Monday, August 18, 2008

News You Can Use: Increasing Resilience through Relaxation and Meditation

One of the ways you can train resilience and increase performance is through learning and practicing relaxation or meditation techniques.

There are four different brainwave states that we experience. The beta brainwave state is our cognitive, thinking state. Alpha waves are the daydream like state. We are most likely in the alpha state when we are relaxing, staring out the window, visualizing or participating in a more active kind of meditation. The theta brainwave state is that place in between sleep and awake. It is that spontaneous, dreamlike state, also called the reverie state. It is the state that meditators are looking for. And, the delta brainwave state is when we are asleep.

If you watched Jill Bolte-Taylor’s video (mentioned in my last blog), she describes the right brain state. We access the right brain when we are in the reverie state. We are also accessing the limbic system, or emotional brain which only speaks to us in the form of images. This is where our dream images come from. This is also why we experience dreamlike images when we are meditating. It is a state of “knowing” not thinking (the left brain thinks, the right brain knows). Complex understandings can be grasped, worries are relieved and healing messages are sent to the body. We lose our “ego” and the true self is revealed. This is the state that keeps meditators coming back for more. You are accessing the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system) where you may experience feelings of bliss or have powerful, emotional experiences.

This deep meditative state is a very powerful, restorative state. Endorphins are found in high concentration in the limbic system (emotional brain). When endorphins are released they kill pain and cause euphoria. Accessing the limbic system also releases polypeptides (stored energy) which energizes the immune cells and helps them replicate to attack invaders.

This deep meditative state also connects us to our higher self. Have you ever been working on a difficult problem or situation only to find the answer in a dream? Or as you are waking up or falling asleep? Complex understandings are brought to consciousness, things we don’t realize we know come to mind. These messages come from our deep unconscious mind. We access this state to create art, music, any right brain activity.

If we stop and listen and allow the “self” to speak, we learn so much about ourselves and others. Our intuition is heightened and we become more in tuned with what is going on inside of us and around us. If someone is searching for their life purpose, fulfillment, or new and different ways to view their world, this is the state to strive for.

The following exercises are first steps to deeper meditation. For many people who are just starting, it is difficult to practice the longer, deeper relaxation exercises. Try these exercises for a few weeks and next time I will talk about deeper relaxation exercises.

Brief Relaxation Technique
· Take a deep breath and exhale while mentally saying “reeeelaaax”. Do this several times. You can do this while you are talking with someone, walking, waiting in line.
· Say to yourself, “A wave of relaxation is passing from the top of my head to the tips of my toes”. Picture the wave of relaxation as it progresses.
· Check for bodily tension and tell tense body parts to “reeelaaax” as you exhale.

Brief Relaxation Technique
· As you breathe deeply, imagine that you are breathing in and out from your heart
· Now imagine someone or something that you really appreciate, picturing all the details, who/what, where you are, etc.
· Then go back to breathing in and out through your heart

Using Brief Relaxations
· Identify cues that remind you to do brief relaxations. Examples of cues could include a ringing phone, when you have to stop for a red light or when something distressing occurs. Or, put a sticker or dot on your mirror, refrigerator, etc. to remind you to take deep breaths or do a quick visualization.
· Remember to think something like “That’s my cue to do a brief relaxation” whenever the cues occur.
· Practice many brief relaxations each day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

News You Can Use: Your Emotional Brain

In Turning Point’s Using the Mind class, we talk a lot about the mind, brain and emotions. The next time we offer the class, I will be adding some additional information on neuroplasticity and the brain – so for those of you who have taken it before, it is new and improved. But for now, I will give you a short lesson on the emotional part of your brain.

Did you know that for every outside event that you experience, you have a mental and emotional response? Every second of every day, you are responding mentally and emotionally to everything that is happening to you. Here is why: everything that happens is processed in the subcortical part of the brain, also known as the limbic system or stream of emotion. There is nothing you can do about this; it is the way you are wired. The only way around it is if you were somehow disconnected from that part of your brain.

We also know from research done by J.W. Papez, that the brain can be separated into three sections. The stream of cognition governs your intellectual functioning; the stream of emotion governs your emotional functioning; and the stream of motion governs your movement and speech.

The three sections are not very well connected to each other. In essence, there is a lot of communication within each section, but not much between each section. For instance, let’s say you decide to go on a diet. You know all of the intellectual reasons why you should diet - so you start with a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner and then at 10:00 at night, you eat a pan of brownies or bag of potato chips. You think to yourself, “I know I need to do this, why can’t I make myself diet!” What has happened is that your stream of cognition decided you need to do this, but your stream of emotion said “No, I’m not dieting”. And guess which part of your brain is more powerful? The stream of emotion.

So, how do you deal with this? You need to get the stream of cognition and stream of emotion on the same path. And how do you get the stream of emotion agreeing with the stream of cognition? Through right brain activity. Right brain activity is the only way to access the emotional part of your brain.

Some of the best right brain ways to access the emotional part of your brain:

· Relaxation response: There are many techniques that can help you relax, and this “deep relaxation” is great for accessing your stream of emotion. To read further, go to or check in next time and I will walk you through the process.
· Repetitive prayer – the repetition of a simple prayer over and over.
· Repetitive physical exercise – running, elliptical, treadmill, etc.
· Mindfulness meditation – Jon Kabat-Zin or Jack Kornfield.
· Breathing techniques – Thousands to choose from!
· Self talk: The repetition of simple language over and over again. More on this later.
· Imagery: Imagining yourself reaching your goals, picturing everything exactly as you would like to be.
· Listen to calming recordings, music or voice.

For a wonderful description of how the right brain functions, I recommend viewing a video of a scientist named Jill Bolte Taylor. Go to - it is worth the 18 minutes!

See you next time.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I was recently reading an article in the Wall Street Journal on “neurobics”, the act of exercising your brain to build new pathways (, health journal, June 3rd). It reminded me of my days in graduate school when Dr. Jerry Sheridan would lecture on neuroplasticity in the brain, a topic I found fascinating. In the past, researchers thought certain parts of the brain were immutable after development, i.e. you get what you get and have to live with it for the rest of your life.

Decades of research and new scanning and imaging technology have shown that changes can occur in those brain areas that researchers thought were fixed. According to the theory of neuroplasticity, thinking, learning and acting can change the brain’s functioning and physical anatomy. This is great news. We can change our brains. With practice, we can rewire thought patterns.

Let’s say you are a worrier. Your worry pathway is well worn and it is easy for you to take that path – after all, you have practiced worrying for many years. Now we know that you can train a different pathway or rewire a new way of thinking. For instance, you can practice thinking that you are happy and at peace. The key to accessing that part of the brain is to use the repetition of simple language over and over. For instance, if you are training peach of mind, you would say something like “I am happy, I am peaceful”. If you practice it enough, you will wear a pathway of happiness and peace and the worry path, like a path in the woods, grows over and becomes less prominent.

How powerful! You can teach your brain to be happy, to be positive and to be hopeful.

To learn more, I recommend enrolling in the Using the Mind or Resilience program at Turning Point.

Take care,

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Welcome to the Turning Point blog - message from Moira Mulhern, CEO

It’s hard to believe we’ve been providing services for six years now. Turning Point started as an idea, a dream – to help people who really needed it. Those first planning meetings were usually over breakfast at The Classic Cookie. We moved quickly and in 2002, we started programming. Our very first office was at the Miller Law Firm. One of our founding board members, Steve Miller, and his father Richard Miller, very generously donated office space for us to get started. That year, with a skeleton staff, we provided programs to 550 people.

In 2003, thanks to the generosity of Walton Construction, Helix Architects and the many subcontractors they recruited (who donated time and materials), we moved into our 6,000 square foot office at 89th and State Line. Our growth rate since then has been amazing – 50% per year! We slowed to 20% last year because we did not increase our budget. To date, we have served more than 15,000 people. We expect this double-digit growth rate to continue as we expand our reach and the demand for our programs becomes greater.

I am looking forward to writing this blog. You will not only be hearing from me, but from other members of our staff and some of our facilitators. Stay tuned! We will be sharing articles, stories, and insights. Look for tips on healthy living, training your mind, self-calming techniques and maybe even a high anti-oxidant recipe. I will be talking about hope, optimism, meditation, emotional intelligence and other resilience characteristics. We welcome your suggestions, stories and insights.

For now, we will be updating our blog twice a month so check in around the beginning and mid month for updates.

See you in a few weeks!

Take care,