3 Ways To Nurture a Mind-Body Connection That Will Make You Feel Next-Level
Certain moments you experience as someone whose pursuit of health is shaped by the Western medical model can make it seem like your mind and body are as separate entities as the Kardashian-Jenner clan and introversion.
Like that time you went to your doctor about sleep disturbances and were prescribed a pill without any enquiry about your emotional state. Or when conversations about managing depression neglect to mention the power of nutrition or movement.
But think about how getting news of someone you love being seriously ill makes you physically sick or how your older colleague’s belittling comments make your blood turn to lava. You know there’s a very real link between the two. And, increasingly, rigorous science is showing that this link is rooted in your biology.
The mind-body connection is as real as your love for your house plants. And just like when it comes to looking after your leafy friends, paying due care and attention to it can have very real implications for your health and happiness.
Protecting aspects of your physical wellbeing feeds into the mental side of things, and vice versa. Scroll on for three of the key players to pay attention to.
1/ Your gut
‘Studies have shown that the bacteria in our gut can in fact influence our brain function,’ says Dr Megan Rossi, AKA The Gut Health doctor, a leading gut health scientist and author of Eat Yourself Healthy: An easy-to-digest guide to health and happiness, from the inside out (£16.99, Penguin.)
‘This was first shown back in 2013 where research showed a probiotic compared to placebo impacted brain imaging scans after a four week intervention.’
When it comes to maintaining good mental health, this one is crucial. ‘A landmark study from 2017 showed that following a gut-boosting diet [including 50g of fibre per day] significantly improved people's depression scores after 12 weeks compared to a placebo,’ says Dr Rossi.
So, how to keep your gut in the good place and support your mental health? Here’s Dr Rossi’s prescription.
* Aim for 30 different plant-based foods per week, including wholegrains, veg, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes). Plant-based diversity feeds a diverse range of gut bacteria, having a more diverse range of gut bacteria is linked with better mental health. And it’s really not as difficult as it sounds - even just a teaspoon of mixed seeds on your breakfast helps.
*Be generous with the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). The oil - a key component in the diet in that 2017 study - is full of plant chemicals (or polyphenols) that feed our gut bacteria.
*Add in some fatty fish like salmon or mackerel. They’re rich in omega three fatty acids, shown in studies to support both brain and gut health. If you’re vegan, try Nothing Fishy Omega 3 supplements, made from algae.
* Daily, try 15 minutes of a gut-directed yoga flow or mindfulness, to help reduce stress and help relax the gut-brain axis, helping it function in peak working order.
2/ Your sleep
‘Sleep isn’t merely a time when your body shuts off,’ says Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, a leading wellbeing performance Mind Coach at MindTonic Therapy. ‘While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing the clean-up of toxins in your nervous system. And when you get in to deep sleep, the mitochondria within your brain cells remove any cellular waste.’
Essentially, while you catch those ZZZ’s, a full routine biological maintenance programme kicks into overdrive. ‘The completion of this keeps your mind and body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead,’ Natalie explains.
It follows, then, that the consequences of getting an inadequate amount - or quality - or quality of sleep go further than leaving you feeling a little groggy in the morning.
‘Sleep disruption affects the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, which wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation,’ adds Natalie.
Put Natalie’s following tips into action for improved sleep and a smoother, steadier day ahead.
*Take up a daily mindfulness practice, which can help to facilitate falling asleep more easily
*Create a wind-down routine. A good place to start is putting your screens away an hour before bed and do something relaxing, such as taking a hot bath or reading.
*Use a diary or sleep tracker to work out the number of hours you need - likely between seven and nine - to feel your best in the AM.
3/ Your mindfulness practice
Since you’re reading this on HNP, we’ll guess that you’re no stranger to mindfulness. And while your interest was likely ignited thanks to promises of greater mental clarity and stress reduction, know that cultivating your ability to stay present affords you real physical wins, too.
‘As well as relieving stress and preventing the recurrence of depression and anxiety, mindfulness can treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, greatly improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties,’ says Natalie. See? It’s all linking up.
‘Research by medical professor Jon Kabat-Zinn includes the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the skin condition psoriasis, as well as immune function.’
So, how to best reap both the mind and body rewards?
*School up by taking an evidence-based mindfulness course, over at least eight weeks.
*Keep up a daily practice, in which you pay attention to mind and body sensations, and your breath , without judgement. 10 minutes a day does have benefits, but try and build up to 15, and then 20.
If you are thinking of ways to support your mind and body, then know that HNP have launched a trio of buys designed to help you to do just that.
Our Happy Factor adaptogen blend is a mix of plants said to help to ease anxiety and tiredness, and may help to balance stress hormones, such as the famous cortisol.
Our Sleep Well Babe hot chocolate is a concoction designed to help you drift to sleepy land – just stir this hot chocolate, jazzed with plant-based sleep-inducing ingredients, into boiled water or milk.
And switch up your AM flat white for a mug of Stay Grounded – a blend of coffee, for your first thing caffeine hit, with adaptogens including Ashwaganda, which are said to help you maintain your chill.
by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings