Top of Mind

Things that spark our minds, touch our hearts, make us smile—or roll our eyes.

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Music for mothers

In villages throughout India, women are singing about IUDs and iron supplements, saving the lives of countless mothers and their infants, as an aspect of Save A Mother. SAM is an NGO whose mission is to deliver crucial health information and resources to vulnerable Indian communities. Gita Gupta, a trained health activist with SAM, says she has often incorporated maternal health information into traditional folksongs, because musicalizing the information makes it easier to remember.

Having a baby can be fraught with health risks in these rural areas, resulting in tragically high maternal mortality rates. While SAM has also aided in tuberculosis detection and increased acceptance of contraceptives, their education and advocacy programs are focused on pregnancy, nutrition, immunization, delivery, and infant care. The organization trains volunteers, primarily women, to empower other women in their villages to be proactive about their health needs. Their goal is social change where healthier behaviors become the norm. Since 2008, they’ve worked with more than 2 million people in over 1,000 villages. In that time, maternal deaths decreased by 90% and infant deaths by 57%.


Frisky fun

 Could mindfulness be linked to better sex? Australian researchers surveyed 800 adults about their “dispositional mindfulness”—a quality of nonjudgmental attention to the present moment—and sexual satisfaction. Well, well: The more mindful people reported happier relationships and better sex lives.


Countering trauma two ways

 Researchers at Rutgers University recently examined whether a program that combines meditation and aerobic exercise might ease trauma-related symptoms and depression better than meditation or exercise alone. In a pilot study, 32 women who had experienced sexual violence received either the MAP (Mental and Physical) Training My Brain program, meditation alone, exercise alone, or no instruction. At the end of six weeks, women who’d had MAP training reported significantly fewer traumatic thoughts and less rumination, as well as greater feelings of self-worth.

MAP training is unusual in that it activates both branches of the nervous system—one responsible for rest and repair, and one governing our “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Learning to intentionally engage and disengage these systems may be effective for those seeking to heal from trauma.


WHO recognizes the risks of gaming

The World Health Organization has added a new illness to its International Classification of Diseases: gaming disorder, which is marked by “a pattern of gaming behaviour [of] such a nature and intensity that it results in marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning.” Medical professionals have said the addictiveness of gaming is “substantially similar” to that of cocaine and gambling. While many people game in moderation, acknowledging the addictive quality of video games could make it easier for therapists and medical experts to understand and treat people who do not.

Open your mind, learn something new

 What we already know can get in the way of learning something new, a phenomenon called proactive interference. Much of what we’ve learned is stored in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory hub. Researchers in Boston were curious about whether mindfulness training might reduce proactive interference, as well as increase the size of the hippocampus—similar to the way a muscle grows with repeated exercise. So they randomly assigned 79 adults to four weeks of either web-based mindfulness training, or creative writing. Each group had brain scanning before and after their training.

Those who’d practiced mindfulness showed significantly less proactive interference than the creative writing group. What’s more, the lower rates of interference were directly linked to increases in the size of the hippocampus, suggesting mindfulness practices that focus attention on the present may improve learning and memory. These findings may help researchers develop strategies to better aid children with learning difficulties or prevent cognitive decline in aging adults.

Research gathered from Greater Good Science Ctr. at UC Berkeley, Ctr. for Healthy Minds at U of Wisconsin–Madison, Ctr. for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School, and American Mindfulness Research Association.

Posing no problem

A Denver, Colorado, elementary school is replacing its detention periods with yoga class. The pilot program draws on research that suggests yoga can help kids pay attention to their breathing when they’re mad or anxious, and may even ease symptoms of ADHD. School psychologist Carly Graeber hopes to leave behind the punishment paradigm in favor of “teaching kids social and emotional skills that they can use for their lives.”

Making menopause easier

 The transition to menopause can be physically and emotionally rough. Chinese researchers compared women receiving either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training or menopause education. At study’s end, while both groups had fewer menopausal symptoms, the MBSR group was significantly less anxious and depressed.

Mindful at work with Michael Carroll 

Q A junior member of staff has asked for mentoring. What does this really mean? What does a good mentor do?

A Mentoring is a private relationship between a mature, trusted leader and a talented, motivated protégé. The relationship requires periodic face time, so each party needs to be willing to be available to the other. It’s best if the person being mentored can articulate up front—in writing—what they would like to learn.

Mentees should take an active interest from the very start in cultivating the relationship, rather than expecting their mentor always to lead.

Mentors should expect to offer guidance and encouragement on:

Culture: What does the enterprise value most? What are the unspoken rules that one should be aware of?

Politics: Who holds influence in the enterprise? How best can an aspiring leader contribute, inspire, and succeed?

Social intelligence: What is expected of successful leaders and how should they behave?

Above all, mentoring relationships are about mutual learning; it’s not a one-way street. It’s a collegial relationship bound by shared trust and respect.

Michael Carroll is the author of Fearless at Work.

Extraordinary acts of kindness


An Australian man who has a rare antibody in his blood has donated plasma 1,100 times in his life, saving 2.4 million babies.


An off-duty Houston cop paid to replace groceries stolen from an ill man who had collapsed in the store’s parking lot.


Bermuda native Rodney Smith, while at university in the US, founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service, a nonprofit that helps youngsters volunteer in their communities by mowing lawns for those in need.