Science of the Spirit
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Health

How long-term stress contributes to serious mental disorders

© Sander van der Wel
The delicate balance between white and grey matter is disrupted by chronic stress.
Long-term stress causes changes in the brain's white and grey matter which could help explain the link to emotional disorders and anxiety later in life.

In a series of experiments, scientists at UC Berkeley found that chronic stress leads to fewer neurons and more myelin production (Chetty et al., 2014).

Neurons make up the so-called grey matter of the brain; these are used to store and process information.

Myelin, meanwhile, is a fatty white substance which surrounds the connections between neurons - the axons - and which helps information flow around the brain.

We already know that the balance between grey and white matter in the brain is important.

People who have post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, have higher levels of grey matter in comparison to white matter.
Heart

The art of attention: Meditation

It took me 13 years of teaching asana, and over 17 years of practicing it, to finally take a seat for meditation. Until recently, if I managed to sit down to meditate, I felt the irresistible magnetism of the dishes, the inbox, laundry and the cabinet to reorganize. Nothing could make me sit still for more than a few minutes, and on the few occasions I did, I felt fake every time, as though I was missing something. Turns out I'd needed a manual to help me crack the code.

Anodea Judith's Eastern Body, Western Mind is shifting my relationship to, and my navigation of, meditation practice. Given practical details about each energy center (chakra) in the body (note: the word is pronounced with "ch" like "choice," rather than "sh" like "shall"), I've learned to be more specific and purposeful in the meditation seat. I'm learning to locate, in my actual physical body, the places where unresolved confusions have been stored, which activates a ready focus for my breathing when I sit -- in my own time, in my own words: the ultimate empowerment. Most importantly, I'm learning to generate more listening and respect for the closest people in my life -- the ones who'd become accustomed to getting the worst of me, while my students, teachers and friends got the best.

The succinct "takeaway": a level of consistency in my sitting, and therefore my behavior. Now I can be as astute a listener with my mom as I am with a new student detailing an injury. That wasn't always the case. I was misappropriating my compassion away from my family and only toward my students. This made for a hilarious paradox -- lovely, compassionate, generous teacher with her students versus the inattentive, angry, punishing girl with her family. And when my son was turning four last fall, I saw him trying to take it on. He became like a skycap at the airport, old enough to start helping me with my proverbial baggage, and that was so scary to see. He was impatient, mad, screaming "me." I knew I either had to handle that weight myself, or pay dearly for the service he'd try to provide for the rest of my life, taking on the problems of parents as we've all done.

Comment: If you are looking for a manual to help crack the code, when it comes to developing a meditation practice, as the author writes, try the techniques described in the Eiriu Eolas Stress Reduction and Meditation program here.

Hourglass

What's lost as handwriting fades

handwriting
© Michael Mabry
Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it's not just what we write that matters - but how.

"When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated," said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. "There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

"And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn't realize," he continued. "Learning is made easier."
Magic Wand

A neuroscientist explains: How meditation changes your brain

© wakeup-world.com
Do you struggle, like me, with monkey-mind? Is your brain also a little unsettled, restless, capricious, whimsical, fanciful, inconstant, confused, indecisive, or uncontrollable? That's the definition of "monkey mind" I've been given!

If you need more motivation to take up this transformative practice, neuroscience research has shown that meditation and mindfulness training can cause neuroplastic changes to the gray matter of your brain.

A group of Harvard neuroscientists interested in mindfulness meditation have reported that brain structures change after only eight weeks of meditation practice.

Comment: Additional information about Meditation and Its Benefits: Interested in learning more about meditation? Try the easy to use Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here.

Cell Phone

Is electromagnetic thought control effective?

mind control

Is mind control via thought substitution possible? If it is, and if it's being used, what can we do to protect ourselves?
The number of methods of mind control has proliferated as funding for research has expanded.

Here, I want to consider what could be called thought substitution, one ongoing facet of this research.

My conclusions on this subject come from accounts of modern mind control research, which utilize forms of signal-broadcasting aimed at the brain.

More importantly, I'm drawing on my observation of the differences among people, when it comes to their awareness of their own thoughts and emotions.

First of all, we need to make the distinction between passive and active people. Passive people are either sedentary or going through the motions in life. They are easily controllable, and it doesn't take sophisticated electronic measures to do the job.

Television, a few tranquilizing drugs, peer pressure to conform, and the game is over.

Such people will also mistake the invasion of outside thoughts for their own. It doesn't really matter where the impulses come from or who delivers them.

Comment: If such technologies are currently in use -- and they probably are -- the best thing one can do is exactly what Rappoport suggests: become more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and live our lives consciously, with a strong aim and purpose. The Éiriú Eolas Stress-control, Healing, Detoxing and Rejuvenation Program, which utilizes breath work in order to foster a relaxed yet clear-headed state of mind, is the best method SOTT has come across to do exactly that.

Megaphone

Why women should avoid speaking with a 'creaky' voice

'Vocal fry' - a new vocal affectation of young American women - may be hurting their job prospects, according to a new study.
© machechyp
From Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy, through Britney Spears, the Kardashians and Katy Perry. They all do it, but how is vocal fry perceived?
Vocal fry has become popular across the US in the last decade, especially among young women.

It's often paired with 'uptalk', where the voice goes up at the end of the sentence as though the person is asking a question.

Here is a talented YouTube user giving a perfect demonstration of vocal fry:


Vocal fry is supposedly associated with more educated, upwardly mobile people, but now psychologists have found the perception may not be so positive.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, 800 people (half men, half women) listened to a young man and a young women saying "thank you for considering me for this opportunity" (Anderson et al., 2014).

Half the time it was spoken in their normal voice and the other half used vocal fry.

Comment: It could be particularly annoying because our social engagement system prefers natural intonations. For more information, see:

How your nervous system sabotages your ability to relate
RD: I've heard the human mind described as a paranoid instrument. The premise is that when we are living in our senses, in the here and now, we usually feel safe, but our thinking mind often throws scary impressions in front of us, as if it's anticipating some threat.

SP: I'll address that by describing to you a part of our nervous system that is entirely focused on responding to other people, even other mammals like dogs and cats. This is not the same part of the nervous system that can put us into states of enlightenment or ecstasy. In a sense, this is a very grounded component of our nervous system. It engages contact with certain levels of senses that are not the ones that you're describing. It's where we are feeling our bodily information from inside our organs. This information from the body actually travels through nerves up through the brain stem and radiates upward to our cortex. This part of the nervous system provides a contact with reality; it regulates our bodily state, so we become alert and engaged. That does not include all of human experience, but it does include most of what we call social interactions. We can say that the social interactions are a very important component of our psychological experience as human beings. And this system, the social engagement system, is what determines the quality of those interactions - the features that we show other people, the facial expression, the intonation of our voice, the head nods, even the hand movements, are part of this. And if I turn my head away while I'm talking to you, if I talk in a monotone without any intonation, or if I drop my eyes, will you have a visceral response? How do you feel when I do that?


Robot

Scientists hacked monkey brains to electronically control their decisions

Rhesus Macaque
© Wikimedia Commons
While your brain should still be safe from hackers for some time yet, a new study, in which macaques had their choices controlled by electrical impulses, adds to a growing body of work that suggests brains can be manipulated with a surprising degree of precision.

Using electrodes implanted in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a region deep in the brain associated with the reward circuitry of the brain, researchers were able to fundamentally influence the decision making of macaques. The work was published today in Current Biology.

The study, conducted by a joint team from KU Leuven in Belgium, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, consisted first of an A/B test in which macaques were shown a pair of images, and their preference for one or the other recorded. Some monkeys might prefer a picture of a ball, others a star, but in any case, the research team was able to glean a baseline preference for each individual.

Then came the big test: Could electrical microstimulation affect the results? Indeed, by applying small, regular electrical impulses to the VTA, the team "was capable of selectively reinforcing and motivating behavior during operant and Pavlovian conditioning paradigms." In other words, after flipping the switch, macaques that preferred image A picked image B, and vice versa.

I asked Wim Vanduffel, a co-author of the report, if the results suggest that electronically-controlled decision making is possible, to which he emailed, "Certainly so!"
Black Cat

Control under the guise of healing! Military plans to test brain implants to fight mental disorders

head pain
© Kamira / Shutterstock

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is launching a $70 million program to help military personnel with psychiatric disorders using electronic devices implanted in the brain.

The goal of the five-year program is to develop new ways of treating problems including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which are common among service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"We've seen far too many times where military personnel have neuropsychiatric disorders and there's very few options," says Justin Sanchez, a program manager at DARPA.

Comment: Don't be fooled that DARPA is doing this research for the well-being and care of individuals in the military dealing with mental health issues. This would seem to be just be a cover for possible experimentation on people in order to learn more about how to control individuals and to create the ultimate soldier. A soldier when going against what is right and just starts to break down would get an implant in order to bypass what makes them human. They become a human machine fighting toward the ends of the human predator, psychopaths.

People

How cynical personality traits affect dementia risk

© Daniela Vladimirova
Cynicism has already been linked with worse physical health, but what is it doing to the brain?
People with high levels of cynicism are more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study published in the medical journal Neurology (Neuvonen et al., 2014).

It's already been found that those who believe others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns - the definition of cynical distrust - have worse physical health; for example, cynicism has been linked to heart disease.

Now you can add dementia to the list.

In the study, conducted in Finland, 1,449 people were given tests of their cynicism that included questions like:
  • "I think most people would lie to get ahead."
  • "It is safer to trust nobody."
  • "Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it."
The more people endorsed these statements, the stronger their cynical distrust was deemed to be.
Heart - Black

Why love literally hurts

Psychologists have discovered the neural link between social and physical pain

© Up by Disney
Carl grieves the loss of his wife.
Most of us see the connection between social and physical pain as a figurative one. We agree that "love hurts," but we don't think it hurts the way that, say, being kicked in the shin hurts. At the same time, life often presents a compelling argument that the two types of pain share a common source. Old couples frequently make the news because they can't physically survive without one another. In one example from early 2012, Marjorie and James Landis of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who'd been married for 65 years, died just 88 minutes apart.

Truth is you don't have to be a sentimentalist to believe in broken hearts - being a subscriber to the New England Journal of Medicine will do. A few years ago a group of doctors at Johns Hopkins University reported a rare but lethal heart condition caused by acute emotional distress. The problem is technically known as "stress cardiomyopathy," but the press likes to call it "broken heart syndrome," and medical professionals don't object to the nickname.

Behavioral science is catching up with the anecdotes, too. In the past few years, psychology researchers have found a good deal of literal truth embedded in the metaphorical phrases comparing love to pain. Neuroimaging studies have shown that brain regions involved in processing physical pain overlap considerably with those tied to social anguish. The connection is so strong that traditional bodily painkillers seem capable of relieving our emotional wounds. Love may actually hurt, like hurt hurt, after all.

Comment: For more information on how lack of social support and isolation affects us, see these Sott links:

Social isolation affects DNA

How Early Social Deprivation Impairs Long-Term Cognitive Function

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