Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE study).

What is the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE) and how does it play out in our lives? Bear with me as I detail some technical, but important information.

ACE is one of the most crucial and important study that illustrates how exposure to repeated doses of childhood trauma, childhood adverse experiences, childhood toxic stress and the role that these experiences play in our health adults. The research was led by Dr. Vincent Kaiser and Dr. Robert Anda. The study invited over 13, 000 adults to complete a standard medical evaluation and fill out seven categories of adverse childhood experiences. The categories included, physical, verbal, sexual abuse; neglect; drug and alcohol abuse; witnessing mother being abused, to name a few. The lowest score possible is 0 and the highest is 10.

According to the study, the higher our ACE score, the more health risks we will have in adulthood. The major risks later in life include, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, alcohol abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, maternal depression, death, health-related quality of life, illicit drug use, heart disease, poor work performance, financial stress, risk for intimate partner violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, suicide attempts, unintended pregnancies, early initiation of smoking, early initiation of sexual activity, adolescent pregnancy, risk for sexual violence and poor academic achievement, and the list goes on.

It is a well known fact that early experiences of toxic and repeated stress can cause major chronic health issues. “Hundreds of studies have shown that childhood adversity hurts our mental and physical health, putting us at greater risk for learning disorders, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, depression, obesity, suicide, substance abuse, failed relationships, violence, poor parenting, and early death,” writes Donna Jackson Nakazawa in Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal.

There is no doubt that early childhood stress leads to lifelong impairments in learning, behaviour, and both physical and mental health. It has lifelong consequences. Stress completely changes our brain. Toxic stress in children can lead to permanent changes in brain structure and function! It leaves a massive wear and tear effect on our organs as well. The regulation of our stress hormones basically gets altered which causes dysregulation in the network (our nervous system, adrenal system, brain circuitry and our genome). The disruption in these networks causes physical and mental illnesses.

Early toxic stress can alter the size of brain structures such as amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex; these structures are paramount for mediating anger, learning, memory, mood control and executive functioning. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a major study called ‘The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress’ in 2012. Their paper converges the multidisplinary science of neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics, developmental psychology, epidemiology, sociology and economics and has posited that early experiences and environmental influences can leave “lasting signature on the brain architecture and long term health. The paper explained that “Significant stress in early childhood can trigger amygdala hypertrophy and result in a hyper responsive or chronically activated physiologic stress response, along with increased potential for fear and anxiety. It is in this way that a child’s environment and early experiences get under the skin. Chronic stress diminishes its capacity to turn off elevated cortisol and it leads to impairments in memory and mood related functions.”

 

Now this may all seem a bit scary and we may think that all the damage is irreversible.

To begin, we may want to welcome into awareness all the toxic stress we went through in out childhood and accept how it has affected us. Ask yourself what stresses were present in your childhood and how that stress may have affected you in your development (physically, emotionally, mentally).

Here is the great news- our brains can change! In the 50’s it was believed that our brains could not change. This was a misconception that is still believed by many even today. Another misconception is that we don’t use all of our brain. We do! Our brain has over 200 billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of connections. This is remarkable because we literally create a new pathway of neurons when we are learning something new and the more we practice that behaviour, the stronger that pathway of neurons become. Yes, you can teach old dog new tricks.

Our brain is an exquisitely adaptive plastic machine; it is a growing machine. The science of neuroplasticity explains that we can re-wire our brain for the good. We are not stuck with what has happened to us. Our brain is extremely resilient and so are we. Through extensive gentle introspection therapy, meditation and mindfulness we can overcome various mental unhealthy conditions. If you suffer from depression and anxiety, know that you can heal from it.

Dr. Lara Boyd, neuroscientist at UBC, concludes, through her research, that you can indeed change your brain. She explains that there are three ways our brain supports neuroplasticity: through chemical signals in neurons; through altering its structures; through altering its functions. The amalgam of all 3 works in concerted effort to help the brain change.

Seeking personal therapy helps us navigate and understand how our childhood has affected us in our lives and how we can change it for the better. Therapy is personalized because there is no one size fits all approach- what works for me may not work for you. Be aware that no two brains are same and everybody learns differently. So, even neuroplasticity is variable from person to person. The secret is the primary drive of our motivational behaviour. As Dr. Boyd says, “nothing is more important than practice and you have to do the work.”  

Written for Aaj magazine 2016, by Lima Abedin.

The ancient practice of Meditation.

What is meditation, mindful awareness or heartfulness? They all mean the same thing: training your mind to focus without clinging to any judgements. Meditation can enhance our lives, our physical well being, our relationships and our deep sense of mental coherence. Meditation is being mindfully aware of something instead of being just aware. Being mindfully aware meansto focus without preconceivedjudgements. As you start to practice, you understand this is more than just focusing; Meditation becomes a focus on self, self love and self compassion. As a wonderful consequence of meditation, your family and people around you will benefit as well.

The practice of Meditation is more than 2500 years old and has been studied for 20-30 years in the West.  An ancient story describes the mind being like an ocean: deep in the ocean, beneath the surface, it is calm and clear. Let’s say you look up from that deep ocean, up to the surface. There you may see small waves, big waves, full storms, but deep in the ocean it is calm and clear. Meditation lets you to sense this deep tranquil place, even when you are surrounded by chaos. You soon realize thoughts aresimply thoughts and they are not the totality of who you are.

Meditation or mindful awareness is being in the here and now. Ever notice when you are doing something, youthink about what you are going to do next? This is because we are rarely focused on the present moment. Lets take showering as an example: Are you mindfully showering or thinking about , making breakfast, getting kids to school, if your spouse got that email, that office meeting and it goes on! It’s stressful because our mind keeps going on and on with thoughts. In other words, we allow our minds to carry infinite thoughts, scenarios and possibilities – always focused on the ‘next’ and not the ‘now’.

Most of our suffering is self-created because we have a tendency to make judgments of things and people around us. We may see someone with a nice car and we may start making judgments regarding how we don’t have a nice car or why do they get to have it and we don’t. From there, the cascade of judgemental thoughts pile on one another and the end result is our own suffering. The truth is, the majority of us are on auto-pilot for making judgements most of the time.

Being on auto-pilot causes us stress, which saps our energy, our health and shortens our lives. Stress makes us more vulnerable to disease, disconnection, depression and anxiety. This self-created suffering is completely avoidable through a “COAL” (Dr. Dan Siegel) state of mind. C stands for Curiosity; O stands for Openness, being open to what is without judgement; A stands for Acceptance, accepting where we are right now at this moment and L stands for Love, cultivating a tender hearted kindness toward self and others.

First, let’s discuss the benefits of meditation backed by science. A Harvard neuroscientist has found, through Magnetic Resonance Imaging, after 8 weeks of mediation, our brain changes its shape. There was thickening in the posterior cingulate, hippocampus, temporo parietal junction and brain stem – combined these areas of our brain are involved in self relevance, learning, memory, emotional regulation, empathy and compassion. While certain parts of our brain thickened, the Amygdala shrank as a result of meditation leading to less stress.

 The Science of brain, Science of secure parent-child attachment and Science of mindful awareness practice are 3 independent fields of study that have found the structural changes in your brain correlates with various important functions toward your health and your family’s health.

Immediate benefits of your meditation include:

·         an improvement in the regulation of the body in order to keep balance

·         attunement; to bring into harmony; to better understand what is needed

·         deep empathetic connection with family

·         cultivating response flexibility meaning you are able to pause before reacting

·         insight, a self knowing awareness

·         empathy

·         ability to calm down internally

·         being in touch with your intuition, becoming more attuned to your body’s wisdom, energy         and information flow.

Meditation does not promise to fix your problems, instead it provides a window of clarity from which we can view our problems. Meditation is not something you achieve; it is a skill you practice. Through meditation you cultivate a sense of wakefulness to your surroundings without judgement and freedom from suffering though incessant thoughts. Meditation does not have to be done sitting, it can be done in everyday life. For example, while eating, walking, washing dishes and/or taking a shower.

There are plenty of meditation and mindfulness approaches for consumers to buy, ranging from paid apps to paid classes. If you want to start mediation and experience all the benefits, you can start with 5 minutes and focus on Breathing. Your Breath can become an anchor to the present. All you need to do is attend to your Breath. Breath is the one thing that immediately connects us to the present moment and to our bodies. When focusing on the Breath, you pay attention to the beginning, the middle and the end of a full duration of one Breath. You focus on the sensation of your body while you take 1 Breath.

It may sound easy, but it is difficult because you will notice how thoughts can invade during meditation.  Our mind will always have thoughts. Remember not to judge yourself if your focus is gone, bring in the COAL stance in to your practice. Just gently bring yourself back to your Breath. This is mediation; it is about beginning again and again. One Breath. It is about this moment and this Breath.

If you are looking to learn more about meditation, I recommend watching YouTube videos by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is a molecular biologist, scientist, writer and a meditation teacher. He has uploaded numerous mediation videos to help people connect with themselves. He teaches you how to purposefully cultivate an attitude of patience and non- judgement. Through your practice you will experience a better relationship with yourself and your interpersonal relationships.  Your friends and family will thank you!

Written for Aaj Magazine 2016, by Lima Abedin.

Stop starving from a lack of Gratitude.

Book:  The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist

 

"For me, and for many of us our first waking thought of the day is "I didn't get enough sleep." The next one is, "I don't have enough time." whether true or not, the thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.
We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don't have enough of...we don't have enough exercise.
We don't have enough work.                                                                                             We don't have enough profits.                                                                                           We don't have enough power.                                                                                             We don't have enough wilderness.                                                                                     We don't have enough weekends.                                                                                       Of course- we don't have enough money- ever.                                                                   
We aren't thin enough, we aren't smart enough, we aren't pretty enough or fit enough, or educated or successful enough or rich enough- ever.
Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, behind, losing, lacking something. By the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with litany of what we didn't get, or didn't get done that day.
We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to reverie of lack. What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life or even a challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life.
We are starving from a lack of gratitude.
We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn't a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, that we are enough. Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances."

 

I love this because she voices the truth. Some of us do carry around this scarcity mentality each day. This dark scarcity mentality breeds within us insecurity, loss, fear, resistance, guilt, resentment, victimization and self pity. Don’t let your soul funnel these dark energies and break you down into little pieces of yourself. You know you don't want any more breakdowns. What you want and need is breakthroughs.

Consciously focus on what is going right for you at this moment! What are you grateful for today? Are you grateful for all those innumerable little things that do go right in your day-to-day life? We have the power to choose what we focus on, so why not focus on the good things and the good people in our lives? I promise you, gratitude will resurrect your soul, for fabulous transformations, for abundance, and for ease