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A Calm Brain: Unlocking Your Natural Relaxation System Hardcover – June 14, 2012
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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.
“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.
Top customer reviews
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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.Read more