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The Science of Mind and Body

Health and Happiness

Many health and happiness problems today are related to stress.  The problems that occupy people today are not new; stress has always been there.  Today, however, it is more relevant because better diet and living environments make other problems like tuberculosis, cholera and rickets irrelevant.

Behaviour Changes

Stress relief is accomplished most effectively by behaviour modification.  The use of industrial pharmaceuticals is not a cure even though it may reduce the symptoms temporarily.  Chemicals' side effects can negate their benefits.  Their daily use should not be a substitute for appropriate diet and lifestyle.  Behaviour modification engender virtuous circles of improvement in the way that pharmaceutical use can engender vicious circles of degradation.

The most widely acknowledged stress relief is to elicit the relaxation response.  This is principally done in ways that may seem surprisingly familiar: meditation, paced breathing and repetitive activities.

The adoption of these natural techniques is also international and cross cultural.  The first step is regular and consistent commitment to an activity, like daily meditation, or if you find that too slow try exercise at first but ensure that within three months a period of meditation is introduced before or after exercise.  The next step is for your outlook on life to transform - your mind changes.  In fact, your behaviour changes will alter the physical shape of your mind which will make your behaviour changes easier and more comfortable.

The Number 1 Problem

The number one cause of stress is revenge!  Whether its bitterness to bosses, competitors, authorities, politicians, colleagues, friends, children this anxiety is probably your main cause of stress and reduced happiness.  The solution is simple, though not necessarily easy at first.  If you "forgive and let live" you will have positive emotional and physical consequences and benefit from clearer thinking and decision making (thus it is critical for those in positions of responsibility). 

Forgiveness research is one of the hottest areas of clinical research.  It used to be derided but now we can not get enough of it.   It indicates two principal benefits:

  • reduced physiological consequences of cardiovascular diseases, immune suppression and reduced neurological function and

  • improved social networks. 

Forgiveness involves letting go, but not necessarily excusing behaviour.  An easy example is forgiving children for bad behaviour though not excusing it and encouraging them to be more considerate and careful.  In the words of Confucius "If you live for revenge, first dig two graves."

Reducing stress also is a major benefit to reducing digestion and digestive tract disorders and fertility disorders.

Mind - Spirit Connection

I love the quote: "neuroscience shows that the soul is the activity of the brain"!  At last science is catching up with the dreamers.

We know that thinking changes the brain, or the brain changes shape to think.  The cells of the brain (neurons) change shape, connections and charge as we think.  Thus meditation and similar therapy changes the brain, and in a way that is different from the changes that take place when one is "taught" by rote - learning the answers to specific questions instead of learning to think.

Edward deBono, an MD and leading business coach famous for teaching lateral thinking, helped me visualise this by describing the brain as a pile of soil upon which water is dripped (information).  The soil changes shape and the more one area is dripped upon the more embedded those thoughts become and the more difficult it is to think differently.  In order to think differently and control ones thoughts mental exercise like critical thinking and lateral thinking are invaluable.

So if meditation and similar therapy changes the brain, so it also changes our soul or spirit or ethics.  And, for the record, also supports the notion that

  • our spirit only lives while our body/mind lives

  • our spirit is interconnected with the spirit dimension and the noosphere.

So to be happy, breathe.  Breathe rhythmically.

A review by Newsweek (4 October 2004 edition) with Harvard Medical School comprehensively reviewed a number of links between the health of body and mind - recommended reading!

And Time's The Science of Meditation here.

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