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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)

How to Access More Energy, Resilience and Adaptability

Optimising energy in our body is important for health of mind and body, in adding life to our days as well as days to our life. Current and recent research discussed here seems to be moving into more alignment with traditional and holistic approaches to healing and medicine. Also, some key aspects to health are becoming more clearly the leverage points to focus our efforts on for optimum health.

Mitochondria and micro-biome (our bodies micro-organisms) are two of these key aspects to total health throughout life. They are both impacted by our outer environment and inner environment which includes lifestyle, diet, our mental states and levels of stress. In this article we take a look at new insights and practical things we can do for mitochondrial health and functioning.

Mitochondria are more than just the power plants for all of the cells in our body. They are key players in a busy two-way exchange of information with each other, other organelles, other cells and a multitude of regulating systems throughout the body. There are thousands in each cell. They have evolved from bacteria and have many similar types of behaviour, including their life cycle dynamics, reproduction and migration based on demand for their functionality and the suitability of their micro-environments.

Maintaining youthful energy, appearance and body function is very much reliant on these little cellular power houses. In their role as energy producers they utilise electrons from oxygen we breathe with nutrients we consume to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the chemical and electro-charged packets of energy our cells use to remain animated, alive and do pretty much anything. The liver, kidneys, heart and brain have some of the highest concentrations of mitochondria in the body. We want an abundance of mitochondria that are healthy and efficient for every function of our body to be operating well, including our metabolism, immunity, heart and brain health along with our body’s ability to keep adapting to stressors and rebuild itself continually.

Ageing

Mitochondria have a lot to do with your biological age which can be radically different to your chronological age. Biomarkers for biological age also include telomere length (ends of DNA strands), cholesterol LDL, glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Mitochondrial functioning has much to do with cognitive and other brain functioning as much as every other active process in the body including all metabolic and neural processes. Maintaining high functioning and numbers of mitochondria ensures ample energy for body functioning, dealing with oxidative stress, immunity and keeping cell life cycles (cell death and cell reproduction) up with the body’s wear and tear from ageing and stressors.

A Systematic View – Stress and Mitochondria

In recent decades, biology and epigenetic (the study of organism changes in relation to modifications of genetic expression) research is looking at the body and the living environment as interrelated and interdependent communities on a cellular level. Stressors and health conditions are relative to adaptability and interactions between systems rather than just two isolated players being a single stressor and the effected organs. Stressors don’t cause disease, but our response to stressors on every level, including our psychology, can set up systemic changes that can lead to disease.

Mitochondria are important players in most of the systems in the body. In terms of energy they are integral aspects of heat, ATP production, membrane potential of cells and are substrates for epigenetic modifications. Research at the Philadelphia Hospital, has been developing understanding of a relationship between mutation variations of mitochondria in response to mental and environmental stressors with body and brain illnesses.

In terms of the highly complex bio-chemical and bio-electrical information highways of the body, mitochondria also play key roles in responding to and impacting circulation, activation and cross-over of information between hormones, DNA, epigenomes (compounds that tell genes what to do) and proteins which include cellular memories of past exposure to physical and psychological, real or imagined stressors. These are at the heart of our adaptation to internal and external stress (Picard, McEwan, et al., 2018). Stress adaptation requires energy whether it is to adapt to physical, emotional or mental stressors. In a recent article ‘An energetic view of stress: Focus on mitochondria’, Picard and McEwan comment that all energetic functions including neural pathways of the brain require mitochondrial energy which comes with a collaborative and two-way functional level of communication.

Gene expression, cell division, growth, death and regulation can be presumed to be coupled with mitochondrial metabolic signals. It’s all about communication and working together as a complex community as well has health and functioning of separate parts. Mitochondria are in the centre of the coupling of the energetic environment with cellular behaviour through a multifaceted set of mechanisms and pathways. These include epigenetic modifications at a cellular level and production of stress hormones as part of the body’s adaption to changes in conditions.

In the absence of real stress, these stress hormones can ‘dysregulate metabolism’ which is associated with conditions like insulin resistance and pre-diabetic states, weight gain due to metabolic disruption from high levels of insulin and leptin-hormones. This is why purely mental stress, especially if its chronic, can contribute and create havoc and chronic health conditions over time.

Mitochondria and glucocorticoids are an example of chaotic loops we can get into. Glucocorticoids are powerful hormones with many roles including how we use sugar and fat and curb inflammation. In a reciprocal sense mitochondria are not only the source of systemic signalling molecules like glucocorticoids but are also affected by them. Therefore, certain degenerative cycles can develop as well as healthy functional ones. Leaving out much of the scientific detail, mitochondrial energetics may be tied in with functional or dysfunctional epigenetic regulation of the brain, food and energy seeking behaviours, along with psychological states such as depression and complex social behaviours.

Systemic and environmental factors in relation to gene expression and cellular function is a more recent specialised field. This research is pioneering stuff, the latest paper only out a month ago. It is shedding new views on the relationship of mitochondria and stress, exploring the mechanisms of a highly complex interaction of systems that ties stress and mitochondrial disease in a viscous circle that unchecked is related to inflammatory, metabolic, and neuroendocrine conditions that we are seeing more and more in the modern world. These insights are shedding new light on stress influences with cancer and metastasis; diabetes; neurogenerative disorders as well as cell ageing and age related physical and cognitive decline. The implication is understanding and scientifically refining holistic approaches to disease including consideration of mitochondrial function.

As a final note, it is interesting that females and males have qualitatively different mitochondria. Mitochondria inheritance in both sexes is from the mother’s lineage only, but there is gender variance because sex hormones also regulate mitochondria throughout life from conception. Picard and McEwin conclude that studies must differentiate and include both sexes based on the sex differences in mitochondria, stress physiology and disease risk.

Key aspects to healthy functioning mitochondria are:

  • Lifestyle, mental and physical health
  • A healthy diet, predominantly plant-based, which includes Intermittent Fasting
  • Exercise and exposure to acute temperature changes
  • Supplementation if needed

Fasting

Brief intermittent fasting and caloric restriction can help activate mitochondria, because during fasting the body relies on lipids and stored fats for energy, and this is the role of your mitochondria. Twelve hours plus of no food intake between dinner and breakfast can be sufficient to trigger many healthy responses to fasting. However, if fasting also includes some daily activity time, so energy levels need boosting by demand in activity, then NAD+ levels will increase to assist production of ATP in the mitochondria. Stimulation of NAD+ is also good for the many anti-ageing and metabolic functions it is crucial including improving mitochondrial functioning (Houtkooper, Auwerx, 2012). Thus a weekly, fortnightly or monthly day time or even 36 hour plus Fast, can be great to boost health and years to your life as well as dealing with any unhealthy fat.

Also during fasting, autophagy (cellular death) increases as the body goes into clearing out damaged cells and consuming those for added energy, so that dysfunctional mitochondria are reduced and mitochondrial synthesis is stimulated.

Exercise

Exercise has similar benefits to fasting, in terms of energy demand activating and improving mitochondrial function. In addition, exercise increases the need for oxygen throughout the body and provides it through the heavy breathing of high intensity exercise, increasing the number and functioning of mitochondria in muscles and metabolically related organs (Menshikova, Ritov, et al., 2006).

Cold

Acute cold temperatures seem do do a lot of good things for the nervous system and cells. Tests on mice shows a profound effect on mitochondrial generation and numbers by increasing a protein for mitochondrial synthesis (Chung, Park, Lim, 2017). While we may not want to do it, another study showed prolonged cold produced significant benefits in smooth and skeletal muscles and vital organs. Nonetheless, this shows acute and prolonged adaptation to changes in temperature is good for our mitochondria. So end a shower with a burst of cold. Don’t loose the ability to enjoy an invigorating dive into a cold ocean or river and bracing yourself against a brisk wind! Maintaining resilience and robustness from exposure to natures elements is inherent in our evolution and hard wiring.

Diet

Key principles for a mitochondrial friendly diet is to:

Stay Away from Sugars, Processed Foods and don’t over do some grains: simple sugars lack nutrients and are absorbed too rapidly for mitochondria to burn them up efficiently causing increased fat and free radical damage. Highly processed sugars, such as white sugar, simple processed carbs and sweet soda’s, are treated as toxins in the body. Some grains turn to simple sugars quickly also, depending on your constitution, so be careful of overdoing grains. Get fibre and carbs through a range of foods – vary root vegetables through the week, include a variation of grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.

Eating the rainbow: a broad range of colours each day means a broad range of phytonutrients for your cells and information exchange with your bacteria. Leafy greens and sulphur-rich veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, kale and spinach help your body produce glutathione which is a key nutrient in anti-oxidation which involves the mitochondria and directly affects cellular heath.

Fatty acids: Omega-3 (in coloured fish, and a broad range of plant based oils) provide more efficient energy production by mitochondria with less free radical by-products than fuelling them with high amounts of carbohydrates. Fatty Acids like Omega-3 are also important in reducing chronic inflammation in the body.

Balance is needed in any diet and many experts suggest the Mediterranean diet as a good guide. Carbohydrates like pasta and root vegetables (not over-cooked) are balanced with plenty of vegetables, small sides of meat for meat eaters (traditionally small serves of white meats or seafood), quality olive oil, avocado and oils from various nuts. Not too many rich dressings and sauces. High sources of Omega-3 are seafood such as wild salmon, sardine and mackerel. In meats, high cuts of grass fed beef have Omega-3. Nuts (walnuts, cashews and brazil nuts) and seeds like flax (fresh flax as it goes rancid quickly, especially once its grounded or extracted) and also chia seeds are excellent. Also high on the list include mustard oil, deep green seaweeds as well as wild rice. Mung beans are the best of the beans. Vegetables like leafy greens, winter squashes, the cabbage family (especially cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) are excellent for Omega-3. Omega-3 containing fruits include most berries, mangoes, and Honeydew melons.

Supplementation

Diet is king as natural fresh foods contain countless combinations of micro- and macro-nutrients and important genetic information for our cells – especially our mitochondria and micro-biome.

Here are eight key supplements that have stood out in my research, that can assist mitochondrial function as a back up to dietary sources:

  1. BioPQQ (Polyquinoline Quinone) Human trials show some indications this can promote mitochondrial biogenesis (creation of new mitochondria).
  2. Magnesium This is an important mineral for mitochondria as well as for repairing damage to DNA and other aspects of longevity. Studies suggest 70-80% of people in developed western countries may be low in Magnesium. A quality supplement that includes quality natural nutrients to assist in its absorption is best. Eat plenty of deep green plant foods and berries.
  3. B-Vitamins (including riboflavin, thiamine and B6) The whole Vitamin B family are co-factors for mitochondrial efficiency and functioning (especially nicotinamide in the B-3 family) and so are also linked to healthy ageing. Some studies suggest that as we get older our cells don’t absorb certain B vitamins as well as they used to, so Vit-B supplementation may be more valuable as we get older.
  4. Nitric Oxides These are also linked to mitochondrial health as well as cardiovascular health, and certain amino’s like L-Arginine and L-Citrulline can help increase Nitric Oxide production in the body.
  5. Alpha Lipoic Acid ALA supports the functioning and healthy life cycle of mitochondria.
  6. CoQ10 (or ubiquinol – it’s active extraction) is suggested in some studies to support mitochondrial respiration and metabolic regulation in addition to supporting liver, heart and cardio-vascular health. It is fat soluble so take with healthy oils like coconut, sesame, olive or avocado. According to Dr.Mercola foods rich in C0Q10 include grass fed beef, sesame seeds, Herring, Broccoli, organic pastured chicken and cauliflower.
  7. L-Carnitine shuttles fatty acids to the mitochondria assisting with fat burning and mitochondrial functioning.
  8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids supplements that are algae plant based can be helpful, especially where some food sources are limited. Fish Oil capsules are best used if you have a diagnosed deficiency because they can be too rich for some people, then act as immunity suppressants. Freshness needs to be checked for all oil supplements, even opening capsules before ingesting to check they are not rancid from months at room temperature is recommended.

Important Tips on Vagal Toning for Complete Health

Much about good health and a healthy long life is now being linked to the ‘tone’ of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Because the sympathetic nervous system which invokes ‘flight or fight’ response is also commonly over-activated in stressful and fast paced living, it is more important than ever to tone the parasympathetic system for mind and body, in addition to high activity exercise.

Toning the parasympathetic system assists in repair and rebuilding to all cells and tissues in the body, quicker recovery and shifts into relaxation, lowering blood pressure, and helping recovery from adrenal fatigue. Having both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems toned and balanced is important for mitochondrial functioning, lowering inflammation, regulating hunger and hormonal balance and boosting immunity.

The importance of regulation and health of microbiome in the body is tied in with the parasympathetic system health. Much is now being found out about the critical role bacteria plays for health regulation in the body and immunity. Consider the mass of our bacteria is greater than our own body cells, and our body cells contain 3000 genes while there are 2.2 million genes in the DNA of our bacteria with a cross-over of information between our body and brain and these critical bacteria. Microbiome, along with mitochondrial functioning will be covered in another article, but these are now considered two key factors in energy production, disease prevention, brain health and long term anti-ageing for healthy longevity and are also linked up with the tone and functioning of the vagus nerve.

The Vagus Nerve

A key component to the parasympathetic system that is now taking centre stage amongst many practitioners of health and healthy lifestyles is the vagus nerve. This is a two-way highway of energy and information between body and brain. Taking its name from the latin word for “wandering”, it is the tenth and biggest cranial nerve extending directly from the medulla (brain stem) to most of the body. It affects facial muscles and eyes when we relax and smile, connecting to our digestive system from our throat to all digestive organs, and connects with our heart and lungs. It’s connection to the digestive organs of the liver and kidneys mean it is not only impacting our digestion and metabolism but also detoxification and elimination of waste and by-products of what we eat, breath and put our bodies through with stress and over – or under-activity. A toned nervous system supports stability in mood, memory, and overall brain health. So there are many systems of rejuvenation and body functioning that the vagus nerve impacts, to indicate it is a key factor in a holistic approach to health.

Here are some conditions and health factors that are associated with the level of tone of the vagus nerve:

  • the bodies inflammatory response: many chronic as well as acute conditions are now understood to be associated with inflammation
  • Repair and cell growth of brain cells and assisting in memory
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Immunity including the level of T-cell and killer cell response to disease and body repair
  • Various addictions and compulsive disorders
  • Mental health disorders
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Vagal tone can be indicated through the many bodily systems it affects and is generally measured directly through combined testing of heart and breathing rates, as well as heart rate variability (HRV) which is associated with the adaptability of your body to changes in external and internal conditions. HRV and vagal tone are closely correlated to one another – if one is functioning highly, then so is the other.

Vagal Toning

How do you ensure that you have good vagal toning? The same key factors recognised for vagal toning match most of the key factors recognised for acquiring and maintaining good health and healthy longevity! Here they are:

  1. Cold Exposure

    Acute cold exposure is shown by many researchers to activate the vagus nerve. It is a key factor to the Wim Hof Method which uses exposure to cold and breathing techniques for activating health and vitality. Just using ice cold water on the face is enough, or incorporating a brief cold shower into your usual shower routine. Within two weeks or less, most people notice a decline in the deep inhale or breath hold reaction to sudden cold, and notice a more relaxed response to the sudden exposure to cold. This indicates neural adaptation and vagal toning.

    Vagus nerve stimulation increases parasympathetic activity throughout the body and stimulates digestion and metabolism. Our bodies evolved to rely on such stimulation and environmental stressors like cold, which we now lack in the modern world of controlled environments. It only takes a little to strengthen and activate important functions of resilience towards these stressors which in turn enhances our resilience to stressors in general.

  2. Deep Slow Breathing

    The direct correlation between breath and heart rate (as well as HRV) and the vagus nerve that modulate or regulates them, means conscious breathing is also a quick, powerful and easy way to activate the vagus nerve. Research shows benefits to blood pressure and hypertension with breathing exercises alone. High breathing rates activate the sympathetic nervous system while slow deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and so helps autonomic functions like the respiratory and cardio-vascular systems to go into repair and recovery.

The most basic exercise is to do 1-3 minutes of inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, then waiting for another count of four before repeating. Doing this when your getting stressed at home or office, car or shopping mall will help brain function, effectiveness and comfortability go up and stress levels go down by releasing calming chemicals to feed your brain rather than stress chemicals to your muscles.

  1. Synchronised Movement and Breath like Yoga, Tai Chi and Xigong

    Just like what is said above, breathing itself activates the vagus nerve. Breathing associated with movement that stretches fascial tissue, muscles and joints while opening up energy channels have been found to be very effective in producing calming neurotransmitters like GABA in the brain and body. The traditional forms of yoga that incorporate activity with regular intermittent relaxation in poses like ‘sivasana’ can produce deeper and deeper levels of relaxation and endocrine production for relaxation and mood elevation. Also, particularly activating for the vagus nerve are relaxed movements with deep breathing that are expanding the thoracic (chest) region, inversions (legs up against a wall, various head stands, hand stands and shoulder stands) as well as sustained twisting postures with spine straight and chest out.

    In addition to those who have discovered the great benefits of yoga and Tai Chi, these types of activities are being used more and more by high performance athletes to assist in recovery and improved resilience to ongoing physical demands while the same holds true for resilience, good health and mood elevation throughout the challenges of life.

  2. Meditation and Conscious Presence

    After nearly fifty years of scientific studies, vast amounts of research has now been done on various types of meditation and the many benefits. In addition to increased vagal tone, positive emotions and thinking, and feelings of goodwill, studies done in schools and universities also show increases in concentration and brain functioning, and decreases in mental disorders and violent interactions.

    Meditation as well as general practice of conscious presence trains the mind to function effectively at brain frequencies that reduce sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ stress responses and increases vagal modulation. Greater insight, creativity, calm awareness, appreciation and mood elevation are among the many other benefits are confirmed in studies. So is the ability to respond and act in situations with less or little stress and adrenaline involved through this type of mind training.

  3. Exercise or High Intensity Activity

Exercise also has many studies showing it to be an effective way to increase the brains growth hormone, stimulate human growth hormone production during deep sleep, increase important receptor sites for mitochondrial functioning in and on cells, and help reverse cognitive decline and other aspects of ageing.

Exercise as a great stimulator of the vagus nerve may explain some of these benefits.

Walking, weight bearing exercise and high intensity training are all good. Weight bearing is especially good for reversing decline in bone and muscle density and decline of certain hormone levels in the body associated with ageing. So is interval training, in addition to being a very time effective way to build fitness. For interval training, try 10-30 minutes of walking, jogging or cycling 3-4 times a week, with periodic 1-2 minute bursts at maximum pace during each session.

  1. Probiotics and Dietary Factors

    There are many new studies in the last ten years indicating strong associations between brain function and immunity as well as vagal tone with microbiome (micro-organisms in the body) – especially bacteria in the gut.

    In addition, dietary factors like essential fatty acids (fats the body can’t make itself like Omega-3 and -6) are critical for cellular integrity, brain and mental health and nerve function. This includes vagal tone, which may be also why dietary fatty acids can help reduce heart rate and increase heart rate variability. A great source of these are in certain fish oils (organically farmed or wild-caught salmon are an example or Australian northern river fish like Barramundi are rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils).

    Zinc is also a key dietary mineral for vagus nerve stimulation and preventing or improving various certain brain function disorders, mental health and anxiety. Good food sources include oysters, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms, spinach and grass-fed beef for meat eaters.

  2. Intermittent Fasting

Many health benefits are being documented and studied now on fasting, with more attention lately on short-term intermittent fasting. This also is being shown to help improve brain function and growth hormones, mitochondrial function, brain ‘fog’ and cognitive issues. Fasting and caloric restriction is also being associated with increased HRV again indicating vagal tone improvement.

The ideal is to not eat at least two hours before bed, which also improves sleep patterns. Best results are if most days, people can have a 12 to 16 hour window of not eating between dinner and breakfast. Immunity increases, detoxification and cellular cleansing (cellular death – apoptosis- and cellular reproduction cycles) are also stimulated. The 16 hour window of fasting (with an 8 hour window of healthy eating) is a great way to sustainably lose weight. The 12 hour fasting window is great for general health and weight maintenance (helping to keep down accumulation of unhealthy fat). Once every week, fortnight or month also try a 36 hour fast by only having fluids during one day to reset the body, stimulate many healing processes, increase resilience to disease, environmental and other stressors.

  1. The Power of the Voice

    Vagus nerve expert, Dr. Stephen Porges established Polyvagal Theory. He talks about the hard wiring in our evolution towards flight-or-fight stimulation including response to social communication which encompasses verbal and body language, vocal tone and non-verbal cues.

    A soothing voice for adults and children in gentle, slow and rhythmic tones coaxes the brain into a relaxed state faster and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, including the vagal nerve. This is true whether you are the speaker or listener. While the voice is powerful and effective for adults, it is great for young children for whom a modulated and calm voice is powerful for vagal and parasympathetic development and toning during years where much neural programming or conditioning is happening. It is powerful also for babies (especially combined with skin-to-skin contact) and can be utilised regularly and daily in combination with other approaches mentioned in this article.

    Singing, humming, chanting and even gargling all stimulate the vagus nerve which connects to the vocal chords and muscles in the throat. These all are shown to also increase the hallmark sign of vagal toning which is increase of heart rate variability.

  2. Social Lifestyle and Laughter

    Quite a few studies on social factors have linked healthy, active and supportive social life with healthy longevity as well as recovery from illness or trauma. In addition, laughter has been shown to be strongly related to good health as well as healing and recovery. Both socialising and laughter reduce cortisol and other stress related hormones, stimulate the vagus nerve and HRV while improving mood and happy hormone production. Unfortunately for some, excessive or heavy alcohol consumption is somewhat counter effective, so moderating consumption while having as much fun and shared frivolity is great for one and all!

  3. Acupuncture and Massage

Both acupuncture and massage stimulate the vagus nerve, increasing its activity and tone. Specific points and areas like the sole of the foot (reflexology), auricular (ear) acupuncture, points along the side of the neck (near the carotid artery) are especially good for this. They are also effective spots to assist people coming off anti-depressants and other psychiatric medication, assist people with neurodegenerative diseases, as well as general stress related issues.

In closing …. my intention is not to write a scientific paper here. There are many references related to these ten points above which be can provided for specific points on request. Many supporting studies can be found through a simple online search on any term or specific topic. Much is common sense and there’s enough information here to help you take control of stress levels and steer your way into better mind and body health. Having all points above as part of your lifestyle will help disease prevention, increased resilience, promote total health while increasing enjoyment and quality of life.

Important Fundamentals You Need to Know About Earthing Yourself

Earthing and How It Works

Significant evidence is building up from research around the world that the body does not like being unplugged from the earth due to synthetic shoes and surfaces. This is a ridiculously simple yet logical factor in modern life, especially for city living. Bare-foot groups have even started up in cities internationally and on social media. The astounding factor, is that it could be one of the key factors in a huge array of systemic and chronic modern day health issues.

If you haven’t looked into it, this is a snap shot of the fundamentals from Clinton Ober’s book “Earthing”, co-authored with Stephen T. Sinatra M.D. (cardiologist) and Martin Zucker (health and alternative medicine author).

Being connected to the electrical charge and electron rich flow of the earths surface seems to be an intimate aspect of balance and regulation of practically every function and system in our electro-chemical bodies, including nervous systems, metabolic regulation, blood and heart health, hormonal and electrical cycles tied in with cycles in nature. The functioning of organisms such as bacteria and mitochondria that make up much of our mass is also being explored with building evidence of earthing as a health factor at this foundational level of longevity. Both mental and physiological balance and functioning is indicated along with improved alertness, energy and longevity.

Benefits

Some of the basic benefits are:

  • Rapid reduction of inflammation
  • Reduction or elimination of chronic pain
  • dynamic blood flow improvement improving multiple body functions and health
  • Reduced stress
  • increased energy
  • improved sleep and feeling rested when awakening including improvement to disrupted circadian cycles
  • Accelerated healing form injuries and surgery

Research and control group tests that discussed revealed the above benefits in the range of 80-100% of participants! (pp.43-48). Other tests show normalisation in the amount and rhythms of cortisol (the stress hormone) production.

The huge connection between many chronic and terminal illnesses with chronic inflammation is changing approaches to treatment through the health professions. The long list of conditions (p.65) include; allergies, Alzheimers disease, ALS and MS, Anemia, Arthritis, Asthma, Autism, Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes types 1 & 2, Fibromyalgia, Intestinal disorders like Crohn’s and IBS, kidney failure, Lupus, general pain, Pancreatitus, Psoariasis and eczema.

Experiments also show a calming effect on brain frequencies and a normalisation in muscle tension (p79,80). An electro-physiology experiment on acupuncture points showed that grounding generated readings indicative of reduced inflammation and energised internal organs. The study suggests particular electron-transfer occurs in the highly conductive water-control meridians related to kidney and bladder including the major K1-UB meridian that has points related to all organs.

Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Nervous System Function

Grounding in quoted studies activated the parasympathetic nervous system (that calms body processes) while increasing respiration, stabilising blood oxidation and inducing a slight rise in heart rate. Continued increase in efficiency of oxygen update revealed an increase in metabolic activity. These physiological benefits emphasis how our bodies have evolved to utilise the energy of the earth as an integral part of its cycles, the regulation and balance of systems and biological processes.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a well known part of recovery in sports, and ongoing studies showing less inflammation and faster recovery and healing means many sports medicine practitioners are using grounding with athletes during and after training and events.

Experiments on looking at the immune response following vaccination led Polish researchers to suggest earthing could be a primary factor in regulating endocrine and nervous systems (pp.87-100).

Dr. Steve Sinatra links earthing to low cardiovascular diseases in barefoot cultures and generations and cites his studies, observations and experiments that show “across-the-board benefits for common cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and diabetes.”

Before and after blood studies show autoimmune system (ANS) changes and Zeta Potential (the electrical charge of blood cells) increases which allows for blood vessels to separate and blood viscosity to normalise. Clumping of cells and thick clotting blood is observed with many people with cardio vascular issues & diabetes. Diabetes is a modern scourge that impacts an estimated 3.4 million people a year and this number is increasing. Various doctors and studies in the book discuss significant results for diabetics, citing earthing as a missing link in the approach to improving or reversing this condition (pp.123-127; 129,130). The significant and rapid counteracting of inflammation and increasing blood flow from earthing provides significant and fast improvements.

HRV (Heart Rate Variation) factors also increase which is indicative of better physiological adaptation to stress and general internal and external changes.

Kidney function

Dramatic improvement and even reversal of kidney damage and dysfunctions is also covered in the book for people with diagnosed conditions and even those already on dialysis. The effect of earthing on sleep, improved circulation and electrodynamics of blood, normalising of cortisol (the stress hormone) along with less inflammation and pain are likely contributors to improved blood pressure for many people with issues commencing regular earthing (p.135).

Other Benefits

Other benefits discussed are improvements for Depression(p. 48,135,154); (pp. 148,149,169) much is added from researchers as well as testimonials on the disappearance of such inflammatory related chronic conditions like allergies, arthritis (p. 170), and back pain(p.177); inflammation of blood vessels, jet lag, Lupus, and MS (Multiple Sclerosis) (p.180-185); sleep apnea and stress relief (p.190); women’s issues like PMS, menstrual pain, menopausal symptoms (pp.204- 220); and, sports injury healing and recovery (p.221).

While earthing is not a claimed cure for autism, its observed to have a calming effect, improve sleep patterns, promote better speech and socialisation. This may be linked to recent autism studies showing links with brain inflammation and immune system dysfunction (p.172).

The Umbrella Effect of Earthing

Our skin is a great conductor for the flow of abundant and energised electrons from the earth’s surface (negatively charged). This endless source of electrons are not only used in antioxidant processes in our bodies to reduce free radicals and inflammation, grounding also provides a shield of energy around us at the same charge as the earths surface to lift the strong positive charged area (+ 350 volts) above the earths surface above our heads (p76,77).

General Health and Longevity

As an added note – latest research on health and longevity is finding much depends on the exchange of information between microbiota (micro-organisms) in our food, in our body (gut, deep in the skin and bacteria derived organelles in our cells for example) and how that impacts energy processing and metabolism. With the improvements of earthing on metabolism and other specific physiological changes observed, future research on any improved behaviour and health of needed bacteria in our bodies may shed even more light on how it effects so many benefits to all aspects of health.

ATP production in the mitochondria is a key to heart health, energy production as well as the rate and efficiency of cellular repair and reproduction. Various researchers and specialists are advocating that earthing has an impact on this core process to a healthy long life through its many benefits as well as supercharging the electrons being utilised in the ATP production line (p.142, 143). More research is needed on this.

The calming effect on the mind and physiological systems, the balancing of hormone/endocrine systems and the connection it gives to the earth make earthing a great part of general therapeutic wellbeing and as a benefit to mindful presence and meditation practices.

Connecting to the Earth

So if you or a loved one have any of the above health issues or you want to utilise earthing to further strengthen you health, vitality and resilience, then go barefoot wherever and whenever possible on grass, soil, sand (especially moist for conductivity) and gravel. Even concrete can have enough conductivity, depending on insulation under it, to have a positive impact. Vinyl and wooden surfaces do not conduct. A half hour to forty minutes are enough to activate many of the measured physiological improvements. Salt water wading is great as it is highly conductive. Fresh water is good although not as conductive. A barefoot walk in the grass for fifteen minutes can shake off jet lag or a headache.Alternatively, there are now earthing products to have you earthed or grounded during sleep or at the work desk. Look online at ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ sites for bed, desk and floor pads, bedsheets, patches for specific areas of pain and even grounded shoes.

Happy bare footing!

Recommended Reading

Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! By Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra M.D. and Martin Zucker (Basic Health Publications Inc., 2014).

Photo credit: Riccardo Palazzani – Italy on Visualhunt.com/CC BY-NC-SA

Facing Death to Better Face Life

There are three big benefits from contemplating death in a positive sense. Firstly, it adds to appreciating every living moment, making the most of it, and not taking things and others for granted. Secondly, it adds a sobering depth and motivation to contemplating the big picture of life and contemplating spiritual meanings. Thirdly, it gives perspective on what the little things and big things are in life and worth your energy and focus. In other words, what is important and not taking too much too seriously.

In terms of spiritual growth and general maturity, as we let go of fear and embrace life more fully, one of the final fears to face and move through is the fear of loss and death. It may not be the concept of death that is frightening but times in your life when you come close to it personally or with someone close, or when you get a sense of letting go fully into something unknown where your own sense of self is put to the test, then facing death and fear of death can seem pretty close.

Spiritual awakening as a transformation ultimately hits the chord of any fear of death, because true awakening marks the end of identification with the ego self. This can feel like a type of death for the part of us we are letting go. In the Bhagavad Gita (Gita 6:37-39), Arjuna’s question reveals one of the final fears and anxieties in the mind of one who has recognised the truths in Sri Krishna’s teachings yet still has doubt in himself to fulfil them. Self doubt feeds this final fear when we are poised to let go of what is tangible and familiar to the ego mind and step in faith towards the values and consciousness of the higher Self. Essentially Arjuna is asking what happens to a person who is unsuccessful in yoga (spiritual union) who has let go of material identity but has not mastered his mind, so ends up short on union of consciousness as well as material success and identity. It is a fear of being lost between worlds, of failure and loss in gaining nothing.

Sri Krishna’s answer (Gita 6:40-44) reveals the Gita’s view of life and death. He reflects on the immortality of spirit as consciousness and that anyone with good intentions and actions will never meet with an evil plight or death. The idea of reincarnation is a strong part of Indian thought and culture, providing a context and karmic rationale for both heavenly and worldly, life and death consequences for choices about living one’s life. Whether you are of a culture or personal belief in reincarnation back in the material world or incarnations through higher levels of spiritual realms beyond this world, the same principles apply, whereby salvation does not arrive by merit of a heavenly pass at death. Rather death is just a portal to further ongoing existence and where we continue to reap what we have sown, playing the main role in our own salvation and development towards true awakening.

Similarly (Gita 2:27-28) is less poetic but very clear and applicable to all of us whatever our faith, convictions or belief. Considering a universal truth in this world for those prescribing to different views of life beyond death, no one can argue about the inevitability of death. Krishna notes this and the veiled nature of existence before and this material life as a fact of life, so “why lament about it”?

That everything material changes and passes is cause to ponder the big questions about reality, before and after the fleeting time we have in our current physical body, and the profoundness of experience and consciousness accessible to us. Whatever our lifestyle, bodily deterioration is occurring gradually and is ever present on a physical level, until at some point the body will be cast aside (Gita 2:22).

Easwaran in his Gita companion says “It is good to face death with courage, but that is not enough; we must learn to face it with understanding.” (p.191). In a spiritual sense, through meditation and practice of presence generally, we can become familiar with consciousness that transcends sense organs and objects, including projections of mind. This transcendent awareness brings with it a sense of living awareness and identity independent of the body and thinking mind. Thus, an intuitive sense or even knowing of death as a doorway to another state of pure consciousness comes as a natural part of insight and realisation of the nature of this unchanging consciousness from which our ever-changing perceptions and responses arise.

Being mindful of death can be a means of making the most of each living moment, of the profoundness of every moment. Some saints and seekers do things to deepen this mindfulness. Saint Teresa of Avila kept a skull on her desk. Yogis, saints and masters in India sit before cadavers to meditate to help them transcend mortal mindedness. Warriors (spiritual and military) or those living in harsh conditions often use the inevitability of death to fuel their conviction and focus on their conscious choices, actions and life path. It fuels comradeship. It heightens the focus, conviction and mind power of shamans.

In the Gita (8:12-13), Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a crash course in how to die which is the basis for various meditations and mudras for unifying mind and soul, as well as preparing for optimum consciousness during death. Basically, the meditation describes withdrawing the vital energy and focus from body and senses into the mind where a mantra and intention towards the divine or consciousness of consciousness itself is the sole awareness accompanied by the sound of Aum. This is full immersion in pure awareness and presence. From there in Gita terms the consciousness transcends mind “into Buddhi, the higher mind, and finally into what is called the causal body, the seat of I-consciousness. Easwaran discussing this verse describes the process “like taking off an overcoat button by button, then removing your jacket, and finally your pullover, folding each piece carefully and setting it aside.” (p.194).

In normal meditation, some vitality is kept in the body to keep it living. Experienced meditators will vouch for a heightened sense of aliveness and awareness when in this state than normal body consciousness. Whatever the details of after death existence, Sri Krishna notes the unchanging nature at the seat of consciousness itself, which can be realised in life and continues after death.

Uniting all faculties “by the power of yoga” or the biblical “loving God with all your heart, your soul, your strength and mind” to achieve deep awakening requires sustained devoted and dedicated effort. It does not have to be complicated, done always with closed eyes, but rather a consistent part of being present while we attend to living our lives fully present in our selves, our environment and others. It does require a balanced character and approach to life. Spiritual teachings universally view development of the soul and ‘awakening’ as a cumulative result of mindful practice while living a meritorious life as the key to fulfilment and happiness, as well as readiness for when it is time to go.

Arjuna asks Krishna ‘what if we aren’t ready and haven’t got there?’ The assurance is when death is understood through contemplation and knowing the nature of consciousness itself, it looses its terror. Much of the problem with dying is the inability to let go, along with regrets about life. As Easwaran points out, in conscious dying “all attention is on where you are going: there is no attention on what you are leaving behind, which means no clinging. It’s not so much that you’re not afraid of death; the question simply does not arise”. In other words, like in deep meditation and practice of presence, the process is less about letting go of identification with thoughts and body and more an engagement with a known existential state of being.

Many people who have been in a dangerous instant where they thought they were about to die, experience no fear and an instant acceptance. I have experienced this a few times. My daughter experienced it when she fell from a cliff and thought that was it. As an observer in that instance I confronted my worst of fears as a parent then went into protect and rescue mode when I saw her mercifully injured but okay below. It is different for the person facing this moment for themselves, when all of life has lead to one key instant.

The cumulative effect of spiritual effort contributes to our level of consciousness at death. Meanwhile, we can enhance the experience and depth of conscious choosing in our daily lives as the layers of conditioning stored in the material mind is unravelled in the light of that consciousness and spiritual identification. The opportunity for continued learning and discovery, facing challenges “calmly, courageously, and compassionately” is part of our purpose.

I’ll finish with a final note from Easwaran that the getting of wisdom is not just learning more, but the capacity to learn from past mistakes while facing new difficulties by ‘detached intellect’. “Detached intelligence is the very source of wisdom … that acquired wisdom awakens us to the extent we listen to it, not so much in the head as in the heart.” (p.203).

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Recommended Reading:

God Talks To Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realisation Fellowship, 2nd Edition 1999)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society, 15th Edition 2015)

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountanin Center of Meditation, 2011).

Steps That Will Lead to No Ordinary Moments

It’s been over forty years since I first put on a Gi and started martial art training. Shin Kyu Sik, my first instructor (in Tang Soo Do) many years ago said to me, “If you are unlucky these days you may get into a fight once or twice in your life, but you fight battles within yourself every day”. That simple message applying my training to the inner game of life has stayed with me all my life. Since then I have studied various forms of Karate and Kung Fu spanning soft internal styles as well as hard external styles. Martial arts for me has not been about fighting another opponent as much as training mind and body to face large and small everyday battles of life effectively with alert calmness and equanimity. Of course proficiency in techniques is part of the art, but its greatest practicality in modern life is as a vehicle for strengthening mind and character. In the last ten years especially, passing this on to others as an instructor and coach is immensely rewarding.

In these interesting times as more momentum builds in social progress, the pressure to keep up with technology and social trends. At an entrepreneurial level to stay relevant in how we communicate and offer products and services we must also keep abreast of diversification and new niches of business. Information and knowledge is becoming as much a high demand and major commodity as is any material commodity product or service. Our times are becoming characterised by designer lives, where customised controllable environments, homes, transportation, fashion and interests are more accessible faster. Our mindset is also more important in adapting and thriving among more and more options, complexities of challenges, with a greater emphasis on competing and performing with our minds rather than just working with our hands. Self-doubt, negative beliefs, emotional and mental resistance to change, susceptibility to stress and many other challenges to psycho-emotional wellbeing are things we must combat in our lives more than ever. Creative thinking and cutting edge knowledge in a particular field of interest is becoming more important. Thankfully there are also more supports and sources of information on how to combat personal obstacles and build knowledge and skills than ever before.

The growing demand for insights and skills on playing the inner game of life is beginning to catch up with the expanding demand for tools of developing the skills, processes and knowledge needed to move forward in any given industry. Many of my posts refer to ‘conscious presence’ because it is a passion I have and I believe it is at the root of mastering one’s inner game, whatever the journey, as well as providing for spiritual growth.

Ancient philosophies such as Taoism and Zen, are perhaps easier to couch in modern terms than main stream religious sources, for their minimal religious terminology and universality in presenting principles for truth, righteous living and heightened consciousness. They make a play of paradoxes and opposites to help us pierce the dualism of mind and form to get to unity of pure consciousness and presence in the moment. In this way, practice and understanding promises a better conscious observation of mind-stuff as it arises and more conscious choice as to what we take on or let go in our individual approaches to life. Conscious observation of self is transformational in itself while also providing an inner platform from which to consciously re-design our own thinking and focus.

In the meantime the age-old clues as to what that foundation is, behind thoughts and feelings – conducive or not so conducive, still provide apt guidance towards the self awareness that enables self-transformation and development. In the end, contacting and aligning with the true substance of what and who we are beneath it all becomes the most authentic and rock solid foundation to being solid, happy and empowered. It is connecting and living from a deep conscious self awareness that enables us to know who we are, what we really want and know our purpose. It is where we can find fulfilment in what we are and do, as well as create lives where we can be and do more fulfilling things.

Because this seat of ‘self’ is beyond concept (thought) and form, words like ‘space’, ‘presence’, ‘pure consciousness’ ‘mindfulness’ , ‘essence’ and ‘state-of-being’ are modern terms for an awakening experience that might have once had associations with terms like ‘spirit’ and ‘God’. Whatever the words, for words are only words, it is an authentic and immediately personal experience that is relevant, liberating and empowering, that people are increasingly looking for (knowingly or sub-consciously). The age old trend for increasing peace and prosperity is becoming real for more and more of the worlds population.

As has often been the case historically, it is often in the face of challenges and adversity where we are most likely to go beyond our familiar dependencies and escapism to get to a new depth and breadth of being, because a real crisis occurs when the old familiar ways become inadequate. It is discomfort, inner tension and real life needs that drive us to dig deeper and open up to a greater source of strength, clarity or sense of purpose and connection in life.

This is where the training I began to discuss above can come in handy, as does the way we live in general. Practical training and philosophies can offer a form of view and experience that brings us to lucid moments at times we would otherwise go into ‘flight or fight’. Certain mind training provides reference points for the formless, where our ‘aha’ moments can arise. A principle that is referred to in the paradoxes and play of opposites in martial arts, Taoism and Zen is ‘non-action in action’ and ‘action in non-action’.

It is not very ‘zen’ of me to conceptualise this principle. .. however … it applies to an experience that could be described as meditation in action. In a pure moment of being present we can perform an action with full clarity and consciousness, rooted in the space and consciousness from which the action is occurring. If we are fully aligned and attuned in an action being performed, and identifying with the space or ‘non-action’ in which it is occurring, a quality of ‘nowness’ enables purposeful, creative and fulfilling focus to occur. Also conscious alignment and attunement with the stillness and being-ness from which any given action has arisen, is an inner action in and of itself – the action of aligning and attuning the consciousness itself.

This awareness in action while knowing the reason and benefits of what we are doing at any time in the day, nourishes the consciousness of feeling in the flow of life and energisation by doing something that invigorates a sense of purpose. This is compared to the dullness of biding time, doing something for the sake of it, being in a mindset of ‘having to do’ something we don’t want to do or really care about. These negative types of mindsets take us away from being empowered and conscious individuals living in sync with life in general. Transformation of consciousness and reality occur together.

A simple example comes from Zen in the form of Zen walking. Walking can be a mundane thing we do unconsciously to get somewhere we want to be or maybe would rather not be. However, even this simple process can be used as part of enjoyment and self-mastery, especially if we try it as a conscious practice a number of times. Try this version of practice on a weekend, start or finish of the day and go barefoot on wet sand or grass to get the full benefits of earthing and restorative electron flow in and around the body in addition to the exercise for mind. This helps balance and replenish mind and body as well as practicing mindfulness:

  • allow the breath to become open, flowing and fully relaxed
  • stand still and balanced, gaze slightly down along the nose, feeling through the legs and feet into the ground, breathe in the lower belly, arms relaxed by the sides or finger interlocked comfortably at the lower abdomen where you are taking the breathe.
  • Begin to walk slowly, steadily and purposefully in a circle or straight line with a soft steady gaze and calm natural breath.
  • Allow your steps to be slow enough to feel the point of balance on each foot rolls from heel to toes and the other foot lifts and moves forwards.
  • Try adjusting the speed until the walk feels slow, steady and natural – encouraging a strong sense of balance and being with each step and the movement during each step.
  • Do this long enough (5-20 minutes) that your inner body awareness and outer awareness feel unified (no boundaries) with breath and movement.

Once you do this you can subtly do it while browsing in a shop, walking from the desk to printer or table to refrigerator – any moments through the day to train oneself towards consistent mindfulness.

Waking up in conscious presence each day and appreciating the song of birds outside my window, bringing that wakeful presence into body awareness, the living space around me and then my actions throughout the day, adds so much to what I consider my quality of living and enhances my relationships. It is an aspect of where spiritual practice and daily living are one and the same. The accumulated store of conscious moments over days, weeks and years bring you to an enriched space where (to quote Dan Millman) “there are no ordinary moments”.

Photo from Visual Hunt (quote added)

True Life Riches That Bring Love and Freedom

The Fullness of Love

Having a life full of love means being able to receive and feel love in ourselves along with a life of sharing it with others. There is an undying and causeless love we can draw on at anytime which gives our relationships and occupations meaning and purpose when we can love each other and what we do. Knowing and doing what you love with love is fulfilling in and of itself because it is embodying, expressing, sharing and channeling this love into the world as you experience it.

The Bhagavad Gita 13:27 says: “He sees truly who perceives the Supreme Lord present equally in all creatures, the Imperishable amidst the perishing.” Swami Sivananda describes someone with this view as self-realised. Sivananda likens the divine essence in us all as like the heat that is common in all kinds of fire, the gold that is the same in different ornaments and light being the same from different lamps.

Paramahansa Yogananda refers to the ground of all creatures who share the same substance of life which is the Lord as consciousness (chit in sanskrit) and existence or being (sat). Yogananda goes on to equate our identity as creatures and mortals with delusion and perishing, yet “as children of the Most High, sons of the Creator, we partake of His uncaused and indestructible nature.”

The cosmology of the Gita can be brought down to ourselves as the centre of the universe as we each experience it, not as isolated orphans, but as part of a living conscious universe with the capacity to live in a way that benefits and harmonises the rest of life. According to Easwaran, the Gita proposes the whole in each of us, as each of us is an expression of universal consciousness in which is contained the entire universe. Thus we can see ourselves in each other and in all “which is the basis of universal love”.

To put it dramatically, the whole cosmos is a setting for us to rise above it and go beyond time, place, and circumstance into the supreme reality that is God”. Easwaren (p.52)

True Freedom of the Muni

The Gita 2:55-57 describes the freedom of the muni (one who can dissolve his mind in divine presence or God) as relinquishment of worldly desires, entirely contented in the Self, not shaken by anxiety under afflictions nor attached to happiness in favourable circumstances, free from worldly loves, fears and angers – he is settled in wisdom and steady discrimination.

Part of the practice of this relinquishment can be in the small things in life. Easwaran brings it right down to basics, using eating your broccoli as an example of weakening the conditioned mind which is happy only with what it likes. With practice and maturity “you find yourself no longer compelled to do what you enjoy, but instead enjoying whatever you do.” (p.160). Another aspect is what I described in a previous post as “embracing the good, bad and the ugly”. Meanwhile, another attribute of the muni is to absorb worldly desires into oneself then dissolve them in the vast ocean of presence.

Yogananda refers to pure bliss from meditative and spiritualised actions as the source of complete satisfaction and supreme happiness of the muni. It is this that enables us to embrace all aspects of our life with equanimity and absorb all desires into a greater and stronger bliss. Yogananda gives us the ideal of the perfect sage, whose outer nature still retains some egoity as an individualised consciousness in the form of a spiritualised ego retaining the bliss of presence even after meditation and while performing actions in life.

Many of us do not realise there is no pleasures of the flesh without a soul identifying with the body for it to happen. Yet instead of identifying with soul presence, we cling to bodily and worldly pleasures for satisfaction and relief from the rigours of life – “just as a mad lover, identified with his beloved, thinks his happiness dependent on her and her alone!” The wise man perceives all bliss is contained in the inner self, the nature of the soul being different to the nature of the body. “As fear is caused by a sense of impending misfortune, the wise man, identified with the soul, knows no such desires. Anger results from the nonfulfillment of a bodily or mental desire; the muni harbours no such desires.”

Finally, Yogananda explains the neutrality of the wise in all circumstances, is not a heartless indifference but conscious control and calming of the faculties of consciousness. The conditioned mind is as a “puppet of nature”, actions and reactions an excitable yet predictable mix of delusive influences. The key is in recognising the distinction between the blessed nature of the soul and the excitable and transitory nature of body and mind.

Easwaren describes being truly free as when no mental state or “emotion can overwhelm you, no craving can drive you into action”, where dependence on others and outside circumstances and the tides of fortune no longer hold any sway, there is no compulsions or need to manipulate anyone. The “heart is full of joy and your mind full of peace” and whatever occurs you always experience true completeness. (pp.57,58). The recognition of the depth if these attributes is where we can access them through authentic and consistent practice of presence in stillness and in action.

Commenting on a similar verse in the Gita, Yogananda explains (Gita 2:70) that the ability to absorb all desires within, keeping an inner ocean of quiescence filled to the brim, does not mean abandoning good aspirations – “in spiritual life giving is receiving.” He quotes Jesus words in Matthew 25:29: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Actively pursuing a desire to give joy and peace, or any acts of goodness to others will bring more joy and peace to the doer. The deeper we go in drawing on inner love and peace in living and sharing our life, the more vast an ocean of divine Self is made available to one and all to commingle in the universal ocean of divine life and consciousness.

In this post I draw on the wisdom of two saints and master yogi’s Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Sivananda as well as the wise and much loved devotee of the Gita, Eknath Easwaran. It is always good to draw on the pearls of auspicious and venerated teachers to whom I give thanks.

Recommended Reading:

God Talks To Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realisation Fellowship, 2nd Edition 1999)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society, 15th Edition 2015)

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2011).

Embracing the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It goes without saying that most religious and spiritual practices and systems have their pearls of wisdom and approaches to gaining spiritual experience and realisation. Foundational pillars for building a spiritual life, aligning our lives and actions with divine truth and presence, are initially morals and ethics. It is the positive inner response to morals and ethics as children that first initiates our spiritual journey. Later we begin to feel our personal convictions around them and let them shape and define our decisions and actions. Ethics and morals can be conditioned by beliefs and culture or they can be more universal.

Attitudes and convictions around human rights are an example of what is ethical or moral in one culture can be seen by another culture as immoral or unethical. Religion and culture, history, and how harsh or conducive life conditions are, have an effect on the mores evolved in a civilisation. Thus, we see in some cultures, a disparity between how they treat their ‘own’ compared to outsiders. This is particularly strong in those cultures and religious sects that still retain their links to a long history of tribal life and warfare, or having to have strict codes of conduct to survive harsh conditions. Similarly, attitudes of rights even within a sect, tribe or community can be in conflict with ethics and morals of outsiders when it comes to things like treatment of women, children, the old and sick, the influence of security and ware fare as well as trade.

As our personal spiritual characteristics mature, ethics and morals become part of a more integrated and universal set of convictions which is what I refer to as values. No matter what the conflicting ethics and morals between different cultures and people, there are common values of love and support within the family, codes of courage and honour, ideals of love, compassion, beauty and the sense of truth, as well as values around codes of conduct to do with honesty, goodness, and considerations of the sovereignty of the individual inclusive of consideration of the wellbeing of the group.

I am of the view that personal spiritual maturity raises an individual’s values above the conditioned mores of his or her own culture to more universal values that are the shared ideals of most major religions and globally influenced modern philosophies. The more values can be applied universally to all peoples at all times, be applied equally to all so that unity (not uniformity), wellbeing, prosperity and sustainability are promoted equally to all as well as to the resources required for the future, the more those values resonate with the true nature of life and living consciousness itself. The individual and the group must be sustained and given the opportunity to thrive on the basis of mutual co-operation, love and liberty. Obviously, if society and each of us individually compromise our codes of conduct, morality and values in order to manage the lowest denominators of human nature and conduct, then our systems and approaches to life are more limited in scope. A remedy is to uphold ideals truly set on universal values that apply in a fully harmonious and friendly universe.

Maintaining high ideals is the only way to gain insight into how they operate and apply in an evolving world. We can then better adopt insight in applying universal values to everyone at all times in our life. In this world of contrasts, where ignorance often still prevails, how do we apply our ideals and values to perceived evil in the world or as it arises even subtly within ourselves? How do we apply these values while in inner conflict or conflict with another, such as when we feel threatened? How do we apply these values when we feel common human emotions like anger, hurt, or sadness? What about other emotive states like self-absorbed pride, self-loathing, jealousy or guilt?

Love of God and all beings as brothers and sisters is the Christian golden rule as does seeking first the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita also teaches that oneness with the divine comes first, before the cares of the world. This is because, when we are in a state of pure presence in the moment, where our sense of being and existence transcends thoughts, feelings and actions, we are immersed in the living essence of life and consciousness itself. It is not a mindless, void that eliminates any sense of divinity, humanity, purpose or meaning. Connecting to the living essence of what we are is a connection to something profound rather than just a disconnection from the material world or from our projections of self. Being in the world but not of the world is obviously not identifying with an empty and lifeless void that leaves us robotic or zombie-like.

True awakening into the living light of our own life essence and pure consciousness does equate to connecting to spirit. When we can be immersed deeply in that place then all our feelings, thoughts and actions are external to the consciousness that is our true essence. Feelings and thoughts are inner projections, while the perceptions of the physical senses and the external world they perceive are also experienced as objective occurrences in the medium of our boundary-less consciousness.

Thus, part of spiritual practice is learning to accept all positive and negative thoughts and feelings in ourselves and perceived around us equally. Personal attachments and aversions are all by nature perceived through the conditioned mind. Spiritual identification comes with identification with the substance of who or what we are and not with the projections of self, whether they be good or bad, positive or negative. Being in true presence creates the space for abiding compassion, goodness and growing receptive understanding that is more capable of universal love and discriminating life situations by how they resonate with divine presence rather than how well our reality is conforming to conditioned ideas of good or bad or how they serve our preconceived self-biased agenda’s.

All arising feelings and thoughts can be equally witnessed in the light of clear and true consciousness with presence. A loved one, a stranger or someone causing conflict around us or within ourselves can also be experienced in undisturbed equanimity depending on the power and depth of ones own state of presence This offers greater proactive choices of response, that is not reactive or based on fear or threat.

Being able to sit with positive highs and uncomfortable or painful lows of thoughts and feelings equally is part of renunciation. Handling life in the moment this way, from the inclusive love we find in deep ‘being-ness’ itself, happens when conscious presence of being becomes an end in itself. When it becomes the core of our existence and identity it allows us to do what is termed as loving God and others universally. Progressively doing it within ourselves without being selective enables us to apply spiritual presence to the good, the bad and the ugly within and in the world. Even more, it gives us the insight that the relativity of positives and negatives is a less enduring reality than the true essence of life and consciousness in which it occurs.

In this way, as anger or grief, excitement and happiness, melancholy or disengagement occur, we can open up to these experiences honestly and consciously without identifying with them. Allowing ourselves to experience the full spectrum openly requires having a solid centre that does is inclusive, not prone to attachment or aversion, yet unaffected by the partiality perceived in the moment. That place is the pure essence of our life and consciousness in the here and now. It can be termed at some point of realisation as spirit-consciousness.

I remember once, after spending time with some remarkable yogi’s, gaining the insight that even the masters feel the full spectrum of human emotion in an exquisite way where any level of pain can be contained in an even greater bliss. It is not what we think and feel that defines us, but what we do with it reflects the level of our spiritual identification at the time.

Identifying with the living consciousness from which all emerges is the high path to gaining spaciousness of consciousness. This awareness provides more choice, greater wisdom and perspective on the nature of our human thought and feeling projections. All becomes meaningful when we deal with it in the resonance of consciousness of consciousness. Negatives and disturbances dissolve faster based on the ability to be present with them consciously. The transformation that occurs is an increasing quality and frequency of thoughts and feelings that resonate with the transcendent inner sanctum that is available to us. Conscious processing becomes less necessary.

Rather than rejecting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, people and situations, we can embrace them as a practice rather than fighting them, or trying to find an answer or fix for them to go away. Gradually, a transformation and shift will occur where full presence is less shaken and we can respond to positive and negative elements in equanimity with the full spectrum of who we are intact , more alive and conscious.

Practicing letting go within ourselves to be present and consciously embrace all aspects of ourselves and life, builds trust in what we are without our own separate manufacture. With that progressive knowing and trust, through practice and attention, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions can be offerings in this presence. As it becomes greater than our own sense of a separate self , divine providence will help us to continue and lend us strength even when we are amidst a major challenge or “the valley of death”. A deepening and expanding sense of calm alertness, an open mind, body and heart and a unified sense of connectedness are the guide posts for our progress. The thoughts, feelings, perceptions and actions that arise and harmonise with this bring abundance and happiness. Learning to conquer our own demons by practicing this in the face of our negatives and pains will bring unimaginable rewards and a sense of personal freedom.

Photo credit:jin.thai on VisualHunt.com/CC BY (modified w quote)

The Purity and Trust of an Open Heart and Mind

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15–17)

At Easter time, it is fitting to reflect on another message from Jesus who is not ennobling naivete, or simple-mindedness, by receiving the kingdom (spiritual awakening and experience) like a child. He points directly to purity of heart and openness of mind as keys to the kingdom. Faith and trust in a divine parent in essence is like a child’s faith and trust in the protection, care, and authority of his or her worldly parent and other adult role models. It encourages us to live in the context of a friendly universe, not defined by the disappointments and rigors of worldly life.

Children in a normal and healthy environment learn much through play, and wake up daily to a universe they trust as friendly and safe. They are often uninhibited in their enthusiastic joy and spontaneity toward life. To a mature adult, feeling and giving wholehearted faith and trust can be more difficult. Openness and good will with an indwelling sense of universal friendship are not only required for entering the kingdom but are also essential for the capacity to invite the experiential leading of God’s living presence.

Like a child in the material world, the material senses and intellect are naïve to the subjective experience of spiritual presence and have little capacity to grasp spiritual presence and truth without the recognition and subjectivity of a receptive heart and mind. Increased depth and fulfillment from within through spiritual experience, further confirmed in shared experience with others, encourages a loving and positive outlook and experience in life. Increasing freedom from material attachments and aversions, through identification with spiritual presence, offers a lightness or joy of being akin to childhood innocence and uninhibited energy. This is very healing to a soul burdened by worldly life.

It is also good while tackling the big and deep aspects of life that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, as that can lead to a self-absorbed life. Too much self-focus, driven by lack of self-acceptance, can form an egoistic identity around our spiritual path, which is counterproductive. Jesus did not teach introspection and self-evaluation other than self-honesty and love. His teachings are based more on the selflessness of one who has the treasures of the divine and is left with an urge to give wisely yet selflessly to others.

Most people recognize the need and hunger for meaningfully constructive and fulfilling lives and relationships. In modern developed countries, where survival is handled for most, our needs are more around quality of life and meaning in a society where both can be lost amid a commercial and consumer culture. The battles fought are as much about our mindset and emotional needs as any material need. Many religious paths encourage removal of worldly distractions from what true inner happiness and reality is founded upon. The adult world becomes filled with complexities of responsibilities and pursuits, status and attaining material comforts. Meanwhile, divine love and other aspects of the divine nature can only be truly embraced and experienced with an open heart and optimistic trust that can be likened to that of a child. Approaching spirituality like a child implies a pure, sincere intent and openness of heart and mind. There is a simplicity to this state of the heart implied here rather than an intellectual conceptualization of the kingdom.

Childlikeness does not mean that Jesus proposes looking to God and the kingdom of heaven as a way of avoiding life and responsibilities. Jesus’s life and teachings were and are about tackling life fully with the best and highest of principles and values intact. Thus, the kingdom provides the most certain, lasting, and authentic platform to face all of life courageously. This is because it helps us to connect to our true eternal nature in the ideal of trustworthiness and goodness with a sense of fulfilling a higher purpose.

Spiritual experience includes and yet transcends logic and reason, which is why it is founded on faith and associated with the receptiveness of a child. Yet, the subjective experience becomes a recognizable and reliable home-base that permeates all aspects of life when consciously acknowledged with conviction, openness, and willingness. If we have made that step, we easily recognize it in one another as well.

Genuinely letting go in mind and heart to just ‘be’ with an attitude of open trust and faith is like a silent prayer. It creates conscious space for Spirit to be felt and is the entrance to the ‘kingdom’ within. It is the art of allowing the spaciousness and receptivity inside ourselves to be filled while remaining empty of our own self-made content. Breaking down the mind’s resistance to letting go is best done softly, with a child’s trust and optimism. Aligning with Spirit is a two-way process, like a dance of spirit and self-will, and it can get extremely deep and subtle once the dance begins to flow and develop. Like a dance, it can become a sublime, moving, like an ever-changing yet familiar ebb and flow of harmony.

So much of our living can be captivated in ups and downs that are really part of conditioned and programmed patterns or habits of thought and perception. Material mindedness is a limited and relatively unstable consciousness mostly of conditioned thoughts and feelings exclusively relevant to partiality and linear time. Conditioned thoughts and feelings are repetitive and actually quite predictable when appraised honestly and objectively.

Therefore, the indwelling Spirit’s influence, with our will and cooperation, is to assist our intuitive mind in tuning our consciousness to the higher vibrations, where divine presence and leadings can be discerned. This is where creative and spontaneous insight occurs, even flashes of genius, along with our sense of connection and fulfillment. Less energy and mental activity is then spent on unproductive repetitive thoughts. Divine presence experienced with our whole selves allow it to make the adjustments we are ready for, over whatever time is required, to spiritually mature.

Daily living with spiritual conviction leads to consistency of conscious connection to a state of God’s presence. Passing emotions and thoughts have less and less ability to disrupt the background of super-consciousness (consciousness of consciousness), of peace and goodness, light and beauty, truth and joy.

The purity and strength in this peace and stability persist and renew moment to moment, as it is a living presence in the ‘now’. True divine presence never gets boring or stale, it has a refreshing renewal effect that contains joy with a deep inner smile, akin to the purity and openness of a child. Because it is tapping into an infinite transcendental source, we receive an endless stream of the “living waters” (John 4:14).

We can sometimes see and feel an amazing old wisdom and presence reflected in a child’s eyes. Finding that presence within brings us to a place where we don’t need to arm ourselves with a manufactured ego and self-image but rather find authenticity in facing life openly as we are, putting trust in the moment and life, in the Spirit that moves and fills us. We know we are loved and supported, and as long as we are true and connected, know that all will be okay.

An open and receptive adult mind and heart has greater affinity and rapport with children as well as people in general. When centered in the divine, we are less self-preoccupied in internal dialog and increasingly released from cycles of emotional tiredness and reaction. Therefore, we feel much more in the present moment. The thought process is more spontaneous and adapted to the needs of the moment rather than conditioned by the endless narrative of our own passing opinions, programmed associations stimulated in the brain, and past-programmed repetitive reactions to ongoing reality.

When we accept and embrace this life and world as unconditionally bestowed gifts, along with all their potential ideals and possibilities, then it follows that we embrace every moment. Valuing and appreciating these gifts will enrich our experience of them. A human child is conceived by the will and actions of its human parents co-creating with the divine source of the spark of life and consciousness. Likewise, when we are born of the Spirit of life and pure consciousness, we are progressively glimpsing ourselves as conceived by the Spirit and sharing its nature. Like the human child, it is for us as spiritual beings to be of the love of our divine parent and let our sense of the divine reveal our own divine nature. In personalizing and identifying with our divine source and parent, we become a reflection of our own experience of the beloved divine Father/Mother who is our living source and destiny.

At Easter time, it is the resurrection I feel holds the most powerful message for us and is the purpose of the suffering on the cross. As a child receives and reflects the love of the parent in full trust, so can we open our minds and hearts to receive and reflect the love of our divine source and nature. This is the resurrection within that frees us from suffering and gives it purpose.

Photo credit: Magdalena Roeseler on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA (modified w quote)