Monday, December 2, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Mind-Body Medicine Part 3

           I hope you’ve tried some of the mind-body activities I outlined in my last two posts and found several you like! It’s always exciting to find a new, enjoyable activity, especially one that improves your health and sense of well-being.

         Today we’ll look into the importance of Connecting Time, Focus Time, Down Time and Play Time, and then I’ll cover Yoga, (the final exercise specific-type of mind-body activity).

Connecting Time

This is all about interacting with people and the natural world around you to activate your brain. God created and gave us the natural world to enjoy. But most of us blow through life so quickly and haphazardly that we don’t truly notice the world and people around us. It’s all about being observant, about being connected. It’s about relating intentionally to others—on a personal level—and using your 5 senses to experience or interact with nature.

As Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California—Los Angeles’s School of Medicine says, “Neuroscience shows that we’re not just shaped by our connections, we’re created by them.” (Another good argument for wisely choosing your friends!)

The added benefit of connecting with others helps you take your mind off yourself and your problems.

Your brain and body need you to connect!

Focus Time

This is a tough one for 21st Century tech lovers.

Put away the myriad of high tech gadgets and focus your concentration on one, single, complex task at a time. No more multi-tasking! (No one multi-tasks well, anyway, not even the teens and YA’s who think they do. You don’t. Studies prove it.)

On this one you need to have a specific goal in mind while you’re working. A project you need to finish. A book you’re reading for information. It could even be listening intently to a friend who needs your counsel.

So focus! Your brain will respond by producing connections deep within itself.

Down Time

This is brain recharge time, the time you let your mind wander, daydream, and dream BIG!

This is give-your-brain-a-break-time, without trying to focus on anything in particular. Lie on your back, look at the clouds, stare into the distance, look at the stars, watch the sunset and let your mind escape. Or watch some mindless movie or television show. (You can find plenty of those!)

Play Time

Play time’s not just for kids! It’s a time for anyone—of any age—to build new neural pathways, new brain connections. And we’re not talking about organized sports. (That falls under the exercise category.)

The definition of free play is “imaginative and rambunctious fooling around that involves moving—jumping, running, wrestling—and aimless and creative actions.”

I’m talking about spontaneous, creative, goofing around time. Having fun! Cranking up your favorite tunes and dancing around the house. Scrapbooking. Knitting. Taking a few impromptu sled rides down a snowy hill. Building sandcastles. Chasing waves, playing Frisbee with your dog.

No performance pressure; no expectations. Just good, old-fashioned fun time!

This doing-something-fun-time actually puts you in the creative flow. With no outcome expectations, it’s simply play for play’s sake. And doing it regularly increases your ability to access your creativity.

Experts delineate 3 play categories:

Body—active movements with no time limit or expectations

Social—playing with others just for the fun of it

Object—creating something with your hands, with or without an anticipated
end (although if it’s income-producing, it would fall into the “work” category and no longer be called “play!”

Here’s some possible play time activities:
~ keeping a journal of your dreams
~ coloring or painting
~ photography (maybe during a stroll through the botanical gardens)
~ free writing, whatever comes into your mind
~ crocheting
~ making pottery or working with clay
~ just playing around with a musical instrument
~ people watching (We used to LOVE doing this when I lived in Hawaii! Every so often     
   we’d head to the International Market Place in Waikiki, sit on a bench, and just watch
   the tourists stroll around and shop. Now you can watch all of the street performers
   lined up along the main drag, and the tourists who gather around them! It’s great,
   free entertainment.)      
~ throwing the ball for your dog
~ watching people on the bus, or at your favorite coffee shop (If you’re a
   writer, you’ll gather a lot of good character studies for your next book!)
~ walking in the rain, just for the fun of it
~ throwing snowballs
~ flying your tiny remote-controlled helicopter around the house like my husband was 
   doing a few minutes ago before sitting down to do some design work! J

I’m sure you can think of something you just love playing around with. When my kids were little, I used to sit them on the kitchen floor and give them sturdy kitchen bowls to bang on with spatulas and spoons while I cooked. Hard on the ears, but that’s why earplugs were invented! Have you ever seen the kids who street entertain by playing on upside-down paint buckets? I wonder how they got started?     

Pick something that appeals to you, engages you, snags your attention, and allows you to lose yourself in the activity—without worrying about the outcome. And, no, you may not multi-task by sending text messages or checking your emails. For this to be effective, you may not engage your brain in another activity, (like even thinking about something else), simultaneously.

But there’s no doubt about it: Play is actually serious business! And it’s not sinful, or wasted time (unless all you do is play), so don’t chastise yourself because you don’t think you’re being “productive.

We have to stop thinking about play as a pointless luxury we allow ourselves to partake in only when we think we have “extra” time.

Play bolsters creativity. Scientists believe that those of us living in industrialized nations are losing our creativity, compassion and ability to cooperate because we don’t engage in enough of it!      

Just why are we losing our creativity, cooperation and compassion, and becoming increasingly lonely and depressed? We’re losing them because we’re spending more time in self-imposed isolation, interacting with “others” only through our social websites, computer emails and text messaging. We’re carrying on one-way conversations with ourselves or our computers, hoping someone notices us on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages. We’re disengaging from one another, ignoring how critical it is to come into proximal contact with others—humans with skin on them!

As Dr. Norman Doidge says in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, “monotony undermines our dopamine and attentional systems crucial to maintaining brain plasticity.” Remember the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?”

The more you play, the bigger, more developed your brain tends to be (in the frontal cortex and cerebellum). Play is critical for brain development and self-organization. It releases a chemical that encourages new neuron growth, (remember that neuroplasticity and neurogensis I keep talking about), encourages new neuron connections, and fights stress and its negative effects.

While some play is done solo, it often involves friends, and here is where the cooperation and compassion are enhanced. Social interaction is vital for brain development and a sense of “well being,” and that invariably improves your mood. (Just make sure you’re interacting with people you enjoy, not people who increase your stress level—the ones who set your fight or flight chemicals and reaction into high gear.) No play also makes us more pessimistic, and that makes life far less enjoyable.

But let’s get back to that neurogenesis (new neuron growth thing). Play promotes it and that keeps us young and young thinking!

People who play:
~ are less likely to get Alzheimer’s Disease (a whopping 63% less one
   study found
~ postpone the onset of cognitive losses due to advanced age and reduce
   its seriousness
~ enjoy a more flexible and stronger brain and body (the more variety of play
   the better)
~ are less likely to have dementia or heart disease
~ have body systems that are better able to heal themselves

Because play is fun, it improves mood, decreases stress, and reduces the brain’s likelihood of responding negatively to stress. And, thankfully, that means less likelihood of depression!

Take Home Lesson: To be physically and mentally healthy and happy, find a balance between work and brain boosting activities like the ones I just covered!

Now we’ll finish this post with one more physical mind-body exercise.


No denying it, yoga has emerged in the West as a popular form of exercise. It’s effective in reducing anxiety and stress, and it can improve posture, flexibility, balance and strength. You can enjoy it solo or with a group. You can grab a book from the library or an instructional DVD to get started.

The National Institutes of Health claims yoga can reduce stress, slow breathing, lower blood pressure, positively alter brain waves and help your heart work more efficiently. Clinical research indicates it can boost cognitive function and decrease depression.

The list of physical ailments helped, improved or reduced in severity by yoga is extensive.

How it’s done
There are several types of yoga practiced, with hatha yoga being the popular form most utilized here in the West.

In yoga, you are taught the art of breathing., meditation and posture as you move through controlled, simple or complex body poses (10-30 basic ones). You learn to control your breathing by paying attention to it, as it moves through your body and fills your lungs, or even as you breathe through one nostril or the other.

It all sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want to have more body control, less stress and better health?

But there are some significant facts about yoga you need to know:

First, to most devoted aficionados of the art, yoga is really a religion. Yoga adherents believe your breath is, or signifies your vital (spiritual) energy. Controlling your breath means you can gain control over your body and mind. It’s a spiritual concept and practice.

As Mayo Clinic states, “The ultimate goal of yoga is to reach complete peace—fullness of mind and body… while traditional yoga philosophy requires that students adhere to this mission through behavior, diet and meditation,...” (italics mine)

So my first question is: Just exactly what is my vital energy? Are yoga adherents right in their assumption and practice?

First, some definitions:

Energy is defined as “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity; or

“a person’s physical and mental powers, typically as applied to a particular task or activity;

and still yet,

“power derived from utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat to work machines.”

If I think of my body as a machine, then, yep, breath (or, more correctly, oxygen) is energy that helps keep me working. But it’s only one source of energy for my body. (Hence the additional adherence to a specific diet and behaviors in traditional yoga, when practiced to its fundamental extreme.)

But when I examine it from a religious or philosophical standpoint, breath is not my vital [spiritual] energy as yoga would have me believe.

The Holy Spirit of God that dwells within me is my vital energy, my power, my source of spiritual (and physical) life. And, as a Christian, I had better avoid trying to combine, or reconcile, the two beliefs. They’re incompatible, and to my way of thinking, yoga philosophy and practice is detrimental—actually dangerous—to my overall spiritual health. For me, my spiritual health is far more important than my physical health. (But if my spiritual health is good then my physical health is far more likely to be good too!)

I’d rather stick to regular meditation, relaxed breathing, progressive relaxation, Tai chi, (without the philosophy attached to it), to improve my mind-body control. My mind will be safer and my spiritual health will be much better off. 

There are other basic, non-religious concerns too:

~ Some yoga positions put a tremendous amount of strain and pressure on the back. If you have a               history of back or neck pain, be careful.
~ Also, people with the following conditions need to see their doctor first before beginning yoga:
   - high or poorly controlled blood pressure
   - risk of blood clots
   - eye conditions, including glaucoma
   - osteoporosis
   - pregnancy

I know many think I'm nuts, but I caution you to tread carefully when embarking on this popular activity. Be intentional and careful about what you allow your brain to think, hear and see. You may wander into a spiritual realm you had no intention of wandering into.


That wraps it up for today. Next week I’ll cover Mindfulness, Spirituality and Prayer

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!