Science of the Spirit
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Magic Wand

Just breathe: Yogic breathing can reduce symptoms of PTSD

© wbur.org
It is estimated that more than 20 percent of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although, PTSD symptoms affect non-service people too - it can affect lots of different people who have survived trauma, hardship and extreme stress.

A new study from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers hope for those suffering from the disorder. Researchers there have shown that a breathing-based meditation practice called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga can be an effective treatment for PTSD.

Comment: Read the following articles to learn more about how deep breathing exercises can improve your life: Try the Éiriú Eolas breathing program and find out for yourself how breathing exercises can heal you emotionally, physically and mentally.

Cassiopaea

Beyond the 'animals are machines' metaphor

machine life
Animals are not machines, and the very idea is now holding back scientific progress

Many people who have not studied science are baffled by scientists' insistence that animal and plants are machines, and that humans are robots too, controlled by computer-like brains with genetically programmed software. In Richard Dawkins' vivid phrase, we are "lumbering robots."

It seems more natural to assume that we are living organisms, as are animals and plants. Organisms are self-organising; they form and maintain themselves, and have their own ends or goals. Machines, by contrast, are designed by an external mind: their parts are put together by external machine-makers and they have no purposes or ends of their own. If you get into a car and it's in working order, it will go wherever you want. If you get onto a horse, it might have its own ideas about where to go.

The starting point for modern science was the rejection of an organic view of the universe. In the seventeenth century, the machine metaphor became central to scientific thinking, with very far reaching consequences. In one way it was immensely liberating. New ways of thinking became possible that encouraged the invention of machines and the evolution of technology.

Before the seventeenth century, almost everyone took it for granted that the universe was like an organism, and so was the Earth. In classical, medieval and renaissance Europe, nature was alive. For example, William Gilbert (1540 - 1603), a pioneer of the science of magnetism, was explicit in his organic philosophy of nature. "We consider that the whole universe is animated," he wrote, "and that all the globes, all the stars, and also the noble earth have been governed since the beginning by their own appointed souls and have the motives of self-conservation". Even Nicholas Copernicus, whose revolutionary theory of the movement of the heavens, published in 1543, placed the sun rather than the earth at the centre of the universe, was no mechanist. His reasons for making this change were mystical as well scientific. He thought a central position dignified the sun.
Info

Fairness evolved to support co-operation

Ice Cream
© ChuckPlace/iStockphoto
The idea of getting our fair share has deep evolutionary roots, say researchers.
Our sense of fairness evolved in order to support long-term co-operation, a new analysis suggests.

The hypothesis comes from a review of primate behaviour data, published today in the journal Science.

"This is the first paper to put forth an evolutionary hypothesis for fairness based on experimental data from animals," says evolutionary biologist Dr Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State University.

For humans, fairness is a social ideal but Brosnan and colleagues were interested in whether fairness evolved in animals.

It's hard to test whether animals sense fairness, says Brosnan, but you can test animals' response to getting less than someone else.

In a study published in 2003, Brosnan and colleagues found a monkey given a cucumber as a reward for performing a task protested by hurling the cucumber back at the researcher if they saw their partner getting a more highly prized grape as a reward.

"They were perfectly happy to eat the cucumber as long as their partner was getting cucumber, but when the partner started getting grapes they started throwing out their cucumbers," says Brosnan.
2 + 2 = 4

Teaching the children: Political differences shape which values are passed down

Wide gaps over teaching faith, tolerance, obedience

As the public grows more politically polarized, differences between conservatives and liberals extend their long reach even to opinions about which qualities are important to teach children, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Question

Vegetative patient shows brain activity watching Hitchcock film

© AFP Photo DDP / Nigel Treblin Germany out
A man who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years showed neural activity while watching a Hitchcock film. Researchers say that for the first time, they've discovered that "a patient with unknown levels of consciousness can monitor their environment."

It has been assumed that about one in five patients who appear to be entirely vegetative may actually be conscious, but researchers had not been able to prove that was the case until recently.

A research team at the University of Western Ontario, led by post-doctoral researcher Lorina Nacia, has developed a sensitive method to test whether any neural activity is taking place during a film sequence. The study is described in a report approved in August.

The researchers needed a clip short in length, 7-8 minutes, for the duration that a person can be placed in an MRI. They discovered that Alfred Hitchcock's short "Bang! You're Dead" fit the bill. It has a story sequence with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and is about a child who carries a loaded revolver around town.
Books

Reading slowly can benefit your brain and reduce stress

© Frida Sakaj
Members of a Wellington, New Zealand, club gather weekly to read slowly.
At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.

The point of the club isn't to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn't make it through a book anymore.

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the "slow-food" way or knitting by hand.

Comment: Another great way to reduce stress, increase concentration, and deepen empathy is to practice the deep breathingand mediation techniques shown in the Éiriú Eolas program, which may be learned here.

Info

Imprinted brain theory links autism and schizophrenia

Imprinted Genes
© moswyn/iStockphoto
'Imprinted' genes may affect a baby's behaviour and could be involved in the development of autism or schizophrenia.
A Danish study has provided support for a controversial theory that says autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia are opposite ends of a spectrum, with normal brain function somewhere in between.

The 'Imprinted Brain Theory' postulates that these mental disorders are a result of a 'battle of the sexes', with epigenetic effects subtly controlling certain genes, expressed as a baby develops, to favour the survival of either the mother or the father's genes.

Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study has found relationships between a baby's size and its risk of getting schizophrenia or autism, which fit with the theory.

Parental Tug-of-War

The theory concerns 'imprinted' genes. These genes are very unusual because they are expressed differently depending on whether they come from the mother or the father. This contrasts with the vast majority of genes for which parental origin makes no difference to their activity.

"There are about 70-80 genes that are thought to be genetically imprinted in humans." says Dr Sean Byars, lead author of the Danish study who is now at the University of Melbourne.

It's thought that imprinted genes affect things like the size of the baby. For example, it is in the father's interests for babies to be big, as they are more likely to survive and pass on his genes.

For the mother, though, a baby that is too large may deplete her resources, and could jeopardise her chance of future pregnancies. This will reduce her genes' chances of being passed on through future children, explains Byars.

Many imprinted genes are thought to act in the placenta, with some from the father favouring larger babies while some from the mother favour smaller ones. What the baby actually ends up with is usually a balance between the two parent's needs.
Butterfly

Reconnecting children with the outside world

Our children are spending 20 hours a week staring at screens, writes Sandra Thompson. High time to get them outside with the mud, bugs, flowers and slime ...

With children spending an average of almost 14 hours a week in front of the television and six hours in front of their computers, any effort to get them outside and closer to nature must surely be encouraged.

Not only is immersion in nature it crucial to mental, physical and emotional development, it ensures that our children feel connected to the natural world - and increases the likelihood of future generations wanting to protect our habitats and wildlife.

Comment: Learn more about the healing benefits of being outside, both for children and adults:

Calculator

Amount of gray matter in parietal cortex can impact risk-taking

© Psychcentral.com
New research suggests the physical composition of the brain influences the individual tolerance of risk.

Australian researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to perform a whole-brain analysis and discovered the volume of the outer layer of our brain, or gray matter, is related to a person's willingness to take risks.

Specifically, Dr. Agnieszka Tymula, an economist at the University of Sydney, and international collaborators posit the amount of gray matter in the right posterior parietal cortex can serve as a biomarker for financial risk-attitudes.

Men and women with higher grey matter volume in this region exhibited less risk aversion.

"Individual risk attitudes are correlated with the grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex, suggesting existence of an anatomical biomarker for financial risk-attitude," said Tymula.

This means tolerance of risk "could potentially be measured in billions of existing medical brain scans."

But she has cautioned against making a causal link between brain structure and behavior. More research will be needed to establish whether structural changes in the brain lead to changes in risk attitude or whether that individual's risky choices alter his or her brain structure - or both.
Robot

Your perception of life's daily hassles affects long-term health

stress
The stress from little daily hassles can kill you just as easily as that from serious life events, finds a new study of its impact on health.

The research found that when older men experienced a high level of daily hassles they were at an increased risk of dying early just as if they'd experienced more serious life events, like losing a loved one (Aldwin et al., 2014).

Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, who led the research said:
"We're looking at long-term patterns of stress - if your stress level is chronically high, it could impact your mortality, or if you have a series of stressful life events, that could affect your mortality."
The study looked at both everyday hassles, like work stress or family arguments, along with more devastating events like the loss of a spouse.

While both types have an effect on the chances of dying, their data showed that each was independent of the other.

Some people may be hit by traumatic life events, but this may not be translated into everyday hassles because of the way they deal with stress.

Aldwin continued:
"It's not the number of hassles that does you in, it's the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems.

Taking things in stride may protect you."

Comment: As the author says, what matters most is our ability to manage our emotional reactions to stress. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to meditate. Research has shown that people experience significant benefits after practicing meditation after only a few days. An excellent method to use is the Éiriú Eolas program which is available here for free.

This program naturally stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system using controlled breathing exercises and is the modern revival of an ancient breathing and meditation program which is being acclaimed around the world as THE TOOL that will help you to:
  • Relax from the stresses of everyday life
  • Gently work your way through past emotional and psychological trauma
  • Release repressed emotions and mental blockages
  • Rejuvenate and Detoxify your body and mind


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