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Recently some breakthroughs have occurred to indicate that the power to transform ourselves is quite real. Chemistry doesn't lie, and ultimately every cell in your body does only one thing: turn information and energy into chemistry. Feelings of joy, happiness and love cause levels of dopamine, serotonin, opiates and oxytocin to go up. These chemicals happen to be antidepressants and enhance self esteem, but they are also immuno-modulators, which means they fine-tune the activity of the immune system which protects you from infections and illnesses like cancer.

Recently, the hormone oxytocin has been found to be associated with pleasurable feelings and emotional bonding which in turn enhances self-regulation and self-repair at a cellular level in the body. That is the dance of life, whether you're talking about a one-celled amoeba or a creature as complex as Mozart, Einstein or you and me.

The first breakthrough concerns those lifestyle changes we all promise to adopt tomorrow: exercise, meditation and improved diet. Dr. Dean Ornish and colleagues discovered that heart disease can be reversed by a diligent program of improved lifestyle. But now they've discovered that the same lifestyle changes alter the expression of up to 500genes, and these genes aren't simply beneficial to your heart. They are involved in major disorders and symptoms like diabetes, obesity, inflammation and cancer.

What this breakthrough tells us is that your genes are processing information all the time. They are as fluid in their expression as the brain. Give them "good" information and you will be much better off than if you give them "bad" information.

The second breakthrough is also genetic. At the end of each strand of DNA, there's a chemical cap called a telomere that is like a period capping this sentence. Long telomeres form firm caps and are associated with youth. Short or frayed telomeres are associated with aging and cancer. The same lifestyle changes now appear to strengthen telomeres.

What this breakthrough tells us is that the very structure of genes can be changed by an invisible influence like meditation and stress management.

The third breakthrough concerns the flexibility of the brain. It used to be thought that we were born with a fixed number of brain cells that decrease with time and trauma. (I'm sure you've all heard the public health warning that every alcoholic drink kills millions of brain cells that can't be replaced) Along with this notion of fixed brain cells came the belief that the brain cannot heal itself. But neither idea is true.

Present research has shown that the brain, like every other organ, has stem cells that can turn into new neurons as needed. Also, the brain is quite capable of remarkable healing, as shown in the vastly improved recovery of stroke patients. Finally, by forming new connections throughout life, we imprint our brains with neural pathways that allow new skills to be learned: that's why you can teach yourself French at any age, or take up tightrope walking.

This last breakthrough, known as neural plasticity, tells us that the brain is incredibly adaptable to new experiences. In fact, it changes with each new beginning.

How to set your body free


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