Yoga: A path to reduce stress in a busy world

Yoga is a mind and body exercise, touted to reduce stress. But how does it really work in our mind and what should we do to maximize its benefits in our body? There’s no better time to explore these questions as we celebrate National Yoga Awareness Month in September.

I invited a highly regarded (also my favorite) yoga instructor, Wes Linch to write this article to share his knowledge on how practicing yoga can strengthen our nervous system and how to get the most out of your yoga journey! 

From Wes….

Yoga has certainly become a household name the world over and it’s now more popular than ever.  As a result of the pandemic, yoga has become even more available through social media and Zoom, giving people access to amazing teachers that they never would have studied with before.  What is it about this practice that makes people want to get on their mat every day for an hour of moving, breathing, and stretching their bodies?

I think it’s pretty safe to say we live in a pretty stressful world these days.  The last few years have been especially trying for just about everyone.  Human beings intuitively know that when we feel fit and healthy, we manage stress a lot better.  When most of us think about health and fitness, probably what comes to mind are things like cardio, strength training, maybe even diet and nutrition.  However, how many of us consider bolstering and nurturing our nervous system as a critical part of our health and fitness?

When I tell a random stranger that I am a yoga teacher, their typical response is “Wow!  You must be so flexible!”.  This always gives me a bit of a chuckle.  I’m certainly more flexible than when I started yoga, but I’ll probably always be a pretty stiff guy.  Don’t get me wrong, stretching is a very important element of muscle fitness; but, so much of our flexibility is genetic.  So, let’s just get this out of the way and make it clear that extreme range of motion and super fancy poses are not the goal of yoga.  

Strengthen our Nervous System

I really believe that the true gem of yoga has more to do with strengthening our nervous system than it does stretching our hamstrings.  When we strengthen our nervous system, we manage stress better.  So, how exactly does yoga accomplish this?  What makes it better suited than other forms of exercise towards this end?  Believe it or not, it has more to do with our breath and our mindfulness than it does with the postures themselves.  This is also what makes yoga so universally accessible.  Whether you are an athlete, young or old, have an injury or suffer from a chronic illness, yoga can meet you exactly where you are at and present to you an opportunity to be with your body and breath in a really creative and nurturing way.  

So, how exactly does our breath affect our nervous system?  And more specifically, our autonomic (automatic) nervous system.  This is the part of our nervous system that is somewhat out of our direct control.  It controls much of our vital organs, hormones, heart rate, digestion, etc.  It’s a great thing that we don’t have to think about it all the time.  It would be rather tedious for us to think about digesting our food or pumping our blood.  However, much of how our nervous system works in the background gets affected by our environment (rush hour traffic, what we had for lunch, social media, lack of sleep, etc).  This can certainly feel a bit frustrating at times

Our nervous system is regulated by two separate branches, sympathetic and parasympathetic.  The sympathetic side of our nervous system is the alert, wakeful, “get stuff done” side of our nervous system.  It also happens to regulate our fight or flight response as well as our immune function (think about fighting off a cold).  The parasympathetic side of our nervous system is sometimes called the “rest and digest” side.  It helps us feel calm and relaxed (its like recharging our battery).  We can think of these two dual sides as like yin and yang to each other.  What’s most important to understand is that when we nurture our parasympathetic nervous system, it essentially recharges the sympathetic nervous system.  You may have heard of phrases like adrenal fatigue or sympathetic burnout.  This is when we overtax that side of our nervous system making us more susceptible to stress, fatigue, and illness.

This is where our breath comes into play.  Even though we can’t directly “control” our autonomic nervous system, we can indirectly affect it when we slow down our breathing.  When we breath slowly in yoga and focus on being mindful and present in a yoga posture, this has an amazing ability to calm and regulate our nervous system.  This is the true brilliance of the practice.  To make it even more fascinating, when we create a mild to moderate “stressful” situation in practice (think challenging yoga pose) and we learn to breath and relax, we are essentially retraining our nervous system in how it relates to stress.  This is an incredibly useful tool that we can take into any stressful situation of our life.  I personally believe that when we learn to breath and relax in stressful situations, we are better equipped to respond to these situations in a more healthy way.  

The Take Away

So, if you have been practicing yoga for many years, are a beginner, or have never stepped on a yoga mat, consider that it has more to do with how you do it rather than what you do.  If you can show up to your yoga practice, try new things, move your body in fun and interesting ways while encouraging yourself to breath slowly, deeply, and mindfully, you are bound to leave your practice feeling better than when you started.  

Wes Linch

About Wes

Thank you to Wes for teaching me the science and art of yoga for over 10 years! He is responsible for instilling passion in my yoga practice. I hope you will find time to discover his yoga classes. You can find Wes’s class offerings, workshops, and events both online and in person at his website: www.weslinchyoga.com

Wes is a Hatha Yoga instructor, with over 15yrs of practice and having received over 1200hrs of training.  He has studied extensively modern Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Shadow Yoga, and Viniyoga.  Currently, he is continuing his training and studies with Nicki Doane (Maya Yoga), Kristin Bosteels, and Eddie Modestini(Yoga on the Inside).  He has had the privilege of studying in-depth with Mynx Inatsugu(Yogaworks and Viniyoga) and Mark Horner (Shadow Yoga).

Wes focuses primarily on bridging the gap between breath, alignment, and awareness.  He aims to make the energy of the practice relevant on and off the mat by introducing traditional yogic teachings with a modern twist.  His classes are fun, sweaty, challenging, and full of great humor and heart.


How to Manage Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. Although there’s no cure at this time, we do know that self-care is very effective in managing Fibromyalgia symptoms and minimizing the impact on daily life. 

Individuals with Fibromyalgia experience pain or tenderness that is very sensitive to the touch and in greater intensity than others, even under gentle pressure. Therefore, Fibromyalgia is considered to be a “pain regulation” or “neurosensory” disorder.

The pain can happen just about anywhere throughout the body, and lasts for days, weeks, months, or longer. It can also come and go throughout the body in “flares” and it often occurs along with stiffness, fatigue, “fibro fog,” and mental health issues. It can sometimes feel debilitating and cause a lot of distress.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that up to 7.7 percent of women and 4.9 percent of men experience fibromyalgia. These rates are higher than in Europe or South America. 

Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but it does not seem to be the result of physical damage to the bones, joints, or muscles. The pain may be triggered and worsened by infections, injury, inflammation, or emotional stress. Fibromyalgia tends to occur in families, however no specific genes have yet been found that predispose someone to getting it.

Typical symptoms of fibromyalgia

Some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia include

  • Pain or tenderness in the muscles, soft tissues, and/or bones throughout the body (muscle pain, joint pain), including the arms, legs, head, chest, abdomen, back, and buttocks
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
  • Fatigue, inability to get a good night’s sleep, restless leg syndrome, feeling stiff upon waking up
  • “Fibro fog” (memory problems, confusion, inability to pay close attention or concentrate)
  • Headaches (migraines, tension headaches)
  • Pain in the face or jaw, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
  • Increased sensitivity to light, odors, noise, and temperature
  • Mental health issues (anxiety, depression)
  • Gut ssues (bloating, constipation, IBS, GERD, difficulty swallowing)
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Overactive bladder, pelvic pain

The risk for fibromyalgia is higher in people who experience other conditions such as chronic back pain, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, spondyloarthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory myopathy, systemic inflammatory arthropathies, hypothyroidism, endometriosis, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). It is also possible to experience several of these at the same time. Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because there isn’t a definitive test for it, however your doctor will likely do a physical exam and medical tests to try to determine which of these you may be experiencing.

Nutrition and fitness strategies to deal with fibromyalgia

There are many things that you can do to help alleviate these symptoms and reduce the impact of fibromyalgia on your life. The first thing is to know that even though it’s difficult to diagnose and doesn’t have a definitive test, fibromyalgia is a real disease and research is being done to try to better understand and eventually cure it. 

While there isn’t a cure just yet, there are ways to manage fibromyalgia symptoms and self-care plays an important role in reducing its impact. According to the American College of Rheumatology, “patient self-care is vital to improving symptoms and daily function. In concert with medical treatment, healthy lifestyle behaviors can reduce pain, increase sleep quality, lessen fatigue, and help you cope better with fibromyalgia.”

Exercise

While more research is underway, physical exercise is currently considered to be the most effective treatment for fibromyalgia. Cardiovascular fitness training (“cardio”) can ease symptoms by helping with pain and improving sleep. Ideally, doing 30 minutes of cardio three times each week is recommended. Low-impact exercises like walking, biking, stretching, yoga, tai chi, and water-based exercises are helpful. If regular exercise is new for you or feels like a lot, simply start low and go slow to create a comfortable routine. It may take time to build up your endurance and the intensity of physical activity that you can do.

Photo by nextbike on Pexels.com

Nutrition

Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is also highly recommended. While there currently isn’t a huge amount of strong evidence to recommend one comprehensive dietary strategy to help with fibromyalgia symptoms, a few small studies show promising results for the following nutrition recommendations:

  • If you are low in vitamin D, taking a supplement can help reduce fibromyalgia pain. As with any nutrition supplement, ensure you are buying yours from a reputable source. Check out professional brands recommended by doctors and nutritionists in my wellness store
  • Additional supplements that may help include Chlorella green algae, Coenzyme Q10, acetyl-L-carnitine, magnesium, iron, vitamins C and E, probiotics, and Nigella sativa (Black cumin) seeds.
  • Different types of elimination diets have helped different people, such as the vegetarian diet (eliminates meat, poultry, and fish), vegan diet (eliminates all animal products including dairy and eggs), the low FODMAP diet (reduces intake of short-chain carbohydrates that are fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols), a low calorie diet (reduces calorie intake), gluten-free diet (eliminates the protein gluten), or a diet free from both MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame (an artificial sweetener).
  • Reducing inflammation will provide some pain relief. An anti-inflammatory diet has been demonstrated to be effective for many people in my clinical practice.
  • The Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease fatigue and improve moods.
  • The replacement of some foods may also help, including replacing non-olive oil fats with olive oil and replacing non-ancient grains with ancient grains such as Khorasan wheat, also known as Kamut. 
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

This is a long list of potential dietary strategies and more research is needed. Because many of these should not be combined together, it’s wise to approach these dietary changes cautiously and work with a registered dietitian who is knowledgeable in dealing with your symptoms and can work with you to choose the best path forward.

Lifestyle tips to deal with fibromyalgia symptoms

Improving sleep patterns and sleep hygiene can also be very helpful if you’re dealing with fibromyalgia. For example, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and limit stimulants like caffeine and nicotine as much as possible, especially in the evenings. Establish a relaxing nightly routine that may include reduced screen time, dimmed lights, soft music, meditation, and a warm bath. Also, keep your bedroom comfortable for sleeping by keeping it dark, quiet, and cool. If you suspect you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Managing stress and moods can also help relieve symptoms. If you experience symptoms of fibromyalgia, pace yourself and balance your need to work and rest by taking breaks when necessary. Also, make time to relax each day and try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques. If you feel lonely or isolated, consider joining a support group that you find to be positive and encouraging—one that shares helpful coping techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy with a therapist or counselor may help by focusing on how thoughts and behaviors affect pain and other symptoms. If you have any mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, seek out professional help.

Final Thoughts

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition of chronic widespread pain. It’s thought to result from the brain becoming more sensitive to pain signals, as if even a small signal becomes amplified and feels much stronger. In addition to the pain, people with fibromyalgia tend to also have difficulty sleeping and experience fatigue, stiffness, changing moods, and “fibro fog.”

The American College of Rheumatology recommends that you “look forward, not backward. Focus on what you need to do to get better, not what caused your illness.” Self-care is the mainstay for improving symptoms of fibromyalgia. Current research suggests that the most effective treatment is physical activity. In addition to that, there are several dietary and lifestyle strategies that can help, including certain diets and supplements, improving sleep, and managing stress.


Improve Your Mood With Brain Food

Imagine if eating differently could elevate your moods or improve your brain and mental health. It can! Or if reducing stress can also reduce gut symptoms . It does!

The gut and brain are interconnected more than we previously thought—new research is proving it. These discoveries have huge potential to help people with gut issues by improving brain health. At the same time, improving gut health can help people with brain or mood issues.

Sounds interesting? Learn all about the gut-brain axis and how you can leverage this new research to improve your gut and brain.

Your gut is partially controlled by your brain

Gut disorders can cause pain, bloating, or other discomfort. They impact over 35 percent of people at some point in life—affecting women more than men. Many times, these gut issues don’t have an apparent or easily diagnosable physical cause, so they can be difficult to treat and find relief from.

We already knew that our brains control some of our digestive processes. For example, research has found that even thinking about eating can cause the stomach to release juices to get itself ready for food. Your gut is also sensitive to emotions. You may recall a time when you felt anxious and nauseous or felt “knots” or “butterflies” in your stomach. 

Several studies show that stress may be an important—often overlooked—reason for gut issues. According to Harvard Health, “Stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa.”

This is why it’s so important to look at your stress and emotions if you have gut issues. Many studies have found that stress reduction techniques can lead to greater improvement in gut symptoms compared to conventional medical treatment alone. 

Before I go over how to do this, let’s take a closer look at the biology behind the gut-brain axis.

Your nervous systems

There are two main parts of your “main” nervous system. One is the part that we can consciously control, like when we move our muscles to walk around, chew our food, or play with our kids. This is called the somatic nervous system.

The other part of our nervous system controls all of those things that we can’t control, but need to survive. These include processes that happen automatically in the background: breathing, heart beating, sweating, or shivering. This part of the nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system because it works automatically.

The autonomic system regulates our body’s functions by either speeding things up or slowing them down. When things are sped up, like when our “fight or flight” reactions kick in, this is done by the sympathetic part. We feel this happening when we sense danger – real or not – and get stressed. Our heart beats faster and we breathe heavier. We’re preparing to fight or flee, so our body focuses on ensuring our muscles get enough blood and oxygen to work hard.

Slowing things down, on the other hand, is done by the parasympathetic part. This happens when we’re relaxing or after the danger has passed and we start to calm down. It allows our heart, lungs, muscles and our digestive systems do their jobs much better. In this phase, we’re secreting more digestive juices to break down food, therefore absorbing more nutrients, as well as lowering levels of inflammation in our gut. That’s why this is called the “rest and digest” phase.

Both of these arms of the autonomic nervous system—the sympathetic and parasympathetic—interact with the gut. This means that when our body is stressed we can experience gut symptoms and when we’re relaxed our digestion does what it’s meant to do. 

Your gut is your “second brain”

In addition to your “main” nervous system, your gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system spans your whole digestive tract from your esophagus, along your stomach, intestines, and colon. This nervous system is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” because it works in the same way that the “main” one does. It has 100 million nerve cells (called neurons) that communicate with each other using biochemicals called neurotransmitters.

Your enteric nervous system gets input from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, so it can speed up or slow down when it has to. It also has a “mind” of its own and can function independently of them.

This complex system is important because of how complex our digestive processes are. For example, after we eat, the neurons in our enteric system tell the muscle cells of the stomach and intestines to contract to move food along to the next part. As our gut does this, our enteric nervous system uses neurotransmitters to communicate with the central nervous system.

Your enteric nervous system is also very closely linked to your immune system. This is because a lot of bacteria can enter the body through the mouth and end up in the gut. You have a large immune presence there to help fight them off before they become a larger problem and infect other parts of the body. The cells of the immune system provide another path for the gut to communicate up to the brain. They relay information like when they detect an infection or when your stomach is bloated, so your brain knows, too.

Even the friendly gut microbes (gut microbiota) that help us digest and make certain nutrients play a role in communicating with the brain. They make neurotransmitters, some of which are known to influence our moods.

The gut-brain axis

This intimate and complex connection between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. And we now know that the signals go in both directions: from your brain down to your gut, and from your gut up to your brain.

This is where we see the link between digestive issues and brain, stress, and mood issues.

When someone is stressed enough that they get into the “fight or flight” reaction, digestion slows right down to allow the muscles to fight or flee. The same physical reaction appears whether the stress is from a real threat or a perceived one. This means that your body reacts the same whether you’re facing a real life-threatening situation or whether you’re super-stressed about a looming deadline. This disruption of the digestive process can cause pain, nausea, or other related issues.

Meanwhile, it’s known that experiencing strong or frequent digestive issues can increase your stress levels and moods. People with depression and anxiety have more GI symptoms, and vice versa.

How stress and emotions affect your gut

Because of these strong connections between the gut and brain, it’s easy to see how stress and other emotions can affect the gut. Things like fear, sadness, anger, or feeling anxious or depressed are often felt in the digestive systems. When they cause our digestive systems to speed up (or slow down) too much, this can influence pain and bloating. It can also allow bacteria to cross the lining of the gut and get into the bloodstream, activating our immune systems. It can increase inflammation in the gut or even change the microbiota.

This is why stress and strong emotions can contribute to or worsen a number of digestive issues such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or food allergies or sensitivities.

Then, these gut issues are communicated to the brain, increasing the stress response and affecting our moods. This loop of stress and gut issues leads to a vicious cycle.

New research shows that changes to the gut’s inflammation or microbiome can strongly affect many other parts of the body as well—not just the brain and mood. They’re also associated with depression and heart disease.

How to eat and de-stress for better gut and brain health

What you eat can have a huge impact on your health. This is particularly true when it comes to the microbiome. Your gut health improves when you eat a higher-fiber, more plant-based diet. That’s because it provides your friendly gut microbes with their preferred foods so they can grow and thrive. Probiotic foods that include health promoting bacteria are also recommended. Reducing the amount of sugar and red meat you eat can also help. These can lead to a healthier microbiome by helping to maintain a diverse community of many species of microbes to maximize your health. They can also lower the level of gut inflammation, as well as reduce the risk of depression and heart disease.

Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA on Pexels.com

For better gut and brain/mental health:

Eat More: Eat Less:
Fruits and VegetablesSugar
Nuts and SeedsRed Meat
Whole grainsProcessed breads and cereals
Fermented foods
e.g. miso, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, yogurt
Artificial sweeteners

What about stress? Evidence suggests that some stress reduction techniques or psychotherapy may help people who experience gut issues. They can lower the sympathetic “fight or flight” response, enhance the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, and even reduce inflammation. 

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

Some of the stress-reduction techniques I love and recommend are:

  • Guided meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga

Your gut, brain, and mood will thank you!

Final thoughts

Our bodies are complex and interact with other parts on so many different levels. The gut-brain axis is a prime example. Research shows that what we eat not only improves the gut and overall health, but also brain and mental health. Not to mention that several stress-reduction techniques have been shown to reduce digestive illness and distress as well.

If you want a meal plan to help you eat—and enjoy—more of the foods that help your gut, brain, and moods. Use promo code HG50 to save 50% on my digital meal plans . You can customize your the meal plan with hundreds of our deliciously fresh recipes suitable for the whole family to enjoy.

If you have specific medical conditions requiring dietary changes, be sure to consult a registered dietitian who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


How to reduce inflammation with Diet and Lifestyle

Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammatory. “For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods combined with an active lifestyle can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet.

Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)

How does chronic inflammation begin? 

It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

How to reduce Inflammation

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body. 

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet 

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)

If you need a little help incorporating all these principles into your daily diet, check out Healthydigz’s anti-inflammatory eating plan . You will find weekly menus, delicious recipes, and shopping lists for your customizable meal plan.

Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Be physically active

  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
A person training with resistance band.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Get enough restful sleep

  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day

Manage your stress

  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
Three women practicing yoga
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

Be social

  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)

See your doctor or dentist

  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist

Final Thoughts

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, consult a registered dietitian/nutritionist who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


Simple Strategies for Better Wellness

Wellness isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the foundation of a good life. By focusing on your wellbeing, you improve your health, reduce the impact of stress, and set yourself up for a more satisfying life.

For many people, improving their health and wellness seems impossible. However, with the right strategies, it’s much easier than it may appear. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some simple ways to achieve better wellness.

Start Moving

Most adults need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week. While you can do this with longer sweat sessions, breaking the time down into 10-minute intervals also works. So, if you’re struggling to cram exercise into your day, focus on fitting in 10-minute sessions wherever you can, as that might feel more manageable.

It also helps to pursue exercise that you will enjoy. Explore Our Indian Culture’s dance classes for Indian dance lessons and workshops that will have you having fun while breaking a sweat.

Eat Healthier

Not to minimize the dollars and effort required to maintain healthy eating, but good food pays off. It has been proven that diet is linked to preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

With the ever-evolving diet trends, choosing healthy foods can be confusing. It helps to find a trusted source of information from a credentialed professional like a Registered Dietitian.  

You can start by trying delicious new foods while boosting your immunity. With some creativity and an open mind, you’ll discover lots of ways to eat healthy on a budget.

Sushi Bowl

Get Quality Shuteye

In general, adults need at least 7 hours of quality sleep every day. By sleeping that long, you can have enough sleep cycles to ensure specific body processes can happen, ensuring your muscles, brain, nervous system, and more are able to repair and recover from the day.

Ideally, you want to make sure you give yourself enough time every day to get the sleep you need. Additionally, if you have any sleep disorder symptoms, seeing a doctor is essential. With a sleep disorder, you might not be getting the quality rest you need. By scheduling a medical appointment with your physician, you can get an assessment of your situation and create a treatment strategy that can help.

Schedule Some Me-Time

When your life is busy, it’s normal to focus on other people’s needs. You might prioritize your family or work over yourself, and while that’s okay on occasion, it can be detrimental to your wellbeing if you never come first in your own life.

Photo by Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga on Pexels.com

Scheduling some me-time is critical for your wellbeing. It lets you focus on yourself, giving you a chance to do things that you enjoy. With regular me-time, you’ll have more energy, reduce stress, and have an easier time being at your best. Not only is that good for you, but also it ensures you can be there for others, making it a win-win.

Reduce Job Stress

On a typical workday, you spend about a third of your time at your job if you work full-time. If you aren’t happy while working, the fact that your overall well-being suffers shouldn’t be a surprise.

When your job isn’t challenging, you may become bored and frustrated. If your workplace is toxic or your workload is unmanageable, that could lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or burnout, all of which can harm your wellbeing.

In some cases, the best thing you can do for yourself is to plan your exit. By moving forward with a career change, you can start in a role that ignites your passion, keeps you engaged, and brings you a new level of satisfaction.

If you already have the skills you need for a new job, you may simply need to launch a job search. If you don’t, then signing up for an online degree program could be an excellent move. With an online college, you get a flexible approach to education that can put you on the path toward something better, in business, IT, and many other fields. Then, once you’re done, you can begin your new career with ease.


Contributor: Scott Sanders,  www.cancerwell.org


How to Build a Foundation of Self-Care for Kids

Guest blog by Ana Willis, http://fitkids.info 

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children how to care for themselves. We can never start building a foundation of self-care too early. Children today are under exponential stress, and giving them permission to take care of their own personal physical and emotional needs will help them stay healthy into adulthood.

Model Healthy Behaviors

It is simply not enough to tell your kids they have to do things like sleep and eat well. If you want to truly have an impact, you have to model healthy behaviors yourself. This is especially important if you work remotely, like many parents across the country, and also have children at home. Working at home with kids is difficult in the best of times. We are not living in the best of times! The pandemic has put a great deal of stress and strain on working parents to the point where it’s taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

As a remote working parent, you have to find ways to reduce stress on yourself. Start by asking your employer for a flexible schedule. You will then want to set rules with your family, especially with kids, so that they are not continually interrupting you while you are trying to focus on making a living. Make a schedule, and then ensure everyone in your family understands when you are and are not available.

Other ways to model healthy behaviors are to make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat the right balance of food so that your body has ample stores of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its peak. It can also help to take care of your outward appearance. Make a point to shower each morning and get yourself dressed as though you are going into the office. This will help keep you on a schedule and instill in your children that it’s wise to transition from “home” mode into work or school mode.

Make Fitness Fun

You don’t need statistics to tell you that kids today don’t exercise nearly as much as they did in the days before high-definition video games and the internet. Children as young as 11 are living sedentary lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is an alarming issue as lack of activity can result in a host of health problems, including obesity and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many fun and exciting ways to get the kids off the couch, even during the digital age. You can even use their electronics to encourage fitness. One great example is the game Beat Saber, which is available on the Oculus VR system. This game is just one of many active games that can help children keep their bodies moving while burning a similar number of calories as they would if they were outdoors playing tennis. 

You can also eliminate tech time for a few hours each day, and go outside with your children. Build a fort, toss a football, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood. Your activities don’t have to be extreme or regimented to be beneficial. Keeping your own self up and moving will ensure that your children do so throughout their lifetime!

Empower kids to take charge

Modeling self-care behaviors and encouraging exercise are an excellent start. But, self-care is more than just this. Self-care is a broad term that refers to everything we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically well every day.

An important part of our self-care efforts is teaching our children how to make healthy food decisions. Even the youngest members of your family can do so, but they do need your help. Get in the kitchen with them, and let them whip up their own healthy snacks after school. Smoothies, fruit trays, and peanut butter and apple pitas are all options that children in the ten and under crowd can make for themselves.

Self-care also means paying attention to how we feel about how other people treat us. Kids today are exposed to so much negativity in the real world and the media alike. It can be difficult for them to distinguish healthy relationships from those that take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, children are not immune from having toxic friendships, which are often emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Talk to your children about what types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And, if you have friendships that make you question your own worth, it’s time to cut ties to these.

The hope here is that kids will learn how to recognize what makes them feel good. Whether this is eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, or even playing games that incorporate their favorite music, self-care is crucial to build them up. As a parent, you can model healthy behaviors by taking care of yourself and giving your children opportunities to do the same.


Discovering Hot Pilates

Imagine doing mat Pilates in a room that is 95 degree and 40% humidity with blasting uptempo pop music, flashing lights and spinning disco ball.  Not exactly what you would call a mind and body exercise class. As a yogi, I never thought I would love it as much as I do. In fact, I was hooked after my first class!

With hot yoga, it is an easy transition from Hatha yoga but that’s not to say it isn’t intimating to do yoga in 100 degree temperature with a bunch of scantily cladded sweaty people. Nevertheless, it is still a mind and body exercise class where yoga poses are familiar and relaxing. But hot Pilates is not even in the same “mind and body” universe!

I first noticed this new trend of hot Pilates classes being offered at hot yoga studios when I was in Vancouver this past summer. Apparently this “new trend” has been around for the last decade but it’s just catching on worldwide recently. The hot Pilates craze led by Gabi Walters in Las Vegas started in 2009 and she later developed it into Inferno Hot Pilates. This new training system is a combination of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Pilates principles performed in a hot room on a yoga mat.

The High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) keeps your heart rate up, burns fat and calories, and increases fitness levels without the pounding of a high impact workout. The Pilates techniques improve body alignment, build strong core and long lean muscles. The hot temperature in the room increases blood circulation, metabolism and detoxification.

All these wonderful benefits do come with some risks. It is very easy to become dehydrated when exercising in such hot temperature and humidity. If you have high blood pressure, the heat and intensity of the workout can elevate your blood pressure to an unsafe level. The key to having a safe and fun workout is to be prepared. Hydrate your body at least 12 hours in advance; avoid eating 2-3 hours before class; and bring lots of cold water in an insulated water bottle to keep it cool during class.

At the end of my hot Pilates class at Hella Yoga in Berkeley, I came out of the studio with a rosy glow on my face, a relaxed body, a blissful feeling and a sense of accomplishment. I guess it was a mind and body class after all!

 


Urban Wellness Retreat in Vancouver

Ever faced with the dilemma of choosing between an in-and-out destination wellness retreat where location is secluded or a busy hectic exploratory sightseeing city trip? Here’s simple solution to have it all – create your own wellness retreat in a metropolitan city that is fitness minded.

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city full of wellness options! Follow my itinerary from my recent trip and enjoy a day filled with yummy food, exercise, and sightseeing. Staying in a central location of the city makes it easy to be active, find healthy restaurants and see local sites on foot. I highly recommend the Kitsilano area for all those reasons. This neighborhood is known for its yoga studios, natural food stores, and outdoor apparel shops. After all, it is the location of the corporate HQ of Lululemon and the first Whole Food store in Vancouver.

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Start you day with breakfast at The Naam Restaurant, located in the heart of Kitsilano on 4th Avenue. You can get anything from scrambled tofu to hardy egg omelettes. It has served organic and locally sourced vegetarian and vegan food for over 50 years. After all these years, I found them to remain true to that original vision, using fresh and pure ingredients while maintaining a warm, earthy and welcoming atmosphere.

After a wholesome meal, head east down 4th Avenue and browse through all the trendy boutiques. Along the way, you will come across some of the best bakeries and cafes in town. Try to resist the temptations until you get to your lunch spot. I recommend grabbing a quick bite at TurF – a fitness studio, shop, bistro + coffee bar – an urban wellness lifestyle destination. Their healthy food counter serves up creative vegan fare including bowls, salads, sandwiches and extraordinary smoothies. The “Three Point Oh Burger” below was one of the best vegan burgers I’ve ever tasted. The house-made patty features black bean, eggplant, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oat, tahini and spices. This little cafe is part of a gym so try a workout before you dine out!

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Once you are fueled with some local healthy food , continue walking westbound on 4th Avenue to check out the boutiques on the other side of the street. When you reach Vine street, turn right and head down to Kitsilano beach where you will see a gorgeous view of the ocean and the north shore mountains. To the left of the beach you will find the largest saltwater swimming pool in North America. The pool is open May to mid-September with extensive hours. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a swim in a 137 meter heated infinity pool with the view of the ocean. Talk about a wellness retreat vibe for cheap!

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The walking path from Kitsilano beach will lead you to the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vanier Park. Walk across the Burrard Street bridge towards downtown Vancouver, known as City of Glass. You will see why as soon as you cross the bridge. Make a left turn on Pacific Street and walk along Beach Avenue towards English Bay. Before continuing your walk into Stanley Park, stop at The Catus Club Cafe on the shores of English Bay to fuel up for the 6 mile loop around the park. You can’t beat the scenery of this location and the variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options on their menu.

At this point, if this urban wellness day has provided enough exercise, good eats, and fun, just grab a taxi back to your pad. If you still have energy to burn, it’s only a 4 mile walk back to Kitsilano.