Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mental Fitness Presentation (Unit 5)

Mental Fitness for Integral Health
           Integral health is an approach that encompasses all aspects of the human existence: the mind, the spirit, and the body.  Mental fitness training is one way to strengthen and connect these aspects  to achieve the ultimate goal of integral healing which is a state of health, happiness, and wholeness (Dacher, 2006).  Various research studies have been performed to explore and prove the beneficial effects of mental fitness on physical and spiritual wellbeing.  A sample of these research projects include programs such as Mental Fitness for Life, the Lifestyle Heart Trial, and the Stanford Forgiveness Project.  Once it is apparent why mental fitness is important, then there is the matter of how to achieve it.  There are many exercises and activities that can foster mental development, two of which include yoga asanas like child’s pose and mindfulness meditation.  Developing the mind, just like the body, takes practice and dedication to achieve results;  though in due time that hard work will pay off as mental fitness leads to flourishing of the mind, spirit, and body (Dacher, 2006).

Benefits of Mental Fitness
          Mental fitness is a key factor in the promotion of wellbeing.  There are many ways that fostering mental fitness can affect not only the mind and spirit, but the body as well. Strengthening mental fitness has also shown to increase the efficiency of the brain and mental functions such as attention, memory, perception, imagery, and organization. Through a sustained mental workout one can learn to replace their negative thoughts and actions with positive ones.  Over time with mental workouts individuals will get to known themselves on a deeper level, discover an interconnectedness with the world around them, and  experience a fully developed life (Dacher, 2006).
          All of this dedication to toning mental fitness will also bring one to uncover their inner healing resources, the resources that have been there all along but underutilized.  Now that these resources have been made available through mental training, individuals are more able to handle their emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions.  With this capability mental fitness provides the benefit of resistance to both mental distress and  physical disease (Dacher, 2006).

Study 1: Mental Fitness for Life
          Mental Fitness for Life was a research study designed around the idea that learning could have a positive effect on health outcomes.  The study featured an 8-week series of workshops on goal setting, critical thinking, creativity, positive mental attitude, learning, memory, and speaking the mind.  Participants of the study were in the 50 and above age range, with various education and background levels.  Information was gathered before and after the 8-week period to assess their mental fitness through three tests: The CT Mental Fitness Self-Assessment , Rosenberg’s Self-esteem Scale, and The Centre for Epidemiological Studies Scale for Depression (Cusack, Thompson, & Rogers, 2003).
          A significant effect on mental health was found at the conclusion of the study as a result of the 8-week program.  Participants showed improvements in vitality, energy, self-confidence, self-esteem, and optimism.  They were also found to be more productive members of their families and within the community.  The researchers call for continuing studies on the potential of mental fitness activities as an alternative and/or supplement to physical fitness activities to improve the health and livelihood of older adults (Cusack, Thompson, & Rogers, 2003).

Study 2: The Lifestyle Heart Trial
           The Lifestyle Heart Trial was a research project conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues, from 1986-1992, that was later published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Study participants included 48 patients with varying levels of coronary heart disease that were randomly assigned to either a control group receiving typical care or an experimental group that would partake in a lifestyle intervention program.  The lifestyle intervention program consisted of diet, exercise, stress management, smoking cessation, and group psychosocial support components (Ornish et al, 1998). 
          After the first year of the study, participants in the experimental group had lowered their cholesterol levels by 37.2% and their frequency of angina episodes by an impressive 91%. After five years these participants exhibited regression of coronary atherosclerosis and fewer incidence of cardiac events as opposed to their control group peers whose conditions had progressively worsened.  Significance of improvement in health were directly correlated with motivation and adherence to the lifestyle changes program (Ornish et al, 1998).

Study 3: The Stanford Forgiveness Project
          Frederic Luskin directed the Stanford Forgiveness Project to explore the emotional and physical benefits of forgiveness through a series of research projects involving Stanford college students, volunteers with unresolved hurt, and two groups of individuals that were affected by violence in Northern Ireland.  In each of the studies treatment group participants were enrolled in training sessions on the steps of forgiveness (Schlitz, Amorok, & Micozzi, 2005). 
          Study participants receiving the forgiveness training displayed significant reductions in feelings of hurt and anger, as well as an increase in feelings of forgiveness, hope, and optimism.  A decrease in the signs of depression amongst participants was noticed as well.  On top of this, participants also noted feeling less stress along with a decrease in the physical symptoms of stress such as dizziness, headaches, stomach pain, back and muscle tension.  The participants also benefited physically with improved vitality from the forgiveness training, including an increase in appetite, better sleep quality, and more energy (Schlitz, Amorok, & Micozzi, 2005).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Subtle Mind Practice (Unit 5)

     This week we are practicing another guided meditation from Dacher (2006) on the subtle mind.  This week's exercise is very similar to the mindfulness meditation that I practice regularly.  I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment and would certainly recommend the guided exercise to others.  Read on for a journal of my experiences...

Day 1 (Thursday):  My first impression is that I like this exercise exploring the subtle mind much better than last week's exercise on loving-kindness, as it seemed much more comfortable and almost effortless to me.  Throughout the activity I had quite a few thoughts drifting in and out and remained in a state of witnessing consciousness.  I think this was because I decided to practice in the middle of the afternoon when my mind was racing with the day's events and things that needed to be done yet, as opposed to first thing in the morning as I am accustomed to. 

Day 2 (Friday):  While I liked the provided recording from Dacher (2006) I still decided to try out another one that I found on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moBLrox7bwk).  I really enjoyed this guided meditation and its concept of nothingness...thinking "nothing", picturing "nothing", breathing "nothing".  I had very few thoughts throughout and would like to say I entered a state of calm-abiding consciousness.  I was very pleased with my exercise today!

Day 3 (Saturday): I apologize for not posting today, life got away from me and I forgot to practice my subtle mind activity.  In hindsight...days like these are when I likely need meditation the most.

Day 4 (Sunday):  The subtle mind exercise was very much welcomed after a long and hectic day at work.  While my mind was not free of thoughts by any means, I did feel this serene calmness wash over my throughout the entire session.  Afterwards I felt almost lightheaded which is a new experience for me.  I notice that after the subtle mind exercises I feel relaxed and refreshed, whereas I would feel frustrated and mentally exhausted after doing the loving-kindness exercises last week.

Day 5 (Monday):  Today I had another very enjoyable meditation experience.  I was again very relaxed during the practice and while my mind was not entirely silent, there was a noticeable stillness to both my mind and body.  Ironically, the majority of thoughts that drifted through my mind throughout the exercise were on the meditation itself...my posture, hand placement, breathing, and what I was going to journal!  

Dacher, E. (2006). Integral health: The path to human flourishing. Laguna Beach, 
     CA: Basic Health Publications Inc.
Positive Magazine [publisher]. (2013, June 16). 10 minute guided meditation to help 
     clear the mind, focus thoughts and relax [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from   

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Views on the Spirit, Mind, and Body Connection (Unit 5)

"In the East, the lotus flower is the symbol of human flourishing.  Its nascent bud represents this ever-present but undeveloped potential that lies unseen and unknown within each of us.  Slowly, the growing bud makes its way through the mud, much as our human possibilities emerge progressively from the obscuring layers of an untrained mind and a closed heart.  And once we have firmly turned toward our deepest self, gradually, petal by petal and realization by realization, our inner life with unfold.  We will then be on the most direct path to a profound and enduring health, happiness, and wholeness." -Dacher         

     We are discovering that the body, the mind and the spirit are all interconnected.  Together they create this whole that is our being.  When all three of these aspects are in harmony we are said to be well...but when one aspect is disrupted each can then fall out of place and create a state of un-wellness. 

     I was recently asked how I would rank these aspects in order of importance.  After giving this much thought I chose the following: mind, spirit, then body.  My reasoning for this is that, according to Dacher (2006), we first must develop the mind before we are able to go any further.  Once we have achieved mental wellness then we can continue on our path of development to spiritual wellness.  Then it is my personal belief that physical wellness will naturally transpire once both mental and spiritual wellness are obtained.

     I see this often in my life mostly related to how I am feeling and the downward spiral that can be caused by stress from work, school, relationships, etc. When I am mentally bogged down I begin to physically experience things like headaches, body aches, loss of appetite, fatigue, and the list goes on.  The more I make an effort to practice spiritually-enriching activities like meditation and yoga, the more I notice an improvement in my mental health, which also leads to improvements in my physical health.

Dacher, E. (2006). Integral health: The path to human flourishing. Laguna Beach, 
     CA: Basic Health Publications Inc.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Practice of Loving-Kindness (Unit 4).

     For this week's blog activity we are practicing loving-kindness as instructed by Dacher (2006) through a guided meditation activity.  I tried to devote 15 minutes each morning to practice and a journal of my experiences can be found below.

Day 1 (Thursday):  I was disappointed with my loving-kindness practice today.  Typically I do very well with guided meditations, but for some reason I just was not connecting with this one and found the background music to be distracting.  All in all it was unsuccessful and I felt quite frustrated at the end.

Day 2 (Friday):  Today I decided to try the loving-kindness activity solo (without the recording).  I started out imagining someone who I feel a deep love for (so happened to be my baby) and just let myself get lost in those wonderful feelings.  Then I directed my focus to a close friend who is going through a difficult time.  I intermittently tried to take in her pain while directing my loving-kindness toward her.  I became very overwhelmed with emotion during this process and was not able to take the activity any further. 

Day 3 (Saturday):  I tried the loving-kindness activity on my own again today.  I did feel I was able to focus and connect more so this way than by following the guided recording.  I find I am able to focus well when I am thinking of someone close to me, but it is when I try to divert my attention to larger populations and those I do not know that I start having difficulty with the process.  This is something that will certainly take time and practice to develop.

Day 4 (Sunday):  Today I did not partake in a meditation, but I did spend a great deal of time processing my thoughts on loving-kindness and my previous experiences this past week.  Not being able to fully embrace the concept of the loving-kindness exercise has been frustrating for me.  A conclusion I have come to is that I would much rather spend my time and energy on showing loving-kindness in little ways throughout my day as opposed to just thinking about loving-kindness during meditation. This is not to say I will give up on the meditations, but just that I will approach them in my own way and place more value on my actions.

Day 5 (Monday):  I thought I would give the loving-kindness practice (with the recording) another chance this morning.  I was still unable to find a real connection with the activity and once again found the background noise of the waves and pipes to be distracting rather than soothing.  Even though the exercise did not work for me it is not to say I would not recommend it to others.  We all have our own unique responses to various meditation practices so they might find it much more enjoyable or successful than I.

Dacher, E. (2006). Integral health: The path to human flourishing. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mental Workout (Unit 4)

     Just as we have to work out our body to build physical fitness...our minds need a workout to increase mental fitness too.  And as with any other type of training this requires practice, practice, and more practice.  A mental workout can be achieved through acts such as contemplative practice, consciously engaging in loving-kindness and nurturing the subtle mind. Dacher (2006) describes that the concept of a mental workout is not rest and relaxation, but to progressively work on developing our mind's healing capabilities.

     Mental workouts have been proven through research and various studies to "transform the mind by reducing disturbing emotions that cause anger, hatred, fear, worry, confusion, and doubt while enhancing positive emotions such as patience, lowing-kindness, openness, acceptance, and happiness" (Dacher, 2006, pp. 63).  In this sense, mental training promotes well-being by enhancing the individual's resistance to mental distress and physical disease.  

     One way I have practiced working out my mind is through an iPhone app called "Mental Workout".  The app has several different programs for mindfulness meditation, freedom from stress, and good night (there is also one called up in smoke which I do not use since I am not a smoker).  The mindfulness meditation program is my favorite...it provides several guided meditations, varying in length, that I can follow anytime and anywhere.  I also enjoy the freedom from stress program which provides a bunch of tools to instantly relieve stress such as breathing exercises, music therapy, and other ideas.

Dacher, E. (2006). Integral health: The path to human flourishing.  Laguna Beach, 
     CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.

Mental Workout Inc. (2014). Mental Workout (version 1.0.54) [mobile software 
     application]. Downloaded from http://www.mentalworkout.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"The Crime of the Century" Exercise (Unit 3)

This was yet again another interesting experience with guided meditation...

The exercise started out very well for me.  I was sitting comfortably at my desk in a similar fashion as during the Unit 2 activity.  This being the second guided meditation I have now completed it has made me begin to recognize the power of suggestion as I focus on the speaker's every word.  I really enjoyed the rainbow meditation...I have a vivid imagination and was able to really visualize the colors emanating from me as vibrant beams of light.  I found the most spectacular part of this visualization to be near the end when all the colors slowly vanished and turned into a bright white light surrounding me.  Unfortunately it was about this time that a distraction caused by the thunderstorm going on outside derailed my focus.  I do not know if it was the unexpectedness of this event but my heart began to race and coincidentally my baby started becoming quite active as well and kicking quickly.  Thankfully this was near the end of the exercise as I was left aware of my surroundings for the remainder of the time.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Personal Wellness Reflection (Unit 3)

"Nothing but me, my yoga mat, and the great outdoors.  I wouldn't have it any other way."

Physical Wellness - 8/10
     I have to say that since becoming pregnant I am currently the healthiest I have been in quite a while.  Knowing that everything I put into my body and do with my body can directly impact the well-being of the little guy growing inside has been the best motivation I could ask for.  I have become very mindful of every little thing...my diet, sleep, activity, stress, everything!  While I have always had a passion for eating healthy I pay special attention now to ensuring I get enough nutrients with a balance of fresh foods everyday including plenty of fruits and veggies, and drinking enough water.  Also, while I do have to be cautious of my body's limits, I have been much better about incorporating some form of physical activity everyday.  Some of my favorites have been walking and doing yoga outdoors now that it's nice out again!  My immediate goal physically would be to continue providing a safe and nourishing environment for my baby to grow while keeping myself fit and healthy.  

Psychological Wellness - 5/10
     This is an area that is tough for me to evaluate. Personally I feel like I have come a long way from the highly-anxious young adult I used to be, but I am still not where I would like to be which is why I gave myself a 5 (as in halfway there).  Like many, I have my good and my bad days...stress has this funny way of barging into my life unwelcome!  I mentioned that I have come a long way and what I was referring to is how I handle stress and life's challenges.  It has taken a great deal of strength and quite a tough skin to learn acceptance.  I am learning to accept the things that come at me for what they are and not allow them to consume me.  Again...this is still a work in progress and I would love to become that person who can truly show loving-kindness and take only skillful actions as in the path to integral health described by Elliott S. Dacher, M.D. in "Integral Health: The Path to Human Flourishing". (A must read!)

Spiritual Wellness - 9/10
     I feel very comfortable with spirituality in my life, I only gave it a 9 instead of 10 because I believe there is always room to grow!  Now to be clear, I do not have very formal or traditional religious views.  In fact I do not have any strong beliefs for that matter, rather I tend to be much more spiritual.  If I were to have one central belief it is a faith in that no matter what, everything will be okay.  This is actually a pattern I have come to recognize in my life and throughout the years my faith in this just keeps growing.  Now back to the spirituality that I mentioned...ever since I was very young I have felt a special connection with nature and the seasons...spring being "my moment" and the reason for my spiritual confidence as I am blogging this.  Meditation is an exercise that I really enjoy and take every opportunity I get to replenish my mind, body and spirit.  If I had a goal it would be making time to meditate daily, especially outdoors where I can find a comfy spot, maybe leaning up against a tree or laying out in the grass, and just let my thoughts drift away as I get lost in all the sounds, sights, and feelings around me.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Journey On" Relaxation Exercise (Unit 2)

     I have tried breathing exercises numerous times before, but never guided by an instructor as with the "Journey On" activity.  What an experience...

     To begin the activity I sat comfortably in my computer chair with my legs folded one on top of the other (yoga style), my hands resting on my thighs, and my upper body leaned back into the chair.  I took note that at first my surroundings were filled with the sounds of my nieces and nephews playing downstairs and lots of traffic going by outside; however, not long into the exercise all of these sounds seemed to drift away and were replaced by only the soothing music playing in the background.  The music also had an effect on my breathing, making each breath I took slow and steady.  I immediately felt relaxed merely by the instructor's suggestion and further as I felt the word "relax" on my tongue with each exhale. 

     As the speaker began guiding me through the process of redirecting the blood flow to my hands I visualized the blood coming up into my shoulders with each inhale and down to my fingertips with each exhale, still breathing as rhythmically as before.  I found that my hands did not necessarily have the sense of heaviness that he described but they were indeed warm and I could feel the blood and energy coursing through my fingertips.  When I was guided to move my arms I still did not feel the heaviness or difficulty in doing so, yet there was a surreal quality to the experience like they were just floating into position and back with no real effort at all.  I followed a similar visualization process as before in returning the blood flow back to my abdominal area by visualizing the blood flowing back into my shoulders with each inhale and down to fill my center with each exhale.  

     The end of the relaxation activity was my favorite part.  As the instructor guided me back into reality I noticed a serene-like smile had formed on my face that I was previously unaware of.  Slowly all the sights and sounds started drifting back to me.  With previous similar exercises I always had a hard time actually blocking out my thoughts, which was not even an issue at all during this attempt, and I am sure I can thank that success to the guidance of the instructor.  While this was impressive, the most amazing part to the whole activity was the fact that prior to starting I had a muscle spasm throbbing in my shoulder and after the activity the pain was still there yet the throbbing had dissipated.  

     I was truly impressed and happy with my experiences through the "Journey On" relaxation activity.  I cannot believe the difference in performing breathing exercises on my own compared with having an instructor guide me.  I am intrigued by my body's responses and cannot wait to try it again!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Welcome to my Blog!

"...if we could transform our mind in the direction of health, happiness, and wholeness, our body would also smile."

     Welcome to my blog for HW420-Creating Wellness: Psychological and Spiritual Aspects of Healing.  The quote by Dacher is one that really stuck out to me while reading from his book "Integral Health: The Path to Human Flourishing".  Ideas like this leave me feeling a sense of empowerment, that there is a healthier, happier life and that life is achievable.  Throughout my studies I have explored nutrition, fitness, the humanities, complementary and alternative medicine, stress management, and many more.  Throughout it all nothing has been quite as intriguing to me as learning about the mind-body connection and how we can use that to shape our well-being.  Over next eight weeks on this blog I will be sharing my thoughts and ideas of my journey to creating wellness.

Dacher, E. (2006). Integral health: The path to human flourishing. Laguna 
     Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.