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How to Move Through Resistance to Something Beautiful

Yoga asana’s and meditation is a morning ritual I follow most mornings. Of the many things I get from regular practice is a lesson about dealing with challenges in life that I find yoga continually teaches beautifully.

While meditation, Qigong and Taiji are practices I have done for a number of decades, one of the unique moments that yoga offers, is creating the space, stillness and time to relax and breath into specific discomforts in ways that gets more subtle, deep with progress.

It occurs in a way that really opens up mind and body energy for the day ahead. Forcing or processing physical, mental or emotional blocks and resistance, is not necessary.

The principle of relaxing into discomfort can also be applied to daily feelings of conflict or tension on emotional, mental and physical levels in daily situations. Yoga can help train you to notice even subtle disturbances or disharmonious feelings and sit with them, making them your friend rather than something to avoid, then using breath and observation with your whole being to enable a wonderful shift.

Bringing breath and consciousness to the exact point or edge of discomfort in a particular pose is all that is required to intimately feel and shift energy or tightness, releasing tension to gain clarity in the moment. It is about surrender with intent, allowing the dissolving of energetic resistance in body and mind in a way that takes you more deeply into a place of formlessness and freedom.

Practices that utilise breath and meditation in movement unite mind and body, allowing a real inward journey that opens up inner awareness. They also combine controlled exertion with deep relaxation, and both combined provide a powerful process of building resilience and depth of relaxation of mind and body.

Yoga presents an opportunity in many asana’s (prolonged postures and body positions) to find a point of resistance deep in a joint or soft tissue that is ready to let go. Traditionally developed systems of yoga work through all of the body and energy channels in a systematic way so a progressive process may unfold of balancing, stretching and strengthening the body in every nook and cranny.

Maintaining continual release of thinking for awareness of breath, while performing controlled movement and relaxed determination required to hold balance, strength or co-ordinated flexibility serve to calm and strengthen relaxed focus of the mind.

Often, in the beginning, there may be many points where there are obstructions to reaching the shape and position of poses or asanas. As practice progresses over time, asana’s that were once impossible or difficult begin to happen as movement and openings occur, the points of resistance becoming more fine and deep. Yet the level of physical performance is not the point.

By spending time breathing and consciously connecting to points of resistance while also maintaining a sense of how the whole body and mind are responding, is part of the art. Subtle shifts in resistance or discomfort takes you on a progressive journey long before a visible change occurs in range of movement and depth of balance.

What is apparent is correct practice and intent combine to activate usually hidden points of tightness, blockage or immobility. All it needs is continued gentle intent and practice to release, while the breath and light of consciousness do the rest. An unwinding of these historical and unique stress patterns then can occur also impacting shifts in perception, body awareness and state of consciousness.

We tend to judge discomforts and want to stop them and cling to feelings we prefer. In this process, there is no resistance to the discomfort, nor attachment to an outcome. It is about acceptance, surrender and being fully with what is in the moment and allowing a transition to spontaneously occur.

The results show that processing or judging issues are often not required to move through them. A calm and open heart and mind with gentle focus and acceptance are often enough. The light of consciousness itself provides all the transformation we need if we can get our own conditioned thinking and self image out of the way.

In the inner practice of yoga, while inner body experience, breath and synchronised movement bring you to a point of maximal stretch in a certain pose, the feeling of resistance may be on many levels. We can use this approach to more gracefully move through difficulties and enjoy the process within ourselves.

Being able to be present and calm with discomfort, allowing it to transform into something else is a learned skill. It need not involve any controlling or forcing. Instead working at the edge of the comfort zone is where we can be in discovery and change rather than suffering in a space we don’t want to be.

The willingness to allow shifts to happen is required. Old tensions reflect old survival mechanisms so tapping into abiding inner peace is where we can feel energetically safe to let old protectiveness go. It is powerful to let go of preconceived ideas of what shift or outcome we think we want, and be open to what presents itself in any moment or situation as the here and now process.

It is often tempting to want to hurry up and manifest what we want, and yet the greatest treasures lie in attuning to the process where we learn not just what we want but also what we need.

Enjoying and expressing ourselves more openly in the present moment is where our creativity and discovery can really happen. Conscious movement and breath can be a safe way to find and release unconscious patterns in ourselves. Through practice we can be better positioned to attune to that process as they are activated in relationships, emotional ‘ups and downs’ and demanding life situations.

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A Quick and Simple Stress Release for Mind and Body

You know those times when things are getting a little on top of you and then you notice your shoulders are slumped as if in a defeated posture, or when you are getting physically tired your breathing is not deep and open, then you start to yawn and feel like a good stretch?

Tiredness from mental and emotional workload can be shifted fast. For example, have you ever been really tired, feeling like there’s not much left in the tank, then when you relax and watch a good movie or get into an upbeat conversation or phone call with a good friend you suddenly have your energy back?

The speed in which that happens shows how much of the time our energy levels are tied in with mind as much as body. Much of our tiredness, stress and mental states are tied in with our posture, self talk and many ways we contract inside or shut down when we are resisting or struggling with something.

Underlying fear, stress, anxiety or anger and emotional battle readiness to deal with ongoing challenges are examples of emotional tones and psychological states that cause energy drain. They get worse when prolonged over hours, days or weeks. For some people, these states may even become part of their normal way of functioning from a difficult phase in their life.

Conscious breathing synchronised with simple simple body movements can be the fastest way to feel inner balance, peace and wellbeing. It is also the fastest way to energise and shift your state of mind.

Physiological studies support the experience we get when we get a big smile happening or straighten the spine and start breathing deeply. They show a massive amount of chemical reactions take place when we ‘strike the pose’ and the right stimulation to the nervous system releases the endorphins (the bodies happy bio-chemistry). Just try right now, one long deep inhale and exhale through your nose with a big smile on your face and see how that feels in your whole body.

Using the principles of qigong and physiology there is a simple sequence you can do to release stress, clear your head and energise yourself. Qigong is an ancient art developed and refined over centuries to get energy and blood flowing through the right channels and is used for health and longevity. It incorporates breath, movement and relaxed focus of mind.

Here’s a little sequence to try that feels good and shifts your energy before you get down to work, or when you need some energisation or stress release. Once you have practiced a couple of times, this takes less than three minutes.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes a little inward, and knees dropped in a slight relaxed bend.
  2. Tilt the hips and pelvic floor forward with the spine and neck straight. Arms are relaxed by your side with palms facing forward.
  3. Take a deep breath into your lower abdomen with a relaxed smile on your face and the feeling of a smile in your heart. Do this three times in through the nose and out through the mouth – long and deep.
  4. After the three breathes, breath in as you bring your hands into prayer position in front of your chest, then continue the arms and hands fully stretched over your head as you complete the inhale.
  5. Exhale as outstretched arms and open hands slowly come down to shoulder height.
  6. Inhale again into the lower abdomen, then flex your whole body – start with tightening the buttocks, pelvic floor and abdomen, then flexing torso, legs and feet, arms and hands. Hold for 3-4 seconds, then release the tension and breath, letting your hands slowly come down to your sides.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 five times, bringing arms up and out, inhaling into the dynamic tension then releasing.
  8. Keeping hips and legs in the same posture, finish a relaxed deep breath into the abdomen, raising hands palms up to the sides of the chest, then\ timed with a relaxed exhale, turn the palms down and lower them to your sides. Repeat this three times.
  9. Finally, bring your feet together, arms by your side, hips still slightly tilted so there is subtle tension in the pelvic floor and do a couple of normal breathes engaging the lower abdomen gently. Chin is in, spine and neck long, straight as if lifted. Relax your mind and feel through your whole body down into the earth beneath your feet. Feel your hips relaxed yet stable and set, your upper body straight relaxed and light.
  10. Open your eyes and you are ready to take that relaxed and centred energy shift and mind-body awareness with you into whatever you are doing. See if you can keep a small percentage of your attention on your breath and inner body sensations as you engage in your next task.

Photo credit: K. Kendall on Visual Hunt/CC BY

Ways “The Zone” and Mindful Presence Help You Triumph – Part II

In Part I of this article looked at a the shifts in consciousness associated with ‘the zone’ or ‘flow performance’ which are terms referred to in the sporting context. In this second part, I explore the relationship and transition of this conscious shift into ‘mindfulness’ or ‘conscious presence’, which are terms used in a spiritual context for a specific state of consciousness.

The conscious states in these various contexts can enhance wellbeing and performance not just in a demanding situation, but also in normal daily life. They are indicative of a deeper conscious state we can access that provides a deep quality of awareness and enables us to deal with life’s challenges without stress, pain and suffering. What are the elements we can incorporate into our physical activities and lifestyle to help us achieve these conscious shifts?

In this article, I cover three key elements that make physical activities most effective in shifting consciousness and releasing stress.

Shifting Consciousness and Releasing Stress

A different scenario to high acuity and elevated states of awareness during adrenaline sports and activities primarily activating the sympathetic nervous system, are the relaxing synchronised activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system and train the mind to achieve subtle but sustained states of awareness to those discussed in Part I.

Activities like Tai Chi, Yoga, or Hiking in nature can provide prolonged experiences of this type of awareness. With the right practice and inward focus, they can provide a conscious release from the thinking mind with body movement and mind-body awareness as a transitional focus to get there.

In these instances, a ‘flow performance’ or in ‘the zone’ experience can also occur, albeit not as intense and brief, with gradual progression in stability and duration of the experience, beyond the activity that facilitates it, into normal daily life.

Nonetheless, occasional intense experiences arise at unpredictable times just as they do with more adrenaline oriented activities. I have had some peak moments of flow and awareness arise on days when I was not feeling so good and there was a need to draw more deeply into myself to focus and perform. Such unexpected peak moments may not have even correlated with an unexpected peak performance but left me with a shift that enriched more energised practice over the following days and weeks.

Three Key Elements

There are three key factors that provide a powerful combination for practicing and developing mindful awareness which are shared in a great range of disciplines like those mentioned above. They are:

  • Controlled body movement or posture, synchronised with
  • conscious and purposeful breathing, along with
  • focused but relaxed attention with full inner-body awareness.

In adrenaline sports or dangerous activities, as in high concentration work and activities, the mind is highly focused in the immediate moment and every second. Training oneself to voluntarily be fully focused in the here and now and immediate experience, body awareness and activity at hand, with a mind clear of thought and heart open in presence is the key here.

To do so with a sense of alignment and harmony (the state of mind as primary to the experience as the activity itself) is a universal theme of philosophies and spiritual teachings like zen, buddhism and other approaches that make inward focus and personal experience their primary focus. This is why Tai Chi is often associated with Zen and Taoism, or Hatha Yoga and Pranayama breathing exercises with inner Yogic meditation and Indian Vedanta.

The basic elements however, can be applied to any activity or non-activity like simply sitting which is at the essence of zen practice, or pouring a cup of tea like the more elaborate tea ceremonies of China and Japan. This is simple but subtle, which is why it is hard to conceptualise and is better to be contemplated through practice rather than theory and intellectualising.

The dimension where such practices become truly spiritual, is in the consciousness that opens the practitioner to an authentic sense of deep peace and expansive presence that can overcome suffering (emotional and mental turbulence and pain) and putting the ego in its place as servant rather than master. Becoming immune to anxiety and stress through this transcendent state is coupled with access to a sense of unity with life with a feeling of abiding peace, love and even a consistent underlying blissfulness.

From Movement to Mindfulness

The key in all of this is the super high acuity of the present moment while the sense of self is replaced with an immersion in the entire experience based in the interaction occurring between self, the environment at hand and any interaction with others without separation between them. The experience of all three is occurring within, in the conscious mind. This is where the term ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ is relative. Sages throughout the ages have communicated deep insight into the nature of everything being an experience in consciousness itself.

In this state of high acuity, identification with a self image dissolves. It is replaced with a sense of being the space in which your enhanced experience is occurring, rather than identification with the content of the present moment experience. This comes with a sense of accepting connection or unity with it all. Mental narrative and thinking is replaced with a still open receptivity, that provides for spontaneity and responsiveness that is not consciously premeditated.

This is not a zombie-like state, but a surrender to an innate intelligence and consciousness that alert and full of life. When it is found repeatedly, there is a sense of returning to a home base of consciousness that is there whether we tune into it or not. It is the life and conscious essence of our existence.

Even when a brief insight and awakening is achieved, for example with some professional athletes as discussed in Part I, if the whole focus at the time (and following) for the person is on winning or losing or some external outcome, then it may not transform into anything more than a psychological zone for optimal performance. It either becomes part of the high of winning or is discounted and negated in the disappointment of losing and the conditioned identification with mind content is not transcended.

If the focus of the experiencer is on the pleasure, connectivity and fluidness of the experience as a primary outcome in and of itself, then such a peak state can be appreciated and recognised as a deeper state of being. Being lifted from the conditioned and mundane sense of being a separate self reveals or validates a profound sense of life that many describe as spiritual.

Such peak experiences can be a time when we drop our usual familiar mental constructs and ‘points of reference’ spontaneously. Just a few, or even one experience like this, can open up a new sense of what ‘conscious’ being and doing is. It is certainly a profound shift when a person feels irreversibly, albeit subtly and obscurely changed, and peak moments like these have produced this kind of impact for many.

A sporting challenge, prolonged or extremely acute stress and suffering or a spontaneous and blissfully perfect moment can all provide for a few, an portal to those peak moments when we spontaneously experience a shift in being and awareness that translates into a new level of perceiving and performing something in our life. In a sense, it could be perceived as the purpose for the challenges and struggles of life. Meditative movement or stillness can nurture and train mind and body awareness to be more attuned and prepared for such moments.

These moments can be termed as states of heightened mindfulness or ‘the conscious practice of presence’ as they can produce a recognisably high acuity of here and now consciousness. Other benefits of this sense of higher self is that it imbues life experience, beyond good or bad, with a greater appreciation of beauty, goodness and excellence as intrinsic qualities in nature, other people and life in general.

Photo on VisualHunt <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/276d13“> (quote added)

Ways “The Zone” and Mindful Presence Help You Triumph – Part I

Many people adopt long term, even life-long, practices of some physical activity because of the physical, mental effects of well-being as well as a love for the activity itself or the skill sets acquired by doing it. Long term practice and participation in a certain discipline or activity can provide a rewarding journey that contributes to self development and enrich your life.

In addition to many health benefits, the outcomes of focused and demanding physical activities provide many incentives such as muscle tone, cardio fitness, improved energy levels, a rewarding endorphin hit, a better body image or the experience of stress release. Outdoor activities have the additional rewards as a healthy and invigorating way to get out in fresh air, sunshine, sometimes in country-side, beach, river or ocean.

Can such activities provide even more profound benefits than those of health, wellbeing and life balance in terms of quality of life? This article and Part II to follow briefly explore how deeply these activities assist us in terms of quality of consciousness, and even transition into spiritual awakening and redefining ourselves. Also covered below are four factors identified by professional athletes and sport psychologists that are characteristic of the high or flow performance states referred to as being in ‘the zone’ or ‘the flow’.

Impacting Quality of Life

A common saying is “what you put in determines what you get out” and in line with that, the answer to the above question certainly hinges on intention and focus to make a physical activity more than, well … more than just a physical activity.

The experience and recognition of a deeper and more profound sense of self while performing a loved activity can arise in spontaneous peak experiences or can by a gradual and consistent part of something which has become an aspect of someones way of life. The personal rewards gained can then translate into other areas of their life.

Accessing or drawing on deeper levels of strength and endurance for example can translate into mental and emotional strength and endurance as well as physical. Similarly, tapping into deep and diverse personal resources to maintain training regimes and disciplines, simply because of the value gained by keeping them up consistently, can translate into being more prepared to face other life challenges and vice-versa.

It is facing and overcoming any life challenges that facilitate personal development on all levels, so having a regular practice that you enjoy can provide challenges by choice that help us with the challenges we don’t enjoy as much or for those unexpected challenges we face and don’t consciously choose.

The same applies to spiritual endurance and depth. Physical activities can be a great vehicle for awakening consciousness if the quality of consciousness while doing it becomes part of the practice and a purpose for the activity in and of itself. An outward outcome like competitive success or attaining prowess in a physical skill, that may have originally been a primary motivator, can become an added bonus or consequence when initial goals have been met and deeper value and reward from the discipline and practice begins to be revealed.

For example, striving for and at least partially achieving a level of excellence in anything in life can also have positive ramifications in other areas of life. When a level of excellence begins to be attained it can have the impact of transforming the outlook and mentality of the achiever. They now have a level of excellence and expertise in something to personally take ownership of that becomes part of their outlook on the world and other aspirations and lifestyle endeavours.

When personal values and qualities are developed and internalised, they can be incorporated into a person’s sense of life and self generally. When career success, long term competence in a hobby or personal pursuit is only externalised to that specific task or goal to measure oneself by, it can only have a limited benefit to the person and other aspects of life. Such transitory externalisations can be financial or competitive, attention or status seeking. These can provide validation, enjoyment, a sense of achievement or create more opportunities. Yet, without a context of internal values to ones sense of character and awareness, they may not deliver long term meaning, purpose and ongoing value to ones sense of self and life fulfilment.

High Performance States as Peak Experiences

Peak experiences among professional sportsman are often documented and discussed. Terms such as being in ‘the flow’, ‘the zone’ or psychological ‘sweet spot’ in sports is still associated in the mainstream with maintaining a state of being psyched up, challenged and goal focused while enhanced by arousal of the nervous system and mind.

However, from understanding associated brain patterns and endorphin releases along with athlete experiences, I do not think these specific states rely on being hyped up. This can help adrenaline release but is not an essential element of the four phases of ‘the zone’ below. The science developed around these states is relying more developing the skill to enter an alert meditative state while embracing outward challenges.

When you listen to more seasoned athletes who experience ‘the zone’ spontaneously and repeatedly to varying degrees as a result of their focus and natural state of performance, especially when doing something elite or even groundbreaking, their descriptions and explanations tend to be inwardly reflective and profound.

American basketball player Kobe Bryant set a record in 2003 with 12 three-pointers in a game with nine of them in a row without a mis-fire. He was quoted as saying about his state of mind during his high point that “It’s hard to describe. You just feel so confident. You get your feet set and get a good look at the basket – it’s going in. Even the one’s I missed I thought were going in.”

Like many players in the zone, Bryant was relatively quiet with a neutral expression going into the game and throughout. He displayed his optimum performance with almost trance-like composure, experiencing acutely high awareness of his body and his environment, the whole court and players as well as the rhythm and flow of the game without being self consciously focused on it all. These are demonstrative physiological signs of alpha brainwave states associated with ‘the zone’ among many sports psychologists and researchers.

Four phases acknowledged by American NFL sporting commentator Kevin L. Burke for athletic peak experiences of ‘flow’ or in ‘the zone’ [1] are:

Firstly, that most athletes will say it is not predictable or controllable. [However, the science of training the mind are developing and this will likely change in the future.] Ironically, the experience itself gives a sense of being in control, due to a sense of being in harmony with the flow of the game or activity and a sense of knowing or certainty with each action.

Secondly, most flow performances occur when an athlete is feeling intensely challenged.

Thirdly, there is a clear understanding of what they are to do, even a clear image of the actions ahead which includes a lucidity of their objective and how they will achieve it.

Finally, they are not concerned about scores, trophies, fame or money from a win in the moment. What is most valued is the actual enjoyment of participation rather than any outward objective.

Many people have experienced everything happening in slow motion while in this space. Also of interest is that there are many instances in competitive team events of team mates thinking there may be something wrong prior to the peak performance, because the athlete had become unusually quiet and focused with a neutral expression rather than the usual hyped up aggression and determination.

After a few years of martial arts training, I have had a similar experiences, a stand out one when defending myself in a real situation. I responded non-aggressively but effectively in the same way some sportsman report paying their game in their peak state. The experience seems profound and lucid, the greatly heightened awareness including an experience of 360 degree vision and slow motion so I had a sense of abundant space and time as I observed my responses. The lucidity of the experience has remained with me in a positive sense in every detail even decades later.

Unconscious competence lends itself to this state also. Someone unskilled or inexperienced in an activity are not likely to perform highly in this state. Regular runners, tennis players, cyclists and many others have written about transformational states they have gone into during endurance training or in the intensity of an important event. The normal egoistic sense of self is gone, as super acuity expanding the senses and awareness takes over.

This is greatly facilitated by adrenaline sports that have an element of danger as they really require great focus in the moment and this can be quite addictive with the the rush of mood elevating chemicals along with mental sharpness. However, meditative activities can bring practitioners into the same state, so maybe it is not about the demands of the activity as much as it is about becoming free from identification with the thinking mind?

The next article will look at the key elements to activities that provide shifts in consciousness and awareness that contain elements of ‘the zone’ and ‘flow’ but go deeper in supporting conscious awakening.

Reference:

[1] (http://www.sportingnews.com/us/other-sports/news/what-does-in-the-zone-mean-athletes-peak-performances/1kugz4tuad8j513rgnpophp65q)

Photo on VisualHunt <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/276d13“> (quote added)

How to Deal with Obstacles to Loving Awareness and Presence

In addition to comments like “I can’t meditate, my mind is too active”, I also get many questions about how to deal with mental and lifestyle obstacles to practicing presence or mindfulness during daily life, as well as during meditation sessions. What I offer here is a very simple approach that I believe is the basis of good advice on mindful presence and meditation from many practitioners and teachers that I also apply on an ongoing basis.

The short and simple answer may sound basic but there a lifetime of refinement involved and once you practice this approach for a relatively short but consistent time, it takes out the frustration factor many experience in trying to force or use their will in controlling the mind. Frustration only compounds the mental obstacles to being present and enjoying relaxed deep meditation.

The key is to make any distraction or disturbance, thought pattern or other obstructions, your focus of observation rather than fight it or let it drive you. This is best done in combination with relaxed conscious breathing and inner body awareness to help centre and anchor you. In other words, include mental chatter or outside disturbances in your conscious field of observing with loving or non-judgemental awareness.

Especially in the initial seconds or minutes of resetting yourself, combining conscious breathing and fullness of inner body awareness not only helps relax mind and body but also provides an anchor for you be still and present (the eye of the storm) amidst mind activity, stressors and pressures of the moment or environmental disturbances. A dissociation then occurs between you as the observer and these active elements which helps train the mind in maintaining undisturbed presence while being amongst the continual flow and changes of form and activity of life in general.

A disturbance may be noise or activity around you, inner turbulence or mental activity, an emotional upset or a mounting feeling of pressure that there is too much going on at the time to pause and really be present while you deal with it. It can be a countless array of things that the mind hooks on to in its habitual mode of activity and having to have an ongoing narrative when your focus is away from the true essence of consciousness.

Once you have taken enough breathes combined with inner body awareness to begin to settle (even if you only have minutes for the exercise) you can then give yourself permission to observe your mind activity in a detached non-judgemental way as you continue. This helps the mind to settle further and can be done eyes open or closed.

Even if it mind activity remains agitated for a time, affirm you are not your thoughts and that this is only the activity of mind which will pass. When you continue to observe mind activity while present with breath and inner body awareness, a subtle shift of identity occurs. Consciousness of being as the thinker of thoughts becomes more primary to the unconscious identification with the effects of thoughts and feelings that are our inner reaction to a situation. Low energy levels and mood of the day can also require us to be more consciously present than usual in order to experience mindful presence, feel ourselves and be on top of things.

Whatever it is, the fact something is challenging you to feel stillness, calmness and be fully present in the moment means that ‘something’ is the training you have been gifted in that moment to go deeper and become more adept at mastering your psychology, awareness, effectiveness and wellbeing.

A semi-conscious allowance to be pre-occupied, distracted with inner tension, or waiting for something to pass before you take a breath and relax mind and heart into a conscious state of being, is a symptom of identification with, and being sucked into, the narratives, conditioned perceptions and mindset of the conditioned mind. It can also come from investment in an outcome so that we loose ourselves for a time in some mundane pursuit that seems vitally important in that moment.

The conditioned mind is based on past programming and future concerns. Our true consciousness or state of being is always fully present in the here and now. Being disconnected to that full presence is a sign of reactivity, avoidance or attachment to some aspect of what’s going on in relation to past experience and future concerns. The only true remedy is to let go of concerns and break the loop by practicing some mindful presence for a time. Then when you go back to dealing with whatever is going on you can feel more present, aware and bring that sense into your actions and way of dealing with things. Often, perspective and perception shift and we can then deal with things better, less reactively and with more awareness.

Another prompt to take a moment to practice conscious presence is when you find yourself taking a conflictive position on some matter, opinion or stance. This can take us out of presence and into our mental projections of beliefs, opinions and reactions. Whether these are right or wrong, good or bad, we are more empowered, clear and on track if our identification is not centred on an opinion or resistance to external matters and instead rests in timeless and non-judgemental consciousness while we deal with the relativities of life.

Internalising a sense of conflict and non-acceptance with something, even if it is not involving you, get’s in the way of feeling whole, balanced and open in the present moment.

Even at this moment take some deep breathes, being present and aware of your entire body from within. In the precise moment affirm all is as it is including yourself and you can be fully present in heart and mind. Does this simple intent and action help you feel more present and aware of yourself and your surroundings?

Consider the last time you got caught up in a situation or train of thought (it can be positive or negative). Continuing a few conscious breaths of body awareness here and now, imagine being more fully present with an open heart at that time you are recalling, so you can experience and respond to it with more of your deeper consciousness. It may mean enjoying a good moment more or dealing with a difficult moment better, feeling the empowerment of not losing yourself in it and applying yourself consciously.

Come back to any distractions or stressors that may be current in your day or evening and be present with it fully – observing with a relaxed, open heart and mind. Affirm that “It is what it is”. Simply by more fully illuminating our experience in any moment with a full and present consciousness not identified with it, choice and transformation become more possible within and through you. This is subtle yet becomes more and more empowering and awakening with practice.

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What is Your Living Space Revealing About Your Mind Space?

Are your living and work spaces conducive to the mind space and tone you want to develop in your life?

I was recently visiting an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto-Ohara, Japan. It is called Sanzen-in Monzeki and is beautifully maintained. It is magnificent in every season and this northern hemisphere summer setting meant I have now seen it in all four seasons – the spectacular red maples of autumn (or fall), snow covered beauty in winter, colourful flowers of spring and the incredible greenery of summer.

Having green matcha tea and serenely overlooking a garden that looked as if it was out of some celestial heavenly realm, made me feel like I was in heaven. I reflected on the beauty, harmony and peace it emanated and how conducive it was for attuning to the same qualities within. I could see some people who were also calmly present while others were less settled and preoccupied even in such a beautiful and sacred site.

Such places are so beautifully designed as places for meditation and cultivating conscious presence in every moment. The indoor-outdoor design of screens and walkways of beautiful timbers set amongst gentle water ways and many decades of detailed gardening have such a unique beauty.

There are many ways we can deepen and broaden our sense of living-being by cultivating qualities that become more meaningful as we mature and develop. Such qualities of peace, beauty, connection to nature, and harmony rate more with age for some, more so as modern life becomes more intrusive and busy. Reading or listening to inspiring people, quality time with friends or loved ones, inspiring or deeply resonating music are other delights that inspire such qualities, as can the environmental spaces we live in or frequent.

I am so grateful to people who create places that inspire a feeling in me that stays well after I have been there, because it appeals to a quality of experience that already resides in the presence and being-ness that we all share deeply within.

In any wilderness setting it is easy to feel such a harmonious connection with nature that also resonates with a strong inner consciousness of being in the moment. When we feel alert calmness of mind and heart, with a sense of connection without and with all things around us, such a moment reflects a happy state of presence.

In art, architecture and garden design there are some wonderful examples around the world of inspired human design and refinement of detail that invokes a similar sense of sacredness, beauty and harmony. Isn’t it great how ancient and modern, famous and unknown private finds can gift us a subtle and deep reflection from within the creator or artist through the medium of their trade, impacting all who experience it. We can all be universal consciousness expressing and enjoying itself through us. My favourite examples of art forms that combine human ingenuity and nature, are the many traditional gardens throughout Japan I have visited and are yet to visit.

In our modern world, we have even more means at our disposal to create and control our living environments. Blending natural elements into human design and manufacture that are conducive to spaciousness, calmness and peace are places that can make people stop and take note, take some breathes and become fully present in appreciation of the space they are in. It does not have to be extravagant. How many times has a simple inexpensive yet thoughtful setting inspired you to stop and reflect in appreciation for a moment? In truth, at such times people can be enjoying being brought out of their stream of thinking into conscious presence even for a just a few moments.

There are also countless examples of people who find simple small ways at home or work places to create an arrangement and space somewhere that is consciously or unconsciously there to connect them to a state of being while going about their day or evening. Does your living space reflect this to a degree or could you nurture yourself and others by addressing this more in your own space?

While some chaos and clutter can be unavoidable, it can also be contained as organised mess in storage and out of the way areas. Otherwise clutter can induce cluttered mind activity through association, the hidden anxiety that goes with accumulated disorganisation and the mounting neglect and ‘clean up’ it infers.

Most people set up and maintain their living spaces in a way that reflects how they want to feel and as well as the most practical set up for their belongings and space available. However, sometimes it can take on a life of its own until it reflects old aspects of yourself that can be good to move on from. Or maybe a refresh assessment and decision to transform a living space is timely and can be done simply with what you have access to already?

Sanzen-in Monzeki 1

A simple flower arrangement can communicate a present time and changing element that communicates beauty and care. Some degree of empty space and simplicity punctuated with a few items that reflect your own taste and lifestyle themes can inspire calmness and creativity. It may not suit everybody right at this time, but simplicity is a theme that I hear again and again from those refining their living space as part of a positive shift in energy and mindset.

Yogic vedanta and ayurvedic principles contain useful concepts of the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas. They are applied to consciousness, health, environment, lifestyle and all aspects of reality.

Sattva reflects calm energy and refinement of spirit that invokes purity and balance. As it infers balance, any imbalance is associated with negative symptoms of the other two gunas.

The quality of rajas is activity and excitement. Imbalanced, rajas can be associated with attachment, excessiveness, fickleness, reactivity and compulsiveness.

The quality of tamas is inactivity and inertia. Imbalanced, tamas can be associated with depression or suppression, envy or infatuation, fatigue or stagnation, feeling stuck and unmotivated.

All three are required in a positive sense as we are human doers as well as human beings. High excitement and busyness can be embraced from inner stillness and with periods of inactivity. Balance is not getting lost in activity and attachment, nor is it indifference to things and others by tamasic detachment. A sattvic state embraces all three gunas if they are balanced – rajasic energy not becoming over-active and dominant, nor tamas becoming stagnant and obstructive.

It may be a helpful to assess the presence or absence of sattvic aspects of your own living and working environment. Does your living space inspire balanced energy with an aesthetic sense of homeliness? Do various objects or overall content and design refine and energise in a calming way? Does anything or any aspect distract or deplete your energy from being fully present and where you want to be in life? Is something there to make a statement or cultivate a genuine quality? Could disorganisation and clutter be further minimised?

Likewise, does your desk or work pace have elements to reflect being as well as doing in aesthetic ways? Is it organised with some area of space rather than cluttered and jam packed.

Bedrooms should invoke peace and calmness and be absent of stressful associations with work and activities as well as free of clutter and stagnant energy. They should be conducive to rest but also good to wake up rested and ready for the day. Lighting, colours as well as content and design can be considered this way rather than just aesthetic value. Living and work spaces can encourage a mood and mindset that suits you and your lifestyle inducing a sense of calm positivity and goodwill. Objects and images associated with negative, reactive or dysfunctional themes would not be sattvic.

Updating and aligning your personal and work spaces to reflect the quality of consciousness and results you want to cultivate, can be a powerful part of shifting energy and flowing more of who you are into your life and impacting others.

The Backbone of Health and Happiness

When it comes to diet, stress management, dealing with any health and lifestyle issues or deepening your own personal spiritual life there is one common key factor. If you have high levels of stress, churn over repeated discussions in your head about certain things, procrastinating about certain compulsive or ingrained habitual behaviours you want to change or have a persistent ongoing concern, then the following is especially relevant.

The backbone to all of these areas is self-love, because it impacts our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Before you assume that is just rewarding and nurturing yourself, which is great, the self love I am referring to goes deeper than that.

We really cannot receive or convey love fully unless we are open and accepting within ourselves to fully experience our own love, independent of our personal and unique expression of it.

The body and mind are only fully healthy when there is an accepting and loving foundation to our state of being. Cell function, hormonal balance, brain function, immunity, digestion, the microbiome in our bodies as well as cardio vascular and nervous system health are all impacted by our emotional and mental tone and what messages we are giving ourselves each and every day. It is a feedback loop between mind and body so balance or imbalance can be self-reinforcing. Self-love is a tonic for stress, anxiety, physical imbalances and the key ingredient to personal wellbeing.

To explore our own potential in having a personal and experiential spiritual aspect to life, requires a sensitivity to frequencies of love, compassion and good-will. Our sense and expression of these can only be authentic or deep if we draw on these qualities of consciousness regularly within and towards ourselves as well as others. Our relationships or sense of connection is also empowered, as people recognise and are drawn to someone who emanates comfort and self acceptance with love in themselves.

So what is self-love at its foundation? If we contemplate love aside from specific associations with romance, love of family or friends, love of a pet or a life passion, then we must look to what all these contexts (and any others) have in common in terms of what we recognise and know as love. If love is inclusive of these different relationships and feelings, it is also deeper and more universal than what distinguishes each of them.

In line with many spiritual teachers and traditions, I relate to the essence of love as being the recognition and spontaneous sense of oneness. When we recognise a living aspect of ourselves in another living being or in nature or life around us generally, then there is a sense of connection and unity that underlies all form and differences which are temporary and changing.

We can feel a sense of oneness when on our own and it is possible in any situation with others. It may be conscious or only semi-conscious at times but we respond positively nonetheless when this feeling arises from within, and especially when it is a mutual experience with others. There is a pure beauty, happiness and goodness that comes with a deep sense of unity as our being-ness includes our own world and others.

This is where meditation or coming back to simple mindfulness can be of great assistance. The mental narratives of our conditioned mind are often negative in tone. This is a primary cause of stress or disturbance and can be tied in with chronic illnesses. Even if they are positive, identifying with our commentaries and conceptualisations is losing ourselves in a mental construct rather than being in an alert state of presence in the here and now and experiencing it as it is. Absorption in mental constructs creates a sense of disconnection from ourselves and others. It is a tension of misalignment which may have become subtle in its normality and is a root cause of underlying discontent and unhappiness.

Our mental narratives and conceptualising are generally conditioned by the past and projected onto the present or into the future. This puts us out of sync with feeling love and oneness in the here and now because true love and presence is a living and spontaneously arising feeling from the nature of our consciousness which is timeless rather than a projected concept or time-bound thought.

Being aware of our thinking and narratives then shifting gears when they are not useful or positive is a great practice of self-awareness and beginning to adjust old thinking patterns. In most cases, they are actually not that positive or useful, unless part of a creative or problem solving process. The greatest practice we can do in our busy lives, is to take opportunities every day to not think at all and just ‘Be’.

This does not mean putting pressure on ourselves to have no thoughts which is a practice of frustration and inner conflict. It means that we take time to just be and observe. If that observing includes an open hearted acceptance and mindful awareness of each thought as it arises, as well as our breath, body and immediate surroundings, then the mind will settle down and we can begin to feel a deeper peace and be restfully energised.

This is a practice of self love in and of itself. Unity and connection within ourselves wherever we are at the time arises from the conscious space in which you are reading this now. Even if there are things about ourselves or a situation we would like to change or improve in time, in any single given moment we can practice letting go of our attachment to an outcome or future-based projection we have constructed, and simply accept be here and now. Trusting issues can be resolved out of this presence is a totally different way of going about life for someone who is constantly pre-occupied.

Positive thinking can be a great means to an end, as it can make thinking more constructive and absent of self-sabotaging and limited conditioning. The thinking mind tends to focus on what distinguishes things from each other and whether they are favourable to us or not. This is the dimension of separateness where fear and concern, attachment and aversion become more activated. It is also how we get drawn in and become reactive to life.

However, settling into the essence of our living being and consciousness through mindful presence can be an end in itself. Its value is in the moment as well as being cumulatively and progressively beneficial.

Free of our narratives and concerns about past or future allows the unchanging and continual primacy of being become the foundation of our doing. Allowing time to practice and experience this regularly leads to recognition of a wonderful quality and sense of being. This spectrum of feeling is pervaded with love and compassion for it is a unified field of awareness. It does not need to be willed or manufactured, as many practitioners confirm generation after generation, because it arises spontaneously when we give it mind and heart space.

Even if you know this conceptually, it is not the same as actually allowing yourself to ‘be that space’ here and now. Applying it daily develops the art of being and doing without getting lost in the doing. When we are in conscious being, we experience the primary essence of ourselves and others as the same universal essence.

In a state of conscious being, what we may like and dislike about ourselves or others becomes transitory, relative and superficial. It doesn’t define us in any moment. When an issue arises that actually matters, it can be approached without reactivity because it no longer matters completely. The primacy of conscious being keeps things in perspective.

There is an inherent perfection in formlessness that helps us accept and work with the relativity of form. The way we face and perceive life situations may reflect aspects of our character but are not absolute truths or who we really are.

In presence we don’t become anaesthetised, but rather more perceptive, accepting and capable of acting creatively without reaction. We can more deeply love with a penetrating awareness.

Ultimately, conscious awakening is a deepening understanding through personal experience that unlimited conscious love is what we are at the core of our own living essence. Complete love is always here and now – self love is about opening up to it here and now from within, then letting it fully infuse our awareness and ‘doing’ with each breath.

Photo credit:DieselDemon on Visualhunt/CC BY

How to Optimise Circadian Rhythms and Your Health

All forms of life have adapted to the circadian changes in the environment specific to the seasonal and daily cycles of our planets rotation and their location on it. Physiological cycles of all living organisms match geophysical conditions. Our brain and complex body systems as well as our intestinal microbiome are no exception, and they in turn condition or impact our physical and mental health. Knowing the key factors to align your circadian rhythm, lifestyle and environmental conditions will enable you to better optimise health, longevity and resilience to chronic illness.

What is our Circadian Clock?

The master controller of our molecular and systemic cycles for optimal health is a small region in the brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus. The various systems that function and influence our circadian rhythms of our digestion, immune system, mitochondrial functioning and microbiome include what can be called ‘peripheral clocks’ to the master controller. Together, master controller and peripheral clocks are important conductors in orchestration and synchronisation of our overall functioning and ongoing health of mind and body.

Outside stimuli like day or night, activity or sleep, feeding and fasting times and temperature are collectively called zeitbergers. Conflict between zeitbergers and our circadian rhythms is linked to metabolic disorders like insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, as well as disruption to leptin (our hunger hormone) and cortisol (our stress hormone) levels.

Many other important functions like the 24 hour cycles of mitochondrial metabolism (eg, sugar versus fat burning) and cyclic gut bacterial sensitivity to melatonin (our sleep hormone) are part of the systemic cycles coordinated by our circadian clock composed of the master controller, peripheral clocks and conditioned by zeitbergers.

The Importance of Regular Sleep Patterns

Chronic disruption of our circadian rhythms is linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Sleep deprivation as one disrupter, is associated with these conditions as well as deterioration of cognitive and brain functions, lower performance levels, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, immune dysfunction and diabetes mellitus [1].

These conditions are notably associated with aberrant compositions of intestinal microbiome, called dysbiosis. The fact related health conditions can be transferred in mice through dysbiotic microbial transfer and the conditions can be improved with functional microbial transfer or antibiotic treatment supports that microbiota, metabolic diseases and misalignment between the body clock and geophysical time are linked [2].

Inflammation is linked with many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disorders, auto immune disorders and various brain disorders like alzheimers and schizophrenia. There is also a link between sleep and inflammation related to microbiome, cytokines in the blood, and inflammasomes. Inflammasomes are protein complexes that form in cells and produce pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to certain changes. They are also a key regulating mechanism for sleep [3].

The Importance our Daily and Microbial Cycles Being Co-ordinated

Light, temperature, availability and type of nutrition are 4 key factors for healthy synchronised physiological and microbial cycles on a daily, monthly and seasonal basis.

The importance and roles of microbiome (the overall communities of microorganisms inside us) have been covered two recent posts. The circadian cycles of our microbiome are part of our microbial system stability. Coordinating these with our circadian cycle is a major factor for metabolic health.

Microorganisms in our bodies are responsible for digestion, conversion of digested material to energy, regulating metabolism including weight gain or loss and determining our response or sensitivities to foods, drugs, and pathogens. Disruptions to their functioning is a major factor for inflammation (associated with practically every chronic illness and condition), systemic and immunity issues.

Life and death cycles of our microbiota follow daily cycles and rhythms according to rest or activity patterns which include energy harvest for our body and brain, DNA cell repair, cell growth and detoxification. Regular and optimal timing of food intake and available nutrients is an important influence on these cycles.

Research shows our microbial cycles are conditioned by our behaviour and molecular rhythmicity and the coordination between these two levels. This new understanding highlights the importance of stability and optimal functioning of the intestinal ecosystem through activity, sleep and eating cycles.

How Do We Optimise Physiological and Microbial Circadian Rhythms?

  • Light and Behaviour are key factors for our master controller – exposure to sunlight upon waking and activity as well as low exposure to blue light (LED or bright lights) and rest at night help the master controller drive regular circadian rhythms in sync with peripheral factors. Electric lighting and travel across time zones are modern challenges to the circadian clock mechanisms including light-dark conditions during jet lag or shift work.
  • Feeding times are a central driver for peripheral body clocks which show some interdependence by influencing shifts in microbial cycles away from the overall circadian rhythm of the master controller. Tests indicate it is not the high-caloric, high-fat content of diet responsible for metabolic disease as much as the mistiming of nutrient availability in relation to circadian metabolic activity. So while quality and type of food does impact quantity and diversity of our gut microbes, consider timing as a key lifestyle factor.

Beneficial ways to maintain circadian clock alignment are:

  1. Feeding times: limited to 9-12 hour daytime windows is ideal and helps regulate body weight and metabolic health [4] as well as inflammation, it also helps overcoming any challenges related to disrupted sleep patterns, travel across time zones or insomnia. Allow two or more hours between the evening meal and sleep.
  2. Regular times for sleep and rising has the same benefits as limited feeding times.
  3. Exposure to sunlight upon rising (20 mins or more outside is ideal) activates daytime cycles. Dimming lights and leaving blue spectrum lighting off in the evenings after eating and at least two hours before sleep helps activate the night time cycles.
  4. As an added tip, combining sunlight exposure in the morning and night time darkness exposure with a corresponding 20-30 minute period of morning and evening ‘earthing’ (barefoot on earth, sand, or gravel) can assist with sleep issues, inflammation and can provide good mental relaxation at the start and end to each day.

Articles on this website share effective and powerful approaches to maintaining mental and physical health and approaches to inner peace and awareness based on my personal and professional experience, functional medicine approaches and the latest research from journals. If this article was interesting or useful to you, please make a comment below.

References:

  1. P.B. Jarreau, Why Your Gut Microbes Love Intermittent Fasting, Medium Corp., https://medium.com/lifeomic/why-your-gut-microbes-love-intermittent-fasting- 5716948281a3
  2. A day in the Life of the meta-organism: diurnal rhythms of the intestinal microbiome and its host. C.A. Thaiss, D. Zeevi, et al., Gut Microbes, Vol.6, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2015.1016690
  3. M.R. Zielinski M.D., Sleep and Inflammation – Intimate Partners in Health and Functioning, Thrive Global. 2017, May 16. https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-fascinating-link-between-inflammation-and-sleep-9d57c2eca013
  4. A. Zarrrinpar, A. Chaix, et al., Diet and Feeding Pattern Affect the Diurnal Dynamics of the Gut Microbiome. Cell Press, Vol.20. 2014. DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2014.11.008

Photo from <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/bd796d“>VisualHunt.com< quote added

The Revolutionary Key to Optimal Health and Energy – Part II

Immunity

According to Dr. Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine, our “gut flora can be causing cancer” as different microbiome imbalances can be related to different chronic conditions. Microbiome imbalance is being linked to bowel disorders, diabetes, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer and autism – all the prominent chronic conditions and killers increasing steadily at this time.

Activation of our immune system activates a general and specific inflammatory response according to the signal compounds triggering it and this affects our whole body. It becomes a problem when it’s prolonged or even permanently switched on. So how it is, that microbes that are part of our ecology can regulate our body cells and our immune response, without instigating a major immune response themselves? Recent science has identified Toll-like receptors (TLR’s) that recognise patterns or molecular signatures of symbiotic microbiota molecules versus pathogenic derived molecules. Put simply, TLR’s help our body identify which communication is from friend or foe. When receptors for TLR’s are low, or there is inappropriate or unregulated activation of TLR’s, our immune system becomes highly sensitised and begins to attack everything in its own unique way. This along with other factors like Immunoglobulin (IgG) activity can be tied in with the huge increases in sensitivities and allergies occurring in many people mainly since the industrial age.

Toxins in our foods bond with proteins in the food, stressing and reducing our oral tolerance to chemical exposure. These toxin bound proteins also activate our immune response and general inflammation that is related to most of our modern chronic illnesses.

Improving our tolerance to foods and environment is about supporting diversity and balance of our microbiota. A diverse primarily plant-based diet with moderate and regular exposure to pathogens in our environment educates and refines the immune system of our gut.

Mild sicknesses, especially as we are growing up or from a change of environment, can be our natural way of developing our immunity and resilience. Centenarian’s around the world today have mostly had childhood sicknesses we now inoculate against, sterilise our environments and try and avoid at all costs. Children are being prevented with medications, domestic products and separation from the natural environment of having exposure to environmental microbes. Low risk illnesses like mild fevers and headaches are prevented or halted by medications so the immune response is halted from its full cycle to encode lifelong resilience. Overkill measures to protect our young and lack of outdoor environmental exposure is robbing the latest generation from gaining adaptable microbiota that practice, refine and remember successful immune responses to pathogenic stressors.

Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator) says that health and good immunity is not about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and viruses but how they work together. He gives an example of the viral aspect of our microbiome which includes bacteriophages who help regulate certain bacteria. Viruses are a necessary source of certain genetic information looking for chromosomes to convey a horizontal transfer of often important genetic information to host cells. About 7% of our functional protein coding genome is retroviruses. So despite feared ones, like HIV, this category of microbiota is important to us. For example, retroviruses are responsible for neuroplastcicity that has helped our brains develop through evolution and remain functional and adaptive throughout our lifetime. Retroviruses were needed to evolve the placenta in pregnancy. Viruses like bacteriophages in our system are not necessarily bad.

Future health treatments for acute and chronic conditions will not only need to work with our microbiome ecology but do so on an individual level. This is a new area of development with many approaches of integrative therapies combining traditional and modern medicine. Mostly, mild treatments that help but don’t interfere with our full immune response will best assist healing and ongoing development of resilience. Lifestyle adjustments to diet, our activities and way we deal with stress to suit our own unique pathology and microbiome will become more specific and clear as science and holistic approaches to health become integrated.

Helping our microbiota for immunity:

  • Diverse locally grown foods are not only fresh but have their own helpful microbiome to provide useful information to our cellular and microbial compadres.
  • Wherever possible, eat organic foods not contaminated with sprays and chemical fertilisers and other chemical residues.
  • Playing and working or going barefoot in the dirt and natural environment exposure is an important part of our history, wellbeing as well as microbiome evolution and activation.

Environment

Chemicals in our environment (soil, air, living spaces, personal care and hygeine products, food and beverages) have been increasing exponentially. They impact our microbiome and gene expression. Additionally, deciding what microbes we allow and don’t allow in our living spaces, agricultural farming and elsewhere, without understanding microorganism ecologies, is causing great health issues for us and the environment.

Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist) uses auto immune disease as an example, which can be triggered by medications or exposure to environmental factors like chemicals that “cause perturbations in the microbiome ecology that amplifies into a dysbiotic system we call disease”.

Epithelial cells line outer surfaces of organs, blood vessels and inner surfaces of cavities in internal organs (skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract). Researchers and practitioners like Aristo Vojdani consider them one of the most important cell types in our immune system as they are the front line and channel of information between environmentally introduced compounds and microbes and the microbiota of our body and body cells. Environment and diet then impact their function and communication.

Apart from understanding microbial ecologies much more, many professionals are echoing traditional and complementary medicine views that we need to make friends with our symbiotic and pathogenic microbes in our bodies and environment. Exposure to pathogens has driven development of our resilience to disease and environmental change throughout evolution.

Using environmental factors to help your microbiota:

  • spend time outdoors in diverse ecosystems – research shows it impacts microbiome in the body and stress levels. The ocean, healthy rivers and forests provide this diversity in addition to outdoor time in your backyard or local parks.
  • eliminate chemicals in your home and household by finding chemical free products
  • growing your own food without chemicals and correct composting means diversifying microbial life in the soil that feeds the food you eat and contributes to better microbial diversity in your food.

Diet

Everyone has a unique microbiome make-up, however dietary fibre is a key part of the diet that affects type and amount of microbiota in everyone. It can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota in the colon, one of the by-products being short chain fatty acids (SCFA). Apart from fibre enriching and supporting these microbiota, SCFA produced lowers pH of the colon limiting harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile , and also stimulates healthy immune cell activity and helps maintain healthy glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are generally good sources of prebiotic fibers.

According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor), when we change our diet, we change our microbiome balance and therefore our gene expression. Exposure to chemicals also changes our gene expression – when genes are activated, switched on or off. This is becoming a factor in many specialist areas of medical and health professions.

Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator) considers the right nutrients as crucial to healthy communication between microbiota and mitochondria. He explains microbiota use nutrients to direct function and maintenance of mitochondria, while mitochondria produce metabolites in their activity that contribute to smooth healthy functioning microbiota. This loop of “dynamic dialogue is a new area of research”, its substrate being our food which also contains information from bacteria in the soil it grew in. This is a link to why eating locally grown fresh food is a big plus to helping our bodies adaptability in its local environment.

Foods that help our microbiome:

  • Probiotic foods provide live microbiome and include live-culture fermented foods like kefir and certain yoghurts with a good range and concentrated active culture (look for recommended brands), pickled vegetables and sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha tea and kimchi.
  • In Japan some fermented seaweeds and fermented soy beans called nato (also providing Vitamin K) are good.

Diet Actions:

  • Eat a diverse diet with plenty of wild and local plant based foods, preferably organically grown in local soils
  • utilise water purifiers to eliminate consumed chlorines and flouridation and exposure in showers and baths
  • Complex carbohydrates including tubers, root, fuits (separate from other foods) and vegetables provide pre-biotic fibre
  • Include probiotic fermented foods, wild plants and probiotic supplements including spore based live cultures
  • Our microbiome have circadian cycles related to our own circadian sleep and activity cycles. Intermittent fasting of 12 hours plus, which includes sleep time, is believed to increase microbiota diversity, strengthen our immune system and protect us against leaky gut [1,2]

Probiotic Supplementation

In line with the great strides in this new and game changing approach to health, probiotic and prebiotic supplements are big business these days, expected to surpass $65 Billion by 2024.

Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical and Public Health Schools believes probiotic supplementation “can be be most effective at both ends of the age spectrum, because that’s when your microbes aren’t as robust as they normally are”. However, due to the added weight of research providing understanding about the large impact of dietary and environmental factors, many health professionals are utilising probiotic supplementation to support adjustments in diet and environment for people of all ages. Microbiome issues and treatments can be based on microbiome testing and symptomatic indications of microbiome imbalance. Many symptoms of microbiome imbalance or gut infections can resemble other conditions because they are so fundamental to so many systems and functions in the body.

A probiotic supplementation should have a good range and concentration of active microbiota, which should include spore base microrganisms that are activated in the acidity of the stomach and breed in the lower gut. Not all microbiota are capable of passing the acidity of the stomach alive to get to the needed sites. Some probiotics that meet this, also provide some organic pre-biotic nutrition for the pro-biotic content such as this one. Many gut specialists have their own recommended products and a range of probiotic formulas for different overall types of body and microbiome constitutions.

For specific issues there is no probiotic to suit everyone, as our microbiome are so unique. However, effective and quality probiotics to date have proving to be of significant help to people who have low numbers or diversity of bacteria.

As an example of future possibilities, a recent 2018 study of probiotics, combined a probiotic blend with an Aryurvedic compound of amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki medicinal fruits (called Triphala). The experiment looked at how gut microbiota composition can be impacted by probiotics to impact how foods are metabolised to lengthen life spans. The symbiotic formula (Triphala and probiotic) was tested based on research that indicated the combination would synergistically perform in enhancing microbiota activity while maintaining balance. Tests were done on fruit flies who have about 70% similarity in biochemical pathways and the promising results produced an impressive 60% increase in the lifespan of flies fed with the symbiotic formula. While humans are not expected to have as dramatic a result there is much optimism about such formulas promoting longer life and good health with possible applications to be tested with disorders like diabetes, obesity, neuro-degeneration, chronic inflammation, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and some cancers [3].

References – Part II

  1. V.D. Longo, Satchidananda Panda, Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan, Science Direct 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001
  2. C.A. Thaiss, D. Zeevi, et al., A Day in the life of the meta-organism: diurnal rhythms of the intestinal microbiome and its host, published online: 22 April 2015 https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2015.1016690
  3. Westfall, S., et al. Longevity extension in Drosophila through gut-brain communication, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-25382-z

Other Sources:

Many of the experts cited here have been quoted from the online series The Human Longevity Project at https://humanlongevityfilm.com/ and include:

  • Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine)
  • Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist)
  • Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC (Professor of Neuroimmunology)
  • Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator)
  • Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor)
  • Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator)
  • Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Photo credit: IBM Research on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND (quote added)

The Revolutionary Key to Optimal Health and Energy – Part I

Holistic and allopathic medicine researchers and professionals are emphasising the importance of looking after our microbiome as more and more research shows how vital this part of our physiology is for mental and physical health as well as longevity. Consider these three developments that are only a few decades in coming to light as fields of science transforming modern views of health and treatment:

  • Many experts are claiming microbiota are the basis of every disease and health solution there is.
  • Just as profoundly, is that for the first time, we are only just arriving at the initial stages of truly personalised diagnosis and treatments through scientific analysis of an individuals microbiome, genome and micro-RNA signature – millions of pieces of information so huge that only artificial intelligence can analyse the data to come up with a unique set of issues, recommended actions and diet. Considering there is no single food or diet perfect for everyone and that we are getting down to a holistic causal factor of disease, this is revolutionary.
  • New understanding coming to light embraces the latest in health science and the principles of traditional healing and transformational systems.
  • The science of microbiome and health is revealing what traditional medicine and cultures have known through the ages – that there is an intimate exchange of information and interdependence between our mind, body and gut, and just as intimately between our body, food and every aspect of our environment. The key to this is bio-chemical messaging via microorganisms, some even regulating body functions and gene expression.

Thus the power is coming back into our own hands to determine our health and wellbeing.

Microbiome

Microbiome is the trillions of microorganisms in our bodies of thousands of different species [1]. They actually out-number and have more overall mass than the total cells of our body. This remarkable fact is the reason why many health and research models are beginning to view humans physiologically as ‘holobionts’ (an aggregation of various species of organisms and their collective genomes – total DNA information – working together as a symbiotic ecology).

Our microbiome include bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. In a healthy body they co-exist in a way that promotes health (symbiotically) overall. When the system is unhealthy or imbalanced by infections, certain diets, excessive or prolonged physical and psychological stress, overuse of antibiotics and some other medications, over exposure to anti-bacterial and anti-fungal products, insufficient or disruptive environmental exposure, imbalance in microbiota can result in insufficient symbiotic activity or excessive and disruptive pathogenic activity. This is called dysbiosis.

Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine) says that “there are more molecules in your blood from gut microbiome than your own human [cell derived] molecules” and the same goes for metabolites in the blood.

We have 22,000 functional genes, however an earth worm or a rice plant have double that amount of functional genes. Kiran Krishnan, a Research Biologist addresses how we conduct all of the functions we do in our complex systems. Microbiome in our system have about 3.3 million functional genes, about 150 times more bacterial and viral DNA than our human cells, and it is looking like 90% of our metabolic functioning is coded by our bacterial and viral DNA.

We get our microbiome initially from our mother while developing as a fetus and baby in the womb, then important added exposure to microbiome in the birth canal and breast feeding as an infant. Many practitioners now swab caesarian babies these days with vaginal mucus to compensate. The microbiome composition is entirely dependent on our mother until after breast feeding where diet and environmental exposure becomes the key source of beneficial or detrimental impact to our microbiome ecology.

Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC is a Professor of Neuroimmunology. He observes that by our first year of life, we have an individually unique microbiome fingerprint that is locked in as our baseline complex cellular ecology. By age 2-3, the diversity of microbiota is increasing with increased exposure to foods and environment, while the variability in our ecology decreases. 78% of the microbiome is in the gut (about 2kg in an adult), the rest is found throughout all organs and fluids in the body including important microbiota in the skin which we’ll get to later.

How Do Microbiota Help Us?

While there is much research revealing new aspects each year about the symbiotic relationships between microbiota and the body, so far the following is known:

  • they stimulate the immune system, break down potential toxic compounds and synthesise certain vitamins and amino acids. An example is Vit B12 synthesis, which requires key enzymes found in bacteria and not in plants or animals [2].
  • they digest and breakdown complex carbohydrates and fibre in the lower large intestine.
  • They form short chain fatty acids (SCFA) – an important nutrient for muscle function and cellular integrity that also prevents certain chronic diseases, including bowel disorders and certain cancers [3].
  • Symbiotic microbiota protect the body from digested pathogenic organism contaminants and potentially pathogenic resident microbiota.
  • Certain species prevent over-population of harmful bacteria by competing with them at key sites of the intestinal membrane associated with immune activity and antimicrobial protein synthesis [4,5].
  • Other benefits of balanced microbiome include resistance to: food sensitivities and allergies, constipation or diarrhoea, painful joints and general inflammation, certain dental and oral hygeine issues, skin disorders, menstrual symptoms and susceptibility to yeast infections as well as bowel and digestive disorders.
  • There is cross-over communication and exchange of microbiota DNA and body cell DNA via micro-RNA including microbiota in our food.

Microbiota in our skin

In our skin we have 50 bacteria for every skin cell on and in the dermis and inside the glands. Lorenzo Drago, PHD (Professor of Clinical Microbiology) says “these are called ‘core microbiota’ because there is vital communication between these microbiota and the immunological system inside the skin.” Therefore, many skin disorders as well as other conditions that find entry through damaged skin, may also be due to an imbalance of these particular microbiota caused by anti-bacterial and other chemical exposure to the skin including synthetic cosmetics that decrease microbiota diversity.

Some bacteria in the skin produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that are important in modulating other bacteria who regulate yet other bacteria to maintain balance. SCFA’s also feed the cellular immune system of the skin.

Helping microbiota in your Skin:

  • switch to personal care, beauty and cosmetic products without chemicals and metals, and oil stripping alcohols and mineral oils
  • avoid hand sanitisers, anti- bacterial soaps and chemical detergents
  • avoid over-washing hair and skin to allow the skin to develop its own oil and microbiota balance. Over-washing depletes microbiota balance and creates obver production of skin oils.

Communication between microbiota, our cells and organs

SCFA’s are critical to communication between microbiota, mitochondria, other cell and organs. Marrin Edeas, PHD (Chairman of Mitochondria and Microbiota World Societies) explains they are influential in mitochondrial biogenesis (self replication that increases cellular energy and efficiency) along with other factors like free radicals, nitric acid (NO) and H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide).

“We believe that microbiota control mitochondria” directing their level and locations of activity and life cycles. As essential energy sources and regulators every in the body, so microbiota by regulating mitochondrial function are key factors to harmony within and between organs of the body.

Dr. Kharrazian expands on the intimate connection and two-way pathways between brain and gut. Most of the traffic is actually from the gut to the brain and is initiated by microbiota which have direct access to the enteric nervous system (ENS). This nervous system covers the entire digestive system from mouth to anus and has more nerve endings than the spine, so is very dense. It connects to the vagus nerve which goes directly to the brain impacting our homeostatic and metabolic responses to change and even impacts our mental states through influences on neuro-transmitters and hormone production. Our gut produces the same hormones our endocrine system can and is another two-way channel of gut and brain that affects mind and body.

Research is showing that food itself also communicates genetic information to our own genes. Vojdani describes microbiota as our short term senses responding in real time to signals from the body and the state of food and health of the gut. They communicate not only via the ENS, vagus nerve, hormones and immune systems to the mitochondria but also directly with miRNA (microRNA transcribed by DNA as a ‘DNA photocopy’ to transfer out of the cell nucleus to create proteins that activate gene expression. Epithelial tissue (such as the intestinal lining) is a medium for this two way communication between microbiota nd mitochondria that impacts the cell nuleus and gene expression. This is why many researchers now view our body cells and our microbiome as one integrated ‘holobiont‘ (an aggregate of various organisms and their collective genomes working together as one symbiotic ecology). At Cork’s APC Microbiome Institute, gut and brain research by Dr. Clarke and Professor Cryan has demonstrated diversity and activity of specific microbiota in the gut directly influencing miRNA expression in the brain (amygdala and prefrontal cortex) impacting conditions of fear, anxiety, social finction and depression as well as being critical to specific windows in brain development [6].

Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas (President of the European Institute of Nutritional Medicine) states that there is more understanding emerging about these communication channels between mitochondria and the cell nucleus and how mitochondrial produced molecules “make our genome react to what’s happening”. (Genome is a term that refers to the stored information in DNA and chromosomes). Epigentics is leading a new area of study of what influences and changes our health. Out of this is greater understanding how diet, stress and environment influence cell damage and turn-over, telomere length (shortened by oxidative stress) and key markers of biological age, health and resilience.

References

  1. Ursell, L.K., et al. Defining the Human Microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44.
  2. Morowitz, M.J., Carlisle, E., Alverdy, J.C. Contributions of Intestinal Bacteria to Nutrition and Metabolism in the Critically Ill. Surg Clin North Am. 2011 Aug; 91(4): 771–785.
  3. den Besten, Gijs., et al. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. J Lipid Res. 2013 Sep; 54(9): 2325–2340.
  4. Arumugam, M., et al. Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2011 May 12;473(7346):174-80.
  5. Canny, G.O., McCormick, B.A. Bacteria in the Intestine, Helpful Residents or Enemies from Within. Infect and Immun. August 2008 vol. 76 no. 8, 3360-3373.
  6. Hoban, A.E., et al., Microbial regulation of microRNA expression in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Microbiome 2017 5:102 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-017-0321-3

Other Sources:

References 1-5 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/

Many of the experts cited here have been quoted from the online series The Human Longevity Project at https://humanlongevityfilm.com/

  • Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine)
  • Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist)
  • Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC (Professor of Neuroimmunology)
  • Lorenzo Drago, PHD (Professor of Clinical Microbiology)
  • Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas (President of the European Institute of Nutritional Medicine)
  • Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator)
  • Marrin Edeas, PHD (Chairman of Mitochondria and Microbiota World Societies)
  • Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor)
  • Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator)
  • Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Photo credit: IBM Research on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND (quote added)