Activated Qi Meditation Notes
Week: Monday 29th to Friday, 2nd February 2018
Welcome! This is the last week of practicing with the lower and mid dantian to experience how they raise our energy levels. As a result, raising our inner vitality enabling us not just to fight off the effects of the winter weather and associated ills but also to help maintain a bonny equilibrium throughout your day. This week we will build upon last week’s practices.
- So, let’s look straight away at what people experienced doing last week’s meditation practices?
Please remember this section is important because it helps us to learn about meditation through the experiences of others. Every experience is valid so thank you for sharing, inspiring, and encouraging others!
“Enjoyed visualising relaxation and the breathing practice. Could sense a feeling of warmth throughout the body when combining love from the heart with qi and vitality.” L.R.
“Good to get the energy flowing around the tan zong and heart. Really felt it tonight.” C.S.
“Good feeling to energize the blood. No problem with the inward flow of qi.” C.T.
“Once again, a wonderful peaceful meditation, allowing the energy to flow effortlessly.” B.V.
“Harmony and calm. Very relaxed class. I can see myself improving a lot through the meditation practice. I’m feeling more confident and grounded. Looking forward to the next class already.” W.D.
“So, relaxed this evening I was struggling to stay upright in my chair. Could not feel my legs, they weren’t numb but seemed to float. Found that very interesting, a stroll among my internal body, bringing good results. Had the impression of my heart being very large!” A.B.
“Calm peaceful session. Relaxed and feeling I have more energy.” P.K.
“Had a stressful time yesterday around family and children but feel better, happier and calmer, much gratitude.” H.O.
“Had a headache like a band around my head which slowly melted away. At one point my hands were vibrating.” L.B.
“The session went so quickly. Enjoyed, will practice.” J.M.
- In the next month we are going to be focusing upon what Michael Gershon calls, The Second Brain, others call it the Gut Brain, we’ll stick with, the enteric nervous system. We’ll be looking at the important role this plays in our physical and mental/emotional well-being and meditation practices which help strengthen and maintain its healthy function.
We’ll follow how our understanding of this system has developed from Gershon’s work back in the late 1990’s to research published last year at The Francis Crick Institute’s biomedical research centre in London.
First though, at this time of year you hear many people, especially those in the media, talking about diets. Last week, quietly as ever, a piece of research was published by researchers at the University of Bonn about the relationship between what we eat, our immune system, chronic inflammation levels and our health. Remember this piece of research we’ve looked at a number of time over in the past few years.
In August 2012, Steve Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry, and colleagues at UCLA reported the outcome of their research which successfully reduced the feelings of loneliness using a two-month program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
During the research, the researchers said quite remarkably they discovered changes occurred in the genes and protein markers connected to inflammation in the members of the experimental group. Specifically, the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) and also a group of genes regulated by the transcription factor NF-kB. CRP is a potent risk factor for heart disease, and NF-kB is a molecular signal that activates inflammation.
They described how inflammation is a natural component of the immune system and helps fight a wide variety of bodily ailments, ranging from infections to a whack by a hammer. However chronic inflammation is now known to be a primary player in the pathology of many diseases and psychological disorders.
Two years earlier Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D. wrote a paper entitled, ‘Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge.’
This is the abstract from that paper.
‘Inflammation is the common link among the leading causes of death. Mechanistic studies have shown how various dietary components can modulate key pathways to inflammation including,
- sympathetic activity,
- oxidative stress,
- transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation,
- and proinflammatory cytokine production.
Behavioural studies have demonstrated that stressful events and depression can also influence inflammation through these same processes. If the joint contributions of diet and behaviour to inflammation were simply additive, they would certainly be important. However, several far more intriguing interactive possibilities are discussed:
- stress influences food choices;
- stress can enhance maladaptive metabolic responses to unhealthy meals;
- and diet can impact mood as well as proinflammatory responses to stressors.
Furthermore, because the vagus nerve innervates tissues involved in the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of nutrients, vagal activation can directly and profoundly influence metabolic responses to food, as well as inflammation; in turn, both depression and stress have well-documented negative effects on vagal activation, contributing to the lively interplay between the brain and the gut. As one example, omega-3 fatty acid intake can boost mood and vagal tone, dampen NF-κB activation and responses to endotoxin, and modulate the magnitude of inflammatory responses to stressors. A better understanding of how stressors, negative emotions, and unhealthy meals work together to enhance inflammation will benefit behavioural and nutritional research, as well as the broader biomedical community.’
For quite a while then it has been established that there is a relationship between chronic inflammation and how it effects different aspects of our health, plus the beginning of an understanding of the causes behind it. Let’s fast-forward to 2018, 6-plus years on, the following piece of research expands our understanding even further.
The study carried out at University of Bonn has discovered that our immune system reacts to high fat, high calorie diets in a similar way to how it reacts when fighting a bacterial infection.
They stated that, particularly disturbing was that they found unhealthy food seems to make the body's defences more aggressive in the long term and that this can be long after switching to a healthy diet. That in people, even if they have given up such a diet, the resulting inflammation towards innate immune stimulation is still more pronounced. These changes may be involved in the development of arteriosclerosis and diabetes.
(I’ve removed as much of the technical stuff as possible without losing the flavour of what they are talking about; there are still some unusual words in there that would be ideal for a popstar to call their children, but I hope they don’t put you off the overall message. P.K-H.)
The scientists placed mice (why is it never donkeys or sloths? ~P.K-H) for a month on a typical, ‘Western diet’ which is commonly high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fibre. "The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice. This was an indication for an involvement of immune cell progenitors (cells a little like stem cells ~P.K-H.) in the bone marrow," Anette Christ, postdoctoral fellow in the Institute of Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn explained.
To better understand these unexpected findings, bone marrow progenitors for major immune cell types were isolated from mice fed a Western diet or healthy control diet and a systematic analysis of their function and activation state was performed.
Professor Dr. Joachim Schultze from the Life & Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES) at the University of Bonn and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) explained how fast food thus causes the body to quickly recruit a huge and powerful army just as if it were fighting a bacterial infection.
When the researchers offered the rodents their typical cereal diet for another four weeks, the acute inflammation disappeared. What did not disappear was the genetic reprogramming of the immune cells and their precursors: Even after these four weeks, many of the genes that had been switched on during the fast food phase were still active.
"It has only recently been discovered that the innate immune system has a form of memory," explains Professor Dr. Eicke Latz, Director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist at the DZNE. "After an infection, the body's defences remain in a kind of alarm state, so that they can respond more quickly to a new attack." Experts call this "innate immune training." In the mice, this process was not triggered by a bacterium, but by an unhealthy diet.
The scientists were further able to identify the responsible "fast food sensor" in immune cells. They examined blood cells from 120 subjects. In some of the subjects, the innate immune system showed a particularly strong training effect. In these subjects, the researchers found genetic evidence of the involvement of a so-called ‘inflammasome’.
Inflammasomes are key intracellular signalling complexes that recognize infectious agents and other harmful substances and subsequently release highly inflammatory messengers. (Basically, our ‘inflammasome’ are identifying a common high in fat, high in sugar, and low in fibre diet as a harmful substance. ~P.K-H.)
How exactly the NLRP3 inflammasome recognizes the exposure of the body to Western type diets remains to be determined.
Interestingly, in addition to the acute inflammatory response, this also has long-term consequences for the immune system's responses. Common types of Western diet activates and changes the way in which the genetic information is packaged. Genetic material is stored in the DNA and each cell contains several DNA strands, which together are about two metres long. However, they are typically wrapped around certain proteins in the nucleus and thus many genes in the DNA cannot be read as they are simply too inaccessible.
At a microscopic level, way away from our everyday consciousness, unhealthy eating causes some of these normally hidden pieces of DNA to unwind, similar to a loop hanging out of a ball of wool. This area of the genetic material can then be read much easier as long as this temporary unwrapping remains active. Scientists call these phenomena epigenetic changes. "The inflammasome triggers such epigenetic changes," explains Dr. Latz. "The immune system consequently reacts even to small stimuli with stronger inflammatory responses."
These inflammatory responses can in turn accelerate the development of vascular diseases or type 2 diabetes. In arteriosclerosis for example, the typical vascular deposits, the plaques, consist largely of lipids and immune cells. The inflammatory reaction contributes directly to their growth, because newly activated immune cells constantly migrate into the altered vessel walls. When the plaques grow too large, they can burst, leading to blood clotting and are carried away by the bloodstream and can clog vessels. The possible consequences of this can include stroke or heart attack.
Poor nutrition can therefore have dramatic consequences! In recent centuries, average life expectancy has steadily increased in Western countries. This trend is currently being broken for the first time: Individuals born today will live on average shorter lives than their parents. Unhealthy diets and too little exercise likely play a decisive role in this. "These findings therefore have important societal relevance," explains Latz.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training Reduces Loneliness and Pro-Inflammatory Gene Expression in Older Adults: A Small Randomized Controlled Trial. By J. David Creswell, Michael R. Irwin, Lisa J. Burklund, Matthew D. Lieberman, Jesusa M. G. Arevalo, Jeffrey Ma, Elizabeth Crabb Breen, and Steven W. Cole (July, 2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635809/
Also, report by Mark Wheeler
- Anette Christ, Patrick Günther, Mario A.R. Lauterbach, Peter Duewell, Debjani Biswas, Karin Pelka, Claus J. Scholz, Marije Oosting, Kristian Haendler, Kevin Baßler, Kathrin Klee, Jonas Schulte-Schrepping, Thomas Ulas, Simone J.C.F.M. Moorlag, Vinod Kumar, Min Hi Park, Leo A.B. Joosten, Laszlo A. Groh, Niels P. Riksen, Terje Espevik, Andreas Schlitzer, Yang Li, Michael L. Fitzgerald, Mihai G. Netea, Joachim L. Schultze, Eicke Latz. Western Diet Triggers NLRP3-Dependent Innate Immune Reprogramming. Cell, 2018; 172 (1-2): 162 DOI: 1016/j.cell.2017.12.013
Also: University of Bonn. "Fast food makes the immune system more aggressive in the long term: Study shows that even after a change to a healthy diet, the body's defenses remain hyperactive." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180111141637.htm>.
A Few Points To Consider:
A few years ago, while listening to a Radio 4 programme on health the effects of the industrialisation of food came up. One of the contributors to the programme, (I think it was Jamie Oliver) explained that the difference between the percentage of what a restaurant or other food outlet makes on its food and what it paid for the food in the first place is not very much. So, if a restaurant is able to offer all you can eat for a fiver and similar incentives the truth is that restaurant or food outlet has to be buying in the lowest quality food stuffs if it is to make any profit at all and manage to stay in business.
As the research above makes clear if you regularly turn to fast food outlets or processed packaged foods there is a good chance that your body will interpret them as a bacterial infection and react accordingly.
Although inflammation is a natural needed response in the body, chronic inflammation levels however are not healthy. When it comes to evening time how does the inward discussion pan out? I guess many concerned about their health would want to avoid developing chronic inflammation levels and if they already have them will want to adopt methods of overcoming them. Some thoughts,
- When your family or friends are munching through a takeaway, how do you feel able to resist joining in and have an alternative?
- How loud will the inner voice be saying, “But this is going to promote your chronic inflammation levels, just how much will you enjoy having diabetes?
- How determined will the inner voice be and say enough is enough I am determined, I will succeed in looking after my body’s welfare?
As Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser points out in her paper this isn’t as easy to do as one might hope.
This Week’s Meditation Practices:
Remember it is important to read what the purposes are of each meditation so that you know what the benefit of the meditation practice is to your health and well-being.
Creating the right foundation for meditation is so important. Remembering to focus on what you are developing not just for your health and well-being now but also what you are putting together for your future.
Purpose: To create a space in which we feel safe and secure so that we can allow ourselves to relax and change.
Purpose: To develop a feeling of gratitude about the time you have given yourself to promote your present and future state of your health and well-being.
Purpose: To strengthen our own inner meditative space. This strengthens the neural pathways associated with your meditation practice.
Purpose: To centre, focus and ground our consciousness, making it easier to maintain an inner feeling of balance and be more harmonious in our lives.
Purpose: To take the opportunity to self-observe and develop our self-awareness. As Professor Walsh explains to be successful we need to be consciously aware of what we are doing.
This week we will be tensing/relaxing the muscles twice. This will be followed by focusing upon relaxed breathing, balancing the breath and extending the out-breath.
Purpose: Through practice, understanding how balancing the breath helps calm and balance our emotions.
Purpose: Strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.
Purpose: Identify the physical tensions within the body and then tensing/relaxing to remove them in order to improve our ability to create and deepen your body’s relaxation response.
Purpose: Enhance the flow of qi by reducing the physical tension held in the body.
Purpose: To remove emotional tension locked within the muscles by building up the feeling gentleness.
Purpose: To ground our energy effectively helping us to maintain an inner balance. When we can do this effectively we can ground excess energy therefore preventing it from disrupting our system.
Raising the vitality of our lower dantian, the guan tan and the mid-dantian, the tan zong and what happens when this is combined with the heart’s energy.
Purpose: To raise the vitality of our body by acquiring qi from the Earth.
Purpose: To raise the vitality of the Taiji Pole at the core of the body.
Purpose: To deepen our ability to ground your energy.
Purpose: To enhance the feeling of calm, stillness and contentment within.
Purpose: To develop your self-awareness through self-observation.
Purpose: To feel a connection with the qi that flows though all living things via the beauty of nature.
Each week we will conclude with setting the scene for our week ahead, choosing whichever of the emotional energies seems the most appropriate for the forthcoming week.
Purpose: To make sure that as soon as we walk out the door we don’t just forget what we were doing and what it achieved for our health and well-being.
Finishing with Honouring the meditative space, each other and ourselves.
Purpose: The honouring of ourselves is often the most difficult one to do. It is important to actively remember the things we have got right; not, as neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson points out, just to focus on our brain systems natural tendency towards negative bias.
If you have any questions about any of the above, please do ask! Also, if you would like to share any of your experiences or ask me questions about them, please do email me.
Private meditation sessions are available; please contact me for more details.
©2018 Peter Keynton-Hook, Activated Qi Meditations