Here's a simple, no-nonsense and easy meditation technique that'll reduce your COVID-19 anxiety

If you've ever considered meditation, now's a great time to start. Because, if you're like most people right now, you have two things: stress and too much time on your hands.

Meditation has traditionally been tied to ancient spiritual traditions and new-age ideas which, depending on your disposition, can either be a turn-on or a turn-off. But these days it's a practice that's recommended by therapists and is scientifically proven to have incredible benefits.

Research shows it can rewire your brain to improve your focus, happiness, and productivity. It's also therapeutic for people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and high blood pressure.


A daily meditation practice can be a big help during the coronavirus crisis because it decreases brain activity in the Default Mode Network and increases it in the right medial temporal lobe.

So what's that supposed to mean?

Instead of being stuck in the part of your brain that ruminates on how things can go wrong, it activates the part of your mind associated with attention and concentration. That means less time spent worrying about what the future may bring and more time living in the present, where you can be of help to your loved ones and yourself.

via Peter Miller / Flickr

A study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience showed that "meditation was found to be associated with relatively lower activity in regions of the DMN in meditators compared to controls during meditation compared to another active cognitive task, as indicated by a significant Group x Task interaction."

Mediation also slows down your brain waves. This gives you the superpower of being able to thoughtfully respond to outside stimuli instead of immediately reacting. That's going to come in handy when cabin fever starts to take hold and your family gets on your nerves.

With a daily meditation routine, you'll notice you gain the power to thoughtfully respond to situations and stimuli instead of simply reacting.

"[Mindfulness mediation is] one of the early steps of learning how to follow our thoughts," Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist based in New York City, told The Huffington Post. "Once you have mindful awareness of what your thoughts are, you're able to observe them without reacting to them."

via Pixabay

Now, how do I do it?

There are many different ways to meditate. Personally, I learned a very simple mindfulness meditation through Dr. Carl Totton of the Taoist Institute in Los Angeles.

It's a very simple technique that helps carve new neural pathways and improve your focus and concentration. One reason that it's so easy to learn is that it actually rewards you for failure.

Most people who've tried meditation quit after a few minutes because they find it impossible to clear their minds. What they don't know is that the fact that it's pretty much impossible to be thought-free is the point of the exercise.

ABC News anchor Dan Harris, does a great job of describing the simple practice his book, "10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story."

— Sit comfortably in a quiet place. You don't have to be cross-legged, but your spine must be straight.

— Close your eyes and focus on your breath going in and out of your nostrils.

— Your attention will wander from your breath. Each time that happens, forgive yourself and return your attention back to the air going through your nostrils. The entire game is to catch your mind wandering and then return your focus to your breath.

The first time you try it, you'll notice that it is extremely hard to maintain focus on your breath. You'll notice that your mind loves to wander. That's ok, just bring it back to your breath going in and out of your nostrils.

Every time you "fail" by allowing your mind to wander off, it's a win. The process of catching your mind and returning it back to your breath strengthens your mind and increases your ability to control your thoughts.

Set a timer on your smartphone for five minutes the first time. Then increase the time by a minute or two each day. I've found that I get great results after about eight minutes or so a day.

via Marco Conti / Flickr

The goal here is not to torture yourself, but to develop a daily habit. I like to meditate on the bathroom floor after a shower in the morning.

On your first attempt, you will immediately notice that it's extremely hard to maintain focus on your breath. You will also notice how much your mind loves to wander.

There's a popular misconception about meditation that you must completely clear your mind. However, according to Harris, this is "basically impossible unless you are enlightened, or you have died."

The incredible part of this practice is that after just a few days you'll begin to have a completely different relationship to your thoughts.

You will catch yourself ruminating about something you shouldn't, like 'How long will I be stuck in this house?' but then gently return your thoughts to the task at hand or something more meaningful — just like you return your thoughts to your breath while meditating.

Before meditation, I found it very difficult to stop ruminating on negative events that happened in the past or fears about the future. After meditation, I learned to push those thoughts aside. It's an amazing feeling when you realize that you can have greater control over your thoughts and, therefore your life.

That's something we could all use more of in these trying times.

Here are some more resources to help you during the pandemic:

Dan Harris further explaining his meditation technique.

Harvard has some dietary tips to help reduce your anxiety.

Here are "8 Ways to Make Meditation a Daily Habit" from the Chopra Center.

Pedram Shojai teaches how to resolve anxiety through qi gong.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.