I love this time of year in Raleigh, North Carolina. The dogwoods and azaleas are blooming, and the trees have this freshness of new green.
And then there is the YELLOW! It turns all cars into a uniform color of yellowish-green and covers the entire city. I drove down the highway at dusk and suspected that there must be a fire somewhere. And then I realized that the haze was created by pollen.
Personally, I am fortunate. I sneeze a few times and am done with it. My poor dog Mr. Darcy has a more intimate relationship with the pollen because he does what dogs do – sniff. I am sure he’ll be glad when it’s over.
For those suffering from allergies, the beauty is lost when you try to view it through watery eyes.
I know that there are enough medications available but I want to talk about a device that I have personally used for years: a Neti Pot. It is a little porcelain pot, looking like a mini watering can, and it is used for nasal irrigation. I started using it upon the recommendation of a friend. I had had a very bad cold and was completely stuffed up. Well, that cleared it out like nothing ever did.
Neti Pots are not new inventions. They come from ayurvedic medicine and are centuries old. If you google ‘Neti Pot’, you’ll easily find recommendations from WebMD to the Mayo Clinic. You can also find Youtube videos that show you how to use one.
I want to add my own endorsement as a regular user: ever since I began using one, I rarely had a cold, and I always have the great sensation of freedom of breathing because my nasal passages are clear. It may seem a little strange at first, but I believe it is worth giving it a try.
It happened again: daylight savings struck; somebody stole an hour of sleep from me and I have only now adjusted to it. I love daylight savings time with the extra hour of daylight in the evening but I need a week to get used to it.
That prompted me to reflect on the importance of a good night’s sleep. It’s not that easy to come by, it seems, judging by the amount of sleep medication that is prescribed nowadays.
While there are disorders that interfere with sleep and need medical intervention, there are habits you can develop, and here is what the Mayo Clinic suggests as a first line of help:
No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There's a caveat, though. If you don't fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you're tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.
No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don't go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine which take hours to wear off can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual
Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book (personally, I suggest Henry David Thoreau), or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.
No. 4: Get comfortable
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.
No. 5: Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you're struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.
If you work nights, you'll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn't interrupt your daytime sleep.
No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.
No. 7: Manage stress
When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
Know when to contact your doctor
Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.
I just came back from listening to a wonderful concert by the North Carolina Symphony.
As I was ambling around in the lobby before the concert and during intermission, then watching my fellow concert-goers in the concert hall itself and looking at the musicians on stage, I began the think about good posture of the human body.
While there is a concept of ideal posture as shown in anatomy books, each person has the capacity to have the best posture possible within the framework of his/her body. As those thoughts crossed my mind, I looked around.
There are the seats on the concert hall which make it almost impossible to sit upright. Just about everybody I watched was in a posterior pelvic tilt, forward rounded shoulders and a head that was jotted forward. In this position, you can’t take a full and deep breath. I remembered reading that shallow breathing can alter blood chemistry because of the relative lack of oxygen. This can lead to many problems, including depression. When we see somebody who is really upset and we try to calm the person down, we usually suggest to relax and to take a deep breath.
I also thought how much of this position I was watching in the concert hall was the normal position for many people for the greater part of the day. So it was little wonder that standing postures were not much better. There was still the pelvic tilt, the forward rounded shoulders and the head-forward position.
So: what can you do about it? It is my firm belief that bad posture starts as a bad habit and that much ban be corrected through awareness alone.
So stand up straight and take a deep breath.
Just came back from the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute in Alexandria, Virginia. As with the many IDEA conferences I attended before, this one provided interesting sessions by world class presenters. I returned home with food for thought, 12 foam rollers, 1 Bosu (already spoken for) and 2 Lebert Equalizer bars.
As is always the case at IDEA conferences, it is an opportunity to renew acquaintances, to network and to exchange ideas with other trainers. It was fun to contrast this conference to IDEA World Fitness which is larger in scope and attendance and also focuses on group exercise. The dynamic of the (mostly) younger instructors makes IDEA World Fitness noisier, and the large international attendance has always been fun for me. But I also appreciated the lower key of the Personal Trainer Institute. It felt like a conference for the grown-ups :-)
The thing that struck me this time was the increased focus on stress reduction strategies which were discussed in several sessions I took. Of course, there is MELT with its application to quiet the stress reflex. But I also learned about the correlation of breathing and potential weight loss and nutrition consideration to reduce inflammation. The nervous system is beginning to be a more prominent player in the fitness consciousness, and the central role of the enteric nervous system (of the gut) is included in the discussion. Funny that I just finished reading an entire book about the enteric nervous system! It made comprehension of those concepts so much easier.
Now I need to digest the information without letting myself get stressed about it :-)
Reading is a great pastime for me, and right now I am learning about the enteric nervous system which is that part of the nervous system that regulates the entire digestive tract. The book is called ‘The Second Brain’; it is by Michael D. Gershon, MD.
What caught my attention was the fact that our digestive system, particularly the colon, is host to a myriad of bacteria, all in perfect balance so the good guys are controlled by the bad ones. I had been reading about the concern about the extensive use of antibiotics but I had not understood to consequences as well as I do now. We all know that it takes quite some time to create a new antibiotic; but a bacterium can reproduce after about 20 minutes! No wonder that they can be resistant so quickly! You may think that this is not a problem if you rarely, if ever take antibiotics. However, it you eat meat and chicken, chances are that you are ingesting antibiotics after all because many farm animals get that added to their feed because of the farming conditions in which they are kept.
I do not mean to spoil anybody’s appetite, and I am also not suggesting that you become a vegetarian (which I am) but it may be wise to look for meat and chicken that has been raised without the use of antibiotics. It may cost a little more but this could be a small price to pay in the long haul.
On my forays into the audiobook section at my local library, I recently stumbled into the book “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the power of Possibility” by Ellen J. Langer. As I listened, I was more and more intrigued by the findings.
The Romans already declared that there is a healthy mind in a healthy body (mens sana in corpore sano), some believe in “Mind over Matter”, and the researchers are looking into the relationship between mind and body.
The subject of Ellen Langer’s book explores this relationship, and she does so from an interesting angle. Henry Ford observed quite correctly: "Whether you believe you can, or you can't, you are right", and it appears that this statement extends well beyond academic accomplishment.
Ellen Langer demonstrates in an experiment that it is possible to turn back the clock. She took nursing home residents and placed them into an environment reminiscent of a time many years earlier, and – in a way – people were told to role play for the duration of the study. And – guess what – at the end of the study, the participants had many significant improvements on a vast array of measurable parameters.
Ellen Langer also looks at language and how it can empower or disempower. This struck a chord for me because – as a trainer – I always like to challenge my clients to do new and different things even though I am careful to only pick things that are within their reach. I sometimes encounter clients who initially will state that they do not believe that they can do it. Usually they then proceed to do the ‘impossible’, and this budding believe into their own abilities then feeds on itself.
It is not possible to do this book justice in just a few paragraphs. I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. You may just end up being several years younger at the end of it.
Are you planning to make any New Year’s Resolutions? Do you feel that you may as well get the list from last year because you have not made any progress on any of those good intentions?
Personally, I believe in New Year’s Resolutions. It feels to me that there is an opportunity for a new start. But how can you make sure that, this year, you will really accomplish your goals?
Here are a few recommendations. I have used weight loss as an example, as this is probably the # 1 goal for most people.
- Keep a food diary. This is a proven tool in those who are successful at losing weight.
- Define small steps and be specific. For example: “I will replace caloric drinks with non-caloric drinks.”
- Increase your activity level. No matter how you slice it: you need to expend more calories than you consume to lose weight. But if you are inactive now, start with small goals that you actually can achieve. Those small steps add up. I like pedometer that do nothing but counting steps. The ‘magic’ number is 10,000 steps a day. But if you are today at 2,000, aim for 2,500 first and then see whether you can increase the number gradually.
- I believe that virtue is usually lack of opportunity. Do not expose yourself to temptation. If you have a hard time to eat only one piece of chocolate, don’t buy a box and take it home. If you must, buy yourself ONE piece.
- Find out who your friends are and who the accomplices are. Friends will help you stay the course and will not tell you that ‘you have deserved a break’.
- Plan for setbacks. So: you’ve blown it yesterday. Big deal. There is no reason to kiss your entire plan good-bye. Get back on track immediately.
So what’s keeping you now? Sit down and commit your goals to paper. And then do the best you can to achieve them. Good luck, and a happy 2012!
I just had another Rolfing session this morning. I had MELTed before and thus checked in with my body to see if all was where it needs to be. I had worked out some kinks, and Jason took care of the rest when he applied the techniques of Rolfing.
MELT and Rolfing are so very complimentary to one another with their focus on fascia (which I also call connective tissue even though it is not the same). Both modalities are bodywork, MELT being ‘hands-off’ self-treatment, Rolfing hand-on (or ‘elbow-on’ as the case may be).
The effects of both modalities by themselves are astounding. I teach MELT one-on-one, in small groups as courses and as classes, and it is most gratifying to see one person, a few or many lie perfectly still after a class, reveling in the sensation that they have improved the way their bodies feel through their own intervention.
I often hear people explain MELT to others with the words that it feels as if you had a massage. And all you do is use a soft foam roller or the little balls for the hand and foot treatment.
After I left my Rolfing session with Jason this morning, my body felt totally aligned and every movement was completely effortless. I pondered on the synergy between the two techniques both of which produce remarkable results by themselves. But put them together …… I was ready to fly!
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to present MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) at the Annual Education Meeting of the North Carolina Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I was part of a panel, which featured ‘MS and Wellness’. I had two co-presenters, one a yoga instructor and the other a massage therapist.
Of course, MELT cannot cure MS. But MELT is a self-treatment technique for connective tissue, also referred to as fascia, and thus has benefits which are probably of even more relevance to those suffering from MS than for people who are – in our lingo – apparently healthy.
The impact of MELT on fascia is manifold. MELT is a process of ‘Assessment – MELT – Reassessment’ and invites the MELTers to check into their bodies, identify imbalances and then use the MELT techniques in the attempt to rebalance the body. This rebalancing results in a greater sense of re-alignment, and people after MELT often tell me that they feel taller and more aligned and have less pain.
While none of this is a remedy for MS itself, it can have an impact on problems that are secondary to MS. Let me give an example: after a fall, even in the absence of serious injuries, a person may limp or walk in a protected way. This way of walking can cause misalignment in the body, which in turn can create problems of its own. Those problems can make subsequent falls even more likely, causing an even more careful way of walking. This can easily lead to a downward spiral, which – while being initially caused by MS – ultimately is unrelated. And this is where MELT can be of assistance by breaking this cycle and restoring a better sense of the center of gravity and thus better alignment.
Another benefit of MELT is its impact on the stress response. After MELT, people are relaxed and often tell me that their sleep quality improves.
Yet another positive impact is the MELT foot treatment. I have a few friends with MS, and they tell me that the feeling in their feet is limited. I have witnessed how the application of the MELT foot treatment has created greater sensation in the feet and thus a better grounding.
As I stated before: MELT cannot cure MS. But it can help those with MS to deal with problems that are secondary to this disease.
I have just been through the longest weeks of my life. My mother died October 23, 2011 at the age of 81; they called it sudden death. The day before we had talked like every day, talking about her yard and my dog. At the end of the conversation, she instructed me - as she always did - to pet Mr. Darcy on her behalf. Then the usual 'talk to you tomorrow'.
The same evening, she was doing a crossword puzzle and then dozed off. She never woke up again.
As I am trying to wrap my mind around the events, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude in all my grief. Grateful that she lived to the very last minute of her life. Grateful that she did not suffer but gently transitioned.
After her partner of many years passed away over two years ago, I had begun to call my mom every day. My mom had great neighbors but I felt it was important the she would speak to at least one person each day. And for me to know that she was okay. Ultimately, that’s how I found out that something was not right and called help.
Calling every day kept us close and enabled both of us to share the big and the small of everyday life. And to say all that needed to be said.
I realized that even if I were to be given another five minutes, there would be nothing new to talk about.
I am grateful that there was nothing between us that was left unsaid.