by clicking the "Next" arrow.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Mindful : April 2019
suggesting that mindful- ness causes brain changes in both the amygdala and the cortex. Neuroscientists are the first to say that they don’t completely understand the significance of these changes. But for now, they do know that breath-focused meditation seems to help people’s amygdalas become less reactive to their own self-critical beliefs. It also makes them less likely to see social encounters as threat- ening. When people with generalized anxiety disorder are shown pictures of emo- tional faces—happy, angry, or neutral—their amygdalas react to the neutral faces more fearfully than to the angry ones. “They perceive them as threatening because they don’t know what the person is thinking,” says Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard University. “So they go on high alert.” Lazar found that, after mindful- ness training, their amygda- las became less dense—the neurons were like trees that had been pruned—and no longer reacted to neutral faces as threatening. Mindfulness training also changes the way the prefrontal cortex responds to anxiety. “Anxious people have that voice in their head 24/7, going: ‘What if? What if? What if?’” says Lazar. “Normally we completely identify with that voice, but mindful- ness helps us step back and change our relationship to it.” Mindfulness works differently from cognitive therapy, which aims to change thought patterns to short-circuit worry. Instead of trying to eradicate anx- iety, mindfulness gets you outside of it so it’s just an experience you’re having. That distance helps you endure experiences you find stressful or scary so your amygdala can learn a new way to react. Adrienne Taren became interested in mindfulness from the perspective of a stress researcher. But when she saw the changes it evoked in the brain, she began a practice of her own. “I’m the Type A kind of overachiever who devel- oped an anxious personal- ity,” she says. Mindfulness has helped her in the emergency room, where she needs to stay in the moment and make good decisions. It also helped after a painful bike acci- dent. Taren is an off-road cyclist who rides on gravel for hundreds of miles, for fun. After healing from her extensive injury, she panicked when she tried to mount the bike for a competition. Her natural reaction was to suppress her anxiety. But her mind- fulness training helped her see another way. “I started talking to my anxiety. I was like, ‘ Hello, we’re going to WITH SO MUCH MISERY AT STAKE, IT’S A RELIEF TO LEARN THAT LOTS OF SMART PEOPLE HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO EASE ANXIETY. be together for the next 20 miles.’ I was able to picture my anxiety as this little bubble of emotion floating along beside me,” she says. “It was almost comforting.” A Little Fear Goes a Long Way Around the same time my fear of joining the Girl Scouts was keeping me up at night, a little girl was born in a Midwestern town with a rare genetic disease. By the time she reached adulthood, the disease had entered her brain, destroy- ing her amygdala. That woman, now known as Patient S.M ., helped scien- tists discover the key role the amygdala plays in anx- iety and fear. S.M . feels no fear from external threats. To me, that sounded like a dream come true. When I first developed a mind- fulness practice, I secretly hoped I could shrink my almond-shaped amygdala down to a peanut. To live fearlessly, able to take risks, pursue adventures, connect with other people without holding back out of worry that my body’s nervous system might betray my uncertainties? Sign me up. But over the last year or so, my goal has shifted. Extinguishing anxiety is no longer what I’m after. Instead, when anxiety arises, I simply pay atten- tion to its physical mani- festations, and slowly—not because I’m wishing it away—my worry recedes. It sounds crazy, but having started on this journey to do everything I could to oblit- erate anxiety, I’ve learned to value the role it plays in my life. It helps me be more compassionate with myself. It reminds me to trust other people. And that leads us back to Patient S.M. She has no fear, so her curiosity knows no bounds. She is aggressively social and wants to interact with every stranger she meets. “She has zero personal space,” says Justin Fein- stein, a neuroscientist at Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, who’s studied her extensively. “There’s no bubble. She has no discomfort looking you in the eye even if you’re a total stranger.” When 60 mindful April 2019 neuroscience