Category Archives: wellness

Remembering to Listen: an unexpected lesson

Recently, I was in Florida for a family wedding over a long weekend. It was fantastic! But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I was reminded of something very important during my trip, and I wanted to share it.

Our bodies have innate wisdom.

All too often we have a tendency to ignore the messages from our bodies. I know I have. Throughout my life, I have always been able to “push through” almost anything. We’ve even championed the ability to rally when fatigued by giving it a name: a second wind. Instead of heeding the warning signs (the messages) we carry on and ask more of our vessels than they should willingly give. Like good soldiers, however, our bodies often comply, even to their detriment.

Over the weekend, Florida was hot. Hot and very very sunny. There was little reprieve in the shade unless there was a nice ocean breeze. I was fine for the first two days, knowingly keeping myself outside in the earlier hours and inside during the heat of the day. The fact that we had a scheduled event also helped, as it required more inside time.

The Sunday after the wedding, however, was not really scheduled. It included a late family brunch, which pushed the outside time into the middle of the afternoon heat. I thought I could “rally” and that I could ask my body to show up for me without concern for how hot and bright it was. I went to a Farmer’s Market during the peak hours.

My body raised a little warning flag. I didn’t listen. I asked it for a little longer, to wander the market with my mom and see some interesting things. As we walked, my body raised the flag even higher. I found myself uttering phrases like “Wow, is it hot,” “This sun is crazy,” and “I can’t believe these people sitting out in the sun like this.” The last sentence came up several times in different versions.

I wasn’t “sitting in the sun” therefore it was easier to externalize the wisdom shouting at me from inside my body: “GET OUT OF THE HEAT, you crazy girl!”

I finally heeded my body’s warning and stood in the shade wherever I could find it. It was too late. The heat and sun had already started to take their toll on me, and I now had to walk back to the hotel.

It was a short walk, with no shade along the way. I asked my body to step up and push through, promising it rest and AC ahead. Alas, rest was available, but no AC. Inside the little pool house at my uncle’s apartment complex there were ceiling fans, which helped, but weren’t enough to cool me down. My bathing suit was in the hotel a little further away, so no jumping into the pool either.

I sat for almost an hour, willing my body to cool itself down. All the while, getting sicker and sicker. I drank water, put my feet up, and rested. Nothing helped. All I could hear inside my head was the sound of my own body whimpering in a corner, as I tried to engage in conversation with my family while I rested inside the pool house, pretending everything was alright. Once more, I was asking more of my body than it could give, ignoring its pleas.

Eventually, I went back to my hotel, collapsed on the bed in the AC, and there I lay for about an hour allowing my core temperature to lower. I’m sure if I had had a thermometer with me, it would have been off the charts. Heat stroke? Perhaps a mild case. I googled it as I was lying there, begging forgiveness of my vessel. By that time, my body simply ignored me as it had more important things to focus on.

The point of this entire story is to illustrate how often we ignore the warnings signs and wisdom of our bodies. We ask a lot of them on a daily basis, and they usually comply without a lot of argument or issue. In this instance, I asked too much, and my body let me know. Had I listened to it sooner, none of this would have happened. Had I adhered to the wisdom I already knew (that I don’t do well in heat or strong sun), I never would have gone for a walk to begin with. But I didn’t, and I got sick.

It occurred to me then, that if my body were my child, I would never have asked the same of it. And it made me wonder how many of us do the same. In many ways, our bodies are like our children. They are entirely dependent on us for their well-being. We (our minds) are the parents providing sustenance, protection, and opportunity for our bodies to be and do their best. How would things change if we started to look at our vessels in this new way? Would we still eat junk food? Drink tons of caffeine and sugar?

In my opinion, we do those things in order to ask more of our bodies than we should, or than they should be willing to give. We silence them through substances, rather than listening to the innate wisdom within.

As for me, I was much better within a few hours and back to normal in less than a day, with no lasting side effects… other than a newfound respect for the relationship I have with my body and a desire to listen more and demand less.

Feeling Stressed?

Stress can be like wind on the surface of water: temporary, changing, and totally outside of our control.

We often feel stressed and anxious because of circumstances in our life that we cannot control or influence. (Usually, actually, we think we can, which contributes to the level of stress we experience.)

Therefore, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with. In my experience, there are two types:

  • surface stress
  • deep stress

This week, I’m looking at surface level stress, because it’s the one we can deal with most readily, since it’s predominantly external. For that metaphor, let’s liken stress to wind blowing across the surface of a lake, causing ripples. The water deep underneath might be calm and clear, but the surface looks like a hot mess.

It’s this stress that’s truly temporary. Additionally, 9 times out of 10, the key to alleviating this stress is to remember that the vast majority of the water (what’s underneath) is calm and unaffected by the wind.

The wind can be anything from a child’s or boss’ tantrum, to a bad hair day, or traffic, or not having enough milk for your coffee in the morning, or even…

…family, friends, colleagues and social media. Basically, it can be anything external to you.

Like the wind, it’s outside of your control and often has nothing to do with you personally. The key to restoring balance is to understand and remember these three things:

  • the surface is not the story
  • the wind is temporary
  • the calm beneath is the truth

If you can keep these simple ideas in mind, it will help you navigate any stressful (windy) situation with more grace and ease. There’s comfort in knowing that, at your core, everything is okay. In fact, I would argue it’s the best way to live. :)

D to the Rescue!

Every year around this time, I write a little reminder for those of you who, like me, have a little trouble with the decreasing sunlight in the northern hemisphere. Clinically known as “seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” I often refer to it as the ‘winter blues.’

It’s a common phenomenon for those who live in areas where the sun goes into hibernation as we head into autumn and winter. In fact, I saw a picture in National Geographic where one town in Norway installed mirrors on a ridge in order to capture sunlight and direct it into the town square for a period of time each day. (check it out ​here)

The residents stand out in the square, faces turned up into the reflected sun, just to get sunlight each day. It’s pretty cool. More importantly, it underscores the importance of Vitamin D for our mental/emotional health.

So, it’s time for this year’s reminder: go get your Vitamin D and start adding it back into your diet. It takes a few weeks to build up the levels needed to sustain you through the darkest months of the year. Have questions or concerns? Make an appointment to chat with your physician.

Want to read what I’ve written about it in the past? Check out my archived article ​here.

Finding Your Five

This past week I had several conversations with people, from clients to strangers to family and friends, all about how to find your five, and why it’s so important to do so, regularly.

What is “Finding your five?”

It’s about identifying what you can do and what works for you to find pause in only five minutes, thereby restoring some balance to your day. When I worked in corporate America, I stumbled upon this idea and quickly adopted it into my life and adapted it to other situations. Here’s what happened:

I worked at a high-stress luxury retailer for a number of years. Before that I was a fundraiser for a major medical school. Both of these jobs required a lot of management, interaction, and attention. And there were a lot of personalities moving about, mine included. At the fundraising job, I had an office with a door, so it became easy (i.e. not mindful) for me to close the door for 5-10 minutes, listen to a song or just read something not work-related. It was a mindless balm in the middle of a busy day.

At the retailer, I was in an office with two other women, so privacy was not an option. I learned quickly how to create my own privacy by going to the restroom. Specifically, I went to the restroom on a different floor. Whether or not I had to use the facilities, I went when I needed 5 minutes. I didn’t have a smartphone, so there was no email, music or internet to go through and busy myself, which was better for me. I would go to the restroom, go into a stall, close the door and sit on the edge of the toilet, and simply breathe. I’d think of things that made me happy, and quietly breathe until I felt a bit of balance and stress-alleviation return to my body. It usually took 5 minutes, sometimes less.

I have since taught clients, friends and family this little trick, and it works in every situation. Why? Because nobody can (or will) stop you from going to the bathroom. It’s almost an uncomfortable subject, so people just nod in acknowledgement when you say you have to go, and you leave. It’s always an option, and it’s the easiest way I know of to take five, without conflict.

Furthermore, the truth is there is really very little that can prevent you from taking five. If you’re a surgeon, perhaps it’s not the best idea to take a potty break in the middle of your work. Then again, if I’m ever being operated on (and it’s not life-threatening), if my surgeon really needs a 5-minute break for physical and/or emotional reasons, I’d much rather he/she take their 5 than push through it while working on me.

So, the question is: What’s your 5?

Here are some examples for you to consider that focus on the five senses:

  • Taste: food, specifically dark chocolate.If you like chocolate, test this out. Grab a piece, put it in your mouth, and set a stopwatch. Without chewing, see how long it takes to dissolve completely. Experience it melting, focusing on nothing else. My guess is it will be more than 5 minutes and you’ll feel quite relaxed afterward.
  • Listening: Music or a podcast, depending on what works for you, are a great way to take 5. Choose something uplifting that gets your head and heart moving. Pick a favorite song (or songs) that last about 5 minutes and keep them with you at the ready. Or do the same with a podcast or something from YouTube.
  • Seeing: Visual beauty, however you define it, inspires and brings us joy. If that’s a walk among flowers and trees, great! If it’s looking at a favorite painting or item, also wonderful. The key is to keep it readily available and easily accessible. It’s a visual cue you create to signal to your body that it’s time to pause, breathe and relax. (A caution here: if you choose an image with people you know in it, it may not have the same calming effect as it could stir up emotions. For example, a picture of your kids might make you smile, but then it might make you think of the errands you need to run for their school supplies, which may not be relaxing.)
  • Seeing, part 2: Reading is a great way to take 5. Anything supportive, inspirational, or uplifting can recharge you. Exploring positive words on a page enriches both your mind and your heart.
  • Smelling: Aromatherapy has been around for millennia, because it works. Whether or not it works for you is a matter of trial and error with different scents. For calming and stress-release, try lavender, sandalwood, ylang-ylang or chamomile. Invest in a small bottle of essential oil and carry it with you. When you take 5, open the bottle take a sniff and see how your body responds. You may be surprised.
  • Feeling: This is my favorite! Why? Because, for me, it encompasses all the others. When I touch or feel something that uplifts me, such as a favorite blanket or even item of clothing, it brings back memories of sounds, images, smells, and/or tastes from experiences in the past. A simple item can trigger some of the happiest most joy-filled memories, which enhances any mini-break. Petting my dog is similar. There’s a reason having pets in a nursing home helps to improve the morale of the residents.
  • Feeling, part 2: The best feeling I’ve found, however, is the sensation of breath. Breathing with attention is about feeling everything going on inside you. It’s not touch, per se, but it’s still feeling. With each breath, your skin becomes more alive and responsive to slight breezes, for example. Breathing consciously for 5 minutes is the best way I know to find my five.

Whatever your 5 is, find it, name it, and use it. Regularly and often. Not only will you become more adept at self-care and knowing yourself, but you’ll feel a lot better too!

[And remember: small changes, over time, lead to big results. Five minutes is perfectly sized to create something great!]

Bottoming out and bottoming up

What if “bottoming out” actually required bottoming out?

We’ve all been there, or know someone who has. Hit rock bottom. Bottomed out. It’s a common metaphor used especially often in the world of addiction and recovery. It describes the point at which everything had no choice but to change. Some refer to it as the moment of surrender, or letting go to let God. I think of it as the moment of possibility.

Here’s the thing though… all too often, I see or hear stories of people who have bottomed out without actually doing so, which requires them to do it again (and again, and again). I’m going to paint you a picture.

photo 1Imagine we all live in barrels (bear with me), and at the bottom of those barrels lay all the sediment and debris from our lives. It’s the land of negative thoughts, pain, suffering, and fear. So, as we get close to that bottom of sludge and mud, we would naturally want to move as far away from it as possible. Hence, often times we hear of people hitting bottom and making changes.

However, “hitting bottom” can be just our big toe touching the sludge, causing us to instantly leap toward the top of the barrel in our best effort to avoid the boggy madness. Or, sometimes we can go in up to our knees before we jump to make a change. And sometimes, sadly, people drown in the muck from sitting there and staying in it without movement.

But, what if there were another way? What if I were to tell you that all that you know about positivity and hope is not only “above” you in the barrel, but the source of light is also below you – through the muck? What becomes possible then?

Here’s how I see it.

photo 2At the bottom of every barrel there is a hole. That hole may be tiny, no bigger than a pin, or it may be large, but it’s there. On top of the hole is a covering, not a plug. It just sits there. Occasionally it allows the muck to seep out, but mostly it just holds it all in place.

Now, what if swimming down through the muck and getting to the covering to move it out of the way actually allowed your barrel to empty the sludge? What if the way “out” of the bottom is actually through it?

Too often, I think we bottom up when we are bottoming out, which often leads to hitting bottom again (or grazing bottom, actually). I think, though, we’d have a lot more success in wellness if we chose instead to plunge deeper into the mess at the bottom to release it from our containers. Of course, that would require some work and support, but it would be well worth it if we could drain the barrel and exit out the bottom. That would truly be bottoming out.

From there, who knows where we could go? Anything would be possible. Which means, at the bottom of every barrel lies possibility.

Living Optimally

So – it’s been a week, and what a week it’s been. Yours truly has been knocked down by the flu. Not sure whether it was just the common flu or the H1N1 strain – but whatever it was, it definitely got me. Which brings me to this week’s topic: Living Optimally.

A dear friend of mine recently shared her new life mantra with me, and I love it. It’s “Be happy now.” What does that mean exactly? Well, my interpretation is that it means that she is making decisions based on that idea. For example: if there is a choice to make between two things (as many of us experience this holiday season), she might look at the options through the filter of what will support her mantra of being happy now. Living in the moment. Too often we feel obligated to accept all invitations. As such, social commitments sometimes become a chore or a task, rather than a celebration. Now – this isn’t to say that you have to turn people down, but it does put a different perspective on things. If you have two holiday parties to go to on the same night, then you have the power to make the decision to choose one or the other – or both! More importantly, however, you also have the power to CHOOSE how you are going to approach the evening. Will you look at it as an overwhelming commitment? Or will you look at it as an opportunity to celebrate relationships and enjoy the moment? It’s your choice. Be happy now.

But let’s take this back to my experience with the flu. Last week I told you about Dr. Darren and Dr. Tom’s work. A major part of their work incorporates the idea of The Five Basics for Optimal Health, which are: ‘The quantity, quality, and frequency of water, food, rest, exercise and owning one’s power.” Of course, this is nothing new to most of us – except for, possibly, the “owning one’s power” part. But that relates back to what I just said about choice. As for the other four pieces – well, they’re just common sense, aren’t they? Or are they? If they were that simple – the weight loss industry and health care industry wouldn’t be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. So, where’s the disconnect?

In my opinion, it’s that last piece: owning your power. Owning your power means making a decision. Just like my friend has done in deciding to “be happy now” – it’s the decisions that drive us either toward health and wellness, or dysfunction and disease. If we want a quick-fix solution to a life-long problem, that’s a choice. And it might mean spending the rest of your life searching for the solution – rather than choosing a long-term strategy. But what about when things like the flu epidemic take place? I considered myself to be fairly healthy with a strong immune system, but I still got knocked down. Why? Was it something I did? Could I have done something different? Was I living optimally before I got sick? The answer is no – to all of those questions. I was not living optimally, however, there was also nothing I did to cause it, and there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent it, because that’s in the past. Going forward, however, I can make different choices.

I can choose to drink better water, more often, in larger amounts. I can also choose to go to bed earlier, and sleep better – giving my body more opportunity for rest and restoration. Food and exercise will also play a role. By making a deliberate decision to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, as well as daily movement in any form, I will be providing my body with the best possible scenario to heal and become stronger. The best part is, by making these decisions I will be owning my own power. In a way, it’s both a catalyst and a happy side effect of living a healthier life. It’s cyclical, and it will fuel itself.

One more thing, though – a big part of owning my power is also making the choice not to shame myself (and feel guilt) if I should choose something defined as “less healthy.” Life is about moderation, and life is about choices. A bowl of ice cream or a side order of French fries is a choice – it’s also a choice to feel happy about it and enjoy it fully, or to feel guilt about it and remorse. THAT is truly owning your power. So, just as my friend has embraced her own power by creating a mantra by which she lives her life, so can you. Every morning you have a choice to make on how you will approach your day. And every night, when you are lying in bed about to fall asleep, you have the power to choose how you will look back on your day and your choices. It’s up to you. Once you begin owning your power, the rest will naturally start falling into place. Amazing. And it all begins with you….with your choices.

THree THings

Body – What do you choose to drink first thing when you wake up in the morning? Water or coffee? Which one is more consistent with living optimally? Coffee is fine, but when you wake up, your body has become more dehydrated overnight. A glass of water might wake you up faster than the caffeine would.

Mind – If you find yourself feeling guilt about something – it’s probably an old pattern of belief. Pause. Give yourself a break, and see if you can make a decision to think differently.

Spirit – Honoring yourself is the greatest gift. It will give you the strength to take the initial steps toward living optimally.

In Love and Light,

Martina