Posts Tagged ‘Relaxation Response’


April 11, 2020

This post is the ninth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The following is a quote from the cardiologist Hebert Benson: “We can either change the complexities of life—an unlikely event, for they are likely to increase—or develop ways that enable us to cope more effectively.”

The importance of meditation was brought to the attention of Dr. Benson by practitioners of transcendental meditation. They believed that they could lower their blood pressures, but had no proof. Benson hooked practitioners up to sphygmomanometers and monitored their blood pressures as they entered and sustained a meditative state. They not only lowered their blood pressure, but their heart rates fell. Their breathing became slower and deeper, and their metabolisms slowed and stabilized. Essentially, they were able to manage the part of their nervous systems that allows the body to rest and relax.

Initially critics of the research argued that the drop in blood pressure was small since it fell by only a few points at most during meditative sessions. Benson responded that these were people who meditated daily, practicing and “toning” their meditative abilities the way you would tone a muscle through exercise. Their resting blood pressures were already extremely low—much lower than an average person’s. Their unusually low blood pressures were a direct result of their diligent daily practice of the relaxation response. Benson argued that these people, simply through meditation, could produce a wave of positive physiological changes in the body.

Dr. Benson wrote an important book, The Relaxation Response. There is a healthy memory blog post titled “The Relaxation Response,” as well as many additional posts on this topic. Here are instructions: “Close your eyes. Relax all your muscles, Breathe through your nose, slowly and evenly, in and out, while focusing on a word, phrase, or sound in your mind—a mantra that can keep unwanted thoughts a bay and get us out of the “monkey mind,” or our repetitive thoughts and fears. For the mantra, one could use words that are personally soothing and meaningful, or associated with one’s own particular or religious practice. In his many presentations on the topic, Benson is quick to reassure audiences that unwanted thought will come (HM attests to this)—this doesn’t mean failure. The important thing is to refocus and continue. He recommends keeping the session going on for ten to twenty minutes.”

At the time of this posting there is a coronavirus pandemic. We are supposed to stay in our homes except for exercising outside or trips to the grocery or pharmacist. Being restricted like this can cause interpersonal problems. Advice on coping with psychological difficulties is published. But except for rare exceptions, the relaxation response is not mentioned, and it is the most effective technique. Plus there are additional advantages that follow in this post.

Dr. Benson writes, “We know now that meditation can literally change the shape of the brain. Sara Lazar and other colleagues at Harvard ran an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and found that it measurably increased cortical thickness in the hippocampus, the part of the brain in charge of memory, feelings, and regulation of emotions. Not only that, but it actually shrank the amygdala, the part of the brain that dispenses fear hormones and triggers the fight-or-flight response.”

Dr. Rediger writes, “when it comes to spontaneous healing our focus is mainly on the autonomic nervous system—the branch that runs the brain to all your essential organs, full of billions of neurons and nerve fibers. This aspect of your nervous system runs silently, not really under your conscious control. Unlike, say, deciding to lift your hand and then lifting it, the organs, blood vessels, glands, and other systems controlled by the autonomic, nervous system are run by the subconscious mind.” Meditation is a means of affecting the autonomic nervous system and the subconscious mind.

The Single Most Important Activity

November 14, 2019

This is the final post based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. HM fears he has not done justice to this volume, so if your interests warrant please read the book.

The reader is likely overwhelmed by all the suggestions and recommendations made in these posts. According to one’s predilections, pursue what seems warranted. However, there is a single activity that both HM and the author agree upon, and that activity is meditation. The author titles this activity TEN (RICH) MINUTES A DAY and writes, “Researchers at Stanford, Massachusetts General and UCLA have found that ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation for six months doubles the gray matter in the regions of the brain related to emotional well-being and executive. This means that our brains can heal themselves; and on the way to doing this, we can learn to be still and get grounded and can strengthen our internal locus of control.”

However, one should not stop after six months, nor limit this activity to ten minutes. If done properly, you should find this a very rewarding and lifelong activity.

Here are the instructions the author provides in the text:

Assume a posture of Alert restfulness. For many people, this is seated in a chair with both feet firmly on the floor. For others, it might be sitting on the floor or on a prayer or meditation cushion. Lying on your back is fine (this is HM’s practice). The goal, however, is restful alertness, not sleep (HM has never fallen asleep and emerges with increased alertness).

Breathe. Try focusing on how it feels when breath enters and exists your body. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth (“smelling the roses and blowing out the candles”) allowing your diaphragm to expand on the inhale and fall on the exhale. You can add words to your breathing if it helps. Try “releasing stress” on the exhale and “taking in space” on the inhale. You can also imagine your body as a closed system. Any time your take something new into an already-filled closed system, something must be removed to make space for the new. As you breathe in spaciousness, you must release tension. Use your imagination to try to fill more than 50% of the closed system of your body with spaciousness.

Create space in your mind for simply being. As you focus on your breath, remind yourself that this ten minutes is simply for you to be within. There is nothing that needs your attention for the next ten minutes (ten minutes should be regarded as the minimum time for the meditation. One can extend well beyond ten minutes).

Direct distractions and Draw attention back to being. When you are beset with distractions, as we all constantly are, simply notice them, name them, and then do what you can to draw your attention back to your breathing.

This same basic technique can be found in the healthy memory blog by searching for “relaxation response.” HM also uses “loving kindness meditation.” Typically, he begins with the relaxation response and then transitions to a much longer loving kindness meditation. Together this usually exceeds one hour in length. Use the search block in the healthy memory blog ( to find these topics.) There is a book by Kathleen McDonald titled “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide”). This is a practical guide to many different types of meditation, and Ms. McDonald is a true expert. Some meditations are Buddhist and they provide interesting insights to the Buddhist religion.

Nurture: This Is Your Brain on Attention

August 14, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There have been many healthy memory posts on the research of neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin (Enter “Davidson” into the search box at or go to his website

He uses EEG and fMRI in showing how experience in general and attention in particular affect your brain and behavior. He says this physiological as well as psychological shift sounds dramatic, but shouldn’t be so surprising because your nervous system is built to respond to your experience. He writes, “That’s what learning is. Anything that changes behavior changes the brain.” The mental-fitness regimens that he and colleagues in a half-dozen labs around the world are working with are based on meditation. Various Eastern and Western religions have used it over the past 2,500 years to enhance spiritual practice, but meditation is easily stripped of sectarian overtones to its behavioral essence of deliberate, targeted concentration that invited a calm steady psychophysiological state.

The point of a secular attentional workout is the enhancement of the ability to focus, emotional balance, or both. The author writes in the mindfulness meditation that’s the most widely used form, you sit silently for forty-five minutes and attend to your breath: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. When thoughts arise, as they inevitably do, you just shift your awareness back to breathing, right here and now, without distraction from the tape loops usually running in your head. Davidson says, “A complete atheist can use these procedures and derive as much benefit from them as an ardent believer.”

The healthy memory blog has many posts on meditation. Enter “relaxation response” in the search block. Benefits can be attained with as little at ten minutes a day meditating. Moreover, epigenetic benefits have been found . You might also want to try entering “loving kindness” into the search block.

Another area of Davidson’s interests is the way in which temperamental features, such as an inclination toward positive or negative emotionality, affect and even drive attention—an interaction that is vitally important to the quality of your experience. Davidson says, “One of life’s challenges is to maintain your focus despite the continual distracting emotional stimuli that can capture it.” Certain lucky individuals are born with an affective temperament that naturally inclines them toward an upbeat proactive focus, but research increasingly shows that others can move in that direction through attentional training.

Davidson says that although many other regions of the brain are also involved, “people who have greater activation in very specific prefrontal regions—not the whole hemisphere—report and display more of a certain positive emotion—not simply ‘happiness’—that’s associated with moving toward you goals and taking an active approach to life. Average subjects who had completed an eight-week meditation course showed significantly increased activity in the left prefrontal regions that are linked to this optimistic, goal-oriented orientation.

Not only how you focus, but also what you focus on can have important neurophysiological and behavioral consequences. Just as one-pointed concentration on a neutral target, such as your breath, particularly strengthens certain of the brain’s attentional systems, meditation on a specific emotion—unconditional love—seems to tune up certain of its affective networks.When monks who are focusing on this feeling of pure compassion are exposed to emotional sounds, brain activity increases in the insula, a region involved in visceral perception and empathy, and in the right temporo-parietal junction, an area implicated in inferring and empathizing with others’s mental states. These data complement research done by Barbara Fredrickson and others showing that concentration on positive emotions improves your affect and expands your focus. Davidson thinks that deliberately focusing on feelings such as compassion, joy, and gratitude may strengthen neurons in the left prefrontal cortex and inhibit disturbing messages from the fear-oriented amygdala.

Training your brain to pay more attention to compassion for others and less to the self’s narcissistic preoccupations would be a giant step toward a better, more enjoyable life. When you aren’t doing anything in particular but are just “at rest” our brain’s default mode kicks in. This baseline mental state often leads to inward-looking, negative rumination that tend to be, as Davidson says, “all about my, me, and mine,” Before long, you find yourself thinking, “I actually don’t feel so great,” or “Maybe the boss doesn’t really like me.” Davidson is investigating whether the brain areas associated with this “self-referencing processing” may be much less active in the monks, whether they’re meditating or not: indeed, he speculates that super advanced practitioners may perceive little of no difference between the two states.

His research increasingly shows that just as regular physical exercise can transform the proverbial 110-pound weakling into an athlete, focusing workouts can make you more focused, engaged with life, and perhaps even kinder. Davidson says “My strong intuition is that attentional training is very like the sports or musical kinds. It’s not something you can just do for a couple of weeks or years, then enjoy lifelong benefits. To maintain an optimum level of any complex skill takes work, and like great athletes and virtuosos, great meditators continue to drill intensively.”

God & Religion

April 18, 2019

It is important to maintain a distinction between religion and God. Typically, the two concepts are conflated. A previous healthy memory post, God & Homo Sapiens, drew from a book by Reza Azlan titled “God: A Human History.” This book provides an exhaustive review of evidence for religions from, at least, the earliest humans, through the development of the large religious organizations that exist today. Azlan makes a compelling argument that the belief in the soul as separate from the body is universal. Moreover, he argues that it is our first belief, far older than our belief in God, and that it is this belief in the soul that begat our belief in God.

It is reasonable to assume that there were humans who believed in God that predated religions. There are even data that support the notion that neanderthals had religious beliefs. It is likely that the earliest groups of humans had religious leaders. HM has wondered about the souls of people who existed before organized religions. What happens to them? HM is impressed that the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has its members try to find their ancestors before the Church was founded so that they can be married and brought into the church in the temple. Unlike the tabernacle only Mormons can enter the temple.

Given that the size of our universe is still unknown as we are still waiting for light to reach us, it is likely that there are other species in this universe who are more intelligent than homo sapiens. It is unlikely that man has been made in God’s image. God is a spiritual entity of unknown form. Indeed, in pantheism God is omnipresent throughout the universe.

HM always wanted to believe in God, but he could never join a church because his thinking is governed by the law of Parsimony, and that law says to take the simplest explanation that explains the phenomena. What he disliked was that religions required one to believe. HM thinks that God gave us brains for thinking. not believing. It is men who tell us to believe so that they can govern us.

HM finds the Dalai Lama as the most impressive religious individual alive on earth. He is a Buddhist, but like other religions, there are different sects. The Buddhists who are attacking the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh are the antithesis of Buddhism. Although reincarnation is a central tenet in Buddhism, when asked if one needed to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama answered “no.” All that was required is that one should love fellow humans and provide service to them. The Dalai Lama sends his priests to study science. He uses science to inform his religion. Unfortunately, too many religions are at war with science and fight science.

HM believes that we can communicate directly with God. During meditation there is a blissful state where one feels that he is in contact with his creator. So via meditation and contemplative prayer religions can be circumvented.

Understand that HM is not arguing against religions. If one has comfort in a religion that person should follow that religion, but not uncritically. Christians need to see if the preachings are in accordance with the gospels, rather than the old testament or parts of the new testament that are not gospels.

To learn more about meditation, begin with the relaxation response. You need to go to the main page of the healthy memory blog (by entering into your browser.) Search for “relaxation response”. The next topic to search for is “loving kindness meditation”.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Enhanced Meditation

September 5, 2018

Recently HM has added loving kindness meditation to his relaxation response. This increases his normal 20 minutes meditation to close to an hour. He has found this to be more fulfilling. As was mentioned in the preceding post, one of the pillars of mind training is kind intention. Kind Intention is the ability to have a state of mind with positive regard, compassion, and love internally. As was also mentioned in the previous post, medical benefits result from the basic relaxation response. And although it is hoped that loving kindness meditation will have some small impact on the world, that is just a hope. However, personally, HM has found it to be quite fulfilling.

So HM’s new meditation practice is to begin with the relaxation response. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” provides a description of the method and a listing of the potential benefits. The post “Loving Kindness Meditation” provides a description of the method. There are different versions of loving kindness meditation. It typically begins with those most close to you, then expands to a larger group. The difficult part is that it closes with those you strongly dislike. HM has a long way to go to reach this point. HM has modified his meditation to something he can feel comfortable with, and you should do the same. There is no need to adhere strictly to a particular formulation. Go to another source and you’ll likely find another formulation.

HM begins with the relaxation response. When he is well into the meditative state, he will start his loving kindness meditation. His loving kindness meditation begins and ends with the most important person in his life, his wife. The following topics are not in order.

There are short individual meditations for close relatives.

There are also short meditations for friends who are in serious trouble.

There is a meditation for children who have been separated from their parents by the heinous policy of the Trump administration. This meditation will continue for a long time into the future because the damage caused to these children will continue into adulthood.

There is also a meditation for unloved children. Research has been presented in this blog about the damage done to unwanted and unloved children. It is quite similar to the damage done to children who are being forcibly separated from their parents. The healthy memory blog is pro quality life instead of pro life. Unfortunately, too many religious people confuse biological life with the soul. Biological life is temporal, but the soul is immortal. If a potential mother does not feel as if she can provide the needed love for her child, she should have an abortion. A loving God will save the soul until a better potential mother is found. But due to irresponsible adults and false beliefs, there is a plague of maladjusted children and adults who are likely criminals and substance abusers. This meditation is aimed at then.

Continuing with other topics.
homeless people
poor people
(it should be noted that redundancies are intended. some people need to be included multiple times)
sick people
handicapped, or more correctly, physically or mentally challenged people
drug addicts
Trump supporters
fellow human beings
This last topic should merit long meditation. This is also a good topic when unnecessary delays or aggravations are occurring, as is the relaxation response.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If Emotion is so Central to Human Nature, Why Can it Be Harmful?

March 7, 2018

The answer is the same as why some of us tend to be overweight. In earlier stages of human development when starvation was commonplace, it was advantageous to eat foods that would load the body with fat. That time has passed and there is no longer a need to load the body with fat.

So in spite of social constraints, passions overwhelm time and time again. This is due to the basic architecture of mental life. The basic neural circuitry of emotion that we are born with is what worked best for the last 50,000 human generations not the last 500 generations. Goleman writes in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” “The slow deliberate forces of evolution that have shaped our emotions have done their work over the course of a million years; the last 10,000 years—despite having witnessed the rapid rise of human civilization and the explosion of the human population from five million to five billion—have left little imprint on our biological template for emotional life.” Given this explosive increase in population, the need for emotional intelligence has greatly increased. Unfortunately, our appraisal of every personal encounter and our responses to it are shaped not just by our rational judgments or our personal history, but also by our distant ancestral past. “In short, we too often confront postmodern dilemmas with an emotional repertoire tailored to the urgencies of the Pleistocene.”

Goleman continues, “All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is “motere”, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-“ to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. That emotions lead to actions is most obvious in watching animals or children; it is only in “civilized” adults that we often find the great anomaly in the animal kingdom, emotions—root impulses to act—divorced from obvious action.”

Emotions have distinctive biological signatures:

*Anger— blood flows to the hands. This makes it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe. Heart rate increases and crush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.

*Fear—Blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, like the legs, making it easier to flee. This makes the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that blood “runs cold”). Simultaneously, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain’s emotional center trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert. This makes it edgy and ready for action. Attention fixates on the threat at hand to better evaluate what response to make.

*Happiness—Here the main biological change is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thoughts. There is no particular shift in physiology but a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly from the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.

*Love—Tender feelings and sexual satisfaction entail parasympathetic arousal, which is the physiological opposite of the “fight or flight” mobilization shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern dubbed the “relaxation response,” is a bodywide set of reactions that generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation. [Entering “relaxation response” into the search block for the healthy memory blog will produce many posts on the relaxation response, to include how to induce the relaxation response, and the many benefits of the relaxation response]

*Surprise—The lifting of eyebrows in surprise allows the taking in of a larger visual sweep and also permits more light to strike the retina, allowing more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.

*Disgust—An expression of disgust looks the same around the world and sends the identical message: something is offensive in taste or smell, or metaphorically so. The facial expression of disgust—the upper lip curled to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly—suggests a primordial attempt, as Darwin observed, to close the nostril against a noxious odor to to spit out a poisonous food.

*Sadness—A main function of sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment . It brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life’s activities, particularly diversions and pleasures, and, as it portends an approaching depression, slows the body’s metabolism. This withdrawal creates the opportunity to mourn a loss or frustrated hope, grasp its consequences for one’s life, and, as energy returns, plan new beginnings. This loss of energy might have been kept saddened and vulnerable early humans close to home, where they were safer.

Loving Kindness Meditation

December 10, 2017

Loving-Kindness meditation falls into the class of analytic meditation. Although for many readers Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response will be sufficient, if you want to try a type of analytic meditation, HM strongly recommends loving-kindness meditation. There are several reasons for this. One is that HM finds this meditation personally fulfilling. Another is that researchers have been astounded at the recordings and images of the brain from highly experienced meditators while they are doing this meditation. The third reason is that the world is much in need of love and kindness. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. You should be comfortable doing the relaxation response before trying loving-kindness meditation.

This is taken from Kathleen McDonald’s “How to Meditate.” Be comfortable. Relax your body and mind and let all thoughts and worries subside. Mindfully observe your breath until you are calm and your awareness is focused in the here-and-now. You should think that you are doing this meditation for the benefit of yourself and others: to generate more positive, loving energy in your mind and to send it out to others, to the world.

Start by imagining living beings around you: your mother is on your left, your father on your right, and other relatives and friends are around you and behind you. Visualize in front of you those who dislike or who have hurt you. And extending in every direction, right to the horizon, are all other beings. Feel as if they are there, all in human form, sitting quietly, like you. If it is difficult to visualize all beings, think of as many as you can comfortably. Stay relaxed—don’t feel crowded or tense, but imagine that a sense of harmony and peace pervades everyone.

Consider how nice it would be, for yourself and others, if you were able to love all these beings. Contemplate that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering, just as you do. They are all trying to make the best of their lives, even those who are angry and violent.

Now generate a feeling of love in your heart. You can do this by thinking of someone you love and letting your natural good feelings for this person arise. You might like to imagine your love as a warm, bright light, not physical, but pure, positive energy glowing in your heart.

Before you can love others you need to love yourself as you are, with your personal faults and shortcomings, and recognizing you have the potential to free yourself from all your problems. So, really wish yourself all the happiness and goodness there is. Imagine the the warm energy in your heart expands until it completely fills your body and mind.

Now meditate on your love for others. Start with your family and close friends sitting near you. Say in your mind words such as “May you be happy, may all your thoughts be positive and all your experiences good. May your lives be long and peaceful . Continue in this manner. Imagine the warm luminous energy generating from your body touching them and filling their bodies and minds, bringing them the happiness they wish for. Don’t worry if you don’t actually feel love; it’s enough to say these words and think these thoughts. In time the feeling will come.

Then think of some people you are not so close to and extend the same wishes as before.

The hard part comes last. Turn your attention to the people in front of you, those you are having difficulty with or for whom you have extreme dislike. Contemplate that they also need and deserve your love. Wish them to be free of the confusion, anger, and self-centeredness that drive them to act the way they do. Really want them to find peace of mind, happiness, and finally enlightenment. Think and try to extend the same wishes as in the case of the preceding groups.

Conclude the session by thinking that you definitely have the potential to love everyone, even those who annoy or hurt you and those you don’t even know. Generate a strong wish to work on your own anger, impatience, selfishness and the other problems that prevent you from having such love. Keeping your mind open and trying to overcome ego’s prejudiced attitudes will leave much space in your heart for pure, universal love—and thus happiness for yourself and others—to develop.

Kathleen McDonald likes to dedicate her meditations. In this case, she says, “Finally, dedicate the positive energy of your meditation to all beings, with the wish that they find happiness and enlightenment.

For another version of the loving-kindness meditation, go to the healthy memory blog titled, “SPACE.”

Stabilizing Meditation

December 8, 2017

This type of meditation is used to develop concentration and eventually to achieve calm abiding, a special kind of concentration that enables one to remain focused on whatever object one wishes, for as long as one wishes, while experiencing bliss, clarity, and peace. Concentration and calm abiding are necessary for any real, lasting insight and mental transformation. In stabilizing meditation, we learn to concentrate upon one object, the breath, the nature of one’s own mind, a concept, a visualized image—without interruption.

Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response is an example of stabilizing meditation. Here is the protocol:
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 of 12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Amazing benefits can be achieved with this type of meditation. Read the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” to review some of the benefits.
Stabilizing meditation must first be achieved before going into deep path meditations.

Happy New Years 2016! Now What About Those Resolutions?

December 31, 2015

If you are not already growing a growth mindset or meditating (for example, the relaxation response), the recommendation is to start.  Should your already be growing a growth mindset or meditating, then please give consideration to pursuing those activities with greater vigor.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One’s Negative View of Aging Increases Alzheimer’s Risk

December 11, 2015

An Article by Tara Bahrampour in the December 8 Washington Post summarizes two articles in the Journal Psychology and Aging.  This research shows that people who have negative beliefs about aging are more likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s.  They found that the volume of the hippocampus, measured by an MRI exam declined by three times as much among those who hold negative stereotypes about aging when compared with those who do not.  The hippocampus is a structure in the brain which is critical for memory.

The research participants were interviewed about their views on aging long  before the onset of dementia.  Here are some of the examples of the stereotypes believed by these individuals:
Old people are absent minded.
Old people are grouchy.
Old people can’t learn new things.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware that these stereotypes are false.  Readers of the healthy memory blog should also be well aware that one’s attitude is key in thwarting Alzheimer’s.  Remember the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets.  People having the above beliefs obviously have fixed mindsets.  However, those with growth mindsets would strongly disagree with these sentiments.  And those who are growing their growth mindsets would be even less prone to Alzheimer’s.

These articles also indicated that individuals holding these views showed symptoms of stress.  Stress can be reduced by practicing the Relaxation Response.

So beware of and debunk these negative views of aging.

You might want to read or reread the following healthy memory blogs:

The Myth of Alzheimer’s

The Myth of Cognitive Decline

I’m also reminded of a remark I overheard at work.  A man, who was apparently about to retire said, “When I retire I am going to to nothing—absolutely nothing.   If there are nothing but Lucy reruns on TV, then I’ll watch I Love Lucy.

Unfortunately, this man is a prime candidate for Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.

Personal Observations on Meditation Techniques in General and the Relaxation Response in Particular

November 3, 2015

Personally I have difficulty in getting comfortable in a chair, much less sitting on a cushion or in some Yoga positions.  I much prefer reclining, that is lying down.  Although I had thought this might be the case it was only in “The Relaxation Response” that I saw the reason, and that is a tendency to fall asleep.  Mental processes while sleeping differ from mental processes while sleeping.  Clearly this is the case or there would be no need to meditate.

However, I would argue that unless one is very tired, it is unlikely that one would fall asleep before the needed ten to twenty minutes of meditation, and surely that pre-sleep time would be beneficial.

Frankly, if I am having difficulty sleeping or have awakened and am having difficulty getting back to sleep, I find that meditation is very useful in getting back to sleep.  After all, meditation quiets the mind and it is a noisy mind that keeps us awake.

I also find that meditating while walking to be extremely useful.  Particularly when one can walk in nature, one experiences the dual benefits of both nature and meditation.

Then there is ad hoc meditation.  This occurs in social, work, or athletic situations when you are stressed.  Try to take a brief break and engage the Relaxation Response to try to de-stress and recenter yourself.  This might well save you from saying or doing something you’ll regret.

The following is from a preceding healthy memory blog post, “A Simple Technique to Spark Mindfulness:”

S – Stop. Simply pause from what you are doing.
T –Take a few slow, deep, breaths with awareness and tune in.
O – Observe and curiously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
P – Proceed with whatever you were doing with awareness and kindness.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Avoid Temptation

May 1, 2011

An article1 in Scientific American Mind presents a theory regarding how temptation works. It states that there are two different information processing systems in the brain: impulses that lead to immediate gratification and reason, that is aimed at our well-being and long-term objectives. This is very similar to the two system view of cognition (see the blog post, “Two System View of Cognition”). System 1 is named Intuition. It is very fast , employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. For the most part System 1 works outside conscious awareness. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is close to what we commonly regard as conscious thinking. One can think of this two two process views as being identical but working in different domains.

Unfortunately, impulses that lead to immediate gratification are System 1 processes that operate very quickly and can operate outside your conscious awareness. So you might buy a candy bar without thinking about it. No effort is involved in immediately yielding to temptation. Resisting temptation, however, is a System 2 process, so it is effortful and depletes cognitive resources. This might seem like an unfair match, and that is why avoiding temptation can be so difficult. You need to understand how temptation works and that it takes cognitive resources to avoid temptation. When you are under stress, say studying for an exam, your cognitive resources are depleted and you can more readily yield to temptation.

Since it does require mental effort to avoid temptation, and since mental resources are depleted when you try to avoid temptation, you need to marshal your mental resources carefully. It is a bad idea to try to give up more than one bad habit at a time, as it takes mental resources to give up this habit . Try to avoid stressful situations and undertake activities that restore mental resources, such as taking a walk in nature or meditation (see the blog posts “Restoring Attentional Resources,” “More on Restoring Attentional Resources,” “Intensive Meditation Training Increases the Ability to Sustain Attention,” and “The Relaxation Response”).

Another article2 in the same issue of Scientific American Mind provides a curious technique to help you when you are dieting, or when you simply don’t want to gain wait. The technique is to imagine the act of eating what you want to eat. This might seem counter intuitive, but for it to be successful you must vividly imagine eating what you want to eat. The reason this does work is that imagining an experience evokes the same physiological responses as the real experience. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University had study participants think about eating a specific food, either M&Ms or cubes of cheese, one morsel at a time. A control group imagined putting thirty quarters into a laundry machine. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate half as many candies as those who pictured putting thirty quarters into a laundry machine. The thought was specific to the type of food that was imagined, with those thinking about eating cheese consuming about half the amount of cheese as those who thought about eating M&Ms.

1Hofmann, W. & Friese, M. (2011) Control Yourself. Scientific American Mind, May/June, 43-47.

2Solis, M. A Thinking Persons Diet, p.11 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Daydreaming Bad for You?

February 23, 2011

Your answer to this might be “yes” should you have heard some estimates that we use only 10% of our brains (See Healthymemory Blog Post, “How Much of Our Brain Do We Really Use”). If you have read that post  you should know that our brains our chugging away 24 hours a day, even when we are sleeping. Daydreaming has connotations of wasting time. A recent article1 puts the benefits and risks of daydreaming in perspective. Estimates are that, on average, we spend about 30% of our waking day daydreaming. Moreover, a neural network for daydreaming has been identified. It consists of three main regions: the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the parietal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex helps us imagine both ourselves and the thoughts and feelings of others. The posterior cingulate cortex brings up our personal memories. The parietal cortex has connections to the hippocampus, that key memory structure that is responsible for our personal episodic memories (our personal histories). This network is key to our sense of self.

Daydreaming can be bad. Indeed uncontrolled daydreaming can become pathological and require clinical interventions. On the other hand, daydreaming can be quite beneficial. Letting our minds run freely can be enjoyable and enlightening. When you can’t solve a problem, letting your mind run freely can sometimes stumble upon a solution. Even if it doesn’t lead to a solution, it can relax and refresh your mind. Daydreaming can also foster creativity. Creative people are sometimes characterized as dreamers. It has been noted that people who regularly catch themselves daydreaming and who notice when they’re doing it, seem to be most creative. Daydreaming can also be beneficial when you are bored or are in an uncomfortable situation, as it provides a means of escape.

Daydreaming can also be harmful when you dwell on unpleasant thoughts. Although it is good to learn from negative experiences, leave it at that (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Buddha’s Brain”). Like most activities, daydreaming is best done in moderation. Meditation is the exact opposite of daydreaming. In most types of meditation you focus your attention on a concept or process (see the Healthymemory Blog Posts “Costly Gadgets or Software Are Not Required for Healthy Memory,” “Continuing to Be Positive After Thanksgiving,” “Intensive Meditation Training Increases the Ability to Sustain Attention,” and “The Relaxation Response.”

Just as with your body, your mind needs a healthy balance of activities.

1Glausiusz, J. (2011). Living in a Dream World. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 24-31. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.