the brain to increase in area, so it is well worth finding a form of meditation that will help you persevere. The focused meditation style concentrates on the senses. Visualisation is when you focus on a mental image of an object such as a light or a flower. This is a commonly used technique. Occasionally you may be asked to focus on other senses, like sound or touch. Other focus points include breathing and the flow of energy through your body.  Mantra meditation One of the best meditation styles for those who find silence distracting and find relaxation and peace in repetition. Mantra meditation has been practised for thousands of years. You chant or recite a mantra such as the mystical Sanskrit word “Om”- claimed to be the origin of all sound. Whether you whisper it mentally or chant aloud, repetition allows your mind to relax. Alternatively, you could choose an inspirational phrase that is personal to you. Mantra meditation can be practised in a group or individually.  Movement meditation May suit you if your mind becomes distracted when you are still. Or if you sit at a desk all day and prefer to find tranquillity through action. Movement meditation is a broad category of active meditation styles. Gentle, repetitive movements such as yoga, a walk through the woods, gardening or even housework help to clear your mind and allow it to be in the moment. Research by scientists at Oregon University found a significant decrease in pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients who practised movement meditation.  Transcendental meditation One of the meditation styles that may suit a person looking for a more structured form. Or committed beginners who are ready for a regular practice. Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and with more than five million practitioners worldwide, transcendental meditation is the style which has received the most attention from science. For example, research by the AHA has shown that TM can reduce hypertension. Instead of just following the breath, transcendental meditation uses a series of Sanskrit words and mantras to help you focus. Every student is given an individual mantra, based on factors like gender or birth year. The recommendation for transcendental meditation is to practise in a comfortable seated position, for 20 minutes twice a day.  Spiritual meditation If you thrive in silence, spiritual meditation may be your best personal meditation style. Science shows that spiritual meditation can be very helpful in lowering high blood pressure and preventing heart disease. Similar to prayer, spiritual meditation allows the practitioner to reach a more reflective ad contemplative state through various elements. Whether at home or in a place of worship, you embrace the silence and gradually allow your mind to wander over a personal question or prayer. Some people find that the answer to their deepest questions comes from within. While others feel that they answer comes from outside - from God or the universe.  Mindfulness meditation May suit someone who has no regular access to a group or teacher. Buddhist teachings base themselves on mindfulness meditation. It is an umbrella term for meditation techniques that teach us to accept everything that arises without judgement. To address things that occur and release stress as it arises while nurturing a surrender to things that cannot change. Studies show that mindfulness meditation can be an effective treatment for episodes of depression. It is possible to practice this style of meditation alone. Making it suitable for those who do not have access to a class or teacher.  For many people, meditation induces calmness, relaxation and a sense of well-being. This is not true for everyone. Some potentially negative effects of meditation For many people, meditation induces calmness, relaxation and a sense of well-being. This is not true for everyone. Individuals suffering from mental health problems or who have undergone trauma in the past may find that meditation causes unpleasant or painful memories to arise, which they are not ready to confront.  Long term studies at Brown University are still ongoing. Once complete, science should have a clearer picture of the potential adverse effects of meditation for certain individuals.  Some meditation styles are more difficult than others. For example, if you should visualise a small child and you experienced an abusive childhood, then you should assess whether another form of meditation might benefit you more. If you experience difficulties with your personal meditation style, it may be appropriate to seek help from a support group or psychotherapist. Meditation should not be a self-optimisation goal in-and-of itself but rather a means of developing self-compassion and peace. Be wary of pushing on with a meditation practice if it feels counter-productive.     Modelphoto meditating couple: Colorbox.com Modelphoto movement meditation: Colorbox.com  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  10. Tara Brach: Portrait of a Writer, Pychologist and Teacher With a PhD Clinical Psychology, Tara Brach is an American psychologist and writer, mostly associated with advocating for the role of Eastern spiritual practices in Western contexts. She grew as a Unitarian and lives in Virginia with her husband, a teacher of meditation and yoga. Tara Brach helped found the Insight Meditation Community in Washington DC in 1998. This spiritual community teaches and practices insight or Vipassana as referred to by Buddhists. Her teaching focusses on drawing attention to the mindful attention to the inner life of people as well as developing a full and compassionate engagement with the world.  Meditation and Teaching A spiritual teacher who travels all over America, Tara Brach teaches online, in written form and also in person. She has gone to Europe to discuss her views on meditation and Eastern spirituality in psychology. Her teaching focusses on the application of what are essentially Buddhist teachings to bring about healing at an emotional level. Her first published work dealt with how practices such as mindfulness can be effective in healing trauma. Other written teachings offer similar suggestions, such as how tapping into inner peace and wisdom can help people who are going through psychological difficulties and stressful situations.  Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing. - Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance In person, Tara Brach is well-versed as a presenter. In addition, she teaches classes, provides workshops and leads silent meditations. Brach is also well-known as a teacher of mindfulness and meditation on the internet. She produces a regular podcast which is downloaded in the region of a million times each month.  Education and Background Tara Brach gained her qualification in psychology from the Fielding Institute. Her dissertation centres on a ground-breaking analysis of the effectiveness of meditation in the healing of certain eating disorders. As an undergraduate, she received a double major in psychology and political science from Clark University.  It was at this time in her life that she began attending yoga classes, something which led to an interested in exploring Eastern approaches regarding inner transformation. After graduation, Brach chose to spend a decade in an ashram where she developed techniques in concentrative meditation. Later, she attended a Buddhist Insight Meditation retreat run by Joseph Goldstein. During this part of her life, Brach trained her mind in unconditional and loving presence. “I knew this was a path of true freedom,” she says.  Brach bases many of her past teachings around the processional development in her life. It is from her direct personal experiences with the role of Eastern spirituality in her own life, as well as her academic understanding of clinical psychology, that has led to her particular vision for blending Buddhist ideas with psychological ones.  Authorship and Written Works Among the many notable works of Tara Brach is her book, Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame, which appears in several other languages. The book looks into how crippling self-judgements and inner conflicts can lead to futile perfectionism, loneliness and an over-reliance on self-worth based on work. In it, Brach offers interpretations of Buddhist tales and meditations to show how to overcome such judgements by a radical acceptance of one's self.  Another title worth seeking out is True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. It deals with subject matter such as obsessive behaviour, life-changing illness and relationship breakdown. Brach has also produced a free guide to meditation which are available in several languages. This easy-to-read guide provides entry-level advice for establishing a meditative regime. It is dealing with hindrances to meditation and guidance on how to sustain meditation as a practice.  Online Resources for Tara Brach As mentioned, many of Brach's teachings and ideas in psychology are accessible via the internet, much of it without charge. Although she frequently teaches in person, for many people it is the online world which has brought her vision of a blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual teachings to the fore. Below is a resource for anyone interested in gaining further insights into her life, works and teaching.  You can find several online courses on mindfulness, which she developed with Jack Kornfield, at "Soundtrue". We've already tried "Mindfulness daily" - an app which provides daily lessons and shot meditations.  Podcasts and Audio Brach's audio podcasts, which includes led meditations, can be opened in iTunes for free. Another place to listen to her talks and other audio freely is via her website which includes an integrated audio player. The archive goes back several years, so there is plenty to hear and learn from. Audio versions of her books on CD are also available to purchase from many retailers that specialise in mindfulness and meditation.  Videos Some of Brach's past talks are available on video. They offer many insights into matters such as awakening consciousness, seeking internal and external truths and spiritual empowerment. While addressing from a lectern, Brach's style is engaging and often compelling while never becoming overly technical in either psychological or spiritual terminology. Her website hosts a number of these videos. She also has her own YouTube channel which includes a fascinating free-to-watch playlist named 'Finding True Refuge'.  Written Word Several online retailers sell Brach's books. Some of these sites specialise in mindfulness and Eastern learning. Many them, such a Good Reads, offer reviews by people who have read her books. These reviews assist general readers in getting to know which of her works might be best as a first choice. Depending on their particular requirements.  Talks and Events As a practising psychotherapist and a meditation teacher, some of Brach's talks and training sessions are for professionals only. For example, some of her groundbreaking work in showing how psychotherapists can integrate mindfulness strategies into their clinical work is conducted in academic institutions in the United States only. However, public events are online. Other than Brach's frequent work with Vipassana meditation instruction, occasional retreat teaching sessions are listed on her website. She also maintains regular updates of her Facebook page which details upcoming talks and public events.  Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
  11. Benefits of meditation find roots in the west. The practice of meditation is growing in popularity in the West and so are the scientifically proven benefits of meditation. In a world which can sometimes seem chaotic, people are turning to meditation as an antidote to a multitasking, distracted lifestyle. Consequently increasing their mental and physical well-being. Meditation has its origins in prehistory. The earliest written records, the Vedas of ancient India, date from 1500 BC. As an umbrella term that covers a number of practices, meditation takes numerous forms. One of them is Mindfulness meditation. The participant focuses on the present moment, thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise. Another important one is Loving-kindness meditation. This derives from the Buddhist Vipassana tradition. It emphasises universal love and compassion for others. Many people practice those forms today. Science now backs the benefits of meditation that humans have instinctively understood for millennia.  These scientifically proven benefits mean that it is being recommended as an alternative therapy for a diverse range of conditions, including:  Stress Anxiety Depression Sleep difficulties Increasing happiness Promoting positive thinking Improving relationships Boosting cognitive abilities As science uncovers the secrets of how meditation can improve the function and even change the structures of the brain. Hence its place in increasing the well-being and happiness of both individuals and wider society is assured.  The benefits of meditation reach beyond the mind. Scientists began to attempt to study the effects of meditation on the mind and the body during the 1950s. However, there are flaws in this early science approaches. More recently, studies have used modern techniques such as EEG and fMRI to scan the brain before, during and after meditation. They are therefore allowing the link between meditation and physiological and psychological changes in the body to be studied in depth.  In 2013, a paper published by researchers at John Hopkins University identified 47 well-designed studies that had produced reliable results. Because of that, they concluded that meditation can be as effective as medication for some forms of depression and anxiety. A growing body of science supports the benefits of meditation which include:  Stress relief Doctors are coming to realise that stress is the root cause of many physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. Meditation allows the body and brain to relax deeply and effectively. Research on PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) patients shows that meditation works:  by balancing the nervous system improving brain coherence restoring hormonal levels to a state of equilibrium The study also provides scientifically proven evidence that meditation helps people to cope better with stressful situations.  Lowering the risk of heart disease High blood pressure is a recognised risk factor for coronary heart disease. A long term study by the AHA shows that the risk of patients suffering from cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis, myocardial ischaemia and atherosclerosis of dying or suffering a heart attack stroke is reduced by 48% when compared to a control group in a similar physical condition who did not meditate.  Stopping smoking Meditation makes giving up smoking easier. The effect of meditating regularly is cumulative and as stress is reduced, so the impulse to smoke is lessened. One study of people meditating daily showed that 50% had given up smoking 2 years into the programme.  Improving cognitive abilities Recent research on a group of participants between 55-75 years old demonstrated that mindfulness meditation techniques improve goal-directed visuospatial attention span. Meditation techniques are useful strategies to slow the cognitive decline experienced in ageing.  Boosting happiness Studies at Kyoto University discovered that the precuneus area of the brain was larger in people who rated themselves as happy and upbeat than in those with a more negative outlook on life. Science has shown that regular meditation can actually boost the brain’s grey matter. It appears that we have the ability to grow our own happiness. Dr Wataru Sato furthermore says that now we understand that meditation increases grey matter in the precuneus, it will be possible to design scientifically-based programmes to grow a happier brain.  Improving the well-being and happiness of employees Contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga can be helpful to business in boosting the happiness and health of their employees: a happy, healthy workforce is a key to the success of a company. After offering a mindfulness course to 600 of their employees, Transport for London found that 80% had seen an improvement in their relationships and felt more relaxed, more than half felt happier at work and 64% experienced better sleep patterns. Another pay-off for the employer was that absentee rates due to sickness and stress dropped by an astounding 71%.  The scientifically-proven benefits of meditation in creating a happier, healthier and more compassionate society By encouraging us to focus on the present, meditation calms us, empowering us to lead a happier life and to cope with any difficulties life presents. Science shows that meditation is not only an effective therapy for many common diseases but also helps individuals improve their levels of happiness, grow compassion for others and boost their own physical and mental well-being, leading to the development of a compassionate, thriving and resilient society.  Update 24.03.2018: This article was published on January 30th 2017. Meanwhile a new book "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body" by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson was published. Altered Traits is a collaborative overview of the history of research on meditation and an analysis of what claims in the mainstream press are legitimate as opposed to those that are overreaching or simply wrong. For those who are interessted in the purely scientificly provend effects of meditation and how to make the most out of it wen highly recoment this book: "In the last twenty years, meditation and mindfulness have gone from being kind of cool to becoming an omnipresent Band-Aid for fixing everything from your weight to your relationship to your achievement level. Unveiling here the kind of cutting-edge research that has made them giants in their fields, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson show us the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it. Sweeping away common misconceptions and neuromythology to open readers’ eyes to the ways data has been distorted to sell mind-training methods, the authors demonstrate that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result. But short daily doses will not get us to the highest level of lasting positive change—even if we continue for years—without specific additions. More than sheer hours, we need smart practice, including crucial ingredients such as targeted feedback from a master teacher and a more spacious, less attached view of the self, all of which are missing in widespread versions of mind training. The authors also reveal the latest data from Davidson’s own lab that point to a new methodology for developing a broader array of mind-training methods with larger implications for how we can derive the greatest benefits from the practice."   Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  12. Want to alter the way your mind works to gain a greater understanding of the here and now? Thinking about which strategies you can use for dealing with pain, inattentiveness or stress? Worried that any approach you might take is not bound up in real scientific research? If so, then MBSR may be the practice you have been looking for all along. Based on the concept: mindfulness that is 'in the moment.' These techniques are simple, anyone can learn them with persistence. Thorough research from various leading medical experts in their fields has revealed some impressive facts about this practice.  The Key Effects of MBSR – What You Need to Know Mindfulness-based stress reduction is something that can bring tremendous benefits to anyone who takes up the practice. While it is not a substitute for treating more serious medical ailments, it does have many benefits. As with most things in life, creating a balance is the key. Once you become better-versed in the mindfulness techniques and training, they can have a widely-accepted therapeutic effect for any of the following conditions:  stress high blood pressure depression chronic anxiety migraine headaches diabetes some heart conditions In particular, common uses for MBSR are for controlling the often debilitating effects of chronic pain. A frequently unwanted symptom of several of the above-listed ailments. But, how can such claims be made? According to Dr Daniel J. Siegel, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, scientific studies and research programs have regularly shown that MBSR is effective in reducing stress in all these conditions and more.  In addition to the medical effects that mindfulness can have, many people use the techniques involved to improve their daily lives. Everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, going for a walk, can all be performed using mindfulness techniques. According to Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, taking a mindful approach is as focused on being as fully awake in life as it is when dealing with medical ailments. “It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment", he says. Therefore, stress-reducing mindfulness can have a powerful effect on individuals who consistently practice the techniques. Even those who don't suffer from excessive amounts of anxiety and mental anguish can benefit from mindfulness techniques.  A Brief History of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction The science of mindfulness has been a crucial part in creating its modern history. It had its start in America in 1979. Numbers were small, but as word spread of its positive effects, numbers grew. Currently, courses in mindfulness-based stress reduction are more than 22,000 participants. The thirty-five-year history of the course program has revealed to science that it can deliver a consistent and reliable improvement in individuals suffering from stress and other related symptoms. This betterment is present in both medical and psychological symptoms.  Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. ― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are Pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who successfully brought together modern Western traditions of science and medicine together with ancient mindfulness techniques from the Far East. Indeed, mindfulness can trace its roots back hundreds, if not thousands, of years to transcendentalism and Buddhism. Centred in and around the Middle East, India and China mindfulness takes hold in various religions and philosophies. The word  The word mindfulness is essentially a translation into English of the Indian Pali word sati or smrti in Sanskrit. Sometimes translated as awareness, sati is one of the fundaments of Buddhist thought. These concepts have a broad range of ways in which they can be practised. Similar to anapanasati and satipaṭṭhāna which are popular in Zen Buddhism. These ideas focus on mindfulness and awareness of sensory experiences.  Notable Scientific Studies into the Effects of MBSR According to Philippe R. Goldin and James J. Gross in their study into 'Emotion Regulation in Social Anxiety Disorder' available from the United States National Library of Medicine. One of the key findings of MBSR research is that it has measurable effects on emotional regulation. They point out that reducing stress, anxiety, and depression is possible by using these techniques. This result was due to the modifying emotion regulation abilities which mindfulness practices can create. The study shows that people involved in this research program were able to achieve emotional regulation in a number of different ways. These included changing situations by selection, modifying situations, attentional deployment and response modulation. Another key factor in the scientifically noted emotional regulation detected in participants resulted in cognitive change. Further research studies have been carried out to determine the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction on social anxiety disorder- a common psychiatric condition usually referred to as SAD. According to one critical study, carried out by Koszycki et al. in 2007. Results from the study showed a like-for-like improvement in patients with SAD was achievable by participating in an 8-week MBSR course. Compared with a 12-week cognitive–behavioural group therapy course. Although both programs produced improvements in the mood, functionality, and quality of life for the participants, the study also revealed significantly lower scores for anxiety. Especially with cognitive behavioural therapies compared with MBSR as rated by both clinicians and patients. In a 1998 study conducted on medical students, a control group who underwent an MBSR course showed reduced stress levels. Published in the American Journal of Behavioural Medicine, Shapiro et al.'s study showed that there was a reduction of reports from the group of overall psychological distress including depression. Furthermore, the group stated that they felt increased levels of empathy. They also measured their spiritual existence with higher scores at the end of the course.    Fields of Use for Stress-Reducing Mindfulness As you can see in the video, there are many areas of use for mindfulness-based stress reduction. According to Judith Ockene Ph D at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Early scientific studies showed that psoriasis patients saw improved results after their phototherapy treatments. Two control groups were created. One group listened to a guided mindfulness audio during their treatment. The other group heard no accompanying audio. This study, it should be noted, centred on the physical ailments of psoriasis and not the mental aspects. By simply reducing the stress levels of the patients who underwent their treatments, scientifically demonstrable improvements demonstrated the effects of the physical outcomes from using the mindfulness audio.  Therefore, much of the recent scientific research, understandably, focusses on mental well-being. With a particular focus on conditions like depression. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in the field of medicine across many disciplines and therapeutic avenues. For example, according to Lawrence Leung, Associate Professor at the Department of Family Medicine at Queen's University, Canada. The MBSR technique is used to help patients cope with chronic non-cancer related pain and a range of other conditions. These matters eventually affect up to half of the world's population at some time or another. With such wide-ranging uses, it seems that the medical possibilities for mindfulness are limitless. All it takes is new ways of imagining its practical application.  You can take the 8-week MBSR course for free:  Online MBSR/Mindfulness (Free) This online MBSR training course is 100% free, created by a fully certified MBSR instructor, and is modelled on the program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the ... Update 24.03.2018: This article was published on April 10th 2017. Meanwhile a new book "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body" by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson was published. Altered Traits is a collaborative overview of the history of research on meditation and an analysis of what claims in the mainstream press are legitimate as opposed to those that are overreaching or simply wrong. For those who are interessted in the purely scientificly provend effects of meditation and how to make the most out of it wen highly recoment this book: "In the last twenty years, meditation and mindfulness have gone from being kind of cool to becoming an omnipresent Band-Aid for fixing everything from your weight to your relationship to your achievement level. Unveiling here the kind of cutting-edge research that has made them giants in their fields, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson show us the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it. Sweeping away common misconceptions and neuromythology to open readers’ eyes to the ways data has been distorted to sell mind-training methods, the authors demonstrate that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result. But short daily doses will not get us to the highest level of lasting positive change—even if we continue for years—without specific additions. More than sheer hours, we need smart practice, including crucial ingredients such as targeted feedback from a master teacher and a more spacious, less attached view of the self, all of which are missing in widespread versions of mind training. The authors also reveal the latest data from Davidson’s own lab that point to a new methodology for developing a broader array of mind-training methods with larger implications for how we can derive the greatest benefits from the practice." Photo: Colorbox.com  Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.