How helpful is mindfulness?

I’ve just left Hong Kong, and one of the leading trends to come out of this year’s Cosmoprof Asia Spa Conference was the concept of mindfulness and how it directly impacts on Wellness.

Mindfulness… it really is a head on tackle as to how we approach our own health. Doctors are great at curtailing death and acute trauma.  I mean, if you were hit by a bus I’m not sure you would want a chanting yogi bearing lavender to be the first on the scene.  Me? Sure, as much as I’m a passionate aromatherapist and natural medicine advocate, I’m the same. Stitch me up, set my leg and stop the bleeding please! But here’s the thing. With stress as the leading precursor to most western diseases it seems our focus has been distracted and the ‘proverbial bus’ is sneaking up and barreling us down ever so quietly from behind.

Woman meditating in yoga pose outdoor.

For acute trauma the remedy of surgery and emergency care are perfect. Doctors are there to prevent death. While western medicine offers great diagnostic tools,  the  focus on prevention and self care for chronic illness are often overlooked, or worse, dismissed. And what about wellness? I don’t just mean’not sick’, I’m talking about that blissful-jumping-out-of-your-skin feeling?  It seems wellness is something our current medical system appears to be a little nonchalant about.

More and more research, funding and trials are injected into pharmaceuticals and medical procedures, while the bio-markers for wellness in our society seem to be on the decline.

The irony is not lost on me.

In the US, one in two people are overweight and one in six are obese. Australia is on the path to a similar trend. The next generation is predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents. We appear to be failing spectacularly at staying well, and yet seem so reluctant to invest in preventative measures.  Everyone seems focused on researching the medical magic bullet. I just don’t think it exists.

Seventy-five to ninety percent of all GP visits are stress related. Continual heightened states of stress have the potential to shred heart muscle, depress immunity, reduce digestive function, increase blood pressure and negatively impact body chemistry. Considering that stress is the precursor to long term disease, the benefits of stress reduction are enormous.

Natural medicine and Spa programs are taking up the challenge.

More and more research, funding and trials are injected into pharmaceuticals and medical procedures while the bio-markers for wellness in our society seem to be on the decline.

In a world of velocity and complexity, ‘Mindfulness’ is now a major trend within Spa Wellness. More Spas are offering meditation, breath work and yoga as part of their menu offerings. ‘Barefoot Spas’, ‘Earthing Rituals’ and ‘Digital Detox Programs’ are feeding those inflicted with ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. By 2013 there will be five billion urbanites worldwide craving experiences provided by nature. The number one reason cited by Spa-goers is stress. Stress is fueling the trend.

Spa’s educate, encourage and enable great lifestyle choices. Instead of just surviving they empower us to invest in well being options that lead to vibrant dynamic health. Boosted immunity, enhanced cognitive function, better mobility are just a few of the benefits cited by wellness programs embracing yoga, meditation and complementary therapies.

But in hard crunchy scientific data, what are the real benefits exactly?

Neuroscience research is telling us the effects of mindfulness have a far greater pay off. Meditation and yoga is linked directly to higher cerebral blood flow to the brain. Mindful activity leads to lower cortisol levels, increased immunity and better nervous function.

Genomic science has found a new way to measure all this mindful contemplation on cellular ageing. Telomeres are the new report card. Telomeres are the tiny caps that protect the ends of our chromosomes, the genetic material housing our DNA. With age, stress and inactivity (interestingly) these shorten over time.  Short telomeres are linked to chronic disease. Genetic research is supporting the great work that Spa Wellness promotes. A simple swab test can measure the growth in telomeres following periods of meditation, yoga and mindfulness and the results are not only telling, I think they are exciting.

So, all this mindful relaxation, is it really mind over matter? You be the judge, but for now I’m off on my yoga mat to contemplate great health and see if I can’t coax my telomeres another inch or two…


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