Tag Archives: stress management

Meditation: A Simple and Effective Way to Help Your Child Enjoy and Succeed at School

Toronto Naturopathic Doctor

Here’s the content of an article we wrote that was published in the fall 2016 “Education Issue” of EcoParent

They haven’t posted it Online, but this is how the article looks.

– Jonah Lusis, ND

As I write this, in a coffee shop, the next table is engaged in a particularly animated conversation. Until a few minutes ago, I was struggling at focusing on my writing and decided to meditate. See? It works!

Actually, it’s not that simple.

My father (who, it occurs to me, I have only heard raise his voice once in my life) meditates, and for that reason I’ve had an awareness of meditation my entire life. I began using meditation as a clinical tool around 15 years ago after completing a course offered by the Mind-Body Medical Institute (now called the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine), and used it on an “as needed” basis when I was feeling anxious, but only became aware of the potential of this practice when, for no particular reason, I decided to begin a daily meditation practice.

Within a month, I had noticed benefit. After almost a year, I am very aware of improved focus, greater patience, improved mood and emotional resilience and in general, a greater sense of calm, contentedness and optimism. Great for anyone, but specifically, the exact tools children can use to thrive in their studies (and “survive” the sometimes difficult emotional climate of the school environment).

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a term most people are aware of, but few can define.

Historically, meditation has been used as a means to spiritual growth and consciousness-raising: a path to one’s most-evolved self.

In the West, we are more prone to use meditation as a secular pursuit, for the purpose of stress management, and improvement of health and performance. There are many ways to “Western Meditate”, but at their core, all are mental exercises, the goal of which is to improve voluntary control over our thoughts and mental processes, the result of which is greater relaxation, calmness, concentration and the like.

Is There Scientific Support for Meditating?

Thousands of experiments have been published on the effects of meditation, including benefits in reducing discomfort from pain, reducing symptoms of depression, and relevant to school performance:

  • A study of 60 adults participating in a three-month meditation program demonstrated that those having meditated were able to better maintain attention on mundane tasks (hopefully your child is inspired to learn and passionate about their studies, but in the event they are not …)
  • A study of 50 adults having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) demonstrated that mindfulness meditation resulted in decreased brain activity associated with ADHD symptoms; corresponding decreases in hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention; and increased “acting with awareness”
  • In a study of 42 elementary school-aged children, eight weeks of meditation resulted in significant improvements in social anxiety and aggressive behavior, and decreased salivary cortisol (the primary hormone we release in response to stress) measurements

And meditation does not only result in changes in a subjective experience:

  • MRI scans of persons who meditate compared to those who do not demonstrated that meditators have increased thickening (“brain mass”) in areas of the brain associated with conscience, long-term memory, sustaining attention and visceral awareness (e.g., breathing, heart-rate, muscle tension and other potential physiological cues of being “stressed”)

So, I’m Interested: How Do I Meditate?

There are many ways to meditate, but for the purpose of improved academic performance and stress management, “mindfulness meditation” is the most useful in the context of practicality and convenience.

“Mindfulness” may be defined as “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis”, and can be achieved through a wide range of activities.

In order to meditate, there are only three requirements:

  1. A distraction-free environment (not necessarily a silent, solitary environment, but a comfortable one in which interruptions will not occur)
  2. Engagement in diaphragmatic breathing (strictly speaking not essential, but in my opinion, invaluable, particularly if relaxation is a goal)
  3. The bringing of attention to a single object (e.g., breathing, muscle tension, a phrase or visual image)

Diaphragmatic Breathing

In a seated position, rest your elbows on your knees. Do you feel your belly expanding as you inhale? Do you feel your shoulders “drop” as you exhale? You are now “diaphragmatic breathing”.

Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes described as “belly breathing”, refers to deep breathing in which the diaphragm, the large muscle at the base of the lungs, and primary muscle in breathing, is used most efficiently.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing: sit comfortably, with a straight back, and place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. As you breath, imagine you are filling a balloon in your belly with air, allowing your abdomen to stretch and expand as you inhale. Monitor chest movement with your second hand: it should be minimal: a feeling of your ribs “widening”.

Exhale fully through pursed lips, allowing your shoulders to drop, and “releasing” muscle tension.

Diaphragmatic breathing feels awkward at first, and does not come naturally: do not be frustrated by this.

Maintaining Attention On a Single Object

Maintaining attention on a single object can take many forms, including practicing yoga or tai chi; repeating a mantra or engaging in prayer; or attending to the direction offered in a “guided meditation” (in which actions are directed by a recording).

My experience with yoga as a meditative pursuit was that it required almost a year of regular practice before I noticed I was attending only on my breathing during classes. Hundred’s of hours of yoga classes are not practical for most children and families.

Silent repetition of a prayer or mantra can be effective for more experienced meditators, but beginners often find it difficult to maintain attention on an internal object.

Other common techniques for centering attention include attending to:

  • Breathing, by deep, relaxed diaphragmatic breathing, and attending to how air feels as it follows the path through your mouth and throat into your lungs; and then out again
  • Muscle tension, via “progressive muscle relaxation”, in which attention is methodically moved through the body, from head to feet, simply noticing how every part of the body is feeling (and if possible, releasing tension as it is noted)

Because of the time investment required to “master” yoga, and the challenge associated with maintaining attention for beginners, guided meditations are the easiest and most practical place for beginners to proceed.

Guided meditations are readily available on the Internet, but two resources I have used and like are:

Find a guided meditation that resonates with you (e.g., focuses on muscle relaxation if you have muscle tension; is not too “New Age” if you are annoyed by this), and maintain attention on, and follow the directions offered, actively, but gently (i.e., not laser-like focus).

As you meditate, maintain a “non-judgmental” attitude: if the instruction is to bring your attention to your shoulders, and you feel tension there, simply acknowledge the tension you feel. Do not “beat yourself up” over it (“I’m so tense. I need to begin taking care of myself. Why can’t I focus? …”).

When you (inevitably) notice your attention has strayed and you are thinking of other things, acknowledge: “I’m off track”, and return to the meditation.

After your meditation is complete, take a few minutes to gently “bring yourself back” to your environment and return to your day, rather than jumping directly into a board meeting or other stressful situation.

Anything Else Standing Between Me and Enlightenment?

Not really.

Although short meditations provide immediate benefits, to gain cumulative benefits (e.g., be a calmer, more focused person), meditation must be practiced at least 10 minutes daily.

As with any new habit, to successfully integrate meditation into a lifestyle, plan a regular time for it (rather than realizing at day’s end that meditation was missed again).

Many have a “best” time of day to meditate. In my experience, this is often on waking, or for those with children, after children have been dropped to school (usually the most frantic portion of a parent’s day). Meditation at this time allows the remainder of the day to be calm and optimally productive. Others having stressful jobs will find that immediately after work is the best time, in order that stresses can be left at the workplace, and family time can be enjoyed. In my opinion, if school performance is the goal, these are the best times for children as well. For younger children, before bedtime may be ideal, so they can be calm and relax into sleep.

As with any worthwhile pursuit, meditation requires commitment. Do not be frustrated when while meditating you find your mind wandering: this is a normal part of the process, and in fact a sign of success (unawares to you, your “monkey mind” is constantly jumping from concern-to-concern: when meditating you are becoming aware of the jumps). With practice, these will occur less often. Eventually you reach a point at which “time disappears”: you will immerse yourself in meditation, and 10 or 20 minutes will seemingly pass in only a few minutes.

Children in particular will find mediation challenging. I meditate with my six-year-old, for fewer than 10-minutes, and with the knowledge that mediation for her is primarily quiet time, and fostering of an interest in mindfulness (Meditation with my three-year-old is presently limited to my meditating to prevent her driving me insane – serenity now, hopefully not insanity later.)

I’d Like To Start Meditating, If You’ll Stop Talking (Writing)

In my humble opinion, meditation is the single most beneficial life skill we can teach our children. Although challenging, it is simple; the benefits are incredibly far-reaching; and it is truly egalitarian, one of the few completely barrier-free resources in the world, the only requirements being:

  • A distraction-free environment
  • 10 to 20 minutes-a-day
  • Commitment and patience with oneself

Give it a try.

Good luck to you and your children in school and all your pursuits.

References

Walsh R, Shapiro SL. The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology: a mutually enriching dialogue. Am Psychol. 2006 Apr; 61(3):227-39.

MacLean KA, Ferrer E, Aichele SR, et al. Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. Psychol Sci. 2010; 21(6):829-39.

Schoenberg, Poppy L.A. et al. Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on neurophysiological correlates of performance monitoring in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Neurophysiology. 125(7):1407-16.

Yoo YG, Lee DJ, Lee IS, Shin N, Park JY, Yoon MR, Yu B. The effects of mind subtraction meditation on depression, social anxiety, aggression, and salivary cortisol levels of elementary school children in South Korea. J Pediatr Nurs. 2016 Jan 11. pii: S0882-5963(15)00372-3. doi: 10.1016/j.pedn.2015.12.001. [Epub ahead of print]

Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005;16(17):1893-97.

Marlatt GA, Kristeller JL. Mindfulness and meditation. In: Miller WR, editor. Integrating spirituality into treatment: resources for practitioners. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 1999. p. 67-84.

 

Posted: 2016 July 28

 

 

Bowen Therapy (Bowen Technique)

Toronto Naturopathic Doctor

Relax, Reset, Rebalance

Bowen Therapy is a gentle, hands-on treatment used primarily to decrease pain and increase mobility, and reduce stress and anxiety.

A much more gentle intervention than many conventional pain treatments (e.g., some forms of chiropractic manipulation or physiotherapy), Bowen Therapy may be an effective alternative for patients having much pain (e.g., severe injury), increased sensitivity to pain (e.g., having fibromyalgia); or simply requiring gentle treatment (e.g., elderly, children).

It addresses an area that most pain therapies ignore, “centralized pain”, “re-training” your brain to “let go” of it’s pattern of experiencing pain, particularly chronic pain, pain that has not responded well to other treatments (e.g., “frozen shoulder”), and pain in persons seeming to be extraordinarily sensitive to pain (e.g., fibromyalgia).

Bowen Therapy may be used as either a primary treatment, or supportive treatment. As a primary treatment, it typically used for chronic conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system (e.g., fibromyalgia, recovery from injury, “frozen shoulder”).

It is used as a supportive treatment in cases where the autonomic (“unconscious”) nervous system appears to be in need of being “re-set” (e.g., constipation, heart palpitation) or for stress management (e.g., management of anxiety).

The goal of treatment using Bowen Therapy is usually complete resolution of pain, or complete return to previous function.

Benefits of Bowen Therapy

Bowen Therapy may be of benefit, in some capacity, the treatment almost any health condition.

A study titled “The Bowen Technique: a study of it’s prevalence and effectiveness”, presented at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that Bowen Therapy treatment was:

  • 95% effective in the treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • 88% effective in the treatment of neck pain
  • 85% effective in the treatment of low back pain
  • 83% effective for the treatment of stress and tension
  • 80% effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia
  • 80% effective for the treatment of hip pain
  • 75% effective for the treatment of non-specific pain conditions

Other research has demonstrated that Bowen Therapy:

  • Improves decreases tremor and improves sleep quality in patients having Parkinson’s disease
  • Reduces heart rate variability (“normalized” heart rate) and slows heart rate in 100% of fibromyalgia patients
  • Increased neck range of motion, and decreased “disability scores” in patients having trapezitis (neck and shoulder pain, and restricted movement) when combined with physiotherapy
  • Improves mobility and function; and reduced pain (on average) from a score of 7/10 to 1/10 in 100% of “frozen shoulder” patients
  • Reduces migraine headache frequency and/or intensity in 80% of patients
  • Improves symptoms of restless legs syndrome in 3/5 patients receiving treatment
  • Completely reduces symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in 4/6 patients receiving treatment, with complete resolution of symptoms  in 3/4 of these cases
  • Significantly improves motor function of patients recovering from stroke
  • Improves sleep and a general sense of well-being

A single Bowen Therapy treatment has been demonstrated to:

  • Decrease feelings of depression by 51%
  • Decrease feelings of anxiety by 21%
  • Decrease fatigue by 41%
  • Decrease sense of tension by 62%
  • Decrease feelings of anger by 47%
  • Decrease confusion by 33%
  • Increase flexibility (in hamstrings) by 26-34%

Learn more about the experience of, and results from Bowen Therapy treatment for a range of health conditions at these sites:

  • Details of some of the research described above, including studies on treatment of frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome and restless leg syndrome
  • Six case reports, including treatment of disc injury
  • Six case reports, including treatment of sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and “tennis elbow”
  • Six case reports, including treatment of hip and knee pain, and recovery from knee and lung surgeries
  • Six case reports, including treatment of various neuralgias
  • Five case reports, including treatment of sciatica; and further insight into potential mechanisms of action of Bowen Therapy
  • Four case reports, including treatment of migraine headaches, sciatica and “frozen shoulder; and further insight into potential mechanisms of action of Bowen Therapy
  • Three case reports, including recovery from auto collision
  • 22 case reports, including treatment of children, “frozen shoulder” and sciatica
  • Seven case reports, including treatment of “frozen shoulder”, carpal tunnel syndrome and migraine headaches
  • Two case reports of treatment of Parkinson’s disease
  • A case report of treatment of migraine headaches

What to Expect

Bowen Therapy involves application of gentle pressure to the muscles, tendons and other soft tissues at specific points, and in specific sequence.

Treatments are approximately 30 to 45 minutes long, and performed weekly or bi-weekly for the first four sessions.

Treatment frequency is then individualized to your response to treatment (e.g., if your pain is resolved, but returns after three weeks, treatments will be scheduled at three week intervals).

Improvements in pain levels or function may be experienced after as few as one treatment.

Bowen Therapy at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine

Bowen Therapy treatments at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine are performed by Du La, ND and Jonah Lusis, ND, both of who have been certified in Bowen Therapy by the Bowen Therapy Academy of Australia since 2002.

Bowen Therapy treatments provided at Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine are covered by most extended healthcare plans.

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St. John’s Wort: A Balm for Anxiety

Toronto Naturopathic Doctor

St. John’s Wort is well known for its effectiveness against depression, but what many of our clients don’t realize is that this herb is also a powerful tool in fighting stress-related anxiety. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, St. John’s Wort is as effective as antidepressant drugs in treating mild to severe cases of depression. One study even found it more effective than Prozac.

Known by its scientific name, Hypericum perforatum, St. John’s Wort is widely prescribed for depression in Europe for a simple reason: it works. But depression isn’t its only use in herbal medicine.

St. John’s Wort and Anxiety

Most of the research on St. John’s Wort in the past two decades has focused on depression, and as a result we’ve found that family doctors and psychiatrists tend to dismiss the other benefits of St. John’s Wort in favour of the tried and true – depression. Even natural health experts and knowledgeable health food store staff won’t necessarily know that St. John’s Wort can do a lot more than relieve depression, and that one of its greatest benefits is the ability to combat anxiety.

Although St. John’s Wort has little impact on acute anxiety caused by trauma, it does have an effect on slow-building stress that leads to chronic anxiety. The “Bible” of eclectic herbalism, King’s American Dispensary (Felter & Lloyd, 1898), recommends St. John’s Wort for “nervous affectations.” Anxiety connected with stress or depression is exactly the sort of case indicated.

Prolonged stress is an increasingly common concern among our clients at TCNM. Whether it’s due to work stress, family obligations, or financial worries, ongoing stress is exhausting and we know it can eventually lead to loss of interest in life, mild depression, withdrawal from key relationships and painful anxiety. St. John’s Wort has come to be one of the first treatments we consider in cases of stress-related anxiety and depression.

Bear in Mind – The Importance of a Medical Opinion

As with any other health condition, the bottom line, of course, is to speak with a health care professional before you attempt to treat or diagnose the problem yourself. Punch “anxiety” into any search engine and you’ll get millions of results, but very little practical information. Finding the right solution for your particular mind and body is a puzzle that takes training and medical experience to solve.

Even natural remedies like St. John’s Wort can have side effects and interactions with other supplements or medication you might be taking. That’s why it’s so important to consult a medical or naturopathic doctor before you start taking any treatment for anxiety. Our naturopaths might spot a crucial piece of information in your medical history or symptomology that’s easy to overlook if you’re too close to the problem, and save you months or years of trouble.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of St. John’s Wort? Looking for a natural solution for anxiety and depression in Toronto? Please contact us at info@tcnm.ca or give us a call.

 

 

Posted: 2013 March 1