LiveWell®

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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Have a mindful New Year

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

This article will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the Livewell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

After the rush of the holiday season, the first few weeks of the New Year can feel like the slate has been wiped clean. As winter deepens, life in the natural world slows down, too.

Take this opportunity to enjoy the stillness and consider what’s important to you, said Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, psychiatrist, Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic, and a group leader of Resilience Training at the Penny George Institute.

Better yet, find a way to bring that calming stillness into your everyday life.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

One way to do that is to practice mindfulness. “Mindfulness is simply paying attention and being present. It’s not thinking about the past or what might happen in the future. It’s living in the here and now,” Lardizabal explained.

For many of us, living in the present is surprisingly difficult. “Increasingly, we are overscheduled and don’t have time to relax and reflect,” she said.

Technology may be partly to blame. “Endlessly checking your email or social media newsfeed becomes a conditioned habit. You end up missing out on everything else going on around you.” Patterns like this become automatic. “Until you become aware, you can’t interrupt the pattern,” said Lardizabal.

“It’s like unconsciously eating. We keep walking to the refrigerator without thinking about it. Once we catch ourselves, we can make decisions about the behavior.”

HOW MINDFULNESS HELPS

But practicing mindfulness can have an even deeper impact on our lives.

“Self-acceptance and self-compassion is an important part of mindfulness and being self-aware. In this culture, we always want to be more than what we are without really accepting who we are right now,” said Lardizabal. “It’s good to strive for improvement, but if the motivation is because you dislike yourself, it’s a set-up for failure.”

Research confirms the value of mindfulness, said Jeff Dusek, PhD, director of Research at the Penny George Institute. “People who practice mindfulness see normal life events such as illness as a challenge to overcome rather than a roadblock to good health. They also experience a greater sense of self-control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, and believe the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.”

Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, ABIHM, sees patients at Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic in St. Paul. For appointments, call 651-241-5959.

HOW TO BUILD MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LIFE

The Penny George Institute offers a variety of programs to help you explore mindfulness and put it to use in your daily life. To learn more, call 612-863-3333.

Program Best suited for:
Resilience Training – Eight-week intensive program that teaches mindfulness-based coping skills in combination with an individualized program of exercise and nutrition. Individuals who have experienced depression, anxiety or other stress-related mental health conditions and are currently in recovery or wish to prevent relapse.
Mindfulness Training – Four-week experiential program offering tools to help manage stress and achieve a higher state of well-being. Individuals who wish to explore new ways to manage stress and optimize their health and well-being.
Guided imagery MP3 albums – Three guided imagery albums focusing on pregnancy, stress management and pain management. Individuals who would like to learn how to benefit from the mind-body connection using electronic tools to improve health and well-being.


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Live well, live happy: how exercise increases happiness

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

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

I am excited to share more great news about happiness. As noted previously, most happiness comes not from our circumstances, but from how we think and what we do given our circumstances.

Recently my mother has experienced joint inflammation and pain. She had to cut back on activities, including running around with her grandchildren. I was able to recommend to her a supervised, gentle exercise program. After just a few weeks, she is moving better and is also experiencing a shift in her mood. Her confidence has grown, she feels more hopeful and optimistic, and the return of her joyous laughter makes everyone around her smile.

My mother is experiencing what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her seminal publication, “The How of Happiness.” She says “exercise is the single best thing that you can do to improve your happiness.”

Documented benefits of activity include:

  • Enhanced ability to manage stress—Exercise releases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the body’s stress response.
  • A boost in “happy chemicals”—Exercise releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can sometimes be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression.
  • A profound positive effect on your brain—Exercise helps create new brain cells and protects certain brain structures, thereby sharpening memory and focus, and preventing cognitive decline.
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Increased focus, creativity and energy.

Despite these benefits, you may still have obstacles to building more movement into your life. These tips may help.

  1. Fill in the blank: “I’m too ________ to exercise.” Is it busy? Tired? Old? Overwhelmed? Understanding your primary barrier will help you to work through it.
  • If you are too busy, what is the smallest amount that you could do?
  • If you are tired, experiment with just a bit of activity and see if you get an energy boost.
  • If you are prone to black and white thinking, i.e. “unless I am running, I may as well not bother,” know that research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of even a small amount of movement.
  1. Understand your exercise personality and preferences.
  • Do you love the great outdoors or prefer the climate-controlled comfort of your home?
  • Do you crave time alone or do you do best when with others?
  • Do you prefer joining a class or sports team, or is it easiest to weave in movement during your day?
  1. Start slow, be gentle and build gradually.

Even if it has been a while since you’ve been active, it is never too late to start, or restart. Here’s to happiness through movement!

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.

Past entries by Mary Farrell in the “Live well, live happy” series:


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Take time this fall to create a winter wellness plan

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Take time this fall to create a plan for staying physically and socially active this winter.

By Pat Vitale, LICSW

The fall season is fast upon us, and it happens to be my favorite time of year. Cool, crisp temperatures, the smell of wood burning in outdoor fireplaces, apple picking, pumpkin picking, the sounds of Friday night high school football games and other activities that bring back fond memories.

Fall also brings with it the reminder that winter is right around the corner. Like most people, I am hoping for a mild winter that won’t cause all of us to hibernate for six months only to emerge when we hear the sounds of spring.

The change to fall and winter weather can create challenges for each of us. For some, it is the lack of sunlight that is troublesome. For others, it is cold temperatures, deep snow and the need to be inside more.

Now is the best time to start thinking about what strategies you can put into place to stay healthy through the winter months ahead.

For those who are outdoor enthusiasts in the warmer months but don’t like the cold weather, perhaps you can transition some of your outdoor activities to the indoors, or try something new. Mall walking is a favorite of many people who want to continue to exercise. Perhaps taking some classes in yoga, kettlebells or Pilates is more your style.

For those who are a little more adventurous, consider trying indoor rock climbing. Whatever your choice, the most important thing to consider is: What can you do to keep your body moving and to stay off the couch?

But winter health isn’t just about finding ways to be physically active; It’s also about mental health. The weather can take its toll on people, keeping them isolated and disconnected.

We often think we get depressed because of the lack of sunlight. Perhaps we should consider that isolation may be as much of a contributor to our sadness or depression as the lack of sunlight. We can’t change the weather that we live in unless we move somewhere else. We can however find ways to stay engaged in the world and with people. Set up a book club, poker group, find a TV show you love and gather a group to watch it.

I would encourage each of you to start creating a plan now for the winter months ahead. Consider ways you can stay physically active and socially engaged. Please share your ideas here. I would love to hear them and others might benefit from them as well.

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


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Live well, live happy: Tips for finding happiness amid hardship

Woman looking through a window

Happiness can feel out of reach when life presents great struggles. But research shows satisfaction and happiness are still possible during our dark hours.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

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

Being happy can feel out of reach when life presents great struggles.

Though this feeling is valid, research shows that satisfaction and happiness are possible even in the face of difficulties, stress and trauma. Happy people are able to develop strategies for coping and weathering the storms of life.

I personally experienced this recently. I was in the hospital twice with an illness over the course of just a few weeks. While I experienced pain and stress, I also found many unexpected joys. These included giggle-filled visits with friends, tender and loving moments with my parents, and daily deliveries of all things pretty, delicious and inspirational.

Research provides some guidelines for claiming your happiness during difficult times:

  1. Your past holds many lessons that you may apply now.
  • Think back to a time when you encountered great difficulties. What got you through? What supports did you have? What strengths did you use?
  • Now consider how you changed and grew as a result of those past trials. What do you know about yourself? What motivated you?
  1. Consider the intensity of the problem you are facing.
  • To get through it, are you able to develop a plan to deal with it? If so, jump right in!
  • Is it overwhelming to even consider your problem? Then this is not the time to strategize. It is time to step back, regroup and to gather support and comfort. You may need to go for a run or you may need to tend to your spirit, but step away from the problem first for centering and calming.
  1. Be open to growth and resilience.
  • Think of resilience as the ability to hold the positive and the negative in the same space. Resilient people know that life is not one or the other, but both.
  • If you struggle with this, you could seek out help in developing resiliency within yourself. There are books on resiliency, such as “The Chemistry of Calm” and “The Chemistry of Joy” by Henry Emmons, MD. The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing also offers a Resilience Training program inspired by “The Chemistry of Joy” and Mindfulness Training classes based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living.”
  1. This is not the time to go solo.
  • Gather support and reinforcements.
    • If this is not hard for you, seek out some support.
    • If this is uncomfortable for you, consider the following:
      • When we are able to help someone, we feel great. Consider that you would be giving a friend or family member this opportunity.
      • Remember that people are not mind readers. We sometimes assume that others don’t care when in reality, they simply don’t know what we are going through. When we make our needs known, we have a much better chance of having them met.
  1. Find meaning amid hardship.
  • It is important that you find the meaning and it is not imposed on you.
  • The silver lining or meaning may not be readily apparent, but sometimes just trusting that there is meaning beyond what you are experiencing is comforting.

Remember that being happy is not a condition reserved for those without difficulties and stress. It is normal to have difficulties, and there are opportunities for joy, growth and deep connection within the dark hours.

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.

Past entries by Mary Farrell in the Live well, Live happy series:


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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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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.