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buddhismOptimizing our health really comes down to good daily habits. We have all really become our own ‘coaches, ’ and know that a balance of healthy food choices and nutrition, cardio-vascular exercise and stretching/yoga for joint mobility and flexibility are vital. So what about our mind, and why is ‘mind fitness’ so important?

We have ample empirical research to verify that habits of mind–that is, our subconscious out-of-view patterns of thought and behaviour—elicit a cascade of neuro-bio-hormonal effects in our bodies. For example, over-worrying, which is related to a higher set point of anxiety in the basal ganglia region of the brain, brings with it a domino effect of mood and impaired brain function. Our ‘rational brain, ’ the prefrontal cortex region, is what helps gives us an overall sense of control and well-being. When cortical function is well regulated in the neocortex, it has a soothing effect on the rest of the emergency centers of the brain and nervous system. One critical example of this is impulse control—this is the ability to regulate the stimulus for perceived need from chemical, emotional and neuronal cues from the system. When we are calm and focused, with good neocortex function, we exercise good regulation of our (sugar, food, sex, booze!) cravings and unconscious urges.

Another key aspect of neocortical function is managing perceived or real external threats. When the neocortex structures have ample blood circulation and smooth neuronal activity, the conscious, rational mind that exhibits ‘executive control’ makes calmer, more reasoned decisions. So you can see how vital it is to our physiological, psychological and spiritual balance to have good ‘mind’ health!

Luckily, we can achieve this simply and instantaneously with great effect–through meditation and breathing. Even a couple of minutes of mindfulness meditation–calmly and patiently observing one’s thoughts as part of a ‘stream’ of mental events, each with no more or less importance—has a profound effect on regulating activity in the prefrontal region of the brain. Slow, deep breathing from the diaphragm (the muscle band in your abdomen which contracts/expands the lungs) detoxifies the blood of CO2 gas, increases red blood cell oxygenation to the brain, thus regulating calm normalized activity and ‘state.’ It also slows down your metabolism and perceived level of threat/anxiety. Here’s a simple instruction:

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion, legs/arms at 90 degrees to the floor, feet on the floor. Lift your chest up (this naturally brings in the small of your back and aligns your spine). Let your head ‘float’ on the pin-bone connecting it to your spine.
  2. Eyes softly closed or loosely ‘gazing’ open at about 45 degrees down, mouth closed but lips slightly open.
  3. Follow the natural rhythm of your breath, in and out, through your nostrils. As thoughts, emotions, body sensations, urges race through your mind, just observe, let go, and come back to your breath. Adjust posture as necessary without fidgeting too much.

Like any fitness regime, don’t be put off by the challenging prospect of simply sitting with your mind/breath by making it about extended sessions, and thus the challenge of making time to do it! Even a minute or two of mindful awareness or breathing, even while sitting at your desk, on the bus, or in your car, has a powerful effect on your mind/body state. As you go, this new state of calmness permeates your daily routine and ripples into your life. YOU are in control of YOU!

Photo on 2012-11-17 at 09.22 #2 Michael A. Gordon, MSc is a psychotherapist, Aikido teacher, consultant/writer/speaker, actor and recording artist based in Vancouver, Canada. You can find his blog, Spiritual Psychology For Daily Life at, and his other activities at,, and Michael is working on the upcoming book: Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose.

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Two Simple Questions to Help You Set Boundaries

Often we find ourselves in the middle of conflict and confusion in our lives and our relationships, and wonder: How did I arrive here? What did I do to attract these people and situations?

While it’s important to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, it’s also important to not devolve into self-blame and stress, but rather to simply learn from what’s happening.
The problem stems largely from a deeper internal lack of confidence and self-worth, likely from early childhood experiences of neglect or self-doubt. These forces indelibly shape our world–especially in how we learn to adapt an early age, and form the meaning of who we are and what we deserve.
Unfortunately, this perceived lack can leave us with a sum-zero equation: either we are loved completely, or we are completely unlovable. Either we have secure relationships, or we are doomed to the scary world on our own. This “child ego state” can unseat us in adult life when triggered by stressful encounters.
Here are two simple questions to ask yourself to restore dignity and healthy boundaries, along with valuing yourself in times of confused boundaries.

1. What does this situation or person’s behavior towards me negatively represent about myself?

In other words: how is tolerating this situation or behavior reinforcing low self-worth about myself?
People are ultimately a mirror for our own hopes, fears and biases. A very wise teaching from Buddhism is that “all anger stems from anger at the self.”
Some examples of this could be: Why did I not tell this person I was upset? Why do I keep lending him money if he doesn’t pay me back? Why do I confide information if I really want it to stay secret?

2. What is my worst fear about saying no?
Let’s say someone’s behavior is making you feel guilty or bad. You are left with the distorted thought of I’m a horrible person!
But when you challenge that thought to be 100% true in all situations, it quickly falls apart. Even a person with whom you currently have conflict at one point was drawn to your positive attributes!
In the end, what matters is this simple math: People either add or subtract to your life!
Do an inventory and assess, on the whole, how the five most active people in your life figure into this equation. The balance of these relationships represents your internal self-worth!

*Originally Published October 15, 2012 at 2:53 PM

About Michael A. Gordon

Michael A. Gordon, MSc is a busy Vancouver BC-based psychotherapist, Aikido teacher, film/tv actor, recording artist and writer/speaker. You can find his blog, Spiritual Psychology For Daily Life at, and his other activities at , and Michael will soon be releasing a book called: Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose.

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Life happens–despite whatever plans we might have been making, to paraphrase John Lennon. When we find ourselves upended by a change in our circumstances, our relationships, the ripples caused by the need to adapt or accept what wasn’t our choice can reverberate to our very core understanding and identity of ourselves. We are not ready. We can’t handle it. We are shocked and upset and overwhelmed. Much, if not most, of our reactions are based on old emotional conditioning, associations to old wounds which occurred when we had far less capacity to fully understand or process what was happening to us. And indeed, in earlier years responsibility rarely lay in our hands, though it felt that way.

And so, being creatures of adaptation to our (real or perceived) environment, we become habituated or adjusted to whatever limited response or meaning we created in the past. This can be partly understood by understanding the nature of the ‘default’ or ‘narrative’ network of our brain/consciousness. What Freud indelibly defined as Ego, the narrative network is the ‘story’ of who we are. It is the construct of ourselves that guides us through the world, contains our sense of self in relation to others; it monitors and scans the world for ways in which we need to respond or avoid situations. The alternate operating mode is the ‘direct’ network, which as it suggests, relates us to the world through the direct stimulation of the senses. It is our tactile and perceptual sense of being in the moment. We are now starting to better understand the continuum of anxiety and various mental ill-health disorders as they relate to the imbalance of these two interactive networks or modes of consciousness. As might be surmised, over-operating in the default network, to the extreme, would be associated with being completely immersed in our narrative story and any associated overreactions and thought-distortions: paranoia, schizophrenia, delusional thinking, etc. We cannot distinguish what is mind, and what is reality.

To some extent this is the fundamental predicament of the human experience. Being entirely subjective, we are constantly having to gauge our reactions and feelings against prevailing consensual reality. So when that consensual reality shifts, as in a relationship, job, our sense of security in our life or health, it can throw us into great disarray. But truly, for many of us, we are operating within a highly filtered and distorted world of illusion. This is referred to in Buddhism as Mara. More specifically, Mara is portrayed as a demon who tempts us from spiritual commitment towards our more base impulses. Fundamentally, the demon is our own inherent attachment to the notion of a fixed ‘self.’ From that perspective, this self needs to be placated, defended, to be ‘right, ’ to be protected at all costs. It keeps us stuck in the illusion of separateness and duality between self and other, between ‘us’ and ‘the world.’

When we encounter unexpected change, or change which manifested despite our persistent denial, it is this self that resists, reacts and becomes aggrieved. We become sharply aware that our entire identity has become shaped around this sense of entitlement and dishonour. But when we step back we realize that nature itself is full of impermanence, that we are part of a natural life cycle, then indeed it is our own fear and resistance that creates struggle.

One of the greatest figures in Tibetan Buddhism was the yogi and saint, Milarepa. Born to nobility, his relatives stole his inheritance as a young man, after which Milarepa is said to have exacted his murderous revenge viciously and cruelly upon a wedding party of relatives, thus setting off on a course of violent rampages. Such the story of his transformation goes that Milarepa, while walking along a road, encountered the great translator Marpa, credited with bringing the precious teachings of Buddhism from India to Tibet. Upon seeing Marpa, serenely having a drink in a field, Milarepa remarked: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Milarepa– murderer, scoundrel, thief and menace throughout this region! Why do you not tremble at my sight?”

Marpa replied: “Yes, I know who you are. And precisely because of your reputation I also know that you have equal potential in your self and your deeds for compassion and kindness, should you choose to humble yourself and alter your ways.” And thus, Milarepa began a gruelling and life-altering course of change under the tutelage of this great teacher, eventually emerging as a revered figure himself for the ages.

What Milarepa’s story teaches us is is that despite our actions, we all have the capacity for change. It is not what he have done, it is whom we choose to become. This is the gift of shame. When are able to engage vulnerability and encounter our own suffering, perhaps through our shame that we are struggling with changes, should have seen them coming, feel powerless, etc—or, in our regrettable actions against others, (and ultimately ourselves)—then we have begun the transition towards enlightenment. We can not undo what we have done, however we can also not un-know what we know, and this gives us tremendous potential to draw insight and compassion through our own vulnerability to transform our world. We are all familiar with the cliche ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Perhaps what is more apt is to remind ourselves is that:  ‘In everything, through reason, we can find wisdom, meaning and letting go.’


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IMG_0566In Aikido, the central principle of nonresistance might easily be misconstrued as passivity. However, as with nonviolent communication, openness and acceptance of hostility or tension is not tacit validation. Rather, it is about being steadfast, calm, and thus powerfully present with what is. By doing so, we can acknowledge the reality of a moment in its true manifestation and form. Sometimes what is required is no action at all. How can this be?

When we are connected to the world through non-attachment, without limitation, doubt or ego, and extending from this virtual center in all directions at once, we move from a pivot point of infinite possibility, variable response. This is the invincibility of spirit—one which embodies and integrates us wholly in the dynamic, spiral movement of the universe. In quantum physics this is expressed through the observation that all potential possibilities exist at once in particle ‘superposition’–until quantum field collapse brings about the conditions for one probability to occur. This becomes our conscious, manifest consensual reality.

To make it our habit to be calm and positive in our intentions with all our being allows us to, in one moment, sense, absorb and harmonize with all points of contact with even the most volatile aspects of experience–both inner and outer. Truly, conflict is dissolved before it begins, because we have neutralized the seed of aggression before it can grow—from our aggressor’s mind to their potential actions, and more importantly, from our own. When we experience the universe as a vast and expansive field of love, it enfolds all disturbances within—that energy cannot sustain. When we remain in the center of that expansive field, the impulse or force of aggression from another cannot survive, because it has not disturbed our minds and thusly nor has it our capacity to respond with “minimum effort and maximum efficiency” in whatever way is necessary to diffuse the situation. When we operate from this space, we cease to see any separation from ourselves and ‘other, ’ or ourselves and the external. This is non-duality.

As it is said, the aggressor is a mirror of our own capacity and resolve to remain true to non-violence, because ‘what we resist, we become.’

Aikido is not a discipline of martial prowess; it is the path of spiritual purification and peaceful imminence in the world, the integration of the relative and the absolute–above and below. When we dedicate ourselves to the Way, we bring it more forcefully, protectively and lovingly into existence for all living beings. This is the fulfillment of the Budo principle of Senshin.

Sensei Michael Gordon, Founder & Senior Instructor
Senshin Ki Aikido (

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A modest proposal: to make Valentines Day less about romance, which excludes others, and more truly about love. Universal love. International Love Day. New Love Day. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, how about Valentine’s Day resolutions:

I vow to love more
I vow to let others love me more
I vow to bring love into the world in every way possible
I vow to transform conflict with love
I vow to set my intentions from love
I vow to love myself and open to my own suffering, so that I may develop true empathy and compassion for others, and to be a vessel of understanding…


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Not as prevalent or culturally recognizable as Karate or Judo, Aikido is arguably the most complex, elegant and limitless of the martial arts originating from Japan. Its flowing movement and, by design, effortless blending with an opponent’s energy makes it especially relevant in today’s stressful world. So what makes this mysterious art so unique and powerful?

The word Ai-ki-do was evolved by the art’s founder, ‘O Sensei‘ (great teacher) Morehei Ueshiba. In essence, it connotes the path (“do”) of unifying (“ai”) one’s personal energy or life force (“ki”) with that of the universe. Aikido’s martial origins evolved out of a complex and long lineage of training and technique leading up to Budo (warrior arts of the samurai), and its late-stage influence from daito-ryu jujitsu (the legacy of which can be readily seen in the many wrist immobilizations and throws), and from which the founder developed aiki-jitsu, and then Aikido.

Aikido’s greatest contribution, ultimately expressed through the founder’s aims to unify humanity through self-purification and love, is as its legacy as the ‘Art Of Peace.’ What this means, in a practical daily sense, is that one is able–through the principles and experiential practice of ‘non-resistance’ in Aikido–to eradicate the habitual and aggressive reactivity of the subconscious mind, and thus karma, in the world at large.

In other words, one learns how to calmly and harmoniously blend with conflict; in its highest form, this transcends conscious action and stems agression before it takes seed. This has two layers: firstly, one becomes a calm and peaceful presence in the world, thus becoming ‘part of the solution; secondly, one’s ability to ultimately extinguish the impulse of agression before it arises in actions or intent leads to a more human society.

O Sensei,  Morehei Ueshiba,  demonstrating the minimal effort and superb control of Aikido movement in resolving conflict.

O Sensei, Morehei Ueshiba, demonstrating the minimal effort and superb control of Aikido movement in resolving conflict.

While this may seem impossibly challenging in a technical sense, or in the least intimidating, some basic neuroanatomy helps to understand what is happening on the physical and emotional level. In a bio-psychological way, what happens to the average person presented with a threat is that their mid-brain structures immediately trigger a ‘fight/flight’ response. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, associated with rational decision-making, is interrupted by a more primal response to protect the organism (run/fight, ask questions later!). By working with our subconscious minds, we can learn to override this reflex, consciously and calmly responding with only the minimal actions necessary.

In effect, by responding this way (in keeping with conflict resolution theory/technique) we also have a much better chance of abating the hyperarousal of our aggressor. On a neurobiological level, so-called ‘mirror-neurons’ come into effect, and our calm, confident presence and gentle assertive energy and movement can effectively ‘calm’ the violence of our ‘attacker.’ Ultimately, we cannot assert control over the free will of another–particularly if they are in a hyper-agitated and wilfully aggressive state.

With a spirit of loving protection, however, the superb blending movement of Aikido can quickly, smoothly and with minimal effort dissolve the attackers movement and assert control over the situation.

In our Aikido training, emphasis is placed on developing this awareness and re-conditioning the subconscious mind/body through Ki Development. Simply put, through exercises that could be described as non-reactive ‘moving meditation, ’ we make our new habit that of connecting with the groundedness of Earth, and the limitlessness of Heaven. By extending this feeling in all directions at all times, we both embody and project a feeling of ever-expanding stability and a light feeling that can benefit us in every thought and action.

It was Ueshiba’s vision to unite humanity through the spiritual practice of Aikido–through Love. And yet, as Siddartha Gautama, the ‘Buddha, ’ said of the birthright of enlightenment and liberation through mindful meditation, you cannot take action on dogma or doctrine–you must investigate and discover it for yourself…

Senshin Ki Aikido, Vancouver BC.

Sensei Michael A. Gordon, 4th Dan

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EMDR, Mind/Body Approach, Weight Loss and Eating Disorders (

To really understand what is vital to weight loss, we have to take a holistic mind/body approach. Current research provides more evidence that our physiological health, immunity and mental well-being are interdependent. For example, the neurochemicals responsible for emotional processing bind to receptor cell sites all over our body. Renowned researcher Candace Pert suggests that this means our body is actually our subconscious mind! When you consider that our gut is populated with huge clusters of receptors for emotional processing, the importance of a mind/body integrated approach to healing becomes ever more clear.

Dr. Bruce Lipton is leading the way in the field of ‘epigenetics, ’ which is showing that unlike previously thought, our DNA is not ‘locked’ in a predetermined mode in our cells. Rather, it is affected by external stimuli–including thoughts–which shape how genetic cellular information is released. In other words, we don’t necessarily inherit our body shape, disease or other factors genetically!

When it comes to a psychotherapy approach to addressing weight issues, it is crucial to examine how our current perception/feeling about ourselves is being ‘distorted’ by past experiences. While we tend to think of ‘trauma’ as being involved in life-threatening situations, psychological research is also now confirming that disorders such as depression and anxiety are the result of cumulative negative small ‘t’ traumas built up over time. Our system experiences trauma as any overwhelm to equilibrium, and when we face these situations, our natural response is to go into a limbic or ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Unfortunately, when this happens, we lose the ability to ‘finish’ with the event, and it stays ‘frozen’ in our nervous system, getting continuously re-triggered by present situations. Thus, our ability to shed old overwhelm to the system is often reflected in our physical condition–sometimes it simply means we ‘armour’ ourselves unconsciously with layers of extra body fat.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a highly effective mind/body approach that heals these past traumas, and quickly allows for self-healing in the present. Simply put, by safely connecting to past events pinpointed by the therapist, the client can ‘finish’ processing the stuck physiological experience and come back to equilibrium in the present. Thus, their entire system can come back into balance–shutting off the old alarms (stress hormones, etc) and letting their body function normally. One crucial element involved is the stress hormone Cortisol. When a person is triggered into an old trauma state, the Cortisol is activated–this hormone causes a person to not only crave carbohydrates to compensate for feelings of panic or depression, but also stores fat in the body!

EMDR is the most researched and clinically tested therapy approach to date for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When you consider this, applying it to body weight/image issues makes it a very powerful tool for helping a person connect with positive beliefs and to take action to better their life in every way.

Michael Gordon, MSc, EMDR
Director, Mindful You Therapy Clinic
Vancouver, BC

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Experts say “popping” kids can do more harm than good. A new study of more than 2, 500 toddlers from low-income families found that spanking may have detrimental effects on behavior and mental development.

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(Click on photos to enlarge)

It was a magical day from the start. I took my Max for a walk while the moon–full and silvery in the early morning twilight–slowly made its descent for the rising of Great Eastern Sun. And so, with an auspicious beginning, the sky opened, the rain gave way, and 20 good-hearted volunteers gathered at lunch hour in the Downtown Eastide to serve warm baked potatoes freshly prepared in their home kitchens.

We served roughly 300 potatoes with full trimmings to hundreds of very grateful people from the community. It was a heartwarming event for the volunteers, and the people congregated at Pigeon Park alike, sharing in the spirit of human-to-human kindness and sharing.

The event was co-sponsored and organized by and–many folks from the Vancouver Shambhala Center attended.

My sincere thanks to all the volunteers for making this first event an easy and outstanding success. My special heartfelt thanks to Lisa Hill from, for her unwavering enthusiasm and generosity of spirit, and to Ben Harapat ( for bringing his tent awning!

A huge and heartfelt thank you goes to, who donated 50lbs of organic potatoes; and Stong’s Market on Dunbar Street in Vancouver, for donating another 50lbs!

Please drop a line and stay tuned for future dharma events…

Michael Gordon

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It is with sadness that the world has lost Anita Roddick, a tireless advocate for social, economic and environmental change. Roddick had only recently been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, contracted from a blood transfusion during childbirth in 1971.

Roddick leaves an incredible legacy as an  ethical entrepeneur and global citizen, and has transformed the awareness of masses of people worldwide, while giving them alternatives to mindless consumerism.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 251 user reviews.