Lifestyle

Yoga for Insulin Resistance?

Stress eats up your energy reserves. Your body’s answer is to employ the hormone cortisol to keep you going through the crisis. Cortisol activates conversion of muscle tissue to glucose – keeping you fueled under fire. Chronic stress, therefore, means chronic high blood sugars, and constantly elevated blood sugars eventually means insulin resistance.

I’ve seen it more than once in my practice. You don’t eat junk food, you’re conscientious about whole food choices, and you still can’t manage your blood sugars. I’m telling you, it’s the stress.

Try some daily relaxation techniques to curb your cortisol output. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great place to start because the majority of the lung’s receptors for the parasympathetic (de-stressing) arm of the nervous system are in the lower third.

Lie on your back and put your hands on your abdomen below your naval. As you inhale, try to raise your core enough to move your hands upward. Now breathe out more slowly than you inhaled. Repeat this several times.

Enhance your practice by counting to 4 as you inhale, holding your breath to the count of 7, then exhaling for 8 counts. This odd ratio requires enough concentration to take your mind from its ruminating and also insures that you slow your breath. A sure sign of stress is accelerated breathing. Fully exhaling also helps remove toxins from the body.

 

Slow Starter?

If you can stay up late but have trouble waking in the morning, your cortisol rhythm may be skewed. Cortisol is your “get-up-and-go” hormone. It moves you from a parasympathetic restful state into action. Normally, it is highest in the morning, and gradually declines over the course of the day, until it reachest its lowest point around midnight – during your deep sleep.

Since cortisol is produced in the adrenals, disrupted cortisol cycles often point to some form of adrenal overload. Adrenals – tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys – can be burdened by environmental toxins, food allergies, sleep deprivation, and many other factors. But the most prominent causes in the American lifestyle today are excess sugar intake and stress.

Excess sugar intake is considered by the American Heart Association to be no more than 9.5 teaspoons (or 47.5 grams) per day. Estimates in 2012 placed consumption at 3 times that much.

Love you adrenals with these measures:

  • Eat whole, not processed foods
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and refined sugar (watch food labels!)
  • Get adequate protein (roughly 1/3 of your daily calories)
  • Go to bed earlier (optimally around 10 p.m.) and sleep for 8 hours
  • Manage stress daily with laughter, nurturing, meditation, and deep-breathing
  • Engage in light to moderate exercise
  • Get outside as much as possible. Natural light is essential to healthy adrenal function.

Working with a health practitioner to obtain supplemental adrenal support may be necessary to normalize your cortisol output.

 

Night-time Relief

Have trouble getting to sleep? Or wake up and can’t get back to sleep? Sleeplessness can be a sign of wonky cortisol levels. A non-alcoholic nightcap might be just the thing to give you a restful night.

Cortisol is a hormone that has the job of raising your heart rate, quickening your breath, and raising your blood sugars so that you are ready to act. Normally, it should drop off in the evening allowing you to enter parasympathetic state, to stop churning through your list, and to catch your 40 winks. It typically rises toward morning as your blood sugars gradually fall from your night’s fast. This sloping increase of hormone gently brings you out of slumber.

When blood sugars plummet dramatically – as they always do after the insulin surge that accompanies high-carb eating – cortisol will rush to save the brain from “starvation” by sending a signal to convert amino and fatty acids into glucose (the brain’s primary fuel). There will be an accompanying increase in heart rate and breathing, tipping the body out of its “being” state into its “doing” state. Even if it’s the middle of the night!

And if this high cortisol state is chronic, getting to sleep in anything less than two hours may be completely futile. This happens if your adrenals – where cortisol is produced – are overworked; if your stress is chronically high; or if a carb-heavy diet keep cortisol pumping long into the evening.

A mug of warm coconut milk mixed with ashwaghanda and cinnamon is a perfect remedy for such a vicious cycle. The coconut milk provides enough fat to fuel your body through the night without a “sugar crash.” The ashwaghanda relieves stress (see this post); a pinch of salt supports the adrenals; cinnamon helps blood sugar regulation; a spoonful of honey makes it yummy, and the soothing warmth promotes relaxation. Try it!

 

Coconut Milk Nightcap

6 oz. boiling water

1 capsule (500 mg) ashwgandha root

2 oz. full-fat coconut milk without additives

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. honey

Open the ashwagandha capsule and sprinkle it into the hot water. Steep for 10 minutes. Add the other ingredients and stir. Sip slowly while reading a book, soaking in the tub, watching the stars, or some other relaxing activity.

Gargle to Lower Blood Sugars?

Surely this sounds insane! Yet, if you are chronically stressed, your cortisol levels are going to be detrimentally high. And cortisol raises blood sugars. One of the most effective ways to re-train your body to recover quickly from stress and to remain in a restful state is to stimulate the vagus nerve. That’s where gargling comes in.

Here’s the background on why gargling works. Cortisol is a mobilization hormone. It takes you from a state of being to a state of doing. It is a messenger that tells the liver to convert protein stores to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis – literally the creation of new sugar from a non-carbohydrate source. Cortisol’s primary job is to make sure that quick energy (i.e. blood sugar) is available to the muscles (including heart and lungs) when action is necessary. Should you be startled and need to flee, cortisol insures that you have a fuel source to burn.

You don’t need a spike of cortisol to digest, sleep, or laugh with loved ones. These are performed in a para-sympathetic state – the place of being. But you do need cortisol to meet deadlines at work, handle that family crisis, save your child from a biting dog, and host the dinner party you forgot about. When demands are constant, cortisol never lets down. That means blood sugars remain dangerously high, putting you at risk for diabetes – not because of the pastries you ate but because you can’t relax!

Christopher Bergland wrote for Psychology Today that your vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to having grace under pressure. While cortisol revs you up like the gas pedal in an automobile, the vagus nerve does the opposite. It slows you down like the brakes on your car, using neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.

While there are dozens of ways to stimulate the vagus nerve that I teach, I like gargling because anyone can do it anywhere at anytime – though I don’t recommend right in the middle of staff meeting! If you are being conscientious about hydrating, you can gargle a bit every time you sip from your water bottle.

The muscles that contract the back of the throat are controlled by the vagus nerve. That’s why gargling stimulates it. The more it is stimulated, the greater your ability to stay collected during the storm. And the more stable your blood sugars will be as a result.

3 HEALTHY Uses for Sugar

I’m under a microscope when it comes to sugar use! Is the blood sugar specialist 100% sugar free? NO!!! The solemn truth is that I use refined sugar every single day. Here’s how:

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hum

Hum a Favorite Tune

I’m a very tense backseat driver. When road conditions are dangerous, my clutched hands, feet moving toward an imaginery brake pedal, and spontaneous outcries can put any conscientious driver into a state of panic. So last winter I tried something new. When the traction and visibility were severely limited, I hummed Christmas carols softly to myself – for about 90 miles! My partner, who tends to be very attuned to my moods, commented that my serenity helped dissipate his nervousness and aided his focus .

Stress is a silent killer. It elevates cortisol levels, which, when chronic, raise blood pressure, disrupt digestion, abet sugar issues, exacerbate inflammation, and skew hormone balance. But humming can change all that!

Your vagus nerve runs right past your vocal chords; humming helps tone that nerve! From this previous post, you know that when the vagus nerve is strong and resilient, so are you! You are less likely to stay in “fight-or-flight” when you are triggered, and everything from your inner organs to your external relationships benefits! You are able to maintain that more relaxed parasympathetic state, and even your blood sugar levels become more stable.

It doesn’t work to just think a song in your head, though. There has to be actual vibration to bring about the benefits. But apparently, it doesn’t matter whether you hum a melody or just create a monotone sound. The longer the voice is engaged, the greater the results. At least one study shows that humming for even five minutes can reduce diastolic blood pressure significantly.

Other benefits to the parasympathetic nervous system include:

  • slowed breathing
  • relaxed muscles of the head, shoulders, and neck
  • greater focus, mental clarity
  • subdued anxiety, enhanced cheer
  • deeper sleep
  • increased blood oxygenation
  • softened abdominal tension

Here’s a fun exercise to try the next time you find yourself getting angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed: unleash your inner pirate! Start with a deep growling “aaarrrrgh!” Prolong  the vowel, keeping your mouth open and sound resonating. Then slowly raise the pitch and tone of the cry into one more melodic. Try imitating an opera star or singing “hallelujah!” Notice your mood change as you continue to add vocal fluctuations.

Humming not only can be healthy, it can be fun, too!

 

Need a Vagus Nerve Tune-Up?

Life is coming at you fast and furious! You want to feel strong but you’re just too tired to start anything new. You know you should eat better – but there’s no time to cook. You try to stay hydrated; you didn’t even remember lunch, let alone a water bottle. Your conscience nags you about exercising. Sheesh, getting out of bed is a work-out!

But darling, you can find pleasure in toning your vagus nerve, and the very act of doing so will diminish some of your stress and begin to change you physically. With enough practice, you may find your stamina improves.

The vagus nerve is the master mind of the anti-stress network in the body. It stretches from the brain to the intestines, affecting the heart and lungs, the liver and kidneys, stomach and spleen. When it is toned, people have more balanced blood sugars, are less susceptible to depression, are more able to concentrate and remember, have more fulfilling relationships, and are less likely to be plagued by inflammation in the body.

The more toned your vagus nerve, the more quickly you can recover from a situation that puts you into “fight, flight, or freeze.”  Although some of us are born with less tone than others, engaging in just one uncomplicated activity each day can strengthen that tone.

Here are a dozen of my favorites ways to do so:

  1. Humming or singing
  2. Laughing
  3. Meditating
  4. Deep breathing
  5. Washing my face in cold water
  6. Praying
  7. Taking Probiotics
  8. Thinking positive thoughts
  9. Serving others
  10. Getting a massage
  11. Expressing gratitude
  12. Aromatherapy

Dr. Arielle Schwartz, psychologist, explains that like Goldilocks, “we recognize we are ‘too hot’ when we feel keyed up, anxious, irritable, or panicky. We are too ‘too cold’ when we are shut down, depressed, or feeling hopeless. Sometimes we alternate between the two which is like driving with one foot on the gas and one on the brakes. Practices that regulate the vagus nerve are aimed towards either relaxing or re-energizing ourselves depending upon what is needed to feel ‘just right.’”

No matter how poorly you feel, you are never too out of balance to engage your vagus nerve.