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The impact of optimism

Community: Class teaches seniors to think positively to improve health

Posted: December 12, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: December 12, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Dr. Michael Holt, left, leads a class for seniors entitled “The Power of Positive Thinking” at the SCV Senior Center on Thursday.

 


Attitude is everything. It’s a popular saying and one Michael Holt, Ph. D, a hypnotherapist and neurolinguistics expert, believes in wholeheartedly.

So do the attendees at his “Power of Positive Thinking” class every Thursday afternoon at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall.

Holt began teaching the class four years ago at the behest of his wife, who works in senior care.

“My original focus was on helping children. She said I should help seniors as well,” he said. “The whole challenge is getting rid of the limiting beliefs that we can’t do something or that getting old is a negative.”

Linda Hays, of Saugus, started attending about a year ago after hearing about the class from the center’s supportive services department.

“This has changed my life. Dr. Holt’s an incredible person, very positive and motivating. I just love coming here,” said Hayes, who suffers from various disabilities. “If I think about things a different way, I can change my outlook.”

Positive thinking has proven health benefits, according to a study by Dr. Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. His research found that the effects of positive thinking extend to the cells of the body and that optimists have higher levels of disease-fighting cell activity and suffer from less stress. Reduction of stress can help recover people faster from injuries and illness and reduce death from conditions like cardiovascular disease.

Exuberant and animated, Holt’s hourlong class is open to questions and answers throughout and heavily rooted in philosophy.

On one Thursday, he shared a story about a father whose son was in a traumatic accident.

The father grew more and more anxious awaiting a physician, who rushed in late wearing street clothes, then ran out once again after the surgery was completed and the child was safe. Little more than a few words were exchanged in the whole process.

Feeling slighted, the father complained to a nurse, who told him, “That doctor just lost his son in a car accident and left the funeral to operate on your son.”

Attendees gasped and shook their heads.

“There are points in life when you don’t consider other people or have a negative outlook,” Holt said at the story’s conclusion. “Ask yourself, throughout the day, what kind of emotions am I feeding my body with? Is it mostly positive? How many of you would say you maintain a 50 percent living positive day?”

About half the attendees raised their hands.

“The question is, what makes us happy? And if that’s not going to happen, am I going to make the choice to be unhappy or find something else to focus on?” he asked.

Once a sales manager by profession, Holt had to refocus his priorities after a serious car accident in his 30s accident with a traumatic brain injury and the inability to articulate clearly.

“Doctors told me that I may never get my brain back or speak or recover,” Holt said. “I thought, ‘You can’t tell me this is the end.’ I did everything I could to prove them wrong.”

That included studying Eastern philosophy, practicing tai chi and qi qong. After a year, Holt was speaking again and able to find work in customer service.

Aligning the physical with the mental is crucial, Holt went on, even if it was as simple as looking up to the sky to get a change of perspective.

“My dad used to tell me, ‘Shoulders up, head back.’ Scientifically, he didn’t know, he just knew it put me in a better place,” Holt said.

Frank Marion, of Saugus, has been in a better place since his first “Power of Positive Thinking” class six months ago. Now he’s a regular.

“I like it so much, I tell everyone the only way I’ll miss this class is if I’m sick, on vacation or dead,” Marion said. “It helps me handle problems, adjust to situations and live my life.”

The Power of Positive Thinking, 2 p.m., Thursdays, Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 22900 Market St., Newhall. Free.

For more information, visit www.scvsc.org or call (661) 259-9444.

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