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.

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A case for social meditation

Meditation is often practiced alone, but two studies indicate that thinking of or being in the presence of others may confer different, and at times greater, benefits. Researchers in Leipzig, Germany, conducted two studies with 300 volunteers over nine months. In the first, an MRI showed that people who meditated alone by focusing on the breath or body had thickening of their prefrontal cortex, which is linked to attention control. Those who practiced loving-kindness meditation and then did a sharing and empathetic listening exercise with a partner had increases in the areas that process emotions and bring them into conscious awareness.

The second study measured cortisol levels among all participants, and found that those who meditated alone felt calm, but their cortisol levels didn’t change. In contrast, the people who practiced compassion meditation and shared with a partner experienced a 51% drop in cortisol.

Finding the intervention both low-cost and effective, the researchers concluded that meditating with a partner or group may hold promise for minimizing chronic social stress.

Nature’s classroom

If herding a classroom of elementary school students outside—and then getting them focused once back inside—seems daunting to some teachers, a new study may change their minds on getting the kids outdoors. Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign studied the impact of outdoor learning on subsequent indoor learning, and found large benefit for using nature as a classroom. After 40 minutes of outdoor instruction, once back inside, teachers were able to teach almost twice as long without having to redirect students’ attention.

“The findings here suggest that lessons in nature allow students to simultaneously learn classroom curriculum while rejuvenating their capacity for learning,” the researchers said.

Driving change in Germany

Already a pioneer of the transition to solar and wind energy, Germany is launching new measures to combat the country’s severe air pollution. The plan, initializing in five cities, introduces free travel on subways and short-distance trains, as well as new low-emission zones and car-sharing. These innovations come with a hefty price tag, however, and critics point out that similar endeavors in the US and Europe have flopped.

Screening minors

An unexpected reason to check screen use among children: fighting inequality. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, daily time looking at a screen added up to 8 hours and 36 minutes for white children, but 13 hours for Black and Hispanic children. Racialized wealth disparity may be part of the reason. Researchers suspect “too often the message we send to low-income and less-educated parents is that screen time will help their children,” but the risks of too much screen time aren’t shared. Low-income neighborhoods may also be seen as dangerous, discouraging outdoor play.

Are college kids headed for burnout?

There’s little question that today’s college students are extremely hard on themselves. Looking at 27 years of data, researchers at the University of Wales found that compared to previous generations, college students now have higher academic expectations for themselves, which dovetails with higher rates of anxiety, among other neuroses. American students are more prone to self-oriented perfectionism—putting pressure on yourself to be perfect—but students in Canada, America, and the United Kingdom all struggle with socially prescribed perfectionism, or perceiving that others are judging them more harshly and that they must be “perfect” to win approval.

As for why, researchers point to Western cultural shifts that are more individualistic, materialistic, and socially antagonistic and that today’s young people face “more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before.”

“These are worrying trends and suggest that young people may be increasingly more sensitive to perceived external pressures and are finding it more difficult than previous generations to cope with them,” they note.

Inner joy in NYC

From March through June 2017, the New York City yoga and meditation studio Three Jewels ran its first wellness program for people living in homeless shelters. Hector Marcel, Three Jewels’ president, summarized the main goal: “To have participants experience genuine personal wellness in a short time.” The program (a collaboration between the studio’s nonprofit Outreach Center, the Department of Health & Hygiene, and the Department of Homeless Services) curated and provided free weekly yoga and meditation classes for all shelter clients age 4 and older. Shelter staff members were also offered free health programs and coaching, so they could understand and benefit from the same wellness tools as the clients.

From man-caves to men’s sheds

The earliest “men’s sheds” emerged in Australia around the mid-1990s. Providing safe spaces for older men to work on projects, expand their communities, and access mental health resources, the idea has caught on in 11 other countries since. The US Men’s Sheds Association began and opened its first three sheds in 2017. With the motto that “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder,” the movement is a strong step toward combating toxic masculinity. Bring it in, pal.

One grande nap, for here

A café can provide many kinds of refreshment. A nap café in Washington, DC, offers a chance at rest for the rushed. Described as “a modern meditation and power nap studio,” guests can sink onto a giant bean bag for a 20-minute nap, complete with scented eye masks and soothing music.

Healing from the kitchen

Work in the restaurant industry tends to be precarious and stressful, and often workers can’t access healthful ways to cope. In a 2015 survey of substance use and dependence across industries, the highest-ranking category was accommodations and food, where 19% of employees reported using illegal drugs within the past month. To combat the high rates of addiction and overdose in these careers, a smattering of organizations are creating resources and networks for climbing out of the addiction pit. Ben’s Friends organizes support groups for attaining and maintaining sobriety, while Big Table hosts an elaborate dinner for food service workers once a month, which doubles as an opportunity to request help for a coworker in crisis.

Training with breath

If you want a better workout, pay attention to how you breathe. Deep, slow breaths allow us to relax because they activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which may in turn improve workout performance, research finds. Nasal breathing while jogging can improve your peripheral vision and help to maintain proper technique and form (resulting in fewer injuries). Breath work may even help your muscles to recover faster after stressing them, as happens in weight training.

Help your honey’s heart

You probably already suspect that practicing mindfulness can help you stay cool when your partner annoys you. But in a recent study of married couples and conflict, Florida State University researchers turned up a surprising twist: The higher one spouse’s level of mindfulness, the lower the other partner’s cardiovascular reactivity (as measured by spikes in blood pressure and heart rate) when the inevitable arguments ensue. In other words, the more mindful you are, the less likely your partner is to experience potentially heart-harming physical changes during an argument.

Mood lift

Want to boost your mood? A University of Mississippi study shows that 10 minutes of either meditation or walking—as well as a meditation/walking combo—made participants feel better afterward. They reported feeling more tranquil and revitalized, as well as less exhausted.

Don’t get even—get mindful

It’s all too easy for a flash of anger to trigger a vengeful action—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a rather devilish experiment, Northeastern University researchers had one group of college students learn mindfulness meditation, via the Headspace app, over a three-week period, while a comparison group did puzzles and word games. At the end, each student described their life goals to a person they thought was a fellow study participant—and then got feedback that the listener found their speeches “boring” and “a complete waste.”

Here’s the devilish part: The students were given the opportunity to add hot sauce to a “taste test” for the listener who, they were told, hated spicy food. While both groups were angry, the meditators put only half as much hot sauce into the portion.

Mindfulness meditation, the researchers concluded, lessens the likelihood of people behaving badly when provoked.

A sound therapy

People with tinnitus live with a noise inside their head that never goes away. There’s no cure for the condition, and it can lead to depression, insomnia, and anxiety. British researchers conducting one of the first randomized clinical trials of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for tinnitus found that an eight-week program not only reduced sufferers’ distress, but made the noise itself less noticeable.

The keys to mindfulness

Lots of studies on mindfulness have examined how people fare when they learn mindfulness in groups taught by a facilitator. Now the growth of online mindfulness apps and courses invites researchers to look at the effects of mindfulness apart from the influence of a group or teacher.

In one such study on stress among students and staff at the University of Sussex, researchers there compared a two-week online mindfulness course with a two-week online classical music program. At the end of the study, they found that participants in the mindfulness option had significantly lower stress levels. Looking more closely, they found that the mindfulness group showed less worry, greater mindfulness, and more self-compassion than the music-listeners—suggesting that these specific elements may be the key to mindfulness’s ability to lessen stress.

Help your honey’s heart

You probably already suspect that practicing mindfulness can help you stay cool when your partner annoys you. But in a recent study of married couples and conflict, Florida State University researchers turned up a surprising twist: The higher one spouse’s level of mindfulness, the lower the other partner’s cardiovascular reactivity (as measured by spikes in blood pressure and heart rate) when the inevitable arguments ensue. In other words, the more mindful you are, the less likely your partner is to experience potentially heart-harming physical changes during an argument.

Mood lift

Want to boost your mood? A University of Mississippi study shows that 10 minutes of either meditation or walking—as well as a meditation/walking combo—made participants feel better afterward. They reported feeling more tranquil and revitalized, as well as less exhausted.

Don’t get even—get mindful

It’s all too easy for a flash of anger to trigger a vengeful action—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a rather devilish experiment, Northeastern University researchers had one group of college students learn mindfulness meditation, via the Headspace app, over a three-week period, while a comparison group did puzzles and word games. At the end, each student described their life goals to a person they thought was a fellow study participant—and then got feedback that the listener found their speeches “boring” and “a complete waste.”

Here’s the devilish part: The students were given the opportunity to add hot sauce to a “taste test” for the listener who, they were told, hated spicy food. While both groups were angry, the meditators put only half as much hot sauce into the portion.

Mindfulness meditation, the researchers concluded, lessens the likelihood of people behaving badly when provoked.

A sound therapy

People with tinnitus live with a noise inside their head that never goes away. There’s no cure for the condition, and it can lead to depression, insomnia, and anxiety. British researchers conducting one of the first randomized clinical trials of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for tinnitus found that an eight-week program not only reduced sufferers’ distress, but made the noise itself less noticeable.

The keys to mindfulness

Lots of studies on mindfulness have examined how people fare when they learn mindfulness in groups taught by a facilitator. Now the growth of online mindfulness apps and courses invites researchers to look at the effects of mindfulness apart from the influence of a group or teacher.

In one such study on stress among students and staff at the University of Sussex, researchers there compared a two-week online mindfulness course with a two-week online classical music program. At the end of the study, they found that participants in the mindfulness option had significantly lower stress levels. Looking more closely, they found that the mindfulness group showed less worry, greater mindfulness, and more self-compassion than the music-listeners—suggesting that these specific elements may be the key to mindfulness’s ability to lessen stress.

Help your honey’s heart

You probably already suspect that practicing mindfulness can help you stay cool when your partner annoys you. But in a recent study of married couples and conflict, Florida State University researchers turned up a surprising twist: The higher one spouse’s level of mindfulness, the lower the other partner’s cardiovascular reactivity (as measured by spikes in blood pressure and heart rate) when the inevitable arguments ensue. In other words, the more mindful you are, the less likely your partner is to experience potentially heart-harming physical changes during an argument.

Mood lift

Want to boost your mood? A University of Mississippi study shows that 10 minutes of either meditation or walking—as well as a meditation/walking combo—made participants feel better afterward. They reported feeling more tranquil and revitalized, as well as less exhausted.

Don’t get even—get mindful

It’s all too easy for a flash of anger to trigger a vengeful action—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a rather devilish experiment, Northeastern University researchers had one group of college students learn mindfulness meditation, via the Headspace app, over a three-week period, while a comparison group did puzzles and word games. At the end, each student described their life goals to a person they thought was a fellow study participant—and then got feedback that the listener found their speeches “boring” and “a complete waste.”

Here’s the devilish part: The students were given the opportunity to add hot sauce to a “taste test” for the listener who, they were told, hated spicy food. While both groups were angry, the meditators put only half as much hot sauce into the portion.

Mindfulness meditation, the researchers concluded, lessens the likelihood of people behaving badly when provoked.

A sound therapy

People with tinnitus live with a noise inside their head that never goes away. There’s no cure for the condition, and it can lead to depression, insomnia, and anxiety. British researchers conducting one of the first randomized clinical trials of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for tinnitus found that an eight-week program not only reduced sufferers’ distress, but made the noise itself less noticeable.

The keys to mindfulness

Lots of studies on mindfulness have examined how people fare when they learn mindfulness in groups taught by a facilitator. Now the growth of online mindfulness apps and courses invites researchers to look at the effects of mindfulness apart from the influence of a group or teacher.

In one such study on stress among students and staff at the University of Sussex, researchers there compared a two-week online mindfulness course with a two-week online classical music program. At the end of the study, they found that participants in the mindfulness option had significantly lower stress levels. Looking more closely, they found that the mindfulness group showed less worry, greater mindfulness, and more self-compassion than the music-listeners—suggesting that these specific elements may be the key to mindfulness’s ability to lessen stress.

Help your honey’s heart

You probably already suspect that practicing mindfulness can help you stay cool when your partner annoys you. But in a recent study of married couples and conflict, Florida State University researchers turned up a surprising twist: The higher one spouse’s level of mindfulness, the lower the other partner’s cardiovascular reactivity (as measured by spikes in blood pressure and heart rate) when the inevitable arguments ensue. In other words, the more mindful you are, the less likely your partner is to experience potentially heart-harming physical changes during an argument.

Mood lift

Want to boost your mood? A University of Mississippi study shows that 10 minutes of either meditation or walking—as well as a meditation/walking combo—made participants feel better afterward. They reported feeling more tranquil and revitalized, as well as less exhausted.

Don’t get even—get mindful

It’s all too easy for a flash of anger to trigger a vengeful action—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a rather devilish experiment, Northeastern University researchers had one group of college students learn mindfulness meditation, via the Headspace app, over a three-week period, while a comparison group did puzzles and word games. At the end, each student described their life goals to a person they thought was a fellow study participant—and then got feedback that the listener found their speeches “boring” and “a complete waste.”

Here’s the devilish part: The students were given the opportunity to add hot sauce to a “taste test” for the listener who, they were told, hated spicy food. While both groups were angry, the meditators put only half as much hot sauce into the portion.

Mindfulness meditation, the researchers concluded, lessens the likelihood of people behaving badly when provoked.

A sound therapy

People with tinnitus live with a noise inside their head that never goes away. There’s no cure for the condition, and it can lead to depression, insomnia, and anxiety. British researchers conducting one of the first randomized clinical trials of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for tinnitus found that an eight-week program not only reduced sufferers’ distress, but made the noise itself less noticeable.

The keys to mindfulness

Lots of studies on mindfulness have examined how people fare when they learn mindfulness in groups taught by a facilitator. Now the growth of online mindfulness apps and courses invites researchers to look at the effects of mindfulness apart from the influence of a group or teacher.

In one such study on stress among students and staff at the University of Sussex, researchers there compared a two-week online mindfulness course with a two-week online classical music program. At the end of the study, they found that participants in the mindfulness option had significantly lower stress levels. Looking more closely, they found that the mindfulness group showed less worry, greater mindfulness, and more self-compassion than the music-listeners—suggesting that these specific elements may be the key to mindfulness’s ability to lessen stress.

Extraordinary Acts of Kindness 

Eight parents in Texas painted empowering messages—like “Kindness changes everything”—on bathroom stalls at their kids’ school.

A marine biologist was at first frightened when a humpback whale kept bumping into her. Then she realized it was heroically shielding her from a nearby shark.

A young single dad in Little Rock, AR, never complained about walking 11 miles to work and back every day. When his coworkers found out, however, they pooled their money and bought him a car.

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