No, You Do NOT Need to Improve Yourself For the New Year

No, You Do NOT Need to Improve Yourself For the New Year

rogi__gorski_kotar__croatia_-_panoramioThere is nothing wrong with you.

When you start believing that you are not inherently bad or defective, that is when resolutions for change actually can have lasting effect.  All we ever need to do both in life and in health is to get out of our own way.  Eliminate the obstacles.  Like a log jam in the river – moving the logs is much easier than trying to push the river uphill.

It’s true that you might be more comfortable in your body if you exercise regularly or eat fewer inflammatory foods, but you are still a valuable human being regardless of what you choose to do about this.  If you see your intrinsic value, you would probably choose less punishing behavior, and less time would be wasted spinning in unproductive guilt when things don’t go exactly as you planned.

Letting go of the idea that there is anything “wrong” with who we are opens the door to making good choices.  Connecting with our value lets us put aside harsh judgement and shame over the choices we make when they are not ideal.

The self-improvement frenzy of the new year’s resolution tradition is dangerously destructive because it feeds all sorts of unhealthy thought patterns.  We all know that most of these “resolutions” don’t stick and it’s because they tend to be rooted in unrealistic expectations and stem from faulty assumptions that we are “broken” in some way.

There is nothing wrong with resolving to remember to do good and be good whatever “good” means to you, but please remember that goodness is a natural inclination.  So, really, you’d be resolving to be more of who you naturally are.  If anything, we should all take a moment to reflect on what is keeping us from letting our optimal potential and natural happiness surface.

When the attitudes shift from a place of self hatred to self love and acceptance the natural flow of wellness is allowed to resume.

Let’s embrace what is and who we are just as we are.  You don’t need improvement this year or any year. You are perfect just the way you are.

Now go do something healthy just for the love of it!


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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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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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Are Your Fitness Goals Really Working For You?

Patricia Flavel (AUS) finish line Athletics 2000 Sydney PGBeach body. Spring makeover. Baby fitness machine. Squeeze into that wedding outfit.

I hear it all.  And good for you for resolving to get fit.  We’re all motivated by different things.  I think whatever gets you motivated is great….as long as you realize that this kind of goal-setting is completely unsustainable for the long term.

Short term thinking is not going to do it.  Long term thinking on the other hand will more likely lead to completely sustainable health and wellness. But are you able to do this?  What would it take?

Shooting for long term goals and big picture planning requires quite a bit of letting go.  We have to forget about our preoccupation for radical change, dramatic improvement and sensational headlines.  We have to welcome our own imperfection while allowing ourselves to believe we deserve the best.  But we’d better not  be afraid of some hard work and loving self discipline along the way to achieving our best.

Consistency is key.  Joy is also key.

If you workout and eat as a form of punishment for all your bad past behavior or your current health condition which you disapprove of and have been made to feel ashamed of, then you might as well just be sitting on a couch and spooning pure unrefined sugar into your mouth because if you’re not happy, there’s no point to the supposed “good behavior” you’re anxiously forcing yourself to engage in.

If you take a wide angle lens to your life using a long term mindset, then your occasional (supposed) transgressions day to day don’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things.  The more you lighten up on yourself for slip ups or deviations from “perfect”, the more room you leave for joyful healthy choices. This doesn’t mean you suddenly become overly permissive with your poor choices, but with the big picture in mind, you realize that there are many more chances ahead of you to choose good health habits to make up for the extra beer you had last night or the extra slice of pizza you had last week.  There’s much less self flagellation necessary because these instances are now only minute drops in the bucket.  This new-found freedom from self judgment will allow you to spend less time feeling guilty and “bad” and much more energy can be spent towards the long term goal of happy longevity.

What’s my workout program? It includes dog walking, yoga, swimming, resistance training  3-4 days a week.  Frequency, intensity and type of exercise depends on the amount of sleep I’ve had, the type of nutrients and the timing of my meals and my work schedule.  I happen to feel the most sore two days after my workouts, so  I coordinate my exercise sessions accordingly because my work as a chiropractor is physical and if I’m not careful, the quality of my work will suffer if I’m too sore or tired from exercise. Sometimes I don’t get the six and a half to seven hours of sleep that is optimal for me and so I will choose to go to yoga instead of working out at the gym because that can be more restorative.  Or I may decide to sleep an extra hour and skip the exercise that day, knowing that I’ll get to it the next time. Once in a while my sinuses get tired of the exposure to chlorine so I decide to skip swimming and use the elliptical trainer for my workout warm up instead.

During exercise, I’m not terribly invested in pushing into high intensity intervals unless I feel a burst of energy during a workout because perhaps I happen to find myself in “the zone” and / or because I’m well rested and I’ve had all the right nutrients in the 24 hours preceding my workout.  If it happens – wonderful.  If not I’ll listen to my body for that again next time.  I’ve got my whole life to interval train. I make sure to do something three to four days a week but primarily I listen to my body as well as the week’s demands personally and professionally in order to decide what combination of things I will do for exercise.

I give you these details just as an example of the thought process that goes into the week’s exercise plan.  For now it’s what I’ve decided works best for me.  I’m sure it’ll change as the seasons change and years go by and that will be okay.

Abends_am_MeerWhat works for you will have to be based on your own individual needs for joy, rest, fuel and life circumstance day to day.  If aging well is what sounds good to you, give yourself permission to explore this sort of big picture planning for a long, moderate and comfortable life.  Stop punishing yourself for not meeting other people’s standards.   Start tuning into what standards are best for you and learn to pace yourself for long lived success.

Remembering to stop and appreciate the health you do have at this very moment, can help to let go of all the pressure-filled ideas of where you think your health should be and how you think you should look.

I know it’s not easy but you’re not alone in the struggle of striving for the ever elusive life and health balance in an unbalanced world.


Photo Credit: Australian Paralympic Committee [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: “Abends am Meer” by Joe Sarembe from Pfungstadt, Germany – Abends am Meer. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abends_am_Meer.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Abends_am_Meer.jpg

Do You Have a “Flexion Intolerant” Back?

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAYou may or may not have heard this new buzz term in the world of physical medicine and rehabilitation.  It is certainly gaining traction in my industry thanks to a couple of brilliant minds in the world of functional movement and kinesiology: Stuart McGill Ph.D.,and  Craig Liebenson D.C. for starters.

I see how  very helpful it can be, to the average person in pain, to be able to identify and label their condition.  The term “Flexion Intolerance” has come to serve that very purpose in my own practice.  In particular I’ve found it very helpful to point people to this internet resource developed by a fellow chiropractor: Fix Your Own Back dot com.  Dr. Snell provides an easy to use guide to help people in pain figure out if their back pain situation might be one that can respond very well to some basic changes to just a few everyday things.  We often take for granted these everyday activities until we’re in pain.

Pain is the primary and most effective motivation for most of us to want to investigate and learn more about our bodies. I believe it’s important that everyone realize before they are in pain, that “flexion” is not something our lower backs are very well designed to put up with in the first place, but especially not in the way that our modern lives demand.  We are all actually, by design, flexion-intolerant.  In particular, we are intolerant of the kind of flexion and the amount of flexion our modern day backs are exposed to.

What is Flexion?

It’s the technical term used to describe a forward bending motion (in the spine) which in the extreme looks like rounding.  Imagine the fetal position  – the ultimate example – full body flexion.  It’s no secret that bending to pick up something heavy can be “dicey” for the back and most of us know that this could result in pain if we’re not careful.

The unfortunate thing  is that flexion in the lumbar spine / lower back can be happening without the outward appearance of rounding – for example while sitting many of us are actually putting the lower back into flexion without meaning to – even if we’re not necessarily slouching.  The brain is pre-programmed with what can be considered our “safe” amount of flexion both in degree and frequency.  This pre-programmed set point is different for every single body, but it’s what determines when and under which conditions we suddenly experience our flexion intolerance as full blown pain.

You’ll find much more about this idea of our individual mechanical set point or blueprint for safe movement at Stop Everyday Pain dot com.  This is where my blog to book project is taking shape.  Check it out, become part of the process or just follow along to find out why things hurt that didn’t used to hurt and figure out what you can do about it.


 

[photo credit: wikimedia commons]

Is “Sway Back” Really Still A Thing?

Balancing RocksApparently it is …*head shaking in disbelief*

If you do an online search of “sway back” you’ll see a bunch of links referring to “hyperlordosis” or even just “lordosis” with a variety of images of the spine from a side view showing the curves of the spine.  Prevailing, mainstream information resources on this “condition” will have you believe that it’s a disorder….something that needs fixing.

Not so fast.

The natural shape of the spine should look like this:

Google Images

Notice, the term “lordosis” simply refers to the natural shape of the neck and the low back.  There is nothing pathological about this and in fact it’s necessary for spinal health that these two areas curve the way they do.  If you do not have enough of a lordosis in either area you will experience spinal dysfunction and eventually pain.

This pervasive age-old idea that “sway back” is something bad, is extremely misleading.  If there is something that looks like “hyperlordosis” or an accentuation / exaggeration of the natural curve or sway of the lower back, it may or may not be a bad thing.  The worst thing you can do is to tell a developing body to flatten that part of the spine.

I spend ninety percent of my patient education time explaining that tucking the pelvis and sucking in the belly while upright – sitting or standing – is actually damaging and stressing the spine.

What makes any shape of the spine dysfunctional is muscular and chemical imbalance in the body.  You cannot assess whether or not there is a problem with the spine by simply looking at the degree of lordosis.  If the curve in the low back is sharper than average, look at the neck – is that curve also sharper than average?  Look at the upper back – is that curve sharper than average in the opposite direction? Then it’s possible that this sharp lower back curve is actually completely appropriate for that person.

The shape of the spine is like a mathematical equation that should equal zero when effectively balancing the weight we carry front to back (and side to side). We need to have two S-shapes in order to provide appropriate shock absorption against gravity.  We also need to keep the spine strong in order to keep these curves from lazily collapsing on top of each other – which is when we run into trouble.

Weakness of our spinal stabilizers – the teenie-tiny muscles (multifidi mainly) that connect our spinal bones to each other deep inside – is what leads to back pain and dysfunction.  Lordosis is not a problem until weakness in the muscles allows the bones to collapse on top of each other with the forces of gravity.  This is true for kyphosis as well.  No matter what your shape, it’s not until weakness and de-conditioning sets in that there’s any problem with whatever shape that is.

So, please stop trying to flatten your spine.  It’s not helping you.

Do keep working on core stability with things like plank and hover and balance work.  Be careful of crunches since that motion curls your lordosis in the wrong direction.  Honor your curves in every sense of the word.  You’re shaped the way you are for a reason.  Don’t let that reason be that someone told you long ago to “suck it in” or “tuck it in” going against natural design.

Stay active and avoid sitting when possible and your lordosis will thank you!


For more on what’s really behind pain and dysfunction go to stopeverydaypain.com

 

 

photo credit: Fotolia

I Do Hot Yoga and Love It. I Do NOT Recommend It. 3 Reasons Why:

sweaty face w smileThe hot yoga I do is not Bikram.  It’s an offshoot and it’s offered in a room heated with infrared heat.  This is a large part of why I decided to try it.  Infrared heat has detoxifying effects on the body that surpass any other form of heat.  My logic went something like this: It doesn’t even matter if I do any of the poses – I’ll be getting a health benefit simply by being in the room.  It worked.  It got me in the door to try something new.

I have come to enjoy these classes very much and every class I go to reinforces for me why I will never recommend hot yoga to any of my patients:

1. There is very little attention to form.

What mention there is on occasion is often misguided.  Many of the instructors are young and likely unfamiliar with injured and aging bodies. I spend much of my time focusing on pulling back – keeping my movements small and calculated and often doing something different from the rest of the class – something that I know is mechanically more sound for my body.

2. The heat is extremely seductive

It takes a very self aware person with much experience with biomechanics to know where the limits are to keep from pushing too far into the postures.  Not only does the body become more pliable but there is less feedback from the warmed muscles and tendons about what is truly safe.

3. Heat tolerance is simply very individual

Even people who like to be warm don’t necessarily take well to increasing their heart rate in 105 deg. Farenheit.  I am a good sweater.  The moisture on every inch of my skin helps keep me cool during these workouts.  Many people don’t have the same capacity for sweat over every inch of their body and people with that sort of constitution risk over heating.

I will continue to go to hot yoga when I can – it amounts to one day a week, two days at the most, and that’s interspersed with the mainstay of walks with my dog and visits to the gym where there’s swimming and resistance training…and only when the weather is perfect there’s a bicycle and a promise of wind on my face that calls my name.

For me it will always be about balance – whether that’s a one legged pose or juggling sufficient sleep with adequate nutrients with demands of life and the expectations or compassion we extend ourselves.

Namaste.