Science of the Spirit


Taking addiction to the mat

How mind-body practices can effectively help address substance misuse.

The addiction and mental health treatment communities have always regarded practices such as meditation, yoga and other mind-body practices as useful adjuncts to treatment. But more and more evidence continues to accumulate suggesting that these modalities are actually extremely powerful therapeutic modalities on their own. For some people, regular engagement in mind-body practices can be a foundational part of a recovery plan. Dr. Jenifer Talley, a clinical psychologist and an expert in the integration of mind-body techniques in addict treatment, spells it out and describes her work with a client...Richard Juman

When we consider the factors that contribute to problematic substance use and other risky behaviors, several themes emerge. Most notably, there is a tendency to avoid experiencing discomfort through dissociation and disconnecting from one's body during times of distress. I commonly hear clients say they use substances to alter how they are feeling and to quiet the endless stream of self-critical thoughts. Some are seeking an experience of euphoria, while others aim for relaxation or to attain a state of being numb. Implicitly, there is a lack of acceptance of what is occurring in the moment and a strong desire to alter one's state. Many struggle with allowing emotions to run their course and seek an immediate form of relief. I often say that we have to "roll out the welcome mat" to all our experiences, as avoidance and reacting with aversion only prolong our discomfort and make us more susceptible to substance misuse.

Comment: Why Yoga? Healing research:


Study: Learning can rewire the brain's reward system against drug dependence

© Emily Strange/UC Berkeley News
A new study challenges the idea that addiction might be hardwired in our brains

Challenging the idea that addiction is hardwired in the brain, a new UC Berkeley study of mice suggests that even a short time spent in a stimulating learning environment can rewire the brain's reward system and buffer it against drug dependence.

Scientists tracked cocaine cravings in more than 70 adult male mice and found that those rodents whose daily drill included exploration, learning, and finding hidden tasty morsels were less likely than their enrichment-deprived counterparts to seek solace in a chamber where they had been given cocaine.

"We have compelling behavioral evidence that self-directed exploration and learning altered their reward systems so that when cocaine was experienced it made less of an impact on their brain," said Linda Wilbrecht, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the paper just published in the journal, Neuropharmacology.

By contrast, mice who were not intellectually challenged and/or whose activities and diets were restricted, were eager to return to the quarters where they had been injected with cocaine for weeks on end.

"We know that mice living in deprived conditions show higher levels of drug-seeking behavior than those living in stimulating environments, and we sought to develop a brief intervention that would promote resilience in the deprived animals," said study lead author Josiah Boivin, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at UC San Francisco who conducted the research at UC Berkeley as part of his thesis work.

Drug abuse and addiction rank among the world's more costly, destructive and seemingly insurmountable problems. Previous studies have found that poverty, trauma, mental illness and other environmental and physiological stressors can alter the brain's reward circuitry and make us more susceptible to substance abuse.

The good news about this latest study is that it offers scalable interventions against drug-seeking behaviors, albeit through evidence based on animal behavior.

Comment: See also: Addiction rooted more in social isolation than chemical dependency


Scientist discovers wake-sleep mechanism

New York: An Indian-American scientist at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois has found that a simple two-cycle mechanism controls waking-up and going-to-sleep process in animals during a 24-hour day.

Ravi Allada, circadian rhythms expert, recently discovered how an animal's biological clock wakes it up in the morning and puts it to sleep at night. A simple two-cycle mechanism turns key brain neurons on or off during a 24-hour day.

The clock's mechanism is much like a light switch, as per the findings published in the journal Cell on Thursday.

In a study of brain circadian neurons that govern the daily sleep-wake cycle's timing, Mr Allada and his research team found that high sodium channel activity in these neurons during the day turn the cells on and ultimately awaken an animal, and high potassium channel activity at night turn them off, allowing the animal to sleep.

Investigating further, the researchers were surprised to discover the same sleep-wake switch in both flies and mice.

"This suggests the underlying mechanism controlling our sleep-wake cycle is ancient," Mr Allada was quoted as saying Northwestern University as saying.


Research confirms links between violent video games and increased aggression, decreased prosocial behavior

Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players but insufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency, according to a new American Psychological Association task force report.

"The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression," says the report of the APA Task Force on Violent Media. The task force's review is the first in this field to examine the breadth of studies included and to undertake multiple approaches to reviewing the literature.

"Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence," said Mark Appelbaum, PhD, task force chair. "However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field."

"No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently," the report states. "Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor."

Comment: It could be said that the norms of a society can be mirrored in its choices and forms of entertainment. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the U.S. was at the top of the list in 2013, according to according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. This is the natural result of any society that is saturated with psychopaths at the top, whose control ultimately permeates the entire culture with ideas that have been adjusted, perverted, corrupted and even radically transformed into environments that greatly favour their ways and tactics.

2 + 2 = 4

10 habits to achieve emotional maturity

Emotional maturity is not just a goal, it's a practice of life.

© Flickr/keithgringo also gum n’ strum
In the same manner you repeat the motions of what you believe will slam dunk the score in your weekly basketball game, or your presentation for work, emotional maturity is also obtained through careful, strategic actions. Following these ten steps will take you there.

Step One: Rehearse reaching your goals. The saying is correct, practice is perfect. Regardless of our goals in life, we must want it enough to strive for our aims over and over. This is true of emotional maturity. Putting in a concerted effort to grow in the dealings of your relationships reinforces your emotional muscle memory.

Step Two: Daily affirmations keep your eye on the prize. We must tell ourselves what we want to be each day so we believe in what we are saying and what we stand for. After all, no one else is going to buy your self schpiel if you don't! You can repeat your affirmations in the shower, or in the mirror. And you might feel silly at first, but it's vital to have a mantra which we embrace, such as "I am great, or "I am strong", or "I will make good decisions today." With enough positive self talk, if we believe in what we are saying others will as well.


Research finds having first baby may lead to unhappiness worse than divorce and unemployment

© Michaela Rehle / Reuters
Although considered to be the most joyful period of life, a new study shows that, for many couples, having a first child may turn out to be a worse experience than getting divorced or being unemployed, leading to a strong decline in happiness.

Research published in the Demography Journal on August 4, which was conducted by German and Canadian scientists, shows that the impact of a new baby on the parents' lives might be so severe that it could alter their views on family and make them think twice about having another child.

The new study aims to explain recent demographic patterns indicating low birth rates in developed countries. It demonstrates that psychological factors affect parents' perceived level of happiness after the birth of the first child, which may be a critical factor for the future size of the family.

The researchers tried to gain insight into the disparity between how many children people claim they want to have, and how many kids they actually end up having. The study sought an explanation for the sustained low fertility rates in countries like Germany (1.5 children per woman over the last 40 years) or Great Britain (2 children per woman in 1971, compared to only 1.7 in 2013).

Comment: It's interesting that despite how individuals feel after having a child that they still continue to have children. The biological urge to reproduce is so strong that it seemingly overrides our own natural desire to be happy. It's even worse that society has made it taboo to discuss those feelings. What kind of society do we live in where we aren't allowed to speak honestly about our wellbeing?


Music more effective than drugs in relieving pain and anxiety

© Thinkstock
400 published scientific papers have proven the old adage that "music is medicine." Neurochemical benefits of music can improve the body's immune system, reduce anxiety levels and help regulate mood in ways that drugs have difficulty competing.

"We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics," says Prof. Levitin of McGill University's Psychology Department. "But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding."

The review appearing in in Trends in Cognitive Science, was prompted by the growing number of studies addressing evidence-based music interventions (as opposed to music therapy, which is something else). Prior to this review, no one had really taken the time to look at what all the new evidence was suggesting.


Religious and spiritual beliefs help cancer patients' physical, mental, and social well-being

Research reveals that most individuals with cancer have religious and spiritual beliefs, or derive comfort from religious and spiritual experiences. But what impact does this have on patients' health? Recent analyses of all published studies on the topic—which included more than 44,000 patients—shed new light on the associations of religion and spirituality with cancer patients' mental, social, and physical well-being. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the analyses indicate that religion and spirituality have significant associations with patients' health, but there was wide variability among studies regarding how different dimensions of religion and spirituality relate to different aspects of health.


How listening to Mozart could prevent epileptic seizures

© The Telegraph, UK
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Listening to Mozart seems to protect against epileptic fits.
Listening to jazz or Mozart might stop epileptics having seizures, new research has suggested.

Epileptics react differently to music than those who do not have the disorder, new research found.

Scans show brainwaves of those with the disorder appear to synchronise with music by Mozart or John Coltrane but not with silence such as American experimental composer John Cage's piece 4'33" or "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds."

Assistant professor of neurology Dr Christine Charyton said: "We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy.

"We were surprised by the findings. We hypothesised that music would be processed in the brain differently than silence."

"We did not know if this would be the same or different for people with epilepsy."

While music would not replace current epilepsy therapy, the research suggested music might be a novel intervention used in conjunction with traditional treatment to help prevent seizures in people with epilepsy.

Around four fifths of epilepsy cases are what is known as temporal lobe epilepsy, in which the seizures appear to originate in the temporal lobe of the brain.


Your brain is particularly vulnerable to trauma at two distinct ages

© Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Our brain's ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your "terrible twos" and those turbulent teen years are when the brain's wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.