That’s a little too “new age” for me… It’s easy to think like that when we hear so many new practices from the latest “guru.” But many “new age” practices are thousands of years old. And recently, the science behind the practices have made them mainstream.
Here are 10 transformational practices we can all benefit from:
Fasting is abstaining from food for a period of time. Some people drink only juices to minimize calories. While it is often practiced in religious settings, there are many benefits, including: resting the digestive system, cleansing and detoxification of the body, mental clarity.
Studies have shown a link between fasting and extended life-spans; restricting calorie intake can lower levels of insulin and glucose in blood, in turn reducing the risk of diabetes.
Intermittent or short-term fasting is a popular practice for newcommers. Starting with skipping one or two meals in a day rather than going multiple days. Dr. David Perlmutter is a big advocate of fasting. He recommends people fast at least once or twice a year, from 24-48 hours cutting out everything except for water. His research shows that fasting stimulates the growth of new brain cells through the production of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
90% of Americans say that they pray often. But what happens in the brain during prayer?
In a study by the Institute of Noetic Science, a happily married couple had electrodes attached to measure blood flow and nervous system. The wife is behind an electromagnetically shielded chamber. The husband is taken into another room with a closed-circuit television.
At random intervals, the wife’s image appears on the television and the husband is instructed to pray for his wife.
As the husband prays, there are sudden changes in his blood pressure and perspiration. The question is whether his wife’s nervous system will react in the same manner?
She does. Within two seconds of her husband seeing her image and praying, there is a spike representing her blood flow and perspiration. 36 other couples went through the same test with the same results.
Contrary to popular notions, here’s a better definition of hypnosis: The induction of a state of consciousness wherein a person becomes highly responsive to suggestion or direction.
The truth is, we enter into subtle hypnotic states on a daily basis. It happens when you drive, watch movies, or engrossed in any activity.
Hypnosis uses the power of words. A study in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink shows the mind-body connection inherent in words. When people arrived for the study, they were asked to describe how they felt. Then, they read a list of words:
Afterward, subjects not only described feeling slow and sluggish, but physically walked out of the study slower than when they entered.
In hypnosis, this practice is called “embedding a command;” similar to “primin” in psychology.
Hypnosis can be done on yourself—self-hypnosis. Using specific words and scripts trigger your imagination and can place you in a state of high suggestibility.
Penn State psychology professor William Ray explains that under hypnosis, a person is able to focus on what they are doing without asking why.
Self-hypnosis scripts combine visual, audio, and kinaesthetic elements. A typical induction begins with taking three deep breaths, imagining the sun warmly touching your skin, from your toes right up the top of your head. Hear the sounds of waves and the ocean. Letting the water touch your feet and the coolness spread over your body.
Eventually you bring yourself into a trance-like state and you’re open to suggestions. This is when you repeat affirmations or visualise goals being achieved.
The staple practice of self-help gurus has gone under the microscope and produced interesting results. Five professors from five different universities produced a report in the science and medicine journal PLOS One. They put 80 undergraduate students through 30 problem-solving exercises and found that students who were randomly assigned self-affirmation exercises were less stressed in handling problems, more attentive, and emotionally receptive to errors.
David Creswell, professor of psychology from Carnegie Mellon University comments from his research, “An emerging set of published studies suggest that self-affirmation activity at the beginning of a school term can boost academic grade-point averages in under-performing kids at the end of the semester.”
The deliberate practice of focusing and repeating a personal value statement reinforces a chemical pathway in the brain. As a result, you become better equipped and motivated to protect your perceived integrity and self-worth.
List out values, traits, and characteristics that you desire for yourself, think of some people you admire for inspiration. Turn them into positive sentences and statements and set time aside to repeat them to yourself out loud, with passion, conviction, and belief.
Here are some affirmations to get you started:
“I see obstacles as opportunities.”
“I am relentless in everything I do.”
“There are no failures, just valuable lessons.”
“Everyday I get closer and closer to my goals.”
“I believe all things are possible.”
The word yoga means “to join” or “to unite.” The combination of physical postures or “asanas,” breathing, stretching, and visualisation makes for a powerful practice with plenty of health benefits. The postures alone improve flexibility, core strength, stamina, and blood circulation.
Stephen Cope is a therapist and director of a program called “Yoga and the Brain” in Massachusetts. Using MRI technology, he explains how yoga brings measurable changes in the body’s sympathetic nervous system—the part that controls our “fight or flight” response to stress.
“Because our lives today include business emails at 10 o’clock at night and loud cell conversations at the next table, our stress response often lingers in the “on” position at times it shouldn’t. Yoga helps dampen the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions, but it can wreak havoc on the body when one is chronically stressed.”
Yoga balances out the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems through its emphasised breathwork—the optimal breathing cycle should include six breaths per minute.
Meditation is a powerful tool for gaining mastery over your mental self. You certainly don’t need to put on a orange robe and move to the himalayas to reap the benefits. Neuroscience has shown that practicing meditation changes your brain. It increases grey matter and cortical thickness, resulting in better focus and attention, memory, and creativity.
The mind is constantly trying to process the external world. That can create a tremendous amount of ‘noise’ internally. Meditation declutters, training your mind to become more efficient at filtering information.
A great beginners exercise for meditation is to find a quiet place, close your eyes, breathing in and exhaling ten deep breaths. As you do so, you’ll begin to notice your mind wandering about, events from your week will resurface, your to-do list will make an appearance. Your goal is to continually bring your mind back to your breathing. Nothing else. Just focus intently on the air going into your nose, right down to your stomach, and then exiting your mouth.
An ancient Chinese martial art, Tai Chi is a series of controlled movements and postures, comparable to shadow boxing or shadow kung fu in slow motion. Central to Tai Chi, is unlocking the energy force called Qi that flows through the meridians of the body.
Expressed in Yin and Yang, are the opposite energies that make up every person: Yin, the softer, yielding, feminine energy, and Yang, the rigid, hard, masculine energy. Illnesses are a result of the Qi energy being disrupted and blocked. Tai Chi movements work to stimulate the natural movement of Qi energy and balance Yin and Yang.
UC Irvine biophysicist Shin Lin teaches tai chi classes outside his laboratory. He uses biomedical instruments like heart rate and brain wave monitors, infrared cameras to record changes in body temperature, photon counters to gauge light emission from the body, and a laser Doppler device that calculates blood flow.
His studies have shown the combination of mental focus, breathing, shifting posture—moving the body with grace and poise—creates many physical benefits: improving flexibility, balance, and coordination, fatigue, joint stiffness, and poor posture. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and enhances serotonin and endorphin release. “Our lab has found that tai chi can increase blood flow and body energy levels measured as heat, light and electricity. In the past, there’s been no scientific data to prove this.”
Dr. Paul Lam gives a great session on Tai Chi for beginners:
Commonly known through the Gregorian tradition and Tibetan monks, chanting is the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds on two different pitches called reciting tones.
Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, carried out research monitoring the heart rate and blood pressure of five monks over a 24-hour period. Results showed that their heart heart and blood pressure dipped to its lowest point in the day while they were chanting.
Watkins attributes the effects to the combination of controlled breathing, feelings of wellbeing in communal singing, and the simplicity of melodies. Research from the National Library of Medicine noted that the different pitches and rhythms of chanting activates, and improves, parts of the brain responsible for depression and epilepsy.
Here’s a great site to get you started on reading and singing Gregorian Chant.
Emotional Freedom Techniques; the self-healing tapping technique is gaining great momentum through prominent advocates such as Jack Canfield, Dr. Bruce Lipton, and Dr. Deepak Chopra.
It is widely known that the human body produces energy like a battery—at rest, your body is producing about 100 watts of power, increasing up to 400 watts as you move and engage in activity and movement. It’s the same philosophy of Qi energy discussed in Tai Chi; whereas Tai Chi unblocks energy through specific movements, EFT does so through tapping on the body’s meridian points. These are the same meridian points used in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, but rather than using needles, EFT applies pressure to these points with the tapping of your fingers.
EFT’s strength lies in it’s compounding technique, taking on emotional and psychological issues and simultaneously tying affirmations with the tapping. There are a few different teachings of EFT, here is a simplified method known as Faster EFT:
Let’s walk through the process:
1. Using the three middle fingers of any hand, you’ll begin with tapping the KC (Karate Chop) point of your other hand. With this initial tap you are identifying the issue that you’d like to transform. As an example, we’ll take “Anxiety about your future” as the issue.
As you tap, you’ll say out loud:
“Even though I am somewhat anxious about my future, I fully and completely love and accept myself right now.”
2. Moving now to tapping in between your eye-brows, you can say:
“I am releasing and letting go.”
3. Tap the sides of your eyes and say:
“I am excited about my future.”
4. Underneath your eyes, tap and say:
“I trust in my journey.”
5. Tapping in that area just underneath the collar-bone, say:
“I believe that good things will happen.”
6. Squeeze your wrist for about 4 seconds and say:
Remember that the language I’ve used is flexible—you can replace them with statements or affirmations that you have used in the past or others you feel more comfortable with. You can also make the statements longer and tap for longer if you’d like.
Go ahead and use this process as a template for other issues you’d like to address, E.g. Relationships, Finances, Confidence, Body Image. Begin with prefacing the issue at hand with the words, “Even though…” By doing this, you are making it clear what you would like to change. Then, you begin to go through the process of changing your internal dialogue.
The negative experiences you’ve gone through have been imprinted into your psyche—it has created a memory in your brain. With the use of linguistic repetition, combined with the tapping, you’re weakening and erasing these negative imprints and laying down a new script.
Here’s a great video that explains how EFT rewires the brain:
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Pineal Gland De-Calcification
René Descarte referred to the Pineal Gland as the “principle seat of the soul.” The small endocrine gland, which resembles a tiny pine cone, is located between the two hemispheres of the brain. The pineal gland is at the centre of much debate between science and spirituality; Its biological makeup, resembling that of an eye continues to mystify doctors and scientist. Often referred to as the Third Eye, ancient depictions are found in Sumerian, Greek, Roman, Hindu, and Egyptian cultures. Perhaps most notably on the Pope’s staff and in the Vatican’s “Court of the Pine Cone.”
Dr. David Klein from Science Daily explains, “What’s fascinating is that the interior of the pineal gland actually has retinal tissue composed of rods and cones (photoreceptors) just like the eye, and is even wired into the visual cortex in the brain. The photoreceptors of the retina strongly resemble the cells of the pineal gland.” It even has vitreous fluid in it like an eye does.”
While researchers know a major function is the synthesis and release of melatonin, it’s the production and secretion of the psychedelic compound DMT that has everyone buzzing (pun intended). DMT has been documented as naturally occurring in human blood, but only recently has evidence arose of it produced by the pineal gland. Cottonwood Research Foundation presented their fascinating findings of DMT being produced in the pineal glands of living rats, the genes responsible also found in humans.
In a press release, the researchers stated, “The pineal gland has been an object of great interest regarding consciousness for thousands of years. A pineal source of DMT would help support a role for this enigmatic gland in unusual states of consciousness. Our new data now establish that the enzyme actively produces DMT in the pineal.”
While calcification of the pineal gland is typical in adults—40% of Americans by the age of 17— many argue that it’s unnatural. Calcification obstructs what Descarte described as, “The part of the body in which the soul directly exercises its functions.” Poor diet and excessive amounts of fluoride in water are the major culprits stifling that natural mental acuity.
Common advice for decalcification includes: drinking filtered and natural spring water, making sure to check the brand’s level of fluoride, substituting your toothpaste for fluoride free toothpaste, eating boron rich foods—known as an effective fluoride remover, boron is found naturally in raisins, dates, chick peas, red kidney beans, hazel nuts, walnuts, lentils and peanut butter.
Here is more info on the dangers of fluoride and how to decalcify your pineal gland.