Tag Archives: Meditation

Farewell 2021

2021 has been a year with many challenges. For those of us that are fortunate to have our health, our livelihood, family and friends, we have plenty to be grateful for. With all the different challenges any of us may have faced, I believe it served everyone well to find a way to go along with life, do our best and find some peace and contentment at any given time.

It is of more importance than ever to stay healthy and well, physically, mentally, emotionally. I’d like to share some resources that I have found to be helpful in implementing ways to be well.

All of us can benefit from a mindfulness/meditation practice. There’s many options available and the key is being consistent, even a few minutes a day makes a difference. For those that could use a bit of movement to help relieve stress and tension I highly recommend qi gong practice, which brings together gentle movement with breathing and mindfulness. Much like yoga, this type of practice is a form of self discipline for me, it’s not my favourite thing to do, but the difference it makes to my well being makes it necessary. Try any program here that catches your interest, I have tried a few myself and find it highly beneficial to well being(qi gong for better breathing is really good):

https://www.holdenqigong.com/product-category/healing-series/

I read the popular book Breath this fall and it solidified what I understood of the benefits of nose breathing. I also read The Oxygen Advantage, which has valuable information on how to apply better breathing techniques. I had trained myself to do mostly nose breathing during exercise for a number of years and encourage it for lower intensity efforts at my cycling classes. Japanese master Tak told me to use a piece of surgical tape over the lips for sleep and I told him he was crazy. I tried it a few times and finally made it a habit this year- it really makes a difference. I find I recover from hard cycling workouts quicker and I notice my breathing capacity has improved during exercise. Breathing is something that needs to come naturally, so any effort to make changes ought to be gradual and fairly easy to start.

https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breathing-videos

Going further with nose breathing during exercise, there’s evidence to indicate that working at a lower intensity is beneficial to having your cells become more efficient at utilizing oxygen and fuel. Here’s the deep dive:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-peter-attia-drive/id1400828889?i=1000546195791

This article gives more information on this lower intensity (zone 2):

The concept is to train yourself to breathe through your nose during exercise all the way to a fairly high intensity (heart rate)- which I will need to go over in more depth and explanation at another time. This is also demonstrated regularly at my Stages cycling classes at the Toronto Athletic Club, which are also super fun!

Cheers to health and wellness for 2022!

Improve your digestion, improve your health

If you have ever experienced a stomachache, you would likely want the pain to end soon and you may have a visceral understanding that digestive health is important to well being. On the other hand, if you hardly ever experience digestive issues, then you may take your ease of living almost for granted and be surprised when faced with the need to adjust your eating habits or lifestyle. What we eat and what happens thereafter is a living relationship we have with food and ourselves. Ideally, we have a good appetite to seek and enjoy food regularly to nourish ourselves, and after we have eaten, the food is digested and assimilated in a reasonable amount of time, with the waste eliminated easily. Ideally, food goes in one end and comes out the other, nice and easy.

There is wide variability in digestive capacity. Some people seem to be able to drink black coffee, alcohol and eat all the spicy food they want. Others seem to have a limited variety of food they can eat without consequence. Some people are very diet oriented and are always seeking to find more control on their diet to reach various goals they have. The most interesting explanation I have read in terms of diet seeking behaviour was in a Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook which references a deficiency in digestive ability causes the person to become overly obsessed with their diet. It could also be a chicken or the egg question, does the diet seeking behaviour start in the body or the mind? You certainly need plenty of mental energy to plan and adhere to a diet, especially restrictive ones. Culturally, we seem to be constantly drawn to the latest diet that promises weight loss, brain function, more energy along with age defying benefits.

I consider the digestive system to have several components- a mechanical, structural portion, a chemical component, and a neurological component. The mouth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines would be the mechanical structural component. The chemical component would be digestive enzymes, stomach acid and the various secretions needed to digest and assimilate food, and the gut bacteria could included here as well. The neurological portion of the digestive system is a component we are learning more about, which could encompass our mental and emotional health, one example being the vagus nerve (here’s an interesting video on the vagus nerve: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6e_Un6dv8) starting in the brain with feedback also coming through the gut. There is the enteric nervous system exists within the gut and has many mechanisms of feedback and function. We need all of these components functioning well to have optimal digestion. The food we eat is a variable we have the most control over. What eat and how it affects our health is a non linear equation and process, so there are a many aspects to consider.

We can all strive to have optimal digestive health which in simple terms is being able to enjoy food with a healthy appetite, digest the food eaten with ease, feel energized, have no bloating, gas, pain, and eliminate the waste material on a daily basis with ease and minimal smell.

Having studied nutrition and Traditional Chinese Medicine and knowing the benefits of healthy eating, I don’t like to prescribe diets to anyone. I believe it is best for a person to improve their eating habits by becoming more mindful of their body, appetite and lifestyle. I do my best to lead by example at every opportunity- I order the side of veggies when we’re out for dinner, I balance the sweet treats I like to enjoy with exercise, and I work at having a good relationship with food, which involves being enthusiastic about eating.

In cases of illness, allergies or skin conditions, it is helpful to make dietary changes to help alleviate the condition. In my acupuncture practice, the most common benefit experienced after relaxation is improvement in digestion. A patient may not come in with a digestive complaint, but they are able to note that their digestion improves with acupuncture treatment. It could be less propensity toward soft stool or diarrhea, improvement in acid reflux symptoms, relief from bloating, constipation, gas, or pain. The question becomes, how does acupuncture affect digestion? Acupuncture improves digestion by stimulation of the nervous system directly through the selected acupuncture points and indirectly through the relaxation response, which activates the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. The nervous system can respond instantaneously, although habitual stimulation for an optimal or dysfunctional state needs training over time.

Your digestive system is also very much related to your immune system, so improving digestion can also improve your immune health, which also relates to the skin. Your skin is the exterior of your body and the stomach and intestines are the exterior tube within the body. It takes processing before what we eat is taken into our internal organs. We are what we eat along with when and how we eat. We need to eat food for fuel and to rebuild/repair our cells on a daily basis. We also need adequate amounts of clean water to thrive. Food needs to be eaten at appropriate times to provide the right fuel for activity. Often overlooked, food is best eaten in a relaxed state to optimize digestion, which is a process that requires energy itself.

The stomach needs to be warm with adequate acid to have optimal digestive fire power. It appears that no one has improving digestive fire as they get older, the tendency is for digestive power to grow weaker with age. There is an element of habit and lifestyle that influences this slowing down. For example, eating cold, raw food requires more digestive energy and over time can cause backup, diminish digestive power and create further weakness. Consistent overeating also causes backup in the digestive system over time. The general thinking in TCM is to eat warm, cooked foods most of the time, especially in winter and have raw foods more in the summer for optimal digestion. This is dietary advice I have been able to adhere to for many years myself, as I enjoy real food and liquid meals like smoothies are unappealing to me. Moderate amounts of all foods can be healthy. Vegetables and fruit are required on a daily basis.

Whether you experience digestive issues or not, it is to your benefit to optimize your digestive health through your diet and lifestyle. Exercise is hugely beneficial, as it maintains circulation and encourages regular elimination. If you need help, consider acupuncture as a form of treatment that stimulates your nervous system to affect the digestive system and naturopathy as a form of treatment that can modulate the digestive system chemically through supplementation prescribed. It is best to consult a health professional who can assess your needs and help tailor your diet and lifestyle, so you can feel your best. Jumping onto the latest diet is not a long term formula for optimal health and wellness, anything restrictive or extreme is generally unsustainable and could cause health issues. Quote me on this: It is healthier to have some pizza, sweets and an occasional drink than the ‘achievement’ of the no sugar, low carb and no alcohol program. Cheers!

Follow Your Bliss

Follow your bliss is an often repeated line and for good reason. We all need a compass to guide us and the question is what do we use as the compass?

A couple months ago I shared this quote with a friend:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his own dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours

Thoreau (I found it in a Wayne Dyer book)

My friend referenced a quote with similar meaning by Joseph Campbell, so I read the book the Power of Myth and came across:

Q: Do you ever have this sense when you are following your bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands? 

A: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time-namely that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. 

What is the bliss to follow? It is yours to know. I believe it is your own inspiration that you are guided to by following your inner knowing. It may not seem known to you yet, and it is a constant process in meditation to feel, hear, know, and see your inner compass. Your dreams can be guiding feelings.

Mental Health

This month, it came to mind many times how important it is to monitor and maintain our mental health. How can that be done? The practice of meditation gives us an opportunity to observe ourselves and our thoughts. If our thoughts are habitually negative, repetitive, obsessive or generally stuck on a loop(in the past or future)-it requires change, and the change may require the assistance of a professional should it prove challenging to make the change on our own.

Earlier this month, I heard the song Electric Love by BORNS and right away I thought of Gary Glitter Rock and Roll. I made a playlist with songs that had a similar drum and guitar line for my cycle class. In checking the song credits, I learned that Rock and Roll was featured in the movie Joker (which I had plans to see as soon as I learned I had just missed the premiere in Italy) and there was backlash due to Glitter being in jail for pedophile crimes. Glitter’s crimes were news to me and there is the view that his music should not be played, as that supports a pedophile in earning royalties. I had already made and shared the playlist for my class so I decided to go ahead and use the opportunity to raise awareness of the issues to child abuse and mental health, as we need every one to pitch in to improve the human condition.

I saw Joker last week and felt it was a well done film that provided a view of mental illness. There is a scene where Joaquin Phoenix in his brilliant performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker tells his social worker ‘all I have are negative thoughts’. While it is not possible to have only positive thoughts, it is an important practice for us to watch the nature of our thoughts and thinking:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

The above quote is credited to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu and there are similar versions in the words of others. The practice is the same, we need to monitor our thoughts and thinking to steer in a healthy direction for our mental health.

Take time for yourself-DAILY

This winter I have found myself giving advice ‘to do something today that makes you happy’. Upon further reflection, what is really behind that thought is the truth of taking time for yourself to take care of yourself on a daily basis helps each and every one of us to be our best. I have often wondered what it is that makes a person leave a yoga class feeling ‘better’, as I have received many a ‘thank you, I feel great’ at the end of classes I led. I am quite certain that taking the time to enter a relaxed meditative state is like a medicine to help is feel more positive by connecting with ourselves. Meditation is medication.

There is plenty of expectation and judgement with meditation and many of us feel we should try to meditate to better ourselves. The practice of meditation is open and available to all of us anytime, anywhere. In the end, meditation is the simple act of taking a moment to take notice of what is happening for us at the present moment. From that present moment, our awareness of ourselves within and our consciousness can expand. What we go through in our daily lives can leave us frazzled and racing, which makes it even more important that we get into the habit of taking time for ourselves daily. What does taking time for yourself mean to you? Is it a walk, a bath, reading something you enjoy, an activity, practicing yoga, meditation, being inspired by art…it really could be anything, and the conscious action of taking time for yourself is a great act of self care that benefits yourself and all around you-making life good

A Chakra Meditation

Dr Blessyl www.drblessyl.com and I really enjoyed teaching a workshop at Lole www.lolewomen.com last week on colours in fashion and the chakras, the subtle energetic centres of our bodies. While I was going over our material to cover, I realized that a Maya Angelou quote that a client had shared a few weeks ago  ‘I approve of my right to be here’ would be the starting point to a chakra meditation I wanted to create. Bringing awareness to our subtle energetic body and our chakras helps us gain a wider perspective to ourselves and our relationship with the world around. This meditation is based on the 7 inalienable rights described in the book Eastern Body, Western Mind (Anodea Judith).

In a comfortable position, sitting, lying down, or in a restorative bridge position with a block under the sacrum to create a grounding energy:

Ground yourself with restorative bridge posture

feel grounded in restorative bridge posture

Begin by bringing awareness to the base of your spine and say to yourself:

I approve of my right to be here (1st chakra)

Moving your awareness to your pelvic area:

I approve of my right to feel (2nd chakra)

With awareness at your navel area:

I approve of my right to act (3rd chakra)

Notice your heart center:

I approve of my right to love and be loved (4th chakra)

Notice the seat of your voice, throat area:

I approve of my right to speak and hear the truth (5th chakra)

Concentrate on the area between your eyebrows, center of your forehead:

I approve of my right to see (6th chakra)

Bring your attention to the crown of your head:

I approve of my right to know (7th chakra)

These 7 phrases can also be used as mantras to meditate upon anytime and anywhere to connect with your inalienable birthrights and consider if anything is in the way of you being truly comfortable in your experience of each of these rights.

 

 

Balanced Physical Activities

I often enter into conversations on what are the best forms of exercise and physical activities to engage in? The answer is individual to each person and their intents. An important consideration is always taking care of yourself and your body. At Making Life Good, we believe that a healthy lifestyle is being well and active to the best of your abilities while thoroughly enjoying life.

It is important to aim to be active on a daily basis, as your body is made for movement. Choose activities that you enjoy and encompass these elements of performance, movement, and well being:

1. Challenging-Your body is constantly adapting and needs physical activities that challenge your current capabilities to be fit. Long, steady state activity, higher intensity activity and sprint activity are all needed to challenge the energy systems of the body.

2.Strength-Your muscles are use it or lose it. Your strength needs to be challenged and trained on a regular basis to maintain a strong and lean body. Physical challenges such as chinups, step ups, lunges, squats, pushups and plank need to practiced on a regular, weekly basis.

3. Movement and flexibility-Once you challenge your cardiovascular system and strength on a regular basis, maintaining your movement and flexibility is important. This can be any form of co-ordinated movement and/or stretching you enjoy such as dance, yoga, pilates.

4. Novel-Trying new movements and sensations on a regular basis (at least once a week) keeps your physical activity routine fresh, so your body can create new connections and adaptations. This could mean listening to different music, exercising in a different locale, trying a movement you have never tried before, or getting moving if you’ve been inactive!

5. Attunement/Breathing/Introspection/Meditation/Reflection/Relaxation-A balance between doing and being is needed and taking time to tune into our breath, bodies and ourselves is important. A clear mind united with a relaxed body is optimal health, performance and well being.

Challenging, strength, movement/flexibility, novel and attunement

Challenging, strength, movement/flexibility, novel and attunement 

 

 

A most important posture

Easy pose, meditation

Easy pose, meditation

Sitting crossed legged is a posture that I choose often, on the ground, on a couch, in an office chair and for meditation. I find the position to be most comfortable for me to stay still for a period of time. I realize the posture is not available or comfortable for everyone (it does improve with practice, I promise), however, getting down, sitting on and getting up from the ground are movements we want to cultivate for healthy spine, hips, knees and ankles.

In addition, I have learned through my studies in yoga that siddhasana (essentially sitting crossed legged on the ground), as referenced in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Light on Yoga is one of the most important postures we can practice. The posture allows us to have a long spine with optimal relaxation throughout the rest of the body. Sitting tall gives us better awareness and alignment to our subtle energy, so we can be a meditative state. Taking a few minutes to sit cross legged on the ground, on a block, on cushions and bringing our attention to our breathing is a meditative break we can practice daily.

IMG_3782

On Meditation

Many of us believe that meditation is good for us, as the prevalent belief is meditating can clear our minds. Meditation can help to clear our minds, especially when practiced on a regular basis. I strongly believe the first step in meditation is simply to observe what is on our minds. I have heard many times ‘I am unable to meditate, because I have too much going on in my mind’.

I invite you to sit for one to five minutes, breathe and simply notice what is going through your mind. The exercise is even more pleasant when you are outdoors or focusing your eyes on a photo or piece of art (we’ll call it scenery). See if you can focus on your breathing and the scenery. Then simply notice what is crossing your mind without judgement. This is a start to meditation and you most certainly can do it-