March 16, 2011

Maintaining Balance in Uncertain Times

Current world affairs are causing much distress. The news of the unthinkable in Japan along with myriad other events can easily pull you away from your natural balance. Not long ago we were concerned about the health effects of wifi and processed food. Now it’s massive earthquakes, tsunamis, power plant explosions, and even extreme solar flares on the sun.

I’ll make sure this doesn’t become another CNN news piece. People are suffering from more anxiety and worry than ever before without my rehashing the obvious. So let’s get to the business of wellbeing, and how to maintain it in the midst of crisis.

I’m a proponent of being aware of how grounded you are. This means, literally, how connected to the earth are you? What is your relationship to the ground?

In a state of ungroundedness you can be more easily influenced by others, you might experience injuries and accidents, feel anxiety, panic, worry, irritability, and foggy thinking. Because being ungrounded feels bad, many people overeat, drink too much, or otherwise find a way to “check out.”
Especially in these unusual times, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of when you are not grounded, centered, and calm.  You can then, with conscious awareness, bring yourself back into a state of balance.

How to do it? The first step is to pay attention to your physical body. How does the chair feel that you are sitting in? What do your feet feel like? What physical signs or symptoms are you trying to ignore? For example, are you thirsty? Do you have any pain or tightness in your body?
Then, notice your breathing. This will bring you “back into your body.” Most cases of anxiety I see in my practice are nothing more than being mentally and energetically disconnected from the body. So take a few moments and follow your breath. Bring it into your belly. Slow it down. Lengthen your breath. Do this several times throughout the day.

Connect with the earth. Put your bare feet on the ground. There is scientific evidence that the earth balances your energy field. But you don’t need proof from science when you can just do it and see for yourself. Stand or sit down for a minute with your bare feet on the earth. Do this often.

Be with nature. Notice the weather. What is happening in your natural environment? Feel the breeze, smell the earth’s scents, take note of how the sun feels, watch the trees become full of leaves again. Imagine yourself as a big healthy tree with deep roots going into the earth.

How about if we all make an effort to bring ourselves into a state of balance? There are many changes occurring in our lives, and we want to flow with them and come out on the other side unscathed. Here are a few reminders to help you.

Quick Tips on Becoming More Balanced

Breathe with awareness
Sit in nature
Watch the sun rise or set
Place your feet (and hands) on the earth
Eat food from the earth
Be aware of your surroundings
Notice physical symptoms or signs
Stop, Look, and Listen
Visualize yourself rooted into the earth

February 3, 2011

A Practical New Book for Insomniacs: Master Your Sleep

An informative new book is on the market about sleep, it’s importance, why we don’t get enough, and what we can do about it. In Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified, author Tracey Marks, MD, tells us that more than one third of Americans – over 100 million people - have clinically-diagnosed sleep disorders!

What has happened in our society where people cannot rest properly? There are more folks awake in the middle of the night than we can imagine, tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, chronically sleep-challenged.

We know that many more than this 100 million have occasional or frequent bouts of insomnia, causing frustration and even dread. Aside from a sense of helplessness, what is this doing to one’s ability to think clearly, be alert, and have energy throughout the day? To keep the immune system functioning? How are these millions managing on the job? Emotionally?

Dr. Marks says insomnia is underlying many quality of life issues such as anxiety and burnout. It also puts people at risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, compromised mental abilities, and shortened lifespan.

What are your options if you are one of the 100 million with a bona fide sleep disorder? Or, even if you are an occasional insomniac? Pills aren’t the definitive answer. If taking sleep medication worked over time, returning you to the type of sleep required for good health and mental balance, the problem would be easier to solve. But this isn’t the case. Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs have their drawbacks, as do natural and herbal remedies.

In her new book, Master Your Sleep, Dr. Marks outlines numerous simple methods that support the body to fall asleep at bedtime and wake up refreshed. She has an easy-to-read, straightforward style with a refreshingly sensible and practical approach. Her prescription for a “sleep hygiene” program encourages the body and mind to accept a more healthful sleep pattern. As an added bonus for parents, she discusses what to do if your children have sleep troubles.

I always appreciate an expert that can offer sound advice with the goal of addressing underlying issues. That is what Dr. Marks does in her new book. So, for those of you who find yourself looking up at the dark ceiling more often than you care to, get a copy of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified and follow the advice of Dr. Marks. Meanwhile, consider doing my favorite of her suggestions: take the laptop out of the bedroom and keep your computer activities in another room.

The Optimist’s Path

Childhood experiences, environment, success and disappointment can play a role in shaping our attitudes. But whatever your current worldview might be, there is always room for a little more optimism. Especially now, when one dark thing after another appears on the nightly news, flexing the optimist muscle is imperative. This helps life become more meaningful, lifts physical energy and vitality, and certainly makes it nicer for others to be in our presence.

A friend and I were talking about the concept of good health being related to a positive mental attitude. My view was that a positive outlook is a healthier way to live and can even prevent illness. But he countered with something interesting. He said, “Some of the nastiest, most negative thinking people I’ve known have lived to be very old.” Once I thought about this, I had to agree - I’ve seen this too.

Although we’ve all known a difficult, cantankerous person who lived to old age, I still believe keeping a positive focus is important for physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. I like what Dr. Karl Menninger said, a founder of the Menninger Clinic and proponent of blending psychiatry and medicine: “Set up as an ideal the facing of reality as honestly and as cheerfully as possible.”

Why go the opposite route? It’s apparent that many of us choose the path of complaining and misery, but why? About complaining, a wise teacher I once had said, “It’s self-correcting. One eventually sees the futility of one’s own negativity, although this may take many lifetimes.” I found this to be an interesting way to look at it: we are all evolving and one of the roads in our travels is the road of pessimism!

I’d like to think I traveled that road long ago, but things happen and sometimes it just feels really good to get right into the center of the mud pile and complain about everything. If we can be aware of the moment we choose to jump into the mess, and also be a little practiced in how to climb back out and clean off, then once in awhile maybe we can be excused and just indulge. Griping is an indulgence, after all.

Affirmations are one way to help your mind stay focused on the positive and also to help dig yourself out of the mud pile once you’ve had your fun in there. I encourage you to set up your own self-fulfilling prophecies. Listed below are a few you can use to get you on your way.

I make conscious, positive choices
I have the kind of inner fortitude that survives and succeeds through anything
I live in true comfort and joy
I have a healthy vibrant body and mind
I forgive myself for everything
I am open to positive change
I flow easily with change
My own well-being is my top priority
Optimum health is mine now and always
I am fully loved
My body knows how to heal itself
I am completely healthy in every way
Every day I’m feeling happier
I am alive and healed on all levels
I remain in balance, steady, strong, peaceful
I have a lot of options
I have many opportunities
My life is filled with harmony

You can write them out, print and post where you can see them, choose one that resonates with you and put it on your refrigerator, or make a list of your own. Either way, you’re mental focus will be improved and, according to the latest studies on mind-body wellness, you will be healthier and happier.

January 10, 2011

Healing with the Mind

The mind is so powerful that it alone can help you heal. This requires trust in yourself and your ability to focus your thoughts on what you want and how you want to feel. In each moment you can notice where your mind has gone, whether to worries, fears, judgments, and other negativity, or to thoughts that are more closely aligned with what you want for yourself.

An American named Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) was nicknamed “The Sleeping Prophet” for his ability to enter a sleep-like state and answer the health questions of thousands of people who came to him for answers. Although he died 65 years ago, his teachings are widespread today, with hundreds of books written about him and his work. The Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach continues to teach what he brought forth from his trance state.

Although there are thousands of valuable pieces of information collected from his work, there is a theme that runs through his teachings. Cayce placed an emphasis on keeping a balanced mental attitude in order to maintain wellness. In one of his readings he said, “Through diet and exercise the greater portion of all disturbances may be equalized and overcome, IF the right mental attitude is kept.”

Cayce also said, “What we think and what we eat – combined together – make what we are, physically and mentally.” The question then becomes how do we maintain the right mental attitude and turn our minds toward thoughts that heal? Can this become a habit and if so, how?

The first step is to have an ongoing practice of noticing and managing your thoughts. This isn’t easy to do if you’re addicted to the television culture, where mass media sends a never ending stream of negative concepts into your brain. Or, if you like to get online and read the daily headlines followed by stories of horrific occurrences around the world. Or, if you like to “trauma share” with friends and colleagues about the annoying things that happen to you.

In the case of serious physical illness, we might find ourselves in a doctor’s office listening to negative possibilities and statistics that don’t sound promising. Because we are susceptible to these predictions, we often believe the bad news and accept it as fact when it isn’t. This can hinder the ability to heal because the mind is powerful enough to create what it believes.

We hear stories about people on their “deathbeds” whose families don’t tell them what the doctors have said about their dire situation. The person gradually gets well and goes on to live a full life. The mind didn’t have the opportunity to grasp onto the negative concept of doom, and instead believed in wellness. Our inability to really integrate this into mainstream medicine is a huge hindrance to our nation’s overall health and wellbeing. If we were masters over our own minds we could enhance and improve the entire medical system.

There are very few more important things you can do than to shift your mind to the positive. Any negative thought can be transformed by focusing on its opposite. Writing down the opposite thought, even drawing it out, helps change the negative thought pattern. Notice what you think about. Are you hooked in to the latest gory or fear-based story on the nightly news? Do you have people around you who enjoy talking in negative terms, going over and over the same dark topics? Do you do this yourself? If so, noticing these times and making an effort to change them is your path to making a positive mind a habit.

The best conversation I had over the past holidays was with a friend at a dinner party who said, “I’m focusing all of my attention on seeing the best in people. I’m simply not talking negative about things. My challenge is to practice this even when others around me are being negative.” Isn’t that the challenge for us all.

That was one conversation I’ve had lately that could have carried into the wee hours of the morning. When you find another person who’s on board with you, it is inspiring, uplifting, and life-affirming. This is where true healing begins.

Clean Up Toxic Indoor Air

Most commercial cleaning products, cosmetics, and scented items (including perfumes) are sickening. They poison people daily.

These toxins are on floors, walls, countertops, beds, furniture, towels, clothing, and are applied directly to the skin. What happens in your body when they enter your bloodstream? Do they accumulate or combine together to become more potent? Do they cause rashes, allergies, respiratory problems, headaches, liver, kidney, and brain damage while assisting mutant cells in their quest to multiply? In many cases, yes they do. This is why we must think for ourselves when it comes to using these products.

The other day I saw a television commercial showing an attractive woman spraying an “air freshener” around her living room and on her sofa. Later, I saw another advertisement for a so-called air freshener that releases a mist when someone walks by. Since perfume, cosmetics, and scented items are heavily advertised by beautiful people on television and in print, their use seems perfectly normal, however, it is far from desirable.

A well-scented, squeaky-clean home and body is lovely. But to obtain both from harsh chemicals is damaging to humans and animals, not to mention expensive. The majority of products cause toxic indoor air quality that is worse than outdoor air pollution. Commercial air “fresheners” themselves contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of which have been proven to cause cancer. You might as well spray acetone, isobutene, propane, petroleum distillates, toluene, tar, lead, arsenic, radon, and even ozone into your breathing space.

Many years ago I took a day and did a massive review of products in my house. I threw out trash cans full of toxic junk, much of it expensive department store cosmetics and perfumes along with far too many cleaning supplies. I also tossed scented candles and all those lovely smell-good bath and body products.

I began to search for organic, toxin-free replacements. There were virtually none in large department stores, boutiques, drug or grocery stores, which themselves smell of a harsh mix of chemicals from the goods they sell.

I learned to live with very few products. Shopping is simple, I’ve saved thousands of dollars and have taken a toxic load off my body. My number one household cleaning product? A large, inexpensive bottle of white vinegar which I mix with water and use for general cleaning.

As for air fresheners, if you can’t simply open windows and let fresh air inside then use an air purifier. If you want a great scent on yourself or in your house, use 100% pure essential oils that come from plants, trees, or flowers. You can also use an essential oil diffuser or mix a few drops of essential oils into a spray bottle filled with distilled water. Bring in green plants which naturally purify the air.

With the New Year here, it’s the perfect time to address your indoor air quality. How about making 2011 the year you become nontoxic? When you want to know about ingredients in any household product, see the Household Products Database maintained by the National Institutes of Health: or get the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer’s website and look at the list of hazardous ingredients.

Learn more by reading How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace by Paul D. Blanc. Note that many products labeled “all natural” and “organic” are just as toxic as the conventional ones. To learn more about natural cleaning solutions, including alternatives to bleach, read Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck.