Posts in Category: Mind-Body

Fear of want and the urge to hoard

Most people will never let themselves go hungry. When was the last time we allowed it to happen to us?
Being overweight is one of the things that ages us most. Not only does it place a strain on the body and make it more susceptible to disease but our appearance can take on the look of someone far beyond our years. Carrying extra weight is, however, as many of us know not just a matter of eating too much. There are usually psychological reasons beyond the physical ones which cause our bodies to store fat. Tackling these issues at the root is important if we are to have any chance of shedding extra pounds.
Want 3There is increasing evidence that fear of hunger causes obesity. Many overweight people carry food with them to avoid finding themselves suffering from hunger pangs and not being able to find food in time. Some of this may come from dire tales from grandparents who experienced undernourishment, where food really was unavailable, even though today food surrounds us wherever we go. More profound reasons are linked to a lack of love in childhood where eating became an emotional survival solution. We believed then that although our emotional needs were unmet, at least our physical body would survive until we were independent. Carried into adulthood, we may however believe we do not deserve to have our emotional needs met, so we compensate.
But there is another reason why we carry excess weight – the fear of never having enough. Our society is predicated on the belief there are limited resources, and that only those who go out of their way to ensure they get what they need will survive. According to this belief those who do not get there first in the scramble for basic necessities will perish. We have all to some extent internalized the alarmist theory of Professor Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, written in the 1960s which began with the words, In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death, a theory that repeated the Malthusian catastrophe argument that population growth will exceed the capacity of farming to provide for everyone. Despite the fact that the opposite has happened – food supply is now overabundant, portions bigger than ever, and food can be found at any time of the day or night – we still live according to this prospect.
Our fear of lack is still there. It is similar to our fear of poverty. If we have difficulties with the issue of money – and people who have no secret fear of not being able to pay the bills are rare – then it is very possible we have the same issue, subconsciously, surrounding food. We hoard money in savings accounts, and in the same way our bodies hoard food “just in case”. “I went on a retreat to a monastery in a remote part of France,” said Alison, “I was driven there by someone else, and once I was in my room, I realized I felt anxious because I had no control over when and what I would eat. There were no shops for miles around, and I was completely dependent on the kitchen staff. When mealtimes arrived, I ate far more than usual.”
Prolonged periods in highly regulated environments can however lead to our bodies eventually settling down. If the responsibility for providing for ourselves is removed for months on end – such as in a boarding school, cloister or prison – our weight regulates. But as soon as the onus is again on us, we feel the need to hoard.
Want 2This is not something to be ashamed of. It is part of our heritage. Until recently, starvation was what most human beings spent their entire lives trying to avoid. Feeling ravenous was so common the human body adapted to it, and consequently a body which never experiences hunger is unlikely to benefit from the health perks of low blood sugar and the protective cellular response to harsh external conditions. For those of us who believe in reincarnation, most of our past lives were marked by the real prospect of famine. The urge to eat was therefore burnt into our psyche. For those of us who do not believe in reincarnation, most of the lives of our ancestors were marked by the real prospect of famine. The urge to eat was therefore burnt into our genome.
Hibernating animals also eat large amounts of food before they settle down for the winter. Their metabolic rate slows down in a similar way to that experienced by the repetitive dieter – with the difference that they also stop eating. Humans never stop eating…yet the urge to hoard persists.
This is perhaps the first life we have lived – or the first time our genes have been expressed – in a period of unlimited food supply. But the fear of vulnerability is a response characteristic of all living organisms. We don’t have enough money, or fear we might not, and so we store fat, even though we know that the probability of starving to death is, in most countries, near to zero. The ability of the mind to overrule the body’s need to burn fat for energy is something all life-time dieters will attest to. Even if we eat practically nothing, that roll of fat around our middle simply will not go away.
Want 4It is time for us to accept the abundant food supply of our earth. There has probably never been a time in our lives when we had to worry about where to find food. It is no longer necessary for our body to store large amounts of fuel for the next famine. Instead, we can see this energy as storable outside the body, available to download whenever necessary in the same way we might prefer an external hard disk rather than storing everything on the computer. If we wish to shed the stores of fat which lead to low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with our appearance, frustration at not feeling attractive and ultimately ill health, we need to tackle our terror of lack. Here are some affirmations to help us do just this.
Want 5Next time we feel hungry, and several times during the day, we place our hands on our abdomen and affirm : Food comes frequently and easily. It is abundant and in constant supply. I can access food whenever I choose.
The time of famine has gone forever. Gradually, our body will get the message, and adjust to the shape we long to be.

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Worried to death

Worry 2Anyone can spot a worrier. It’s written all over their face and it ain’t pretty.
When we were at school, teachers used to say, “Young people think it’s never going to happen to them. But it can happen to you, and it comes as a shock when it does.”
What exactly? Well, car accidents were the obvious thing then, but since those times other catastrophe scenarios have loomed up in our imaginations : public humiliations, terrorist attacks, failing an exam, getting a fatal disease, going bankrupt. But the teachers were wrong. Actually most people think it can happen to them and worry themselves into believing that in fact, it probably will.
Worrying is a highly addictive process. Primed by those who influenced us in our formative years, we labour under the illusion – mostly a subconscious one – that if we worry about something enough we will be well prepared when it happens, and that unlike the poor ignorants in the rest of the population, we will smugly ‘know’ that we are coping better precisely because we worried enough about it beforehand.
Worry 3This is a poisonous mindset to be in and yet it provides an odd, masochistic pleasure, a kind of schadenfreude but applied to ourselves, a delight in victimhood, a conviction we are to be pitied and are aligned with suffering humanity. “Life is a vale of tears,” sighed one worry addict, and smiled in her superior wisdom as she heard about another disaster that had befallen an acquaintance. If we shrug off the warnings of a worrier, we sometimes hear, “On your head be it then.”
The addiction to worrying can provide an adrenaline rush, a state of high anxiety that gives us a sense of being fully alive. Many people are so hooked on imagining the worst that if there is nothing in their lives to worry about the sensation is weird and foreign, so they panic – thinking have I forgotten something, will something creep up and get me when I’m not looking? – and quickly scan for something that is not quite right about their lives. When they have found something, they feel instant relief. Even if everything is going swimmingly, they believe this is merely the calm before a storm. We can see this process in action when something makes us worry and then another event happens and we forget our first worry and worry about the second instead. This is not worrying to resolve the issue, it is worrying out of habit.
Worrying is never helpful. It is not the same thing as thinking through possible scenarios which can often offer clarity about the risk, and spur us on to take action. David is a professional landlord, mentored by two wealthy men when he was still a teenager. “They explained how they got rich and encouraged me to buy property. People around me urged caution. I decided the worst thing that could happen would be the tenant would stop paying their rent and I’d never find another one. What would I do? Well, I could sell the property I thought. I then realised it was unlikely I’d never find another tenant if that happened. That was when I was 18, so I went ahead and bought my first apartment with a down payment from the money I’d saved from working evenings and weekends. I’m now 40 and own 18 houses; I no longer have to work. All those people who told me I was nuts to take such a risk are still in the rat race.”
If David had got into the worrying spiral, he’d be worrying now about paying his bills.

Let’s take a look at what worry does to us :

• The fight or flight response causes the body’s sympathetic nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can increase blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel. Suppression of the immune system soon follows.
• Digestive disorders.
• Using stimulants to relieve the stress of worry such as cigarettes, drugs, alcohol.
• Muscle tension.
• Short-term memory loss.
• Premature coronary artery disease.
• Heart attack.
• Depression and suicidal thoughts.

Worry 5Imagining worst-case scenarios with the accompanying emotions prepares the brain for these scenarios to act themselves out in real life. It is the worst kind of visualisation, and is playing with fire. Just as dogs can smell fear, our subconscious can attract the exact situations that will allow us to experience the bad emotions we have rehearsed for real. Projecting negative scenarios about the future hastens them, makes them happen. The brain can dip into different networks based on past information and emotions and create a new network which forms an image. Every time we visualise a future outcome the network is strengthened; eventually the brain is structured as if the event has already occurred, and the body receives messages from this circuitry. So thinking about and feeling what a future experience may look like will affect our personal reality. The body is getting the signal before the event has occurred, and it does not know the difference.
Fiona is trying to stop fretting when things go wrong. “When I overslept – through exhaustion actually, helping him to prepare for his exams – and my 13 yr-old missed half an hour of his history exam, I was distraught. Knowing how much damage worry could do to my body, I tried to concentrate on work that day once he’d gone to school, putting out of my mind the guilt I felt and my fears of the anger – justified anger – he would express towards me when he got home from school. I’d let him down. I didn’t try to justify to myself what I’d done, but I did try not to dwell on it. When I got home my partner had told him I’d been weeping in his arms that morning about what a bad mother I was after he’d raced off to school. So the first thing my child did after I apologised was hug me, and then he told me the exam paper was so short he’d had plenty of time, and had done well. Curiously, it brought us closer together. He saw how important his happiness was to me. I was so glad I hadn’t let the worry wreck my day. It would all have been for nothing.”
Worry 4Worrying is always for nothing. If we had been Richard Branson’s mother, given his dyslexia and poor academic performance, would we have worried ourselves sick about his future? On one of Branson’s last days at school, his headmaster, Robert Drayson, told his mother her son would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. If we had been his mother, which outcome would we have chosen to dwell on? Worrying about what might happen to our children is risky, they pick up on our thoughts because they are made of us and live with us. Placing our children in a risky scenario in our minds is setting the stage.
So what to do when we are tempted to worry? We can try asking ourselves these questions:

a. What’s the worst case scenario? Often it’s quite hard, annoying even, to think this through, because it’s the worrying which is strangely comforting, not thinking about the real consequences.
b. What’s the most likely scenario?
c. What’s the best case scenario?

When thinking about the future we must never choose a bad outcome. Things are never as bad as we thought they were going to be, and worry will not stop bad things from happening. And by the way, whatever actually does happen, human beings can get used to anything.
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How to be alone.

Sara Maitland lives alone by choice in a remote corner of Scotland. In her book How to be alone she says, “Once upon a time, and not very long ago, the word ‘lone’ had rather heroic and adventurous connotations: the Lone Ranger was not sad, mad or bad.” Nowadays the word lone smacks of psychosis, a ’lone stalker’, a psychopath, or a loner unable to relate to other people, weird and best avoided.
Retreat 2It is difficult to find time to spend alone these days. Or if we do, we equate it with loneliness, sitting in our homes thinking that we haven’t spoken to anyone all weekend. However, going on a retreat is not about feeling empty and friendless, it is about withdrawing from the stress of everyday life, which can mean either a frenetic work schedule or one’s own tendency to feel dissatisfied with life. On a retreat we extract ourselves from the onslaught of the media, from other people’s demands and noise. We find a safe haven in which we can recover and seek to heal our minds and hearts.
The feature that all retreats share – religious or otherwise – is simplicity, in order to remember who we are and return to the sanity of who we have always been from the beginning. It could be a walking holiday with strangers or a course in expressive art of some form. It could also be a religious retreat or a yoga or tai chi weekend. Ideally there will be no Wi-Fi or mobile phone connection – we are not accountable to our families and colleagues on a retreat. Often it will be situated in a rural environment, but the location is not the point. A retreat is possible in the city, as long as it is away from our normal schedule and in a place of quiet. A personal retreat might be simply taking time away from life for ourselves, but guided retreats are more popular, since they also take away the need to decide how we are going to spend our time.
Retreat 3Another important feature is not to be accompanied by anyone with whom we have an emotional connection. No close relatives or friends, no people who have any vested interest in what you say or do so there are no obligations or social constraints. So often we feel defined by our spouse, our children or our colleagues. On a retreat we slough off the external world and our concepts of what other people think we are, and sit with ourselves and our inner stillness.
The point is to return to the fundamental self.
This is not selfish, since it will enable us to be a better spouse or companion, a better neighbour and colleague. Spending time on our own boosts empathy and makes us more considerate. The ability to be alone is the mark of a balanced individual who does not need others for identity, security and stability. If we do not look after ourselves we have less to give to others. People who have attended a retreat find they return to their lives with enthusiasm and a healthier perspective which changes their relationship with others. Ideally we would attend two retreats a year of a least two nights.
Retreats combat ageing because they remove stress, which benefits our immune system and boosts our innate healing mechanisms. Breaking our symbiotic relationship with the passing of time also helps us to see it is merely a social construct. Times passes in accordance with our perceptions and on a retreat we become truly ageless since our perceptions change completely. We find we are the same person inside however many years have passed since we were born. Alone with our thoughts, we can observe which ones are least helpful, and understand how the mind works to define reality.
Not many people go on retreats these days. Almost no one has the time, or the inclination, since leaving our normal routine and life behind can feel uncomfortable. The urge to panic is not uncommon. These feelings are normal during the first few hours when we are adjusting to the retreat, but they are temporary, similar to the withdrawal symptoms when quitting other kinds of addictions or comforts.
Retreat 4Brenda lost her husband in 2014. A colleague found him slumped over his desk, dead from a heart attack. He was in his forties, overweight and had serious financial problems. He left her with debts and three young children. He had refused to attend the church retreat a month beforehand, claiming he had to work to try and get his life back on track and help his family through their problems.
None of us are so indispensable that we cannot spare two days to recuperate.
Those who find it most difficult to go on retreat – mothers of young children, or people constantly in demand such as politicians or CEOs – need it most of all. Retreats are not about loneliness. Loneliness engenders fear, but spending time alone takes us away from the judgment and demands of others.

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Bodytalk

BodytalkA rather eccentric university lecturer had a clapped-out old Fiat he had christened Clarissa. He enjoyed saying in jest to unsuspecting strangers that he had ‘brought Clarissa with him’, or that “Clarissa would drop them off at the pub,” or “Clarissa knows the way even though I don’t.” The faithful vehicle would backfire loudly, emit hisses of steam and strange chunting noises would come from the ancient engine. The professor spoke of Clarissa as though capable of independent action, and the more the old banger broke down and caused delays in getting him around, the more affection he displayed towards his “old girl”. Sometimes bizarrely, if the professor spoke soothingly to Clarissa after she had once again spluttered to a halt, she would leap into action again, to everyone’s surprise. It really was as though the car was listening.
Bodytalk 3Most women, and quite a few men, are dissatisfied with their bodies. Even the most physically perfect supermodels will be able to pinpoint a feature they detest and would like to improve. Our body has to live with this unhappy resident – us – from birth to death. This dysfunctional twosome is a kind of bizarre love-hate relationship, where we need our bodies for absolutely everything but don’t particularly like them. Unlike Clarissa, the more our body breaks down, the less affection we seem to have for it, and as it displays signs of aging or dysfunction, we become disgruntled and saddened that youth has gone.
Our minds communicate directly with our bodies, and our body senses how we feel about it. Inventing a name for it (Mildred? The Colonel?) is one way of developing affection for our mortal form, but the point here is to change any attitude of rejection or disgust we have towards the vehicle we inhabit, in order to bring it round to our way of doing things.
Talking to our body when it is ill, asking it what it needs (a special form of food, rest, exercise, massage?) is a fantastic way of taking control of how we look and age. Many people put on weight in middle age, generally around the midriff. The mind-body connection is particularly blatant when it comes to dieting. All dieters have experienced plateau-ing, when no amount of food restriction will get the body past a certain weight it felt comfortable at in the past. Here the power of cellular memory is undeniable. In a hilarious spoof about the theory of cellular memory, Homer Simpson buys a toupee which has been steeped in the murderous urges of the progenitor of the hair, and begins himself to manifest the traits of a killer. Cellular consciousness is now very much part of the collective consciousness. We can harness this same power to turn our bodies into what we want. The body contains all the information required to heal or modify itself, according to our specifications. After all, our bodies are there to serve us. What could be more ridiculous than a servant which is constantly rebelling against its master, upon whom it also depends? And yet this is exactly what happens when our bodies refuse to do what we want them to. To change itself, the body needs the right conditions, and the main one is respect and gratitude.
Bodytalk 4Using the method the university lecturer used with Clarissa is a powerful way of taking control. Loving our bodies and gently asking them to lose weight where we want to shed it, or to mend a creaking joint or an ailing organ taps into the cellular consciousness of these body parts and suggests a change if such a modification is beneficial. Losing weight may be beneficial to both mind and body for example, so rather than fighting our body’s tendency to get fat, why not suggest a more cooperative approach? You lose weight for me, and I will be a more amenable guest.
It can take decades to start to love our bodies. These bodies were there during bad times as well as good, and hold the memories of hurts, trauma and emotional stress, which our mind rejects and hides away deep inside. Learning to love this body which witnessed our pain and carried us through it is the first step towards healing it.

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Accepting responsibility….

Do you known anyone who accepts no responsibility for the things wrong with their lives? Whatever unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in, it’s because of someone who did something to them; whatever negative personality traits they have, it’s because of something that happened to them; whatever they failed at, someone else is to blame.
Responsibility 2This post is about being accountable for everything. This is tough, since it is undoubtedly true that other people do bad things to us, and that our external environment affects the state of our lives and our bodies. But accepting responsibility means accepting the power to change what we don’t like. Without absolute responsibility there can be no power. And who likes the symptoms of ageing?
So if we’re showing signs of age, is it our fault? How ridiculous is that, to imagine there is something we can do about fading beauty and increasing frailty? But in fact there is a great deal we can do – the only difference with youth is the young don’t have to work at it. We must get rid of the illusion that we are powerless to overcome the relentless physical and mental decline that accompanies the accumulation of years of experience. If we give away the responsibility to our genes or our hard life or to Mother Nature, we undermine our own power to stay ageless. Staying ageless means retaining physical health, attractiveness and mental agility indefinitely.
Responsibility 3It is never too late to accept responsibility for our negative emotions, which have a considerable effect on our health. We must stop blaming others, or work, or romantic partners or family or advanced age and past hurts. People who stay ageless have accepted that each of us is 100% accountable for how our lives turn out. This is hard! Everyone is happy to take the credit for success, but when things aren’t so good, we’re so quick to point fingers at other people and place the blame on them. When bad things happen we don’t have to understand or explain them, but accepting responsibility for them once they’re in our lives is empowering. It also means not playing the victim to thoughts such as I have no time to exercise and no money for luxury health and beauty care. We have our mind, the most powerful anti-ageing tool of all, which is free.
Responsibility 4It is never too late to accept responsibility for one’s health. Those faulty genes? They may have been our Irish grandfather’s or our Patagonian grandmother’s but know what? Now they’re ours. Let us be the change in the DNA chain, and dare to experiment with epigenetics. We can switch ‘em on or switch ‘em off through intentionality and healthy living (see video page, 104yr old cyclist).
Sartre said man is condemned to be free because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does. Right, so let us be free to stay ageless.
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Being Late

Susan and her husband Jack set off two and a half hours before the flight from their Dublin hotel. Plenty of time, said the receptionist. The signposting to the airport was poor however, and then they hit the evening traffic, and got stuck. They tried the bus lane and got trapped behind a double decker. They began to panic. By the time they got to the airport, their driving was bordering on the lunatic and they had smoked eight cigarettes between them. They had fifteen minutes before take-off. “It’s hopeless,” said Jack, but Susan said she would lose money and credibility at work if she didn’t turn up, since it was the last flight. Jack screeched to a halt, threw her the keys and she sprinted to the rental hut, slammed them down on the desk and tore towards the terminal shouting, “Bring the cases!”. By the time she reached the check-out desk she looked like a bag lady. “I’ve got a runner for the London flight,” said the check-out girl on the phone as Jack trundled up red-faced with the cases. “It’s OK, it’s delayed,” she added with a smile. “We joined the passengers waiting in the departure lounge, as if we were not late, just cool,” recalls Susan. “The stress had all been for nothing. But I felt we had lost several years off our lives.”
Late 2And maybe they had. The stress of being late is one of the worst stresses in the world. The amount of cortisol released when we feel we have no control over our circumstances is extremely damaging to DNA.
We are not talking about being late through our own fault. This is another area of study, where we have some kind of payoff for not leaving in time. When we’re racing along the street jostling other pedestrians or honking in a traffic jam thinking I’ve done it again, why why why do I do this to myself? the time has come to assess whether the damage we are doing to our bodies is worth the procrastination that led to it. It may be due to the very common reluctance to go out and face the world, a desire to stay indoors and snuggle up with the ipad, perhaps an addiction to the adrenaline of rushing, or a self-seeking attitude of maximising our own productivity or convenience at the expense of other people’s. Late 3Some people feel that arriving late gives them status, or protects them from that desperate feeling of sitting alone in a bar or restaurant along the lines of the old joke, Laugh and the world laughs with you, be prompt and you dine alone.
No – here we are talking about times when factors outside of our control wreck our perfect timing. This happens to everyone, and when it does if we want to stay ageless, we must say, OK – we get there when we get there. What is the worst thing that can happen? Lose money, lose credibility perhaps, but then, am I so indispensable? There is nothing we can do about traffic. Most people understand the vagaries of public transport, and even major speakers at big conferences get held up in traffic, and the reaction of the public is more often than not sympathy.
Late 4“Once,” said Susan, “my flight was cancelled and I was five hours late for a meeting abroad. The boss gave me hell. But then on the way home, he was bumped off the flight due to overbooking. There is a God.”
Sometimes a missed connection can mean an unexpected night in a strange city visiting things we normally would never have seen. It is good to think the universe knows what it is doing. None of us is, ultimately, indispensable. When the stress response is triggered in a situation which is beyond our control, let’s stop and consider the toll it takes on our bodies. One day the people who are irritated because we were late due to no fault of our own will no longer be in our lives. And perhaps we’ll be the last ones standing.

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Getting an edge over life on the edge

Everyone knows people are living longer, and the main reason for the increase in life expectancy is that we don’t, generally, die young. Sounds fatuous, but life expectancy was kept low in the past because until the last century 50% of children died before they were five. Better sanitation has made all the difference, and medicine has done wonders through vaccination and antibiotics to allow most of us to reach old age. But medicine has not done to later life what it has done for early life, and so if we survive until retirement all those other diseases that would not have had the chance to get to us can now have their moment of triumph. Thus we face threats to our health that before would not have been on our radar…arthritis, dementia, cancer, heart problems, Parkinson’s and so on. The modern world has not yet found solutions to these deadly enemies, and until it does, life expectancy in the general population will not increase much.
Edge 2It is therefore up to us to do what we can to extend our lives. The buck definitely stops here, on the chair you are currently sitting on; studies are showing there is in fact quite a lot we can do to ensure we reach 100 and beyond.
Recent data suggests that the oldest old — centenarians in particular — may actually enjoy better health than people in their 70s or 80s, hinting that those who do survive into old age may be stronger to begin with, and less likely to experience disability. So what can we do to be one of the chosen?
Research has found that we can change our rate of ageing, and one of the most powerful tools to achieve this is the mind. A Danish study comparing 2 groups of nonagenarians born just 10 years apart showed differences in mental sharpness. The group born later was more mentally alert, scoring higher on cognitive tests than those born earlier. The study was carried out by the Danish Aging Research Centre and included 4000 people in their 90s, including those living in assisted care as well as those still living independently. Not only were the group born in 1915 more youthful mentally, they were also 32% more likely than the group born in 1905 to live to 95.
Edge 3Two explanations for this have been suggested. One is higher rates of physical activity, which has been linked to better mental ability. The other is better education. Another study published in Neurology asked participants to report how frequently throughout their lives they engaged in intellectual experiences such as extracurricular activities when they were at school, but also reading books and journals, doing courses and generally continuing to learn new things when older. The autopsies when they died showed that 14% of the variability in mental capacity was due to how many mentally stimulating activities the participants had engaged in, both earlier and later in life, even when other factors which can influence dementia such as age and education had been accounted for.

It is as if using our brains gives us the edge. Having exercised our brains throughout life can mean we have more brain power to draw upon when ageing threatens to affect these skills. Cognitive activity throughout a lifetime can increase our back-up files, and not only that, intellectual activity actually slows the rate at which you lose brain power— and it helps no matter how much you start out with.
Edge 1These studies provide hope that we can steer our course around and away from the pitfalls that threaten others who are less aware of the benefits of having a rich social life, a wide range of intellectual interests and regular exercise. An intelligent approach to our mental and physical health increases our chances of soaring over the rocky terrain of the adventures that later life promises. With this knowledge, more than ever in history we can hope to live long, fulfilling and independent lives.

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Help my unbelief…

The placebo effect has been known about for centuries, and is the basis for the success of medical quackery and peddlers of snake oil. Prescribing a pill, or surgery even, that has no actual effect while telling the patient it has, will alleviate symptoms in over a third of patients. Some doctors believe the placebo effect is purely psychological, that although the patient believes he has improved, he hasn’t at all. This view claims the response is a result of conditioning where patients have come to expect an improvement after taking medication.
Belief 1The problem with this theory is that research shows that the improvements experienced by subjects on a placebo are measurable. A study was done in 2002 at UCLA on a group of patients with depression. Those receiving a placebo who had reported feeling better demonstrated an even greater amount of positive brain activity than those on the drug, and in places the drug did not reach. Placebos are also thought to trigger the release of endorphins, causing the sensation of pain to decrease. It is clear then that the belief of the subject has a direct physical effect on the body.
Beliefs about what it is to be old come to us through a filter of other people’s experiences and expectations. If we accept that infirmity and death around 80 is inevitable, every time new facts come to light to support that belief, we assimilate them. We can observe this process as it happens every time we receive new information about ageing or about an old person someone knows. If someone or something – such as this website – calls these beliefs into question, we may reject them if they do not fit what we have accepted as true. The beliefs of a society provide a blueprint for what it becomes – this is most obvious in the creation of parallel societies of immigrants, or ghetto-isation, where migrants who have left their home societies for a new life recreate the society they left behind, even becoming fossilised versions of it while their country of origin has moved on.
The power of belief is what underpins the claim that faith can move mountains. When Jesus healed someone in the gospels, over and over again he attributes it to that person’s belief: the woman in the crowd healed from hemorrhaging – ‘your faith has made you well’ – the two blind men following Jesus – ‘do you believe that I can do this?’ – the blind beggar on the road to Jericho – ‘your faith has healed you’. He did no miracles in Nazareth because of the people’s unbelief.
Belief 2Our beliefs and convictions come from experience, sometimes from our earliest experiences, and are soaked in the emotions that surrounded those experiences so that picking the beliefs apart can be painful and difficult. “I still recall a boy calling me a fat cow and to go on a diet,” said Margaret. “I’m sure he’s forgotten, but I can describe everything about that classroom even today 50 years on.” At a very deep level we can believe we are unattractive, unintelligent or uninteresting. Few people question the strong impact of experience on convictions such as these, but almost no one extends the idea to areas such as our health and how we age.
Our beliefs affect our appearance. If we think we look old we will. If we buy into the archetype of “fifty”, “sixty” or “eighty”, imprinted on our mind by hundreds of people who reached that age before us, our physical appearance will adjust to reflect that archetype. We must not underestimate the power of the spirit beneath the flesh – it has been documented again and again that the minute the soul left the body, the corpse no longer resembled the person who once inhabited it.
BeliefOur beliefs – as documented by the placebo effect – also affect our physical condition. For this reason it is imperative that we use affirmations – quietly to ourselves and also in conversation with others – to gain mastery over our bodies. Examples of this are saying, “I had backache earlier on but it’s getting better now,” (even if it’s not) rather than, “If this gets any worse I’m going to have to take the day off,” (encouraging poor health in oneself to obtain something desirable). We can affirm, “The diagnosis for this disease is poor but fortunately I am in the percentage likely to overcome it,” (even if we have no idea whether statistics actually back us up, which doesn’t matter since they are only statistics!). This is taking control.
We cannot change the things that others have created in the world we live in, but we can change the things we believe about the world so that it rearranges itself into one more fitting someone who stays ageless. Martin Luther King once said that every man must do two things alone : his own believing and his own dying. Let us make sure this is true for us.
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Three Things

The Staying Ageless community is a group of individuals in countries all over the globe who are experimenting with mindfulness and lifestyle, in an attempt to determine to what extent aging is a learned response. We have faith, even though this is a path few have trodden in the past. We have faith even though we may be mocked as deluded, arrogant, vain and even nuts. Faith, said St Paul, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. It is our conviction that our lives will be a testament to these things so that they will indeed be seen. Staying Ageless is a lifestyle that involves countless aspects of our minds and bodies, but if we had to choose just three things that will ensure that we stay youthful, fit, bright and energetic all our lives, they are these:

1. Calorie restriction
2. Stress management
3. Belief

Three things 1Calorie restriction acts on our cells, reducing toxins and minimizing DNA damage due to oxidative stress caused by metabolizing food.
Stress management does not deny stress, but is aware of its effects, and uses it to kickstart the body into repair mode by quickly recovering from stressful experiences – physical activity or mental anguish – through mindfulness, meditation, music and monitoring thoughts.
Belief locks into the quantum brain, the field around us and within us, the interconnected web of life; it controls the matrix by exploiting the observer effect, according to which what we perceive creates reality. Having faith that we are still young and healthy, believing that aging is caused by social conditioning, keeping the faith that aging can be reversed is the most important factor of staying ageless.
Three things 3“And now these three remain: calorie restriction, stress management and faith. But the greatest of these is faith.”

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Introspection

Very few people in the general population regularly engage in critical introspection. The ability to assess one’s external behaviour against one’s inner state is one of the habits followed by successful people – successful meaning happy, not just in money terms – and although in theory it is actually very easy, in practice it takes years to develop and requires constant maintenance to avoid slipping back into the view that the world has it in for us.
Introspection 2Introspection is the examination of our thoughts and feelings, the retrospective assessment of our behaviour and motives with the aim of either repeating successful moments or avoiding unfortunate ones in the future. It is not the same as external observation, whether this be impassive or critical of others. If it condemns flaws in others, it does so with the sole purpose of detecting the same flaw in ourselves.

Research suggests most people practise introspection around 5% of the time. This low figure comes from studies using beepers. Whenever the beeper went off, subjects were asked to record their thoughts. Self-aware thinking amounted to 5% of the time. The rest? Planning, complaining, thinking of the past, and criticising others, as well as structured thinking in connection with a task or job.
Most people, when faced with a problem, look outside themselves for the cause. But there are few situations where the problem is not actually rooted within our psyche. Here are some examples :

1. These young women with their babies are boring: they think their children are more interesting than anyone else’s. Their conversation is dull and they are ignoring me.
Question to ask : Am I envious of their youth, and their recent motherhood?

2. The disrespect my children show me makes me angry. They have no idea what I have been through to give them what they have.
Question to ask : Have I really done more than what any normal parent would? Do they actually wish to make me angry, and even if so, is winding me up really easy and therefore fun? No one can make me angry: I get angry on my own.

3. This job is boring and unfulfilling. The hours are too long and the pay too low.
Question to ask : How did I end up in this job? Was it a personal choice? Is it really so bad compared to other jobs? How can I change my thoughts to find this fun?

Introspection is about catching a thought in midflight and nailing it before it gets into our cells. It is a powerful tool to construct our lives around and create our days. A good strategy is to choose one of the seven deadly sins and look for signs of it during a day, or a week. For example, pride:

 – I was so hurt by that comment. But it is my pride that it hurt. If I had more humility, the comment could not hurt me.

– I was late for a meeting because the old lady in the queue spent too long chatting to the checkout girl. I sighed and fidgeted, and my blood pressure soared. My pride told me my meeting was more important than the old lady’s conversation. But in the cosmic scheme of things, maybe I am not so indispensable to the meeting, and maybe that conversation was really important to the old lady.

– I was furious when I heard about that malicious gossip about me. But if I had less pride I wouldn’t be so obsessed with other people’s opinion of me.

Introspection 3Most people live their lives in an orgy of self-justification. Introspection can lead to discovering much about ourselves we did not know and can help us subsequently eliminate thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that cause stress (DNA damage) and illness; but it also brings depth of character and understanding of others. It is an extremely powerful life tool that enriches every day when practised on a regular basis.
Man know thyself, said the inscription written on the Temple at Delphi, and thou shalt know the universe and the gods.

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