Finding Community, Finding Health

community

I’ve recently read two interesting articles touting the importance of community for our health and how loneliness can effect it negatively. In one article, Dr. Lissa Rankin presents the idea that eradicating loneliness from our life is a form of preventative medicine because scientific research has shown the risk factor for illness due to lack of exercise or smoking is less than that of loneliness. In another, Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, explores the health benefits brought on by living in a village. If the feeling of being alone can affect our health in a negative manner, then community should have a positive effect.

Dr. Rankin presented the case of a group of Italian immigrants who settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania. Despite their love of fried meatballs, heavy and starch-laden meals, smoking, and alcohol consumption the community was incredibly healthy when compared to national averages. Researchers who examined the group came to the following conclusion, “…the tight knit community living in multi-generational homes and enjoying communal dinners and frequent festivities provided solace from the loneliness so many people feel. The love and support of others in the close knit community alleviated the stress and overwhelm many lonely people feel. Researchers posit that the stress lonely people feel, which increases cortisol levels and activates the sympathetic nervous system, raising heart rate, elevating blood pressure, incapacitating the immune system, and increasing the risk of heart disease, is responsible for much of the illness lonely people experience.”

Susan Pinker lays out the benefits of community like this: “When you are getting together face to face, there are a lot of biological phenomena: Oxytocin and neurotransmitters get released, they reduce stress and allow us to trust others. Physical contact unleashes a whole chain of events that make us and make the other person feel good, and affects our health and well-being.”

According to Pinker, research suggests that humans have never been as lonely as we currently are. Her book investigates how people who live in small villages continue to receive the benefits of community, while those living in the modern world may not. She notes that it isn’t realistic for us all to go live in small villages and is sure to point out that she doesn’t want to romanticize village living, but there are things we could stand to learn from the village model. She offers the following tips: “You can create your own village effect. Get out of your car to talk to your neighbors. Talk in person to your colleagues instead of shooting them emails. Build in face-to-face contact with friends the way you would exercise. Look for schools where the emphasis is on teacher-student interaction, not on high-tech bells and whistles.

Through personal experience I have come up with a few more tips of my own. I had the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. In doing so I lived in a small Mayan village in the Western highlands. While it is crucial to point out, as Pinker did, that village living should not be romanticized and every town has its own share of issues, the advantages of a small community are obvious. You know people, they help you out, when you can you repay the favor. Round and round it goes.

Coming back from Guatemala was a bigger culture shock than moving there in the first place. I found myself in supermarkets checking-out with cashiers with little time for small talk as they kept the line moving. When I smiled or greeted people on the streets I felt like a crazy person, rather than a well-intentioned fellow citizen. I went from sharing afternoons with farmers who have all day to chat after their morning work, to wondering if the person across from me who keeps glancing at their cell phone is even listening to half of what I was saying.

Susan Pinker talked about creating our own village effect and here are some ways I was unknowingly able to do just that upon returning from village life (most of these were employed in Madrid). This sort of thing takes time and patience, but has the chance to greatly alter your quality of life.

  1. Shop in small, family-run stores or co-ops. Know your grocer.  Know your butcher if possible.  If you eat bread find a local baker. At the right shops or markets you may even have the pleasure of knowing the person who grows your food.
  2. Become a regular at a restaurant or coffee shop. This can be trickier than it sounds, some places I go all the time and nobody knows me, at others I have a great time.
  3. Meet your local homeless people. How many homeless people do you know by name? Everyone has their story. If you walk to work in a city there are endless opportunities to meet people you can interact every single day and make a part of your life.
  4. Value your current family and friends, this is the ideal place to invest the majority of your time.
  5. Join groups that interest you or learn a new hobby.
  6. Volunteer.
  7. Skip the ATM and meet your bank teller.
  8. If your around when the postman (or woman) comes get to know them. It wasn’t so long ago families knew their milkman, paperboy, and postman.
  9. Put your phone away while talking with others. To really receive the benefits of connection and communication we need to be PRESENT.
  10. While walking around town allow your intuition to guide you into new situations. This usually happens if you aren’t lost in stressful thoughts.  Last week I stumbled into an Italian cafe and ended up making plans to start a language exchange with the barista. Last night I happened upon a good deal for a meal and ended up meeting a fellow English teacher.

Everyone has their own recipe for finding community. Above all be patient and gentle with yourself. The love of a community starts with self-love on the inside of each of us. When you start to love yourself you will know what your heart wants and following that can help lead to community.

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Scientific Studies Validate What Our Hearts Have Been Intuitively Telling Us For Millenia

heartmath

I had the pleasure of rounding out Thanksgiving weekend by reading some great articles about the heart.  Many of us have felt the intuitive power of the heart.  Those of us who have been sick may have seen how our emotions affected our health.  We talk about how when you live from your heart you will be aligned with all that is.  At the Institute of HeartMath they call this “heart coherence” and they have been working on making it scientific fact.

Please enjoy this article about “heart coherence” and heart consciousness and follow it up with this video from the IHM that conveys the information visually.

“The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. Compared to the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, the electrical component of the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers.”

A big thanks and shout-out to the Institute of HeartMath, everyone involved there, and all of the incredible work that is being done.

Origins Movie, free until Sunday, November 23rd, don’t miss!

“Four years, 19 countries, and 24 experts in anthropology, medicine, ecology, and health have exposed the roots of our DNA and how to prevent the modern world from making you sick.”

Watch the Origins movie here!  Free until Sunday. November 23rd, 2014.

Are you looking to take your health into your own hands?

This movie provides a basic overview, with a positive spin of course, of where the modern world is headed and how we can take care of ourselves given the issues we face.  It talks about the importance of looking back towards millenia of tradition before stepping forward.  It also reminds us to vote with our wallets by stopping giving money to the people who are making us sick. I really enjoyed it and hope you do too.

The Beautiful Benefits of Self-Reiki Everyday

51hOz25n6UL._SY355_Self-Reiki-Badge

The above quote is a beautiful prayer, as well as the precepts or principles of Reiki. Even for those who don’t practice Reiki, reciting these words can be a wonderful way to start the day on a positive note and go forth with a pleasant mindset. I like to carry it written on a card in my back pocket.

Today marks about six months practicing Reiki and the completion of the Reiki Level II certification for me. After each certification the practitioner commits to a 21-day cleanse, including a full Reiki treatment each day, either self-treatment or for a family member, friend, or patient. Over the past six months I would say I have practiced Reiki on 70 percent of the days, but I am taking this day, and the beginning of this cleanse, as an opportunity to commit to practicing at least some Reiki, if not a full treatment, every single day. By announcing it publicly I will be inspired to keep true to my word. The website of Pamela Miles, a prominent Reiki master, helps by providing the above badge to share on your blog.

So what are the benefits of self-Reiki everyday? Here is a list of the most common benefits Pamela Miles has seen in her practice:

  • Improved sleep
  • Improved digestion
  • Less anxiety
  • Less pain
  • Improved focus and memory
  • Improvement in depressive symptoms
  • Reduced side effects from medications and medical procedures
  • Faster recovery from injuries and surgery
  • Mood stabilization
  • Enhanced resilience to stress
  • Improved self esteem
  • Greater social ease and satisfaction
  • Greater sense of meaning.
     http://reikiinmedicine.org/reiki-basics/can-reiki-healing-help-me/#sthash.hM3IcheL.dpuf

You can see more about how Reiki benefits people here. She explains how Reiki balances us and allows our natural healing systems to take effect. It helps us shift from operating in a state of stress response to a state of rest response.

In my own case Reiki has helped me manage nerve and anxiety issues. As you can see in my first post, up until recently, I wasn’t feeling well at all. Aside from chronic fatigue I was dealing with a lot of nervous system issues. Between October 2013 and June 2014 I was averaging either a panic attack or nervous breakdown each week. I would wake most days with a different part of my body tingling or numb. I always felt strange nerve sensations. Sometimes I had trouble getting my fine motor skills to work properly. My limbs constantly felt weak. Sciatica pain abounded. Once in awhile my vision would be a bit blurry. My digestive system faltered as well. It’s not surprising that parts of this list read like an MS* faq sheet. These symptoms are all nervous system related!

With time, patience, and a steady practice of Reiki, along with homeopathic treatment, I am feeling like my old self again. Once in a while I’ll have a bit of sciatica recurrence, or a strange sensation, but the majority of the symptoms have disappeared and the severity and rate of recurrence of the others has greatly diminished. These minor flare-ups usually come after a stressful day or when I haven’t taken time for myself and self-care.

Reiki is a simple practice that allows you to take healing into your own hands(literally). It isn’t a cure-all and doesn’t replace the importance of seeing a health practitioner, but it will greatly improve your quality of life and sense of well-being. For those who don’t have the time or resources to get a regular treatment, getting certified for self-treatment is an excellent option. I encourage everyone to give it a try 🙂


*Author’s note: At my Reiki Level II certification there was a woman who was diagnosed with MS 24 years ago. Discouraged by the lack of hope offered by doctors she pursued alternative therapies like acupuncture and reflexology. She tells me that thanks to these interventions, as well as a clean and balanced diet, she has been able to live an active life with occasional flare-ups, but relatively few symptoms compared to the picture the medical establishment had painted for her. She currently enjoys Reiki as another tool in her toolbox to help support her central nervous system. This note is not intended to state that allopathic medicine doesn’t have its merits at times, but rather to offer some hope to those who have been offered little to none.

Mindfulness and Energy Reserves for Work and Life

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 “When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

My friend Chema seems pretty average on paper.  He works at a bank full-time.  His busy schedule only permits about five and a half hours of sleep each night.  Like most workplaces, at the end of the day all of his coworkers complain about how hard a day it was and how tired they are, Chema is right there complaining along with them.

Chema is someone I look up to a lot as a role model.  He’s actually one of my heroes.  You see, Chema has a secret.  When all of his coworkers start to fuss and bellyache at the end of the day, he does too, but he’s just playing along.  He isn’t worn out or beat and he didn’t have a hard day.  He complains for a variety of reasons: out of solidarity, to keep face, so people won’t accuse him of not working hard enough, to avoid sounding condescending or holier-than-thou, but never because he is tired.

Chema sleeps so little because for him its enough, but more importantly because it creates time for him to meditate…a lot.  He tries to sit for 45 minutes in the morning before work and for 90 minutes in the afternoon or evening.  As the founder of a mindfulness mediation group in Madrid, on top of his full time job at the bank, he leads two to four donation-based meditation classes each week.  With so little sleep and so much on his plate I wondered how he could have any energy left at all for his own meditation or personal life. When I asked Chema he replied, “I have an abundance of energy.”

He went on to explain that when you are mindful at work you don’t use any energy and when you meditate you create more. According to Chema mindfulness means being present in each moment and conscious of each action. Through practice one can learn to be more and more aware of each passing moment, such as observing each step on your walk to work. Chema says that as we become more aware we aren’t distracted by our thoughts and emotions and don’t waste energy brooding, worrying, or getting upset. We simply observe “reality” without judgment and without becoming entangled in it. It doesn’t mean unpleasant emotions or experiences won’t arise, but that we can accept them without identifying with them. We get upset less and learn to respond to others with more compassion. When we make a mistake or get angry we understand why we did and don’t beat ourselves up about it. We begin to find humor in ordinary things and generate more positive emotions. When we learn to accept things as they are and spend the day in a state of equilibrium our energy flows towards where it needs to go and we don’t waste time or energy getting lost in the superfluous.

I offer Chema’s story not as an illusion of something we will all attain overnight, but rather as a lifestyle to aspire to if you wish to live a less hectic, more tranquil life. He is living proof that the stereotypical busy office lifestyle doesn’t have to result in stress and despair, that modern life doesn’t have to be so complicated. He has demonstrated that when you make your work just another part of your life, rather than something separate and negative, then your quality of life can improve and an abundance of energy is not out of reach. When we seek inner peace, rather than grasping for happiness all around us in the form of temporal experiences and material objects, we will see joy sitting like a flickering spark, waiting to burst into flames.

Chema isn’t the only one who believes in the benefits of meditation.  Many scientists around the globe have been conducting studies and amassing evidence of the benefits of meditation, new ones come out all the time.  Click here to read about a recent study done by Harvard University.

“Knowledge does not mean mastering a great quantity of different information, but understanding the nature of mind. This knowledge can penetrate each one of our thoughts and illuminate each one of our perceptions.” – Matthieu Ricard


Author’s note: Chema has 19 years of meditation and mindfulness practice under his belt, this article isn’t intended to imply that everyone should sleep so little.  Most health practitioners would agree that a good night’s sleep is fundamental to our health and stress management.

 

The Medicinal Power of Mushrooms and Immune Support

Mushrooms popping up last week in La Pedriza, Spain.

Toadstool sighting last week at La Pedriza, Spain!

I currently live in Madrid and, as in most of the Northern hemisphere, it’s mushroom season.  Each autumn the allure of those tender toadstools entices countless inhabitants  of the city to make their way out to the Sierra with baskets and knives in hand, dreaming of succulent sautes and other seasonal dishes.  For me mushroom season conjures up images of tasty food, but also a strong and healthy immune system allowing one to handle flu season with grace.

Each week I pick up a box of organic vegetables from a farming couple who happened to make an outing last week.They were collecting boletus edulis, or porcini mushrooms, but also had shiitake for sale.  As Gabi, the husband, began to wax about the magic of mushrooms; their versatility and flavor in culinary uses, the joy of collecting them and eventually their medicinal properties, I remembered an incredible mycology-oriented treatment I had been blessed last year.

If you’ve read my first post or the About section of this blog, you know my immune system wasn’t functioning well last year.  In September my WBC had already dipped to 2.7.  On November 14th, 2013 I received a concerned call from the laboratory saying I needed to see a doctor the following day.  I had a blood test that day that showed my white blood cell count was far too low, with a WBC of 1.78, lymphocytes measuring 837/µL and neutrophils measuring 748/µL.  I followed their advice and went in the next day for another test, the results were similar: WBC 1.79, lymphocytes 639/µL, and neutrophils 915/µL.  The low range values expected are 1000/µL and 1800/µL respectively for lymphocytes and neutrophils.  The doctors warned me that if I had a fever I should get to a hospital immediately and that if my numbers had been closer to 500/µL it would have been wise to check into a hospital.  The dangers of neutropenia or worse loomed in my head as I made my way home with plenty of warnings and fear, but little practical advice on what to do or how to heal.

“Let food be they medicine, and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

Being no doctor, it was difficult to say how accurate their statements were, but it was alarming to say the least.  Fortunately, a friend had told me about an MD turned homeopath/TCM practitioner who was kind and reasonably priced.  Immediately I made an appointment.  After an hour and a half interview about my constitution, emotional states, medical history, and current woes I was sent home with a homeopathic remedy and a supplement made of maitake, reishi, and shiitake mushrooms.  Being trained in TCM, she was well aware of the ancient wisdom regarding the power of mushrooms to boost the immune system.  Dr. Eliaz, an expert in integrative medicine, sheds more light on this here in an article from the Rodale Institute.  In just one month both my lymphocytes and neutrophils were back up to acceptable levels.

After a year of taking a holistic approach towards health my energy levels are up and going into autumn my immune system is in much improved shape.  I am grateful to actually be able to hike and spend time in nature this year, observing the fall fungus take root in the renewed moisture of the woods. Rather than worrying about my health, it is a blessing to have the clarity of mind to think about all of the possible mushroom recipes out there instead.


This post is anecdotal in nature and is not intended to be used as medical advice or suggest specific treatments or methods.  Please do not attempt to use mushrooms medicinally without consulting a medical professional first.