Podcast

Mindfulness can be an effective tool, allowing us to create new neural pathways in our brain that we can access in the heat of the moment, helping us stay regulated during life’s stressful, overwhelming and frustrating times.

In this episode, I am joined by the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, Diana Winston. We’ll cover ways that you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, dispel some common myths about meditation and mindfulness practices, discuss the impact this can have on anxiety, ADHD and trauma, and close with a short guided meditation led by Diana (you’ll want to bookmark this episode so you can revisit this ending over and over)!

Diana (00:00):

Mindfulness is this invitation back into the present moment to have a place to come to a place of more ease and wellbeing, where we can connect to ourselves and not get taken away by these ruminations.

Dr. Sarah (00:17):

Do your child’s tantrums make you see red when a child is melting down their brain and their body are dysregulated. And unfortunately for us, that dysregulation is contagious. But here’s the good news. Just like dysregulation is contagious, regulation, our calm nervous system is contagious too. And sharing this calm a process called co-regulation is one of the most effective tools for helping a child move through a tantrum. But in order for co-regulation to work, we have to actually, and authentically calm first in my brand new workshop, be the calm in your child’s storm. I’ll teach you simple but powerful steps to change the way that your brain and your body interpret your child’s dysregulation and arm you with the tools you need to stay cool in the heat of the moment, head to drsarahbren.com and click the workshops tab to register for this live 60 minute workshop and 30 minute Q&A session. I really hope to see you there!

Dr. Sarah (01:29):

Being present and in the moment is something everyone can benefit from. And that is why I’m so excited to welcome Diana Winston to the podcast. Today. Diana is the director of mindfulness education at UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. And she’s also the author of several books, including The Little Book of Being: Practices and guidance for uncovering your natural awareness. In this episode, we’ll talk about ways you can practice mindfulness yourself along with simple and practical ways. You can introduce it to your children. And make sure to stick around all the way to the end, to hear a beautiful, short and sweet guided meditation led by Diana. I promise you’re gonna wanna save this to go back to whenever you need a quick mindful reset.

New Speaker (02:17):

Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.

Dr. Sarah (02:50):

Hi, I’m so excited to welcome today to the podcast, Diana Winston. Thank you so much for being here.

Diana (02:57):

Happy to be here. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (02:59):

So you, you are like deep in the world of mindfulness, you wrote a book about it, you teach about it. And I would love to hear like a little bit about how you found this work, how you got into it.

Diana (03:14):

Yeah. after college, I was traveling around in Asia, in Thailand and India. And I ended up in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama has the government in exile. And I got interested in, well, I was involved with an activist organization and then everybody was doing Buddhist practices and Buddhist meditation and sort of hooked me in at some point and then really took a deep dive after that. I went to Thailand and meditated in a monastery for a while, and then spent the next decade back and forth between the US And Asia meditating and doing retreat practices. And at one point I even lived as a Buddhist nun in a monastery in Myanmar, Burma. So that was kind of like the first, you know, decade after college. And, but after a while, ultimately I got trained to teach it, but I got very interested in how these practices would be beneficial to people no matter what their background. So I didn’t, it’s lovely to teach it within the Buddhist context, but I’m way more interested how these can help people in whatever context, in whatever background people have. And so about 15 years ago, plus I started teaching at UCLA offering these practices in an entire really secular way.

Dr. Sarah (04:35):

That’s so interesting. Cause I think, I think that really kind of speaks to how maybe people might perceive mindfulness as it’s like, this is a, you know, this is a religious spiritual practice and it’s, it’s, you have to dedicate your whole life to it versus the way that we can actually kind of secularize it and make it about presence and make it about like a daily way of showing up in the world rather than necessarily like leaving our lives to go practice this. Like how do we integrate it into our life in a way that’s like really functional.

Diana (05:10):

And that’s definitely an approach we take at my center at UCLA and my full awareness research center. It’s, we’re interested in how to bring it into daily life so that we can improve all sorts of things, like reduce your stress level and help you deal with your emotions and working with difficult emotions, difficult thoughts, anxiety, depression, and yeah, you absolutely do not have to go to a monastery and do what I did that was sort of extreme sport version of this, but mindfulness can be done by anyone and at any time. And there’s really simple ways to do it. I mean, it takes time and effort. It’s not just like a little thing that anyone can pick up, but you need to, so you need to put effort into it, but definitely accessible to all.

Dr. Sarah (05:57):

Yeah. And like, I don’t, I’m curious cuz you probably see even more of this than I do in your, in your work with people. Like when I bring up mindfulness to some of my patients, I’ll not always, but sometimes I get the eye roll or the grown and the like, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, okay sure. Of course. I know I have to be mindful, but like I, I don’t know. Like I think people think mindfulness is something that maybe it’s not like maybe it’s this, like I get this idea that people have this image in their mind that like mindfulness is a bit all or nothing. Right. Like I have to have this like meditative practice every morning and I have to be sort of this Zen parent to be mindful. Like I have to sit with candles in the dark and omm and I think like, that’s wonderful, but that’s a very specific type of mindfulness. That’s like a meditation practice that is very intentional and specific. And, and I think when I’m talking about mindfulness, when I think you’re talking about mindfulness, we’re talk about something kind of different, and I’m curious if you could help like make the distinction for people listening.

Diana (07:03):

Yeah. Well, we’re actually talking, I’m talking about both. Okay. So for people, first of all, the people who come to me come to me generally, cuz they want to learn. So I don’t get a lot of eye rolls, but from time to time I do, especially if we bring it in to like children and stuff, then there’s a lot of eye rolls. But yeah, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there around like, oh mindfulness means, you know, like you’re saying, sitting in a room with your eyes closed meditating and there is an element of mindfulness that’s meditation. But let me, let me back up a little bit. So the way that I define mindfulness is paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness curiosity, and a willingness to be with that experience. So this is a quality of attention that can be developed most, much of the day. If you’re check into your mind. And the research shows us that our minds are lost in the past, thinking about things that happen, replaying the why I do that? Why did I say that? Or planning for the future? Obsessing worrying, going to the worst case scenario. So mindfulness is this invitation back into the present moment to have a place to come to a place of more ease and wellbeing where we can connect to ourselves and not get taken away by these ruminations. So as I talk about it like this, you can start to see that it’s, that it, it is a quality of attention that we can have at any moment. And that’s sort of what you’re pointing to however or not. However, and it’s best cultivated through a meditation practice. Because if I were just to say to just anyone off the street, Hey, be mindful. They’re gonna go, well, what do I do? So if you have a meditation practice, then you do it in a regular way and you start to realize like, oh, okay this is how you be mindful. This is how I train my attention. This is how I don’t get lost in my thoughts. And I come back to the present moment so that when you are in your home and your kid does something that drives you insane. And you’re about to yell. You remember to take a pause and a breath and be more self aware. Or you show up with them in a more full and connected way because you’ve practiced the skill of being mindful. And then just to say, one last thing I wanna add is you don’t have to do it for long periods of time. If you’re gonna meditate, it’s not like you have to spend an hour every day. I mean, I start people out with just like five minutes a day because people definitely can find time for five minutes for the most part. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (09:31):

I think that’s super accessible and it’s funny. It makes me think of like it’s like going to the gym, you know, and doing a workout. The idea of that workout, hopefully for most people is to get like, you know, to build strength and flexibility and a capacity, so that like when you are in the real world, you have more access to these functional movements. Your body is able to do things that you need it to do. And so meditation seems kind of like the going to the gym and doing the workout and then that you, so that you can actually live in the world and have access to the mindful capacities in your day to day life so that you could be more present in your day to day life.

Diana (10:11):

Yeah. And that’s definitely a good analogy, very similar.

Dr. Sarah (10:15):

And I feel like there, if you wanna get kind of neurological here, you’re creating new neural pathways when you are practicing the meditation. So that in the heat of the moment, you still have access to these kinds of skills. So even when your stress responses are kicking up, there’s these parts of your brain that are saying, hold on, I actually have new path. I can follow in these moments.

Diana (10:34):

Absolutely. And there’s some interesting research looking at a couple of different things. One looking at long term meditators. So these are people who’ve been, you know, meditating for 30 years or something and living in they’re like the Olympic athletes of meditation or something. And they when they look at their brain and compare the brain to a person of the same age range, they find that they have more gray matter. Like it’s thicker in certain areas, particularly the prefrontal cortex, which I’m sure you talk about in your podcast all the time. Right? So the prefrontal cortex is thicker than people of the same age range. So when I talk about that study, I say, you know, that’s a cool study, but it’s, we don’t know if their prefrontal cortex was like that before they started meditating. So another study, a follow up study, looked at novices meditators and saw that some minute thickening begin to happen in a similar area for people who’d only done eight weeks of practice. So this is kind of just some of the research around how around neuroplasticity and how our brain can change and new neural pathways can be created.

Dr. Sarah (11:43):

That’s amazing. And I think that’s very resonant, especially for parents of young kids, cuz we talk a lot on this podcast about emotion regulation and the frontal lobes and how that’s where all of our executive functions are housed and you know, things like focus and attention are a part of our executive functioning skills. And so they’re all in the frontal lobes. And if we want our kids to be able to learn, self-regulation learn impulse inhibition, learn to problem solve and you know, take turns have, do all these like really higher level things, teaching them things like breathing practices and meditation practices and making. And obviously you’ve gotta get creative when you’re doing it with kids. And I’m very curious, you have any strategies to bring this into our children’s lives, but like this is also gonna help with the tantrums and it’s gonna help with the meltdowns and it’s gonna help with those hot moments for our kids and for us. And we’re we wanna develop our frontal prefrontal cortex. We wanna create flexibility and a lot of neural connectivity in that space. So that’s so interesting to hear that they’re like, they’re doing like brain scans to show the, this is evidence based.

Diana (12:55):

Yeah. We’re actually about to do a study at UCLA where we’re gonna look at what’s happening in the brain. Like they’re gonna be meditating in an MRI. That is, believe it or not has never been done. So we’re gonna find out, I don’t know it’s coming up soon.

Dr. Sarah (13:08):

Oh, I’m definitely gonna wanna read that study. That’s so interesting. So yeah, I guess I am curious, like, okay. I mean it’s tricky to get kids to get interested in this stuff and the more we push the more they pull. So what are things that we could, do you have strategies for working with younger kids on integrating some of these skills?

Diana (13:28):

Okay, well here’s my little ten second version. So when a parent calls me up or emails me and says, my child really needs mindfulness skills, do you know what my first thought is? You can guess.

Dr. Sarah (13:43):

You need mindfulness skills.

Diana (13:44):

The parent needs mindfulness skills. So because it really, it starts with us. Right? And, and, and a lot of mindfulness with children begins with us, what we model, right? Are you a parent that’s constantly distracted and on your phone all the time and the kids playing with you. And I remember my friend was telling me she, she was someone who doesn’t practice mindfulness and I remember her son when he was little started saying, mommy, mommy, get off the phone, you’re soft, the phone is hard, get off. And so it’s like, they know, they know when we’re giving them full attention. They know when we are, and they know how we handle our emotions, right. So if we are, you know, if we are constantly feeling anxious or getting angry at them or so, and we don’t have tools ourselves, that’s what they’re gonna see. That’s what we’re modeling the number one piece. And, you know, we can return to this in a little bit is like, is how do we work with ourselves? How do we work with our own mind, developing ways to bring mindfulness, whether it’s a formal practice or more informal use of mindfulness and both are good, right. Either way. But in terms of like bringing it to kids. So again, I don’t ever like to impose on children and, and you know, there’s a big movement to bring it into the schools that’s been happening for a number of years. And it, it has, it works to varying degrees. I mean, some kids are really into it and some kids are not, so I never wanna impose anything. And you know, my daughter, I think it’s probably because I am a mindfulness teacher that she rebels against it. Right. So she definitely likes to make fun of me. And she pretends to be leading meditations and doing it in funny voices and stuff like that. She’s now 12, but when she was little, she used to do that a lot. And but I’ve been, you know, she’s been exposed to it since she was little. And there was a period of time, a few years ago where she was like, mommy, I’m having a hard time sleeping. Will you lead me in a meditation? And so I would just do some simple body scan, noticing her body and letting her, just drifting off to sleep as I helped relax her body and go through the different body parts. So that’s something that, you know, it was exciting when she actually asked for my support. But in terms of littler kids, there’s a lot of different resources for if you wanna bring mindfulness to kids again, like making it playful a game like, so there’s a woman named Susan Kaiser Greenland who wrote the book, The Mindful Child. And she has, like a card deck called Mindful Games. And it has it has wonderful little games that you can pull out, you know, like, like let’s be a mountain and let’s sit here. Let’s, you know, so with little kids, these kinds of things work, I think with like games and there’s another, Little Renegades is another great resource, which is also, it’s a card, also another card deck with wonderful stuff for even littler kids, like three, four age range. So my suggestion is really, is to bring it in, in playful ways. But you need to know what you’re doing yourself because it’s hard to teach anybody anything, if you don’t really know it. So just like having this abstract idea, I’m gonna teach my kid mindfulness without you doing it, it’s not really gonna go over.

Dr. Sarah (17:00):

Yeah. I actually think that that really hits home for me, the idea of like, as parents, we have to understand the why and how underneath something first. And like, I see this come up a lot with like scripts, like parenting scripts, like what to say to your child in this moment or what to do in this moment. And it’s like, okay, yeah, you could start there. But if you just reiterate the script and you don’t understand what the function of it is, it’s hard to, to really have it land or for it to be as effective as it possibly could be. So I like this idea too, of like, if you wanna teach your kid’s mindfulness, like you, you gotta kind of familiarize yourself with the concepts and the, and the functions of it first so that you can then answer questions when they come up or troubleshoot when they come up. So you’re not just like stuck with a very narrow way. You can present it, but you can be flexible and kind of move with them. As they explore with

Diana (17:52):

It. Exactly, exactly. The scripts. I mean, the scripts can be helpful, but you need to have some experience yourself or it’s just artificial. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (18:02):

Yeah. I often tell parents and I’m, I don’t know what you think about this, but I often say like find moments that you’re already doing something. This is for them to like, start to learn, introduce if they’ve never tried mindfulness, anything, and like find something you already always do, like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes and commit to like doing that fully present as just a practice. So I often start with toothbrushing because you do it in the morning, you do it at night. It’s just something that you, most people do mindlessly. And they always do it. So I’m like, can you brush your teeth mindfully? Can you notice the smell of the toothpaste? Can you taste the mint? Can you feel the bubbles in your mouth? Can you hear that sound of the scratching of the toothbrush? Can you just be fully present in this moment noticing all five senses and it’s like a nice intro to it’s like, you’re already brushing your teeth. And like, why not just add in the mindful piece?

Diana (18:59):

Yeah. That’s a great, a great technique and really helpful for people. And and I wanna add a little piece to it, which is that when you’re doing it, what typically happens is you’re mindful of the taste and the smell and all that for a few seconds. And then something happens. You start thinking about something else and there’s nothing wrong. I think that’s one of the reasons people get very worried about I’m not doing mindfulness, right? Because my mind is thinking about other things. So when that happens, it’s not a problem. You just redirect your attention back to those sensations that you were describing, Sarah. So, so that there’s like, so that it’s, it’s this constant movement away and back that actually builds the muscle. If we wanna go back to the gym analogy, it’s not that we’re all perfect. And we can be present fully with our toothbrushing for two minutes. Not like anybody does it for two minutes, but anyway, for the two minutes you’re supposed to be doing, right, our minds will wander off, but that’s fine. Then just bring it back. And that’s cultivating the skill of mindfulness.

Dr. Sarah (20:03):

Yes. I love that. That’s another thing. That’s such a good point, cuz I think people do get frustrated and they say, I, my mind is wandering and therefore I can’t do this, but yes, the way you define mindfulness at the beginning of this episode, I love that. Where it was like, I forget what your words were exactly. But it was something along the lines of like it’s an invitation to, to return to the moment. Like there is an act of leaving and coming in mindfulness, you just it’s about noticing it and coming back

Diana (20:35):

That’s right. Yeah. So, so let’s just take a moment to talk about the, like a basic mindfulness practice and how this operates. Right? So usually people begin by noticing their breathing, right? So that’s like the, you know, that’s probably the stereotype that’s out there. We pay attention to our breathing. And what that means is it’s not like we think about our breathing or we look down at our breathing or something, but we feel our breathing and, and you might feel your breathing in your abdomen as it rises and falls in your chest area or in your nose. Right? Those are the typical places. People feel their breath. So you do that for a few seconds and you’re with that. And then what happens as I was describing before, is your mind starts thinking about something else. And then in that moment, there’ll be a moment where you catch it that you realize, oh, I’m thinking you can even say a word, like “thinking” very softly in your mind. And then come back to where you were, noticing your breath back to your abdomen, for instance, and you just keep doing that for five minutes, let’s say, and that’s what starts to build this skillset, right? That’s what can create the new neural pathways over time. We’re just doing this thing. We’re training our attention to return to the present moment so that then we can do it when we’re toothbrushing or you can practice it when you’re toothbrushing and all of, and even enhance your meditation, right? Because you’re practicing this skill of returning to the present moment. It’s not about having a mind that goes blank. It’s not about a mind that never wanders. That is like unrealistic. No, that’s not what happens to anybody’s mind, everybody’s mind wanders. But it’s the act of returning that gives us the, the, that builds the skill. And then over time it gets easier and that’s, what’s cool. You’re suddenly, oh, I can be present for more than one breath. I can be present for five breaths for 10 breaths. How cool is that?

Dr. Sarah (22:21):

That’s interesting too, that like, it makes sense that it’s the frontal lobes that seem to be getting kind of exercised, or like you’re seeing more gray matter in that area because that’s a part of the brain that does that function, that returns like that’s where focus lives. That’s where noticing and returning actually live in our brain. Like why people who have ADHD struggle with executive functioning tasks, it’s all in the frontal lobe. So it’s very interesting that meditation seems like meditation and mindfulness seems like a counterbalance to some of our, maybe our biological deficits in attention, if you have a neurodiverse brain. Or some of our learned deficits in attention, if we are, you know, we live in a society where we have been sort of trained to be distracted with our phone and with, you know, the constant barrage of, of sensory input that happens with us so much these days, like we’ve our brains have been trained to like switch, focus constantly. So this idea of coming back and staying still for a minute. We sometimes have to relearn that.

Diana (23:25):

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really well said. And I think some people call it like continuous partial attention. Right? there’s the, I wanna bring up two things, some studies that we’ve done at UCLA looking at, and by the way, the mindfulness field of research is, is big. I mean, it’s being done all around the world and there’s probably 6,000-7,000 studies out there right now, which sounds like a lot. And that’s actually not a lot, there’s a lot more to do. But but one of the studies we did was with ADHD. That was actually the first one I was hired for at UCLA. And we did it, not with little kids, but with adolescents and, and adults. And we, exactly what you’re talking about. Like how do we build attention? Like, we’re told our whole life, pay attention, pay attention, pay attention, but nobody, nobody teaches us how to pay attention. Right. And, and so mindfulness is a training. One of the things about, it’s not the only thing, but it’s a training in attention that can benefit people, whether you have ADHD or just, you know, neurotypical brains. But the study that we did was interesting because we, we taught an eight week protocol to these adolescents and these adults. And what we found was that conflict, attention improved significantly. So there’s different types of attention, right. But conflict attention is when you’re trying to focus on one thing and your attention is being grabbed by many, many things. So if you have ADD that’s like, it’s really hard conflict attention improves significantly over the course of going through this protocol. So it’s like they learn how to when they’re distracted to redirect and come back, all the things that we’re talking about and this has implications for children, right? So children like who are sitting at school and they’re trying to focus on the teacher, but there’s, if you have an ADD brain there’s like so much going on, right. And it’s hard to stay focused, but we can, we can teach them how to. And then, and then this other study we did with little littler kids, I think it was, I can’t remember second, third grade or something. And what we found out was that the kids who were more severely dysregulated benefited more from the mindfulness training. Like the kids who already had a capacity to come back to the moment who weren’t like, you know, that wasn’t a struggle for them, there wasn’t a lot of change, but the kids who were, it did change significantly because they learned this skill. Is my conjecture anyways.

Dr. Sarah (25:59):

Yeah. Yeah. It’s almost like if you have like, going back to that exercise model, if you’re already a pretty fit athlete and you try a new class, you’re not, not gonna necessarily get sore the next day. Like, it didn’t necessarily train any new, like stretch any new muscle groups. But if you haven’t worked out in like three months and you go into this class or you’ve never worked out and all your muscles are a bit atrophied and you go to this class, you’re gonna be really sore the next day, which means it was hitting those muscle groups. So like does that kind of fit?

Diana (26:26):

Absolutely. And I love this analogy, which you are taking it. Sometimes we talk about this being like, it’s like working out your mind, like your mind going to the gym or something, but you’re taking it to whole new levels. I’m gonna have to steal it and use it when I teach beginners.

Dr. Sarah (26:39):

Yes. Take it. I love metaphor. I feel like it makes it just so much easier to grasp things. I talk in a lot of metaphor and I’m always kind of, I think I just visualize things. Like I see things in my head as pictures. And so I just think metaphors are so much easier to understand. But you know, you were talking about ADHD, but then my mind went to anxiety, which is another sort of, you know, cognitive, anxiety is felt in the body, obviously, but there’s a cognitive element to anxiety too. A thinking element, anxiety. We know that kids and grownups who have anxiety get feel distracted. There’s kind of like if you look at a ven diagram between ADHD and anxiety, there’s some overlap in the symptoms, specifically around restlessness irritability, distraction. Because kids who, kids and grownups who have anxiety, their mind gets flooded with lots of thoughts, lots of worries. And it’s hard to turn all that noise off. And when you have their brain full of worries, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment. So I’m curious how mindfulness plays into that.

Diana (27:47):

There’s a lot of really helpful research around mindfulness and anxiety. It’s one of the most robust areas of the research. And I’ll say a little bit about like, how, what that looks like or how one might use mindfulness. And I think in the ADHD study anxiety symptoms went down as people learned these tools for working with it. So, a lot of people think, okay, mindfulness is just about paying attention and reducing stress and going into a peaceful state or something like that, which that’s an element of it. But there’s a lot of ways the tool can be used to help us with emotional regulation and working with difficult emotions. So with anxiety part of it is something I talked about earlier. So part of it is those thoughts, that kind of like, like what I, what I like to tell students is like, we get on a train and then the thoughts, just go and go and go. And the next thing, you know, you’re like 20 miles down the track in this thought, oh, no, my kid isn’t doing well in school. What does that mean? Maybe they’ll never get into a good college and then they’re gonna fail out and da, da, right. And then it’s like, you’re 20 miles down the track. So with mindfulness, we can learn to get off the train, like, oh, wait a minute. I’m on a train. How interesting. And we can get off that train. And then with even more practice, we can learn to stay at the platform and not even get on the train in the first place. Like, there’s that scary thought? Okay. It’s just a thought it’s coming and going. I often tell people to like, just don’t believe everything. You think that’s a bumper sticker. It’s a good bumper sticker. I’ve seen it a lot, right. But we have all these thoughts that can be very distorted. And so how do we, how do we learn to say, oh, okay, there’s the thought, there’s a fearful thought. There’s an anxiety producing thought. And another analogy is like, it’s like a snowball, right? When we start with a little tiny bit of snow, there’s a, just a slight thought. And then it starts to pick up steam and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it’s this giant massive snowball. So one way of working with anxiety is working on not getting on the train or getting off the train when we’re on it. The second way is working with what you, you were saying. It’s also felt in the body. So what do we do? How do we notice what’s happening in our bodies in real time, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm us, but just gives us a little space. So we start to have a bit of like ease even in the midst of the anxiety. So we train people who are practicing mindfulness to notice when you’re having an emotion, what am I feeling in my body? My heart is racing. My stomach is clenched. My jaw is tight. And by doing that in combination with noticing the thoughts, you know, as well, we start to bring more awareness and a little bit of kindness to ourselves. So we always practice. We practice positive emotions practices as well, especially when we’re feeling anxious. And that can be something like, putting your hand on your chest just to be like, oh, okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll get through this. It could be, there’s an actual practice where we cultivate kindness. But it’s this combination of this kind awareness that we bring to the present moment experience that can allow us to have a little bit of space or what we call non-identification or dis-identification. I don’t know if that’s something you talk about here on the podcast, but shall I say more about it or do you…

Dr. Sarah (31:16):

You oh, yes. I’ve actually never heard that term before. So please.

Diana (31:20):

Yeah. So, when we’re identified with an emotion we’re lost in it. We’re caught in it. Oh, you know, I’m so upset about my kid or I’m so nervous about this or I’m so like, we’re so in it, this identification is when we move from it being my emotion that I’m lost in to the emotion that’s moving through me. And as we start to break it into the component parts and we see like, okay, it’s a clenched stomach, a tight jaw set of thoughts. We start to realize that it’s not so personal. It’s just things it’s like weather patterns moving through us. And we can actually begin to have a little bit more space, like, okay, it’s not this horrible thing, it’s just happening. And I can be aware of it and I can have a little bit of space. So that’s what disidentification is. It’s sort of an advanced concept in mindfulness, but once you get it, it’s really can help a lot.

Dr. Sarah (32:15):

Yeah. And I think that, that non-judgmental stance that self-compassionate stance is really important in that because when we judge, or we fight ourselves, everything gets really sticky. So it’s kind of hard to like separate out and look at it objectively.

Diana (32:32):

That’s right. So it’s, so we, as an acronym and the acronym is RAIN. And it stands for R it’s recognized, like, what am I feeling? Oh, I’m feeling anxious, A allow. And that’s what you’re pointing to. Like, can I just let myself have the feeling from the perspective of mindfulness? It’s just a feeling moving through us. It’s it’s not a problem. Any, any emotion is okay, what we do with it is another story, but right. So allow, so that nonjudgmental stance. I is investigate. That’s what I was talking about earlier. What am I feeling in my body right now? My heart’s racing, my stomach is clenched or there are these thoughts happening. And then the N we use two different ones. It could be non identify what we were talking about or nurture, meaning, bring some kindness to yourself. So it’s an acronym we teach in the mindfulness world.

Dr. Sarah (33:25):

I love that. I think that’s really, really helpful cuz it’s simple. Not easy.

Diana (33:33):

Exactly. That’s also true. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (33:37):

It makes me think too. And I know we’re kind of jumping all over with like ADHD and anxiety. But also makes me think of trauma. And I, you know, I think when I, when I think of self-compassion, when I think about noticing a feeling and feeling like this can be safe, I always kind of in the back of my head, I’m like trauma makes that really hard. And oftentimes and I’m not even talking about like capital T Trauma, like one big really scary thing happened to us. But a lot of times, especially parenting, I think our, our like childhood stuff comes out. We hear you know, if you’ve had a really critical parent or a parent who was really emotionally misattuned to you or you felt a lot of shame as a kid or fear as a kid sitting with these emotions, we oftentimes the voices in our mind that we’ve internalized from our caregivers of our past. Um aren’t compassionate about our emotions. They do say stop that you want something to cry about. I’ll give you something to cry about, or nobody wants to hear this like shut up. And like that makes the idea of a mindfulness practice for a lot of people really kind of terrifying because they have to sit and hear that internal dialogue. And so they don’t want to so I wonder if you have what you do when that stuff comes up for people that you’re working with. Cuz I, I can’t imagine that it’s easy for everybody to sit with their thoughts in their physical body.

Diana (35:09):

Yeah. There’s there’s a lot of interface these days around the trauma trauma work that’s being done in the mindfulness field. And there’s some books written like the book called Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness by David Treleaven and there’s mindfulness is, let’s see, there’s a lot, I can say. I’ll just sort of hone it down. It’s mindfulness can be challenging for people. Who’ve had trauma and there are ways of modifying it to keep it really simple so that people can still access it and the benefits of it without re reactivating the trauma. So for instance I said, you know, we typically, we do noticing our breathing as a good starting point, but for people, some people with trauma that’s really intense to do that. So there’s other things they could notice the sounds around them. They could notice their feet on the floor. They can do it for short periods of time. Cuz there’s actually a lot of healing that can happen if we are willing to, you know, ultimately ultimately you gotta go through it, right? Like you can’t just keep avoiding, avoiding, avoiding it doesn’t go away or something. So, but we can learn to do it in a very, very gentle and what’s sometimes called like titrated way. So it’s just like a little bit of noticing something and then coming back. So we find one of the ways that we work with people, with trauma who are having, and I agree with you, not, it doesn’t have to be Trauma with a capital T, it can be all kinds of trauma. Is we find something that’s pleasurable or at ease in our bodies such as like, or just even neutral, like our feet. Okay. So feeling our feet on the ground, noticing how that feels and then sensing what’s happening in our body just for like two seconds. And then going back to where it’s easy. So it’s very like slow and gentle. And for some people mindfulness, like sitting in meditation doesn’t work. And that’s when those activities that you were talking about, like mindfully brushing your teeth, or there’s a walking meditation or things. Those may be more supported to people who are, who it’s hard to go in, but what I’ve found is with a, it helps to also have a teacher or some support. So you’re not just doing this randomly on your own. But with a skillful teacher or therapist who knows about this, you absolutely can use mindfulness you know, within the context of trauma.

Dr. Sarah (37:40):

Yes. I mean, I think it’s almost part of the treatment for trauma. I just, I think I wanna normalize for people who have experienced trauma that at first it can be really hard. And then the idea is with help, it actually can become the tool by which one of the tools by which healing happens, because we relearn how to be in our body and in our mind and have it feel safe. But that’s that, I do think if that’s been your experience, having someone to help you with that process to learn that safety is very important. But I don’t want people who think I could never do this because every time I do this, it’s just too overwhelming and it’s too painful to think that they could never do it. I just think you need more support to get there. And in fact it might be the thing that helps you actually heal from the trauma itself.

Diana (38:30):

Yeah. I completely agree. And and like I said, small, if you’re, if you’re drawn to it, but it feels overwhelming, do it for three, three minutes or even 10 seconds or something and see what that’s like and take it slow. And there’s lots of, you know, guided meditations. Like for instance, in our UCLA mindful app, we have a three minute meditation where you just very, very gently notice what’s happening and those kinds of things can be supportive.

Dr. Sarah (38:58):

Ooh, can you tell us about this app? I would love to share that resource with this audience.

Diana (39:02):

Yeah, we have an app called UCLA Mindful and it’s free and it’s purely educational. And on it, it has it has a bunch of core meditation. We call like our kind of basic meditations and their meditations are actually in 14 different languages. So we have like some meditations that are meant for kind of like wellness. And then we have a weekly, we call it a podcast but it’s not like this. But it’s just a new meditation is posted every few days. So we have at least once a week, a new 30 minute meditation. But the basic meditations have little, you know, like short things anywhere from three minutes to 30 minutes. And there’s one for sleep on there, which I sometimes play for my daughter. And they are for adults, but I do know a lot of families have told me that they’ve done ’em with their kids. So it can be both. And that’s also on our website as well, if you would prefer like a web interface.

Dr. Sarah (40:04):

Okay. I’ll put links to both of those in our show notes. So people can find ’em, that’s amazing that you have it in so many languages that makes it so accessible.

Diana (40:10):

That was our vision. Yeah. It got put on the California like COVID response website and we collaborated with them to make it, they were the one that requested it. Can you make it in 14 different languages, so, okay.

Dr. Sarah (40:24):

Sure. We’ll just bang that out for you.

Diana (40:27):

Exactly.

Dr. Sarah (40:28):

But that’s amazing. Yes, no, it’s, I mean like this is, this is a really important resource that like, if we can make it more mainstream and more accessible, we’re gonna raise a healthier society. So it’s worth it.

Diana (40:40):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (40:43):

Well, thank you so much for, I mean, I could literally ask you a billion more questions about this stuff. But I feel like, you know, I would love if there’s, I mean, we talked about a lot of very concrete strategies on here, but I’m wondering if you have any like quick takeaways that you could, like if someone’s listening to this podcast and they’re like, okay, I wanna try something today. I wanna give this a go. Like, where’s a place that a parent could start for themselves or could start as like a way to bring in a child into the practice.

Diana (41:17):

Okay. Well, let me, let me give you something that could be done really quickly that accesses mindfulness, that anyone can do parent or kid. This is a practice called STOP. And so it’s, it’s, it’s kind of based on the idea that being mindful is not so hard, but remembering to be mindful is hard. So there’s this acronym and it stands for stop, take a breath, observe and proceed. So let’s say you’re a parent and you’re just, you suddenly realize that you’re very stressed out for whatever reason, you’re anxious, you’re angry. You’re about to yell. You’re about to lose it, or you just wanna be mindful. Then you can remember to stop. So you would stop and take a breath and you can do it with your eyes open or closed, and then observe what’s happening inside me. Okay. My heart’s racing. I feel tightness in my hands, take another breath or two. And then as we do this and we proceed, we can proceed with more awareness, more consciousness, a little bit more calm down. So this STOP practice can be done at any time. And it usually takes, you know, six, seven seconds or something just to bring mindfulness into the moment. And really that’s my encouragement for parents. Like, you know, my ideal encouragement is if you’re interested in it, take a you know, start, you can start with, with apps. There’s of course not just our app, but there’s many apps out there. You can take a class, there’s a lot online these days, we have a lot through our center as well, or maps classes, which stands for mindful awareness practices classes, but many other things out there. And develop a daily practice if you want to. And that will support you in bringing it into your life. And so, but, but if you’re like, oh, that feels a little too much for me, try this STOP practice and see what happens. And so that’s for adults. For kids, I would say they can also do STOP and that’s taught in schools a lot with the kids and also with the teachers and the teachers. Sometimes you, my daughter’s teacher, I taught it to their classroom. My daughter’s teacher was like sitting there going stop, stop. She was, there’s another, a little, a sweet one for kids. You it’s called starfish, where you hold up their hand and they just, they bring their finger around their pinky and down the other side of the pinky and then up the ring finger. And on the other side, and as you do it, you bring your breath along with it. So it’s like a in, out in out, and you go through all five fingers and that’s just like a little on the spot thing that kids can do when they’re feeling like anxious or upset. So if we can get our kids to do it, if we are doing it too, it might work.

Dr. Sarah (44:07):

Yeah, actually. So it’s really funny that you brought up that exercise cuz I’ve, I’ve heard of it called five finger breathing and I do it with my kids in the way that I do it with them is I have them drive my breathing first. So I’ll have them trace my hand and as they trace my fingers, they get to like, make me breathe in and make me breathe out. And that’s how like, it’s like fun and they get to be in control and then I do it with them. And it’s like a fun game that we play just, you know, when we’re waiting for something or we’re like, I just pull, it’s like a game that we play. But I didn’t know. I’ve heard, I’ve never heard it called starfish. And I love that it’s much better than five finger breathing.

Diana (44:42):

Well, it, I love your creativity around it. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (44:47):

I think that whenever we can get kids to feel like they have some agency and control they get more excited and interested in it. Like, okay, can you make mommy breathe? Like how can you, can you drive my breathing for a little bit? Can you be in charge? And then like, that’s like, kids are gonna say yes, much more likely to say yes to that. Like I wanna make you breathe. I wanna like control you a little bit. That’s very fun for them. And then we can turn it around and, you know, play with their breath. And but I, yeah, I think like I was saying before, like when we push, they pull away, you know, like we, when we say like, you know, and I catch myself doing this too, but like when our kids, my kids are really upset, I’m like take a breath, but I have to remind, nobody likes to be told to take a breath when they’re upset.

Diana (45:34):

You got it.

Dr. Sarah (45:35):

Those are the things we gotta teach ’em in the cool, calm, connected moments so that they can just kind of, they can find that on their own when they’re upset.

Diana (45:44):

When my daughter was little, she was like, I wanna say around three or about we had gone into a supermarket and the line was really long. And then the cashier or something wasn’t working. And I was just getting more and more and more frustrated. And we got back in the car and I just started like ranting. Like I cannot believe how slow that place is. I’m so angry about that. This little voice from back in the carseat in the back goes, breathe, mommy. So they can do it to us too. And like I said, we need it. We need it probably more than they do. Just to be honest. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (46:27):

Yeah. I mean, parenting’s hard. We definitely have stress. And so any thing that’s gonna reduce stress, I’m all about. Yeah. I hope this felt relaxing to people listening to it.

Diana (46:41):

Well, that was, was my last thought. Would you like me to lead a little bit of a meditation for people?

Dr. Sarah (46:47):

Yes. That would be amazing.

Diana (46:49):

We can just do three minutes or something.

Dr. Sarah (46:51):

Yes, I could use it myself right now.

Diana (46:55):

Okay. So we’ll just we’ll just do a very short meditation and I know nobody has any time. So this is the, this is a very short version. So just wherever you are, unless you’re driving, you can close your eyes, but not of you’re driving. Sit in a way that’s comfortable to you. Any posture or is absolutely fine. And even if you’re, sometimes people listen to podcasts while they’re walking, so you can even still do it just again, not closing your eyes. Let’s take a deep breath. And as you take a deep breath, allowing yourself to settle a little bit, to Invite in the possibility of ease and relaxation. And then notice your body what’s obvious to you. Are you seated? Can you feel the weight of your body on the chair? Maybe you feel your feet on the floor. Notice your hands. Are there areas of tension? You can just soften a little bit and notice if there’s maybe you’re standing or moving and there’s your body moving through space. What do you notice in your body right here and now. See if you can let whatever is here. Be here, taking another breath and turning your attention to your emotions. How am I feeling right now? Am I feeling happy? Am I feeling anxious? Am I feeling nothing in particular, but what’s happening? What do you notice inside yourself? Right in this moment, Again, letting whatever’s here, be here. Mindfulness has this element of this willingness to be with what is Any notice your mind is my mind thinking about what I have to make for dinner or am I right here? Does my present mind feel alert, sleepy, cautious? What’s happening? If I just check my mind. And take another breath And see if you can allow this full experience of being human. Just let yourself be here. And finally bringing in that N, that nurture. We talked about the kindness. Is there some way, some way for you to appreciate yourself for all that you do? I think as parents, we just take everything for granted and take ourselves for granted. So just offer yourself a little appreciation, it is a hard job. It’s a hard job and you are doing great, way better than you think you are doing. Then when you’re ready, we can end this meditation or open our eyes. If they’re closed.

Dr. Sarah (50:31):

That was really helpful for me. I needed to hear that today.

Diana (50:36):

Oh, Good. That’s great. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (50:41):

Well, I think we should let people take this energy with them. So we’ll say goodbye and see you next week. Thank you so much for being here, Diana.

Diana (50:52):

You’re welcome. Great to talk to you. Lots of fun.

Dr. Sarah (50:59):Mindfulness is a great tool for emotion regulation, but do you know the first and maybe most important step in helping our children work through their big feelings? It all starts with us learning how to self-regulate and process our own dysregulation will allow us to better help our children navigate those overwhelming feelings themselves. And that’s what I’ll address in my new workshop, Be the calm in your child’s storm: How to keep your cool when your child loses theirs. In this workshop, I’ll help you learn how to process your unique triggers and arm you with the tools you need to stay cool in the heat of the moment, so you can be the soothing presence your child needs most. Plus I’ve left plenty of time at the end for you to get a chance to ask your questions. Head to drsarahbren.com and click the workshop tab to register for this live 60 minute workshop and 30 minute Q&A session. And make sure to register before April 19th to get early bird pricing and save 25%. So thanks for listening. And until next week don’t be a stranger.


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46. The benefits of mindfulness: How to use this practice for ourselves and our children with Diana Winston

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