Meditation and Self-Acceptance

Perhaps the biggest discussion topic that comes up when I teach meditation, both to groups and individual clients, is that of self-acceptance. In order to enter into the stillness of our mind in meditation, we need to let go of any distracting thoughts, and this involves cultivating a non-judgemental attitude – towards our thoughts and our selves. As soon as we start to judge, we ‘fuel the fire’ of movement and agitation in our minds, which takes us further away from the mind’s natural stillness.

It is rare that I find someone who doesn’t have any issues around self-acceptance. Most of us have a number of things that we don’t like about ourselves, which serve as the basis for self-critical, negative thoughts and feelings – things like our appearance, our behaviour, our habits.

Try asking yourself right now, ‘What don’t I like about myself?’ You may come up with a list of things – you may find it helpful to write them down.

Our lack of self-acceptance makes us feel unhappy and angry. Also the critical, negative thoughts that we have about others stem from these critical, negative thoughts that we have about ourselves. Feeling unconditional love towards others begins with loving ourselves unconditionally.

In the natural stillness of our minds, there is no place for these judgemental thoughts. There is only love – pure and unconditional – and with that, comes complete acceptance of ourselves and others.

Sam May teaches meditation for health and wellbeing at The Natural Health Clinic. He has been teaching meditation since 1994. Sam also works as an acupuncturist and a health consultant for complementary and alternative medicine. For further information visit

January 9, 2014 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

Bristol Herb Walks

 By Ruth Baker, Medical Herbalist BSc MNIMH


This blog post gives information about recent herb walks. I shall organize more walks in spring next year, and may conduct one more walk in the Autumn. Herb walks help people to recognize plants growing locally and to become more knowledgeable about natural plant remedies.

Herb walks

 I have conducted two herb walks this summer, one on the Downs and the other along the Frome valley. The walk on the Downs was well attended, and we found a wide variety of medicinal plants. Some areas are being left uncut, allowing more plants to grow and self-seed, and this is a very encouraging development. Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain when I conducted the second walk in late August, but it still went ahead – most herbalists are not deterred by rain!

Here are some of the plants we identified:

The Downs, June 2012



HawthornCrataegus monogyna. The hawthorn was in full flower during our June walk, and now the berries are ripening. It is mainly used in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, arteriosclerosis (‘hardening’ of the arteries) and angina, and there is now a considerable body of research supporting its effectiveness. nb heart conditions should never be treated without professional advice.

Elder Sambucus nigra. Elder is known mainly for its use in making elderflower cordial. The flowers are used in the treatment of colds and flu, and together with yarrow and peppermint are drunk as an infusion to control fever. They are also used for nasal catarrh and sinusitis, hay fever and allergic rhinitis. The berries are a gentle laxative, and also made into a ‘rob’, or cordial for coughs. A recent research article found evidence that the berries have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties (Krawitz et al, 2011)

Herb RobertGeranium robertianum. The leaves and flowering tops of this plant can be used, and it flowers for several months. The colour of the leaves varies from green to red. It can help as an astringent, for example as a mouthwash, and also diarrhoea, as it contains tannins. It is also known as a haemostatic (controls bleeding), and can be used to help heal peptic ulcers.

Horse chestnutAesculus hippocastanum. It is mainly the fruit, or conker, that is used in medicine. However, care should be taken as it can be an irritant both internally and externally to broken skin. It is best known for its use in the treatment of varicose veins and venous insufficiency (‘sluggish’ veins), and also haemorrhoids (‘piles’). A colleague of mine finds that the leaves are equally effective externally, and uses them in the form of an infused oil made into a cream. Unfortunately, throughout Europe the hawthorn is being attacked by a bleeding canker disease, and you have probably noticed the sickly-looking leaves later in the year.

The Frome Valley, late August 2012

Meadowsweet – Filipendula ulmaria. If you rub the leaves of this plant, you will notice a characteristic smell, a bit like almond essence or wintergreen. Meadowsweet contains salicylates, and is the plant from which aspirin was first synthesized. It is used to treat stomach inflammations such as gastritis, and unlike aspirin, is not an irritant. It can also help in heartburn, and in rheumatic pain. The Council cut down a large clump of the plant just as it was about to flower, but it has grown back and is in flower as I write. I am hoping to persuade them to leave it alone next year!

Figwort – Scrophularia nodosa. Both the aerial parts – leaves and flowers – and the rhizomes of this plant are used internally and externally, mainly for chronic psoriasis and eczema. Herbalists will usually focus on internal treatment of skin conditions, in that they are frequently the result of the body’s inability to eliminate toxins. It is also used in the healing of ulcers and swellings, the word scrofula being an archaic term for swollen glands.

Comfrey – Symphytum officinale. One of the common names of this plant is knitbone, and it continues to be used to heal not only bone fractures, but also joint sprains and muscle strains. Both the leaf and root are used, though there is somewhat confusing advice regarding the use of comfrey root internally, as it may be toxic to the liver in large quantities. It is used in the treatment of ulcers internally, and also arthritis, and externally for wounds as well as the conditions mentioned above. This plant too was cut down by the Council, but as can be seen from the photo, taken in late August, is has grown back and is in full flower.


Both drop-in sessions and full consultations are offered – phone the receptionist on 0117 974 1199 for details, or send an email to


  • Barker, J. (2001). The medicinal flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe. West Wickham: Winter Press
  • Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to the blending of liquid herbs. St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone
  • Krawitz, C. et al ((2011). Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:16
  • Plants for a Future (2012). Scrophularia nodosa. Available online from:
  • Robbins, C. (1995). The household herbal. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd

September 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm Leave a comment

Anxiety, panic attacks and phobia.


By Clementine O’Shaughnessy, Dip.Couns, DHP, HPD, LHS, MBAC


Do you suffer with regular anxiety, panic attacks, or a phobia of any kind? If so, the symptoms listed below will be all too familiar…

  • Feeling constantly on edge with scary, anxious thoughts running through your head.
  • Feeling like you’re about to lose control and do something dangerous or embarrassing.
  • Getting light headed or dizzy with heart palpitations and dread.
  • Feeling disconnected from reality and spacey.
  • Feeling trapped in situations you can’t ‘escape’ from…i.e. driving, restaurants, social functions, or even standing in queue.
  • Worrying you’ll stop breathing because your chest and throat feel so tight. Your vision can get blurry, your hands and feet tingle, and your palms sweat.

You may have even seen a doctor fearing a heart condition or other emergency to have them find nothing physically wrong with you.

It really doesn’t help the situation to try and find the cause of your first attack, because the reason wouldn’t be of much help, because the solution is the same.

When you feel you’re threatened, it activates your body’s “fight or flight” response, which is a survival mechanism from long ago. Within fractions of a second, hormones pump through your body and prepare you to fight off a dangerous predator, or run away as fast as you can….

This is a GREAT response if you’re actually under attack or in danger. But when you’re in a shop, or at work, or out socialising, and there’s no REAL threat- it’s very disabling.

You see- your mind will respond the same to THOUGHTS of a wild animal as actually seeing one. Your response is an instinctual one, as you’re not reacting on a rational, logical level. You don’t really THINK at all, -you just REACT based on thousands of years of evolution.

It’s a reaction that’s occurring on a deeper subconscious level, which is difficult to change as it’s a protection.

Whenever you get anxious, your mind reflects back to other times you survived the panic and will AUTOMATICALLY react in the same way… this is often to run away, which simply perpetuates the same behaviour. This eventually lets the mind believe that it is CORRECT TO BE SCARED, thus making the behaviour worse…

In effect- your thoughts are encouraging the fear response. The remedy is to bring your anxiety down generally, to use hypnosis with a therapist to change the sub-conscious pattern and start to focus on what you see your life being like when you’re calm and relaxed.

This blog also appears on

August 4, 2012 at 11:17 am Leave a comment

The Origins of Homeopathy

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant

The ideas of homeopathy were first put forward by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, in 1807. Originally he had made his living as a village doctor, before becoming disillusioned with the inadequacies of early 19th Century medicine which often worsened rather than healed conditions. More than a decade later, he learned how the bark of a Peruvian tree can help treat malaria. When he tried consuming this bark whilst healthy to test its effects, he developed symptoms similar to those of the early stages of the disease. From this, he became convinced that ‘like cures like’, a principle first put forward by the 16th Century chemist Paracelsus.


Upon further research he developed his newly christened science of ‘Homeopathy‘ with the ideas of potentization and succussion. Succession is a method of shaking involving elastic and is combined with dilutions of a substance that generates similar symptoms to the target disease. This method causes the substance to become ‘potentized’, retaining its therapeutic effects and losing the negative symptoms.

He also put forward the idea of ‘miasms’ which are deep-rooted causes of diseases that affect the vitality of the sufferer. The importance of miasms is that the treatment of just the symptoms is not guaranteed to be effective, as the underlying problem is not addressed.


Homeopathy declined in the late 19th to early 20th Century, but underwent a resurgence in the 1970s, largely due to the efforts of the greek Homeopath George Vithoulkas. He studied the practice in South Africa and India before returning to Greece and starting a school, centre, journal and society for Homeopathy. His work established Homeopathy as a credible medical treatment system in Greece, later expanding this to much of the West, including the UK.

Homeopathy is available in Bristol here at the Natural Health Clinic with the practitioner Lyn Clark. Additionally, a new service will soon be starting at the clinic; Homeopathy for All. This will be an effort to reduce the costs involved in seeking treatment to ensure everyone can benefit from the therapy.

July 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm 1 comment

A Look at Some of the Benefits of Meditation Through the Lens of Science

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant


“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back”


For Buddhists, meditation is a practice key to obtaining enlightenment and nirvana. However some of the wisdom that the Buddha refers to is in the form of qualities such as increased awareness, tranquility and concentration; qualities that appeal to a wide range of people, regardless of any belief in karma or rebirth. Given how these benefits seem separate from any religious side of the practice, it is perhaps interesting to consider what meditation might induce biologically. Have any of these mental changes been measured or objectively displayed through scientific analysis?

Unfortunately, understanding how meditation might affect the brain in terms of science is a considerable challenge. The brain and how it functions even on a fundamental basis remains mostly a mystery. Rather than trying to comprehend how and why the practice might change the brain for the better, observing its effects on structure and activity using scanners could offer clues. Even then, only recently have researchers looked at what meditations impact on the brain might actually be.


A 2004 study by researchers at the University of Wisconcin used brain imaging both during and after meditation and compared the results with a control group. They found that changes in mental state and ‘resting electroencephalogram patterns’ occur and persist beyond the time-period of active meditation. What this means is that long-term meditation practice causes a permanent change in the activity of the brain – perhaps this is the biological representation of mindfulness.

Another study published in 2006 by researchers from Harvard and Yale went further and examined the actual physical structure of the brain before, during and after meditation. They used the process of Magnetic resonance imaging which involves aligning ions throughout the brain with a magnetic field, followed by using a radio field to change the alignment to one which reflects the consistency of the material.


The researchers found that ‘Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula.’ In other words, the regions of the brain which would be involved in mindfulness are observed to increase in size. These parts of the brain are known to diminish with age, and the study also found that there was a larger size increase in older participants; showing that meditation can be an effective tool to regenerate lost brainpower.

Whilst the processes of the brain and how it might be affected by meditation remain clouded in mystery, these studies have shown that the practice has real and long-lasting biological effects on the mind, lending strong weight to claims of mindfulness and other mental state benefits. These studies are particularly important as they measure actual physical changes; laying the foundations of why and how the process works rather than merely stating that it does work by displaying a correlation.

May 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

Herbal Medicine Introduction

Herbal Medicine

An introduction

 By Ruth Baker, BSc (Hons), MNIMH


Historical background

Plants have been used as medicine for thousands of years, and until recently were the only form of medicine available to the majority of people. In Europe, early texts illustrating the use of medicinal plants date back to ancient Greece, and by the 16th century lavish herbals were being printed for the wealthy, giving detailed descriptions of plants and their medicinal properties. Gerard’s Herbal, first published in 1597, is still available today. By contrast, Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, championed the ordinary people – his work is also still in print. Household herbals were compiled by the women of large houses, giving recipes for plants as food and medicine – the Wellcome Library in London has an invaluable and fascinating collection.

Plant medicine continued in popularity until the advent of pharmaceutical drugs. Plants could be collected in the wild and used fresh, or dried and made into teas. Wine was also used as a preservative. Country folk would go to the local herbalist, often a ‘wise woman’, for help with their ailments. Herbalists were popular in the developing industrial cities too – the urban poor could not afford to be ill. The most well-known pharmacy, Boots, had humble beginnings as an urban herbalist in Nottingham. Older people today may remember some of the medicine their mothers gave them – slippery elm for boils and abscesses, syrup of figs for constipation (not always popular!) and thyme and liquorice syrup for coughs. Plants formed the basis of nearly all the drugs prepared by pharmacists until well after the first world war.

Herbal medicine is becoming popular once again, though surprisingly few people seem to understand what it really is. This introduction is designed to give you a much better idea of how herbal medicine is used today. It focuses on European or ‘Western’ Herbal Medicine, a term sometimes applied when referring to practices which have evolved in Europe and North America.


May 11, 2012 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

The Origins of Reiki

by James McVeigh, clinic assistant

Reiki was founded by Mikao Usui, a Tendai Buddhist and shugenja in 1922. The Tendai sect is a doctrine of Buddhism that developed in Japan after its introduction by a Chinese monk in the 8th century. As a shugenja he practised a melding of Buddhism and Shintoism (the traditional japanese religion) where achieving enlightenment through Buddhism can be achieved using the same methods to achieve oneness with kami; the spirits that represent every part of the natural world in Shintoism.
These were the elements that formed the foundations for Reiki, which came as a spiritual revelation to Usui during a period of meditation, chanting, prayer and fasting on Mount Kurama. Usui was experiencing various personal problems in his life at this time, but through his spiritual training,  Reiki energy entered his Crown Chakra,  giving him an understanding on how to solve them. The Crown Chakra is the energy focus of the consciousness which has great importance in Buddhism.

In the excitement of recieving this spiritual understanding, Usai ran down the side of Mount Kurama, and in his haste, injured his toe. It was then, as he placed his hands over the wound that he realised that the Reiki energy he had received gave far more than a mere understanding of his problems; it had the capacity to heal. The universal energy, reiki, was transfered through his palms to the injury, restoring the equilibrium of ki and mending the wound.

Using Reiki requires attunement to the energy, which is a process only a Master in the discipline can perform. The energy source for anyone who practices the therapy thus orginates from Usai himself. During the 1923 Kanto earthquake of Tokyo which took in excess of 140,000 lives, Usai devoted himself to using his power to heal the many wounded. It was in the face of this devastation and suffering that he attuned others in the art; to ease the burden of his healing.

Eventually, sixteen of these attuned disciples became masters of Reiki, and among them was Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi later attuned a woman named Hawayo Takata who moved to the USA where she spread the attunement of Reiki energy amongst followers in the West. By the time she died she had trained 22 new Western Masters who are in turn responsible for all development of the discipline outside of Japan.

For more information about Reiki at the clinic, click here

April 11, 2012 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

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