Tag Archives: mental health

I completed Yale’s “Science of Well-Being” course. Here’s what I learned:

About a month ago, Yale University offered a free online six week course open to the public that studies factors in happiness. As a mental health practitioner, this course taught by professor Laurie Santos was a boon not only to myself and my colleagues, but also helps in approaching people who have psychiatric symptoms in finding outside the box solutions for combating anxiety and depression.

Misconceptions about what make us happy. As she addressed the Yale freshmen class, Professor Santos asked what kind of job would make them happy. Most said that a high paying job would make them happiest. She dispelled this misconception with the statistic that after a household has an annual income of about $75,000, there is no more increase of happiness related to income. Albeit many out there may be far from attaining this figure, it shows that after a certain point money does not equate to happiness.

Also, for those who want what Santos calls “awesome stuff” like a new sports car or house, research shows that while people have a spike in happiness after acquiring these, shortly they return to their baseline level of happiness. That is because of hedonic adaptation, or getting used to something you are happy about. To counter the effect of hedonic adaptation, Santos suggest we need to seek experiences, rather than things, as experiences are terminating, so we never get “used” to being on vacation, or going to a special restaurant, or special yoga event.

There is overwhelming evidence that social media makes us unhappy. Citing numerous studies, Santos delineates that social comparison is a destroyer of self esteem. Often times on Facebook we see our friends and relatives on some exotic vacation or landing some great high paying job. Even though we may have just taken our own vacation, or are happy with our current job, this makes us compare. Even if you perceive your vacation or jobs as better, it still creates disconnection. There is a famous study about olympic medal winners where the gold medalist is the happiest about their achievement, the bronze medalist is almost as happy as the gold medalist, but the silver medalist is much less happy than the other two. This is a result of social comparison.

Kindness, gratitude, and social connection pay huge dividends. One of the studies that stuck out in my mind is a researcher gave someone either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or someone else if they agreed to follow up with how happy the purchase made them. A large majority just bought themselves a Starbucks and didn’t have much fluctuation in their happiness. However, those who spent the money on others bumped up their feeling of well being by a large percentage. The study was replicated in an underdeveloped country where both of those amounts of money are worth far more. Same results happened which suggests that giving has the same effect cross culturally. People who are socially connected and feel gratitude are also far less susceptible to premature death and psychiatric symptoms.

Meditation works. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as: yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ” or yoga is the cessation of fluctuation of the consciousness. As it turns out, science backs the fact that a wandering mind is a unhappy mind. Professor Santos points out that humans have  the unique ability to think about the future and the past, but thinking too much about the future and the past shows that it makes us less happy according to studies. She cited numerous studies that show that mindful activity helps to offset mind wandering even after the subject was completed with the meditation exercise.

Set yourself up for success. Lastly, Santos taught that people who are trying to achieve a goal should visual attaining the goal and having realistic expectations that if he they don’t meet the goal, then have a secondary plan. She cited a study where people who wanted to lose weight had much more success if they put fruit on the table instead of cookies. Having cereal on the table correlated to the worst outcome as far as weight loss. This show that if we adapt our environment to our goals, they become easier to achieve according to to study.

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Some very simple coping and mental wellness tips

Hi all! In the wake of horrific national and world events of late, I’d thought could share some wisdom from my years of a mental health professional. These are a few tips that have helped me cope and my clients cope with ill feelings. Some work better than others depending on the person.

One: remember nothing is permanent. This is a staple of Buddhist teaching, but applies just as well to everyone. No matter how bad things are, they will change. The flip side of course is that if things are going well they will change too. The important lesson is to not be too attached to whether things are good or bad and just see them for what they are.

Two: statistical regression toward the mean. Sounds like a crazy geeked out math concept, but in reality things cannot be extreme for very long. The tendency is for nature to regress toward the middle or towards stasis. If things are extremely bad, the tendency is for them to go back towards the center. Again if things are extremely good, the same thing will happen. The “SI (Sports Illustrated) curse” is a good example. If someone is on the cover of SI, then tend to fall from grace as one cannot maintain extreme greatness for an extended period of time according to statistics.

Three: do what needs to be done. Even during extreme grieving, people can still do dishes, take out trash, feed pets. It isn’t as easy as when things are good, but doing what needs to be done can distract us from our ill feelings and still give use a sense of order in our chaotic lives.

Four: lower your expectations. Say like you get some bad news like a medical diagnosis, or lost friendship. Give yourself permission to not be your “best” while you are grieving, going through treatments, or taking care of grim business. By not trying to meet some high standard, you can allow yourself to be human and heal.

Five: take a media fast. When I read that special interests are using Facebook to divide the fabric of our culture, I take that as a clue that this is a toxic medium. In behavioral psychology, the most powerful behavioral schedule is the “intermittent behavioral schedule.” Examples are a slot machine and of course, seeing who “liked” your post on Facebook. It is a highly addictive medium. Studies are showing you have a decreased self esteem the more time you spend on Facebook and other social media. See if you can survive a day without Facebook and you will see what I mean. Try to limit your Facebooking to special interests instead of seeking controversy. Or get rid of it all together.

Lastly: say no. Saying no is perhaps the hardest thing to do for people as we want to please everyone. Saying no to things you don’t want to do frees up a lot of psychic energy. Saying no allows others to plan accordingly as you have given them a direct response.

Bonus: do the obvious. Take the day off. Get the pedicure. See the movie. Cancel the stressful plans. Spend 99% less time on Facebook and social media. And of course, practice your yoga!

Hope this helps some of you.

 

Anything worth attaining takes patience

I have to admit I’ve been in a bit of a rut of late. After the election, the holidays, and the daily press after the inauguration, I have lost quite a bit of my inspiration. My yoga class this morning made me feel like my teaching has gone to pot, but I am wise enough to know that my critical voice is sometime irrationally loud.

After an unusual hot spell in Hawai’i, followed by a strong windy weekend, many plants in my garden were damaged, and birds ate a good number of my snap peas which were just about to ripen.

In mental health counseling, people who get in bad emotional shape tend to have several stressful events in a short period of time and somehow lump all of these events as coming from the same source. Like it is some kind of fate they had these things happen to them. I caught myself having this kind of thinking and am wrestling my way out of it.

Today I did a few positive things to set me in another direction. After the “bad teaching” yoga class, I gave myself a few minutes in a restorative pose to lengthen my spine which is something I haven’t done for a while. Afterwards, I came home and spent some time in my garden. I felt the soil and it was dry and sandy. The garden in its own way told me what it needed. When the day cooled off I gave it a good watering and pruned a few of the damaged parts of my snap pea plants that were ravaged by those horrible birds.

I realized that I will not have a bountiful harvest after just a few months of gardening with no prior experience, but also saw that it is a process which will encompass many years. Just as I have been teaching yoga for many years and still have a long way to go to have any sense of mastery. This is the way of all things in life that are worth attaining. You may never attain them, but the process is satisfyingly challenging.

Featured image Buddha with a mango

Confronting November blues

I have to admit that November has been a horribly depressing month. The election, my mom moving back to New Mexico from Hawai’i, and the passing of my Grandmother are all events that have checkered me in recent days. I think I am still in the shock/denial stage. As a mental health counselor, I recognize that these events need high level coping skills and interventions if I’m going to stay on the unlocked side of the psychiatric facility where I do assessments weekly.

A few coping skills that have helped me tremendously are my yoga practice, gardening, talking to my wife, and utilizing my colleagues who are also mental health professionals and are generous with their listening skills.

I light of these recent events, I have to admit that my yoga practice has been lackluster of late. For me that means asana practice every other day or so. After subbing last month intensively, I was wiped out. Most of my practice lately has consisted of supported postures. Normally, I like to experiment, but now I am just going back to what feels normalizing.

I have also started a garden as seen in my previous post. I was a bit pessimistic as I have not had success in growing things in the past. My wife and I tried growing upside down tomatoes a few years back and put too much calcium in the soil only to grow a tomato as hard as a rock. But lately as I have been spending time in it, I am noticing tremendous success. Things are spouting everywhere. I can spend an hour in my garden just in awe of the new life.

Today I had my first teacher training in a few months as my teachers have been away. I was extremely nervous about the training because of my aforementioned backsliding in practice. Today we went over the fine details of Pincha Mayurasana, or peacock feather pose. My teachers Ray and Shelley emphasized the importance of the base by rolling the forearms in and lifting the biceps to resist the back going toward the wall for prep. My teachers gave me a good feeling about my teaching abilities and I was able to execute the pose well.

Ironically, all the squatting and forward bending I have been doing in my garden has also given me a “secondary” yoga practice outside my field of awareness. Shelley gave instructions for Malasana which has always been my nemesis pose due to my inability for me to get my heels on the ground. Today the pose was still difficult, but I can feel more ease due to my constant squatting in my garden. It’s funny how yoga works its way into your life even when It’s not in your life. Hopefully, I make it through this month and not lose my sense of humor. Once that goes, forget it!

 

Did anything good happen this week on Earth?

While it was a veritable s***storm here on Earth with news I don’t even want to mention, another event happened millions of miles away.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is has awakened after a long slumber of space travel and starting turning its sensors on to give us more information about Jupiter.

Juno’s nine science instruments were off when the probe entered orbit around the solar system’s largest planet Monday, to reduce complications during that night’s make-or-break orbit-insertion engine burn.

The mission team powered up five of those instruments Wednesday and plans to turn on the other four before the end of the month, NASA officials said. So Juno should be ready to gather some science data when Juno makes its next close pass by the huge planet on Aug. 27. The probe is currently in a 53-day orbit around Jupiter.

The Juno mission launched in August 2011 to help better understand Jupiter’s magnetic and gravitational fields, composition and interior structure — in particular, whether the huge planet harbors a core of heavy elements. It may also provide clues on how our solar system was formed.

On a somewhat related note, a colleague of mine was experiencing stress from one of her clients. We both work at a mental health agency. I shared this video with her to show how small we are relative to the universe. I hope this helps you put things into perspective…especially when now it seems that the world is crumbling below our very feet.

 

 

Forward bends calm the mind

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“Yoga ceases the fluctuations of the consciousness,” says the the second sutra in the first chapter from Patanjali. That could  not have been a more appropriate sutra for this week. It was officially the first “work week” of the year and already there are many crises on my caseload. There are also worldwide crises with the Paris bombings. The world needs yoga more now than ever before. How can we have a peaceful world if we are not peaceful within ourselves?

I was fortunate enough to take a lunch hour to devote to forward bends (paschima pratana sthiti). For many years, I was taught that forward bends have a “calming effect” on the nervous system. I was so stiff at the time that I thought the teacher was nuts. “How can my screaming hamstrings have any calming effect?!” I would say to myself.

Seasons change for one’s practice, and the more one practices, the faster that season changes. I can now say my forward bends bring me a substantial calmness internally. Even with my tight hips and groins, poses like Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana are coming better. My mentoring teachers and peers have been working on this pose and using me as a demo student. I’ve notice it is making a difference in loosening my hips and groins.

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And there is nothing like a passive forward bend like hanging from the horse in an inverted Dandasana to elongate the spine and loosen tight shoulders.

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So much in the Yoga world now is about profit, jumping around to loud music, and wearing the latest fashion. Let this be a reminder that Yoga is not about any of that. It is about stopping your mind chatter so you can see yourself more clearly. Then you can be the change the world needs right now.

Have a great weekend!