ERINWORLD - your personal guide to wellness

 
 
 

Introduction
Exercise Essentials
Dietary Do's
Mental Muscle
Social Savvy
Wonderful Work
References
About Erin

 

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Erin - photo at the Giger Bar in Chur, Switzerland

Mental Muscle

Your mind could be described as the seat of your true self, or the vessel of your soul. Even today science has only unlocked the tip of the iceberg known as the human mind and consciousness. While nobody knows exactly how our incredible pattern-recognition neural net works to create the miracle of consciousness, nor have we been able to replicate an entire mind in a synthetic model, we do have a good idea of how to keep that mysterious lump of fatty, grey folded tissue in top form.

First off, it may be surprising, but your brain does not work nearly as well as it should if you do not do the first two things described on this site: exercise, and eat right. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, resulting in alertness. Even more importantly, though, exercise causes the brain to release painkilling and euphoric chemicals called endorphins that lift your mood. It's a natural high.

Since the brain is mostly made of fat and protein, it has been shown that you need to ensure you eat the right kinds of fats for optimum performance. The brain responds particularly positively to an increase in omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. That means be sure to take your daily fish oil pills and eat fish such as wild salmon at least a couple times a week! Flax also provides useful oils for the brain, however, it's only about 10% as effective/usable by the body as fish oil.

Several scientific studies have shown that by increasing your amount of omega-3 fatty acid intake you can measurably delay the onset or lessen the severity of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is also usually useful in those with mood disorders such as depression. See my References section for links to detailed information on how fish oil fortifies your brain against mental diseases, or use the special custom search on my pages. It really is incredible that something as simple as eating omega 3 fish oil can have such hope with these most frightening of afflictions. If you lose your mind, you lose who you are.

A few other dietary ingredients that are potentially beneficial to the brain are curry and antioxidants (from berries and greens). Cardio exercise is actually one of the best things you can do for your brain (and to avoid cancer, too), according to studies on what staves off mental decline as people age.

Pumping mental iron

The features and capabilities of the brain need to be used and challenged on a daily basis through mental puzzles and mental work. Like nutrition, working your brain can delay the onset of some serious mental diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. How can you work your brain effectively? Here are some common ways to ensure you keep your neural network functioning at its peak:

  • Read - a LOT. Read at least ten pages every day as a bare minimum. Reading the news or a selection of blogs on a regular basis can easily add up to this if novels aren't your cup of tea.
  • Learn a new language every 10 years. Language skill acquisition has a profound effect on the brain. Rosetta Stone is a great program to use.
  • Make a point to do math in your head or on a piece of paper instead of using a calculator (even though it takes longer!)
  • Debate. Question everything. Learn to expand your mind to see things from all angles.
  • Learn new skills and be a lifelong student, both formally and informally. This includes hands-on skills, not only intellectual classroom education.
  • Experience new things and get out of your comfort zone now and then.
  • Keep up with current events, the news, and stay involved in your local community. Write letters to the editor. There is never a shortage of problems that need solving in the world.
  • Travel and see the world to vastly expand your frame of reference and to gain novel insights on how other people approach life and solve problems (often much more simply and cost effectively than we do in the Western world!)
  • Play educational games at home like Boggle, Go, or Chess.

Sleep and schedule

Adults require 5.5 hours of sleep a night as an absolute minimum in order to stay alive and functioning. Most require 6.5 - 8 hours to function adequately. I recommend 7 to 8. Even one or two nights of inadequate sleep can cause severe reaction time and performance errors. A very recent study also demonstrated that a person's facial skin becomes 60% more saggy/lax and blemished due to lack of sleep, and if this occurs on a regular basis a person can look several years older than they really are! Just as important as sleep, though, is your schedule. Do not sleep in more than 1.5 hours later than you normally would wake up. It is better to wake up almost on time, feel tired, and go to bed early the next night than sleep in. As a lifelong insomniac I've learned the hard way that shifting the time you wake up by more than 1.5 or 2 hours can wreak absolute havoc, and trigger migraines as well!

Meditation

People who meditate daily are measurably happier and live longer. Beside being pleasurable, it also quiets and heals the mind. What more is there to say? Learn how to do it and get to it before bed each night. You can purchase guided meditation recordings such as Holosync or Isabella Valentine recordings to make it easier, and speed up the process with mind machines, which we will discuss below.

Mental enhancement

You may be one of those who wants to push the limits of what the human mind is typically capable of. This is achievable through everything from dietary supplements that alter neurotransmitters or hormones, to prescription mental enhancement drugs being used by the military to reduce the effect of sleep deprivation. While I won't get into that in depth, here are some leads:

  • Take 1.5mg of melatonin (the body's natural sleep inducing hormone, produced by the Pineal gland) before bed to ensure sound sleep if you have insomnia or anxiety. Only use it when necessary, not every single night.
  • Provigil / Modalert (modafinil or armodafinil) is a prescription drug nootropic used by regular people looking for a psychological edge, as well as the military and astronauts. It's clinically proven to reduce the need for sleep and reduce errors from lack of sleep. It also greatly enhances the ability to focus. Anywhere from 50mg-200mg first thing in the morning (since it won't wear off for 8 hours) is an appropriate dose. Start with 50mg since higher doses can be too stimulating. Only use it when needed, such as for long gruelling conference days when travelling for work, or during exam study time. It's not something that's necessary to take on a daily basis. Some liken it to the fictional drug NZT-48 from the film "Limitless".
  • Controlled electrical stimulation (DC polarization) can improve brain performance by 20% or more. Unfortunately that's only available in research labs at this time.
  • Controlled transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is showing some promise. Like DC polarization there's not really any option to do this at home just yet, but you can always sign up for studies.
  • Ginkgo Biloba, an herb, can improve memory by increasing general blood flow to the brain. Take as directed. As with most herbs, it's probably not best to take on a permanent basis.
  • Wellbutrin, also known as Bupropion-SR, is an unusual, very effective & unique anti-depressant that works quite differently than common SSRIs or Tricyclic anti-depressants. It's more energizing/motivating, but the biggest difference is it's well documented to improve sexual performance and libido, especially in women. This unexpected side effect is unique since almost all anti-depressants destroy or lower a person's libido or sexual function. Also, unlike most anti-depressants, it doesn't tend to cause weight gain. Even people who are not totally depressed and are performing only a little sub-optimally or have low energy in general can usually drastically benefit from this prescription medication. A high dose doesn't necessarily mean better; it's always a good idea to start low at 100mg/morning and ramp up to a maximum of 350mg/day (and only go that high if necessary!). I've found this drug, like Modafinil, is also somewhat similar to NZT-48 from the film Limitless.

More on Provigil: "The subjects on modafinil did far better on cognitive tests than those on a sugar pill. Double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies have shown that some subjects can stay awake for more than 90 hours."

Altering your states of consciousness: neuro-programming

This is something I began exploring in 2007. You can directly and measurably influence you brainwave states by using what's called "mind machines" or "light and sound machines". These are visors that flicker light at the exact same frequences the brain operates at, between 2 hertz and 40 hertz. There are specific and well-documented ranges associated with specific states like super-learning, deep meditation, physical healing, and daydreaming. When the parts of the brain associated with sound and hearing process these pulsing inputs, a phenomenon in physics known as frequency following response causes your brainwaves to, without effort on your part, come into sync with the frequency of the light or sound flickering. This was first noted when it was observed that pendulum clocks hung near one another always come into sync. This FFR phenomenon was found to be applicable to anything wave-based, including brainwaves. I realize it sounds bizarre, but it is well proven scientifically and is also a method to help you get into a meditative state much faster, saving time. I've verified it in myself after buying a Sirius Light and Sound Mind Machine as well as various audio recordings that pulse at the target brainwave frequencies. There are preset programs or you can manually set them in these target ranges:

1-4 hz = Delta - deep dreamless sleep and healing
5-8 hz = Theta - deep meditation, out of body experiences, hypnagogia, and heightened suggestibility. This is my favourite state!
9-12 hz = Alpha - superlearning, relaxation, daydreaming. A great state!
13 hz and above = Beta - regular alert state

Exploring the extreme boundaries of consciousness

Several relatively safe plant, fungi, or synthetic entheogens (entheogen means "generating god within" - as in hallucinatory or psychedelic substances that usually cause mystical or spiritually beneficial experiences) can assist one in experiencing the extreme limits of consciousness exploration. While I don't recommend that you use these substances often, with prudent occasional use they can provide a person with profound, insightful, sometimes deeply religious, awe-inspiring, and meaningful internal experiences and visions. Furthermore, unlike the "hard drugs", psychedelics are not addictive. The undeniable benefits of various psychedelics have been confirmed by many studies in both the 20th and 21st centuries but such well-known institutions as Harvard University and several others, and there are many studies going on right now due to the promise these substances have shown.

The entheogens I recommend looking into are: Salvia divinorum (which is still legal in quite a few locales, including Canada and some US states), DMT (n,n-dimethyltryptamine) and its longer acting brew form called Ayahuasca, Magic Mushrooms, and 2C-B. Significant background research (at sites like erowid.org) and careful attention to suppliers needs to be done before embarking in this arm of exploration! These substances are illegal in many countries or states, especially the developed countries, so be aware of the legality before you embark on this path. By the way, some South American countries where these are legal offer retreats where you can travel to ingest them in a supportive and spiritually beneficial setting (especially Ayahuasca).

You should always start a new psychedelic with a low dose and work your way up gradually in subsequent sessions, generally with a minimum of 2 weeks (ideally a month) between sessions to avoid tolerance buildup. It's also important that you ensure someone sober and experienced is present to watch over you, at least the first few times, as these substances - especially at higher doses - can make one lose touch with current reality and appear to travel into alternate dimensions, or have vivid out of body experiences.

My References section contains a plethora of links if you want to dig deeper into this fascinating - and often life changing - arm of mental experience.

In sum

Proper nutrition including omega-3 fish oils, physical exercise, adequate sleep, daily meditation, and rigorous daily mental challenges are needed to keep your mind in an optimum state. What's even more exciting are the techniques and methods for pushing your mind far beyond what you probably thought you were ever capable of experiencing. Consider trying it. Your mind and who you are are forever growing and changing - it's a lifelong journey. Why not exert some control over it?

The myth that your brain is no longer plastic in adulthood, or that you are born with a set number of neurons that disappear over time is exactly that - a myth. You can grow new ones and stay sharp right into old age, just like the Okinawans of Japan do. Feed your brain premium fuel, and "Use it or lose it!"

 

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