Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

A drill instructor addressing United States Ma...
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Sweating it out as a new yoga-meditation student, my instructor often says, “Make this pose feel good”!  Bend here, press there, twist, up on one hand and … feel good? If you’ve practiced yoga, you may know what I’m talking about.  And, if you’re like me, you’re hooked on this unique aspect of yoga.  With an emphasis on breath control and meditation, yoga allows its practitioners to “feel the pleasure” instead of “feel the pain”.

Admittedly, I’ve had many sore morning-afters, but I’m starting to find that when I’m intensely focused on my breath, the experience of moving in and out of postures is a pleasurable one – not like other activities motivated by a “come on!  push it!” & “no pain, no gain” mentality.

This yogic mentality has led to a profound change in my life.

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Peanut M&M's
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The holiday foods are here – everywhere – and, even if you are steeped in a diet or other austerities, your friends and in-laws may not be.  The sights, the smells, the pleasures of sharing exotic tastes with your loved ones … I mean, if you can’t indulge now … when?  What’s a mindful person to do?

A timely article appeared in this week’s issue of Science Magazine entitled,  Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption [doi: 10.1126/science.1195701]  by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University & the title says it all.  Imagined consumption, where experimental volunteers were asked to imagine consuming an M&M candy – not just the visualization of the M&M itself, but the actual eating of it – either 3 or 30 times.  The researchers then let the volunteers dig into a bowl of real M&Ms and recorded how much they ate.  The article reports that volunteers who imagined eating an M&M 30 times, when offered a bowl of real M&Ms to snack on, actually ate fewer M&Ms (about 43% less) than volunteers who imagined consuming 3 M&Ms.

This finding, wherein “imagined consumption” either 30 or 3 times resulted in less “actual consumption”, held up when investigators manipulated the food in question (M&Ms or cheese blocks),  the order in which volunteers experienced different experimental trials, and across a control trial where volunteers were asked to imagine placing quarters into a laundry machine 3 or 30 times (resulted in no differences in actual M&M consumption).  Perhaps most striking was a comparison of “imagined moving” either 3 or 30 M&Ms into a bowl (folks who imagined moving 30 M&Ms actually ate MORE afterwards) in contrast to the trials where volunteers “imagined consuming” either 3 or 30 (the group that imagined consuming 30 M&Ms actually ate LESS).  This result verified the commonly-held notion that the sight of food whets the appetite and creates an incentive to consume.

Man, M&Ms are my favorite!  The veritable gateway drug of all holiday cakes, cookies, pies and candies.  Just reading about this research has me craving a handful of those holiday red and green M&Ms right now.

OK, I will use what yogic training I have to slow down my thought processes, to increase my self-awareness and to visualize – not just the treats themselves (lest I end up eating more) but the act of eating them, savoring them and feeling the pleasure of the experience.  I’ve learned – through yoga – that this pleasure, and all the wonderful pleasures in life, are really just inside me – all part of a deep-seated inner peace and joy.  I don’t need to seek pleasures ravenously in the outside world.  The wonderful pleasures of taste, smell, texture, appearance etc. lie within me, and are accessible through my imagination, breathing and meditation.

Enjoy your holidays!  And when you find yourself alongside the desert table, realize that YOU are an amazing being – delicious on the inside – much moreso than cookies and cake.

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musing on mindfulness

Pommes Et Serviette. Painting.
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(click here for posts on mindfulness)

From an essay written in 2005 by HH the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet:

“The radical advances that took place in neuroscience and particularly in genetics towards the end of the twentieth century have led to a new era in human history. Our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level, with the consequent technological possibilities offered for genetic manipulation, has reached such a stage that the ethical challenges of these scientific advances are enormous.”

Even while a great many heritability studies (some covered here) show that the brain and the mind are greatly influenced by genes, the data show that the firing of each and every neuron in the brain is also heavily influenced by one’s expectations and experiences. Even while this blog covers certain aspects of genetic biology that seem somewhat deterministic, we know that the genome does not determine one’s thought processes per se, but rather may influence the the way the brain’s neural systems interact with the environment.

One of the main purposes of this blog is to build a resource that supports the development of so-called P4 medicine” (Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and Participatory) in the area of mental health. It has been a joy to use my genetic data as a mere starting point to reflect (ie. participate) inwardly on my own mental life – my own expectations, thought processes and emotions etc.. As I’ve noted in many posts, my genome doesn’t tell me anything definitive, but rather just prompts me to look more closely at how I think and feel and how I might be similar or different to others.

As a means to improve this ability to look inwardly, I have been practicing yoga, meditation and other types of activities that help me relax and pay attention to my thought processes. So far it has been a lot of fun and I’ve met many great folks at my yoga shala and meditation group. I think the methods used in these practices are helping a lot, but, certainly, one can develop an inward looking awareness via many, many other activities where one simply makes an effort to pay attention to the present moment. For instance, the great painter Paul Cezanne once suggested that, “Right now a moment of time is passing by! We must become that moment.” which echoes the ancient yoga sutras, “Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint” (III.9). So, with this personal effort underway, I hope to explore the basic biology – and perhaps even genetics – of these self-reflective forms of activity in the blog.

To follow this theme, just click on the lower right margin “TOPICS” mindfulness. These posts address the basic biology of meditation and various mental states associated with inward awareness and relaxation. Again, this is just a means to facilitate a bit of inward self-exploration. Meditating on genes and the role of genes in meditation, etc., etc.!

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Synaptic Gasp
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Am really enjoying Antonio Damasio‘s latest book, “Self Comes to Mind” covering underlying brain/body mechanisms of consciousness.  Here’s a quote from Chapter 1 that I thought resonates with this blog:

Placing the construction of conscious minds in the history of biology and culture opens the way to reconciling traditional humanism and modern science, so that when neuroscience explores human experience into the strange worlds of brain physiology and genetics, human dignity is not only retained but reaffirmed.

The main gist of this blog (I hope) is to understand how our genomes may provide each of us with assistance in our inward-looking self-explorations.  Hopefully this inward-looking journey ends not with a list of “risk-for-this”, “risk-for-that” but a greater sense of connection to other human beings, the environment and human evolutionary history.

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