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Mindfulness: As a Way to Optimize The Functioning of the Human Brain

Posted By Elisa Laconich, Friday, July 27, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Currently, advances in medicine, using technologies and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases, have achieved an increase in the world population life expectancy. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause of death and incapacity; murders, suicide, car accidents, and psychiatric illness are daily news. In this scenario, practicing a lifestyle that promotes a healthy mind and that increases one's quality of life is more than justified.


In this matter, the mindfulness is the pathway of mental training, tranquility, compassion, connection with oneself and one’s surroundings. However, as everything we want to achieve, learning awareness also implies a degree of effort.  At the beginning of this training, it is not unusual to be distracted by such frustrating thoughts as  “I can't focus”, “I need to have a perfect outcomes”, “I can't stay still”, “I don't have enough time”, “I'm not doing it right”, etc... We should understand that there is no wrong way to focus; the correct way is the one that suits you. There is no correct way of living other than that which adapts the best to us, similar to “My Way” from Frank Sinatra, about a man who looks back on his life with full awareness and without judgment, and is especially proud of having lived his life enjoying every step of the way.

Therefore, despite that the awake meditation may sound difficult; for certain we have all already done it at some point. For example, if you have hung out just thinking about something, if you have prayed, if you have observed nature or someone for a few minutes, then you have awareness moments linked to the present.

In the last decades, neuroscientists have been keen to verify the effectiveness and brain changes that mindfulness can cause. This has lent greater robustness and reliability to this practice, which in turn has contributed to greater diffusion of this practice among society.

The truth is that science increasingly gathers more evidence that small changes in the mind lead to big changes in the brain and therefore into life experience. What flows through the mind sculpts the brain, especially if it is constant, lending credibility to the phrase: “The main activity of the brain is changing themselves,” Marvin L. Minsky.

The main changes in the brain result in neurophysiological modifications translated by the presence of certain brain waves and frequencies denoting synchronicity in the functioning, which means more coherence between connections and areas. According to brain scans, meditation can strengthen synaptic connections, as well as producing more cortical sulcus and gyrus, processes associated with increasing the speed of information processing, decision-making, better memory, and attention.

In addition, the effects of meditation practice are associated with morphologic changes, such as more density in the gray matter, which have a positive effect by improving cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, as well as better self-control, breathing, and heart rate. Moreover, other studies suggest that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus and frontal lobe, resulting in more positive emotions, more emotional stability, and more conscious behavior in day-to-day life. When we talk about more conscious behavior, we come to taste and therefore value manifestations from ourselves and from others, helping to free ourselves from the slavery of automatism—“stolen lives”—in which we live immersed every day.

In consequence, a quiet mind will always be more productive cognitively, and this will facilitate adaptation to change, reducing everyday stress and the impulsive reactions that tarnish our welfare.

 

“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”

- Albert Einstein

 


Elisa Laconich is a Ph.D. in Psychology with orientation in Cognitive Neuroscience. Partner of the ONG the world peace foundation. She works in the development of the neurosciences and the application of the neuropsychology in Paraguay. She has experience in the application of the neuropsychology to improve the quality of life in people who had brain damage through neurocognitive techniques and mindfulness. She was President of the First Congress of Research in Neurosciences Paraguay in 2015 and President of the Neurosciences Association of Paraguay. Member of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society.


Tags:  Meditation  Mental Health  Mindfulness  Neuroscience 

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Welless: From Balance to Boundaries

Posted By Nicholas Alchin, Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 23, 2018

Last week our Campus Leadership had a fascinating discussion about our assumptions around wellness, which is of concern right across the working world, but especially, of course, whenever children are involved.

Wellness is a complex construct, not least as there are ethical matters (is this an individual or group responsibility?), issues around individuality (different things support wellness for different people), and many competing ideas about how to pursue it (meditation, medication, reducing demands, mindfulness, increasing resilience…). One notion that came up a lot was the idea of balance as leading to wellness. It sounds so obvious that we need balance in our lives, but under scrutiny, things do not look so simple.

There are some obvious questions, such as over what time frame do we seek balance? As educators, I feel we do have a good balance over a year (I do not worry about balance in July), but certainly not at specific times when things are quite overwhelming (November and March in our High School are extremely intense).

But more importantly, underneath questions like these is an assumption about work-life balance that I would want to ask: Exactly what are we balancing? The work-life idea is an obvious candidate but if our work is more than just a job then it’s an important part of our lives - and it can actually be an avenue toward wellness for many people. So it's not the case that the more we have of one, the less we have of the other; that's just too simple. Of course, time is finite, but we would likely not use friend-life balance as a thinking tool, because friends are an integral part of our life. So too, for most of us lucky enough to work in professions that we believe to be important and meaningful. So if we are not balancing work and life, what are we balancing? Another possibility might be balancing the challenges we face with the resources we have, as I have written about previously. But that is not without it’s own problems (neither challenges nor resources may be in our control). So, I worry that balance is not up to the load we might put on it.

None of that it to deny that there is a problem. On the contrary, recognizing the confusion is the first step to thinking with more clarity, and to seek better conceptual tools.  So what’s a better way to think about the issue of wellness?

Ed Batista argues that the whole concept of balance is the wrong lens through which to view the wellness issue, at least for many people. He argues that we should replace the idea of balance with the idea of boundaries because “while balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place.” He identifies three types of boundaries that are worth exploring.

Temporal boundaries are the most visible signs that we can switch off; we can create and protect certain sacred times. The obvious things here are evenings, (portions of) weekends, Saturday nights out, putting the kids to bed, time exercising, family mealtimes, reading, or whatever it is that is important. Batista argues that the “amount of undisturbed time we preserve for certain activities will vary and may be quite small, but what matters is that we create and maintain a functional boundary around that time.” This seems wise to me; it shifts focus onto the things that are important to me, and that are likely within my control.

Physical boundaries are about preserving literal, not metaphorical distance from our workplaces. Technology makes this harder than it once was, as for many of us, our workplace is where our computer is; but even there, it must be possible to box work into a particular place at home; or to say that for 3 days a week we will leave the computer at work. For some it might working later and not taking work home at all. Batista notes again that “the question is not about balancing the two worlds, but establishing boundaries to create the needed separation.” Again, solutions are local, and can be down to individuals to find what works for them.

Cognitive boundaries might be the hardest ones to create and enforce. Driven folk are by definition often thinking about issues to solve, ideas to explore and so on. In these cases, the challenge is to “resist the temptation to think about work and [instead to] focus our attention on the people or activity at hand.” Once again, this is undermined by technology which is actively designed to capture our attention (various, alerts, messages, pop-us, bleeps etc). But there are ways to minimize these and once we recognize that our attention is our most precious asset and that control of it is a foundation of mental health, we might willing to put in the “persistent, dedicated effort” that it takes to train ourselves. The ability to mange this boundary is one of the major benefit of meditation, and explains the recent boom in interest in mindfulness.

None of these are magic bullets, and none of these remove the need for us to design reasonable workplaces. But identifying and enforcing these boundaries seems like a strong and worthwhile step.

Thanks to Gemma Dawson for sharing the Ed Batista article.

 

References
Batista, E (2016) Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance. Harvard Business Review

Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235


Nicholas Alchin is a Sino-Celt who has been working in K-12 International Education for too long to remember. Father of three and wife of one; currently Deputy Head at UWCSEA in Singapore. Avid reader and traveller; keen and competent breadmaker; keen and incompetent uni-cycler. 
https://nickalchinuwcsea.blogspot.com


Tags:  balance  boundaries  work-life balance  workplace wellness 

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How psychographics are being used to advance corporate wellness initiatives

Posted By Anne Marie Kirby, Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Marketers have been using consumer segmentation models (also known as psychographics) for years to help track buying behavior and shape the customer experience. 


Image source:  PatientBond

The same approach to classification of people, based on their personality, values and lifestyle, is also increasingly popular in the health care and benefits industries as a way to influence and motivate both patients and employees. Studies show that using psychographics, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, helps health care professionals deliver a more personalized approach to well being through diet and exercise — as well as providing clearer clinical support – with amazing results.

Psychographics are beginning to enter corporate wellness and employee benefits programs as a way to boost employee engagement. Companies are relying on the latest research to determine the best ways to reach out to employees with different needs and wants. One well-known example is based on research from c2b solutions – a healthcare and consumer psychographics market research firm – which has narrowed down employees into five main health personality segments. They include:

1. Self achievers
This is the most proactive group that invests in health and appearance and will tackle a challenge if given measurable goals.

2. Balance seekers
They’re proactive about their health, but more open and independent about what success looks like. They want choices and don’t want to be told what to do.

3. Priority jugglers
They’re busy and may not take the time to invest in their own well being. They are reactive when it comes to their own health, but proactive when it comes to their family’s health.

4. Direction takers
They rely heavily on what their physician says, but are not strict about fitting those recommendations into their routine; and,

5. Willful endurers
They’re not unhealthy, necessarily, but focus on what they see as more important things in life. A visit to the doctor’s office is only when it’s considered a must, or a last resort.

These categories are then used by organizations to tailor how they notify employees about wellness program features and activities. For example, a balance seeker responds well to longer emails with lots of information on a wellness initiative, and would receive more regular updates. A willful endurer, however, responds more readily to shorter emails and texts; just scanning an email that’s “too long” may cause them to simply delete it, because for them, less is more. 

According to Mark Head, President of MDH Consulting, only the balance seekers and self achievers are proactive about their health and benefits – approximately 42 per cent of employees. With the use of psychographics, employers can activate the “why should I” in the other three segments, and connect more persuasively with the other 58 per cent.

By understanding these “habits of engagement,” organizations can increase response, participation and engagement levels in wellness programs by up to 50 per cent, according to cb2.

CoreHealth Technologies is currently working with PatientBond – an adaptive technology platform that embeds the c2b research into its workflows, on a pilot for its wellness software platform. Part of the research will involve determining the right number of invitations and reminders, based on the five personality segments, which are acquired through a short questionnaire. 

CoreHealth is building psychographics into a standardized wellness platform that can be scaled to a company of any size.  According to Mark Head, of MDH Consulting, who works with PatientBond, this can help create a meaningful increase in participation among employees in programs such health risk assessments, biometrics screenings, health coaching, and overall disease management. 

That’s good for employees, employers and the overall health system.

“For companies wondering about the worth of this personalization strategy, the goals of health improvement are directly in line with higher engagement rates, which helps realize the larger goal of cost stabilization,” says Head. “Some of the lifestyle interventions that have been achieved as a result of getting more people enrolled in these types of programs also support improved results from clinical treatment.”

Another reason why companies should get on board: it’s the future. This type of advanced and personalized platform aligns with how people are already tracking their activities with wearables and smart watches. The next logical step is through virtual personal assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Now. The day isn’t that far off when these systems are incorporated into wellness programs to help employees achieve their wellness goals. 

Imagine starting the week by asking Alexa or Siri, “How much exercise do I need to do this week to achieve my wellness goal?” These technologies – which can be enhanced by understanding habits of engagement - are advancing rapidly and will become yet another exciting tool to help motivate people to improve their health and wellness.


 Anne Marie Kirby is the founder and CEO of CoreHealth Technologies - A leading corporate wellness platform trusted by wellness providers, including corporate wellness companies, insurers, health facilities, benefits brokers, EAP providers and HR consulting firms, for 2+ million employees worldwide.


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Changing How We Think About Healthcare and Wellness

Posted By Heather Mason, Friday, July 13, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 9, 2018

health costs in the USA, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are nearly double that of ten of the globe’s other wealthiest countriesIt was recently reported in Journal of the American Medical Association that health costs in the USA, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are nearly double that of ten of the globe’s other wealthiest countries. Yet despite the high cost of healthcare, the US still experiences poorer outcomes; starkly illustrated by US citizens having the lowest life expectancy of all the countries analyzed. 

These facts raise a question: Is it time we change how we think about healthcare, and adopt a more holistic approach in the form of Integrative Medicine? Switching our focus from treating the symptoms of ill health to tackling them at the source — particularly in regards to general wellness — may well improve healthcare for individual patients, while significantly lessening the collective financial cost. 

In 2016, the USA spent 17.8% of its GDP on health. When compared with the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland (where health expenditure accounted for 9.6% - 12.4%) the high price of American healthcare becomes clear. The cost of everything from prescriptions to doctor’s salaries are higher in the USA, and as a result some people have found that their access to medical aid is compromised. 

While the other countries boast near-universal health coverage, in 2016 one in five uninsured adults in the US went without the required medical care as a result of financial constraints. According to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index a total of 12.2 percent of all adults now lack health insurance, with the increasing costs prohibitive for many individuals living with chronic conditions.

 

Integrative Medicine 

Health is a highly emotive subject, so inevitably the political arguments surrounding healthcare in the USA are fraught, and often divisive. But whatever side of the political spectrum we fall on, Integrative Medicine is a concept that could markedly improve the outcomes in US healthcare. Instead of focusing solely on alleviating symptoms — such as Type 2 Diabetes, depression or back pain — the idea of Integrative Medicine is to provide a range of therapies that are best suited to an individual’s unique circumstances. This includes a particular focus on prevention.  

The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine defines integrative medicine as “the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, health care professionals, and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”

Our traditional view of medicine in the West is that we visit a doctor when we are feeling unwell, and they address the pain, infection, emotional distress or chronic condition through pharmaceuticals, surgery and perhaps some lifestyle advice. This has undoubtedly benefited the lives of numerous individuals, however by adopting the principles of Integrative Medicine, we can enhance this success still further by focusing on the whole person, rather than just the disease, and direct our efforts to the root causes of illness rather than just the symptoms. 

 

Empowering the Patient 

Instead laying the responsibility for healthcare provision solely on the shoulders of doctors and physicians, Integrative Medicine empowers people to take more responsibility for their own health, and provides them with the ability to address their own wellbeing. 

For example, someone suffering with depression may rely on medication to manage their illness. But while in traditional healthcare this is the be-all and end-all of their medical contact (except perhaps for talking therapy), in Integrative Medicine alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation would also play a role. These practices can be done anywhere, anytime, and are something that (once learnt) the patient can use to manage their own health, in their own time. 

Meditation, yoga and other alternative therapies have a wealth of evidence based literature that supports their effectiveness on a variety of mental and physical health conditions. Including them in a person’s medical care, in a way which is tailored to them and their individual needs, allows that person to become more self-reliant and increases their capacity for self-care. 

This shifts the burden on the medical profession from treating an illness in a generic one-size-fits-all approach - which is often complicated, expensive and rarely the perfect solution for every individual - to guiding people towards the prevention of illness. A subsequent benefit is even when people are not subject to any particular illness, they can feel markedly happier and healthier, improving their wellbeing in a variety of unusual and often unexpected ways. 

 

The Cost of Wellness 

On first inspection, it may seem that Integrative Medicine would further increase the cost of healthcare. This concept requires a deeper relationship between patients and doctors, where medical professionals take the time to gain a more holistic view of their patient. It also demands individual access to a network of health professionals and services, such as nutritionists, yoga therapists and psychologists - with an aim that this comprehensive network fulfills the needs of the patient, and promotes a collaborative approach to achieving wellbeing. 

However over time, this approach could actually be far more cost effective, despite the increase in time and services involved. The Bravewell Collaborative Report demonstrated that lifestyle changes brought about through exercise and nutritional interventions, and the advancement of emotional wellbeing can actually reverse the progression of many chronic diseases - and reduce healthcare costs to an extent that could save millions. 

If we take heart disease as an example, research suggests that nine risk factors (smoking, lipids, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and psychosocial factors) account for over 90% of the risk of acute myocardial infarction. As a result, lifestyle changes could reduce the risk of an individual developing heart disease and even if rates were reduced by only 10%, the savings made through avoided surgery would reach $10 billion dollars each year. 

It’s a saving which could apply to many of the USA’s most common chronic conditions, from depression to diabetes. By taking an alternative approach towards general health and wellbeing, we can address the growing healthcare crisis, and ultimately improve treatment for everyone.


Heather MasonHeather Mason is the founder of The Minded Institute, which is a culmination of her personal and professional work. She was the first person in the UK to train to teach trauma sensitive yoga under the guidance of the Boston Trauma Center, and Heather is also the director of another company, the Yoga and Healthcare Alliance (YIHA). This company is a social enterprise devoted to integrating yoga into the NHS. You can contact her at themindedinstitute.com


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Congratulations to Our 2018 NWI Award Recipients

Posted By NWI, Thursday, July 5, 2018

NWI Halbert L. Dunn Wellness Award

Mark PettusMark Pettus, MD
Dr. Mark Pettus is a triple-board certified Internist, Nephrologist, and Integrative Medicine physician practicing for over 25 years. He received his A.B. from Boston University and his M.D. from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His postdoctoral training was at Harvard Medical School. He completed his renal fellowship at The Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. Pettus is also an alumnus of The Advanced Program for Conflict Resolution, Negotiation, and Mediation at The Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Pettus currently serves as the Director of Medical Education, Wellness and Population Health at Berkshire Health Systems in western Massachusetts. In addition, he serves as the Associate Dean of Medical Education at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In that capacity, he oversees undergraduate and graduate medical education at Berkshire Health Systems, a major affiliate of the medical school. He is the physician lead on population health initiatives for western Massachusetts. He is the former Chief of Medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Pettus is the former Medical Director of The Kripalu Institute for Integrated Healing. He is the author of two book: The Savvy Patient: The Ultimate Advocate for Quality Health Care and It’s All in Your Head: Change Your Mind, Change Your Health. He serves on the teaching faculty at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. and The Meditation Institute in Averill Park NY. His podcast, The Health Edge, is heard by people all over the world.

Learn more about the NWI Halbert L. Dunn Wellness Award and view previous recipients


NWI William B. Baun Lifetime Achievement Award

Meg JordanMeg Jordan, PhD, RN, NBC-HWC, CWP
Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, is currently Professor and Department Chair of Integrative Health and Somatic Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies and former co-president of the National Wellness Institute. She has authored five books including How to be a Health Coach. Dr. Jordan is a clinical medical anthropologist specializing in integrative and behavioral health, editor and founder of American Fitness Magazine, and on the executive board of the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching. She has helped many individuals on their path to wellness and has empowered hundreds of wellness professionals. Dr. Jordan is thoroughly committed to enjoying a wellness lifestyle with family and friends and spreading word to new recruits.

Learn more about the NWI William B. Baun Lifetime Achievement Award and view previous recipients


NWI Multicultural Competency Award

Marvin BurrussMarvin Burruss, CWP
Marvin Burruss seeks to provide support, motivation, accountability and education, helping individuals achieve balance of mind, body and spirit, ultimately improving their personal well-being. He is employed by Weight Watchers International as a telephonic Personal Coach and is a coach in the employee wellness program at the College of Lake County (CLC) where he serves a diverse multicultural, multiethnic, and multigenerational population at the urban campus of the county. For four years, Marvin has served as the president of the CLC Wellness Club, and he is also a member of the CLC Wellness Commission, which supports the college initiatives to infuse diversity, multiculturalism, and environmental sustainability into the curriculum and college activities. Marvin holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is an NWI Certified Wellness Practitioner.


NWI Young Wellness Professional Award

Romuald Antoine Jr.Romuald Antoine Jr., CPT, CHC
Romy Antoine, millennial engagement expert and author of the Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials, is the founder and CEO of One Stop Wellness, a workplace wellness company that helps organizations empower their employees to improve their lifestyle. His work has been covered by Men’s Health and others. He was named Top 100 Modern Man Influencers of 2017 by Black Enterprise. Romy is a fitness trainer and nutritionist with clients all over the world. He is an authority on how organizations can inspire well-being and managers can better engage millennials to attract and retain top talent. Romy is a graduate of USciences with a BS in Biology and serves as a workplace health educator for the American Heart Association.

Learn more about the NWI Young Wellness Professional Award


NWI Circle of Leadership

Susan Morgan BaileySusan Morgan Bailey, MS, CHES®, CIC®
Susan is a high energy leader with diversified experience in health, benefits, and education settings. She currently serves as the Director of Health and Wellness Services at Marsh & McLennan Agency-Michigan. Susan holds a Master of Science degree in Health Promotion and is a Certified Intrinsic Coach® and Certified Health Education Specialist and is SHRM-SCP and SPHR certified. Susan helped develop NWI’s Worksite Wellness Program Manager certificate program and continues to share her expertise as a lead instructor. 

Lisa MedleyLisa Medley, MA, CMT
Lisa Medley, owner of Soulistic Arts, is a wellbeing mentor with over 20 years’ experience and specializes in body intelligence. She holds a Master of Arts in Expressive Therapy and is a certified bodyworker and conscious dance catalyst. Lisa is passionate about empowering others to move freely in body/mind/spirit and in life. She is the creator of a variety of body-centered programs designed to guide participants to embody greater ease. She believes that as we create more peace in our body, we create more peace in the world. Lisa is an active member of the NWI Membership Committee.

Rob OwensRob Owens, EdD, CSCS
Rob Owens is an experienced performance coach and instructional designer with subject matter expertise in applied sport and exercise psychology; health and wellness counseling; and physical cultural studies. He is currently an adjunct professor in Sport and Performance Psychology at the University of Western States and an Instructional Technology Consultant for the Bryan School of Business and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He holds a doctoral degree in kinesiology and his credentials include Real Balance Global Wellness Services’ Health and Wellness Coach, the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and the Functional Movement Specialist through Functional Movement Systems. Rob is a valued member of the NWI Council for Wellness Certification Excellence. 

Bridgette StewartBridgette Stewart, MEd, CWP
Bridgette Stewart is the Program Coordinator for Health and Community Wellness in the College of Education at the University of West Georgia (UWG). She is an active member of Shape America; the Southern District of Shape America; and the Georgia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (GAHPERD) where she serves as the current president. She also serves as the chair of the community health council as part of the health division of Southern District Shape America. Bridgette brings her expertise to NWI as chair of its Council on Wellness Certification Excellence.

Learn more about the NWI Circle of Leadership and view previous inductees


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