Sleep and mental health – Harvard Health

sleep and mental health

Sleep and mental health are closely connected. Sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health. And those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Americans are notoriously sleep deprived, but those with psychiatric conditions are even more likely to be yawning or groggy during the day. Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Traditionally, clinicians treating patients with psychiatric disorders have viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms. But studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems may raise risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders. This research has clinical application, because treating a sleep disorder may also help alleviate symptoms of a co-occurring mental health problem.

The brain basis of a mutual relationship between sleep and mental health is not yet completely understood. But neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Key points

  • Sleep problems are more likely to affect patients with psychiatric disorders than people in the general population.
  • Sleep problems may increase risk for developing particular mental illnesses, as well as result from such disorders.
  • Treating the sleep disorder may help alleviate symptoms of the mental health problem.

How sleep affects mental health

Every 90 minutes, a normal sleeper cycles between two major categories of sleep — although the length of time spent in one or the other changes as sleep progresses.

During “quiet” sleep, a person progresses through four stages of increasingly deep sleep. Body temperature drops, muscles relax, and heart rate and breathing slow. The deepest stage of quiet sleep produces physiological changes that help boost immune system functioning.

The other sleep category, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is the period when people dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase to levels measured when people are awake. Studies report that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health — in complex ways.

Although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa.

Psychological effects of sleep deprivation

More than 70 types of sleep disorders exist. The most common problems are insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), obstructive sleep apnea (disordered breathing that causes multiple awakenings), various movement syndromes (unpleasant sensations that prompt night fidgeting), and narcolepsy (extreme sleepiness or falling asleep suddenly during the day).

Type of sleep disorder, prevalence, and impact vary by psychiatric diagnosis. But the overlap between sleep disorders and various psychiatric problems is so great that researchers have long suspected both types of problems may have common biological roots.

Depression. Studies using different methods and populations estimate that 65% to 90% of adult patients with major depression, and about 90% of children with this disorder, experience some kind of sleep problem. Most patients with depression have insomnia, but about one in five suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Insomnia and other sleep problems also increase the risk of developing depression. A longitudinal study of about 1,000 adults ages 21 to 30 enrolled in a Michigan health maintenance organization found that, compared with normal sleepers, those who reported a history of insomnia during an interview in 1989 were four times as likely to develop major depression by the time of a second interview three years later. And two longitudinal studies in young people — one involving 300 pairs of young twins, and another including 1,014 teenagers — found that sleep problems developed before major depression did.

Insomnia and other sleep problems affect outcomes for patients with depression. Studies report that depressed patients who continue to experience insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment than those without sleep problems. Even patients whose mood improves with antidepressant therapy are more at risk for a relapse of depression later on. Depressed patients who experience insomnia or other sleep disturbances are more likely to think about suicide and die by suicide than depressed patients who are able to sleep normally.

Bipolar disorder. Studies in different populations report that 69% to 99% of patients experience insomnia or report less need for sleep during a manic episode of bipolar disorder. In bipolar depression, however, studies report that 23% to 78% of patients sleep excessively (hypersomnia), while others may experience insomnia or restless sleep.

Longitudinal studies suggest that insomnia and other sleep problems worsen before an episode of mania or bipolar depression, and lack of sleep can trigger mania. Sleep problems also adversely affect mood and contribute to relapse.

Anxiety disorders. Sleep problems affect more than 50% of adult patients with generalized anxiety disorder, are common in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may occur in panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. They are also common in children and adolescents. One sleep laboratory study found that youngsters with an anxiety disorder took longer to fall asleep, and slept less deeply, when compared with a control group of healthy children.

Insomnia may also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, but not as much as it is for major depression. In the longitudinal study of teenagers mentioned earlier, for example, sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders 27% of the time, while they preceded depression 69% of the time.

But insomnia can worsen the symptoms of anxiety disorders or prevent recovery. Sleep disruptions in PTSD, for example, may contribute to a retention of negative emotional memories and prevent patients from benefiting from fear-extinguishing therapies.

ADHD. Various sleep problems affect 25% to 50% of children with ADHD. Typical problems include difficulty falling asleep, shorter sleep duration, and restless slumber. The symptoms of ADHD and sleeping difficulties overlap so much it may be difficult to tease them apart. Sleep-disordered breathing affects up to 25% of children with ADHD, and restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder, which also disrupt sleep, combined affect up to 36%. And children with these sleeping disorders may become hyperactive, inattentive, and emotionally unstable — even when they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Sleep and mental health lifestyle changes

In some respects, the treatment recommended for the most common sleep problem, insomnia, is the same for all patients, regardless of whether they also suffer from psychiatric disorders. The fundamentals are a combination of lifestyle changes, behavioral strategies, psychotherapy, and drugs if necessary.

Lifestyle changes. Most people know that caffeine contributes to sleeplessness, but so can alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol initially depresses the nervous system, which helps some people fall asleep, but the effects wear off in a few hours and people wake up. Nicotine is a stimulant, which speeds heart rate and thinking. Giving up these substances is best, but avoiding them before bedtime is another option.

Physical activity. Regular aerobic activity helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.

Sleep hygiene. Many experts believe that people learn insomnia, and can learn how to sleep better. Good “sleep hygiene” is the term often used to include tips like maintaining a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, using the bedroom only for sleeping or sex, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of distractions like the computer or television. Some experts also recommend sleep retraining: staying awake longer in order to ensure sleep is more restful.

Relaxation techniques. Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation (alternately tensing and releasing muscles) can counter anxiety and racing thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Because people with insomnia tend to become preoccupied with not falling asleep, cognitive behavioral techniques help them to change negative expectations and try to build more confidence that they can have a good night’s sleep. These techniques can also help to change the “blame game” of attributing every personal problem during the day on lack of sleep.

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Definition, History, Fields, Methods, & Facts

Psychology, scientific discipline that studies mental states and processes and behaviour in humans and other animals.

The discipline of psychology is broadly divisible into two parts: a large profession of practitioners and a smaller but growing science of mind, brain, and social behaviour. The two have distinctive goals, training, and practices, but some psychologists integrate the two.

Early history

In Western culture, contributors to the development of psychology came from many areas, beginning with philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Hippocrates philosophized about basic human temperaments (e.g., choleric, sanguine, melancholic) and their associated traits. Informed by the biology of his time, he speculated that physical qualities, such as yellow bile or too much blood, might underlie differences in temperament (see also humour). Aristotle postulated the brain to be the seat of the rational human mind, and in the 17th century René Descartes argued that the mind gives people the capacities for thought and consciousness: the mind “decides” and the body carries out the decision—a dualistic mind-body split that modern psychological science is still working to overcome. Two figures who helped to found psychology as a formal discipline and science in the 19th century were Wilhelm Wundt in Germany and William James in the United States. James’s The Principles of Psychology (1890) defined psychology as the science of mental life and provided insightful discussions of topics and challenges that anticipated much of the field’s research agenda a century later.

During the first half of the 20th century, however, behaviourism dominated most of American academic psychology. In 1913 John B. Watson, one of the influential founders of behaviourism, urged reliance on only objectively measurable actions and conditions, effectively removing the study of consciousness from psychology. He argued that psychology as a science must deal exclusively with directly observable behaviour in lower animals as well as humans, emphasized the importance of rewarding only desired behaviours in child rearing, and drew on principles of learning through classical conditioning (based on studies with dogs by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and thus known as Pavlovian conditioning). In the United States most university psychology departments became devoted to turning psychology away from philosophy and into a rigorous empirical science.

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Beginning in the 1930s, behaviourism flourished in the United States, with B.F. Skinner leading the way in demonstrating the power of operant conditioning through reinforcement. Behaviourists in university settings conducted experiments on the conditions controlling learning and “shaping” behaviour through reinforcement, usually working with laboratory animals such as rats and pigeons. Skinner and his followers explicitly excluded mental life, viewing the human mind as an impenetrable “black box,” open only to conjecture and speculative fictions. Their work showed that social behaviour is readily influenced by manipulating specific contingencies and by changing the consequences or reinforcement (rewards) to which behaviour leads in different situations. Changes in those consequences can modify behaviour in predictable stimulus-response (S-R) patterns. Likewise, a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative, may be acquired through processes of conditioning and can be modified by applying the same principles.

Freud and his followers

Concurrently, in a curious juxtaposition, the psychoanalytic theories and therapeutic practices developed by the Vienna-trained physician Sigmund Freud and his many disciples—beginning early in the 20th century and enduring for many decades—were undermining the traditional view of human nature as essentially rational. Freudian theory made reason secondary: for Freud, the unconscious and its often socially unacceptable irrational motives and desires, particularly the sexual and aggressive, were the driving force underlying much of human behaviour and mental illness. Making the unconscious conscious became the therapeutic goal of clinicians working within this framework.

Freud proposed that much of what humans feel, think, and do is outside awareness, self-defensive in its motivations, and unconsciously determined. Much of it also reflects conflicts grounded in early childhood that play out in complex patterns of seemingly paradoxical behaviours and symptoms. His followers, the ego psychologists, emphasized the importance of the higher-order functions and cognitive processes (e.g., competence motivation, self-regulatory abilities) as well as the individual’s psychological defense mechanisms. They also shifted their focus to the roles of interpersonal relations and of secure attachment in mental health and adaptive functioning, and they pioneered the analysis of these processes in the clinical setting.

After World War II and Sputnik

After World War II, American psychology, particularly clinical psychology, grew into a substantial field in its own right, partly in response to the needs of returning veterans. The growth of psychology as a science was stimulated further by the launching of Sputnik in 1957 and the opening of the Russian-American space race to the Moon. As part of this race, the U.S. government fueled the growth of science. For the first time, massive federal funding became available, both to support behavioral research and to enable graduate training. Psychology became both a thriving profession of practitioners and a scientific discipline that investigated all aspects of human social behaviour, child development, and individual differences, as well as the areas of animal psychology, sensation, perception, memory, and learning.

Training in clinical psychology was heavily influenced by Freudian psychology and its offshoots. But some clinical researchers, working with both normal and disturbed populations, began to develop and apply methods focusing on the learning conditions that influence and control social behaviour. This behaviour therapy movement analyzed problematic behaviours (e.g., aggressiveness, bizarre speech patterns, smoking, fear responses) in terms of the observable events and conditions that seemed to influence the person’s problematic behaviour. Behavioral approaches led to innovations for therapy by working to modify problematic behaviour not through insight, awareness, or the uncovering of unconscious motivations but by addressing the behaviour itself. Behaviourists attempted to modify the maladaptive behaviour directly, examining the conditions controlling the individual’s current problems, not their possible historical roots. They also intended to show that such efforts could be successful without the symptom substitution that Freudian theory predicted. Freudians believed that removing the troubling behaviour directly would be followed by new and worse problems. Behaviour therapists showed that this was not necessarily the case.

To begin exploring the role of genetics in personality and social development, psychologists compared the similarity in personality shown by people who share the same genes or the same environment. Twin studies compared monozygotic (identical) as opposed to dizygotic (fraternal) twins, raised either in the same or in different environments. Overall, these studies demonstrated the important role of heredity in a wide range of human characteristics and traits, such as those of the introvert and extravert, and indicated that the biological-genetic influence was far greater than early behaviourism had assumed. At the same time, it also became clear that how such dispositions are expressed in behaviour depends importantly on interactions with the environment in the course of development, beginning in utero.



Research Studies | The Mental Health Center

Our research department is professionally-staffed with a team seeks to build successful collaborations with other research communities. We have performed leading-edge mental health research on evidence-based practices for people with serious mental illness for more than 15 years, and we were the primary site for the early ground-breaking studies with Dartmouth Medical School on Supported Employment (SE) practice, Co-Occurring Disorders (IDDT), and Intensive Case Management. We maintain a close relationship with Dartmouth Medical School.

We have participated in numerous national studies, which include:

  • The Mental Health Treatment Study through the U.S. Social Security Administration
  • Medication trials, including Massachusetts General Hospital’s study of the use of smoking cessation medication for people diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Our research department has been engaged in all stages of research design, recruitment, implementation, interpretation, and dissemination. Protocols range from clinical medication trials to psychosocial interventions, and from neuropsychological testing to substance use screening.

We are proud of our record of reliably recruiting large numbers of subjects for the many different studies for which we have been a partner.

My therapy brought hope to my life, brought back empowerment – it willed me to live life again.

Thank you for not giving up on me and refusing to let me give up on myself.

Recovery is the second hardest thing I ever did. The first was living without it.

The Center saved my son’s life. It has not been an easy road to recovery, but from day one he has never had to walk this road alone, and neither have I.

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Mental Health By the Numbers


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Hypnosis is a mental state of highly focused concentration, diminished peripheral awareness, and heightened suggestibility. There are numerous techniques that experts employ for inducing such a state. Capitalizing on the power of suggestion, hypnosis is often used to help people relax, to diminish the sensation of pain, or to facilitate some desired behavioral change.

Therapists bring about hypnosis (also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion) with the help of mental imagery and soothing verbal repetition that ease the patient into a trance-like state. Once relaxed, patients’ minds are more open to transformative messages.

Not everyone is equally hypnotizable. Using brain imaging techniques, researchers have found differences in patterns of brain connectivity between those who respond to hypnotic induction and those who do not. The distinction shows up in the hypnotizable as heightened co-activation between the executive control center in the prefrontal cortex and another part of the prefrontal cortex that flags the importance, or salience, of events.



Learn more about mental health

Because mental health conditions are so complex and affect people in so many different ways, there are also many different ways that research can help advance our understanding. Many studies focus on brain science and genetics, using technology that becomes more advanced every year. Researchers also study the ways that people with mental health conditions interact with their families, with health care workers, and with their communities. These studies help design better tools for therapy and symptom management, better training programs for health care workers, and better policies for using resources in the community to ensure that people with mental health conditions can lead healthy fulfilling lives.

In addition to investigational scientific studies, clinical trials are very important in mental health research. They represent the final stage of testing new treatments, like medications or psychotherapies. In these trials, a treatment is often compared to a placebo or different treatment. A participant will usually be “randomized” to receive either the new treatment or a placebo. Because of this randomization, the participant might receive therapeutic benefit, or they might not. However, every clinical trial contributes to advancing scientific knowledge and helping people in the future. For more information on this topic, please see NIMH’s Questions & Answers document.

NAMI’s Partnership with Researchers

Although NAMI does not conduct any research studies directly, we may support studies conducted by government, academic, or private industry partners by sharing Research Opportunity Announcements with our leaders, membership, and the general public. 

Researchers who have secured IRB approval for their studies may submit an application requesting a partnership with NAMI. 

Please contact us at to learn more.

Protecting Study Participants

NAMI advocates that any research involving human subjects must be in accordance with the highest scientific, medical and ethical standards. This is necessary to protect the individuals and families who contribute to scientific progress by participating in clinical trials, NAMI specifically stresses that:

  • Research subjects choose to participate in studies only after they understand the risks of being in the study as well as possible benefits. They (and, in many cases, their families) need to fully understand the study protocols as well as the risks and potential benefits of the research.
  • Researchers fully explain what protections are in place for storage, maintenance and sharing of any data collected (including genetic samples).
  • Researchers perform independent and ongoing evaluations of a research subject’s capacity to consent.
  • Institutional Review Boards include people experiencing mental illness and/or family members.
  • Individuals may withdraw from a study at any time without penalty.
  • At the end of the study—or if a person withdraws participation prematurely—effective treatment and aftercare are ensured, as is feedback on study results.
  • For genetic research, there should be clear information about the protections related to your privacy and how genetic information will be used and shared with other researchers.

Several government and private industry organizations are dedicated to protecting the rights and safety of scientific study and clinical trial volunteers. For more information, please visit their webpages.

  • Office for Human Research Protection
  • NIMH Human Subjects Protection Unit
  • National Institutes of Health Bioethics Resources
  • Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R)


Becoming a Study Participant

Before you participate in a clinical trial or scientific study, make sure you can answer the following questions:

  • What’s the trial/study about?
  • What will you be asked to do?
  • What risks might you face?
  • Has an Institutional Review Board (a group of scientists, doctors, clergy and patient advocates that review and approve the detailed plan for every clinical trial) approved the study?
  • Whom do you contact with questions, concerns or problems?
  • Will you be informed about the progress and results of the study?

Remember that all participation in research is voluntary, and not considered part of your treatment plan. 

To explore available opportunities to volunteer as a research study participant, you may use the search tool below. Begin by entering the mental health condition that is relevant to your experience. Please note that by using this tool, you will leave and access your search results on Antidote’s website. 

Find clinical trials and research studies at Find a study at

Long-Term Research Studies

Although there are countless valuable research studies and clinical trials in progress at any moment, NAMI would like to highlight a few that are particularly valuable to our members and the mental health advocacy community.

  • The All Of Us Research Program is a historic effort to gather health, environment, and genetic data from one million or more volunteers living in the United States. Rather than focusing on one population or one health condition, All Of Us will create a diverse body of information allowing researchers to conduct creative studies on mental and physical health.
  • The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center collects human brain tissue for research. When a person with a psychiatric or neurological condition chooses to donate brain tissue after their death, researchers can conduct incredibly valuable genetic, molecular and genetic studies.




Take a Stand for Yoga Today

I was introduced to yoga back in the ’70s when Eastern body and mind practices were first coming onto the scene of American culture. It was the time of hippies, tie-dyed tee shirts, musical artists like The Who and Janice Joplin, and Eastern spiritual Gurus spreading their philosophies and spiritual practices in America. My best friend’s older sister lived on an Ashram in Boulder, Colorado, at the time. When she would come back home to visit, she’d share stories of her life there. Her mesmerizing counter-culture tales of making candles, doing meditation and yoga daily, and making meals from her organic garden, alongside her cute boyfriend Jimmy, seemed magical to me. From that point forward, I was hooked—on yoga! Little did I know back then how much this form of exercise that seemed at first to be just another form of gymnastics to me would work to evolve me emotionally and spiritually through the years.

Yoga has come a long way since the ’70s. Today, a yoga studio is as common a town feature as a local Starbucks. Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and body treatments like Reiki are now part of mainstream culture and are here to stay. So, don’t think just because they get lumped into a health and therapy category called alternative health practices that they are less important to your well being.

Yoga and Mental Health

There is a growing body of research to back up yoga’s mental health benefits. Yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, strain, and inflammation, sharpens attention and concentration, and calms and centers the nervous system.

Yoga’s positive benefits on mental health have made it an important practice tool of psychotherapy (American Psychological Association). It has been shown to enhance social well being through a sense of belonging to others, and improve the symptoms of depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and sleep disorders. Also, yoga can improve symptoms of schizophrenia when it is done alongside drug therapy (Yoga and Mental Health, Huffington Post 2013).

Also, yoga has been shown to increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate nerve activity. This is especially relevant to people who have anxiety disorders in which GABA activity is low (Yoga and Your Mood, the Ultimate Yogi).

Yoga also improves the mood, behavior, and mindfulness of high school students taking yoga classes in addition to PE than students taking PE alone (yoga classes helps highschool students). It has been shown to improve workplace well-being and resilience (The Effectiveness of Yoga for Well Being in the Workplace). 

But, let’s not stop here. Yoga’s benefits extend to adult caregivers who experience lower life satisfaction, depression, and stress and high levels of biological markers for inflammation. One study found that practicing a 12-minute daily eight-week program of yoga exercise resulted in reducing markers of inflammation in adults taking care of loved ones stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (UCLA’s Late-Life Depress, Stress and Wellness Research Program).

Clearly, mind and body practices, like yoga, meditation, deep breathing and prayer help to reduce stress and improves stress-related nervous system imbalances (Psychological Benefits of Yoga). But, how do they do this? Is there one main mechanism at play here?

Researchers say it is the relaxation response that accompanies these mind and body practices that lead to the many improvements to physical and mental health. A new study from investigators at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) finds that the deep, physiological state of rest induced by such practices produces immediate positive change in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion (Genes and Physiological Pathways Altered in the Relaxation Response, Science Daily, May 2013).

What is a deep state of physiological relaxation? It is a change in calm and relaxation that takes place on a neurobiological level. Even having a good time out with friends or family is not enough to relax your biology on a cellular level. It takes a certain amount of brain and body stimulation to laugh, animatedly move our faces and bodies, and to listen and respond effectively to social cues. We need enough adrenaline pumping to our brain, heart, and muscles to do this. So, you see, even socializing, playing an enjoyable game of tennis or golf, or shopping with a friend is actually a state of biochemical tension. For the body to relax at the nerve and cellular level, we need to alter body processes that shift us biochemically from a state of excitement and tension to a state of calm, deep rest and relaxation. Only deep breathing that accompanies mind-body practices like yoga can do this.

The Physiology of Yoga

How could the holding of a physical pose, like dolphin pose, neurobiologically relax you and also strengthen the mind and body?

Yoga practice changes the firing patterns of the nerves and chemical makeup of the body’s fluids and blood gases that activates a relaxation response. By concentrating on carrying out the specific body posture and alignment of a pose and then holding it as you breathe deeply, the body starts to shift from a state of biochemical arousal and tension to calm and relaxation. Relaxing yourself deeply into a yoga pose through deep breathing lowers the brain’s response to threat. The body starts to turn off arousing nerve chemicals, like adrenaline and stops dumping fatty acids and sugar into the bloodstream for brain, muscle, and motor energy.  Also, sodium leaves the inside of the body’s cells. This slows down the rate of nerve firing and further relaxes your brain, heart, and muscles. This state of biochemical relaxation oxygenates the blood, restores blood acidity and alkalinity balance, and reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and motor activity.

Yoga postures work on all systems of the body. Besides strengthening and elongating muscles, yoga postures tone up glands, internal organs, and spine nerves. Additionally, increased blood flow helps the digestive system to better extract nutrients from the foods you eat and the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins from the body.

Yoga: To Join and Unite

Undoubtedly, yoga practice improves quality of life. We learn to note differences between tense and calm body processes so that we can implement a change through yoga postures and deep breathing. But, the practice of yoga over time also has psychological and spiritual benefits.

In Sanskrit, yoga means to unite. As you grow in your ability to sense the relationship between your mind and body, you become more aware of dualities that exist in experience. The practice of yoga brings you to the awareness that there is a relationship between two ends of one phenomenon. You are body and mind. There is never a point in which you are just one or the other. Too, you are ego and spirit, tension and relaxation, pain and ease, balance and unsteadiness, love and hate, and separated and united.

What does this awareness do for you? When you realize that opposites are only different expressions of the same phenomenon, your treatment of them changes. At the simplest level, you see that when you treat the body you are also treating the mind. At a deeper level, you start to live in an integrated way. You are not just a social identity, a personality—you are a public, relational, psychological and spiritual self. You begin to make choices that nurture and support your whole being. Is this food, relationship, lover or job good for me wholly? Do my choices positively affect and grow my whole being? These are the questions you begin to ask when you start growing in this overall awareness.

What is more, when you start taking responsibility for the whole of you, you stop locating problems as starting outside of yourself. You give meanings to experience that opens up choice, lets you problem solve, and allows you to keep growing.

Take A Yoga Stand, Today

Health is a state of complete harmony of body, mind, and spirit. When one is free of physical disabilities and mental distractions the soul opens. B.K.S. Iyengar. 

There’s no better time than right now to take a stand for yoga. Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging. You want to choose your style of yoga by physical ability and personal preference. I’ve practiced a yoga approach by guru B.K.S. Iyengar for 25-plus years. It is a less common style of yoga done today. Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States. It combines three elements that include physical yoga poses called asanas, controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with the asanas, and a short period of deep relaxation.

But, not all yoga is relaxing. There are trendy forms of yoga today that emphasize nervous system activation rather than relaxation. Hot yoga (Bikram Yoga) is one of these yoga systems. Bikram Choudhury synthesized this system of yoga from traditional Hatha Yoga techniques. A Bikram Yoga class runs for 90 minutes, consists of the same series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, and is ideally practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%. I know many people who swear by this form of yoga. But, as you can imagine, hot yoga is not meant for beginners or especially for people whose physical or mental conditions make them especially sensitive to changes of temperature. Hot yoga and intense power yoga classes actually activate the excitatory nervous system (sympathetic nervous system) and induce a stress response in you. However, this response is theoretically followed by a deeper state of relaxation than if the nervous system had not been activated to a high point of stress and arousal at the start. The idea here is that the higher arousal, the deeper the relaxation at rest.

Yoga is most definitely a business today. The upsurge in the popularity of yoga has created a demand for competent, trained, and certified yoga instructors (Yoga Alliance). Thus, make sure the studio you visit offers you the best in trainer certification, safety, and respect for individual differences in physical and mental health.

Choose a yoga class that fits with your physical ability and mental health needs. There are yoga classes for beginners and the advanced. There are also classes designed specifically for pregnant women, people experiencing pain from chronic physical or mental health illnesses, and the overweight or physically disabled.

As you can see, I’m a great fan of yoga for enhancing physical and mental health. Through the years, I’ve seen yoga benefit my life in many ways. I encourage you to take a yoga stand, today. You’ll be happy you did.

I hope you liked my post today. Do all you can to live well. As they say in yoga: Namaste, friends. Bow to the lord inside of you. Warmly, Deborah.



How to Meditate – How to Meditate

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked. It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. It can even affect our health. We are often so busy we feel there is no time to stop and meditate! But meditation actually gives you more time by making your mind calmer and more focused. A simple ten or fifteen minute breathing meditation as explained below can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance.

Meditation can also help us to understand our own mind. We can learn how to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy. Overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts is the purpose of the transforming meditations found in the Buddhist tradition. This is a profound spiritual practice you can enjoy throughout the day, not just while seated in meditation.

On this website you can learn the basics of Buddhist meditation. A few books are mentioned that will help you to deepen your understanding if you wish to explore further. Anyone can benefit from the meditations given here, Buddhist or not. We hope that you find this website useful and that you learn to enjoy the inner peace that comes from meditation.



Neuro–Linguistic Programming

Closeup view of paper mapNeuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that involves analyzing strategies used by successful individuals and applying them to reach a personal goal. It relates thoughts, language, and patterns of behavior learned through experience to specific outcomes. 

Proponents of NLP assume all human action is positive. Therefore, if a plan fails or the unexpected happens, the experience is neither good nor bad—it simply presents more useful information.

History of Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-linguistic programming was developed in the 1970s at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Its primary founders are John Grinder, a linguist, and Richard Bandler, an information scientist and mathematician. Judith DeLozier and Leslie Cameron-Bandler also contributed significantly to the field, as did David Gordon and Robert Dilts.

Grinder and Bandler’s first book on NLP, Structure of Magic: A Book about Language of Therapy, was released in 1975. In this publication, they attempted to highlight certain patterns of communication that set communicators considered to be excellent apart from others. Much of the book was based on the work of Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls, and Milton Erickson. It also integrated techniques and theories from other renowned mental health professionals and researchers such as Noam Chomsky, Gregory Bateson, Carlos Castaneda, and Alfred Korzybski. The result of Grinder and Bandler’s work was the development of the NLP meta model, a technique they believed could identify language patterns that reflected basic cognitive processes.

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Interest in NLP grew in the late 1970s, after Bandler and Grinder began marketing the approach as a tool for people to learn how others achieve success. Today, NLP is used in a wide variety of fields, including counseling, medicine, law, business, the performing arts, sports, the military, and education. 

How Neuro-Linguistic Programming Works

Modeling, action, and effective communication are key elements of neuro-linguistic programming. The belief is that if an individual can understand how another person accomplishes a task, the process may be copied and communicated to others so they too can accomplish the task. 

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Proponents of neuro-linguistic programming propose that everyone has a personal map of reality. Those who practice NLP analyze their own and other perspectives to create a systematic overview of one situation. By understanding a range of perspectives, the NLP user gains information. Advocates of this school of thought believe the senses are vital for processing available information and that the body and mind influence each other. Neuro-linguistic programming is an experiential approach. Therefore, if a person wants to understand an action, they must perform that same action to learn from the experience.

NLP practitioners believe there are natural hierarchies of learning, communication, and change. The six logical levels of change are:

  • Purpose and spirituality:  This can be involvement in something larger than oneself, such as religion, ethics, or another system. This is the highest level of change.
  • Identity: Identity is the person you perceive yourself to be and includes your responsibilities and the roles you play in life.
  • Beliefs and values: These are your personal belief system and the issues that matter to you.
  • Capabilities and skills: These are your abilities and what you can do.
  • Behaviors: Behaviors are the specific actions you perform.
  • Environment: Your environment is your context or setting, including any other people around you. This is the lowest level of change.

The purpose of each logical level is to organize and direct the information below it. As a result, making a change in a lower level may cause changes in a higher level. However, making a change in a higher level will also result in changes in the lower levels, according to NLP theory.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming In Therapy

A core concept of NLP can be summarized by the saying, “The map is not the territory,” because it highlights the differences between belief and reality. It points out that each person operates within their own perspective rather than from a place of objectivity. Proponents of NLP believe everyone’s perception of the world is distorted, limited, and unique. A therapist who practices NLP must therefore understand how a person in treatment perceives their “map” and the effect this perception may have on that person’s thoughts and behavior. 

An individual’s map of the world is formed from data received through the senses. This information can be auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, or kinesthetic. NLP practitioners believe this information differs individually in terms of quality and importance, and that each person processes experiences using a primary representational system (PRS). For an NLP therapist to work effectively with a person in treatment, the therapist must attempt to match that individual’s PRS to use their personal map. NLP practitioners believe it is possible to access representational systems using cues, such as eye movements. 

NLP therapists work with people to understand their thinking and behavioral patterns, emotional state, and aspirations. By examining a person’s map, the therapist can help them find and strengthen the skills that serve them best and assist them in developing new strategies to replace unproductive ones. This process can help individuals in therapy reach treatment goals. 

Supporters of NLP claim the approach produces fast, lasting results and improves understanding of cognitive and behavioral patterns. NLP also seeks to build effective communication between conscious and unconscious mental processes to help people increase creativity and problem-solving skills. Some advocates of NLP compare the approach to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) but assert positive changes may be made with NLP in less time.

Since its creation, neuro-linguistic programming has been used to treat a wide range of issues. These include:

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Research 

Though limited in number, scientific studies have investigated the effectiveness of NLP as a treatment method. In a 2013 study, researchers investigated whether the language and visualization techniques used in neuro-linguistic programming would help children with special education needs be better prepared for learning in the classroom. Researchers concluded NLP techniques helped the children develop a positive state of mind conducive to learning. However, it was also explained that these were “brief, tentative conclusions.” In addition to other limiting factors, the sample consisted of only seven children.

NLP practitioners claim eye movement can be a reliable indicator for lie detection. In 2012, researchers tested this claim in a series of three studies. In the first study, the eye movements of participants who were telling the truth or lying did not match proposed NLP patterns. In the second study, one group was told about the NLP eye movement hypothesis while the control group was not. However, there was no significant difference between both groups after a lie detection test. In the third study, the eye movements of each group were coded at public press conferences. Again, there was no significant difference in eye movement between them.

A systematic review of the impact of NLP on health was conducted by researchers in 2012. In this review, ten studies addressing issues including substance abuse, anxiety, weight management, morning sickness, and claustrophobia were evaluated. The researchers concluded that while strong evidence did not exist of NLP being ineffective, there was little evidence to suggest NLP interventions improved health. 

Concerns and Limitations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Due in part to its eclectic nature, neuro-linguistic programming is difficult to define as a treatment modality. The most significant limitation of neuro-linguistic programming is arguably a lack of empirical evidence to support the many major claims made by proponents. 

While numerous testimonials praise the approach, there have been few scientific studies to date providing firm, unbiased proof that it is an effective mode of treatment for mental health issues. NLP co-founder Richard Bandler has often voiced disagreement with the scientific testing of NLP.

Additionally, the lack of regulation in training and certification has resulted in many individuals becoming NLP practitioners despite lacking credible experience or a background in mental health. 


  1. Craft, A. (2001). Neuro-linguistic programming and learning theory. The Curriculum Journal, 12(1), 125-136. doi: 10.1080/09585170010017781 
  2. Grimley, B. (2015, December 17). What is neurolinguistics programming, (nlp)? The development of a grounded theory of neuro-linguistic programming within an action research journey. Retrieved from
  3. Kudliskis, V. (2013, June 28). Neuro-linguistic programming and altered states: Encouraging preparation for learning in the classroom for students with special education needs. British Journal of Special Education, 40(2), 86-95. doi: 10.1111/1467-8578.12020
  4. Luban, J. A. (2010). Rapid rapport using neurolinguistic programming for improved health care outcomes. California Journal of Oriental Medicine. Retrieved from
  5. Sturt, J., Ali, S., Robertson, W., Metcalfe, D., Grove, A., Bourne, C., & Bridle, C. (2012). Neurolinguistic programming: a systematic review of the effects on health outcomes. The British Journal of General Practice, 62(604), e757–e764. doi: 10.3399/bjgp12X658287 
  6. Tosey, P., & Mathison, J. (2010, August 12). Neuro-linguistic programming as an innovation in education and teaching. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(3), 317-326. doi: 10.1080/14703297.2010.498183
  7. Tosey, P., & Mathison, J. (2010, June 4). Neuro-linguistic programming and learning theory: A response. The Curriculum Journal, 14(3), 371-388. doi: 10.1080/0958517032000137667
  8. Wiseman, R., Watt, C., ten Brinke, L., Porter, S., Couper, S. L., & Rankin, C. (2012, July 11). The eyes don’t have it: Lie detection and neuro-linguistic programming. PLoS ONE, 7(7), e40259. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040259



How to Meditate

Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly. Here, we offer basic tips to get you started on a path toward greater equanimity, acceptance and joy. Take a deep breath, and get ready to relax.

The Basics

Setting aside time for formal meditation is an important way to establish a routine and get comfortable with the practice. Even just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.

“Some people complain about taking time out of their day,” said Atman Smith, who teaches meditation to underserved communities in Baltimore. “Practice is important though. It’s a tool you can use to bring yourself back to the present in stressful situations.”

But we shouldn’t stop being mindful when we stop meditating. “The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to become mindful throughout all parts of our life, so that we’re awake, present and openhearted in everything we do,” said Tara Brach, a popular meditation teacher based near Washington, D.C. “Not just when we’re sitting on the cushion.”

Mindfulness meditation isn’t about letting your thoughts wander. But it isn’t about trying to empty your mind, either. Instead, the practice involves paying close attention to the present moment — especially our own thoughts, emotions and sensations — whatever it is that’s happening.

In addition to basic meditation instructions, we’ve compiled guided meditations for a few popular exercises including the body scan, walking meditation and mindful eating. “Each of the applied mindfulness practices brings alive an experience that might otherwise be more automatic,” said Ms. Brach.

Though meditating on your own is an essential part of a complete practice, the steady guidance of an experienced teacher can be invaluable, especially as you’re getting started. Our minds wander so easily, and the clear instructions of a teacher can help bring us back to the present moment.

When the Mind Wanders

It’s inevitable: During meditation, your mind will roam. You may notice other sensations in the body, things happening around you, or just get lost in thought, daydreaming about the past or present, possibly judging yourself or others.

There’s nothing wrong with this — thinking is just as natural as breathing. “It’s the natural conditioning of the mind to wander,” said Ms. Brach.

When this happens, simply notice what it is you were thinking about or what was distracting you, then take a moment and pause.

You don’t need to pull your attention right back to the breath. Instead, let go of whatever it was you were thinking about, reopen your attention, then gently return your awareness to the breath, being present for each inhalation and exhalation.

“Don’t just drag the mind back to the breath,” said Ms. Brach. “Instead reopen the attention, then gently come and land again.”

After a few breaths, invariably, the mind will wander again. Don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s natural. What’s important is how we respond when it happens. Simply acknowledge whatever it is you were thinking of — without ascribing too much judgment to it, without letting it carry you away — and take a moment to come back to the present, and resume your meditation.

“Where we build our skill is in the practice of coming back,” said Ms. Brach. “Coming back again and again. Notice it — thinking — and then pause, and then come back to the present moment.”

Mindfulness Meditation Practices

You can practice mindfulness meditation on your own anytime and anywhere. But listening to basic guided meditations can also be helpful, especially when getting started. Instructions from an experienced teacher can help remind us to come back to the present moment, let go of distracting thoughts and not be so hard on ourselves.

Here are four guided meditations you can listen to that will help you remain in the present moment. Choose the one that’s the right length for you: One minute is a great place to start but also good if you simply don’t have a lot of time. If you’re more experienced or ready for an extended mindfulness session, try the 10- or 15-minute sessions. You can download these tracks and listen to them when you’re ready to meditate.

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1-Minute Meditation


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4-Minute Meditation


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10-Minute Meditation


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15-Minute Meditation


Body Scan

Instead of training your attention on the breath, as is the case in basic mindfulness meditation, the body scan involves systematically focusing on different sensations and areas, from the head to the toes.

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Body Scan Meditation


Start at the top of your head. Slowly and deliberately, bring your attention to the surface of your skin, one inch at a time. See if you can feel your scalp, your ears, your eyelids and your nose. Continue in this manner, moving across the face, over the ears, down the neck and shoulders and all the way down to your toes.

At first, it might seem as if you don’t feel anything at all. But as you progress, you might begin to notice a whole world of new sensations. Some of the feelings might be pleasant, a gentle warmth, a comfortable weight. Some feelings might be neutral — tingling or itching. And some might be unpleasant. Your feet might feel soreness somewhere.

Whatever the sensation is, just note it. If you need to move to relieve real pain, do so. But try not to react — labeling the experience good or bad — even if it’s unpleasant. Instead, just acknowledge what it is you’re feeling, and continue with the body scan. And of course, if you realize your mind has wandered, simply note the thought, and return your attention to the body.

More Tips on Meditation Exercises

Three Ways for Children to Try Meditation at Home

May 10, 2016

My Meditation Binge, in a Nutshell

April 25, 2016

Achieving Mindfulness at Work, No Meditation Cushion Required

April 23, 2016

At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra

February 27, 2015