RealePink is a place for women with breast cancer and those at risk for the disease
to share their thoughts and experiences, especially those related to the mind body self-care practices

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

4 Steps to Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of focused attention to cultivate moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness, being present to the present. Simply observing the moment in which you find yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. Not judging, reflecting, or thinking.

A practice of mindfulness offers inner stillness that can be relaxing and healing. It enables you to be fully awake to life. Relationships can become richer, connections more powerful. It may quiet the mind and reduce physical distress. Mindfulness may decrease anxiety and depression, and increase self-awareness and self-acceptance. It enhances gratitude and appreciation of self and others, and helps you respond rather than react to situations. It may increase concentration and focused thought, and mindfulness encourages acceptance of things that you cannot change and creates balance in life.

4 STEPS TO MINDFUL AWARENESS

1. Stop   -  Call a time out for yourself
2. Breathe  -  Take a few slow, cleansing breaths. Relax any tension in your body
3. Reflect  -  Relax your mind and diffuse racing thoughts.  Let go of negative thoughts. Try to view the situation with compassionate awareness.
4. Choose  -  Choose to respond after calm consideration. Decide mindfully how to best to deal with the source of the stress.

While there is much interest in positive thinking and the desire for happiness, some studies suggest that reducing or avoiding pessimism may be more important than increasing optimism. In short, being neutral is better than negative. Practicing mindful compassionate awareness can foster peaceful co-existence with yourself and others.

Looking for more information on a mindful approach to daily living? Download the Harvard Health Publications "Your Portable Guide to Stress Relief".

Marnie Blount-Gowan, Editor

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Fruit of Generosity is a Sense of Connection

Practicing generosity not only makes you feel good but also connects you with the essence of who you really are.  Generosity is a core virtue in major spiritual and religious traditions.
There is a continual push-pull between our natural generosity, our genuine desire to share and the ego's feeling of lack and its desire to drive a bargain. That's why practicing generosity can be such a boundary-expanding thing to do. Every time we make a genuine offering or even think a generous thought, especially when we can do it for its own sake without thought of reward, it opens us to the loving, abundant, good-natured core of ourselves.
True generosity arises from a sense of rightness strong enough to take you past your ego's comfort zone. Pure generosity is balanced, free from compulsion, and appropriate. It neither bankrupts you nor weakens the recipient. Pure generosity contains no regret.
The practice of generosity confronts us on several levels. It tests our trust in abundance. It tests our ability to empathize with others. And it calls us on our sense of separation. The more "different" we feel from other people, the harder it will be to give freely. The more we recognize that we are one and that other people's happiness is as important as ours, the more easily we can offer what we have.
At the same time, acting generously strengthens our feeling of connectedness to the rest of the world. That is the true fruit of practicing generosity. 
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  - John Wesley
                                                                                                                                                                 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Healing Touch of Hugs and Hand Holding

From lowering blood pressure and heart rate to increasing immune functin and relieving pain, getting touched or doing some touching makes you healthier, not to mention happier and less anxious.

The act of embracing floods our bodies with oxytocin, a "bonding hormone" that makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other, lowers cortisol levels, and reduces stress. Women who get more hugs from their partners have higher levels of oxytocin and lower blood pressure and heart rates, according to research done at the University of North Carolina.
But a hug from anyone you are close to works, too. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison tested that when they analyzed stress levels among volunteers giving a presentation. Afterward, participants who got hugs from their moms saw decreases in cortisol levels an hour after the presentation. 

Twining your fingers together with your one-and-only is enormously calming. James Coan, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, discovered this when he administered functional MRIs to 16 married women while telling them they might experience a mild shock. The resulting anxiety caused the images of their brain activity to light up like Christmas trees. But when the women held hands with one of the experimenters, that stress response subsided -- and when they held hands with their husbands, it really quieted down. "There was a qualitative shift in the number of regions in the brain that just weren't reacting anymore to the threat cue," Coan says.

Even more intriguing: When you are in a happy relationship, clasping hands reduces stress-related activity in a brain area called the hypothalamus -- which lowers the levels of cortisol coursing through your system -- as well as in the part of the brain that registers pain, which actually helps keep you from feeling it as much.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain

A new study on mindfulness meditation shows that an 8-week program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. The study team, led by Harvard-affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), documents meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation — which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind — participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images was also taken of a control group of nonmeditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta H√∂lzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany.  
RealeWell Mindfulness meditations are available here. Each is about 10 minutes long. Try two a day or more and develop a routine that benefits mind/body wellness.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Exercise Prescribed to Help Relieve Depression


When Dr. Madhukar Trivdei, professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, noticed that several of his patient who suffered from serious depression reported that they felt better after a walk, he started to consider exercise as an additional therapy. These patients were taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors but were not responding fully. Dr. Trivedi and his colleagues wondered if prescribing a formal “dose” of exercise who aid their recovery. Instead of adding anther drugs to their regime, they focused on adding exercise.

Along with collaborators at Cooper Institute in Dallas, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiano and other institutions, Dr. Trivedi recruited 126 people with depresseion who had used S.S.R.I’s for at least 2 months without a remission of depression. None of the patients in the study exercised. This group was then divided into two groups, one began a gentle aerobic exercise routine, the second group followed a more vigorous exercise program. After four months, 29.5 percent had achieved remission.

“I think that our results indicate that exercise is a very valid treatment option” for people whose depression hasn’t yielded to S.S.R.I.’s, he said. The study did not involve a control group and researchers feel more studies are needed. It is also expected that compliance with the prescribed “dose” of exercise will be a challenge.

Yet, Dr. Trivedi said that there is no reason for people with unyielding depression not to talk with their doctors about exercise as a treatment option. “Side effects are almost nonexistent,” he said, “while you get additional benefits, in terms of improvements in cardiovascular health and reductions in other disease risks.” Exercise is more cost efficient than pharmaceuticals and a natural wellness booster. (NY Times, Well)

Marnie Blount-Gowan, Editor

Monday, August 22, 2011

10 Ways Art Relieves Stress and Benefits Your Life

The act of creating art, crafts, and other things with your hands can be a great stress reliever. It keeps you in the moment and encourages sustained focus and heightened awareness on an object outside yourself.

One who creates has a chance to take a break from daily activities, turn away from current stressors and demands, and focus on making something new. Being engaged in this lifegiving process, you can develop clarity of thought and positive feelings about yourself and your place in the world. Artistic timeouts, both making and experiencing art, are good for individuals, families, and even groups.

The simple act of creating can…

1.     Free your mind to focus on something unique and nurturing
2.     Engage your senses in focused sight, sound, and touch
3.     Make you mindful of your own ability to create new things
4.     Foster contemplation, quiet reflection and immersion in the activity and object
5.     Develop your sense of self-worth, and give value and meaning to the day
6.     Reveal your thoughts and feelings to yourself and others
7.     Connect you with the world outside your mind and body
8.     Bring back a childlike wonder at colors, textures, shapes, etc.
9.     Be satisfying, meaningful, and fun!
10.   Encourage gratitude and hope

To create is to give life to something. It is a positive, life affirming action that gifts the creator and those who encounter the creation. While art therapy is a recognized form of health related intervention, creating art or crafts, on your own time, can have some of the same benefits. Creating or viewing art can also trigger a surge of the feel-good neurotransmitters.

Each of us is an integrated being. Everything we do with our minds affects our bodies and what we do with our bodies affects our minds. If you take out a pencil and draw what you feel on a sheet of paper, something will happen. If you take the family to the art museum and walk through the galleries, something will happen. Art benefits your body, mind, emotions, and interactions. The synergy is fascinating and fruitful.

When faced with difficult circumstances or simply the challenges of living, art therapy can allow people to create art in a safe setting that can be tailored to address particular issues and concerns. Art therapy is defined as the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, one can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Greens - Adding Nutrients to Your Diet

After a long winter of grey skies, white snow, and brown grass, we long for the fresh colors and tastes of spring!  Our ancestors tired of stored potatoes, onions, and apples over the winter and cooked many wild greens as soon as they appeared.  This added not only vital nutrients but also variety to their limited diet.  While modern grocery stores sell produce from around the world and we are not quite so restricted, the price, taste, and quality of these imported foods often leave something to be desired.

In Central New York where I live (and earlier in warmer climates), the month of May brings fresh asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, and broccoli to the market.  Now is the time when they will have the best value, taste and texture.  No need to resist their perky, colorful allure!  These vegetables are packed with nutrients and phytochemicals.  For example, asparagus is high in folic acid and potassium, rhubarb is a good source of calcium, spinach is sky-high in vitamin A and provides vitamin C, and broccoli is a great source of vitamin C and good source of vitamin A.

Most vegetables are best enjoyed with limited heat and water, such as steaming and microwaving. However asparagus keeps its texture better when quickly roasted over high heat in a dry pan.  Leftover vegetables (if there are any!) are great when tossed into a frittata, added to a cold salad, or stirred into soup.  Enjoy each fresh vegetable frequently while it is in season and, when the next crop comes in, you will be ready for a change!
Darlene Endy, MS, RD, CDN