What defines you?

“You have this syndrome, but it is not going to define who you are…”

The story of this girl is incredible. She was born with a severe syndrome that, among other things, prevents the gain of weight. Despite all the obstacles and challenges she has faced during her entire life, she has become one of the most beautiful and encouraging persons I’ve ever heard. An extraordinary lesson of strength, love and gratitude.

How do you define yourself – Lizzie Velasquez

Effect of physical exercise on mental health

A beautiful article about the beneficial effects of physical exercise on physical and psychological health.

Photo by johnnyberg. License Creative Commons

4 beneficial effects of physical exercise on the brain

How sports can increase cognitive abilities and prevent depression.

Author: Agnese Mariotti

“It is well known that regular physical exercise (PE) improves health and longevity. Some of the best described effects consist in ameliorating cardiovascular functionality by decreasing resting heart rate and blood pressure, regulating energy and glucose metabolism, and reducing inflammation.

But PE –in particular endurance exercise– also directly influences brain function, resulting in improved brain health and consequently further enhancing general health.

Research in the last decade has identified some of the main effects of exercise on the brain and has started to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which the physiological changes triggered by exercise modify the activity of neurons in the brain.

1. Enhance cognitive abilities

PE enhances cognitive abilities: PE increases the number of functional neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region that is involved in learning and memory. In addition, it enhances synaptic plasticity, which improves signal transmission between neurons and the processing of information.

These effects are mediated by factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF), whose concentration in the hippocampus is increased by PE.

2. Prevent brain damage

PE protects the brain from stress and injury: PE induces the production of neurotrophic factors in several brain regions that limit damage to neurons, promote their survival, and assure their proper function. BDNF, IGF-1 and VEGF play an important role also in this process together with other molecules such as fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2), nerve growth factor (NGF), glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), and antioxidant and DNA repair enzymes.

3. Fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

PE protects against neurodegenerative diseases: PE can counteract Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases by reducing the accumulation of misfolded and aggregated proteins that are characteristic of these pathologies, and by promoting their elimination. PE exerts these effects by stimulating the production in the brain of molecules that control protein folding and facilitate the degradation of damaged proteins, and of neurotrophic factors (in particular BDNF) and neurochemicals that improve neuron survival and functionality.

4. Prevent depression

PE prevents and alleviates depression: several studies have shown that PE can have therapeutic effects similar to those of anti-depressant drugs. The mechanisms by which PE decreases depression are complex and may include the regulation of the stress response through the hypothalamus, and the release of BDNF and serotonin that affect mood, appetite, and cognitive functions. Whatever the mechanism, everybody who regularly exercises is familiar with the uplifting effects of aerobic and endurance activities.


But how does rhythmic and protracted muscle contraction, i.e. PE, produce its effects on the brain?

Changes in oxygen availability and consumption throughout the body induced by PE could contribute to the stimulation of brain activity. In addition, some still unidentified “exercise factor(s)” might be released from muscles during exercise, reach the brain and stimulate its functions.

In this respect a recent study published in Cell Metabolism showed that an “exercise factor” is responsible for the increased levels of BDNF in the hippocampus during exercise. Since BDNF is one of the main mediators of the beneficial effects of PE on the brain, the identification of the exercise factor that induces it is of great medical interest. In fact, this exercise factor or a similar molecule could in principle be administered to patients in order to boost BDNF production in the brain for the prevention and treatment of a large variety of diseases, from neurodegenerative disorders to learning disabilities and depression.”


Wrann CD, White JP, Salogiannnis J, Laznik-Bogoslavski D, Wu J, Ma D, Lin JD, Greenberg ME, & Spiegelman BM (2013). Exercise Induces Hippocampal BDNF through a PGC-1α/FNDC5 Pathway. Cell metabolism, 18 (5), 649-59 PMID: 24120943

Mattson MP (2012). Energy intake and exercise as determinants of brain health and vulnerability to injury and disease. Cell metabolism, 16 (6), 706-22 PMID: 23168220

Cotman CW, Berchtold NC, & Christie LA (2007). Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends in neurosciences, 30 (9), 464-72 PMID: 17765329

Meditation to quit smoking

The positive effect of meditation on our physical and mental health is becoming more and more evident and accepted even by the scientific community. This article resumes recent findings showing how a meditation technique called Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) can help people to quit smoking in a very rapid, efficient and non-invasive way.

waterlilies_stock.xchng_MEJonesPhoto by MEJones. Creative Commons license

How to quit smoking: meditation and its effects on self-control

This technique produces the desired effects in only a few hours of practice.

Author: Agnese Mariotti

“Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) is a meditation technique that in randomized controlled studies proved to be effective in reducing stress and improving self-control, attention, and social behavior. This technique works rapidly, producing the desired effects in only a few hours of practice during one or two weeks, differently from other meditation methods that require much longer times – even years – to achieve results.

Interestingly, the effects of IBMT are accompanied by changes in the activity of specific brain areas, an observation that provides potential scientific support and explanation to its effects.

As described by its developer, Yi-Yuang Tang, director of Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute, IBMT aims to achieve a state of restful alertness and an attitude of openness to experiences, which lead to high self-awareness as well as to awareness of, and balance with the environment.

IBMT does not focus directly on thought control, which poses a difficult challenge in particular in stressed individuals, but nonetheless achieves it through a variety of techniques including body relaxation and mental imagery, practiced in the presence of a guiding instructor.

In a study published in PNAS, Y.-Y. Tang and colleagues report that IBMT reduces smoke consumption.

The scientists recruited people interested in stress reduction and treated them according to two techniques, IBMT or Relaxation Training (RT).

RT involves different methods of relaxation compared to IBMT, like for example concentration on specific muscles, and on feelings such as those of localized warmth and relaxation.

The IBMT and RT groups included 33 and 27 people respectively, of which 15 smokers in the IBMT group and 12 smokers in the RT one, each reporting an average consumption of 10 cigarettes per day.

The two groups underwent treatment for a total of 5 hours during two weeks. At the end of the trial, stress was significantly reduced in both groups, indicating that both techniques were successful in their main goal. In addition, IBMT also reduced smoking of 60%, while RT had no effect on it.

The scientists also found that IBMT effects were accompanied by changes in brain activity, with increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and decreased activity in the cerebellum and in the posterior cingulate cortex. Interestingly, PFC is an area known to regulate self-control and addiction, whose activity was previously shown to be low in smokers.

No such changes were measured in the RT group.

The authors also report that the effects of IBMT on smoke reduction seem to last at least for a few weeks after the end of the treatment. In addition, they do not seem to depend on the intention of quitting smoke: in fact also participants who reported no intention of quitting reduced their tobacco use, suggesting that IBMT may act on unconscious processes.

The researchers conclude that by improving self-control through the stimulation of specific brain regions, IBMT may help not only to reduce smoking but importantly also to cure stress-related and mental conditions, as well as addiction problems in general, including drug addiction and abuse.

Definitely further studies are necessary to validate the preventive and therapeutic effects of IBMT. If confirmed, the next challenge will be the acceptance by the medical and scientific community of this non-invasive, low-cost technique, at odds with western medicine practices.”


Tang YY, Tang R, & Posner MI (2013). Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110 (34), 13971-5 PMID: 23918376.

Y.-Y. Tang, Y. Ma, J. Wang, Y. Fan, S. Feng, Q. Lu, Q. Yu, D. Sui, M. Rothbart, M. Fang, and M. Posner (2013). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA.

Y.-Y. Tang, Q. Lu, X. Geng, E.A. Stein, Y. Yang, and M. Posner (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulated. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 107: 15649 (2010).

Past life regression

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Teilhard de Chardin

Some people live several times similar experiences, sometimes painful and destructive, without understanding the reason and despite the fact that they do every effort to avoid them. It can happen, for example, that they attract always the same type of partner or fall in the same dynamics with their head or colleagues, even if they change repeatedly their work environment. Why does this happen? And above all, is it possible to interrupt this repetition of unwanted situations?

Photo by Guy72125. Creative Commons license

“Repetition compulsion” is the name given by Freud to describe the reiteration of emotional, typically dramatic and painful experiences, that occurred in one’s past. His work showed that bringing the initial trauma to consciousness, accepting it and integrating what has been felt and learned, can have positive effects on someone’s present life.

A person who experiences past life regression is guided in a state of relaxation and concentration that favors memories to emerge from the past. It is not one’s rational and logic mind to choose what to remember, but the deep and innate intelligence of his/her life, that knows what the person needs in that moment of his/her life and which difficulty he/she is ready to overcome and release. This same intelligence will not bring to awareness a traumatic and grievous event if the person hasn’t developed yet the necessary tools to manage it.

Memories often go back to childhood or adolescence, but other times they refer to events happened in a time a lot more distant, even in past lives. This is an experience that many patients of Dr. Brian L. Weiss had. Dr. Weiss is a scientist, researcher and medical doctor whose courageous and precious contribution to this field has been recognized and appreciated worldwide. Graduated at the Columbia University and to the Yale Medical School, Brian L. Weiss directed for years the department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center of Miami

At a certain point of his career he met a special patient, Catherine, who would have deeply influenced the rest of his life. During a hypnosis session she remembered with precision events of her past lives, spanning from the second millennium b. C. to the half of the twentieth century. This happened in numerous other sessions and provoked a radical change in Dr. Weiss. Its initial reaction was understandably of large amazement, incredulity and skepticism. Nevertheless, the reports of Catherine were so precise that they could not be invented. Together with other scientists, Dr. Weiss was able to recognize their authenticity.

Despite the fear to be struck off from the psychiatric community, Dr. Weiss had the courage to write a book about Catherine’s journeys, followed by others describing the experiences of several other patients. His texts are full of authentic wisdom, deep humanity and the sincere desire to help people to open themselves to dimensions that go far beyond the physical world to which we are used. They are precious gifts that changed the life of many people. Reading these texts and meeting Dr. Weiss contributed to a fundamental turn in my life.

Is it necessary to believe in the existence of past lives to benefit from regressive hypnosis?

No, it is not. Dr. Weiss found in numerous occasions that whoever can benefit from the therapeutic power of this technique, irrespectively of the religious faith and the fact to believe or not in the existence of past lives.

Somebody who chooses to experience hypnosis may be interested to verify whether the remembered events really happened or were imagined, but this is not necessary for the therapeutic success of regressive hypnosis and depends only on the curiosity of the person.

Is it necessary to remember past experiences to resolve them?

It is not necessarily so. When the subconscious needs to have access to a memory or an emotion to change a belief, it will do it. However, this is not indispensable.

Everyone is different, special and unique. The inner wisdom and the innate intelligence will guide the person to remember and feel all that is appropriate and needed to move forward. Sometimes a clear and precise memory arises. Other times the person feels an emotion, has an intuition or simply lives a moment of great wellbeing and harmony. All senses are involved.

The best attitude is to have no expectations on the “result” of the session. Curiosity, simplicity and an open mind help to embrace the experience without judging it and improve its effectiveness.

Can we get other benefits from past life regression?

Sometimes remembering the past helps to accept, release and definitely resolve more or less painful experiences that may still influence our present life. But there is more than that. During this or previous lifetimes we have developed talents, creativity, intuition, wisdom and learned important lessons of love, compassion and gratitude. We may have forgot them, but they still exist in the subconscious mind. Through past life regression a person may become aware of these talents and realize that they are still available, waiting to be reactivated. Past experiences can then become a source of wisdom, strength and knowingness to improve our present life.

We are far greater than we think we are. If we allow ourselves to go beyond the filters and limitations of the logic, rational mind, we discover the richness that is in life.

Past, present and future

Human mind conceives time as a linear succession of present, past and future events. From this perspective, things that have already happened cannot be modified. However, Einstein’s relativity theory suggests that time does not exist in itself, but only as our subjective perception.

Time is equal to eternity. This has been the teaching of many enlightened spiritual masters, of different ages and cultures. Present, past and future are fused together in an eternal Now. We use to think our life as a line segment that goes from birth to death. The present moment is a point on that line, the past a point before and the future a point ahead. In fact, there is no line segment. The point is all there is. It is the Here and Now. The past and the future exist only to the degree we put our attention on them.

What does this practically mean? It means that the only power we have to create or change anything is here in the present. If it does not exist in some form right now, it will never exist. The change begins inside us, with the pure intention to want it.


Your ideas become your thoughts.

Your thoughts become your words.

Your words become your actions.

Your actions become your habits.

Your habits become your values.

Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

Photo by kslyesmith. Creative Commons license

I think that hypnosis can be a useful tool to improve some life’s aspects, if it is used correctly and at the right time in one’s inner growth.

Many people are afraid about hypnosis, mostly because of misconceptions coming from what they have seen in movies, shows and television. For this reason, I would like to dedicate a post to this subject, to try to distinguish between what hypnosis is and what it is not. Here is a long-standing question…

Is it possible to change long lasting beliefs and habits?

Yes, it is possible! Many people think they are born with certain tracts of their character that cannot be changed during the course of their life. In this way of thinking there is a complete identification with the idea that a person has (and/or others have) of her. However, this is an illusion. We can all change and every moment is the right one to make this decision. It is not so important what we have been up until now as much as what we decide to be from now on.

The thing is that we have often tried to change, making many efforts without success. We wanted to fall in love but we did not attract the right person. We wanted to be rich, but we have not become rich. We had dreams and passions but we have not been able to realize them. The list can be long. Therefore we conclude that things will continue this way because we cannot behave differently. This is how the rational, linear mind perceives reality. However, this way of thinking does not consider that the conscious (rationale) mind influences our reality only by 5%. We are not aware that beliefs deeply anchored in the subconscious influence and forge our life to an extent far greater than our conscious desires and thoughts. And often time unconscious beliefs do not arise from our direct experience. We rather absorbed them by the environment, either in this life or in previous lives.

Is there coherence between what we feel in our heart – desires, passions, dreams – and our way of thinking, speaking and taking actions? Are we satisfied of our life? If this is not so, we can turn our attention inside and become aware of limiting thoughts or habits that do not serve us anymore. We can let them go. There will be space to let intuition, solutions and ideas come to us. The outside world will change accordingly.

This does not mean we have to analyze and understand all the experiences we lived. This is not necessary. Being in contact with our wounded parts, observing emotions and feelings with no judgment, starts a process of transformation.

It does not really matter how long we have taken old beliefs as our truth, consciously or unconsciously. We are like a computer, which keeps running the same, old program, if it is the only one available, even when it becomes outdated. If we download a new one, more appropriate, the latest version will be used and the old one discarded.

Hypnosis: some history

The practice of inducing trance states, which is now called hypnosis, can be traced back to ancient times, when it was mainly used in religious or healing practices. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as well as many shamans and healers in other cultures were proficient in these techniques.

Hypnosis lost importance in early Christian times, when people were led to believe that it had to do with black magic and that the a person experiencing trance processes was under the power of devil.

The modern era of hypnosis started with Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), but scientists of the Academy of Science and the faculty of Medicine in Paris discredited his theory and the use of trance states was relegated to the area of mysticism. Nevertheless, several medical doctors continued using hypnosis to alleviate the pain due to surgical operations. This lasted until the advent of chemical anesthesia in 1848. The general use of hypnosis decreased after that time but continued to play an important role in wartime, when anesthetic agents were often unavailable.

Psychiatrist Milton Erickson (1901-1980) is considered as the father of contemporary hypnosis. He reconsidered the power and importance of hypnosis as a useful tool that can be taught and used as a support for other medical therapies. The British Medical Association (in 1955) and the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association (in 1958) approved and recommended the use of hypnosis as a valuable tool in the field of medicine.

Dr. Erickson’s extensive work influenced significantly Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the cofounders of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) in the early seventies. They tried to understand how the way people interact, behave and communicate influences their life and the achievement of their goals.

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a state of focused concentration that many of us experience every day. When we are relaxed and our concentration is so intense that we are not distracted by external noises we are in a state of light hypnosis. One example is when we are so absorbed by reading a book that we do not pay attention to stimuli around us. Another common hypnotic state arises when we drive our car in an “automatic mode”, getting to the place we wanted to go without realizing how we got there.

Contrary to a common idea, people experiencing hypnosis do not lose control. There is absolutely no danger in hypnosis. Nobody can remain “stuck” in a hypnotic state. In fact, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, meaning that the person has the control and can stop the process anytime, simply by opening his/her eyes. The role of the therapist or operator is only to facilitate a relaxed state using an induction procedure. Although there are many hypnotic inductions, most of them include suggestions for relaxation, calmness and wellbeing. Some persons are very responsive to hypnosis, other less, but in general they describe the experience as very pleasant. It is a kind of meditative state.

Hypnosis is a way to access the subconscious. What is the difference between conscious and subconscious mind? The conscious part of our mind is analytical, rational, critical and aware. With our conscious mind we evaluate, take decisions and organize our daily life. The subconscious mind stores all the information and experiences we have (and we had) and all that we absorbed (ideas, beliefs, judgments) by the environment (family, school, society). Using this information, it influences our behavior accordingly, although we are not aware that this happens constantly. It can remember everything, but it does not judge, it takes everything as true. Like a computer, it uses, automatically and impersonally, the programs that have been downloaded and are available. If our conscious desires are not supported by the subconscious mind, it may be difficult to realize them, despite our efforts. It is as if part of us wants to turn right and another chooses to go left. By learning to communicate with the subconscious mind we can change behaviors we do not like and build the life we aim for and deserve.

At the same time, the subconscious is a doorway to access intuition, creativity and wisdom that we have acquired. It is a source of answers and solutions.

How is a person “under hypnosis”?

Hypnosis is not a form of sleep, but rather a state of focused concentration. The person feels generally very relaxed and at the same time he/she is absolutely aware, alert and in full control of what happens. Physical relaxation facilitates the hypnotic process, but it is not a necessary prerequisite for hypnosis to occur. Since hypnosis is a state of concentrated attention, one can be anxious and still be focused. Once the session is over, the person remembers everything she said, listened and experienced.

Are there cases in which hypnosis is not recommended?

It is not advised to use hypnosis with people suffering of serious troubles of personality, psychosis, maniac depressive states, schizophrenia, paranoia, borderline states, serious depression.