Have you ever had a great yoga class? One of those classes where you walk out sweaty and smiling? Perhaps you even went into the class in a less than stellar mood, but when you walked out you felt like the world was a bit brighter and your outlook a lot more positive? I have. Sometimes when I’m in a funk I know that a good workout will do me wonders. When it comes to cleansing myself emotionally yoga is one of the best workouts.
Another thing I notice is just how much better I breathe after I do yoga. My breath is slower and deeper and feels like it flows easier. My lungs seem to expand more and I can take in more air with less effort. I have battled asthma over the years. I had inhalers for a short while, but I quickly decided that the more I used them, the more I seemed to need them. Luckily I got off before my body adapted to them too much. I have learned to do breathing exercises, monitor my diet and mood and otherwise regulate my breathing without drugs. To be honest, I have a history of ignoring the prevailing medical wisdom and simply experimenting on myself. Most are not this cavalier with their health. Most modern people like to see scientific evidence lead to widespread medical community acceptance of alternative treatments before trying things on their own.
Lucky for most, scientists are now studying the effects of non-pharmacological approaches to treating conditions such as asthma. In a recent study published in the National Journal of Medical Research three scientists examined “the concept that yoga is helpful for the treatment of bronchial asthma.” Their findings are hopeful, but first a bit of background. The prevailing medical wisdom attempts to relieve asthmas bronchiolar obstruction by prescribing adrenaline, salbutamol, aminophylline and administering steroid therapy. The side effects can be many and patients tend to become more reliant on medicine over time, not less. The authors note, as I was lucky to find on my own, that “long term therapy with these drugs is successful but the patient comes to depend on these drugs.”
It is largely accepted that asthma is not simply a physical condition. Also from the authors, “Asthma is considered to have a multi-dimensional etiology which includes allergic, infective, climatic, endocrine, and emotional factors. In most patients with asthma there is a strong psychological aspect. Indeed many regard asthma as a psychoneurosis and the allergy manifestation as secondary to psychoneurosis. Psychological stress is known to trigger asthma via the vagus nerve.” The authors go as far as to say that asthma is increasingly being considered a psychosomatic condition.
Because of the complex, multi-faceted nature of a condition such as asthma it makes sense to treat it in ways that are more comprehensive than administering chemicals. The authors note, “Yoga helps to slow down an overactive mind while, at the same time toning up the body, removing toxins and relieving pains, backache and injuries.” Yoga is a whole system method for balancing mind/body/spirit. So, did the authors find measurable health benefits for those suffering from asthma?
Prior to this study all participants “were on medications for a prolonged period with no relief and their drug usage was increasing day by day.” During this study “the number of attacks of asthma and drug intake was decreased” in those practicing yoga. But why?
The authors not that “there was a significant decrease in respiratory rate in asthmatic patients after yoga therapy.” If you are familiar with another asthma treatment called The Buteyko Method than you are aware that one of the issues with asthmatics is actually over breathing. People with asthma tend to breath too much, not to little. This hyperventilation creates an imbalance in the CO2 in the body leaving the bodies cells oxygen starved. Much like Buteyko, during yoga the authors note that “the subject may change his ordinary rate of 15-18 to 1-2 resp/minute and reduce his ventilation volume a great deal.”
Participants were trained in yoga for “one hour for 15 days. The patients were then asked to do yoga practice, one hour daily at home and to keep a record of the practice done.” Three months later participants were assessed and compared to a control group. Statistically significant improvements were noted “in pulmonary functions; decrease in respiratory rate; decrease in pulse rate and body weight (not statistically significant); decrease in frequency of asthma attacks and decrease in frequency of use of inhalers. The disease status in controls deteriorated. “
Both yoga and the Buteyko Method give practicioners the ability to regulate their breathing consciously. The result in both cases is less reliance on medication. Anecdotally I have heard reports of Buteyko getting asthmatics off of medications altogether. As with many western treatments, inhalers and other asthma medications treat the symptoms and not the underlying condition. The authors state, “While modern medicine aims at immediate relief, yoga aims at removal of the basic cause. “
Most importantly, the side effects of yoga are little to none and you do not need to stop your medicine first (most would advise against this). It is a win-win situation. Yoga has helped me immensely, with everything from depression to my breathing to strength and flexibility. I’m having a hard time seeing a reason not to give it a shot.
I was depressed for many years. Life felt hollow. I often had the sense that nothing I could do today could possibly matter anyway. The one therapist I saw recommended after a series of visits that I take anti-depressants. I refused. I know that medication may help some people, but I was absolutely certain that I did not want to take a drug to feel normal. Intuitively I knew that there were more sustainable options. Even though there were years where I thought at least once daily about suicide I decided to keep my mental health in my own hands. I tried a lot of things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the studies saying that smiling in the mirror is more effective than Prozac? It feels ridiculous. Then it works. Today I love my life. I got here through a wealth of techniques, some detailed below, all of which are now a part of my approach to coaching others through shifting their consciousness.
Almost as uplifting as mirrored smiles is to see the tides in popular medicine turn away from over prescribing and towards exploring options with no negative side effects. An article recently published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience by its editor in chief takes a look at a number of recent studies and summarizes what we are now learning about how to treat depression without drugs.
This article looks primarily at studies focusing on the neurotransmitter serotonin, but mentions dopamine and tryptophan as well. All three of these are known to have correlation with mood, specifically with depression. Serotonin in particular is often the target of pharmacologic approaches to treating depression.
The author, Simon N Young, put alternate treatments into 4 categories:
1. Cultivate Positive Thoughts
The current medical paradigm focuses on the fact that increasing serotonin seems to lead to a sense of well-being and more positive thinking. Only recently have we had the technology to look at the impact of actively choosing to think positive thoughts. Low and behold it works! The psychological term for this method is “positive mood induction”. The techniques used in studies I have seen range from looking at cartoons to joy based writing exercises to cultivating positive thoughts, much like a mantra or incantation. However it is accomplished, it is becoming clear that when we choose to think positively our brain chemistry changes. As Young points out, “This raises the possibility that the interaction between serotonin synthesis and mood may be 2-way, with serotonin influencing mood and mood influencing serotonin.” Not the least bit shocking to me, but scientists don’t rely on intuition, they require data. Finally, we have some data. The opposite of this is also being proven scientifically in other studies. Hostility can kill you. There are even strong correlations with hostility and coronary heart disease.
I often times have clients work with a mantra or incantation to train their mind to work in the way they choose. It is amazing just how plastic our patterns are. When you wake up every day and repeat a phrase or body movement it does not take long for the body/mind to begin expecting this. Pretty soon you wake up and the same thoughts and energy that you were forcefully cultivating are now happening on their own. What we often fail to recognize is that the thoughts in our head were not created by our genetics. They came from our environment. When we are mature we can choose to take an active role in thought creation rather than just receive what our situation offers.
2. Get More Sunlight
I am a HUGE believer in this one as well. We did not evolve indoors basking in the glow of a computer monitor. Perhaps one day computer monitors will emit something closer to sunlight, for now our best bet is to get outdoors more or buy therapeutic lighting. From the author, “Relatively few generations ago, most of the world population was involved in agriculture and was outdoors for much of the day.” The information age has many benefits, but it may not be so great for our happiness. Sunlight stimulates serotonin. In studies “there was also a positive correlation between serotonin synthesis and the hours of sunlight on the day the measurements were made, independent of season.”
So far two treatments for depression, both free, both without side effects (don’t tan until you burn people).
Again, the blindingly obvious bell may be going off in some of your heads. Still, I wonder how many psychiatrists insist on prescribing exercise to increase serotonin before they will consider pharmacologic options. The fact that scientific data is now being gathered to measure the effects that exercise has on serotonin levels is hopeful. This information is getting to the people who make decisions. “In the United Kingdom the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence…recommends treating mild clinical depression with various strategies, including exercise rather than antidepressants, because the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression.” Young also points out that “as with exposure to bright light, there has been a large change in the level of vigorous physical exercise experienced since humans were hunter-gatherers or engaged primarily in agriculture.” Maybe there is something to this treadmill desk trend.
“The fourth factor,” that Young says could “play a role in raising brain serotonin is diet.” This one is also huge. If you want to look again at the ways that our lifestyles have changed in the past few hundred years go no further than the local supermarket. Almost everything other than the outer, fresh food aisles, are a relatively new invention. Some of this our bodies know what to do with. Much of it, in my experience, is depressing. Since I started out as a Holistic Health Counselor I always work with my clients on their dietary choices. This is primary. I’ve said it a thousand times before and I will repeat it here: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It’s worth pointing out that this quote is from Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician generally regarded as the father of modern Western medicine.
When I battled depression and now when I work with clients I take an even more integral approach. I look at how the four things above interact with an individuals relationships, work, spirituality, sense of purpose and numerous other areas of their life. It is time we as a culture get over looking for the single cause for anything. Life is too rich to be pigeonholed. It is great to see science waking up to the power of holistic approaches to health and well-being. I chose to call my business Lifestyle Integrity because I believe that nothing other than a truly integrated approach can create sustainable change.
In 2004 a team of scientists led by Rollin McCraty and funded by the HeartMath Institute set out to explore the role that the heart plays in intuition. Although few media channels covered the findings of the study (which was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine), the results were simply shocking.
McCraty et al define intuition as “a process by which information normally outside the range of conscious awareness is perceived by the psychophysiological systems.” Sounds complicated, but we’ve all had intuitive hunches. It is a sense of what is to come that does not seem to be based any information in our awareness. Based on previous studies they thought that perhaps our body knows things before our mind does. To be blunt, your heart appears to know the future.
From the authors, “Most people at some time have experienced “intuitive” perceptions about distant objects or future events that later turned out to be correct. In many cases, these perceptions are really cognitive inferences, extrapolations based on forgotten memories of prior experience that seep into consciousness. However, there are instances when so-called “gut feelings” or “intuitive insights” are found to be valid and related to circumstances so unique that these intuitions do not seem explicable on the basis of prior experience. It is postulated that such intuitive perception involves connection to a field of information beyond normal conscious awareness.” In other words, sometimes we think we know the future when we are really just processing our memories. But there appear to be times that we are able to tap into information that is beyond our 5 senses. Can a rigorous scientific study be used to prove this?
Here’s how the experiment went down. Participants were isolated in a sound proof room. They were put in a chair with a computer monitor in front of them and a mouse at their fingertips. They were also hooked up to an array of sensors that measured skin conductance level (SCL), the brains electrical activity (EEG) and the hearts electrical activity (ECG). The intention was to see which parts of the body reacted to stimulus and when. The stimulus was images on the computer screen. The participant clicked a mouse and 6 seconds later a randomly selected image would appear on the screen. The images were of two types, calm and emotional. The calm photos were of landscapes, seascapes, fruit, trees, animals and common household objects. The emotional pictures portrayed a range of erotic, violent and otherwise emotionally stimulating subjects. Then the screen went blank for 10 seconds and the sequence was repeated.
Looking at the data showed the expected fluctuations in the skin, brain and heart to the emotional images. In previous similar studies both the skin and the brain react to stimulus. There is one exception. In studies done by Dean Radin on experienced meditators their skin conductance response is drastically reduced or non-existant. Trained meditators were used in this study as well. Clearly meditation is powerful in helping one to maintain a degree of stasis in charged situations, but that is not what is amazing about the results of this study. The amazing part is what they saw in the heartbeat data.
The heart responded to the emotional stimulus “starting around 4.5 seconds prior to the stimulus.” ¥es, the heart consistently knew that an emotional image was going to be shown 4.5 seconds before it came onto the screen. You would have to read to the study to understand the thoroughness of the controls in place, but it is quite clear that no one and no thing had information about what image the random number generator would produce before it came on the screen. Yet somehow the heart knew.
Participants were meditators and they were trained in the HeartRate coherence techniques developed by the HeartMath Institute. I own and have worked with this equipment. It is a bio-feedback system to train anyone to control the consistency of your heart rate. When we are under stress our heart rate becomes more regular, like a metronome. When we are well rested, calm, and alert, especially when “In the Zone” or in a FLOW state the heart becomes irregular. This may sound bad, but think about it. We want a heart that is nimble, that is adjusting to demands in real time. Our heart rate should increase slightly with every inhale, activating the sympathetic nervous system and decrease slightly with every exhale, activating the parasympathetic.
Higher Heart Rate Variability (HRV) has correlations with everything from immune support to focus to mood and now to intuition as well. This does not mean that the results of this study will only be seen in those trained in these states. Trained participants were chosen based on previous studies which showed that the results are more pronounced than in the untrained.
In closing, the authors added, “although our finding that the heart is involved in intuitive perception may be surprising from one perspective, it is worth noting that in virtually all human cultures, ancient and modern, the heart has long been regarded as a conduit to a source of information and wisdom beyond normal awareness. Thus, our data may be seen as providing scientific evidence for an intuitive capacity that humankind has known and used for many millennia.”
(This post is one in a series on the interface of Science and Consciousness that informs the work I do with my clients.)
Anyone who has ever had trouble getting enough sleep knows just how much exhaustion effects every aspect of your life. Being under slept has been linked to problems with everything from our immune system to learning. But did you know that meditation can help to transform your sleep?
I love science, but it rarely impacts me more than my own direct experience. 12 years ago, long before reading any of this, I started meditating for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at nights. What happened? I started sleeping for an hour less every night. I would wake up energized after 7 hours of sleep instead of exhausted after 8. I assumed that the time spent meditating was so restful that I just needed less sleep. This is surely part of the truth. What the science below shows is that I am also likely getting a much higher quality of sleep when meditate regularly.
You probably know that sleep happens in stages. Generally we talk about 4 stages. In stage 1 you are between sleep and wakefulness and it is very easy to wake you up. In stage 2 you are falling deeper to sleep and it becomes harder to wake you. In stage 3 you experience what is called Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) or Deep Sleep. Most of us can not remember this stage, it is one of emptiness or darkness. Stage 4 is Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is when we dream.
The majority of the night is spent in SWS and REM. These are believed to be the times when the body and mind rest, regenerate, assimilate the days events and prepare for the coming day. Science aside, we all know what it feels like to wake up well rested and, perhaps more often, to wake up feeling tired. The length of time spent asleep matters, but I for one notice that some nights I get 8 hours that felt restless and wake up feeling exhausted. Other times I get 8 hours that feel like I dropped into an abyss and I wake up feeling amazing. Clearly sleep is not just about quantity, but quality as well.
This paper reports that meditators (both TM and Vipassana) experience “enhanced states of SWS and REM sleep compared to that of non-meditating control group.” We know that the act of meditating itself is restful. I have reported that it can lower stress at work and that the reductions in depression, anxiety and stress last long beyond the actual meditations, but now we are seeing that it can also make sleep more restful.
It is widely accepted that sleep changes with age. The amount of time that we spend in SWS decreases over the years. But this can be counteracted with meditation! The authors note a study suggesting that “older meditators could retain the sleep pattern of younger non-meditating controls.” Again, meditators appear to get more out of the same amount of sleep.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls bodily functions that are usually beneath our conscious awareness. I wrote recently about how you can use breathing exercises to help regulate and control things such as heart rate, digestion and arousal while awake (to be posted 12/9). This paper includes evidence that meditation can have helpful, rest promoting effects on the ANS while we are asleep.
When you are in a “fight or flight” state your sympathetic nervous system is active. The opposite state is often called “rest and digest”. This is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. It is now believed that restorative sleep can be characterized by “autonomic flexibility.” In order to get the most restful sleep possible we want to have some sympathetic activity during REM sleep that is then balanced with high parasympathetic activity during deep sleep (SWS). This balance is a sign of “autonomic flexibility”. The authors point out that in non-meditators “aging alters autonomic flexibility leading to an overall increase in sympathetic activity along with reduced parasympathetic activity, thereby bringing about autonomic arousal and decrease in sleep quality.” But, “Vipassana meditation practices help to retain the flexibility of autonomic activity during different stages of sleep.”
Perhaps you have heard of people taking Melatonin to aid in sleep? Well, “Meditation practices are reported to enhance the melatonin levels” as well. The benefits of meditation on sleep reported in this paper go on to include effects on blood flow to various regions of the brain, metabolic function regulation and even stress reduction. As I said at the start, understanding the science is great, but what I really recommend is that you try this out for yourself and see what happens for you. Drop me a note. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my work as an Integral Life Coach Integral Life Coach can kickstart your journey.
If you read this blog than you likely know that the scientifically proven benefits of meditation are many. I wrote recently about a study showing how just 8 weeks of training can effect a lasting reduction in stress and anxiety. Studies that look at the impact on individuals in a testing environment are becoming increasingly common. Less common are attempts to look at how meditation effects people inside a work environment. Can meditation really help us at work?
The authors of a March, 2005 study published in the Journal of Social Behavior & Personality were looking to see if meditation could have an impact on occupational stress. Numerous studies have determined that when workers are experiencing stress there is a significant and measurable cost added to doing business. A highly stressed employee might be pictured as a car driving with its breaks on, stress being the breaks. As the authors of this study note, “when researchers look at compensation claims, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism, added health insurance costs, and direct medical expenses for related diseases such as ulcers, high blood pressure and heart attacks…The costs of stress are variously estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, or 12% of U.S. GNP”. Clearly any business looking to reduce costs should be interested in inexpensive means of reducing occupational stress.
Practicing meditation is free, but can it be show to reduce job site stress? The authors of this paper note that it has previously been shown in studies that Transcendental Meditation (TM) produces a “unique state of restful alertness that is not achieved during ordinary eyes-closed rest.” TM has also been shown to improve cognitive performance and increase self confidence in clinical settings. These studies certainly imply that stress would be reduced in a testing environment, but what about in an office?
Researchers went to a South African marketing research consultancy firm of 80 people. They measured stress levels in employee using both psychological symptoms such as employees self-reported incidence of nervousness, irritability and headaches as well as objective measures such as blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to the impact on individuals the study aimed to investigate the consequences of individuals stress levels on the business as a whole by analyzing metrics such as staff turnover rates, perceptions of company climate and some measures of company wide productivity. Researchers described the atmosphere at this firm as being one of “frenetic activity attendant on frequent deadlines and the need to coordinate hundreds of part time field workers.” Sound familiar?
Employees were told that their superiors wished to evaluate to two potential approaches to stress reduction, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and TM. Participation was voluntary and about 85% of employees opted to take part. 61% of these (49 people) eventually learned TM. They received 1.5-2 hours of instruction on 4 consecutive days with follow-up at 2 and 6 weeks and 3 and 5 months for a total of 16 hours of training. The results?
Employees trained in Transcendental Meditation techniques did show a significant measured decrease in occupational stress symptoms. The major reduction started about 2 weeks after beginning training. Participants also showed a significant decrease in blood pressure (BP). A few participants who were in the hypertensive BP range at the start were later measured to be in the normotensive range, a significant health improvement. The authors reported that, “The blood pressure findings of this study are consistent with blood pressure findings previously reported in well-controlled randomized clinical trials.” What is perhaps more hopeful is the fact that there was also a measurable reduction in the stress levels of those who did not receive training in either technique. This supports the hypothesis that having trained meditators in a work environment can have a positive impact on the stress levels of all employees. Calm people may soothe an environment much the way that a hysterical person can disrupt it.
Looking at company wide financial figures there was a net gain of 9.2% while “sales growth rate doubled from 6% before the intervention to 12% after.” With adjustments for inflation this amounted to “double the average real growth rate for the seven years prior to the
A common question is whether meditation is any more useful than simply resting. As these authors report, “a meta-analysis of 32 studies has found that the physiological effects of the TM technique are significantly greater than ordinary eyes-closed resting for the same period of time.” In other words, there is more happening in meditation than simple rest. While putting aside time to be still is profound in and of itself, the techniques do appear to offer other benefits above and beyond what the untrained person will likely access without training. Looking at my experience, and those of my clients, I would say that this difference that meditation can make is profound.
If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.
Please take all that follows with a grain of salt. I certainly am not an MD. None the less I do take health and nutrition very seriously. I stake much of my professional advice and personal well being on my opinions. What I write below is in response to the paper: LDL Cholesterol: “Bad” Cholesterol, or Bad Science? published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.
I will say upfront that my long standing bias is towards whole foods and away from pharmaceuticals. ‘Let thy medicine be thy food and thy food be thy medicine’ is a time tested philosophy I put a lot of stock in. At the same time, I have been doing a lot of reading lately of peer-reviewed medical journals to understand the actual science behind public and medical opinion. The ‘truth’ that scientists report is actually far removed from public opinion, media reporting and medical prescribing. Statins are the biggest money maker in pharmaceuticals right now. This is an incontrovertible fact. The scary thing is that this does not appear to be based on a comprehensive understanding of available data. For the first time in history we have scientists doing meta-analysis of many years of research and assumption. Finally they are able to take a step back from all of the studies and get a bigger perspective than any one scientist could in the past. The results of this are the most educated guesses current science has to offer. The results of this also point towards statins as being a dangerous gamble that the average American is being advised to take part in. Currently it appears to be a gamble which, like most casino games, is not set up to support the gambler. Profits do appear to be seriously clouding the picture.
The claim is that cholesterol levels are an accurate measure of the risk of heart disease and therefore lowering cholesterol reduces the risk of heart disease. More recently we have been led to believe that LDL cholesterol is the culprit. According to this paper (and its 99 citations), the science does not point to a direct correlation between lowering LDL cholesterol levels and the reducing risk of heart disease. The problem appears to have more to do with oxidized cholesterol and their contribution to plaque. Even this is a guess based on a vague understanding of complicated processes. LDL cholesterol may actually be a part of the bodies attempts to manage an unbalanced situation. In other words, LDL likely correlates with plaque/heart disease the way that antibodies correlate with bacteria and viruses. Lowering LDL does not prevent heart attacks just as removing antibodies does not cure a disease. Just the opposite may be true. LDL may be a part of our bodies immune response.
More importantly and more clearly, statin drugs appear to increase the risk of a number of illnesses including Alzheimer’s and diabetes. The only thing we know for certain is that statins exert a vast number of biochemical effects that we know very little about. The ongoing trend of labeling certain minimally understood naturally occurring substances in the body ‘bad’ or ‘good’ has been repeatedly proven ill-advised. Largely the science does not point to such absolutes, it is the public and media glamorization that does so. Unfortunately, the research in any given year is far too much for any one doctor to follow and thus popular beliefs do influence even doctors.
In the end I always come to the same conclusion. The body is still far more complex than any model science has developed. What we do know is that organic whole foods are good for the body. We have spent millions of years evolving to digest and absorb them. The problem with the American diet is a move towards refined/processed foods. Few dispute this. I would add that drugs are the most refined food of all. If all food is a drug and all drugs are food, playing with the most refined foods possible (not high-fructose corn syrup, but drugs such as statins) is a gamble that most doctors writing prescriptions clearly don’t understand enough about. I don’t intend to be judgmental. I offer my voice only to provide some degree of corrective balancing to the current trends. The medical system provides very little in the way of nutritional education. “Medical students received an average of 19.6 contact hours of nutrition instruction.” (AAFP) The only thing we really know is that both nutritional and pharmaceutical science are in their infancy. I’m suggesting that we take a step back from the high stakes tables and simply earn our health the old fashioned way, slowly; making careful decisions on a moment to moment basis, trusting the earth and our bodies to know the most.
If the thought of shifting your life, including your diet, seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Once again, scientists are showing that meditation is great for you. This time we get to see how even a short, 8 week course, can have a lasting impact on how people are effected by emotionally challenging stimulus.
A study recently published in the neuroscience journal Frontiers finds that participating in an 8-week meditation course can have lasting effects on the brain. This is not the first study to use neuroimaging to measure changes in the brains of meditators, but it is unique. Many studies have tracked changes in the brain during meditation. Being in a meditative state has been shown to have measurable correlations with an increased ability to focus, reduced anxiety, relief from depression, stress and a general decrease in emotional triggering to external stimulus. There have also been documented increased immune responses measured during meditation. What makes this study unique is that the scientists attempted to look not for changes during meditation, but for lasting changes that continue after meditation has ceased. This study was designed to explore “the possibility that meditation training leads to enduring changes in brain function, even outside meditation sessions.”
The scientists involved asked if “meditation training may induce learning that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may result in enduring changes in mental function.” Researchers looked at fMRI data before and after the 8 week meditation course to see what lasting changes even this brief training may offer.
All participants were new to meditation. “Healthy adults with no prior meditation experience took part in 8 weeks of either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention.” The control group participated in an 8 week health education course without any meditative training. (Frontiers)
This study looked specifically at a part of the brain called the amygdala, “which has been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions.” (wikipedia)
3 weeks prior to the training and 3 weeks after the training all participants were shown a series of images intended to elicit a positive, negative or neutral emotional response. This is a widely used technique in many areas of consciousness research that allows the researchers to monitor the brains activity in a variety of situations using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI. What these researches found is that those who took part in the 8-week meditation programs showed significant changes in how their brains reacted to emotionally charged imagery that subjects in the 8-week health education course did not show.
The participants in the mindfulness group showed a decrease in right amygdala response to all three types of images. This supports the hypothesis that mindfulness meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. Essentially, meditation appears to help one to cultivate emotional resilience.
The participants in the compassion meditation group also showed a decrease in right amygdala response to positive and neutral images but not to negatively emotional images. The participants who reported engaging compassion practices the most in their own time outside the class showed an increase in response to negative images. These are images depicting human suffering. Participants trained in compassion resonated more with others suffering. This is perhaps no surprise. The curious thing is that the ability to resonate with others suffering actually correlates with a decrease in our own suffering. Anyone who has volunteered their time to help those in need is likely familiar with this phenomenon. Resonating with those in need feels good. Empathy is a rewarding experience. Apparently meditating on compassion increases this capacity with some degree of permanence.
Perhaps this is why serious meditators can seem so blissed out. It may also help to explain why over a decade of meditation has led me to become a life coach. I truly do love being of service.
If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.
A while back I wrote about correlation vs. causation in regards to DNA and epigenetics after reading Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief. Here is a guy who is not only talking about cutting edge science that challenges much of the general publics’ understanding of how to achieve health and happiness, he is also a great teacher who can bring across complex subjects in simple terms.
Check out these great videos to hear a once non-spiritual, allopathic research doc expound upon how he logically came to understand:
Why energy is more important to healing (controlling biology) than molecules (ahem….big Pharma)
Why belief controls biology
How stress makes your body susceptible to disease, hinders digestion and makes you dumber
How male scientists confusing the brain and the gonads screws up our entire understanding of DNA and how life manifests
Why genetic mutations are NOT random
How parents beliefs select their children’s genes
How your body is a community
How cells communicate
How belief can rewrite your genes
How we broadcast thoughts and a way that we are all connected non-locally
How scientific reductionism gets it wrong
Why we are not controlled by genes as much as we are controlled by our perception of the environment
and even why we are not actually just in our physical bodies
Last night I attended Green Spaces Green Business Competition awards at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. This competition looked to promote emerging green businesses in New York that have the ability to revolutionize their industry by working with our ecological resources while creating economic opportunities. 70 companies with revenue under $10 million entered this years competition. 5 were chosen to present their business to the panel of judges (and the audience) last night. 3 winners were then selected.
1st place: Gotham Greens
Bringing New Yorkers local, sustainable produce grown in the heart of NYC
Gotham Greens’ premium quality, pesticide-free vegetables and herbs will be grown in sterile rooftop greenhouses using clean, renewable energy and captured rainwater.
This company is now building their first 12,000 sq ft rooftop hydroponic garden in NYC. This facility will grow over 30 tons of premium quality, pesticide free vegetables each year for the NYC retail and restaurant market. They will be delivering extremely high quality vegetables the same day that they are picked. We’re not talking about genetically modified week old food shipped halfway around the world. We’re talking about something picked in your ‘back yard’ and potentially eaten the same day. They have been running a test site floating out in the river for the past three years and the response has apparently been incredibly enthusiastic, due largely to taste.
The environmental impact is also not to be ignored. Hydroponic farming consumes far less water than traditional dirt farming, as the water is recirculated continuously. They will also be capturing and utilizing rain water. The facility also uses solar panels for most or all of the energy requirements. Any excess energy generated will be fed back into the grid. Nutritionally, these crops have the potential to be far more nutrient dense than traditional crops, the vast majority of which are being grown in soil that is severely depleted, lacking many of the minerals necessary for a truly healthful crop to be grown.
So we’re talking local, organic high quality vegetables all year round. Their presentation was very impressive and everything from their business plan to logistical operations to distribution all intensely researched and ready for production.
2nd place: Environmentally Conscious Organization Inc.
Environmentally friendly pizza boxes! This company has designed, patented and significantly marketed an environmentally friendly pizza box alternative sourced entirely from recycled cardboard. With over 3 billion pizza’s being consumed in this country each year and 70% of those requiring a box that is usually made from 60% recycled material we’re talking about a great deal of avoided waste. The utility designed into the box also enables it to easily fit into a recycling bin 8” in diameter or greater, eliminates the need for serving plates and aluminum foil or plastic wrap for storage. Check out the video here:
3rd place: DBA
DBA is a New York based product development company focused on aesthetics, technical innovations and ecologically effective principals. Their first product is an ‘eco-pen’. This pen is made from 98% industrially compostable materials. They’re basically made out of potatos. We use an astronomical number of disposable pens each year. Their pen is a beautiful option that utilizes a unique ink which, unlike other pens on the market, is not petrochemical based. It is an almost food grade alternative that represents the majority of the innovation in their design.
I was at this event thanks to Sarah Pace of The Rabbit Mafia who catered the event with all locally sourced kickass hors d’œuvres. Good stuff.
My friend Nara and I went to Blue Light Floatation today to float for an hour in a sensory deprivation (float) tank. This is a large, bath tub like pool of water housed in a completely dark enclosure. The water is heated to skin temperature and has 1,000 pounds of epsom salt dissolved in it. The effect is that you float, free from touching anything other than the water, which, because of the temperature, is hard to distinguish from your skin. Your ears rest just below the water and the room is silent. It is pitch black, so there was literally no difference if my eyes were open or closed. There is nothing to smell other than a bit of ozone in the room and assuming my mouth is clean and closed, not much to taste either. They haven’t come up with a way to deprive the idea sensing organ (brain) quite yet.
Upon entering this quite nice facility (actually owner Sam Zeiger’s home) we were sat down and given a brief orientation to the facility and how to use it. Before entering the tank we showered and immediately upon exiting we showered again. Other than that, and how to turn off the light once in the tank, there wasn’t much to learn. The tank is nice in that it has very high ceilings. From what I can tell most tanks require you to climb through a door into a box about 4 feet high. This was very spacious.
Once in the room with the tank I got naked, entered the tank and laid down…….and floated, for one hour. It is an interesting feeling to be free from the senses, to feel the body relax, or not relax, as it attempts to maintain tension or posture when it is so obviously not needed. Much of my time was spent feeling and hearing my body. I could hear/feel my heart beating in my ears. I followed my breath as it moved in through my mouth, down my throat and filled up different areas of my lungs; stomach, chest, back etc.
——–Edited per Nigel’s comments to include what is below—–
The weird thing was about 10-15 minutes into the float I suddenly knew that Sam (owner/operator) knew Sylvia, the woman who ran the ayahuasca retreat in Brazil where Nara and I met. It wasn’t an idea, or a hunch, it was a knowing. When I came out of the the tank (which was virtually sound proof I remind you) Nara said “Sam knows Sylvia!”. I responded something along the lines of ‘I know, where you guys talking about it about ten minutes after I went in?’ They had been. It turns out that Sam’s shelves were full of books about consciousness expansion and psychedelics. Nara had quickly gravitated towards a book about Sekhmet, an egyptian warrior goddess whose presences she had felt while in Brazil.
What is it about drug users noticing more synchronicity in life? Terrence McKenna talks about psychedelics (and marijuana’s) ability to break down barriers that we have constructed in our mind. The idea being that we divide reality into neat little categories, subjects and objects, us and them, and assume that there is nothing arbitrary about these divisions. We assume that the dividing lines are ‘real’. That they are absolute and that there is a need to then find connections between things. The truth may be closer to the mystic idea that all is one and any attempt to create connections assumes boundaries that are simply constructs of the perspective we choose to take on a given situation.
Sure the boundaries serve us, make the world easier to navigate and understand. I wouldn’t be typing this to you without them. But should we allow room for the paradox that they also confine us? Confuse us?
Perhaps Rupert Sheldrake is on to something when he talks about morphic resonance and morphogentic fields and describes the brain as more of a radio than anything with it’s own content or shows to transmit. He postulates that information, memory, exists in a field that our body/minds can attune themselves to and we are thus informed. This fits nicely with the Buddhist notion of the brain as another sensory organ, one that senses ideas. I mentioned a meditation experience earlier where I was able to take my awareness and tune, or not tune, into the brain and it’s neurotic ramblings. Obviously (to me) awareness, consciousness, is something other than the thinking mind. It is something that is aware of the thinking mind. Is it so odd to think that there are other, more subtle means of transmitting information that consciousness is also aware of if/when we relax the artificial boundaries that we have created between what is a valid means of knowing and what is ‘metaphysical nonsense’?
Or have I just done too many drugs?
If that explanation is more comfortable to you then by all means stay closed to other possibilities, but if you are aware of information entering your awareness through means other than rational understanding of the five senses, then perhaps we should start developing other senses as well. Do you know why you are attracted to someone? Why you fall in love? Their ideas? Pheromones? Scent? (is there a difference?) Is there some other transmission of information that happens here? You can explore quantum entanglement if that’s your bent. I’d recommend mixing such things with some open minded explorations of your direct experience.