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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“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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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

Menopause, Andropause and now “Somatopause”?

bodybuilder poseWell it’s no secret what menopause is.  Luckily there’s an increasing body of information widely available out about it these days.  Among other hormonal shifts, the primary change in menopause and peri-menopause occurs with estrogen levels.  Estrogen production decreases as women age, and move away from the reproductive stage of life.

Men have an equivalent transition as their androgens shift and the production of testosterone wanes.

Somatopause is not as commonly discussed and the term might be unfamiliar, but depending on your age you might not be surprised to hear what it is.  This is a change that happens for both men and women as we approach later life.  The prefix soma comes from the Greek meaning “body”.  In medicine the term somatic refers to the physical body – the machine: muscles and bones.

If you’re someone who’s nearing mid life or just past it, then you may already have noticed that your body is definitely changing – possibly even before you notice changes in estrogen or testosterone.  In addition to finding hairs where there didn’t used to be any or skin tags in inconvenient places, skin may not be as firm or as thick, but above all, our muscle mass is suddenly not what it used to be.  Many middle aged people will notice that seeing and feeling the results of exercise becomes harder and harder.  It becomes really easy to lose the effects of exercise.  The decrease in muscle mass and the decreased ability to build muscle is what the term “somatopause” refers to.

Somatopause, or this decrease in muscle mass, just like the other two ” -pauses”, is also because of a decreasing hormone.  In this case it’s the human growth hormone (HGH).  The human muscle cell (sarcomere) needs HGH in order to grow.   Our body stops naturally making as much growth hormone as we do when we’re younger.

Does this mean we should all just roll over and become flabby and weak?  We certainly can but it’s not a fate we have to accept silently. At the very least this information should make us want to work a little harder at staying with an exercise regimen.  The “Move it or Lose it” adage definitely becomes louder and clearer the older we get.

Incidentally, there’s some really interesting evidence just coming to light recently that seems responsible for feeding yet another trendy exercise fad.  In recent months you may have heard more and more about high intensity interval training.  The allure of this kind of workout is that it touts much less of a time commitment in the gym (for the busy professionals) but promising to deliver the same or better outcomes fitness-wise.

Well, I’m the first to dig my heels in when I notice the frenzy for a fad taking hold and I always advise caution to all patients considering trying this particular one – no matter what age.  The potential for injury is high when we combine speed or time stress with intensity since neither leave much room for focusing on safe form unless closely supervised.  So, I generally don’t advise anyone to do this kind of training, but I am changing my tune a little bit and here’s why:

Studies have shown this kind of training appreciably stimulates an increase in growth hormone production. So, if  it’s done safely, the high intensity, short spurts of exercise can be particularly useful to those of us approaching somatopause.  The added stints of growth hormone production will aid in the building of muscle mass even in someone who has entered this stage of life where the natural decline of HGH has begun!

If you’re struggling to put on muscle mass don’t forget to think about your nutrient intake but you might as well also consider  kicking it up a notch once or twice a week for the sake of these muscle building benefits.  But don’t leave behind the traditional workouts that you enjoy.  It’s far too important to our brain chemistry to leave those behind.  Workouts of a minimum of 30 min. and longer, will be what give you a good dose of “happy chemicals”.  These will become more important as you add the naturally more stress hormone inducing high intensity workouts, simply for balance. (Take a moment to read this post to learn why it’s important for some people to be especially careful with stress inducing activities – you might be adding fuel to the fire despite your best intentions)

I hope you’ll consider the fact that maintaining and gaining muscle mass at all ages is not just about looks. You will look great and feel much better about your looks but more importantly, it’s very much about life sustaining function that will make all aspects of daily living easier, safer and seamless.  It’s a biological fact that movement is ultimately what sustains life and you can’t move if you don’t have muscle!

 

References:

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/06/21/interval-training.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10442584

Yoga: The View From Inside

DSC03011The other morning I forgot to put in my contact lenses before going to yoga. I go to this hot yoga place where they keep the temperature at 105 deg. I don’t even want to know how hot it gets when the class is full with all those bodies generating even more heat… So, wearing glasses is really not an option for me in this situation because of how dripping wet my face gets about 5 minutes into the class — rendering the bridge of my nose a hostile environment for even my super lightweight titanium frames.

I started learning yoga almost 15 years ago in the traditional and more humanely temperature controlled studios around town. The first thing that struck me and bothered me a bit when I was still new at it, was the lack of mirrors. I was used to looking at myself while exercising which up until that point had usually been in a gym. I had always found it reassuring to check in with my form and was quite attached to that feedback for the sake of symmetry, and safe movement. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize and appreciate what this new absence of my own reflection was gifting me.

I was finding myself uncomfortably forced to appreciate and trust the watchful eyes of yoga instructors who came around to give gentle cues through touch about how to move further into or out of poses. But the other more yoga sutra or philosophical type of teaching that came from learning not to see my reflection, was an inward focus that filled a completely foreign set of senses with awareness, and questioning.

I’m no stranger to looking inward in order to quiet the mind. However, it’s quite another thing to use the mind’s eye for initiating and contemplating physical effort. Turning your “eyes” in to focus on sensation relies on, and therefore develops, confidence that intention is translating into execution effectively. It’s not only a good exercise for the brain by forcing you to access your inherent mechanisms of balance and flow, but it’s a great reminder of how to tap into what that balance and flow feels like on the inside. The sensations are what inform how you move through your day and if you want to do it well, it’s best to tune in regularly about how to let your sensations guide you. As with anything, practice makes perfect or at least leads to improvement and having the opportunity to practice with tuning in to your body from the inside rather than the outside, during yoga class, even just once a week, will make for a more accurate connection with your body — what you intend to do with it and how it actually performs.

The hot yoga world breaks this rule a little bit. The studio I’ve been frequenting has two walls of mirrors. I have to admit despite my previous enlightenment about tuning in and gazing inward during practice, I’ve been enjoying the external feedback of that image in the mirror, and that validation for my efforts. It’s very easy to be seduced and distracted by the visual. Even though I tell myself “So what if there are mirrors? I don’t need them.” But I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t sneak a peek here and there either to smugly congratulate my efforts or remind myself I have a lot of work ahead of me — depending on the state of my self esteem that day.

One idea is that mirrors will help you face the truth about yourself and monitor improvement in order to motivate. Mirrors will help you watch for your mechanics and form. But what we perceive in the mirror is not nearly as accurate and truthful as how it feels inside. One huge problem with our preoccupation by the appearance of poses is that it can be extremely deceiving. What we think looks “beautiful” and “correct” for one body can be mechanically completely unsound for another. The only way to avert this pitfall is to look inside, listen and tune in.

Not wearing my contact lenses that day and not being able to keep my glasses on my face forced me back into that brief discomfort. Practicing without being able to see myself once again forced me to let go of my distraction with the externals and served as a rich reminder that the most truthful feedback about performance whether it’s physical, occupational, or in relationship, is how it feels.

Namaste.

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