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.

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

More Mindful Self-Compassion Meditations

In my previous posts I mentioned there is a good scientific evidence that a regular meditation practice has many health benefits. Only way to get these benefits is by doing the practice everyday.

Click on the  link below for a fantastic resource on self compassion meditations.

Meditations :: Downloads – Mindful Self-Compassion

 

Body Scan Meditation.

It is so important to be connected and be aware of how your body feels at all times. The body provides so much information to our brain, either consciously or unconsciously that it affects how happy, sad or at peace we feel. If we can learn how to be in our bodies it goes a long ways towards influencing and dealing with our emotions. I can tell you more about the benefits of this meditation but they are not realized without regular practice.

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

 

Healing Suffering With Self-Compassion

 

In the past blog posts I talked about how evolution has hard-wired us to protect ourselves so we can survive to see another day. One of the mechanisms for survival I mentioned was the fight-flight-freeze response when we saw a tiger. In this day and age we know we are not going to be eaten up by a tigers or be harmed by anyone under ordinary circumstances when we step out of our houses; we have developed very sophisticated rules to be able to live in our crowded society without coming to harm.  You may have noticed that living in our society does not however eliminate the problem of stress we feel almost everyday; this stress is not unlike the stress we felt when we saw a tiger, although now it is in the form of emotional and internal stress. Strangely, we are still using our thousands of years old way of coping with this stress: the fight becomes self-criticism and we turn on ourselves, the flight becomes the self isolation and we avoid relationships, and the freeze becomes self-absorption and we get struck in our own thoughts.

In the last 10-20 years there has been lot of attention given to coping effectively with stress. It is becoming apparent that what ever that’s causing the stress or suffering becomes amplified if we try to resist or ignore it. With resisting we may turn sleeplessness into chronic insomnia, anxiety into panic attacks, temporary grief into chronic depression, back pain into chronic pain syndrome. We may feel this resistance in the body as a muscle tension, in the mind as rumination and in our behavior as avoidance. There is lot a of information about “techniques” that will allow you to feel better within minutes but unfortunately these are not lasting solutions. If we want real change we have to feel and accept our suffering.

Mindfulness and acceptance are opposite of resistance; it changes the process by which the resistance amplify the psychological suffering. When we turn our attention to the source of our suffering it may at first amplify the suffering so it is really important to use our intuition to distinguish between safety and discomfort. Feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable doesn’t mean unsafe; hurt doesn’t necessarily mean harm but we must know the difference. Generally speaking it is best to take the middle path between facing and avoiding.

When our suffering is profound than mindfulness by itself may not be enough. When we are anxious and we try to be mindful our anxiety may become worse. In this kind of situation loving kindness and compassion towards oneself will diminish any intractable discomfort. Self-compassion is bearing witness to ones own suffering and responding with kindness and understanding. It means taking care of ourselves just as we treat someone we dearly love. We have to also remind ourselves that we are not the only person suffering in the world, it is common to all humanity; and we needs to have open-balanced awareness and not get absorbed in our troubles, rather we need to approach our feeling with sense of curiosity.  Self-compassion is a way of responding to what’s happening within us and who we are in a healthy way. We don’t want to assume that there is something wrong with us that should be fixed. We don’t want to throw ourselves away and become something better; rather it is about befriending who we really are. This is the essence of self-compassion.

We give ourselves kindness and understanding NOT TO FEEL BETTER, but BECAUSE we feel pain. We have to contact the sorrow before we can become compassionate.

Resources:

The art and science of self-compassion by Christopher Germer

http://flickrhivemind.net

 

Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.

 

We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes

 

If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.

 

Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.

Resources:

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Hope Is Not Always A Good Thing

I always encouraged hopefulness but sometimes it seems being hopeful can be a bad thing.

Suppose someone is in an abusive relationship in which one partner beats the other on a regular basis and the partner who keeps getting beat up continue to hope that his or her partner will change because deep down they are a nice person. I have witnessed this kind of situation continuing for years but nothing changed.

 

So how does one decide when enough is enough and walk away ? That’s not always easy, everyone is in a different situation and has different tolerance level for the abuse. I myself like to think I will tolerate zero abuse, but I too have tolerated abuse from those I love.

Generally speaking if there are enough signals of you as a person being slowly and perniciously harmed it is time to abandon hope and chart a different course for your life that’s away from the abusive person. Time has come to be compassionate towards yourself.

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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