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You may already know quite a bit about The Paleo Diet®—how it encourages us to eat in a way similar to how our non-industrialized ancestors, relying on healthy meats, fish, and eggs; fruits and veggies; nuts and seeds; herbs and spices; and healthy fats and oils. The diet also advocates that you avoid, as much as possible, refined sugars and artificial sweeteners; processed foods; grains and legumes; dairy products; and trans-fats such as vegetable oil, margarine, and shortening.

You may also know about the emphasis on exercise, to keep the body fit and strong. But a Paleo lifestyle includes more than just diet and exercise. It also includes Paleo principles such as getting outside to enjoy and be nourished by the natural world; protecting ourselves from man-made EMFs; unplugging periodically from our Wi-Fi devices; and cultivating healthy human relationships.

To that end, meditation can also be a valuable component of a balanced and healthy Paleo lifestyle.

The Physical, Mental, and Emotional Benefits Of Meditation

Perhaps you have already experienced the beneficial effects of meditation. It’s reassuring to know that Western science has verified the benefits of regular meditation practice. A sampling of the proven benefits of daily practice include:

  • stress relief
  • relaxation
  • enhanced vitality
  • deeper and more nourishing sleep
  • increased mental clarity
  • improved focus and concentration
  • enhanced creativity
  • expanded insight
  • equanimity and compassion

It is quite an impressive list. Another potential benefit of meditation—one that tends to be of special interest to Paleo enthusiasts—is improvements to the digestive system.

The practice of meditation can, in fact, improve digestive efficiency in several ways. First, it can help direct physical effects by helping to resolve digestive problems such as cramps, bloating, and gas.

Second, by clarifying your mind and dissolving mental-emotional tensions, meditation can also help you make better choices in relation to what you eat and when. So, if digestion problems are linked to poor food choices, overeating, or undereating, then meditation can help.

Finally, the most general way that meditation supports our digestive system is via the melting away of anxiety and stress. While all the body’s systems respond negatively to anxiety and tension, the digestive system is particularly sensitive in this regard. Most of us have had the experience of an emotional upset ruining our appetite or giving us a stomachache.

Why does this happen? When your “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system is activated, the “rest and digest” parasympathetic functions are depressed. When your body is preparing to fight or flee, the resources necessary for proper digestion are diverted.

Over time, this can cause all kinds of digestive problems such as acid reflux, ulcers, and inflammation. By calming the mind and body through meditation, unnecessary tensions are replaced by deep relaxation, which tends to improve the functioning of the body’s organ systems, including the capacity to digest our food better.

How to Start Practicing Meditation

There are many kinds of meditation. What they have in common is their experiential nature. This means is that in order to fully understand what meditation is, you need to practice it.

Eventually, partaking in meditation will begin to feel more like simply “being.” Instead of doing meditation, you will realize that meditation is who you are.

To start, adopting a particular technique is useful. One excellent option—and a great place to start for beginners—is to devote 10 or 15 minutes to following your breath: consciously observing the cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

To help you stay on track, you can count the breaths, from one to 10, with each exhalation. Notice your inhalation, then as you exhale, say (out loud or silently to yourself) the word “one.” Then again notice the inhalation, and then as you exhale say the word “two.” Continue like this until you’ve reached “10”—and if you get distracted, begin again at “one.”

Sitting with the spine upright is one excellent posture for meditation practice. However, you can meditate with the body in almost any position. Sometimes, a simple yoga pose is a wonderful opportunity for meditation.

The yoga pose Viparita Karani (legs-up-wall pose), for instance, has deeply therapeutic effects, one of which is to calm the nervous system and help you to sleep better. Five or 10 minutes is all it takes—right before going to bed—to harmonize your body and mind in a way that helps you to fall easily into a deep and nourishing sleep.

 

The paleolithic diet is not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle of health and wellness. Wellness in body, mind, and spirit begins in the mind – the wellspring of all the energy coursing through us that provides the connection between body and spirit. We know that our body needs healthy fuel, but so does our mind. All of our daily input – everything we read, everything we look at, and everything we think – has an impact on our emotions, our motivations, our desires. Healthy fuel for our mind is positive, transformative, and rejuvenating – it makes us feel good about ourselves and others. It motivates us to take care of ourselves and find the balance we need to live the life our spirit craves. Three pillars of wellness are meditation, diet, and fitness.

Meditation

Why meditate? It improves focus. Meditation teaches us how to pay attention when our mind wanders. It provides cognitive and health benefits such as improved attention, better memory, stress relief, increased creativity and even compassion; meditation literally contributes to brain health. In this age of the social media-saturated eight-second attention span, meditation rewires our brain to improve our attention. Neuroscience studies in 2012 demonstrated that people who meditated had greatly increased folding of their cerebral cortex, potentially making their brains better at decision making and information processing. The practice of mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment; it teaches us gratitude, contentment, and kindness. Spirituality and meditation like that practiced in yoga leave us more compassionate, kind, self-reflective, and self-aware [1,3].

Diet

The paleolithic diet promotes healthy digestion, a healthy gut microbiota, and a stronger immune system by eliminating toxins and foods that contribute to inflammation and chronic disease, and by eating foods that we are genetically equipped to digest.

Proteins and Carbohydrates. Balancing carbohydrates with protein in portions appropriate to level of activity provides us maximum sustenance and energy. Although legumes and grains are off The Paleo Diet®, there are plenty of starchy vegetables to contribute carbohydrates, such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips etc. Protein should be grass-fed lean meats or fish.

Fats. Humans require good fats for healthy cell membranes, which is where all our chemical reactions take place – across membranes. While saturated fats and trans fats – found in fried foods, margarine, lard, fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb, for example, – are detrimental, monounsaturated fats are good sources of fat found in nuts, avocados, fish, and vegetable oils. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats found in fish are especially good for our hearts [2].

Vitamins and Minerals. Vegetables are the best source for vitamins, minerals, and fiber while citrus fruit is great not just for vitamin C but contributes to our pH balancing act – a balanced pH in our cells keeps opportunistic yeast and bacteria at bay and strengthens our immune system. Bananas and melons are high in potassium and magnesium which contribute to muscle and nerve function, blood pressure control, bone development and more, and they’re also high in lots of other vitamins and minerals. Berries are rich in antioxidants. As in all things, though, moderation is key. Fruit has a high fructose content and has a high glycemic index, meaning we need to budget our consumption.

Fitness

A fitness regime completes our wellness triad. Not only does activity build muscle which supports our skeleton and prevents or reduces chronic pain, physical activity rewards us with serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine – it makes our minds and bodies feel good. We don’t have to get extreme to get fit – unless we want to! We can join a yoga class and make some new friends; yoga is excellent for gentle rehabilitation of disability, or for increased flexibility, mobility, stress relief, and physical fitness. It has been shown to lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease [1]. We just need to move our bodies – dancing, walking, bike-riding, swimming, cross-fit – any level of physical activity that suits our lifestyle; physical activity aids in blood and lymph circulation throughout the body, which in turn oxygenate our cells and remove toxins.

The Paleo Diet is more than just a diet, it’s a formidable and holistic lifestyle.

References

  1. https://chopra.com/articles/the-7-spiritual-laws-of-yoga
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/good-fats-vs-bad-fats
  3. https://io9.gizmodo.com/how-meditation-changes-your-brain-and-makes-you-feel-b-470030863

 

Meditation's Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Many of us meditate everyday (or at least try to). Even if we don’t, we know the general benefits associated with the practice. Decreased stress, more focus, and better sleep – all the things endless yoga advertisements love to tout.1, 2 However, research by a Harvard University neuroscientist has shown that meditation actually changes your brain – a truly remarkable find.3, 4, 5 Though it may take some time for the changes to take effect, long-term meditators have been shown to have a larger amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions of the brain, as well as the auditory and sensory cortex.

Since people have different sensory responses to just about every scenario, this find is quite interesting. Previously, researchers found that chocolate – the mere sight of it – impacts our brains uniquely.6, 7, 8 It is interesting to see that as neuroscience advances more and more, we are beginning to see large scientific trends. Healthy foods and habits tend to elicit good neurological responses, and poor habits and choices tend to impact our brain very negatively. This is in a quite literal sense.

Meditation’s Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Asmaro, Deyar, and Mario Liotti. “High-Caloric and Chocolate Stimuli Processing in Healthy Humans: An Integration of Functional Imaging and Electrophysiological Findings.” Nutrients 6.1 (2014): 319–341. PMC. Web. 8 June 2015.

An interesting new study also found that obese teenager’s brains are much more susceptible to food commercials.9 This is another possible reason why some of us have a hard time resisting foods that may be satisfying in the short term, but deleterious in the long term. This just goes to show (once again) that establishing healthier habits – like limiting or eliminating television time – can improve your quality of life.

Meditation's Positive Change to Your Brain | The Paleo Diet

Dartmouth College. “Obese teens’ brains unusually susceptible to food commercials, study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521144100.htm.

Much of the success of the Paleo diet concept stems from the fact that it actually works. There are no known risks, and it works in the groups of people that often need dietary intervention the most – those with serious health problems. Similarly, meditation also has no known risks. So if you haven’t already considered adding meditation to your routine, I would encourage you to do so. The research conducted also found long term meditating resulted in more gray matter in the frontal cortex of the brain. This is important, because this specific area of the brain is most commonly associated with the working memory and executive decision making.10, 11 These two functions are important for weight loss, better self-control, and our long term health. While those who are very science minded may have initially been skeptical of meditation as a legitimate technique, the research is beginning to be unavoidably clear – meditation has clear and obvious scientific benefits.12 13, 14

Meditation’s Positive Change to Your Brain  | The Paleo Diet

Baccarelli, A, and V. Bollati. “Epigenetics and Environmental Chemicals.” Current opinion in pediatrics 21.2 (2009): 243–251. Print.

Daily choices like meditation and diet also affect a myriad of other physiological and neurological facets.15 Though we are born with certain genetic material, our daily choices and habits – our epigenetics – have much more of an impact on our health than we previously thought.16, 17, 18 While epigenetics helps to control whether certain genes are active or not, we still do not know what the long term impact of epigenetics may be.19, 20 This is all the more reason to continue to practice daily healthy habits. In all likelihood, the science will prove that those who mediate, eat healthy, get lots of sleep, limit stress and exercise daily – will live longer, healthier, better lives. Since we all want better lives, this research should be taken into serious consideration. No matter where you are currently at health-wise, you can turn things around and improve your situation.

So, in an effort to effectively distill all this research into simple, actionable practice, avoid indulging in bad habits (like countless hours watching television), spend some time meditating on a daily basis, and keep eating a Paleo diet. Your body (and brain) will thank you for it!

 

REFERENCES

[1] Edwards L. Meditation as medicine. Benefits go beyond relaxation. Adv Nurse Pract. 2003;11(5):49-52.

[2] Peng C.K., et al. Heart rate dynamics during three forms of meditation. Int. J. Cardiol. 2004;95:19–27.

[3] Available at: //www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/. Accessed May 30, 2015.

[4] Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005;16(17):1893-7.

[5] Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011;191(1):36-43.

[6] Asmaro D, Liotti M. High-caloric and chocolate stimuli processing in healthy humans: an integration of functional imaging and electrophysiological findings. Nutrients. 2014;6(1):319-41.

[7] Sokolov AN, Pavlova MA, Klosterhalfen S, Enck P. Chocolate and the brain: neurobiological impact of cocoa flavanols on cognition and behavior. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013;37(10 Pt 2):2445-53.

[8] Small DM, Zatorre RJ, Dagher A, Evans AC, Jones-gotman M. Changes in brain activity related to eating chocolate: from pleasure to aversion. Brain. 2001;124(Pt 9):1720-33.

[9] K. M. Rapuano, J. F. Huckins, J. D. Sargent, T. F. Heatherton, W. M. Kelley. Individual Differences in Reward and Somatosensory-Motor Brain Regions Correlate with Adiposity in Adolescents. Cerebral Cortex, 2015

[10] Buckner RL, Kelley WM, Petersen SE. Frontal cortex contributes to human memory formation. Nat Neurosci. 1999;2(4):311-4.

[11] Volkow ND, Fowler JS, Wang GJ, Goldstein RZ. Role of dopamine, the frontal cortex and memory circuits in drug addiction: insight from imaging studies. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2002;78(3):610-24.

[12] Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-68.

[13] Jain S, Shapiro SL, Swanick S, et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Ann Behav Med. 2007;33(1):11-21.

[14] Singh Y, Sharma R, Talwar A. Immediate and long-term effects of meditation on acute stress reactivity, cognitive functions, and intelligence. Altern Ther Health Med. 2012;18(6):46-53.

[15] Gardner B, Lally P, Wardle J. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(605):664-6.

[16] Weinhold B. Epigenetics: the science of change. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(3):A160-7.

[17] Egger G, Liang G, Aparicio A, Jones PA. Epigenetics in human disease and prospects for epigenetic therapy. Nature. 2004;429(6990):457-63.

[18] Portela A, Esteller M. Epigenetic modifications and human disease. Nat Biotechnol. 2010;28(10):1057-68.

[19] Delcuve GP, Rastegar M, Davie JR. Epigenetic control. J Cell Physiol. 2009;219(2):243-50.

[20] Baccarelli A, Bollati V. Epigenetics and environmental chemicals. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2009;21(2):243-51.

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