Take a Breath

Musings on neuroscience, meditation, and Muse.

Meditation and Depression

Depression can be a crippling disease.  According to the World Health Organization an estimated 350 million people worldwide may be affected.  Even more astonishing and disheartening is that roughly 800,000 people will lose their lives every year as a result of the mood disorder and the majority will be teens and young adults.  What makes the fight against depression so challenging is that less than half of the people affected will seek help and in some countries this number can fall to less than 10%.  Difficulties in diagnosis, lack of resources, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders amongst other reasons are to blame for lack of treatment.  In many cases, due to the difficulty in diagnosing symptoms, sufferers are turned away and non-sufferers are prescribed antidepressants.  In the US alone 6.7% of people / roughly 11 million are affected and the majority of those are women.

meditation and depression

One should never underestimate the seriousness of the potential onset of depression and should always consult their doctor when symptoms arise. A clinician can discuss numerous treatments ranging from pharmacological through to more holistic and naturopathic lifestyle changes and remedies.

Much has been made of the impact that meditation may have on, not only the brain, but also the way that it affects mood and response to certain environments and stimuli.  According to one study mindfulness meditation can actually alter the structure and physiological health of the brain and increase gray matter.  This “rewiring” may also be responsible for the way that meditation can affect depression and depression-like symptoms and moods.   For example in one study at a secondary school in Belgium students who practiced a program involving mindfulness reported a lower incidence of depression, anxiety and stress for up to six months later. What’s even more profound, the subjects were “less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.”  The positive effects of mindfulness are not limited to adolescents.  Moms-to-be also reported, according to a University of Michigan study, a lowered prevalence of depressive symptoms after practicing mindfulness for 10 weeks.  Another mindfulness meditation study from the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggested that “the results support the safety and potential efficacy of meditative practices for treating certain illnesses, particularly in non-psychotic mood and anxiety disorders.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the benefits that meditation has on the brain, its moods and one’s lifestyle. Meditation has been shown to improve wellness and lifestyle in a number of categories from academic performancechronic pain and anxiety to self perceived general feelings of health and optimism.  Like physical exercise, the fruits of meditation cannot be enjoyed without a continued practice and just like exercise, meditation is not without hard work and determination. It takes time, motivation and practice.

To learn more about Muse: the brain sensing headband and how it can help develop and improve your meditation practice please click here. If you are a mental health professional looking to introduce meditation to your clients please see our Professionals Program.

(If you feel you might be experiencing depression or depression-like symptoms, always consult with a mental health professional.)

 

 

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“Hacking Mindfulness” – Paying Attention to Your Own Attention

At Muse we like to share stories that help spread the word about the fruits of building a consistent meditation practice.  These may be stories of how Muse meditators have benefited and changed their lives using Muse, how meditation is scientifically shown to alleviate feelings of anxiety, chronic pain and depression or even how meditation can improve your golf swing.  Sometimes we come across great material that others have created that further pushes our purpose to bring meditation to everyone.

The following video, for example, which features Peter Baumann, the founder of the Baumann Foundation, explores how one can calm their attention was particularly interesting. Throughout our lives we always have forces that pull our attention one way and then pull our attention the other way.  This makes it difficult to think about the now and present.  Mr. Baumann explains that its not always right to say you’re mindful (i.e paying attention to paying attention) as this may drain your brain’s resources even further. Sometimes it makes more sense to just pay attention to your body’s own sensations as this can relax and calm the mind and bring you into a focus surrounding immediate present. Similarly, with Muse, we have always suggested that in order to get the most out of the experience one should focus on the sensation of breath.  Meditation is about strengthening the mind to resist negative, wandering or distracting thoughts so that we may be more productive throughout the day and emotionally satisfied. Meditation and mindfulness is the practice of being present and resisting, what Peter Baumann claims are, the “hijacking of our thoughts”.  We hope you are as captivated as we were listening to this.

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Meditation for Mothers

Liza, shown above, is an actual Muse meditator, and just one example of a mother in a specific situation and stage in her life, but meditation can benefit various stages of motherhood from pregnancy through to the later years. As we approach Mother’s Day we take the time to notice how moms have shaped our own lives through their constant flow of empathy and nurturing. Due to their unselfish role they also tend to bear the weight of the world on their own shoulders as they quite regularly focus on their children rather than themselves. Meditation is an effective and time-efficient way for mothers to cultivate a calm mind, patience, positive thoughts, and connection with their own needs and emotions.

From pregnancy to menopause women undergo a wide range of hormonal experiences, affecting moods, perspectives on life, and forms of happiness. Positive emotional health during pregnancy not only helps to reduce stress mothers might be experiencing, but it is also a bonding mechanism for the expecting mother to build a deeper connection with their new baby. According to a study on Mindfulness Approaches to Childbirth and Parenting, researchers found that practicing regular meditation has been shown to be an effective way of reducing the pain of labor.

There is nothing quite like the exhaustion of running after a toddler. Mothers who care for toddlers understand the stress that often accumulates from tantrums, morning and bedtime routines, and growing to-do lists. Even though a healthy, nutritious diet, good sleep, and exercise all play a positive role in helping mothers cope with the stress associated with parenting, mental fitness is highly recommended.

Meditation has the power to shift a mother’s perspective from being rushed, anxious, and worried to being aware in the present moment, attentive, and kind. Meditation helps mothers to have confidence as they take on the role of a parent, and may improve decision-making skills. Parenting does not come with a guidebook. Navigating tough days with patience is made easier by a regular meditation practice.

The Journal of Child and Family studies published results from a study on Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Education. The study showed that, “Laying a foundation of healthy coping through mindfulness during the perinatal period of family formation may promote family resilience across the lifespan, effectively placing new families on a healthier developmental trajectory than they might otherwise have experienced.”

Parenting through the teenage years takes unparalleled patience, fortitude, and confidence. Meditation may help mothers to cultivate trust in their own parenting decisions and help them to communicate more effectively with their teen children.

Liza’s situation is not uncommon. Mothers go through various points in their life whether it is the hardship of weighing career vs. parenting to taking care of their own mother later in life. Liza found a way through meditation with Muse to cope with being in the present by strengthening her mind and resisting impeding wandering thoughts so that she could be more efficient and in control throughout the day. Meditation is ideal because it can be practiced almost anytime and anywhere.

Among the most important roles of a mother is the call to nurture. Mothers are the emotional backbones of the family. They provide the foundation for everyone’s emotions and do their best to keep us from harming ourselves and teach us the values of empathy.

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Of Sound Mind: Finding Your Feedback Loop with Muse

mountain

People often try to use metaphors to explain meditation. Some stay pragmatic and compare it to physical exercise, while others get lofty and talk about ocean waves crashing on the side of a mountain.

These metaphors are aiming to make the practice more tangible, because the reality is, it’s quite a subtle thing. You’re trying to achieve a “meditative” state of mind, but what exactly does that mean? There’s no simple answer. No one other than you can experience your consciousness. It’s up to you to find your way.

Teachers can help point to techniques, share things they’ve learned, and support you through emotional discoveries, but ultimately the practice is yours to explore. Meditation is a process of personal experimentation and discovery. As you practice, trust your own experiences and insights – there’s no higher authority than your own experience.

Many find that a playful, curious approach helps a lot in the early stages. Being open and ready to try different techniques, positions, tools, lengths, and locations is key. When practicing with Muse, you may also learn from experimenting with your soundscape settings as you search for a feedback loop that feels right.

Here are some Muse soundscape settings to play with:

sound settings

To access these soundscape settings, connect your headband, start a session, and then tap the volume icon in the top right corner.

  1. Gentle and Soft

    Turn up the background volume while reducing both the feedback and birds volumes to make the soundscape much gentler. If you find the feedback too distracting, this can help a lot.

  2. Silence the Birds

    If you find the birds distract you too much, you can simply turn their volume down to zero. They’ll still be counted in your session report and data – you simply won’t hear them.

  3. Focus on Real-time Feedback

    The background sound helps ground the soundscape and prevents total silence from becoming a distraction when you’re calm. Turning up the feedback and birds and setting the background to zero can feel like a very different experience, so it’s worth exploring.

  4. Turning off the Sound

    It can also be instructive to explore having no sound feedback at all to see how different it feels. You’ll still get a full session report with all your data after the session.

When playing with your soundscape settings, try to find a feedback loop where Muse supports your focused attention on the breath without getting in the way. You’re looking for volume levels where your wandering mind is pulled back to the breath, but your focused mind is not pulled away from the breath.

Your preferred settings may be different from those of other Musers, and they may also change over time as your practice evolves. If you ever find yourself frustrated or unable to find settings that work for you, remember to bring back that playful curiosity and enjoy the process of exploration itself. Good luck!

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A University Student’s Story Of Academic Stress And Meditation With Muse

Student Stress

Student stress

Stress has been proven to impact student performance. In 2008, five researchers conducted a study to evaluate the impact on stress during two 8-week, 90-minutes per week training programs for college undergraduates using meditation-based stress-management programs. Their study concluded that, “Meditation-based stress-management practices reduce stress among college undergraduates.”

One student who has been impacted by stress is Christine. She’s a third year English and Creative Writing student at The University of Western Ontario, and she visited Student Services asking about ways to manage her stress. A psychology professor suggested that Christine try Muse since, as part of an ongoing program, they were being loaned out to students through Student Services for the purposes of stress management and meditation.

Before meditating with Muse, Christine thought that in order to meditate one had to think about absolutely nothing. She had dabbled and dropped into a few mindfulness-based meditation classes on campus, but never felt compelled to continue meditating on her own. Christine felt skeptical and unsure if meditation would really work for her.

“Meditation-based stress-management practices reduce stress among college undergraduates.” – Journal of American College Health

In her first Muse meditation session, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on her breath, body, posture, and the present moment. When asked about the experience and data that Muse provides Christine replied,“I thought it was pretty cool that it seems to pick up my brainwaves. At first I was frustrated at my mind being all over the place. But, it actually really worked for me over time by helping me take control of my own thoughts.”

Christine was so satisfied with her initial Muse experience that she later purchased, using a student discount, a headband through the university. After a few weeks of practice, she made Muse part of her daily routine. Once classes and day activities are over, Christine commits to at least 7 minutes of Muse meditation using the beach soundscape – her favorite. She believes the regularity of her practice has facilitated changes in her life and expressed enthusiastically,“I now notice when I feel myself get worked up, stressed out, or anxious… I just think okay… I will just think about what I do when I use Muse. I imitate that meditative state that I go into.. And now I find it’s easier to slip into that state and calm myself down.”

It’s like all of the bad feelings have been purged. I can think more clearly.”

The data is important to Christine. In the beginning she explained that her scores were variable, but over time they have been more consistent. Christine was asked if she uses Muse in moments of stress and anxiety and she responded, “Yes. Sometimes I use the Muse when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s like restarting or shutting off my brain and coming back refreshed. It’s like all of the bad feelings have been purged. I can think more clearly.”

In a different, but related study, researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service surveyed 9,931 students at 14 different schools. They matched grade point averages with health problems related to stress and other factors. Of the 69.9 percent of students who reported they were stressed, 32.9 percent said that stress was hurting their academic performance.

Studies such as these are causing college campuses to provide more resources such as Muse, for example, to students to help with mindfulness based stress reduction and other stress coping programs. University of Western Ontario is one of them.  Christine shared how meditating with Muse can help university students, “If someone is struggling with academic or personal stress, they need to give it a try. At first I thought this isn’t working for me, but I wasn’t really using it everyday. After a few weeks, once I worked Muse into my regular routine, I started to really notice a difference.”

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