Mind Your Head- workshop
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Mind Your Head- workshop

Mind Your Head is a 2 hour mindfulness based workshop on Saturday the 27th of June, from 3-5pm.
The workshop is a gentle introduction to mindfulness approaches that can be used in the management and treatment of mild anxiety and depression.
Mind Your Head is donation based, all proceeds will go the Homestead home for young boys at risk.

Please RSVP directly to Jamie Elkon on 0825500750.
The address is The Shala Yoga Studio, 15 Wandel Street, Gardens. Cape Town.

Jamie Elkon is a registered clinical psychologist, yoga and MIndfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher.
(No prior yoga or meditation experience is necessary to attend)

Jamie Elkon
Clinical Psychologist

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Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
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Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

Yoga for anxiety and depression

Harvard Mental Health Letter

Studies suggest that this practice modulates the stress response.

Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades. One national survey estimated, for example, that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number have been randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.

Taming the stress response

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

Improved mood and functioning

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

Benefits of controlled breathing

A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism.

Potential help for PTSD

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

About 20% of war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, according to one estimate. Experts treating this population suggest that yoga can be a useful addition to the treatment program.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

Cautions and encouragement

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.

But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.

Janakiramaiah N, et al. “Antidepressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Melancholia: A Randomized Comparison with Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Imipramine,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Jan.–March 2000): Vol. 57, No. 1–3, pp. 255–59.

Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85.

Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.

Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Saper RB, et al. “Prevalence and Patterns of Adult Yoga Use in the United States: Results of a National Survey,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (March–April 2004): Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 44–49.

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A peek inside my head at 3:30 am.
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A peek inside my head at 3:30 am.

I’ve got 18% battery life and it’s 3:30am, let’s see if I can bang something out.

My three year old lies snoring next to me, she’s been restless tonight, I’m not sure how long I’ve slept, this week feels like one, very long day. My head has been full of turgid thoughts, clogging clarity, a slight anxious beaver runs through the periphery of my consciousness (in Afrikaans we’d say ‘bewer’- tremor- but I like the image of an anxious beaver).
I’m thirsty for an adventure that would slow the undercurrent of midlife ennui. I turned 44 on Monday, it’s an interesting age, I met a mate for a pint in the pub and realized that I don’t necessarily want to be sitting around necking beers in a rainy, traffic clogged city, chatting about how much our home loans are costing us in (dis) interest.

I watch once vital men writhe on my couch as they wrestle to rediscover the fire in their bellies and yet here I am, struggling with the same foe. I’ve heard weary, grey men, beaten senseless by the mediocrity they find themselves mired in, describe the taste of a cold, metallic gun barrel resting against their teeth as they try to find the ‘courage’ to tear themselves out of their numb lives. I’ve watched dull eyes flicker briefly with fiery life force as they describe past passions with a lovers remembrance. I spend a moment with them there, waiting to see if a gentle touch of the past can rekindle something resembling hope.

Sometimes, it feels as if many of us have lost our way, crucified by expectations and comparisons, we become disconnected from our essential essence , no longer stretching beyond our confining comforts, we become small and shrunken, nursing ourselves on series and pornography, wishing that we were something more, but not taking enough time to figure out what that could possibly look like, what it would feel like to have life rush through our veins again.

Come, dream with me a moment, close your eyes and remember the happiest moment of your life so far…were you on your own?
with a partner? were you witnessing the birth of your child?
Now…fast forward to your funeral, who will be there, who won’t? What squabbles will you drag to your grave? What measure of ‘success’ will you have wanted to achieve by the time your bones return to the earth? A bigger house? A fancy car? A better job? More money?
Or will it be the experiences and relationships you have engaged in and nurtured during this time that will have mattered?

And slowly, as I write these words, I begin to realize that the adventures I seek can also be found in the small hours of morning, with my daughter’s little body tucked into my side, watching her eyes flicker beneath closed lids as she dreams…her eyelashes are so long!

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The Organized Mind
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The Organized Mind

Today’s selection — from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin.

We live in a world with 300 exabytes (300 billion billion) of information, an amount that is rapidly expanding to ever greater amounts from this already brobdingnagian level. And yet the processing capacity of the conscious mind is a mere 120 bits per second. This presents a challenge to not only our processing capacity, but also our decision-making ability:

“Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductively and loss of drive can result from decision overload. Although most of us have no problem ranking the importance of decisions if asked to do so, our brains don’t automatically do this. … The mere situation of facing … many [small] decisions in daily life creates neural fatigue, leaving no energy for the important decisions. Recent research shows that people who were asked to make a series of meaningless decisions … showed poorer impulse control and lack of judgment about subsequent decisions. It’s as though our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more, regardless of how important they are. One of the most useful findings in recent neuroscience could be summed up as: The decision-making network in our brain doesn’t prioritize.

“Today, we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of information, and each of us generates more information than ever before in human history. … Information scientists have quantified all this: In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 — the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.

“Just trying to keep our own media and electronic files organized can be overwhelming. Each of us has the equivalent of over half a million books stored on our computers, not to mention all the information stored in our cell phones or in the magnetic stripe on the back of our credit cards. We have created a world with 300 exabytes (300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces) of human-made information. If each of those pieces of information were written on a 3 x 5 index card and then spread out side by side, just one person’s share — your share of this information — would cover every square inch of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

“Our brains do have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired. Neurons are living cells with a metabolism; they need oxygen and glucose to survive and when they’ve been working hard, we experience fatigue. Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

“The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. That bandwidth, or window, is the speed limit for the traffic of information we can pay conscious attention to at any one time. While a great deal occurs below the threshold of our awareness, and this has an impact on how we feel and what our life is going to be like, in order for something to become encoded as part of your experience, you need to have paid conscious attention to it.

“What does this bandwidth restriction — this information speed limit mean in terms of our interactions with others? In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second. With a processing limit of 120 bits per second, this means you can barely understand two people talking to you at the same time. Under most circumstances, you will not be able to understand three people talking at the same time. We’re surrounded on this planet by billions of other humans, but we can understand only two at a time at the most! It’s no wonder that the world is filled with so much misunderstanding. With such attentional restrictions, it’s clear why many of us feel overwhelmed by managing some of the most basic aspects of life.”

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Monday.

Monday.

The wind didn’t stop howling last night. I feel as if I haven’t slept. And yet I am calm, resolved, centered. I look forward to walking to work through the roiling mist and gusty streets, watching people huddle behind their discomfort. I like to feel the cold trying to weave between my textured layers, an ancient contest. I know the cold will win eventually, that one day warmth will leave my body, but not today. Today I’ll smile at strangers and drop into the agitated depths of another’s mind. I will offer a cheeky wink to the Gods and run my fingers through my children’s hair. Today I can feel that part of me that is unstruck by the world, I breathe deeply into it and know that everything will be as it must.

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