Global Resilience Solutions > Category:meditation

Brain Resilience: 5 Steps to Healthy Gray-Matter and Avoiding Alzheimer’s

 

We all talk about slowing down as we get older, but Alzheimer’s and other brain-degenerative conditions don’t have to be part of the package.  Far from being part of the natural ageing process, Alzheimer’s, as with every other dementia and memory loss is an acquired condition with definite contributing causes.   Don’t believe it?  Then check out this article after reading this blog post.  Here are some simple approaches you can take to maintain the health of your brain.

 

Free Radicals

 

No, we’re not talking about anarchists.  Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are produced naturally in the metabolic process and that the body uses as part of the immune system.  Your body has mechanisms to neutralize excess free radicals, but when too many of the molecules build up, that system is overwhelmed.  Because of their reactive quality, free radicals tend to destroy cells, including those in the brain and nervous system.

 

Sources of excess free radicals in the modern world include:

–          Radiation from x-rays and microwaves;

–          Toxic metals such as aluminum and cadmium in food preservatives, cosmetics, antiperspirants, aluminum cookware, and even public water supplies and flu vaccines; autopsies on Alzheimer’s patients often reveal abnormally high levels of aluminum;

–          Chlorine and fluoride in drinking water, toothpaste etc.;

–          Cigarette smoke;

–          Hydrogenated oils, such as shortening, deep-fryer oil and non-dairy creamers; these fat molecules have been modified through long-term exposure to heat or chemical process.  They act like a silver bullet going right to your brain and nervous system, where they oxidize much more quickly than ordinary fat molecules, releasing free radicals at a rate that kills or damages the host cell.

 

What can you do besides limiting your exposure?  Antioxidants are nature’s counterbalance to free radicals.  Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotine, D3 and B complex, as well as certain amino acids either act as antioxidants or stimulate antioxidant production.  The herbs ginko and ginseng and the spice turmeric likewise have antioxidant effects, and certain fruits, such as wild blueberries, are high in antioxidant content.  Increasing your vegetable intake also helps.

 

 

The 3-6 Balance

 

Your body needs a certain amount of dietary fat.  Unfortunately, modern diets tend to be weighted toward Omega 6 fatty acids rather than Omega 3, while our bodies are designed for the opposite.  This is of particular concern, because there is evidence that one particular kind of Omega 6 molecule is associated with memory loss and neural degeneration.  Arachidonic acid overstimulates the brain’s nerve cells.  We get Omega 6 from grain-fed factory-farm animal products, but especially from vegetable oil (corn, sunflower, canola and soybean), which is the main source of this imbalance in our diet.  These are present in most processed foods.

 

Conversely, Omega 3 is quite important for brain health.  It can help to break down the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s and reduce brain inflammation.  Dietary sources can be supplemented by krill oil or fish oil capsules, but beware of eating too much fish, as fish in our food chain is often contaminated with mercury.

 

Exercise

 

Exercise plays a major role in regenerating the brain and nervous system.  Less active people are much more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.  By exercising three to four times a week, you can promote cell and tissue repair mechanisms in your body, as well as increasing production of compounds that protect the nervous system.  It increases the flow of blood in your brain and improves the health of your cardiovascular system.

 

Sleep

 

Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to memory, as you know if you’ve ever been a university student.  There is also evidence that a healthy circadian rhythm is critical to the long-term health of your brain.  Working nights over a long period does serious damage to the health of your brain, since it is that regular biochemical cycle that keeps your neural pathways in good working order.

 

 

The Diabetes Connection

 

Diabetes and insulin-resistance have a very high correlation with Alzheimer’s.  Diabetics have up to a 65% higher chance of developing the disease.  As such, the same approaches you’d take to avoid diabetes, such as reducing your sugar and grain intake, are also helpful in promoting brain health.  Going to a diet richer in proteins is one of the first steps recommended to Alzheimer’s patients by natural health experts.

 

 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


The Awesome Power Hidden in Your Mind-Body Organism

The human organism and its real capabilities go far beyond what most people think of as the frontier of the normal.  While ancient traditions have always known about and sought to access this potential, scientific studies have begun to show us just how vast this universe of potential might be.

The intriguing thing is that, as far as brainwave patterns go, the way to hyper-consciousness lies through null consciousness.  Although meditation as practiced by most people slows down brainwaves (Alpha or Theta waves), this is only a preliminary stage.

In a study by Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, a group of Tibetan monks in meditation first slowed their brainwaves and then rapidly accelerated (into the Gamma spectrum, associated with heightened awareness, which is higher in frequency than most waking brainwaves).  In other words, meditation yields a brain operating at peak capacity.  This process has also been found to stimulate the portion of the brain associated with joy, giving us an insight into its effect on emotional health.  As well, it heightens communication between the two sides of the brain.  Meditation yields an intense state of attention on the present moment, and with it an intense awareness of one’s surroundings, as a number of studies using external stimuli have shown.

Sara Lazar’s fMRI studies of meditation have shown that meditation permanently alters both the function and structure of the brain.  The portions of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing increased in thickness according to the number of years spent practicing meditation, defying the usual age-related thinning of these areas.  There was also significant activation of the intuitive part of the brain, showing that both kinds of perception were being stimulated.

Nor is the physical impact of meditation confined to the brain.  Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist, has studied Buddhist monks who are able to generate intense heat with their bodies while meditating in sub-zero temperatures.  He witnessed these monks being repeatedly draped in wet blankets which they dried with the heat from their bodies.  Benson documented temperature increases of up to 17 degrees Fahrenheit combined with lowered metabolism, by up to 60 percent.

 All of this represents what could be called the passive side of the equation, the changes that occur in the practitioner.  The active side is even more interesting. 

A series of academic studies have focussed on Direct Mental Interaction with Living Systems or DMILS.  It turns out that under a number of conditions, the electrical signals in two human brains can become synchronized, even at a distance.  An experiment at the National University of Mexico tested brain to brain transmission using flashes of light as the stimulus.  The receiver was isolated in an electrically-shielded room.  This study and others like it found that, providing there was an existing connection between the participants (in this case established by meditating together for twenty minutes), the EEG readings of the receiver spike identically and in tandem with the sender.

Distance healing has also been the focus of intense study.  One study at the California Pacific Medical Centre recruited a population of established healers and a group of AIDS patients.  The study’s objective was simply to demonstrate the effectiveness of healing, and so every patient in the test group received help from every healer.  The health of the patients in the test group measurably improved, while forty percent of the control group died.

In another study, energy healers of different schools were brought together to work on AIDS patients.  The patients who showed the most improvement were treated by healers who operated, as the great Lakota holy man Fools Crow put it, as “hollow bones”, which is to say that they did not regard themselves as the sources of healing.  The common steps in successful healing of this kind (there is a distinction to be made between intervention of this sort and methods designed to improve health on a long term basis) are that the healer unite mentally and emotionally with the person to be healed, and then, with belief, call upon a higher power and ask for the healing.  The healer needs to get him/herself out of the way and become a conduit.

The studies we’ve looked at here barely scratch the surface of the realms of human possibility.  Tune in next week for more!

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂


“Opening the Dragon Gate…”

In “Thick Face, Black Heart,” I mentioned the amazing Taoist master Wang Liping.  His biography, Opening the Dragon Gate, is a treasure trove for anyone seeking to understand the path to real personal resilience.

In Northeastern China in 1962, three old men came to the door of the Wang family house asking for food.  Wang Liping, the boy who answered the door, knew immediately that there was something different about them.  They were the three lineage holders of the Dragon Gate sect of Taoism, and for the next several years, Wang Liping would study with them in remote and mountainous places.  Opening the Dragon Gate follows the path of the young disciple as his masters systematically transmit to him the tools of self-mastery.

The book is a spiritual adventure, gripping in style, endlessly fascinating in its details, and uplifting in its view of human potential.  There are any number of useful principles and techniques to pull out, but here are just a few, and they should sound familiar:

Sitting:  Wang Liping’s first prolonged exercise involved sitting for long periods of time and remained the most important kind of exercise.  Sitting in this sense “requires that the mind be still as a mountain all the time, whatever you are doing, in action or repose.”

Stillness: The Taoist teaching of stillness requires not allowing external influences of any kind to disturb the mind.  “Whatever you are doing, always strive to overcome perceptions, cognitions and feelings, and you will have no afflictions.”

Cultivation: Life is something to be cultivated with care and deliberation.  Most people, as the Taoist masters observe, do not know how to do this systematically.  This is the main theme of the book, and so I will encourage you to read it rather than recapitulating the whole thing.

Cultivation ranges from sophisticated energy work through theoretical education to such basics as diet.  One of the first things the three masters do is to teach Wang Liping fasting and eliminate such harmful substances as grains from his diet.  Of course, there are many higher realms of refinement which we will leave to the book.

Everyday Tasks: None of the above effort is any good without exerting the effort to live differently, to clean up the inputs and outputs, as it were, of daily life.  That is where “everyday tasks” come in.

There are two sorts of these tasks.  The “external” tasks include avoiding envy and jealousy, avoiding malice and the desire to overcome others, not watching for other people’s faults, not boasting, and not talking about likes and dislikes.

The “internal” task is basically watchfulness, monitoring your inner state to eliminate doubts, fears and harmful desires to achieve a state of clarity and inner freedom.

Even though these are some of the most basic methods, they are by far the most indispensable.  This is the foundation that allowed Wang Liping to take his studies to the highest levels, and is indispensable for anyone starting out in any authentic tradition.

On first reading the book, I was struck by the changes that come to Wang Liping’s body, mind, and capabilities as his organism is slowly returned to its natural function by the old masters.  All authentic ancient traditions understand that the human organism as we commonly understand it has very little in common with the organism of the fully-realized person in terms of its functions and capabilities.  Wang Liping is taught how to cultivate his faculties for many purposes, ranging from healing remotely by energetic means to altering the weather to subduing threatening wild animals with the power of his voice.  His organism is transformed on every level as it begins to reverse the pollution which enters into human nature.  Even the border between life and death is crossed and re-crossed.

At one point, the three old masters first walk their young apprentice into the ground, and then, pretending to send him on ahead while they rest, greet him already resting ten miles ahead.  The secret was a Taoist walking technique.  Other traditions have also reported phenomena which involve walking long distances in a short time.  At the time, those old masters were around 80 years old!

Wang Liping’s  relationship with the natural world also changes.  We see that events from the past  remain in the Earth’s energetic field and can be reviewed by those who have cultivated sufficient inner power and know how to access the information .  Animals, plants, weather patterns, are all seen in a different light, and interaction with the natural world changes and becomes nuanced.  Human beings are seen as microcosms to the universe’s macrocosm, and it is in this light that the significance of nature for personal cultivation and of personal cultivation for the natural world is examined.  Everything is seen as part of a living system, everything effecting everything else.

The tradition of the Dragon Gate sect is remarkable because it is so obviously a highly developed scientific tradition, with a long legacy of experimentation on the human condition and the natural world on which to draw.  The emphasis of this science is not on a mechanistic understanding, but a holistic one.  It seeks the amazing and under-explored capacities of the human organism and the hidden properties of nature, improving the function of both.

Even though the Dragon Gate had traditionally been sustained in the mountains, the old sages saw that a time was coming when the world would need the resources of their tradition.  That was the destiny of Wang Liping, as it has been for cultivated people from many traditions in recent times.  Wang himself was deeply concerned with the esoteric and concealed nature of many useful teachings, and looks for ways to disseminate them more widely.

This book is highly recommended for anyone looking for sources on personal resilience or self-cultivation.  Enjoy!!

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂


Sitting Meditation Postures – Mastering the Full Lotus

It’s become almost synonymous with sitting meditation the world over.  Some will even tell you it’s the “best” meditation posture, advancing all kinds of esoteric arguments to prove their point.  

Yes, it’s that darn full lotus posture, the one we all have a love-hate relationship with because so few people, at least in the West, can maintain it comfortably, if they can even get into it in the first place 😉


So let’s set the record straight on the full lotus by looking at the facts:

  1. It is a superb posture for meditation; no argument there.  It leaves you perfectly balanced and anchored, and may even alleviate the need for a cushion under your butt. 

     

  2. There are lots of other, easier meditation postures used in many meditative traditions, such as the ankle lock, perfect posture, the half lotus, kneeling posture and even sitting on a chair or stool.  So any argument that you can only meditate “properly” in the full lotus is, in my opinion, ‘full’ of something else…
  3. You need to beware of trying to force yourself to use the full lotus before your body is adequately prepared, because you risk permanent knee damage.

I make no secret of the fact that practicing meditation of some variety, your ability to enter into inner stillness, is one of the keys to your personal resilience.  So finding the right posture for yourself is an important step.  

Here’s a super video by Martin Faulks in the UK about how to master the lotus posture.  And for those of you who practice sitting meditation and have no intention of “mastering the full lotus”, I’d recommend you watch it anyway, since it briefly covers other postures and has lots of useful material for you:





What makes this such a great presentation?  Just this:

  • It gives you some background on the lotus flower as a symbol
  • It explains and demonstrates the difference between doing the lotus properly and doing it wrong – which can damage your knees
  • It shows you exactly how to train your body for the lotus (training that can benefit you even if you’re using one of the other postures, by the way!)
  • It emphasizes the critical preparation of the hip joints
  • It demonstrates, albeit briefly, the related sitting postures you’re more likely to use

The one thing I would add here is that if you’re seriously interested in improving your full lotus and maybe getting it to the point where you can use it comfortably to meditate, I’d suggest you start in the spring.  Why?


When the ambient temperature around you warms up, so do your soft tissues, and this makes it much easier for you to stretch with less likelihood of injury.  So if you start your “lotus project” in, say, April, then you’ll have about six solid months to work on it before the weather cools off again (of course, the opposite is the case for those of you in the southern hemisphere).  


Enjoy the video and happy meditating!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger






Between Force and Surrender

If you're not as effective in every area of life as you'd like to be, you might want to consider the 
following...
 
You can react in one of two ways to pretty much everything in your life.  You can use FORCE 
(willpower) to control it, or you can SURRENDER to it.  Each has its place.  One of my clients 
brought this to my attention a few months ago.  I noticed she seemed unable to do such a 
simple thing as taking just 15-30 minutes each morning to "center" herself.   On the other hand, 
she was fighting furiously (and ineffectively) with her thoughts, with those parts of herself and her 
life she doesn't like.
 
In other words, she was choosing to SURRENDER to laziness (a terrible enemy you never want 
to surrender to, by the way).  And on the other hand, she was using brute FORCE to fight against 
her thoughts of inadequacy, fear, anxiety, loneliness and a host of others.
 
Like most of us, my client is in the habit of using FORCE and SURRENDER in exactly the wrong 
way.
 
We need to FORCE ourselves to lead a powerful life,  rather than giving into to our tendency to 
just let ourselves go.  That takes determination.  It always has and it always will. 
 
And yet, we need to SURRENDER inwardly to the truth about where we're at NOW.  That means 
we stop RESISTING our neurotic tendencies - our fears, our poor self-image, our sharp edges 
and the rest.  Why?  Because only by seeing reality as it REALLY IS can we overcome those 
neuroses.  
 
And we don't overcome them by FORCE, by repressing them.  That's what created most of them 
in the first place.  When we calmly stare our uncomfortable aspects in the face in a 
non-judgmental way, we find they begin to lose their hold on us.
 
There are lots of people who think RESILIENCE is about being tough.  And yes, there’s a place 
for that forceful “yang” approach.  It really is vital to building a deliberate, powerful and 
stress-free life.  However…
 
Equally important and often ignored is the judicious use of surrender, the “yin” approach, 
particularly on the more subtle emotional and spiritual levels... to the right things at the right 
moments, of course.  In fact, it’s the only way to become a fully functional human being.
 
Not surprisingly, the most effective tool for learning the proper way to surrender inwardly is the 
process of meditation.  Meditation puts you face to face with the very things you've been 
repressing for years or decades, yet gives you the space and comfort to "create space" for 
them and allow them to dissolve on their own.  New meditators are often astonished at how 
much emotional content they've been repressing and how neurotic it was making them.

If you're interested in learning more about the meditation process and how to transform every 
moment of your life into a meditation that builds your health and calms your thoughts and 
emotions, you can go to:

http://www.harapower.com/ 
 
The irony is, you'll never learn how to surrender to the REAL, to relax deeply into the essence of 
life and discover your true self, unless you know when to apply force.   Every authentic ancient 
tradition is built on this delicate balance between force and surrender.
 
Your friend in the "war for peace", 
 
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger
 


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