Being happy can be cultivated!



We all want to be happy.  We all seek experiences that give us happiness. On the flip side, we tend to avoid or want to get rid of pain and suffering. And yet our minds always occupy themselves with the negative a lot more than with the positive.  Scientist believe that this habit started back in the prehistoric times when we had to dwell on the bad in order to make sure we survived.  So if your brother was killed by a tiger, you dwelled on this so that you would avoid being killed by the tiger  next time.

Neuroscientists are also finding the happiness and positivity can be cultivated.  The parts of the brain that are involved in feelings of contentment and happiness can be strengthened.  So how might we do this?

Tip #3

Mindfulness practices help us learn to be awake and aware of our thoughts, impulses, and beliefs. The more you practice, the more you learn to catch your mind in its old habits.  At the time that you catch your mind engaged in negative or destructive thinking, you want to redirect your attention to the present moment (click on the word moment for additional tips on this).

At the same time, when we cultivate mindful awareness into the present moment, we begin to notice when we are having a good moment; this can be something small or something more significant, it doesn’t matter, just pay attention.  When you become aware that you are in a good moment, stop for at least 12 seconds.  Take it in, notice your body and the sensations of feeling good, happy, content or whatever the feelings are.  Be present for it.  This is a way that you will cultivate happiness and your brain will begin to change so that the areas of the brain involved in happiness will begin to get stronger and stronger.

Want to learn more about how to cultivate mindfulness? Join the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class, click here more information.

The Brain and Mindfulness Meditation

THE MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION PROGRAM STARTS MAY 19TH! Read to find out more about the amazing benefits! image

One student in my MBSR class recently told me that the MBSR class was truly life changing; another student who struggles with arthritis told me that thanks to mindfulness she is now able to dance, whereas a year ago she could hardly walk.  The brain is plastic and this may be partly why we find mindfulness so beneficial.  If you find yourself being a “worrier” or with a very busy mind that won’t stop,  I have good news for you! Your brain and thinking habits can change at the neurological level.  We now have evidence that the brain is plastic and that it changes in very positive ways with Mindfulness.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the brains of 16 people who signed up to do the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program by taking MRI scans (magnetic resonance images) of their brains before and after the 8 week program.  They also scanned the brains of a control group of people who did not participate in the program.

After finishing the program, all participants reported they had improved in measures of mindfulness, such as acting with awareness and in reduced judgement towards others and themselves.

What was more amazing was that the MRI scans showed that those who had taken the MBSR class had an increase in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temper-parietal junction, and the cerebellum.  Brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking (Harvard neuroscientist group, Britta Hölzel, Sarah Lazar).

This study among many others suggests that our brains are plastic and that with discipline and practice we feel better not only  because we are spending time meditating, but because our brains are changing!



Finding peace in your life….

We often imagine peace will come when things in our lives are calm and we have no problems.  If imagewe think that this is the only way we can achieve inner peace, it often feels unattainable because of the reality of our lives: work, relationships, children, financial concerns, illness, anxiety, worries, demands, obligations, and so on.  Is it possible to find inner peace even when life is full of turmoil? Can we learn to cultivate inner peace?

Yes, we can.  Mindfulness teachings do just that.  With practice, we begin to see life from a different perspective.  We begin to see that it is our interpretations of our experiences that lead us to loose our peace.  How we perceive what happens in our lives is what can make us feel lost.

We spend too much time fighting our reality, or in the past dwelling on things that we did or didn’t do, or in the future worrying about something that has not happened, imaging the worst.  If we are ill, we feel that our bodies have become our enemies.  So much of this is literally in our mind!

Mindfulness is a discipline that helps us gain mastery over our minds.  With mindfulness practice we learn how to become observers of the thoughts and stories that our minds generate.  In being able to observe our thoughts, we become able to discern which of our thoughts are useful and which are destructive and torturous.  Furthermore, we learn that thoughts are just thoughts; they do not have any power unless we give it to them.  So, we can begin to say “oh, that’s just a thought, I don’t have to believe it or get hooked by it.”

Tip: Every time you notice yourself stressed and anxious or upset, pay attention to your thoughts, observe them as if you were watching a movie.  Say, “oh there is that thought again…” or “oh, there is that awful thing I am telling myself.”  “I don’t have to identify with my thoughts.”  And then attend to what is in front of you, here in the present (for a mindfulness strategy that helps with this, click here.  Imagine being like a tree; just there, stable, grounded, accepting of what comes (weather, storms, heat, etc.), you grow leaves in the summer, lose them in the fall, welcome snow in the winter, and grow flowers in the spring.  We can cultivate our ability to be steady, grounded, and accepting of what comes with peace and acceptance.

To learn how to cultivate mindfulness and the well being that comes with it: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, for more information, click here  or to register click here registration

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Effectiveness

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Life Changing!image

I have been a psychologist and counsellor for over 20 years, and my work with Mindfulness Therapies has been some of the most rewarding.  But what is more, I have developed a commitment to my own practice of Mindfulness meditation and mindful living, which has been life changing!.

In order to train to become an MBSR teacher, I immersed myself in the practice of Mindfulness mediation and I attended 3 trainings and 2 retreats offered by my MBSR teachers at the Center For Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.  Our learning paralleled the deep experience of MBSR that our clients receive when they come to our classes.

I found that during those 5 programs, the teachings of MBSR changed me in deep ways. I have learned to be more calm, to be less married to time, to slow down and not feel like I have to be productive every minute of every day.  More importantly, it has taught me to be more present and to view life’s stressors in ways that do not disturb me as much as before.  Living in the present moment has brought me much joy and happiness and, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, I feel like I have been intensely trained in the art of living.

And I am finding that the participants who have taken my classes are finding these instructions for living present and happier life changing as well.

Here are some other stories and comments from clinicians and participants (these are extracted from an article by Brant Rogers)

Clinician and MBSR Participant Comments about their Experience of MBSR

“I find that those of my patients who participated in the MBSR course had better awareness and attitude toward their symptoms. In their own personal ways, this positive internal shift of attention helped them gain new understanding of their symptoms (i.e., pain, anxiety, etc.) and even help them in times of more severe symptomatology. In some cases, this skill has helped them become less dependent on pharmacologic therapy and more willing to adopt other self-care methods.” – MD, Internist, referring physician, Hillsboro

“The body aches and discomforts that the medical doctors couldn’t even explain, much less fix, MBSR has alleviated.” – MBSR graduate, Public School Teacher

“I had already endured years of chronic illness, multiple surgeries, and breast cancer with ever- dwindling inner resources to sustain me before discovering the MBSR 8 week course. This course gave me back my connection to healthy self that had been stripped of me over the course of my medical journey.” – Cancer Survivor, MBSR graduate

“Overall, I am calmer with my clients and sharing what I have learned with them is helping them to change their views of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges._ – LCSW, MBSR graduate, referring clinician, Hillsboro

“I work in palliative care and to provide the greatest benefit to patients and colleagues I need to practice effective self-care; MBSR is the center of that practice. I believe MBSR sustains me during difficult times and it allows me enjoy the bountiful times all the while helping me to remain mindful of my health and wellness.” – MSW, cancer survivor, MBSR graduate

“MBSR training gave me an exciting tool to share within the self-care opportunities offered by Occupational Therapists.” – OT and MBSR Graduate

“Due to my Crohn’s diagnosis my pregnancy was classified ‘high risk.’ MBSR was import and in my taking time to recognize and relieve the effects of daily stressors and helping to reduce inflammation. My son was born healthy and unmedicated in a natural delivery.” – MBSR Graduate

1 This presentation is part of a panel discussion at the Pain Management Options for Chronic Pain Disorders Continuing Education Interprofessional Series at Pacific University’s College of Health Professionals, October 19, 2012.