It Takes a Team

April 9th, 2015

I have always appreciated the saying “work smarter, not harder” as a truism for our focus and energy expenditure during the working day. It represented the difference between being simply busy and being truly productive in areas that matter. Recently my friend Matt Allman further expounded on this topic by suggesting it isn’t just smarts or what we know that matters; it is wisdom or the application of our knowledge that will create the most significant impact for our lives. Matt’s message struck a chord and inspired this column.

Our knowledge base regarding health and wellness is increasing considerably. We are becoming smarter every day through our exposure to health information in magazines like this, on television, on blogs, from our naturopathic and integrative doctors, through YouTube videos, Facebook and Twitter posts, and on and on and on. My patients often say “Doc, I know what I should be doing. I’m just not doing it.” And the trouble here is that often many of these individuals will continue to search for more information, possibly jumping from one medical office, one gym membership, and one health website to the next always looking for that missing piece of the puzzle that will transform their health. Instead of trying to consistently become smarter regarding health, we must start applying in a wise manner the information we already have. I think the first and most valuable step on this wise journey is the recognition that we are most successful when we walk alongside others. We know we are more effective at work when tasks and responsibilities are delegated between individuals and specific to their strong suits. In a similar manner it takes a team to be healthy.

If you want to transform your health, you need to be wise and begin to build a team that will support you on your journey. To start you must engage your community in your plan. This is as simple as telling the people you spend the most time with – friends, family, and coworkers – that you are tired of waiting to transform your health, you are starting today, and you would like to invite them along beside you. Some individuals may not be eager to come along and that is fine. Express your understanding and thank them for supporting you on your path. Very often those individuals that are reluctant at first will see the progress and benefits you are attaining and ask to participate down the road.

An important component of enrolling others is mutual accountability. The goal is greater health and now with an engaged team you can count on each other to encourage and reinforce the things you already know. This is wise, not just smart. For example it is often a weekly occurrence that individuals will bring donuts or cake to share into the office. When you have mutual health goals and a team supporting you at work, it is easy to make the shift to bring in a veggie tray and some bean dip instead. When you share with your community that you are going to exercise for at least 20 minutes 3 times per week, you can expect to be asked about how it is going. And even better, you may find a new workout buddy to share in your fitness routines.

The pursuit of health is a continuous process. It isn’t something you achieve and then the work is over. Every day we make choices and every choice can either move you closer or further from your health goals. By taking the information we learn, applying it wisely to our own life, and enrolling others in our pursuit of a more healthy life we can assure ourselves success on this journey.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Life – A Balancing Act

March 2nd, 2015

The theme for March 2015 is balance. Balance is an important component of naturopathic medicine because it must be embraced during a holistic perspective on health.  Health requires balance in our lives. And without balance we can’t be truly healthy. The two are mutually inclusive.

The seat of a chair rests on four legs of equal length; so too our health depends on the stability of four pillars: physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. Too often individuals examine one of these pillars looking to improve health, while overlooking or neglecting the other three. More often than not this single focus can actually potentiate the imbalance. There is no such thing as a single causative agent or imbalance regarding our health. Our health, or lack thereof, is the sum of the totality of our being.

Becoming aware of the importance of our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being is the first step towards understanding how to strengthen them completely. When we are aware, we can shift our focus and efforts appropriately to balance these aspects of ourselves to optimize our state of health. We can then begin to rest comfortably with our entire being and let our own natural healing processes unfold.

Here are simple and basic recommendations for strengthening each of our four pillars of health:

  • Physical health requires exercise on a regular basis. We are beings that are not accommodated to sit in an office or classroom all day with limited or no physical movement. Because so many of us spend most of our days with little physical activity it is important to incorporate exercise into our routine. Physical health declines with both over and under use. We must perform exercise that can push us past our comfort zone and be stressful enough to force our body to respond in an adaptive way. It is possible to overdo it if you are not careful. If you haven’t exercised recently in the past year, please seek the advice of your primary care physician and a personal trainer before starting a new program.
  • Mental health requires learning and mental stimulation on a daily basis. Our jobs can be monotonous. And watching television after work is the equivalent of eating junk food all day for nourishment. We must stimulate our minds to keep our mental health sharp. Read books about topics you are passionate about. Learn for the sake of learning. When I read books I write a summary about the book and create at least 3 action steps I want to take related to what I have learned. It keeps me engaged in the material and inspires me to put into action the thoughts and ideas that come up while exposing myself to new concepts. Mental decline is so often a concern that patients have when they come into my office. We must exercise our mind to keep our wit sharp.
  • Spiritual health requires that we recognize a purpose to our life outside of our self. It isn’t necessarily all about religion. In fact, too often individuals attend church weekly and still feel that their life is lacking spiritual meaning. This is because they have not engaged with a purpose outside of themselves. To cultivate a healthy spiritual self we must embrace those things that are important to us and give of our self in pursuit of supporting a better world. This can often be accomplished through volunteering of your time to a cause that is near to your heart. I do think it is a noble act to give money to charity, but simply giving from your wallet won’t provide the same level of return on investment that giving of your time will.
  • Emotional health requires that we embrace actions and people in our lives that provide enjoyment and a sense of fulfillment. Certainly pursuits that support spiritual health can overlap with emotional health and vice versa, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be so. Music provides wonderful enjoyment in my life. I often play music whenever I am doing tasks or chores that allow a soundtrack. It doesn’t do anything to support my greater purpose, but it does keep my smiling and moving to the beat. It is even that much more enjoyable for me when I can share my love of music with the people that mean so much in my life.

I hope these ideas about creating balance in our health inspire you as we move into another year. Your health is your most valuable asset, invest the time and effort to balance the 4 pillars of your health and enjoy the benefits of holistic well-being.

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Posted in Naturopathic Medicine, Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Where Should We Focus for Holistic Health

January 3rd, 2015

A new year provides a blank canvas for our health and life. There is a promise and potential of change that is invigorating and motivating. There is a collective momentum from people all over the planet hoping to better their life and we have the opportunity to capitalize on this energy for ourselves and our families. My hope is that as we strive to improve our wellbeing we embrace a holistic perspective and focus on cultivating a healthy and balanced self in 2015. To do this, we must consider our health as three distinct and interrelated parts comprising the whole of who we are: physical, mental/emotional (I consider mental and emotional as one aspect in our person and for the rest of the article will use the term “mental” to encompass both), and spiritual.  In 2015, let us widen our perspective and bring all aspects of our self together. Here is how I believe we can best achieve this goal.

Often the physical aspect steals our attention and restricts the health of our mental and spiritual self. This is a tragedy when we limit our focus to only a third of our human potential. The basics for physical wellbeing are simple. We must drink clean filtered water to properly hydrate the body. We must move our body and develop symmetry in our strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. We must sleep 7 to 8 hours each night so that our physical body can repair. We must eat real foods that provide the nutritional foundation our body requires. These are the simple, though often not easy, changes we must make to heal our physical being.

Healing our mental self requires a change in the attitudes and beliefs we maintain regarding our life. In order to do this, we must begin a practice that encourages a dissolution of the Ego and detachment from our physical self. I believe practices such as meditation, prayer, and mindfulness are ideal for this type of shift to happen. The goal is a deeper recognition that we are not the physical body that we associate as ourselves. We are so much more than the confines of our physical package. When we let go of those physical limitations, we are capable of being healthy regardless of our physical state or diagnosis.

To heal spiritually we need not go to a church. That is a physical building and the church community is made up of individuals that are walking around and interacting through their physical bodies. The limitations are physical. This is a not a criticism of any church or religion. I am grateful for my own church community and the support it provides. To heal spiritually we must detach again from the Ego and physical self. We can detach and connect to the spiritual world by practicing 4 ideals that will connect us to other humans, animals, plants, and the world in which we live. Here are the ideals: Forgive, Gratitude, Joy, and Love. When we forgive the transgressions we have suffered, when we show thanks for the blessings we have been given, when we embrace the joy that is being alive, and share that joy though love all around us we are on our way to spiritual health. Our spiritual health grows through our interdependence and connectivity with all of creation. Please do not let the physical limitations of your religion, your church, your identity restrict your ability for spiritual health.

Holistic health is a balance and symmetry between our mental and spiritual self-reflecting in the physical body. It has nothing to do with the lack of disease or physical symptoms. It is an internal peace and outward calm that is capable for us all when we embrace the limitations of our physical self and limitless possibilities of our mental and spiritual nature. It is such a gift to be alive in this New Year. Cheers to 2015.

~Dr. S

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification, Uncategorized |

Letting Go and Rediscovering Your Health

December 9th, 2014

In 2015 I challenge everyone to let go of practices, beliefs, and ideals that limit your ability to achieve health. In particular I want you to consider those things that create an illusion of supporting your health. Here are a couple of the common examples I see in practice:

Lack of balance in our physical foundation – Our physical health requires balance. It is too easy to get stuck training only a particular area of our physical health. Running, swimming, lifting weights, and yoga are all great practices for supporting our physical health. None of the listed is enough alone. Our physical health requires harmony in strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. Only focusing on one area, on one practice will leave you drained and vulnerable. I have seen patients that limit their capacity for healing because they will not modify their exercise routine.

Lack of balance in our nutritional foundation – Diet and nutrition make me more concerned than any other area related to health. I recently started asking new patients if they are more concerned about their health or their diet to gauge their willingness to make changes. I see individuals that come to my office seeking improvements in their health, yet are reluctant to alter the way they eat. They will tell me that they are a vegetarian or vegan or paleo and that they aren’t willing to change. It is completely lost on them that if their attachment to this particular diet was working for them, they would not be sitting in my office in the first place. There is no such thing as a healthy or unhealthy diet. Food can work to promote health and limit health based on the frequency, quantity, and relationship we have with any particular food we consume. If the way you are eating now isn’t giving you the results you want, you must be willing to change.

The real issue is the attachment we have to things that are or are not working for our health. It is the attachment that limits our ability to make changes. We have a tendency to ascribe value to these things. We have a tendency to identify with the labels we create for ourselves: I’m a runner, I’m a vegetarian, etc. When we shift our priority to health it liberates us to make changes that can influence our health in a lasting and permanent way. My challenge then is to let go of whatever attachment you have at the end of 2014 that has been limiting your health and happiness. Removing that obstacle for healing is a first step towards achieving the goal you want for your health in 2015.

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

Health is an Adventure

April 9th, 2014

Our journey to a state of health should be viewed as an adventure rather than a job. Too many of us today feel we are stuck in our jobs. We dedicate an inordinate amount of time to our jobs (work) and hence anything we even begin to imagine outside of job often falls under a similar perspective (work). I need to paint the living room… more work. I need to spend time with my kids… more work. I want to change how I am eating so I can drop a few pounds and improve my cholesterol and blood pressure… more work. This illusion so permeates our culture and our perspective that many of us are paralyzed from doing anything for ourselves. We stumble through our day working for someone else and then allow the apathy and inertia of our current state to become a prison stealing our freedom and chance of uncovering, creating, and embracing something meaningful for ourselves. This is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude and is avoidable. Health is possible. We must stop limiting ourselves with words like “impossible” and “work”. The impossible health recovery is only impossible if we limit ourselves to the standard paradigm. As soon as we stop listening to the false narrative we have created for ourselves, the world of possibility and health opens up.

I’m not implying that improving our health is easy. It does require effort and discipline. We must strive to make positive choices even when our mental and physical stamina are depleted from the stress of our day to day routines. Often the benefits are not immediate. If one skips a fast food dinner and cooks at home for the first time in 8 months, the next day will not suddenly be charged with energy and mental clarity. Cutting out wheat won’t magically eliminate allergic symptoms in the first week that have been lingering on and off for the past 3 years. Recovering and establishing a healthy and energetic life is an adventure. The reward of an adventure is encountered throughout the journey. It is not found in some trophy or paycheck at the end of the road. We must shift our mindset away from work and obligation if we desire to transform our health.

When we make this shift, before we know it the path starts to feel less bumpy. Cooking at home is easier, avoiding grains and wheat based foods are the norm, and the limitations we had from our physical symptoms are no longer restricting our day to day activities. Now the other activities that use to feel like work – maintaining our home, playing and engaging with our family, cooking and eating nutrient dense food – are no longer a burden. These practices are the norm and the benefits from these efforts are the self-perpetuating reward. We continue this adventure not because of a paycheck or some other obligation, we continue because accepting any less is living a life void of color.  What is the first adventure you want to take?

~Dr. S

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Posted in Nutritional and Lifestyle Support/Modification |

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