Among the Integrative Medicine modalities, Yoga has been front and center for a while now. Perhaps this is because it is truly integrative, allowing for a balanced practice of physical exercise, breathing control and meditation. Recent studies have suggested that yoga can have positive effects on body, mind and soul. Here are just 3 examples:
- Un-break your Heart: For instance yoga can modify cardiovascular risk factors through reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Also improving cholesterol, and reducing fasting blood sugar and glucose control. In fact, yoga can be used as a practical adjunct to cardiac rehabilitation after people have heart attacks!
- Mentally un-plug: As a mind-body intervention, yoga can improve physical and mental well-being, and improve sleep. Yoga helps people with something called self-regulation – the ability to accept things as they are without reacting. It also helps people with something called self-efficacy – basically believing in one-self. Amazingly, yogis learn these lessons on the yoga mat, but are able to generalize them into their lives off the mat, making for a better psychological life over-all
- Liberate your body: Using yoga to stretch muscles helps those who have contracted muscles from laying in the same position for too long – this is called spasticity. Yoga is a safe, inexpensive and an accessible way for the elderly and the disabled to improve their function, and allowing them to exist in society in a more satisfying way.
So this summer, get down with your down-dog and do some Yoga.
Parissa Massahikhaleghi graduated from medical school in Iran. She was inspired by the encounters with chronic diseases she had during medical training to pursue preventive medicine and public health. She obtained Master of Public Health from Loma Linda University with a concentration in lifestyle medicine. Regarding her passion for health promotion through education, she says “I have been fortunate to have all this education regarding health, and I wake up everyday to share at least little piece of it with others so they may improve their function in society via the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.”
Lifestyle changes are hard and require continuous committment. While there is a whole field on how to effectively change your lifestyle and “bad habits” using behavioral change there is a common issue I often see in my patients that I would like to share with you.
This is not a moral issue: It is a fact of life that priorities shift from week to week. Having an “I just need to get my act together” view only allows for short term gain because it makes you think of the lapse/relapse as attributed to personal weakness. In reality, unhealthy behaviors are a part of our lives for several reasons, of which determination and personal discipline are a very small part. Having a resolve is only the first step! A time will come (often sooner than you expect) when you will have a crisis (perhaps at work) and find yourself at that familiar “forbidden” place (If your goal is to eat healthy, perhaps you buy yourself a slice of pizza). Now, this is a critical moment. What do you tell yourself during this moment of relapse?
- Scenario 1: you tell yourself “well, I already had one slice, might as well just have 2 more. And oh yeah, I’m clearly not cut out to be a skinny person.” Then followed by the fateful look at yourself in the mirror the next morning. The self-hatred, and the cycle continues. Your exciting journey full of hope just came to a crashing halt.
- Scenario 2: you say, “well one slice isn’t too bad…everything in moderation right?” Believe it or not, this is a hotly debated word. Some might argue that one slice of pizza causes physiologic changes that cause you to crave and eat more and more. Just ask award winning journalist Michael Moss: how much of an addictive substance are you allowed to have? Regardless of how you feel about the issue, you just lost this opportunity to find a way to resolve your craving.
A helpful way to tackle the above scenario is to use Failure as a Problem Solving Opportunity. This is what health coaches do with their clients. As a health coach myself, I have seen this work over and over again. Think about the process. What led you to pick up that slice of pizza? Was it an emotion? Can you think of other ways to deal with that emotion? Do you find that each time you are in a similar situation (maybe it is that damn TPS report), you have to eat pizza to comfort yourself? Is there a way to improve your current situation? Perhaps changing your work space will help to cut the pizza eating cycle.
Remember that failure is part of the process. Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances in the world. To quit, it often takes an individual 7-10 attempts. The key is to realize that every attempt at quitting brings you closer.
I promised a series about pain, and a series you will have! In my last post, I talked about lifestyle changes that can help with managing pain. Chronic pain requires a long-term plan, and life-style change should be part of that plan. Although, I don’t know about you, but when I am in pain, I usually need some relief NOW. Some of that can come from medication, but what happens when medication isn’t enough? Lots of times the answer is more meds, but as someone who has given people narcotics and seen the dependence it creates without really improving quality of life, I have asked myself if it is really worth adding more. Not to mention the fact that I am always worried about whether I am contributing to the supply of narcotics on the street. Don’t get me wrong – thousands of people are able to get through the day because of their percocet, tramadol and oxycontin. It’s just – at what cost? That is where non-medication based therapies come in. The ones I talk about here are the ones that I see most commonly used successfully. Obviously the list of therapies is endless – I would love to hear your suggestions too!
Nerve Stimulation Based Therapies – There are several ways to help both new and chronic pains with electrical stimulation. the most famous way to do this is with a TENS device. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator. These devices send electrical signals to your nerves and help to control pain signals from them. How they do so is still up for discussion. A simple amazon search yields several options for TENS devices that are very affordable. They are regularly dispensed by pain management doctors and lots of people find lots of relief from them. Electrical stimulators that are more high-tech can often be found at physical therapist and chiropractic offices as well.
Physical Therapy – Many of our joints rely as much on the muscles surrounding them for stability as on the tendons and ligaments keeping them together. When the muscles that support joints become weak, we start to use other, smaller and weaker muscles, creating irritation, scar tissue, and spasm in the process. Physical therapists use a combination of graded exercise training, massage, electrical stimulation, and heat to help people decrease pain and risk of injury. Since NOT moving can worsen the pain, learning how to exercise safely from a physical therapist is essential. It helps people ease back into exercising while minimizing the risk of injury.
Manipulative Therapy – Osteopathic manipulative therapy, Chiropractic adjustment, myo-fascial release, massage and other manipulative therapies can be helpful. Chiropracters have the most training in manipulative therapy. Scientific studies have not shown manipulation to be better than conventional treatment. As for most integrative therapies, the trials are small, but evidence is accumulating. In my experience, these therapies work best when combined with physical therapy.
Acupuncture/Acupressure – There is more and more evidence accumulating to suggest that acupuncture and acupressure are effective therapies for many conditions, but especially for pain and injury. Acupuncture is predicated upon the East Asian theory of health and illness that attributes disease to a blockage in the flow of Qi (pronounced like “chee”). What has always been interesting to me is that Chinese meridians are exactly along the lines of what call fascial planes – the planes into which the various body compartments are separated by tissue called fascia. I remember being at a presentation about how acupuncture might work. Some say that it stimulates our connective tissue cells called fibroblasts to do what they do when we stretch our muscles. All of this is still being worked out in labs and peer reviewed journals. In the mean-while, getting needled to help your pain may not be such a bad idea!
Trigger-point Injections – Trigger points are tender areas on the body where pain can be localized, often co-existing with muscle spasm. While there are physicians who use small needles to introduce steroids into trigger points, there are also several acupuncturists and physical therapists who use dry needling to release trigger points medication free. Here’s a cool video!
What do you do when medication fails to treat your pain? Would love to hear what works for you!
People often think that a person’s IQ level is stagnant, an innate intelligence. Quite the opposite. Recent findings published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) study have shown that changing the amount of healthy and junk food a person consumes can dramatically change the person’s IQ score.
Brain is a complex muscle. Just as weight lifting can build biceps and improve your physical strength, proper nutrition and exercise can improve your brain’s ability to process information, retain memory, and perform critical analysis.
Below are 3 simple tips to increase your IQ and rev up your brain power. These simple adjustments in your habits and diet can effectively improve your brain function.
- Get moving. Brisk walks and other type of exercise is not only good for your heart, but good for your brain. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, even generate new neurons and nerve connections. This will not only improve memory function, but also increase your capacity for knowledge.
- Consume foods rich in Omega 3 and antioxidants. These include nuts, cold water fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel), nuts, berries, dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower). Multiple studies have shown that children after consuming regular amount of omega-3 fatty acids as part of their diet did better in school tests measuring verbal intelligence, memory function, and had less behavioral problems. In adults, omega 3 have proven to improve memory and fight against age-related memory loss and brain injury.
- Conscious Breathing. Improper breathing habits can hinder brain function. The shallow breathing most of us do throughout the day is often not sufficient to expel the carbon dioxide from our body. Large percent of body’s oxygen is used by the brain, proper oxygenation through deep breathing will improve cognitive function. Relaxed breathing and yoga breathing techniques have shown to improve spatial memory, allowing you to remember where you are and where you placed your keys.
Steps to Yoga Breathing
-Sit with your head, neck and spine in a straight line.
-inhale through one nostril, hold the breath, then exhale through the other nostril in a ratio of 2:8:4 counts.
-Use the thumb and ring/pinky fingers of your right hand to close the right and left nostrils respectively, and close both nostrils when you hold the breath.
-repeat for 2 – 3 minutes