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A Calm Brain: Unlocking Your Natural Relaxation System Hardcover – June 14, 2012

12 customer reviews

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A neurologist who specializes in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia explores how we can tap into “the neurology and physiology of our body's innate 'calm' mechanisms” to achieve greater health, happiness and success.

The director of the New York Memory and Healthy Aging services, Devi (What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Alzheimer's Disease, 2004, etc.) unravels the functioning of the core brain, where gut reactions are processed, and explains how we can train ourselves to relax and recharge in order to face the 24/7 pressures of the fast-paced modern world. The author describes the way in which the core brain works by controlling emotions and impulses as we navigate the outside world “and the vast environmental sensor and receptacle that is our body.” Fight-or-flight reactions, as well as our relative sense of well-being or malaise, are mediated there by the vagus nerve, a frequently overlooked neural conduit that bypasses the spinal cord to connect with the body's organs. It provides a constant stream of information that tells the brain when to stress out and when to relax and monitors processes such as blood pressure. The core brain is the seat of the sympathetic nervous system, which releases an adrenaline surge when we perceive danger, and the parasympathetic system, which provides the all-clear signal when it is safe to calm down. Devi provides anecdotal evidence suggesting that meditation and yoga, by releasing bodily tension, cue the brain to relax, and she examines how affectionate gestures and shared laughter provide a similar release.

A welcome alternative approach to overtaxing our brains and then reaching for the pill bottle—should warrant serious attention.
Kirkus Reviews

“Calm Brain brings the power of cutting edge neuroscience to everyday life. For anyone who wants to take charge of the 21st century while remaining calm, focused and productive - this is the book for you.”
—Henry S. Lodge M.D., author of The New York Times bestseller Younger Next Year

"A Calm Brain shows readers why the brain craves calm, and how this will improve your health and happiness. Blending stories, science, and practical advice, it offers a path to a calmer life."
—Paul J. Zak, author of The Moral Molecule

"Summer's supposed to be the time when you shift into vacation mode and slow down, but if you can't, this neurologist author offers insights into managing stress and much more."
-Los Angeles Times, *Summer Reading List Pick*

About the Author

Dr. Gayatri Devi is a neurologist and the director of the New York Memory and Healthy Aging Services. A clinical associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine, she is the president of the not-for-profit National Council on Women’s Health. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (June 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952695
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,484,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Chuck Chakrapani on July 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bill Gallagher on June 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kathy on October 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 By Deb on January 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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