DECONSTRUCTING INSOMNIA & MENTAL HEALTH

In my previous article on Insomnia & mental health, I have highlighted the huge problem statement that is almost destroying our future generation. It’s a silent killer now.  More and more people are giving utmost importance to this problem and eagerly looking for a viable solution for it. Recently few Olympians and few international cricketers from Australia & England pulled out of the famed events due to mental health issues, shows  the need of handling this state of our mind properly rather letting it destroy us.  Famous Indian actress Dipika Padukarn is another example who openly speaks about the mental health issue. It should not be a taboo, if somebody says he/she has mental health issue.

Well, we should agree that insomnia and mental health are very much inter related. Lack of sleep is the first state of mental disturbances. Whatever may be the reason, but if we don’t get proper and regular sleep, the mind stops functioning to take rational decision. Recent study shows that even if loss of one day’s sleep, it impacts the state of our mind. If somebody suffers lack of sleep for one week, it creates long term damage to state of our brain. So sleep is utmost important to keep our brain in a stable state, so that we will be able to take rational decisions.   The way we do various exercises to keep our physical state of our body, the same way sleep is the best exercise to keep the mind healthy.

Frankly speaking, I am not saying something different here. Most people know it. That’s why everybody loves their sleep. From poor to rich everybody loves their sleep.  A poor may get sleep without food or proper shelter, where as a rich may get sleep with a peg of Whisky or popping a sleeping tablet, but both love their sleep at the end of the day. Without sleep, both will be same state of mental state in few days. One may be rooming in the streets and the other may be admitted in hospitals. So sleep is the fundamental founding stone to make or break state of our mind.

 Though we know sleep is the best food that keeps out mind sound, then why such a billion dollar industry has been created, just to provide sleep? Sleep is the fundamental RIGHT of the brain. A huge industry has been created by snatching a fundamental right from us and then giving an artificial & short term experience with a price. I think this can be one of the biggest achievements of the capitalism. We became so addicted to this short term experience that without it, the very survival is questioned. So we became a slave to these multinationals till our death.

My focus here is trying to understand the fundamentals of these phenomena. The fundamental functioning of our brain and other health parameters remain same. I am trying to understand why we lose the sleep in first place? The very cause of INSOMNIA and then progression to MENTAL HEALTH? I would like to analyze the very problem statement with FIRST PRICIPLE THINKING.  When we understand it properly, we may be able to prevent it before falling in to the trap of life long slavery.

Let’s dissect the problem with a rational mind. We need to observe, what is happening in our mind so that we are not getting the sleep.  We need to observe it as a third party. The best way to be a third party to your own mind to write down in a piece of paper the happening and phenomena that has been going on. As sleep is the fundamental right of our brain, a health person nicely gets sleep when the time comes, then why this is not coming to us? There must be something that is preventing the sleep to come. We know certain types of hormones (MELATONIN) are created in our brain when we go to bed. These hormones are the root cause of making our brain sleep.  So there can be 2 issues, either the hormones are no more getting generated for any reason or the effect of hormones are nullified by some other effects in our brain.  In most cases the later part is the major cause for normal people who lose sleep for various reasons.  If we sum it up, the STRESS factor is the major reason that is nullifying the effect of MELATONIN.  So by deconstructing the problem statement from bottom up, (MENTAL HEALTH=>INSOMNIA=>LACK OF SLEEP=>STRESS) we are going deeper to find out the root cause by applying first principle thinking.  STRESS is a major part of our life in this fast paced society where quarterly results and deadline of delivery and expectation to fulfill, takes more importance than understanding the effect it cause on the very survival.

Let’s go deep into the monster STRESS. We need to analyze what is STRESS?  Let’s apply the first principle to it. STRESS is nothing but combination of various types of THOUGHTS. Unpleasant thoughts, fearful thoughts, thoughts on expectations and consequence of future, etc. So in a different language, the various kinds of thoughts are the root cause of all the negative effects that we discussed far. It’s just a bunch of random information that flows in our brain to bring the state of brain to unstable state, so the real VILLIAN.

INSOMNIA & MENTAL HEALTH – THE NEXT PANDEMIC

With the spread of globalization, the economic activities have increased many folds and have uplifted a lot of people from abject poverty. Even communist country like CHINA has accepted the globalization and got highly benefitted while creating wealth for its citizens and also becoming the factory of the world. Along with CHINA, capitalists from rich countries have also generated an enormous amount of wealth in the last 3 to 4 decades due to the increased amount of trade and commerce. However, with increased wealth, the stress factor has increased to many folds due to the pressure of performing and delivering on quarter to quarter cycle. With various tools and processes, the productivity has increased a lot, but the nature of GREED has no limit. It only knows how to get more with less time and less cost. This has brought a lot of mental health-related issues to a lot of people, as the winner takes ALL, in this type of rat race. The loser has to sacrifice big so that the winner is celebrated. The fear factor of losing and the related anticipation and burden of commitments create a huge imbalance in the mental state of people across the world. This has given a big boost to a lot of lifestyle-related diseases along with globalization.

I feel mental health is one of the major dark sides of globalization and steroid-based growth.  This has created a major health problem that is totally invisible and people fear to talk about it due to various stigma attached to it. So, it is a major silent killer in the new age globalized society.  The first symptom of mental health is SLEEP DEPRIVATION. Humans can stay hungry for few days or less food. But without SLEEP ?? Not sure how long the equilibrium of the brain can sustain. Our brain neurons will start behaving erratically to make us unstable and making us a mental health patient in no time.  So the most important and essential part of our life is sleep as the brain needs it. Recently a lot of super fits and regular gym-going corporate executives have died of cardiac arrest. They have fallen suddenly with massive heart failure making us think to find the root cause. In most cases, those people are highly successful in the corporate world while carrying life of low amount of sleep. This has brought LACK OF SLEEP/ SLEEP DEPRIVATION as a major silent killer to the forefront of the discussion of a healthy life.

As per the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)  US has already declared that insufficient Sleep is a public health problem. More than 3rd of American go through sleep deprivation. This is an alarming trend in the most developed country in the world. This is not exclusivity of US only . Other developed countries like UK, Germany, Japan and Canada are not far behind. With 24/7 modern work culture and stress factor due to globalization, use of various types of substance and lack of physical exercise has created a chronic disease among these highly educated and  productive work force.

The INSOMNIA/ LACK OF SLEEP  is the next pandemic that is in the slow and steady growth stage. It has a huge economic impact if it is not handled correctly. Sleep deprivation links to lower productivity at work and loss of workdays.  This also incubates other lifestyle diseases like Diabetics, Hypertension, BP, heart ailment, Obesity, etc. All these health problems on most productive people create a huge health care burden on the country as well on the economy. Following is a % of loss of GDP on most developed countries as per the study by RAND Europe.

With China and India most populous countries in the world, joining the economic growth bandwagon, The future data will be more devastating than as shown above. It is another major pandemic that is already on our doorsteps, which needs to be handled more delicately rather than current virus-based pandemic like CORONA.

MindFulness Simplified

With the entire world being in a locked-down state, maintaining the emotional and physical well being is a major challenge in the world today.  Social distancing is new normal now and it will continue till the time the viable vaccine is not available. Without full-fledged physical activity and severely restricted movement, it has taken a major toll on the overall health of people. However, lot of people have changed their lifestyle accordingly to stay fit as much as possible. Thanks to video-based & instruction led sessions on fitness and yoga, a lot of people are able to somehow manage and able to keep them fit physically. For mental health there are various techniques like Yoga, Pranayama, Tai-Chi, meditation,  Mindfulness, etc. are available. People do their bit based on their choice, however, it has come to center stage now. I will delve more into Mindfulness here.

What is mindfulness? It sounds a bit tricky. However, one western practitioner has named it “Mindfulness” after going through various ancient Indian scriptures and tried to derive a similar name to the meaning of SATI/ SMRTI/SMRUTI …. There is a lot of ancient Indian concept which has no correct translated English name, Anyway, as long as we understand the subject, the name is immaterial.

When we think of Mind, it is a combination of a few subtle elements. It is an intangible element but controls all the tangible actions in our life. The most powerful element ever created in this world. It is the combination of thoughts, memory, emotions & sensations. A very powerful cocktail. All these powerful elements play their roles in different magnitude, different velocity & varying frequency inside the gray matter of our brain, which is also central control system of our body. The key element of our whole existence which controls what we are, who we are, and what we will be. So there is so much effort and investigation on how to control the holy grail of our life, since the time immemorial. 

So, how to control this BEAST? Trillion-dollar question. I am not saying, I have the answer, but I am putting my analysis. There is a few dynamic and static element of this mind.  Thought is the dynamic part, very powerful. Moves very fast. But it plays the game on Memory. Emotions and Sensations are the results. Based on this we do all kinds of tangible actions. We can’t erase Memory, as it simply finishes the game. It’s like a football field in the game of football. Emotions and Sensations are the aftereffects. But if we can control the Thought, then we can control the whole phenomenon. If we can control the magnitude, velocity, frequency of thought then we can somehow control it. So the next question, how to control the Thought? A very difficult part. It comes and goes constantly like a wave in the ocean. 

Now the next challenge is how to control the Thought?  Intoxication is a good tool, Like cocaine and other substances available in the market. However, it will damage our brain and the overall system rather providing temporary happiness.  But we need a permanent control. If we analyze deeply the flow of thoughts, there is a deep correlation between our breath and thought. With pleasant thoughts, we get pleasant sensations and our breathing gets slow. With disturbing thoughts the breathing becomes fast. When in fear the breathing becomes very fast, some times half breath is enough to sustain.  So we get one tangible element that has a very strong correlation with Thought.  Great, let’s work on the Breath so that the thought can be handled.  The whole Mindfulness meditation has evolved around the breath. Let’s go deeper into breathing.

I have mentioned that every thought plays the game on a base like memory. With the storage of various memory in our brain various thoughts come and go. There is no proper sequence, sometimes extremely random. We don’t know where the wave is getting generated and as soon as the one wave recedes another wave comes.  So, in simple term, a thought needs a base.  Now I am planning to change the base. Instead of memory, the new BASE will be my BREATH. Both Breath and Memory are inseparable to us. So the new technique sets the base as “Breath”. Let’s work on it and see the effect.

So we are deeply watching the internal phenomenon of Mind.  Let’s follow simple steps.

  1. Make yourself comfortable by sitting in a calm, quiet, and cool place.
  2. Keep  your spine erect, a must for this practice 
  3. Close your eyes
  4. Have your hand comfortable on your thigh. A Chin Mudra is preferred. But whatever be the position of your hand, you need to feel comfortable 
  5. Take some deep breath  and exhale through the mouth with “HAA” sound
  6. Then start observing your breath. Try to follow the path of inhalation and exhalation process though the body. Try to feel the inflow and outflow of the air through the nostril. Don’t control it. If the breath is long, let it be long. If the breath is short, let it be short. Just observe the flow. Feel how it enters the body, bulges your tummy, and the goes down. Such a beautiful phenomenon that we take it for granted and never give any attention. 
  7. Within a few seconds/ minutes, you will see the dance of various kinds of thoughts, good, bad, ugly, exciting, depressing just to name a few. It’s like a monkey jumping from one branch to another branch. Some people call it “Monkey Mind”. 
  8. Some people say meditation is boring.  But how can it be boring when you see the monkey dance?  We need to enjoy the dance. Let’s see it as a viewer not being irritated. The thought will come and go, again come and go. But the intention should be to bring the attention to Breathe, not forcefully, rather with a little nudge. So we will be seeing two phenomena simultaneously, the game of thoughts and flow of breath. Without bothering just keep observing Thought, as it is. After some time you will find the Monkey in the mind is no more jumping so fast. It’s slowing down and slowing down. The attention is getting focused on breath more and more but slowly. The breath is getting longer and longer, slower, and slower. Just keep on observing. If any random thought makes an entry, just observe it. Slowing it will go away. Just keep doing it again and again without bothering, as bothering also another kind of thought. Whatever comes, just observe it, as it is. It is called equanimity, like observing something as it is without any judgment, any thought. Slowly we will feel a hollowness without knowing it. 

Emptiness is the true state of our mind. With mindfulness practice, we are able to get to that stage, maybe for a shorter period of time.  But with repeated practice, it becomes easier and easier. This is the preliminary stage, but a very powerful one. Any advanced form of Mindfulness depends on this. So we need to practice more and more to ward off so many negative thoughts that derail our life. It brings us to the path of positive thoughts and a keen observer of the happenings around us. The more awakened we are, we will be able to do the right decisions in our life. 

Mindfulness & India

One of the greatest contributions to the world and to whole mankind from India (Bharat) after ZERO (SUNYA) is YOGA.  It is recognized as one of the best techniques for health and wellness in the modern world. It is not a religion, rather a process that elevates the mental and physical state of the person. That’s why it is called YOGA as it joins the body and mind in a single practice.

However, another contribution that has caught the imagination of mankind which has the origin in India 2500 years back is called MINDFULNESS.  Sounds very English. YOGA has no English translated name.  However, why is this English word having an origin in India? It may puzzle many people and a lot of skeptics may question the truth of the origin. But the truth has come out now.

India is one of the oldest continuing civilization in the world. It has gone through a lot of devastating turmoil and has risen from ashes in the last 1000 years of well-known history. But it is fortunate to keep a lot of its hidden treasures somehow.  In Some extreme situations, the whole Vedas were kept alive by remembering all the SLOKAS and transferring to generation to generation, as the texts are destroyed by invaders.   The same way the great Nalanda University was destroyed by burning it to ashes. It has taken 3 months to burn the entire university as per historians. However, even if the university was burned by barbaric invaders, the knowledge was not confined to textbooks only, rather it has already spread to other countries like Burma, China, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the rest of eastern countries. This is the power of truth & knowledge; it survives and comes out from darkness ultimately.

Why am I telling so much about 1000 years history of India? Am I boosting my culture just because I am a fellow Indian?  Absolutely not. I am trying to create the base of the plot, why, how and when this treasure of knowledge was lost from India and survived in neighboring countries in different forms. But in last 70 years, after the stabilization of India as a country, the knowledge has come back to its roots and spread to most of western countries. Special thanks to learned monks from Burma and Sri Lanka and other countries.

Yes, yes, MINDFULNESS has an Indian name. It is called SATI in Pali and SMRUTI in Sanskrit.  Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages and Pali is the local language on which Lord Buddha had been teaching to his disciples 2500 years back.  The meaning of both words is AWARENESS or MINDFULNESS.  It is part of the great technique taught by Lord Buddha which is called VIPASSANA. You will find millions of practitioners of VIPASSANA in India and around the world now. It’s very difficult to productize the practice as per modern thinking and branding. There was nothing like this earlier. The knowledge is like a river; it flows and flows until it meets the vastness of the ocean. The same way nobody can productize or claim the right of true knowledge. The intention of true knowledge is to take mankind to its ultimate destination called NIRVANA or ENLIGHTENMENT.

Like ZERO (SUNYA) or Emptiness and YOGA, MINDFULNESS has no dogma, no religious adherence, no concept of GOD, no rituals. So, it is as pure as air and water of Himalaya or Alpes. The modern world with free spirit has recognized the utility of this great technique called MINDFULNESS like YOGA as part of their life to stay healthy and happy. People say ancient India (Bharat) is THE JAGAT GURU, the teacher to the entire world, and mankind. I think she deserves the praise with utmost humility.