Pets may improve social skills for autistic children: Study

December 31, 2014

Children with autism who live with pets have stronger social skills than those who don’t, a new University of Missouri study suggests.

Although the therapeutic benefits of dogs has been the focus of much attention, the researchers say other pets — such as cats and rabbits — can have a similar positive effect.

“Children with any kind of pet in the home reported being more likely to engage in behaviours such as introducing themselves, asking for information or responding to other people’s questions,” researcher Gretchen Carlisle said. “These kinds of social skills typically are difficult for kids with autism, but this study showed children’s assertiveness was greater if they lived with a pet.”

Pets often serve as “social lubricants,” Carlisle said.

“Kids with autism don’t always readily engage with others, but if there’s a pet in the home that the child is bonded with and a visitor starts asking about the pet, the child may be more likely to respond.”

The research surveyed 70 families with autistic children between eight and 18 years old. Almost 70% of the families had dogs and about half the families had cats. Other pets included fish, farm animals, rodents, rabbits, reptiles, a bird and a spider.

Some parents assume dogs are the best pets to help their children with autism, Carlisle said, but that might not be the right fit for everyone.

“My data show greater social skills for children with autism who live in homes with any type of pet,” she said.

The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

http://www.lfpress.com/2014/12/31/pets-may-improve-social-skills-for-autistic-children-study

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Lack of daily physical activity linked to vascular dysfunction

December 31, 2014

University of Missouri School of Medicine researchers have found that reducing daily physical activity for even a few days leads to decreases in the function of the inner lining of blood vessels in the legs of young, healthy subjects, causing vascular dysfunction that can have prolonged effects.

Paul Fadel, associate professor of medical pharmacology and physiology, and John Thyfault, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, also found that the vascular dysfunction induced by five days of inactivity requires more than one day of returning to physical activity and taking at least 10,000 steps a day to improve.

“We know the negative consequences from not engaging in physical activity can be reversed,” said Fadel. “There is much data to indicate that at any stage of a disease, and at any time in your life, you can get active and prolong your life.”

Diabetes and cardiovascular disease risks

“Inactivity is typically going to lead to people being overweight and obese,” said Fadel. “The next step after that is insulin resistance, which leads to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes. That number is expected to continue to increase: the CDC estimates one-third of people born after 2000 will have Type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes.

“The best treatment is to become more active, and our research lends proof to that concept,” Fadel said. “If you do not realize how harmful sitting around all day and not doing any activity is to your health, this proves it.”

The researchers studied the early effects on the body’s blood vessels when someone transitions from high daily physical activity — 10,000 or more steps per day — to low daily physical activity, less than 5,000 steps per day. Five thousand steps is the national average, but only half of the daily recommendation from the U.S. Surgeon General.

The research was published in November (2013) in the Journal of Applied Physiology and in September (2014) in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The research was supported in part by National Institutes of Health grants, an ACSM Foundation Research Grant from the American College of Sports Medicine, and an American Heart Association Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

Human Language Is Biased Towards Happiness, Say Computational Linguists Humans use positive words much more often than negative ones in a wide range of languages

Back in 1969, a couple of psychologists from the University of Illinois began studying the way people in different cultures use words. Their conclusion was that whatever their culture, people tended to use positive words more often the negative ones.

This finding is now known as the Pollyanna hypothesis, after a 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter about a girl who tries to find something to be glad about in every situation.

But although widely known, this work involved a relatively small number of people. So the findings are generally thought of as suggestive rather than conclusive. Indeed, since then various researchers have conducted similar studies with various contradictory results.

What’s needed, of course, is a study so large and comprehensive that it settles the question beyond doubt. And today we get one thanks to the work of Peter Dodds of the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals.

These guys have measured the frequency of positive and negative words in a corpus of 100,000 words from 24 languages representing different cultures around the world. And their happy conclusion is that the data backs up the Pollyanna hypothesis. “The words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias,” they say.

They begin by collecting a corpus of words for each of 10 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Indonesian and Arabic. For each language, they selected the 10,000 most frequently used words.

Next, the team paid native speakers to rate how they felt about each word on a scale ranging from the most negative or sad to the most positive or happy. Overall, they collected 50 ratings per word resulting in an impressive database of around 5 million individual assessments. Finally, they plotted the distribution of perceived word happiness for each language.

The results bring plenty of glad tidings. All of the languages show a clear bias towards positive words with Spanish topping the list, followed by Portuguese and then English. Chinese props up the rankings as the least happy. “Words—the atoms of human language — present an emotional spectrum with a universal positive bias,” they say.

This is just the beginning for Dodd and co, however. They go on to use these findings as a ‘lens’ through which to evaluate how the emotional polarity changes in novels. So for a wide range of novels, they counted the frequency of positive and negative words in a section of text to determine its emotional bias.

This shows, for example, that both Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment end on low notes, while the Count of Monte Cristo culminates with a rise in positivity. That’s more or less exactly how a human reader would view these novels.

And so that anyone can sample their wares, the team has produced an online tool that allows anybody to interrogate a wide range of major novels to see how the positivity and negativity of words changes throughout. This tool is available at this website. It’s worth a look if you have 20 minutes to spare.

The same site also allows direct comparisons between the same words in different languages. This reveals some interesting contrasts between languages. For example, on a scale of 1 to 9 with nine being the happiest, Germans rate the word “gift” as 3.54. That’s slightly negative. By contrast, English speakers rate “gift” as strongly positive at 7.72.

That’s an interesting study that reveals a universal bias in towards positivity human language. And it fits nicely into a broader body of research in psychology suggesting that positivity plays a more important role in most people’s existence than negativity. For example, we tend to remember pleasing information more accurately than unpleasant information.

The research raises a number of interesting questions. For example, what accounts for the differences in positivity. Why is Chinese a less happy language than German or Portuguese or any other language in the study? And why is Spanish the happiest?

These are clearly questions for the future. But what Dodds and co have been able to show is the huge power that data mining brings to psychology and linguistics when coupled with crowd sourced research.

Of course, it’s not the first time that anyone has combined data mining and crowdsourcing in this way. But it should help to set the standard by which other studies can be judged. For example, sentiment analysis is fast becoming an important tool on Twitter for analysing everything from product reviews to political affiliation. But if there is a strong bias towards positive language in the first place, that is obviously an important factor to take into account.

Clearly, there is a dramatic change in how psychologists, social scientists and anthropologist are carrying out their work. And we’ll be watching to see what else comes from the fascinating conjunction of computer science and social science.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1406.3855 : Human Language Reveals A Universal Positivity Bias

View story at Medium.com

Apple iPad Air 2 Review: Still the King of Tablets

by Ershad Kaleebullah, December 31, 2014

This year, unlike the iPhones that went through a plethora of changes in design, the world’s most popular line of tablet computers – iPad Air – only received an incremental facelift. The latest iPad now features Apple’s proprietary Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the home button which was introduced with the iPhone 5s. Otherwise, the design language remains almost untouched save for a few changes.

While not much has changed in the overall appearance of the iPad Air 2, it is now just 6.1mm thin; this actually makes it 1.4mm slimmer than its predecessor, and more importantly it also undercuts the thickness of both the iPhone 6 (Review | Pictures) and the iPhone 6 Plus (Review | Pictures). We’ll let you take a moment for that to sink in. One of the reasons this is possible is that Apple’s engineers have managed to reduce the gap between the protective glass, touch sensor and the actual LCD. This ‘no-gap display’ has been carried over from the iPhones.

The internal specifications have gone through an upheaval of sorts; the iPad Air 2 has a more capable primary camera, powerful new A8X processor, and M8 motion co-processor that has the ability to continuously measures data from the newly-added barometer. Moreover, Apple has removed the 32GB storage capacity variant. The iPad Air 2 is now available in a gold colour option.

Should you upgrade to the iPad Air 2 if you already own the iPad Air? Is the iPad Air 2 the best tablet in the world? Will the iPad Air 2 manage to rekindle an interest in Apple’s tablets after recent reports about a slump in sales? Answers to these questions and more follow in our review.

apple_ipad_air_2_cover1_ndtv.jpgDesign and display
The iPad Air 2 is shockingly thin. Its slimness combined with its weight of 437g makes it easy to hold with one hand. The ergonomics hit a really sweet spot and we could feel the difference the moment we switched to an iPad Air 2. While people may argue whether there was any need to slim down the iPad Air in the first place, we aren’t complaining. Even a bit.

As before, the edges are chamfered, which gives the iPad Air 2 a premium look. The height and width are the same as the previous version. The Home button, which now has Touch ID, is smooth to the touch and the tactile feedback is also pretty good. The front-facing camera lies on top of the display. The lightning port lies at the bottom and flanking it are the stereo speaker grilles. There is only a single row of holes now instead of two, like on the iPad Air. The power button and the 3.5mm audio jack are on top. In an effort to make a super-slim iPad, Apple has gone ahead and removed the mute/orientation lock switch from the right edge. A microphone takes its place instead and of course there are two volume buttons as well. Bang in the center on the rear lies the Apple logo made of glass. In the top left corner of the rear lies the upgraded camera and another microphone.

apple_ipad_air_2_volume_ndtv.jpgThe 9.7-inch display has a resolution of 1536×2048 which translates to a pixel density of 264ppi. Apple still calls it a Retina display and it has been using this screen resolution since the iPad 3. This may sound like a downer for some people but quite frankly the iPad Air 2’s display is still one of the best around. The display has natural colour reproduction, accurate colour saturation and great viewing angles. It sprung to life each time we woke up the iPad Air 2. In addition to this, Apple claims there is a custom-designed anti-reflective coating on the screen and which results in less reflection overall. We found this to be true especially when placed beside its predecessor in direct sunlight; the iPad Air 2’s screen was generally less reflective and as a result the readability was much better. Moreover, now that the protective glass, touch sensor and the actual LCD are very close to each other, it did actually feel like we were touching the pixels. Apple wasn’t being hyperbolic when it unveiled the iPad Air 2 on October 16.

Specifications and software
The iPad Air 2 has a variant of the A8 processor found on the iPhone 6. Called A8X, it is tweaked to perform better. The A8X has a triple-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz per core, compared to the dual-core A8. The A8X also includes a customised version of the PowerVRGX6450 GPU. Reputed tech publications around the world are calling it the PowerVRGX6850 for the sake of simplicity. Obviously, the PowerVRGX6850 is more powerful than the PowerVRGX6450 but we shall confirm by how much in the performance section. The iPad Air 2 also packs 2GB of RAM inside. Additionally, Apple has upgraded the motion co-processor. The new M8 coprocessor claims to continuously measures data from the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and the new barometer.

The iPad Air 2 has an 8-megapixel primary camera with auto-focus and f/2.4 aperture. There is no flash. The front camera is the same 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD shooter with a few tweaks for better performance. It is available in 16/64/128GB storage options. With respect to connectivity, the iPad Air 2 can connect to Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac. There is also a 4G LTE variant if you wish to have connectivity on the go. It can connect to any 4G band in the world and as a result it should ideally be able to connect to 4G networks in India as well. Bluetooth v4.0 is also present. The presence of NFC inside the iPad Air 2 (or not) is a bit of a contentious topic at the moment, with an iFixit teardown revealing that there is indeed a chip inside the tablet for NFC. Apple hasn’t acknowledged it, at least at the moment. Will the iPad Air 2 support Apple Pay in the future using this mystery NFC chip? We’ll have to wait patiently to find out.

apple_ipad_air_2_rear_back_ndtv.jpgApple ships the iPad Air 2 with iOS 8.1 by default, which adds the cool Continuity feature. Essentially if you have Continuity switched on, when your iPhone gets a call or a message, it shows up immediately on your Mac or/and iPad as well. And, you can choose to respond or cancel it from there. Of course, all this is possible presuming you have an iPhone. This is how we always imagined devices would communicate with each other. At least for us, it feels like the future. Touch ID is very easy to set up and works like a charm.

The Notification Centre now has support for third-party widgets. It is great for consuming small bytes of information without actually opening the app. We don’t have to remind our readers how Apple has a great ecosystem of mobile apps, available through the App Store. Apps like Health, Passbook, Stocks and Weather, which are present on the iPhone by default, are missing from the iPad.

It might look like we are all praise for iOS but one cannot deny that Apple is not doing much to use all the screen space that an iPad provides. There is no multi-window option yet nor can you use more than one app at a time.

apple_ipad_air_2_touch_id_ndtv.jpgCamera
It is unusual for us to feature a tablet’s camera as a separate section considering how much we scoff at people who use one for capturing photographs. However, after using the improved camera on the iPad Air 2, we can understand the why people are inclined to do so. Although, let it be made clear we still that it looks pretty odd, especially in a crowd of people.

In good lighting conditions, the details captured by the 8-megapixel camera are almost as good as what we saw in the sample shots by cameras inside the iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus. The colours were close to accurate and the sample images had a generally warm tone to them. We didn’t notice any barrel distortion at all. The images didn’t lose fidelity even when zoomed in. The comparatively small f/2.4 aperture is probably the reason why the iPad Air 2’s camera doesn’t perform as well as we expected to in low light. Especially areas where it was darker than usual, we saw a lot of noise creeping in. Bear in mind that we are talking about a camera inside a tablet; people don’t expect it to be exceptional in the first place.

apple_ipad_air_2_sample1_ndtv.JPG(Click for full size)

One of the major advantages of shooting using an iPad is that it provides the best possible frame for a shot. Thanks to the powerful processor inside, there is bare minimum lag on screen when it is being moved – which is quite close to the experience one can expect from an actual viewfinder.

As usual, Apple’s Panorama mode (pictured below) does the best job of stitching images together provided you can hold it firm. The captured 1080p (FHD) video was of superior quality as well. The iPad Air 2 can also capture 120 fps slow-motion and Time-lapse videos, which may not be as exciting as the 240fps option available on the iPhones, it is still very pretty to look at.

apple_ipad_air_2_sample2_ndtv.JPG(Click for full size)

Performance
The iPad Air 2 is a performance beast. With respect to the graphics performance on a mobile device, the GPU inside the iPad Air 2 is the fastest we’ve used till date. Apparently, it is more powerful than the Tegra K1, which actually makes it the fastest GPU inside a mobile device. We’ll let the numbers (and comparisons with other iOS devices) speak for themselves.

In our GFXBench test, the iPad Air 2 scored 52.3fps whereas the iPad Air and the iPhone 6 Plus scored 40.9fps. The iPad Air 2 maxed out 3D Mark Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme tests and in the more intensive Ice Storm Unlimited test it scored 21,576. In comparison, the iPad Air scored just 14,979. In SunSpider and Mozilla Kraken, the iPad Air 2 scored 286.3 and 4060.5, the lowest we’ve ever seen (lower is better).

apple_ipad_air_2_camera_ndtv.jpgAll this graphical performance is put to great use by Apple’s proprietary Metal framework which is available to developers who can use it to maximise the graphics and compute potential of the device. For easier understanding – we saw more glorious crash effects and lens flare in Asphalt 8, which has been reworked to optimise the potential of the Metal framework. The same effects are also present on the iPad Air, but we noticed that it couldn’t render it at the same smooth frame-rate as the iPad Air 2. In short, the iPad Air 2 is probably your best alternative to a dedicated portable gaming console.

Apple devices have a restricted number of video formats that are supported by default but we managed to test all our test videos using a third-party application and it worked. At full volume, the sound blaring from the speakers causes the iPad Air 2 to reverberate, which may be because of its extremely thin body. While the sound quality is decent overall, we noticed a little bit of crackling at maximum volume. Apple doesn’t bundle the EarPods in the box but we tested a reference pair of headphones and they sounded great.

apple_ipad_air_2_comparison_front_ndtv.jpgIn our battery test, we tested a 720p .mp4 (x264) sample video on loop. The battery inside lasted 11 hours and 36 minutes before it needed to be charged again. Quite clearly there are other tablets and laptops that can last equally long, if not longer. However, note that this is still really good battery backup and if you are someone who uses the tablet sparingly every day it should last you at least a week before it needs a charge.

Verdict
We are not the first ones to say this, and probably not the last either, but the Apple’s latest iPad is its best yet. Yes, we know it sounds like a real cliche but the iPad Air 2 is indeed leaner, faster and meaner than all its predecessors and the crowd of Androidtablets. Despite our observation that iOS could be little bit more refined to allow features that are suited for the iPad Air 2’s screen, it is still more than adequate for most tasks. Not to forget, the excellent apps ecosystem that iOS provides. From making music using Garageband to creating documents on Pages, the iPad Air 2 can do much more than an Android tablet can. Android is still lagging behind in terms of tablet-optimised apps that can pack a punch. For folks who care about a camera on the tablet, it has the best shooter of all tablets.

For first time iPad buyers, the iPad Air 2 is the best bet but we’d suggest skipping the 16GB storage variant of the iPad Air 2, since it is quite possible to run out of space soon. If you own an iPad Air, we don’t see a reason for you to pick one up just yet. Although, if you are an owner of anything before the iPad Air, we think that if you upgrade, the performance boost will shock you.


Apple iPad Air 2 in pictures

Resveratrol found to activate ancient stress response and at 1,000 times lower doses

December 30, 2014

400px-Glass_of_red_wine

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found that a fundamental new mechanism for the known beneficial effects of resveratrol — the grapes and red-wine ingredient once touted as an elixir of youth: it powerfully activates an evolutionarily ancient stress response in human cells.

“This stress response represents a layer of biology that has been largely overlooked, and resveratrol turns out to activate it at much lower concentrations than those used in prior studies,” said senior investigator Paul Schimmel, professor and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.

The discovery is reported in Nature.

Resveratrol is a compound produced in grapes, cacao beans, Japanese knotweed and some other plants in response to stresses including infection, drought and ultraviolet radiation.

It has attracted widespread scientific and popular interest over the past decade, as researchers have reported that it extended lifespan and prevented diabetes in obese mice and vastly increased the stamina of ordinary mice running on wheels.

More recently, though, scientists in this field have disagreed about the signaling pathways resveratrol activates to promote health, questioning some of resveratrol’s supposed health benefits.

Stress-response properties discovered

Schimmel’s laboratory is known for its work not on resveratrol, but on an ancient family of enzymes, the tRNA synthetases*. The primary, essential function of these enzymes is to help translate genetic material into the amino-acid building blocks that make proteins.

But as Schimmel and others have shown since the late 1990s, tRNA synthetases have acquired an extensive set of added functions in mammals.

Earlier, Xiang-Lei Yang, a TSRI professor in the Departments of Chemical Physiology and Cell and Molecular Biology and former member of Schimmel’s laboratory, began to find hints that a particular tRNA synthetase called TyrRS, which links the amino acid tyrosine to the genetic material that codes for it, can move to the cell nucleus under stressful conditions — apparently taking on a protective, stress-response role.

Lead author Mathew Sajish, a senior research associate in the Schimmel laboratory, noted that resveratrol appeared to have broadly similar stress-response properties and also resembled TyrRS’s normal binding partner tyrosine. “I began to see TyrRS as a potential target of resveratrol,” he said.

For the new study, Sajish and Schimmel put TyrRS and resveratrol together and showed with tests including X-ray crystallography that resveratrol does indeed mimic tyrosine, well enough to fit tightly into TyrRS’s tyrosine binding pocket. That binding to resveratrol, the team found, takes TyrRS away from its protein translation role and steers it to a function in the cell nucleus.

Tracking the resveratrol-bound TyrRS in the nucleus, the researchers determined that it grabs and activates the protein PARP-1, a major stress response and DNA-repair factor thought to have a significant influence on lifespan. The scientists confirmed the interaction in mice injected with resveratrol. TyrRS’s activation of PARP-1 led, in turn, to the activation of a host of protective genes including the tumor-suppressor gene p53, and most interesting — the longevity genes FOXO3A and SIRT6.

Protective effect activated at 1,000 times lower doses

The first studies of resveratrol in the early 2000s had suggested that it exerts some of its positive effects on health by activating SIRT1, also thought to be a longevity gene. But SIRT1’s role in mediating resveratrol’s reported health-boosting effects has been questioned lately.

The team’s experiments showed, however, that the TyrRS-PARP-1 pathway can be measurably activated by much lower doses of resveratrol — as much as 1,000 times lower — than were used in some of the more celebrated prior studies, including those focused on SIRT1. “Based on these results, it is conceivable that moderate consumption of a couple glasses of red wine (rich in resveratrol) would give a person enough resveratrol to evoke a protective effect via this pathway,” Sajish said. He also suspects that effects of resveratrol that only appear at unrealistically high doses may have confounded some prior findings.

Why would resveratrol, a protein produced in plants, be so potent and specific in activating a major stress response pathway in human cells? Probably because it does much the same in plant cells, and probably again via TyrRS —- a protein so fundamental to life, due to its linkage to an amino acid, that it hasn’t changed much in the hundreds of millions of years since plants and animals went their separate evolutionary ways. “We believe that TyrRS has evolved to act as a top-level switch or activator of a fundamental cell-protecting mechanism that works in virtually all forms of life,” said Sajish.

Natural stress response

Whatever activity resveratrol naturally has in mammals may be an example of hormesis: the mild, health-promoting activation of a natural stress response. “If resveratrol brought significant benefits to mammals, they might have evolved a symbiotic relationship with resveratrol-producing plants,” Sajish said.

“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Schimmel. “We think there are a lot more amino-acid mimics out there that can have beneficial effects like this in people. And we’re working on that now.”

Schimmel and his laboratory also are searching for molecules that can activate the TyrRS stress response pathway even more potently than resveratrol does.

The National Cancer Institute, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and aTyr Pharma, Inc. provided funding for the study.

* tRNA (transfer RNA) is an enzyme (a small molecule) in cells that transfers amino acids to organelles called ribosomes, where they are linked into proteins; a synthetase is an enzyme that catalyzes the linking together of two molecules.

http://www.kurzweilai.net/scripps-scientists-discover-how-resveratrol-provides-health-benefits

Weight training ‘critical’ to reducing belly fat

Weight training 'critical' to reducing belly fat. (Fotolia)

Weight training ‘critical’ to reducing belly fat. (Fotolia)

Dec 29, 2014

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

Resolving to get rid of some belly fat in the new year? Doing cardio isn’t necessarily enough, particularly as you age, according to a new Harvard University study.

Even though aerobic exercise was associated with less overall weight gain, researchers found men who spent 20 minutes a day doing weight training put on less abdominal fat as they got older than men who did cardio for the same amount of time,

“Because aging is associated with…the loss of skeletal muscle mass, relying on body weight alone is insufficient for the study of healthy aging,” lead author Rania Mekary said. “Measuring waist circumference is a better indicator of healthy body composition among older adults. Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise, could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass.”

The study, published in the journal Obesity, monitored the physical activity, waist circumference and body weight of 10,500 U.S. men aged 40 and older for 12 years. The men had a wide range of body mass indexes (BMI) at the start of the study and were all “healthy,” according to the researchers.

“This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly,” researcher Frank Hu said. “To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise.”

http://lifewise.canoe.ca/Living/2014/12/29/22154096.html

 

Yoga program dedicated to supporting people living with mental illness

  • Rachael Allen, centre, an instructor at Iam Yoga, teaches a class of hot yoga in Toronto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Enlarge Image

Rachael Allen, centre, an instructor at Iam Yoga, teaches a class of hot yoga in Toronto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – As a yoga devotee and founder of her own studio, Linda Malone is sharing her passion for the practice through a special program dedicated to helping people living with mental illness.

Malone is the director of the Blu Matter Project, a not-for-profit organization acting as a bridge between its ambassador yoga studios and individuals living with depression and/or bipolar disorder.

She said Blu Matter also uses social media to share research being done around the science and neurobiology of mindfulness, which encourages individuals to become conscious and aware of their thoughts and feelings in the present moment.

“Many of the cognitive behavioural therapies incorporate an element of mindfulness,” said Dr. Arun Ravindran, senior scientist in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“It’s a kind of acceptance therapy. You’re getting people to realize the appropriate nature of the problem and trying to get them to overcome them.”

Malone, founder of Toronto-based studio Iam Yoga, had a deeply personal reason for devoting herself to the cause.

Her brother Michael was just 24 when he committed suicide in August 2012. While he was not formally diagnosed, Malone said her brother exhibited characteristics that were “textbook bipolar” as she recalled dramatic changes in his mood and energy.

“I’d spend time with him, and sometimes he’d be talking a mile a minute about all kinds of different things, jumping from topic to topic,” she recalled.

While he smoked from the time he was in high school, Michael knew his sister was into fitness, and she recalled him asking her to go for a run.

“We’d run 20 kilometres and he’s still flying — and I’m dying. These were him in these very manic states,” Malone said. “Other times I would go out and he would be cold, belligerent, lethargic, angry.”

Malone lamented not seeing the signs of Michael’s mental health struggles. Through the Blu Matter Project, she’s offering outreach to individuals living with mental illness through yoga.

Malone ended up being connected with therapists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health — Canada’s largest mental health and addictions facility — who helped spread the word about the initiative and referred individuals to the project, although those not working in tandem with CAMH can also apply.

“We sponsor people, so people who otherwise can’t afford it who are seeking treatment who are diagnosed with any form of depression — including mood disorders, anxiety or trauma — we connect them to the practice of yoga,” she said.

Malone said the owner of Toronto’s Yogaspace approached her a few months ago and had several of her teachers take part in Blu Matter training, and the studio also plans to launch Blu Matter classes in 2015. Malone said there are plans ahead for more teacher training sessions in addition to establishing a presence in Vancouver.

Malone said they educate participants about key ideas of their practice they can use when they’re away from the mat. “Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s about becoming first very aware about what you’re experiencing mentally and physically.”

A simple exercise involves location where participants look around and allow their eyes to move naturally in observing the space around them.

“Begin to pay attention to your breathing and then explore as you’re looking around yourself — floor, ceiling, walls — explore the connection of your breath to any movements you’re experiencing in the body,” Malone said.

“This is just a really simple exercise to ground, to step outside of any impulsive or disconnected or manic thought processes.”

The Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments first teamed up to produce evidence-based clinical guidelines for treating depressive disorders in 2001 which were revised in 2009. A new set of guidelines is slated for release next summer, said Ravindran.

He was the lead author of the section focused on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments which includes yoga, which researchers said may be considered a “second-line adjunctive treatment” in mild to moderate depression.

Ravindran said it’s very clear that exercise is beneficial for many emotional disorders, particularly depression and anxiety which arise spontaneously or as a result of a medical condition, like cancer. There are even studies that suggest exercise may be as good as some of the psychological therapies, he noted.

“Having said that, the benefit of exercise as a stand-alone treatment in depression is somewhat questionable — it’s not proven yet,” said Ravindran, who is also a staff psychiatrist in the Division of Mood and Anxiety Disorders at CAMH.

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, but it has not been clearly shown. What is clear is that when exercise is added on to standard treatment — either psychological or medication — it does confer additional advantage.”

For Micaela, who lives with bipolar disorder, Blu Matter offered her a boost when she was in need as a newcomer to the area also faced with significant stress at work.

Knowing that yoga had been helpful in the past, she sought a new studio and happened to find Iam Yoga near her building, and learned about the Blu Matter Project while visiting the website. She’s been a participant for the past two months and is also able to attend conferences and special workshops.

Micaela said she is at a stage of stability where she doesn’t require therapy. She currently uses medication, and yoga is part of her holistic approach to managing her mood disorder, which encompasses other coping strategies like journalling, breathing, meditation and mindfulness.

“One of the things that is fantastic about yoga is helping foster a connection to my body,” said Micaela, who preferred not to have her surname published.

“Particularly in times of stress, I may tend to do stress eating or just push myself to the point of working on fumes. But the fact that I’m connecting with my body twice a week or more, it makes me feel more attuned to what I’m feeling.”

http://www.brandonsun.com/lifestyles/breaking-news/yoga-program-dedicated-to-supporting-people-living-with-mental-illness-287000281.html?thx=y