How Tibetan Monks Use Meditation to Raise Their Peripheral Body Temperature 16-17 Degrees

Tibetan monks in remote regions of the Himalayas have long claimed near miraculous powers through yogic practices that resemble nothing you’ll find offered at your local gym, though they may derive from some similar Indian sources. One such meditative practice, a breathing exercise known as tummo, tum-mo, or g-tummo, supposedly generates body heat and can raise one’s peripheral body temperature 16-17 degrees—a distinctly advantageous ability when sitting outside in the snow-capped mountains.

Perhaps a certain amount of skepticism is warranted, but in 1981, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson was determined to take these ancient practices seriously, even though his first encounters with western practitioners of tummo produced results he deemed “fraudulent.” Not ready to toss centuries of wisdom, Benson decided instead to travel to the source after meeting the Dalai Lama and receiving permission to study tummo practitioners in Northern India.

Benson’s research became a 20-year project of studying tummo and other advanced techniques while he also taught at the Harvard Medical School and served as president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, where he believes the study of meditation can “uncover capacities that will help us to better treat stress-related illnesses.” The claims of monks who practice tummo have been substantiated in Benson’s work, showing, he says, “what advanced forms of meditation can do to help the mind control physical processes once thought to be uncontrollable.”

In his own experimental settings, “Benson found that [Tibetan] monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves,” notes Aeon. Another study undertaken in 2013 by Maria Kozhevnikov, cognitive neuroscientist at the National University of Singapore, “corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualization and specialized breathing.”

In the short documentary film above—actually a 7-minute trailer for Russ Pariseau’s feature-length film Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD—we get a brief introduction to tummo, a word that translates to “inner fire” and relates to the ferocity of a female deity. Benson explains the ideas behind the practice in concise terms that sum up a central premise of Tibetan Buddhism in general:

Buddhists feel the reality we live in is not the ultimate one. There’s another reality we can tap into that’s unaffected by our emotions, by our everyday world. Buddhists believe this state of mind can be achieved by doing good for others and by meditation. The heat they generate during the process is just a by-product of g Tum-mo meditation

Perhaps centuries-old non-European practices do not particularly need to be debunked, demystified, or validated by modern scientific medicine to keep working for their practitioners; but doctors have significantly benefited those in their care through an acceptance of the healing properties of, say, psilocybin or mindfulness, now serious subjects of study and clinical treatment in top Euro-American institutions. Just as this research is being popularized among both the medical establishment and general public, we may someday see a surge of interest in advanced tantric practices like tummo.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Do Vaccines (Including the COVID-19 Vaccines) Work?: Watch Animated Introductions

The other day, I found myself reading about what life is like in countries that have successfully minimized the pandemic: worry free holidays, meeting friends and family without the danger of infection, a general air of normalcy thanks to a combination of rigorous public health efforts and public cooperation. I live in the U.S., where the political party currently in power (and desperate to keep it) convinced millions of my fellow citizens that the virus was a hoax, a scam, a political ploy. The reality of a virus-free existence seems like a fairy tale.

But perhaps, after a year of death, suffering, and lunacy, we will begin to see the tide turn once enough people get vaccinated…  if we can overcome the massive wave of anti-science bias and disinformation about vaccines…. “The anti-vaccination movement is going to make Covid-19 more difficult to get under control,” says Scott Ratzan, distinguished lecturer at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Long before the vaccine arrived, Katherine O’Brien, a director at WHO, noted there was already a prominent “anti-vaccination voice” on social media. “We have to take this seriously,” she told The BMJ. “Vaccination isn’t just an individual choice; it protects those who can’t be vaccinated.” We’ve seen the term “herd immunity”  misused a lot lately. What it essentially means is that a small number of people can be shielded from the virus if the vast majority get vaccinated. Or as WHO puts it, “herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.”

All of this means there will likely never be a more critical moment to educate ourselves and others on the science of vaccines. We may not sway those faithful to a certain narrative, but it can help shift the conversation from fears of the unknown to the long history of the known when it comes to eradicating highly infectious, deadly diseases. A great way to start is with the basics, which you’ll find in the videos above from TED-Ed, Mechanisms of Medicine, and PBS. Watch them yourself, share them on social media, and keep the conversation about vaccines’ efficacy going.

In the TED-Ed lesson just above, we learn some more specific information about the key phases of developing a new vaccine: exploratory research, clinical testing, and manufacturing. You’ll find much more detailed information on the history of vaccines, spurious anti-vaccination claims, and the coronavirus vaccines now on the market and currently shipping around the world, at the award-winning site, The History of Vaccines, from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The COVID-19 vaccine is a special kind of vaccine (mRNA) that works differently from most, and you can learn about how it works here. A quick primer on herd immunity appears at the bottom.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Don’t Think Twice: A Poignant Film Documents How Bob Dylan & The Beatles Bring Joy to a Dementia Patient

It’s often said the sense of smell is most closely connected to long-term memory. The news offers little comfort to us forgetful people with a diminished sense of smell. But increasingly, neuroscientists are discovering how sound can also tap directly into our deepest memories. Patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia seem to come alive, becoming their old selves when they hear music they recognize, especially if they were musicians or dancers in a former life.

“Sound is evolutionarily ancient,” Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, tells NPR. “It is deeply, deeply rooted in our nervous system. So the memories that we make, the sound-to-meaning connections that we have and that we’ve made throughout our lives are always there. And it’s a matter of being able to access them.” The earworms we find ourselves humming all day; the songs we never forget how to sing… these are keys to a storehouse of memory.

Stories documenting dementia patients in the presence of music usually focus, understandably, on those who have lost brain function due to old age. In “Don’t Think Twice,” the short documentary above, we meet John Fudge, who sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell from the white cliffs of Dover and split his head open at 24 years old. “The extent of his injuries weren’t revealed,” writes Aeon, “until decades later, when doctors decided to perform a brain scan after John slipped into a deep depression.”

He was found to have extensive brain damage, “including a progressive form of dementia” called Semantic Dementia that leaves sufferers aware of their deterioration while being unable to express themselves. John’s wife Geraldine “compares his brain to an oak tree, its limbs of knowledge being slowly trimmed away, causing John great mental anguish.” In the short film, however, we see how “his musical abilities” are one “as-yet untrimmed branch.”

John himself explains how he “nearly died three times” and Geraldine assists with her observations of his experience. “It’s all there,” she says, “it’s just bits of it have sort of been blanked out…. Over the years, John’s semantic understanding of the world will deteriorate.” When a young volunteer named Jon from the Hackney Befriending Service stops by, the gloom lifts as John engages his old passion for playing songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Follow the moving story of how John and Jon became fast friends and excellent harmonizers and see more inspiring stories of how music can change Alzheimer’s and dementia patients’ lives for the better at the links below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

A Biostatistician Uses Crochet to Visualize the Frightening Infection Rates of the Coronavirus

Chances are you’ve looked at more graphs this past year than you did over the previous decade — not just while working at home, but while scrolling through cascades of often-troubling quantitative information during your “off” hours as well. This phenomenon has hardly been limited to the Americans who obsessed over the predictions of and returns from their presidential election last month, an event turned practically into a sideshow by the ongoing pandemic. Around the world, we’ve all wanted to know: Where did the coronavirus come from? What is it? Where is it going?

Apologies to Paul Gauguin, who didn’t even live to see the Spanish flu of 1918, a time when nobody could have imagined instantaneously and widely sharing visual renderings of data about that disease. The world of a century ago may not have had dynamic animated maps and charts, updated in real time, but it did have crochet. Whether or not it had then occurred to anyone as a viable medium for visualizing the spread of disease, it can be convincing today. This is demonstrated by Norwegian biostatistician Kathrine Frey Frøslie, who in the video above shows us her crocheted representations of various “R numbers.”

This now much-heard term, Frøslie’s explains, “denotes reproduction. If the R number is one, this means that each infected person will on average infect one new person during the course of the disease. If R equals two, each infected person will infect two persons,” and so on. Her crocheted version of R=1, with a population of ten, is small and narrow — it looks, in other words, entirely manageable. Such a disease “will always be always present, but the number of infected persons will be constant.” Her R=0.9, which steadily narrows in a way that resembles an unfinished Christmas stocking, looks even less threatening.

Alas, “for the coronavirus, the R is mostly larger than one.” In crocheted form, even R=1.1 is pretty formidable; when she brings out her R=1.5, “it is evident that we have a problem. Even the crochet patch kind of crumbles.” Then out comes R=2, which must have been quite a project: its ten original infections bloom into 2,560 new cases, all represented in almost organically dense folds of yarn. As for R=2.5, when Frøslie eventually gets it hoisted onto her lap, you’ll have to see it to believe it. Throughout 2020, of course, many of our at-home hobbies have grown to monstrous proportions — even those taken up by medical scientists.

via Metafilter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Behold the Steampunk Home Exercise Machines from the Victorian Age

The pandemic has resulted in a lot of people reinventing their fitness regimens, investing in pricey items like Mirror and Peloton bikes to turn homes into home gyms.

Personally, we’re saving our pennies until some Etsy seller replicates the mechanical therapy systems of Dr. Gustav Zander (1835–1920).

From the mid-19th century through WWI, these machines were at the forefront of gym culture. Their function is extremely similar to modern strength training equipment, but their design exudes a dashing steampunk flair.

If the thing that’s going to help us work off all this sourdough weight is going to wind up colonizing half our apartment, we want something that will go with our maximalist thrift store aesthetic.

We might even start working out in floor length skirts and three piece suits in homage to Zander’s original devotees.

His 27 machines addressed abs, arms, adductors—all the greatest hits—using weights and levers to strengthen muscles through progressive exertion and resistance. Specially trained assistants were on hand to adjust the weights, a luxury that our modern world has seen fit to phase out.

Just as 21st-century fitness centers position themselves as lifesavers of those who spend the bulk of the day hunched in front of a computer, Zander’s inventions targeted sedentary office workers.

The industrial society that created this new breed of laborer also ensured that the Swedish doctor’s contraptions would garner accolades and attention. They were already a hit in their land of origin when they took a gold medal at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

The flagship Therapeutic Zander Institute in Stockholm expanded, with branches in London and New York City.

The New York Times described the latter as giving the “uninitiated observer an impression of a carefully devised torture chamber more than of a doctor’s office or a gymnasium, both of which functions the institute, to a certain degree, fills.”

Surely no more tortuous than the blood lettingblistering, and purging that were also thought healthful at the time…

See more of Dr. Gustav Zander’s exercise machines here.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. This month, she appearsas a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to De-Stress with Niksen, the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Stressed out? Overwhelmed? If you said no, I’d worry whether you have a functioning nervous system. For those of us who don’t get out much now because of the pandemic, even staying home has become a source of stress. We’re isolated or being driven up the wall by beloved family members. We’re grasping at every stress-relief tool we can find. For those who have to leave for work, especially in medicine, reading the headlines before masking up for a shift must make for higher than average blood pressure, at least. Every major health agency has issued mental health guidelines for coping during the coronavirus. Not many governments, however, are forthcoming with funding for mental health support. That’s not even to mention, well…. name your super-colliding global crises….

So, we meditate, or squirm in our seats and hate every second of trying to meditate. Maybe it’s not for everyone. Even as a longtime meditator, I wouldn’t go around proclaiming the practice a cure-all. There are hundreds of traditions around the world that can bring people into a state of calm relaxation and push worries into the background. For reasons of cold, and maybe generous parental leave, certain Northern European countries have turned staying home into a formal tradition. There’s IKEA, of course (not the assembly part, but the shopping and sitting in a newly assembled IKEA chair with satisfaction part). Then there’s lagom, the Swedish practice of “approaching life with an ‘everything in moderation,’ mindset” as Sophia Gottfried writes at TIME.

Hygge, “the Danish concept that made staying in and getting cozy cool” may not be a path to greater awareness, but it can make sheltering in place much less upsetting. A few years back, it was “Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes,” in The New York Times’ winter fashion section. As winter approaches once more (and I hate to tell you, but it’s probably gonna be a stressful one), Hygge is making way in stress relief circles for niksen, a Dutch word that “literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use,” says Carolien Hamming, managing director of a Dutch destressing center, CSR Centrum.

Niksen is not doomscrolling through social media or streaming whole seasons of shows. Niksen is intentional purposelessness, the opposite of distraction, like meditation but without the postures and instructions and classes and retreats and so forth. Anyone can do it, though it might be harder than it looks. Gottfried quotes Ruut Veenhoven, sociologist and professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, who says niksen can be as simple as “sitting in a chair or looking out the window,” just letting your mind wander. If your mind wanders to unsettling places, you can try an absorbing, repetitive task to keep it busy. “We should have moments of relaxation, and relaxation can be combined with easy, semi-automatic activity, such as knitting.”

“One aspect of the ‘art of living,’” says Veenhoven, “is to find out what ways of relaxing fit you best.” If you’re thinking you might have found yours in niksen, you can get started right away, even if you aren’t at home. “You can niks in a café, too,” says Olga Mecking—author of Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing—when cafes are safe to niks in. (You can also use “niks” as a verb.) It may not strictly be a mindfulness practice like the many descended from Buddhism, but it is mindfulness adjacent, Nicole Spector points out at NBC News. Niks-ing (?) can soothe burnout by giving our brain time to process the massive amounts of information we take in every day, “which in turn can boost one’s creativity,” Gottfried writes, by making space for new ideas. Or as Brut America, producer of the short niksen explainer above, writes, “doing nothing isn’t lazy—it’s an art.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Leonardo da Vinci’s Elegant Studies of the Human Heart Were 500 Years Ahead of Their Time

Leonardo da Vinci didn’t really have hobbies; he had passionate, unpaid obsessions that filled whole notebooks with puzzles scientists are still trying to solve. Many of the problems to which he applied himself were those none of his contemporaries understood, because he was the only person to have noticed them at all. The amateur anatomist was the first, for example, “to sketch trabeculae,” notes Medievalists.net, “and their snowflake-like fractal patterns in the 16th century.”

These geometric patterns of muscle fibers on the inner surface of the heart have remained a mystery for over 500 years since Leonardo’s anatomical investigations, carried out first on pig and oxen hearts, then later, in hasty dissections in the winter cold, on human specimens. He speculated they might have warmed the blood, but scientists have recently found they enhance blood flow “just like the dimples on a golf ball reduce air resistance.”

Leonardo may have been wide of the mark in his trabeculae theory, not having access to genetic testing, AI, or MRI. But he was the first to describe coronary artery disease, which would become one of the leading causes of death 500 years later. Many of his medical conclusions have turned out to be startingly correct, in fact. He detailed and elegantly sketched the heart’s anatomy from 1507 until his death in 1519, working out the flow of the blood through the body.

As the Medlife Crisis video above explains, Leonardo’s studies on the heart elegantly brought together his interests in art, anatomy, and engineering. Because of this multi-dimensional approach, he was able to explain a fact about the heart’s operation that even many cardiologists today get wrong, the movement of the aortic valve. In order to visualize the “flow dynamics” of the heart’s machinery, without imaging machinery of his own, he built a glass model, and drew several sketches of what he saw. “Incredibly, it took 450 years to prove him right.”

The mind of this extraordinary figure continues to divulge its secrets, and scholars and doctors across multiple fields continue to engage with his work, in the pages, for example, of the Netherlands Heart Journal. His studies on the heart particularly show how his astonishing breadth of knowledge and skill paradoxically made him such a focused, determined, and creative thinker.

via Medievalists.net

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

MIT Presents a Free Course on the COVID-19 Pandemic, Featuring Anthony Fauci & Other Experts

Most of us use the terms “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” to refer to the pandemic that has gone around the world this year. We do know, or can figure out, that the former term refers to a virus and the latter to the disease caused by that virus. But do we know the full name “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or “SARS-CoV-2” for short? We will if we take the online course “COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic,” which MIT is making available to the general public free online. We’ll also learn what makes both the virus and the disease different from other viruses and diseases, what we can do to avoid infection, and how close we are to an effective treatment.

All this is laid out in the course’s first lecture by Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard. Walker introduces himself by telling us how he graduated from medical school when HIV was at its height in America, timing that placed him well for a career focused on deadly viral diseases.

The course’s complete lineup of guest lecturers, all of them listed on its syllabus, includes many other high-profile figures in the field of epidemiology, immunology, vaccine development, and related fields: Harvard’s Michael Mina, Yale’s Akiko Iwasaki, the Broad Institute’s Eric Lander, and — perhaps you’ve heard of him — the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Anthony Fauci (find his session below).

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” began last Tuesday, and its lectures, which you’ll find uploaded to this Youtube playlist, will continue weekly until December 8th. Even if you have no background in medicine, biology, or science of any kind, don’t be intimidated: as leading professors Richard Young and Facundo Batista emphasize, this course is meant as an introductory overview.

And as Bruce Walker’s first lecture demonstrates, it’s not just open to the general public but geared toward the understanding and concerns of the general public as well. Taking it may not reassure you that an end to the pandemic lies just around the corner, but it will give you clearer and more coherent ways to think about what’s going on. The virus and disease involved are still incompletely understood, after all — but thanks to these and other researchers around the world, getting better understood every day.

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” will be added to our list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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