Meditation Replaces Detention
After 15 years of bringing yoga and mindfulness to Baltimore schools, the Holistic Life Foundation—founded by brothers Ali and Atman Smith and Andy Gonzalez—has garnered nationwide attention, on CBS, CNN, Huffington Post, and others, for its Mindful Moment Room at Robert W. Coleman Elementary. Instead of detention, children take a moment to breathe and assess what’s going on in body and mind. Suspensions dropped to zero. The publicity helps, Gonzalez says, because “We’re interested in inspiring systemic change in education, here in Baltimore, and beyond.” To help with that effort, HLF’s workforce development initiative just increased the staff from 30 to 37. Atman Smith says, “We can offer training and meaningful work to people with few options. We have one ex-con who has turned his life around and is now a role model.” His brother Ali adds, “Our partnerships in other cities, like Boston and Madison, WI, are making it possible for us to replicate our success, and to create online tools to serve the entire country, and even the world. It’s all about the love.”
Food for Thought
Regular mindfulness practice may temper food-related desires in daily life. In a small preliminary study, Esther Papies of Utrecht University and her colleagues surveyed 33 meditators, and results showed practitioners who were able to detach themselves from thoughts about food—for instance, viewing their reaction to, say, a tempting chocolate as a “transient mental event” that soon fades away—had fewer food cravings. That was more so for women than for men.
Bees and Refugees Team Up in Copenhagen
From the airport to Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen is swarming with bees. But no menace are these friendly fliers. Indeed, they’re welcome guests in a city that has embraced the work of Bybi (“city bee” in Danish), an organization that creates and maintains honeybee hives throughout the urban corridor with the help of some of its newest residents: refugees fleeing violence in their own countries.
Businesses and organizations “rent” bees to place on their properties, while Bybi employees and volunteers tend the hives and help produce a cottage-industry of products, including table honey, candles, candy, beer, and rum that is sold back to the community.
“The changes we’re seeing in Denmark and around Europe in terms of the economy and the refugee crisis are splitting Danish society right down the middle,” Bybi founder Oliver Maxwell told the digital newsmagazine TakePart. “But bees are something universal— there’s nowhere in the world where people don’t have stories in their culture about bees and honey.”
When Counselors Meditate
Empathetically engaging with clients is core to effective counseling, yet too much emotional empathy—feeling others’ suffering—can result in burnout. Training in loving-kindness meditation might help, say researchers Monica Leppma and Mark Young. They assigned 103 grad students in a counseling program to receive either interpersonal skills training or instruction in wellness education and loving-kindness meditation, which directs compassion first toward oneself and then toward others.
The meditation intervention increased students’ emotional empathy but seemed to have an even stronger effect in boosting cognitive empathy—the ability to sense others’ distress while still keeping some emotional detachment. (The interpersonal skills group showed no changes in empathy.) Most meditators also reported improved mood. If such findings are confirmed in further studies, meditation could prove a useful strategy for developing both types of empathy skills in a balanced way that lowers counselor burnout risk.
Putting Kindness Front and Center
In our digital age it’s easy to assume we’re connected to others when in fact we’re actually quite isolated. Kindness.org aims to change this by leveraging the power of social media
to make simple acts of kindness “front and center in our lives.” It does this through initiatives that include asking an elder person for advice, taking a walk with a friend, or gifting a plant, among other things. To participate, join or start an initiative at kindness. org, take action, and then post about your experience in words, pictures or video, sharing it far and wide on your social network.
The organization has also partnered with Oxford University to study the impact of performing acts of kindness, on ourselves and on others. The belief, according to kindness.org, is that “collectively, our ripples of kindness will create massive waves of change.”
On-the-Spot Help for Cancer Patients
An innovative tech design studio that focuses on meditation-related apps—Mindfulness Everywhere—launched a mobile meditation website for cancer patients called Kara. The site (thisiskara.com) was developed in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center CancerCenter Integrative Oncology team. It’s free, easy to use, and filled with short meditation practices for common scenarios (such as “I’m angry” or “I feel alone”), resources to go deeper, and uplifting stories (users can also share their own stories).
Busting the Cycle of Depression
Mindfulness meditation seems well-suited for helping depressed people break out of an endless spiral of ruminating over thoughts that drag them down. After all, a mindful stance can bring awareness to negative thoughts and feelings but allows you to “decenter” from them by regarding them as fleeting mental phenomena. There’s some concern, however, that a meditative focus may instead reinforce depression during acute episodes that make it tough to disengage from negative thinking. But a small study offers encouraging results to the contrary:
Ana Costa and Thorsten Barnhofer of King’s College London found that
a one-week mindfulness intervention eased symptoms in the short-term
for 19 adults with severe depression. A comparison group that underwent a one-week intervention of guided imagery relaxation reaped similar relief. In both groups, the positive changes were linked with an ability to decenter from negative thinking. But in the long run, the researchers believe that the broader emotion-regulating skills of mindfulness practice would be more effective in maintaining these initial improvements
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