Suzanne Norman

Enlightened Living Articles

Foods that Help Fight Stress

Friday, November 01, 2013

Just the other day I was asked what the hardest thing I’d ever done was. Without hesitation, and without thinking about it, I responded, "the year 2013!"

For me, this year provided a lifetime of challenges and can be defined with one word, loss. This emotionally stressful year has challenged me in many ways. One of the most troubling of these has been to my physical health. I began to feel depressed and had trouble sleeping. I gained weight, despite the fact that I couldn't eat.  I suffered digestive problems, agitation and migraine headaches. My road back to balanced health will take time and patience.

I am luckier than most in that I am educated in and teach an array of stress reduction techniques and healthy lifestyle choices. Yet my daily yoga and meditation practice and knowledge of how stress works weren't enough to fully protect me.  

A body under too much stress for too long starts to exhibit the signs of adrenal exhaustion: fatigue, depression, skin problems, sleeplessness, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, lightheadedness, poor memory, blood sugar fluctuations, among other symptoms. And at this point, relaxation and yoga are not enough. We have to also nourish the body with foods and supplements if we hope to find balance again.

We all deal with stress every day, and our bodies strive to adapt and keep balanced and healthy. Can foods help you with stress? Most certainly. There is a category of herbs called adaptogens that help the body adapt to stress, restore balance, and support normal metabolic processes. They help increase the body’s resistance to emotional, environmental, biological, and physical stressors and promote normal physiologic function.

There is ample research to prove many of these herbs  are important medicines that can be used for the prevention and treatment of a variety of common ailments. Adaptogens are superior healing herbs that have a long tradition of use and benefits. They are remarkable natural substances that help the body adapt to stress and provide a defense response to acute or chronic stress. They are unique from other substances in their ability to restore the balance of endocrine, hormones, modulate the immune system, and allow the body to maintain a state of homeostasis.

An adaptogenic substance is defined as an agent that allows the body to counter adverse physical, chemical, or biological stressors by raising nonspecific resistance toward such stress, thus allowing the organism to “adapt” to the stressful circumstances. Some researchers contend that adaptogens enhance the body’s natural bipolar homeostatic balancing capacity and help return stressed physiological systems to normal. Adaptogens produce changes in the body because they stimulate and balance several body systems, including the immune and neuroendocrine systems.

The traditional systems Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine from India, Tibetan medicine, and kampo from Japan, have long histories of success with herbal medicine. 

Traditional herbal medicine differs in both theory and practice from Western medicine. In traditional herbal medical systems, herbs (medicines) are seen as correcting internal disharmony rather than simply targeting symptoms as in western medicine. There appear to be active constituents found in herbal adaptogens that work to stimulate the neuroendocrine and immune systems via multiple metabolic pathways. They affect the brain, nerves, endocrine glands (pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, thymus, pineal, pancreas, ovaries, and testes), and immune system by helping to normalize and enhance function.

 Adaptogens also modulate our responses to stress and help regulate and support the immune system. Adaptogenic herbs support the entire neuroendocrine system, in particular adrenal function, helping to counteract the adverse effects of stress.

I suggest adaptogens to my clients for an array of health challenges and I encourage you to research them. My favorite adaptogenic herb is ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune amphoteric, antitumor, nervine, antispasmodic, mild astringent, and diuretic.

Ashwagandha is a calming adaptogen. It enhances endocrine function, especially helping to re-regulate the thyroid and adrenal glands. Few herbs have a direct effect on thyroid function, but in animal and human studies, ashwagandha root was found to stimulate the thyroid, making it useful for hypothyroidism. Because of its nervine functions, it is very effective for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, and nervous exhaustion. This herb is a key player in my nutrition arsenal these days and I believe it should be considered as a daily tonic against normal, every-day stressors and not just when you feel overwhelmed with stress. It’s the every-day stress that simmers and eventually boils over.

Cautions: avoid using this herb if you are sensitive to nightshade plants. Avoid using this herb if you have hyperthyroidism. It is probably best to avoid its use during pregnancy.

Stress & Your thoughts

Friday, November 01, 2013
“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life” Andrew Bernstein

The ability of the body/mind to manage stress successfully is critical to health and vitality. Stress may be the leading cause of illness and disease. The American Institute of Stress reports that as many as 75 to 90 percent of visits to physicians are due to stress-related complaints. In survey after survey, Americans identify stress as the number one health concern today and more than 50 percent of adults in the United States report high stress on a daily basis. And chronic stress, in addition to a host of physical symptoms, can cause serious mental/emotional imbalances.

The events, the challenges, the tough situations will always be in your life. Some of them you can change, some you really ought to change, and many of them you have absolutely no control over. What you do have control over is YOU. Stress management is really you management. You can control what you eat, what you drink, you can control your activity level. You can learn to say no to things you don’t really want and yes to those you do. And yes, you can even control your emotions and the way you react to situations. You can learn to relax, mentally and physically.

It has been said that stress is the body’s non-specific reaction to any demand made upon it. By non-specific, it is meant that our bodies respond in essentially the same way no matter what the stressor. The reaction will be the same whether you’ve lost a loved one or won the lottery. The heart starts beating faster, blood pressure rises, adrenaline releases into the blood stream. Digestion slows. You may feel a racing heart, cold hands, short and shallow breathing, upset stomach. We’ve all experienced these things from time to time. It’s called the flight or fight response. It was a pretty good system in the cave-man days. Faced with a threat, you could fight it out or run away. Either way, you got it out of your system, and things settled back to normal. Today’s stressors usually don’t lend themselves to fighting or fleeing. Usually we just stand and take it, and that means we store it up. And that’s exactly what happens, the distress builds up and accumulates until eventually it just has to manifest itself some way. Stress build-up attacks the immune system, so it affects us wherever we are most vulnerable; some may have ulcers, others may experience heart problems, headaches, emotional and mental disturbances, even cancer, just to name a few. We may see it in our behavior, like over-eating, under-eating, drinking, drug abuse, aggressiveness, and so on. And, as you may know, these things themselves are stressors, which feed back into your system, and the vicious cycle goes on.

Fortunately, there are simple things you can learn to do to mitigate the accumulation of stress. One of the easiest is simply learning to relax. Relaxation can also accumulate in your system and help undo the effects of stress. Relaxation lowers your blood pressure, slows the heart rate, clams the nervous system, and eases tension. As you learn to relax, you will also have an opportunity to create a mental getaway, a private place in your mind where you can go any time you need to relax and promote healing for your mind and body. You can change your perception and learn how to let go of old ideas and beliefs, memories and emotions that no longer serve you well. Most importantly, you can learn to love and appreciate yourself. Remember, your perception is your strongest stress management tool.

I have created a “mental getaway” CD called Relaxation for Stress Release

, and listening to this recording daily can help you reduce the accumulation of stress and start accumulating the health benefits of relaxation. This audio recording is an effortless way to teach your mind to respond differently to stress.

Childs Pose

Friday, November 01, 2013
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older” Hans Selye

Stress is a phenomenon that manifest itself in our body in many different ways. Some of the more common symptoms of stress include problems with sleep, depression, anxiety, irritability, and fatigue. Chronic and acute stresses can cause or aggravate most diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, ulcers, insomnia, hypertension, and obesity. According to some estimates, prolonged stress is the initial reason for approximately 80 percent of common diseases. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our emotions.

It has been said that the body is the battleground of the emotions. What we feel and think manifest in our physical and physiological body. Certain states of mind are reflected in our posture, in our physical form. Our bodies hold and therefore reflect our attitudes and habitual mind patterns.

If there is hardness in the body, there is hardness in the mind. If there is stress and tension in the body, there is stress and tension in the mind.

As we learn to release these patterns in the physical body, the mind will follow.

As we learn to relax our bodies and release tension, the mind will follow.

One of the tools that I use and teach to release tension and stress in the physical body is, of course, Hatha Yoga. Yoga is a holistic system of strengthening, purifying, and balancing the body so that it releases tension and reduces stress accumulation. Used properly, it is one of the few physical disciplines that also strengthen every other system in your body: circulatory, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, hormonal and emotional.

Yoga does not have to be a huffing and puffing experience; a few simple poses done everyday is enough to keep your body strong, resilient and healthy. It is one of the best forms of stress reduction there is. And one of my favorite poses to help reduce stress is also one of the simplest…supported child’s pose. This pose is accessible to everyone, requiring no particular level of flexibility, strength or balance.

Take a large yoga bolster (8 inches thick and about 12 inches wide), if you do not have a bolster, a stack of firm blankets will do and kneel on the floor, hips sitting on heels. Be sure your knees and shins are supported on padded carpet or yoga mat. Open the knees just as wide as your bolster or stack of blankets and, keeping your hips on your heels, lengthen your torso out over the bolster or stack of blankets, turn your head to one side, place your arms on the ground, in goal post position with the forearms resting on the floor, the torso and head resting on the bolster. Relax completely for at least 2 minutes and then switch the turn of the head and relax another 2 minutes.

This is a very restful pose as it pacifies the frontal brain by reducing stress, soothing the eyes and nerves, and calming the mind. It will help to rejuvenate you after a long day. This pose calms the sympathetic nervous system thereby reducing the fight or flight response and draining stress from the body. It will help reduce high blood pressure, relieve dizziness, fatigue and headaches.
(Contraindications: If you have knee issues, try practicing this sitting in a chair at a table, and simply crossing your arms on the table and placing your head on your arms.)

This is just one of pose to help with stress, there are many yoga postures that affect the endocrine system in a positive way. Including a regular yoga practice into your life can be a powerful tool in reducing the negative affects of chronic stress.

If you’d like to incorporate a stress reducing yoga routine into your day, try our Simple yoga for Stress Release DVD. In only 30 minutes a day, you can begin to dramatically reduce the stress accumulation in your body and move toward a healthier, happier body and mind.

Detoxification: the missing link in disease prevention

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Chemicals and wastes are polluting the earth’s environment on an unprecedented scale. Toxicity is of much greater concern in the 21st century than ever before. We are assaulted by enormous amounts of both environmental and stress toxins daily, and our bodies can’t keep up.

Just a partial list of toxins include: chemicals and additives in processed foods and low quality supplements; heavy metals and pesticides; contaminated tap water; preservatives in foods and products; industrial uses of mercury & heavy metals; radiation; carbon emissions; residues from drugs, pharmaceutical and recreational; pharmaceutical by products; increased radiation; and even stress.

We ingest new chemicals, eat more sugar and refined foods, abuse ourselves with stimulants and sedatives daily. We have seen an increase in toxicity diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, arthritis, allergies, and obesity. Symptoms such as immune weakness, headaches, chronic fatigue and/or pain, skin rashes, GI problems, and sinus congestion can all be a result of toxic overload.

Your body detoxes naturally everyday, but the overload of toxins we are continually exposed to can overburden our own detoxification process. Our bodies can only handle so much and when the detoxifying systems are blocked or backed up, inflammation and irritation in the body increased, blocking normal functions on a cellular, organ, and/or whole body level.

Body purification has been a part of mankind’s rituals for health and well-being for thousands of years and detoxification techniques are at the foundation of every great healing philosophy. Personally, I participate in a detoxification ritual three times a year without fail, and if I am traveling a great deal or feel a higher level of stress, it may be another two or three short periods of detoxification. I believe this is the reason I have not had a single health crisis in over twenty years.

Detoxing may bring to mind a grueling (and dangerous) water fast…and this may be the reason so many people avoid it. The truth is, a proper detoxification program is gentle and supportive, and after a few days you will feel amazing. More energy, clearer skin, freer joints, less bloated.

A detox program aims to remove the cause of disease before it makes us ill. It’s a time-honored way to keep immune response high, elimination regular, circulation sound and stress under control, so your body can handle the toxicity it encounters.

“Most people come equipped by nature with all of the pieces of a puzzle necessary to enjoy life with excellent health but by the time they get their career and family underway, most have not only managed to scramble the puzzle….they’ve actually lost some of the pieces” – Dian McLaren

Plato said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and yet, for me, a daily meditation practice can be one of my biggest challenges. I know the value of sitting quietly for a few minutes each day, I feel how mindfully moving my body opens me and makes me feel more alive, I know how vital these things are to my mind and soul – just as food is to the body.

The single greatest investment we can ever make in life is an investment in ourselves, it is the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute. And to be effective, to perform at our best – calm, grounded, clear, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to nurture our body and our mind.

As the familiar saying goes “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”. It takes conscious effort to meditate, to reflect and look objectively within – but until a person can say honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday”, that person cannot say “I choose otherwise”.

Yesterdays meals will not satisfy today’s hunger. Each day we must nourish, each day we must reflect.

“An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes”

Friday, January 04, 2013

“An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes” -Cato

“Oh, I shouldn’t have said that”
How many times do you hear yourself saying that? How many times do you react to a situation only to regret it almost immediately and then expend a great deal of emotional energy trying to make it “right”?

Perhaps there are times when someone lashes out at you and says something hurtful or sharp and you obsess about it all day long, your day totally affected by someone elses actions.

Someone pushes your buttons and you react negatively, either with words that may sting (which always leave a lasting impression) or with lingering toxic thoughts that poison your system. There are just a few situations and/or people who still seem to have the ability to push my buttons (and I know that this is the universes way of helping me learn and grow), but after such moments, in reflection, I realize that I lost control – and I once again remind myself that between stimulus and response is a space…. in this space lies my freedom to choose my response. Far too often we react before recognizing that space, that freedom to choose.

We can decide within ourselves how circumstances and situations will affect us. Between what happens to us (the stimulus) and our response to it, is our freedom to choose suffering or ease, in that moment, and moving forward.

People are conditioned by their life experiences and if we remind ourselves of that, that they are just a product of their conditioning, we may find that we view them through different lenses. A more compassionate view of the person may take the sting out, may make it all less personal.

It’s not what other say or do to us that hurt us the most, it is our response to those things. I read a wonderful analogy to this once..“chasing after the poisonous snake that bites us will only drive the poison more deeply through our system. It is far better to take measures immediately to get the poison out”.

If we want to change a situation, we first have to change ourselves. To change ourselves effectively, we first have to change how we view the world around us, our perspective. This is not always easy as we are conditioned by our experiences, by our family and by our culture. We simply assume that the way we see the world around us is the way it really is, and our attitude and behaviors are based on these assumptions.

We must look at the lens through which we see the world and understand that it’s the lens itself that shapes how we interpret the world and our experiences. Once we understand this, our compassion builds, our patience expands and our hearts open, even to those who hurt us.

The next time you feel yourself reacting to the words or actions of another, stop yourself, take a deep breath and allow for that space….then you can choose how or if to respond. Recognize that how you respond will effect you and the other, permanently. You have the power to change your world for the better as long as you always recognize your freedom to choose how you see the world and how you respond to it.

The practice of mindfulness, which we learn and cultivate through yoga and meditation practice, changes the structures of the mind, softens the hard edges and clears our lenses. Before long, our habitual response to every experience in our life comes from that space. We choose the compassionate expression of peace, empowerment and love. So, keep stepping to your mat, keep breathing, and keep working…your body, your mind, and the world, will be better as a result.

A healthy outside starts on the inside” -Robert Urich

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