This blog champions an integrated approach to depression and mania that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life as well as our relationships with others and our career/financial needs. I embrace following the current evidence-based methods to reduce symptoms and achieve recovery as a critical and necessary first step, while providing a clear and user friendly path utilizing the same tools for accomplishing something much greater. I do not ask you to deny your belief (or disbelief) in the effectiveness of medicine, therapy, meditation, nutrition, or any other tool, but to modify the goals of treatment. Future articles will offer a holistic integration of western and eastern healing modalities.
The current standard of care as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health is to minimize symptoms and accept the high probability of relapse. While many tools have been developed to effectively manage bipolar disorder, there are far too many people who are still living on the edge of relapse and suffering greatly from it. Even for those who achieve a level of remission that is commonly called recovery, which will be detailed in future articles, they live in constant fear that one sleepless night can send them into another crisis.
At all stages, from crisis to recovery, bipolar in disorder takes a tremendous toll on those who suffer from it and those who are in relationship with them. It is critical that we use the available tools to minimize bipolar disorder as well as continue to develop more effective ones. Bipolar In Order is an approach beyond recovery, so to accept recovery as the endpoint of treatment is to condemn people to a diminished life.
Since 2003, we have been teaching people how to achieve stages beyond recovery where the threat of crisis is dramatically reduced. We have helped them to change their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives. This blog is about creating a life with depression and mania that sees both sides as an advantage instead of something to make go away. It will include examples of what that path has been like for people who once thought it impossible and have made it a reality in their own lives.
In his book Mindsight, Dan Siegel MD explains how the brain is extended through the spinal cord and out to all of the sensory and motor nerves in the body. As we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the world around us, there is an electrical and chemical flow of energy and information that travels to the brain and is processed in different parts of it. He says that bipolar disorder is a "dysregulation" of the brain's ability to keep the flow of energy and information at a manageable level, which causes the person to become overwhelmed.
Dr. Siegel traces the location of the regulation mechanism to the prefrontal cortex, the part of your forehead just above and right between your eyebrows. It is interesting that this is the same spot where the Hindus put a dot to signify where one should focus during meditation.
In her book My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. describes how our sensory receptors are designed to detect information at the energy level. Like Dr Siegel, she describes how these "sensory information streams" are processed in the brain and lead to what we feel. She says that, "Although many of us may think ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think."
The restriction of the flow of energy and information in the brain during her stroke caused her to lose functionality. Her amazing account of how the mind processes energy and information and learns to rewire itself parallels many of the ideas in Mindsight and in this blog. My Stroke of Insight and Mindsight contain valuable information to support the program outlined in future posts, and should be considered must-reads.
Although very well explained by both books, these ideas have been around for a very long time. The concepts can be traced to the earliest writings in both China and India. Both cultures have been scientifically exploring the flow of energy and information for thousands of years.
The Chinese word Qi (chi) is frequently translated as "energy" and working with the flow of it is the basis of such practices as Tai Chi and acupuncture. Both speak of dis-ease as a dis-regulation or blockage of the energy flow in our bodies. For millennia, Chinese medicine practitioners have manipulated the flow of energy using acupuncture needles inserted into specific body points. Western physicians now agree that these practices can improve bodily and mental health. Their benefits have been documented with numerous published research studies.
For instance, study of acupuncture's effects led to early breakthroughs in the understanding of pain mechanisms and endorphins. Endorphins are now commonly understood as the basis of the sense of wellbeing that follows vigorous exercise. The Chinese understood such influences long ago, and their system of medicine advanced as a result.
Pranayama, a Sanskrit word for the practice of controlling the flow of energy and information, was described in the Upanishads as early as 800 BCE. Pranayama is a central component of Yoga that many practice today. In practicing pranayama, the flow of energy is directed through the spine and brain to the prefrontal cortex. As we learn to eliminate blockages to the flow and increase its intensity, we develop the ability to function at levels that would previously overwhelm our system.
The mind-body energy movements recognized long ago in China and India have correlates within the Western Biomedical system. We mentioned above the relationship between acupuncture and endorphins. Bodily energy by any name no doubt involves more than just endorphin shifts, however, and may also include widespread changes in neural activity, hormonal messages, and immune function. These signals go on to alter moods, muscles, and vital organs.
It seems quite likely that Western biomedicine still has much to learn about the flow of bodily and mental energy as described by Eastern observers. We should also keep an open mind and recognize that there may be aspects of energy flow that Western biomedicine cannot explain under the current anatomical and physiological models.
Direct experience should not be underestimated. In her introduction to My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Taylor said; "I must say that I learned as much about my brain and how it functions during that stroke, as I had in all my years of academia." And she is a brain scientist! Although brain science is not my specialty, I have over forty years of practice in pranayama and the direct experience of both bipolar disorder and Bipolar In Order to share along with examples of how the process has worked for others.
I will be mentioning the flow of energy and information often in this blog. Learning to control the flow is the most powerful tool for turning bipolar disorder into Bipolar In Order. We will explore various exercises that will lead to direct understanding and control of the flow of energy and information, along with how these exercises complement all of the other tools that you may use.
Every thought, feeling, emotion, or mood has a corresponding flow of energy and information in the brain. There is both an electrical charge and chemical transfer that takes place between each neuron as the thought is processed. I will be using "energy and information flow" and sometimes just "flow" as a convenient shorthand often in this blog to symbolize all types of thoughts and feelings.
What is Bipolar In Order? In the simplest terms it is the ability to experience any flow of energy and information as equally beautiful as any other while having complete choice of how to react to it. Bipolar In Order means no matter how painful or ecstatic, the flow of energy and information that occurs is experienced as rich and insightful while being regulated by the prefrontal cortex to provide meaning without being overwhelmed. It means being able to experience even the most intense flow without the suffering that comes from denying or fighting against it. It means experiencing life completely without overreacting to or suppressing any stimulus. You will get a far more detailed picture by reading this blog, but greater understanding will come when you do the exercises and experience the results yourself.
Perlis RH, Ostacher MJ, Patel J, Marangell LB, Zhang H, Wisniewski SR, Ketter TA, Miklowitz DJ, Otto M, Gyulai L, Reilly-Harrington N, Nierenberg A, Sachs GS, & Thase M, Predictors of recurrence in bipolar disorder: Primary outcomes from the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar disorder (STEP-BD). The American Journal of Psychiatry (2006), 163:2, 217-224 - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2006/early-findings-from-largest-nimh-funded-research-program-on-bipolar-disorder-begin-to-build-evidence-base-on-best-treatment-options.shtml
Siegel, Dan, Mindsight: The New Science of Transformation, Random House, New York, (2010), Chapter 3, p. 52
Bolte Taylor, Jill, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, Plume (Penguin Group, 2009), p. 19
Waysun Lao, T'ai Chi Classics, Shambhala Classics, Boston, (2001)
Holland, Alex, Voices of Qi: An Introductory Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, (2000)
Russell, Peter and Shearer, A., The Upanishads, (translation, 1989, Unwin Hyman Ltd., London), p. 77
Yogananda, Paramahansa, Autobiography of a Yogi, (Self-Realization Fellowship, CA, 1993), p. 239 "The body of the average man is like a fifty-watt lamp, which cannot accommodate the billion watts of power roused by an excessive practice of Kriya. Through gradual and regular increase of the simple and 'foolproof' methods of Kriya, man's body becomes astrally transformed day by day, and is finally fitted to express the infinite potentials of cosmic energy..."