I hope you enjoy this issue of The Age Well. Make sure you check out the sidebar for the programs being offered in May and June. In addition to three seminars on mindfulness, I am running two new support wells this spring. A support well allows participants to learn about and practice using a variety of holistic strategies. This includes meal planning, supplement evaluation, exercises for physical and brain health as well as numerous stress management techniques.
Please take a moment to forward this issue along to family and friends so we can expand our Age Well Be Well community.
Mindfulness and Meditation:
Transforming Body and Mind
People often ask what lifestyle strategy has the biggest impact on wellbeing. More often than not, the answer has something to do with mindfulness. In my own life, developing a practice of mindfulness has improved the quality of my life more than any other single lifestyle change. I have come to view mindfulness as the foundation of good health and wellness.
Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, "comes from paying attention on purpose in the present moment as if your life depended on it and doing it without judging." Most of us pay very little attention to the actual moment we are living in. Instead we spend almost every waking minute thinking about what happened in the past and worrying about or planning the future. It turns out living in the moment just doesn't come naturally. Equally challenging to living in the present moment is doing so without judging. As Ellen Langer's research on mindfulness notes, our minds are addicted to categorizing things as good or bad, painful or pleasurable, something we like or don't like.
The National Science Foundation estimates that your mind has 12,000-60,000 thoughts each and every day. You may believe that it is a blessing that you are not aware of each and every thought as it rises and falls in your consciousness. But becoming more conscious of your daily thoughts is particularly important because of the strong connection between your mind and your body. Because of this connection, learning to observe and manage your mind is an important skill.
In 1976, Herbert Benson published The Relaxation Response, documenting his research on the body's reaction to stress and more importantly a simple method to help the body relax. The body normally can return to a state of equilibrium after a stressful event. But the chronic stress of modern living often inhibits the body's natural ability and this results in a variety of stress related diseases. The simple method Benson identified to help our body relax has been used for thousands of years: meditation.
Meditation is one technique for living more mindfully. Meditation is one of the least expensive and most beneficial strategies you can add to your lifestyle. Research on the benefits of meditating regularly is compelling and includes enhancements in longevity and emotional wellbeing as well as improved physical health. Studies have specifically shown that meditation:
- Mobilizes inner strength and self-understanding
- Increases self confidence and sense of self
- Facilitates clearer thinking and decision-making
- Promotes creativity
- Enhances sense of peace and wellbeing
- Enhances empathy
- Reduces stress and facilitates relaxation
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Reduces blood pressure and risk of other forms of heart disease
- Reduces symptoms associated with low serotonin levels (depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches)
- Provides relief for allergies, arthritis, indigestion, insomnia
- Improves immune system
- Improves level of attention and memory
Recent research utilizing imaging studies demonstrates that areas of the brain actually enlarge after practicing meditation for an average of 27 minutes a day for eight weeks. More information on this study is in the Research Highlights section of the newsletter below.
There are many resources available to help you learn more about mindfulness and meditation. Attending a workshop on mindfulness or meditation is a great way to learn about and try using meditation. Age Well Be Well is offering several mindfulness workshops this spring in Reading, Boston and on Cape Cod (see sidebar for the details). In the Book Review section below, you will also find recommendations on books and CDs that focus on teaching about mindfulness and meditation. A guide to meditation can also be found on the Age Well Be Well website under the "Information" tab.
Living mindfully is transformative and influences all aspects of health and wellbeing. No matter where you are on the health and wellness continuum, mindfulness will provide tangible benefits and improve the quality of your life.
|Toss A Coin In The Well . . .|
This column gives readers an opportunity to respond to an interesting question in each issue.
You can send your "coins" to me by email (E-mail Paula) and I will include a sample of reader responses in my next newsletter. Or better yet -- add comments to my related blog on the Age Well Be Well website.
This Issue's Question Is:
What is your favorite mantra or gatha?
When learning to meditate it is often useful to have something to focus your attention. Focusing on breathing is the most common technique. But focusing on a word/phase (a mantra) or small poems or prayers (gathas) in addition to breathing can also be very useful. I often use mantras and gathas along with prayer beads when my mind is especially active and I'm having trouble coming back to my breath during my meditations. I find this happens often when my life is especially busy or stressful. What are your favorite mantras or gathas? I will share mine in the blog on my webpage and would love to hear about yours. You can get to the blog using this link.
See Paula's Blog for her answer to this question and to share your own experiences.
Each edition, Paula will answer questions submitted from the community. To Submit a question to Age Well Be Well
"The Founder's Forum", e-mail me at
Q: How do I get my mind to stop thinking while I'm trying to meditate?
A: This is one of the most common myths of meditation. It is simply not possible to make your mind stop thinking. This is just what minds do. Similarly, you can't make your eyes stop seeing when open or your ears stop hearing. The goal of meditation isn't to stop the thinking but to not attach ourselves and judge the thoughts we are thinking. It is often useful to acknowledge and name the thoughts that come up during meditation and then imagine them floating away like a balloon. For example, I find myself thinking about what I need to do after my meditation and literally say to myself, "how curious, I'm planning" and then let the thought float away while at the same time use this as a reminder to focus again on my breathing. Using the words, "how curious" is my way of noting the thought without judging it. This also prevents me from judging my inability to keep my mind from wandering!
Q: How long do I need to meditate?
A: Many of the research studies done to date have participants meditating around 30 minutes a day. This doesn't have to be 30 minutes in one sitting. I meditate about 15 minutes twice a day, once in the morning before breakfast and once early evening before dinner. When you are first learning to meditate, try to sit for just 5 minutes and gradually increase the amount of time over a few months. But honestly, any amount of time at any time of the day is beneficial. Remember to be patient and practice regularly at least several months to establish this healthy habit.
There are many wonderful books and CDs available that explore mindfulness and meditation. Here is a list of some from my personal library for your consideration. I often recommend Andrew Weiss' book and the CDs by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield for my clients who are new to meditation. New devices are also now available that help facilitate relaxation with breathing prompts that promote heart rhythm coherence. If you are interested in exploring this technology, contact Age Well Be Well for an appropriate referral.
- Andrew Weiss, Beginning Mindfulness (2004)
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (1990)
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are (1994)
- Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response (1976)
- Saki Santorelli, Heal Thy Self (1999)
- Ellen Langer, Mindfulness (1989)
- Ellen Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (2009)
- Mark Epstein, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart (1999)
- Abby Seixas, Finding the Deep River Within (2006)
- Andrew Weil, Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing (CD)
- Weil & Zabat-Zinn, Meditation for Optimal Health (CD)
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners (CD)
- Jack Kornfield, Meditations for Beginners (CD)
- Rivka Simmons, Creating Calm in Your Life (CD)
"A No Brainer""
It is not uncommon for stress to gradually ratchet up throughout the day. You may not even be aware of it until you get into bed and feel your shoulders and neck tied up in knots. It can be very useful to take time throughout your day to check in and see how your body is responding to the stress of the day. Often this increased awareness and 2-3 deep breaths are all that is necessary to hold stress to a manageable level. The trick is to remember to do this every 2-3 hours during the day. I have found that setting a "mindfulness alarm" helps remind me to make time for this valuable practice. There are many applications that can be downloaded to your computer or cell phone if this works best for you but any alarm device is sufficient. Another option if you don't want to use an alarm is to take a moment to check in and breathe mindfully each time you do a particular routine. For example each time you walk to the bathroom or get on your computer stop and take a few deep breaths, relax and notice your surroundings.
The most recent research on the benefits of meditation is
focusing on physical changes in the brain as demonstrated with MRI scans.
In January, Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital published the results of their work in the journal, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. Their study is the first to document changes over time in the brain's gray matter among people learning to meditate. The structural changes identified corresponded to the benefits often attributed to meditation. For example, in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress; there was a decrease in gray-matter. Areas associated with an increase in gray-matter included the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory), the posterior cingulated cortex (associated with self awareness) and the temporal parietal junctures (associated with compassion and empathy). As the researchers noted, their study provides another wonderful example of our body's ability to heal and change. In this case, by meditating we can actually physically change our brains and increase the quality of our lives.
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|In This Issue|
Toss A Coin
In The Well
"A No Brainer"
"The Power of Mindfulness" Workshops
This three-hour seminar offers an introduction to mindfulness. During the seminar you will have opportunities to experience and try a variety of mindful strategies and learn ways to incorporate these into your lifestyle. Offered on three dates and locations.
Advance registration, please.
$50 registration fee is payable by check or cash on the day of seminar.
May 21 (Saturday)
9 A.M. - Noon
May 26 (Thursday)
1 - 4 P.M.
June 6 (Monday)
11 A.M. - 3 P.M.
and Building Relationships"
Age Well Be Well will be presenting a program in Newton for an exciting organization -- Discovering What's Next. Strategies for building new relationships during mid-life will be explored .
A $5 registration fee payable to Discovering What's Next.
10:30 - Noon
Newton Cultural Center
225 Nevada Street
Register for this seminar by
This 4-week interactive program will give a small group of participants the opportunity to learn about and actually practice a variety of holistic strategies including meal planning, supplement evaluation, exercises for physical and brain health as well as numerous stress management techniques.
Please register in advance, for the afternoon or evening sessions.
1 - 2:30 P.M.
May 26, June 1, June 8
and June 15
7 - 8:30 P.M.
May 26, June 1, June 8
and June 15
A $100 registration fee for all four sessions, payable by check or cash at