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Our Brain Knows

concert
concert

Our Brain Knows

Neuroscience is discovering and uncovering more rationale behind our behaviors, attitudes and choices than ever before. At 40 Years of Zen, we put together a short list of fun facts about the neuroscience behind some common life experiences that we thought you might enjoy as well.   

Baking Bread – Baking Comfort

Did you know that active dry yeast is the new gold? With COVID-19, a trend has emerged of people posting photos of delicious looking homemade bread in every shape, size and color. So much so that there is now a global shortage of yeast. What does this have to do with the brain? During times of stress our bodies crave the relaxing, pleasurable neurotransmitter, Serotonin. The bread boosts our insulin levels which in turn raises our tryptophan, an amino acid, levels. With the increase of serotonin, we can sleep and relax better in times of stress.  Just keep in mind that the gluten from bread is going to increase inflammation and weaken your immune system. So, it’s best to stick to gluten free baking ingredients such as coconut flor, nut flours, cassava, tapioca, arrowroot and even white rice flour. Get the carbs and serotonin you need, while keeping your immune system strong.  

Concert Goers Sync Up!

In a study, The Brain and Mind Institute measured the brainwaves of a group of people listening to a live music performance and compared it to them listening to a recording.  While listening to the live performance, the participants’ brain waves sync’d up.  The researchers concluded that the concert goers have a more enjoyable time due to this unique bond that allows the individual to feel a part of a collective. According to Jessica Grahn, who co-led the study, “When the brain waves were synchronized in this live condition, they synchronized around the rate at which people tend to feel the beat.” So not only do the brainwaves sync up, but they adjust to music being played! Perhaps musicians are playing their audience as much as their instruments. 

Emotions are Key to Decision Making

A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. When he studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, they could not make decisions.  They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides — shall I have the chicken or the turkey? This is because emotions drive action. The emotions signal that the thought processing is complete. A brain without emotion is like a car that is in motion but has no breaks. 

Touch Reduces Pain

When we see a loved one in emotional distress, it’s our very nature to reach out and touch them, to soothe them. Just like a toddler asking his mother to kiss his new bruise. Does human touch actually reduce someone’s pain? Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder designed a study to investigate this. They discovered that when one partner of a couple was in pain and touched by their counterpart, their brains shared a high level of synchronization through the Alpha Mu band. The more the couple’s brains synchronized the more their pain diminished! 

Our Brains Reveal our Social Bonds

Two friends gazing out a lake, witnessing a dance performance or reviewing some new science discovery will share the same levels of engagement as well as the same distraction and attraction cycles. The study, “Similar neural responses predict friendship”, indicates that people tend to be friends with individuals who see the world in a similar way.  When their neural response patterns are measured as they engage in an activity together, a clear pattern emerges which allows researchers to predict the strength of two people’s social bond. 

Learning New Skills Builds Resiliency

With a cutback on our social activities and social connections, many of us have more free time on our hands. This extra time has led to an uptick in the number of people who are pursuing new skills and studies. There is also a rationale behind it related to our brains. This may be because human beings are motivated to learn new skills to invoke a feeling of accomplishment related to their personal growth during periods of high stress and hardshipWhen we learn we are generating new neural activity patterns which assists us in building resiliency to handle life’s challenges. 

Summary

We will not be going to a concert anytime soon, but when we do finally get the chance to attend, we will be paying more attention to our connection with the performers and all of the people in the audience with us. Learning about the latest discoveries in neuroscience is interesting and gives us more opportunity to bring awareness to our responses in any given situation. We can enhance our responses with science and lean into the things that are going to make us do and feel better. 

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Social Connection Brought to you by Science and Technology

milky way
milky way

Social Connection Brought to you by Science and Technology

We know from brain science that human beings are wired to be social, so it is not a surprise that the necessity of social distancing, brought about by the coronavirus on such a grand scale, is a challenge for so many of us.  Better, perhaps, for us to have termed our life saving technique as “physical distancing while maintaining social connection”. This shift in perspective is key to keeping our spirits up and our thoughts and emotions balanced while we navigate this uncharted territory. With science and technology available at our fingertips we are more equipped than ever to manage the social challenges of this pandemic. 

 Social connection and social cohesion are woven into the fabric of our lives as well as the neural networks in our brains. Typically, we spend a lot of time and energy investing in our social relationships. It has been well researched and documented that a lack of social connection has a significant negative impact on our health and well-being. 

The Social Brain

Social and emotional processing is localized in the outer layer of the brain, the neocortex, which is the newest (neo) part of our brain to develop. Part of the neocortex, the frontal lobeis responsible for abstract reasoning, conscious thought and emotion, planning and organization, and is highly developed in humans. One reason for the substantial growth of the neocortex, 76% of our brain’s weight, may be that humans adapted this way in response to the demands of living in large, close-knit groups.  In primates, the size of the neocortex relative to other brain areas increases in almost direct proportion to the average size of the social group. 

Fundamental as Our Need to Eat

In fact, the acute disruption of ties through social exclusion has a marked effect on our thoughts and feelings, and hence brain responses. This neural responsiveness to exclusion is thought to help maintain social bonds. A recent study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated that both loneliness and hunger share signals deep in the part of the brain that governs basic impulses for reward and motivation. It suggests that our need to connect is apparently as fundamental as our need to eat. 

 When we don’t get our social needs met it can lead us into a state of fear, confusion, anger and, even aggressive behavior Losing social connection can make it easy to also lose the motivation to eat healthy, be active and practice good self-care. 

To physically mingle is to risk our own lives and the lives of others.  As others have noted, “between 1939-1944, generations before us were asked to serve by going to war while we are being asked to serve by sitting on our couches!”  So, what can we do to keep our social bellies full? 

Just Ask the Astronauts

Perhaps the best people to mentor and guide us through this time are astronauts who have spent inordinate amounts of time in social isolation.   

Astronaut Anne McClain tweeted that “We are all astronauts on planet Earth together. We’ll be successful in confinement if we are intentional about our actions and deliberate about caring for our teams.” 

In an article written in the Washington Post, astronauts Christina Koch, Chris Hatfield and Scott Kelly shared the ways they were able to maintain social connection while out in space.  Some of their creative approaches included: going beyond voice chatting and connecting in real time for face to face communication, doing physical exercises at the same time as people on earth and holding digital jam sessions with people who were remote from them. 

Staying Connected with Technology

Building on the creative approaches of these astronauts, here are some practical ideas on hoto stay engaged in relationship while you are asked to physically distance: 

  • Share activities like online games, cards and book clubs using apps developed specifically for them. 
  • Stream a movie together while being physically apart. 
  • Join or create a virtual meetup that meets regularly on your favorite topics. 
  • Participate in online classes that encourage group collaboration and discourse. 
  • Facetime or Zoom while taking a walk through nature, sharing in the sights and sounds of your individual experiences. 
  • Stay in shape with a digital workout buddy to build community and your health at the same time. 
  • For work, Dave Asprey encourages his teams to use Zoom or SKYPE instead of phone calls so that they can maintain the “team” connection. 

Summary

In some ways we have the best-case scenario for what is the worst-case scenario any of would have imagined. We have electricity, refrigeration, internet and methods of social cohesion and communication which are all assisting us to navigate our new world as pleasantly as it is possible to do. We have access to useful and impactful technology and an understanding of the science of why it is so necessary to use it. 

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Emotional Resiliency during the Coronavirus

Lilypad on water
lily pad

Emotional Resiliency during the Coronavirus

We can’t control the storm, but we can control the sails of our ship. We are all watching in absolute shock what is transpiring within our own lives, our community, our nations and the world.  How do we navigate these new waters when our usual compass is not suited for this time or how do we trust the new direction our internal GPS is taking us? Being able to manage our sails with emotional resiliency is key. 

 At 40 Years of Zen we use innovative technology, peer-reviewed neuroscience and custom protocols to teach you to change your own brain waves and thus provide you with more command over your life. Here are some useful tips and reminders, tied to brain science, that you might find useful. 

Overwhelm: Fear, Worry and Stress

Many people will be feeling fearful, worried and angry as we live through the time of the coronavirus. When someone is in fear, worry or stress they are most apt to make bad decisions or suffer from immobilization.  

When you experience fear, our amygdala, our emotional center, is the first to respond and it sets up the body to respond in fight or flight mode. Closely connected with the amygdala is the hippocampus which regulates motivation, emotions, learning and memory, along with the prefrontal cortex which assists in the interpretation and decision making, which together, lets a person know if the perceived threat is real.  

When we are stuck in fear with what is happening, we are not allowing our “thinking” circuitry of our brain to reassure our “emotional” areas that we are, in fact, okay, in this moment. 

If you are standing in a savannah in the Sahara and see a lion in the wild coming towards you it will trigger a strong fear reaction. If you see the same lion in a zoo you are more apt to think of it as a gorgeous big ol’ pussycat and view it with curiosity. 

The fear of the coronavirus and our current situation is an accurate response and it is a good motivator to follow the dictates of what the best experts and authorities are requesting that you do to keep you, your family and community safe. Once you have put into action what has been prompted and guided than staying in fear will not assist you but rather stress you and keep your mind and body in an agitated mode 

Brain Waves

The communication, between neurons within our brains, called brain waves, is the root of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

There are different frequencies, measured in hertz, of our brain waves that determine what mode we are operating in. For example, Theta and Delta are most commonly associated with sleep; Gamma is known for synthesizing complex information from different areas of the brain; Beta is the state we perform our cognitive tasks, thinking and engagement with the world; Alpha is a state where we relax, get creative, play and enjoy peak experiences. 

When we are in high stress and fear we are operating out of a Beta state on overdrive and we would be best served when the immediate danger has passed to be able to take our foot off the gas and come to a place of homeostatis. Continual high frequency processing is not a very efficient way to run the brain as it takes a tremendous amount of energy. 

 While in quarantine, in their time, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity.  Both of those endeavours would have meant that they were hanging out in Alpha states and most likely, accessing Gamma. 

Best Practices

When you downgrade fear to having awareness of a situation, without the experience of high stress, you than have a greater capacity to access the validity of the threat, make clear, solid decisions on the best way to mitigate it and find the healthiest ways to  life with it.  

To get out us out of that fear perspective, we want to shift into an Alpha state.  When we are in an Alpha state we can be in an enhanced creative zone, feel relaxed, find it easy to strategically think, find ourselves feeling into gratitude and appreciation and able to experience love and joy.  We do want to mindful about what is happening and adjust our lives accordingly and at the same time be able to relax and stay in the moment while being creative, productive and happy. Here are some suggestions, scientifically proven, for shifting into Alpha states most readily that you can do from home: 

Breathe 

Close your eyes and breathe. When you are in stress or agitation sometimes a simple breath will bring you back to the present. Eyes closed is where we typically access the most Alpha. Become aware of your breath and slow it down. 

Gratitude  

The more you revel in the experience of gratitude the more you will feel yourself entering in a calm, peaceful and joyful state. The key is to feel gratitude – move beyond thinking and into feeling. Some of the gratitude that people are expressing at this time is the time being spent with family, health, the humour, the coming together of people such as the concerts on balconies, the feeling of solidarity. 

Savouring 

Take a pause and savour what you are witnessing or experiencing in the moment. The cherry blossoms, the birds singing, a caress. 

Meditation  

Most meditations are designed to take you into an Alpha state. There are a wide range of meditation practices: walking, sitting, lying down, eyes open, eyes closed, doing dishes, whispering mantras and chants. Which one is best for you and your personality is often discovered through trial and error. We have offered a simple breathing technique below. 

Take on a New Perspective  

One of the things that might be useful is to take on a new perspective.  A different perspective on the pandemic could look like this: What is happening in Italy is being witnessed here and what is happening with us is being witnessed in China – all over the world we are instantly connecting, monitoring and responding. What happens in one location is a teachable moment for the next location and what happens with one individual can assist the whole of humanity. In a blink of an eye we are now working as one large global village. It is messy, to be sure, and, at the same time, we are witnessing for the first time in history how interconnected we all are. In a time of social distancing we are experiencing social cohesion.  

There is no right or wrong in any perspective. It is simply a different lens through which we can witness any situation. A fresh perspective does not minimize or downplay a threat but rather provides a different context to view it in which may provide some relief.  

Summary

These are unprecedented times we are living in. While at the same time we are being called to action and living with high stress over our health and well-being, our families, employment and our way of life, it is more important than ever to build our emotional resiliency so that we can best manage ourselves during this time. We encourage you to place time and attention on your self-care so that you have more and better access to your innate intelligence and act with kindness and compassion  

Guided Breathing Meditation

  • Close your eyes. 
  • Starting from the top of the head, scan your body and notice any tension in your muscles, and move down to the feel of the floor beneath your feet.  
  • Bring your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath in the center of your chest. 
  • Take 5 full breaths focusing on the area of your heart.  
  • Breathe in for a count of 5 and of out for a count of 6. Breathe smoothly through the nose (not power breaths). 
  • Bring to mind something you are grateful for and feel into that place of gratitude from your heart. 
  • Continue to breathe, and with each breath lean more and more into gratitude and appreciation. 
  • You are now in an Alpha State. Continue to breathe into this feeling for 5 minutes
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Coronavirus Update

Handtowels on a bathroom counter
Handtowels on a bathroom counter

Coronavirus Update

To the 40 Years of Zen Community,  
 
We are closely monitoring and reviewing the most recent information and science, from the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, and the Washington State Government, that is available about the coronavirus (COVID-19).  For 40 Years of Zen we are paying attention to how it may impact our employees, clients and communities and making the necessary adjustments to our work and operations to mitigate any concerns or issues that have been identified. 

We have one simple objective that guides us: keeping everyone who comes in contact with us safe. This has been at the center of our conversations every step of the way. With that in mind, we have made several moves at our facility to combat potential issues caused by the coronavirus. 

In addition to our standard cleaning services, we have intensified our daily commitment to cleanliness and hygiene, including additional steps to ensure the safety of our clients and staff, everything from handwashing hygiene and regular sanitization, to common area cleaning procedures. 

Per CDC recommendations, we request employees who have traveled to CDC Level 3 Travel Health Notice locations or have been exposed to others who have traveled to such locations to self-quarantine for 14 days. We will reschedule clients who live in these countries or have visited them within a 3-week period. 
 
Our facility is located in a remote area of Kenmore, WA and clients stay at nearby boutique hotels and Airbnb’s. Because clients are onsite from 9am to 6:30pm with all of their meals prepared, our clients’ risk for exposure is kept at a minimum.  

Our program operates in a small group of 3 to 6 clients and a maximum of 6 staff members who are on site. Therefore, your time with us allows you to maintain effective social distancing to keep you and your loved ones safe. 

If you don’t feel well or are having difficulties with travel and need to reschedule, we are ready to assist you. 
 
We will continue to closely monitor the situation and do all we can to protect you and our employees.  
 
Thank you. 

The 40 Years of Zen Team 

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What do Brainwaves have to do with it?

brain wave comic
brain wave comic

Every experience you have as a living human being is a result of an underlaying pattern of brain waves. Every moment of every day your brain waves are oscillating different frequencies. Brain waves are measured in hertz (cycles per second) and grouped in different categories: Delta (1– 4), Theta (4-8), Alpha (8-12), Beta (12-38) and Gamma (38–100).  

Say you are an executive sitting around a boardroom table with your colleagues brainstorming about how to get your new product to market. Everyone is kicking around ideas – some recycled from previous discussions and some are inspired and fresh to everyone in the room. The brainstorming session is putting most people in a higher Alpha state where you access a flow of creativityYou have a burst of Alpha and you come forth with an innovative idea that checks all of the boxes for the team.   

Because you have access to Gamma, and your mind can remain quiet for a moment, you have the ability to instantly process simultaneous information from different brain areas. After everyone has had a chance to share their ideas you are able to synthesize everyone’s main points into one cohesive decision statement. 

Now that the team has arrived at the perfect idea, you return to your office to knock out your to-do list. As you sit down at your computer, you switch into a healthy Beta state to focus and concentrate, which allows you to effectively complete your action plan with little to no distractions. Even your cell phone can’t pull you away as you get into the zone and get more done in an hour than most do in 2. 

Your great day at the office is complete and you head home to relax and spend time with your loved ones. Unfortunately, worry and anxiety begins to creep in as you start to wonder if your team has made the right decision. Your brain state has just shifted because the anxiety has caused your Alpha waves to diminish and you move into a high Beta state, which keeps you from being able to relax and be present with your family. Your body is at home, but your mind is still in the office. 

What if you could learn to consciously shift into different brain states? What would your life look like if you have some control over your brainwaves instead of them controlling you? 

By training your mind to recognize and access different brain states you can lock in and kick ass at work, and easily shift into being present and connected with your family back at home. The paradox is that with more relaxation and connection you’re even more productive at work than you were before. By training your brain to recognize and access different brain states you gain control over your life and create opportunities for even more success. 

To develop control over your brain states so that you can consciously access peak states of high performance and diminish states of worry, stress, and anxietyconsider coming to the world’s most innovative brain wave training program, 40 Years of Zen.