Calming The Nervous System With Ayurveda

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The nervous system is governed by the vata dosha according to Ayurveda. Doshas are the bioenergetic systems of the body and vata is one of three doshas which make up the human system: vata controls movement, pitta provides metabolism, and kapha governs tissue, bones and lubrication.

Of course, it is actually not that compartmentalized because all the doshas are interdependent and interact with each other. When you eat, vata moves the food to the digestive system, lubricated by kapha, where pitta will do the digestion.

Vata is considered the most important dosha because it is identified with prana energy. According to Wikipedia, prana is the sanskrit word for “vital life” the life giving vital force that supports us all.  Vata governs the mind, nervous system, psychological processes, blood circulation, the somatic nervous system, and the movement of food and wastes.

Because vata not only regulates the nervous system but also our creativity, a vata imbalance negatively affects our ability to create. There are many signs of vata imbalance; one of the most important ones for highly sensitive people is anxiety. When we become anxious, the focus of our attention shifts to the cause of our anxiety. We are then unable to move forward into our creativity until the source of our anxiety is resolved. If it remains unresolved, chronic debilitating stress is the result and we can feel blocked.

Although the vata dosha is all about movement, one important cause of anxiety is too much movement or chaos in our environment. Vata needs a balance between stability and movement to be effective. Providing vata with stability helps an individual reduce and let go of anxiety, opening the door to more creative intention.  The first law of nature is survival, so safety is always the first priority. Without a feeling of safety, vata becomes bogged down; with a feeling of safety vata feels good and can flourish.

Because highly sensitive people suffer from so much chronic stress and other disorders, HSP’s need to be vigilant about keeping their vata dosha in balance. It is a challenge to find the right balance between stability and flux. The place to start is with the daily schedule.

Aurveda recommends rising before dawn, eating three meals a day with the main meal at midday when digestion is strongest, and going to bed by 10PM.

This is a simple morning routine created by Dr. Robert Svoboda of Ayurvedic Institute one of the most respected Ayurvedic schools in the United States:

  1. Wake before dawn
  2. Clear the body through elimination of wastes.
  3. Briefly wash all the sense organs to wake them up: hands, feet, face, mouth, eyes and nose.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Self massage called abhyanga with oil.
  6. Exercise: yoga would be good,
  7. Breakfast.

You can add other cleansing actions to this schedule if you would like.  Some people drink warm water first thing in the morning to get the digestion going and help elimination.  You can also do a tongue scraping, to clear toxins.  Breathing exercises can be beneficial in the morning as well, since they help to clear the head.

All of the activities are meant to clear toxins and fire up the digestive furnace. This process is a wonderful investment in self grounding, mental well being and healthy physical function. If you can do it, it will help you feel that you are starting the day on solid ground,  something that all highly sensitive people need.


Is The Quick Fix Killing Us?


Runaway Train © by Simon Peckham

Study Reveals Bias Toward Optimism

Optimism © by caseywest

Article first published as Study Reveals Bias Toward Optimism on Technorati.

Nature Neuroscience published on October 9, 2011 the findings of a study conducted by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London on the question of pervasive optimism. The scientists wanted to understand why people maintained optimism in spite of negative information and found that humans have “faulty” processing in their frontal lobes.

The study evaluated the MRI brain scans of 19 volunteers, who were tested on a wide range of 80 negative life events including family tragedies, major illnesses and violence. The volunteers were expected to estimate the probability of the event occurring to them, after which they were given the average probability. All participants recorded their final answers on a questionnaire.

The study showed that participants changed their initial estimates if the averages provided them with optimistic information.  If the average probabilities were worse, the participants made few to no adjustments in their initial estimate. The frontal lobe provided a clue. When participants were given optimistic probabilities their frontal lobe was very active in processing the information.  However, when presented with less favorable information, the frontal lobe was not as engaged. The frontal lobe governs emotions, impulse control and problem solving.

Wellcome Trust’s press release offered this observation from Dr Sharot, one of the study’s researchers: “Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen to. The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future. This can have benefits for our mental health, but there are obvious downsides. Many experts believe the financial crisis in 2008 was precipitated by analysts overestimating the performance of their assets even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.”

Although many conclusions can be drawn from this study based on one’s inherent optimism of pessimism, pervasive optimism suggests an inherent bias towards our own survival.  It may also suggest that our bias may also be towards problem solving rather than data.  If a participant thinks the less favorable averages are wrong, inapplicable or can be overcome then ignoring the negative average information makes sense.

Human optimism may be why we have come so far against great odds to create what we have.  Although there is no question that inappropriate optimism can be harmful as the study suggests, we are probably better off for being optimistic.

Stress Creates 50% Mortality Risk In Some Men According To New Study

stress © by madstreetz


Article first published as Stress Creates 50% Mortality Risk In Some Men According To New Study on Technorati.


The october 23, 2011 issue of Medical News Today announced  the results of a new study on stress and mortality in men. The study results show that stress can create as much as a 50% higher mortality risk in men according.  The research found that both moderate and high stress levels were a factor if the stress persisted over some period of time.

The University of Oregon conducted the study which was presented in the Journal of Aging Research.  It was an 18 year sample from 1985 to 2003 taken from the VA Normative Aging Study (NAS), a longitudinal panel study of white men in the Boston area which began in the 1960’s.  1443 working and middle class men aged 41-87 were in the study.  The approach to this research was a departure from other studies because it used a larger sample size, a longer period of time and included known major stressors that affect older people like a death in the family. The results were examined with and without  health related stress events.

The study defined the participants stress level according to the number of major stressors in a year.  The lower stress group experienced two, the moderate stress group three, and the highly stressed group as many as six major stressors. The mortality risk jumped when the major stressors exceeded two and surprisingly was the same for moderate and highly stressed men.

The researchers found few moderating factors.  Good health, marriage and moderate drinking seemed to improve the mortality results.

“Being a teetotaler and a smoker were risk factors for mortality,” said Carolyn Aldwin, lead author of the study and a professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University. “So perhaps trying to keep your major stress events to a minimum, being married and having a glass of wine every night is the secret to a long life.”

The study seems to indicate that there is a threshold of stress events that is manageable and without adverse effect.  Apparently we bump up against our limits at 2 stress events on a year. The researchers found that result to be the most fascinating and surprising.

We do have limits.  The men who were able to manage those limits the best  were also able to live longer.

The Loneliness Problem

MARUYAMA Zoo - Loneliness. © by MJ/TR (´・ω・)

If we took a survey of HSP’s, how many would say they are lonely? Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Being alone and enjoying it come from our full engagement with life.  Loneliness is something else.

Loneliness often feels like we have been graded and found wanting.  It feels like a suffocating prison to which we do not hold the key. When we experience loneliness, we often experience it as a form of rejection. Sometimes it feels like we are in a different place from everyone else, and so we feel the loneliness of our difference. Our inability to find or share common ground can give rise to feelings of loneliness.

Being a highly sensitive person inevitably invites lonely feelings just because of who we are.  Because we perceive and experience differently we are often at a disadvantage in our relationships. On an interpersonal basis sharing differences in perception and experience is not so difficult.  The greater difficulty comes from not really sharing the language of a culture that is the basis for interpersonal exchange. The sensitivities and values difference that come from a holistic living experience are hard to integrate into an us vs. them culture.

Highly sensitive people have much to give in a world that often does not want what we have to offer. Our hearts are so big but they are often big by themselves. It feels like you are out on a limb in a world that wants to chop it down at any moment.  Very risky! Yet you cannot do otherwise, because you would then be betraying yourself.  So you therefore carry the torch even if no one can see it, even when you feel foolish, hoping that at some point the world will stop long enough to see that there is no them, and that then you will not be lonely any more.

Breakthrough In Diabetes Treatment

Mouse embryonic stem cell growing on mouse embryonic feeder cells © by CodonAUG

Article first published as Breakthrough in Diabetes Treatment on Technorati.

There is new hope for diabetics, according to the Neural Stem Cell Transplant May Tackle Diabetes report in ScienceDaily on October 14, 2011. Researchers in Japan have found a way to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas, which makes possible a long awaited cure to this devastating disease that affects as many as 200 million people on our planet. The research finding were published in EMBO Molecular Medicine on October 6.

Insulin dependent diabetics are plagued by insufficient insulin production in the pancreas, the organ responsible for sugar management. The pancreas is a shaped like a fish and located behind the stomach in the abdomen. Insulin is produced by beta cells which are located in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.

Diabetes treatment has been hindered by the low donations of pancreatic beta cells to regenerate the beta cells. Researchers in Japan have found a creative solution to the problem using neural stem cells. The research which was conducted at the AIST Institute in Tsukuba, Japan was led by Dr. Tomoko Kuwabara. Human stem cells can be differentiated which means that there is a process though which stem cells can be adapted to different  cell replacement roles in the body. This techniques is particularly useful in situations which target a single cell as in the case of diabetes. “As diabetes is caused by the lack of a single type of cell the condition is an ideal target for cell replacement treatments,” said Kuwabara.

The research transplanted cells from the hippocampus and olfactory bulb in the front of the brain into a diabetic rat. The cells then began to act like beta cells of the pancreas. They produced insulin and when removed, the rat’s sugar levels rose again. Since these brain cells do not normally produce insulin, the results were a pleasant surprise because they demonstrated that the brain cells could be an effective treatment for diabetes.

Science Daily noted the encouraging peer response to the research results: “The discovery of stem cells which have virtually unlimited self-renewal raises great expectations for their use in regenerative medicine. The isolation and cultivation of stem cells as a renewable source of beta cells would be a major breakthrough,” wrote Onur Basak and Hans Clevers, from the Hubrecht Institute for Development Biology and Stem Cell Research, in their close up paper, published in the same issue of EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Not only does this research provide great hope for diabetics but it also offers new hope for many others suffering from diseases created by non functioning cells like diabetes.  It is truly a breakthrough which will be welcomed by many.

Why Self Care Is Hard

Sleeping Cat © by Ella Mullins

Why is self care so hard?  Whenever I see a sleeping cat, I am struck by how unconflicted they are about living each moment, about being here and their deservingness.  Receiving simply is not an issue for them.

Humans make the whole business of receiving about power.  So receiving inevitably comes with some sort of baggage about favoritism, haves and have nots, about identity and identity politics.  Receiving is about effort: the effort to be in the right place at the right time, the effort to make sure you know the right people, say the right thing, and wear the right clothes. It’s about the effort to anticipate the future, the effort to escape the past, the effort to be seen, the effort to be relevant, the effort to get into the right school and get the right grades, the effort to get your “look” “right”, to have enough, be enough, care enough, and so it goes on and on.

Cats luxuriate in the energy or prana of the universe.  Of course they are at home in it, they couldn’t imagine otherwise.  It’s natural to them.  We humans on the other hand, are always grabbing at the energy in ourselves and others like we are starving.  We have to work it rather than be in it.  We are outsiders in our own world.

Cats act as if the world is a nourishing place.  Humans seem to be in a nourishment optional place.  We can expect nourishment if we are a certain way, think certain thoughts and do certain things.  Too often we feel and act malnourished because usually we are. When we are working so hard there is little time left for self care.

When we have to claw our way into membership in the human race, their is little energy left for simply breathing and luxuriating in our magnificent world. Personally I think it is time to drop effort and go for joyful luxuriating like my cat knows how to do. If she is giving lessons I am ready. But before we do that I think I will simply join her on the couch for a luxurious nap.

New Study Shows How Winning Affects The Brain

Rock Paper Scissors © by SmartGoat

Article first published as New Study Shows How Winning Affects The Brain on Technorati.

So says a Yale study published in the October 6 issue of Neuron, a journal that investigates genetics and the brain. It has reexamined the reward pathways of the brain that are conventionally associated with the basal ganglia, a center brain region responsible for decisions to act and dopamine which is thought to process rewarding and ineffective actions.When we want to win all parts of the brain become engaged.

This brain study used a multi-voxel pattern analysis to analyze fMRI data to determine patterns in brain function throughout the brain rather than confining the data to the cerebral cortex. This study evaluated subjects playing either matching-pennies or rock-paper-scissors games to determine whether reward and punishment perceptions presented themselves in a particular part of the brain or whether there were other patterns at work.

The scientists discovered that when playing a game to win, the entire brain is active, not part of it.  They also discovered that all parts of the brain showed patterns of response to reward and punishment.

“While it is likely that the basal ganglia and its projections are responsible for the core functions of reward-related processing, many other brain regions are at least provided with this information,” concludes Dr. Timothy Vickery from the Department of Psychology at Yale and lead scientist on this study. “This suggests an imperative to study the effects of reinforcement and punishment in domains where they are not usually considered as important factors — from low-level sensory systems to high-level social reasoning. Such distributed representations would have adaptive value for optimizing many types of cognitive processes and behavior in the natural world.”

What this means is not yet clear. We humans are continually engaging with our environment, and adapting to changes in it.  Over time, our brain evolves strategies for dealing with successes and failures.  However, the study demonstrates that our games and contests may hold greater implication for our identity and social functioning. This study seems to indicate that our brain, even in a competitive activity, operated holistically and that may suggest new ways to understand ourselves.

Sources: Winning Affects the Entire Brain, Medical News Today, October, 7, 2011

Michael Jackson: An HSP?

michael_jackson © by bartleby78

Was Michael Jackson an HSP?  The odds are that he was. Highly sensitive people are known for being different and suffering because of it.  They are also frequently highly gifted and often geniuses.  Unfortunately, many HSP’s suffer from any number of genetic, stress and anxiety disorders that impair their functioning. It is not my purpose here to dissect the course of Michael’s life and treatment because that is beyond my knowledge. However, it is interesting to notice in retrospect how many of the characteristics of being an HSP he had:

  • Apparently even when he was young he was shy.  He found it difficult to do the missionary work of the Jehovah’s Witness religion that his family belonged to.
  • By all accounts, he suffered from extreme child abuse.  Apparently, he was frequently beaten with a strap, and experienced nightmares from having been terrorized by his father.  Many HSP’s are people who have suffered from severe child abuse. If he was born a highly sensitive person, the child abuse would have made his sensitivity worse.
  • Although he was alienated from his father he did express his love for him. Many highly sensitive people are very loving and highly empathetic people.  That he could love his father in spite of all the abuse makes me think that he had the HSP’s capacity for empathy but also perhaps some challenges with effective boundaries.
  • He was apparently an introvert. Even as a child in a very large family he felt lonely.  Being abused can create loneliness because abuse is a form of rejection of another person. In addition, if one feels lonely also because of being different that can increase the pain of social isolation dramatically.  It appears that Michael was not able to effectively handle his social pain. The Daily Beast interview of Deepak Chopraa bout Michael Jackson’s life provides a lot of insight about his shyness and loneliness.
  • He had a genetic disorder.  Michael was diagnosed with Lupus and also had vitiligo.  Lupus is considered one of the genetic disorders affecting highly sensitive people according to David Ritchey, author of the book, The H.I.S.S. of the A.S.P. based on a study of highly sensitive people.
  • He had insomnia.  Many highly sensitive people have insomnia, because they suffer from nervous system overload because of their sensitivities and have difficulty handing them.
  • He was exceptionally gifted.  This needs no explaining, but it can be a characteristic of HSP’s.
The purpose of this is to notice characteristics of the highly sensitive person demonstrated in Michael Jackson.  I am sure that there may be others of which I am not aware.  There is enough evidence, however, to suggest that he was in fact an HSP. It has only been recently thanks to the pioneering work of Elaine Aron, Ph.D., that the highly sensitive person has been identified as a type of individual, in fact one out of five in the general population.

HSP’s suffer from many genetic, stress and anxiety disorders, and need a strict health regimen to manage their health.  Apparently his good friend Deepak Chopra was able to help him develop some healthy habits, but for some reason he was not able to maintain his healthy lifestyle. Perhaps he was unaware of the HSP trait.  Perhaps he felt like a failure for having the dificulties he had.

We are just beginning to understand the highly sensitive trait and all its manifestations, emotional, mental and physical.  I hope that the Michael Jackson’s of the future will have better access to a more understanding world that will truly be able to offer effective help.