Nutrition for energy and performance

Video: There’s Far More to Healing The Gut Than Correcting The Microbiome.

There’s Far More To Treating IBS, Reflux & Other Digestive Issues Than Correcting The Gut Microbiome

The gut has been topical of late – with terms such as ‘gut microbiome’, the ‘third brain’ etc. becoming very popular. It has certainly become evident that gut function plays a huge role in both our physical and mental health, and we have seen an increase in digestive issues such as reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, Coeliac’s Disease etc. etc.

In treating such conditions, and indeed in exploring optimal health and well-being, we need to focus on correcting and optimising the internal environment of our digestive system. Treatments have included stool analyses, detox diets, eliminative diets such as FODMAP, paleo and gluten free programs, antibiotic treatments, prebiotic and probiotic treatments, digestive enzyme therapy etc. have become extremely useful strategies. However, very often these treatments struggle to yield significant or complete resolutions.

Given this, it is worth considering that there are other influences on digestive or gut function, other than what goes on inside the digestive system, and that ignoring these can lead to less than complete resolutions. 2 other influences that have a significant impact on gut function, and must be attended to in order to treat the gut more completely, include:

1. Our breathing via the smooth muscle that surrounds the digestive tract – the average person over-breathes, meaning they breathe twice as often as they should, and with far too much volume (because they use mouth and nose rather than nose only). This upsets the delicate biochemical balance in our respiratory system that governs how we get oxygen from the air we inhale into our cells for energy production (the mechanism of which is known as ‘The Bohr Effect’). One of the compensations that result from the upset in the respiratory system by over-breathing is for the body to constrict the smooth muscle around our breathing tubes – and we experience symptoms of breathing difficulties and asthma as a result. Yet, the rest of the tubes that service our body are also surrounded by smooth muscle and over-breathing can lead to constriction and spasm in our digestive system, which is in itself a large tube, forcing it into lock down and preventing the peristaltic action of the digestive system to work effectively, leading to digestive symptoms. This is particularly highlighted by the fact that a vast majority of digestive symptoms and ailments are exacerbated by stress, are often see associated anxiety along with them (especially IBS or reflux). When we are stressed or anxious we over-breathe or hyperventilate even more, which can really exacerbate this constriction and spasm in the digestive system.

2. How we process stress – which is regulated via our hypothalamus. Our hypothalamus, in the brain stem, regulates the automatic bodily functions (including the gut, breathing, circulation etc.), endocrine function (glands and hormones), immune function, sleep cycle, neurotransmitters, some cognitive function etc. It’s job is homeostasis, and it really is the general in regulating our body and keeping it ‘purring’ along. But a hypothalamus that is ‘angry’ or ‘overdrive’ because it is working too hard as we live in constant low level fight or flight in this modern world, can then dys-regulate the function of many o all of our automatic functions – including digestion and the gut. How we process stress in the brain is governed by the healthy working relationship between our two intelligence systems: our thinking, or rational brain, whose job it is to allow us to interface with the world we live in by analysing and interpreting information, data processing, solving problems (the world of thoughts and rational – including our story of our past, and future); and the pre-thinking, instinctive emotional brain whose role is to keep us safe, happy and comfortable by constantly scanning the environment around us (in the now) and warning us of any threat, or stress, via emotions, which serve as a call to action to deal with the threat. If these two work together we attend to emotions as they arise, our thinking brain interpreting the call to action and activating action, then we process stress effectively and we go back to being happy, safe and comfortable. However, we have created a big mismatch between the bodies we have inherited (from our hunter gatherer ancestors) and the high tech, high paced world we have created, and we are taught to ignore emotions and discomfort (therefore the call to action to deal with stress) – be tough, don’t be so sensitive/emotional/irrational, don’t be a girl/sissy, push though, tough it out, don’t show weakness etc. As such we have become top of the animal kingdom, but have forgotten how to be an animal, so we internalise stress rather that dealing with it effectively. This sends us into permanent low-level ‘fight or flight’ activation, leading to symptoms.

We must attend to more than just the inside of the gut to treat it effectively!!

 

Video: Breathing Retraining Provides a Fantastic Natural Solution for Resolving Asthma and Breathing Difficulties

Tim Altman. breathing coach and naturopath (www.timaltman.com.au) discusses some fantastic and simple to learn, natural solutions to asthma, that more often than not, will help you wean off your asthma medication for good.

Most people accept that the medical treatment of asthma using pharmaceutical drugs, such as preventers, relievers and the modern combination medicines of these two, is the only effective way to manage asthma long term.
This is not true.

Research has started to suggest that what is often diagnosed by GP’s as asthma is more likely breathing difficulty (in about 80% of cases). As such, the main pathology in most asthma is to do with dysfunctional breathing.
This is not surprrising given the average person breathes nowhere near what is considered functional, according to medical diagnostic norms. We breathe twice as often as we should, and with far too much volume (meaning that we over breathe), using our mouth and chest/shoulders to breathe, rather than mostly our nose and diaphragm. In fact, when not exercising we should use our nose and diaphragm only.

This over breathing upsets the delicate biochemical balance in our respiratory system that dictates how much oxygen we get from the air we inhale into our lungs to the cells of our body for energy production (the mechanics of which are described by the ‘Bohr Effect’). If we breathe too much, we fail to produce energy efficiently, and the body perceives this as a threat to survival, so it creates constriction and spasm of the tubes that service our lungs and respiratory system to prevent the excessive loss of air; which are the symptoms we see as asthma and breathing difficulty.
As such, whilst we must also address immune hypersensitivity in some cases, the treatment priority needs to be correcting breathing function – eliminating over breathing by retraining the breathing to functional levels, breathing more slowly and with less volume. This will naturally dilate the whole respiratory system and prevent, or make it far less likely that asthma and breathing difficulties will occur at all.

We use biofeedback technology (Capnometry) to assess a person’s breathing, and retrain them using specifically created breathing rhythms that retrain your breathing from the level you are at.
There are other breathing techniques that we can also to facilitate or speed up this process also. For example, we know that a 45 second breath hold will produce roughly the equivalent vasodilation in your lungs as a puff of Ventolin.

I have found that using breathing retaining to treat and prevent asthma to be a simple and easy to learn solution that will give most clients a permanent solution to their asthma and breathing difficulties with a couple of months. It takes practice and some persistence, but it provides a long term solution, that avoids the expense and negative side effects of long term use of medications. The only side effect of breathing retraining, other than being free of symptoms of asthma and breathing difficulties, are that you will feel more relaxed, and have more energy!!

Contact me at tim@timaltman.com.au or 0425 739 918 to make an appointment.
I offer clinical sessions online, or n person in Torquay, Barwon Heads at 13th Beach Health Services – www.13thbeachhealthservices.com.au) and Melbourne.

Video: We Breathe Twice As Often As We Should and It Affects Our Health in Many Ways

We breath twice as often as we should (according to medical diagnostic norms).
If our blood pressure were twice as high as it should be, or we ate twice as much as we should, we all know that would lead to health and well-being problems.
Yet we take our breathing for granted, not realising that over-breathing upsets the delicate biochemical balance in our respiratory system that dictates how we get oxygen from the air we inhale in our lungs into the cells of our body for energy production (all known as, and explained in detail by ‘The Bohr Effect’).
he implications of this are:
1. We produce less energy – contributing to fatigue related illnesses, and poor mental functioning.
2. We are more predisposed to apnoea episodes – resulting in poor sleep, low energy, poor cognitive function, fatigue, and a potential flow on to increased likelihood of suffering inflammatory conditions.
3. Smooth muscle constriction around our breathing tubes predisposing to asthma and breathing difficulties, and also conditions relating to constriction or reduced function of all of the other tubes servicing our body (circulation, digestion, lymphatic, urinary etc) – these include IBS, reflux & other digestive complaints; high blood pressure & hypertension: sinusitis, hay fever & respiratory system illnesses; headaches and migraines; anxiety & depression.
The good news is that learning how to breath functionally again is not that hard, and does not take that long. And you will feel better for it…
Email Tim at tim@timaltman.com.au or call 0425 739 918. Tim is available in clinic at: Barwon Heads – 13th Beach Health Services Torquay/Jan Juc Melbourne – Sth Melbourne or Ivanhoe Or via Online Consultation

Research Suggests the Average Working Week Creates Too Much Stress and Fatigue, and Reduces Productivity.

People Over 40 Should Only Work Three Days a Week, Study Concludes

The linked article below from the University of Melbourne echoes what I have noticed so often in clinic when working with clients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, post viral syndrome, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, IBS, depression and auto-immune illnesses.

When looking at what we’ve learned from neuroscience and neuropsychology about how our brains process information, especially stress, in combination with what we’ve leaned from genetic and anthropological research on how we’re built to live (our body’s still think we live as we did as hunter gatherers), we know that our essential biological needs as an animal are for food and water, shelter, safety and love – or happiness, safety and comfort.

It’s also been determined from investigations of existing hunter-gatherer cultures, and what we can tell from previous ones, that the overage hunter gatherer cultures worked between 15-20 hour per week. Yet, the modern day human works, on average, at least double this in the name of economics, which is a concept. In other words, it’s not real according to the body’s we have inherited.

This essentially means that the average worker sacrifices a sense of our basic biological needs, including work-life balance, happiness, variety, and fulfillment in the name of a concept. Similarly, in pursuit of material or fiscal success, another concept that is learned, and therefore not real, we so often sacrifice our basic need for fulfillment, variety and leisure – and therefore happiness.

This ultimately leads to us being permanently in over-dive or constant, unrelenting low-level stress, which in turn leads to symptoms of illness that we see in the above ailments, and in the general symptoms most people seem to accept as part of life in the modern world:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Gut or digestive symptoms
  • Difficult sleeping
  • Lack of joy
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Brain fog
  • And many more.

Yet, as per the quote below from the linked article suggests, and many more studies appearing are stating to suggest, fitting with what we have learned about how our hunter gatherer bodies are built to live, our productivity, presence at work, work-life balance, sense of fulfillment and happiness all improve when we work a little less.

“After factoring in people’s quality of life, economic well-being, family structures and employment, economic researchers found that individuals who worked an average of 25 hours per week tended to perform the best. In fact, overall cognitive performance would rise until people hit the 25-hour mark, at which point cognitive test scores began dropping because of fatigue and stress.”

Hopefully one day the economic system will focus more on quality of work, and worker satisfaction, than being focused mainly on dollars and quantity of time spent working (at the expense of workers).

Nevertheless, there is still plenty we can do to reduce stress and create more balance in our current working life by understanding what our bodies are built for. More focus on work-reward ratio, work-life balance, variety at work, and a greater focus on worker well being all make a significant improvement in client’s symptoms.

In clinic when working with a client, it’s just a matter of strategy, and then trial and error, using the client’s bodily results (in terms of symptoms and emotions) to determine the effectiveness of changes made. It takes practice, and perseverance, but it works a treat. And allows the body to heal itself, which saves a fortune on medications, and supplements.St

If you would like to find more work-life balance, experience less stress, fatigue, pain, gut symptoms, sleep more soundly, or just experience more joy and happiness, then contact me at tim@timaltman.com.au or phone 0425 739 918. Working in this way with clients has yielded far more potent results than any approach I’ve seen; and it’s made a huge difference to how I, and many of my clients live – for the better.

https://theheartysoul.com/three-day-workweek/?utm_source=WUW&utm_content=72439-M78A

Tim Altman Talks Men’s Health @ Surfcoast Wholefoods, Torquay

Free Talk on Men’s Health Issues @ Surfcoast Wholefoods, Torquay

“Men’s Health Issues”

Free Talk by Tim Altman    www.timaltman.com.au

Surfcoast Wholefoods, Monday 9th of July @ 7.30pm – Bookings not necessary.  tim@timaltman.com.au or call 0425 739 918.

Over 20 years of practice these are the main complaints I hear from men, but most suffer in silence.

  • Fatigue, Burn Out or Lack of Joy

  • Stress, Anxiety or are ‘in your head’ a lot

  • Impatience, Irritability or Chronic Pain

  • Difficulty Sleeping or Poor Sleep

  • Breathing and/or Digestive Issues

Using an evolutionary medicine approach based on genetic, anthropological and neuroscience research, I outline simple and easy to implement solutions to this chronic issue by addressing not only nutrition, breathing and exercise, but also how we rest and rejuvenate, process stress, communicate, and find work/life balance.

Another CFS Recovery using Mickel Therapy and Breathing Dynamics

Testimonial: CFS Recovery using Breathing Dynamics and Mickel Therapy

Below is testimonial from a lovely client who recovered fully from CFS after 25 years of suffering from it. She was an online client and we used a combination of techniques including Breathing Dynamics, Mickel Therapy, Nutrition and Naturopathy.

“Earlier this year, I completed a course in Mickel Therapy with Tim Altman.   I found this technique extremely helpful in my journey to wellness after 25 years with chronic fatigue.   With Tim’s guidance, I found the programme easy to follow and was able to achieve improvement after just one session.  This improvement has continued over time.   I appreciate Tim for his depth of knowledge, empathy and honesty and would be happy to recommend him to others suffering chronic illness.”   Andra Moores, Brisbane

Contact me at tim@timaltman.com.au or 0425 739 918 if you would like help recovering from CFS, ME, adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, post viral fatigue, IBS, anxiety, depression or autoimmune ailments.

Roadtripping Everest Video

Here’s the video from the fantastic article I linked in yesterday’s blog on the cyclists who attempted to an ‘Everesting’ at the foot of Everest itself. I was happy that the small role I played in training the cyclists to breathe more efficiently to aid in acclimatising to altitude, to recover from exertion and to relax, was of some help in their mission..

Worth taking the time to watch this video – not just for the adventure. The scenery is incredible.

https://cyclingtips.com/2017/12/roadtripping-everest/

Breathing For an ‘Everesting’ Cycle Mission

Article: Roadtripping Everest – www.cyclingtips.com

Linked below is a fantastic article and video by Andy Van-Bergen from www.cyclingtips.com on a road trip he took to base camp at Mt Everest at an altitude of 5,000m to attempt what has now become known in the cycling world as ‘Everesting’ – to climb the equivalent of 8,848m — the height of sea level to the summit of Everest — in one ride.

Andy’s desciption of this task sums it up:

“Doing a regular Everesting is hard enough — 24 hours spent riding up and down the same road is beyond taxing, both physically and mentally — but doing it on the approach to Everest itself would take things to the next level.

The temperature would range between 8 degrees and minus 5, the cold air rolling down the North Face would all but ensure we faced a block headwind as we climbed, and the effect of high altitude would be an unknown factor we would struggle to simulate and prepare for. After all, there was no precedent for endurance cycling at high altitude that we could find.

In short, it was clear that we had found ourselves an adventure.”

As a part of their preparation they trained regularly at Melbourne Altitude Training using the Wattbike-equipped altitude chamber which replaced oxygen with nitrogen, as well as adjusting humidity to simulate a height of 5,000m (at 11.5% O2).

It was via Oz Begen of the Melbourne Altitude Training that I met Andy and Matilda (two of the three cyclists attempting this gruelling and pioneering task).

Training at altitude has benefits of helping the body acclimatise to low oxygen environments, making it more efficient at taking up oxygen into the bloodstream. At lower altitude the body then maintains this increase efficiency at up-taking oxygen into the bloodstream for a period of time. Athletes from many sports have found benefits using altitude training over the years, and many research studies have validated these benefits. In fact, many professional athletes and clubs have invested in altitude training facilities at their training venues.

However, whilst increasing blood saturation of oxygen certainly has benefits, being able to deliver the oxygen into the blood stream more efficiently will further increase these benefits – and this is where breathing retraining comes in.

I had only 2 weeks to train with Andy and Matilda, so I couldn’t teach them to effectively nose and diaphragm breathe whilst riding at higher levels of intensity, however I could teach them techniques that would facilitate their recovery and help them relax.

The diaphragmatic breathing rhythms using the nose help athletes to return to resting heart rate more quickly after exertion (so they can exert again sooner, and/or more efficiently when they do exert again). In addition they help to use more of the lung volume for gas exchange, deliver oxygen to the cells for energy production more efficiently (which also means they delay lactic acid production), and relax the nervous system, increasing parasympathetic nervous system enervation.

Whilst the mission they undertook proved too difficult, the techniques learned did help them out along the way. Here are a few excerpts from the article illustrating the training and benefits:

“We also used the sessions to work on our strength and recovery breathing techniques with our respiration coach Tim Altman. The recovery breathing felt like a structured version of meditation, with a simple 5 second inhale, 2 second hold, 10 second exhale. It took a few minutes to get on top of following an effort, but was calming and relaxing.

The strength training to build lung capacity was genuinely terrifying in whatever form it took, and there were many forms. While riding at altitude in the chamber we would perform 10 second maximum effort sprints while clamping our nose and mouth shut. We were given ten seconds recovery, followed by another 10 second sprint and so on for blocks of two minutes. Usually by the third or fourth rep things were far beyond uncomfortable. These blocks were then finished with a coached breath hold. At around the one-minute mark convulsions would start to set in, and all the while Tim was gently telling us to fight through it.”

“The training certainly seemed to help. A few weeks in and I was feeling stronger than I had in years. I was on every supplement known to man (well, the legal ones anyway), the respiration coaching we’d been doing with Tim Altman was finally starting to kick in, and I even scheduled in a Zwift ‘virtual Everesting’ before we were due to leave. I felt as prepared as I could, considering I had no idea what to expect.”

“Walking up the gangway while lugging 20kg of ‘carry on’ a strange sensation of dizziness and the sound of rushing blood in my ears combined with a noticeable breathlessness. We shot each other panicked looks. Gone was the banter, replaced by fear. As we stood waiting for our bags we reminded each other that a big part of this initial feeling could be attributed to anxiety, and we knew from our training that this could be controlled with our breathing. Sure enough, in the time it took to arrive at the hotel we were on top of things again, and had almost forgotten about the altitude. This was to be the pattern we’d follow for the next two weeks. A seed of a thought could easily grow into breathless anxiety, only to be controlled with breathing.”

“Tim Altman’s respiratory recovery came to mind. I flipped on some jazz, closed my eyes, and spent the next ten minutes performing breathing exercises. I wasn’t back above 80%, but I felt like a different person, and it only took one mention of the switchbacked descent to come to have me out on the bike again.”

It’s a enthralling read and a fantastic video, scenery is simply breathtaking. I highly recommend you both read and watch. And huge thumbs up to Andy, Matilda, Shannon and the team for attempting such a monumental, unchartered challenge. Super impressive. What an adventure.

If you would like to learn more about breathing for sporting performance, relaxation, health and well-being, or assisting in acclimatisation to altitude, then feel free to email me at tim@timaltman.com.au or call +61 425 739 918.

https://cyclingtips.com/2017/12/roadtripping-everest/

MEDITATION OFFERS THE IDEAL COUNTER-BALANCE TO THE MAN-MADE STRESSORS OF THE MODERN WORLD

Article: Meditation as a Voluntary Hypometabolic State of Biological Estivation.

I first came across the linked article by John Ding-E Young and Eugene Taylor (News Physiol. Sci. • Volume 13 • June 1998) in 1999 via a university physiology lecturer whilst completing second degree, a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in naturopathy. It really made a huge impact on me.

I had been meditating on and off for many years, since being introduced to it and yoga in my teens, and had always found it to be a deeply profound and potent practice for not only achieving fantastic health and performance outcomes, but also sense of calm, focus and flow in my day to day life. It felt so good.

However, as most meditators will attest from their experiences, my practice had always been sporadic, which frustrated me a lot. It was the first thing I recommenced when I felt down or not well, or life had got on top of me, and was always the best cure for all of these. Yet, as soon as I stated to feel well again, or in control, it was the first thing I dropped from my routine. Yet I knew how good it was for me and how much better I felt internally (both physically and psychologically) whenever I practiced it; and especially when I had a consistent regular practice.

When I saw in this article from ‘creditable’ western scientists in a ‘credible’ western publication on what was being observed and measured in many ‘advanced’ meditators, I was really shocked. I had read about these so-called physically and physiologically impossible phenomenon in books about holy men in India and Tibet, but to read about it so clearly, and validly measured in a western scientific publication really brought it to my attention. I felt a sense of guilt and disappointment that I had not meditated more often and more consistently. It had felt like I had a golden opportunity for, or the keys to the door to freedom and limitlessness, yet I had turned my back on it.

Using a swimming analogy, if this is what the Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps of the meditating world can achieve, then there is still scope for there to be so much benefit for the average ‘lap swimmer’ of the meditation world.

I will say that this article shocked me into action, and I began a consistent practice of meditation for several years, including spending time living in an ashram in Melbourne whilst I was completing my studies. It began a profound period of internal growth that changed my body physically and helped me release many out-dated, negative self-limiting patterns. Whilst it did involve hard work, discipline, and often sitting through some very unpleasant times (as the old emotional layers and patterns peeled away), the reward was a physical robustness that I had never before felt, and a deep sense of mental and emotional sweetness that I have been deeply grateful for ever since.

The process is an ongoing evolution, and I was by no means living in permanent peace and bliss as a result, but I did feel very well physically most of the time, and know I only had to turn inwards to experience the sweetness again and again. And to come from having been very ill for a long time with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and very frustrated and miserable internally,  a couple of years earlier, I felt very, very grateful – like I had escaped a very dire future.

Below, in italics, is an excerpt from the article that I hope shocks you enough for you to pay more attention to the potent and profound benefits of meditation on health, well-being and performance. Especially, given many of the people who find my website, read my blogs and come to me for treatment, have similar experiences to my past, where they suffer from chronic illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Sydrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, IBS, Anxiety/Depression and feel helpless, misunderstood and miserable.

“In a different study done in a more naturalistic setting on a different adept, Yogi Satyamurti (70 yr of age) remained confined in a small underground pit, sealed from the top, for 8 days. He was physically restricted by recording wires, during which time electrocardiogram (ECG) results showed his heart rate to be below the measurable sensitivity of the recording instruments (see Fig. 1). News Physiol. Sci. • Volume 13 • June 1998 151 “Hypometabolism is markedly increased in the advanced meditator. . . .” by 10.220.32.246 on November 6, 2017 http://physiologyonline.physiology.org/ Downloaded from

The point is that deep relaxation appears to be the entryway into meditation, but in advanced stages refined control over involuntary processes becomes possible, in which systems can be either activated or inactivated. From the practitioner’s standpoint, in a purely naturalistic setting, this is achieved through mastery of a particular technique that is understood in the context of a specific philosophical school of thought, usually communicated under the supervision of a meditation teacher……………. During his 8-day stay in an underground pit, Yogi Satyamurti exhibited a marked tachycardia of 250 beats/min for the first 29 h of his stay. Thereafter, for the next 6.5 days, the ECG complexes were replaced by an isoelectric line, showing no heartbeat whatsoever (see Fig. 1). The experimenters at first thought he had died. Then, 0.5 h before the experiment was due to end on the 8th day, the ECG resumed, recording normal heart rate activity. Satyamurti also exhibited other behaviors similar to hibernating organisms. One of the most economical methods of preserving energy during hibernation requires animals to bring their body temperature down to that of the surrounding environment. Satyamurti, brought out of the pit on the 8th day, cold and shivering, showed a body temperature approximately equal to that maintained in the pit, namely, 34.8°C.”

Finally, the authors of the article have postulated that the evolutionary significance of meditation, the authors have associated meditation physiologically with processes such as hibernation and estivation, and have suggested it to be the re-acquisition of a very old adaptive mechanism.

When we consider the evolutionary significance of the hibernating and estivating response, the most obvious benefits include conservation of energy and adaptive survival in harsh environments where the weather is bad and the food and water supplies are not always available year round.

Similarly, now, instead of being merely reactive to environmental variables, such as temperature change or lack of food, human beings must be trained to re-enter this conservative and restorative state, but as a voluntary act of will in response to the increasing and unpredictable stresses of man-made environments.

Based on the research, breathing and meditation clearly appears to offer a brilliant adaptive advantage to mismatch we have created between the body we have inherited (from our hunter-gatherer ancestors) and the largely artificial, highly stressful world we have created. Without it, our bodies are poorly adapted to cope.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/67ec/32b0d49be7fe6b4137c064dbe43d81b65cc9.pdf

 

 

MEDITATION IS MEDICINE

Research Review: The Physiological and Psychological Benefits of Meditation

Below is a research review on meditation I wrote back in 2001. It’s old, however it’s still very compelling. It is long, and I apologise that I lost most of the references (my word processing skills were/are not my forte). Definitely worth a read however.

Possibly the greatest bit of health advice I could give any client would be to stat a daily medicine practice. It truly is medicine. And, eventually, it will set you free.

MEDITATION

WHAT IS MEDITATION?

Meditation is commonly defined to be a state of single-minded concentration. Concentration being focused restfully on a particular thing or focal point; hence the term ‘restful alertness.’ It is often used loosely to describe activities such as relaxation techniques, concentration exercises, contemplation, reflection and guided imagery. Meditation however, is more than just physical relaxation for it engages the mind as well as relaxing the body. It is often regarded as a heightened state of conscious awareness – a state of mind such as a state of inner peace, of stillness or silence, of union, of oneness. What differentiates meditation from the state of being awake or asleep is the conscious awareness of being profoundly still, and involves ‘waking up’ or ‘tuning in’ the mind – it is a state where we let go of the ‘doing’ of the normal waking state, and settle into a state of simply ‘being.’

The researcher John Kabat-Zinn describes meditation as a ‘way of being’ by helping a person go more deeply into themselves, beyond all the surface physical sensations and mental activity1. The hallmark of meditation being this state of inner stillness or silence. In this state of stillness we learn to detach from our endless stream of mental activity, reducing the emotive force of it, and eventually ‘transcending’ it by becoming the observer. In this way meditation can also be seen as an exercise in enhancing autonomy, self control or effective action. Similarly it can also be seen as an exercise in self knowledge or even spiritualism.

It was for this purpose that meditation was derived in Asian cultures many thousands of years ago. They directed the use of meditation and yoga towards the attainment of a ‘unique state of spontaneous, psychological integration.’2 Modern psychologists have described this state as ‘individuation’or ‘self-actualisation’ and it has traditionally been termed ‘self-realisation.’

 

HOW DOES MEDITATION WORK?

 

The ‘Sahaja Yoga Hypothesis’ is that meditation triggers a rebalancing process within the autonomic system (a complex system of nerves that governs the function of all the organs of our body) thereby allowing our natural healing process to revitalise and rejuvenate diseased organs.3 According to this hypothesis, imbalance in this system is the cause of both physiological and psychological illness.

The balancing of the autonomic nervous system occurs via the seven chakras, or subtle energy centres within our body; each of which govern specific sets of organs, and aspects of our psychology and spirituality. Imbalanced function of these chakras results in abnormal function of any aspect of our being (physical, mental or spiritual) that relates to the imbalanced centre.

Meditation is a specific process that awakens the ‘kundalini’(an innate, nurturing energy), causing it to rise from its base at the sacrum bone piercing each of the seven chakras, thereby nourishing and rejuvenating them, and bringing each of them into balance and alignment. As the kundalini reaches the brain and the chakras within it, mental tensions are neutralised. An inner state of mental calm is established. This inner silence becomes a source of inner peace that neutralises the stresses of everyday life, enhancing creativity, productivity, and self-satisfaction.

 

PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CHANGES IN MEDITATION

 

Recently scientific research has been establishing how meditation works. A new area of medicine known as psychoneuroimmunology (or mind/body medicine) is demonstrating how our state of mind powerfully affects our state of being. Science is now beginning to unravel some of the mystery surrounding meditation, and we are now beginning to be able to observe and understand the physiological changes taking place in the minds and bodies of meditators.

Meditation is characterised physiologically as a wakeful hypometabolic state of parasympathetic dominance analogous to other hypometabolic conditions such as sleep, hypnosis and the torpor of hibernation.4 Meditation, however, represents a special case of the hypometabolic state. The body appears to move into a state analogous to many, but not all, aspects of deep sleep, while consciousness remains responsive and alert.5

Physiological evidence, shows that, indeed, sleep and meditation are not the same. Electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings are quite different in the waking state, in sleep and in meditation. Studies suggest that alpha (8-12 Hz) and theta (4-8 Hz) activity is predominant in meditation, whereas delta (1-4 Hz) activity predominates in deep sleep, and beta (13-26 Hz) predominates in the waking state. There is also greater coherence of alpha waves across the cortex in the meditative state. Theta wave activity is indicative of dreaming (or rapid eye movement or REM sleep), however alpha wave activity is the predominant of these two in meditation. Alpha wave activity is associated with relaxation. It is also more closely associated with a state of wakeful alertness, where one’s state of consciousness is characterised as empty of any particular content but nevertheless active and alert above the threshold of awareness.4

Slightly contrary to this suggestion that the alpha state more closely resembles the state of wakeful alertness, were the results from one study, which had meditators signal when they had definitely entered into this state of wakeful or thoughtless awareness.3 Widespread alpha wave activity occurred initially, however, as the meditators signalled they had entered into the state of mental silence or ‘thoughtless awareness’ theta wave activity became focused specifically in the front and top of the brain in the midline. Precisely at the time that the theta wave activity became prominent, the meditators reported that they experienced a state of complete mental silence and ‘oneness’ with the present moment.

Of further note with this study was the focus of the theta activity at the front and top of the head, both in the midline. This suggests that structures deep within the brain, possibly the limbic system, are being activated. The limbic system is responsible for many aspects of our subjective experiences, such as emotion and mood, so it is no surprise that meditation, which is traditionally associated with blissful states, might involve this part of the brain.

Of final note with this study, is that the subject group investigated was only very small, so the reported results need further investigation before they can be considered to be extremely valid.

In the hypometabolic state induced by meditation the following changes occur6:

* catecholamine (adrenaline, noradrenaline) levels drop

* reduction in cortisol levels

* galvanic skin resistance increases markedly (low skin resistance is an accurate marker of the stress response).

* cerebral blood profusion increases

* respiration rate and minute volume decrease significantly without significant change in pO2 & pCO2.

* decreased vascular resistance

* lowered O2 and CO2 consumption and metabolic rate (well below that achieved in sleep)

* marked decline in blood lactate (which is a metabolite of anaerobic respiration and is high in stressful situations.

* reduced blood pressure and pulse rate7

The above pattern of changes is so consistent it is now called the ‘relaxation response.’ Meditation is a very potent way of eliciting this relaxation response. It is also often evident in many forms of prayer and contemplation across cultures.

Although it is generally conceded that a wakeful hypometabolic state of increased parasympathetic dominance characterises almost all forms of meditation in their initial stages, advanced meditators who have been meditating for years or even decades show marked differences in both their physiological response and their ability to control their own physiology compared with meditators who have only been practising a short time.4

The prominent feature found in advanced meditators as the voluntary control of internal states was that they displayed sympathetic nervous system control in the presence of parasympathetic dominance. This was discovered by the finding of increased plasma adrenaline in advanced meditators, in the presence of decreased heart rate and acute and marked decline of adrenocortical activity.

Other differences between advanced and novice meditators include markedly increased hypometabolism in advanced meditators; significantly decreased sensitivity to ambient CO2, and increased episodes of respiratory suspension which are highly correlated with subjective reports of what is called in yoga the experience of pure consciousness.

Dramatic increases of phenylanaline (an amino acid used in depression as it is a precursor to tyrosine which is an excitatory neurotransmitter) and urinary metabolites of serotonin (which influences moods and sleep and is antidepressant, helps induce sleep and relieves pain) are also noted in advanced meditators. Also thyroid simulating hormone has also been noted to decrease chronically and acutely

in advanced meditators.

Several studies have corroborated this phenomenon in advanced meditators of sympathetic control in the prescence of parasympathetic dominance. In these studies the advanced meditation practitioners have gained phenomenal control over normally involuntary bodily processes.

In one such study Tibetan monks were able to generate such body heat during meditation that they could dry wet sheets on their backs in freezing weather. In another study in the laboratory, an Indian yogi lowered his metabolism so much that he was able to remain in an airtight box for 10 hours with no ill-effects or signs of tachycardia or hyperpnoea

In another intriguing study4 a Yogi Satyamurti (70 y.o.) remained in a small underground pit, sealed from the top, for 8 days. He was physically restricted by recording wires. For the first 29 hours of his 8-day stay Satyamurti exhibited a marked tachycardia of 250 beats/min. For the next 6.5 days the electrocardiogram (ECG) results showed no heartbeat whatsoever. ‘The experimenters at first thought he had died.’ Half an hour before he was due to leave the pit his heart rate returned to normal. In addition Satyamurti was able to maintain his body temperature at a level approximately level to the temperature in the pit (34.8 deg Celsius). This is a behaviour displayed by many hibernating animals.

In a final study8 Tibetan Buddhist monks were found to be able to raise their resting metabolism (VO2) up as much as 61%, and lower it down as much as 64%. This reduction from rest was the largest ever recorded.

The point of illustrating these cases is that ‘deep relaxation appears to be the entryway into meditation, but in advanced stages refined control over involuntary processes becomes possible, in which systems can be either activated or inactivated.’

 

MEDITATION AND STRESS

 

A great deal of attention has been paid in recent years to the role of stress in health and particularly in disease. The amount of research being conducted in this area is on the increase. Stress has been recognised as a contributor to, or direct cause of many illnesses. In acute situations, stress can be a natural and appropriate physiological response to an exceptional circumstance. This is often recognised as the ‘fight or flight’ response. However, as soon as the stressful stimulus disappears or dissipates, the physiology of the person should return to normal, with the event being left mentally in the past. This is not always the case.

Hans Seyle first identified the stress response as the ‘general adaptation syndrome’ as a means of explaining the way in which psychological stress translates into physical disease. Stress is postulated to induce psycho-hormonal changes. In acute situations, as mentioned above, the response is functional; but in the chronic situation the organism continues to adapt successfully to ever-increasing levels of stress in the environment until the point of exhaustion, resulting in debilitation of bodily systems and, ultimately, death.

In the chronic situation above, the stress is inappropriate as the nature of the stressor is invariably a by-product of thought; we must actually think about the events for them to produce stress. These thoughts being either of past experiences or of events we anticipate will occur in the future. One common denominator is that neither stressor is actually real – the past no longer exists and the future hasn’t occurred yet. As far as the body is concerned, it does not distinguish between what is a real stressor and what is a perceived or imagined one.

The effects of prolonged and excessive psychological stress on the body involves every system. Psychoneuroimmunology has told us that stress can negatively affect our immune system and susceptibility to infection. In one study9 394 people had their levels of stress measured and were then inoculated directly to five different cold viruses. The results demonstrated that the likelihood of actually getting a cold seemed to be directly proportional to the level of stress, which the host was experiencing at the time.

In another study, it was found that profound immune suppression in medical students over the exam period. In particular there was lowered natural killer (NK) cell activity, a 90% reduction in gamma interferon and lowered response of T cell lymphocytes.10 Also the immune-suppression in those going through marital separation is proportional to the amount of negative emotion or difficulty the person experiences in letting go.1

It is also well known that stress can increase blood pressure. Other less well-known effects of chronic stress include:

* slowing wound healing11

* increasing genetic mutations12 and decreasing repair.133

* effects on genetic expression which can predispose to problems as diverse as addictive behaviours,14 cardiovascular reactivity,15 depression16 and schizophrenia17.

One study recently demonstrated that a woman placed under considerable stress, particularly during the first trimester of pregnancy, will have a 2.8 times increased risk of her offspring developing schizophrenia18.

 

THE EFFECTS OF STRESS REDUCTION AND MEDITATION

 

The relaxation response or the state of restful or wakeful awareness that occurs in meditation helps to reverse many of the physiological and psychological effects of stress by undoing many of the harmful affects of inappropriate stress. The hypometabolic state of parasympathetic dominance resets the internal metabolic functioning to a state of rest, rather than a constant readiness and perceptual over-reaction, and helps to counter the excessive demands placed on the mind and body by chronic stress. Also the inner silence created in the ‘wakeful or thoughtless awareness’ state of meditation helps to bring about (over time via constant practise) a naturally stress-free environment.

Prior to listing many of the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation and stress reduction (following), some interesting studies on the role and efficacy of meditation in stress reduction (one in a working population and one in laboratory conditions) will be discussed.

The first study looked at the efficacy of meditation and stress reduction techniques for the management of stress in an organisational setting. Employees selected for stress learned either one of two meditation techniques, a progressive relaxation technique, or were put in a waiting list control group. After 5.5 months, both the meditation and progressive relaxation groups showed clinical improvement in self reported symptoms of stress, but only the meditation groups showed significantly more symptom reduction than the control group (no relaxation/meditation training). Also the meditation groups had a 78% compliance rate at 5.5 months with treatment effect seen whether subjects practiced their techniques frequently or occasionally56

Another study looked at stress in a laboratory setting57. Whilst the mechanisms by which stress leads to poor health are largely unknown, high basal cortisol levels produced by chronic stress and low cortisol response to acute stressors has been suggested as a result of studies in animals. This study compared changes in baseline levels and acute responses to laboratory stressors for cortisol (and three other hormones – TSH, GH and testosterone) in a group trained in meditation with a control group that received stress education. After a 4 month intervention, the meditation group displayed decreased basal cortisol and average cortisol levels, which was not seen in the control group. The meditation group also showed increased cortisol responsiveness to acute stressors compared to the control group. The above results supported previous data suggesting that repeated practice of meditation reverses the effects of chronic stress significant for health.

 

PHYSIOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF STRESS REDUCTION

 

In addition to the physiological changes that occur as a result of the hypometabolic state produced by the relaxation response seen in meditation, following are further physiological benefits that have been made evident by research into meditation and stress reduction:

 

  • reduction in serum cholesterol, more than would be accounted for by diet alone19

 

  • lowered serum levels of lipid peroxides, which are associated with free radical damage to cell membranes20

 

  • changes in EEG patterns associated with the state of restful alertness including an increase in alpha and theta waves and EEG coherence (co-ordination of EEG waves).

 

  • a reduction in epileptic seizure frequency21

 

  • changes in neurotransmitter profile including high serotonin production as seen in recovery from depression22

 

  • increased night-time plasma melatonin levels (useful in insomnia and resetting biological rythyms, and has anti-tumour effects)26

 

  • reduced TSH and T3 levels23

 

  • significant decreases in reaction time7 and improved reflex response24

 

  • improvement in perceptiveness of hearing and other senses25

 

  • reduced calcium loss and risk of osteoporosis (probably related to a reduction in cortisol)

 

  • improved immune function. Of note is that stress reduction stimulates an under active immune system due to chronic stress, whilst it reduces an over-active immune system as may be seen in auto-immune and inflammatory conditions. For example, in a study of patients with early stage malignant melanoma27, following a six month stress management intervention (in addition to the usual surgical management) patients displayed significantly better immune function than the control group and, as a consequence, showed a halving of the recurrence and much lower death rates. Alternatively, in a chronic inflammatory disease such as asthma which involves an over-active immune system, patients who received a two week yoga training program demonstrated significantly less attacks per week, improved scores for drug treatment and improved respiratory function tests28.

 

  • excellent benefits as an adjunct to therapy for a variety of illnesses including the following:

* cardiovascular disease. In one study29, patients with cerebrovascular disease (CVD) were divided into either a group which took up 20 minutes of transcendental meditation twice each day, or a group that had a CVD health education program aimed at lowering risk factors and were also encouraged to spend 20 minutes per day in relaxing activities other than meditation. Over a 6-9 month follow up the meditation group showed reductions in arterial wall thickness that would translate to reductions of risk of acute myocardial infarction of 11% and of stroke of 15%. The improvements were not attributable to changes in other cardiovascular risk factors. Alternatively the other (control) group showed a slight advance in their disease (based on arterial wall thickness).

In the Ornish study30 a significant improvement in both coronary heart disease (CHD) and quality of life was shown by an intervention group who were given a comprehensive lifestyle program (including group support, meditation, yoga, a low fat vegetarian diet and moderate exercise) in addition to their medical treatment, when compared to a control group who received conventional medical treatment only (most of whose CHD deteriorated). Ironically the costs of the lifestyle program were vastly less than for bypass surgery despite the results being much superior.

* irritable bowel syndrome31

* cancer – see study on malignant melanoma above27. Another study showed in women with metastatic breast cancer a doubling of survival time from the time of entry into the study if the women were given group support and taught simple relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques as a part of their management32.

* chronic pain33&34

* diabetes35

* fibromyalgia36

* asthma – see study above28. A study performed at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney3 compared the Sahaja yoga meditation technique to a simple relaxation technique as an adjunct to treatment for patients whose asthma was so severe it did not properly respond even to maximum levels of medication. The results showed that while both groups did appear to bring about improvements in the way patients felt, the meditation also showed improvements in the severity of the disease process itself.

 

  • Reduced frequency of menopausal hot flushes. A study found 9 out of 10 women who enrolled in an eight week meditation program reported at least 50% reduction in the frequency of their hot flushes. Six of these women had a 65-70% improvement in their hot flushes, which after eight weeks of meditation treatment, is comparable to that seen in conventional HRT treatment. In addition, standard measures of quality of life and symptom profiles showed similar degrees of improvement3. It should be noted however, that the authors did emphasize that larger, randomised, controlled trials need to be carried out to more conclusively validate the above results.

 

  • Reduced medical care utilization and health care costs. A field study compared 5 years of medical insurance utilization statistics of 2000 regular meditators with 600,000 non-meditators37. The findings suggested that in every disease category (17 in total) there were significant reductions in illness, for example an 87% reduction in heart disease and in diseases for the nervous system, 55% reduction in tumours, and 30% reduction in both mental disorders and all infectious diseases. On the weight of such evidence, insurance companies in the USA and Europe are beginning to offer up to 30% reductions on life insurance premiums for people who practice an approved form of meditation regularly.

 

  • Effects on ageing – increased longevity. One study investigated the effects of meditation process on ageing using a standard test of biological aging (utilising auditory threshold, near point vision, and systolic blood pressure as variables). Results found that the mean biological age for a control group was 2.2 years younger than that for the general population, whilst it was 5.0 and 12.0 years younger for intervention groups of short and long term meditators respectively (mean age of the study population = 53 years). The difference between groups was still significant after covarying for a diet factor. Also, there was a significant correlation between length of time practicing meditation and biological age38.

Another study found higher improvements on variables relating to age related decline for meditation treatment groups than for relaxation treatment or no treatment groups (mean study population age = 81). Also, after 3 years survival rate was much higher for these meditation groups than the other groups39.

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF MEDITATION AND STRESS REDUCTION

 

A study worthy of note in this area attempted to rigorously map the psychological effects of Zen meditation among experienced practitioners. Analyses revealed that in comparison to a control group, experienced meditators are less likely to believe in God, more likely to believe in Inner Wisdom, and more likely to display the relaxation dispositions Mental Quiet, Mental Relaxation, and Timeless/Boundless/Infinite. Pre- and post-session analyses revealed that meditators showed greater increments in the relaxation states Mental Quiet, Love and Thankfulness, as well as reduced Worry55

 

  • decreased anxiety40. One study using a group mindfulness meditation training program on patients diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder, found in 20 of 22 subjects, significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores after a 3 month follow up period; and reduced number of subjects experiencing panic symptoms41. A 3 year follow up analysis of this study also showed maintenance of the gains made in the original study; and ongoing compliance with the meditation practice was also demonstrated in the majority of subjects at 3 years42

 

  • decreased depression and hopelessness41,42,43 – also as indicated by elevation of serotonin.

 

  • as an adjunct to a happiness enhancement program43

 

  • happiness tends to be less conditional1b

 

  • more optimism1b

 

  • greater self awareness and self-actualisation44

 

  • improved coping capabilities45 and better sense of control54

 

  • reduced reliance on drugs, prescribed and non-prescribed, or alcohol46. This study reviewed 24 studies on the benefits of meditation in treating and preventing misuse of chemical substances. Taken together, the studies indicate that meditation ‘simultaneously addresses several factors underlying chemical dependence, providing not only immediate relief from distress but also long-range improvements in well-being, self-esteem, personal empowerment, and other areas of psychophysiological health.’

 

  • improved sleep; more restful, less insomnia, and in time less sleep needed1b – aided by increased night time plasma melatonin levels.

 

  • reduced aggression and criminal tendency47

 

  • improved I.Q. and learning capabilities, including the aged and intellectually impaired1b. One study found that when other factors were held constant (i.e. age, sex, education, and duration of practice of meditation) a few months practice of meditation significantly predicted higher performance on perceptual-motor speed tests and tests on non-verbal intelligence48.

 

  • greater efficiency and output at work1b

 

  • better time management1b

 

  • improved concentration and memory49,50

 

  • reduction in personality disorders and ability to change undesired personality traits51

 

  • reduction in coronary prone behaviour – reduced time urgency and impatience and hostility resulting from enforced waiting52

 

  • reduced anger53

 

  • increased occurrence of spiritual experiences54

 

5 DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEDITATION

 

  1. progressive muscle relaxation.
  2. concentrating on the breath
  3. mantra meditation
  4. mindfulness meditation
  5. visualisation

NB: the first four techniques are aimed at achieving stillness and silence ‘beneath the mental activity’ whereas the fifth is more directly aimed at ‘reconditioning’ the mind.

 

Most meditation techniques will rely on the attention being focused or rested on something and in the process learning to not struggle with, but let go of, unnecessary and distracting mental activity. The quality of your meditation can only be judged based on your own previous experience, and there will be some days where you have very deep meditations where your mind is very still, yet on other days your mind will be cluttered with activity. It is important not to get uptight or try to hard on these days. Simply knowing that the quality of the meditations will fluctuate over time will help you to relax and just observe your thoughts during the busier sessions. Combining different types of meditation in each meditation session can be very effective. For example, on a day where the mind is very calm mindfulness meditation is excellent and often effortless. Yet, if the mind is very busy during a particular session, then it may be easier to focus on the breath or use a mantra on the in breath and out-breath to settle the mind. You can then either try going back to mindfulness meditation, or simply spend the rest of the session focusing on the breath or repeating a mantra.

It is also very useful to lead into a meditation session using a relaxation process such as deep muscle relaxation. This allows you to go to a very deep place before you start practicing mindfulness or mantra repetition.

The different forms of meditation suit different people. Dr Craig Hassed sums it up beautifully by saying that the best form of meditation is the one you practice! As with most skills, the quality of your meditation will increase the more regularly you practice and the longer you have been practicing. As mentioned above, the only reference you need in order to judge the quality of your practice is your own experience. It is important not to get too goal or success oriented with your meditation. Just practice it. If you keep it simple it will improve.

Likewise it is important not to compare your meditation with that of others. As meditation experiences can only be reported by the individual experiencing them, there will be great variation in what is reported. Some people naturally have a lot of visual experiences in their mind during meditation, other will not. That doesn’t matter. Meditation is not about how many ‘experiences’ you may or may not have. The whole point of meditation is in achieving stillness. The more you practice, the more you will achieve this. Profound visions, or insights etc. may occur, but they are not the goal of meditation and it is important not to try to elicit ‘experiences’ every time you meditate, as you will often end up very frustrated. If they occur, good. If they don’t, that’s good also. Just keep practicing and trying to achieve silence and stillness.

When you first learn how to meditate, just sit for whatever time you feel comfortable. 15 minutes twice a day is excellent. You will be able to meditate comfortably for longer periods of time the more you practice. As will all other aspects of meditation let this develop at your own pace.

Regular short pauses at other times during the day can help to reinforce the meditation practice. Even if it is only a couple of deep breaths at your desk, this is often enough to help punctuate the day and help to break the build up of tension and mental activity.

It is also often very useful to meditate with a group occasionally, for example once or twice a week (or whatever you can achieve). Not only is it a very powerful experience, it also gives you exposure to feedback and to hear of different techniques etc. It is important however, as mentioned previously, to only use feedback etc. for your own learning, not as a means of comparison of yourself against others.

 

1 Hassed Dr. C ‘New Frontiers In Medicine. The Body as a Shadow of the Soul’. Hill of Content. Melbourne.2000

2 Neki, J.S., ‘Sahaja: an Indian ideal of mental health.’ Psychiatry 1975; 38(1): 1-10.

3 Manocha R. ‘Researching meditation. Clinical applications in healthcare.’ Diversity 2001; 2(5): 3-10.

4 Ding-E Young J, Taylor E. ‘Meditation as a voluntary hypometabolic state of biological estivation.’ News Physiol Sci 1998; 13: 149-153.

5 Wallace RK, Benson H. ‘A wakeful hypometabolic physiological state.’ Am J Physiol 1971; 221: 795-799.

6  Jevning R, Wallace RK and Biedebach M. ‘The physiology of meditation: a review. A wakeful hypometabolic integrated response.’ Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1992; 16: 415-424.

7 Sudsuang R, Chentanez V, Veluvan K. ‘Effect of Buddhist Meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume and reaction time.’ Physiol Behav 1991; 50(3): 543-8.

4 See page 2

4 See page 2

8 Benson H et al. ‘Three case reports of the metabolic and electroencephalographic changes during advanced Buddhist meditation techniques.’ Behav Med. 1990; 16: 90-95.

9 Cohen S et al. ‘Psychological stress and the common cold.’ New England J Med 1991; 325: 606-612

10 Kiecolt-Glaser J and Glaser R. Cited in Ch. 3, ‘Mind-body Medicine’ from Choice Books.

1 See page 1

11 Kiecolt-Glaser J et al. ‘Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress.’ Lancet 1995; 346: 1194-1196.

12 Fischman H, Pero R, Kelly D. ‘Psychogenic stress induces chromosomal and DNA damage.’ Int J Neurosci. 1996; 84(1-4): 219-227.

13 Kiecolt-Glaser J, Glaser R. ‘Psychoneuro-immunology and immunotoxicology: implications for carcinogenesis.’ Psychosom Med 1999; 61(3): 271-272.

14 Self D, Nestler E. ‘Relapse to drug seeking neural and molecular mechanisms.’ Drug Alcohol Depend 1998; 51(1-2): 49-60

15 Gui, Gutstein W, Jabr S et al. ‘Control of human vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation by sera derived from experimentally stressed individuals.’ Oncol Reports 1998; 5(6): 1471-1474.

16 Lopez J, Chalmers D, Little K et al. ‘Regulation of serotonin 1A, glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid in rat and human hippocampus. Implications for the neurobiology of depression.’ Biol Psychiatry 1998; 43: 547-573.

Evolutionary Biology and Mismatch Diseases

The Story of the Human Body – Evolution, Health and Disease.

Evolutionary biologist, Daniel Lieberman in his book ‘The Story of the Human Body’ suggested that medicine could benefit from a dose of evolution. Whilst evolution may appear irrelevant to medicine at first glance, our body is not engineered like a car; rather it evolved over time with modification. It therefore follows that knowing your body’s evolutionary history helps us understand why your body looks and works as it does, hence why you get sick.

Although scientific fields such as physiology and biochemistry can help us understand the proximate mechanisms that underlie a disease, evolutionary medicine helps us make sense of why the disease occurs in the first place.

Over time, natural selection adapts (matches) organisms to particular environmental conditions and this process occurs over tens of thousands of years. Research suggested that it takes 40,000 to 100,000 years for an environmental change to assimilated (genetically) by the body.

However, as innovation has accelerated, initially since farming began (approximately 2,000 to 10,000 years ago), and especially over the last few hundred years as a result of the industrial and technological revolutions, we have devised or adopted a growing list of novel cultural practices that have conflicting effects on our bodies. Many of these cultural changes have altered interactions between our genes and our environments in ways that contribute to a wide range of health problems known as mismatch diseases – which are defined as diseases that result from our Paleolithic bodies being poorly or inadequately adapted to certain modern behaviours and conditions.

Most mismatch diseases occur when a common stimulus either increases or decreases beyond levels for which the body is adapted, or when the body is not adapted for it at all. Moreover a common characteristic of these diseases, is that they occur from interactions whose cause and effect are not immediate or otherwise obvious. And most of these mismatch diseases are ailments that, as far as we can tell, were rare in our Paleolithic ancestors.

In other words, we get sick because we do what we evolved to do in an environment to which we have not adapted, and then pass these habits and illnesses onto future generations, who also get sick..

Hypothesised mismatch diseases account for a vast majority of deaths in the modern Western World. These are the chronic, insidious onset ailments that include heart disease, cancers (some), stroke, diabetes (Type II), obesity, chronic  respiratory conditions, cavities, apnoea, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ADHD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, IBS/Crohn’s disease, OCD, hypertension Alzheimer’s disease to name a few.

Following this understanding, it makes sense that in preventing and treating these mismatch diseases, we apply what is understood of how we lived and therefore, how our bodies are structured to function ideally.

The aspects of living that most impact our health include:

  • Nutrition
  • How we move and stabilise
  • Breathing
  • Sleep
  • How we think and emote – which influences how we process stress (which subsequently affects all other aspects of living).

This is the primary influence or core philosophy in my approach to treatment and prevention of disease, performance and optimal living. Using what understanding we have of how we performed these aspects of living as we were evolving and applying this in an approach to treatment or living can yield outstanding and life changing results. And, over time, it reduces or eliminates the need or reliance on synthetic or artificial medicines.

Further, the use of accurate and reliable biofeedback to provide information on the efficiency that one is achieving in performing these aspects of living, makes learning much easier and more rapid.

Finally, the use of pure extracts as medicines and supplements, where necessary, provide the perfect balance. As opposed to manufactures and synthetic, or new to nature, pharmaceuticals and supplements, pure extract herbs and nutritional medicines exist in the form that our bodies were exposed to them over millions of years and are therefore far more easily assimilated, or are more bio-available than artificial chemicals and lead to no side effects as a result.

Modalities used to bring about recoveries from these chronic illnesses include:

  1. Mickel Therapy – which addresses imbalance at higher levels – specifically, the hypothalamus which regulates all automatic functions, endocrine function, immune, cognitive function, sleep cycles, neurotransmitters etc.
  2. Nutritional medicine
  3. Breathing retraining
  4. Therapeutic fasting
  5. Herbal medicine

The more we begin to understand how nature has adapted us to live and living our lives in accord with this, and using foods and medicines provided to us by nature throughout our evolutionary history, the more we will shift the focus of medicine from treatment to prevention and optimal living.

Article: Keep Your Mouth Shut To Improve Your Performance

Nose Breathing Improves Athletic Performance

A great article by Annette Verpillot of Posturepro (shared by the ‘Strength Sensei’ website, www,srengthsensei.com), on the importance of nose breathing for athletic performance.

Here is a quote from the article that summarises much of the content.

“It has been known for many years that people with proper occlusion of your mouth have greater endurance and better performance than those with malocclusion. The alignment of the muscles of the jaw and teeth can have a direct impact on a player’s performance and strength, as the upper and lower jaw are what allows you to connect your anterior and posterior muscular chains. Without the jaw it would be impossible to exert strength.”

“The vast majority of health care professionals are unaware of the negative impact of mouth breathing on global health and sports performance. The development of the jaw and all the functions attached to it, nasal breathing, chewing, suction, swallowing and phonation, will either put the body in a state of physiologic health or state of dysfunction.”

In addition, the article also discussed that (and I’ve added to the points they make) when you nose breathe, you:

  • increase energy production in the cells by increased supply of oxygen to the cells – based on the principles of the Bohr Effect.
  • allow the body to function more in a parasympathetic, or relaxed, state – which also improves immune function, digestion, blood flow to the brain and increases serotonin and melatonin levels.
  • increase nitric oxide production which enhances memory and learning, regulates blood pressure, reduces inflammation, improves sleep quality, increases endurance and strength, and improves immune function. 
  • increase the flow of air through your nasal system and sinuses, preventing mucous from getting blocked or clogged.
  • allow the nose and sinuses to do their job so you deliver filtered, disinfected, air conditioned, moist air to the lungs for optimal gas exchange – which is how they like it. 
  • reduce the volume and rate of breathing which, based on the priniciples of the Bohr Effect, optimises delivery of oxygen to the cells for energy production, and also allows for the tubes in the body to be more vasodilated resulting in improved function of the systems these tubes service – the respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, digestive, urinary systems etc.

This article was shared by a close friend and colleague of mine, Ramon Andersson, head kayaking coach at the Western Australian Institute of Sport, who has done a lot of training of optimal breathing both personally and with his athletes. Our subsequent discussion agreed that once you get above anaerobic threshold in intensity of exercise, it is often necessary to use the mouth to facilitate breathing, as the intensity is at a level where it is extremely uncomfortable to nose breathe on it’s own.

The consensus is, from our own trials and with those we have trained, that at this level of intensity, as long as the inhalation is driven by the diaphragm first, before using the chest and shoulders to increase the volume of air inhaled, then the efficiency of breathing is still optimised. That is because using the diaphragm will allow you to use the full lung volume for gas exchange, as well as having greater control of both inhalation and exhalation which then allows you achieve slower breathing rates at certain intensities of exercise. The importance of this is that of all functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system (meaning that they are automatic), breathing, via the diaphragm, is the one function we can consciously control with ease (with training of course). As such, our breathing can influence other bodily functions controlled by our autonomic nervous system – including heart rate, digestion, the immune system, neurotransmitter levels etc.

Getting to the point; being able to breathe at lower breathing rates for a certain level of exercise intensity, will also allow you to have a slower heart rate, greater oxygen delivery to cells for energy production, reduced lactic acid levels, and for you to be more relaxed whilst exercising at this level. In other words, you will be far more efficient, or get more from your body.

If you would like to learn how to breathe more efficiently whilst exercising, and therefore increase your performance potential, contact me at tim@timaltman.com.au or call 0425 739 918.

 

 

 

Video: How To Breathe When Exercising Part 1 – The Nose

Most Of Us Were Incorrectly Taught How To Breathe When Exercising…

A video from my Youtube channel discussing how to correctly breathe when exercising.

Based on the structure of the nose, lungs and the dynamics of how we deliver oxygen from the air in our lungs to our cells via the blood stream for energy production (these dynamics are explained by ‘The Bohr Effect’ which which Danish biochemist, Christian Bohr won a Nobel Prize, and is studied in all mainstream medicine, physiology and biochemistry courses), most of us breathe incorrectly. We certainly do not meet what are the accepted medical diagnostic norms for functional breathing – see also my video ‘Breathing Is Life’ linked here for more information on this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulIZxuEUvw&index=31&list=UUGq51Ggda2H9na1z01KA5zQ

We were also taught incorrectly how to breathe when exercising.

This  video will explain why, and will start to explain how to correct it. Stay tuned for part 2 (The Diaphragm) soon.

If you like this video, subscribe to my Youtube channel, my website, or book in for an appointment.

Or if you are a coach, or trainer, I’d be happy to come and train you and your group/team – tim@timaltman.com.au or 0425 739 918

 

Testimonial: CFS and Anxiety Recovery

Natural Recovery From Anxiety and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Below is a testimonial from a lovely client of mine who made a full or complete recovery from a long term case of debilitating anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

She sent me a letter and some amazing chocolates also as thanks which was very nice – and yummy.

I’ve included part of the letter also as it gives a bit of an idea of the process we follow and the guiding and supporting relationship I play as clients navigate their way back to health. We worked initially via a one on one consultation in person, and then mostly via phone due to simplicity and to eliminate the need for Em to drive too far to consultations. At that stage I worked only in Torquay and Em lived in Melbourne. Nowadays I work both in Torquay and Melbourne.

 

“This is just a little something to show you my gratitude for having you as a guide over the last year. Your phone calls were often a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Not only did your support and insight get me through some rough days, but the tools you have taught me have become part of my everyday routine and have permanently transformed the way I live my life.”

“Looking back to where I was before I started sessions with you, I can’t believe how much has changed. My energy levels are sustained throughout the day, my anxiety attacks have subsided and I deal with my emotions in a much more healthy way. My life has reached a new level of balance that I did not see possible. Using this holistic approach and working from the root level has enabled me to resolve deep issues and create new habits and pathways for myself that I will use for life. For this, I can’t thank you enough Tim.”

Whilst it is very flattering to receive such kind words, I am constantly humbled by both the potency of the techniques I use with clients, and the openness, courage and persistence of many clients in implementing them. It is clients such as Em who deserve the most praise. It is so rewarding to see the transformation in them, and their recovery.

I won’t be falsely modest and say that I don’t need or enjoy some kind words occasionally however 🙂 And chocolates of course!!

If you suffer from anxiety and/or CFS, or know anyone who does, and would like to explore a natural, and permanent recovery, then contact me at tim@timaltman.com.au or 0425 739 918.

Video: How To Breathe Using Your Diaphragm

Diaphragm Breathing Explained

I often get asked by clients, “how do I breathe using my diaphragm?”

Or, “I can’t feel my diaphragm move during breathing.”

Watch this video to see how I answer this common question…..

If you would like to learn more, contact me via tim@timaltman.com.au or 0425 739 918.

And if you like the video, feel free to subscribe to my Youtube Channel (Tim Altman).

Testimonial: Anxiety and PMS Success Naturally

A Natural and Complete Recovery From Anxiety and PMS

Below is a text message received from a client who came to me suffering from anxiety since she was 8 (in her 30’s now), and severe PMS since the birth of her son 3 years ago.

Her doctors tried to prescribe her antidepressants and the pill, but she decided against this path, coming to see me instead.

The treatment protocol I used was 3 fold:

  1. A combination of herbs for PMS to regulate her hormones, addressing relative oestrogen excess.
  2. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises to help regulate her nervous system allowing her to be more relaxed, more often. The carry on effect of this is that it will deal with anxiety as it arises and make it less likely to surface in the long run.
  3. Mickel Therapy to address certain lifestyle and behavioural factors that were putting her hypothalamus in overdrive, or leading her to internalise stress. Given that the hypothalamus regulates endocrine glands, and therefore hormone balance; as well as the automatic nervous system, and neurotransmitter production, the imbalance in this system will contribute to both the anxiety and the PMS at higher levels – in fact, one could argue that this is the ultimate cause and the symptoms are the end result.

Regardless, of what is higher, or the cause, and what are the results, or symptoms, to be more thorough, we addressed both.

I saw her in person the first time and then via Skype/phone from then on (it was easier for her due to having a young child).

The result was fantastic, and achieved in only 3 sessions. I think the text speaks for itself. She gave me permission to use this as a testimonial, so here it is:

“Hi Tim, I’m well thanks….I’m actually doing really good…I don’t have a lot to go over with you tomorrow. My anxiety is at an all time low, my PMS has disappeared, and I’m feeling the best I have in years!. So, would you mind if we touched base in 4 weeks for a catch up?….You’re doing you job too well”   Laura, Keilor

Well, I do say that my job is to ultimately make myself redundant by teaching skills for health and lifestyle that clients continue after treatment. It is a very thorough approach initially, but the rewards are worth it – more comprehensive results and the client is set free. So, I’m happy to have a client reschedule the session for this reason.

You might say that is a terrible business model for me, however it does create a great sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. And that makes one richer than any money can 🙂

Laura was an an absolute pleasure to work with, so she deserrved the results she earned.

 

 

 

How You Deal With Stress is the Number One Contributor to Your Mortality

Our Cortisol Slope, via Our Relationship to Stress, is The Greatest Predictor of Total Mortality

A fascinating video (linked at the bottom) from Food Matters TV during their recent Sleep and Stress Online Event chatting with Dr Alan Chritianson discussing the relationship with stress and mortality and highlighted some findings from the Whitehall II study in the UK, which revealed that for cardiovascular mortality, cigarette smoking was the number one predictor of mortality, with cortisol slope (via our relationship to stress) following closely behind. They also compares these with the usual health metrics such as exercise levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels etc. etc.

Yet, for overall mortality, cortisol slope was the highest predictor of mortality.

The implications for this on how to prioritise your health incentives are huge – Dr Christianson, said these results hit him like a tonne of bricks. You could be a non smoker, non-alcohol drinking, clean food eating, exercise loving health nut, yet if your relationship with stress, or how you deal with stress is dysfunctional, it could make you ill or kill you quicker than a smoking, drinking, junk food eating couch potato who doesn’t get overly stressed too much. That sucks!!

These results basically suggest that, whilst it is important to focus on our nutrition, exercise, alcohol consumption, eliminating cigarette smoking etc. for our health, we should make how we deal with stress our number one priority.

Fortunately, two of the modalities I use with clients focus one exactly that.

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing – of all of the automatic functions that our body performs, breathing is the only one that we can consciously control, with ease. And the same nervous system that regulates our automatic functions (including breathing), the autonomic nervous system (ANS), is also the same nervous system that regulates stress. Moreover, most of us breathe in emergency mode, far too quickly, with an exhale to inhale ratio that is out of whack, so we end up in permanent emergency mode, or ‘fight or flight’ functioning. By learning how to diaphragm breathe in certain rhythms, we can get out of emergency, or ‘fight or flight’ mode, and restore a nervous system that is more restful and relaxed, than it is on the go.
  2. Mickel Therapy – this technique, which is far from therapy as you might think of it, is an ‘action based’ technique that focuses on restoring harmony and optimal function to the ‘hypothalamus’ gland in our brain stem, which is the gland responsible for regulating the function or our autonomic nervous system, and therefore our stress response, all automatic and endocrine gland functions of our body, our immune system, our sleep cycles, neurotransmitter levels and many other bodily functions. It is like the ‘general’ of our bodily functions and it’s job is to maintain homeostasis, or efficient, healthy functioning of our body. It is also like a link between our brain and our body. A healthy relationship with stress requires, at the highest levels of our functioning (in our brain) a healthy relationship between our instinctive, emotional brain (which registers threats to our system and, therefore, stress) and our thinking, or rational brain (which, ideally, interprets the signals of stress sent by the emotional brain, negative emotions, and creates actions to deal with them). This allows us to functionally deal with stress as it arises. However, we ‘modern’ humans have created a huge mismatch between the bodies we have inherited (from our hunter gatherer ancestors) and the culture we have created, and this mismatch leads this healthy relationship in our brain between our instinctive emotions and our thinking, to break down. The result being that rather than dealing with stress functionally, most of us, most of the time, suppress it; and the hypothalamus is the gland in the body that first deals with this suppressed stress, causing it to go into overdrive. The follow on effect of this is that homeostasis within our body is upset and our automatic functions start to go into emergency mode, resulting often in symptoms of acute and/or chronic illness.

Hopefully these explanations may shed some light on why our relationship to stress is the number one predictor of overall mortality.

If you would like to explore using these modalities to improve your relationship with stress, overcome any chronic illness that you believe stress may play a role in (CFS, Fibromylagia, IBS, Anxiety/Depression, Auto-Immune etc), or you would like to explore increasing your quality of life, or the duration between now and your inevitable mortality :-), then contact me via tim@timaltman.com.au or call 0425 739 918.

https://www.facebook.com/foodmatters/videos/10154761999126570/

 

Breathing Interview – ABC Radio National ‘Saturday Afternoon’

Recently I was interviewed on the subject of breathing for health and well-being by a former client, Joel Spry, who overcame IBS and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), on his Saturday afternoon session on ABC Radio National.

We combined breathing retraining techniques and Mickel Therapy to treat Joel, and he applied everything with openness and enthusiasm (along with some trepidation initially, which is expected), and fully earned the full recovery he achieved.

It was a pleasure to work with a client who was very inspiring in his openness and application to his treatment.

And now he is working on national radio!! Woohoo.

No stopping Joel now.

Here is the interview..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsDO1umJLfA&spfreload=10

Research: “The Rhythm of Breathing Affects Memory and Fear”.

Rhythm of Breathing Affects Memory and Fear

A new study (linked) reports the rhythm of your breathing can influence neural activity that enhances memory recall and emotional judgement.

http://neurosciencenews.com/memory-fear-breathing-5699/

And the research on the positive benefits of functional breathing for our health keeps piling up. Yet, whilst most of us are unaware, pretty much all of us do no breathe functionally. We over breathe – both in rate and volume.

I’d like to focus on what was suggested about the findings from the study in the linked article.

“The findings imply that rapid breathing may confer an advantage when someone is in a dangerous situation, Zelano said.

 

If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” Zelano said. “As a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state. Thus, our body’s innate response to fear with faster breathing could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”

This is a great advantage when you are in a dangerous or emergency situation, yet, in the modern world, most of us are not.

However most of us breathe far too rapidly and with far too much volume (we over breathe), which the study points out is our body’s instinctive, and advantageous, response to an emergency or dangerous state. This implies that the way we now breathe, as a result of a mismatch between the body we inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and the culture we live in, has us perpetually in this innate, or instinctive, emergency mode neurologically (or as far as our brain is concerned), which is a considerable disadvantage as we are not in emergency situations often at all.

The metabolic impact on our health of being permanently in emergency mode (fight or flight) or sympathetic nervous system dominance is huge. My blog linked goes into detail about this..

Email me at tim@timaltman.com.au or call 0425 739 918 if you want to learn how to get out of emergency mode.