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


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Finding wonder in our everyday lives

By Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM

Each day brings a myriad of potential and opportunities for wonder.

Each day brings a myriad of potential and opportunities for wonder.

What was on your mind during the holiday season?  Did you have visions of sugar plums dancing, or were you preoccupied with making lists and checking them twice?  As a mother and as a health care provider in a busy hospital, it was imperative for me to make lists and check them twice. However, my 9-year-old son reminded me of another way to be.

One of our holiday traditions is to use an Advent calendar to celebrate the marvels of the world in expectation of Christmas Day. Passed on to me by my mother, I remember loving it as a child. Now, as an adult witnessing my son’s experience, I see it as an important lesson to carry with me beyond the holiday season.

Daily treasures

Every morning during December, there was a small gift magically waiting for him in the shallow pocket of the calendar. Unlike the drowsy mornings in November when I practically had to pull my son out of bed, on those December mornings, he popped out of bed immediately to see what lay in store. No matter what he found – chocolate toffee almonds, a stone from the North Shore, or something he would normally find mundane, like a pair of wool socks – he received it as something special and treasured it.

Watching my son’s excitement and seeing his eyes widen with possibilities brought my own attention to the bounty of each new day. I saw that each day presents us with a myriad of potential. This wonder naturally leads to a sense of fascination. When the gift is revealed, its marvelous qualities are also brought to the surface.

Starting the day like this set the tone for the rest of the day. Rushed mornings smoothed out into a sense of luxurious peace from which we were able to float off to school and work, as if being carried by a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Over the month of December, the anticipation of the night before built up into the next day, providing a wonder-filled cumulative effect. Since this tradition has been repeated for generations in my family, it is like my ancestors carved a path for us. If I pay attention, it can be easy to move into this state of wonder.

It’s a wonder-filled life

As a parent and a professional, I am in a world that I think I control and understand, one in which I have expectations and deadlines. Though that can result in the satisfaction of lists checked off, there is something wonderful about living in anticipation of the unknown. What if I lived as if something magnificent was coming my way every day? That would change everything. The waiting becomes magical rather than the means to the end. It slows me down, allowing me to see things I hadn’t before. It opens my mind, making me curious about what is to come.

As adults, how often do we create this for ourselves? I wonder how I could extend this state of awe further into the new year. What about you? Any ideas?

Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, is an integrative health practitioner with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing and provides integrative health therapies to inpatients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  


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The surprising power of gratitude

As you go about your day, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.

As you go about your day, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.

By Pauline Marie Buller, BS, NCTMB, CMLDT, CPMT, CIMT

Gratitude takes practice, but we do get better at it over time. Building it into our daily routine is important because thankfulness is one of the many components of a healthy spirit, mind and body. As the research studies below demonstrate, there is an association between gratitude and well-being.

  • A 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that there is a relationship between gratitude and well-being and stated that “gratitude is uniquely important to well-being and social life.”
  • A 2012 study from a group of Chinese researchers looked at the combined effects of gratitude and sleep quality on symptoms of anxiety and depression. They found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that gratitude has a protective effect against heart attacks.
  • According to psychologist and author Robert Emmons of the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, increases resistance to pain, correlates with better exercise habits, and encourages us to take better care of our health.
  • Gratitude can also aid in recovering more quickly when you have health issues. In a study of organ recipients, scholars from the University of California-Davis and the Mississippi University for Women found that patients who journal about their appreciation scored better on measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who keep only routine notes about their days.

Techniques for enhancing gratitude are relatively simple to incorporate into your routine. November is an especially good time to practice being thankful. As we move toward the holidays, extend your thanks-giving with these simple techniques for gratitude and well-being.

How to incorporate gratitude into your routines:

  • As you wake each day, be grateful for lessons learned and mindful as you go about your day.
  • While you are eating a meal, be grateful for your food by savoring each piece with all your senses.
  • Each time you exercise, be conscious of and grateful for what your muscles allow you to do.
  • As you go about your day, whether at work or at home, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.
  • When you’ve completed a challenging task in your day, be grateful by treating yourself to a simple foot massage or a few minutes of relaxation and quiet.
  • Say thank you to those around you more often.
  • At the end of each day, journal all the things for which you are grateful and celebrate being just who you are.

Pauline Marie Buller, NCTMB, is an integrative health practitioner with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She provides integrative health services to inpatients at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minn., through a partnership with the Penny George Institute. 


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Gratitude — not just for Thanksgiving


78650799_webBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

Part of me wishes I had written this in March, or perhaps July. Gratitude is such an amazing tool. It is unfortunate that it gets relegated to Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, November is a great time to talk about the power of gratitude.

Why is gratitude important? Gratitude has been called the “metastrategy” for happiness, and research backs that up. In fact, gratitude has been shown to:

  • help in seeing the positive and savoring the good
  • increase self-worth
  • aid in coping with stress and trauma
  • strengthen bonds with others
  • obliterate negative emotions, including greed, anger and fear
  • reduce physical symptoms, such as headache, nausea and colds.

Beyond “counting your blessings,” here are some practical ways to weave gratitude into your life:

  • Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal. Benefits come both from writing and from revisiting what you’ve written.
  • Try an exercise called, “What went right and why,” with your family. You can do it around the dinner table or anytime your family comes together. You think about someone who made your day or something you did to make your day go right.
  • Write a gratitude letter. Expressing gratitude directly to someone in a letter is extremely effective. You may or may not send it.
  • Write a list for someone you love that includes “10 reasons I love/like you.” This is a surefire way to reinvigorate a relationship.

I can share a personal experience to demonstrate the immediate power of gratitude. About a year ago, I was doing some advanced coach training. One day, our assignment was to list the 10 things we loved about our partner/spouse/best friend. “Hmph,” I thought, “This is a very bad day for this assignment.”

It was one of those days when I couldn’t think of one reason why we were together. However, I was determined to finish the assignment. After 15 minutes, I came up with, “He makes chicken well.” (You know how easy it is to undercook or overcook chicken.) There! One thing I love about him.

After a few minutes, I remembered that he makes dinner quite often and that is very thoughtful of him. Next I remembered that after a hard day, he is really good about welcoming me home with some of my favorite jazz standards — John Coltrane, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Next I remembered that he always makes me laugh, even if things get ugly. Next I remembered  …. You can see how this went. I ended up texting this list to him, one at a time, minus the chicken.

To this day, he thinks that is the most romantic thing I ever did. You see, it is impossible to be angry, jealous, worried or resentful when you have gratitude in the mix.

I encourage you to pick one of the gratitude techniques and try it on for size. You may also want to get some support. Is there a friend, colleague or family member that you would like to involve in this endeavor?

Whatever you decide, remember these words from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk known for interfaith dialogues and his work looking at the relationship between science and spirituality,  “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us happy.”

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.