online coaching using mind and body for a life worth living

The Defrocking of Dr.Oz

“Too often celebrity gurus lure consumers into wasting their money and pinning their hopes on pseudoscientific concoctions that are at best useless, and at worst dangerous.”-Paul Fidalgo

Last week, TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared before a Senate investigatory committee to defend imageshis claims that certain dietary supplements could cause “miracle” weight loss. Lawmakers called for the hearings as a result of a series of actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against fraudulent action in the nutritional supplement industry. Dr. Oz, one of the most trusted faces on American television, received the dressing down of his life, as senators used the opportunity to challenge his claims and increase their own visibility. While it was embarrassing for Dr. Oz, the hearings also pointed out the futility of the quick fix mentality that most Americans have toward diet and exercise. Perhaps the highlight was an accusation by Center for Inquiry spokesman, Paul Fidalgo, that Dr. Oz was “peddling snake oil” to consumers on his popular daytime talk show. It was extremely embarrassing for Dr. Oz, America’s High Priest of Health. One has to wonder if he can ever get his credibility back.

The nutritional supplement industry is one of America’s largest and most lucrative. Sales reached $11.5 billion in 2012, and are expected to to reach almost $16 billion by 2015. These are just total sales. The the profit margin generated by the industry is astronomical, as manufacturers are not required to identify much of what is actually in their products, and are not required to substantiate claims made about the efficacy of their products.FTC testimony stated, “The endless flood of unfounded claims being made in the weight loss industry vividly illustrates the challenges that we, and consumers, are up against.”

snake-oil1The industry also benefits from something that has become known as the “Dr. Oz Effect,” where sales skyrocket after receiving a televised endorsement by Dr. Oz. Key players in the supplement industry know that if they can get a celebrity endorsement, the American consumer is more likely to believe that the product works. This increases sales immediately, and the placebo effect (see “Really? The Power of Placebo, “June 23, 2014) convinces enough gullible consumers to become repeat customers.

While Dr. Oz may have deserved the public beating he received, he should not become the whipping boy for what is a far larger problem. The reality is that consumers need to take responsibility for what they purchase and use. It is difficult, if not impossible, to protect consumers from their own gullibility. Americans have been susceptible to this kind of marketing forever. Dr. Oz and the food supplement industry are merely the 21st century version of Dr. Love’s Traveling Salvation and Medicine Show. Certain segments of people who exercise tend to fall prey to these kinds of claims. People who are extremely overweight probably have a tendency towards being lazy. Miracle weight loss products that promise to “melt off pounds while you sleep,” are likely to ass33be things that they are going to try. Teenage boys, hoping to build those 20 inch biceps by next summer, are more likely to try that miracle potion that the latest Mr. Olympia is selling on the back of the magazine, as the industry preys on his optimism and impatience. Such marketing has been going on for decades and certainly did not begin with Dr. Oz and his cheesy, infomercial style.

Some players in the medical community have also jumped on the bandwagon and the line between legitimate, holistic medicine, and placebos has become blurred. Consumers, and their physicians, are looking for less costly alternatives to prescription medications, and enlightened doctors are prescribing appropriate nutritional supplements for their patients with positive effects. It is a rare PCP that does not suggest omega-3 fish oil, or vitamin D3, to their patients over age 40. Others are open to the idea that nutritional supplements can help with joint health, eye care, bone strength, and many other specific conditions. Appropriate use nutritional supplements can play a critical role in your personal wellness program. If you are training for fitness, sport, or strength, then supplements can be beneficial. Just don’t overdo it. A good protein powder, fish oil supplements, and a balanced diet where you consuming enough calories through healthy, natural foods, can allow you to attain your goals.

The defrocking of High Priest Dr. Oz should not be an indictment on the entire nutritional supplement industry. There are a lot of good outcomes from the appropriate use of nutritional supplementation. Beware of terms like “proprietary blend,” celebrity endorsements, outlandish claims, and advertisements that are just too over the top. Realize that nothing will replace hard work, self-discipline, and time. Remember that health and wellness is not a destination, but a lifelong process that hopefully, you can learn to enjoy.

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Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine

“Laughter is the best medicine.”-Bennett Cerf

Laughs, giggles, grins, guffaws, chuckles-whatever you call it, it’s not just childish behavior, but a necessary part of human wellness. A good laugh not only adds a little fun to your day, it has been proven to improve both short term and long term physical and mental health. A 2014 study conducted in California by Loma Linda University has finally proven what we’ve known all along, laughter is powerful medicine.

oldThe Loma Linda Laughter Study looked at 20 healthy older adults in their 60s and 70s, studying their stress levels and short-term memories. One group sat quietly while silently reading or listening to headphones. The second group watched humorous videos. After 20 minutes the groups were compared for their short-term memory. While both groups showed improvement in short-term memory, the laughter group had improved 43.6%, compared to 20.3% in the know on a laughter group. More importantly, the laughter group showed a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol by a ratio of more than 2 to 1. Another study, conducted by Vanderbilt University, showed that laughter increases our ability to burn calories, and another study by the University of Maryland showed that laughter can protect us from heart disease.

The Loma Linda Laughter Study also found that laughter has age defying benefits. “There are several benefits to humor and laughter,” explained the study’s co-author Gurinder S. Bains. “Older adults need to have a better quality of life. Incorporating time to laugh, through social interaction with friends, enjoying exercise in a group setting, or even watching 20 minutes of humor on TV daily, can enhance your learning ability and delayed recall.”

Multiple studies have shown that laughter can improve quality of life in multiple areas. Some of them are:laugh_me
1. Improved blood pressure
2. Reduction of stress hormones
3. Improved cardiac health
4. Releases pain relieving endorphins
5. Improves the immune response
6. Decreases depression
7. Enhances relationships
8. Provides a burst of energy
9. Positively effects blood sugar
10. Provides instant stress relief.

How can this research be incorporated into your wellness program? Funny you should ask. If you already possess a good sense of humor, use it more frequently. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, you can learn to have one and use it as a health building skill. Find things that make you laugh-TV shows, comic strips you enjoy, and funny movies. Refer to them daily. There are literally hundreds of humorous things on the Internet that you can refer to easily that can make you laugh. Sharing humor at your own expense is quite possibly, the most beneficial, as it reframes your situation and allows you to see things more realistically.

Be careful not to confuse sarcasm with humor. Don’t laugh at others’ expense or engage in inappropriate jokes and humor. Humor that results in pessimism defeats the purpose and does not lead to the positive benefits mentioned here.

I hope you found this helpful. Although I am not a doctor, I am going to suggest the following prescription:images
“Take two ha ha’s and call me in the morning.”-mindbodycoach.org

No co-pay required!

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Smile, It’s Good For You!

“When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” – Louis Armstrong

Smiling is one of the world’s great cultural universals. People all over the world instinctively do it at birth, and use it as a way to connect with others. It is, as the TV commercial says, the first thing that people notice about you. And, as Louis Armstrong said, a smile tends to be infectious. Smiling makes us feel good, but research shows that it does more for us than just that, it has a positive impact on all areas of our lives.

Shortly after birth, infants from every culture learned that a smile gets a positive reaction. It is a facial smileexpression that gets positively reinforced, and as a result is repeated often. This simple stimulus response behavior sets off a lifelong chain reaction that becomes self reinforcing due to brain chemicals that come into play. As children, most of us smiled over 200 times per day. As adults, a third of us smile more than 20 times per day, and 14% of us smile less than five times per day. There is research that indicates that this is one of the primary reasons why children enjoy life more than we adults do.

Charles Darwin, author of “The Origin of Species,” also developed the facial feedback theory in which he stated that the act of smiling itself makes us feel better, rather than smiling being the result of a good feeling. Darwin based this on the study of French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, who used electrical currents to induce smiles in test subjects. Other theories by pioneer psychologist William James stated the same thing, that the act of smiling itself is the cause of good feeling.

barack-obama-yearbook-photo-high-schoolIn addition to the immediate benefit that a smile provides, there is some research that indicates that a smile plays a major role in a person’s success in life and their longevity. The University of California at Berkeley conducted a 30 year longitudinal study that looked at people who smiled in their yearbook and examined their success and well-being later in life. By measuring their smiles, researchers could predict how well they did on standardized test scores, the quality of their marriage and relationships, and various other indicators of success. A 2010 Wayne State University study looked at baseball cards of banksMajor League ballplayers who played before 1950. They found a positive correlation between longevity and a smile. Players without smiles lived an average of 72.9 years, while players who smiled lived to almost 80! And, perhaps the most interesting study was conducted by British researchers, who found that just one smile could generate the same amount of positive brain chemicals as 2,000 bars of chocolate!

Here is the science behind what happens when we smile:
1. Endorphins are released-Endorphins are brain chemicals that make us happy, reduce pain, and lower stress levels. Endorphin release decreases the brain’s ability to release cortisol, a stress hormone associated with anxiety and weight gain.
2. Heart rate is reduced-This allows the body to work more efficiently, reducing the heart’s need to work hard, and prolonging the life span.
3. Mood elevation-A smile has the ability to improve mood almost instantly, regardless of whether the smile is sincere or not. One study had test subjects put a pencil in their mouth to facilitate a smile. Although the smile was phony, subjects reported improved mood in comparison to a control group who did not have pencils in their mouths.
4. Raises productivity-Smiling makes you more productive at work. There is some positive benefit to those silly animal pictures that pop up on your computer. People enjoy a quick smile, and return to work in a more productive state of mind. Just don’t overdo it!
5. Smiling improves interpersonal relations-People who smile regularly tend to be perceived as more trustworthy, are able to produce empathy, have less regret, are perceived as being younger than they are, and have more positive personal and business relationships. They score high on qualities like leadership.
6. Smiling makes you healthier-An improved immune system correlates to smiling. People who smile regularly spend less time being ill, spend more time exercising, and report a greater sense of physical well-being and wellness.

So there you have it, a simple, easy to do, mind-body exercise to improve the quality of your life in virtually every area. Why not do it regularly?

“All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”-Chris Hart

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Unwind With Ecotherapy

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”-Albert Einstein

A recent study conducted by the University of Essex in the United Kingdom has confirmed what sages BEJG5A Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale - The village of Gunnerside, England UKand shamans have known for centuries, nature has the power to heal mind and spirit. While people have intuitively known this, the scientific world refuses to believe anything without empirical studies and hard evidence. The UK study looked at the impact of walking outside in nature, as opposed to indoors at a mall or treadmill. They found that those who walked outside had a reduction in depressive symptoms of 71% as opposed to a 45% reduction in those who walked indoors. The study concluded that while walking is good in and of itself, walking outdoors in nature amplified the positive impact. Interesting footnote to the study was that 22% of those that walked indoors actually reported an increase in their depressive symptoms!

Being outdoors has long been associated with mindfulness, wellness, and health. Since the 1950s there has been a movement in psychiatry and counseling who find a medical answer to most mental health problems. There is a pill for just about any issue that a person has, as well as a series of letters that gives the problem a convenient label. One of the exciting developments in mental health over the last 15 years is the backlash against this trend. Researchers are looking for non-medical interventions and are finding high rates of success with common sense, old school practices. Nothing is simpler or more old school than being outside communing with nature. The movement to get people back into nature for their mental and emotional wellness has been commonly referred to as ecotherapy. Paul Palmer, chief executive of Mind, a British mental health organization states, “Our research indicates that people participating in ecotherapy receive health benefits, but also wider social benefits and cost savings that medication cannot deliver.”

A 2006 study done in the United States investigated the benefits of contact with nature and discovered that it can be a positive factor in prevention of mental health problems. This study suggested that cushinginvolvement with, and in, nature can serve as both an early intervention as well as an after-the-fact treatment. The study advocated “active, social, and vigorous contact with nature,” as the treatment method. While this study did not criticize more conventional methods such as psychotherapy and medication, it did cite ecotherapy as an important part of a total treatment plan. Getting people out of the high-tech society that we live in back into a corner natural state was deemed as a vital part of treatment. Richard Louv, author of the book “The Nature Principle,” labeled the problem “nature deficit disorder.” Numerous studies indicate that Louv is on to something with his diagnosis.

Large group comparisons of urban versus rural populations show that people who live in “green” areas have lower rates of depression and anxiety due to a “stronger sense of community and belonging,” as well as a health advantage which comes from a slower paced lifestyle and the benefits of a clean environment. Eight position paper published in the journal Urban Geography stated that, “although there are many benefits of big city living, high levels of happiness are not among them.” Statistics also show that people who make the move from city living to country show marked improvements in physical and mental health within the first three years. These benefits were fairly consistent across confounding factors such as income, employment, education, and personality traits.

damSo how can one incorporate this ecotherapy into their own life? While relocating to the country may not be practical, there are some things that virtually everyone can do to benefit from ecotherapy. As little as 20 minutes a day outside has been proven to change a person’s mental outlook and physical health drastically for the better. If you live in a city or densely populated area, take advantage of parks and public gardens that are available to you. Finding the time for outdoor hobbies such as hiking, canoeing, camping, and fishing can lead to a positive attitude adjustment. Outdoor exercise, when possible, can also be an incredibly positive experience. If you have children, introducing them to the great outdoors can be a preventative factor in their sense of well-being and self-esteem.

Get outside and experience ecotherapy for yourself. Tried and true, cost-effective, no co-pay, and no waiting room. And now we have the statistics to back up what many have known all along.

“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”-Theodore Roosevelt

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Put The I Over E

Human behavior is perhaps the most difficult thing there is to predict. The study of human behavior is homeroften referred to as “behavioral science,” but it remains hard to understand and explain. A person often does things that they themselves don’t understand. “Why did I do that?” or “That was stupid of me!” I’m sure you’ve experienced those reverse “ah hah” moments where you have done something stupid, usually rather impulsively and without a lot of thought before hand. There is, however a simple formulaic answer to these kinds of impulsive decisions and behaviors. While it is not a mathematical formula, it is helpful and leads to conscious decision-making and less impulsive behaviors.

The formula is commonly referred to as I/E. The I stands for Intellect, and the E stands for Emotion. When we are interacting with the outside world from a state of emotion, we are more likely to make irrational decisions, poor choices, and later on, are likely to find ourselves asking things like “Why did I do that?” The world of emotion isn’t a bad one, it’s just that it’s   often not realistic. The E is comparable to Freud’s Id, that is, the part of the personality that wants what it wants, when it wants it. The E tends to be impulsive, emotional, insecure, and often acts much like a hurt child. The I, on the other hand, tends to be more thoughtful, stable, and rational. The I takes in information, wisely considers available options, and then makes an informed decision. The I is comparable to Freud’s super ego, the executive, decision-making part of our personality. I’ve never been a huge fan of Freudian personality theory, and most contemporary psychotherapists are not either. His personality theory is too much to remember for most people in the heat of the moment, decision-making areas of life. We can remember, in the moment, the formula I/E more readily.

Let’s take a look at the I/E in practice. For example, let’s say that you’re going out to purchase that new car that you need. You check out a lot of different makes and models, and eventually get your heart set on that four-wheel drive Jeep that you’ve been admiring for a while. You make a decision to buy it, but later find that it does not meet your lifestyle. Your wife refurbished-electronics-3finds it difficult to use because it’s not useful for the kids, doesn’t accommodate the baby’s car seat very well, and she can’t drive a five speed. Not a well thought out choice which you will be hearing about for the next 36 months or perhaps longer.
The I/E often shows up in poor relationship choices. Many relationships people stay in are not healthy ones. Outsiders are quick to ask questions like, “Why doesn’t she leave him?,” and are often judgmental. The reason she stays defies logic, but there is an emotional attachment that she finds hard to break free from. She has put the E over the I. Reasons for most relationships are initially emotional. Some relationships eventually evolve into the I, but not all. A person who stays in a bad relationship has the formula upside down,E/I.
Virtually any situation in which anger comes out is indicative of a I/E imbalance. Internal dialogue such as, “Now I’m mad!,” are clearly emotional rather than intellectual. When the emotional mind takes over and starts driving the boat, we’re usually heading for trouble.
Good decisions that you made, more often than not, are because you put the I/E. Think about the best decisions that you’ve made over the course of your life. You probably find that you either instinctively put the I/E, or you thought it out rationally and made a conscious, intelligent choice. Maybe it involved your career choice, a relationship choice, or a living situation. Not all, but probably most good decisions you’ve made ended up with the I/E in proper alignment.

What’s good about this formula is that it is simple, easy to remember, and useful. It doesn’t take a lot to remember. The goal of this strategy is to allow you to take a step back and see what’s actually going on, as opposed to what you think, feel, or believe is going on. Initial thoughts, feelings, beliefs, are often emotional. They could be correct, but you’re better off being sure. Putting the I/E gives you an opportunity to be a little more certain before you act.

A good way to incorporate this into your thinking is to observe it first in others. Notice when people are making decisions from the E, rather than the I. You will soon notice it in your own thought processes. Over time you will begin to ask yourself more intelligent questions before you act. Keeping the I/E will become easy for you and help you to avoid a lot of problems.

Begin to put your intellect over your emotions and notice the improvement.

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Karate Do For A Balanced Life

“What’s old is new again.”-Anonymous

Twenty-first century mind body science has returned to the ancient ways of medicine, exercise, and meditationnutrition. What’s old has truly become new once again. Meditation is now touted as the solution to the emotional stress of modern living. The antidote for the hectic pace of modern life is mindfulness meditation, or yoga. If your pain management clinic fails, then acupuncture may be recommended. If your diet is poor, then you may want to look at eating grass fed beef, free range chicken, or maybe even a Paleolithic diet. Not a day goes by where at least one of these ancient ideas doesn’t pop up on your Internet home page as the latest cure for the problems of modern living.

There has always been a rift between the philosophy of the Western and Eastern worlds. The Western scientific method is interested in results that can be quantified through empirical studies. These results are broken down, dissected, analyzed, and retested. If the numbers aren’t there then the study is considered junk. Results are then considered to be anecdotal evidence, and that’s the end of it. Eastern science and philosophy has always remained more holistic and intuitive in its approach. Hunches, intuition, and even the placebo effect, are all considered valid in the eyes of Eastern science. Mental, physical, and spiritual aspects are all considered very meaningful and significant.

Perhaps one of the best Eastern wellness methods is the ancient art of karate do. According to legend, 250px-BodhidharmaYoshitoshi1887   karate do was developed in the fifth or sixth century CE by Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk who introduced the practice of Zen to China from India. Chinese accounts describe Bodhidharma as being appalled by the physical condition of the Shaolin monks to which he introduced Zen practices. He instructed them in a series of physical exercises to develop their physical conditioning while also teaching them moving meditation. His practice was designed to build internal and external strength, in fact his method translates to “Muscle/Tendon Change Classic.” In addition to the outside musculature, Bodhidharma was concerned with the internal physical structure of tendons and sinew, as well as with the mind and spirit. The martial or combat aspects were not his immediate concern. The goal of Bodhidharma’s training system was to create monks that were a healthy in mind, body, and spirit, equipping them with the skills to spread the Zen philosophy throughout China.

Bodhidharma’s art was primarily intended to be a way of life. The militaristic or combative aspects were secondary and merely a byproduct of the training. No doubt the defense aspects were there, but they were not the primary concern. This is what separates Eastern arts, such as karate do, from the Western arts like boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. Western combat walterarts are designed primarily for fighting and self-defense. Practitioners of these arts usually have a short shelf life, after which age and lifestyle changes prevent them from training. Karate do, and other martial arts that have descended from Bodhidharma’s philosophy, are intended to be lifetime arts that one practices as long as they are physically able. Practitioners of karate do are known to practice their art diligently well into their 80s and beyond. Practitioners, or karate ka, use their practice as a cornerstone in a healthy, balanced life in which they tend to their mind, body, and spirit on a daily basis. Like many things Eastern, balance is a critical concept of the practice.

Balance, to a karate ka, is both literal and figurative. Obviously the practice strives to create physical balance, the ability to move the body through space effortlessly and gracefully. This is achieved through training which builds the body from the inside out. Tendons become incredibly strong through karate training. The tendons are the guide wires which hold up the musculoskeletal system. The strength of the student is not always observable to the outside eye, and in fact, the student may not even appear to be strong. The strength of the student is internal, but make no mistake about it, the strength is in there. This conforms to the Eastern philosophy of internal strength, which stands in opposition to the Western ideal of external, observable muscle as being the key characteristic of strength. The Western karate student strives to have both.

The state of balance sought by a karate student is also figurative. Proper training creates mental and Joeemotional wellness. Studies show that people who are able to move well tend to be more connected and in harmony with their environment. They feel better because they move better. The mind-body connection translates this ease of movement to improved cognition and mental acuity. Put simpler, a healthy body is more likely to house a healthy mind. A daily practice that emphasizes movement creates a groundedness and connection to what is important for physical and emotional wellness. Karate do is among the best of the Eastern arts for accomplishing these goals.

Ideally, the practice of karate do begins in late adolescence when a person is more able to grasp the more esoteric aspects of the art. If started too soon, the art becomes virtually indistinguishable from Western arts such as boxing and wrestling. While there is nothing wrong with this, it shortchanges the student. Bodhidharma’s philosophy was for it to be much more than that. In typical Western fashion, karate and other traditional martial arts have become a quick fix and instant solution to a temporary issue such as “my child’s bad grades or ADHD,” or “I just got beat up by a bully.” Too bad. Such instant solution thinking misses the mark by a lot.

There certainly are other very valid Eastern philosophical arts that combine mind and body practice. Yoga, tai chi, aikido, and chi gong are those that come to mind for most people. In seeking an Eastern practice, be sure not to overlook karate do as an option. Karate do, when combined with Western training methods, creates the ideal system for training the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. It can be the missing part in your personal wellness program.



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Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

“Sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree?”-Annie Lennox

dreamsSleep is one of the most mysterious functions of the human body. Many of us have a kind of love-hate relationship with it. We know we need it. We get cranky without it. And when the demands of life get too high we try to get by with less of it, usually failing miserably in the process.

So what is sleep, why do we need to do it, what happens when we skimp on it, and how do we improve it? For centuries there was no scientific proof that sleep was even needed. All science knew was what happened when we didn’t sleep. It wasn’t until 2013 when the University of Rochester released a study on why sleep is needed that we had our answer. We now know that our brain needs sleep to survive. It seems that during sleep our brain cleans up the accumulated brain junk that builds up during our waking hours. Sleep eliminates these waste products, tidies things up, and allows for better functioning the next day. It seems that all human cells produce waste products as part of normal functioning. The rest of the body has the lymphatic system to clean cells, but the brain is separated from that so sleep aids the process. Cerebrospinal fluid carries these waste products straight down to your liver for elimination. During sleep this fluid moves twice as fast as normal, because your neurons shrink by half, making the pathways to the liver wider and more efficient.

We are all too familiar with how we feel when sleep deprived. No need to get into that here. In addition to what you already know, it’s important to realize that there is no mental illness or emotional disorder that a lack of sleep will not imitate. Sleep deprivation creates a type of faux mental illness that symptomatically is identical to the real thing. This means that in order to function at your optimum you must be getting sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep makes a proper mental health diagnosis difficult, if not impossible.

Here’s an interesting example of what happens with sleep deprivation or deficient sleep. In the former Soviet Union sleep deprivation was used as a type of subtle political torture. If a dissident was arrested, he would be evaluated to see if he was mentally fit to stand trial. He would be brought to a psychiatric sleep torture“hospital” to be evaluated. While there, the accused would be kept away from the outside world, living in windowless rooms without clocks while under constant observation. Every time the suspect laid down to sleep and dosed off he would be awakened within a matter of minutes and duped into thinking that long periods of time had passed. What he was told was a few hours was actually only a few minutes. Within a week the lack of sleep and erratic eating cycle would create psychotic symptoms. The suspect, now a full-blown psychotic episode induced by lack of sleep, was now incapable of standing trial. He would then be sent to a long term “psychiatric hospital” for further “treatment.” The suspect would be held there indefinitely. An incredibly sadistic, yet brilliant solution to political dissent.

There are many ways to improve and optimize our sleep. If you sleep fairly well now and would like to improve the process the simplest thing to do is to retire an hour earlier. Some studies have shown that in hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. If you struggle with sleep you may need to be a little more systematic about improving the process. Here are some potential solutions that you may find helpful:
1. Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco from your daily routine as much as possible. Most people underestimate the impact of these on their system, especially caffeine. “I can drink coffee and fall right to sleep,” may be true in some instances, but it tends to lead to poor quality sleep. Alcohol, and especially tobacco elimination prior to sleep is a no-brainer. Alcohol may induce sleep, but it disturbs REM sleep and the brain’s clean up process.

2. Turn your bedroom into a sensory deprivation chamber as much as possible. Eliminate as much light and some as possible. Eliminate the outside noises by using earplugs or white noise appliances. Heavy shades over windows help eliminate sleep disrupting light. There is a reason that bats sleep in caves!

3. Establish an evening pre-sleep routine that begins approximately an hour before bed. A warm bath, light reading, gentle stretching, warm milk, or a soothing bedtime tea, are useful ways to slow the body down. Meditation or journaling can be helpful in slowing the mind down. Simply venting on paper about your previous day or writing a to do list for the next can clear your mind, slow it down, and facilitate slumber.

4. Go to sleep only when tired. Remember, you can’t force yourself to sleep! This is the antithesis of what you are trying to accomplish. Think of it as a gentle process where you “slip” into a blissful state of rest.

5. Don’t be a clock watcher. Staring at the clock while struggling to sleep creates a negative internal dialogue, puts pressure on you, and disrupts the process. Remember, you can’t force yourself into a restful state.

6. Routine, routine, routine! Set one and stick to it! Your brain and body are incredible machines and function better when used in a predictable manner.

7. Use modern technology if you are tempted to stay awake to watch something on TV, or use the Internet. Record the damned thing for later and go to bed!

It may take up to 21 days to establish an efficient, effective sleep routine that works for you. Try combinations of these suggestions until you find what works for you.

puppySweet dreams…zzzzz……

P. S. Please share this article with the insomniacs in your life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Are Your Genetics Your Fate?

“One way to change our genes is to make new ones”- Dean Ornish

An amazing thing science has learned in the last 20 years is that our brains have dramatic capacity to change throughout the geneshuman lifespan. Our brains are more changeable and more capable of transformation than perhaps any part of our body. Because it is not visible we often don’t notice. It is evident, however, through changes in attitude and perception. The new science of neuroplasticity is teaching us how dynamic and powerful these changes can be. And, the good news is that we don’t need to wait too long to see positive changes.

The recipe for bringing change is quite simple. Science shows that in order to make positive brain changes we need to eat healthier, manage stress better, exercise, and love more. Anything that brings more oxygen to the brain and increases its blood flow creates positive changes, but it’s actually more than that. These activities cause the brain to get measurably larger in size. Along with these changes are a multitude of positive health and emotional benefits.

Here are some things you can do to grow more brain cells: consume chocolate and tea, blueberries, use alcohol in moderation, and learn to manage stress better. These foods and behaviors are associated with positive changes in brain chemistry and function. Saturated fats, sugar, nicotine, opiates, cocaine, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic stress all are associated with loss of brain cells and brain functioning.

Changes in lifestyle result in more blood flow to the skin so you age less quickly. Your skin looks better and doesn’t wrinkle as much. You look better. Your heart gets more blood flow, and you can actually reverse heart disease. Studies have shown that you may be able to stop and reverse the progression of prostate cancer and breast cancer simply by making these changes. Studies found that tumor growth in vitro was inhibited by 70% in people who made these changes as opposed to 9% in a comparison group. People had improved sexual function, reported greater life satisfaction, and felt more connected to significant others in their lives.

A recent study has shown that these changes can change the gene expression in men with prostate cancer. Over 500 genes were favorably changed, in effect turning on the good, disease preventing genes and turning off the disease promoting genes. This study and others like it have shown us that genetics are not destiny and genetic predisposition to certain diseases and ways of thinking may be more under our control and we realize. Living a life of wellness, positive relationships, positive thinking, and moderation can reverse and change our destiny.

What can we do to change the genetic hand we’ve been dealt? It’s not as difficult as we’d initially think. Obvious changes in smokediet, smoking and drinking are obvious. If you have some bad habits along these lines, then a steady, systematic change is better. Positive lifestyle changes needn’t be black and white. Starting small with dietary improvements, cutting back on alcohol use, and quitting smoking are better ways to go, as the goal is to set yourself for success not failure. Involving your primary care physician may also be warranted as you will have an idea of what your physical baseline is and can gauge your progress from there.

dogExercise of almost any type is going to be beneficial. We needn’t run out and join a gym either. A daily walk of 10 minutes, two to three times per day will yield positive benefits within an extremely short time.Certainly you can go to a gym and get involved in more formal exercise, but it is not necessary to change your brain and your genetic makeup.  Learning to breathe deeper, from your abdomen instead of your lungs, can create an improved relaxation response. Consciously making more meaningful connections to people in can also better equip us for the rigors of life.

Find ways to change your lifestyle that you enjoy. You are more likely to follow through doing what you enjoy so don’t punish yourself! Life is meant to be lived not endured.

“Be the change that you desire in (your) world”-Gandhi

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My Boss, My Trainer

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal trainer and life coach available to you whenever you needed a little motivation? Imagine having a highly motivated, encouraging and inspiring trainer that could get you out the door consistently, give you structure and discipline, and teach you life lessons better than a Buddhist monk? Well, I’ve had one for the past 3 1/2 years. He’s relatively inexpensive, and you can have one too.

BossGoing to let you in on another mindbody secret. My trainer is my dog! Yeah, you’ve read that right, my 3 1/2-year-old boxer named Boss.

Much has been studied and written about the positive impact of pet ownership. Most of the literature describes the emotional benefits of owning a pet. Any pet will do as long as the owner feels a positive emotional connection to their pet. Remember Bill Murray’s pet fish Gill in the movie “What About Bob?” Then you get the idea, the emotional connection is beneficial, health producing, and gives life some purpose. I am partial to dogs, with all due respect to cat people, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

I bought Boss over three years ago after our youngest had turned 18. Although we had two shih tzus at the time, they really weren’t what I was looking for in my definition of a companion. With no sons at home to tagalong as my boys did I was kind a lost. We decided to get another larger dog and decided on a boxer. If you are a dog person then you know that dogs of different breeds have different temperaments and energy levels. Boxers are on the high-end of the energy level spectrum. Lots of attention and lots of energy are required.

Boss is the sixth dog that my family has had so I am pretty aware of what it takes to train a dog. Virtually every dog person I know is familiar with Cesar Millan, TVs “Dog Whisperer.” His methods are somewhat controversial in the dog training world, but it is hard to dispute hismillan ability to understand and communicate with the most difficult canines. He believes that all dogs have three basic needs to behave well-exercise, discipline, and affection. These three needs must be satisfied daily, and in that order of priority, for your dog to be in what Milan calls a “balanced state.” Over the past 3 1/2 years I’ve noticed how working to create balance for my dog has benefited me.

How does a dog function as a personal trainer and life coach? In looking at Milan’s three canine needs we can arrive at a better understanding.
Exercise-Depending on the breed your best buddy will require a little or a lot of exercise. If you are considering a dog, research the exercise needs of the breed you choose. If you are high energy like I am, then a breed like a boxer, retriever, or terrier might fit the bill. Think about how you will exercise with your dog. Not exercise your dog, exercise with your dog. This is key if you are going to use your dog as your trainer. Do you enjoy long walks, running, or biking? Figure out the exercise that you want to do and select a breed that can keep up. Even if your version of exercise is getting outside and strolling a few hundred yards two to three times a day there is a dog out there that would be perfect.

Boss gets me out the door seven days a week, 365. He sprints next to me as I pedal my bike as fast as I can for 2 to 2 1/2 miles most days. I pay attention to feedback he gives me. I do other kinds of workouts as well, so I consider our bike work his work out not mine. Chasing squirrels is an added bonus.

Discipline-Dogs create discipline as a well-trained dog has a definite routine that it must adhere to. Developing this routine is your job. As you train your dog, your dog is also training you! Since you are doing these things together you are becoming training partners whether you are aware of it or not. Your best friend provides a framework for your day, first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed.

Training a dog is an exercise in patience and self discipline. It takes approximately 3 years or so to get your dog where you need him to be. Many people fall in love with a cute puppy, not realizing that within one year that puppy will become an energetic dog. In purchasing a dog you must realize you are committing to 8 to 12 years of a routine. Keep in mind the routine is just as good for you, if not even better, than it is for your dog. The first year of your dog’s life will be an exercise in patience for you. It can be a great learning experience if you focus on the benefits you are receiving as well as the progress your dog is making.

Affection-Not many people in our lives love us unconditionally. We say that to significant others and our children, but do we really? Dogs that we have connected to are fiercely loyal and are capable of unconditional love. If we have properly trained our dogs they can’t help but love us unconditionally, they simply don’t know any better. They are great listeners, rarely talk back, and are incapable of holding a grudge. They have the ability to teach empathy in a way that humans cannot teach it. Many correctional facilities use dog training as a way to instill discipline and empathy in hard-core inmates. There’s something about the human –  canine interaction that is hard to duplicate.

Boss is a tremendous listener. Boxers are known for being people pleasers. As intelligence goesboss attentive they rate below the border collies, the German shepherds, and many other working breeds. They are, however, very focused on their owner and truly want to understand what you are trying to say. I sometimes find it frustrating when I get home from work and my wife is engrossed in conversation with Boss. I usually have to wait my turn and when he is done cocking his head as some dogs are known to do, it’s my turn.

A dog is the ultimate mindbody personal trainer. A dog can provide you with exercise, teach you discipline, and allow you to give and receive affection. If you find yourself lacking in any boss carone of these three areas of your life, then consider getting your own live in personal mindbody coach. You will not regret it!

And, higher-priced trainers would never ride around with you in your truck with their head hanging out the window!

P. S. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if you are interested in mindbody coaching. Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter

The Best Natural High

What if you could produce your own drugs safely and legally? What if you could enjoy the chemical changes that they provide safely and with no side effects? Would you be interested? Would you be willing to experiment recreationally? Would you be willing to produce your own psychotropic chemicals that could help with your depression, anxiety, poor sleep, short attention span, and general satisfaction with life? If your answer is yes, then read on.

runnerThe human brain has approximately 100,000 chemical reactions occurring every second. Most of these occur out of our field of awareness. We become acutely aware of these feelings that they create when the feelings are either extremely bad or extremely good. One of the brain’s primary functions is to serve as as your personal pharmacist. It produces more than 50 identified active drugs. Some of these drugs are associated with memory, others with intelligence, and others with sedation and pain cessation.

If you’ve read this far and you have been a regular reader of mindbody coach.org, then you know that I am not advocating illicit drug use. What I am advocating, however, is that you can use exercise to create rewarding and satisfying emotional states that can improve your mood, outlook on life, and physical health and well-being. Let’s take a look at what some of these chemicals are and how they can be safely produced through exercise.

Endorphins are the first category of exercise induced chemicals that comes to mind from exercise. Endorphins first gained notoriety during the running boom of the late 1970s. Everyone and their brother bought Nike waffle trainers and jogged as long as they could as frequently as possible. “Runner’s high” was not the initial goal, but it became a primary reason for many people’s running. Endorphins are a type of homemade opiate similar to the chemical makeup to the pain reliever morphine. Endorphins have been among the most studied brain chemicals thought to produce an exercise high. While endorphins have been proven to relieve pain, they are not responsible for that brain buzz that we know as runners high. New studies in neuroscience indicate that an altogether different chemical is responsible for that feeling, the endocannabinoid system.

A 2003 experiment at the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed that 50 minutes of running or moderately difficult riding on a stationary bike significantly increased levels of endocannabinoids in the brains of 50 college students. Endocannabinoids are virtually identical to the cannabinoid molecule found in marijuana. These molecules produce a floaty, sense of well-being, a brief “spacey” feeling familiar to those who have used marijuana. Their findings were that the high from exercise is produced from the cannabinoids, and the pain relief was produced by the endorphins.

As with many novel brain chemical experiences there is a risk of addiction. The addiction it in the case of exercise has and evolutionary purpose to it. University of Arizona anthropologist David Raichlin has studied exercise high extensively. Raichlin is a runner himself puts and 25 cavemanmiles per week and admits to being “addicted” to this routine. He theorizes that people become addicted to the exercise high because we are genetically “wired to run.” We are wired this way, he believes, to keep us healthy and happy. “Wired to run, meaning that our brains have been wired from an evolutionary sense to encourage these running and high aerobic activity behaviors,” Raichlin states. This wasn’t merely so that man could run down game, but to keep man psychologically and physically healthy and to create an overall sense of well-being.

How can this information be used effectively to create and maintain positive benefits? Many are initially unable to perform the at least 30 minutes of aerobic activities required to tap into your natural cannabinoids. Running is not the only way to obtain this state of bliss. Aerobics, zumba, dance, biking, and a good old-fashioned stroll in the park all have the same ability. The important thing is to move at a moderate pace maintaining what is known as the “talk test.” The talk test is the highest rate at which you can exercise while maintaining a comfortable conversation. Building up to 30 minutes or more three times per week or more can release your natural cannabinoids and give you a healthy high. If you have pre-existing injuries you may have to get bikera little creative with what you can do. For example, a hip replacement person may be able to use an exercise bike, a knee injury person may be able to do aerobics etc.

We as humans are genetically wired to enjoy exercise, we just need to tap into this natural high on a regular basis in order to experience this positive addiction. Enjoy the side effects.

“Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…”-Bruce Springsteen

See you on the road!

P. S. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if interested in learning more about mindbody coaching. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Check this blog regularly for more.

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