In a stunning discovery made by the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, researchers have overturned decades of textbook teaching by determining that there is a direct correlation between the brain and the immune system. For years scientists have been trying to correlate the relationship between the two, yet they lacked the evidence to show how our thoughts and feelings (or neurochemistry) could affect our overall health. This groundbreaking finding could have significant implications on our understanding of how the brain and immune system interact, as well as enable scientists to target the immune system for the benefit of the brain.
(To read Part II, Aligning Your Environments To Tomorrow’s You, click here.)
Our workshops have historically been about people overcoming themselves, about an individual getting something they want or need by using the meditations we provide. This focus on self is healthy given the right context. After all, only when we take care of ourselves are we truly able to care for others. Put another way, people who are hyper focused on themselves are less likely to think about the issues others face.
We’ve all heard the adage “age is nothing but a number.” Life is a little more complicated than this quote allows but there is truth in the saying. As we know, how we think impacts how we feel and vice versa. The same principle applies to our view of aging.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “old?” Do you picture a wrinkly, forgetful person who suffers from some kind of chronic ailment? Don’t feel bad if this is the vision that came to you because that is the one presented to us.
Portrayals of older people in television and movies rely on a very specific formula. The characters are typically either inept or laughable to the point that they are the butt of the joke. These depictions matter because they program into us a negative view of getting older.
In 2005, researchers at Yale studied a group of 76 television viewers. Participants who watched the most television had a more negative view of aging than those who were less-frequent viewers. This is significant because we’re being conditioned to believe that getting older is always a terrible experience and if we take that information to heart then we’ve set ourselves on the path to subconsciously create that future destiny.
It’s important to realize that aging is often a very positive experience. With age comes wisdom and a greater understanding of the world and our place in it. Most of us tend to slow down. That doesn’t mean we give up, it means we’re less stressed and better able to take life in stride. A lot of older folks are physically active, maybe not at the same level, but they still go for runs and do other activities.
Changing how we think about getting “old” can have a profound impact on our health. In a separate study at Yale, researchers asked more than 600 people aged 50 and older to complete a survey about their perceptions of aging. The results are incredible. Participants who held a positive outlook had lower instances of cardiac disease, better memory than their more negative counterparts, and were more likely to recover from illness or injury.
The biggest finding – those with a healthier view of aging lived longer. The median survival rate for this group was an astonishing 7.5 years longer! To put this into perspective, a person with low cholesterol or low blood pressure can expect to live four years longer than someone who has these issues. Simply put, changing our beliefs about aging appears to be a greater indicator of longevity than many other factors including socioeconomic background and gender.
Of course, we know how we think impacts how we feel. Why then, do we continue to assign gloom and doom to a process that doesn’t have a predetermined outcome? It could be that we associate getting older with getting closer to dying. Sadly, it’s this association that sends many to an early grave.
So, what do we do? The first step is to take an honest look at where you are in your life. Do you forget something trivial like where you put your keys and chalk it up to having a senior moment? Making this kind of leap without the proper evidence only further enables this habit of believing that your life is dictated by your age. Once you start reinforcing this belief system it’s only matter of time before your body and mind start to behave accordingly.
That doesn’t mean you should swing to the opposite extreme and sign up to climb Everest when you have a heart condition. Your days of climbing mountains aren’t over but you may want to go with something a little easier. It’s all about understanding and acknowledging your limitations and finding a way to make them work for you.
In the end all of us need to decide what we want our future to look like. If you can imagine what that life looks, sounds, and feels like then you can start to live it now. And when you do, you’ll find that whether you’re 71 or 17, age is really nothing but a number.
When flying Jennifer Aniston always boards an airplane with her right foot first. Michael Jordan wore his college shorts underneath his NBA uniform for his entire career. Jordan ended up winning six championships and the 46-year-old Aniston has flown countless times without incident.
Of course you don’t have to be famous to believe in superstitions. Many of us have uttered the phrase “knock on wood” or avoided stepping under ladders in the hopes of warding off bad luck. Superstitions are largely innocuous and allow for at least the illusion of control in situations where we feel like we have none. This begs the question: do superstitions work and if so why?
For this discussion it’s helpful to think about the nature of superstitions. Early humans had little information about the world they inhabited. They created associations based off their experiences. Say it had been raining for days and stopped suddenly when a person performed a specific action or picked up a certain object.
Our ancestors lacked access to sophisticated meteorological equipment and didn’t know the storm had moved out of the region. Instead, they related the change in weather to something they had done. Lacking any other evidence, this cause and effect belief system makes sense and indeed was reinforced by a lack of deeper knowledge.
We like to think we live in a pretty rational time in history. Our embrace of the scientific method, whereby an idea must be regularly tested before proven, should make us immune to irrational thinking. However, we know this simply isn’t true. We’re all prone to assumptions and beliefs that don’t make sense within this larger understanding.
You wake up; rub the sleep from your eyes, maybe yawn and then what? If you own a smart phone the next step probably includes checking your email, Facebook, texts, or a favorite news site. The world is quite literally in our hands. We have 24/7 access to a wealth of information that has radically transformed how we live.
Take a moment to think about your typical day. How much time is spent in front of a screen? And yes, I realize you’re staring at one now while you read this post. There are valid reasons to stay connected whether it’s looking at photos of family members who live on the other side of the world or staying abreast of what’s going on around the globe.
A lot of this content has the potential to enrich our lives and provide us with greater understanding of ourselves and others. Unfortunately, and let’s be honest, we waste a lot of time and energy zoning out in front of our devices. We seem to be at a crossroads where we value this new freedom but aren’t exactly sure how to handle it.
Recently, there has been a call to return to a simpler way of life that includes “getting back to nature.” This idea is somewhat vague and doesn’t present an honest view about the human race’s struggle to live in and overcome their environment. For centuries people were at the mercy of nature. We lived in constant survival mode as we dealt with everything from unexplained illness to unpredictable weather to food scarcity.
The flipside is our current reality which consists of the overuse of nature and its resources to the point of crisis. There has to be a balance between being at the mercy of our environment and exploitation of the natural world. As it turns out that balance already exists inside each of us.
In 1952 physicist Winfried Otto Schumann made a discovery that didn’t seem to have much importance at the time. Schumann calculated the frequency of the resonances that bounce between the Earth’s surface and the highly conductive ionosphere. Resonances are spectrum peaks in the Earth’s electromagnetic field that occur within a specific frequency.
In recent weeks a number of people have contacted my office with concerns about the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. Millions have fled their homes in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These people are leaving behind countries torn apart by war and economic hardship in hopes of finding a better life elsewhere.
The question many ask is: what can I do? More than seven billion people live on Earth. This is an intimidating number, one that makes any attempt by an individual to solve a problem seem fruitless. After all, what happens if you do something to help? There’s no guarantee others will follow your lead and you may not know for sure if your efforts made a difference.
Let’s take a second to reframe this issue in the context of our own lives. Think about some problem in your life, maybe you’re falling behind on bills or maybe you’re having relationship issues. Whatever the concern, it can seem insurmountable. However, we know this isn’t true because we’ve seen people make incredible life changes by investing a little time and energy into themselves.
We know what it takes to create change in our lives. The process involves combining a clear intention with an elevated emotion. Through mental rehearsal we can populate a future outcome with such detail that our brain and body biologically look like it has already happened. If done properly, in this state we are more caring, grateful and selfless, which opens the door to possibility.
Coming back to the situation in Europe, what if we were able to harness that skill needed to produce individual change and apply it globally? Is this even possible? When it comes to the research the answer seems to be yes.
In 1993 a group of 2,000 practitioners of transcendental meditation took part in a unique two month study. Researchers wanted to see if this group could raise the level of coherent energy by focusing on peace and reduce the stress level in Washington DC and thus lower the rate of violent crime.
The Placebo Effect is a fascinating field of science because it challenges established notions of how we heal. In the traditional model you would go to a doctor and he or she would present you with a diagnosis and some treatment options. Placebos work differently in that they heal from within, not without and this presents a choice: you can either heal from a drug or from a placebo.
The past is an interesting concept. By definition the “past” refers to a time that has already happened. However, that isn’t how we experience it in our own lives. We have the ability to relive events over and over again in our minds. This ability to recall and relive is a gift that many of us fail to properly utilize. We tend to focus on the negative aspects of our lives and forget the positive.
Think about your day for a moment. What happened? Were you complimented on your work? Maybe a friend drooped by unannounced for lunch? Did you find $20 on the ground? Were you pulled over for speeding?
When asked to recall what happened my guess is that most people would emphasize getting stopped by the police. If we removed this one scenario then the rest of the day looks really good, maybe even great.
From an evolutionary standpoint, a mistake is a threat to our survival. This makes sense given the right context. Early humans were at the mercy of their environment and so they needed to be vigilant. At that time a slight misstep could mean the difference between life and death. Our brains are genetically wired to keep us safe and a mistake threatens our security.
For most of us this reality no longer exists. Rarely do our mistakes carry with them such dire consequences. Think about it. We make multiple mistakes a day, every day and yet we’re still alive. Despite this regularity we still spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy re-living the past.
Technology has made it easier to communicate with each other. Not too long ago the fastest way to reach someone – outside of a face-to-face conversation – was via letter or telegraph. Responses could take days or even weeks and by then the information may have no longer been relevant. The advent of cell phones, social media, and email has provided us near instantaneous communication whenever or wherever we want – most of the time.
If you grew up in the pre-digital era you’re familiar with rabbit ears on television sets. The signal at times provided an erratic, imperfect picture interrupted by periodic bursts of abrasive white noise that sounded like plastic bags being crumpled. This same din could also be heard on the radio. When you hear static on the broadcast it means you’re not tuned into the right frequency. The only way to get rid of it was by either adjusting the antenna or turning the dial.
Of course, we still live in a world of static. Think about the last time you hit a “dead” zone and your cell phone signal started to break up. Better technology hasn’t completely eliminated interference and in some ways may have made it worse.