Another new favorite place for children. Storytime at Eidem Homestead Historical Farm in Brooklyn Park, MN.
Just Show Up: A Love Story
The last thing I recall clearly was being in the operating room. The baby had just been delivered, but he wasn’t crying yet; the nurses were still clearing out his mouth. I was shaking violently, either from fear or from all the drugs that had been pumped into my system. I begged the anesthesiologist to do something for my nausea. Before she added another drug to my IV, I heard a nurse asking my doctor the reason for the C-section, presumably for hospital paperwork. “It’s late and I wanted to go home,” he said. I suppose he was joking, but after 36 hours of labor, I wasn’t really in the mood to laugh.
In the blurry weeks that followed, I went over the events of that day in my mind like a crime-scene investigator, trying to figure out exactly when something had gone horribly wrong. Because something was clearly horribly wrong. When I held Nathaniel, I felt a pounding, all-consuming anxiety. One word thrummed through my head like a drumbeat: escape. I wanted to put Nathaniel in his crib, walk out the door, and never come back. When we took him for his first checkup, I sincerely hoped the doctor would see that I was not up for the challenge of motherhood and allow us to leave the baby there.
What kind of mother was I? What kind of person was I? You’re a monster, I told myself. A monster who doesn’t love her own child. It didn’t make sense. I had always thought of myself as the kind of woman who was born to be a mother. But here I was, desperately plotting my escape from the role I had craved most in life.
When my husband took pictures of me with the baby, I tried to force my face into a smile, but my eyes told the truth. They were flat and empty. My voice sounded like it was coming from down a long tunnel. I had no appetite. Food tasted wrong.
A few friends suggested that I might have postpartum depression, but I didn’t think so. That felt like a crutch, an excuse. Besides, I wasn’t crying all the time. I wasn’t crying at all. I was just sitting there, either numb or panicking, incapable of doing anything right. I wasn’t sick. I was useless.
I can’t do this. I won’t do this. These words ran through my mind day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. Every time the phone rang, I hoped it was someone calling to rescue me. Friends came and visited, but they always left. “Take me with you,” I remember begging one of them. I tried to pretend I was joking, but I wasn’t.
I was feeling worse after a few weeks, so I called a psychopharmacologist I had seen a few years back. She was straightforward and told me that with the right medication, I would feel just like my old self. I didn’t believe her. My old self was gone — I was sure of that.
I went back to a therapist I had seen before my marriage, but she had become, over time, more a friend than a counselor. I was ashamed for her to see me in my current state. I went once and didn’t return.
Next I tried an old-school psychoanalyst. Dr. Freud, as my husband called him, was warm and reassuring, but he wanted to talk about my childhood and I wanted to focus on the present. By this point, Nathaniel was more than 2 months old. I feared that if I didn’t get better soon, I’d never bond with him. Also, my maternity leave was coming to an end. I needed to take a more aggressive approach.
A friend had given me the phone number of a postpartum-depression hotline, and I carried it with me for weeks before I got up the nerve to call. When I finally did, a kind woman assured me that I did have PPD, and that it was surmountable. The other doctors I had seen told me that too, but she was the first one I really believed. She told me she heard women say exactly what I was saying all the time. I had felt so alone in my dark, ugly thoughts, but she had personally talked to other women who had gone through exactly what I was going through. They had gotten better, and I would get better too.
The woman from the hotline suggested a therapist specializing in PPD. When I called her, she told me that the fact that I experienced guilt over my negative feelings about motherhood was a good sign. It meant I didn’t want to feel that way. And she told me she had also had PPD, and she had gotten over it and had gone on to have a second child. On my first visit, she gave me her personal copy of Brooke Shields’s book about postpartum depression, Down Came the Rain. After reading the book and with the therapist’s counseling, I started to feel better. I went back on the antidepressant I’d been taking before I got pregnant, which made a big difference.
And something else helped me too: a line from an article I read about Rosanne Cash. When describing her work ethic, she said, “Just show up. Just do it. Even if you feel like s— and you think you’re terrible and you’ll never get better and it will never go anywhere, just show up and do it. And, eventually, something happens.” That spoke to me. I felt like a terrible mother and I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out which cry meant “I’m hungry” and which meant “I’m tired.” I couldn’t get the baby wrap to work. I didn’t know how often to bathe him, or when to put him down for a nap, or whether to put him in pajamas or to let him sleep in a diaper. I was sure that if left alone in my care, he would die. But when my mind started with its refrain of I can’t do this, I won’t do this, I thought of that quote from Rosanne Cash. Just show up, I told myself instead. Just do it. So I did. And she was right: Something happened. I started to get the hang of it.
I turned a corner when Nathaniel was 3 months old and I returned to work. I love my job, so going back to it — and going back to my pre-baby routine — made me happy. Ultimately, I rediscovered my confidence, which had felt as if it had been put into a car, driven into the middle of the desert, and set on fire.
It took me a while to come to terms with what happened during the earliest days of my child’s life. More than once, I’ve found myself wishing I had known him when he was first born. And of course that’s foolish, because I was right there. But also, I wasn’t. To see us together these days, you’d never know. When he smiles my heart bursts, like fireworks, into a thousand tiny stars. I love nothing more than snuggling with him or reading to him. And I guess I’ll never understand exactly what went wrong, whether I was traumatized by the C-section, or if I experienced some sort of hormonal crash, or if people with my type A personality — those of us who like to do things perfectly on the first try, who like to be in control — are just destined for a certain degree of panic when we become mothers and lose control of absolutely everything. I thought I would fall in love with my baby the first time he was in my arms. But that didn’t happen. It couldn’t happen until the thing that broke in me when he came into the world was fixed. But I love him now, boundlessly and without reservation. And maybe in the end what matters most isn’t the moment we fall in love, but what we do with that love once it takes hold.
Here’s my little artist. She loves to paint and asks me to paint several times a week. You’ll notice she is rinsing her brush in a ceramic cup. After getting them in and out of hall closet so many times I decided to keep them in the cupboard you see in the background. I put a painting shirt, art rags to dry her brushes on, the box of brushes and the cup in that cupboard. She can get the cup out and fill it with water; get out her towels and her paint shirt. That leaves less for me to do when she asks to paint. Her paint shirt was in the wash so she’s wearing an over the head bib made out of a dishcloth that she got from her grandma as a baby.
The acrylics below I got on Ebay.
The canvases I also bought on Ebay in bulk.
The Elmo drop cloth keeps clean up nice and easy and avoids paint on the rug. Notice the table she is working on. It was originally a train table that I made for her but now it is her arts and crafts table. It’s good because it is close to the floor so there is less for me to monitor when she is working on something.
Kevin Kling is AMAZING. He’s funny, smart, creative, thought-provoking and he’s a story teller. Add to that two amazing cellists and one out of this world singer/performer and you have yourself a night at the theater.
And not just any theatre but the “Open Eye Figure Theatre” in South Minneapolis.
Go online NOW to get your tickets. You will not be disappointed.
FROM THEIR WEBSITE:
“Kevin Kling, nationally known storyteller and Artist-in-Residence at Minnesota Public Radio, returns this August to the Open Eye stage for the seventh consecutive year. Since 2007, Mr. Kling has delighted Open Eye audiences with work exploring themes of politics (Politico, 2012), religion (Joice Rejoice, 2011), fairy tale (Folks and Heroes, 2010), trauma recovery (Flight, 2009) and more.
This year he brings us Humanimal — a work that explores the lives of humans with their animals (or is it the lives of animals with their humans?). He will be joined by perennial collaborators Michael Sommers, Simone Perrin, Jacqueline Ultan, and Michelle Kinney to create an evening of story, song, and imagery.
Mr. Kling draws inspiration for Humanimal from the work of Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild, knowing we are all either drawn to the wild or repelled by it. Humanimal follows the journey of the human/animal connection — beginning with its rough start, then moving through a period of mutual understanding and respect until finally, as so often happens, it comes down to “Who-Done-Who-Wrong” or “I will always love you”.
This limited run is not to be missed. For those who know Mr. Kling’s work through MPR broadcasts or Fitzgerald Theater performances, Open Eye’s intimate 90-seat venue provides a rare opportunity to hear his stories up close, as if he were sitting in your own living room. Kevin Kling is a superb storyteller whose tales can revive a soul. In these tales, it just may be the animal that revives the human soul.
NOTE: This production contains adult language — some of the animals in these stories swear. Consider this show to have the equivalent of a PG-13 rating.”
New Study Shows Why You Should Get the Kids to Bed on Time
Going to bed at a regular time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, recent research shows.
A large study published in June found that young children with an irregular bed time fared worse on cognitive tests several years later. Sumathi Reddy explains on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.
Going to bed at the same time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, a recent study found.
Researchers at University College London found that when 3-year-olds have a regular bedtime they perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. The findings represent a new twist on an expanding body of research showing that inadequate sleep in children and adolescents hurts academic performance and overall health.
The latest study considered other factors that can influence bedtime and cognitive development, such as kids skipping breakfast or having a television in their bedroom. After accounting for these, the study found that going to bed very early or very late didn’t affect cognitive performance, so long as the bedtime was consistent.
“The surprising thing was the later bedtimes weren’t significantly affecting children’s test scores once we took other factors into account,” said Amanda Sacker, director of the International Center for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at University College London and a co-author of the study. “I think the message for parents is…maybe a regular bedtime even slightly later is advisable.”
The researchers suggested that having inconsistent bedtimes may hurt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian rhythms. It also might result in sleep deprivation and therefore affect brain plasticity—changes in the synapses and neural pathways—at critical ages of brain development.
Sleep experts often focus largely on how much sleep children get. While that is important, “we tend to not pay as much attention to this issue of circadian disruption,” said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.
Insufficient sleep and irregular bedtimes may each affect cognitive development through different mechanisms, Dr. Owens said. “The kid who has both [problems] may beat even higher risk for these cognitive impairments,” she said.
The study, published online in July in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children.
The children were participants in the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative longterm study of infants born between 2000 and 2002.
Mothers were asked about their children’s bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Nearly 20% of the 3-year-olds didn’t have a regular bedtime. That figure dropped to 9.1% at age 5 and 8.2% at age 7. Mothers were also asked about socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and family routines.
When the children were 7 years old, they received cognitive assessments in reading, math and spatial abilities. The poorest test scores were recorded by children who went to bed very early or very late, and by those who had inconsistent bedtimes, said Dr. Sacker. But once other factors in the home were taken into account only the inconsistent bedtime was associated with lower scores, she said.
A consistent pattern of sleep behavior mattered. “Those who had irregular bedtimes at all three ages had significantly poorer scores than those who had regular bedtimes,” Dr. Sacker said. This was especially true for girls who didn’t establish consistent bedtimes between 3 and 7 years old.
Yvonne Kelly, a co-author of the study and a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said the researchers aren’t sure why girls seemed to be more affected. She noted that the difference in scores between these groups of girls and boys wasn’t statistically significant for the reading and spatial tests, but it was for the math test.
“I don’t think for one moment that boys are immune to these things and girls are more affected,” Dr. Kelly said.
In general school-age kids—kindergarten through eighth-grade—should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3- and 4-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including day-time naps, said Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University.
Dr. Paruthi said the good news from the study is that the majority of the children went to bed at a consistent time, reinforcing advice from sleep specialists. “The younger the child is, the better it is to get into the habit of a regular bedtime,” said Dr. Paruthi, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. She recommends a 15-minute, pre-bedtime routine to help the brain transition from a more alert to a quiet state.
And in order to keep the body’s internal clock in sync with the brain, bedtimes on weekends and in the summer should only stray from the normal time by an hour or less, Dr. Paruthi said. “The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day,” she said.
Write to Sumathi Reddy at firstname.lastname@example.org
I made this bacterial fungal fermented tea at my house that is supposed to be full of probiotics and other good stuff and I’m super excited. I was even more excited until I found out it could make you sick or kill you (very rare).
But then I figured that people have been doing this for thousands of years so how bad could it really be. Also, one of the arguments is that there haven’t been any human studies (only animal studies and, interestingly, Kombucha did not harm rats and in some instances resulted in health improvements on the little guys).
Then a friend of mine made an interesting point. She said, “I figure the large population of people making Kombucha at home IS our human study.” Very wise. If Kombucha were killing people right and left we’d be hearing a lot more about it. The Bird Flu and West Nile Virus get a lot more attention than home-Kombucha-making ever has so I figure I should be good to go. I have been told that if you’re immuno-suppressed or compromised this might not be the drink for you.
The only thing you really need to watch out for is the mold and there are a lot of pictures and descriptions on the web to help you with that. The samples below do NOT have mold on them. Based on my research, I have deemed these healthy Kombucha samples.
Although you might think the above three pictures of the same bottle of Kombucha is moldy, it’s not. That big blob of stuff is called a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts). The scoby eats the sugar and ferments the brewed tea that I added to it. The brown specks are from loose tea that made its way into the jar. The white part is actually smooth, not fuzzy like you would see on cheese.
If it is fuzzy like the mold you find on cheese or bread then you throw everything out and start fresh. I looked for information telling me I might die from the mold but I couldn’t find anything that remotely suggested that, so that was comforting.
So here’s some good info: “Mold tends to grow especially when the Kombucha mushroom is lifted out of the liquid by its own gases. Keeping it covered with liquid in the later stages, i.e. when the new Kombucha mushroom starts growing, can successfully prevent mold from growing.” (Wikipedia)
With each batch a new round white disc grows on the top. This is the new Kombucha “mushroom” as some like to call it. Also, I read that it is important to disinfect and clean your hands and the jars with white vinegar, not soap. Somehow soap can lead to the introduction of bacteria.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Below are various views of the same jar of seven-day fermented Kombucha. You’re not supposed to fiddle around with the stuff while it is brewing. I did take a peek a few times to make sure I didn’t see any mold growing. It was interesting to watch the bubbles start to develop as the yeast and bacteria were eating up the sugar. Similar to the process of rising when you make bread.
MAKING THE KOMBUCHA
So the way you make Kombucha is to brew about a quart of tea and dissolve a little over a cup of sugar in the warm liquid. When it is warm (not hot) add it to the scoby that is resting in your gallon jar in a few inches of water or Kombucha from the last batch.
Fill the remainder of the jar up with water leaving a few inches of room at the top.
Cover the jar with a paper towel and put a rubber band around the top. This is to prevent fruit flies from getting in. I had fruit flies in my kitchen from the compost and they didn’t bother my Kombucha in the dining room at all.
The Kombucha needs to be stored in a warm, dark place. Some people store their Kombucha in a dark cupboard but my cupboards are all full so I left it on the dining room table with a towel over it to keep out the light.
Brewing takes a minimum of seven days. The further out from seven days you go the more acidic or vinegar-like it gets. I prefer it a little sweeter so I went right up to seven days and then took it out.
I have a second jar I’m going to let go until 10 days so I can see what the difference in taste is. If you let it go several weeks it will get to some vinegar like state and you can do something with that but I’m not sure what. You can also experiment with green and black teas. Some say they need to be caffeinated. Teas with oils as flavors (like Earl Grey) are not recommended as they can harm the scoby.
Flavors from fruits can be added later, after the brewing is done, but I haven’t tried that yet either.
On the left, the jar with the paper towel on it has a scoby on the bottom. This is my scoby hotel where I am going to store my scobies for use as I want them. The jar on the right is the one that I haven’t poured into jars yet and am going to let ferment for a few more days.
WHAT TO DO WHEN IT IS DONE
Below you will see the plastic and glass jars that I poured my completed Kombucha into. I will store them in the fridge until I’m ready to drink them. I’m hoping they won’t lose their carbonation in the larger containers if I only drink some at a time. I think it will be like any soda. If there is a large amount of air in the container, the Kombucha will eventually lose its fizz.
Refrigerate, drink and enjoy! I know I will. Hopefully I’ll survive 🙂
I love taking my child to the theatre and I’m pretty sure she likes it to. However, the major children’s theater in Minneapolis/St. Paul, despite its amazing performances, can be pretty pricey. Tonight I discovered a new, community-based theatre that I fell in love with. The theater is the Open Eye Figure Theater and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
The show we saw was Milly and Tillie, and it truly was silly.
I paid full price for our tickets and I believe the total was around $15.00 for both of us. So, given the price and the extras you’ll soon find out about, I was awestruck at the quality of the performance and how the whole experience was truly tailored to children, while keeping adults engaged as well.
The whole theatre seats 90 people. It is so cute and warm and inviting! Notice the benches in the front. They are about six feet from the stage so the little ones can really get in on the action.
Tickets are available on-line or in person on the night of the show. They also had a “pay what you can” option that you could select on-line. Furthermore, they have a “no one will be turned away due to an inability to pay” so just show up for the show you want to see and pay what you can. They are bound to have empty seats.
The theatre is just east of 35W between Franklin and Lake Streets. It looks like a renovated warehouse. From the outside you wouldn’t even know there was a theatre if it weren’t for the chalk drawings on the sidewalk outside. The inside is so warm and cozy and quaint…Just a great feel to it.
This particular performance used both stage actresses, puppets and silhouettes or shadow puppets. The pace was good and the energy amazing. Child and adults alike were entertained for the duration.
The theater was only about a two-thirds full and there was plenty of seating available upfront on the low couch-like pews that are meant for the younger set. If you’re interested in showing up for a performance at the last minute, I would say go for it! Otherwise you can pre-order your tickets on line and just give them your name when you arrive. They have a printed out list of names. Nothing fancy. No frills.
The best two things about the Open Eye Figure Theatre (besides the price and the quality) are the sidewalk chalk that children can use before and after the performances and the free ice cream cones that they handed out in the lobby following the show. The show was only 45 minutes long so no intermission was needed. We had a choice of butter brickle or strawberry ice cream in a cake cone. Many patrons hung outside after the show, chatting and socializing.
While we were waiting for the performance to start a little six year old Latina girl came in and plopped herself down in the front row. One of the three staff came over and checked in with her to see if she was by herself. When she said yes, the staff person said, “That’s okay. That’s cool. Just checking.” I introduced my daughter to her and they became fast friends, getting water together, sitting next to each other on the bench, holding hands while getting ice cream. The little girl said she lived in the neighborhood, which is economically and socially challenged. It was so nice to see that she had a place to go on a Saturday night that was safe and free. During the course of the show I learned that she had seen the performance before. She consoled my four year old during the thunderstorm scene and when Tillie was dressed like a shark she told my daughter that the shark wasn’t real, that is was actually one of the sisters.
I would say this is truly an under-explored community gem…a great place for families, kids and friends, and a community service. Bringing art and drama to low income families. If you have a chance, take your family to see a performance at the Open Eye Theatre. You won’t regret it and your wallet and your spirit won’t either.
This is a view overlooking the large, multifaceted play area (aka Discovery Hollow) of the Tamarack Nature Center located in White Bear Township, Minnesota. Tamarack Nature Center is run by one of our local counties and is a 20 minute drive north from the downtown area. It consists of three main areas: the Waterway area, the Log Play area and a huge vegetable and herb garden. (There is also a large “Garden Kitchen” which I assume they use during the camps and summer programs.)
Here is a sign marking the water way areas. There are two sources of water that feed into the sand beds. One is up higher and the other down lower.
The best part of Tamarack Nature Center is the Waterways. They have a huge sand bar that is fed with water by human operated systems. When the water goes off, one touch and you can turn it back on. It goes for about a minute and so you get to keep turning it back on as the children desire. (My four year old learned how to turn it on so that made things easy.) The water was also REALLY cold which was nice for such a hot day. As you can see, the children were enjoying the water and sand play both viscerally and intellectually, depending on their age and desired play activity.
Here are a few shots of a Dad and his son making a dam in the water area.
In addition to the water and sand area there was a more shaded area with logs and branches that the children could move around to create forts or whatever their imagination desired. I saw a father instructing his young child on the physics of paddling a canoe while sitting on a log with a stick-for-a-paddle in hand!
In general, the park was also just plain beautiful. It sits on a very large piece of undeveloped land. Here’s a shot looking out over the field just adjacent to the play area.
This was another little area. I assume they use it for presentations or for preschool activities and the like.
Not far from the play area the rocks and flowers were a source of attraction as well.
I love the windwill and this view of the park.
Inside the Nature Center itself there was also a large room with live animals (turtles, salamanders, bees). It had a beautiful high ceiling and lots of windows looking out over the meadows and the bird feeders. There was a kids’ corner with books and nature puzzles.
I believe there are also paths to walk and more nature sights to see. I look forward to our next foray into the Tamarack Nature Center! Perhaps in the winter?
This article illustrates a major problem in today’s society of child-rearing: Parents don’t see screen time as an issue with their children. According to this research article, content is a concern to parents, but QUANTITY? Not so much.
Are kids getting too much screen time? Parents aren’t sweating it
Among the zillions of decisions that moms and dads make about how to parent, it might seem that determining the appropriate amount of time young children can spend watching TV and playing on tablets and smart phones might be big one.
But it turns out that’s not the case. Most parents of children younger than 8 don’t give the matter much thought, researchers from Northwestern University found in a recent study.
Just 31% of the 2,300 parents surveyed expressed concern about their children’s media and technology use, while more than 55% of parents said they are not worrying about the amount of time their children spend staring at screens much at all.
And while 38% of parents said they were fearful their children could get addicted to hand held devices like tablets and smart phones, 55% said they aren’t sweating it.
(If you are anything like me, and have had the experience of trying to pry an iPhone out of the clutches of a screaming 2-year-old, you are now feeling very out of sync with your fellow American parents).
“It was completely surprising to me,” said Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and the lead researcher on the study in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a generational shift. What we are seeing is a generation of parents who recognize that what kind of content you are exposing your kids to matters more than how much.”
The study, titled Parenting in the Age of Digital Media, held other surprises as well. For example, although 71% of parents had a smartphone in the home, nearly the same percentage said they did not think that having a smartphone or tablet device made parenting easier.
The study also revealed that most parents do not rely heavily on digital devices to distract their children. When Mom or Dad needs a moment to cook dinner or clean up the house, parents said, they are more likely to set their kid up with a toy or an activity (88%), a book (79%) or TV (78%) rather than handing over a smartphone or tablet (37%).
“Parents have a lot of tools they can use and media and technology are just one of those tools,” said Wartella.
Finally, the researchers found children’s media use is largely determined by the media environment that the parents have established in the home, rather than the result of a media obsessed kid clamoring for just one more show, or just one more app.
Of the families interviewed for the study, 38% fell into a category the researchers dubbed “media-centric.” These are families where the parents enjoy watching TV and using the computer and smartphone at home, spending an average of 11 hours a day looking at various screens. The children of these parents, on average, spend four hours and 40 minutes a day looking at screens, the researchers found.
Some 45% of families fell into a “media-moderate” category where the parents spend a little less than 5 hours a day looking at screens. Their children, in turn, look at screens just under three hours a day.
And children in “media-light” families, where parents spend less than 2 hours a day looking at screen media, look at screen media themselves for an hour and 35 minutes on average.
“Instead of a battle with children on one side and parents on the other, media and technology has become a family affair,” the researchers conclude.
Meditation goes mainstream
With doctors prescribing it and scientists swearing by it, you clearly don’t need to be a monk to meditate. Enthusiasts have even given it a new name:”mindfulness.”
Article by: Jeff Strickler , Star Tribune
Updated: May 29, 2013 – 6:08 PM
When the Rev. Ron Moor began meditating 30 years ago, he did so in secret.
“When I started, meditation was a dirty word,” said Moor, pastor of Spirit United Church in Minneapolis. “[Evangelist] Jimmy Swaggart called it ‘the work of the devil.’ Because of its basis in Eastern religions, fundamentalists considered it satanic. Now those same fundamentalists are embracing it. And every class I teach includes at least a brief meditation.”
The faith community isn’t alone in changing its attitude. Businesses, schools and hospitals not only have become more accepting of meditation, but many offer classes on it. Meditating has gone mainstream.
Why? “Because it works,” Moor said.
Adherents have been saying that for centuries, of course, but now there’s a difference: Scientists can prove it.
Propelled by technological breakthroughs in neuroscience enabling researchers to monitor brain activity, the medical community is awash in studies showing that meditating has beneficial physical effects on the brain. Those studies are being joined by others demonstrating that advantages include everything from raising the effectiveness of flu vaccines to lowering rejection rates for organ transplants.
“Meditation has become a huge topic” in medical circles, said Dr. Selma Sroka, medical director of the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) Alternative Medicine Clinic. “The health benefits are so strong that if nothing else, people should learn the relaxation techniques.”
The practice is being embraced by an audience that isn’t interested in its religious contexts, typically Buddhist or Hindu, but is fascinated by its mechanics and techniques. Sroka compared the West’s co-opting of meditation to what happened to yoga, which came to this country as a spiritual discipline and has morphed into a form of physical fitness.
Some would-be meditators opt simply to ignore the religious element, said Mark Nunberg, co-founder of Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Although his center is a Buddhist organization, at least half the people who enroll in classes are there just for instruction in meditation, he said.
“It’s the same practice” whether it involves religion or not, he said. “It’s training the mind to be in the present moment in a relaxed way. It’s the most practical thing in the world; some might even say it’s just common sense.”
What’s in a name?
You don’t have to call it meditation. In fact, Sroka said, a lot of people would prefer that you don’t.
Terms such as “mindfulness stress reduction” and “relaxation response” are less threatening to some folks. They also make it easier to introduce the practice in offices and schools, where even a tangential reference to religion can raise red flags.
Since 2001, doctors doing their residencies in HCMC’s family medicine program have been required to take a class in meditation, not necessarily to pass on the information to their patients — although they are encouraged to do so, Sroka said — so much as to help them deal with the stress of their jobs. At first, the program ran into resistance. Then the hospital quit calling it meditation.
“I think a lot of it is in the language,” she said. Because of meditation’s association with Eastern religions, “members of other religions often are uncomfortable with the term. People want to know that I’m not selling them a religion.”
The scientific community’s interest in meditation springs from tests in which electrodes attached to subjects’ heads show their brains calming down during meditation, lowering stress levels and increasing the ability to focus.
The tests are generating so much interest that leading experts have almost become rock stars. In October, 1,200 people turned out for a lecture by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. Davidson is a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has been on the cutting edge of using neuroscience to monitor meditation-induced changes in the brain.
He is convinced that the brain can be trained to deal with stress the same way a muscle can be conditioned to lift a heavy weight.
“Training the mind can lead to changes in the brain,” he said.
Flexing your mind muscle
On the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota, the Mindfulness for Students club meets every Friday for a 90-minute meditation. Attendance tends to surge right before finals.
“It’s a great way to deal with stress,” said Stefan Brancel, a junior who is president of the club. Meditation “makes you capable of stepping back and taking a bigger perspective instead of getting lost in the stress. Once you step back and see the situation for what it is, you can react to it.”
The surge in scientific research focuses on brain imaging. The best known device is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produces color-coded cross-section diagrams showing how the neurons in the brain are firing.
Davidson has used this imaging with Tibetan monks. While his findings have been stunning, questions arise over their applicability to the general public. Studying the brain waves of people who meditate for several hours a day is comparable to measuring physical fitness in Olympic athletes, critics say. The results might be impressive, but what do they mean for the average person?
That’s why Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing, is excited about studies of meditation newcomers. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have documented changes in the brains of novice practitioners who took an introductory eight-week class and meditated as little as 15 minutes a day.
Sroka said that the techniques can become second nature. In times of stress, “you slow down and breathe slowly,” she said. “You get to the point where you do it routinely without even being aware of it.”
Kreitzer agrees. “Mindfulness is an attitude that you carry with you,” she said. “I think mindfulness really helps us move through life with ease.”
She also challenges the notion that meditating requires a special room filled with incense, soothing music and floor mats on which practitioners twist themselves into the lotus position.
“You can sit, you can stand, you can walk,” Kreitzer said. “I wouldn’t advise doing it while you’re driving, but other than that, meditation can be done anywhere.”
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392