Stress is not caused by the environment, but by our reaction to the environment.

This is by far the most important and poignant message that I learnt recently when I embarked on a four-day meditation course.
I know what you’re thinking… meditation? How stressed must you be to resort to meditation??! The truth is, I’m not particularly stressed. Well, of course, I am stressed, but I’m no more stressed than Billy the postman or Leila who served me a latte this morning. We are all stressed. We all take on stress from our own lives and then feed off each other’s stress. It really is one big stress cycle. So when I signed up for meditation, my primary reason wasn’t to de-stress me (although, that has been an added bonus). My main reason was to further explore and understand the power of the mind over the body. For me stress= Crohns flare. The correlation was so alarmingly obvious; it became something I couldn’t ignore anymore.
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Throwback ten years ago, to my fourteen year old self, and I actually learnt how to meditate alongside my paediatric specialist, Dr Sullivan. I was extremely poorly. I had been on every drug under the sun and my body was still raging with inflammation. Major life altering surgery was looming and amongst this, Dr Sullivan suggested I tried meditating. I have to be honest – I didn’t get it. I was a teenager and I was full of hormones! Despite this, I went to a meditating school in London where I learnt the technique but I really couldn’t get on board with it. I wasn’t ready or prepared to understand.
Looking back now, I couldn’t be more grateful for what he did. He planted the seed, which has grown as I’ve settled into my life (ie turned into an adult). It niggled and I couldn’t get rid of it – I knew there must be some value in meditating and I had to go back and find out more. So I signed up for a four day basic meditation course at the London Centre of Meditation to see what I was missing out on.

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The door that welcomed me to my meditation course

 
The technique I learnt was ‘vedic meditation’ – originating from ‘Ayreveda’, one of the oldest holistic bodies of knowledge in the world. Vedic meditation originates from India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The theory of this type of meditation is deep rooted and practiced by repeating a personal mantra silently in the mind. As soon as I sat down on day one, I knew I had to forget what I had previously learnt ten years ago. The technique was different, the philosophy was different and I had to give this a go with a completely open mind.
Jillian, our meditation coach got us meditating on day one. We each learnt an individual mantra in private and then returned as a group to practice our first meditation together. It’s hard to articulate the feeling of that first twenty-minute practice, but it was blissful. Whilst thoughts still danced around in my head, by coming quietly back to my mantra, I was able to relax and I barely noticed the minutes passing. I felt my muscles relax, my tense shoulders loosen and my brain begin to slow down. It was truly peaceful. I was so chilled on the way home from the session I completely missed my stop on the train! I couldn’t understand how I had missed this feeling ten years ago?!!
Over the next two days, with the homework to meditate for twenty minutes morning and evening, Jillian helped us understand the power of the mantra and how we are realistically going to fit twenty minutes twice a day into our lives. I was extremely reluctant to give up anymore sleep, ESPECIALLY in the morning, but I was surprised how keen I was to jump out of bed into my meditation. During meditation, your metabolic rate is lower than that of the deepest point in your sleep. Similarly, during a meditation session, your body will be receiving 2-5x the amount of rest you receive during sleep. I know what you’re thinking – how can that possibly be right? But the science backs it up. Read more here and here. There are real physical changes that happen during the body during meditation – changes for the better.
I was generally astonished at how quickly I began to feel the difference in my life. I began to feel more relaxed at work and more able to cope with changing demands. Decisions that I had been torturing myself over become clearer. On day four of the course Jillian talked to us about ‘transcending’ – and suddenly I had a flashback to ten years ago. ‘Transcending’ was all I was taught and all I was told to seek to achieve – the place in your mind where you travel beyond thought and sit in a blissful place of total tranquility. Reaching the stage of total tranquility on a permanent basis is known as ‘enlightenment’ – although few ever reach this stage.
fullsizerender-2Whilst I am not expecting a miracle on my Crohns through meditation, I am excited to see if the long-term effects have any impact on my physical health. I have a lot more reading and understanding to do but I feel like I’ve opened another chapter in the life of Bryony.Two weeks on from the course and I am still juggling managing to fit the 40 minutes of meditation into my life, but I’m getting there. The most fascinating thing I found was that it was just the normal Tom, John and Ben learning to meditate with me – businessmen from the city and family men. There was nothing weird about it or any cult feeling about it. Which made me wonder why more people aren’t doing it?! If you can just close your eyes for 20 minutes and feel a benefit… why wouldn’t you do it?*
Continue to follow my blog to keep up to date with the first few months in my meditation journey!
*Critics insert a long list of excuses here!
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This is a skill that I have been forced to learn – and boy, has it taken some years. Arguably, learning to listen to your body is the most important step to keeping

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I was completely in tune with my body when I decided to take on the liquid diet. I knew it was the best option for me over steroids.

your body and soul happy and healthy. Yet most people I have spoken to admit they do know their body and the warning signs when things are about to go south – but they struggle to actually do anything about it. Listening to your body is completely useless unless you actually respond to it. Responding is pivotal- and really can work wonders (I am living proof of this!) Let me explain.
What do you mean when you say ‘listen to your body’?
Listening to your body is being in tune with your physical and emotional needs, and learning what you can do to feed and nourish them. On a basic level, this is eating when you’re hungry; sleeping when you’re tired. Yet there are so many levels above this and learning to hear them is a source of great power. It is fact that your body will always give you signs when it is struggling. That niggling cold for example, is the first sign that your body is in distress. Those tears you shed, is a sign that your soul is sad. Equally, it will also tell you when it is flourishing – those endorphins when you see the person you love or the excitement at an upcoming trip or event. Whilst this may seem blindingly obvious – why do we so often ignore these signs? The answer is one word – life.
Life is busy. Too busy. We work hard and long hours. We are constantly tapped into the digital world; social media, work emails, news outlets and celebrity culture. So it is unsurprising that amongst all this noise, our bodies are ignored. It’s boring to rest/take downtime/acknowledge home truths that require unwanted action.
I will hold my hands up and admit I have been the queen of ignoring my body in the past – particularly during university. This has resulted in some disastrous outcomes – including weeks laid up in bed due to fatigue, surgery, flare ups and on one particularly memorable occasion, contracting Mumps (despite having had the jab!!) My body was tired and vulnerable. Unfortunately, that is just through working hard and having a social life. A home truth which I still find extremely hard to acknowledge.
How do I respond to my body?
On feeling warning signs it’s important to evaluate what you can do to stop things escalating. If you have the beginnings of a cold, take time to rest and make sure you get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling tearful – acknowledge why you’re feeling sad and what you can do about it. Unhappy in your job? Find ways to love it or move. Unhappy in your relationship? Address it or leave. Find something that gives you some ME time – yoga, mindfulness, running or cooking. Whilst my examples may be extreme and you probably won’t end up having surgery if you ignore your body, you may end up getting sick, physically or emotionally – and why let it get to that?
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Taking time out on holiday is one my fave ways to unwind and refresh (unfortunately, my bank balance doesn’t allow this to happen as regularly as I’d like!)

I now know that I have to rest when I start getting warning signs – and sometimes I still get it wrong. I have just had to take four days of enforced rest as my body started rejecting all my food – a tell tale sign for me that my body is at breaking point. Utterly exhausted, I knew that if I had pushed through it (which I so often did at university), I would have ended up in a far worse position than just a couple of days off work.
The first step
Is to figure out what makes your body tick and what your body needs to bloom. This could be SO MANY THINGS! It could be a particular diet or exercise. It could be a hobby or spending time with particular people. It could be working a job you love, going on an amazing trip or having a social media detox. In deciphering this – you will also find the things that your body struggles with.For me, it is relentless work and social plans, meaning I have to prioritise how I spend my energy and know when it is time to stop. It is also eating foods that work for me and knowing that my health is THE most important thing. Even more important than the party I really really want to go to!
 
Believe me – I don’t say any of this lightly. It is difficult – but so worth it if you can find your body formula.
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Since starting this liquid diet and this blog, I have had so many conversations with friends, family and colleagues – many of whom have said the same thing to me time and time again. ‘Wow. Four weeks not eating? I could never do that!’ I completely understand this rationale – it’s unimaginable to think about giving up such an integral part of day to day life. But I firmly believe that anyone could do it. Absolutely anyone. Because life throws s**t at every single one of us and we deal with it. The human brain is an incredible thing – when you think how much adversity it can process, deal with and compartmentalise, when the right time comes to do so.
I have been completely inspired this week by a book called ‘Mind over Medicine’, by Dr Lissa Rankin. She talks at length about the mind-body relationship, and how our thoughts and feelings can translate into physiological features. She also talks about the stress and relaxation responses within the subconscious mind, both triggered by various elements of our lives. For example, negative thoughts could exacerbate a already raging disease – whilst scientific studies have shown that patients with a sense of hope, belief and positive thoughts ingrained in their deep subconscious mind, are more likely to heal quicker.

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Highly recommend this read for anyone battling an illness or anyone wanting to understand more about the mind-body relationship

Whilst this is just the tip of the iceberg of what she talks about – it really got me thinking about how I’ve approached various Crohns treatments and what I’ve felt during that time. Did I really believe that the medication would work? Did I have trust in my doctor?  Did I truly understand what was going on inside my body? Was I breeding positive or negative thoughts about it all in the very subconscious parts of my mind? The part of your mind that can influence you or affect your body without you even being aware of it…
I think this is a good time to tell the story of how this liquid diet came about. After countless tests since November last year, my consultant discovered I was experiencing a bad flare up. The first actual active Crohn’s Disease I’ve had since I was 13. After trying a mild form of steroid, a drug called Budesonide, which barely hit the sides, the consultant presented me with one option. Prednisolone. A extremely aggressive form of steroid which can result in some really nasty side effects. Extreme hunger, rapid weight gain, mood swings and depression being just some of the side effects I experienced when I took the drug as a child. It is seen as the most efficient and quick working drug for Crohn’s, as it modifies the body’s immune response and therefore decreases inflammation. It was actually me that put the liquid diet on the table. I did it as a child and I knew it worked. I had faith in it. I believed in it and I was dedicated to it. It felt a much purer way to cleanse my body of the disease and despite every hunger fuelled emotional outburst, I still firmly stand by my decision. I felt empowered that the decision over my health was coming from ME. And it’s working – I was right.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that life throws us all kinds of crap. Every single one of us. We are constantly processing and dealing with a mix of positive and negative feelings about all kinds of things. Yet we carry on – we persevere. Believing in something is the first step to making something happen. And that is why anyone could do this – because if you had to, you would.
life is tough darling
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(Betcha didn’t expect a preachy post like that today!)
For more information on Crohn’s and IBD, read Day 13: Let’s get medical

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