Posts tagged ‘health’

6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Fight Stress

A prolonged exposure to high stress levels can damage the brain and hamper good cognitive functioning. As part of a brain-healthy lifestyle, it’s essential to manage stress efficiently and effectively. What can you do when you realize that you are stressed? More importantly, what can you do to build resilience so you can go through difficult situations without feeling too much stress?

Here are six research-based lifestyle solutions that can be used to fight stress and build resilience: Continue reading…

2 Comments

Color-Enhancing Glasses Let Doctors See Disease and Emotion

The ability to see the world in a broad spectrum of colors is more than just a wonderful gift—it’s a survival mechanism that humans evolved in order to identify both threats and food. But color vision also helps us read each other. Research by evolutionary neurobiologist Dr. Mark Changizi’s traces the development of color vision to the need among primates to understand changes in skin hue associated with different states of emotion or health. Flushed cheeks, for example, correspond to embarassment, exhaustion, illness, or anger associated with different levels of oxygenation in the blood. The ability to detect those states makes you more likely to survive. It’s an evolutionary advantage. Continue reading…

Leave a comment

Staying Strong Under Stress

From time to time, I like to post reminders to myself. This past year was extremely stressful, but I’m hoping this year is better! In any case, I think the few tips below are helpful.

In tough situations, with fires ablaze, certain strengths have the tendency to become weaknesses. For example, under stress, a natural and healthy tendency toward neatness and organization can turn compulsive. Smart people with great questions can become ruthless interrogators. Those who take pride in their laser-like focus can become too micro and miss the big picture.

When handled improperly, stress acts like kryptonite. It causes your superpowers to turn against you; and, if you’re not careful, your stress can defeat you. While you can’t avoid stress, you can calibrate your reaction to it: Continue reading…

1 Comment

Learn To Listen To What Your Body Is Saying

I enjoy reading articles that recommend I get a massage…

Our bodies hold all of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore their messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Because most of us are taught from an early age to focus on external demands, we frequently ignore what our bodies are saying.

More often than not we treat the physical symptoms rather than looking for the internal cause of pain, depression, and weight gain. We take another extra-strength aspirin, rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than listening to our body’s message about needing rest. A look at our pets may be all we need to see the value of naps.

Our bodies communicate thousands of little messages to us every day. For instance, is your mouth pinched and tight? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Do you feel a knot in your stomach as you promise to do something? Your body is telling you that you are tense, stressed, and over-extended.

As a society, we notoriously put deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. Your body is a sophisticated, intelligent machine, but too often we fail to understand them because we don’t value them as highly as we should.

So, what do you do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?

Start with the breath

Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Allow your thoughts to come and go in the background while breathing in and out. As you inhale and exhale, think the words “In. Out. In. Out.”  Lovingly make a note to yourself how and where you are failing to breathe. Many of us breathe only in our chests when we should be allowing the breath to expand down into our abdomens. Perhaps you are denying life by taking in shallow breaths, and your body is asking you to stop and breathe more deeply. Practice this daily for five minutes to start, and soon it will be easy for you.

Allow yourself quiet time

Sit for ten minutes each day, or even five if that is more manageable. This will give you a chance to listen to your body. Begin by sitting while breathing and become the conscious observer of your thoughts. This would be a great practice, especially in the middle of a busy day. This time can also involve taking a walk or a nap or soaking in a hot tub.

Get a massage

This is not an extravagant indulgence; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in. Massage is proven
to alleviate stress and help circulation and muscle recovery.

Use your journal to dialogue with your body

Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist, or stiff lower back, a voice and let it tell you what its message is.

Eat when hungry, sleep when tired

Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, ask for help changing them.

Do a body inventory to relax

Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside, tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension. Tense your feet first, then your calves, and so forth, until you reach your face. Relax your entire body.

If your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path—why resist? It knows what it needs.

If you want to truly be happy and healthy—begin listening to your body. Body awareness is part of a healthy lifestyle, just as much as eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Its impulses hold the key to your well-being.

Via Positively Positive

3 Comments

The Self-Healing Benefits of Meditation

By Susan Piver

We all know that regular, moderate exercise is good for us. But imagine what it would be like if all you did was exercise: if you ran, walked, jumped, or lifted 24 hours a day. After only a very short while, exercise actually wouldn’t be that good for you because without rest, exercise becomes counterproductive and even risky…and so it is with your mind. We spend all day (and sometimes all night, too!) in a whirlwind of thought. When there isn’t something particular to think about (what to eat for breakfast, the tasks of the day, or what you’re going to say in an upcoming meeting), we search restlessly for something to fill the gap-worries, hopes, television, and so on. We never allow our minds to rest. And without this precious self-healing time, our minds become exhausted and thoughts less trustworthy. Just as we need to stop moving our bodies every once in a while, we also need to stop moving our minds. But how? The idea can actually seem terrifying, not to mention impossible.

But it is quite possible. The practice of self-healing meditation is just this: resting the mind in silence and space, allowing it time to recover and rejuvenate. Meditation does not mean sitting in a perfect state of peace while having no thoughts. Big misconception! Instead, meditation is about establishing a different relationship with your thoughts, just for a little while. Instead of attention being drawn off by whatever thought happens to present itself, in meditation, you watch your thoughts from a different, more stabilized perspective. You’re training yourself to place your attention where and when you want. This is very powerful. It gives you the ability to direct your thoughts (and mood) in more productive and peaceful directions. And, as has been demonstrated in the last few years, this ability has profound self-healing implications for physical and mental health.

Over the last 10 years, Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama has been engaged in formal top-level dialogues with leading scientists and brain researchers from M.I.T., Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and others. Until several years ago, these annual conversations were held in private as simple but powerful inquiries into each other’s methods for understanding the mind. Recently, the results of this dialogue, and resulting studies into meditation, have been made public, and they’re fascinating.

When studying the brainwaves of meditating monks, Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, found that brain circuitry is different in long-time meditators than it is in non-meditators. Here’s how: when you are upset – anxious, depressed, angry – certain regions of the brain (the amygdala and the right prefrontal cortex) become very active. When you’re in a positive mood these sites quiet down and the left prefrontal cortex – a region associated with happiness and positivity – becomes more active. In studying meditating monks, Davidson found they had especially high activity in this area.

One of the things that is so amazing about this finding is that for a long time, scientists thought that each individual was wired with certain “set-points” for happiness, depression, and so on. This study shows that the brain can rewire itself and alter its set points – simply by the self-healing power of thought.

We’ve all read reports that stress can affect health and immunity; Dr. Weil has emphasized this repeatedly. An ulcer, for example, has direct correlation with emotional stress. An ulcer, simply defined, is the presence of certain bacteria in the stomach, plus stress. Other conditions have a noted relationship to stress, such as heart disease, lowered immunity, diabetes, and asthma. The acute stress that results from almost being hit by bus or thinking your house may have been broken into is not the kind of stress that has deleterious affect. This kind of stress mobilizes your emergency responses and capabilities. But, according to neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, chronic stress is a different story. There is evidence that it shrinks neurons on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning capacity, memory, and positive mood. The self-healing hippocampus has the ability to regenerate, if stress is discontinued. And meditation reduces stress, as shown in Dr. Davidson’s research.

Medical research has shown that there are two main contributing factors to depression: a genetic predisposition, and environmental factors such as stress, loss, and trauma. The first factor, genetics, is not within our control. The second, however, is. We can’t prevent loss and difficulty, but we can significantly alter our reactions to them. Zindel Segal, Chair in Psychotherapy in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, a pioneer in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown that MBSR participants are 50% less likely than other patients to relapse once depression is alleviated through medications and other therapies. This is because meditation teaches us, thought by thought, to alter our responses to stress, thereby increasing serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, sleep, and appetite. Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Paxil, so-called SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are drugs that increase serotonin.

As mentioned, meditation is often viewed as a way to relax — and it is. But it’s also a very precise strategy for maintaining health and training the mind in keen observation, increased power of concentration, and emotional stability.

It’s important to learn meditation from an accredited source. Although it’s a very simple practice, it’s also quite precise. Please visit my Web site, www.susanpiver.com, for a listing of resources.

Learn more about self-healing or visit Dr.Weil’s Q&A Library for more valuable health-related information.

Leave a comment

A Healthy Information Diet: The Case for Conscious Consumption

 

“You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” artist Austin Kleon recently proclaimed. This encapsulates the founding philosophy behindBrain Pickings — a filtration mechanism that lets into your life things that are interesting, meaningful, creatively and intellectually stimulating, memorable. Naturally, I was thrilled for the release of Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption — an intelligent manifesto for optimizing the 11 hours we spend consuming information on any given day (a number that, for some of us, might be frighteningly higher) in a way that serves our intellectual, creative, and psychological well-being.

Johnson — best known for directing Sunlight Labs at government transparency operation Sunlight Foundation — draws a parallel between the industrialization of food, which at once allowed for ever-greater efficiency and reined in an obesity epidemic, and the industrialization of information, arguing that blaming the abundance of information itself is as absurd as blaming the abundance of food for obesity. Instead, he proposes a solution that lies in engineering a healthy relationship with information by adopting smarter habits and becoming as selective about the information we consume as we are about the food we eat. In the process, he covers the history of informationthe science of attentionthe healthy economics of media, and a wealth in between.

In any democratic nation with the freedom of speech, information can never be as strongly regulated by the public as our food, water, and air. Yet information is just as vital to our survival as the other three things we consume. That’s why personal responsibility in an age of mostly free information is vital to individual and social health. If we want our communities and our democracies to thrive, we need a healthier information diet.

(For a piece of timely irony, consider the fact that the book came out at a time when the U.S. government is considering a policy that not only attempts to regulate access to information, but does so for the purpose of force-feeding the public Hollywood’s entertainment lard.)

Johnson begins with a familiar quote from Steve Jobs:

When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.

He builds on the analogy between food and information by arguing that just like we know we’re products of the food we eat, we must understand just how much we’re products of the information we consume — and consume accordingly. Yet the sheer amount of information available to us — 800,000 petabytes (a million gigabytes per petabyte) in the storage universe and 3.6 zettabytes (a million petabytes per zettabyte) consumed by American homes per day, expected to increase 44-fold by 2020 — is mind-boggling.

Using Google’s n-gram viewer, which searches the occurrences of a particular phrase in a corpus of English books from the past 150 years, Johnson points out that the term “information overload” became popular in the 1960s, surging 50 percent by 1980 and then again by 2000.

But, Johnson is careful to point out, the term itself is semantically broken:

The concept of information overload doesn’t work, however, because as much as we’d like to equate our brains with iPods or hard drives, human beings are biological creatures, not mechanical ones. Our brains are as finite in capacity as our waistlines. While people may eat themselves into a heart attack, they don’t actually die of overconsumption: we don’t see many people taking their last bite at a fried chicken restaurant, overstepping their maximum capacity, and exploding. Nobody has a maximum amount of storage for fat, and it’s unlikely that we have a maximum capacity for knowledge.
Yet we seem to want to solve the problem mechanically. Turn it the other way around and you see how absurd it is. Trying to deal with our relationship with information as though we are somehow digital machines is like trying to upgrade our computers by sitting them in fertilizer. We’re looking at the problem through the wrong lens.

Johnson argues that instead of the lens of productivity and efficiency, which have become a false holy grail for our inbox zero-obsessed culture, we should consider this through the lens with which we assess what we consume biologically: health. Because the problem is now larger than a mere matter of getting things done:

It’s a matter of health and survival. Information and power are inherently related. Our ability to process and communicate information is as much an evolutionary advantage as our opposable thumbs.

Still, Johnson cautions that we’re wired to love certain kinds of information, most notably affirmation, so we seek out information that confirms, rather than challenges, our existing beliefs. (Cue in Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble.)

Just as food companies learned that if they want to sell a lot of cheap calories, they should pack them with salt, fat, and sugar — the stuff that people crave — media companies learned that affirmation sells a lot better than information. Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they’re right?

Ultimately, at the heart of The Information Diet lies an urgency to not only recognize, but also act upon, something we all intuit but have a hard time enacting:

Like any good diet, the information diet works best if you think about it not as denying yourself information, but as consuming more of the right stuff and developing healthy habits.

To aid in that, Johnson has provided a toolkit of helpful (mostly) free software for a healthy information diet on the book’s site, ranging from productivity apps to ad blockers to various setting hacks to make your favorite services and social web platforms more conducive to info-wellness.

Via the Atlantic.com

Leave a comment

Musical therapy is making breakthroughs

Over the summer I participated in a workshop held for art and music therapists. It was there that I knew for sure that I could only work within the realm of passive therapy. I would be useless otherwise, since I cried at every story that was told that day – it was heart wrenching, yet beautiful what these special individuals are able to offer to others in pain.

Technology enables people with severe physical and mental disabilities to communicate and enjoy a more enriching life.

By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic

January 22, 2012

There is a great deal of music in the world, and no one knows exactly why. But it does have its ready uses. The music business can make you rich and famous. The pianist Christopher O’Riley admitted in The Times last week what a lot of classical musicians won’t: He learned the piano, at least in part, to attract the attention of girls.

As I write this, a sparkling new recording of Tod Machover’s “Sparkler,” an infectious overture for orchestra and live electronics, is playing on my stereo and making itself useful. The CD, “but not simpler…,” is drowning out trucks on a nearby home construction site whose backup beeps are loud enough to wake the dead a mile away. “Sparkler” is more effectively fueling my fingers as I type than was my morning double cappuccino. The music is lifting my spirits and making writing almost fun. Even so, I’m not getting the greatest, if least explicable, pleasure “Sparkler” can provide. That’s obtained by giving the score undivided attention.

Machover, an intriguing futurologist as well as an inventive composer, runs the departments in hyper-instruments (acoustical instruments given spiffy electronic features) and opera of the future at MIT’s ultra-high-tech Media Lab. Last week, he was at UC Santa Barbara to speak on “Music, Mind and Health: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Well-being through Active Sound,” one of four lectures he’s given recently at the university’s Sage Center for the Study of the Mind.

Music, Machover said, touches on just about every aspect of cognition. There are theories that music exists to exercise the mind and to help coordinate its separate functions. Music lovers intuitively know what researchers have verified, that music modulates our moods, helps us move, stimulates our language skills, strengthens our memories and can wondrously bring about emotional responses without their bothersome consequences.

The practical applications of music for healing are irresistible. Cutting-edge music therapy can help Parkinson’s patients walk, enables the autistic to rehearse their emotions and provides opportunities for stroke victims to regain speech and motor movement. Music is usually the last thing Alzheimer’s sufferers recognize. It is our final way to communicate with them, and now it seems music can play a significant role in forestalling Alzheimer’s.

This is terrific news. I’m also looking forward to the optimistic day when we will be reimbursed for the price of symphony and opera tickets by BlueCross BlueShield.

But that’s not all. In an inspiring feedback loop, Machover and his MIT minions, which include some of the nation’s most forward-looking graduate students, are applying their musical gadgets to therapy. The process of making remarkable restorative advances is changing how they think about and make music. And that could affect how the rest of us might think about and make music in the not-so-distant future.

It all began with Hyperscore, a program Machover developed to enable children to compose by drawing and painting on a monitor. A sophisticated computer program translates their artwork into a musical score.

Machover’s team took Hyperscore to Tewksbury Hospital outside of Boston, which serves patients with severe physical and mental disabilities, including the homeless. The residents, many of whom were physically unable to communicate or were otherwise uncommunicative, discovered their inner composer. Through Hyperscore they found they could express themselves in a way that bypassed language.

A few patients with hopeless prognoses and no meaningful life had significant enough changes in their pathology that they could actually think about at least partial recovery. Some found a decrease in auditory and visual hallucinations. There were behavior changes in many that allowed for socialization.

Dan Ellsey became the model patient. Born with cerebral palsy and unable to speak, he was forced to communicate with a clumsy headset that pointed to letters to spell out words. He had little control of his body movements. He was in his early 30s, had never been more than five miles from where he was born and seemed doomed to spend a cocooned life in the hospital.

The Media Lab scientists designed a more refined headset for Ellsey that not only inspired him to compose (he turned out to have interesting musical ideas) but even allowed him to perform by controlling tempo, loudness and articulation. He blossomed, and Ellsey, while still a severely affected cerebral palsy patient, has become an active participant in the Hyperscore program, performing, making CDs and teaching other patients. He was a star at the 2008 TED conference.

What this work with music therapy has shown Machover and other researchers is the potential for what he has dubbed “personal” music. This will be a music tailored to an individual’s needs, be it medicinal or simply a matter of taste.

A noted MIT neurologist, Pawan Sinha, for instance, is learning how to analyze brain waves to determine what you are hearing when listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Machover imagines making a piece of music that is your brain listening to the symphony and then creating a Beethoven Fifth jukebox consisting of pieces based on different people’s way of listening to Beethoven. The jukebox might then serves as “an automatic empathy system.”

Traditionally what a composer has done, Machover explains, is to create a piece that will reach the largest number of people. But as our knowledge of how music affects our bodies and minds grows, the opportunity will arise when a piece of music can be designed specifically for your life experiences, needs and moods. A piece can even be made to change over time as you change.

Machover is already putting some of these ideas into action. At dinner after the talk, he told me he would be flying the next morning to Silicon Valley, where he would visit Google. He is writing a score for the Toronto Symphony that will have an interactive online component looking for Internet expertise. Wonderful as musical healing is, I expressed dismay about a brave, new world of personal music. Music has always been for me about discovery, about giving a listener new experiences, not reinforcing preferences or prejudices.

But Machover was a step ahead of me. He said that my personal music could be designed to provide all things that I never could have possibly expected. I felt better already.

Article found @ Los Angeles Times

3 Comments

Beautiful Eyes

Besides eyes being called the gateway to the soul, eyes are intrinsically beautiful to look at up close. They seem like a world into themselves…and I know if you know me you’ll laugh, but they’re very mandala-esque. I’ve been tempted to use these (and other images) to test out an animation I have in mind. More later…

Images from http://www.photographyserved.com/Gallery/Your-beautiful-eyes/428809

Leave a comment

The Dirtiest Dozen

What’s the dirtiest thing you touch in the course of a normal day? If you’ve been to a gas station, the pump handle would probably top the list of the filthiest surface you encountered. A new survey from Kimberly-Clark found that 71 percent of gas pump handles tested in six U.S. cities were contaminated with bacteria and viruses capable of making us sick. You may want to pull on disposable latex gloves the next time you reach for the pump handle. Others among the dirtiest surfaces found to be crawling with germs: the handles on public mailboxes, escalator railings, ATM buttons, parking meters and kiosks, crosswalk buttons and buttons on vending machines in shopping malls. And that’s not all: at the office, your computer keys and mouse may not be as germ-laden as a gas pump handle, but if you don’t clean them, it’s likely nobody will. Other office hazards: door handles and elevator buttons. Moral of this story: wash your hands after you touch any of these surfaces.

Courtesy of Dr. Weil @  http://www.drweilblog.com

Leave a comment

Sitting and Cancer Risk

Even if you exercise a little every day, spending the rest of your time sitting may sabotage the positive effects of your morning run or evening walk. Findings from the emerging field of “sedentary behavior research” suggest that the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise may not be enough physical activity for continued good health. Data presented at the November meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research indicate that sedentary living is linked to 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer in the U.S. and that regular exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 35 percent and of breast cancer by 25 percent. Researchers also stressed the importance of enhancing a daily exercise routine by taking hourly breaks from your desk – one or two minutes per hour – even if you do nothing more strenuous than walk to the restroom or across the hall to talk to a co-worker. Other data presented at the meeting suggested that exercise can lower biomarkers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein. Inflammation continues to be investigated as a risk factor in cancer, and decreasing it as a mechanism by which exercise helps reduce cancer risk.

My take? We have good evidence that regular exercise can help protect against breast cancer, and it makes sense that risks of developing other types of cancer could be linked to lack of physical activity. Our bodies evolved in very demanding environments and are meant to be used. If not, they deteriorate faster than they should. Many of the illnesses that plague our society result from sedentary behaviors. Clearly the prevalence of heart and artery disease correlates as much with lack of aerobic exercise as it does with unhealthy diets. I’m not sure that a two-minute break every hour is the answer to spending all day seated at a desk, but I am in favor of anything that increases the motivation to get you up and moving regularly.

Courtesy of Dr. Weil @ http://www.drweilblog.com/

Leave a comment

8 Reasons to Meditate

Meditation is simply directed concentration, and involves learning to focus your awareness and direct it onto an object: your breath, a phrase or word repeated silently, a memorized inspirational passage or an image in the mind’s eye. The physical and psychological benefits of meditation are numerous and include:

  1. Helping lower blood pressure
  2. Decreasing heart and respiratory rates
  3. Increasing blood flow
  4. Enhancing immune function
  5. Reducing perception of pain
  6. Relieving chronic pain due to arthritis and other disorders
  7. Maintaining level mood
  8. Bringing awareness and mindfulness to everyday aspects of life

A simple form of meditation that can be practiced by anyone is to walk or sit quietly in a natural setting and allow your thoughts and sensations to occur, observing them without judgment.

Courtesy of Dr. Weil @ http://www.drweilblog.com/

Leave a comment