The world needs good yoga teachers. I’ve been teaching yoga as a career for over 16 years and have logged more than 20,000 teaching hours. I will forever be a student both of yoga and the practice of teaching yoga and I suppose that I’ll always be learning how to be more effective.
Yet, through the trial and error of my own teaching, teaching dozens of teacher training programs, and by mentoring many other yoga teachers, I’ve learned volumes about what makes the difference between a so-so or less effective teacher and what makes a great teacher.
Here are three easy tools that I’ve seen help several teachers raise their effectiveness from so-so, to excellent. Try them on and see if they won’t immediately improve your teaching by helping your students respond to you better.
#1 Be Authentic
Great teachers don’t try to teach like their teachers or yoga idols, they integrate what they’ve learned and then teach from their own hearts. Being authentic in your teaching speaks to the yoga principle of Satya or Truth. If you are truthful in your teaching, your best friends and family will still recognize you while you’re teaching yoga. Know who you are and teach as that person
And for Ganesh’s sake, ditch the overly-calm “Yoga Teacher” persona . . . (I pause to retch). And if that’s the real way you talk, then you probably have a lucrative career recording the “Thank you for holding” message for banks. But if you’re not being you, your students will see through it before your first OM.
Authenticity wins over experience every time. Try starting class with what’s real for you in the moment. “Ok! I’m kinda new at this so I’m nervous as hell but I’m excited to be here so I’ll try to stay grounded in my body during class as I’m inviting you to do likewise.” Boom! If I were a student in a class and my teacher started out with that kind of honesty, they would instantly have my buy-in, despite their lack of experience.
#2 Look people in the face
Teaching yoga is a special opportunity to connect to people and connect them to themselves. Perhaps the most simple and direct way to connect to people is to look them in the face. As a yoga teacher, think of yourself as a conductor leading an orchestra which is celebrating breath and movement. Imagine an orchestra conductor, trying to unite the 100+ individual members of the orchestra into one collective voice but who couldn’t look the orchestra members in the face, or who swung their baton only toward the floor or the wall, or stood behind the musicians and directed only to people’s back. It just wouldn’t work.
It’s important for the teacher to get off the mat and own the space of the room—it’s part of the complex process of creating and managing the energy of the container. And as you move around the room, your students will both hear and feel your words more powerfully if you speak to their faces, even if they aren’t looking at you. Connection is an important reason for teaching yoga and looking people in the face makes that connection happen instantly.
#3 Speak to What People are Doing Well
Too often, teachers walk around like “Pose Police,” eager to write up asana infractions. Sure, teachers must make suggestions and corrections, but it’s more powerful and easier to connect to your students if you notice what’s happening well. One of your roles as a teacher is to witness. If you’re only witnessing the things that could be improved, it’s like a relationship partner who only mentions the things that bother them. No thanks!
Try using phrases like, “I notice how well everybody is breathing in class, that’s so important.” or “I can tell how present everybody is. Wow!” or “Great job with relaxing your neck in down dog.” For the few people who maybe could use a correction, they will likely take the cue from what you appreciate about the pose rather than only spouting off things to fix. People will leave class feeling like they are making progress in their practice and like you’re a teacher who sees them. You’ll earn their trust and their hearts.
Teaching yoga is a practice just like doing yoga. Try employing these few simple tools and notice how much more engaged you are as a teacher and how much more your students respond to you.
If you’re interested in an in-depth mentor program that gives you several tools and helps leverage your personal gifts into becoming a better teacher and helping you make a living teaching yoga, please check out my Teacher Mentor Program.
Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in New York City and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son.
Find Out Why Empaths Have Stomach And Digestive Issues
Those who are natural empaths tend to experience issues with their stomachs and digestive symptoms more than those who do not have strong empathic feelings. If you experience frequent physical challenges in your stomach and or digestive system, then you too may be an empath.
Empaths are individuals who are highly sensitive to the people and the energy in their environments. Typically an empath “feels” their surroundings through their solar plexus chakra. It’s as if their stomach area is a sponge, soaking up the feelings and thoughts of the people around them. There is no filter for them as they absorb other people’s worries, fears and anxieties. While those who spend a good amount of time around empaths may feel better, the empath typically feels exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. Over time they may experience the physical symptoms of an out of whack solar plexus.
Difficulties with elimination
What is an empath to do? To begin with, it is always helpful to be aware of your environment. If you find yourself in a toxic environment it’s imperative that you switch gears and do what is necessary to keep the influences of others at a healthy distance.
What To Do
Change the subject
Leave the room or dwelling
Cover your solar plexus with your hands and or an object
Visualize yourself in a bubble of white light
Emotionally disengage and not allow your emotions to be triggered
If you have been experiencing a few of these physical symptoms, it could be that you are an empath and it would be best for you to create healthier boundaries with others to help keep your mind, body and spirit in tip top shape.
Giving Up Alcohol Increases Your Happiness and Long-Term Health
Giving up alcohol is easy to do once you realize it does nothing for you, except deteriorate your health and happiness. Giving up alcohol is a great way to increase your wellbeing and quality of life.
Make No Mistake…Alcohol Is Systematically Addicting
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” By Carl Jung.
A few days ago, I read an article (blasted on social media) stating that one glass of wine provides the same benefits as one hour of exercise…what? It’s easy to look back 30 years from now and frown upon all the cigarette smokers as we now understand that cigarettes never did anything for us. We now wonder how the consumption of cigarettes ever grew as vastly as it did in the 1960s.
Alcohol has greater reinforcement – and is more addictive – than Caffeine, Nicotine, and Marijuana. Alcohol is almost as addictive as Heroin! If you were given the opportunity to try a substance slightly less addictive than Heroin, would you do it? Unfortunately, most people have.
From an early age, we are bombarded with alcohol advertising campaigns. An average of $2 billion dollars are spent each year by the beverage industry to systematically create the illusion that we are somehow happier and safer when consuming a product that causes stomach ulcers, nerve damage, liver damage, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and cancer. Everywhere we go, our “friends” encourage us to have a drink to wind down, release stress, or enjoy ourselves.
It’s important to ask yourself, “am I an alcoholic” or ”am I just a social drinker”? The difference sometimes is quite small, and people sometimes think they are being social when in fact they are addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol Destroys Your Mental & Physical Health
Giving Up Alcohol – Male Drinking
I have enjoyed working in regional hospitals, assisted living facilities, and mental health facilities. Along the way, I have built lasting relationships with clients and learned about numerous lifestyle choices which make a direct impact on our long-term health. And one of the fastest deterioration of our physical and mental health is alcohol use.
Drinking provides NO benefits at all. Once you become a non-drinker, you will give up nothing; just get rid of a disease. We all know that alcohol wastes your liver (no pun intended), but it also damages the body’s DNA, proteins, and impairs your ability to break down key nutrients.
As a Registered Nurse, I also see first-hand, on a daily basis, the decrease in patient’s quality of lives after suffering from a stroke. Drinker experience a higher risk of high blood pressure, which leads to strokes and heart attacks. Drinkers suffer from higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, an exponentially increasing illness in our society. Drinking increase the risk of diabetes and chronic inflammation of the human pancreas. Finally, nerve damage leading to chronic pain throughout the body (ever had sciatica on Mondays?) and the higher risk of 7 types of cancers are all aftereffects of alcohol use.
Happier People Drink Less Alcohol
Giving Up Alcohol – Female Drinking
“Avoid using cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs as alternatives to being an interesting person.” By Marilyn vos Savant.
As a young teenager, you never drank alcohol and consequently felt secure, happy, and healthy. It was only when we were systematically brainwashed by a $90 billion dollar industry, and given the false illusion that alcohol (a depressant) was needed to enjoy ourselves, that we began drinking. Before that time, we never wanted to drink in the first place.
Giving up alcohol gives you relaxation, confidence and self-esteem. Giving up alcohol from your life is a gift and provides the ability to be more aware of your surroundings and the beautiful things around you. As a non-drinker, you will be confident in your ability to stay in control and no longer enslaved to an addictive poison.
Alcohol can never give you any genuine pleasure. As a matter of fact, it does nothing for you. Slowly poisoning your body takes away the most important thing in your life – your health and happiness. Understanding this will allow you to easily become a non-drinker without the constant use of willpower (the willpower method is a less effective strategy).
Giving Up Alcohol Today
As a non-drinker, you will give up the hangovers, loss of control, worry about damage to your body, and stigma of being controlled by alcohol and its expenses. As a non-drinker, you will be free and your body will also be delighted to be free of the systematic position that all drinkers suffer for years.
“I think once I made up my mind that I was allergic to alcohol, and that’s what I learned, it made sense to me. And I think it was kind of pointed out that you know if you were allergic to strawberries, you wouldn’t eat strawberries. And that made sense to me.” By Betty Ford.
As you remain a non-drinker, the thoughts of drinking will fade fast like a dream fades upon awakening. You will reflect upon all the advantages of being a non-drinker – greater security, stability, happiness, the quality and enjoyment of your future life. Giving up alcohol will free your mind, body, and spirit.
Audrey Lefebvre, RN is a holistic lifestyle nurse in Florida, and has been practicing holistic healthcare and natural medicine for the past 5 years. She has experience with organic healthcare regimens, natural medicine, and Assisted Living. Audrey loves to care for the elderly and gives back to our community. On her spare time, she blogs about lifestyle regimens, healthy living, and her pet-dog Snooki. For more information on Audrey Lefebvre and Assisted Living, please visit her website at audreythenurse.com or assistedliving-tampa.com.
Human Beings vs Human Doings: Do You Suffer From The Disease Of Being Busy?
I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”
Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”
The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.
And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.
After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”
How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?
Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?
What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?
How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?
Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?
This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.
Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.
For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.
Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.
One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.
The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.
The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.
Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.
I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and face-paced sports.
I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.
We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.
W. B. Yeats once wrote:
“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”
How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?
Rather than expressing our emotions, we tend to stuff them down with food, which our bodies translate as comfort and fulfillment.
Scientific research shows that when people have difficulty identifying the emotion they’re experiencing and ways to deal with it, they’re more prone to binge eating. The more readily we can express our emotions, the healthier our bodies, hearts and minds will be.
Cravings are a window to your inner landscape. By deciphering the real meaning of your cravings, you can get insight into what’s truly gnawing at you from within. These are some patterns I’ve noticed based on my 20 years of working as a health expert.
Sweet cravings are probably the most frequent craving people report to me. These people are often working too long and hard, moving from one to-do list item to another and feeling exhausted.
The real reason for this craving is they aren’t experiencing enough joy — it’s evaporated into their daily grind.
Alternative: Find an activity you enjoy and can indulge in for 30 minutes per day. Try taking a walk in the park, reading a good book, or treating yourself to a foot massage. Once you begin to let yourself have joy in your life, you won’t be on the hunt for those sweet foods to do the trick.
Those who like spicy food, even to the point at which their eyes start tearing, are most likely looking for intensity and action in their lives.
They love to be on the go — going to movies, traveling to distant countries, exploring new restaurants. When they haven’t made the time to do these things, spicy food becomes the option to “get them going”.
Alternative: What are small steps that you can change to give you the shift you need to feel “alive”? Trying stepping out there and taking a dance class that you haven’t tried before, like Zumba, or even venturing out to the latest blockbuster action movie!
When we eat lots of salt, we move the water in our bodies. Salt is like a magnet for movement and flow, which is important for helping people to “go with the flow” of life and relax.
Alternative: Find ways that you can sink into the moments of life and reflect. Try deep breathing, running, or meditating. You may even want to try watercolor painting — using the water to flow with your creativity!
I sit on my green cushion resting on my yellow rug that covers the honey-wood floor in the front room of my rented space, and close my eyes to meditate. A single thread of incense smoke, sweet and pervasive, rises as if pulled heavenward by some unseen force, like a wispy prayer into the ether. Two large candles on my alter burn a soft glow as they sit like sentinels on either side of the frantic list I’ve placed there, my list of nerves and worries, big hopes and sterile to-dos. I like to write it all down and put it on the alter. The list seems to be the CliffsNotes version of a prayer I hope lifts upward, like the smoke. Plus, once I’ve written it down, maybe it will free up my mind to not think for a while and just be present.
I am about eye level to one of the several windows in this room-that is, if my eyes were open. But they are not. I’m trying to be present. As I sit, I hear traffic pass like waves, the current of the arteries of our city. I hear a neighbor in the laundry room directly below me, stuffing wet laundry with heavy thuds into the dryer and then listen as the dryer buzzes to life and starts to breathe. Dakota, the German shepherd who lives in the apartment above me, groans and barks excitedly as the pizza deliverer searches for apartment number 1, not mine.
No, I don’t live in a cave in Tibet. Nor would I want t0–harder for the pizza delivery guys to find. These city distractions are not distractions at all but merely the environment in which I choose to live. And I guess that’s the point, right? Many of us live in busy places and despite loud laundry, neighbors, barking dogs, and cars, one can find peace in the gentle hum of a city.
When I visit my family in New York, I open the window from the apartment in the high-rise and listen to the sounds of the city, one long, sustained exhale. I actually find it quite peaceful. Part of the quest for peace involves creating a comfortable tolerance for things that would otherwise create aversion. We don’t have to love them, but with many things that are part of our everyday environment, we can simply be present in the moment and witness them. We are but one cell in this larger being, the community, the city, the world. We can circulate and find purpose and stillness in that motion.
Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in Salt Lake City, Utah and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son.
Easy ZZZ’s: How to Tune Out the Noise of the Day For Optimal Rest
Last week I trekked over 1700 miles cross-country to move from Chicago to Mesa, Arizona and let me tell ya…moving in your mid 30’s is nothing like the fun and whimsical, “fit what you can in the back of your Jeep” moves I remember in my 20’s.
With all the expected stresses of relocating, and not to mention the time-zone change, my body, mind and spirit have been in quite the whirlwind for the past week. The energy here is higher, yet calmer. I feel more grounded amidst living out of boxes and not knowing where any of my shit is.
Needless to say, my sleeping schedule has been a been weary since the move and I’ve put into action a little ditty that has really helped me get back into a healthy sleep pattern and turn off all the noise of the day telling me to unpack just one more box or asking if I remembered to call the gas company.
I first stopped what I was doing and just took a huge breath; soaking in the moment and appreciating the beauty all around me. I had wanted to move back to Arizona for so long and here I am…I did it! Just taking a moment to look back on how far I’ve come with putting a simple intention in motion proves to me once again the power of manifesting from the heart-space.
So, I’d recommend breath-work in times of stress or when you can’t seem to get your mind to slow down or stop racing. This is particularly helpful when you lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. Simply taking deep breaths and consciously listening to each breath proactively calms the mind and gives it something soothing to focus on; so it stops with the annoying, random racing thoughts that keep you up at night.
The next day after having that awesome “I’m home” moment, I couldn’t find my favorite crystal cluster (it’s HUGE, too!) and I then swore somehow, someway it was left behind for me to never see it again. I was literally freaking out inside and feeling quite anxious. So, I went and sat out on my patio and meditated on it. I asked the Universe where the heck my crystal was! 🙂 I gave myself space to get away from the anxiety of “loss” and was then able to create a space of “clarity”.
After about 7 minutes of meditation or so, I remembered that I had put it inside of a shoebox, wrapped securely in a kitchen towel. I had already placed that particular shoebox in the closet the day before! I opened the box, un-wrapped my crystal and immediately started laughing hysterically at myself! (Hey, you have to, right?) I then thanked the Universe for putting up with my shenanigans.
Needless to say, meditation is an incredible way to calm the mind and clear away the noise of the day that we all tend to carry well into the late evening. With regular practice, the mind will naturally get into the rhythm of starting to calm down and meditation will get easier for you. It is not about having NO thoughts; it’s about letting those thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky and coming back to your calm center.
The “crystal incident” occured about 3 or 4 days ago, and now that I’m about 70% unpacked and am starting to be able to actually enjoy my new place, I’ve just been FLOODED with a sense of gratitude! It’s literally brought tears to my eyes more than once how appreciative I am for my life and where I am. I look back and see how very far that I’ve come and I’m overcome with a feeling of joy for hanging in there and never giving up on myself!
Giving thanks for all that we have can be the most empowering feeling in the Universe. I can think of nothing else that connects you to a more wondrous sense of all-knowing, all-loving, Universal acceptance than to truly be thankful for your life; the good and the bad…and to always look at things through eyes of wonder and trust, expecting nothing, but knowing that hardships will always contain lessons and will thus reward you with strength and integrity. The act of taking charge of the moment to tell your brain, “No! I want to be appreciative, not worry-some!” will clear away a TON of noise from your day!
I sense that this is the beginning of a new chapter in my life and I’m also grateful to get to share that fact with all of you. Thank you for your continued awesomeness and for coming along with me on my journey this day and every Saturday. Much love to you all. XoxoX
Tamara Rant is a Co-Editor/Writer for CLN as well as a Licensed Reiki Master, heart-centered Graphic Designer and a progressive voice in social media activism & awareness. She is an avid lover of all things Quantum Physics and Spirituality. Connect with Tamara by visiting Prana Paws/Healing Hearts Reiki or go to RantDesignMedia.com
Tamara posts new original articles to CLN every Saturday.
Some of the Most Powerful Energy Healing Techniques Are Already in Our Toolbox!
I’ve been a student and practitioner of energy healing for several years. I’ve learned so many different techniques and modalities that I’ve lost count. I love both giving energy healing and receiving it. A session with a trustworthy healer can absolutely help shift energies and guide us to living a more balanced life.
But lately, I’ve come to realize that some of the most powerful energy healing techniques are already in our toolbox, just waiting for us to dig in.
Let me start at the top of my own list. Singing and dancing! Oh, yeah. I mean, what gets energy flowing and activating the chakras better than these two activities?
I recently wrote about a life-changing experience I had that involved opening my mouth and singing in front of a group of strangers. Not only did I conquer a lifelong fear, but I know for sure that my chakras were jumping with joy – especially chakra #5 (the throat chakra).
It was sound healing at its best.
I used to also be terrified of dancing in front of other people. I was the person hiding in the bathroom when the band started to play at weddings. But one day (in my 50’s!) I wandered into a movement class at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, and just like the singing experience, my fear of dancing was miraculously wiped away.
Every morning, I put on my noise-cancelling headphones (best money ever spent) and play the Dance Playlist on my iPod. I sing, I dance, I skip, I hula hoop, I jump on my mini-trampoline. Talk about moving Prana in the body!
This clears my energy and makes my chakras hum better than anything else I do. If you pay attention, you can feel the energy shift.
It never fails to wash away sadness, anxiety, fear, or anything else that’s keeping me stuck. Sometimes it releases so much that I’m crying and laughing at the same time.
And when afternoon rolls around and I need a pick-me-up, I launch right back into my routine.
I went through a period in my life where silence was golden. I didn’t want to listen to music, let alone dance to it. I craved silence and stillness. I’m grateful that I honored this and also grateful that I moved through it. Because singing and dancing can be so much fun!
Now, I have a healthy balance of silence and song, stillness and movement. It’s a lovely way to move through my day.
My trusty bike is another powerful energy healing tool for me. I hop on it and BAM! creativity starts to flow. Some of my best ideas have been birthed while riding my old pink bike.
So, when you’re feeling stuck, stagnant, or weighted down, reach into your own toolbox and know that the most powerful healing can be accessed by your own actions.
What’s in your personal energy healing toolbox? Please share!
Much love, Barbara
About the Author
Barbara Sinclair is a weekly Writer for CLN. She is an artist and holistic health practitioner with a passion for Ayurveda, the ancient mind/body system of health and longevity. Barbara was able to heal herself from years of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, by adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle. You can learn more about her by visiting her website barbarasinclair.com. Barbara posts a new article every Wednesday morning on CLN. To read her former articles, click here.
Please note: Any content written by Barbara Sinclair for Conscious Life News is provided for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your professional healthcare providers before beginning any new treatment. It is your responsibility to research the accuracy, completeness, and usefulness of all opinions, services, and other information found on this site. Barbara Sinclair or Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequence resulting directly or indirectly from any action or inaction you take based on the information found on or material linked to on this site. Everyone’s body chemistry is different and what works for one, may not work for another. Please take care whenever making changes regarding your health. Though all information is reviewed carefully, Barbara Sinclair or Conscious Life News cannot guarantee, or take responsibility for, the effectiveness of the ideas discussed on this site.
Integrative Health: Learn The Mind-Body Benefits Of Yoga
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness,1 16 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and it is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S.2
The diagnosis of major depressive disorder is more than feeling sad. Diagnosis requires a medical evaluation, and symptoms include both physical and cognitive functional changes.3 However this number pales to the number of people who suffer any form of depression.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 24 million people experience some form of depression, costing over $210 billion in 2010.4 The financial burden included the cost of lost work, direct and indirect medical costs and suicide-related costs.
If not effectively treated, depression may become a chronic condition. While antidepressant medications are commonly prescribed, they come with a list of side effects that may be dangerous, including low blood pressure, muscle cramps, aggression, confusion and decreased vision.5,6
Not treating depression is also dangerous to your health. Before stopping antidepressants you may have already be prescribed, please talk with your physician.
Recent research demonstrates positive results in the treatment of depression using yoga. You may incorporate yoga with any current medication regimen. This may help to reduce the need for medication to treat depression.
Yoga Intervention May Ease Depression
Unfortunately, antidepressant medications not only come with a list of significant side effects, but 40 percent of individuals with major depressive disorder treated with antidepressants do not achieve full remission.7
In an evaluation of clinical trials, researchers found 34 percent of participants did not achieve full remission when they chose to change antidepressant medications.
In a recent study,8 researchers studied the effect of Iyengar yoga classes on participants who suffered from depression. The study split 30 people between 18 and 64 years into two groups.
Both groups contained individuals who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder and were either not taking medication or had been on the same medication for three months.9
One group was assigned to take a 90-minute yoga class three times a week, plus participate in a 30-minute session at home four times a week. The second group participated in two 90-minute classes and three 30-minute at home sessions.10
After three months both groups experienced a reduction in symptoms by at least 50 percent,11 with no differences in compliance.12
Not surprisingly, the group who participated seven days a week experienced the greatest reduction in symptoms. Many of the participants mentioned the larger time commitment was challenging, which influenced the researchers to recommend two classes each week.
According to Dr. Chris Streeter, study author, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, yoga has the advantage of avoiding side effects from drug treatments. He commented:
“While most pharmacologic treatment for depression target monoamine systems, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, this intervention targets the parasympathetic and gamma aminobutyric acid system and provides a new avenue for treatment.”
Benefits of Yoga in Treatment of Depression
In this study, researchers advised the participants to use a specific form of yoga that focuses on detail and precise alignment of posture combined with deep breathing.13
Prior studies using other forms of yoga for treatment of depression have had positive results. Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, reviewed the findings and commented:
“The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of ‘feel good’ brain chemicals … [and may] reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.
It has been demonstrated that ‘mindful’ movement — conscious awareness — has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system.”
The findings from the current study corroborate findings from a 2016 study from the University of Pennsylvania,14 in which researchers found participants who suffered from depression found significant relief using yoga. The patients in that study had an inadequate response to antidepressant medications.
One of the goals of the study from Boston University was to identify a “dose-response relationship” and develop a standard against which future studies could be established to evaluate the efficacy of incorporating yoga and other types of controlled breathing exercises into the treatment protocols for depression.
Major Depressive Disorder May Have a High Cost
Many people affected by depression often fail to consult a physician or seek help to confirm their illness and get treatment. This may be a result of societal pressure to deny mental health issues, or it may be the result poor access to care. When depression goes untreated, it can be both debilitating and life threatening.
Depression may interfere with personal and work relationships, reduce work or academic performance and may affect your physical health as well.
Depression reduces your ability to care for yourself properly and make adequate decisions about your health, including nutrition and sleep. Imbalances in nutrition, weight fluctuations and poor sleep habits may lead to compromised immune function.15
Specific medical conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke are linked to a higher risk of major depressive disorder. Depression may also lead to drug or alcohol abuse.16
Up to 70 percent of people who commit suicide are clinically depressed,17 and it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of people who suffer from thoughts of suicide experience a combination of depression and substance abuse.18 Yoga focuses on bringing harmony between your mind and your body.
The origins of yoga are believed to have existed before many other belief systems were born.19 Today it is commonly used as a form of therapy or exercise to achieve better health and greater fitness. Yoga has spread throughout the world through the teachings of yoga masters and personalities, including Iyengar yoga.
Sixteen million people in just the U.S. practice yoga every year.20 The principles of all yoga practices include relaxation, breathing, diet, exercise and meditation, which people use to help reduce stress, improve fitness and gain clarity.21
There are several different types of yoga and within each type teachers may identify with a style, tradition or lineage.22
Stress Reduction Is Important for the Treatment of Depression
Stress has an impact on your mental and physical health. For instance, a study led by Massachusetts General’s Institute of Technology found patients who regularly tried to relax and achieve a relaxation response had a 43 percent decrease in their use of the healthcare system.23 The researchers found those with gastrointestinal disorders, neurological disease, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders had the most dramatic reductions.
The researchers used a patient group of over 4,400 who they examined over a two-year period. They compared those against more than 13,000 people who did not participate in the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program. Relaxation and the reduction of a stress response improved the health of the participants.
Chronic stress may trigger depression in some people and resilience in others. One study found 20 percent of mice who were repeatedly exposed to stress became depressed.24 The mice who suffered more depression also had greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of their brain. The mice who didn’t have depressive symptoms also didn’t have changes in their brain.
This study builds on previous studies25 that demonstrate stress is related to depression. Initially stress has a direct effect on your mood and sleep habits, which may lead to cognitive changes such as decreased concentration. However, it is the indirect effects that may trigger depression.26
These indirect effects may include a disruption in healthy coping strategies, disrupted relationships that may have offered support, taking on unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol or drugs, and disrupted routines. Reducing stress through deep breathing exercises and yoga may have a significant impact on preventing depressive symptoms.
Yoga Has a History of Improving Mental and Physical Health
Practicing yoga improves both your physical and mental health. Past studies have demonstrated yoga improves back pain, flexibility and core strength,27 without side effects or drug interactions. Yoga has also had some limited success in management of cancer related symptoms.28
Aside from core strength and flexibility, the greatest improvements are seen in decreased stress, anxiety and improved mood with the practice of yoga. Research has linked these improvements to changes in gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in your central nervous system. GABA is responsible for blocking nerve impulses, telling the adjoining nerve cells not to “fire” or send an impulse.
Without GABA your nerve cells would fire frequently and easily, triggering anxiety disorders, seizures and conditions such as addiction, headache and cognitive impairments.29 Research has identified the practice of yoga as associated with an increase in thalamic GABA levels.30 They found using yoga postures would create a positive correlation between increased GABA and improvements in mood and reduction in anxiety. They concluded:31
“Given that pharmacologic agents that increase the activity of the GABA system are prescribed to improve mood and decrease anxiety, the reported correlations are in the expected direction. The possible role of GABA in mediating the beneficial effects of yoga on mood and anxiety warrants further study.”
Improvements in stress response, elevated mood and function and a possible role in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder are also attributed through scientific study to the use of yoga poses and breathing.32 Yoga also made a significant difference in depression of addicts going through rehabilitation.33
Tips to Beating Depression With Yoga and Other Mind-Body Techniques
Addressing the issue of clinical depression is critical to your health. While medications may reduce the immediate sadness for a short time, side effects and poor long-term results make opting for natural choices a much better option for your health and wellness. Here are several ways to address your mind-body connection to make a positive change in your mental health:34
Follow the recommendations of the study from Boston University and do two to three yoga sessions a week and practice at home when you don’t go to class. Focus on yoga classes that stress controlled breathing techniques and end your practice with a period of relaxation and deep breathing.
Studies show there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. There’s also a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.
EFT is a form of psychological acupressure. Gentle tapping with the fingertips is used to transfer kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem and voice positive affirmations.
This works to clear the “short-circuit” — the emotional block — from your body’s bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.
The practice of yoga incorporates the use of mindful breathing, or staying in the present moment. Research using mindfulness skills listening to music enabled participants in the study to have greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.35 The practice also strengthened the bond between client and therapist.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT has been used successfully to treat depression,36 and is recommended for depression triggered by the stress of moving from one culture and country to another.37 In this case, the therapy assumes mood is related to the pattern of thought. CBT attempts to change mood and reverse depression by directing thought patterns.
Biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation may also help to reduce stress levels and therefore a primary environmental trigger for depression.
In biofeedback, electrical sensors attached to your skin allow you to monitor your biological changes, such as heart rate, and this feedback can help you achieve a deeper state of relaxation. It can also teach you to control your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension through your mind.
Biofeedback is commonly used in the treatment of stress related conditions such as migraine and tension headaches, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation may achieve the same level of stress reduction through tensing and relaxing all the major muscle groups from head to toe, thereby helping you to recognize muscle tension.
Visualization and guided imagery have been used for decades by elite athletes prior to an event, successful business people, and cancer patients — all to achieve better results through convincing your mind you have already achieved successful results.38,39 Similar success has been found in people with depression.40
Neurostructural Integration (NST)
This innovative practice originated in Australia where Michael Nixon Levy developed a technique of using a series of gentle moves on specific muscles at precise points to create an energy flow and vibrations between the points. Theoretically, triggering your autonomic nervous system, your body communicates better with itself and balances tissues, muscles and organs.
The primary objective is to remove pain and dysfunctional physiological conditions by restoring the structural integrity of the body. In essence, NST provides your body with an opportunity to reintegrate on many levels, and thus return to and maintain normal homeostatic limits on a daily basis.
NST is done with a light touch and can be done through clothing. There are pauses between sets of moves to allow your body to assimilate the energy and vibrations. To learn more, please review the article, “Gentle Hands Can Restore Your Health.”
Manifesting love is a simple thing to do if you know how to do it. But what are the right steps? How to manifest love doing the right things?
I was once asking myself these questions… I had a downswing in my romantic life and for a longer period (few years…) I was literally repelled towards women. That happened after my heart was broken and I was really lost – I didn’t know what to do. However, there was one very important thing that was probably the #1 reason why today I’m living the life of my dreams when it comes to my romantic relationships – and that is – I NEVER for a second lost my hope and belief that true love indeed exists and that I WILL find my soul mate!
I’ll write about my personal story perhaps in some other article – it’s actually one of the most amazing love stories you’ll ever hear about! But more about that at later…
Manifesting love seems to be a problem for so many people, and that’s exactly why I wrote this article, to give you the tools, the methods, the blueprint – and to let you know that you CAN have anything you want…
How to attract the ideal partner for you? How to manifest love the right way? How to utilize the power of the Law of attraction and the almighty, all-knowing, and all-powerful Universe?
Keep reading until the end of this article and you’ll have all the answers to all of these and many more questions…
Indeed, life is a fleeting thing and as years pass, we realize that new responsibilities and obligations are waiting for us. We need to start a family, have kids and watch them grow. I believe that this is, or at least it should be, a top priority for every person on this planet.
The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.
But what you really need to pay special attention to is the “tone” of your vagus nerve. Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.
Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa (5).
What’s interesting is that studies have even shown that vagal tone is passed on from mother to child. Mothers who are depressed, anxious and angry during their pregnancy have lower vagal activity. And once they give birth to their child, the newborn also has low vagal activity and low dopamine and serotonin levels (1-3).
Your vagal tone can be measured by tracking certain biological processes such as your heart rate, your breathing rate, and your heart rate variability (HRV).
When your heart rate variability (HRV) is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other (53-55).
You can increase your HRV by using the EmWave2 device.
Some researchers actually use the EmWave2 to measure vagal tone in their studies.
If you’re vagal tone is low, don’t worry – you can take steps to increase it by stimulating your vagus nerve. This will allow you to more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of your brain and mental illness.
I’ve seen it firsthand with a number of clients.
Stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing vagal tone has been shown to help treat a wide variety of brain and mental health conditions, including:
Heroin seeking behaviour
Mood disorders in the elderly
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Severe mental diseases
Traumatic brain injury
Chronic fatigue syndrome
For people with treatment-resistant depression, the FDA has even approved a surgically-implanted device that periodically stimulates the vagus nerve. And it works (6-9).
But you don’t need to go down that route.
You can enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation naturally by following these 13 steps.
Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and activate cholinergic neurons through vagus nerve pathways (10).
Researchers have also found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve (11).
I often take cold showers and go outside in cold temperatures with minimal clothing.
Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel. Then work your way up to longer periods of time.
It’s painful to do, but the lingering effects are worth it.
You can also ease yourself into it by simply sticking your face in ice cold water.
2. Deep and Slow Breathing
Deep and slow breathing is another way to stimulate your vagus nerve.
It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and increase the parasympathetic system by activating the vagus nerve (51-52).
Most people take about 10 to 14 breaths each minute. Taking about 6 breaths over the course of a minute is a great way to relieve stress. You should breathe in deeply from your diaphragm. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation.
The best way to know if you’re on the right track is by using the EmWave2 device. It’s a biofeedback device that assist you in pacing your breathing. I previously wrote about the benefits of using the device here.
I also just recently discovered the HeartRate+ Coherence app. It’s not as good at the EmWave2 but it’s similar and cheaper. You can get it through the Apple app store or the Google Play store.
3. Singing, Humming, Chanting and Gargling
The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat.
Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve.
And this has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone (12).
I often gargle water before swallowing it. This is discussed more in Dr. Datis Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?
Acupuncture is another alternative treatment that has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve (46).
I’m a really big fan of auricular acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is when needles are inserted into ear. I’d recommend trying to find a health practitioner in your area who provides it, especially if you’re weening off psychiatric medication. It really helped me the first time I came off antidepressants. I was surprised.
Research shows that ear acupuncture stimulates the vagus nerve, increases vagal activity and vagal tone, and can help treat “neurodegenerative diseases via vagal regulation” (45).
In my experience, ear acupuncture is more effective than regular acupuncture. I’m not sure why. I’ve just personally noticed more benefits from ear acupuncture.
I also use this acupuncture mat at home to relax before bed.
5. Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga and tai chi are two “mind-body” relaxation techniques that work by stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing the activity of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.
Studies have shown that yoga increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in your brain. Researchers believe it does this by “stimulating vagal afferents”, which increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (13-18).
Researchers have also found that yoga stimulates the vagal nerve and therefore should be practiced by people who struggle with depression and anxiety (19).
Despite all the great research, I’m personally not a big fan of yoga. A lot of people swear by it but it’s just not for me. I prefer tai chi.
Tai chi has also been shown to increase heart rate variability, and researchers think this means it can “enhance vagal modulation” (20).
It’s becoming increasingly clear to researchers that gut bacteria improve brain function by affecting the vagus nerve (27).
In one study, animals were given the probiotic Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, and researchers found positive changes to the GABA receptors in their brain, a reduction in stress hormones, and less depression and anxiety-like behaviour.
The researchers also concluded that these beneficial changes between the gut and the brain were facilitated by the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve was removed in other mice, the addition of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus to their digestive systems failed to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve mood (25).
Another study found that the probiotic Bifidobacterium Longum normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice by acting through the vagus nerve (26).
I personally take the probiotic Prescript Assist. It’s my favourite probiotic.
But it doesn’t contain Lactobacillus Rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium Longum, which were used in the above studies. Here is one probiotic supplement that contains both. I personally haven’t tried it though.
I previously wrote about some other ways you can increase the good bacteria in your gut. You can read about that here.
7. Meditation and Neurofeedback
Meditation is my favourite relaxation technique and it can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone.
Research shows that meditation increases vagal tone and positive emotions, and promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself (22, 23).
Another study found that meditation reduces sympathetic “fight or flight” activity and increases vagal modulation (21).
“OM” chanting, which is often done during meditation, has also been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve (24).
I couldn’t find any research demonstrating this, but in my experience, neurofeedback significantly increased my heart-rate variability and vagal tone as measured by my EmWave2.
Now that I’m done neurofeedback, I use the Muse headband to meditate. Similar to neurofeedback, it gives you real-time feedback on your brainwaves. I previously wrote about it here.
8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. They are found primarily in fish and are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system.
They often appear in most of my posts because they are so critical for brain and mental health and affect so many aspects of wellness.
They’ve been shown to help people overcome addiction, repair a “leaky brain”, and even reverse cognitive decline.
But researchers have also discovered that omega-3 fatty acids increase vagal tone and vagal activity (35-37, 40).
Studies shown that they reduce heart rate and increase heart rate variability, which means they likely stimulate the vagus nerve (34, 38, 39).
And high fish consumption is also associated with “enhanced vagal activity and parasympathetic predominance” (35).
A British study may provide proof that aluminum does indeed have a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Although a link had been suspected by many scientists and health authorities for more than 50 years, many claimed there was no definite proof.
In a study of more than 100 human brains, Professor Chris Exley and his research team from Keele University found that some of the highest levels of aluminum ever found were in the brains of people who died of familial Alzheimer’s disease.
Familial Alzheimer’s disease is an uncommon hereditary form of the disease that strikes earlier in life, generally between 50 and 65 years of age. Symptoms may begin occurring as early as 30 years of age.
Exley’s research found that the genetic predisposition to develop early onset Alzheimer’s is linked to the accumulation of aluminum — through everyday exposure — in brain tissue.
“Aluminum is a powerful neurotoxin,” says neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock. “It has been a suspect in Alzheimer’s for many years as well as in the development of dementia, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and other degenerative diseases.”
“Experimental studies show that aluminum can produce all the same changes in the brain we see with Alzheimer’s disease,” he tells Newsmax Health.
“Aluminum is an accumulative neurotoxin, even in small concentrations, and it has a tendency to concentrate in the hippocampus, an area of the brain vital to crucial functions including learning, memory, and behavior.
“Older adults have a lifetime of aluminum accumulation, and their defense systems are much weaker, so they are much more susceptible to the toxic effects of aluminum than younger brains,” he says.
“There is also powerful evidence that aluminum worsens the effects of other toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, mercury, and fluoride.
“In essence, accumulating aluminum is making your brain age faster,” he says. “You’re inducing all sorts of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s.”
Below are steps you can take to limit your exposure to aluminum:
Be wary of vaccines. Many vaccines contain aluminum, because it’s believed it stimulates the body to generate disease-fighting antibodies. Many common vaccines, including pneumonia, tetanus, and HPV, contain large doses, says Blaylock. These megadoses can have a devastating effect on the brain.
The incidence of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis is exploding, says Dr. Blaylock: “It’s not due to the aging of the population. It’s due to toxins, like aluminum in vaccines, and no one’s telling the truth.”
Common vaccines that contain aluminum include: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), hepatitis B, hepatitis A, Hib (haemophilus influenza type B), PVC (pneumococcoal conjugate vaccine), and HPV
Toss aluminum pots and pans. Small amounts of aluminum leach into foods, especially those containing acids. “Aluminum is cumulative, and even small doses over time become highly toxic,” says Blaylock.
When aluminum combines with certain acids, such as those in orange juice, aluminum absorption is increased 11-fold,” he said. Replace aluminum and nonstick items with stainless steel or ceramic cookware, and don’t cook in aluminum foil.
The events of our lives can be considered from a strictly ‘just the facts’ point of view. When they are pivotal moments that change the course of our lives, however, it’s worth looking at the perspective we’ve taken.
Two years ago, my dad died. While his health had been suffering, his sudden death left me shocked, wishing I could have helped him somehow. I grieved his death, was supported by my community, and felt that I was coming to grips with it. A year and a half later, I got a cough that wouldn’t go away. It woke me every few hours at night, and without restorative sleep, I felt raw and vulnerable during the days, unable to participate in activities that I enjoyed. I finally resolved the cough after three months, but it left me feeling weak. For the next three months, I suffered from one ailment after another. I felt exposed, lacking my normal vitality.
Eventually, a friend suggested I see an acupuncturist. I scheduled an appointment, and when I walked in, the floodgates opened, and I started crying. I told her what had been going on since my dad’s death. She told me that in Chinese Medicine, grief is held in the lungs. Suddenly I understood. What I had been thinking was a shortcoming of my body or maybe part of getting older, was actually a manifestation of my emotional body needing to be heard.
When I picked up Emily Esfahani Smith’s new book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters I was drawn into a chapter on storytelling. She explores how the ‘narrative choices’ we make about the traumas, choices, and events in our lives informs how we live, and how we feel about life. She reports on the work of psychologist Dan McAdams, who has found that people who tell ‘redemptive’ stories about their lives are the ones who choose to make contributions to the world. Telling a redemptive story does not change the facts, but it does change the interpretation.
For as long as he could remember, Jeff says, “I always kind of wished I would die.” As a teenager, the Northridge, California, native turned to pot and crystal meth, and for years swung between bouts of deep depression and flights of mania. It wasn’t until he was 43 that a psychiatrist diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.
Thanks to meds, today Jeff, who didn’t want his last name used, is stable, self-assured, effervescent even. But a cheaper solution without pernicious side effects might have been hiding in his cabinet — that is, his kitchen cabinet. Recent research suggests that eating right might stave off more than heart disease and diabetes; it could prevent mental illness and even treat it. Studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can lower schizophrenia risk, for example, while nutrient cocktails have lowered anxiety in earthquake survivors. This nascent food-for-thought movement could have major effects for the nearly one in five American adults who suffer from mental illness, gaining them access to treatment without the ugly trade-offs many psychiatric drugs require, like weight gain and listlessness.
Sarris envisions therapists asking clients about not only their moods, but also their sleep, exercise and eating habits.
Although “alternative” healers have recommended nutrients for years, “the Western medicine community pooh-poohed it for a really long time,” says Eva Selhub, a Boston-based primary care physician and author of Your Health Destiny. That’s begun to change as more scientists dig into so-called nutritional psychology: establishing research agendas, teasing out the links between food and mood and building research institutions. It’s all part of a broader shift toward integrative medicine, which aims to treat not just the illness, but the whole person — mind, body and spirit.
Jerome Sarris, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s psychiatry department, finds the historical mind-body schism “stupefying.” In a review article published in The Lancet in January, he writes that nutrition is as crucial to psychiatry as it is to cardiology or gastroenterology. He envisions therapists asking clients about not only their moods, but also their sleep, exercise and eating habits. They might recommend dietary changes or nutritional supplements instead of, or alongside, medication.
The best-case scenario, Sarris says, is that such approaches will take at least a decade to permeate mainstream practice. With medication already available, funding agencies are loath to support research on nutrients, says Julia Rucklidge, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Canterbury. Scientific journals have also hesitated to publish such work, believing “no one would be interested.” Still, at least 11 studies related to nutrition and mental health are currently funded by the National Institute of Mental Health or its integrative health affiliate. And a spokesperson for the New England Journal of Medicine notes in an email that it has published “a handful” of studies on nutritional and dietary supplements.
Advocates say the time is ripe for a shift in mental-illness treatment. While drug development has vastly lowered the number of deaths due to heart disease and cancer, the rate of suicides — 90 percent of which stem from mental illness — remains at a staggering 41,000 per year in the U.S. “Why are we continuing to see medications as an acceptable and viable way to treat people who have serious mental illness?” Rucklidge says. Researchers predict that mental illness rates will only rise as more people adopt a sedentary lifestyle and sugary, fatty Western diet.