Archive for December, 2015

Hear ye! Hear ye! Kindness is Contagious!

December 19, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut, POW in Dresden before, during and after US bombs destroyed it, returned from WWII to spend the rest of his life urging us to be kind.

Arthur Clarke, inventor and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, said on his 90th birthday, “I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle. I hope we have learned something from the most barbaric century in existence (20th). I would like us to overcome our tribal inhibitions and begin to think and act as if we are one family.”

Our tribes, our religions, all developed rules and regulations aimed at seeing to it that people got along as the groups survived and grew in their own locales. Now, as our tribes and religious preferences intermingle in travel through sophisticated transportation systems, shared art, science, music and electronics, the reality is that our groups, tribes, religions, and countries are now One Multi-Talented Family. This extended family needs to learn how to get along together for our mutual benefit.

Winter solstice gives us the opportunity to reset our sites and begin to think and act as the Family of Humans on Earth. How do we need to behave with each other to thrive and grow as a family? Our health depends on our ability to be kind.

Here’s what researchers are saying about the benefits of random acts of kindness: such acts make us feel good, reduce stress, make us live longer, and tame the “selfing” regions of the brain lost in thoughts of past and future instead of staying in the Now. Being kind gives us healthier hearts by releasing oxytocin which releases nitric oxide to dilate our blood vessels, makes for better relationships by releasing endorphins, the spirit boosters, and serotonins that give us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being. And, best of all: kindness is contagious.

Dacher Keltner, Dir., Social Interaction Lab at UCBerkeley, has a book out: Born To Be Good: The science of a meaningful life. Keltner says that our species has remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self sacrifice- all vital to the task of evolution – survival, gene replication, and smooth functioning groups. He notes that Charles Darwin also studied compassion and found that the most compassionate human societies fared better.

So, here’s to the coming light! May we use it to remind ourselves to be kind and spread the condition everywhere!

Laughter is the Best Medicine

December 16, 2015

This week, many people focused on the art of being happy and its effect on our health. At church, the whole service was on the importance of laughter, whatever the internal or external circumstances. Hymns continued the theme. We sang all four verses of, “If you’re happy and you know it,” and, “We Gather Together.” Thanksgiving is another important ingredient.

We had a “Laughing Meditation,” and the sermon drew on Norman Cousins’ 1974 recovery from a normally incurable illness by watching hilarious movies and literally laughing himself well. He spent the rest of his life writing books, including, Anatomy of an Illness, and lecturing at Medical Schools on the benefits of laughter to healing.

When the pianist played as a postlude, Mozart’s “Alleluia,” her fingers danced over the keys in a bright staccato variation that I am sure Mozart himself would have cheered and laughed right along with all of us.

Later in the day, PBS interviewed our Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy and asked him what advice he would give us to be healthy. His spontaneous reply was, “Be happy, Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and Exercise” – in that order!

In Yoga, one of the breathing practices is the Laughing Breath. It is probably one of the most robust of practices and has the effect of relaxing the whole body so that we can move into more demanding postures. In yoga, we emphasize lengthening exhalations. The laughing breath is one people usually can extend for a long time. By emptying the lungs fully, we make room for a big inhalation of oxygenated air that fully charges and relaxes our body.

I scanned through the research literature on the effects of laughter on health. It does matter whether we do it solo or with other people. Even laughing with one other person promotes relationship well being, a sense of belonging that promotes longer, healthier lives. Studies have been done that show group laughter triggers the release of endorphins (pain killers), improves sleep, enhances memory and creativity, improves cardiac health, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, and more….

Caution: avoid unhealthy laughter that enhances self or group at the expense of others. Despite the tenuous world situation in this century of escalating greed and refusal to address climate change, perhaps the best thing we can do is continue to look for the bright angle of each moment, alert to ferret out the humor and joy that helps us to bond with and encourage each other. What innovative solutions might we then enact that enable people of the world and all life forms to share the joy of living?