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Upside of Stress - Dr Sarah Tanner

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Upside of Stress
Last summer I read a book while I was on a 10 day camping trip in Alberta called The Upside of Stress, by Kelly McGonigal. I was considering applying to a Girl Guide Trip in Switzerland, to hike in the Alps. I would be one of 2 leaders taking 8 high school aged girls on the trip of a lifetime! The essay was about my biggest challenge. After reading this book I knew exactly what to write about. And I was chosen! I’ll be going to Switzerland at the end of this month and couldn’t be more excited.

Stress is all around us and if we look at it as evil, it will be. If we embrace what we are able to and use it to work for us we will be in a better place. Don’t get me wrong, not all stress is good and sometimes hard decision have to be made to change your life for the better. But sometimes easy decisions can be made too. I always get asked how and why I give a lot of my time to Girl Guides of Canada. I hope by reading the essay below I give you an idea of why I do what I do and how it helps me (and therefore my family) on my health journey. I hope I can inspire you to do something that you love to do that will be rewarding for you and those around you!

I also wanted to say thank you to those who have been supporting me and my unit through our endeavours! While Switzerland is something I am doing on my own my unit is doing a service trip to Costa Rica in March of 2018. I often have iPad tickets for sale at the clinic and thank you to those of you who have been around during this times and were able to get tickets!

Essay:
The biggest challenge in my life is balance. I have a lot of things on the go at all times. As a mom of 2 who owns a business I am often asked why I am a member of Girl Guides of Canada. Until recently my answer was that I wanted to give back to my community and that I enjoyed it. That’s an ok answer but at times where my stress level was higher than others I kept wondering if that answer was enough? Would I be better off scaling back what I do in my unit? Not to try new things? But it wasn’t fathomable to quit altogether and somehow those questions just didn’t resonate with me.

I just finished reading a book called “The Upside of Stress”. It discussed all of the ways that stress can be good for us and that stress isn’t all bad. The people who experienced a moderate amount of stress in their lives were happier than those who didn’t experience any stress at all. This book went into great detail about three healthy stress responses that the body can have and made the reasons I approach my life the way I do clear to me.

Tend and Befriend Response: When thinking about this essay this was the first response that came to mind. In times of stress we reach out, we want to build a community around us to help us get through it. If there is a crisis, no matter what happens, we want to band together to help. This made so much sense to me, as I get energy from camps and gatherings with GGC, no matter how I am feeling leading up to them. We have such a fantastic community, with people from so many walks of life, that there is always someone that I can support and someone I can call on if I need them.

The Challenge Response: Our body is hard wired to rise to a challenge. This response helps our system manage our stress because we think more clearly, sleep better and are more productive when it happens. This is why taking on new projects within my Pathfinder unit feels good to me. Yes, there is a fine line between new and too much, but I’ve learned that line over the years and realize now that I have been able to elicit a proper challenge response by making the choices that I do.

Learning and Growth Response: I love to learn, I always have. I’ve always read all of the books at the library during the summer as a kid, I do more continuing education for my job than I need to and learning is one of the main reasons why I like working with girls and adults from so many backgrounds. I thrive off of new information, it doesn’t matter what it is about or where it comes from.

As you can see, Guiding is something that brings me great joy, the thing that helps me manage my stress (although sometimes creating it!) and is an integral part of my life. The trips and camps I do with my girls help me to recharge, to be a better mom, to be a better entrepreneur and doctor. I am a firm believer that everyone needs to do something for themselves. I am lucky that what I do to fuel myself, also has the capacity to fuel others. This is a huge draw for me. I have no doubt that a trip to Our Chalet; to hike the Alps, meet new people and learn from the girls would help me to recharge and to strive for the balance that is within my reach.

Breath is Life - Monica Perry

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We know breathing is important. So let's take a look at it in a bit more depth.

At its most basic, breathing is to bring oxygen in the body and get carbon dioxide out. (You need the oxygen for cellular function and you need to get rid of the carbon dioxide before it becomes toxic.) But it is so much more. The lungs sit in the chest protected by the rib cage. Muscles, ligaments and fascia surround the boney structures and create a bellows like action. The most important of these is the respiratory diaphragm. If you have had any training in singing or playing a wind instrument you would have heard the phrase 'use your diaphragm'.

This is one of the interesting things about breathing. You can breathe happily and effectively without effort or thought. But you can also intentionally control your in breath and your out breath to do such amazing things as sing, play a trumpet, whistle and blow out the candles on your birthday cake!The ability to consciously control your breathingis also a vital part ofmeditation, yoga and many other mind-body activities.

The reason that you can do these amazing things is your nervous system. The diaphragm is innervated by voluntary and involuntary nerves. It responds to the stress response-flight/fight/freeze and the relaxation response-rest/digest. When you experience fear, anxiety and other stressful things, your diaphragm tends to get tight and restricted. This makes if difficult to get a full breath and therefore you get less oxygen in and less carbon dioxide out. This makes the cellular processes less efficient and the toxic effects increase. When you feel less stressed, the diaphragm relaxes and you can take deeper more efficient breaths. But the diaphragm will also respond to your intentionally breathing deeper which will then trigger the neural responses to relax. This is exciting stuff. This is how mind-body, mindfulness training, meditation and other practices work to benefit yourhealth.

There are many conditions that can effect your ability to breathe optimally. The most serious are known as COPDs. These are chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases –namely emphysema, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and asthma. These effect the actual lungs themselves. However, there are some other situations that effect the breathing while the lungs themselves are fully functional. These are postural dysfunctions and rib dysfunctions. For example if you fall and land on your side you could damage the ribs, their joints, ligaments and muscles. This might be fractures, sprains, strains, dislocations and partial dislocations. Breathing becomes painful and difficult. Then the diaphragm may tighten or even spasm. Sometimes partial dislocations or subluxations can even occur from coughing and sneezing. This is when you call me and get help with joints, fascia and muscles. Postural conditions, especially scoliosis can disrupt the optimum functioning of the ribs and therefore inhibit breathing. These conditions can take longer to treat and require corrective remedial exercises.

How well do breathe? Do you have pain or discomfort when you take a deep breath? Can you even take a deep breath? Many of us breath very shallowly, only in our upper chest. This is common when we are experiencing high stress or anxiety. Optimal breathing engages upper, middle and lower parts of the lungs in the thorax. Watch a baby or a dog or cat breathe. The belly rises with the in breath and falls with the out breath. Does yours? If not, there is good news—you can retrain yourself.Your meditation or yoga teacher can help you or you can see me for help. Full breathing makes you feel more relaxed and gives you plenty of oxygen andclears out carbon dioxide.

Breathe easy my friends—Breath is Life!

Travel and BBQ During The Holidays - Dr Sarah Tanner

Friday, July 28, 2017

It’s summertime and many people are travelling and entertaining more than usual. Impromptu gatherings happen after work as the days get longer. How do you continue to eat the way you’ve been eating and not draw too much attention to yourself? How can you feel your best while still enjoying your vacation and your family and friends?
It depends on what stage you are at. If it is the first 3 months after you have cut out your intolerances then it can be more challenging but is doable. If you are at the point where you can have little bits of your intolerances without repercussion then it’s a little easier. Keep in mind there will be times where you don’t have a choice in what you eat and that’s ok. There will also be times that you choose to eat something that isn’t the best for you and that’s ok too.
Being prepared is everything.

If you are going on vacation where are you going? Your options vary on where you are going. Most of the time you will be able to find a grocery store. If you have family in the area you can send them to scout it out first. If not, try to figure out what chain it is so you can have a general idea of what they carry. At all grocery stores you can find fresh fruit and vegetables. There will be lemons, vinegar and olive oil for salad dressings. There will be nuts and seeds. There will be canned beans and fish.
If you are staying with family or at a cottage or hotel with a kitchen you can also purchase meats, fish and other proteins to cook along with the vegetables. You can make your own grains. The challenge may be breads and crackers. These you could bring with you or do without.

If you are eating out for every meal, scout out the restaurants in the area first. You may go to one more often than others because they have a variety of food you are able to eat. When we were in BC there were a few restaurants we ate at multiple times because Mike and I could both enjoy something there. Call the restaurants, ask what options they have. Most restaurants are very accommodating. If you are in a very small town you may not have a lot of options and may have to compromise or bring most of your own food.

Once you’ve figured out what you have available then you want to make the list of things to bring with you. If you are flying these things need to be light. If you are driving you have more flexibility. No matter what, these things need to be sturdy to hold up to travel. The things I bring with me include (keep in mind I am vegetarian and it isn’t as easy for me to get clean protein):
•Nuts and seeds (either raw or in the form of granola)
•Nut butter (in a small size or travel package * https://www.upayanaturals.com/Organic_Raw_Almond_Nut_Butter_Single_Squeezy_Pack_p/art-011.htm))
•Hemp seeds for oatmeal/applesauce or topping salads/stirfries with no protein
•Crackers: rice crackers or these endurance crackers (LINK), this summer I will bring Detox Crackers from Hot Detox (http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781443450676/hot-detox)
•Dried fruit (apples, apple juice sweetened cranberries (http://www.patiencefruitco.com/en/products/whole-juicy-dried-cranberries-sweetened-with-apple-juice/), raisins, mango)
•Oatmeal or Buckwheat/Hemp/Chia cereal (see recipe on our website), I mix up little baggies with coconut sugar, nuts/seeds and the grains depending on what I bring and I can add hot or cold water or make overnight oats in a mason jar (http://ohsheglows.com/2015/07/22/vegan-overnight-oats/)
•Sauces: coconut aminos, ketchup, BBQ sauce in small mason jars
•Tetra packs of almond or coconut milk (not if you are only flying with a carry on)
•Protein bars: this recipe (http://ohsheglows.com/2013/08/29/quick-n-easy-no-bake-protein-bars/) or bought (vega 1, greens(http://www.wholeearthsea.com/en-ca/product/organic-vegan-green-protein-bar/), go macro)
Materials I bring to Facilitate eating:
•Bamboo fork, knife and spoon (you can bring these on an airplane)
•Empty 2 cup mason jar with lid
•Reusable bags (http://www.thekitchn.com/1-lunchskins-785-for-144318)
•Stainless steel containers (https://dalcinistainless.com/)
•Travel mug (https://www.libretea.com/)

If you are flying, remember to check out the restaurants in the airport before you go to see what you can eat. Most airport websites have a list. If you are driving try to figure out what restaurants and markets you will be passing along the way.

The wild card when you are on vacation is if you are camping. Backcountry camping differs a lot from front country. I’m going to focus on front country camping but will look at backcountry in another post. Bring a good sturdy cooler with you and figure out where you can purchase ice. Only bring the food that you will need. Portion out your oatmeal, pasta, and other dry goods into what is needed for the recipe. Check for grocery stores but there might not be any in the vicinity that you are camping. Plan all of your meals in advance, make the sauces you need (don’t forget the maple syrup!) and store them in mason jars. You will be able to bring all of your own snacks with you so a lot of the eating will be like it is at home. A sample menu would be chips and salsa on Friday night, eggs and bacon Saturday morning, crackers, hummus and veggies for lunch; chicken and veggies in packets on the fire for supper and then oatmeal with fruit for Sunday breakfast. Any leftovers for Sunday lunch before packing up. Add your own twist to that but if you build off those ideas you will keep what you need to bring to a minimum.

What should you do if you are invited last minute to a BBQ? Ask what type meat is being served or if you should bring your own. Ask what else you could bring. Then make it something you are able to eat. Bring your own BBQ sauce (we use Organicville) and a pineapple to grill for dessert. If you always have veggies in the fridge you can bring some of those with you. Keep bananas in the freezer and then you can make “nice cream” for everyone for dessert and no one will be the wiser (http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-creamy-ice-cream-with-just-one-ingredient-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-93414). If you had time you could even make these chocolate chip cookie bars (http://www.fitmittenkitchen.com/vegan-oatmeal-chocolate-chip-cookie-bars/).

The more you practice, the easier this becomes. Make healthy eating your lifestyle and you will never feel deprived. Enjoy summer to the fullest!

Meditations with Nature - Monica Perry

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Do you meditate? Have you tried different kinds?

There are many types and many good teachers. Since we are getting into nicer outdoors weather, lets talk about meditation outside.

Finding the perfect spot can be very rewarding. Looking for a place to sit that is resonably comfortable, in the elements but not in the extremes can be a bit of a challenge. How much sun? How much rain? Nova Scotia has an abundance of beautiful views. Beach and ocean, rocky shore and ocean, light house, village, forest, lake and trees, stream and rocks, flowers and butterflys, deer and birds so many possibilities. You can take a drive to the South Shore or the Valley or Cape Breton. You can sit by the flower beds in your garden. You can go to Point Pleasnt, Public Gardens or another park.

In the spot you have chosen, you can sit and meditate on the beauty before you. Take in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the taste, and the feel of your surroundings. Allow the peace to wash over you. Feel the gratitude in your heart. If there isn't a good place to sit, you can adopt a standing posture for meditation. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and have your knees slightly bent. This is like a Tai Chi or Qi Gong stance or other martial arts. You need to relax the muscles in your buttocks (gluteals) and backs of thighs (hamstrings).

The third form of meditation with nature is the moving meditation. There are several types and possibilities, One kind is the Lotus Walk. This is from Qi Gong tradition. It is simple. Walk slowly; send your awareness to your feet. Pay attention to the sensations from your feet. Walk the direction your feet take you not your head.

Another form of walking meditation comes from the ancient Druids of Ireland. Bare feet if it is safe, are preferable. Shift your awareness to your feet. Focus on each step and how it connects you to the earth. Send love and gratitude to each plant, stone and creature that you are sharing space with that day. Consider meditating on the Earth as Mother and how are you walking on Her. What impact do you have on Mother Earth? Are you walking with Compassion upon Her?

Another walking meditation is Walking the Labyrinth. A labyrinth is a convoluted pattern leading to a centre and back out again. It is not like a maze, there are no dead ends or tricks. There are different variations of these patterns. The most famous is from the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. You can get instructions for constructing your own labyrinth. There are labyrinths that are temporary or more permanent. Many places dedicated to healing and spirituality have build their own. You enter with the intention of learning about yourself as you walk the pattern towards the centre. It is symbolic of the journey to your centre, your spirit. If there is not one big enough to walk near you, there are finger labyrinths. Using pottery or wood or paper you transfer the pattern. Then you use your fingers to do the walking as you meditate.

I wanted to create a Labyrinth in my back garden but I did not have enough space. So instead I created a sort of hybrid with the Druid walk. I created a triple spiral and placed a small Celtic Cross in the topmost circle. So I walk around the three circles as I focus on my feet on Mother Earth. Sometimes I add a Aboriginal chant for Mother Earth-'Mother I feel you under my feet, Mother I feel your heart beat'. You can see the triple spiral pattern on the obverse of my business cards.

So I wish you well as you try exploring Meditation with Nature. We have so much beauty around us here. It is easy to love it and be grateful for it. Peace.

Ticks and Other Bugs - Dr. Sarah Tanner

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


It’s bug season!
 
The blackflies are out (just about done now), the ticks are in full force and the mosquitoes are on their way. In Bayswater, where my family has had cottages for years, there will be horseflies as well.
 
I just spent 3 weekends camping, 1 for an International Briefing, 1 for Beaver camp with Jack and one for my Pathfinders District camp. It is the season of BBQ’s, picnics, campfires and hikes. We had to keep reminding everyone that we are in the bugs house and we cannot get rid of them. But, we can manage how much we get bitten and how we deal with the bites afterwards.

 

Let’s start with ticks. Why are these guys scary? They hide in places that we can’t see and burrow in, instead of biting and then flying away. The majority of ticks in NS also carry Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating disease that can become chronic if it isn’t caught in time. Bottom line, you want to avoid being bitten by a tick at all cost. Prevention is the key. A bug repellent with geraniol is helpful as well as taking 1 drop of garlic flower essence oil (ordered from Woodland Essence in the States or from an ND in Halifax) an hour when you are going to be exposed to a tick infested area. If possible, avoid high grass and low lying trees. The ticks like to hide in these places. It isn’t always possible so when you are out in the woods or hiking through grass wear tall socks with your pants tucked into them. The ticks have nowhere to go at that point. They can still attach to clothing but you can brush them off. Wear a hood or a bug jacket if possible to avoid them falling into your clothes. Wear brightly coloured clothes so it is easy to see them (black is not optimal). When you do see them, brush them off but be careful not to brush them on to someone else. After your time outdoors is over, check yourself, your kids and your pets thoroughly. This includes hair, ears, armpits, in between fingers and toes and ALL areas, even if they weren’t exposed. If we can, we strip our kids down, check them and then put them in the tub for a good scrub. Canlyme has tick removal kits as you don’t want to leave any tick pieces in your skin (https://canlyme.com/product/tick-removal-kit/). If you are bitten by a tick don’t waste any time, go to your MD or a walk in clinic and call us at Natural Choices. Everyone can work together to keep you healthy.

 

Other bugs. Everyone reacts to bug bites differently. I’ve always reacted strongly but since I met my husband I don’t have to worry as much, they like him better. When Jack was 2 he broke out in a rash all over his body that was diagnosed as serum sickness. It usually comes from a new medication or food that the kids have never had. The only thing we could put it down to was the 30 mosquito bites Jack got at my grandmothers that past weekend. But Jack doesn’t seem to mind bug bites now and for the past few years he hasn’t gotten many bites. Olive on the other hand, will swell for every bug bite she has had and we took her to a walk in a couple times last summer for a suspected infection as it was hot and hard. We were clear.

 

Needless to say, we need some measures in place to prevent as many bug bites as possible. We don’t buy bug repellent. The chemicals on your skin and in your lungs are cancer causing and they interrupt liver detoxification pathways (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17936932). This is especially true for DEET. Instead, we have bug jackets (https://www.fcsurplus.ca/shopping/products/2679-kids-bug-blocking-jackets/) that we got at Canadidan tire but you can order online and I think they are at Walmart. One for all of us, but Olive’s is a little big yet. My aunt found this terrific natural bug spray made out of essential oils that we use each year (the trick is remembering to use it!).

 

Bug Repellent:
16 oz. bottle
15 drops Lavender Oil
3-4 tsp. Pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice
Fill bottle with water, shake and ready to use.

 

We have a variety of homeopathic remedies on hand for different uses. They come in all different strengths and I recommend having a 30ch and 200ch on hand. Dosing for this type of reaction (an acute one) is one pellet, under the tongue (let it dissolve as much as possible) as often as needed, up to once an hour. If the reaction is severe, start with the 200ch. If it is a regular reaction for you then start with the 30ch.

 

  • Apis: Best used for bee or hornet stings but also for any type of allergic reaction to bugs (hot, red and very swollen)
  • Ledum: Best used for blackflies and mosquitoes and can be taken before your exposure to minimize the adverse effects of the bites. Still effective when taken after the bite has occurred. Also good for contusions or black eyes.
  • Arnica: For bruising and swelling so we use it for extra large bites or multiple bites in an area that is quite swollen.
  • Staphysagria: if you seem predisposed to the bugs loving you, this is the remedy for you! Best take before the exposure.
It is true that all of the remedies may suit you. That’s ok, take as many as you need to for an acute reaction like bug bites. If you aren’t sure, then it’s worth talking over with your Naturopathic Doctor. All of the remedies are available at the clinic but call first to make sure they are in stock and not sold out!

 

Ok, the bites have happened, you are using the homeopathics but in the meantime you (or your family) are still in discomfort. What should you put on the bites?
The one that you probably have on hand is baking soda and water. Make a paste out of the baking soda and apply to the bites. This helps to stop the itching but is usually short term.

 

There are a number of commercial topicals that you can purchase. You may need to try a few before you find one that really works for you.

 

  • Calendula ointment: For years, this was my go to for itching bites. As an ointment form it seals the bite and decreases the itch. It is also useful for any burns or injuries that are not open, it speeds the healing.
  • Arnica ointment: Because this is also an ointment it has similar properties to the calendula ointment but is more indicated for a swollen bite. It is also used for bumps and bruises. It can be used with the calendula ointment.
  • Orange Naturals Bites + Stings Homeopathic Cream: This is a topical cream (although it’s more like an ointment) that has the homeopathics listed above within it. So the healing happens from the outside in, and inside out. This is a new one for us this year and we are loving it! Available at the clinic.
  • Hyland’s Homeopathic Bug Bite Ointment: Similar to the Orange Naturals Cream but is in a base of citronella. That helps if you are going to continually be exposed to the bugs. Available on Amazon.ca.
Don’t let bugs deter you from enjoying our fantastic summer. Find the methods that work best for you, your kids and your pets and get out there!

4 Areas to Explore When Working with Fatigue - Dr. Robyn Callaghan

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fatigue is hands down one of the most common complaints I hear in practice. Its also one that requires some investigation because of the thousands of potential causes. Fatigue also runs on a spectrum but whatever the level or severity of the fatigue there are some effective and general places to start when working with it. Here are some of the big hitting lifestyle and functional medicine approaches I take when starting out with this complaint

  • 1.Nutrient deficiencies. This is an obvious one but very common. Sometimes its just a straight up anemia like B12 or iron. Have your doctor run blood work to check that B12 levels are about 600 and ferritin (iron stores) are above 18 not just within range. If you are vegan, vegetarian or low on animal protein consumption its possible these numbers aren’t great. Magnesium is another nutrient that can improve energy sleep and anxiety and is involved in many biochemical reactions in the body. I find this nutrient will help with fatigue directly or indirectly by improving sleep.
  • 2.Poor nutrition or food intolerances: eating processed or convenience foods higher in refined carbohydrates sugar and unhealthy fats will rob the body of nutrients by increasing inflammation in the body. Many of these foods are full of common reactive food proteins like gluten and casein which can compromise the gut barrier and trigger inflammatory reactions which never feels good. In practice, I promote a whole food diet that is focused on sustainable free range meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, a little fruit, and lots and lots of vegetables. Learning to reduce dependence on grains (bread, pasta, cereal, rice, baked goods) and identify any food intolerances is key for a healthy gut and your health in general.
  • 3.Poor thyroid function: your thyroid gland sets your metabolic rate and is involved in mood, heart rate, bowl function, cholesterol levels and the list goes on. Thyroid has its hand in every body system but fatigue can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, this condition is not picked up very efficiently on blood work. When assessing for a thyroid problem its good to start with TSH (want it below 2) T4 (want middle of the range or higher) and anti TPO antibodies (below 500 or absent). If these numbers are optimal but all signs are pointing to this condition or if you are unable to get the blood work you need start working on lifestyle changes that will help this condition. In my experience a grain free (especially gluten free) paleo type diet high in nutrient dense vegetables is very effective to reduce thyroid antibodies and normalize TSH. I also use a nutrient called selenium to reduce antibodies and keep a close eye on the gut working to normalize any digestive complaints and identify any chronic infections like H.Pylori and Epstein Barr Virus.
  • 4.Adrenal Fatigue: in the literature this condition is referred to as Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal dysfunction HPA axis dysfunction and refers to low or high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone secreted from the small adrenal glands on top of the kidneys and has to do with energy, inflammatory control, water retention, blood sugar regulation and blood pressure. It’s a stress hormone so when we go through prolonged periods of stress or stressful situations our adrenal glands can lose the ability to put out enough cortisol for you to feel energetic and normal or can get stuck on secreting too much cortisol. Both high and low cortisol can result in fatigue (especially morning and mid afternoon), mood disruption, sleep problems (waking in the night), allergies and inflammation. If the health history and intake point to this we start to work on improving sleep, decreasing stress, meditation, breathing, appropriate exercise or movement, diet changes and often apoptogenic herbs like rhodiola and ashwaganda that help to restore adrenal function. Botanical medicine can be a valuable tool to help restore the connection between the brain and the adrenals bringing cortisol levels up when they are low and down when they are high.

Fatigue is a vague symptom with hundreds of potential causes but when you can focus on some of the basics I have talked about here the payoff can be huge.

Getting Creative with Your Healing - Monica Perry RMT

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This spring my sister turned 60. I find it hard to believe. I still think she is the older sister- the real adult and I am still the kid. Strange how our perceptions of time affect our lives. For her birthday, I wanted to make a gift. So I got my pencil out and started drawing. I ended up with a sort of fantastical forest scene that you might see in The Hobbit. I hope she likes it.

The experience of creating the drawing got me thinking. Since I received new art supplies for Christmas I have been spending more time drawing and colouring. I began to notice some changes were happening that reminded me of how creative activities can be so good for us.

First of all don't worry if your first response is “I can't draw” or “I am no good at art”. There is a very important concept to understand when we are working with creativity as a healing aid. Here it is.

PROCESS NOT PRODUCT

What does this mean? It means that the actual activity is what is important. The drawing, painting, sculpture is not.

So how can we make this PROCESS work for our healing? How does it help?

There are a number of different benefits depending on which activity you choose. We can start where I did with drawing with pencil and paper. But you could choose pastels, or acrylic paint or finger painting or watercolour pencils... Or modeling clay or woodcarving... Or knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching... Or singing, playing an instrument...Or baking, cooking... Or flower arranging, scrapbook making...Or colouring. You get the idea. You go into the activity for the experience, not the end product. So if you rip out the crocheting, crumple up the drawing or toss out the contents of the frying pan that is okay.

Try your chosen task-- that is the point. I will use the example of drawing. Try different pencils, some darker some lighter. Try closing your eyes and drawing by feel (this may not be appropriate for cooking) Pick a shape and repeat it with variations. So we are playing with our senses, textures, colours, shapes, shades... Then get rid of that page and start again. This time before you start, think of the health concern that will be your focus. Then start drawing again. Give your full attention to the drawing. After a while you will notice a change. You become absorbed in the creative act, then everything else falls away. This indicates that you have switched from left brain to right brain. You may get new insights into your situation or new options may come to mind.

The changing of your brain processing is not the only benefit. You may feel calmer or quieter suggesting that some stress is reducing. You may switch from 'fight, flight, freeze' to 'rest and digest'. This part of the nervous system also handles healing like tissue repair and reducing harmful stress hormones.

A very quick summary of left versus right brain. We need both and use both but many of us get a bit stuck in the left. Some characteristics of left are verbal, analytic, symbolic, abstract, temporal, rational, digital, logical, and linear. This probably sounds familiar and like a good thing, which it is. However, the right has a lot to offer; nonverbal, synthetic, concrete, analogic, non-temporal, non-rational, spatial, intuitive, and holistic. It would seem like both sides working together would give you the most creative solutions and the plans to put them into action. (for more on art and the brain see Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards).

Another exercise that uses our creativity is giving a voice to the different parts of the body. If you like the drawing exercise, continue to draw. Give the body part a face- make it like a cartoon if you wish. Or try to draw how it feels. Give the cartoon some talk bubbles so it can express itself. For example (I am your right kneecap and it stresses me out when you change from boots to shoes in the spring). If you do not want to draw, then write. Conduct an interview asking the body part how it feels, what its history is, what it needs. Then write the answers that come up. You can add another layer of intensity to this by writing the answers with your non-dominant hand. This changes sides of the brain again for most people. You may need to start with printing. Writing, drawing doing everyday tasks with your non-dominant hand increases the communication neurons between the left and right.

Finally if none of this appeals, try colouring. Start simply if you wish with kids stuff from the dollar store. If you like it move on to the many adult coulouring books now on the market. Then try mandalas. Mandalas are used as spiritual exercises in several different traditions. They are circular patterns but of great variety. You can think of a question or concern and then colour the mandala and see what insights come to you about your question. Some traditions like Tibetan Buddhism and Spirituality of the Navajo Nation create mandalas from different coloured sands. The mandala is prayerfully/meditatively created for a specific spiritual purpose and then swept away. It is the process that is important.

PROCESS NOT PRODUCT

This spring get creative with your healing. And Have Fun!

 

Five Lessons I Learned as a Prison Volunteer - Derrick McEachern RCT, CCC

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I walked through the gates of Springhill Institution to volunteer with a therapeutic group for prison inmates, I admit, I was scared. A large circle of 30 chairs sat in the middle of the chapel waiting for the inmates, who hadn’t been released from their cells yet. Modelling the other volunteers, I wrote my name on a name card and set it on the floor in front of my seat before going to get some tea.

 

In strutted one of the scariest looking guys I had ever seen, much of his body covered in tattoos, and a scowl on his face that shook me to the core. It became obvious by how most inmates avoided eye contact with him that he was perhaps one of the most feared men in the prison. Returning with my cup of tea, I was startled to see him sitting in my chair, despite my name clearly displayed in front of him.

I decided I would avoid the uncomfortable tasks of asking for my seat back. I simply found another seat and made a new card. At the first break following introductions, he walked directly toward me. “I just wanted to say, I think I took your seat earlier. My name is on the back of this card, and I thought this seat was for me.” Over the next two days, he and I talked about life, love, family, parenting, as well as regrets, mistakes, loss and freedom. He was a tough guy, with a difficult past, but my expectations and presumptions about prison, and the men inside began to shift that very day.

In these therapeutic circles men share their stories, their ups, and their downs with the group. Group members offer support and advice, but most often, we just listen and share in the pain, the regrets and the suffering the men live with. For 10 years’ I’ve continued to return and every time I learn something new. Here are five lessons I’ve learned as a prison volunteer.

1) We are more alike than different.

I heard this phrase a lot in our circle, but at first I struggled to see the similarities between myself and the inmates. They had committed criminal acts, sometimes the worst one could imagine. I believed that made us very different.

Yet, over time, I began to see how like them we have all made mistakes, and we have opportunities every day to choose behaviours that will either advance our lives or keep us stuck. Our choices become habits, and ultimately we have to live with the consequences of those habits.

Whether we want to change a single bad habit or undergo a personal transformation, we have to be willing to ask for help from others. Asking for help means being vulnerable. It also means coming face-to-face with the false beliefs and misconceptions that keep us stuck. But it also means learning who our real friends are, and that others are struggling with the same fears and challenges we are.

Watching men who have defined themselves as lone wolves lean on others for the first time, is a humbling experience. We all need to risk being more vulnerable. We fear being abandoned and isolated, but we actually find ourselves feeling more human, more connected, and empowered with a strong sense of belonging.

2) Attachment is at the root of most criminal behavior.

Attachment, the degree to which we feel connected to others, influences the kind of relationships we have with our families and communities. Healthy attachments, lead to loving caring behavior that is sensitive to others.

Unfortunately the vast majority of people who are in prison, struggle with unhealthy attachments. This is not because they don’t care, but because they weren’t fortunate enough to have their need to be loved and cared for consistently met.

The vast majority of inmates had childhoods characterized by unimaginable levels of physical or emotional abuse. Many were severely neglected as children, and grew up in an absence of love. Almost all were just teenagers when they began acting out and committing crimes – usually in an effort to win someone’s attention or find a way to belong.

Many come from dysfunctional families, or parents who were addicts, unable to be present to their kids in ways that result in healthy, sensitive, engaged children. As a result they continue the cycle of repeating the same mistakes with their own children.

If we want lasting relationships, healthier families and communities, we need to heal unhealthy attachment patterns and ensure our children’s needs for secure, loving attachments.

3) Addiction is the presence of an absence.

I grew up believing that addiction was a form of indulgence and lack of willpower. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The vast majority of men in prison struggle with serious addiction, and most committed their crimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But those struggling with addiction are lacking much more than just willpower.

There are many reasons people abuse alcohol or drugs. Some do it to test their limits. Others to cope with anxiety or stress. Many to fit in. Some just for fun. Substance abuse can be damaging to the mind and body, but most people develop the self- awareness and the skills necessary to manage their lives without substances destroying our lives.

Those who become addicts, have a much deeper absence. An absence of self-love. If we can’t love ourselves there is no reason to choose healthier, more productive behaviours or to seek better relationships and lives.

Self-love gives us a sense of purpose and a reason to choose healthier behaviors and avoid the downward spiral of addiction.

4) Love must be learned.

Whether one needs to heal from shame, loss, grief or any other type of suffering, it is only love that can begin the course of healing.

In our groups, men experience all kinds of suffering. They suffer from the harm they have done to others, from being victims of violence themselves, and from the shame and disappointment they feel for the actions and attitudes that have kept them stuck for so many years.

In our circle, we often say “the group is here to love you until you are able to love yourself.” Inmates find it unfathomable that us volunteers, mostly strangers accept them unconditionally. Accepting love and loving others requires a tremendous amount of courage and trust.

We remind them that no child is born a criminal. Criminality is a disregard for others and the rules of society that keep people physically and emotionally safe. Breaking those rules, and being willing to hurt others in the process is only possible in an absence of love.

You can’t expect someone to speak another language who’s never been immersed in the language. Love too, is learned by experiencing it.

5) Freedom is a choice

Freedom, or the lack of freedom that men have in prison, could be one of the most popular topics we discuss. Inmates struggle with the fact that their lives are completely regulated and scheduled.

Everything from when they can smoke, where they live, the visitors they see, and of course when they are released from prison, are each decided by someone else. They long to be free, not only to be out of prison, but also just to be able to make simple everyday decisions.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for us all to learn is that we are the authors of our own stories and of our own realities. I’ve seen men who for decades have struggled and argued with guards because they simply can’t tolerate being told when it is time to eat, or take a shower. That struggle has cost them many additional years in prison.

The irony is that if they could only see that they are free to choose their reaction in any situation, they would be free sooner. They would be free in their own mind, and not have their emotions controlled by the decisions and whims of others. More importantly, they would demonstrate the restraint needed to navigate life back in the community.

Even for those of us not in prison, we often live confined by our own beliefs about the way we should be, or the way others should be. In many ways, until we learn this skill, we remain constrained in our own minds and imprisoned in many aspects of our lives.

Even after 10 years volunteering, every time I walk back out of prison I have to consider how well I actually live these lessons. I am struck by how hard it can be to ask for help, to change relationship patterns and habits that won’t seem to budge, to go easier on myself, and to stay positive when circumstances are out of my control.

Then I think of the inmates trying to do the same, behind bars, without loved ones, in an environment with less than a fraction of the support I have. I always walk away feeling humbled, and inspired to be more patient, sensitive and compassionate with everyone around me, especially when people make mistakes.

Derrick McEachern, M.Ed., RCT, CCC is a Counselling Therapist and Career Counsellor at Natural Choices Clinic in Bedford, Nova Scotia.

 

What Is Bowen Therapy and Why Do I Love It - Dr. Sarah Tanner

Thursday, March 02, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Over the past 10 years I’ve found Bowen to be an incredibly useful and successful practice for dealing with a wide variety of concerns. However, many people don’t understand how Bowen works, what it can treat or even what it is. So I decided to take the opportunity to provide some answers.

 

Bowen is a set of gentle movements that stimulates the body’s Autonomic Nervous System. Through this stimulation, the body regains the ability to heal itself. It is commonly practiced by Naturopathic Doctors, Nurses and Massage Therapists. The movements are made over muscles, ligaments and tendons and are completed over clothes, making the practice more accessible for those who require gentle touch.

One of the questions that patients typically have is, “what can Bowen help with?” and the answer often surprises people. Bowen can help with a wide variety of concerns. Bowen is best used to deal with old injuries but more recent injuries should be treated as soon as possible. I don’t suggest that you wait until the injury is old in order to deal with it. Bowen can also be used to treat common issues such as digestion concerns, headaches, frozen shoulder, fibromyalgia, chronic and acute back pain, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and a wide variety of other health concerns.

One of the great things about Bowen is that it can be used to treat anyone. Young and old alike can be treated, even pregnant women (with the exception of a few moves). The number of treatments depends greatly on the medical concern itself as well as how you carry yourself after the treatment. We go through 3 treatments and then assess how your body is reacting. Many people return every few months for a “tune-up” of sorts and if your job or hobbies involve regular repetition, that strain can require more frequent treatments. For example, a craftsman with an injury that stems from their trade might have to come more often if they continue to work.

The experience of Bowen is often very soothing for the patient. It involves gentle movements while the body is kept in state of relaxation. The practitioner will complete a series of movements and then leave the room for 2 minutes. (My husband often falls asleep when he’s receiving Bowen treatments). This time out of the room is to give the signals a chance to reach the Autonomic Nervous System and this is a necessary step to help the body to heal itself. Individuals with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions find Bowen particularly helpful due to its gentle nature. This is also true of a number of other massage techniques, such as Suikodo which our very own Monica Perry practices.

One of the reasons that I chose to practice Bowen has to do with the first two lines of the Naturopathic Oath; First, do no harm. To co-operate with the healing power of nature. Bowen is a practice with very few, limited side effects and as Bowen offers an opportunity to make the patient feel better, without pain, by engaging their own body to do most of the work it falls very clearly into the definition of what Naturopathic Medicine is all about.

The reason I continue to practice Bowen and continue to recommend it, where appropriate, is that I’ve seen how successful it can be far too many times to dismiss it. When something works you stick with it, and for myself and for my patients, Bowen works.

 

Perfect Digestion in 2017 - Dr. Robyn Callaghan

Thursday, February 09, 2017


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you struggle with digestive problems, you know how debilitating they can be. Taking steps to fix the gut is a great way to improve your overall health and improve health outcomes. In Naturopathic medicine, we believe that most illness can be traced back to the gut. This concept is becoming more main stream now as we are understanding more and more about the gut microbiome and its relationship to just about everything including depression and neurological problems, inflammation, skin conditions and even cardiovascular health.

When it comes to digestive problems there are some simple places to start that can make the world of difference in how you are feeling digestively and otherwise.

Eliminate wheat and dairy

The proteins in wheat and dairy can be problematic for many people. They have potential to trigger immune reactions and inflammation and are often incompletely digested. When we remove these proteins from the diet the digestive system can often repair itself and normal function resumes. This is a great way to reduce a lot of inflammation in the body and see amazing results with your health. I work with all my patients to find ways to reduce gluten and dairy products in their daily lives and have seen time and time again the power and control this change gives back to the patient. It may seem like a daunting task to go gluten and dairy free but typically I find patients have no problem adjusting and find it easy to eat this way once they realize how much better they feel.

Make sure you have enough stomach acid

Hydrochloric acid is produced by the digestive tract and is responsible for nutrient absorption (especially vitamin B12, magnesium, vitamin D, calcium, iron), protein digestion and proper bacterial growth. Symptoms of low stomach acid include heart burn, belching, gas, bloating, nausea and nausea with supplements and constipation. Its pretty important and it is directly suppressed by stress as well as acid inhibiting medications and H. pylori (a bacterial infection of the gut). A gentle way to stimulate stomach acid is with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before or after a meal. This is also a great heart burn cure!

Get enough good bacteria

The right balance of beneficial bacteria is crucial for proper gut health and health in general. A good way to ensure you are getting a source of bacteria is to eat fermented foods. kombucha is a delicious fermented mushroom carbonated drink. Sounds kind of weird but I promise it's good. This can be found in the health food section of the grocery store and I like the brand Synergy. Dairy free kefir is also a great option. Not as accessible but you can sometimes find a coconut kefir in your local health food store. Kimchi is a traditional spicy Korean fermented food which we are starting to find in the health food section. The last suggestion I make is sauerkraut which you can just use as a condiment. 2 tablespoons are enough!

Address your stress

Your digestive system has its own little nervous system and is very responsive to your stress levels. Stress is going to directly inhibit stomach acid production as I mentioned before and alter gut bacteria. It's important to figure out what you need to do to lower stress. For me I know I must go outside everyday, exercise and meditate. When these things don’t happen I’m in trouble. Some people need to be creative, dance, read a book, go to yoga class etc. For great digestion find out what works for you.

 


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