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People Featured Lifestyle Mind & Body

Fresh Faced

Radiant Life: How did Niki Newd come to fruition?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The kernel of inspiration for Niki Newd was planted over 16 years ago, when I taught my friend a facial masque recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter in my family for at least 200 years.

The masque recipe is freshly blended just before use. When I was young, my mother mixed it for herself and me and my brothers just before we went to the sauna. We let it work on the skin in the sauna for a while. How wise our mothers have been! Now science can explain to us why the masque is so effective and why this recipe has been our “secret weapon” for at least 200 years. After the masque, we developed our oatmeal soap, which has become a very iconic product. It is a gentle product for cleansing the skin of makeup without drying. Dry skin was our problem before we developed our oatmeal soap, but not anymore. After the soap, we wanted to have our own cream, of course, and Skin Butter, one of our most popular products, was born.

Those 16 years have only strengthened my inspiration, and I feel that now the time seems to be mature enough for our product philosophy. Think of oat milk, which was consider odd a few years ago. But is it anymore? Over many years, Oatly pioneered its vegetable-based “dairy product” until it became part of our food culture. We are doing it now in skin care, little by little, by bringing out the idea that skin care products should be fresh, too, like the food we want.

The Niki Newd product line was launched five years ago. During the 10 years before the launch, we first developed skin care products for our own needs and for our friends. After that, we built our brand carefully and patiently. We test all products on our own skins, and we have a circle of friends who are always ready to test our products. After our long testing period, the product goes through an official external product safety assessment. After that, we launch the product.

After deciding to build this company pioneering fresh skin care, we haven’t had a single regret.  This is one of the things that make me smile every day.

Niki Newd Gourmet Collection. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: What exactly do you mean by “fresh skin care”?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Fresh skin care is freshly blended of 100% traceable, 100% natural ingredients without any additives, preservatives, or alcohol. And on top of that, we also focus on using food-grade ingredients instead of cosmetic-grade ones. These four principles are met in fresh cosmetics, unlike in “natural” cosmetics, where, at least for the time being, not all these criteria are met. In this way, we have taken natural skin care to a whole new level.

We believe that the principles applied to healthy food and nutrition should also be applied to skin care. So, when thinking of preparing a wholesome gourmet dinner, what kind of ingredients would you choose? The best ones, of course. And so would we!

Therefore, all our ingredients are of the highest quality: natural, fresh, and pure. In comparison, cosmetic-grade ingredients are no longer suitable for human nutrition. When designing new products, we start from the thought of how to complement the nutritional ensemble of our skin—just like healthy food. Also, in addition to favoring food-grade options, we always choose ingredients with scientific proof of supporting healthy skin.

Radiant Life: Let’s go over these principles one by one. What kind of a difference does it make?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Think of a glass of freshly pressed orange juice: delicious and high in nutrients—that is our goal. All our products are freshly blended using gentle, artisanal methods to protect the natural effectiveness and potency of the nutrients. We produce at least 12 batches of our products annually, and ship orders to our customers right after manufacturing. We produce our products in our own laboratory in Finland and ship globally to our customers within one or one and a half weeks from ordering. This is also a way how we want to respect and cherish valuable resources by producing our products according to demand; we minimize any leftover products and also avoid long periods of warehousing.

We choose food-grade ingredients, and you need to really deep-dive into the ingredients to find the best and unique ones to harness their characteristics for skin care products. And honestly, I think we have done it very well.

Freshness and food-grade was not enough for us. We wanted to really know what we put on our skin. Just like a top chef can describe the origin of the ingredients used in a gourmet dish, all our ingredients are 100% traceable.

We look for nutrient-rich ingredients from the best suppliers and manufacturers. We have carefully hand-picked the best ethical producers and small organic farms around the world. Over 50% of the ingredients come from Nordic countries, including Finland, which is famous for its pristine nature. We are not satisfied with mediocrity, and always seek the best.

And if you already use the best ingredients in the world, why add anything extra? We want to cherish the natural microbiome of our skin by saying “no” to additives, alcohol, synthetics, and preservatives.

All our products are made here in Finland, in Espoo, in our own laboratory. We do not use third parties and have not outsourced any of our products. This gives us flexibility and the quality we want to offer to our customers.

Radiant Life: Tell us about some of the specific ingredients you use. Where do they come from and how did you pick them?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The sea buckthorn oil we use comes from a family farm in northern Finland. The rugged natural conditions of the North and the “nightless nights” give the berries an exceptional amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. That’s what we want for our skin. Our sea buckthorn oil is cold-pressed from fresh whole berries and naturally provides abundant amounts of beta-carotene—a vitamin A precursor—E vitamins, omegas 7, 3, 9, and other nutrients. The color in the oil speaks of nutrients. The color of our oil is deep orange, and its taste is intensely berryish and rich in texture.

Italy has always been one of our family’s favorite destinations and it was natural that this is where our olive oil comes from. The olive grove where one of our olive oils comes from is near Naples. Our producer produces exquisite olive oil, pressed from a single variety of green olives, with the highest antioxidant content and the lowest acidity that comes from pressing within 24 hours of harvesting. Our olive oil, just like our sea buckthorn oil, is bursting with nutrients, promoting the well-being of our skin and slowing down premature aging. Naturally, using the best ingredients brings a very different cost structure to our products, instead of using cosmetic qualities that are much cheaper. It is like with fine dining: We pay more for the ingredients used in a gourmet dish than in a chain restaurant.

(Courtesy of Niki Newd)
Niki Newd facial cucumber. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: How long can fresh skin care last? Will this change skin care routines and habits?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We recommend using our creams, balm, and oil serum within 6 months. They could last longer, but they are at their best when used as recommended. Would you find an artisan baker who would say that the bread is still at its best after a few days? No, they want you to enjoy the texture, aroma, and taste of fresh bread.

The Skin Cream and Skin Mist we recommend being used in two months, to be able to enjoy the ultimate freshness of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Most of our products are stored at room temperature. Only two products, Skin Cream and Skin Mist, are stored in the fridge, like fresh food. The fridge is an excellent place to store these two products and keep their exceptional freshness and nutrients.

Radiant Life: Tell us a bit about your own skin care rituals.

Kirsi Kaukonen: My skin care ritual is very simple. I rinse my skin with cool water in the morning and usually apply a cream cocktail to my face. Usually, I want to boost vitamin C to my skin, so the morning cocktail of creams consists of our Skin Cream to which I add one or two other products to make a perfect mixture. My skin tells me which products it wants. If I work at home without makeup, I might add some balm to my cheeks and lips during the day. In the evenings, I always wash my face with our oatmeal soap and apply a cream cocktail. Mostly during the weekends, I regularly make a masque a few times a month. Basically, my skin care routine is very straightforward, as I can put the same products around the eyes, the décolleté area, and the rest of my face. My skin tells me which product to use when and where.

Radiant Life: What other healthy lifestyle rituals do you incorporate into your life?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I try to eat as healthy and simple as possible during the week, and during the weekends, I give myself freedom. I follow a gluten-free and dairy-free diet because I feel much better then. Sports have been a big part of my life. I competed in cross-country skiing until I was 16, and ever since, I have enjoyed sports. At this moment, I do reformer Pilates, take long walks, and swim. When my body is stressed or tired for some reason, I also do breathing exercises that help me focus and find a calm relaxed feeling.

Radiant Life: What other values or philosophy did your mother and grandmother pass on to you?

Kirsi Kaukonen: My mother and grandmother were very different in nature, but their values were very similar. I am sure that the experience of war and how to cope in wartime influenced their values and philosophy of life. I have been encouraged since childhood to try my best and believe that “I can,” and, in bad times, to be resilient and have trust that all things will work out. And perhaps the most important values that I am very grateful of are that both my mother and grandmother always emphasized the importance of taking other people into account, showing love and warmth, and the idea that we are all cared for.

Radiant Life: Please tell us more about yourself. What is your background? Where do you get your inspiration?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I hold a MSc in civil engineering and am a former photography model. I funded my studies with modeling, and I really enjoyed my profession because it allowed me to see unique places and meet a lot of interesting people. After graduating, when my daughters were young, I worked as a project director in the IT field, and during that time, Niki Newd was created little by little.

I started developing skin care products with my friend, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology. Making masques and creams during weekends with her was our own quality time and a way to relax. That prepared us for Niki Newd, and most importantly, the philosophy of fresh skin care was born during that time. When I was working in the IT sector, I never felt like it was my true passion, but now I am so grateful that Niki Newd is part of my life. I am feeling that I do what I have always wanted to do with all my heart and for the rest of my life.

I am very visual, and I like to create images and ideas. In addition, I am very curious, and follow a wide range of different events, and I exercise a lot in nature and outdoors. It’s wonderful and inspiring to create a unique concept, but I need to keep in mind to take breaks, take long weekends for recovery. It’s a way to keep your life in balance and the creativity and inspiration flowing.

Radiant Life: There has been a broader trend toward natural skin care. What are your concerns about the general skin care market when it comes to ingredients and quality, and most importantly, how they impact people’s skin?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I would love to answer this question by asking further questions. What would happen if all manufacturers of skin care products listed the ingredients of their products in the native language instead of Latin, and openly stated the percentages of water, preservatives, fillers, fragrances, and additives in their products? If we go beyond this line of thought, how many manufacturers could tell us about the traceability of their raw materials? And last but not least, how many manufacturers would be willing to state how fresh their products are? I am particularly proud and glad that we do not have to hide behind anything at Niki Newd. Instead, we can really answer every question mentioned above.

In conclusion, what worries me most is that most consumers are influenced by the mass market and mass-market players. It remains to be seen how we small players will make our voices heard and increase consumer awareness. It would probably require at least one big player to set an example for others.

Radiant Life: Your products can now also be found in some establishments here in Finland. Could you tell us more?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We have launched, for the spa and beauty sector, a “Nordic tasting menu for the skin” spa concept, which offers the customer a unique, holistic skin care experience. In the main roles are fresh skin care products, the special expertise of a beautician, and a relaxing treatment environment.

All products are made to order for the spas and for their needs. Treatments are customized to meet their and their customers’ desires. There is clearly a rising trend where users of select skin care products wish to switch to more natural alternatives for products and treatments without the need to sacrifice effectiveness. We meet this demand perfectly.

I hope users find products that feel wonderful, genuine, and caring on their skin, and that they also feel that they get a natural glow to their skin. And, of course, I hope to hear feedback that their skin has never looked so good.

Categories
Relationships Gardening

The Acts of Giving and Receiving; Volunteering in Your Community

Have you ever had that warm fuzzy feeling when you help an elderly person carry their shopping, or return a wallet dropped by a parent struggling to cope with screaming children? Similarly, a simple smile from a stranger when your eyes meet whilst walking down the street can leave both parties with a spring in their step. These moments in time can boost your mood for the rest of the day.

Simple acts of kindness make us feel positive. We feel good, and those that receive the acts of kindness do too. Trials have shown that the majority of people who receive ‘pay it forward’ acts of kindness are likely to pass on acts of kindness to others. Spread the love, I say! I recall a day, cycling in torrential rain shortly after moving to Japan. A white van suddenly pulled over and an old man thrust an umbrella out of his passenger window at me before driving off. After the initial confusion/alarm, I realized he was donating his umbrella to protect me from the rain. The memory of this selfless gesture has stayed with me to this day.

To pass on some of that love, I later volunteered in the same town giving classes in British cuisine. I must admit, I loved feeling like Mary Berry (our version of Julia Childs) on a cookery show, but the looks on the ladies’ faces and the cries of “Oishii!” (delicious) on tasting their homemade British dishes was the most heart-warming part of it all. I am doubtless there are several families in central Japan that now make Scottish shortbread and fruit scones for school fêtes and festivals! It was a great way to be able to give to the local community and feel like part of it in return.

Studies demonstrate that showing care and compassion for others can reduce depression and build a kinder and more humane society in general. Modern culture may encourage us to look after ‘number one’, however, evidence suggests that prosocial behavior (doing acts of kindness for others) results in greater positive psychological benefits than caring solely for oneself; positive emotions are boosted and negative emotions reduced. This behavior was evident in my village during the pandemic; neighbors would call across the road to each other to see if families were well or if any shopping needed to be done. Although as a society we all suffered, each person tried to help and offer support where they could. People were showing care. The elderly were protected, and the more mobile neighbors volunteered their time and effort to see to it.

Studies performed on the relationships between kindness and happiness, and gratitude and happiness, have also shown that if people feel happy, they are more likely to recognize those traits in others and more likely to demonstrate acts of kindness. Happiness and gratefulness are also increased by counting one’s own acts of kindness. Remember that fuzzy feeling when you helped the elderly person up the stairs with their groceries?

As the majority of people are aware, life can be extremely difficult at times; for the past two years it has been unbearable for many. Since the lockdown, rules have thankfully allowed for more social interaction and the chance to get outside. As there are so many positive benefits to interacting with the natural world, I decided to give back to nature in my village and get some of those positive feelings in return. We have an area of land owned by the Parish Council which is being converted into a public space full of trees; a place to exercise, to see wild flora and fauna, to walk the dog and just breathe. It has been a lifesaver for many during these hard times. For those living alone, walking in this area was the only chance they had of seeing another human being, one lady said it literally saved her life as she was close to taking her own. My first day of volunteering there gave me a real buzz. Run by a group of retired people (I reduced the average age by quite a few years when I joined the group!), tree-planting, pruning and path maintenance were organized with military precision. Now a regular volunteer, I am proud to say I have planted dozens of trees which, with a bit of luck, will be there long after I am gone. I also greatly value the friendships I have forged in my local community with people I would not have otherwise met.

There are many organizations out there, urban and rural. A few minutes of online research can reward you with years of community work and potential friendships. Volunteering has also been associated with increased physical activity, better health and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. It gives you a new purpose in life. It helps you to develop relationships.

Although we may be tempted to opt for ‘retail therapy’, or going for a nice meal to make ourselves feel good; spending time on others, contributing to community activities and helping to make a difference may be the answer we are all looking for.

 

Anderson, N. D., Damianakis, T., Kröger, E., Wagner, L. M., Dawson, D. R., Binns, M. A., Bernstein, S., Caspi, E., Cook, S. L., & The BRAVO Team. (2014). The benefits associated with volunteering among seniors: A critical review and recommendations for future research. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6), pp:1505–1533. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037610
Joonmo Son. J and Wilson, J (2012) Volunteer Work and Hedonic, Eudemonic, and Social Well-Being. Sociological Forum 27 (3) pp:658-681 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01340.x
Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), pp:850–861 https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178
Otake. K, Shimai.S, Tanaka-Matsumi. J, Otsui. K and Fredrickson. B (2006) Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A Counting Kindnesses Intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies 7 pp:361–375. DOI 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z
Pressman. S, Kraft. T and Cross. M (2015) It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 10(4), pp:293-302 https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.965269

Categories
Mindset Mind & Body

On Being Brave

When my children were little, I read a story in a magazine that stopped my heart. A mom had sent her daughter to the corner grocery store to buy some bread and milk. Her daughter was walking home with the purchases when a stranger in a car pulled to the curb beside her. He smiled at the girl, used her name—which he had overheard the clerk use at the store—and told her to get in the car.

The girl, who was 10 or 11, was confused. She knew better than to get into a car with a stranger, but she had been taught to be polite and respectful to adults. Against her better judgment, she obeyed.

Luckily, a woman driving by saw the interaction and noticed the look of terror on the young girl’s face. The bystander acted quickly, blocking the man’s car with her own so he could not speed away.

It turned out the abductor was a registered sex offender recently released from prison and on parole. If not for the brave bystander who intervened, something horrible might have happened. Ever since I read that story, I have marveled at that bystander’s bravery—and her willingness to take action to save someone’s life.

What Is Bravery?

Bravery is a virtue that was considered fundamental in the ancient world, but what is it, exactly? Is it even relevant today? Let’s take a look.

In the time of the Iliad—an Ancient Greek epic poem about a hero named Odysseus that describes the last year of the Trojan War—the Greeks called bravery thumos, the Greek word for “liver.”

The Ancient Greeks believed the liver to be the seat of many emotions that people in today’s world would more readily attribute to the brain or the heart. Courage, confidence, “spirit”—these were things that came from that big, fleshy, reddish-brown organ in your torso, according to the Greeks.

Achilles, the strongest warrior of the Trojan War, who looms large in the Iliad, had plenty of thumos. But the Ancient Greeks also valued other qualities, many of which were embodied in Odysseus. It was Odysseus, after all, who made the plan to defeat Troy by hiding soldiers in a giant hollowed-out horse that he offered to them as a gift of peace. Odysseus had clever ways of dealing with problems, and shrewd judgment. He knew how to win a battle no matter what it took. He also personified persistence in the face of adversity—part of the Ancient Greek idea of bravery.

Bravery in war was a primary virtue. But the Greeks also valued cunning, pride, know-how, good judgment, and skill in war.

Aristotle: Bravery Means Balance

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived several centuries after the Iliad was composed, also grappled with the question of bravery in his writing on ethics. For Aristotle, bravery was about balance: too little of it, and you have cowardice; too much, and you have foolhardiness.

Aristotle did not believe more bravery was better. He argued that bravery had to be gauged to the danger. The brave fear what should be feared, and are bold when the situation demands.

Combining Courage With Good Character

Confucius, the Classical Chinese philosopher whose ideas had a formative influence on Chinese culture, had a slightly different idea of bravery. Confucius argued that courage needed to be combined with good character. No one would admire the bravery of a rapacious evildoer, as such boldness would amplify vice, rather than embody virtue.

In fact, to possess bravery without a strong sense of right and wrong would turn bravery into wickedness, according to Confucius. In The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his aphorisms published after his death in 479 B.C., he wrote, “An ordinary person with courage but no righteousness would become a bandit.”

Bravely Breaking Totalitarian Laws

In the modern world, the best examples of bravery may be people who have gone against the current of their societies to stand up for what is right—for example, the Germans, Poles, and other Europeans who resisted the Nazis during World War II, hiding Jewish people in their homes, even as they knew they could be killed for doing so.

These resisters were truly brave. So were the Americans who lived in the Deep South before the Civil War who refused to obey unjust laws and instead secreted escaped slaves to the North where they could live freely. And the Chinese students and other demonstrators who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 to demand democracy and freedom of speech in Communist China. Standing unarmed against a totalitarian force, the demonstrators showed extraordinary bravery.

When you are truly brave, you do not merely endure the troubles that come your way, but put yourself in jeopardy against overwhelming odds in order to fight for what is right.

Against the Consensus

While being brave was highly valued in Ancient Greece and Classical China, most people in the Western world don’t talk much about bravery today. You may hear people say someone “bravely fought cancer,” but bravery these days is more about trying new foods, asking someone you just met out on a date, or doing something that creates personal risk, like skydiving or bungee jumping.

For most people, there are certainly fewer physical threats today than there were in the ancient world. But are there fewer opportunities for bravery?

Most people feel a tremendous amount of pressure to unquestioningly go along with what is happening in today’s world, and there seems to be less tolerance for people to use their own conscience to make choices outside of the societal current.

But going along with the status quo is not being brave. Bravery is when you do something that your conscience tells you to do—or that you know is right—even though it is outside the social norm.

The situations in our lives that require courage today are often quiet ones. We show bravery when we stand up to a boss at work, defend someone from a bully, or tell a friend about their child’s missteps. When we do the brave thing in these everyday situations, we aren’t going to be recognized for our courage. No epic poem or magazine article will be written about our heroic deeds. Instead, we become everyday unsung heroes, acting with virtue in the face of challenges.

Are You Brave?

Are you sleepwalking through your life, going along to get along, or are you acting with integrity, even when it is difficult to do so? Do you make your own decisions, or just go along with whatever is easiest, and grumble about it afterwards? If you don’t make your own decisions and back them up with action, are you really your own person? Are you living a virtuous life, or a life of conformity?

There may not be an imminent battle to win or lose with swords, but these questions make it clear that the personal stakes for courage are as high as ever. When you act with cowardice or remain quiet in the face of unkindness or evil, you lose your sense of self.

When you act with bravery, you increase your self-respect. And as you act with bravery more often, you also gain confidence that you can make a difference, and aren’t helpless or passive, in your life or in the world at large.

How to Be Brave

You know when you feel afraid. Maybe your heart starts to race, or your hands get sweaty, or you start to get lightheaded. When you feel that fear, check in with yourself and acknowledge it. But don’t let the fear stop you. The voice in your head telling you not to act is the voice to ignore.

Instead, ask yourself how the person or mentor you look up to the most would act facing the same situation. Then channel that person—whether it is Jesus, Ganesha, the Biblical David who stood up to Goliath, your closest friend, a parent, your spouse, or another relative—and use their bravery as your own. This means telling your close colleague that you disagree with their decision to get a nonessential surgery (though you will support whatever choice they make); insisting that you get remunerated by your clients for the time you spent on a job even as they try not to pay you; or writing a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for the newspaper explaining why you disagree with your local politicians’ attempt to enact popular but unethical legislation.

When You Act Rightly

In his short essay “The Great Learning,” Confucius wrote that when you act rightly and affect your small sphere of direct contacts and family, it’s worthwhile because it’s the right thing to do, but also because right action reverberates to produce an outsized effect. In other words, your right action influences the people who you affect and those who see you doing the right thing. Then those people, in turn, act just a little differently with their contacts, and your circle of influence spreads like ripples in a pond. The effect you have diffuses, spreading outward through society. Maybe you can’t completely change society, but every ripple affects the whole pond. Your actions matter.

“I think it’s always brave to do what we know is right, even if it isn’t popular or will not benefit us personally,” says Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D., an expert in Asian studies and coauthor of the book “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life,” which includes a chapter on Confucius. “I think we all benefit in the long run by having done the right thing.”

The Butterfly Effect

The “butterfly effect” is an idea first proposed by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1963 and later championed by mathematicians, physicists, and other thinkers interested in chaos theory. Lorenz proposed that every time a butterfly flaps its wings, the weather across the planet is affected. The idea behind his theory is that small actions can have a nonlinear impact on a much larger system.

That’s what your bravery can do today. Being brave, in both small and large ways, has a positive impact on the world.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and book author. Learn more at www.JenniferMargulis.net

 

 

Categories
Mind & Body Parenting

Steps to Free Our Kids From Screen Dependency

“I don’t know how to explain it, but something is wrong with my son,” one mother told me, fighting back tears. “He’s a good student, he does his chores, he used to be so sensitive and caring. But I feel like I’m losing him. His video games are the center of his universe now and he’s losing connection with us.”

She explained that her son was depressed and seemed to be disappearing into another world. Her child was becoming unrecognizable to her.

This lonely parent was sharing what many parents wish they could share, but don’t due to the current cultural norms around kids and screens. Many parents are afraid to talk about it. We, as a society, have accepted the idea that screens are harmless, and part of every child’s day-to-day life. And the industries responsible for producing and marketing the technology have not been transparent with the known risks.

So how do you help your child? How do you rescue him or her from this screen-driven culture? How do you get your child to come eat dinner, join in family celebrations, and reclaim the happiness of everyday real-life pleasures?

It is not as hard as you may think, but early action is the key.

Get Educated

A basic understanding of child development provides direction for healthy screen use. For example, when parents understand that the executive function area of the brain is not fully connected until the mid-twenties, they understand why children and teens are driven largely by unregulated emotions and rewards.

When parents know that young people crave peer and group approval just about as much as food, they think twice about allowing negative exposure to social media. When they understand that the dopamine released during video gaming and social media use mimics the effects of a drug, they will be motivated to take action.

 

Warning Signs of Screen Dependency

  • On entertainment screens every day and for longer periods of time
  • Lies to parents about how much time they are spending on screens
  • Sacrifices social and physical activities for more screen time
  • Leisure screen time interferes with homework and school success
  • Experiences bad moods when not allowed on screens
  • Chooses screen time over spending time with family

 

Get Community

When the weight of your entire society is tilted in one direction, the first step after education is to find support.

One of the greatest human needs is to bond with others and earn the approval of our peers; it is a survival mechanism and a core aspect of the interdependent nature of human beings. This is true for parents as they look to other parents for advice and support, and it is true for children as they seek to fit into peer culture and develop their identity.

The human drive to belong to a community is so strong that people may follow group norms even if they are being hurt by them.

Finding a new community that understands screen struggles and offers you support is essential to creating healthy screen habits for your kids. Most parents can’t make screen changes alone. The bigger your struggle, the more important it is to seek out like-minded families. Without this support, the odds are that you and your kids will slip back into old habits.

Once you are confident with the facts and find a new community to bond with—or even just a few friends to support you—you will be ready to remove the screens that are harming your children.

Be a Coach, Not a Friend

Adjusting your parenting style is the next important key to successfully raising kids in a screen culture. Decades of research point to one style of parenting that offers the most success: firm but loving parenting. This means that parents are not their child’s best friend; instead, they are their best coach. Strong parents are not afraid to go against the norm when needed and put up guardrails and boundaries so their kids will thrive.

Children crave this type of parenting. When parents love their children enough to say “no” to negative forms of screen use, they will win against the pull of today’s screen-obsessed culture.

This coaching perspective allows you to love your “team” with confidence, and to do the right thing even if the team doesn’t like it. You can trust your instincts that have come with years of experience.

Are you experiencing a losing season right now? Then it is time for a new game plan. Go back to the fundamentals and do the hard work—even if the team complains.

When we change our perspective and begin to parent like a good coach, we put ourselves on course to win the screen battle. This one simple step to rethinking your parenting style will get you halfway to your goal of reclaiming your kids. You are no longer the mean parent; you are a smart, winning coach.

Redefine Fun

Your child uses screens because screens are fun. Your job is to replace those activities that bring about negative consequences with something truly fun: real life. This art of replacement is paramount in overcoming most addictions.

Parents must plan ahead to fill the time that was previously spent on screen-based activities. Practical replacements like board games, books, art supplies, and puzzles are a necessity. One mom reported that during this replacement period, she had never played so many Monopoly games in her life. Another mom learned how to play chess. Don’t worry about having to play board games every day with your kids forever; this phase is temporary. Eventually, your child will not need you to fill downtime.

In order for replacement activities to work, your child’s environment will also need to change. Video game controllers on the table are too hard for your child to resist. Willpower has a short shelf life; few can withstand the same temptation more than a few times. Many addicts do well detoxing at a treatment center only to fall right back into their addiction when they come home to the same physical cues in their environment. For families, this may mean that you need to rearrange your home to be more family-centered instead of screen-centered.

Right now is not the time to worry about over-scheduling your child. Sign them up for lessons: music, art, sports, dance, etc. But realize that you don’t have to break the bank. Do what you can to keep them busy, creative, and physically active. How about a family bike ride after dinner, daily runs, or workouts with Mom or Dad? Your goal is to structure new interests by getting involved, especially at first.

Reconnect to Family

The final phase of screen detox is centered around your effort to get your child reattached to your family. This is easier to do with younger kids, but can be more challenging with teens. Chances are that if you have a dependent gamer or social media addict in your home, you have a child who has emotionally distanced themself from the family unit. Your child—at every age—needs to feel close to the family.

Don’t stress about what some friends might say. Ignore what mainstream culture says about kids being “left behind” without screens. Your goal is to unconditionally love and support your child through this lifestyle change. You know in your heart that your kids will be far ahead without the stress and anxiety of negative screen time. Spend time with them. Sit and read a book with them. Go camping, even if it is only in the backyard. Get off your own screen when you are with your child. You have everything you need to save your child.

One of the best parenting tips I can leave you with is this: Trust your intuition. Our world is full of stories of a parent’s intuition saving their child. A police detective working in the sex trafficking division once told me, “We listen to the moms. When they tell you that they have a ‘feeling’ about something, I can’t logically explain it, but they are always right.”

Screen detoxing is the best decision you can make for your family. It is difficult at first to think of a life that doesn’t revolve around smartphones and video games. But stepping away from these distractions leads to freedom and a revelation that these devices, not your child, are the problem.

Forty years ago, very few people suspected that cigarettes caused cancer. People smoked in hospitals, churches, and airplanes. Today, no one questions the facts that cigarettes are detrimental to the health of smokers and those around them. One day in the very near future, people will think the same thing about screens for children. As a parent, you need to start now to protect your kids from years of damage.

Think of your screen detox as the happiest decision you will ever make—a proactive decision to help your child that will benefit them the rest of their life. You are creating new habits that will not only enrich your child’s development, but also enrich your relationship. You are opening doors you never dreamed you could open, helping them reclaim potential they never knew they had, and creating fun memories that almost never were.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to help their children gain the benefits of screen media without the toxic consequences of overuse that threaten healthy mental and physical development. The ScreenStrong Solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skills development, and family connection. 

 

 

Categories
Tea Mind & Body Nutrition

GABA Oolong Tea for Health

Originating in Japan and introduced in the late 1980s, GABA oolong is a type of oolong tea containing high levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—an amino acid that naturally occurs in the human body and acts as a neurotransmitter. Typically, oolong and green teas tend to have higher levels of this amino acid compared to other teas.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid is naturally produced in the human brain and is also present in many foods containing glutamic acid, including seafood, beans, lentils, sprouted whole grains, and berries. To better synthesize GABA, one may need to increase consumption of foods containing vitamin B6 to further stimulate the production of GABA in the brain. The lack of this amino acid in humans has been shown to be responsible for many mood and sleep disorders.

Research has correlated the consumption of GABA tea with a decrease in high blood pressure. Due to its inhibitory function, it causes the muscles lining the blood vessels to relax, aiding normal blood flow.

Japanese researchers in the 1980s discovered a special tea-processing technique that results in an increase in this amino acid in tea, transforming it into a powerful health tea. By placing the unfinished tea leaves in a sealed chamber devoid of oxygen and pumping in nitrogen to displace any oxygenated air, they created a fermentation process that synthesized the glutamate in the tea leaves into GABA. They also discovered that shading the tea plants for up to two weeks before harvest causes increased levels of GABA.

Flavor and Caffeine Levels

The oxidation level of tea has a great influence on its flavor, and depends on the elevation at which it was grown; the higher the elevation, the lower the oxidation level. High-oxidized teas display darker, richer colors and deeper flavors, whereas lightly oxidized varieties have a more fragrant, smooth, and fruity flavor with a sweet aroma.

GABA oolong has a medium amount of caffeine.

Research on the Health Benefits of GABA Oolong

For the tea to be fully classified as GABA, it must contain a minimum of 150 milligrams of GABA in every 100 grams of dry leaf tea. Research has demonstrated that when brewed, regular oolong tea contains only 0.25 milligram of GABA per 200 milliliters of tea, while the level of GABA-enriched oolong is around 2 milligrams per 200 milliliters. Oolong tea has proven to be beneficial for health as it contains high levels of antioxidants. One study has even shown that, compared to many black, white, and even green teas, oolong tea displayed stronger levels of antioxidant capacity—suggesting it is a top beverage for health and well-being. GABA tea is reported to be a great natural alternative to some pharmaceutical drugs, as it has no addictive properties nor side effects when consumed in moderation.

Lowers Stress and Anxiety

An Australian study conducted in 2019 established the relationship between GABA-enriched tea consumption on stress and heart rate variability (the difference in time between each heartbeat). Stressed individuals typically display an increased level of heart rate variability. Chronically stressed people are more prone to developing cardiovascular illnesses; therefore, it is important for these individuals to minimize their stress levels. The study found that participants displayed a significant decrease in their immediate stress scores and a significant improvement in their heart rate variability levels upon drinking a cup of GABA oolong tea. The results highlight the complex interactions of the nervous system in mood regulation.

Improves Sleep and Mood Disorders

The notable health benefits of GABA oolong include improved sleep in individuals suffering from sleep-related disorders like insomnia. This is largely attributed to the calming effects of GABA, which acts as a natural sedative without any addictive properties. Humans naturally produce GABA in their brains, but it has been suggested that individuals with sleep, depression, and anxiety disorders may have lower levels of GABA, causing sleeplessness and mood-related problems. The amino acid GABA functions as an inhibitor in the brain and, when mixed with L-theanine (found in all tea), it helps to encourage relaxation and improve sleep quality.

Another reported health benefit is enhanced mental focus and concentration. Many Japanese children even drink GABA tea before school to stimulate mental alertness in class.

Drink in Moderation

Researchers recommend it is safe to drink 10 to 20 milligrams of GABA from tea, equivalent to four to eight cups of brewed GABA tea. This is best done in the evenings to help with sleep or mood disorders. The amino acids in the tea are highly soluble so steep time is usually very short—two minutes at most. As with anything, it is important to consume GABA tea in moderation as too much of it may cause nausea, digestive upset, and breathing difficulties.

Today, GABA tea can be found in most specialty tea stores, with Taiwan and Japan being the most common exporters of this tea.

Meditating and Keeping a Healthy Mind

Another way to naturally increase GABA levels in the brain is through practicing meditation and mindfulness. Just as consuming a healthy diet is important for the body, taking care of the mind is a powerful way to deter stress and anxiety.

 

Categories
Mind & Body

Embodying the Truth 

The truth is a powerful thing, but unraveling what is true isn’t nearly as straightforward as we might believe.

The dictionary meaning of truth points to an indisputable fact or an accurate portrayal of objective reality. Honesty, integrity, and transparency allow the truth to be seen. Lies, denial, and deceit cover it up.

You may think truth is merely the polar opposite of false. But there also exists a more personal and mysterious side to this idea, because our perception of what is true hinges heavily on our ability to perceive, understand, and experience.

Take, for example, the Greek word for truth, alethia. Instead of describing the true-versus-false dichotomy we typically think of, alethia refers to the process of uncovering the truth. It means “to reveal what is hidden.”

Instead of just a cold, hard fact, alethia describes a search for answers and the enlightenment that comes with finding them. This is an active form of truth—an insight that lifts the veil—allowing you a new and profound perspective on something previously obscured.

For example, we all have blind spots—aspects of our character that are more apparent to others than ourselves. We may have a problem overeating or getting angry that we dismiss, ignore, or overlook, often through personal justifications, or because we grew up around people with similar tendencies and our baseline has adjusted to consider this normal. And then, one day, something happens, or a loved one points it out in just the right way, and suddenly we can see this aspect of ourselves more clearly, allowing us to take meaningful steps to address it.

One finds a similar meaning to alethia in zhen, the Chinese word for truth. Zhen can mean real and genuine. But much like alethia, zhen also describes something more personal and intuitive.

When the zhen character first emerged centuries ago, its meaning differed considerably from the kind of truth we think of today in the West, according to a 2019 article in the Journal of Chinese Writing Systems by Youngsam Ha, from Kyungsung University in South Korea.

“Chinese people experienced development differently from the people in the West due to environmental factors,” Ha writes. “So Chinese people did not ask questions such as, ‘What is truth?’ Their interest was about doing, or how they could go on doing the right thing.”

Zhen and alethia don’t describe truth as a factoid you find on Wikipedia. Rather, they represent a type of knowledge you earn through life experience. Will Ward, a language enthusiast and CEO of a company that sells translation equipment, says the concept of alethia describes “embodied knowledge.

“For example, we often hear and recognize as truth that ‘traveling broadens your horizons,’” says Ward. “Anyone who hasn’t experienced this can receive it intellectually, but it isn’t until you actually travel and experience what it feels like to have your horizons broadened, as it were, that you have embodied knowledge.”

Our conventional understanding of the truth allows for only one version of reality; everything else is merely a subjective interpretation. But consider the difference in light of alethia. Ward says that realizing the distinction between an embodied and a non-embodied truth can provide you with a broader view of the world and the people within it.

“You begin to see the world differently in almost every way, and your interactions with, and understanding of, everyone you know and meet can become so much more meaningful when you realize you’re both relating from experiences of revealed, or embodied, truth,” Ward says.

This perception allows one to become more broad-minded and thereby freer from the inevitable biases we each hold. When we can entertain the possibility that our own perception is limited, we gain the essential prerequisite to a larger capacity to understand.

Truth of Trauma

Of course, there are times when we require the kind of truth we can all plainly see, agree on, and establish as fact. But an individual, embodied truth also serves a vital purpose. Author and coach Danielle Bernock discusses this purpose through the lens of trauma in her book “Emerging With Wings.”

“One of many problems with trauma is that people dismiss it in their lives, and so it festers and wreaks havoc either until the trauma will not be denied, or it costs them their lives,” says Bernock.

Bernock suffered numerous childhood traumas, but she always brushed them off as trivial because they didn’t compare with the kind of violent or harrowing events she considered truly traumatic. Instead of experiencing a school shooting, domestic abuse, or natural disaster, she felt emotionally wounded by friends and family, and says she was only able to heal when she acknowledged that her traumas, however small, really meant something.

“Since then, I’ve learned that trauma is not the event,” Bernock says. “Trauma is an involuntary wound left behind by something a person was unable to process. Validation of trauma is a vital part of healing. Trauma is personal, and until someone owns that truth, they will remain trapped in the pain.”

Many people who are unable to see the truth of their own experience remain shaped by events they are unable to examine honestly, because they exercise an involuntary self-deception that denies them the clarity they need to heal.

A Consequence of Truth

Finding the kind of truth contained in alethia can be a gratifying experience. You can look back on your previous ignorance and appreciate the world from a clearer perspective. But psychologist Claire Grayson says these epiphanies come at a cost: They can make it harder to relate to others who haven’t yet made the leap.

“On one hand, we’ve been taught to believe that ‘truth is the root of all good.’ On the other hand, it has also been suggested that ‘the more you know, the more unhappy you are.’ So why do ignorant people tend to be happier?” asks Grayson. “The reason for that is that knowledge can put a burden on trying to be understood.”

It’s less stressful when we all agree and get along. And life might be easier if we all decided to see everything in the same uniform way. But for many of us, our quest for truth trumps our desire to conform. Grayson says humans are curious creatures. We want to know, even if it might alienate us somewhat from friends and family.

“Investigating and finding the truth can help us make meaning in life,” says Grayson.

Consider those who have lived through times of great deception, like Nazi Germany or the communist revolutions in many countries around the world. At such moments, political leaders censor information and scapegoat a portion of the population, leading others to accept or participate in acts of cruelty. For people that choose to believe what is objectively and personally true in these environments, truth can come with a mortal risk.

Your Thoughts Shape Your Truth

Aside from extreme situations, how do we embody a truth? Grayson has a few tips. First, have an open mind. Consider that grief, anger, and sadness can cloud your vision, so strive to be emotionally sober before seeking truth, and be prepared to feel vulnerable. Understand that truth can be subjective and expect the unexpected.

Some may look to a higher power for guidance. For outside observers, this approach may seem quaint, irrational, or naive. But outsiders have not witnessed all the signs and confirmations of truth that have led the faithful down this path.

For those that hold that creation is linked to a benevolent force present in their lives, truth includes dimensions that others may reject. Often, people that hold this belief have experienced a transformative experience that led to this type of embodied truth—an experience that often began with an illness, tragedy, or some other painful tribulation that inspired a search for answers.

In 2002, Patricia Heitz was devastated by a kidney cancer diagnosis during a routine checkup. She eventually dealt with the news by developing a daily prayer: “Help me see what I need to see and know what I need to know about this disease.”

While recovering from cancer surgery, Heitz found an answer in “You Can Heal Your Life,” a book by Louise Hay that describes how physical disease is linked to chronic emotional patterns and thoughts. It made Heitz realize that the anger she had been holding since childhood was the driving force behind the cancer that had been festering in her body.

“I had created a perception about who I was based on my need to be loved and approved in my dysfunctional family,” Heitz says. “When I realized what I believed about myself was not the truth, I then went on the journey to find out what the truth of me really was, and lo and behold, I found out I had some amazing gifts that, when I tuned into them, gave me great joy.”

The epiphany for Heitz was how powerful thoughts can be, and how they could dictate her truth. That knowledge gave her a new sense of control. If she could create disease out of self-hate, what could she create from self-love?

“I looked at the world through the eyes of unlimited possibility,” she said. “If I could discover what the beliefs were that sabotaged me, and correct them, I could create anything. If I could create disease through negative beliefs, I could create anything through positive beliefs.”

While such an idea may sound unscientific or idealistic to some, what is true for Heitz has been true for many. Experiences of miraculous disease recovery with a change in thought, the power of the placebo effect, and the links between mental state and disease are all well documented. So, while science gives us one way to agree on what is true, being broad-minded and willing to entertain ideas we disagree with gives us another.

Conan Milner has been a reporter for 16 years, covering health and wellness for the past 7 years. He graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and is a member of the American Herbalist Guild.

 

Categories
Mind & Body Mindset

Virtues: Our Best Bet for Happiness

“What constitutes a good life?” “How should one live?” “What kind of a person should one be?” In their answers to these perennial questions, history’s great minds have frequently invoked the concept of virtue.

Philosophers ancient and modern have argued that the road to a happy, thriving, worthwhile life is paved with virtues. Aristotle, for one, believed that anyone willing to lead a virtuous life could achieve fulfillment. More recently, philosopher Rosalind Hursthouse posited that possessing and exercising virtue is the only reliable bet for a happy and flourishing life—just as adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only reliable bet for a healthy life.

There are no guarantees in life. Yet, if we commit to living virtuously, the argument goes, we are doing all that is in our power to maximize our happiness.

Is there any merit to these claims? Are more virtuous people indeed happier? If we cultivate virtue, could we become happier too? Fortunately, the scientific study of virtue has seen an awakening in the last couple of decades, providing us with fascinating insights into the relationship between virtues and happiness. Before we delve into these, let us briefly examine how psychologists think of virtue.

While virtue is an elusive term, most psychological definitions agree that virtues represent extraordinary character strengths in the service of optimal intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning. Consider honesty, kindness, sincerity, wisdom, courage, justice, and diligence. These are our noble attributes, and act as powerful resources in dealing with the difficulties inherent to human existence and social living.

Given the critical role they play in optimal functioning, it is not surprising that people who lack virtues generally do not fare well. When we think of people who make life difficult, either for themselves or others, we often notice conspicuously low levels of certain virtues, whether integrity, mercy, or self-control.

The Relationship Between Virtue and Happiness

The burgeoning empirical literature on virtue and happiness offers strong support to the age-old argument that virtues increase happiness. One line of support comes from studies showing that doing good is associated with feeling good.

For example, one study using a daily diary method found that engaging in behaviors that allow the exercise of virtues (e.g., expressing gratitude, giving money to a person in need, persevering at a valued goal even in the face of obstacles) was associated with significantly higher well-being than engaging in purely hedonic behaviors, like getting drunk or high on drugs, or having sex with someone one doesn’t love. Furthermore, daily virtuous—but not daily hedonic—behaviors predicted greater life satisfaction and greater sense of meaning the following day, attesting to their causal role in fostering happiness.

Relative to pursuing hedonic or egoistical goals, pursuing more virtuous goals has similarly been linked to greater well-being. In one study, those who endorsed other-oriented and altruistic life goals, such as commitment to family and friendships, helping others, and being socially and politically involved, reported higher life satisfaction both concurrently and over time. Commitment to competitive goals related to wealth and consumption, in contrast, was associated with lower life satisfaction. The picture emerging from these and similar findings is that virtuous, self-transcending priorities in life are linked to greater happiness.

Studies that assess to what degree a person possesses certain virtues, and how happy they are, further testify to the positive relationship between virtue and happiness. These studies have benefited from the Values in Action (VIA) classification that specifies 24 measurable character strengths, such as love of learning, bravery, forgiveness, fairness, and gratitude. It is possible to take the VIA survey online (free, but registration required) and see what your top virtues are.

Which Virtues Are Most Closely Linked to Happiness?

Studies using the VIA framework reveal a positive relationship between virtually any character strength and happiness. That said, certain strengths turn out to be even more closely connected to happiness—specifically, the strengths of love, gratitude, hope, curiosity, and zest.

Research on adolescents and young children (as described by their parents) similarly reveals love, zest, hope, and gratitude as the character strengths most closely affiliated with happiness. Cross-cultural studies, and studies that assess people’s strengths by asking knowledgeable others instead of relying on self-reports, further reinforce the robustness of these findings.

Do you see a common thread linking the character strengths most strongly linked to happiness—love, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity? One might argue that they all have a self-transcendent aspect to them, involving positive connections to things that go beyond the self. Love, of course, connects us to other people. Gratitude connects us to a benevolent higher force, as well as to others. Curiosity connects us to a rich, fascinating world. Hope connects us to a desirable future. And finally, zest represents an energetic connection with all that life offers. Transcending the ego and connecting to something larger than the self are considered essential to psychological health and well-being. It should probably not surprise us, then, that virtues that facilitate these qualities are the ones most conducive to happiness.

How to Cultivate Virtue

The unequivocal relationship between virtue and happiness suggests that cultivating virtue can be a promising happiness strategy. Both longitudinal and intervention studies support this view, and show that increases in virtue are accompanied by increases in happiness. The happiness gains turn out to be even greater if an increase occurs among the aforementioned virtues most closely linked to happiness. As with any character trait, there is a significant genetic component to virtues; hence, we should not expect them to be endlessly malleable. At the same time, the evidence is compelling that we can cultivate virtues to the degree that they give our happiness a boost.

If we are convinced of the felicific powers of virtue, how should we go about cultivating it? The answer to this question goes back at least as far as Laozi (Lao Tzu), and to Aristotle, who argued that virtues can be formed by habit. Accordingly, we become virtuous by acting virtuously. If we want to cultivate kindness, for instance, we need to habitually perform acts of kindness—such as volunteering, checking in on elderly neighbors, or expressing gratitude to others. Or, if we want to cultivate curiosity, we need to create opportunities in our lives to stimulate and satisfy our curiosity. We might, for example, commit to listening to new podcasts, trying new foods, or traveling to new places on a regular basis.

But, of course, virtues are not only habits of deed, but also habits of the heart and the mind. Virtuous actions, if they are sincere, spring from virtuous thoughts and feelings. Hopeful, wise, and loving acts, for example, are preceded by hopeful, wise, and loving psychological states. Although different virtues might require different approaches, one skill can universally facilitate the cultivation of habits of the heart and the mind: mindfulness—paying attention to our present-moment experience with an attitude of openness and acceptance.

The more mindful we are, the easier it becomes for us to recognize our more and less virtuous thoughts and feelings. This recognition, combined with a gentle and compassionate approach toward ourselves, will in time allow us to better regulate our thoughts and emotions, strengthening our more virtuous inner states while reducing the less virtuous ones.

The Role of Culture in Cultivating Virtue

Being exposed to exemplars of virtue is crucial to the cultivation of virtue. When we consider the character development of children, the importance of surrounding them with virtuous role models seems apparent. Yet adults also benefit greatly from contact with those who possess admirable character traits. These people both instruct and inspire us by their sheer being. Critically, exposure to virtue (or lack of it) takes place not only in our daily lives and within our small social circles, but also on social media. A valuable question to ask ourselves is what virtues the celebrities or influencers we follow on social media represent, if any.

This brings us to the importance of culture in the cultivation of virtue. Virtues need favorable cultural conditions to thrive, one of which is the wide availability and endorsement of virtue role models. Another is the cultural salience of virtue—or how much virtues are a part of the public conversation. In a virtue-salient culture, people talk and write about virtues, which itself is an indication of how much this topic is at the forefront of their minds.

Interestingly, there are ways to scientifically capture the cultural salience of virtue. In one such study, I collaborated with my twin sister, Dr. Selin Kesebir, from London Business School. Together, we tracked how commonly words related to virtue appear in American books over the 20th century. Specifically, we came up with a list of 50 virtue words (e.g., love, courage, perseverance, forgiveness) and examined these words’ appearance frequency in books digitized by Google. Our analyses revealed a significant decline for 74 percent of them from 1900 to 2000.

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the decline was more pronounced for certain groups of virtues. For instance, the appearance frequency of courage, bravery, and fortitude—all virtues related to the ability to act and prevail in difficult circumstances—dropped 66.6 percent, on average. The majority of virtues indicating care and concern for others (kindness, generosity, mercy, charity, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, courtesy, love, politeness, gentleness, benevolence) also showed precipitous declines; the average drop from 1901 to 2000 was 55.7 percent for this group of words. Finally, virtues encouraging a modest opinion of oneself (humility, humbleness, and modesty) also showed a substantial decline of 51.5 percent.

Our findings suggest that over the course of the 20th century, the attention paid by the culture to concepts of moral character and virtue in the United States has declined. This is in keeping with the larger trends in the American moral landscape observed by many scholars and social commentators, particularly the increase in individualism.

Virtues, almost by definition, make the world a better place for ourselves and for others. The diminished cultural salience of virtue during the 20th century might thus be a cause for concern. One hopeful development marking the first two decades of the 21st century, however, is the increased popularity of the field of positive psychology. In their endeavor to study what makes people thrive, positive psychologists have turned their attention to virtues and character strengths, in both individual and organizational contexts. The scientific study of virtue has thus been witnessing unprecedented growth, and the lessons learned have been increasingly infiltrating the culture. Think of the popularity of concepts like “gratitude journaling” or “random acts of kindness.” These concepts are only a recent phenomenon and are exceedingly promising developments—especially if we agree that virtues are our best bet for happiness.

Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., is a writer, speaker, and consultant trained in social and personality psychology. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles on the topics of happiness, virtue, and existential psychology. Dr. Kesebir is an honorary fellow at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

 

Categories
Nature Lifestyle Mental Health Mind & Body

The Effects of Nature on Cognition and Memory

All of us occasionally suffer from “brain fog.” It is when we are unable to focus on a task, become frustrated and are easily irritated. Have you ever noticed how taking a breath of fresh air suddenly makes you feel refreshed and rejuvenated? It is as if you have been injected with energy. The expression “use it or lose it” is commonly used in the UK. As with all parts of the body, processes can slow down if the brain is not exercised; keeping it active is of huge importance. That 10-minute break from your computer screen, watching wild birds on a feeder, or squirrels running about a park while you stretch your legs are examples of how we can interact mentally and emotionally with nature and recharge part of our brain.

As a child, I had the good fortune of being raised in a village in the countryside. When not in school, it was the norm to go out into the surrounding fields to explore, climb trees and enjoy the fresh air. Many of my friends recall similar childhoods. We didn’t play video games, there were fewer channels on TV, and indoor entertainment usually consisted of reading or craft activities. Lessons at school were punctuated with playtime on the field, running at full speed. We felt refreshed and ready to concentrate on learning afterward, the cobwebs having been thoroughly swept away.

Science now shows the restorative capacity of the natural world to be true; nature does indeed refresh us and also has a positive effect on our brains. When studying or at work, there is a need to focus for extended periods of time. However, the capacity to apply direct attention (focus on a specific thing or cognitive process) declines over time; we start to daydream, clarity of thought is lost, and the ability to concentrate reduces. The sights and sounds from the natural environment generally arouse our curiosity in a gentle manner. No direct attention is necessary; the mind has a chance to replenish. An urban environment can be jarring and dangerous; close attention must be paid to our surroundings in order to avoid accidents; being hit by vehicles or knocking over pedestrians. In such an environment, our brains are not able to relax and recuperate.

Studies on university students in the UK have demonstrated that taking 15-minute breaks in a natural environment resulted in an enhanced capacity to complete tasks and retain information. When given four mental-agility tests to complete, their capacity for directed attention showed significant recovery after the outdoor break. The study also showed that short breaks involving exercise in a natural setting had a more positive effect on recovery from directed attention fatigue than a sedentary break indoors. Although both actual and virtual exposure to nature influences cognitive ability, memory and attention, physically being in a natural environment produces a greater positive effect.

Similar research on the elderly comparing the effects of restorative breaks taken within their care home to those taken in its garden where they interacted with nature, showed that after time spent in the natural setting, the test participants’ ability to concentrate on tasks had increased significantly. Similarly, studies conducted involving memory tests (remembering a list of numbers or symbols) also showed that interacting with the natural world improved the participants’ short-term memory. With an aging global population, conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s are growing concerns. Recent Australian research into the effects of exercise on cognitive decline has also shown that an optimal amount can improve spatial learning. This research is now being used to try and reverse the effects of Dementia; tying exercise into improving neural connectivity in the hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotions). This potential improvement in our neural networks paired with increased concentration and memory brought about by being surrounded by nature could lead to a winning combination for our long-term mental health.

For those of us whose lives revolve around working in an office, possibly with little chance to escape to a green space during lunch break, the view from the window is an important asset in work performance as well as job satisfaction. A green outdoor environment has been shown to increase workers’ mind function and ability to organize their work and combat mental fatigue. If physical access to that green space is not possible, the view from the window provides a ‘micro-break’ where the brain can relax.

Thus, natural environments provide important ‘psychological ecosystem services’ benefiting cognitive flexibility, the working memory, and attention control. We should try to capitalize on the potential benefits of outdoor breaks, incorporate attractive outdoor spaces on campuses, workspace and care homes, and facilitate movement through these to enhance our concentration and overall feelings of well-being.

EJ Taylor is an environmental biologist, entomologist and teacher with over 20 years’ experience in working internationally. EJ currently works as an Intervention English Language Specialist in a College of Further and Higher Education in Agriculture and Animal Management in Lincolnshire, the UK. EJ holds a fascination for the natural world and the relationships between species. Of particular interest are the effects of the natural environment on human well-being, mental health and cognition. When not surrounded by nature, EJ can be found creating artwork, cooking, pottering in the vegetable garden or traveling (sometimes on a classic British motorcycle).

Categories
Meditation

The History of Meditation

5,000 B.C. to 3,500 B.C.
The oldest evidence of meditation, cave art on the Indian subcontinent.

 

1,896 B.C. to 1,716 B.C.
Evidence that Judaism inherited meditative practices through its own traditions from Israelite antiquity. In the Torah, the patriarch Isaac goes out “lasuah” in the field (Genesis 24:63)—an unusual term, understood by many commentators to mean “to take a meditative stroll.”

1,500 B.C. to 1,200 B.C.
The oldest documented evidence of meditation is in the “Vedas,” but these contain only the oldest “written” account; for many centuries prior, the “Vedas” were memorized and passed down through oral tradition.

600 B.C. to 450 B.C.

  • IndiaSiddhartha Gautama left his princely life and set out on a journey toward enlightenment. It is understood that he learned meditation and philosophy from yogis and gurus of his time. This was the beginning of Buddhism, for which meditation is still a core component to this day.Jainism, a transtheistic religion founded by Mahavira, also began in India at this time; it too includes meditation.
  • ChinaIn China, Lao Tzu founded Taoism, which emphasizes balance and understanding of the Tao (the Way) and incorporates meditation as a fundamental of the practice.Confucianism, founded by Confucius, focuses on morality and community life as a foundation for the practice. Its meditation concentrates more on self-contemplation and self-improvement.

Pullquote

“In the oldest texts of Buddhism, ‘dhyana’ (Sanskrit) or ‘jhana’ (Pali) is the training of the mind, commonly translated as meditation, to withdraw the mind from the automatic responses to sense-impressions, and leading to a ‘state of perfect equanimity and awareness.’”
—Wikipedia, “Dhyana in Buddhism”

499 B.C. to 100 B.C.
The epic “Bhagavad Gita” was written. It’s a treatise on various aspects of spiritual life, including meditation and yoga.

20 B.C. to A.D. 270
Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, left writings on “spiritual exercises” related to what we would today call mindfulness and meditation.

By the third century, Roman philosopher Plotinus wrote in “The Enneads” about his three principles, “the One, the Intellect, and the Soul.” Regarding henosis, he wrote, “you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One.”

596 to 667
Daoxuan took the concept of “ding” (concentration), a form of meditation, as a method that both Buddhist and non-Buddhist practitioners could use for different spiritual purposes.

653 to 700
Buddhism took root in Japan, and the first meditation center was opened. By the eighth century, Buddhism was firmly established—it truly flourished in the 11th century and beyond.

1000 to 1399
Christianity developed its own version of meditation during this time. Practitioners would vocalize the same word or phrase repeatedly, chanting while contemplating their relationship with God.

Shortly before the 13th century, Carthusian monk Guigo II wrote about meditating on Bible passages, in his book “The Ladder of Monks.”

By the 14th century, another meditative practice, hesychasm, had become a tradition within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based upon an interpretation of Bible scripture, hesychasts seek to still themselves and quiet their senses, such that they might become closer to God.

1760 to 1899
Meditation spread to the West as the Industrial Revolution made intercontinental travel more accessible to everyone.

1927
The first English translation of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was published, increasing awareness and interest in Eastern meditative and spiritual practices.

1960s to Present
Interest in meditative practices has increased in the West. A cofounder of Contemplative Outreach and an American Catholic monk, Thomas Keating wrote: “The rush to the East is a symptom of what is lacking in the West. There is a deep spiritual hunger that is not being satisfied in the West.” Keating helped pioneer a meditative method of contemplative prayer known as Centering Prayer.

These days you can find apps to help you begin, train, or improve your meditative habits and practices. There are meditation classes inspired by and focused on traditions from all over the world. People also gather to meditate together at a variety of locations on a regular basis.

Meditation is as old as civilization: it was around long before any formal writing system, as evidenced by cave art dating to 5,000 B.C.; it has for millennia been practiced in almost every culture and country in some way or another; and religions typically make some form of meditative practice available to their adherents.

Meditation requires us to be present in the moment, not focusing on the past or future. It’s a way for us to center ourselves, let go of the inconsequential trivialities of day-to-day life, and reconnect with what’s important in our lives—reaffirming our lives’ purpose.

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Trending Meditation Meditation

Meditation: A Search for Inner Calm and Meaning

Take a moment to clear your mind. Let go of the chatter of doubt and obsession, and just be still.

Meditation is a simple idea, yet challenging in practice. In a world brimming with distractions, developing the ability to maintain a clear mind for any stretch of time takes dedicated effort. But those who practice this mysterious discipline say it’s worth the effort they put into it.

Enlightenment has long been the goal of meditation, but the bar doesn’t usually start so high. Today, meditation is often promoted as a drug-free way to relax, reduce stress, and improve mental focus. A number of studies validate the health benefits of meditation. Some doctors recommend it.

But the drive to meditate goes far beyond the scope of modern science. For Nicole Fiene, a sales representative from Massapequa, New York, meditation spoke to a void deep in her soul that she had never been able to fill.

“I was in a constant and seemingly neverending cycle of feeling unfulfilled with everything I did,” Fiene said. “I lived a beautiful life full of fun adventures and special friendships—always traveling to new places, meeting new people, and trying different things. But on the inside, it was never enough; I always wanted more.”

Fiene says that instead of feeling inspired, her constant search for stimulation left her feeling depleted. She relied heavily on multiple substances just to get through the day.

But when COVID-19 hit last year, Fiene was forced to change her routine. Under lockdown, all the activity and distraction she had grown accustomed to was no longer available. As a result, she could no longer hide from the painful feelings she had previously pushed down.

“Part of me knew that the reason I was going through such pain was because what was about to be next for me would be so extraordinary,” she said. “I knew that if I was going to fix this, I had to get to the root of it, and I knew whatever I was experiencing was spiritual.”

Fiene had no idea where to start, but direction came a day or so later. Speaking to a close business colleague over the phone, Fiene confessed to her emotional and spiritual unraveling during lockdown, and her search for something to cope with it. Her colleague recommended that Fiene try a meditation practice called Falun Gong. Fiene found instructions for the practice on the internet. She tried it and soon felt better.

“I felt a circulation of energy all through my arms, and for the first time in such a long time, I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and safety,” Fiene said. “I didn’t know anything about the practice, but in my heart I knew this was what was going to pull me out of the mental darkness I was experiencing.”

Roots in China

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditation practice in the Buddhist tradition. In addition to the classic seated meditation, it also includes four slow, meditative standing exercises. The exercises are simple to learn, but those who practice them say they bring profound peace.

“Sometimes after meditating, I feel this buzz of soothing energy all around my body and mind, and it’s coupled with kindness and calmness,” Fiene said.

Today, Falun Gong is practiced in more than 80 countries, but it started in China—a place with a long tradition of slow, meditative exercises known as qigong (energy practice).

Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated at Union Square in New York on May 12, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Either at parks in large groups or at home, Chinese people have been practicing various kinds of qigong for centuries. Tai chi is perhaps the best-known. Falun Gong was virtually unknown until the early 1990s, but it is said to have been around since ancient times. According to Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, before he modified it slightly and introduced it to the public in China, it was a lineage-type practice passed from master to student.

Li gave lectures on Falun Gong in a handful of Chinese cities for a few years, and interest in the practice spread—mostly by word of mouth.

In fact, it grew very popular very fast. By 1999, Falun Gong had grown to become the largest and fastest-growing qigong practice in China. The Chinese regime estimated that 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong, including some high-ranking members of the regime. The appeal was clear: Classes were free and open to anyone, and testimonials of positive experiences increased people’s interest. Many reported significant improvements in their health and state of mind from practicing Falun Gong.

Falun Dafa practitioners in a group practice session in Shenyang City, China, in 1998. (Minghui)

Jane Pang remembers first learning Falun Gong back in China 25 years ago. Today, she’s a 45-year-old school principal living in Toronto. Back then, she was attending a Chinese university, where she would occasionally practice qigong with a group of fellow students in her free time. When one of her qigong buddies introduced her to Falun Gong in 1996, Pang knew she had found something special.

“I practiced qigong, but it didn’t feel anything like Falun Dafa,” Pang said. “[Dafa] gave me a lot of inner peace immediately.”

The biggest change Pang first noticed from the practice was that it calmed her down. She was a very dedicated student, but extremely stressed from all the pressure she was under, and full of anxiety. Falun Gong meditation helped her get her anxiety under control.

“Meditation helps me physically,” she said. “I have more and more control of my physical body. I can calm myself down and relax myself. I’m not worried about the results. I think that’s a big change for me.”

At first, the Chinese regime was pleased with the beneficial results people like Pang experienced with Falun Gong. Some officials even noted how it could save money on health care costs. An official from China’s National Sports Commission told U.S. News and World Report that Falun Gong’s influence could save each person 1,000 yuan per year in medical fees, and the benefits could add up.

“If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion yuan saved per year in medical fees,” the official said.

But in 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) changed its tune. Top officials suddenly became concerned that Falun Gong was becoming too popular, and feared the influence of such a large segment of the population involved in an activity outside communist control. Perhaps most serious of all, Falun Gong was deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, something the CCP had worked to destroy since the regime’s founding in 1949. Socialism and atheism effectively became the state religion.

Falun Gong books were ordered burned, the exercises were forbidden, and a major propaganda campaign to demonize the practice was carried out by virtually every media outlet in the country—all of which operate under tight state control.

Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners went to the Chinese capital to appeal what they believed was a misguided decision by the CCP. In 1999, Pang made her way to Beijing to convince the authorities that Falun Gong was good, that it wasn’t political or any kind of threat to the regime. It was something to be celebrated. Like many other practitioners in China at the time, Pang thought that if people in power could hear her positive experience, it would change their minds.

“We wanted them to know there shouldn’t be any concerns,” Pang said. “I thought if I went there and shared my story, it would help them to understand what Falun Gong is.”

However, these types of appeals seemed only to intensify the regime’s determination to stamp out the practice. After they arrived in Beijing to appeal, Pang and other practitioners found themselves incarcerated. Pang says she was abducted on the street, put on a bus, and taken to several detention centers over the course of the next few days. She was tortured, starved, and denied access to a restroom. She also had no idea where she was.

“I was very, very scared,” Pang said. “I wanted to say goodbye to my family members. I felt that at any moment, I could be dead. And if they killed me, my family would never know how I died.”

After being processed at five or six different detention centers, Pang was eventually taken to a labor camp where she spent the next two years. The experience was designed to break prisoners like Pang of their adherence to Falun Gong. Ironically, it only deepened her dedication.

“Even if I just had a minute or two to myself, I would close my eyes and do the meditation. I tried to get some peace internally,” Pang said. “My physical body was deteriorating from the torture, but mentally I did not break down. Meditation helped me a lot in such a difficult situation.”

Better Health, Brighter Outlook

Falun Gong shares similar elements with Buddhism and Taoism, but it also has unique characteristics. In addition to providing methods to clear the mind and move energy through the body, it also teaches practitioners to elevate their character. This means doing their best to be a good person in every situation in life. The three guiding principles of Falun Gong are truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

(Photo courtesy of NYCC Falun Dafa)

Those who live by these principles say they have the power to overcome virtually anything. Pang says that even today she feels a profound sense of protection.

“Whatever happens in your life, your heart cannot be touched. It can be an extreme situation, but you feel calm because you feel protected,” Pang said. “I’ve been able to go through so many difficult situations because of the meditation practice of Falun Gong. I’ve benefited from day one.”

Falun Gong comes from China, but the people who practice it today hail from all over the world. One of them is 45-year-old Tabitha Smile. In 2014, Smile was a single mother of two teenagers and working a corporate job when she decided she wanted to find a meditation practice.

Smile had some previous knowledge of meditation practices found in Asia because of time spent in the Far East. Many of her formative childhood years were spent in Japan, and she also visited Korea and Taiwan.

But she discovered Falun Gong in a room above a Whole Foods store in Portland, Oregon, where she met up with a small local group to learn the exercises. She says it was a casual atmosphere where she felt comfortable to go at her own pace. But she saw profound benefits right away.

“The first time I did the Falun Dafa exercises in the group, I could feel the gentle warmth and vibrations throughout my entire body. I felt very light and wonderful, and I knew I had found a true practice.”

“For weeks after my practice, I felt a rotational type of vibration all over my body,” she said.

Within a few months, Smile’s chronic back pain disappeared, and a persistent skin issue that had plagued her for years was finally gone.

“I also felt an increase in energy,” she said.

If you’re new to Chinese culture, much of the philosophy of Falun Gong may seem odd at first. Mystical talk of energy channels, the power of inner silence, and the accumulation of virtue as a real physical substance are all a part of traditional Asian culture. But interested Westerners can find a connection with these ideas.

Those who come to embrace Falun Gong often talk about finding it at a pivotal point in their lives. Joseph Gigliotti, a 29-year-old chiropractor, was first introduced to Falun Gong almost seven years ago while in chiropractic college.

Jeanne Mitchell practicing the 5th exercise of Falun Dafa

“It was at a time when I was beginning to see that I had some serious work to do on my character. I was looking for an authentic spiritual discipline that could help me mature and be a better person,” Gigliotti said. “When a friend told me about this practice, I immediately knew this was unique, authentic, and very powerful.”

Gigliotti had previously struggled with anxiety and depression, but he says through Falun Gong, these issues simply melted away.

“I could never imagine then the changes that would take place in me,” he said. “Falun Dafa has left a permanent mark on who I am, and it has transformed all my relationships.”

Today, Gigliotti says meditation has become an integral part of his life. It has taught him to think of others first, and to look within whenever he faces any difficult ordeal.

“In many ways, this practice saved my life,” Gigliotti said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without it. It’s so nice to be able to sit and settle my mind.”

“While meditating, it feels like a shower to my mind and body. It can really be pleasant. It can also be challenging at times and helps me temper myself.”

A Treasured Discovery

Many Falun Gong practitioners say they treasure the practice because of the journey—the search they took to find it. But sometimes the practice finds them.

That’s what happened to a 63-year-old music teacher and photographer, Syl Lebar. In 2004, Lebar was researching information about a style of tai chi known as “wu,” but for some reason, his search results kept leading him to Falun Gong.

“Every time I searched, Google only showed me pages and pages of Falun Dafa. I had heard of it before, but that’s not what I was looking for at the time. I tried a second time, and the same thing happened. A third, and yet the same results,” Lebar said.

At first he was annoyed, but he decided to see what Falun Dafa was about. He found the main text of the practice, “Zhuan Falun,” online. After reading just a few pages, he was hooked.

“Before I knew it, I was in the third chapter. I couldn’t stop reading it,” Lebar said. “When I went to bed, it suddenly occurred to me—that was no accident with the results when I was looking for wu-style tai chi. Someone was guiding me there. I smiled when I realized what had happened. Dafa is what I was looking for all my life.”

Over time, Lebar saw benefits that he attributed directly to his Falun Gong practice. His health was improving. He developed a more positive outlook, and he found it easier to handle all the little challenges of life.

“Everything in my daily life seemed to be taking an unknown direction for the better. The meditation that goes with the teaching put me in a state of internal peace that I had not felt before, even with other cultivation systems,” Lebar said. “Relationships to my immediate and extended family were improving as well.”

Lebar says he got a lot out of other meditation systems he had tried in the past, but they didn’t compare to what he gained from Falun Gong.

“I could not imagine life without it,” he said.

Categories
Meditation

Better Business Outcomes From Mindfulness and Meditation

Back in the day, it probably wouldn’t have been all that daunting to find more than a few skeptics who’d scoff at the very idea of meditation in the workplace.

Really? There? they’d proclaim, perfectly aghast. After all, it’s an environment typically far too rife with distractions like butting heads for partnerships and the coveted corner office to trifle with something as introspective as meditation, right?

But today, side by side with omnipresent spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, meditation has gained worlds more cachet in boardrooms. So, what’s with the about-face? Simple: companies themselves.

Many are combing for innovative ways to upgrade employee performance. Among many employees, mindfulness and mediation are emerging as staples in doing business, according to comparecamp.com.

Meditation has silently entered the boardrooms and executive offices of large companies seeking an edge for improving employee performance. (Shridhar Gupta/Unsplash)

Perhaps to show just how far the concept of meditation has come in corporate America, when most people think of perks, the usual ones like casual Fridays and Starbucks gift cards probably come to mind. Now, conventional perks are at least sharing center stage as meditation rooms have become all the rage at places like Apple, Salesforce, and Nike, according to CompareCamp.

No, it’s not merely because those Wall Street titans are trying to strut their softer sides. Ha!

Instead, consider this: Meditation improves critical thinking and creativity, studies have found. Studies have also shown that meditation steps up focus and productivity. Consequently, many employers have picked up on the power of meditation to reduce workplace stress, increase employee focus and productivity, and improve mental health.

CompareCamp reported the following:

  • Two weeks of mindfulness training results in reduced mind wandering for participants prone to distractions.
  • Meditation increases employee productivity by 120 percent.
  • Employers who implemented meditation programs for their employees saw an 85 percent decrease in absenteeism.
  • Businesses with meditation programs for employees experienced a 520 percent profit increase.
  • Of employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace, 60 percent showed marked improvement upon practicing meditation.
  • In 2017, 36 percent of employers offered meditation programs in the workplace; in 2018, it was 52 percent.

“[Meditation is] becoming more and more commonplace as large companies like Google role model their mindfulness programs. But there’s still a long way to go before companies allocate any budget to implementing company-wide programs,” said Lisa Wimberger, CEO of Neurosculpting Institute.

She believes mediation is hitting the mark in these hallowed halls because leaders need effective emotional regulation in order to access their brains’ “executive-command” center, which is the hallmark of good leadership. All of this requires a regular self-reflection practice such as meditation, neuroplasticity training, and exercise.” Wimberger added that it’s as vital to good leadership as any other leadership-based training program. “It helps leaders maintain equanimity, big-picture thinking, focus, and nonviolent communication styles.”

Meditating can improve decision making, calm your mood, and increase focus. (Charanjeet Dhiman/Unsplash)

Dana Harper, senior director of People Services and HR Business Partnering at Anuvu, a provider of high-speed connectivity and entertainment solutions, said meditation has been very effective there for “getting leadership attention on the matter of stress management.” “It elicited excitement from our employee population [so] we are taking this seriously.”

The company began using meditation in May and then wound down the program, but its videos remain available on the employee portal for anyone to use at any time, Harper said.

Dan Globus, lead meditation and mindfulness instructor at the Meditation House, said that up until about 10 years ago, only the largest corporations had some type of meditation or mindfulness program for their employees. “Most employees interested in meditation had to visit local yoga centers or possibly a facility offering meditation, that is, if one even existed where the person lived.”

How times have changed. Today, small- and medium-size corporations offer meditation classes and programs to their employees, he said. Classes range from “well-being” or “mental heath days” events, where a corporation books one class as part of a one- to two-day well-being summit, to monthly programs where employees are offered access to classes that take place once a week or once a month.

Companies are now offering wellness, mindfulness, and meditation classes as a way to improve morale as well as productivity. (Geert Pieters/Unsplash)

Globus believes the evolution stems from the fact that human resource managers have witnessed the beneficial effects of meditation programs in the workplace. “They have seen how these programs help to reduce absenteeism, boost morality, contribute to overall employee happiness and satisfaction, and contribute to the overall health of employees.”

Whatever the case, the proof of the key role meditation has assumed in business is reflected in the positive feedback Globus has received from clients:

Hi Dan! Thank you again for such a wonderful session. I appreciate the time and energy! The feedback I received was very positive … comments such as: “That was a great meditation, Cindy! I hope we get the opportunity to repeat it again. Thanks for the initiative! —Best regards from Germany, Christiane”

Thanks, Cindy, for organizing! Born a Buddhist but it is always very interesting to learn about different perspectives/practices of mindfulness meditation. There is always more to learn 😊 Regards, Kushlani, GE Health

I met with students yesterday, and the response to your program was very positive. You should know that several students commented on feeling that they are in a better place to jump into exam week next week. A couple spoke of feeling a calmness they have not felt all year. One said that evening “was the first time I felt free from anxiety since March”! THANK YOU again for offering them [and me] such a positive experience. —Hunter College

And why not all the enthusiasm? After all, Globus characterized meditation programs as cost-effective solutions that contribute to employee satisfaction, happiness, and productivity: “Employees that meditate on a regular basis are typically healthy [and] happy in their positions; they look forward to their work, and they have good relationships with other employees.”

Still, there are those nonbelievers, who Wimberger said are more difficult to reach. “There can be drawbacks depending on the kinds of meditation programs implemented. The ones that come with major lifestyle or dogmatic implications can cause some people to resist the methods. The programs that focus more on the physiology of the practices tend to have a more mainstream and pervasive appeal.”

There are many styles of meditation to suit just about anyone’s needs. (Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent/Pexels)

What’s more, not all meditation styles foster focused attention, she said. “There’s more than relaxation at stake. Good meditation programs meet the user[s] where they are at and help them either create more relaxation if needed, or more focused attention if that’s what’s needed. It’s never really a one-size-fits-all.”

Naysayers aside, people’s views of meditation have changed. It depends on how it’s presented, Globus said. “It’s come a long way. Many people who would never have taken a meditation class outside of work have become the biggest proponents of corporate meditation classes. They quickly realize that the way that meditation is taught at corporations is completely different from what they may have envisioned.”

Chuck Green has written for a number of publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and others. He’s covered various topics, such as banking and finance, health care, real estate, food and beverages, and sports.

Categories
Mind & Body

De-Stress Your Diet

There’s no question that what we eat affects our mental clarity. There’s no other way to say it: If you’re powering through your day with sugar-laden toaster pastries, after-lunch doughnuts, and caffeinated sodas loaded with high fructose corn syrup and artificial colorants, you’re hobbling your brain.

Consider this: A 2019 study of 1,209 older adults in Malaysia found that the participants who reported the most sugar consumption (including sugar-sweetened drinks, cakes, and desserts), scored most poorly on cognitive tests.

Other research, from the Framingham Heart Study, followed more than 4,250 participants, testing them for memory and mental acuity. The 2017 study, published in the journal “Alzheimer’s & Dementia,” found a correlation between poor memory and reduced brain volume with consumption of sugary drinks.

Though the sugar high you get from eating sweets will give you some fleeting energy, eating calorie-packed sugary foods can lead to too much glucose in your brain, which in turn leads to cognitive dysfunction and memory loss.

Artificial sweeteners, associated with a host of poor health outcomes, are also bad for your brain, according to peer-reviewed research published in 2017 in the journal Stroke.

So what should you eat and drink to maximize your brain capacity and enjoy a clear mind throughout the day?

Change Your Breakfast to Heal Your Brain

According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, a holistic psychiatrist and author of “A Mind of Your Own,” increasing healthy fats can help you stabilize your blood sugar, improve your mood, and add to your mental clarity.

Brogan recommends a diet rich in protein, antioxidants, and healthy fats. In fact, she says you can heal your brain by changing your breakfast, and recommends drinking a morning smoothie made from organic coconut water, coconut oil, nut butter, grass-fed collagen, eggs yolks, and frozen berries.

And when you’re craving treats later in the day, try eating an apple, which is high in vitamin C and fiber, or a handful of dates, which are sweet and tasty and packed with nutrients. Or distract yourself from your sugar craving by taking a walk around the block or doing some jumping jacks, stretching, or yoga poses. The extra oxygen in your blood from even just a minute or two of exercise will also help you clear your brain.

Julie Wells is a stay-at-home mom of three in Wilmington, North Carolina. She’s found that her ability to concentrate has worsened in the last year and a half. It’s sometimes difficult to keep her train of thought or find the words she’s looking for, she says. Wells has also noticed that the higher her anxiety levels the worse her brain fog.

“It’s frustrating because I’ll be stumped in mid-sentence,” Wells says. “I know what I’m trying to say but I can’t think of the right word.”

Though she has a sweet tooth and loves chocolate, Wells says that eating sugar not only increases her mental fog, it also gives her headaches. Sometimes the ill effects on her brain of bad food choices don’t show up until the next day. Wells notices a drastic improvement in mental clarity when she avoids sugar and gluten, makes sure she gets enough sleep, turns off the TV news, and reminds herself that she and her family are all okay.

“I’ve become really disciplined,” she says. Though she misses the chocolate cake and the cookies, she’s grateful for the clarity of mind.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning science journalist and co-author of “The Addiction Spectrum.” Learn more at: JenniferMargulis.net