In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing
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Conscious Consumer Network: Empower YOU TV

What if healing were in your own hands? How can you use your mind to gain well-being even if you suffer from a chronic medical condition? Who would you be without the need to suffer? We are going to explore these questions and more.Today, 133 million Americans—nearly half of all adults—live with some sort of chronic medical condition. In fact, a study by John Hopkins University reported that 75 percent of health care costs in America are spent on people with chronic illnesses. And the amount of people with chronic illnesses is rising, according to the Center for Disease Control. Chronic illnesses include cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disease. The most familiar, arthritis, affects one in five adults and makes it the most common disability in America. Our guest today, Dr. Larry Berkelhammer, lives with seven chronic illnesses and has made it his mission to help others live full lives in spite of these conditions. He has combined his personal experience with his past professional experience as a licensed psychotherapist in his new book, “In Your Own Hands: New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions”. Dr. Berkelhammer proposes an action-based approach toward changing the lives of those with chronic illness, giving them a valuable guide using science-based practices to truly take their lives into their own hands despite physical limitations.

Dr. Berkelhammer will talk to us about the connections between the mind and health, with an emphasis on personal growth practices most strongly associated with better health outcomes including:

  • How to follow your personal values and goals to live a vibrant life
  • Mindfulness: A foundation for an empowered life
  • Why gratitude is a key to health and happiness
  • Intentionality and you: How to optimize your potential for health

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer, says millions of people who live with chronic medical conditions can better manage those conditions by living in accordance with their personal life values. He is a sought-after teacher on pain management, and treated patients for 19 years in a private practice. He has written for Om Times, Psych Central and many other outlets in the chronic illness space. (view video)

Group Psychotherapy for Health and Wellbeing

Although mindfulness-based self-help practices almost always enhance quality of life, we all have blind spots or stuck places where psychotherapy can help us to see and get beyond those stuck places. Because of the varied personalities and authentic interpersonal interactions found in group psychotherapy, it can be much more powerful than individual psychotherapy. In addition, it is far more cost-effective. If your primary source of emotional distress is your primary relationship, it is best for the two of you to work with a couples counselor. If you have children at home and there is a lot of stress in family interactions, the entire family should go to a family therapist. Otherwise, group psychotherapy would be my recommendation. (view video)

Workability for Health and Wellbeing

Experiment. Become a researcher. Find what works for you. What type of food, exercise, amount of sleep, and type of stress-management have proven most efficacious for you, not for others, but specifically for you. In other words, what have you found to be most workable for you? What about your healthcare? I see several specialists in addition to my primary care doctor, but I am the team leader of my healthcare team. They are the medical experts, but, ultimately, all the treatment decisions are mine. I am the one who knows what has worked specifically for me in the past.

In order to determine workability, it is important to practice mindfulness in order to develop the ability to recognize when you are cognitively fused with your thoughts and beliefs. Cultivate curiosity and self-awareness in order to be able to recognize all the choices available to you from moment to moment throughout the day. Find what is most workable for you and make conscious choices throughout the day that best support your health and wellbeing. (view video)

Self-Acceptance and Emotional Repression

The following two expressions describe the danger of lack of acceptance: What you resist persists. If you don’t want it, you’ll have it. Acceptance of what is making us unhappy does not mean dwelling in it. The goal is to accept what we don’t like while simultaneously working to cultivate what we want. Self-acceptance means acceptance of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. (view video)

Practice Gratitude for Health and Wellbeing

In this video, Dr. Berkelhammer mentions the research demonstrating the correlation between authentic gratitude and health. In epidemiological studies, after controlling for potential confounding factors, those people who practice and genuinely feel appreciation or gratitude for others every day tend to have better health and states of well-being. A recommended mindfulness practice is to notice how often you take someone for granted. (view video)

Meaning and Purpose

In Part 7, this final segment of a 7-part series, presented at Marin Center for Independent Living in 2013, we explore the healing power of meaning and purpose. One of the most healthy behaviors is to engage in an active search to find what you can do to add meaning to your life. When we act in accordance with what matters most to us in life, and in accordance with our deepest personal life values, we get to feel that our lives are worthwhile and meaningful. Consistently, in numerous epidemiological studies, the experience of living with meaning and purpose has correlated with high levels of well-being and health. (view video)

Mindfulness Practices to Improve Wellbeing

This presentation was given at Marin Center for Independent Living in 2013. It describes how and why mindfulness practice has the power to improve health and well-being. Mindfulness practice allows us to live fully in the moment, which allows us to liberate ourselves from rumination and anxiety. Former molecular biologist turned monk, Matthieu Ricard is considered to be the happiest person alive because he is able to actually go through the entire day, mindfully seeing thoughts as thoughts without getting caught up in them. (view video)

Community and Social Support

This presentation, given at the Marin Center for Independent Living in 2013, discusses the importance of social support. Many epidemiological researchers have demonstrated that the quality and quantity of our social connections determines our state of health and well-being. This presentation includes suggestions as to how to improve social connections—such as doing volunteer work or joining in any kind of group project. (view video)

Mastery Practices That Improve Health & Wellbeing

In this video you will learn how important it is to always accept the diagnosis but not the prognosis. You will learn about the research that shows how to cultivate happiness by learning to develop autonomy, an internal locus of control, self-efficacy, self-acceptance, authentic self-expression, openness and transparency, psychological flexibility, altruism, search for meaning and purpose, and strong social connections. The cultivation of these behaviors reprograms the brain, leading to a more fulfilled life. (view video)

Directing Your Healthcare Team

Be proactive. Become an expert on your particular diagnosis. Cultivate curiosity. Read everything you can to learn about what’s known about your particular condition. Do searches on Google Scholar and PubMed to identify the main authors. You don’t need to understand the scientific papers. Be the expert on your body in order to give your doctors information that will help them diagnose and treat you. Find the best healthcare team by going to the academic medical center nearest you. (view video)

The Challenges of Living with Chronic Medical Conditions

This is part one of a 7-part series. In this first video, the viewer is introduced to the experience of what it is like to live with a chronic illness or disability. Just the burden of trying to make sense of medical bills can be overwhelming. Even with insurance, figuring out how to pay for all the tests and procedures that insurance fails to cover can financially ruin entire families. The losses include loss of career, livelihood, relationships, community, the ability to care for one’s children, independence, bodily function, and most of the things that previously gave our lives meaning. (view video)

Finding Meaning and Purpose in Life

Our happiness, health, and wellbeing are all improved when we find ways to live with meaning and purpose. We can achieve this by working toward a goal, regardless of whether we ever achieve the goal. Meaning and purpose are also achieved when we identify and then live according to our personal life values. (view video)

Curiosity for Health and Wellbeing

Curiosity drives us to acquire useful information, to find solutions to challenges, to solve mysteries–it’s one of the things that motivates us to get out of bed every morning and be excited to start a new day. It’s important to have curiosity about our health challenges–especially in chronic illness. The best doctors have a strong curiosity. We improve quality of life by being curious. (view video)

Tell the Truth; Your Health Depends On It.

It’s important for health to learn how to authentically self-express, to honestly say what you feel to others, to ask for what you want, and to be totally honest about what you don’t want. Studies have shown that hospitalized patients who are not afraid to do that are discharged earlier. Although it is important to honestly self-express, it is also important for your health to keep your distance from those people who are not willing or able to hear what you are saying. Some people are toxic to be around; it’s best for your health to minimize your exposure to them. (view video)

Authenticity and Self-Expression

People who are open, emotionally vulnerable and available, are healthier both mentally and physically. Through mindfulness, we can, and I recommend setting a clear intention everyday to be as open and vulnerable with everyone we meet. This practice dramatically reduces emotional distress along with it’s concomitant physiological stress. This leads to a life of mastery and well-being. (view video)

Helping Others Improves Your Health

People who do volunteer work report feeling good about helping others and feel good about themselves for doing good in the world. Volunteer work adds meaning and purpose to their lives, and meaning and purpose independently correlate with better health. Beyond the volunteer work itself, additional health benefits accrue by intentionally cultivating an open-hearted attitude toward others. It may be that this open-hearted attitude toward others is more important than overt helping behaviors, but the two are interconnected. (view video)

Social Support and Your Health

In countless epidemiological studies, it was found that after controlling for all possible confounding variables, the amount and quality of social support made a significant difference in health and longevity. An intentional relationship-building practice can allow all of us to build a healthy social support community. Researchers have found social support to be as essential to health as food and shelter.
(view video)

A Mindfulness-Based Mastery and Wellbeing Practice

Asking yourself: “What am I practicing” as you go through the day serves to bring awareness to your actions. Most of the time, automaticity governs our actions. By asking ourselves what we are practicing, we develop enough awareness to determine whether our actions are aligned with our personal life values. That new awareness then allows us to live with intentionality and conscious choice. (view video)

The Mindfulness Practice of Setting Clear Intentions Throughout the Day

Focus on what we want rather than on what we don’t want. Focus your intention on your values and goals. Tune in throughout the day on your intention and the clearer and more mindful you can be on your intentions, the more likely they will lead you to achieving them and living by your values. Set random alarms on your mobile device and use those alerts as reminders to ask yourself what your intention is in that very moment. (view video)

Mind Training Cures Depression

Never do anything you don’t want to do. The most powerful mindfulness practice is to consciously choose everything you do from moment-to-moment. Eliminate all toxic words from your language–words such as have to, must, got to, can’t, should, shouldn’t, and replace them all with: “I’m choosing to…” This “I am choosing” practice reprograms the brain for health and happiness.
(view video)

Mind Training Cures Depression

Never do anything you don’t want to do. The most powerful mindfulness practice is to consciously choose everything you do from moment-to-moment. Eliminate all toxic words from your language–words such as have to, must, got to, can’t, should, shouldn’t, and replace them all with: “I’m choosing to…” This “I am choosing” practice reprograms the brain for health and happiness.
(view video)

The Danger of Cognitive Fusion and the Solution

We all tend to get upset over neutral events that happen to us all day because we assign a false attribution to the event. We can think it through and realize that we have mistakenly attributed something negative to the otherwise neutral event. But negative attributions are part of human nature, and the most effective way to work with troubling thoughts is to learn how to defuse, disentangle, and step back from those negative attributions, seeing them as nothing but brain droppings. (view video)

Mindfulness-Based Behavioral Change | Part 2

In this discussion, we explore the various aspects of mindfulness practice. It is comprised of a formal sitting meditation practice as well as countless informal practices. Virtually every activity throughout the day can serve as an informal practice. Examples include noticing our posture, walking, eating, talking, and all other behavior. The most important informal practice involves paying attention to our breathing. This is because the rate, rhythm, and depth of respiration serve as clues to our emotional states of mind. The goal is to live in full contact with the present moment in order to live a full life. (view video)

Mindfulness-Based Behavioral Change

We could all benefit by tweaking our behavior in ways that could optimize our health. But we can’t change any behavior until we become aware that we are engaging in a specific behavior, aware that it is not conducive to optimal health, aware of another way, and aware of opportunities to practice healthier behavior. Mindfulness practices provide the tools to make those events possible. Mindfulness practices can be learned through MBSR classes, Buddhist meditation centers, and through mindfulness-based psychotherapies such as ACT. (view video)

Reprogramming the Brain

Brief discussion of how to improve your brain structure and function. Neuropsychologists have now proven that the brain changes throughout life, and that all our behavior as well as our relationship to our thinking patterns effect changes in the brain. Numerous studies have found that mindfulness practices are very effective methods to improve brain structure and function. (view video)

Conscious Intention, Mastery & Health

Controlling for all confounding variables, researchers have found that people who live their lives with mastery, that is, taking charge of their lives, making conscious choices, and dealing with disappointments and tragedy as challenges rather than as defeats, are healthier than those who allow themselves to feel defeated. The most evidence-based of these mastery behaviors can be learned and practiced. Making a commitment to living with intentionality and making these mindfulness-based practices part of daily life leads to living with greater mastery & wellbeing, which then increases the odds of experiencing improved health. This is due to reductions in emotional distress and physiological stress. It is also due to the fact that living with mastery and intentionality improve immune function. This has been evidenced by psychoneuroimmunology research. Failed attempts to reach their goals are viewed as learning experiences. (view video)

Be the Master of Your Life

Mastery & wellbeing refers to a resilient approach to life with self-efficacy. It reduces emotional distress, empowers individuals, creates hope, improves physiological and psychological functioning. People with mastery & wellbeing work harder toward their goals and practice better self-care. This is one reason that the qualities of mastery & wellbeing improve the odds of experiencing improved health outcomes. The other reason is that just having a sense of being in control of your life, in and of itself, is associated with better health outcomes. When undesired events occur, this resilience of people with mastery & wellbeing allows them to bounce back. These undesired events are viewed as challenges rather than defeats, and they welcome challenges. Failed attempts to reach their goals are viewed as learning experiences. (view video)

Be the Director of Your Life

How to cultivate the ability to effectively meet the challenges of daily life and to feel in control of our choices. This is the opposite of feeling hopeless/helpless. It is about living with conscious intention. Become the director of your life. This is not about trying to control other people or situations, but rather, it is about accepting responsibility for our actions. Terrible things happen to us in life; mastery is about working with them as challenges rather than as defeats. Learn to approach challenges as exciting opportunities. Mastery is about gaining great satisfaction in meeting daily challenges. (view video)

How the Mind Affects Health

The mind has profound effects on physiological functioning and health. Emotional distress causes physiological stress and dysfunction, which, when chronic, eventuates in disease. In this discussion, we also address the healthy physiological effects of mind training. The concepts of self-efficacy and mastery are described. The term “mastery” is used to describe a sense that we can handle the challenges that life throws at us. Wellbeing is the good feeling that results from living with mastery. Herbert Benson and Ellen Langer of Harvard are referenced, as is Deepak Chopra, of the Chopra Center.
(view video)

Mindfulness-Based Mastery & Wellbeing Series Introduction

This is an introduction to the 26-part series on how to live better with chronic illness. The concept of mindfulness-based mastery & wellbeing practices is introduced. Mindfulness practice is described as the fundament of mastery & wellbeing practices, because it is what allows us to be self-aware, which is an a priori requirement to everything that follows. The connection between health and healthy relationships is described, and viewers are encouraged to do everything possible to improve the quality of their relationships; this is because emotional distress in our relationships negatively impacts health. The connection between health and seeking meaning and purpose is emphasized. Other mindfulness-based mastery & wellbeing practices are encouraged, such as engaging in a formal gratitude practice. The connection between authentic self-expression and health is introduced, and viewers are encouraged to take risks in expressing their true feelings. This work evolved out of the research by Martin Seligman, George Vaillant, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Daniel Goleman, and many others. (view video)

Practice is Everything; Practice Something Different

Discussion about the very difficult challenge of maintaining a daily practice. The importance of practicing mindfulness in all our daily activities rather than only practicing during formal meditation. Concentration practice and mindfulness practice, and the importance of taking on a practice that works for us rather than what works for other people. (view video)

Humor and Health

Discussion of the importance of learning to take our thoughts lightly. Being able to see the humor in our thinking processes, and how this practice dramatically reduces emotional distress, which improves health. The practice of laughing yoga. (view video)

Altruism, Community & Health

Discussion of the health implications of practicing gratitude, authentic self-expression, social support, belonging to a community, and doing volunteer work. Feeling good is good for health. The ability to say “No” and to speak honestly correlates with health. (view video)

Train Your Mind / Mindfulness Practice

Discussion of how training your mind, evolves your brain. Examples include biofeedback, neurofeedback, Transcendental Meditation (TM), Relaxation Response, MBSR, vipassana, and other practices. Mindfulness practice has been proven to evolve the brain in just 8-weeks. Concentration practice is differentiated from mindfulness practice. How mindfulness reduces suffering by teaching us to defuse from our thoughts. (view video)

Meaning and Purpose

Discussion of how to dramatically improve life with a chronic illness by finding something to give our lives meaning and purpose—a reason to get up in the morning. (view video)

Loving Self-Care

Frustration with illness and medical treatments is not conducive to health. Caring for ourselves the way we would care for a baby improves health. The same self-care activities done lovingly do more for health than if done begrudgingly. Loving self-care optimizes physiological functioning by optimizing the endogenous pharmacy. (view video)

Living with Conscious Intention and Mastery

Discussion about living with conscious intention in order to live a full life with chronic illness. Also discussed are mastery, mental imagery, and biofeedback. Acceptance of our circumstances and going with the flow cultivates mastery and a sense of control, whereas resistance breeds persistence and feeling out of control. (view video)

Life with Chronic Illness

Discussion about Optimism, pessimism, and hope. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, despair, depression, and any emotional suffering increase the odds of getting sick and interfere with getting well. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is mentioned as a way to develop the skills to extricate ourselves from unhealthy mind-states. Chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and malaise are briefly discussed. (view video)

Being Present with Our Experience

Discussion about Cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance. Living well with chronic illness is often the result of learning to identify and act on our personal life values. Equally important is the ability to recognize when we are fused with our thoughts and when we are avoiding healthy behaviors because of fear. Defusing from our thoughts frees us to take action in harmony with our personal life values.
(view video)

Placebo Effect

Discussion about how what we believe to be true creates physiological changes that correlate with the specifics of the beliefs. Our beliefs alter our states of mind and health. The power of our thoughts can make us sick or well until we learn to defuse or disentangle from them. (view video)