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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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Nurturing creativity

113722870.PaintedHandsBy Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC

Creating art was an essential part of my youth. If I wasn’t taking or painting pictures, I was writing stories. Art school was an obvious choice for me. In 1979, I graduated from college in Moorhead, Minn. with a double major in fine arts and art education.

Then I moved to Minneapolis, and spent the next ten years creating art, working with galleries and exhibition spaces, and, yes, sometimes being the “starving artist.”

A few family complications later, and I found that I had to get a “real job,” or at least find a regular source of income. Healing and wellness had also always been a deep interest so I began to “reschool” in wellness and healing arts.

I have continued to write and create art even with less time to put a pen to a page or a brush to a canvas. But I have learned that creativity does not always need to be about creating art. It can be used in all aspects of life. Art and creativity can even be an act of wellness and healing.

When faced with any “blank canvas” in life, meaning any endeavor with an unknown outcome, you can follow these steps to nurture your creativity:
1. Be present. I have adapted an exercise called, “Morning Pages,” from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Cameron recommends doing three pages of long-hand, stream-of-conciousness writing first thing in the morning. She says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. … They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. [They] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

You don’t have to write three full pages. Begin by writing for five to 10 minutes. It can help you feel anchored and face the day with clarity.

2. Do creative work in the morning. The creative impulse is fresher and clearer in the morning.

3. Forget about talent. What will the outcome be? Will anyone like it? Those are questions that can suppress the creative spirit. Try to start a creative process without detailed outcomes.

4. Stay open. There really are no dumb ideas. Go ahead and make a mistake. Often mistakes lead to new breakthroughs.

5. Keep it simple. Leave the details for later. Trust that they will fall into place. The creative spark is a time for simplicity. Most painters start with a broad simple sketch on the blank canvas before any paint is used.

6. Manage anxiety. Anxiety can be the subject of paintings and writing but it is hard to create when the artist is in a state of anxiety. Regular yoga, breath work and meditation can help with anxiety reduction.

7. Be brave. All of the above suggestions need a bit of bravery. Forget what others think.

8. Have fun. The creative process is closely aligned with having fun. Joy is a creative state of mind.

There is no such thing as “being more creative.” You already are creative. The creative spark lives in all of us and can be nurtured with intentional practice. And anyone on a healing journey can use a brave creative spirit, allowing room for new solutions and broadening the breadth of discovery.

Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC, is the Art of Healing program manger and a learning and Development specialist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

For more information on art and healing, read LiveWell blog entry, “Art as an act of healing.”


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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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Attend Monkey Mind Pirates musical – a fun, family event promoting mindfulness

Attend Monkey Mind Pirates in Search of the Island of Calm, an award-winning, nationally touring musical performed by Z Puppets Rosenschnoz  and Twin Cities families affected by cancer, chronic illness and autism.
Two free performances will be held Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
These special shows are the result of a six-workshop series taken by families living with cancer and families living with autism. Z Puppets artists lead the workshop using the story of a sea captain on the Quest for Calm. Mindfulness techniques, song writing and puppetry are woven into the workshop.
Come and see the results of the families’ work at one of these events:
  • Sensory-friendly performance with families affected by autism: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2:30 p.m.
  • Performance with families affected by chronic illness and cancer: Saturday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.

Doors open one hour before each show for Z Puppets’ free, family, happy hour of creative activities on the “Island of Calm.”

For reservations or more information, contact 612-724-1435, ext. 9, or zpuppets.org.

The event is presented by the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing and Z Puppets Rosenschnoz with the generous support of the Minnesota State Arts Board.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation or the arts and cultural heritage fund; and a grant from the National Endowments for the Arts.


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Live well, live happy

56460615.HappinessPhotoBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

One thing I enjoy about working for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing is giving talks on a variety of subjects.

Over the last year, “happiness” has been by far the most requested topic. Of course, the obvious reason for that is people want to be happy. Behind that reason is its antithesis ― many folks are unhappy and don’t know why.

There’s a lot of science behind happiness and a lot of good news to share about what determines it:

  • About 50 percent of our happiness is genetically determined.
    We have a happiness “set point” that we return to, regardless of what is happening in our lives. You can probably think of folks in your life who are upbeat all of the time and others who are more melancholy.
  • What about circumstances?
    By circumstances, I am including where you live, your health, your job, your appearance, and how much money you have or don’t have. Research shows that these things account for only 10 percent of happiness. Most people are surprised by this. After all, so much of our lives can be consumed in pursuit of them.

    So, why do we pursue these circumstances if they don’t much matter? Because they work – for a while. I remember the day I picked up my car. I was thrilled. I loved my new car, and I didn’t mind driving at all. I kept it meticulously clean and banned young children or adults with food. My car seemed to make me happy, until one day it didn’t.

    Suddenly, I didn’t look forward to driving as much. Instead of people checking out my car, I was checking out theirs. In fact, I can’t remember the last time driving was a pleasure.

    Scientists call this the “Hedonic Effect.” Something or someone can make us happy for a while, until normalcy makes it just ho-hum or until the next best thing ― or person ― comes along.

  • So what’s the good news?
    The good news is about 40 percent of our happiness has nothing to do with things, jobs, money, appearance, genetics, or even health. That huge chunk of happiness comes from what we do with the lives we have and how we think. Our daily intentional activities have everything to do with our happiness.

In coming blog posts, I will walk you through evidence-based strategies that lead to lasting happiness ― the things that happy people do and the way they think.

For now, think about the time(s) in your life when you were the happiest. Consider:

  • What was I doing on a day-to-day basis?
  • What made life meaningful to me and what motivated me?
  • What practices or ways of thinking stand out?

These questions help you understand what you value and what actions will contribute to renewed happiness. I look forward to sharing more happiness strategies in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a quote: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

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 LiveWell blog entries on happiness:


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Accumulating stuff and letting go – reorganizing to relieve stress

By Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

My wife and I consider ourselves to be thrifty folks who place a higher value on relationships and time spent together than on stuff.  Even so, it’s astonishing how many things accumulate in our home.

Perhaps you can relate. With three children under seven, our house was one busy place last summer. Like many families in Minnesota, we spend the summer months getting out as much as we can ― day camps, bike rides, camping trips, swimming, boating and climbing. These activities all require equipment that takes up space.

During the summer months, this stuff can live on the porch, in the garage, or even in the backyard.  But come autumn, we need to find places inside our home for it.  Enter my basement  … dah dah dah Daaah.

Because we had been so busy, our basement maintenance and storage system became overwhelmed to the point that you could barely walk down there. I found myself avoiding it so I didn’t have to look at it.

It wasn’t until a cold, rainy, Friday evening in October that I finally found time to sort, organize, and discard my way through that pile. The emotional weight lifted in putting my things in their place was startling. I remembered how valuable it is to feel this way.

In the Chinese calendar, autumn is about letting go. Leaves fall, summer fades. The harvest is in, and we look back on the year with appreciation for its fullness, and in some cases for its messiness.

Fall is a time to consider what is meaningful in our lives. Ideas, objects, relationships and habits may be reconsidered, revised or replaced with things that are more relevant and life-giving. When we take time to organize, sort, and care for our space and our possessions, we have an opportunity to consider what is meaningful.

For example, while sorting through my basement, I came across several crates of books that I’ve stored for almost 20 years in hopes that I would someday read, reread, or pass them on to my children. I overlooked them many times during these sorting episodes, but this year I found I was ready to begin letting go. I took nine grocery bags to Magers and Quinn, added $140 to my kids’ college fund, and freed up some space in my basement and my subconscious mind.

Now the holidays have just passed with the typical infusion of more stuff. It’s clear that my space and the things in it affect my stress level. When my home is organized, I feel more relaxed, creative, and able to plan, sort, and breathe. Still, I know that stuff is an essential part of living and raising kids.

I wonder, though, what it would be like if letting go of stuff became as enjoyable and habitual as acquiring it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions:

  • What are your experiences with accumulation of and clearing out of stuff?
  • How do you balance acquiring and letting go?
  • How do you handle accumulation over the holidays? Are you happy with that approach?

Here’s to our stuff! Happy New Year from all of us at the Penny George Institute.

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