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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Boosting your ability to bounce back: Resilience Training

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency and its connection to good health was highlighted in a Star Tribune article earlier this year. It explained that resiliency, the ability to bounce back despite life’s challenges, is being embraced for its role in promoting wellness through the mind-body connection.

In the article, Jeff Dusek, PhD, Research director at the Penny George Institute, said that resiliency is becoming more popular “as people are looking to accentuate the positive and improve resiliency as opposed to just reducing depression, anxiety or stress.”

The article also described the experiences of Deb Hitt, whose struggle with chronic pain led her to enroll in the Penny George Institute’s Resilience Training program. The program helped her gain a new perspective and learn new ways to deal with her pain. As Hitt explained in the article, “For a long time I focused on what I couldn’t do and what was hard for me. Today, I define my life by the positives that exist within me — my strengths, my talents and most importantly my resilience.”

Read the entire Star Tribune article, “New approach to wellness – resiliency – is gaining ground.”

The eight-week Resilience Training program is offered regularly at several locations in the Twin Cities. The next session begins Monday, Jan. 19. Call 612-863-0041 to register, or check the Resilience Training schedule for additional sessions.

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Art as healing: finding hope and resilience in life’s challenges

Mt Vision Sunrise, a watercolor by Vera Kovacovic

For Vera Kovacovic, watercolor painting is an opportunity to filter a scene through her own lens, capturing its essence rather than its absolute reality.

Alabama Hills Sunrise, a photograph by Nancy Cox

Nature photographer Nancy Cox views her work as a peaceful pause in an otherwise busy world.

By Nancy Cox, RN

In my role as a healing coach at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – Abbott Northwestern Hospital, I like to encourage my clients to pursue their passion, in spite of or in light of their circumstances. If not now, when?

My passion is photography. My partner, Vera Kovacovic, has a passion for watercolor. We travel, I take photographs, and she paints. What a joy to share creative times together. In preparing for the current Art of Healing show at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, I thought it would be interesting to have Vera do a watercolor rendition of some of my photos, showing how an image can be seen differently depending on one’s creative eye, talent and perspective.

This is also true about life, especially during challenging times. My intent in my work is to help people see their circumstances with fresh eyes, seeking hope when it appears dim and allowing healing when it seems elusive. I am constantly moved by the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for healing.

Being primarily a nature photographer encourages me to seek out beauty. I can forget everything else when looking through the lens of a camera. I once spent three hours in 20 below temperatures shooting photos of the trumpeter swans on the Mississippi River in Monticello. By the time I was done I could barely feel my fingers, but I had the best time. It cleared my head, soothed my spirit and ignited a flame that kept me warm. Of course, making a beeline to the closest coffeehouse when I was done didn’t hurt!

Living fully can mean different things to different people. I can’t hike up a steep mountain with 30 pounds of camera equipment on my back trying to get a shot, nor will I risk life and limb. (I ask myself…Is this shot worth a year in physical rehabilitation?) So it forces me to slow down, look deeper and see things differently. This allows me to find my unique vision.

I cannot see life through another person’s lens, only my own. But I can seek understanding. It’s like looking deep into a photograph to see what the artist was trying to convey. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times not so much. That is what I believe Vera does in her interpretation. As a watercolorist, she starts with a blank slate and creates what she sees. She says it is the “essence” of the image through her own personal lens.

That is also what I do in my role as a healing coach. I need to stay aware of my own lens, but be able to go beyond myself and find the true essence of the person who has entrusted himself or herself in my care. It is truly an honor.

Nancy Cox, RN, healing coach, works with people dealing with cancer and their families. She sees clients at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute – Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-0200.

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Crossing thresholds – experiencing major transitions in life

S411503 14873 PGI Resilience Training BrochureBy Marcia Carlson, Resilience Training group facilitator for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

What is a threshold? To a carpenter, a threshold is the plank, stone or piece of timber that lies under a door. To a physician or nurse it is the point at which a patient’s perception of a condition changes, like the threshold of pain. To someone with a new diagnosis or injury, it is the transition from disbelief to acceptance. For those in spiritual or emotional pain, it is moving to forgiveness and resilience.

There are many universal thresholds in our lives: birth, death, relocations, new employment or retirement. For many, this time of year holds many significant thresholds ― the end of school, graduations, weddings, and the excitement and unknowns of summer vacations.

What we often don’t acknowledge is that to be at a threshold means to be between two things ― neither here nor there. The Irish poet, John O’Donohue, says, “We sense a threshold when below the surface of our lives huge changes are fermenting.” This can be both exciting and fear inducing.

When we are at a threshold in life, we often turn to family, friends, mentors or spiritual guides to help us find and name our own truth and perhaps gently hold our hand as we make a crossing.

Resilience Training is a program that assists participants to realize their own natural resilient nature, discover how to calm their minds, experience a greater sense of self-acceptance and live life with more awareness, which is helpful in general and crucial when facing thresholds.

What kind of thresholds have you had to face in your life? What helped you move from one state to the next? What changes are fermenting? I would appreciate hearing how you have made such crossings.

If you would like to learn more about Resilience Training and whether it could help you face and move through your own thresholds, please visit our website.