Gratitude and Your Brain

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Gratitude and Your Brain

Turns out that the practice of gratitude does more than just make us feel better in the moment. Practicing gratitude actually changes your brain. It has long been established yet not a stretch to understand that gratitude will make you feel better but there have been many studies that support and outline the ways in which the brain changes. The Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA conducted studies that show that when you regularly express gratitude it literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeping the gray matter functioning at a higher level and as a result makes us feel happier and healthier. It turns out that when you are happy it affects your central nervous system enabling you to feel more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant.

There are many ways in which people practice gratitude. One is the ever-popular nighttime gratitude journal in which you jot down 5 or more things you are grateful for before going to bed. I think this practice has great merit because it puts the emphasis on the positive before you go to bed and is more likely to produce a good nights sleep. It is also a good review of the day. If you are someone who finds writing before bed more of a chore than helpful I recommend that when you first close your eyes just start saying silently to yourself al the things you are grateful for. I find this method very effective not only from a gratitude perspective but it also slows my brain down and puts me in a positive space to start dreaming.

Another gratitiude practice is to make it a habit of telling one person a day something that you are grateful for or appreciate about them. This simple act makes the both of you feel happier and as a result affects the way we interact with all of those around us. People feel better when they know they are appreciated and valued.

So what about those particularly hard days when you are having difficulty finding gratitude in anything? For those days I recommend that you start simple by being grateful for the basics such as having running water, a toilet or being grateful that we don’t live in a bombed out city. When we need to be grateful the most we often loose sight of the fact that despite all of the issues that we have in our country we are still free and that is something to be cherished and extremely grateful for.

Lastly, make it a practice to tell your self one thing each day that you are grateful about yourself. It can be anything from something you have done well or something you like about yourself. Studies have shown that a regular practice of gratitude are associated with better sleep and lower levels of anxiety and depression which are compelling reasons to have a regular practice of gratitude.

No matter what methods you chose to express your gratitude I encourage you to begin to make it a daily habit. It literally can positively change the lens in which you view your life from. On a personal note I am extremely grateful to all of you for taking the time to read my newsletters.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Is Sitting The New Smoking?

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Is Sitting The New Smoking?

We are a nation of sitters. Whether we are at work, commuting in our cars, sitting in class or working in front of a computer we sit. Not to minimize the exercising we do but an hour of exercise does not balance out the 8 plus hours of sitting we often are required to do in a day.

Recently you may have seen the research on the demerits of sitting for long periods of the day. It is not a stretch in imagination to understand the truth in this but there are other concerns related to sitting aside from cardiovascular consequences.

One of the most important muscle effecting sitting is the psoas muscle also known as the hip flexor. It is significant for both its position within the body and the action it produces. Additionally it is one of those muscles that can be tight but weak at the same time. Structurally it is attached to the front of the last five vertebrae in your low back and traverses through your abdomen attaching to the top of your femur or leg bone. During sitting this muscle shortens and the fibers come closer together and tighten up. When you rise from the seated position this muscle is sometimes slow to release and you may find you walk in a flexed or bent forward position for several steps. For those of you who are constantly being reminded to stand up straight and have a tendency to walk in a slightly bent forward position tightness in this muscle is often the culprit.

Keeping the psoas as lose as possible will significantly reduce low back stress and increase proper posture while strengthening will aid in keeping the core strong reducing back pain and minimizing the risk of injury.

To Stretch: There are several ways to stretch this muscle and I will review two of them for you here.

  1. Start with one leg in the kneeling position at a 90’ degree angle with the other knee on the ground. From this position slide your pelvis forward while leaning your torso backwards. Hold for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
  2. Lay on the side of your bed or a bench with one leg hanging over the side but not letting your foot touches the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Even though you may feel that one side is tighter than the other it is important that both sides are stretched to create a good balance.

To Strengthen: Again there are several ways to strengthen this muscle but I will give you two different ways to try this.

  1. Start in a standing position with either an ankle weight or theraband (available at the office or online) attached to the ankle area. Support yourself by holding onto what ever is available such as a counter or chair. Slowly lift you leg to a 90 degrees angle. Lower it slowly and repeat 10 times. Work your way up to 3 sets of ten resting in between. When you are able to do three sets of ten increase the weight and start back with one set of ten continuing to work up to three sets of ten again.
  2. If you are someone who belongs to a gym there are machines that you can use to strengthen your psoas. Due to the variability in machines you will need to ask a trainer which one in your gym will address this muscle.

In total it may take you five to ten minutes to address this muscle but I can assure you it will be well worth your effort in the long run. You will have less back pain, have better balance and stand straighter.

With Gratitude,
Pat

Does Your Body Need A Vacation?

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Does Your Body Need A Vacation?

Yet another year has come to a close and if you are like many of us there is a high probability that you have over indulged in an abundance of sugar, alcohol, rich foods and all the other goodies that go with the holidays. Now that it’s over if you are anything like me you can almost feel your body requesting a much needed break.

Consider starting off the New Year by giving you body a rest and remove the sugar, breads, pastas, coffee and alcohol from your diet for a short period of time. As a general rule I prefer to cleanse my body twice a year. Generally I do one cleanse at the beginning of the year and another sometime mid summer and I always feel great. The longer you are willing to remove these foods the better but whether it is three days, a week or a month you will give your organs a much needed rest and rid your body of excess toxins. I find a three week cleanse is highly effective and comprehensive but if you are unable to commit to that consider doing a week. There are many ways to approach this “cleanse” and I encourage you to find the best method that fits your life style, caloric needs and any medical issues you may have. Even if you haven’t overly indulged during the holiday just living in a city exposes us to a multitude of toxins that we ingest, inhale or absorb on a daily basis.

Our body gets rid of these toxins through our urine, fecal material, sweat and breath. Enabling these mechanisms to function efficiently will provide many benefits such as increased energy, increased mental acuity and clarity, deeper more restful sleep, clearer skin and overall more effective and efficient organ function.

Here are a few considerations that will make this adventure more effective and help insure your success:

  1. Plan ahead and have healthy snacks readily available. If you are hungry and don’t have anything to eat you will inevitably reach for whatever is available and it often will contain sugar.
  2. Drink water!!! As you detox your body will begin to release toxins from your body and water is essential to carry the toxins out of the body as a waste product. Not drinking an adequate amount of water will put a load on your system as opposed to cleansing it because as you release these toxins they need to be effectively carried out of the body. Generally half your body weight in fluid ounces daily is a good rough estimate for the amount necessary for adequate cleansing. Green tea is also helpful and replaces the coffee ritual.
  3. If you have access to a sauna at your gym, work or fitness facility consider getting in two times a week to further detoxify your system. The sweating further flushes the toxins from your skin and you will have the added benefit of muscle relaxation as well.
  4. Fill your diet with a variety of different vegetables, nut and legumes and get rid of the breads, pasta and meat. Try getting creative with different foods and food combinations. You will enjoy it more, have greater success and are more likely to carry these new habit into your life as you reintroduce foods back into your diet. Consider also adding fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir or fermented vegetables. These provide bacteria, which will support digestion and further aid in the detoxification process.
  5. There are many products/kits on the market that are available to assist you in your cleanse. If you decided to enlist the help of one of these products please make sure they come from a reputable source. Here at the office we have some excellent products if you are interested.
  6. Move your body! It doesn’t matter what you do even if it is simply taking a walk. The activity helps to pump the lymphatic system and move the toxins more effectively through your system aiding in elimination.
  7. I encourage you to consider cleaning up the temple you live in. It’s easy, healthy, and you will definitely feel better. I can’t guarantee it but you also just may loose a little weight. Although a cleanse is good for just about everyone if you have any medical issues always check with your physician before starting a program to make sure it will be beneficial for you. My wish for each of you is a year filled with joy, health, love and success. Happy New Year!

    With Gratitude,
    Pat