From environmental pathogens to modern diet, our cells are inflammaging – aging through increased inflammation. How can yoga help?
By Leonie Taylor and Charlotte Watts, co-authors of Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health
‘Inflammaging’, a term coined by Italian researcher Claudio Franceschi in 2000, refers to the low-grade chronic inflammation that often characterises the ageing process. This may partially explain why some older people suffer more from diseases such as COVID-19. Beyond this pandemic, many refer to the creeping symptoms related to inflammation – such as joint pain, loss of mobility or issues related to immune and respiratory health – as an inevitable sign of ageing.
‘Ageing is often described as the progressive accumulation of deleterious changes over time leading to a loss of physiological aptitude and fertility, an increased susceptibility to disease, and ultimately to death’
While ageing is a...
We humans are wired to have neurological changes to the differing substances that can enter our bodies. Whether that is a dopamine rush from a sugar high, a glass of wine, an opioid medication, cigarette or stronger substance, these are varying degrees of changes in biochemistry that can have us coming back for more.
Whether our habitual and often compulsive behaviour patterns and use of food, drink, drugs (or behaviours like gambling, shopping, TV, excessive exercise or sex) wander into addictive territory can be subjective. When is a passion for good wine a mask for an alcohol problem or when does a cycle of pain create a dependency on pain medications for example? There is much debate whether sugar is addictive, but those caught in its thrall certainly struggle to give up and feel acute symptoms of withdrawal when they avoid it.
The definition of addiction (Miriam-Webster) states that addiction is “Compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming...
Yoga is an ancient health system that includes a physical practice designed to prepare the body for meditation. Its popularity reflects its universal adaptability to suit individual needs and many modify their practice for changing phases of life. Its emphasis on non-violence, non-competitiveness and self-compassion can allow practitioners to respect the energy and postural needs of their body.
Many people begin yoga to help with back pain and it is no coincidence that they also see improvements in bone health, especially alongside dietary changes of low sugar, less acid-forming foods and higher vegetable intake. The combination of postural improvement, muscular strength and better coordination adds up to improved overall musculo-skeletal health. More balanced breathing patterns also improve circulation to feed oxygen and nutrients to bone cells.
Bone as living tissue
Much of bone health comes down to density, which naturally decreases with age and so increases the risk...
In the first of two blogs giving you a flavour of the content and practices in my book Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health (Singing Dragon, October 2022) we explore the myriad ways in which a mindful, embodied movement practice can affect the whole of our immune maintenance and health.
Also see this article: Yoga and Somatics for Immune Health
All illustrations are from the book, copyright Charlotte Watts 2022
We are animated through breath….
Breath is life and an area of our health that we can affect profoundly with simple movements and breath practices.
Essentially breathing is a continual tidal rhythm, drawing oxygen into the body with the inhalation and releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) out on the exhalation. This happens on a large scale through the...
In a fast-paced world, getting enough deep sleep may seem like a luxury, but quality and quantity of sleep are equally vital – or body and mind suffer…
The sleep cycle
When we sleep, we cycle between different phases. Each is vital and a really good night’s rest includes five or six of each of these cycles. The first sleep cycle is about 1 hours and each progressive cycle is slightly shorter:
- Non Rapid Eye Movement Phase (NREM) – where we first fall asleep, that floating, liminal space where we can easily reawaken.
- NREM 2 dropping a little deeper, heart rate and brain waves slow, eye movement stops and our temperature drops. About half of our time asleep is in this phase.
- NREM 3, deeper sleep, is characterised by longer, fuller breathing, Delta brain waves and an increase in Human Growth Hormone. This is where we strengthen immunity and body and brain repair. If we are woken from this stage, we feel groggy and disorientated.
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM), the stage in which we dream. A...
How we can stimulate neural connectivity through cross-lateral movement patterns. It all starts with crawling…
Back to baby basics
Our first cross-lateral movement – when a limb from one side does something different to its opposite, or any movement that crosses over the midline, such as right hand touching left knee – is crawling. This is a big evolutionary shift from moving on our bellies, which moves bilaterally – leg and arm from the same side together during which the right side of the brain controls the right, and the left side, the left side of the body. Crawling builds bridges across the two, allowing information to pass freely across the corpus callosum and coordinate our spinal muscles and bodily movement up to standing and walking. Without this stage, we could only move awkwardly with and no relationship across diagonal lines of the body. Babies who do not crawl may well find other cross lateral methods to create this effect.
Movement to help your body naturally move through trauma
The term trauma is used to describe the state an individual is left with after a shock or prolonged danger or distressing event has passed. Its prevalence in society has grown from the recognition of the symptoms war veterans were experiencing in the 1980s with the diagnosable condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This has also opened up to recognise that trauma does not just stem from large, traumatic events but can be as a result of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and the definition extended to anything that overwhelms to the point where we can’t cope, on an individual basis.
The medical world has long viewed trauma as a purely psychological issue, although recent research shows it to be a full physiological response; a reliving in this moment of an event or felt state that came before. For those with trauma, this is the only way more primal, instinctual responses can make sense of the continual.
Stretching can be something we look forward to or dread within our exercise regimens, so understanding its purpose and effects can create more depth and motivation, however we feel. Messages can be conflicting, so some simple basics can help us navigate confusion towards following your body’s needs.
Stretching for sports is not the same as in yoga; rather than looking to improve flexibility alone, static (still) stretching after exercise is designed to lengthen muscle shortened through use back to its normal range of motion (ROM). This is why dynamic (moving), rather than static is recommended for warm-ups. More flexibility ie more range through muscle and around joints may actually impede the action and strength of specific movements needed for sport.
We can’t actually lengthen muscle – this is already determined by its insertion and origin ie where it is attached and leads to in terms of bones and tendons – but we can lessen resistance to a stretch, where...
We are always going through phases of change, whether we notice them as substantial or not. This January one can often seem like the motherload though, with high expectations and suggestions coming at us from all angles.... whether it's giving up something, doing something else or fixing that thing that is 'wrong' with us, there is a sense of this ideal, other self that we should be.
There is a phrase doing the rounds at the moment that is particularly pushing my buttons; "be the best (or better) version of yourself" - eh? What on earth does that mean? To me, there is an implication that if all the boxes are not ticked, I am simply not good enough. I guess it's the word version I react to there - we have so many facets to our beings that to judge some as good and others not so much adds in to our cultural norm of self-criticism.
I do believe in constant awareness of which unmet needs I am playing out for sure, but have learnt that I need to be mindful of looking at the unconscious...
Our energy and vitality are bound up in optimal function of a small, but important gland in our throat. Whether you have been diagnosed with a specific thyroid condition or simply feel sluggish and have difficulty losing weight, supporting the health of your thyroid may help improve how you feel.
Our energy levels are profoundly linked to our mental health and those with thyroid issues often reported that it feels like “life is passing them by.” From an Eastern perspective, the thyroid is associated with the throat chakra (energy wheel). Yogis believe this area represents expression and an energetic blockage here may have its roots in fear, inability of self-expression and frustration. Exercise is shown to support thyroid function, but ironically when it is under-functioning, motivation to move can be lost.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped organ in the neck that produces thyroid hormones that travel to cells throughout the body. One of its major jobs is to...
First published in What Doctor's Don't Tell You Magazine.
We all know the knock-on effects of a bad night’s sleep, but when insomnia becomes chronic it can affect our whole being and ability to function. The daytime fatigue it creates can send us reaching for sugar and stimulants, which in turn affect sleep.
Insomnia falls into two categories; difficulty falling asleep and waking in the night. It tends to be divided into primary insomnia, where sleeplessness is the main symptom and secondary, where sleep is affected by another condition e.g. arthritis, fibromyalgia and depression. From a holistic and psychoneuroimmunological (PNI) perspective - where our bodies work as one completely integrated system – the calming and soothing mechanisms that allow sleep have such far reaching effects on lowering inflammation, modulating immunity and regulating mood and motivation, that promoting sleep quality is a foundation of health; not just the absence of disease, but quality...
We humans have an interesting relationship with energy. We can expect so much of our resources, often underplaying the recovery time we really need and viewing ‘good energy’ simply as the ability to keep going, no matter what... which is akin to expecting your smartphone to keep working without recharging the battery.
In reality, energy that we can rely on and that remains generally stable throughout the day only occurs when we factor downtime and breaks into our daily lives - when we truly connect in to when we are doing too much and need to back off. This can apply to any aspect of our lives; work, play, exercise and anything else.
Energy is finite and shared around the body; when it is needed for digestion or immunity for instance, our want to move around becomes reduced - energy available to our muscle is needed elsewhere and we go into recovery mode.
The truth is energy needs to ebb and flow. We need to allow natural down-times to be able to pick up again...