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New book by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson describes four reasons why long-term meditation can lead to profound improvements in our minds, brains, and bodies

Mindfulness meditation is everywhere these days. From the classroom to the board room, people are jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon, hoping to discover for themselves some of its promised benefits, like better focus, more harmonious relationships, and less stress.

I too have started a mindfulness meditation practice and have found it to be helpful in my everyday life. But, as a science writer, I still have to wonder: Is all of the hype around mindfulness running ahead of the science? What does the research really say about mindfulness?  Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscientists: Develop digital games to improve brain function and well-being

interactivemediaAuthors: Develop digital games to improve brain function and well-being (UW-Madison News):

“Neuroscientists should help to develop compelling digital games that boost brain function and improve well-being, say two professors specializing in the field in a commentary article published in the science journal Nature. In the Feb. 28 issue, the two — Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester and Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison — urge game designers and brain scientists to work together to design new games that train the brain, producing positive effects on behavior, such as decreasing anxiety, sharpening attention and improving empathy.”

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The Emotional Life of Your Brain: One Brain Does Not Fit All

If you believe most self-help books, pop-psychology articles, and television therapists, then you probably assume that how people respond to significant life events is pretty predictable.  Most of us, according to the “experts,” are affected in just about the same way by a given experience—there is a grieving process that everyone goes through, there is a sequence of events that happens when we fall in love, there is a standard response to being jilted, and there are fairly standard ways almost every normal person reacts to the birth of a child, to being unappreciated at one’s job, to having an unbearable workload, to the challenges of raising teenagers, and to the inevitable changes that occur with aging.

Read the rest of this entry »

Resources to help students build emotional intelligence

(Editor’s note: Daniel Goleman is now conducting a great series of audio interviews including one with Richard Davidson on Training the Brain: Cultivating Emotional Skills. We are honored to bring you this guest post by Daniel Goleman, thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

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Resources to help students build emotional intelligence

By Daniel Goleman

The scene: a first-grade classroom in a Manhattan school. Not just any classroom this one has lots of Special Ed students, who are very hyperactive. So the room is a whirlpool of frenzied activity. The teacher tells the kids that they’re going to listen to a CD. The kids quiet down a bit.

Then they get pretty still as the CD starts, and a man’s voice asks the kids to lie down on their backs, arms at their sides, and get a “breathing buddy,” like a stuffed animal, who will sit on their stomachs and help them be aware of their breathing. The voice takes the children through a series of breathing and body awareness exercises, and the kids manage to calm down and stay focused through the entire six minutes, which ends with them wiggling their toes.

“You’ve just learned how to make your body feel calm and relaxed,” says the voice. “And you can do this again any time you want.”

The voice on the CD is mine, though I’m reading the words of Linda Lantieri, who has pioneered public school programs in social and emotional learning that have been adopted worldwide.

Her newest program adds an important tool to the emotional intelligence kit: mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s internal state and external environment. In a Building emotional intelligencenew book, Building Emotional Intelligence, which comes with the CD, Lantieri uses mindfulness training to enhance concentration and attention among kids, and to help them learn to better calm themselves. Building Emotional Intelligence comes with instructions that explain how teachers and parents can adapt Latieri’s exercises to kids at different age levels (five to seven, eight to 11, or 12 and up) and provides detailed explanations of each exercise.

Lantieri’s project exemplifies the ways we can build on scientific insights to help children master the skills of emotional intelligence. As Richard Davidson, founder of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, explained to me in Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr_Andrew_NewbergDr. Andrew Newberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published a variety of neuroimaging studies related to aging and dementia. He has also researched the neurophysiological correlates of meditation, prayer, and how brain function is associated with mystical and religious experiences. Alvaro Fernandez interviews him here as part of our research for the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age.

Dr. Newberg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your interests at the intersection of brain research and spirituality?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen interest in spiritual practice. I always wondered how spirituality and religion affect us, and over time I came to appreciate how science can help us explore and understand the world around us, including why we humans care about spiritual practices. This, of course, led me to be particularly interested in brain research.

During medical school I was particularly attracted by the problem of consciousness. I was fortunate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the early 1990s, who had been doing much research on religious practices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imaging can provide a fascinating window into the brain.

Can we define religion and spirituality -which sound to me as very different brain processes-, and why learning about them may be helpful from a purely secular, scientific point of view?

Good point, definitions matter, since different people may be searching for God in different ways. I view being religious as participating in organized rituals and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spiritual, on the other hand, is more of an individual practice, whether we call it meditation, or relaxation, or prayer, aimed at expanding the self, developing a sense of oneness with the universe.

What is happening is that specific practices that have traditionally been associated with religious and spiritual contexts may also be very useful from a mainstream, secular, health point of view, beyond those contexts. Scientists are researching, for example, what Read the rest of this entry »

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