Sunday, April 17, 2016


Leading-edge science and research on the plasticity of our brains is showing us that just like muscles, our mental muscle responds to exercise. It’s a matter of which exercises we do. Are we choosing exercises that relate to mindfulness, self-regulation, compassion, kindness and empathy so that we strengthen our mental muscle to notice the connections, possibilities and opportunities around us. Or are we choosing exercises that promote fear, resentment and distrust? Just like fitness training - whatever exercises we repeatedly do for our muscles will eventually dictate our overall movement patterns, the mental exercises we practice will establish our overall thought patterns. And research is showing that over the long term, it's both our movement patterns and also our thought patterns that have dramatic physiological impacts on our health, performance and well-being.

I recently read a transcript from an interview with Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery from Stanford University Dr. James Doty MD.  Below is an excerpt from that interview related to exercising our mental muscle. 

“Even after brief periods of meditation, we actually can study the epigenetic effect of how our genes are changing the expression, even with brief periods of meditation, in the context of inflammation markers. And it’s extraordinary, because even with people who have meditated in this manner for as little as two weeks (20 minutes a day), you can see effects in regard to their blood pressure, in regard to the release of stress hormones, and effects on the immune system. And one of the big things that people don’t appreciate is that a lot of disease is actually a manifestation of inflammation. And that is a manifestation of your immune system not functioning well, and these types of practices can decrease that inflammation.”

“The brain doesn’t distinguish between an experience that is intensely imagined and an experience that is real. The brain will always choose what is familiar over what is unfamiliar, which becomes such an amazing way to think about the point of practicing, that you make another kind of presence, another kind of being in the world, familiar to your own body, to your own mind. And this is what people don’t appreciate - the power of their intention to change everything.”

“And it was this understanding that deep emotions are expressed in the heart, and that there is this, if you will, mind-heart connection that’s extraordinarily powerful. And we now know through anatomy and a variety of studies that there’s immense amount of neural innovation that comes from the brain, the brain stem into the heart. And it’s a two-way street, and they can have powerful effects on each other.” Dr. Doty

The take away for me from all of this amazing science is the importance of training our brains with the same dedication, commitment and consistency as we do our bodies. Analogous to learning a sport like tennis, it's not an all or nothing game. It's not a weekend warrior approach. It's incremental steps, daily and purposeful practice sessions, and occasional peaks and valleys. It's a skill we must learn and develop, each of us at our own pace. And just like playing in a tournament match, our performance in life will be determined by our practice. The why, the what, and the how, we practice.  It's our choice. It's our responsibility. It's our life. It's our muscle! 

Time to exercise!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My Actual First Published Blog Post! Gently...

Ok. Here we go. This is the third time that I started this blog. Meaning - I’ve written two previous entries that were to be the first blog, but guess what? They didn’t make it to press.

The first was about how I wanted to start a blog, but not from a place of wanting acceptance or approval from others. I didn’t want to write for the purpose of boosting my ego, or pretending to be an expert, or in order to say, “Hey, I’m a writer!” And so my first entry (non-entry that is) was about struggling with this feeling, and how I would attempt to create a blog that would simply share what I was learning in my quest for well-being. My desire to be a better father, husband, friend - human being.

The second blog, was a reflection of my decades of personal growth and change - the significance of each decade I thought of in this way.
“My teens were all about me, about having fun, experimenting and yes, rebelling. My twenties continued to be self-focused and but included learning, developing independence and figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. My thirties were about applying what I had learned in my 20’s - getting serious, working hard, taking on responsibilities outside of just myself, and accumulating. And my forties have shifted back to me again, but in a different way, an inside-out sort of way, with the ultimate goal of how I will optimally contribute to my family, my community and my world.”

And so here I am, right now, in the midst of my third attempt. And as I write this, I smile and gently laugh at myself. Will this entry actually make it into the world of the internet?

Either way, it won’t matter. Because today, I decided to treat myself gently. This is what I wrote this morning. I titled it TEST.

A throw up test. Bubba, my 90 pound labradoodle tossed his breakfast all over the only rug we have in our house. The new rug. The new rug. How long does it stay referenced as new?

When does it make the transition from new to no longer new? To used. To old. To worn out?

What stage of life am I in right now? No longer new - that's for sure. That middle stage. Between new and old. Middle-aged. No way. That sounds awful. How about Gently-Used?

I love that phrase gently-used. A category on Craigslist to describe my 8 year old sofa I am trying to sell? What a wonderful description!

Gently used. Meaning it's been taken care of. Used with care. Kindly. Could I describe myself as gently-used? Do I treat myself gently?

A new goal for me. That’s how I want to treat myself. Gently used. That's how when I realize I'm out of Balance, I want to gently shift myself back into balance. Instead of judging myself harshly, or giving myself self-criticism, instead, I’d like to gently notice my internal dialogue and all my old stories, and then gently refocus my energy on what matters most to me. Gently take a step in a different direction. Gently sit still. Gently go for a run. Gently take a breath. Gently ask my daughter to start her homework.

Gently make this blog entry my actual first published blog post…

Thank you Bubba for the lesson today. I really appreciate you and our gently used rug!