The Science of Melanin*
By Dr. Karl Maret
The Science of Melanin*
By Dr. Karl Maret
Yoga and Meditation literally “repair” your DNA to Eliminate Disease and Depression*
By Vicki Batts
Balancing activities like Tai Chi, yoga and meditation are touted for their ability to promote a sense of well-being and reduce stress, but is there more to it than meets the eye? While these exercises are known for being great ways to relax, new research has shown that their benefits extend far past the ephemeral. The relief mind-body interventions can offer isn’t just mental; in fact, these activities can actually bring about physical changes at the molecular level.
A recent study led by scientists from Coventry University and Radboud University have shown that mind-body interventions can turn back molecular reactions within your DNA that cause disease and depression.
The study’s lead researcher Ivana Buric, from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, commented,
“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs [mind-body interventions] cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.”
Buric also noted that millions of people are already reaping the benefits of mind-body exercises like yoga and Tai Chi, without even realizing how truly beneficial these activities are for their bodies. Buric states that while more studies still need to be done to fully ascertain the scope of what mind-body intervention can do, she believes that their research is a key building block for future research efforts.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, their study analyzes more than a decades’ worth of research on how mind-body intervention strategies can impact the behavior of DNA. Genetic expression was a focal point of the team’s research, because the way genes are activated to produce proteins can have a system-wide impact. The biological composition of the brain, body and immune system can all be affected by the way genetic proteins are expressed.
In total, the team reviewed 18 studies with a combined 846 participants. The experts determined that when looked at as a whole, the 11 years of data “reveal a pattern in the molecular changes which happen to the body as a result of MBIS [mind-body interventions], and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.”
It’s known that when a person undergoes a stressful event, their body goes into what’s often known as the “flight or fight” response. This process also triggers the production of a molecule that regulates gene expression, known as nuclear factor kappa B, or NF-kB.
“NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at cellular level,” as Science Daily explains.
While this reaction is useful temporarily, when it is consistent over time, it can be quite damaging and increase the risk of diseases like cancer and disorders like depression. It can even accelerate the aging process.
However, the research team found that people who practice mind-body interventions on a regular basis showcase a reduction in the production of NF-kB and related cytokines. In turn, this leads to a decrease and reversal of pro-inflammatory gene expression. Ultimately, this lowers the risk of inflammation-related conditions.
Past research on meditation and other similar activities has also indicated that these exercises can have far-reaching effects on the brain and body. For example, recent research has shown that meditation can help keep your brain youthful and on average, reduce “brain age” by over seven years. Earlier this year, a research team from Harvard University also found that yoga can elicit positive changes in metabolic function.
These mind-body activities are clearly a force to be reckoned with.
Le Moulinet: Indigenous French Muslims
The amazing, first-time visual documentation of a handful of French families living in seclusion in secular France, after having converted to Shi’a Islam
Post-Ramadhan Renewal: 5 Lessons to Live By
I’m a Pakistani Hindu. So what Business do I have Missing Eid?
By Nisha Pinjani
Last summer during Ramadhan, I shared the Shan Masala Eid commercial like Pakistanis all over the world. The ad showed two brothers spending the occasion away from home. For the purposes of the advert, a simple plate of Sindhi biryani was the balm to their feeling of homesickness.
This year, I found myself in the characters’ shoes.
Away from Pakistan for my graduate studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, I was scrolling through Facebook when I found the usual Eid-related posts flooding my timeline.
Unending stories about tailors and broken promises, event pages for chand raat meet-ups, and the perpetual confusion on whether the next day would be Eid or another Roza (followed promptly by jokes at the Ruet-i-Hilal committee’s expense).
Soon enough, WhatsApp groups were abuzz with ‘Chand Mubarak’ wishes. While my friends in Karachi made plans to grab chai on the eve before Eid, I was literally stuck on an island. Sitting alone in my dorm room, I couldn’t help but feel blue — I missed home, my friends and my family.
I found myself thinking back to the Shan commercial. But while the ad’s protagonist and I were experiencing similar homesickness, we were quite dissimilar. He was a Muslim man from Pakistan; I am Pakistani Hindu woman.
What business do I have missing Eid?
Growing up as a Hindu in an Islamic republic is full of contradictions. My mother is often hesitant and wary of my Muslim friends. A bit strange, considering she is more than happy if I invite them to our home.
Perhaps this perplexing attitude is passed down through generations. As a young girl I loved listening to my grandfather’s partition stories. He would tell us incidents where Muslims went door-to-door killing any Hindu in sight (I’m sure Muslims grow up with similar stories of cold-blooded Hindus).
But then, he would also talk about his Muslim neighbours. The ones who protected our family, who made a human chain around our house when the riots broke out.
The obvious takeaway here was that good and bad people exist everywhere. But my grandfather’s stories carried an underlying warning: you can get close to Muslims, but remember that you are not one of them (and they know it too).
Following this tradition of mixed messages, every Ramadhan, many Hindus living in Pakistan fast. My mother herself happily sets an alarm to wake my sister up for sehri. She prepares an elaborate sehri, and reminiscent of the Thadri festival — where Hindus fast — her fried lolis make an appearance at the table.
No one else in my house wakes up with them, but we make it a point to join in for Iftar, and jokingly try to convince my sister that eating five minutes before the adhan is acceptable.
And then comes Eid. At least in Pakistan, Eid and Diwali have much in common. Both are marked by an abundance of mithai. It is customary to wear new clothes if one can afford them, and like Eidi on Eid, it is traditional to give presents on Diwali too. Every year, my family welcomes our friends over for Diwali, and come Eid, we visit our Muslim friends’ houses.
Yet, each time a story breaks of another Hindu girl being kidnapped and forcefully converted, my interactions with male Muslim friends start causing my mother distress. “Be careful around Muslim boys,” she warns me. It is frustrating, but I can see where she is coming from.
When I heard news of the Hindu reporter in Karachi who was forced to drink from a separate glass, my blood boiled. Sitting thousands of miles away, I was instantly transported back to my childhood when something similar happened to me (and I am sure, many religious minorities like me): a classmate had refused to share utensils with me because I was Hindu.
Children’s acts are a reflection of what they are taught at home. Many years later, seeing this news was a bitter reminder that even among supposedly educated, well-knowing adults, prejudice is alive and well.
The white in the flag
I have long known that despite having the same nationality, my Muslim friends back home and I are different in many ways.
During Pakistan Studies classes in school, teachers would make irresponsible claims about how Hindus were single-handedly responsible for the loss of Muslim lives. Reduced to a ‘cow-worshipper’ during the lectures, I would suddenly be othered, excluded, bullied.
As I grew up, my ‘otherness’ interestingly became exotic. The same identity I had been bullied over now became my ticket to being a ‘cool kid’— since I had access to all the firecrackers (thank you, Diwali), and invitations to holi parties.
As we grew up underneath the layers of systemically taught hate, my Muslim friends and I began to find common ground, and developed a better understanding of each other. I would sneak them into our temples so they could get a glimpse of my world, and accompany them to Mughal era mosques to get a sense of theirs.
I still come across a simpleton or two who wants me to prove my Pakistani-ness. Every time Pakistan plays a cricket match against India, there is always that one guy who wants to know, “How come you’re not supporting the Indian team instead?”
Thankfully, more often than not, my friends take over the task of shutting such bigotry down.
I keep thinking back to my family enjoying their long Eid break in Pakistan. We are a huge family, and most of my cousins are older, working people. On Diwali (a working day for most Pakistani Hindus until recently) we are usually only able to manage a dinner, however, the longer Eid holidays are quality family time for us.
During Eid, we get together at a farmhouse or the beach. We laze around playing cards, barbecuing, and catching up on gossip. Eid mornings mean waking up to seviyan and other breakfast treats, with my uncles over, watching the news and discussing the current state of affairs in Karachi.
Away from home, I find myself missing it all. Whether it is the memory of spending time with my family by the waves; or the calming sound of the adhan; or Eid plans with my friends to get mehendi.
Home, after all, is home, no matter how dysfunctional.
And so, on the first day of Eid in Hawaii, not unlike the characters in the Shan Masala advert, I picked up a packet of seviyan from a desi store here. I looked up the recipe online, managing to burn half the packet, and cursed myself for never waking up early with my mother to help out.
But my friends came over and made custard and fruit salad. I ended up spending the day recreating what Eid has always been about for me back home in Pakistan: good company, laughter, and a satisfied stomach. It was heartening watching my American friends try seviyan for the first time, while assuring them that the delicacy is indeed supposed to look semi-charred.
Muslims Across the World Celebrate Eid Al-Fitr*
Eid al-Fitr, or the “feast of breaking of the fast” marks the end of Ramadhan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
With Muslims making almost one-quarter of the World’s population, celebrations are taking place in all continents.
Afghan children ride on swings during the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Kabul, Afghanistan June 25, 2017.
Free to Give from the Heart*
By Caroline Garnet McGraw
How to Not Respond
Have you ever beat yourself up over not responding to every message you received in a day?
Me too. I know how it goes. On one hand, you’re tired and overwhelmed. But on the other hand, there are emails! Texts! Calls! All demanding a response!
If we check in with ourselves, we can sense which messages require our attention. However, we have trouble heeding that inner knowing because it conflicts with what we’ve been taught…
If someone writes, we must write back.
If someone starts talking, we must converse.
If someone moves in for a hug, we must embrace
I Don’t Want to be Rude
It doesn’t matter if we feel uncomfortable, exhausted, or just plain unwilling. If we don’t do these things, then we’re unkind and rude. Right?
In the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pilot episode, reporters interview women who spent 15 years underground in a doomsday cult’s bunker.
One woman shares the story of her involvement:
“I had waited on [the cult leader] at a York Steak House…and one night he invited me out to his car to see some baby rabbits, and I didn’t want to be rude, so … here we are.”
It’s a searing example of how the fear of being rude and impolite can put us in real danger. And sure, the character is exaggerated to the point of parody, but I recognized myself in that woman.
The Loving Choice
What time have I wasted in needing to be seen a certain way? What danger have I courted with my inability to say a direct no? What have I sacrificed on the altar of being too nice?
A while back, I was struggling with whether or not to respond to some troubling emails. I didn’t feel comfortable keeping in touch with the sender, but the thought of not responding triggered feelings of guilt and insecurity.
What if I hurt this person’s feelings? Was I not being compassionate enough? Should I be polite, or listen to my intuition?
Eventually, I asked my husband Jonathan for his perspective. He said, fiercely,
“You don’t owe anyone an interaction.”
When Jonathan said those six words, they freed me to delete those emails. Sometimes, not interacting is the most loving choice.
Protect Your Time
Yes, I practice good manners, sending thank you notes, and staying connected to friends. But I also set boundaries and trust my intuition. There’s a balance.
If you don’t have practice with boundaries, though, it’s hard to protect your time. You’ll feel like a bad person when you step back or say no. When the false guilt strikes, remember that there is a difference between hurt and harm.
When you say, “I don’t owe anyone an interaction,” you’re not harming anyone. You’re just reminding yourself of what is true. It’s not your job to people please or walk on eggshells. Rather, your job is to live with love and integrity.
You have the authority to decide how to spend your time and energy.
Free to Give from the Heart
Will some people have hurt feelings if you decline their invitations and delete their messages? Probably. That’s tough to accept, but the alternative is worse. Trying to manage other people’s emotions while tuning out your own is exhausting. It harms your health and your relationships.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that being kind means being available 24/7. But if we don’t guard our time, our ability to be kind erodes.
So the next time you feel pressured to respond, try taking pause and reminding yourself that you don’t owe anyone an interaction. Revel in the reality that you get to choose. You have the authority to decide how to spend your time and energy.
And here’s the real beauty of it: when you don’t owe anyone an interaction…you’re free to give from the heart.
Displaced Refugees join Lebanese Mass Iftar to Mark World Refugee Day*
Bringing communities together in Beirut, displaced Syrians, Sudanese, Iraqis and Ethiopians joined Lebanese families for a mass iftar on Saturday (June 17).
The communal meal was organized by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) alongside local charity Makhzoumi Foundation with the support of the European Union in Lebanon.
Gathering ahead of sunset, the event is being held a few days before World Refugee Day — a day dedicated to the plight of the displaced.
“It is like a short day during which we all celebrate together. This day also supports our campaign #WithRefugees as United Nations, in which we show our solidarity with refugees as a Lebanese community and communities around the world,” said Riwa Shatila a representative from UNHCR.
As well as the Ramadhan meal, a number of entertainment events were also scheduled to appeal to all age groups, with a puppet show and dancers taking to the stage.
For those attending Saturday’s event, it was an opportunity to forget about their own struggles, having fled war and conflict in search of a better life in Lebanon.
“Such entertaining activities, in which we can be together, help us face the difficulties of war and forget our pain a little… we make a nice atmosphere with people, meet each other and bring something positive for all children and everyone here tired from war,” said 33-year old Nada Barakat, a Syrian refugee who fled Aleppo five years ago.
“It is a great initiative. Everyone loves music, we all like to be happy and celebrate life,” added Syrian refugee Salem Diab, from Idlib. The number of people fleeing Syria’s civil war into neighbouring states and Egypt has passed the 5-million mark, according to data from the U.N. refugee agency.
Syrians have poured across their borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq since anti-government protests in 2011 spiraled into a full-blown conflict between rebels, Islamist militants, government troops and foreign backers.
World Refugee Day is on June 20, it’s a day to commemorate “strength, courage and resilience of millions of refugees,” reads UNHCR website. It continues this year its call for solidarity and support for refugees with an on-going worldwide ‘#WithRefugees’ petition.
The petition calls on governments to provide children with an education, for every refugee family to have a safe place to live, and for refugees to learn, work and be able contribute to their communities.