Posts Tagged ‘Mind Control’

An Update of the Relaxation Response Update

November 29, 2015

Recently there was a heathymemory blog update of a 2009 post on the “Relaxation Response.”  The occasion of this was a review of a 25th anniversary publication for the original 1975 book.  The current posts are on the publication of the “Relaxation Revolution” by Herbert Benson, MD and William Proctor JD, which was published in 2010.  So please bear with me as I am coming up to date.

Dr.Benson’s finding of the relaxation response, which produced a response exactly opposite to the fight or flight response.  The fight or flight response produces stress, and the relaxation response relieves  this stress as indicated by the physiologic effects of reduced blood pressure, metabolism, heart and respiratory rates.  The most recent research shows that the relaxation response can beneficially effect the expression of genes.  There will be a special post on the research regarding gene expression.  Research on the relaxation response has added a third treatment option to the standard treatments of medication and surgery.

The Benson-Henry Protocol is divided into two phases.  Phase One is the Relaxation Response Trigger.
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6:   Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,             well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Optional relaxation response exercises will be discussed later in this post.  My personal observations can be found in my post, “Personal Observations on Meditation Techniques in General and the Relaxation Response in Particular.”

The following Important Note is included at the end of Phase One.  “To ensure beneficial effects (to be described in the next healthy memory post0 Phase One should be practice daily for at least eight weeks.  For the maximal genetic effect as established by practiced many years.”

Phase Two involves visualization

“Use mental imagery, such as picturing a peaceful scene in which you are free of your medical condition, to engage healing expectation, belief, and memory.  This second phase will usual require an average of 8 to 10 minutes.  So the total time for Phases One and Two will be 20 to 25 minutes per session.”

Other Relaxation Response Exercises are discussed.  To be effective they all need to include the following three components:

A mental focusing device that will help you break the patter of everyday thoughts and concerns.  The device can involve words, images, or physical actions such as breathing or footsteps.
A passive, “oh well”  attitude toward distracting thoughts.  If distracting thoughts, including everyday worries or concerns, take over your mind during the exercise, the physiologic effects of the relaxation response might not occur.
Sufficient time—at least 12 to 15 consecutive minutes per practice session—to allow the requisite physiologic changes to occur.

The following suggestions, which are not claimed to be exhaustive, are regarded as additional ways to generate the relaxation response.

Repetitive aerobic exercise
Eastern meditative exercises
Repetitive prayer
Progressive muscle relaxation
Playing a musical instrument or singing
Listening to music
Engaging in a task that requires “mindless” repetitive movements
“ Natural triggers”

“These alternative techniques are discussed in detail in the book.

Here is how you can measure your success in eliciting the Relaxation Response

If you feel more relaxed after you finish a Phase One Session, the technique is working.

If the symptoms you experience diminish or disappear, even momentarily, during or immediately after a session, the technique is working.

If your symptoms diminish with a week or two, the technique is working.

If you feel that the stressors in your life bother you less now than they did within you started this mind body treatment process. the technique is working.

If you feel that you are more in control of your life now than when you started, the technique is working.

If you are observing the basic guidelines for eliciting the relaxation response, you can rest assured, in light of the extensive scientific studies, that the technique is working—no matter how you might feel on a day-to-day basis”

More detailed guidance is provided for the following conditions:
Angina Pectoris
Stress-Related Infertility
Menopausal, Perimenopausal, and Breast Cancer Hot Flashes
Parkinson’s Disease
Premature aging
Premature Ventricular Contractions and Palpitations
Premenstrual Syndrome

Dr, Benson writes that these treatments are only the beginning.  Being a physician he advises against self-treatment and for treatments under the guidance of a physician.

Integrative Body-Mind Training

June 17, 2015

As was mentioned in the immediately preceding post, during his Opening Address at the Meeting of  the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Posner discussed Attention and two main approaches to training the mind.  The previous post discussed his talk on attention training.   This post discusses his talk on attention state training. Integrative body-mind training (IBMT) is an example of the attention state approach to training the mind.  IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s in China, where it is being practice by thousands of people. Posner  has brought this technique to the United States at the University of Oregon.

IBMT does not try to control thought, but instead relies on a state of restful alertness that allows for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a coach.  The coach provides breath-adjustment guidance, mental imagery and other techniques as soothing music plays in the background.  Gradually thought control is achieved through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balancing breathing.  Having a good coach is important.

Two experiments were run at Chinese universities.  In both experiments participants who had not previously practiced relaxation or meditation received either IBMT or general relaxation instruction for 20 minutes a day for five days.  Although both groups experienced some benefit from the training,  those in IBMT showed dramatic differences  based on brain-imaging and physiological testing.

IBMT subjects had increased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region associated with self regulation of cognition and emotion.  Compared with the relaxation group, IBMT subjects had lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude and decreased chest respiration rates all of which reflected less effort exertion by participants, more relaxation of body and a calm state of mind.  The following is complicated, so please bear with me, “IBMT subjects had more high-frequency variability than their relaxation counterparts, indicating successful inhibition of sympathetic tone and activation of parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system.”  Sympathetic tone becomes more active when stressed.

Posner has essentially replicated these results at the University of Oregon.    He has conducted another study using a group of smokers (randomly assigned either to basic relaxation training or to IBMT.  Although this study used smokers it was not portrayed as a study designed to help them stop smoking.  After two weeks the IBMT group (but not the relaxation group) showed an average 60% reduction in cigarette smoking.  Brain scans confirmed  an increase in brain activity in areas related to self-control, including the anterior cingulate..

What specially amazed Posner was that many of the subjects did not realize that they were smoking less, despite the fact some of the reduction levels approached those of a quitter!

Posner on Mind Over Matter

June 13, 2015

Mind Over Matter was the title of the opening address given by Posner at the 27th Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.  He began his address by saying that humans are an easily distracted species.  He quoted from an ancient Hindu book called the Bhagavad Gita in which Arijuna remarks to Krishna that the mind “is as difficult to control as the wind.”  The blessed lord replies that with practice and indifference to worldly objects, the mind indeed can be restrained.

Posner noted that psychological science has figured out quite a bit about controlling the mind.  We know how the attention system develops in childhood, how it operates in adults and how to restrain it with practice.  He noted that these insights might help relieve mental illness.  “There are many, many attractive projects in psychology these days,” said Posner.  “I believe among  them will be the effort to understand attention in way which can improve the human condition.”

Posner defined attention as the product of two neural systems.  One is called the “orienting network.”  This is the part of the brain that helps us orient to external stimuli in our environment.  The other neural system is called the executive network, which helps us resolve conflicts and execute goals.  One of the key areas that assists this executing network is the anterior cingulate gyrus.  When children reach the age of 7 or 8, the executive network assumes most of the responsibility for maintaining attention.

One of the tools Posner uses is the Attention Network Test (ANT).   Individuals watch a target arrow and press a left button if the arrow is pointing left, and a right button if it is pointing right.  This target arrow can be flanked by congruent arrows (pointing in the same way) or incongruent arrows (pointing different directions).  The differences in reaction time for the congruent and incongruent condition is a strong measure of attention and of self-control.  Research has shown that higher effortful control scores as early as age 4 can predict health (less sickness), wealth (higher income), and crime (lower rates) at age 35.

Posner and his colleagues have identified two main approaches to learning how to control our minds with practice:  attention training and attention state training.  Attention training helps strengthen the mind with executive network tasks.  In one stud, young children were given a juvenile version of the ANT, then trained for 5 days on tasks such as using a joystick to control movement, improving working memory, and resolving mental conflicts.  When they took the ANT again at the end of the training period, the children showed changes in reaction time toward the direction of adult functioning.  He said that least 10 subsequent studies, using a variety of executive training methods have found similar results.

The second approach to learning to control our minds through practice is called attention state training.  Attention state training will be discussed in the next healthy memory blog post.