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Got Stuck…in a Very Good Way

Image courtesy of tcmpage.com

I’m a wimp around needles, but no stranger to acupuncture. I black out when I have blood taken, sure, it’s happened. But put me on an acupuncturist’s table, and my fear, like my stress, all but evaporates. And until you experience it for yourself, you probably won’t believe me. That’s fine.

I have had a few not-quite-helpful visits to the doctor this past year, and while they’re good for an Rx, they usually come up short on everything else. Which is why I decided to get an acupuncturist back into regular rotation. So I made an appointment with Juhi Singh at the Ash Center (headed up by Dr. Richard Ash).

In a word, it was restorative. Sure, I had some niggling, chronic issues here and there that I wanted addressed, but while you may go in with those in mind, you get a much more comprehensive treatment. Juhi, like most practitioners of Oriental Medicine, are going to ask you about your sleep, your diet, your bowel movements, all of that. She’ll want to look at your tongue.

But you may be surprised by what else she asks, such as “Do you have vivid dreams?” The tools of the holistic practitioner probe into different areas of your mind and life, and it makes for an interesting experience for sure.

Juhi happens to teach and practice from an Ayurvedic framework (Ayurveda being the oldest health care system on record, hailing from India and informing pretty much all of Eastern medicine in one way or another). She won’t give you a standard or generic approach to diet. She takes into account who you are as an individual, with your own personality and body type, etc.

When you finally get to the treatment part of the appointment you’re ready–and she has an idea of what you need precisely.

The needles? Pshaw. They’re hair-thin–literally the diameter of a human hair, and Juhi’s touch is utterly painless and gentle. I laid there like a human pincushion for the better part of an hour I’d say, though I don’t know for sure because I was so relaxed I got swallowed up in some time-space vortex and came out the other end renewed.

You can’t imagine that you can relax this way, but you absolutely can. I like to imagine all those teeny tiny needles like miniature lightning rods, channeling, directing, and shunting energy through my meridians where I need it most, dispatching signals from one cluster of nerves to another, cooling this down or warming that up, and generally normalizing my inner physical and emotional climate.

I walked out of there as if in a dream. And in fact, I just kept walking–left the crunch of pedestrians on 5th avenue and just floated across the park back home.

I am absolutely 100% going back. If you give yourself a gift this year, try a few rounds with a trusted and recommended practitioner.

It will be the best decision you make all day.

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Don’t Fight with Granny at Christmas: How Family Tensions Take Us to the Dark Side

granny fightI truly believe that every holiday begins with the best of intentions: To be kinder, more open, more interested, more engaged, more communicative. We go in thinking THIS is the year it’s going to be really wonderful. We produce Norman Rockwell-ized images in our minds of what our family could be, peering in at all the warmth as if through a frosty window, a montage of camaraderie and laughter and love.

And then SHE has to go and say that.

Seriously Grandma? You’re going to go there again?

(Or mother, or sister in law, or uncle Joe. Anyone can and probably has gone there.)

Your blood begins to rise to a slow simmer, soon a boil, and then before you know it you’ve spat back some vitriol of your own, perhaps a sarcastic comment, or said your piece with a single accusatory twitch of the eyebrow.

You’ve been pulled over into the dark side.

Ah, families. They push our buttons. They ARE out buttons. And nothing brings out our very worst like the people we love most.

Why is that? Because. There’s no hiding from the people from whence you came. Sometimes, in fact, I think it’s far easier to love the people in your life that you don’t know as well. Maybe even strangers.

What gets on our nerves when we’re with our families–that somehow calls up from the dust an old, ugly, mean adolescent version of ourselves–is the something that our families aren’t so much causing as triggering. And when we can get to the bottom of THAT, well, things can feel a lot different.

 

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I Don’t Wish You a Perfect Holiday. Here’s Why.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and digitalart

Hear that ringing? It’s the jingle jangle of holiday headaches. Ah, just listen to it all, the cacophony of nervous systems lit up like Christmas trees. Now, let’s figure out how to calm it all the F down.

The best decision I’ve made so far in this holiday season is one I try to make every year, and it may be one you want to give a try: I let myself off the hook.

From what? From all the “shoulds” that sound good on paper but don’t always happen: Like…I should make cookies (or flavored oils or home-brewed beer) to give to people; plan some perfect quaint luncheon and have friends over on a Sunday (when I’d really rather sit around in my underwear and fold laundry and watch last night’s SNL); buy the perfect gifts, at a discount, and wrap them flawlessly; decorate more or better than I usually do (which is not saying much); to act or be any different during the holidays than I might normally be.

It’s Christmas, folks. Expectations run high. Standards run high. Credit card bills run high. As do tensions. And we tend to think, consciously or un, that this requires something more from us–and in many ways, of course it does! And it can be fun! But that doesn’t mean you have to run yourself ragged doing it.

So one of the best ways I know of to enjoy the holidays is to count on the fact that something, somehow, may go wrong. I’m not a pessimist. I’m what author Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., calls an optimalist.

Why Perfect Is Trouble

I recently interviewed Ben-Shahar, a positive psychologist and author of the new book Being Happy, on my daily radio show “Whole Living” on Martha radio / Sirius XM 110 (10a ET, 7a PT). He taught the most popular class at Harvard on happiness–and debunks this irritatingly persistent idea that to truly be happy, you should be happy ALL THE TIME. That nothing should be able to get you down.

And while he wasn’t speaking about holidays in particular, I am. Because this is the time when we feel even more pressure to be happy. We also often think if our holidays were just a little more perfect, we’d be happier than we are now, or would be happier later.

(Want proof that that isn’t true? Please reference your past 25 holidays.)

But here’s what drove it home for me: Ben-Shahar says that perfectionists are among the most unhappy people in the world. Why? Because they do not accept failure. Or reality. Or anything, well, less than perfect. This, he says, becomes an obstacle to living healthy. “We either learn to fail or fail to learn,” he writes.

So beware the perfectionist tendency, masquerading as optimism in a Santa hat. Perfectionism and optimism are NOT the same things, as Ben-Shahar says.

A Distasteful Analogy to Illustrate The Difference Between Perfectionists & Optimalists

Perfectionists are rigid and unaccommodating in philosophy and practice. Optimalists, on the other hand, make the best of whatever comes their way–good, bad, ugly. They’re also, says Ben-Shahar, far more likely to be and feel happy.

Why? Not only are they more flexible and able to shift their expectations, but perfections are, to put it bluntly, emotionally constipated. Since they’re so busy barring the path of negative emotions, they don’t let good ones through either.

Optimalists, on the other hand, don’t resist this or that emotion. They digest the whole spectrum of emotions, and let it all move through them, making them less likely to strain or suffer. OK, that’s enough.

 

 

 

 

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Choose a Flat Belly Over Flatbread

Can you tell which is g-free? Didn't think so.

Don’t ask how I did it. But I did. Had my first ever g-free Thanksgiving. Thanks are largely due to my mother, who agreed to make a portion of her famous stuffing with gluten-free croutons. I’ve been GF for months now, on and off at first, and now fairly steadily with few (and regrettable) exceptions, since end of summer. (Truth be told, I would have violated that rule for this special holiday, because passing on stuffing would have been sacrilege.)

For me, the shift to g-free living was prompted by ongoing and relentless digestive discomfort–and vanity. WHY did I have a pooched out belly at the end of every day? Why was I just that much puffier than I needed to be, given what I ate and my level of physical activity.

“It’s just part of my getting older,” comes the complacent refrain. NOT FOR ME. NOT NOW, I thought. I’m not going to just chalk it up and keep on bloating.

I had gone off gluten for weeks at a time before and felt noticeably thinner and lighter, but refused to believe that I had a gluten intolerance. I railed against the GF trend as being misguided (“Only 1% of the population has Celiac,” and “This is all a huge racket”).

But since then, I have interviewed a range of experts on the topic, including my friend and colleague Dr. Brooke Kalanick, a naturopathic physician, author, and founder of betterbydrbrooke.com, who routinely takes her patients off gluten to address a range of issues–not all of them digestion or even weight-related.

She told me this series of stats that stay stuck in my head:

About 30% of people have some kind of gluten intolerance. Of that crowd, 40% have digestive issues (bloating, constipation, diarrhea, do I really need to spell that out)–but 60% have non-digestive symptoms, such as foggy-headedness, anxiety, and depression. Meaning: The way you feel could be linked to this aspect of your diet–and you won’t know til you try coming off it a bit.

Integrative physician, advocate, and educator Mark Hyman, M.D., isn’t shy about damning gluten and its negative effects in his provocative post on HuffPo, “Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You”in which he cites recent research that points to gluten sensitivity and celiac as a key contributor to a range of very serious diseases, even death.

Can’t Argue With Results

I fully admit now that I was in denial. How do I know? Because you can’t argue with results. And since I’ve been off gluten (which, again, means off wheat, barley, and rye in all of its forms, namely pasta, bread, and beer, but also in all the many processed foods we eat every day), I have lost just shy of 10 pounds. The jeans I almost tossed now fit like a dream, and the shiny satiny pants I bought on my 30th bday that went unworn for years now slide on like it’s 2003. Boo-yah.

Damn good, fresh baked G-free scones. (The mix is from Whole Foods)

My friend Adelaide went off gluten for Lent last year–just because it presented an interesting challenge she wanted to take on. She had not had any previous digestive issues. But when she lost 20 lbs and her allergy-induced asthma all but cleared up, she was like, whoa hold up. And that was it.

(Check out the g-free scones that she made when I came to visit this past weekend, at right). They were light and buttery, perfect crumb, and you, my friend, would not have known the difference.)

Does this mean EVERYONE should go off gluten? I didn’t say that.

Nor do I mean to vilify whole grain products. I wish I could eat them. But nothing tastes as good as I feel when I skip the short-term wheat-induced high. If you have started connecting the dots and thinking, hmm, I wonder if it would work for me? Then why not try it? No test is as accurate as simply going off the food and seeing how you feel. (In fact, that’s the first thing any nutritionist is going to have you do.)

Cravings Can Change

I won’t lie–those first few days and weeks of passing on the bread dipped in oil at a restaurant felt…sad. Brunch was joyless. But as experts tell it, cravings are learned–and can be unlearned. I’m over it now and don’t wriggle around when the bread basket appears. And I may not do pancakes, but I do plenty of eggs and potatoes (and bacon). Plus, more and more restaurants are coming out with gluten-free menus–and there are ever-improving g-free products on the market.

Warning: You CAN, however, get addicted to how you feel without gluten. I know I am. 

There are scads of articles online about the stuff, so I don’t need to go on about it here, but suffice it to say that I feel different. Simple as that. Sharper, lighter, more energized. Sexier. There. I said it. AND you don’t have to go without–Udi’s makes gluten-free bread that toasts up nicely, and there are tons of GF pastas.

(Check out this fab new online magazine Easy Eats for delicious ideas, whether you’re gfree or not.)

Giving up gluten may be the best decision you make, but it can’t be a decision you make for just one day–simply because you won’t get a real sense of what it does or doesn’t do for you in such a short span. Most experts say give it 2-3 weeks at least.

Perhaps going g-free will be the best decision you make all month–see what happens. Maybe you suffer no real change and run screaming back to pizza and pasta. Fantastic! Or you may make another discovery that you like even more.

Check out “What’s the deal with gluten” on my videos page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spend a Little QT with a Canine (or Two)

Me and Mathilde

I used to work in an office where dogs roamed free. At one point, we had two rescued greyhounds who kept their post in the office of the production manager, an aging Boston terrier who held court in the art department, and a Bernese mountain dog who lolled at the feet of our editor in chief.

Then, after people quit, moved on, or got laid off, they took their dogs with them, and new ones arrived: a coal-black border collie named Rosa with her deeply soulful gaze, an unpredictable Mexican hairless, and a lovable, lap-ready pug named Mathilde (pictured left).

Say what you will about dogs in the office, but I tell you there is NO quicker shortcut to stress relief. Dogs have a powerful grounding effect (read about how they can boost your mood); their simple, animal presence has a way of making us feel more human somehow–and at the same time neutralize any uncomfortable vibes in a room.

It’s true: I’ve seen workplace tensions all but melt away when a dog comes sauntering in or collapses with a sigh. How can you be mad over this headline or that meeting when you’ve got a pair of liquidy eyes beaming up at you? They somehow call us back to our kinder, simpler, childlike selves, and, well, sometimes we need that. I actually feel myself getting nicer around them. (Find out just how common dogs are in the workplace.)

I am not a dog owner (yet). And while I love my cat, I appreciate any and all time I have to soak up some canine love. So my very best decision today was taking time to visit my sister and her husband–whom, dogs or not, I very much wanted to see of course–but the added bonus was hanging with Marty and Moo, whom I don’t see as often.

Marty & Moo. I mean, are you SERIOUS?

Me and Marty

We rolled around on the floor and I let Marty the beagle lick my face and smoothed his velvety ears. I gave Moo, a labradoodle with long red eyelashes who is definitely part Muppet, a good belly rub. And then, later cuddled with Mathilde, who will curl her dense little body against my legs on the futon and snore like a buzz saw.

If you have the chance to spend ANY time with a dog, do it. Lose yourself in some furry playtime. You might find yourself a better person for it. I know I do.

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Don’t Freak Out.

I walked in on something happening in my own bathroom the other night. And I remind you that I live alone (save for a stunning tuxedo feline named Silas). A cockroach big enough to block traffic on West End Ave was hiding under the slats of my wooden bathmat. In fact, I would not have seen it, had I not accidentally moved the wooden mat and seen a telltale antennae and a suspicious scurrying.

What. Was. That.

So I tried moving it again, my heart drawn up into a tight fist in my throat. It deftly anticipated the shifting of the slats and stayed hidden. Almost. I faked left and shifted the mat right.

That’s when I realized there were two of them. Two. Commiserating together. I could have lifted the mat, but knew such sudden exposure would send them scurrying and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Then one made a break for the door and the situation escalated, regrettably. He forced my hand. Or, rather, my shoe. I smashed and flushed it, feeling horrible about all of it. Meanwhile, the other dashed a short distance to the safety of a cabinet which I could have moved, but dared not.

We were in a stand off.

This one was bigger and, I imagined, wiser. And the very thought of grabbing it even with wads of tissue, was paralyzing. I would not–would not–be able to stomach the feel of all those legs moving in my hand. We both stood, stock still, feeling the other’s unwanted presence and dread.

But rather than pursue an unsettling face off OR fill my home with toxic fumes, I called a truce. I communicated to the beast through mental telepathy, which I’m sure all roaches possess, and said, “You and I can coexist, provided you never EVER show your face again. I won’t sneak up on you. You don’t sneak up on me. Go in peace.”

He must have agreed to the terms, because I never saw him again. Though for a few days Silas seemed to take a pointed interest in the small, shaded space below the cabinet. Whenever I came in there to do my business, I issued a mental forewarning and a prayer, to please, please stay hidden. It wasn’t until much later that I found the courage, while cleaning, to move it. And he was gone.

 

 

 

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Have Oysters with Dad (or Anyone!)

This is one happy guy.

You have not seen a happier man than my father about to have at a dozen oysters. Which is why rather than sweep into town to borrow the car he so generously lets me use to drive to Massachusetts, and bolt back out, I proposed dinner, just the two of us, at one of his very favorite eating establishments in the world (or at least, in town), Legal Seafood.

Truth be told, it’s one of my happiest places to be, too–not Legal specifically, but poised above an icy dish teeming with the chilled, liquidy mollusks swimming in seawater. But especially with someone who loves it as much as I do. When the plates are lowered and the wine is served, he is perfectly merry–a man who’s both anticipating something wonderful and yet fully contented.

We tasted and slurped and rolled our eyes at how sweet, how tender and fresh. At how lucky we were to be able to eat them, wash them down with Riesling (him) and champagne (me).

And we talked: He told me about his crazy schedule (he’s 72 and a full-time anesthesiologist for 40 years, and still makes more in a day than I could hope to make in a month); I told him about new clients I have in the works, and how thrilled I am to be self employed; we remarked how beautiful and smart and loving my niece and nephew are growing up to be. My dad’s colleagues, one-time medical residents of his who have long since grown up and raised kids of their own, and who also happened to be eating there, paused long enough to clap him on the back as they passed through with families in tow.

“Your dad’s a good man,” one said smiling. “And he’s got a wonderful sense of humor.” And my dad grinned, patting his mouth with the starched white napkin and nodding his thanks.

“Wow, Dad,” I said, when the second familiar family came through. “What are you like, the mayor here or something?”

My father smiles as he tips another rough shell into his mouth and rolls his eyes. “I have to make a point to pay attention to this while I am eating it,” he says. “I want to enjoy every last one.”

When he finishes his last of the dozen, he turns the shell face down with finality. “The saddest thing,” he says, “is when you could swear there’s one more and you look and look and realize you’ve eaten them all.”

(By the way, for those of you unanointed in the pleasures of oysters or the generally shellfish-shy: There is this commonly held perception that oysters are slimy, a point I wish to correct. Slimy suggests that the food in question leaves some kind of oily or sticky residue. When in fact, as my fellow oyster lovers know, they’re actually cool and crisp and clean. As far as a fishy taste, I find cooked fish and tuna fish for instance far more “fishy.” Oysters are so clean (and sustainable, I might add), that all the things you might think you hate about fish simply don’t apply. So if you haven’t, I urge you to try just one.)

 

 

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Two Words: Hot Chocolate

Pure pleasure.

Chocolate is NEVER a bad decision. Ever. Not in my book, anyway. And not according to recent research written up in the NYT, which points to the cardiovascular benefits of chocolate.

So deciding to stop by the famous L.A. Burdick’s in Harvard Square recently was perhaps the best decision of my day–of the week, even. I went with my good friend Janice, who, like a steamy beverage, always warms my spirits. And between some good laughs and a delicious cup of liquid silk, my serotonin rose to a record high. I floated out onto Brattle Street in a cross-eyed, chocolatey haze.

(I will get on my soapbox about this, though: L.A. Burdick’s used to be a place you could park it with friends; not anymore. They seem in recent years to have cleared out more than half of the original seating area to put in a full wall display of gift boxes and other Burdick’s merchandise. Boo. Major misuse of space. I saw a line out the door of people craving chocolate but with nowhere to sit–and a lot of fancy expensive chocolate gift boxes that were going nowhere fast. What were they thinking?)

You can, by the way, do this at home if you take good quality dark chocolate (for an amazing bittersweet brew I’d opt for 68% cocoa content or higher) and shave it right into warm milk (or soy, or whatever your nut milk pleasure). And when you do, I promise you, you’ll abandon all foolish powdery mixes for good.

The holidays are breathing down our necks, people. And resistance is futile–and pointless, if you ask me. Why. Why would we deny ourselves something as sweet and sensual and serotonin-enhancing as this little cup of joy? Especially as the chill sets in.

My advice for you: Make it a point to enjoy something delicious–if not a hot chocolate, then something else–and enjoy it slowly.

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Have Some Bubbly. By Yourself.

Champagne glass. Isolated on white background

I arrived the other night in the Twin Cities for a client meeting, and stayed in the ultra-swank Graves 601 hotel in downtown Minneapolis. The kind of place you walk into and, thanks to the genius lighting scheme, sculptural elements, music and overall vibe, you feel way cooler than you have any business being.

I dropped my stuff off in a room that could have been a soundstage for some Hollywood movie, wherein Ryan Gosling should, on cue, sweep in and knock me over onto the goose down bed for some gratuitous activity before I slip on heels and prance down to dinner or a car chase or a bank heist. Since this was not the case, and it was very much just me in a wrinkled shirt, I left my bag and proceeded to have dinner in the atmosphere-heavy Cosmos restaurant on the 4th floor.

And this was my best decision of the day: Sit at the spare, sexy bar and order a glass of prosecco as long as my arm. (I didn’t actually make that request; that’s how they come at Cosmos.) It was just what I or anyone needs after the cranky rigmarole that travel entails: a mouthful (or several) of cool, crisp, sparkly libation.

I also want to take a moment here to address the issue of eating alone at a bar. Why do people, especially women, have a problem with it (ok, maybe you don’t, but plenty do)? That night the bar was dotted with business professionals dining alone and there wasn’t one thing sad about it. Men and women. I for one find it’s one of the best ways to enjoy a meal mindfully–you can actually chew and taste and enjoy without having to talk around your food.

Not that I don’t love sharing a meal of course, because is there anything better? But if you let yourself savor a meal in a delicious little bubble of solitude, without worrying what people may think (trust me, no one’s thinking anything about you or me–they’re too busy worried about themselves, as we all are), you’ll expose yourself to a singular kind of joy.

By the time I finished up my little meal (caesar salad that was eh, but roasted sea scallops and earthy, umami-esque hen-of-the-woods mushrooms in a sweet, thick sauce) and drained my glass, I felt light and bubbly myself. Relaxed and satisfied, I teetered to my room to take in a hot shower (with multiple heads!), slipped into the soft envelope of my hotel bed and sent myself off to dreamland.

I urge you to try it yourself.