Category Archives: Longevity Essentials

Meditation and Empowerment

bright sun and clouds

There always seems to be a lot in the news that can lead to anger, desperation and a feeling of hopelessness in all of us. It seems that there is little we can do to make the changes that we know must be made in our world. We feel the frailty of our efforts, our inability to fully understand our responsibilities, and even the ultimate frailty of our physical bodies and our minds. It may bring up the feeling that the teachings of the Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas and many other spiritual teachers is true: that all life is suffering.

This is true when we are so enmeshed in our transient lives that we forget the bigger picture, the picture of the Unconditional Love of which we all are a part.

There is a way that we can find a deeper inner power and responsibility, and a connection with the ultimate power of love. With the appropriate serious effort we can take our suffering and make it opportunity for individual growth and a state of maturity that leads to an experience of total well-being. That simple conscious effort that we can use for the discovering of our own personal power and a new level of possibility is meditation.

Meditation can open us up to the vitality and the innate intelligence that animates our bodies, minds and energetic capacities, making our well-being constantly available.

We are not a “thing”. We are a process, an “event” if you will. Our bodies and minds connect us to our total environment. We absorb information, interact and change. We adapt so that we can effectively participate in our own lives. It is an endless process of exchange within and around us. This exchange is empowering. It morphs the feeling of frailty into a feeling of loving potential that transforms our reality.

Meditation can simply be about rediscovering this way of being in the world and in spirit. It simply brings us back to the reality that we so often forget, the reality that is pure joy, pure awe. The reality of Life Itself. In many meditation practices, nothing is rejected; everything is an avenue, everything is nourishment, everything is God. Including ourselves. In this light, we can think of our meditation, indeed our lives, as God (who has manifested as ourselves) giving and receiving God through the mechanism of God. There is no other.

In terms of “changing the world”, all those around us are affected by the Energy that is all things. This is the energy that changes us, that brings us home. The more of us that participate in this reality, the more change will happen.

Your Attentive Brain

wonderous reading child

Being attentive

Your brain really thrives on getting information and paying attention

Curiosity, wonder and play are three of many ways we inspire our brains to open to new information. We want to learn, and we want it to be fun!

Attention, also referred to as focus or concentration, must be lovingly nurtured to marshal the effort needed to improve your brain’s performance. Your brain and body are in this together; the relaxation and focus of one naturally informs the other.

Attention in the mental sphere is akin to endurance in the physical sphere. Like an athlete, you can learn to focus your mental energies, but to do that you need to train regularly. And as most of us know , it is often challenging to garner the discipline necessary to establish a routine that will lead to your goals. Learning to meditate, for example, is a discipline and a challenge, but can also be engaging and interesting, encouraging you to want to do it. And it serves to establish a strong ability to focus in an open and relaxed way. It can inspire curiosity, a very important component in any kind of endeavor: it can involve your whole brain and body and move you forward into deep exploration.

Being awakemove into spirit

To be fully attentive, we have to be awake!
This is a fairly commonsense idea: if we’re asleep, we’re not attending to anything. When we’re awake, our attention depends on the degree of wakefulness. If we’re drowsy, day dreaming or stressed, we have decreased focus and attention. We have to be in a narrow continuum where we have highly focused and relaxed attention to look at and experience something and get all the details about it.

Being youngchild in leaves

Attention can improve concentration, frontal brain functioning, I.Q., sequencing, context, drive and executive control.

And it can also bring wonder! When your brain is attentive and focuses in a relaxed and open way, you can develop the innocence, curiosity and wonder of a child. When you meditate, your mind will move into something truly interesting, and so finding  the enthusiasm to continue is a natural result.

There are many ways to enhance attention (look at the end of my blog). Meditation training is one wonderful to do this. Research has shown that structural changes occur in the brain’s circuitry that enhance relaxation, focus and curiosity, helping to relieve us of our “creaky” brains and, in a way, become like little kids again. Personally, I love this!

 

Inattention

As a rule, we don’t realize when we are being inattentive. You can think of it as a “psychic blindspot”. Road accidents, for example, are usually a result of an inattentive driver or pedestrian. We think that we see more than we do, and that has consequences. Attention failures are rampant in our current culture, dominated by fast-response technologies. You’re sitting there thinking about something, and you fire off an email before paying attention to the consequences. Or you reach for your cell phone while driving on the highway at 70 mph, leading to an accident.

Multitasking

The biggest impediment to sustained attention in our culture is multitasking. First of all, multitasking is mostly a myth: we’re actually doing things sequentially, not concurrently. Interference effects with the use of the same channel dictate that I can only listen to so many conversations at one time. However, I may be able to listen to a conversation and read something simultaneously, because they aren’t interfering with each other.

It has been found that the more people multitask the worse they actually do. They become more distracted, and they have trouble distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information. There’s also a loss of organization and of the ability to think for oneself. We need to slow down and pay attention to think most efficiently and creatively—in a word, contemplate. Again, in this respect, meditation is our friend.

One of the greatest challenges that we face in our culture may be trying to enrich our powers of attention while accommodating our society’s increasing demands for multitasking. We have to do some multitasking, but we don’t want to drive away our attentional powers!

Some cool games

Here are some techniques to keep in mind for attention games: focus; using as many senses as you can; and putting the information in the form of an image if you can (the more dramatic the better).

Visual game. Look at a series of pictures rapidly. Then close your eyes and try to describe them. This exercises both your attention and your memory.

Auditory attention game. Try a game called “Clap Your Name”. Let’s say your name is Richard. Spell it out, R-I-C-H-A-R-D, by slapping your thigh for each of the consonants and clapping your hands for each of the vowels. For an added challenge, do it with another person or a group of friends.

Sustained and selective attention game. Quickly dictate into a voice recorder a long string of randomly selected letters and numbers. Later on, listen to them and tally only the numbers or only the letters. This works even better if you get someone else to read them for you: you respond by signaling only when you’ve heard either a letter or a number.  

 Divided attention game. Practice attending to two tasks at once. Rapidly tap your finger while attending to a news story on the radio, for example.

Processing speed game. See how quickly you can shuffle a deck of cards and break the cards into suits and put them in order.

Enjoy!! Make them fun! Get smart(er)!

CREATIVITY AND YOUR PLAYFUL BRAIN

happy hands

We all agree about the value of creativity, but until recently we knew little about the brain processes underlying it.You may know that the two brain hemispheres are specialized: the left is important for verbal and symbolic processing; the right is important for visual-spatial information and is involved with emotional perception and expression. Your brain uses the most appropriate hemisphere for a specific task, with assistance from the other hemisphere.

Creativity is based on three thinking patterns: verbal language, in which unwarranted assumptions can trip us up; music and math, which require an understanding of fundamentals: and visual thinking, many optionswhich is often the key to creative thinking by envisioning and manipulating information.

Mind wandering (a.k.a. daydreaming) is the mind’s way of powering down. There’s nothing wrong with it: mind wanderers tend to score higher on creativity. When your mind wanders, your brain’s executive centers are activated along with a default network. The combination of these two networks may explain the link between mind wandering and creativity.

So let your mind putter around for a bit so your brain is free to wander productively. But don’t overdo it. It’s best in small doses. You need to allow your mind to wander if you want to be creative, but you daydreamingalso need to catch the creative idea. Important contributors to creativity are sleep (with or without dreams) and meditation. Meditation allows your brain to relax and stay focused at the same time, to allow for deeper insight and creativity in your life.

Both creativity and divergent thinking involve fluency, which means rapidly producing multiple possible solutions to a problem; elaboration, which means thinking through the details of the problem; flexibility, which means entertaining multiple approaches to the problem simultaneously; and originality, which means coming up with ideas that don’t occur to most people.

The goals for divergent thinking are 1) to achieve a spontaneous, random, unorganized and free-flowing manner of thinking and 2) to loosen control of the left hemisphere and allow the emergence of less structured, non-verbal material to emerge from the right hemisphere. Meditation gives you the capacity to make giant steps in these directions. Brainstorming, mind mapping and free writing are also avenues to pursue.

 

Another way to enhance brain function is through creative play. Puzzles, word games, and humor are marked by uncertainty and ambiguity, which test our brains in unaccustomed ways. We tend to resist not having answers to questions that we are asked, which leads to premature closure—reaching a conclusion or accepting an explanation before examining the facts and the logical conclusions flowing from these facts.

I suggest that you embrace ambiguity as a means of enhancing your brain. Puzzles are uniquely appropriate for this. Here’s one: What occurs twice in a moment, once every minute, yet never in a billion years? Think in terms of the words and letters; moment, minute, and a billion years. The answer is the letter “m”.

Develop an interest in word games. We are verbal creature, and out brains thrive on words. As we learn new words, we expand our mental horizons word puzzles call on our left hemisphere, which mediates words and language.

Here’s a fun word puzzle: have a friend cut the words from the caption of a cartoon and rearrange them. See if you can restore the punch line by putting the words back in their correct order. Puzzles involving cartoons strengthen the brain’s ability to switch points of view and think about things in unusual ways. They also challenge the brain to work with ambiguity and uncertainty. As another word challenge, have someone cut and scramble the frames of a comic strip, and then see is you can rearrange them into their correct order. This exercise tests your problem-solving ability, sense of timing, and logic.

So how should we approach solving puzzles? First, just try something! Getting started mat be the hardest step. Even a wild guess is fine, because figuring out why the guess doesn’t work helps you decide where to focus your efforts. Second, persist! The biggest reason for not solving puzzles is giving up. If you feel you can’t persist any longer, then look up the answer. It’s okay: looking up the answer isn’t cheating but simply helping your brain learn principles that will be useful in future. Understand why the answer was correct, and then imagine how you might have gotten the answer yourself. You can also try setting time limits. The brain can almost always work faster if you ask it to.

Puzzles, riddles, and jokes enhance the brain by encouraging reasoning, logic, visual imagination, spatial thinking, working memory, and creativity. Equally important, puzzles, riddles, brainteasers and jokes are just plain fun!

 Brain Teaser

 Brain teasers can help you enhance concentration, visual thinking, and creativity. Here is one of my favorites:

You are in a room with 3 light switches that turn on 3 light bulbs in another room. You can turn on only 2 of the switches, and you’re allowed only 1 trip into the room to check which 2 light bulbs are on. How do you decide which switch turns on which bulb?

There is an unwarranted assumption here—a premature closure. The terms “light bulb,” “lights,” and “turn on” suggest a visual approach, but think about what other senses might be even more helpful in solving the puzzle. Touch, the most primitive sense, will actually provide the solution.

Have you come to a solution yet? Turn 2 switches on for 10 or more minutes. Turn 1 of them off, and then go into the other room. The bulb that is still lit is controlled by the switch you left on. Now touch the other 2 bulbs. The switch you turned off controls the one that is warm. The third switch controls the other light bulb.

Cool…

Whatever Dance, Whatever Game

move into spirit

If you will turn your attention inside yourself every day – if you will open your mind and heart to feel the flow of energy within you and to feel your awareness of it expand – then the issues in your life become no issue at all. Your notion of who is living your life and of who is motivating your body totally changes. Furthermore, your understanding and experience of the universal, creative power of Life in its highest sense brings you complete peace within yourself. It brings you a total acceptance of your life within the larger scheme of Life Itself, and a real appreciation for the opportunities you have to interact and communicate with this power in any form. Then, whatever dance you do, whatever game you play, becomes merely the arena in which you discover and express your interchange with this creative flow.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G

move into spirit

“Common wisdom is generally neither common nor wise”

–John Kenneth Galbraith

“Justifying improved practice on scientific evidence is a dynamic process. With new evidence, the foundation will change…Be prepared to challenge current thoughts and rethink currently accepted practices.”

–Stuart McGill

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing level of controversy regarding stretching and its role in health, athletics, injury prevention, rehabilitation and back health. The amount of information out there is vast and often conflicting.

Some of the most recent controlled studies have found that passive (“static”) stretching—which requires no voluntary muscle activity—prior to training does not reduce or prevent injuries. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. It has been shown that less force is needed to rupture “stretchy” muscle than “stiff” muscle. (Voluntary muscles, also called skeletal muscles, are the ones that require some level of intent to move them: they move the bones, as in moving the arms or legs. These are different from involuntary muscles, which are primarily stabilizing, as in the postural muscles of the spine, which keep you upright and stable).

This does not mean that “stiff” muscles are good, and that we shouldn’t implement stretching into our routines. What it does mean is that we need to pay attention to “dynamic flexibility”, the ability to move joints through a range of motion during active movement with strength as a key component requiring voluntary muscle involvement.

Another very important piece is that we need to pay attention to the fact that we are not a conglomeration of distinct and separate segments, that flexibility and strength is a whole body, continuous necessity, from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads. Each part of our body has a part in supporting the body as a whole. Any part of our bodies that do not have flexibility and strength is a weak link in the chain, and can be injured or cause injury in some related part of the body.

In every sport, indeed, in every movement, mobility is a requirement, but loose joints without precisely controlled strength are unstable. This decreases such things as strength, balance and reaction time and increases the likelihood of subsequent injury. A reduction in strength or performance is clearly not what most people are looking for be they athlete, laborer, or weekend gardener.

Studies have shown that skeletal muscle damage can occur when stretched only 20% beyond its resting length. There is evidence of this damage hours after a bout of stretching, which has led scientists to conclude that stretching causes delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Dr. Ben Benjamin presents an explanation as to why prolonged periods of static stretching (60 seconds) are problematic. This is that it initiates what is called the “stretch reflex”, a defensive mechanism designed to prevent muscles from stretching too far. In response to over-stretching the muscle reflexively contracts, which creates tension and pulling on the tendons and ligaments at the joints which can reduce the stiffness they must have in order to stabilize the joints.

One of the major issues people face is maintaining and/or regaining back health. According to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading researchers of spinal mechanics and spinal health, there are no studies that have shown that working to increase back flexibility increases performance or healing. He goes on to explain that back flexibility is prescriptive on an individual basis, but not as a general prescriptive requirement to rehabilitate a bad back or maintain good back health. But strength endurance training is necessary for both.

In conclusion, the commonly assumed wisdom and perception of stretching as a panacea for pain and injury reduction, back health issues and performance improvement does not meet scientific reality. Dynamic warm-ups and strength building using ranges of motion, as well as whole body exercises that connect and work through the whole body to develop functional ranges of motion, will substantially contribute to function, performance and injury reduction.

–with thanks to Michael Reams, of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration

A New Look at Pain (Part II)

rolfer_client7_md

As talked about in the last blog, there is no such thing as a pain center. Pain is an output of many areas of the brain that warn of danger, basically changing your experience of your body so that you can respond appropriately. Pain is like no other sense, no other feeling we have. In fact, strictly speaking, it is not really a “sense” at all.

So where does pain come from? Pain is something the brain constructs out of information it receives. Once it has made this construct, it sends it to the self-aware part of itself, the part that you ordinarily think of as “you”. The brain builds constructs all the time, out of everything around it. Pain is just another thing the brain can make as it works to make sense of its own existence. Most of what the brain creates is useful. Pain is useful too, and the brain usually makes it for just long enough to slow you down to help the body heal. Depending on the reason for and the complexity of the pain, this may be a short, acute phase or a longer, more chronic issue.

When pain persists long past its “due date”, you may feel that you and your brain need some help with “de-constructing” it. This is when work has been done (or is being done) to address the actual sites where there is injury (e.g.-where the pain is experienced) and there is less concern about what is happening in the tissues. The brains of most people have no problem de-constructing pain production with treatment. Usually this is a quite straightforward process once treatment is initiated. With a bit of pain education as focus, and some judicious, well thought out manual therapy to provide novel input to the brain, the brain is usually more than happy to return to normal output. It “downregulates” itself, the peripheral nervous system follows suit, and the neurological reason for pain is ameliorated. This can be compared to rubbing your head after banging it against something: you are diluting the experience of “pain” by giving your brain something else to focus on.

This model of pain is more than a reductive biological view, it is a contextual view with the client in the center. It takes into account not just the injury itself, but the person’s full sensory-motor awareness, the basic internal “representational maps” of the body, and the emotional and experiential realities to name a few. It is harder to quantify or integrate, but it is more inclusive and orienting.

 

A New Look at Pain

What is pain? A simple definition is far from easy. It is easier to start defining what pain is not. The biggest mental pitfall to avoid is that pain and nociception (the experience of pain) are the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not have “pain receptors”, “pain nerves” “pain pathways”, or “pain centers”. There are, however some neurons in our tissues that respond to stimuli considered “dangerous”. For example, dropping a forty-pound kettlebell on your foot will send a prioritized signal to your spinal cord, which then is interpreted by your brain. Activity of this type in these nerves is called “nociception”, which literally means “danger reception”. We all have nociception going on all the time – only sometimes does it end in what we define as pain. Looking across various health professions, and in the literature, you could easily infer that nociception, in some cases, is equivalent to pain, as these two terms are often used interchangeably. But they are not interchangeable.

Pain is an output from the brain, not an input from the body. The fundamental paradigm shift that has recently occurred in pain science is the understanding that pain is created by the brain, not a “pre-formed” sensation that arrives from the body and is passively perceived by the brain. When a body part is damaged, nerve endings send a signal to the brain containing information about the nature of the damage – but no pain is felt until the brain interprets this information and decides that pain would be a good way to encourage you to take action that will help protect the body and heal the damage. The brain considers a huge amount of factors in making this decision, and no two brains will decide precisely the same thing. Many different parts of the brain help process the pain response, including areas that govern emotions, past memories, and future intentions. An injured hand means something very different to a professional musician than it does to a professional soccer player, and you can expect that they will have very different pain experiences from the same injury. The bottom line is: pain is in the brain, not the body.

The pain response is the combination of remarkable circuitry, with billions of neurons and glia with widely varying receptor sites. These receptors can change to different stimuli and alter what they are sensitive to, thanks to “synaptic plasticity”. There are convergence zones and ascending and descending fibers that create an interplay between the peripheral nervous system and the brain. Perhaps the most well-understood are the “brain maps” of body parts that change with experience. For the sake of even more confusion, we could add in ideas of gene expression: that genes make different things depending upon the environment. Or we could explain the level of description and detail offered by functional brain imaging (fMRI). Like the Humpty Dumpty story, there are all sorts of clues and truths in these levels of analysis, but no single integrated “pain center”.

More on this next week…

 

More about Rolfing

rolfer_client7_md

When she developed Rolfing more than 50 years ago, Dr. Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. first called her work structural integration. The genius of her work rests on Dr. Rolf’s insight that the body is more at ease and functions most effectively when its structure is balanced in gravity. She observed that, over time, the field of gravity actually accentuates the body’s imbalances and diminishes its flexibility. Based on these core observations, she developed her original method of hands-on manipulation – which later became known as Rolfing – to reduce gravity’s adverse effects on the body.

Essentially, the Rolfing process enables the body to regain the natural integrity of its form, thus enhancing postural efficiency and your freedom of movement.

Dr. Rolf recognized that the body is inherently a system of seamless networks of tissues rather than a collection of separate parts. These connective tissues, called fascia, actually surround, support and penetrate all the muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. Rolfing works on this web-like complex of connective tissues to release, realign and balance the whole body. Thus resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain. Rolfing aims to restore flexibility, revitalize your energy and leave you feeling more comfortable in your body.

Evolution and Change

aple

Individual change and evolution toward Spirit can often appear as a difficult and sometimes frightening challenge. We begin to let go of who we think we are, and move into…what? Yet this process can be delightful beyond imagining when we allow ourselves to touch upon, and be touched by our true nature, by divine Spirit.

My vision is to make this process accessible, understandable and joyful. Opening the door to a new way of being in the world.

The first step is to realize that we are already perfect, and have within us everything we need to grow beyond even our most precious dreams. Despite what we consider to be our imperfections and limitations, we actually have an innate intelligence that is more than sufficient to move us forward, beyond the issues and boundaries that hem us in. Indeed, we are, in truth, that astounding intelligence.

The issues we have may show up in the guise of aches and pains, depression or anxiety, an experience of malaise or dis-ease. We may feel thwarted in our wish to grow and change, contracted or isolated within the confines of how we experience ourselves and our lives.

But we have the capacity to experience our total health, and begin to fully live physically, emotionally and in Spirit.

As we begin to feel at ease with ourselves, we start to experience new ways of being in the world. Our physical and emotional “aches and pains” begin to lose their grip, and a new sense of freedom ensues. Now we are free to explore new and exciting frontiers. We develop the self-trust, curiosity and freedom to redefine ourselves in passion and joy.

We are a work of incredible art. And can be nourished, with the proper support, to live in our most precious being, full of grace and ease.

 

Why I became a Rolfer

free the butterflies

Why am I a Rolfer?
It started in my mid-twenties, when I first got Rolfed. I was really in a lot of pain. Even at that age I was feeling the effects of what my doctor called congenital degenerative cartilage disease. My left knee was due for surgery, and my back was hurting a lot. I mean a lot! By the time my mom was my age, she had gone through two major back surgeries. By the time I was considering Rolfing, she was on number 10 or 12. She was still in constant pain. She was a mess. I really wanted to avoid that!
I was worried about getting Rolfed. It seemed pretty expensive, and I had heard that it hurt a lot. I didn’t want to give someone a lot of money just to do something painful and come out none the better for it.
But I had talked to a lot of people who told me that it really helped them a lot, so I signed up, and that’s when my life really started getting better.
As it turned out, my Rolfer was really good, and it is true that Rolfing doesn’t have to hurt. There were definite moments of intensity. But that was usually that “hurts good” feeling when you stretch a sore muscle. During the time I was getting Rolfed, my knee stopped hurting. I even cancelled the surgery! I have never had it and I don’t need it. My back got better. Not healed, but better. No surgery to this day. And the pain is generally minimal. My cartilage is still degenerating (slowly), but there is not much pain, and nobody could see by looking at me that there is anything wrong at all. I feel great!
What was really awesome was that I could feel my body shifting, changing. I felt lighter and freer. I seemed to be going through a pretty cool attitude adjustment. It was strange; I mean how can you stay depressed and tired when you’re standing up tall, with your breath deep and alive? I hadn’t been particularly depressed or tired, but compared to how I felt now…it was like night and day! I had more energy than I could ever remember having. I felt like a kid again! I got back into exercising regularly: yoga, biking, swimming, hiking…ah, stuff I love to do! Yes: life is good! Still going strong!
I really wanted…and want…to share that experience, to help people to get out of pain, to help them feel like a kid again! So I did it; I went to the Rolf Institute to get my certification.
I have been Rolfing since 1992, and I don’t see myself stopping. The rewards are too great…for everyone. It’s a kind of bodywork that lends itself to different modalities: it never gets boring! It kind of works out, because my clients feel better, lighter, younger, and I get to share in their movement to health and well-being. Yay!!