What's Meditation About?
If you had an amazingly useful tool or natural ability that you took for granted, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? Wouldn’t you want to intentionally use it and cultivate you ability? Most people would say “yes”! Well you do, and you can, and it’s called “awareness” or consciousness. You would neither exist nor know anything without it. We all use it everyday, but its usually goes unnoticed by people because it’s transparent and works behind the scene. It has no content. It is like an empty screen or space, where anything can appear, like a film. We live our lives preoccupied, fascinated, frustrated, happy, sad, and curious, etc. with what appears in our awareness and mind.
What if you temporarily stopped looking at what appears on the screen? What if you stopped thinking about all your interests, joys, troubles and responsibilities and quietly paid attention to only the feeling of being present and the space in which thoughts, images and objects appear? What if you just stop doing everything for 10 to 15 minutes and paid attention to awareness itself? Or what it you just focused intently on one thing? Well something both amazing and, for some frustrating, would happen. You would start to relax, but you would also start noticing how much your mind was full of thoughts and images and how it runs on automatic. It’s like a machine that keeps on going and going without you really controlling it. Many would realize how stressed they were but never knew it. All those thoughts and mental activities have a real tangible physiological impact on the body and mind. Nothing happens for free in this universe. They use energy and stimulate the nervous system. It may get frustrating to see all that activity. You may get impatient and start thinking about all the stuff you have to do or prefer to be doing besides this exercise. Either way, if you decide to stay with the exercise, over time you will discover more and more the peaceful space in which you exist as the feeling of “I am”- the Presence of awareness or consciousness itself. You’ll discover how refreshing it is to be in that space and how it actually regenerates you. Amazingly you mind will get more clarity not less. It’s like waking up in a pristine environment from a good night sleep, but even better, because it didn’t take up 7-8 hours of your time.
The exercise or practice I described is traditionally call meditation or contemplation. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s attention, or awareness, but unlike thinking, one does not actively engage the mind. There are different forms of meditation, but they all have the essential form that I have described. People can meditate using various techniques, such as focusing on or counting one’s breath, or focusing on an object or silently repeating a mantra, (a word or series of words). The process produces an alternate state of consciousness and change in physiology in a way that is deeply relaxing and centering. All humans have a natural tendency toward contemplations. Some enjoy it with little effort, like watching a beautiful sunset, scenery or the ocean waves. Others don’t take the time for it because they are too distracted with their thoughts, and daily concerns.
Meditation is by no means new—it has been used for religious and spiritual purposes for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries such as India and China, but also in the West as a form of prayer. Over the past few decades, millions more have adopted the practice of meditation. People are not using to help with stress, for emotional and mental health, and as a way of coping with physical pain and disease.
Meditation has penetrated into the popular culture, and people have started to realize its great benefits outside of its original religious intentions. More and more people are using it as because organizations, educators, medical, and health professionals are now endorsing and recommending them. Many large corporations are not only encouraging it, but are actively organizing it into their culture. Their motivation is perhaps obvious—it’s good for the bottom line. It promotes more effective performance, reduces stress, and maximizes productivity.
When you start to meditate, there is a shift in the relationship between body and mind. You start to feel the body more and become less preoccupied with the content of your mind. This produces in a sense of deep relaxation as bodily functions like breath, mind, and heart rate start to shift into slower rhythm. The result is that you feel better, more energized and relaxed. The “better feeling” is what we associate with an innate sense of happiness. In the next articles we will present some more good reasons to take up the practice of meditation or contemplation. What better way can you spend 20 minutes of your day? It can increase your productivity, energy, and happiness while decreasing your stress and your potential for dis-ease. And it’s free!
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh
Most of us have heard of massage, physical therapy and chiropractors, but not other therapeutic methods such as others like Cranial-sacral, Structural therapy. Massage comes in many different styles, from well-known Swedish, Sports and Thai massage to lesser known systems like neuromuscular. Osteopathy and Chiropractic are similar in many ways. Chiropractor generally works on the spine and joints, not much on muscles and soft tissue. They do very specific adjustments of joints using quick forced movements. Osteopaths also do adjustments, but are more global in orientation and work on other parts of the body as well. They tend to use slower gentler more repetitive movements and also work on soft tissue. Sometimes practitioners mix different approaches. I use the term “bodywork” as a generic term that encompasses these different approaches. Different forms of bodywork have developed over the past three decades. It can be confusing for people. I’ll try to bring some order and understanding to this landscape.
All forms of bodywork involve some degree of touch and manual manipulation. Although Pilates and Yoga work with the body, I do include them here. Different forms of bodywork have fundamental similarities, but they have different goals, and they look and work with the body differently as well. As a health consumer, it is good to know the differences and your goals before you select one. Instead of contrasting these methods, I will explain on how use them. You can understand bodywork through these four categories: Relaxation, Fixing, Management and Transformation.
We intuitively know the positive effects of touch. It’s a biological and social need. Touch and hands-on work is the essence of all bodywork. Touch and manual manipulation in the right hands can be a powerful healing tool. It can relax muscular tension, relieve pain and positively impact your whole being. Infants and children need it for social bonding, emotional growth and brain development. Science is gradually discovering the physiological mechanism involved in touch-chemistry and the relaxation-response, and how the body interfaces with the mind and emotions. We can now explain how it affects different systems in the body. Our skin, the largest organ in the body acts as an emotional receptor. There are pressure-receptors under the skin (Pacinian corpuscles) that send signals to the brain and Vagus nerve which has branches through the body including to key organs like the heart. Touch decreases the stress-released hormone Cortisol, and increases the hormone-neuropeptide, Oxytocin. Oxytocin creates a felt-sense of trust and connectedness, which facilitates communication and bonding. It is the biological foundation of connecting. [Foot note: Oxytocin directly effects the Orbital Frontal Cortex in the same area of the brain that responds positively to pleasing smells and sweet tastes like chocolate!] The heart rate slows down, you feel calm and relaxed, as the central nervous system balances. Touch can also help strengthen the immune system. Once the nervous system relaxes, the whole body responds and sets the stage for physical and emotional healing.
Hands-on-work is more than just for relaxing tight muscle but can heal trauma, pain and functional disorders. Many people are recommended medically imaging (MRI and Ultrasound) to discover what their physical disorders are, but that does not always correlate to cause. You can be given a medical diagnosis of tendinitis or bursitis, but the specialist may not know where the symptoms originate, only where the pain is. A medical image doesn’t explain the problem. Even when you have a picture of the locations you don’t know how to treat it. A physician who finds a problem in the image, and a positive clinical test may refer you for surgery even though it’s not necessary, and in many cases, will not help! A torn ligament or tear isn’t necessarily the cause, and in many cases it can be treated with the right kind of bodywork and exercise. That’s very good news. Due to the integrated complexity of the body, physical special testing may not be able to determine the cause. The bottom line is, tissue damage doesn’t correlate imaging and symptoms origins, and conventional medicine doesn’t usually know that bodywork can help or which to recommend.
People seek out bodywork for various reasons, like a pulled muscles, chronic pain, or for relaxation. Some approaches work only locally and others view the problem from a global body perspective. A global perspective is always preferable. The first two categories, relaxation and fixing are the most commonly used approaches. “Fixing” is what conventional medicine and some forms of bodywork do. They identify a problem and a diagnosis may or may not be given, followed by actions to deal with the symptoms. This can involve different degrees of touch and/or manipulation of the body. The “relaxation” approach can be used to feel “better” without addressing any particular symptoms or as an adjunct to other therapies. But relaxation itself can facilitate healing because it balances the nervous system which consequently allows the body to self-correct itself. In conventional Medicine medication or surgery is used; bodywork takes a hands-on approach. Despite popular opinion, clinical evidence shows that bodywork can be more effective and safer than conventional medicine. Even a stomachache can be alleviated using pressure points, no need for antacids. Physicians usually prescribe painkillers for pain, muscle tension and pulled muscles. That only hides the symptoms and does nothing for the pulled muscles. It ignores the underlying cause. People end up seeking some form of bodywork or physical therapy. That’s a much better idea because you’re no longer only hiding the symptoms using drugs, which have toxic side effects. Working directly on the body can alleviate the pain by directly fixing it. But participation is still usually passive, and you rely on the skill and proficiency of the practitioner.
Most people don’t want to go through invasive procedures typical of conventional biomedicine. What role do you play in the process of getting help using bodywork? How do you participate? Some people are passive participants, but you can also be an active agent in your healing process. For this learning and self-education come into play. The practitioner should help empowering you. This manner of working goes beyond temporary relief, by facilitating transformative change. You don’t only need to rely on the practitioner because you can learn how to work with the underlying causes that created the problem. To go beyond the “fixing” approach you not only look at where the pain is, but where it is coming from-the root causes. Where is the pain and muscular tension coming from? Why do I still have poor posture? These are some of the question you might ask. For transformation to happen some form of self-education is required. That might involve exercises, lifestyle changes, changes in posture, dietary changes, and even psychological work. The problem isn’t just temporarily relieved (“I feel better now”), nor do you only find a way to avoid it (“don’t play tennis”) but you discover a structural imbalance (hip rotation) and/or what psychological patterns are involved (difficulty handling stress and/of confrontation). These are only some examples.
In “managing”, the practitioner becomes a guide as well a hands-on technician. You find out what the problem is, how to learn live with it, and manage it. This is the next step in learning self-reliance, which can minimize your reliance on therapy and expanses. The process can involve behavioral changes and exercise, like strengthening and yoga. This approach is especially effective for chronic and recurring conditions. This requires a lot of information and experience in a wider range of disciplines about how the body works and interacts with the mind. This is a step in the direction of holistic approach. You can deal both directly with the problem and help prevent it from recurring in the future. This leads into the next category of “transformation”, which offers a great deal more possibilities. The transformative approach requires a lot more commitment on your part and more knowledge on the part of the practitioner. Here we discover a lot about ourselves, our abilities and limitations, and how our life-style affect’s our health issues. I’ve found that people who have long-term chronic health problems often have to turn to this approach. They haven’t found solutions for change. This demonstrates some of the ideals of holistic medicine. The body, mind, emotions and life are not considered separately but looked at as an integrated dynamic whole. You can discover the functional problem, the structural imbalances and possibly unhealed physical and psychological traumas that have remained hidden before. This kind of work requires extensive training and knowledge. Be cautious of practitioners going beyond their training and qualifications. The practitioner acts as a facilitator not only as a “fixer”. Transformation happens on a deeper level and major life changes sometime follow. Health and physical problem can resolve because change happens in the whole person. I always recommend that you identify what your problem is, the possible underlying causes, and the options for solving it. Then you need to determine what your goals are. Afterwards you can find the right type of bodywork you need. In the long run this is the most empowering approach to your health.
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh
Effects of the brown rice diet on cardio-visceral system
Two studies suggest that brown rice may be a good choice for those with type 2 diabetes and related risk factors.
2013’s two-part “BRAVO study” focused mainly on men with metabolic syndrome (multiple high risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes). In part 1, compared to those who ate white rice, those who ate brown rice experienced less of an increase in blood glucose and insulin. In part 2, brown rice helped men lower their cholesterol, become less insulin-resistant, and lose weight over an 8-week period—but they gained the weight back after switching to white rice.
In a 2016 study, type 2 diabetes patients who ate a brown-rice-based vegan diet for 12 weeks experienced better blood-sugar control than those who ate a conventional diet recommended by the Korean Diabetes Association.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and the United States and according to the European Heart Journal (August 2014) is estimated to account for 29-30% of deaths worldwide. One study (J. Family Practice, July 2011) reported that more than 70 percent of U.S. women and men between the ages of 60 and 79 have cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is defined as a disorder of the heart and circulatory system, but is not a single disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common and preventable heart condition. It is caused by atherosclerosis, defined as a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to the heart. Other types of common heart disease include hypertension (high blood pressure), and atrial fibrillation (arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm).
The heart isn’t just a physical organ that pumps blood; it is the master organ of the human body and the center of emotional and spiritual life. Using a “holistic” or “integral” health and medical model, we can provide a more comprehensive and practical understanding of the heart that goes beyond a biomedical model. In this series of articles I will explore the powerful role that diet, emotions, exercise, and lifestyle choices play in keeping you and you heart healthy.1
Basic Facts: why you should pay attention
According to the Center for Disease Control, each year 785,000 Americans have their first heart attack and at least 470,000 people who have had at least one attack will have another. When considering medical services, medications and lost productivity, heart attacks were estimated to cost more than $316 billion in 2010. Heart disease does not discriminate. It is a leading killer for men, women and all major ethnic groups. Signs and symptoms of heart disease differ between men and woman, and it is sometimes unrecognized in women.
Though men and women are equally at risk for heart disease, a recent survey found that 36% of women did not consider themselves at risk, even though heart disease killed one in four women in 2006. Men are at greater risk for sudden cardiac events, comprising 70 – 80% of those attacks. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women are often more frequently diagnosed with the disease, but men experience it more extensively and have worse long-term survival rates. The National Health Institute reports that half of the men who die of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. “Sudden cardiac death” (SCD) may be the first time you have any symptoms of heart disease! That’s why it’s important to have regular check-ups and eat a heart-healthy diet. The good news is that the most common types of heart disease are preventable and reversible 100%, naturally.
Though the disease has slightly different consequences across genders, preventable heart disease risk factors for men and women are the same, and the CDC reports that nine out of 10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, being overweight or obese (especially in the midsection or abdominal area where waist-to-hip ratio is key), poor diet, physical inactivity and heavy alcohol use. Heart disease can even be correlated to erectile dysfunction in men.
The import role of Cholesterol
Most of us have heard about cholesterol. Cholesterol is medically recognized as one of the principle risk factors in heart disease, but it is not the only one. C-Reactive protein (CRP) levels which indicates the level of inflammation in the body, is the other key factor, but is less well known. Cholesterol is a fatty-like natural substance produced in the body that is essential to cell function and certain hormone production. Cholesterol is produced in the body. Unfortunately too much LDL (low-density) cholesterol, commonly found in saturated animals fats, can create health problems. By learning the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body you can have a clearer awareness of your risk factors. Generally speaking the lower the cholesterol the better. To know your current heart health state you need to know the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body.
Cholesterol, which does not dissolve in blood, travels through the blood attached to a protein known as a lipoprotein. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL). LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque build up on the arterial walls. HDL, sometimes called “good” cholesterol helps get rid of the LDL in your blood (for more details see www.conscioushealthinstitute.org). LDL cholesterol particles are generally small and dense. They are frequently associated with low HDL cholesterol levels, elevated triglyceride levels, and the tendency to develop high blood sugar levels and type II diabetes.
As cholesterol plaques grow they block blood flow in the arteries. A cholesterol plaque may at some point suddenly rupture. This results in a blood clot that forms over the broken tissue, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed treatment for lowering cholesterol. Despite commonly accepted opinion among biomedical physicians and public, they are not necessary for lowering cholesterol levels and cause serious side effects in the body. Diet is a key factor in heart disease since cholesterol is found in animal and dairy products. Its kinds and levels can be directly linked to diet, making diet a key factor in heart health. In our next article we will explore further the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
In Part 1 of Heart Health, I discussed the critical role that cholesterol and inflammation (CRP) play in your heart’s health. Their levels are related to what we eat. There are enough reliable nutritional studies to confidently say which diets prevent or even reverse heart disease and which promote it. Coronary heart disease (CHD) or arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, dementia and even erectile dysfunction are all related to each other. They all share a common underlying condition, which is preventable and treatable through diet. Refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, which convert easily to sugar, and cholesterol imbalance are the principle sources of the most common health problems in Western countries. Cultures and societies with low rates of heart disease have a heart healthy diet and more active lifestyles.
Data point to the fact that the lower the quantity of animal products in your diet the lower your chances of heart disease. A plant-centered diet has low levels of bad LDL cholesterol and is the most effective primary prevention for heart disease (J. Am. Acad. Nurse Practitioners, 2010). According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2011), there is a 34% lower risk of CHD for those with diets higher in fruits and vegetables.
What is popularly known as the Mediterranean diet can cut the rate of CHD by as much as 70%. The key ingredients that make this diet effective are an increase in veggies, nuts, and olives and the elimination of processed foods and sugars and low animal fat consumption. Research and statistics clearly show that a plant-based or plant-centered diet high in fiber, low in saturated and trans fats (solid at room temperature) and sugar is optimal for keeping the heart healthy. A diet that emphasizes vegetables, legumes, fruits, unrefined whole grains and nuts is optimal. Nuts in particular show an amazing ability to reverse plaque progression in arteries and cut the risk of strokes (PREDIMED, 2014) For people who do not want to eat a plant-based diet, reduce the amount of red and white meat and eggs and instead eat fish with larger portions of vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruits.
Omega fatty acids play a key role in cell and hormonal function. One in particular, omega-3 fatty acid, helps reduce the presence of cardiovascular disease and inflammation and increases good HDL cholesterol while reducing LDL cholesterol. It is only available from certain food sources. Omega-3 is found in higher concentration in fish, like sardines, salmon, trout, cod and krill. For vegetarians and vegans, there are non-animal sources of omega-3, like flax and chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, aglae, mache, and olives. A 2010 study (Pmed) found that increasing polyunsaturated fat (found in vegetables like soybeans and olives) in place of saturated and trans fats from animals, results in a significant decrease in instances of heart disease.
Being overweight (particularly a large waist size) or obese is a significant risk factor for CHD as well as diabetes. Eating a low calorie diet and getting enough exercise is critical. In addition to helping maintain a healthy weight, apples, almonds, walnuts, chickpeas, grapes, and blueberries stand out as particularly beneficial for the heart. Refined flour and sugar can cause weight gain, glucose and insulin imbalances and inflammation, which creates the perfect conditions for heart disease and diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels found in diabetics, increases the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association estimates that at least 65% of diabetics die of some sort of heart or blood vessel disease.
People who ate soy, nuts and certain fibers were able to lower their cholesterol levels more than those who ate a diet low in saturated fat, thus further lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke (JAMA, 2011). Flavonoids (phytonutrients and antioxidants), found in fruits and vegetables are especially high in onions, citrus, green tea, berries, red grapes and wine, dark greens and chocolate, have a particularly beneficial effect on the heart. This is good news for chocolate lovers, if you eat chocolate with high coco levels and low sugar. Flavonoids can enhance the function of the lining of blood vessels and inhibit cellular inflammation in ways that exceed other compounds.
For maximum heart health, avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm oil, cholesterol, and high-sodium. These are often found in large quantities in processed or packaged and junk foods. Most people consume nearly double the sodium they need, and many packaged foods and restaurants use higher than healthy quantities. High sodium also contributes to hypertension. The average person could easily cut their sodium intake by half and would benefit greatly and not miss it.
A healthy diet doesn’t need to be boring or difficult to achieve. You don’t need statin medication to lower bad cholesterol. Start with small changes, and your body will adapt. There are many more dietary options available now than in the past. Businesses and restaurants are changing to fit the needs of healthy-wise consumers.
© Keyvan Golestaneh 2017
1 All suggestions made are general and provisional. Health decisions should be based your unique needs and condition in consultation with a trained medical professional.
To Supplement, or not to Supplement?
Yes, in some cases, but in many cases, no. There is no definitive answer, because each person is different with different needs. In general, clinical evidence shows that it’s best to get your nutritional needs from the food you eat. Health and nutritional supplements have skyrocketed in popularity. The variety of available products and contradictory information about them can be very confusing to health consumers.
As life expectancy increases, and older adults look for ways to remain active at they age, supplements have become more popular. Since traditional biomedicine isn’t keeping up with the research, people typically look to the market place and popular media for answers. The health supplement industry is growing rapidly due to higher demand and the marketing of more diverse natural and synthetic remedies. There is also an expanding wealth of knowledge about how the body functions and ages. The nutraceutical industry uses this information to create new products, whether they work or not. In addition to lifestyle changes, people are turning to natural supplements to treat illness and disease. Everything from mineral and vitamins, to lesser known compounds like enzymes, phytochemicals and hundreds of exotic herbal supplements have entered the market place.
It’s important to also consider the scientific and clinical evidence about the health claims of these products. It’s also important to look at the proper use of supplements. Pharmacies and health food stores usually don’t have trained expects who can provide you with accurate information and recommendations. With the internet, you can find more information than you could possible read. But how do you even know which information is accurate? The National Institute of Health concluded that there isn’t enough evidence for many of the claims of preventive or curative powers of supplements. That’s why it’s important to do research before using a supplement. Ideally, it’s best to consult a trained health care professional in the use of nutritional dietary and herbal supplements.
Let’s look at the evidence for a few well-known popular supplements. Vitamin D supplements are helpful when deficiency is present, especially if you don’t get a lot of sunlight. Vitamin D is helpful in preventing fractures and in strengthening the immune system. Another commonly recommended supplement, especially for woman, is calcium. But there is considerable evidence against taking calcium supplements. The body must be able to absorb the calcium, which requires other minerals, like magnesium. You can get more bio-available calcium form broccoli and dark leafy greens like spinach, than you can from a supplement or dairy products. An analysis of 15 studies showed that calcium supplementation resulted in a 30% increase in heart attack risk (JCEM, 3/2015). That’s one example of the down side of taking a supplement, which most people assume is safe.
B12, a bacterium, not a vitamin, is an essential nutrient, which some people may be beneficial to take. It is especially critical for vegetarians and vegans, but also for some meat-eaters. Deficiencies in people, especially over 50, can negatively affect muscle function, brain, and nervous system health. A blood test can determine if you need B12 supplementation. Essential fatty acids (omega oils) have become quite popular. Fish oil is marketed as good source of omega oils, but there are also non-animal alternatives like flax and chia seeds that are just as good, without any negative side effects. A 2013 study of over 12,000 people determined that there is no preventative effect from fish oil supplementation for heart attacks (PT., 9/2013). Animal studies on turmeric show promise for turmeric as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory supplement. No studies have shown any benefit from glucosamine-chondroitin supplementation for joint and arthritis pain. Previously considered safe, vitamin E supplementation has recently been found to increase prostate cancer risk in men and that selenium supplementation was found to increase the risk of developing diabetes (J. Natl. Cancer Inst, 2/2014; Nutrition J., 2/2015). The history of supplements shows that it is prudent to be cautious about what you take.
For some, it may not be possible to meet all your nutritional needs through diet. Fertilized farming has cause soil depletion resulting in lower mineral and vitamin content in fruits and vegetables. Minerals are under-emphasized in nutrition. For some taking a mineral supplement might be advisable; ionic minerals solutions are the most absorbable.
The general rule of thumb is if you feel healthy and vital and have no known health problems or deficiencies, you don’t need to take vitamins and health supplements. But how do you know if you have a deficiency? The best way to find out if you have any deficiencies is to get a blood test. Many people see information about dietary and health supplements and take them based on advertisement, self-diagnosis or wishful thinking. It’s better to find out for sure. If you have a specific medical condition, supplementing your diet with specific supplements may be the way to go.
It is best to consult a trained professional about what supplements you need, rather than following market trends and advertisement. If you choose to take vitamins, look for “food-based” supplements. Whole food supplements are more bio-available. Just because it says “natural” doesn’t mean it is food-based. The more a supplement is in its natural food matrix, the more bio-available it will be. If the body can’t absorb a substance, it won’t be much help. Don’t throw your money away by taking non food-based vitamins supplements.
Take what you really need, and get reliable information. This way you’ll not only save money, but you won’t run the risk of taking something that may do more harm then good. Be skeptical of potentially misleading advertisements, popular media, internet memes and health fads. The so-called “green” health industry is not immune to marketing trends and misinformation.
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh