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Happy Holidays!

I think most of us, at least in theory, love “the holidays.” What a wonderful season! Starting with Thanksgiving at the end of November, December celebrates Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve and many others. So many opportunities to celebrate love and friendship and family and gratitude!

Sadly, our culture has put so much emphasis on more, especially shopping and especially for Christmas, that “the holidays” have almost become a stressful time of the year. We feel like we are failing if we don’t get more decorations, more gifts, more special foods “for the season,” more parties and pageants and festivities, etc.

Perhaps the best strategy is to simply tune out all that noise to the best of our abilities, turn a blind eye to the endless ads, let go of other people’s expectations, and create space to focus on what is really important to each one of us.

The best present of all is simply to be present. Breathe. Relax, even if you think you don’t have time to. Go outside for a walk with a friend. Play with your children and give them the gift of your time, even if the house is a mess and the meal is not planned and tree is not perfectly trimmed. Call a loved one you haven’t seen for a long time and give yourself this moment to talk and laugh and get caught up.

I read an article in early November about the “holiday season” as it relates to retail—what people will be selling and buying: trends, strategies, predictions. Of course, that’s what business analysts do. But we don’t need to buy into it. We don’t need to start thinking about Christmas in November. We really can just enjoy November in November, right?  And I hope we can enjoy December in December. One day at a time. One holiday at a time. One moment at a time. My wish for you is to that you may be fully present, peacefully celebrating love and gratitude and all our many blessings.

Happy holidays to you!!

Category : Blog &Personal Growth

Supporting a Healthy Back

 

 

Back pain is common, and while a certain amount of wear and tear is part of life, some mindful maintenance can go a long way in staving off strains and aches.

Everything we do every single day impacts our back health. It basically comes down to posture and body mechanics. It’s so easy to neglect! Here are some helpful reminders:

Sitting. Sitting in the same position for long periods stresses tissues and can diminish blood flow. It’s very important to get up and move around every 30-60 minutes. Set a timer on your phone if you must! When sitting at a desk, make sure both feet are on the floor and your weight is evenly distributed between your hips.

Standing. Think about your alignment: ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be pretty well lined up and facing forward in a centered, neutral way. Do you put more weight on one side? Do you hold your head forward? Not good. Do you hold your shoulders too high toward your ears? Set an alarm to check yourself a few times a day. Take a deep breath, and deliberately drop your shoulders down and back as you exhale.

Lifting/Carrying. I set myself up for hip trouble by always carrying books, babies, etc. on one hip jutted out supporting all the weight. As much as possible, it’s far better to divide a load (groceries, laundry) into two totes and carry equal amounts on both sides. For things that can’t be divided (babies!), a backpack is best. When lifting, we need to bend at the knees, avoid twisting, and engage our abs to make sure our backs aren’t doing more than their fair share.

Phoning. Tilting our heads forward to see our phone screens places way more pressure on our necks than you might think. It’s far better to raise our arms and hold the phone up closer to eye level. Use voice commands to send texts when possible, and earphones for long conversations. If you’re reading a tablet or a good, old-fashioned book, see if you can prop it up on pillows to avoid looking down for prolonged periods.

What to do when your back does hurt? OF COURSE, I would recommend massage therapy and reflexology to relax tight tissues and improve blood and lymph flow! You can also try:

You can also try:

Ice, to reduce inflammation.

Heat, to relax muscle fibers.

Alternating between heat and ice (up to 20 minutes of one, enough time to let your tissues to get back to normal temperature, then up to 20 minutes of the other; always end with ice at the end of the day).

Gentle exercise. For an acute injury, a day of rest probably is advised. But then it’s important not to rest too much! Walking a little bit if you can comfortably do so keeps blood and lymph flowing, which is important for healing.

Ongoing supportive exercise, such as yoga or Tai Chi enhances balance, flexibility and good posture long term.

Other “alternative” approaches such as acupuncture and chiropractic can help maintain optimal functioning. Physical therapy can target problem areas, and PTs usually give specific exercises to develop strength so strains don’t reoccur.

Cope with stress. Chronic stress causes tension that causes pain. It’s important to do mindfulness “exercises” like deep breathing, meditation, walking outside in nature, and positive self-talk.

Mindfulness is always a good practice. Most injuries are from misuse or overuse. If we stay aware of how we sit, stand, walk, lift, etc., we can avoid a lot of problems. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!!

Source: “We’ve Got Your Back,” by Alyssa Shaffer, “Better Homes & Gardens” October 2017.

Category : Blog &Health &Massage Therapy &Reflexology

Happy Thanksgiving!!

“When asked if my cup is half full or half empty, my only response is that I’m thankful I have a cup.”

Thank you for your business, your referrals, your trust in me, your support, and your friendship. I hope you have a peaceful, joyful, healthy Thanksgiving!!

Category : Blog

Learning a New Way to Support Health

 

I had the privilege of taking a continuing education course last weekend on “The Hidden Messengers”—silent, behind-the-scene centers of energy that work together to keep our bodies balanced and functioning optimally.

In our western understanding of anatomy, we talk about our endocrine system—those glands (think pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, etc.) that produce hormones to regulate our sleep, appetite, stress responses, sex drive and more.

In ancient Indian practice, energy centers called “chakras” closely parallel the endocrine glands. Each chakra is aligned with a nerve plexus (a bundle or network of nerves) that is responsible for a specific area of the body. So while some in our culture might think chakras are too “woo woo” to be seriously considered, there’s actually a lot of overlap with western scientific models of medicine.

Our class also covered a principal of traditional Chinese medicine: that each of us is most strongly governed by one of the five elements of nature (water, earth, fire, wood or metal), and that these elements influence our health including, you guessed it—the health of our endocrine glands.

When any of these systems—endocrine, chakra or elements—is out of balance, our health can suffer. It can change our behavior and attitude as well. And/or, our behavior and attitude can change the balance of these systems!

Whichever way you prefer to think about it, reflexology is a very effective way to restore homeostasis—or balance of our internal environment—and improve the healthy function of all of these systems. As we make contact with each reflex point in the foot or hand, we activate the nervous system and communicate to all the parts of the body. Everything benefits, whether it’s hormonally, energetically, mentally or all of the above!

Category : Blog &Massage Therapy &Reflexology

Five Ways to Thrive Each Day

 

 

More and more workplaces are emphasizing healthy habits for their employees. It makes sense, because workers are happier and also more productive.

While these tips originally were written with worker bees in mind, I think they’re great tips for all of us to employ wherever we are.

Take fun breaks. Google offers on-site kickboxing, swimming pools, and a slide to shortcut getting from one floor to another. Zappos has wellness coordinators who randomly pull people away from their desks to jump on a trampoline, play laser tag, or take a quick golf lesson. They even have Recess Tuesdays. What fun could you have in order to energize yourself once a day or once a week?
Stand up! Many doctors recommend adjustable desks and “standing stations” to take a break from sitting all day. Treadmill desks may be even better. Chick-fil-A has treadmill desk rooms where people sign up for time and go in with their laptops to walk while they work. We can take a cue and stand up and even walk during phone calls. What else could you do to mix up your position throughout the day?

Catch some Zzzzs. Bosses used to frown upon falling asleep at your desk, but studies are showing that people are actually MORE productive if they take a quick power nap (20 minutes is optimal). Some hipper companies including Capital One now offer sleep nooks, nap pods and relaxation/meditation rooms. Do you allow yourself some down time if you start to feel super sleepy during the day? Your body is trying to tell you what it needs!

Reduce sensory overload. Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute recommends improving the physical comfort of the workspace with regards to factors such as noise, air quality, lighting, and basic office ergonomics. When we are uncomfortable, it increases stress, weakens physical and mental health, and lowers our productivity. How is your work environment? Your home? Your car?

Go green. Indoor plants purify the air and can have a calming effect. Some easy-to-grow choices include spider plants and philodendrons.

Do you have other ideas for reducing stress, boosting energy or increasing productivity?

Source: “5 Ways to Thrive at Work,” by Nicola Bridges, PARADE Magazine, Sunday, November 5, 2017

 

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Category : Blog &Health

Gratitude Is Good for Us

 

We all know that saying “thank you” is good manners. But did you know that being truly grateful is actually good for your health?

Needing to give thanks and be thanked is as vital to us as needing to be respected and feeling connected to others. In fact, gratitude helps build community, experts believe, because when we appreciate the goodness we receive, we feel compelled to give back.

Establishing an actual gratitude ritual improves our outlook and even our physical health in numerous ways:

We feel happier. Robert Emmons is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and is a pioneer in the field of gratitude research. In one of his studies, subjects who wrote down one thing they were grateful for every day for just three weeks reported being 25% happier for six full months afterward. In another study, people who wrote thank-you letters to someone who had done something important for them (but were never properly thanked) reported significantly decreased symptoms of depression for as long as a month later.

We enjoy better health. A gratitude practice has been linked to improved kidney function, reduced blood pressure, a drop in stress hormone levels, and a stronger heart. This is likely because when we truly appreciate our health, we take better care of ourselves. Grateful people avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, exercise an average of 33% more, and sleep an extra 30 minutes per night.

We have more energy. In Emmons’s gratitude journal studies, participants who regularly wrote down things they felt thankful for consistently reported feeling increased vitality. (Control subjects who kept a general diary enjoyed no such increase.) No solid conclusion was reached as to why this is, but it may have to do with their increased physical health. When we feel better, we have more energy. I personally think our mental state has as much to do with it as physical health. It’s very common for people with depression to feel lethargic. On the other hand, being in a great mood is very energizing!

We’re more resilient. When we consistently appreciate kindness and the good things around us, we rewire our brains to seek out the positive in any situation, even dire ones. That makes us better at recovering from loss or trauma. “A grateful stance toward life is relatively immune to both fortune and misfortune,” Emmons says. We truly count our blessings instead of only seeing the negatives.
We are nicer. When someone expresses appreciation, the recipient experiences a surge of dopamine. When we feel good about doing good, it makes us want to do more good! So when we thank a loved one, a neighbor or a coworker, he or she feels grateful in return, and the back and forth continues. We almost can’t help but pay gratitude forward!

We improve relationships. Similarly, a large study showed that people in a partnership who felt appreciated were more likely to appreciate their partner in return, and enjoyed longer lasting relationships. If we are grateful for the things that are going well, we are calmer and less likely to fly into fight-or-flight mode when something challenging comes up. We can’t be thankful and resentful at the same time.

How to Journal

One of the best ways to experience the rewards of being grateful is to write a gratitude journal. Emmons says that recording our thoughts, whether by hand or electronically, helps us focus on them. That which we focus on grows. Here’s how to grow the goodness of gratitude:

Create a journal that’s specifically for reflecting on gratitude. Have a special notebook or a separate file/document on your computer.
Write consistently. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it does need to be at least once or twice a week.

Be a little deep. A simple list of nice thoughts is not very inspiring, and those types of journals are easy to abandon. Give some thought to what you truly appreciate, write a bit about it and really savor it.

Write freely. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This is just for you to express your appreciation.

Think about others. This is an opportunity to think about nice things other people have done to support us. Emmons says, “It’s not all about us. This may be the most important lesson about trying to become more grateful.”

My challenge to you (and myself!) is this: in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s start a gratitude journal. I intend to write a little each day between now and Thanksgiving (November 23) about people’s kindness and life’s gifts that I’m truly grateful for.

It doesn’t have to be much—just a sentence or two each day unless you feel particularly inspired on a day when you have more time. Are you up for it? I know it’s a busy time of year, but the benefits are many. And then we’ll have even more to be grateful for!

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” —Rita Schiano

Source: “What Gratitude Can Do for You,” by Louisa Kamps, in TIME Special Edition: “Mindfulness: The New Science of Health and Happiness”

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Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

On Being Spontaneous

 

Here in St. Augustine, autumn weather has finally arrived. Refreshing cooler, drier air gives us a much-needed break from the uncomfortable sticky heat of summer.

One day on Facebook, a friend remarked how absolutely gorgeous it was outside, and encouraged everyone to get out and enjoy. A friend of hers replied “I would, but no time. On my way to yoga!”

That same day, another friend posted a photo of her adorable cat curled up on her lap, and asked, “how can I possibly leave to go work out?”

I was struck with a “Seize the Day!” reaction. Maybe you don’t have to leave to workout right this minute, I thought. Maybe if a pet or a loved one is offering us a moment of perfect, genuine affection, we could just allow ourselves the time to take it in with appreciation.

Maybe instead of rushing to an indoor yoga class, on a particularly beautiful day we could go for a nice walk and do some gentle stretching afterward at home. Or do our own impromptu yoga routine outdoors!

I mean, I understand the importance of setting goals and being disciplined. If you’re committed to a yoga practice or workout routine, I’m not suggesting that you consistently blow it off to indulge in whimsical pursuits.

But don’t we all say life is short, and it’s the small, quality moments that count? Can we allow ourselves a little flexibility to be human BEings instead of human “doings”?

My Seize the Day attitude was put to the test about two days later. I was exercising on my garage elliptical, enjoying a pretty good workout thanks to the cooler temperatures. I spied a neighbor across the street who is only in town part of the time. I had a little thank you gift for him, and I hadn’t been able to connect to give it to him in an embarrassingly long time.

He was outside starting to put a piece of furniture together. Then his partner drove up. Now I had a chance to deliver the gift and say hi to both of them! But I didn’t want to interrupt my great workout. Besides, I had a full day planned, and I would have to “ruin” my perfectly ordered schedule if I interrupted myself to go across the street.

Could I be that spontaneous?

I decided yes. If I would advise others to enjoy the small moments that life presents to us, then I needed to be flexible enough to do the same. I paused the elliptical, ran inside and got the gift, and went over and enjoyed a wonderful, short visit with my neighbors. It was actually perfect timing, as they had questions about hurricane damage and roof repair options.

I was able to modify my schedule easily. I completed my workout with a happy heart and rearranged my day a little to accommodate the slightly later finish time.

This is just a small, somewhat silly example of creating time to experience joy. The point is, I always have a to-do list. I often feel anxiety about getting everything done to the best of my ability in the time I have available to me. I feel like I can’t relax and be happy until later, after a sufficient number of items is checked off my list. And that IS silly.

It’s a beautiful day. Whether you’re doing something on your list or modifying your list to allow for spontaneity—I hope you, and I will appreciate the beautiful moments we have in this day.

 

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Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Death Cleaning

 

An elderly client of mine has a cello for sale. She asked if I knew anyone who would be interested—a special someone who could properly appreciate a rare, gorgeous, 400-year old treasure.

A retired musician and music teacher, she is no longer able to play much except for an occasional short jam session on her beloved piano. She has other instruments, stacks of sheet music, and many other items that make her home feel cluttered, especially now that she’s having some trouble getting around. Little by little, she is trying to find new homes for things she still loves but can no longer use.

She confided in me that as she began to itemize which of her belongings she was ready to part with, one of her adult children complained, “MOM, you’re not DYING!”

Truthfully, she is in declining health. But even if she weren’t, I reassured her that it’s actually a great idea to deal with these things NOW! If it’s something she truly can’t use anymore, and it could bring someone else happiness, then she could spread joy, and lighten her load, and maybe make some money—a win, win, win!

And right after my conversation with her, an article about “death cleaning” popped into my Facebook feed! From a blog shared on treehugger.com, “In Swedish, the word is ‘dostadning’ and it refers to the act of slowly and steadily decluttering as the years go by, ideally beginning in your fifties (or at any point in life) and going until the day you kick the bucket. The ultimate purpose of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of stuff, especially meaningless clutter, that you leave behind for others to deal with.”

And while it might seem a little morbid at first, the idea has a lot of merit. I know from my own experience, moving into a small house in my 50s and purging stuff in favor of downsizing and living lean was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

Sources from the “New York Times” to “Forbes” Magazine have been running articles like, “Memo to Parents: Your Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff.” And oftentimes, nobody else wants our parents’ stuff either—except maybe for those serial bargain hunters who frequent estate sales and accumulate stuff that their kids have to sell off in estate sales of their own one day!

Consider this quote by Linda Morman Stichtenoth: “I spent the first 2/3 of my life acquiring stuff that doesn’t matter only so that I can spend the last 1/3 getting rid of it. What a stupid game of consumerism we Americans play.”

Are you ready to do some death cleaning? Go for it!! But if you know of anyone who’s not finished acquiring, who might be in the market for a high-end cello, please let me know!

Category : Blog &Personal Growth

When “Healthy” Habits Aren’t

 

I applaud anyone who makes a commitment to improving their wellness with healthy lifestyle changes.

But what is “healthy”? It isn’t always as simple as it sounds! It’s certainly possible to overdo it with exercise, which leads to injury or to make dietary changes only to find out that today’s recommendation is tomorrow’s no-no.

The information is a growing, changing body of knowledge, and the best we can do is stay informed and be flexible (literally!). I also think it’s a fallacy to believe that one ideal will work equally well for everyone. For example, many people like eating small amounts of food several times a day rather than three bigger meals. But some folks really don’t care for that, or don’t find it practical, and that’s OK! Or, if everyone you know is into an exercise class that doesn’t appeal to you, do something that YOU enjoy instead!

And take everyone’s advice—even mine!—with a grain of salt. (Just not too much salt because, you know, watch your sodium intake.) Here’s a fun list from an article I read recently about habits that might seem supportive of good health, but really aren’t.

Brushing our teeth right after we eat. It might seem like it would be a good idea to brush immediately after eating, before the bacteria has a chance to multiply and do any damage. But the Academy of General Dentistry says if we eat or drink something that’s acidic like citrus, tomatoes, or soda, brushing within 30 minutes can actually “scratch” the acid right into the enamel of our teeth. This helps erode the enamel and leaves us susceptible to more harm. Better to rinse with water immediately after eating, and wait a half hour to brush.

Avoiding fat. For years “experts” told us if we wanted to lose unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight, we needed to eliminate fat from our diet. But selections low in fat are usually loaded with sugars and salt to make them palatable. And not eating enough fat causes other problems, from dry skin and constipation, to difficulty absorbing fat-soluble vitamins and even decreased brain function. See a nutritionist to get the latest science-based information on balancing healthy nutrients in your diet, which might include some fats like olive oil (and even butter!), certain nuts and seeds, and avocado.

Always putting our best face forward. While lashing out is never a welcome reaction, it’s not good to stuff down our feelings either. Sometimes feeling angry or irritated is appropriate, and holding it in can increase our chances of developing depression, high blood pressure, increased pain sensitivity and other ailments. When the time is right (usually not in the heat of the moment), there are healthy ways to engage in constructive dialog, such as “When you did X, it made me feel Y.” Let’s always try to offer solutions or alternatives.

Reusing grocery totes. OK, taking our own bags to the store is actually a great thing to do! But we need to wash them regularly!! And putting them in the dryer can help kill bacteria. If we don’t wash them, they get pretty gross.

Exercise—when we do our favorite workout ALL the time. If we do the same routine every time, we run the risk of injuring ourselves from stressing the same muscles over and over again. It’s far better to mix it up. We reduce the chance of overuse injury, and we really benefit from alternating cardio, weights/resistance, flexibility, and balance work.

Stretching before working out. Theories about stretching have really changed over the years. The most current research shows that stretching while muscles are cold could strain or tear them, and stretching before an athletic event can leave some joints more lax—which leads to injury. Better to warm up a bit slowly before more rigorous exercise, and stretch after our workouts while our muscles are still warm.

Source: “Healthy Habits that Can Haunt You,” by Stacey Colino, “Parade” Magazine, September 24, 2017

 

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Do You Need a Tech Time Out?

 

 

We hear a lot about cleansing detox programs these days. Many see the value in eating clean, ridding our bodies of pollutants that cause inflammation, and flushing out toxins.

Have you ever considered how cleansing it might be to give our brains a break from technology and devices?

Checking emails, texts and social media gives us a shot of dopamine similar to other drugs and pleasurable behaviors. So it’s easy to get into the habit of overdoing it. And, as with other addictive habits, too much tech time is hard on our brains. It keeps us stimulated.

It might be wise to cut back and give our minds some rest—and time for different kinds of input and experiences. But how?

A book by Nancy Colier titled “Power of Off” outlines a tech detox plan that focuses on the psychology behind why we might have an unhealthy attachment to technology. Rather than trying simply to quit or cut back just because we think we ought to, Colier recommends peeling back layers of what’s really motivating us to overdo it.

By reflecting on our reasons, we can more easily make changes to our behavior. She suggests the next time you want to check your phone stop yourself and ask—am I doing this out of habit? Do I really NEED to check it right now? If your answers are yes and no respectively, redirect yourself to do something else. Because your habit is impulsive, almost more involuntary than meaningful.

The next step is to think about how you would feel if you didn’t check your phone. Would you feel bored? Would you be anxious? Are we distracting ourselves from something uncomfortable? For example, if you’re supposed to be studying or writing a blog, do you check emails, texts or social media just to give yourself a break from the work? But when you really reflect on it—is it a quick, pleasant break, or is it really interfering with your focus?

People who commit to giving up technology at least part of the time enjoy significant benefits. For example, if you really did need a break from working or studying, what if you went for a quick walk outside instead? You’d get fresh air and vitamin D, a little exercise and a chance to clear your head. If we check our phones every time we ride an elevator or wait in line, we miss opportunities to rest our brains so we have more mental energy available when we need it.

Right before bed is another time to put tech in time out. Devices keep our brains stimulated, and we need to wind down. If we listen to music, read an old-fashioned book, or talk to each other (if you live alone, call a friend rather than text her or him). All of these help us feel calmer and more connected to real people.

Here are two other ways to detox:

Make the first hour of each day after waking completely tech-free. Checking our email first thing in the morning puts us in a reactive state, which can make us more anxious throughout the day.
Try to enjoy the moment when you’re at an event. Put down your device. We get so caught up in recording our lives that we forget to enjoy them.

Source: “The Health Nut,” by Amy Brightfield, Better Homes & Gardens, August 2017

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth