Army H.e.a.l.t.h. Arsenal
November, 2016

The Mindfulness Training App was created by a major publisher of mediation books. The app includes teachings from key mindfulness instructors, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat, and Tara Brach.

Users can select from audio, video, or written mindfulness practices. It is a great choice for those who are curious about what mindfulness meditation practice is all about.

The app includes a few free sessions which delve into the science behind mindfulness and offer tips for starting a practice. More sessions are available for purchase.

The Mindfulness Training App is available for free in the app store for iPhone.

Sleep Corner

How mindfulness helps you sleep better.

Practicing mindfulness can improve both sleep quality and quantity. A calm, less stressed mind is more likely to be able to drift into a nice, restful sleep. This is because research shows us that practicing mindfulness actually changes the structure of your brain and, therefore, your emotions and ability to “relax”.

Participants in one study experienced an increase in gray matter in their brains after practicing mindfulness. The increase in grey matter was found in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is the part of the brain that is associated with emotion and memory. It is covered in receptors for the stress hormone cortisol.

A person who is chronically stressed would probably have damage in this region in the brain, leading to a smaller amount of grey matter. For example, people with PTSD and depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus. Thankfully, we know that practicing mindfulness for as little as 1.5 hours (spread out over a period of time which you choose) can change the brain by increasing the grey matter in the hippocampus...which means less stress and more sleep for those who practice.

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Experience more gratitude and less stress during the holidays

As we move into the holiday season, things get busy and many of us start to feel the stress and anxiety build. Thoughts of prepping our home for family visits or traveling to see family that live out of state can provoke worry and tension. Additionally, this time of year also carries a large financial burden that many families struggle with.

Backed by Research

One way to cope with the added stress of the holiday season is by practicing gratitude. As the name implies, Thanksgiving may be an especially good time to focus on gratitude. Cultivating gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

One research study explored the effect of keeping a daily gratitude journal versus focusing on things that caused irritation. For 10 weeks, participants either wrote about what they were thankful for or what irritated them. Unsurprisingly, those who focused on gratitude were not only more optimistic and had better feelings about their lives, but they also exercised more and had less visits to the doctor’s office.

For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Additionally, researchers at the University of Kentucky found that having more gratitude is linked with enhanced empathy and reduced aggression. Which could come in handy when dealing with those not-so-nice relatives.

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude helps people focus on what they have versus what they lack. This quality, in particular, makes it a great tool to have during the holiday season when it can be easy to compare ourselves to others or focus on what we don’t have. Here are some ways that you can cultivate gratitude in your life on a regular basis.

Start a Gratitude Journal. It only takes a minute or two to jot down the things you are grateful for.

Write a Thank You Note. Expressing gratitude to others can be incredible rewarding for both you and the recipient.

Practice Mindful Meditation. Aim for at least 5 minutes of practice each day. Focus on all the things you are grateful for.

Join a cause that’s important to you. Those who donate time, money, resources, etc. tend to experience more happiness and gratitude.

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Ask An Expert

Q: Some days I find it easy to practice mindful meditation. Other days are hard. What am I doing wrong?

A: As with any “practice”, mindful meditation may not feel the same way every day. Some days you may find it easy to sit and focus on your breath, for example. Other days may be much more difficult. Maybe you have anxiety over the upcoming holiday season and trying to balance it all. Or maybe the source of your inability to focus in unknown. Either way, it is important to know that this is normal.

Progress doesn’t always come quickly or easily. Our minds are used to running wild with our thoughts because we are constantly distracted and busy. Although this is not something we can change easily, it is something that we can learn from and accept.

If you notice your mind racing as you begin your practice, try to bring your attention away from your thoughts and focus it on your body. Focus on your breath and how your stomach rises and falls with each breath. Pay attention to your body and how it feels. Start with your head and work your way down to your toes. Check in with yourself. Is your jaw clenched? If so, let it relax. Does your back hurt? Are your feet cold? By shifting your focus to your body, you are freeing up your mind from intrusive thoughts. If your attention keeps coming back to your worries, gently bring it back to the body.

Mindful Moment

Stress levels can increase during the holiday season. Try acknowledging the feeling that comes with stress, without focusing on that feeling. Acceptance of “what is”, combined with a mindful approach to each moment, will help you to maintain a more peaceful state of mind.

Bottom Line

The holidays are often a fun, family filled time that is also very demanding. Coping with the additional stress that accompanies this time of year can be easier if you have a plan. Cultivating gratitude is one tool that helps many people stay happy and reduce stress levels. Best of all…it’s free!

Practicing mindfulness changes the physical structure of your brain. People who practice mindfulness experience increased growth in their grey matter that is found in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is the region that is associated with emotions and memory. Therefore, those who practice mindfulness tend to be more resilient and heal from PTSD and depression more quickly.

Lastly, legs up the wall pose is a great relaxation stretch to do before bed. This pose, in particular, helps the body to relax by calming down the nervous system and encouraging the “rest and digest” mode of the body.

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Featured Recipe: rosemary and garlic mashed cauliflower

Everyone loves mashed potatoes…but this delicious rosemary and garlic mashed cauliflower may just give mashed potatoes a run for their money! Whether you’re looking to reduce calories and/or unhealthy (saturated) fat, mashed cauliflower is an excellent addition to your holiday menu.

This dish is also a good source of protein, fiber, and Vitamin C. As an added bonus, it freezes well! (If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, that is.)

  • 1 large cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • 3 ounces low-fat cream cheese
  • 1.5 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t minced garlic
  • 1 T fresh rosemary

  • Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Once boiling, cook the cauliflower for 8-10 minutes or until fork tender. Remove and drain cauliflower. Place cauliflower along with all other ingredients into a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth and creamy.

    Nutrition Information:
    Servings: 4      Calories: 145      Carbs: 13g      Fiber: 5g      Sugar: 6g                Fat: 9g            Protein: 6g          Sodium: 144mg     

    Featured Exercise: Relaxation Stretch

    Legs up the wall pose is a great pose to do as you wind down for bed. According to Gratitude quote from, this pose is intended to be a deeply relaxing pose. When you combine a longer hold of Legs Up the Wall with slow, rhythmic breathing, you will be tapping into your “rest and digest” nervous response. This pose can also help bring relief to the legs, feet, and spine.

    To practice this stretch, lie on your back with your butt as close to the wall as is comfortable for you. From there, extend your legs up the wall, so that the backs of your legs are resting fully against it. Maintain this position for 10-15 minutes. If this is too long, try to hold for at least 2 minutes.

    Gratitude quote from Goodness and Giggles.
    Featured Recipe adapted from The Cookie Rookie.
    Featured Exercise image from Buzzfeed.