Meditation: Why It’s Vital Right Now

Tense muscles. Obsessing about the news. Anxiety about the future. Difficulty sleeping. Do all of these sound familiar? You’re definitely not alone. There’s no doubt that we are living with a lot of uncertainty right now.

How can we cope?

Doing Nothing To Cope With Everything

The answer might be as simple as doing…. nothing. Simply sitting still and mindfully clearing your thoughts through meditation has an astounding number of benefits that are vital right at this point in history.

In fact, fostering an ongoing meditation practice can change the structure of your brain, providing benefits that continue when you have finished meditating.

In short, meditation may be one of the best things you can do for yourself in troubled times.

The Benefits Of Meditation
Some of the many positive things that can happen when you meditate include:

Lower Blood Pressure
Meditation can decrease the “flight or fight” hormones in your body. As a result of this relaxation response, your blood vessels open up, which in turn improves your blood pressure.

Less Stress-Induced Inflammation
Excess cortisol, one of the central stress hormones, can lead to inflammation in many parts of the body – a common example of this is the gut, with digestive issues being common during times of high stress. Because meditation can lower the amount of cortisol you produce, inflammation is reduced.

Embracing Uncertainty
Despite all of the health benefits, the ultimate goal of meditation isn’t necessarily focused on physical results. It’s more a process of learning to embrace uncertainty.

A More Positive Outlook
Who doesn’t need a more positive outlook right now? Meditation has been found to actually alter (in a good way) the parts of your brain responsible for positive thoughts. As well, by becoming more aware of your thoughts, you can fend off negativity.

Reduced Anxiety And Fewer Obsessive Thoughts
It’s perfectly normal to be experiencing anxiety and obsessive thoughts when faced with a pandemic. However, those thoughts can spiral out of control and negatively affect family members as well as your health. High cortisol levels even lower your immune response, and we all want a strong immune system right now.

How Does Meditation Help With Negative Thoughts?

It can be difficult to imagine gaining control over the thought train when world events, and the changes to our daily lives, seem so overwhelming.

However, meditation teaches us how to experience and sit with those thoughts – without panicking or feeling like we need to repress them. With a little practice, you should be able to just sit with your thoughts and feelings, without judgment or analysis, and start to process them without spiralling out of control. You can be present in the moment without projecting into the future or ruminating on the past.

And right now, faced with so many unknowns, that’s particularly important.

Why Start Now?

You might feel that now is not a good time to start meditation. After all, you’re likely stuck at home and perhaps feel antsy and confined. Who wants to sit still? However, mediation has proven to be an effective mental health treatment and right now we need to be focusing not just on our healthy body but also…a healthy mind.

How To Start Meditating

Many people find the thought of taking up meditation a bit intimidating. After all, it has had an esoteric reputation through the ages. It’s important to know that you don’t have to “master” meditation. It’s OK to be imperfect. Your mind will probably wander, and you may feel uncomfortable at first. That’s perfectly normal.

Setting Up Your Practice

The good news is that it’s surprisingly simple to get started. In basic terms, you just need to:

● Find a comfortable place. Ideally, it will be quiet.
● Sit in a natural position.
● Breathe normally.
● Focus on your breath.
Try not to overthink this: just focus on each exhalation and inhalation. It’s not necessary to force anything.
● If your mind wanders:
(And since you’re human, there’s a good chance that it will) try to sit back and “observe” your thoughts. Don’t analyze them. And don’t scold yourself for losing focus. It’s all part of the process. They are just passing through your brain.

How Long Should You Meditate?

You may have heard of people going on week-long meditation retreats. That’s great – but it’s not really necessary. Just a few minutes a day is a good start. In fact, studies have found that just five minutes can have significant benefits.

And who doesn’t have five extra minutes?

How Often Should You Meditate?

Consistency is a key component of a successful meditation practice. Try to carve out a few minutes a day to dedicate to your mental health. Some people find that it helps to make it the same time every day.

Resources To Get Your Meditation Practice Started

There are quite a few wonderful resources available to help you get started with meditation should you need a little help – here are a few of our favourites:

Headspace
Calm
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

There are many reasons to start meditation. Why not start now? Let us know how you get on – and remember that we are here to support your health and wellness.

Our clinic is still open via phone or video call – and our practitioners are available for essential care appointments. Simply send us an email or call us at 416-234-1888.

References:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25390009
https://www.npr.org/2008/08/21/93796200/to-lower-blood-pressure-open-up-and-say-om
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159112004758
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159112004758
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5946075_Relationships_between_mindfulness_practice_and_levels_of_mindfulness_medical_and_psychological_symptoms_and_well-being_in_a_mindfulness-based_stress_reduction_program
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0306624X19856232
https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Effects-of-Five-Minute-Mindfulness-Meditation-on-Lam-Sterling/7a7529a9e6401679016ab78f398eaaf4487aff84
https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2003/07000/Alterations_in_Brain_
and_Immune_Function_Produced.14.aspx

Chronic Stress Can Affect Your Immunity

If you’re like most people, you’ve read a lot of tips on avoiding COVID-19. You likely know the basics: Wash your hands; keep a safe distance from others; avoid travel and quarantine yourself if you have travelled; and don’t go out at all if you experience any symptoms.

Staying Healthy Starts On The Inside

However, it’s also important to acknowledge that staying healthy starts on the inside. The defense system we all need to take care of in these crazy times is our immune system.

Yet here’s the irony: When we are stressed, our immunity becomes weaker. And right now, we’re all stressed about sickness among other things. Just when we all need a strong immune system, chronic stress has the potential to weaken our defenses.

How Stress Affects The Immune System

Why does stress weaken immunity? The process makes perfect sense if you think of how we lived for most of human history.

Not too long ago, if we perceived a threat, such as a predatory animal in the wild, we had to respond – and quickly! In that sense, our body is primed to protect us.

Fight Or Flight

Let’s take a look at the “flight or fight” response and how stress changes us on a physiological level.

● Blood pressure goes up.
● Heart rate goes up.
● Serotonin levels drop, because you need to stay awake.
● Insulin sensitivity is impaired.
● Digestion slows down to preserve energy.
● Cholesterol goes up.
● The body pumps stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream.

All of these changes are designed to make sure that you have enough energy in the right places – i.e. the arms and legs – to respond to stress appropriately – i.e. fight or run.

Resource Hoarding

That’s because your body wants to put all of its resources into dealing with the immediate threat. This response is actually very helpful – if you need to escape a predator. However, in today’s world, stress is typically more chronic and, let’s face it, unrelenting.

And that’s where the problems start.

Adaptive Physiology

Our body’s ability to respond to stress is called “adaptive physiology.” To understand this, it might help to think of your nervous system as actually two systems:

● Your sympathetic nervous system powers the Fight or Flight response that you need in the face of danger.
● Your parasympathetic nervous system is behind the “Relax and Recharge”, aka “Rest and Digest” response you need in between periods of stress. Without this response, your body’s systems would stay in overdrive.

Essentially, the way in which these two systems work together is not unlike the brakes and gas pedals in your car. One speeds you up, and the other slows you down.

Ideally, your body adapts depending on the situation. The Relax and Recharge period is essential to restoring balance in mind and body.

Putting The Breaks On Stress

Right now, many of us feel like the “gas” is always on, which is a perfectly understandable response when faced with a global crisis.

However, that kind of constant stress can lead to a long list of health problems if the sympathetic nervous system never turns off.

What happens to a car if you only touch the gas and never use the brakes? There’s a high likelihood of a crash.

Don’t Crash Your Immune System

Not surprisingly, your immune system suffers when you’re heading for a crash. All the things that happen during your flight or fight response can lower your immunity. And that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen right now.

6 Ways To Switch Your Body To A Parasympathetic State

So, what can you do? Isn’t stress inevitable at this moment in history? A good starting point is thinking of the two states of your immune system and doing what you can to reach a state of rest and restoration.

1. Look at your mindset.
How you perceive a stressful situation will affect your body’s response to it. Perhaps you’re social distancing and feeling trapped and restless inside your home. That’s stressful. However, consider the difference between feeling stuck at home and feeling safe at home. That simple mental shift can help your nervous system remain in a restorative mode.

Don’t forget: You always have the opportunity to change your attitude.

2. Seek connection.
In times of stress, you should be close to people who restore your sense of wellbeing. It’s important to feel connected and accepted, because a feeling of connection can boost your immunity. However, how can you connect to others while also social distancing?

Fortunately, we’re lucky to live at a time with many options for video chats. Set up virtual coffee dates and regular meetings to touch base with those people who make you feel connected.

3. Honour your body’s natural rhythms.
Many people are having trouble sleeping right now. However, it’s more important than ever to try to get between seven and eight hours a night. Even if your normal routine is disrupted, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. That means going to bed at the same time every night (yes, even on weekends). As well, don’t dismiss the restorative powers of a good nap.

4. Don’t overcommit.
We’re all under a lot of pressure right now. Take a close look at your commitments and think of how you can eliminate any unnecessary stress. Remember that the goal is to rest your nervous system.

What makes you feel refreshed and restored? Those are the activities to focus on.

5. Eat to optimize your immune system.
Many studies backup the importance of essential nutrients in protecting your immunity. The ideal diet and supplements for you will depend on your unique health profile, but important nutrients include selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and D. In addition, don’t overlook the importance of maintaining a balance of “good bacteria” in your gut. More and more research points to the connection between a healthy gut and a healthy immune system.

In fact, up to 80 percent of your immune cells are found in your gut. The interaction between your gut microbiota and your immune system helps protect you against foreign pathogens.

6. Move your body.
Exercise can help your body’s nervous system maintain equilibrium. It can slow down the release of stress hormones and increase the number of disease-fighting white blood cells. As well, movement helps to regulate the communication between your brain and your body.

However, it’s important to move in a safe way – any irregularities in your body’s alignment can affect this process. Focus on doing something you love and making exercise a part of your daily routine. Consistency is the key! If you’re not sure exactly how to work out with gym closures, check out the multitude of workouts you can find online.

Prioritize Self-Care

Even in stressful times, it’s possible to optimize your immune system. Focus on your body’s need to restore and repair itself and prioritize your self-care. Taking steps towards staying healthy can help you gain a sense of control in an uncertain world. And that will ultimately strengthen your response to stress.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, please reach out. We can work together to create a plan that fits your unique needs!

References:
https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/107673
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2869337/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/
https://neurohacker.com/how-the-gut-microbiota-influences-our-immune-system
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005

How To Support Your Immune System And Navigate COVID-19

With many of our clients glued to the news of the spread of the novel coronavirus, we want to address the questions we’re receiving daily. Preventing illness altogether may be out of our control, however preparing our bodies, minds and homes can help us to navigate this era with more confidence. Our goal is to give you some clear and actionable tips to support your immune system and reduce the impact this virus has on your health.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie”

What Are The Symptoms Of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the name given to a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus of unknown origin which is currently spreading quickly throughout the world. Symptoms can be similar to a mild cold, or may exacerbate to pneumonia. A lot is still to be learned about the defining symptoms of this particular virus.

Known Symptoms:
● Cough
● Fever
● Difficulty breathing
● Pneumonia, mild to severe

Who is at risk of catching COVID-19?

Like other coronaviruses, such as those which cause the common cold, this year’s novel coronavirus spreads easily. Unlike the common cold however, because this virus is new, no-one is immune to catching it. In fact, the virus causing COVID-19 seems to have a slightly longer incubation period than most, which means that individuals may unknowingly carry and spread the virus for a few days before symptoms appear. Herein lies the reason for the vast reach this virus is having.

Who is at risk of more serious complications?

As with all illnesses, certain individuals are at a higher risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. This includes anyone over the age of 65 with compromised immune systems and with underlying medical conditions.

In fact, any underlying health condition is a reason to take extra precautions to avoid catching the virus and to support your immune system to fight it off more effectively should you catch it.

Many individuals who contract COVID-19 will have minimal symptoms and some may not even realise they have it.

Keeping A Safe Physical Distance

“Social Distancing” means staying physically far enough away from people you don’t live with to avoid catching, and subsequently passing on, a virus. This is a tried and true technique for quelling epidemics, and it is of the utmost importance for all of us to follow the instruction to self isolate in order for the technique to work.

Make sure that you stay up to date with the recommendations of your local public health department with regards to what types of movement outside of your home are and are not acceptable.

8 Simple Habits To Support Your Immune System

As with anything, there are things that you can do to minimize your risk and help protect or reduce the severity of symptoms from catching a cold, the flu, or the current Coronavirus.

1. Hand Hygiene

This one may seem obvious, but wash your hands well and frequently using warm water and soap. Here is a link to the World Health Organization’s recommended hand washing technique. A good strategy is to implement a policy of everyone washing their hands as soon as they enter your home. It is also a good idea to regularly sanitize high traffic areas around your home such as door knobs, light switches, TV remotes etc.

2. Rest & Sleep Properly

Even though we are all extremely busy, make sure you are getting enough sleep. When you sleep your body goes through natural healing and detox processes that are important for maintaining a strong immune system. It is important not to deprive yourself of that healing time.

Good sleep habits include:
● Reading a good novel at bedtime instead of catching up on the day’s news on your phone
● Turning off your phone’s notifications in the evening
● Turning down the lights to create a more soothing bedtime environment
● Sleeping in complete darkness

3. Eat Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that almost feels outdated. But guess what? It is true. Make sure that you are eating a healthy diet full of whole foods and avoiding too much packaged food.

Good options include lean protein, high fiber vegetables and fruits (complex carbohydrates), as well as nuts and seeds. Cook with plenty of garlic for added protection from colds.

Here are also some foods that are considered supportive of a healthy immune system. If you are unable to find them fresh, frozen is the next best thing.

● Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are high in vitamin C and E and flavonoids, all helpful for the immune system to work optimally.
● Orange foods such as oranges, red bell peppers and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, a protective antioxidant.
● Salmon and other oily fish provide healthy fats for strong cells, and may be helpful in reducing immune-related conditions.
● Turmeric both fresh and powdered is helpful in reducing inflammation in the body. Garlic and ginger may also provide some immune-boosting effects.
● Berries, especially blueberries which contain flavonoids, compounds helpful in fighting off upper respiratory tract infections.
● Probiotic foods such as kefir, kimchi and natural yoghurt contain a variety of good bacteria which are helpful to the immune system.
● Unpasteurised honey such as Manuka honey can help reduce cough symptoms. Take 1 teaspoon in the evening before bed, or sip in the form of a hot, comforting honey and lemon tea.

4. Take Your Supplements

Almost all nutrients in the diet play a crucial role in maintaining an “optimal” immune response, however some have been specifically researched for their role in supporting the immune system.

Now is a good time to use some of those supplements that are cluttering up your cupboard before they go out of date!

Vitamin C

Simple vitamin C is a powerful protective antioxidant which helps to strengthen the body’s defense against pathogens. Studies show that supplementation with vitamin C helps in the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections.

Vitamin C is abundant in foods such as tomatoes and red peppers, leafy green vegetables and citrus fruit.
Adding a daily vitamin C supplement is a good start when you are looking to support your immune system.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has historically been used, sometimes unknowingly, to treat infections due to the role sunlight plays in increasing the body’s vitamin D levels. In sanitoriums, Tuberculosis treatment included exposing patients to sunlight which was thought to directly kill the tuberculosis.

A 1994 study of 190,000 subjects showed that individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient vitamin D in their system.

10 – 15 minutes of time spent outdoors with the sun on your skin (taking all usual precautions to avoid sunburn) can help increase your body’s natural vitamin D levels, and supplements are readily available as well.

Probiotics

If you’re not already taking a probiotic, look for a high quality version containing multiple strains. L. rhamnosus is a strain of probiotic which is often studied for its protective effect in respiratory infections.

Zinc

Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body (after iron), and it is present in every cell. It’s fundamental to wound healing, skin health, brain health, DNA synthesis and protein production, and it supports over 300 enzymes that aid in metabolism, digestion, nerve function and many other processes.

Zinc’s roles in immune cell function and cell signalling make it an indispensable mineral when we aim to reduce the risk of infections and promote immune response.

As well as being readily available as a supplement in the form of tablets, sprays and lozenges, zinc is plentiful in the following foods:

● Fish & shellfish
● Meat & poultry
● Beans & legumes
● Nuts & seeds
● Dairy & eggs
● Whole grains
● Certain vegetables such as mushrooms & asparagus

5. Stay Hydrated

One of the things people find the hardest to do when stressed is remembering to drink enough water. The rule of thumb is that if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.

What you should aim for is at least 8 – 10 glasses of water per day. This is so beneficial to every aspect of your well-being. Water helps those vitamins & micronutrients to move around between cells, helps your cells clean themselves out at night, and your lymphatic and urinary systems to flush the bad stuff out so that you feel refreshed and healthy. Being properly hydrated helps your immune system, skin, nails, hair, muscles… the list goes on!

If you are someone who just doesn’t like water; try adding in a squirt of lemon. Not only does it add a more palatable taste but it contains vitamin c and has liver cleansing properties as well.

6. Reduce Stress

Stress reduction is top of the list of healthy lifestyle habits, and is particularly important at times like these. Find small ways to calm things (and yourself / kids) down throughout the day, and definitely try to avoid blasting CNN 24/7.

When we are feeling stressed out our body feels it too. This is not just a psychological issue, it’s physiological as the stress hormone cortisol changes the body’s reactions to food, sleep and immunity.

Use hydrotherapy (bath, swimming, showers) break up the day with some outdoor time, try an infrared sauna, take up meditation, read a good book, move your body (exercise is key to reducing stress), or sing a little karaoke… the list is endless – whatever feels calming, make a little time for it daily.

7. Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Consuming too much sugar – sugary drinks being a common culprit – can have a negative effect on the cells in your immune system that target pathogenic bacteria. The effects of sugar on immunity are immediate and can last for a few hours after consumption.

Pay attention to your sugar intake, and if cravings start to hit do your best to curb them with strategies such as eating a handful of berries or fruit, or drinking a big glass of water.

8. Keep Alcohol To A Minimum

Research indicates that excessive drinking may impair the function of the immune cells in your lungs. This means that a binge drinking session could lower your defences for a few hours, leaving your respiratory system less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens.

Drinking also affects your gut health. The balance of your microbiome is affected with an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria and a reduction in beneficial bacteria.

Drinking and depression have a long history together too. If you are one of the 264 million people who suffer from depression, alcohol consumption only makes things worse.

So have the occasional glass of wine, but be careful to avoid starting new bad habits that can affect your body’s innate ability to heal and be strong.

What To Do If You Think You Have COVID-19

Despite your best efforts, the novel coronavirus might still infiltrate your home or community. For most of us, this will mean a mild to moderate bout of illness, whereas for others it may be more severe and require hospitalization. If you feel your symptoms may be consistent with COVID-19 there is no need to panic, it is always best to deal with the facts of the situation calmly.

First Contact Your Family Doctor Or Local Public Health Service

First and foremost, telephone your family doctor or your local public health department / telehealth service to find out what your next steps are. This may include specific instructions to go to a local testing centre, rather than going to a clinic or emergency department.

If You Are Advised To Stay Home

Should you be advised to stay home, make sure to keep tabs on your symptoms and re-connect with public health if things change. Here are some things you can do which may help keep your illness as short and painless as possible:

1 – Stay Well Hydrated

You likely will not be overly hungry during this time so sticking to soups and/or bone broth is a good plan. Drink plenty of water, and add some apple, blueberry or pomegranate juice to help with your electrolytes.

Herbal teas such as Ginger, Peppermint, Rooibos and Chamomile can be soothing as well as hydrating to help you feel better.

2 – Humidify To Relieve Congestion

Using a neti-pot or humidifier can help to relieve chest congestion. If you don’t own either, try closing the bathroom door and running the shower as hot as possible to create a makeshift steam room. A few drops of Eucalyptus oil in the bathtub can help bring some relief to the lungs as well.

3 – Get lots of Sleep

Sleep allows your immune system to do its job. Any respiratory illness can bring with it a deep exhaustion, and Covid-19 is no exception. Listen to your body and allow it to have the rest it needs to heal.

4 – When It’s Over, Sanitize Everything… Again

Once your symptoms ease up and you are feeling more like yourself, it is generally a good practice to sanitize everything that you can. Make sure you change your bedsheets and your toothbrush.

When To Seek Urgent Medical Help For Your Symptoms

Pneumonia is a real risk with COVID-19, so it is important to keep tabs on your symptoms.

If your fever climbs to 39° C or higher, you have trouble breathing with only slight exertion, feel chest pain or pressure, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting – these are all symptoms which warrant a call to 911 or your local public health department’s telehealth number.

We hope this information helps you to feel calm and confident in your ability to navigate your health at this complex time. Remember, supporting your immune system is always your best first line of defense against all illnesses. If you would like to discuss a long term plan to keep your health and immune system in the best shape possible, please give our clinic a call, we’re here for you!

References:

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