Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Is The Master at Home?

Is The Master at Home?

My teacher, Tom Baeli, told me that the question, “Is the master at home?” was asked in reference to whether the practitioner being addressed was in command of their chi.

As I understood this, it acknowledges that some days are better than others in how we feel in our practice. There are days we do our chi kung or form and they feel clunky and others where things couldn’t be better. Those days where they seem to flow are the days the master is home.

I look at the opening of the form, the “begin tai chi” movement as being a barometer of the day. Just the simple act of placing the feet, sinking, raising and lowering the arms with the breathing is telling. I’ve had days where I didn’t think I could find my behind with both hands. It felt “off”. What to do?

Sometimes I didn’t think forcing it was the way to go, so I left it for the next day. Others, I made myself do it until I smoothed it out, often taking two or three repetitions to get it feeling right. I relate this feeling as being similar to a barometer because it’s a measure of the day and provides a trigger to consider what to do about it. I have to ask myself why I think it’s not quite right today. Something I ate? Work or family pressure? Lack of sleep, or maybe even too much? The list can go on. It has given me the opportunity to be more conscious of what I do, how I eat or sleep.

Did I have too much sweet stuff or drink an extra cup of coffee? If I moderate that next time and catalog the result I learn a bit more about myself and how this changes as I age. I think it’s good information. Then I can make that decision as to whether I should push it or not.

Some will tell you to force it, do it until it is smooth. This develops discipline, they say. Others will tell you to let it go until later. A story to reinforce the point. An Olympic judo coach was lecturing his team hopefuls. He told them that some days he’d get up and not feel like working out. He asked them what they thought he did. “You did it anyway!” Another said “You forced yourself, even though you didn’t want to” and others made similar statements. “No” he said, “I went back to reading the paper, but I made sure I got back to it the next day.” That too takes discipline. But it also takes a self-knowledge. It’s easy to start down the slippery slope of letting it go and days become weeks which turn into months. It’s harder to come back than it was to get there in the first place.

Until next time,


Monday, January 6, 2014

Daily Exercise

Daily exercise lessens many of the harmful physiological effects of short-term overeating and inactivity, shows a new study [published 15 December] in The Journal of Physiology, which is well timed with the Christmas holiday approaching.
Earlier studies have found that even a few days of energy surplus – where you consume more calories than you burn – brings detrimental health impacts. This new study shows that a daily bout of exercise generates vast physiological benefits even when you consume thousands of calories more than you are burning. Exercise clearly does a lot more than simply reduce the energy surplus.
James Betts, one of the researchers from The University of Bath, says: "This new research shows that the picture is more sophisticated than 'energy' alone: exercise has positive effects even when we are actively storing energy and gaining weight."
After just one week of overeating, people being monitored showed poor blood sugar control and their fat cells were expressing genes that lead to unhealthy metabolic changes and disrupted nutritional balance. However, these negative effects were markedly less in those who were exercising.
Jean-Philippe Walhin, a researcher on the study, says: "Our research demonstrates that a short period of overconsumption and reduced physical activity leads to very profound negative changes in a variety of physiological systems – but that a daily bout of exercise stops most of these negative changes from taking place."
In the study, 26 healthy young men were asked to be generally inactive in their daily activities. Half of the group then exercised daily on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Everyone was asked to overeat: the non-exercising group increased their caloric intake by 50 per cent, whilst the exercising group increased by 75 per cent, so everyone's net daily energy surplus was the same.
Dr Dylan Thompson, senior author on the paper, says: "A critical feature of our experiment is that we matched the energy surplus between groups – so the exercise group consumed even more energy and were still better off at the end of the week."
After one week, the groups had blood insulin measurements and biopsies of fat tissue taken, with striking results. The non-exercising group showed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and their fat cells were overexpressing genes linked to unhealthy metabolic changes and were under-expressing genes involved in well-functioning metabolism. However, the exercising group had stable blood sugar levels and their fat cells showed less 'undesirable' genetic expression.
Jean-Philippe Walhin, a researcher on the study, says, "Short-term overfeeding and reduced physical activity had a dramatic impact on the overall metabolic health of the participants and on various key genes within fat tissue – and exercise prevented these negative changes even though energy was still being stored."
Dr Dylan Thompson says: "If you are facing a period of overconsumption and inactivity, which is probably quite common around Christmas time, then our study shows that a daily bout of exercise will prevent many of the negative changes from taking place even though you are gaining weight."
The effects are obvious, but the underlying causes will need further study to be determined. The findings are likely to apply to other groups, like older adults and women, and perhaps to lesser amounts of training.

Source: Wiley

Falls in Elderly

Clinical Anesthesiology 

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Falls a Rising Trend in Trauma-Related Fatalities

by Christina Frangou

Trauma centers in the United States are experiencing a major shift in the most common causes of trauma-related fatalities—changes that may necessitate new strategies for trauma prevention and treatment, according to experts.
A new study showed that, if current trends continue, falls would soon account for more deaths than either motor vehicle collisions or firearms.
“This fact poses an interesting public health challenge, namely, preventing falls in the elderly,” said Christopher C. Baker, MD, chair of surgery at the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va. He was the official discussant of the paper when it was presented at the opening session of the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST).
The study showed that since 2002, deaths due to motor vehicle collisions have declined by 27% due to improvements in car safety, public awareness and medical care. But that drop has been offset by a marked increase in fatalities related to falls, the rate of which rose by 46% over an eight-year period.
“It’s clear that the mix of injuries that are currently being seen are substantially different than 10 years ago,” said primary investigator Kristan L. Staudenmayer, MD, MS, assistant professor of surgery in trauma and critical care at Stanford University, in Stanford, Calif.
Total trauma-related mortality decreased by 6% between the years 2002 and 2010 (P<0.01). The drop occurred despite an increase in the number of miles driven by Americans and a 10% increase in the number of firearm injuries.
In 2002, motor vehicle collisions caused about 16 deaths per 100,000 people living in the United States. In the same year, falls caused only about six deaths per 100,000 people. But by 2010, the picture changed markedly. Falls caused almost nine deaths per 100,000 people, whereas motor vehicle deaths had fallen to 12 per 100,000.
Deaths from firearms stayed relatively stable between 2002 and 2010 at 10 per 100,000. Firearm injuries were seen more frequently in hospitals, increasing from a reported 31 to 34 per 100,000 people.
Dr. Staudenmayer said the changing demographics of patients need to be taken into account when apportioning future trauma resources and creating prevention strategies.
“The big challenge is that we are going to be dealing with patients who are more frail and have more comorbidities. That’s going to mean that we have to provide not just surgical care, but increasingly more medical care to these patients,” Dr. Staudenmayer said.
This study was the first analysis of national trauma trends using these multiple data sources and the first analysis of its kind that depicted what trauma surgeons are seeing in their emergency rooms, according to the authors.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More on Meditation

Study Reveals Gene Expression Changes with Meditation
Released: 12/6/2013 4:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Newswise — MADISON - With evidence growing that meditation can have beneficial health effects, scientists have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body.
A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation.
The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice," says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs," says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.
The study was published in the journalPsychoneuroendocrinology.
Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.
The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What's more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.
Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.
 The key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities - an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.
Previous studies in rodents and in people have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise within just a few hours.
"Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression," Davidson says.
"The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions," Kaliman says. "Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mindfullness, Cortisol and Stress

PTSD: Mindfulness Exercises Improve Symptoms, Cortisol Level

Norra MacReady
May 31, 2013

    Mindfulness-based stretching and deep breathing exercises (MBX) may elicit symptom relief in intensive care unit nurses with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study shows.
PTSD is associated with disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, Sang Hwan Kim, PhD, and colleagues write in an article published online May 29 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. This change, characterized in part by abnormally low levels of cortisol, "is one of the distinct neuroendocrine profiles that differentiates PTSD from other mental illnesses," they write. Citing a study showing a high level of PTSD among intensive care unit nurses, because of the stressful and often traumatic nature of their work, the authors investigated the effect of low- to moderate-intensity exercise on regulation of basal cortisol levels in this population. They included a mindfulness component to help with cognitive function and emotional regulation.
The participants were recruited through advertisements at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. At baseline, each volunteer completed the PTSD Checklist-Civilian version (PCL-C), in which they rated 17 symptoms on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely). Participants scoring at least 28 in total or at least 3 on 1 or more individual items were considered positive for PTSD and randomly assigned to either the MBX or the control group.
The 8-week MBX intervention consisted of twice-weekly hour-long sessions that included stretching and balancing movements combined with breathing and a focus on mindfulness. The authors describe mindfulness as "a quality of consciousness that is associated with control of attention and awareness promoting a direct awareness of bodily movement, sensations, and surroundings, thus often inducing positive psychological and behavioral responses." There was no specific intervention for the control group.
Of 29 nurses who met the inclusion criteria, 22 had PTSD and were assigned to either the MBX or the control group. Seven volunteers without PTSD were placed in a healthy group (BASE) to provide comparison data for cortisol levels. The researchers measured serum cortisol in all 3 groups at baseline and at weeks 4 and 8 of the study. For the MBX group, they also measured it at week 16. PTSD symptoms also were assessed at baseline and at weeks 4, 8, and 16.
Twenty-eight women and 1 man enrolled in the study, with 11 participants each in the MBX and CON groups and 7 in the BASE group. One participant in the control group dropped out because of family issues.
At baseline, the mean PCL-C score in the MBX group was 43.1 (standard deviation [SD], 11.2); it was 42.6 (SD, 12.7) in the control group. The BASE group had a mean PCL-C score of 21.8 (SD, 3.4). At 8 weeks, the mean PCL-C score in the MBX group was 24.3 (SD, 3.3), for a difference of 18.8 points (95% confidence interval [CI], 11.7 - 25.9), or a 44% decrease. In the control group, the mean 8-week PCL-C score was 41.0 (SD, 16.3), for a decrease of 1.6 points (95% CI, −6.3 to 9.5), or 3.8%. The mean changes between the groups were statistically significant (P = .01).
Mean cortisol in the MBX group was 9.6 µg/dL at baseline (SD, 4.1) and 14.6 µg/dL (SD, 5.7) at 8 weeks, for an increase of 5.1 µg/dL (95% CI, 2.0 - 8.1 µg/dL). In the control group, mean cortisol at baseline was 12.9 µm/dL (SD, 6.9); it was 13.8 µg/dL (SD, 5.7) at 8 weeks, for an increase of 0.8 µm/dL (95% CI, −2.2 - 3.8 µg/dL; P = .01 for mean changes between the groups).
The researchers found that every unit increase in cortisol was associated with a mean decrease in PCL-C score of 0.75 points, "demonstrating that as PTSD symptoms improved cortisol levels normalized." The changes in the MBX group persisted at week 16.
"During the eight-week program, some participants reported that they experienced improved sleep, stress resilience, energy levels, and emotional regulation under stress, and a resumption of pleasurable activities which they had previously discontinued. At the end of the intervention, over half of the participants expressed a desire to continue," the authors write.
Study limitations include the small number of participants and a paucity of male participants, which might limit generalizability. Nonetheless, the authors conclude, "[c]onsidering that early intervention is critical in ameliorating the development of PTSD and that PTSD symptoms are strongly correlated with the degree of distress immediately following trauma, mind-body interventions such as MBX may provide an effective non-pharmacological treatment for individuals with PTSD symptoms."
The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. Published online May 29, 2013. Abstract



By Lee Wedlake

The term “pouring” is a popular one used in describing how one transfers weight from one leg to the other when doing tai chi. I feel it’s a good one for getting the mental picture of just how that transfer occurs.

“Shifting” is ok but just does not quite illustrate how we want the change to occur. The word pouring describes a controlled moving of a fluid from one vessel to another. This bars our notions of pouring down rain or emotions verbally pouring forth since they impart the idea of an uncontrolled event. Using the thought of pouring water from a pitcher to a glass is much better.

We don’t dump the weight from one leg to the other, an equivalent of splashing. One who plods or stomps along is splashing their weight. The tai chi practitioner carefully, mindfully moves weight from one leg to the other in a slow, controlled manner. We know what it is like when a clumsy person attempts to fill a glass; missing, splashing or over-filling it. It’s not the picture of what we want to do when we step.

If we think of chi as a fluid, pouring is the perfect fit. As we move from posture to posture in our slow, controlled way, we transfer that fluid from one place to another without missing (not the right weight moving), splashing (stomping) or overflowing (too much going everywhere). Our goal is the perfect pour every time.

This takes time and thoughtful practice. One goal is developing the discipline to do this since it’s not prone to immediate and consistent results. In the long term we want the ability to unconsciously place the weight where we need it so that when our step is disturbed by catching a toe or an unstable or slick surface, our practice allows us to compensate in a flash. It’s the basis behind using tai chi for fall prevention.

Pouring, as a term, is a nice tool in getting our mind and body to work together in this process since it produces a valuable visual to work with. I’ve written of it in the context of shifting weight but the idea works with the whole body. Since the legs are the base for the rest of the body it stands to reason our focus will be there, particularly for beginners.

I believe we should do this with conscious efforts, the aforementioned mindfulness, to get the feel of how it works. As we progress we’ll make it more subconscious and be able to sense the movement of chi and later be able to direct it, should be we desire.

Until next time,


Thursday, July 25, 2013

More on Meditation from Harvard University

Meditation’s Effects on Emotion Shown to Persist

By  Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on June 23, 2013
Meditation's Effects on Emotion Shown to PersistMeditation affects a person’s brain function long after the act of meditation is over, according to new research.
“This is the first time meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.
“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.”
The researchers began the study with the hypothesis that meditation can help control emotional responses.
During meditation, a part of the brain called the amygdala (known for the processing of emotional stimuli) showed decreased activity. However, when the participants were shown images of other people that were either good, bad, or neutral for a practice known as “compassion meditation,” the amygdala was exceptionally responsive.
The subjects were able to focus their attention and greatly reduce their emotional reactions. And over an eight-week period, the participants retained this ability.
Even when they were not engaged in a meditative state, their emotional responses were subdued, and they experienced more compassion for others when faced with disturbing images.
Around the same time, another group at Harvard Medical School (HMS) began to study the effect of meditation on retaining information. Their hypothesis was that people who meditate have more control over alpha rhythm — a brain wave thought to screen out everyday distractions, allowing for more important information to be processed.
“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” said Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center, both at HMS.
“Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”
Both studies used participants that had no previous experience with meditation.
Over an eight-week period and a 12-week period, both groups showed a marked change in their daily normal brain function, while they were meditating and while they were involved in medial activities.
Some researchers believe that meditation might be the key to help ease off dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.
“The implications extend far beyond meditation,” said Kerr.
“They give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is deregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.”
Source:  Harvard University