Choose your community wisely.

Continuing our theme of enriching the soil for life long good health, in this post I will talk about the importance of our community in which we live. I will use the word ‘community’ in a wider sense than the usual meaning; it will also include sense of connectedness and formation of social networks with other individuals in that community. So this includes all of our relationships with each other, including family, friends,work colleagues, acquaintances and strangers; as well as the relationships with the broader world, to the universe and the  community in which we live. I am using this wider sense because we are social beings, and we as individuals can only flourish in a good, wholesome, fertile Eco-system.

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Eco system that promotes stress will cause ill-health. Studies show living in communities that are stressful and cause unhappiness contribute to ill-health and in communities where there is happiness and contentment are health promoting.

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Our Eco-system starts with our families and on that we may not have a choice. If possible we would want to experience in our family a wide range of emotions without fear of harsh judgement and with over all feeling of  happiness, feeling of being safe and supported;  and also having a sense of  unconditional love. In this kind of environment we produce less toxic hormone in our bodies. We are able to learn from our mistakes and grow. We can explore and can afford to be adventurous. Of course the opposite is true when our family environment is not supportive but is  judgmental and so resulting in us shutting down, unable to share our emotional life. The first situation as you can imagine is ‘life giving’ and the second situation is ‘stifling and life draining.’

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Friendship can be mutually beneficial in different ways. The best friendship, according to Aristotle  is that in which both individuals are equally virtuous and never do any harm to each other, to do so would be against their nature; and they have mutual love for each other. Lesser friendships are where there is limited mutual benefit through the association.

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The further away we move from our association with family and friends, to work associates, acquaintances and strangers our reasons for association become more limited but these associations still can have significant impact on us depending on whether the relationship is stressful or not.

The sense of the relationship to our neighborhood should be where its safe to be there without coming to harm from individuals, noise and pollution.

We also want to have the sense that we are not poisoning our planet and we want to leave behind a healthy planet for our children and many future generations.

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Obviously we don’t have complete control to organize our community around us so that it allows us to flourish. We never the less need to align ourselves so that it causes minimal harm to our person-hood  This requires deep thought on what we value, practical wisdom and great courage to make a change. In the end, the change that results in less stress and more contentment will be healthy one indeed.

The Importance of Good Sleep and How to Get it.

I have already talked about the importance of right eating and exercising to enrich our soil so we may enjoy health and vitality. Another component of “rich soil” is getting a good sleep.

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Poor sleep leads to serious health consequences in a relatively short time period as compared with eating bad food or not getting enough exercise. Our brain regulates sleep so that if we don’t get enough we developed a sleep debt and our brain works very hard to force us to pay it back. This means whenever there is a quite moment like when we are driving or maybe operating heavy machinery our brain will cause us to sleep resulting in injuries, disasters, and death. In the United States 10,000 deaths are reported from falling asleep whilst driving; this figure is thought to be underestimated of the actual figures.

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The lack of sleep also affects our mood, poor cognitive performance, poor memory, impaired ability to learn and low energy level. Long-term effects include Obesity, Diabetes, Impaired insulin sensitivity, Arrhythmia, Heart attacks, Strokes, Depression and low resistance to infectious diseases.

  • “Studies show short sleepers are three times more likely to develop colds than comparable individuals who average 8 hours of sleep.”
  • “Individuals with sleep problems were 9 times more likely to have planned suicide and 7.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. Recent studies of suicidal patients showed that treating their sleep disorders led to healthier scores on clinical scales that measure suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

– Professor H. Craig Heller.

How to improve sleep?

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Drugs.

For short-term only, to get into a sleeping rhythm, OTC remedies or prescription drugs can be used. OTC remedies include diphenhydramine or Melatonin. Prescription drugs include Benzodiazepine such as clonazepam, Valium and Non – Benzodiazepines such as Imovane or Restoril. Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants can also we used to induce sleep very effectively; these include Trazodone, Amitriptyline and Doxepin.

Sleep hygiene

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The most importance aspect of good sleeping is getting the “sleep hygiene” right. This include:–

  1. Keep regular schedule of sleep and awaking- even on the weekend- your biological clock then wouldn’t fight with you.
  2. Sleep only as much as you need to feel rested, don’t over sleep – this will only interfere with the sleep on the following day.
  3. Do not force yourself to sleep – you don’t want to reinforce that sleep is a chore or difficult.
  4. Maintain good sleeping environment – no noise, comfortable and relaxing; not too hot or cold.
  5. Exercise regularly at least 2 twenty minutes per day – avoid intense exercise just before bed.
  6. Avoid caffeinated beverages from mid- afternoon. Do not smoke.
  7. Don’t eat just before bed but don’t go to bed hungry either.
  8. Don’t take your worries to bed.

Other useful techniques.

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Cognitive Behavior therapy help improve sleep by changing your ideas and attitudes towards sleep. It helps to create and maintain a strong association between sleep and bed.

Relaxation techniques nearing bedtime: a warm bath, calm music, meditation and yoga. Involves clearing your mind and focusing on one part of your body at a time. Starting with your feet, consciously relax your toes, your ankles, your lower legs and so on.

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Resources

Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to disorders

By Professor H. Craig Heller.

Exercise for Healthy Enriched Life

8522221692_920b10c251_m8520169087_7481e414aa_m8520790009_bc32e276fb_m I talked about how plants need good soil and the right conditions to flourish, look good and bear fruit. We humans also need good soil and the right conditions to live well and flourish. We looked at enriching our soil by eating the right foods but that is not enough by itself. We can improve the soil even further with exercise. In societies where people are healthy and livelong lives exercise was an integral part of what they did everyday, it was a side benefit of what they did to meet their basic need. They didn’t have a particular exercise program and nor did they need special equipment; they just moved their bodies for most of the day. 8521078390_8d1935dee8_m8520994917_406851172a_m Studies have consistently shown moving our bodies and exercising is associated with not only good health but longevity. In our society we tend to think of exercise as work, it is much better and more likely to be done regularly if it is a by-product of something you enjoy doing or as part of work routine. It could be gardening, biking, swimming, hiking, skating, cross-country skiing or anything else you might enjoy as long as it gets you moving most of the day. I myself try to keep moving by taking the stairs in the hospital instead of the elevator, park my car further away as possible from the store and my job also requires me to keep moving by having to go to see patients from one room to another in my office and in the hospital. Part of my activity to be on my feet is intentional and part of it is built into my job. I augment my bodies movements by cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer because I enjoy these activities. 8521471342_1368219b13_m8523614874_b70333cb71_m The main physical benefits of exercise include increases in strength in muscles, bone, ligaments, and tendons; endurance; flexibility; and balance. Side benefits include weight control, improvements in the serum lipid profile (exercise raises HDL cholesterol), and reduction in blood pressure. Exercise can also reverse and possibly prevent type-2 diabetes. Exercise stimulates brain cells and tends to make people more relaxed. It creates opportunities for social connections and for connection with nature. In addition, exercise increases the muscle-to-fat ratio…[and weight-bearing exercises strengthen your bones].  Exercise is absolutely the single most consistent factor in staving off cognitive decline that occurs with aging. …Professor Anthony A. Goodman, Montana State University If you haven’t been exercising where should you begin? If you haven’t been active at all and you should start slow. You may even want to talk to your doctor before starting . Good indicators of fitness level can be your resting pulse rate, average is about 70. The other indicator is the recovery time. You exercise to 80 percent of maximum heart rate for your age and then see how long it takes to return to under 100. With low-level of fitness the longer it will take to recover. You can monitor your fitness improvement with this measurement over time. The maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. You can get more details on the recovery time on these sites :-

http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/difference-heart-rate-recovery-time-after-workout-8281.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/260805-the-recovery-heart-rate-time-after-cardio-exercise/

Set realistic goals. Consider your work schedule and other commitments you have. The aim is to move as much as possible everyday and then, at least three days a week, include some strenuous activity that gets your heart rate up and gets you sweating. During aerobic exercise, aim for about 80 percent of the maximum heart rate for you age group. In general, avoid training hard more than three times a week or every other day. Exercise and may you live long and with vitality.

Resources

Lifelong Health: Achieving Optimum Well-Being at Any Age Course Guidebook Professor Anthony A. Goodman Montana State University

Related articles

The strength of your soil is crucial if you are to stay healthy and live a long life.

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When the trees in our yard or the houseplants in the house are not doing well, the leaves dry, turn brown and fall off. When we stop to wonder what the cause might be, our usual response is to check the soil, make sure there is right amount of moisture in the soil, check its getting the right amount of exposure to light and we may even provide the proper plant food. After we checked and corrected the conditions for the plants they usually thrive.

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Humans are not that different. They too need the right conditions to thrive. Yet when we are not doing well our immediate impulse is to take a pill for the problem. It would be nice if we were to ask the question, “I’m I living under the right conditions?” Is the moisture of my soil ok, have I got enough light, I’m I eating the right food, I’m I living in the right environment etc. If we don’t provide the right conditions for ourselves its unlikely we will ever feel our optimal best. Its only in the recent years we are beginning to see the strong link between the ‘conditions we are under’ and whether a good or bad genes that’s going to get turned on; under optimal conditions for example, lot of the cancer genes get turned off. Under horrible conditions lot of the cancer genes get turned on. Just as for the plants, we need to make sure we are living under optimal conditions.

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So what are the right conditions? What strengthens our soil? Here is the basic list: –

1.Eat the right food.

2.Exercise.

3.Get enough sleep

4.Live in the right community.

5.Orientation of having the glass half full not empty.

6.Connect with your spirituality.

7.Choose your parents wisely!!!!! …. Just kidding. …They do provide us with the genes we carry and the early environment, both of which are important, as we will see in the future posts.

I have covered some of these before but its no harm in reviewing them again in the up coming posts.

You may also want to review the past posts too.

https://drchana.com/2011/11/

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Love found, love lost, love reclaimed and the role for self-compassion.

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Movies only tell us half of the story when couple fall in love, then lose love and finally somehow reclaim love. In the movies there is usually some obvious logical explanation for each step. In real life it’s not so simple and usually the couples themselves don’t fully understand how their “dream lover” turns out to be “worst nightmare.” Couples typically convince themselves that the cause of the problem is sex, money, work, poor communication, extended family, etc; and to be sure in some situations this maybe the case. Certainly, this is the sort of explanation that is usually given in the movies; unfortunately this is not the whole truth.

We may glimpse at the truth if we start from our childhood or babyhood, when we learn from our caretakers a sense of safety and emotional availability in time of distress. It is this crucial interaction with our caregivers that organizes the experience of our inner state and this will stay with us for the rest of our lives. With positive experience from our caregivers, the inner state gives us sense of ourselves, teaches us how much we can count on others to keep us safe, we learn to accept ourselves as we are, without pretending to be someone we are not, just so we may receive their love and security. When there is an intense feeling we respond appropriately, we know when to get anxious, when to get angry and how to deal with our emotions. We know how to receive care and later how to give care.

However, our inner state goes wrong when there are repeated separations from our caregiver, prolonged stress, or traumatic experiences in our early beginnings. The young child then uses whatever defenses are available, including denial, dissociation, projection of emotions to others, and many other defenses designed to protect him or her from being overwhelmed by dangerous emotions. The emotions are particularly frightening and painful if there is no one present to understand or to give comfort. These defense circuits get stored in our subcortical region of the brain that is hidden from our consciousness and it gets triggered automatically in certain situations. The defense mechanism may show up as anxiety or acting out with a pathological anger. They usually cover hidden core emotions that are too primitive for words. Sometimes by triggering emotional arousal from the past person or situation and mixing it with the current person or current situation it becomes extremely confusing to understand how powerful emotions can be generated by trivial events. It does not mean we are crazy or we are abnormal, it just mean we were unlucky and our circumstances lay down circuits that do not serve us; but we can change them.

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Couples generally seek therapy when they are caught in repetitive, bewildering, painful patterns of highly emotional interaction. They both have a narrative explanation of the problems between them each viewing the problem as lying within the other. Yet, as they describe their dissatisfaction and discomfort in the relationship, their account often reflects self- blame and inadequacy. When pressed to clarify, a partner may express numbness, bodily pain, or vague feeling of something wrong or may simply walk away from the interaction.

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This cycle can be broken and YES there is hope of turning from intimate enemies to intimate lovers.  There are studies indicating that with help, relationship can change from an insecure to secure attachment.  So even if we missed out in our childhood there is hope in our adulthood with proper help. Start with simple self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Remember, most of this is not under our control. It takes a millisecond for the subcortical process to merge past and the present emotional reactions, giving rise to intense feeling that influences reasoning and decision-making ability.

The goal is to contain the feelings rather than try to get rid of them or defend in ways that elicit destructive reactions. With the therapist’s help, partners can learn (1) to ask themselves if their perceptions are accurate for the present situation; (2) to take time out when emotions are overwhelming; (3) to question whether their behavior is getting them what they want; (4) to honor/ understand the meaning of what is happening in terms of terms of what happened in the past; and (5) to try out new ways of responding.

Resources:

The Healing Power of Emotion, Edited by Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel and Marion F. Solomon

Self Compassion at Christmas

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It is amazing how many people feel stressed out, sad and hit rock bottom at Christmas. There are so many reasons for this, some under our control and some beyond our control. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how and why you hit rock bottom. The important thing to remember is to be gentle and kind to yourself.

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I have hit rock bottom many times and my experience is that it doesn’t help to blame yourself or anyone else. The hurt and sadness feeling continues to slowly wear you down until there are no deeper darker depths left to fall. At times like these I am actually grateful to life for letting me experience such despair and sadness. It is easier than to let go of my ego, accept the world and everything in it just as it is; including the pain and the suffering. It is only then I see faint light of hope and I know things from then on can only get better because they can’t get any worse than they already are; there is nowhere lower to go. This is where the egoless wisdom resides. Our egos, our assumptions, our values that are not serving us and what others think of us, no longer matter too much.

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One comes out of this depth with new awareness, new purpose and new wisdom. That’s what happened to Gandhoff in the movie Lord of the Rings when he fell deep into the earth as he stood firm to fight the Demon that was chasing them. When he came out of the depth he was wise and powerful. Without the fall and hitting rock bottom he would have just stayed Gandhoff the gray. It is in this deepest depth where powerful life-giving nectar of life resides if you can stand the rigors of going deep down and facing the Demon that’s chasing you.

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So at Christmas, remember to be compassionate to yourself if you reach rock bottom, this will give you strength to withstand the rigors of the deep and fight off your Demon.

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Have a Great Christmas and a Happy New Year.

PS. If you are suffering from depression you may need medical help in addition to self compassion.

The Sources of Suffering and Meditation for Cultivating Self-Compassion

I have talked about self-compassion and how powerful it can be in relieving suffering. It is not the answer to all suffering but it goes long way towards helping us to live well and flourish.

Sources of Suffering

 

There are numerous sources of suffering and here’s one way of categorizing them: –

1.It could be physical, such as when we continue to eat even after we are full, or when we drink too much and then get a hang over the next morning or when we spend hours surfing the internet sitting and getting a backache.

2. It could be mental, when we have thoughts of ill will towards ourselves or others or when we ruminate about something.

3. It could be emotional, when we feel depressed, sad, angry or fearful.

4.It could be relational, when we are unable to connect with others authentically.

5. It could be spiritual, when our values are undermined or when we don’t nurture them.

The pathway to self-compassion is to mindfully look at these areas and start to recognize and accept the suffering that maybe present. We can then use mindfulness based meditative practice to address the suffering.

Meditation for Self- Compassion

Good place to start self-compassion practice is by sitting quietly with spine straight and head held high but slightly tilted downwards.

Once you assumed a comfortable position notice your own breath going in and out your body. The breath maybe noticed going in and out by the sensation at the nostrils or by the movement of the belly going in and out or you might notice it at some other part of the body. It doesn’t matter where you notice the breath going and out of your body but the important thing is to notice the breath all the way in and all the way out of your body. Almost certainly your mind will wonder to other thoughts or images but just acknowledge that the mind is somewhere else and gently bring it back to the breath.

After two to three minutes turn your focus inwards and start to notice sensations in your body. What sort of feeling you experiencing right now?  Is there temperature differences or discomfort in different part of the body? Is there muscle tightness or tension anywhere? Is there pleasant sensation anywhere? Is some part of the body feeling lighter than another part? You may notice other experiences.

Just notice these sensations or experiences and accept them without judging whether they are good or bad. Continue this for 5-6 minutes.

Then with all your heart say the following words:-

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease.

You may repeat these wards as many times as you like and when you are ready open your eyes, but try to carry any good will feeling you may have experienced during the meditation as long as you can for the rest of the day.

The idea of this meditation is not to necessarily feel good but to feel the suffering, witness it, accept it and to show compassion towards yourself. In this way we are concentrating on addressing the suffering we feel and are not engaged in blaming or calling others or ourselves derogatory names or planning how to get even with others who may have done us wrong. The wise say it’s no point wishing our enemies death because they are going to die anyway. Therefore lets just concentrate on addressing our suffering with the right thinking and right action.

It is important to have regular formal mindful practice to experience the benefit, just reading and knowing about meditation or mindful is worthless. The research confirms that the beneficial changes in the brain only occur with consistent regular practice.

Until the next time, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy and may you be at ease. I will put up some more mindful based self-compassion meditation in the future posts.

Resources: –

C.K. Germer – Open Heart, Open eyes: Practicing the Art of Self Compassion.

http://www.flickrhivemind.net for the photos

 

The Secrets of Resilience

In the past I wrote about vulnerability. I said vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. I asked not to mask or deny your vulnerability because its our greatest asset. Be vulnerable, I said: quake and shake in your boots with it because the new goodness that comes to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable. Now, this of course is on the assumption that life wounding does not leave you with grievous wound from which you cannot recover.  One may wonder if there is a healthy balance between vulnerability and resilience so that a person can recover from their wounds.  All the wounded people I have come across have recovered either completely or partially. Those that are resilient recover completely and those who are not may have difficulty.

A wise man once said, “The best way to come to terms with a terrible past is to get a really good future out of it.” Again the wise man is assuming the person has enough resilience to overcome the terrible past.

So the question is how does one get resilient. I have suggested in my previous posts that the individual who had a happy loving childhood and who’s parents provided the right kind of environment are more “psychologically balances” and this would contribute to them being resilient. But all is not lost if you had a terrible childhood. One can learn to be more resilient. The past doesn’t have to ruin or limit our future. We don’t want to have thought that say “ I can never be happy because this happened in my past.”

What can we do to become resilient? Some very exciting research has emerged from the study of mindfulness meditation.  It seems with meditation practice there is an electrical change in brain function which cultivates an “ approach state” in which people move toward, rather than away from a challenging external situation or internal mental function such as a thought, feeling, or memory. Naturally, such an approach state can be seen as the neural basis for resilience.

Studies have also shown that patients with meditation practice feel an internal sense of stability and clarity. This is important because resilient people are very good at dealing with novelty. When they feel stuck or come across a new difficulty in their path they don’t run away from it.but face it head on, the sense of the stability and clarity they cultivate through meditation becomes very handy  in those situations. If someone is unable to deal with a new situations and keeps finding good excuses not to tackle it, then they will get stuck in the pattern of ineffectuality i.e. they keep repeating the same behaviour and hoping for a different result. They maybe too fearful to try something new; they maybe putting their fear ahead of solving the problem they are faced with. Not solving the problem keeps one in the comfortable zone of what we already know and this keeps one stuck because what we know has been ineffectual and therefore continues to keep one  stuck. One needs to try something new.

Meditation has also been shown to boost the immune system. So there is defence and resilience at the cellular level too, against infections and damage done to the body by the stress hormones. Having a healthy body also will provide sense of resilience.

Quote

Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.
Bern Williams

Resources

http://www.brainyquote.com

http://flickrhivemind.net

The Mindfulness Revolution: edited by Barry Boyce – chapter by Daniel Siegel,  the proven benefits of mindfulness.

We Are Not To Blame For What Goes On In Our Mind.

You may have noticed that what goes on in your mind you may not have much control over. In many ways much of whats goes on in our mind is not our fault or even our intention. It is amazing that nearly 3000 years ago Buddha had this insight about the mind and come to the same fundamental conclusion; that because we have no control over whats in our minds then it implies that it’s not our fault or our intention to have those thought in our mind.

It is now well accepted that two major factors that influences us are our genes and our early environment; and we have no control over neither of them. We are hard-wired, so to speak, by our genes and our early childhood experiences but had no say in the process. We were not consulted, no one asked our permission. But it is the interaction of the genes and the early childhood experiences that gives us our sense of “being oneself “; this experience of oneself may vary from feeling amazing to feeling severely traumatized, and we had no say in the matter.

Even though we had no say in the design of  ourselves and we have little control over our mind we can still take responsibility in a new way so that we can live in and work with such a mind. It is like taking responsibility for our physical body; we had no choice over what body we were given but we still have the responsibility of looking after it to keep it healthy. We have to eat right, exercise etc. The same is true for our mind, we are learning that our brain and mind need certain kind of input to function well.

We will explore what kind of input is required for our brain and mind to function well. But until than it is important to realize that we are not to blame  about whats going on in our minds. We can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind. by  Paul Gilbert

Communication in Relationships

Relationships can be viewed as sharing of energy and information flow. How is that some relationships are happy and lasts for ever and others are always in turmoil and has a very short life ?

The relationships in which each individual respect the internal world of the other without judgement; and has a sense of openness and allows for the possibilities of the others internal world; and also allows it to unfold in its own special way, then these individual will cultivated a loving-compassionate connection that will carry them through good and bad times. This is known as integrative communication in the field of neurobiology; it promotes the development of healthy relationships as it honours the unfolding of the other as a unique person in their own right without trying to change them the way you want them to be; and it fosters a special bond of trust, imbued with love.

When we compassionately help a child to cultivate her own passions and interests as she grows we are helping her to understand herself, so she has a sense of herself as a unique person. During this process we are promoting parent-child relationship which has a healthy elements of integrative communication.When we are connecting with others with feeling of compassion we  share our internal emotional world with theirs. This is how we learn from each other, this is how the child learns from her parents. We continue to grow and learn all our lives in a supportive – nurturing relationships, where vulnerability is respected and truth honoured.

When we are in a truly integrative relationship we not only care for the other during times of stress, but we also take joy in others’ joy and pride in their accomplishments.

To some this form of integrative communication come naturally, but for some it maybe necessary to first develop an internal state of presence. If we are filled with doubt and uncertainty, envy or hatred , then it is hard to achieve the integrative communication that is needed for a joyful and lasting relationships.

We can teach ourselves with mindfulness to become aware of our internal states; we can learn to check inside of ourselves to see if we are in internal state of receptivity or reactivity. If we are in reactive state we have no internal space to be compassionate, to see others point of view or be respectful. We are instead ready to fight – flight – or – freeze. These are not conditions for communication, let alone integrative communication. In contrast, when we are in receptive state our muscles relax and our minds become open to others and to our own internal experiences. We are now likely to be able to engage in integrative communication.

It will not come as a surprise if I tell you that integrative communication is linked to longevity, health and even happiness. The relationships that are integrative thrive and promote a creative expression and vitality.

Resources

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by  Daniel J. Siegel.

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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