LiveWell®

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


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A little inspiration for a cold winter week

Inspirational quote for winter.

Photo by Jackie Krage of 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.

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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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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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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Feeling stressed? Try a two minute time out to regroup

When your circumstances and expectations don't match up, take time to pause, breathe and set aside preconceptions. This can help you gain perspective and take a fresh approach to your situation.

When your circumstances and expectations don’t match up, take time to pause, breathe and set aside preconceptions. This can help you gain perspective and take a fresh approach to your situation.

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

Two stories have been on my mind in the last few days.

The first is a Chinese folktale I recently told to my kids at bedtime: A farmer relies on his horse for his living. The horse runs away, and the farmer’s neighbors all come to console him. “Bad luck!” they cry, and “So sorry!”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer.

A few weeks later the horse returns with a second horse, a beautiful nomad stallion.

The neighbors come again, saying “Good luck! Congratulations!”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer.

The farmer’s son loves to ride the new stallion, but one day he is thrown from the saddle and breaks his hip. “Bad luck!  So sorry,” cry the townspeople.

“We’ll see,” says the farmer. “How do you know this isn’t a blessing?”

A few months later soldiers come to the farmer’s village, enlisting every able-bodied man to fight the invading nomad hordes. The story goes that nine of every 10 soldiers are killed in the conflict. The farmer being old and his son being lame, both remained behind to care for each other and their families, so their lives were spared.

How quickly we judge the events in our lives. We are culturally trained to look at life through a lens of preconceived notions. “A” is good or desirable. “B” is bad or undesirable. In my work, I’m increasingly called to not think of situations as “good” or “bad.” This allows me to suspend my preconceptions and inquire more honestly into a situation as it actually is.

The second story on my mind is from my own life. Yesterday I went to drop off my 5 year-old at her dance class. The class, the setting, and the teacher were familiar to both of us from several years of attendance. My plan was to quickly make the drop-off and head to an important meeting where, I imagined, my timely presence was desperately needed. Alas, it was not to be.

We found the classroom, saw the smiling, welcoming, familiar teacher who I know my daughter loves, and exchanged a sweet goodbye. I turned to go, but found my daughter clinging to my leg. Was she shy of the new students? Who can fathom the workings of the five year-old heart? I tried “patiently” for several minutes to convince her to join the group. Even the teacher joined in ― all in vain.

Finally, I decided to sit down with my daughter by the door. She watched the class from my lap, processing. Soon she joined in, casting a nervous glance my way every few seconds.

“I’m going to go,” I mouthed, catching her eye and pointing to the door.

“Not yet,” she mouthed back, shaking her head. Dancing over to me, she leaned in and whispered: “Just another little bit, OK?  I’ll be more comfortable. I’ll tell you when you can go.”

So I sat down and waited, chagrined, delighted, impatient, and relieved. Inside of a minute I got the nod that I could go, but by then I’d relaxed enough to realize my meeting wasn’t all that important. I watched for another minute, waved, and went out into the crisp fall day.

When you find your expectations are not matching what is happening in your life, set aside a minute or two to try this:

  • Consider the uncomfortable, or less-than-perfect circumstance, that is bothering you.
  • Notice whether and how you are pulled to adjust, fix, rationalize or resolve the problem.
  • Then, if necessary, pause, take 10 complete breaths, and just sit with the situation.
  • Consider how this changes your perspective on the situation and helps to clarify what you intend to do.

When we get stressed or lose perspective, it’s easy to feel like the walls are crumbling around us. Pausing for a minute and simply sitting with what’s going on helps remind us that we are bigger than the problem. Then, creativity and curiosity can take root, and we can start to have a bit of fun.

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

 


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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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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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Six tips for reducing school year stress

Family eating dinner together

During the school year, commit to one healthy habit like eating dinner together.

By Courtney Baechler, MD

This is one of my favorite times of year ― cool mornings followed by hot, sunny, summer afternoons and the excitement of a new school year.

While some parents feel good about this, others get anxious thinking about the faster pace of the school year ― carpools, deadlines and the possibility of more commitments.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family healthy and to reduce stress this year:

  1. Choose one thing that your family wants to commit to, such as:
    • eating breakfast at the kitchen table instead of in the car
    • eating dinner together
    • not overcommitting
    • having dedicated family time
    • sticking to a bedtime schedule.
  2. Create your “team” of support. Just as CEOs need a lot of support to do their jobs, you as the “chief wellness officer” of your family do too. Create a list of the team members who help meet your family’s needs, along with their contact information. Keep this list in a central place so that everyone can see how to get a hold of the back-up players. Team members may include:
    • family members
    • neighbors
    • babysitters
    • kids’ club leader
    • back-up babysitters.
  3. Don’t forget about your social needs and connections. Make time for:
    • friends
    • date nights
    • activities that help you thrive, such as book clubs, exercise, and spiritual groups.
  4. Get outside. Nothing is quite as calming as being a part of nature. During the week, simply take a family walk around the block or a trip to the neighborhood park. Add in a few hikes, bike rides or canoeing trips to make the most of the beautiful and calming scenery of autumn.
  5. Say no. It’s OK to do this, and it can actually be empowering. Try to do more by doing less. Commit to and enjoy the things you are interested in doing, but don’t feel the need to do everything. You will find that you get more joy from experiencing a few things in entirety. That holds up for kids’ activities as well. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to have your kids in only a few extracurricular activities. Trust me, their futures don’t depend on being over scheduled.
  6. Limit screen time. Take a family poll and see how much time your family (including you), is spending using technology. Most families admit that these devices can eat up time. Consider setting clear limits for when and how much screen time is allowed. You don’t need to eliminate screen time entirely, but limits can have the benefits of increased movement and improved sleep.
  7. Rejuvinate on the weekends. Crazy concept, huh? Turns out weekends were never really intended for all of our errands and household chores. While I know it’s impossible to stop running errands, designate at least part of the weekend for rest and relaxation. I would argue that one of the greatest skills we can teach our children is how to relax. It turns out that it’s easier to do all the difficult things in life (choosing healthy foods, exercising, and being productive) when we return to work and school on Monday after recharging our batteries.

 

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

 

 


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Looking within: Rediscover joyful living through mindfulness

Calm.Centered.Happy.v2

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.


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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.