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14 april 2020

Supporting optimal health and immunity during the COVID-19 crisis – Episode 1

’Thinking well’ to support your best health and immunity

Actively supporting optimal health and immunity is important for every person, particularly at this time.
Our brain and bodies are designed to maintain a healthy state, this process called homeostasis is adapting continually as we move through life.  However in order to experience our best possible health we need to be actively supporting our body continuously throughout life with clever lifestyle choices.
In this video series we’ll review methods of how to actively and attainably support our best health and immunity. We achieve this by supporting the four pillars of health and well being: think well, move well, eat well and rest well.
Thinking well – our brain and nervous system regulate our immune response. Stress can change our brain’s normal balanced function in regulation of immune response. This can potentially limit our immunity. Working on how we perceive and respond to potential stress in our world can have a huge impact on supporting a healthy head space & brain function and thereby support a balanced healthy immune response.
With the extra change and uncertainty right now there are more potential stress triggers challenging our headspace and brain function. To ‘think well’ at this time we need to actively counter balance the extra stress triggers and situations by doing some extra practices and activities that prevent and relieve stress.
Choose 2 or 3 from these practices to work into your daily life and take a look at your routines, planning and rituals to help minimise any unnecessary extra stress at this time. 

Find the links for the ‘Thinking well’ practices and instructions mentioned in the video below:

Meditative practices:

Meditation can seem a little too out there for some, luckily you don’t need to be a Zen monk to begin some basic meditation. The positive benefits of meditation on brain function and health are now well documented in various fields of science and psychology. Some excellent introductory instructions can be found here at the headspace app. Download it and take 5 minutes a day to calm your mind.
Auto regulation exercises – eastern approaches not your thing? Many of these exercises drawn on methods to change your brain and physiology for the better without the chimes and incense. 
Zen habits blog: weekly mindfulness tips, reflections and meditation.
Created by Dutch national Wim Hoff who’s become known as ’the iceman’, the WHT is a powerful mindfulness and physical breath work technique that provides energy, calmness and more positive scientifically documented physiological benefits. I’m a fan of the iceman. Try an introductory breath technique instruction here.
Physical meditative movement & Aerobic exercise 
Repetitive movement can take us into a meditative state. Ancient practices such as qi gong & yoga have utilised this fact for millennia. Science has shown changes in the brain function and neurochemistry with meditative movement.  Similarly runners high and the buzz with endurance sport like open water distance swimming can also be explained by positive neurochemical changes they bring. Even if we are not doing repetitive movement, performing exercise in an aerobic work zone for longer than 20 mins will create changes in your physiology that counter stress response physiology; reducing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Blue birds yoga Amsterdam have some wonderful complementary yoga and instructed meditation classes available on youtube here.

Creative state and idle mind state: 

When we focus on something deeply this creates calm of the mind where we can detach from our busy thoughts and worries. Creating art and playing music are great ways to achieve this. Playing wood wind or brass instruments and singing require correct deep diaphragmatic breathing. Growing evidence shows increased vagus nerve tone and it’s positive effect against stress is achieved with controlled deep breath, singing chanting and humming. Listening to music and particular musical tones can also create changes in our brain function that supports calmness.
If we are stressed our body and brains are in an extra alert ‘survival function’ state. This diminishes our capacity to use the parts of our brain where the real brilliance happens. Info overload from media consumption on our phones and computers limit our brains best possible function and excessive use push us towards stress response brain & body function. Now is a good a time as ever for a digital detox or at least digital media diet! 
To be at our creative best we need to actively counter stress in order to reach idle mind state where the lightbulb moments and best art is created. From commuting to gardening to creating; there are many ways to access idle mind state; read more on this in a BBC article here .
Try these things to calm and quieten your mind:
Listen to your favourite moving music (and dance carelessly to it if you like).
Sing or play an instrument (even if you do it terribly!).
Walk in nature; just watch and listen.

Order/Organisation brings control and calm:

The altered routine and extra duties during isolation puts a lot more on our plate. This alone is a huge extra stress trigger for all of us currently. Juggling home life, work, domestic responsibilities and caring for children/family/pets is part of life but the change of circumstance in how we have to orchestrate that right now is very difficult for most. 
Planning gives us control over time and avoids frustrations from not achieving tasks or work that we may have less time for now. We can’t do it all and we need to acknowledge this and cut our selves some slack in this regard. Planning will usually have positive affects on relationships and also help integrate some extra; think/move/eat and rest well activities in your routine to help you do it all better with greater ease.
Scientist Lucy Taylor shares some practical tips of how to survive isolation well planned and less stressed.
Marie Kondo also offers her advice on how to set up your home into a working space with out loosing your mind here.


There are some classic memes circulating social media regarding relationship cabin fever during these times of isolation. Humour is a great weapon to disperse the pressure. I like to consider myself more of a free spirit. However after two weeks of a more ‘free form’ approach to home duties, work life and parenting, it became clear that this was creating a great deal of unnecessary frustration and stress in my relationship. Planning out work and home duties helped a lot. Planning some solo time for all of us and particularly parents is also important during this time. We’re socially geared creatures but we also need to diffuse and detach on a regular basis. If you are time poor, more reason to plan your ‘think well’ activities/movement/practices ahead each day. Better still try starting your day with a two minute gratitude ritual or think well practice. 
Ultimately the extra time together will create more occasions for discussions, conflicted opinions and interests or some good old fashion relationship volcanic eruptions. Again, we need to cut ourselves some slack. One great idea a good friend is doing with his partner in isolation was creating an imaginary friend who they blame on all the annoying things their real life partner has done. ‘Kenneth left his tea cup out on the coffee table for the 6th consecutive evening straight last night, what an unfortunately forgetful fellow he is”. Some more ideas for riding out the isolation time relationship trials and triubulations can be found here. 
If you still need some extra help, guidance or counselling with relationships or headspace at this time don’t let it stagnate. Please reach out, we can all benefit from help in our struggles. We have some great professional colleagues we can recommend for you in Amsterdam.