healthiness.com.au

Mindfulness

I have recently finished Ruby Wax’s book Sane New World, Taming the Mind  she is a comedian who suffers from bipolar and goes on a journey of discovery to help herself. The main focus is challenging her thinking with the technique of Mindfulness practice being the most helpful.

I was exposed to this approach over 30 years ago when I changed my critical thought pattern that had lead me to become depressed. At the time it was not the well researched area of today to assist health and well-being, it was simply along the lines of Ram Dass’s philosophy to Be Here Now or the de-hypnosis of not being asleep.  So much of our life is spent in thinking about the past or the future, with sprinklings of the present. It takes awareness to come back to the moment and step aside from the noisy internal rhetoric.

Sensual, sexual pleasure is a wonderful teacher to be in the present to appreciate the moment or vagarious exercise to leave the thoughts behind.

I do not think it is ever to late or to early in our life to practice awareness, all I know is the more you practice the easier it becomes and the deeper and richer you experiences.

Smiling is catchy

In the 1960’s a psychologist Paul Ekman studied universal facial expressions and found that there were 6 clear displays of emotions; anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.  He found that the intensity of a person’s smile predicts life satisfaction and elicit a positive connection with others.  More current research is interested in the physiological effect of facial expressions, especially the significance of smiling. Sarah Pressman at the University of California found that when people smile it lowers heart rate and stress levels.

Therefore the emotions we feel reflect how we experience the world, it is disturbing that the universal trend of using Botox takes away a lot of micro expressions that are hard wired to help us trust others and empathies. Dacher Keltnes studies show that people who use Botox feel less pleasure and are less able to read other people’s emotions as well.

This is especially important in a long-term relationship where long-term conflict and misunderstandings can easily set in. My advise is to practice smiling, initially it may feel forced and yet within a short time acting in a positive manner will help your partner become friendlier because the mirror neurons in our brain will fire and assist reciprocation. The more positive emotions we express the easier it is for us and others to bond and provide a bridge of reciprocation.

It is a wonderful opportunity to practice smiling and being happy !

Body Language

Communication is much more involved than actual words as it makes up only 7% of what we take in. It is interesting that 38% is vocal based on pitch, volume, tone and speed of speech, while 55% is visual based on body language and eye contact. Botoxed faces tell us not to trust the person because there are no micro expressions that give us visual cues that are consistence to what is being said.

Visual cues such as body language influence how people respond to us. According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy nonverbal cues can also affect how we see ourselves. For example, standing in a posture of confidence, especially for men consisting of stand up straight and taking up space (even when we are not feeling that), can affect testosterone (hormone) and cortisol (stress) levels in the brain. This is seen as a Power Pose because it hold the space and displays a strong presence.

Cuddy, found in studies that when displaying the high power pose that they experienced 20% increase in testosterone levels while a 25% decrease in cortisol. While a pose to denote submission showed a 10% in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol levels. The more you practice a stance the more you are likely to feel it.

Body language and flirting tell us different stories between the sexes here are some interesting information.

For Women

The fine art of the ‘gaze’ in attracting men’s attention has been perfected through the centuries by women wearing make-up, perfume, hair styles and dress. Men respond to visual signs through her glance, as it is held for a second or two with her eyes and head averted slightly as she looks at him. Research claims that it takes three brief glances of this kind for the message of interest to be transmitted and the longer the glance the more interest.

A look that contains an ‘eye-flick’ where the eye lids are raised for a fraction of a second allowing the eyes to open, indicates that the woman is waiting for the next step.

Once she has the man’s attention flirting begins with subtle gestures, such as flicking the hair, tossing of her head, licking of lips or pouting all indicate attraction while a brief smile is an invitation to come closer.

Flirting using her body is the next step, she is seen as feminine and inviting if she shows movements that take up less space, for example crossing her legs. This becomes contrasted by her facial expressions that are animated with smiles and laughs. In a conversation it is the nodding of the head that lets him know she is interested and indicates she is an attentive listener. A behavior of trust is shown by a quick shoulder-lift in combination with the raise of the eyebrows and a smile.

A woman will often bring attention to parts of her body that she wishes a man to notice. Finger pointing is often used to draw the eye to a part of the body the woman wants to expose. The rolling of her hips, the turning of her arms in an outward motion as she walks as well as through the clothing she wears, will all be use to entice the gaze.  A women wearing a skirt or dress, uses her legs to bring attention to them by crossing and uncrossing them. A low cut or revealing neckline will accentuate her cleavage. The neck positioning as the chin is raised or the head is turned slightly to indicate vulnerability.  This is also shown when a woman lowers her head and looks up to make the eyes look bigger and in need of protection.

The ‘bedroom eyes’ are created by lowering the upper eyelids and raising the eyebrows slightly giving a greater distance between the eye and eye brow and is experienced as a submissive look or as Paul Ekman explains its seductive expression is seen on women just before orgasm.

There is not a lot of research on flirting between same sex couples and whether women act differently with other women they are sexually interested in. I would really like to know of any personal experiences to expand my understanding of the flirting rituals.

For Men

Eye contact and a smile are normally the first indicator that interest is at hand but research on attraction has shown that women are the first one to give a signal of interest. Women give off many non-verbal clues as ‘come-ons’ to encourage men’s attention. Often a man mistakenly believes this is directed at him, leading to misreading the signal which can cause a sense that they have been lead on.

If a man wants to impress he displays his masculinity by creating the impression that he needs lots of space. At the time of eye contact if he is standing he will change his posture to appear as tall as possible as he tightens his abdominal muscles and Altus style he pulls up his belly to expand his chest. This will also be expressed in a seated posture with legs apart, feet extending into a shared space as he leans his body forward showing he is trying to impress. He will shift his body often to change positions as he moves his hands away from his body to have the appearance of taking up more room to have a bigger presence. When he walks this is demonstrated by the swinging of the arms across his body and inward rotation of the wrists. All these postures and movements are meant to indicate to a woman that he is able to protect her because he is stronger and bigger than her. Other behavior, which can indicate that he is relaxing and wanting to be closer, is the tilt of his head to one side exposing the neck seen as an indication of trust. Like the woman he will high light an area of his body that he wishes to be noticed by pointing or touching it. Often this is a prompt to the woman that it is something he wants admired, for example running his fingers through his hair.

The way two people spatially flirt gives insight into their interest. Men will turn his body towards the woman and point his foot in her direction. The closer he moves towards her the more intimacy is created. This is also indicated through touch, as the man is usually the first to instigate this. Touch or playing with her possessions such as keys, mobile or her jewelry are strong indicators that he would like to become closer to her.

Eye contact is a key indicator that flirting has began, once a women makes contact the man can move closer. The eye also becomes an indicator of arousal as the pupils become larger when both men and women are turned on.

Flirting for male same sex couples is more direct where gestures are simplified and more overtly sexual. An example of this is when thumbs are placed in the pockets, hands pointing towards the genitals. Eyes are focused initially on the others eyes and then a look downwards to the others genitals and then returning to the eyes.

So be aware of the body language that you display as it can tell people a lot about what is happening internally. People watching teaches so many subtle cues and gives us great insight into our own and others behaviour.

Inspiration

I think it is important to be inspired in life and to use this to keep stretching yourself. I have recently finished a stint of studying and was looking for something to take me on my next journey of discovery. It came in an unexpected way while watching Michael Palin on Art. This interesting DVD researched the Scottish Colourist during the world wars, five artists who were influenced by painting in France because of the subject and the light (away from the Scottish gray skies). Their work is very well known in the UK where they are even on the walls of the British Prime Minister’s house at 10 Dowling Street. Their paintings are vibrant full of life and colour that have influenced me to enroll in an art class where each couple of weeks uses a different technique to stretch my artistic talent. For neurogenesis it is important to study something that we find difficult so I am back studying Italian grammar that for me is life long pursuit of advancing my memory.

Another inspiration for all of us should be to develop good habits around exercise because as people age they should become more active.  Professor Michael Besser a retired neurosurgeon took up exercise in a big way in his late 50’s to become a Triathlete. He believes it is best to concentrate on one discipline per day, be it swimming, running or cycling. He says “ Triathlon is good for older age group because you are cross training and resting different parts of your body on alternate days”.

Often the most important thing in developing a new healthy habit is to find a buddy to do it with so it becomes a long-term activity, so enjoy!

Valentines Day

Valentines day is nearly upon us and I started thinking about our mating rituals. The nature of love and monogamy has been the norm for hundreds of years or has it ? I have recently been reading Sex at Dawn the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha. The research that they look at is based on monogamy being a modern phenomena as social groups moved into civilised cohesion, females traded sex for security, not only for themselves but their off spring. If we look at the mating rituals displayed by our primate cousins the Bonobos, they are very similar to humans sexual behaviour where sex is part of integrated bonding pattern. They are not monogamous and unlike humans consider female status more important than the male. There is no formalised rituals of dominance and submission, as each gender plays together sexually and females are respected out of affection with older females displaying high status.

If this is the root of human sexual behaviour and then over hundreds of years the notion of pair bonding and monogamy has taken on a significant role to stabilise social cohesion. This has been supported by numerous influences including religion, economics, wealth and male dominant status.

It is interesting that over the years as a sex therapist I have sat with numerous clients who are either contemplating an affair or have come to discuss having had one. Carl Jung said in a letter to Freud (1910), “ The prerequisite for a good marriage, it seems to me, is the license to be unfaithful.

So perhaps this valentines day it is best simply to say sex and monogamy is a complicated area, all I know is that when you put time and energy into a relationship it can be deep and loving. Sex does change after being with someone a long time and takes time and energy to sustain the attraction. I believe like everything in life when you focus on being grateful and appreciate what you have in your life everything is more fulfilling.

Have a happy valentines day and I am interested in readers views so please comment !

Relationships

Lets face it long term monogamous relationships take lots of work to not only keep the sensual sexual spark alive but to create a harmonious relationship.

Years ago I interviewed some of the top female and male sex experts. The men said that once that they were in a relationship even if they believed and practices monogamy they had to work at it, while the women felt the issue of being faithful and working at it was less problematic. Another aspect of a long-term relationship is that they become boring and humdrum.

From a neurological perspective Norman Doidge believes that we need to take up novelty in our relationship to create new dopamine chemistry by triggering pleasure receptors. He believes the art of good brain functioning is to try different things together and this creates vitality individually and together.

It makes sense if you hark back to the time when you first met your partner there were lots of new situations to explore and get to know one another, while as time goes on, predictability becomes boring. My parents happily married for 60 years used every opportunity to forge new interests and experiences and I can see now that this was the ingredient that helped them stay bonded and I have tried to take a leaf out of their book.

In all our long-term relationship patterns can become challenging and yet if you consciously listen to what your partner says they are unhappy about and do something to change this you may find the pattern becomes short circuited.

According to psychologist Bill O’Halon if you change your view and find something positive or complementary about your partner and express it new levels of satisfaction will develop.

So to continue to re-energise your relationship why don’t you plan a holiday, or rearrange the house and consciously not fall into a rut of boredom. Plan new things regularly, if both people focus on energising the connection they will create the best relationship they can.

The New Year

At the start of year it is nice to leave behind unwanted behaviors and consciously focus on areas you would like to expand on. For me it is continuing to develop my creativity with paining, my languages with Italian and a depth of awareness including compassion.

An inspirational speaker on the subject of compassion is Dr James Doty, Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. He is the founder and Director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism research and Education at Stanford University. He grew up in poverty with an invalid mother and an alcoholic father. At 13 years old he learned the basis of mindfulness practice which teaches how to settle the mind and to develop clear intension and focus.

This was the basis for him to believe in himself and focus on what he wanted to accomplish which initially was medicine and coming from an impoverished background to become very wealth. He became an inventor, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, and yet during the dot-com crash he lost everything. He had committed before the crash to give tens of millions of dollars to charity and after the crash he did not renege on this promise.

Out of this experience he realised that money was not going to make him feel ‘better or different’ about himself. This became the basis to the scientific study of the brain and what happens when we feel compassion. He says “ We know that when an individual cares for another or is compassionate to another in regard to trying to alleviate their suffering, the same centers that increase their metabolism or associate it with reward in the brain, also increased their metabolism. And those areas are associated as an example when one is getting food, also associated actually with the pleasure of sex and also money. Now money is sort of an artificial representation of food or the acquirement of things to protect yourself, so that’s how it has become important in your brain. But food and procreation are incredibly important for your survival, and the fact that caring for another being lights up the same way in the brain tells you that’s an incredibly important part of who we are as a species and to our survival.” James Doty has gone onto become incredible influential into studying love and kindness.

On this note I believe that they way we treat others should be a reflection of the way we want others to treat us. The more we practice empathy the easier it becomes and I have often advised clients to see another who is irritating them as a small child or animal and remind ourselves that “ they are doing the best they can”. I am also conscious to appreciate things in my life because I accept that what I do not appreciate in life disappears. I try to find small things everyday that I appreciate and this provides me with deep nurturing and joy for what I have.

I read a beautiful book recently Proof of Heaven by Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who was in a coma for a week and had a profound experience of love, compassion and appreciation of his life.

I hope that next year brings much happiness and fulfillment to everyone and lets all focus on bringing more compassion and universal love to the planet.

Change

I often see people who want change in their life, they have realised that the way they worry or emotionally cope no longer serves them. Sexually it might manifest in men having a porn addiction where they realising that their sex life has stopped being fulfilled and therefore want to change this pattern.

It is normal for men to be erotically stimulated by visual images but when it is reliance only on this a problem starts. This is because  fantasies are devoid of sensuality and partner connection. In other words masturbation can become so hard wired that it is difficult for the body to respond sensually. I have had male clients who have successfully changed this pattern over many months by using alternative behaviour to make themselves feel good. Focusing on physical activity (running, yoga, dancing) everyday and purposefully keeping away from fantasy images, this allows new patterns to form.

Women who find it difficult to have orgasms, may find that they are more concerned with their partner’s pleasure than their own. I have noticed that when they give themself  permission to relax, enjoy erotic sensations, and practice trusting their body a new responses to pleasure occurs.

It must be noted that ways of thinking and behaving have formed through certain neurological pathways.  Brain Neuroplasticity has helped me to understand these behaviour. Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself, is a compilation of current research establishing that to change behaviour it takes between 6 months to 2 years, where the activities need to be difficult to establish new neurological connections and therefore new behaviour. Neuroscientist Evan Gordon, believes deep breathing is the key to this change through the regulation of the autonomic nervous system. His app MyCalmBeat, and website www.mybrainsolutions.com is helpful in assisting brain and behavioral change.

So just wondering if readers have noticed that when there is an activity that they have really focused on over a period of months that change has occurred, I would be very interested to hear your experience.

Passion

Passion in our lives is an essential element by which we find personal fulfillment and help to define who we are. According to Canadian Social Psychologist Robert Vallerand the type of passion we have can either be harmonious or one of obsession.

To have a passion or interest that nurtures you requires 8 hours a week and leads to the ability to energising our physical & psychological well-being. Exercise is high lighted as a good one to be passionate about because it leads to releasing stress and tension as well as neurogenesis. The by product for individuals who have harmonious passion is having good social connection, better friendships and an intimate relationship.

Obsessive passion on the other hand creates high stress, conflict with others and negative emotions. I can see this with my male clients where sex becomes an obsessive passion and their partner feel that they are being relied on to release tension and fulfill needs. This in turn leaves their partner with the experience of feeling like they are in a pressure cooker. Clients who appear to have a more balanced connection (be it sexually or anything else) with their passion appear to also have a more harmonious relationship.

It is interesting that the way we become passionate about things starts in our youth were parents and teachers have a mentoring, supportive influence. In learning how to enjoy activities and interests it can become a way to buffer setbacks when things do not go as planned because adolescents can learn that this is a way to improve their abilities.

It is interesting over the years I have worked with many people who do not seem to have developed any passion in their lives, as any interests were never nurtured externally as they grew up. I have witnessed it as a struggle for them to sustain a passion and often their partner and family become the sole source of fulfillment. This is tested as the couple grow older and their family leaves the nest because individually they do not have things in their life to energise and excite them.

I feel that the best way to counter balance depression and anxiety is to focus on either developing a new passion or nurture an existing one. I know when I put time aside to enjoy my interests I feel energises and fulfilled. I am interested to find out other peoples experience of what passion means in their life.

Pornography

According to Dr Marty Klein pornography is used by a man to disconnect from the relationship and the main question is why would someone prefer visual images to sexual activity with a partner ?
It may be because of unresolved conflict in the relationship which has not been discussed or dealt with.

I believe any obsessional behavior can become destructive to the individual and couple if the emotional under pinning is not brought out into the open as the  behavior is simple the result of underlying issues that have been left to  festers.

It is interesting that in the year 2000 when pornography became readily available on the web the American Justice System believed it would increase incidences of sexual assault, divorce, suicide and child sexual abuse. However over the past decade free pornography instead has lead to a decrease in all of these.

Perhaps it is more important for the couple to negotiate why watching pornography has become easier than sexually relating to one another and that masturbating has become a more enticing option.

Recently I worked with a couple, where the husband had a weight problem and did not feel confident about himself and used porn and also chat rooms to flirt try to feel desirable. When his wife found out she felt hurt that he had not turned to her and focus on the relationship. The best thing for this couple was that everything was brought to the surface and the husband could start to discuss his negative body image and anxiety around it. This enabled the couple to feel closer and start to create a different awareness around their needs. In life there are no quick or easy fixes when it comes to creating closeness in a relationship, having the willingness to accept your partner and let them discuss what is happening is a great start.