Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still Meditating on Meditation

In reference to Growing a steering wheel for one's brain, and "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction" - Jon Kabat-Zinn:
A recent article in the NY Times delves into the history of mindfulness meditation in therapy; check out Lotus therapy by Benedict Carey.

Thank you to Deric at Mindblog.

I just (a few days ago) obtained a copy of Kabat-Zinn's book, Full Catastrophe Living, and am reading random pages from it at bedtime. I usually do this with books ... expose my sleepy brain to them, see if something in there can grab my tired attention hard enough to make me want to read them cover to cover when I'm awake and can fairly engage. It's my own Sleepy Brain Interest Detection Screening Mechanism.

I'm grateful, actually, that at this stage of life I appear to be relatively catastrophe-free - there has been a very nice patch of smooth sailing for several years.

PS: I'm back in this post on May 29, to link to a just-released podcast from Ginger Campbell, in her books and ideas series, an interview with Delaney Dean on Mindfulness Meditation. Here are Campbell's show notes. Here is a link to the actual podcast. I am eager to listen to it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chris Koch : Transcript of podcast with Ginger Campbell

I've just released this transcript on Dr. Campbell's BrainScience Podcast Forum. It is of her interview with Dr. Chris Koch, in Podcast #22, last fall.

Dr. Koch, together with Francis Crick, did research to find neural correlates of consciousness. Together they wrote The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach in 2004. Dr. Koch has continued this work subsequent to Dr. Crick's death.

The podcast transcript can be found here:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Growing a steering wheel for one's brain

Lately I've been crossing paths often with the idea of meditation.

My personal take on meditation is that on the one hand, I've always been somewhat reluctant to commit to anything that has any whiff of religiosity about it, while on the other, everything I ever have read about meditation suggested that at its fundamental level it is inherently secular, and biologically, neurologically friendly, which I find attractive.

I was not indoctrinated into any religion as a child, never attended church, usually headed off the other way from any setting where altars were part of the decor. I did succumb, however, to the Maharishi craze when it passed through where I was living in 1972. I took formal instruction and "sat" for awhile (a month or two at most). The meditation consisted of resting while sitting up and silently repeating a "word" given to me by the instructor in a formal private ceremony (which I stomached bravely), a word that meant nothing whatsoever in English, just a sound.

I can still remember the word ("ah-eem"), but don't recall noticing any change in myself at all. I dropped the whole process after awhile. I was/am easily bored I suppose, which is likely the whole "problem" I've had with meditation. Since then I have steered pretty clear of any committed sitting meditation on any sort of recurring quasi-permanent basis that involves being around other people.

Shortly after I became a meditation failure I learned about yoga from Ruth Richards, another physiotherapist in the hospital where I worked at the time. She was considerably older at 55 (I was a tender 22), was Danish, had been through WWII in Britain, was married to, then had become widowed by a UK man involved in the military. She seemed exotic, slightly tragic, wise, worldly, elegant and beautiful. She was a yoga practitioner and taught me the basics - how to breathe, what to feel for.

I began practicing yoga, on my own, from a book; every day for two years I spent at least an hour in my own body, focusing on every small sensation, breathing into, being with, and inhabiting every cubic centimeter of my entire body, feeling, registering, appreciating mounting improvements in my relationship with my body, my movement, my physicality.

I do not recall why I stopped. Bored again probably. But the feeling of knowing/ knowing how to feel and sense, physically, kinesthetically, has stayed ever since, right to this day.

It has helped me focus in on things that actually do matter to me, like getting the right "feel" in my work of manual treatment of pain. I can sit for several minutes without moving, breathing carefully, fully relaxed, even while exerting considerable physical force through my arms if need be, feeling with my hands, feeling for changes in someone's body tissues that tell me favorable change is happening in their nervous systems. I've done this all day long, for years. I've learned to get "me" out of the way, and let my own nervous system and that of my patient "communicate" in whatever way is required, to help that change along. Kinesthesis, whether it's auto- or applied, is so wordless it lends itself well to this deeper kind of attending. I practice this daily or nearly daily as part of my manual therapy practice, and try to teach it to the people I treat, so they can treat themselves.

After having become a manual therapist and learning to feel and control my own nervous system well enough to be able to use it to help other people with theirs, I came full circle back to learn there was meditation for dealing with pain, called Mindfulness Meditation. I wrote about this before, here.

Just a few days ago a new person joined BrainScience Podcast Forum, Delaney Dean, who is a meditation enthusiast and teacher, among other pursuits. She provided a MindHacks link (this one - thank you Vaughan), which contains a link to a great article on meditation, which was really supposed to be the point of this blog post...

Here is a link to the abstract of Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation by Lutz et al., and a link to the paper itself, a 7 page pdf.

I love the first sentence:
"Meditation can be conceptualized as a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance."

Indeed it can. Indeed it can. So much so that even "I", this rudderless construct of a self that has managed to cobble itself together over time and change, could be persuaded by my nonconscious processes to take it up, maybe for real this time... but I won't hold my breath. Which is part of the point of learning to meditate, or so I've heard..

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is certainty a dopameme?

OK, first a disclaimer: dopameme is a word I made up, just because I thought it was necessary. I'm not entirely sure yet of everything it might mean..
Here is the definition.
Dopameme: Noun; Combination of the name of a neurotransmitter in the brain involved in feeling pleasure, "dopamine", and the term "meme" as coined by Richard Dawkins meaning a thought virus.

A "Dopameme" is a feel-good idea which:

1. forms part of a belief system (e.g., "new age" notions or pseudo/antiscience)
2. keeps people from learning to see the world rationally
3. stubbornly persists through generations, because the emotional comfort or pleasure it provides the person who harbours it ensures it will be replicated frequently in that individual's brain and easily passed on to others via social and conversational contact
4. gets recycled endlessly through books sold at spiritual and self-help bookstores, thus helping support the economy, thus further ensuring its continued survival

Dopamemes can be found in any walk of life but find particularly fertile ground in the helping professions, if fact are actively cultivated by many of them which appear to base their whole existence around farming them for profit.

This morning Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine reviewed a new book in her blog entry On Being Certain; the book is On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, by Robert Burton. In her review Hall says,
"A “feeling of knowing” probably had an evolutionary advantage. If we are certain, we can act on that certainty rather than hesitating like Hamlet. Certainty makes us feel good: it rewards learning, and it keeps us from wasting time thinking too much; but it impairs flexibility."

This is intriguing, and makes me want to expand the definition of "Dopameme" (the extent of which I am still uncertain) to include a new point:

5. like "certainty", provides emotional comfort by removing the cognitive dissonance of "not knowing."

Coincidentally there has been a very busy thread called Chiropractic and Stroke, also by Harriet Hall, with many comments (arguments from "certainty"), running concurrently.

Monday, May 05, 2008

How to sleep like a proper human primate

This morning a member of SomaSimple brought this article forward in a discussion we are having called Pain of Comfort:

Instinctive sleeping and resting postures: an anthropological and zoological approach to treatment of low back and joint pain by Michael Tetley, PT.

I'm bringing it here as a gift to all who wonder why there is so much insidious body pain in our nice, comfy, dry, temperature controlled, civilized lives. We are perhaps, as the article suggests, too far removed from our primate origin, unable to relax and sleep on a house floor, let alone a forest floor, or a wide tree branch surrounded by air and insects and potential danger.

I never had seen this article until now, and immediately fell in love with it, even though it contains a strong ortho-dominant perspective (as if there were nothing inside the body more important than joints) - otherwise it resonates with everything I think about self-efficacy. There are photos of natural sleeping positions that in my mind elongate and refresh neural tunnels everywhere. If the nerves alongside large joints are healthy, then so will the "joints" be. But this is a minor quibble overall.

The first sentence is;
If you are a medical professional and have been trained in a "civilised" country you probably know next to nothing about the primate Homo sapiens and how they survive in the wild.

Well, not quite true for me. I've been thinking about how to be a good human primate social groomer for quite a long time, Michael.

When people in pain ask me,"What should I do?" I start by teaching them how to get down on the floor and relax there. I tell them, the floor is flat and hard. When you lie down, you will immediately feel all your tightness easily. Once your brain can sense it, it can do something about it, lengthen out various tensions. When you get down on the floor, something's gotta give, and it's not gonna be the floor. The floor is the best biofeedback device there ever was, always cheap and always available. Make the floor your friend. And deep breathe with your abdomen to relax through anxiety and discomfort.

When they ask "What kind of mattress should I be on?" I say, in general, whatever gets you through the night, but the harder the better, so no waterbed.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Chris Koch lectures on neural correlates of consciousness

I found a link on BrainBlog today (thank you, Anthony Risser at Brainblog), that takes a reader to a page containing a list of eighteen(!) lectures by Christopher Koch, each one about an hour long. What a bonanza of information. I've put a permanent link into the menu on the right.

Here are a few other humanantigravitysuit posts that refer to Chris Koch and his work.

Additional reading:

1. Scholarpedia article by Chris Koch on neural correlates of consciousness

2. Ginger Campbell's brainsciencepodcast #22, an interview with Chris Koch.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

More insular matters

Deric Bownds at Mindblog, always a font of interesting and useful neuro information, posted about a meeting he was at where A.D. Craig, who researches pain and the insular cortex which helps to process it into conscious awareness, presented his ideas on the functional difference between the left and right insulas with regard to deep breathing. Check it out. Thumbs up.

My own insula seems to light up irresistibly whenever the word "insula" appears, and is drawn to examining whatever new scrap of info might have turned up. I've written about the insula before, here and here.

Here are some articles about the insula:

1. Craig AD. Pain mechanisms: Labeled lines versus convergence in central processing. Ann Rev Neurosci. 2003;26:130.

2. Craig AD. How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nature Rev Neurosci. 2002;3:655-66.

3. Henderson LA, Gandevia SC, Macefield VG. Somatotopic organization of the processing of muscle and cutaneous pain in the left and right insula cortex: A single-trial fMRI study. Pain. 2007;128:20-30.

4. Olausson H, Lamarre Y, Backlund H, Morin C, Wallin BG, Starck G, Ekholm S, Strigo I, Worsley K, Vallbo AB, Bushnell MC. Unmyelinated tactile afferents signal touch and project to insular cortex. Nature Neurosci. 2002;5:900–904.

5. Blakeslee S, A Small Part of the Brain, and its Profound Effects