When I am asked how to restore your bowel flora because gut microbiome is crucial for your health, I think that there are two routes into this which are not mutually exclusive. You buy them or you grow them yourself. The former can be issue-specific, the latter cannot. Useful questions to ask are “do probiotics survive the acidity in the stomach” and “do those that clear that hurdle populate the gut enough to make a difference”. For not all probiotics sold are so designed to withstand stomach acidity, not all probiotics sold contain enough live bacteria to make a difference. Probiotic cultures naturally occurring on raw vegetables and in fermented dairy are like salmon swimming upstream, not all make it to the top but there’s greater chance of victory when a high number starts to swim upstream.
Research by immunologist Prof. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel showed that while probiotics colonised the gastrointestinal tract of some people, the gut microbiome of others just expelled them. Some people accept probiotics in their gut, while others just pass them from one end to the other. Which is why well-made, properly-dosed probiotics work better together with paving the way for colonisation. This is where Aloeride aloe vera is useful. Also diet emerges as a pivotal determinant of gut microbiota community structure and function (e.g. sugar consumption: high-glucose diet or high-fructose diet alters the gut microbiome… HGD and HFrD effect a loss of gut microbial diversity, so your tolerance for anything incoming reduces). Elinav found that probiotic colonisation patterns were highly dependent on the individual, there is no standard probiotic treatment. A probiotic square peg will not fit a probiotic round hole. Logic suggests to tailor the peg to the hole! So my recommendation of the below four versions of a very trusted brand depends on the clinical picture one presents. Beyond probiotics, there is exercise affecting the kind of gut microbe population you have and there is the mind (chronic stress) which also affects how well probiotics take and stay in your gut microbiome.
To change the proportions of different bacteria that LIKE living in your gut, you need to change your diet to create -and look after- a favourable environment for the bacteria that, in turn, will look after you. Dr Karen Scott (Rowett Institute in Aberdeen) analysed stool samples after a 2-week oats/whole grains exclusion and re-analysed stools 4 weeks later on a diet rich in oats/whole grains. The population in the second faecal sample had changed because diet had changed the environment. Of course, single analysis of a stool sample may not reflect well the microbiome composition at the mucosal surface in the intestine (the working end). Scott nonetheless highlights a valuable point. You’re not going to eat in a restaurant where you don’t like the food, nor are bacteria going to take up residence in a gut if they don’t like the environment, food and service there. This is what Elinav’s research discovered and this is why in clinical practice, I never relied on probiotics only. But, when you need them, use the best.
A study with Probion Clinica was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open Gastro) July 2017. “Colon cancer patients harbour a distinct microbiota signature in the tumour tissue and nearby mucosa”, said Dr. Yvonne Wettergren, principal investigator of the study at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital. “The ProBion Clinica regimen resulted in overabundance of the beneficial Faecalibacterium and Clostridiales spp bacteria in the tumour tissue, non-tumour mucosa, as well as in the faecal microbiota, and intriguingly, colon-cancer-associated bacterial genera such as Fusobacterium and Peptostreptococcus were significantly reduced.”
Probiotics don’t just help to make your gut work better. Probiotics feed what is known as your microbiome and this is now best thought of as a virtual organ of the body. Gut microbes are key to many aspects of human health including immune system, metabolic behaviour and neurobehavioural traits. Yes, there are microbial associations with emotion, cognition and social behaviour. Probiotic consumption may have a positive effect on psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety and perceived stress. Regards the latter, who would have imagined that probiotics can ameliorate the clinical anxiety and biochemical features of stress in patients scheduled for laryngectomy [Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology 2016].
The natural (non-flavoured) yoghurt or milk kefir in clever smoothies mask the heaped tablespoon of turmeric that so effectively helps to keep inflammation at bay. Useful if you do not need issue-specific probiotic help. The same goes for Traditional buttermilk (leftover liquid from making butter) but not (!) the cultured buttermilk. Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. Tempeh (Indonesia) is a fermented soybean product. Kimchi (Korea) is a spicy fermented cabbage product. Miso (Japan) is a fermented soybean product. Natto (Japan) is a fermented soybean product.
Beyond Aloeride, a clever dietary trick to encourage probiotics to flourish is to add bananas, fermented soy, peanut flour and chickpeas in a paste to the diet. This tip comes from a report in the journal Science. Professor Jeffrey Gordon MD, Director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the research with colleagues from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said the aim had been “to target microbes to heal”. Bananas often feature in our clever smoothies, peanuts and chickpeas (chana masala!) are consumed very regularly, it helps paving the way for good bacteria to settle in. So, plenty of sensible suggestions how to restore your bowel flora because gut microbiome is crucial for your health…
One of our Irish friends cannot stand bitsy things in her mouth, she doesn’t like the smoothies. As an athlete she would benefit from smoothies so she asked me to write about how to stop your smoothies being bitsy. The trick is to create a soft mush first, before you add the lumpier ingredients.
This morning a VERY large, diced beetroot was accompanied by a large, diced carrot. Between these two, smoothies can end up tasting bitsy which may turn people off. So, first in go the banana and a pinch of spinach, then add milk kefir to almost cover them. We use the Nourish Kefir. Now close container and WHIZZ. Glorious mush achieved! Open container, add diced carrot and beetroot and WHIZZ. Open container and you can see that it still looks a bit bitsy. Stuff in more spinach, add a generously heaped tablespoon of turmeric, a little black pepper and a slither of ginger. Now pour in as much milk kefir as the container is allowed to hold according to Nutribullet. Close container and WHIZZ with stops and starts. Perfectly fine to whizz for blips of 20 seconds at a time and there’s no need to cool with ice.
The most important of turmeric’s curcuminoids is curcumin. This is the active ingredient that gives turmeric its powerful anti-inflammatory effect, it also is a good antioxidant. There is about 3%wt of curcumin in turmeric which is why we use a heaped tablespoon in every smoothie. Curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore we add some black pepper, this contains piperine, to enhance the bioavailability (absorption) of curcumin by 2,000%. [Planta Medica 1998 May;64(4):353-6; Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Shoba G1, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS.] Curcumin is fat soluble and the milk kefir helps not only to offset the impossible taste that 1 heaped tablespoon of turmeric has, but also helps its absorption. We get our organic turmeric powder from buywholefoodsonline.co.uk in a 1kg bag @ £14.83 which is very inexpensive for the anti-inflammatory-help-without-side-effects it provides.
The cup of a Nutribullet Pro allows Mr van de Braak to have 1 pint of smoothie every morning and Mrs van de Braak ½ a pint. Cup and blade-end are rinsed with lukewarm water immediately afterwards and the whole exercise is all very easy and sustainable. We both take our Aloeride vegicapsules at the washstand in the morning .
Doesn’t doing a 10-20 second whizzing blip add temperature to the mixture and destroy enzymes? Bollocks! Our beetroot, carrots, spinach and kefir live in the fridge, if WHIZZING gets their temperature a little closer to my 37 degree body temperature then this is very welcome because I drink a 1 pint smoothie for breakfast. For as long as I have been making smoothies, they’ve always felt ‘cold’ to my tongue and cheeks. No worries about their enzymes then 😉
During a chat at a racing yard that uses Aloeride, banter moved from the benefits of Aloeride and the training of Thoroughbreds to a detailed talk about an injury sustained by a young jockey. When a racehorse jockey brakes his back twice, what can one do and what should one do? This page offers help.
The header picture shows the old L5 pars fracture on the right. The gap you see isn’t a vacuum but a connection known as a soft callus; cartilage and fibrous tissue exist in the fracture gap between the broken fragments. The recent pars interarticularis fracture on the left also occurred at the L5 vertebra, the brightness confirms the inflammatory stage to be active when the scan was made. Imagine both left and right rein breaking at the bridle… where does that leave the horse’ head. Potentially out of control, so you can understand the jockey’s concern. It is called spondylolysis which is commonly the result of axial (vertical direction) loading of a spine in extension (bending backwards). It is a common fracture in adolescent gymnasts, in bowling cricketers and may occur in jockeys who become unseated. The jockey saw two Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeons and got two differing opinions.
The first Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon recommended internal fixation of the fracture. Placing a screw directly across the fracture site(s) and using bone morphogenic protein – a synthetic protein that induces the patient’s own stem cells to turn into bone healing cells – to speed up the healing process and increases success rate of fusion. Surgical repair typically takes about 3-6 months to unite but it may take longer. The young jockey neither had significant degenerative disc disease nor a significant slip of one vertebra on the other, hence was a good candidate for fracture repair. But some adults with bilateral pars fractures don’t develop lower back symptoms in their lifetime, many adults with bilateral pars fractures will develop degenerative disc disease and/or a slip of one vertebra on the other (isthmic spondylolysthesis). The thing is, so do people who have never fractured their spine or have ridden Thoroughbreds at any speed… A young daughter of friends of ours had titanium screws-rods fitted to correct her scoliosis. Her Consultant confirmed that her transpedicular fixation had broken – by doing yoga of all things – and she now faces revision surgery. Fortunately the jockey’s pars fractures would only need screw implants.
The second Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon advised a conservative approach. This is what unintentionally occurred after the undetected fracture on the right side. The fact that you see a gap, known as a soft callus, means that this didn’t go well: cartilage and fibrous tissue exist in the fracture gap between the broken fragments that prevented healing. It is not bone hard. My suggestion is that conservative treatment should consist of concerted efforts to encourage a hard callus to form. The advice given in this web page aims to help with what to do when a racehorse jockey breaks his back.
In order for a fracture to knit back together 1) the two pieces must remain close enough together to be able to fuse, 2) minimal movement at fracture site encourages the formation of a hard callus (e.g. low-magnitude high-frequency vibration), 3) tissue pH, tissue oxygenation and micronutrient levels should be such to encourage/fuel healing. Fracture repair happens in three phases.
The inflammation phase is the first stage: fracture > a blood clot forms which brings inflammatory cells to the wound area > a cytokine cascade brings repair cells into the fracture gap > these cells immediately begin to differentiate into specialized cells that build new bone tissue (osteoblasts) and new cartilage (chondroblasts). Over the next few months, these cells begin the repair process, laying down new bone matrix and cartilage. At this initial stage, osteoclast cells dissolve and recycle bone debris.
The reparative stage is the second stage. Two weeks after fracture > proteins produced by osteoblasts and chondroblasts consolidate into a primary soft callus > in the presence (!) of micronutrients this hardens into a hard callus over a 6 to 12 week period.
The remodeling phase is the third stage: the callus begins to mature and remodel itself. Woven bone is remodeled into stronger lamellar bone by the orchestrated action of both osteoblast bone formation cells and osteoclast bone resorption cells.
Later into the reparative stage, gentle and strictly isometric muscle setting exercises help low-magnitude vibration over the fracture site. Note that the tissue formed (hard or soft callus) is determined by the microenvironment: high oxygen concentration and mechanical stability favours bone formation whereas low oxygen and instability leads to formation of cartilage. During the inflammation phase, when you are immobilised, you cannot boost tissue pO2 by fitness but you can boost it with daily alkaline clever smoothies in which sulphur-rich proteins (such as those found in fermented diary products) increase oxygenation of the body: add 3-6 tbsp flaxseed oil and 4 oz. (1/2 cup) cottage cheese or natural yogurt or 125ml milk kefir in the 1.6 pint (32 fl oz) Nutribullet smoothie. A ketogenic diet will increase your lung oxygen intake levels per minute as will Buyeko breathing.
More nutrients, better healing
Inflammation is a very necessary phase but too much inflammation hinders healing. Nutrients such as vitamin C, bioflavonoids, flavonols (e.g. Quercitin and Proanthrocydins) and omega-3 fatty acids moderate the inflammatory cyclooxygenase enzymes COX-1 and COX-2.
A 2006 Swedish hip fracture study found fracture patients given complex multi-nutrient supplementation containing protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, trace minerals, and lipid soluble vitamins, had only a 15% rate of complications as compared to a 70% complications rate among the non-supplemented group. A Swedish meta-analysis of 17 such clinical hip fracture trials which reported that oral multi-nutrient supplementation (including nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, arginine, zinc, and antioxidants) reduced deaths and complications from hip fracture by nearly 50%. A placebo controlled, multi-nutrient study from India administered vitamin C, Lysine, Proline, and vitamin B6 to tibial fracture patients. In those receiving multi-nutrient therapy, fracture healing time was reduced by approximately two weeks, with a larger percentage healing in 10 weeks (33%) as compared to the 11% in the placebo group. As an aside, aloe vera contains 20 of the 22 necessary and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids next to raft of other nutrients, hence why research found aloe vera to be helpful in fracture healing.
A lesser known nutrient for bone health and repair is Boron (we obtain it from food primarily as boric acid H3BO3 which is naturally present in chickpeas, almonds, beans, vegetables, bananas, walnuts, avocado, broccoli, prunes, oranges, red grapes, apples, raisins, pears, and many other beans and legumes). Another such nutrient is inorganic Silica (best food sources for Silica again come from unrefined food, notably Equisetum arvense, but who puts leaves and stems of common horsetail in their smoothies… In April 2015 a report by Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies again highlighted the rise in rickets, a disease that many people would have assumed died out in Victorian times, with one quarter of infants –more in some areas– deficient in vitamin D. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fractures can be reduced by 25%-50% via improving serum vitamin D levels. Magnesium, in particular, pays bone-health dividends by suppressing parathyroid hormone release and thus decreasing osteoclast activity. Vitamin K2 (MK-7) is a ‘Calcium chaperone’ and activates the protein osteocalcin which enables it to shunt Calcium out of circulation and into the bone, where it strengthens the collagen-mineral matrix.
Bone stress reaction i.e. diagnosis with lumbar stress fractures is prevalent among cricket fast bowlers. From research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it is interesting to note that there is no consistency in the relationship between pain and CT scan results. Which is why this jockey’s first pars fracture remained unnoticed until the recent scan. CT scans do not provide objective evidence for ongoing management or decision concerning return to sport in fast bowlers (cricket), nor does it in racehorse jockeys. Taking 1 Aloeride vegicapsule 2-3x a day provides support for the skeletal system as well as for the greater uptake of nutrients from your diet.
Force versus Strength
As you know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. The thin ice with a conservative approach is that no comprehensive guidance may have been given to the patient about prevention. ‘See how you get on’ doesn’t cut it. A conservative approach should embrace 1) improving/maintaining mobility i.e. how movement is distributed throughout the spine so as not to get abnormal focal loading and 2) improving/maintaining bone density i.e. all of the above in respect of building bone that is as strong as can be and 3) improving/maintaining core stability, so that’s training. A pars fracture of course may be caused by ordinary misadventure, based on a practice with 5,600 patients however, I know that diet in youngsters may not give a spine all it needs to stand up to force. The greater your innate strength, the better you can cope with force.
In a L5 pars fracture, after it has healed, you want to avoid overloading L5 and its L5-S1 joint level. This means that you want the spine above L5 to shoulder its proper share of mobility within the kinetic chain. The same goes for below L5 i.e. hip mobility, that is, the joint itself as well as the iliopsoas and hamstrings muscles. If there is any early morning stiffness then this may be overcome by dietary changes (all of the above) plus cardio-respiratory workouts. Your efforts to mobilise soft tissue will be more effective once early morning stiffness is sorted. The safest way to minimise L5/L5-S1 overload is with electro-acupuncture to visible contractions for a minimum of 20 minutes per treatment (apophyseal joint level L2/L3 – Bl23 Shenshu and apophyseal joint level L4/L5 – Bl25 Dachangshu; if you want to avoid L5 then use L2/3 and L3/4). Electro-acupuncture (pre)mobilisations must be followed immediately by active (mobilising) movement through the newly gained range. The most appropriate ones are those yoga exercises that allow you total control. Beyond that, osteopathic or gentle chiropractic mobilisations (not using L5 spinous process as a lever) may be possible later on when complete fracture healing is secured.
Ultimately the range passive of range of movement must be covered by active movement, so you will have muscle control at every stage. Back lifts from a position of lumbar semi-flexion is safe to start with. Low crunches with your heels nearly touching your buttocks is safe to start with. Side plank on elbows is safe to start with. Rotation against resistance definitely is not good to start with because it uses the spinous processes as a lever. Chartered Physiotherapists with a keen interest in and knowledge of sporting injuries will know more exercises than you can shake a stick at.
Yesterday I went for my daily constitutional. Joined a friend of mine walking her dog… and, as one does, met fellow dog owners and had a natter. This particular natter may be relevant to your dog, to your horse and even to you, hence this post.
The brown Labrador we met was a little overweight and her owner told us that she had been to the vets over the last few months but wasn’t getting anywhere. Her dog had started to suffer from a chronic ear infection and, as a side line, she also confided that doggins had smelly poo. The vet prescribed topical steroids for the ear and advised a change of feed. On the face of it this sounds like good clinical practice but is something being overlooked?
In the absence of persistent triggers, if an infection isn’t transient or isn’t helped by the sledge hammer that is steroids, then something is adrift. That something is of course the immune system and smelly poo provided both a clue and a cue in this case.
Healthy digestion is nearly odourless
Good poo isn’t malodourous just like a good fart isn’t (even a resounding success contains only N2, O2, CO2, H2 and Methane gas, all of which have no odour). This is true for dogs, horses, husbands and you. Smelly doodoos happen when what was eaten wasn’t cleaved and absorbed properly, resulting (in dogs and in humans) in Hydrogen Sulfide, pungent-smelling Mercaptans or even Scatoles and Indoles if there’s undigested protein decay. But this labrador retriever had been eating the same feed for seven years without becoming smelly or having infections… Why would its feed be the culprit now?
Boost gut flora
A likelier culprit was that her digestive capacity had gone down… gut flora all out of sorts. You see, proteins are broken down first by stomach pepsin, then by pancreatic trypsin and chymotrypsin, then (very important in this case) by membrane-bound enzymes made by the gut’s bacterial flora (these cleave small peptides into single amino acids so that the amino acids can be absorbed into the blood). If this last cleaving step doesn’t happen properly, then there’s opportunity for putrefraction (rotting) which makes the doodoo stink… Interestingly (again important here), good bacteria in the gut also are vital to build a robust immune system: gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) represents almost 70% of the entire immune system. If your gut doesn’t work right, if your dog’s gut doesn’t work right, if your horse’s gut doesn’t work right then there is no way on earth that the immune system will work to its best capacity.
My ambulatory advice for this Labrador was to improve its digestion by recolonizing good (digestive) bacteria and for decades I’ve advised patients to use milk Kefir for this, it works well for dogs, humans and horses. Just Google and buy starter cultures over the internet (milk kefir is your best option if you want to overcome a health issue) and increase the serving size steadily so that ultimately the serving is sensible for the body mass (the average adult -83,6kg UK male/70.2kg UK female- can ingest 2 Imperial pints/5 US cups a day, so work out the pro-rata serving for your dog or horse by its weight. Research has shown aloe vera to help good bacteria flourish in the gut, so using Kefir in tandem with ½ capsule content ofAloeride Extra Strong a day in some paté is a smart move. Kefir has a slightly acidic and tart flavour, mixing Kefir with dog food disguises it nicely but feel free to blend in a little Oxo to make your dog adore your cooking 😉
The one Constant in life is Change. Sometimes you change by choice. Sometimes you change by necessity. Choice is a necessity when you are doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (i.e. same recipe, same cake). The upside of necessity is that it is the mother of invention. Doing things differently is like a journey (e.g. from Market Harborough to mainland Britain’s remotest pub*) and any journey is easier when you have a road map. So here’s to personal growth one step at a time, and to creating clarity in any if not this, then what conundrum.
Know Your Bearings
For theaa.com/route-planner/ to work, you need to enter both From: and To:. If you are unhappy with your current situation and you want change, then you need to know yourFrom: and yourTo:. The better you know both, the more satisfactory your journeying will be. Harborough to Mallaig is a 484 miles 9 hours car journey, then another 33 minutes boat trip or a 6.6 miles hike to reach The Old Forge (*pub on the peninsula of Knoydart in the Scottish Highlands)… You don’t just need a road map, you need resources (e.g. petrol, sandwiches, walking boots) and you need to apply the British Armed Forces’ 7Ps (Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance). Approach life-changes like you do physical journeys and you may be surprised by how clear and easy change becomes. It’s figuring out who it is you are trying to be, or more precisely who it is you want to be and you aim at that, that’s your long-perspective. Here is how Han van de Braak BSc LicAc MCSP MBAcC (Retd.) coached patients for whom choice was a necessity.
Ideally you have flip-over chart paper, a pencil, a rubber, patience, the balls to be brutally honest with yourself and a nice cup of tea. Put a notice on your door reads Do Not Disturb Unless The Building Is On Fire, because you need quiet space to think, ponder, write, rub out, rewrite and let your (gut) feeling be involved. First write down why you want change and do answer also answer why now if a niggle has been there for some while. The below helps with this:
what do you like about ‘where you are now’
what do you dislike about ‘where you are now’
who are your helpers
who hinder(s) you
what are you good at
what are you not good at
what are you passionate about
how do you spend your time
The chap in the header picture is crossing a river. He cannot jump from one riverbank to the other, so he uses stepping stones. His journey from one riverbank to the other is a series of next logical steps. The causeway stones (his waypoints) are linear but in life stepping stones can be a meandering path. Bearing in mind your destination, ask yourself “what is my next logical step” and, if that step seems frightfully big, then please divide it into smaller steps so as to make your journey, not withstanding hard work that may need undertaking, achievable and enjoyable. You have a reasonable level of ‘control’ over your small steps, you don’t have ‘control’ over the ultimate outcome, so focus on each of every ‘next logical steps’, one step at a time. Another important thing about you stepping along your waypoints is that every successful step (action), however little, enables you to feel good about You. Stepping along your waypoints helps you build your self-respect, and that is a joyful thing to do.
Not all those who wander are lost. Life offers many destinations and many journeys. Personal Growth One Step At A Time is about the long-perspective of being able to look back on a happy, fulfilled life. It is a destination worth being mindful of in the ‘here and now’. Sir Ken Robinson’s book title says this beautifully “how finding your passion changes everything”. He refers to you being in your Element (see diagram below) which is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. Your long-perspective destination needs the recognition of your Passion and Purpose (talents and abilities), next you can pencil Potential into it. Sir Ken also makes an interesting point that “for most of us the problem isn’t that we aim too high and fail; it’s just the opposite, we aim too low and succeed”. Such a ‘destination’ predictably feels unsatisfactory, so, instead aim at the highest possible next logical step for you. Nelson Mandela quoted Marianne Williamson’s poem, the first line of which is “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. Fear of responsibility and fear of failure can be paralysing if you let them. What do other people think? If the chap in the header picture slipped and got his feet wet, sure, people may laugh or sneer, but friends are empathetic and offer help. Those are the only people that matter (your Helpers). Spot the difference between people laughing with you and people laughing at you. About those latter, remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent (Eleanor Roosevelt). The better you know your starting point, your waypoints, your destination(s), the easier it is to live your priorities. Fears are easier overcome. Pride in yourself grows. From small acorns big, happy oaks grow. Strive not to be a success, but rather strive to be of value. Being of true value to others is a wonderful blessing…
So, again use your flip-over chart paper, pencil and rubber. Create undisturbed time & space and brew a nice cup of tea. Write down any ‘Destination’ with a totally open mind. Meaning that you don’t immediately comment on your scribbles with ‘yes but…’ or barge in with value statements. Let ideas flow, let gut feeling flow… feel free to doodle. Perhaps worth noting that the difference between a dream and a fantasy is that the latter would not truly deliver happiness or a sense of purpose. Focus on your dreams when you describe a long-perspective:
how would what you are passionate about express itself
how would you use your talents (something one is born with, your natural ability to do something without really thinking about it)
how would you use your abilities (something that you can do after acquiring knowledge and skills)
what qualities matter in your spouse (life partner)
what level of disposable income are you aiming for
what do you want your ‘home‘ to be like
These are some questions you could ask yourself to find a long-perspective that might deliver a happy, fulfilled life. Visualising your destination should be like stepping into a warm bath or, if like me your don’t like baths, under a warm shower. You imagining yourself there already should trigger a little flush of endomorphines (happy hormones). Now you have your starting point and a destination point mapped, it is time to plan your waypoints and prep for the journey! Your destination point is only ever a DIRECTION and the joy in life comes from the steps you take in that direction. You walking your stepping stones into the direction you ‘defined’ is the journey and the journey is more important than the arrival. It is in a way like this… ‘take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’. Take care of you walking and enjoying your stepping stones and any destination will take care of itself.
Resources and 7Ps
As you are your most important resource, you looking after yourself is of paramount importance. With Personal Growth One Step At A Time you are penciling your long-perspective. Interestingly, the greater discomfort my patients were in, the shorter their time frame became and the smaller their sphere of attention. That’s the opposite of what you need, so look after your health: you sleep enough, you get up at the same time (be easy on circadian rhythm i.e. sleep/wake cycle), you ingest clever smoothies every day, you eat healthily, you keep fit. None of this is difficult or expensive. Telltales of success (you looking after yourself as a resource) are you looking at you standing butt naked in front of a mirror, the size label on successive clothing, how long you can sprint at maximum speed for. If the mirror puts on weight, if the wardrobe shrinks garments, if it’s “sorry I’m late my legs were slow” (Spike Milligan)… short-term it may not matter, long-term it always does.
The chap in the header picture might be wishing “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way” (Jimmy Cliff). Clarity simplifies life, “do not walk on the grass”, “do help yourself to another sandwich”… no confusion, no stressy conflict inside your brain, no stress hormones released. One way businesses tackle clarity is by doing SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats written down in four quadrants) and you too will encounter obstacles along the way. Sometimes you can map (and overcome) these before setting off, sometimes you do this on the fly or you find a work-around. Between the Bank Of Mum & Dad and generally money being more available now at lower rates than ever before, money rarely is an insurmountable obstacle. A bigger obstacle may be where to find good, experience-based advice and guidance (e.g. as a regatta sailor I would ask for advice about roll-tacking from winners on the podium, not from those who cross the finishing line in time to switch the lights off). Find an experienced teacher to get/grow skill sets relevant to your journey. Sometimes you are your own obstacle… You need people who love you but also who will not mollycoddle you and will say it as it is, if need be.
How much does it matter to you that you reach your destination(s)? On a scale from 1 to 10… I ask this because an enormous number of people actively self-sabotage a transition from Starting Point to Destination Point (even when it is a fantastic pub on the peninsula of Knoydart in the Scottish Highlands). Not infrequently you are too critical to yourself when you are trying out something new (equivalent of you laughing and sneering at a 9 months old learning to walk). Not infrequently you don’t take responsibility for your own actions and non-actions. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with whom you were yesterday, it is your journey and yours alone irrespective of others travelling a (part of the) route with you. Given that time and tide wait for no man, you would be wise not to spend too much time, attention or energy on things that are not your business. It’s not egotistical: when oxygen masks come down in an airplane, you must put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping anyone else with their oxygen mask. When your brain goes without oxygen, things can get ugly quickly i.e. flying at 35,000 feet you only have seconds of useful consciousness. Mind your own business is not an invitation to or endorsement of selfishness, far from it, it simply is that a stronger you is better able to help others.
When you ask yourself “how do you spend your time” be attentive to distractions. Self-sabotage by social media where misprojected anger, ignorance, delusion and an antidepressants and opioid epidemic rule. Self-sabotage by television because you are too knackered to do something else, or you cannot be bothered to do something that would help you. Harsh I know, so what about ‘a little of what you fancy’ and ‘everything in moderation’ and all that… fair enough, but when it comes to asking yourself “does this help or hinder” you more than likely know the answer, you make the choice. If your behaviour is not congruent with what you are aiming for, then whom are you kidding?
Random Acts Of Kindness
In your Hero’s Journey you are the key figure. Equally important however are your Helpers. Say ‘thank you’ to them often and mean it (i.e. understand that no helpers often means no journey). In your strength and good fortune of having your oxygen mask on, be a helper to others. Random acts of kindness in my book have a lot going for them. Your generosity of spirit does’t just help recipients, it makes you whole. “For it is in giving that we receive” (St. Francis of Assisi).
One vital ingredient to make any journey successful and enjoyable is a keen sense of humour. When there is an obstacle in your way, a joke can lighten the burden or defuse tension. More importantly, humour is the antidote against you taking yourself too seriously. Most people get their feet (or more) wet ‘crossing the causeway’. Be the one who takes it lightheartedly and, at the same, as a lesson learned and not to be repeated. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts (Winston Churchill). One of the most important predictors of success is grit (perseverance with your passion), so be gritty or grow some. Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm (Winston Churchill again)…
Personal Growth One Step At A Time isn’t a theory to me, I use this myself (the ‘do want/don’t want in work, life-partner and home’ scribbles on the right are mine and date back to 1987). My family uses it as do many of my patients. The discipline of plotting your progress can be made simpler by using daily recurring end-of-day appointments in Microsoft Outlook to write down what one has been up to that day (I manage to do this most days). That makes it easier for me to plot my monthly progress which I review together with a very close friend (he is one of my Helpers).
Let me explain why the magic of aloe vera is not in its water. When anybody tells you that aloe vera gel or aloe vera juice is ‘best’ because ‘it is more natural’ or ‘it contains its natural medium’ then remember this: Nature uses water to move stuff from A to B. That is why your body as a whole contains some 60% water, your brain 70%, your blood 83%, your lungs 90% and that is why aloe vera contains 95% water… so it can move its nutrients about and doesn’t run dry during droughts (after all aloe vera is genetically a desert plant).
Nature’s biochemistry works because of the transported stuff and not because of the water. So when it comes to aloe vera, you can get water perfectly fine from your tap water (we think it’s better when you filter it). What you seek is that what fuels the magic, and this is what laboratories measure in abundance inside Aloeride… high levels of working molecules. We freeze the water out which means that all heat-sensitive molecules within whole leaf aloe vera barbadensis miller remain intact (note that Aloeride gives you the water-soluble nutrients via the inner gel as well as the lipid-soluble nutrients from the rind).
Up to 23.4x more nutrients
We assume that you too prefer ‘fact via objective measurement’ over ’emotive marketing’. You see, what aloe vera gel enthusiasts may not know is that independent laboratories time and again measure that Aloeride aloe vera contains very significantly more of the molecules that are responsible for the accolades attributed to aloe vera. By taking the water out responsibly, we are able to put a very great deal more working molecules in a vegetarian capsule or in a sachet. Taking the water out responsibly of course also prevents bacterial degradation, so we don’t have to use (and one can’t react adversely to) stabilisers.
Aloeride gives you those 5% working (incl. beta-linked polysaccharide) molecules because they work the magic, notably the orchestration of the other molecules. Aloe’s 95% water is just the medium that enables movement from A to B (true within soil, within any plant, within any mammal outside its cells). Water is not what aloe vera’s many accolades are based upon, otherwise water would have received that same praise. That’s deliriously simple isn’t it. Beware that for some manufacturers the magic of aloe vera is in its water… check out Product 2a and 3b in the independent laboratory tests. Yep, watering down aloe vera don’t stop them from charging high prices.
Magic of water
For fullness of information, certain water is magical. Inside healthy body cells (yours and those of your horse), water models itself with protein carboxylate groups into low-density clathrate structures. However, in order to achieve this, a strong potassium bias and ample adenosine triphosphate is necessary. The point is, water inside aloe vera does not contribute to your clathrate structuring, but eating loads of (raw) vegetables and certain fruits does (daily turn out on large, varying pasture for your horse), reducing the amount of sugar you ingest does, reducing the amount of sodium you ingest does… So, talk about aloe vera ‘original medium’ (aloe vera water) alludes to the magic properties of water that it possesses INSIDE healthy body cells. It’s the marketing talk of smoke and mirrors. The magic of aloe vera is not in its water…
The above Monty Python inspired clip isn’t just our MD getting fitter or stronger, you may be surprised that he is actively improving the bacterial balance in his gut. Exercise changes bowel flora, take Aloeride< with water… Just like weightlifting changes the size of your biceps, exercise helps bowel flora. Whereas this perhaps is the surprising end of functional change, our suggestion is for you to make use of the opportunity.
This is how functional change manifests: if your diet is high in animal sources (protein and animal fat), the Bacteroides and Ruminococcus population increases. Yet a plant-based diet (carbohydrates) favours Prevotella. Entirely logical to have more Bacteroides on a protein/animal fat diet because they’re specialists for the degradation of proteins and carbohydrates. Any overly narrow diet, be this carnivorous or herbivorous/vegan or candida diet, breeds a narrow spectrum bowel flora. So, in order to encourage bacterial diversity and halt unhealthy dominance, simply alternate tasty fresh meat/fish meals with tasty vegetarian meals. A red day followed by a green day… Embolden that healthy diversity by doing exercise that raise your heart and breathing rate (like swimming for dear life in cold water).
A high diversity of gut bacteria is normal and best for starters. The main gut bacterial phyla, in order of numerical importance, are Firmicutes (this includes the large class of Clostridia and the lactic acid bacteria), Bacteroidetes , Actinobacteria (including Colinsella and Bifidobacterium spp.), Proteobacteria , Verrucomicrobia and Fusobacteria.
Many diseases are related to gut bacteria, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Diabetes Mellitus, Liver disease, Chronic Heart Disease, certain cancers… Below are some research examples, every one showing a health compromise relating to abnormal bacterial population. That is why in Biological Medicine a healthy digestive tract is considered the cornerstone of health.
In Ulcerative Colitis, flare-ups see a significant lowering of Lactobacilli , whilst during remission Lactobacillus salivarus, Lactobacillus manihotivorans and Pediococcus acidilactici were present. Creating a gut environment that encourages the growth of Lactobacilli thus may reduce the chance of relapse.
In Crohn’s Disease there is a decrease in Dialister invisus (uncharacterised species of Clostridium cluster XIVa ), Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Bifidobacterium adolescentis , and an increase in Ruminococcus gnavus.
In children with Diabetes Type IClostridium , Bacteroides and Veillonella are significantly increased, and the number of Lactobacillus , Bifidobacterium , Blautia coccoides/Eubacterium rectale group and Prevotella significantly decreased.
Rheumatic arthritis patients had significantly reduced faecal carriage of Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides fragilis.
Small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) may be an important pathogenesis of fatty liver (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – NASH). By laymen SIBO may be referred to as candida overgrowth (a.k.a. candidiasis or dysbiosis).
In Colorectal Cancer (CRC)Acidaminobacter, Phascolarctobacterium, Citrobacter farmer, and Akkermansia muciniphila are significantly over-represented. Those Akkermansia muciniphila are mucin-degrading species (i.e. weaken the gut wall). Streptococcus Gallolyticus (formerly Streptococcus bovis) is present approximately 20–50% of colon tumors and less than 5% in the normal colon. Bifidobacterium longum , Clostridium clostridioforme , and Ruminococcus bromii are under-represented in rectal cancer patients compared to healthy individuals. Those taking refuge in genetic predisposition (i.e. naught you can do about that), note that extracellular genotoxins and DNA damaging superoxide radicals produced by Enterococcus faecalis can contribute to CRC development. DNA damage also can be induced by genotoxic Escherichia coli which harbour the polyketide synthetase (pks) island and encode a genotoxin called colibactin.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder children have a distinct and less diverse gut microbial community structure, with significantly lower levels of genera Prevotella, Coprococcus, and unclassified Veillonellaceae. Two organisms (Bacteroides vulgatus and Desulfovibrio species, including D. desulfuricans, D. fairfieldensis, and D. piger) were more commonly found in stools of ASD children than in the control children’s stools. Firmicutes and Actinobacteria accounted for less of the total flora of ASD children’s stools than the control children’s stools. The most striking finding was that significant numbers of non-spore-forming anaerobes and microaerophilic bacteria were found in gastric and duodenal specimens from children with autism, while such bacteria are totally absent in the gut and duodenum from control children.
How To Do It
You actively looking after your bowel flora is such a clever move for good health. You have a handle on which species thrive and which won’t and this is simple:
You want to:
You yourself can do this:
Introduce the healthy species
via the diverse microbiomes on raw vegetables fruits grapes and berries; via fermented foods; properly made probiotic products when necessary
Create an environment for growth
via a varied diet that is very plant-rich (gut pH/bowel transit time) thus innately prebiotic; helped by daily exercise; helped by optimal aloe vera; helped by winding down time
If you have read our approach then you know that we encourage you to take a broader approach. That is why our MD has daily daily swims in cold water, daily transcendental meditation moments. Sure enough, this takes time and you are so busy already. With 24 hours in a day, minus 8 hours sleep to recuperate, minus 12 hours work/travel, you have 4 hours a day that are yours. Between mowing the lawn, reading to the kids, putting out the dustbins, ironing, food shopping, cooking, there is time even if it may not feel like it at first glance. Negotiate with yourself and/or your other half, schedule stuff in… and reap the benefits.
Start exercise early and don’t stop
A study, published in Immunology and Cell Biology, showed that exercise in your early years creates a gut environment with better balance between the microorganisms that live in your intestines. Exercise in early life increases the number of different bacterial species living in your gut. The greater the diversity (plasticity) of species within your gut microbiome, the greater its ability to cope with diverse challenges. In a study, published in the journal Gut, scientists compared the gut microbiome of professional rugby players against that of other men of similar age and weight. They found that the stool samples of the athletes showed a greater diversity of bacteria in the gut and a higher level of specific bacteria often associated with good health. Do you need to do High Intensity Interval Training to achieve this? No, but whatever exercise you do, it needs to raise your heart rate and breathing rate, and challenge your system. Our MD finds that Wild Swimming ticks all those boxes and it costs you next to nothing:
Benefits of Wild Swimming
It boosts your immune system. The effects of cold water on the immune system have been studied widely.
It gives you an endorphin high, the happy hormone!
It enhances your circulation.
The effect of cold water adaptation on inflammation may be more effective than expensive drugs. Furthermore, high levels of inflammation are associated with many conditions such as depression, and low levels are associated with long life.
It increases your libido. Increased production of testosterone and oestrogen in men and women respectively
It burns more calories. Swimming in cold water will make your body work twice as hard to keep you warm and burn more calories in the process. For this sort of exercise, fat is your body’s primary source of energy and the increased work rate will increase your metabolism in the long run.
It reduces stress. Repeated immersions — as few as four — diminish the stress response (increased heart rate and blood pressure, hyperventilation and the release of stress hormones). The process of cold water adaptation leads to a reduced, though not abolished, response to stress. Consequently, heart rate and blood pressure don’t go up as much and we can still control our breathing when we get in the water. Cold water swimming could therefore bring benefits to all of us, by preventing overreaction to stress.
If science is still cautious, the anecdotal evidence is near-unanimous. You only have to ask cold water swimmers if it’s helped them physically or mentally to get an overwhelming ’yes’, on both counts.
1) Llynnau Mymbyr, Snowdonia 2) Tellisford, near Frome, Somerset 3) River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire 4) River Derwent near Chatsworth House, Derbyshire 5) Llyn Glaslyn, Snowdonia 6) Lake Windermere, Lake District 7) Pangbourne, Berkshire 8) Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye 9) Stainforth Force, North Yorkshire 10) Serpentine Lake, London (Serpentine Swimming Club) 11) Port Meadow, Oxford 12) Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands 13) Hampstead Ponds, London 14) Burton Bradstock, Dorset 15) Llyn Cau, Snowdonia 16) River Barle, Somerset 17) Waveney River, Suffolk 18) Rutland Bathing Beach, Rutland 19) Tooting Bec Lido, Brockwell Lido, London Remember to always check for local restrictions and hazards.
The world is full of trickery. In November 2016 Bloomberg published findings of four ‘gels with aloe vera on the label’ that they had content-analysed. Contrary to label claims, there was no aloe vera content. When aloe vera is only present on the label, the customer is being conned. Unsurprisingly several class-action lawsuits have been filed since, seeking restitution for all the customers. Aloeride always has warned about trickery like this and always has aimed to help you make an informed choice.
“No reasonable person would have purchased or used the products if they knew the products did not contain any aloe vera,’’ attorneys wrote in a complaint filed in September in Illinois on behalf of plaintiffs represented by 10 law firms. The products Bloomberg had analysed were Wal-Mart’s Equate Aloe After Sun Gel with pure aloe vera , Target’s Up & Up Aloe Vera Gel with pure aloe vera , CVS’s Aftersun Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel and Walgreens’ Alcohol Free Aloe Vera Body Gel .
Aloeride exists because of a need in our family. Because we didn’t know what triggered a condition, Aloeride had to be the purest possible. Because we wanted it to overcome a condition, Aloeride had to be the best, most potent possible. Then in 2004, we took Aloeride to the marketplace and shared surprising, independent laboratory findings to allow ordinary people to see behind the labels… We think informed choice serves you best. We can supply you with a multi-laboratory proven better aloe vera at vastly deflated cost because we don’t have expensive offices, we don’t finance a multilevel marketing pyramid, we don’t transport liquid aloe, and we don’t seek rapacious profit.
The above product comparative test with a Goliath of an aloe vera producer shows that bigger isn’t per se better. A Seal of Approval assures less than is perceived. MS/TS measures purity and 3.65% is a far cry from the advertised 100%. The oomph of aloe vera (MeOHPS) measured 2.6 times fewer beta-linked polysaccharides than in Aloeride. At 48.2 ppm the laboratory noted this would cause diarrhoea at manufacturer recommended dosage. The 2.0×106 and 1.0×106 fractions are immune-modulatory and the difference is obvious. The 6.60×104 fraction is anti-inflammatory and there’s a 4.11 times quantity difference. How does this translate into real life? A trial was done with their aloe vera gel on people with refractory Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Unfortunately those suffering from IBS do so in three catagories: diarrhoea-predominant IBS, constipation-predominant IBS and alternating IBS (flitting from diarrhoea to constipation). Rather predictably, their 48.2 ppm negatively affected the trial outcome (aggravating the diarrhoea and alternating group). In 2011 this product measured poorer than it did in 2004, that can be due to climatic factors (e.g. winter harvest) or be a commercial choice. After all, Toblerone (a Goliath amidst confectionery manufacturers) downsized their iconic chocolate bars with the ‘Grocery Shrink Ray’ which invoked protest because people saw triangles missing. There are no such self-evident pointers for aloe vera gel and sadly some see this as an opportunity. Culminating in aloe vera being only present on the label as Bloomberg discovered. [tboc_button title=”Enjoy aloe vera that is honest, better and saves you oodles of money” href=”/shop-aloe-vera/”]
When aloe vera is only present on the label
We are approached by growers trying to sell their aloe vera raw material. One from South Africa not just sent us their best quality samples that we asked for, but also their brochure furnishing us with a list of cosmetics manufacturers using their produce. Many of the big names were on that list. What did the independent laboratory make of it? Their methanol precipitated solids tested as 280mg/L with the note that only 140mg/L was aloe vera because cheap methodology (spray drying) had been used. That’s 33.43 times less than the polysaccharides measured in Aloeride! At 168 ppm of polyhydroxyanthraquinones, this produce taken by mouth would have you gallop to the toilet. Fine thing then that it is used only for facial products, shampoo and body lotions. Snag is, one US manufacturer listed makes this into a by-mouth product and their labeling and marketing will blow you away… 140 mg/L and 168 ppm! Caveat Emptor (the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made) tanks when there’s bollocks on the label. This kind of malpractice is what Wal-Mart, Target, CVS and Walgreens may find themselves in court for. This 140 mg/L is perhaps not quite ‘when aloe vera is only present on the label’ but it is not far off. [tboc_button title=”Enjoy aloe vera that is honest, better and saves you oodles of money” href=”/shop-aloe-vera/”]
Knowing your aloe vera onions
Knowing good stuff from not-so-good stuff is difficult at the best of times and so it is in aloe vera. At first glance, the above test shows the oomph (MeOHPS) to be almost as good as Aloeride (3,920 compared to 4,680). It only tells one part of the story. Imagine that you want to fry some chips. You buy an opaque 5kg bag labelled ‘potatoes’… only to find out that the potato diameter is 2.54 centimeters (1 inch). Fat lot of use they are for making chips! In aloe vera sizes matter because different fractions have different functions. In a similar vein, this manufacturer used heat drying on heat-sensitive molecules. That is why most of the fractions are low (0.06, 0.13, 0.47, 1.46) whilst the heat-denatured polysaccharides populate the smaller Dalton section (97.87). This product is predictably not going to do what research shows aloe vera can do. Sure, Bloomberg would have found something, the problem is that this product doesn’t serve you nearly as well as well-made aloe vera could do. There’s you thinking aloe vera doesn’t help you when it is the cutting-corners-manufacturing that is letting you down.
Do you get what you pay for?
Normally I would say you do, but we do things differently. When in 2011 for greater ease of use, we changed our vegetarian capsule content from 180mg to 426mg, we didn’t fully pass on our cost increase to customers. We continued the buy 5 get 1 free offer and we continued the worldwide free shipping despite postage getting ever more expensive. The contrast with other aloe manufacturers became astronomical with Aloeride aloe vera for horses. Horse owners literally save themselves a few hundred Pound Sterling by buying the better product. Stud Farms and Racing yards save themselves thousands a year that way. Ours is completely the opposite scenario to the Bloomberg findings. Aloeride is best British aloe vera by far, which is why we would never so much as consider ‘shrinkflation’.
We believe that the above comparison is a matter of public interest and constitutes fair comment without malice. We believe that empowering people to make an informed choice is good. All measurements within our website are factual and are quoted verbatim from the reports we receive from accredited, independent laboratories and we retain such supporting evidence to justify that the statistics are representative of the characteristics of the products relevant for a proper comparison. Outcomes are masked because of comparative advertising, product disparagement and trademark constraints.
What stops you from relaxing properly? Many people don’t relax properly because they feel boxed in (consciously or subconsciously). Boxed in between the ‘because ofs‘ (past) and the ‘what ifs‘ (future). A little trapped in between everything that caused you to be where you are right now, and your future ahead with its challenges, demands, risks and uncertainties. Any resulting stress affects your mental-emotional/social behaviour as much as your performance at work or at play. The good news is that you can affect this greatly, it is not difficult to do.
Savouring the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the here and now, you are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, you are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-respect (self-esteem is unhelpful terminology), and are better able to form deep connections with others. Fashionably called mindfulness with courses to teach you aplenty, it simply means that you are aware. From self-preservation (oh bummer, I didn’t see that lion hiding and that is now eating me) to appreciation of (perhaps even gratitude for) any glorious thing in Nature… live with Perception switched on.
Relaxing vs. Relaxation
Before you start, there’s relaxing and there’s relaxation… Riding a horse may be relaxing, so may be singing in a choir, fishing or reading a book . For your body, relaxation happens ONLY when a switch is moved: when your sympathetic tone is high then your body is in fight/flight mode and… SWITCH… now your parasympathetic tone is high, your body is in proper relaxation and healing mode. It is like a dimmer switch that may switch on a little when you read a lovely book, or sit and watch the sunset. It goes full blast relaxation when you meditate properly and when you sleep well. Parasympathetic dominance does not switch on when you ride a horse, when you sing or fish. Oh and, just so you know, the benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BzRAs) type of drugs given for insomnia reduce stage 3–4 sleep (NREM-REM cycles) from 4% to 1%… So you would be out for the count but you’re not repairing as much as sleep is meant to repair you. [Chronic hypnotic efficacy of estazolam, Lamphere J, Roehrs T, Zorick F, Koshorek G, Roth T, Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1986; 12(8):687-91]. On a similar note, alcohol allows you to fall asleep quicker but it causes warring Alpha and Delta brain waves which leads to disrupted sleep. By ‘sleeping well’ I mean natural sleep, not sleep induced by drugs or alcohol.
Just like weightlifting changes the size of your biceps, meditation shapes a new brain for you and it changes your blood markers. After eight weeks of meditation, functional MRI (fMRI) scans show the fight/flight centre to shrink . This brain area called the amygdala is involved in the initiation of your body’s response to stress. At the same time, your pre-frontal cortex (associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making) becomes thicker. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of your brain gets weaker, whilst connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger. Your blood changes with a reduction in biomarkers of stress and inflammation (C-reactive proteins, interleukin 6 and cortisol) all of which are associated with disease.
The long term effect of meditation is, that, on fMRI, a resting brain of people who have done some 40,000 hours of meditation, looks similar to a brain of a normal person doing meditation. Their baseline has changed and relaxation is their default state. Interestingly, in expert meditators the pre-frontal cortex is no longer bigger than expected… suggesting that this way of thinking doesn’t require any concentration. Stop weightlifting (effort) and your biceps returns back to ‘normal’ size…
A good teacher is priceless
The easiest and single most do-able meditation is Transcendental Meditation (TM). The crux of this is, that you will be given a ‘meaningless’ individual (and to remain completely private) Sanskrit word to repeat in your head over and over again. The training you’d do with a TM teacher and within a group (collective meditation somehow enhances it) is, to get your Sanskrit word linked (conditioned) to your brain going into a meditative state. It’s as simple as Pavlov ringing a bell triggering hydrochloric acid production in his dog (bell was rung prior to feeding, dog produces stomach acid and eats… eventually just ringing the bell without food would also produce stomach acid). So the Sanskrit word is a simple conditioning reflex, you train your brain to raise parasympathetic tone on hearing ‘your’ word. Repeating your Sanskrit word over and over again also deflects other thoughts coming into your brain.
The easiest and single most do-able mindfulness is you focusing on the air flowing through your nasal passages as you breathe-in through your nose, and breathe-out through your nose (in your mind say “I am breathing in… I am breathing out”, and feel the air go in and out). You could sit on an upright chair, ideally with your back not resting against it but self-supporting. You feel your feet on the ground, you feel your thighs on the chair… good teachers can help you be aware of the here and right now. Lying on your back with an eye pillow on your eyes/forehead is great but I easily fall asleep in that position. The pace of breathing becomes slower if you do the following. After you breathe out, count to 4 before you breathe in again. It slows you down and before long, you can wait for the count of 5 before you want to breathe in again. As smooth, rhythmic breathing slows down and down, you stop thinking about counting. Simply be quiet and experience what’s around you, here and now, the comfy seat, the raindrop on a leaf, the fragrant flower, colours, birdsong, the Boeing 747 overhead tempting to disturb the peace (whose life’s perfect). In old money I call this count your blessings.
“Whichever breathing pattern you follow, always keep it smooth with a steady rhythm, this relaxes irrespective of how many counts in, hold or out. With 4-7-8 yoga breathing – with the tip of your tongue lightly touching the ridge of tissue at the back of your upper front teeth- you breathe in through your nose quietly for count of 4, you hold your breath for the count of 7, you forcefully breathe out through your pursed lips for the count of 8. Useful as this is for insomniacs and patients with COPD, it is NOT the most useful breathing technique for mindfulness. Instead I suggest that you, after smoothly breathing out through your nose, take a 4 or more counts respiratory rest (i.e. a relaxed hold) which delivers the medical benefits from Buteyko breathing and then you smoothly breathe in through your nose again. Slowly slowing down a rhythmic breathing rate.“ (Han van de Braak BSc LicAc MCSP MBAcC (Retd)
Astute as you are, you might say, why not do the three simultaneously? The binaural frequencies encourage your brain to develop theta and delta waves (what all meditation aspires to achieve), doing your TM reinforces the Pavlovian conditioning, the mindful breathing puts the cherry on the cake. Fair to say that the mp3 requires gadgetry and many prefer to meditate for relaxation the old fashioned way which you can do anytime, any place, anywhere… All these techniques work MUCH better if you can infuse love (compassion) into it. There is nothing to lose, there is everything to gain from the above suggestions. Notably so when you translate ‘increased inner peace’ into action, love first and foremost is a verb.
By placing a small yoga eye pillow on your face (when lying on your back or sitting reclined), you don’t just shut the light out, you help your autonomic nervous system shift into the direction of parasympathetic tone. Research using an ophthalmologic ocular pressure device (Okulopressor®) shows that in healthy subjects, with only mild eyeball pressure stimulation, the sympathetic-parasympathetic balance shifts towards parasympathetic predominance. For effective meditation/relaxation this is precisely where that balance needs to be, hence my thumbs up for the eye pillow. The image below is Han van de Braak BSc LicAc MCSP MBAcC (Retd) blindly taking a selfie…
 The differences in brain volume after eight weeks showed thickening in four regions: a) the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance; b) the left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation; c) the temporo-parietal junction which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion; d) the pons (area of the brain stem) where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced. The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general got smaller in the group that went through meditation (mindfulness-based stress reduction program). The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
 According to The Rest Test 68.4% of people surveyed would like more rest. The top three restful activities were: reading (approx. 60%), being in the natural environment (approx. 53%), spending time alone (approx. 52%). This test is about relaxing activities (should bring down the sympathetic tone) but not about relaxation in the sense of raising the parasympathethic tone. Riding a horse, singing in a choir and fishing fell outside the scope of this survey).
Not many people appreciate that it is the repetition of words, of movements, of thoughts (in fact any new experience) that creates and strengthens neuronal pathways in the brain. It is how we learn and how we re-learn (overwrite garbage)… Mala prayer beeds encourage repetition for Buddhists whilst, at our end of the pond, Roman Catholicism prescribes the use of the Rosary. Stepping over this cultural divide, both bead strings simply encourage repetition. Practice makes perfect but oh my, be mindful of what the input is… the computing term GIGA (garbage in, garbage out) springs to mind because this is so very apt! The header picture is my own 108-bead Mala that ‘does the counting for me’ whilst I mantra, visualise and build new neuronal pathways. I’m neither a Buddhist nor a Roman Catholic, I am simply a pragmatists. A mala helps your brain build neuronal pathways, it’s a tool.
In music you start playing a piece extremely slowly (creating a default neuronal pathway), and only once you can play it faultlessly at that speed, you gradually speed up to the composer’s tempo. You correctly build the desired neural pathways first, repetition embeds them deeper and deeper, and only then speed can be added. In gymnastics you cannot vault slowly first and then at the required speed, so in physical movement you break it down into components of movements (e.g. balance or strength or coordination). In meditation or in mantras all that matters is the repetition of words, the feeling these engender and the vision that accompanies them. Top sport uses this, top musicians do too and I want to talk here about how repetition will help your brain. It is called neuroplasticity, the ability of the neurons in your brain to compensate for injury and disease (e.g. stroke) and to adjust their activities in response to new situations (learning anything mental or physical) or to changes in their environment. Your brain is either your biggest supporter or your biggest adversary, and the liberating or depressing thing about this is, that ultimately it is your freedom of choice. I mean choice in the sense of Eleanor Roosevelt saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.
Other perhaps than for solely meditation, before you use a mala or utter a mantra, it’s useful to know what you ‘consent to’ and what you do not ‘consent to’. This is where a little homework like ‘mapping‘ clarifies what you want to reinforce with your brain. Map what you like, what you dislike; what you are good at, what you are not so good at. Map your dreams, hopes and aspirations instead of chasing fantasies. Many aspects of the brain remain changeable even into adulthood, you’re never too old for change. Such neuroplasticity occurs as physaical changes to individual neurons, to how neurons link with one another (which is what is referred to in this Post) or to the brain as a whole (cortical remapping). Of course the longer (thus likely more as default) a GIGA pathway is embedded, the more challenging it may prove to overwrite it. Where there’s a will…
The difference between dreams and fantasies is that fantasies, if they’d come true, do not truly make you happy. A dream come true does. Mapping can help you know the difference.
If you find exploring yourself in such an analytical way difficult, then imagine that you’re looking at a friend, nine out of ten you’d mellow your criticisms, or deliver any that should be mentioned more gently, or praise when praise is due. Get the bearings for your journey (building new neurons) as sorted as you can, only then use repetitions. Make sure that your actions are congruent with your desired goals. Fingering the mala/rosary, reciting a mantra and visualising running a marathon without ever leaving the settee is called delusion. The faith I mention in my diagram is ‘I can’ and, for those who find that choice hard, or who let fear of failure dictate life, be inspired by the Rio Paralympics 2016 trailer.
Does It Work
Yes it does. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Russian team won a total of 98 medals, 24 more Olympic medals than their closest rival (USA). They used hypnosis and visualisation… nowadays pretty much all top teams do. Soviet research was motivated by the observation of how Holocaust survivors were able to continually renew their strength in the harshest of times and the worst of treatment. In one of the most solid Russian trials on how the use of visualisation could lead to peak performance in sports, the Soviet researchers divided a group of top athletes into four groups that corresponded with the following training regimes: Group 1 – 100% physical training Group 2 – 75% physical training – 25% mental training Group 3 – 50% physical training – 50% mental training Group 4 – 25% physical training – 75% mental training
Group 4 had shown significantly greater improvement than Group 3. Group 3 showed even greater improvement than Group 2, with Group 1 giving the lowest performance. This is a straight forward example that using mental training i.e. using repetition of mantras and visualisation helps build neuronal pathways that physical training alone cannot generate. At the 2012 National Dressage Convention at Hartpury, the Dutch dressage superstar Adelinde Cornelissen talked about her using such techniques even during her riding (normally referred to as moving meditation , in this case meditation on the hoof might be the better phrase). It is total immersion into what you are doing and is extrasensory communication with your horse. I know that our own Leah Beckett uses meditation/visualisation also. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy… Fueling nutrition for your journey are steps I described in Our Approach. No army can fight on an empty stomach and no soldier can fight unless he is fit [Winston Churchill].
Too much of a good thing
Pacing the training your brain to make new neuronal pathways is no different from the pacing physical training needs. After my 108 bead(n) meditation in the morning, I have done my quota of mental training and I’ll get on with my day. Limit how much you do in any one session because too much of the same input results in what is known as repetition suppression. Your brain switches off, so take a break, get the dosage right for you. All neurons that initially are responsive to a stimulus show a proportionally equivalent reduction in their response to repeated presentations of the same stimulus. We know that from functional MRI and EEG/MEG and neuron firing rates declining in one mechanism of ‘switching off’. If you do mental training for longer sessions, make sure you vary the input!