Category Archives: Health & fitness

Health & fitness

The Truth About How Emotional Pain Affects Your Body 

JULIA BRECKENREID

Back when I was 30, my life fell apart. My marriage collapsed, I sank into a depression, and I lost my home, money, and self-respect. I also blew out my knee.

I wish I could say I injured it climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or something, but no—it was nothing that exciting. Here’s what happened: One afternoon, right in the middle of my God-awful divorce, I turned my head to look at something over my right shoulder, and suddenly my left knee…exploded. It made a sound like a gunshot, and I felt something inside the joint go snap. Then my leg went out from under me, and I hit the ground in agony. When I finally stood up, I was limping. And I limped for the next 13 years.

Long after I had put my life back together, my knee still hurt. I tried everything to fix it: physical therapy, acupuncture, ice, heat, yoga, massage, and ibuprofen by the handful. (The one remedy I refused to attempt was surgery, only because I knew so many people whose knee surgery had made their condition worse.) Over time, I resigned myself to the fact that my knee was just bad—the way certain dogs and art and upholstery patterns are just bad.

And then one day, about five years ago, I did a curious thing. I decided to try to really listen to my bad knee. We’d spend a quiet evening together, with the lights turned down and the phone turned off, in order to understand each other. I got very still with myself, focused all my attention upon my knee, and asked it, with loving respect, “What are you trying to tell me?”

I wasn’t sure what to expect. How can a knee answer a question, right? But I was desperate to heal myself, so I just lay there quietly in the dark, ready to listen to whatever arose.

And then my knee spoke.

Full disclosure: I’m not a doctor. Nor am I crazy. But I know what I heard that night. And when I say unto you that my knee spoke, I mean, my knee spoke. Suddenly a strong and unfamiliar voice filled my consciousness, and this is what it said: “Go faster!”

JULIA BRECKENREID

Via: The Truth About How Emotional Pain Affects Your Body 

“Every disease killing us in later life has a link to lack of sleep,”

The secret to keeping your mind and body young and vibrant at any age: getting your beauty sleep.

Contrary to popular belief, older adults need more — not less — slumber, according to an April 2017 study published in the journal Neuron. In fact, lack of quality shut-eye among senior citizens can raise their risk of memory loss and suffering wide range of mental and physical disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke.

“Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep,” Matthew Walker, senior author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in a press release. “We’ve done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that.”

“I am not surprised by these findings,” Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, tells Yahoo Beauty. “A great deal of the research that promoted the idea that older people need less sleep was based on surveys of older people’s sleeping habits, and did not consider how they felt about the quality of their sleep and their daytime alertness.”

In fact, Oexman encourages his elderly patients to spend extra time under the sheets to “get the same amount of sleep they got when they were younger, but that does not guarantee that they will be getting the quality of sleep they need.”

Oexman, who is also a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explains that there are a few common risk factors for inadequate sleep among all generations: They include depression, alcohol use, and pain, as well as side effects from certain medications.

The study authors pointed out that “dissatisfying sleep” can began when adults enter their 30s, and it can spiral into cognitive and physical ailments once someone hits middle age. Oexman adds that the previous risk factors, along with stress — caused by one’s career, parenting, and caring for aging parents, for example — contribute to this problem.

“As we age, we also see changes in our ability to manage shifts in our circadian rhythm,” Oexman continues. “This happens as we fluctuate our bedtimes and wake times to accommodate work schedules, kids’ schedules, and recreational activities on the weekend.”

However, sleeping issues may also occur because “our aging brain may not be able to function as it did when we were younger,” adds Oexman. “For some people, this may happen quicker than others and may be influenced by environmental factors, exercise, eating habits, drug use, and alcohol.”

To determine the quality of your sleep, he suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • How easy is it for you to wake up in the morning? (“If you hit the snooze alarm multiple times, you are not getting the quantity and/or quality of sleep you need,” says Oexman.)
  • Would it be easy for you to fall back to sleep one hour after getting out of bed?
  • Do you fall asleep at inappropriate times — such as while watching a movie, at a play or socializing with friends at home?
  • Do you often fall asleep while watching TV or reading in the evening after work?

“The best indicator of quality sleep is how you feel in the daytime,” says Oexman. (Hint: You should feel alert, and not just because you’ve had three cups of coffee.)

The study author Walker notes that non-pharmaceutical interventions — including electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms — are being investigated as means of enhancing quality shut-eye instead of reaching for sleeping pills at night.

“The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first line, knee-jerk response to sleep problems,” Walker stated. “Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions.”

Via: The Secret to the Fountain of Youth Is Something You Do Every Night 

Honest Look At Common Ingredients Found In Processed Foods 

It’s no secret that many of our common grocery store staples come with a long list of ingredients. While bread, for example, might only require a few ingredients when homemade, a loaf of sandwich bread from the store will often contain significantly more to keep it shelf-stable.

We’re not here to say that you should always bake your own bread ― we get that’s not really an option in most of our modern lives. But we do think you should know what’s showing up on your ingredient labels.

Here are 20 common ingredients that we bet are in your pantry right now (assuming that you’ve got a well-stocked pantry).

VGAJIC VIA GETTY IMAGES
  1. Sodium Phosphate is a sodium salt of phosphoric acid and is a common additive in processed meat. It helps keep meat moist, which is one quality a lot of people want in their ham. It can also be used as a texturizer, an emulsifier or a leavening agent.
  2. Sodium Erythorbate is the sodium salt of erythorbic acid. It is a food additive used to keep food fresh.
  3. Sodium Nitrite is used as a preservative to fight the growth of harmful bacteria. Chances are you’ve probably heard about sodium nitrite and how you’re supposed to stay away from it. Nitrites have been linked to cancer.
  4. Potassium Lactate is a mineral salt that is used as a flavoring agent and a humectant, which means it helps food retain moisture.
  5. Sodium Diacetate is a salt of acetic acid. It is a food preservative used as an antimicrobial agent.
  6. Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from corn. It is used widely in packaged foods as a sweetener.
  7. Corn Syrup is an ingredient we all know by now. It’s a sweetener made from the starch of corn that shows up in a lot of our food because it’s cheap, which means we’re probably eating more sugar than we want to think.
  8. Xanthan Gum is fermented by plant-loving bacteria ― for example, it aids the bacteria that grows on broccoli. It also happens to be a very popular food additive, showing up in foods from salad dressings to baked goods. It’s often used as a thickening and emulsifying agent.
  9. Polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifier in foods and cosmetics. It’s sometimes added to soft serve to prevent milk proteins from completely coating the fat droplets. This allows the soft serve to bind and locks air into the mixture.
  10. Calcium Sulfate is an acidity regulator and flour-stabilizing agent. That means it shows up in pastas and cereals. It’s also used to add calcium to foods, such as tofu.
  11. Sodium Benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It inhibits growth of bacteria, mold and yeast ― and shows up in anything from sodas to pickles.
  12. Dimethyl Dicarbonate is a chemical used to preserve beverages. If you like wine, you’re getting your fill of this preservative.
  13. Butylated Hydroxyanisole, also known as BHA, is a food additive that the National Institutes of Health says is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. It shows up in a host of foods, including chewing gum and potato chips.
  14. Mono- and diglycerides come from fatty acids. They’re used as another emulsifier. They help combine ingredients containing fat with ingredients containing water (because the two don’t normally merge well on their own).
  15. Carrageenan is a carbohydrate extracted from red seaweed. It’s used for its gelling, stabilizing and thickening properties. And it is found in products from eggnog to soy milk to infant formulas to toothpaste.
  16. Guar gum is made from the endosperm of the guar bean. It’s used as a thickening agent. The use of it in diet pills was banned in the 1980s because it was dangerous, but small amounts of it have been established as safe.
  17. Cellulose gum comes from the cell walls of plants such as wood pulp and cottonseeds. It’s a thickener that is commonly used in the food industry and adds to the mouthfeel and texture of a product.
  18. Carnauba wax is made from the leaves of the palm tree. It’s used to provide a glossy, waxen sheen to foods like fruit chews, just like it does for cars (in automobile waxes), shoes (in the polish), dental floss, surf boards and floors.
  19. Yellow 5, also known as tartrazine, is most famously responsible for the yellow color of Mountain Dew. It’s a synthetic yellow dye that was once believed to negatively affect the sperm count in men, and is now believed to exacerbate children with ADHD.
  20. Red 40 is an azo food dye that can cause allergic reactions in some people.

Via: An Honest Look At 20 Common Ingredients Found In Processed Foods

Stress really is killing us .

  • A stress epidemic that threatens us all now affects white, working-class Americans dramatically
  • Increasing inequality and decreasing investment in human development place us all at risk

Daniel Keating is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of “Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity — and How to Break the Cycle,” due to be published in April from St. Martin’s Press. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)There are new clues that the high levels of stress many people endure every day are taking a deadly toll.

White, working-class Americans are dying in middle age at a rapidly increasing pace, reversing a long-standing trend toward greater life expectancy across all races and social classes, according to a new report from economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton.
Daniel Keating

Much of this alarming trend comes from “deaths of despair,” especially opioid addictions and overdoses, suicide, and alcohol-related diseases. To stem this epidemic, they argue that we need to understand the underlying reasons why this is happening. Case and Deaton make a plausible case that “slow moving and cumulative” social forces — lack of labor market opportunities and fraying of the accustomed social fabric — are key explanations. They reject arguments that attribute this trend to income alone or to a decline in virtue.
But an even more basic cause lies hidden at the intersection of psychology and biology — a widespread stress epidemic that is affecting this group dramatically at the present but threatens all of us unless we soon understand the source of this trend and take steps to address it.
Stress-related disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the whole population for decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including those leading to these deaths of despair, but also to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
National surveys by the American Psychological Association that also capture how stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we feel show a similar increasing pattern. And it shows up in our bodies, even before we get sick or start down the many roads to self-harm.
A recent study by the Hamilton Project looked at the “physiological stress load” in the US using biological markers tied to cardiovascular, kidney and liver function to create a stress load index. This physical stress load, a precursor to many diseases, has increased in striking fashion since the late 1970s, and it is getting worse as each new age group enters adulthood.
We should see this increase in mortality for what it is — a leading indicator of what could be in store for many of us. What social forces are producing the broader stress epidemic, and how do they “get under the skin” to cause long-term damage? One major clue comes from a closer look at the stress load index.
It has increased for everyone, but with marked inequality — it has risen more sharply for those with fewer social and economic resources but also more for the middle class compared to the well off. There is a clear line that connects increasing inequality in income and opportunities, to increases in stress and mortality that hits some groups earlier than others.
A central biological pathway is from excess cortisol — the fight-or-flight hormone — that characterizes being over-stressed for long periods of time. This “stress dysregulation” leads to risky health decisions, like addiction or overeating, and directly to many health problems linked to excess cortisol.
Why are white, working-class Americans showing the earliest effects? Surely African-Americans and Hispanics have been experiencing inequality at equal or higher levels over these same decades. The key lies in different starting points in perceptions of control — stress is largely a psychosocial phenomenon, though, of course, material deprivation also plays a role.
Minorities have gained some ground materially, in relative terms, over recent decades, but they also did not start with an assumption of being in control in the wider society. Losing a sense of control that you believed you had, whether real or not, justified or not, creates stressful dislocations.
We have seen this pattern before. In the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the group that saw itself as having substantial control — middle-aged Russian men in particular — experienced a similar loss of control, economically and in terms of cultural identity as the “socialist vanguard.” They also died younger, suffering dramatic increases in early mortality.
If we understand what is actually happening — socially, psychologically and biologically — we can see that this effect is not going to be limited to just one group in the future. My colleagues and I have reported a pattern of increasing inequality being tied to worsening population outcomes — not for mortality, but for the health, achievement and social engagement of adolescents in rich Western countries. But what we also found was that this was not inevitable.
Countries (Austria, Denmark, France, Sweden and others) that controlled income inequality and maintained investments in human development — such as early childhood and parenting support, education, and social safety nets in health care and unemployment — did not experience these increasing problems in adolescent and youth development.
Slow-moving and cumulative social forces “get under the skin” early in life and can show up decades later in morbidity and mortality. The risk is magnified in light of very recent research showing that high levels of stress experienced by expectant mothers or by babies can make fundamental biological changes in infancy — through what are known as epigenetic changes, which alter how genes work — that can endure over a lifetime.
This burden of stress dysregulation in young Americans from early life adversity amplifies the stress epidemic by making more of us vulnerable, and by increasing the total amount of ambient stress we all experience everyday in our schools, our workplaces, our social media, on our highways, in our malls — in effect, throughout our communities.
Increasing inequality and decreasing investment in human development place all of us at risk — a stressful recognition itself in the current political environment where there is the potential for going even further in the risky direction. Resisting these trends is essential to health, because the consequences will show up for all of us for decades to come.

Via: Stress really is killing us

How much exercise do I really need?

  • Two and a half hours a week of moderate intensity exercise is recommended
  • The ideal form of exercise is something that you’ll actually do

(CNN)Between work commitments, family responsibilities, and the stress of everyday life, we have legitimate reasons to fall short of our fitness goals. That’s why, for many, the pre-goal should be maximizing the efficiency of your workout regimen.

Interval training exercise could be a fountain of youth

Two and half hours a week of moderate intensity exercise is what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Ideally, this means 30 minutes, five times per week, of activities such as jogging, ballroom dancing, biking or swimming. Moderate intensity means you’re working in the intermediate zone. If you’re able to hold a conversation with the person next to you while doing that activity, you’re in the zone.
If you don’t have time for five workouts per week, recent evidence in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that cramming 150 minutes into the weekend, the so-called “weekend warrior” model, transfers similar health benefits to spreading out fitness across the week. The only risk here is overuse injury, such as a case of Achilles tendinitis from running 10 miles on a Saturday after not doing any exercise all week.

 If you’re time crunched, intensity matters

Maybe that workout can wait till the weekend?

Newer evidence about high intensity workouts known as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), shows that intensity minutes reduce required exercise time by almost half. This means if you’d like 30 minutes of exercise but you only have 15 to spare, you’re in luck. As I’ve outlined in my book “The Workout Prescription,” ramping up intensity minutes reduces time requirements, and is safe for anyone.
 Unlike moderate intensity, high intensity exercise means you’re huffing and puffing and conversation is difficult. Although they’re tough, HIIT workouts don’t have to be fancy. They can be set up anywhere, a living room, a garage, or a basement. All that’s needed is an open space, a light set of dumbbells, and a strong dose of motivation.
HIIT programs are generally safe for all ages but we generally recommend touching base with your physician if you’re over 40 and haven’t been previously active before starting this type of program.

 Why it matters so much

How to keep your New Year's fitness resolution from failing

There are obvious benefits to exercise. People feel better, they look better, and they perform better in all aspects of their lives when they exercise regularly. Seen through the prism of the medical community, the medicine of exercise has strong scientific benefits that go far beyond the desire to fit into that new suit or pair of yoga pants.
Across the spectrum of the human body, irrefutable evidence shows that exercise isn’t just about getting a good workout, it’s about staying healthy in a broader sense. Exercise can treat depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. For your heart, it lowers blood pressure, cholesterol levels, the risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise reduces the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and both prevents and treats type 2 diabetes, the most expensive health problem in the United States with annual costs over $100 billion. Regular exercise has even been shown to reduce the frequency of 13 types of cancer including breast, colon, ovarian and endometrial in a large, recent study of 1.44 million subjects.
Bad heart? Time to hit the gym

The major health benefits of exercise kick in at 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity, or at 75 minutes per week of high intensity work.
Exercise is the most efficacious drug known to humankind, works for everyone who takes it, has no side effects, and is free.
That’s why there’s a push to include exercise, as determined through a fitness tracker, as a fifth vital sign along with height, weight, pulse and blood pressure. Movement promotes health and wellness, so why not start tracking it?

The best exercise for you

The ideal form of exercise for you is … something that you’ll actually do! As I discussed in my previous column, smiling and fun promote exercise compliance. If you’re smiling, keep doing exactly what you’re doing.
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In terms of body maintenance, most exercise recommendations involve a combination of endurance training such as walking or swimming, flexibility training such as yoga, and strength training. Although there’s no exact science here, finding the correct formula usually means picking some of each of these activities. This might mean jogging twice per week, trying a HIIT workout once or twice per week, and taking a yoga class. There’s no exact answer, the key is to find what works for you, smile and work hard.
Do as much exercise as you can, there’s no upper limit. When possible, try and keep your total above the recommended weekly “dose” and you’ll be more likely to stay out of the doctor’s office and on your field of choice.

Via: How much exercise do I really need? 

This Brain Marker Could Identify Teens At High Risk for Psychosis 

VCHAL VIA GETTY IMAGES

Psychosis typically shows up in adolescence or early adulthood, and around 100,000 young people will experience their first psychotic episode this year. But woefully little is known about how to prevent the devastating disorder in teens who are at high risk.

Now, a Canadian study offers new hope for early identification and prevention of psychosis. Psychiatrists at the University of Montreal identified a brain marker that can detect early vulnerability to the condition ― years before the onset of full-blown symptoms.

“Our research reveals that vulnerability to psychosis can be identified at an early adolescence period,” Dr. Patricia Conrod, a psychiatry professor at the University of Montreal and the study’s senior author, said in a statement.

The study, published last week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that long before a person begins having psychotic episodes, the brain shows a heightened emotional response to both non-threatening and non-emotional cues.

When this occurs, the brain is essentially assigning significance to benign things in the environment that simply don’t call for an emotional or threat-based reaction. This neurological abnormality can manifest in perceiving everyday objects and events as being laden with sinister intent, and even in imagining things that simply aren’t there.

This finding aligns with what we already know about how psychosis develops. Some of the main behavioral symptoms, like delusions and paranoia, are caused by the tendency to over-attribute meaning and relevance to environmental stimuli. Psychotic delusions, then, can be understood as a way for the person to make sense of the heightened importance (often accompanied by a sense of threat) that they perceive in the world around them.

Predicting psychosis in the brain

For the study, Conrod’s team conducted cognitive and brain testing on over 1,000 European adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16. The teenagers’ brains were scanned while they engaged in cognitive tasks testing for things like reward sensitivity, processing of emotional and non-emotional cues, and inhibitory control (the ability to regulate one’s attention and behavior). The teens also completed self-reported questionnaires asking whether and how often they had experienced various psychiatric symptoms.

The researchers isolated a group of the 14-year-old participants who reported that they were already having occasional psychotic-like experiences, and found that the brains of these teenagers responded to non-emotional stimuli as if they had strong emotional import.

At 16 years old, around 6 percent of the teens in the study reported having psychotic symptoms like delusions, paranoia, and visual and auditory hallucinations. The researchers found that heightened brain reactivity to neutral stimuli at age 14 strongly predicted the emergence of future psychotic symptoms in the 16-year-olds.

The analysis also revealed cannabis use prior to age 16 to be highly predictive of psychotic-like tendencies in the 16-year-olds. This didn’t come at much of a surprise, as a growing body of research has shown a link between marijuana use and psychotic disorders, suggesting that the drug could trigger or worsen psychotic tendencies in people who are already at risk. (It’s also possible, however, that people with pre-existing psychotic tendencies are simply more likely to smoke weed.)

Known risk factors for psychotic disorders include genetics, childhood stress and trauma, inflammation and exposure to neurotoxins, substance abuse, and use of drugs such as marijuana and amphetamines.

New hope for prevention and treatment

Earlier identification could make a huge difference in delaying the onset of psychosis and possibly even preventing some of its most devastating expressions.

As of now, clinicians have little to offer when it comes to preventing psychosis. Predicting which adolescents with early warning signs will develop the condition isn’t easy, according to Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. What’s more, we don’t yet have interventions proven to prevent psychosis in those who are at risk.

“Given the morbidity and mortality of psychotic illnesses, there can be little doubt that we need interventions to prevent its onset,” Insel wrote in an NIMH blog post. “Even delaying the onset of psychosis for five years could make a huge difference in outcomes.”

While it’s not yet clear whether heightened emotional reactivity in the brain could be modified using drugs or therapeutic interventions, the research team already has follow-up investigations underway. In any case, better tools for predicting psychosis can only help to improve prevention, treatment and patient outcomes.

“Early identification of psychosis vulnerability gives clinicians a large window of time in which to intervene on risky behaviors and key etiologic processes,” Conrod said. “Our team hopes that this study helps guide the design of new intervention strategies for at-risk youth, before the symptoms become clinically relevant.”

Via: This Brain Marker Could Identify Teens At High Risk for Psychosis 

Lessons from meditating with the Dalai Lama 

  • CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was invited to the Dalai Lama’s personal residence to meditate
  • He explains what the Dalai Lama shared with him and what he hopes to share with others

Vital Signs is a monthly program bringing viewers health stories from around the world

(CNN)For the past two months, I have been a changed man. It is hard to fully describe, except to say my mood is mostly sunny and more patient than usual.

In the past, my family and friends would’ve typically described me as pleasant but hurried. My baseline restlessness and edginess, however, have now nearly vanished.
Without difficulty, I have sustained attention when my young children spend time with me. Instead of constant surveillance of my phone, there is an ability to quickly hyper-focus on the task is at hand and a corresponding joy of living in a distraction-less world.
Playful humor: The Dalai Lama's secret weapon (and how it can be yours, too)

This change seems to have started the end of last year, after I spent a morning meditating with the Dalai Lama.
First off: Yes, I do feel a little ridiculous writing a line like that, and I didn’t feel worthy of his invitation at the time. Even though I meditate, I’ve never been sure whether I was using proper technique or whether there was an acceptable way to meditate in the presence of His Holiness.
If he was looking forward to a good meditation partner, I worried he was unlikely to find it in me. Even my posture is terrible when sitting cross-legged on the floor. My back starts to hurt, followed by my knees. Thus, my breathing, which is supposed to drive my focus, sounds raspy and uneven. All this makes my mind race instead of slowing down and calming.
Just thinking about meditating with His Holiness was making me anxious.
Nevertheless, who says “no” to a chance to meditate with the Dalai Lama? I agreed to join him early the next morning at his private residence.

A practice that begins at 3 a.m.

At 81 years, old, the Dalai Lama keeps a very active schedule. I met him in Mundgod, India, at the Drepung Monastery, where he was overseeing a symposium bridging Buddhism and science.
The monastery itself is a dazzling bejeweled structure built 600 years ago. Inside, there are enormous golden Buddhas standing next to ornate walls. The discussion hall itself is grand but warm, with doors and windows open to the hot South Indian sun.
Can meditation really slow aging?

For three days, his Holiness moderated sessions on weighty metaphysical topics such as the criteria for valid reasoning, the fundamental constituents of the universe, origins of life and the subjective experience of the mind.
It was fascinating and mind-bending — but also mentally exhausting. It was difficult to stay awake, let alone keep up with the rapid-fire debate between the Buddhists and the scientists. Yet his Holiness was mentally engaged and inquisitive throughout, even more remarkable given more than half the comments were being translated for him.
The Dalai Lama typically wakes about 2:40 a.m. and starts his daily meditation routine at 3 a.m., even as most of his staff is still snoozing.
This was the backdrop when one of his senior staff members picked me up outside the monastery early one morning. We drove in a three-car convoy to the gates outside his private residence.
If you struggle to meditate, try this

From there, several more staff members escorted us to a small conference room where his security detail was slowly waking and drinking their morning tea. Finally, his chief of staff walked me just outside the personal quarters of the Dalai Lama.

Meditating is hard for him, too

There were a few minor instructions before we entered. Eye contact is not a problem, and shaking hands is acceptable if you use two hands, not just one. Try not to turn your back to him when leaving the room, and instead walk backward, as much as possible facing him. When sitting cross-legged on the floor, don’t point your feet at the Dalai Lama. And the correct address is “your holiness.”
Dalai Lama: 5 things to keep in mind for the next four years

Shortly after, the doors opened, and I nervously walked into a very modest room where the Dalai Lama was sitting on a raised platform, already deep in meditation. I slipped off my shoes, sat cross-legged at a slight angle on the floor to avoid my toes being pointed in his direction, closed my eyes and started to focus on my breathing.
All my meditation insecurities immediately started to kick in. After a few minutes, I heard his deep, distinctive baritone voice: “Any questions?”
I looked up and saw his smiling face, starting to break into his characteristic head-bobbing laugh.
“This is hard for me,” I said.
“Me, too!” he exclaimed. “After doing daily for 60 years, it is still hard.”
It was at once surprising and reassuring to hear him say this. The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet, also has trouble meditating.
“I think you will like analytical meditation,” he told me. Instead of focusing on a chosen object, as in single-point meditation, he suggested I think about a problem I was trying to solve, a topic I may have read about recently or one of the philosophical areas from the earlier sessions.
Religious thoughts trigger reward systems like love, drugs

He wanted me to separate the problem or issue from everything else by placing it in a large, clear bubble. With my eyes closed, I thought of something nagging at me — something I couldn’t quite solve. As I placed the physical embodiment of this problem into the bubble, several things started to happen very naturally.
The problem was now directly in front of me, floating weightlessly. In my mind, I could rotate it, spin it or flip it upside-down. It was an exercise to develop hyper-focus.
Less intuitively, as the bubble was rising, it was also disentangling itself from any other attachments, such as subjective emotional considerations. I could visualize it, as the problem isolated itself, and came into a clear-eyed view.
Too often, we allow unrelated emotional factors to blur the elegant and practical solutions right in front of us. It can be dispiriting and frustrating. Through analytical meditation, His Holiness told me, we can use logic and reason to more clearly identify the question at hand, separate it from irrelevant considerations, erase doubt and brightly illuminate the answers. It was simple and sensible. Most important, for me — it worked.

Meditation for skeptics

As a neuroscientist, I never expected that a Buddhist monk, even the Dalai Lama, would teach me how to better incorporate deduction and critical thinking to my life — but that is what happened.
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It changed me. And I am better for it. I practice analytical meditation every day, usually early in the morning. The first two minutes are still the hardest, as I create my thought bubble and let it float above me. After that, I reach what can best be described as a “flow” state, in which 20 to 30 minutes pass easily.
I am more convinced than ever that even the most ardent skeptics could find success with analytical meditation.
Over the holidays, I spent as much time as possible relaying the Dalai Lama’s teachings to my family and friends and teaching them basic principles of analytical meditation. This was the gift I most wanted to share with them. And now with you.

Via: Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Lessons from meditating with the Dalai Lama