Tara Brach on Mindfulness and Relationship

Tara Brach






Take a look at Tara Brach’s new course on Mindfulness and Relationships. I believe she’s one of the best teachers available today. LINK



The Loving Brain with Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Guests

Rick HansonMy friend and colleague, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (author of Buddha’s Brain) is offering a free video interview series – The Loving Brain – beginning July 15. Rick talks with major experts on relationships, including Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and Helen Hunt, Ph.D., Tara Brach, Ph.D., Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., Geneen Roth, Paul Zak, Ph.D., Sara Gottfried, M.D., and Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Starting July 15, for eight Mondays a new interview will be available and then archived so you can watch it any time you want, or go back and see interviews that you missed. These freely offered interviews are full of warmth and down-to-earth practical help. You can watch them streaming or download them – including just the audio portion if you want – to your computer to access any time you like.
This series explores useful ideas and tools that people can use in their relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, children, or co-workers – including in difficult situations. What happens in their relationships is the most important factor in long-term physical and mental health for most people, and this series is dedicated to providing effective help.
Topics covered include:
•  How experiences in childhood affect us today in our relationships
•  Ways to grow caring and self-compassion
•  Freeing oneself from unfair self-criticism
•  The neurochemistry of love, and how to work with it
•  How hormones and imbalances affect relationships
•  Improving relationships with children and co-parents
•  How relationships can change the brain for the better
The guests are wonderful authorities in their fields, and they respond openly to some very personal questions.
For more information, check out this page.
Rick and his guests have an uncommon combination of intellect and accomplishment along with wisdom and heart. I think you’ll really like what they have to say.

Two Dragons for the Price of $0.00

Blue and red fire DragonsOn May 17 and 18 – the dragons are free on Amazon. Let me explain.

There are two kinds of dragons – the firebreathing reptiles of medieval legend that need to be slain by brave Knights. These dragons abound in the world of business and politics.

Then we have the Chinese Dragon, whose awe-inspiring presence is a gateway to realms of expanded awareness. He is dangerous too, but only to the small self.

You’ll find both kinds in Dragons at Work.

Regarding the Chinese variety there is an illuminating story about a meeting between Confucius and Lao Tzu.

Witter Bynner, whose poetic translations of Lao Tzu I find particularly moving, tells the story this way.

“Confucius, impressed by Lao Tzu’s influence on people, visited him once to ask advice, ironically enough, on points of ceremonial etiquette

“Baffled by the answers of the older man, to whom etiquette meant hypocrisy and nonsense, Confucius returned to his disciples and told them: ‘Of birds I know that they have wings to fly with, of fish that they have fins to swim with, of wild beasts that they have feet to run with. For feet there are traps, for fins nets, for wings arrows. But who knows how dragons surmount wind and cloud into heaven? This day I have seen Lao Tzu, and he is a dragon.’” * The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu – Witter Bynner.

If you have not already met him, you’ll find Grandfather to be a dragon of the highest order, with a sense of humor as well.

And on May 17 and 18, 2013 – you can download a Dragons at Work kindle version for free on Amazon.

Agile Learning for Executives and Rats

Rat in Maze photo

Back in the 1960s at Clark University, I conducted learning experiments with rats. Here’s what I learned from rats that changed my life: A pause in “business as usual” activity is the gateway to new learning and better performance.

How did a little white lab rat teach this me this? From them, I learned…

Just as we do, rats get into ruts. How? They get rewarded for the same behavior over and over, and it becomes “wired in.” Let’s say a rat is trained to run down a straight corridor in a T-Maze. At the end of the corridor he has a choice: turn left or right to get food. In hundreds of runs he always found his food on the right. He’s learned this thoroughly enough, a psychologist would call him an over-trained rat. “Over-trained,” because even if you now shock him when he goes right and reward him when he goes left, he’ll still go to the right first.

Most importantly, this over-trained rat will never learn to go left as his first choice. Never! Unless…

…you change the maze, so there’s some variation before his choice point. You put a little jog in the maze (show below).


Why does this variation help learning? Because having to navigate the maze in a different way, his automatic pattern of running down the maze and going right is interrupted. Now, he can access new learning.

Question: How do we refresh our brains, so we can drop our automatic responses and learn something new?

Answer: We insert time to reflect into our busy schedules. The quality of thought and attention we put into the pause makes all the difference. See tip below.


Before a meeting, pause. Refresh and re-set your system. This works on everything from deciding what to eat to how to optimally lead a team.

Here’s how.

  1. Slow down your breathing
  2. Let your visual focus move from narrow to panoramic.
  3. Tune into your body sensations.
  4. Investigate the source of tension you carry in your body.
  5. Drop the tension and focus on what you want to accomplish.
  6. Ask yourself: If this meeting went well, what would be accomplished by the end? Can you use this meeting to develop people, strengthen team functioning, increase commitment? How can you accomplish these things with the least effort, the least force, so it emerges from participants?
  7. How can you set the frame for the meeting, so these things naturally unfold?

If you would like more detailed instructions on how a coach teaches an overwrought IT executive to re-set his mind-body system to become a better leader, check out Dragons at Work.

Fantastic New App From HeartMath

Now, this is a very cool app. Now you can use your iPad or iPhone to access HeartMath’s technology.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with HeartMath, it’s a company dedicated to bringing health and mental clarity to adults and children through regulation of their hearts.

HeartMath’s research is grounded in hard science. Over the past 20 years their studies have shown how  heart rate variability makes a difference. Say that your pulse is 60 beats per minute. Those beats are not even, like a metronome with beats precisely 1 second apart. As a matter of fact, people whose hearts beat with that kind of regularity are probably recovering from a stroke. Your heart rate is meant to vary, but in coherent, not chaotic rhythms. Chaotic rhythms indicate anger or some other upset.

But when hearts vary in a regular rhythm – slow…a little faster…fast…a little slower… slow… a little faster, etc. – you get massive health benefits. Your cortisol decreases, while DHEA increases. This benefits for your immune and cardiovascular systems tremendously.

You Don’t Have to Be a Yogi to Regulate Your Heart

I’ve used HeartMath biofeedback with my executive coaching clients for over a decade. In the early days, I had to hook them up to a computer program. With this new app, anyone can get his or her own feedback through their iPad or iPhone. People unfamiliar with meditation find they can regulate their hearts and enjoy the benefits with minimal training. It’s amazing.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can download the Inner Balance app HERE and check it out.

Three Stories Leaders Tell – Review

Chris Cavanaugh-Simmons

Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons

If you want an accurate read on a whether a company will succeed or fail, listen to its stories – the stories customers, vendors, and industry analysts tell, the stories leaders tell in all hands meetings, and the stories employees tell each other after the all hands meeting. Stories are the lifeblood of a company’s culture.

If you listen to them carefully you will know the culture. You will know what people believe is possible, what they believe their company stands for, and what they think is worth doing. Stories create what gets done, or not done. That is why, as Peter Drucker tells us, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Managing the content and tenor of stories is a leader’s most effective tool to create a culture that executes, not eats, strategy.

As consultants and coaches, how do we help our clients to take control of the narratives that shape their company’s culture? Chris Cavanaugh-Simmons breaks down that daunting task into step-by-step work-book instructions.

In Three Stories Leaders Tell, she shows leaders how to master the creation and delivery of three essential narratives:  “Who Am I?, “Who are We?,” and “Where are We Going?”

“Who Am I?” stories let employees connect with a leader through understanding the events and challenges that formed her. Cavanaugh-Simmons offers methods to mine our personal histories for values that are essential to us and our audience. These shared values, illustrated by compelling stories, make leaders’ speeches quotable. In other words, good stories go viral.

Similarly, the author shows how to harness the power of the other two essential stories…

“Who are We?” stories “rebind, renew, and inspire people about what they have accomplished in the past, what they stand for, and in some cases how they have faced adversity and persevered.”

“Where are We Going” stories are the strategic narratives that define “the choices a group must make and the ‘better place’ these choices will take the group once they are acted upon.”

Not only does she tell readers how to create stories, the author gives practical advice about how to deliver them for maximum effect.

With Three Stories Leaders Tell Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons makes a significant contribution to transformational methods. The book is brief, to the point, and 100% actionable. It is a toolkit for transformation that every coach, consultant, OD and HR professional needs to own.

Build Your Vitality!

tai chi manBy “Physical Vitality” I mean the exuberant physical strength and mental vigor to fully engage in life and work.

In my research, I interview high level executives. I always ask what inner qualities they draw upon when faced with difficult challenges.

They seldom mention physical vitality until I inquire about it. Then, they realize their vitality often makes the difference between feeling resilient rather than exhausted under pressure. Everyone I interviewed experienced moderate to high levels of stress on the job.

Many think our level of vitality is a given, but it’s not just our inherited constitution. Of course, good diet, sleep and exercise can help raise your baseline resilience. But there are even more efficient ways to dramatically increase your vitality that are little known in our culture.

In China, Qigong (chee gong) is considered a national treasure. Qigong literally means “energy work.” Its benefits have been well documented over the past fifteen years. Through its physical movements, visualizations, and breathing, energy is cultivated, refined, and stored. Anyone who practices these methods on a regular basis is bound to increase their level of vitality and have reserve energy to tap as needed.

Because Qigong requires some learning and practice before you experience results, one qigong sessions won’t demonstrate its tremendous potential. However, the following audio instructions will give you a taste.

Lesson 1 – Introduction

Lesson 1- Practice – Energizing

If you want to download and Save Lesson 1 – Introduction, click here

If you want to download and Save Lesson 1 – Practice – Energizing click here

Attention Deficit Disorder in the C-Suite

Worried Woman

Relaxation, Part 2. Click here for part 1.

An executive sits down to meditate. He’s a beginner. He’s trying to use Herbert Benson’s method from his excellent book, The Relaxation Revolution. He repeats the word “one” to himself and pays attention to his breath. He knows when his mind wanders, he should say to himself, “oh well” and return his attention to the mantra and his breath. He’s a driven guy, and he’s determined to achieve the many benefits of relaxation.

His internal dialogue runs something like this.

“I’m supposed to pay attention to the mantra. I wonder how well I’m doing since my mind is thinking…One… One… One… There, I guess I’m doing it better… No, I’m not doing it better, because I’m thinking about doing it better… One… One… At 2:30 I have a strategy meeting, and if Ted brings up that same f&%*king idea, I’m going to shove his position paper… One… This isn’t working… One… One… I’d better renew my blood pressure medication…”

You get the idea. This internal fugue gets especially self-defeating if one is trying not to think of something. Fyodor Dostoevsky knew about this only too well. He tells us:

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the accursed thing will come to mind every minute.” Cited in: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. (More on this excellent book in a later post).

Dostoevsky’s instruction is paradoxical and inherently self-defeating. In order to follow it you have to bring to mind a polar bear.

Oddly enough, you can temporarily turn this phenomenon to your advantage and simulate stable attention. Here are a couple of thought experiments…

Try this task:

Don’t think of stillness.

Or this one:

Make sure your mind is constantly wandering.

Of course, trying to put the reverse whammy on your thinking mind is a trick. Because of its inherent tension and striving, it doesn’t really achieve equanimity. But what’s an alternative path to mental stability and relaxation?

I teach executives what Dr. Lester Fehmi calls his Open Focus technique. It’s a method of very quickly creating synchronized alpha rhythms in the brain. Instead of focusing on a mantra, the practitioner focuses on the awareness of space.

Let me explain. A physicist will tell you that at the subatomic level what we experience as solid matter is made up mostly of space. If you shift your attention to imagine the space inside you and out, resting in that space immerses yourself in a highly relaxing and engaging experience.

The instructions are what Fehmi calls “guiding questions.” They are easy to entertain for the 15 second intervals between them, and thereby train your attention in a very enjoyable way.

Furthermore, the parts of the body that you’ll be asked to bring to mind are highly rich in neural representation in the brain. Without going further into why Fehmi’s method is so good, why don’t you take it for a spin first to see if you like it?

It quiets the mind nicely!

In subsequent blog posts I will talk about other ways to get more out of a short practice session.

Stay Tuned,


If you would like to download the recording, click here.

True Refuge – Tara Brach’s New Book

Tara Brach

Since her first book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach’s experience of meditation and life has deepened. In True Refuge, she offers us the fruits of her practice.

Many teachers point to lofty places. Precious few let us in on their own struggles as Tara does here. As an author and a teacher, her voice is assured and kind. That kindness extends to herself as she contemplates her own challenges with a transparency and generosity of spirit that make her teaching invaluable.

Reading it, I found a friend and ally beside me as I contemplated where I was stuck. Tara connects with us in our trouble, shares hers, and shows us the way home. We discover a place of refuge that has always been there. She introduces us, as the Tibetans say, to “the mind’s secret, too easy to believe.”

Using the simple, practical method of R. A. I. N. every problem, disappointment, and joy, is a portal to awareness.

She tells the story of a Superior Court judge in Washington DC who felt “overwhelmed by the crowded courtrooms and the magnitude of suffering he observed day after day.” After practicing the meditation Tara gave him, he told her, “Each person who approaches the bench these days has become a real person, someone who deserves my respect. More than that… each is really ‘not other’ than me…”

I am thrilled that someone in the justice system possesses that kind of awakened consciousness. It’s one thing to find peace on the meditation cushion. It’s quite another to integrate that experience into our daily lives at work.

In many shamanic traditions, the shaman is not aloof. He or she toils in the fields with others. Tara is that kind of teacher. She is one of us and a dedicated spirit who points out the path as she walks it herself.

Relaxing in the Gene Pool






A lot has happened since Herbert Benson, M.D., began relaxing at Harvard University 40 years ago – enough for Benson to conclude…

“…because all health conditions have some stress component, it is no overstatement to stay that virtually every single health problem and disease can be improved with a mind-body approach.”

I’m sure you’re familiar with the link between relaxation and health (see The Relaxation Response), but you may not know exactly how relaxation promotes health. Mind-body methods like Benson’s produce CHANGES IN GENE EXPRESSION and PHYSICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN. These changes are the opposite of what stress produces and they have profound implications for health.

Later in this post, I will describe one of Benson’s experiments in detail, but first, the bottom line:

  1. As we age our cortex tends to become thinner in certain regions, and this thinning is associated with age related neural degeneration. The cortexes of mind-body practitioners tend to thicken in ways associated with healthy (and younger) brains. Whereas, the cortexes of non-mind-body practitioners may thin with age, and this may be associated with dementia.
  2. Mind-body practices change how genes are expressed. This is important because in a person with a genetic disposition toward a particular disease, that disease will not manifest if the genes that are instrumental in producing it are inactive.
  3. A wide variety of mind-body disciplines produce these results – TM, yoga, tai chi, repetitive prayer, and more. Benson defines the “Relaxation Response” broadly:

“Briefly stated, the relaxation response is defined as the response that is opposite of the ‘flight or fight’ or stress response. It is characterized by the following:

  • decreased metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing;
  • a decrease or ‘calming’ in brain activity;
  • an increase in attention and decision-making functions of the brain: and
  • changes in gene activity that are the opposite of those associated with stress.”

The Relaxation Revolution

Experimental Details…

Benson has persuasive scientific evidence to validate his claim. I find most remarkable experiments are the ones that demonstrate changes in gene activity.

In a 2008 experiment, Benson compared participants of two groups. The first group (I’ll call them “experienced practitioners”) had done some kind of mind body discipline for an average of 9.4 years. Participants in the second group (“Inexperienced mind-body practitioners” [again, my term]) were, on average, men and women ranging in age from the mid-30s to early 40s. They were white, Asian, African-American and Hispanic. They had no previous experience with any mind-body discipline.

Using “microarray analysis” technology, Benson and colleagues checked the activity of the 54,000 genes in both groups. The initial comparison found 2,209 genes were expressed differently in the experienced practitioners versus the inexperienced ones.

Then for 8 weeks members of the “inexperienced group” were taught how to enter the relaxation response through listening to a CD that instructed them to breathe deeply, scan their bodies, relax different parts of their bodies, use repetitive prayers and mantras, and a mindfulness meditation practice that allowed them to refocus their attention when their minds wandered. They practiced 20 minutes a day. At the end of the practice session they were instructed “imagine on each out breath letting go of any residual inner anxieties or worries.”

In analyzing the gene expression of the Inexperienced Practitioners, researchers found that 1,561 genes had changed expression from the first test to the second.

“Even more striking, when we compared the [Inexperienced Practitioners] after their training with the [Experienced Practitioners] (9.4 years of practice), we found that 433 gene expression signatures were similar in both groups… The probability of the same gene signatures being involved accidentally in both groups in both experiments was less than one in 10 billion.”

If you’re a research scientist, producing results at that level of statistical probability could possibly induce dangerous levels of ecstasy! I’m sure Benson was justifiably happy with his results, but not just for the statistics. The implications for improved health and longevity are profound.

In Benson’s words…

Gene signatures that were switched on or off in both groups by the relaxation response were associated through past research with clear benefits… [They] included more healthful regulation of the immune system, lower psychosocial stress levels, less distractive oxidative stress, and a reduced tendency towards premature aging. Also, the gene activity we observed is associated with helpful gene activity that is the opposite of that found in many cardiovascular diseases and other conditions…

Benson recommends mind-body treatment for “angina pectoris, anxiety, depression, hypertension, infertility, insomnia, menopausal, perimenopausal, and breast cancer hot flashes, nausea, pain (abdominal, back, head, joints and rheumatoid arthritis, knee, neck and shoulder, postoperative), Parkinson’s disease, phobias, premature aging, premature ventricular contractions and palpitations, PMS…

Evidence is mounting to suggest mind-body treatment protocols can address allergic skin reactions, bronchial asthma, congestive heart failure, constipation, cough, diabetes mellitus, dizziness, drowsiness, duodenal ulcers, fatigue, herpes simplex, hostility and anger, immune problems, impotency, obesity, postoperative swelling, posttraumatic stress disorder, and tinnitus.

Benson’s protocol is an excellent amalgamation of mind-body techniques.

More Benefit in Less Practice Time

In two posts from now, I’ll talk about what to do when the mind wanders and mantras don’t work. I’ll also talk about methods that I teach my clients that add power and efficiency to mind-body practice, making it ideal for busy professionals.

Stay tuned,