Tag Archives: neuroscience

Yoga and its application in health and wellness

Photo: ornamental shrine in bronze, India
Siddha Pratima Yantra, Western India, dated 1333 (Samvat 1390) Bronze, 21.9 x 13.1 x 8.9 cm Freer Gallery of Art, F1997.33

The next major event of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit is the Medical Yoga Symposium to take place on the weekend of January 11-12, 2014. The first day with the theme of “Discovery and Didactics: Professional Perspectives and Personal Stories” will be in the Meyer Auditorium at the Freer-Sackler Gallery while the second day (Master Classes, Experiential Workshops,  3-hour intensives and Discussions ) will take place at the Marvin Center of the George Washington University. Participants should be prepared to get down on the mat.

The event will be led by a lot of heavy hitters in the American yoga scene, especially those devoted to yoga therapy and related applications, as well as medical researchers, doctors and psychiatrists—more than 20—too many to list here so you can consult the flyer or the website for more details. It is shaping up to be as thought-provoking and body-shifting as the yoga symposium in November.

The event is being organized by the Gallery, the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and Therapeutic Yoga of Washington, DC. Because the two-day event is not only an exposition, but a teaching event (attendees are eligible for continuing education credits), it comes with a cost: $180 the first day, $100 the second day. Student and group pricing is available.

Topics include:

  • Evidence-based Integrative Health Practices
  • Yoga Practice in Modern Society
  • Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention
  • Transformations in Modern Medicine
  • Scientific Research on Yoga and Yoga Therapy

“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit will remain at the Freer-Sackler Gallery until January 26, when it will go on a road show to San Francisco and Cleveland. Several special events are planned for the final week.

File under “provisional”

The following articles should be read as a point-counterpoint about how we think we know our bodies, our brains, and how they all fit together, and how each individual human being is a unique creation.

NYTimes.com  – The Secrets Inside Us
Vesalius’s wasn’t the first book on anatomy, but it was the first detailed study based entirely on actual dissection of human cadavers — on scientific fact, not supposition. It systematically dismantled the error-filled doctrine of Galenism, which rested in part on animal rather than human anatomy and had held sway for 14 centuries.But in mapping the inner body, Vesalius didn’t get everything right — he didn’t correctly grasp the circulation of the blood, a discovery that the English physician William Harvey made in the 17th century — nor was his work immediately embraced by all. Revered in retrospect, he was not immune to criticism, or skepticism, in his day.

Through neuroscience we are discovering fresh dimensions of how our brain works, but these can easily be blown out of the water by the next round of discoveries.

The Guardian (UK) – Despite what you’ve been told, you aren’t ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained
What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood. It has an amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.

Our understanding of our bodies, brains, minds and souls should always be tagged as provisional, not locked into dogma or sound-bite ready one-liners that give the appearance of insight.

Mindful listening

Photo: meditators sitting cross-legged on the floor
Meditating after taking a master class at Thrive Yoga

At lunch hour, I checked out the Diane Remn Show and realized that I had missed several shows that I wanted to listen to. Since giving up my FM-receive cum cell phone a year ago, I’ve gotten out of the habit of listen to NPR. Thanks to the marvels of the Web, I was able to go back and find find the following two shows:

June 22: The Power of Meditation with Josephine Briggs, a researcher, physician and director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Jonathan Foust, senior teacher, the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW); and Richard Davidson, director, Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Briggs is more of a NIH administrator who shied away from doing more than outline areas that the NCCAAM was funding. Davidson is a leading neuroscientist who is a trail blazer on the power of the mind and has been mentioned repeatedly in this blog. I’ve heard Foust give a short talk and lead mindfulness session and also heard him give a dharma talk at IMCW recently.

August 25: Relaxation Revolution with Dr. Herbert Benson who was the first scientist to identify the relaxation response as an antidote to the “fight-or-flight” response (i.e. stress). Benson recently brought out a book, Relaxation Revolution: Enhancing Your Personal Health Through the Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing, which brings together much of the scientific and medical thinking since he started in the field 35 years ago.

Mind Science feature with Dan Rather

Dan Rather reports on “Mind Science” for HDNet. He draws on the partnership between the Dalai Lama and the Life Mind Institute, as well the recent book by Sharon Begley that I’ve already written about here and here. Rather does a good job of pulling together the most salient research findings and presenting them clearly and succinctly. He can seem a bit full of himself at times, but that’s what being on TV five nights a week in prime time does to you. If you can’t bring yourself to read, Begley’s book, then this is a viewer-friendly route.

This is a long feature, 51 minutes, and you are going to need high speed connection. If that’s too much, go directly to the online site where it’s broken into shorter segments or go to iTunes.

Stop what you’re doing and sample a unique vision

I just got through watching this video from the TED conference in Monterrey, California, February 28. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist, recently gave an chat about her life-altering experience of a brain stroke. This emotionally charged story is going to spread like wildfire because it captures a vital life story and marries it to both science and spiritual insight. I’m still reeling from my first viewing so just don’t mind me and set aside 18 minutes to be astounded.

Her website also contains a link to her self-published book, My Stroke of Insight through lulu.com. I got on to this because the New York Times featured it on the Well blog.

TED is heavy-weight conference that deals in thinkers of great ideas and doers of impressive deeds — and good story tellers. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s worth exploring.

TED conference – How the mind works

TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design” and it’s a long-running annual conference featuring brilliant people — “Inspired talks by the world’s greatest thinkers and doers.” They have a theme on How the Mind Works. I watched Vilayanur Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, explore how brain damage can reveal the connection between the internal structures of the brain and the corresponding functions of the mind. You can also explore the other themes, 20-minute jewels, which are equally fascinating.

Follow-up on the Begley Mind-Brain book

I finished reading the Sharon Begley book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain (Ballantine Books, 2007). Actually, I finished it more than 10 days ago, but have not had a chance to write about it. Now, it’s hard to remember what I wanted to do. I probably should have been writing as I was reading. Actually, I was traveling during some of that time so I could not post to my blog. Lots of excuses, lots of things keeping me busy, lots of yoga and meditation that take first priority.

In brief, the book firmed up my own sense of hope about where we are headed in the brain sciences. The leap of knowledge and understanding over the past two decades has been huge. And we are only beginning to reformulate theories of the mind and its workings. Freud as the great navigator of the ego and id has been left behind. Even the chemistry of Prozac and Valium seem to be the psychological equivalent of alchemy.

The narrative ran out of gas in the last three chapters. Begley depended on psychological studies and interviews of researchers for the meat of her content. That formula can be dry reading once it is repeated over 250 pages. Even the literary ruse of making the Dalai Lama the focal point of the narrative can squeeze out only so much drama. Begley probably could have spared us some of the dry details and gone straight to the conclusions of each study.

Other takes

I was struck by the large number of podcasts that are available on the book. Blog Critics (March). National Public Radio (NPR) has two programs: Diane Rehm Program via Odeo and Talk of the Nation. Dr. Ginger Campbell Brain Science Podcast, Psychjourney Podcasts and Healing the Mind. I have not had a chance to listen to all of them.

Psychotherapy Networker The Wonders of Neuroplasticity, Discover: Rewiring the Brain, and Dana Foundation.

For additional background, here’s Sharon Begley’s personal website and the Richard Davidson’s personal page at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.

A message of hope

What am I reading now? Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves by Sharon Begley (Ballantine Books, 2007). Although this title might sound like one of those self-improvement guides that offers to trim the thighs or make you a cool million in a weekend, it is actually a really deep piece of scientific writing. Begley, whom I used to know decades ago when she worked for Newsweek, is the science columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She has tapped into a fascinating story of pioneering research by neuroscientists and psychologists about what we understand as the human brain. But she also joins this narrative with the strange marriage with Buddhism as personified by the Dalai Lama. The nerds meet the holy man.

The sanctuary of this union is a place called the Mind and Life Institute, which actually holds the copyright on the book — so Begley is part of a larger enterprise. It’s also curious why the scientists who need to draw the Dalai Lama into the discussion. But I haven’t really gotten that far in the book.

This whole groundswell of enthusiasm for Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation is sweeping into the business of tending to the mind. If Freud once laid down the law for understanding the contradictions of the human mind, now it’s a spiritual practice without a supreme being. I’ve mentioned before that I like the idea that Buddha developed a sophisticated set of psychological protocols for relieving with human suffering.

What got me started into the book is that the transformation of human spirit can be manifested by remolding mental habits, but also actually alterations of physical manifestations, like spawning neurons and a thriving hippocampus. As someone who has felt the undertow of depression and literally sensed the physical change that it brought on me, the idea that I can take action to heal myself is an uplifting lesson at this stage of my life.

The case of the vanishing pin prick

For at least 10 years, I’ve suffered from the sensation of a sharp pain, like a pin prick, on my right foot. Originally, it was located on my outside ankle, but it began to shift around and ended up between my third and fourth toes. During the day, I didn’t notice it that much because my shoe pressured the skin and disguised the sensation. At night, it was hard to sleep because I found feel the pin prick (no shoes allowed in bed) and only by pressing my other foot into the spot could I achieve relief.

Well, this week, I suddenly noticed that I no longer felt the pin prick — yoga has cured me! I suspect it was a pinched nerve and I somehow relieved the pressure on the nerve.

Now I just have to work on the other weird nerve sensation on my feet — when I rotate my ankle, my toes go numb.