The Hellenistic thinkers saw philosophy as therapy, and philosophy as a healer of souls. The classical Indian philosopher Patanjali saw his philosophy as both therapeutic and liberating. The Hellenistic philosophers claimed that 'Empty is that philosopher's argument by which no human suffering is therapeutically treated'. They claimed to treat the destructive passions, especially fear and anger, which they concluded led to war and conflict. These philosophers felt they did a better job than the astrologers and the religious teachers, because so much of suffering was based on false belief.
Lucretius and Death
The Epicurean, Lucretius, made this claim about death: 'It is irrational to fear that which we will not experience, death being non-existent, cannot in the nature of things be experienced, therefore it is irrational to fear death.' Lucretius felt that to truly comfort you he first had to prove to you that there's no afterlife. He thought that what most people are afraid of is suffering in the afterlife. So, to get rid of the idea of an afterlife, he had to convince you it is irrational to imagine that you survive yourself. If you think you're standing there in your mind, looking at your cadaver and thinking 'Oh, poor dead you, you are missing out on the good things of life.' If you can accept there will be no spectator there, that there is just nothing at all, then your fear will disappear. If there is nothing at all, then it would be irrational to think that it is a bad thing that has happened to you, because there is no you there for whom something bad could happen.
Love and Attachment
The sarvam dukham or 'all is suffering' of the Upanishads, Buddhism and Yoga captures more or less the same attitude towards attachment to the ephermal phenomena and relationships of the material world as the that of the Hellenist philosophers of Greece and Rome. These philosophers, both Hellenists and Indian, thought that the moment you have attachments to something outside yourself, outside your control, whether it's a child, or a spouse, then events that you don’t control are going to make you fearful, grief-stricken, and probably angry. Even the deep love of another is bound to be dangerous because we know that other people can be unreliable. That loved one may come to harm, even if the person is perfectly loyal to you. You may lose your child or your spouse by death, and then you will grieve and perhaps break from the loss. These thinkers believed if you understood how the universe worked then accepting it would calm you down.
What these philosophers, including the Indian ones, leave out is the importance of personal love. They thought about it a lot, both the Hellenists and the Indians. They concluded that love or attachment wasn’t worth the trouble. We can argue with them and think that the attachments we have to our children, parents and lovers, are much more important than they claimed. We can accept the logic of their arguments but our modern view of life is very much based based on personal attachment.
"Happy New Year Heart Attack"
Heart attacks are more common during the winter months than in any other season. A study of death certificates published in Circulation in 2004, confirmed the association of heart-attack deaths during the winter. The results were referred to as “The ‘Merry Christmas Coronary’ and ‘Happy New Year Heart Attack’ Phenomenon.”
Paschimotanasana Test of Your Arteries
Why heart-attack deaths surge during the winter holidays is not clear, but cardiologists have some informed guesses. A new study published in the journal Heart and Circulatory Physiology suggests, that there may be a way to test at least one element of your heart’s health right in your own home, right now. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front. Bend from the hips. Can you touch your toes? If you can, then your cardiac arteries are probably flexible.
The study recruited 526 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 83 and had them perform the forward bend test described above, and measured their extensions precisely. Researchers sorted the subjects into either the high-flexibility group or the poor-flexibility group.
Next, researchers estimated how flexible their arteries were. Supple arteries let the blood move freely. Stiff arteries make your heart work harder and over time could lead to a greater risk for heart attack and stroke, according to researchers at North Texas University.
Correlation if over 40
The researchers found a correlation between inflexible bodies and inflexible arteries in subjects older than 40. Adults with poor forward bends tended to have arterial stiffness. The study concluded that “a less flexible body indicates arterial stiffening, especially in middle-aged and older adults.” This correlation was not found in those under 40.
Arterial stiffening does not necessarily lead to arterial disease, Mr. Yamamoto says. Some arterial stiffening is inevitable with age; but the stiffer your arteries, the less efficient your heart is. Mr. Yamamoto says, that alterations in the composition of muscle tissues in the lower back could be occurring in the arterial walls at the same time.
The good news is that increasing your flexibility might somehow loosen up your arteries. That was the unreplicated finding of a small study at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. The study examined whether weight lifting increased arterial stiffness. (It didn’t). The control group stretched. They were not expected to change cardiac function, but over the course of 3 months they increased the flexibility of their arteries by about 20 percent.
Mr. Yamamoto and his researchers are conducting a large study to determine how stretching affects the arteries. Until the results are in, Mr. Yamamoto says, it’s best to consider your flexibility as a probable indication of your arterial elasticity. “If you can touch your toes in the sit-and-reach test, your flexibility is good,” he says. Tight arteries are not necessarily diseased arteries; they’re just not fit.
For those of you who practice Yoga regularly it seems I have just found another reason for you to keep it up. If you are new to Yoga now is a good time to start.
A Silent Halleluia for Christmas
We thought that you would enjoy this joyous Christmas Halleluia concert by a group of silent monks. Thanks to Tais Gill Tienda for showing us this video..
We or I and You?
A recent study about the significance of using we vs. separateness pronouns, such as "I" and "You," among married couples has some interesting suggestions. The couples in the study were asked to have a conversation about their marital conflicts. Their emotional experiences during this quarrel were evaluated, and each partner was asked how happy they were in their marriages. The results showed that using we-ness pronouns was associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of negative emotions, and low levels of cardiovascular arousal. When one spouse used we-ness words, it was soothing to both. The results suggest that using "we" can be healthy and emotionally comforting. Older couples showed greater levels of we-ness usage and a greater sense of shared identity than the younger couples. Among older couples, the wives were more affected than their husband by the use of separate pronouns.
Use 'we' for more positive emotions
What would happen if families consciously used "we-ness" in conversations? Might this create more positive and relaxing moments, emotional closeness and compatibility?
Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book “Eating Animals” (Little, Brown; $25.99) shows how, when our stomachs are involved “Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list,”.
Are We Barbaric?
This year, Americans will cook roughly twenty-seven billion pounds of beef, sliced from some thirty-five million cows. They will consume about a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and nine billion birds. Most of these animals have been raised under conditions that are, as we know barbaric.
Foer’s position is that we eat meat because we like to, and we devise justifications afterward. “Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about ‘eating animals,’ they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism,” he says. “It’s a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case.”
"Eating Animals" is a serious book that could change the way you live.
Are We Essentially Good or Evil?
i thought that you would like to read what one of our most important primatologists has to say about empathy among animals and how he believes it is a behaviour that has evolved in mammals. He echoes his earlier hypothesis that we are good (altruistic) by nature and not just kindly mannered on the surface. Many believe, what Frans de Waal calls the 'veneer theory' of human behaviour, that we display an altruistic behaviour on the surface but that we are actually evil in our core. He is convinced that we are innately good. How encouraging to hear this from a biologist and zoologist.
We took my daughter and her friend to see the recent film by Richard Geere called "Hachiko: a dog's story" based on a real dog that lived in Japan in the 1930s. The film helped us remember, as the Yoga and Buddhist traditions do, that we are part of the same family of creatures called mammals. Today, thanks to Darwin, we call this common heritage, evolution. Nevertheless, we all cried uncontrollably when the dog Kachiko, displayed devotion and attachment that compared to the most touching of human devotion. How can it be that he has such deep attachment to someone not of his speicies? Perhaps we are not so separated from other species as we have been led to believe by our Judeo-Christian tradition!
Animals also Display Empathy
Frans de Waal's latest book "The Age of Empathy" illustrates the mounting evidence for not only the six basic emotions as Darwin proposed but much more - empathy and sympathy; emotion and cognition. Not only do many animals feel empathy but they exhibit behaviours that suggest that they are capable of the cognition of empathy. De Waal 'shows us that many animals are predisposed to take care of one another, come to one another’s aid, and, in some cases, take life-saving action'. Here is an excerpt from his new book which was published in the September 2009 issue of Natural History magazine.
An Excerpt from "The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society"
"Apes will groom and hug those in distress. There is also evidence of that behavior in dogs. Belgian biologists watched more than a thousand spontaneous fights among dogs released every day onto a meadow at a pet-food company. After aggressive outbursts, nearby dogs would approach one of the combatants—usually the loser—to lick or nuzzle, play with, or simply sit with him or her. Doing so seemed to settle the group, which quickly resumed its usual activities."
"As for its origins, empathy probably started with the birth of parental care. During 200 million years of mammalian evolution, females sensitive to their offspring out reproduced those that were cold and distant. When a pup, cub, calf, or human baby is cold, hungry, or in danger, its mother needs to react instantaneously. Females that failed to respond did not propagate their genes."
"Descended as we are from a long line of mothers who nursed, fed, cleaned, carried, comforted, and defended their young, we should not be surprised by gender differences in human empathy. Two-year-old girls who witness others in distress treat them with more concern than do boys of the same age. And in adulthood, women report stronger empathic reactions than men, which is one reason why a “tending instinct” has been attributed to women."
Frans de Waal
Frans de Waal is a psychology professor at Emory University with a Ph.D. in biology. He is the author of many books, including Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. The director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, de Waal was ranked among the World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2007 by Time.
Tea and Coffee
Tea and coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes,according to new evidence. And the protection is may not form caffeine because decafinated coffee has the greatest effect. Researchers looked at 18 separate studies involving about 500,000 people. Results revealed that people who drink three or four cups of coffee or tea a day reduce their risk by 20%. Decaffeinated coffee reduces their risk by 33%.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes usually starts after the age of 40 and develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work properly. The treatment usually includes a healthy diet, increased physical activity and medication. Each additional cup of coffee or tea consumed in a day cut diabetes risk by 7%. Instead of caffeine, other compounds in coffee and tea - like magnesium or lignans and chlorogenic acids - may be involved.
"The identification of the active components of these beverages would open up new therapeutic pathways for the primary prevention of diabetes mellitus....If such beneficial effects were observed in interventional trials to be real, the implications for the millions of individuals who have diabetes mellitus, or who are at future risk of developing it, would be substantial." said Dr Victoria King, of Diabetes UK. "What we can be sure of is that the development of type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle, which means that many cases could be prevented by keeping active and eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in fat, salt and sugar with plenty of fruit and vegetables."
Who is happier, a religious believer or a nonbeliever?
New analysis shows that it's not quite so simple. Luke Galen has found that the convinced non-religious are also quite happy, but people who are uncertain are the ones who are dissatisfied. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a social scientist at Harvard, has analyzed data from the World Values Survey and found some more interesting details.
Uncertainity leads to dissatisfaction
Previous studies have tended to find that religious people are, on average, happier. But simple 'average' levels of happiness hide a lot of detail - convinced non-religious people are quite happy while those who are uncertain about their beliefs are dissatisfied with life.
Religious people are both happier and unhappier.
In other words, they tend to be found at either extremes of the happiness scale. A higher percentage of religious people say that they are extremely happy, compared with convinced atheists. But a higher percentage also say that they're extremely unhappy. Atheists are more likely to report being somewhere in-between.
Religious service-goers tend to be happier.
Teasing apart the data shows that people who go to religious services and belong to religious organisations are happier.
Non-believers tend to be happier.
In the same analysis, people who believe in god are much less happy. In other words, the happiest people are those who take part in the social side of religion but don't take all the religious doctrine and god stuff too seriously.
The effect depends on how religious the country is.
The more religious on average the country is, the happier believers are. In countries that are not very religious, non-believers are happier than believers.
This suggests that the reason non-believers are generally found to be less happy is because the studies have usually been done in countries where they are the minority.
In other words, being among like-minded people makes you happier. Also, it might simply be that people who want to fit in are happier. In religious countries, these kinds of people are religious. In non-religious countries, they're non-religious.
Religion alleviates the effects of unemployment
This only applies in rich countries. Okulicz-Kozaryn showed that being unemployed makes you unhappy, and that this effect is stronger in rich countries compared with poor ones. Unemployed people who are religious are happier than the non-religious unemployed, but only in rich countries.
He speculates that there is greater social stigma to unemployment in rich countries, and that religion alleviates the misery that this causes.
Religions cause extremes
All this seems to confirm that the religions cause extremes - both high happiness but also high unhappiness. Plus, happiness is mostly linked to social activities. This study seems to explain why atheist countries, like Scandinavia, are amongst the happiest. Atheists are happy when among like-minded people, and the societies in which they predominate are also rich in the other factors that make people happy - freedom, justice, and equality.
A special section of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine detailed a continuing controversy in the field of sports science about exactly how exercise works on bone and why sometimes, it doesn’t. “There was a time, not so long ago,” when most researchers assumed “that any and all activity would be beneficial for bone health,” says Dr. Daniel W. Barry, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, at Denver, who has studied the bones of athletes and the elderly.
Recent findings are showing that competitive swimmers had lower-than-anticipated bone density, and that competitive cyclists sometimes had fragile bones and, finally, some studies suggest, that weight lifting did not necessarily strengthen bones much. Too much endurance exercise may actually reduce bone density. In a study by Dr. D.W. Barry, competitive cyclists lost bone density during a long training season. Dr. Barry says that it’s possible that exercise that is too prolonged or intense may lead to too much calcium loss through sweat. The endocrine system may interpret this loss of calcium as serious enough to start leaching the mineral from bone.
The Best Exercise
The current message about exercise and bone building may be that the best exercise is to simply jump up and down. "Jumping is great, if your bones are strong enough to begin with,” Dr. Barry says. “You probably don’t need to do a lot either.” (If you have a family history of osteoporosis, check with a doctor.)
Hopping also aids in balance, which may be as important as bone strength in keeping fractures at bay. Dr. Barry says, “fragile bones don’t matter, from a clinical standpoint, if you don’t fall down.
Confusion of Terms
There seems to be confusion between the meaning of atheism and agnosticism. Agnosticism deals with your knowledge on a subject; atheism describes a lack of belief in deities. These terms are not mutually exclusive.If you don't know whether gods exist, you are agnostic. It simply means "without knowledge."
You can be an agnostic atheist (I don't know, but I don't believe in gods).
You can be an agnostic theist (I don't know, but I do believe in god/s).
You can be a gnostic atheist (I know that god/s do not exits).
A gnostic theist claims, "I believe in god and I know he exists".
For a much deeper analysis of the different belief/epistemological combinations and a very useful graphic representation see tha Free Thinker.
The other day a Yoga student mentioned to me how she had been hurt by her mother and how difficult it had been for her. Until now, (her mother passed a way many years ago), she continues to feel the pain of the injustices done to her by her mother.
Forgiveness is for you not the one who hurt you
We spoke for a while and I suggested that perhaps she could find a way to forgive her mother. She answered that she did not want to forget how unjust her mother was to her. I tried to explain to her that the process of forgiveness was for her - to find a way to heal her wound. It did not mean that she would forget that her mother's actions were unjust.
Forgiveness is not forgetting
I don't know if I got through to her. Forgiveness is not about forgetting the wrong or about denying that anything hurtful happened. It is about finding a way to heal your own wounds. I have written more about this on my psychotherapy page.
Exercise Creates new Brain Cells
Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about how neurons respond differently to stress than to inactivity. Scientists have known for some time that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells (neurons) but not how, precisely, these neurons might be functionally different from other brain cells.
Exercise creates a Calm Brain
Preliminary results presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, showed that experimental rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm when presented with stressful situations.
How Exercise Remodels the Brain
For years, it has been a given that exercise enhances mood. But how exercise might directly affect mood and anxiety — psychological states — was unclear. Now, thanks to improved research techniques scientists are beginning to tease out how exercise remodels the brain, making it more resistant to stress. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, scientists have examined the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin, considered to be the “happy” brain chemical. The view of serotonin has been undermined by this and other research. In those experiments, rats exposed to a laboratory stressor, showed increased serotonin activity in their brains. But those rats, that had run for several weeks before being stressed, showed less serotonin activity and were less anxious and helpless despite the stress.
Moderate Exercise reduces Effects of Oxidative Stress
Researchers have looked at how exercise alters the activity of the dopamine neurotransmitter in the brain, and on the antioxidant powers of moderate exercise. Anxiety in people has been linked with excessive oxidative stress, which can lead to cell death, including in the brain. Moderate exercise, appears to reduce the effects of oxidative stress. In an experiment at the University of Houston, rats whose oxidative-stress levels had been artificially increased were extremely anxious when faced with unfamiliar terrain during laboratory testing. But rats that had exercised, even if they had received the oxidizing chemical, were relatively calm under stress. When placed in unfamiliar circumstances, they didn’t run and hide, like the unexercised rats. They casually explored.
Positive Stress of Exercise
“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”
Don’t Quit, Keep Exercising
The stress-reducing changes evoked by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight. In the University of Colorado experiments, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress anxiety, but those that ran for six weeks did. “Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into exercise advice for humans. We do not know how intense the exercise needs to be. Dr. Greenwood says, the lesson is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming or doing Yoga. You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your class, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.”
See the New York Times
Exercise and Slimming
Just because you exercise it doesn’t necessarily mean that you lose weight. A study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine in September reported disappointing weight loss results. 58 obese people, in the study, completed 12 weeks of supervised aerobic training without changing their diets. The average weight loss for the group was a little more than 3 kilos, and many lost barely half that.
Calories from Fat or Carbohydrates
Apparently, few people lose weight with exercise alone, they must also change their eating habits. A study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver tries to explain why. The researchers studied several groups of people. Some were lean endurance athletes; some sedentary and lean; some sedentary and obese. The researchers could tell whether the calories expended were in the form of fat or carbohydrates. Burning more fat than carbohydrates is desirable if you want to lose weight, since the fat comes from body fat stores.
To their surprise, the researchers found that none of the groups, not even the athletes, experienced “afterburn.” They did not use additional body fat on the day when they exercised. Actually, many of the subjects burned slightly less fat over the period when they exercised than when they did not.
Heart Rates for Fat Burning
To reduce your body fat, and maximize fat burning, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, recommends a range of heart rates. “Heart rates of between 105 and 134” beats per minute, Carey said, represent the fat-burning zone. “It’s probably best to work out near the top of that zone,” he says, “so that you burn more calories over all” than at the lower end.
How to Keep it Off
Thankfully, exercise helps, physiologically, to keep off body fat once it has been lost, through resolute calorie reduction. Exercise seems to reset certain metabolic pathways that blunted the body’s drive to replace the lost fat. So don’t stop running marathons or participating in bike races, yet. The exercise keeps it off once you’ve lost it!
Researchers say heart disease patients who practise meditation have reduced death rates
The American Heart Association said they had assigned 201 African Americans randomly to meditate or to change their lifestyle for a nine year study.The research was carried out by the Medical College in Wisconsin with the Maharishi University in Iowa. The results shoe the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes. The research was funded by $ 3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The benefits of Meditation
The average age of the men and women was 59 years and they all had a narrowing of the arteries in their hearts.
The group that practiced meditation did so twice a day for 20 minutes.The group that changed their lifestyle received classes in risk factors for heart disease, dietary modification and exercise. Besides the reductions in death, heart attacks and stroke in the meditators, they also had significant reduction blood pressure and psychological stress.
Apparently, this is the first controlled trial to show that long-term practice of meditation reduces the incidence of clinical cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes and death. Dr. Schneider, lead author of the study, said that the effect of the trial was like adding a new class of drugs for the prevention of heart disease.
More Studies Needed
"However, in order to fully assess the differences …. meditation could have on heart patient's lives, we need to see research confirming it in a far bigger study and with other ethnic groups."
A Provocative Comment
The other day in a workshop a student commented that she had not practiced Yoga for the past dozen years, but rather that she had done stretching. I knew this student for many years and was curious to know what she meant exactly. I thought she had been practicing Yoga.
The Spiritual Part
As she began to explain I realized that she meant that by simply doing asana classes she had not practiced meditation nor been introduced to the spiritual aspects of the tradition.
A Salvific Path
I was very grateful for this reminder that Yoga is and was, at least in India, a spirtitual practice. We often forget that the roots of Yoga, especially Jñana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, are spiriiual or religious practices meant to lead to spiritual realization (moksa) or enlightenment.
Our point of View
I have lived and studied the ancient and modern traditions of Yoga for most of my life. The subject is vast and diverse. Many in the West have separated Yoga from its religious roots and simply focused on the body and the asana practice, holding the belief that the body is the source of all experience - modern materialistic monism. That is OK. However, we must respect that many seek existential comfort and support from the spiritual (metaphysical) tradition of Yoga. Each student has their own beliefs and motives for pursuing the Yoga practice. This is the fascinating paradox of this practice in the contemporary world. Those who perform the same Hatha Yoga may do so from diametrically opposed points of view.