It is now common knowledge that many of the current health crises that afflict the world – heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and dementia – all have a common precursor – INFLAMMATION. Even Coronavirus infections would seem to be a lot worse for the patient if they have high levels of inflammatory blood markers.
Inflammation is the process that lets the body fight off invading pathogens (bacteria, viruses and fungi) by kick starting the immune system into action and is typically characterised by heat, swelling, pain and redness. There is an increase pathogen destroying cells including macrophage, neutrophils, B and T cells. Both B and T cells also produce long living inflammatory proteins called cytokines.
However this inflammatory immune response should only be a short term response, if the inflammation becomes chronic, the immune system can begin damaging healthy tissue. Why does chronic inflammation develop? Well this is largely due to 21st Century lifestyles with unrelieved stress (and the production of stress hormones), lifestyle factors including obesity, high sugar diets, smoking and lack of exercise/activity. All these things are seen by the body as an attack on it which stimulates the inflammatory response.
Over the past 20 years evidence has emerged of what we can do to put out the “fire of inflammation” –
- Lose weight (excess weight is a storehouse for cytokines)
- Increase our Omega 3 consumption
- Take low dose aspirin (PLEASE SEE YOUR GP BEFORE TRYING THIS)
- Stretching (see below)
There is now evidence that these healthy lifestyles choices work by flicking the off switch in inflammation via the productions of chemical called Resolvins produced by macrophages and neutrophils. Resolvins would appear to be able mop up the circulating inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, as mentioned above.
In the past 10 years it has been found that as well as the well known lifestyle changes mentioned above, stretching skeletal muscle regularly also stimulates the production of resolvins. Could this be the reason that Yoga and Pilates have such a reputation as health tonics? The research would indicate that the stretching needs to be slow and held for some time (as in a typical Yoga class).
It is estimated that the number of people with dementia is likely to triple by 2050. Dementia is very rare below 60 yeas, this goes up 1% of the population between 60 and 70 years, 5% for the 70 to 80 years. After 80 years the figures increase dramatically.
By far the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease (in the UK) – this accounts for approximately 65% of cases, followed by vascular dementia which accounts for around 30%.
So if we are all living longer do we just have to accept that cognitive impairment is a fact of life we have to live with?
There is an increasing amount of evidence that although our genes are very important in our susceptibility to dementia, there is much we can do to prevent of slow the progress of cognitive decline.
- Keep our blood pressure at a healthy level
- Avoid obesity and diabetes (both of these are inflammatory conditions)
- Get enough sleep – 7 hours of quality sleep is seen as important. Good sleep allows for glymphatic drainage of the brain, in which potentially inflammatory debris is “washed away” (much like lymphatic drainage keeps the body healthy).
- Build “cognitive reserve/padding” by taking up languages or music
- Maintain good gum health – keep flossing. The bacteria that cause gingivitis are often found in the brains of people with dementia.
- EXERCISE REGULARLY – PARTICULARLY FOCUSSING ON RESISTANCE/WEIGHTS EXERCISE (although all exercise is good).
Exercise appears to stimulate the production of a hormone called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF or “brain fertiliser”). This helps new nerve cells to grow, stimulates connectivity between cells and boosts the number of mitochondria in the brain (the energy producers of the body).
Also resistance exercise in particular increases the amount of another hormone called Irisin as this is largely produced by skeletal muscle. Animal studies indicate a strong association between low levels of Irisin and cognitive impairment. It is thought low levels of Irisin have negative effects on learning and memory.
So when you are sweating in the gym or Yoga studio, it is not just the body that is benefitting – it is the mind as well.
It would perhaps be an understatement to say we are living through stressful times. Our minds are either clinging to thoughts of our pre lockdown lives or we are worrying about the future.
Well this is exactly the moment we need the stabilising effects of mindfulness in our lives.
With this in mind, I have drawn up a short list of things we can do in everyday life to keep focussed, calm and positive.
Click here to download our brief mindfulness guide and practice.
During our current lockdown, lots of us are staring at screens – whether this be TVs, PC, tablets, laptops or phones.
Why not give our eyes a break and try these Tibetan Eye Exercises that may relieve tension, relieve headaches and possibly strengthen the eyes.
I have attached a chart to print out as an A4 sheet and pin to a surface at head height.
HOW TO USE THE CHART:
Attach the chart to a convenient wall with the white centre spot in line with the nose. Stand erect with the tip of your nose as close to the white spot as possible. Then move the eyes slowly clockwise following the outer edge of each arm of the figures including the black spot, until the beginning point is reached. Then repeat the same action in a counter clockwise direction. After each cycle blink and relax the eyes and then do three to five minutes of Palming.
Download – Eye Chart
If you are suffering from any chronic pain condition, you have probably tried many different things to find comfort and ease … but have you thought about Yoga?
Skilful Yoga practice can decrease pain, heal the body and lift the spirit in many ways. Indeed the practice of Yoga is said to lead to “karuna”– the relief of suffering. Traditional Yoga teachers see this as one of their central acts of service to students.
Yoga has been shown to reduce suffering in a number of ways –
1. Yoga can realign and strengthen areas where wear and tear is evident – this includes all mechanical joint problems and soft tissue injuries.
2. Decreases the presence of inflammatory chemicals in the systems such as Cortisol, prostaglandins and cytokines in chronic conditions (please note inflammation is used by the body to heal acute ailments, but only becomes problematic when the inflammation is prolonged).
3. Increases the body’s natural anti-inflammatory agents such as phagocytes and modulates the immune response via B and T cells. The immune system is fine tuned to become more active and responsive.
4. Fine tunes the nervous system and can break the link between negative emotions and pain. Yoga brings hope, optimism and can lift low mood.
5. Increases the activity of the para-sympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system) and stimulates the vagus nerve.
6. Yoga gives the practitioner tools to reduce the experience of pain, thus giving back control and reducing anxiety and fear which often spring from loss of control.
So if your life has been haunted by pain or suffering, why not give Yoga a try … you may be pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes Christmas can be a very fraught time of year, when we feel our physical energies are depleted, our emotions sorely tested and our mind disturbed. This scattering of our energies is experienced as pain (in it’s many forms) and to sentient beings something to be avoided.
Well it doesn’t have to be that way. Within Yoga the practice of meditation helps put back into perspective the true experience of being – centred, relaxed and non grasping/striving. Indeed it is this constant desire to have and acquire that creates all the pain we feel.
If you would like to discover a little more about meditation please click here to download our beginner’s guide or ask a qualified Yoga teacher.
If you have ever experienced an unexplained chronic pain, numbness, tingling or burning in the joints, muscles/soft tissue, skin or internally – that may have then just disappeared – you might be suffering from chronic inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
So, what is inflammation, why does it occur, and what are the best, safe and natural options to curb this disorder? Let’s start by defining the term: From the Latin term inflammo (meaning setting alight or igniting), inflammation is part of the body’s immune response, the body’s attempt at self-protection. The objective of inflammation is to remove damaged cells, harmful irritants, or toxic pathogens and begin the healing process. The 4 classic signs of inflammation are –
• Dolor (pain)
• Calor (heat)
• Tumor (swelling)
• Rubor (redness)
When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try to remove it. This response takes the form of inflammation for the body to heal itself. While inflammation is not infection, an infection caused by bacteria, virus or fungus can trigger an inflammation process.
As a short term response to a threat inflammation is a very useful self protection mechanism.
The Inflammatory Process
Acute inflammation is the initial response of the body to harmful stimuli and is characterised by the release of –
• Specialised chemicals that create a conducive atmosphere for the pro-inflammatory molecules to act and
• Specialised immunity molecules/cells that fight the invaders – such as leukocytes, macrophages, mast cells, bradykinin, histamine, and TNF.
This internal process leads to the removal of pathogens and promote healing of any damaged tissue. Thus, in a perfect world or perfect body the inflammatory process occurs just as it should, releasing pro-inflammatory molecules and immune factors when needed, and then turning them off when the threat has been sufficiently addressed. However …
Chronic inflammation is characterised by a response that is aberrant, out of control and is not completely turned off or extinguished. In chronic inflammation the inflammatory response continues eve when not needed. With the inflammation switch refusing to turn off, the body operates as if it is always under attack. Inflammation draws on our body’s energy and resources and having a constant, low-grade flow of powerful pro-inflammatory molecules can result in bodily damage over time.
Once this system goes out of control it self-perpetuates and quickly spirals into disease in areas such as blood vessels (atherosclerosis); pancreatic tissue (diabetes); bones and joints (arthritis); digestive system (lactose and gluten intolerance); limbs, muscles and nerves (fibromyalgia); fat tissue (obesity); throat (thyroid issues)—just for starters.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
There are many factors that can lead to chronic inflammation, these may include –
• Genetic disposition
• Chronic infection
• Chronic physical stress (under/over activity, environmental pollutants, smoking, excess alcohol etc)
• Chronic mental stress
• Poor diet
• Long term medication
Conventional Treatment for Chronic Inflammation
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), that include drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are often used together with steroids for more severe cases, such as glucocorticoids which work to calm an overactive immune system and to decrease the level of inflammation in the body.
However all these medicines, although extremely useful, can have serious side effects. Is there anything that is safer?
Yoga as Therapy
There’s also good news for those of us who have a regular yoga practice. Several studies now report that a regular yoga practice –
• Brings down the levels of stress hormones that promote inflammation
• Lowers the levels of a number of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body and brings down inflammation that is beneficial in conditions like arthritis
• Reduces a subset of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines thereby relieving severe pain seen in diseases like fibromyalgia
• Inhibits inflammation that in turn weakens and may even kill cancerous cells in people with cancer.
We are still not quite sure how Yoga works (the mechanism), but there is considerable evidence that is does! So get the mat out and start practicing – you will feel the benefits.
As we age we lose collagen from our skin and our muscle tone decreases in our facial muscles the face starts to show the signs of aging.
Good diet, not smoking and avoiding over exposure to the Sun can all help, but exercise can also play a major role in “filling out” the face.
Try these exercises everyday for 2 weeks and you will see the difference.
Pucker your lips tightly, leaving a small hole as though you were about to whistle. Shut your eyes and continue to force your lips forward as though you are trying to reach an object in front of you. Hold this position for twenty seconds.
This exercise involves doing the reverse of the above exercise. Open your eyes wide and raise the eyebrows. Open your mouth as wide as possible, stretching it to its limit and concentrating on pulling every part of your face away from your mouth. Hold this position for twenty seconds, then repeat exercises one and two alternately for two minutes.
Close your mouth and clench your teeth, then force the corners of your mouth down towards your chin, so that all the muscles in your neck are taut and stand out. Hold this position whilst to keep the upper part of your face relaxed. Next bring the chin muscle upwards, causing the corners of your mouth to contract towards the centre of your face and hold. Do four very slow movements, then eight fast. This exercise improves the jawline.
Tilt your head back as though you were looking at the ceiling. Next place the palm of your right hand in the centre of your forehead. Try to bring you head back to its normal position whilst resisting with your hand, as though someone were pushing your head back against your will. Repeat this exercise six times in total.
Bring your head forward onto your chest and place the palm of your right hand on the back of your head. Force your head back up whilst resisting with your hand. Repeat six times initially and then alternate this exercise with exercise four. These two exercises build up the muscles in your throat and neck.
Puff out your cheeks, as though your mouth were full of water and purse your lips as tightly as you possibly can. Squeeze your mouth to the size of a pea, following this, slap your face with both of your hands for two minutes. This might sound a trite masochistic, but it works wonders!
In today’s technological workplace it is easy to forget ourselves as we stare at screens and answer the constant emails, social media messages and telephone calls that assail us.
Is this important and should we be concerned?
Well yes, MINDLESSNESS PRECLUDES OUR EXPERIENCING OF OTHER THINGS AND IS IMPOVERISHING. Over time our mind becomes conditioned by this narrow focus of our attention and our desire to stay within it’s habitual ways. We can lose 7 to 8 hours per day in this “lost” mental state.
By doing a few simple mindful practices we can stay human during our working day!
Let’s begin by recalling what mindfulness is …
“Paying attention on purpose to the present moment, without judgement” (Jon Kabat Zinn)
Practice 1 – Sitting
Every 10 or 15 minutes –
• Scan body for physical sensations. Note posture.
• Scan for feelings and emotions that may arise.
• Watch and witness thoughts and thought patterns. Be attentive that you do not engage with thoughts – this will give them energy.
• Watch breath and qualities of breath.
Practice 2 – Walking at Work
Whether walking to the printer, toilets, canteen or down the corridor – INHALE when foot leaves floor and EXHALE when foot touches floor.
Give these simple practices a go and not only may you leave your desk more refreshed at the end of the day, but you may find your are more creative, empathetic and productive during the working day.
To anyone who has even taken a cursory interest in their own being, it is apparent that our being changes from moment to moment. Our moods, thinking, personality and indeed even our body physiology is said to be in a constant state of flux according to the ancient Yogis. This phenomena of change is due to the changing balance of the two kinds of energy within the human being – a positive solar (male) energy and a negative lunar (female) energy.
Energy and consciousness, permeate the whole of our being through the network of energy channels called nadis. All these channels converge into two main channels – ida and pingala which travel up the body on either side of the spine, – the lunar energy flows through ida and the solar energy through pingala, and they move upward through the body from the perineum to the crown of the head.
To live life fully and evolve in a harmonious way we must practice, achieve and maintain balance between the right and left brain, between ida and pingala, as this will have very real implications in our daily life, in the way we function, interact, grow and evolve. The science of studying (and consciously manipulating) the dynamic balance of energies in the body is known as SWARA YOGA.
Ancient Yogis noted that every 60 to 90 minutes one of the channels becomes dominant and the other passive (this is called NOSTRIL DOMINANCE) – the dominant nostril becomes clear and the passive nostril becomes partially or fully blocked. Certain attributes, characteristics and traits are traditionally associated with nostril dominance and these would affect the behaviour, desire and abilities of the Yogi. Below is a short list of the effects of the changing balance of energy in the body as seen via nostril dominance –
LEFT NOSTRIL DOMINANCE
Elimination of Toxins
Expending energy in a slow sustained way
Playing music and singing
Initiating sustaining relationships
Intuitive, holistic thinking
Subjective decision making
RIGHT NOSTRIL DOMINANCE
Increased body heat
Eating and digesting food
Short term intense effort
Expending energy in a vigorous way
Aggressive, negative acts
Deductive rational reasoning
Hunting and fighting
Attention to detail