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The dark side of meditation retreats

Going on trendy meditation retreats may be bad for participants’ mental health, a new study suggests.

An international survey of people who attended residential meditation programmes found three in ten suffered “unpleasant” episodes, including feelings of anxiety or fear.

The study by University College London (UCL) found that, overall, more than a quarter of people who regularly meditate experience such feelings.

However, those engaging in currently fashionable “deconstructive” forms such as Vipassana or Koan meditation, which encourage insight through questioning permanence of the self and the reality of sensations, were more likely to be affected.

These can take the form of days’ long silent retreats with highly regulated sleep and diet regimens and restricted access to the outside world.

Last year the Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey attended a highly-publicised 10-day Vipassana meditation in Burma, encouraging his four million online followers to try it for themselves.

But Marco Schlosser, who led the research at UCL, said that meditation which ultimately reduces familiar feelings and views into fleeting sensations can engender sudden feelings of danger, particularly among inexperienced meditators.

“Meditation has become quite trendy and an image has been constructed – perhaps explicitly by the mindfulness industry – that its a panacea, but it’s not,” he said.

“It’s benefits may have been exaggerated.

“However, we should be equally cautious not to exaggerate the harms.

“It’s an extremely young field of research.”

Of the 1,232 people who participated in the survey, 25.6 said they had previously encountered “particularly unpleasant” meditation-related experiences.

Men were more likely to suffer these experiences than women, as were people who did not have a religious belief compared to people who were religious.

More than 29.2 per cent who practised only deconstructive types of meditation reported an unpleasant experience, compared to 20.3 per cent who only engaged in other forms.

“Insight meditation practices often encourage meditators to attune their attention to the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal nature of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that arise within the space of awareness,” the study reads.

“Perceiving phenomena that might commonly be conceived of as inherently permanent and separate (e.g., the sense of self) as a vibrating field of fleeting and interpenetrating sensations could, for instance, give rise to a fear of annihilation.”

The new study is published in the journal PLOS One.

Toddler fed a vegan diet was so malnourished she had no teeth; parents face prison

A baby girl fed a vegan diet by her parents in Australia was so malnourished by the time she was 19 months old she didn’t have any teeth and looked like she was just three months old, a Sydney court has heard.

The toddler’s parents – who can’t be named for legal reasons – have pleaded guilty to failing to provide for her causing danger of serious injury.

Court documents reveal she was fed oats, potatoes, rice, tofu, bread, peanut butter and rice milk. A mouthful of fruit or two sultanas were her snacks.

The eastern suburbs couple, who hadn’t vaccinated the toddler, faced a sentence hearing at Downing Centre District Court on Thursday.

The girl, who was taken to hospital after she suffered a seizure in March 2018, was fed the strict plant-based diet which left her malnourished and suffering a preventable bone disease.

The toddler’s height and weight of 4.89 kilograms were markedly low for her age when she was hospitalised. She hadn’t seen a doctor since the days after her birth.

The girl’s former foster carer said when she first met the little girl she couldn’t sit up, roll over or hold her own bottle despite being almost two.

The toddler was lying on a hospital bed “with tubes covering her tiny body”.

“I remember thinking how terrifying this must be [for her],” the carer said in a statement read out in court.

The toddler continues to stand out as different, she said.

“When she meets new people socially they always ask her age and are shocked how small she is.”

The preschooler, now almost three, is currently technically obese because her height – that of a one-year-old – is so disproportionate to her weight.

“It’s like her body is storing calories in case she needs them in the future,” the carer said.

After leaving hospital, the girl had to attend an appointment every day with a medical professional. She also needed to have her blood tested at least once a month.

“As she gets older she is becoming more distressed by [the blood tests],” the carer said. “She now begins to scream.”

The court on Thursday heard evidence from psychiatrists who disagreed on whether the mother was suffering postnatal depression at the time of the neglect.

The father’s defence barrister, Frank Coyne, said his client was busy with work and thought the toddler was healthy. His partner was the primary caregiver, he said.

“She decided the diet of the household … he is not and was not a vegetarian or a vegan,” Coyne said.

But prosecutors slammed that submission, pointing out the father had lied to medical staff about the baby’s development when she was taken to hospital.

Judge Sarah Huggett also hit back at the suggestion the toddler appeared to be in good health. “She wasn’t walking or talking,” the judge said.

“There was a significant period of time where he did nothing … he didn’t himself take the child to a doctor.”

Each parent is facing a maximum of five years in prison.

Social media has created a generation of narcissists

We yearn for validation and need to affirm our egos in any way that we can. I could scroll through my Facebook feed and spout off at least ten instances of self-obsession within the first sixty seconds of looking. The government knows exactly what they are doing. They know exactly what they are doing.

They are creating a world of self-obsessed narcissists who will believe anything they say and don’t care enough about anything but themselves to take action against those causing issues. We are not pawns, wake up! Please take the time to watch the video below.

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San Francisco city attorney subpoenas anti-vax doctor Kenneth Stoller’s records

Ramping up the pressure in a statewide battle over medical exemptions for student vaccinations, San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has issued a subpoena to Dr. Kenneth Stoller, a vocal opponent of mandatory vaccines. The city is requesting medical and billing records related to every medical exemption he’s written since 2016.

The unusual move comes as tensions rise over vaccination requirements during the worst measles outbreak in the United States in nearly two decades.

In 2015, California passed Senate Bill 277, which outlawed so-called personal belief exemptions for student vaccination requirements. Any licensed physician is still allowed to write exemptions for legitimate medical concerns.

Such medical exemptions have increased significantly since SB 277. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who wrote the 2015 law, and public health experts believe some doctors are selling exemptions, whether kids need them or not.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office is looking for evidence Stoller violated nuisance laws by writing unnecessary exemptions for students who don’t need them, according to the subpoena.

“You have to have a legitimate medical condition to exempt a child from getting vaccinated,” Herrera said. “Whenever we believe someone might be violating the law and putting the broader community at risk, we take action.”

Stoller’s attorney, Rick Jaffe, declined to say exactly how many exemptions his client has written but insisted he isn’t abusing the law.

“I don’t know the exact number – dozens or hundreds. It’s quite a few,” he said. While many of Stoller’s patients come to him after other doctors reject their requests for exemptions, “he does screen people out. You can’t get an exemption just because you have a personal belief,” Jaffe said.

The CDC has issued guidance about who should not get different vaccines. Most of the suggestions focus on severe allergies to vaccine ingredients, weakened immune systems, or a family history of immunodeficiency. Stoller has said in past interviews that he believes exemptions should apply for much broader reasons.

While some medical experts express alarm over the rise in vaccine exemptions, doctors have wide latitude under SB 277 on what they determine is a valid medical reason.

“Physicians do have to specify the condition, but it’s up to their discretion,” said Dorit Reiss, professor of law at UC Hastings, who studies vaccine policy. “The schools cannot reject a medical exemption.”

Pan has said medical exemptions for vaccines have more than tripled since the law went into effect. While he finds that alarming, medical exemptions still account for less than 1 percent of California’s school pupils.

Pan has written a followup bill, SB 276, which would give final say over individual exemptions to the California Department of Public Health.

In April, Dr. Stoller signed a joint letter opposing the proposed law. The letter claims that “research robustly explores the connection between” vaccines and autoimmune, psychiatric and developmental disorders. The FDA, CDC, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and other major medical bodies around the world have all determined there is overwhelming evidence of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

Shortly after the personal belief exemption ban, a Facebook group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination posted that Stoller would evaluate children for medical exemptions. “He fought against SB277. He is in the San Francisco Bay area and he can take initial Skype appointments,” the post said.

Several Google reviews for Stoller mention vaccines, including one a year ago thanking him for writing an exemption for “valid health reasons” after the family was unable to get a philosophical exemption.

“I think Dr. Stoller is a true believer” that vaccines can be dangerous, said Reiss, who has studied anti-vaccine efforts on the internet, including Stoller’s web presence. “That doesn’t mean he’s not profiting off this.”

If we can learn from anyone – why is it so hard to take advice?


“Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice.” – Armando Christian Perez (aka the rapper “Pitbull”)

One morning in July of 2011, a taxi sat idling outside Petco Park stadium in San Diego, and Wade LeBlanc, struggling pitcher for the Padres, climbed in. “To the airport, please,” he told the driver. LeBlanc was headed to Tucson, home of the club’s triple-A affiliate. He’d been sent down to the minors. Again.

Eight times in the last three years LeBlanc had clawed his way up to the big league only to blow his chance and be sent packing. It was all becoming a cosmic test of character in a career that had started so promisingly, when the Padres drafted him out of college, in 2006, on the strength of his tricky change-up.

“You’re Wade LeBlanc,” the cab driver said.*

“Right.”

“You got some good stuff.”

This surprised the pitcher, after the previous night’s disastrous performance.

“I think there’s some things you should think about trying, some things that might make a difference,” the driver continued. “I don’t know, I’m not a player. Maybe something like going over your head in your windup.”

Wait, what? This guy was offering … advice? Earlier in his career, LeBlanc might have laughed. Or been pissed. But today he just sat and listened. He couldn’t afford to dismiss anything. His career was on the line.

The next day in Tucson, LeBlanc huddled up with the pitching coach. He said he was thinking about tinkering with his windup. Instead of keeping his hands tight to his chest at the beginning of his delivery, he raised them briefly over his head, as the cabbie had suggested.

LeBlanc incorporated the new move into his next start. And he was brilliant, allowing only one hit over seven innings. It was, in retrospect, the turning point in his career. Eight years later, LeBlanc is a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Just last year he signed the first contract extension of his major-league baseball career-at age 33.

Funny thing about advice: We so often take it from the wrong people. That is, we overvalue the advice of credentialed experts while undervaluing the input of regular folk. Wade LeBlanc bucked that trend big-time, and in his case at least, he reaped the benefits.

One of the reasons advice-taking is problematic for so many of us is that status matters-a lot. A cognitive quirk called “optimismbias” endows most of us with a general hopefulness that things will work out, even when the odds suggest otherwise. And optimism bias gets ratcheted up, researchers have found, when the person offering advice is seen as an expert. The expert’s powerful bona fides boost the expectation of success if we listen to them – even though our confidence often proves wrong.

“Expert advisors often make surprisingly unrealistic predictions about the future, yet people take their advice nonetheless,” concluded Stanford psychologists in a study published last year. Now, not everyone heeds experts’ advice. True to status theory, powerful people are much less likely to do so, Harvard researchers found. “High-power participants in the study ignored almost two-thirds of the advice they received. Other participants – the control and low-power groups – ignored advice about half as often.” The more powerful people become, the smaller the pool of advisors they trust to steer them right. So it required a massive leap of modesty to do what Wade LeBlanc did: hear what the taxicab driver was offering him, and accept it as a gift.

A couple of years ago, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan found himself in a similar spot to LeBlanc – and likewise benefited from advice from a humble source. This time it wasn’t a taxi driver but a critic.

Shyamalan was puzzled by why his movies were so divisive: People either loved them or hated them. After the huge commercial and critical success of The Sixth Sense, his fortunes had grown cloudier. Box-office was decent, but critics had turned on him. One likened his psychological thriller The Village to an episode of Scooby-Doo. But instead of shrugging off this critic as a poser who never walked in a real filmmaker’s shoes so doesn’t get a vote (as Brene Brown once put it, “For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked I’m not interested in your feedback”), Shyamalan wondered instead if there might be something to the dig. His signature as a filmmaker was a kind of genre-bending twist: You think you’re watching one kind of film and then it morphs into something different. A drama becomes a psychological thriller. A psychological thriller goes supernatural. A supernatural thriller becomes a horror film. Each transition shifts the intensity. But for the technique to work, the intensity must escalate. And in The Village, it didn’t. The stakes fell rather than rose.

Shyamalan shelved his ego and took the criticism to heart. “Don’t pretend you’re not hurt by what that dude just said,” he explained to the psychologist Adam Grant, but “don’t deny the feeling, either. Go with it.”

Shyamalan stuck to the intensity-uptick template in his next film, Split, which was quirky even by his standards. His own agent didn’t think he could sell it, so Shyamalan financed it himself. It became the most profitable picture of 2017. And it won back his critics.

In some ways this all seems more complicated than it need be. Shouldn’t we just welcome feedback from all comers? What have we got to lose? If the advice is bad, we can ignore it, and if it’s good it’s a benefaction. Life’s too short to ignore potentially helpful input out of vanity.

But it turns out it’s hard to be rational about comments from the peanut gallery. Most of us aren’t much good at taking advice from anyone. We tend to put more stock in our own opinions than the opinions of others, owing to yet another cognitive blind spot called “egocentric bias.” It’s frankly easier to believe that our critics are too thick to grasp our genius, or are just jealous, or have some kind of agenda, than to allow that they may be right.

The required leap of humility is big ask. One useful trick comes not from Western psychology but from Eastern philosophy.

“Imagine that every person in the world is enlightened but you,” the American Buddhist interpreter Jack Kornfield once put it. “They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn.” The Korean Zen monk Haemin Sunim takes things a step further, proposing an almost George Costanza-ish feat of cognitive ju-jitsu. When someone’s coming at you with reproval, that’s when you need to lower your defenses, not raise them. Because your critics are the ones doing you the real favors: “Those who give you a hard time, they are your teachers in disguise.”

* Corey Brock first reported the Wade LeBlanc cabbie story in The Athletic

About The Author

Bruce Grierson is a freelance writer with a focus on science and sport. He is the author of U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life? as well as What Makes Olga Run?, a forensic exploration of the psychology and physiology of masters athletes. He has written for Time, the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, The Guardian, Popular Science, Pacific Standard, the Walrus, and Psychology Today, among many other publications. He lives with his wife and two daughters in North Vancouver, BC.

Diabetes drugs linked to ‘flesh-eating’ genital infection – study

Some newer diabetes drugs have been linked to a nightmarish “flesh-eating” genital disease that can spread rapidly and kill skin tissue as it grows, according to a new study by US Food and Drug Administration scientists.

Symptoms of the disease known as ‘Fournier gangrene’ include pain, redness and a foul odor in the genital area. Alarmingly, the infection starts by attacking your genital or anal region, but can also spread rapidly and kill other body tissue along the way.

The rare infection concerns people taking a newer class of diabetes medications known as SGLT2 inhibitors, according to FDA scientists who recently published their findings on the issue.

The drugs were introduced to the market in March 2013 and, as of January 2019, have been linked to 55 people with Fournier gangrene, all of whom required hospitalization and three of whom died from the disease. In comparison, researchers found only 19 cases of the disease in patients taking other diabetes medications from 1984 to 2019.

As disturbing as the possible side effects may be, diabetes experts are keen to stress that the infections affect a very small percentage of diabetics. “The benefits of these medications outweigh the risks,” Dr Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told Medical Xpress.

“Fournier gangrene is a rare event,”said study author Dr Susan Bersoff-Matcha.

Meanwhile, one of the manufacturers of SGLT2 inhibitors, Boehringer Ingelheim, said it remains “confident in the positive benefit-risk profile” of their medication.

Patients taking SGLT2 inhibitors are advised by the FDA to immediately seek medical attention if they experience tenderness, redness, or swelling of the genital region.

Four types of grief that are hardly ever discussed

The word grief has come to be understood solely as a reaction to a death. But that narrow understanding fails to encompass the range of human experiences that create and trigger grief. Here are four types of grief that we experience that have nothing to do with death:

1. Loss of identity: A lost role or affiliation. Examples include:

  • A person going through a divorce who feels the loss of no longer being a “spouse.”
  • A breast cancer survivor who grieves the lost sense of femininity after a double mastectomy.
  • An empty nester who mourns the lost identity of parenthood in its most direct form.
  • A person who loses their job or switches careers grieves a lost identity.
  • Someone who leaves a religious group feels the loss of affiliation and community.

Whenever a person loses a primary identity, they mourn a lost sense of self. They’re tasked with grieving who they thought they were and eventually creating a new story that integrates the loss into their personal narrative. In some instances, the identity feels stolen, as in the cases of the person who feels blindsided by divorce and the breast cancer survivor. For those individuals, the grief may feel compounded by the lack of control they had in the decision. Others choose to shed an identity, as in the case of switching careers or leaving a religious community. Though this may sound easier, those individuals may feel their grief compounded by the ambivalence of choosing to leave something they will also mourn. They may feel less entitled to their grief and lost sense of self because the decision was self-imposed.

2.Loss of safety: The lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Examples include:

  • Survivors of physical, emotional, or sexual trauma who struggle to feel safe in everyday life.
  • Families experiencing eviction and housing instability who feel unprotected and unstable.
  • Children of divorce who grieve the loss of safety in the “intact” family (though they may not articulate it this way).
  • Members of a community that encountered violence feel destabilized and unsafe.
  • A person discovering their partner’s romantic infidelity who may feel emotionally unsafe in the relationship.

On a basic level, we expect to feel safe in our homes, our communities, and our relationships. The lost sense of safety, be it physical (after a break-in) or emotional (after an affair) can make a person’s world feel distinctly unsafe. Symptoms of lost safety may include a sense of hypervigilance even in the absence of danger or numbness. For many, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, numbness and hypervigilance occur intermittently. For survivors of trauma, violence, and instability, that feeling of internal safety may feel hard to restore, even if circumstances stabilize. In addition to healing from the trauma, the individual is tasked with grieving the lost sense of safety and learning to rebuild it.

3. Loss of autonomy: The lost ability to manage one’s own life and affairs.

Examples Include:

  • A person with a degenerative illness who grieves the loss of physical or cognitive abilities.
  • An older adult no longer able to care for themselves who grieves their decline (this may also tie to a lost sense of identity as a contributing member of society).
  • A person experiencing a financial setback who feels a lost sense of autonomy as they rely on others’ help.

This type of grief cuts at the core of every person’s need to manage their body and their life. Loss of autonomy triggers grief over the lost sense of control and the struggle to maintain a sense of self. In cases of illness and disability, lost autonomy (and often, lost identity) marks every step they take. New forms of decline invite grief for their lost independence and ability to function. A person suffering from a profound financial setback may experience this same feeling of loss, manifested as feeling their options shrinking, along with a sense of failure or despair. They are tasked with grieving those losses and reconceptualizing who they are in the face of these limitations.

4. Loss of dreams or expectations: Dealing with hopes and dreams going unfulfilled.

Examples include:

  • A person or couple who struggle with infertility.
  • An overachieving student who struggles to find their place in “real world.”
  • A person whose career trajectory does not reflect their expectations.
  • A person whose community took a political turn in an unwanted direction.

This type of grief is characterized by a deep sense of disorientation. Most of us walk around with a vision of how our lives will play out and how we expect the world to operate. When life events violate our expectations, a person can experience a deep sense of grief and unfairness. An individual or couple struggling to conceive and the student who struggles to make their way in the world may experience a sense of failure that compounds the grief process. They may find themselves comparing their process and outcomes to others. Unexpected political shifts can lead to a lost sense of the assumptive reality and the sense of stability from believing they understand how the world operates.

Restoring the word grief to its proper place

Loss of identity, safety, autonomy, and expectations are all losses the warrant a sense of grief. Grief and mourning as a framework can help each of us work through a moment or chapter of chaos with the gentleness we give a mourner. The mourner receives compassion and is entitled to anger, sadness, numbness, disorientation, and nonlinear healing. The word grief both accurately characterizes the internal reality of the process and legitimizes and concretizes the process to ourselves and others.

While many experience the setbacks and tragedies of life with grief and mourning, many feel they are not entitled to the word.

So I give you permission.

You may grieve.

You may mourn.

Your loss is real.

About The Author

Sarah Epstein, MFT, is a couple and family therapist working at the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, PA. She is the Amazon bestselling author of the book Love in the Time of Medical School: Build a Happy, Healthy Relationship with a Medical Student, a book about overcoming the challenges of dating somebody in medicine. Sarah has contributed and been featured in a variety of publications, including Family Therapy Magazine, Business Insider, Physician Family Magazine, Brit + Co, KevinMD, BestLife, and Thriveworks, among others.

Sarah is also currently taken on new therapy clients at her practice n Center City, Philadelphia. You can reach her through her Psychology Today profile or her website.