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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calm the mind and bring the overexcited body under control
Does this describe anyone you know -- or even yourself... The morning drag and grind, all groggy, until the coffee fix hits the tongue and bloodstream. Then the buzz. Then, evenings the body and mind are going... and they keep going, unless the help of a sedative is enlisted... sleeping pills, or alcohol. Sadly, that's all too typical in today's 24/7 work and activity...
Published on June 21, 2012 by Bill Gallagher

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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prescriptions for calm not easy to fill
A Calm Brain is written by neurologist Dr Gayatri Devi who has thought long and hard about calm, investigated it, absorbed it and has the skills to write a very readable book about it. She has all the credentials and the ability needed to write a book like this. She has done a good job. Then why not a five stars rating?

The book has two shortcomings shared by...
Published on July 3, 2012 by Dr. Chuck Chakrapani


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prescriptions for calm not easy to fill, July 3, 2012
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A Calm Brain is written by neurologist Dr Gayatri Devi who has thought long and hard about calm, investigated it, absorbed it and has the skills to write a very readable book about it. She has all the credentials and the ability needed to write a book like this. She has done a good job. Then why not a five stars rating?

The book has two shortcomings shared by most books of this genre. The first is the lack of distinction between the destination and the path to get there. Second, more important, the book provides prescriptions for calm that are not easy to fill.

Let me explain.

Here is the portrait of a calm person. He (or she) goes to bed with no help from sleeping pills or other drugs. He never scrimps on his sleep. He gets adequate sleep every night and gets up with no help from an alarm clock. He welcomes each morning calmly, slowly pouring his mind and body into the day. He hugs his spouse with whom he has long lasting close ties. His partner offers both companionship and romance. He then leisurely walks to work; along the way, he smiles at a stranger and stops to pet a dog. When he gets to work, he does one thing at a time. If he needs something from someone, he does not email or text; he just walks over to the other person's desk to chat with her face to face. Even on a hectic day, he manages to create downtime. He laughs frequently. If anyone offends him in any way, he is quick to forgive and forget. He doesn't follow the clock. He eats when he is hungry, sleeps when he is tired and wakes up when he is rested. He has sex as often as he can and hardly watches television. The tapestry of calm woven by him is his own.

Wouldn't we like to be him, even though he seems to be from some sort of parallel universe, one with which we may not be that familiar?

Well, believe it or not, Dr. Devi's prescription to achieve calm is to do all those things that we believe an idealized calm person would do. My earlier description of a calm person is actually a prescription for becoming a calm person written by Dr. Devi. The prescription boils down to this: If you want to be calm, imitate a calm person. Maybe she is right. Maybe there is no way to calm, calm is the way.

That leads to the second shortcoming of the book: its prescriptive nature with not much thought to whether the prescription is fillable. How does one do all the things that were so painstakingly put together by Dr. Devi? Let's say I'm a divorced, middle aged, unemployed, isolated, single mom with no particular social skills, how do I suddenly develop long lasting close ties, find the person who would offer both companionship and romance? Just as a new meditator is puzzled by the instruction "Empty your mind!", we are baffled all the things we need to do to be calm and silently exclaim "By what means? By what means?" Some of the things that Dr. Devi recommends are far more difficult to achieve than calm. If prescriptions like achieving "long lasting close ties" and having "a partner who offers both companionship and romance" are easy enough to achieve we won't have the divorce rates we do nor would people be stuck in terrible marriages for financial and family reasons. If the prescriptions are more difficult to fill than enduring the symptoms themselves, what is the alternative? If you don't have lasting ties, would frequent encounters with "consequential strangers" help? How practical is it to counsel a rape victim to simply "forgive and forget"? Can something else be done to achieve calm? Dr. Devi, unfortunately, does not pay enough attention to such practical considerations.

I don't want to leave the reader with the impression that this is a terrible book. It is not. It has many good points. It explores how vagus nerve helps to create calm. It shows why yoga works. It shows how inversion table can be effective in creating calm as some yoga poses. My point is, if one invests time reading a book that runs over 250 pages book devoted to a single subject, one should have a reasonable understanding of the subject. I did not get that feeling, although I did get some isolated insights on the subject.

In the end, calm needs to be achieved under less than ideal conditions. When our life is not going right, when we are isolated, when we miss an important flight by a minute, when we lose our passport in a hostile country, when we lose our jobs, when our spouse leaves us, when our children become drug addicts, and when we are in a terrible relationship. Requiring near ideal conditions for achieving calm is a contradiction in terms. When you read a book like When Chocolate Runs Out by Lama Yeshe or Peace is Every Breath by Tich Nhat Hahn, you smile. You see how calm can be achieved irrespective of what goes on in your life. Being calm does not and should not require the implementation of a whole slew of things. Buddhist psychology as exemplified in books like the one I mentioned shows that it is practical and within the reach of most of us. Anyone who aims to achieve calm through a long list of prerequisites is unlikely to achieve it.

Calm is not rearranging everything so we can be at peace. Calm is letting things be where they are or go where they may while we remain unperturbed.

In my humble opinion anyway.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Calm the mind and bring the overexcited body under control, June 21, 2012
Does this describe anyone you know -- or even yourself... The morning drag and grind, all groggy, until the coffee fix hits the tongue and bloodstream. Then the buzz. Then, evenings the body and mind are going... and they keep going, unless the help of a sedative is enlisted... sleeping pills, or alcohol. Sadly, that's all too typical in today's 24/7 work and activity schedule.

Really, the "core brain" is meant to take care of this revving-up and winding-down, according to Devi. But our artificially imposed ups and downs, with enforced sitting, fluorescent lights, and independence from natural cycles, short-circuit that response. In a world where slowing down is a mortal sin, the core brain never has a chance to do its biologically-assigned work.

A Calm Brain is all about recovering that natural ability to regulate the body and mind's natural "speed." We learn what signals the core brain seeks in order to properly do its job. We learn how to give it these signals, to consciously promote our body's innate ability to seek rest. It helps to approach bedtime strategically, making sure to prepare for sleep in the right way. We are so over-stimulated and prone to ignore our body's natural corrective functions, that even when we lay down to bed we may be unable to keep thoughts from spinning. So a book like Get Fit in Bed: Tone Your Body & Calm Your Mind from the Comfort of Your Bed by Tarbell and Kavanau can provide an excellent sleep-oriented adjunct to the habits and practices covered in A Calm Brain.

Highly recommended if you struggle with calming the mind and bringing your body's hyper rhythms under control. Especially important for those approaching their senior years, because stress has such the ability to wear away mental function and can contribute to dementia.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing helpful here., July 26, 2013
By 
Sandra (Chandler, AZ, United States) - See all my reviews
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The title appeared to promise tips for coping with stress, which I feel I need because of work and family pressures. What I got was a mish-mosh of anecdotes and metaphors with no useful or practical information at all. Dr. Devi talks about her grandfather's ideal balance in dealing with life's pitfalls, but never really gives us any insight into how he achieved that balance. I expected a discussion of the physiology of stress, but felt this was glossed over as though the reader couldn't possibly be expected to understand. In the end, I found nothing useful to help me better handle the everyday events that add stress to my own life. I really wanted to give this book 3 stars, but couldn't bring myself to exaggerate the book's usefulness.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-notch, bottom-up approach to calm, January 30, 2013
By 
Deb (Palo Alto, CA) - See all my reviews
Once upon a time ago, our core brains were pretty good at keeping us calm. But, the modern day sea of anxieties (hello non-stop technology alerts and intrusions/uncompromising performance expectations/unlimited choices/reduced in-person intimacy) has diluted the soothing functions of the intuitive core brain. As a result, we're in a state of constant high alert.

So, how do we reprogram our brains and reclaim our natural state of calm. (?!!!!!?)

Gayatri Devi's book _A Calm Brain_ offers a top-notch, bottom-up approach to calm by tapping into the hardwiring of our natural relaxation systems. As she explains:
"We know that calm is created by a state of equilibrium between the two systems, parasympathetic and sympathetic, and that anxiety and stress result when the alerting sympathetic system and rational frontal lobes override the core-brain and parasympathetic system, with the vagus nerve as its instrument...For calm to reign within your brain, there has to be a bottom-up calm from your body, which is carried out by the vagus." (pp. 54, 143)

The key to unlocking the body's natural relaxation system is: "understanding the neural underpinnings of calm--the delicate dance of the emotional core brain and the rational frontal lobes."(p. 241) Achieving this crucial balance involves disengaging the over-active amygdala and frontal lobes of the sympathetic nervous system and activating the parasympathetic and vagus nerve systems:
"In a state of high vagal activity, the vagus nerve is more stimulated, resulting in slower breaths, slower heart rate, reduced bowel irritability, and better synchronization of heart rate with respiration. This results in an optimal body state. Through bottom-up feedback, the core brain is calmed, which relaxes the frontal lobes as well." (p. 65)

Dr. Devi does an impressive job in conveying the complex concepts underlying the neuroscience of calm (interestingly, I found her information delivery and writing styles to be quite soothing!), and providing concrete ways to weave your own "tapestry of calm" by increasing vagal tone (pp. 242-244), including:
* Forming enduring, close social connections (and laughing often).
* Finding a partner who provides both companionship and romance.
* Having sex as often as you can (she insists it's good for your core brain).
* Forgiving and forgetting.
* Paying attention to your biorhythms: eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, waking when rested.
* Never compromising on sleep.
* Refraining from using drugs to stay awake and to get to sleep and alarms to wake up.
* Cutting down on multitasking.
* Scheduling downtime in the middle of busy days.
* Eliminating television.
* Doing one slow thing a day.
* Practicing real (vs. virtual) communication. (Your core brain knows the difference.)
* Spending time with pets.
* Welcoming each morning calmly, slowly, pouring your mind and body into the day.

If you're ready to take back the natural soothing functions of your core brain, this book is a great first step: Read, relax, recover. (And, don't forget to turn off all technological devices when doing so.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written and very useful, October 12, 2012
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I really enjoyed this book. I got the impression that a lot of complex research was sythesized for us and presented so we can understand it. There is a lot of great information about how to calm the brain (and body) and also why our brains go into more primitive modes when under stress.

Easy to read and very valuable information.

This is a great book for anyone feeling stressed and also for parents because it really explains the different modes that the brain can go into and how different ways of being with your child may help or hinder your child's well-being.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unobtainable, November 3, 2012
Reviewed by: Diana Coyle

Review Snippet: I have to say that I didn't find this book as helpful as I had hoped it would be when I requested it for review. Yes, Dr. Devi hit on exactly the things that make both men and women stressed in our everyday lives, but the steps she suggested for us to take in order to correct these stressful issues are things that don't seem too easily achievable. I honestly found the subject matter dry and even a task to continue reading at certain points. I also felt the list of suggestions Dr. Devi offered at the end of the book for her readers to start incorporating into their daily lives just seemed unobtainable in many ways. Sadly, this wasn't a book that I walked away feeling that I took any pointers away with me and even if I did, I wouldn't be able to make significant changes in my life with them no matter how hard I tried. Overall, I was disappointed that this book wasn't what I expected it to be.

Full Review on Night Owl Reviews / © Night Owl Reviews

We received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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2.0 out of 5 stars nothing new, February 21, 2013
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I found the book nothing more than a rehash of common information. Don't waste your money...It is better spent simply by starting your own self-quieting ritual. Create a small altar in some quiet corner of your home. Place objects, symbols of those things that are important in your life. ( a beach stone or shell, a sm. photo or picture that is meaningful, etc and add to it as needed) Buy some incense and a soft cushion for kneeling and spend a few minutes each day being thankful for all that you are. The Dalai Lama's advice on living is free to all.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding Internal Peace, August 29, 2012
This is a book written by a woman who has a charming way with words, a compassionate soul, and, not least of all, is a highly regarded neurologist. "A Calm Brain" by Gayatri Devi, M.D. is a delightful read and a gift to anyone who would like to breathe in rather than worry through life. It is filled with both personally transparent and professionally edifying anecdotes that teach a centered tranquil and gratifying way to live. I regret that I am no longer practicing as a Clinical Psychologist. The book taught me, even in my 70's and I would have valued the opportunity to pass on its richness to the patients I saw.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, August 9, 2014
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Still reading
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read,, September 16, 2013
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as we learn more and more about the amazing brain. Don't forget to go to Brain HQ as Merzenich has this book on his book of the month list.
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