BY LINDA EGENES

nineanniversariesFor a writer, finding your personal voice is one of the most important parts of mastering the craft. It turns out that this is also important for visual artists such as Mindy Weisel.

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Mindy Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

Yet despite her success, Mindy says she struggled emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say. She feels this struggle has its roots in her unusual childhood.

Born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, she was one of the first children born to holocaust survivors after the war.

“Growing up as the only daughter of holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life,” she says.

Digging Into Personal Experiences

Mindy WeiselMindy did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school in New York City, where the family moved, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Mindy continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study—I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tatooed on his arm. Weisel says, “the paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Mindy’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Working in the Moment

Mindy has noticed that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique has made it easier for her to be in the moment. “It seems to me that the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating, I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

Another dramatic shift for Mindy Weisel is that she is now using glass as a medium. Her colorful, light-filled glass wall paintings are a feast to the eyes.

“This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Mindy took classes at Pilcher Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words in a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Mindy says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Mindy finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she recently completed her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

BY LINDA EGENES

My dad holding me at 6 months old

Growing up, I was taught that creativity was a highly prized commodity. My father was a product engineer for International Harvester, designing plows and farm equipment, and earned 22 patents. When he retired from that, he and his brother designed a nifty cable-laying machine that laid wires in the ground while leaving behind only a tiny slit—and is still popular 40 years later. His most amazing creative achievement, though, was a passive-solar home that he designed in 1959 and built out of all-natural materials with his own hands. Our family dearly loved the magical and beautiful home he built for us.

My dad taught us that anyone can be creative. You didn’t have to be a famous scientist like Madame Curie or a famous dancer like Isadora Duncan to be highly creative in your everyday life, he said. He pointed out that the world is filled with people who create amazing things every day.

Yet even as a child it was clear to me that some people come by the creative gene more easily than others. So I was interested to read a new study on creativity by Fred Travis, Ph.D., and Yvonne Lagrosen, Ph.D., published recently in Creativity Research Journal. The researchers found that brain integration is a common feature among highly creative people.

“It’s a simple fact that some people stand out as creative, and we’re trying to tease out why,” Dr. Travis says. “We hypothesized that something must be different about the way their brains work, and that’s what we’re finding.”

Dr. Travis has developed a measure that he calls “brain integration.” He analyzes EEG patterns to assess brain wave coherence (connectedness) in the frontal brain. He also assessed alpha power, a measure of inner directedness of attention, and the brain’s preparation response, which measures how efficiently the brain responds to a stimulus.

In this study, Dr. Travis and Dr. Lagrosen studied 21 Swedish product engineers—who, like my dad, were designing new products as part of their jobs. The researchers found that those with the highest brain integration scored the highest in creativity as measured by standardized Torrance measures — as well as other characteristics of highly creative people such as speed of processing information, speed of executive decision-making and a factor called “Sense-of-Coherence,” which means a sense of being in control of one’s situation.

In previous studies in collaboration with Dr. Harald Harang, Dr. Travis had found greater brain integration in world-class athletes, top managers and professional musicians. In other words, he is finding that brain integration may be the underlying factor that leads to success in many different areas.

Dr. Travis says, “While there’s a common notion that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for high achievement, some people put in long hours and do not excel. This new research and previous studies suggest that brain integration may be the inner factor that leads to outer success.”

So the next question is—can a person develop greater brain integration, and thus increase their creativity and ability to succeed?

As Dr. Travis points out, the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique has been found to increase levels of brain integration and to increase creativity in many randomized controlled, peer-reviewed studies.

There are other ways that the TM technique heightens mental abilities. For instance, it helps relieve the mental fatigue that can stand in the way of creativity. For instance, when women are tired or stressed, they can’t be as clear, present or creative as they would like to be.

I found my own creativity soaring when I started to practice TM at age 19. Gone was the writer’s block, the struggle with realizing my inner vision on paper. And as I was able to express my true self in my writing, I felt happier and more self-confident in other areas of life as well.

It is my belief that creativity is an essential part of being a woman—after all, we have the ability to create the miracle of human life. So a practice that allows us to come in contact with our inner source of creativity, happiness, and power is something that can benefit every woman.

So if you want to give your creativity a boost, consider learning the Transcendental Meditation technique and seeing the effect of regular transcending on inner happiness and outer success.

I think that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, says it so well: “But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

Here’s a video by my friend Cheryl Fusco Johnson where I talk about my creative process. Check out other videos of writers talking about their writing on Cheryl Fusco Johnson’s YouTube channel. 

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

No More Teacher Burnout
August 22, 2014

BY LINDA EGENES

No more teacher burnoutRecently I’ve been wishing I could thank my favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Hartman, for inspiring me to become a writer. A white-haired, dignified woman with tons of energy and enthusiasm, she knew precisely how to cultivate creativity in her students and keep them orderly and focused at the same time. She brought a near-religious zeal to her teaching of seventh grade language arts, permanently embedding in my mind the rules of grammar that I refer to every day as a writer. And I can still remember the laughter as we read our creative writing aloud to each other each week in her class, fueling my love of sharing stories.

Alas, the Mrs. Hartmans of the world are becoming hard to find. Not because there aren’t dedicated and talented teachers—there are plenty of those—but because few teachers are able to stay in the profession long enough to become seasoned veterans. Half of new teachers bow out after just five years on the job, says the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. This is especially a problem in urban schools, where an even higher turnover rate results in a higher percentage of under-qualified teachers. And the yearly cost to constantly replace teachers nationwide is a staggering $5.8 billion.

While teachers are paid less than people in comparable professions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it’s not the low pay, but teacher burnout that is causing teachers to flee. And teacher burnout is on the rise.

And what is the cause of burnout? Poor working conditions, threat of layoffs, long hours, lack of support from administrators, isolation, the pressures created by the emphasis on standardized tests, fear of safety in an increasingly violent school environment, and the placement of new teachers in the most distressed schools are a few of the issues cited.It’s not just America’s teachers who are experiencing burnout from stressful classroom conditions. A recent survey conducted by Monash University in Victoria, Australia, showed that 27% of new teachers were already suffering from emotional exhaustion akin to burnout and PTSD.

In a profession dominated by women, who according to research are more vulnerable to stress than men, the high stress levels can contribute to depression, anxiety, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

While educational reform could take years, something needs to be done now to end teacher burnout. Some teachers are reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. A recent research study published in the Permanente Journal conducted at the Bennington School in Vermont, a special in-residence school for students with behavioral problems, found that teachers’ perceived levels of stress were significantly lowered after learning to meditate.

“The results of this randomized controlled trial are very striking and demonstrate the utility of introducing a stress reduction program for teachers and other public and private employees,” says Dr. Charles Elder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and a Senior Physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

“The take-home message is that teachers can reduce stress and emotional exhaustion associated with burnout through the practice of Transcendental Meditation,” said Sanford Nidich, Ed.D., the study’s principal investigator who is also a professor of education and a research psychologist at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

“Even though the study was conducted over several months, the participants informally reported feeling less stressed and more energetic within a few days,” said Nidich.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 40 men and women to participate in either the TM program or serve as “waitlist” controls and eventually learn TM. At the end of the four-month study, those on the waitlist also learned TM.

In the TM group, the strongest effect was found on a measurement of stress, called the “perceived stress scale,” with an effect size of 0.94 (showing a large effect of the TM program on stress).

“The four-month study found significant and clinically important decreases in perceived stress, emotional exhaustion associated with teacher burnout, and depressive symptoms in those practicing the TM program compared to a wait-list control group,” says Dr. Eider.

And teacher burnout is not the only benefit of practicing meditation. Recent published studies have shown a positive impact of the Transcendental Meditation technique on student graduation rates, academic achievement, and psychological distress.

When students practice Transcendental Meditation in schools, it has a positive effect on teachers as well. Ugandan geography teacher Nadunga Rebecca, who teaches in a girls school in Uganda where all the students practice TM, says, “In the school where I used to be, the students used to give me a hard time and I was thinking of getting another occupation. But now I will never leave teaching.”

View a video about one teacher’s experience of Transcendental Meditation here.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Does Positive Thinking WorkMy mom and I have a nightly ritual. Before I fall asleep I call her from Iowa, where I live, and chat with her in California, where she lives in an assisted living near my sister and her family.

Because of the different time zones, and because she goes to bed early these days, we are both saying our goodnights to each other at the same moment.

I ask about her day, and she asks how my husband, Tom, and I are doing. She loves Tom. “He’s such a nice young man,” she says. “And you are so happy together.

”Sometimes she gives me advice. “Always be nice to each other. Don’t be angry. Try to stay positive,” she counsels.

“You’re really positive, Mom,” I say. “You’re my hero, because you’re choosing to be happy every single day.”And it’s true. Here is a woman who has lost everything — her home, her husband, her short-term memory and her ability to walk and use her right arm due to strokes — yet every day she is choosing to look at the positives. She doesn’t just like it at her assisted living facility, she loves it there. (“Everyone here is so nice.”)

She often talks about my father and how much she misses him, but then she stops and says, “but I can’t dwell on it. I have to go on. Sometimes I look in the mirror and laugh. Even just putting your mouth in a smile makes you feel better. And people wonder—why is she laughing?”

And then she laughs.

What she said is true. There is research that the act of smiling itself can make you feel happier. Russian researchers are also discovering that the sound of positive words has a healing effect on the body, and can even heal the DNA.

In the book, My Stroke of Insight by the Harvard-trained brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., the author talks from her own experience about the emotional and neurological effects of having a major stroke. She relates that one of the positive effects of her stroke was losing memories of stress and patterns of negativity. When she started to regain her memory, these patterns started coming back. So she worked hard to create new patterns. “The brain is like a muscle, she explained, actually becoming larger in the areas that are used more. The more you make a habit of reaching for the positive thought, the more your brain will automatically go there.

Yet even though there is a huge self-help industry based on this concept—that thinking positively is important for our relationships and our mental, physical and emotional health—we also know that in times of pressure or stress, all the good intentions and positive thinking can fly out the window.

We also know that straining to think positively when you don’t feel it inside can create a disconnect. Probably we’ve all met people who are trying so hard to be positive, but somehow it doesn’t match who they really are.

The strain of trying to be someone you aren’t can actually cause stress to your own body and create discord in the environment. I think this is especially true for women — many of us try too hard to harmonize and be nice and sometimes end up feeling resentful, used, and exhausted. And then there are people like the Meryl Streep character in The Devil Wears Prada — someone who plasters a smile on her face even while acting maliciously can be downright scary.

So is there a way to naturally feel more positive, to actually change your physiology so you lose the stresses and strains that cloud a sunny outlook in the first place? (And we’re talking about a way that doesn’t involve a major stroke here.)

Because I feel more negative when I’m stressed and tired, doing Transcendental Meditation twice a day — which gives me deep rest and eliminates my stress and fatigue — naturally allows me to be more clear and positive in all my relationships. When you are dissolving stress in your meditations every day, you find your mind naturally thinking more positive thoughts about others, about yourself, about the future.

At the same time, I do feel my mom is right too — most of us can benefit from leaning toward the positive in our lives.

Maharishi talks about this phenomenon in the Science of Being and Art of Living. He writes,“Therefore we must so cultivate our minds that we think and act naturally in a manner which is elevating and beneficial. In this way we will benefit ourselves and others.”

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to live. And thanks to Maharishi for this beautiful technique that allows me to dissolve stress in my meditations instead of taking out my frustrations on the people I love.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

PF-baby-2_1376795cThere are many times in a woman’s life when she needs extra support, but seldom as urgently as when she is pregnant and during the first year after giving birth. In many traditional cultures, the vulnerability of a mother is well known. The pregnant mother is fussed over and pampered, her cravings are satisfied and the extended family surrounds her with love and support.

In the traditional healthcare system of India, and in many homes in modern India today, by the time the mother gives birth, she has been relieved of her work and household responsibilities by her family members.

After giving birth, she is given a massage on a daily basis, fed special foods and herbs to help her recover her strength and mental balance, and surrounded with love and support the first six weeks so she can establish a strong bond with her baby—and recover her strength and mental and physical balance.

Our modern American mother tends to face a different world. Increasingly, mothers work until the last month of pregnancy, and when they leave the hospital a day after giving birth, they have little support, facing the challenge of feeling mentally and physically exhausted yet also responsible for the needs of a newborn. And with over 50 percent of birth mothers now also single mothers, the challenges are even greater without a partner to help.

No wonder maternal mental illness is on the rise. According to the two-part series in the NY Times, “A Mother’s Mind,” the range and duration of maternal mental illness is more extensive than previously thought, causing heart-breaking mood swings in some mothers that directly impacts the child’s safety and development.

Research now shows that postpartum depression can start earlier (during pregnancy) or later (after the baby is 4 months old—any time during the first year). It can be associated with a wide range of mental disorders, including anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, bi-polar disorder, and intrusive thoughts of doing harm to the baby.

The causes are complex. Some women are genetically wired to react more to the dramatic hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, when hormonal activity increases by more than 100 times and then plummets to zero after giving birth, a phenomenon that Dr. Margaret Spinelli, the director of the Women’s Program in Columbia University’s psychiatric department calls “A roller-coaster ride that disrupts brain chemistry.”

Other women succumb to the stresses of financial insecurity, family dysfunction, exhaustion from childbirth and parenting itself, causing scientists to refer to maternal mental illness as “a complex interplay of genes, stress and hormones.”

While maternal mental illness is not new—reports exist in the literature since the time of Hippocrates—the added stress and isolation of the modern mother can’t be helping.

Yet there are mothers who are finding needed rest and stress relief by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. “Particularly in the postpartum period, the woman’s first act of being a mother—and all subsequent acts—will be to give,” says Rebecca Douglas, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician. “As mothers we can only give from what we have. And if what we have is exhaustion, then we’ll have less of a basis from which to give. If, on the other hand, we have a methodology to rest and rejuvenate and give rest to ourselves, then we’ll have that much more to give.”

Available at http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/c12.html.

Available at http://www.mumpress.com/health-maharishi-vedic-approach-to-health/c12.html.

My co-authors Dr. Kumuda Reddy, M.D., Margaret Mullins, MSN and nurse practitioner, and I wrote in the book For a Blissful Baby, which describes natural ways to help mothers regain their mental and physical balance after childbirth, “Practicing the Transcendental Meditation program is the most important recommendation to help both husband and wife reduce mental, emotional and physical stress. This simple technique helps develop the healthiest and happiest state of mind and emotions.”

If the mother is practicing the TM technique, she has an opportunity to recover much more quickly from the stress of childbirth. Research on TM also reports faster recovery from depression, anxiety, emotional numbness and insomnia after stressful experiences.

“People who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique experience less depression, because they are able to gain deep rest (both during meditation and at night) and release stress,” says Dr. Reddy. “Many of my patients report that the deep rest experienced during the TM technique helps them recover more quickly from the extreme fatigue after giving birth, and replaces it with more bliss and balance.”

Somehow as a society we need to think of how we can give more support to new mothers. In reading the 504 comments that readers posted online for the NY Times two-part Mother’s Mind series, I was struck by how many mothers cited social isolation as a major cause of maternal depression. As one mother wrote, “It is so, so important for people to check in on new moms, to let them talk about their feelings, to not judge them and to help them with cooking, cleaning, and with the babies. That help will never be forgotten.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, July 28, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2668When I was growing up, I distinctly saw two different approaches to life.

One: you work hard to get the job, the car, the house—and then once you have all those things, you’ll not only be satisfied and happy but you’ll have time to pursue the interests, family life and social life that you envision will actually make you happy.

Two: Start by pursuing your passions, even if they don’t seem to make much money, and on the basis of that happiness, satisfaction and success will come.

My older brother followed the first path and I followed the second. Perhaps it was a generational thing—he felt that happiness came from having the right stuff even if you had to work hard at a high-paying job you didn’t like in order to get it. I felt that happiness came from having the freedom to do what you loved in life, even if it didn’t pay much.

And then I learned that you could take the idea of basing your decisions on happiness a step further.

Three: “Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, wrote that in his book the Science of Being and Art of Living in 1963, but I didn’t read it until 1972, the year I learned to meditate as a sophomore in college.

Whoa, now that blew my socks off. This was an entirely new idea to me and to most people I knew.

In the Science of Being, Maharishi’s main message was “first meditate and then act.” He explained that the field of true happiness— absolute bliss consciousness ( sat chit ānanda in Sanskrit) — is inside of us. And it can be easily accessed by contacting that transcendental field of pure bliss during the Transcendental Meditation technique.

And when you experience more inner bliss, energy and peace during meditation, you naturally find yourself feeling more happy, dynamic and peaceful outside of meditation, in your daily life.

Maharishi also pointed out that just as a forest can only be green if the individual trees are green, our world will be peaceful only when the individuals within it are experiencing inner peace. Meditation not only helps us fulfill our individual aspirations to be more happy, successful and healthy — it also helps us to create a more healthy society and world.

This made sense to me when I read it, since I was already meditating 20 minutes twice a day, and I was already finding that life was somehow easier, that I didn’t have to study as hard, that frustration was less, that I felt more pure contentment and peace inside. I was able to function better as a friend, a daughter, and a student teacher.

In our society, where achievement and hard work are so highly valued, it’s sometimes hard to explain that you are not being selfish by taking time twice a day to meditate. Moms, especially, have a hard time putting their own happiness, their own “me time” at the top of a list of priorities.

Yet if a mother can keep her own emotional balance by meditating twice a day, she is going to be in a much better position to radiate love to her family than if she feels tired, angry, and resentful due to the many responsibilities of her life.

Recently I was intrigued to read a NY Times Opinionator blog by Daniel M. Haybron, philosophy professor at St. Louis University and author of Happiness: A Very Short Introduction that summed up the research on happiness, and how we, as a society, view happiness. It seemed to parallel the changes in my personal views.

Haybron traces his own responses to three evolving definitions of happiness:

  1. Happiness = life satisfaction. This has been the prevalent definition of happiness for the past 30 years, and is the definition behind much of the research on happiness. This is more of a self-reflective review of whether your life is turning out the way you want it to, Haybron explains. Yet, Haybron points out, this has little to do with our day-to-day experience of happiness, which is more about feelings.
  2. Happiness = feeling good. Also popular with researchers, this correlates happiness with pleasure, and unhappiness with pain or suffering. In the view of philosophers such as Epicurus and John Stuart Mill, this is “hedonism” about happiness. It defines happiness as the superficial pursuit of pleasure, which also falls short, Haybron believes.
  3. Happiness = a state of emotional well-being. This is a more complex understanding of happiness as the opposite of anxiety or depression, which Haybron describes as “someone in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.” Happiness as a state of being was not even discussed as a definition of happiness until 20 years ago, and still is not widely embraced by researchers.

And then, to my delight, Haybron went on to say that he found even this more expanded view of happiness to be incomplete. “Our very language is deficient, and so we sometimes reach for other expressions that better convey the depth and richness of happiness: happiness as a matter of the psyche, spirit or soul,” he wrote.

And this is really the crux of the matter. Happiness is not a frivolous, superficial pursuit — it is embedded in our nature as human beings. The impulse to seek happiness and fulfillment is the basic impulse of life, which is, as Haybron wrote, “why there is a long history of philosophical thought that conceives of humans flourishing in terms of the fulfillment of the self.”

Haybron goes on to write, “Human well-being, on this sort of view, means living in accordance with your nature, with who you are. On this way of thinking, we might regard happiness as a central part of self-fulfillment.”

So beautifully expressed. So wonderful to hear a modern philosopher talking about the pursuit of happiness as a spiritual need that is essential to life.

Taking time to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day is not a superficial pursuit. By directly contacting the field of pure happiness through the TM technique, we infuse happiness into our actions and environment. Through regular practice, stress and strain falls away, and our true nature—happiness—becomes our natural state of mind. Then every action we take, every interaction with our friends, family and co-workers, spontaneously becomes a wave of joy, without us having to try to be happy.

As Maharishi wrote in the Science of Being, “The only way to make the entire field of action joyful is to fill the mind with joy. This can only be accomplished through the experience of Being.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Why doctors need to talk to women about how Transcendental Meditation can help with stressAs women take on more responsibility in the workplace while continuing as the primary caregiver for their children and in many cases, their aging parents as well, stress levels in women are on the rise. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), almost half of all women (49 percent) surveyed said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to four in 10 (39 percent) men.

And even though stress is linked with chronic disease, most Americans feel that healthcare providers are not taking enough time to address stress issues during office visits. According to the 2012 APA survey “Stress in America: Missing the Healthcare Connection,” 32 percent of the 2020 Americans surveyed felt that it was extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management. Yet 53 percent said that these conversations never happened.

There are exceptions, of course. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., who is the author of Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Wisdom After Forty and has a private practice in women’s integrative and holistic medicine in Fairfield, IA, routinely discusses stress management with her patients. “When women go home from work at the end of the day, they face another set of responsibilities and stressors at home,” she says. “At times the stress can be overwhelming, and that can result in fatigue, chronic health problems, and burnout. And many of these stressors are not going away tomorrow. They’re not within your control, and the best that you can do is learn how to deal with them more effectively.”

Dr. Lonsdorf recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique to alleviate stress, because the research is solid and she has seen it work with her patients. “The TM technique offers something unique in stress management programs. It actually changes the way your nervous system processes stress. As shown in scientific research, with just four months of practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, baseline cortisol levels, meaning the amount of cortisol in the blood day-by-day, drops significantly, by one-third when compared to a control group that simply was instructed about health education or how to manage stress better.”
manage stress better.”

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and NIH researcher who discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), saw striking results in several patients in his psychiatry practice and in family members who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique, as well as in his own personal experience. As someone who has witnessed “the mental and spiritual anguish of many hundreds of people,” he couldn’t keep quiet about a technique with so much promise to ease suffering and wrote the book Transcendence to tell people about this natural way to lessen stress without drugs or harmful side-effects.

Rosenthal and his son Josh, also a psychiatric researcher, were so impressed with the effect that the TM technique had on themselves, and the 350 research studies on TM’s health benefits—conducted at the National Institutes of Health and other major research institutes and published in major peer-reviewed journals—that they collaborated on a research study of the effect of TM on veterans with PTSD.

The study showed that veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after just eight weeks of practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique, according to a pilot study published this month in Military Medicine.

In his book Dr. Rosenthal writes, “The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder. These people feel an internal sense of their alarm bells ringing even though there is no genuine stress. They’re constantly feeling they are under some emergency. This drains their emotional and physical resources.”

Fortunately for women who suffer from extreme stress and anxiety, a 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review of multiple randomized controlled research studies, considered the gold standard of research) showed that TM had a significant effect in reducing anxiety. In fact, the greater the starting level of anxiety in the test subjects, the greater the reduction with meditation. This 2013 meta-analysis by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., and Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., analyzed 16 randomized controlled studies among 1295 participants and was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

“Transcendental Meditation is completely the opposite of trauma,” says veteran Tara Wise, director of the National Women Veterans Association of America (NWVAA). “As soon as I started, something shifted. I didn’t have to rehash traumatic experiences.

”The TM technique has been so successful in helping women veterans recover from PTSD that the Fatigues to Fabulous organization, which helps women vets get back on their feet, has partnered with Transcendental Meditation for Women to make it available to women vets.

With the TM technique, women can amplify their natural reserves and prevent stress from taking over. “A year ago this month I was suicidal,” Tara Weiss said. “I felt so low I wanted to just not be here.”

Now Weiss is functioning like a whole woman again. “Transcendental Meditation saved my life,” she says.

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Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Hedging Against AlzheimersIn January of 2009 both my parents were diagnosed with “dementia of the Alzheimer’s kind” on the same day. I was expecting such a diagnosis for my mother, who was suffering from short-term memory loss (and who had a history of Alzheimer’s in the family). But the diagnosis for my father? My siblings and I were stunned. At 84 he had slowed down, for sure, but we had attributed his sudden disinterest in yard work and taking care of his finances to an infection that he was fighting.

In the following months, as my father’s mental condition declined precipitously, my sister and I scrambled to rearrange our lives to give our parents the care that they needed. And as we talked endlessly about what had caused this, we found out that there was also Alzheimer’s in my father’s family—his mother had been diagnosed with what they termed then as “hardening of the arteries”—with symptoms that today would likely be classified as dementia of the Alzheimer’s kind.

Needless to say, with a history of Alzheimer’s on both sides of my family tree, prevention is on my mind. So I was interested to see a new research study that, to me, points toward stress relief as a way to hedge our bets against this debilitating disease.

The landmark study on Alzheimer’s, conducted at Harvard Medical School and published in Nature, pinpoints a protective protein in the prefrontal cortex (called, interestingly enough, REST) that switches on in the aging pre-frontal cortex in healthy people—but fails to switch on in those with Alzheimer’s. This, the researchers believe, could explain why some people with the amyloid plaques and brain tangles associated with the Alzheimer’s brain have no symptoms of dementia. Researchers have long suspected that another factor was involved, and these researchers think it’s the REST protein that provides the missing link.

Here’s what caught my eye: The protective REST protein is switched on as part of the brain’s stress response.

“Our work raises the possibility that the abnormal protein aggregates associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases may not be sufficient to cause dementia; you may also need a failure of the brain’s stress response system,” said Bruce Yankner, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and leader of the study, in an article by Shelley Emling in the Huffington Post.

So in other words, the onset of Alzheimer’s could be related to a failed stress response, which is often caused by chronic stress.

This makes sense to me.

Researchers already know that when a person is under stress, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, planning and coordinating functions, becomes less able to engage with the demands of the environment. It’s as if it goes “offline.” Loss of memory, impaired cognitive functioning, inability to make decisions, ADHD and a host of other mental deficits are symptoms.

One of the best ways to protect the pre-frontal cortex from stress, research is finding, is the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Practicing TM not only reduces day-to-day stress, it breaks the cycle of chronic stress and fatigue. And while stress takes the pre-frontal cortex offline, TM has an enlivening effect, switching it on, in effect.

“The Transcendental Meditation has the exact opposite effect on the pre-frontal cortex as stress,” says Dr. Fred Travis, a researcher who has published more than 100 studies in peer-reviewed journals on stress and the brain. “Neuroimaging studies show increased activity in the frontal area of the brain during Transcendental Meditation practice, as compared to just sitting in eyes-closed rest. In addition to increased activity in the frontal areas, we also see increased activity in the back of the brain—the parietal areas. These two parts of the brain are part of the attentional circuit.”

The aging brain, especially, can benefit from the protective benefits of TM on the pre-frontal cortex. Even in healthy, younger people, chronic stress can affect memory, cognition and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. At any age, when we are restricted by stress, fatigue, and other negative factors, then the brain is less adaptable, and we become handicapped in how we process and respond to our world.

I’m suspecting that my daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique can help protect my brain from the dementia and Alzheimer’s that has plagued my family for generations. I’m basing my lifestyle on other research as well. Aerobic exercise is found to build brain cells. Inflammation may be the cause of Alzheimer’s, some researchers say, so eating lots of antioxidants can help. Exercising your brain with plenty of mental stimulation is important. Having a wide social network may be a protective factor, say other studies. Getting enough sleep is another protective factor, a recent study at Temple University recently found.

It all comes down to a balanced lifestyle, and I’m aiming for chronic health rather than chronic disease—for now and into the future.

And while it will take years for researchers to follow up on these studies and others to find the true cause of dementia, who knows? Perhaps by keeping my stress response nimble and strengthening my pre-frontal cortex through TM, getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, my brain will switch on the REST protein to protect it from the disease that is affecting so many American families, including my own.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, April 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

460px-Baby_teeth_in_human_infantIt’s so easy to love a baby. The super-soft skin, the miniature fingers and toes, and the smell—pure heaven. Just being around a baby makes all of us—men or women—feel more gentle, more protective, more tender.

Yet it seems that girl babies, in particular, have a greater effect on their dads—they make them feel more generous, to the point of donating more to charity and paying their employees more. And this is backed up by research. In a fascinating new study, researchers found that the mere presence of female family members, even infants, was correlated with more giving. Male chief executives tended to raise wages for employees after the birth of a daughter, while the birth of a son caused executives to reduce wages for their workers (likely to claim more resources for his growing family).

As just one example of how the birth of a daughter can inspire greater generosity, twenty years ago Bill Gates was planning to wait a quarter century to start giving away his wealth, but a year later, after his marriage to Melinda and the birth of his daughter, he started the foundation that has made him one of the most generous philanthropists in history. He also credits his mother for influencing him to give.

And apparently girls also affect their brothers in a similar way. In his NY Times article “Why Men Need Women,” Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton School who has written extensively about giving more to increase profits in business, writes, “Social scientists believe that the empathetic, nurturing behaviors of sisters rub off on their brothers.” He cites studies that reveal that boys with more female siblings are spontaneously more generous. (This made sense to me, as my husband, who has a twin sister and thus spent nine months in close proximity to her, is an especially generous and compassionate human being.)

This spontaneous effect on men’s impulse to give more is also a reason for women to assume more leadership positions in society, says Grant. Just by being in the boardroom, for example, women can tilt the thinking to more compassion, to more inclusiveness, to freer sharing of information, to better treatment of employees.

And because women are also known to bring diverse perspectives, collaborative styles, dedication to mentoring and a keen understanding of female employees and customers, this can result in greater profits.  “We already know from considerable research that companies are better off when they have more women in top management roles, especially when it comes to innovation,” writes Grant. He cites recent studies showing that between 1992 and 2006, companies that added women to their top management teams generated an average of 1 percent more economic value, which on average meant more than $40 million. But Grant goes on to wonder aloud whether some of these benefits come simply because the presence of women makes their male peers want to be better human beings.

I loved this idea, that women have a softening effect on men without even having to do anything extra. Just by being ourselves, we can change the world for the better.

I am reminded of this reality every day as I take time for my twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. As I close my eyes and allow my awareness to settle, I transcend the concerns of my daily life and sink into pure Being, the unified wholeness that is my own essence and the essence of every woman and man and creature and plant on earth. When I come out, I feel more peaceful, more harmonious, more happy. And that has an effect on everyone around me. Ask any mom or any school teacher—it’s the days when you feel tired and crabby that the children start fighting. When you’re relaxed, the kids respond to that calming influence and are calmer too.

As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique wrote in Science of Being and Art of Living more than 50 years ago, “Thought waves are much more powerful than the waves of speech and action. Through every thought, word, and action we are creating some wave in the atmosphere, but thought waves are especially penetrating. If we are joyful, happy, and full of kindness and love for the whole world, we receive love from every quarter.”

Based on my personal experience, and the research on the TM Technique, I feel that if women nourish themselves by dipping into the transcendent on a regular basis, they are better able to nourish their families, friends, employees, colleagues and communities—not by doing more, but by Being. What a wonderful thought—just by being our true selves, we can have a profound and lasting positive effect on those around us.

Linda Egenes is a health writer and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for the Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, September 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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