In my Chinese Medicine Dermatology book series Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Treating Acne and Rosacea with Chinese Herbal Medicine, I extensively discuss the topics of nutrition and lifestyle habits. Today, let’s shift our focus to another pivotal factor influencing skin health: smoking (nicotine).
We all know that smoking is detrimental to our overall health. The adverse effects of tobacco consumption extend to nearly every organ in the body, with the skin being no exception. In this article, we will unveil the specific reasons behind this and explore the intricate impact that smoking has on our skin.
During the last 40+ years of my career, I have always wondered: What is the scope of osteopathy?
Whilst a student at The British School of Osteopathy in the 1970’s I was taught much about the musculoskeletal system and its physiology. This was furthered by supervised clinic tuition. Then I was sent out into practice life to explore these skills with patients.
However, I always had this strong feeling that something was missing, that osteopathy had much more to offer than was being clinically practiced by most osteopaths at that time. I then went on my first cranial osteopathic course, directed by the late Colin Dove. This and subsequent courses that I attended were significantly eye opening, expanding my vision of the true clinical potential of osteopathy. Then, as frequently happens, the more you know and understand, so the trickier the clinical condition your patients present with. Hence practitioner frustration for more knowledge and skill continues!
What sets the physical aspects of yoga aside from mere exercise is the quality of attention that we bring to focus. A mindful attitude brings us towards embodiment – inviting our mind to where our body resides in the present moment – and allows us to fully tune in and gauge appropriate response. This ‘listening and responding’ is the basis of a meditative practice, and the route to registering safety through our whole system as the nervous system can settle. As in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:2;
“…stilling the fluctuations of the mind”.
The importance of the pause
Within practice, we can slow down to truly feel the experience – yoga as ‘moving meditation’ – and also punctuate movement with places of pause, where we allow processing through tissues and integration of experience. Within the heightened input of information from the ‘doing’ of movement, points of stillness offer a chance to drop beneath the mind imposing its will or story upon our practice.
“The ultimate purpose of inquiry is that it allows us to pause. In the space of a pause, truth can shine through.”
Whether this is in response to what has been (eg judgment, comparison or analysis) or what is to come eg (ambition, anticipation or expectation); a pause is a place for presence. Brought into the body and physical experience, this might show as noticing we’ve ‘checked out’, are changing planes (such as moving from low to high) or observational enquiry between sides one and two of an asymmetrical position.
When a physical yoga practice simply keeps moving, we lose the opportunity to catch up with breath, to let the ripples of the motions settle and to integrate their effect. Slowing down to ‘simply be’, we can explore the mindful quality of the experience rather than simply where to move a foot or limb.
So often in modern society, we are habitually ‘up in our heads’. To do lists, competing stressors, perpetual analysis… All of which can lead to dissociation from the body on a personal level, but also a disconnect from our environment, those around us. We have become more like machines in our conditioned drive for productivity. Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to modalities such as yoga and Somatics, which bring us back into connection, which literally earth us.
An interesting lens through which we can access a sense of grounding is the chakras. Perhaps no other spiritual map has taken up human imagination as much, allowing us a framework through which to explore the polarities of light and shadow, spirit and matter, and embodiment as part of a healthy psyche. For digestive health, the polarities of nourishment and elimination are a potent expression of this animism. The chakra system has morphed from its eastern roots – much through the work of 20th-century psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, as well as the Theosophy and ‘New Age’ movements of the 1960s-80s – as a way of mapping how we feel and respond throughout life. As a universally acknowledged topography for mind-body symbolism, this can be a useful route into modern body psychology, psychosomatic and trauma work.
As our digestive tract is such a repository for the unconscious conditionings we can push down and continue to act from, self-enquiry through mind-body work provides some sense of the journey. Western developmental ideas can work so well in conjunction with the lineage of yoga.
Meridians are one of the most fascinating gifts we got from Traditional Chinese Medicine. And they are much more than abstract energy lines flowing through the body.
Imagine the following situation: you’re returning home from a journey late at night. You’re tired and hungry since what the airlines serve these days as a main course leaves as much to be desired as the leg space in economy class. You throw your bag in a corner, make a beeline for the fridge and take stock. Perhaps you’re lucky and, despite your hasty departure, it not only harbours the expected appearance of the duo Foul & Mould but also a couple of pleasant surprises. Okay, after a week’s absence, the remains of the veg have seen better days, and a few other items seem to have developed a life of their own despite the overdose of preservatives contained in most foods these days. At least the smoked ham looks acceptable. But better be on the safe side and cautiously guide it to your nose. The odour test delivers what the eye had hoped for. The stomach approves the result with a demanding growl. Together with the emergency ration of crackers you come up with a passable midnight snack. Done and dusted.
Eating: a completely normal everyday procedure with a logical order. Looking, smelling, chewing, swallowing, digesting. A completely normal process requiring many parts of the body to cooperate with each other and interact in a well-orchestrated manner: eyes, nose, teeth, tongue, chewing muscles, oesophagus, and stomach: they all form a functional community for the purpose of food intake. But before we even get to the point when we target and devour the desired titbit there has to be a stimulus, a need to be satisfied, initiating the entire process. Be it hunger, the mood for food or the desire to fill the terrible emptiness of a broken heart with calories. Whatever triggers the stimulus, it encourages us to carry out the relevant actions, one after the other.
Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts explore how our skin is the first line in communication, both to our internal landscape and the world around us.
The integumentary system (aka the skin)
The integumentary system, otherwise known as our skin, is both a boundary and a contact surface, a sensory organ. Every inch of our skin hosts over 2.5 million bacteria. The make-up of the skin microbiome varies greatly between individuals as well as where on the body it is, influenced by:
Physiology: sex hormones, age and site
Environment: climate and geographical location
Immune system: previous exposures and inflammation
How did you become interested in essential oils and aromatherapy?
My first encounter with essential oils happened in the 1980’s as a newly registered nurse specialising in oncology at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital. During that time, I observed patients receiving gentle hand massages using simple blends of lavender and sweet marjoram, fragrances that captured my attention and also my curiosity. In those moments of connection, where touch was non-medicalised, a different level of communication was taking place. Patients were visibly relaxing by this compassionate form of physical touch and tangible act of caring. For me, something transformational happened as I listened to these patients speak of their restful night’s sleep and tranquil dreams; a paradox given this was a busy hospital environment and they were all confronting a life-threatening diagnosis of cancer. This discovery of a different level of patient care spoke straight to my heart.
…And how yoga – both physically and philosophically – can ease the path to healing
By Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts
From content covered in their books Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health.
To talk ‘health’ in a modern context is to recognise the need to be ‘trauma-informed’ and meet the recognition that we are all holding the stories of the past in various ways, much of which is unconscious and comes out in reactions that may overwhelm or that we don’t understand. This is not to teach a specific ‘trauma class’, but to be aware of holding compassionate space for the subtleties that tuning in and embodiment can uncover.
We don’t need to identify or even mention trauma but whether teaching a class or holding space for ourselves, recognising that tuning into our needs, boundaries and responses is to allow any nature of experience to arise. Whether we are holding intergenerational, shock, developmental or vicarious trauma, embodied awareness (tuning into the sensory, bodily experience of each moment) can help us navigate towards a relationship with grounding and even calm. It may even be the gateway towards post-traumatic growth.
Written to celebrate National Complementary Therapy Week. This was a week long campaign where we celebrated across our Singing Dragon social channels for 5 days. Each day we showcased an area of our publishing to help you familiarise yourself with the range of titles we have.
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.