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

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

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

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


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

So what's that supposed to mean?

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

via Peter Miller / Flickr

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

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

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

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

via Pixabay

Now, how do I do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Marco Conti / Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Harris further explaining his meditation technique.

Harvard has some dietary tips to help reduce your anxiety.

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

Pedram Shojai teaches how to resolve anxiety through qi gong.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."