Science of the Spirit


The uncontrollable hair pulling of trichotillomania

© Cavale Doom/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Many people look upon plucking the hair on their eyebrows or other body parts as a painful step of their grooming regimen. But some others have to fight the urge to do so. Their compulsive hair plucking sometimes leads to upsetting consequences. And scientists are still trying to untangle the reasons behind this condition, called trichotillomania.

The effects of trichotillomania have been written of since Hippocrates, but the condition didn't get a clinical definition until French dermatologist Francois Hallopeau recognized it in 1889. People with trichotillomania feel compelled to tug hair from their head, brows and eyelashes, or other areas. A subset of affected people also eat the hairs, which can build up into hairballs, causing gastrointestinal problems.Estimates suggest the condition affects up to 4 percent of the population (or about 12 million in the United States), and women arefour times more likely to be affected. Symptoms usually begin before age 17 and could last for years.

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Neuroscience research reveals 4 practices that will make you happier

You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don't know what they're talking about. Don't trust them.

Actually, don't trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life.

Here's what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:


Researchers find frequent face-to-face social contact decreases depression risk in adults

Researchers find people who meet friends and family at least three times a week far less like to have depression than those who have only 'virtual contact
© Alamy
Among adults aged 50 to 69, frequent face-to-face contact with friends reduced the risk of subsequent depression.
Replacing face-to-face contact with friends and family with emails, text messages and phone calls could double the risk of depression, a major study suggests.

Research on 11,000 adults found that those who meet friends and family at least three times a week are far less likely to suffer from depression. Individuals who had such contact just once every few months had an 11.5 per cent chance of later suffering from depressive symptoms two years later. By contrast, those who met up with family and friends at least three times a week had the lowest level of depressive symptoms, with rates of 6.5 per cent.

The study by the University of Michigan, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is the first to examine the impact of different types of social contact on depression. Adults aged 50 and over were tracked for more than two years. While strong links were found between face-to-face contact and depression, regularity of contact with loved-ones by telephone, email or social media was shown to make no difference.

Researchers reported that having more or fewer phone conversations, or written or email contact, had no effect on depression.
Dr Alan Teo, lead author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, said: "We found that all forms of socialisation aren't equal. Phone calls and digital communication, with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression."

Comment: More on the benefits of social bonding:


Freeing ourselves from fear

If you ask most people what they want from life, they will probably tell you they want to be happy—they want to be loved.

Success, fame and fortune might come up, too.

But I think what we ultimately yearn for is freedom.

The freedom to be ourselves, especially in a world that is constantly telling us not to. The freedom of inner peace and feeling at home, and being able to take that feeling with us everywhere we go.

For me, the one thing that gets in the way of feeling free is fear.

Comment: Fear and Knowledge
Fear can only control us when we do not know in depth about the things we fear. When you fear a certain thing, that is the thing you should be learning about. You will then gain knowledge that is stored in your unconscious mind, so that when the moment comes, you make a better 'snap judgment' to protect yourself. It is very much like training your mind and body before facing the danger, without becoming paralyzed by sudden fright...

What it all comes down to is: don't give into your fears, try to know more about what you fear from all angles, and you will no longer be controlled by your fears.


Want to improve your self awareness? Correct your posture

Most people in the modern world tend to have poor posture. I'm sure that part of it is our general detachment from our bodies. We spending most of our days sitting in front of computers, TVs, on couches, in cars, or on punishing assembly lines. Perhaps if we were more in touch with our bodies, with nature, and with the natural functions that our bodies evolved to perform, our posture would be better.

I remember how sad I was as I watched my children's wonderful and natural child posture slowly deteriorate as they grew older. Slouching at their computer or while watching TV, I constantly tried to get them to "sit up straight!" To no avail, unfortunately. Gradually, this seems to happen to most of us. In fact, poor posture has become so much the norm that chairs, car-seats, and the like are now all designed in such a way that they foster poor posture.

Comment: See also: Why you should stop slouching: The posture-mood connection


Self-compassion, recognition of our common humanity

Most people don't have any problem with seeing compassion as a thoroughly commendable quality. It seems to refer to an amalgam of unquestionably good qualities: kindness, mercy, tenderness, benevolence, understanding, empathy, sympathy, and fellow-feeling, along with an impulse to help other living creatures, human or animal, in distress.

But we seem less sure about self-compassion. For many, it carries the whiff of all those other bad "self" terms: self-pity, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-centered, just plain selfish. Even many generations removed from our culture's Puritan origins, we still seem to believe that if we aren't blaming and punishing ourselves for something, we risk moral complacency, runaway egotism, and the sin of false pride.

Comment: More info:
  • Change your thoughts, change your health
  • Dr. Gabor Maté: "When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection"

Airplane Paper

Key to learning: Curiosity linked with psychological, emotional and social benefits


That's the question parents and teachers both dread and love to hear from kids. We dread it because, well, sometimes we don't know the answer—or we're too lazy or harried to come up with a good one. But we usually do our best, understanding that curiosity is key to learning.

But did you know that the benefits of curiosity are not limited to the intellectual? For children and adults alike, curiosity has been linked with psychological, emotional, social, and even health benefits. Here are six of them!

1. Curiosity helps us survive

The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment, which may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we encounter new things.

2. Curious people are happier

Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. Of course, it may be, at least partially, that people who are already happier tend to be more curious, but since novelty makes us feel good (see above), it seems likely that it goes the other direction as well.

3. Curiosity boosts achievement

Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work. It may seem like common sense, but when we are more curious about and interested in what we are doing, it's easier to get involved, put effort in, and do well.

Comment: See also:


The Science of breathing

Western research is now proving what 
yogis have known all along: Breath work can deliver powerful mind and body benefits, learn how and why to take better advantage of it both in practice and in life.

Your body breathes on autopilot—so why worry about how to inhale and exhale when you could be mastering an arm balance? For one thing, breath control, or pranayama, is the fourth of Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. For another, scientific research is showing that mindful breathing—paying attention to your breath and learning how to manipulate it—is one of the most effective ways to lower everyday stress levels and improve a variety of health factors ranging from mood to metabolism. "Pranayama is at once a physical-health practice, mental-health practice, and meditation. It is not just breath training; it's mind training that uses the breath as a vehicle," says Roger Cole, PhD, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and physiology researcher in Del Mar, California. "Pranayama makes your entire life better."

Comment: Deep Breathing Exercises Can Improve Your Life:


The journey from boy to man: A lesson from the Sioux

"The Indian, in his simple philosophy, was careful to avoid a centralized population, wherein lies civilization's devil. He would not be forced to accept materialism as the basic principle of his life, but preferred to reduce existence to its simplest terms. His roving out-of-door life was more precarious, no doubt, than life reduced to a system, a mechanical routine; yet in his view it was and is infinitely happier. To be sure, this philosophy of his had its disadvantages and obvious defects, yet it was reasonably consistent with itself, which is more than can be said for our modern civilization. He knew that virtue is essential to the maintenance of physical excellence, and that strength, in the sense of endurance and vitality, underlies all genuine beauty. He was as a rule prepared to volunteer his services at any time in behalf of his fellows, at any cost of inconvenience and real hardship, and thus to grow in personality and soul-culture. Generous to the last mouthful of food, fearless of hunger, suffering, and death, he was surely something of a hero. Not 'to have,' but 'to be,' was his national motto."
- Charles Alexander Eastman
It has sometimes been said that the life of the American Indian has been overly romanticized by those who lack firsthand knowledge of what that life really consisted of, and are merely looking back through the hazy mists of time.

Yet one who was not long removed from growing up immersed in Native American culture, remembered it as wistfully as anyone, saying, "The Indian boy enjoyed such a life as almost all boys dream of and would choose for themselves if they were permitted to do so."

The writer of this sentiment was a man known at his death as Charles Alexander Eastman. But that was not his original name. He was born a member of the Eastern Dakota (or Santee) Sioux tribe in 1858 and dubbed Hakadah, or "pitiful last," for his mother died in giving birth to him. The boy's father, Many Lightnings, was thought to have been killed by whites during the Dakota War of 1862, and he was raised by his grandmother and uncle in the ways of traditional Sioux life; this included being given a new name when he became a young man: Ohiyesa or "always wins."

Before this boy's life would take a dramatic and unexpected turn, and Ohiyesa would became Eastman, he would nearly complete the Sioux journey from boy to man. The elements of this journey contain much wisdom for young men in the present day, and the grown men who wish to see them raised to honorable manhood.

Comment: This article highlights what mechanisms and values need to be in place for the young generations to grow up to be valued and valuable members of society. It doesn't seem to be coincidental that the white man, in his greed and hubris, destroyed most of these tribes in this "clash of civilizations".

But maybe this could serve as a template for future generations, adapted to modern life. The central tenet seems to be the focus on citizens to be "public servants". Instead, our culture today is focused on self-promotion, self-advancement and self-advertisement (even at the expense of others) - the exact antithesis of what the above article describes.

Blue Planet

Scientific studies show the myriad ways nature enhances physical and mental health

Contact with nature has been tied to health in a plenitude of studies. Time spent in and around tree-lined streets, gardens, parks, and forested and agricultural lands is consistently linked to objective, long-term health outcomes. The less green a person's surroundings, the higher their risk of morbidity and mortality - even when controlling for socioeconomic status and other possible confounding variables. The range of specific health outcomes tied to nature is startling, including depression and anxiety disorder, diabetes mellitus, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), various infectious diseases, cancer, healing from surgery, obesity, birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal complaints, migraines, respiratory disease, and others, reviewed below. Finally, neighborhood greenness has been consistently tied to life expectancy and all-cause mortality (see Table 3 in the Supplementary Materials).

These findings raise the possibility that such contact is a major health determinant, and that greening may constitute a powerful, inexpensive public health intervention. It is also possible, however, that the consistent correlations between greener surroundings and better health reflect self-selection - healthy people moving to or staying in greener surroundings. Examining the potential pathways by which nature might promote health seems paramount — both to assess the credibility of a cause-and-effect link and to suggest possible nature-based health interventions. Toward that end, this article offers: (1) a compilation of plausible pathways between nature and health; (2) criteria for identifying a possible central pathway; and (3) one promising candidate for a central pathway.

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