Living Healthy in a Toxic Environment — Part IV: Mindfulness and Meditation
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the fourth in our six-part series on living healthy in a toxic-filled environment. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous posts in this series, please see: Part I — Recognizing the Problem, followed by Part II — Reducing Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins, and Part III — Food and Fasting.
Living Healthy in a Toxic Environment
Part IV: Mindfulness and Meditation
Stress is a major contributor to a host of health conditions, including heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, accelerated aging, and premature death. Worried? Don’t be. You just need to relax.
By “relax,” we do not mean curling up in bed with a good book or slumping into your recliner with a bowl of popcorn to watch the latest new release on DVD. What we mean is engaging regularly in yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or other practices that elicit and maintain the relaxation response — a psychological state of deep restorative rest.
The relaxation response was first described more than 40 years ago by Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then, many studies have been conducted on the relaxation response, and results show that it alleviates stress and anxiety and helps to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption.
A 2015 study revealed the benefits of eliciting the relaxation response for treating gastrointestinal disorders, specifically irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Participants in the study engaged in weekly relaxation response training sessions and were instructed to practice at home for 15 to 20 minutes daily. Results from the study show that the relaxation response reduced the expression of a number of genes directly related to inflammation.
Now you may be wondering how stress reduction can possibly be related to the topic of living healthy in a toxic environment. Well, it relates in two ways:
- Stress is toxic. While we normally do not classify stress as an environmental toxin, based on its negative impact on human health, it certainly is toxic. By some estimates, stress related health problems represent up to 80 percent of visits to the doctor and account for the third highest health care expenditure, third only to heart disease and cancer, both of which are frequently stress related. Most of us live a hyped-up, over-stimulated existence that subjects us to high levels of emotional stress both at home and work. When we do “relax,” relaxation consists of additional stimulation. Setting aside 15 to 20 minutes a day to reverse the toll stress takes on our mind and body is a small investment toward optimal health.
- The relaxation response counters the inflammatory response. Toxic environments excite the body’s inflammatory response, which results in a host of chronic health conditions, including asthma, arthritis, sinusitis, and gastritis. Muting the inflammatory response, to some degree, through relaxation, helps to alleviate inflammation at the root of these chronic conditions and makes the immune system less reactive, lowering the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol.
- Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can help clean up the emotional filing system of the brain. Unresolved issues hang around and have no expiration date or time stamp. They clog up our thoughts and emotions and can force our body to stay in the fight or flight mode. Regular mindfulness allows the deeper centers of the brain to “metabolize” these unresolved issues and file them away properly so they don’t keep our body pressing the accelerator.
Whether you are healthy or ill, we encourage you to learn and practice some sort of deep relaxation technique, the most popular of which are yoga and mindfulness.
Once you have mastered your relaxation technique, you may be ready to step it up a notch with Part V of this series, “Living Healthy in a Toxic Environment — Part V: Exercising and Sweating,” which will publish here on the Restoration Healthcare blog on Tuesday, Feb. 28.