Is your mind’s busy chatter a disease needing a cure?

Over the years, I have spoken with quite a few people on the topic of mindfulness and meditation. I’m disquieted upon discovering how many people carry an unnecessarily high degree of shame and misunderstanding around the topic of meditation.

I value meditation. I believe in the benefit it can provide. I have gained real value from the practice, and have others who I’ve witnessed gain extraordinary experiences of self-acceptance, spurring entire seasons of healthy development.

I’ve spent years trying to understand whether this shame or sense of failure is due more to simple personality differences (i.e. “meditation ain’t for everyone”), or whether it’s some obstacle that’s possible to overcome, providing passage for these frustrated fidgeters to gain what I and others insist is there awaiting them if they commit and engage in a healthy meditative practice.

This problem newcomers experience is not entirely of their own making. I believe this stifled experience in meditation is due in no small part to misunderstandings that arise when advocates of meditation oversell it, or (in a genuine spirit of helpfulness) hastily attempt to convey the benefits that absolutely do come to them through their own meditative practice.

I have noticed that this enthusiastic pitch, as well-intentioned as it undoubtedly is, most often brings about an outcome the seasoned proponent didn’t intend. Often the “hype pitch” causes new practitioners to expect something that either isn’t the core point of meditation — often confusing extraordinary claims with valuable (but more realistic) benefits — or distracting them to expect an immediacy in results that often only come eventually, after consistent practice and honing. “Should my mental chatter be quieting down at some point? Where are the epiphanies and massive insights? Why do all the worst thoughts or beliefs about myself boil over and burden me whenever I sit and try to focus my mind? Shouldn’t I feel like I’m floating or something?” I hear people asking these questions with a kind of deflated resignation, and I almost always hear a strong sense of personal defeat from the belief that these “failed meditators” (as they consider themselves) are alone in this outcome — broken and hopeless in the ways of mindful introspection.

If only I could help them see that these are the most common complaints I hear.

Imagine an athlete pitching their physically flaccid friends on a comprehensive, healthy exercise program. But instead of arming them with a realistic perspective of small but important milestones and accomplishments as they consistently attend to their physical wellbeing, they instead hype the muscle tone and slimming that often does happen, but not before they’ve invested a considerable effort and commitment, of course. When the excited, desperately out-of-shape newcomer goes to the gym, they’re first met with confusion at all the new tools and techniques which other gym-goers make look so easy. They experience distress over the lack of capability (especially compared to others around them). Eventually there’s a heap of soreness or even injury after this humiliated experience. These are the makings of misery for most who “try”.

To add insult to injury, they didn’t lose weight, slim down, or tone up. In fact, they feel like crap for weeks, and often weigh in even higher on the scale in the beginning stages. “If I wanted to gain weight, I could have done it without beating myself up at some stanky, salty gym”, they tell themselves. Overwhelm leads to abandonment. Abandonment leads to shame. Shame bolsters a determination to just ignore the problem rather than understanding where they may need a reframing to make the new lifestyle yield the results they truly do want.

“Oh well, there’s always next year’s New Year’s Resolution“. This comforts them when they succumb to the temptation of their favorite fattening flagellation.

This vicious cycle isn’t confined to physical health. It’s actually the exact same process which has unfolded among those who consider themselves “failed meditators”. It is clear to me how deeply it affects those who carry around an incomplete or warped view of what meditation is (and isn’t). This twisted perception of meditation is responsible for a substantial portion of the burden this topic tends to impose on those who are not finding health in the practice.

Does any of this sound familiar to your experience today, or perhaps a past experience which is now improving? Read on.

I’ve read a fair amount about meditation. I’ve listened to seasoned meditators speak of their experience, and their experience sounds strikingly similar to newcomers who complain that, “I just can’t meditate — my mind just won’t settle down”, or “I try to focus, but I end up feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions whenever I sit with myself.”

To be clear, the thing newcomers are experiencing here is not “not meditation”, nor is it “wrong meditation”. In fact, the experience which the most seasoned, respected meditators have reflects a more or less identical internal process as those expressing overwhelm.

So what’s the difference? Do these seasoned, committed meditators possess a superhuman, steely resolve enabling them to brush off this brutal punishment that just pummeled you like a freight train?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say what I believe with a high degree of certainty: the difference between “good meditators” and the frustrated one is not the mental chatter (or lack thereof) going on inside their brain. It’s the label they’ve attached to it. It’s the judgment about it.

What many humans call bad, wrong, or frustrating, the mindful advocate has learned is natural, holistic, and a part of them. What the masses try to shut up, quiet down, or control, the meditator has learned to accept, love, and learn from. The thing newcomers judge as broken and unhealthy, mindful practitioners have embraced and allowed a deep relationship with this part of themselves which, perhaps unexpectedly, has led to deep and powerful healing inside them. If you are running from your inner self, you aren’t running from a broken mess inherited by a pitiful soul. You’re running from your best parts, your deepest self, and your greatest discoveries.

Meditators have learned to practice self-love and radical comfort in one’s own company. They’ve learned to love the mass of thoughts, emotions, and meaty parts sitting within their own skin. Doesn’t that sound kinda nice?

If you absolutely must insist on framing any of your thoughts as an illness, then please realize that if the incessant chatter of the mind is like a headache, then the belief that the mind needs to be forced silent is the malignant brain tumor triggering the headache.

The idea that thoughts — any thoughts — are your problem; this idea is toxic. This is one of the most odious rots that can fester to feed a vicious cycle of shame and self-deprivation. You’ve been taught your entire life that you are broken or twisted. You’ve been trained to believe this without question. It’s wrong.

Welcome all thoughts, validate all curiosities, endeavor to enjoy all experiences, and you’ll get closer to wellness this way than by believing you are bad if you don’t aggressively resist, silence, or shun some loud or boisterous part of yourself.

Open the door to the noise, and it will most likely become beautiful like music. If you’re kind and calm enough, it will invite its good friend, Satisfied Silence, to join you once it finds a comfortable and safe place in your presence.

MY PERSONAL CHALLENGE TO YOU

What if, for just one week, you tended to every thought, idea, sensation, or feeling inside you as if it were coming from a wise, good, healthy, insightful, or even brilliant friend? Would you beam like a child who is being publicly praised for her fiftieth crayola project, thrilled to be validated even if it isn’t a piece befitting the space next to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in France? Would your inner child feel proud to have helped a stranger by sharing his Lunchable with the new kid who just realized he forgot his lunch money at home? Would you feel a sense of relief that somebody is there to hear how troubled you felt by some dark or terrible thought, if even just to have space to really understand whether it’s driven more from honest curiosity or deep, untended pain?

Give yourself a gift nobody else can give: love yourself for all the parts that make you “you”. Forget the idea, just for a week, that you’re wrong for being the way you are, and learn to listen and love all that flows. Just a week. Then check in and see what this has taught you. If it’s terrible, you can tell me how wrong I am.

But if it’s wonderful, this is something you deserve to experience. I’ve experienced the kindness of loving every part of myself — simple, complex, foolish, or fantastic. Will you join me?

SEE STUNNING
VIEWS OF EARTH
IN A CUBICLE
OR ON THE BUS.

Calming Aerial Videos

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Facing Danger, Finding Wisdom (and safety)

Thank you, Mr. Davis. Your courage and humility have helped bring enlightenment to my experience. I will follow your lead and seek to learn from and understand the things that confuse me or even seem to threaten my very existence. Your example has the power to transform all of our lives and the world we live in.

What would happen if tomorrow morning you woke up to find yourself having zero judgments — none whatsoever — about you, the universe, or anything in it (including other living beings)?

What modern or ancient dangers lurk for someone who has no awareness of the need to avoid them? What if you had no reason to be mindful with things as benign-looking as crossing the street or getting too close to a rattlesnake, diving into a deep and expansive body of water, or drinking a toxic substance like Drano from a bottle? Which judgments bring us more safety or benefit from heeding them rather than being ignorant to them? Which judgments, if absent, would result in almost certain pain, suffering, or death?

In that same vein, which judgments, if shed, would reveal entirely wonderful or stunning realizations or experiences? Which judgments keep us back from really potent opportunities to connect with ourselves and others, or imprison us, keeping us from gaining life experiences which almost universally benefit those who embrace them? What new beauties would we find, which experiences might we finally enjoy, what people or groups would brighten our lives?

We are all looking for those things which provide safety from pain or, alternatively, opportunities for pleasure. Keeping track of this data takes up a healthy portion of our memory. But have you ever wondered what happens if we re-examine the objects in that virtual rolodex of “dos” and “don’ts”? Daryl Davis did just that, and may be able to shed some light on what is possible when we deeply challenge existing cultural and personal belief or certainty.

You see, Daryl decided to question the long-held judgments made by people inside or outside of his community. He even challenged the answers conjured up by his own mind about his place in the world around him, and why it often feels like a place of unwelcomeness for him. Rather than accept the answers, or even to imagine up personal answers for himself, he decided to revisit the question humans have long claimed certainty around: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Many ask this question, and most often, the answers seem to be rooted in ethnocentric thinking: I hate you because you’re inferior; I mistreat you because you’re ignorant; I attack you because you’re evil; I avoid you because you’re dangerous; I criticize you because you’re wrong. But really, these answers can all trace their root back to one, simple expression: I am afraid of you because you’re not familiar — because you’re not enough like me. Few humans, it seems, stop to question the answers they’re given. His question was unique, perhaps only because it was asked more out of sincerity rather than sarcasm. I get the strong sense that Daryl wasn’t merely searching for a rhetorical question to accompany a pre-determined answer, as is so often the case.

I admire Daryl’s courage and humility in refusing to assume that he knew what motivated someone he knew little or nothing about. Rather than returning the favor of judgment and ignorance, he entered into a potentially treacherous relationship with humility and grace. Above all, he allowed himself to trust and nurture his deeper curiosity and wonder, and out of that came this incredible result of two willing men discovering their own humanity where they least expected it.

What would happen if we all laid down our judgment — shed outside opinion — long enough to at least understand, and know “the truth” about something foreign for ourselves? If Daryl’s experience is any indication, then the answer is more vibrant and enlightening than most of us might believe.

Thank you Daryl. I have something better to aim for in my own character because of you.

The quiet mind: A study on why overselling meditation hurts everyone

Anyone familiar with conversations about meditation (at least in a western society like the United States) will know how common it is for the topic of “a quiet mind” or “a still mind” to come up. This is so prevalent in the discussion about meditation, in fact, that it has emerged as one of the primary objections to or criticisms of meditation by those who have reached for and failed to grasp such prized benefits which are often touted as a surefire reward of the practices.

And this is unfortunate, because for all the benefits that meditation or mindfulness might provide, a growing group of people are deeply inclined to dismiss or even refuse to engage in meditative practice because they have been sold strong or even outlandish misrepresentations of the practice. These claims are often made for no other reason than simply to win this potential meditator as an adherent to regular practice.

This is a primary shortcoming of ethnocentricity, wherein a tribe attempts to convert non-practitioners to the tribe’s traditions, usually by attempting to oversell the group’s benefits and refute diverse (alternate) practices or perspectives at almost any cost. Having someone pick up meditation if it doesn’t serve them is bad for them, but it’s bad for those who derive genuine objective value from the practice. This fact doesn’t go away if the reason for their initially negative experience is due to judgment, misconception, resistance, or some other personal influence. This choice to present hyperbolic claims as though they are easy pickings for newcomers imposes too high of a “minimum expectation” for achievement in the group’s practices or values, and essentially cuts too many people off from the more subtle (but perhaps more attainable) benefits of the practice. With high distress levels worldwide, overlooking the simple, accessible benefits of novice practice is a foolish act of “jumping ahead”.

All this is to say, I think the idea of a quiet mind might be a misdirect, overstatement, or even outlandish promise of meditation’s benefits in the first place. I imagine this promise is driven as much from a desperate attempt to validate meditation in some big way as it is to get someone to “just try it out” so they can experience the very real, very beneficial, very needed (albeit less lavish) benefits. I’m not claiming a mind can’t be quieted, or that a soul can’t be stilled in a peaceful and healthy way. But these are the byproduct, not the goal. They’re the fruit, not the work. And many seasoned practitioners would argue that some nirvanic sense of bliss isn’t even the most abundant or valuable benefit meditation has to offer.

The truth is, most humans today are stressed, anxious, or depressed (if not a combination of all three). A subset of humans are at their breaking point. If the threshold for crossing that dangerous threshold is, let’s imagine, 50.1% presence of some combo of anxiety/depression/stress in their regular daily experience, then there are enough people at 48%, 49%, or even 50% who are moments away from having a potentially tragic experience. If anyone needs a miracle, it’s these people. But offering an empty promise doesn’t help — it risks immense damage. Feeding them “white lie false hopes just so they’ll try something that could help them out eventually is not only irresponsible, it’s unkind. I recognize the impulse for making the invitation or promise in the first place likely comes from an entirely loving, kind, or concerned place. This is what makes it an especially unfortunate engagement. If our aim is to help, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves about what helps, rather than help in ways that feel intuitive or rewarding even while they harm.

But more importantly, someone at or near their breaking point doesn’t need grand promises or lofty goals. They, in fact, likely stand to benefit much more from a regular, recurring conversation about ways they can make small and steady improvements to their situation rather than one big “whammy” solution. Put another way, if we stick with the facts, let them know what meditation is, how to get started, and draw their attention to the smaller, more immediately available, but more evidence-based benefits proven to come out of consistent practice, we stand a chance of giving them a rope they can grab onto rather than a pole they can’t even get their arms around, so to speak.

We all want to climb out of our own proverbial holes, and we all want to know there’s help there, if and when we get in a pickle — in that order. Leading someone desperate, who is feeling debilitating anxiety, to believe that they can eliminate their anxiety almost completely with a few simple meditations (or a lifetime of it) is not backed by evidence, nor is it kind.

Alternatively, letting someone who is struggling with anxiety know that meditation has been shown to reduce stress hormones, positively effect blood pressure, improve outlook, and potentially help sleep patterns — being careful to communicate that these improvements usually begin small and compound over time — gives them a reasonable expectation that if they invest in healthier patterns, they may find a small amount of relief from the practice immediately, with further relief increasing over time. It may only move them from a 49% stress load to a 47% stress load in the short term, but that small walk back from the edge of catastrophe could make all the difference for their long-term pathway to wellness.

Do you expect to be “cured” by meditation? That, my friend, does not seem to be the point of meditation. The major primary benefit I’ve found from meditation is the opportunity to ask if I’m broken in the first place.

“A quiet mind” is an idea rooted in the claim that the mind is broken. Perhaps it simply has never felt heard. Will you accept the invitation to change that dynamic with yourself, for yourself?

Sit with yourself in meditation today, and see if your mind doesn’t become easier to sit with, or quieter from a deeper sense of satisfaction from finally being listened to and heard.

The thing about Psychopaths

Humans are organizers. There’s evidence that our species has been doing it for as long as we have a recorded history. We may have begun this process by keeping nuts and berries in nooks and crannies, eventually engineering totes and pots for our tools and trinkets — but over hundreds of thousands of years it has evolved into a full-fledged never-ending process of sorting, labeling, judging, and acting on these judgments about everything. We’re so adept at this process that we often do it without being aware of it. It’s as disconnected from our daily consciousness as breathing. And just as we can gain significant benefits by paying attention to our breath (even for a few moments daily), there are profound opportunities for those who develop a more deliberate awareness of their own personal practice of judging.

You know that strange sensation that can sometimes arise when we start thinking about our own breathing (strange, because we rarely pay any attention to it)? That same infrequency of attention accompanies most of the judgments we make. We judge almost non-stop, but rarely do we pay attention when it’s happened or consider it’s impact. We judge the thing occupying our attention in this moment, and promptly forget about it when another thing pushes it aside. But the judgment remains, as does the praise or condemnation that will likely accompany any future interaction with that thing. In a phrase,

Labels are hard to shake.

It would be difficult to argue that the act of judgment and categorization are purposeless or lacking any benefit to our species. Critical thinking has empowered us to better explore and subsequently make sense of ourselves and the universe around us. While the vast majority of daily judgments are woefully misinformed and lead to potentially problematic ends, judgment isn’t the problem, per se. And in the same way that it sometimes feels strange noticing our own breath, becoming mindful of the judgments we are making from moment to moment may feel awkward at first, especially if this is a new idea to you.

That’s why I like this video. It reveals, with surgical precision, the tsunami of nuance that can easily arise when we stop to examine the labels we apply — labels which we rarely have any logical reason for gratuitously applying to almost everything in our lives.

This video has been a helpful catalyst for raising crucial questions in my own day-to-day experience. Here are a few examples of those questions:

  • What/who do I judge?
  • What process do I employ when I judge?
  • What influences (or who’s perceived authority) do I allow to persuade my judgment?
  • Is this pattern of judgment something I’ve chosen, or did I simply inherit it from the culture/society around me?
  • Is the thing I am judging good, or do I just choose to label it as good?
  • Is this thing bad, or am I choosing to ignore/undervalue the benefit that surely exists if I simply judge it differently?
  • Am I operating in “black and white” thinking, or have I made space to consider more diverse perspectives than my own?
  • Does anyone get the opposite effect from this idea/place/person/thing than I do? If so, is it due more to personal subjectivity or objective reality?

Check out the video above, and see if practicing mindfulness while re-assessing the judgments you’ve made might provide value to you. Will developing a new process of mindfully judging future experiences in your life simplify and improve your daily experience?

What do you think? Can you think back on any time in your own life when you’ve re-assessed old judgments and come up with more informed or diverse perspectives? Can you identify any challenges you feel this process might pose?

It’s Indie Support Week!

It’s April here in America, and we’re jumping aboard Indie Support Week, the brain child of John Sundell (original tweet found here). Great idea, John! These apps are created by indie developers like us, and by downloading, sharing, rating, or paying for additional features in their apps, you are helping to support development of great apps, games, and tools. Join us as we celebrate a few from the list. Be sure to catch our special bonus at the end of this post for the first few readers who act fast.

To kick it off, I’d like to talk about my favorite pick so far:

SECRET SIGNS

Secret signs is a fun little gem that is both simple and beautiful. It was picked as Apple’s Game of the Day, and I’m not surprised. If you’re looking for a chance to practice mindful attentiveness with a soothing game experience, look no further.

Brain puzzlers are some of my very favorites (Limbo, Lifeline, Blackbar, Letterpress are some of my favorites. Hey, look! I love apps that start with “L” apparently!). This game easily belongs among those others, and has provided a welcome repose from endless coronavirus news updates. Best of all, each puzzle provides a little factoid once solved, a decadent butter-cream frosting on an already delightful cake.

Download the app from the iOS App Store as well as the Google Play Store. It includes 6 free puzzles, and you can access 18 more puzzles via in-app purchase for $1.99. Well done, Wouter!

MINDFUL AFFIRMATIONS

Joan Cardona, from Barcelona (say that out loud, it’s really fun!) created this nifty little app that fills your emotional cup with teaspoon-sized servings of positivity.

Before you decide this sounds too woo-woo or frou-frou for you, listen up. I, too, was dubious about the app while installing and signing up. After walking through the short setup process, I decided to give Steps Towards Daily Happiness a shot (in the Everyday Joy section). Despite my initial skepticism, I was feeling a marked shift in my internal weather patterns by the 4th affirmation. In this one there were a total of 19 short one-sentence affirmations which loop, and I can only see these helping most folks’ psychological state. The female voice sported a likable (and mild) European accent. The background music added a nice touch, tying the short individual affirmations together.

This app takes a simple idea and does it right. Download it and give it a try. If you decide you want the full library, you can do so for a small monthly or annual subscription rate. Mindful Affirmations is available for free from the iOS App Store.

SIMPLE RECIPES

Simple Recipes is a Mac, iOS, and tvOS app which is currently in beta. It allows you to add recipes, organize ingredient and shopping lists, find meal ideas, and create meal plans right on your devices.

The app looks clean and well-designed, and easy to use — but don’t let the ease and good design fool you. For those who want to geek out a bit, you can use Markup to spruce up your recipes with links, images, and formatting to keep it all clean and readable. If that all sounds too complex for you, stick with simple formatting and let the app organize things for you. I’m a big believer in nutritious home-cooked meals. With the way things have been the last few months, this has become a higher priority than ever. Having a way to organize meals as well as shopping lists for reduced trips outside the house has become a key piece of our “hunker down” plan.

This app looks like a tool that will help that process run even more smoothly. Simple Recipes is currently in beta, and you can request beta access on their website: simplerecipes.com.

CONGRATS, YOU MADE IT! HAVE A PRIZE!

While we think all three apps listed here are worth your attention, there’s one that delighted us with its simple, fun (affordable!) gameplay. You guessed it, Secret Signs is our top pick today. To help support Wouter Walmink (the creator of Secret Signs), we’ve decided to give away 50 in-app purchases of the Secret Signs app. Since Apple hasn’t yet enabled gifting of In-App purchases, here’s how it will work:

1. Download Secret Signs from the iOS App Store or from the Google Play Store.
2. Launch the game. Once you’re on the riddle screen, mash the blue “Unlock all riddles” button.
3. When the charge hits your account, follow the instructions to find the purchases in your Apple App Store or Google Play Store purchase history.
4. Take a screenshot of both the app download and in-app purchase made after April 2, 2020 (feel free to hide/erase any non-related info or purchases).
5. Forward the screenshot(s) to hey@skytripping.com, and we will issue a digital Cash payment in the US, or a Paypal payment for international readers. (Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you can receive Cash or Paypal payments).
6. That’s it. We will send reimbursement to the first 50 requests we get. Be sure to support Wouter by giving Secret Signs a positive rating/review in the App Store once you download it.

Good luck and stay safe out there! Remember your social distancing and stay home as much as possible!

Stay Centered with these Free Apps & Services

With the recent disruptions in almost all aspects of our daily lives, it’s becoming increasingly important to take conscious steps toward keeping our minds, bodies, and emotions in check. We have compiled a short list of apps and services which can help you keep your world running smoothly during this chaotic time. As we previously announced, full access to the Sky Tripping app is free while the pandemic is underway. Check out the links below, and let us know in the comments if you find any other tips on great sites, apps, or services that everyone should know about.

MENTAL HEALTH

Sanvello for Stress and Anxiety — A simple, beautifully designed experience to help users manage stress and anxiety, Sanvello has opted to make their app and services free for all while Covid-19 crisis is active. It includes tools to help users actively engage in practices which help improve their mood and wellness, as well as community interaction so you’re not alone (even if you do happen to find yourself physically isolated).

Headspace — A household name in meditation, Headspace has committed to being there for us to help calm the chaos while Covid-19 is underway. The content called Weathering the Storm is available to all. Jump in and give it a try if you’re finding your emotions straying or your mind running all over the place. A few minutes of self-care can’t hurt.

The Holistic Psychologist — Not an app, per se, but this instagram account is a tremendous resource for those wanting to engage in “the work”. If you are ready to take ownership of your emotions, thought processes, and life direction, this is a great resource featuring bite-sized tips encouraging healthier patterns of thought and response. A definite must for those of us wanting to maintain productive relationships with self and others.

STAYING CONNECTED AT A DISTANCE

Spokt Private Family Sharing — Keeping up-to-date on family health and status is a high priority for many while uncertainty looms. Spokt is similar to Facebook Groups, but private and secure. Spokt gives you a Hub (your own private space) to share videos, photos, and text updates for the whole family to see and discuss. In order to get a free hub set up to stay connected during the Covid-19 disruption, contact the Spokt team here.

eFamily.com — Similar to Spokt, eFamily is providing full accounts at no charge for family and friends to stay in touch for the time being. Email help@efamily.com in order to get free access.

PHYSICAL HEALTH

Down Dog Yoga — Speaking of social distancing, are you missing the physical grind at your local gym or studio? Are you into Yoga? This might just be the app for you. Down Dog is available for free right until at least May 1st. Download. Stand up. Get moving. With data showing that moving can improve both physical and mental health, this is a simple way we can all stack the odds in our favor while things are in flux.

7 Minute Workout — Just because you have more time every day doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole life getting fit. And with studies showing that short, focused workouts can rival longer traditional workouts, this app gives you a chance to get active without getting overwhelmed.

LEARNING

Virtual Museum Tours — I’ll admit, this sounded dumb to me. I shouldn’t print that, but there it is. However, with the gentle insistence of my wife over a few day’s time, I finally succumbed — in no small part because I noticed the screenshot featuring the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy, a place I wandered for hours on my recent trip to Italy. I’m glad I gave in. After downloading the Google Arts and Culture app, the family went on a virtual adventure soaking in the art found inside the 36,000 year French Chauvet Caves. We were mesmerized by simple, informative, and beautiful works of ancient creation. 5/5 recommended!

Duolingo — This app is highly recommended and one we’ve personally used to supercharge our own language learning (I personally used the Italian Course prior to my recent trip to the land of romance). Simple to use and gamified for fun, now might just be the perfect time to dig into that second language you’ve always wanted to learn but never had time for (until now).

Khan Academy — Khan Academy is one of the most well-known names on the web for expert education at just the right price: free. Jump in and exercise your brain. It may not sound like much, but engaging your brain in developing new skills or knowledge is an important element in mental and emotional health.

Making time to check in, practice a little self care, and maintain good emotional, psychological, physical, and social health will pay huge dividends right now. This won’t last forever. Things will look up. Keep yourself in a healthy place. Take a few moments for yourself throughout the day so you can be ready for opportunities as things begin to look up. You’ve got this!

Staycation to Cabo?

CABO GREENS > CORONA BLUES

Quarantined? Practicing your social distancing? Following a shelter-in-place order? We have a dose of good news for you: our newest batch of films (and our first international volume) titled “Cabo San Lucas” just launched. Revive your senses as vivid blues colliding with fiery oranges create explosive color combinations that would make even Michael Bay swoon. Travel along the Baja California shoreline in this tropical exploration of Mexico’s western peninsula, highlighting some of Cabo’s most iconic landscapes from all new heights.

And that’s not all. Since our last announcement, we’ve added two more volumes: Sierra Nevada and Monument Valley. For a limited time, anyone can preview these films once you create a free Sky Tripping account either in the Settings tab inside the iOS or Android App — or in a web browser at https://skytripping.com/join.

When you use Sky Tripping every day – even for a minute or two – you can significantly lower your stress levels and increase the amount of time you stay focused throughout your day. It may not sound like much, but the compound effects of our novel, nature-based meditation app can add up quickly resulting in noticeable, lasting benefits.

These newest films are available to watch today, and are also available as meditation scenes within our Micro Meditation feature (side note: with our latest app update, you can choose an expanded meditation time range between 1 and 60 minutes).

Alternatively, you can enhance the energy of your next get-together, yoga session, or moment of relaxation by streaming our cinematic films on your Apple TV.

As always, we are hard at work on our next volume, but we couldn’t keep these latest films to ourselves any longer

Stay safe (and sane)!

RELIEVING STRESS, THE NATURAL WAY

Our lives are chock-full of things that can stress us out. Demanding jobs. Performance reviews. Deadlines. Bills. Social media shaming. Polarizing hashtags, news, and political punditry — the list goes on. These daily pressures are about as common as tap water.

We wrote a previous blog post revealing the hidden secret of stress. We show how leveraging stress (rather than fearing it) can have considerable health benefits.

But what if we could do one simple thing every day to tame the stress in our lives? Science reveals that upping our dose of nature can radically reduce mental and physical stress.

Our team has experienced plenty of stress in our own careers despite the fact that we love what we do. The science behind natural stress relief surprised us. But even before we truly understood these studies, we observed that nature played a role in regulating our own stress levels. That, in turn, led us to develop the Sky Tripping app which harnesses the power of nature in reducing stress.

Nature exposure is a powerful weapon against overwhelm. People living near green space report less mental distress than those in urban areas.1 Hospital patients with window views where grass and trees are visible experience faster recoveries.2 Students attending schools with green space perform better than those without.3 Short doses of nature—even images of it—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.4 In studies from Norway to South Korea, findings are the same: nature is the natural stress-buster.

Nature isn’t just pretty. MRI scans show that nature is good for the brain. When volunteers looked at scenes of nature, their anterior cingulate and insula are activated.5 These areas of the brain deal with empathy and altruism. Study after study shows that even pictures of natural environments can work wonders.

Unfortunately the opposite is also true: exposure to urban settings creates stress. The same study showed that urban scenes caused more blood flow in the amygdala.5 The amygdala processes the common “fight or flight” responses such as fear and anxiety.

Humans need exposure to forests, beaches, rivers, trees, and things that grow. We often find ourselves nature-starved without even knowing it.

In 2008 a major shift occurred. For the first time in human history, more humans live in cities than the countryside.6 In the US, over 80% of the population lives in urban areas, and in many other countries the percentage is greater.7 More people than ever find themselves living without easy access to a natural environment.

But as these studies show, the benefits of nature exist even when you’re not physically there. Remember that hospital patients only needed a view of trees and grass. The MRI volunteers were only shown pictures.

Experiencing the outdoors virtually will improve your emotional well-being. It can also reduce your chances of depression, anxiety, heart disease, migraines, and more.8 It has even been found to increase attentional capacity, positive emotions, and ability to reflect on a life problem.9

RELIEVE STRESS
AND GAIN AN
EDGE WITH THE
SKY TRIPPING APP.

Calming Aerial Videos

Download Sky Tripping today and experience the peace and tranquility of immersive aerial videos in nature.  DOWNLOAD TODAY»

Sky Tripping offers stunning aerial views of some of the most beautiful places on Earth. The films include natural audio tracks which further maximize the stress-reducing benefits. Our users report a powerful relaxation effect and a decline in stress levels as they use our app. Sky Tripping is available in the App Store for iOS and the new Apple TV. Set daily reminders to take a short break while you reap the healing and restorative powers of nature.

Reducing stress is a worthwhile pursuit, but eliminating stressors isn’t enough. Preparing yourself for unforeseen challenges is the key to maintaining mental and physical wellness. Meditation, deep breathing, and walks in nature are all great options for managing stress. Tools like Sky Tripping give you the help you need to develop habits of calmness and focus — no matter what life throws at you.

_____________________________________________________

1. University of Exeter Medical School, 2014, see also: School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 2013

2. Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway, 2015

3. PNAS 2015

4. Matilda van den Bosch, Psychology & Behavior 118, May 2013

5. Korean Journal of Radiology, 2010

6. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0112/p25s02-wogi.html

7. US Census Bureau

8. Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway, 2015

9. Oberlin College, 2009

BECOME A BEAST WHEN IT COMES TO MENTAL AWARENESS

Plenty of people put an emphasis on being “smart”. The ability to learn and retain useful information is an important lifelong skill. It’s easy to envy someone else for their wealth, beauty, or proportional physique. But do you ever find yourself feeling jealous of someone’s seemingly effortless ability to learn new things? Similarly, have you ever wished you had the same strong memory you had in your youth?

Your mind — both the conscious and the subconscious — is the workhorse that is responsible for governing every action you take, so the desire to keep it strong and active is natural. The good news is that we can do a few incredibly easy things every day to ensure that our minds are working at peak performance.

FOOD AFFECTS MENTAL SHARPNESS

Your diet may not be the first thing you think of when looking for major players in your cognitive function, but your gut is often referred to as your “second brain”. In fact, the majority of your body’s serotonin — the chemical which plays a vital role in brain functions such as emotional wellness, sleep, and even sex-drive — is concentrated in the gut, with over 90% being produced and used there.

Given that your gut and brain are interconnected and dependant on each other in this and many other surprising ways, that old saying “you are what you eat” may have more science behind it than we realize. If we want optimal results, we need to make sure we are feeding our bodies things that will help, rather than hurt, our cognitive function.

Other than eating a balanced diet there are some vitamins that have been found to be helpful in keeping your mind sharp. Numerous foods have proven benefits on mind and body alike. Omega 3s and Vitamin D have been shown to aid in memory and learning, probiotics assist with gut health and improved immunity, and Vitamin B12 protects against brain atrophy in old age.

MOVEMENT IMPROVES MEMORY

A good workout, a brisk walk, or a short jog has the ability to increase blood flow to your brain – more specifically the hippocampus – which is responsible for memory. There are studies showing that people who did more aerobic exercise had less tissue density loss than those who did not exercise regularly. And yet other studies show that exercise helps you to better handle stress, make clear decisions, and improves your ability to learn.

If exercise is the yin of body/brain wellness, meditation is the yang. Mental focus and clear thinking can wane when you are stressed out. There’s no question that meditation is a great tool to de-stress and improve your overall mood, but studies show that meditation actually activates parts of your brain important for memory and learning.  It even raises IQ scores over time. Getting physical doesn’t just mean exercising your brains out (no pun intended). Spending your time on the go is good for your health, but also make sure to reserve time for the physical relief that only meditation brings.

GET MENTAL

It is easy to get into a less-than-optimal routine. Maybe you’re feeling overdue for a veg session, or perhaps you legitimately don’t have time to take on something new. Even though your brain is an organ, treating it like a muscle brings similar benefits as physical exercise provides your body.

SEE STUNNING
VIEWS OF EARTH
FROM THE COMFORT
OF YOUR COUCH.

Calming Aerial Videos

Download Sky Tripping today and experience the peace and tranquility of immersive aerial videos in nature.  DOWNLOAD TODAY»

Your brain needs to be challenged and stimulated every day to keep it sharp. There are many recommended things that we can do like listening to music, reading, or even spending a few minutes on fun (but mentally challenging) activities such as crossword puzzles.

You can make other changes like watching a documentary instead of scrolling social media or watching the latest episode of whichever reality tv show is popular at the moment. Even going for a walk in a new area or driving a different way to work will light up new pathways in your brain. Take the time to notice the things around you and then try to remember them later in the day, memorize a poem, or commit a new phone number you need to memory instead of just letting your smartphone do it for you.

MY PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS

Your brain function isn’t set in stone. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you can do some simple things to boost your brain function. Keeping your stress levels down, eating right, and exercising your mind and body are important tools to help you achieve greater cognitive function.