Top 5 Myths about Mindfulness Meditation

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Do you know the myths about mindfulness and what is true or false about this swelling revolution? Take a look at what I think are the top five myths about mindfulness.top-5-banner

Note: There are plenty more, but I thought these top the charts.

Myth #1: Mindfulness if for taking a time-out from life, quieting the mind and reducing stress.

Truth: I think this is the #1 myth out there because it’s my experience that this is how people initially experience the practice. One of the greatest entry points to mindfulness in the West is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This is a fantastic program with wonderful science behind it, but the name is just for marketing. The ultimate goal isn’t meant to be stress reduction. The goal of mindfulness and MBSR is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes, recognize the connectedness between people and operate in the world with greater self-compassion and compassion.

However, the initial practices can often give people sense of relief from a busy mind and can then be equated with a mental break. While there’s nothing wrong with using it this way, it also minimizes the power of mindfulness.

The paradox here is when we’re able to do just be present to our minds, emotions and bodies, the stressful relationship tends to quiet down, but when we try and quiet the mind down, we often add fuel to the fire.

Myth #2: You need to carve out plenty of time in a serene “mindful” space.

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MBCT for Depression Anywhere, Anytime: An Interview with Zindel Segal, PhD

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Over a decade ago, Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for helping people not relapse into MindfulNoggin_email_addepression. Over time study after study has come out showing the positive impact MBCT has in relapse depression. I’ve taught this program many many times and have seen the transformative power of it firsthand. At the same time I would get emails from people across the country asking if I knew if it was in their area. Often times it wasn’t, but now Zindel Segal and Sona Dimidjian have solved that problem.

Today, Zindel talks to us about a new online program called Mindful Noggin that can bring MBCT to you anywhere, anytime.

Elisha: The Mindful Noggin is a great name, what exactly is it and how do you see it pushing the needle forward on integrating MBCT into our daily lives?

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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

What can we do? 

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The Horse is Technology, But the Rider is on Auto-Pilot

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

You wake up the morning and before saying hi to anyone in the house you say hi to your phone. Walking on the way to the bathroom you make sure to grab your phone toonline check any messages on the way. Slowing down at the stoplight in the car is an invitation to see if you have any messages and perhaps even begin responding. At lunch we make sure to have it with us. Waiting anywhere is a cue to engage anything on the phone. Before going to bed it’s the last thing we kiss goodnight.

There’s a very subtle, and for some, not-so-subtle habitual relationship with our technology. I could easily make the argument that most of us have an addiction to our screens. In China there are currently 400 intensive treatment center for web addiction. An entire documentary called Web Junkie has been created to chronicle this issue there (Note: I’ll be at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles, California on October 5th doing a Q&A after this screening). Many of us may not feel we have a web addiction, but in truth, most of us have some form of this.

In a recent talk the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh compared technology to a horse and said we’re currently riding it. When someone walks up and says to the rider, “Where are you going?” The rider looks at the person and replies, “I don’t know, ask the horse.” There it is, we have lost control of technology, it’s driving us, and we are no longer driving it.

The reality is, technology isn’t a positive or negative force in our lives, it’s technology. But, like riding a horse, we have to learn how to harness it to make good use of it.

To harness your relationship with technology, take a short inventory:

In what ways does my relationship to technology distract me or stress me out?

What information am I taking in that isn’t nourishing to my life or well-being?

Do I use technology to cover up my loneliness?

Does my relationship to technology take me away from friends and family?

When does it feel like technology is stealing time away from taking care of myself?

For many of us technology creates “micro-disconnections” from ourselves, our loved ones and the beauty of the world. But it also has the power to facilitate connection within ourselves, connections to mindfulness, enhancement of compassion and support to those in need foster “micro-connections.”

The choice is in our hands right now.

It’s not about ditching technology, it’s about being intentional with our relationship to it to use it for good. For most of us, if we choose to allow routine to continue, the horse will drive our personal lives. But we can set an intention each day in how we want to use this technology in ways that enhance connection and well-being.

Ask yourself:

How do I or can I use technology to take care of myself?

How do I or can I use technology to help me foster connection?

Let’s gather as a community right now, how do you use technology for good? In what ways do you feel like it steals your time?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.



Use Your Difficult Emotions to Gain Emotional Freedom

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

For a number of months now hundreds of people have been taking the Basics in Mindfulness Meditation: 28 day program challenge to bring more mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion and balance into their lives. Throughout the unbinding the heartcourse questions are asked that I field and one came in recently that I thought important to bring to all people as it is a seminar question of our time.

Here is the question

Hi Elisha, Thank you for this very helpful course. I notice that my thoughts start whirring around in my head when I have had an emotional encounter. I try to accept the thoughts, acknowledge it being there, then focus on breathing or the body scan but my mind races back to that emotion I experience of sadness. How can I pull myself into the moment when this happens? Will appreciate your advice.

Here is an answer

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This Instruction May Seem Simple, Yet it is Very Profound

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Make this week a week to be mindful of your diet.

Not just the food you take in, but what you take into all of your senses — into your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and sense of touch. breathing exercise

What kind of diet are you feeding your senses?

Are they on sensory overload from too much interaction with digital devices? Is there too much time with the news?

What good things might you bring into your diet? Is there music you’d like to listen to? The touch of a loved one? A specific food or maybe a beautiful landscape?

Allow today to be the day, in this Now Moment, to start feeding a life of meaning.



The Neuroscience of Resistance and How to Overcome It!

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

We all experience resistance everyday when we’re trying to do something that matters. Whether you want to sit and meditate, work on a new project, get out and exercise, whatever it is that is in the direction of growth, resistance comes CogniFit Brain Plasticity
alive. In my next book Uncovering Happiness (can’t wait to share it with you – January, 2015), I explore some of the neuroscience behind what keeps us stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck and even find our natural anti-depressants and thrive.  While resistance lies within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us.

But the deeper question is, where does it reside in the brain and how do we overcome it?

I don’t believe anyone has conducted and brain scan specifically on resistance, but one thing we do know is that the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind your forehead lights up when we’re trying to avoid something. This same region also lights up with negative emotions.

One thing we’re wanting to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting the activity to the left prefrontal region that is more associated with approaching things in life and with resiliency.

The fact is resistance is relentless, it’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable.  Not only is this hardwired into most of us, but we’ve practiced is so often that it’s strengthened the default. The brain has such a lock on us, that we’re not even aware of it.

This is why procrastination is so common.

So what do we do about it?

K.N.O.W  Your Resistance

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You Can Find Happiness Here: A Tip from Mitch Albom

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

The best way to get the brain to change it seems is through engaging novelty. Kids are doing it like crazy, everything is new. I remember when my oldest was born and we’d walk around the neighborhood. I’d grab a leaf on a tree and say, “See this, this is a leaf. Look closely at the shape and see how it has veins.” In the process I was interacting with life as if for the first time and it inspired wonder and joy within me. I tapped into something important and I knew it.

In the now famous book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie points us in the direction of happiness:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

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Create Confidence Over Depressive Rumination

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

shutterstock_150673370Almost 19 million Americans have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest in what was once pleasurable and interesting. They feel tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and experience an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep  invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope?

Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing our brains to flinch at any sign of a relapse.

Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we’ve experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for a relapse. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry “uh oh, that is how I felt when I was depressed, maybe I’m getting depressed”. Our minds begin to go in overdrive with negative self judgments, “I am a failure” or “I am weak” or “I am worthless”. It then tries to solve the mystery as to why we are becoming depressed again and the more it tries to solve this puzzle, the deeper it sinks into depression. Think of a worried, judging person coming at you trying to solve your problems when you’re already not feeling well. Probably not what you’re looking for. You see, it’s not the low mood that’s the problem here, it’s the way we get stuck in habitually relating to it that pours kerosene on the fire, with our minds continuing to fan the flame rolling us into a full blown depression.

The practice of mindfulness teaches us a different way to relate to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they arise. It is about learning to approach and acknowledge whatever is happening in the present moment, setting aside our lenses of judgment and just being with whatever is there, rather than avoiding it or needing to fix it. It’s the mind’s attempt to avoid and fix things in this moment that fuels the negative mood.

With Uncomfortable Emotions

If sadness is there, instead of trying to fix it or figure it out, we might just acknowledge the sadness, let it be and get a better understanding of what we need in the moment.

With Self-Judgments

If self-judgments arise (e.g., I am weak, I am a loser) out of past sensitivities to having been depressed before, we can acknowledge that they are associations from the past, let them be, and then gently bring ourselves back to whatever we were doing. In doing this, we’re stopping the ruminative cycle that might occur between our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviors that can play off one another leading into another relapse (I call this “The Depression Loop” in the upcoming book Uncovering Happiness).

Now, this is easier said than done and it takes practice.

Confidence with Rumination Practice:

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The Power of Empathy (and One Surefire to Know if You’re Missing It)

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

befried inner monsterIf someone shares something with you that is incredibly painful and you try to lighten the moment, that may be a lack of empathy. Empathy is about understanding where someone is coming from and caring about them, it says nothing about trying to make someone feel better. The following is a good descriptive cartoon that illuminates the difference between sympathy and empathy from a talk with Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly.

 Are there places in your life where someone’s discomfort leaves you feeling uncertain of what to say? Or maybe their pain is simply making you

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Books and CDs by Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind
The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change The Rest of Your Life

A Mindfulness-Based
Stress Reduction Workbook Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety and Depression
 

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Recent Comments
  • Paul Schlosberg: This is an excellent article and I have shared it on Facebook!!
  • Kevin: Today is the beginning of me doing the workbook. I’m optimistic that this book will help me.
  • blanaid: Thank you. I think it is also worth noting, research suggests the brain produces dopamine during mindfulness...
  • Vishnu: Myth #1 definitely takes the cake! I also appreciate Dr. Goldstein’s point about the variety of reasons...
  • Capt Tom Bunn LCSW: This comment – and the other negative comments – are the work of a JetBlue captain...
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