Helpful Home Remedies for the Dreaded FLU Season

Whether you (or your entire household) are dealing with cold or flu, there are often more remedies around you than you might think.  Incorporating these kitchen herbs into your medicine chest is a simple way to use herbal medicine.

Ginger, Mint and Fennel

Mustard Seed – Some may recall stories of mustard plasters used for bronchitis and other respiratory infections, but this is not the most enjoyable way to use this herb.  1-2tsp of freshly ground mustard seeds (or powder, if necessary) can be added to a foot bath to help clear the chills and fever.

Fennel Seed – This common kitchen herb is very useful for stomach and intestinal colic associated with the flu.  Sipping on fennel tea can help relieve pain and gas from indigestion.  The sweet flavor of the seed makes this a popular remedy for children (just use a smaller dose), and can be helpful for treating coughs.

Pour 1cup of boiled water over 1-2tsp of fennel seed (slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle, if possible), cover and allow to steep for ten minutes.

Ginger – As soon as you get that deep chill feeling that usually means an illness is on the way, ginger is your best friend.  Chop up or grate some fresh ginger (about 1tbsp per cup) and infuse in boiled water for ten minutes.  Drink every couple of hours if the chills are acute.  Used in this way, ginger will often encourage you to sweat – make sure you are bundled up and keep out of the cold if possible.

Ginger can also have a calming effect on the stomach and nausea.  You can add a little ginger to fennel tea for this purpose.

Thyme – Another common kitchen herb, thyme is a strong anti-microbial and is very useful in the treatment of sore throats and coughs.  It can also be used to treat colic in children.  To make a tea, infuse 1-2tsp in 1cup of boiled water, covered, for ten minutes.  Drink up to three times a day.

Rosemary – One of my personal favorites in terms of kitchen herbs, rosemary is an excellent remedy for indigestion and colic.  You can make it as a tea or add to a mixture of the above mentioned herbs.

Peppermint – Peppermint tea has a calming effect on the digestive system so it can treat colic, flatulence, and nausea.  You can inhale the steam off your mug to help relieve sinus congestion – or put a couple drops of the essential oil on a tissue and keep it with you to use throughout the day or night (beside your pillow is a good idea).

Herbal Tea Echinacea – while not necessarily a ‘kitchen herb’, echinacea has become a very popular herbal remedy.  Research has found that echinacea has a regulating effect on the immune system, as well as antibacterial and antiviral properties (for you research junkies, read this).  For centuries, echinacea has been used to treat upper respiratory conditions, nasal congestion, skin infections, and even urinary tract infections.  Echinacea should not be used for long term to strengthen the immune system, it is a better remedy for acute infections – take it as soon as you start to feel under the weather.

While these kitchen herbs are all very safe, if you are unsure of how or when to use them you can always consult a Registered Herbalist.

Have you used any of these remedies? Do you have any other remedies you reach for?

When It Rains It Pours

Your dog is sick.  The vet bill is rising at an alarming rate.  Your daughter is struggling in school.  Your work is making layoffs.  You’ve been fighting with your partner – a lot.  The brakes on your car need to be replaced.  Your furnace just broke down.  And it’s January.  That age old saying ‘when it rains, it pours’ is very true in situations like these, but not remotely comforting or helpful (even though that’s the first thing people will say to you).  When the world around you seems to be falling apart piece by piece, what can you do to cope with stress?  While it would be nice if flipping the bird to the universe and going on a drinking binge would solve your problems – it won’t.  In fact, it will cause much more to be stressed about.  So, learning how to cope with stress – any level of stress – is worth your time because it will help you keep it together while everything else is falling apart.

Anyone who has been following this series and trying some of the mindfulness techniques will find that it is quite difficult to remember to do them on a regular basis.  Well, when we’re dealing with particularly stressful times in our lives it’s even more difficult to remember because it’s during those times that we are most strongly attached to our thought processes.  Learning to cope with stress and maintain your calm disposition will help you avoid a mental breakdown, toxic coping mechanisms, and illness.

Once you have learned some mindfulness strategies (recall: deep breathing, the body scan, the mindful shower), the most important thing you can do is remember to do them.  It’s difficult to develop new habits though, so you need to come up with reminders that will trigger you to do them.  Some that have worked for me include:
– Tying a string around my wrist or purchasing a bracelet solely for the purpose of reminding me to be mindful.  Every time you see the string/bracelet it will trigger that memory.
– Writing words or reminders on the mirrors on my home (eye liners or dry-erase markers).
– Setting reminders to go off on my cell a couple of times a day.
– Post-it notes around my home or workplace, in my wallet, alarm clock, or laptop.

As I have said before, the more often you are able to remember to be mindful, the quicker you will build the habit of being mindful.  Eventually it becomes second-nature, an automatic response to stress.  And when that is your reality, times when the stress is reaching record highs will be so much more manageable.  Your health will not suffer.  Your reactions to situations and the people around you will be controlled.  In short, your stress load will actually be much lighter because your reactions and coping strategies will not cause more stress.

Week 4 Exercise: Mindfully Eating

No matter how stressed you are, you have to eat.  Considering what we know about the stress response, and how blood is shunted away from our digestive organs (among other things) when we are in the fight-or-flight mode, it is understandable that it is not only important what you are eating, but also how you are eating.  Indeed, most people are multi-tasking while eating – whether it’s typing away at a computer, watching TV, reading the paper, running in between meetings, or chatting on the phone.  How often are you actually being present while eating?  Mindful eating allows us to truly taste what we are eating, feel the texture, smell the aromas, and experience our body’s reaction to the food.

Some pointers:
– Try to be as present as possible while eating; avoid multi-tasking.
– As you eat, focus your attention to your food – tune in to your senses.  Truly experience every aspect of the meal.
– Tune in to your body, how does the food feel in your stomach?  How does it feel to be hungry? Full?

If you begin to do this on a regular basis, you will experience some really interesting changes: the taste of the food will be different, your digestion will improve, your mood will improve, and you might actually realize that you don’t even like some of the foods you regularly consume.

Week 4 Challenge: Have one mindful meal or snack a day.  Even if it is just an apple or a piece of toast, stop what you are doing and try to be completely present while eating it.

Next week will be the conclusion of this five-part series.  We will summarize what we have learned, the tools we now have, and the most important information to take away from these articles.  Further resources will be given.

On Negative Thinking

So far in this mindfulness series, we have explored a few thought-provoking ideas:

  • We now know what stress really is and what it does to our bodies on a physical level – this is referred to as the ‘stress response’.
  • We know that chronic stress has a detrimental effect on our overall health.
  • We know that stress is a fact of life – we need to focus on managing the effects of stress, not escaping it entirely.
  • Whether you are actually facing a stressful situation in reality or whether you are imagining that situation in your head, your body will respond.  The stress response can be triggered by physical, emotional and mental causes.

Psychology Today estimates that we typically have anywhere from 25000 to 50000 thoughts every day.  Since we know that our thoughts can provoke physical reactions, we should consider both the quality and the quantity of thoughts we have daily.  I found it quite striking that there has been such a huge difference in quantity measured – wouldn’t it be ideal to be closer to 25 000 than 50 000?

Looking at the quality of our thoughts, negative thought processes would be something that you would want to minimize, for the betterment of your health.  What type of thoughts do you tend to have throughout the day?  In order to answer this question, you first need to have the ability to watch your thoughts.  There needs to be enough space between you and your thought processes and it is through cultivating mindfulness in your life that you become able to do this.  Once you are able to witness your thoughts arise, you can then ask yourself what type of thought patterns dominate your day:
– are you a ‘glass is half full’ or  a ‘glass is half empty’ type of thinker?
– do you tend to focus more on the negative or the positive aspects of a situation?  It is useful to be able to see possible negatives, but to only focus on the possibility of negatives is quite harmful.  This is called filtering.  What type of filter do you see situations through?
– do your thoughts predict events that have not yet happened?  This is an example of living out of the present moment and in the future.
– do your thoughts assume things that you do not know for certain?
– do your thoughts tend to personalize events? For instance, if your boss is having a bad day, you might assume it is because of you when in reality, it has nothing to do with you.
– how many of your thoughts are negative self-talk?   This is when you have thoughts that put yourself down, criticize your image, abilities, or actions, doubt yourself, etc.

Know this; negative thoughts create pathways in your brain.  Ruminating over something creates a pathway that becomes easier and easier to access.  For example, memories that you think about obsessively are easier to access than memories you haven’t thought about in years.  The process of becoming a positive thinker involves making new pathways in your brain – a branch of science called ‘neuroplasticity’ studies this process.

I think that most people would agree that is seems to be easier to think negatively about situations than it is to see the positive side of things.  There is scientific evidence that supports this; our brains tend to put more emphasis on – and we tend to have a stronger physical reaction to – negative situations and thought processes than positive.  This is a part of our survival mechanism because negative information might represent possible threats to our safety – it is a part of our fight-or-flight response.  It is possible to place more emphasis on the positive, but it takes conscious effort and, in a sense, some reprogramming, to do this.

Why is this worth your effort?  Again, because we know that our bodies react to our thoughts, we can conclude that negative thinking can be toxic on a physical level – not to mention the emotional, mental and even social realms.

So once you have understood the necessity to minimize negative thinking, and once you have learned that you actually do have the ability to control your thoughts, the next step involves forming new habits in your thought processes.  How do we do this?  Well it’s not as simple as ignoring negative thoughts – the more you ‘try not to think’ about something, the stronger it will become.  There will be situations in life that are negative – period.  It’s not useful to just ignore those situations but you can be aware of how you think about them.  Avoid overemphasizing the negative, avoid personalizing anything, and avoid assumptions.  See the negative situation for what it is – that’s okay, healthy even.  Recognize what you can do something about and what you cannot do anything about.  Then choose to take a positive step from there.

Week 3 Exercise: Regain power over negative thought patterns

1) Identify: As often as you can remember, watch your thoughts.  Every time you become aware of a negative thought, acknowledge that it is negative and destructive.  Do not judge yourself or beat yourself up – just acknowledge the thought for what it is and let it go.
2) Stop the process:  Make a conscious choice not to give that thought any more life.  You are doing this because you know that it has negative effects on your health.  It might be helpful to visualize a stop sign or say to yourself out loud that you’re not going to think like that.
3) Go to mindfulness:  Use breathing to create more space between your thoughts and your awareness.  Ground yourself in the moment – feel the floor beneath your feet.
4)  Create new, positive habits:  Start to reprogram your brain by consciously and purposely creating positive thoughts.  Focus on being grateful for what you have; this will start to shift your perspective to the positive.

Week 3 Challenge:  The Mindful Shower

–  Whether you shower in the morning or at night, use that time to be present in your body and senses.
– Make a conscious choice to leave your mental to-do list aside while you shower – this is your time.
– Take 3 deep breaths
Tune in to your senses to tune in to the moment: feel the heat of the water, feel what it’s like when the stream hits your skin, smell the soap, notice how the steam looks around you as it rises, hear the sound of the running water.
– As you wash your body, feel your body.  Notice areas of tension or dis-ease.
–  Take 3 deep breaths to complete your shower.
– Give life to a positive thought: Be grateful for the opportunity to have had that time to yourself, set your intentions to have a great day or a restful night.  Feed yourself some loving thoughts.

Next week we will look at what you can do to manage particularly stressful situations or times of your life.  We will learn positive, healthy coping mechanisms that are actually enjoyable.

The Sources of Stress

What stresses you out? Many sources of stress are obvious – you might say your job, boss, finances, maybe family and relationships. Other sources, however, are hard to identify.

In reference to last week, two important notes to remember…

Chronic stress = chronic stress response in your body = ill health and reduced ability to cope with new stress

A stress response will occur in your body regardless of whether the stressful situation is happening in reality or whether you are merely thinking about it.

It is helpful to think of there being three different types of stress; physical, behavioral, and emotional.

Examples of each:

Physical – having to stare at a computer screen all day, working long hours, environmental toxins, pollution, Canadian winters, noise, sleep deprivation
Behavioural – eating too fast or not eating at all, consumption of intoxicants (coffee, tobacco, alcohol)
Emotional- The loss of a loved one, unfulfilled desires, unstable relationships, fear, anxiety, worry, guilt.

Let’s take a closer look at the sources of stress that often go unnoticed…

Noise as a source of stress:

This is a big one; responding to noise is a part of our instinct for survival – it’s protective. Babies are very responsive to all noises and can be startled very easily, even when still in the womb. Unfortunately, because we are always being confronted with a wide variety of unpredictable noises, we have had to dull our conscious reaction to them. This doesn’t mean that we are not responding to those noises at all though. Whether its traffic, airplanes, cell phones, typing, the buzz of lights, music, television, advertisements, or simply just voices around us, noise is a constant stressor in our modern lives. Whether you are aware of it or not, your body is reacting to noise on some level.

Our coping mechanisms as a source of stress:
True, we often have a coffee for that boost of energy it gives us, but we also reach for it because we feel like it will help us take on the day. People often use smoking as a way to get a break at work – it’s their 5 or 10 minutes to step outside and be alone. And as for alcohol, a recent study in America showed that 2/3 of the adult population turns to alcohol as a main way to unwind.

We often use these substances to manage our stress, but unfortunately they tend to lead to more stress – physical stress. These are toxins; our bodies have to work harder to metabolize them. Often smoking, drinking, or even having one too many coffees will have a hangover effect into the next day, which only makes us reach for more or different substances in order to keep going.

This should make you question what your coping strategies are and whether they are actually adding to stress in your life. If you are one of the (many) people that go home and watch TV for a couple of hours to unwind, think about what we just learned about noise and the stress response. To take that a step further, we can investigate the effects of visual stress. Remember, whether it is happening in real life or not is irrelevant; experiencing a stressful situation in a movie will create a stress response in your body, just as watching the evening news will.

Emotional stress is something that can be tricky to identify.

Sometimes these emotions can be obvious – like the loss of a loved one, or a divorce – but sometimes we actually don’t allow ourselves to feel the emotions that are the greatest sources of stress.

Studies have shown that experiencing emotional trauma at some point in your life can greatly impact your ability to manage stress in general. In order to cope and keep living from day to day, we often supress emotional reactions to trauma – they get put on the back burner because we lack the support, the time, or the strength to process them at the time. While we may not feel those emotions on a conscious level, they’re still there – they haven’t been resolved yet. What is really interesting is that while your mind might not remember trauma, your body will.

In short, these emotions almost get hard-wired into our bodies. We cannot consciously deal with or resolve the emotions at the time that they come into being, so they get repressed and continue to affect our psyche and our outlook on life as we go on.

Whether physical, behavioral or emotional, these sources of stress have something major in common: They all manifest physically in the body. If we understand this, then we understand that the ability to feel the stress response in our body is a major part of identifying the sources of stress, especially those ones that are not so obvious. If we can identify the sources of stress, we can do something about them.

Enter: The Mindful Body Scan. Last week we learned about the benefits of taking a deep breath. This week we are going to take it a bit further.

Deep breathing not only has positive effects on your health, but it also brings you into your body and out of the thought-realm. Our body is always speaking to us and if we can tune in to what it is saying, we can stop the stress reaction before it becomes too harmful.

Imagine sitting at a desk, typing away, rushing to meet a deadline. After a couple of hours you jump up to grab a paper you need and SMACK you get hit with a serious headache. What the mindfulness body scan will help you do is tune in to your body so that you can feel the symptoms of stress before it causes that headache. You will be able to notice your neck getting stiff and your muscles becoming tense as time goes by. If you ignore these symptoms, eventually your body will send you a message that you can’t ignore (throbbing headache). Why do we ignore these symptoms? Because we are so fully in the thought-realm that we aren’t even feeling what is going on in our bodies – until our bodies start yelling at us.

So give this a try…again, this is something that you will forget to do. That’s okay. The more you remember to do it, the easier it will be to remember, and eventually this will just come naturally to you. Again, this can be done in under 2 minutes – we are focusing on fitting mindfulness into your daily grind, after all.

Week 2 Exercise: The Mindful Body Scan
– Start with taking 3 deep breaths; focus your mind on your body as the air fills your lungs and your abdomen expands with each inhale. Feel the air leave your body, your abdomen fall, and your lungs rest. This will bring you out of your thoughts and into the moment, connecting your awareness with your body.

– Continue the deep breathing as you shift your focus from your breath to the top of your head. Just bring your awareness there, feel what is going on there, without judgement.

– Anytime you realize that you are back in the thought-realm, return to your breath and reconnect with your body.

– Bring your awareness to your eyes – become aware of how your eyes feel. There may be tension, soreness, dryness…you don’t have to think about it, just feel it.
– Bring your awareness to your jaw, feel if there is tension there. Stay there for a moment.
– Continue to scan your body, stopping here and there to check in. Feel that part of your body and listen to what it is telling you.
– Don’t forget your neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, hips, knees and feet.

– If you come across an area of tension, breathe deeply and stay focused on that part of your body. Often times your attention to that area is enough to release that tension.
– If you have a tendency to feel stress in one area of your body and you don’t have time to do a full body scan, bring your awareness straight to that area.

Week 2 Challenge:
– Find a way to fit a mindful body scan into your daily grind. Start with one a day.
Some suggestions:
– on the streetcar to and from work
– at your desk during your lunch break
– before you fall asleep at night

Next week we look at how to break negative thought patterns and why it is worth your time.

Works Cited:
http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-symptoms/SR00008_D

Awareness-Based Stress Management

This article outlines the content of Week 1 of my Mindfulness Series at Beaches Acupuncture Clinic.  If you are interested in attending any of the remaining sessions, reading this article is a good way to catch up on what was missed this week.  Feel free to contact me for more information.

‘Stress’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot – “I’m stressed out”, “My job is stressful”, “She gets easily stressed” – but what is stress, really?  Where does stress come from and how does it affect our body and our minds?  Most importantly, how can we better manage the negative effects of stress?

The Oxford Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.  That definition seems alright, but it suggests that stress is an occurrence, an event – not a constant factor of life.  Most people would say that they deal with stress on a daily basis, so are we continually facing ‘adverse or demanding’ circumstances every day?  Well, yes we are, aren’t we?  We have to work, we have to deal with traffic, with extreme weather, with extreme people, we have relationships, we have families – all of these things can cause stress.

When you’re in pursuit of a balanced state of health, it is more important to consider factors that happen every day more than those that happen every once in a while.  So when we recognize that stress is generally a constant in our lives, it becomes important to explore what the physiological effects of stress are; that is, what does stress do to our bodies?

The primary mechanism behind stress response in our bodies involves the nervous system.  You don’t need to worry about too much of the anatomy and physiology behind this in order to understand what stress does to your body.  There are two basic terms that you need to know: One is called the parasympathetic nervous system.  This is the part of our nervous system that allows us to ‘rest and digest’ – that is, rest, sleep, heal, repair, and digest and absorb nutrients.  The other response is through the sympathetic nervous system – this is where the fight or flight response comes in.  

Our response to stress is a part of our instinct for survival.  For example, imagine a scenario where you are facing possible danger – let’s say an attack.  Understanding that you are under attack, you automatically go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode; that is, fight the predator, or run away to safety.  When you are in this mode, several changes occur rapidly in your body:

– You see the attacker, recognize the danger, and right away your muscles tense. 

– Your brain starts to secrete hormones that act as signals throughout your body – these signals create changes in both your physical and emotional state.  Some of the changes include increased alertness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and rapid, shallow breathing.  

– Your circulatory system starts to pump blood to the areas of your body that are going to help you survive the possible attack and redirects it away from the ‘non-essential’ organs, the areas of your body that are not necessary for survival at that moment – your skin, reproductive organs, and digestive organs. 

– The hormones that are being secreted at this point also affect your emotional state – you start to feel an increased sense of urgency and anxiety. 

Indeed, you are the very opposite of relaxed; you are on edge, on high alert, ready to make any necessary move for your own survival.  When the threat is removed, your body tries to regain balance (homeostasis) by shifting you back into the ‘rest and digest’ mode, where all of the above reactions are reversed.  The thing is that this process is gradual – your body is still keeping you on high alert ‘just in case’ the threat returns.

This is where our stress response is useful.  This is where our ability to recognize and act on stress is part of survival.  This is good. 

But there are many different degrees of stress – you (hopefully) won’t be facing possible attacks on a daily basis, but you will be faced with multiple stressful situations.  Maybe it’s a car that cuts you off on the way to work, maybe it’s your boss having a bad day, maybe it’s a big hydro bill that pops up in the mail – these are all stressors and they will have the same effect on your body, in varying degrees of severity.

It seems like it is becoming common knowledge that stress affects your health, which is great because that means that we are recognizing the connection between mind and body.  Research findings are pointing more and more to stress being an underlying cause of many diseases; high blood pressure, stroke, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and diabetes, to name a few.  The fact is that exercise, nutrition and lifestyle choices are all very important factors in health and healing, but stress management is an often forgotten and undervalued component. 

What does it mean to manage stress?  To me, the concept of managing stress implies that we learn to do two things: avoid unnecessary stress and reduce the negative consequences of stress that we cannot avoid experiencing.  Let’s be honest – stress is a fact of life.  We have to work, we live in busy cities, we’re surrounded by noise and pollution, we have a never ending list of things to do – it’s not as simple as just quitting our jobs and getting rid of things in our lives that stress us out.

So how do we go about managing stress?  Start by trying this exercise:

1) Stress Inventory

 First, take a stress-inventory of your current life.  Take time to sit down for five or ten minutes and write down the sources of stress in your life.  Everything – whether it’s your job, a certain person in your life, finances, or even the line up at Tim Horton’s every morning – just write it all down.

As you begin to cultivate mindfulness in your life, that list might actually start to grow.  This is because often times we might not even be aware of where stress comes from in our lives…while some sources are obvious, others are not at all.  Part of mindfulness training is being able to feel tension and dis-ease in our bodies.  When we are better able to do this, we can more effectively judge what things in our lives are sources of stress.


2) Stress Analysis

After making a list of all of the stressors in your life, take time to go through that list and analyze it.  Figure out what things you can do something about and what things you are unable change.  If you notice some things on your list that you can easily change, then go for it.  This is reducing the sources of unnecessary stress.  For instance, if driving through the construction on Kingston road has been a major source of stress for you, simply changing what route you take to work might be a good idea and a simple way to reduce stress.

3) Change your stress response

The next step is changing how you deal with stress – or more importantly, how stress affects you.  This is a change that happens within you; this is a change that happens when you break old patterns and build new ones.  This is where mindfulness comes in.

What is mindfulness? I have purposely chosen to use this term instead of the term ‘meditation’.  Why? Because most people associate meditation with a practice that doesn’t seem possible for them – most of us are not able to sit in quiet contemplation, watching our thoughts for an hour.  That’s OK, building awareness in your life doesn’t have to look like that.  Mindfulness can fit into your daily grind and will profoundly change your life and how you deal with stress.

When you begin to be mindful in life, you begin to create space between your awareness and your thoughts.  Instead of being controlled by your thoughts and identifying fully with them, mindfulness allows you to watch your thoughts arise.  This way, you can choose which thoughts to pay more attention to, which thoughts to give life to, and you can identify which thoughts are destructive.

Your mind can be an incredible tool – it can help you problem solve, make decisions, plans and insights.  But it can also be a major health hazard.

Most people are ruled by their thoughts.  Some people are living in the land of ‘what ifs’, where their thoughts keep them in the future.  They spend their days worrying about possible scenarios that may arise, situations that are not real, events haven’t yet happened or might never happen.  Other people are living in the land of yesterday, obsessing over things that have happened in the past or that didn’t happen and should have.  Some people are a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B.  Very few people are living in the NOW, living each moment as it comes.

Mindfulness, a term made popular by Jon Kabat-Zinn, involves the process of paying attention to the present moment, including what thoughts arise in your mind.  How does this relate to stress?  Well, our bodies respond to stressful scenarios in our minds just as they do to stressful situations that we face in reality.  Have you ever been worrying about something and it started to feel like there was a knot in your stomach?  Have you ever experienced heartache, when you actually feel a heavy ache in your chest?  This is the connection between mind and body, between thoughts and physical changes.  It’s very real. 

So when you are dealing with stress on a daily basis, it becomes very important to watch your thoughts – because all of those changes that happen in your body when you’re under attack will also happen in your body when you are THINKING about being under attack.  There is no difference.  Your body reacts to your mind, period.

Mindfulness starts with breath.  It sounds very simple, but most people don’t actually know how to breathe, how to take a deep breath.  The physical benefits of deep breathing are huge – your body releases 70% of toxins through breathing, so taking deep breaths will increase the amount of toxins your body is able to release.  Deep breathing increases your oxygen intake, which benefits your brain and muscles throughout your body, and improves the quality of your blood.   It has been proven that deep breathing reduces pain reception and improves your mood.  It also nourishes your nervous system and helps boost your immune function. 

Focusing on your breath is the easiest way to be mindful – no matter where you are or what situation you are in, you always have the ability to focus on your breathing.  When you pay attention to the process of breathing, you are creating space between your awareness and your thought process.  You are grounding yourself in the moment.  This is the foundation of any mindfulness practice.

How to take a deep breath:  Inhale slowly through your nose.  Allow your lungs to fill with air and allow your stomach to expand as you breathe in.  When your lungs are full of air, pause for a moment, then slowly release the air through your mouth or nose, whichever is more comfortable.

Week 1 Challenge:
Find a way to fit deep breathing into your daily grind.
In under 20 seconds you can start to radically transform your life.
Find what works for you – it helps to build a habit.
Ideas:  Take 3 deep breaths before you get out of bed every morning.

– Take 3 deep breaths before you start to drive
– Take 3 deep breaths every time you pee

Start with small, attainable steps – just 3 deep breaths at a time.  Do this as often as you can remember.  The more you do it, the easy it will be, and eventually you will find that it starts to come naturally.  

Find what works for you and start to incorporate that into your daily grind.

Next week’s discussion will teach you how to use mindfulness to better connect with your body and feel the symptoms of stress.

Works cited:
http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx
http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_biological_effects_of_acute_stress_000031_2.htm
http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html

Acupuncture and Chronic Pain Relief

For those of you who are looking for strong evidence supporting the efficacy of acupuncture, check out this article in the New York Times.  It is one of the most comprehensive, respected studies of this medicine to date.

While acupuncture is certainly helpful for chronic pain, it is a part of a medical system that can treat any and all physical and emotional ailments.  Indeed, acupuncture is just one of many tools that a Practitioner of Chinese Medicine might use, including tui na, moxibustion, cupping, herbal medicine, and (in my case) mindfulness-based approaches to greater health and well-being.   In my practice, I always find ways to incorporate mindfulness teachings into treatments because I feel that our mental emotional well being is crucial to the healing process.  This fall, I will be launching an exciting program at Beaches Acupuncture Clinic that will be combining a discussion series on awareness-based stress reduction with powerful auricular acupuncture treatments.  This program has been created with the intention of inspiring others to explore simple ways to incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily grind.

After each session I will be posting articles on the topic covered that week – if you are not moved to join in the weekly sessions, then take a look at the articles and see if it resonates with you.  More information on the clinic can be found on the Beaches Acupuncture Clinic website.