I had a wonderful week of Qigong Teacher Training in mid-April at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts. My fellow students came from many different backgrounds – qigong/tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, reiki, breath work, martial arts, coaching, and meditation. I met, for the first time, someone who specializes in forest bathing – a mindfulness in nature practice. Each of these practices have in common the benefit of helping you manage and reduce stress.
The mental and emotional strain from our demanding, constantly electronically connected, and rushed lifestyles is no laughing matter for a number of reasons, including the following:
Stress Weakens the Immune System
The immune system is the body’s form of defense. A myriad of cells, tissues, and organs work together to fight toxins and other foreign substances which can cause harm to the body. When stressed, the immune system is less able to fend off illness.
Studies have shown that the immune system of highly stressed people has sluggish responses to health challenges. The stress hormone cortisol can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. If stress is not reduced and cortisol levels remain high, the immune system may continue to operate sluggishly.
Stress Contributes to Chronic Disease
Studies indicate that most adults in the U.S. experience high to moderate levels of stress. Further, stress plays a part in many diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and chronic digestive problems. Stress is said to be the underlying cause of the vast majority of physician’s visits.
Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system if a person copes with stress in unhealthy ways such as through binge-eating, smoking, or excessive drinking. In other words, chronic stress, if not addressed, can make you vulnerable to illnesses and have with a harmful impact on your health.
Stress Contributes to Weight Gain
The hormone cortisol does not only suppress the immune system but if the body remains in a persistent state of stress, it can also increase appetite and affect our food preferences. And, of course, those preferences are more likely to be sugar, sweets, and fattening snacks rather than veggies and fruit, right? A group of British researchers conducted a study which showed that people who usually respond to stress with elevated cortisol levels tend to turn to snacks in response to everyday hassles.
And, bear in mind that overeating isn’t the only contributor to extra weight. The truth is that people who are stressed often do not get enough sleep or they exercise and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to weight gain.
Steps You Can Take
We have choices both in how we perceive and respond to life’s stressors. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy manner will minimize the negative impact it may have on your immune system efficiency.
Here are a few mind-body practices that can help you reduce stress, protect your immune system, and lower the risk of overeating and weight gain:
We’ve all heard about it, and yes, it is true – meditation benefits your body in many different ways including reducing stress. Apart from lowering your stress levels, meditation will help you lower high blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. What’s more, if you meditate you are far more likely to eat mindfully, making smarter food choices, and negate the impulse to grab unhealthy food.
2. Mindful Movement, like Qigong
Like yoga, qigong has roots in Eastern traditions. As a matter of fact, it is often referred to as “Chinese yoga”. There are many different forms of moving meditation, including tai chi, which is popular in the West.
Loosely translated as “energy work” in the West, qigong is a range of practices involving slow, flowing movement, posture, breathwork, self-massage, and meditation, to help reduce stress and internal blockages and cultivate better emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I regularly incorporate gentle giqong movements into my mind-body practice workshops on mindfulness. Among other benefits, qigong gentle movements activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that represents the “rest and digest” response. This can balance out our perpetually frayed flight, freeze, of fight nervous system, and bring our body towards a state of homeostasis.
3. Nature Walks
Research suggests that walking in nature can help lower risk of depression. Ecotherapy, forest bathing, nature therapy are all terms reflecting the medical, mindfulness, and nature community belief that movement in nature (sun, greenery, and fresh air) not only helps heal but can also help us to stay well by reducing stress and lowering cortisol levels.
If you’re interested in learning how to integrate mindfulness meditation and mindful movement into your life, please feel free to contact me. I would love to help you reduce stress and improve your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.