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meditation, buddha, yoga, mindfulness

Which Type of Meditation Suits You Best?

If someone told you that just a few minutes a day of a particular practice could help you reduce your pain and anxiety, improve how you respond to stress, and better your brain, how long would it take you to make this a regular part of your day? Probably not long, right? Well get ready, because meditation has been found to help with all those symptoms and more.

Meditation is just what you think it is: A stress-relieving practice that involves choosing a focal

point, calming the mind, and repeating a mantra. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, and has evolved to include several different types. For example, gong bath meditation relies on the repetitive sound of a gong to guide meditation and help relieve stress. Yoga, on the other hand, gives practitioners aphysical practice to guide the focus of meditation.

Want to learn more? This graphic brought to you by Club Woodside and Ghergich & Co can get you started on the path toward a meditation practice.

meditation, mindfulness, yoga, stress

health

What’s Missing From your Health Routine?

With more and more people trying to improve their health these days, it can become confusing as to which diet or exercise regimen to follow. Many of us also miss the big picture when it comes to health maintenance. Health is about balance, and it involves addressing more than just the body. Read more about this in an article I contributed to with The Active Times at 7 Surprising Habits Your Health Routine Might be Missing

Ask Dr. Aunna: Why am I so tired all of the time?

Source: cdc.gov

Source: cdc.gov

 

Dear Dr. Aunna,

I have been dealing with low levels of energy for the past few years and it only seems to be getting worse. I have seen a few doctors for this but my blood work is normal except for a borderline high cholesterol. Everyone keeps attributing my symptoms to depression, but except for a little stress here and there I feel pretty happy. Coffee doesn’t work anymore and I can barely stay awake during the day. I am at my wits end and need your advice because I am falling behind in everything!

– AH

*AH, a coaching client of mine, like many others, struggles with low energy and fatigue. AH’s doctors did a thorough workup, checking every possible cause of fatigue from anemia to thyroid disease and even sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Most people fail to realize that their lifestyle habits greatly contribute to their fatigue, rather than a serious disease or “hormones.”  Here is a snapshot of part of AH’s holistic health assessment:

Breakfast: Muffin or bagel, coffee with sugar and creamer
Lunch: Don’t have time to eat lunch usually, but will get a snack from the snack machine or run to the cafeteria when I get the chance.
Dinner: My husband and I usually order out or I make a sandwich or heat up a TV dinner.
Snacks: Pretzels, peanut butter crackers
Beverages: Diet mountain dew, 4-5 cups of coffee per day
Water: Don’t usually drink water. Most of the fluids are from diet soda or coffee.

Alcohol: 3 glasses of wine at night
Tobacco: Never
Drug use: Never

Exercise: Don’t have the time or energy
Stress Release (yoga, meditation, etc): No time, but will watch TV until I fall asleep.

Sleep (duration and quality): 5-6 hours per night. Not good, toss and turn

AH may be considered healthy based on her labs and lack of any specific organic disease, but as you can see above, there are many other factors at play. In fact, there were many other emotional and social issues affecting AH not mentioned above. AH was convinced that she had a diagnosis that no one had discovered yet, but given the fact that she was willing to try anything, she implemented the simple solutions I suggested.  She not only regained energy but her cholesterol level dropped and she lost weight. Here are some take away points from her case.

ProblemLack of awareness. AH didn’t even realize how unhealthy her lifestyle was until she wrote things down. Many people are on the go and  accustomed to certain habits, that they don’t even question them or realize how harmful these habits can be.
Solution: Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to be conscious of your habits. You can start out with keeping a journal and seeing what you can change, or take the time to slow down and consciously make healthy choices throughout the day.

Problem: Excuses. Enough said.
Solution: Many people say they don’t have time, but we make time for what we prioritize. You are worthy of being healthy so start making yourself a priority. (Read more about how to overcome obstacles and make effective change here).

ProblemUnhealthy diet. AH’s diet is filled with refined carbs, low fiber, sugar, and barely any fresh fruits or vegetables. Restaurant and frozen meals are often filled with unhealthy ingredients. Whenever we eat high glycemic index foods, our blood sugar spikes and so does insulin, leading to a crash and feeling drained. An unhealthy diet can also lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease which will definitely cause fatigue.
Solution: Eating a diet filled with whole grains, protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables (all which contain healthy fiber) leads to a slow steady state of glucose release in our blood. This helps avoid crashes and the fiber keeps us full longer. Cooking meals is a great way to not only eat healthy but practice mindful habits.

ProblemSkipping meals. A drop in blood sugar can lead to feeling weak.
Solution: Don’t skip meals. If you don’t have the time to eat a full meal, keep healthy snacks such as nuts or apples handy to snack on until your next meal.

ProblemDehydration. Dehydration not only leads to fatigue, but can also lead to feelings of hunger.
Solution: It’s recommended that you drink eight 8 oz servings of fluids per day. It’s best if most of your daily fluid intake is from fresh water, rather than fluids from sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages.. Limit salt intake, as salt without enough water can also cause dehydration.

ProblemCaffeine overload. While caffeine can give you some energy, it can also cause insomnia and throw off your sleep. Caffeine also activates the sympathetic nervous system, so with your body on continuous adrenaline drive you are bound to get worn down. It can also cause or worsen anxiety adding to even more stress. AH was also likely so fatigued throughout the day and developed a tolerance for caffeine, which is why coffee no longer helped.
Solution: Limit caffeine to one to two cups of coffee per day. Since a cup of coffee’s caffeine effects can last up to 4 hours, make sure your last cup is in the early afternoon to avoid insomnia at night. Cutting back on sugar and creamer in your coffee will also help. Applying the other solutions mentioned will also increase energy and decrease the need for caffeine.

ProblemAlcohol. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but the quality of your sleep will be affected. The restful cycles during sleep shorten with alcohol use.
Solution: Cut back on alcohol. Limit yourself to a glass of wine a few nights per week.

ProblemLack of Sleep. Stress, caffeine and alcohol all disrupt sleep. TV, especially at night can be activating and interfere with sleep. What’s worse is that the less we sleep, the more we accumulate a sleep debt. Lack of sleep not only causes fatigue but also increases our risk for infection and can lead to depression.
Solution: Make sleep a priority. Go to bed at the same time every night and use the 30 minutes before to wind down instead of watching TV. Make sure to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

Problem: Lack of physical activity. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, boosts energy and helps release stress.
Solution: Current exercise recommendations are to engage in moderate intensity exercise, 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Make sure not to exercise too close to bedtime as it can cause insomnia

Problem: Lack of coping mechanisms. If we don’t release stress we wear ourselves down and can lose sleep. Using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress has detrimental effects on our body.
Solution: Practice daily stress release, whether it be journaling, exercise, yoga or meditation.

If you struggle with fatigue, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional as serious causes for fatigue always need to be ruled out first. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits will improve your quality of life regardless.

Do you have a health question you would like answered? Send us your question for a chance to be featured. Find out more about Dr. Aunna’s Holistic Health Coaching here.

*Information from AH’s assessment was posted with permission. Names are changed to protect privacy.

3 Key Steps to a Meditation Practice

 

Lao Tzu Quote

 

Feeling stressed? You aren’t the only one. In fact, statistics show that up to 77% of people in the USA report feeling physical symptoms related to stress.

All stress is created by our mind’s reactions to situations, rather than the actual situation at hand. Meditation not only helps release stress, but has been found to have many health benefits, including improving back pain and even headaches and blood pressure.

 

The number one concern people present to me when I recommend meditation is, “I just can’t get the thoughts out of my head.”

 

What is meditation?

Many people think that meditation means sitting in lotus posture chanting “OM.” Although this is one way to meditate, meditation is actually about being in the present moment.

Everyone’s true nature is peace, love and joy. It may not seem this way, but that is only because we have been accustomed to associating with our distressing thoughts and emotions. Meditating helps us get in touch with our ever-present sacred peace. Yoga, Tai chi, qigong, painting, walking in nature, and exercise are just a few examples of ways to be present.

If you are stressed and would like to relieve stress, here are 3 steps to a mindfulness meditation practice that have helped me and many others I know:

1. Believe

The number one concern people present to me when I recommend meditation is, “I just can’t get the thoughts out of my head.” If that statement isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy, then I don’t know what is. You can “get the thoughts out of your head.” It takes practice to resonate with your sacred inner space, especially after a lifetime of identifying with your distressing thoughts and emotions.

The key is not to resist the thoughts, since that will only make them stronger. If I told you, “Don’t think about anything right now,” what happens? (Try it). Thoughts create our reality, and just as much as you are in control of reacting to negative thought patterns, you are also in control of cultivating inner peace.

 

As humans we spend much of our time “doing.” We go through the motions of life and lose touch with our true inner peace and even the not-so-peaceful parts of our existence that trouble us. 

 

2. Breathe

Our breath is what keeps us alive and helps us reach the inner peace within. It’s no wonder we disconnect from peace during times of high stress and anxiety, because it is during those times our breath becomes fragmented and shallow.

Start to practice deep breathing in a quiet place, although with time you will be able to focus even with disturbances around you. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Feel the way your breath enters and exits your body. Sometimes it is helpful to visualize your breaths cleansing all aspects of your life, with all the negativity released through the outbreath.

Occasionally disturbing thoughts and emotions will arise, and that is OK. It is helpful to picture yourself (the true sacred peace) as the observer of these thoughts and emotions as if they are images on a movie screen. Then bring your awareness back to your breath. The more you do this, the more you will find that your mind will clear on its own.

3. Be

Meditation and being present, allows us to “be.” As humans we spend much of our time “doing.” We go through the motions of life and lose touch with our true inner peace and even the not-so-peaceful parts of our existence that trouble us. These thoughts and feelings are ones that we repress. Instead of dealing with these issues, we tend to avoid them by overworking, alcohol, food, and even projection of negativity onto situations outside of us. If we do not deal with what is troubling us, however, we will continue to face the same issues over and over again.

The only way out is through, and being present will often bring these issues to the forefront for final healing. Meditation may feel uncomfortable at times because, the painful thoughts and emotions that we are trying to let go of in the first place, are the ones that seem to persist. Don’t be startled if strong emotions wash over you. Feel the sadness, anger, pain or whatever it may be. It may even mean having to cry uncontrollably for awhile. These emotions are trapped energy and experiencing and honoring them will allow you to let go of them once and for all.

Practice makes “perfect”

Remember, it’s important not to get caught up in whether or not you are doing things “right.” This is just another way the mind creates distress. Just focusing on your breath and embracing the moment is enough. Set aside about 20-30 minutes per day to practice.

Share your tips on meditation in the comments below.

How Stress Can Kill

Stress

A Stressed Nation

During a mountain hike in India last year, the trek guide asked me, “Is it true that people in America are very stressed and only care about money?” I couldn’t help but laugh at America’s apparent international reputation of being stressed out. Americans are stressed, and not dealing with this stress is leading to self-medication with food, alcohol, drugs and tobacco. It’s well known that these addictions have harmful effects on the body, but stress by itself is also detrimental.

How stress affects the body

It’s normal and even beneficial to experience stress, because without it, we would not have survived as a species. When our caveman ancestors faced death by a ferocious animal, they had to run away, FAST! An involuntary, protective mechanism in the body, called the “Fight-or-Flight” response, releases a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones which give the body the strength and speed it needs to avoid danger. This adrenaline and cortisol rush is what enables people to perform extraordinary feats under pressure. 

Holistic Health

Nowadays we don’t have to worry about being another creature’s lunch. Instead our jobs, relationships, drama and other problems have become our lions. Issues that have no relevance in the present moment are causing our bodies to react as if there is an actual threat at hand. As long as our minds perpetuate the stressful thoughts, however, our bodies will continue to be worn down, eventually leading to significant medical problems and even death. It’s amazing to me how many patients present to me for multiple health issues that are usually related to stress.

Modern Day

Holistic health

Not pictured above are the many other ways in which stress affects our body. The increase in blood sugar, meant to give us energy during the “fight or flight response,” has now led to an epidemic of hyperglycemia and diabetes in those who are obese or eat an unhealthy diet. Stress has even been shown to weaken the immune system, thus increasing our risk of infections and even cancer.

The mind-body connection can be demonstrated in even more ways. When the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “fight or flight” response kicks in, our parasympathetic nervous system slows down. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for many important body functions including digestion, salivation and sexual organ function. Your body is not concerned about digestion when it’s about to be digested, however! Add the fact that our digestive system has more nerve endings than our brains, and it’s no wonder why we experience indigestion and constipation during times of high stress. The underactive parasympathetic nervous system also explains why stress can lead to sexual dysfunction.

Dr. Pourang in the Himalayans

Me during the peaceful hike in India.

STOP STRESSING YOURSELF OUT!!!! 

Dealing with stress

A little bit of stress is ok. It helps us meet deadlines and helps us get out of the way of danger. It becomes a problem when it continues to operate needlessly in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, stress is a choice. In fact, according to Google, the definition of stress is as follows:

A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances

We have unconsciously developed a habit of associating a non threatening stressor as a threat with our minds. The good news is, that we can consciously dissociate with our minds as well. Two ways to do this include:

Avoid the stressor,
or
deal with the stress appropriately.

While many of us may not be able to leave the stressful relationship or job, we can learn how to deal with the situations as they occur (aka NOT worrying about things happening when they haven’t/likely won’t even happen.) This may mean choosing not to react negatively to a situation. Or it may mean taking the time to release stress daily. Yoga, meditation, journaling and exercise are just a few examples of ways to relieve stress. I have applied The Sedona Method, on the spot in stressful situations where I couldn’t otherwise outwardly release stress, and it has helped me immensely.

If you feel like stress follows you wherever you go, it’s worth doing some soul searching to see how you may be attracting it in your life. Anything that happens outside of us, always reflects what is going on within us.

Regardless of how you choose to deal with your stress, make it a priority to do so. Your life and health depend on YOU.

A few of my upcoming posts and my book will be devoted to mindfulness and meditation, so stay tuned for a stress free life, and sign up for my emails if you haven’t already!

 

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Share ways you deal with stress in the comments below!

The Magic Pill

photo-20

Can I get a side of pills with that?

According to the CDC, 48.5% of Americans have taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days. 21.7% report taking three or more prescription drugs. Why is it then that chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure continue to increase in our population? The answer is complicated, but to keep things simple for this discussion, one main reason has to do with what I call “under-diagnosis” and “over-mistreatment.”

A “Pillemma”

Typically we go to the doctor when we experience a physical symptom, and after a few encounters and possibly some tests, we are often prescribed pills. If we are fortunate enough to afford the medication or compliant enough to take it, we may or may not experience relief of our symptoms. Oftentimes we don’t feel any better, and if anything, worse from the side effect of a pill. Then we may become disappointed that our doctor could not “fix” us.

What if there is something deeper than just the symptom we are experiencing? Let’s take a headache, for example. There are many causes for headaches, but the most common reason I encounter with patients is usually related to stress. When I examine patients with headaches, I find many of them have tense shoulder and neck muscles; hence why it is called a “tension headache.” So yes, while a pill can inhibit the pain, it still is not treating the muscle tension, which is being caused by stress!

Pills are not always the answer. Unfortunately with the limited amount of time doctors have to see patients these days, the only option is the “easy fix”, which is usually a pill. It doesn’t help that our society is always looking for this “easy fix”, so instant gratification wins, but in the end we are often back where we started. So what’s the solution, you may ask? Let’s take a look at how disease is diagnosed: Typically we see illness like this:

Disease Approach

 

We often forget that WE ARE NOT JUST A BODY. WE ARE NOT ROBOTS. Here is a more realistic diagram of a human being’s existence:

 

Holistic Approach

 

The real the dilemma our healthcare system is facing has to do with the following:

Underdiagnosis– Not addressing the whole person

Over-mistreatment- Treating only a part of the problem with a “solution” (pills) that creates more problems (side effects, death, etc.)

While pills are effective at the physical level, they do not address all of the other factors that contribute to illness. Often the underlying cause is related to something completely different than what is seen on the surface (see arrows above). I am not saying that we should all stop taking medication. Medication is effective and has a place in treatment of illness, but it is rather one of many tools to be used. Prevention is the best way to avoid illness in the first place, and many times healthy lifestyle habits are enough to heal.

How to begin healing

Until we address the underlying causes that contribute to illness, will we then find complete healing. Like in the headache example, Aleve or Tylenol can relieve pain, but so can massage and stretching. Nothing will be as effective as managing stress, however.

True health can only occur when the mind, body and spirit are integrated and healthy. It involves more than a pill and what a doctor tells you. It involves healing your body and mind. It involves honoring your emotions. It actually involves YOU. Yes, it’s complicated and takes a little more effort than a pill. But we are complicated creatures, and, in my opinion, some delayed gratification and a commitment to our well-being is well worth it for a happy and healthy life.

Share your health secrets in the comment below.

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