How your mind can heal your body – book review

I have been anicipating this post from Holistic yoga with Alyson for some time on the book by http://www.drdavidhamilton.com which I think is a great review of a book about ‘how your mind can heal your body’. Well worth checking out!

Holistic yoga with Alyson

bookcoverOver the winter new year break I received a pile of books from a friend who was having a clear out. One of them I read straight away: How your mind can heal your body by David Hamilton and I’ve meaning to blog about it for months because it’s very interesting, and has implications for our yoga practice, and our whole lives potentially.

At first glance my immediate reaction to the book and its title was ‘what nonsense’, but two things made me change my mind. One was that the title is a bit simplistic as the author does state several times that the mind can help heal the body and people should continue with their conventional medical treatment alongside adopting helpful mind-based approaches. The other reason was the extensive amount of research of human trials that he quotes that back up all his claims.

I think the book’s message…

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The Five Essentials … For Health & Happiness – Guest Blog

I would like to thank fredphillips.wordpress.com for this guest blog post, which shows, that we humans are not so different; and if you ask the universe (or the internet) you will find people out there who you have a lot in common with. 🙂 thanks fred!

There are five things that are essential for our health and happiness. I call these, oddly enough, The Five Essentials. Catchy, eh?

We are in the midst of enormous suffering on the planet. Rates of disease are spiraling upwards. Bullying is an epidemic, especially in our schools.  Regional and domestic conflicts abound. Many magnificent species are disappearing, or at the risk of disappearing, from the planet.

I could go on and regale you with more depressing stuff, but I really don’t want you to stop reading.

The truth is (and I believe this with all my heart), there is a solution to all this misery and it has to do with … you guessed it  … The Five Essentials. So let’s get right to it. Here they are:

  1. To have an awareness of the truths of our existence
  2. To feel good about ourselves
  3. To heal our emotional pain
  4. To eat and drink healthy stuff
  5. To get active

Let’s briefly examine each of these essentials to see what they’re all about. (Yes, I know, a couple of them are rather self evident.)

1. To have an awareness of the truths of our existence:

Understanding the truths of who we really are and why we’re really here on the planet (there is little evidence to suggest it has anything to do with getting rich & famous) is critical if we have any hope of changing human behaviour. It certainly inspired me to change mine. I think if we knew for instance, that we live in oneness with God and everything else that exists, we would not treat each other the way we do. We wouldn’t start wars. We wouldn’t exploit the animal kingdom and we wouldn’t pollute. We would let go of fear. We would live with more compassion and love. We would be more altruistic. And we would be more humble.

If you want to know more, immerse yourself in spirituality. Talk to spiritual people. Read books by Eckhart Tolle, Caroline Myss, Wayne Dyer, Neale Donald Walsch and my own book, The History Teacher. Read my spiritual posts at fredphillips.wordpress.com.

2. To feel good about ourselves:

If we all felt good about ourselves … if we all felt lovable, worthy, good enough and empowered … again, we would not behave the way we do. We would not mistreat others. We would be more kind and forgiving. We would be more honest. We wouldn’t put people out of work. We would eat healthier foods.

If you want to change the way you feel about yourself, just be kind.

3. To heal our emotional pain:

We are a society full of unresolved emotional pain. We are loaded with anger, grief, shame, guilt and resentment. If we have any hope of creating peace on earth (one of the reasons we’re here), we need to release this pain. We need to transform it into something healthier and more positive.

If you want to heal your unresolved emotional pain, forgive who you need to forgive, apologize who you need to apologize to, cry if you need to and when you feel anger, scream into a pillow until you feel better.

4. To eat and drink healthy:

With all due respect to those who earn their living working in the fast food, junk food and processed food industries, if we really want to put an end to cancer and all other forms of disease, we need to eat better. We especially need to drastically reduce our sugar intake and eliminate artificial sweeteners and gmos. Why? Because this stuff acidifies our bodies and weakens our immune systems (80% of our immune system is situated in our gastrointestinal tract), leaving us susceptible to disease.

If you want to do one simple thing to improve your diet and your health, start eating fermented foods, especially, sauerkraut. It will put much needed healthy bacteria in your gut.

5. To get active:

As a whole,  we are far too sedentary and we’re paying a high price for it. Our bodies aren’t fit, leaving us vulnerable to stress and disease. We need to get active. I highly recommend martial arts or yoga, but if you do nothing else, go for a walk every day!

I believe in my heart that having an awareness of these Five Essentials, understanding  them and incorporating them into our daily lives will bring us peace of mind, joyful living and love (sign me up for that). They will bring us happiness (that too)!

Neurological Rock Stars 5 – Richard J Davidson Getting to the Heart of Neuroplasticity

Essentially this is the story of Compassion, Monks and an FMRI Scanner.

The heart is seen as primary in relation to emotional regulation in Chinese Medicine. One of the obstacles faced by western science is understanding why this might be. I have written posts before on ‘Towards a spirit of Peace’ (1) which references a text on ‘Shen disorder’, and so I will not go into the more poetic and integrated body mind model from Chinese medicine here. Instead I will write about the work that is putting the ‘heart mind’ into a context that can be referenced and understood by western science and medicine.

Richard J Davidson is professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as well as Founder and Chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center. (2)

I recently saw him talk about his work in ‘Transform your mind, Change your Brain – Google talk’ on youtube.(3)

In it he states “Epigenetics – referrers to the fact that genes are regulated by the environments in which they reside”

“The idea that our genetic structure provide an unalterable blueprint that effects our behaviour in an unalterable way is an antiquated, wrong- headed, Newtonian conception of genetics, it’s not the way things work.”

He emphasises that “the brain is the organ, which is built to change in response to experience more than any other organ in our body.”

Essentially what he is talking about is how behavioural and mental changes can produce more specific neurological changes than biological intervention, for example medication.

One of the books that changed my perspective on the brain was ‘The Plastic Mind – by Sharon Begley’(4).

This book talked about the results of studies involving the Dalai Lama and monks who were being studied under an MRI scanner by Richard J Davidson at the University of Wisconsin. During the scans they were meditating on compassion. The results showed what many Buddhist meditation practitioners already knew, Mediation changes your mind, crucially it showed that it was making neurological changes to the brain and proved neuroplasticity in meditation.

Richard J Davidson works at the cutting edge of Neuroplasticity. He also is also an expert in Affective Neuroscience (study of emotions).

During his talk he describes how when he and his team went to a monastery to explain to the monks what the process for recording data was, his team attached electrodes to the head of Fransisco Varela (5) who would perform the meditation. The response from the monks was that they started laughing. At first he thought it was because the electrodes looked silly on the head of Fransisco, but it emerged that it was because the electrodes were not placed around the heart. He said it took some years to get back to this.

During compassion meditation the Insula is one of the most active areas of the brain.

The Insula (anterior insula) houses a viscera topic map of the body (19min into google talk), visceral organs are mapped in the insula. This part of the brain has descending pathways to these organs and can modulate activity in those organs (there are also pathways to other parts of the brain). The Insula can modulate activity in the visceral organs. Meditation can also affect the amygdala and the TPJ or Temporal Parietal Junction which is associated with empathy.

Research like this into meditation is useful, for example, in understanding regulation of the vagus nerve because ‘many sensory signals conveyed by the vagus nerve terminate here’ – in the insula(6). In relation to the heart this will have big implications because of the relationship between the vagus nerve and heart.(7)

One of the problems with the idea of neuroplasticity is that it isn’t a mainstream idea yet.

Research like this begins to shed light onto the heart mind body brain relationship and forms a bridge in understanding the important relationship between meditation, emotional regulation and the heart and other organs of the body.

This research has far reaching implications not just for medicine but for education as well.(8)

1) https://epilepsymeandneurology.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/epilepsy-in-chinese-medicine-towards-a-spirit-of-peace/

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Davidson

3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tRdDqXgsJ0 google talks

4)http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Plastic-Mind-Sharon-Begley/dp/1845296745

5)http://enc.tfode.com/Francisco_Varela

6)http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=32Ucobqp97EC&pg=PA68&lpg=PA68&dq=insula+and+vagus+nerve&source=bl&ots=gwH0yCLiwy&sig=1S9n1L98UZ7DEfMSQjbfcmE7axI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yV5PUaCCJYWuPOnggNgL&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=insula%20and%20vagus%20nerve&f=false

7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21367742

8)http://www.edutopia.org/richard-davidson-sel-brain-video