Effects of Mindfulness Therapy, Pharmacologic Prophylaxis on Catecholamine Levels in Migraine

Mindfulness-based practices and treatment programs may be associated with similar changes in plasma levels of catecholamines compared with pharmacologic prophylaxis in patients with migraine and medication overuse headache, according to a study published in Cephalalgia.

Adult patients with a ≥10-year history of chronic migraine and headache and triptans or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug overuse for ≥5 years were recruited. Following a 5-day structured withdrawal program consisting of intravenous steroids and ademetionine, patients underwent 6 weekly 45-minute mindfulness-based therapy sessions (n=14) or pharmacologic prophylaxis (n=15). Follow-up occurred at 6 and 12 months. Headache frequency and medication intake were recorded in daily headache diaries and catecholamine (noradrenaline, epinephrine and dopamine) levels and elusive amines were assayed in poor platelet plasma.

Headache frequency was reduced in patients who had received pharmacologic prophylaxis (42% reduction at 6 months and 51% reduction at 12 months; P <.001) and in patients who had attended mindfulness training (33% reduction at 6 months and 21% reduction at 12 months). Medication intake was also reduced in both groups at 6- and 12-month follow-up (pharmacologic prophylaxis: 36% and 49%, respectively; P <.001; mindfulness: 40% and 31%, respectively). 

For both outcomes, improvement levels were comparable between groups at both follow-ups. In addition, at 6 months and 12 months there were significant increases in levels of noradrenaline (pharmacologic prophylaxis: 43% and 63%, respectively; mindfulness: 35% and 25%, respectively; P <.001 for all) and epinephrine (pharmacologic prophylaxis:  63% and 121%, respectively; mindfulness: 42% and 81%, respectively; P <.001). Observed changes were comparable in patients who had received pharmacologic prophylaxis vs mindfulness therapy. Levels of elusive amines were unchanged at both follow-ups and comparable in both groups.

The small and selective sample size and the non-randomized design represent the most important limitations of the analysis.

“Our results reinforce the hypothesis of a major role of tyrosine metabolism alterations in migraine and in its chronification process and shed light on the possible biological mechanisms of action of pharmacological prophylaxis as well as of behavioral approaches,” the researchers concluded.

Reference

Study participants initially underwent a 5-day structured withdrawal program consisting of intravenous steroids and ademetionine.

My Favorite Books About Mindfulness – The Offbeat Adventuress

Hello world! First of all, I just wanted to say that I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the strong response my last blog post received. It is humbling to know how many people out there can relate to me in all of my Steve-Urkel Drama-Queen-Angst-O-Rama glory. Anxiety has a way of making one feel isolated, alone, freakish. Let this be a reminder to you that this is not the case, you are not shouting into the void. There are so many other humans out there who have walked those same paths and can connect to what you are going through. So big, giant virtual hugs to all my readers out there, whether you’re new or you’ve been around for a while, I am so very glad that you’re on this journey with me.

In the spirit of spreading the love, I’d like to share some resources with y’all. If you’ve been reading for a while you know that mindfulness is a center point in my life. It isn’t simply a tool for relaxation for me (although that’s great), it’s  mindset, a lens through which to view this human adventure, and a beacon for navigating all of life’s winding roads. I am by no means a master practitioner, in fact, I’m constantly falling off the mindfulness wagon and recommitting myself. To me, even that falling off is an essential part of the process. I have had so many wonderful teachers and experiences along the way, but what happens when you move away from that great teacher or community, or simply want to extend your learning? I hit the books. Here they are, gentle readers, three of my favorite books on the subject. Maybe you’ll dig them as much as I do…

The Rebel Buddha, by Dzochen Ponlop 

Ah, Buddha, the ultimate punk rocker! Modern life can feel anything but Zen at times and a lot of traditional Buddhist advice doesn’t always feel genuine beyond the Ashram doors. This is a relatable guide to Buddhist teachings that will help you unlock the rebellious act of simply being and set your inner rebel Buddha free!

The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka

This is a practical and down to earth guide to simplifying your life both inside and out. It’s a great example of applying Buddhist principals to the modern lives we live. I did a deep read of this at a period when I was releasing a lot of physical and psychic clutter I no longer needed from my life, and it really helped. Now that it’s been almost two years since I’ve turned a new page on the next chapter of my life, I feel like I’ve accumulated some new gunk and I’d be well served to give it another read…

Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson, P.hD

This book isn’t directly about mindfulness, but it has probably had the biggest effect on how I live my everyday life of the three, and the ideas about neuroplasticity are fascinating. The whole idea is about creating deeper contentment by nurturing the positive feelings of connection, love and value in your life as you experience them. It has changed the way I interact with other people and the world for the better. When you practice these techniques along with regular meditation, your entire outlook on life will change for the better. Heck, even when I’m not meditating regularly, I use these principals and notice a difference in what I’m putting out and receiving from the world around me.

So what about you? What are your favorite books about mindfulness? 

25 Mindfulness Quotes that will change your life – Live Love Laugh

Mindful means being conscious or aware of everything that is going on in and around you. It’s about cultivating awareness and appreciation of present experience. It is the ability to connect with your inner self and meditation is the best technique to do so. we all have heard about the benefits of practicing meditation. 

In modern days we all running behind something all the time and our physical and mental health are at stake. paying attention to mental health is vital. You need to sit on your own butt and meditate for your own betterment, it’s as simple as that.

Here are some Mindful Quotes that will change your life:

1.“When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” –Lao Tzu

2. “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” -Sylvia Boorstein

3. “In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” -Eckhart Tolle

4. “Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are.” -Allan Lokos

5. “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

6. “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray

 7. “In the end, just three things matter: How well we have lived. How well we have loved. How well we have learned to let go” -Jack Kornfield

8. “Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.” -Raji Lukkoor

 9. “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”                  -Buddha

 10. “If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” -Rabbi Harold Kushner

11.  “There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have…. But, right now you have everything you need to be in bliss.” -Anthony de Mello

12. “Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts. No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts.” -Buddha

13. “The basic root of happiness lies in our minds; outer circumstances are nothing more than adverse or favorable.” -Matthieu Ricard

 14. “Knowledge does not mean mastering a great quantity of different information, but understanding the nature of mind. This knowledge can penetrate each one of our thoughts and illuminate each one of our perceptions.” -Matthieu Ricard

15.  “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

16. “To diminish the suffering of pain, we need to make a crucial distinction between the pain of pain, and the pain we create by our thoughts about the pain. Fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness are all mental and emotional responses that can intensify pain.” -Howard Cutler

17. “Envy and jealousy stem from the fundamental inability to rejoice at someone else’s happiness or success.” -Matthieu Ricard

18. “Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh.

19. “When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield

20. “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.” – Jack Kornfield

21. “The way to live in the present is to remember that ‘This too shall pass.’ When you experience joy, remembering that ‘This too shall pass’ helps you savor the here and now. When you experience pain and sorrow, remembering that ‘This too shall pass’ reminds you that grief, like joy, is only temporary.”
– Joey Green

22. “Concentration is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Your mindfulness will only be as robust as the capacity of your mind to be calm and stable. Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn

23. “The basic root of happiness lies in our minds; outer circumstances are nothing more than adverse or favorable.”
– Matthieu Ricard

24.“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”
– Rabbi Harold Kushner

25. “Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn

For now, signing off until next post. please motivate me by giving your feedback as the comment and also share your views. Please don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment and share with your loved ones.

Thanks for reading | Stay happy, stay healthy. Take care!

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5MF – A Secret From a Pro on How to Increase Mindfulness…

Are you frantic at the moment?  Is your mind racing as it is the end of the week, and you are sliding into Friday morning realizing you have so much left to get done at work – let alone all the other plans that are set to happen this weekend?

We can all use a little peace and focus in our lives, many times – even a small taste would be better than the sour flavor of frantic and erratic squirrel chasing.

A few times this week, I found myself discussing mindfulness and discussing being centered – at one point it was as part of a working session.  It was during this session that whatever stress I had was likely nothing compared to some of the others in the room.  A number of us were asked to take a ‘stress test’ where we scored ourselves.

I got a 14 which I was told was a slightly moderate score, anything from 10 and lower was considered lower…others in the room scored 30, someone in the 40’s, and then another person maxed out at 90.  I think they were quite concerned about that person, as they grabbed her after the working session.  Anyway, back to the professional at the front of the room…

The professional in the front of the room admitted that they do a mindfulness exercise each day as they pull into their job – which happens to be a very stressful one at a hospital here in the DFW metroplex.  I was shocked at the honest transparency, and I sat up on the edge of my seat waiting to hear of ‘the secret’ they were using.

This medical professional has a demanding job that is draining on multiple levels, and I have come to learn that many that treat sick people are doing God’s work without any expectation of even a thank you.  The folks I know the best in this field are doing it for far deeper reasons that I still try to understand.  Working with sick folks in the ER or other settings – spanning all ages.  Damn, that is stress.

[Yet, incredibly rewarding – as they know their daily actions are congruent with their life’s calling.  Can you say the same?]

So ‘the secret’ that was shared with me was this:

‘After my drive in, I slowly put the car in park.  I then turn the car off.  I turn my phone off.  And then I do 10 deep belly breaths.  This takes me about three minutes most days.  Then I slowly open my eyes, and I’m ready to hit the elevator.’


A couple of years ago, I likely would have reacted with a WHAT??!?  THAT’S IT??!?!

Not this week.  My reaction was a very wide smile as I sat alongside someone in my life that is very precious to me.

Your breath is a central and magnetic force in your life that you likely take for granted, and many times only notice when you are overwhelmed or taxed out for a variety of reasons.

This is 10 breath technique is one that has enabled me to plow through so many challenges spanning multiple zones of my life.  I strongly suggest you play with this one over the weekend.  You can do it anywhere, and likely in any situation where you feel the stress or anxiousness rising.  As you master this technique, it may eventually become an involuntary habit that kicks in when you start to rise on the stress scale.

If you reach this point, you will come to understand that the self awareness you possess will have grown as well.

Your breath and being centered – they are linked and central to regaining the power of the moment.

If you think 10 breaths is too much, start with 3 good ones.  Even three breaths will help you.

If you are at the gym, do you take any deep breaths before a big set?  I can tell you on my heaviest sets on my heaviest days, there is definitely a deep breathing routine I have to power myself up.

If you ever see me before a big/priority meeting at work, you will see me charging up with my breath.

To have a medical professional remind me earlier this week that they even do this – well it was a very gratifying reminder that many times the most effective things are the seemingly simplest ones.  Not always the easiest, but the simplest ones.

You could have done 10 deep breaths while reading this post or many others on this site, and I guarantee you will physically, energetically, and likely emotionally be in a changed state compared to when you started breathing.

Give it a shot, and let me know if this ‘secret’ technique works…

Mindfulness: The benefits and alternative ways to connect

It has not been due to a lack of effort, but I have never been able to get into yoga. Hearing about all the positives that are associated with it, both of mind and body, I was eager to try it. After a 10-week session a number of years ago, I enjoyed the physical aspect of yoga, but was never able to connect effectively with the mindfulness piece.

Over the last 5-7 years, the efforts to improve wellness programs and include mindfulness exercises has been a national trend in schools. At Brimmer, we continue to evaluate our programming, tweak existing options, and provide new opportunities. This has included inviting Will Slotnick from the Wellness Collaborative to talk with students about managing stress and anxiety and the risks involved in using alcohol, drugs, and, more recently, e-cigarettes. Slotnick addresses the subject from the perspective of managing stress and incorporates meditation and mindfulness into the program. After sessions, students report feeling more connected to their thoughts and feeling more relaxed. In addition to being armed with important information, they can physically be seen carrying their shoulders lower as much of the stress has melted away during the sessions.

In a 2011 article (full publication can be found here)from the American Psychological Association journal, Psychotherapy, Dr. Daphne Davis and Dr. Jeffrey Hayes share “empirically supported benefits of mindfulness.” The list of benefits is one that we would all want for our students and children: stress reduction, boosts to working memory, improved focus, and more flexibility in challenging situations. In 2013, in an article published by the National Institute of Health in Social Cognative and Affective Neuroscience, research on the use of meditation was reported to improve emotional stability, supporting and building upon the documented research of its benefits. This was further supported by neuroscience research that showed increased serotonin levels in those that practiced meditation. So, while incorporating mindfulness as skill has been a trend, it is also very much supported by nationally recognized research.

Knowing this, I have continued to listen and research what experts are saying, often trying out techniques to improve my own mindfulness. Slotnick has recommended phone apps like Meditation Studio to our students. Dr. Helen Riess, who spoke recently at Brimmer about her book, The Empathy Effect, suggested HeadSpace, and those with an Apple Watch or Fitbit are likely familiar with the built in mindfulness activities focused on controlled breathing and reducing one’s heartrate. I know that I have found these to be useful from time to time, but more importantly, many students have incorporated them into their daily routines to help manage stress.

I fear that when we talk about meditation and mindfulness we often lose people once we use those terms. For some people, meditation and breathing exercises do not work. What do we tell those who cannot connect in this way? During Thanksgiving preparation last week, while I was preparing my apple pie, peeling apples, slicing them, and rolling out the dough, I found myself experiencing a heightened awareness of my own senses. During that process, I recognized that I was experiencing what I was missing during those yoga exercises. It turns out that baking, and also sports activity, that requires intense focus and mimics the effects of meditation.

Pyschology Today writes that mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.” As we continue to venture into a world that moves quickly and we encounter incredible amounts of information at unprecedented speeds, we are going to find mindfulness activities will grow in importance. Whether it be through meditation, breathing exercises, baking, or shooting free throws on the basketball court, it is important that we help our students and children develop these skills.

61076975_m-Mindfulness
Photo Credit: Business Improvement Architects

The sociology of depression: how are nature, materialism and mindfulness connected

Sociologists focus on the implications of depression in today’s generation since more and more cases are present. The experts mostly speak about a correlation between how Generation Z perceives things – their connection to nature, materialism, and mindfulness. Since mental illnesses are now more common, especially in people of young age, the concern of sociologists is understandable. Nature is part of this discussion because both biological and psychological factors in people’s lifestyle contribute to the apparition or combating of depression. The culture of depression is truly worrying, as it grows from one year to another at a very fast pace. Sociologists acme to the conclusion that multiple aspects generate depression and the context in which a person lives influences this mental disorder.

Depressive disorders are more common in certain parts of the world because of natural factors (such as the Nordic countries, where the suicide rates are the highest in Europe because of the constant bad weather). The occurrence of depressive disorders was recorded for statistical purposes, and specialists found out that particular cultures are more prone to slipping into depression at a certain point in their lives. Moreover, specialists found out that practices such as holistic ones, mindfulness, and similar activities drastically reduce this occurrence. This article will present several aspects of the sociology and culture of depression, to encourage people to get informed about this topic and understand why certain things are happening and how can they be tackled.

New-to-nature chemicals

Sociologists and psychologists struggled to study what they call new-to-nature chemicals. These chemicals, also known as hormone interrupters seem to influence the apparition and treatment of certain mental illnesses. NIH made these discoveries based on the changes that happen in nature. The maximized industry is the one that can alter both the physical and mental health of people. Using too much plastic to store aliments and liquids that people consume, eating vacuous food that has been overly processed, and breathing polluted air are all contributing to the rapid altering of people’s health. The way people live nowadays and the culture they build through their new habits are changing the rhythms of nature, which directly affects their health and state of being.

Specialists called this situation an experiential void, as the changes often lead to developing mental illnesses. Even though the physical effects might not be as evident, the mental ones surely impact the current culture. Teens are normalizing mental illnesses and they treat them as a normal part of growing up. The stages of life in Generation Z are definitely changed and society seems to be extremely disoriented from certain points of view. As it lost its balance, the current culture must be recontoured to battle the rising occurrence of depression and other similar illnesses.

The behavior of individuals has been modified tremendously, and culture plays the most important role in it. Centers like The Holistic Sanctuary started to promote other ways to cope with depression or other mental health disorders that also change people’s perception of life. Changing the cultural beliefs that cause depression and lack of emotional satisfaction at the moment can be done through mindfulness practices, which can be blamed by some societies.

Cultural background and biological makeup

The biological explanation of the increase of depression cases is not the only one that can be discussed. Another aspect is represented by the cultural background that is directly influenced by an individual’s biological makeup. The connection between the two is undeniable. Some cultural backgrounds are so rigid that increase the risk of slipping into depression at a very young age. The expectations are high, the rules are unbearable and gender roles are clearly defined. This is why people find it so hard to go past the previously set barriers and do what makes them truly happy, and this is the moment when frustrations appear and mental illnesses start to develop.

The collective community is often the cause behind the drastic rise in mental illness patients, as it promotes a behavior that’s impossible to achieve by some persons. The same goes with certain industries that set rules for the people who want to reach success in that domain. That makes people feel powerless or useless, which represents the beginning of a mental state degradation. A good example would be the fashion industry, where models feel constant pressure to look a certain way. Depression, drug addiction and eating disorders are common for models, and the stigma around getting professional help keeps them from getting better. Drug addiction in the fashion industry led to many deaths at young ages.

In some cultures, depressions became mainstream

The symptoms of depression are considered normal in certain parts of the world, where so many people suffer from them that the diseases became mainstream. This is why a mindful approach should be promoted in order to change the perception of people towards this topic. As mentioned before, the stigmatization of mental health represents a huge limitation for people who need to battle these symptoms every single day on their own, which can lead to suicide in extreme cases.

The fear or shame of being identified as crazy, psychotic or other stigmatic labels keeps people from getting their needed treatment. The active resistance against getting help is common in some cultures, and people who suffer from mental health illnesses often reject medication. It seems like people prefer holistic approaches instead, which proved to be useful as long as the patient changes his or her perception towards life. Using herbs, getting acupuncture sessions, exercising more often, learning how to meditate, going to yoga classes and other alternative treatment approaches seem to be the favorite methods of coping with depressive disorders in some cultures. The prevalence rates of such disorders might be reduced as long as awareness is raised on this topic. The direct relationship between culture and mental health can be observed in numbers too. Cultural context should be studied in depth in the future.

Hamilton High’s Mindfulness Center Aims At Stress SanTan Sun News

Hamilton High’s Mindfulness Center Aims At Stress

October 8th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News

By Colleen Sparks

Managing Editor

In a time with rampant social media use, mass shootings and political turmoil, teenagers can easily get overwhelmed with stress, and they might not have the tools to tame their tension.

Hamilton High School is tackling the issue by offering teens a safe, peaceful place to get support with its new Mindfulness Center, scheduled to open Oct. 17.

Students will be able to relax in 20 bean bag chairs in a room with miniature sand Zen gardens, therapeutic coloring books, puzzles, inspirational quotes posted all over the center and two water fountains.

Plants and dim lighting will enhance the peaceful feeling of the Mindfulness Center, according to Rajani Rastogi, licensed master social worker at Hamilton High.

Teens can come to the center to talk to Rastogi, Hamilton licensed master social worker Julianne Haddad or Shelley Geary, a licensed master social worker from Arizona State University.

Every Friday during lunch periods, outside experts will visit the center to talk about and teach yoga, meditation or other topics for wellness.

The rest of the week during lunch, the social workers will encourage meditation and talk about gratitude, self-compassion, stress relief and other topics to help students build strong mental health, Rastogi said.

The Mindfulness Center grew out of conversations Rastogi and Haddad had about the issues students are facing.

“We are seeing an increased number of students that are struggling with suicidal thoughts and anxiety and depression,” Rastogi said. “With teenagers, they are over-stimulated in today’s world with cell phones and all the electronic gadgets.

“It’s so important to help them understand some grounding techniques to focus with mindfulness…being aware of their feelings and emotions, not being stuck on the past and not worrying about the future, really focusing on the here and now to help them improve their current situation. We’re trying to educate students in the school about mindfulness.”

In neighboring Gilbert, Mesquite High School has a Mindfulness and Life Skills Program that is in its second year. The Gilbert Public School District is trying to combat substance abuse by teaching students how to cope with stress.

Mesquite High’s Mindfulness Center, since opening last year, has become a popular place for students to unwind from the pressures of the day, according to district officials.

The school also offers mindfulness training and parent connection classes on communicating with teens, suicide prevention, substance abuse and other topics.

Mesquite High School’s mental health and well-being program was made possible with a $100,000-a-year, three-year competitive grant from the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

At Hamilton High, the Mindfulness Center has become a reality because of donations from parents in the community, who provided all the supplies and items needed, Rastogi said.

Principal Michael De La Torre provided the room as “he knew we wanted to start a mindfulness program,” she said.

“He has been very supportive,” Rastogi said. “We started with a blank slate. I’m very fortunate to have amazing relationships with the parents in our community and at Hamilton High School.

“I wanted to cry when I saw how everything has come together with the support of our community and parents. It’s just very heartwarming to see when you have an idea and it comes to fruition and it really does take a village.”

She said she and the other social workers want to teach students how to “get centered,” and then they will have tools to use on a daily basis to manage their emotions.

They can learn how anger and other emotions affect their bodies and develop empathy for themselves and others, Rastogi said.

Teachers and other staff members can make referrals during the day for students to visit the Mindfulness Center anytime if they are dealing with panic attacks or “a lot of stress,” Rastogi said.

“We’re always looking at what can we do to provide more services, help students get to a place where they are feeling good about who they are as people,” she said. “I’m very passionate and so excited about this program and we are hoping to help as many kids as possible to just live a happier life and enjoy their high school experience.”

The vagus nerve, emotions and the difficulty with mindfulness practices | healing from the freeze

“Now, many people who don’t know a lot about trauma think that trauma has something to do with something that happened to you a long time ago. In fact, the past is the past and the only thing that matters is what happens right now. And what is trauma is the residue that a past event leaves in your own sensory experiences in your body and it’s not that event out there that becomes intolerable but the physical sensations with which you live that become intolerable and you will do anything to make them go away.” (Bessel van der Kolk)

Last week, during a two-day deep cleaning/paint prep binge (see the kitchen ceiling to the right!), I listened to a recorded talk by Bessel van der Kolk given at the May 2011 22nd Annual International Trauma Conference. The title of van der Kolk’s title is a mouthful: “Putting neuroplasticity into clinical practice with neurofeedback: rewiring the brains of children and adults who lack safety, self-regulation, capacity for play, and executive functioning.” The lecture in itself was interesting enough to keep me attentive for its length, but what particularly captured my interest is the manner in which he described the relationship of the vagus nerve to our emotions.

As I remembered from anatomy, the vagus nerve (cranial nerve x) innervates the diaphragm [author’s correction – the phrenic nerve provides motor innervation of the diaphgram] but what failed to register in class is that the vagus nerve also innervates much of our viscera – in fact all of our internal organs with the notable exception of the adrenal glands. It supplies parasympathetic fibers to these organs, meaning that the vagus nerve is a “rest and digest” nerve, not a fight or flight nerve. Van der Kolk quotes from Darwin’s work, “the heart, guts and brain communicate intimately via a nerve” – the pneumogastric or vagus nerve – “the critical nerve in the expression and management of emotions in both humans and animals…. When the mind is strongly excited it instantly affects the state of the viscera.” This is, of course, why our guts react strongly to our emotional state.

Van der Kolk continues with the statement that grabbed me: “what makes life unbearable is not emotions but physical sensations.”

“When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they starve themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body, you’ll do anything to make it go away.”

“If these sensations last long enough, your whole brain starts fighting against emotions. And what happens in the long range is that traumatized people who continuously have a state of heartbreak and gut wrenching feelings learn to shut off the sensations in their bodies. And they go through life not feeling their physical presence.”

He then touches on a very important point and one that strongly resonates with me – “it’s a beginning of understanding why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness and why mindfulness in principle doesn’t work for traumatized people because they cannot feel.” Van der Kolk had sent many of his highly traumatized patients to do mindfulness exercises with Jon Kabat-Zinn and found that many of them were returning in a state of upset and agitation.

“As they became silent and started to pay attention to themselves, they get overwhelmed with the physical sensations and they would flee, because being mindful means that you get confronted with your internal world.” In other words, the sensations of the internal world can be so intense that, lacking the tools to work through those sensations, people dissociate during mindfulness exercises. This is not limited to mindfulness exerces but happens in other types of movement, meditative, or healing practices, such as qigong, yoga or massage.

What van der Kolk has found to be a useful tool for moving through this difficulty is neurofeedback, which helps individuals learn to self-regulate by utilizing a feedback tool very similar to a video game that rewards the user for achieving target states such as relaxation, alertness, or focus.

One type of neurofeedback

While neurofeedback is a very useful tool and may be a major breakthrough in trauma recovery, it is not always easy to access. Although I am less familiar with them, there are other therapies such as Hakomi method and SomatoEmotional Release that help individuals work with the emotions and physical sensations that often trigger dissociation. A major focus of my studies at this point is to understand better how Chinese/Traditional East Asian medicine works with trauma and the emotions. I suspect that many different modalities can be useful for learning to be present and integrated with our bodies, but also argue that the role of the practitioner and power of intention are key ingredients in the process.

I also believe that bodywork and somatic re-education (acupuncture, massage, tuina, qigong, sotai, et) are essential components to releasing and restoring function to tissues and organs that have lost mobility due to years of fleeing from those physical sensations that van der Kolk describes. We may learn to stay present with our physical sensations, but if the diaphragm is hypertonic (or too tight, just like your shoulders) or the stomach can’t move properly in the abdominal cavity, we will have to work really hard to achieve calm presence when we could instead work to unblock stagnation and release tissues. However, the issue is often truly much more complex than this and healing for many people occurs not by a magic button but through many interwoven processes that may include acupuncture, movement work, EMDR, neurofeedback, nutritional counseling, talk therapy, and meditation or mindfulness practices.

I’ve been unable to get Van der Kolk’s talk out of my mind. Although none of the concepts are unfamiliar to me, there is a sense that I’m missing something or that this visceral-emotional relationship needs to be more closely explored. In Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), the emotions closely affect and are affected by the viscera but I have yet to truly explore the many classical references to this relationship. Spending some time sitting with the classics may help shed some light on how and why acupuncture, moxibustion and other TEAM modalities have been known to treat trauma and shock. A worthwhile topic to explore next.

190 thoughts on “The vagus nerve, emotions and the difficulty with mindfulness practices

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Schools in England Introduce a New Subject: Mindfulness – The New York Times

“Every day our front-line services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world — contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media,” he said in a statement on Monday.

He added: “Services like these can lessen the anxiety, pain and anguish that some teens go through, but also reduce their need for intensive support further down the line.”

But two Parliamentary committees have criticized the government reports on which the program is based, for focusing on handling emotional problems rather than preventing them. In a report released last May, the Education and Health and Social Care Committees wrote, “the Government’s strategy lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it,” while increasing the workload of teachers.

“The role of prevention appears to be a missing link in building better support for children and young people, especially in the early years,” the committees wrote. They found that social media and the schools’ system of high-pressure exams can have particularly negative effects on the mental health of young people.

But Dr. Jessica Deighton, an associate professor in child mental health and well-being at University College London who is leading the government trials, said that the new initiative was intended to offer more than quick fixes.

“There is a tendency to think that the solution is mental health intervention,” she said on Monday. “We will try to reduce the stigma against mental health problems, by making the school environment literate in mental health.”

She said the program included several tactics, including training teachers to hold role-playing exercises, teaching relaxation practices and inviting professionals for group discussions.

“It’s not just to make them feel better in the short-term,” Dr. Deighton said, “but to better equip them for later in life.”

Naked wisdom for degenerate times: Vajrayogini, enlightened wisdom queen, leads us to bliss, clear light and emptiness, despite modern obstacles – Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

The great Lama Yeshe said, “The Vajrayogini yoga method is extremely powerful. It is just what we need in these degenerate times, with our delusions running rampant and our minds grasping at concretized sense pleasures. Therefore, a method such as this, which has the wisdom to transform delusions, is of the utmost need, especially as it has the profound property of becoming more powerful as delusions become stronger.”

Of all the Vajrayana meditative deities, Vajrayogini is credited with being the one practice for our busy, hectic, terrifying times which can lead us, in one lifetime, to Enlightenment. (See full “teaching” video with Garchen Rinpoche on Vajrayogini, embedded below.)

Note: some nudity in the thangkas.

Vajrayogini meditational devotional satue.

[NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Feature by Josephine Nolan,

Beautiful Vajrayogini, Naropa lineage.

Vajrayogini has been called the “Buddha for our times.” There’s an old Tibetan saying: “Practicing any Buddha is practising all Buddhas.” The great Atisha, when he first came to Tibet, was horrified to find Tibetans practicing many deities at once. He admonished them that they only have to practice one. The Enlightened qualities of one Buddha — including Vajrayogini — are no different from the qualities of another Buddha, even if we sometimes say, Tara specializes in “protection” and “Medicine Buddha” in medicine. So, why is Vajrayogini “the Buddha for our times?”

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing the benefits of practice is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

The Buddha for our time?

Simply put, Her visualization, Her appearance, Her mantra, Her sadhana, are all designed to counter our modern obstacles — especially the obstacles of our degenerate times. In our modern age, when we have no time, when life is always in the way of practice, when we struggle with many fears — terrorism, global warming, wars, paying the bills, healing our sickness — these are all the reasons to consider Her practice. Vajrayogini manifests in her fiery red, passionate, stunning beautiful and energetic form. Fast action. Fast practice. An appearance that is instantly modern and relatable.

Vajrayogini’s mandala featuring the double tretrahedran (reality source) and the four pink bliss swirls. All of the images and symbols convey a precise and powerful message.

Vajrayogini is not superior to any other Buddha. They are all perfect. They are all Oneness. But, She specifically manifests for these times — She is at once more intimate, closer to us, and more relatable than, for example, a serene peaceful Buddha. The serene, peaceful Buddha conjures the feeling of six years of renunciation under a tree meditating. In today’s world, how can anyone contemplate such a commitment?

In violent, fast-paced times, we sometimes can more easily relate to the ferocious energy of the Dakini Queen, who delivers realizations in a dervish of dancing energy, blissful realization and sudden glimpses of Shunyata.

Video 2018 teaching from Garchen Rinpoche on Vajrayogini:

An “easy” Higher Yoga practice?

Another form of Vajrayogini.

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra practice, her meditation is relatively simple. Visualizing her is easy — she’s simply so stunningly beautiful it’s hard not to think of her appearance. She is also profoundly accomplished in every way:

“Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi ranks first and most important among the dakinis. She is the “Sarva-buddha-dakini” the Dakini Who is the Essence of all Buddhas.” [1]

Vajrayogini pratice has led to Enlightenment of many great masters. “Of the 84 Mahasiddhas of ancient India, many gained their attainments through the practices of Heruka Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini” [3] Traditionally, this is because the Chakrasamvara Vajrayogini mandala actually still exists in our physical world — most mandalas are absorbed back into emptiness at the end of meditations. This makes Her practice ideal for these chaotic times.

Spiritual benefits: countless

Although there are mundane benefits as well (see below), Her practice is especially known for higher spiritual attainments:

“She is the Anuttarayoga Tantra Istadevi (the only and the first Deity) and Her practice includes methods for preventing ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo) and rebirth (by transforming them into the paths to enlightenment), and for transforming all mundane daily experiences into spiritual paths.” [4]

Vajrayogini’s practice is the path to understanding Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light — the luminosity of the nature of mind.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Ten benefits of practice according to root Tantra

Another form of Vajrayogini.

The source Tantra, in the Condensed Root Tantra of Heruka, explains there are ten key spiritual benefits to practice, many not available from other practices:

There are also two relatively more secret (due to complexity) benefits; in other words benefits that aren’t easily understood unless you are already a practitioner. We won’t explain them here, since they are too profound as topics to cover here, but we list them for reference:

This complex thangka depicts the various lineage masters going all the way back to Buddha Vajradhara, who is actually Buddha Shakyamuni is tantric form. At the upper left are the main tantric deities – Yamantaka, Heruka Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja. At the upper right are the Buddhas of the past and present – Krakucchanda, Kasyapa and Shakyamuni. At the bottom left are the three long-life deities – Amitayus, Namgyalma and White Tara. At the bottom right are Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani, who, taken together can be said to represent Lama Tsongkhapa, the great 14th century Tibetan scholar and saint who is an emanation of these three great Buddhas. Below Vajrayogini are two Dharma Protectors – 4-faced Mahakala (a wrathful emanation of Heruka) and Citipati, the special Protector for Vajrayogini practitioners.

Cognitive benefits

Vajrayogini’s seed syllable in her double triangle mandala. Although this appears to be a double triangle, it is actually visualized in three dimensions, as a double tetrahedron.

Vajrayana Buddhists rely on symbols and visualization, activating mind, body and speech simultaneously with visualization (mind), mudra (body) and mantra or ritual (speech) respectively. Science has proven the relationship between Vajrayana meditation and cognitive benefits due to this massive activation of brain matter (See our story “Research Proves Vajrayana Meditation Improve Cognitive Performance and Promising for Brain Disorders>>)

The visual symbols, often including wrathful deities with fangs, animal heads, and the naked feminine, is usually misunderstood — which is why practices are normally secret.  The astonishingly beautiful and naked Vajrayogini, especially in sexual union, probably provokes the deepest misunderstanding.

NOTE: Although the practices themselves are secret, discussing them is not. Vajrayana deity practices are widely available online, however just because they are available does not mean they should be practised without authorization or empowerment from a qualified teacher. However, any student, for example, in a temple, can make offerings and praise Vajrayogini.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]

Activating 280 million neurons

In seeing an image of some Enlightened deities, non-practitioners often see sex and demons — where there is actually nothing more than visual language that activates massive frontal volumes of brain matter:

“The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter.” — Science Direct [2]

Mindfulness meditation has shown measurable increases in the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher level thinking.

In addition, visualization may active the visual cortex of our brains — over 280 million neurons. (For more on Vajrayana visualization, see our earlier story>>)

Interestingly, there is a visual cortex in both hemispheres of the brain, right and left. In scientific studies, visualization of Vajrayana deities in this way, has proven to be effective for growing cognitive abilities, and even beneficial for people with dementia. (Please see our earlier story: Peer-reviewed studies prove daily meditation increases cognitive function>>)

The great Mahasiddhi Naropa and his Yidam Vajrayogini.

Wisdom and compassion united

Vajrayogini (Wisdom) in union with Heruka Chakrasamvara (Compassion).

In broad strokes, the symbolism divides (and yet is never divided) into two themes: capital-C Compassion (symbolized in male Englightened Buddhas) and capital-W Wisdom (symbolized by female Enlightened Dakinis.) The combination of the two, visualized as the union of the male (compassion) and female (wisdom), brings a bliss and intensity to daily meditations — the faster-path to helping us understand Shunyata (Emptiness) and Clear Light.

The Dakini is often said to be the “bringer of bliss and wisdom.” Vajrayogini, the Queen of the Dakinis, is the best known of the Enlightened Feminine — after, perhaps, Venerable Tara. Vajrayogini is none other than an emanation of Tara (or vice versa, it doesn’t matter.)

Psychology of Dakinis

Noted psychologist, Rob Preece, in The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, describes the power of Dakini symbols:

“As an archetypal symbol of the feminine, the dakini brings fiery wildness and deep instinctuality of feminine… As an aspect of Anima, she is at the heart of our relationship life. The Dakini is known as a messenger, a bringer of profound intuitions, and insight into the deepest aspects of the psyche.”

He goes on to describe Vajrayogini as the “most potent validation of this quality.”

“Her fiery red, dancing form reflects a quality similar to the flamenco dancer — proud, undaunted, powerful and erotic. She carries a curved knife to cut through the ignorance and stupidity she encounters, and, holding a skullcup of blood, she drinks a blissful nectar of the essence of her feminine power. Across her shoulder is a staff, called a khatvanga, symbolizing her integration of the masculine. She is adorned with bone ornaments and a crown of skulls and around her neck she wears a necklace of skulls.”

“She is the dance or play of emptiness, like the play of light rippling on the surface of water. Her appearance is manifest, yet illusory.”

A beautiful newari (new-style) take on Vajrayogini.

Vajrayogini, dancing wisdom

In a recent story honoring Dakini Day, we described the feminine wisdom deities this way (story here>>):

“Dakinis are portrayed as elusive, playful and often fierce and naked to symbolically convey how elusive true Wisdom encompassing “Emptiness” can be.”

But why is Vajrayogini not only naked, but so exquisitely (almost distractingly) beautiful. Not just beautiful, but sexual, unabashed, carefree, youthful and passion-inspiring.

It’s a difficult concept to describe. Basically, in Vajrayana, the deities appear in a form that aligns with obstacles we are trying to overcome. Vajrayogini is so desirous, that she almost appears to challenge us to overcome our silly craving for sensual pleasures. “See, there’s nothing special about being naked and dancing around,” she almost seems to say.

Of course, the message is not so superficial. Her nudity expresses how we must shed not only our cravings but our pre-conceived notions of how things are — if we are to understand the true nature of the universe, which is Emptiness (Shunyata.)

Vajryogini’s Appearance

Vajrayogini in her blue form as consort of the great Hayagriva, Heruka aspect of Amitabha Buddha. In this form she has a sow’s head (symbolizing overcoming of ignorance) and Hayagriva has a horse head signifying the activity of Dharma Speech (most important of the three jewels.) For a story on Hayagriva Vajrayogini see here>>

Vajrayogini is not always red. In union with Hayagriva she is blue. She is not always in union, sometimes she is alone and dancing with a Katvanga (which represents her consort). Often, as Vajravarahi, she is seen with a sow’s head (pig) sprouting from her wild hair — symbolic of overcoming ignorance.

“Although there are a number of visual representations of Vajrayogini, certain attributes are common to all: She is mostly shown as young, naked, and standing in a desirous or dancing posture. She holds a blood-filled skull cup in one hand and a curved knife (kartr or dri-gug) in the other. Often she wears a garland of human skulls or severed heads; has a khatvanga staff leaning against her shoulder; her usually wild hair flowing down her neck and back; her face in a semi-wrathful expression. Her radiant red body is ablaze with the heat of yogic fire and surrounded by the flames of wisdom.” [1]

Practicing Vajrayogini

Although Vajrayogini is a Highest Yoga Tantra, requiring both permission and empowerment, anyone can honor, pray to, or meditate on her as an “external deity.” It is not permitted to visualize the self as Vajrayogini without initiation, and probably not to chant the mantra, but one can come closer to Vajrayogini’s enlightened qualities through praise, offerings and prayers without empowerments.

Unlike other meditations, however, the very energetic nature of Vajrayogini’s meditation — designed as it is to cope with the high pace of our “degenerate times” — requires some guidance. The best path to Vajrayogini is through a qualified teacher, with proven lineage.

 [NOTE: Vajrayogini’s actual practice requires empowerment, initiation and instruction from a qualified teacher. This feature is simply to inform on the benefits of practice.]