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.
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.
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.
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.
Meet Sun, an intuitive and curious child whose grandparents are Traditional Chinese Medicine teachers and practitioners. Sun has been studying with their grandparents, Grandparents Terra, over the last two summers when they stayed with the grandparents Terra in the country. The grandparents Terra have now moved back to the city and below is a conversation Sun had with some students at the Chinese Medicine School where the grandparents teach. Sun is giving an example of the information they have learned from their wise tutors. The information in this conversation can be gathered from the two books Sun’s Season of Channels and Sun’s Dance of the Channels (available for pre-order) both of which are published by Singing Dragon.
As we approach the final countdown to the release of my book exploring the fascinating cross-over between the microbiome, gut health and Oriental Medicine, and the opportunity this affords us as practitioners and patients of Eastern or Western medicine, and as human beings, I noticed the coincidental timing of the ‘Healthy Eating Week’ run by the British Nutrition Foundation. I pondered upon seeing this on the meaning of ‘healthy eating’. I also found myself thinking about how we often underplay the significance of food as medicine and the role of inadequate diets in the initiation of disease. For there is a real paradox in many advanced societies that despite the abundance of food available, dietary deficits remain significant, and health problems linked to our diet and digestion are all too common. Many will rightly question what lies at the root of today’s struggle to define and implement healthy eating to achieve sustained good health.