Healing the Brain: Meditation

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This is my sixth, and last, consecutive blog on brain problems. After writing the first five, lightning struck: I know something that would help in each of the five problem areas discussed by Dr. Amen in Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The following items are listed by Dr. Amen as problems associated with each area of the brain. In each case regular meditation would help mitigate these issues. Over time, Meditation could help cure them.

1. Love and Depression: The Deep Limbic System. In this section Dr. Amen recommends eliminating Automatic Negative Thoughts or ANTs. Regular meditation would help because it increases our ability to become aware of these thoughts; it reduces the ‘automatic’ part of this diagnosis.

2. Anxiety and Fear: The Basal Ganglia. ANTs apply to this area as well. In fact, Dr. Amen specifically recommends meditation as one of the behavioral remedies for this condition.

3. Inattention and Impulsivity: The Prefrontal Cortex. One recommendation is to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Meditation is an aide in this area. In fact, meditation could help alleviate the issues of inattention and impulsivity as well.

4. Worry and Obsessiveness: The Cingulate System. Dr. Amen advises to ‘think your answers through’. This again implies a lack of focus in the mental process; having many automatic thoughts, some of which arise through the associations that individual thoughts contain, that confuse the thinking process. Ever heard of obfuscation? It’s confusing the issue with too many facts. You can cut through the tangled web of thoughts with meditation.

5. Memory and Temper: The Temporal Lobes. Problems discussed in this section include emotional stability, violent thoughts, social skills, anxiety and confusion. I know you’re tired of this repetitive phrase, but ‘meditation will mitigate these issues’.

I didn’t start this series of blogs with this ending in mind. Perhaps I’m not smart enough. That’s where inspiration comes in. It’s better to be inspired than smart. And that brings me to this point: Meditation has had major impacts on our world. About 2,500 years ago a man named Siddhartha Guatama single-handedly created a revolution through meditation. He became the Buddha. That was a long time ago and it took place in a different culture, in the eastern part of our world. But just because it wasn’t invented by Western Culture doesn’t mean it lacks value. In my own lifetime several others have used meditation as a tool to influence the world: Mahatma Gandhi used it to help free his countrymen from foreign rule in India; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught it throughout the world; and The Dalai Lama teaches it today.

You don’t have to subscribe to a religion to meditate. There are many forms of meditation for you to choose from. Ask yourself this question: “Am I truly happy?” The most effective way to change the world is to change ourselves. May we all create Peace and Happiness! Ama Ua Noa!

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Healing: The Temporal Lobes

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The temporal lobes are located on either side of the brain, behind the eyes and underneath the temples. They store memories and images and help us define our sense of self. They also play an important part in memory, emotional stability, learning and socialization.

The dominant side is usually on the left. Functions associated with the dominant side include: understanding and processing language; intermediate-term memory; long-term memory; auditory learning; retrieval of words; complex memories; visual and auditory processing; and emotional stability.

The non dominant side is usually on the right. Functions associated with the non dominant side include: recognizing facial expressions; decoding vocal intonation; rhythm; music; and visual learning.

“Temporal lobe problems occur much more frequently than previously recognized”; page 190, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Since they are located in an area surrounded by bone, they can be damaged by a blow from every angle. While the most common source of problems is genetics, they can also be caused by head injuries and toxic or infectious exposure. If you read about a patient named Blaine (page 191), you will realize that head injuries can last a lifetime undetected. In Blaine’s case he fell on his head when he was five years old but not diagnosed until he met Dr. Amen when Blaine was sixty; Blaine’s story represents a lifetime of problems.

Dominant side problems: aggression; violent thoughts; sensitivity to slights; word-finding problems; problems with auditory processing; reading difficulties; and emotional instability.

Non dominant problems include: difficulty recognizing facial expressions; difficulty decoding vocal intonation; and social skill struggles.

Problems that could be associated with either side: memory or amnesia; headaches; anxiety or fear; visual/auditory distortions; deja vu; spaciness or confusion; religious or moral preoccupation; hypergraphia (excessive writing);  and seizures. The checklist for determining if there are temporal lobe problems is on page 202.

The recommended behavioral changes to promote temporal lobe health are interesting. They include: create a library of wonderful experiences; sing wherever/whenever you can; hum and tone to tune up your brain; listen to classical music; learn to play a musical instrument; move in rhythms; get enough sleep,  and try EEG biofeedback. These are in addition to medication and nutritional approaches Dr. Amen outlines in his book.

In several of the final chapters, Dr. Amen focuses on issues that originate in multiple parts of the brain, such as violence, the use of drugs and alcohol, and problems with intimacy. His book ends with a discussion of when and how to seek professional care. As I stated in one of my first blogs on this subject, this book has completely changed my outlook on humanity. I am beginning to realize that humans are a frail race whose behavior can be forever affected by the simplest accidental fall that results in minor brain trauma, to say nothing of our genetic influences.

I hope you have found these blogs on healing the brain useful and interesting. I would appreciate any feedback you wish to share. My next blog: Healing the Brain – Meditation.

Healing: The Cingulate System

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The cingulate system lies deep within the brain between the frontal lobes. It is associated with shifting attention, being mentally flexible and adaptable, seeing options, cooperating, and going with the flow. Being mentally flexible is important when we start a new job or when we go from middle school to junior high. It is also important in our friendships and situations that require us to cooperate with others. People who have problems in this area are often the type who say it’s “my way or the highway.”

Problems associated with the cingulate system include: worry, being unforgiving, obsessions, compulsions, opposing others, being argumentative and uncooperative. Also in this category are addictions, feeling chronic pain, eating disorders and road rage. People with cingulate problems tend to ‘get stuck’ on an idea, get locked into a position and think the same things over and over. Some of these problems do not occur at a ‘clinical’ level, however they do negatively affect our quality of life. As with the other brain problems I have been blogging about, Dr. Amen has a checklist for this issue on page 169 of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Or you can visit his website for more information, http://www.amenclinics.com.

While there are medications that will help people with cingulate system problems, there are also behavioral approaches that work as well. Here are Dr. Amen’s recommendations: when stuck, distract yourself and return to the problem later; think through answers before saying no; write out possible options and solutions; ask others what they think; learn the serenity prayer, especially the first few lines;  and if you are dealing with someone who suffers from cingulate problems try reverse psychology.

I’m sure many of you will be pleasantly surprised that the Serenity Prayer works for this condition. The first lines of the prayer are: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Next blog: The Temporal Lobes

Healing: The Prefrontal Cortex – diagnosis and solutions

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I was amazed when I first saw the list of problems related to the prefrontal cortex (pfc): short attention span, distractibility, lack of perseverance, impulse control problems, hyperactivity, chronic laziness and poor time management, disorganization, procrastination, unavailability of emotions, misperceptions, poor judgment, trouble learning from experience, short-term memory problems, and social and test anxiety. As with the other brain areas, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel Amen contains a prefrontal cortex checklist for determining the probability of having pfc-oriented problems. The checklist is found on page 132 as well as on the website http://www.amenclinics.com .

The first solution Dr. Amen discusses is the One Page Miracle (OPM) which consists of having the client list their goals so they can focus on what they wish to accomplish. He encourages clients to use goals they can focus on daily. They should focus on relationships, work, money and self improvement and read it every morning to get focused for the day.

Other suggested solutions include having the person focus on what they want rather than what they don’t want; having meaning, purpose and stimulation in their lives; getting organized, with help if necessary; brain-wave biofeedback training; audiovisual stimulation; conflict avoidance; and prefrontal cortex medications. He lists several medications. I recommend checking them out on page 146. Nutrition also plays a part as does music, specifically listening to Mozart – 70 % of one test group maintained improvement in their ADD for six months after such a program.

My personal opinion is that injuries to the prefrontal cortex cause problems which affect us socially, more so than other problem areas. I believe that this is because the resulting poor judgment, unavailability of emotions, trouble learning from experience and social anxiety are reflected in our behavior with others, friends as well as families. While the problem is from the pfc, there is no apparent outward sign that the injured person is truly injured. The net result is that the person with pfc problems is labeled as antisocial and judged as morally and/or ethically bankrupt because friend and family members assume that the behavior is based on moral and ethical choices. They (we) are unable to see the proper diagnosis. This in turn causes us to make negative judgments about them. Worst of all, it renders us unable to help. Next blog: The Cingulate System

Healing: The Prefrontal Cortex – the problems

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“The prefrontal cortex (pfc) is the most evolved part of the brain. It occupies the front third of the brain, underneath the forehead.” That quote is from page 111 of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel Amen. Because of its location, the pfc is highly susceptible to head injuries, even those considered minor, where there is no loss of consciousness. While our brain is soft, the inside of our skull is hard and has sharp edges. Part of the pfc called the interior orbital cortex is located on top of many sharp, bony ridges. It is easy to imagine how a blow to the head, even a minor one, could cause the brain to impact against one of these bony areas, causing internal injuries that cannot be determined with x-rays. Another negative issue associated with this area is that so many people have head injuries and then forget about them later in life. In his book, Dr. Amen tells the story of one client who was asked five different times if he had injured his head at any time in his life and responded no to each question. After seeing the brain scan, Dr. Amen pressed the issue and the man said, “Oh, yeah. When I was a kid I fell off a porch that was two stories above the ground.” This forgetfulness is common, probably because there is no diagnosis of  serious injury.

Problems: this is from page 113: “Overall the pfc is the part of the brain that watches, supervises, guides, directs and focuses your behavior.” It affects time management, judgment, impulse control, planning, organization and critical thinking. The pfc is responsible for being goal oriented, socially responsible and effective. It allows us to learn from experience and to change our behavior based on past experience without the aid of someone else telling us what to do. The pfc helps us learn from our mistakes. Have you ever known someone who never seemed to learn from their problems? They probably had a poorly functioning pfc.

Because there is so much information about this part of the brain, I am breaking the section up into two blogs. My next blog will be titled The Prefrontal Cortex – diagnosis and solutions.

Healing: The Basal Ganglia

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The basal ganglia are large structures that surround the deep limbic system. They help us integrate feelings, thoughts and movements as well as affect motor behavior. Dr. Amen believes they also set the body’s ‘idling speed’ or our anxiety level. They cause us to jump when excited, tremble when we’re nervous, freeze when we’re scared or get tongue-tied when under pressure. They can cause problems when they are overactive or under active.

When they are overactive we are more likely to be overwhelmed and become immobile. When they are under active they may be associated with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. The two conditions are associated with dopamine levels in our bodies which means they can be modified by drugs like Ritalin and l-dopa. Basal ganglia are connected to problems with Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome, as well as panic attacks, PTSD, anxiety, conflict avoidance, tremors, headaches and low or excessive motivation.

In addition to the two medications mentioned above, Dr. Amen recommends ANT (automatic negative thought) removal mentioned in my previous blog. Meditation works very well for this area of the brain because it fosters relaxation and breathing with the diaphragm as opposed to the chest. Dr. Amen also suggests self-hypnosis is beneficial to enter sleep more quickly. Proper sleep is also beneficial for basal ganglia, as it is for almost everything we do. Another suggestion is visual imagery; imagining a haven where you can go to relax, perhaps a place you have gone to on vacation, a place of wonderful sights, smells, feelings and peace.

Dr. Amen states that people with basal ganglia problems usually spend much of their time worrying about what other people think of them. He recommends the “18/40/60 Rule” (page 105):

“When you’re eighteen, you worry about what everyone is thinking about you. When you are forty, you don’t give a damn about what anybody thinks about you. When you’re sixty, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all.”

Dr. Amen’s Basal Ganglia Checklist is on page 95 of his book. Again, you rate yourself, or someone else, based upon twenty behaviors to determine if this area is a problem.

Next blog: The Prefrontal Cortex

 

 

Healing: The Deep Limbic System

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The Deep Limbic System is walnut sized and located in the center of the brain. It is responsible for helping us experience passion, emotion and desire. It adds emotional spice to our life. When it is operating positively, it shows in our interest in and passion for a variety of activities. When it operates negatively the result can be depression. The Deep Limbic System is associated with emotional memories, positive and negative.

Traumatic events like a car accident, loss of a job or the death of a loved one can leave a negative imprint on this part of the brain. It is also affected by what we refer to as postpartum depression, PMS, divorce and the empty nest syndrome. It is recognized by moodiness, negative thinking, decreased motivation, appetite or sleep problems, social isolation and can affect sexual responsiveness.

These issues may require psychological and/or medical assistance in the form of doctor visits and prescriptions. Other ways to work on the issue involve behavior modification: avoid negative thinking and focus on pleasant memories, surround yourself with positive people, bond more frequently with your children, work on building people skills, recognize and encourage physical contact with others, aromatherapy, and physical exercise.

On page 53 of Dr. Amen’s book, and on his website (http://www.amenclinics.com) you will find the Deep Limbic Checklist. It consists of a list of twenty behaviors. You use it to rate yourself, or another person, as to how frequently behaviors are exhibited. Five or more ratings of frequent or very frequent indicate a high likelihood of deep limbic problems.

If you have a copy of the book, read about ANTs starting on page 55. ANTs stands for automatic negative thoughts. These are thoughts that come up automatically. If this is a problem area for you or a friend, you may want to reread some of my blogs on meditation as well because meditation trains our minds to become aware of which thoughts are flowing through our mind.

Next blog: The Basal Ganglia

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