Fantastic New App From HeartMath



Now, this is a very cool app. Now you can use your iPad or iPhone to access HeartMath’s technology.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with HeartMath, it’s a company dedicated to bringing health and mental clarity to adults and children through regulation of their hearts.

HeartMath’s research is grounded in hard science. Over the past 20 years their studies have shown how  heart rate variability makes a difference. Say that your pulse is 60 beats per minute. Those beats are not even, like a metronome with beats precisely 1 second apart. As a matter of fact, people whose hearts beat with that kind of regularity are probably recovering from a stroke. Your heart rate is meant to vary, but in coherent, not chaotic rhythms. Chaotic rhythms indicate anger or some other upset.

But when hearts vary in a regular rhythm – slow…a little faster…fast…a little slower… slow… a little faster, etc. – you get massive health benefits. Your cortisol decreases, while DHEA increases. This benefits for your immune and cardiovascular systems tremendously.

You Don’t Have to Be a Yogi to Regulate Your Heart

I’ve used HeartMath biofeedback with my executive coaching clients for over a decade. In the early days, I had to hook them up to a computer program. With this new app, anyone can get his or her own feedback through their iPad or iPhone. People unfamiliar with meditation find they can regulate their hearts and enjoy the benefits with minimal training. It’s amazing.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can download the Inner Balance app HERE and check it out.

Build Your Vitality!

tai chi manBy “Physical Vitality” I mean the exuberant physical strength and mental vigor to fully engage in life and work.

In my research, I interview high level executives. I always ask what inner qualities they draw upon when faced with difficult challenges.

They seldom mention physical vitality until I inquire about it. Then, they realize their vitality often makes the difference between feeling resilient rather than exhausted under pressure. Everyone I interviewed experienced moderate to high levels of stress on the job.

Many think our level of vitality is a given, but it’s not just our inherited constitution. Of course, good diet, sleep and exercise can help raise your baseline resilience. But there are even more efficient ways to dramatically increase your vitality that are little known in our culture.

In China, Qigong (chee gong) is considered a national treasure. Qigong literally means “energy work.” Its benefits have been well documented over the past fifteen years. Through its physical movements, visualizations, and breathing, energy is cultivated, refined, and stored. Anyone who practices these methods on a regular basis is bound to increase their level of vitality and have reserve energy to tap as needed.

Because Qigong requires some learning and practice before you experience results, one qigong sessions won’t demonstrate its tremendous potential. However, the following audio instructions will give you a taste.

Lesson 1 – Introduction

Lesson 1- Practice – Energizing

If you want to download and Save Lesson 1 – Introduction, click here

If you want to download and Save Lesson 1 – Practice – Energizing click here

Attention Deficit Disorder in the C-Suite

Worried Woman

Relaxation, Part 2. Click here for part 1.

An executive sits down to meditate. He’s a beginner. He’s trying to use Herbert Benson’s method from his excellent book, The Relaxation Revolution. He repeats the word “one” to himself and pays attention to his breath. He knows when his mind wanders, he should say to himself, “oh well” and return his attention to the mantra and his breath. He’s a driven guy, and he’s determined to achieve the many benefits of relaxation.

His internal dialogue runs something like this.

“I’m supposed to pay attention to the mantra. I wonder how well I’m doing since my mind is thinking…One… One… One… There, I guess I’m doing it better… No, I’m not doing it better, because I’m thinking about doing it better… One… One… At 2:30 I have a strategy meeting, and if Ted brings up that same f&%*king idea, I’m going to shove his position paper… One… This isn’t working… One… One… I’d better renew my blood pressure medication…”

You get the idea. This internal fugue gets especially self-defeating if one is trying not to think of something. Fyodor Dostoevsky knew about this only too well. He tells us:

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the accursed thing will come to mind every minute.” Cited in: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. (More on this excellent book in a later post).

Dostoevsky’s instruction is paradoxical and inherently self-defeating. In order to follow it you have to bring to mind a polar bear.

Oddly enough, you can temporarily turn this phenomenon to your advantage and simulate stable attention. Here are a couple of thought experiments…

Try this task:

Don’t think of stillness.

Or this one:

Make sure your mind is constantly wandering.

Of course, trying to put the reverse whammy on your thinking mind is a trick. Because of its inherent tension and striving, it doesn’t really achieve equanimity. But what’s an alternative path to mental stability and relaxation?

I teach executives what Dr. Lester Fehmi calls his Open Focus technique. It’s a method of very quickly creating synchronized alpha rhythms in the brain. Instead of focusing on a mantra, the practitioner focuses on the awareness of space.

Let me explain. A physicist will tell you that at the subatomic level what we experience as solid matter is made up mostly of space. If you shift your attention to imagine the space inside you and out, resting in that space immerses yourself in a highly relaxing and engaging experience.

The instructions are what Fehmi calls “guiding questions.” They are easy to entertain for the 15 second intervals between them, and thereby train your attention in a very enjoyable way.

Furthermore, the parts of the body that you’ll be asked to bring to mind are highly rich in neural representation in the brain. Without going further into why Fehmi’s method is so good, why don’t you take it for a spin first to see if you like it?

It quiets the mind nicely!

In subsequent blog posts I will talk about other ways to get more out of a short practice session.

Stay Tuned,

Stephen

If you would like to download the recording, click here.

Relaxing in the Gene Pool

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A lot has happened since Herbert Benson, M.D., began relaxing at Harvard University 40 years ago – enough for Benson to conclude…

“…because all health conditions have some stress component, it is no overstatement to stay that virtually every single health problem and disease can be improved with a mind-body approach.”

I’m sure you’re familiar with the link between relaxation and health (see The Relaxation Response), but you may not know exactly how relaxation promotes health. Mind-body methods like Benson’s produce CHANGES IN GENE EXPRESSION and PHYSICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN. These changes are the opposite of what stress produces and they have profound implications for health.

Later in this post, I will describe one of Benson’s experiments in detail, but first, the bottom line:

  1. As we age our cortex tends to become thinner in certain regions, and this thinning is associated with age related neural degeneration. The cortexes of mind-body practitioners tend to thicken in ways associated with healthy (and younger) brains. Whereas, the cortexes of non-mind-body practitioners may thin with age, and this may be associated with dementia.
  2. Mind-body practices change how genes are expressed. This is important because in a person with a genetic disposition toward a particular disease, that disease will not manifest if the genes that are instrumental in producing it are inactive.
  3. A wide variety of mind-body disciplines produce these results – TM, yoga, tai chi, repetitive prayer, and more. Benson defines the “Relaxation Response” broadly:

“Briefly stated, the relaxation response is defined as the response that is opposite of the ‘flight or fight’ or stress response. It is characterized by the following:

  • decreased metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing;
  • a decrease or ‘calming’ in brain activity;
  • an increase in attention and decision-making functions of the brain: and
  • changes in gene activity that are the opposite of those associated with stress.”

The Relaxation Revolution

Experimental Details…

Benson has persuasive scientific evidence to validate his claim. I find most remarkable experiments are the ones that demonstrate changes in gene activity.

In a 2008 experiment, Benson compared participants of two groups. The first group (I’ll call them “experienced practitioners”) had done some kind of mind body discipline for an average of 9.4 years. Participants in the second group (“Inexperienced mind-body practitioners” [again, my term]) were, on average, men and women ranging in age from the mid-30s to early 40s. They were white, Asian, African-American and Hispanic. They had no previous experience with any mind-body discipline.

Using “microarray analysis” technology, Benson and colleagues checked the activity of the 54,000 genes in both groups. The initial comparison found 2,209 genes were expressed differently in the experienced practitioners versus the inexperienced ones.

Then for 8 weeks members of the “inexperienced group” were taught how to enter the relaxation response through listening to a CD that instructed them to breathe deeply, scan their bodies, relax different parts of their bodies, use repetitive prayers and mantras, and a mindfulness meditation practice that allowed them to refocus their attention when their minds wandered. They practiced 20 minutes a day. At the end of the practice session they were instructed “imagine on each out breath letting go of any residual inner anxieties or worries.”

In analyzing the gene expression of the Inexperienced Practitioners, researchers found that 1,561 genes had changed expression from the first test to the second.

“Even more striking, when we compared the [Inexperienced Practitioners] after their training with the [Experienced Practitioners] (9.4 years of practice), we found that 433 gene expression signatures were similar in both groups… The probability of the same gene signatures being involved accidentally in both groups in both experiments was less than one in 10 billion.”

If you’re a research scientist, producing results at that level of statistical probability could possibly induce dangerous levels of ecstasy! I’m sure Benson was justifiably happy with his results, but not just for the statistics. The implications for improved health and longevity are profound.

In Benson’s words…

Gene signatures that were switched on or off in both groups by the relaxation response were associated through past research with clear benefits… [They] included more healthful regulation of the immune system, lower psychosocial stress levels, less distractive oxidative stress, and a reduced tendency towards premature aging. Also, the gene activity we observed is associated with helpful gene activity that is the opposite of that found in many cardiovascular diseases and other conditions…

Benson recommends mind-body treatment for “angina pectoris, anxiety, depression, hypertension, infertility, insomnia, menopausal, perimenopausal, and breast cancer hot flashes, nausea, pain (abdominal, back, head, joints and rheumatoid arthritis, knee, neck and shoulder, postoperative), Parkinson’s disease, phobias, premature aging, premature ventricular contractions and palpitations, PMS…

Evidence is mounting to suggest mind-body treatment protocols can address allergic skin reactions, bronchial asthma, congestive heart failure, constipation, cough, diabetes mellitus, dizziness, drowsiness, duodenal ulcers, fatigue, herpes simplex, hostility and anger, immune problems, impotency, obesity, postoperative swelling, posttraumatic stress disorder, and tinnitus.

Benson’s protocol is an excellent amalgamation of mind-body techniques.

More Benefit in Less Practice Time

In two posts from now, I’ll talk about what to do when the mind wanders and mantras don’t work. I’ll also talk about methods that I teach my clients that add power and efficiency to mind-body practice, making it ideal for busy professionals.

Stay tuned,

Stephen