Halting the Inflammation Train

It is my two year anniversary of being hive-free. Yes, a strange event to have an anniversary for, but if you’ve ever had a health issue that took months or longer to resolve, you can relate. I had hive flair-ups all over my body, every single day, for one year, and then one day they went away, never to return.

During the year when I experienced the hives, I felt tired and groggy constantly, even when I first awoke in the morning. Life was an uphill battle – just the little things took extreme amounts of will to accomplish. I remember looking at the clock at 9:30 am and thinking I am way too tired to make it through this day. Even though I was only thirty-eight, I felt very old, like the best part of life was behind me. Not a fun, or productive, way to live.

Today, while still aware of the underlying condition that caused the hives, I feel vibrant and alive. The here and now is fulfilling. Exhaustion doesn’t hit me until 10 p.m. when I happily crawl under the covers feeling that a rest has been well earned. I’m actually excited about life – I know that while I have already lead a full life with many awesome memories and experiences, the best is yet to come.

What I now know is that an autoimmune disease was part of the underlying cause of the chronic hives. But I believe that at the root of my problem was chronic inflammation – the inflammation was a precursor to the auto-immunity. Our bodies use inflammation as a mechanism of defense against unwanted intruders or pathogens, but if the wrong factors are present (like poor diet and excessive stress) and the inflammation train gets going, it can accelerate to destructive levels. Once this train is going out of control, it is not easy to calm it down. Inflammation is only meant to be turned on when the body is in real danger, not chronically.

Two years ago I did what is called an ‘elimination diet’. For thirty-one days, I ate only organic bone broth soups with vegetables, cooked vegetables, simple 3-ingredient, blueberry smoothies, and an Indian dish called Kitcharee. On day seventeen of this month, the hives did not show up, and I have not seen them since (celebrate).

After the elimination diet, I slowly added foods in, one at a time and only one every three days – it can take three days for the body to adversely react to a food. My body was fine with all the foods I added – granted, I have stayed with a whole-food, gluten and dairy free diet this entire two years. As hard as this sometimes is, I feel so much better without the inflammation, I refuse to get that train going again.

A lot of us live with low levels of chronic inflammation. This presents as sluggishness, a little extra weight on the body, aches and pains, low libido, bloating, and a general lack of passion. It is interesting to consider ways to calm the inflammation, to care for ourselves in such a way that illnesses such as autoimmunity and other chronic yuckiness do not develop in the first place, or to keep the symptoms calm and dormant if they already have.

One simple practice is deep breathing. Christopher Bergland, author of The Athletes’ way: The Biology of Bliss, writes about deep breathing in his article, The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. This article is about the Vagus Nerve, a very interesting subject. This nerve wanders from the base of the brain down through the body, touching several key organs along the way – including the heart. He writes, “A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.”

He also discusses how diaphragmatic breathing increases vagal tone.

So, pull up a cushion, silence the cellphone, and treat yourself to some deep breathing. Even five or ten minutes a day will give results. First simply observe the current rhythm of your breath without judgement. Due to the hectic pace of modern life, most of us function on a jagged breathing rhythm. After noticing this for a minute or two, begin guiding the inhales and the exhales to a smooth, even rhythm. Counting the length of the inhales and the exhales and nudging them to even is one method. Sometimes it is nice to have the exhales be slightly longer and to envision stress being expelled from the body with the breath out.

This simple exercise will tone the vagus nerve, signalling to the brain and heart that all is well. Practicing regularly has huge impacts on soothing inflammation and promoting well-being – I know from experience.

This is a picture  our family out hiking in August. I am grateful to feel well again, so that I can live my life in the fullest way possible!

 

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A New Waterfall

green water

Every day we make choices. We choose the first thoughts that enter our mind upon awakening in the morning and we choose what thoughts we will continue to energize.

Will we turn on the computer first thing and bombard ourselves with news – goings on from all over the planet? And, if we do, how does this affect our thinking for the rest of the day? Does this act send our minds whirling, taking our anxiety levels along with them on a fast-paced and hectic ride?

It is interesting to observe how one choice leads to another throughout our day. We follow a pathway of our own making, starting with the quality of our thoughts.

When we wake up, our minds are more quiet than at any other time during the day. Taking five minutes to nourish ourselves with deep breathing can change the entire course of our day, and thus our lives. Did you know that the lungs are not actually muscles, and the only way they expand is through the pull of the diaphragm and two other muscles? Waking up and choosing to JUST BREATHE, to just focus on the expansion of the lungs and the subsequent exhalation, can be life-changing. Oxygen is, after all, the only element the human body cannot live without for more than three to five minutes, signifying its importance.

Nourishing ourselves this way can lead to opportunities we may otherwise miss.

For example, the other day I was planning to do laundry and clean. After my morning meditation during which I oxygenated myself through deep breathing, and calmed my mind by reaching beyond its chatter to the silent field of potentiality that lies beyond mind noise,  I looked out my window and saw that the sun was shining. From my centered, calm space I realized that I could go into the forest and experience all the day had to offer.

And so, I did.

And I found this place, a waterfall I’d never been to before. I received generous amounts of vitamin D, a crucial vitamin in healing autoimmunity. It was a truly beautiful day that expanded my consciousness and enlivened my cells.

I was able to wake up early the following morning and clean – yes the laundry was still there, waiting – and the day was overcast. But if I had rushed into that previous morning, diving headlong into news and whirling thoughts, I would not have been in the same mental space, and I probably would not have ventured into the forest in search of a new waterfall.

Even workdays are enhanced when we take five to thirty minutes to breathe and calm the mind in the morning. As we move into our day, our choices are better, our communications clearer. Each choice, each conversation, has the potential to alter the course of our lives in some small – and sometimes big – way.

Calming our minds, reaching beyond them to the quiet field of potentiality and looking around there, makes life oh-so-interesting! In this space we can activate our consciousness and elevate the quality of our lives entirely.