Monday, December 25, 2017

        Blog #70: Help Balance Body and Mind With Forest Bathing

Today, when vast expanses of wilderness are being destroyed by pollution or plundered for fuel, housing, and food for earth’s exploding population, Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, as it is called in Japan, is gaining popularity in the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea, and Central America, among other places.  So many scientific studies have documented the health benefits of Forest Bathing that doctors across the world now write prescriptions for it.  Forest Bathing involves spending time in a wooded area, relaxing and tuning into sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and tactile sensations while relaxing in a wooded area. Benefits include diminished stress, depression and anxiety, lowered blood pressure, improved or even normalized blood sugar levels, and strengthened immune response to threats such as infections and cancer. 

Forest bathing involves walking at a very leisurely pace in a wilderness or park area that is as free of pollution and distraction as possible.  Focus is on the therapeutic aspect of the experience.  There are no destination or time constraints.  Instead, people walk slowly, and may sit down or lie down on the ground.  They may close their eyes for a few minutes and then open them, looking around as if for the first time.  They may notice unusual leaves, the sound of wind rustling branches, distinctive bird calls, the scent of earth, or the sensation of a tiny ant crawling over their hand.

Increasingly, people are turning to trained guides to lead them.  There are now quite a few schools that offer certification training as forest guides throughout the world.  Most guides work in the counseling or health care fields. Finland launched a government-supported taskforce on forests and human health in 2007. Things went global with the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM) in 2011. A North American chapter was established in 2013.

PubMed returns well over 100 studies on the health benefits of forest bathing, including studies indicating that it significantly lowers blood pressure (-1.4 percent), heart rate (-5.8 percent), cortisol levels (-12.4 percent) and sympathetic nerve activity (-7 percent) compared with city walks, while also alleviating stress and depression.  Some studies conclude that exposure to phytoncides, the airborne, aromatic chemicals/oils emitted by many trees, have a long-lasting impact on people’s immune system markers, boosting natural killer (NK) cells and anticancer proteins by 40 percent.

As the amount and quality of wilderness areas diminishes and as more anti-biotic-resistant bacteria develop, Forest Bathing may play an increasingly significant role in the world healthcare system.  Physicians and therapists are increasingly prescribing time in parks and forests, as was common before the pharmaceutical era.  Studies have found that a retreat of two to three days is optimal, and some benefits last a month or more. In Japan and Korea, Forest Therapies are integrated into the healthcare system and covered by insurance. 

This blog’s offer:  each month, I lead a Nature Writing Group at the North Park Village Nature Center at 5801 North Pulaski Road, in Chicago.  After sharing our writing, we go for a leisurely walk in the nature preserve.  We next meet on Sunday, January 28th from 11 am until 1 pm, by the fireplace.  Feel free to join us.  If you have any questions about this please email or call my office.  Happy Holiday season and New Year to you.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

        Blog#69:  From Gratitude to Inner Peace to World Peace

Some sentiments of the Thanksgiving to New Year’s Holiday Season, including gratitude and peace, become more attainable when we first find and use them in our individual lives.  One could argue that world peace will not be attainable until most people find inner peace.  It could also be argued that inner peace would not be possible without gratitude. 

In our materialistic Western culture, we tend to be conditioned to always look for more that we would like to have, thus making us consumers who keep our country’s economy “healthy”.  Never mind that we spend vast amounts of time and energy earning money, which we then spend on luxury items such as new wardrobes, iPhones, late model cars, and tickets to sports events.  Never mind that when we are not able to obtain desired luxury items, we may feel angry, sad, insecure, or even depressed.  These feelings are the opposite of gratitude or inner peace, and do nothing to contribute to world peace.  In fact, they detract from it.  Not that we should never long for or enjoy the beautiful, delicious, entertaining or inspiring; but why do so at the expense of time spent with loved ones or at the expense of our good health and longevity or our cultivated interests and talents? 

One way to develop a sense of true gratitude is to compile at the end of each day ten things for which we are really grateful, and then to give thanks for these things as we fall asleep that night.  A list might consist of: 1.having the ability to talk, 2.having a car or other reliable form of transportation, 3.having a job or avocation, 4.having clothing which keeps us warm or dry, as the weather requires, 5.having watched a beautiful sunrise on our walk outside that morning, 6.having neighbors, friends, and/or family with whom to share our lives, 7.having just finished reading an interesting or inspiring book, 8.having cooked and consumed a satisfying meal that day, 9.having music or a musical instrument which we enjoy listening to or playing, 10.having just learned a new joke that made us laugh.  That makes ten, and the list could go on and on.  After doing this for several nights, we usually find that our sleep becomes sounder, we wake more rested, and we feel more appreciative in our lives.  This leads, in turn to more feelings of inner peace.

Eventually, feelings of inner peace tend to guide us toward interacting with others in more appreciative, considerate, and generous ways than we might do otherwise.  We might find it more natural to listen to others’ differing viewpoints without feeling threatened or judgmental.  We might discover new ways to manage or de-fuse conflict or stressful situations.  We might find that we are wishing happiness, good health, gratitude and peace for increasingly larger portions of the world’s population.  Which brings us to inner peace consciousness feeding world peace. 

And so I wish all of you a happy, healthy, loving, and peaceful holiday season.  That is also this monthly blog’s offer. Plus, if I can be of help this holiday season, please let me know.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

       Blog#68: Strength, Balance and Breathing: Antidotes to Fear

For this Halloween, I have chosen to address the emotion of fear.  We can conquer or at least ameliorate this constricting emotion in a variety of ways.  Many people may not consider physical strength (especially strong legs) or good balance as means to help overcome fear; however, when you think about it, it makes sense.  With a strong body and good balance, we can run toward or away from something; we can climb, kick, jump, fight, and stand or walk for a long time.  We also have more capacity for of physical work.  With good balance, the body is lined up optimally, allowing each muscle to function at its best, minimizing stress on the bones and joints, and allowing the diaphragm to facilitate deep breathing and full oxygenation of the body.   This deep breathing allows heart, brain, and nervous system to function at their best, and helps us remain calm and think clearly.  This type of breathing also helps us detoxify our bodies efficiently and provides a massage for the internal organs, allowing them to function better.  Below is a link that explains and demonstrates abdominal breathing.

Regarding physical strength, I would recommend some regular physical exercise, something that you enjoy and will do daily, or at least several times per week.  Some excellent ways to improve your strength and balance are weight lifting and/or band work combined with aerobic exercise, Yoga, and even certain types of Tai Chi. If you do not have free weights or bands at home, or if you want to have some supervision regarding exercises of your choice, consider taking some Yoga or Tai Chi classes, or working with a personal trainer.  If you think this last option is too expensive, then you may not have heard of Planet Fitness, an unassuming, nation-wide health club where you can work with free weights or many types of exercise machines.  They also provide unlimited classes with a personal trainer as part of each membership.  These classes last 30 minutes and address different areas of the body, such as legs, arms, shoulders, back, abdomen, and chest.  There usually are no more than five people in a class, so you get plenty of individual attention. Membership prices start at $10.00 per month.

Lastly, good posture facilitates abdominal breathing and allows our muscles a fuller range of motion, which in turn helps us to increase our physical strength.  Some physical trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists, yoga instructors, and massage therapists specialize in helping patients and clients improve their posture. 

So take a step toward increasing confidence and courage and overcoming fear, and start improving strength, balance, breathing and posture today, in the season of Halloween, and before winter sets in. 

This blog’s offer:  contact me for a free consultation regarding improved posture, balance, strength, and breathing.  This is a specialty in my practice, and I develop programs for each individual.  I also have a posture grid, which can demonstrate your yearly improvement.

Friday, September 29, 2017

               Blog#67:  Posture Effects Body, Mind and Emotions

I am writing this blog during the last days of September.  October will soon be here.  Since October is “Good Posture Month” I thought it would be appropriate to address posture. Most people have at least a vague idea of what good posture is.  No slouching, hold your head up, shoulders back, spine straight…. well, actually, some people hold their shoulders back too rigidly, and that can cause tension in the body, but other than that, those few guidelines at least get us started on good posture.  But there is much more.  For instance, when seated, make sure your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle or greater and your feet are flat on the floor.  This translates into never tucking your feet under the chair.   Sitting leaning over a laptop computer is poor posture, as is craning your neck to read the screen of a desktop.  Sitting on a saggy, non-supportive couch is also problematic, as is falling asleep when seated in a chair with no headrest. 

I am living proof that the last situation can cause problems; sometimes when I have done this, my head subsequently lolled to the side, I heard a loud “pop” in my neck, and I suffered from neck soreness for days or even weeks afterward.  Gentle massage or chiropractic adjusting, along with time, to let the injury heal, were helpful in my case.  Most people realize that craning the neck forward or slouching forward over a laptop also can be harmful.  What many people do not realize is that tucking the feet under a chair stresses the hips and the entire spine, including the neck.  This seated posture results in unnecessary tension in the hips, back and neck and can result in spasm of the small paraspinal muscles, temporary impingement of some spinal nerves, especially when there are degenerative changes in the spine, and also can result in uneven circulation to the hips, back and neck.

When we stand and sit straight, we tend to be more alert, since the nervous and circulatory systems are not impeded by our posture.  Our internal organs also function better than they would if we slouch or otherwise exhibit poor posture.  Internal organs that are especially affected by poor posture are the brain, thyroid, lungs, liver, gall bladder, kidneys, bladder, stomach, intestines, and the reproductive system.  For example, sitting up straight allows our lungs to fill and expel more fully and allows our tissues to receive more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide and other waste products.  A singer will have a louder, clearer voice and can even increase note range with improved posture.

Others perceive us as more alert, intelligent, vital, and effectual when we have good posture.  At a job interview, all other things being equal, the person with good posture will be hired over the person who slouches.  And good posture also signals us to feel better about ourselves, since a more vitally functioning body usually results in a more objective, empowered outlook on things, as well as in more self-confidence.  One step toward improved posture is becoming aware of our posture more and more often, and correcting mistakes until improved posture becomes automatic.

This week’s offer:  chiropractic, acupuncture, and appropriate exercise can help improve posture, increase energy level, and enhance a sense of well being. Feel free to call me about a free consultation regarding improving your posture and which approaches might help you.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

                    Blog #66 The Happiness – Health Link

In addition to getting enough sleep, leaving abusive relationships, eating high quality food, protecting yourself from temperature and climate extremes, receiving help when you have suffered an injury or accident, staying out of jail, moving or exercising as much as is appropriate for you, and other self-care activities, it is helpful to maintain a happy outlook on life to stay healthy.  

According to many scientific studies and also according to “Positive Psychology: Harnessing the power of happiness”, published by Harvard University Hospital, positive attitudes and emotions are linked with good health and longevity.  Maintaining a positive outlook can be challenging, since it involves not allowing emotions to fluctuate based on situations such as relationships, work, politics, the stock market, or the weather.  Instead, one must intentionally decide to have a positive attitude in life and do things to support those emotions and attitudes. 

One way to support your happiness involves seeking out enjoyable experiences, i.e. going for a walk in the park, cooking a favorite dish, or reading inspirational literature.  Another way is to pursue activities that are fully engaging and satisfying. These activities will vary from person to person; a common denominator is that when engaged in these activities, you will lose track of time, will forget about worries, aches and pains, and will feel like you are “in the flow.”  A third way to cultivate positive attitudes and emotions is to do things that you feel are good and worthwhile.  What is good and worthwhile can vary greatly, but some examples would be volunteer work for the environment or helping those less fortunate. 

Of course, it helps to be healthy in the first place – that will help you feel happier, but just as it is possible to love and work intentionally, it is also possible to choose to be happy. 

This blog’s offer:  contact me if you want some ideas about positive activities or volunteer opportunities. Also, it looks like our Nature Writing Group will be going out for a half-day hike along the Skokie River Trail in mid-September.  Included along this trail are swathes of undisturbed, centuries-old prairie.  Come join us or go on your own.