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Mind-Body Empowerment

The Mind-Body Empowerment Practices 

Because most of you reading this website do not live geographically close enough to be able to take the Mind-Body Empowerment and Mindful Biology course that my colleague and I teach in the Community Education Division at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, I created this page, so that, to a certain extent, you can use it as a guide along with my book: In Your Own Hands: New Hope for people with Chronic Medical Conditions.

The Goal of the Mind-Body Empowerment Class is Self-Mastery

Over time, training in mind-body empowerment leads to self-mastery. Self-mastery confers the resilience to handle the most difficult of life’s challenges. Specifically, the goal of the class is to help students develop life skills that catalyze increased aliveness or presence in routine, daily activities. In that sense, it is a mindfulness class. Although we do a few minutes of guided mindfulness meditation and guided mind-body imagery in each class, it is not a meditation class or a guided imagery class. There is an emphasis in the class of learning how to develop a practice of objectively observing negative, unhealthy, disempowering thought processes without being enslaved or even affected by them. In the class we teach new ways of thinking that lead to self-confidence, self-empowerment, self-efficacy, and self-mastery.

The class is very body-centered in that students learn to live in harmony with both the body and the mind (mind-body). My colleague and I teach through lectures, guided mind explorations, group discussions in order to get support in the practices, and a mind-body practice involving learning how to live in your body in a way that leads to being very centered, grounded, and aware, whether sitting, standing, walking, or engaged in any physical activity. Most people walk around so caught up in their mental chatter or self-talk that they are not even aware of their behavior or their surroundings. The mind-body practices taught in the class offer an antidote to living an unfocused life in your head.

Resilience

People who have mastered the mind-body skills taught in the class are able to get right back up when metaphorically knocked down by life’s stressors. In fact, by being fully present and totally focused in every endeavor, every interpersonal interaction, and every experience, they are less prone to getting knocked down in the first place when confronted by a life stressor; this is often referred to as resilience.

Resilience includes recognizing the connection between thought processes and actions. In other words, mindless negative self-talk correlates with disempowerment and the inability to reach challenging goals. Healthy positive self-talk, clarity of intention, and total focus correlate with self-empowerment and self-efficacy. When you believe you have what it takes to achieve challenging goals, you dramatically improve your odds.

Accepting Responsibility for the Outcomes of Our Actions

When our actions result in a failure to achieve the desired result, it can be tempting to blame someone else or a certain situation. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said: “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.” Self-empowerment includes being fully responsible for our actions. People who blame others or situations for their failures are very disempowered and weak.

Why The Focus On Loving Self-Care?

When I was still working with clients in my mind-body medicine practice, most of them did not devote sufficient time to practice the skill-building tools that I had been teaching them and I explored the reasons with them. I came to realize that one of the main reasons they were not practicing was because they did not love and value themselves enough to stimulate sufficient motivation to practice. It was then that I realized that I really wanted to teach self-compassion in order to give them the motivation to infuse their lives with those mind-body practices. Self-caring is essential, but it is important to think of yourself as worth the attention. Self-compassion, in and of itself, improves self-care and health. The other main reason they had not been practicing was due to a lack of self-efficacy.

Self-Efficacy

There would be no motivation to practice any skill without self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that you are capable of achieving your goals. This is essential because if you do not believe that you have the power to improve your health and wellbeing by practicing certain skills, you will not be motivated to practice those skills.

Healthy Self-Talk

The way you talk to yourself influences your health and wellbeing. What follows are some examples of what I refer to as healthy self-talk. Healthy self-talk may seem unnatural in instances where you have been practicing negative self-talk all your life, but the more you practice healthy, loving self-talk, the more natural it will begin to seem. This is also because as the healthy self-talk begins to result in increased presence and aliveness , you will be cultivating self-empowerment and self-efficacy. Your newly acquired self-efficacy then leads to a higher degree of presence in every event and interaction, which then feeds back to catalyze additional improvements in self-empowerment and self-efficacy.

Examples of disempowered versus self-empowered self-talk:

  • Disempowered and unkind: I should eat healthier food. Self-empowered and loving: I want to feed myself nutritious meals.
  • Disempowered and unkind: I should get more exercise. Self-empowered and loving: I want to take myself for nice exercise walks.
  • Disempowered and unkind: I should get out more. Self-empowered and loving: I want to take myself to visit friends.
  • Disempowered and unkind: I should get more sleep. Self-empowered and loving: I want to give myself enough sleep each night.
  • Disempowered and unkind (when having trouble sleeping): I have to fall back to sleep right away. Self-empowered and loving: I have no responsibilities and no place to go in this moment. I feel so cozy in my bed.
  • Disempowered and unkind: I am …(Fill in your favorite self-deprecating thought.). Self-empowered and loving: I’m fine just the way I am.

You can practice these skills by applying loving, self-empowering language throughout all your daily activities. Benefits will include improved motivation to practice optimal self-care as well as reduced stress and a greater sense of wellbeing.

Whenever you are too stressed or upset to practice healthier language, calm your brain with focused breathing and MBEP.

Mind-Body Empowerment Practice (MBEP)

Over the years, people have often told me they “couldn’t meditate,” yet, many of these people engaged in daily practices in various forms of yoga or martial arts, to which they were very committed. I like to reassure them by saying: “It is unlikely that you are incapable of sitting. More likely, you are choosing not to do sitting meditation.” I go on to tell them that although sitting meditation practices such as vipassana or any number of concentration practices have proven to improve wellbeing and even to improve brain structure and function, many dynamic forms of concentration practices such as yoga or martial arts also provide dramatic improvements in wellbeing. I tell them that regardless of the type of practice they choose, they will get results as long as they are committed to daily practice with total commitment, intention, and focus.

Mushin and Zanshin: The practice set that makes up MBEP serves to help people cultivate certain states of mind, which can best be described in the Japanese terms mushin and zanshin. Mushin is a state of mind whereby you are not caught up in thinking about anything while engaged in a specific activity. In this state, there is pure attention or concentration, pure awareness, and you could be said to be fully awake, fully engaged in the activity of the moment. In this state of mushin, there is a keen awareness and focus in your activities without any mental distractions.  Zanshin, as I use the term, refers to the intentional posture of full presence and awareness throughout the day, not just during specific activities that are set aside as formal practices of concentration or mindfulness. For example, if you are totally focused when doing the tai chi form, yoga movements, or sitting meditation, that is mushin. If you maintain that level of focus after you finish your tai chi, yoga, or sitting practice, you have zanshin.

Because MBEP can be practiced throughout the day and in most activities, a committed engagement with MBEP can help you cultivate both mushin and zanshin.

Physical (dynamic) Concentration Practices Versus Sitting Mindfulness Meditation

If you choose to commit to a physical concentration practice, such as MBEP, yoga, tai chi, or chi gung, you will improve your ability to live with greater aliveness and presence in your physical life. You will find that you have a greater range of how to respond to people and situations, simply because of your greater concentration, focus, and presence.

If you choose to commit to a sitting form of mindfulness meditation, such as vipassana, you will improve your ability to live with greater aliveness and presence in your mental life. You will find that you have a greater range of whether to act or react to your thoughts and beliefs, simply because of your greater insight into the nature of all your mind chatter.

The advantage of vipassana or other forms of mindfulness-based sitting meditation is that, because your body is still and your eyes closed, it is easier to notice all that is going on in your mind. The quietness in the room also helps you to objectively observe all the mental chatter in your mind. Those mindfulness skills will then allow you to view your thoughts and beliefs as nothing but insubstantial mental constructs. This has the advantage of providing you with much greater choice in your behavior. When you are skilled in practicing a daily, mindfulness-based, sitting meditation practice, your interpersonal interactions will be healthier. For example, you become aware that you are holding the belief that certain people or groups of people are flawed or inferior in some way. Because of your sitting practice, you are now able to clearly see that your belief is nothing but an insubstantial mental construct rather than reality.

The real issue is not physical concentration practices versus sitting mindfulness meditation. Both categories of practices are important and it is important to know that each has certain advantages and each has certain disadvantages. That is why the ideal is to have both a sitting practice and a dynamic practice. Both categories of practice are challenging; choosing to take on just the physical, such as MBEP or chi gung, just the sitting type, such as vipassana, or both types is your choice. Just know that each will provide different life skills, which is why we teach both types in the class mentioned above.

The Need for MBEP: Anyone who has maintained a long-term sitting meditation practice and/or a physical concentration practice knows that it is very challenging to practice while engaged in their daily activities. Those practices are most often performed in a special time and place at some point each day. It occurred to me that if I could create a practice set that was simple enough to infuse into normal daily activities such as walking, it would be possible to suffuse one’s entire day with the same degree of presence and aliveness that we often only experience during those periods of the day we normally set aside for formal sitting meditation, yoga, tai chi, or any other formal practice performed with focused concentration.

The primary goal of MBEP is to provide a dynamic, body-centered form of mindfulness practice, which consists of a very uncomplicated set of physical, concentration practices. As with the formal sitting forms of mindfulness practice, MBEP trains the mind-body to quiet all the useless mind chatter that we all experience throughout the day. However, the quieting of the mind chatter comes about by way of a different path in physical concentration practices than it does from vipassana.

Sitting mindfulness practice: In vipassana, the quieting of the mind chatter results from sitting still and observing the physical sensations of breathing. Alternatively, it may result from objectively observing all your thought processes without analyzing them and without getting caught up in them. You notice where your mind drifts off to, without any analyzing of the content. With that noticing, you immediately return your attention to following the breath or following whatever enters your mind.

Dynamic mindfulness practice: In MBEP, tai chi, chi gung, yoga, karate kata, and other physical, concentration practices, the quieting of the mind chatter results from intense focus on the various aspects of the physical practices. As in vipassana, you notice that your mind drifts off, but what is different in dynamic (concentration) mindfulness is that as soon as you notice your mind drifted off somewhere, you immediately return your attention to the physical practice, again without analyzing the nature of the mind chatter.

Calming the body serves to calm and center the mind, just as calming the mind serves to calm and center the body.

MBEP is intended to empower you with a set of body-centered, mindfulness-based skills, which are so rewarding to practice, that you will want to infuse this physical concentration practice set into almost every activity throughout the day, thereby creating an experience of living with a high level of aliveness, awareness, resilience, self-empowerment and self-efficacy.

Why Mind-Body?

  • First, it is precisely the physical nature of MBEP, which serves as an antidote to all our useless mind chatter. When you learn to put your mind in your physical center, that physical embodiment protects you from getting caught up in useless or stressful thought patterns, which occur when your mind is not in your bodily center.
  • Second, when the mind is fully engaged in a physical practice, the effect of obsessive and unhealthy thinking is diminished; this is partly due to the concentration on all the various aspects of MBEP. Because this practice includes two types of conscious breathing along with posture, balancing, centering, and awareness practices, the mind is so fully occupied with all the moment-to-moment practices, there is no time to get caught up in unhealthy thought processes.

Anyone who has experienced the rewards of long periods of intense, concentrated mindfulness practice at a residential retreat has had the frustrating experience of returning to their normal daily routines following the retreat, only to find their state of mindfulness right back where it was before the retreat. Of course, a high degree of mindfulness can be maintained by continuing to engage in sitting meditation throughout the day, every day, following the return home. But for the vast majority of us, that idea is completely impractical, due to the multitude of obligations that are so much a part of normal, daily life. In fact, many of us have even found it challenging to set aside a half hour each day for formal sitting meditation.

It is for that reason that, after over forty years of experimentation with diverse forms of mind and mind-body training, including transcendental meditation, vipassana, Zazen, internal and external martial arts, EEG biofeedback, and mental imagery, I finally developed a mindfulness-based, mind-body skill set that is easy to practice throughout the day, in most activities.

The beauty of MBEP is that it does not necessitate setting aside a special time and place to practice, since it can so easily be incorporated into almost every activity throughout the day.

Traditional martial arts as well as many types of yoga have emphasized concentration practices. Those physically active practices catalyze mind-body integration more effectively than does sitting meditation. Again, just as physical, dynamic forms of mindfulness have advantages over sitting practices, vipassana and other sitting forms have advantages over dynamic mindfulness practices. Any type of committed daily practice, regardless of whether it involves mindfulness practice (which includes concentration practice) or concentration practice alone (could be dynamic or sitting) will dramatically improve wellbeing.

Practice Instructions that Expand on MBEP

  • Put your mind in your center of gravity—just below the naval and deep to it.
  • Breathe diaphragmatically with exhalations roughly twice as long as inhalations.
  • Move from your center in all physical activities from walking to cooking.
  • Use conscious intention to relax the entire body (scalp, face, neck, chest, back, abdomen, pelvis).
  • Always stand in good posture—this means proper alignment and in an anatomically natural stance.
  • Maintain awareness of the space around you.
  • Maintain a soft, relaxed gaze, taking in all your surroundings with a relaxed alertness.
  • Own the space around you, especially the path immediately in front of you.
  • Maintain awareness of your internal environment—all sensory input from within and without as well as thoughts and feelings.
  • Whenever you find yourself using have to language, adopt the attitude that you are taking care of yourself, such as in taking myself for a walk.
  • Each time you notice your mind has wandered to ruminative thoughts of the past or future-centered planning, gently and lovingly return your attention to practicing the components of MBEP.
  • Practice MBEP during all your waking hours.

I recommend engaging in this practice whenever walking or even just standing. Every aspect of this practice is just as applicable to standing as it is to walking. Just getting up from a chair is an opportunity to increase awareness, aliveness, and resilience by practicing MBEP.

Explication Of Each Of The Above MBEP Instructions

  • Put your mind in your center of gravity—just below the naval and deep to it. If you prefer, you could substitute attention for mind. This area is known as hara in Japanese, tan tien in Chinese, or any number of other terms and alternate English spellings. Regardless of the term you use, what matters is that you develop an awareness of and ability to center yourself in this area.
  • Breathe diaphragmatically with exhalations roughly twice as long as inhalations. Most people living in modern, highly developed nations breathe too shallowly. We are healthiest when we breathe diaphragmatically. There are many forms of yogic breathing. The recommendation to make exhalations twice as long as inhalations is based on all the research from the field of psychophysiological self-regulation. Study Appendix B of my book for an in-depth understanding of breathing.
  • Move from your center in all physical activities from walking to cooking. Body mechanics are optimized when you walk, stand, or perform almost any physical activity from your center. In addition, putting your mind (attention) in your center is very psychologically and emotionally grounding. Diaphragmatic breathing helps facilitate moving from your center.
  • Use conscious intention to relax the entire body. The body automatically tenses up when we get upset or stressed. This can be changed, but it requires conscious, intentional practice. Every stressful situation will be managed more effectively when you are relaxed.
  • Always stand in good posture—this means proper structural alignment and in an anatomically natural stance. Your posture should be easy and natural to maintain. At first, a healthy posture will seem unnatural if you are in the habit of either slouching or standing in a military posture. Not only is good posture healthier for your body, it improves state of mind as well.
  • Maintain awareness of the space around you. Technically, our boundaries end with our skin. However, our awareness, aliveness, and full participation in life is much greater when we include the space around us as part of our boundaries.
  • Maintain a soft gaze. Relaxing the muscles around your eyes actually improves your peripheral vision and allows you to take in more of your surroundings. The opposite would be tunnel vision, where your eyes are tense and focused on one thing.
  • Own the space around you, especially the path immediately in front of you. This is a path to self-empowerment. Let’s say someone gets in your face, confronting and challenging you on something you said or did. If you lose your center, you are more likely to get defensive. If you adopt the attitude that you own your space, including the room in which the person is confronting you, then in your mind, you are in a strong position. From that position, you are more likely to respond from a place of strength rather than weakness. What I have done in that situation is to energetically welcome the aggressor into my space. This is calming to the aggressor and usually defuses the attack, even a physical attack (unless the attacker is a crazed drug addict). What helps me to do that is the realization and appreciation that, like all challenging situations, it is an opportunity for my personal growth. The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for personal growth.
  • Maintain awareness of your internal environment—all sensory input from within and without as well as thoughts and feelings. Learn how to hone your awareness of your thoughts and feelings. The most challenging part is to learn how to objectively observe thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them. As for thoughts and beliefs, it is important to learn how to recognize them for what they really are, nothing but insubstantial mental constructs. If everyone had that skill, there would be very little violence in the world. Leaning how to become sensitive to internal stimuli will allow you to master diet, exercise, sleep, relationships, and all other health behaviors. When we deny or resist any form of mental, emotional, or physical challenge, we end up dealing with the challenge from a place of weakness. If we recognize the challenge, relax and accept it, then we are better equipped to deal with it from a place of strength and self-empowerment. Also, denial and resistance serve to increase anxiety, while suppression contributes to depression. Accepting and blending with a life challenge catalyzes self-empowerment and self-efficacy, which then lead to feeling greater aliveness.
  • Each time you notice your mind has wandered to ruminative thoughts of the past or future-centered planning, gently and lovingly return your attention to practicing the components of MBEP. Because we are human, our attention will always wander, thereby negatively impacting our performance in every activity. What is even worse is that every time our attention wanders, we are less fully alive and engaged in life. The solution is simply to adopt the practice of lovingly returning our attention to MBEP as soon as we become aware of the loss of attention.
  • Practice MBEP during most of your waking hours. MBEP will allow you to live with a high degree of aliveness and presence. It can be practiced while you are engaged in most activities. Conversations and relationships will be more stimulating during the moments when you are practicing. Because MBEP is energizing and demands your attention and energy, it obviously would not be conducive to periods of sleep. Also, there are times, if we are lucky, when we enter a state of flow, otherwise known as being in the zone; in those situations, practicing MBEP would ruin the experience. However, most waking moments are improved with MBEP.

Final Notes on MBEP: Gradually, over time, you will increasingly, automatically, find yourself walking, standing, breathing, and moving from your center of gravity. However, at first, this practice may seem unnatural and even exhausting, due to all the various aspects of the practice set to remember. Over time, the exhaustion will actually change into increased energy and aliveness as the practice becomes your natural way of life. At that point, you will feel increasingly in harmony with your body, your environment, and your moment-to-moment situation, regardless of the specifics of the activity. Constant repetition is what leads to unconscious automaticity in the practices. Early on, you will begin to appreciate the ease with which you can practice while in the midst of other activities. MBEP is particularly conducive to walking; therefore, at first, you may want to restrict the practice to walking. But since we are walking throughout the day, the practice would be life-changing even if you continue to confine the practice to walking.

The quality of your breathing has very profound effects on the degree of aliveness you experience. In MBEP and the breathing taught in the class, you push out the air until no longer comfortable and then relax the abdomen to allow the air to reinflate the lungs naturally. In other words, exhalation is conscious whereas inhalation is automatic. Also, the exhalation is roughly twice as long as the inhalation. This focused breathing method is best practiced in activities not requiring high oxygen consumption, such as aerobic forms of exercise because in that situation, it is best to let the body breathe you naturally. Also, due to the fact that this type of breathing is energizing, it is best not used when lying awake in bed when you want to be sleeping. For example, when I awake in the night and have trouble falling back to sleep right away, I practice put my full attention on objective observation of the pure physical sensations of breathing, felt in my lower abdomen in the form of abdominal expansion and contraction. This more passive form of breathing is so relaxing that I almost always fall back to sleep.

Learning to harmonize with your environment, as taught in class, is useful as a way of learning that suppression and resistance to any unwanted internal or external stimuli create unnecessary stress and frustration. Being open to unwanted stimuli, once you know how to harmonize with it, allows you to meet it with resilience rather than resistance. By harmonizing with other people, interpersonal tension and conflicts can be much more easily resolved. When you are no longer on guard around people you typically find challenging to be with, you will feel considerably more alive and vibrant.

Physical Self-Defense: This is an additional benefit to the practice of MBEP.  Read the Self-Defense section in the Tai Chi Chuan page under the Resources button.

Why The Focus On Practices?

Mindfulness is a practice, not a philosophy.

In his book Full Catastrophe Living, arguably one of the best books on mindfulness ever written, author Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness: “It is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” This definition is intended to describe what is meant by the practice of cultivating mindfulness through both formal and informal mindfulness practices, which become a way of life. He says that mindfulness is both the goal as well as the method. He also describes it as: “a living practice, a way of being.”

Kabat-Zinn makes it clear that: “The essence of mindfulness is denatured or lost if viewed as a concept rather than as a practice and way of life.” The practice, in his words: “emphasizes that it is a living, evolving understanding, not a fixed dogma related to a museum honoring a culturally constrained past.”

Again, in Kabat-Zinn’s words: “The heart of mindfulness-based interventions lies in a deep silence, stillness and openheartedness that is native to pure awareness and can be experienced directly both personally and interpersonally. The consequences of such cultivation may go far beyond symptom reduction and conventional coping adjustments, defining new ways of being in the body and in the world that are orthogonal to the conventional perspective on both health and well-being.”

After retiring from clinical practice, I came to realize that the practices I had been teaching to clients living with chronic medical conditions could be very useful for anyone interested in learning how to develop new life skills that catalyze a greater sense of wellbeing. I also discovered that I could create an environment in the classroom that also was based on love and trust. It turns out that when students participate in the class for a certain period of time and adopt these practices, their health and wellbeing both improve.

Most of the people in our class do not live with any serious illness; they are taking the class for reasons of personal growth. Some of them are also taking classes in tai chi, chi gung, and yoga. The practices we teach in our course are designed to increase presence and aliveness through self-compassion, self-empowerment, and self-efficacy.

By practicing healthy behaviors repeatedly throughout the day, every day, these new behaviors gradually begin to replace the unhealthy ones. The brain rewires and each time one of the new practices is engaged, the neural circuits associated with the healthier practices get reinforced. In that way, the new healthy practices gradually become the new, automatic default behaviors.

Recommended Practice to Increase Presence and Aliveness

  1. Ask yourself: What is my state of mind (felt bodily)?
  2. What belief am I holding that is making me feel the way I’m feeling?
  3. Is it based on fact?
  4. If unable to quickly & easily disprove the unhealthy belief, then go to step 5.
  5. Accept and welcome whatever you are experiencing. The more fully present you can be with the unpleasant state of mind, the sooner you will feel better.
  6. All processes can be enhanced with slow diaphragmatic breathing.
  7. Follow sensations of breathing.

Self-Acceptance

Although it is important to learn loving self-care practices and to incorporate those practices into as much of waking life as possible, it would not be effective to bypass full acceptance of your bodily experiences of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Recognition and acceptance of troublesome thoughts and feelings is an essential starting place.

As described in chapter fifteen of my book, it is important to learn how to tune in to emotional states of mind as they are experienced in your body. Throughout history, it has been common to attempt, albeit unsuccessfully, to suppress unwanted thoughts and feelings. This is certainly understandable, but the problem is that suppression produces a paradoxical effect. This is sometimes expressed as: What you resist persists. There is another expression: If you don’t want it, you’ll have it.

It is important to accept all bodily sensations. Much of our emotional life goes unnoticed because the sensations are too subtle to notice during the course of a busy day. Then, there are other emotions that are strongly felt in the body, such as shame, rage, grief, and anxiety. The self-acceptance I advocate involves allowing yourself to have the full body experience of those feelings and states of mind.

One challenge to this practice is the fear that allowing yourself to fully experience shame, rage, or any other strongly felt emotion or state of mind will cause additional suffering. It sounds logical, but nothing could be further from the truth. All the mindfulness research data prove that acceptance of our most uncomfortable emotions and concomitant sensations actually serve to reduce suffering. For example, try suppressing shame next time you experience it and you will notice those sensations get magnified. The same is true with rage. Allowing yourself to embrace the whole body experience of a strong emotion with acceptance serves to immediately diminish it.

Are You Too Judgmental?

If you are very judgmental of others, you are most likely quite self-critical. Being judgmental does not create inner peace and harmony. It is orthogonal to living with a sense of wellbeing. It creates a sense of powerlessness. Judging creates emotional distress and concomitant physiological stress. That stress then impairs immune function and negatively impacts your health and longevity.

Self-criticism often results from shame and causes more shame, whereas judging others often results in feelings of anger or even rage. Shame is never healthy. Neither is rage. Anger can be very healthy when it serves to motivate you to be assertive or to prevent you from being bullied or taken advantage of in some way. Anger is also very useful when it motivates you to fight for social change or to work to improve the lives of others. But the anger you feel as a result of being judgmental just creates unnecessary stress in your life.

Self-empowerment is yours for the taking, simply by adopting the life practice of taking your judgmental thoughts more lightly. Learn to laugh at all your judgments. During those moments when I am aware enough to objectively observe my judgmental thoughts, I find my judgmental thoughts to be a joyous source of entertainment. Whereas, during the moments when I lack the awareness to objectively observe my judgments, I experience unnecessary stress and unhappiness.

The Need For Self-Compassion

Self-compassion and the ability to self-soothe is important both for health and for living a full, vibrant life. Just the way a loving mother soothes her baby when it cries, it is important to cultivate the habit of extending loving compassion to yourself for the suffering of various types that you experience throughout life. It would be hard to self-soothe when you are working hard to deny and resist your inner experiences.

Learning The Practice Of Self-Compassion

In the course my colleague, Dr. Will Meecham MD and I teach, students have reported increased self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-empowerment, self-efficacy, and easier communication in relationships. I believe this is in part due to our focus on helping students to learn how to be fully present with the sensations of emotions as they are felt in the body. There are various practices we do in class that foster increased mind-body awareness of states of mind and emotions. With practice, feelings of shame and inadequacy begin to fall away once the practice of self-compassion is adopted, which in turn leads to self-empowerment and self-efficacy. The bodily experience of shame is disempowering and creates enormous stress, whereas the practice of self-compassion reduces stress, thereby creating a sense of ease as experienced in the body.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Chapter 15  Practice Self-Acceptance.

Self-Compassion Practice: Taking It In

This practice helps cultivate self-nurturing and self-valuing.

  1. Recall a time when someone was compassionate toward you.
  2. Recall his or her face and voice.
  3. Stay with the feelings and sensations you experience as you recall that memory.
  4. Now recall a time when you were compassionate to someone else.
  5. Recall the feeling of mutual compassion.
  6. Now extend that same compassion and appreciation to yourself.

Self-Empowerment

Self-empowerment and self-efficacy are closely related. Self-empowerment has to do with taking action that leads to self-efficacy. Where self-efficacy is the knowing that you have it in you to succeed in your activities of daily living or in achieving long-term goals, self-empowerment consists of all the mind-training techniques you use to empower yourself with that knowledge. The mind-body version of these practices as we teach them involves allowing yourself to fully embody all the sensations that are experienced as you take the actions that build self-efficacy.

Self-Efficacy 

The two main definitions of self-efficacy are the following:

  • The belief that you can succeed in a specific task
  • The belief that you can successfully meet the challenges of life

The Importance Of Self-Efficacy

Without self-efficacy, you would likely lack hope of being able to make your life better. You need the belief that you have what it takes to succeed in all your endeavors in order to be able to keep going when the going gets tough. In fact, when you hold the belief that you do not have have what it takes to succeed in the activities in which you are involved throughout the day, it is as if you are tying your hands, making success less likely. Holding the belief that something is not likely to go well commonly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which then serves to increase anxiety and depression.

The most successful people in most fields have one thing in common. When they fail in an endeavor, they view it as a learning experience, which they then use to improve their odds of succeeding in their next endeavor. In fact, to them there is no such thing as failure; in their minds, everything is simply a lesson to be learned. That approach to life will relieve you of the burden of worrying about the outcome.

Even with things that are completely out of your control, such as when your doctor has ordered tests to rule out a life-threatening or severely debilitating medical condition, you can empower yourself by practicing certain skills that increase your resilience to stress. For example, when you are waiting for the test results to come back from your doctor, the worry and panic you experience can be very detrimental to your mental and physical health, regardless of the specific condition you may have.

Once you have learned and incorporated the recommended practices taught in the course and in the In Your Own Hands book or this website, the various loving self-care practices will help you to remain relatively calm, centered, and grounded during that frightening waiting period. The practices range from simple breathing techniques to putting your hand over your heart and acknowledging your fear.

Self-Efficacy Is The Goal Of All The Practices We Teach

In addition to the previously mentioned benefits, self-empowerment and self-efficacy catalyze improved wellbeing and health just by acquiring a state of mind of self-efficacy. In other words, although effort is required, the belief alone that you can succeed, in and of itself, serves to improve results in all endeavors. That is why self-empowerment and self-efficacy are so vital. They are powerful catalysts for success in every endeavor, including the pursuit of health and wellbeing.

Knowledge Of And Trust In The Body To Heal Itself Is Part Of Self-Efficacy

In my case, I have had various chronic and potentially life-threatening medical conditions for which medicine has had no good answers. Without self-efficacy and self-empowerment, I would have become discouraged and depressed, which would have further worsened my health. However, I knew quite well that the body has the ability to heal itself when it is ill or injured. Just that one thing, the knowledge that the body is fully capable of healing itself, can be quite reassuring.

Of course, we need to give the body what it needs in order to optimize its healing capacities. Since the mind is powerful enough to make us sick or well, the focus of what we teach and what appears in my book is directed at caring for the body through the mind. Obviously, nutrition, exercise, and sleep are essential to health and healing, but they are not what are being offered here.

Reprogram Your Brain For Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is associated with health, higher levels of success in all endeavors, and greater overall satisfaction with life. The way you can become more positive in your thought processes and beliefs is by reprogramming your brain. If you are like most of us, you have spent more time engaging in negative rather than positive thinking. This cannot instantly change just by suddenly starting to say positive affirmations. Decades of negative thinking produced neural circuits that support increased negative thinking. In other words, every time you think negatively, you reinforce the neural pattern that increases the odds of having still more negative thinking. That is why it is so challenging to go from negative to positive in your thought processes.

Self-Efficacy Creates Positive Thinking

Over time, with practice, new neural patterns develop, which support positive thinking. Every life challenge you are faced with is an opportunity to build self-efficacy. Each time you succeed in something, especially when you know that it is because you developed some new skill, you build self-efficacy. Over time, as you have more and more experiences of accomplishing a goal, you will have more and more positive experiences, which foster positive thinking. Self-efficacy does not come from affirmations; it comes from developing a personal history of succeeding in the various things you set out to do.

Nurturing Self-Talk Creates Positive Thinking

Again, if you are like most of us, you have more self-critical beliefs than positive ones. This too is the result of practicing negative thinking for a very long time. You can reprogram your brain by adopting the practice of engaging in nurturing self-talk, which is a major part of loving self-care. This must be an intentional practice. Gradually, over time, you will develop new neural circuitry to support greater automaticity of self-nurturing self-talk, which then leads to positive thinking. Each time you nurture yourself by practicing self-compassion, you will reinforce the new neural patterns supporting more self-compassion. Eventually, self-compassion, self-nurturing, and loving self-care will become your natural default.

Unconditional Love And Acceptance Builds Positive Thinking

Most of us did not grow up with parents or caregivers who were capable of giving us that gift. Many of us finally received that gift as adults from a life partner, best friend, or some type of very close community. Even if you have not received unconditional love and acceptance from anyone, there is another path for you.

Self-Compassion Practice: Appreciation

  1. Close your eyes and call up an image of someone alive or dead whom you love or loved deeply. It could be a parent, child, sibling, spouse, grandparent, aunt or uncle, your best friend or a beloved pet with whom you have or had a mutually loving relationship.
  2. Fully embrace your appreciation for that person or pet.
  3. Imagine telling that person or pet what you appreciate about them. If the beloved is now deceased, imagine saying these things to him or her before he or she died.
  4. Now show that same interest, love, compassion, and appreciation to yourself. Bathe in the nurturing relationship you can have with yourself.

Your Inner Guide Will Help You Cultivate Positive Thinking

An inner guide is an individual or often an animal that loves and accepts you unconditionally. You can learn to create this inner guide in your imagination. Your inner guide will always be there for you, 24/7 for the rest of your life.

Coach John Wooden Infuses Me With Positive Thinking

John Wooden died a few years ago, just before his 100th birthday. Yet, he lives on as one of my inner guides. He is considered by many sports experts to have been the greatest coach in history. His secret was that his players knew he expected absolute commitment to doing their best in every game, every practice, and in their lives off the basketball court. Yet, in interviews with his most famous players, they all said they experienced unconditional love and acceptance from Coach Wooden and that he was a father figure to them. Coach John Wooden is one of my inner guides. Often, when I am struggling with anything, he appears in my mind. I can see him and hear his voice. Whenever I call him up in my imagination, he treats me the way he treated his UCLA players—expecting me to step up and do what is most aligned with my personal life values. I feel loved and supported by him, yet he guides me in being uncompromising in living by my values.

Sparky Sparks Positive Thinking In Me

Sparky is a Jack Russell Terrier, who serves as my other inner guide. He is more playful than Coach Wooden. But Sparky also loves and accepts me unconditionally. Like Coach Wooden, he also does not let me get away with things that are not good for me. I have always had a tendency to work too much for my health and wellbeing. Sparky sometimes appears in my imagination during those times and communicates to me in his own way, that it is time to play. My two inner guides are a nice balance and on rare occasions, they have met and they are very fond of each other. They know that they each have their own strengths. There is great mutual respect between them, in a sort of playful way.

Outer Guides And Inner Guides

One of the characteristics of the happiest people in the world, which I described at length in my book, is that they have people in their lives that love and accept them unconditionally. Often, especially in indigenous cultures and in smaller, less developed nations, this takes the form of very close community. All the research explicated in my book proves a correlation between community, close relationships, and better health and wellbeing. However, there are some case studies from the Academy for Guided Imagery, where I went through certification training, that imaginary inner guides can also improve health and wellbeing.

Compassionate Self-Care 

The term self-care refers to all health-generative behaviors. Very few people engage in optimal self-care. The practice of compassionate self-care refers to an attitude of loving care as opposed to engaging in healthy behaviors simply because you believe your should.  Doing anything because you believe you should is very disempowering and often negatively impacts the results.

Compassionate Self-Care Is A Survival Issue

A Native American philosophy is that Mother Earth needs to be protected because if we destroy her, we destroy our home. Compassionate self-care is about the realization that if we harm our bodies in any way, we harm our home, because that is where we live. This may seem obvious, but then, why isn’t that reflected in our behavior? Why don’t more of us extend the love and optimal care to ourselves that we would certainly extend to a newborn infant?

Recommended reading in the book: Read Chapter 14  Practice Loving Self-Care.

Do You Believe You Deserve Compassionate Self-Care?

Those of us who were not empowered by our parents or other caregivers during our childhoods commonly developed the belief that we were not deserving of loving care. As adults, such beliefs commonly stand in the way of being able to extend the same loving compassion to ourselves that we are very good at extending to others.

Do You Believe You Deserve To Be Loved Unconditionally By Others?

A large percentage of the most brilliant and successful people in practically every field of endeavor became and remain high-achievers as a result of holding the tragic belief that love, appreciation, and valuing of them would always be conditional on their accomplishments. Even after their net worth reaches the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, they are still driven to push themselves in the false belief that recognition of them as valued and lovable human beings is dependent on remaining high-achievers.

Self-Awareness And Self-Observation 

Make a practice of paying attention to:

  • The way you breathe
  • The content of your beliefs
  • The health value of your beliefs
  • The degree to which you view all your beliefs as factual
  • The nature of your emotional state of mind
  • The strong connection between emotional states of mind and specific beliefs
  • Sensations and how they are connected to your emotional states of mind
  • Your behavior as it may correlate with certain mood states
  • Your behavior as it may correlate with certain beliefs
  • How attached are you to your beliefs?
  • When someone you trust compliments you, are you able to take it in?
  • When someone you trust criticizes you unfairly, are you able to see the criticism as just that person’s belief, rather than fact?

Every Belief And Every Emotion Influences Your Health And Wellbeing.

Unhealthy, self-critical thoughts are spewed out by the brain everyday. Whether you are aware of them or not, almost immediately, a physiological change occurs, leading to an unpleasant emotional change, which is then experienced in your body. The bodily feedback then causes your brain to create an additional unhealthy belief. At this point you may begin to feel depressed or anxious. The reverse is equally true in that when you feel joy or other healthy emotions, your brain spews out additional healthy beliefs, which further increases a sense of wellbeing. In other words, beliefs catalyze various states of mind and those states of mind are experienced in the body. The next time you feel enraged about something, notice that your mind starts spinning out additional beliefs correlating with anger. The same is true with all strong emotions. The brain will create new beliefs to go with whatever strong emotion you are experiencing.

All of this occurs in the same (albeit more complicated) way as with a reversible reaction in chemistry. In other words, the brain spews out a constant barrage of thoughts, which have a direct effect on your emotional state of mind. The emotion manifests in the body and then feeds back information to the brain, which then creates thoughts in line with the emotion being felt in the body. The quality of the beliefs we form in those moments is the result of that complex process.

Introduction To Working With Unhealthy Beliefs

Unhealthy beliefs are beliefs that when not questioned, cause emotional distress.  Chronic emotional distress causes physiological stress, which is bad for your health. If you are living with a debilitating chronic medical condition or with anxiety, depression, or are generally not as happy as you would like to be, this website and the In Your Own Hands book will hopefully be of help. The information and suggested practices on this website have helped many people learn to identify and work with the type of  beliefs that exacerbate chronic medical conditions, anxiety, and depression. The goal is not to change your unhealthy beliefs; rather, it is to learn how to free yourself from their grasp on you.

Self-Compassion Practice: Path to Openheartedness

To enhance openheartedness toward self and others, throughout the day, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Explore what gets in the way of openheartedness. (For example, in my case, having grown up being constantly bombarded by my mother’s put-downs and my father’s ignoring of me, I entered adulthood expecting everyone I met to treat me in one of those two ways.)
  2. Fear of rejection and fear of being burdened by the other person are two common blocks that prevent people from behaving in openhearted ways. See if this fits for you.
  3. Practice seeing your fear as being based in thoughts and beliefs that are not based on present-situation reality. Practice identifying your personal values and then taking valued action.

Are Beliefs Aligned With Reality?

There are two major categories of beliefs. One type of belief is based on fact. For example, I believe I am an empowered medical patient. This belief, if tested, would turn out to be factual and based on testable evidence; for example, I know how to form collaborations with my medical team and have become an expert on my particular diagnoses. Whereas, if I typically play the part of a passive patient, never questioning anything and showing no curiosity about my medical conditions, then my belief that I am an empowered medical patient would not be based on fact. In this case, the false belief is relatively harmless.

Many of the beliefs not based on solid evidence cause enormous suffering and catalyze actions that cause real harm to ourselves or to others. For example, if I believe that I am a loser, that belief will cause me enormous suffering and will severely limit my potential to set and work toward achieving goals in life. Therefore, it is important to learn how to not be influenced by that type of very unhealthy belief. By the way, that particular belief is always false because the belief “I am a loser” can always be disproven since there is no such entity as a loser.

Many beliefs are true, but most of us have trouble accepting that our own beliefs are not the same as facts. They are commonly not based in reality. If we were to seriously look for solid evidence, we would usually disprove most of our beliefs, especially if we have good, discerning, investigatory skills or are trained in the scientific method. The problem is that we are rarely motivated to do so, since beliefs are most often mistaken for reality. Once we are able to recognize a belief for what it is and differentiate it from a fact, we can then gain emotional and cognitive distance from it, which allows us to avoid blindly basing our behavior on that belief.

A Brief Note About Inner Guides

Earlier, I described the utility of working with inner guides. Obviously, those inner guides are not real; they only exist in the imagination. People have questioned how the use of an imaginary inner guide could correlate with self-empowerment and self-efficacy. The reason an imaginary inner guide can support self-empowerment and self-efficacy is because of the knowledge that the guide was created by you, in your own imagination, to serve you. This is very different from the theistic belief that you will be protected by a non-existent entity.

The Origin Of Many Of Our False And Unhealthy Beliefs

Beliefs are commonly the result of our early childhood experiences and cultural backgrounds. These include the beliefs of our parents or other caregivers, religious institutions, nationalistic beliefs, or other cultural beliefs. In fact, many beliefs have a genetic link, especially those relating to safety and survival.

Unfortunately, those of us who took on self-deprecatory beliefs in early childhood such as that we were not worthy of love and valuing by others, tend to lack sufficient motivation to effectively question those beliefs even as adults. Sadly, most people live out their entire lives according to various self-limiting beliefs. Even many of the most outwardly successful people are not living up to their full happiness potential. This is because, all too often, they are living their lives according to their self-limiting beliefs. Their behavior is the result of a confusion between their beliefs and reality.

Self-Empowerment, Assertiveness And Interpersonal Relationships

People who have developed self-empowerment are able to be assertive and to get their needs met in interpersonal interactions. Those who are self-empowered and assertive never need to resort to finger-pointing or shaming remarks in order to express their needs and to make requests to their partners or others in their lives. This does not mean they never engage in that behavior; it simply means they can get their needs met without having to do so. Although their belief about their own self-efficacy may be healthy, they could still hold and be blind to their judgmental beliefs about others.

By learning and practicing how to distinguish between beliefs and facts, and by learning and practicing loving self-care, you can cultivate self-empowerment. These skills will then help you to assert your needs while simultaneously improving your relationships. Self-empowerment is about stepping forward to meet the other person with calm, assertive, authentic, and respectful self-expression without trying to get the other person to change.

Once the other person is satisfied that he or she has been heard, understood, and appreciated, that person will then be motivated to want to help you to meet your needs and will respect for you for your ability to express yourself so effectively. Although there are individuals with either a drug addiction or mental illness who will not be responsive to your calm, assertive, authentic self-expression, they are the exception. Generally, when we are totally honest, assertive, and respectful in our interpersonal communication, both parties get their needs met, regardless of the nature of the relationship.

Self-empowerment includes being able to comfortably say “no” to requests by others for you to do something that is not aligned with your authenticity.

Moods And Emotions Influence Creation Of Beliefs

One of the reasons it is extremely important to learn how to go inward and be able to identify your emotional state of mind throughout the day is that your emotional state of mind has a powerful, neurophysiological effect on the nature of beliefs you create. For example, if you look in the mirror and see that you are having a bad hair day on a day when you feel energetic and excited to be alive, you are likely to form a light-hearted belief that causes you to laugh while looking into the mirror. However, the next day, your hair may look identical to how it looked the day before but on this day you have a headache and feel out of sorts. On this day, your brain creates an unhealthy belief, such as: I have terrible hair and it never looks right! Additional beliefs of a similar valence will likely get generated such as: I can’t believe this always happens to me. Unless we have skills to change our brain electrochemistry by questioning and distancing ourselves from our beliefs, the brain is likely to initiate a downward spiral of unhealthy beliefs such as I’m a loser. 

Do You Ever Feel Irritated with Someone in Your Life?  The Terrible Danger of the Should Belief

One practice that will make life much more peaceful for you and everyone around you is the following: Every time you feel irritated with someone, ask yourself if you are holding a belief that the person should be doing something the way you would do it. It is not a fact that the person should be doing it the way you would do it; it is your belief. Immediately remind yourself that it is your belief rather than a fact that the other person is doing it wrong. Any time you find yourself feeling frustrated or angry with someone, ask yourself if you are holding some type of judgmental belief about that person. With practice, just asking yourself that question will result in self-empowerment and a sense that you are more in control of your life.

Valuing Choice 

I set an intention every single day to practice reminding myself of how it is always within my power to choose actions that are most aligned with loving self-care. As I go through my day, I practice observing and then labeling my thought processes and actions. For example, if I notice I am feeling self-critical or judgmental of someone or of a situation (due to a should), I ask myself if that is what I value. If it is not, that simple practice of observing can be enough to help me feel empowered and in control of my life.

Valuing Acceptance 

If I value acceptance, the simple act of recognizing my judging behavior (based on a belief that someone should be different) often results in freeing myself from being judgmental. My behavior does not always change so easily, especially if I have been holding a particularly judgmental belief about someone for a long time. However, whenever I am able to recognize my should-type belief for what it is (nothing but a mental construct), I immediately feel an increased sense of acceptance for that person.

Are You Doomed To Be Victimized By Your Harmful Beliefs? 

Although we do not choose any of the thoughts being constantly spewed out by the brain, we can choose how to act on those thoughts and beliefs once we become aware of them and are able to see them as nothing but insubstantial mental constructs. Mindfulness practice can help you to form a healthier relationship with your harmful, self-disparaging beliefs, learning to take them lightly. In addition, through the practice of objective, thought-watching, the beliefs we create from all the thoughts being constantly spewed out by the brain tend to be healthier.

Here are two things you can do to avoid being harmed by the unhealthy thought patterns produced by your brain. Here is what students in the Mind-Body Empowerment course at the College of Marin learn and I recommend you learn. The following practices are certainly not quick fixes; rather, they are life-long practices.

  1. Practice identifying or recognizing self-deprecating beliefs that are suppressing your potential to experience optimal joy in life.
  2. Practice objectively observing your beliefs as you would watch cumulus clouds floating across the sky; this is sometimes referred to as thought-watching. Once you are able to recognize and objectively observe your beliefs, you will have greater freedom to choose how to respond to them. You will no longer be a slave to any of your beliefs. Your brain will continue to create unpleasant thoughts, but you will have the freedom to act on them in healthier ways. You will even be able to take your thoughts and beliefs more lightly.
  3. Practice taking your beliefs less seriously. This skill leads to self-empowerment and will provide you with the choice to act or not to act on your beliefs. You will begin to see the humor in the beliefs that otherwise would have the potential to severely limit the way you live your life. This practice will help you to unlock the door to your mind-prison and walk to your freedom.
  4. Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness. This will become more natural and even automatic the more you practice it. These practices will self-empower you with the skills to be able to stay in touch with and to act on your personal values as opposed to beliefs imposed on you from outside yourself.
  5. In practicing loving self-care, for a brief time, try pretending to be someone whom you believe is more deserving. Sometimes the use of the imagination in this way serves to improve self-compassion.
  6. Establish and maintain a few close relationships with people around whom you feel safe enough to authentically self-express. When a deep level of interpersonal trust and sincere caring exists over time with two or three other people, you may gradually start allowing yourself to take in, digest, and absorb the love they give you. Even just one person can provide for enormous healing in you. Over time, that process can begin to create cracks in your self-critical core beliefs.
  7. Adopt a formal gratitude practice. Spend time cultivating the habit of appreciating and savoring the beauty around you and appreciating everything that is going well. There are almost always more things going well than not, but we usually take them for granted. Over time, this practice can result in the creation of healthier, more positive thoughts and beliefs by your brain.
  8. Improve your brain function with optimal diet, exercise, sleep, intellectual challenges, stress-management, and other good health habits. A physiologically healthy brain is more likely to be a cognitively healthy brain. A brain that is well nourished and well rested will improve your ability to recognize and work with unhealthy beliefs. In fact, the brain produces more unhealthy beliefs when you are tired, sick, or less optimally nourished. The brain also creates more unhealthy beliefs when you are lacking in love, caring, and community.
  9. Give yourself the gift of good psychotherapy. My personal preference is group psychotherapy because it presents the opportunity to have a wide variety of interpersonal interactions within the group.

Determining The Health Value Of Beliefs

On a global level, a particularly healthy belief is one resulting in openhearted behavior toward people who do not share your beliefs.

On an individual level, a healthy belief is one resulting in self-compassion, loving self-care, and self-efficacy.

However, we all create unhealthy beliefs on a regular basis; it is part of being human. That is why it is so important to learn how to develop and practice the skills that allow us to walk out of the mind-prison that holds us captive to our self-limiting beliefs.

Skills Not Pills

The founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, James S. Gordon, MD, advocates Skills Not Pills. Dr. Gordon, a revered psychiatrist, has proven that it is possible to treat severe mood disorders without medication. The practices offered on this website and in the In Your Own Hands book serve to provide a path to the cultivation of those skills.

Compassionate, loving self-care means that you make a practice of moment-to-moment choosing to practice caring for yourself in a loving way. Anxiety and depression can be managed well without medication, provided there is a daily and life-long commitment to the practice of the skills offered. In the College of Marin course, in various places on this website, and especially in the book, skill-building practices are described that may allow you to optimize your wellbeing as well as to successfully manage anxiety and depression without medication.

Obviously, you need to have the energy required to commit to take on the practices; people with major depressive disorder lack the necessary energy and therefore need to work directly with someone with extensive training with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine or with some other clinician with similar training.

The fastest-acting and most effective self-treatment for anxiety is slow, diaphragmatic breathing. The most evidence-based breathing method involves exhalations roughly twice as long as inhalations. The rate should vary, but if you find yourself breathing any faster than twelve breaths per minute, slow it down. Also, it is important that breathing be controlled by the diaphragm.

What you will find is that optimal breathing will improve your ability to recognize your unhealthy beliefs. The calming influence of slow diaphragmatic breathing with longer exhalations will also help you to begin to take your beliefs less seriously. That in turn will help you live with greater joy and aliveness.

The Fastest-Acting Anxiolytic

Anxiolytics are a class of anti-anxiety medications. I prefer to make my own and the practices described on this site and in the book will help you to better access your endogenous (in the brain) pharmacy. The best anxiolytics are manufactured in the endogenous pharmacy. Your brain writes its own prescriptions all day long. The beauty of endogenously synthesized drugs is that they are made in exactly the right formula, dose, and delivery schedule for each individual. The next time you experience anxiety, try practicing the following skill, which calms the sympathetic (fight, flight, or freeze) division of the autonomic nervous system. Slow your breathing rate. Relax your abdomen and allow yourself to breathe diaphragmatically. Make your exhalations roughly twice as long as your inhalations.

Recommended reading in the book: Appendix B: Conscious Breathing, Heart Rate Variability, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia, and Health (begins on page 343). Also see the Endogenous Pharmacy page on this website in the Resources drop-down menu.

“What a person does or thinks can affect the kinds of prescriptions written for the body by the brain.”  Norman Cousins

Honor Your Inner Subjective Experiences

Thoughts and feelings are sometimes referred to as private events, because no one else can see them. Observers can tell when you look angry, scared, sad, embarrassed, or anxious, but no one can know exactly what you are thinking. Most of us spend a lot of time completely unaware of the thoughts being created by the brain.

Even when you have no label for what you are thinking or feeling, you can learn through mindfulness to tune in to the experience and to then choose a skill to either reinforce your health-inducing beliefs and emotional states, or you can choose a skill to distance yourself from unhealthy beliefs and emotional states.

Consciously Choose Your Behavior

As stated earlier, we cannot choose our thoughts; the brain just keeps spewing them out constantly. However, once we develop the ability to recognize them for what they are, we then have enormous power to choose how we want to respond to them. Awareness through mindfulness practices opens the door to the freedom to choose any behavior.  It is very disrespectful and disempowering to give yourself the message that you are powerless to change any of your behaviors. You have the power; you just need to learn and commit to practicing the skills.

Be in Complete Control of Your Life

Self-empowerment and a sense of being fully in control of your life is partly the result of simply knowing what you can and cannot control.

  • Trying to control other people or situations is very disempowering and futile.
  • You cannot control your state of health, but your actions can positively influence your state of health.
  • You cannot control your mood, but mindfulness and loving self-care practices will improve your mood.
  • You cannot control your thoughts and feelings, but acceptance of them as natural phenomena is very empowering and healing.

Nelson Mandela demonstrated how you can feel in control of your life even when confined to life in a prison cell.

Skill-Building Practices To Build A Happier Life

  1. Objectively observe your emotional state of mind throughout the day. This requires a lot of practice and is greatly enhanced through mindfulness. Normally, we are so focused on getting various tasks done that we fail to notice how we feel while busily doing the task.
  2. Identify your personal values and determine what personal value is or is not being met in the immediate moment.
  3. Throughout the day, identify your bodily and emotional needs; this mindfulness-based loving self-care practice can empower you to care for yourself the way you would care for a new-born baby.
  4. Breathe diaphragmatically and get physically and mentally centered.
  5. Proclaim (to yourself) I am choosing… What you then want to choose is the most relevant personal value in that moment.

Here is a very simple example of the I Am Choosing practice:

  1. I observe that my posture is poor and that I am slouching.
  2. I then recognize that I value being aware, centered, and grounded.
  3. I then breathe diaphragmatically and get physically and mentally centered and grounded.
  4. I (silently) proclaim to myself: I am choosing to stand (or sit, or walk) in a relaxed, aware, natural posture and to center myself.

The proclamation step is important because it serves as a form of self-empowerment.

There Is No Quick Fix Or Cure

The practices taught in the College of Marin course, this website, and the book do not improve wellbeing or health without extensive, committed, daily practice. You will experience greater wellbeing and health only by committing to a life of practicing the skills. If you stop daily exercise, you will pay a price. If you eat an unhealthy diet, you will pay a price. The loving self-care practices taught in the course, the book, and this website are no different; to appreciate the benefits, you will need to commit to life-long, daily practice.

Perfection Is Not The Goal; The Goal Is Establishment Of Self-Empowerment Practices

Obviously, being human, most of us make unhealthy choices at various times. Perfection is not the goal; the practices being described are the goal. Loving self-care is a big part of it, which includes forgiving ourselves when we make choices that are not in harmony with our life values.

What Do You Need?

Loving self-care includes tuning in to your psychobiological needs. Whenever you are not feeling well, emotionally or physically, ask yourself what you think you need in that moment, both bodily and emotionally. For example, sometimes when I am getting my twice-daily exercise I experience severe arthritic pain. At some of those times, I may need self-compassion. At other times I may need to change what I am doing. At some of those times I end up feeling some fear, which is caused by my realization that exercise will continue to become even more of a challenge for me as time goes on. I then remind myself that I am extremely resilient, as evidenced by the fact that when knee arthritis caused me to quit running, I took up swimming and when it later caused me to quit swimming, I realized I could get enough exercise using an incline trainer and by walking in the hills.

A Note About Working With Unpleasant Emotions

Sometimes, when I am out walking as it is just starting to get light out, I feel some mild sadness that does not seem to be related to any unhealthy belief, but rather to just some quirkiness in my brain electrochemistry. At those times, what I most need is to allow myself to fully embrace my sad feelings and to wake up to the full experience of the moment. There is a danger in staying in the sadness because during those times, the brain creates more sad thoughts and beliefs. On the other hand, there is a danger in attempting to suppress the sadness because that tends to amplify it. This is where mindfulness practice and loving self-care are so healing.

Whenever I am feeling sad, I acknowledge that what I’m feeling is a natural process and accept it. When I do so, the sadness eventuates into a sense of wellbeing. Simultaneously, I consciously observe my thinking process and very often I am able to identify a certain unhealthy thought pattern or belief that may have contributed to the sadness; the sadness usually abates with that realization.

Sometimes, when I recognize that there was no preceding unhealthy belief and that the sadness was nothing more than a mild, transient electrochemical quirkiness in my brain, I put my hand over my heart and practice self-compassion; if I then feel better, I know that self-compassion was what I needed.

Mindful Biology

In the fall of 2015, retired surgeon Dr. Will Meecham http://www.mindfulbiology.org/ began to mature a radical new philosophy that he had been developing for some time. It was his new, revolutionary ideas that I immediately recognized as having the power to motivate people to practice optimal self-care that was motivated from within each person rather than from a belief that they should engage in healthier behaviors. In gaining a very basic understanding of the exquisite beauty of the way the body works to keep us alive, we are then able to gain a deep gratitude for the fact that no matter what disease, injury, or pathological condition we live with, and no matter how much abuse we inflict on the body, it continues to work tirelessly to do everything in its power to maintain homeostasis and keep us alive. We literally owe our lives to our bodies. The discovery of Mindful Biology motivated me to invite Dr. Meecham to co-teach my College of Marin course, and since January of 2016, we have been co-teaching the course.

Recommended reading on my colleague’s website: http://www.mindfulbiology.org/

Responsibility To Care For Ourselves

Parents have a responsibility to keep their young children safe from harm. As adults, we have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe from harm. For most of us, aside from the obvious harmful behaviors such as eating unhealthy food and not getting enough exercise or sleep, the form of harm from which we need the most protection is that of unhealthy, self-deprecating beliefs, negative thinking, and entanglement or fusion with those thoughts and beliefs. The course that my colleague Dr. Meecham and I teach at the College of Marin, along with the In Your Own Hands book, serve to help people develop the ability to self-observe their beliefs with self-compassion. As responsible adults, we have the power to learn how to train our minds to objectively observe our behavior and to then choose to improve it.

Suggested Practice: I Am Choosing My Behavior

Because this is such an essential practice, I want to give you another form of the I Am Choosing practice. Throughout the day, as you consciously observe your behavior, preface everything you do with the declaration: I am choosing… Do this even with the simplest activities, such as:

  1. I am choosing to get out of bed.
  2. I am choosing to put on my exercise clothes.
  3. I am choosing to exercise.

There is no action that is too insignificant to include in this practice. Include thoughts as well as actions:

  1. I’m choosing to think about my day. Although we cannot actually choose our thoughts, we can choose how to respond to them. In other words, we can choose to mindfully observe them, obsess over them, or act on them.
  2. I’m choosing to obsess about the conversation I had with the lab tech yesterday. This may seem like a strange statement to make, but when you realize that you are in fact obsessing over anything, prefacing it with I am choosing to… will serve to increase your awareness of choice.
  3. I’m choosing to complain about the pain in my back.
  4. I’m choosing to focus on the benefits of the invasive test I chose to line up.
  5. I’m choosing to feel grateful for this beautiful day.

The purpose of the above practice is to reinforce your awareness of your power of choice. Although thoughts and beliefs will always pop into your head automatically, you can choose what to do with them; you can get obsessively caught up in them or you can practice mindfulness in order to recognize them as insubstantial mental constructs and let them pass by as if they were cumulus clouds floating across the sky.

Another reason this practice is so self-empowering is because it keeps you focused on what you value rather than on what you don’t value. In fact, it can wake you up to less-conscious, automatic habits and addictions that are inconsistent with your personal values.

Here is an example of how this works: Let’s say you’re sitting at a table eating and you say to yourself: I’m choosing to eat. If you’re eating a greater quantity of food than you value eating, the very simple act of making this statement can serve to make you aware of this. In that instant of awareness, you can say, I’m choosing to stop eating immediately. Just saying the words I’m choosing to eat serves to increase mindfulness of your experience in that moment. This mind-body empowerment is what puts you in control of your life.

The I am choosing practices involve making the phrase I am choosing part of moment-to-moment awareness, and this moment-to-moment emphasis on choice is a powerful antidote to the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that so often plague some of us who live with chronic medical conditions or may feel lost in the health care system.

Quite often, when you’re holding a belief that stirs uncomfortable emotions and you’re in mid-sentence, you can interrupt your thinking by saying I am choosing. This allows you to instantly realize that you don’t want to be obsessing over that particular belief because you know it’s not conducive to your wellbeing and health.

Without engaging in this practice, it’s all too easy to get caught up in or fused with your beliefs because you don’t yet realize and appreciate that you have the power to choose to question them, or to step back and disengage from them. You don’t yet know from experience that it is truly within your power to get to a point where you can choose to see your beliefs as insubstantial brain phenomena that you need not blindly follow.

Two More Applications Of The I Am Choosing Practice

There are two ways to use this particular mindfulness practice. In describing them, I have again used very mundane examples in order to reinforce that there is no belief or action that is too insignificant to use as practice.

  1. Get clear on the emotional or bodily need that is most alive for you in this moment, or on the personal life value that you are most connected with at this moment. Then, focus your intention on acting in accordance with that value by prefacing the chosen action with I am choosing to…  A really simple example: You become aware of bladder pressure as you are sitting at your desk. You tune in to one of your bodily needs: physical comfort. You then say, I am choosing to get up and walk to the bathroom.
  2. Set the intention, as often as possible throughout the day to silently say to yourself I am choosing to…, as a way to bring your awareness to your beliefs, emotions, and actions. For example, let’s say you’re engaged in a certain activity—maybe you’re doing the dishes—and suddenly you remember the practice. Without having noticed what you’ve been thinking before now, you say I am choosing to do the dishes.  As soon as that phrase appears in your mind, you become aware of your thinking process, which, a moment earlier, was not in your field of awareness.

The Challenge Of Recovering From Childhood Wounds

In my situation, the long process of recovery from childhood wounds was a particularly difficult challenge. I commonly didn’t feel well during my childhood years. Whenever I looked sad or uncomfortable, my mother would scold me. The emotional abuse and lack of empathy from both parents, especially from my mother, led to feelings of shame, which only exacerbated my health problems. The shame led to a sense of powerlessness that resulted in my unhealthy belief that it was dangerous for me to reveal or even feel my feelings. I had learned as a child to suppress all my feelings because it was too dangerous to be seen with a sad or angry face. I did not even begin to heal those wounds until the most trusted person in my life served as a witness.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Part One: Toward Mastery and Wellbeing.

The Healing Power Of A Witness Can Help You Finally Question Your Damaging Beliefs.

It was not until I met my wife in my late twenties that I finally experienced another human being who was able to witness and then point out to me my mother’s inappropriate, cruel, and narcissistic behavior. I had never consciously acknowledged the abuse because I had become so inured to and blinded by the wounding since early childhood. This novel validation, which I finally received, allowed me to begin to gradually develop a tiny morsel of self-compassion. Witnessing and validation are among the many reasons that healthy, close relationships are so essential for wellbeing and health. A close and very trusted relationship, where one person is able to actually witness the abuse, can serve to help us to finally question our unhealthy beliefs.

A New Twist On The Meaning Of Social Support

Thanks to Meecham’s Mindful Biology, there is now a new twist on social support. Although not a substitute for the support from another person, you can learn to be your own witness. Whenever you feel sad or ill, you can learn to bear witness to your own suffering and to practice self-compassion.

For me, this required feeling safe enough to allow myself to experience and acknowledge my feelings, and to then courageously choose to finally take a stand and allow myself to reveal my authentic feelings to others despite the fear of being judged and shamed, especially with my feelings of sadness or anger. I remember being amazed when I began to authentically share my feelings to discover that no one made any shaming or judging remarks. We tend to imagine that others will treat us as we were treated by our parents or caregivers in childhood; sometimes this results in unhealthy behavior on our part that can actually trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Adopt An Inner Advisor That Is Always With You

When I was practicing mind-body medicine, I taught most of my clients how to contact their own personal inner advisor whenever they wanted support or guidance. Of course, this type of support is good to get from another person whom you deeply trust. But, no matter how close you feel to that person, who may even be your spouse, you also need alone time. The beauty of having an inner advisor is that she, he, or it can always be there for you, whether it is the middle of the night or when you are out in nature by yourself.

Some people have more than one inner advisor and some have a large inner advisory committee. Some advisors or committee members are small animals. They don’t need to speak; just their loving presence is often enough. Your imagination will allow you to meet the perfect advisors for you.

This method is taught in the course my colleague and I teach. Although training with some of the most world renowned hypnotherapists at the Erickson Foundation, I later got certified by the Academy for Guided Imagery and found their method to be more useful for my clients, all of whom had some type of debilitating or life-threatening medical condition.  You can find them at http://acadgi.com/

The Organism Is Always Doing Its Best To Maintain Homeostasis

Each of us is stuck with the body (and genetic profile) we live in. I used to get angry and frustrated with my body whenever I would have an arthritic flare-up or an intestinal inflammation. Now, with the realization that my body is always doing the best it can, given the less than ideal genetic pool from both sides of my family and the emotionally traumatic family environment in which I spent my childhood, it is amazing that my body has kept me alive and healthy enough to live a relatively full life. I believe I remain healthier than expected because of my commitment to the practice of self-compassion and my practice of continually working to identify and then question my unhealthy beliefs.

Mind-Body Awareness Practice: Self-Empowerment

More of using symptoms as red flags

  • Throughout the day, look for moments when you feel a slight uncomfortable sensation or emotion that could help you avoid acting on an undesired impulse.
  • Look for body signals to help you recognize that you aren’t behaving in a way that is aligned with your personal values.
  • Explore the connection between the behavior and the thoughts that led to it.
  • Courageously make the desired behavioral change.
  • Practice self-compassion to calm and reassure yourself when this happens.

Step Up And Take Action

When you choose to take the following courageous actions, your health and wellbeing will be optimized. Living this way may not have the power to cure any chronic or life-threatening medical conditions, but it will likely improve your odds. At the very least, you will create healthier beliefs about yourself, just knowing that you are courageously choosing your actions based on the information you receive by tuning in to your emotional and bodily needs as well as your personal life values.

I recommend taking the following evidence-based actions, the extensive references for which appear in my book:

  • Cultivate a small, trusted, close, caring community, one in which you can emotionally be there for each other.
  • Search for meaning and purpose. What motivates you to be excited about getting out of bed each morning?
  • Act in ways that serve others. Research shows that people who do so tend to be happier and healthier than those who do not.
  • Commit to the development of a mindfulness practice. This is the fundament of everything I teach.
  • Make conscious choices throughout the day that are based on your emotional and bodily needs as well as your personal life values.
  • Practice conscious appreciation for the way your body is constantly doing everything possible to maintain homeostasis.
  • Act in truly authentic ways.
  • Courageously speak your truth.
  • Take full responsibility for caring for yourself in a loving way.
  • Actively practice openheartedness, but only when the motivation comes from within.
  • Practice gratitude and savoring for everything that is going well and for the beauty all around you.
  • Question all your beliefs. Recognition of their insubstantiality is like seeing a door for the first time that has the power to free you from the prison of your mind.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Part II: The Fundamental Mastery and Wellbeing Practice: Mindfulness.  Also read Part III  Valued-Action Practice. In addition, explore my colleague’s website: http://www.mindfulbiology.org/

More Help On How To Spot Unhealthy Core Beliefs

An easy way to identify these unhealthy, often life-long, so called core beliefs is that they commonly cause unpleasant bodily sensations such as headache, neck pain, backache, or bellyache. These physical symptoms are commonly experienced with some emotion, such as sadness, depression, anxiety, frustration, or lack of hope.

  1. Learn how to tune in to subtle bodily sensations and to correlate them with beliefs that seem to be strongly associated with them. This will inform your emotional and bodily needs on a deep level. It will also inform your personal life values.
  2. Learn how to recognize how your face and the rest of your body feel as a way of identifying subtle emotions and bodily needs. Micro-expressions, which are too fleeting and subtle to be recognized by anyone looking at you, can serve as early indicators of your emotional states.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Part 1: Toward Mastery and Wellbeing

Once You Are Able To Spot Unhealthy Beliefs

Once you develop the ability to recognize, observe, and correlate specific beliefs with specific bodily feelings, you can then more effectively use the following methods to further improve wellbeing.

The first method, referred to as cognitive restructuring, is to look for evidence to disprove the unhealthy belief or to notice that there is a lack of evidence to support the unhealthy belief.

In the second method, as soon as you spot the unhealthy, harmful belief, you use the mindfulness skill of stepping back and gaining cognitive and emotional distance from the unhealthy way of thinking. You will gradually learn to objectively watch your thoughts coming and going as if they were clouds floating across the sky. This method (mindfulness) does not involve any analyzing of your thoughts. Although cognitive restructuring and mindfulness are two very different approaches to working with beliefs, they each have a solid evidence base in the form of thousands of controlled trials published in refereed journals proving their efficacy. I use them both throughout the day, although I primarily use mindfulness.

Here is a third method, which works well, but it requires considerable practice and cannot be used until you first develop the skill of being able to mindfully observe your beliefs. A particularly effective practice to help you step back and defuse or disentangle from your beliefs is to simply say to yourself: It’s just a belief! Students in my class have found that the key to the power of this practice is in practicing it throughout the day. Every time they notice a belief that is causing them to feel stressed out, they say out loud or silently to themselves: It’s just a belief! 

Recommended reading in the book: Read Chapter 4  Cognitive Fusion

Honor Your Emotions

It is important to understand the value of unpleasant emotions. For example, anger is very useful for energizing you to take action that you may want to take, such as using assertiveness to express your needs to someone.

Weakening the unpleasant emotion of anger by telling yourself it’s just a feeling is most useful when your anger is not serving any useful purpose.

In other words, anger, anxiety, shame, guilt, and sadness are not always unhealthy by themselves. They are only unhealthy when they serve no useful purpose, such as when you remain stuck in that emotion and are not able to use what you are feeling to motivate you to take some action to help you get your needs met. But when you feel anger, frustration, sadness, or any other unpleasant emotion and you are able to use that emotion to motivate you to take valued action, then even the most unpleasant emotions are actually essential to your wellbeing.

Still More On Core Beliefs

It takes a long time to begin to recognize your core beliefs because they have always been your default. Over time, as your mindfulness-based mind-watching skills grow, you will actually be able to begin to find humor in your otherwise harmful beliefs of which you were previously completely unaware. The danger of a lack of awareness of self-denigrating beliefs is that those types of beliefs catalyze unhealthy biochemical changes in numerous physiological processes, which can then lead to depression, anxiety, and general unhappiness. Somatization develops in proportion to the extent to which you remain unaware of your unhealthy beliefs.

The Garden

The College of Marin course, the book, and this website can each serve as a garden for the cultivation of the power of conscious choice, intentionality, and taking courageous action, which are powerful catalysts for self-compassion, wellbeing, and optimization of health. In a different part of this website, on the Empowered Patient page, you will learn all you need in order to optimize the quality of the healthcare you receive. However, even if you are lucky enough to be getting all your medical care from world-class doctors at one of the premier medical centers, it is no less important to practice mind-body empowerment and to become an empowered patient.

Recommended reading in another part of this website: Read the Empowered Patient page.

The Overlooked Factor In Self-Care

When most people think of good self-care, they think of eating a nutrient-dense diet, getting plenty of daily exercise and sleep, and other commonsense behaviors. What commonly gets overlooked in self-care is wellbeing (happiness). As I’ve mentioned previously, epidemiology researchers have consistently correlated wellbeing with health. The challenge is in figuring out how to go about improving your level of wellbeing. It is for that reason I did all the research that went into the In Your Own Hands book, this website, and the course, each of which can serve as an evidence-based guide to achieve greater wellbeing.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Chapter 2  What Causes Disease?

The Garden Needs Tending 

By taking advantage of the garden provided by the course, book, or website, you can learn to appreciate the garden that is your organism. In the words of my colleague, Dr. Will Meecham, the body is “an organism to be tended and loved.” Isn’t it strange that it is easier for most of us to tend to the vegetables or flowers in our garden than to lovingly tend to our own body? Again, in the words of Dr. Meecham: “MindfulBiology encourages gentle stewardship of the human organism.”  Stewardship of the body is our responsibility, just as it is a mother’s responsibility to care for her baby.

Recommended reading on my colleague’s website: http://www.mindfulbiology.org/

Your Belief In Your Abilities Will Evolve As Your Skills Develop

Over time, you will develop the confidence to know that whenever you experience a setback in health or in other areas of your life, you will choose to take courageous action that is in harmony with your emotional and bodily needs as well as your personal values. Living that way will improve the odds of achieving and maintaining wellbeing; it will also improve your odds in optimizing your health.

Recommended reading in another part of this website: Read the Empowered Patient page.

Freedom From The Tyranny Of Unhealthy Beliefs

We use various methods in the College of Marin class to attain that freedom. Those methods are also described in chapters three through twelve of my book. This endeavor is very challenging and very rewarding because the neural circuits of unhealthy beliefs, which have been continually reinforced throughout life, can only be overcome by laying down new neural circuits that are aligned with healthier beliefs. These new thought patterns must be continually reinforced. The first and most challenging step in this process is acquisition of the skill that allows us to identify and objectively observe lifelong, unhealthy beliefs. Students in the class and readers of my book have found the rewards to be proportional to the challenges. For some of you, it may help to find a good Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) therapist.

Recommended reading in the book: Read Parts II and III

Attempts At Control Serve To Paradoxically Create Powerlessness

Acquiring at least a small degree of mastery of various aspects of life contributes to greater wellbeing. For example, through mindfulness-based, self-exploration and questioning of beliefs, you will come to an experiential understanding of your various states of mind. Mastery of them does not mean learning how to control them; it means learning how to embrace them without being negatively impacted by them.

A Complete Course in How To Become An Empowered Medical Patient

If you live with chronic health challenges, optimal self-care and healthcare can be developed by learning how to become an empowered medical patient. The Empowered Patient page of this website can serve as a complete course in how to get the best medical care. Developing medical self-efficacy is another way to cultivate self-empowerment and general self-efficacy.

Recommended reading in another part of this website: Read the Empowered Patient page.

Couples Therapy And Group Psychotherapy

Couples Therapy: If you struggle with a painful relationship, your health will suffer. It is essential for your wellbeing and health to be in a healthy relationship. Most people mistakenly go into individual therapy for help with a relationship. The advantage of couples therapy is that the two of you meet with the therapist together, which makes for a much faster and more effective result. The therapist should be a neutral party and can help the two of you learn skills to improve your communication.

Group therapy: Group therapy is ideal if you want to improve the way you interact with people in general. I believe it is vastly more effective than individual therapy because in group therapy, you are in relationship to all the members of the group and are able to then work with real conflicts in real time, provided you are able to find expert, supportive group leaders. Courageously allowing yourself to fully experience all your feelings whenever you find yourself in a difficult argument or disagreement is the first step to improved relationships.

Read chapter 1 of the book: Toward Mastery and Wellbeing and Chapter 5  Experiential Avoidance

The Value Of Community

The health and wellbeing benefits of the practices taught in the course can be challenging to maintain without support, which is one reason a large percentage of the people who take the course, keep coming back. In part, this is because they become attached to the others they have come to know in what becomes a supportive community. Also, being in the class supports people in maintaining their daily practices. Several people have taken the course repeatedly since its inception in January 2015.

Aside from the health benefits of the practices themselves, researchers have discovered, after controlling for confounding factors, that when people have a sense of belonging within a supportive community, they are healthier and happier than people who live more isolated lives.

Final Note

I had always been fascinated by the question of why some people recover from very serious illness while others die of a mild condition. Years of literature reviews of many hundreds of studies from the field of psychoneuroimmunology taught me that the mind can heal the body. This had been known for thousands of years, but was lost when the church gave Descartes an offer he couldn’t refuse, and more recently as modern medical and surgical treatments began to appear in the nineteenth century. In the last twenty years, considerable new research has uncovered scientific evidence for what ancient healers always knew, which is well expressed by this quote by Norman Cousins, after whom the UCLA psychoneuroimmunology institute was named:

“The healing system is the way the body mobilizes all its resources to combat disease. The belief system is often the activator of the healing system.”

My book and teaching evolved out of years of reviewing the research in psychoneuroimmunology, psychooncology, psychophysiology, and cognitive neuroscience. The book contains a compilation of the mind-training and other loving self-care behaviors most strongly associated with unexpected recovery from serious illness and includes hundreds of studies. The book and my teaching include no magic cures, just evidence-based practices that can increase your happiness potential and optimize your odds of experiencing improved health.