Anderson Cooper Extols Mindfulness

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper is used to being under the spotlight. The 47-year-old news anchor has been reporting for decades, breaking through the noise of the media cacophony. But one thing Cooper was not accustomed to was the refreshing nature of silence.

Recently Cooper went a meditation retreat for a story, spending a weekend taking mindfulness classes without his phone. Skeptical at first, Cooper admitted that mindfulness "changes your life."

"I realized on this story, sitting in that meditation retreat, this is exactly what I need," Cooper told 60 Minutes Overtime. "It sounds like I've sort of drunk the Kool Aid, but in a way I have sort of drunk the Kool Aid."

Meditation is Like the Ocean
In the interview, Cooper discussed the internal dialogue that's always buzzing around in our heads. We're always creating a narrative, whether it's worrying about a meeting next week or reminiscing on a distant memory. He compares mindfulness to the waves on the ocean.

"If you've ever swum in the ocean, and you go underneath the waves, you know, you're kind of moved by the currents, but you're not being slapped around at the top of the water by the waves," Cooper explained to the source. "And that's sort of what meditation is like. The idea is to at least for a few moments, sometimes just a few seconds, sort of not be agitated by the thoughts but to kind of be aware of your breath."

Focusing on your breath – from the diaphragm all of the way to the nose – is the core of meditation. Breath is the involuntary life-giving force, yet we rarely pay attention to it. The idea is, for a few seconds, not to be thrown off balance by your thoughts. Concentrate on your breathing and let your ideas pass over you like the waves. Importantly, don't judge yourself while you're doing it. If your mind takes you on a tangent, always return to your breath.

During the retreat, the reporter practiced eating silently without talking and walking meditation, in which you simply walk back and forth for an extended period of time. Although he conceded he shrugged off the exercises at first, he found they were actually quite eye-opening.

"It's not another thing you have to add to your list of things to do. It's just being," Cooper told the source. "And, you know, we're not used to just kinda being."

Digital Detox and Living Longer
One of the things that Cooper said he enjoyed most was ditching his cell phone. Sometimes disconnecting from the outside world can be very refreshing. Here's a tough test: Try not to check your phone for at least an hour during the day.

Aside from easing the burden of our click-click-click culture, meditation may also help you live longer, but not in the traditional way that we think of it. Cooper explains that while you may not be extending your life, you can live more of the present moments, enjoying each breath to the fullest.

Group Mindfulness As Effective As Talking to Therapist for Depression

Depression is often a subtle beast. After the death of comedian Robin Williams, a national discussion began on the complexities surrounding depression, bringing treatment options and stigmas under the media's spotlight. There are many forms of treatment for depression, from medication to therapy, but one that often goes overlooked is group mindfulness. In fact, group mindfulness has been shown to be as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy, according to a new study that's the first of its kind. 

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden compared group mindfulness to CBT at 16 primary health care centers in Skåne, a county in southern Sweden.  A total of 215 patients with depression, severe stress or anxiety were involved in the study. They were split into two groups: One received structured group mindfulness treatment led by a trained instructors, and the other had regular treatment, mainly CBT. For the group mindfulness, participants learned how to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in a class with 10 other individuals, while CBT consisted of addressing the dysfunctional emotions and cognitive processes behind depression by talking to a therapist.

After eight weeks, patients in both groups reported decreased depression. There was no statistical difference between the two treatments.

"The study's results indicate that group mindfulness treatment, conducted by certified instructors in primary health care, is as effective a treatment method as individual CBT for treating depression and anxiety," Professor Jan Sundquist, who led the study, said in a news release. "This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centres that can't offer everyone individual therapy."

Meditation: A Serious Alternative
Despite the growing body of evidence that has demonstrated mental and physical health benefits of meditation, many people still consider mindfulness a pop trend rather than a real treatment option. By becoming more in touch with one's feelings and learning how to better navigate their emotional map, patients can reduce the severity of this mental illness.

Ilchi Lee, The New York Times bestselling author and master of meditation, explained the subtleties of meditation.

"[I]f you close your eyes and begin to feel your breath, it will instantly become deeper and slower, and your mind will become calmer," Lee wrote in his book, "Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential." "Then gradually you'll become aware of your body, or more precisely the subtle sense of energy inside and around your body."

This energy could be channeled as a complementary healing treatment option for those dealing with depression.

Use Micro-Meditation to Get Through Your Day

Feeling that burnout halfway through the day? Or need a small break to curb that stress? Micro-meditation may be an answer.

Micro-meditation is a short, simple technique that consists of taking one to three minutes a day to remind yourself of your inner calm. It can be a mindfulness-based exercise, a breathing technique or a short meditation. The practice has ben dubbed a mindfulness tool for people who are too busy to meditate. To do it, first become aware of your breathing. Concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations, your diaphragm, and then your posture. The key here is to bring your breath into your belly. Try to avoid hunching over, and if your mind begins to wander, gently bring yourself back to your breath without reproving yourself for the tangent.

"If you allow your consciousness to drift toward your lower abdomen during breathing, then your breath will naturally delve deeper within you," master of meditation Ilchi Lee wrote in his book the "The Twelve Enlightenments for Healing Society." "If you allow your consciousness to experience the gratitude and joy of breathing, then your breath will naturally become light. Your breathing will naturally achieve a deep lightness as you consider inhaling as an expression of thanks to your body and exhaling as an expression of thanks to the Heavens above. Then you can lose yourself in your breath. You can follow your breath within and without your body, losing yourself until you become the breath itself."

When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with too much to do and too little time, take a step back and micro-meditate. Just like cat naps, short breathers can help reboot your mind and body. Furthermore, many people notice that by regularly practicing this small meditation, they become calmer and more aware. The brain needs breaks – whether big or small – throughout the day, and stopping what you're doing for three minutes of this breathing-focused, soothing practice can, perhaps counterintuitively, increase your productivity.

What is Mindfulness?
For many people, "mindfulness" is an elusive term. Though the word is thrown around a lot, what does it actually mean? Mindfulness is the skill of being present and aware, moment by moment. In a fast-paced age that engenders a go-go-go mentality, it can be hard to stay focused on the here and now. Honing the skill of mindfulness – even through these brief relaxation moments – can reprogram the brain to be more rational and less emotional.

Once mastered, the technique is not limited to personal benefits. The calmer, more rational we become, the more kindness we can project onto others.

As MindBodyGreen eloquently explained: "The micro-meditation approach asks, 'What if you are a naturally compassionate, creative being, and it's actually the tension of constantly striving for more that causes problems?'"

Micro-meditation is also great way meditation beginners to acclimate to the technique, and for ambitious individuals to shift gears despite any challenges up the road.

Meditation Brightens Outlook of People with HIV

The bulk of treatment for individuals diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) focuses on pharmacological intervention. But as a complement to those treatments, mindful meditation may be able to improve the well-being of people with HIV, according to a small new study. 

The research, conducted by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research on stress reduction methods, showed that practicing meditation for 20 minutes twice a day could make HIV-stricken individuals feel better. 

"We're undertaking a very conscious move away from the old model of care to a new model of care – away from dealing with HIV/AIDS in a sickness and disease model, to a model of health and wellness," Neil Giuliano, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a national webinar. 

Improving Health
Thirty-nine HIV patients participated in the study, and a variety of their health factors were measured, such as stress levels, levels of psychological distress, physical symptoms related to HIV (fatigue) and well-being (using an established spiritual well-being scale). After three months of meditation, patients had substantial improvement, the study authors reported. 

The participants had more energy, better physical health and got sick less frequently. As far as psychological symptoms, patients reported lower levels of stress and anxiousness as well as decreased anger. They also displayed fewer depressive symptoms. 

"People living with HIV – beyond the normal stress you can experience yourself, the normal stress that we face as humans in today's society – people living with HIV experience the trauma of diagnosis," Thomas Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation HIV Initiative, stated in the national webinar. 

Roth went on to explain that HIV-impacted individuals live with the following problems:

  • Mental burden of living with an incurable disease
  • Social stigma and psychological challenges of acceptance
  • Physical challenges of living with the virus
  • Compromised immune system
  • Physical challenges of the drug regimen and side effects

For these reasons, re-establishing a mental balance through meditation can be a giant leap in the lives of patients. 

Ilchi Lee, The New York Times bestselling author, pointed out that stress can eat away at our energy levels. Because of this, we experience a certain paradox between feeling enlivened and calm.

"The sensation of energy expands with increasing relaxation," stated Lee. 

HIV patients may indeed be able to benefit from the tranquilizing effects of meditation.

Moving Forward
Currently, 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. For many of those individuals, meditation has been a key component of daily life for years. The breathing techniques and soothing concentration help to confront serious mental and emotional challenges as well as vulnerabilities of a weakened immune system. 

Researchers are hopeful that someday in the near future, there will be a day when even a single HIV diagnosis is rare. 

Yoga and Meditation Recommended for Breast Cancer Patients

It's impossible to imagine exactly what it feels like to hear that you have breast cancer. A burden of the heaviest kind, a breast cancer diagnosis can send patients on emotional roller coasters, with some lows feeling like the ride may have gotten stuck. But to cope with the anxiety, researchers are recommending meditation and yoga, two great non-invasive alternative therapies that can help clear a stress-ridden mind. 

First Study
One new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs looked at which alternative therapies provide the biggest benefits. The short answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery. 

The research, which involved information from 4,900 studies published between 1990 and 2013, ranked a wide range of therapeutic practices including massage, relaxation with imagery, music therapy, energy conservation and yoga, among others. Yoga, meditation and relaxation were given a grade A and were regarded as viable care options for breast cancer patients. 

Each care option was scored based on how well it could help patients cope with stress and anxiety from a breast cancer diagnosis. The research could provide the framework for hospitals to implement new ways for patients to deal with the emotional trauma of cancer.

According to Time, up to 80 percent of American patients with breast cancer undergo complementary therapies to handle anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis. 

"Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing," the authors wrote in their study. "Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed." 

Another Study: Analyzing Stress at the Cellular Level
A separate study, published in the journal cancer, showed that practicing mindful meditation had a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors. The team working out of Alberta Health Services' Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology highlighted that telomeres – the protein complexes at the end of chromosomes – maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practice meditation, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention. 

"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, said in a press release.

Over the three-month period, 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatments attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindful meditation and gentle yoga. Patients also practiced meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes a day. 

The blood tests demonstrated that the two practices shield telomeres from the shortening effects of stress.

"I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus," Allison McPherson, who underwent a full year of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, said in a press release. "But I now practice mindfulness throughout the day and it's reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others."

Sleep Apnea Awareness Week

Sleep Apnea Awareness Week takes place from Oct. 6 to 13, 2014. While you might have heard about some of yoga's benefits, few people realize that the ancient mind-body technique can go as far as to help relieve sleep apnea. Yoga develops one's breathing skill, which can play a big role in getting a good night's rest!

Characterized by recurrent pauses in breathing, sleep apnea is one of the most distressing sleep disorders. While there are a handful of treatments available on the market for alleviating sleep symptoms, most simply address symptoms without solving the root cause. But yoga provides a holistic, natural treatment that can get to the bottom of the problem – no pills necessary. 

"Perhaps the only way one can address the root cause behind the collapse of upper respiratory tract and subsequent development of apnea symptoms is by practicing the ancient Eastern art of yoga," the Apnea Treatment Center said on its website

Beyond soothing the mind, yoga incorporates breathing techniques (pranayama) that help establish healthful rhythms. Here are some of the different breathing exercises yoga works on:

High Breathing
High breathing takes place primarily in the upper part of the chest and lungs. Also called "clavicular breathing" or "collarbone breathing," high breathing involves raising the ribs, collarbone and shoulders to allow one to draw in the abdomen and force the air upward against the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Since the upper lobes of the lungs are used and only have a small air capacity, this is the least desirable form of breathing.

Middle Breathing
As its name suggests, middle breathing entails filling the middle part of the lungs with air. This technique merges some of the characteristics from both high breathing – raising of the ribs – and low breathing – diaphragm moving up and down and abdomen in and out. However, though slightly more effective than high breathing, the middle technique remains a shallow type of breathing.  

Low Breathing
Low breathing is the desired and most effective form of yoga breathing method. It consists of moving the abdomen in and out and, in doing so, changes positions of the diaphragm. It is sometimes referred to as abdominal breathing. While many use this naturally for sleeping, practicing low breathing in yoga can help strengthen respiratory muscles and work toward a better night's rest. 

This method is superior for several reasons. First, more air is drawn in when inhaling due to greater movement of lungs. Second, the diaphragm's piston-like movements expand the base of the lungs, allowing them to suck in more blood, which stimulates circulation. Third, the abdominal organs are massaged by the up-and-down movements of the diaphragm. Lastly, low breathing benefits the solar plexus, a very important nerve center. 

Meditation, Yoga May Sharpen Computer Skills

In our interconnected world, many people spend their days working at a computer. And wouldn't it be nice if we could get a little bit better and a little bit faster with our digital tool? Well, you may be able to. 

According to a new study published online in the scientific journal TECHNOLOGY, yoga and meditation may actually sharpen certain computer skills.

Expediting digital learning
For the study, University of Minnesota researchers analyzed the learning patterns of two groups, one that practiced yoga or meditation for one year at least two times a week for an hour, and another that had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Individuals in both groups were learning to control a computer with their minds by wearing a high-tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. 

The participants' brain activity was monitored as they used left and right hand movements to move a cursor across a computer screen. Those who did yoga and meditation learned three times faster than those who rarely practices the mind-body techniques. They were also twice as likely to finish the task by the end of 30 trials. 

"In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side," lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor, said in a news release. "This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages."

Meditation's Digital Side
While yoga and meditation are known for their calming attributes, this new research might secure a digital role for the ancient techniques. The results could also have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases. 

Scientists have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals whose brain function is still intact. Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his team demonstrated flying a robot with only their minds. As bewildering as it sounds, it very well might be the future of technology. 

The new study showed that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. In the trials, many were unsuccessful after multiple attempts, due to an inconsistent ‎electromyography brain signal from a distracted mind and unsustained attention. Those who meditated have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants.

Professor He said he hatched the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had been an avid member of the yoga community.

For the able-bodied computer worker, a similar principle found in these new yoga and meditation benefits may still be relevant. Since the Internet is a vast reservoir of information, it is rather easy to become distracted, straying away from the work you should be doing. The mind-body techniques could help workers stay on track, whether operating machines with their brains or hands. 

‘Free The Mind’ Documentary on Meditation Research

There are a lot of fascinating articles out there that delve into the subject of meditation benefits. But for those who are more visual learners, a recent documentary that sheds light on how mindfulness changes the brain might be worth sitting down and watching. 

The documentary film, "Free The Mind," was created by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Richard Davidson who teaches classes on psychology and psychiatry. It focuses on Davidson's experience and research on meditative techniques, illuminating how deep breathing practices can have a physical effect on changing the brain. 

In the study, Davidson, who is founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, applied these mindfulness techniques on two different groups: veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and children dealing with extreme attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

About 5.2 million soldiers returning home from war are plagued by PTSD. The film follows Steve, an American solider who just came back from Afghanistan, where he worked as an interrogator. Now back home, he suffers from sleepless nights and is haunted by a darkened conscience due to the things he saw and did during the war. The PTSD has left him grappling with being not only a reliable adult but also a good father to his 2-year-old twins. 

But brain scientist Davidson poses the question, can veterans ease their pain through meditation and yoga, find happiness and return to a life more like the ones they had before the war?

"One of the things we do know, is that traditional treatments are only effective in, at best, half the population, and so, half the population is really not helped," Davidson said. "And so, we need to look for other methods."

Rewiring the Brain
Davidson built off his research of studying Buddhist monks for years, when he found it was possible to rewire one's brain through meditation. Some of the effects include being more compassionate, happy and altruistic. 

Through the film, we experience what meditation does to these veterans and children, and the power it holds as an alternate method of medicine to become less stressed and more happy. 

The researcher points out that there's a region of the brain called the insula that's used as the interacting link between the mind and body. This area becomes dramatically more activated during compassion meditation and can enable people who practice this type of mindfulness regularly to deepen their grasp of empathy with others. 

Remarkably, master of meditation Ilchi Lee used to struggle with attention deficit problems when he was a kid. He turned to meditation and deep breathing exercises to work his way over the hurdles, and sure enough, Lee was able to overcome ADHD.  Meditation allowed him to take a deeper look at himself and find his own self-worth, so he could turn over a new leaf in his life. 

A similar transformation can be seen in "Free The Mind." The film even appeared at the Milwaukee Film Festival last year. 

One Man’s Struggle With ALS: Meditating to Stay Positive

In the last month, the Ice Bucket Challenge has swept through all corners of the Internet. The viral trend has boosted awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, leading to more than $80 million in donations for the ALS Association. But the social media craze is more than a fad for some people – like Keith Ten Pow.

Pow, who lives in Liverpool, England, was diagnosed with ALS 21 years ago. He was a former salsa dancer and instructor who loved to stay active. Now the disease known for muscle atrophy has left him unable to perform the activities he loves. Despite the immense challenge, Pow tries to remain positive with meditation and a fighting spirit. 

"I meditate a lot to help calm me down and keep me feeling positive," Pow, who speaks with the help of an interpreter, told Liverpool Echo. 

There are lots of meditation benefits, from uplifted mood to lower blood pressure to reduced stress. Master of meditation Ilchi Lee is a big advocate concerning the perks of the ancient technique. Pow takes advantage of the meditation to stay on the sunny side of things. 

As a note, ALS is often called motor neuron disease (MND) in the U.K. The basis for the condition is a premature degeneration of motor nerves. 

"Everyone that has MND is different but I am a fighter," Pow told the source. "I'm still here 21 years on from being diagnosed, but that's why. Always stay positive."

Meditation on Healing Treatment Lists for Boy with Brain Tumor

Jayden Stad was in eighth grade when he was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. It's called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a form of cancerous tumor that wraps itself like an octopus to the middle of the brainstem.

As a brave, charming kid who likes video games, Stad has been turning to all forms of treatment that may help. While survival rates are extremely low for this condition, doctors have been urging Stad to try all different options, from using hyperbaric oxygen to meditation. The young boy has been practicing meditation to help ease worries about radiation treatments and try to maintain a positive outlook on things.

Tracy Auclair, Stad's mother, told Sherwood Park News that holding your head high now is of the utmost importance.

"The only way to get through this is to try and be strong, and it helps that Jayden's very positive," Auclair explained. "He's never expressed any fears since this happened, other than once being worried about radiation."

This principle of staying strong even in the face of the tallest obstacles aligns with Ilchi Lee's teachings, such as those in his book, "Change: Realizing Your Greatest Potential," which encourages people embrace each moment while seeking to be the best person you can possibly be. 

"You are infinite intelligence, creativity and Energy-Consciousness which gives you the power and wisdom to attain fulfillment and completion in life," Ilchi Lee wrote. 

There is no cure for DIPG, but recently Stad received a bit of good news. His last MRI showed a slight shrinkage in the size of the tumor, and Auclair believes all of the healing treatments are doing him good.

Stad's family is accepting donations in his fight for survival. Despite his uphill climb, Stad stands as a powerful inspiration for many, even inspiring a neighbor to run a marathon to raise money for him.

"There's always hope," Auclair told the source.