The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Joseph Raho

The Roots of Eudaimonia: An Interview with Dr. Joseph Raho

Eudaimonia AwardsUCLA is holding their third annual Eudaimonia awards on April 29th, 2019, and in anticipation for the event, I sat down with ethicist Dr. Joseph Raho to discuss the roots of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy. After majoring in philosophy in undergrad, Dr. Raho wished to use the analytic skills he learned during his studies in a very practical way. He found that opportunity in bioethics, landing a job after graduation with The President’s Council on Bioethics (a federal bioethical commission in DC). That experience led him to pursue his PhD in moral philosophy with a concentration on end-of-life ethics at the Universita’ di Pisa, Italy. This is how Dr. Raho ended up living in Italy for five years, developing a passion for Italian art and culture, espresso, and reminiscing about the passeggiata. He returned to the States to do his post-doctoral fellowship in clinical ethics at the UCLA Health Ethics Center in 2014. He was hired as clinical ethicist for UCLA Health in the spring of 2016. In this role, he aims to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts and challenges that healthcare professionals, patients, and their families face in the hospital setting.

Feb 2015 Ethics Center Raho

Photo by Julia Saltzman

Q: If you had to give a quick elevator pitch to describe Eudaimonia to someone who did not know what it was, what would it sound like?

A: I would have to start with what it means in Ancient Greek: Eu (good) daimon (divinity or spirit). It’s someone who has a good spirit, or someone who has been able to realize their inner spirit. In English, it’s something akin to happiness, enjoyment, or pleasure. The best translation is not happiness, however, but a state of flourishing or excellence. Aristotle connected eudaimonia with virtuous behavior—virtue in accordance with reason and contemplation. Virtue is not about singular, isolated activities and behaviors, but habitual ones. You become virtuous by molding yourself through your actions over time. This raises important questions: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to flourish specifically as a human being? What does it mean to live well? What kind of person do I desire to become? What kind of activities, projects, or hobbies should I seek out because they will be conducive to my overall flourishing? At a very rudimentary level, it will be hard to flourish if you don’t have the basic necessities in life. I would also add that it’s hard to flourish alone—activities, projects, and hobbies are important, but frequently leave one only partially fulfilled, so relationships are a big part of what it means to flourish. To live well involves doing good not only for yourself, but also for others. We must strive to go beyond ourselves, overcoming our limitations. Finally, living a good life is, in a major way, connected with the various roles one has been given or assumed in life (for example, that of a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher). What does it mean to truly flourish in those roles?

Q: Where did you first hear about Eudaimonia? What do you remember about that moment/time?

A: It was my freshman year of college while studying ancient philosophy. I remember that when the professor talked about it, the concept resonated with me. I think each of us tries to live a meaningful existence. Human beings strive to create meaning. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the answer is, it’s about the dialogue—and that really drew my interest.

Q: How do you incorporate Eudaimonia into your life?

A: Mindfulness and reflection about your life and the lives of others.

Q: Can you explain the link between Eudaimonia and Philosophy?

A: The word philosophy comes to us from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom.” Yet, you don’t have to be an academic philosopher to be a reflective thinker. Human beings are naturally curious and reflective individuals. We all yearn for understanding and meaning. Philosophy is a branch of knowledge that tries to uncover fundamental truths about ourselves and our world in a systematic way. Eudaimonia is a state of human flourishing or excellence. Philosophical reflection would seek to better understand fundamental truths about what it means to flourish or be excellent human beings and why.

Q: What’s one bit of advice you would give to someone looking for meaning and purpose in their lives?

A: I would ask the person: “Where do you find joy in life and why is that aspect of your life filled with joy?” Trying to find meaning and purpose in life is admittedly very subjective—it will depend on what a person values. Striving for meaning and purpose should be understood as a journey instead of as a destination. It’s not necessarily about achieving particular things or goals (even if those things are important). Ultimately, I think the person should ask herself “What kind of person do I want to become?” and then strive toward that ideal.

Q: What can one do daily, monthly, yearly, to live with Eudaimonic principles?

A: That is a very difficult question! One should think about what it means to flourish in a holistic sense and set that as a goal for oneself. Then, he or she should strive to live in accordance with that goal one step at a time, recognizing that it may need to be modified along the way.

Q: What gives you purpose in life?

A: Relationships. Being a good partner, a good friend, a good family member, a good colleague. We should also try to help people if we are in a position to do so. Finally, we should be mindful about our actions and their impacts on others. As an ethicist, I aim to identify, analyze, and help people navigate difficult value-laden decisions. My goal is to equip them with the tools needed to arrive at their own decisions, in a way that is consistent with their deeply-held values and beliefs. I like to think that I am using my training in a creative way to assist individuals who may be struggling with complex medical decisions.

Q: What would you like UCLA to know about the Eudaimonia Awards?

A: The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding persons whose actions embody our collective ideals of a life well lived. The winners not only excel as individuals, but also use their talents for the broader good of the community and society at large by making an impact on the lives of others. By recognizing and celebrating such excellence, the hope is to get people on campus to think: “That is the type of person I want to become.”



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Resilience on the RISE

Resilience (noun)
re·​sil·​ience | \ ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s
​1)​ The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.
2) An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
As people in and around the university, we all face the trials and tribulations of stress, anxiety, and difficult situations. We can learn to better cope with daily challenges through a practice of resilience that supports our well-being.

The ​Office of Campus and Student Resilience​ and ​Counseling and Psychological Services​ (CAPS) have created a “holistic wellness hub” on campus that provides a variety of programs, classes, trainings, and self-directed resources aimed at creating a greater sense of resilience on campus. This hub is called​ Resilience in the Student Experience​ (RISE) and is located on campus, downstairs at Lu Valle Commons room B-01. RISE serves as a physical extension of CAPS, and as part of its programming, RISE offers meditations, yoga, peer coaching, and other mind-body modalities.


When I say that RISE offers a vast amount of programs and meditations, it’s no understatement. So far in the lineup they have:
  • Yoga as healing – trauma-informed yoga for survivors of sexual assault
  • Weekly drop-in resilience sessions for all
  • Mindful Ambassadors​ meetings
  • Drop-in meditations for post doctoral students
  • Weekly drop-in mindful nutrition for all
  • GRIT coaching​ corner
  • Wazo ​wellness series
  • Mindfulness for women of color
  • Healing expressed with art (HEART) for trauma survivors
  • Weekly drop-in mindful self compassion break
  • Fitwell​ yoga classes.

The RISE schedule is bursting with programs and opportunities that can meet our diverse student body where they are. And there’s no sign of slowing down; Dr. Allyson Pimentel, associate director of UCLA Campus & Student Resilience, tells me, “it’s only going to get better.”


RISE has an upcoming 5 session training series, Training for Campus Peer Leaders, which is geared towards UCLA student leaders looking to learn more about resilience, how to support students in distress, and many other important topics. This workshop will be held every Wednesday from weeks 4-8, with each session lasting two hours. The sessions will be held in the basement level of Lu Valle Commons, room B-01. If interested in this particular workshop, you can learn more and sign up ​here.


Check out the RISE space itself or come participate in some of the upcoming meditation sessions and workshops! For more information email ​



Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


How to Meditate

Have you ever thought of trying meditation but been intimidated or confused about how to get started? The basic principles of mindfulness meditation are not complex and can be learned.

To meditate we use our normal ability to direct our attention. We direct our attention all the time –for example, paying attention when reading a text. Admittedly, in meditation we use our attention in two somewhat unusual ways.

  1. First we decide to place attention on a “neutral” part of experience (“neutral” meaning something real, but not very stimulating) such as the sensation of the breath. Focusing on the breath works to calm the mind and body. It takes effort because we are trying to focus on something that is not pulling at our attention. It is a continuing decision to keep trying, and it definitely can be done. Most meditation methods begin one way or another with this type of activity: deciding to place the attention on something neutral (a “home base” for attention) and then we continue to do it for a while. It gets easier with time.
  2. Try as we might to stay with the breath, at some point we will realize that our attention has been drawn elsewhere. Here we use our attention in the second way. We simply take notice of what has pulled our attention – often thoughts and images, that is, normal mental activity such as planning for lunch, mulling over a paper we are writing, or thinking about a problem we have – but without trying to get rid of it or control it. We practice being aware of what pulled our attention away without forgetting the core activity we are doing. Just notice – and then continue the meditation by simply shifting the attention back to the breath. We do not have to get rid of any of the distraction, it may pull our attention again, and that is normal. In doing this we can begin to see how helpful it is to bring awareness carefully into all aspects of our experience.

The model of a pendulum is one way to think about meditation– we decide to place our attention for a while with the breath or some other neutral home base. When we notice the attention has been pulled away from the home base, we remember to include and give some attention to whatever it is for a few moments, and then return back to the breath. Back and forth. No rush. Even though the method is simple and do-able, it takes patience — and it does get easier with practice.

Mindfulness meditation is a combination of “something to do,” directing attention to the home base, and giving yourself permission to simply be aware of what presents itself.

With emotions, we try to feel the palpable physical sensations often felt in the chest or belly. These sensations are normal components of our emotions and this practice is especially helpful with difficult emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger. We shift attention from the thoughts to the sensations in our bodies. For many of us this can takes practice, but is a valuable skill we can develop. We begin to see for ourselves that we have within our own awareness a powerful tool – we can have more freedom in the midst of difficult emotions even when they do not automatically go away.

 This mindfulness meditation method is not complex and can be learned and practiced. At UCLA there are many opportunities to practice mindfulness meditation. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) offers a number of resources including:

If you are interested in delving more deeply, I will also be teaching a 4-credit course (PSYI 175: Mindfulness Practice and Theory) in Summer Session A 2018. The course will cover the basics of mindfulness as well some philosophical and scientific issues related to mindfulness. You are welcome to contact me for questions about this course, mindfulness, or any related topic.

, Ph.D, is the Associate Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He has been teaching mindfulness meditation for over fifteen years, including the UCLA MAPS courses as well as a summer undergraduate course at UCLA (Psychiatry 175: Mindfulness Practice and Theory).

Winter18Mindfulness Challenge

Week 6 is for Mindfulness, are you up for the Challenge?

What is the Stop, Breathe, and Think MIndfulness Challenge?

Last year, Campus and Student Resilience and the Mindful Awareness Research Center paired up with Stop, Breathe, and Think to host a five-day meditation challenge. The challenge is back this year and will be held week 6, starting today (February 12th) until the 16th, so sign up now to get started. Both last year and this year, the goal of the challenge has been to get more people involved with the practice of mindful meditation, and different variations of focus are to come in the future, since a Mindfulness Challenge will be taking place every quarter during week 6 from here on out! Now that’s a lot of resilience building. All students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty, staff, and alumni are invited to take part in the challenge.

What I Learned From the Challenge

I participated in the five-day Mindfulness Challenge last year and had a really great experience. I was introduced to meditation through the practice of yoga and my involvement with the Resilience Peer Network (RPN) on campus, but aside from these activities, I never practiced meditation, especially not on my own. When the Healthy Campus Initiative announced the Mindfulness Challenge, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to develop my own mindfulness practice.

The Challenge sends out meditation reminders every day, so it made it harder for me to forget to practice with everything else going on in my busy life. The challenge also offers incentives to keep you motivated throughout the week, such as raffle prizes that are awarded at the end of the five days to lucky winners that complete all five meditations. The messages also come with a link to a specific guided meditation that is geared towards that quarter’s focus, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed when I opened the Stop, Breathe, and Think app and saw all of the different meditation options (and, wow, there’s a lot of options!)

Knowing that a lot of people were participating in the challenge with me served as its own kind of motivation. It’s called the Mindfulness Challenge for a reason, because it is, indeed, a challenge. It challenged me to put aside a little bit of time each day for myself, to quiet my mind, and find a sense of calmness in my day. It challenged me to meditate, an act that many have not been heavily exposed to, to push me out of my daily routine, and to develop a new habit.

Last year, the challenge motivated me to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my everyday routine, something that I have now continued one year later! I still have the Stop, Breathe, and Think app on my phone because I liked it so much after being introduced to it in the Mindfulness Challenge. I even have three other apps downloaded as well, just to spice my meditation practice up a bit. The challenge caused me to make a New Year’s resolution of sorts, one that came after January 1st, but a good one all the same. The Mindfulness Challenge is a great way to dip your feet into the ocean that is meditation and the mind-body connection. It’s like an introductory course that helps show people the ropes to mindfulness, one day at a time. Incorporating mindful meditation into my everyday schedule is one of my favorite things I have done for myself, and it all started with this challenge.

What I Hope for This Year

This year, I’m approaching the challenge with intentions that are a bit changed from the previous year. I’m hoping to dedicate a little extra time to mindfulness than I already do, to push myself to set more time aside to check in with myself. I look forward to taking short breaks at times of the day that I don’t usually meditate, to explore my own practice further and refine it so it fits me best. I also want to get more people involved with the practice of meditation, so I’m looking to the challenge to do all of the convincing for me, after I recruit as many people as I can. Join me and sign up now to see what the challenge can do for you.

Winter18Mindfulness Challenge

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Stop, Breathe, & Think Mindfulness Challenge

We’re just about halfway through the quarter, and midterms, papers, and the desire to maintain an active social life may be causing some stress to all of our daily lives right about now. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break? Well, you’re in luck! The department of Campus and Student Resilience decided to help motivate students, faculty, and staff to take some time out of their days to relax with their Stop, Breathe, and Think Mindfulness Challenge. The challenge lasts five days, beginning May 1st and ending the 5th, and encourages participants to meditate once a day, for all five days. Worried that you don’t know how to meditate? Don’t worry — by signing up for the challenge, you will receive a text every day for the first week of May with a link to a short (and fun!) guided meditation practice that will support your wellbeing and resilience. What’s great about guided meditation is that there is assistance when trying to reach a calm and mindful state, some are even self-guided so that you can go at your own pace, if that sounds like more your style.

So you get to relax your mind every day, and reap the other benefits of meditation, like improving your immune system, lowering your blood pressure, increasing your ability to concentrate, and reducing stress — sounds divine, right? How about these other benefits of meditation, like increasing work efficiency, developing more creative problem solving skills, and providing better sleep, all of which are perfect for those of us wanting to do the best we can in the classroom during this midterm season.

Right now you’re probably wondering “wait, they want me to participate in a challenge that’s actually really good for me? Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?” The answer is that there is no catch; the department of Campus and Student Resilience just wants to share the experience of meditation with as many people as possible. In fact, they’re offering prizes to increase the desire for participation! Every participant who completes all five days of the meditation challenge will be entered into a raffle to win some really cool swag, including a $100 gift certificate to the Stop, Breathe, & Think online store, KIND bar snacks and merch, along with some other great prizes. So, rest, benefits for the mind and body, and free stuff? Yeah, you’re hearing that right. If you’re already itching to hit that sign up button before you’ve reached the end of the article, just click here.

The challenge taking place in May has a greater significance than just giving everyone a refreshing boost to make it to the end of the quarter. May is national meditation month, as well as national mental health awareness month (MHAM), so what better way to celebrate than getting our campus community to practice meditation together to kick off week one? MHAM was started in 1949 by Mental Health America to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, and help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health illness in their lifetime, and many more of us are impacted through our friends and family that are affected. This month is to commemorate those who struggle with mental illness, to show solidarity between those who struggle and those who are comfortable with their mental state, and educate the world about the importance of mental health — it is for everyone, because we all have a mental health of our own.

Try celebrating the month by visiting UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and check out some of their events like free drop-in meditations or workshops, or download some of their free guided meditations to try along with the challenge, or to help you remain practicing after it’s ended. Check in with yourself and those you care about throughout the month, because we are all affected by life’s challenges differently, and, although we may not all have a mental illness, we all have mental health. Take time during May to practice building resilience in your own life and help friends and family build resilience of their own through meditation and communication.

Sign up for the challenge here anytime before May 1st, and join the other students, faculty, and staff that have decided to give meditation a try. Maybe the challenge will even inspire you to incorporate meditation into your everyday life after it has ended, or maybe it will be that one thing you signed up for on a whim that gave you the boost you needed to power through a stressful time. Let us know how the challenge goes for you by commenting here or online, and share your experiences of the benefits of meditation with those around you, so that they may want to try to benefit from it, as well. Good luck with resilience building, and happy mindfulness challenging!

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.


Exploring Mindfulness

I was first exposed to mindfulness when I started at UCLA. When I first arrived at Rieber Vista as part of my New Student Orientation, I was jumpy, perhaps even noticeably so. Born with something of a nervous disposition, I had a hard time keeping still. With that being said, however, I had never been the kid who was bouncing off the walls; rather, I was the kid whose thoughts never stopped racing.

The novelty that surround orientation and ultimately my future at UCLA set my mind abuzz with both fear and excitement. I arrived to my room, duffle bag in hand, and greeted my roommate with such forced enthusiasm that she laughed. She noted my nerves, which of course made me more nervous, and mentioned that she was a bit jittery herself. She suggested that we try this meditative practice together, one she had successfully used before in moments such as these.

My first thought at her suggestion was one of sheer disbelief. I certainly believed that college would be different, but I didn’t think it would be something out of Eat. Pray. Love. However, I was a nervous pre-1st year, so of course I didn’t announce my skepticism. With almost the same amount of hyper-enthusiasm that started this tirade, I readily agreed.

I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor as she instructed me to close my eyes, breath, and clear my thoughts. Unfortunately, my attempts to clear my thoughts only caused me to think more. I started to feel even more stressed than when I began. After what seemed to be an uncomfortably long amount of time, she asked how I felt. Once again, I lied through my teeth and insisted that it was essentially the best thing that ever happened to me.

After that day, I put the notion of mindfulness and meditative practice in a box and locked it someone far, far away. I deemed it something that simply wasn’t for me. So you can imagine how I felt when it became something that was strongly suggested — essentially enforced — as a component of my job as a GRIT Peer Coach and my role as a Certified Resilience Peer. I was skeptical to say the least, perhaps even frustrated at times. No matter how times I tried, I always felt like I was doing something wrong. My mind would never fully clear, the awareness of which would then snowball into more thoughts. For the longest time I considered myself a failure at mindfulness.

My frustration with mindfulness stemmed from the fact that I didn’t really know how to define it. I initially thought it to be something elusive, something I had yet to attain. In some ways, I was right. Mindfulness is like a muscle. The more one exercises it, the more proficient it becomes. But most importantly, mindnessful is a state of being and a way of living, not something a person does in isolation.

While it took me time and some continue prompting from others, I realized that there was more to mindfulness than sitting quietly in a room. I found that I could incorporate mindfulness into my life by looking up from my phone a little bit more often as I walked to class or listen a little bit more intently to a friend’s story. Slowly but surely, mindfulness stopped being this scary, nebulous entity. It became a lifestyle choice, one that not only helps keeps my anxiety at bay, but allows me to appreciate my life more.

Mindfulness is essentially the state of being present and aware both of one’s surroundings and one’s own body. Effective mindful practice involves acknowledging that the mind can stray and accepting that discomfort is valid if that is what one is feeling. In doing so, we become more attuned to parts of ourselves that we may have otherwise locked away.

Studies have shown the numerous benefits of mindful practice. As students, it is sometimes all too easy to put our mental health on the backburner. Moreover, in the hustle and bustle of being a student, it can seem like there is not enough time in a day to engage in mindfulness, regardless of the benefits. Luckily, mindful practice doesn’t have to be a grand, structured event in order to be effective. In moments of stress, I recommend taking 3 deep breathes. When walking on campus, look up and take in everything. When lying in bed, conduct an assessment of the muscles in your body from head to toe.

Challenge yourself to be a little more present everyday. The benefits will be endless.

Mandy Mekhail is a 4th year undergraduate Psychology major and Disability Studies minor at UCLA. She currently serves as the Assistant Commissioner of the Student Wellness Commission, a student organization dedicated to promoting holistic health and wellness in the UCLA community.



How to Practice Self-Compassion

In the journey towards finding balance in your life, the practice of self-compassion may be a game changer. Self-compassion is the act of recognizing your own humanity, accepting yourself at the present moment, and appreciating yourself not for your productivity, but for your inherent worth. However, self-compassion is one of the hardest things to practice when we have high expectations set for ourselves, perfectionist ideals, and constant messages that we should be doing more. Practicing self-compassion is an active process that involves the mind and body. Here are some things you can work on to incorporate self-compassion into your everyday life.

Start to recognize your self-talk

When we are stressed, the thoughts in our head quicken in pace and amplify. Some of those thoughts are your own mind talking to you about your self-worth or your current situation. You may call yourself names, blame yourself for doing something “wrong” or not being good enough, or tell yourself that your actions have much larger implications than they really do. It can be scary to identify what these internal voices are saying, but this is a significant first step to practicing self-compassion. Try writing down your self-talk in a journal. You may even notice certain patterns in your self-talk.

Use affirmations

So, you have recognized your negative self-talk, but what do you do next? It can be overwhelming to simply notice your self-talk without working to reframe it. This is where affirmations come in. If you are just starting to use affirmation work, look over your self-talk and think about what you would tell your best friend to comfort them. Channel these words of love towards yourself, taking the time to write or say your affirmations aloud. Repeat them, giving them time to sink in. If you find it hard to accept affirmations, explore what it might be like to believe one, with curiosity. Patience is key when it comes to using affirmations.


Image via Flickr

Meditate to presence yourself

Part of the practice of self-compassion is grounding yourself, which means bringing your awareness into the present moment. One way to come into the present moment is to meditate. Meditation can be practiced in many ways, but one way is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. If you would like more structure to your meditations, the Mindful Awareness Research Center website has guided meditations that walk you through the process. This amazing resource has a Loving Kindness meditation, if you would like to practice compassionate meditation.

Do things that make you happy

The best way to practice self-compassion is to do the things you love. When we are stressed, it is common to restrict ourselves from doing pleasurable activities until we finish our work and complete all our obligations. But what if we allowed ourselves to do the things we love, guilt-free? Practicing self-care, even for short periods of time, can not only improve productivity, but can also increase mental wellbeing. It is easier to practice self-compassion (and be productive) when we are getting what we need. So next time you are feeling stressed, do something kind for yourself.

Compassion with accountability

It is easy to forget to practice self-compassion. Often times, self-talk emerges without us even noticing. Taking a brief moment each day to give yourself affirmations, meditate, or even recognize your self-talk will make self-compassion part of your routine. The GRIT Peer Coaching Program offers individualized session to work on practicing self-compassion and building skills to improve your overall wellbeing. You can request a coach for spring quarter to increase accountability and work on maintaining balance in your life here at UCLA. Enjoy your journey towards self-compassion!

Maya Ram is a third year World Arts and Cultures major and Public Health minor, and she represents the Bruin Research Center in the HCI Living Well Coalition.

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Implementing Meditation into your Life: How to do it and Why you should

As a college student, there are so many things to think about simultaneously: studying for tests, finishing essays, balancing hours for your work schedule, paying bills, thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch, etc. With so much to balance, life can feel hectic or overwhelming at times, so wouldn’t it be nice to step away from those tensions and relax? UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) and the Healthy Campus Initiative are offering ways to do just that by supplying opportunities to engage in the practice of meditation.

How to Begin Practicing Meditation

Mindful awareness is the process of connecting one moment to the next, and one actively observes and experiences their mental, physical, and emotional state. Free drop-in meditations are held on and around UCLA’s campus at various locations and times Mondays through Thursdays by various accomplished professors. All of these sessions are open to anyone wishing to learn how to be more present and less stressed in their everyday lives. Free drop-in mindfulness sessions are also occasionally offered to the public, which further explore the mind-body connection and different ways to implement the practice into your life. Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) classes are also offered to help people develop individualized meditation practices, as well as understand the basic principles of mindfulness, through weekly two hour group sessions for a period of six weeks. The MAPs level one class offers instruction on mindfulness to work on physical pain, common obstacles faced by many in the practice, cultivating positive emotions, and many more. As MARC is in support of the Healthy Campus Initiative, all current UCLA students are able to sign up for these classes for free, yet another great resource offered at our university that promotes mental wellbeing. Check the MAPs class schedule here for upcoming dates and class registration. If you feel that physically going to a class or a group setting isn’t really for you, MARC offers a wide variety of free online classes, like mindfulness for daily living, and cultivating positive emotions, as well as free downloadable guided meditations.

Why you should Practice Meditation

Mindful meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress , improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and wellbeing. The practice has also been linked to the improvement of metabolism, getting a better night’s sleep, as well as reducing aging. The benefits of meditation go far beyond that of simply feeling an inner sense of calm. Because of the mind-body connection, one will experience physical benefits along with the mental ones, such as reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, normalized blood pressure, and reduced anxiety and depression, which have all been associated with mindful meditation.

Take advantage of the wonderful opportunities offered on campus to improve your mental health. All drop-in sessions and classes are open to anyone interested, so don’t worry if you haven’t figured out the meaning of life just yet, or feel as though you don’t quite know how to meditate– it’s all a learning process. A curiosity in the practice of meditation could lead to the development of a daily practice that will improve your day-to-day life! Stop by one of the drop-in meditations, or register for one of the MAPs classes, and share your experiences with us or online, so that more people can get involved with changes that will improve their wellbeing.

Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.

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To judge or not to judge in mindfulness

By Lobsang Rapgay, PhD, research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA

Being non-judgmental is a defining feature of modern forms of mindfulness. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which is the most researched form, is the main draw for many to the practice of mindfulness. Part of the appeal is that many of us feel passionately that it is wrong to be judgmental of others. We might have strong feelings about being judged, criticized, and ridiculed, perhaps because we may have personally experienced their painful effects during childhood and even later in life. So when modern mindfulness says it will teach us to be non-judgmental, many of us buy into it readily.

We assume we are going to learn a special approach for how not to judge others based solely on their looks, gender, or race, or simply because we dislike them, and replace such biases with a more accepting approach. When someone we know is judgmental of others based on physical characteristics, we feel uncomfortable, upset, and wish we were not around such a toxic person.

On the other hand, we want our children to learn to make good choices as they go out into the world.  We want them to make informed judgements about the types of friends to go out with and those to avoid. Making good judgments involves not only making judgments based on one’s likes and dislikes, but also by weighing the pros and cons of whether the friendship is rewarding and meaningful.  Research shows that learning to make informed judgements can take a long time and is only fully developed well past adolescence.

Modern mindfulness trains us to avoid making any form of judgments, sometimes at the cost of learning to make informed judgments.  If a child is mean to others, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the child as mean. If someone never completes his or her assignments, mindfulness teaches us not to judge the person as lazy. Calling someone mean or lazy imposes a label that interferes with our ability to experience that person as a whole person. Instead, we identify them with one characteristic. John is not just a person, instead he is lazy John. According to modern mindfulness, this makes it impossible to recognize that John is a complex individual with both good and bad traits.

However, research shows that excessive training in non-judgment can impair cognitive functioning.  A 2015 study provides preliminary evidence for the negative effects of non-judgment training. Researchers found that subjects trained in non-judgment failed to accurately recall words they memorized earlier. The results suggest that excessive training in non-judgment appears to impair certain cognitive functions that are critical for accuracy of memory.  One of these impaired cognitive functions is discrimination: a critical function for differentiating between what words did and did not appear in a set.  When discrimination is impaired, it interferes with memorizing and, consequently, with accurate recall later.

Given that bias and judgment are virtually built into us – an evolutionary survival mechanism passed on from generation to generation– we need to question the purpose of being non-judgmental.  Studies show that judgments about various faces made in the first 1/10 of a second rarely changed even when the subjects later saw the same faces for a full minute.  The findings suggest that the instant we see a face, we categorize it– even before we have time to think about it.  These findings clearly suggest that training in non-judgment may have significant negative consequences on cognitive functioning.

One of the reasons for these inconsistencies lies with the founders of modern mindfulness, who have failed to clearly define non-judgment based on scientific concepts, principles and findings.  Rather, a practice was taken from the East, and poorly translated into a practice to suit the Western mindset. In fact, classical Buddhist teachings do not associate non-judgment training with mindfulness the way it is done in modern forms of mindfulness. Instead they teach the opposite: the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddha, begin with discrimination training in relationship to the sensory experience of the breath. In classical mindfulness, thinking is suspended to refine our capacity to fully sense our breath and body moment by moment in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way.  The objective is to reduce our habitual thinking, imaging, and self-narratives in order to experience the sensory world directly.

Modern mindfulness training in non-judgment is a powerful way to reduce excessive judgmental thinking, worrying, and ruminating, which are responsible for exacerbating common psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.  The above evidence suggests that we have to learn to be both non-judgmental at one level, and make healthy and informed judgments on another level.

People using modern forms of mindfulness can, therefore, benefit enormously by complementing non-judgment training with making healthy informed judgments. This requires learning when to apply non-judgment and when to make informed judgments. Integrating classical mindfulness provides an excellent means to do this given that it is consistent with current forms of mindfulness.

When you know exactly when and how to apply non-judgment skills, you can then train yourself in discrimination, as taught in classical mindfulness. Once you acquire the ability to discriminate between various types of sensations associated with the breath and the body, you can extend that skill to discriminate between various types of thoughts, affect, and behavior.  The beauty about classical mindfulness is that such discrimination is not made based on moral values of the individual, but rather by observing, in a non-evaluative and non-reactive way, the effects that thoughts, affect, and behavior have upon you.

As you acquire insight into the consequent effects of specific thoughts, affect, and behavior, you can verify those insights with further behavioral experimentation to determine if your assumptions and conclusions are valid.  Over time, you may discover a pattern – certain types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to distress, fear, anger and a host of other psychological and behavioral imbalances.  On the other hand, other types of thoughts, affect, and behavior lead to awareness, calm, self-regulation, and positivity.  Through personal experience and discovery, you can confirm which of these are beneficial and which are harmful.

In this way, you develop a template of how to think, feel, and act not based solely on what you have been told, but rather based on your personal exploration through an objective yet gentle process of direct experience, complemented with insight and validated with repeated behavioral experimentation.

Rather than seeing the two forms of mindfulness as contradictory and exclusionary, opening yourself to the full exploration of what both current and classical teachings have to offer, can lead to a life-long, meaningful skill that can serve us well through our quest for growth and development in the midst of a challenging and demanding world.

Lobsang Rapgay, PhD is a research psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry UCLA under the mentorship of Robert Bilder, Phd. He also maintains a private practice in West Los Angeles. His primary area of research is on the neural, physiological, and behavioral correlates of fear reconsolidation. He was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for 18 years and is well trained in the theory and practice of Buddhism.