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Welcome to the Health Check Cafe

Your Place for Optimal Health...Naturally!


What Elevates Your Spirit? 

Obviously, this question can't be answered in the same way for everyone.  Each individual likes different things and requires something different from their down time, their rejuvenation of spirit time and that is totally okay.  But for those of you that don't know what it is yet that can do that for you then perhaps some of these suggestions may be able to help you to determine the perfect match of relaxation & rejuvenation that gives you what you need to be a happier, more relaxed person.  How wonderful it would be if you could reach a Zen state that could impact your life in a positive and significant way!  The usual stresses of the day would just roll off your shoulders because your overall stress level would be much lower and therefor the things that normally drive you crazy would merely be a moment in your day and would not draw anymore attention than that?


If you are ready to change your life and seek out some stress management tools, some feel good and relaxation methods then take a look at some of these ideas that we have put together for you.

Finding Inner Peace Every Day

What does internal peace mean for you? Does it mean a place of sanctuary where you can come home from stressful situations and find that place of safety away from the ‘cares of the world’? Does it mean a place where you can be yourself without the facade many of us wear throughout the day so that people won’t know how we really feel? Or is this place (often our home) one more place where we need to defend ourselves from the ongoing onslaught of anger, hostility, and power games that are so often the measure of our lives in the 21st century? 


The dictionary defines internal as: having to do with or situated inside of the body; of relating to, or existing within the mind. Peace is defined as: a state of calm and quiet; freedom from disturbing thoughts; and an agreement to end hostilities. For the purpose of this article I will combine these two notions and define internal peace as: the integration of our thoughts and feelings culminating in a state of tranquility and harmony. One of the most important keys for this tranquility and harmony or ‘peace of mind’ as it is often called, is to honour our emotional nature and find methods to express feelings in appropriate ways that allow us to release them.


Practical Steps to Releasing Emotions

1. Learn to listen to yourself. Many of us have been harried for so long that we are out-of-touch with how we feel. A situation will present itself and we will ‘flip out’ and find it unbelievable that we have lost control. This actually results from a build-up of emotions that we have not been aware of. 


2. Accept responsibility for your feelings. No one makes you feel anything; rather you choose how you think and feel based on what you interpret the situation to be. Blaming others gives away your power and when you feel like a ‘victim’ you react with anger and resentment.


3. Talk to a trusted friend or counsellor. Finding a ‘safe place’ where you are able to express feelings without anyone judging you provides an opportunity to release pent-up emotions. 


4. Accept yourself. You are not supposed to be perfect and learning to accept yourself with all your strengths and weaknesses creates feelings of peace within. 


5. Don’t judge yourself. Judging yourself means thinking you have to be perfect and creates feelings of not being ‘good enough.’ When feeling inadequate you judge yourself harshly and no matter what you do it will never be ‘good enough.’


6. Let go of the past. The past is over and you did the best you could with what you knew at the time. If the past evokes memories of painful experiences for you, release the memories and find forgiveness for yourself and/or others. This doesn’t mean you condone these behaviors. It means you release the memories and feelings to find your own inner healing and peace.


7. Learn to relax. Many methods exist that contribute to staying in balance and harmony. Practicing meditation as a daily ritual, reading, exercising, walking, or creating a sacred space where you can spend time feeling a sense of renewal and refreshment are all methods that take you away from focusing on ‘what is wrong’ to seeing yourself as having ‘control of your life.’


8. Practice gratitude. What you pay attention to increases as you give energy to your thoughts. Thoughts of peace, love, and abundance increases the inner healing and peace and leads to living lives that feel more balanced and harmonious. 


9. Keep a journal. People have used journaling for many years in order to release emotions and make sense of what is going on. This journal or notebook is for your eyes only and allows you to say anything you want without anybody seeing it except you. Once expressed, emotions tend to dissipate and you will find they are released through this exploration. If this process doesn’t totally release them the first time, repeat the exercise.


10. Spend time in nature. We are part of nature and when we re-connect with the natural world we touch our inner self/ spiritual connection to something more. That something more is our connection to the Universal Energy whether we call it God, Goddess, All That Is, or Higher Power. Whatever we call it, when we feel connected to the ‘Whole’ we recognize our place in the world and feel a sense of peace and harmony and that ‘all is right in our world.’

Meditation:  A Path To Inner Peace

 

Throughout history, meditation has been an integral part of many cultures. Records indicate that meditation was practiced in ancient Greece and India more than 5,000 years ago. In the Buddhist religion, meditation is an important part of their spiritual practice. Different forms of meditation are practiced in China and Japan, and even Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have traditions similar to meditation. The word meditation comes from the Latin 'meditari' which means: exercise, turn something over in one's mind, think, consider. It is defined as "consciously directing your attention to alter your state of mind."
 

Meditation is one of the proven alternative therapies that in recent years have been classified under the mind-body medicine therapies. It is continuing to gain popularity, as more and more health experts believe that there is more to the connection between mind and body than modern medicine can explain. Meditation has been shown to aid the immune system and improve brain activity, according to researchers. More and more doctors are prescribing meditation as a way to lower blood pressure, improve exercise performance, for people with angina, to help people with asthma to breathe easier, to relieve insomnia, and generally relax everyday stresses of life. Many hospitals now offer meditation classes for their patients because of the health benefits. All promote physiological health and well-being.

Traditionally meditation has been used for spiritual growth but more recently has become a valuable tool for managing stress and finding a place of peace, relaxation, and tranquility in a demanding fast-paced world. Benefits resulting from meditation include: physical and emotional healing; easing stress, fear, and grief; improved breathing; developing intuition; deep relaxation; exploring higher realities; finding inner guidance; unlocking creativity; manifesting change; emotional cleansing and balancing; and deepening concentration and insight.

Meditation elicits many descriptive terms: stillness, silence, tranquility, peace, quiet, and calm. All counter stress and tension. Lama Surya Das in his book Awakening The Buddha Within says, "Meditation is not just something to do; it?s a method of being and seeing ? an unconditional way of living moment by moment." In other words, learning to live in this moment because this moment is all we have. Henry Winkler is quoted as saying; "A human being?s first responsibility is to shake hands with himself." Meditation is an opportunity to ?shake hands with ourselves? in a safe, simple way and to balance our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Meditation takes many forms in today?s society. All have one thing in common. They use concentration techniques to still the mind and stop thought. Various practices exist such as chanting (Mantra), focusing on energy centres in the body (Chakra Meditation), breathing, mindfulness (Mahamudra), loving kindness, formal sitting (Vipassana), expressive practices (Siddha Yoga), and walking to name some of the styles. Try each style and see what works for you or you may want to alternate between the techniques from time to time. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss Mahamudra and walking meditation.

Practical Steps To Begin Meditating:

  • Find a place where there are few external distractions. A place where you feel emotionally comfortable, safe, removed from pressure and stress is the optimal location.

  • Wear clothing that is loose and sit or lie in a comfortable position.

  • Plan to meditate in an area that is warm and comfortable. You might want to have a blanket or light covering as some people experience a feeling of coolness when they aren't moving around for a period of time.

  • Candles can be used to focus attention on the task at hand. If you use them, remember to be cautious and extinguish them before leaving the room.

  • Relaxation is a key component of meditation. Take a few moments to bring about a state of relaxation by taking a deep breath through your nose, expanding your lungs and diaphragm. Hold the breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this several times until you feel relaxed. Calm, soothing music can be helpful for inducing a state of tranquillity and relaxation.

  • If you are hungry, have a little something to eat, as it is not necessary to meditate on a completely empty stomach.

  • Put your expectations aside and don't worry about doing it right.


Meditation: Mahamudra is the form of meditation that is a way of going about one's daily activities in a state of mindfulness. It is meditation integrated into all aspects of our lives. This following exercise is one you can do anywhere to create a feeling of inner peace. It is particularly helpful for those times you are stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store or bank, at the office when days are hectic, or when you are picking up the kids from school or extra-curricular activities. "What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it," wrote Hugh Mulligan. Meditation helps us remember to stop and smell the daisies.

Begin by taking a deep breath. Breathe deeply and as you do expand your lungs and your diaphragm. Hold the breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale through the mouth. Focus on your breath and clear your mind. Do this several times until you feel the slowing of your breath and a deep sense of peace fill your body. Consciously feel the peace permeate your body. Drop your shoulders and connect through the top of your head to the Universal Energy. Repeat. If you wish, send peace to those around you by connecting to their hearts with light and love.

Walking Meditation

 

A walking meditation is simply an exercise in awareness. There are four components:

 

  1. become aware of your breathing,
  2. notice your surroundings,
  3. be attentive to your body's movement, and
  4. take some time to reflect on your experience when you return home.

To practice ?awareness walking? bring awareness to walking wherever you find yourself. Take notice of your breathing. Are you taking short, shallow breaths without even knowing it? If so, take several deep breaths and centre yourself in your body and in the present moment. Appreciate the wonderful body you have and the blessing of being able to walk.

Notice your surroundings. What season is it? Take a few minutes to listen to the noises around you. Feel the wind, sun, fog, rain or snow on your face. Look at the people, animals, birds, sky, trees, and buildings around you. Breathe in and out and realise that you are an integral part of the environment.

Pay attention to your body. Are you holding tension in your shoulders, neck, solar plexus, lower back, or legs? Breath into any areas where you are feeling tension and let it drain into the Earth. Next, pay attention to your posture. Are you standing straight and tall or slouching? Walk in a way that is comfortable for you with your body loose and uplifted. Walk with dignity and confidence, one foot in front of the other and pay attention to the experience of movement. You can walk mindfully anywhere, along a sidewalk, walking your dog, in the mall, along the hallways at work. You simply remind yourself to be in this moment, taking each step as it comes. Some people find it helpful to repeat a mantra (mantras are sacred words repeated in order to bring focus to your mind). You can also use a variation on the walking mantra by counting your breaths. Walk more slowly than you usually do and count how many steps it takes for your intake of breath and how many steps for your exhale. In this type of meditation, your attention is focused on both your steps and your breathing bringing together a wonderful balance of peacefulness and awareness.

Take some time to reflect on your experience when you return home. Five or ten minutes brings closure to your walk and provides an opportunity to make the transition from this place of peace to ordinary day-to-day activities.

Yoga: A Mind Body Connection

The Benefits of Yoga for Stress Management

 

The raves about yoga is more than just a current trend or a flash in the pan fad. The physical and psychological benefits of yoga for stress management has been taking America by storm no matter if it takes one to stand on his head, or twist her foot behind the neck like a human pretzel.

The regular practice of yoga can help decrease stress and tension, increase strength, balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure and reduced cortisol levels. It also yields strong emotional benefits due to the emphasis on breathing and the interconnection of mind, body and spirit.

Frequent practice of yoga for stress management induces better sleep, helps individuals not to focus on things beyond their control and how to live in the present. It makes a stressful event a lot easier to handle, whether it's family or work.

Whatever misconceptions you have about yoga and stress management should take a back seat. While most people have the notion that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga, the truth is, anyone will benefit from yoga regardless of age. Even people who aren't flexible will actually see results faster. It's perfectly suited to all levels because yoga is a practice geared to helping you become aware of your own highly individual mind/body connection.

There are many different styles of yoga to suit your preference. Hatha yoga is one of the most flowing and gentle options that is a good choice as starting point. Vinyasa is more athletic while Iyengar concentrates on proper alignment. However, Bikram or "hot" yoga, is not recommended for beginners.

It doesn't matter if you join late in a yoga class. It's not about doing it better or worse than the others, it's about how you feel each stretch in your body. What matters most is how relaxed you can allow yourself to feel.

Yoga is considered as a deeply personal practice and no two people can or should hold a pose in exactly the same manner. A person has to work at his or her own level of flexibility, one that is challenging but not overwhelming. If you don't feel good with what the instructor is telling you to do, don’t do it. Your body will warn you if you are about to get hurt. It is important that you listen to your body, push the limits gently, but don’t let yourself be overcome by ego. Allow your body to guide you and be your friend.

The goal of yoga is to synchronize the breath and movement. It is important when to inhale and exhale as you work through poses. Breathing only through your nose keeps heat in the body and keeps the mind focused. Concentrating on your breath is the key to yoga for stress management, as it helps you let go of external thoughts and anxiety. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. Feel how it goes down your nose and into your body. It helps you let go of the worrying thoughts.

As you end each yoga session, simply lie on your back with both arms at your side with eyes closed and breathing deeply. This final "corpse pose" is designed for deep relaxation.

Bear in mind that yoga is a slow process. Forget about expectations. Let go of competition and judgment. As yoga brings you into the present moment, you will experience joy not only in the physical movement and mental benefits but in spending time in the now.

Destressing With Aromatherapy & Massage

One pleasant way to deal with daily stress and fatigue is to massage it away. For thousands of years, holistic therapies such as aromatherapy massage have been used as a way to refresh and recharge the senses.

A daily massage with scented oil can help dissolve accumulated stress and toxins. The benefits to be expected from this calming daily ritual include:


  • Increased circulation, especially to nerve endings
  • Toning of the muscles and the whole physiology
  • Calming for the nerves
  • Lubrication of the joints
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Improved elimination of impurities from the body
  • Softer, smoother skin
  • Increased levels of stamina through the day
  • Better, deeper sleep at night.


A favorite scented oil used for aromatherapy massage combines olive oil and orange blossom. Olive oil is well known for its healing properties, both when taken internally and used to lubricate the outer body, while orange blossom oil is a scent that has been used as a stress reliever for years.  Together, olive oil and orange blossom offer luxurious skin conditioning with the added benefit of soothing stress-reduction.  Described as a delicacy for the skin, combinations of these oils such as those found in the Olive Oil and Orange Blossom Collection by Caswell-Massey offer benefits to the mind, body and soul.

The collection includes a body oil in this scent that can be used as a massage oil but can also be used to maintain healthy skin tone on a daily basis.  You can extend the benefits of the aromatherapy by using other products that contain the scents. These products might include a bath and shower gel, a moisturizing bath oil, a cleansing bar, body butter, moisturizing oil that can also be used as a leave-in conditioner, and scented candles. Even applying a scented lip balm can offer a way to de-stress.

It’s about time you experience the power of aromatherapy especially its stress-relieving benefits. Read on and find out how aromatic therapy eases you out of stress holistically, clinically and aesthetically. Discover how each method gives you the peace and tranquility your body needs.

The Essence of Aromatic Oils

At the heart of aromatic therapy are the essential oils which are extracted from different plants in three ways: steam distillation, cold press and absolute extraction.  The last method is used only when the plants or flowers could not survive the other two methods. To extract oils from citrus fruits, the cold press method is used while steam distillation is usually applied for extracting oils on plants and the different parts of a plant.


Holistic Havens

You should be familiar with the holistic method of aromatic therapy especially if you ever had a massage from a masseuse using essential oils. This is the most popular method of aromatic therapy. The infusion of the oils’ scent, how it gets absorbed into your skin plus the deep tissue massage is enough to give your body a much needed revival from stress.

Not only does this method relieve you off stress, it is actually good for your immune system too. Stress usually leaves you with a weakened immune system and aromatic therapy builds up your immune system by stimulating the brain’s chemicals so that it fights away infection.


Clinical Concoction

The clinical method of aroma therapy is applied together with traditional medicine. The way it’s done can change from one country to another. In the US, one of the most common ways it is used is through dentistry. It’s been found out that having the smell of lavender in waiting rooms relaxes a patient before dental surgery. The scent of lavender also helps in the relief of some serious diseases and even childbirth by providing a relaxing environment.


Aesthetic Infusions

Aesthetic aromatic therapy involves the use of essential oils in burners, diffusers and even the bath. This kind of therapy can be used by anyone. Some people even get bath salts, beads and shower gels for a heightened experience. These special products have essential oils in them and give the same relaxing and soothing effect on the skin and body. Even candles have essential oils and combining it with scented bath products will give you the best relaxing experience yet.


How It Works

There are different methods of aromatic therapy which gives nothing but the ultimate stress relief. By using scents from essential oils, aromatic therapy affects a person’s mood, which in turn affects the body.


As the nose inhales the scents coming from the essential oils, the olfactory receptors transmit the information to the limbic system. This system is the place where our emotions are processed. It is said that aromatic therapy helps in stimulating the brain so that it releases chemicals that make you relax. This process is what makes aromatic therapy relieve you off stress.


Treat Yourself

There are different ways you can experience the true bliss of aromatherapy. You can visit a spa and inquire about their different services. Choose the option that will benefit you the most. You can also buy a home aromatic therapy kit. These usually come with burners or oil diffusers plus instructions on how to use it.


Or you can get yourself an assortment of different bath products with essential oils and experiment to find out what works best for you.

Tai Chi & Stress Management

Meditation in Motion

To the uninformed, the mere mention of the term "martial arts" evokes images of rigorous fighting and violence. However, in China and other parts of the world, thousands are recognizing the health benefits of a Chinese form of martial arts called Tai Chi. Many of its practitioners have adopted Tai Chi not only as a martial art but as a technique to manage stress and anxiety. While its roots are to be found in China, the martial arts has gained wide following in the United States where stress and anxiety are now considered very common ailments.


According to the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, at least 19 million Americans are now affected by stress and anxiety. The anxiety disorder includes other symptoms of distress such as depression, alcoholism, excessive cigarette smoking, and other forms of substance abuse. In many cases, the disorder becomes so intense that a person with anxiety could no longer function properly or engage in normal everyday activities. A generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) manifests itself as a chronic irritability, tension, or worry over a situation. The anxiety is often unwarranted or exaggerated when a person is anticipating a certain event or situation. Stress and anxiety are treatable and can be addressed using a variety of therapeutic options. The great number of people afflicted with anxiety disorders has also resulted in the increase in demand for therapy centers and psychiatric services. In these centers, a patient with an anxiety or stress disorder is provided counseling, coaching, and even diet advice. If necessary, the patients are also given anxiety medication to help relieve their worries.

One very popular stress management alternative is Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese form of "soft" or internal martial arts that helps promote health and longevity. Often seen being practiced by groups of people in parks, Tai Chi has grown popularity especially among the elderly and people with chronic illnesses. Often called the "moving meditation," Tai Chi was developed in China as early as the 12th century by a Taoist monk named Zhang Sanfeng. Tai Chi literally means "supreme ultimate boxing" or "boundless fist," a name that clearly points out to the combat applications of this slow, graceful Oriental art of physical fitness.


Many Tai Chi practitioners attest to the effectiveness of the art in promoting relaxation. The deliberate, slow movements of the upper torso, hands, arms, legs, and feet are soft exercises that promote flexibility. The practitioner breathes slowly with each graceful movement of Tai Chi. The slow repetitive movements of this unique form of martial arts promote the internal blood and oxygen circulation. It is believed that the emphasis of Tai Chi on proper breathing allows its practitioners to heal damaged internal organs and body cells.


Whether it is done alone or as part of a group, the Tai Chi forms or exercises offer anxiety relief. In fact, there are specific movements that require the practitioner to visualize the act of releasing stress and anxiety. As the Tai Chi practitioner moves his arms inward, it is accompanied by slow, deep breathing. The next move of pushing the arms outward is accompanied by the exhalation of air and the visualization of pushing away all negative thoughts and worries.


Other practitioners have also found Tai Chi to be an effective means of breaking the habit of smoking and excessive use of alcohol. Aside from bringing a sense of clarity and serenity, the practice of Tai Chi also helps the practitioner to adopt a more healthier lifestyle. Advanced forms of Tai Chi include the study and use of traditional Chinese medicine which involves the use of acupuncture, herbal medications, and therapeutic massage.


For serious cases of stress and other psychological disorders, regular consultation with a doctor or psychiatrist is highly advised. While Tai Chi is already a proven alternative form of stress management, some individuals may need to take anxiety medication that is prescribed a health professional.


While it is not always necessary to take drugs to treat anxiety, balancing the collective wisdom from Eastern and Western forms of medicine may be an ideal way of approaching the issue of personal health and fitness. Millions of people around the world have taken up Tai Chi not just as a martial art but as a means to release stress and tension. With more efforts to promote the healing and fitness aspects of Tai Chi, it is expected that more people will learn and benefit from the ancient secrets to longevity and stress-free living.