Time to Come to our Senses!

Sensory-Spa-Preidlhof-Italy

Hear the words ‘sensory integration’ and you tend to think of occupational therapists and child development. We refer to the five senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell) but go online and you discover it is a hotly-contested subject. Some scientists cite up to 33 senses! Why am I so interested? That’s because my recent Integrated Healing Retreat at Preidlhof in Italy made me realise just how much Covid has dulled everyone’s senses.

My stay at Preidlhof was profoundly restorative. It also reinforced my belief that we are more than the sum of our parts which the pandemic seemingly reduced everything to:  symptoms and daily statistics.  Preidlhof goes beyond medical diagnostics to treat the whole person.  I was curious to learn more as it is rare to find such a concentration of so many extraordinary and highly skilled healers.  I am sharing personal insights as there were some big surprises in store for me too!

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Preidlhof in South Tyrol, Italy

Our senses shape our self and community

The past two years have been dehumanising, separating people from the outside world and others.  In many cases I see in my own nutrition practice, people are disconnected also from themselves.

It is, however, our senses that unite us and provide meaning to the world around us, also our internal landscape.

Yes, Covid made us alert to our sense of taste and smell. However, with all the focus on symptoms, did people lose touch with what it is to be human and to be truly well?  Did we actually take leave of our senses?! 

It is a question I asked Patrizia Bortolin, Preidlhof’s award-winning Wellness Alchemist and leading Transformational Life Coach: 

“We are seeing a big disconnect in our guests. Our senses are the starting point to enjoying life more (Hedonic Wellbeing). They enhance self-discovery and start the inner journey towards improving awareness, self-healing, and the development of our potential.  They give us a better understanding of our mind’s limitations and our body’s intelligence… that sense of belonging and oneness,” says Patrizia Bortolin.

“Optimum health and wellbeing is more than about symptoms and diagnostics.  Now you see so much anxiety and fear. Many, many people fear their own minds…”  Patrizia continues.

Preidlhof’s gardens are infused with the scent of 50 lemon and olive trees, cypresses, and aromatic herbs from all over the world. Images © Laura La Monaca

Senses are the doorway to perception

Our senses help us understand and perceive the world around us. How we perceive things is shaped by integrating information across our senses, across time, and across space as we move between different environments and people. This ‘sensorial integration’ or processing enables us to make sense of the world… Also, it lays the foundation of everything we do as a human being: our social and motor skills, also our emotional and cognitive wellbeing.

“A multi-sensory learning experience with combinations of visual, auditory and other sensory functions exploits the natural connectivity of the brain. As each sense holds a proprietary memory location within the brain, the effective orchestration of multiple sensory inputs ensures a wider degree of neural stimulation.”

Wolfe (2001)

Sensory integration is essential for cognitive health, and mental and emotional wellbeing. 

At Preidlhof, sensorial integration plays a pivotal role in their ‘transformational wellness’ offering. Patrizia’s own Transformational Wellness sessions blend a whole variety of senses with coaching. Colours, sights and smells all play a part along with mindful eating and sensorial eating classes.     

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Sensory Analysis with Patrizia Bortolin ©Preidlhof

Your sense of smell can enhance cognition

My initial Psychoaromatherapy session with Patrizia was revealing. I had to say if I liked or disliked a particular smell. From the findings, Patrizia suggested that my ‘pause/go’ button was stuck, and this inhibited my ability ‘to let pain go’ while conflicting with a strong desire ‘to take my power back’.

In a sensory analysis called ‘The Wheel of Life’, I had to see if I could detect a smell and if so, describe it. Then, Patrizia compared my description to see if it fell within an approved framework of descriptors. It was a fascinating exercise as I learned more about how the weakening of the olfactory sense, our ability to smell, can be an early detector of ageing and Alzheimer’s. Of course, odours take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.  

I became more alert to my own sense of smell when I moved from London to Kent. What I had always dismissed as ‘my weakest sense’ started to improve immeasurably.  What’s more, I found myself seeking out new scents. Rediscovering your sense of smell is like reconnecting with an old friend. It unlocks memories and, during the worst of the lockdowns, when we couldn’t travel or see friends and family, I found solace tapping into those memory reserves.

Given our sense of smell’s frontline role in cognitive health, Patrizia encourages practice.  She also recommends building an ‘olfactory vocabulary’, verbal descriptors. This helps to establish neural pathways and new ways of thinking.

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Olive Sauna at Preidlhof

The healing power of touch

Our sense of touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being. Studies show the importance of physical contact in early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease.

“Who do you want to kill?” asked Stefano Battaglia with a wry smile when we first meet at Preidlhof.  Stefano, aka “The Shaman” had noticed that my right hand was pulling an imaginary trigger.  Stefano is a healer famous in the wellness world for his work in grief and trauma healing.   His signature ‘Glowing Flow’ sessions combine unique trauma touch skills, together with various bodywork techniques and dialogue.    

It transpired that the ‘pause/go’ block that Patrizia had raised was also playing out in a tug of war in my right arm. I had slipped down the cellar stairs four months earlier, carrying some old curtains. At the time, my mind was racing at short notice of another Covid school closure.  Ever since, my arm had been in constant pain, fizzing as though live with an electric current .  It’s hard to describe what happened but Stefano deftly and ever so gently ‘defused’ the arm.  It was like cutting a wire.  The relief was immense and the results extraordinary. All achieved through touch and dialogue.

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Master Therapist, Stefano Battaglia

At the end of my session with Stefano, I experienced this incredible lightness. In fact, it felt like Stefano had removed a giant rock strapped to my chest and shoulders, and had hurled it across the Ortler Mountains.   The benefits weren’t just physical; vivid flashbacks to a distressing time four years ago also dissolved behind distant peaks.

The session with Martin Kirchler was also integral to my healing.  Martin’s a holistic practitioner and expert in TCM and Ancient Medicines. He applied various soothing touch techniques on my arm for over 80 minutes.

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Martin Kirchler ©wisthaler.com

Martin explained that my parasympathetic nervous system had gone hyper as a result of the fall. “It’s like with the springs in a mattress… they recoil to cushion you from the initial blow, to protect you, but then they get stuck in a push-pull rebound.” 

A multi-sensory experience

Other highlights of my stay included a heart-warming session with Shiatsu Master Andrea Martinelli; forest bathing with ‘Lady of the Woods’, Irmgard Moosmair; and a yoga nidra session with Psychologist Norma Jean.  The yoga nidra reinforced the nights I slept under the stars on the bed made up for me on the loggia outside my room.

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My view on waking up

I loved waking up to the beautiful mountain scenery and hypnotic sounds of Val Venosta. As for the new Gourmet Healing Menu, that was fabulous and a delight in every sense!

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Preidlhof’s retreats stimulate guests physically, energetically, spiritually, psychologically, socially, and emotionally.  They integrate ancient and contemporary healing treatments, sensorial experiences, special classes, nature immersion, medical analysis and smart technology, with the latest neurological and psychology research. All this, combined with the natural, high energy of the location, enables guests to discover a new, higher frequency in their everyday life.    

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Importantly…

Stefano likes to emphasise the importance of play.  One of the big problems, he says, is that “We all take ourselves far too seriously.  This makes us stiff.  Were not meant to become rigid, we are basically here to evolve, preferably experiencing joy.”

How true is this?! Play is important for enhancing our sensory integration and that is why it is so essential in childhood development. In growing up, did we perhaps lose something precious on the way?

“Those enforced touch-deprived days perhaps made us understand the power of touch more.” Says Patrizia. “The tangible warmth emanating from a compassionate person… The power of a forbidden spontaneous handshake… The healing effect of an authentic therapist’s touch with no mask. The sacred rituality in a covert hug or the energy of an adventurous secret couple’s dance…”

I hugely benefited from my escape to Preidlhof. Now I encourage everyone to reinvigorate and cultivate those senses… for they can open up a whole new world!

For more information, visit Healing Holidays and Queen of Retreats.

Huge gratitude and special thanks to Klaus and Monika Ladurner; Patrizia Bortolin (you are amazing); Stefano Battaglia; Martin Kirchler; Dr. Alexander Angerer; Andrea Martinelli; Irmgard Moosmair; Norma Jean; Carmine Signorile (my brilliant Wellness Concierge); and all the Spa Team at Preidlhof. Also to James Leigh at Healing Holidays for all your brilliant travel advice!

Introducing The Whole Student Programme ©

Whole-Student-Holistic-Health-Wellbeing-Kent

I am pleased to introduce ‘The Whole Student Programme’ ©. This is a health programme I have developed to provide holistic health and wellbeing support to students aged 12-19 to help them prosper in health, life and in their learning.

We integrate an in-depth holistic healthcare approach, scientific assessment and screening, with wise counsel, coaching and pragmatic interventions.

The programme is led by Founder, Charlotte Fraser BA Hons, Dip. NNP, Dip. AIT, an award-winning nutritionist and holistic health practitioner. Charlotte also works in close partnership, with Sarah Morris and Carmen Beyxer at Emerge Be Who You Are. Nutritionist Virginia Hills DipION, mBANT, CNHC is also on the team.

Sarah and Carmen are qualified NLP Master Practitioners, Hypnotherapists, and Life & Resilience Coaches. Sarah and Carmen can further support students in making any sustainable lifestyle changes, to improve their wellbeing, and to facilitate and build personal development, growth and resilience.

 

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In devising this programme, we consulted many parents, teachers, schools and health professionals. It is the culmination of many years working in nutrition, holistic health and teaching, also our own experience as parents. The Whole Student Programme © aims to join the dots and to fill a big gap… a genuine need. Yes, there’s been lots of talk about ‘Holistic Education’ and the need for a ‘Whole Child’ curriculum. However, has there been a service available to students, parents and teachers that offers a truly holistic approach to the health and wellbeing of students?

The Whole Student Programme © works with individual students, parents, schools, SENCOs, and other educational experts to improve the health and wellbeing of the student both in and outside the classroom. With so many health problems often taking root in adolescence, the programme also has a strong emphasis on health prevention.

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We are proud to also be working in collaboration with Think Healthy Me, an organisation committed to delivering personalised, high quality, sustainable health and well-being benefits for everyone.

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What inspired The Whole Student Programme ©?

There has been an increase in emotional and mental health issues in teenagers in recent years. While Covid-19 has been a catalyst, anxiety and depression were on the rise even before the pandemic. And while there’s been a growing tendency to label, diagnose and over medicalise children, we now see teenagers increasingly self-diagnosing and identifying within mental and emotional health groups.

50% of all mental health problems start at the age of 15.

Source: The Children’s Society

According to The Children’s Society, in the past three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem increased by 50% . Now, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem. 75% of young people with mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need. 34% of those who do get referred into NHS services aren’t accepted into treatment. More than two thirds of young people would rather access emotional and mental health support without going through their GP.

Where should parents look for help for their children in this situation? What if your student is suffering from anxiety in school? Or what if your child thinks that they have ADHD like their school mate? All too often, the SENCO is working with a four-month backlog on two days a week. A GP referral can take months. Where do you go for support or for that initial assessment? Or, perhaps you have seen a consultant already and they want to prescribe medication. Is medication your only option, or is there a more natural treatment path?

This is where The Whole Student Programme © comes in.

For more information, visit: The Whole Student Programme’ ©.

‘A Well Mind’ by Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts: Book Review

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Why are we taught how to care only for our body and not our mind?   That’s the question that is the driving force for Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts’ new book, ‘A Well Mind’.  I have often asked the same question! As Lisa rightly observes: “while this is slowly-changing, it is “more in the context of ‘Better do crosswords and talk to people daily so we don’t get Alzheimer’s,’ or ‘Better see a doctor if I’m feeling depressed.” 

With all the discussion about mental health, as a society, we still remain focussed on treating the symptoms of disease. Little attention is given to cultivating a well mind. Good health is, however, about more than the absence of disease and that’s why I whole-heartedly recommend ‘A Well Mind’ to you dear Reader. As well as being informative and engaging, this book is refreshing to read.  Positively uplifting in fact. As Parkinson Roberts says, “You have more control over the wellbeing of your mind than you might currently believe.” This is a message that I am keen to share as it can make such a profound difference to one’s overall health and treatment outcome.

Imagine if in school we had lessons on cultivating a well mind.  Imagine being given tools to calm our nervous system, tools to ward off anxiety and depression, foods to nourish and heal our mind.  Imagine if we were taught that we are not our thoughts; rather, we are an audience who has the power to choose which thoughts to watch and nurture, and which thoughts to dismiss.  Imagine if we were taught how to rewrite the narrative in our head, and let go of what doesn’t serve us.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts PhD

Published by Exisle Publishing, ‘A Well Mind’ (RRP £12.99) is a comprehensive and holistic guide to improving your wellbeing by eating well and maintaining healthy routines. Dr Parkinson Roberts looks at why the health of one’s mind is just so important. She investigates nutrition, sleep, stress management and exercise to achieve optimal mental health and to help you to regain control of how you feel. She likens her journey to reduce inflammation in her body and mind to that of a person embarking on a weight-loss journey. 

The Author’s candour, her realism and compassion is striking. This is an author and academic who knows what she is talking about, not just from years of study and clinical practice (she has a PhD in Nutrition Science) but from deep and at times, most painful experience. Her personal journey makes the book all the more compelling to read and her passion and curiosity shine through.

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D. Author of ‘A Well Mind’

Diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of fifteen, also depression and OCD, Dr Parkinson Roberts has struggled with mental health for most of her life. She now manages her mind by using “food as medicine”. Dr Parkinson Roberts found successful methods for coping and she shares these tools and her academic expertise with her readers. She learned an important lesson during her journey: “struggle can alchemize into growth, and we all struggle; the struggle just presents differently for each of us.” 

‘A Well Mind’: In Summary

Parkinson Roberts explores the Gut Brain Axis, the role of the microbiome, and explains how the diversity of our good bacteria and the foods we eat influence our mind and emotions. She highlights important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to consider for optimum mental, emotional and physical health.

Supported by the latest scientific research and case studies, the Author also explores Epigenics; the benefits of immersing in nature, mindfulness techniques; the importance of breathing properly, nourishing food and nurturing relationships; the value of community and the value in finding gratitude, purpose and meaning. Dr Parkinson Roberts is only the second person I know to reference Eudaimonic wellbeing in the context of contemporary wellness. One of my mentors, Patrizia Bortolin, the innovative Spa Director at Preidlhof and a leading Transformational Wellness Coach is the first. I must take Patrizia a copy of the book when I go to Italy!

Aside from the solid nutrition and lifestyle advice, I particularly like Dr Parkinson Roberts’ mind-changing or ‘shift’ exercises. These are very helpful – powerful too. I place a great deal of importance on mindset in my own nutrition work with clients. Our thoughts affect our gut health, our emotions, our behaviour, and vice-versa! Indeed, our overall health. Our thoughts and emotions can also manifest in physical symptoms. It was a ‘change of mind’ that helped me in my own past struggles with ulcerative colitis. One day, I changed my mind. I decided to be well… that I really was going to get better. That mental shift was profoundly life-changing.

The beauty of a well mind is that it alters the landscape surrounding us.  We can move from living in the past, and with it anxiety and regret, or from being caught up in the future, and with it uncertainty, to experiencing each day
mindfully and calmly.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D

Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts, I salute you!  ‘A Well Mind‘ is a keeper! I will enjoy recommending this book to my clients and revisiting it time and again.  Thank you!

New PHQ-9 Assessment for Depression

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Now, more than ever, mental health forms a major component of my work in nutrition. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in stress among communities and individuals, worsening or triggering mental health conditions such as depression.

I now offer a free online PHQ-9 assessment.  The PHQ-9 is a simple, 9-question instrument for screening, diagnosing, monitoring and measuring the severity of depression.

PHQ-9 is one of the most used depression screens among Primary Care workers, clinicians and researchers. The assessment is endorsed by a number of leading health organizations, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The assessment takes 3 minutes to complete.

The PHQ-9 evaluation, together with the Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) Health Assessment, gives you a far deeper insight of what is going on with both your cognitive and mental health.   These scientifically-validated assessments help further inform your personal nutrition and care programme, providing quantifiable evidence.  

How do we evaluate the PHQ-9 Assessment?

We evaluate your PHQ-9 alongside other clinical considerations including the findings from your initial in-depth nutrition consultation. For instance, were your current symptoms triggered by psychosocial stressor(s)? What is the duration of the present episode and are you receiving any other treatment or support?  To what degree are your symptoms impairing your usual work and activities?  Is there a history of similar episodes? Is there a family history?   

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How does depression relate to digestive health and nutrition?

There is mounting evidence that the good bacteria in the gut (our microbiota) influence our brain and our mood. And indeed, it is the food that we eat that determines the types of bacteria that inhabit our gut.   Some bacteria are beneficial but others are not and may contribute to inflammation in the body. This is where a targeted and individualised holistic nutrition programme may be beneficial: to help rebalance and strengthen your gut microbiome and help reduce inflammation.

Our gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood.. Our gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of our serotonin, which influences our mood and sleep patterns.

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People with chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders are at greater risk of developing depression. Depression can also be one of the symptoms of many inflammatory neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Depression may even be a risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

How does inflammation contribute to depression?

Studies support that the brains of patients with depression have higher levels of inflammation. Their microglia – the brain’s immune system cells – are also more active. This increased activity could end up being detrimental, leading to changes in how the brains cells function and communicate.

Another study found that people with depression had more neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes and inflammatory proteins in their blood compared to those without depression. This is another indicator of inflammation in the body in general.

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Additional benefits of a Cognitive Health and PHQ-9 Assessment

Research shows that even if your focus is not mental health, a quick measure of depression can be beneficial. Depression and cognition are associated with a wide variety of mental and physical illnesses. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry (Sullivan et al., 2013) found that depression was associated with accelerated cognitive decline among type 2 diabetes patients. The greatest decline occurred in patients with a PHQ-9 score of 10 or more at baseline and 20 months later. The researchers propose that depression may be causing or worsening the risk of dementia.

Another study (Hawkins et al., 2016) involved patients with heart failure, who have high rates of depression and cognitive impairment. The researchers found that certain PHQ-9 scores predicted performance in multiple cognitive domains. They suggest treatments known to affect depression and cognition, including CBT and physical exercise, may be most impactful on this population.

Would you benefit from a tailored nutrition programme? Contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com to organise an online PHQ-9 and CBS Health Assessment.