Top of Mind

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

Photograph by Dave Robinson

Take a Tree Bath

The Japanese belief that their practice of “forest bathing” is good for body and mind now has some scientific backing. For eight years, researchers in Japan studied the physiological and psychological effects of spending time among trees, and found it significantly improves immune function, lowers stress, and reduces hostility and depression. “Forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes,” they concluded.

Silence Heals

Being hospitalized is stressful enough, but the constant beeping, buzzing, ringing of hospital monitors—an average of one every 11 minutes, according to a study—makes the experience downright nerve-wracking.
And the effect extends to hospital staff: “Alarm fatigue” is so commonplace that doctors and nurses often stop noticing the sounds, diminishing their effectiveness.

After her own hospitalization, ambient musician Yoko K. Sen was determined to make hospitals more peaceful. Working with Johns Hopkins Sibley Innovation Hub, she’s experimenting with adding music, aromatherapy, and moving projections to patient rooms and “tranquility” areas for hospital staff.

A Tale of Two More Cities

Storefront meditation studios/bars/spas keep opening in urban centers: Bar À Méditation is in the Opera district in Paris, and Inhere (inset) opened recently in the City of London.

Wait for It?

Having to wait for food may make us healthier eaters. In an experiment at Rush University Medical Center, when people had to choose to either wait 25 seconds for vending machines to dispense typical snack foods, like chips, or immediately get healthier snacks, like nuts, 5% of the time they chose the healthy option.
The effect “is not huge,” admits Brad Appelhans, associate professor of preventive medicine. But on a broad scale, over time, he says, “it could add up to something meaningful.”

On the April 14, 2017, edition of the TV game show Jeopardy, the following clue appeared, for $1,000 in the category Shallow Thoughts: “Do the ‘Leaves on a Stream’ exercise to get this, defined by Psychology Today as ‘active, open attention on the present.’” Jeopardy champion Deborah Beams, a certified public accountant from Dallas, answered correctly, “What is mindfulness?”

Gaming Your Brain

Helping people who have experienced trauma has vexed the medical and psychological communities for more than a century. But researchers in England may have discovered a way to interrupt “memory consolidation,” the process by which traumatic experiences form long-term memories: The video game Tetris.
Car accident victims were asked to recall their experience and then play Tetris for 20 minutes or fill out a an activity log. The game-players had 62% fewer intrusive memories in the week following the accident, and their bad memories diminished more quickly than in the control group.

Researchers speculate that introduced shortly after a traumatic event, the game’s high interactivity level stimulates the brain’s sensory centers so much that graphic memories can’t take hold. They plan to also test other visually engaging video games and activities such as drawing.

The New Greenwashing?

For several years now, “mindful” has been the new “green”—the marketing buzzword that companies (big, small, artisanal, corporate) want to associate themselves with. Mayonnaise, burgers, building, brewing…where will it end? Clearly, they’re using the word in the larger sense. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “mindful” as “attentive, heedful.” But Heedful Mayonnaise and Attentive Brewing just don’t cut it, do they? It’s that faint association with a peaceful mind that does the trick. Caveat emptor.


• At the Etobicoke Humane Society in Ontario, Canada, cats had to sleep on the “cold, hard floor”—until IKEA donated a bunch of doll beds to the shelter.
• For her 3rd birthday, a Missouri girl asked for a poop-themed party. Her parents chose to “embrace the weird” and throw one, with poop balloons, a poop piñata, and a poop cake.
• In Manitoba, Canada, an 18-year-old girl rode her horse an hour through a snowstorm to bring dinner and coffee to a stranded truck driver.

Clever or Crazy?

Sometimes you just can’t decide if something’s groundbreaking or a tad over the top. Our jury’s out. What’s your verdict?

Are you a meditator looking for love online? Head on over to MeetMindful. It’s a new dating site designed to connect people who identify with living mindfully. Categories of interest include volunteering, green living, meditation, and personal growth.

Line Dudes
Patience is a virtue—and a lucrative one, at that. Realizing this, Robert Samuel founded NYC-based line-sitting company Same Ole Line Dudes, which once raked in $14,000 in a single day waiting to purchase new iPhones, according to Elite Daily.

A Smart Bra
Vitali is a forthcoming sports bra that will track a wearer’s posture, breathing, and heart-rate variability. It then reminds her to sit up when needed and to take deep breaths in sync with her heart rate. It sends data to a phone app, which provides “up-to-date wellness scores” and “personalized goals,” among other features.

Research Roundup

More Resilience, Less Reactivity
Many of us worry about our health, finances, employment, or relationships, but for those of us with generalized anxiety disorder, worrying like this can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. Might mindfulness help? According to a new study, the answer may be “yes.”Seventy adults with a history of generalized anxiety disorder attended either an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class or an attention control class.

Before and after training, participants were asked to perform a stress test that involved delivering an eight-minute speech and solving math problems out loud in front of a group of evaluators wearing white coats and brandishing clipboards. Researchers collected blood samples from the participants before and after these tests to assess whether there were changes in several known biological markers of stress.

The blood tests revealed that MBSR group members experienced significantly less stress compared to individuals in the control group, whose stress levels tended to spike in anticipation of the test.
This suggests that mindfulness meditation may make us more resilient and less reactive in the face of real-world challenges.

Time for a Retreat?
Intensive meditation retreats are great, but the question of whether or not they provide lasting benefits is on its way to being answered. Researchers recently studied the long-term effects of weeklong insight meditation retreats on a sample of 195 adults. After seven days, participants reported fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, were better at observing and acting with awareness, and were less reactive and judgmental. They also reported having fewer negative thoughts and attitudes. Even better, these benefits persisted one month later.

Your Aching Back
There’s some good news for the millions of us who suffer from chronic low back pain and would love non-pharma-ceutical alternatives to relieve our symptoms: A two-year follow-up study of 342 adults published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that participants who attended eight weekly group sessions of MBSR maintained post-treatment gains in physical function two years later.

Ease Migraine Pain
Chronic migraine is a disabling condition often treated with medication. In a study of 44 adult migraine sufferers, those who received six weeks of mindfulness-based training had equivalent reductions in headache frequency to those taking a regimen of migraine medication.

Sounder Sleep
Trouble sleeping? Consider this: When researchers added mindfulness to an eight-week cognitive behavioral therapy program for insomnia they found that adults in the mindfulness group experienced improved sleep, fewer anxiety symptoms, and a better quality of life compared to a control group.

Reducing Symptoms of OCD
Can mindfulness help reduce the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder? A group of Canadian researchers decided to find out. They recruited 30 adults with OCD who didn’t respond to conventional treatment. Some were placed in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy group; the others were put on a wait list to receive the MBCT program eight weeks later. At the end of mindfulness training, participants reported fewer symptoms of OCD and less anxiety and depression than those on the wait list. They were also more mindful and self-compassionate, and less judgmental and reactive. What’s more, the higher a participant’s mindfulness skills, the less likely he or she was to struggle with harmful obsessive beliefs, and the more self-compassionate the participant felt, the less likely he or she was to be depressed. Although more research is needed, these results are good news for those looking for greater relief from OCD symptoms.