LiveWell®

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


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Live well, live happy: How to live in the present

 

Find an activity that engages and energizes you.

One way to live in the present is to identify and do activities that fully engage and energize you.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part three in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with  “Live well, live happy” in January, followed by “Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness” in March.

What makes me so excited about writing this series on happiness is the fact that our happiness depends so little on our circumstances and so much on what we do with those circumstances. The message is that happiness really is up to us.

It is now early summer ― one of the most beautiful times of year in Minnesota. Winter’s grip is a distant memory and life bursts forth wherever you look. I can be found under a floppy hat, decked out in garden gloves, comfy clothes, wellies and dirt, and surrounded by fragrant and colorful herbs, flowers and vegetables. As I transplant, arrange and water, I am blissfully and completely in my own world. It turns out that as I do this, I am also tending to my happiness and well-being through a process called flow.

What is flow and why is it important to your happiness?

Flow is being fully engaged in what you are doing and fully present in the moment. It can also be thought of as that “sweet spot” between being bored and being overwhelmed. When you are in flow, you might feel simultaneously transported and yet fully in the here and now. You are lost in what you are doing. Though challenged, you feel that you are performing at your best. You may receive some type of reward for the activity, but more often than not, you do it just for the love of it.

Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  has studied flow for decades and the findings are pretty amazing. Flow can benefit us by:

  • leaving us fully energized and engaged
  • tapping into our strengths and filling us with competence
  • improving productivity because flow at its best is absolute focus
  • markedly improving our mental well-being.

Sadly only 23 percent of people regularly experience flow and more than 40 percent have never had the experience.  Most of us have the opportunity for regular flow experiences at work, but we are too distracted by anxiety, to-do lists, or external pressures, to enjoy the flow. Outside of work, we may miss numerous opportunities when we are glued to our smart phones and tablets.

If you are ready to “go with the flow,” here are three steps you can take:

  1. Identify your flow experiences:
  • When do you feel most energized? What are you doing?
  • When do you feel absorbed in an activity? When do you lose track of time?
  • What do you do well? What are your favorite skills to use?
  1. Bring flow to the everyday:
  • Try doing a regular task with excellence, focusing on the details.
  • Control your attention — practice focusing on whatever it is that you are doing at the present time. This takes practice.
  1. Expand your boundaries:
  • Begin to explore new interests by asking yourself: What would my 8-year-old self want to learn?
  • Flow in conversation: Listen closely and learn as much as you can about the speaker.
  • Learn the difference between vegging and vegetating: Instead of TV, play a game or work on a hobby or project that demands your attention.

Flow is mindfulness in action. It’s being fully present in the here and now, and responding to the task at hand with curiosity and purpose. Give it some attention and you will reap benefits far beyond those blissful moments.

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.


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Make your summer count: A seasonal approach to boosting health and wellness

SummerHealthPhoto

While we’re eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Debra Bell, MD, advises caution. “Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself,” she said.

This article will run in the summer issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

According to Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, taking note of seasonal changes and adjusting your habits accordingly is a powerful and practical way to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit.

It can begin with the earliest days of spring when you notice that it is still light out at 6 p.m. “More daylight often helps our mood, so we should take advantage of that,” said Bell. Increase your exposure to daylight by going for an evening walk or sleeping with the curtains partially open.

Warmer weather can serve as inspiration to spend less time in your car. Instead of automatically driving wherever you need to go, walk or ride your bike for errands or outings.

Outdoor chores like yard work and gardening can help you tune in to the season while keeping you active. “Summer is a time of new life and growth. Finding ways to be engaged in the natural world can be satisfying and can serve as a metaphor for one’s own sense of growth and development,” said Bell.

Another important part of Bell’s “summer wellness tool kit” is fresh, local produce. “We have much more to choose from in the summer, and the nutrients in foods like spring greens are great for the immune system, anti-aging and digestion.”

“Some people also like to think in terms of spring cleaning – focusing on a cleansing or purifying diet under the guidance of a professional,” said Bell. Similarly, integrative practices like acupuncture and qigong can provide a seasonal tune-up, helping the body shift from the dormancy of winter to a more active, energized state.

And while many of us are eager to return to higher levels of activity as summer begins, Bell advises caution. “It’s very easy to overdo it. Don’t make that first bike ride a 30-mile trip. Be mindful to stretch and pace yourself. The muscles you used all winter shoveling snow or running on the treadmill aren’t the same as when you garden or ride your bike.”

Bell also noted that seasonal changes in the natural world include cold viruses. “When the weather changes, the viruses that are circulating also change,” she said. She encourages her patients to take zinc and vitamin C at the first sign of a summer cold.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile.


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Crossing thresholds – experiencing major transitions in life


S411503 14873 PGI Resilience Training BrochureBy Marcia Carlson, Resilience Training group facilitator for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

What is a threshold? To a carpenter, a threshold is the plank, stone or piece of timber that lies under a door. To a physician or nurse it is the point at which a patient’s perception of a condition changes, like the threshold of pain. To someone with a new diagnosis or injury, it is the transition from disbelief to acceptance. For those in spiritual or emotional pain, it is moving to forgiveness and resilience.

There are many universal thresholds in our lives: birth, death, relocations, new employment or retirement. For many, this time of year holds many significant thresholds ― the end of school, graduations, weddings, and the excitement and unknowns of summer vacations.

What we often don’t acknowledge is that to be at a threshold means to be between two things ― neither here nor there. The Irish poet, John O’Donohue, says, “We sense a threshold when below the surface of our lives huge changes are fermenting.” This can be both exciting and fear inducing.

When we are at a threshold in life, we often turn to family, friends, mentors or spiritual guides to help us find and name our own truth and perhaps gently hold our hand as we make a crossing.

Resilience Training is a program that assists participants to realize their own natural resilient nature, discover how to calm their minds, experience a greater sense of self-acceptance and live life with more awareness, which is helpful in general and crucial when facing thresholds.

What kind of thresholds have you had to face in your life? What helped you move from one state to the next? What changes are fermenting? I would appreciate hearing how you have made such crossings.

If you would like to learn more about Resilience Training and whether it could help you face and move through your own thresholds, please visit our website.


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Dancing for well-being

By Guest Blogger Maria Genné, founder and director of Kairos Alive!

Dancing is good for our well-being

When we dance, we increase our circulation, balance, flexibility and strength.

The research is clear: moving is good for you and dancing is even better.

When we dance, we increase our cardiovascular circulation, balance, flexibility, strength, and we get a good cognitive workout. With shifting rhythms, patterns and dynamic changes, dancing challenges our neurological system.

When we dance with others, we add a key indicator of well-being ― social interaction. When we reach out, hold another’s hand, smile, look into each other’s eyes, and move together to music we enjoy, we fill a basic human desire to connect with others in a positive way.

We also get a burst of neuropeptides – our body’s response to the stimulation of movement, music and interaction with others. As the late geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen said, this creative artistic stimulation is “like chocolate for our brain.”

In addition, dancing can help us resist or delay the cognitive and physical challenges of the aging process, including neurocognitive impairment. In 2003, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published their 20-year study on the impact of leisure activities on dementia. It found that dancing had the most significant impact in delaying the onset of dementia.

At Kairos Alive!, we call our participatory dance, music and story making “Choreography of Care™.” I have been a dancer, choreographer and teacher for many years. In that time, I have invited people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to dance in a creative, open-hearted way. I have seen a diverse community of people ― grandparents, young children, parents, frail elders, teachers, young men volunteering from a correctional facility, and older Veterans ― come alive with creativity and imagination when they expressed themselves through dance, music and story.

I also have discovered that there are many ways to dance, including dancing in a chair. We have an opportunity to reclaim dancing as a basic human expression, no matter our age, background or ability. There are many ways to dance from line dancing to the twist, from Scandinavian folk dancing to contemporary dance, from dancing in the living room with our children, to waltzing across the dance floor with our sweetheart.

The best way to begin is by dancing the way you like to dance to music you enjoy. Sometimes it might mean waiting until you have the house to yourself and remembering the quote, “dance like no one is watching.”

Another way to get moving is to dance with others. Look for dance classes or special dance events at your local community center, community education program, performing venues and professional dance organizations. Or you could organize a dance event.

Recently our Kairos Alive! artistic team started offering the Kairos Dance Hall™ to bring together people of all ages and abilities to take part in lively, interactive dance/story/theater events. Participants dance to live music performed by professional musicians. See a video from an event in Detroit Lakes.

It is an opportunity to bring the whole community together for joyful participation, health education, and personal and community well-being. We call it our “dance party for all ages,” and it is free and open to the public.

I hope you will join us at an upcoming Kairos Dance Hall™:
Minnehaha Falls Park Pavilion in Minneapolis on June 18 at 7 p.m.
Loring Park Community Center in Minneapolis on June 26 at 7 p.m.

Maria Genné is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and founder and director of Minneapolis-based Kairos Alive! – a performing arts and arts learning organization.