Why not use your commute as your quiet time?

Train meditation and skipping the coffee are two pro tips for a healthier morning commute

The Hamilton Spectator 11 Aug 2018 MORGAN SMITH

Guided meditation on apps like Calm, or finding a piece of instrumental classical, jazz, world or new age music and taking deep breaths can help turn your commute into a meditative experience.

As August arrives, the summer commute into work becomes a sweaty endeavour marked by crowded bodies, the stench of city garbage and exacerbated FOMO (“fear of missing out”) from missing another perfect beach day.

But imagine a weekday morning when, instead of rushing into the office with a sweating iced coffee and pit stains to match, you were calm. Confident. Even looking forward to your workday.

Wellness experts think such a thing is possible, part of a movement that prizes self-awareness and making small, conscious steps toward a healthier, fulfilling life — like adjusting your morning commute routine.

Judy Manisco, a registered nutritionist and dietitian in Chicago, believes that slight meal adjustments could drastically improve commuters’ well-being before work. “The key is to wake up early enough where you’re not running around, stressed about getting to work on time, but pacing yourself and eating a healthy breakfast before work,” she says.

Manisco suggests a balance of protein and carbohydrates to keep you full and energized until lunch. Her favourite breakfast? “A protein shake made from organic soy milk, raw, unsalted walnuts (they’re high in nutrient-dense omega-3 fatty acids), a variety of seeds, oat bran and either a stalk of celery or a handful of spinach,” Manisco says. For sweetness, she recommends adding natural cocoa or a date.

If you skip the protein shake, Manisco recommends wholegrain toast, a handful of nuts or seeds, and a cup of fruit. She warns against coffee. “Caffeine will get your heart and adrenals pumping artificially, and thus could have you feeling unnecessarily anxious or depressed,” Manisco says.

Diet isn’t the only trick to incorporating wellness into your morning commute. Paying attention to posture and movement can also help.

Jason Kart, a practicing physical therapist for 10 years and the owner of Core Physical Therapy in Chicago, says lower back and neck pain are the most “common ailments” among his working patients. “When you sit for a while, you turn your postural muscles off and you start using passive structures like cartilage, which breaks down easier,” Kart says. “Humans are built to walk around and look for food, so when you’re sitting, you’re not activating those important spinal muscles, but instead causing a steady breakdown of muscle tissue.”

Kart takes Metra to work each morning and notices the same behaviour causing neck pain among commuters: “text neck.” “Text neck” occurs when you lean your head over your phone, straining your neck muscles and thus causing joint pain. To alleviate this, Kart recommends a simple fix: “If you’re standing on the ’L’ or Metra, the movement of the train helps you practice stability and balance and work your postural muscles,” he says.

And for car drivers who can’t stand during their commute? Consider the headrest. “Bad posture is so common among drivers … they should practice keeping their head lightly against the headrest and avoid a slouch position,” he says. “This will gradually alleviate back and neck pain while driving.” At work, Kart suggests periodically moving around to engage the postural muscles most commonly associated with neck and back pain.

After considering your stomach and your spine, think of your brain. One of the most popular sectors of wellness is mindfulness. Darrell Jones, general manager of Chill Chicago: Meditation and Massage and a meditation instructor, meditates on the train during his commute and recommends the practice to anyone who wants to feel “calmer and happier” entering their workspace.

Annoyed by the loud chatter or the loudspeaker on the train? “Incorporate those sounds and how they make you feel into your meditation,” Jones says. He recommends the guided meditation on apps like Calm, or finding a piece of instrumental classical, jazz, world or new age music and taking deep breaths while asking yourself questions such as: “Who do I want to be, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen today? Do I want to be a jerk, or a kind soul? Do I want to embody possibility, or show up exuding impossibility?

“An easy meditation game you can play is taking a deep breath, with your eyes closed, each time the train door opens, and exhaling when it closes,” Jones says.

The most important thing, according to Jones, is cultivating a calm, positive mindset before launching into a routine. “If we can prioritize our wellness in small ways, or create a mindset of possibility before reading a horrible piece of news or a frustrating work email … that could improve your whole day,” he says.


Discovering Self-compassion Through Mindfulness

Hamiltonians Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess teach an eight-week course focusing on how we can treat ourselves with kindness

LIVING 02:48 PM by Emma Reilly  The Hamilton Spectator


Clinical social worker Mary Linda Burgess (R) and psychotherapist Barbara Smith are the instructors of a mindfulness and self-compassion course, a research-based practice that encourages self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. – Gary Yokoyama , The Hamilton Spectator

Barbara Smith and Mary Linda Burgess want you to take care of yourself.

Smith, a psychotherapist, and Burgess, a social worker, aren’t talking about treating yourself to an afternoon latte or getting a pedicure (though they both agree that there’s nothing wrong with a little self-pampering).

For Smith and Burgess, this type of self-care goes much deeper.

“This isn’t ‘Go out and do something.’ This is, ‘Come in.’ Be with yourself. Ask yourself what you need,” said Burgess.

“We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world. This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic.”

Barbara Smith


“We eventually run out, if we don’t take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren’t taught in other programs.”

Mary Linda Burgess

Social worker

Smith and Burgess are the founders of Mindful Self-Compassion Hamilton, an eight-week program that uses mindfulness — the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment — as a tool for practising self-compassion.

“We in the Western world have this really severe inner critic that beats us up all the time, which is not true in the rest of the world,” said Smith. “This is what this course is really designed to address: this inner critic.”

Their course, which runs for eight, three-hour sessions, is a blend of meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion, and “homework” — exercises for participants to practice at home.

The class focuses on developing the three key components of self-compassion: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. Our internal critic, say Smith and Burgess, leads us to self-judgment, isolation, and either overidentification or avoidance of negative emotions.

“What happens when we’re angry, or sad? We try to push it away. So whatever we resist, persists,” said Smith. “So the idea here is not to push it away, but to stay with it, to allow it, to be with it. And paradoxically, it tends to soften, and it’s OK, once we’re facing it.”

“We’re not the Energizer Bunny. We don’t go off screen and get a new battery put in, and come right back,” said Burgess. “We eventually run out, if we don’t take good care. Self-compassion offers layers of self-care that aren’t taught in other programs.”

The benefits are many, say Smith and Burgess. They point out that there are over 1,400 articles on self-compassion in the psychological literature, and that research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with fewer negative states like depression, anxiety, stress, shame, and negative body image. At the same time, it’s strongly linked to more positive states like happiness, life satisfaction and optimism.

Smith and Burgess — who met when they were both working on the Hamilton Family Health Team — run roughly three courses every year, each of which is different depending on the makeup of the class. The people who attend are from all walks of life: different age ranges, different professions, and different backgrounds. The course isn’t meant to be a substitute for therapy, though it can help to support those who are in counselling.

The course follows a curriculum written by Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s department of educational psychology, and Chris Germer, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. Both Smith and Burgess have gone through training in order to be certified to teach the course.

Those who have taken the course say self-compassion has helped them to feel more grounded, calmer, and more able to cope with difficult situations.

“It meets a need for folks that traditional programs — for example, self-esteem programs — doesn’t address. Self-compassion is what the world is lacking. It meets that need on a deeper level,” said Burgess.


905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec


905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec

Mindfulness and meditation need to be part of Canada’s mental-health strategy


Reva Seth is a bestselling author and the founder of The Optima Living Lab, an initiative making the case for public investment in the personal infrastructure of individuals.

Pro athletes, celebrities, Fortune 100 CEOs and Silicon Valley billionaires have rhapsodized on how meditation and mindfulness are the most effective tools for health, personal performance and well-being since, well, exercise. Like yoga and running before it, mindfulness tools and meditation programs are now big business – with popular apps like Headspace, the Mindfulness App and Buddhify receiving tens of millions of downloads.

Mindfulness and meditation are simply about regularly exercising the ability to be, deliberately and calmly, fully in the moment. This requires an individual to still his or her mind, control emotions and breathe regularly and deeply. It’s a simple habit that produces incredible (data-based) results – which is why leading global companies such as Google, Target and General Mills are incorporating it into their organizations.

Research shows regular practice reduces both physical and mental-health costs and improves emotional quotient (essential for social cohesion and success in a knowledge economy) and resilience to stress, as well as employee focus, concentration and productivity.

Researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., found that meditation and mindfulness reduce anxiety, depression and pain.

Similarly, a study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that meditation and mindfulness lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Scientists at the University of Oregon found that meditation techniques actually result in physical brain changes that protect against mental illness by increasing the signalling connection in the brain and the density of protective tissue.

From a public-health perspective, Canada should be experimenting and implementing what research suggests is a cost-effective, non-invasive means of helping to address our national mental-health crisis.

Mental illness and addiction affects one in five Canadians in their lifetime. Canada is also the second highest per capita consumer of opioids in the world – and, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, these numbers are rising.

Data show that Canada’s youth are also suffering from rising levels of anxiety, stress, depression and suicide. A large-scale 2016 study tracking Ontario students for the past 20 years found that one-third had moderate to severe symptoms of psychological distress – an increase from two years earlier.

The economic costs of these numbers are significant. Mental illness broadly costs the Canadian economy more than $50-billion (from health care, social services and income support) and Canadian businesses lose $6-billion annually as a result of lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover.

Even more staggering is the ripple effect that our national mental-health crisis is having on our families, workplaces and communities. Statistics Canada in 2012 found that approximately 11 million Canadians had a family member with a mental-health or addiction problem. More than one-third reported that their own lives had been directly and adversely affected by their family members’ mental issues.

The traditional frame of reactive acute care is no longer sufficient or optimal.

It’s time for public-health officials, policy makers and the public to get behind a commitment to scaling up access to meditation and mindfulness programs. These practices shouldn’t remain the stronghold of the affluent who have the time and resources to invest in cultivating stronger mental wellness. Information and opportunities to practice meditation should be available to all Canadians – with schools, hospitals, workplaces and even public transport or the CBC as possible points of delivery.

Successful models that could be scaled up are already operating across the country, and the first step should be to survey these existing success stories for templates that could be nimbly offered more widely. For instance, in the Toronto District School Board, the Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute introduced lessons in mindfulness with six workshops over two months. Similarly, the Vancouver School Board offers teachers mindfulness training through the MindUp program.

This is not a replacement for better medical care, improved social services or pharmaceutical intervention – it’s a supplement or augmentation to existing treatments and a pro-active means of strengthening the ability of more individuals to personally invest effectively in their mental and emotional wellness.

A national strategy and commitment to promoting mindfulness and meditation would also positively nudge forward our collective ability to better navigate other social and health priorities. For instance, meditation has been shown to alleviate loneliness among seniors, reduce stress among caregivers and help promote focus and reduce anxiety among youth.

Much like ParticipAction was launched by the Canadian government to promote healthy living and physical fitness (and to battle exorbitant health-care costs), the next frontier is to do the same with our country’s mental well-being by publicly scaling up education, understanding and access to meditation and mindfulness.

Popular course at Yale in Finding Authentic Happiness through positive psychology and neuroscience based mindfulness practices: a CBC episode of the Current

1/4 of student (1200/3600 undergraduate students have taken a  new course at Yale University

This is a episode of the CBC’s the current from Feb 20 2018

Click on the URL below to listen on your computer or smart phone


Start listening at 22:31


Techno-zombies, listen up

Techno-zombies, listen up

Put your device down. Lee Elliott needs to give you a piece of his mindfulness

What is the role of mindfulness in the modern age?

Going for a walk anywhere these days is a practice in dodging distracted people. Headsets in and eyes lowered, people are walking about without paying any attention to what is going on around them. It is amusing to watch two techno-zombies bump into each other, upset with being interrupted from their screen. I have seen two people with their heads down trying to avoid each other, fail by bumping into each other, and, still with their eyes glued to their devices, both try to go the same direction and collide again.

The distraction doesn’t just affect in a harmless, comical way either. Where I live in Ontario, the provincial police reported in 2016 that three of the previous four years set records for the number of pedestrian fatalities. It is possible that a combination of distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians have led to this increase.

My grandmother used to call the television the “idiot box,” but I think we may have a new contender for that moniker. People are so focused on the tiny screen in front of them that they do not take the time to look around, pay attention to their surroundings or enjoy the moment they are in.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment, where you are and what you are doing. It is a chance to look at the people, the scenery, the world around you. When you are with friends, be with them. Not paying attention to the world around you has consequences. Not only for you but for others as well.

In Toronto, my friend watched as a mother, with her face immersed in her device, rushed off the subway train and left her toddler behind. Whatever was on the phone was more important than her child. My friend saw what happened and got off at the next stop with the little guy and brought him to the subway agent. The agent told him this is not the first time she had seen this happen!

How often have you been at a dinner where the people you are eating with are on their screens instead of conversing and connecting with the others at the table? Is it more important to brag about the fun time you are having as opposed to actually having a fun time? Do we really need a play-by-play of time you are spending with others while we are not there?

All the electronic devices in our lives allow us to respond from anywhere at any time, yet we use them to respond all the time. Far from making things more convenient, they have taken away the easy aspects and replaced them with stress.

When will we learn that multitasking really isn’t – multitasking really means doing several things poorly instead of one thing really well. Many mistakenly believe they can multitask effectively, but study after study has shown that the human brain is simply not able to juggle so many balls at once. I’ve been in far too many meetings where one or several people are typing away on their computer or fiddling on their device and they grind the meeting to a halt when asked a question.

“Sorry, can you repeat that?” they say when what they should admit is: “Sorry, I wasn’t paying any attention to what you were talking about because I was distracted with something I think is more important than all of you, so please indulge me and repeat everything you have been saying again while I waste even more time.”

And how often do you hear, “I need to respond to this right now”; “What did he post today?” or “Just let me read this one thing.” The device seems to demand your time at this instant. But does it really need to be answered right away?

This need for instant gratification and connection has even manifested into a psychological phenomenon. “Phantom vibration syndrome” has been much studied by researchers with data published in medical journals such as the BMJ. Phantom vibration syndrome is the feeling that your device is vibrating in your pocket even when it isn’t there.

But once you learn to leave the device alone or only check it at certain times, you will naturally be more present and relaxed. The best part of mindfulness practice is the peace of mind it brings.

Over the past several months, I have stopped checking my phone all the time. I have put the electronics away and spent time with people. I have become more in the moment. It can’t be coincidental that my stress level has decreased and my happiness has increased.

When I first started my mindful practice, I thought it was going to be some jive hippie stuff or some pseudo-religious ceremony, but it really wasn’t either of those things. Taking some time each day to be in the moment was actually more freeing than I had expected.

We all have busy lives juggling work, family, friends, health, hobbies and a myriad of other tasks. So how can you find time to be mindful? Put the phone down. Focus on your breath for five to 10 minutes just as you wake up or go to sleep. Simply be part of the world around you.

You don’t have to stop and smell the roses, but you can at least notice that they are there.

Globe and Mail Wednesday Oct 25 2017

Lee Elliott lives in Bolton, Ont.

Mindfulness is suddenly in our apps, classrooms, gyms and offices. Does it work?

Why has the concept of mindfulness settled so firmly in the spotlight? One author points to the science. The application of mindfulness in a clinical context has given rise to studies and research that back up its positive benefits.

MIAMI — You don’t have to be particularly mindful to notice that these days that you can’t escape mindfulness.

It’s no longer tucked away in your local yoga studio. It’s in public spaces. It’s in books and online videos, on apps you can download on iTunes. Your kids start their school days with mindful exercises — so do some of their teachers — and fitness instructors incorporate it into their classes. It’s a popular subject at law conferences around the country. If lawyers can benefit by being mindful, can’t we all?

So why has the concept settled so firmly into the spotlight?

“If you were to point to one thing that explains the boom in interest in mindfulness, it’s science,” says Rohan Gunatillake, creator of the buddhify app and author of the book “Modern Mindfulness: How to Be More Relaxed, Focused and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-On World.”

“In the last couple of decades, we have had the world of health care get interested in using mindfulness to help people with a range of issues such as stress, anxiety and chronic pain. And when you’re looking to use something like mindfulness in a clinical context, in treatment or therapy, you need the evidence and science to back it up.”

Research has made a compelling case for mindfulness. The National Institutes of Health reports that meditation can ease anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, combat insomnia and offer relief to cancer and dementia patients. A 2015 Harvard study reported that participants in an eight-week mind-body relaxation program used 43 per cent fewer medical services than they had the year before.

“We know the practice of mindfulness is associated with functional and structural changes to the regions of the brain that are connected to focus and concentration and regulation of emotion,” says Scott Rogers, founder and director of the Mindfulness and Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law. “That’s pretty startling. The structure of your brain changes. When I was in college, that was not recognized as even possible.”

Co-founder of UMindfulness, the university’s interdisciplinary collaboration that marries research to training, Rogers explains that mindfulness and meditation are two different things, particularly in his law courses: He teaches mindfulness as a form of meditative practice. He leads workshops for the public — one recently at the Lowe Art Museum on the UM campus — and was part of a panel on mindfulness at the Southern District of Florida Bench and Bar Conference this month at the Diplomat Hotel, discussing its implications with more than 700 attorneys and judges.

In his courses, he teaches law students about “the nature of the mind and its tendency to wander and the consequence of a wandering mind. Learning how to marshal the extraordinary resources of our attention can be a game-changer,” Rogers says. “Mindfulness isn’t about stopping the mind from wandering or even calming down. It’s being more aware, and that is the important fork in the road that can lead one to a steadier state physically, emotionally and mentally.”

Rogers says a basic practice his students learn is a simple practice used by anyone who has ever tried to meditate: Concentrate on an object, and when your mind wanders bring your attention back to the object (Rogers calls this “exercising the muscle of attention”). Students then apply that concept to talking to a witness on the stand or answering a judge’s question. The idea is that an attentive attorney understands his or her own reactions more fully and thus is able to communicate more effectively in court.

But mindfulness training can start far earlier than law school. The nonprofit group Mindful Kids Miami aims to bring mindfulness practice to Miami-Dade students K-12. The organization offers two-part training sessions for teachers: The first program focuses on the teachers themselves, while the second offers methods of implementing mindfulness into the classroom.

Marlem Diaz-Brown, who teaches Grade 4 at Sunset Elementary, completed both programs and has incorporated mindful activities into her class. Her students start their days with concentrating on breathing, short body scans to focus their attention and a clapping game in which the students sit in a circle and send out positive wishes to the world and their community.

The result? Students who weren’t so anxious at test time.

“With kids, you break it down. You can’t do a one-hour meditation to start the school day, but you can start with 10 minutes,” Diaz-Brown says. “I was gung ho about making sure we took 10 minutes a day in my class, whether or not I finished the lesson plans. We get caught up in saying ‘I have to finish this page.’ But I took a step back and decided I was going to carry this out through the year. The kids did phenomenal at test time. It teaches them to take a moment when they’re anxious.”

Such positive results are why Miami fitness instructor and health coach Mireya Pinzon, who teaches Pilates and other classes at Equinox and L.A. Fitness, ends her classes with a moment of meditation, sometimes dabbing a touch of lavender oil on the wrists of those in her class.

“It’s important to take a few minutes to relax and think about the work we do,” she says. “We scan the body, feel the energy, the blood, the adrenalin, the heart pumping. When we’re relaxed we catch all the information on the work we just did.”

Roberto Koltun,Miami Herald

How to be more mindful

Scott Rogers, founder and director of the Mindfulness and Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law, has these tips for incorporating mindfulness into your life:

  • Read a good book on the subject. Rogers recommends “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn or “Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzberg.
  • Practice with a guided recording online or via an app. “That way, you can take what you’ve read and bring it to life,” Rogers says.
  • Attend a training session. “There are more and more trainings one can attend for hours or for a whole weekend, so you can take it to a deeper level of understanding and practice.”
  • Bring mindfulness into your day. “Don’t see it as something reserved for a quiet room in the early morning.”