Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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My path to practicing holistic health

by Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD

Next week is big for me. I will be transitioning from my cardiology clinic in St. Paul to practice at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing Outpatient Clinic – Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

As part of this, I’ve been asked to introduce myself as a new Penny George Institute practitioner and describe what led me here. To do so, I want to share some defining moments:

  • Age 12: That’s when I knew I wanted to be a doctor to combine my talents for math and science with my love of people.
  • AmeriCorps: In my early twenties, I worked in North Minneapolis as an AmeriCorps volunteer to reduce teen pregnancies. I learned quickly that you can’t just offer education on a topic and make a difference. I had to build one-on-one relationships based on trust with the 17 teen moms I was working with. I had to consider their mind, body and spirit. We exercised together, shopped for healthy and affordable food, prepared and shared meals, and worked on college applications and paper work for free or low-cost child care. My memories are of empowerment, education and trust. This is exactly what I envisioned medicine to be like.
  • Medical School: This is when I became interested in cardiology because you could see patients on the spectrum from prevention to end-stage heart failure and palliative care. I became interested in public health after seeing how many patients were helped in the hospital only to go home without education to change the behaviors that got them there in the first place.
  • Introduction to integrative medicine: I spent time with my husband on a University of Minnesota integrative medicine course in Hawaii. We were exposed first hand to a new world of medicine, and I was fortunate to meet a strong mentor early in my career, Mimi Guaneri , who pioneered integrative cardiology at Scripps Health in California.

These experiences led me to start an integrative cardiology clinic at United Heart and Vascular Clinic in St. Paul. Our patients saw a preventive cardiologist, a holistic nutritionist and an exercise physiologist.  They loved this approach.  I think most were surprised at how open minded and accepting I am of a variety of ways to heal. I always try to empower them and focus on what they believe are their biggest challenges and strengths.

As much as I love cardiology, now I want to further pursue my goals around prevention and wellness. I want to keep people well and work with them before they develop cardiovascular disease.

After spending a year as vice president and medical director of the Penny George Institute, I was sending so many patients to Penny George Institute clinics for services I viewed as essential to their holistic healing, it seemed only natural to start practicing at the Penny George Institute.

Our group has a truly collaborative and integrative approach to health.  I’m thrilled to be working with colleagues who have various expertise and share a similar view of approaching patients from a mind, body, and spirit approach.

I’m excited to start this next journey with this team to help our patients on their path to wellness.

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, will practice at the Penny George Institute starting April 1. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, for general women’s wellness, aging well, weight loss, the prevention of heart disease, and stress and anxiety reduction. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.


A rocky road to realizing exercise as relaxation

by Barbara Hopperstad, MA, CHWC

As a health and wellness coach, I work with individuals in the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s pre-hospital program. Individuals preparing for an upcoming surgery or procedure work with me to learn techniques to relax and feel more in control before, during and after their hospital stay.

I always ask my clients: “What do you do to relax?”  I explain that our immune system works best when we are relaxed, and we want it working at its best when we recover from surgery.

The answers I have heard over time ―everything from listening to music to following politics to exercising have shifted my understanding of what relaxation is.

I love that exercise is relaxing for many people because it sure hasn’t been for me. My relationship with exercise has been pretty rocky.  I used to tell people that whenever I got the urge to exercise, I would lie down until the feeling passed.

As I have aged, I have become much more aware of the importance of exercise.  And yet I have still struggled to maintain a regular exercise program.

Something changed for me, though, when I heard a news story that said the key for keeping physically healthy is to “move your body throughout the day.” I said to myself, “I think I can do that!”

So now, I run up and down stairs as I make my way through the hospital or my condo building. I walk as briskly as I can when I’m by myself. And I frequently stand and walk around my office when I work with clients over the phone.

The idea that these periodic bursts of energy add up to that dreaded word “exercise” makes me happy.  It is a great example of how we can improve our lives by changing our minds, not our circumstances.

I walked through the hospital before – but now every time I do, I think of it as good for my health.  And dare I say, I find that relaxing.

So for those of you who struggle to maintain a regular exercise program, consider the movement you do each day.  Can you take the stairs instead of the elevator?  Can you speed up your pace when you walk?  Can you wear a pedometer to get feedback on how many steps you are taking per day?  Notice what you are carrying – lifting and carrying a toddler qualifies as strength training.  Every movement we make can contribute to our health and wellbeing.

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Can you trust your gut?

by Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP

As an integrative medicine physician, I want to address something that may be deeply important to you or someone you care about. At least 40 million Americans suffer from this. It is the leading cause of missing work and missing life. Yet, very few want to talk about it. I’m talking about bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation and gas. Not the usual topics of polite conversation!

The millions who suffer with gut distress often feel shame, self-doubt, despair and even hopelessness. Where do they turn after they have been scoped, scanned and even medicated yet aren’t any better? Far too often I hear from patients, “you are my last hope.”

Thankfully, as a physician at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing Outpatient Clinic in Minneapolis, I have the opportunity to teach people how to master their mind-gut connection. While gut distress can disrupt life, its symptoms are the body’s form of intelligence. The question is, “Are we willing and able to listen?”

This was an important lesson from time I spent in Japan. The Japanese are constantly listening to their gut, to their hara, the center of one’s being or life. Today what we in the U.S. tend to do — or in many cases what we are told to do — is mask this intelligence. We medicate symptoms and hide the real issues.

We clinicians at the Penny George Institute believe in skills, not pills. We teach self-sufficiency, foster personal responsibility and affirm the power of accessing one’s inner healer. We as a team ask different questions. We take different approaches. And we witness great results.

Just ask Jennifer*, a young woman who had been disabled by gut distress. She had a complete medical workup at a world famous medical clinic which revealed that she was “fine.” The result left her drained of money and hope. She gave up on medicine, withdrew socially, feared eating, and spent way too many days curled up, in pain, under the sheets, in her bed.

When we met her, she was distressed, frustrated and had given up. We expressed our great joy that she came to our clinic and our sincere desire to be helpful.

For Jennifer, our approach included advanced testing that resulted in finding markedly abnormal gut biology and function. We customized an approach to rebalance and normalize her intestinal ecology. This was an important, but didn’t solve everything. Her gut remained quite sensitive. However, with additional mind-gut mastery skills, she reported recently, “my mind is in a much better place. I feel like I have much more control. … Instead of curling up in bed, I have the urge to go out and do things.”

At the Penny George Institute, we partner and draw upon many resources to make such inspirational stories possible. We create a customized action plan to help you once again experience life more fully and comfortably.


*Jennifer’s real name has not been used to protect her privacy.
Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, is a board certified internist and pediatrician at the Penny George Institute. He is an editor of Global Advances in Health and Medicine and co-author of the book Trust Your Gut (Conari, 2013), which focuses on the latest science of gut-brain interactions. Appointments with him are available with a physician referral at 612-863-3333.

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Feeling overwhelmed? Take a step back, and try these six tips.

by Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, certified professional health and wellness coach and exercise physiologist

In my work as an integrative health and wellness coach, I help people clarify, plan for and achieve their goals aimed at reaching optimal health.

Some of my clients are just seeking a “tune-up” for overall health and wellness. Others have chronic health conditions or are recovering from a disease.

Something many of them have in common is that they are more and more overwhelmed. Once they reach a “tipping point,” they can feel paralyzed. At that point, I can help them take a step back to look objectively at their lives, and I can help them manage stress and its effects.

I don’t think this trend is isolated to the people I see. Many of us struggle with managing the daily pressures and stressors of life today.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, here are six tips that you can use to take a step back and de-stress.

  1. If you can take something off your plate, do it. There are two ways to deal with stress. The first is to take away the source. The second is to learn how to better manage the stress that remains. Remove anything that you would classify as not urgent and not important.
  2. Find an activity that helps you take your mind off the stress, such as listening to music, reading a good book, taking a walk, playing basketball, or perhaps an activity like sewing or knitting. These “personal time outs” work wonders.
  3. Ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I need to do right now to improve this situation?” Focus your energies on just that area.
  4. In life, the most meaningful things are often important, but not urgent. Connecting with friends is one example. Take time for those relationships. People often feel stressed when they are not tending to these things.
  5. Carve out pockets of calm and peace. What do you need to maintain to keep grounded? Which rituals and routines bring you comfort? What time do you need to go to bed in order to feel rested? Find these rituals and routines and stick to them like an appointment.
  6. Don’t take on too many changes at once. Remember to zero in on the one thing that would have the most impact for you. Nobody quits for starting out too slow, but they often quit for starting out too quickly.

To learn more about integrative health and wellness coaching, or to make an appointment with Farrell, call 612-863-6316.