When I was a young woman living in New York City, I made a check-up appointment with a medical doctor whose office was two blocks away from my Bay Ridge apartment. My appointment was at 3:00 and as I already knew that doctor office appointments in New York were historically lengthy, I took a ½ day off work to accommodate the doctor. I showed up 10 minutes early to fill out paperwork. I was surprised to see the office filled with patients, wall to wall. I asked the front desk attendant when she thought I was going to be seen. She said she didn’t know; that the doctor wasn’t in the office yet and some of these people had been there since 12:30.
I looked around and replied, “You know; I live two blocks from here. How about I go home and you call me about 10 before you think I can be seen, and I’ll come right over.” The front desk attendant didn’t like that idea at all, and told me I’d have to wait in the doctors office or reschedule, but I’d be charged for the appointment regardless. I couldn’t take another day off my new job, so I waited.
It wasn’t until after 5:00 when I was finally allowed to see the doctor. In the examination room, I waited another 15 minutes until the M.D., head down, asked why I was there. I said I was there for my annual check-up, and he promptly scribbled something on his chart. Without saying another word, he left. Ten minutes later, presumably a nurse or physician assistant came in and quickly drew my blood and took my blood pressure.
That was it. I had questions and thought I would have another chance to converse with the doctor, but know. At 5:30, I was shooed out of the room to the front desk where I was told, “That’s it.”
I don’t remember who the M.D. was, primarily because I never really saw his face. I don’t remember who the staff was. But I do remember that my time and my health wasn’t respected. I never returned. That was 1990. It is now 2013. Twenty-three years have gone by and I can’t remember what my concerns were, but I remember well how little I was valued.
How do you want to be remembered?
That question follows me into my office every day. The lesson I learned in Bay Ridge Brooklyn in 1990 has never left me. I try to do everything I can to respect my patients time and personhood. I spend quality time trying to understand their concerns and goals, and to let them know they are more to me than just a commodity on an insurance submission.
Still, if I were perfect, I would have sublimated from this world into the starry heavens by now. My wonderful patients teach me every day lessons about life and business that are invaluable to me. They are my greatest teachers in life, love, and success. I’d like to share some of their wisdom with you so that you might benefit from them as I have. So, without further ado, here are 8 business lessons I have learned from my patients.
1. Patients (and Customers) Come First
This should be just rote common sense, but when you and your staff is faced with a full schedule of meetings, marketing, records, chores and district manager evaluations, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the very reason you exist. This is never a sustainable policy..
Chances are you work either directly or indirectly for a service industry. Unless the client or customer is clearly unreasonable, If a client or customer request comes your way and your task is to take care of a question, concern, or job order, that request comes first, no matter what. Either you fulfill the request yourself or you make sure that members of your team fulfill the request.
This is never more imperative than for a doctor’s office or hospital. We provide a service for which the need is often immediate. All-too-often we hear stories of insurance hang-ups, passing-the-buck problem solving, and just plain dropping the ball somewhere in the line of patient management. When it comes down to priorities, the person who has an appointment at 4 is not an item on a “to do” pile. It is a person who needs our help, and the entire reason our jobs exist.
No matter what, in whatever profession, never forget that the whole reason your job exists is because someone needs your help. Paperwork be damned! Meeting with sales rep: I say nay! If someone somehow made it to your office for help and you’re open, then go help them.
2. Be Honest
Patients know if you’re not sure about a diagnosis. They can smell it on you. They whisper about it in the examination room and discuss it with friends and family. However, they’ve been trained to obey your assessment, even if they sense that you’re not sure. So you have a duty as a caregiver to be honest with them and tell them how sure you are about their diagnosis. Patients, in the long run, just want to know you care enough to be honest with them. If I’m not sure of an assessment or outcome, I will admit it. At least they know where I am and we can work together to find a solution from a basis of trust.
3 Avoid the Offensive and the Defensive.
Back in the day…you remember: pre-Bauhaus…there used to be a saying: “The Customer Is Always Right.” Well; of course the customer is not always right. The customer is not always well-informed, so they cannot always be right.
The statement is more of a guideline than a rule (thank you, Captain Barbossa). It is a guideline to help you listen to your customer, client or coworker. We often develop a knee-jerk defensive attitude when a person comes at us leading with disapproval. It is easy to react by saying, “you should have done this,” or “That’s not the way we do things around here, Sir/Mam.”
By the way: just a regional note regarding the terms, “Sir” or “Mam:” I grew up in North Carolina and spent a few years in the Midwest, so I know that the use of the formal address in these regions is traditionally employed as a respectful way to address someone. However, I’ve lived in the Northeast now for close to twenty years. If you are from the Northeast – in particular, New York – using those terms to address someone is viewed as a passive-aggressive insult, and is usually met with a bristling retort. It doesn’t matter if you are fifteen and the person you are addressing is eighty; take note of the accent of the person you are addressing and respond accordingly.
It is no fun to take it on the chin, and very emotionally gratifying to put people in their place – but it is not the smart thing to do. Winning the battle is not worth losing the peace, unless the person you are dealing with is truly malicious. Most times, the people with whom you deal are simply carrying around injuries that pop out from time to time.
As a doctor, I find that people in pain are usually quite pleasant when they first meet me, mainly because they really hope that I can help them. I’ve been lucky in that there has only been one patient in my career who read me the riot act, and it regarded an employee who worked my front desk. This person perceived that this front desk person was rude to him, and I am the one who received the resultant rage. I gracefully dealt with it calmly and to the satisfaction of everyone involved *whew!*; however, I have colleagues – particularly my medical colleagues –who have not been so lucky. What they experience is that the minute a patient in pain suspects that their needs are not addressed thoughtfully, they turn and attack likes a wounded animal.
Confusion often leads to emotional hostility because our brains are primarily information-gathering devices. The brain has one directive: to seek out problems wherever we may find them in order to protect ourselves from that problem. Luckily, we have developed forebrains that help us filter input and learn peaceful responses, but our hindbrains are much older than our forebrains. Millions of years of evolution have led the human animal to react to perceived injuries first and ask questions later.
Without enough information and when left to their own devices, our brains can imagine all sorts of creative oddities, like conspiracies and thoughtlessness and outright malice.
It is well for doctors to remember that a patient in pain is a wounded animal. It is well for business leaders to remember the same can be true of a reactive client or coworker. Make sure you’re not adding to the problem as one of walking wounded throwing your pain vicariously on them. The only time I’ve have gotten away with occasionally flying off the handle verbally is with people who love me and who care enough to work things out with me (thank you, family!). Clients and coworkers do not always care that much for you, and sometimes it is hard to keep your trap shut…but keep your trap shut.
Our problem is not whether or not we are right. Our problem is a customer, boss, client or coworker who feels they have been wronged, and they will most definitely show you how they feel. If we are lucky, they will calmly try to resolve the misunderstanding, but we are not usually that lucky. Usually, when people are confused, they formulate opinions based on an archetype they have developed. When people objectifying us like that, they end up either talking (or yelling) at us instead of with us; voting their confidence with their feet; and complaining to at least ten different people what an awful experience he or she has had with you. Worst-case scenarios are physical confrontations and law suits.
It takes thoughtful leadership to recognize that sometimes, when an angry customer, client or coworker who presents him or herself in a manner you find displeasing is just suffering from misunderstanding. It takes thoughtful leadership to listen artfully to their position before telling them yours, and to find a solution cooperatively.
You can start by not jumping right away to a defensive or offensive position. Take note of the person’s stance and do more listening than talking. Take time to get past their attitudes. Get to know them, their expectations, their history, and their pet peeves. Through active listening, you can better determine where the miscommunication occurred. Chances are you have the solution they are looking for but for which they just don’t know how to ask.
Which leads us to #4.
4. Ask meaningful questions.
I was reminded of this lesson after reading John Cramp’s Riverstone Group blogpost: “The Simplest Leadership Lesson I Ever Learned but Use All The Time http://www.theriverstonegroup.com/2013/07/30/the-simplest-leadership-lesson-i-ever-learned-but-use-all-the-time/.” In the post, he describes using the 1-10 scale to measure the subjective weight of a problem among his team. 1 stands for horrible, and 10 stands for perfect. When someone comes to him with an issue, he asks him or her, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how critical do you feel this problem is?”
The reasons he uses this scale is to help clarify the weight, height, and width of the issue in the eyes of the complainer. It gives him an idea the weight he needs to give to the issue. He then responds in kind as to where he is on the scale and why, so the person understands where he’s coming from. In doing so, they can work on solutions in an integrative manner with increased clarity as to how to address one another. It is just one tool in the toolkit of a skillful leader, but an effective one.
We health care providers are trained to ask a patient to rate on a scale of 1-10 how pressing their health issue is to them, so that we can gain insight into the seriousness of the issue. It is often difficult for a patient to articulate the personal importance they place on a particular issue to their health care provider, mainly because they just don’t know the nature of the problem they are facing. The rating scale helps them to do that.
It is one of a number of tools we use that help us fine-tune accurate diagnoses and develop appropriate treatment plans. It also helps us evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment plan when we revisit the issue later and evaluate the level of progress by comparing scores. When I read Cramp’s blog post, it reminded me that I could integrate that tool in regular communications with my team and even my personal relationships.
Other examples of meaningful questions to patients include: “What are you expecting to gain from your experience with us?” “How important to you is it that you meet your health objective?” “What is the primary reason you wish to succeed in meeting your health objective?” The last one may be tricky, because a patient may not know how to articulate the real reasons behind wanting to get better. For instance, they might articulate that they want care in order to feel better, but the real reason is because they want to be able to sit on the floor and play with their children or grandchildren. Try to guide their evaluation of their expectations toward a truly meaningful reason to get better, and have them revisit this reason when commitment becomes difficult.
In the same way, we can come to understand the expectations of your client and coworkers. “What do you want this item/experience to do for you?” “How important is getting the right experience to you?” “What is the primary reason for which you need this to happen?” When we determine clear reasons for our objectives, we can articulate them back to them in order to show them we understand their needs. In this way, they will be more willing to work with us toward attaining these positive outcomes.
5. Use the three-times rule.
People remember things in threes. When patients come in, I tell them what is going to happen during this visit. “The purpose of this visit is to determine what is happening with you and whether or not you are a candidate for chiropractic care. You will receive full orthopedic, neurologic, nutritional, fitness, and chiropractic evaluations. If we determine that your case is appropriate for chiropractic care, we will determine together a treatment plan that meets your health care goals. If not, we will refer you to a health care provider that we think is more appropriate for your case. Sound fair?” The last question is important, because it will encourage active engagement from the get-go.
Then, as the examination progresses, I tell them what we are doing. “All right; now we are performing the neurologic examination. Now we are moving on to the orthopedic exam. Now we are…” and so forth. When we are done and I’ve determined a report of findings, I start with, “The purpose of the exam was to determine if your case is appropriate for chiropractic care. We performed an orthopedic, neurological, nutritional, fitness, and chiropractic exam. Based on my findings, I am recommending…” and then I go over the findings to explain.
Again, people remember things in threes. When people are in pain they are scared. They won’t remember what happened later and may think that nothing happened. By telling them what is going to happen, what is happening, and what just happened, there is a better chance that they will retain the information the way you intended to deliver it.
This is the same in business. While your position may not carry the same level of emotional authority as a doctor’s might, they still may be intimidated given a new situation, especially if they aren’t sure what they want nor how to proceed yet. The “Tell It In Threes” rule lets them absorb the information better so that they can respond in a more informed way. Ultimately, it builds trust.
6. Ask them to repeat what they just heard and to ask questions about what they just heard.
This is critical: get them to repeat what was covered so that you know if you were understood, and ask them if they have questions about what was covered. When they respond with questions, listen to the whole question without interrupting and take a breath before answering.
It may sound silly to proceed this way, but people get confused in a new situation and are easily intimidated by doctors. Most people are eager to please, and sometimes they will agree to treatment without fully understanding what happened to them and why they agreeing to a certain course of care. It also fools the practitioner by thinking that their patient is on board with them, when really they are just too overwhelmed to take in what is happening to them.
Don’t rush this last step. For doctors, this is the most important step in successfully concluding an examination and gaining their commitment to a course of action. The breath will allow you the moment you need to take in the fullness of their question. Early on in practice I found that I was so eager to help, I sometimes jumped in and finished their questions for them – often with the wrong conclusion. They wouldn’t correct me; they were too intimidated and they wanted to please me. But they didn’t quite trust my opinion after that experience, and rightly so. People need to know we care about what they think; and if we answer a question they didn’t ask, they will understandably distrust us.
The same is certainly true in business. If I think anyone has a set agenda they are trying to sell me, an agenda that is beyond my expectations and understanding, I personally will not proceed further without clarification. But others will nod and act like they are on the same page as you, and then leave uncommitted to your vision because they think you haven’t a clue as to how things really are with them. You don’t want your team thinking that, and you don’t want your customers feeling that – because they won’t be your customer for long.
7. Mirror body language and speech patterns to engage them effectively.
Not everyone is like you. If you are excitable and wave your hands around when you speak and you are lucky enough to be sitting across from someone who communicates the same way, great. But if you are sitting across from a demure individual, they are going to think you are a crazy person and high-tail it out of there as fast as they can safely escape.
Or, you could be the kind of person who feels it is important to use just the right tone to communicate an idea. However, if you lean back in your chair, stare at the ceiling to find the right words, and speak slowly and carefully with attention to your tone while they are leaning forward and looking purposefully at your face, they will either believe you couldn’t care less about the subject and are uncommitted to what is coming out of your mouth, or their brains will already be on getting out and meeting their friends for handball.
Health professionals are advised and trained to mirror someone’s behavior when they come in so that they can establish rapport with that individual. People process information on a spectrum of visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic input. Most people are visually dominant – about 65% of the population. They like graphics and pictures, and they like to take notes even when notes are given. They look you in the eye, and when bored, assess your hair, dress, rings, shoes, and the way you present yourself. They are easiest to spot when they are uncomfortable about answering a question, because their eyes dart or fall to their hands. They say things like, “I see what you’re saying, Doc; but break it down for me in bullet points.”
Auditory dominant people account for about 30% of the population. They rely more on what you say and how you say it, as opposed to pictures and models. They may stare past or right through you while you talk, because they focus on the sound of the message. They are often articulate and speak using a range of pitch when conveying ideas. They might say things like, “I hear what you’re saying, and it seems you have given this a fair amount of thought; however, I wonder whether there are alternatives approaches worth exploring.”
Tactile/Kinestetic dominant individuals account for about five percent of the population. This is the group of people who have a hard time sitting down and listening for a long time to a detailed explanation. They fidget and move about when in a room too long; they pace and talking with their hands when conveying an idea. This is the gang who will not remember what was said, but will remember how they felt about the experience. They appreciate models and learn best by physical examination of materials. When they speak, they like to touch your arm while conveying an idea, and appreciate a hug or a pat on the back. Sometimes people think they are “slow learners,” or suspect that they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but this is not the case. They just like action over words. They might conclude a meeting saying, “So, what should I do?” Many chiropractors fall into this category. Little wonder, because we work with our hands all day.
This is a base minimum of personality profiling when communicating with people. However, if you can learn to recognize just these characteristics, it will go a long way to conveying your ideas to them. For visual people, use a lot of pictures and give them time to take notes. For auditory people, try to vary your pitch and speak with emotion and meaning. For kinesthetic people, make it quick and lively. Talk with your hands and don’t be afraid to pat their shoulder when shaking their hand.
8. Follow up.
This is the rose on the icing. After each initial office visit, at the end of the day, I’ll call my new patients and say, “Hello; this is Dr. Fitzpatrick. I’m checking in because I know we covered a lot of ground today and I was wondering if you have any questions.”
When you follow up, it lets your clients and customers know that you are committed to giving them over-the-top service, and that you really care about what you say and do. Even if they don’t have any questions or you just leave a message on their voicemail, that kind of caring goes a long way toward building trust and a positive working relationship.
A chiropractic coach named Dr. Bob Hoffman of The Masters Circle teaches his clients that people leave you before care is finished because either they didn’t love you enough or you didn’t love them enough. At the end of the day, it’s about how someone feels about how they are treated. Whether you have the same interests or not, everyone appreciates respect and courtesy. Old-fashioned manners go far these days in a world where manners can often seem as rare as snail mail.
so let’s repeat the eight key business lessons I’ve learned from my patients:
1. Patients (and Customers) Come First
2. Be Honest
3 Avoid the Offensive and the Defensive.
4. Ask meaningful questions.
5. Use the three-times rule.
6. Ask them to repeat what they just heard and to ask questions about what they just heard.
7. Mirror body language and speech patterns to engage them effectively.
8. Follow up.
What are the most valuable business lessons that you have learned from your clients, coworkers, or patients?
By now, we recognize the wise distinction that Michael Gerber makes in his book E-myth Revisited: to work on your business as well as (or instead of) work in your business. I have lived that great lesson myself from all points in the business spectrum, and I’m still sliding myself hand-over-hand toward the happy end of that scale. I remember reading that book back in 2005 and musing how that book’s three-pronged approach to business could be applied to life in general. How often do we go through life doing what we think needs doing, all the while ignoring that which can’t be ignored? As I have matured as a doctor of chiropractic, I can see now where that lesson can be applied to one’s approach to personal health as well.
I have a patient who is an obsessive extremist. He’s got one of the biggest hearts you’d ever want to meet. He loves people, he loves life, and he’s a true defender of humanity and a patriot. When he sees a goal he needs to get, he goes for it, and does not hold back. He pushes himself past his limits in every aspect of work and play.
He decided to lose 40 pounds and 5 inches around the middle, and despite my best advice to take it easier, insisted on running four times as much as I had advised, lifting weights four times as aggressively, and ate 1/3 less food than he should have to keep up with that kind of effort. After a month, he was exhausted, light-headed, weak, and had plateaued. When he asked why, I told him: he put his body in panic mode! He was so stressed out about getting to his goals that he was throwing off his adrenal glands! His body was holding on to stores for dear life because it thought he needed them for the terrible crisis he was in! Once he began to eat more and was kinder to his body, he began to lose weight on schedule and regain energy.
I have another patient who is on the opposite end of this spectrum. She is in her early 50s. She’s a spunky, awesome lady who loves to enjoy her life and sharing great gobs of happiness with everyone around her. She has entered the intermediate stage of osteoarthritis in her spine; she has rounded shoulders and underdeveloped muscles from avoiding exercise on a daily basis. Consequently, she has bouts of debilitating pain in her spine. She also smokes and loves to eat and drink lots of the best food and drink she can procure, so the excess weight that she carries is centered on her abdomen. Abdominal fat is a danger sign for a stressed pancreas and heart.
When she comes in for her monthly spinal check-ups (for which I do commend her vigilance), I, being the loving nag that I am, ask her if she’s done the exercises, the stretches, visited the yoga place I told her about, quit smoking, yada yada…I get the same cheerful, “nope…nope…nope…”
But sometimes the spasms come – the, “I-can’t-even-get-out-of-bed-from-the-pain,” spasms. Those days are long days in the chiropractic office for my dear patient, and I end up seeing her quite a bit for a few days. I tell her, “It would be a lot cheaper on you if you just stretch, exercise, drink lots of water, quit smoking….” “Yeah,” she acknowledges…
This has gone on for years. Then, wonderfully, at this month’s check-up, I noticed an extreme difference in her spine! The muscles were suppler, there was movement in the individual vertebrae, and the adjustment was smooth as butter! I said, “What are you doing right?” She grinned and said, “I’ve been swimming in the neighbor’s pool almost every day after work!”
Swimming! The holy grail of exercises. If there were only one exercise you could do in the whole world, swimming, is the overall best. You get aerobic exercise as well as universal strength training, and the cushion of water is great for anyone’s joints. You exercise your lungs, swimming movements naturally massage your viscera (your organs in your gut), and you come out of the pool feeling refreshed. Swimming is just fabulous.
That one little change over the course of four weeks improved her muscle tone, her posture, and her spine. She looked fresher and had a nice bounce in her step that matched her spirit. Thank goodness for summer and that pool!
However, autumn will be here in a few months, and although it is my fervent wish that my patient continue to swim…well…we’ll see. Maybe, just maybe, her good health will encourage her to continue.
It isn’t fair to single out my patients, though. More often than I care to admit (that’s why I am), I am guilty as charged for not living mindfully. When I get into a project, I let my healthy exercise habits slip, and it can get me in real trouble when that happens – because, my body is my work instrument. If I can’t use my body, I can’t work! I have a blog post documenting the time I let bad desk habits really throw me for a loop. This is the link to it if you want a good laugh and tips on great posture: http://wp.me/p1.
I love living life, too; I love accomplishing my goals, and I love getting “to it,” whatever “it” happens to be. I have to make myself be mindful to keep balance in all areas of life, and to move on when I spend too much time on one thing.
Life is a series of moments, and they add up. We make the most impact on our bodies, our health, and our life, doing the things we do every day. Grand demonstrations of effort yield only fleeting changes if your efforts are not steady and consistent. So, if you slump in your seat steadily and consistently, you will get osteoarthritis and muscular weakness in key points in your back. If you sit up and get up to move around consistently and on a steady basis you’re going to have a healthy spine and musculature.
This example may seem like it has nothing to do with business and life, but consider:
Mechanical back pain – and I’m just talking about back pain caused by stuck vertebral joints and muscles that aren’t in healthy condition, not herniated discs and rheumatoid arthritis and conditions like that – account for most of the debilitating back pain that people experience.
Think about that word: debilitating. That means you hurt so bad that when you try to move, your pain keeps you from moving. Unlike the lady I described in the last blog post, you are able to move but the pain you experience is so vast, you can’t will yourself to move! That includes breathing, that includes bearing down to go to the bathroom…everything!
The trigger point problem I had in my intercostals – just one silly muscle knot – and I had every symptom of a heart attack. How many people go to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack and end up with nothing to show for it but thousands of dollars of medical bills for examinations they didn’t need?
Well, I’ll tell you: Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain1—and that’s for diagnosis and treatment for the pain, as well as workers compensation payments and time lost from work. That’s not considering people who go to the hospital or doctor’s office looking for more serious diagnostic worries like a heart attack, like an ulcer, like a brain tumor, and goodness knows what else that end up being just back and neck pain.
It also doesn’t assume the personal income you lose due to the inability to perform your job because of pain, nor does it account for lost revenue for your company because you or your employee couldn’t work due to medical absence. So, aside from your health insurance and workman’s compensation premiums skyrocketing, how much more are you losing…from back pain? In most cases, back pain that’s not even from a “serious” back injury that chokes off the full expression of your nervous system and leads to real weakness and loss of use. That’s even worse!
The realization is astounding, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe unless you have lived through that kind of pain. Then you get it.
Back and neck pain is like no other pain. Because the spinal cord and peripheral nerves exit through the spine, when your joints aren’t working well and the muscles of your back are not conditioned well, when they are pushed to that brink, the resulting inflammation affects nerves that run every system of your body. Nothing can work right. You can even get hot and cold flashes, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and weak bladder. It’s just ridiculous.
And what about when we put too much unhealthy stress on our bodies at the expense of equilibrium? Pulling all-nighters, beginning Friday with Thursday happy hour, and even trying to compensate for bad behavior with obsessive, stressful, dieting and exercise will cause short-term delays in your goals and long-term damage from self-induced hormonal and visceral dysfunction. Remember: the body is a beautiful servant of the mind. If the mind is in a state of disequilibrium, the body follows.
Luckily, health care spending growth seems to be slowing overall for small businesses (not including spending for the newly-insured); however, it is not reversing, and legislation is only part of the issue. The other part is us and our lifestyle behavior.
For small businesses, smoking and obesity are the top direct and indirect health expenditures for employees. Our government has estimated that annual health care costs for these populations are about $96 billion in health care and a $97 billion a year in indirect cost, including lost productivity for smokers2. For obesity, it is $147 billion3 in medical costs and an additional $68 billion in indirect cost, including lost productivity. Associated health care costs for these health care issues are partially paid by small business people and corporations, as well as fellow employees whose rates are higher in a business setting because of the overall risk. In fact, the Affordable Care Act allows a $0.50 increase per smoker increase by insurance companies, and some legislators are calling for a similar levy for obese people.
It is important to remember that both smoking and overeating are addictions, and they are both physical and psychological addictions. The way that we manufacture our food and cigarettes in this country has a lot to do with their addictive qualities, and the social suggestion that eating and smoking equal happiness are tremendous. So if you suffer from either, please remember that. These problems are not impossible to overcome, and the blame is not entirely yours. Our bodies were never built to ingest the quantity and quality of food that is most common and most affordable in America today, and the food and tobacco industry has their own dirty history of which we are becoming all-too-well aware.
So I hope I’ve made a case that getting lost in your day to day has serious financial and personal implications for you, and given that 1 in 5 of us smoke and 1 in 3 of us is overweight-to-obese, I hope I’ve shown that working on your life is just as important as working in your business. In fact, they are interrelated.
Here’s some ways you can work on your life as opposed to in your life:
1: Be conscious of what you put on and in your body, and how you use your body every day.
This may sound like a nuisance suggestion, but given the amount that you can save yourself, your colleagues and your family in heartache and dollars, keeping a journal where you jot down the brands, types and amounts of food you eat, as well as the brands of products you wash with and use as cosmetics. Keep a ledger of the amount of times you walked and got up to walk, exercised, and just straightened up your back. If you smoke, be aware of how many cigarettes you are smoking, and when you seem to smoke the most. As far as eating is concerned, your goal is to eat 5-6 small meals a day, about the size of your fist, and a wide variety of foods. See how close you can get to that. When you get a chance, read the ingredient list of what you put on and in your body. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients and you have no idea what they are, it’s time to take an inventory of what’s in your house and office.
2: Take an inventory of what is in your house and office.
First of all, if you wouldn’t eat what you put on your body, it shouldn’t be on your body. You don’t always eat your nutrients or poisons. Your skin absorbs lotions, gels and liquid materials, and transports their ingredients into your blood stream via a complex combination of nervous and lymph channels. Your skin also excretes waste through your pores; that’s why you smell bad if you don’t wash after a day or two. Without getting too far off topic, I’m going to make an argument for reverse osmosis water filters in your home and office. Your skin even absorbs water in the shower or bathtub, and every chemical compound in it. In fact, when you inhale, you ingest just as much as when you wash6. Some of those chemicals include antibiotics and pesticides from farming, so those lower your immunity and resistance right there.
The more unnatural chemicals that go in and on your body, the less resistance you can acquire in fighting unwanted habits and addictions. In fact, a lot of these chemicals produce the addiction to begin with! So chuck out any food and cosmetics that contains ingredients that you can’t pronounce or easily identify as safe by a simple online search. Two great websites are veritey.com and environmental working group ewg.com to do that.
3 Take an inventory of your motivation for continuing harmful habits.
I know what I’m talking about here. I smoked for twenty years, and loved every minute of it. I didn’t really want to stop when I did, but my checklist of what was at stake if I didn’t convinced me I ought to stop. So consider: given everything I know you already know and more, do you really want to smoke? Do you really want to eat as much as you do? Why are you doing it? Are these habits really more important than everything else that you know is true? What is the cost of not acting on what you know you need to to? How happy are you going to be if you continue to alienate every other principle that is important to you if you continue? Can you really stop when you want? If you know you should stop, when are you going to stop?
None of these questions are easy, and all are vital to every aspect of your life. You know they apply to drug (illegal as well as prescription) and alcohol addiction too, but I figured I had better just say that to drive the point home. If you find yourself grappling with this suggestion, keep in mind suggestion #4.
4 Don’t do it alone.
You don’t have to be alone in this process. In fact, addictions speak for themselves using your voice, so it’s actually very important to get help in overcoming them. I already referenced my friend and colleague Meg Tocantins, who is a hypnotist extraordinaire and who is on a personal mission to demolish the smoking industry single-handedly. I told her she needs help to do that, too; so you folks can work together!
Work out with a buddy. In know you hear that all the time, but you hear it all the time because its true. You know someone who wants to get moving as much as you, so go do activities with them. There are lots of things to choose from. Go dancing! Play golf or go to a bellydancing class. Or better yet: go swimming! The local Y has a pool all year round, and so do many gyms. If possible, find a pool that is cleaned via oxygenation rather than chlorine or other chemical methods, for the reasons stated above.
If overeating and/or eating the wrong things for your body is your problem, first, go to your health care professional and find out what type of dietary effort is best for you. Not everyone is suited to the Atkins diet, nor is everyone suited for a raw juice program. Find out your metabolic type and go from there. Find a system and a support to get you through. I have a list of folks you can contact in my show notes, but there are literally thousands of health coaches and support groups everywhere. Go to your church, temple, mosque, tribe or synagogue; check the local library or event listings in your town. Go to Meetup.com and see if there are any groups listed there. Make sure the group you attend isn’t or doesn’t devolve into a useless gripe session with no useful support structure.
If you are an employer who is reading this, if you haven’t already, institute a program at work for these efforts. Many insurance companies will actually offer discounts and benefits to companies who institute wellness programs for their employees, and a multitude of health and wellness professionals would literally love to help you with this. I’m forming a party of health missionaries right now to get started on this type of quest, and so are many others in many places.
5. Continually remind yourself why you are doing it.
Make a list of every benefit there is of taking charge of what you put in your body to remind you when times are tough. Keep these reasons handy every time you feel like you are going to slip. Read continually. Read as much as you can from experts in the field (I recommend some good books in my show notes). For employers, I already hinted at the financial and productivity benefits; take an inventory of your staff’s behaviors and your insurance premiums, and weigh the cost of the projected savings when you successfully initiate in-house wellness programs. You may even find that your staff is grateful that you care. I mean, beyond the cold numbers, no one wants to see their friends and families suffer from the effects of ill health, hopelessness and depression – because these problems cause plenty of depression and self-esteem issues, believe me. Just knowing you care enough to help may go a long way in building a corporate culture that will benefit you in the short and the long run.
There are plenty of behavioral and practical steps that can be applied to achieving optimum productivity; however, often overlooked are the day-to-day healthy habits that are easily incorporated into your day to day habits. It is true that the body is the greatest servant to the mind; it is also true that when the mind is not engaged and directing the body’s habits, the body will plod along without your intentional help.
The body’s natural tendency is to find the path of least resistance – in other words, to avoid work. We need healthy stress to grow and maintain a healthy metabolism, and we all know that avoiding work entirely is detrimental to health and productivity. Having said that, purposeful relaxation and mindful habits to promote calm and focus are not laziness. They are, in fact, the very keys to promoting the best environment for productivity. The following seven easy steps help you and your team do just that.
1: Get enough sleep
This is number one for a very good reason: if we don’t have enough rest, our usefulness is diminished on almost every level. Emotionally, we develop tripwire mood swings or depression; physically, our bodies do not have enough energy to get us through even a normal day; spiritually, we have very little enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, and what motivation we do have is anxiety-based. All of this adds up to decreased productivity and morale.
Most of us need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Some of us are in the “unusual” category and can work well with only a few hours of sleep, but that’s not true for the majority of us. Also, ideally, you should schedule a 45-minute siesta between 2-4:00 p.m. Make sure you give yourself at least 45 minutes of uninterrupted rest. If you’re the boss, I would recommend that you implement this into your corporate culture.
Try to time your sleep patterns with nature’s day and nighttime patterns, and to shut off as much light as possible when sleeping. “Early to bed, early to rise,” is quite accurate. Our bodies produce melatonin, a neurotransmitter/hormone with many health benefits, not the least of which are healthy sleep, excellent moods, strengthening mental acuity, and encouraging a healthy immune system. Melatonin has an inverse relationship with times of light and darkness. During daylight, its production diminishes (with a brief rise at siesta time); at nighttime, its production increases.
Sleeping in irregular patterns and with unnatural light will throw off melatonin production. It has been widely proven in clinical trials and generally accepted in the health care community that even a little bit of light in a room lowers your production of melatonin, and computer and mobile devices are especially detrimental to melatonin production. When you go to bed at night, turn off all lights and the monitor on your computer. If you live in an area where artificial light streams into your room at sleep time, consider using a black eye mask when you sleep.
2. Use full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs during the day.
Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs give off light that is as close to midday sunrays as possible without causing sunburn. The frequency of these bulbs promote good health, increases your energy, and can even increase Vitamin D levels. This very important, because of the prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) among people who do not spend enough time in the sun during the late fall to early spring.
Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs make certain your staff and you receive the gifts of the outdoor sun during your workday. Like getting enough melatonin by eliminating artificial light at night, full spectrum sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm during the day by helping your body slow down melatonin production during these hours. Light with yellow (soft white), blue, or green-dominant hues tells your body stimulates the pineal gland to produce more melatonin than it should during the day. This aids afternoon drags and drowsiness, and insomnia at night.
Installing full-spectrum lights in your home and office can give you and your staff a simple, healthy dose of inspiration, creativity, energy, drive, and focus while increasing health and reducing fatigue, early aging, depression, dissatisfaction and inertia. It’s worth a few extra dollars for this kind of return!
There are facts you should know about full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs versus other types of fluorescent and iridescent light, and some myths that you need to discard.
First of all, all fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so be careful not to break them, and use extreme care in removing and replacing them when they do break.
Second, full spectrum bulbs emit all the colors of the rainbow, plus infrared and ultraviolet light in the appropriate frequencies. They should have a Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) of 5500K (K stands for Kelvin) and a Color Retention Index (CRI) rating of over 90. You also want an electronic ballast as opposed to a magnetic ballast to reduce “flickering” and electromagnetic activity that can be harmful for your overall health.
There are fluorescent bulb brands that will bill themselves as full spectrum but do not meet the two requirements listed above. There are others that try to appear appealing, calling their bulbs “soft white.” The latter may sound nicer and the price tag is more appealing, but these bulbs cause eyestrain and fatigue and need to be replaced much more often than well-made, full-spectrum light bulbs.
3: Anticipate interruption as a fact of life and restart promptly
We all know that no matter how good a plan we have going for us, Life happens. It is especially true for business leaders and entrepreneurs. How many of us parents have had to abandon a deadline because a family member required attention? Or, when we’re about to launch a new product, our key production person gives her two week notice? Worse, just prior to the product release, legal comes back at the 11th hour with real concerns? How about the juice cleanse to which we commit ourselves and the “Very Important Client Dinner” that we must attend at their home, where they are serving steak tartar?
Believe me; I am not downplaying the importance of goals here. But there is a hierarchy of importance that, when an emergency strikes, will not wait for you to complete your task by deadline. The first in this hierarchy is #1: Health of self and family; #2: Crucial missed details; and #3: Social duty. The easiest way to keep on point here is to just accept Murphy’s law as a prophesy: that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and that you make time for what could go wrong.
In the first case, there’s nothing for it. If you or your family have a health emergency, there’s nothing else you can do except address it immediately. Unfortunately, this very obvious fact is often ignored when it comes to ourselves, especially when we are so focused on achieving our goals that we ignore the obvious.
I was recently at a networking event in Manhattan. One of the attendees saw from my nametag that I was a chiropractor, and she introduced herself. She told me she had been in a horseback riding accident recently and was thrown from her horse headfirst onto the ground. She walked away from the incident, but a few weeks later, she woke up to find herself unable to use her arms and legs. Literally, she couldn’t move. Her question to me was, “Is it normal when your arms and legs just stop working?”
Let me repeat that question, because it may surprise you to know that I get absurd questions like this more often than you might think: “Is it normal when your arms and legs just stop working?”
I blinked, and thought that I hadn’t quite understood her question because she was standing in front of me with almost perfect posture, so I asked a bunch of clarifying questions. “Are you feeling numbness and tingling? Are you feeling weakness because of pain? Can you point to your arms and legs and show me where the problem is?” She came back with, “No; it’s all over both my arms and legs so I can’t point to it, but the tingling came when I was able to move six hours later. If I let my posture relax, it comes back. If I look down…” she looked down… “There. I’m feeling the tingling again, in my arms and legs.”
What she was describing was a textbook presentation of a broken C1 and/or C2 vertebrae, the atlas and the axis, the top two vertebrae and the reason we can turn our heads and nod up and down. These breaks are rare but can occur during serious sports injuries, just like the one she described. Hers might be a relatively stable variety of this type of break, and that she was not completely quadriplegic was yet another miracle I’ve witnessed in my years as a doctor; however, that injury needed medical attention the moment she fell on her head.
I told her to put her glass of wine down and go to her doctor for an examination and MRI right now.
To my astonishment, she replied that she wanted to wait six more months because she was launching her new product and couldn’t be interrupted. So I countered with something even more astonishing.
I told her that the reason she met me was because God was speaking through me, and God said to stop what she was doing and go to her primary care physician or the emergency room right now. Either her vertebrae were fractured, wildly out of alignment, or both; and they were choking her spinal cord. She needed to get her head and neck examined pronto. If there was no fracture, she had to go to her chiropractor to get her spine adjusted. Either way, she had to go get it checked out, or she could end up like Christopher Reeves. “Put down that glass of wine and go now,” I repeated, this time with the voice of Moses on the mount.
Over the years, I’ve learned that with some people, subtlety is useless.
We can’t wait until we’ve met your goals to address serious injuries, unless your immediate goal is to hobble to safety away from a vicious animal, a natural disaster, an explosion, or The Terminator. This is a Natural Law. The project has to wait.
Having said that, despite the fact that you and your family’s priorities come first, you don’t have to abandon your goals for the sake of your family. Indeed, the achievement of your goals will help fuel your presence with your family, both physically and emotionally. So take care of health emergencies but see your productivity as part and parcel with your commitment to taking care of yourself and your family.
As for crucial missed details, there are two things we can do: make sure we have our staffs go over every possible scenario up front, and give each department a deadline for making changes that at a much earlier date than the launch. Legal or design does not get to say, “wait, I think…” a day before launch. Too late. No one gets to say “don’t launch” at the last minute, unless the flaw is life-threatening in which case it falls under the health emergency clause.
As for social duty, the Buddha warned against the pull of that temptation. Nothing can sabotage a project like the perception that you have to let someone else’s agenda take precedent over yours. Of course, there isn’t a cookie-cutter solution to this one – perhaps someone else’s agenda is definitely more pressing – however, I’d say that in the majority of cases, this is not true. Really be on point with this one, and examine your feelings when faced with this, and be prepared to reject it if you know that delaying your goal for their agenda is not worth the cost. Be honest and let them know what is at stake for you, and that you cannot fulfill their needs until your goals are reached. If they cannot see the obviousness of the truth, ask yourself whether or not they should be in your circle of influence.
All three events (and eventualities) have one standing guideline: don’t let them derail you. Adjust your course accordingly and get back to reaching your goal as soon as you can.
4: Keep organic brain-boosting foods and eliminate non-organic, brain-draining foods at the office
Healthy oily foods and brightly-colored fruits and vegetables all have brain-boosting benefits that you can experience almost immediately when you start to eat them, while unhealthy oily, processed, and white foods do much more harm than good to your focus and energy, and therefore your productivity.
Brain boosting foods are full of natural vitamins, minerals and amino acids that promote the healthy, richly-oxygenated flow of blood to your body and brain and the expression of neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenalin, which help keep you alert and enthusiastic. Brain draining foods may feel satisfying when eaten, but promote arterial plaque and heat disease, gas and indigestion, insulin resistance, fatigue, and emotional irritation and depression – none of which is going to keep you on point and emotionally adjusted to the tasks at hand.
For breakfast at work, keep steel-cut oats with refrigerated black flax seeds, bananas and fresh berries handy. Eat a plate of organic eggs cooked in extra-virgin coconut oil; get rid of the bagels with cream cheese, bacon and white potato home fries. Keep cold-formulated protein shakes and spiced natural teas handy.
For lunch, munch on avocados, baby spinach, kale and arugula salads with cranberries and pecans with vinaigrette or a nice plate of plain yoghurt with berries and agave-sweetened granola. Skip the pasta, white breads and processed meat sandwiches for brown rice and stir fried veggies and hearty root vegetable stews. For some great recipes, see my Pintrest show notes folder.
For mid-morning and afternoon snacks, keep raw nuts, tea, and dark chocolates handy, along with lots of fresh filtered water. Cut out the high-calorie energy drinks, sodas, candy bars and chips.
It may feel like exercise will take away from your productivity, because to exercise properly you need to set aside at least 45-minutes-2 hours a day, 4 days a week, for dynamic warm up stretches, exercise, and cool-down passive stretches. All that time spent exercising can feel like time wasted, given the list of things you need to do for yourself.
But consider: science has shown time and again that exercise stimulates every physical attribute necessary to increase your capacity for productivity. And truthfully, while the above weekly timeframe is what I recommend, even minimal exercise can increase your health and ability to perform at your tasks efficiently. “A little is better than nothing,” is true in the case of exercise.
Exercise, even on a limited level such as brisk-walking 30 minutes a day, stimulates and balances the production of neurtransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine; all of which produce feelings of well-being and positive stimulation. Prolonged exercise also stimulates the production of enkephalins and endorphins — neuropeptides that have a natural opioid and analgesic effect on the body. They produce what is famously known as “runner’s high.” This feeling can be so good, with regular exercise one can actually crave physical performance. Finally! A good addiction! Well, it’s good unless you over-exercise injured body parts, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Regular exercise is good for your heart, your sex life, your glucose levels, your emotional stability, and your capacity for mental clarity and focus. Regular exercise not only promotes a healthy, happy brain and body, but leads to increased performance and precision in all areas of life.
“Can you make yourself do something you don’t want to do in order to get something you want?” — Andy Andrews
As with any task that needs doing, keep the goal in mind. Establish a primary goal with a definitive timeline, inclusive of mini-subgoals on the way to the main goal. [ give examples of definitive goals ] There is no growth without stretching your comfort zone [mention Allison Black and example of working muscles to fatigue]; that is true for any task, and most especially exercise. If you find it difficult to enjoy exercise, keep in mind the result of the task: you’re going to increase your enjoyment, precision and performance in all areas of life. It’s a win-win-win all around.
6: Clear the cache
When we work on projects and rightfully assign them to a deadline, it is easy to fall into them and work ourselves into a lather. The paradox of doing this is that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of productivity achieved and the amount of time we give ourselves to decompress and regroup.
Take measured breaks. I call this “clearing the cashe,” as you would from your computer. When you feel yourself working yourself into a lather, take a walk. Make yourself get up and get away. Find a place to sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe purposely and slowly into your belly, if only for 10 minutes. If you work in bursts of productivity and relaxation, as opposed to marathoning through your tasks, you will increase your productivity exponentially.
7: People have their strengths; multitasking is not one of them.
Matthew Kelly referred to Albert Einstein when he said in his book, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid…” – It may or may not be Albert Einstein’s quote, but the truth is self-evident. Multitasking is a myth; it has been shown time and time again that multitasking reduces productivity and creativity, and increases feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy.
We are less productive when we focus on that which is not our forte. Delete the term “able to multitask,” from your job description. Focus on your strengths, and prioritize your tasks in order of importance. If you have a task in front of you and you just don’t have the skillset to accomplish, hire someone appropriate for that task.
Take these suggestions to heart and your productivity and health will benefit greatly.
Let’s hear from you? What do you do to increase productivity?
To be consistent, or to not be consistent. That is the question. Actually, this is the cop-out question.
The answer to the cop-out is: Be consistent in effort but not consistent in method.
What does that mean? It means in order to produce the effects of your dreams you must work consistently toward them. But change your game along the way to suit the challenge.
I am the first to admit that consistency is one of my greatest challenges. But I also know that nothing of worth will ever materialize without consistent effort toward its attainment.
For example: I want to gain muscle. I am in my mid-forties now. I knew all along that after age 30 muscle mass deteriorates quickly. But I had no idea of the reality of that statement until now. My muscle is receding like a coastal waterline just before a tsunami.
Okay. I have been known to be a little hard on myself sometimes. However…
“…NOOOOO,” I say! I need to build my muscles! If I had been consistently working out throughout my adult years, I wouldn’t be in this scrawny position. To the contrary of what I know I should do, I get on a “kick” and go to the gym for six weeks, quit for a year, then go back for six weeks, quit, etc… Suddenly, I went from 21 to 46 years of age. What happened to the last 25 years of potentially consistent workout time? When my patients come in for a visit and say to me, “Damn, Dr. Claire. You need to eat a burger,” I know I’m in trouble.
I have once again completed the 6th week of going to the gym, and I am once again starting to see the results I need. I am also getting that familiar, “ugh; it’s raining out and I have a lot to do,” muttering in the back of my mind.
Let me tell you: the back of my mind has never had good advice for me.
Bottom line: if I am not consistent now, I am going to follow the fate of many who never consistently did what they needed for themselves. I could very easily live the remaining 20, 30, 40, 50 years of my life in constant pain, tottering around with the help of a cane or walker.
What’s more, as a chiropractor, I make my living with my body…so what the %&$* am I thinking? Get to work, lady! Working out is part and parcel with your job!
We all make our living with our bodies. Isn’t sitting in a chair hammering away at a computer using our bodies? Isn’t truck driving, sales calls, tending to bedsides, running behind children and their activities, international travel and meetings, surveying, contracting, cleaning house, sculpting and piloting using our bodies?
I can’t go to the gym, work out a little, skip years, go back and work out a little, and expect results that are lasting. I’m wasting my time not being consistent, and if I am not consistent I’m going to die in pain and suffering and as a burden to my husband and daughter. Nice way to ruin more lives than my own.
The same goes with eating right. Eating right for some reason has never been a problem for me, but for many of my patients, it is a real problem. 85% of people who lose weight gain it back within a year. What do the 15% who keep it off know that 85% of people don’t?
Here’s the answer: once it’s off, you have to develop consistent patterns of eating well in order to keep it off.
The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. According to Marketdata, this year it is up 1.7% to $61 billion dollars.
Let me repeat that. $61 billion dollars (click here for a link to PRweb’s article on the matter).
Why so high? Because 85% of people who want to lose weight are not consistent in habit with keeping the weight off. There are big dollars in stop-and-start weight loss efforts.
The only magic formula to a healthy life is consistency in effort. Once again, I refer back to The Nine Essentials of Health as a guideline for what we should do every day to be healthy.
This is what the skeptics of consistency mean. Your body gets used to a routine and will not change in accordance with your will unless you change your tactics along the way. If you work out using the same weight in the same order for more than two weeks, your body acclimates to the routine and ceases to improve. You “plateau.” Similarly, if you eat the same meals every day, your body acclimates to them and ceases its progress.
This is a universal truth that is applicable to every area of life. The only thing that grows in a stagnate environment are pathogens and parasites. You can apply this adage to your financial situation, the growth of your business, your relationships with others, your relationship with God and spirit, the seasons, artistic efforts, and your body.
What’s more, we need to cultivate growth and change in all areas of our lives. Dan Miller, an excellent business coach, made up a diagram of the different areas we need to cultivate in order to live a full and vital life. He says (and I agree) that we must grow equally in the following areas in order to make a positive impact in our lives and in the world: spiritual, career, financial, social, family, physical, and personal development (click here to download your own copy).
We must all be consistent in our efforts toward our goals, but must not get caught in a set routine. If we do, we become inconsequential. We become insignificant. We become expendable. Nature does not need us anymore, except as food for the living. We stagnate, cripple, die, and make room for more vital people and ideas.
Okay. I am off to the gym. I am on week 7. Hooray for me!
It is so easy to pass a beautiful looking apple or bunch of grapes in the grocery store and think you are doing a good thing for your family by presenting these lovelys in your fruit bowl on the kitchen table.
Buyer beware: many of your favorite fruits and vegetables are laden with pesticides, inside and out. Dr. Mercola posted a fine article about it this week. The link is below the text:
How to Find the Healthiest Fare in Meat and Produce Aisles
May 08, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
Research has shown that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are neurotoxins and can cause disruptions to your neurological system and your brain. The reason why neurotoxins still enjoy widespread use on our fresh food supply is really more about the bottom line for farming operations than it is about the science of human health.
The Environmental Protectioisn Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.
The increased use of genetically engineered Bt hybrid plants1 and soil insecticides also increases the chemical load in food — particularly processed foods.
These man-made neurotoxic chemicals can bioaccumulate in your body, as they resist breaking down in water and also accumulate and store in fat, where they can remain for long periods of time.
In short, this means your body has a very hard time getting rid of them once they enter your body. The answer, of course, is to limit your exposure as much as possible, giving your body a chance to eliminate the toxins you do inadvertently ingest. One food that can help with detoxification is fermented foods.
Updated Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
Your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables, as synthetic agricultural chemicals are not permissible under the USDA organic rules. That said, not all conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are subjected to the same amount of pesticide load.
And with food prices rising, many are looking for ways to buy the healthiest foods possible at the lowest cost.
One such way would be to focus on purchasing certain organic items, while “settling” for others that are conventionally-grown. To do this, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) annual Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce.2
Of the 48 different fruit and vegetable categories tested by the EWG for the 2013 guide, the following 15 fruits and vegetables had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organically:
Apples Celery Cherry tomatoes Cucumbers Grapes Hot peppers Nectarines (imported) Peaches Potatoes Spinach Strawberries Sweet bell peppers Kale Collard greens Summer squash
In contrast, the following foods were found to have the lowest residual pesticide load, making them the safest bet among conventionally grown vegetables. Note that a small amount of sweet corn and most Hawaiian papaya, although low in pesticides, are genetically engineered (GE). If you’re unsure of whether the sweet corn or papaya is GE, I’d recommend opting for organic varieties:
Asparagus Avocado Cabbage Cantaloupe Sweet corn (non-GMO) Eggplant Grapefruit Kiwi Mango Mushrooms Onions Papayas (non-GMO. Most Hawaiian papaya is GMO) Pineapple Sweet peas (frozen) Sweet potatoes
What to Look Out for in the Meat Aisle
Many people are still in the dark about the vast differences between Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and organically-raised, grass-fed or pastured meats, both in terms of contamination and nutrient content. It’s important to understand that when you raise animals in a CAFO — away from the animals’ natural environments and diets — you dramatically increase the risk of pathogenic contamination that can make you ill.
Take beef, for example. Most CAFO cows are fed grains (typically genetically engineered grains, which make matters even worse), when their natural diet is plain grass. Grain diets create a much higher level of acidity in the animal’s stomach, which E. coli bacteria need to survive. Meanwhile, E. coli contamination is actually quite rare in organic beef for this reason — the cows just aren’t susceptible to those kinds of disease-causing bacteria and viruses when they eat what they were designed to eat.
Also beware that bacterial contamination of meat-glued steak — a cost-saving scam that is far more common than you might think — is hundreds of times higher than a solid piece of steak; therefore, if you cook your steak rare, which is ordinarily the most healthful way to cook your meat, you’re at a much greater risk of contracting food poisoning.
You’d think that since the meat is being raised in ways that are known to encourage disease-causing organisms, there’d be stringent requirements on testing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For example, there is no federal requirement for meat grinders to test their ingredients for E.coli prior to selling them. And most retailers do not test either. In August 2008, the USDA issued a guideline urging meat processors to test their ingredients before grinding. But the guideline is only optional and has been met with criticism and resistance from the meat industry.
Want Safer Meat? Buy Organic Pastured/Grass-Fed
It’s no surprise then to discover that pathogenic contamination of meat products is quite high. What’s worse, the routine use of low-dose antibiotics in CAFO’s has led to a dramatic and rapidly rising presence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
According to a recent NPR report,3 data published by a joint government program4 from tests conducted on supermarket meat samples collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, reveals the presence of several disease-causing bacteria, including the super-hardy antibiotic-resistant versions of salmonella, Campylobacterand E. coli. After analyzing the data, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlighted some of the startling implications in its own report,5 aptly named “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.” The EWG points out that many of the meats tested contained “startlingly high levels” of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on:
- 81 percent of ground turkey
- 69 percent of pork chops
- 55 percent of ground beef
- 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs
One of the best ways to avoid contaminated meat is to avoid meat from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), aka “factory farms,” and buying organic, pastured or grass-fed meats instead. Growth promoters such as antibiotics are not permitted in organic animal farming, and organically-raised animals are also healthier as a result of being pastured, so overall you’re getting far “cleaner,” healthier meat.
Beware of Pesticides in Chinese Imports, Study Warns
Another related study warns about the pesticide load found in produce imported from China. The analysis was done by Food Sentry, an American food inspection analyst. After analyzing close to 1,000 reported food violations spanning 73 countries, China was identified as having the most violations. A second study focused on the Chinese violations only, over a 15-month period. As reported by Food Navigator,8 pesticides were the number one complaint. Thirty-two pesticides were identified in Chinese fresh produce and spices, in excess of the permissible amounts. Chinese seafood was also found to be high in antibiotics and other drugs. Other chemicals found in levels exceeding allowable amounts in food included:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Coloring dyes
- Sodium saccharine
The most concerning chemical was sodium hydroxide, aka caustic soda or lye, found in dairy. Excessive lead levels were also found in kelp and cardamom, and infant formula was found to contain excessive levels of mercury. According to Food Navigator:
“The study also found that economically motivated adulteration — the intentional adulteration of a food for economic gain — continues to be an issue in China. Examples of this included counterfeit eggs that were man-made from various substances and chemicals, synthetic shark fin, synthetic abalone and counterfeit peanut oil made from other oils.”
USDA Ruffles Feathers with New Poultry Inspection Policy
While all manner of food fraud and contamination issues continue to rise, the White House administration is about to dramatically scale back the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) oversight of chicken- and turkey slaughterhouses. As reported by Mother Jones:9
“Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute. That would mean there are three fewer inspectors for a production line running 25 percent faster…
[O]n April 10, the administration released a prospective USDA budget indicating that the agency plans to implement the new rules by September 2014. And in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on April 16, Vilsack said the rules would be finalized ‘very soon,’ declaring that the plan ‘will allow the poultry industry to continue to be profitable, and allow us [the USDA] to save some money as well.'”
The USDA is expected to save $90 million over three years by reducing the number of inspectors. But these savings are dwarfed by the savings to be made by the poultry industry — dominated by Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Purdue, and Sanderson — which stands to save nearly $257 million annually.
Illogically enough, the USDA claims this plan will actually improve poultry product safety and prevent anywhere from three to five thousand foodborne illnesses per year. How could that be, you may wonder. The answer lies in new rules that would permit poultry producers to put all the poultry through an antimicrobial wash, using chlorine and other chemicals. The lone USDA inspector will continue what has been done in the past, which is to visually inspect the birds for obvious surface defects and fecal contamination.
Needless to say, I cannot recommend eating anything that has been washed in chlorine and antimicrobial chemicals. We already have a problem with antibiotics causing antibiotic-resistant pathogens when used in the animals’ feed. I cannot foresee the situation getting anything but worse by dousing each bird in antimicrobials on the outside as well…
Healthy Shopping Guidelines
Buying your food from a local organic source is the ideal way to ensure that it’s both fresh and high-quality. I strongly advise you to avoid wilted vegetables of any kind, because when vegetables wilt, they lose much of their nutritional value. In fact, wilted organic vegetables may actually be less healthful than fresh conventionally farmed vegetables.
For tips on cleaning your fruits and veggies, please see my previous article: 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables. Regardless of where you shop, the following tips and guidelines can teach you the tricks of healthy shopping, whether you’re shopping at Whole Foods or a regular grocery chain:
Learn to identify:
High-quality food — Whether you’re shopping at a supermarket or a farmer’s market, here are the signs of a high-quality, healthy food:
Grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods) Not genetically modified Contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs Does not contain any artificial ingredients, including chemical preservatives Fresh (keep in mind that if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option) Did not come from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) Grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free access to the outdoors) Grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
Organics – There are a few different organic labels out there, but only one relates directly to foods: the USDA Organic seal. It’s the best way to ensure you’re getting what you pay for when shopping organic.
The labeling requirements of the NOP10 apply to raw, fresh products and processed products that contain organic agricultural ingredients. In order to qualify as organic,11 a product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity. (For the complete National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances under the USDA organic label, see this link.)
Genetically modified foods – Avoiding genetically engineered (GE) food is just as important for your health as seeking out high-quality organics. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, GE ingredients are everywhere, so whenever you use pre-made, pre-packaged, processed foods of any kind, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) becomes an issue. The ResponsibleTechnology.org has created a Non-GMO Shopping Guide, available for free at NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.12 By making sure to avoid all GM food products, you will actively help change not just your own health for the better, but the entire food industry.
Other health-harming ingredients – This is quite a bit trickier, since there are a vast number of additives, preservatives and food colorings that can wreak havoc with your health in the long term. However, I would suggest starting with the most obvious culprits, including MSG, artificial sweeteners, and fructose. Here are helpful guidelines for each:
- MSG – A great resource on how to find hidden sources of MSG, please see the website MSGMYTH.com13 for detailed listings
- Fructose – Any time you see ‘corn syrup’ or any variation thereof, on the label, avoid it, especially if it’s at the top of the list of ingredients.
- In his book, The Sugar Fix, Dr. Richard Johnson reviews the effectiveness of reducing fructose intake to help prevent or treat obesity. His book also provides detailed tables showing the content of fructose in different foods, including whole foods, like fruits – an information base that isn’t readily available elsewhere.
ALL artificial sweeteners should be avoided, including:
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, Canderel, and AminoSweet)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, Sugar Twin)
To optimize your diet you need to educate yourself on what ‘healthy food’ really is. It’s the only way to ensure you won’t keep falling for harmful processed food fads like no- or low-fat (which usually means it’s loaded with harmful fructose or sugar instead), or no or low sugar diet foods (which instead contain artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for you). There are few, if any, shortcuts to real health and it all starts with what you feed your body, so make educated choices. Lastly, for tips on how to prolong the shelf life of fresh produce, see my previous article Where Do You Store Produce In Your Fridge For Maximum Shelf Life?
Recently, a number of my patients have presented with recurring autoimmune syndromes, like “sciatica,” chronic uterine bleeding, and toe fungus. All have been fully medically checked for allergies and cancer screenings, all were cleared of such ailments, all were discharged from medical care without receiving answers, and all have just shrugged their shoulders and are telling me, “I suppose that’s just the way I am.”
No; that’s not just the way you are.
I love giving a good chiropractic adjustment, but what we do every day has the most impact on our health. I can physically optimize your body to receive the best input from your environment, but you have to give yourself the best environment in order to thrive.
To that end, I present without further ado, a possible answer to these problems and many other autoimmune disorders. Dr. Ronald Grisanti, an extremely capable and prolific chiropractor and co-founder of Functional Medicine University, has written a very useful article about leaky gut syndrome. I highly suggest you read it and pass it on to someone whom you know needs this information.
Next post, I will cover just how you can make changes in your life to begin to heal your gut. Happy reading!
by Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., D.A.C.B.N., M.S.
Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is a major cause of disease and dysfunction in modern society, accounts for at least 50% of chronic complaints, as confirmed by laboratory tests.
In LGS, the epithelium on the villi of the small intestine becomes inflamed and irritated, which allows metabolic and microbial toxins of the small intestines to flood into the blood stream. This event compromises the liver, the lymphatic system, and the immune response including the endocrine system.
Some of the most incurable diseases are caused by this exact mechanism, where the body attacks its own tissues.
This is commonly called auto-immune disease.
It is often the primary cause of the following common conditions: asthma, food allergies, chronic sinusitis, eczema, urticaria, migraine, irritable bowel, fungal disorders, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory joint disorders including rheumatoid arthritis are just a few of the diseases that can originate with leaky gut. It also contributes to PMS, uterine fibroid, and breast fibroid.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is often the real basis for chronic fatigue syndrome and pediatric immune deficiencies.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions within the population. Historically, the only way bowel toxins entered the blood stream was through trauma, for example by sword or spear.
This quickly led to septicemia that might be treatable, or more probably, ended in death. Outside of trauma, the body maintained a wonderfully effective selective barrier in the small intestine, one that allowed nutrients to enter, but kept out metabolic wastes and microbial toxins rampant in the intestines.
What Modern Event Allowed Such A Break-Down?
Primarily it has been antibiotics, secondarily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, Motrin, Aleve and Advil) with NSAIDs being the major cause of leaky gut because they so viciously inflame the intestinal lining, causing a widening of the spaces between cells and sometimes hemorrhaging.
Other common causes are chemotherapy, ingested alcohol, inhaled formaldehyde from a new carpet, food allergens, stress emotions, lactase deficiency, gluten/gliaden allergy, abnormal gut flora (bacteria, parasites, yeasts).
The first antibiotic, penicillin, did not enter mainstream health care until 1939. Since the 50s and 60s, antibiotic use has been frantically prescribed for every infection and inflammation, particularly pediatric ear infection, bronchitis, and sore throat.
It is sadly ironic that most of these infections are viral in nature, and not only are the antibiotics damaging, but they are ultimately unnecessary. Antibiotics should be considered a hospitalization level medicine, when bacteria have entered the blood, bone, or organ.
Antibiotics Destroy Beneficial Bacteria
Antibiotics create their damage in two ways. The first is by destroying beneficial bacteria. The small intestine and large intestine host over five hundred different kinds of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria perform hundreds of functions required for healthy metabolism and immune response.
Through enzyme secretions, bacteria transform metabolic and microbial wastes before they are discharged by the body. These wastes include cellular debris, hormones, chemical wastes, bile, pus accumulations, viral toxins, bacterial toxins, etc.
For example, the body creates bile not only as a lubricant to flush wastes out of the liver, but also, to detoxify many of the poisons accumulating in the liver. Bile however is extremely damaging to large intestine epithelium.
When bile enters the small intestine via the common bile duct, beneficial bacteria break the bile salts down into a less toxic compound, making it non-dangerous by the time it reaches the large intestine.
When you take antibiotics you destroy these bacteria and the bile salts freely enter and damage the large intestine. I believe this contributes significantly to the high incidence of colon cancer plaguing today’s society.
Beneficial bacteria also break down hormone secretions that are discharged from the liver to the small intestine. If you lack the bacteria to break down estrogen and the intestinal permeability has been altered, the patient is now reabsorbing estrogens in their original state.
The body will deposit these in estrogen sensitive areas such as the breast, uterus, or ovaries, contributing, if not causing, fibroids and tumors. The same scenario is responsible for premenstrual syndrome as well.
Healthy mucosa allows nutrients to pass the barrier while blocking the entry of toxins.
With leaky gut, the barrier is dysfunctional, blocking nutrients at the damaged villi while permitting toxins to enter the blood stream.
Antibiotics Promote the Growth of Fungus
The second way antibiotics damage the intestines is by fostering the growth of Candida albicans and other pathogenic fungi and yeast. This event, more than any other, precipitates Leaky Gut Syndrome.
In a healthy situation the small intestine epithelium maintains tight cell junctions, which contributes to the physical barrier involved in intestinal absorption. In addition to the physical barrier, there is an important chemical barrier within the mucus that contains immune agents, which neutralize any toxin that comes in contact.
Candida exudes an aldehyde secretion, which causes small intestine epithelial cells to shrink. This allows intestinal toxins to infiltrate through the epithelium and into the blood. The secondary barrier – immune agents in the epithelial mucus – remain the sole agent for neutralization.
Eventually, the immune system becomes exhausted rising to this challenge.
The damage done by Candida is to the intestinal epithelial barrier, allowing the absorption of serious toxic agents and chemicals, which then enter the blood and affect numerous organs, including the brain.
Food Allergies: The Complicating Factor
When the integrity of the intestinal barrier has been compromised, intestinal toxins are not the only pathogens to be absorbed. The barrier, in a healthy state, selectively allows digested nutrients to enter the small intestine when all is ready.
With leaky gut, nutrients can be absorbed before they are fully digested. The body’s immune response, through specific antigen-antibody markers, will tag some of these foods as foreign irritants.
Every time that particular food touches the epithelia, an inflammatory immune response is mounted which further damages the epithelial lining. What started as a Candida irritation with shrinking of the cells has now been complicated with active inflammation every time a particular food is eaten.
Food allergies are a common secondary problem to Candida, and if present, will maintain the leaky gut continuously, even if the Candida is eradicated.
The most common food allergies are dairy, eggs, gluten grains (wheat, oats, rye), corn, beans (especially soy), and nuts. There are seldom real allergies to meat, rice, millet, vegetables, or fruit, although an allergy to garlic is not uncommon.
We have to distinguish a real allergy – that which causes a histamine inflammatory reaction at the site of the small intestine (SI) epithelia – from sensitivity, which may cause uncomfortable symptoms, but seldom is damaging.
Sensitivities are usually due to low stomach acid or pancreatic enzyme secretion, that is, poor digestion.
In the healing of the intestinal lining, exposure to a significant allergy can sabotage the treatment. For example, one may be very good at restricting wheat, dairy and eggs, but then compromises the treatment by taking garlic tablets.
The Role of the Liver and Lymphatic System
The metabolic and microbial toxins that enter the bloodstream during leaky gut end up in the liver, which has the job of detoxifying and discharging the poisons. Under normal conditions, the liver is taxed just by processing the daily metabolic wastes created by cell and organ activity.
Imagine the further load created by dumping serious intestinal toxins on a regular basis. There is a point when the liver becomes saturated; it cannot further detoxify the poisons, and they are returned to the blood circulation.
The blood has sophisticated mechanisms for preserving chemical homeostasis, and will diffuse as much of the toxic chemicals and physical debris into the interstitial fluids as is possible. From here the lymphatic system will attempt to collect and neutralize the toxins, but unable to send the toxins to the liver, the body essentially becomes toxic.
Microbes grow and develop, hence there can be chronic lymphatic swelling, especially in children. Over a period of time, toxins will be forced into distal connective tissue around muscles and joints, causing fibromyalgia, or into the cells, which can precipitate genetic mutation and ultimately cancer.
Stress to the Immune and Endocrine Systems
The immune system is stressed in three major ways. First is at the site of the intestinal mucosa. As toxins and food antigens brush up against the mucosa, the immune system mobilizes to neutralize the toxins. Normally, much of this work would have been done by beneficial bacteria, which have been destroyed by antibiotics.
For toxins that make it to the mucosa, the body will tag them with a chemical secretory IgA (SIgA), which attracts macrophages and other white blood cells to consume the toxins. It is not long before this immune response is overwhelmed and depleted.
This can be measured directly with a stool or saliva test for the intestinal SIgA level.
The second stressor happens in the liver and lymphatic system, which, also overwhelmed, puts demands on the immune system. The third stressor is a consequence: as the immune response diminishes, more microbes (viruses, bacteria, and fungi) multiply, allowing for a chronic state of infection.
The most important organ in the production of immune agents seems to be the adrenal gland, and Leaky Gut Syndrome slowly diminishes adrenal function. In the early and middle stages, there is actually an adrenal excess, as measured by excess cortisol output. Eventually, cortisol levels drop, and one now has exhaustion.
The Role of the Digestive Tract
Candida flourishes when the terrain in the intestines favors it. Just killing Candida is usually not successful, because the chemistry and vitality of the terrain has not been normalized, and Candida returns.
Antibiotics are the original cause of the change on the terrain. By killing acid forming bacteria (Lactobacillus bacteria produce lactic acid, for example), the environment becomes alkaline, which promotes Candida.
Antibiotics and chronic illness reduce stomach acid production, contributing to the alkalinity, and also allowing poor digestive absorption. In fact, many people with LGS are malnourished and will lose excessive weight, no matter how healthy the food is that they eat.
The idea that lactobacillus supplementation is all that is required after antibiotics is somewhat delusional; in fact most of the lactobacillus from supplementation does not survive in the intestine, due to poor terrain. Just to make sure you have a full understanding of the seriousness of Leaky Gut, the following is a summary:
- When the gut is inflamed it does not secrete digestive enzymes to digest foods properly or absorb nutrients and foods properly. The result can indigestion with gas and bloating, called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- When large food particles are absorbed, food allergies and new symptoms are created (e.g., IBS, gallbladder disease, arthritis or fibromyalgia).
- When the gut is inflamed, carrier proteins are damaged, so malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies occur.These deficiencies slow down the ability of the gut to heal and can cause any number of other symptoms (e.g., magnesium deficiency induced angina or gut spasms, chromium deficiency induced high cholesterol or sugar cravings, zinc deficiency induced prostatitis or lack acid formation)
- When the detoxification pathways that line the gut are compromised, chemical sensitivity can arise. Furthermore, the leakage of toxins overburderns the liver so that the body is less to handle everyday chemicals in foods, water and air.
- Now many foods can cause symptoms that never did before, because the gut’s detoxification (liver) system is unable to cope with the hundreds of chemical additives, dyes, colorings, preservatives and pesticides common in our foods.
- When the gut lining is inflamed, the protective coating of the gut antibodies can be lost. With loss of the secretory immunoglobulin A (SigA), the body becomes more vulnerable to infections in the intestines from bacteria, viruses, parasites and yeast and they become resistant to treatment.
- Ironically, the more resistant the bugs become, the more-high powered antibiotics doctor prescribe, resulting in more overgrowth of resistant fungi (Candida). As the unwanted bugs grow, the gut gets more inflamed and leaky initiating a vicious cycle of worsening condition and major cause of so many incurable diseases.
- When the intestinal lining is inflamed, bacteria and yeast can translocate. In other words, they can pass from the gut cavity into the blood stream and set up infection anywhere else in the body, including the brain. This is often the mysterious and undiagnosed cause of infections in the teeth and gums, bones, prostate, bladder and sinuses.
- With the formation of antibodies, the food antigens that leak across the gut wall can sometimes resemble the natural antigens on tissues. Protective antibodies will then attack the antigens, as they should and the tissues, causing further damage.
It is the very reason why auto-immune diseases begin. Lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, myocarditis, iritis and thyroiditis are some of the members of this ever-growing category of mysteriously incurable auto-immune diseases.
Ron Grisanti, D.C., D.A.B.C.O., M.S. is a board certified chiropractic orthopedist with a master’s degree in nutritional science from the University of Bridgeport. He is past chairman of the South Carolina Chiropractic Peer Review and serves on the South Carolina Chiropractic Investigative Committee. His 27 years of clinical practice has positioned him as an authority in the management of a variety of chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, digestive disorders, anxiety and other common ailments. He has authored two books on the functional medical management of arthritis and obesity, and has authored well over 1,000 articles including the following, some of which have been published in leading chiropractic journals.
To find out more about Dr. Grisanti, visit http://www.functionalmedicineuniversity.com/public/department86.cfm.
Before starting any self treatment Dr. Grisanti recommends that you consider consulting with a doctor trained in functional medicine. Visit www.FunctionalMedicineUniversity.com to find doctors thoroughly trained in functional medicine
Functional medicine embraces the totality of the regulatory functions of the body. It encompasses all of the biophysical, biochemical, enzymatic, endocrine, immunological, and bioenergetic regulatory capacities.
Ronald Grisanti D.C., D.A.B.C.O., D.A.C.B.N., M.S.
The Art of Breathing
By Sharon A. Wyse L.Ac.
Breathing seems pretty basic. You inhale… You exhale… You repeat.
It seems odd that one would need lessons on how to breathe, but more and more I am finding myself educating new patients on the importance of deep abdominal breathing. Usually, the topic of breathing first comes up while the patient is lying comfortably on the acupuncture treatment table. As I ask them to take a relaxing deep breath in, I usually see only their upper chest expand and rise.
Imagine a baby breathing; they resemble a little baby Buddha with their belly extending in and out. The breath is deep, even and slow, easy and calm. You will see that it is not the chest that is rising and falling, but rather it is the abdomen moving in and out.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine we refer to this area of the body as the Tan Tien. It is described as an important focal point for internal meditative techniques and refers specifically to the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen three finger widths below the navel and two finger widths deep within the abdomen.
Over the years, life in a crowded city with chronic pollution problems, lack of fresh air, stationary work environments and overall stress can result in the gradual shift from abdominal breathing to chest breathing. To figure out if you are breathing correctly place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of your lungs.
Instructions for proper abdominal breathing:
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nostrils into the bottom of your Tan Tien When you’ve inhaled fully, pause for a moment and then exhale fully through your mouth. Purse your lips and imagine that you are blowing on a hot spoonful of soup. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body going loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale.
Learning and using proper breathing techniques is one of the most beneficial things that can be done for both short and long term physical and emotional health. Abdominal breathing helps to relax the nervous system, reduces stress and tension, lowers blood pressure, and calms the mind. Practicing abdominal breathing also massages and tones the internal organs – particularly the digestive organs.
We all live in and around this city together and experience the stresses and crowds that come with it. Stress is inevitable; coping is the key. Here are a few simple techniques that I have incorporated into my life and have shared with my patients:
• If you work in an office desk environment, place a sticky note on the corner of your computer that simply says “sit straight and breath deep,” to remind you to practice abdominal breathing throughout your day.
• When you find yourself in a store waiting on line, use that time to practice your abdominal breathing. Incorporate the breathing techniques while commuting; chances are you won’t mind the wait or the commute as much.
Getting back to proper breathing isn’t hard but it does take practice. So, make it a point to integrate abdominal breathing at least two to three times into each day and you will see your physical and mental health transform.
As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me directly via email SharonWyse.L.Ac.@gmail.com or by phone 917.603.8081.
Be well and breath on!
Sharon Wyse L.Ac
Sharon Wyse, L.Ac is a NY State Licensed Acupuncturist and a Certified Chinese herbalist. She practices Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine in New York, NY. Her specialized areas of interest and expertise include women’s health and fertility, stress and pain management, and digestive disorders.
She received her Master’s degree from The New York College of Health Professions where her studies included Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, T’ai Chi Chuan and Qi gong. She took a position at Columbia University facilitating two NIH funded clinical research studies testing the efficacy of Acupuncture and Moxibustion.
Her philosophical approach to treatment includes a strong emphasis on patient education. She encourages patients to actively participate in the healing process and often incorporate lifestyle changes and herbal medicine in my treatment plans. Sharon maintains a strong commitment to the promotion of the integration of Eastern and Western medicine as a future medical model within our health care system.
For more information about Sharon Wyse and to book an appointment, visit her website at http://wyseacupuncture.com/, give her office a call at 917.603.8081, or write her at SharonWyse.L.Ac@gmail.com
Dopamine. How I love thee not, yet how I long to feel thy effects. You let me know I am alive.
It doesn’t work alone, this neurotransmitter. But it is the central chemical of wanting and longing, of the pursuit of pleasure and achievement. When we are in unhealthy, obsessive lust, or addicted to drugs, it is an imbalance of dopamine that tells us we absolutely need to possess and ingest the object of our affection/addiction.
Dopamine is a neuromodulator. It dials up or turns down the feelings we get when we focus our attention on our desires and goals. It is the feeling behind the desire for achievement, no matter what we decide the object of achievement may be.
Scientists are coming to understand that, as humans, we are not satisfied with mere happiness. When we achieve our desires, we are not necessarily in heaven. Actually, the dichotomy of humanity is that we need to keep the drive toward achievement going. We are never satisfied. We live for longing, for reaching, for pushing toward that which may or may not be attainable.
Part of what make human sexuality so fun is the excitement of the unknown. When dopamine gets to rise along with its neighbor and friend, serotonin, things get very fun indeed! Ooooo! What is this? What’s going to happen? I’m not sure about what this is, but I’m sure I want to find out!
This is why it is important to explore new situations and sensations with your love partner. When serotonin settles in and dopamine drops, things can get a bit stale. Sexual excitement is very important in maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
Variety is the spice of life and love! Try the chair or the living room recliner for a change from the bedroom! Take a feather or the bud of a rose and explore the wonderful feeling on your skin…then turn the feather or the rose over and see what a tender touch with these might elicit!
Don’t worry about overdoing it. Healthy dopamine and serotonin balance is good for you. Many studies, one of the latest being a study on dopamine and its receptors in the Journal of Neuroscience (DRD4 Genotype Predicts Longevity in Mouse and Human) tells us that the balanced, healthy expression of these neurotransmitters are associated with reduced stress, anger and a longer happier life overall.
Addictive drugs are especially horrible because they mess with the natural expression of dopamine. We really don’t want dopamine to be out of balance with other neurotransmitters. Things go extremely awry when that happens. When dopamine rises or drops drastically in response to a lack of a certain chemical, it can make us crazy.
In my experience as a health advisor, I have noticed that some patients of mine drop their efforts toward weight loss or quitting a bad habit like smoking or drugs the closer they got to their goals. In moments of insight, they would sometimes report that they were worried that once they achieved their goal, there would be nothing else left for them.
That’s dopamine talking. Dopamine tells us that it is the journey – not the destination – that is important.
Knowing this, our goal setting should always include further achievement past our present goals. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, then there should be a reason beyond the fifty pounds that makes it important. For example: “I want to lose 50 pounds so that I can pursue my life-long dream of training to win the New York Marathon.” Or, “I want to quit smoking so that I can be alive and well to guide my children well when they have their own children.”
If you want a first-hand feeling of experiencing the effects of dopamine, you need go no farther than the sonnets of Shakespeare.
Shy love, I think of you
As the morning air brushes the window pane,
And how much time of all it takes to know
The movement of your arm, the steps you take,
The curves along your head, your ears, your hair.
For all of this, each hand, each finger,
Each lip, each breath, each sigh,
Each word and sound of voice or tongue,
I would require an age to contemplate.
But for your heart your mind your thoughts, all these,
To love them all I need at least five centuries.
Sometimes I think
Our heads might be enclosed
Closer together upon the pillow’s space,
And how into the dark deeps of your eyes
I’d look and think of angels. Then your breath
And all the aura of your body’s breathing
Intoxicatedly would overwhelm me
And I would die. For it is too much
That such a thing should be and I should live.
Surely the thought is greater than reality,
The sum of you and love outsteps infinity.
If happiness were like
The flowers of June then I would take
The best of them, roses and columbine,
The lilies, and bind them in your hair.
They are not more beautiful but they add
Meaning to my love. For all our words
Are short and lame of breath and stumble,
And you surpass them though I know not why.
Shy love I think of you as the day wanes
And as the sun sinks deep into the ocean
And as the stars turn round above in silent motion.
If that’s not enough for you (what’s the matter with you????), or if Shakespeare is a little long-winded for you to take (all right; I can concede that), take a few minutes, hook your earphones up to your device, and look and listen to this visual interpretation of a budding classic of American pop music and a fabulous dopamine excitatory progenitor (disclaimer is in the commentary).
Feel that? Those tears and that choked up empathetic longing and sympathetic sadness is a flood of dopamine. Pretty powerful stuff.
Here…let’s balance it with some serotonin.
All right; you’ve figured it out. I’m a Trekker (NOT a Trekkie!).
So don’t do drugs. Do love. It’s good for you!
Until next time: good health!
Bodywork is when a health practitioner lays hands on you or uses external physical instruments with the intention of creating positive changes in your health and well-being.
Did you know that these health professions are, in part or in whole, dedicated to performing bodywork as a method and guiding principle for optimal health?
From the West:
From the East:
- Yoga Massage
There are plenty more…Applied Kinesiology, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique…my friend, Selina Rifkin M.S., L.M.T. wrote a book entitled, The Referral Guide for Complimentary Care (available at Amazon.com) that has listing and explanations for all sorts of bodywork health professions and is an invaluable resource for every bookshelf;. Also, here’s a good website that has a glossary: www.massagetherapy.com, but oddly enough doesn’t include chiropractic, occupational therapy or physical therapy.
Bodywork has been around since people realized that a hug makes them happy and rubbing a sore muscle makes it less sore. It is no accident that there are so many modalities of bodywork available to us. We are not simply walking bags of chemicals. We cannot solve every health problem we have by ingesting drugs and vitamins.
We are pack animals. We are creatures who rely on one another for a full life. We are built to receive healing touch from another who is trained to help us, and healing touch from ourselves when we can reach the area that needs healing!
For instance: did you know that when you have chronic, painful gas and constipation, in addition to probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, and amino acids, and all that other stuff, you can simply massage your belly to get the food moving through your gut?
Here’s what you do: lay on your back with your legs bent, or with a pillow underneath your knees. Beginning at your belly button, take the pads of your index and third fingers of both hands and rub a spot clockwise for two or three turns. Then, lift your fingers and, moving clockwise in a circle, go to a spot beside it and rub it clockwise for two or three turns. Continue to do this in an ever-widening spiral until you run out of room to do so, ending at your pubis symphysis. If you feel a squishy area that is a little painful, work it a bit; but don’t press so hard that you hurt yourself. Be gentle.
Do this every morning and you will find things moving along much more easily. Wow! Free and effective! You just took charge of your body and health, and did something for yourself that is very and loving! Terrific!
All the different types of bodywork have their own mission statements. Chiropractic’s mission statement put forth by the Association of Chiropractic Colleges in 1996 is this:
Chiropractic is a healthcare discipline that emphasizes the inherent recuperative power of the body to heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery. The practice of chiropractic focuses on the relationship between structure (primarily the spine) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.
There is a term missing from this definition: “done by hand.” Chiropractic is a word that was invented in 1896 by Rev. Samuel Weed, a friend of the discoverer of chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer. Weed suggested combining the Greek words cheiros (by means of the hand) and praktikos (practical) to describe Palmer’s treatment method.
Chiropractors address the adjustment of the vertebral column and other parts of the body by hand or by specific use of non-invasive adjusting devices. The object of chiropractic is to clear physical interference to the nervous system so that the body can run properly and can heal itself naturally.
Chiropractic is simple, effective, and natural. The body is supposed to self-adjust, but joints can get stuck sometimes. When vertebral joints get stuck out of alignment, they can really interfere with nervous system expression. Chiropractors call this interference subluxation (sub = less; lux = light; ation = nation – “state of less light”).
The longer the joints are stuck, the more problems arise. Usually by the time back and neck pain set in, the joints have been stuck for a long time. Let me be clear: CHIROPRACTIC DOES NOT ADDRESS PAIN!!! CHIROPRACTIC ADDRESSES NERVOUS SYSTEM INTERFERENCE!!! If pain relief happens – and it does, quite often – the relief is a side effect of chiropractic.
Chiropractic is not an expensive substitute for Motrin or Aspirin. It is a HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, the components of which have been described and outlined here in these Nine Essentials of Health.
The essentials of health are mostly addressed by you. This last one, bodywork, is best performed by a health care professional. For by-hand nervous system release, a chiropractor is the health care professional you want.
Because the vertebral column protects the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerve junctions, it is important to get a chiropractor to assess and address subluxations. We have extensive training of anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology and are trained to physically address the spine and other joints of the body with care and precision.
What about the gut, you say? The gut is innervated by the enteric nervous system. It is a nervous system that communicates with the peripheral nerves via synapses at the site of the gut. If enteric nervous system expression is blocked, digestion goes badly — for starters the enteric nervous system runs its own hormonal and neurotransmitter system as well. Your emotional state can literally be influenced by what is going on in your gut. Adjusting the gut can be very effective in addressing the enteric nervous system directly.
Luckily, you can reach your gut. You can address it yourself. When this doesn’t work, and the problem is beyond simple self-massage, you can then reach out to a qualified bodyworker for help.
When it comes to the spine, you can’t reach it; and even if you could, would you really want to try to adjust it yourself without professional training?
Chiropractors can address it properly. It’s what we do.
Chiropractic is the second-most-utilized health care profession in the world, second only to the medical profession (admittedly, there is a wide gap between the utilization of #1 and #2)! Chiropractic is safe. You don’t believe me? Check our malpractice insurance rates compared to other types of health care professions’ rates! Chiropractic is natural and works with your body’s innate healing ability, so it is important to get the word out so more people can discover and use this form of health care.
Call and ask me about how chiropractic could help you! My information is at fitzpatrickspinecenter.com.
All right; we’ve done it! We’ve addressed the Nine Essentials of Health. Now its up to you. If you commit to taking daily steps for health, longevity and happiness, you have the information you need to achieve it.
I’ll be here to help along the way. Until next time, Good health!
- What Is Chiropractic? (deesfamilychiro.wordpress.com)