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Science Finally Proves Meridians Exist

By UPLIFT

What the Merging of Spirituality and Science means for you

“In every culture and in every medical tradition before ours, healing was accomplished by moving energy.” – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Biochemist and Nobel Prize Winner.

For centuries the ancient wisdom keepers and healers in several traditions had a keen understanding of the energetic body. The healing traditions from China, India, Japan and Tibet, as well as other countries all spoke of energy channels, meridians or nadis along which the vital energy flowed.

Life was considered to be a bio-electrical and vibrational energy phenomenon and so health revolved around balancing energy through various means. Life existed because of life force and energy running through and animating the body, ensuring we can move, breathe, digest food, think and even feel.

Healing traditions all spoke of energy channels, meridians or Nadis.Healing traditions all spoke of energy channels, sen, meridians or nadis.

Energy channels

This vital life force or chi, is composed of two kinds of forces, yin and yang, and flows along a sophisticated network of energy pathways, or highways, circuiting the body. Over 2000 years ago ancient cultures knew of the existence of these energy channels. They were called ‘sen’ in Thailand, ‘nadis’ in India, ‘meridians’, ‘channels’ or ‘vessels’ in China and Japan, and ‘channels’ in Tibet. In India, where many eastern healing arts developed, there were said to be 72 000 nadis or energy pathways. Disease is believed to be a blockage in the energy flow of these channels. A range of healing traditions, including acupuncture, acupressure, massage and yoga, are founded on the principle of the existence of energy channels or pathways, known as meridians, or nadis, running around the body in an expansive network.

While it may seem a little airy fairy to some to consider the energy body while we have flesh and bone, at source we are an energy field, embedded into another energy field. Our bodies are electromagnetic in nature and science has measured these frequencies with advanced machines, like EKG’s and MRI scanning, for many years. Numerous studies demonstrate these energy pathways and points conduct electricity even when needles aren’t used. And the massage technique of Shiatsu have been found to stimulate the same energetic effects. Similarly, Qigong,Tai Chi and the postures of yoga, have been found to increase electrical conductance at acupoints, yet science never believed in the existence of meridians until now.

A range of healing traditions including acupuncture,are founded on the principle of the existence of energy channels or pathways.A range of healing traditions are founded on the principle of the meridians.

Scientific research

Recently scientists at Seoul National University confirmed the existence of meridians, which they refer to as the “primo-vascular system.” They say that this system is a crucial part of the cardiovascular system.

Previously, North Korean scientist Kim Bong-Han proposed that he had found meridians in the early 1960’s.  Dr Kim Bong-Han showed over 50 years ago that new tubular structures exist inside and outside of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, as well as on the surface of internal organs and under the dermis. He believed they were the traditional meridian lines. The meridians were called Bonghan ducts or channels, after his research, but now the existence of this system in various organs has been corroborated by further research.

The current Korean researchers now believe the primo-vascular system is in fact the physical component of the Acupuncture Meridian System. And it has also been suggested that this system is involved in channelling the flow of energy and information relayed by biophotons (electromagnetic waves of light) and DNA.

DNAimageThere may be a link between the meridians and energy and information relayed by DNA.

 

The Korean scientists studying oriental medicine with biophysical methods injected a special staining dye which coloured the meridians. By injecting the dye onto acupuncture points, they were able to see thin lines. These did not show up at non-acupuncture point sites where there are no meridians. The researchers discovered that the meridian lines are not confined to the skin, but are in fact a concrete duct system through which liquid flows, and that this liquid aggregates to form stem cells.

Previously, scientists used a combination of imaging techniques and CT scans to observe concentrated points of microvascular structures that clearly correspond to the map of acupuncture points created by Chinese energy practitioners in ancient times. In a study published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, researchers used contrast CT imaging with radiation on both non-acupuncture points and acupuncture points. The CT scans revealed clear distinctions between the non-acupuncture point and acupuncture point anatomical structures.

Scientists injected a special staining dye which coloured the meridiansScientists injected a special staining dye which coloured the meridians.

The meridian system

There are 12 primary paired meridians and two single mid meridians, six yang and six yin. The yang meridians run down the body and the yin meridians flow up the body. Each meridian is also related to an element. Each meridian is most active at a certain time of the day or night and each meridian is influenced by an element or season.

The nature of meridians, in their elemental structure, and as vessels for the life force, show the intricacy and profound connection of our body at a cellular level, to the universe. We are intimately connected by the elements, energetic structure and flow of energy, to all life, at a cellular, physical level. Our earth is also said to have energetic pathways or ley lines, akin to meridians.

The map of acupuncture points was created by Chinese healing practitioners nearly 2000 years agoThe map was created by Chinese healing practitioners nearly 2000 years ago.

How are meridians related to health?

Our bodies need balance. A balanced flow or energy, not too much or too little, is conducive to good health. This is the same in the way we live our lives. Balance is paramount. Just enough food, water and a healthy balanced lifestyle. As the Buddha said: “middle way” or moderation in all things.

We can see this harmony and balance in life, as the balance between the energies of yin and yang – or more simplistically, masculine and feminine – the two opposing and catalyzing energies of the universe.

In our bodies we need balance, so a balanced flow or energy, not too much or too little.In our bodies we need balance, not too much or too little.

 

Our health is vibrant if there is harmony and balance between these two forces in the body. If the balance is disturbed, and the flow of one of these forces becomes greater than the other then illness arises. These forces or energies flow through very definite channels in the body, or meridians, and these are the body’s healing energy pathways.

In traditional Indian medicine, the meridians are expanded upon.There are nadis found within the physical body and these nadis make up the nervous system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, the lymphatic systems, etc. Any blockages in these nadis can result in physical health conditions. Nadis can also be found in the subtle body where they carry thoughts, feelings, and nerve impulses. When these nadis are blocked, we lose our ability to feel, and connect deeply with others, the environment and ourselves. In the same way that veins and arteries are important for the body to function, nadis weave through our physical nerves and the matrix of consciousness that circuits the mind and self, supporting our physical expression from the otherworldly dimensions of existence.

YinYangChi is made up of two kinds of forces, yin and yang.

 

When the flow of energy is blocked, it causes low energy and illness. Practices like yoga and meditation work on these subtle energy channels, supporting the flow of energy through the body. According to some ancient indian texts there are 350 000 nadis or energy pathways in the body. In traditional Indian medicine and spiritual science, the energies of the physical body, the subtle body and the causal body are said to flow through the nadis. Within this framework, the nadis are said to connect at special points of intensity called nadichakras.

The three most important nadis are those running along the spine: ida, pingala and sushumna. The Sushumna is the central channel of energy in the human body and it runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head and carries kundalini energy, which is the primal evolutionary force. Kundalini is awakened through yoga and meditation and is said to lie dormant at the base of the spine. Activation of the kundalini leads to higher consciousness states. The aim of yoga is to broaden the sushumna and to unite the pathways. Purifying all three nadis leads to overall health, and wellness of body and mind, as well as spiritual growth. Various Pranayama techniques aid in helping to keep these nadi channels open.

The three most important nadis are those running along the spine: ida, pingala and sushunma.The three most important nadis are those running along the spine: ida, pingala and sushunma.

 

If you are sensitive to energy and have had energy treatments, such as acupuncture, you may have felt streams of energy or a flow of cold or heat, for example, up the legs or arms. This is a freeing up of energy in the meridians and the flow of energy that is released when a blockage is removed.

There are many wonderful healing modalities based on the meridian system that support radiant health. By enhancing the flow of energy through the body, balance and health is achieved and we come in touch with our true selves. Acupuncture is a therapeutic modality used in China as early as the late stone age. It was used to treat all ailments affecting people. Acupuncture did not enter modern Western consciousness until the 1970’s when China ended a period of isolation and resumed foreign political and cultural contacts.

The range of applications for acupuncture has grown slowly in the West, possibly because of the belief that it has no scientific basis.  Perhaps now with the scientific proof of meridians, acupuncture will become more widespread for all ailments, along with other great healing modalities based on the energetics of the body, supporting more people to have vibrant health and wellbeing.

By UPLIFT




8 Things Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Anxiety

By Lori Deschene

How You Can Help the People You Love When They Need It Most

Sometimes just being there is enough – Unknown

It felt like I couldn’t breathe. Like someone was holding me by the neck, against a wall, and the floor might drop from beneath us at any moment. I’m describing a panic attack, but this has actually happened to me before—being held by the neck against a wall, that is, not the other part. Growing up I experienced many moments like that, moments when I felt unsafe, physically and emotionally.

There were countless experiences that reinforced to me, over the years, that I couldn’t let my guard down, because at any moment I could be hurt. So I learned to be constantly anxious, eternally on guard, ever ready for a threat. I learned to be tightly wound, my fight-or-flight response permanently triggered. And I learned to see minor threats as major problems, because that’s another thing I learned as a kid: Sometimes seemingly small things could make other people snap. Unsurprisingly, I grew into an adult who snapped over small things all the time. Got bleach on my interview outfit? No one will ever hire me now! She doesn’t want to be my friend? Why doesn’t anyone love me? Found a suspicious lump? I’m going to die!

Alt text hereAnxiety can adversely affect a person’s life

 

Okay, so that last one isn’t actually a “small thing,” but the point is I was constantly scared. Life was a string of lions to tame, and I lived in a land without chairs. I believe my early experiences, being bullied in varied environments, led to my years of depression and anxiety. For you or your loved one, there may be other causes. Some people are genetically predisposed to anxiety, some struggle because of stressful circumstances, and for some, physical conditions play a role. But this isn’t a post about what causes anxiety. This is a post about what not to say when someone’s panicking.

What Can You do to Help Someone Experiencing an Anxiety Attack?

Anxiety can completely overwhelm your mind and body, and we often exacerbate our pain by being cruel to ourselves in our head. “Get it together!” we scream at ourselves. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you such a mess?” But none of these thoughts are helpful. Though the people who love us are generally not as cruel, they sometimes say less than helpful things as well, solely because they don’t know any better.

Alt text hereBeing tough on ourselves only makes it worse

 

Even as someone who has experienced anxiety, I have said some of the things below to people who were struggling, because I felt powerless. And when you feel powerless, it’s hard to think straight. All you know is that you want to fix it for them. You want to have answers. But sometimes when we’re in fix-it mode, despite our best intentions, we inadvertently add fuel to the fire.

So, as someone who’s been on both sides of the coin, I’d like to share some phrases to avoid when someone is dealing with anxiety, and offer a little insight into what actually helps.

Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Struggling with Anxiety

1. What you’re stressing about won’t even matter in a year.

In many cases, this is true. If someone’s worrying about a minor car accident, it’s entirely likely what they’re stressing about won’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. But this isn’t a universally true statement. A minor accident could lead to major car trouble, which could lead to missing work, which could lead to lost pay, which could lead to getting evicted. And that could very well matter in a year. Is this chain of events likely? No, but it’s still possible.

Alt text hereValidating fears and affirming that the person is safe is helpful for someone having a panic attack

 

It’s not reassuring to tell someone the worst-case scenario won’t happen because sometimes, it does. But more importantly, in that moment when someone is in the midst of anxiety, it feels catastrophic, and you can’t rationalize those feelings away—at least not immediately. When someone is panicking, they don’t need logic; they need validation. They need validation that yes, life is uncertain and “bad” things do happen, and validation that it’s okay to feel scared.

They also need a reminder that in this moment, they are safe. And that’s all they need to think about right now: breathing and grounding themselves in this moment in time. 

2. Life’s too short to worry. 

All this does is create more anxiety, because in addition to whatever that person was initially stressing about, they now have to worry that they’re missing out on life because of an emotional response that feels beyond their control.

Alt text hereAnxiety can leave us feeling stuck

 

Yes, life is short. And we all naturally want to make the most of it. But you wouldn’t tell a diabetic “Life is too short to have too much sugar in your blood.” Sure, you’d encourage them to make healthy food choices, but you’d realize this phrasing would vastly oversimplify the effort required from them to manage their condition and maintain healthy habits. The same is true of anxiety. Anyone who’s struggled with it understands there are far better ways to live, and this knowledge pains them. What they may not know is how to help themselves.

3. Calm down.

“Calm down” is the goal, not the action step. It’s what we all want to do when we’re panicking. It’s the shore in the distance, and it can feel miles away as we gasp for air in the undertow of emotion and struggle to stay afloat.

Alt text hereSomeone overwhelmed by anxiety will likely not be able to comprehend advice

 

If you know any good methods that help you calm yourself—deep breathing exercises, for example—by all means, share them. But it’s probably best not to get into much detail in the moment when someone is panicking. Imagine someone hanging off a cliff, about to fall into a pit full of tigers. That’s what anxiety can feel like.

If you were to stand at the edge and scream, “COME TO YOGA WITH ME TOMORROW! DID YOU KNOW THAT YOGA CAN HELP YOU…” that person would likely be too consumed by their terror to hear you or your convincing argument. What they need to hear in that moment is “Take my hand!” And the same is true of anxiety. Hold their hand. Help them breathe. Help them come back into the moment. Then, when they feel safe, that’s a good time to tell them what’s helped you.

That’s another important thing to remember: We all want to hear what’s helped other people deal, not what someone who’s never experienced our struggles has read about. Share your experience, not your expertise. None of us need a guru; we need friends who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable.

Alt text hereOnce someone is ready, it can be helpful to hear what has helped you through your own similar experience

4. It’s no big deal. 

This comes back to the first point: In that moment, it feels like a big deal. A very big deal. It feels like the biggest, scariest, worst thing that could happen, and you can’t turn that fear off like a switch.

When someone says, “It’s not a big deal,” the anxious mind translates this as “You’re overreacting—which is further proof that you’re broken.” Instead, try, “I know it’s hard. And scary. But you’re not alone. I’m here to help you get through this.” It’s amazing how much it helps when someone reinforces that it’s okay to be scared—it’s human, even—but we don’t have to face it alone.

5. It’s all in your head. 

Yes, thoughts and fears all originate in our head, but that doesn’t make our feelings any less real. The anxious mind translates “It’s all in your head” as “Your head is defective,” because knowing that thoughts fuel anxiety doesn’t make it any easier to stop thinking anxious thoughts.

Alt text hereInstead of fighting our anxious thoughts, try accepting and disengaging from them

 

When we’re thinking anxious thoughts, what we need is a reminder that they often arise naturally—for all of us. We don’t need to worry about changing them. We just need to practice accepting them when they arise and disengaging from them. So try this instead: “I can understand why you’re thinking those thoughts. I’d probably think some of the same things if I were in your shoes. If you want, you can tell me all your anxious thoughts. They’re trying to protect you in their own way, so maybe they just need to be heard and then they’ll quiet a bit.”

6. Let it go.

I have, over the years, written many posts with advice on letting go. I believe it’s healthy to strive to let go of anger, resentment, fears, the past, and anything else that compromises our ability to be happy and loving in the present.

Alt text hereLetting go is a constant practise

 

I think, though, letting go is something we may need to do repeatedly. It’s a practice, not a one-time decision, and certainly not something we’re well equipped to do in a moment when we’re gripped by fear. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote,

It’s not a matter of letting go—you would if you could. Instead of ‘Let it go’ we should probably say ‘Let it be’.

That’s what we need in the moment when we’re panicking: We need to give those feelings permission to exist. We need to give ourselves permissions to be a human being experiencing those feelings. And we need to know the people around us love us enough to accept us as we are—even if it might make them feel more comfortable if we were better able to just “let it go.”

7. Things could be so much worse.

Yes, things could always be worse, we all know this. Like many statements on this list, this phrase does little other than evoke guilt. And for the anxious mind, guilt can lead to more anxiety.

Alt text hereGuilt only exacerbates anxiety

 

Now, on top of their initial fears, they’re worrying that they’re not a good person because they can’t rationalize their anxiety away with gratitude. I’m not suggesting that it never helps to put things in perspective, but coming from someone else, this almost always sounds condescending. Condescension leads most of us to feel inferior, and it’s even worse when we’re already feeling ashamed because of our struggle, as many of us do.

8. Be positive. 

Anxiety isn’t just about negativity. For many of us, like me, it’s a learned response from a traumatic past in which we felt persistently unsafe. You can train your brain to be more optimistic, and in doing so, minimize anxious thoughts. But this involves far more time, effort, and support than the phrase “be positive” conveys.

Alt text hereIt’s not easy to switch to positivity when you’re consumed by anxiety

 

Also, “be positive” suggests that “positive” is something one can become—permanently—which ignores the reality that lows are inevitable in life. No one is positive all the time, and often the people who seem to be are actually being passive-aggressive. Phrases like “Look on the bright side” and “See the glass as half full” can seem incredibly patronizing when you’re hurting. They minimize just how hard it can be to see the world optimistically, especially when you’ve experienced trauma.

So instead, show them what it looks like to be positive. Be loving and open and calm and accepting and supportive and present. This probably won’t heal them of their struggle or banish their anxiety in the moment when they’re panicking, but it’s amazing how you can affect someone for the better by being a healthy mirror.

Alt text hereCompassion and a listening ear go a long way

 

After reading this list, you might think I’m suggesting there is no way to heal from anxiety; we just need to help people accept it and get through it. But that’s not actually my point. There are tools out there to help people. I personally recommend therapy, yoga, and meditation, as these three tools combined have helped me learn to better regulate my emotions. My point is that even when someone is making the efforts to help themselves, it takes time; they may still struggle, and in those moments they simply need love, acceptance, and, support.

If you’ve said some of these things in the past, know that we recognize you’re imperfect, just like us, but we still appreciate all that you do. We also appreciate that you read articles like this to better understand and support us. The world can be a scary place, but knowing that people like you care enough to help us, makes it feel a whole lot safer.

By Lori Deschene




Do Biology and Culture Shape Human Emotion?

By Jill Suttie

he Universality Of Emotion Recognition

Emotions give us clues about how to respond to things happening in our environment: Is he dangerous? Does she love me? Can I trust him? But can we trust our perceptions as we travel around the globe?

Can Japanese tourists identify threatening people in Canada? Can a man from Saudi Arabia tell the difference between anger and disgust in Argentina?

A long line of research suggests the answer is basically “yes”— humans appear to express certain fundamental emotions through universal facial expressions that are usually recognizable to people from other cultures. This seems to be true even across cultures that have had little or no exposure to each other.

But, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the theory of the “universality” of emotions may be missing something important. Their findings suggest that culture could play a stronger role than previously thought in how emotions are expressed and recognized. The paper has sparked a scientific debate about the interaction of biology and culture in shaping the expression of human emotion—and raised questions about what we all might have in common.

Alt text hereWhat do we all have in common when it comes to emotions?

Finding Feelings in Faces

Carlos Crivelli and colleagues at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid studied children from two cultures isolated from Western societies—the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea and the Mwani of Mozambique. They compared their responses to a matched group of Spaniard children, to see if they could identify certain emotions from photographs of Western faces.

The authors suggest that their findings lead credence to the idea that emotions are not universally recognized, but are culturally dependent.

The children were shown a group of photos displaying different facial expressions corresponding to happiness [smiling], sadness [pouting], anger [scowling], fear [gasping], and disgust [nose-scrunching], as well as a neutral face, and were asked to touch the photo that corresponded to a particular emotion. In a second part of the same study, the Mwani children were also exposed to short video clips of people displaying different emotions and then asked to select from those the face associated with a particular feeling.

Alt text hereChildren from the Trobriander Islands took part in the research.

Are Emotions Culturally Dependent?

Results showed that the Trobriand and Mwani children were able to match emotions to the correct faces on average 32 and 38 percent of the time respectively compared to Spaniards, who could match them 93 percent of the time—a significant difference. Happiness was the only emotion correctly matched to the corresponding face by a majority of the Trobriand children, while the Mwani children matched both happiness and fear correctly a majority of the time. The other emotions—sadness, anger, and disgust—did not appear to be recognized by the children of either culture in any consistent way. In addition, there were no significant differences between video facial recognition and still-photo facial recognition for the Mwani children.

The authors suggest that their findings lead credence to the idea that emotions are not universally recognized, but are culturally dependent. They also argue that their methodology is more solid than in prior experiments, because of spending significant time in the societies they studied to identify more accurate translations for words that describe emotion, as well as making study participants more comfortable with the experimental design.

The differences found here concerning emotion recognition reinforce other research showing cultural differences in other areas—research that challenges the pervasive presupposition of universal cognitive processes [like emotion recognition].— Reading Emotions from Faces in Two Indigenous Societies, Carlos Crivelli and colleagues

Alt text hereCan it be true that emotions are not universally recognised? Image: John Lund.

Why Studying Emotions is Tricky

Emotions researcher Disa Sauter of the University of Amsterdam praises the study for focusing on more isolated cultures, but she does question whether the methodology is actually an improvement on prior work, or whether it changes anything about the universality theory. She challenges:

I think that the methodology of this study is good, but it doesn’t seem dramatically different to other work in this area. It would be extremely rare for a single study to disprove a whole theory.

She points to a long history of scientific studies finding common emotion expressions in diverse cultures, including her own work with emotional vocalizations. For example, in one cross-cultural study, she found that emotional vocal signals—like screams for fear, and laughs for happiness—produced by two very different cultures were recognized between and within the cultures at very high rates, even when her results were reanalyzed with stricter controls in a separate paper.

Sauter also questions the use of children as subjects, as:

Children are less accurate on many tasks than adults, includingemotion recognition.

Alt text hereEmotions like happiness are written all over our faces for others to read.

Working With Children

Jessica Tracy, a University of British Columbia researcher who studies emotions—pride, in particular—agrees that studying children in emotion recognition tasks can be tricky, especially when children are from small-scale, non-literate societies.

I don’t think we really know how early children learn how to pair emotion words with their sense of what an emotion is. The idea behind universality of emotion isn’t saying that every child is born knowing that a word goes with a particular emotional expression; it’s saying people evolved to understand the emotion behind an expression.

Tracy goes on to explain that this is why researchers who work with children—and even with adults in these kinds of societies—usually have to come up with more ingenious ways to study what they understand about an emotional expression. For example, in past research many scientists have used stories to give context for an emotion, perhaps by asking a participant to say what face in a group of photos looks like someone who is being attacked by a wild boar.

Alt text hereStudies involving children often require a creative approach.

Emotion Recognition

Using methods like those—as Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen did in 1971—you generally find high levels of emotion recognition. Tracy explains:

Given the tons and tons of studies across all kinds of cultural groups done after their initial study showing similar results, I believe we can say that there is something universal about emotion expression.

Tracy’s own research has also found evidence for emotion universality, including studies involving pride displays in a remote population in Burkina Faso in Africa. She has even found that congenitally blind participants—who’ve never witnessed a pride display—can reproduce it effectively. Tracy concludes:

That’s pretty compelling evidence.

Alt text hereThe seven basic emotions and their universal expressions.

How Culture and Biology Might Interact

Sauter has another concern about Crivelli’s research: that it may not be very consistent. For example, in another recently published article in PNAS, Crivelli concluded that Trobianders match “fear” faces to “anger” and “threat” more often than to “fear”, yet in the Journal of Experimental Psychology study above, he wrote that Trobianders matched “fear” faces to the emotion of “fear” more frequently than any other emotion. According to Sauter:

The results of the two studies don’t seem to quite match up.

Tracy is less inclined to dismiss the mixed findings and rather to look at the PNAS study as a potential aberration—one that we may not fully understand yet. It could be that the researchers made an error, or perhaps there was some misunderstanding by the children, which she explains happens a lot in cross-cultural research. But, if the finding is real—that a “fear” face actually conveys “threat” in that culture—it would be a fascinating finding, she adds.

What I’d like to see is work with anthropologists who might be able to find out what happened to make that culture co-opt this universal fear expression to become more of a signal of threat.

Alt text hereWhat are the differences between fear, sadness and disgust in different cultures?

Culture Plays a Role in Emotion

While Sauter and Tracy both adhere to the theory of emotion universality, neither believes that culture plays no role at all in emotion expression. Tracy points to the work of Hillary Elfenbein of Washington University, who found that the way universal emotions are expressed can have a kind of cultural dialect involving small differences. This might explain why people within one cultural group tend to be a bit better at recognizing the expression from someone within their own group, than from someone outside their culture.

She also says that different cultures can have rules about when and where it’s appropriate to express a particular emotion. In the United States, for example, there is a taboo against expressing shame, she says, so you see that Americans will express it much less readily than people in other cultures.

There can be all kinds of cultural rules around emotion expression. But that doesn’t negate universality theory.

Alt text herePeople tend to understand emotions within their own cultural context.

What is Universal?

Instead, emotions probably have a biological, evolutionary basis and are also influenced by culture. Still, the wealth of research suggests that some basic emotions have universal markers, implying that feelings may be a common human language, helping us to survive and communicate important information within and possibly across tribes.

Whatever the case, only more research will really tell us more about emotion expression and its role in our lives. Tracy explains:

Emotions are a basic part of the human mind, and evolved for specific functions, and tons of research based on Ekman’s findings confirm that. I don’t think there’s anyone who disagrees that there’s something universal about emotions. I think the question is what’suniversal.

By Jill Suttie




How Yoga changes your Brain

By Sat Bir Singh Khalsa

Can Regular Yoga and Meditation Improve Your Brain Function?

There is increasing evidence that yoga and meditation can improve our memory and attention, both help us to function at a higher level at work, home or in school. Furthermore, these benefits occur whether you’re new to yoga and meditation or a long-time practitioner, and studies show it might even help starve off age-related neural decline. The reason, neuroscientists have discovered, is that certain areas of our brain undergo positive structural changes when we meditate. Because the brain exhibits plasticity, which means it has the ability to change, whatever you experience will be reflected in – and have impact on – your brain structure.

Several groundbreaking studies have shown how meditation, especially when practiced over the long-term, can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions. For example, a continued meditation practice can produce a thickening of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought and language. Like a body builder who pumps iron, the bigger his biceps get, the heavier weights he can lift. Likewise, when we meditate, we exercise the parts of the brain that involve the regulation of emotion and mind-body awareness that lead to changes in brain activity and structure, which in turn improve our memory and attention.

Studies have shown how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.Studies show how meditation can produce significant changes in the structure and mass within certain brain regions.

One of my fellow researchers, Dr Sara Lazar of the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, found these brain changes to be especially apparent in long-time meditators. In her 2005 study, for example, MRI brain scans were used to assess cortical thickness in participants with extensive meditation experience (averaging about 9 years of experience and 6 hours per week of meditation practice), and a control group that did not practice yoga or meditation. Dr Lazar found the brain regions associated with attention, sensory, cognitive and emotional processing were thicker in meditation participants than those in the control group who did not engage in yoga or meditation.

This was the first significant study (of now more similar studies) to provide evidence for a link between long-term meditation practice and structural brain changes. Equally exciting is that the greater prefrontal cortical thickness found in the meditation group was most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that extensive meditation might also offset age-related cortical thinning. It appears that the brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing, which frequently diminishes over the years, can remain more youthful in those people who continue to practice meditation.

Alt text hereThe brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing can remain more youthful.

In another interesting study conducted at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA, differences in the brain’s anatomy and structure called gyrification (or cortical folding) were also discovered in people who meditated. Although the implications of this research remain to be fully established, the findings from this study support the possbility that meditation can lead to changes in regulation of activities including daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into the past or future, and a possible integration of autonomic, emotional, and cognitive processes.

And while research reveals long-term meditation can produce structural changes in specific areas of the brain that enhance our ability to learn, one does not have to practice for thousands of hours to reap the positive brain benefits. Dr Lazar also found that these increases in grey matter in some regions of the brain occurred after just 8-weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Education (MBSR), a formal program involving meditation and some yoga practice. These results suggest that even short-term participation in meditation-related practices can lead to changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions that are involved in learning and memory processes, as well as in emotion regulation.

Yoga-Brain Fact: If you practice yoga and meditation techniques on a regular basis, your brain will be better able to cope with stress and emotion. This brain enhancement will help you to maintain higher levels of learning and memory.

Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.Long-term meditation can enhance our ability to learn.

Yoga makes us Smarter

Think about how we feel when we’re stressed. We might eat more, lose our appetite, sweat profusely, or simply want to bury our troubles in mindless television or computer games. What happens to our brains when we are under stress is that our bodies increase the secretion of cortisol, a well-known stress hormone. When faced with sustained, high levels of chronic stress, the associated high levels of cortisol can actually be toxic and even fatal to our brain cells. Because our hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, is particularly vulnerable to high sustained cortisol levels, we may ultimately compromise our learning and memory capacities when faced with uncontrolled chronic stress. By managing stress through yoga and meditation, you can actually improve your memory, concentration, and your ability to learn.

While researching the effects of long-term yoga and meditation, I found an intriguing study that reported improvements in attention, mood and stress over a very short time period. When a group of 40 undergraduate students were given 5 days of 20-minute meditation training, this group showed significantly better attentional abilities and control of stress than a similar control group of 40 students given only relaxation training, including greater improvement in attention, lower anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue and an elevated mood.

There was also a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol.

These studies, which are just a few of those being conducted today, clearly show a strong relationship between our ability to maintain attention and our responsiveness to stress and emotional reactivity. In other words, the more one practices the contemplative skill of controlling attention through meditation and yoga, the more one has a manageable stress response and improved emotional reactivity. Ultimately, our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

Our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.Our cognitive performance is most efficient and at its optimal level when we are more in control of our stress and emotions.

The Effects of Yoga on Memory and Decision Making

Yoga and meditation not only make our brain more efficient, they also improve brain activity related to decision-making and cognitive performance. In a research study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana, scientists compared the effects of a yoga exercise session to aerobic exercise, the results showed that the memory retention and cognitive performance after yoga was significantly superior (ie. shorter reaction times, increased accuracy) to aerobic exercise. The reason yoga can be better for the brain than aerobics (although both are good), is that it allows us to cope with stress and emotions more effectively.

Long-term yoga improves concentration, processing and motor speed

Research clearly indicates that yoga and meditation, especially a long-term practice, improves the way our brain functions, including our ability to concentrate and perform well on certain tests. In one study comparing 15 yoga practitioners with a control group of non-practitioners and involving a series of tests for attention, the yoga group performed significantly better. Long-term practitioners of yoga and meditation showed greater attention span, processing speed, attention alternation ability,and performance in interference tests.

Another recent study also showed improvement in cognitive functioning and dexterity among 57 research volunteers who were given tasks requiring attention, visual scanning and motor speed. Each participant was assessed before and after three types of sessions: yoga meditation, supine rest, and control (no intervention). The results showed that the yoga condition was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning with no improvement in test skills for those who did not practice yoga and meditation.

Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.Yoga was associated with the greatest improvements in psychomotor functioning.

Yoga Improves Computation Skills

Many people believe that equation solving and memorisation are the most effective ways to improve one’s mathematical aptitude—all of which can be extremely time-consuming and, to the math phobic, feel like an ordeal. The fact is that sessions of yoga and tai chi can also sharpen your mathematical ability. These were the findings of a Bolo University of Miami School of Medicine study in which 38 adults participated in a session that included two minutes of tai chi movement and two minutes of sitting, standing, and lying down yoga poses. The researchers measured self-reported math computation skills of each participant before and after the session. The findings showed that the tai chi/yoga participants performed better on basic math after the workout. Why? The increased relaxation may have contributed to the increased speed and accuracy noted on math computations following the tai chi/yoga class.

Yoga as a learning tool for students around the world.

Another study providing preliminary evidence that yoga may improve academic performance of children in schools was done on 8OO teenagers in India. The students in this study who were engaged in a yoga program performed better academically than those who did not do yoga. Researchers selected 159 high-stress students and 142 low-stress students. Both groups were given tests in mathematics, science, and social studies. Those who participated in a 7-week yoga program of (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation performed better in academics than those who did not do yoga. The study also concluded that low-stress students performed better than high-stream students, showing, once again, that indelible connection between stress and academic performance.

By Sat Bir Singh Khalsa




The Sacred Science of Kundalini

By: UPLIFT

Uniting the Finite with Infinity

Kundalini Yoga is the science to unite the finite with Infinity, and it’s the art to experience Infinity in the finite.
– Yogi Bhajan

A few months ago my wife asked me to join her for a Sunday morning yoga class. I went surfing first, thinking the class would be a great way to ‘warm down’. I was wrong. We stepped into the class at 8:55am and by the time we re-emerged at 11:05 I was shaking, dripping and almost without words to describe what had just happened. It wasn’t Bikram, but I was sweating more than any other yoga class I’d ever been to. It wasn’t Ashtanga, but I had been physically challenged to move through postures I’d never imagined.

Experience Infinity in the FiniteExperience Infinity in the Finite

The class wasn’t held in a temple (rather a remodeled garage, aptly known as the “Yoga Cave”), but the atmosphere left me feeling more tuned in, tapped on and connected to myself and Spirit than most meditations. My eyes had been closed for almost two hours but I never felt more awake. The instructor, a relatively petite and seemingly compassionate former ballet dancer, had smiled and at times laughed (with us!) through cathartic journey of mind, body and soul; the intensity of which I hadn’t experienced since my most extreme competitive sporting days… and strangely I couldn’t wait to come back. “What was that?!” My first Kundalini Yoga class.

In Kundalini Yoga the most important thing is your experience. It goes right to your heart. No words can replace your experience. Your mind may accept the words or it may not, but your consciousness will not accept just words.
– Yogi Bhajan, The Aquarian Teacher Training manual

Origins of Kundalini Yoga

The word Kundalini comes from a Sanskrit word ‘kundal’ meaning coiled up. In ancient Greece, Egypt and early Eastern religion it was believed that each individual possessed a Divine energy that was coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent. This energy was considered to be the sacred energy of Creation – something each of us is born with, but most must work to “uncoil”, and in so doing, awaken our Higher Self and come into direct contact with the Divine.

Coiled serpentA divine energy coiled at the base of the spine like a serpent

The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga is unknown, but it is thought by many to be the Mother of all Yogas. Developed over the past 5000 years, the earliest known written mention of Kundalini Yoga is in the sacred Vedic texts of the Upanishads (c. 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.).

Early writing indicates that Kundalini was actually a science of energy and spiritual philosophy before the physical practice was developed.

Traditionally, Kundalini Yoga was not taught publicly and students were required to endure years of initiation before they were given access to the spiritual and physical lessons of Kundalini masters. So for thousands of years, the science of Kundalini was actually kept hidden, and the sharing of Kundalini outside an elite community of Indian yoga masters and disciples was forbidden.

It was during a trip to Canada and the USA in 1968 that holy Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan had a vision of a new spirituality that combined ancient wisdom with the practicalities of modern life. Waking from a morning meditation in Los Angeles, he suddenly knew he must teach Kundalini to the west. “It is everyone’s birthright to be healthy, happy, and holy, and the practice of Kundalini Yoga is the way to claim that birthright.” This moment became the spark of a long term residence in LA for Yogi Bhajan, the establishment of the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation and the launch of Kundalini Research Institute.

Yogi BhajanHoly Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan had a vision

Flash forward 48 years and Yogi Bhajan’s vision of sharing Kundalini Yoga with the west is alive and thriving, from popular New York City studios all the way to the “Yoga Cave” in Australia where I was first introduced to the practice… and beyond.

Referred to by practitioners as “the yoga of awareness”, the philosophical purpose of Kundalini is to awaken our Higher Self and to integrate that awakening into our lives and the service and healing of others.

By consciously combining breath, mantra, mudra, eye-focus, body locks, and postures, on a physical level Kundalini Yoga aims to balance the glandular system, strengthen the nervous system, expand lung capacity, and purify the blood, while helping us move through perceived limitations in our body, mind, and soul.

In recent conversation with former elite level ballet dancer and the original founder of Australia’s first Kundalini Yoga studio, (current owner of HarJiwan Yoga and founder of the WOW – Women of the World – Kundalini Yoga program) instructor HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.

HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.HarJiwan shared insights into what makes this form of Yoga particularly potent for humanity today.

We use a lot of Asana (postures), very specific breathing techniques, we use mantra, we use mudras, we use rhythm, we use sound. And all of these are in one experiential class. We work with Kriyas (translated as “completed action”) and there are literally thousands of Kriyas, so you are never really doing the same thing. There are so many ways to impact an individual.
– HarJiwan

Slicing through limits and resistance like a sword.

One of the things I noticed during my first (and subsequent) sessions of Kundalini Yoga was that while traditional sitting meditation often sends my mind off flying to other places, the basic process of completing (and in some cases enduring!) the kriyas leaves no room but to be totally present. The combination of specific postures, breathing, rhythm and sound weave together in such a potent tapestry of experience that there’s no possible way to be anywhere but completely in the present moment of the class. You certainly don’t need to be an elite athlete or yogi to get into the postures but the movements often require a certain level of perseverance (in many cases mental) that seem to bring us up against our own pre-conceived notions of what’s possible, and allow us to stay there long enough break through and see what’s on the other side.

As HarJiwan shares:

The dynamic nature of Kundalini yoga is very different than other forms of yoga. It brings you right to presence. There is no choice. It’s a very direct system. The way it is delivered, there is no room for distraction. It is full immersion and in the process it is activating the glandular system and the nervous system, as well and the chakras and the ten bodies of consciousness. There are many elements that are adjusted in each kriya, depending on the specific intention or outcome of the experience.

KriyaA combination of specific postures, breathing, rhythm and sound

The power of intention and thriving under stress

One of the things that resonated most for me right from the beginning of my first Kundalini Yoga class was how each class has a unique theme or focus and how each movement or kriya has a specific intention which is geared toward harnessing and matching the physical movement or posture we are engaged in with the full power of our mental, emotional and spiritual focus (in the direction of such themes as igniting our personal power, building courage, cutting away fears and perceived limitations) as well as the pure physical aims such as draining the lymphatic system, cleansing the organs, balancing hormones, etc.

Kriya treeThe full power of our mental, emotional and spiritual focus

Often the mind has its self-imposed limitations and when we are doing a specific exercise the mind will want to stop because it doesn’t want to go through challenge or difficulty. Kundalini yoga teaches us to thrive under stress by developing the plasticity between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. By harnessing the focus of the mind, the body will develop natural painkillers so it gives us stamina to be able to endure and move through life’s pains and challenges. So what we are doing on the mat is really a training for life.
– HarJiwan

Switching on the self-healing system of the body

One of the areas of greatest fulfillment in the practice and sharing of Kundalini Yoga for HarJiwan is the capacity it has to awaken and activate often radical healing response in the bodies and lives of those she works with – no matter what their physical ailment or condition may be.

Kriya mudraAwakening and activating healing response in our bodies and lives

When people have fallen into disease they often experience feeling totally disempowered, wondering, ‘Who can fix this for me?’ We can spend so much time, money and resources chasing complex symptoms. Kundalini self-empowers people to take control of their own healing and awakening journey. It switches on the self-healing system of the body. can help someone who is totally bedridden and you can also be a super athlete and get what you need. As long as you can breath you can do Kundalini Yoga.
– HarJiwan

Kundalini Yoga is also known as the science of angles, because the different poses and movements often involve having our limbs at angles which put pressure on specific organs and glands. As you hold or sustain the moment, the pressure builds, and when you take the pressure away, blood and energy flows to those areas. As HarJiwan shares, “There is a great mysticism about Kundalini Yoga but in truth it is systematic, scientific and simple. We are designed to have our Kundalini rise. It’s our energy, our creativity, the unlocking of the nerve of the soul.”

For HarJiwan, the act of building a daily spiritual practice (or Sadhana) is “an act of self-care and self-love and the first step to healing the planet.”

By UPLIFT

Feature Image: Excerpt from ‘Antenna‘ by Adam Scott-Miller



 


The Neuroscience of Singing

By Cassandra Sheppard

Singing Together Brings Heartbeats Into Harmony

The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.

The science is in. Singing is really, really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

The good feelings we get from singing in a group are a kind of evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively.

The research suggests that creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies.

music

Singing in a group has been a part of tribal traditions for thousands of years.

Science Supports Singing

What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats.

Group singing literally incentivised community over an “each cave dweller for themselves” approach. Those who sang together were strongly bonded and survived.

In her book Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn calls singing:

An infusion of the perfect tranquiliser – the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirit.

Alt text hereGroup singing not only brings happiness but deeply connects people.

Singing Makes You Happy

For a decade, science has been hard at work trying to explain why singing has such a calming yet energising effect on people. Numerous studies demonstrate that singing releases endorphins and oxytocin – which in turn relieve anxiety and stress and which are linked to feelings of trust and bonding.

Singing helps people with depression and reduces feelings of loneliness, leaving people feeling relaxed, happy and connected. What’s more, the benefits of singing regularly are cumulative. People who sing have reduced levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress.

UK singer, singing teacher and choir leader Sophia Efthimiou describes singing as a process of consciously controlling our breath and larynx to create and sustain certain pitches and we blend that with rhythm and poetry to create songs.

In a group setting, each group member feels the musical vibrations moving through their body simultaneously. Our heart beats become synchronised. Sophia explains:

We literally form one unified heart beat.

Alt text hereSinging together synchronises heartbeats so that they beat as one.

Anybody Can Sing

One of the great things about singing is that you can receive the wellbeing benefits even if you aren’t any good. One study showed that:

Group singing can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.

Tania de Jong, singer and founder of Creativity Australia, has effectively harnessed this ability of group singing to lift every member of the group up, no matter their singing ability.

The organisation’s project With One Voice puts a diversity of people together regularly to sing. The group euphoria is harnessed allowing people’s natural creativity, triggered by the group singing session, to generate new levels of community support, connection and opportunities. Tania says:

One of the great things about singing is that is connects you to the right side of your brain. This is the side responsible for intuition, imagination and all our creative functions. It connects us to a world of possibilities. In modern life we are constantly bombarded with so much information that we process and analyse. We tend to get stuck in the left, processing side of our brain. So it becomes fundamentally important to nurture the attributes of human beings that set us apart from machines. The best way to do that is singing.

Alt text hereIf you have a voice then nothing can stop you from singing your heart out.

Sing Anywhere, Anytime

These benefits are free and accessible to all. We all have a voice. We can all sing, even if we don’t think we can.

There was a time when we all used to sing. We sang at church, around camp fires, at school. While group singing is experiencing a resurgence, not so many of us sing anymore. At some stage, someone told us to be quiet or judged our imperfect singing voice. Sophia Efthimiou suggests that singing is very personal, an expression of sound coming from within us, so we cannot help but take this criticism very personally and it sticks.

Yet, people who claim they cannot sing because they are tone deaf are more likely to be very unfamiliar with finding and using their singing voice.

Tone deafness is comparatively rare and means that you would be unable to recognise a song. If you can recognise a song you are not tone deaf, you are just unpractised. Sophia clarifies:

When our voice makes the wrong note we can feel terrible as though it is a reflection of our self worth. But – if you can talk, you can sing.

Alt text hereEverybody can sing so let the songs flow out wherever you are.

Raise Your Voice

US opera singer Katie Kat wishes to encourage all of us to sing far more often regardless of our perceived skill.

Singing increases self-awareness, self-confidence and our ability to communicate with others. It decreases stress, comforts us and helps us to forge our identity and influence our world.

When you sing, musical vibration moves through you, altering your physical and emotional state. Singing is as old as the hills. It is innate, ancient and within all of us. It really is one of the most uplifting therapeutic things we can do. Katie continues:

However, society has skewed views on the value of singing. Singing has become something reserved for elite talent or highly produced stars with producers, management, concert dates – leaving the rest of us with destructive criticism of our own voices.

She claims that singing is instinctual and necessary to our existence. You do not have to be an amazing singer to benefit from the basic biological benefits and with practice the benefits increase.

Alt text hereSinging in a group brings joy to people of every age.

Singing Creates Connection

I have fond memories of hearing my grandmother singing throughout the day and of large group singing sessions with her friends.

One of my favourite memories of group singing is the old Scots tradition on New Year’s Eve of singing Auld Lang Syne. My grandmother and all her friends would stand in a big circle just before midnight.

Everyone would hold hands, and then at the beginning of the final verse we would cross our arms across our bodies so that our left hand was holding the hand of the person on our right, and the right hand holds that of the person on the left. When the song ended, everyone would rush to the middle, still holding hands. It was beautiful fun and as a young girl I felt so safe, included and loved within that singing circle.

The phrase “auld lang syne” roughly translates as “for old times’ sake”, and the song is all about preserving old friendships and looking back over the events of the year.

A tradition worth resurrecting, considering the benefits of singing in a group.

By Cassandra Sheppard