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You have likely heard of Meditation- as it is growing in popularity- but what you may not know are the variety of benefits that can come with it.

Meditation actually dates back pretty far!

The earliest documented records that mentioned meditation involved Vedantism, a Hindu tradition in India, around 1500 BCE. However, historians believe that meditation was practiced before this time, as early as 3000 BCE. The terminology used today to “meditate” was not introduced until the 12th century AD, coming from the Latin word meditatum. 

Meditation has been used for thousands of years for various purposes- but originated in the religious realm for the most part until more modern day. In addition to meditation being common in religious traditions- presently more and more people are turning to meditation as a form of relaxation and to clear their minds . In fact- the CDC reported that 14.2% of American adults surveyed in 2017 said they had practiced meditation at least once in the last year.

It has been long used and is still growing in popularity for good reason.

Meditation is known to help people relax and ease themselves from worries while producing a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. During meditation, you focus your attention elsewhere while you are eliminating all access thoughts that may be in your mind and causing you worry. This meditation process can assist in creating a more enhanced physical and emotional well being- especially if meditation is continued over time to help clear these thoughts if they are reoccurring.

Meditation has also been known to help with:

  • Emotional Balance
  • Increased Focus
  • Pain Management
  • Increased creativity and productivity
  • Promote better memory
  • And has even been said to help with addiction recovery


If you are new to meditation- here are some helpful tips for beginning meditation:

  • Find your meditation spot. This should be a private spot free from external disturbances such as background noise. Add ambiance if it will help you relax- candles or something aromatic. 
  • Sit in a comfortable position- many choose to sit on a mat (ex a yoga mat) and cross their legs
  • Clear your mind-try counting backward from 20 to first clear your mind. 
  • Remember to breathe-and focus on your breathing. In and out.
  • Simply sit and observe- while still focusing on your breathing.
  • When ending your meditation- don’t end abruptly- count to 10 and slowly ease into the end of your meditation .

If you feel like you are carrying a lot of weight around and have a cluttered mind, meditation may be your answer. Try it for 15 minutes and see how it can help ease your mind and doing it everyday for 15 minutes can help you have a more sound mind and even learn to control your stress management more.

Resources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858#:~:text=Meditation%20can%20produce%20a%20deep,physical%20and%20emotional%20well%2Dbeing.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#1.-Reduces-stress

a

As the downsides of Western medicine begin to show themselves more and more prominently, many people are turning to natural medicine for real relief.

Pharmaceuticals create more symptoms than they fix (sometimes they even increase the risk of the very issue they seek to heal, as is the case with antidepressants). Antibiotics and other allopathic methodologies can only create further imbalance in the long run—attacking an isolated part of the body will always lead to some kind of retaliatory reaction, as evidenced by the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbacteria. Similarly, conventional cancer treatments nearly (and sometimes do) destroy the rest of the body in the process of waging war on cancer cells.

As we’ve touched upon in many other articles, holistic and natural medicine is superior to many conventional approaches simply because it restores the entire body-mind system to balance.

Systemic balance isn’t something that’s achieved overnight, though—it’s a balanced state that must be sought daily with alifestyle and mindset changes. For a long while, supporters of mainstream medicine would call this kind of logic a cop-out, but an increasing number of studies demonstrate that lifestyle-based healing practices often do outperform drugs and other interventions, all without any side effects.

Here’s some prominent examples…

Changing Your Diet: Volumes have been written about the primary importance of diet for maintaining optimal health—the power of consistently maintaining a balanced, nutrient-dense diet simply can’t be overestimated.

Recent studies have pitted dietary changes against drugs for the treatment of specific conditions, and have demonstrated that proper diet is more effective for controlling hypertension than the beta-blocker metaprolol,[1] and better at treating Crohn’s disease than even high-dose steroids.[2]

Yoga. Despite being pegged as nothing more than an ineffectual fitness fad, yoga has proven itself to be a surprisingly powerful treatment method for a variety of diseases and conditions (its healing benefits have been well-established for thousands of years, but it took a little while for the medical research community to catch up).

Studies have demonstrated that yoga practice is deeply beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, depression, cancer, chronic pain, and hypertension.[3] Other research even shows that it’s superior to imipramine for treating depression,[4] and superior to all conventional treatments for irritable bowel syndrome.[5]

Meditation is another practice which has inspired much doubt in the mainstream, despite being revered throughout its long and rich history. Research has now revealed it to be powerful in ways that scientists never imagined. The brains of meditators have higher levels of grey matter, which makes them “better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices,”[6] and meditation even physically reshapes the brain in beneficial ways.[7]

Meeting Western medicine on its own turf

Despite the virtues demonstrated by the studies cited above, these natural healing practices have been criticized as slow, inefficient, or “unspecific.” In contrast, Western pharmaceutical medicine is held up as the paragon of scientific precision—Big Pharma touts itself as the provider of fine-tuned miracle pills perfectly designed to resolve specific ailments quickly and directly.

This viewpoint is misguided for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s worth remembering that pharmaceuticals certainly don’t deserve the title miracle pills—their efficacy isn’t nearly what corporations make them out to be, and the healing they do bring is riddled with side effects and risks.

Even setting aside these flaws for a moment, though, it’s patently untrue that natural medicines can’t play the same allopathic game as mainstream medicine’s beloved laboratory creations. Research has shown that—just like the practices discussed above—many natural remedies are actually more effective than drugs at directly targeting health issues.

Research has shown that—just like the practices discussed above—many natural remedies are actually more effective than drugs at directly targeting health issues.

There’s no shortage of examples: turmeric is more effective than drugs at treating a wide variety of diseases, black cumin seed heals even conditions considered “incurable” by mainstream medicine, kava kava and chamomile treat generalized anxiety disorder, Manuka honey fights bacteria better than antibiotics…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Green Med Info has put together an entire database of Natural Remedies that are superior to drugs….there are listed over 180 natural substances which have been demonstrated, mostly in preclinical research (for reasons discussed elsewhere), to be superior to their conventional drug counterparts in over 270 different diseases.

Even alternative modalities like hypnosis and acupuncture—derisively called pseudoscientific disciplines by many Western doctors—give drugs a run for their money. Studies demonstrate that hypnosis is more effective than Valium for treating anxiety,[8] and that acupuncture beats drugs in the treatment of sudden deafness,[9] migraines,[10] depression,[11] GERD,[12] gastroparesis,[13] and more.

Integration, not competition

The point is not that natural medicine should replace Western medicine, but that they should coexist—all modalities have their virtues and drawbacks.

With any luck, we’ll establish an all-inclusive medical system in the near future—one that values the precision of the medical scientific method (but doesn’t tolerate ill-designed drugs that do more harm than good), and one that is open to an integration of natural remedies, alternative practices, and lifestyle design into mainstream medicine.

 


References

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6099231

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9305483

[3] http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0066-782X2014005040149&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10708840

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15077462

[6] http://www.mindful.org/the-science/neuroscience/your-brain-on-meditation

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724572

[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20942277

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12390610

[11] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19835116

[12] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17875198

[13] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17585668

Image source

Neuron-birth

The Western medical system is caught in a frighteningly mechanistic view of the world. Its narrative goes something like this: Organisms are built like machines, and we can understand them by breaking them down into their component parts and studying each one. Only by gaining such an understanding can we hope to treat the diseases and conditions with which the body is afflicted.

Needless to say, there are major flaws in this way of thinking. New revolutions in scientific and medical thought continually demonstrate that biology is vastly more complex than what our current theories and systems can account for.

We have a long way to go before we fully understand how to heal the body.

One stumbling block to true healing is the Western medical belief that the body is incapable of regenerating itself. Unlike bugs, lizards, and starfish, many doctors might say, human cells can’t just grow back once they’ve died.

But exactly the opposite is true: the human body is profoundly regenerative. While we may not be able to grow back appendages that have been lost, the regeneration of cells is absolutely central to the continued functioning of the entire body.

This cycle of shedding old cells and growing new ones is obvious in some parts of the body, like the hair, skin, and fingernails. But many other parts of the body are capable of regeneration too: joints and cartilage, the liver, the heart, insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas, and even many kinds of hormones.[1]

Volumes could be written about all the different kinds of cellular regeneration in the body, but let’s focus on one kind that doctors and researchers refused to believe in for most of modern medical history: the regeneration of brain cells and other nervous tissue.

The discovery of neurogenesis

Until very recently, almost the entire medical community firmly believed that brain cells simply cannot be regenerated. This doctrine was first articulated in the early 20th century, and vehemently defended by its proponents thereafter.

An MIT researcher named Joseph Altman published animal studies demonstrating the formation of new brain cells in 1962, but his work was ridiculed and ignored (other pioneers suffered a similar fate). Not until Professor Elizabeth Gould’s work, which she undertook throughout much of the 1990’s, was neurogenesis accepted as a provable phenomenon.[2]

Now that mainstream medicine is finally finished mocking it, neurogenesis has become one of the hottest topics in neuroscience. In the last decade, researchers have discovered that neurogenesis holds the key to understanding and treating cognitive degeneration, anxiety, depression, and many other mental disorders.

It was once thought that cognitive degeneration was a simple inevitability of growing older (in fact, many mainstream organizations still maintain that Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, treated, or cured). Similarly, mental and mood disorders are treated as simple chemical imbalances that can only be remedied by lifelong attachments to pharmaceutical drugs.

But with the rise of research on topics such as neurogenesis and epigenetics, medicine is shifting toward the viewpoint that environmental factors and lifestyle choices play a more prominent role in maintaining your brain’s regenerative potential than ever thought before.

This means that you have much more control over your cognitive (and overall) health than mainstream medicine would like to admit.

Help your brain cells help you

Studies have firmly established a direct link between neurogenesis and trophic factors, tiny proteins that help form, maintain, and expand connections between neurons.

If your body and brain are lacking in these helper molecules, neurogenesis slows or even halts—which leads to cognitive decline, depression, and all sorts of other problems. In fact, researchers have found that prescription antidepressants work for some people not because they increase serotonin (it turns out that this model of depression is almost completely wrong), but because they increase levels of trophic factors when taken over time.[3]

Remember, though: antidepressant usage comes with a whole host of short and long-term side effects. There are much better, safer ways to increase trophic factors naturally.

Meditation and mindfulness practice works wonders for the brain. This is because stress inhibits neurogenesis more than almost any other factor, and meditation is one of the most powerfully stress-relieving practices available. Studies show that meditation leads to increased levels of trophic factors[4] and even increases grey matter density.[5]   

Exercise is perhaps the single most effective way to increase neurogenesis. Running and other intense modes of activity have been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) glial cell line-derived trophic factor, both of which fuel the fire of neuronal regeneration.[6] A team from the University of Marland even showed that sexual activity buffers against the damage caused by chronic stress and increases neurogenesis.[7]

Diet. Many foods have been proven to increase neurogenesis, including turmeric, ginseng, ashwagandha, and even coffee. In general, eating a diet rich in detoxifying foods and cutting out refined sugars and processed foods is the way to go. And even the way in which we eat can be helpful for your brain. Studies demonstrate that healthy forms of calorie restriction, such as fasting once a week or fasting daily between certain hours (known as intermittent fasting), can increase the number of newly generated brains cells and induce the expression of BDNF in rats.[8]

By making these proper lifestyle choices, you can ensure that your brain retains its regenerative abilities—and thus its optimal functioning—well into old age.

 


References

[1] http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/6-bodily-tissues-can-be-regenerated-through-nutrition?page=1

[2] http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_reinvention_of_the_self/

[3] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/20/24/9104.full

[4] http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v16/n4/box/nrn3916_BX4.html

[5] http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927(10)00288-X/abstract

[6] http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v2/n3/full/nn0399_266.html

[7] http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/how-sex-affects-intelligence-and-vice-versa/282889/

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11220789

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meditation_addiction

It’s estimated that up to half the world’s population suffers from some kind of addiction. And that’s just counting addictions to specific, physical things—generally negative behavior patterns are another matter entirely.

The reality is that everyone has some kind of destructive or unhelpful pattern that they’d like to change (except maybe the occasional far-flung yogi who’s hot on the heels of enlightenment).

An increasing body of scientific evidence shows that meditation is a powerful tool for enacting this kind of change. This wouldn’t be news to the spiritual teachers of old—over 1500 years ago, the great sage Patanjali wrote that “meditation removes the disturbances of the mind.”[1]

But now that ancient lore is gaining backing from modern science, meditation is becoming increasingly accessible to a greater number of people. Now more than ever, it can be applied in a systematic way to achieve the precise changes that you desire in your life.

Addictive and otherwise negative patterns can be overcome…and it all starts with brain chemistry.

Breaking the (neuronal) pattern

All repetitive behaviors (whether desirable or undesirable) can be correlated with a physiological pattern, network, or configuration of neurons in the brain. In the case of substance addiction, these neuronal patterns are worn into deep grooves, because the brain is being stimulated by psychological behavior and by physical substances that alter brain chemistry.

Thus, overcoming addiction requires a similar two-pronged approach—one which is able to target both behavior and brain chemistry.

Support groups and addiction counseling can help an individual change their lifestyle and behavior patterns, but they don’t do much to realign the brain with more desirable neuronal patterns. In most cases, recovering addicts are simply made to suffer through the long withdrawal process (or they’re given other, equally addictive drugs to ease the discomfort, which is awfully counterproductive).

Here’s where meditation comes in.

Meditation practice fulfills both criteria listed above: it encourages positive, well-organized behavior patterns and it alters brain chemistry.

This is your brain on meditation

While scientists can’t measure the subjective state of nirvana, samadhi, or deep meditation, they can look at what the brain is doing while a meditator is in these states. And according to a wealth of studies, the brain does quite a lot during meditation.

A study published in the journal NeuroImage showed a profound difference between the brains of meditators and non-meditators, and demonstrated that meditation physically reshapes the brain.[2]

The caveat here is that all repetitive behaviors will reshape the brain and allow neural networks to develop—that’s how we’re able to learn and improve skill sets.

Usually, though, practicing a given activity will only rewire the brain in a way that makes us more proficient at that particular activity. For example, practicing baseball makes us better at baseball, and practicing memory exercises improves our memory.

Meditation is different. Research has shown that practicing meditation doesn’t just make us better at meditating—it can improve a wide range of chosen skillsets, depending on how we design our meditation practice.[3]

This is why meditation is so powerfully effective against addiction, which involves a complex web of behavioral factors.

Eileen Luders, a meditation researcher in the Department of Neurology at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, says that “meditation offers freedom for people by changing the way the brain responds to negative thoughts.” She’s found that the brains of meditators have higher levels of gray matter, which makes them “better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.”[4]

Tap into your infinite potential

Here’s the punchline, in less clinical terms: meditation gives you the ability to redesign your body, mind, and life. What greater tool could there be for treating addiction and moving beyond self-defeating patterns?

Mukta Kaur Khalsa, who quite literally wrote the book on healing addiction using meditation techniques, believes that “the human potential of each person is infinite,” and that by tapping into this potential using meditation, any barrier can be overcome.

Her new book, Healing Addictive Behaviors (affiliate link) is a fascinating and comprehensive manual for using what she calls “yogic science” to move past specific drug addictions. In it, she walks the reader through the process of designing a practice that will improve blood chemistry, metabolism, nervous system function, and glandular health, revitalize energy levels, and encourage a holistically healthy lifestyle.

Practice makes perfect

In order to bring about lasting change, it’s important to commit to an ongoing meditation practice; thinking of it as a quick fix is completely beside the point.

Nevertheless, many studies have shown that meditation can create positive change (in subjective emotional states, lifestyle patterns, and brain chemistry) within weeks, days, and even minutes.

But don’t take the scientific community’s word for it…see for yourself and know for yourself.  After all, there’s no substitute for personal experience—and it will take years for science to catch up with the ancient transmitted wisdom of spiritual teachers.

Healing Addictive Behaviors is a great introduction to a powerful body of kundalini yoga and meditation techniques and teachings that are specifically designed to catalyze the brain changes necessary for breaking free of addiction.

However you choose to introduce yourself to meditation, though, just remember this: you are the master of your own lifeand meditation is the most powerful tool available for teaching ourselves how to apply this truth, each and every day.    

 


References

[1] Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sutra 2.11.

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/

[3] http://www.mindful.org/the-science/neuroscience/your-brain-on-meditation

[4] Ibid.

Image source

Three women in yoga positions meditating

To say that yoga has exploded in popularity over the course of the last decade would be an understatement. Not so long ago, “people confused yoga with yogurt” (in the words of one yoga teacher)[1]—and now this near universally known practice has redefined a large aspect of both American spirituality and fitness.

On the surface, increasing awareness around yoga seems like a positive happening. After all, yoga practice promotes and facilitates mindfulness, poise, and balanced physical health. Nevertheless, there is a shadow side to yoga’s rising stardom.

More than a few yoga enthusiasts look disappointingly on the glamor, competition, and body-centric ethic around which much of mainstream yoga culture is focused. They worry that yoga has strayed from its ancient and original spiritual tenets—that it has sold out. This fear is certainly corroborated by the fact that yoga represents a $27 billion industry. The practice has become increasingly associated with (expensive) materialism—perhaps this is why 30% of Yoga Journal’s readership has an annual income of over $100,000.[2]

For all its distracting fashion and misplaced priorities, though, yoga continues to offer immense benefit to our society. As more and more “yoga clichés” are exposed, the practice gets closer and closer to its deeper foundation. And researchers are finding that this alignment with its spiritual roots unlocks yoga’s ability to benefit not only your physical body, but also your mental and emotional health.

Getting back to the source

All of this is not to say that all those body-sculpting, “cool” yoga classes are without benefit. They can build community, foster healthy competition, and provide an avenue for staying in excellent physical shape (fitness and physical health is always a worthy priority in its own right). Studies have even shown that yoga is beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, depression, breast cancer, chronic low back pain, and hypertension.[3] The critics are merely reminding us that these were not the reasons for which yoga was developed thousands of years ago.

Here’s the real question, then: Of what is yoga capable when it’s aligned with its genuine, spiritual source?

Scientific research into the benefits of yoga is still building momentum, but we’re beginning to get a taste of what’s possible, especially from the few types of yoga that have made it their mission to realign with the practice’s original intentions. Kundalini yoga—perhaps one of the most prominent of these yoga forms—has demonstrated that it offers powerful solutions for issues on every level of the health spectrum.

Not just for fitness

Kundalini yoga certainly provides a lot of the same benefits for the physical body, when compared to other popular forms of yoga. After all, its postures and breathing techniques have somewhat of an overlap with forms like Hatha and Vinyasa. What really has researchers interested, though, is how kundalini yoga reaches beyond the physical.

For example, one remarkable study has demonstrated that kundalini yoga is effective in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A 12-month protocol was used to treat participants, the progress of whom was monitored every three months using six different diagnostic tests. At the end of trial, those who practiced kundalini yoga significantly improved on all six test scales, compared to a group who practiced only basic mindfulness techniques and did not experience significant improvement.[4]

Correcting negative patterns

Kundalini yoga’s ability to catalyze this kind of psychological healing reveals what truly makes it such a potent tool—namely its capacity to overcome negative mental and emotional patterns.

Anecdotal and clinical results suggest that kundalini yoga is able to reprogram both the biological and underlying psychological patterns associated with mental and emotional pathology. For this reason, it has been thoroughly tested as a means for overcoming addiction—and it’s passed with flying colors.

A daily protocol of kundalini yoga, coupled with diet and lifestyle modifications (all of which are integrated into the kundalini yoga system of practice) dramatically aids in the process of addiction recovery, measured both quantitatively (according to diagnostic tests such as the Behavior and Symptom Modification Scale (BASIS-32) and the Quality of Recovery Index (QRI)), and qualitatively (subjects report feeling stronger, more energized, brighter, and more inspired to persist in their recovery).[5]

And even for those not recovering from substance abuse or a related addiction, kundalini yoga can still be immensely beneficial. Negative patterns stand in the way of achieving our highest potential, whether viewed from the perspective of physical health, personal fulfillment, financial abundance, or any other measure of success. Unwinding these patterns, and then recreating them to match the outcome that we desire, is the key to optimizing every level of our well-being.

Experience it for yourself

If you’ve never tried yoga, what are you waiting for? Regardless of your age, fitness, flexibility, overall health, or spiritual tendency, there’s a class out there just for you.

Even kundalini yoga has become popular enough that it’s easy to find classes. It’s an immensely powerful practice that’s worth trying, especially if you have any negative patterns that you’d like to reprogram…and don’t we all? Many people have reported that they never got hooked on yoga until they tried kundalini yoga. They claim that the practice’s life-balancing effects can be felt almost immediately—and now study data backs up their experience.

But don’t take our word for it… see for yourself and know for yourself.  After all, there’s no substitute for personal experience—and it will take years for science to catch up with the ancient transmitted wisdom of spiritual teachers.

Healing Addictive Behaviors is a great introduction to a powerful body of kundalini yoga and meditation techniques and teachings that are specifically designed to catalyze the brain changes necessary for breaking free of addiction.

Try it today!


References

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/16/how-the-yoga-industry-los_n_4441767.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0066-782X2014005040149&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18311106

[5] http://www.yoga-und-mantras.de/app/download/5785885928/studie-suchterkrankung-satbir-khalsa-etal.pdf

Image source

 

Mind_Body_Spirit

We live in a world obsessed with materialism, and our medical system reflects this viewpoint. Western medicine should certainly be lauded for its tenacious attempts to understand physical body—the knowledge yielded through its tireless examinations has been translated into solutions for countless health problems.

But in many ways, we’ve taken this one dimensional approach too far. For too long, we’ve insisted on viewing health problems as isolated terms rather than parts in a greater system. And we’ve divorced the body from the mind and soul, claiming that the latter have no place in “legitimate” medical practice.

This close-minded approach seemingly worked for a little while, but now the jig is up. It’s becoming more and more abundantly clear that our society’s isolated approach to healing (and everything else, for that matter) is taking its toll.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are rising at such an alarming rate that experts are beginning conversations in earnest about the scary proposition of living in a post-antibiotic world. Attempts at controlling mental health through physical drugs have all but failed (at least if our sky-rocketing rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and every other kind of mental illness are any indication). All the fancy and expensive medical technology in the world cannot seem to stem the tide of debilitating and deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia—all of which affect more and more people every year.

We could go on, but you probably get the picture.

The moral that we’re learning is this: health is about more than just the physical body. Maintenance of our mental health matters (and taking a pill every day isn’t going to cut it); our emotions directly affect our physical health; and even our sense of spiritual connectedness (or lack thereof) profoundly impacts our health.

These non-physical aspects of our health need to be tended to just as meticulously as our blood pressure, our weight, and our ailing biomarkers. In fact, as many people are finding out, if attention isn’t given to the “mind and spirit” part of the equation, our attempts to preserve the health of the physical body can all be for naught.

During this holiday season, when you’re struggling with all the stress and emotional malaise that accompanies last-minute shopping, crammed schedules, and coexisting with family members, just remember to take moments to care for your non-physical well-being.

A new (and old) way of thinking

All of this isn’t to say that we should disregard medicine that focuses on the physical body. Now that we’re beginning to inch away from toxic pharmaceuticals and invasive surgeries back to nature’s pharmacopeia of healing foods and natural substances, a whole new vista of “body medicine” is opening up.

But what about medicine for the mind and for the soul?

Embracing this kind of healing requires a fundamentally different kind of thinking—one that accepts the intimate connection between the body, mind, and spirit. We can still test these non-physical parts of ourselves with the scientific method, but we have to begin by accepting that they’re just as real as the physical body, and that they play an essential role in our health.

For example, studies have now been conducted that demonstrate how negative and stressful emotions can make you sick, how kundalini yoga can be used to overcome addictions and mental disorders,[1] and how meditation practice can alleviate a wide variety of health problems. Scientific data is a wonderful tool for validating these ideas and practices, but someone had to be willing to give meditation and emotional management techniques a chance to begin with.

We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go. Few doctors will follow up a disease diagnosis by telling you to change your diet, begin a meditation practice, and adopt a method such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for processing your emotions. Even most conventional psychiatrists and psychologists will just prescribe you pharmaceuticals.

But the fact that psychology even exists as a scientific discipline (this “study of the mind” wasn’t even legitimized until the 1950’s), and the fact that the world is overflowing with resources for mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, is immensely promising.

We’re beginning to return to a holistic manner of thinking that is ancient. For a brief spell, our society lost itself in the excitement of modern, reductionist medicine—but we’re remembering that the healing systems that have sustained cultures around the globe for millennia are far richer, more systems-oriented, and more in touch with all that lies beyond the body.

What all of this means for you

It’s very simple, actually: just remember that, contrary to popular opinion, you are so more than just your physical body.

If you are not happy, your physical health will suffer. If you do not feel fulfilled in your life, your physical health will suffer. And if you do not feel connected to something greater than yourself (whether this takes the form of a spiritual belief, creative inspiration, or an impassioned life purpose), your physical health will probably suffer.

This means that, if you’re dealing with some kind of health problem, you need to examine every aspect of your life (not just your body) in order to find the solution. By all means, start with the body: carry out the necessary tests, and take the necessary measures. But don’t put all your faith in drugs and medical procedures. Go further—examine your diet and lifestyle practices, explore natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals, and take a look at everything holistic medicine has to offer.

Once you feel you have all your physical bases covered, allow yourself to entertain a more radical possibility: maybe your physical ailments have little to do with your physical body. See if you can find any “blockages” in your life. Do you always feel stressed out? Are you unhappy at your job? Are you having relationship issues? What are you passionate about, and are you engaging with it on an ongoing basis? Do you have a spiritual practice?

If this is new territory for you, know that it’s just fine to take baby steps. Check out this article on emotional healing, and begin to explore the mind-body connection through a simple meditation practice. Opening to this more all-encompassing definition of health will make all the difference.

 


References

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18311106

Image source

meditation-brain-health

For many years, medical science would only accept meditation as a tool for stress relief and relaxation.

Effective stress relief is certainly nothing to scoff at—after all, it’s estimated that 60% of all human illness and disease is caused by stress. But the fact of the matter is that meditation has astounding benefits that extend far beyond simple relaxation.

Spiritual teachers have sung meditation’s praises for thousands of years, and now scientific research is beginning to back up their claims with quantifiable evidence.

For example, a report published by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation outlines the ways in which meditation practice supports cognitive health and overall well-being.

Naturally increase your energy level

While our society is awfully fond of “borrowing” its energy from caffeine and other stimulants, this path just isn’t sustainable.

Unlike energy drinks and shots of espresso, meditation confers steady, long-lasting energy without adrenal overstimulation, increased blood pressure, immune system suppression, or nervous system jitters.

It also leads to improved sleep quality, which contributes to greater energy, vitality, and disease resistance.

Fight inflammation at its source

You may have heard that inflammation is linked to nearly all degenerative disease. It contributes not only to chronic pain, stiffness, and tissue damage, but also to autoimmune disorders, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and a whole host of other life-threatening conditions.

Though there are many ways of targeting and eliminating inflammation through diet and other lifestyle modifications, meditation is a unique course of action.

Rather than simply blocking inflammation temporarily, meditation goes right to the source by decreasing expression of the genes that control inflammation. This happens through a process called downregulation, through which your body can self-correct states of chronic inflammation.

Combat aging and depression

Meditation also increases levels of a rejunvenating enzyme known as telomerase, which has been clinically shown to help slow the aging process.

Regular meditation practice was shown to increase telomerase by 43%—the largest increase ever recorded, surpassing even supplements designed specifically designed for telomerase support.[1]

Aside from being a marker for sustainable longevity, telomerase has also been linked to reduced depression, increased mood stability, and greater emotional well-being.

Slow (and even reverse) cognitive decline

Lastly, meditation combats the full range of woes associated with cognitive decline—including Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain scans completed directly following meditation show steady, symmetrical blood flow in both hemispheres of the brain—which researchers believe can allow for improved cognitive functioning and even brain cell regeneration.[2]

A study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School found that, by increasing blood flow to certain areas of the brain affected by cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, meditation can even prevent and reverse memory loss.[3]

For example, meditation and mantra enhance blood flow to the posterior cingulate gyrus (PCG), which is essential for episodic memory retrieval, and also one of the first areas to fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease.

Ready to give it a try?

Now that meditation has entered the scientific spotlight, there’s no doubt that the body of evidence in its favor will continue to grow.

But remember: more important than any scientific journal is your own experience. Read about how to get started with meditation, give it a shot, and then draw your own conclusions.

Once you get a taste of how much it can improve your life, I bet you won’t want to stop. After all, isn’t your health and longevity worth an investment of just a few minutes each day?

 


References

[1] http://www.alzheimersprevention.org/downloadables/Yoga_and_Medical_Meditationtm.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Newberg AB, Wintering N, Khalsa DS, et al. Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function and CBF in Subjects with Memory Loss. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 20 (20)(2010) 517-526. November 2010.

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antidepressants

Over 13% of the American population take antidepressants every day—and the number jumps to 25% among women between the ages of 50 and 64.

These figures are enough to convince most experts that mental health is a huge issue. Millions of people are struggling to overcome to debilitating effects of depression and anxiety.

And here’s the worst part: in many cases, antidepressants don’t even work, and their use is accompanied by dangerous side effects.

Big Pharma has simply convinced us that they work by only publishing studies that display positive results. But even looking at the numbers gathered from their “positive” results will convince you that antidepressants are a giant, money-making charade.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine pulled the curtain on the shenanigans of pharmaceutical companies. It revealed that even Big Pharma’s own studies show that 80% of patients recover from depression with a placebo, and that the recovery percentage is almost never higher with an actual drug.[1]   

And placebos don’t have side effects like weight gain, diabetes, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, vision problems, and sexual dysfunction—all of which have been linked with antidepressant usage.

But here’s my favorite “potential side effect” of antidepressants, as suggested by a recent study: depression.[2]

That’s right—an increasing number of researchers are beginning to believe that antidepressants only make things worse in the long run. Antidepressant users are far more prone to relapse than those who overcome depression without pharmaceutical drugs.[3]

Finding happiness naturally

Luckily, there’s all sorts of alternatives to antidepressants—all of which are simple, sustainable, and side-effect free. Try them out, and you’ll be surprised by their consistent effectiveness…

Talking therapies. Sitting down and hashing out what’s ailing you with a therapist can work wonders. In fact, one study showed that therapy is just as effective as antidepressants.[4] Therapy also provides the added benefits of genuine human interaction and self-exploration—experiences that no pill can provide.   

Meditation is invaluable for cultivating emotional and mental health, and can be a massively effective tool for overcoming depression and anxiety. Especially when practiced regularly, it can lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, and promote an enduring state of peaceful well-being. It’s even been show to alter brain structure in beneficial ways, and to reverse the brain damage caused by depression.

Exercise. Getting your heart pumping is excellent for your overall morale and well-being, and there’s evidence that its mood-lifting qualities have a physiological basis. Experts have found that 30 minutes of strenuous exercise, 5 times a week, increases levels of BDNF, a brain chemical with natural antidepressant properties.[5]

Anti-inflammatory foods. In many cases, systemic inflammation caused by pro-inflammatory foods (as well as food allergies) is to blame for depression. Foods like wild salmon, organic berries, turmeric, ginger, dark, leafy greens, raw cacao, pomegranate, and probiotics like kombucha are all powerful inflammation fighters.  

Vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, B vitamins, iodine, and sulfur have also been linked to depression. Make sure you’re getting enough of them every day.

Brain supplements. If you feel like you need to support your lifestyle practices with actual supplements, try 5-HTP (which allows your brain to make more of its own serotonin), GABA and phenibut (GABA agonists that can relieve anxiety and elevate mood), SAM-e, and L-theanine (a phytonutrient found in green tea).

You’re in control

You probably noticed that intangible, lifestyle-related alternatives were mentioned first, and that physical supplements are only discussed at the end of list.

This is because, when battling depression, it’s important to believe that you have the power to heal yourself without drugs. Therefore, it’s good to prove to yourself that you can experience improvement without eating a pill—even if that pill is a natural supplement that is far less dangerous than pharmaceutical antidepressants.

If the vitamins and supplements help you, great. Just keep your focus on the core belief that healing comes from within, and that all of your practices, eating habits, vitamins, and supplements are an extension of your own desire to live happily and healthily.

These alternatives—combined with a strong belief in your innate self-healing ability—will lead you to lasting relief from depression.

 


References

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/depression-medication-why_b_550098.html

[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/do-antidepressants-cause-depression-what-new-study-says

[3] http://www.madinamerica.com/2014/04/antidepressants-make-things-worse-long-term/

[4] http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/study-continued-therapy-works-as-well-as-antidepressants-in-preventing-relapse.aspx

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/depression-medication-why_b_550098.html

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depression-brain-damage-meditation - ih_150213_brain_meditation_800x600

It’s estimated that 1 out of every 10 Americans suffers from depression, and the condition affects approximately 350 million people worldwide. Perhaps most alarmingly, researchers are finding that depression diagnoses are increasing by 20% every year—and that doesn’t even count those who never see a doctor about their troubles.[1]

You’ve surely noticed that all is not well in the world. These statistics suggest that our bodies are also well aware of the world’s imbalances.

The way in which depression erodes hope for a better future is detrimental to people’s lives, especially at a time like now, when our society is so sorely in need of the inspiration required to achieve real progress.

And the effects of depression are not just emotional and psychological—the physical body suffers too. For starters, depression is strongly correlated with obesity, heart disease, stroke, and sleep disorders.[2] Inflammation—often called the root of all disease—is also closely linked with the condition (more on that later).

But recent studies have confirmed one of the most worrying effects of all: brain damage.

Depression alters the brain’s structure

Depression has long been associated with mere changes in brain chemistry, but scientists now know that the condition perturbs the brain much more deeply.

An international team of researchers found that those who had experienced recurrent bouts of depression had a smaller hippocampus—and the more bouts of depression, the smaller the hippocampus.[3]

This finding aligned with those of previous studies, which had demonstrated that depressed patients tend to have smaller hippocampuses. These earlier researchers preferred to assume, however, that this altered brain structure was a predisposing factor for depression (rather than assuming that the damage was caused by the depression). But because shrinkage becomes worse as the number of depressive episodes increase, it has become clear to researchers that the reduction in the size of the hippocampus is a form of brain damage that follows as a result of recurrent depression.

Here’s why this alteration in brain structure is worthy of concern: the hippocampus is critical for memory and emotion. An under-functioning hippocampus can lead to compromised memory, loss of emotional capacity, decreased sense of self, increased anxiety, and extreme introversion.

In short, depression is a vicious cycle—the more damaged by depression the hippocampus becomes, the more likely the person is to lapse back into depressive states.

But there is hope…

Luckily, relief from depression is within reach. Hippocampal damage has been shown to be reversible, but you have to be willing to take action.

Pharmaceutical antidepressants obviously aren’t the answer, judging by the fact that more people than ever are taking them, and no one seems to be getting better.

Here’s why: drug-centric depression therapy is based on the erroneous assumption that depression is caused by imbalances in brain chemicals. More and more researchers are finding that, while brain chemical imbalance is correlated with depression, it’s very likely not the cause.

Therefore, pills that seek to correct chemical imbalances will inevitably be unable to address the real underlying causes of depression. This is not to say that they aren’t a valid, helpful option in certain situations, but only that you should be wary of believing in them as a magic bullet. And because of the myriad side effects that accompany their usage, I’d encourage you to look into natural alternatives first.

The truth of the matter is that most people who successfully overcome depression (with or without drugs) do so through prominent lifestyle practices.

Eating a detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, probiotic-rich diet works wonders, and has even been called “the key to the successful treatment of depression” by some health experts.”[4] This is because, as it turns out, systemic inflammation is likely a direct cause of depression (nutrient deficiency, environmental toxins, microbiome imbalance all lead to inflammation within the body).

Regular exercise is immensely helpful, as well, especially when combined with a healthy diet. Studies found that participants who didn’t engage in any physical activity all had a 99% greater chance of developing depression, and that regular exercise as a depression treatment surpassed the efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs.[5]  

And then there’s one other depression-fighting lifestyle practice, the power of which scientists are just beginning to understand…

Meditation: the most underrated brain builder

Despite a mountain of emerging evidence demonstrating its incredible health benefits, meditation is still an underutilized tool, particularly by those suffering from depression and searching for fast relief.

New research has shown, though, that meditation alters brain structure as powerfully as depression—and it does so in amazingly beneficial ways. It increases grey matter volume, enhances connectivity between many different brain regions,[6] and even increases the size and cortical thickness of the hippocampus.[7]

That’s right: regular meditation practice directly and physiologically combats the most egregious effects of depression.

And, of course, meditation also targets the underlying emotional and psychological triggers that allow depression to flourish. It outperforms nearly all medical protocols as a treatment for stress and anxiety, and it allows for greater mental clarity, energy, and vitality.

If you don’t yet have a meditation practice, check out this article on how to get started. Once you find your rhythm, you’ll understand why meditation, healthy diet, and exercise is a trifecta against which depression doesn’t stand a chance.

 


References

[1] http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics-infographic

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp201569a.html

[4] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/07/30/depression-makes-brain-smaller.aspx

[5] Ibid.

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

[7] http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1809754

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pineal-gland

The importance of the pineal gland has been acknowledged for many millennia. For nearly every ancient civilization throughout the world, it occupied a prominent position not only in their systems of anatomy and medicine, but also their systems of philosophy, cosmology, and spirituality.

While Western science looks upon this vital gland as simply another part of the endocrine system (albeit an important part), the ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, Indians, and Chinese all regarded it as a point of immense spiritual importance within the body.

In many cases, it was referred to as the third eye (a term that modern spirituality has inherited). According to many spiritual lineages, the third eye is the interface between the physical and the spiritual worlds, and thus the “opening of the third eye” is the gateway to spiritual progress.

Even Rene Descartes—the philosopher who we have to thank for the scientific method, algebra, and many other foundational aspects of modern scientific inquiry—believed that the pineal gland was the seat of the soul.

Needless to say, modern science isn’t exactly on board with this theory—and third eye vernacular is still confined to yoga studios, retreat centers, and a small vanguard within the natural health community.

Nevertheless, scientists and spiritualists alike can agree on one thing: the pineal gland is vitally important to the health of the physical body.

Your brain’s built-in detox system

The pineal gland is part of the endocrine system’s master hormone control system. Through hormone secretion, it is able to regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, metabolism, and sexual development. The proper functioning of the entire endocrine system (and even the entire body) rests on a healthy pineal gland.

The gland’s main secretion is melatonin, which regulates sleep-wake cycles (more melatonin = more sleepiness), as well as sexual development (melatonin production slows down during puberty).[1] Melatonin is also one of the most potent brain antioxidants in existence, so in this sense, you can also think of the pineal gland as part of the brain’s built-in detox system.

According to recent research, there may be other little understood chemicals that the pineal gland secretes too. For example, scientists discovered an exceedingly mysterious chemical called dimethyltryptamine (DMT)—a strongly psychoactive compound that may be implicated in dreaming and out-of-body experiences—in the pineal glands of rats.[2] DMT is often called the Spirit Molecule.

While this area of study is still in its infancy, such discoveries offer great hope for bridging the gap between the scientific and spiritual understandings of the pineal gland.

Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on, though, it’s essential that you keep your pineal gland functioning optimally.

Your pineal gland needs your help

We’ve talked in past articles about the many burdens that modern living places upon your endocrine system. Environmental toxins are chock-full of endocrine disruptors, and iodine deficiency is a rampant problem (iodine is essential for proper endocrine function). All of this means that the pineal gland is under constant attack.

On top of these issues, the pineal gland is very prone to calcification by fluoride, mercury, and other toxins that are omnipresent in our society. The pineal gland has the highest levels of fluoride in the body. As a calcifying tissue that is exposed to a high volume of blood flow, the pineal gland is a major target for fluoride accumulation in humans.

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Calcified pineal glands show up as solid-looking objects on brain scans. The worse the calcification gets, the more the gland’s functioning is inhibited.

So how can we help keep our pineal glands free of calcification and functioning in peak condition?

Detoxification is the name of the gameand all the usual rules apply.

Detox practices. Integrating fasting, juice cleansing, and oil pulling into your life will all help give your body’s natural detox systems a leg up. Doing so is especially important if you’ve lived a relatively sedentary lifestyle or consumed an unhealthy diet in the past (but even if you’re an active, healthy-eating person, your body is still prone to the onslaught of environmental toxins).

Stay active. Vigorous exercise helps supercharge your body’s detoxification processes—lots of toxins are excreted when you sweat, and increased heart rate and circulation helps push toxins out of tissues. Adding cold showers, cold plunges, and sauna sessions will make your exercise regimens even more detoxifying.

Detoxifying foods. The easiest way to turn your body into an unstoppable, detoxifying machine is to continuously eat a detoxifying diet. Turmeric, coconut oil, kale and other dark greens, raw cacao, chlorella, spirulina, probiotics, apple cider vinegar, beet juice, and oregano are all excellent choices. Read more about how to build the perfect detoxifying diet here.

Supplement properly. As I mentioned above, most people are deficient in iodine, so you’ll want to supplement in order to maintain optimal levels (kelp extracts are the best source). Vitamin C and glutathione also work wonders, as they simultaneously support the immune system, lower inflammation, and boost the body’s ability to take care of its own detoxification.

Ditch the bad stuff. Lastly, it should go without saying that you should avoid consuming fluoridated water, mercury-contaminated fish and dental fillings, and all industrially processed products laced with health-disrupting chemicals. It’s impossible to avoid all the toxins to which you’re subjected, but consciously staying away from as many as possible is immensely beneficial.

By making these practices a part of your everyday life, you’ll be able to keep your pineal gland working in tip-top shape.

Once you begin to feel the effects of living a detoxifying lifestyle, try throwing some meditation into the mix (simply focusing the awareness on the third eye can catalyze some incredible experiences).

Even if you’re skeptical about the spiritual possibilities of the pineal gland, you’ll be pleased by what happens when you take special care of this extraordinary organ. At the very least, you’ll be keeping your endocrine system nice and balanced (which translates to better sleep, more energy, greater immune function, balanced mood, and more). And who knows…an experience of third eye opening just might catch you by surprise and turn you into a believer.

 


References

[1] http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/what-is-the-pineal-gland/

[2] http://www.cottonwoodresearch.org/dmt-pineal-2013/

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