Morning download, 2.15.19

I’ve been waking before 6, lying drowsily in the dark, under the covers, all warm and snuggly, surrounded by pillows, luxuriating in not having to get up and (usually) not feeling like I didn’t get enough sleep and need to get some more shut-eye.

This daily journey from nonconsciousness to consciousness feels so good to take it slowly. Feeling my warmth, my body weight surrendered to gravity, I notice that energy is pouring out the soles of my feet — or maybe pouring in. Not even the entire sole, but a circle around K1, Bubbling Spring, where the kidney channel begins. The force is strong there.

The little part of my brain that’s always going, “But what does it meeeaaaannnn?” doesn’t know what that’s about except that it’s healthy. Am I letting out too much or being replenished? Don’t know. Maybe connected to earth element because feet, right? Powerful point, powerful channel, kidney chi.

I may doze a little, but when the light starts to return, I get up and pee and return to sit in my bed and just sit. Yeah, I have beautiful, fancy meditation gear, and I sit in my bed.

I used to think of it as meditation, but now I like to just call it sitting. Sitting with what is. I tune into breath and body, sounds, and I enter a state of integrity and subtle bliss. I notice sensations, thoughts arising and dissipating, sometimes an emotional tone. I open up and make myself available.

Sometimes my thoughts are strong and sticky. I use my will to return to stillness, over and over. Sometimes I command my unruly thinker to be still, and it actually obeys, which is amazing and gratifying. I like to go deep into the swirly energy currents and let them wash me inside and out. When I am being breathed, I’m there. No will needed. Just surrender.

After sitting, breathing. Current practice: kapalabhati, the 4-7-8 kriya that Dr. Fulford taught Dr. Weil, and nadi shodhana.

I make myself a cup of matcha (with Berkey-filtered water heated to 160 degrees F because I’m that kind of person) and return to my bed, stare out my window, hear the noise of birds, traffic, trains, and the motors and beeps of heavy construction equipment, because Austin. The city is reaching the country.

I come into some clarity, and I simply need to write and share. I’ve realized that it’s probably not a good idea to text my early morning downloads to the possibly unprepared dear ones I’m fortunate enough to have in my life, at least until I’ve had an opportunity to check in. Still, there’s that need to express.

Guess what? I have a blog, and you’re reading it! I used to post more personal writing here but haven’t for a long time. I can do that again.

So…I’m back, my people! Here we are with my new strategy: morning pages for all to see, being intimate in a way that’s safe for me and my associates in this sometimes crazy, dangerous world. You didn’t want to know the particulars anyway — you like melding minds, and here’s my contribution. This business of being human requires courage and boundaries and discernment and trust, and a whole lot more…and that’s what’s coming up today.

Some things I will be writing about: finally figuring out that I’m an empath and learning how to be a healthy empath because sometimes it is quite troubling and draining.

Also, what the fuck is right relationship and how can I be/do/create/collaborate on that?

And also, being an autodidact. Being both ordinary and extraordinary because so are you and let’s talk about it. And whatever comes up that’s appropriate to share here.

We all learning here on this bus. That’s all for today, lovelies. Be well.

Nutrients for the aging brain

I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.

This one caught my eye: Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults.

Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?

The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.

Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.

They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.

This appears to be a very robust study.

What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:

  • omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
  • omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
  • carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
  • lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
  • riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
  • folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
  • Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)

The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.

My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.

Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?

I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.

If you’re interested in using my online dispensary and saving 30% on good quality supplements, you can sign up for a Wellevate account here.

Post-concussion self-care

I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may (or may not — especially ER docs who are most concerned about intracranial bleeding and not aftercare) have told them, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly.

People who’ve had concussions may report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait or coordination disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.

To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs in war zones make this a tragic problem for many veterans).

To help you visualize what happens in a concussion, imagine your brain is like jello inside a closed hard container (the cranium) cushioned by a thin layer of water (cerebrospinal fluid), with substantial membranes (the meninges) separating the major parts (the hemispheres and the cerebrum and cerebellum, not shown in the image below).

A major impact slams the brain around inside the cranium, damaging brain tissue. Research points to the corpus callosum, which connects and coordinates the left and right hemispheres, receiving the most damage from concussions.

Source: https://www.craniosacralsydney.com.au/blog/brain-trauma-concussion-lessening-the-pain-with-craniosacral-therapy. Note image does not show meninges that separate hemispheres.
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Hydration: the first step to building health

The first step to preventing dementia is to stay hydrated. The brain is more sensitive to dehydration than any other tissue in your body. This issue is on my mind due to numerous friends’ parents having tragically developed Alzheimer’s and also learning of contemporaries with early-stage dementia. Craniosacral therapy can help, and I’ll write about that in the future. Today: hydration.

This is a topic that your doctor will probably never mention unless you have a severe issue like kidney disease, but your massage therapist certainly will!

You are at your most dehydrated when you wake up in the morning. Therefore, drink water soon after you wake! It’ll help get your brain and your whole system going.  Continue reading

After #MeToo, Aikido.

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Source: http://upliftconnect.com/aikido-conflict/. Many thanks.

Times are changing. The sheer number of women who have come forward with tales of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has opened up a national conversation that is long overdue.`

The many #MeToo tales of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape shared on Facebook and Twitter have made it clear: this situation is not just happening in Hollywood. It’s common. It is rare that a woman has never experienced such inappropriate sexual behavior. Millions of women — and teen girls, and girl children — have been touched in a sexual way that they did not want. And we’ve pretty much normalized it, except in especially heinous cases such as Bill Cosby and the occasional gang rape or murder or famous person.

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Meet the Tibetan monk whose brain was studied by scientists

You’ve probably heard that there are some Tibetan monks who have been studied by scientists, who have learned which brain centers are activated during meditation. Well, here’s an article that goes into depth about the types of meditation studied .

It tells the story of one monk (western-born, with 30 years of experience as a Tibetan Buddhist monk) who was studied by scientists extensively using fMRI and EEG and testing his ability to read fleeting facial emotions and to stifle his own startle reflex.

Read the whole article (by Daniel Goleman!) for a fascinating story.

I liked that the article described the types of meditation that were studied. It made me want to be more specific in my own meditation. I usually practice what’s called “the open state”.

Tibetan Buddhism may well offer the widest menu of meditation methods of any contemplative tradition, and it was from this rich offering that the team in Madison began to choose what to study. The initial suggestions from the research team were for three meditative states: a visualization, one-pointed concentration and generating compassion. The three methods involved distinct enough mental strategies that the team was fairly sure they would reveal different underlying configurations of brain activity. Indeed, Öser was able to give precise descriptions of each.

One of the methods chosen, one-pointedness—a fully focused concentration on a single object of attention—may be the most basic and universal of all practices, found in one form or another in every spiritual tradition that employs meditation. Focusing on one point requires letting go of the ten thousand other thoughts and desires that flit through the mind as distractions; as the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put it, “Purity of heart is to want one thing only.”

In the Tibetan system (as in many others) cultivating concentration is a beginner’s method, a prerequisite for moving on to more intricate approaches. In a sense, concentration is the most generic form of mind training, with many non-spiritual applications as well. Indeed, for this test, Öser simply picked a spot (a small bolt above him on the MRI, it turned out) to focus his gaze on, and held it there, bringing his focus back whenever his mind wandered off.

Öser proposed three more approaches that he thought would usefully expand the data yield: meditations on devotion and on fearlessness, and what he called the “open state.” The last refers to a thought-free wakefulness where the mind, as Öser described it, “is open, vast and aware, with no intentional mental activity. The mind is not focused on anything, yet totally present—not in a focused way, just very open and undistracted. Thoughts may start to arise weakly, but they don’t chain into longer thoughts—they just fade away.”

Perhaps as intriguing was Öser’s explanation of the meditation on fearlessness, which involves “bringing to mind a fearless certainty, a deep confidence that nothing can unsettle—decisive and firm, without hesitating, where you’re not averse to anything. You enter into a state where you feel, no matter what happens, ‘I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose.’”

Focusing on his teachers plays a key role in the meditation on devotion, he said, in which he holds in mind a deep appreciation of and gratitude toward his teachers and, most especially, the spiritual qualities they embody. That strategy also operates in the meditation on compassion, with his teachers’ kindness offering a model.

The final meditation technique, visualization, entailed constructing in the mind’s eye an image of the elaborately intricate details of a Tibetan Buddhist deity. As Öser described the process, “You start with the details and build the whole picture from top to bottom. Ideally, you should be able to keep in mind a clear and complete picture.” As those familiar with Tibetan thangkas (the wall hangings that depict such deities) will know, such images are highly complex patterns.

Öser confidently assumed that each of these six meditation practices should show distinct brain configurations. The scientists have seen clear distinctions in cognitive activity between, say, visualization and one-pointedness. But the meditations on compassion, devotion and fearlessness have not seemed that different in the mental processes involved, though they differ clearly in content. From a scientific point of view, if Öser could demonstrate sharp, consistent brain signatures for any of these meditative states, it would be a first.

Click the link above to find out what the scientists learned from this monk’s brain.

Immobilization/shutdown/dissociation/frozen, a trauma response built into the nervous system

Back in March 2012, I posted that I had started reading Peter A. Levine’s latest book, In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. My post included excerpts from Levine’s description of being hit by a car and his experience afterwards.

His experience serves as a useful model for being and staying present through trauma and recovery. He knew how to allow his body and emotions to process naturally so that he did not get stuck in a traumatic state (i.e., PTSD).

Well, I am still reading that book. It’s very, very rich. Some parts are rather scientific. I’m taking my time to really understand it.

Levine uses polyvagal theory (I just posted an interview with Stephen Porges, who came up with the theory) to explain the states that people experience and can get stuck in from traumatic experiences.

Because Somatic Experiencing Practitioners and other therapists (as well as astute loved ones) who are helping someone recovery from trauma need to know which layer of the nervous system is dominant at any given time in a traumatized individual, I am going to describe them.

First, the primary job of our nervous system is to protect us. We have senses that alert us to danger. We may react to a perception of a threat in our bodies before it ever becomes conscious in the mind. That’s because the autonomic nervous system (which is not under our control) is involved when trauma occurs. We react instinctually.

This is good to know. It means that your trauma reactions are automatic, not something you can control, so there’s no need to feel shame or blame yourself. You were doing the best you could.

There are two defensive states that occur when encountering trauma: immobility/dissociation/shutdown (freeze) and sympathetic hyperarousal (fight or flight).

I’m going to write about them in separate posts to avoid being too lengthy.

The more primitive nervous system state is immobility. (Primitive in that evolutionarily it comes from jawless and cartilaginous fish and precedes sympathetic hyperarousal.)

It is triggered when a person perceives that death is imminent, from an external or internal threat.

Levine also uses the terms dissociation, shutdown, and freeze/frozen to describe this state. Note: If you’re an NLPer, dissociation means the separation of components of subjective experience from one another, such as cutting off the emotional component of a memory and simply remembering the visual and/or auditory components. (Source: Encyclopedia of NLP)

Keep in mind that Levine is talking about dissociation as an involuntary post-traumatic physiological state that trauma victims can sometimes get stuck with. There may be some overlap. According to Levine, symptoms of being in this state include frequent spaciness, unreality, depersonalization, and/or various somatic and health complaints, including gastrointestinal problems, migraines, some forms of asthma, persistent pain, chronic fatigue, and general disengagement from life.

Levine notes:

This last-ditch immobilization system is meant to function acutely and only for brief periods. When chronically activated, humans become trapped in the gray limbo of nonexistence, where one is neither really living nor actually dying. The therapist’s first job in reaching such shut down clients is to help them mobilize their energy: to help them, first, to become aware of their physiological paralysis and shutdown in a way that normalizes it, and to shift toward (sympathetic) mobilization. 

The more primitive the operative system, the more power it has to take over the overall function of the organism. It does this by inhibiting the more recent and more refined neurological subsystems, effectively preventing them from functioning. In particular, the immobilization system all but completely suppresses the social engagement/attachment system.

Highly traumatized and chronically neglected or abused individuals are dominated by the immobilization/shutdown system.

Signs that someone is operating from this state include:

  • constricted pupils
  • fixed or spaced-out eyes
  • collapsed posture (slumped forward)
  • markedly reduced breathing
  • abrupt slowing and feebleness of the heart rate
  • skin color that is a pasty, sickly white or even gray in color

Brainwise, volunteers in the immobility state exhibited a decrease in activity of the insula and the cingulate cortex. In one study, about 30% of PTSD sufferers experienced immobility and 70% experienced hyperarousal, with a dramatic increase of activity in these brain areas. Most traumatized people exhibit some symptoms from both nervous systems, Levine says.

I feel the deepest compassion for people in this state, because I have experienced it myself: the spaciness, depersonalization, sense of unreality, and passive, disengaged attitude toward life. It was many years ago. If I could, I would reach back in time to that injured woman and give her resources she just didn’t have back then.

I feel so grateful for the trauma recovery work I’ve done, both with a therapist and on my own. I haven’t experienced immobilization for years, except briefly.

Next up: sympathetic hyperarousal/fight or flight.

Meditation develops your brain

Role of Meditation in Brain Development Gains Scientific Support – NYTimes.com.

This New York Times article reports on new research findings about the effects of long-term meditation on the brain.

The role that meditation plays in brain development has been the subject of several theories and a number of studies. One of them, conducted at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that long-term meditators like Ms. Splain had greater gyrification — a term that describes the folding of the cerebral cortex, the outermost part of the brain.

No one knows exactly what that means. “You could argue that more folds mean more neurons,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, the recent study’s lead author, who practices meditation herself. “These are the processing units of the brain, and so having more might mean that you have greater cognitive capacities.”

Previous studies found that the brains of long-term meditators had increased amounts of so-called gray and white matter (the former is believed to be involved in processing information; the latter is thought of as the “wiring” of the brain’s communication system.)

So basically, meditation, over time, creates more folds and creases in the brain, and your brain functions better through more gray and white matter for processing and communication with other parts of the brain.

What I really liked about this article is what one long-term meditator was able to accomplish.

Ms. Splain’s practice of meditation has, over the years, deepened into something far more than a way to flex her cognitive muscles…

In 2005, at age 57, she embarked on a rigorous graduate program in the interdisciplinary approach to schooling known as Waldorf education. Working full time and taking classes at night, she finished the program at Sunbridge Institute in Spring Valley, N.Y., in three years. She retired from her United Nations job in 2008 and teaches in the early childhood program at the Waldorf School of Garden City on Long Island. She credits the discipline developed through four decades of meditation for her ability to handle the intellectual workload of graduate school — and begin a second career at age 60.

“The mentor of our master’s program acknowledged the challenge of doing this while working full time,” she said. “But when I was able to hand in an 80-page thesis well ahead of the class, he attributed it to the fact that, quote, ‘She’s a meditator.’ ”

So…if you want to do something extraordinary, or even if you just want to live your “normal” life but to experience better brain functioning (and who wouldn’t want that?), it’s like planting a tree.

The best time to do it was 20 years ago. The second best time to start is now.

15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy

15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy.

I was so impressed by reading 15 Power Things Happy People Do Differently that I checked out more of Purpose Fairy’s website and found another jewel.

This one, as the title says, is about things you can give up to increase your level of happiness.

These are things we often do without thinking, such as believing we cannot do something, talking negatively to ourselves, making excuses, being afraid. All are makers of unhappiness.

It seems easy to say something like “give up your need for control”. Hoo boy, this is a big one! We all would like to have more control over what happens to us! I know I would.

So here’s a way to examine it. Think of something that bothers you. Is it something you yourself do? Then you have some control over it.

If it is something another person does, then you don’t really have control. You might as well give up the needing to control them and just let them be them. Serenity Prayer and all. You will have less inner and outer conflict in your life and more inner and outer peace.

I want that.

You can make this list work for you by first noticing something that makes you feel unhappy. Go down the list. Are you blaming? Complaining? Criticizing? Trying to impress someone? Odds are, it’s on this list.

Now imagine what it would be like if you didn’t do that. How would your life be changed? What if you no longer had the ability to do that?

Try that on and see how it feels. See how you feel.

The beauty is, once you imagine it, you are changed. Your brain now has a choice that you may not have recognized before.

The  more you train your brain to be happy, the more it starts behaving in a happy way.

Before you know it, you’re a lot happier.

Breaking a habit: change the cue and reward first, and the routine will follow

Steve Silberman, science writer (whom I adore and follow on Twitter: @stevesilberman), has just posted a new piece on NeuroTribes: mind, science culture, one of my favorite blogs. It’s a Q&A with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg on his new book The Power of Habit.

(And I must say that after the William J. Broad experience — “yoga is not only killing us but began as a Tantric sex cult”– it is sweet to learn of a Times reporter who’s really done his homework and offered something very valuable. Kudos, Charles Duhigg.)

Silberman lets us know up front how habitual we are.

Indeed, we spend more than 40 percent of our precious waking hours engaged in habitual actions [PDF], according to a 2006 study at Duke University. Welcome to the machine.

No wonder mindfulness has become something we seek. To connect with someone or something not out of habit, but out of something like our original self — that’s the stuff that peak experiences, connecting to the Source, the most alive life are made of.

It’s as if our brains store habitual behavior in a locked box to prevent tampering by the more mindful angels of our nature…

In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg … pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.

Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop) into three component parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion…. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit….

Duhigg … maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life….

We know from studies that almost all cues — the stimuli that elicit the habitual behavior — fall into one of five categories. It’s time of day, or a certain place, or a certain emotion, or the presence of certain people, or a preceding action that’s become habitual or ritualized….

Then you focus on the rewards. The first couple of times you go running, you’re not going to enjoy it. No one enjoys it the first time they run. So you have to give yourself a piece of chocolate when you get back from the run. You have to have some immediate reward.  And we know from studies that within two weeks, the intrinsic reward of running — the endocannabinoids unleashed by exercising — are going to become enough of a reward to create that habit. But you have to trick your brain into it by giving yourself a piece of chocolate the first couple times….

If you want to start running every day, just start by putting on your running shoes at the same time every day. Then you’ll feel more like running. Then you’ll run!

If I want to meditate more regularly, I can tell myself that I just need to sit for 5 minutes each morning, or 2 minutes each evening. Once I actually sit for those small lengths of time, I’m much more likely to sit for 20 or 30 minutes.

These two guys then begin discussing the civil rights movement, the gay marriage movement, and more. To read the whole post, click here.