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

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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.


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.”


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.


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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Curious about holistic health? Start here.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing - WestHealth in Plymouth is under construction, set to open in August 2014

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth in Plymouth, Minn. is under construction.

Come and tour the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s new integrative health clinic set to open at Abbott Northwestern – WestHealth in Plymouth, Minn. this August.

The new clinic will host an open house on Thursday, Aug. 7, from 3-6 p.m. Come and learn how integrative medicine consultations, acupuncture, Resilience Training, fitness consultations, and nutrition can help you become the healthiest version of yourself.

The new clinic’s physician, advanced practice nurse, acupuncturists, health coach, nutritionist and other experts will be on hand to answer your questions.

All are welcome, and no registration is required. Refreshments will be provided.

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Looking within: Rediscover joyful living through mindfulness


Multitasking once described what computers did. Now it describes us – living in a world transformed by mobile technology, 24/7 connectivity and instant communication.

“Many of us are in a state of ‘continuous partial attention,’” said Maureen Doran, RD, LD, Mindfulness Training facilitator, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “In fact, we are taught to splinter our attention and focus on many things at one time.”

We are also trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. “It’s having the right partner, the right job, or the right house and believing that this will bring us happiness and fulfillment, or at least help us avoid suffering,” said Doran.

Yet this way of life may create suffering in the form of chronic stress, said Doran. “There can be a feeling of disconnectedness, that you are living a little outside yourself.” If you develop an illness, have chronic pain or go through some major life stress – like job loss or a death in the family – it compounds the issue. Joyful living seems all but impossible.

Mindfulness is a practice that many see as an antidote to fragmented, crazy-busy lifestyles. Participants learn to stabilize their minds and increase resilience through mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga. “It’s a way of being present to one’s life, learning to notice what’s going on right in front of you and bearing witness to it in a non-judgmental way,” said Doran, who teaches a four-week Mindfulness Training class.

“Our class participants have overwhelmingly said that Mindfulness Training has improved the quality of their lives and has provided them with tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance,” said Doran. “We help people recognize and mobilize their inner psychological resources to take better care of themselves, learn new ways of calming themselves, and become more centered and clear-headed.”

Mindfulness research
Research in the field of mindfulness has shown that:
• Consistent mindfulness training can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decrease blood pressure and increase the immune response.
• Those who practice mindfulness experience a greater sense of control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, see life events (including illness) as challenges instead of obstacles, and believe that the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.

Mindfulness Training, a program of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, is being offered this May in Minneapolis and New Ulm.


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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Stressed for the holidays? Consider giving yourself the gift of mindfulness

FLowersAndCandlesBy Maureen Doran, RD, LD

We are in the height of the holiday season. If you’re not feeling so “ho, ho, ho,” it could be because the holiday season can be one of the highest stress times of the year.

The season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is associated with what Zorba the Greek described as “the full catastrophe” ― joy, hope and optimism, and adversity. We experience crowds, deadlines, bills, high expectations and endless to-do lists. 

The American Psychological Association has reported that more than half of Americans report being more irritable at this time of year, and a majority of us say we are more fatigued.

On the other hand, the holiday season can provide an opportunity to consider the way stress affects your body. Does it manifest in overeating and drinking in excess? Feeling extra tired, or wired? More body aches? Headaches? Feeling empty or sad? Elevated blood pressure?

For many of us, holiday stress can diminish our health or happiness.

Yet there are ways to draw on your inner resources to find vitality and healing in the face of great stress, even holiday stress. There are skills you can acquire to do this.

In fact, in the new year, I will be teaching a class called Mindfulness Training. It is a four-week course focused on quieting and stabilizing your mind to help restore your natural state of well-being. It includes yoga, meditation and discussion to develop inner wisdom, transformation and healing.

Class participants have said that it has improved their quality of life and given them tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance.

Learn more about the class and how to register by visiting this class listing.

Maureen Doran, RD, LD, is an integrative nutritionist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing who maintains a teaching practice in Kundalini yoga and mindfulness-based meditation, providing therapeutic instruction to both individuals and groups.



Inviting contemplation into daily life

By Jill S. Neukam MS, LAc

“I felt grateful for the reminder of the sacred.  I found myself feeling a little weight … that invited a pause and a vague remembering of something bigger.  I liked this feeling. It seemed to feed part of myself. I felt gently nourished and befriended.” -Unknown 

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to the Middle East that included spending some time in two interesting cities.

Istanbul was the first stop. While the city is full of many interesting sites, I found myself being most moved by the sounds. The call to prayer is a regular occurrence when Muslim criers at mosques sing to summon followers to prayer.

Numerous times per day this evocative and calming sound bellows through the air. I found myself paused by this rhythmic gift and grateful for the invitation of contemplation or silent prayer that so naturally seemed to follow.

Jerusalem was my second stop. This city has been on my “bucket list.” Commonly coined as part of “the holy land,” the city is filled with history and sacred sights of numerous world religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I had always felt drawn to experience this place and see if I would feel any significant connection.

Here, too, I was struck by the opportunity for prayer in everyday life. On a simple stroll through the old city, I repeatedly crossed paths with groups of “pilgrims,” praying, singing, and worshiping quietly. I couldn’t help but be moved by this public act of devotion. There was a grace that seemed present.

Upon my return, I found myself reflecting on my experiences and noticed that I missed those opportunities for pause in my daily life.

We hear a lot about the benefits of the practice of meditation, mindfulness exercises, gratitude lists, and creating prayer and contemplation opportunities, no matter what spiritual beliefs we hold.

One way that I find a pause is through a regular meditation practice that is focused on my breath. I like to do this for a half hour, but even 10 minutes goes a long way. I like focusing on breath because it is always there.  This means that even at a stoplight, I can take a minute and notice my breath. I find it an interesting experience, sometimes difficult, sometimes wonderful.

Now I would love to hear from you. How do you find a moment of pause in your day? Please share in the comments section below.

Jill S. Neukam, MS, is a Licensed Acupuncturist and yoga instructor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Unity in Fridley, Minn. Jill comes from a diverse wellness background. She has worked in the complimentary care field for more then 15 years.


Tips for embracing winter wellness: Meditation

CandleThis article originally ran in the Healing Journal newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

As the pace of daily life heats up during the holiday season and then seems to abruptly come to a halt, finding a sense of calm, relaxation, purpose and energy is critical.

Jayson King, RN, NTTMB, HN-BC, recommends a meditation practice as a way to stay in the moment, be present to yourself and others, and to be in touch with your surroundings.

Although it may seem like a foreign concept to many of us, meditation is a powerful tool and something everyone can incorporate into their life.

“There are many different kinds of meditation, and it is a practice you can bring into many daily activities of your life,” said King. Meditation may include walking meditation, sitting meditation, group meditation, consciousness of breath, and may even be incorporated into daily chores such as washing dishes or hobbies such as painting. “Meditation is a way of calming all of the multi-tasking the brain does on a daily basis. Research has shown that it actually calms your brain and helps your physical state,” he added.

Finding quiet in your mental state helps the mind, body and spirit through balance in the midst of chaos. “Meditation may help your body’s immune system by reducing stress, increasing attentiveness to daily living, and once you start a meditation routine, it becomes like exercise and you will miss it if you skip it.” King notes that taking as little as a few minutes a day to pay attention, find a state of relaxation and breathe, will offer immense benefits of greater relaxation, positivity and centeredness.

Tips on incorporating meditation into your daily life

  • Set a reminder on your calendar to take time out. Even taking a minute or two out of your daily schedule to look outside at nature, focus on your breathing and be gentle with yourself has immense benefits. King encourages people to start by sitting on a chair or on the floor and then focusing on the present moment. If you make meditation a priority, you will find the time even in the busiest of schedules. You will find that your body needs and craves the time, just as you need food, water and exercise.
  • Be gentle with yourself. It’s easy to get distracted during a quiet, reflective meditative state. Always be gentle with yourself while bringing yourself back to your breathing. Adding an affirmation or moment of gratitude can help shift our overthinking minds. Meditation can help you to become aware and to be more present. You may find that you become more effective in your work, your relationships, and other responsibilities and commitments.
  • Calm and clarity. We live in chaotic times. Many of us live constantly connected through the electronic, high-tech world in which we live. Many people are still suffering from the effects of the recession. Meditation helps us remain calm, mindful and brings clarity in uncertain times
  • Meditation takes many forms. Choose a style of meditation that works for you. If meditation in a solitary, sitting state doesn’t fit your lifestyle, try walking meditation, group meditation, or certain meditative exercises such as tai chi, yoga or breathing exercises.
  • Be mindful. During winter months, the monochromatic landscape may seem dull and lifeless. But King says if you look closely, you will notice that even snow comes in different colors and shades. Also, nature is at work in the frozen landscape, preparing for the months ahead and spring.
  • Use meditation for healing. One way to use meditation for healing of the mind, body and spirit, is to use an affirmation. For example, instead of focusing on the pain or illness, focus on the body’s innate ability to heal itself, and to remain calm and centered in the midst of this healing.

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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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Learning to forgive

I had an amazing opportunity this morning to meet with another healer, Mary Hayes Grieco, who specializes in helping people learn to forgive.

Many of you appreciate how the mind, body and spirit work together to affect our health. Perhaps you also know that science has proven that certain emotions can change the neurotransmitters our brain produces to influence which hormones and chemicals our body produces. It’s amazing to me to see how resentment, anger, frustration and regret can lead to disease.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s own Greg Plotnikoff, MD, recently wrote, “Trust Your Gut.” The book explains how our mental well-being can influence the flora our gut produces and whether we experience irritable bowel syndrome.

As a cardiologist, I have seen numerous patients who manifest their frustrations at home and work as chest pain.

Unfortunately, no amount of statins, stents, or even transplants, takes away that pain, but forgiveness often does. In fact, there is a lot of research to show that the act of forgiving has countless health benefits. That sounds simple, but the real challenge lies in learning how to forgive.

How many of us harbor resentment towards someone or a situation that we feel wronged us? We may need to learn to forgive a person, a job, a situation, ourselves … who knows? It can be really difficult, and it helps to remember that forgiving doesn’t mean stating there wasn’t wrong doing. Instead, forgiving is letting go of the negativity that continues to ruminate within us and can lead to physical consequences.

When we let go of grudges and stop being bitter, we find room for compassion, kindness, peace and, most importantly, healing. Forgiveness has been shown to:

  • foster healthier relationships
  • increase spiritual and psychological well-being
  • decrease anxiety and stress
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve depression
  • lower the risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

I challenge you to try to let go of something today that has been holding you back! If you feel you want some more support to do that, I suggest checking out one of Mary’s books, “Unconditional Forgiveness: A Simple and Proven Method to Forgive Everyone and Everything,” and “Be A Light: Illumined Essays for Times Like These.”

Recently, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the “Change Your Mind, Change the World” conference in Madison, Wis.

I leave you with a famous quote from him. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Here’s to the present, forgiveness, and letting go of the past.

Be well,
Dr. Baechler

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

by Kathy Kerber, RN, MSN, MA, AHNC-BC, CHTP, Integrative Health Nurse Clinician

With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer! 

But what if we are not of good cheer? Many of us are exhausted this time of year, and we may have reason to be. We’re busy with the daily routines of life, which may include work, kids and household chores. Add to that a list of holiday tasks ― shopping for presents, going to social events, entertaining, creating lists, and scheduling. For some, stress may come with seeing family or feeling financially strapped. No matter how hard we might try to make this the most wonderful time of the year, so often, we just want to sit and relax. Yet that can feel impossible if we have limited time.

When we think of relaxing, we think of things that take 15, 30 or 60 minutes ― like a hot bath, quiet time with our feet up, exercising, or reading. Often, we can’t see a way to find that kind of time. Instead, we just keep going like the energizer bunny until we get sick.

But there is a way to relax, whatever our situation, and it only takes a minute or two.  The key areas to focus on are nutrition, quiet time and sleep.  Pick any one of the tips below, try it for a week, and then focus on another.  Trying all of these things at once may feel exhausting, so keep it simple.

Nutrition: Be mindful of what you eat before and at social events. I’m not suggesting you not eat holiday goodies, but you can balance the event food with healthier choices during the day. Try your best to eat in moderation and don’t feel guilty about the enjoyment.  If you would like some healthy nutrition suggestions, go to Kelly McBride’s Holiday recipes, which has some great options.

Quiet time:  Here I’m going to focus on your breath.  All you need is a minute.  Close your eyes and just inhale and exhale.  You don’t need to do deep breaths ― just breathe in a way that feels normal for you.  All you have to think about is your breathe.  Of course, other thoughts are going to pop up, such as the list of things you have to do today, the phone calls you have to make, or the shopping you need to do. If you start thinking about these things, just let those thoughts leave your mind with your next exhale.  Remember that all you have to do at this moment is to inhale and exhale. Are you thinking you have no time for this?  You do have to go to the bathroom, don’t you? Perfect time! Remember, you only need a minute.

Sleep:  With all the stress the holidays may bring, the time of going to bed may get later every day.  Yet a good night’s sleep is the best thing for you.  So set a specific time to go to bed.  An hour before you go to bed, sit with your feet up and do nothing.  Often we keep going until we are ready to go to bed.  Take time to slow down your thoughts and unwind.

These are just a few simple suggestions. Try just one and see how it goes. Then check back for the next blog. Pat will be going over stress release.  Just remember it can be “the hap-happiest season of all” when you are taking care of you.