Welcome back to my series of blogs on my new book, The UltraMind Solution.
You can download a free sneak preview of the book by going here:
Now for today’s blog ...
Thoughts are things. They can heal or harm. Beliefs mold your brain.
This is not just a figurative metaphor for what happens. Your brain literally stiffens, slows, and loses function in direct relationship to your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about you and your place in the world. How each of us responds to our life -- to our perceptions -- has enormous implications for how we feel, how we age, and the health of our brain.
The most powerful pharmacy in the world is right between your ears!
Other than eating breakfast regularly, and eating more fruits and vegetables, the one characteristic that is present in all healthy older people is resiliency.
Resiliency is that hard-to-measure quality of adapting to change, shifting with changing tides rather than drowning, seeing the glass half full, or knowing how to turn lemons into lemonade.
You see, your thoughts have real and measurable effects on your body and brain.
In fact, every cell in your body listens to your thoughts.
Your immune cells know your deepest feelings.
Your stem cells are wired to your brain and help you repair and regenerate. But they ONLY turn on and make new brain cells when you relax! And you don’t need placental injections or embryos to get them to work.
Research has shown over and over again that learning to relax is one of the most important keys to long-term health and vitality. In fact, it is a critical part of The UltraMind Solution . As you will learn in this blog, relaxing helps your brain regenerate and renew itself.
You need to learn how to hit your “pause button” if you want to heal your brain.
But that doesn’t mean sipping a glass of Chardonnay while watching TV or practicing retail therapy. You have to learn how to deeply relax and stimulate your vagus nerve.
In this blog I will teach you how to do that. I will explain how stress kills, relaxation heals, and how you can begin turning on your relaxation response -- today.
The Road to Vagus
Your immune cells, your stem cells, and all of the other organs and tissues in your body are connected to your vagus nerve -- a long nerve that goes from your brain, through your chest and diaphragm, and throughout your body.
Your vagus nerve is a very special part of your nervous system that helps you calm your mind and turn on a cascade of healing that can reverse depression and dementia and help sharpen your mind -- making old brains young again.
It does this by turning off your stress response and activating your relaxation response -- what I call “hitting the pause button” -- which most of us don’t know how to do.
Most of us don’t need any help turning on the alarm system. Your stress response gets turned on automatically day after day.
However, very few of us know how to calm this system down. We don’t know where our pause button is, and we don’t know how to push it.
This is a serious health concern, because stress is very bad for your brain.
Stress Destroys Your Brain
The effects of stress on brain health cannot be overstated. It shrinks the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain; reduces serotonin; lowers BDNF (brain derived neutrophic factor), which acts like Miracle-Gro for your brain cells; increases inflammation; increases belly fat; lowers thyroid function; and much more.
It is one of the chief causes of our broken brains.
Stress destroys our brains.
But what is stress?
Stress is defined as any real or imagined threat to your body or your ego.
What does that mean?
It means the part of your biochemistry that governs the stress response reacts the same when you are in real danger (for example, if you are about to be run down by an oncoming car) as it does when you perceive danger (for example, if your boss tells you he thinks you are doing a poor job at work).
In both cases, a flood of cortisol and other chemicals, like epinephrine and norepinephrine, is released into your bloodstream. These chemicals send messages far and wide, telling your body—and brain—to get ready for the danger at hand.
In the first instance, the stress response is adaptive It prepares you physically and mentally to move out of the way of that oncoming vehicle.
In the second instance, the stress response is worse than useless—your body prepares for real physical danger but there isn’t any. There is only the perceived danger of your boss’s disappointment. The result is that you stew in your stress juices, and they poison your body and brain.
If you hadn’t perceived your boss’s frustration as a threat, this response would not have occurred.
So how we think and what we believe make a huge difference in how healthy we are.
There’s no doubt about it. Optimists live longer and are healthier!
This reminds me of a Tibetan man I met more than 20 years ago in Nepal who showed me the power of thought and belief in shaping our lives.
The Tibetan Healer
I traveled to Nepal as part of an expedition to study the public health problems of a small village near the Tibetan border. Along the way I encountered a remarkable man, who had faced grave threats to his life and his place in the world. He was a Tibetan doctor who was captured in 1959 during the Chinese invasion and sent to a Chinese gulag, or prison camp.
He dispassionately told me of his 22-year imprisonment in the gulag, where he was stripped of his community and his place in the world, prevented from practicing Buddhism, tortured, and abused. I found it difficult to reconcile this serene, calm, happy man with the horrors he experienced.
At one point during our conversation, I asked him to identify the greatest danger he faced during his 22 years of imprisonment. I expected him to say the physical and psychological torture and relentless, sophisticated brainwashing techniques designed to force him to renounce his spiritual beliefs and monkhood and embrace communist ideology.
What he said astounded me.
“The greatest danger I faced during my imprisonment was the few moments I thought I might lose my compassion for my Chinese captors,” he said.
Most of us cannot imagine worrying about having compassion for those who kept us locked away from everything we value and believe for 22 years.
Yet somehow, in small and large ways, our sense of control, meaning, purpose, and connection in life is one of the most powerful factors that determine our health and well-being.
What do you feel connected to? What gives you meaning and purpose in life? Answers to questions like these define who we are, not only mentally, but also physically.
Disease is a disconnection from our sense of place in the world; a loss of control and meaning as we drift from television channel to television channel looking for a program to satisfy us; consume food disconnected from its origins, processed and unidentifiable from its natural state; as our families separate, disconnect, and communicate through text messaging and e-mail.
Poverty alone does not increase disease. A lost sense of culture, control, and meaning is a major factor.
How do you take a pill to fix that?
And what about the stress of the food we eat? We now have identified a phenomena that comes from eating “stressed food”—food grown on agribusiness farms, animals raised in confined animal feeding operations, otherwise known as feedlots.
This is called xenohormesis and means that when you eat stressed food, it produces stress molecules in your body that make you sick! Our bodies see this food as foreign and dangerous—it’s actually stressful to eat it.
We have become so disconnected from feeling relaxed and at peace that many of us don’t even realize we are stressed out anymore. We aren’t awake to the fact that our beliefs have an impact on our health and we don’t realize the foods we eat make us feel even more stress.
How do you know if you are stressed?
Well, you might crave salt, feel dizzy when you stand up, have trouble falling asleep, have sweaty palms or feel wiped out after exercise, or you might feel tired and wired.
If so, you may have burned out your adrenal glands—the glands that kick into gear whenever there is stress.
So what’s the cure for burn out? How do you turn off the stress response and begin to heal from its effects?
Turning Off the Stress Response
The latest research has found two ways to turn old forgetful brains into young brains and to turn depressed people into happy people.
You have two choices.
The first one: Cut out your adrenal glands. They produce all the stress hormones like cortisol, which shrinks your brain, robs you of your memory, lowers your serotonin, makes you depressed, and reduces energy production.
The other option is to have a pacemaker inserted in your neck, which stimulates the vagus nerve and triggers relaxation.
Neither of those sound like much fun!
But you DO have other options to calm your mind.
One of my favorites is: just breathe. It automatically activates the vagus nerve. I learned the soft belly breath, a variation of ancient yogic breathing techniques, from Jim Gordon, the author of the book Unstuck.
I teach you how to do the soft belly breath in The UltraMind Solution.
In the meantime, here are a few more ideas on how to push your pause button—and heal your brain.
• Try yoga or meditation.
• Get enough sleep.
• Eat whole foods that decrease the stress response.
• Avoid stressed foods. The next time you reach for that industrial packaged food product, or fast food lunch just ask yourself if your food is “relaxed.”
• You might even try some herbs that can balance out the stress response, such as ginseng or rhodiola.
I have just opened the door for you to learn how to calm your mind. You can learn much more in Chapter 12 of The UltraMind Solution.
You can get a free sneak preview by going to:
In my next blog, I will teach you about how to follow the 6-week plan for an UltraMind. I’ll share the powerful, yet simple, 4-step program from Part III of my book that will give you the roadmap to achieving your own UltraMind.
Now you have seen how all the 7 keys influence your brain and biology. It is one interconnected web of problems. And because it is all connected, you can make a few simple changes that can have dramatic and life changing effects.
Simple dietary changes, a few nutritional supplements, a little exercise, enough sleep, and a little time each day for activating the relaxation response can transform deep-seated symptoms that show up as altered mood, behavior, attention, and memory.
Your brain can thrive. You just have to provide the right conditions.
In my next blog, I am going to teach you those conditions.
Now I’d like to hear from you ...
What makes you feel the most stressed?
How does stress seem to affect your brain?
What things work best to push your pause button?
Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
PS -- The UltraMind Solution public television show is starting on February 27th. Check your local listings for air times. Or, you can get your own copy of The UltraMind Solution DVD by Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. Also, The UltraMind Solution Club by Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. has just launched, which is an online club that makes going through the program simple and easy.