Gratitude Heals …Holiday Stress?

Gratitude Heals …Holiday Stress?

thank-you-chinese-characters

“Thank You”

Studies show that remembering things in life to be thankful for, has a positive effect on our health. This year these health benefits will apparently have to be belated for me since I did not make it in time for Thanksgiving this year.  Often by then I’ve got my newsletter together to send out to my patients with news of the year to come but also reminding folks how much I value the kindness and trust they bring my way. It looks like it will be more of a New Year newsletter in a few more weeks….

 Joking aside about it being “belated”, gratitude is something I feel and reflect on all year long but especially around the winter season when I find myself warm and dry in stormy weather, under a roof I can call my own and one that sustains my life’s mission at the same time. I often feel mind-blowingly lucky considering the haphazard way I’ve found myself on a path to this point.  Anyone with business acumen would have vigorously shaken their heads at many points in my journey (and still today most likely).  I am truly lucky and thankful for that, all times of the year.

American Thanksgiving was early on, easily my favorite part of living in the US. My first year as a student at the chiropractic college in NY, we were given a whole day off on Wednesday to drive home for the holiday – in my case to friends’ houses. That travel day followed by a  four day weekend struck me as the greatest surprise gift ever at the time. What is this holiday magic that gives us FIVE days of time off??  Canadian Thanksgiving usually coincides with Columbus Day weekend in October. It’s generally just a Monday holiday – three day weekend and that’s it.   Canadians barely skip a beat that weekend and quickly get busy thinking about Hallowe’en costumes and parties next.

Here, the mania seems so much more urgent between Thanksgiving and the New Year because that time span is quite a bit shorter.  I see people suffering from the added strain and expectations.  There seems to be more pressured travel and disruption to our routines.  There’s also less daylight.  None of that bodes well for our health but just maybe, pausing those 4-5 days to “give thanks” in whatever way we do, is how we’re meant to balance  the stress of the season’s frenzy.

Just in case that’s not enough, I’m purposefully easing up expectations of myself in all areas this year but especially making sure not to push exercise and instead prioritizing sleep.  It’s hard not to feel guilty and torn by the things on our ever growing to-do lists or to fall into  emotionally beating ourselves up for “slacking off”.  But this is the time you need most of all to include on your list of tasks, things that give you joy and peace.  Don’t let that just be some seasonal slogan that loses meaning for the repetition of it.

Be kind and be loving with yourself.  In Chinese Medicine traditions it’s not actually until early / mid February that our energy “sap” is ready to flow again with slightly more vigor.  For some of us it begins with the Winter Solstice.  You’ll start to feel your energy return slowly with the daylight.

December 21st!By Peter Trimming, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14383009

Let’s welcome back the light.  With the light comes hope.

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Pain Research – Someone’s Got To Do It.

Pain Research – Someone’s Got To Do It.

It’s abundantly clear to me after this weekend, that the folks at the Neuro Orthopoedic Institute (NOI) group in Australia have been busy doing exactly that.

img_6417My writing relies heavily on the hard research work of people like these and I am so happy not to have to be the one to produce it.  I have the utmost regard for the kind of mind it takes to do that sort of work.  I, on the other hand, much prefer bringing the information to real people for whom it has practical application in a way that makes sense to them individually.

This past weekend, I was able to attend part of the NOI group‘s EP3 West Coast version of the US edition on Friday at the Washington State Convention Center. Those in attendance were primarily physical therapists, some with doctoral PT training, a few medical doctors, a few adjunct providers – one other chiropractor, a couple of osteopaths, nurses and a some psychologists.

Axons and Dendrites and TLR-4 Cells Oh My!

tlr4What I love about this particular body of pain research presented by the NOI group, is the neuro-biology of it. While sitting in the conference and happily soaking up the neurological terminology familiar to me, I wondered how well the basic physical therapy education covers neurology in the US.  Chiropractors get extensive exposure to neurology with increasing detail through the progression of the 5000+ hours of doctoral level curriculum.  It appears that Australian physiotherapy schooling also includes a fair amount of neuro-physiology training.  As I looked about the room at the blank stares, I wondered if perhaps the American PT curriculum isn’t quite as rigorous in this area until perhaps the elective doctoral level? Something for the NOI instructors to perhaps become aware of.

The minds behind this approach to understanding pain via this group out of Australia, is headed up by the two Australian educators who created the book behind the tour. One is a clinical and research physiotherapist and professor of clinical neurosciences at the University of South Australia . The other calls himself a “freelance educator” and sports the suffix EdD, also a physiotherapist who holds a graduate degree in “advanced manipulative therapy” which I believe is the Australian preference over chiropractic although it seems there is significant overlap. As with many different regions in the world there are political reasons that one profession is regarded more highly or accepted more widely.

This weekend they were joined by a local talent, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pain and University of Washington professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Guess What? “Sh*t” Happens and That Same “Sh*t” Matters When it Comes to Pain.

statue_trippingWhat tickles me about the NOI group research – at least as presented by the neuro-literate educator of the group – is that it is finally providing scientific evidence of things that we all as humans at some level already know.  Life experiences affect our relationships with pain.

Happy or sad, the things that happen to us as we navigate life, impact us in ways that can cement in time, our cellular reality. Our neuro-physiological responses to pain are significantly dependent upon the molecular patterns set up by a wide array of events and can set us up to experience recurrences of pain more easily or keep us from being able to find our way out of pain.

I was pleased to see that the substance of their work corroborates what many of us who work extensively with patients in pain have always known, and that is the practical reality that pain is often independent of tissue damage. Long after a legitimate tissue disrupting trigger has passed, pain can linger. Pain can also return in the absence of proportional local tissue damage and this is where things get quite fascinating.

The entire premise of my book series about everyday pain is that helping patients grasp the reasons behind their pain and helping them see that they are not irreparably damaged, massively speeds recovery from pain and keeps relapses to a minimum.

Teaching the Teachers

landaff_1940sThe most lovely thing about these three clinical research masterminds is that they have uncovered and provided the science and research behind the validation needed to implement this pain education. The NOI group seems to be working to educate more clinical educators which is truly going to the source to effect change and I applaud that.

It’s extremely important to refine the professional messaging behind how we greet pain in the practice setting and it will go a long way to changing our pain culture. But what I want to do and am focusing on with my publishing project  these next few years but also farther into the future, is to bring much more of this directly to the patients – the everyday person.

Pay to Play – Healthcare as Usual?

dandy_pickpockets_divingI learned that it was primarily a few local larger medical institutions that brought this conference to their employees by virtue of allotted benefit dollars that provide them with reimbursement for continuing education. The cost of the conference was unfortunately prohibitive to anyone not affiliated with an organization with deep pockets.

The financially prohibitive nature of these conferences (geared specifically to the mainstream medical institutions) presents a discriminatory challenge to equally qualified and information-hungry solo (or small practice) practitioners from a wide variety of relevant specialties. Nevertheless I must applaud the forward-thinking by these health care organizations and hospital groups for embracing the reality and changing attitudes towards the psycho-biology of pain.

It is a changing world and there is hope.
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What IS “Integrative” Healthcare?

What IS “Integrative” Healthcare?

By The U.S. Army (2012 Warrior Games) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“Integrative medicine” is a term that has become very trendy in the health and wellness industry.  It’s an approach inspired by some of the leaders in the Functional Medicine movement.  As soon as it became evident that patients demand it which means there are big dollars at stake, even mainstream medicine is coming on board.  Cleveland Clinic has opened a dedicated wing for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine  as has Johns Hopkins with their Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center.

So, what is it exactly?

It’s healthcare designed to treat the whole person (shocker). Many of us in the natural healthcare industry who have been practicing with this mindset for decades can’t help but roll our eyes a little bit at this “new” movement, but it is one to celebrate.

It feels to me like the general public is just catching up with how I’ve been living for most of my life personally, and now professionally for close to 25 years.  What we see in the integrative circles of healthcare is a coming-together of East and West, an acceptance of the interdependence of both sides.

“Integration” refers to the coordination of care between mainstream Western medicine and traditional or “alternative” methods including but not limited to acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, yoga, meditation and other lifestyle modifications. You can find “Functional Medicine” on Wikipedia defined as: medical practice or treatments that focus on optimal functioning of the body and its organs, usually involving systems of holistic or alternative medicine.  

The functional medicine movement was started by a chiropractor with a PhD in biochemistry – Jeffrey Bland.  He bravely championed the long held old-world wisdom of viewing health and disease not as a linear process between one cause and one effect, but rather a complex symphony with multiple orchestral sections that all depend on each other for harmony.   Now people like Mark Hyman MD and a slew of others, straddling mainstream and traditional methods, have embraced this much needed common-sense approach.

Integration? Or Collaboration?

What we are seeing and hearing increasingly from numerous medical centers and hospitals, as many of them move to offer these kinds of approaches under one roof, is validation of this kind of wisdom-medicine for use in the Western model.

This week’s national news headlines on ABC’s GMA morning programming included a story highlighting the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients at all stages of care.  The use of acupuncture, movement therapy like yoga, massage and meditation were given as examples of treatment methods used to address the emotional, spiritual and physical needs together.

Some of you who follow this blog know that, just a few weeks ago, I attended a conference held by the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) where I met medical doctors, physician assistants, nurses, naturopaths, acupuncturists and other chiropractors.  All of us together acknowledging the role of each other’s specialties in the full care of a patient while remembering to also live the path that we advocate for by indulging in some reflective self care.

In conversation with someone over breakfast at this AIHM conference I shared that I am a chiropractor in solo practice. I was met with “So you don’t actually practice integrative medicine…”

This took me aback a bit because I believe I actually do the ultimate integrative practice.   This exchange made me consider that perhaps the confusion is with the concept of “collaborative” vs. “integrative”.  Solo practice means I run a one-woman-show but does not preclude my patients from receiving collaborative (or “integrative”) care.  In my opinion collaboration is essential to integrative approaches.

This meeting of two worlds, in my opinion, can happen just as effectively in a more expansive community setting and not just under one roof. Successful collaborative care for the whole person is much more about the attitudes of providers than a physical facility with a name. I see my job as more of a healthcare traffic cop of sorts.

With the training that every chiropractor receives – to serve as a primary / portal of entry provider  – we are charged with the responsibility of knowing when chiropractic will serve our patients and when other modalities are more appropriate or needed in conjunction with our work.  Who better then, to assess and help patients prioritize treatment methods and direct them to the right practitioners?

I am extremely comfortable with my limitations as a practitioner and for true whole-person healthcare I think it’s essential to beware the delusion that any one of us can be everything to everyone.

For patients who don’t yet have a healthcare team, I regularly bring their attention to physiatry, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy, and whenever needed, direct them back to their mainstream medical provider or any  number of medical specialists.

Do you have a healthcare team of alternative and mainstream providers?  Are you enjoying the integrative medicine movement?  You deserve to.  Status quo is changing.  Expect more.

 

 

 

“Garden Yourself Back to Health”

“Garden Yourself Back to Health”

IMG_6206.jpgThe image of our body as a garden is one that originates in traditional medicine.

This phrase is a quote from a physicist by the name of Larry Smarr who spoke at last week’s annual conference of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM).   Science is slowly catching up to centuries-old concepts and people like Mr. Smarr are at the forefront of getting the word out, beginning with decades of tracking and de-coding his own microbiome health data.

The hope is that this sort of information-gathering will one day be a tool easily available to all of us so that we can make targeted pro-active choices about our wellness.

Imagine: instead of “weed-wacking” or clear-cutting our way out of illness, with this kind of data we all have the potential to be the master gardeners of our own health. Intentional self care with our own personalized data can help us strategically plan against the overgrowth of invasive species.  We are learning increasingly how much our gut microbiome has to do with our overall health.  It may be that our gut is in fact the forest floor.

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Alternative and traditional health care is based on creating and fostering a healthy and balanced “garden”.  Now these concepts are going mainstream.

Collaboration and True Health

It’s impossible to fully convey what an exceptional week this was with the AIHM in San Diego and Mr. Smarr’s presentation was only a drop in the bucket.  This was a gathering of roughly a thousand health care practitioners from 19 different professions and 23 different countries.  We were there to stand for a trend in healthcare that not enough people are talking about.  That I myself didn’t realize was in such full force.

Integration of “mainstream” Western medicine with alternative and traditional healing methods is happening on a global level. Did you know: that the World Health Organization (WHO) has, since 2014, been calling for member states (countries) to submit standards of care specifically to include alternative and traditional methods?  This is known as the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 . It’s the first I’d heard of it and it blew my mind just a little bit.

People are noticing at the institutional level that alternative and traditional methods of healthcare are indeed effective and in fact, corner an enormous part of the market with literally billions of dollars spent by patients out of pocket just in the US alone.  It makes good governing sense to embrace it and bring it to all people – not just the financial elite.

Walking the Talk

Politics aside, this conference served as the perfect primer for me to return to my own health again.  If you know me or some of my writing, you know that I am liberal with the concept of “beginning again”.  There is nothing more human than hopping on and off the proverbial wagon – whether your wagon is about reigning in addictive behavior or simply an ongoing quest at self improvement.  There is no shame nor failure in falling.  It just is.

Getting up and starting again is where it’s at.

Another speaker at this conference addressed that very same concept in a different way.  Not only is there no shame in it, the falling is where we do our growing and learning – literally. Research has shown that neuro-chemical brain changes associated with  meditation happen not from staying focused, but from practicing repeatedly the act of choosing to: re-focus, return to the task or get back on the “wagon”.  Just like strength training in the gym.  You need repetitions to get stronger and build muscle. Why wouldn’t then this concept of starting again and again hold true therapeutic benefits for us in all aspects of life?

Is Your Idea of Optimal Health Falling Short?

Each day of this retreat style conference, I noted to myself: “Oh, NOW I’m really relaxed.” And yet each day my senses were reminded of even greater relaxation potential that I forgot I was ever capable of.  Not unlike this progressive shift in perception of my actual relaxation level, I suspect the experience of our own health status might be similarly more skewed than we can know. It’s not until we find relief from a health crisis that we remember what it’s like to not be sick or in pain.

But how many of us strive to go farther than this?  Do we all think that “not sick” or “not in pain” is the best we can hope for?  Have we all forgotten what optimal health really feels like?  I suspect the answer is yes more often than not.  As a practitioner, I find myself unwilling to accept mediocrity on behalf of my patients.  Part of my role is to hold the space for and reflect to them their full potential health and yet apparently I let the awareness and memory of my own true optimal health slip away. How easily that happens and especially when my “out of balance” self is, in comparison to so many others, the epitome of well being.  d6

By the fifth day of my time away, with my eyes newly re-opened to true ease of mind and body (albeit temporary), I believe I started to glimpse something I hadn’t felt since I was a child; a sense of remembering deep well-being,  a cellular belief that everything is as it should be and will truly continue to be okay within my cells and every electromagnetic energetic connection outward.

It’s easy to get lost in our struggle to exist in the attempt to get through the minutia of our day-to-day. But let’s remember every so often to get back on the wagon, re-focus, rejuvenate in even the smallest of ways.  Every little bit really does count.

Tending our physical, emotional and spiritual gardens is the way to optimal wellness.  It’s not a straight path, it may require help from others and at times it may veer far off course.  Reach out. Reach within. Begin again and again and again.  Therein lies the cure.

 

Stay tuned in weeks to come for more musings and reports about my time with the AIHM crowd…


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Do You Know How to Name Your Pain?  Here’s Why You Should:

Do You Know How to Name Your Pain? Here’s Why You Should:

The_Cluster_HeadacheWhen I ask patients about pain, I’m always intrigued by the amazing variability in terminology or often the complete lack thereof.  Maybe it’s because of growing up in a multilingual environment that I have a personal fascination with words and language in general.  What’s particularly interesting to me is how inadequate words can be for all of us when trying to fully convey pain and sensation.

Not only is there an endless variety of quality and severity, people who make a habit of “toughing it out” in the face of pain, actually lose their language for pain.  Depending on modeled pain behavior in your childhood home, it’s also possible that this language was never even allowed to develop .  Based on what I see, I believe firmly that it’s only through the re-learning (or learning anew) of how to speak about our physical pain that allows healing to begin.

First of all, on a simply practical level, if you cannot describe your pain with any convincing accuracy, someone like myself who is interested in learning about your pain in order to help you troubleshoot it and get rid of it, is working with hands tied.  It’s not until I spend time with someone who has no language for their pain that I am reminded of how important it is to the successful outcome of any bodywork treatment.

Secondly for yourself, how can you forge ahead successfully towards a cause – in this case eliminating your pain, if you don’t even have a name for it?  For many people pain conjures up fear.  The first rule of thumb about conquering fear is to name it and face it.  If you say to yourself you’re unhappy, don’t you need to know what it is that you’re unhappy about before you have any hope of being happy again? Same thing with pain.  Get specific. Dig deeper.

I notice that the people who are the most conflicted about using the word “pain” tend to be the chronic pain sufferers – the people with high pain tolerance.  (A topic for a separate blog post: people with a high tolerance for pain often are the ones who end up in chronic pain because of their inability to register the early warning signs – and yet they seem to be the ones who worry the most about being pain-“wimps”). These are the people who hesitate and insist instead on using a different, less loaded word because “pain” sounds too serious compared to their perceived discomfort.

It’s okay if you don’t want to refer to your discomfort as “pain”, but you should know that by repeatedly dismissing the idea of pain you lose the ability to describe any aspect of it.  For example, “pins and needles” is an important sensation that leads to very different approach in treatment than “stabbing” sensation.  An “ache” can be very different than “stiffness” and both are significant to me but will change how I treat it.  Sometimes the sequence and timing of sensation is meaningful and sometimes it’s the combination of sensations that points to the cause.  Everything and anything that you notice is significant – even if you don’t want to give it any weight.

I believe this widespread issue of inadequate command of and connection with our language for pain, is what causes some physicians to quickly dismiss complaints as fabricated or baseless.  If you are someone who is unable to describe your pain as anything other than “it hurts”, your concern will most likely be dismissed and you’ll be urged to  medicate it away because no one has the words to understand it.

If you’re like any reasonable person, after years – or even just weeks – of pain, certainly you would like nothing more than to distance yourself from it. Why would you choose to dive deeper into your awareness of it?  Well this is exactly what I’m asking a lot of my patients to do and yes it can be a frustrating process.  But it is an important step to solving the puzzle and taking control of what is within your reach.

Start with basics like: “sharp”, “dull”, “burning”, “throbbing”, “grabbing”, or “stabbing”.  If you’re still having trouble coming up with words that seem right, try thinking of how you can compare your pain or discomfort to other sensations you’ve had in your life like: a tooth ache, a stomach pain, stubbing your toe, catching your finger in a door or a drawer and other things like that.  Those are all good starts and you will probably find that once you start the conversation the words will come to you more and more easily.

I would venture to guess that at least half of the failed outcomes in physical medicine with any given practitioner has to do with how accurately the practitioner was able to interpret the patient’s pain language.  I certainly have failed my share of patients in the past when there’s pain that I don’t know about or fully appreciate, which is why I’ve learned to ask so many questions about the “pain”.  I will probably never seem alarmed by a sensation you’re describing but that is because most pain and discomfort makes sense to me.  What doesn’t make sense and worries me more is when something I know should be hurting, is instead shrugged off or does not even seem to register.

Start talking about your pain. Be creative and daring; find your pain-language. It’s personal, unique and valid.  There’s a good reason for your pain and it’s not out of your reach to figure it out and with some help to put an end to it.

Above all, be patient with yourself.   Pain is your ally not your enemy.  It’s an important message to you about something that needs your help and attention.


Practitioners: How does pain language affect your practice?

Patients: Have you encountered this language barrier with your practitioners?

Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts below…

 


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons: By JD Fletcher (http://arowmaker.tripod.com/AROWMAKER/id6.html) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

yoga-dancer-1024x855Recently I’ve had a few questions from patients who are reading the book.  One that keeps coming up is about whether or not stretching is good or bad for us.  Stretching is a very confusing topic and has been one of scientific controversy for years which makes the answer not so straightforward.

In this first volume of my book series Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain™, Put Out the Fire I spend some time explaining that stretching is actually a mechanical stressor and therefore risky for people dealing with everyday pain.  This means that the elongation we cause by stretching can result in stress to the underlying structure.  Usually  when all things – mechanical, biochemical and emotional – are in balance, a reasonable stretch doesn’t cause any trouble.  However, when we are out of balance in any one of these areas and if we are already in pain, then stretching the compromised area is a terrible idea.

We often get away with stretching without consequences during times when we are not in crisis. Unfortunately with this sort of benign experience in mind and due to the fact that stretch-sensation neurologically eclipses the pain of inflammation, the concept that stretching is not good for your pain, is a very puzzling one to accept.

If you stretch a muscle in distress, you are basically signalling to your body that the tightening over-reaction – the one you are trying to find relief from – is indeed justified.  In this case, your stretch will perpetuate the underlying reason for muscle pain and tightness instead of resolving the problem.

The reason muscles grab and get tight is 100% protective in nature.  It is always the most reasonable response to unreasonable conditions.  You may not agree that the conditions are “unreasonable” but your brain and body’s assessment is all that matters during times like this.  If you don’t stop and find out what they’re protecting you from, there may be much worse discomfort lurking around the next corner.

Another interesting point is that the elongation stress associated with stretching can happen without, what looks to us like, a traditional intentional stretch.  Lengthening stress to muscle fibers is something that can be produced with sustained pressure on a muscle or a tendon.  When a muscle bundle is made to deform in this way it’s perceived by the brain as elongation. If that area is already inflamed, it will be a problem.  So, all of you foam rolling or ball rolling advocates beware!

A large part of my mission in educating patients is to highlight the subtleties in movement and posture that matter when we are in pain, but which often don’t seem very obvious to us.  By learning about these not so obvious contributions to pain, we can stop berating ourselves for “falling apart” and acknowledge the way forward. Recognizing the validity in our pain is a vital step towards feeling better and staying out of pain in the future.

An important part of Volume Two – Fix the Fire Damage will include information about exactly how and when to stretch safely and how to solve the problem of muscle tightness for the long term.

Click on this link for more at the original article Source: Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

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Taking My Own “Medicine”

Taking My Own “Medicine”

Dobbins'_medicated_toilet_soap,_advertising,_1869When you’re a chiropractor, what does it mean to “take your own medicine” ?

“Walking my own talk” consists of more than just making sure I receive chiropractic care myself.  It’s about seeking balance in all areas of health.  With balance in sight, the need for professional treatment decreases.

My motivation is maybe a bit more intensely fueled than for most people because my body is my essential work tool.  If mechanical, biochemical or emotional balance is off, it directly affects the ability to fulfill my commitment to patients which in turn could potentially risk my livelihood.  This is an intense interdependence that I would never trade for anything but it can be more than stressful to be even just a little bit laid-up.

In last week’s post I alluded to a recently renewed return to health by restoring balance to my own life, after a year of pushing to get my book out, followed by the release and adventures in promotion.

Block Quote 4I cannot emphasize enough how much this pursuit of balance can differ from person to person.  I am taking a moment to briefly outline what this looked like for me at this particular juncture, to give you a very general idea of the factors to consider when thinking about your own balance in wellness.  In particular I want to illustrate some of the principles outlined in my book (Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain, Volume One – Put Out the Fire). Don’t wait until you’re in pain to find your true healthy balance. The everyday variety of pain is always a sign that something has fallen by the wayside in one of the three main categories (mechanical, biochemical or emotional) but things can be “off” long before pain strikes.

In my case, this time I needed first to focus on returning to a more regimented sleep/wake schedule.  I’ve learned that my body and mind operate optimally with 6,1/2 – 7 hours of sleep per night and this means I need to exercise a little discipline about getting to bed on time because I am not willing to get up late.  The morning hours are treasured time and important to my emotional well-being.  I’m very lucky to have good sleep hygiene and my body cooperates well when put to bed.  For times when that’s not the case (as everything ebbs and flows), I reach for homeopathic remedies, herbal teas or magnesium to calm the nervous system before bed.  A controversial trick that isn’t advisable for everyone but that works well for me, is to have a small bite to eat before bedtime as well.

Test tubes science backgroundRe-balancing my biochemistry is something that I dedicated the better part of two consecutive months to. Resetting my organ systems and aiding the natural detoxification, involved some herbal and food therapy.  I returned to eating simply by avoiding my known sensitivities: dairy, all animal protein, simple starches (sugar), nightshades and a few other specifics that I’ve come to recognize over the years as taxing to my system.  I’ve since then slowly returned to more variety based on what my appetite dictates.

Block Quote 2Some signs that will tell you about your sensitivities can be as subtle as an increase in heart rate within 1/2 hour of eating. Sometimes it’s just a little tickle in the back of the throat that passes quickly but is still a significant sign of intolerance.  Other times it can be a generalized increase in mucous production and that might be harder to spot.  The need to clear your throat or blow your nose in the morning might be signs of excess mucous production in response to a food trigger from the day before.  The point is that foods (sometimes very delicious food), not overtly considered as “allergenic” like peanuts, can still be considered by your body as a burden for your biochemistry.  So, it’s always important to pay attention to subtle reactions.

When I commit to helping my body unload excess waste, I also utilize dry sauna sweats, infrared if possible and pay extra attention to optimizing kidney and bowel function.  This makes a big difference in the associated discomfort of “detox”-related headaches and body aches that can happen when large amounts of waste are mobilized throughout the body for elimination.

My herbal and nutrient based regimen was also targeted, in part to facilitate elimination via the kidneys, liver and colon.  There are many different philosophies on which herbs are most appropriate and this is something that is best done with the advice of a natural health care doctor.  Focusing on aiding natural elimination is the best way to help decrease your body’s chemical burden from exposure to complex molecules in our air, food and water.

Balancing RocksFor me, restoring mechanical balance can’t happen without first adequate rest and attention to nutrition.  After re-setting sleep and nutrition I found my energy returning and started to increase activity based on that, but not until then.  If fuel or rest and recovery are lacking, then the exercise output ends up adding stress to the system instead of strengthening it.  This is why sleep and nutrient intake is first priority. It sets the stage for successful return to exercise.  Without this in place, workouts are pointless and counterproductive, potentially resulting in inflammation-causing stress.

Block Quote 3What my body and mind are willing and able to do changes with the seasons, years and stages in life.  This Spring, yoga was the doorway back to physical empowerment.  It helped me begin to feel able to return to swimming and weightlifting.  Now, my routine includes one yoga class per week and two other days of gym workouts which consist of a warm-up swim followed by an upper body or lower body weight resistance workout.  That’s three days a week of 1-2 hours of exercise. They are strategically spaced from my days with patients so that I am not too sore to be effective in the office, but also to avoid muscle fatigue related injuries.

There’s nothing rigorous about this current exercise schedule which is what makes it completely sustainable.  When starting a new routine, being consistent is more important than making a huge impact.  Come wintertime, it’s possible that my needs will change and I will change my exercise accordingly.  Perhaps in a future post I will take some time to address the how of tuning in to your own changing needs from season to season or depending on life and work situations.  It’s mostly a lifelong process of trial and error.

It can be tricky to walk the fine line between the intended exertion of exercise and inescapable demands of work life. But as you slowly increase physical activity, what always holds true is that you increase your body’s capacity for emotional, chemical and physical stress to keep from rebounding into exhausted inactivity.  It must be done in a loving way. Self-care routines are best implemented with gentle caring instead of harsh reprimands.  If you’re someone who thrives on hard line tactics for motivation – find a trainer or someone outside of yourself to play that role.

Even though it’s not an easy daily practice for many, being loving and yes even permissive with yourself makes room for healthy choices.  Remember real health can and does exist in imperfect bodies everywhere.  It’s about balance, not perfection.

Block Quote 1Lastly, you should know that it takes at least two full months – often three months – of consistent activity in order to surpass the “transition reaction” of new exercise.  When introducing a change in routine or physical demands, the brain and body will express themselves by exhibiting physical sensations that aren’t always 100% comfortable.

Sometimes the transition to a better balance in life includes re-visiting old pain that might feel like re-injury as we work to strengthen around these old vulnerabilities.  This is why it’s important to line up some outside help during these transitions either via massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic.  It’s the time when I see the greatest need for support in my patients.

Food for thought while you consider your own healthy balancing act: When we act in reaction or opposition to an idea or a feeling, we set the stage for inevitable failure. When we act out of caring and acceptance for the imperfection that is, we make good and sustainable choices.


Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Fotolia

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