The connection between the mind, body and skin
The mind, body, gut and skin are interconnected. When stressed, your body releases hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases blood glucose, enhances your brain's glucose use and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol impairs functions that are deemed nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune responses, suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. It also impacts the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.
The body's stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Hormone levels balance once a perceived threat has passed. However, chronic activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes.
Recent studies have shown that stress also has a negative effect on skin barrier function, resulting in water loss and reduced healing capacity. It also puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including mental health issues, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and memory and concentration loss.
The 100 trillion microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are critical to health. Gut bacteria regulate digestion and metabolism, extract and make vitamins and nutrients from food and program the immune system. They maintain the gut wall, which protects the body from outside invaders.
Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. Gut bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body's serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.
Therefore, healing the gut and encouraging greater gut diversity is not only crucial for balancing the immune system, but for brain and skin health.
Spirituality, skin & health
When you have a visible condition and everyone labels you as the person with eczema, you start to question who you are. What is the meaning behind the pain? If there is a God, why would it design such a painful life for me? Am I defined by my looks, education, achievements or labels?
Who am I?
One of the most important questions to ask yourself in life. One of the more pressing themes when you have a chronic skin condition. If you are just the average of what others think of you, then you would just be someone with skin problems. You realise it is just a part of you, but it does not define you.
If your job, height, looks and labels constantly change how can they be you?
The only thing about you that is relatively stable throughout your life is that conscious awareness inside you. This is where the tagline of Aether comes from ‘Realise yourself’. To realise who you are and to realise your highest self.
In the depths of meditation, you might experience just that. Being with your true self as a conscious awareness. You are conscious but not embodied in your human form or ego. I am there, and conscious but not as Kevin, an Australian working in technology for example.
Understanding who you really are gives greater clarity, meaning and resilience in life. You have a stable foundation from which you can navigate life with. You have an inner strength that is not just reliant on external validation. In that way, spiritual health is interconnected with mental and emotional health.
Spirituality is a lifelong process of understanding yourself, your connection to other people and species and to life itself. Both to your inner self as well as the self that operates in society. It isn’t about what you wear and whether you do meditation and yoga.
Although you can pull from various philosophies, science, religions and customs, every person’s life is unique so there is a level of personalisation that needs to be there. There should be a humility to realise that we won’t ever fully understand the nature of reality or our existence. We can get closer to the truth, but we can never reach is.
After all, we perceive less than 1% of the light and sound spectrum, we don’t perceive reality directly and matter makes up less than 5% of the universe.
Aetherialism: Philosophy from the Aether.
I developed 10 guiding principles or philosophies that have helped me better deal with my skin condition and become a better person. They distil my lifetime of personal wisdom and I hope you find it useful. I call it Aetherialism.
Attention, awareness & sensory hygiene
Not only should we pay attention to our diet, lifestyle, personal care and environmental toxins, we need to pay attention to our attention itself as well as what we expose our senses to.
The environments we are around, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the people. It all affects us on a subconscious level. Think of how they affect your energetic state. Think of the type of frequency they emit.
Common forms of potential mental toxicity include certain mainstream media, social media, low frequency music, TV, movies, friends and workplaces. None of these are inherently bad. However, sometimes negative tactics are employed to sustain our intention, consumption and manipulate our preferences, values and perceptions.
Social media algorithms are designed using personalised machine learning algorithms to maximum attention and engagement. However, this might be at odds with being exposed to a variety of opinions or meaningful in person conversation. News often uses fear, shock and sensationalism to drive viewership. It creates the illusion of being impartial and authoritative in order to promote certain perspectives. Their business model is at odds with your mental, emotional and spiritual health.
We should be conscious of everything we are paying attention to and mentally consuming across our senses. What we hear, smell, listen to, follow, read, do and watch. The energy of our environment, friends and lifestyle.
In the digital age we live in, it is important to have a technology hygiene strategy. Although the internet has opened up a world of possibility, information and new forms of connection, transaction and interaction, we need to be aware of how it could negatively affect us.
Many people wake up and check their phone, spend all day on their computer and are distracted every few minutes with various notifications. We are staring at our screens longer than ever. We have lost a part of what it means to be human and to be able to connect deeply with others.
What is the cognitive effect of constant multitasking, scattered attention and such a high level of screen time? How might it be impacting our ability to be present in all areas of our life? Fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, IOT connected devices, neurobiology and smart cities are becoming more prevalent.
Technology is not inherently good or bad, it is how we use it. How often we use, the quality of what we use and being aware of how it affects us a person. We have already seen the deleterious effect that social media has had on both the mental health, anxiety and depression levels of many, particularly among youths.
The allure is not only highly sensory or attention commanding content, it is the fact that it taps in to our base human instincts. Our instinct for our peers to approve us. It can tie our social media following with our perceived identity and status. Although it is a powerful tool for sharing information and perspectives in a visual, easily digestible platform, we need to understand the psychological mechanisms at play.
Unsubscribe from useless emails, unfollow accounts that don’t uplift you in, review how much time you are spending on your applications, turn off notifications, only check your phone in batches not every few minutes, turn off your phone and router at night and limit the amount of television and streaming you watch.
Spend more time in nature, add technology free activities in to your weekly schedule, start a new hobby, book or club. It’s fine to take a photo here and there to remember the moment, but post and edit it later, make it a habit to be fully present when you are socialising.
Meditation & Mindfulness
Meditation is not only something you do, it is a way of life and is completely transformative. It effects your perception of yourself, others and reality. The level of presence and awareness you develop transforms the way you interact with life itself. It is a truly powerful tool for realising yourself and living a more conscious life.
Some archaeologists date meditation back to as early as 5,000 BCE and it has religious ties in ancient Egypt and China, as well as Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism (50).
Interestingly neuroscience now shows that meditating for as little as eight weeks can alter the brain's grey matter, which may be part of the reason why significant improvements in memory, sense of self, empathy and stress are experienced (51).
As seen via MRI scans, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala shrinks. This primal region of the brain is associated with fear, emotion and the body’s stress response. As it shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making thickens (52).
Their “functional connectivity” or how often they are activated together – also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
How to meditate
I was taught a mindfulness-based meditation technique. You pay attention to thought that comes up, acknowledge it and let it go. Repeat. It isn’t about not thinking. It’s about having an awareness of your thoughts, both immediate and subconscious ones that may arise. In the process you realise what is on your mind.
You keep letting your thoughts come and go. Then something amazing happened. There were no thoughts coming and going, it was just me. My base consciousness. My pure awareness. In some different realm. I wasn’t asleep, I wasn’t exactly in a waking state. I wasn’t embodied as Kevin an Australian working in tech.
It felt like the true meaning of spending time with yourself. Your true self. Sometimes I would be in some place that felt a bit like space. Everything was dark except in the between my eyes I would see a disk of pure white light. Sometimes it would move towards me, then absorb in to me. Sometimes I would have rings of light emanating towards it. As if I was exchanging energy with the universe. Other times I’ve seen earth from the perspective of space. With that tiny blue marble slowly spinning. It is so incredibly surreal and stunningly beautiful.
You emerge from a deep meditation feeling grounded, energised, calm and centred. You feel recalibrated. You feel ready to take on the world from a more centred perspective. You feel more intuitive. I felt more loving, empathetic and connected with the universe and life itself. This sparked my interest in Hinduism and Buddhism, from which meditation stems. It also sparked an interest in neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, physics and spirituality.
You don’t always reach that deep place in meditation. You want to as it such a beautiful state to be in. Yet the paradox is, the more you try to force yourself to get to that state, the less likely you are to reach it. It is counterintuitive. All you can do is set the conditions that are conducive to reaching that state.
Don’t have too heavy of a meal before, be in a quiet comfortable environment, put away all technology, light a candle if that helps you, some incense, perhaps some soothing music. You just let it be. You may get to that state, you may not and you have to be okay with it either way. Either way it is beneficial to regularly cut off from technology, ego and sensory overload and just be.
Meditation particularly when you are developing your practice is not easy. It takes discipline, presence and good habits. Be patient and consistent with it. It is a critical skill to be able to be with yourself and disconnect regularly. Don’t expect it to just happen instantly. Try out different forms of meditation to see what works best for you. Perhaps a sound bath, guided meditation or chanting. . They are all ways to get you out of your head, be present and reach a flow state.