“When she was younger, she wasn’t that into reading and that was like a huge deal for me. I thought: “I’m such a reader. My daughter doesn’t love to read.” She’s still not a big reader, but it’s not hampering her in any way. She’s blossoming in fifty other ways, but when I get caught in that story, “She’s not like me. She’s not…” – that’s when I’m suffering. So I settle back into trusting, and think: “Oh, she’s becoming who she is. Let her be that.”
Meditation is touted as being a cure-all for everything from anxiety to depression to addictions. But is it possible that all this is too good to be true?
In this episode, meditation teacher – and former Buddhist nun! – Diana Winston guides us through what we know of the research on meditation that’s relevant to parents. It turns out that the quality of much of this research isn’t amazing, but this may not matter to you if you’re thinking of starting a meditation practice because the opportunity cost (a few minutes a day) is so low and the potential benefits are so high.
We walk through a basic meditation that you can do anywhere, and no – it doesn’t involve sitting cross-legged with your thumb and first finger held in a circle and saying ‘ommmmmm….’.
I was skeptical about meditation too – until I tried it. Perhaps it might help you as well?
Jump to highlights:
- (02:36) Introducing Diana Winston
- (03:39) Defining Mindfulness
- (05:25) Distinguishing between mindfulness and meditation
- (06:26) How can mindfulness benefit me?
- (08:05) Self-hatred as a Western concept
- (12:27) The practice of mindfulness rooted in religion and cultural appropriation
- (13:57) The research on mindfulness
- (17:27) Why is it so hard to study mindfulness?
- (19:33) Mindfulness vs science as tools of observation
- (21:26) The benefits of mindfulness to parents and children
- (28:04) Improving parent-child relationships through mindfulness
- (30:27) Working in mindfulness practices in the context of communities
- (35:52) Practice mindfulness now with this quick walkthrough
- (42:46) Sit Still and It Will Hurt Eventually
Books and other resources:
- The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness
- Waking Up App by Sam Harris
- UCLA Mindful App
- Ten Percent Happier App
- Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens
Click here to read the full transcript
Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Listen To You and What To Do About Each One, just head over to YourParentingMojo.com/SUBSCRIBE. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners and the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us.
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we’re going to continue our exploration of topics related to mindfulness as we start to do some episodes looking at the connection between our brains and our bodies, and how we can learn to pay more attention to the signals our bodies are sending us. We talked with Dr. Susan Pollak a few months ago about mindful self-compassion. And now we’re going to dig more into the mindfulness aspect to learn what it really is, and does it always involve sitting on a cushion cross-legged four hours a day, what the research says about its benefits, and how we can bring it into our lives if we decide that we might want to try it.
And I also just wanted to add a brief reminder that the Taming Your Triggers workshop is currently open for enrollment through midnight Pacific on February 28th. Over the course of 10 weeks at a relaxed pace of one module per week, you’ll learn the real sources of your triggers, which aren’t really about your child’s behavior. Using tools like mindfulness, you’ll begin to be able to create space between your child’s behavior and your reaction to it, where it might seem like right now there’s just no space at all. And then instead of yelling or walking away, either mentally or emotionally, or just shutting down, you’ll be able to choose an effective response to your child. And then on the far fewer occasions when you are still triggered, you’ll be able to repair your relationship with your child, so it doesn’t become something that’s triggering for them when they have their own children. We’ll have community interactions on a platform that isn’t Facebook and lots of support to help you achieve the changes that you want to see when you sign up. Sliding scale pricing is available. Learn more about the workshop and sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/TamingYourTriggers.
And so our guide for today’s episode is Diana Winston, who is Director of Mindfulness Education at the Semel Institute’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre at the University of California, Los Angeles. She’s the author or co-author of three books related to mindfulness, most recently, The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness. Diana has taught mindfulness since 1999, in a variety of settings, including hospitals, universities, corporations, nonprofits and schools in the US and Asia, and has developed teacher trainings on this topic. She’s a founding board member of the International Mindfulness Teachers Association and she spent a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma in her youth. Welcome, Diana.
Diana Winston 03:17
Thanks for inviting me.
So I wonder if we can maybe start at kind of a high level and then get into the research. And then from there, we can learn about some mindfulness practices that we can actually do ourselves. So maybe we can start with a definition of what mindfulness is, and where did this come from? Because as far as I know, they’re not rooted in the Anglo-Saxon white culture that I grew up in.
Diana Winston 03:39
Okay, so I like to define mindfulness as paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is or to be with that experience. So it’s really about learning to live in the present moment. Most of the time our minds are lost in the past, lost in the future, worrying, obsessing, planning, ruminating, replaying. Right? It’s hard for us to come into the moment but the anxiety, depression, fears, worries concerned at all sort of lives in thoughts of the past or future. So mindfulness is this invitation into the present moment. And the concept comes from… So mindfulness is part of what it means to be human. It doesn’t… there’s no like, I mean, we all have this capacity to be present, awake, alert at home, inside ourselves. But the practice of mindfulness comes to us out of the Buddhist world where 2500-year tradition of training people – people who are mentoring in monasteries – but people in monasteries and also lay people and in this art of training your mind to pay attention. And so this has been passed down for thousands and thousands of years and somewhere in the well in the seventies… fifties, sixties, seventies, people went over and practiced and brought it back to the US or people came from different parts of Asia and brought it to the US. And then it slowly became secularized. So there’s a big Buddhist movement, of course, but it’s also been secularized as mindfulness in the last, you know, 20-30 years.
Hmm, yeah. And I would like to delve into that a little bit more, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot. But I wonder if, firstly, we can distinguish maybe between mindfulness and meditation? How do you draw that boundary? Where does that lie?
Diana Winston 05:25
So meditation, you can think of like sports. Sports is a big category, there’s hundreds of types of sports. Meditation is a big category with many, many types of meditations. And then mindfulness is a type of meditation. So mindfulness is interesting because it’s both cultivated through meditation. And that way, it’s a meditation practice and it’s also a quality of attention that you can have at any time, so you don’t have to be meditating, to be mindful. And we can talk about, you know, the different ways that we could do that.
Yeah. Okay. That’d be awesome. So why should I even bother being mindful? You say it’s an inherent part of the human experience and to some extent it is, but until I started deliberately and purposefully exploring this for myself, 18 months or so ago, nobody had ever really talked to me about this, you know, nobody, not my parents, my teachers, nobody, that I was growing up with talked about this. And so if we’re just hearing about this for the first time, and maybe life isn’t so bad, why not just keep doing what we’ve been doing all along? What can this add?
Diana Winston 06:26
Well, there’s many, many different reasons why we might be interested in mindfulness. And, you know, a lot of people come to mindfulness because of suffering in some way, like anxiety, depression, mindfulness. I mean, the research is very robust around how mindfulness can help anxiety and depression and physical pain, chronic pain. And there’s a whole host of physical related health conditions, mental health conditions. So there’s that level of reducing suffering that might be attractive to people. And especially these days, where our minds, you know, it’s just such a scary time, and our minds are all over the place. And there’s so much uncertainty, mindfulness, I found that people are gravitating towards mindfulness more than ever in this last year. And aside from that, it’s kind of like a deep dive into yourself, it’s a way to… we are so externally focused, like our lives of taking ourselves out of ourselves all the time, you know, input, input, input, and we rarely go inward. So when we start to go inward, there’s often insights that come understanding, self-understanding, and people talk about their lives being transformed over doing it over a long period of time. And I also want to say it’s not for everybody. So it’s, you know, just like no medication works for everybody, meditation isn’t everybody’s particular thing. And so just to say, like, I encourage people who are interested to give it a try, but don’t assume that it’s going to be like, a thing for you. It doesn’t have to be.
Yeah, when I was reading your book, a couple of other ideas stuck out as well. The idea that our judgments of ourselves leave to self-hatred. And you told a lovely story about the Dalai Lama, can you tell us that story?
Diana Winston 08:05
There’s the famous story about the Dalai Lama, where he was in a conference with many teachers, he was with teachers, and they were asking questions about how they should be teaching these Buddhists and mindfulness practices to the Western mind. And they said, “Well, one of the things we struggle with is self-hatred.” And it got translated apparently, back and forth several times before. And the Dalai Lama just couldn’t get it. He’s like, “Self-hatred, self hatred.” And then finally, he got it. And he’s like, “Oh, I don’t even know.” Like, it’s not even part of his… I think in the cultural background, it’s just it’s so much stronger in the US culture and in white Western culture, not only white, but all sorts of in the dominant culture, we see a tremendous amount of self-hatred. And I think in Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan practice, we weren’t seeing a lot of that during that period of time.
Hmm, yeah. And I think that that really just illustrates, one of the huge benefits of this is, is that it can change the way that you see yourself and the way that you interact with yourself. And I’ve talked to a number of times on the show about like the body-brain connection, and actually learned something from your book that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, the gut being the second brain and being known as the second brain that tells us information about our experience. And that’s a fascinating topic that I hope to dig into in a future episode as well. I mean, who knew that our gut was telling us so much about our experience?
Diana Winston 09:32
Yeah, there’s some interesting work being done at UCLA related to that I can point you to the people. If you’re interested.
Okay, and so and but before we leave this particular aspect of it, are we trying to be mindful all the time?
Diana Winston 09:44
So mindfulness can enhance one’s life in a lot of ways. And so if we’re not mindful, what are we doing? We’re kind of checked out, we’re missing our lives. That’s a lot of people report that just like, you know, the days go by and they’re barely connected to themselves or connecting to their families. And so I’ve had lots and lots of students who practice mindfulness and say, “Oh, I’m seeing my life in a whole new way. I’m having more gratitude, more appreciation, more connection.” I had this doctor taking a course with me and it was the beginning course. And after six weeks, he said, “You know, I’ve lived on my street for 15 years, and I never noticed that there were mountains at the end of the street.” And that’s the kind of I mean, it’s not unusual, and maybe that’s an extreme case, but people tend to be checked out. So mindfulness can enhance our way of being it can help us to regulate emotions. And so in that way, it’s so helpful to have mindfulness. But do we have to be mindful every single second? Probably not. And there’s lots of reasons why you wouldn’t want to be mindful. So you’re watching a movie or reading a book, or you don’t want to be like, so in the present moment that you’re missing the story, or there’s a lot of times that we need to have critical thinking of the future and the past and analysis, and daydreaming and imagination, all of those things are not the same. faculty is mindfulness. And we want to encourage that. But we can do it with awareness, right? So we can bring awareness to imagining and analyzing and critical thinking. So it’s, it’s sort of, it’s an interesting thing that, you know, each of us has to explore for ourselves.
Okay. All right. And then I want to touch briefly on the Buddhism aspect of it. And I first discovered mindfulness and meditation at the same time when a friend recommended Sam Harris’s app waking up, which was interesting, I found interesting, although ultimately frustrating for a number of reasons. And the reason that I bring him up is that he’s sort of famous for disentangling mindfulness practices from religion and saying, you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness. And in fact that there is nothing inherently Buddhist in mindfulness. And I think that’s a position that Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has taken to0, who was another one of these early people who brought this practice to the US and has done a lot of research on its effectiveness in treating a variety of ailments. And I think it’s no secret to listeners that I identify as an atheist, but the idea that I might be taking these practices that have existed for thousands of years, in countries that were colonized by the country that I came from, and have been brought to the Western world, essentially by well-educated, middle-class white men, really kind of did give me pause. And so I wonder what your take is on that place?
Diana Winston 12:27
Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And it’s something that I think about a lot. And when I train teachers, we talk about it quite a bit like is this cultural appropriation? And I think there’s, first of all, there’s a lot of nuances to it but these practices shouldn’t be divorced from their roots. I think there are contexts where we want to bring them in where we don’t want to share that they’re Buddhists, because it might be problematic. For instance, bringing them into the public schools, right? Because they’ve been pulled out of those religious roots, all the dogma, all of the religiosity, it’s all been removed. And it’s just this practice. It’s not Buddhist, it’s not like a Buddhist religious practice. And in that way, we can in good faith, say, “Yeah, we’re teaching kids tools that can help them with their mind to be more present to work with attention to regulate emotions like that.” So in that case, I think it’s appropriate that they’re a little bit removed from the roots. But I think it’s really important that we honor the roots and that it’s not like somebody gets the idea that Jon Kabat-Zinn invented mindfulness in 1979, or something we really don’t want that to happen too. So for me, it’s about keeping the dialogue alive, especially as I train teachers and helping them think about what’s their relationship to it and how they want to talk about it. And these days, also, I think there’s more acceptance, like, “Oh, yeah, this comes from the Buddhist world. And it can be done by anyone of any background of any religion and any culture at any moment.” So that’s how I kind of frame it and like to think about it.
Okay, cool. Thanks for helping us to understand that a little bit. So, okay, so let’s go into the research. So, you published a book in 2019, The Little Book of Being and I’m going to quote it says, “Classical mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve health outcomes for stress-related conditions, reduce pain symptoms, improve emotional regulation, help with anxiety and depression, increase the ability to pay attention, cultivate states of wellbeing.” I mean, it sounds like a magic pill. You also go on to say that “Many of the mindfulness studies have not been replicated, use small sample sizes and don’t have adequate control groups.” And so I reached pretty similar conclusions when I did a research and sort of a review of the literature earlier this year, with the addition that much of the evidence is correlational, rather than causal. And I saw a statistic online saying that the Global Mindfulness Meditation App Market alone is estimated to be $2.1 billion between 2020 and 2025, which just blew my mind. And I’m just wondering, why do you think there’s such a discrepancy between the state of the research where we’re still looking at these tiny studies, tiny samples that are not longitudinal and all of the money that’s being made off these ideas, why? Why are we not looking at longer term bigger scale studies to really understand the benefits?
Diana Winston 15:17
I think it’s partially the state of science in general, like, you see that in other areas. It’s not just mindfulness, where, you know, a flashy study gets a lot of attention, and it hasn’t been replicated, and then it’s kind of popularized. So that’s, that’s one aspect of it. So it’s, I think it’s like a general thing. But, you know, these studies take a long time, like the really big studies that people they are underway, like they’re, I mean, I know of people that are doing these large scale, you know, 35,000-subject, like big scale things, but they take a long time, and you feel just really new. So even though they started doing the research in the end of the 70s, they’re only like three to five studies done at that point. And now we can say there’s maybe six/seven thousand studies at this point. And it’s really set up really predominantly in the last 5 to 10 years. And so it’s just, it’s just a very young field that is taking time to develop. And so I’ll just throw in this plug, we’re doing a multi-site study, which was one of the few multi-site studies that’s being done with breast cancer survivors, younger breast cancer survivors who were doing it with Johns Hopkins, and Dana Farber and UCLA. And we’re looking at young women who’ve, who’ve survived breast cancer and how mindfulness can help, like improve quality of life and anxiety, depression symptoms and stuff. And so it’s exciting to see these things happening. But there’s a long way to go is my point. So now to answer the second question, which is sort of interesting on why then is there this like burgeoning that… Well, first of all, I don’t think we ever have to link, you know, profit with science, right? I mean, in that way, right? Like, people will make money off things that are not scientific all the time. But I just think people have responded really well to mindfulness. Absolutely not everybody and not across the board but people find that it improves their lives. And I think that people who want to monetize it are getting behind that, you know, and it’s just like, okay, I mean, partially, there’s some apps that have like big, big money behind it. That’s why you’re seeing that, that figure, I think, for the most part, it’s not the big, big money, honestly, looking at the field.
Okay. All right. And then so I want to talk about some of the benefits. But firstly, let’s just talk about some of the problems that come up when we try and study mindfulness. Why is it so hard to study mindfulness?
Diana Winston 17:38
Okay, so one reason is, there’s no part of the brain that is the mindfulness part of the brain, right? There’s like different… So this is for in neuroscience, right? There’s different parts of the brain that are associated with it and their outcomes associated with mindfulness. So compassion, kindness, altruism, peace, equanimity, there are other associated, but they’re not mindfulness. So it gets a little murky, like, “Wait, what are we studying?” Or “There’s so many different elements.” Another thing is when mindfulness is being taught, now, this has changed a lot, but for a long time, it was studied in a group format, right? And so it was really hard to discern, is the person getting better because the teacher the group component, the mindfulness itself, the fact that they did some yoga that like, like all of those pieces, it kind of muddies it quite a bit. And then most of the studies tend to not be longitudinal. So there’s a lot of like, question marks about, like, if I’m looking at, let’s say, a neuroscience study, where I see the brain of a meditator is really incredible, because there’s so much, you know, grey matter in certain areas, but we don’t know what they were like before. So it’s just, those are the kinds of issues that that are sort of hampering with studies.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And the idea that so much of this relies on self-report questionnaires – how we how were you feeling six weeks ago? Are you feeling now?
Diana Winston 19:06
Yeah, it’s it seems very problematic. And you raised the point in the book, maybe the more mindful you think you are the lessons that you actually have into your mindfulness.
Diana Winston 19:16
I know like I’ve done it, you know, I’ve taken question or, so I’ve been practicing mindfulness for 30 years, I’ve taken questionnaires, and then they asked you like, “How mindful were you when this happened?” And because I know mindfulness pretty well, I know, I’m not that mindful at times. So my score went down, even though I’m a mindfulness teacher.
Yeah, yeah, the problems of self-report questionnaires. And I also wanted to draw out something that you mentioned about the connection to science and I found this quote really interesting. You said that “Mindfulness is a tool we can use to examine conceptual frameworks to lessen the influence of preconceptions and to experience what is by choice rather than through drugs or neurological damage. Perhaps ironically, this echoes the basic principle of all science to observe data without preconceived ideas, as to what the data will show. Mindfulness and science share this principle about the discovery of knowledge yet the former approaches it through a first-person observational techniques and the latter through third person observational techniques.” And so what I thought of when I read that was this sort of doesn’t take into account the inherent biases that the researcher themselves brings to the study that affect everything from the study question to the sampling method to the analysis plan to the discussion of the results. And so if we can’t hope to be bias free, in our use of the scientific method, can we hope to be bias free and understanding our own experience? Is that even desirable?
Diana Winston 20:33
Oh, my goodness? That’s a great question. I don’t know! I’m aware of… I just want to point out that I co-wrote that book where this fully present, I think you’re quoting from with a scientist, who was the one who wrote that part. So I cannot speak as knowledgeably as she could about this particular thing.
Okay. Alright. Yeah. And so let’s talk about some of the specific benefits that we’ve seen, because I know that your lab has been very active on some aspects of this research and also, I was able to find some other studies that I think are probably pretty relevant to parents, and we’re going to focus mostly on results that are relevant to parents and children, rather than those that are broader, there are a whole spectrum of benefits. So I wonder if you can tell us what the research is that you’re familiar with and then maybe I can also add some studies that I found as well.
Diana Winston 21:26
Okay, so one of the first study we ever did when our center started was with adults and adolescents with ADHD. And that was done with Lydia Zylowska, who had the grant for that. And we went, and we developed an eight-week mindfulness protocol. And we brought them through that and found at the end, that there was significant impact on people’s ability to pay attention, including the kids like that we were sort of surprised, like what would happen, but the improvement was in conflict attention. So conflict attention, is when you have one thing that you’re trying to pay attention to, and many things are distracting you like I’m distracting you right now. And so conflict of attention improves significantly in the mindfulness group. And so that was like one of the first studies we did related to adolescents and parents and adults. And then, since then we’ve done some research we did another study early on with kids, where we brought mindfulness and found into we use the school laboratory at UCLA, and the school that is connected to the lab at UCLA, and they found that kids, they were offered a mindfulness program and kids improved executive functioning primarily in the kids who are more dysregulated. So the kids who already had a certain level of regulation were okay, but I mean, like, there wasn’t a huge amount of change. But the kids who had more severe dysregulation, there was significant improvement. And that work was done with Lisa Flook, who has since moved to the University of Wisconsin with Richie Davidson’s; she’s now in Richie Davidson’s lab. And she’s doing incredible work with kids and schools and mindfulness. But I cannot speak to the current state of what she’s up to.
And I wonder if we could just pause there. And yeah, and just note, a couple of features of that study, which I thought was super interesting. The measure was ecologically valid, which means that the thing that they were measuring at the end was what did the parent and the teacher see – what changes in the child’s behavior did they see – rather than just some sort of arbitrary measure that was not useful in the real world. But on the same note, there was no way to mask which condition the child was in. The teacher and the parent would have both known if that child was doing mindfulness…was in the control condition, or in the experimental condition of doing the mindfulness work. And so it seems as though there’s a huge potential for somebody who, a teacher who’s invested in mindfulness to say, “Oh, yeah, that kid totally improved. And they were in the mindfulness Oh, no, that kid wasn’t I didn’t really see any difference.” And there were only 32 children in each condition. So it’s even doing one of these would have a potentially large impact on the overall results. And that’s just to kind of illustrate that the challenges that we face in doing this research.
Diana Winston 24:16
And it brings up what you were talking about earlier, the biases of the investigator the biases, so yeah, everybody involved.
Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah. And so what are the findings have you seen from your lab?
Diana Winston 24:28
So most of the other studies that we’ve done has been with adults at UCLA. So there’s like, you know, as I mentioned, thousands of studies being done all over, but most of the studies have been with adults. So we’ve done studies looking at sleep and this was done with older adults, and we had insomnia symptoms improve over the course of this study. We’ve done as I mentioned, we’re doing the breast cancer studies, we’re doing some studies now. I mean, I don’t know how relevant these are, but these are for Alzheimer caregivers. We’re about to start a study for stem cells transplant recipients we’re doing something with? Well, this is one that’s kind of interesting. Actually, I’ll share it because it’s not. It’s a little different than what we normally do but we were interested in altruism. We had a postdoc who was interested in altruism. And so he had people listen to an audio meditation, and then play this game, which was a video game, where you give away money. And so they had the control group didn’t listen to the audio, obviously. And it turned out that the people who listened to the audio, before playing the game were two and a half times more generous than the people who weren’t. So there seems to be this link, at least in this small study, although there were a lot of people in the study, there seems to be a link between mindfulness and altruistic outcomes. And that’s the thing we were talking about some of the confusion in studying mindfulness, like there’s mindfulness itself, but then there are all these associated states that people measure that come with it that are, you know, great things to have, but muddy the water.
Yeah, I was really interested in that study as well. And yeah, 326 participants. Yey! A sample representative of the US population. And so yeah, so I pulled that one out, is wanting to talk about because I think parents often do want to raise children who are altruistic and who have this quality. And so something that we might think of as being completely unrelated, we can see that potentially has these links to all these other qualities as well. I was also interested in a study about patients that had experienced a psychotic episode and participated in a three-minute mindfulness meditation that I think they were basically in the doctor’s office, and the doctor said, “Okay, listen to this recording. There’s this woman, Diana Winston, and she, she’s recorded this, this thing” And I think they used your meditation, didn’t they? And the people that in the experimental group are only 20 participants, there was no control group had a significant decrease in their level of anxiety right then and there, although we don’t know if it was more generalized after they left the doctor’s office.
Diana Winston 26:59
So do we think that this has significance for managing anxiety and non-clinical populations when you’re not having a psychotic break?
Diana Winston 27:10
Well, like I was saying, the research around anxiety and depression is fairly robust. And that’s partially because of the development of the mindfulness based cognitive therapy program where they’ve done a lot of look, and also, so there are these clinical programs that one and then A.C.T. – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. There’s a lot of research around that, where they integrate mindfulness into these clinical treatments and show that these tools are helpful. So I think one can pretty safely say that mindfulness can positively impact anxiety and depression in non-clinical and clinical populations, but not severely anxious. Not like if you’re really anxious, really, really depressed, getting even, getting a person to meditate is too hard. Like it’s not going to work until they’re sort of like head is above the water in a way.
Okay, that’s helpful. And yeah, we will actually have an episode coming up on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as well.
Diana Winston 28:02
Yeah, excited for that one. And then talking about parenting. There were a couple of studies that I found on that the more that parents reported engaging in mindful behaviors, the more attuned and responsive they were to their child’s needs, which was explained by lower levels of parenting stress associated with higher levels of mindfulness, although that did rely on self-report on the parents saying, “Oh, yeah, I felt like I was more attuned to my child.” Not a representative sample, no physiological measures, mindfulness or parenting stress. And then there was another one that said that the elements of mindfulness are not equally predictive of parenting efficiency, and that the key elements seem to be this improved non reactivity to inner experience. And that’s the idea that we’re feeling flooded by something our child is doing, it’s just pushed our buttons and that if we can bring this awareness to that and create a pause, before we react and change it from a reaction into a response, that we can then respond more effectively to our child. And to me, that was not so terribly surprising, because that’s, it’s actually something I’ve been teaching parents for a while now. Is ways to create that pause and so the idea that that would lead to better parenting outcomes felt kind of intuitive to me, but it was nice to see it confirmed by the research.
Diana Winston 29:16
Oh, that’s great. I’m not so familiar with those studies but that sounds wonderful.
Yeah, yeah. And so moving on from the research a little bit, I think an idea that has been on my mind a lot lately is the idea of grounding strategies. And by that I mean strategies that we use to center ourselves when we’re feeling really hyper stressed. And that we do that through getting in touch with our physical experience. And to remind ourselves that we are actually physically safe in this moment. And one that I found to be super helpful is just striking a soft piece of fabric when I’m incredibly flooded, is something that can really bring me back into this moment, I think, “Okay, yeah, yeah, I am safe right now. This is something that I can cope with.” And it struck me as being an incredibly privileged view of the world and I’m just thinking about someone like Breonna Taylor, whom police officers is woke up in the middle of the night in her own bed by shooting her to death. And it’s not uncommon for people in some neighborhoods to be shot in their own homes by random bullets flying around, and it was intended for someone other than them. And so I’m just thinking, “Okay, yes, I can sit here and think, well, I’m completely flooded in this moment, I’m stressed out of my mind. But yes, I am safe, I am safe here in my home.” And that not everybody can say that. And so how can we reconcile that? Do you think?
Diana Winston 30:27
I think that, I’ll go back to saying that, like, at least mindfulness practices that do the work of grounding and center are not appropriate in every situation, for every person, it’s just, you know, people are going to find their own ways. And some communities it might be the relationship that they have with the church or with the, you know, it’s like, there are many, many ways of coming to this place of grounding of centering of connecting, and I, I just don’t want to make assumptions. Like, I don’t know what Breonna Taylor’s spiritual life was like, we don’t know. Yeah. So the thing that I’m really interested in than just sort of taking it in with the mindfulness world is, so I train a lot of teachers and the teachers come from a huge variety of backgrounds and communities and internationally, and a lot, probably predominantly US, but I’m really interested in seeing the translation of mindfulness into the communities in a way that’s going to serve and really speak to, and speak from within those populations because the way I as a white woman with this level of education, whatever, well, I’m not going to speak to someone in another in another community, it’s just like, “No, I will not be listened to.” And so let’s create a flowering of different ways of speaking and expressing this so that people can benefit from it. And also, with the acknowledgement, as I’ve said many times, and you don’t have to do it either.
Right? Yeah, no one’s forcing us to do this. And so I’m curious about with the teachers you’ve interacted with, who have come from backgrounds that are different from ours, are there some ways that you’re aware of that they’ve taken this and made it more relevant and useful to the communities they work with?
Diana Winston 32:12
I have incredible, incredible stories and students who are doing like, working with schools and in parts of LA and bringing in the arts and music and mindfulness and sort of like merging all that together, or people who have brought it into different like religious settings and taught mindfulness in the context like, like, “Oh, there’s a mindfulness like group that I’m bringing into a church or a synagogue or something.” Like, so people are adapting and creating mindfulness and I feel really, like I want to see that I want to see people’s, I think the best teachers are the teachers that are really expressing themselves who they are. And people feel it and sense it. So the mindfulness as a kind of, it’s just to sit here and be really quiet and meditate is just it’s one version of it. It always comes back to awareness, like can we practice awareness in any context, and we can be aware, in the midst of anything really.
Okay. And so then maybe we can practice that now. So there may be parents who are listening to this, who are pretty much where I was kind of a year and a half ago, and just thinking, “Okay, could this actually do something meaningful for me? Maybe, maybe not? I don’t know. But maybe I’m willing to suspend judgement and give it a try? And so what are some tools that we can use to get started? And do you want to walk through some of those? Or what’s, what’s the best way of doing that?
Diana Winston 33:41
Sure. So first of all, it’s hard to just jump in and do it alone. So I recommend listening to guided meditations, which is how you got started, right. And so, so we have, I mean, we have some resources (I could send you a link) that like the UCLA Mindful App, which has a lot of meditations, including like three-minute, five minute meditations. So just start small, I like people to start with five minutes, because that’s really doable. Everybody has time, even if you have like, you know, 100 kids or something you can find five minutes, five minutes. And so we just start off with a basic practice of finding one’s breathing. There’s other options, because for not everybody, breathing feels like a good place to start but most people start with their breath, and then your attention wanders off, and you come back to your breath, and you just keep coming back again and again. And in that way, over time, you begin to train your mind to come into the present moment to something that’s neutral, that’s always available for us. And so, I can walk people through a short meditation if you want to.
Yeah, that would be awesome. And I just want to clarify and draw out the point that you just made that you’re concentrating on your breath if that’s what you want to do. I do that but I find that I can’t help myself from controlling it. Concentrate on it. So I do find it difficult. But yes, your mind is going to wander and no, that does not mean you have failed at mindfulness or meditation, and that the practice is in coming back in a way that you don’t say, “Oh, I screwed it up again, I’m no good at this. I’m never going to be any good at mindfulness.” But seeing your mind has wandered, and then recognizing that and bringing it gently and non-judgmentally back is the practice, right? It’s not that if I’ve, my mind hasn’t wandered for five minutes, then I’m the most amazing meditator in the world.
Diana Winston 35:34
That’s exactly right. Yeah, that’s where people get stopped up, right? They start meditating, their mind wanders, and they think they failed, and they quit. So yeah, thank you for that very clear.
Yeah, it was, it was a key thing for me to learn at the beginning. So I want to make sure that that was crystal clear before we go in. So. Okay.
Diana Winston 35:52
Awesome. So let’s just do we’ll do a couple of minutes and you can see where they are. So I just invite you, wherever you are, to settle back in a way that’s comfortable to you, like you’re on the chairs, notice your feet on the ground. If you’re on a couch. A bed. Take a breath. And notice your feet connected to the ground, feeling the weight, heaviness touch and see if you can feel the support of the ground. And this is what you mentioned earlier, Jen, is this sense of grounding. The support of the ground. That may be many stories below. It’s still there’s a connection. Let’s turn our attention to the sounds around us. Maybe sounds coming and going.
Diana Winston 37:09
Listen to the sounds as they come and go. Without getting lost in the story. I like that sound. I don’t like that sound. Just listen.
Diana Winston 37:34
And now come back in your body and see if you can notice your body breathing, rising and falling of your abdomen or chest or the air moving through your nose tingling, warmth, coolness. Just a natural breath through your nose.
Diana Winston 38:10
So let’s find something to focus on. We can use our breath in our abdomen, chest or nose. Or you might use listening to sounds. If you just like to feeling the sensations of your feet, against the ground, pick something they all work equally well. So just pick, pick whatever is calling out to you right now. Let’s notice moment after moment.
Diana Winston 38:54
Breath after breath.
Diana Winston 38:58
Sound or sensation after sound or sensation. As you do this, you might notice that your attention starts to wander. Start thinking about all sorts of things planning, remembering, imagining. When that happens, you’re not doing anything wrong. You can say a soft word in your mind like thinking and then gently return your attention right back to your breath or the listening or your feet. So I’m going to be quiet for one minute as you try it on your own.
Diana Winston 40:33
Now notice how you’re doing as we bring this meditation to a close notice if you’re feeling more relaxed at ease, you may or may not be, if you are, just enjoy the ease the relaxation. If it’s fear, not just notice what’s here, letting whatever’s here be here. And then when you’re ready, take one more breath with awareness and open your eyes are and the meditation.
Thank you for that.
Your voice is made for that. So okay, so you did a number of things in there. And of course, I was trying to keep track of them at the same time as I was mindful. So you sort of did a combination there of a couple of different types of meditation practice. And so I just want to draw people’s attention to those and, and so in your book, in your most recent book, you talk more about natural awareness, and this idea of focusing on what is present here right now, no matter what that is, and sounds are a great one to use for that because they do come and go and of course, I had my daughter walking down the hallway, and I’m thinking, Okay, she’s not hearing my voice, is she going to hear your voice? Or is she going to hear silence, and she’s going to start knocking and coming in. And so I had to bring my mind away from that. And then you also helped us to focus on a certain part of our experience as well sort of a more focused attention. And I love the blending of the two. And I didn’t realize until some months after I’d started that you can blend these two parts of the meditation practice and that you don’t have to only focus on the breath, or only focus on whatever is the predominant experience, and that you can sort of seamlessly flow back and forth, do you do you use it that way in your practice as well?
Diana Winston 42:25
I think I mean; my practice is sort of responsive to the present moment. So if I find that my mind is really, really scattered, it might be really appropriate for me to just sort of keep it very focused. And if I’m feeling sort of relaxed, alert, and things are just passing by, I can just sort of sit in that space and enjoy that.
Yeah, okay. And then as you were telling us to focus on a specific part of our experience, whatever was calling to us most loudly in that moment, I didn’t put my feet fell flat on the floor, I probably should have done so only my big toe was resting on the floor. And it was starting to get pressured. And so that was really calling to me. But over time, it actually shifted. And it reminded me of a practice from the Ten Percent Happier app that I use, it was by a teacher named Jeff Warren. And the title of this meditation is Sit Still and It Will Hurt Eventually, but it’s the idea that when you’re sitting in one position for maybe 20 minutes, eventually you’ll get pins and needles or something will be uncomfortable. And if you can sit with that and just experience it for what it is without shifting and trying to get rid of it, that experience of that will change. And it did for me in this moment, you know, my toe wasn’t really hurting but I could definitely feel that pressure, it was the predominant part of my experience. But over time, my elbow was resting on my hand here on the desk. And suddenly that became the thing that was most predominant. And my toe was just kind of there in the background. But it wasn’t the predominant thing. And I think that seeing that shift happen, just in that little isolated incident can be super helpful to help us understand this happens throughout our lives. That something that seems so all consuming right now. And just a little bit isn’t going to be so all consuming. And I think it can make it easier to deal with.
Diana Winston 44:15
Yeah, it’s a great observation. I’m so glad that you had that experience. Yeah.
Yeah, it’s a part of the practice that I really enjoy. So, so thank you for, for helping us do that. And so as we sort of start to wrap up, I’m just thinking about some of the ideas that are maybe more grounded in Buddhism, that this mindfulness meditation practice draws from. And you wrote a book A while ago now called Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, and I actually found it in my little free library across the street and that was my very first introduction to you. And I actually really recommend it even to adults because even though the examples are more geared towards you know, such and such as my boyfriend and so and so isn’t talking to me, it’s an occurrence credibly readable book, you just kind of distill these principles into language that’s nowhere near as fluffy and esoteric as the books that I’ve read. And I was so struck by your description that you open the book with of what your teenage years were like and it seemed as though you trod exactly the path that so many people of our generation did being told to stay in school and get good grades and get a good job and make a lot of money. And we have this impression that the world is such an insecure place and if we can just have money if we just have a degree, so we can always know we can earn money, then we’ll have our fair share of the money. And in some ways, I think that you were lucky because you noticed the discrepancy between your values and the cultural messages, even though you recognize that you were still steeped in this culture when you were quite young. And I work with a lot of parents now, in my age, and myself included, who are realizing. “Well, did I actually even choose this path that I’ve been on the whole time that actually my parents chose this path, and, and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other because there was no other viable decision that I could make, and there was no other alternative.” And so I’m wondering, are there ideas that you wish you had known about in your childhood that you know about now, that would have shifted your trajectory? And even sort of one step down from that I know, you have a daughter, how is your experience of having this awakening, as it were shifted the way that you interact with your daughter and the kinds of ideas that you raise her to be comfortable with?
Diana Winston 46:37
Mm hmm. That’s a question.
Diana Winston 46:42
Just trying to think how to best answer. You know, I feel really lucky that I kind of carved out my own path. I didn’t follow what all of my peers said. And there were many reasons why that happened. But, you know, like, I ended up in Asia, and I got into these meditative practices. And pretty much everyone I knew in this was like, the late 80s, where they were all going to law school and medical school and you know, I mean, like, that was, what my peers were doing.
Yeah. Today is the investment banks and the consulting firms but essentially…
Diana Winston 47:14
Yeah, well, it was fancier back then but yeah. So I feel like I kind of followed, I kept listening inside me, but what I wanted to do and just kept following it and I was like, incredibly lucky that I had parents who were really supportive of that, you know, I mean, my mother probably went for like, 10 years, every year, she says, “So, are you going to go to graduate school anytime soon?” But, um, but ultimately, she stopped that one, and then it was, “Are you going to have a baby?” And she stopped that one. Then I had a baby, but never went to graduate school. But so I feel like I feel really grateful for having been able to just have the leeway and the ability to just follow my sort of like heart desire, like I love to meditate. I didn’t know at the time that I was going to become my career or anything at the time, I just really wanted to meditate and spent many years doing it in a very, like, deep and intensive way. So when I think about my daughter right now, you know, a lot of my mindful work with my daughter, she’s now 11 is about letting her be herself. You know, I see how many times even in a day, I get caught up in like an idea, “Oh, you should do this, or you should be like, or how come you’re not like me here? Or how come you’re…” You know, all of these stories, I curate her and I about her. And I use my mindfulness practice to like, “Oh, right. That’s a story, Diana. That’s not who she is and reminding myself to get more grounded and centered and come back to my feet and my breath and let her evolve who she’s going to be and really trust that and really have faith in that because, because when I get anxious, it’s like, I lose to “Oh, no, she’s not…” Like when she was younger, she wasn’t that into reading and that was like a huge deal for me. “Oh, my God. I’m such a reader. My daughter doesn’t love to read.” She’s still not a big reader, but it’s not hampering her in any way. She’s like, blossoming in fifty other ways, you know, but when I get caught in that story, “She’s not like me. She’s not…” Right. That’s when I’m suffering. So I settle back, and trusting and going, “Oh, she’s becoming who she is. Let her be that.” With my guidance, of course, but you know.
Wow. Well, there, there’s our soundbites the episode. Yeah, that’s such a profound thing to understand and even the flip side of that as well, that maybe I love reading and my daughter doesn’t love to read and I wish she would love to read or, “Oh, I see how certain aspects of my personality have made my life so hard. You know, maybe I’m an introvert and I see that being introverted has made my life so hard. And so I want to expose her to people and social skills and all the rest of it and so that she doesn’t have the same hard experiences that I’ve had.” And so I think The flip side of what you said about wanting your child to be like you, you can also want your child to not be like you. And either way that creates suffering. Whether you want your child to be like you or not like you, both of those creates suffering. And the idea that we can recognize our child’s own experience and allow them to have that experience with our guidance. I mean, doesn’t that just sum up parenting?
Diana Winston 50:26
And I think it’s, it’s a really hard place for parents to be when we’re told by our culture, and we feel as though we need to teach our child everything. And if we haven’t taught our child to love to read, then we failed as a parent, we haven’t done our job. Whereas our children can still have satisfied fulfilling, empowered lives. Even if they don’t love reading.
Diana Winston 50:54
You got it?
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for being here to share this with us. I’m really hoping that parents who might have heard of mindfulness and meditation before and maybe thought “Meh, why even bother” will have heard this and think, “Okay, I think it’s worth a try.” And maybe it won’t yield anything useful but I will say that I have seen profound shifts in my ability to respond differently to situations in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined a year and a half ago, when I started practicing, it has not been a linear, “Okay, I meditated for half an hour last night. And today, you know, I didn’t shout at my husband when he did something I wish he hadn’t done.” It’s been a much more subtle, gradual shift. But then all of a sudden, something happens. I’m like, “Oh, a year ago that would have… I would not have been able to deal with that. And now I really can. And so thank you so much for being here and for sharing your practice with us.
Diana Winston 51:49
My pleasure. It’s been really fun.
And so the links to Diana’s books, including her latest book, The Little Book of Being as well as all the other resources that we’ve discussed today can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/MINDFULNESS.
And don’t forget that links to references for the show as well as to Diana’s books, including her latest, The Little Book of Being can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/MINDFULNESS. And if you’d like to join me for the Taming Your Triggers workshop, then I’d love to see you there. Find out all the details at YourParentingMojo.com/TamingYourTriggers.
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About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school