Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

In my current journey pushing my limits for improving my heath, I've noticed significant changes in my mental state. I'm often euphoric, generally happy, have a much higher tolerance for stressful situations, am sleeping well and am generally extremely energetic. I have moments of strange memories like being reminded of my high school self when waiting for a train in nice weather.

I think a lot of this can be attributed to the vegan diet, regular exercise, a slight calorie deficit and the goal oriented nature of my journey feeding my obsessive nature. Whatever the cause, I am currently in a somewhat altered state of mind.

One of the things that hasn't been "cured" by my current state is some tension in my neck, shoulders, back and lower-back so I've started stretching more. This reminded me that I used to do some yoga. As I investigated possible ways to learn Yoga, I decided that the most straight forward thing I could probably do was to ask my friend and inspiration to me on many things, Dhananjaya "Jay" Dvidedi. Jay is one of the most peaceful, confident and happy people I know and I also knew that he comes from a family of well known Indian priests.

Over dinner he told me that he practiced Kriya Yoga (WP). Kryiya Yoga is a rather secret school of Yoga that has recently been fairly well documented by Ennio Nimis in his book on his web site. Jay recommended that I read Beyond the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. In the book Benson describes the importance of the mind in health.

His previous book, "Relaxation Response" was about the role that meditation can play in relieving backaches, chest pains, headaches, high blood pressure, cholesterol, insomnia and anxiety. He describes a basic breathing-based meditation, similar to most Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other meditation forms that focus on breathing.

In this newer book, he explores the role of belief and faith in increasing the effect of meditation. He recounts a conversation with the Dali Lama (WP) where the Dali Lama tells him that the three important points of Tibetan medicine were 1) the belief/faith of the healer, 2) the belief/faith of the patient and 3) the relationship between the two. This coincides with a lot of my experiences and anecdotal evidence that I have.

As I explored this rather spiritual path that I am about to embark upon, I remembered my mother. My mother, who died in 1995, had cancer for decades and survived several times when doctors had told us she only had months to live. My mother was rather spiritual and I believe a lot of the strength and deep confidence that she held was due to her early interactions with cancer and her ability to "beat cancer". I think that as her confidence grew, her spiritual energy grew and towards the end, it was clear that she would be the primary director of when and how she would die. Since my mother's death, I haven't really been thinking seriously about my spiritual side, but it appears that my journey is leading me this way to a certain extent.

The Benson book was very interesting. As a Western scientist, Benson starts by exploring the "Placebo Effect". We all know that there is lots of verifiable evidence of a placebo effect ranging from people's headaches and chest pains going away from placebo pills given by doctors to imagined pregnancy that is extremely physiologically real. Benson uses this as an entry into a discussion about the impact of belief and faith and the real physiological effects of one's mental state. His point is that doctors aren't really tricking people out of fake ailments. Instead, the argument is than a strong belief in yourself, your doctor or your practice can have strong physiological effects which can cure things and improve your body. The word "placebo" has a rather negative connotation in a society where we discount greatly the role that our mind plays in our health, but it is the "hook" that modern medicine has in trying to describe things like meditation.

This discussion tied into one of the funny "issues" that I've been having with my current state. The euphoria and generally happiness I've been having have been attributed by others to things like simple calorie deprivation or just "it's all in your head." After thinking a bit more about this in the context of Benson's book, I suppose it doesn't really matter what the original cause is. My current state of feeling extremely "on top of my health" has a number of positive effects including a dramatic increase in physical activity, happiness and a total recovery of all of the problems reflected in my blood tests.

I am interested in trying to improve my mental state and my ability to use my mental state to improve my health. I am going to continue to explore meditation and read more "cross-over" books like Benson's books that try to describe some of these "phenomenon" in Western terms. However, I'm also going to try to meet practitioners and try to experience things as well.

I'll keep you posted.


You might be on to something with the placebo effect of exercise--take a look at this news report about a Harvard study on the placebo effect of exercise:

I really appreciate all of your writing on this, I have been psyching myself up to go vegan for about a month now, so reading you has added momentum to my journey.

We seem to be on parallel tracks - I just wrote a piece on the topic of fitness, how we take our bodies for granted and the meditative aspects of exercise in my most recent post. How long have you been on a vegan diet?

clemens kuby with his
Unterwegs in die nächste Dimension
has made me realize that illness as well as healthiness is first and foremost a state of mind. I don't know if there is an english version of the book, hope so, because it is really an interesting take on selfhealing.

amida: Interesting article.

mikey: That's great! Let me know how it goes.

kai: I've been vegan now for just over two months I think.

darko: What does that title mean in English?

Joi, you're an inspiration. Thanks for writing about this.

Joi,what a great post, thank you for sharing.

It looks like Kriya yoga is not your typical kind of yoga that is based on postures and positions like Iyengar or Ashtanga but is more about spiritual teachings and breathing techniques. Interestingly for me is that a book that has been highly recommended to me and which is currently sitting unread on my book shelf: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

strongly endorses the Kriya Yoga teachings and philosophies. It is something that I will get around to reading very soon and may be of interest to you too.

Another book worth mentioning and one that I have actually read, (and plan to re-read again for all its simple brilliance) is The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

Good luck in your journey and please keep us posted on what you encounter along your way.


translation of darko's title:
"embarking into the next dimension"

I call my back "computer back syndrome", being 2 meters tall, and sitting hunched over one machine or another since I was about 12.

When I was 30 (6 years ago), an x-ray revealed "spurring" on my vertebrae--extra bone growth at my tendons in order to compromise for degenerated, spastic & chronically inflamed back muscle. It's a definate physical pain. Correct posture, ergonomics, myofascial therapy (addressing the body's connective tissue, great stuff!), yoga & pilates keep the back limber, but the growth is there to stay. It's something that all people in this profession should be aware of.

Switching my diet, exercising more and being more aware of myself and my well being reduce the 'irritation' part of the pain--the part that gets inside my head and makes me irritable. In turn, the remaining nerve pain is much more manageable and stays in the background of my daily life. I hope someday to remove the pain completely.