Meditation expert recommends compassion meditation as a way to tackle Coronavirus linked fear and anxiety. Use compassion to support wellbeing during social-isolation.
Follow this link if you’re looking for the online compassion meditation or other relevant resources. However, read on for more information about why compassion is essential at this difficult time.
Humans have all the necessary tools to overcome challenges, that’s self-evident from looking at our history. Not that we should underestimate the threat from Coronavirus, we must take appropriate precautions. But excessive stress and anxiety will not help us deal with difficult situations. In fact, fear is likely to undermine our ability to make good choices and may weaken our mental and physical health.
A growing body of scientific evidence supports claims that pro-social behaviours such as kindness and compassion are linked to reduced suffering. Compassion is an enduring quality present in almost all societies. Traditional meditation practices, particularly in Buddhism, are built on the foundations of kindness and compassion. This suggests that one of the worst things we can do in a time of threat is to turn inwards, to ignore the needs of others, the bigger picture.
As support for people self-isolating or anxious about the current situation, I’ve recorded a simple compassion meditation. It’s one I teach regularly and is based on a well known, traditional practice. It has been secularised so is suitable for almost everyone. It contains two of the cognitive elements central to successful meditation methods, compassion and a non-dual view. Put simply, it increases compassionate feelings for self and others.
We will be posting more free resources during these difficult times, contribute your comments below or send any questions to us here. Feel free to share our resources with anyone who is likely to benefit from them. People who feel alone, vulnerable or are self-isolating may find this kind of meditation particularly beneficial.
Its seems increasingly likely that compassion meditation influences brain functions and structures able to increase happiness.
We live in materialistic times, many people find it hard to understand the enduring nature of compassion and kindness. Last January I saw a woman buy a young homeless guy a cup of coffee. I didn’t know either of these people although this happened close to my home. A passer-by, about the same age as the homeless man, cat-called ‘loser’ from the other side of the street. The homeless man responded with a few expletives, but the passer-by was quick to point out ‘not you, her’. It was the act of compassion that had provoked the insult!
It raised the question in my mind, why are humans compassionate, why do so many of us care about strangers, even if there is no profit to us? I don’t mean my own feelings, I worked out the benefits of compassion to me years ago. Although we all can have a bad day, at some point almost everyone feels compassion for another. People in diverse cultures from all periods of history have been shown to value altruism, it’s a universal human characteristic. The answer has to be that our brains are hard-wired towards helping others. If compassion is an enduring quality, present in different societies we can assume we’ve evolved like this.
As humans, we can train our minds to increase or decrease our underlying mental states. Altruism and selfishness are not constants, if you watch any film or browse a website you can observe these emotions rise and fall in response to what you see. The whole social media culture of ‘liking’ and ‘not-liking’ feeds into these mental traits. The point of compassion meditation is to train those networks linked to the way we see ourselves and others. These practices have been associated with increased happiness for thousands of years. And the scientific evidence is now starting to show us why.
New psychological and neuroscience studies have found that altruism (selfless acts) are strongly correlated to reduced experience of suffering, even in cancer patients. Leading economist Richard Layard also claims, based on decades of research, that it is altruism that underpins our happiness. Although he also points out that not all forms of mindfulness or meditation may actually generate altruism. The bottom line is that considering the needs of others alongside your own, seems to make people happier. One note of caution, you can’t trick your brain. Our happiness originates in brain networks, you need to actually generate compassionate thoughts and feelings.
“If I could only do one thing to support my mental and physical health it would be compassion training. That training underpins and enriches every part of my life. It supports my relationships, my diet, my freetime my work. In the past selfishness reduced me to an army of one, competing against everyone else on earth. Compassion extended my circle of friends to include every living creature.”
Sustained fear and anxiety is the enemy. Use meditation to cope with Coronavirus
From time to time, we are faced with challenges and threats. These can become significant problems to deal with if we get them out of proportion. However, when the danger is global, like climate change or the Covid-19, virus it’s hard to maintain an even keel. Everywhere you look, you will find references to the danger from Coronavirus, even here in Britain where there are (at the time of writing) a relatively small number of cases. The first point to make is that when we are frightened, we make bad decisions, our perspectives become distorted. I don’t suggest that blind optimism is the answer to fear, just pretending that bad things don’t happen. But thousands of years of human experience have shown that brain training systems such as meditation offer great practical help in times of crisis.
My experience as a meditation teacher and scientist converge when it comes to fear. The evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience is that sustained periods of fear or stress harm the brain and the body. When we worry or experience stress, our body produces chemicals such as cortisol that help us deal with a short term crisis. When fear or anxiety is prolonged, the effect of these chemicals becomes harmful. There is a considerable body of evidence that supports this basic idea. So when we enter a period of ‘global panic’, how can we establish an appropriate response?
I (and many of the people I taught) came to meditation because of problems with fear and stress. Over the years, I have experienced and seen how compassion-based meditation balances our perception of self and other (intrinsic and extrinsic neural networks)—allowing us to respond to real-life problems in a balanced and sustainable way. Threats to our health are always going to be present; they become more significant as we get older. But building compassion for ourselves and others is one of the most reliable methods for keeping things in perspective. Compassion meditation isn’t merely wishing away stress, it’s a tool to reconfigure our way of understanding the world. So that fear is kept proportionate to risk.
“The most useful health practice I have experienced over my lifetime is the compassionate view. That when I encounter any situation likely to provoke fear, I make the silent wish that no being may suffer; me, you, everybody. It has protected me from anxiety and stress for decades.”
Brain Renewal Meditation – Compassion based mindfulness designed to improve wellbeing and maintain cognitive function for all ages.
Meditate in Canterbury
Brain Renewal Meditation (BRM) is a compassion based mindfulness meditation which helps to maintain brain function and supports wellbeing. It is secular, can be practiced by anyone and is simple to learn. No previous experience or special training is necessary, just come and practice. This method requires meditators to sit comfortably, typically in a chair and to follow the instructions of the experienced teacher.
Based on a traditional method, BRM is now available to people that want to meditate in Canterbury and across Kent. This approach has been developed through engagement with the latest scientific research and is taught by an experienced meditation teacher trained in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, Stephen Gene Morris. A weekly BRM class is held in Canterbury, it is suitable for adults of all ages. Contact us for more details.
It has long been established that aspects of brain health and physical wellbeing can be improved by regular meditation. BRM is simple and intuitive and includes three elements closely associated with a range of health benefits; compassion, mindfulness and awareness of both self and other.
Unfortunately the performance of the human brain typically starts to decline before the age of 30, signs are apparent in our 40’s and mild cognitive impairment and dementia can develop in later life. The evidence shows that regular meditation is linked to maintaining a younger healthier brain, this obviously can have great benefits no matter what our age.
Is it suitable for non meditators?
Many people attending are likely to be new to meditation or have limited experience.
Will I be able to do it?
Almost everyone can do it, it is a form of mind training so it may require some concentration but it is appropriate for adults of all ages.
Is the teacher qualified or experienced?
Our teachers tend to be among the most qualified and experienced of any meditation teachers. The Canterbury class is run by a trained cognitive psychologist/neuroscientist with extensive experience of traditional and contemporary meditation systems.
Are discounts available for advanced bookings?
Yes as we teach relatively small groups we cut down on a lot of admin time if people book several weeks at a time. We pass these savings on to our meditators. Significant discounts are available for bookings of 3 weeks, 5 weeks or 10 weeks. Contact us for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org
I can’t get to a class but I want to practice
We also run online meditation classes and 1 to 1 sessions, get in touch for more details.
Are there minimum age requirements to enter the event?
This is an adult meditation class so it is open to everyone over the age of 18.
What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?
There is very limited parking at the venue, a range of public car parks are within walking distance. Canterbury can be accessed through a range of public transport options.
What can I bring into the event?
Just yourself, no special clothing or equipment is necessary
How can I contact the organiser with any questions?
#Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of #dementia. If you suffer from moderate or high levels of anxiety act today!
Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of dementia
It is no surprise that anxiety at any age is not good for you, anyone that has experienced strong feelings of anxiousness knows how unpleasant they can be. But the recent revelations that there is a proven link between anxiety in middle aged and late onset dementia is shocking news. Details of research published at the BMJ Open website describe how over an interval of a decade, midlife anxiety is linked to increased risk of dementia.
“The main point is to protect yourself from increased risks of developing late stage dementia”
Stephen Gene Morris
There are three issues that jump out of the report for me. Firstly that medium and strong forms of anxiety are dangerous, they should carry government health warnings. If you suffer from anxiety don’t let this report worry you further, take it as a sign that it’s time to do something. Secondly I don’t like the ten year interval between the reported anxiety and a diagnosis of dementia. It suggests that day to day living doesn’t return brain function and structure to ‘normal’ after strong bouts of anxiety, we don’t automatically recover from the wear and tear. But on a more positive note the study describes anxiety as a ‘modifiable risk factor’. That means you can probably do something about it!
Anxiety is not the only lifestyle or behavioral factor associated with dementia but the science shows it does matter. So if you suffer from anxiety what can you do? Firstly take action to roll back the behaviours that lead to medium and strong forms anxiety. As someone who has suffered with this condition I know that is easier said than done, but at least acknowledge that you need to do something. Meditation was the intervention that worked for me, compassionate meditation! It might seems strange I know, but by generating compassion I gradually dissolved almost all of the strong anxiety I had. The main point is to protect yourself from increased risks of developing late stage dementia. Your solution doesn’t have to be linked to meditation, but if you only do one thing today plan to reduce your levels of anxiety.
Stephen Gene Morris is a meditation teacher and trained scientist, he has taught meditation to hundreds of students of all ages. If you’d like to attend a class or take part in an online session get in touch. Sign up to the free newsletter for all the latest brain health news and help.
Several features in the media this week have giving some clear indications about the science behind keeping our brains in the best possible shape. Some of the advice falls into the generic wellbeing wisdom which now seems to be be associated with most health messages;
eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, consume less processed meat
take regular exercise
give up smoking
stay socially engaged
avoid stress, relax and sleep the right amount
keep the brain working with appropriate activity and brain training
The last item on this wish list is unsettlingly vague given that it probably has the most significant impact on brain health. For example how can we define brain training (as almost everything we do can train the brain)? What is an appropriate level of activity and which parts of the brain should we focus on?
“In one study the brains of regular meditators were found to be years younger than non meditators”
In today’s Guardian, attention was drawn to a key finding of the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging; that typically lifestyle and environment are more influential in our quality and length of life than genetic factors. This is also the general direction that brain science seems to be moving in with regards neurodegeneration. That although there are many questions left to be answered, limiting cognitive decline and reducing the risk of dementia may rest largely in our own hands.
Returning to the question of brain training, the big issue is to establish what kinds of intervention bring the greatest overall benefit? It is becoming increasingly apparent that narrow single task training such as Sudoku or word searches have a limited effect. Whereas maintaining high levels of brain activity and cognitive challenge are likely to keep a much broader area of the cortex young and healthy. The same principle needs to be applied if meditation systems are being used to maintain cognitive function. That the meditation or mindfulness method should be broad based and able to tap into both the intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (task or external) networks. Activity in and between different neural networks is a key element in brain health and one frequently overlooked and poorly understood. To illustrate consider tonglen meditation, it combines compassion, nondual awareness and mindfulness, it allows the meditator to work with our internal visualisation and empathy systems. In addition it engages the important connectivity between introspection and external awareness.
Given what we know already about neurodegeneration, it seems likely that long term protection against cognitive impairment can be found in meditation methods built on nondual compassionate approaches.
Dementia has to be challenged on three levels. It presents challenges to current and future societies
Dementia is much more than an illness
The slogan smash dementia is both dramatic and provocative but it contains three important messages that cannot be ignored. At first sight ‘smash dementia’ might appear not to make sense, dementia is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms, so how can they be smashed? The key is to think of the challenge of dementia on three different levels, firstly the current suffering caused by dementia, secondly the conditions that give rise to dementia and thirdly the concept that links old age to inevitable cognitive decline.
Smash the suffering caused by dementia
It is important to acknowledge that some people diagnosed with dementia can live long and fulfilling lives, but this is not always the case. In its advanced form dementia can lead to great suffering, both for patients as well as their friends and family. This is the aspect of dementia that requires immediate and urgent action. If you search the academic literature you will find hundreds of thousand of publish studies about or linked to dementia, and yet there is still much that is not known. More worryingly what is known is not always being communicated. Although some general ideas about how to reduce cognitive decline are shared with the wider community, the advice often lacks detail and authority.
“In 2015 over 110,000 people died of Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) in the US, it is the sixth leading cause of death. Deaths from AD increased by 123% in the fifteen years following 2000. In contrast mortality rates linked to stroke and heart disease fell.”
Smash the conditions for dementia
Dementia is set to become one of the defining health concerns of the 21st century. In the next twenty years we expect to see the total number of people living with dementia worldwide increase three fold to 150 million. The human and economic costs of this scenario are without precedent, huge efforts are needed if society is going to cope, let alone provide appropriate levels of care. We have a conveyor belt with increasing numbers of people in cognitive decline ready to join the ranks of those already diagnosed with dementia. There is almost no information being offered to people in their 40s about what they can do to improve their brain health and lower the risks of serious cognitive impairment. What are we waiting for? We need to attack dementia, not simply upon diagnosis but at the point the syndrome begins its destructive path.
Smash the negative stereotypes of old age
When my late mother was in her early 60s, she started to describe any lapses in memory or cognitive function as ‘senior moments’. Around this time she started to use a computer and demonstrated no observable indications of cognitive decline, and yet she carried and communicated the idea that her brain was starting to become less reliable. I’m concerned that we label older people as inferior generally and that the stigma linked to dementia is a results of negative stereotypes. As a society we don’t value older people enough, we don’t recognize their skills, experience and capacities. And yet there is evidence all around us that people over the age of 65 can make significant and meaningful contributions to society. For example President Trump is 72, Bruce Springsteen 69, Queen Elizabeth II is 92 and the Emperor of Japan, Akihito is 84. This isn’t a denial of the aging process, rather a rejection of the assumption that older people can’t make valuable contributions to society.
Compassion as a central component to health and society
A presumed contributory factor in cognitive decline and poor mental health is social isolation. Perhaps humans are hard wired to live with other people, humankind has evolved in intergenerational groups. Choosing to live alone or in nuclear families is a relatively new innovation in human experience. Research has indicated that people living in social isolation have a higher risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or becoming obese. In short if we stay socially engaged we can expect to live longer with a higher quality of life. But a recent report from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation indicated that the benefits of intergenerational care extend to young people as well as old.
Champion was a community centre in Columbus, Ohio. It has been transformed into an intergenerational enrichment and education center, where community provision for young people and the elderly have been brought together under one roof. The smart use of the physical space makes a good deal of economic sense. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been seen in changes to the lives of the users of the facilities. According to the report, older people involved in intergenerational programs;
enjoy improved health and wellbeing
feel less isolated and lonely
and participants with dementia report increased levels of engagement.
Young people and children demonstrate
increased self-regulation, empathy and improved social acceptance
In the US 89% of people think that meeting the needs of children, young people and the elderly on the same site is a good idea. The evidence indicates that young and old alike derive benefit from the experience and yet there are only 105 intergenerational shared sites across the US. To put the potential of the concept into context there are 11,000 registered Senior Centers across the country.
In addition to the value of intergenerational programmes, this study reinforces the widespread evidence that brain health is linked to a number of lifestyle factors. That having to care for and engage with others enriches us in a concrete way. This supports research illustrating that compassion may be a crucial component in maintaining healthy and productive cognitive activity.