The Meditation Challenge

Written by: Helen

The Benefits Of

Daily meditation has surprising benefits.  There are, of course, the obvious mental benefits such as decreased feelings of stress and anxiety and providing emotional balance, but did you know it could also help to increase your creativity (perhaps something to try if you’re suffering from writer’s block)?

It has also been reported to have physical benefits which I’ve listed a few of here:

  • Boosting immunity- studies have shown relaxation increases our natural defence cells.
  • Lowers blood pressure- a study at Harvard Medical School found that meditation made the body less responsive to stress hormones, thus working in a similar way to blood pressure lowering medication. A similar finding was published in a British Medical Journal.
  • Eases tension related pain- Relaxation can help muscles, tension headaches and joint problems.
  • Anti-inflammatory- stress can lead to inflammation and inflammation is linked to many conditions including psoriasis.  One Canadian study found that meditation improved the symptoms of psoriasis.
  • Increases serotonin levels- this has an impact on our overall mood and mental wellness.

I have wanted to try meditation for a while now.  I am familiar with self-hynosis (read my article on hypnotherapy here) but have never tried meditation (although I know it follows a similar process).  I looked  for local groups but it was just my luck that they meet on the one evening I can’t make.  So I was pretty excited to find out there was a 30 day meditation challenge with Do-You-Yoga.

It was led by Faith Hunter and I just needed to set aside ten minutes a day for a month.  Before I start I should really admit that I’m rubbish.  I mean, ten minutes is certainly achievable and yet on some days I still managed to reach the end of the day and realise I hadn’t made time for it.  However, overall I meditated more days than I didn’t and I have a plan now to be better in the future.

 

My Experience

It may sound strange to some people but there is an art to meditating.  You would think that you should just be able to sit down and meditate with no need for instruction, that the ability to meditate should be natural (for some people I’m sure it is).  My problem is that I find it very hard to switch my brain off.  It’s something I’ve struggled with when doing self-hypnosis too.  Meditation is pretty pointless if you spend your ten minutes simply worrying about all the things you need to do once it’s finished.  Learning meditation from a teacher or following a recording or video is helpful because you will be reminded of your deep breathing but also they won’t allow you to get too distracted.  At one point Faith likened my thoughts to the ocean and told me to let my thoughts wash in and then just wash out again.  I found this imagery relevant and I think having someone to guide you is certainly useful at the start.  Each day that I meditated I felt as though I was getting better at it.  Hopefully, after a bit more practice this will be me (with the whole mountain view and everything).

meditation

Obviously what I enjoyed most was the relaxation.  The 30 day challenge taught me many different ways to meditate but the theme was setting aside a small amount of time each day to unwind and relax both mentally and physically.  One of my favourite meditations actually was one which involved gentle stretches first because when I had finished I felt that both my body and mind were refreshed.

Life today is certainly hectic (hence why I sometimes struggle to even find myself ten minutes!).  Meditation is about having that ‘me’ time and getting ourselves in the right frame of mind so we can face whatever life throws at us.

 

Did I Notice A Difference?

As I mentioned earlier I have been a bit rubbish and I didn’t stick to it in the way that I should.  However, when I did take the time to meditate I definitely felt a benefit from it.  What’s more it’s given me a skill which I can use not just during an allotted ten minutes.  Take today for example: I had a late night, then slept badly and then my darling son woke me at 5:30 in the morning (he has always been an early riser but at the moment his body clock is slightly askew as he seems to think any time after 5am is acceptable to wake up and start playing).

I had been out the evening before and so woke up to an untidy kitchen which is always a little depressing…I rushed to get Nathan to a swimming lesson…then to a tots group…in the rain…Nathan was tired and grumpy…I was tired and grumpy…when we got back to the house at four o’clock in the afternoon I could’ve locked myself in a dark room and screamed.  Instead, whilst Nathan slept, I took a moment and meditated.  I didn’t put on one of Faith’s videos (I didn’t have time!) but I just took five minutes to close my eyes, breathe deeply and relax.  Then I got on with what I needed to do.

By taking this time I felt focused and ready to get on with my next task and I also think I was happier and calmer when Nathan awoke.  I think that if I hadn’t have done this I would have continued into the evening with elevated feelings of stress before finally falling into bed and being unable to sleep because of pent-up tension and frustrations.

 

Ways To Learn Meditation

If you are interested in learning meditation there are YouTube videos you can watch, CD’s you can buy or recordings to download.  There is an app called Headspace which I’ve heard of but haven’t tried myself.  You can also pop over to Do-You -Yoga and have a look at some of their information there.

I know that, as with anything, it is just about making meditation part of your daily routine.  The best time to meditate is the start of the day so you can enter your day feeling positive and calm.  However, for me mornings are seriously hard to fit anything into which is why I sometimes missed days.  This is because my husband goes to work early and Nathan is up early so it is hard to get ten minutes quiet time (especially if I have to be at work that day too) so I’ve decided to give up trying to meditate in the mornings (for now) and instead I’ll meditate each night before bed so that I release any tension from the day and hopefully get a good night’s sleep.  It is just about seeing what works for you.  

If you decide to try meditation I’d love to hear how you get on.  Do you already meditate? If so let me know your thoughts below. Please pop your email in the subscription box and I will notify you of any new posts.  Thank you very much for reading 🙂

 

Reference

Art of Living

Food Matters

 

 

 

National Heart Month: Live like you’re in the Mediterranean

Written by: Helen

How The Mediterranean

 

Last month we took a little time to love our livers (read the article here).  This month it is our heart’s turn.  February is National Heart Month and there’s a particular diet that is praised for promoting heart health and that is the Mediterranean diet.

Picture it…the sun is shining, you’re sitting with a glass of red wine in your hand and a bowl of olives in front of you as you look out across a sparkling, blue Mediterranean Sea.  And what’s more you’re improving your health too.  Bliss.  I may not be able to actually transport you out to the Med but the good news is that you can still use this way of life to improve your own state of health.  This diet mimics the traditional diet and lifestyle of people from the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.  A 2013 study found that people on a Mediterranean Diet had 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke.  Studies have shown that this diet not only reduces the risk of heart disease but also death from cancer and reduces incidence of Parkinsons and Alzheimers too.

 

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The word ‘diet’ is actually a little misleading because the idea of the Mediterranean Diet is a shift in lifestyle and it’s geared towards long-term changes rather than short-term gains.  It encourages physical activity and it promotes making meal times enjoyable and sociable by eating with family and friends.

This diet gets you eating healthily whilst not depriving you so much that you inevitably end up failing.  Red wine is allowed on the diet; although it is optional, not a requirement (unless my husband asks you then please tell him it’s a requirement). I’ve written an article about red wine here. It is not a low fat diet; olive oil is used liberally in a Mediterranean Diet.  This diet tells us that healthy fats are our friends whilst cutting down on saturated and trans fats.  It is also low in sugar.

 

What Can You Eat On This Diet?

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables (people in Greece eat an average of 6 or more servings per day)
  • Wholegrains (don’t be afraid of bread and pasta on this diet)
  • Legumes, nuts
  • Use herbs and spices to flavour food rather than salt
  • Poultry and fish
  • Red wine is allowed in moderate amounts (1 glass per day for women and 2 for men)
  • Drink plenty of water

 

What Can’t You Eat On This Diet?

One reason this diet is good for long-term health is that it doesn’t cut foods out but instead calls for moderation.

  • Limit red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Butter is usually replaced with olive oil
  • Limit your intake of processed and fast foods

 

Meal Ideas

BREAKFAST

  • Natural yoghurt with fresh fruit and granola
  • Natural peanut butter on wholegrain toast

 

LUNCH

 

Spiced Carrot Soup With Roasted Chickpeas and Tahini

 

DINNER

Tuscan Chicken Skillet

 

 

SNACK

 

Feta With Honey and Pine Nuts

 

  •  A handful of nuts (plain rather than a salted variety)

The reason I’m a fan of this diet is that it is all about enjoying your food whilst being healthy at the same time.  Please let me know your thoughts below.  I’d love you to subscribe and get the latest posts straight to your inbox, you can do so in the sidebar.  Thank you very much for reading 🙂

 

If you just can’t get enough of the Mediterranean Diet here is another recipe link:

30+ Mouthwatering Mediterranean Meals

 And some more information on this website

Fit Food Friday: 7 Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Written by: Helen

I have mentioned before the health benefits of certain spices (read about the benefits of turmeric here).  Cinnamon is certainly a spice to include in your diet.  It is made from the Cinnamomum tree.  The inner bark is extracted and when it dries it curls into rolls which we call cinnamon sticks.  These sticks can then be ground into powder.

I eat quite a bit of cinnamon but I must admit that I’m pretty boring about it because I mainly eat it with porridge.  I could definitely do with spicing things up a little (spicing, get it?) so as usual I will include a couple of cinnamon recipes at the end.

 

7 Health Benefits

 

1) Alzheimers Disease

Studies show that cinnamon may help to prevent Alzheimers.  Compounds in cinnamon seem to inhibit the build-up of a particular protein in the brain called tau, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimers.

 

2) Cancer prevention

Cinnamon is another food which seems to have natural cancer-fighting abilities.  Research at the University of Texas has shown that cinnamon may reduce the proliferation of cancer cells.  There is also evidence that it can be toxic to cancer cells causing cell death.  However, research is generally done with animal studies and test tube experiments so more human studies are needed.

 

3) HIV Virus

HIV is a virius that breaks down the immune system and can eventually lead to AIDS if it is untreated.  Plant studies have shown cinnamon to be effective against HIV.  In these studies it was shown to be effective against HIV-1 which is the most common strain in humans but human studies are needed to confirm this benefit.

 

4) Blood Sugar

I think cinnamon’s most famous benefit is with regards to helping regulate blood sugar.  I have read of some controversy in this area (to do with the different types of cinnamon) but in tests cinnamon has been shown to stabilise energy levels.  According to Diabetes UK it may help to lower blood sugar with type 1 or type 2 diabetics.  A study in Diabetics Care said it may help improve glucose and lipid levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.

 

5) Cardiovascular Disease

Cinnamon lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and so has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.

 

6) Arthritis

Studies at the Department of Internal Medicine, Kangnam Korean Hospital have shown it reduces cytokines which are linked to arthritic pain.

 

7) Neurodegenerative Diseases

I have mentioned Alzheimers but cinnamon has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation linked with other neurological disorders including Parkinsons and Multiple Sclerosis.  With regards to Multiple Sclerosis neurological scientists at Rush University Medical Centre have said that it may help to stop the destructive process.

 

Cinnamon is certainly not a recent discovery as it is mentioned as far back as 2800BC in Chinese writings.  In Exodus 30:22-33 God tells Moses to make a holy anointing oil and one of the ingredients is cinnamon.

Here are a couple of recipe links, incorporating cinnamon, that you might like to try

 

Pecan-Cinnamon Wafers

Pecan-Cinnamon Wafers

 

Healthy Cinnamon Bread

Healthy Cinnamon Bread

 

Just pop your email address in the subscription box if you want to be first to receive future posts.  Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Reference

Care2.com

MNT

Authority Nutrition

Health Diaries