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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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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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

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Invitation to dream

by Ann Peyton, MA, RN, Nurse Clinician

peytonblogAs an integrative wellness nurse clinician, I help patients take a holistic approach to addressing a wide variety of wellness goals or health issues, such as managing stress, improving sleep and eating healthy.  Many times individuals are searching for ways to bring balance and joy into their lives.

In our time together, I may ask my patients to consider these questions:

  • What kinds of thoughts come up when you day dream about what truly fills you with a sense of purpose and meaning?
  • Which thoughts feel most in sync with your core values and interests?

I believe that generally the daydreams that we have most frequently and with the most intensity are the ones that gently nudge us towards actualizing our dreams. They tap into our innate abilities or gifts.

As in many things, it’s easier said than done to connect with these visions and dreams to help them become a reality. I believe the first step to doing so is mindfulness ― basically paying attention to your present thoughts and senses without judgment, and with an open mind and heart.

We at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing give much consideration to the practice of mindfulness. It is for us a “household word.” It is core to preparing ourselves to be present with our patients, and it is what we strive to demonstrate in our own lives.

I recently followed a dream of my own.  My dream was to keep in my family a farm that my late grandparents whittled from the prairie more than a century ago. I wanted to keep the house they lovingly carved from hand-sawed wood and cared for their entire lives. Spending time there brings me joy and energizes me. Caring for this land is core to my value of nurturing the land and my soul, and to balancing work with play.

The vision seemed very “out there” at first, but now this dream is slowly becoming a reality as I move to secure this farm for my family and future generations.

Here at the Penny George Institute, we encourage each other and our patients to look at ourselves and our lives holistically. What are the thoughts, actions, pursuits, relationships, occupations, and daily habits that are in sync with the vision we have for our lives?

I invite you to indulge in a daydream of your own.

Ann Peyton

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How to eat well to help manage stress

by Maureen Doran, RD, LD, integrative nutritionist

As an integrative nutritionist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, I see patients who end up taking on poor nutritional habits during stressful times. It’s easy to do this. It’s a common way to cope.

In some instances, people stop eating real, nutritious foods and resort to living off energy drinks, coffee, or sodas with high caffeine levels. It doesn’t help that when we get stressed, we may have little time to plan, shop for or prepare healthy foods.

The body needs good fuel to work properly. Adding quick, easy nutritious options makes a dramatic difference in overall health. People usually start sleeping better, have a more balanced mood, and overall they look and feel better.

Sugar is like throwing paper on the fire. It burns quickly. Protein is like putting a log on the fire. It sustains. Whole and nutritious foods are key.

Tips for eating well to manage stress

  1. Eat whole food to feel whole. It sounds simple and we hear it all the time, but fruits, vegetables and whole grains are critical to a healthy diet and provide the nutrients we need so that we have a better base to draw from during stressful times.
  2. Eat breakfast. It doesn’t have to be a big meal. Quick, healthy options include a fruit smoothie with protein powder or a hard-boiled egg and a slice of multi-grain toast.
  3. Aim for color and variety in fruits and vegetables.
  4. Snack on healthy foods so that you don’t overeat later in the day or make poor choices. Doran recommends dried fruits, nuts or a mix of both. Nuts are packed with protein and healthy fats. Dried fruits contain powerful antioxidants. Instead of a cup of coffee and a candy bar in the afternoon, hydrate with water and a nut/fruit mix. A small quantity goes a long way, is portable, stores easily in a desk or purse, and will help you feel satisfied.
  5. Keep nut butters on hand. Examples include almond, peanut, cashew and sunflower seed. Enjoy a small serving with sliced apples or other fruits or vegetables.
  6. Don’t feel you have to spend a lot. To help with your food budget, consider canned beans, canned tuna, bean soups, nut butters, local farmers’ markets or frozen foods from discount stores.
  7. Keep stocked on these items to make healthy, nutritious meals and snacks:
    • Nuts – find a favorite from pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and more
    • Beans – red, pinto, black, kidney and more
    • Vegetables – all varieties, certain vegetables even help the body detoxify and are helpful whether they are eaten raw or cooked including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and brussels sprouts
    • Fruits – fresh or frozen, again aim for variety, berries with anti-oxidants, and fruits with a rich color, such as plums, prunes or cherries, for necessary vitamins and minerals
    • Omega-3s – are important twice a week for brain health. Sources include salmon, canned tuna, sardines and flaxseeds.

To make an appointment with Doran, call 612-863-3333.


A rocky road to realizing exercise as relaxation

by Barbara Hopperstad, MA, CHWC

As a health and wellness coach, I work with individuals in the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s pre-hospital program. Individuals preparing for an upcoming surgery or procedure work with me to learn techniques to relax and feel more in control before, during and after their hospital stay.

I always ask my clients: “What do you do to relax?”  I explain that our immune system works best when we are relaxed, and we want it working at its best when we recover from surgery.

The answers I have heard over time ―everything from listening to music to following politics to exercising have shifted my understanding of what relaxation is.

I love that exercise is relaxing for many people because it sure hasn’t been for me. My relationship with exercise has been pretty rocky.  I used to tell people that whenever I got the urge to exercise, I would lie down until the feeling passed.

As I have aged, I have become much more aware of the importance of exercise.  And yet I have still struggled to maintain a regular exercise program.

Something changed for me, though, when I heard a news story that said the key for keeping physically healthy is to “move your body throughout the day.” I said to myself, “I think I can do that!”

So now, I run up and down stairs as I make my way through the hospital or my condo building. I walk as briskly as I can when I’m by myself. And I frequently stand and walk around my office when I work with clients over the phone.

The idea that these periodic bursts of energy add up to that dreaded word “exercise” makes me happy.  It is a great example of how we can improve our lives by changing our minds, not our circumstances.

I walked through the hospital before – but now every time I do, I think of it as good for my health.  And dare I say, I find that relaxing.

So for those of you who struggle to maintain a regular exercise program, consider the movement you do each day.  Can you take the stairs instead of the elevator?  Can you speed up your pace when you walk?  Can you wear a pedometer to get feedback on how many steps you are taking per day?  Notice what you are carrying – lifting and carrying a toddler qualifies as strength training.  Every movement we make can contribute to our health and wellbeing.

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Can you trust your gut?

by Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP

As an integrative medicine physician, I want to address something that may be deeply important to you or someone you care about. At least 40 million Americans suffer from this. It is the leading cause of missing work and missing life. Yet, very few want to talk about it. I’m talking about bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation and gas. Not the usual topics of polite conversation!

The millions who suffer with gut distress often feel shame, self-doubt, despair and even hopelessness. Where do they turn after they have been scoped, scanned and even medicated yet aren’t any better? Far too often I hear from patients, “you are my last hope.”

Thankfully, as a physician at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing Outpatient Clinic in Minneapolis, I have the opportunity to teach people how to master their mind-gut connection. While gut distress can disrupt life, its symptoms are the body’s form of intelligence. The question is, “Are we willing and able to listen?”

This was an important lesson from time I spent in Japan. The Japanese are constantly listening to their gut, to their hara, the center of one’s being or life. Today what we in the U.S. tend to do — or in many cases what we are told to do — is mask this intelligence. We medicate symptoms and hide the real issues.

We clinicians at the Penny George Institute believe in skills, not pills. We teach self-sufficiency, foster personal responsibility and affirm the power of accessing one’s inner healer. We as a team ask different questions. We take different approaches. And we witness great results.

Just ask Jennifer*, a young woman who had been disabled by gut distress. She had a complete medical workup at a world famous medical clinic which revealed that she was “fine.” The result left her drained of money and hope. She gave up on medicine, withdrew socially, feared eating, and spent way too many days curled up, in pain, under the sheets, in her bed.

When we met her, she was distressed, frustrated and had given up. We expressed our great joy that she came to our clinic and our sincere desire to be helpful.

For Jennifer, our approach included advanced testing that resulted in finding markedly abnormal gut biology and function. We customized an approach to rebalance and normalize her intestinal ecology. This was an important, but didn’t solve everything. Her gut remained quite sensitive. However, with additional mind-gut mastery skills, she reported recently, “my mind is in a much better place. I feel like I have much more control. … Instead of curling up in bed, I have the urge to go out and do things.”

At the Penny George Institute, we partner and draw upon many resources to make such inspirational stories possible. We create a customized action plan to help you once again experience life more fully and comfortably.


*Jennifer’s real name has not been used to protect her privacy.
Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, is a board certified internist and pediatrician at the Penny George Institute. He is an editor of Global Advances in Health and Medicine and co-author of the book Trust Your Gut (Conari, 2013), which focuses on the latest science of gut-brain interactions. Appointments with him are available with a physician referral at 612-863-3333.