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Is Mindful Meditation Safe?


Safe Meditation?
“There has been some growing concern recently about the safety of mindfulness meditation. Some claim that the practice can have severe side effects, such as panic, depression, and confusion. Are these concerns well founded? Maybe.”

“The main study cited by opponents of meditation is a British study of the effects of mindfulness meditation on a group of prison inmates. The inmates participated in a 90-minute weekly meditation class for 10 weeks. The study found that the inmates’ moods had improved and they had experienced a lower stress level, but remained just as aggressive as before the intervention.”

“I fail to see how this study disproves the positive effects of mindfulness meditation. First, prison inmates are not a representative sample of the general population. Many of them have severe psychological disorders. Many mental health professionals would agree that they need more than meditation to overcome their mental illness.”

“Second, a 90-minute weekly class is not representative of an effective meditation practice. Most meditation teachers advocate a daily practice of at least 20 minutes of sitting meditation as a way of life, and not just for a limited period of time. Furthermore, a good meditation practice involves more than just sitting meditation. It includes participating in a meditation group, attending retreats regularly, and practicing mindfulness in all our affairs.”

“If anything, the study seems to confirm some of the positive effects of meditation, such as improved mood, and lower stress levels. So, I don’t see how this study shows that mindfulness meditation is ineffective or dangerous.”

“I should also stress that most meditation teachers, including myself, do not proclaim meditation to be a cure for all mental, emotional, and physical ailments. However, mindfulness meditation can help prevent many disorders, and is a useful tool to complement standard medical and psychological treatments.”

“In all fairness to those concerned about the safety of mindfulness meditation, from my more than 19 years of teaching experience, I have noticed one area for concern when meditating. As we practice, over time our mind will calm down significantly. As a result, memories of our past will begin to surface, and this will include unpleasant memories. If we are not yet strong enough to face them, then these memories can cause us more stress. However, if we want to be truly at peace, then we must confront the painful memories of our past, and deal with them once and for all.”

” In our teachings, we address this potential side effect. We recommend to our students three main components of a safe and effective meditation practice: 1) practice sitting meditation daily, 2) get involved in a meditation group, and 3) practice loving-kindness writing meditation daily.”

“The sitting meditation is essential for developing mindfulness. It helps us steady our mind and calm our emotions. It also helps us develop the inner strength necessary for dealing with painful memories. A meditation group can go a long way toward helping us heal. It is a resource of experience and support, so that we don’t have to deal with our problems alone.”

“The writing meditation is a fairly new approach to practicing loving-kindness meditation. What this practice does is reprogram our subconscious to see all people from a more loving, forgiving, and compassionate point of view. So, when memories of people who have hurt us arise, they won’t trigger such painful emotions. I think these three practices are the reasons why we never see people have adverse reactions to mindfulness meditation.”

“The benefits of mindfulness meditation have been well researched. I think we still need to do more rigorous research on potential side effects, so we can develop methods and techniques for addressing them. Up to now, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive evidence of harmful side effects of mindfulness meditation, and in my almost two decades of teaching, I have not yet encountered any. What I have seen is people overcome the wounds from their past, improve their relationships, and live more peaceful and fulfilling lives.”


Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life



“Doodling, according Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently (link is external), claims doodling has gotten a bad rap. In her now famous TED talk (link is external), she proposes that doodling is deep thinking in disguise and that it is a simple, accessible tool for problem-solving in general. In fact, Brown believes doodling spontaneous marks actually helps you think.”

“By most definitions, doodling refers to the unconscious or unfocused drawings made while otherwise preoccupied. But that is not always the case. Like many people, I resort to doodling as a place of escape—from boredom waiting at yet another airport gate, a distraction during a long-winded lecture, or a way to pass time at a meeting. To me, doodling is purposeful action that more than mindlessness. Having watched a couple of thousand doodlers in art therapy sessions over two decades, they often find self-soothing in their mark-making. And all doodlers have a few enjoyable and pleasing patterns and images they return to again and again, just because they like them.”

“There is research that indicates that doodling is helpful in memory retention. For example, in one experiment (Andrade, 2010) participants listened to a mock phone message about an upcoming party and were asked to write down the names of people who could attend the party and ignore the names of those who could not attend. Half of these participants were instructed to fill in little squares and circles on a piece of paper while writing down names; the other half just listened to the messages and only wrote down names. Afterwards participants were given a surprise memory test, after being specifically told they didn’t have to remember anything. The doodlers performed better in memory retention– almost thirty percent better.”


“There is speculation as to why doodlers did better than non-doodlers on this memory task. For example, doodling may help people concentrate because it prevents their minds wandering (common occurrence when bored) while allowing the person to listen. Doodling might also keep the doodler sufficiently engaged with the moment and able to pay attention to information presented; in other words, doodlers are actually not “spacing out,” but are at least somewhat “in the moment.”

“As I mentioned in “Visual Journaling, Self-Regulation and Stress Reduction,” Zentangle®, a purposeful, structured form of drawing that is similar to doodling, seems to support mindful states of being, but in a slightly different way. Reduced to basics, a Zentangle® consists of a series of repetitive strokes—straight lines, curves and dots—drawn on a three-and-a-half-inch square of high quality paper. Compared with the garden variety of doodling, Zentangle® is much more focused and deliberate, but still allows the “Zentangler” to be creative and free-form in using patterns, lines, shapes and shading. Preliminary studies and anecdotal reports seem support the idea that Zentangle® is a “meditative” art form that actually induces relaxation and has an impact on self-control, mood, and stress reduction.”

“Brown’s “doodle revolution” provides specific instruction on how to create an “InfoDoodle,” a practice of capturing information from a group into a large visual language format (reminiscent of the ubiquitous infographic). The InfoDoodle is obviously meant more for entrepreneurs and companies, but it can be applied to less lofty situations. I have to say that I was discouraged by mostly white male-oriented examples throughout Brown’s book; for the most part, US Presidents’ and generally male scientists’ and innovators’ spontaneous mark-making were referenced. Didn’t women leave behind any doodles for this doodle revolution? On a planet where multiple cultures developed mark-making over millenia, Brown’s doodling advice curiously leaves cultural diversity out of the doodling picture, so to speak.”

“Despite this drawback, I do think that what Sunni Brown has created is of interest to the fields of art therapy, creativity, and the psychology of art and visual language. But there is still one very important point that is not quite accurate. Doodling is not just a way to “think differently;” it’s a way to “feel differently,” too. From emerging studies we are learning that art expression may actually help individuals reconnect thinking and feeling, thus bridging explicit (narrative) and implicit (sensory) memory. The wonderful thing about doodling is that it is a whole brain activity—spontaneous, at times unconscious, self-soothing, satisfying, exploratory, memory-enhancing, and mindful. In essence, doodling (and drawing and painting and making things in general) can be a self-regulating experience as well as a pleasurable road map of thoughts and ideas. That is what those of us in the business of encouraging people to self-express with pen and paper, pre-doodle revolution, have known for a long, long time.”

“Keep calm and doodle on.”


Becoming a ‘Spirit Junkie’

Becoming mindful is one of the main reasons I’m choosing to become a yoga instructor

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