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 Maria Manco/Stocksy

Mindfulness in preschool

A new initiative in Miami, Florida, is assessing how mindfulness in families might cultivate resilience and reduce domestic violence. The pilot program is headed by Scott Rogers, a mindfulness teacher and director of Miami Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program. Rogers has developed mindfulness exercises to be integrated into an Early Head Start educational setting, where preschool teachers, parents, and young children can learn about and practice mindfulness together—in the classroom as well as at home. Each session includes creative games and draws upon elements of nature to help children learn the basics, such as paying attention to their bodies and breath. Rogers is launching the pilot in collaboration with Maria Riestra, Director of Head Start; Lucia Davis-Raiford, Director of Miami-Dade County’s Community Action and Human Services Department; and Judge Carroll Kelly, Administrative Judge of the Domestic Violence Division of the Miami-Dade County Courts. They believe it’s important that the tools for developing mindful awareness be contextualized and made accessible for parents and children to practice together. If mindfulness is nurtured by parents from early childhood, this capacity may foster greater resilience within families. “We want to provide opportunities for parents to see more clearly what happens during challenging moments,” Rogers says, “and to perhaps be less reactive in those moments.”

Fast walk, strong heart

If you’re a slow walker, you may be at greater risk of developing heart disease. After analyzing data gathered over six years from nearly half a million people, British researchers discovered that those who identified as “slow walkers” were about twice as likely to die from heart disease as “steady” or “brisk” walkers. Overall fitness level likely has much to do with it, the researchers noted, but interestingly, other risk factors, such as smoking, diet, or body mass index, did not. Perhaps we can learn to walk more mindfully and swiftly.

Extra-Ordinary Acts of Kindness

  • An Uber driver in Florida was concerned when he saw his depressed passenger’s destination was a bridge. Discreetly alerting patrollers, he stayed and talked with the man until help arrived.
  • A retrofitted minivan delivers books to refugees living in Athens, Greece. With reading materials in English, Greek, French, Arabic, Kurdish, and Farsi, this traveling library makes culture more widely accessible.
  • How far would you go to save a beloved pet? A man in Gloucester, England, revived his drowning tortoise, Freda, by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for an hour.

Dying: Not as bad as we think?

Thinking about death is scarier than actually facing it, according to a new study. Researchers reviewed the journal entries of terminally ill patients and the last words of death row inmates, and compared them to those written by people asked to imagine imminent death. Those actually confronting death were much more positive, leading researchers to conclude that “the experience of dying may be more pleasant than one imagines.”

Mindfulness on TV

Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe led Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, The Tonight Show’s audience, and those watching at home in a two-minute guided mindfulness meditation on the August 5, 2017 show.

Drink less with mindfulness

Even short sessions of mindfulness meditation may help heavy drinkers imbibe less, according to a team of University College London psychologists that compared mindfulness to simple relaxation.

A group of 68 women, who drank an average of 26 units of alcohol a week (14 units is the maximum recommended weekly amount), learned either an 11-minute mindfulness practice—simply noticing cravings, without acting on them—or a relaxation exercise. They were asked to practice their intervention daily for 15 minutes but were not monitored.

One week later, the mindfulness group—who practiced 3-4 times for 8-9 minutes—reported drinking 9.3 fewer units of alcohol. There was no significant difference among those doing the relaxation exercise.

As the researchers concluded, these findings “suggest that even ‘ultra-brief’ experiences with mindfulness can have measurable and potentially clinically meaningful effects.”

Furry friends

A new indie game presents a way to make social situations a little easier for partygoers with anxiety: In “Pet the Pup at the Party,” your goal is to navigate through crowds to uncover (and pet) over 50 friendly dogs.

Emojitation

Ever wished for an emoji to express your love of mindfulness? Soon you’ll have it! The Unicode Consortium, the standard-bearer of emojis, will add an icon of someone in lotus pose, a traditional posture used for meditation, to its library, which is used by platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Apple.

Research Roundup

Who’s meditating?

Around 4.3 million US adults engage in mindfulness meditation, says a new analysis of the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. Among those exclusively practicing mindfulness, the most common motivations were to improve stress levels, emotional wellbeing, and general health.

Rover feels your pain

That was the word from the Clever Dog Lab in Vienna, Austria, when 53 dogs heard recordings of people, pooches, and rustling leaves. Sounds of negative emotions—whether from a crying person or whining dog —elicited signs of distress in the canines themselves. Clever researchers!

If you tend to see the glass as half-empty…

…good company may help. University of Maryland researchers pinged 127 students on their phones several times a day for a week, asking questions about their emotional status and who they were with. Particularly for those with a more negative disposition, interacting with close friends or loved ones brought a big boost in mood and optimism.

You touch it, you buy it

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found in a survey that online shoppers using a touchscreen device made more “hedonic” purchases (like a restaurant gift card) than “useful” ones (like a grocery gift card). The reverse was true for laptop users. Touchscreen shoppers were also more likely to report impulsive, fun-seeking thoughts while shopping. One explanation is that touch triggers an emotional connection, so if we “touch” an item, we tend to want it more. In addition, many of us associate laptops with logic and work, whereas our smartphones or tablets are for leisure and reward.

Step out of the salt mines

Want to work less but perform just as well? A mindfulness practice called meditation awareness training (MAT), which includes a focus on loving-kindness and meditative work, may be the ticket. European researchers taught MAT to 35 people who fit criteria for being workaholics (yes: there are criteria for this). After three months, compared with a group assigned to a waiting list, the MAT group showed fewer workaholic tendencies and were more satisfied at work. Their managers, meanwhile, reported no drop in their performance.

Defending memory from stress

Stress is an enemy of short-term “working memory,” which lets you briefly hold and manipulate information in your brain. In military personnel, this skill is known to decline during stressful periods like combat deployment or even field training. Can mindfulness help? In a University of Miami study, researchers provided eight hours of mindfulness instruction to US soldiers over a month during pre-deployment training, then instructed them to practice daily for the next four weeks. The investigators tested the soldiers’ short-term memory before and after the intervention. In 33 soldiers who completed a mindfulness program that emphasized in-class exercises, researchers detected no deterioration in working memory. In 37 soldiers who took a lecture-focused mindfulness course, memory scores dipped—but the most slippage occurred in a third group that got no mindfulness training at all. By bolstering cognitive resilience, the researchers say, mindfulness may help prevent errors during combat. Civilians in high-stress, high-performance situations may reap similar benefits.

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