Article: The Alaska Shipyard Where the ‘Manliest Men’ Meditate Each Morning [The Guardian]

“Crews meditate, stretch and socialize – on the clock – for a few moments at the start of each workday. Every Wednesday, around lunch time, they’re given more time to meditate. Smaller groups of employees get routine leadership training. Some are so committed to the transformative leadership style that they’re mentoring other employees in their off time, sharing interpersonal skills and self-mastery techniques. An hour of employee-led peer counseling is available, once a week, during the workday, paid.”

“Vigor Alaska said it hoped to instill “soft skills” in its industrial workforce, in pursuit of a more productive team with less turnover. Finding a good job and keeping it helps prevent recidivism, and Vigor considers itself a second-chance employer, forgoing background checks and giving felons – and anyone else who has struggled in life – a fresh start.

“In Vigor’s shipyard, strength is measured by more than physical power, big builds and heavy machines. Self-esteem and personal success also matter.

“My co-workers are some of the manliest men you’ll find. The men of men,” said Scott Jackson, 36, a lifelong resident of the island, career firefighter and the shipyard safety officer.

“At 6ft 3in and 250lb, he is hard to miss as he walks the yard, tying down unsecured cylinders of compressed gas, remedying potential hazards that catch his eye. Skeptical of Vigor’s methods, he had heard rumors of guys standing around sharing feelings, chanting and doing “mushy, gushy” stuff. When he experienced men like himself tearing up as they spoke about life’s frustrations on and off the job, he was sold.

“It helped me communicate in a more effective way rather than outbursts of feelings,” said Jackson, who had a self-described reputation for being stern and abrupt.

“He and other employees have said the skills they have learned at work have carried over into their home lives. They are not as stressed or frustrated, leaving them with more energy to put into family and free time.”

Read Jill Burke’s full article at The Guardian: The Alaska Shipyard Where the ‘Manliest Men’ Meditate Each Morning

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Article: The Interstitium, the Largest Organ We Never Knew We Had [The Daily Beast]

“What is an organ? Anatomy textbooks are rather fuzzy about what defines an “organ,” requiring one to have primary tissue—parenchyma—and “sporadic” tissue, called stroma, which can be nerves, vessels, and other connective tissue. Organs are the necessary building blocks of organisms (hence, the name), and can be gigantic or microscopic. So long as cells clump together to form tissues, and these tissues organize themselves into organs that perform specific functions in the survival of an organism, that mass of tissues and cells can be called an organ.

“Theise, Carr-Locke, and Benias weren’t sure what to call this space with its collagen bundles and fluid. The fluid itself appeared rich in proteins typical of lymphatics and serum, but the space was neither lymphatic nor vascular (meaning that it contained neither veins nor arteries), so what could it be?

“That’s when it dawned on them that what they’d stumbled upon was actually talked about in medical textbooks, but that they were the first to actually define it.

“This thing they were looking at, struggling to understand with its bizarre structure and rule-breaking form, was the interstitium, a space vaguely described in textbooks as where “extracellular fluid” is found, the fluid that isn’t contained within cells. What doctors had defined as “dense connective tissue” wasn’t dense connective tissue at all. In fact, they were all fluid-filled structures that only appeared to be densely compacted when tissues were made into slides, the fluid draining away, the collagen lattice collapsing onto itself.

“They had a theory—that the space was the interstitium—and a way to prove it. They were on to something.”

Read Tanya Basu’s full article at Daily Beast: The Interstitium, the Largest Organ We Never Knew We Had

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Article: 100 Million Americans Have Chronic Pain. Very Few Use One of the Best Tools to Treat it. [Vox]

“After weaning himself off the opioid Vicodin and feeling like he had exhausted every medical option, Golson turned to a book that described how pain could be purely psychological in origin. That ultimately took a pain psychologist, a therapist who specializes in pain — not a physician — to treat the true source: his fearful thoughts. Realizing that psychological therapy could help “was one of the most profoundly surprising experiences of my life,” Golson says. No doctor he ever saw “even hinted my pain might be psychogenic,” meaning pain that’s psychological in origin.

“Golson was lucky; few chronic pain patients ever get the chance to understand the psychological dimensions of their pain or try psychological therapies.

“There are 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, and an unknown number of them are like Golson, with back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia symptoms, or other forms of pain that have no diagnosed physical cause.

“It’s not that their pain is “in their heads.” The truth is much more nuanced: All pain can have both physical and psychological components. But the psychological component is often dismissed or never acknowledged.

“Big pharma’s aggressive marketing of pills and the minimal training doctors get in pain medicine mean that for too long, the go-to treatment for many forms of chronic pain has been opioids. Yet opioids have proven to be not only largely ineffective for treating most chronic pain but also highly addictive and risky.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy, meanwhile, shows meaningful benefits on chronic pain — both for psychogenic pain, and for pain with a physical cause — according to systematic reviews of the research. There’s also promising research around mindfulness-based stress reduction and therapies inspired by it.

“Yet pain psychologists are hard to find and hard to pay for, and most patients don’t even know they exist. “At the moment, [these therapies] tend to be seen as a route of no hope for the hopeless, for people who have gone through everything else,” says Amanda Williams, a psychological researcher who conducted one of the reviews of studies on the effectiveness of psychological therapy for pain.

“The question, then, is how we shift our understanding of pain so that psychology is the opposite of a last resort.”

Read Brian Resnick’s full article on Vox: 100 Million Americans Have Chronic Pain. Very Few Use One of the Best Tools to Treat it.

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Article: The Vagus Nerve and Cancer [Dr. David Hamilton]

“I’ve written quite a bit about the vagus nerve in some of my blogs and books (The Five Side Effects of Kindness), mainly because the vagus nerve produces an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. I’ve also emphasised how this effect is even amplified by the experience of compassion.

“That’s why I found the paper so exciting because it reviewed 12 scientific studies, involving 1822 patients, and suggested a link between high vagus nerve activity and better cancer prognosis. The effect, the authors wrote, was most likely due to an anti-inflammatory effect created by the vagus nerve.

“I’ve summarised the main findings of the paper below.

“The authors pointed out that three main biological factors contribute to the onset and progression of tumours. These are: oxidative stress (free radicals), inflammation, and excessive sympathetic [nervous] activity (stress).

“Amazingly, the vagus nerve seems to inhibit all three.

“Many of the studies measured heart rate variability (HRV), which is the main index of vagus nerve activity. Briefly, when we breathe in, heart rate quickens a little, only to slow down again when we breathe out. The vagus nerve is responsible for the slowing down, and thus the difference between this increase and decrease (high and low) of heart rate – heart rate variability (HRV) – is considered an indicator of vagus nerve activity.

“Generally, the paper found that the higher a person’s HRV, or vagus nerve activity (also known as vagal tone), the slower the progression of cancer, and this was true for all cancers studied. The effect was especially pronounced in late stage, metastatic cancers.”

Read Dr. Hamilton’s full op-ed on his website: The Vagus Nerve and Cancer

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Article: Joint Pain, From the Gut [The Atlantic]

“A study published in 2013 by Jose Scher, a rheumatologist at New York University, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis were much more likely to have a bug called Prevotella copri in their intestines than people that did not have the disease. In another study published in October, Scher found that patients with psoriatic arthritis, another kind of autoimmune joint disease, had significantly lower levels of other types of intestinal bacteria.

“This work is part of a growing effort by researchers around the world to understand how the microbiome—the mass of microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract—affects our overall health. The gut contains up to a thousand different bacteria species, which together weigh between one and three pounds. This mass contains trillions of cells, more than the number of cells that make up our own bodies. Over the past several years, scientists have compiled a growing collection of evidence that many of these bugs may have a major effect on our well-being, with some triggering chronic, non-infectious ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, and others protecting against such diseases.”

Read David Kohn’s full article at The Atlantic: Joint Pain, From the Gut

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