Category: Health

Doing Something Half-assed is Better Than Not At All

July 14, 2014
 A life lived only by the well, or a life worth living?

Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD — one of the earliest pioneers in the mind/body health field — includes a short chapter titled “Life is For the Well.”

Here she tells about one of her patients who had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and spent several years seeking help for her symptoms. She would go from doctor of doctor “obsessed with the minutest details of her physical problems, which she tracked in a daily journal.” She thought she had to be without symptoms to enjoy life to go the theater, to have children, to love.

It seemed to her that life could only be lived by the well.

Then in meditation one day, she saw that her chronic disease was not stopping her from participating in life; rather, it was the meaning she assigned to that illness. She was surprised to find that there was absolutely no reason why — if she felt weak or was in some pain — she couldn’t still go to the theater. It might take her longer to get to her seat and if she felt poorly she may have to leave early and miss the last act. But otherwise, operating from the way in which she defined her illness, she would have missed the whole play.

Today, Dr. Remen writes:

She has stopped pursuing the perfect health she once had and does what she can to strengthen her body in simple, natural ways. Instead of seeing four or five doctors a week, she now consults her doctors only for serious problems. She has discovered that by being willing to begin without being certain of the outcome, she is often able to do a great deal more than she would have thought. Laughingly, she says that she has made a substitution in the cross-stitched sampler than hangs in the walls of her inner life. It used to say, “Life is only for the well.” Now it says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed.”

I’ve told you this story because I’ve been under the weather for several days and have only had enough energy to watch films on my iPad. Then this morning I remembered that I had said I hoped to write two posts a week and last week you only got one. What was I to do without energy to give this piece more than a perfunctory attempt?Ever After movie

That’s when I remembered the story of living fully no matter how one feels — and that I did have something to share after all, even if I wrote it perfunctorily. You see, just a short time ago I finished “Ever After: A Cinderella Story” in which Drew Barrymore plays a spirited commoner in a delightful twist on an old tale.

I don’t need to write more than to recommend you watch it. Read the reviews and see for yourself.

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How Mind and Body Communicate

January 31, 2013
Using brain science to explain the mind-body connection.

 

Books on my shelfBooks on My Shelf
From time to time I will give you excerpts and recommendations for books I have enjoyed very much. Some are serious, others light reading. Some are still in print, others not so but still worth getting from the library. Or, they can be ideas to add to your holiday shopping list.
 
If you buy these books using the links in the post, you can help support the upkeep of the Support4Change website and blog. Even if you aren’t planning on buying them, I still think you will enjoy reading the excerpts and my thoughts on these excellent books.

Today I am pleased to bring you an excerpt from The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better.


If you’ve ever wondered how the mind and body communicate, here is an explanation from two talented writers. Sandra Blakeslee is a regular contributor to The New York Times, specializing in the brain sciences, and is the third generation in a family of science writers.

Matthew Blakeslee is a freelance science writer in Los Angeles. He represents the fourth generation of Blakeslee science writers.

So the piece you are about to read has a lot of experience behind it.

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What does it mean to have an embodied mind? Can this insight help you in your everyday life?

Absolutely. But to understand how, you need to sit back for a moment and think about how your body and mind communicate. Your body is more than a meat vehicle for your mind to cruise around in. Your mind isn’t like a self-contained puppet master sitting deep inside your brain pulling the marionette strings of your body’s muscles. It may surprise you to learn just how much of a two-way street the mind-body connection really is, and how big a role your body plays in your mind’s health and functioning.

Your body sends two major kinds of input to your brain. One of these information streams arises from receptors in your skin, joints, muscles, tendons and bones. These signals feed into maps of your body which your brain uses to pilot your body through its daily interaction with the outside world.

Your body also bombards your brain with signals from receptors embedded throughout your intestines, heart, lungs and other organs and tissues about temperature, pain, itch, tickle, sensual touch, and other “interoceptive” sensations. These signals feed into a set of visceral maps in a brain region called the insula, a fascinating area which neuroscientists have only begun to explore. One of the insula’s most basic functions is to bring visceral sensation and emotion into your conscious awareness. In so doing, your higher-level cognition exercises some sway over your basic physiological functions such as breathing, arousal, and responses to pain or discomfort.

The two-way mind-body conversation, which the insula mediates, is crucial for achieving, maintaining and restoring balance in the way your body expends or conserves energy (what biologists call homeostasis). These feedback loops keep mind and body attuned. When you are healthy, your mind and body are in equilibrium. But if your mind and body are thrown out of balance, you may be tortured by inexplicable muscle aches, back pain, nausea, bloating, dizziness, fatigue or pain in abdomen, stomach, chest, joints, or pelvis, and a host of other miserable sensations.

Of course sometimes you feel sick because of an objectively verifiable cause. Maybe you caught a virus or bacterial infection. Maybe you tore a tendon or broke an arm. Numerous acute and chronic disease have clearly known causes that Western medicine can combat with drugs, surgery, physical therapy and the like.

But other times you feel sick and there is no explanation as to why. You visit doctor after doctor but no one can find anything wrong with you. You are told you may have fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome, or irritable bowel syndrome, but no underlying pathology presents itself. Frustrated, you eventually seek alternative or complementary treatments – healing touch, yoga, acupuncture, hypnosis, reflexology, or any of dozens of other practices. And mercifully, with a little bit of luck and perseverance, you get better.

If you don’t or can’t fully subscribe to the mystical explanations offered by the masters of these traditions, how can you come to terms with the fact that in many cases they do actually, demonstrably, blessedly, work on afflictions about which Western medicine has nothing whatsoever to say beyond labeling it a “syndrome” of some sort and prescribing the proverbial two aspirins?

One reason is that many of these techniques involve bringing conscious attention to bear on breath, heartbeat and internal sensation. Doing this helps restore balance between mind and body by inducing changes, called plasticity, in your body maps. Certain forms of meditation can lead to measurable increases in the thickness and metabolic vigor of the right frontal insula, with concurrent improvements in physiological self-regulation, pain perception, emotional well-being and immune function.

Another reason alternative medical techniques are effective has to do with the power of beliefs. You don’t have to go as far as advocates of The Secret to appreciate the power belief can have. The brain is fundamentally a prediction-generation machine, animated by an almost insatiable drive to seek explanations for everything it perceives and meaning in everything it does. It is a system of staggering complexity in which almost every component is connected to every other component by just one or two removes. Beliefs, opinions and expectations constantly zip up and down the brain’s many layers of processing, which sometimes lead to spectacular misapprehensions and ill-health, but other times lead to amazing insights and healing.

Alternative and complementary medical treatments work extremely well because they relax you and because you believe in them. Unlike the like the external “objective” senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.), pain is an internal “subjective” sense. Perceiving pain is less like seeing color or feeling a texture and more like an internally generated opinion on the state of the body. Your beliefs, held in mind, can exert powerful effects on your body (and vice versa). In many cases your beliefs can make you well. And they can make you sick.

Beliefs can even kill. In the Caribbean, many people believe in voodoo. When a witch doctor puts them under a curse, they sicken and die.

Hypochondria stems from the fact that people show great variability in how they interpret signals from the body. A small discomfort can be ignored or it can be magnified. It drives physicians crazy. Between a quarter to a half of all patients seeking treatment cannot be helped by conventional medicine.

The so-called somatoform disorders are disorders in the perception of bodily signals. All your body parts send sensory signals to the brain. Most are filtered out at a low level of processing, but sometimes peripheral sensations get through the filter and rise to the level consciousness even though they have no real bearing on your body’s current needs. Again, some people interpret these signal as meaningless and ignore them; but others interpret them as having pathological significance and amplify them through constant attention and worry – like a perverse inversion of the meditation process, perhaps. Through belief itself, free-floating, random, meaningless sensation can be turned into chronic suffering.

In some people, researchers have found that innate immune cells called cytokines – the kind that make you feel sick – can be activated without a pathogen present. Emotions trigger the sickness response instead of disease.

Brain imaging studies reveal that these misinterpreted sensations are not imaginary. Parts of the brain that map the state of the body show real changes in activation to unfiltered information. Pain can alter the body schema. A hypochondriac’s body maps are abnormal.

So-called hysterical conversion disorder is even more dramatic. This is where an emotional conflict or stress mimics neurological disease. People become paralyzed, blind, deaf, mute or have seizures, with no typical injury to the brain. One to three percent of hospital patients have some sort of conversion disorder.

The ancient Greeks in their wisdom believed that such patients had a displaced uterus (“hysterikos”), whence we inherit terms like “hysteria” and “hysterical conversion.” Sigmund Freud pinned conversion to sexual abuse and childhood trauma. But scientists today trace it to genuine changes in how the brain maps the body. For example, the brains of people with hysterical paralysis show underactivity in two brain maps involved in movement. When their symptoms improve naturally over time, the affected regions return to normal.

Beliefs also can make you well. When a person wearing a white coat and a stethoscope hands you a blue pill and tells you it will calm you down, chances are it will, even though the pill is made of an inert substance. Placebos, as such medications are known, can be potent medicine. When people suffering from painful knee arthritis underwent sham surgery – meaning the surgeon cut the skin open but only pretended to scrape the inside of the knee – they got better. When Parkinson’s patients thought they had received brain implants designed to alleviate their symptoms – but instead got a surgical incision but no treatment – they improved. Placebo painkillers and antidepressants are notoriously effective in treating disorders of mind and body.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, alleviates pain better than a placebo. Recent studies show that real acupuncture, using needles, activates the insula and anterior cingulate. Sham acupuncture, in which needles appear to be inserted but are not, works nearly as well as the real thing. This may be because when you expect a medical treatment to work, your body releases painkilling substances and your brain releases extra dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure and reward.

So if you fall ill someday and your physician can find nothing organically wrong with you, sit back for a moment and think about your emotional state. What is worrying you? Then think about the feelings that arise from your body. Can you bring those feelings and emotions into a calm center of your whole body? Can you guide your attention to the state of your body? By doing so, you may induce the kind of healing response described by ancient traditions and that modern science is just starting to understand.

Copyright 2007, Reprinted with permission

For more information on the book, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better, visit http://www.thebodyhasamindofitsown.com

 

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Reduce Stress With a Nothing Day

November 1, 2012
How Two Scheduled Days a Week Can Make a Huge Difference in Your Stress Level
This is a follow-up to the post I wrote on Monday, when I shared with you how I’ve learned to choose from the many potential projects that call for my attention.

In a new metaphor I suggested that by asking certain questions you can  discover the things you want to do or buy now — and those you can put off until later, or never.

Now, I want to write briefly about a way I’ve learned to maintain sanity once I know the one or two things that call for my immediate attention. Even when working on one project, I still have to keep it from overwhelming me, despite my claim to be a “recovering perfectionist.”

For example, right now I am putting the finishing touches on my latest book, How to Love a Perfectionist Without Going Crazy. It’s been fun, and I look forward to soon telling you how you can buy it.

recliner

However, right behind that is a revision of Letting Go of Our Adult Children. It should take probably six to eight weeks (looking for completion by the end of the year). But I know that I can’t work non-stop. I’ll need breaks from time to time.

So I’ll do what I’ve learned to do in order to reduce too-much-project stress: I schedule two “off” days a week.

On the “Nothing Day” there is absolutely nothing scheduled. I can do anything I want! It’s a stress-reduction technique I highly recommend.

If you don’t have time to have a day like this on your calendar, take another look at your priorities. If you don’t give yourself frequent mini-holidays, I can almost guarantee that your stress will be three times as high as it should be. Having a Nothing Day can be quite creative and most relaxing.

On my Nothing Day last Saturday, for example, I worked on creating a “MadLibs” game for my younger grandkids. They don’t know about adverbs and adjectives used in the story-bought versions, so I have come up with a graphic game that would be good for younger children, perhaps 4 to 8. When I’m done, I will share it with the parents and grandparents who read this blog.

Incidentally, as I was creating the game, I discovered some things about my graphics program (Fireworks) that I need to know for when I’m working on a “work” project that uses that same software.

The other way to keep my sanity is to have a “Something Day”. This is when I have something planned that has nothing to do with work. This Sunday,it was doing the washing (a planned activity that my husband and I call “having a party”). Between loads I again played with the grandkids’ project.

Would your life really fall apart if you had a Nothing Day and/or a Something Day? My guess is that not only would you feel better, but your projects at home and at work wouldn’t feel so pressing. And at the same time you would get them done much easier.

If you are feeling the stress of too much work, I hope you this idea helps you.

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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Centering Ritual to Start the Day

August 20, 2012
A life coach discovers how to slow down and to value starting the day with a centering ritual.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

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Ten Minutes, Ten Toes — No Problem!

BY LEA BRANDENBURG
Reprinted with permission

nail polishA couple of months ago, Life gave me an unusual vehicle for personal growth. And, because the Universe I live in is filled with humor and laughter, my lessons tend to show up via unusual channels. This particular opportunity presented itself in the form of painting my toenails.

The weather had just started to turn warm and my thoughts turned to wearing the new sandals I had just bought. And from the sandals, my thoughts then turned to painting my toenails. Sandals and painted toenails, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly, hot weather and shorts — these just go together, right? The only drawback to this particular train of thought is that I got this brilliant idea — ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin my first coaching call for that day. Ten minutes, ten toes — no problem.

With fearless abandon I went to my medicine cabinet, selected a lovely shade of pink, put my foot up on the bathroom sink and started painting away. With one foot done, I moved to bring my other foot up and somehow the nail polish applicator flew out of my hand and landed deep in the bathroom sink drain . . . brush side up. Five minutes to go until my first call.

My brain is moving a 100 MPH. All I can think about is how to get the applicator out of the drain. So, I hopped into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and started poking around the drain. That doesn’t work. Then the phone rings. It’s my client calling early! It turns out it’s a friend calling for a phone number. I’m still trying to get the top of the nail polish out of the drain, talking to my friend and desperately hoping that the phone won’t fly out from under my ear and chin where I had jammed it so my hands would be free. The phone stays put, I give my friend the number and tell her I love and that I have to get off the phone. I hop back into the kitchen and get a pair of thin pliers. They do the trick and I resumed the painting process. By the way, I’m keeping an eye on the clock the whole time. And as my newly painted right foot hits the floor, the phone rings and this time it is my client.

So, what did I learn? Well, besides how important I think it is that the color of my toes match . . . I found that I was slightly off-center the rest of that day. I learned that for me to do my best work I need to be grounded. That and, of course, don’t try to paint your nails ten minutes before you are scheduled to begin working!

How do you start your day? What kind of centering rituals do you have? Are you aware of when you’ve completed one activity or project before your begin the next thing on your agenda? Do you find yourself running from one appointment to the next? Is your day an endless stream of activity?

By using some kind of centering ritual, we can condition ourselves to move into an appropriate frame of mind to begin our day, our work or our projects. A ritual can be as simple as walking around your chair once you’ve completed one activity and before beginning the next. Develop a ritual for yourself that takes you off of automatic pilot and helps to ground you in your body and the present moment. When you are grounded, with all your energies (mental, emotional, and physical) in harmonious balance, it is much easier to focus your attention. And with this focus and clarity, you can access your inner wisdom and increase your ability to produce and create.

© 2002, Lea Brandenburg

Lea Brandenburg is president of Creating Strategies in New York, NY, and has been coaching an international group of clients and businesses since 1997. Her areas of expertise and passion are interpersonal and business communication, intuitive intelligence and creativity. She is a graduate of Coach U, the coaching industry’s premiere and oldest training program, a member of the International Coach Federation, which is an association dedicated to preserving the integrity and ethics of the coaching profession, and a Founding Member of Coachville, the first on line coaching training company and portal. You can contact her at lea@creatingstrategies.com.

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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Eating Right is Easier Said Than Done

June 14, 2012
It is hard to change eating habits because through the years there are many emotions tied to the experience of eating.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags.

This is the seventh of seven articles on the topic of weight loss that appear on Thursdays. See the Getting Lighter Weight Loss Program, on May 3,  to get you started. The author of this post worked for me for a number of years and had a very common-sense approach to diets.

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EGGS WITH ATTITUDE

By Caroline Fuller

Eggs BenedictOnce I spent the summer in a small town on Cape Cod. One of the best places for breakfast was a restaurant that hired artists who were waiting tables — not because they enjoyed being of service to others, but only to make ends meet. We’d order eggs benedict and stare out the picture window enjoying the view of boats in the harbor. As we chatted and waited patiently for our inevitably surly waiter to return, we decided we weren’t going to get eggs benedict after all, we were getting “eggs with attitude!”

Fortunately, when the eggs finally arrived, they were absolutely fabulous. We would humbly ask for coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice but could never muster the courage to ask for a refill of anything. Heaven forbid you would interrupt the creative muses! “Eggs with Attitude” became a well known joke in the town as the patrons of this cafe enjoyed the incredible cooking and suffered the service.

What does this have to do with nutrition? It illustrates the fact that many factors are involved in our attitude toward eating. From companionship to comfort food, apples to zucchini, food has many associations and it is hard to separate the nutritional from the emotional. In fact, it is almost impossible to make a really major shift in your approach to eating, even if eating right was at the top of your personal make-over list — and easy.

But if eating right was easy, I’d look like Cindy Crawford! Eating right is a very difficult thing to do.

As the billion dollar diet industry illustrates, eating right is a challenge for EVERYONE — whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or stick to a special diet during treatment for illness. But if you want to “eat right,” take small steps to better health through better eating.

You don’t have to get down to your target weight in a week. Easy does it.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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