Monday, April 27, 2015

Change Your Brain With Kindness, sharing an article from psychologytoday.com

Good afternoon!

Today we are sharing an article with you from psychologytoday.com on how to change your brain with kindness. We all could use more kindness in our lives, right? Take a look and see what you think!

When was the last time you remember giving a stranger, a neighbor, or even a friend, a smile, nod, or greeting? Why is it so surprising to give or receive unexpected gestures of kindness? For many of us living in a hectic city, we have come to expect that we are invisible to each other—tiny ants marching along our own paths with somewhere very important to go, rarely stopping to talk or acknowledge our own and each others' presence.
Cities exhibit varying levels of friendliness. In Conde Nast Traveler’s survey(link is external), Newark, New Jersey topped the list of the unfriendliest cities in the world. Charleston, South Carolina ranked first in friendliest city in the U.S. (fifth friendliest in the world). Fortunately, however, our city rankings don’t have to limit our ability to develop kindness. A simple daily meditation that takes only 10-15 minutes can help open your eyes to compassion and even change your brain.
A loving kindness (metta) meditation practice with Buddhist roots reminds us of a more compassionate way of living. The meditation has been shown to enhance your ability to empathize, increase the presence of positive emotions in your life (decrease the negative), and change brain activity.
Studies have shown that this meditation is associated with changes in neural responses to viewing emotions in others and alters brain activity in areas of emotional processing (Lee, et al. 2012). A recent study found that loving kindness meditation significantly improved the ability to empathize and read other people's emotions on a “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test” (Mascaro, et al. 2013). A functional brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study found that compassionate training both increased altruistic behavior and altered brain activity in regions associated with social awareness and emotional regulation (Weng, et al, 2013). Metta meditation has also been shown to improve EEG readings (prefrontal alpha-asymmetry, which is associated with withdrawal) in depressed individuals (Barnhofer, et al. 2010).
Repeated practice can change brain connectivity. How you experience, receive, and send kindness can evolve over time. In a recent functional brain MRI study, researchers found significant differences between experienced and novice meditators. Both groups had increased functional connectivity during loving kindness meditation in different areas of the brain. Experienced meditators had less activity in areas related to the self andmind wandering, suggesting that repeated practice may have transformed the meditation experience over time into a focused, selfless kindness (Garrison, et al. 2014). 
Pixabay/Common
Source: Pixabay/Common
You can try the loving kindness meditation by listening to a guided audio meditation (links below) or practice silently on your own. Here is the practice briefly (10-15 minutes, wording of the repeated phrases are from a practice with yoga teacher Dennis Teston(link is external) at Brooklyn Yoga Project(link is external)):
1.  Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Take 2-3 cycles of smooth deep inhalations and exhalations to become comfortable and relaxed.
2. First, extend kindness to yourself. Imagine that you are in a safe, comfortable space. Silently repeat to yourself 2-3 times:
May I have joy.
May I have happiness.
May I be free from suffering.
3. Send kindness to a Beloved person. Next, visualize someone you care about in front of you. Imagine seeing the person under warm sunlight and look into the person’s eyes. Send that person kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
4. Send kindness to a Neutral Person. Visualize someone you feel neutral towards (like an acquaintance, neighbor) in the light and look into their eyes. Send that person kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
5. Send kindness to a Challenging person. Finally, imagine someone that you find challenging—perhaps someone you have had tension with or with whom you associate difficult emotions. Imagine seeing them under the warm sunlight and look into their eyes. Send them the same message of kindness:
May you have joy.
May you have happiness.
May you be free from suffering.
6. Carry this kindness-- the openness of the heart-- with you the rest of the day. Take 4-5 gentle cycles of breaths (inhaling and exhaling smoothly) to end your practice.
Try this meditation at the beginning of each day or when you're wrapping up and winding down a stressful day. You might find yourself a little more kind and open to both yourself and the people around you at work, in the city, or at home.
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