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  • Meditation and Pain Management

    Meditation can relieve pain, and it does so by activating multiple brain areas, according to an April 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest University and his colleagues scanned people’s brains as they received uncomfortably hot touches to the leg. When subjects practiced a mindful meditation technique that encourages detachment from experience while focusing on breathing, they reported less 00402582pain than when they simply paid attention to their breathing. Likewise, different patterns of brain activity emerged under the two conditions, with mindful meditating resulting in more activity not only in executive centers that evaluate experiences and regulate emotions but also in lower regions that control the signals coming from the body.

    The volunteers learned the meditation technique in only four 20-minute sessions, which means this pill-free analgesia could be a feasible way to help real patients suffering from pain. “People can reap some of the benefits of meditation without extensive training,” Zeidan says.

    When I work with patients using mindfulness I start by asking who has experience with any type of meditation, breathing techniques and/or relaxation exercises. We than have a  brief explanation and question and answer period and I focus on removing any doubt, fear, or skepticism. I usually than do a 10 to 12 minute body scan moving right into a mindful meditation that focuses on the breath.

    With the co-occurring patients I work with this process seems to work the best. The chat in the beginning warms people up, the body scan relaxes which helps the meditators enter into a more meditative state.

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  • Transformation of the Ordinary

    Dance/movement therapy (DMT) can be an avenue for creating a symbolic transformation of individual, or community experience. DMT can use the same characteristics of weight, balance, and dynamics as everyday actions such as walking, working, playing, or communication. Out of our everyday and ordinary motor activities, DMT can select, heighten or subdue, gestures/postures and body movement to achieve something which transcends the ordinary.

    For instance, as a teen I learned a West African Maize Dance from the msclip-029Arthur Hall African American Dance company. This dance uses the movements of planting, tending, and harvesting of maize as the core elements of the dance. Taking these agrarian movements and enacting them outside of their usual context begins the process of symbolic transformation. As the movements are performed an element of artistic quality begins to emerge and becomes evident in the transitional movements that occur between planting, tending, and harvesting. This Maize Dance combines the ordinary with the extra ordinary; taking the everyday actions and ritualizing them in a way that expresses and celebrates an important aspect of West African culture.

    Symbolic transformation can take place on an individual level as well. Once, working with a client an opportunity arose to explore the bodily expression of sadness; i.e. What are you doing/feeling physically when you are sad? The client took the ordinary movements/gestures/postures of their sadness and made them bigger and smaller, connecting, un-connecting and reconnecting them as they slowly evolved into a pattern. As this client continued with their exploration a transformation occurred and new movements, suggestive of another feeling emerged. Asking the client to add words to their exploration of the new movements provided a clearer understanding of sadness.

    Enacting movements/postures/gestures outside of their usual context allows the possibility of experiencing in way that can be more; objective and subjective. Making bigger and smaller, connecting and reconnecting, movement and feelings emerge uncensored, allowing a different understanding of the original feeling and all that surrounds it. The therapeutic process of dance movement therapy can guide the mover as they explore, uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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  • Patterns of Self Talk

    Patterns of negative or positive self-talk often start in childhood. Usually, the self-talk habit is one that’s colored our thinking for years, and can affect us in many ways, influencing the experience of stress to our lives. However, any time can be a good time to change it! Here are some ways you can stop yourself from using negative self-talk and use your mind to boost your productivity and self-esteem, and relieve stress.

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    Twin Babies in Diapers — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

    Notice Your Patterns:

    The first step toward change is to become more aware of the problem. You probably don’t realize how often you say negative things in your head, or how much it affects your experience. Here are two strategies that can help you become more conscious of your internal dialogue and its content.

    Journal Writing: Whether you carry a journal around with you and jot down negative comments when you think them, write a general summary of your thoughts at the end of the day, or just start writing about your feelings on a certain topic and later go back to analyze it for content, journaling can be an effective tool for examining your inner process.

    Thought-Stopping: As you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, you can stop your thought mid-stream my saying to yourself “Stop”. Saying this aloud will be more powerful, and having to say it aloud will make you more aware of how many times you are stopping negative thoughts, and where.

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  • Art and brain science

    Here is an interesting article from the NYT about the brain and art from a professor of brain science at Columbia University.:

    …… The portraiture that flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century is a good place to start. Not only does this modernist school hold a prominent place in the history of art, it consists of just three major artists — Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele — which makes it easier to study in depth.

    As a group, these artists sought to depict the unconscious, instinctual strivings of the people in their portraits, but each painter developed a distinctive way of using facial expressions and hand and body gestures to lrcommunicate those mental processes.

    Their efforts to get at the truth beneath the appearance of an individual both paralleled and were influenced by similar efforts at the time in the fields of biology and psychoanalysis. Thus the portraits of the modernists in the period known as “Vienna 1900” offer a great example of how artistic, psychological and scientific insights can enrich one another.

    The idea that truth lies beneath the surface derives from Carl von Rokitansky, a gifted pathologist who was dean of the Vienna School of Medicine in the middle of the 19th century. Baron von Rokitansky compared what his clinician colleague Josef Skoda heard and saw at the bedsides of his patients with autopsy findings after their deaths. This systematic correlation of clinical and pathological findings taught them that only by going deep below the skin could they understand the nature of illness.

    I’ve read many a book and chatted with art therapists about the psychological process involved in art and art making and this article comes from a different perspective; brain science.

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  • Problem solving

    Characteristics that typically distinguish insight from “noninsight” solutions, people feel stuck before insight strikes; they can’t explain how they solved the problem and might say they were not even thinking about it; the solution appears suddenly and is immediately seen as correct. But are the neural processes involved in arriving at a solution through insight actually distinct from those related to more mundane problem-solving?

    Recent findings suggest that people think about solutions, at an unconscious level, prior to solving insight problems, and that the right cerebral hemisphere (RH) appears to be preferentially involved. Jung-Beeman et al. predicted that a particular region of the RH, called the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG), is likely involved in insight because it seems critical for tasks that require recognizing broad associative semantic relationships—exactly the type of process that could facilitate reinterpretation of problems and lead to insight.

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    Problem-solving involves a complex cortical network to encode, retrieve, and evaluate information, but these results show that solving verbal problems with insight requires at least one additional component. Further, the fact that the effect occurred in RH aSTG suggests what that process may be: integration of distantly related information. Distinct neural processes, the authors conclude, underlie the sudden flash of insight that allows people to “see connections that previously eluded them.”

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