Tag Archives: mindfulness

Research Proves It: Meditation Strengthens Your Brain

human brain on a running machineYet another research study proves the benefits of meditation. Meditation research is hardly unusual.  This study, however, was the first to prove that meditation actually increases brain density—also known as gray matter—in as little as eight weeks!

The study appeared in the January 30th, 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging and was led by senior study author Sara Lazar, who is a Harvard medical school psychology professor. Ms. Lazar and her affiliates at Massachusetts General Hospital took MRI images of study participants two weeks before and after they participated in an eight-week Mind Body Stress Reduction course. They then compared those scans to control group of non-meditators over a similar time period. The meditators self-reported spending an average of twenty-seven minutes per day on mindfulness-based activities during the study.

The results were impressive. Meditators had significant increases in gray matter density in the hippocampus—the portion of the brain associated with learning and memory. They also reported decreases in stress levels compared to the non-meditators. For more information on the study, check out this link at Harvard.edu.

And put that research to the test personally with this simple candle flame meditation.

Enjoy!

Tracy

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PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

 

A Wish for the Holidays

On Thursday I taught my annual Yoga of Thanksgiving workshop at Whole Life Yoga.  This year’s class was special, because it took place so soon after the death of my mother.  Rather than allow my first holiday without parents to be a sad one, I decided to make it a gift. I gave to my students the qualities I was personally seeking during this time of transition.  Our practice revolved around embodying those qualities.

    • Peace: Both existential peace in our often-crazy world and security in ourselves, our homes, and our relationships. Symbolized by our connection to the earth and the root chakra, which is the seat of security and safety.
  • Joy: Which comes from creativity and play. Symbolized by the belly, which houses the seed of all that is creative within us. Joy is so important, because when we have it, we can share it with others.
  • Hope: Which, I believe, comes from courage.  Finding hope during tough times isn’t a gift or a given. It’s a practice that takes concerted effort. Hope, to me, is symbolized by the solar plexus, the seed of confidence and courage.
  • Love: The ability to both give and receive love, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Symbolized by the heart.
  • Faith: This is a loaded word for many, but it represents the ability to connect with something beyond ourselves—something that gives us guidance and helps us strive to be better. It’s symbolized by the crown of the head, seen as the connection point with all that is beyond us.
  • Light: Which provides guidance to find our way in the world, but also serves as a reminder that even in the darkest days of winter, we have within ourselves a clear blinding light. We symbolized that light by reaching our arms out to the side.

At the end of the practice, each student selected one or more stones that I had specially created for that day. Each was engraved with one of the qualities we had embodied in our practice. That stone will hopefully serve as a reminder to live the above qualities on those not-always-easy days outside of the yoga studio.

The true power of yoga lies not in the postures.  It lies in intention.  The meaning we give to our practice.  I hope the Thanksgiving practice helped my students plant seeds that will guide them, not only during the holiday season, but for the rest of their lives.

May those qualities live within you, too.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble or a bookstore near you!

Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

A Meditation to Find Joy

woman drop leaves in autumn park

We all have within us the ability to experience joy, if only we remember to look for it. The meditation below is one of my favorite tools for clients experiencing anxiety or depression. I recommend keeping a journal nearby, so you can write down thoughts, ideas, and commitments to yourself when you finish.

  • Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up toward the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable.
  • Allow your eyes to close, or if this is too challenging, keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing quietly at a place below and in front of you.
  • Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. First notice the warmth and coolness of the breath as it enters your nostrils. Notice the movement of your rib cage and belly. How does your spine move with each breath? What other sensations can you feel?
  • After you feel comfortable and relaxed, ask yourself the following question:
    • What brings me joy?
  • Don’t try to audit or evaluate the answers that come to you. You may hear words, see images, feel sensations, or experience emotions. Allow whatever you experience to float across your consciousness.
  • After a few minutes, change the question to:
    • How can I invite more joy into my life?
  • Again, there is no “right” response. Sit quietly with whatever comes to your attention.
  • If your attention wanders at any time during the meditation (and it will!) simply notice it, then invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath. When you feel ready, ask yourself the question again.
  • Continue this meditation for 10 – 15 minutes. Note any thoughts, ideas, or personal commitments in your practice journal.

I hope you enjoy the practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

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Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

Competition to Compassion

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Daniela Maurie. Daniela is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training, and a student in our current advanced training. Besides yoga & dance, she is an avid animal advocate who frequently does yoga practices with her constant canine companion, Chai. Daniela can be contacted at danielamaurie@gmail.com.

I came to Viniyoga from the professional, competitive dance world. My self-worth was entirely based on my ability to be the best – the fastest, the smoothest, the prettiest, the best body, the most precise, entertaining, flexible, expressive, artistic, etc., ad infinitum. There was no such thing as enough. I was always striving to be better, to improve something. Well, everything, actually. And while I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with striving for improvement, basing my value in the ability to achieve perfection was a fruitless, empty, and damaging trip to take.

Back and knee injuries ended my full-time dance career. I needed to find another profession that would keep me active and challenged, without breaking my body any further. That need was what brought me to yoga. I remember clearly my first night of Yoga Teacher Training. I was an insecure dancer who thought she had something to prove. I walked in to the program with many years of experience, but little understanding. I expected yoga to be another endeavor where being the best was what mattered. As I said, loads of experience, zero understanding.

Little by little, attending Yoga Teacher Training week after week, taking classes, and listening to my fellow yogis, I began to understand, yoga is not a competition, not even with myself. On any given day, I may or may not be able to maintain the form and balance required of warrior III. On any given day, I may or may not be able to complete a pranayama practice at my maximum breath threshold. On any given day, I may or may not have the focus to do a meditation. But on any given day, on every given day, I can accept wherever I am at, and whatever I am feeling. Through Viniyoga, I have learned compassion for myself, something I never knew as a dancer. I can now accept my imperfections, and not only accept them but celebrate them as part of this whole, wild, human experience. That hunger to be the best has been replaced with a deep and abiding desire to be authentic. That is the best I can be. Real.

I still dance, both socially and professionally. It is my oldest passion, one I am very grateful for, and doubtful will ever change. What has changed, though, is my ability to divorce my self-worth from my ability to perform, whether I am performing an Argentine tango or downward facing dog. There is no best in yoga, or life. There is only where I authentically am, right here, right now. And that is always perfect.

Daniela

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Thriving after Trauma

This past week I participated in an interesting discussion on the Sisters in Crime Guppies Yahoo group.  The thread coincidentally began while I was preparing to lead the next Yoga Sutra discussion for Whole Life Yoga’s advanced yoga teacher training.

For those of you who don’t know, Sisters in Crime is an organization that supports crime writers, like yours truly. “Guppies” stands for the “great unpublished,” of which I’m gratefully no longer a member. Many of us continue to hang out together even after we’re published because, frankly, we’re heck of a lot of fun.

This particular discussion centered around current backlogs of DNA evidence and how such backlogs might be incorporated into our future crime novels.

The confluence of these two conversations got me thinking, and when I get thinking I inevitably get myself into trouble. This time, I considered this age old question:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Many spiritual teachings, including the Yoga Sutras, have an answer.

For their own growth.

Many of you know, either from the Guppy thread or from past conversations, that I survived something almost two decades ago that was, to put it mildly, painful. Some of you know the specifics, some of you don’t. Honestly, they don’t even matter. There isn’t a person alive over eighteen who hasn’t known trauma in one form or another. At least no one I’ve met.

The question is, when we experience said trauma, how do we deal with it?

The Sutras say that we have no true control over what happens to us or around us. The only thing we can control is how we react to it. An easy enough concept, if sometimes seemingly impossible to put into action. But the teachings go on later in Chapter 2 to hint that anything that happens to us has a purpose. The bold font and words in brackets have been added by me

Sutra 2.18:

“The seeable [our experiences, good and bad] has the characteristics of brightness, activity, and inertia. It is embodied in the elements and experienced by the senses. It exists so that the seer [you and me] may experience it and then become free.

About a year after my personal trauma, I met with a counselor. I told her that I knew there was a purpose for what had happened to me, but I hadn’t found it yet.

She looked at me, deadpan, and asked a question.

“What if there isn’t?”

My answer came from a place so deep inside of me that, until that moment, I didn’t even know it existed.

“Then I’ll have to create one. The alternative is too awful.”

That was the day I began to heal.

Who knows why bad things happen to good people? I sure as hell don’t. But can we find growth, perhaps even peace, in spite of it? The sutras say yes. I’m inclined to agree with them. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other on earth, in spite of the traumas (and like all of you, I’ve had more than one) I’ve experienced along the way.

I’ll leave you all with one final comment, also from the Sutras. This is for those of you who are now feeling cranky with me. The translation is my own.

“Individual results may vary.”

May your life’s experiences—good, bad, beautiful, and challenging—serve as a springboard for your growth.

And ultimately, may you find peace.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Three Tips for Practicing Mindfulness in a Multitasking Workplace

A note from Tracy: Publicists send me multiple blind submissions for blog articles every week, and for the most part, I review and ignore them.  But this one caught my eye.  Meditation and  yoga helped me survive my last two years at Microsoft.  You may not be able to make it to the studio every day, but you can practice mindfulness wherever you are–including at work!  I hope you enjoy this article by Dr. Romie Mushtaq.

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Google, eBay, Intel and General Mills offer classes on it. So do Harvard Business School, Ross School of Business and Claremont Graduate University, among other campuses. Mindfulness is not just a corporate trend, but a proven method for success.

Mindfulness – being focused and fully present in the here and now – is good for individuals and good for a business’s bottom line.

How can people practice it in a workplace where multitasking is the norm, and concerns for future profits can add to workplace stress?

“Even if a company doesn’t make it part of the culture, employees and managers can substitute their multitasking habits with mindfulness in order to reduce stress and increase productivity,” says Dr. Romie Mushtaq, www.BrainBodyBeauty.com, a neurologist with expertise in Mind-Body medicine and Mindful Living.

“The result that you and your colleagues will notice is that you’re sharper, more efficient and more creative.”

Dr. Romie says the physiological benefits of clearing away distractions and living in the moment have been documented in many scientific and medical studies.

“Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s simply taking deep breaths, or actually meditating or doing yoga, has been shown to alter the structure and function of the brain, which is what allows us to learn, acquire new abilities, and improve memory,” she says. “Advances in neuroimaging techniques have taught us how these mindfulness-based techniques affect neuroplasticity.

“Multitasking, on the other hand, depresses the brain’s memory and analytical functions, and it reduces blood flow to the part of the right temporal lobe, which contributes to our creative thinking. In today’s marketplace, creativity is key for innovation, sustainability and leadership.

Romie offers these tips for practicing mindfulness in a multitasking business:

•  Focus on a single task for an allotted amount of time. You might say, “For 15 minutes, I’m going to read through my emails, and then for one hour, I’m going to make my phone calls,” Dr. Romie says.

If your job comes with constant interruptions that demand your attention, take several deep breaths and then prioritize them. Resist the urge to answer the phone every time it rings — unless it’s your boss. If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing to help with a problem, it’s OK to tell them, “I’ll be finished with what I’m doing in 10 minutes, then I’m all yours.”

•  When you get “stuck” in a task, change your physical environment to stimulate your senses. Sometimes we bounce from one task to another because we just don’t have the words to begin writing that strategic plan, or we’re staring at a problem and have no ideas for solutions.

“That’s the time to get up, take a walk outside and look at the flowers and the birds – change what you’re seeing,” Dr. Romie says. “Or turn on some relaxing music that makes you feel happy.”

Offering your senses pleasant and different stimulation rewires your brain for relaxation, and reduces the effects of stress hormones, which helps to unfreeze your creativity center.

•  Delegate! We often have little control over the external stresses in our life, particularly on the job. How can you not multitask when five people want five different things from you at the same time?

“Have compassion for yourself, and reach out for help,” Dr. Romie says. “If you can assign a task to somebody else who’s capable of handling it, do so. If you need to ask a colleague to help you out, ask!”

This will not only allow you to focus on the tasks that most need your attention, it will reduce your stress.

“And who knows? The colleague you’re asking for help may want to feel appreciated and part of your team!”

While it is possible to practice mindfulness in a hectic workplace, Dr. Romie says she encourages business leaders to make it part of the company culture. Stress-related illnesses are the number one cause of missed employee workdays.

“Offering mindfulness training and yoga classes or giving people time and a place to meditate is an excellent investment,” she says. “Your company’s performance will improve, you’ll see a reduction in stress-related illnesses and you’ll be a more successful businessperson.”

About Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Dr. Romie is a mind-body medicine physician and neurologist. She did her medical education and training at the Medical University of South Carolina, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Michigan, where she won numerous teaching and research awards. She brings to healing both her expertise of traditional Western medical training and Eastern modalities of mindfulness. She is currently a corporate health consultant and professional health and wellness life coach at the Center for Natural and Integrative Medicine in Orlando, Florida.  She is also an international professional speaker, addressing corporate audiences, health and wellness conferences and non-profit organizations.  Her website is www.BrainBodyBeauty.com.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!