Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Brain Can Learn Compassion via Meditation

Study Shows Meditation May Activate the Brain to Learn Empathy
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 26, 2008 -- Practice may make perfect when it comes to kindness and compassion. A new study shows practicing kindness and compassion through regular meditation actually activates the brain and makes people more empathetic to others.

It's the first study to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the effects of compassion meditation on brain activity. The results suggest that people can train themselves to be more compassionate just as they'd train themselves to play a musical instrument. Researchers say the study also suggests that practicing compassion meditation may also be a useful tool in preventing bullying, violence, aggression, and depression by altering brain activity to make people more empathetic to other peoples' emotions.

"We can take advantage of our brain's plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities," says researcher Antione Lutz, associate scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in a news release. "Thinking about other people's suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective."

Teaching the Brain Empathy

Participating in the study were 16 Tibetan monks experienced in meditation and a comparison group of 16 people with no prior experience in meditation. People in the comparison group were taught the fundamentals of compassion meditation two weeks prior to the study.

During the study, researchers used fMRI to measure the response of the participants' brains to a variety of neutral or negative sounds, such as a distressed woman, a baby laughing, or background restaurant noise. During the session, researchers took separate scans of the brain when the participants heard the sounds during a meditative and neutral state.

The scans showed significant increases in activity in the portion of the brain known as the insula, which plays a key role in emotion, in experienced meditators when they were exposed to negative emotional sounds. There was less increase in activity during exposure to neutral or positive sounds. The strength of brain activity was also related to the intensity of the meditation reported by the participants.

"The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion -- such as heart rate and blood pressure -- and making that information available to other parts of the brain," says researcher Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the news release.

Brain activity also increased in other brain areas believed to be important in processing empathy, such as perceiving the mental and emotional state of others.

"Both of these areas have been linked to emotion sharing and empathy," Davidson says. "The combination of these two effects, which was much more noticeable in the expert meditators as opposed to the novices, was very powerful."
View Article Sources Sources

Lutz, A. Public Library of Science One, March 26, 2007; vol 3: p e1897.

News release, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Could Your Perfume be Killing You?

An open article regarding the use and abuse of "perfumed" items in the daily routine
March 9th 2008 -
By Robin Cunningham Myers, LMT, CH, RRMT, SF

Do you feel incomplete if you do not apply some sort of cologne or perfume? Feel the need for several Plug-In’s around the house, as well as a can of Glade on the back of the toilet? Do you make sure to add a “spritz-for-the-road” just to be sure you smell your very best?

Take care with those fragrances as they may be just the source of some of your chronic health problems, and those of the people around you.

Perfumes are added to nearly everything in our daily environment from toilet paper to ink pens. Products are leaping off the shelves in many stores such as candles, aerosols, hair care products, and cleaning products, all claiming to be aromatherapy. The challenge for the average consumer is to discern between perfumed fragrances, and aromatherapy.

In the past, perfumes were created from essential oils and flower waters. The healing properties were considered along with the aroma of each plant when creating perfumes. This was a genuine use of what is termed aromatherapy.

Today, however, there is very little use of actual plant constituents, and a predominant use of petrochemical derivatives. “About 95 percent of perfume ingredients are not composed of flower essences or natural products as people generally imagine, but synthesized from petrochemicals, which give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs), vapors emitted from compounds like solvents, wood preservatives, paint strippers and dry cleaned clothing,” according to a recent article on MSNBC by Francesca Lyman titled “Scents and Sensitivities, What to know before buying a loved one perfume.”

Read on: Complete Article, click here
ByRegion Healing Arts Network • 311 Montford Ave • Asheville • NC • 28801

Happy Easter

2008, All Rights Reserved, Janis Davies

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vernal Equinox, actual time, PST

Okay - I wanted to get this straight for myself, so here goes. I am posting this especially for the Pacific Standard Daylight Savings Time folks!

Happy Spring!!!

Wednesday, March 19 is the vernal equinox for Pacific Time Zone at 10:48 pm PDT, the day on which both the north and south pole of the earth are equal distances towards the sun (92.6 million miles). At that instant the sun stands directly over the Earths equator. The first day of spring, called 'the vernal equinox', vernal meaning 'green', and equinox meaning 'equal night', which simply means that on the equinox the hours of daylight are nearly equal to the hours of night.

2008 All Rights Reserved, Janis Davies

Sleep Loss and Grief

How to Cope with Grief and Sleep Alone

Nothing will ease your grief—at least, not for a while. But these tips will help you sleep, and sleep will help you heal.
By Ellen Michaud with Julie Bain
From Sleep to Be Sexy Smart and Slim

A Time of Turbulent Emotions
Grief is hard. There is no easy way to move through it. Most of us will lose someone we love, will feel bruised right down to our soul. We’ll feel worry, fear, sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, confusion, and loneliness. Some psychologists say that those feelings are stages through which we move. But the truth is, moving through these stages is circular. We’ll begin to move on, spot a glove or a book left behind, and slip right back into a puddle of despair.

Unfortunately, a consequence of these uncontrollable feelings is something that makes it even harder to handle: Most of us simply don’t sleep. We lie down, turn out the light, close our eyes—and our minds remain sharply alert. And when we finally slip into unconsciousness, we frequently wake through the night.

Disrupted sleep makes it harder to handle our grief, our lives, and even the day-to-day duties of making the bed or paying the bills. And it may also affect our health. In a study of 4,395 married couples at the University of Glasgow, for example, when one spouse died, the risk of the other spouse dying from anything ranging from heart disease, stroke, and cancer to accidents and violence increased by 27 percent.

14 Tips to Help You Sleep Alone
1. JOURNAL. Limit writing to 15 minutes a day, and just write about how you feel. Periodically read back through what you’ve written. Over time you’ll be able to see how you’ve moved through the grieving process. Somewhere around 80 percent of us will move through the worst of our grief within a year.

2. NURTURE YOURSELF. Pay attention to your body’s needs. Prepare balanced meals, and serve them on your best china and linens. Exercise for 30 minutes every day, even if it’s just a walk with the dog. And every morning center yourself in a prayer of gratitude for the people in your life, the sunshine outside your window, and the fact that you can make a difference in the lives of others.

3. CONSULT SOME EXPERTS. Check with your attorney and a financial consultant about the effects a death has on your legal and financial situation. No, you don’t want to deal with it. On the other hand, you’ll sleep better knowing exactly what will—or won’t—be coming at you in the months ahead.

4. USE GUIDED IMAGERY. “Mind/body stuff really works in helping you get to sleep,” says therapist Belleruth Naparstek, M.S. “The imagery has enough cognitive recruitment to seduce the brain into seeing and thinking about other things, while the voice tone, pacing, music, and images will persuade your parasympathetic nervous system that it’s time to calm down. It will shut down the adrenaline and shoot some calming hormones into your nervous system.”

Slip a CD of guided imagery into your CD player, snuggle into bed, turn out the lights, and follow the imagery into sleep.

5. BAN THE BOTTLE. Alcohol simply prolongs the grieving process and makes it harder to get good, restorative sleep.

6. SCHEDULE A MASSAGE. “Massage interrupts the neurohormones connected with sleeplessness and almost manually imposes sleep on you,” says Naparstek. “If you can’t afford a massage, go to a massage school. You can get one there for $15.”

7. GET WHAT YOU NEED. “For some people six months of Ambien is a good thing,” says Naparstek. “If you need to take medication to interrupt the adrenalization of your life, so be it.”

More Sleep Tips
8. FIND NEW FRIENDS. Preferably other widows. Several women who belonged to the same church in Spring Hill, Florida, banded together after the death of their husbands and called themselves the Merry Widows. One was an artist, another a real estate agent, and two others were homemakers.

At first they weren’t merry at all—like everybody else, they were devastated by their losses. But gradually as they met for lunch or dinner, picked each other up for church, and brought takeout or chicken soup to those who were sick, things changed. They joked—with a sometimes macabre humor that could startle those still married folks who overheard them—providing an understanding and caring for one another that soothed their adrenalized state.

9. READ. Books on grieving, particularly memoirs of survivors, can reassure you that many of the intense feelings keeping you up will someday ease.

10. WRITE A LETTER. What would you tell your partner if you had a chance? Even if you don’t share the letter with anyone, the process of writing it may help you unload some of that adrenaline. If you’re angry, feel free to vent.

11. ACCEPT YOUR GRIEF. Allow yourself to move through all the emotions associated with grieving—sadness, longing, guilt, anger, betrayal, the whole range of passionate emotion that allows you to be the loving, caring person you are. Don’t try to stiff-upper-lip it. You’ll only make getting to sleep harder, prolonging the grieving process.

12. BE CLEAR. So many people will want to talk with you about your spouse and your grief. Friends will want to process their own grief by talking about it over and over. Be tough and tell them very clearly to leave you alone. Same goes for those whom who know only slightly. “I got very comfortable saying, `I don’t want to talk about this,’ ” says Naparstek.

13. COLLECT THE STUPID THINGS PEOPLE SAY. Write them down, share them with close friends, and joke about them. “I had a friend—a nurse—whose husband died of a heart attack,” Naparstek says. “I knew that she’d had a snootful of all the things people say. So I called and said, `Wanna get together for dinner? I’m buying. And we can talk about all the stupid things people say to new widows!’ “ She laughs. “We had a blast!”

14. FIND SOLACE IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES When you simply can't sleep, talk to someone who can help you deal with the thoughts running through your head, such as another widow. Log on to the Web site or or if you're a young widow, try Chat, get a cup of tea, then go back to bad.

'Tongue Drops' Cut Bee Sting Allergy

This form of immuno-therapy reminds me in many ways of homeopathy, where micro-doses of a substance that causes a symptom are given in order to relieve that symptom (an ultra-simplified description). Be Well, Janis

Placing Venom Under the Tongue May Offer Alternative to Allergy Shots
By Charlene Laino
WebMD Medical News

March 18, 2008 (Philadelphia) -- Taking allergy drops instead of enduring painful shots may someday become an option for people who are allergic to honeybee stings.

In a preliminary study, Italian researchers found that putting honeybee venom under the tongue was safe and significantly reduced reactions in people allergic to bee stings.

Immunotherapy using the ubiquitous allergy shot is the standard treatment for allergies to everything from insect stings to dust mites. Tiny amounts of the allergens are injected into the patient until tolerance develops.

The new study involved a different form of immunotherapy, called sublingual immunotherapy. It involves putting extracts of allergens under the tongue. Like the shots, sublingual immunotherapy reduces allergic sensitivity in many patients over time.

Although a popular treatment for asthma, rubber latex, and other allergies in many European countries, sublingual therapy has not been approved for use in the U.S.

And it's never been used to treat sting allergies, even in Europe, says researcher Giovanni Passalacqua, MD, of the Allergy and Respiratory Diseases Clinic at the University of Genoa.
Honeybee Venom Drops vs. Placebo

The new study, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunotherapy (AAAAI), is the first attempt to determine if sublingual immunotherapy is effective against honeybee sting allergies, Passalacqua says.

The study involved 30 people with a history of local allergic reactions to honeybee stings. A local reaction is a large raised patch of pricked skin right in the area of the sting. These raised bumps are often called wheals.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either sublingual immunotherapy in the form of honeybee venom drops placed under the tongue, or placebo drops.

Patients in the immunotherapy group got escalating doses of honeybee venom for six weeks, followed by a maintenance dose, given three times a week for six months.

"You hold the drop under the tongue for about one or two minutes, then swallow," Passalacqua says.
The Bee Sting Challenge

Then came the bee sting challenge. "We put insects in a jar and then put the jar on the patient's forearm" and looked to see what happened, he says.

It worked. The median diameter of the sting wheals in patients given sublingual immunotherapy dropped from about 8 to 3 inches. Looked at another way, wheal diameter was reduced by more than 50% in more than half of them.

"This was a very apparent and very significant reduction in the size of the reaction to the sting," Passalacqua says.

In contrast, there was no change in wheal diameter in the placebo group, and one person broke out in hives.

The findings show that sublingual immunotherapy against honeybee stings works, Passalacqua says.
© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

All Rights Reserved. 2008 Janis Davies

Change... V. Frankl

"When we are no longer able
to change a situation -
we are challenged
to change ourselves."

-Victor Frankl

Holistic Counseling may play beneficial role in Alzheimer's

From Counseling Today, March 2008, cover page article, Untapped Potential by Jonathan Rollins

"Although the study and treatment of (Alzheimer's dementia) has largely been the purview of medicine, as information about this disorder has emerged, a clear role for counseling has taken shape, " Douthit* wrote in an article for the Spring 2007 issue of ADULTSPAN Journal, published by the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of the American Counseling Association. "Interventions across the life span that address stress, depression management, social integration, spirituality and other targets of holistic wellness such as diet and exercise hold much promise for delaying or circumventing the cognitive disabilities associated with (Alzheimer's dementia)."

*Kathryn Douthit is a counselor with a background in biomedical sciences, with an interest in Alzheimer's disease and gerontology. She is chair adn associate professor of counseling and human development at the Univ. of Rochester.