Sharing a recent article I was quoted in….
Acupuncture has gotten a reputation for helping with weight loss. Something about “magic ear seeds” that help you dump the weight has garnered attention in minor circles and I constantly get approached by people wanting to know if acupuncture can help them shed the weight. When women (as well as the occasional man) come to me specifically for acupuncture for weight loss, I discuss with them realistic expectations and make them understand how acupuncture helps with their efforts.
The reality is that weight management is a complicated affair that requires a comprehensive, holistic approach to assure continuous success and as I outlined last year in a blog post specifically relating to weight control, acupuncture’s inherent holistic approach to healing makes it an excellent adjunct to any serious weight loss program.
I find however when it comes to weight control it helps to truly understand this holistic approach and requires a firmer understanding from the individual that embarks on this process as well as their dedicated engagement.
By engagement I don’t mean the usual “crank-up-the-exercise” and “watch-what-you-eat” type. I find that even a dedicated person fails in the long term if the process at any point feels like a struggle. Studies are constantly emerging showing that whenever any activity is engaged in with an underlying fear or obligation it is doomed to fail because it triggers a stress response in the body – the same stress response that forces us to hold on to the weight. Mindset is therefore key. However just knowing better does not lead to doing better. Many of us are bombarded with health advice everyday and we intellectually understand what we need to do but we simply can’t do it, or we do, but don’t get the results we expect.
Ever since I opened Harlem Chi I have been brainstorming the design of a comprehensive program to aid women (men too) on their weight management journey. I hear what individuals who come to me struggle with and have wanted to design a program that is flexible to address the roadblocks encountered in real time in a supportive environment that does more than inform but works more directly with individuals to address mindset issues to help them make the lifestyle changes that will have a longer lasting impact.
Over a year ago I was introduced to Melissa Rapoport, a certified nutrition counselor with a master’s in psychology who works specifically around mindset issues that afflict us when we are trying to make the right health choices. She works from a solid real and whole-foods based approach that really resonated with me. Since our first encounter we quickly became friends and have been meeting almost every week to share and commiserate.
Melissa has led several successful women focused groups around “real food” diet and lifestyle aimed at fostering the right environment to not only inform women but to provide the right amount of support, address implementation blockages, and hold women accountable so that they can adopt the successful mindset to make lasting changes.
And so the program I’ve dreamed about has come to fruition. We have co-designed an intensely interactive face-to-face program that combines the best of East and West to address the real day concerns of people embarking on their personal journeys.
If you are struggling with weight issues or know someone who is find out more about our program here. We look forward to launching this phenomenal event this Spring…
Countless practitioners around the globe were in shock and devastated by the recent news of the passing of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. To say that I was deeply affected by this news is an understatement. Today I find it important to write something about this Master teacher that had such a profound impact on my practice.
After my first seminar with Dr. Tan just three years ago I was so blown away by what he was able to unlock around my understanding of Chinese Medicine that I took every seminar I could with him during an intense two year period. I was devastated when he had to cancel another seminar I was planning to attend in San Diego this past summer. I knew he was ill but I was praying that I would see him again.
There is no doubt that Chinese Medicine lost a legend. But for those who were fortunate to study with Dr Tan we know what an immense blessing it was to have seen him in action. For those who chose to assiduously study and apply his teachings to recognize their full potential we are more than grateful to have shared his passion and understand our debt to him and his vision.
Dr. Tan challenged all his students not to simply follow him or take his teachings as the gospel but insisted we diligently practice the teachings to make the theory and medicine come to life.
“When you cast a pole in the sun you must see its shadow.” This was more than a simple admonition from the great teacher that acupuncture “always works” — it was a challenge to all of us to rethink, restudy, reconsider our diagnoses and continually deepen our understandings to effect dynamic change everyday with our patients in our practice.
Dr. Tan’s teachings were impressive because they emanated from a thorough and deep study of the Classics. His genius was in his ability to distill the Chinese classics over many years of study and unlock a logic that only a brilliant mind could decipher. This “logic” is what he shared in his seminars with his student practitioners and provided them with the ability to continue to evolve the art and science of acupuncture in their clinical practice. He provided the bridge between the philosophy and theory to actual clinical practice in a way that has eluded many. In addition once you’ve attended a Tan seminar you read the Classics and anything surrounding Chinese medicine with a valuable, distinct, and discerning perspective. Numerous are the numbers of practitioners around the world who speak of revolutionizing their practice after studying with Dr. Tan.
He exuded the type of confidence that only comes with true merit and the assurance that he was called upon to share this knowledge for a greater purpose. His intention was never to play the guru and clothe his teachings in mysticism. His confidence came from a higher calling and thus his intent was to make this knowledge truly accessible to those who would use that knowledge to further study and explore. He not only wants his practitioners to bring this medicine to greater throngs of people globally, particularly in the West, but to empower them to usher this medicine in its rightful place for the healing of this planet in the 21st Century.
Dr Tan was a great teacher because his wisdom was inspired, his mission was selfless and his compassion was great. While I am deeply saddened that I will not see Dr. Tan again I am grateful that he will always inspire my every contact with every patient. He will continue to be one of the driving spirits behind my lifelong devotion to this art and science.
Like every true master with a higher mission Dr. Tan made sure that his teachings would survive him. He trained master students who will continue to propagate the teachings and infuse future generations with the dynamic spirit of Dr Tan and his legacy.
Thus his spirit will not rest in peace but will continue to inspire continued healing for generations to come.
His shadow is cast!
Thank you Dr. Tan.
According to the Chinese calendar — the summer season officially began the first week of May. Thus, a month and a half prior to the official day of summer many Eastern traditions begin to pay heed to the changing season. Continuing with our seasonal attunement series — we focus on one aspect of what it means to remain balanced and in health during the most yang of all seasons — Summer.
Five Element Theory — The FIRE Element
As discussed in a previous blog — the ancient Chinese recognized the connections among the energetic influences they called the Five Elements (or 5 Phases — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water), and understood the specific energetics that predominate in any given phase of the cycle of seasons. The energetic element associated with the hottest, most yang season of Summer is Fire.
Summer is the season where the yang energies that began to sprout in the Spring grow into their maximum expression and potential. In nature we witness the spring buds bloom into flowers that then make their pollen available to bring forth more life. The days are longer and nights shortest.
According to Chinese medicine the energetic organ which most resonates with the fire phase is the Heart. When we speak about “energetic organs” it is important to understand that the Organs from a Chinese medicine perspective are functionally defined entities and not equivalent to the anatomical organ of the same name. While they encompass the anatomical function of the organ as properly understood from a Western perspective, they also, perhaps more importantly, encompass a wide range of metaphysical and spiritual understandings that give us the tools to better understand the wide spectrum of the mind-body connection in ways that only recently have we been able to articulate from a Western perspective.
The Heart — Connection to Divine Brilliance
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than when we meditate on the function of the Heart from an Eastern perspective. The calligraphy for the Heart is the picture of an empty vessel. It is understood that this vessel must remain clear to maintain the brilliance and clarity of the Heart. Thus the inner work that we as humans are charged with is to keep this vessel “clear” in order to be able to connect with the divine brilliance around us.
The Heart and Our Psychological Integrity
In addition, while the function of the Heart in traditional Chinese medicine parallels its Western anatomic function of pumping blood throughout the body to maintain life, it is also intimately involved with mental and emotional processes. The clear vessel of the Heart is said to house the “shen” – a term that has been invariably defined as “spirit” or “mind.” Thus, considered the residence of the Shen, the Heart is considered the elemental organ most responsible for our psychological integrity.
Nourishing the Heart
Those with a healthy Fire element:
2) Connect with life and are inspired by the Yang nature around them;
3) Connect with oneself by clearing the mind to nourish the Heart.
Accordingly, in order to strengthen the Heart, Summer is the perfect season to:
1) Try something new that brings joy and connection;
2) Engage more with the outdoors to connect with nature — Whether it is engaging in outdoor sports (Get out of that gym!!!) or simply spending more time in nature;
3) Diversify your social connections and engage meaningfully with people;
4) Make healthy food choices by being mindful of and enjoying everything that is in season and less of what can be stored. (Save that for the winter);
5) Start or deepen a regular meditation practice of some sort to calm the mind and be the clear vessel needed to “connect” with yourself, others, and the divine brilliance around you.
Unfortunately for many seasonal allergy sufferers Spring can be both a welcome and a burden. Sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, congestion, runny nose and sinus headaches are what many have to look forward to this time of year.
It is important to understand that the symptoms allergy sufferers experience are a sign of a suboptimal functioning of the immune system. It isn’t the allergy itself that’s the problem, but a person’s reaction to the allergens. Typical symptoms are a result of the body’s hypersensitivity to substances in the environment. Substances that are normally harmless, such as pollen, now represent a threat to many.
Western medicine views seasonal allergies as a form of immediate hypersensitivity reaction, which occurs when anti-bodies produced by lymphocytes interact with airborne particles such as pollen. The locations of of these lymphocytes in addition to being in the blood stream are also in Peyer’s patches in the gastrointestinal tract, spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. Interestingly often times a typical acupuncture treatment consists of treating the Spleen, Stomach, and Large Intestine meridians as a way to balance and regulate those systems to address the exaggerated immune response. Just one example of the overlap of Western and Chinese medical thought.
In fact, Chinese Medicine operates from a fundamental systems-based understanding of the functioning of the body where a complex meridian system ties a number of functional activities in the body together. The task is always to restore balance and aid the body in better regulating those activities. Thus a weak digestive system (first line of defense) may be at the base of one allergy sufferer’s symptoms whereas one’s Liver detoxification system (second line of defense) (as discussed in a previous blog) might be the weak link in another. A typical acupuncture session always seeks to access the proper system to address the imbalance.
While there are many medications to treat the symptoms of seasonal allergies, conventional treatments, which consist primarily of antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, focus on suppressing the symptoms and can cause unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness and immune system suppression as well as an over-reliance on medications. These side effects motivate many people to search for alternative approaches to manage their allergies.
Fortunately, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a safe and natural option. With acupuncture there are no such side effects and most often an immediate response. Most people end up significantly reducing or eliminating their dependence on allergy medication. People usually get relief during their first acupuncture treatment. It is often recommended to come in for treatment prior to the onslaught of allergy symptoms to address the underlying imbalances. A normal course of treatment may include a series of acupuncture treatments with a prescription of herbal remedies as well as recommendations for dietary modifications.
So to all allergy sufferers out there — Give TCM a try this season. Make your next appointment with your acupuncturist today.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its roots deep within ancient Taoist philosophy. The ancient Taoists were keen observers of nature and human beings within nature and recognized universal laws underlying the existence of all things. They taught a holistic picture of human life and its relationship with all external manifestations in the Universe. For instance external phenomena observed on the planet — geographic, climatic and seasonal, were not viewed as separate and distinct from internal changes such as emotions and our responses to them. To understand one meant to better comprehend the other. One of the primary laws recognized and respected by the Ancient sages is the “universal law of energy response.” It is the understanding that energies respond to and attract energies of corresponding frequencies. Thus the physical, emotional, and mental energies of a person in harmony with universal laws will be harmonious. Those who violate the laws of nature manifest disorder, disharmony and disease.While for many of us living in harmony with nature 24/7 is something we would like, most of us feel it it is not necessarily something we can achieve — particularly when we interact with our modern world. However, if we can at least be open to the idea that we are not separate from Nature and actualize that awareness in our daily living we can begin to understand the wisdom of our ancient and modern day sages. Living in harmony with the seasons is one way to actualize this and has always been a fundamental tenet underlying Chinese medicine. It is a recurring focus whenever we speak about nurturing optimal health. Attuning ourselves to the seasons is a necessary step to find our way and begin the journey towards attaining and maintaining true health. Future seasonal blogs will continue the conversation around seasonal attunement. Let’s begin with Spring…..
“The months of the Spring season bring about the revitalization of all things in nature. It is the time of birth….this is the season in which the universal energy begins anew and rejuvenates…one should attempt to correspond to it directly by being open and unsupressed, both physically and emotionally.” Huangdi Neijing
“The Liver holds the office of General .[and] storm[s] the fortifications in pursuit of bandits“ — Basic Questions, Chpt.8, SuWen
So it’s been a brutal winter — again — and as soon as we begin to sense the awakening of nature around us we feel like it is time to fetch the oil to grease our cranky selves and try to regain the pep in our step and the flex in our muscles. We instinctively feel the need to move and shed our layers. Spring marks the season where yang energies begin to emerge and mother nature awakes from its state of dormancy out of the cold winter season. It can be a heady, invigorating, sometimes disturbing season with wild fluctuations of energy surging throughout nature as birth, arousal, and movement. And our bodies naturally resonate with these energies. If we are in good health we immediately spring along, if we’ve been neglectful we sputter….
It makes sense that the climatic energy most associated with the Spring season – from a Chinese medicine perspective – is Wind. The concept of Wind in Chinese medicine is extensive. As Chinese medicine evolved over the centuries, so too did the physiological concept of wind. For instance Wind is understood as arising not only from our external environment — such as the onset of common allergens including the food we ingest to nourish ourselves — but also the internal movements often caused by our myriad of emotions (concept of internal wind).
What’s My Liver Have to Do with It?
From the Chinese perspective the liver is the organ that needs the most attention during the turbulent “Windy” season. To understand this we must review the role of the liver.
As the main blood detoxifier our liver is the second line of defense against all types of allergens and disease (our digestive system being the first). It is our body’s primary blood filtration system and acts as a sieve to catch all the toxins that enter the body and make it through the blood to the liver. The body’s primary source of toxins comes from the choice of inappropriate foods. Simple things – such as stimulants (sugar, salt, caffeine, MSG), overcooked meats, rancid fats, hydrogenated fats, highly processed foods, food additives and preservatives, bad food combinations and even natural foods that are not appropriate for certain people – easily load up the body with toxic substances (“the bandits”) that the liver, as the second line of defense has to process. Toxicity also arises due to drugs, lack of exercise to aid the liver in moving the blood supply, and even toxic emotions that forces the liver to stagnate.
The liver is also a main catalyst to most of our crucial metabolic processes in our body. Almost every nutrient we consume goes through the liver after being digested so it can be transformed into a useable biochemical form. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all processed in the liver and turned into a readily useable form of glucose that is then distributed to the rest of the body. The liver produces a host of enzymes and hormones that facilitates the extensive digestive process.
Blood Storage House
In addition our entire blood supply goes through your liver as many as 20 times/day. To this end, the liver is a major regulator of your circulating blood. It releases vital nutrients, enzymes and hormones through the blood stream as the body needs it.
Why is My Liver Stagnant and/or “On Fire”?
Though active all year, in the Spring the Liver is especially relied upon to function optimally to respond to the rising yang energetic influences. Unfortunately, during the process of filtering and detoxifying the blood, producing hundreds of enzymes and hormones, and regulating the volume of circulating blood, the liver tends to become congested. If this blood-rich organ retains stagnant blood and metabolic waste — which typically happens after winter’s inactivity, it will result in a condition popular in TCM parlance as “stagnant Liver Qi and Blood” and in more extreme conditions lead to “Liver Fire”.
According to Chinese medicine, the Liver controls the smooth and harmonious flow of both Qi (understood more broadly as the basis and impetus for a myriad of metabolic and energetic processes) and Blood. Any obstruction to this flow will cause a serious functional disruption in the circulation of vital energy and vascular components. Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood, an all too common disorder, is revealed through a myriad of symptoms we experience often but tend to medicate which often leads to more congestion and complications down the road. Physical symptoms such as muscle pain, menstrual cramps, trembling movements, poor balance, certain headaches, neck pain, numbness in hands and feet, vision problems, and many digestive ailments, may often be a result of Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. The mental and emotional symptoms can run the spectrum from frustration and irritability to anger and rage.
Vicarious Detoxification as a Result of Liver’s Failures
Many ailments we experience and might seem unrelated are often a direct result of an overloaded liver. When the liver is unable to effectively perform its detoxification processes the toxins tend to spill over and tax other systems namely our respiratory and immune systems.
One example are seasonal allergies. Seasonal allergies are often related to an overloaded toxic state within the liver. When the liver’s efficiency in cleansing the blood of toxins is compromised, such toxins overload the immune system causing it to pour out inflammatory chemicals (histamines, etc.) which may cause the common symptoms of hay fever, itchy rashes, hives, etc.
Difficulty with Weight Control
When the liver is congested there may be a build-up of fat-soluble toxins (such as insecticides, plastics and pesticides), drug metabolites or waste products of metabolism in the fatty tissues and liver. This slows down the metabolism of the fatty parts of your body and also over-burdens your liver. This means that the liver burns fat less efficiently.
Some people have multiple food and chemical sensitivities, which make it difficult for them to follow a set diet. These problems are generally associated with reduced ability of the liver to break down chemicals and proteins (antigens) as part of its detoxification process.
Stress and Irritability
On an emotional level the Chinese intuitively understood the Liver’s role in managing the internal winds of our existence — namely our emotions. When you’re are having difficulty managing life stresses this could be a sign that your Liver needs “coursing”. This is causing you to be tense, irritable or depressed. In reverse these emotions also has a direct impact on our liver.
(More on the Liver and its relationship to menstrual issues in a future blog.)
Thus as we awaken from the relative conservation state of the winter — our bodies need to be revitalized, supple and flexible. A stagnant Liver makes this transition difficult and as you can see can cause a constellation of dysfunctions.
Making sure that our liver works as efficiently as possible is the best thing you can do for your health leading up to and during the Spring season. Chinese medicine has a long history of helping the liver remain supple and flexible with acupuncture and herbal medicine.
The next blog will discuss some of the other things you can do to revitalize your Liver. Another entry talks specifically about liver cleanses and detoxification, which is a highly recommended practice when done right.
“The essential art of Chinese medicine is the foretelling and prevention of disease rather than the treatment of illness after it has manifested as painful or distressing physical and mental symptoms.” Tao — The Subtle Universal Law, Lao Tzu
In a previous post I discussed why paying attention to your liver is so important particularly in the Spring. Here are things you can be doing to support your liver and improve your health this season.
1) Cleanse Your Liver — This is probably one of the best times of the year to undertake a dietary cleanse with a focus on upregulating the liver’s capacity to perform its cleansing functions. While there are a variety of spring liver cleanses out there, all with similar intentions there are some general guidelines I think one should always follow before undertaking a cleanse which I’ve outlined in a separate entry. And of course limit (or eliminate) your intake of all types of processed food and turn your attention to the bounty of fruits and vegetables that will soon become increasingly available.
2) Consume sour food and drinks. According to TCM, sour flavors stimulate the liver’s Qi and facilitates the detoxification process. This is a great time to introduce in your diet certain fermented foods, have pure lemon juice in the mornings, and incorporate in your diet a variety of greens like mustard greens and watercress.
3) Early to Bed/Early to Rise
In TCM the Liver and its yang partner the Gallbladder is understood to be energetically active between the hours of 11pm and 3am in the morning. To be able to perform optimally its functions these organs need no distractions and a deep quietude. Thus it is important to get to bed early and to rise early with the sun and start your mornings off with some light stretching to get the blood moving.
4) Get Outdoors — The blooming plant life and warming temperatures offers the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and exercise. Exercise and fresh outdoor air stimulate the body’s energy (Qi), keeping it moving and flowing throughout the body. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk outside can make a world of difference in your health.
5) Consume Chlorophyll — Chlorophyll – the pigment responsible for giving all green plants their color – will strengthen your liver. Chlorophyll is known to exhibit antioxidant properties, fighting harmful chemicals within the body known as free radicals. Some excellent sources of chlorophyll include spinach, parsley, watercress, green beans, green peppers, Brussels sprouts, green peas, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, green apples, melon, honeydew and kiwi.
6) Take Care of Your Eyes — Did you know that your eyes are connected
to every organ in your body in some manner? With that said, the liver has the strongest connection to the eyes. When your eye health begins to decline, so does your liver. Take care of your eyes by limiting your time in front of electronic displays (e.g. computers and television) and have an eye exam performed by a licensed optometrist at least once every two years.
7) Seek Acupuncture — We can’t talk about ways to cleanse the body this spring without mentioning acupuncture. From relieving seasonal allergies to reducing pain and inflammation, the benefits of this Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are endless.
Patients always ask me about the latest cleanse “du jour”. There are a variety of cleansing regimens out there – all with the goal of cleansing your organs, resting your digestive system, and reducing the toxic load on your liver. However, how you go about your cleanse is very important. The benefits of cleansing are enormous but improper cleansing can be dangerous. Here is what you need to know before embarking on your favorite cleanse.
Feed Yourself First!
The mistake one often makes is wanting to jumpstart a detox regimen too quickly. So often we just try to lose weight or detox quickly, which can be extremely dangerous and very harsh on the system because you may be taking an already weakened system or deficient system and weakening it even further. Before you embark on that juice fast or pledge to eat wheatgrass for 1 week be mindful of how you ease into any cleansing process. Be careful to not drastically reduce your consumption of food and embark on draconian diets that fling the body into crisis mode. There are several reasons for this.
1) First our bodies digestive metabolism runs on our parasympathetic system. When we suddenly reduce our food intake the body goes into “fight or flight” mode and diverts its attention away from digestion and often the result is we end up holding on to what we need to expel rather than processing it through our system.
2) In addition, our fatigued organs need sustenance and nutrients to better perform its functions. Starving the body when it is already over-extended and run-down becomes counter-productive.
3) More importantly, along with the emergency releases that the LV will be forced to perform to respond to the “crisis” it can unleash a wave of toxic substances that it has been storing, which can have deleterious consequences.
Thus begin the process first by eating well and eliminating the toxic foods you have become accustomed to. It is important to start off by eating good protein sources. If one is a meat eater you may start out with organic meats because those are so fortifying and strengthening for the body. They’re also full of amino acids, which the liver needs to support healthy detoxification. If one has not otherwise already developed an allergic reaction to certain grains, eating healthy non-GMO grains is also a way to start.
Its All About the Chlorophyll
A green drink full of chlorophyll rich foods is a must to support your liver. Include any cereal grass sprouts or fresh greens such as kale, parsley, watercress, spinach, collard greens, etc. and have a green drink everyday.
And the Fats
Make sure to incorporate great sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in your Diet in the form of fish oil, coconut oil – either through food or in supplement form. Berries are also a great ingredient to add to the diet as they are full of eleagic acid to help the liver detoxify.
Incorporate Lemon Water and Herbal Infusions
Hot lemon water in the morning and herbal infusions throughout the day, especially in the morning is a great way to support the liver and help it to eliminate toxins.
Ease Into Your Cleanse
All the above serve to upregulate the detoxification system. You can then ease into a stricter cleansing program by gradually eliminating foods (such as proteins in animal form and then vegetable proteins) and by the time you start a stricter cleanse your body will be stronger and you will have all the prerequisites to support a really healthy liver detoxification. The body and liver will be more prepared “to relax” and take a breather from all the work it does for you all year.
Remember Cleansing is the first step in a long-term lifestyle change
Once the cleanse is over commit to cleaning your diet going forward. It is believed that after every successful cleanse people on average improve their diets at least 20%. It is counterproductive to go back to business as usual. The fact that you have chosen to embark on a cleanse already means that you are being more mindful. Cleansing is always a step to get you closer to your goal!
Happy New Year! Do you have a health-related New Year resolution this year? It is estimated that 75% percent of most New Year resolutions made by Americans involves a health goal – whether it is a vow to lose weight, start a new exercise regimen, eat a healthier diet, or quit smoking. Unfortunately, it is estimated only 8% of health related resolutions are successfully achieved. It is no wonder why we are desperate to be healthier. But how do we define and effectively meet our health goals in 2015? And how do we motivate ourselves to stick to it?
What the Human Genome Project Has Taught Us About Our Health
The massive international research effort to sequence and map all of the genes of our species – together known as the genome – was completed in April 2003. The HGP gave us the ability, for the first time, to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being. The expectation that we were hoping for when the human genome was being deciphered is that it would tell us exactly how specific diseases are mapped in our genes. What has been found is quite the opposite. We have discovered that genes only constitute about 25% to 30% of the hard-wiring to certain diseases and don’t necessarily code for specific diseases. The other 75% is related to things what we can change and do that’s personalized to our specific needs and constitution – more of a blueprint for how we function and evolve within our environment. Nothing is static.
We have also learned that we each have unique characteristics that give rise to how we respond to our environment, our lifestyles and so forth. What our genes are there to do is respond to how we live, how we eat, how we think, how we breathe, what we drink, how we move around the world, what environment we’re in.
While this may not have been such a welcome story for those seeking to continue to eradicate “disease” it is nonetheless a very empowering discovery in that we have confirmed that we do have more power over how we lead our lives and seek to lead the healthiest ones we can. We have also learned that we have much more to understand about how and when specific genes are expressed to animate our health history. There is a multitude of health stories that can be created with an individual’s genetic code. What story is ultimately told is still a mystery but very much in our power.
More and more studies are proving how a compromise in function that we experience in our daily lives left unaddressed can be a precursor to something more serious down the road. We also understand that we need to pay more attention to early signs of disruption in function whether physical, physiological, cognitive or emotional and work to restore normal functioning as much and as early as possible.
Thus our new year health resolutions matter. And so we need to figure out what it means to optimize our health. Health is no longer understood as the absence of disease. Health is something we continually strive to improve. True health means that you are functioning at your highest possible level. You are sleeping well, digesting well, eating well, and well managing your stress. Your body is in harmony, your mind is alert, and your spirit is calm. You have the energy you need to get the most out of life.
In this information age health advice and guidance are continually flung at us from every corner and we seem to always be obsessing about the latest health fad. During the last few weeks of 2014 I sat back and thought about what I thought should be the overriding simplified philosophy that could guide one on this journey to becoming healthier human beings. I boiled it down to two practices that we need to start with: 1) Defining and finding connectedness; and 2) Mindfulness in our actions.
Defining and Finding Connectedness
I truly believe that at the root of our “dis”eases is our increasing disconnectedness from the world/nature around us and to each other. One fundamental principle underpinning Eastern philosophy and medicine is our connection to the whole. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. For instance, our health is a direct reflection of the health of our earth. Daverick Leggett in his book “Recipes for Self-Healing” expressed it this way — “the erosion of soil and the gases of the upper atmosphere, the deforestation, the over-consumption of resources, all resonate within our bodies…The modern phenomena of deficiencies in the immune system have their parallel in the thinning of the earth’s protective layer, the increase in lung condition has its parallel in the destruction of forest, and candida in human intestines has its parallel in the overgrowth of yeast and fungus in much of the earth’s soil. “
Such realizations might seem overwhelming to the average person just trying to stay healthy but it is relevant to the choices we make everyday. For instance, we all know that we are what we eat. The quality of the nutrients we put in our body depends on the relationship we have with the earth that produces it. Thus the word “organic” becomes more than a label that we blindly run after but should be something we actively seek by reestablishing a beneficial relationship with the earth.
How do we individually go about this without abandoning our modern lifestyle? We reconnect with the farms that have made that decision to engage in sustainable farming practices, we make the decision to join a CSA this year, we try to eat as simply as possible with the freshest ingredients possible, we get reacquainted with traditional diets that make use of all types of plants to nourish our bodies.
We have all heard Michael Pollan’s mantra, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Simply said but so difficult to implement in this age. Eating food has become a forensic exercise for most Americans because we have become so far removed from “real food”. Today there are too many middlemen in the food chain that have caused us to be nutritionally deficient. In addition – in the midst of this confusion, we are bombarded with experts telling us what nutrients we should be taking as if those nutrients could exist and have effect in and of itself without respect for the ecology and synergies that created these nutrients in the first place.
What I tell my patients all the time is that if we want a good quality of life we should only be eating what gives us “life”. Any food that can survive days on a shelf or that needs a marketing budget to tell us what nutrients it has been enriched with is most probably what we should not be eating. If your food does not rot it does not have life.
Understanding and the implementation of this simple philosophy is very difficult in our modern world. Michael Pollan also speaks about the number of ingredients in food having an indirect correlation with how healthy the item is. Thus in 2015 we need to continually strive to avoid the industrial middlemen, be mindful of how we can reconnect with the earth and traditional based diets that rely on simple ingredients that come straight from the earth.
If you are still overwhelmed by the state of the earth’s ecology remember that what you decide to put in your mouth to nurture yourself is the most powerful activist statement you can make to begin to move things on a global level as well.
Which brings me to the other contemplation over not only our connection to this earth that we are a part of but those we share the earth with. Whether we want to face it or not our fate on this earth is bound inextricably with everyone who inhabits it. But human connection is more directly linked to our ability to keep our health-related new year resolutions as well. For instance, studies have shown that most diet and exercise resolutions fail because people try to do them alone. Studies also show that when people feel lonely, they give up on tasks more quickly. Connection reduces loneliness and increases perseverance, which is essential for completing mentally tough challenges like losing weight.
Connection is also a contributing factor to health in general. Research shows that feelings of connection affect neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine), hormones (chemical messengers that travel throughout the body including adrenaline, cortisol, oxytocin, and vasopressin), and enzymes that affect chromosomes (such as telomerase). These biochemicals help us thrive and live longer. People who are connected handle stress better too, making it less likely that you’ll devour that bag of chips or cookies as a stress-reducer at the end of a long day.
So achieving your health-related resolutions can be supported by seeking a group, an accountability partner, a health practitioner who can provide you with the encouragement and support you need to persevere.
Mindful Lifestyle Modifications – One Day at a Time
Which brings me to another element which I feel should underscore any resolutions you make this year. Setting meaningful intentions and goals is very important if we want to achieve them; but it is the little steps we consciously and consistently take every day along the way that really helps us to achieve them.
Often just a simple and consistent change in a lifestyle habit is enough to start the boulder rolling that will help build momentum to achieve the greater goals. A friend of mine, Melissa Rapoport, who is a nutritional health & wellness coach in Harlem, ran a 30-day challenge (“30 Days of Transformation”) where she coached her blog followers to make one simple lifestyle modification a day. The tasks were very simple — like consciously setting the table to sit down to have a meal, to getting rid of clutter in your immediate work environment. She also introduced small achievable nutritional changes that did not involve changing your entire diet over a short period of time. After the challenge many who were skeptical but took the challenge anyway were amazed at the impact the mindful modifications had on their lives. Surprisingly, many reported shedding some pounds though that was never the intent of the challenge. So little changes matter and cumulative changes matter a great deal. It suffices to be mindful about the changes we need to make in our present moment and take it small steps at a time. With mindful consistency you will be surprised where you will find yourself 1 year from now.
Thus here is to a Mindful Connected Healthy New Year!