anxiety

Rewire Your Nervous System With Kirtan Kriya Meditation

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By Tara Magaddino

When was that last time you thought about your breathing? For many of us, it is something we do without much thought. What if I told you that it is your very breath that can shift how you move about your day, moment-to-moment? At these times, I’m reminded of a saying, “the body follows the mind, the mind follows the breath”. Breathing is part of your autonomic nervous system, which means that the way you are breathing directly affects the state of your nervous system. When our breath flows deep, our diaphragm relaxes downward, allowing our lungs to fill completely, triggering our parasympathetic (think paradise) nervous system. This action informs the body that all is well and that we are in a state of relaxation. In a calmer state, we are able to think more clearly, sleep deeper, and be more present in each moment. However, when our bodies are in a state of stress, our muscles tighten, our diaphragm contracts, and our breath becomes shallow. Shallow or rapid breathing sends a message to our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to be alert. Many of us live each day in a state of low grade, but chronic stress due to our busy schedules. Over time, this negatively impacts our memory and health.

For thousands of years, Yogis have understood how the breath connects to our state of mind and how the practice of meditation can benefit one’s physical and mental health. Modern-day institutions like UCLA and The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation have taken an interest, and are studying how meditation benefits one’s overall being. One particular meditation is called Kirtan Kriya Meditation. This meditation can have immediate and long lasting benefits for your brain. Studies conducted show that it can help with anxiety, sleep, depression, memory, and overall cognitive function. The best part of it all—you can complete this meditation in only 6-30 minutes! The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation recommends 12 minutes a day, which is a happy medium. One could practice right before bed and not only have restful sleep, but a sharper, happier brain when you awake! This meditation involves three parts: breath, mudra (finger movements), and mantra (sound). In yoga, this is known as a bij (seed) mantra. Each sound alone does not translate into anything. However, when recited, the meditation results in the stimulation of 84 acupressure points on the roof of one’s mouth. In turn, different parts of one’s brain are activated.  The movement of the fingers stimulate nerve endings that connect to parts of your brain as well. So while you are meditating, the three parts combined work together to positively impact your brain.

How to practice Kirtan Kriya

There are different versions which exist, but here is one way you can start at home:

Posture:

  1. Sit comfortably, either on a chair or cross-legged, with spine straight.

  2. Close your eyes, focus on your brow point

  3. Place hands palm facing up either on top of your thighs or loosely by your sides

  4. Take a few conscious breaths, feeling your breath slow

Finger Movements with Mantra Sound: The thumb is to touch each of the four fingers in sequence with each sound. Both hands move at the same time.

  1. On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  2. On Taa, touch the middle fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  3. On Naa, touch the ring fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  4. On Maa, touch the pinky fingers of each hand to the thumbs

The Sequence: Decide how long you desire to practice and divide time up evenly. If you practice for 12 minutes, you can practice as follows:

  1. Two minutes, sing out loud

  2. Two minutes, whisper

  3. 4 minutes silently singing to yourself

  4. Two minutes, whisper

  5. Two minutes, sing out loud

  6. Sit silently for one minute, then stretch your arms up to stretch your spine

Guided meditation music and directions you can use:

https://www.madhurnain.com/blog/kirtankriya?rq=kirtan%20kriya

Natural Ways to Reduce Anxiety Before Bedtime

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By Malu Trehan, RDN, MPH

With the recent swarm of earthquakes, my son  developed anxiety around going to bed. Most of the tremors had happened in the middle of the night, jolting  him out of a deep slumber. For the remainder of the week however, he lay awake as late as 2am. After a few nights of this, I knew he was in need of rest so I turned to  foods that could help him relax at night. Here’s what I discovered… a few of these might surprise you!

Tart Cherry Juice

This juice has a high content of  melatonin, a hormone that regulates your internal clock and signals your body to prepare for sleep. Researchers found that adults who consumed 1 oz tart cherry juice per day had marked improvements in sleep, both the quality and the duration. Participants slept an average of 39 minutes longer than those who had not consumed the juice. (1) Look for a juice that doesn’t have any additional ingredients in it. RW Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry is a good one and readily available at Whole Foods and Safeway. Remember, juice still has a lot of sugar so stick to 1oz.

Kiwi

Known for their high antioxidant and serotonin content, kiwis may also be beneficial for sleep. This study looked at kiwis’ effect on sleep quality.(2) Participants consumed 2 kiwis one hour before bed for four weeks. The results? They fell asleep quicker, had less nighttime wakings, and slept longer. Sungold kiwis (available at Costco) are slightly sweeter, mellower, and have a smoother skin than the Hayward.

Chamomile tea

This beautiful flower, a cousin of the daisy, has long been known as a sleep aid. The sedative effects may be due to the plant  flavonoid “apigenin” that binds to the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. (3) Incidentally, chamomile has  also shown to alleviate depression.(4) Participants drank chamomile tea for two weeks and had improved sleep quality over non-tea drinkers. They also had fewer symptoms of depression which is often seen in sleep-deprived individuals. We started with a cup of chamomile tea before bed. I really like Traditional Medicinals Chamomile with Lavender Tea.

Lavender

Lavender has a powerful effect on the nervous system. Among its many benefits, lavender can  lower anxiety levels, reduce depression and aid in sleep.(5) If you apply it topically, use a 1% dilution  for children- 6 drops lavender essential oil* to 1 oz carrier oil (i.e. fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond or jajoba). For adults, use a 2% dilution - 12 drops EO’s to 1 oz carrier oil. You can also diffuse it or bathe in it.  For a relaxing bath, add 4-5 drops lavender essential oil to one cup of epsom salt and then fill the tub. The magnesium from the epsom salt will give added relaxation.

We tried a shot glass of tart cherry juice, chamomile tea, and a nightly essential oil massage.  The results? It worked! My son has fallen asleep fairly quickly each night and stayed asleep… he even snoozed  through one tiny quake.

*All essential oils are not created equal so look for a high quality, therapeutic grade oils. Seasoned aromatherapist and author Mindy Green has a resource list of reputable  companies.