Provision #128: Use Your Mind

LifeTrek Provision

Remember your grandmother, or that next door neighbor,who started every day with the crossword puzzle in the newspaper? They may havebeen on to more than they knew.

Many older people suffer from memory-loss problems.You’ve probably heard the joke about CRS disease: “Can’t Remember Shit.” There’sa biological basis for that joke. We grow brain cells up through puberty. Afterthat we start losing brain cells until we die. It’s a slow process that’sestimated to deplete us of more than a million brain cells over time.

Stress can make matters worse.Researchers have shown that an area of the brain called the hippocampus wasreduced by as much as 25 percent as a result of long-term stress, especially inPTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) patients. Since the hippocampus isinvolved in long-term and conscious memory processes, stress can greatlyaggravate the memory problems associated with aging and the loss of braincells.

Fortunately, there is a process that counteracts theloss of brain cells. Brain cells are connected by neural dendrites: branchedprotoplasmic extensions of nerve cells that conduct impulses from adjacentcells inward toward the cell body. Nerves cells are connected by manydendrites, perhaps an unlimited number, and researchers have shown that usingour minds actually increases the number of dendrites. While the number of cellsmay decline with age, the connections between the cells can increase.

This was once only a hypothesis,but recent advances in electrophysiological measurements usingvoltage-sensitive dyes have allowed researchers to observe the spread ofelectrical signals in a dendritic tree at all points simultaneously. They’vefound that the mental processes of thinking and imaging, of solving problemsand dreaming dreams, look like lightning storms in our brain. Lights areliterally flashing on and off in an electrochemical display no less amazing andbeautiful than the aurora borealis.

All this leads to a simpleconclusion: use your mind or lose your mind. There’s no apparent way to stopthe loss of brain cells, but you can slow the process down by minimizingstress. And you can offset the process altogether by increasing the connectionsbetween the cells, the number of dendrites, through mental activity. Thosecrossword puzzles served at least two functions: stress relief and mentalexercise. No electronic decoders or calculators allowed! Just pure, mentalenergy.

This has become a real problem inthe evolution of high-tech, consumer societies. People use their minds less andless all the time. Television, movies, and video games tend to lull the mindinto a stupor rather than to wake it up and stretch it to grow more dendrites.Education has become a process of learning how to use the technology ratherthan of learning how to use our minds. Creative, freestanding thought andimagination are rare commodities that we would do well to recover and practiceon a regular basis.

Try this simple exercise: closeyour eyes, practice deep breathing (in through the nose, out through themouth), and bring different vivid images to mind. A red rose. An alpine meadow.A burning house. A birthday cake with 45 candles. The aroma of fresh bakedbread. There’s no end to the sights, sounds, and smells you can conjure up. Andevery time you do, you’re building those age-fighting dendrites.

Or again, the next time you haveto add some numbers don’t automatically reach for the calculator. Use yourmind. Eventually, as your memory and mental flexibility improve, you’ll be gladyou did.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

Provision #127: Smile & Laugh

LifeTrek Provision

I know a person who, when he sees me, will oftensay, “Smile, Bob.” I know another person who, in the ordinary course of a day, willaudibly laugh and groan about even the smallest ups and downs. Both personshave hit upon a wonderful tonic for body, mind, and spirit. Smiling andlaughing are proven to enhance health, reduce stress, relieve pain, and buildenergy. They’re good things to do for yourself and for those around you.

Smiling is a great place to start, because smilingdoes not tend to make one feel self-conscious. You don’t feel like smiling? Doit anyway. Smiling when you’re blue can get you back to a rosy mood. After threeto four minutes of smiling, your brain begins to get the message: “I’m smiling– I must be happy.” And so you are.

Dr. Robert Zajong at the University of Michigan,director of the Institute for Social Research, believes that he knows why thishappens. When you smile you change the direction of the blood flow inside yourface in such a way that it causes the temperature of the blood to drop. Coolerblood entering the region of the brain known as the hypothalmus results in arelease of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

I talked about this last week in relation tobreathing deep. I mentioned that it was important to breathe in through thenose and out through the mouth. Now we know why. Breathing in through the mouthdoes not lower the temperature of the blood supply to the hypothalmus, so itdoesn’t have the same energy building, pain relieving, stress reducing, andhealth enhancing benefits.

Smiling has the same impact as deep breathing.Laughing takes it one step further. Laughing circulates the blood even morevigorously. Do it for very long or very often and it actually becomes a form ofaerobic exercise. You don’t feel like laughing? There’s nothing funny? You’reworried about what will people think? Do it anyway. “Laugh and the world laughswith you,” is more than just a trite old saying. It reflects theinterconnectedness of life, which is never more visible than when laughterstarts spreading from one person to another.

My father-in-law had an exuberant laugh. Whensomething tickled his fancy, he laughed out loud with a belly laugh that wouldsoon infect everyone in his presence. One quickly stopped laughing at theoriginal comic situation and started laughing at my father-in-law’s enjoymentof that situation. At times, it was hard to stop.

There are churches that have replaced music or evensermons with laughter sessions. No jokes are told. One or more people juststart laughing. Slowly it spreads around the room until everyone has caught theSpirit. These churches see laughter as a gift of the Spirit to be celebrated,incorporated, and encouraged. They call it holy laughter.

India has seen an explosion of laughter clubs. Likerunners getting up for their morning run, these clubs get together between 6and 7 in the morning to have 15–20 minutes of laughter. Once again, no jokesare told. After stretching and limbering up, they simply egg each other intoextended bouts of hilarity. They laugh until they can’t stand it any more.Based upon a mirth-inducing posture technique derived from yoga, theypractice different types of laughing including Hearty Laughter, SilentLaughter, Medium Laughter, Dancing Laughter, Cocktail Laughter, Arm-SwingingLaughter, One Meter Laughter and many others.

Smiling and laughing are lostarts. Young children do them hundreds of time per day. Adults are lucky if theymanage 15. Anything we can do to smile and laugh like little children willrestore our health and wonder. No other living beings can smile and laugh. Theyare special gifts of God. Don’t wait for something funny. Fake it, if you haveto, until your mind and spirit catch up with your body. They will, and you’llbe glad you did.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

Provision #126: Breathe Deep

LifeTrek Provision

For the past week I’ve been dealing with a series ofcomputer problems. One computer was completely fried, requiring themotherboard, CPU, and video card to be replaced. Other computers hadperipherals that needed to be replaced while they all had one snafu or anotherin the process of upgrading software. Finally, I had to figure out mydaughter’s computer needs, as she gets ready to go to college.

As the resident computer tech for our home and homebased office, all these problems are mine to resolve or refer. This time theyweren’t simple to diagnose and repair. It took many hours over many days to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. I should have referred!

It feels great to have the problems behind me, andit’s getting easier to relax with every passing day. How did I maintain myequilibrium through a stressful week? I wasn’t always successful. But when Iwas, deep breathing was part of the secret. Nothing is as distracting to me asa problem I can’t solve, especially a computer problem, before I have to go tosleep or another appointment. Unfinished business makes it difficult for me tostay in the present moment: it’s easy to rehash the past and to figure out thefuture. But this is not the way to peace.

Deep breathing can clear the body, mind, and spiritof toxins, worries, and fears. It is the secret to regaining a sense of balanceand control when everything seems to be spinning around wildly. Do you everhave days or weeks like that? Try slow deep breathing, in through the nose andout through mouth.

Deep breathing is a great way to start the day.Carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs at night through the shallow breathing wedo during sleep. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, so it sinks to thebottom of our lungs (near the diaphragm) and will not come out apart from deepbreathing.

In the absence of deep breathing, the body convertsthe carbon dioxide into carbonic acid that is then processed by the kidneys andexcreted in urine. But why make our bodies work that hard? Five deep breaths inthe morning will clear the lungs and put a good cast on the entire day. Combinedeep breathing with gentle, easy stretching and you’ve got a great formula forrecovery and renewal. This combination lies behind the ancient practice ofyoga.

Deep breathing is also a great way to cope withstressful situations, problems, and challenges. Stress takes a tremendous tollon our bodies, minds, and spirits. It lies behind many illnesses, even majorones like heart disease and cancer, since stress undermines the ability of ourimmune system to maintain optimum health. Research at Yale University indicatesthat stress stimulates the overproduction of cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. It makes the heart race.

Deep breathing tends to counteract the chemistry ofstress. It can block the release of these hormones into the blood stream andincrease the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical.

Deep breathing is not hard to do. I like to lie onmy back, with my eyes shut and my legs bent underneath me (a great quadricepsstretch). But it works just as well with your legs and arms stretched out asfar as you can reach. Hold that pose for about five minutes, while you feelyour abdomen rising and falling with each slow, deep breath. No chest breathingfor this exercise. Get the air all the way down to the bottom of your lungs, inthrough the nose and out through the mouth. You’ll be surprised how good itwill make you feel.

Deep breathing can even be done in bed, before yourise. But it works better on a firmer surface, where you can really feel thestretch. If you can’t or won’t lie down on the floor, do your deep breathingwhile seated on a pillow or a chair. Do it throughout the day, whenever youfeel stressed, distracted, and troubled. Deep breathing will work its magic onthe whole of your personality and bring you back to a good place to be.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC