Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
We often hear the terms holistic health, holistic wellness or holistic beings. But what does that actually mean? What is the whole of us?
Recently, there was a substantial shift happening in my life. My youngest child was preparing for university and he was leaving early for football training camp. As a person that values a minimum of eight hours sleep per night, all of the sudden I found myself awake until 2 a.m. several nights in a row. My mind swirling with what had to get done before the physical move, my heart feeling heavy, and my mind racing with wonders of what “empty nest syndrome” is all about.
One night after sleeping for about an hour and half, I was awake, my mind ticking with a mental to-do list. I noticed I had a sore throat and my nose was running. I decided to take my own advice and with acceptance. Notice what is, as is. Sitting down to meditate in the darkness of my midnight arousal, I scanned my body to notice I was holding tension in my shoulders, my jaw, and definitely had a common cold brewing.
When I slowed and deepened my breathing rate and depth, a lump formed in my throat. Before really inquiring how I was emotionally feeling, the tears were spilling over my lower lids and down my cheeks. I have been a hands-on, involved and loving mother for over 20 years and my role in the current capacity was going to be drastically reduced. When I gave myself permission to check in with the whole of myself... my holistic being, I became aware that I was out of alignment in my body, my mind and my spirit.
We are not just our physical corporeal selves. Of course, taking care of our bodies is essential to our health. For optimal physical wellness we need to eat less processed, less sugar, less wheat, less meat and eat more organic plant based options such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, bean and legumes. Our bodies are made of 70 per cent water and it is required for us to function, to drink adequate amounts of water per day. Health Canada recommends eight glasses per day. Daily exercise is fundamental to keep the body functioning like a well-oiled machine. And while movement is necessary, so is rest. Our bodies thrive with 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When we get all this right, the systems within our body function more favorably. But we are not just our bodies.
“99 per cent of all disease is caused by stress.” I have read this bold claim by several different health advocates.
Our emotional well-being is vital for the body to ideally perform. Stressful situations and experiences are stored in the cellular memories within our physical vessel. The emotional response we have to what is going on in our lives can cause stress, which in turn, throws the body out of alignment. Stress can cause high blood pressure, shallow breathing which can decrease amount of oxygen delivered to our cells, compromise the immune system creating more sickness, weaken our physical body making us more prone to injury and the list goes on.
Stress can create digestive issues and weight challenges, such as increased acidity, nausea, over eating, constipation, diarrhea and long term dysfunction. When stress causes sugars to release, we don't use it for energy. It goes unused and the body stores it as fat instead. Elevated cortisol levels (sometimes referred to as the stress hormone) can also cause an increase in blood sugars.
Our ability to think clearly is also affected by stress. Stress and increased cortisol levels can interfere with learning, thinking clearly and memory. Chronic elevation can increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. Two separate studies published in Science Magazine link elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness and decreased resilience, especially in adolescence.
Meditation and any kind of loving-kindness (“Metta”) practice can assist to diminish anxiety, improve moods and reduce cortisol levels.
Meditation with breath-work or mindful breathing, in which we take deeper, slower breaths while sitting in stillness can also take in more oxygen to the cells, balance the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system, lower most of the effects of stress and bring the body, mind, and emotions into more alignment.
When we talk about spirit within us, what does it mean?
To me, living a spiritual life connects me to you and him and her... and all. All living beings connected and therefore loving, kindness and respect to all living beings, including the earth, the air and the water, is not just important but imperative for our own health and happiness. The health of the earth, air and water directly affects me and therefore a part of the wheel of holistic health.
Our spirit also embodies our purpose and passion for life. Being a part of something greater than ourselves and knowing that each and every one of us uniquely contributes to the world and each of us equally important for that offering.
Studies have found that social aggression and isolation lead to increased levels of cortisol in mice, that trigger a cascade of potential mental health problems. Connecting with others, feeling purpose, feeling close knit human bonds are vital for our physical and mental health, at any age. Studies have shown that the Vagus nerve also responds to human connectivity and physical touch, to relax your parasympathetic nervous system therefore increasing the calm factor.
When I had my holistic meltdown recently, I inquired within each of the areas of life. I brought awareness and acceptance to each field that was wonky and took measures to bring alignment by implementing what works for me. Eat healthy, drink water, sleep well, honor my feelings, get grounded, get in nature, meditate, do yoga, honor solitude while alternatively surrounding myself with loving, kind people.
With realignment holistically, I was able to drop my son off at training camp without an embarrassing tearful scene, knowing that I have done my job as a mother and mentor and that I hand the torch of independence to him now.
We have a complex yet simple existence. Each area of our being directly affected by the other. This is why people with chronic pain can get depression. This is why people not living a life of purpose can be chronically unhappy. This is why a pill doesn’t solve the holistic individual but only one of the symptoms of misalignment in our health.
Bring awareness, honor and celebration to your body, mind and heart.
We are holistic beings.
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