We explore why listening in to and cultivating compassion for your microbiome can affect your whole health, including your immunity and mood…
Written by Charlotte Watts and Leonie Taylor, co-authors of Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health.
When we explore a meditative yoga or somatic practice, we bring attention to the subtle body, our interior landscape, as a means of then expanding clearer compassionate connection to our environment. In scientific terms, this plays out in the relationship between our microbiome and our whole body-mind integration, and out into the world around us.
The importance of the gut environment – the microbiome – on all aspects of our health, including psychological, is being increasingly researched. We are home to trillions of bacteria and, in a healthy digestive tract, 80% friendly, 20% pathogenic. The beneficial or probiotic bacteria help keep harmful bacteria as well as colonisers like yeast in check. Low probiotic bacteria levels are associated with depression and fatigue states, whereas a healthy gut flora can modulate the hypersensitivity that may come from chronic exposure to stress. Our microbiome is now believed to be a large part of the signalling mechanisms up through the gut-brain axis, where its communication plays a vital role in healthy brain function.
Whilst my first book Love Untethered is for readers who are grieving, my second book Supporting Your Grieving Client is for the wellness practitioners who might work with them.
Initially, when I was asked by Singing Dragon, in my capacity as a holistic grief coach and BANT nutritional therapist, if I would be interested in writing a book on grief for wellness practitioners, I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to write about. However, very quickly that changed when I thought about all the times, as a bereaved person, I had found doctors, counsellors and some wellness practitioners to be pretty clueless about what grief was really like. They often seemed completely out of depth when confronted by someone like me, a traumatised grieving mother.
Pranayama, yogic breathing, means ‘extends life force’. This points to the importance of the breath to our whole health; healthy breathing patterns not only support respiratory health but also affect our immune capacity. This in turn affects our digestive and whole body health.
January is a common time for resolution-based diets and lifestyle shifts that may purport to ‘boost our immunity’. As we explore in Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health, ‘boosting’ immunity is, however, a problematic phrase, as immune issues are so often down to poor modulation – inappropriate rather than inadequate immune responses – with some parts stuck on over-reaction, especially inflammation. We can see in Fig 1, below, how the immune system’s balance can become dysregulated in either direction, leading to different issues.
‘Inflammaging’, a term coined by Italian researcher Claudio Franceschi in 2000, refers to the low-grade chronic inflammation that often characterises the ageing process. This may partially explain why some older people suffer more from diseases such as COVID-19. Beyond this pandemic, many refer to the creeping symptoms related to inflammation – such as joint pain, loss of mobility or issues related to immune and respiratory health – as an inevitable sign of ageing1.
On average one out of six European couples experience sub/infertility. Looking at the reasons for unfulfilled parenthood, approximately 50 percent are due to female pathology and 50 percent are due to male issues. However, society as well as medicine (both Western and Eastern approaches) tends to focus on treating the female side of childless couples. Since the percentage of male factor infertility is the same as that for female infertility, treatment of the male partner is underrepresented. The overall sperm quality has dropped by 50% within the last 40 years but additionally, the COVID pandemic has aggravated the problem. On top of this, the male factor plays an important role in early pregnancy loss and should be treated to prevent miscarriage.
My first book, Acupuncture for Babies, Children and Teenagers, has a chapter on anxiety and depression which is purely for acupuncturists to guide them in treating it in the clinic. I realised over the years, however, that there is so much that is helpful in the way that Chinese Medicine understands people which can be applied outside of the clinic. This wisdom can be used by parents, at home, to make changes which will support their child’s mental-emotional health. That is why I chose to write a second book, for parents and practitioners.
One of the many tools we have to support young people whose mental health is struggling, is our ability to make a ‘bespoke’ diagnosis of exactly the nature of each person’s distress. ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Depression’ are necessary but limiting labels that are used to describe a multitude of different feeling states. Using the Five Element model, we can begin to understand that one child’s anxiety is very different from the next, and that each child’s depression will have a unique flavour to it.
Let’s take a look at each Element to illustrate this.
Following the success of her previous book Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health comes Charlotte Watts’ timely exploration of our immune and respiratory systems, and how yoga and somatics play an integral part in maintaining whole-system health. We take a look inside the book, available to pre-order now…
When the UK went into its first COVID lockdown in 2020, people were abruptly separated and restricted from social contact. It wasn’t simply the virus itself that had devastating consequences for global health but the ensuing fear and reactivity, the effects of which are still rippling through our nervous systems. It was at this flashpoint of collective and individual trauma, stress and societal breakdown that Charlotte felt compelled to write Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health, knowing how vital the free flow of movement and social engagement are to mental and physical wellbeing. She was struck by the irony of how the focus of so much anxious attention at this time – immune and respiratory health – are most affected by stress and trauma.
Drawing on decades of experience as a nutritional therapist and therapeutically based yoga teacher, Charlotte has artfully brought together an impressive body of scientific research from diverse fields – from neuroscience, epigenetics, psycho-neuro-immunology, polyvagal theory and more.
In the past, when I presented workshops on depression, I deliberately avoided in depth discussion on treating suicidal depression with Chinese medicine. Not because you can’t treat it, but because there were several factors to consider prior to committing to treat such a patient.