Category Archives: Positive Psychology

Got Patience? There’s an App for That!

Rin Tin Zen

I’ve been meditating off and on since 2008 but recently committed to making it a daily habit.  A month into this new behavior I can already feel the benefits of meditating 15 minutes twice daily: more patience. The good news is that neuroscientific studies show meditation also lowers blood pressure and helps combat illness, depression, and insomnia.

In experimenting with various forms of meditation, variety keeps me motivated. Meditation is simple and easy to learn, but it takes time, patience and practice.  Here are some ways to kickstart your meditation using your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch:

1.    Mindfulness Meditation: Well worth the $1.99,  these meditations are written and narrated by Stephan Bodian, a respected teacher and author of Meditation for Dummies.  Using mindfulness-based techniques for stress-reduction, this app provides 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40-minute guided meditations.  There’s an audio guide on the basics of meditation, a checklist for optimal practice, and 10-minute deep relaxation exercise to prepare for meditation or to unwind at the end of a stressful day.

2.    Yoga Nidhra Lite:  According to Yoga Journal, nidhra or “yogic sleep” is an ancient practice for creating full-body relaxation and deep meditative states of consciousness. This free app offers nidhra meditation by Madhav, a yoga teacher trained in the Satyananda/Bihar tradition.  It’s another way to vary your practice because you can do it right before falling asleep.

I’ll be posting more as my practice strengthens.  Whether you’re just starting to meditate or have been doing it for years, I’d love to hear from you!

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3 Signs You Might Benefit from Yoga

1.  Is stress making you cranky?                                                                                  Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” All of us can relate.  But when we’re stressed for extended periods, our bodies release cortisol at levels toxic to the body.  This can cause irritability and anxiety which negatively impact work performance and relationships. Elevated cortisol has also been associated with weight gain and heart disease.  Studies show yoga benefits stressed individuals physically and mentally through regulating cortisol. Consider which is more important:  the quantity of the work you do or the quality? 

2. Are you trying to break a habit or establish a new one?                         Even though my rational brain tells me I don’t need the whole pint of Cookie Dough ice cream or that second glass of wine, I can’t always control myself.  Research demonstrates (Slaughter, H. & Davidson, R., 2011) that those who practice meditation showed increased “cortical thickness” in a region of the brain important to controlling behavior.  Since yoga is a form of mediation that incorporates poses, or asanas, with controlled breathing, it not only offers the benefits of meditation but offers the positive effects of exercise. 3.  Do you have trouble sleeping?                                                                          I’m sometimes able to travel with my husband to the fun places his work takes him.  But upon my return, I have to hit the ground running with work, school and other commitments.  In other words, no time for jet lag!   I’ve discovered yoga helps me get the most restful sleep I’ve ever had.  But don’t take my word for it, there’s scientific proof.  A six month study found yoga (60 minute session six days a week, with a 15 minute evening session) helped increase total sleep time compared to control groups.           

Maybe it’s time to give yoga a try!  If you’re in the Colorado Springs area, I can highly recommend Pranava Yoga Center owned by fellow Texan Charlotte Matsumura and her husband Mike.       

Namaste, y'all!

                                 

Slagter, H. A., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5(17). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00017 PMCID: PMC3039118

Brain Bugs, Behavior & Boehner

In his book Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives neuroscientist Dean Buonomano gives some fascinating reasons for why our memory, beliefs and behavior are subject to serious flaws…even if we’re unaware of it.  Simply put, our brain evolved for a different time and place.  He uses the example of a skunk’s effective defense mechanism: When attacked they turn around, lift their tails and spray.  Very effective for scaring off a coyote, not so much against an oncoming car.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that there’s an evolutionary bias (i.e. I can’t help it) for eating naughty food and blowing my budget when I know these behaviors aren’t helpful.  So my brain’s operating system is outdated. Is there an upgrade?

Luckily there is: behavioral priming.  Buonomano cites an NYU study using word puzzles to illustrate how we create “behavior nodes”.  In the study,  subjects were asked to complete word puzzles.  Some had to come up with words associated with kindness while others had puzzles with words biased toward being rude.  After finishing this task, subjects were told to talk to a research assistance pretending to be on the phone.  In measuring how long each subject waited before interrupting the on-going phone conversation, it was found that those who completed puzzles using more rude words waited less time to interrupt the phone conversation.

If the words, images, and sounds surrounding us constantly influence our thoughts and actions,  what are we subjecting ourselves to on a regular basis?

How often are we bombarded with images of war, famine and Beohner?

More importantly, how do we prime our brains to turn it off without turning away?

How to Grow Where You’re Planted

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”  Tao Te Ching

"Grow where you're planted!"

What do a real-estate agent, advertising exec, medical student, B&B owner, teacher, development consultant and non-profit professional have in common?  They’re all roles that at some point in my adult life I’ve assumed.  Each has taught me something valuable and helped me make the most of my life at a particular moment.  As my sister, a Navy wife, says, “Grow where you’re planted!” Aphorisms aside, how does one do this?  Or, as a newly-divorced, single-mom friend asked me, “How do I reinvent myself?”

Most of us will come to a transition point:  a change in location, family situation, or career opportunity.  Perhaps we want to to take an interest/hobby to a new level.  I’ve found this process goes more smoothly and produces better results if you know your strengths and use them in this new endeavor.  But how do you go about this?

Several years ago, I became intrigued with Dr. Martin Seligman‘s positive psychology theory.  I took his VIA Survey of Character Strengths which helped me identify key positive character traits.  (This is not to be confused with the Myers-Briggs test, also helpful, which identifies personality styles.)

The VIA Classification System’s goal is to identify what’s best about us and how we use those optimal characteristics to build our best lives.  Why is this important?  Well, research shows people enjoy their work and life more when they are using their strengths.

Success = Energy + forward momentum of strengths

So, are you ready to find out what your unique strengths are and put them in action?  If so, click here.  Please let me hear back from you once you’ve taken the survey to share what you found!  If you’re already using your unique strengths, please share how it’s going!