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


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness

83496526_mother_daughter_web.happiness.relationships.blogBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part two in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched in January with  “Live well, live happy.”

Studying what makes us truly happy is a fairly recent endeavor. For decades, scientists studied unhappy people and mental illness.

Then along came positive psychology with the notion, “Hey! Why don’t we study people who are really happy and satisfied?” Just as wellness is not merely the absence of disease, so happiness is not simply the absence of mental illness.

The good news is that your happiness depends a tiny bit on circumstances and vast amounts on what we do with those circumstances.

One of the most overwhelming findings is that happy people are deeply connected to others and conversely that deeply connected people are happier. These folks have rich, strong and soul satisfying relationships. It’s important to note that anyone can attain this.

Think for a moment about the best times in your life— your high points and proud moments. If you are like most people, these moments were spent with others, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.

Now think about receiving some good or bad news. What is your first impulse? I’m guessing that it is to share this news with someone close to you. Remember the saying that a close relationship can multiply the joys and halve the sorrows? It turns out to be true.

At the time of this writing, one of my best friends is in hospice with days to live. He is not surrounded by his many degrees, a bank account statement, his car or other stuff. He is instead encircled by family members, friends and loved ones who in turn are blessed by each other and by his strong yet gentle spirit. He has led a good and satisfying life and though there is sadness, there is celebration at what his life has meant.

As you look to boost your happiness through relationships consider that not only will they support your happiness, they may enhance your health through:

  • an enhanced immune system
  • reduction in inflammation
  • reduction in heart disease and high blood pressure
  • lower mortality
  • significant reduction in stress.

Here are some proven and practical ways to build relationships:

  • Make time. In our hyper-scheduled world, this may feel impossible. If that is the case, consider how much time you spend each week on your computer, smart phone or watching TV. Can you spare any of that time for a relationship?
  • Be present. For many of us, our phones have become an appendage. Are you fully present for your loved ones? Research shows benefits of being together even without talking, such as walking together or listening to music.
  • Express admiration, appreciation and affection directly. Even though “I love you” is the most obvious, other phrases can go a long way including: “I appreciate that you make coffee every morning for me,” “I am so proud and excited about what you are doing with your art,” or “I love knowing that I get to have lunch with you!” Additionally, resolving to react actively and constructively to your friends’ news will build strong bonds. “I am thrilled for you — that promotion is well deserved and you earned it!”

Here’s to building your health and happiness through your relationships — what a joyous route!

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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Passions and priorities – avoiding being overwhelmed

185421595.OverscheduledCalendarBy Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

It was my junior year of college, and I had big plans. On the slate for fall term were 16 credit hours, a campus job, two volunteer positions, a romantic interest, and spots in at least two performing choirs. On the side, I also was to teach a weekly yoga class, tutor Italian language students, and participate in a twice weekly science internship.

Several friends told me that it seemed a bit much. But I was excited and confident that my passion and drive would see me through.

It was an impressive juggling act for the first few weeks, and ultimately my passion did carry me through, just not to my planned destination. I scraped through the term with 11 academic credits, many frayed nerve endings, and an application for academic leave.

The job, volunteerism, romance, choirs, additional credits, and much of my social life disappeared by November.  My attempt to “get it all done” had run me into a nervous breakdown.  I remember feeling confused about why it hadn’t worked out.

Reflecting back, I see that I had talent, inspiration, youth, intelligence and energy on my side. I set goals that seemed reasonable, and planned my time accordingly. The trouble was that I gave equal importance to everything. When things got hairy with my classwork, I didn’t let other responsibilities go — I just stayed up later. Things started to slip and that didn’t fit my self-expectations, so my emotional stress hit the roof.

Years later, the number of responsibilities, passions, and demands on my time hasn’t decreased—quite the contrary. The lesson of that semester, though, has stuck with me: Many things can be important, but only a few can be central. I took spring semester off, and came back with three clear priorities ― school, yoga, and music. Once those were taken care of, my remaining time would be unstructured.

In truth, there was little unstructured time and focusing on three things was almost boring in comparison to my fall semester. But at the year’s end, I was a happy, healthy biology major on top of things. I felt successful, and I had found a new way to approach my passions and priorities.

As you consider resolutions, goals, and plans, what are your top priorities? What is filling your time but not supporting your values? What people, ideas, or activities excite you? Acting on your values provides what I call the “second paycheck.” These are things that money can’t buy, but that have immeasurable worth –  like time spent with the kids, painting, hiking in the woods, or close friendships.

Here is my challenge to you in four easy steps:

  1. Buy a stack of 3 x 5 index cards. Each night this month, draw a blank card before going to bed.
  2. On the front, write down three core values and/or important goals.
  3. On the back, note three small things you will do the next day to meet those values or goals.
  4. The next day, do those three things again.

Repeat these steps until you can’t think of anything else that is important to do. Sound easy? Let me know how it goes!

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.


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Dealing with stress in our fast-paced, ever-changing world

By Pat Vitale, LICSW

What is resiliency and where does it come from? Are you born with it? Is it a learned response? Can you teach it to someone or build it in yourself? What does meditation have to do with resiliency? These are questions that I often get asked.

Resiliency by definition is our ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. This comes into play when someone experiences a life event that is stressful. That could be the loss of a job, an injury, illness or any major setback.

I think that in today’s world that definition only explains half the story. The other half of the “resiliency story” is one’s ability to adapt to a changing environment with minimal adverse stressful effects.

The second definition refers more to the chronic stressors we experience in our everyday lives that are caused by our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Today, information is immediately available and always changing. Technology is constantly evolving, and jobs are being redefined and morphed every day. We are constantly being asked to learn new things, leaving little time for us to feel masterful.

One of the most powerful stressors occurs when we feel we can’t adjust quickly enough to keep up with this ever changing world. I refer to this as a “chronic world stressor.” This kind of stressor is not often defined as a major life event, so it may go unnoticed and untreated. But it can have a cumulative impact on our health, well-being and overall quality of life.

Take a moment to think about how your life is impacted by the constant bombarding of information, the changing in your routine, or the number of new processes, procedures and policies you have to learn. How about the constant changes in technology … new phones, TVs, computers and even cars? I just got a new car and it has a manual the likes of the Webster dictionary! I am certain I am only using half of my car’s capabilities. There comes a point where you just can’t “download” anymore information.

One of the simplest skills that we can learn to be more resilient to stress is to meditate. Meditation can help us get centered, relax and replenish our reserves so that each day we possess the abilities to start fresh and engage in our ever changing environments from a place of curiosity and not in a way that will overwhelm us. We can improve our ability to learn and be flexible, instead of shutting down with fear of the unknown and rigidity.

Here is a simple meditation you can try called Mind Power for Life™ Technique*:

  1. Begin breathing through the nose, out of the mouth, exhaling twice as long as the inhale (ratio of 1:2). Continue this breathing through out the exercise.
  2. With eyes open, focus your attention on a point in the distance allowing your eyes to relax and your awareness to expand. (Peripheral Awareness)
  3. Begin thinking and saying to yourself, “ I am,” if possible linking it to your breathing.
  4. Visualize your outcome for the moment or day, and let go of the image, while continuing the breathing, saying to yourself, “I am.”
  5. When you are ready to complete the process of the meditation, reverse steps three to one.

This process can be done for as little as five to 20 minutes, once or twice a day. Any one of the above steps can also be done by itself if you are in a hurry or need an immediate de-stressor. Using one part of the technique alone will work better if you are already proficient in the full technique.

Try meditating for at least five to 20 minutes a day. You will see an immediate difference in your ability to manage everyday challenges and to build a reservoir of resiliency.

Pat Vitale is manager of training and development for integrative medicine for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

The Penny George Institute offers Mindfulness Training and other classes to help individuals manage stress through meditation and mindfulness.

*Mind Power for Life™ Technique is a Copyright ©1995, 1996 Neuro-Energetics


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Carpe diem! Seize your health.

What does it mean to live life to the fullest in a way that promotes your best health – mind, body and spirit? Join friends for a cocktail reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Aug. 15, at CRAVE in the Galleria in Edina, Minn. to hear and talk about this topic with experts from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS, vice president of the Penny George Institute, will speak. Following her presentation, she will be joined for a Q&A by  Jeannie Paris, registered dietician, and Molly Ellefson, MS, NCC, integrative health and wellness coach, both from the Penny George Institute’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

The event includes hors d’oeuvres, an informal fashion show and giveaways. It is part of “Be Healthy! A Smart Series for Women” hosted by Galleria and Allina Health.


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Finding happiness in savoring this summer

Woman savoring the summerBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, integrative health & wellness coach and exercise physiologist

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder

As I write this in mid-July — the height of summer, something we Minnesotans have anticipated for a long time ― I am hearing from many of my clients how quickly summer is going, how fleeting it is.

As true as that may be, particularly as we get older, it is also important to learn to savor. In fact, when researchers study what happy people do, savoring is one of the activities that evidence shows brings true happiness. As the season explodes in color, flavor and other sensations, it is a perfect time for you to dabble in savoring to see what happens to your happiness and well-being.

Here are three tips for savoring moments that make you happy:
1. Relish ordinary experiences. The great thing about this activity is that you don’t have to be wealthy or even in perfect health to experience this. Last weekend I picked basil from our plants and combined that with a tomato and fresh mozzarella from the local farmer’s market. As my seriously ill partner and I experienced this amazing combination of flavors on our patio, we smiled at each other and said, “It doesn’t get better than this.” The next time you are outdoors pay special attention to what you smell, see and hear. When you make your bed with fresh sheets, open a fresh loaf of bread, or pick up locally grown produce, take a few minutes to take the experience in and then to say, “How cool is that?”

2. Savor and reminisce with family and friends — sharing the experience doubles the enjoyment! Think about the top moments in your life — my guess is that most of them were in the context of others. When you share that perfect sunset or burger, or cross a finish line together, your joy is reflected back in those you are with and multiplied. Reliving and retelling the experience creates the same wonderful chemicals in your brain that you gained when you actually did the experience — harness that by retelling or reliving it in your mind.

3. Be open to beauty and excellence. We know that life can be stressful, trying and painful. We also know that beauty and transcendence co-exist with all of that. When we are open to finding pockets, swatches, and moments of beauty, we are happier. I made a point of finding some beauty on my way to work this morning. Just by setting my intention, I saw lovely things, heard laughter and smelled the earth in a way that I hadn’t previously. Nothing had actually changed except for my openness.

Consider some of these savoring ways. We are never too busy for this — give it a try and see what you might discover.

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.


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Leaving stress behind on your summer vacation

by Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP

Stress-free vacation

Now that we are heading into summer, many of us are planning time off. Vacations are a great opportunity to relax, spend time with loved ones and see new sights. We usually assume that these experiences will be enjoyable and relaxing. But how many of us have taken a vacation and ended up feeling more stressed and exhausted than refreshed and renewed?

So what gets in the way of a stress-free vacation? Sometimes it’s the financial cost, the hassles of travel, or our inability to leave work at work. Sometimes it’s unrealistic expectations or doing things out of obligation, rather than pleasure. Sometimes it’s a lack of planning, or too much planning. We may abandon our diet and exercise routines, ignore our need for sleep, and come back to work exhausted.

With a little mindful planning and self-care, you can make the most of your time off, enjoy yourself, and reduce the risk of added stress, disappointment or frustration.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t overschedule your time. Try to balance activities with free time, and allow yourself a good night’s sleep.
  • To reduce food costs, and eat healthier, make your own simple breakfasts and lunches, especially if you have a fridge or microwave available. In the evening you can splurge with a nice dinner out.
  • For car travel:
    – be familiar with a few different routes
    – have maps or GPS handy
    – get your car tuned up before the trip
    – bring water and healthy snacks along
    – take plenty of stretch breaks.
  • For plane travel:
    – arrive at the airport early
    – dress comfortably
    – pack light
    – know the current security requirements for baggage restrictions
    – pack your required medications in your carry-on bag
    – don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • For a staycation:
    – be intentional about taking this time to be off
    – unplug from work and don’t get caught up in the usual routine household chores
    – do things you enjoy that you don’t normally have time for ― seek out fun activities in your own community, explore local parks and museums, plan a family movie night, go on a picnic, or take a day trip to explore nearby towns or natural attractions.

Taking a vacation doesn’t have to be stressful and complicated. Keep in mind these helpful suggestions, get in touch with what is truly meaningful for you about this opportunity for relaxation and renewal, and really give yourself a break.

Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP
Inpatient Manager
Penny George Institute for Health and Healing