Building An Integrative Approach To Wellness

By Donald Currie, Registered Psychotherapist and Clinical Director at Dimensions Algonquin Highlands

Pulled in so many directions by our modern lifestyle, it's easy to lose sight of how vital self-care can be. Daily stressors become so overwhelming that we disregard our bodies and minds. But, renewal and growth are hallmarks of the spring season. It's the ideal time of year to refocus our lives and establish habits that will benefit our health.

As a psychotherapist and integrative mental health practitioner, I incorporate an integrated, holistic perspective on wellness that encompasses beneficial practices for the mind, body, and spirit. These approaches can enhance the effectiveness of therapy, and it's essential to recognize that comprehensive health and wellness cannot be accomplished by single modalities or panaceas. By incorporating various mind-body techniques into treatment, we can regain homeostasis psychologically, physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. We thrive when our bodies are in a state of homeostasis. Our lives are filled with meaning, our sense of connection to others is strong, and we are healthy and happy.

Engaging in mind-body practices for 10 minutes per day can significantly impact your health. Consider scheduling this time for yourself just as you would a meeting at work or a dinner with friends. Think of this time as an investment in your well-being and health.

During the springtime and beyond, here are some mind-body-spirit practices you can adopt to enhance your well-being.

Culinary Medicine

Our health and well-being are influenced by the food we eat. This is because food provides the building blocks for all the systems in our bodies, from muscle development to the creation of neurotransmitters that regulate our moods and emotions. We receive these building blocks from high-quality protein, healthy fats, and slow-digesting carbohydrates. As a result, some simple dietary changes can significantly impact our well-being.

The gut has now been dubbed the second brain. This is because the bacteria in our gut produce the neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, and gut health is linked to positive psychological and emotional well-being. Adding fermented foods to your diet such as kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut can help replenish your gut with beneficial bacteria to aid in digestion and the creation of "feel good" brain chemicals. Eating a vast array of colourful foods can also provide your body with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can benefit your health.

Spring represents a time of cleansing and rejuvenation in traditional Chinese medicine. It is governed by the wood element and is a time for cleaning the liver and gallbladder. You can support and improve liver function by eating fresh leafy greens, sprouts, and dandelions in spring. It is also beneficial to the liver to drink milk thistle tea or take it as a tincture known to reduce inflammation and provide neuroprotective properties to improve memory and cognition.

Exercise

The Spring season's warmer weather encourages us to move our bodies more. Movement enhances our mental and physical well-being, improves our cognitive abilities and increases concentration and focus.

There are four main types of exercise, each offering its own benefits. These include strength, balance, endurance and flexibility. Incorporating these different styles of workouts throughout the week provides a wide array of benefits. For example, strength training increases lean muscle mass. In addition, studies have shown that yoga practice and aerobic exercise can reduce depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. Tai chi can help to improve balance and improve proprioception, which is the sense of self-movement and body position.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week. You can make your exercise routine fun by putting on your favourite music or working out with a friend or a group. Remember to start slowly and build your intensity over time. Be aware of your own body's needs and go at a comfortable pace for you. Even a 10-minute workout will raise your heart rate. Ideally, you should find ways to move your body daily.

Somatic Therapies, Massage and Body Work

Stress has an impact on our nervous system daily. As a result, the sympathetic nervous system is consistently engaged in a fight-or-flight response, causing our nervous system, fascia, muscles, tissues, and ligaments to accumulate daily stress over time. Our vagus nerve, which regulates internal organ functions such as digestion, heart rate, and respiratory rate, is stimulated during massage and bodywork, resulting in a parasympathetic or "rest and digest" response. Maintaining a regular massage schedule can help keep your nervous system and body balanced.

If you have experienced trauma, body-oriented psychotherapies such as Sensorimotor psychotherapy or relational somatic psychotherapy can help restore balance. These therapies can teach you to develop better regulation skills and to reprocess past emotional and traumatic events, improving your mental and physical health.

Altered States, Psychedelics, and Sound Therapy

Our consciousness rises out of our daily routines when we experience altered states of consciousness. Research shows that altered states can bring long-term benefits such as a renewed sense of wonder and deeper connections with others. Higher states of consciousness can be achieved through meditation, hypnotherapy, sound therapy or psychedelic therapy.

Meditation & Hypnosis

Slower brainwave activity, known as theta brainwaves, is caused by meditation and hypnotherapy. When in a theta state, the mind remains focused and alert while the body is deeply relaxed. Cultivating a daily meditation practice can clear your minds of mental chatter and teach you to become more mindful and present.

Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool that can reprogram and re-pattern the subconscious mind with new information to build positive habits, behaviours, and belief systems. There are plenty of free meditations and hypnosis programs on YouTube or other streaming platforms. Practicing meditation or self-hypnosis regularly can help you clear your mind and cultivate new positive

Sound Therapy

Studies have shown that music has several benefits for the human brain, including relieving pain and alleviating anxiety and depression. The human experience is inextricably linked to sound. We can hear her heartbeat when we are in our mother's womb. As soon as we are born, we hear a parent's voice. These sounds soothe us and help us to feel safe.

Sound baths help people to return to a state of balance. During a sound bath, participants meditate and go inward, letting the sounds evoke strong emotions, ranging from joy, peace, and happiness, to general well-being. The sound of music can calm the mind and relax the body, leading to a meditative state. When we are in a meditative state, our bodies natural ability to heal is heightened. One of the many benefits of sound baths is that they can be enjoyed in the comfort of one's home. Videos of sound baths can be found on YouTube free of charge, and there are a variety of sound healing albums available on streaming services. You can also find sound therapists and healers in your local area that run weekly sound bath events.

Psychedelic Therapy

Derived from the Greek word psyche for "mind-manifesting" or "soul-manifesting," the word "psychedelic" describes a way to induce an altered cognitive state and expand our consciousness. The future and potential of psychedelics have been demonstrated by rigorous research. While much of this research has indicated they help improve certain mental health conditions, psychedelics can also allow us to solve problems in our lives creatively. While historically, these therapies have been more challenging to access, legal psychedelic-assisted treatment is available today.

It may not seem obvious, but cannabis is a classic psychedelic. When used correctly in a therapeutic setting, it can mimic some of the somatic and visual properties of psilocybin, DMT, and ayahuasca. Psychedelics are an integral part of the programing at our Dimensions Retreats as they effectively help to temporarily put aside the conscious mind and allow for a different perspective when considering past experiences or trying to solve current life problems.

These plant medicines also provide greater access to bodily sensations, memories, and emotions present on an unconscious level. The combination of psychotherapy and psychedelics allows a person to reprocess experiences more readily and in a new way, creating a unique opportunity to understand and resolve issues that may otherwise be difficult to grasp.

While psychedelic medicines have independent benefits, their effectiveness is maximized when used in a therapeutic context. Essentially, therapies of this nature do not just heal the mind; they heal the body's memory of trauma and pain where it is stored. Many trained psychedelic-assisted therapists run conscious cannabis circles or provide one-on-one sessions.

The variety of renewal practices described here is just the tip of the iceberg. There is an abundance of techniques available, ranging from breath work to qi gong, that can help you to improve your health and well-being. As a season of rebirth and renewal, spring is one of nature's most significant seasons. It is a time when we are more willing to embrace change. It is remarkable how even the tiniest change can substantially affect our lives. Wellness is not something that happens overnight. It is an ongoing journey that lasts a lifetime. As we discover our strengths and realize our potential, progress occurs incrementally. The key to maintaining wellness is taking the time each day to care for your mind and body.

About Donald Currie: A registered psychotherapist with 19 years of experience, Donald was a core team member of Helix Healthcare, a clinic specializing in addiction and mental health. His clinical work focuses on healing through somatic and trauma therapies that are evidence-based and supported by neuroscience research.

About Dimensions: Combining cutting-edge neuroscience and neurobiology with the long-standing traditions of plant medicine, Dimensions focuses on restorative well-being and transformational growth in safe, luxurious environments.