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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

Cultivating a Positive State of Mind

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Sep 8, 2016 9:57:45 AM

kao-state-of-mind.jpgImagine feeling your problems and anxiety grow smaller as your creativity and happiness loom larger.

That’s just one of many mental benefits made possible by a regular meditation practice.

“Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into a relaxed state that promotes healing. The mind becomes fresh, delicate and beautiful. Meditation makes you aware - that your inner attitude determines your happiness,” according to The Art of Living.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, who celebrated her 80th birthday this summer, offers many teachings and free videos to help people develop a meaningful meditation practice to enhance gratitude, compassion and curiosity, not just for the good times, but, as the title of one of her books states, “When Things Fall Apart.”

Says Pema, “Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away or become something better. It's about befriending who we are already.” Here are four other practices to promote a positive state of mind.

Keep Good Company

We all have people in our lives who automatically lift our spirits and make us smile when we hear their voice or see them coming around the corner.  

And yes, the opposite often happens to us when we run into our negative neighbor.

It’s not our imagination; the research backs up our reactions. A University of Hawaii study found that stress and anxiety could be contagious.

“People seem to be capable of mimicking others’ facial, vocal and postural expressions with stunning rapidity,” says professor Elaine Hatfield who led the study. “As a consequence, they are able to feel themselves into those other emotional lives to a surprising extent.”

University of Wisconsin Health Psychologist Shilagh Mirgain suggests thinking about those people you spend the most time with and asking:

  • Do I feel refreshed after spending time with them, or drained and deflated?
  • When I anticipate seeing them, is there a sense of excitement or a bit of dread?
  • Who believes in me and accepts me exactly as I am?
  • Who can help me achieve important goals and be a cheerleader when I experience setbacks?

"The people on your list who leave you feeling positive and renewed – those are the people you should prioritize spending time with," notes Mirgain. "When we nurture these positive relationships, our lives can change dramatically."

Speaking of Smiling

When life is good, smiles come easy. But can a smile turn a dreary day around?

That’s what a University of Kansas study examined, and the results, well, might make you smile.

Participants who exhibited a genuine smile - one that engaged the muscles around the mouth and eyes - while conducting stressful tasks had lower heart rate levels than those who either had a neutral facial expression or standard smile.

According to researcher Sarah Pressman, the findings indicate smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.

“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress,” says Pressman, “you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well”

Water Everywhere

Oceans, lakes and rivers draw us near. So do showers, spas and fountains. Being in or around water helps us relax, meditate, create and more.

“We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken,” Wallace Nichols writes in Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.

“We have a ‘blue mind’ — and it’s perfectly tailored to make us happy in all sorts of ways that go way beyond relaxing in the surf, listening to the murmur of a stream, or floating quietly in a pool.”

I’m OK

Or better yet, I’m great.

Positive affirmations are a way to help tune out our inner critic by playing a louder supportive soundtrack.

But do these upbeat words work?

A Carnegie Mellon University study found that positive self-affirmations, such as focusing on one’s important values or writing about healthy relationships, can lessen the negative effects of stress.

"People under high stress can foster better problem-solving simply by taking a moment beforehand to think about something that is important to them," said J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology. "It's an easy-to-use and portable strategy you can roll out before you enter that high pressure performance situation."

Louise Hay is the author of the bestseller You Can Heal Your Life and I Can Do It: How to Use Affirmations to Change Your Life.

But saying “I am patient, tolerant and diplomatic” or another of Louise’s many affirmations is only part of the process, she explains.

“What you do the rest of the day and night is even more important. The secret to having your affirmations work quickly and consistently is to prepare an atmosphere for them to grow in. Affirmations are like seeds planted in soil. Poor soil, poor growth. Rich soil, abundant growth. The more you choose to think thoughts that make you feel good, the quicker the affirmations work.”

So consider joining kindred souls on the beach to meditate, greeting them with a heartfelt smile and “Life is Great” attitude. And if you do this, life probably will be great.


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Molly-K.jpgIn the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

Topics: Healthy Aging

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