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Stop trying to ‘empty your mind’ of thoughts. Think of barking dogs instead.

Photo: Robert Gramner/Unsplash

There are all kinds of reasons to meditate, but I’m going to be honest: There are probably more reasons not to do it.

It’s really hard. It’s not particularly fun. It’s not productive. It’s also just kind of boring. Every time I do it, there are usually five other things I’d rather do first.

For all of these reasons, I’m always wary of lifestyle journalism extolling meditation’s benefits as if it’s akin to jogging, or the copy of well-funded apps making meditation sound like a breezy self-help adventure. I find both unhelpful at best and off-putting at worst. The truth…

Experiment with props, try new classes, and maybe even ditch your screen

Photo courtesy of the author

Yoga is an ever-evolving, ancient practice with South Asian origins. But for many people living in the West, yoga has meant something very specific for the past several decades: thin, lithe, usually white women bending in spandex in a minimalist hardwood floor studio.

The past year has thankfully changed some of that perception.

For the first time, people who want to practice yoga have had no choice but to do so from home. Luckily, there has been no shortage of Zoom classes, YouTube videos, and fitness apps for both experienced practitioners and eager pandemic beginners. And beautifully, many people have…

The Nuance

How mystical beliefs help people control stress and confront the unknown

Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

There’s an old saying that goes “there are no atheists in foxholes.” There also seem to be fewer atheists in a pandemic.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last March, many Americans who never pray or do not identify as religious said that, during the first weeks of the outbreak, they had prayed for it to end.

This impulse to beseech a higher power during times of crisis is a well-mapped phenomenon. Whenever people encounter emotional turmoil — following the death of a loved one, for example, or in the aftermath of a national tragedy — research has…

New research points to mental health benefits for the devout and agnostic alike

A man looks out at the sky and cityscape.
A man looks out at the sky and cityscape.
Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

Maybe you don’t believe in God. But could cultivating a relationship with God, despite your agnostic stance, make a difference for your mental health? As a philosopher of religion, this question is of great interest to me — and now a recent research trend suggests the answer might be yes.

For decades, researchers have wondered about the factors that account for the complex relationship between religion and mental health. Under certain circumstances, it appears that religion positively influences mental health — though not in all cases. …

Illustrations: Shuhua Xiong

When everything falls apart, spirituality becomes medicine

In early May, Tiffany Coffman was talking to me on the phone while sitting on the porch of her new house in North Carolina. I could hear the lilting birdsong of the Pisgah National Forest. Coffman had been offering acupuncture treatments on cruise ships for most of the last decade, but was now, like millions of Americans, indefinitely furloughed.

As a deadly pandemic grips much of the world and reconfigures almost every aspect of daily life, Coffman decided to start a YouTube channel and Facebook page — both named The Insight Circle — for people “who might be struggling emotionally…

The dangers of ‘spiritual bypass’ and expecting too much from tarot, astrology, yoga, and crystals

Credit: Pan Xunbin/Getty Images

Social media is full of photos of glitter baths and crystal-strewn tarot readings. Therapists are learning astrology to better understand their clients. Maybe it’s due to collective burnout or post-2016 political stress; either way, it’s clear that self-care has exploded in popularity.

While there’s nothing inherently harmful with these practices, experts say problems can arise when anyone dealing with low- or high-level trauma uses self-care or spiritual practices as an attempt to Savasana the pain away. This is what some experts call “spiritual bypassing.” …

Because hope is something we can’t live without

Credit: Muslim Girl/Getty Images

When John presented to McLean Hospital, he raised almost every red flag in the book for suicide risk. As a Caucasian, middle-aged male with chronic depression, a history of substance dependence, ongoing marital struggles, multiple medical conditions, significant physical pain, and access to firearms, his clinical team was concerned. Worse, John, who requested that his last name not be included for privacy reasons, was not responding well to his current treatment. None of his psychiatric medications or therapists were hitting the mark.

So, we called for a spiritual care consult.

To the surprise of his clinical team, John started to…

New research suggests having a mystical experience may have long-lasting benefits

Illustration: Clay Hickson

On the subreddit r/LSD, a user recently posed a question to the 249,000-strong community of dedicated psychonauts: “Is God real?”

“It’s nearly 5 a.m. If you’re still up and reading this you’re probably tripping as well,” writes u/deftones_lover. “Anyway, is God real? What happens when we die?”

The post garnered a slew of responses from users who used the forum not so much to answer the questions, but to recount their own encounters with God — or some version of a higher power — while under the influence of psychedelics. Throwawayuser626, for instance, chimes in with, “Personally, I don’t believe…


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