Personal Growth

Your Brain on Autopilot

 

Have you ever had a brilliant idea while you were taking a shower? Or thought up a solution to a perplexing problem while you were driving? 

This is not a coincidence!

Researchers are learning more about our brain’s “default mode,” which basically is our brain at rest.

The thing is, our brain is never really at rest! When our minds are not concentrating on something outside of ourselves—when we can be more introspective—our default network has a chance to make valuable connections that we can’t make when we’re actively engaged.

In her TED talk, “How Boredom Helps You Do Your Best Thinking,” Manoush Zomorodi says, “By doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self.”

She cites studies of young people who “multitask” by checking their phones even while they visit with friends or do their homework. Making these constant demands of their minds and NOT giving their brains any “rest” actually makes them less imaginative about their futures and in solving societal problems.

The more time we spend switching quickly from thinking about one specific thing to focusing on another specific thing, from doing one active task to doing another active task, the more we drain our brains. 

We ALL need time to reflect, to daydream, to pause and think about nothing in particular. This is one reason why meditation is so good for us. Or quiet walks, or repetitive activities. 

The next time you’re “bored,” don’t reach for your phone or tablet to distract yourself! Look out a window, or just sit with your thoughts. Zomorodi says, “Boredom truly can lead to brilliance.”

Who knows what great ideas you’ll come up with?!

Here’s a link to Zomorodi’s TED talk:

www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Have a Healthy Autumn!

 

Sometimes in Florida, it’s hard to believe that autumn is here (it’s close to 90 degrees outside as I type this in mid-October!).

But the days are getting shorter, peach season is over (bummer!), and once in a while we can feel a hint of, the cooler, drier weather that WILL eventually be coming our way.

If you want to make the most of this season, here are some tips for having the healthiest fall ever:

  1. Eat the pumpkin. Sure, pumpkins are fun to carve into jack-o-lanterns. But they’re also good for us! The pulp is high in vitamins A and C, and the seeds may help lower cholesterol. Have fun with a new recipe—something other than pie!
  2. Enjoy other seasonal produce. Try all the squashes, and Brussels sprouts, and beets. Roasted veggies are delicious. And apples are at their peak in the fall!
  3. Boost your immune system. School starts, people spend more time together indoors and bam—it’s cold and flu season. Wash your hands a lot. Drink a lot of water. Get sufficient rest. Boost your immune system with healthy foods (like seasonal produce!). And book a massage or reflexology session!!
  4. Get outside. The more comfortable temperatures make this the perfect time to unplug and enjoy the outdoors. Walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, sports leagues—even yard work—provide opportunities to burn some calories.
  5. Go easy on the Halloween candy. It’s easy to slip into a sugar addiction.
  6. Eat well on game day. If you like watching sports, snack on veggies and dip instead of chips. If you really want something like pizza, go for a thin crust and avoid fatty toppings—and cut it into smaller pieces to nibble rather than gorge. Go for smaller helpings of chili or other favorites. Drink water in between other beverages.
  7. Have a smart Thanksgiving. Start the day with a healthy breakfast of protein and fiber so you’re not ravenous. Then have a plan for the big meal—what do you REALLY want to enjoy, and what could you do without? Include the seasonal produce—cranberries and persimmons have a LOT of nutrients. Again, go for smaller helpings and go for a walk. You’ll be glad you did!
  8. Set goals. We don’t have to wait for January! What new habits could you start practicing now? Eating healthier? Exercising more? Meditating regularly? Keeping a gratitude journal? Spending more time with friends? Volunteering—and not just for Thanksgiving? Think of what we could accomplish by the end of the year!

Maybe it’s because we grew up feeling like fall was the beginning of a new (school) year, but for whatever reason, autumn really does feel like a good time to regroup. What other things will you do to have the best season ever?

Source: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/slideshows/tips-for-a-healthy-fall?onepage

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Why Napping Is Good For Us

 

I don’t know about you, but as the days are getting shorter, I feel more sleepy.

In a perfect world, we would follow our circadian rhythms and sleep when our bodies needed it, and be awake when we naturally felt wakeful. But, alas, our modern lifestyles don’t allow for that. We impose busy schedules on ourselves, and most of us don’t get enough sleep.

More and more research is showing that not sleeping is as detrimental as the worst bad-health habit you can think of. Nothing is as good as getting enough sleep at night—the very best routine is to go to bed and rise at the same time every day (yup, even weekends).

But some of us just can’t do that, and some of us struggle to STAY asleep throughout the night. The good news is that when we don’t get enough sleep at night, naps come to the rescue. Napping is actually really good for our health! Here’s how:

  • Memory. Sleep plays an important role in our ability to store memories. A nap can help us remember things we learned earlier in the day just as much as a full night’s sleep can! Studies show that napping also improves learning.
  • Productivity. Usually, when people hit a lull during the day, they think they need coffee or some kind of stimulant. Research shows a quick nap might be better to improve performance. Feel sleepy right after lunch? Take a 20-minute siesta—it works wonders!
  • Mood. Taking a nap can lift our spirits. Even resting for a bit without falling asleep can brighten our outlook.
  • Energy. If we have something coming up, like travel for instance, where we know we won’t be getting enough sleep, taking a nap ahead of time can help prepare us for the journey.
  • Stress. You may think when you’re stressed out you couldn’t possibly make time for a nap. But that’s when we need it most! Experts say a 30-minute nap can relieve stress, and that boosts the immune system. Naps have been shown to lower our blood pressure, even after stressful situations.
  • Creativity. Have you ever woken up with a great idea? REM sleep activates the parts of our brains associated with imagery and dreaming. Sometimes we can literally “dream up” big ideas and solutions to problems!
  • Sleep. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a nap during the day can help us sleep better at night. Studies found a 30-minute nap between 1-3 p.m., combined with moderate exercise like a walk and stretching in the evening, helped older adults sleep better at night.

The keys to successful napping include only nap for 10-30 minutes (longer than that makes us too groggy afterward), nap regularly, and nap at roughly the same time each day (usually in mid-afternoon, when we tend to have a dip in alertness anyway). 

Happy napping!

Source: Web MD, “Health Benefits of Napping ”https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-of-napping?ecd=wnl_spr_100118_LeadModule&ctr=wnl-spr-100118-LeadModule&mb=O3VPynMBBg%40z5JCe%2fHStYxXFE73IOX1ca5Fi1IEg1Vc%3d

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Choose Happiness

 

Money can’t buy happiness. But we CAN use science—neuroscience—to cultivate happiness! We can deliberately choose to help our brains feel happier. Here are four practices to try—they’re pretty simple, and they don’t cost a thing.

1. Choose to be grateful. We have at least 50,000 thoughts per day, and 80% of them are negative! According to neuroscientists, this is because pride, guilt, and shame all light up similar chemicals in the brain’s reward center. In some parts of the brain, it feels appealing to heap guilt and shame upon ourselves. Even worry feels good because it registers as doing SOMETHING (“actively” worry), which feels better than doing nothing—for a while.

But too much of this negative activity starts to feel really draining after a while. So what can we do to reverse it? Deliberately ask ourselves what we’re thankful for.

Gratitude activates our brains to produce the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Even if we can’t think of anything to be grateful for, just asking the question and trying to think of things can stimulate happiness. And it becomes an upward spiral because we start to focus more on the positive aspects of our lives, and our social interactions and relationships improve.

2. Choose to acknowledge negative feelings. Usually, when we feel awful, we try to push those feelings away—who wants to feel yucky?

However, trying to suppress negative emotions is one of the worst things we can do. Because while we might appear better on the outside, on the inside the more primitive part of our brains are even more aroused and we become even more distressed.

Labeling negative emotions, on the other hand, takes their power away. Are we feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Fearful? When we think about it for a few minutes, we activate the prefrontal cortex (executive thinking skills) and lessen the arousal in the limbic system (“monkey brain”).

Identifying emotions is a key component in mindfulness meditation. If you’re interested in a simple practice that is very powerful in handling difficult emotions, research the R.A.I.N. method of meditating developed by Tara Brach.

Brach’s practice, and others point out that not only is important to label our feelings, it’s also imperative that we allow them. Sometimes it’s completely appropriate to feel sad or angry or whatever we feel! Only then can we process those feelings, release them, and go back to striving for authentic happiness.

3. Choose to make a decision. Scientists say that making a decision reduces worry and anxiety, and each decision we make improves problem-solving skills—we create intentions and set goals. These processes engage the thinking part of our brain in a positive way that helps overcome the worrying and more negative patterns of the “monkey brain.”

If you have trouble making decisions, experts suggest taking the pressure off by allowing yourself to make a choice that’s “good enough.” Sometimes we get stuck trying to make the “perfect” choice. Hemming and hawing for too long can add to our stress level, whereas making a decision can make us feel more in control. The act of deciding actually boosts pleasure in the “reward” center of our brain.

If we choose something—like choosing to exercise, for example—we get more out of it than if we do something because we feel forced into it. And, the more choices we make, the more our happiness is reinforced. Neuroscientist Alex Korb explains, “We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.”

4. Choose touch. There have been many studies on the power of human touch, and the detrimental effects of not having enough touch (babies and elders, for example, can suffer from a phenomenon called “failure to thrive” if they don’t get enough touch—it can actually lead to early death).

People need relationships. Social exclusion (and rejection) can cause the same reaction in the brain as physical pain. This explains why we can actually feel a pain in our chest when we have a “broken heart” or are grieving.

And touch is an important part of relating to others. When we touch, we release oxytocin, which reduces pain, worry, and anxiety. Touch greatly improves our sense of wellbeing—touching has been shown to help people be more persuasive, improve team performance, boost our flirting skills, and even increase math skills!

One of the most effective forms of touch is a hug. Not a quick little squeeze, but a long hold. Research shows that getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases our happiness greatly!

And guess what neuroscientists recommend if you don’t have someone to hug—massage therapy! Massage decreases stress hormones (like cortisol) and releases all the feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin AND pain-killing endorphins.

If we can’t touch others, we need to at least connect through conversation. If your loved ones are far away, talking on the phone is far superior to texting according to scientists.

Choose happiness today! One simple thing we can all do right away that combines some of these elements is to send someone a thank-you email (connection + gratitude). This is enough to start an upward spiral of happiness—for you and for the recipient!

Here’s why, according to Alex Korb: Gratitude improves our sleep, and improved sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves our mood, and a better mood reduces anxiety and improves focus and planning. That helps with decision making, which further reduces worry and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives us more to be thankful for. It also makes us more likely to exercise and be social, which makes us happier—and so the spiral continues upward!

Source: “A Neuroscience Researcher Reveals Four Rituals That Will Make You Happier,” by Eric Barker, with material drawn from the book “The Upward Spiral,” by Alex Korb.
https://www.businessinsider.com/a-neuroscience-researcher-reveals-4-rituals-that-will-make-you-a-happier-person-2015-9

Category : Blog &Health &Massage Therapy &Personal Growth

Make One Change (Just as an Experiment)

 

At last weekend’s reflexology workshop (Say Goodbye to Headaches!), we talked about causes of stress, and how we can encourage clients—f they’re willing—to make little changes, to control what they can.

Often, the kind of language that works well for any of us, is something like: would you be willing to try this one (new thing), just as an experiment?

That’s a lot less intimidating than attempting a complete overhaul, isn’t it? 

This month’s “Better Homes and Gardens” has an interesting article called “What Happens When…?” It looks at some pretty questionable—but common—habits and breaks down why they’re bad for our health. Here are some examples:

  • Hitting the snooze button repeatedly. We could feel groggy for up to an hour afterward! The alarm signals our brains that it’s time to rise. If we keep going back to sleep after, we confuse our brains! Better to set a “real” alarm for a time when we can realistically get up, and keep the same routine daily.
  • Postponing going to the bathroom. If we need to pee and we put it off, we increase our chance of getting a UTI—urinary tract infection. This is especially true for women.
  • Brushing our teeth only once a day. Skipping a daily cleansing increases our chance of developing tooth decay by 33%! The bacteria in our mouths also increase our chances of getting gum disease.
  • Sweating and not drinking enough water. Hey, we talked about this in our headache class! What happens is we get dehydrated. In addition to headaches, this can cause fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramping, constipation and more. Experts vary in their recommendations for how much water is enough, but as a general rule, we want our urine to appear pale yellow to almost clear. If it’s darker, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
  • Taking a break from exercise. The bad news is that just one or two weeks away from our fitness routine does have some negative effects: our metabolism slows a little, our muscles use less oxygen, and our speed and endurance suffer (strength doesn’t diminish as quickly, though). The good news is that just one or two weeks getting back into our groove reverses any losses!
  • Eating food we drop. Would it surprise you to know that there’s no “five-second rule”? Bacteria can transfer to food immediately. Perhaps what is a surprise is that the type of surface the food is dropped on doesn’t really matter—the moisture content of the food is what really determines the germiness. Wetter food picks up more bacteria. So, if you really want to still eat something after you’ve dropped it, let the cleanliness of the surface and the moistness of the food guide your decision.
  • Not covering our mouths when we sneeze. Germs in the droplets of our expulsion can travel up to 26 feet for a sneeze, and 19.5 feet for coughs—and they can stay suspended for up to 10 minutes! The best practice is to use a tissue to cover your nose AND mouth. If you don’t have a tissue handy, cover your lower face the best you can with the crook of your arm, not your hand. If you sneeze into your hand and then you touch something like a doorknob or handrail, you’re laying the germs out for someone else to pick up.
  • Scratching an itch. Scratching certainly provides temporary relief, but it backfires in the long run. We trigger a tiny bit of pain—just enough to numb the itch. But at the same time, we release serotonin, which sends an “itch” signal to the brain. So when the “pain” fades, the itch is actually stronger. Better to leave it alone, rub the area with your palm, or make circles on the affected skin for a few minutes with an ice cube.

Interesting, huh? Would you be willing to stop hitting the snooze alarm, stop scratching itches, start drinking more water, exercising more regularly or covering up better when you sneeze? Do you have any other unhealthy habit—just one—that you’d be willing to try a better solution for, just as an experiment?

Source: “What Happens When…?” by Karen Repinski, “Better Homes and Gardens,” September 2018.

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth &Reflexology

Daily Miracles

Albert Einstein may or may not have said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Sometimes good quotes are attributed to smart people who’ve been dead for a long time, and there’s really no way to verify for certain.)

When I first read that quote I thought, well that’s kind of dumb. Lots of things happen that are not miracles, but that doesn’t mean NOTHING is a miracle!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really depends on how you define “miracle,” doesn’t it? 

People come to see me every day and make themselves vulnerable, trust me with their care, and allow a sort of surrender to the almost inexplicable healing power of touch. Even people who don’t know me very well, or people who know me and know that they disagree with me to a high degree when it comes to politics or religion or things that matter to them. But there they are, in my office, allowing me to work with them—and I think that’s really a miracle!

Just getting into an automobile and driving on safe and orderly roads to an air-conditioned office is a whole sequence of miracles.

My being able to see because someone figured out how to make precision corrective lenses is really a miracle. Seeing a sunrise, or a sunset is a miracle. Looking into the ocean, knowing that it’s teeming with life that we can’t even see, is a miracle. 

Having clean warm or cold water flow into (and out of) our homes with the effortless touch of a handle is a miracle. 

The fact that you and I met, that our lives would intersect in some way that resulted in you reading this blog right now, is a miracle.

I could go on and on and on, and I’m sure you could too. This is starting to read like my gratitude list! And I am ever more grateful for the small and not-so-small miracles that happen every day.

I challenge you to pay attention today and see if you think nothing in your life is a miracle—or if everything is.

Category : Blog &Massage Therapy &Personal Growth

Finding Calm through Spirituality

These are some crazy times we live in. Most everyone I come into contact with says they feel increased stress and anxiety just from day-to-day happenings and the overall way people treat each other because EVERYONE is stressed and anxious.

What if we could all take a collective deep breath and make a conscious effort to be more kind to each other?

I believe that kindness is born from compassion—finding our commonalities and being more aware of our connection to each other. And I believe that that connection is spiritual in nature—we’re not literally, physically connected to each other, but if we’re still, sometimes we can FEEL an interconnection to others, to nature, to energy.

And if we focus on the positive energy, I believe we can manifest more of it. Here are five ways to be mindfully more spiritual, regardless of our religious beliefs:

Start each day with 10 minutes of calm. Many people use their phones for their morning alarm, and they IMMEDIATELY open apps for emails, texts, social media alerts, news, calendars, etc. Don’t do it! Take 10 minutes to quietly stretch, meditate, read something inspirational, write in your journal, walk in nature. Experts say this is a big influencer in setting our mood for the day.

Be of service to others. Too often we focus only on our own wants and needs. In doing so, we can isolate ourselves and feel worse by worrying or ruminating over things that aren’t going well. Reconnect by thinking of what would be helpful for someone else. Start with small acts of kindness—give someone a compliment, let someone out in traffic, be a good listener. Volunteer when you can.

Be spiritual wherever you are. Sometimes people think they have to travel to a retreat or even a foreign land to tap into their highest self and connect with others. The true essence of mindfulness is that it occurs right here right now, wherever we are! We all can work on our spiritual growth each day, whatever our circumstances.

Explore—and define—spirituality for yourself. You can read books and articles, watch videos and podcasts, go to conferences and workshops. Find like-minded people and see if someone could even serve as a role model for you. But no matter how much you admire someone for how they live, you have to be YOU! And spirituality actually can help us reach our highest potential.

Strive for simplicity. Faith can be non-religious, believing in our fellow humans and/or some kind of power in the universe that creates order and flow. Sometimes setting our to-do lists aside and allowing ourselves to be “human BEings” rather than “human do-ings” is a great way to tap into a spiritual contentment that can be quite profound. I like to have quiet moments in nature, but you might find something else that works well for you. It doesn’t have to be complicated!

There are actual health benefits to having a spiritual practice, including improved healing, and healthier brains experiencing more happiness and less negativity.

But perhaps the greatest benefit is mental or emotional wellbeing. Experts say we build resilience when we practice mindful meditation. Finding more calm and being more compassionate helps us cope and get through life’s challenges with more grace and creativity.

Source: “5 Ways To Find A Sense Of Spirituality Without Religion,” by Bénédicte Rousseau, mindbodygreen.com

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/spirituality-without-religion

Category : Blog &Personal Growth

Tell Me What’s Good

The other day, a client I see monthly greeted me and asked how things had been since our last session. “Tell me about your month,” she suggested, “what was good, what was bad… start with the bad.”

I guess she knew from the previous month that my family had been dealing with some challenges, and I briefly gave her a quick status update. 

The way I was really feeling: the list of “bad” things could have gone on and on. I probably could’ve rattled off half a dozen things or more that had been occupying a lot of my time and mental energy. 

And maybe it’s because I’d been preoccupied with life’s challenges that they were top of mind the day I saw this client, but I’m embarrassed to say that I almost struggled to respond to her follow-up prompt, “Now tell me what’s been good.”

We’re all healthy, at least physically. Business is really good. I told her how well my garden is doing, and how I’m delighting in a squash plant that popped up out of some compost I used around a new flower last spring. The vine has taken over a large portion of the butterfly garden with meandering branches that split to veer around other plants. The leaves are beautifully variegated and as large as my two hands put together. It hasn’t produced a squash that survived to maturity—yet—but I have high hopes for the most recent sprout. Either way, it’s been fun to watch it grow, a happy accident that it is.

Weirdly, that was the one story uplifting enough to make me smile. 

Of course, we all hit rough patches in life, and it’s OK if there truly is not as much “good” in any given month. Goodness knows, some days we have our hands full and we can’t fit much more in.

But, was that really my situation? Did I really NOT have that much “good” going on? Or was I just so focused on the “bad” that I lost my balance and forgot to see, or keep track of, the good stuff?

After all, I HAVE carved out some time to spend wonderful quality moments with friends. I’ve fully “moved into” my art studio in the office and I’ve created a number of collage/assemblage pieces that I’m quite happy with. I started painting my kitchen cabinets a dark eggplant purple color and I love how it’s turning out. 

I probably could’ve thought of half a dozen things or more that had brought me joy, but I was taken aback by how hard I had to think about it to compile that list. 

Starting today, I’m renewing the practice of writing down something I’m grateful for and three things that went well. Apparently, I need to do this because left to my own mental devices, I will not remember. 

Now the next time someone asks me to tell them the good stuff, I will be able to easily and happily share because THAT is what will be top of mind!

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth

Happy Independence Day!!

This 4th of July, may we remember our love of country and love our fellow Americans. 

What I think would “make America great again” is civility, compromise, cooperation with respect and compassion.

John F. Kennedy said: “So let us begin anew-remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

Maybe today he would say, “Let us never negotiate out of anger, and let us never be too angry to negotiate.” I hope we can truly remain the UNITED States of America, with liberty and justice for ALL. 

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday!

Category : Blog &Personal Growth

Where Does the Time Go?

 

While June 21st marked the first official day of summer, school has been out locally for almost a month. We’ve blown through Memorial Day and are looking squarely at 4th of July. And just like every year, it feels like yesterday when we were saying “I can’t believe it’s 2018!”

Within the past few years, I’ve let go of some of my extracurricular commitments. I’m no longer in Rotary; my jewelry is not in a local gallery. I’ve said “no” to a good number of opportunities for socializing, I don’t do as much volunteer work as I’d like, I’ve decided not to adopt a dog at this time—all in an attempt to make life simpler.

I guess I’m hoping that if I slow down the pace of my life, it will feel like time itself is slowing down as well. That I can savor my un-busy moments and stretch out my days just a little bit more. 

But in the blink of an eye, the year is almost half over.

One day recently, 2 time-related headlines popped up on my Facebook feed. The first one said, “Stop saying you don’t have enough time. We have time for things we make time for.” And the second one said, “We’re almost halfway through the year. Are you ahead of your goals?”

I felt almost anxious! Am I ahead of my goals? No? Why am I NOT ahead of my goals? What ARE my goals? 

Well, some of my goals are health related. They seem very important to me, so I really “ought” to be able to make time for them. For example, I schedule time for exercise—goals that I think are very achievable. Just 30 minutes of cardio at least 3 time a week, daily stretching, and weights/resistance other days “as able.” But many weeks I fail to meet that goal.

I intend to make time to meditate every day, or at least “nearly” every day—even if it’s only for 5 minutes! But, I find I’m not consistently making time for that either.

I endeavor to eat healthy—carve out the necessary time to shop for fresh ingredients, do the necessary food prep and cooking, and sit down to eat with utensils at every meal. It is challenging to make the time for this, even though I know it is really important.

And in a good week, when I’m eating healthy and exercising and meditating and business is good, when the family is functioning well and there are no emergencies, I still don’t make enough time to read, journal, create art, spend time with friends, call relatives, and other things that I consider to be quite important. Can you relate?

The days, the weeks, the months fly by, and I am not ahead of my goals. I am barely keeping up, and I am often tired.

So, perhaps the most important “goals” are to try to strike a livable balance, and to embrace the imperfection. To accept that I am doing the best I can and that my best effort is enough. I am enough. You are enough, too!

Some weekends I even add “rest” to my to-do list. I make time to sit outside and enjoy my butterfly garden, looking at a magazine or simply daydreaming. I guess even in those moments, I am accomplishing something that’s important to me.

Because once a while, doing nothing is a virtuous goal, and worth devoting some time to.

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth