The Mindful Way To Charisma: Practices for Projecting Warmth & Presence

May 29th, 2017 by

Some of us are charismatic. Some of us just aren’t. For a long time, charisma has seemed like a magical gift that only a lucky few were given – but research is now showing that charisma is something that we can learn, and that meditation has a lot to teach us.

Charisma has little to do with how we look – we’ve all known people who are good-looking, but not charismatic, and other people who are charismatic but not good-looking. It’s a matter of behavior. In The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, author Olivia Fox Cabane identifies charismatic behavior as consisting of three essential components: presence, warmth, and power. We express these through our body language, and it’s remarkably difficult to fake them. But the good news is that we can learn to influence our mental state in a positive direction, and our body language naturally follows suit. We too can have charisma.

Mindful Presence
When we’re talking with someone who isn’t present, we can feel disregarded and resentful, as if that person feels something else is more important than their current interaction with us. And if we’re the one who’s distracted, they feel the same.

The mind of the average person wanders almost fifty percent of the time. It’s difficult to be fully present, and even small improvements can have a big effect on those around us. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness meditation trains us to focus on the present moment, regardless of whether we’re alone or with someone else – and when we are truly present with someone else, that person can feel our attention. They feel heard, respected, and valued. An added plus is that learning to be more in tune with the present moment also helps us to be happier – the more our minds wander, the more unhappy we are likely to be.

Practice:
The next time you’re speaking with someone, try this exercise from Cabane: feel your toes. Even though I practice meditation regularly, I still get distracted during interpersonal exchanges! Feeling my toes, or the soles of my feet, is a quick fix that gets me right back into my physical body in the present moment, and really helps the other person feel that I’m on the ground with them instead of lost in my head.

Compassionate Warmth
The next component of charisma is warmth. Someone who projects attentiveness and a desire for our happiness and success is someone who is attractive, even magnetic. We want people to like us and wish us well – and the best way to project through body language that we like someone and wish them well is to practice actually doing just that. Metta (loving-kindness) meditation is the Buddhist practice of generating and sending compassion – good wishes for yourself and others. In A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, author Thupten Jinpa walks the reader through the Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training course, a program that teaches us how to be more compassionate in everyday life. Sometimes, we fear that being more compassionate means weakness, but compassion doesn’t mean we can’t stand up for ourselves. In fact, it means we can do so more effectively and with greater ease.

Practice:
Cabane shares this exercise: imagine the people around you have angel wings. Smile and silently send them good wishes. When I tried this, I found myself smiling constantly. People seemed nicer, not because they were different, but because I was seeing them differently. And many more people smiled in return.

Grounded Power
Power is the third element of charisma. Power means different things to different people, but it boils down to being able to influence the world around us. It can mean physical strength, social status, wealth, intelligence, expertise, or authority. It can be hard to tell whether someone really is powerful, so people will tend to accept whatever your body language projects.

Because meditation can help us feel more grounded – projecting a sense of ease, confidence, and stability – both mindfulness meditation and metta meditation can increase our sense of power. In addition, anything that helps us realize the potential of our physical body, whether that’s yoga or long walks or weight training, will increase the confidence with which we move. While I’m only 5’5, simply getting stronger made it so that I no longer felt short around others taller than me. This shows up in my body language and posture, and people notice.

Practice:
One of the biggest obstacles to projecting power is the discomfort we feel around uncertainty. Cabane recommends the following visualization: Take several deep breaths, imagining the clean air rinsing away all your concerns. Imagine lifting the weight of everything you are concerned about from your own shoulders, and putting it on the shoulders of a benevolent entity or force – God, the Universe, Life, or anything else that works with your beliefs. Explore the idea of becoming comfortable within the uncertainty, letting go of the need to have an immediate answer.

Putting it Together
According to the research, charisma is the ability to project presence, warmth, and power through our body language and sincere attentiveness. While different people will have different degrees of each, all three elements are necessary. By practicing these mental states, our body language will automatically change to match them and we will be able to project more charisma than we knew we had.

Four Things Mindful People Do Differently

July 10th, 2015 by

Research continues to support the many health and quality of life benefits of mindfulness practice: stress reduction, greater physical well-being, and a happier, more stable mental state. Did you know that if you practice mindfulness, you are more likely to be successful in making positive behavior changes in your life (think weight loss, exercise, productivity), and you’re less likely to catch a cold or the flu?  Media personalities are also causing us to take a closer look, including ABC newsman Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works — a True Story. Anchorman Anderson Cooper recently participated in a meditation retreat led by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn as part of a segment on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Cooper reports that because of the benefits he has experienced, he is now a mindfulness practitioner. They’re getting our attention. But why should you build time into your day for mindfulness practice? How are the daily lives of mindfulness practitioners different from the lives of those who have yet to discover this millennia old form of meditation?

They Don’t Ride the Emotional Rollercoaster

Sure, mindful people have emotions—we all do, we are human! The difference is that mindful people are aware of their emotions in a different way. Their mindfulness practice trains them to be aware of and feel their strong emotions without automatically reacting to them.  When emotions arise, they are able to observe them from the safety of neutral ground rather than being yanked around by the ups and downs of the emotional rollercoaster. Over time, and with practice, they have learned from their own experience that even the most intense feelings are impermanent.

They Keep Calm and Carry On

Because people who practice mindfulness have practiced working with their difficult emotions, their reactions, decisions, and sense of self are less influenced by their emotional state when things “go wrong” or don’t turn out as planned.  Practitioners are more able than others to remain calm and effective in stressful situations, actively listening to others, and responding skillfully based on what’s called for in the moment, rather than reacting automatically.

They Pay Attention to Their Bodies

Mindfulness practice is about bringing awareness to the present moment, noticing thoughts and feelings as well as bodily sensations. People who practice this type of awareness have learned that it is OK to “be with” discomfort, knowing from experience that it too is not “fixed” but changeable. Mindfulness invites us to “hold” and attend to  discomfort in the body with kindness rather than resistance —whether it is the racing heart of anxiety, the burning tightness in the chest of anger, or the heartache of grief. By learning to turn toward what’s difficult in the body, and to explore it with curiosity, they have discovered that pain is often blanketed with layers of thought, resistance, and strong emotion. While everyone experiences pain, mindful people have discovered that without these layers of added psychological pain, their true physical pain is actually manageable. And by staying attentive to the body, they know when and how to take care of themselves, for example with a timely yoga stretch, exercise, or rest. Because they are more embodied than others, mindful people experience the fullness, richness, and aliveness of their embodied human experience.

They Practice Compassion

People who practice mindfulness and meditation tend to be less afraid of thoughts and emotions because they have looked at them and discovered that thoughts and feelings are fleeting and illusory. By the same token, they have willingly embraced deeply painful emotions and felt them in their entirety. Consequently, mindful people are more inclined to connect with and reach out to others who are suffering, and offer them empathy and compassion. The late great Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa referred to the “genuine heart of sadness,” or the tender, open, fearless heart of compassion that is awakened through practicing mindfulness. By knowing our own pain we connect more intimately with the human experience of others.

Tips for Mindfully Working with a Difficult Emotion

Sense into your body with kindness and curiosity. What sensations are associated with this emotion? Where are they located?

Notice what happens as you observe.  Do the sensations stay the same, intensify, diminish, or shift in some way?

Name the emotion. Is what you are feeling anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness?  Research shows that developing the skill of naming our emotions in the moment they arise helps loosen their grip.

Practice “just being” every day. Give your mind an “anchor” to pay attention to, for example the sensations of your breathing, or the sensations of movement during yoga. Notice when the mind wanders into thinking. Patiently return your attention to your chosen anchor, allowing thoughts to drift through your awareness like clouds in a vast sky.

 

 

Taking Mindfulness in Stride

December 23rd, 2014 by

Looking for a way to quiet your mind that doesn’t involve sitting still and following your breath? Walking meditation may be for you. It is just as beneficial as sitting meditation, with some differences. Obviously you’re walking instead of sitting, but the focus of your attention is also a bit different. Rather than attending to each breath, in walking meditation you gently attend to the experience of each step. When the mind wanders away from the feeling of walking, the practice is to patiently bring it back.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts and the pioneer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explains that mindful walking differs from regular walking in that, “you’re not going anywhere.” It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to an aspect of life, like so many others, that has become quite automatic or “mindless.”

Walking meditation shares the same 2,500-year-old tradition as sitting meditation. Ancient texts state the Buddha himself taught that meditation should be practiced in four different “postures” – sitting, standing, walking, and lying down.  The idea seems clear – train the mind to abide in the present moment in a variety of contexts, and become “present” for the whole of your life.

Walking meditation is done very slowly in a “lane” in which one walks back and forth. Remember, you’re not going anywhere. Beginners often like to use the phrase “lifting, moving, placing, landing” to help them focus their attention on the four components of each step.

For even more of a beneficial boost, take your walking practice outside. Research from Japan has shown that walks in nature, compared with urban walks, produced a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity (“fight or flight”), a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate. Participants had better moods and less anxiety.

The Fastest Way to Happiness

July 1st, 2012 by

The fastest way to happiness is within you, right here and now! It’s the absolute acceptance of WHO YOU ARE in this moment, as Marie Claire Bernards writes in this article. But most of us are not entirely aware of the subconscious ways in which we refuse to accept ourselves as we are. This is where meditation is so powerful. Through meditation we guide ourselves to ourselves – authentically – in the moment. We have a chance to “see” and “befriend” those unseen parts of ourselves that are refusing to accept the real person that we are. With regular practice, these parts begin to soften and relax and reveal the true vulnerable and beautiful Self within. Subconscious behavior patterns, generated and maintained by these parts, begin to drop away. This is the beginning of freedom, healing, and happiness!

Image: Natalia Photos

Live Long and Thrive: How Mindfulness Slows the Aging Process

May 21st, 2012 by

Are you interested in something you can do for yourself to slow the aging process, and enhance the quality and length of your life? Then you’ll be interested in the emerging body of scientific research on stress, aging, and mindfulness, a practice correlated with a protective effect on our cells. By taking up a regular mindfulness practice you can improve your well-being, slow the aging process, and help protect yourself against the most common diseases of aging.

Chromosomes 101

At the heart of this story are chromosomes – the bundles of DNA in each of our cells – especially the tips, or end caps, of chromosomes called “telomeres”. Telomeres are like the protective ends on shoelaces that keep them from fraying.  Telomeres are necessary for a cell to divide in a healthy way. Each time a normal cell divides, the telomeres become shorter and shorter. Ultimately, the cell’s telomeres become so short it can no longer divide. The result is that the cell dies. Historically this shortening of telomeres was thought to be a one-way street: shorter telomeres meant the aging and death of cells, and eventually the living thing made up of these cells.

However, new research concludes that telomere shortening is neither inevitable, nor a one-way street.  Dr. Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues, discovered why. In 2009 they received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of Telomerase – a protective enzyme in our cells that actually replenishes and lengthens telomeres. More telomerase means longer telomeres, and thus longer and healthier cell life, and presumably longer life for the organism. As you can imagine, the implication of Blackburn’s discovery for the treatment of age related disease, and the investigation of the aging process, is now growing rapidly.

Stress and Telomere Length

Many common diseases of aging are associated with shorter telomeres: cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, weakened immune system, and cardiovascular disease. Research has linked chronic stress to shortened telomere length. Interestingly, pessimism in post-menopausal women shortens telomeres as well. Chronic stress wears down our telomeres and causes our cells, and our bodies, to age and die more rapidly. But what happens to telomere length when we learn to positively change the way we manage stress? Studies now show that reducing stress and increasing positive states of mind, particularly through the practice of mindfulness, promotes telomere maintenance and lengthening!

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness, as taught in the 8-week program “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” or “MBSR,” is one of the most extensively studied methods for reducing stress and improving quality of life and overall health. Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention, on purpose, in the moment, without judgment. It’s considered an inherent aspect of human consciousness, and it can be strengthened through a variety of mental training techniques collectively known as mindfulness meditation.

How Does a Mindfulness Practice Result in Longer Telomeres?

The evidence reveals that mindfulness meditation practices are associated with increased levels of telomerase, the enzyme that protects, replenishes, and even lengthens telomeres. Researchers believe this is so because mindfulness promotes the adaptive regulation of emotion and reactivity, and is linked to greater psychological well-being. Mindfulness practice decreases rumination (the pattern of revisiting negative thoughts), while it increases the intensity and frequency of positive and pro-social emotions like empathy, kindness and compassion for yourself and others.

“We have found that meditation promotes positive psychological changes, and that meditators showing the greatest improvement on various psychological measures had the highest levels of [the chromosome protecting enzyme] Telomerase.” Clifford Saron, PhD University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain

Researchers believe that cultivating positive mental states, and decreasing negative moods and thinking, through a regular mindfulness practice, results in a “stress-buffering” benefit for our cells.  This positive change boosts our levels of telomerase which replenishes and lengthens telomeres and the life-span of our cells. In this way a mindfulness practice buffers cells against the long-term wear and tear effects of stress, and is thus believed to slow the rate of cellular aging.

References:

Blackburn, E. H. Telomeres and Telomerase: The means to the end. Nobel Lecture by Elizabeth H. Blackburn, delivered December 7, 2009 at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm (retrieved from www.nobelprize.org)

Epel, E. et. al. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009 August; 1172: 34–53.

Jacobs, T. L. et. al. Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2010)

How to Work with Sadness

March 28th, 2012 by

Sadness, grief, despair, and fear are probably some of the most difficult emotions to work with in meditation practice. We avoid feeling them, which can cause them to be entrenched – forever trying to work themselves out through repetitive behavior patterns in our life, or expressing themselves through bodily symptoms. Not good.  I found a very thorough and, I believe, wise method for learning from, and transmuting, these difficult emotions in this article by author and psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan. I realized that the process she describes parallels my own path of working with sadness. Please let me know your thoughts. Are you dealing with strong emotions?

Meditation: A Compass and a Path

March 27th, 2012 by

” . . . if I meditate — that’s like preparation for the rest of my day — it’s a self education and one that you want to renew everyday…I sit to anchor and organize my life around my heart and mind, and to radiate out to others what I find.”A fascinating DailyGood interview with psychiatrist and meditation teacher Paul R. Fleischman.

Mindfulness & Connection: Key Components of Your Best Life

March 17th, 2012 by

During my graduate studies in Transpersonal Psychology I became intrigued with the idea of human connection and mindfulness as catalysts for healing and transformation. Something about today’s world of divisiveness and separation seemed fundamentally inconsistent with my own understanding of psychological health.  I wanted to find out just what are the key elements of healthy psychological development. I was surprised to learn that prior to the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, the primary model of psychological health was based exclusively on research involving only male subjects. As a result, attributes like autonomy, separation, and competition were assumed to be qualities of healthy psychological development, while the urge for connection and relationship (typical of the female experience) was seen as inferior and unhealthy.

Enter the Healing Power of Connection

In the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, this old and incomplete model was shown to be in error, and a new model of psychological well-being emerged. This new model, based on decades of current research involving male and female subjects, shows that the urge to connect is our essential human drive – not autonomy and separation. Growth-fostering relationships, those involving active participation in the development of others, are now understood to be the primary vehicle for psychological wellness. It’s easy to see how all of us – men, women, boys and girls – have suffered under the mistaken assumptions of the old model. In fact, it seems to me our world as a whole is suffering from a failure to comprehend the critical importance of connection, interdependence, and the healing power found in a network of relationships.

Mindfulness Opens the Door to Connection

The practice of mindfulness, which is the cultivation of our natural human skill for non-judgmental present moment awareness, is emerging from its ancient roots as a healing and wholesome way to live. Health-care, personal fitness, and wellness models are beginning to incorporate a holistic mind-body-spirit perspective in the services they offer for the prevention and treatment of disease, and mindfulness is the central feature. Unlike the “find it and fix it” healthcare model currently in existence, the new integrative model of healthcare, as practiced at many major academic medical centers, reflects elements of relationship, communication, spirituality, mindfulness, wholeness, nutrition, life meaning and purpose, personal development, and the mind-body connection. These elements correspond to what appears to be the public’s increased demand for holistic treatment, the trends toward a unified approach toward life, health, and personal/spiritual growth, and hopefully an indication of a larger pattern being reflected in the world at large.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week educational program, taught throughout the US and worldwide, which originated in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and was initially developed as a way to teach mindfulness practices to patients with chronic pain. During the thirty years since, this intensive program in mindfulness has been the subject of extensive research demonstrating significant benefits for people with chronic pain, anxiety, panic, psoriasis, prostate cancer, immune function, hot flashes, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, diabetes, and psychological distress. The number of scholarly studies on mindfulness has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Recent studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between mindfulness and emotional well-being, improvements in sleep quality, mood, and fatigue.

                  In my experience as a teacher of MBSR, I’ve observed that as practitioners develop the qualities of mindfulness  through meditative practice, they typically experience a decline in their reactivity to stress, and an improvement in their attentive communication skills. These developments are ideal catalysts for the creation and improvement of relationships. The qualities of mindfulness, which MBSR practitioners learn to cultivate, include trust, patience, acceptance, non-judgment, non-striving, letting go, and curiosity. Mindfulness practice initiates a ripple effect  – from the practitioner outward toward others. This ripple effect has a scientific basis which has gained attention in the fields of psychology and organizational management in the last decade. Known as limbic resonance, researchers in this field are examining the interrelationship between the activity of the brain’s limbic system, the non-verbal transmission of emotion, feelings of empathy and relatedness, and the methods by which we, as human beings, become attuned to the inner states of others with whom we are in close contact.

I’ve seen first hand  how the ripple effect transmits these qualities from practitioners  to others, and weaves a web of healthy connections. It is this web that supports the conditions for healing, growth, mutual support, engagement, and transformation. This, combined with the extensive body of research demonstrating the importance of social connections for health and longevity, demonstrates the immense value of mindfulness practice for our health and well-being.

References: 

Gilligan, C. (1982/1993). In a different voice. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, C. (1995). Hearing the difference: Theorizing connection. Hypatia, 10(2).

Miller, J. B., & Stiver, I. P. (1997). The healing connection: How women form connections in both therapy and in life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Step Number One: Love That Which You Are

February 16th, 2012 by

In my work as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) educator, I meet people for whom stress has taken the upper hand in their lives. One of the things we discover as we learn how to meditate and observe our thoughts and emotions is that everything we say, and do, and feel is connected to other things. Often at the root of the stress vortex is not just a lack of self love, but a harsh and judgmental narrative that throttles the self regularly. You are connected to everything around you. If your interior landscape is habitually harsh and critical, your outer landscape will reflect the same quality. It’s like a law of nature. Many of the new students that I meet are plagued by a harsh inner critic. The most important thing you can do to transform your life is to start a new habit of treating yourself with kindness. Make it a practice and watch how things begin to change. Here is a great little article by Wendy Strgar that explains how and why kindness to yourself is so fundamental.

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