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Can Silence Heal Your Brain? Science Says Yes 

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.” 

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”. 

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think. 

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence. 

 A 2013 study on mice  published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning. 

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. 

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.” 

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain. 

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence 

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information. 

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.” 

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. 

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world. 

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way. 

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.” 

Silence relieves stress and tension. 

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. 

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says. 

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. 

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources. 

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving. 

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills. 

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 


Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good. 

What do you think? Will you be practicing silence? Let us know in the comments!

New Data Shows that Carbon Emissions can Stabilize or Decrease even with a Growing Economy 

                                      Photo Credit: Rajmani Sinclair

As of Wednesday, May 16, 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that the amount of green house gas emissions remained level for two years in a row. The IEA credits the movement in the USA and China towards using more renewable energy as opposed to coal as a large source of this trend. 

This finding is significant because it occurred during a time where there was a period of economic expansion globally. Historically, it has been theorized that economic expansion is coupled with an increase in carbon emissions. The data that the IEA has collected for the past two years serves to prove that that is not always the case. 

In 2015, China and the USA, the two largest energy emitters in the world, decreased their overall emissions by 1.5% and 2%, respectively. Despite this promising decrease in emissions by the USA and China, developing countries in other parts of Asia and the Middle East increased their amount of emissions, which lead to a "leveling out" of global emissions.

                                      Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The IEA has reported on carbon emissions for the past 40 years. In that time, it has cited that there are only three other instances of decreased emissions in the world - in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009. These periods of decreased emissions correlation with periods of global economic recessions and crisis. 

In 2014, global GDP increased by 3.4% and in 2015 it increased by 3.1%. If this trend continues in the coming years, it will show that it is possible for economic growth to happen without an increase in carbon emissions, thanks to alternative energy options. 

Article by: Rajmani Sinclair, May 24, 2016

How Meditation Changes the Structure of Your Brain  

Did you know that meditating on a regular basis can actually change the structure of your brain? In case you were wondering why meditation can have so many benefits, including stress reduction, the results from a study conducted by Harvard affiliated researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has some answers for you. In 2011, the team of researchers published an article in the journal: Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging where they shared their results of the first study to every illustrate that meditation does in fact produce structural changes to the brain over time. 

Sara Lazar, a senior author of the study and an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical school, shared: "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing." 

The changes that Sara Lazar is referring to have to do with grey matter in the brain. It has been shown in other clinical studies that the amount of grey matter in different parts of the brain correlates to, for example, how intelligent a person is. In the study on meditation and the brain led by MGH, researchers discovered that meditating on a consistent basis for 8 weeks increased the grey matter in the hippocampus and decreased the grey matter in the amygdala in the brains of the participants. Increased grey matter in the hippocampus leads to improved learning and memory, as well as an increase in self-awareness, compassion and introspection. The amygdala, on the other hand, is correlated with stress and anxiety. So less grey matter in that area means a person will experience less stress and anxiety. 

Participants in the study participated in an 8-week Mindfullness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, where they participated in at least 27 minutes a day of mindfulness exercises. Magnetic Resonance (MR) images were taken of participants brains before and after the MBSR program. MR images were also taken of a control group who did not participate in the MBSR study, and no significant structural changes took place in their brains compared to those who participated in the 8-week MBSR program. 

As Britta Holzel so aptly sums up the study's findings: "It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” 

Written by: Rajmani Sinclair, April 26, 2016

Are Biodegradable Water Bottles Made from Algae the Answer to Our Trash Problem? 

Do you know how many tons of plastic waters bottles are currently floating on the surface of our oceans right now? Or how many plastic bottles we Americans throw away each year? 

According to EcoWatch, billions of pounds of plastic currently float in our oceans. So much, in fact, that plastic covers about 40% of the ocean's surface. Off the coast of California there is a floating mass of plastic twice the size of Texas that is known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." 

Is there a way for us to decrease the amount of waters bottles Americans throw away each year, which happens to be about 35 billion water bottles annually? Ari Jónsson, a student at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, would like to think so. When prompted how it would be possible to create water bottles out of materials that don't take 100s or 1000s of years to break down, Ari created a water bottle out of algae and entered it into the 2016 design festival in Reykjavik called "Design March", this past March. 

The process of decomposition of the bottle made from Agar Powder, by Ari Jonsson.

Ari experimented with different biodegradable materials while making his bottles, but settled on using agar powder, which he poured into a mold and froze into the shape of a bottle. Once filled with water, the bottle itself holds its shape and does not biodegrade until it is empty. 

A water bottle made from algae? The wave of the future? Could be. 

Since the water bottles themselves are made out of 100% natural materials, the water inside is safe to drink. Furthermore, if you like the flavor of algae, you could even take a bite out of the bottle once you're finished drinking the water. The only downside is, that if the water is stored in the bottles for an extended period of time, it does start to take on the flavor of algae, but hey, some people might enjoy that flavor! 

Until the bottles are available on the market, here are 3 actions you can take right now to decrease the amount of plastic you use and put back into the environment: 

Drink filtered water, not bottled water 
Bring reusable bags to the store when shopping, especially the grocery store. 
Carry reusable utensils with you, so that you don't rely on one-time-use items like plastic forks and spoons 

Or if you're feeling adventurous and scientific, you could try making your own water bottles out of agar powder, or maybe you could try making these water blobs

If you're into molecular gastronomy and spherification of foods ... then maybe water blobs are for you. Just make sure you have a towel to dry off after drinking your water blob. 

Article by: Rajmani Sinclair

5 Foods to Stop Eating if You Care About the Environment  

An article published in Sierra Magazine last year highlighted just a few of the various foods that are currently wreaking havoc on the environment. Activists, scientists, and even cuisine critics are urging us to stop eating these foods immediately in order to ensure the health of our planet and ourselves. If you're a big fan of the affordable burger or expensive tuna roll, you are in for very enlightening (and slightly disappointing) surprise!

Here's the list:

1. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Time to switch back to California rolls! Because of its famously delicious flavor, bluefin tuna is extremely prized in Japanese cuisine, notably in high-end sushi, and is quite lucrative within the fishing industry. Unfortunately, consistent overfishing has led to a huge depletion in bluefin population, and these lovely fish have officially become an endangered species. Bluefin is usually found in more expensive sushi restaurants so, if you find yourself in one such establishment, make a difference by recommending to your waiter that this ingredient be removed from their menu. From nutritional and health standpoints, eating large fish such as bluefin is generally a bad idea. Just remember; the bigger the fish, the higher the mercury content.

2. GMO Corn

Douglas Fox, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Unity College makes a powerful point when it comes to the cultivation and consumption of GM maize: "Genetically modified corn violates so many sustainability boundaries—destroying habitats, depleting soils, breaking nutrient cycles, polluting air and water, contaminating native maize varieties, and on and on..." And don't forget wiping out millions upon millions of bees worldwide and contributing to the rise of superpests. The bi-product high-fructose corn syrup has been found to deplete soil levels, and requires a huge amount of pesticide use and processing. Our advice? Stay clear of corn until GMO labeling is approved in your state.  

3. Conventional Coffee

It's simple, really. Coffee is shady, by which we mean it is a plant the loves and requires shade to grow. However, with the enormous demand for coffee beans, we have manipulated the plant into one that's grown in sunlight and requires large amounts of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to grow. If that weren't enough, a huge amount of tropical deforestation is being sanctioned in order to grow coffee crop, and many animals, such as migratory birds, are consequently losing their habitats. But don't give up hope, coffee lovers! Step up your expectations and buy organic java to ensure that no pesticides were used during cultivation. More importantly, make sure you're always drinking "shad-grown" product, so that no tropical forest was cleared nor animals displaced. Doing this will help ensure the biodiversity of our rainforests!

4. Palm Oil

According to the Rainforest Action Network, modern Palm Oil cultivation is the number one cause of rainforest destruction worldwide. In an age when half all packaged foods contain palm oil as an ingredient, use of the product has increased by a staggering five hundred percent in the past ten years. An estimated eight million acres of ancient rainforest have been cleared and burned to create palm plantations, resulting in the endangerment and now near extinction of the orangutan. Hold tight- you haven't heard the shocker yet! In Indonesia, carbon emissions caused by deforestation (mostly in favor of palm oil) are higher than all U.S. transportation vehicles put together. The considerable destruction caused by our cars, planes, trucks, trains, and ships doesn't even come close to the massive toll deforestation takes on our Earth. Long story short, don't buy anything with palm oil listed as an ingredient. 

5. Factory Farmed Beef

Factory-farmed cows are fed loads of genetically modified corn and soy, the cultivation of which requires replacing tropical forests with crops laced heavily with pesticides that pollute nearby streams, rivers and lakes. Get this: for a cow to gain just one pound of flesh, it needs to eat ten to fourteen pounds of GMO feed. These cows are overfed to gain weight and then, once their flesh is harvested, enormous amounts of energy are required to keep the meat cold and fresh. In the words of Mary O'Brien, who directs the Utah Forest Program of the Grand Canyon Trust, "In the western U.S., cattle have the single most pervasive impact on public lands, depleting native biodiversity, increasing invasive exotics, diverting water, fouling streams, and baring the soil." If you must eat beef, go with organic, grass-fed brands.

Author: Nate Morgan

Busted: The Industry Selling Us Fake Herbal Supplements 

In 2013, a Canadian Government study found that there are at least 65,000 dietary supplement being sold in America, and over 150 million Americans buying them consistently. Herbal supplement sales made an estimated $6 billion in 2013 alone. Needless to say, we're talking about a hugely profitable industry. 
However, recent DNA tests of big brand herbal supplements are discovering the truth about these outrageous earnings. Do herbal supplements sell like hot cakes? Yes. Are the big-brand supplement companies saving tons of cash by loading pills with cheap ingredients and lying on the labels? Absolutely.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman commissioned an involved DNA study of thousands of bottles of store-brand herbal supplements. The results were shocking enough to warrant cease-and-desist letters to Target, GNC, Walmart and Walgreens, demanding that mislabeled supplements be taken off the shelves.
Four of the five tested products (which claimed to benefit a variety of ailments ranging from depression to prostate issues), were found to contain none of the ingredients listed on the bottle. Instead, cheap fillers such as wheat, beans, rice, and even house plants were discovered in these pills.
As Schneiderman pointed out, this is a huge liability issue. Individuals with certain food and plant allergies are being put at risk whenever they ingest a mislabeled supplement. For this reason, it has been strongly advised that those with various dietary restrictions resist purchasing big-brand supplements for good.
In one of the tests, all of which took place at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, Walmart-brand pills said to contain echinacea, an immune-boosting herb, showed not a single trace of echinacea DNA. GNC-brand products marketed to contain St. John's Wort actually held garlic, rice, and a tropical house plant. Ginseng pills were found lacking any amount ginseng. This list goes on and on.
The company with the most shocking test results was Walmart, where only 4% of the products had DNA from the plants listed on the labels. Each product was tested at least five times, on three to four samples of each supplement.

GNC and Walgreen's have agreed to give the Attorney General detailed information on production and quality control, while suspending the sale of certain supplements. Walmart is flat out refuting the claims, stating that their own studies show no such disparity between labeling and product content. Still, Walmart will comply by removing some products from their shelves in the state of New York.
It is clear that the supplement industry is in major need of reform. In the meantime, consumers are becoming more conscious about their supplement intake and are switching to small-brand, organically certified pills.
Non-labeled fillers that the tests discovered ranged from citrus, pine, and primrose to wild carrot and even unidentified, non-plant material. 
Do you know what's in your pills?

Author: Nate Morgan
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The Amazing Properties of Turmeric: The Spice of Life, plus recipe! 

In Vedic times, turmeric had many names. Each name denoted a specific beneficial property of the spice. 

A few examples of include: 

Ranjani- That which gives color 
Bhadra- Auspicious 
Krimighni- Antimicrobial
Haridra- Dear to Hari or Lord Krishna
Hemaragi- Having golden color

In medieval times, turmeric was given the Latin name terramerita (terremerite in French,) which means “meritorious earth”. 

It’s no surprise that ancient societies had so many affectionate names for this spice. Modern scientific studies are finding that turmeric has more healing properties than even the ancient texts could foresee, notably the properties of an anticarcinogen. 

But lets start with the practical origins of this colorful spice. Here are some of the ways turmeric was used throughout its 6000-year period of documented medicinal and religious use:

• As a spice 
• As an auspicious substance in Indian religious rituals 
• As a dye
• As a cosmetic 
• As a medicine

Ancient Ayurvedic texts, including the Charaka samhita, Sushruta samhita, and Ashtanga sangraha, record turmeric’s positive effects on afflictions such as diabetes, leprosy, extreme thirst, and elephantiasis. 

Ancient Ayurvedic scholar Bhavamisra defined turmeric as a cure for Kapha- phlegmatic disorders, and Pitta- digestive, metabolic, and related diseases. 

Furthermore, Ayurveda defines turmeric as Vranahara- ulcer healing, Varnya- complexion improving, and Tvakdoshahara- skin disease curing. 

Modern science is no stranger to the benefits of this versatile substance. Currently one of the most intensively researched plants, turmeric’s medicinal properties have been documented in over 5,600 published biomedical studies. These studies have concluded that the spice can be used:

• As an anti-carcinogen
• As an anti-inflammatory 
• To ward off heart attacks
• To delay diabetes
• To tame indigestion
• And even to repair stem cells in the brain!

Home remedies using turmeric are numerous and easy to concoct. As a rash, complexion, or acne remedy, one can simply mix turmeric in water to make a paste. Leave the paste on the affected area for some time, but remove if a burning sensation occurs. One could also mix it with honey (a natural antiseptic) or sandalwood paste.

Here's a home recipe for a delicious, drinkable turmeric remedy:

1/2 tsp. ghee or coconut oil

1 – 2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
a few strands of saffron (optional)
1 cup of almond, soy or hazelnut milk

Author: Nate Morgan

Controversial Scriptures Shock Indian Science Conference  

While scriptural texts are usually taken literally in religious contexts, The Indian Science Congress changed the game by relating ancient texts to modern science.

Many at the Mumbai conference were shocked to hear renowned speakers suggest that claims made in ancient texts like the Vedas and Puranas were rooted in truth. One of the more controversial lectures was given by a retired pilot named Anand Bodas, who addressed the possibility of ancient aviation alluded to in the Rigveda. 

“The basic structure was of 60 by 60 feet, and in some cases, over 200 feet. They were jumbo planes...The ancient planes had 40 small engines. Today's aviation does not know even of a flexible exhaust system.” - Anand Bodas

The more-than-3,000 year old scripture also described this ancient aircraft's ability to move in any direction and travel from planet to planet. Needless to say, many fellow scientists remained skeptical, while some even considered Anand's lecture to be an affront to modern science.

Others shared Mr. Bodas' sentiments and found great importance in drawing from ancient Indian texts to further contemporary science. Other ancient technologies introduced at the congress included complicated polymers used to build houses, and a bacteria with ability to turn animal food into pure, 24 carat gold. Oddly enough, bacteria with alchemical abilities has been discovered! Read about it here.

Another surprising claim, described in an ancient Indian epic entitled the Mahabharata, relays the battle of two kings on the planet Mars. During the battle, one of the kings' helmets falls to the ground.

In an eerie coincidence (or was it?) Nasa captured the following image on Mars:

The scientific community continues to ask itself if scriptures have any scientific integrity, and if these texts could perhaps aid us in unlocking a new level of human potential.

Author: Nate Morgan


According to New Studies, Exercise Changes Your DNA 

We've known for years that exercise increases overall functionality and lowers the risk of disease in the body. However, certain details about how exercise leads to a healthier body have remained a mystery. A recent New York Times article shed some light on scientific findings concerning the crossroads of exercise and epigenetics. 

The human body has the remarkable ability to revise it's genetic behavior, and our genes are constantly responding to the body's biochemical signals. Depending largely on our habits, certain genes may become more active, while others take a back seat.

In an epigenetics study published this past December, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm engaged 23 men and women in physical activities that isolated just one leg. Participants bicycled on that leg for 45 minutes, 4 times per week for 3 months. Obviously, the active leg slowly began to show more power than the other. But what interested researchers were the changes within the DNA of the exercised leg.

New methylation patterns were found on over 5,000 sites on the muscle genomes of the active leg. What is methylation? Simply speaking, it's a process in which clusters of atoms attach to the outside of a gene, making that gene more or less receptive of the body's various biochemical signals. Most of the genes that were observed to undergo new methylation play important roles in the processes of insulin response, energy metabolism, and inflammation within muscles. 

In other words, the genes that play an important role in the body's overall fitness became more expressed through methylation. These changes were not observed in the unexercised leg.

These findings offer a fresh understanding of human versatility and the benefits of regular exercise. (We can't speak for you, but we definitely needed the reminder!) Still, other questions remain. How does gene expression change with different types of exercise, such as strength training? Only time will tell. 

Author: Nate Morgan

Meditate in 2015 to Live Longer 

Does meditation figure on your list of (un)official New Year's resolutions? Do you want to start, recharge or increase your meditation practice?

One great thing about our world in 2015 is that meditation is no longer an esoteric discipline known to only a select few - more than 6 million Americans practice some form of meditation. It's become a practice embraced by the mainstream and the benefits of meditation are touted by everyone from your doctor to your mother. We know that a regular practice of sitting quietly and turning our attention within, no matter what technique you use, impacts your state of mind (more peace), your health (less stress) and your outlook (greater positivity and hope). Simply cultivating a state of pause - of stopping in your day, even for 5 minutes, adds up to profound benefits over the short and long term.

If you need any more scientific evidence for the health benefits of meditating, take a look at this recent article from Fast Company about how meditation actually can change your DNA. A study published in a Canadian journal that studied the effects of meditation on breast cancer survivors found that those who incorporated meditation into their treatment plans, unlike the control group, did not suffer any degradation to the length of their telomeres. Somehow, meditation helps sustain an optimal level of telomerase, which is the key enzyme to keep cells replenishing - the opposite what occurs in the aging process. 

Telomeres are the protective shaft at the end of each of our chromosomes, the base pairs of the genetic information that makes up the human organism. Essentially, a telomere is a repeating DNA sequence that can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. Telomeres function to ensure that genetic material is passed on during cell duplication (mitosis, if you remember your biology), so when they become too short, the chromosome can no longer replicate. And if normal cell duplication ensures health and appropriate functioning of the body, and meditation supports that healthy functioning, perhaps can help us understand on a scientific level what so many regular meditators can attest to around the world: that a regular practice of meditation can actually slow the aging practice and keep you young!

So let's keep meditating and sharing the good news!
author: Lila Galindo


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