Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    Why You Can't Meditate (and What to Do About It) - No Time?

    By Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.

    You know it’s good for you.  You have a friend who swears about the incredible difference that it has made in his/her life.  You even tried it yourself a few times, and liked it (mostly).  Yet, the stark reality is that you can’t seem to keep it up.  

    Well, you’re not alone.  Many of us struggle to establish and maintain a meditation practice.  Despite its simplicity, it’s actually hard work to sit down and pay attention.  And, it’s an incredibly important skill to develop.  As you might know, research has shown that meditation can lower stress, improve immune functioning, promote fertility, decrease pain, increase concentration, and provide relief from various psychological disorders.  You might also be familiar with neuroplasticity and the fact that meditation can change the functioning and structure of the brain.  And, it’s difficult to do, especially in the beginning.  

    Having taught (and practiced) meditation for over 13 years, I’ve come to identify several types of difficulties, and found various ways to address them.  Here’s the beginning of my series on the obstacles to meditation.  I’ll review what people say when they can’t meditate, an explanation of what’s really happening, and--most importantly--what to do about it.  You might recognize yourself in one of these descriptions.  If not, you can either wait until my next post and/or add a comment about what you experience (which I’ll try to address later).    

    Obstacle:  I don’t have enough time.  

    You’re really, really busy.  Sometimes, you don’t even have time to think, let alone spend some quiet time meditating.  You’re probably waiting for things to calm down, and then you’ll start meditating.  And, you’re likely to have been waiting for this to happen for a long time.  Sound familiar?

    The first part of reconciling this problem is to recognize that your life is not too busy, but your mind tells you that it is.  Yes, I am saying that you do--objectively--have the time to meditate.  Each day, you have 24 hours available to meditate, and you choose to do something else instead.  What?  Are you arguing with me?  You don’t even have 5 minutes in your day to meditate?  Really?  Did you spend time on Facebook today?  Did you watch TV?  Did you eat something?  Drink tea?  Take a shower?  Commute by bus, train, or subway?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you have some time.  See?  You do technically have the time, so stop believing your mind when it says that you’re too busy.  

    The second part in reconciling this problem is allowing yourself to (a) start slowly with (b) a practice that is most conducive to your schedule.  Both of these issues are likely going to be challenging for you.  Typically, if you’re too “too busy,” you’re also likely to be overachieving, perfectionistic, or a New Yorker, so the idea of “starting slowly” is anathema to you.  However, simple math comes to the rescue:  5 minutes is more than zero minutes.  Even one minute spent meditating is more than none.  “But I need to do more [in order for it to count]!” your mind protests.  Nope.  Not in the beginning.  Thank your mind for its opinion, and start with just five minutes a day.  

    Now, what should you do exactly?  Here, you need to be creative with what works best for your schedule and state of mind.  You might practice a traditional seated meditation (e.g., focusing on the breath) or do a walking meditation.  Alternatively, you might consider doing a routine activity mindfully.  For example, you might approach eating a meal with mindfulness.  You stop multitasking and spend several minutes appreciating the sight, aroma, and taste of your food.  The Center for Mindful Eating has some tips on how to practice.  You can be mindful of about anything, so take your pick.  (Indeed, mindfulness is best appreciated as an adverb (i.e., mindfully).)  In my book, Urban Mindfulness, I discuss how to apply mindfulness to waiting in line, drinking your morning coffee, and riding the subway.  It makes the perfect holiday gift for that special someone!  (Sorry, my publisher would have wanted me to say that...)

    So, why not “commit to sit” for a little while?  What have you got to lose?  Time?  Stress?  Anxiety?  Your self?  


    This is your brain...on love

    By Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.

    Recently, my friend Gina introduced me to a wonderful, documentary video by Brent Hoff.  It profiles several people who are participaing in an impromptu love "competition."  While being scanned by an fMRI machine at Stanford, each participant was asked to think about love, then researchers examined the results to determine who had the highest level of neural activity in brain regions associated with love.  Who won?  The woman in a new relationship?  The old married man?  The young boy?  Watch the video and see.  It's quite well done, and inspiring.  

    The Love Competition from Brent Hoff on Vimeo.



    New Website Launched!

    By Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.

     So, a few weeks ago, I discovered that our website had been infected by some kind of internet virus.  In Google searches, the top 3 key words affiliated with our site were "prescription", "mindfulness", and "Nasonex"!  As one who prefers meditation to medication, I knew that I had to do something.  But what?  I combed through the site and could not determine the cause of the problem (such is the fate of having a psychologist like myself as our IT department).  So, I decided it was time to create a whole new site.  Please have a look around and let us know what you think.  And, for those of you seeking affordable deals on allergy medication, I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.  :-)


    Commit 2 Sit: UM joins forces with Sharon Salzberg

    Submitted by Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.

    Starting 2 days ago, Drs. Jonathan Kaplan and Jenny Taitz began participating in a meditation challenge issued by Sharon Salzberg.  As part of her wonderful book, Real Happiness, a community of meditation practitioners has convened in order to practice together...virtually.  We've joined the group, and we're committed to meditating (and blogging) for 28 days...in a row!  You can read about our meditation experiences on Sharon's blog here:  UM & Real Happiness.  For folks in NYC, you might want to check out one of the many meditation centers in the city.  The "Reviews" section of this website provides details on the various centers, as experienced by one of our former interns.  See you on the cushion!


    The New New Year's Resolution

    By Jenny Taitz, Psy.D.

    Are you crawling into 2012 with a new juice fast or gym membership?

    Often, around New Years, people will themselves to start yet another restrictive diet or rigorous fitness trend. The concept of starting anew feels meaningful and hopeful. I cheer loud and smile big when my patients’ feel excited about new potential methods of achieving the goals they choose.

    When we set goals, we also need to accept both others and ourselves. Tara Parker-Pope recently wrote an illuminating article in the New York Times on the struggle people face in trying to lose weight (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/magazine/tara-parker-pope-fat-trap.html?_r=1). The research she describes explains compassionately weight loss is not just about willpower. Your body may resist weight loss despite your most valiant efforts. Ms. Parker-Pope courageously recounts her own battle against her biological predisposition and shares data on the ubiquity of weight loss resistance.

    Just to be clear, I am not recommending you return your not-yet worn Lululemon outfit and spend the money on Michelin dining! You will improve your health by improving your habits. The matter to resolve is how you go about the process of moving toward your ambitions.

    Do you judge yourself a failure if you don’t reach a certain weight or accomplish a particular objective? People often feel tempted to define success in all-or-nothing terms and similarly judge others according to certain assumptions. For instance, you may assume someone who struggles with obesity lacks willpower or someone who is thin is happy.

    For a moment, consider, if you do engage in judgments, are they useful in helping you achieve your goals or connecting with others?

    In the service of increasing peace with yourself, in addition to any goals you may set, you might consider committing to pursuing your resolutions with mindfulness.

    3 ways to befriend rather than battle yourself in 2012:

    1. Notice judgments. Do you wish the process were easy and dwell on how unfair it feels? Wishing things were easier actually makes life harder. If you find yourself engaging in judgmental thinking, noticing this process is the first step towards stopping.

    2. Focus on this moment. Instead of harping on what you did wrong yesterday or what you’re hoping for tomorrow, attend to what may be possible now. Reviewing in full detail what you ate yesterday won’t remove calories or curb your appetite.

    3. Appreciate now. There is more to notice than your battle. We can pay a lot of attention to the things that upset us or we can shift our perspective toward the reality we may feel grateful for.

    Adopting a mindful stance towards our bodies may feel foreign and difficult. It also may feel like a weight has been instantly lifted--- I don’t know any other diet program that can promise that!