Mood Control, Food, Neurotransmitters and Reclaiming Your Calm

Posted on March 12, 2008. Filed under: health, wellbeing | Tags: , , , , , , , |

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You and I know that we can’t always control what happens in our lives, but we can control how we respond to them. What happens however when your having a bad week, your peri-menopausal or pre-menstrual? Well science might have an answer.

Let me introduce you to the world of brain chemistry and a powerful group of natural chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. The communication network in your brain is a multi-trillion maze of connections capable of performing 20 million-billion calculations per second. Yes, I did say 20 billion!

How does this intricate network operate? Well there are three major players:

§ Neurons, which power the message,

§ Neurotransmitters, which create the message and

§ Receptors, which receive the message.

In simple words, a neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger released from one nerve cell which finds its way to another nerve cell where it influences a particular chemical reaction to occur. Neurotransmitters control major body functions including movement, emotional response, and our physical ability to experience pleasure and pain.

A neurotransmitter imbalance can cause Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, irritable bowel, hormone dysfunction, eating disorders, Fibromyalgia, obsessions, compulsions, adrenal dysfunction, chronic pain, migraine headaches, and even early death. Scientific and medical research indicates that our brains use more than 35 different neurotransmitters, some of these we can control and some we can’t.

It appears, however, that we can control five of the major neurotransmitters with exercise and nutrition, and with our thoughts and behaviours.

Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids obtained from the protein in food you consume. Two of the most important neurotransmitters are serotonin and dopamine, sometimes called the ‘happy’ drugs. They seem to play a leading role in determining our moods and thoughts.

Eating certain food and exercising at the right level, at the right time for your lifestyle is a keystone to controlling your moods and generating feelings of happiness and relaxation…
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Why Meditate?

Posted on March 1, 2008. Filed under: Fitness, health, wellbeing | Tags: , , , , , |

zen stonesWhen you hear the word meditation, what comes to your mind? Sitting cross-legged in a pose that’s sole purpose is to give you cramps? Yogis calmly hovering ½ a metre off the floor?  Mysticism?  The sounds of a sitar?  Clouds of saccharine sweet incense?  Chanting? Blanking your mind?

Forget the trimmings.  Meditation is easy, it isn’t difficult to learn or practice, and CEO’s of large companies are doing it daily.  

Okay, but why do it?  Surely my life has enough demands without trying to find time for this exotic practice? 

Maybe not.  Consider this:

Meditation quiets the mind: It can take you from a very stressed unfocussed state to a calm, focused and clear state of thought. The breathing and mind training that comes with a daily meditation practice slows the brain waves from their usual anxious rhythms to a calmer state called ‘flow’. This increases concentration, memory and creates a feeling of well-being that encourages creativity, initiative and success.

Meditation is good for your heart: Scientific research has proven that it can lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart size, normalize an irregular heart-beat, reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease by as much as 11%. (Stroke 2000 31:568-573)

Meditation Strengthens the Immune System: It has been shown to significantly increase the number of ‘Helper’ cells which kill bacteria and cancer cells. A study conducted over several years translated into fewer doctor visits and over 50% less hospitalization for meditators than for non-meditators.

Meditation Increases Vitality: It has been shown to reduce chronic pain levels (including back pain and certain types of cancer-related pain).  Can help control levels of damaging cortisol (a stress hormone), and may even help prevent anxiety attacks.  Meditation’s deep relaxation can boost energy and zest for life

Interested?  Then consider these possibilities.

Meditation is Basically Refined Focusing

Meditation involves directing your attention onto one specific thing and keeping that focus, if your mind strays then all you do it bring your attention back to the thing you decided to focus on. There are many things to focus on and many ways to practice meditation, so you never need be bored.

Some common ways include:

§         Focusing on what you are feeling or thinking about in the moment

§         Focusing on a word (mantra, chant) this doesn’t have to be a Hindu or Buddhist mantra it can be something you have decided on yourself

§         Focusing on an object: candle, mirror, leaf, or just a spot on the wall

§         Focusing on a sound: music, drum beat, a guided meditation (the voice of the guide), or a special CD designed to slow your brain rhythms

§         Focusing on body movement: yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, walking, running, rowing, (this is often called ‘being in the flow)

§         Focusing on your breath, or counting or a visualization

There is nothing more to it than that, and this kind of daily practice has so many benefits not the least of which is relaxing you in body and mind, energizing you and often catalyzing your thoughts. There is no wrong way to do it, no way to be unsuccessful, no matter what you have heard.

Ready to give it a go?

Here is one of the simplest and most common practices:

Sit comfortably in a chair (do not lie down you might go to sleep).

Close your eyes.

Now just focus on your breath as it comes in and out of your nose. Feel the feeling of your breath and hear the sound of your breath as it gently and slowly comes in and out of your nose.

If your focus strays (and it will), then just gently bring it back to your focus.

Continue in this way for about 10 to 15 minutes.

How easy was that?

Did you know that 20 minutes of meditation has been said to be as good as 20 hours of sleep? I highly recommend doing this practice just before bed, and if you can’t sleep for any reason, I recommend sitting up in bed and doing it again, no matter what time of night.

15 to 20 minutes first thing in the morning has the added benefit of giving a spring in your step and setting you up to start the day right. Try it and see.

Be Fit! Be Well! …do it online.

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