Top of Mind

Things that spark our minds, touch our hearts, make us smile—or roll our eyes. Keep up with the latest in mindfulness.

Reducing the Fear of Giving Birth

“Stress, anxiety, and depression before, during, and after having a baby can create long-lasting negative outcomes for all involved. We ought to do anything we can to reduce that stress and lessen those outcomes,” says Nancy Bardacke, founder of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) and author of Mindful Birthing. In a recent study—overseen by lead researcher Larissa Duncan, associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison—Bardacke taught an 18-hour intensive workshop, The Mind in Labor, to 30 first-time mothers, all of whom had reported fear of the pain of childbirth. The encouraging results: Participants had lower scores for prenatal & postpartum depression and a trend toward less opioid medication use during labor than those who participated in a traditional childbirth class. “This is a very promising result,” says Bardacke. “Now what we need is more robust research to demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of these methods and more trained MBCP instructors.”

Talk, Don’t Type

Some Canadian coffeehouses have decided to cut off or limit WiFi. “People have socially taken for granted that the coffee shop is a workplace. We don’t want to be an office. We wanted to do it old school and be a social hub,” Jimson Bienenstock, co-owner of HotBlack Coffee in downtown Toronto, told the Globe & Mail. Shortly after opening in 2016, the café turned off its WiFi. Bienenstock admits that business suffered, but he’s sticking by the decision. Meanwhile another Toronto café has limited WiFi usage during the popular dinner and weekend brunch hours, while others don’t have it at all.

Two Birds, One Stone, and a Nice Home

A rural region in Nova Scotia, Canada, had a radical housing idea: to pair seniors who have extra space in their homes with younger people seeking affordable housing. The initiative, devised by the Women’s Place Resource Centre in the Annapolis Valley, aims to bridge a generational divide while giving seniors support and giving young people a roof over their head.

Mindful Police Gather

From May 21-23, police, scientists, trainers, and community activists came together at the Insight Retreat Center in Santa Cruz for the inaugural Summit on Mindfulness in Policing, under the auspices of Mindful Badge, an initiative begun by Richard Goerling, a police lieutenant in Hillsboro, OR. Plans are under way to repeat the event in 2018.

Trust in Well-Being

“Mental health and substance abuse have become the most pressing health issues…. Beyond the human, family, and social toll, mental health challenges are costing our nation hundreds of billions of dollars annually,” says Tyler Norris, chief executive of the Well Being Trust, created by Providence St. Joseph Health. The trust funds innovations that “improve outcomes on the most critical mental health and wellness challenges facing America” and advance “the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation.”

New Name in Fashion

When it comes to creative, contemporary design that’s kind to the earth and to the people who make it, “mindful” is the new description of choice. As Lissome, a European digital magazine and store, declares: “The Future Of Fashion Is Mindful.”

Health-Care Leader Opens Mindfulness Center

Aetna, the American-managed health-care company, has long been at the forefront of well-being initiatives for its employees and its customers. A mind-body stress-reduction pilot program in 2011 led to a 35% reduction in workers’ perceived stress, according to the company.

This commitment continues with the opening of a mindfulness center at Aetna headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut. There, employees can learn mindfulness techniques and how to incorporate exercises into their everyday life. Aetna employees working in other offices can access the classes virtually.

“This is igniting the transformation. We’re going to be offering programs and trying to gradually change the workplace culture,” Andy Lee, the chief mindfulness officer at Aetna, said in a press release. “Stress affects all companies. Mindfulness is an effective way to provide people with the tools to help manage their stress.”

“It’s a part of the company’s broader strategy,” said Cheryl Jones, the director of mindfulness at Aetna. “We’re evolving beyond the mindfulness-based wellness programs and aiming to create a workplace culture of well-being.”

Extra­-ordinary Acts of kindness

  • Nurse Stephanie Treherne at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital makes tiny superhero capes for babies in the ICU.
  • In 1991, Pamela and Anil Malhotra bought 55 acres of desolate land in South India and founded SAI Sanctuary, which today covers more than 300 acres and is home to more than 200 endangered plants and animals.
  • When 10 people—including a family of six—got caught in a riptide at a beach in Florida, around 80 other beachgoers formed a human chain and
    rescued them.

When asked what he does during his down time, actor Michael Fassbender said “I try go-karting whenever I can. It helps me meditate a little bit.” Not one’s usual image of meditation, but hey, whatever works?

Research Roundup

The End of Nature?

Are we less in touch with nature nowadays? A University of Wisconsin researcher examined thousands of references in songs, fiction, and film. Beginning in the 1950s, mentions of nature steadily declined. Noting this, she hopes, can spur us to connect with the natural world.

Practice Protects During Tough Times

Certain times in our lives, inevitably, are super-demanding, stressing us out emotionally, mentally, and physically. University of Miami researchers wanted to find out whether mindfulness training could buffer some of the effects of these high-demand periods. So they worked with 100 college football players during four weeks of intense pre-season training—a time when emotional well-being and ability to concentrate typically decline. Half of the players took part in mindfulness training, while the other half did relaxation training. The players who were more engaged in the mindfulness practice showed less of a decline in their ability to concentrate, compared both with the relaxation group and with players less engaged with mindfulness. Players who showed high engagement with either mindfulness or relaxation training had better emotional well-being at study’s end.

Healing Help

Finding out you have breast cancer is often just the beginning of a long, difficult journey. Taking part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class may help. In a Swedish study of 166 women recently treated for the disease, those who took part in an eight-week MBSR class were less depressed, coped better, and had better bloodstream immune markers than two comparison groups: one given MBSR resources for practicing at home, the other receiving no therapy. The women in the MBSR class also experienced fewer symptoms. While other research has found positive effects of MBSR for breast cancer patients, the design of this study provides more convincing evidence of benefits and, the researchers say, may spur additional research into how MBSR affects the immune system. The study will continue for five years.

Easier Reading

People with dyslexia, as well as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), often struggle with the written word. Mindfulness training can reduce reading errors, probably by improving the ability to sustain attention, Tel Aviv University researchers found.

Wander No More

We all want to concentrate better, and there’s no shortage of online tools offering to help. Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark randomly assigned about half of a group of 95 people (average age early 40s) to a month of mindfulness training using the Headspace app. The other half did Lumosity brain training. Before-and-after measures of performance on a task requiring sustained attention showed that the mindfulness training significantly reduced mind-wandering, while the brain training did not.

A Healthy Dose of Friendship

Want to be both happy and healthy as you age? Cultivate strong friendships. That’s the conclusion of two studies by a Michigan State University researcher involving almost 280,000 people. While many studies have shown that close family relationships enhance health and well-being, the impact of friendship has been less clear.

In the first study, William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology, analyzed multicountry interview data from 271,000 people ranging in age from 15 to 99. He found that throughout the lifespan, people who said they highly valued their relationships with family and friends were both happier and healthier. Among older adults, though, good relationships with friends were better predictors of happiness and good health.

Chopik then looked at data from a study of 7,500 over-50 adults in the US, which included more detailed questions. Here, too, the impact of friendship was strong: When friends were a source of support, people were happier. But those who said their friendships were sources of strain had more chronic illnesses over a six-year period.

“Keeping a few good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being,” Chopik said. “It’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest.”