4 Steps to Create a Life-Changing Meditation Practice

 

 PHOTO CREDIT:  ASHLEY MARKS PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTO CREDIT: ASHLEY MARKS PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Meditation can be a life-changing practice if you struggle with stress or anxiety. Meditation has been shown to rewire the brain to return to a calm state and teaches you how to manage your racing thoughts or excessive worries.

You may not know this but 20 years ago I struggled with crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I went to the dr for anti-anxiety pills but instead got a lesson in meditation. Learning how to quiet my mind has been an invaluable tool in managing my anxiety since then.

If you’re struggling with constant worry or a brain that doesn’t relax, you may want to create your own meditation practice. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you can start right now!

Here are 4 steps to getting started:

1. Create space

Literally and figuratively. Find a place where you’ll be able to sit in peace for a few minutes at a time (to start). Free of noise, distraction, traffic, or anything that will disrupt your meditation. Put a comfortable pillow, chair, blanket in the place where you’ll meditate to designate it your meditation space to help your mind and body transition into your practice.

If you can’t designated one space for meditation, don’t sweat it. The great thing about meditation is it literally can be done ANYWHERE, but most people find that having a designated spot for it helps get into the right mindset for the practice.

Also, carve out a time in the day when it will be convenient for you to meditate. Most people prefer to do it early in the day, that way it doesn’t get postponed or eventually left undone by a busy day or being too tired later on.

2. Pick a style

Figure out what kind of meditation you want to do. I’ve listed some beginner-friendly ones here:

  • Breathing meditation – focus only on the breath. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

  • Counting meditation – the same number sequence is repeated over and over.

  • Mantra meditation – focus on a word or phrase for the duration of the session.

  • Sensation awareness meditation – scan through your body one part at a time and just tune in to the sensations of your body at that time. No judgement, just awareness.

  • Walking meditation – Sitting meditation usually provides the greatest benefits, but you may need to start with small steps. Walking meditation is useful for beginners or as an alternative on days when a regular session isn’t feasible. Walk around your own living room or backyard. Walking automatically puts you in touch with your body. Observe your posture from foot to head.  Align your breath with your steps. Pause frequently to create a slow and restful state of mind. Take a moment to stand up straight. Lift each foot gently, and roll from heel to toe as you place it down in front of you.

    To start, just pick one type and see if it resonates with you. if not, you can move on to another type. Most beginners start with a guided mediation.

3. Start Small

For most people, one of the most difficult things about meditation can be finding the time to squeeze a session into your busy schedule. You can start by meditating for five minutes or less!

  • Stop on red. You may start looking forward to red lights if you use them for a refreshing break. Focus on your breath and appreciate the world around you.

  • Take advantage of routine tasks. Empty your mind and your dishwasher at the same time. As you remove forks and plates, clear out nagging resentments and doubts.

  • Ease stressful moments. Meditate on whatever disturbs you.Being annoyed with a salesclerk who rang up your purchase without putting down their phone could remind you to listen more attentively to family and friends. Let it be a teachable moment that creates more harmony.

  • Express gratitude. Happy events are also worth pondering. Stop to give thanks for hot chocolate or spring flowers

4. Join a Guided Meditation Group

Guided meditation sessions with a group leader take care of the agenda for you.

  • Find a community. Yoga studios, public libraries, and local hospitals may offer programs. Browse online or check bulletin boards in grocery stores and coffee shops. Start your own group through Meetup.

  • Locate a meditation instructor. Effective instructors come in many shapes and sizes. Ask about why they teach meditation and how they lead a session. As long as you feel comfortable with them it may be a good fit.

  • Work with distractions. Meditating in a crowded room may feel different than sitting down alone in your bedroom. If trying to screen out distractions makes it difficult to concentrate, try accepting them instead. Remain aware of your surroundings. If a door slams or a phone rings, gently bring your focus back when you’re ready to resume.

  • Go at your own pace. Meditation comes more easily for some practitioners, and your powers of concentration will probably rise and fall from day to day. Listen to the instructor when you need more guidance. If you already feel clear and connected, you may want to follow your own thoughts instead.

You can start a meditation practice today even if you’re short on time and juggling many responsibilities. Practical meditation techniques can put you on the path to managing stress and enjoying greater peace of mind.

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.

 

 

Stress: How It Messes With Your Health

 

We all have some level of stress, right?

It may be temporary (acute), or long-term (chronic).

Acute stress usually won’t mess with your health too much. It is your body’s natural reaction to circumstances, and can even be life-saving.Then, when the “threat” (a.k.a. the stressor) is gone, the reaction subsides, and all is well.

It’s the chronic stress that’s a problem. You see, your body has specific stress reactions. If these stress reactions are triggered every day or many times a day that can mess with your health.

Stress (and stress hormones) can have a huge impact on your health.

Let’s dive into the stress mess.

Mess #1 – Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes

Why save the best for last? Anything that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes (both serious, chronic conditions) needs to be discussed.

Stress increased the risk for heart disease and diabetes by promoting chronic inflammation, affecting your blood “thickness,” as well as how well your cells respond to insulin.

Mess #2 – Immunity

Did you notice that you get sick more often when you’re stressed? Maybe you get colds, cold sores, or even the flu more frequently when you are stressed? That’s because stress hormones affect the chemical messengers (cytokines) secreted by immune cells. Consequently, they are less able to do their jobs effectively.

Mess #3 – “Leaky Gut”

Stress can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as “intestinal permeability.” These “leaks” can then allow partially digested food, bacteria or other things to be absorbed into your body.

The stress hormone cortisol can open up tiny holes by loosening the grip your digestive cells have to each other. 

Picture this: Have you ever played “red rover?” It’s where a row of children hold hands while one runs at them to try to break through. Think of those hands as the junctions between cells. When they get loose, they allow things to get in that should be passing right though.  Cortisol (produced in excess in chronic stress) is a strong player in red rover!

Mess #4 – Sleep Disruption

Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand, wouldn’t you agree? It’s often difficult to sleep when you have very important (and stressful) things on your mind, and when you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your energy level, memory, ability to think, and mood.

More and more research is showing just how important sleep is for your health. Not enough sleep (and too much stress) aren’t doing you any favors.

Stress-busting tips:

  • Reducing stressors in your life is an obvious first step. 

  • Brainstorm some ways you can: 

    • Put less pressure on yourself

    • Ask for help

    • Say “no”

    • Delegate some tasks to someone else

    • Finally make that decision that’s been driving you nuts

No matter how hard you try, you won’t eliminate stress altogether. So, here are a few things you can try to help reduce its effect on you:

●     Practice deep breathing

●     Begin a meditation practice (want to know more about how to do this?

●     Walk in nature

●     Unplug – read a book, take a bath

●     Physical activity – go for a run, do some yoga, get on your bike)

●     Connect with loved ones

TL;DR –

Stress is a huge and often underappreciated factor in our health. It can impact your physical body much more than you might realize. Stress has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, affect your immune system, digestion and sleep. There are things you can do to both reduce stressors and also to improve your response to it.

References:

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress

https://www.thepaleomom.com/stress-undermines-health/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/good-stress-bad-stress

https://www.thepaleomom.com/managing-stress/

Pssst… Want my healthy recipes and printable workouts?

They’re all yours! Get access here: 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 

 

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for improving your digestive health, this is it! It’s true, your gut is considered your second brain.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

It’s amazing, but not too surprising.

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection”?

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it! There seem to be multiple things working together.  

Things like:

●     The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain

●     The enteric nervous system (aka second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain

●     The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut

●     The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body

●     The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

Vagus nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain. And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? And that’s why it’s referred to as the second brain. And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty smartly.

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! A whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain! 

The immune system of the gut 

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

Did you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere?

Well, if they’re activated by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut microbes 

These are your friendly, neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Want a snack that’s full of gut food fiber, brain food omega-3?
See my Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats Recipe!

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

Pssst… Want my healthy recipes and printable workouts? 

They’re all yours! Get access here:

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.

 

 

Digestive Enzymes

Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements; and not all of them are created equal.

As a health coach, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. I would rather try other strategies first. Not to mention, that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately.

So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.

What are digestive enzymes?

Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.

 Oh, and they all end with “ase”.

As I just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.

Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.  

It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.

The most common digestive enzymes you’ll see on product labels are:

●     Amylase – Helps to break down starch into its sugars.

●    alpha-Galactosidase – Helps to break down specific “fermentable carbohydrates” into its sugars.

●    Lactase – Helps to break down lactose into its sugars.

●    Protease – Helps to break down protein into its amino acids.

●    Bromelain and/or Papain – Help to break down protein into its amino acids.

●    Lipase – Helps to break down fats into its lipids.

Who should consider taking digestive enzymes? 

I would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you.

In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes *may* help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy).

One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people.

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. And more and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, and even our mood.

What you need to know about medical conditions

Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history.

Here are two critical things to be aware of:

  1. Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women.
    This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution.

  2. When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery.

The reason is because the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to “thin” the blood and prevent normal clotting.

Possible Side effects

Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.

  • If you find that your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, stop using them.

  • Allergies are always a possiblity, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them.

  • And, as always, keep supplements away from children.

Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement:

You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis, or trying a few strategies first.

My first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.

The second step would be to try eliminating certain troublesome foods from your diet (dairy & gluten, for example) and see if that helps. 

TL;DR –

While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone.  

I recommend that you:

●     Read your labels carefully (who should take them, how to take them, when to stop taking them).

●     If you have a medical condition or are taking medications speak with your doctor or pharmacist. 

●     If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified health care practitioner.

See my recipe for a digestion-promoting tropical smoothie!

References: 

 Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 

Why is My Metabolism Slow?

You may feel tired, cold or that you’ve gained weight.  Maybe your digestion seems a bit more “sluggish”. 

You may be convinced that your metabolism is slow.

Why does this happen?  Why do metabolic rates slow down?

What can slow my metabolism? 

Metabolism includes all of the biochemical reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy.  And there are lots of factors that affect how quickly (or slowly) it works, i.e. your “metabolic rate” (which is measured in calories).

But don’t worry – we know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in calories out”!  In fact it’s so complicated I’m only going to list a few of the common things that can slow it down.

Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:

●      low thyroid hormone

●      your history of dieting

●      your size and body composition

●      your activity level

●      lack of sleep

We’ll briefly touch on each one below and I promise to give you better advice than just to “eat less and exercise more”.

Low thyroid hormones

Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism.  When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down.  The thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) tell the cells in your body when to use more energy and become more metabolically active.  Ideally it should work to keep your metabolism just right.  But there are several things that can affect it and throw it off course. Things like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies (e.g. iodine or selenium) for example.

Tip: Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.

Your history of dieting

When people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down.  This is because the body senses that food may be scarce and adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.  

While dieting can lead to a reduction in amount of fat it unfortunately can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have.  As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.

Tip: Make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your body without overdoing it.

Your size and body composition 

In general, larger people have faster metabolic rates.  This is because it takes more energy to fuel a larger body than a smaller one.  

However, you already know that gaining weight is rarely the best strategy for increasing your metabolism.

Muscles that actively move and do work need energy. Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat.  This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.  

Tip: Do some weight training to help increase your muscle mass.

Which leads us to…

Your activity level

Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate.  Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work” and you can tell because you’re also getting hotter.

Even little things can add up.  Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.

Tip:  Incorporate movement into your day.  Also, exercise regularly.

Lack of sleep

There is plenty of research that shows the influence that sleep has on your metabolic rate.  The general consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Tip: Try to create a routine that allows at least 7 hours of sleep every night.  

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/metabolic-damage

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/thyroid-and-testing

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-energy-balanc 

https://authoritynutrition.com/6-mistakes-that-slow-metabolism/

https://authoritynutrition.com/10-ways-to-boost-metabolism/

http://summertomato.com/non-exercise-activity-thermogenesis-neat

Pssst… Want my printable healthy recipe book?

It’s all yours. You’ll find it in my free resource library… get access here

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.