Thursday, June 23, 2016

Civil Disobedience

I planted an indoor garden last year on September 18, 2015 in response to The California Seed Law (AB-2470).

Section 5 specifies eight requirements for a printed label or tag on agricultural seed that is for sale or sold for sowing purposes. The labeling of seeds with the kind and variety of each seed component is primary, and the percentage by weight must be reported if it is a mixture of seed varieties. If weeds are present, these must be identified and quantified. There is also a requirement to specify the percentage by weight of inert matter. The seed packet must have a lot number.  The percentage of germination as well as the calendar month and year in which the test was completed must be reported. There must be a name and address of the person who labeled or sold the seed.

The bill defines a "neighbor" as one who lives within 3 miles of you. So you could legally occasionally sell seeds to your neighbor (who fits the aforementioned distance requirement) without following this labeling, but if you are having a transaction with someone who lives greater than 3 miles from you, then you are currently required to follow the guidelines as of August 25, 2014.

As it turns out, there is a new bill going through the California Senate Appropriations called the Seed Exchange Democracy Act (AB-1810).  AB-1810 would exclude seed libraries from the labeling requirements defined in AB-2470.  A “seed library” is defined as a registered noncommercial entity that lends, receives, or gives away seed at a place or event without creating a contractual obligation or an expectation to receive anything of value in return.

Any person or organization that operates a seed library [must] provide notification of its operation on a form created by the secretary.  The notification form shall only include the entity’s name and address and the contact information of the responsible party.  No fee shall be assessed for submitting the notification form. 

I personally didn't have any problem adhering to the labeling requirements.  Coming from a background of scientific cataloguing of seed libraries, I understand the need for standardization and accurate reporting of the contents of a given seed packet.  I also appreciate the reporting of inert materials in the seeds I buy, for example some Poppy seeds I bought recently contain 66% walnut shells "to distribute the seeds evenly," which I think really means, "to make it look like you're getting more seeds."  I guess I wasn't paying attention when I bought them.

The seed packet posted here is the result of my germination experiment where the labeling requirements were met, with the exception of a lot number.  Unfortunately, this was the last of my beautiful Easter Egg Radish seeds that I had been propagating for awhile, my seed stock was exhausted.  I assumed I would be able to bring these seeds full circle to making more seed, as I had always been successful in the past, however it was more difficult to grow the plants indoors.  They dried out extremely quickly and in the course of one weekend, I lost all of them.

The seeds I had of Romaine Lettuce, and Bonnie Spinach were distributed to a group of schoolchildren from Patrick Henry middle school during our outreach event called "I (heart) Science Day."  The kids played botanical bingo and the prizes were seeds.  Even though I don't sell my seeds, I went ahead and followed the labeling requirements.  I gave away all my Spinach seeds, but I still have some Lettuce left.  I have given away all my Chard seeds also, but hopefully the plants in my garden now will restock the library.

I want to show my students (left in the photo above) how to be official in the tracking and distribution of seed stocks.  I hope the kids from Patrick Henry (right in the photo above) have planted the seeds they won either at their house or at a School Garden.

I'm glad that the labeling requirements for small seed libraries (like mine) are changing since the germination experiment ended up using up some of my precious seeds.  I do think it's important to quantify whether there is an inert material in the seed, as well as whether there are noxious weed seeds contaminating the stock.

I'm not currently registered as a seed library, but I will look into doing that when AB-1810 is enacted.  I like that the language specifies that there will be no fee for registering.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?

Given the fast pace of developments in both the pharmaceutical world coupled with the fast-paced realizations of the natural skin care products world, the question in the title is not totally out of the ordinary.  Don't you agree (you -- the reader -- participant)?  Recently, work has emerged from the scientific community that has been advertised as such.  Below, I will briefly introduce the idea published and the results -- which to me are surprising.

Anti-aging Products?

Seems almost contradictory from the standpoint of a chemist.  Although, when the subject is put into context, the developments seems positive.  At the same time, there is a strange part of listing a product as "anti-aging" in my mind that has never really resonated over the years.  Why?

Because, we are all born with the idea that from emerging from the womb, destruction is all down hill from there.  Our bodies being exposed to the environment spurs our immune systems along with every other defense mechanism available to signal the army -- "game on" -- lets get to work.

What do I mean by the phrase "game on" in the last sentence?

In the context of skin care products, the goal is to preserve the skin.  Really, the goal is to prevent degradation of the skin (or the top few layers of skin).  The three most destructive properties that contribute to the aging process are:

1) Exposure to the environment (chemical, irradiation, physical, etc.).

2) Aging, the natural process of skin shedding.

3) Treating the skin to prevent aging with skin care products.

Am I against skin care products?  Not at all.  But the natural process of aging is that over time, the exposure of the outermost layer of skin (or few layers) is going to cause aging -- which appears in the following visual manners:

1) Dry skin, flaky skin,

2) Saggy skin

3) pale looking skin

Should each of us be afraid of the inevitable appearance of skin?  No.

Should we try our best to preserve our skin from harm?

Of course.  That is unless the treatment is harmful itself.  In this blog post, I want to talk about a potentially harmful treatment that is being touted as a scientifically valid form of anti-aging treatment for our skin.  In the future, I will consult my colleague Sepi to discuss skin care treatment from the perspective of using her company's natural skin care product line -- "CT Organic."  First, lets look at the objective of reversing anti-aging skin.

Reversing The Aging Process Of Skin

In order to reverse the process of aging skin, from a scientists standpoint, a person would have to perform a procedure that involves programming genes in a patients body.  Since we are nowhere near that point, is there anything in the near future that can be done to restore or preserve our skin?  Yes, there are methods that can preserve (or prevent the aging process).

What are these methods?

First, lets look at the appearance of skin and the objective toward keeping the "young" skin active.  There are three main characteristics in skin appearance:

1) Skin tightness

2) Skin body (fullness)

3) Skin health (appearance -- dry or moist)

Am I right?

The goal is to have skin that appears healthy -- meaning has "body" and is moisturized along with the appropriate "tension"(not too tight or too loose).

How is this achieved with skin care products?

In order to back these assertions up, I thought that a good reference would be to look toward two sources: 1) the "Beauty Brains"  and 2) American Dermatology Association.

1) "Beauty Brains":

First, the "Beauty Brains" is a podcast hosted by two cosmetic chemists -- Dr. Perry Romanowski and Dr. Randy Schuller.  The purpose of the podcast is to analyze beauty products in the same fashion as the infamous "mythbusters" do with science.  How does this work?

Recently, there was a podcast specifically devoted to "anti-aging" skin care products.  In that show, the hosts discussed a new technology that involved a skin care patch that supposedly reversed the age of skin.  Fortunately, the Beauty Brains shot down the product and save the community the waste of time and effort.

What was interesting about the podcast in relation to the current blog post was the description of the aging skin and anti-aging products.  Here is an excerpt from the show - shown below:

  Crepey skin gets its name because it looks like tissue paper or crepe paper – the skin is loose and saggy and may have little bumps or ridges. It’s thought to be caused by a reduction in the collagen bundles that exist in dermis. Collagen loss occurs through the natural aging process but crepey skin can also be caused by massive weight loss or topical steroid use which thins the skin. There is no topical cure for this condition although if you can boost collagen production it could certainly help.

Crepey skin is equivalent to dry and loose skin.  I guess that the community likens this to crepe paper found in craft stores.  From the show hosts perspectives, there are products that give skin the appearance of younger skin.  There are some concerns associated with those products and should be reviewed before using them on your skin.  Why -- you might ask?

2) Academy of American Dermatology:

To answer the last question of consulting a physician or a skin care specialist about certain products, I will turn now to the Academy of American Dermatology for resources.  Both the "Beauty Brains" website and the Academy of American Dermatology websites are filled with a wealth of information regarding skin care products.

Collagen loss seems to be a large contributor to the aging of skin.  Although, up until a few years ago, the phenomenon was not known exactly.  There are still a large amount of unknowns associated with aging skin.  I found an article on the AAD website titled "New glycan creams, micronutrient creams hold promise for reducing the signs of aging skin" that discussed the popular use of glycan and micronutrient creams.  The article was an interview with Dr. Zoe Draelos, who is a Board-certified dermatologist, MD, FAAD, a consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Here is an excerpt regarding the theory behind the use of such creams:

What is the theory behind glycans and anti-aging, and how do glycan creams work?
Dr. Draelos said a person’s glycan levels change during their lifetime. For example, one of the body’s most common glycans is glucose, and Dr. Draelos said glucose levels fall by about 50 percent from age 30 to age 60. In addition, existing glycans may not work as well as they once did.

“The theory is that glycan change and loss that occur with aging lead skin cells to not recognize or communicate with each other with the same vigor they did in their youth,” said Dr. Draelos. “This may be why aging skin doesn’t heal as well or make collagen as readily as it once did,” said Dr. Draelos.

Dr. Draelos said the goal of glycan creams is to provide sugars or transform existing sugars to allow older cells to behave like younger cells. In theory, this would allow the skin to produce more collagen and heal better after injuries, including burns and cuts. Dr. Draelos notes one added benefit of glycan creams is that they are considered safe to apply to the skin because sugars are the body’s fuel.

However, Dr. Draelos notes current research has not shown if glycan creams can impact the skin to the extent that skin cell glycans begin to act more youthful. “The theory behind glycans’ impact on anti-aging is very much in its infancy,” said Dr. Draelos. “Currently there are other more proven treatments on the market, such as retinoids, but new research will provide additional targets for anti-aging strategies.”

Furthermore, Dr. Draelos goes onto comment on the use of "micro-nutrients" to prevent aging skin:

What are the most promising micronutrients for anti-aging?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are essential for human survival. While necessary in our diet, Dr. Draelos said micronutrients are also popular additives in anti-aging skin care products because micronutrients play an important role in the body for healthy skin by preventing oxidative damage. There are recommended daily allowances for each of these micronutrients, but no evidence exists that increased consumption has anti-aging benefits. While vitamins A, C and E are commonly included in anti-aging products as antioxidants, Dr. Draelos said some anti-aging creams now include metals, such as copper, which is necessary in collagen production, or selenium, which functions as an antioxidant through an alternative pathway.

“While research has shown that metals such as selenium and copper have skin benefits when included in our diet, effectively adding these metals to a skin care cream can be a challenge because applying micronutrients to the skin may not be as effective as when consumed,” said Dr. Draelos.

Dr. Draelos recommends people see a board-certified dermatologist if they have questions about choosing anti-aging products. “I tell all my patients that protecting your skin from the sun is the best way to prevent the signs of aging – wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, seek shade and cover up,” said Dr. Draelos. “There is as much diversity in anti-aging products as there is in people’s skin. A dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations.”

Reading the excerpts above should drive home the point of taking care of your skin with natural products.  Be careful of products that advertise too much in too short of time.  Contact a dermatologist for further information.  Understand the type of skin (oily, dry, rash, etc.) that you have to ensure that the product is good for you.

A large amount of products claim to replenish your skin with nutrients that your body is deficient in.  Beware of such claims.  Consult the Academy of American Dermatologists website links for further information on the following topics:

How to create an anti-aging skin care plan

How to select anti-aging skin care products

How to maximize results from anti-aging skin care products

The "Beauty Brains podcast series located here!

Last but not least, I want to discuss a new scientific finding that might claim to be "anti-aging" but could in fact be dangerous to your health.

Elastic Skin

Recently, I was surprise to open up the prestigious scientific journal Nature to see a "News & Commentary" brief article titled "Transparent film smoothes sagging skin back into shape" in the current issue (now a few weeks old).  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Materials scientists working with cosmetics firms have developed a transparent film that, for the first time, mimics the skin’s youthful elasticity. The silicone-based coating can be smeared onto the face or other areas of the body through two gel applications. Once hardened, it clings closely to the skin for more than 16 hours, says Robert Langer, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-led development of the material.

The film — which Langer’s team dubs ‘second skin’ — can reduce the appearance of bags under the eyes and wrinkles, and can increase the elastic recoil of skin when it is pinched, he and colleagues report in a paper published in Nature Materials1. It also acts as a barrier that prevents water loss from dry skin, they report, suggesting that besides its cosmetic use, the film might offer an alternative to greasy ointments for people with skin complaints such as eczema, although it hasn't yet been trialled for that idea.

 After reading the brief commentary, I decided to go look at the article in the research section of the journal myself.   Sure enough, here is the research article titled "An Elastic Second Skin" with the following abstract shown below:

The invention is real.  If you read the introduction, the authors list several reasons why a person would be interested in using elastic skin.  The most important is to have healthy looking (not dehydrated) skin that gives off the appearance of health and wellness.

The above comments are not to suggest that the new product or invention is of no use.  Elastic skin could be of use to the film industry, cosmetic industry for modeling, the health industry for burn victims or patients with persistent skin diseases.  What I worry about is the fact that the average person will come along and use the product without thinking about possible cautions that could turn into disasters.  What might those be?  Take a look at the product shown below from in the picture from the article:

Source: Melanie Gonick

Elastic skin might be good for a patient with the listed conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.  What the consumer should understand is that the skin is a major pathway for the body to excrete toxins through sweating.  The invention could claim that the product might help dry skin or help moisturize a person with persistently dry skin or flaky skin.  True, but also, if the elastic skin is worn over the old skin, there is no room to breathe and release toxins.

Conclusion . . .

Skin care is a multibillion dollar business.  Who would not like to look great with healthy and non-aging skin? The inevitable aspect of aging is that our bodies do get exposed to the environment.  As I suggested above, through the links to various websites with comments, there are pathways to reduce the damage to your skin.  Contact your dermatologist.  Or just practice simple measures such as hydrating your body enough.  Keep your skin moisturized.  Consult a skin care specialist to save yourself money by not over spending on skin care products that have outrageous claims.

Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Did I Learn From Writing About Mental Health?

I promise that this post will be brief.  Really, do you believe me?  Well, lets get on with this and you will see.  Over the past month, or should I say in the month of May, I wrote two blog posts regarding mental awareness.  The first was about the realization of the physiological responses and the consequences of not responding to them.  While the second was about the role that mental dialogue plays in the success of reducing stress while elevating the health and wellness of ourself and others around us on a daily basis.

I decided to update my "mike's mental awareness journey" page with two posts regarding the process of writing the two posts for this site.  Specifically, what did I learn from these two blog posts -- research, watching, reading the content to assembling them for you to read.  Here is the first post -- click here -- which is brief.  

Really, I have over the last few years really started to understand the importance of noticing when I am stressed and the physiological responses -- my response toward it.  Further, how to deal with stress is centered around getting control of your mind.  I have learned that the best way for me to do so is to start doing job or chore around the house.  That is:  take the stress and the physiological response and utilize that energy to complete a job that I dislike doing -- taking out the trash, dishes, laundry, etc.

These methods work well when you are at home or at work for diffusing stress.  But what about if you are on vacation?  Or at a family event?

On these occasions, the role of forming a positive mental dialogue is critical.   In fact, for me this played out in reality last weekend while on vacation.  You can read about that experience here.  My wife and I were able to turn a terrible situation into a positive one by changing our mindset -- our mental dialogues.

I hope that these two blog posts help encourage you to look within yourself for the signs of stress.  Further, toward changing the self-defeating thoughts into positive constructive thoughts to create a mental dialogue which allows you to accomplish goals that have been obstacles since.

Until next time, Have a great day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Benefits of Yoga

Works Cited:

Bhasin, M. K.; Dusek, J. A.; Chang, B.-H.; Joseph, M. G.; Denninger, J. W.; Fricchione, G. L.; Benson, H.; and Libermann, T. A. "Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways" PLOS One, Volume 8, Issue 5, 2013, e62817.

Chaya, M. S.; Kurpad, A. V.; Nagendra, H. R.; and Nagarathna, R. "The Effect of Long Term Combined Yoga Practice on the Basal Metabolic Rate of Healthy Adults" BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 6, Number 28, 2006, 6 pages.

Clay, C. C.; Lloyd, L. K.; Walker, J. L.; Sharp, K. R.; and Pankey, R. B. "The Metabolic Cost of Hatha Yoga" Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 19, Issue 3, 2005, p6 04-610.

Cohen, D. L.; Bloedon, L. T.; Rothman, R. L.; Farrar, J. T.; Galantino, M. L.; Volger, S.; Mayor, C.; Szapary, P. O.; and Townsend, R. R. "Iyengar Yoga versus Enhanced Usual Care on Blood Pressure in Patients with Prehypertension to Stage I Hypertension: a Randomized Controlled Trial" Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2011, Article ID 546428, 8 pages.

Danucalov, M. A. D.; Simoea, R. S.; Kozasa, E. H.; and Leite, J. R. "Cardirespiratory and Metabolic Changes during Yoga Sessions: The Effects of Respiratory Exercises and Meditation Practices" Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Volume 33, 2008, p 77-81.

Li, Q.-Z.; Li, P.; Garcia, G. E.; Johnson, R. J.; and Feng, L. "Genomic Profiling of Neutrophil Transcripts in Asian Qigong Practitioners: A Pilot Study in Gene Regulation by Mind-Body Interaction"  The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 11, Number 1, 2005, p 29-39.

Nidhi, R.; Padmalatha, V.; Nagarthna, R.; and Ram, A. "Effect of a Yoga Program on Glucose Metabolism and Blood Lipid Levels in Adolescent Girls with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Volume 118, 2012, p 37-41.

Smith, C.; Hancock, H.; Blake-Martimer, J.; and Eckert, K. "A Randomised Comparative Trial of Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Stress and Anxiety" Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 15, 2007, p 77-83.

Yadav, R. K.; Magan, D.; Mehta, N.; Sharma, R.; and Mahapatra, S. C. "Efficacy of a Short-Term Yoga-Based Lifestyle Intervention in Reducing Stress and Inflammation: Preliminary Results" The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 18, Number 12, 2012, p 662-667.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What Kind Of Mental Dialogue Do You Have?

What kind of mental dialogue do you have running through your mind right now?  Is it something like..."why am I using my time to read this article?...should I be doing something else?..."?  Or is the question popping up in your mind the following:

Why is he asking this question?  Where is he going with this question?

Environment Can Influence Mental Dialogue

Have you ever been influenced by your environment?  Have you ever tried to obtain a goal with a positive outcome only to be over rode by the local environment?  Let me ask the question another way:

Have you ever heard a statement from an authority figure or role-model that resembles the following quote?  The quote is about surrounding one's self with successful people:

The people you surround yourself with influence your behaviors, so choose friends who have healthy habits.

Super simple right?

The reason why I ask these questions is because the mental dialogue which you let happen dictates the success and motivation that you have to complete tasks that you define as challenging.

The type of dialogue that each of us let occupy our minds on a daily, hourly, minute by minute, second by second -- basis defines a large part of our success in life.  How do I know this?  I don't necessarily.  People often underestimate the power of the environment on their success toward achieving a goal.  That is not an excuse to blame that environment for your failure (that should be stated at the outset).  As I stated, I do not have any direct scientific or research based evidence -- myself.

But, psychologist Philip Zimbardo does know the answer to this question.  He is the psychiatrist of the famous experiment at Stanford University called "The Stanford Prison Experiment".  In that experiment, his aim was to answer the following questions (taken from the documentary):

1) Does the institution or the situation outside of you come to control your behavior?

2) Or do the stuff inside us (values, morality, ethics) allow you to rise above the negative environment?

What the experiment revealed was that given the set of correct circumstances, an evil environment can turn a good person into a bad person?  Years later, the term was coined by Dr. Philip Zimbardo as the "Lucifer Effect."

In the previous blog post, I wrote about the quote: "Mind Over Matter: If You Don't Mind, It Does Not Matter."  That is true to a large extent.  Where the breakdown occurs leading to failure-like behavior (not achieving one's goals) is the following:

What dog am I feeding?

Why is this question stated as a quote?  The quote is from the podcast "Unbeatable Mind" by Commander Mark Divine (formerly) of the US Navy Seals.  Once you understand the concepts of gaining control over the mindset (from the former blog post), then the circle is complete.  That is controlling the "mental dialogue" that is occupying your mind is the final step in completing the loop of success.  Let us look at the concept of "mental dialogue" in more detail below.

Mental Dialogue Comes From Within Our Minds!

Without going into too much detail the result was: that an evil environment took over "good people."  Right about now you may be asking yourself the following question:

What does this have to do with mental dialogues?

Everything...Let me explain.  Years later, Dr. Zimbardo extended his research to include the mental dialogue that each of us play in our mind every day.  One day, a patient came to his office who had an issue with playing 23 memories in his head each day.  Dr. Zimbardo worked with him a couple of weeks and could not find a way to help the patient "move on" past playing these 23 memories each day in his mind.  How would you cure this patient?

Some years ago a young man I'll call James came to see me in my Stanford University office for help with his shyness.  In the course of our conversation about the origins of his awkwardness around people, he told me that almost everyone he met reminded him of someone who had hurt him or rejected him in the past, so he could not risk being open to them.  And then he related a very interesting image: his life, he said, was organized around the eighty slides that he had arrayed in what he called his "Kodak Carousel mental slide projector."  Once the slide show started, the images were projected into his current consciousness in a predictable and reliable sequence.  So his present sense was the slide on his mind's screen, his past sense was the slide he just viewed, and his future sense was determined by the slide or slides coming up next.  My first thought was that this seemed like a reasonable metaphor for memory.
What he told me next, however, was quite unsettling: James's slide tray was filled with slides of negative experiences only--rejections, failures, missed opportunities, mistakes, miscalculations, bad deals, and more. His present sense, then, was always of a past negative event; his past sense was also of a negative event; and his anticipated future slide was always a predictable negative event from his past!  Worse, his mental slide show was out of his conscious control--it could be turned on at any time by triggering experience; so repeatedly viewing all of these horrific images of his past negative experiences, so vividly projected, further burned them into his brain.
I thought hard about a treatment plan, and arrived at a solution that seemed to fit his particular imagery.  I informed James that kodake had just developed a 120-slide carousel, which meant that he could new be able to add 40 new slides to his old show.  I encouraged him to explore his memory to find any events that were positive: successes, good birthdays, friends, favorite foods, movies, books ... and for each positive image he was able to recall, we created a new, vividly bright slide and inserted it random;y into his mental carousel.  Although the negatives still dominated the set, there was now some occasional relief.  He could see that his life had many good people, experiences, successes, and more that were balanced against the bad.
We gradually replaced more and more of the bad slides with good ones from recent positive experiences.  Over a period of months, this impromptu treatment program began working to provide James with a a more balanced, nuanced conception of his life over time and of his ability to shape his current life.  It also had a profound impact on me, encouraging me to think more deeply about the nature of our temporal orientation and the real impact that our individual concepts of past, present, and future have on our lives. 

Wow, what a revelation for a treatment on his part? right?

How can you extend the your mental carousel?

The above story shows the power of carrying a terrible mental dialogue.  The fact that the gentleman did not have a single "positive element or slide" in his carousel shows the power of the mind.  If we decide to be stubborn, the possibility of overcoming that state of mind can sometimes take several years.

To start to head toward a close of this post, I would like to return to the question the Commander Mark Divine asked in the podcast listed above (or located here):

Which dog am I feeding?

This concept is awesome.  The podcast was short and to the point.  He speaks about a "crossfit" competition where he temporarily lost control during a competition.  The event taught him a great amount about the power of the mind.  Specifically, how to channel an unreserved tap of energy into the right avenues within the mind is crucial toward success.  The success comes from optimizing the mind and awareness of what is happening to us at a given moment.  Some call this the "central governor theory" or by other names.

What is the aim here?

This process is a fine process.  To modify the physiology of the mind to expand the threshold to accept more pain for growth.  In order to do so, a person must be able to understand when we have crossed over the threshold and enter the regime of injury.  Once a person starts to feels fatigue, the mind releases a flood of signals to the sympathetic system to start the process of "shutting down."  At this point, the body has started to shift toward a "shut down" process.

Understanding the shift of thought in order to expand one's threshold is important for growth.  Why?  In all aspects of our lives, we experience the dialogue in our minds -- whether we choose to accept this or not.  For Command Divine, he breaks the dialogue into two sides: the "courage wolf" and the "fear wolf."

Hence, the question above: Which dog am I feeding?

When pain or fear starts to slip into a person's mind, the "fear wolf" is howling and that howling is extremely loud.  The loud noise in our mind prohibits us from hearing the "courage wolf" -- who is hungry and waiting in the background to be fed -- too.  More likely, people are often encouraged to feed the "fear wolf" rather than silencing it and feeding the "courage wolf."

How does a person control both wolfs?

In his podcast, Commander Divine suggests to slow down and take deep breaths.  During that time, take note of the origins of where the "fear wolf" is getting fed.  Try to change those thoughts (which are negative) toward positive thoughts (success thoughts).  The process starts to feed the "courage wolf" and once the ball starts rolling, success follows.

Over time, the process gets easier.  Remember, "Mind over matter: If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Conclusion ...

Controlling the mind throughout the day is extremely complicated.  Although, working at understanding the origin of the negative thinking (i.e., feeding the "fear wolf") is critical toward overpowering those thoughts with positive thoughts (i.e., "easy day, I got this...").  During the generation of positive thoughts, the "fear wolf" is starved (failure of the power of fear) and success sets in (i.e., "courage wolf" is feeding quickly).

Learning to understand how to think under duress is extremely critical toward overcoming anxiety and fear with success and motivation.  As I mentioned above, the environment in which  a person chooses to reside in has an effect over their long and short term success.  This is coupled to the mental dialogue that a person lets into their mind.

The time has come to stop writing.  Now, the job is yours to go out and get success and motivate others to attain whatever dream or goal they would like.  Have a great day.

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Mind Over Matter: If You Don't Mind, It Doesn't Matter"

The title is a quote that I heard while watching the series on television (cable - I guess) on the training series of the United States Navy Seals -- BDU Class 234 years ago.  Watching this series will either tire you out completely, or motivate you to get up and make a change in your life.  Maybe watching the series will do both -- who knows.  Each of us have our own obstacles toward tackling stress.  I chose the quote above as a "thesis" statement with the following paragraphs as an elaboration of what is stress and how can each of us deal with having stress more easily living each day.

What Is Stress?

Whenever a system deviates away from "equilibrium" the system is in a state of stress.  How that system recovers depends heavily on the system itself.  For human beings, the process of recovery depends on our individual self traits coupled with our ability to move ourselves back to equilibrium.  First, a better definition of "stress" might be the best way to really start to understand the feeling and solutions toward overcoming the negative aspects.  Additionally, later in the blog post, the realization of the positive attributes of using the state of "stress" positively will be discussed.  Many of the readers will be surprised at the different perspectives of "stress" that are available.

Many of us recognize the state of being stressed that is commonly portrayed in society on an everyday basis.  Usually, that state is associated with the feeling of fear, anxiety, and a heightened state of awareness.  If the word "stress" is typed into a search engine followed with the word "Wikipedia," the following image or page will appear:

As you can see, there are many definitions of stress available on "Wikipedia."  Of course, the stress (as mentioned above) that humans typically experience -- is usually a feeling of overwhelmed mixed in with fear and anxiety.  Stress (psychological) is defined by "Wikipedia" by the following excerpt:

In psychology, stress is a feeling of strain and pressure. Small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance. It also plays a factor in motivation, adaptation, and reaction to the environment. Excessive amounts of stress, however, may lead to bodily harm. Stress can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, ulcers, dwarfism, and mental illnesses such as depression.[1]
Stress can be external and related to the environment,[2] but may also be created by internal perceptions that cause an individual to experience anxiety or other negative emotions surrounding a situation, such as pressure, discomfort, etc., which they then deem stressful.
Humans experience stress, or perceive things as threatening, when they do not believe that their resources for coping with obstacles (stimuli, people, situations, etc.) are enough for what the circumstances demand. When we think the demands being placed on us exceed our ability to cope, we then perceive stress.

This type of stress is identifiable to most of us as we traverse our daily routines.  Understanding how to identify stress points in our daily lives is very critical.  Especially, if we hope to overcome stress. From a biological standpoint or chemical standpoint, what is stress?  The biology or physiology of stress is rather complex.  First, the traditional chemicals that affect the "neural chemistry" of stress are listed below -- taken from the "Wikipedia" page:

Corticotropin-releasing hormone:
Corticotropin-releasing hormone is the neurohormone secreted by the hypothalamus during a stress response that stimulates the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland by binding to its corticotropin-releasing hormone-receptors, causing the anterior pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone.[42]
Adrenocorticotropic hormone:
Adrenocorticotropic hormone is the hormone secreted by the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland into the body's blood stream that stimulates the cortex of the adrenal gland by binding to its adrenocorticotropic hormone-receptors, thus causing the adrenal gland to release cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone, belonging to a broader class of steroids called glucocorticoids, produced by the adrenal gland and secreted during a stress response. Its primary function is to redistribute energy (glucose) to regions of the body that need it most (i.e., the brain and major muscles during a fight-or-flight situation). As a part of the body's fight-or-flight response, cortisol also acts to suppress the body's immune system.
Cortisol is synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal cortex.[43] Its primary function is to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, suppress the immune system and aid in fat and protein metabolism.[44]
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter released from locus coeruleus when stimulated by the hypothalamus during a stress response. Norepinephrine serves as the primary chemical messenger of the central nervous system's sympathetic branch that prepares the body for fight-or-flight response.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter synthesized in the raphe nucleus of the pons of the brainstem and projects to most brain areas. Serotonin is thought to play an important role in mood regulation. Stress-induced serotonin dysfunctions have been associated with anxiety, fear and depression-like symptoms.
Neuropeptide Y:
Neuropeptide Y is a protein that is synthesized in the hypothalamus and acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. Traditionally, it has been thought to play an important role in appetite, feeding behavior, and satiety, but more recent findings have implicated Neuropeptide Y in anxiety and stress, specifically, stress resiliency.[45]

How do these chemicals actually play into the process of stress?  Meaning, when a person feels "stressed" what is going on in the brain with the chemicals listed above.  According to the Neuroscientist Dr. Kristen Race in her "TED Talk" titled "Settle Down, Pay Attention, say Thank You: A How-To" the stress response proceeds as follows (after the image of the brain):

The stress response in the body proceeds as follows:

Let's take a look at what it looks inside the brain:
1) my eyes sent the image of the bear
2) to the relay center in my brain called the thalamus.
3) The thalamus perceived the bear as threatening
4) and sent a signal to the amygdala
5) which activated a set of responses designed to promote survival.
6) This floods our nervous system with chemicals.
7) Our heart pounds faster.
8) Our breathing becomes quick and shallow.
9) Muscles tighten and senses sharpen.

Upon reading the first bullet point, you might be confused.  The excerpt above was taken from the talk highlighted above about the speaker's (Dr. Kristen Race) reaction to seeing a bear in the woods on a trip years ago.  In her talk, she describes how different parts of the brain play different roles during a stress response as follows using the encounter with the bear:

 Now, that message also goes to the prefrontal cortex.  This is the part of our brain responsible for attention, impulse control, problem solving, decision making and forward thinking.  It's the part of our brain that registers positive emotions and helps us work and learn efficiently.   
Basically, we have the smart part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, and the alarm part of our brain in the limbic system. The alarm part of our brain reacts faster and, at times, can be stronger than the smart part of our brain. 
In this instance, my prefrontal cortex was slow to access the information I had learned about bear because the alarm response had taken over.   
If we were to look at it on a graph, it would look something like this. At our baseline, we feel calm and at ease, and our prefrontal cortex is in charge.   
When the alarm is triggered, our limbic system is in charge. This is a classic fight-or-flight response, or stress response.   
There are, however, stress responses triggered all the time in our lives that aren't necessarily life-threatening, but the chemical reaction and what happens inside our brain is the same.

Here is the corresponding diagram that she uses to illustrate the "spike" in the stress response while the pathways are being activated:

Source: Kristen Race

How does this graph look if a person is chronically stressed over a given day, year, or a number of years?

Here is a diagram that is used in her talk to illustrate the response of "chronic stress" shown below:

Source: Kristen Race

What type of an effect does this series of spikes have on the "immune system"?

To answer this question, we need to turn again toward "Wikipedia"(biology) for the following description shown below:

Stress is the body's reaction to any stimuli that disturbs its equilibrium. When the equilibrium of various hormones is altered the effect of these changes can be detrimental to the immune system.[46] Much research has shown a negative effect stress has on the immune system, mostly through studies where participants were subjected to a variety of viruses. In one study individuals caring for a spouse with dementia, representing the stress group, saw a significant decrease in immune response when given an influenza-virus vaccine compared to a non-stressed control group.[46][47] A similar study was conducted using a respiratory virus. Participants were infected with the virus and given a stress index. Results showed that an increase in score on the stress index correlated with greater severity of cold symptoms.[46] Studies with HIV have also shown stress to speed up viral progression. Men with HIV were 2–3 times more likely to develop AIDS when under above average stress.[46]
Stress affects the immune system in many ways. The immune system protects the body from viruses, bacteria, and anything that is different or that the body does not recognize. The immune system sees these as intruders and it sends messages to attack. The white blood cells, leukocytes, are very important to the immune system.[48] White blood cells have several types including B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells. B cells secrete antibodies. T cells attack intruders and natural killer cells attack cells that have been infected by viruses. These leukocytes produce cytokines which fight infections.[48] But they also are the immune systems communicator in telling the brain that the body is ill. When an individual is stressed or going through a stressful experience the immune system starts to produce natural killer cells and cytokines.[49] When levels of cytokines are higher they combat infections and therefore the brain gets communicated the body is ill and it produces symptoms as if the individual was ill. These symptoms include fever, sleepiness, lack of energy, no appetite, and basically flu like symptoms. These symptoms mean the body is fighting the illness or virus.[48] This is useful for when the body goes through the stress from an injury. But the body has now evolved to do this process during stressful events such as taking exams, or even going through a life changing event such as a death of a family member or a divorce.[49] That is why many times when individuals are stressed because of life changing events or situations such as those, they get these symptoms and believe they are sick when in reality it can be because the body is under stress.[49]

As you can see, the effects are numerous and deleterious.  Or should I say, this is the current understanding and thinking surrounding stress and the toll that is taken on the immune system.  Therefore, to minimize the effects (negative effects) of stress, we must learn how to identify the state of feeling stressed and learn how to capitalize the moment in a positive way, or counteract the negative state quickly.  The possibility of removing stress from one's life is impossible.  In fact, that would be unhealthy.  Stress is good to challenge us in a sense and keep us sharp.  This brings me to the next section of the blog post -- proactive use of stress.

Does the physiological process of "stress" have to be viewed from a negative perspective?  Is there a way to use the "state of stress" as a positive attribute?  In order to do this, we need to recognize the feeling of being stressed and utilize the state in a positive way.

Instead of reacting to the state of stress as a negative reaction, why not use the state as a proactive way to motivate success?

The transition from reacting to stress and utilizing stress in a proactive way is in line with current thought of stress and the concept of mindfulness.  Proactive is equivalent to being "offensive" rather than "defensive."  Having an "offensive" mindset can control their mindset and have a script in their mind that is healthy along with an increased level of commitment toward a healthy life.

Returning to Dr. Kristen Race's diagram approach, what would such a mind look like?

Living in control and see through the clutter (of stress) to have a proactive mindset, their mindset would appear like the following:

Source: Kristin Race

Wow!  What a concept right?  How does a person achieve this control over their mindset?  Lets explore the title of the blog post a little more in detail and see what positive attributes may come about as a result.

Mind Over Matter!

As I alluded to above with the work of Dr. Kristen Race, the stress response does not need to be a negative aspect of our lives.  Instead of "reacting" to stress, why not use the stress in a proactive way.  In order to do so, we must be able to identify stress.

What exactly does that mean -- to identify stress?  Do I need to take a test to see if I am stressed?

No, I do not mean that you should take a "stress test" of which there are many available online.  That is unless you would like to.  Shown below is one such example of a "stress scale" -- the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale:


Lets return to the title which states the following motto: "Mind over matter: if you do not mind, it doesn't matter."  The quote is extremely powerful.  How can a person turn this quote into a proactive statement.  Commander Mark Divine does so with the following statement in his video titled "Mental Toughness Navy Seals" with a quote:

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win"

Notice how the preparation is the key element in the above quote.  Preparation is a large part of relieving stress.  Especially, when a person feels stress residing in their body or building up.  There are multiple avenues by which to deal with the stress that builds up in a person's body.  Exercise and meditation seem to be the best way to lead a proactive approach to avoiding the build up of stress in your body.  Commander Mark Divine is the author of the book titled "Unbeatable Mind."  I have yet to read the wonderful book, but have heard quite a bit about the book while listening to his podcasts -- which are freely available on his website -- click here and enjoy.

Warriors like Commander Divine have mastered the technique of controlling their mind.  In the title, "Mind Over Matter: If You Do Not Mind, It Does Not Matter" there is a powerful meaning which everyone should ascribe to mastering.  The power of controlling your mind is overwhelmingly powerful.   Each of us has the ability to learn how to do so.  Furthermore, each of us have the ability to do so with our own mind!  Reading widely and practicing a variety of techniques is not going to solve your problem of dealing with your stress and controlling your mind.  But you know how to control your own mind -- better than anyone else.  Meaning, you have to explore what works for you.  What works for you may not work for others.

Sometimes I laugh to deal with stressful situations -- is that alright?

Of course, not only is laughing healthy, you will be practicing what cutting edge science is discovering a powerful way to utilize stress in your body.  Current research by Dr. Kelly McGonigal suggests that this is the case.  I recently watched a wonderful TED talk by the Psychologist Kelly McGonigal titled "How To Make Stress Your Friend" which opened my eyes to a new vision of stress.

In her talk, she talks about a variety of stress responses that can be constructive rather than destructive.  During the typical stress response as discussed above, your heart rate will elevate and as a result the blood vessels will appear like that shown below -- with a thick wall rather than a thin wall:

Source: Kelly McGonigal

This constriction is believed to be the reason that stress is associated with the onset of cardiovascular diseases.  Now, what was revealing and absolutely amazing about Dr. McGonigal's insight into a study down at Harvard was that perception of stress was a "game-changer."  In a study done, two groups of patients were formed with opposite perceptions of stress.  One group was told that stress is good for them, challenging their bodies and will help them live longer.  Whereas the second group was told of the negative impacts of stress on the body and the shortened lifespan that could result with years of chronic stress.  What do you think the results indicated?

In the first group, the blood vessels measured indicated that they appeared normal - relaxed (i.e., in the diagram above -- thin walled -- less constricted).  Whereas in the second group, the walls of the blood vessels increased in thickness and constricted while their blood pressures rose.  This profile resembles the state of a cardiovascular disorder.  Not good.

What if we could have our bodies
Another surprising revelation of the TED talk was the contribution of the chemical "oxytocin" to the stress response.  Stress makes you social -- really?  Yes, check this out.  Oxytocin is shown below:

Source: Kelly McGonigal

Now, oxytocin makes you want to forge relationships and gather help from others to deal with the stressful situation -- seek support.  A biological response to help you deal with the stress -- get help or support.  The human heart as shown below has a number of oxytocin receptors on the surface:

Source: Kelly McGonigal

What does this mean?  Well..what this means is that the process of seeking support and gather help from others during a stressful period actually will strengthen the heart muscle.   What?  Really?  Indeed, that is what the study says.  Wow.


Where do we go from here?  From what has been presented above, I think the concept of taking a proactive approach toward utilizing stress in a positive manner is a key element to our health -- both of the body and mind. That means that the time has approached to ask one's self: How do I make this stress productive?  The chemicals are already present, might as well use them productively.

Searching over the internet for stress videos elicits a huge number of responses.  Everyone is a professional on how to identify stress and how to deal with the onset.  What I would like to convey is this:

You are the only person that knows exactly when you are stressed!  Furthermore, you are the only person who knows exactly how to get rid of that stress!

Understanding the above statement is critical to your success in dealing with stress.  With the enormous amount of content available online regarding stress, one would be led to believe that the stress in everyone's lives would be alleviated.  That is not the case.  Each of us need to learn what technique works for us individually.

I do this by exploring my mental awareness on my blog located on our website:  On that site, I have my mental awareness journey -- click on the left hand side titled "Mike's Mental Awareness Journey" to access page of entries.  What do you use?  What has been successful for you?  Leave a comment below.  Until next time, have a great day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How Do We Handle All Of The Information Coming At Us?

Have you ever heard a friend, colleague, or family member speak of the quantity of books that they have digested (read) in a short amount of time?  Has that conversation (one way) caused you stress?  Maybe you are not a book enthusiast, therefore, the thought has not crossed your mind.  Or, maybe the answer is yes and you have an inner dialogue with yourself asking the following question:

Why don't I have time to read that book that I have been reading for a year off and on?

I have had this dialogue plenty of times.  Furthermore, I have had the dialogue with friends who have the ability to digest a book in a day.  This seems impossible to me.  I used to spend time worrying that I have not been prioritizing my day to accompany the time to sit down and read the stack (rather large stack) of books that I have desired to read over the last few years.  I have been successful in reading.  Just not as fast as I would like.  If I could read faster, then I could digest and understand the deluge of information being hurled at me through books, e-mail, the internet, and newspapers along with journals.  Sound familiar?

What Is Referencing?

What is referencing?  To start with, the word reference implies that a bibliography or citation of a book, journal article, or magazine article is cited as a "reference."  If you visit the definition on "" you will find the first definition stating the following: "an act or instance of referring."  Of course, scroll down the page further, and the verb form of the definition will be apparent as shown below:

I am attracted to number 13 "to arrange (notes, data, etc.) for easy reference."  Why?  That definition serves me very well in handling the daily deluge of information arriving in front of me via a screen or on paper.  My stress and anxiety are lowered as a result of using this approach toward handling incoming information.  Let me explain further.

Years ago, when my grandmother was still alive, we had a wonderful conversation over lunch -- which I will never forget.  I asked her what book she was currently reading.  She responded with "why do I only need to be reading one book at a time?"  This struck me as odd at the time.  Years later, I identified quite comfortably with her response.

She went on further with "... what happens if I do not like a book?  Am I compelled to read the entire book?  Maybe I only like part of the book?... After all, what is the purpose of reading a book?"  Entertaining these questions took a while -- a few years.

Years later when I was in graduate school studying chemistry, I would have similar discussions with my lab mates.  One of them was quite "well read" as a student of a variety of subjects.  While another held the personal view of the following:

"Having the knowledge of a large amount of books (having read them all) is not as important as having access to that knowledge."

This was pretty powerful for me.  Meaning, knowing where to find the information is just as important as holding that information in one's head.  After all, he said that the mental demand of such storage might well be overwhelming to a persons health -- in a negative way.

Just today, I was watching a talk by an entrepreneur named Tai Lopez.  The title of the talk is "Why I read A Book A Day (And You Should Too): The Law Of 33%" and is worth sitting through.  The length of the talk is around 15 minutes long.

Why am I mentioning this talk?

Often in life and more so today, the amount of information being thrown at us is analogous to drinking water out of a fire hose turned on full blast.  I find this completely overwhelming at times.  I find myself asking myself, how can I remember where I found this article, book, interesting thought?

Use Referencing?

Yes, use the concept of referencing.  Keep a track of the articles with a journal with a brief entry for each interesting article.  The same applies for a book that you find extremely interesting or just an excerpt from a book or a journal article.  The act of writing the excerpt or thought down alleviates your mind from feeling "bogged down" with trying to remember the location and importance of the thought at the moment -- at a later point in time.

Wait, but that is not all.... Be proactive!

In the video above, Tai speaks of reading a book each day.  In all honesty, the title is what drew me to the talk.  I sat through almost the entire talk to hear about reading a book everyday.  I thought that he might read a book each day.  No, he is not a speed reader.  And surprise, no he does not read an entire book each day.  But, he does pick up a book (a new book or sometimes an older book with good advice or thoughts in it) and sifts through the book.

He states in his talk that he reads the "table of contents" then proceeds to the ending.  Sometimes, he will read an excerpt out of an interesting chapter title.  This might sound like cheating.  Remember what my grandmother said, "Why do you have to finish the book?"  In fact, she was a proponent of reading parts of the book, then taking time off only to return later or sometimes not at all.

Does this sound familiar?

The simple act of reading parts that catch our eye, or all of the book is the same in the sense that the act is "referencing" the material.  The same can be applied to any material that comes our way.  With that being said, each person has their own method.  Stick to the one that works for you.

My partner -- Kayla is a skimmer.  She skims through books and articles.  She is referencing at lightning speed.  I am always amazed at watching her.  Whereas -- me -- mike is a slow reader and "references" at a much slower pace.  Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.  What works for you?  How do you handle the information that is thrown your way?  Leave a comment.


At the moment, I am writing a blog post on "stress" and the effects on our bodies and minds that harboring "stress" has on us.  Stay tuned.  Until then, find a method to handle the tremendous amount of data coming at you.  Don't try to memorize it all.  Or do -- if that suits you.  For me, I take the approach of "referencing" the material to return and digest the information in bits and pieces at my leisure.  That way, I might be reading an excerpt and have a thought which I want to write about but cannot wait until I am finished reading to write about the thought.  Is that confusing?  It was in my mind too.

Each of us deserves to live a good life.  How do you digest knowledge to minimize your stress in life?  Until next time, have a great day.