National Nutrition Week: Sleep is the Deepest Meditation Known, says Health Expert Luke Coutinho

National Nutrition Week is observed from September 1 to 7 every year to highlight the importance of nutrition in our lives. While our fitness and sleep routine might have gone for a toss during the lockdown, the health crisis has forced us to take a sharp look at our mental and physical well-being. Many of us are trying a bunch of new things to nourish our bodies as we grapple with all the lifestyle changes we’ve had to make.

Bestselling author and Holistic Lifestyle Coach (Integrative Medicine), Luke Coutinho is renowned for his approach towards prevention and healing. He believes the path to wellness involves adequate exercise, balanced nutrition, emotional detox, and quality sleep. We asked him about the much talked about new normal, “I define the new normal as going back to roots, whether it’s eating, emotional health, cooking food from scratch, focusing on the basics of immunity using traditional methods, spending time with family, everything that was given importance once upon a time, but we somehow never gave it due importance.”

An advocate of holistic living, Luke talks about wellness and shares easy tips on how to survive during this stressful period.

How important is the state of mind in a situation like this? How does it impact our physical body?

It means everything. Mind and body are intricately connected and constantly communicating with each other. Every thought that crosses our mind, affects our body and vice versa. So, while a negative thought (like exam stress) can evoke an unfavourable output in the body (loose motions or bloating), a positive thought (calm) can evoke a favourable output in the body (regular bowels).

Anxiety and worry are normal emotions to feel in a time like today because uncertainty is everywhere. However, these emotions do nothing to make the situation better or us feel better. Instead, we must use them to fuel us into action and do something about it. So, the feeling of worry or anxiety must help us move into action mode. Being stuck in that emotion does nothing, but spirals us down even more.

How to build immunity on our own instead of waiting for a vaccine?

Vaccines have their own importance and have saved the lives of people in multiple cases, but even the vaccines rely on our immunity ultimately to function better.  

Yes, waiting for a vaccine instead of focusing on what we can do now, within the comforts of our own home is foolish. Realise this: Same disease, same diagnosis, but why are the outcomes so different? Some heal in no time, without any symptoms, some take time, some have relapses and some have succumbed to it? It all depends on your immunity. Yes, medicines are important too, but why is finally working for you? Immunity.

Today, we only think of an apple or multivitamins or supplements when it comes to boosting immunity, but it’s much more than that. Immunity works as a system and not a separate unit. The power of immunity can be harnessed through the food we eat, emotional health, sleep, rest and recovery, and physical movement. This is what makes the foundation of immunity.

Can you talk to us about good Indian superfoods that we can all consume?

Indian cuisine is rich in immunity-boosting superfoods and each of us must take great pride in that. While every food has its own unique benefit and value and that is why we must focus on a diverse diet, here are some of my favourites:

  • Turmeric and black pepper – the combination is what makes the two superfoods all the more powerful. A powerful anti-inflammatory boosts brain health, immunity, and anti-cancer as well.
  • Amla – one of the richest courses of vitamin C, gooseberry or amla has always been a part of Indian culture in the form of pickles, chutneys, murabbas, jam.
  • Garlic and Onion – Powerful immunity boosters that also work as prebiotic and help in feeding the good gut bacteria. They are rich in sulphur, a compound necessary for a variety of functions in the body, right from hormonal health to detoxification.
  • Coconut oil and ghee – These two fat sources are used as cooking mediums in almost every single Indian household. I literally use it as a medicine with my clients because when used wisely, it can help a variety of health conditions, right from skin health to autoimmune conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer.

Due to the lockdown, many have developed an erratic sleep schedule. How important is sleep for a healthy life?

Sleep is an inbuilt part of our life and natural to our cells. It is super important for overall health and well-being. It’s as important as good food, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and managing your stress levels. No amount of drugs, caffeine, or technology can ever replace what natural sleep and rest can do for our body and mind. We must sleep to heal the mind and body. Every living being needs that downtime, rest, recovery, sleep to repair, refresh, rejuvenate, restart, else it burns out very fast.

Sleep is also the deepest meditation known. When we sleep, our hormones balance, the brain detoxifies, the body heals, rejuvenates, muscles repair and grow, the body detoxifies. Sleep fuels our immunity. During sleep, we produce melatonin, a powerful anti-cancer hormone. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and a cell protector. Sleep also determines the levels of your hunger and satiety hormone which in turn also determines your weight.

One of the major reasons why people have developed an erratic sleep schedule in this lockdown is because of an erratic schedule. There is no discipline around eating, workout, pooping, sleeping times. Everything in our life works according to timings and schedules and so does our body. There is a biological clock that nature has designed and every single function in our body including the process of sleep works according to that provide all the other functions like eating, drinking, waking up – are also in sync with it. Most of us do not have a sleep routine which is necessary to disconnect ourselves from the day time chaos. We may have the best of sleeping gadgets, aids, and other tools, but without self-discipline, all of this is useless.

How often should we exercise considering our regular physical activity has reduced?

Firstly, it’s not just about the workout, it’s about overall movement. How active are you throughout the day, even if you aren’t getting a regimented workout? Our body needs movement every single day and not specific days, so even if one isn’t working out daily, movement in any form is important.

Here are a few ways to fit in small bursts of movement all throughout the day:

  • Take a walk for 10-15 minutes, post meals walk for 30 minutes.
  • Take calls while walking
  • Sweeping, cleaning, mopping, dusting, washing dishes are great ways to fit in movement.
  • After every one hour, get up and touch your feet, bend your back – forward and backward.
  • Squeeze in five squats, three times a day, or ten push-ups – five times a day.

This is easy and doable. Over and above that if you want to get in an exercise – you could either engage in bodyweight workouts, yoga, dancing /Zumba sessions. You could work out alone, with your partner, family, or your friends virtually. Make exercise fun and do something you like.

Which breathing exercises can we practice to overcome anxiety?

Even a few rounds of simple deep inhales and exhales are one of the most immediate ways to relax your nervous system and shift to a state of the parasympathetic nervous system and bring down cortisol levels. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to break the anxiety loop and trick our body to believe that it’s safe and there is nothing to worry about.

Two of the most effective breathing techniques:

  • 4-7-8 breathing.
  • Inhale for four seconds through both nostrils.
  • Hold/Retain your breath for seven seconds
  • Exhale for about eight seconds.

You do this six times, to begin with, and then slowly build up to eight and then ten rounds.

2. Bhramari / Bee breathing

  • Sit up straight. Keep your eyes closed for some time. Observe the sensations in the body and the quietness within.
  • Place your thumb on the cartilage in between your cheek and ear, while your other fingers cover the face (index – brows, middle finger – eyes, ring finger – upper lip, and little finger – lower lip). This is also called as Shanmukhi Mudra
  • Breath in deep and while you breathe out, make a loud buzzing sound like a bee.
  • Make a high-pitched one for good results and repeat the same three-four times.

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