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Mindfulness is Good for our Hearts

An excerpt from Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health 

by Jill Suttie​​

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States, accounting for about 1 in 4 deaths every year. So, whatever decreases the risks or symptoms of heart disease would significantly impact society’s health. Mindfulness may help with that.

25% of annual U.S. deaths are attributed to Heart Disease.

In one study, people with pre-hypertension were randomly assigned to augment their drug treatment with either a course in mindfulness meditation or a program that taught progressive muscle relaxation. Those who learned mindfulness had significantly greater reductions in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who learned progressive muscle relaxation, suggesting that mindfulness could help people at risk for heart disease by bringing blood pressure down.

In another study, people with heart disease were randomly assigned to either an online program to help them practice meditation or to a waitlist for the program while undergoing normal treatment for heart disease. Those who took the mindfulness program showed significant improvements on the six-minute walking test (a measure of cardiovascular capacity) and slower heart rates than those in the waitlist group.

While one review of randomly controlled studies showed that mindfulness may have mixed effects on the physical symptoms of heart disease, a more recent review published by the American Heart Association concluded that, while research remains preliminary, there is enough evidence to suggest mindfulness as an adjunct treatment for coronary disease and its prevention. 

“...there is enough evidence to suggest mindfulness as an adjunct treatment for coronary disease and its prevention. ”

Mindfulness may also be good for hearts that are already relatively healthy. Research suggests that meditating can increase respiratory sinus arrhythmia, the natural variations in heart rate that happen when we breathe that indicate better heart health and an increased chance of surviving a heart attack.

Full Article:


Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health


 BY JILL SUTTIE


Suttie, Jill. “Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health.” Greater Good, 2018, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_ways_mindfulness_meditation_is_good_for_your_health.

Receptionist

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[Beth]

I like this article because as someone who has had high blood pressure for several years, I have found that practicing mindfulness in my own life has made a difference in controlling my own pressure, and that has made a big difference for me.

What Are The Component Skills Of Mindfulness?

An excerpt from The Stress Resilient Mind ​​by Glyn Blackette

The fundamental idea behind my approach to stress related problems such as anxiety is that what's needed is the skill-set of stress resilience: the ability to quickly and easily recover from set-backs and stressful events. Mindfulness is a key tool for training and developing such a skill-set, but it could also be seen as a skill in itself - even quite a high-level skill-set.


My approach to stress management is to consider what component skills (i.e. of the resilience skill-set) are lacking or need to be trained and developed. In particular I'm interested in what I call mind-body skills, which are to do with managing and regulating the mind-body connection.


If mindfulness is a high-level skill-set, what are the lower-level component skills that make it up? This article describes my thinking on this question.

Self-awareness

Well of course the foundation of mindfulness is self-awareness. This includes different aspects of our experience such as thoughts, images, feelings, sensations (body states), desires, urges, motivations and more. Of course there is awareness of emotions - I didn't put it in my initial list because it's quite a general and composite concept. Experience of emotion covers feelings and sensations in the body, also thinking patterns - both styles of thinking (e.g. racing thoughts) and lines of content (e.g. thoughts of revenge). Emotion also conditions focus or attention - how we pay attention, and to what.


All these things it's useful to be aware of. But a lot of people have blind spots - for example some people are "in their heads" - caught up in thoughts and oblivious to what's happening in their body. Mindfulness training can expand awareness into blind spots so that you can learn to respond more appropriately.

Emotional Literacy

Emotional literacy, or the ability to identify (name) emotions, is an aspect of self-awareness. Research shows that emotional literacy is beneficial (increases our well-being) in part because it helps improve our communication and build stronger relationships.

Imagination

Why would imagination be a part of mindfulness? Well, I don't mean imagination in the sense of fantasy, but just as a sense of what could be. Mindfulness doesn't try to fix everything down but is about openness to change, even curiosity. Knowing the sort of qualities that we can wonder, what would it feel like if ... - for example, what would it feel like if I were more relaxed? more vividly alert? What would it be like if my mind were like a mountain lake, clear and still and deep ...


When we question and wonder in this way, typically what happens is that an automatic or non-volitional part of the mind answers. What would it feel like for the shoulders to soften and loosen? - and as if by magic it happens. (By the way, I might add that I regularly see this happen with biofeedback clients, when we're working with muscle tension biofeedback. We don't just imagine the softening, it actually happens.)

This kind of imagination is the basis of the power of mindfulness to transform the mind.

Body Regulation

Mindfulness supports and is supported by balanced arousal. We want the body to be aroused enough that we feel alert and bright and lucid, not dull and sleepy, and yet not so aroused that we're agitated and anxious.

I'd like to mention a couple of sub-components of body regulation.

1. Ability to Fully Relax Muscles

It helps the mind to feel calm and steady and free if the body is too. Loosening muscles throughout the body allows the mind to calm down, and racing thoughts to quieten.

2. Ability to Breathe Optimally

Breathing is often the focus in mindfulness meditation - it's a rich field of experience that reflects (and is reflected in) the mind generally. Optimal breathing is part of the balanced arousal I've mentioned. Without going into details (of breathing physiology which I describe elsewhere), optimal breathing maximizes oxygen delivery to brain cells and can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms us. Optimal breathing creates helpful conditions for mindfulness.


Often we're instructed not to change the breathing in meditation. It's not that the breathing shouldn't change, but it's usually more effective if we can allow the body to change naturally and spontaneously, allow the breath to breathe itself. And it helps if we know what optimal breathing feels like.

Acceptance and Tolerance

Stress and distressing emotions, also painful sensations, is generally made worse when we internally resist or try to suppress these experiences. Of course it would be lovely if we could successfully get rid of unpleasant experiences but often we can't, at least not in the short term. Mindfulness involves noticing this resistance and letting go of it. That's what acceptance is: letting go of the internal struggle against unwanted aspects of your own experience.


Tolerance (as I'm using the term here) is very much related: it's the capacity to experience pain etc. without reacting and getting over-whelmed. Research suggests distress tolerance is a key component of well-being in general.


How do we let go? How can we train to get better at letting go? One part of the answer is to recognize that resistance manifests in the body as muscle tightening - as though we were bracing against some threat. This happens even when the perceived threat is nothing tangible but "merely" psychological. Noticing this physical tightening, and being able to relax muscles, creates the basis for the mental experience of letting go or acceptance.


In other words, acceptance or distress tolerance as a skill is founded on the underlying ability to regulate the body as I've described above.

Full Article:


What Are The Component Skills Of Mindfulness?


 BY GLYN BLACKETT


Blackett, Glyn. “Your Website Title.” What Are The Component Skills Of Mindfulness?, 2019, www.stressresilientmind.co.uk/articles/component-skills-mindfulness.

Account Associate

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[stacy]

Practicing self-awareness helps get rid of any negative habits that exist. As long one is aware of negative thoughts/emotions/actions, they can start to guide them into something more positive by working every day to be aware and grow as an individual.

How Your Body Reacts to Stress

An excerpt from How Your Body Reacts to Stress by Holly Blake​​

We all feel stressed from time to time – it’s all part of the emotional ups and downs of life. Stress has many sources, it can come from our environment, from our bodies, or our own thoughts and how we view the world around us. It is very natural to feel stressed around moments of pressure such as exam time – but we are physiologically designed to deal with stress, and react to it.


When we feel under pressure the nervous system instructs our bodies to release stress hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.

These produce physiological changes to help us cope with the threat or danger we see to be upon us. This is called the “stress response” or the “fight-or-flight” response.

Stress can actually be positive, as the stress response help us stay alert, motivated and focused on the task at hand. Usually, when the pressure subsides, the body rebalances and we start to feel calm again. But when we experience stress too often or for too long, or when the negative feelings overwhelm our ability to cope, then problems will arise. Continuous activation of the nervous system – experiencing the “stress response” – causes wear and tear on the body.


When we are stressed, the respiratory system is immediately affected. We tend to breathe harder and more quickly in an effort to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood around our body. Although this is not an issue for most of us, it could be a problem for people with asthma who may feel short of breath and struggle to take in enough oxygen. It can also cause quick and shallow breathing, where minimal air is taken in, which can lead to hyperventilation. This is more likely if someone is prone to anxiety and panic attacks.

The way that we cope with stress has an additional, indirect effect on our health. Under pressure, people may adopt more harmful habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs to relieve stress. But these behaviours are inappropriate ways to adapt and only lead to more health problems and risks to our personal safety and well-being.


So learn to manage your stress, before it manages you. It’s all about keeping it in check. Some stress in life is normal – and a little stress can help us to feel alert, motivated, focused, energetic and even excited. Take positive actions to channel this energy effectively and you may find yourself performing better, achieving more and feeling good.

 ​

Full Article:


How Your Body Reacts to Stress


 BY HOLLY BLAKE


Blake, Holly. “How Your Body Reacts to Stress.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 9 Aug. 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happens-your-body-when-youre-stressed-180964357/.

Account Associate

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[Alyssa]

I have been genetically predisposed to anxiety and have been having panic attacks since I was in my early teens. I like this article because I am equipped with this knowledge to think about the next time I have a panic attack. I can help regulate myself by thinking about what is happening; focus on the facts rather than my spiraling thoughts and breathe through it.

Poverty & Homeless Families

An excerpt from 9 Challenges our students Face in school today by Matthew Lynch​​

Some students struggle with completing Math and English assignments, submitting homework on time, and staying focus in class. However, these struggles may be a part of a greater problem that is not clearly seen by parents, guardians, and educators. 9 challenges students face in school are poverty, homeless families, child abuse and neglect, bullying (including cyber bullying), violence, obesity and eating disorders, sex and pregnancy, suicide, drugs, and dropping out. This article reviews the first two challenges which are poverty and homeless families.

Contrary to what many believed possible in the past, education has not eliminated poverty. Schools have not been designed to properly serve poor children. They reflect and promote a middleclass way of life. What other challenges do impoverished children experience? They often come from homes that are not adequate in terms of shelter, and they may live in dangerous communities. In their neighborhood, they may be exposed to drugs, violent crime, and prostitution, and they may turn to these types of activities themselves at an early age.

Parents of children living in poverty often struggle to provide them with enough quality food and medical coverage. Children living in poverty often come to school without having had enough sleep and without having had breakfast. They often experience family violence, abuse, secondhand smoke, neglect, and inadequate clothing. They may not be able to pay for field trips or other extracurricular activities that might expand their experience base. This is the frightening reality for millions of children. As a teacher, you will likely have impoverished students in your class.

Homeless children still need to have an education, although when they get to school each morning, they are often hungry and tired. Like many children living in poverty, homeless children move frequently, and are exposed to drugs, violence, crime, and more. Transportation might be an issue for some homeless children, and they miss a great deal of school. When they can attend school, they may be teased about their clothes and the fact they fall asleep in class. They may have difficulty making friends or fear participating in an activity in front of the class. Although many homeless children are with their families, older homeless children may be runaways or may have been kicked out of their homes. Many have been abused sexually and/or physically.

Teachers who have homeless children in their classroom will need to know how to help and support children without a permanent home. The children may be emotionally needy. Due to lack of access to bathtubs or showers and little food, they may be dirty and hungry. Teachers can be an anchor for these children by showing them compassion and understanding. It may also be a challenge to communicate with parents who do not have regular access to a phone. Of course, the most important thing for homeless children is that their families find a home. Teachers might be able to help by working with local agencies, children, and their families to find a solution to their problem.

Poverty and homeless families are serious challenges that students may be facing today. Be aware of signs or situations that reflect these problems among your students. In the classroom seek to assist your students as best as you can and continue to educate them. Continue to read the other parts of this series to learn more about the challenges students face today.

Full Article:


9 CHALLENGES OUR STUDENTS FACE IN SCHOOL TODAY


 BY MATTHEW LYNCH


Lynch, Matthew. “9 Challenges Our Students Face in School Today Part I: Poverty & Homeless Families.” The Edvocate, 3 Sept. 2018, www.theedadvocate.org/9-challenges-students-face-school-today-part-poverty-homeless-families/.

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates

[emily]

I chose this article because I think it is important to remind ourselves of the daily struggles some of these kids go through. In many situations, teachers and peers are completely unaware, making it seem like these kids are unmotivated. It is so important to see past the outcome of a child's work and try to understand the process it took to get them there. 

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