Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz rap about holistic health

Recently, Dr. Andrew Weil appeared on Dr. Oz to share some of his expertise into the field he has arguably pioneered in this country: holistic and integrative medicine.

I’m a fan of Weil’s, of course–having worked with his staff at the now-defunct Self Healing newsletter, when it was a sister pub of Body+Soul (now Whole Living magazine). And while he knows pretty much everything there is to know about food, fitness, meditation, supplements, you name it–I’ve heard him say again and again that when people ask what’s the one thing they can do TODAY to improve their health, it’s always this: Breathe.

Not just any old breathing of course–mindful breathing. There are tons of different breathing and meditation exercises. And the fact is if you do any of them regularly you’ll be better off than you are now–simply because focusing on your breath brings you back into your body, out of your head, and with that simple act comes a host of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. This is why it comes as no surprise to me that people are using things like a Fitbit to help them keep control of their breathing. If they can understand how fast their heart is beating then they can also practice at getting better at their breathing technique. Having a good breathing technique, and also exercising regularly can be hugely beneficial to your health. So if you are interested in getting a Fitbit to help you with this, then check out Mobile Mob for more information.

Moving on from there though, there’s one exercise, in particular, he recommends that is worth trying. I do it (not as often as I should). It’s called the 4-7-8 breath.

What It Can Do For You

Weil says this simple breathing exercise relaxes mind and body; he calls it a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. However, unlike tranquilizers, which can knock you out first and then gradually lose their power, he says, this breathing exercise, while subtle at first, gains power and effectiveness as you do it more. Weil mentioned on the show that it can also lower your blood pressure and improve focus. Not bad for something that anyone can do. For free.

How to Do a 4-7-8 Breath

(These instructions come directly from Weil’s site)

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Weil adds that you should not do more than four breaths at a time during your first month of practice, and to do it twice a day. You can gradually extend to eight breath cycles. He says it’s normal to feel lightheaded at first, and that it should pass.

Read more about Weil’s recommended breathing exercises.

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I hesitate to even tell you to drink green tea because you may fall immediately asleep out of boredom because you’ve heard people touting this beverage for at least a hundred years. Or so it seems.

But I’m sorry. Some things are just worth repeating. The research keeps piling up.

What you may know already is that green tea is packed with free-radical-zapping antioxidants, which means reducing your risk of all kinds of age-related conditions and diseases. It’s worth nothing that a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a large Japanese study, suggests that those older adults who drank the most green tea were the least likely to become “functionally disabled.”

Reuters reports: “Specifically, almost 13 percent of adults who drank less than a cup of green tea per day became functionally disabled, compared with just over 7 percent of people who drank at least five cups a day.”

They report though that it’s not like green tea alone is some magic juice: “Green-tea lovers generally had healthier diets, including more fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as more education, lower smoking rates, fewer heart attacks and strokes, and greater mental sharpness.”

The point is, if you drink green tea, chances are you’re doing a few other things right too.

Look, I love the stuff–from the roasted hoji cha to the toasted-rice-flavored genmaicha, to straight up sencha. But if you’re not used to green tea, it can be a bit of jump, especially the more vegetal flavors. There are, however, plenty of green tea makers out there that offer teas infused with fruit essences and what have you. There are enough kinds of green tea at Whole Foods to line an entire wall of your home.

So, experiment. Try a bunch of different ones–and in the name of staying spry, drink it. Often.

 

 

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Did you know that you eat way, way more when you dine with other people? Funny, because so often I hear people say they honestly think they eat LESS when they’re out with friends or colleagues because they’re “so busy talking.” Well, I’ll tell you right now that’s a load of bull. Most of us are talking with our mouths full. Or listening as we chew. And chew.

I am not going on anecdotal research here, either–for matters like this I turn to one of my favorite experts, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., head of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab at Cornell and the author of Mindless Eating (a must read if you have any interest in peeking under the hood of your own eating habits and changing them).

I’ll add that he’s the lead author of over 100 academic articles and books on eating behavior, and a man who’s been called the Sherlock Holmes of food. So there you have it.

Wansink says if you eat with one other person, you’ll consume about 35% more than if you ate alone. Get a table for four, and you’ll take in as much as 75% more. Did you even know you could eat that much more? Now you do.

I’m not blaming you, by the way, nor implying that you’ve got lousy self control. The reason this happens is likely due in part to our natural instincts as social animals–to eat while others are eating, and sometimes keep on picking if your dining companions continue to graze. (It doesn’t help that most single restaurant servings could serve a family of five.)

What to do? Wansink suggests this tip: Try to be the last one to start eating when the food is served, and to pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table. And, he says, skip on seconds.

Here’s what I do: I try to let pleasure, appetite, and satiety rule by paying close attention to how the food tastes and how I feel as I eat. The first few bites are ALWAYS the best. So as soon as I feel that flame of appetite sort of snuff out, and realize that the food just doesn’t taste as good as it did in the beginning, I put my fork down and let the whole situation cool off–my appetite and the food itself. I’m done.

Now, of course I don’t mean that you have to eat alone to lose weight, etc. And while eating alone can be very calming and restorative, I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t eat out with a gang of folks. Please–one of the great pleasures on this planet is sharing food with friends. But tuning in to where you’re at with your meal and pacing yourself can make a big difference.

 

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Sure, that glass of pinot sounds like a good idea right before bed, especially when you typically have trouble transitioning to shuteye. But beware bedtime drinker: While that vino (or vodka, whatever your pleasure) may “take the edge off” and make you drowsy, and help you ease into sleep–it won’t keep you there.

Why Alcohol Sucks as a Sleep Aid

There’s lots of research and press on the topic, including this study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that found that while alcohol may initially improve sleep in nonalcoholic people, the effect of high alcohol doses can disrupt sleep cycles–primarily the second half of the nocturnal sleep period (you know, those deeper, juicier layers of sleep, without which you don’t feel as refreshed).

What’s worse: Tolerance goes up, so that you need more and more alcohol to produce the initial effects, which then only serves to further disrupt your sleep. You are much better off if you take into account how you sleep and your nighttime routine. If you’re a side sleeper then you should look for a good mattress for sleeping on the side. If you are on your phone or working on your laptop just before you go to sleep, that’s a habit that needs to be changed. If you need a colder room to sleep then get a fan that can help you doze off quicker. It’s little changes like these that will help you, not booze.

Alcohol, in short, is great at making you sleepy, especially when you want to be awake, and yet lousy at keeping you in the very stages of sleep you need so you don’t feel sleepy. That’s the worst ad for a sleep aid I’ve ever heard.

While experts say a little wine at dinner, etc, is probably fine if that’s your norm, using alcohol to get yourself to fall asleep is a slippery, sleepless slope.

What To Do Instead

The Mayo Clinic offers some very basic tips on sleep–and if you feel like you’ve heard it before, you’re right. So have I. But that’s because there’s a grain of truth to all the sleep wisdom: In order to get better sleep, you have to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, not eat or drink right before bed (not a ton, anyway), maintain a cool, dark room and make sure your bed is ultra-comfortable with the help of something like a memory foam mattress or other specially designed equipment.

Sounds like a no-duh. But how many blinking or bright LED lights are in your sleep space? (Think: phone, alarm clock, etc). Is there a streetlight peeking through your blinds? Shut them off, turn the clock away. Those tiny little beams of light really can affect (read: screw up) your ability to sleep because your brain and all the glands/hormones associated with creating the conditions for sleep are wired to respond to light. So, lights out. You might also want to make sure that you’re bed is comfortable for you, for example, you could try something like a full size mattress for better sleep.

You may also want to swap out your hot toddy for a hot bath or shower. Why? Because afterwards, your body temperature drops–and that drop signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. Don’t believe me? Ask Stanford University.

And then of course there are always natural methods to help you switch off and get a good night’s rest. Some people like to use CBD oil as part of their night time routine. If you’re someone who struggles with late night stress and worries then alternative medicines like the best cbd oil uk could offer a solution thanks to their calming properties.

My point is this: Give yourself a last call at least two hours before bedtime. And try the hot shower. It could be the best decision you make all day–or night.

P.S. One of the foremost experts on sleep, whom I interviewed on my show on Sirius XM, is Dr. Michael Breus, aka “The Sleep Doctor.” If you have trouble sleeping, check out his insomniablog.

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The term “hoarder” has, you may have noticed, become subject to word inflation. And why? Because it’s catchy and current and everyone who shows even the slightest hesitation at parting with any single item or collection of items risks being called one. We may, half jokingly, eye our own piles and worry that maybe there is an inner hoarder quietly collecting inside of us until we lose our minds and one day end up buried alive in newspapers or baby cribs (or rats, god forbid), until someone you know comes to visit you with the local hoarder cleaning service because they haven’t heard from you in days and they are or worried that the worst might have happened.

We know, of course, this is not the case. And while hoarding, to be the best of my knowledge, is not an “official” condition, it is a compulsive disorder that the Mayo Clinic says is often more likely to occur in people who have other compulsive disorders (like anxiety/depression, alcohol dependency, etc). It’s treated, with mixed results, with some combination of psychotherapy and drugs. And no, being the subject of a reality show where someone comes and cleans out your house with a dumptruck won’t do much in the way of curing it, either. Unless when they come over, they are suggesting you do a search for “terminix massachusetts” so any rodent/bug infestation that’s developed can be dealt with.

(Though in case you’re wondering what mental health care providers look for, check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about that; namely, acquisition of a large number of possessions, having an overly cluttered home, and distress over your hoarding.)

Did you know that hoarding can include objects of various sizes? Some people hoard smaller items like books whereas others hold on to larger possessions like furniture. Nonetheless there are some solutions available for people who can’t bear to throw anything away but still want a tidy home – Mobile Storage providers like Holloway Storage in Sydney, Australia can provide storage units and will even take these to a secure facility until they are needed. More often than not, it’s about striking a balance.

You may not be a hoarder, but…

You may, like me, have more around than you actually need. And so as you try to clean up from last year and create a clean slate for this one, facing off with your stuff is key. For example, do you have a habit of holding on to paperwork? If so, it might be a good idea to invest in a cabinet for your office so that your documents and files are not cluttering up your desk or the floors in your house and are instead stored away safely. Tempted to invest in a new cabinet of your own? You can buy office furniture online nowadays and get your new items delivered directly to your door. Clutter is more than just stuff, though-it’s the physical evidence of indecision.

Look around. Where do things tend to collect in your house, your room, on your desk? And more importantly, why? My friend and colleague, a woman I admire a whole lot Gail Blanke, creator of Throw Out Fifty Things (the book, the site, the movement) calls clutter “life plaque”; it collects in the arteries of your life and clogs up the works. And in order to get things circulating in a healthy way, you have to throw out, as she says, 50 things–not 5, 10, or 25. Though you’ll feel good when you toss/donate/part with any number of things, she says 50 is the sweet spot. I believe her.

I do this every few months myself, and am, as we speak, trying to let go of the guilt of putting unread issues of New York magazine in the recycle bin. I didn’t read it, not for weeks and weeks, and I’m not going to read it now.

YOUR BEST DECISION ALL DAY

Today, pick one area or pile or drawer and look it dead in the eye. Give yourself no more than 15 minutes to make the decisions you need to clear it out. Keep a list of the stuff you toss, and either keep going, or try it again tomorrow. It’s the quickest way to lose a lot–and I mean a lot–of weight.

…And in fact, as Gail will tell you, people who begin to release their white-knuckled grip on the things surrounding them, it’s no surprise when they actually start to lose body weight, too. Another good reason to start letting go–today.

Well hello there. You made it. Over the rickety holiday bridge into the vast tundra of the new year, possibly the last year, if the Mayans have it right. I’m not all that worried about it.

In fact, more of you are likely dreading something else–weight gain, or rather, a failure to lose weight gained over the past few months. So you resolve to lose weight, to go to the gym every single day, to never ever ever touch a piece of cake again.

Come on. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? There are scores of blogs and news stories out there either telling you how to keep a resolution or how you’ll inevitably break one or all of them. Little of which does you very good.

Do Something You Like, for Chrissakes

I for one think it’s a whole lot easier to do things that, well, you want to do. OR–like the effects of that thing. Let’s take an obvious one, like going to the gym, which sounds loathsome…until you go. Not just once, but, like, a few days in a row. I have started to do this and make a habit of it–and instead of loathing it, I’m sort of addicted to the way I feel when I leave…and so I go back.

(Also, at my gym, they give you this option to book your bike for spin class 26 hours in advance–and those classes fill up fast. And if you don’t show up for the bike you book, you’re blacklisted. So there’s that.)

But say you hate the gym and will not under any circumstances start going. Fine. I think there are probably lots of other things to resolve to do for your general health and wellness that don’t have to start with “I will lose…” (insert number of desired pounds here).

The reason we don’t stick with promises we make ourselves that sound good on paper are, I believe, because they suck. And we’re so busy talking about them that we don’t do them at all.

YOUR BEST DECISIONS ALL YEAR

So I say stop it with the big pronouncements, and start with small, quiet actions that you just do. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Book a regular massage. Whether that means once a week, once a month, or once a quarter, doesn’t matter. As long as you make your next appointment before you leave, it’s regular. (If you need a primer on why it’s such an important part of self care, here’s one.)
  • Go to bed half an hour earlier for a week straight. Then repeat the next week. And the next.
  • Swap out one crap food for one fresh food every day.
  • Cut out one or all of the big three. The three big digestive bullies are: gluten, soy, and dairy. Try cutting one, two, or all three out for a week or two and see what happens. You may be surprised. And those of you with digestive problems, you may be very pleasantly surprised.
  • Have sex more often. Yeah, I said it. Why not? Make it a priority, people. There’s too much great research on the benefits of sex not to make this part of what you do for yourself (including benefits to the immune system, heart health, self esteem, even pain reduction, according to WebMD)
  • Contact one good friend each week. I don’t mean write on their wall, either. I mean: email that person directly or even call (though I’ll be the first to admit I find phone convos lacking) and set up a time to see them. It’s hard to feel lonely or isolated when you keep shoring up the connections that make you who you are.

 OH–AND IF YOU’RE IN NEW ENGLAND…

….Here’s another idea: If you’re in the Boston area, join me at the first-ever two-day event Be Healthy Boston on Jan 28-29. I’ll be there to deliver the opening keynote. But that’s not the reason to go; I think it’ll be a great place to sort of play around and expose yourself to different aspects of health you may never have tried before.

NOTE though that you can’t just show up; you must buy tickets in advance. If you do come, please come up and introduce yourself if we haven’t met! It’s going to be fun. Get tickets here.

 

 

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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.

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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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.