Thursday, December 15, 2011


This is going to be the fastest blog post I've ever written .. the urgency has to do with a certain "deal" I've made with Heath at LaBicicletta.
I've been trying my hand at winter cycling (thankfully, we have had very little actual winter). However, for a skinny, iron-deficient, part-amphibian female like myself, cycling in anything below +15 is winter! My vulnerability is my feet: at +7, they are white with cold and on the fringe of frost nip. At the bike shop the other day I expressed my woes to Heath, at which point he guided me to the other side of the store and convinced me that I needed $60 socks .. er, I mean, "equipment". On a whim and a prayer, I purchased the "needed equipment" and promised Heath that, regardless of weather, I would venture out on the Sunday donut to give the socks a run for their money!
Sunday came: -6 degrees Celsius in Markham! YIKES! The sock deal was this: I'm wasn't allowed to wear anything but the socks, all-season cycling shoes and shoe covers - and of course, cycling clothes (no, Heath didn't make me ride naked)!
I secretly stashed 2 extra pairs of socks in a zip lock and put them in my back pocket (not because I don't trust you, Heath - but because I know you don't have a cell phone to call for a needed pick up)!
So how did the FuguSpeers measure up? Well, after the first hour, I was surprised that my feet were still reasonably "warm" (for me, that means not frozen). After 2-3 hours, although my feet didn't feel warm per say, they were not uncomfortable. After the fourth hour and upon arriving home, I examined the feet. When I gave them a good look, the left foot was normal body temperature with a pink hue. The right one, was white and quite cold - but not as cold as it usually is. THe difference in feet, I attribute to my big, huge heart being on the left side of my body and better circulation on that side.
So all-in-all, I was impressed at the temperature and duration with which the very thin socks kept me from freezing .. however, as far as agreements go, I do believe I should win 1/2 of the bet for my white, right foot! But I'll still meet you at the Jetfuel and buy you a coffee anyway, Heath! :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bathing in Unusual Water ..

Much of my six years in the Yukon was spent in the forest. Until recently, I didn't quite know how that time was affecting me.
I came across a piece of research last week (which was also featured at the OAND conference that I attended this weekend) examining the physiological effects of "Forest Bathing". This non-scientific term for arbour exposure was coined as a result of a poetic translation of "Shinrin-yoku" from Japanese to English - and, frankly, I think it's a charming description!
The study was conducted a few times; first on men, then on women with consistent results. The female study was conducted on 13 healthy nurses between the ages of 25-43. After giving blood and urine to assess a baseline, the subjects underwent a three-day/two-night trip to the forest (not a bad study to be involved in)! On the first day, the women walked for two hours in the afternoon through the forest. On the second day, the women walked for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon in two separate forests (a blood draw and urine test was taken after day two). On the third day, after giving blood and urine a third time, the women returned to the city (Tokyo).
When the forest bathing blood samples were compared to baseline samples significant changes were found: forest bathing increased NK activity and the number of NK, perforin, granulysin, and granzymes A/B-expressing cells. In addition, there was a decreased concentration of adrenaline and noradrenaline in urine.
What does all this mean exactly? Well, the bottom line is that the urine analysis proved a decrease in overall systemic stress, indicated by a decrease in stress hormone. The increase in serum (blood) immune modulators indicates that the immune system is working more efficiently. The immune modulators listed above are specific to mutated and cancerous cell (tumour) modulation and destruction. So, it happens that when we spend time with the trees, our immune systems function more efficiently specifically inhibiting cellular mutation and cancer growth! The even more awesome observation from this study is that the increased NK activity lasted for more than 7 days after the trip!! It's perfect really: if we can get some tree exposure on our weekends, the benefits will last us the entire work week!
The conclusion of this study postulates that the exposure to phytoncides, detected in forest air (often responsible for the lovely smell of trees - pine, etc), decrease stress. Decreased stress contributes to an upregulated immune function.
Either way, if you don't already cross country ski or snowshoe, this study may be a good reason to embrace a new forested hobby!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kicked in the Ass

I fell off the earth for a while. In my mysterious plummet, I attracted a beautiful influence into my non-earth that turned my head to show me a vision of how wonderful my life could be.
Sometimes the universe kicks you in the ass and if you're not wearing padding, it really, really hurts. Bruised or not though, if you're able to see past the hurt, there is a transformative process that you are often embarking on without even knowing it. I am in transformation: a powerful place of growth. Challenges are coming which, previously, may have seemed insurmountable. Something has shifted in me that is truly allowing me to see my potential and the potential to create the life I want to live.
I believe I'm on a path constructed by a series of events: the beautiful influence I mentioned earlier was the first obvious catalyst. Following that, the kicks in the ass .. which have led me to a journey called the Artists Way, which I've been wanting to explore since I lived in the Yukon.
The Artists Way is a self directed 12-week modular progression designed to guide the participant to their potential through creative expression. So far, it has led me to a place of seeing creative solutions (instead of getting completely discouraged with my challenges). It has led me to a deeper understanding of what I chosen to define me, what definitions I'd like to let go of and which I'd prefer to be defined by. It has led me to understand that receiving (from others and from the universe) IS acceptable. It has led me to accept where I am with grace and peace. It has led me to see myself and my life as potential instead of a series of limits. I do believe I am ready for this - that said, if you are not ready and embark on this journey anyway, it may not yield the same results!
I am in week #1 with eleven weeks to go! Part of me cannot wait to see what and who I become; the other part of me is really embracing the daily process.
And with this, I give thanks (to the universe or God or light or whatever) for the kicks in the ass that I obviously needed!

For more info, check out the website:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mistaken Identity

A few years ago I had short hair. I loved my little hair cut: it was sleek, sexy, had some edge and said Paris fashion all over it. Not only was it short, but it was also bleach blond. So picture this: slender cyclist woman in full cycling kit topped with product-controlled, spiky white. Unbeknown to me, this combination didn't exactly scream Paris fashion! On the contrary: whispers of athletic lesbian lingered in the air. The number of times I was mistaken for a lesbian, winked at by women and fed lesbian pick up lines that year is beyond my comprehension. My hair is long now.
Athletic women excel in a world dominated by male performance. Did you know that there is actually a women's Tour de France? Of course you didn't! Because it is not televised, not advertised and receives no media coverage (and it has not actually run in the last 2 years).. sadly, even if it had, not many people would watch it! Women in sport have had a hard time receiving the recognition they deserve (this is slowly changing). In numerous cases, women in sport are also assumed to be lesbian. I, personally, have found this to be an identity conundrum! As an athlete who has had many years of competition, I had set aside my feminine self in order to access my competitive edge. Perhaps it wasn't the hair cut that people were basing their opinions on, but more so the vibration I was expressing in my intensity as an athlete (although the hair cut probably didn't help)!
In recent years, accessing my femininity has meant exploring the world of make-up, wearing dresses and selectively utilizing my intensity in competitive arenas only. Most recently, my femininity has translated to riding my new commuter in a dress and high heels to meet friends in Yorkville. I am learning that there is an air of grace and beauty about a woman dressed to kill, riding a bike with a basket filled with baguette and a bottle of wine. The important thing to take from this experience is that we all need to come to a place of awareness around what sexy means for us and how to access that feeling: whether it's on a bike, listening to your favorite music or wearing lacy underwear beneath your workout clothes! Whatever it is, we all need to know how we can feel sexy. After all, when you're feeling your sexy self, the world is simply a better place!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beyond Reconciliation ..

Sometimes things happen and relationships fail. Sometimes one party in the relationship completely screws up and the other in unable to forgive. Sometimes vibes change and it is necessary to move on given that you're no longer on the same path seeking similar outcomes. Sometimes issues in relationships are simply beyond reconciliation.
I have travelled many miles with my car and we've had some fantastic times. But, in the last year, something has happened and our vibe has changed. He used to take care of me in a way: warning me when there was a radar gun around the corner, reminding me to keep my sticker valid, encouraging me to stop for entirely 3 seconds before proceeding through a stop sign. But now, well now, it's like he doesn't even care!

A month ago I was awarded $500 worth of motor vehicle infraction fines in six days. This may seem alarming to you. What may be even more alarming is that none of the $500 were due to speeding or reckless driving. Even MORE alarming is that this is not abnormal for me. I typically get pulled over every few months .. costing me, to date this year, a few thousand dollars. The August validating evidence of my bad car karma was the last straw for me. Shortly after the last ticket was handed over, I walked to my insurance broker's office and requested that they put a hold on my insurance (I mean, I was leaving for Europe 3 days later anyway). My decision may have been a little reactionary. However, after spending 3 weeks in Europe riding my bike and considering my options, I have decided that this may be the best decision I have made in a while! I DO have legs and I have a fleet of bicycles and, well, if the weather is really horrible, there is always public transit.

I am committing to this endeavour for one year, of which I am a week in. After getting two flats in two days on my race bike from hitting glass on my commute, getting a wet, rooster tail on my back from cycling through water, in addition to pulling a muscle from carrying a backpack while cycling, I decided to invest in a proper Dutch commuter (see photo above). The Dutch have been doing this for a while: they must know SOMETHING about the sit up geometry, the wider tires, the fenders and waterproof panniers!

I have noticed that my new bike gets quite a few looks and smiles from both walkers AND people in cars (especially in Markham where bikes are less common)! I have also noticed that riding in the rain isn't so bad when you have rain-friendly equipment and that police cars no longer induce a state of panic in me! And I've noticed how peaceful it is to ride a bike home from work at 9pm when the streets are quiet, the full moon is out and the crickets are chirping. Maybe this new relationship will work out just fine after all!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Flat Lands ... NL

I'm sure most of you who know me beyond this blog know that I am now in the Netherlands. There is a lot that I love about the Netherlands: being a part of my heritage, there is a natural attachment to the culture, the language, the way of being. From a riding standpoint however, the flats really challenge me. Many cyclists really like the flats: the ease of it on the bike, the speed, the flow. However, being a bit of a lightweight mountain climber, I find the flats especially difficult: I would rather tough it out on a mountain any day!
I will give you a list of things that are unique to the Netherlands though when it comes to cycling:
-Helmets are not manditory. In fact, helmets are not even suggested! There are very few cycling accidents in the Netherlands despite the plethora of bicycles on the road.
-Bicycles are build to carry entire families: there are cargo bikes used in the Netherlands that have wooden boxes at the front of the bike. These (usually covered) boxes can carry 3+ children who are protected from rain!
-The "green heart" of the Netherlands near Hilversum is an area of farmland with long open roads (perfect for cycling). It is a beautiful area to ride. Farms back onto one another and are owned by different farmers, however, I have yet to see one fence between any of them. I'm not sure how they keep track of whose cows are whose! :)
-Cyclists do not acknowledge each other in the Netherlands. This is interesting since, in France, you are considered rude if you do not say "bonjour" to other cyclists on the road. The only reason I can fathom for this difference in culture is that there are so many cyclists in the Netherlands that you might lose your voice from saying "hello" so much!
-Despite a lot of rain, people, more often than not, commute by bike.
-The infrastructure for cycling in the Netherlands is far superior to that of any city in North America. Cyclists have their own lanes completely separate from the road (separated by a median). They have their own traffic light signals and their own bike highway signs indicating directions and city locations. There are red and white signs for more direct routes and green signs for rural routes that are more scenic. Superior system indeed!
When it comes to cycling as a lifestyle, the Netherlands is the best city I have found to date. A dutch friend of mine who has lived in Canada for about 12 years now recently informed me that she is considering a move back to the Netherlands. When I asked why, she answered with, "I am tired of getting on my bike everyday in Toronto and worrying for my life. Cycling is my lifestyle and I would like to live in a city that supports it". My move might be coming just as quickly!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mountain Systems

The mountains are full of surprises. After finishing our ride on Thursday in 30 degree heat, the weather began to shift. It started with a subtle wind moving through the valley. This quickly escalated to wind warnings on the major highways! After arriving home in the later afternoon, the temperature had gone from 30 degrees celcius to 14 degrees celcius! A cold monsoon-type rain enveloped the evening dropping the temperatures to a hovering 2-3 degrees. Waking up the next morning to snow meant having to change our ride. Our intention was to tackle the Serpent of the Alps: the Col de Madeleine. After freezing our asses off riding through rain in the valley, we realized that the only thing awaiting us at the top of the Madeleine would be sub-zero and snow. The Madeleine would have to wait for another day - thank god for me: the girl who pulls out the wool jersies for any day under 20 degrees celcius!
I remember living in the mountains in the Yukon. The beauty, and the danger of it all is the ever changing environment, the spontenaity of it, the lack of predictability. The mountains have a power about them: a power that, as a vulnerable human, needs to be respected. We tackled the Col de la Madeleine the day following (it was a little warmer - no snow at least)! The Madeleine, or Serpent, took a chunk out of me last year, transforming me from a relatively empowered woman to a wimpering child, gasping for breath. This year was quite different: approaching the Madeleine with the respect that she deserves meant continuing to suffer as she bit at my heels a little, but finishing the climb with a little bit of pride.
Being in the mountains is can be both empowering and humbling. The key to maintaining your pride is understanding that the mountain always wins; occasionally though, on a good day, she will give you a little hope!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alps Week Recap ..

For all of you who are interested and for who this will make sense, here are the climbs and mileage achieved in the Alps in the last 7 days:
- Les Allues: Vamoral 69.9km with 2019m of elevation
- Les Allues: Brides des Bains, Bozel and Pralogne-la-Vanoise, 87.2km with 2364m of elevation
- La Cote D'Aime, Col Petit St Bernard: 121km with 2300m of elevation
- Col de Telegraphe, Col de Galibier, Alp D'Huez: 125km with 3550m of elevation
- Les Allues to Annecy: 107km with 607m of elevation
- Les Allues: Col des Saisies: 139km with 1882m of elevation
- Les Allues: Val Thorens: 97.4km with 2859m of elevation

Et voila! A grande total of 746.5km of riding with 15 581m of climbing .. and still 4 more rides to go!

Being in the mountains feeds the spirit. There is a limitlessness to it all - the expansive scenary, the mountain air, the sky that seems to go on for ever and the valley gorges that tumble with glacial stream. Riding mountains on a bike has allowed me to realize the limitlessness around me as well as that inside of me. It has allowed me to understand myself as a small, yet pivotal piece of the world. It has allowed me to realize that, as independent beings, we are truly a part of everything around us. Riding in the mountains is spiritual. It is like riding to heaven and taking a look at your spiritual destiny and coming back to the earth with greater understanding. I come back a different person or, more accurately, more myself everytime!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I have settled into the Alps. It is an interesting thing really: I feel like I have returned home.
I will keep this short so to update all of you without rambling on too much.
Riding has been fantastically intense. Yesterday was a bit of an epic day climbing the Col de Telegraphe, the Galibier and Alp D'Huez in succession. For those of you who know the Tour de France, these are some of the most famous climbs of the tour for being the most grueling.
Now, when you are climbing for hours against what feels like a wall of wind, your mind goes everywhere in search of distraction. Starting on the the Col de Telegraphe with only 4.5 hours sleep under my belt (I blame continued jet lag and "over" training), required my iPod as a welcome distraction. By the time that we got to the Galibier, I was tired but committed. It was the hardest part of the day for me (and for many others that I ended up riding along side of).
Alp D'huez was an entirely different beast: switch back after switch back of 11-12% made it slow going. It was in this hour of thinking that I realized that, with many things that we do in life, we embark on them with the thought of a certain goal and the insecurity that we may not actually reach that goal. It was only at the 5.5km to go on the Alp D'huez climb that I realized I was going to get to the top. My realization came with the conscious decision to make it happen without allowing for another option. The things we want in life are out there:we simply need to make the conscious decisions to get to the top of our vision and see the obstacles as just another switch-back to get around.
Alp D'Huez was epic - the entire day was epic and I didn't really even realize it until it was all done and I was drinking Orangina at the top!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Paris Train Station

Greetings from Paris everyone - the next few weeks of blog posts will be from Europe! I hope you enjoy!!

I met a woman named Amelie .. we quickly became friends and now she is on a train bound for the west of France. I waited for her while she got her train ticket in order. This is what I observed while waiting:
- there is nothing more endearing than a man taking care of his aging father
- Rabbits like Pringles .. a woman had a rabbit in her purse. The little guy was ALL over the Pringles! Very cute!
- Women can be sexy at any age: a men like sexy women!
- We all have way too much STUFF - and we take it all travelling!
- Healthy family dynamics can be spotted a mile away - so can unhealthy ones!
- No matter how tired you look, laughing makes you pretty
- We take our phones, electronics and internet access very seriously!
- It is easy to make wonderful connections with people when you are open: thanks Amelie!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

After watching this video, I don't feel so badly about being a non-conformist! In chosing lives that motivate us beyond money, we can be more engaged, inspired and creative.
Take a look and chose the path less travelled!
Enjoy the first day of August everyone ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music for the Mind, Body and Soul

"One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain".
Bob Marley

I was on my bike this morning. I went on the "donut": a ritual, group ride that I engage in weekly to challenge myself and assess my fitness. After being hung out to dry, I decided to extend my ride and head out east to spin my crampy legs. A call-of-nature stop reminded me that today, which is not typical, I had brought my iPod! My ride instantly turned from crampy and tired to refreshed and renewed.
Music can have a profound effect on us; a profound enough effect that, in 1997, the New York Marathon banned music from the race course! Music in sport has been shown to illicit a small but positive effect on athletic performance in the following five ways: dissociation (up to 10% reduction in perceived exertion), arousal regulation (psych up or psych down), synchronization (regulate co-ordination of movement), acquisition of motor skills, and attainment of flow (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). It is really no wonder I felt better this morning after a little Broken Social Scene!
From a non-sport perspective, music exposure still has a profound physiological effect. I am often asked to lecture at Wellspring Cancer Support Centre . Last week I chose to give a seminar on chanting and the healing effects of music. I came across a great peice of research: Fabien Maman began a year-and-a-half study joined by Helene Grimal, a biologist and musician, at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Together they studied the effect of low volume (30-40 decibels) sound on human uterine cancer cells. After mounting a camera on the slides that contained the cells, they proceeded to play various acoustical instruments (guitar, gong, xylophone and voice) for periods of twenty-minute intervals. The results indicated that the most dramatic influence on the cells came from the human voice, when Maman sang a series of scales into the cells. The outcome was profound in that the structure of the cancer cells became disorganized which inhibited efficient replication. In Maman's words, "It appeared that the cancer cells were not able to support a progressive accumulation of vibratory frequencies."
The research was then applied to two women experiencing breast cancer. Both women were instructed to "tone" (like chanting) for 3.5 hours per day for one month. In one of the two cases, the tumour was no longer detectable after the month was up. In the second case, the tumour had reduced in size significantly. The woman underwent surgery, recovered and remains healthy today! It is postulated that vibratory frequencies may change cancer cell structure in a way that does not allow the organized replication and maintence of the cell.
From a mental emotional perspective, different types of music has been shown to produce different brain activity states. Meditative music can shift the brain from beta activity, which is our working, active mind to a theta state, a contemplative, peaceful state and has been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate.
It is a simple intervention which we think rarely about implementing to support health and wellbeing. And it is often the simplist things that are most effective, so get out your iPod and download some good music already! :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Appreciation and Abundance

I am keeping this short and sweet tonight. I haven't written in a while .. so ..

I have a good life. Take today for instance: after drinking some fantastic coffee, I went to work at a job that I find purpose and meaning in. I had fulfilling interactions with patients, caught up on a lot of research and paperwork, had enjoyable conversation with the rest of our staff and finished up early. Afterwards, I got out for an hour and a half on my bike in the early evening sunshine. I topped it off with getting a few goodnight kisses from my nephews and watching the Tour de France with my brother and sister-in-law. Sometimes, it is easy to forget how good our lives really are.
I hear talk occasionally about attracting abundance. I often notice that the reference is usually to monetary abundance. I always find it interesting that, in our absolutely abundant society, it is so easy for people to be continually caught up in always wanting more. I will be the first to admit that money provides opportunity and is necessary to meet the basic needs of everyday life. However, in those moments of flow (on my bike, inspired by my work, etc), everything else is forgotten. There is a beauty, a peace, a tranquility in the flow that facilitates the realization that in that moment I need nothing more than I already have: my breath, the depth of love that I can share with the world, my intention and the opportunity to live my purpose. It is in those moments of flow that I realize that I already possess absolute abundance.

BTW: I am assuming the above symbol translates to the equivalent of "abundance". If it is a profane and offensive phrase, well, I apologize. But at least it is pretty!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sexy After Sixty?

After doing a lecture this afternoon to a room full of women at Markham Stouffville Hospital on menopause, curious as to what I would find, I googled "sexy after sixty". After filtering through a few websites dedicated to keeping your sex life alive into your golden years, I came across a recent video of Helen Mirren (The Queen, Arthur). Helen Mirren is an inspiration to women everywhere: she embodies confidence, grace, talent and genuine character. She radiates with that je ne sais quoi: a feminine elegance combined with a sultry, sex appeal that extends beyond age. And so the nagging question in my head becomes, "how did Helen Mirren remain poised in the midst of the dreaded hot flash"?
Women begin the journey into hormone change as early as 30 years of age (hence declining fertility rates post third decade). Hormones play a massive role in our lives as women: estrogen increases bone density, influences fat deposition (which makes women curvy), has an effect on vascular function, tissue elasticity, menstruation, thyroid function and mood. You can imagine what happens when this magical, little molecule begins its decline: bone remodeling becomes less efficient leading to osteopenia and possibly osteoporosis, vessel elasticity is compromised leading to possible hypertension, cholesterol profiles change as a result of decreased thyroid hormone production (a consequence of fluctuations in both estrogen and progesterone). It does not end here! Testosterone also begins to decline: all of a sudden instead of toning up after a few weeks at the gym, we find ourselves unable to build lean muscle tissue. And not only are we flabby but now we don't even have flabby sex because our libido has taken a nose dive! We can console ourselves with laughter but we can't laugh too hard for fear of urinary incontinence as a result of a weakened pelvic floor! It doesn't sound pretty - but somehow women like Helen Mirren not only get through it, but get through it and maintain their sexy selves!
Throughout my research I have found some interesting statistics: hot flashes affect 75% of North American women but less than 10% of women in Japan, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Mexico. What is going on here? Let's consider that hot flashes are associated with LH (lutenizing hormone) surges. LH surges can be magnified with increases in stress hormone - so increases in stress hormone can lead to a increase in number and intensity of hot flashes. Is it possible that we are more stressed in North America than our non-flushing neighbours? In addition, an increase in prostaglandin PGE2 and PGF2a can overstimulate the hypothalamus and produce dramatic temperature fluctuations. PGE2 and PGF2a are typically increased in people who's diets contain coffee, red wine, chocolate, red meat, dairy fat, peanuts, sugar and shellfish. Is it at all possible that perhaps the North American diet is a little richer than the diets of those in Japan, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Mexico?
Can stress and diet have THAT much of an impact? Apparently so! A study out of the University of Massachusetts Medical School evaluated the impact of a weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction program on women's hot flashes. After 7 weeks, the women's scores on quality of life had increased significantly with hot flash severity score decreasing by 40%!
When it comes to food, a study out of the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy showed the synergistic anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of combined curcumin (from tumeric), EPA and DHA. Together, these agents demonstrate a decrease in PGE2, NO (nitric oxide) production, COX2 and an increase in HO-1 (haem oxygenase). This result not only contributes to menopause symptom relief but also decreases long term cancer risk.
So, instead of the red meat, wine and chocolate, we women might be wise to consume more PGE2 and PGF2a reducing foods like fish oil, tumeric (curcumin), antioxidants and bromelain (pineapple). Maybe after another 30 years of deep breathing and fish oil pineapple sandwiches, I too will embody that ageless je ne sais quoi!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Journey of Trust

My mom and dad met at a picnic when my mom was sixteen years old. My dad was twenty-three and had, as he describes it, "just gotten off the boat" (immigrated from the Netherlands). He was (and still is) a handsome man, a gentle spirit, a calm, kind and caring soul. Back then, he would have spoken broken English with a charm only Europeans seem to have. My mother grew up in Whitevale: a small hamlet of a town, with one street, one library, one corner store, a river and a whole lot of beautiful forest for morel mushroom and fiddle head harvesting.
That first meeting didn't last long. My father recalls leaving the picnic shortly after meeting my mother. My mother has said that after that first, brief interaction she turned to one of her girlfriends and whispered, "If that man ever asked me to marry him, I would". She used to describe the feeling as a "knowing" often affirming my worst fear about my latest boyfriend saying, "Gail, when the man that you are going to marry comes along, you are just going to know. There will be this feeling and you'll just know. And well, if you don't just know now, then he's probably not the guy". Typically, my relationships would end shortly after this conversation!
After that picnic and that fateful meeting, a number of years passed before my mother and father saw each other again. He dated a few women, becoming serious with one in particular - Eleanor was her name. My mom also dated and, in fact, became engaged at the age of 19 to a guy named Lloyd. The engagement didn't last long though: Lloyd, apparently a promising business man conducted a business trip to BC to embezzle money from his sick and delusional aunt. After discovering what kind of "business" Lloyd was in, my mom broke her engagement off by sending her ring back to him through the mail! Around the same time that my mom's engagement fell apart, my father's girlfriend, Eleanor, had decided to go travelling through Europe - sans my father! Subsequently, they "took a break". As fate would have it, my mother and father reconnected through some mutual friends. Nine months later, my father was asking my grandfather for permission to marry my mom and voila! A matrimony of soul mates!
I can recall growing up witnessing moments of love between my parents: my mom washing dishes, my dad drying and them sharing a kiss between each plate. My mother has since died; a devastation that is still felt by the members of my immediate family. Despite his getting on with his life and dating someone new, my father still misses my mom every day. He is the first to say that, although the time was short, a short time with the love of his life was better than a long time with anyone else on the planet.
Life is an interesting journey. A journey that doesn't necessarily go in a straight line. Although we can try to direct the path, we never really know where we'll end up and how we are going to get there. It's a journey during which we make connections: some fleeting, some lasting, some with distinctive purpose, some that we wish never happened. It's a journey in which we come across our soul mates; those individuals that leave us breathless and who make our hearts sing. It's a journey in which we give ourselves to love (hopefully at least once), which makes us feel alive in one moment and dying with heartache the next. All we really have on this beautiful roller coaster of a ride is trust: a faith that things will somehow work out the way they're supposed to (even though it really doesn't seem like it sometimes)!
I asked my dad recently, why he didn't pursue my mom after meeting her at the picnic that day and why he let so much time lapse before seeing her again. He answered simply, "There was a connection but your mom was going off to BC for the summer. I figured, if it was going to happen, we would just come together again when it was more right". Then he added, "Life is strange: you don't really know what's going to happen. I would have never believed that, after your mom died, I was going to find companionship with Eleanor's sister! You just never know ..."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fetching Summer

Waking up to about a million birds outside my window this morning, singing the (6am!) praises of sun brought the realization that maybe, just maybe, it will be dry today.
Here is a Native Indian tale of a little boy for whom summer is a necessity and with whom I can completely relate!

Saq, saq, so long ago. The People are living in twenty wigwams, down below the mountain. Above them on the mountaintops, are the camps of the Bear Persons. Above them on the mountaintops are the camps of the Kukwesk Persons. But the People live down below.
They are working all the time. They hunt moose, they hunt deer and fox and all kinds of animals with furs. The People make canoes and moccasins and baskets, snowshoes and tools and the wooden cradles for carrying the babies. The People are working all the time.
And the people die. When they die, their kin-friends smoke their flesh and cover them with birch bark, all sewed up, so that not a hair can fall out, so that nothing can get in. Then they would bury them. Their kin-friends would put sticks of lamkisn foxfire, near them, so that they would have light in the dark.
Down below the mountain is a family of the People. The old man dies. The old woman dies. All that is left are the children: one daughter, three older boys, and a small baby boy. This little boy grows to be about four years old, and one evening he is talking to his sister. He is saying, "Where is our mother? Where is our father?"
And at last his sister tells him,"Our mother is dead. Our father is dead." She tells him about death, she tells him what happens when death comes to the People.
Now this little boy is getting very sad. He is lonely for his mother and his father, and he begins to cry. This little boy cries for two days without stopping. And at last his sister says to one of his older brothers, "You had better go up on the mountain, and fetch Muini'skw. Fetch one of those Old Bear Women. Tell her we need her to come down and make our little brother stop crying."
So the older boy climbs the mountain. He finds one of the Muini'skwaq, and he says to her, "Come down to help my sister. The baby will not stop crying about our mother and father."
"E'e," says Muini'skw, "I will come."
That Muini'skw comes down off the mountain. She leaves her own two little behind up there, and she comes to the wigwam where the human child is crying. She takes that child up in her lap and begins to rock him.
Muini'skw is singing, singing to the human child. She sings, "Pa pa pa, pa pa po."
And that little boy finally falls asleep. But int he morning, when he wakes up again, once more he begins to cry. It is the middle of winter, and all across the drifts of snow and the patches of ice around that camp of the People, everyone can hear that little boy crying.
"Make him a little bow," says Muini'skw to his older brothers. "Make him some little arrows to play with. Perhaps that will dry up his tears."
So they get wood and shape it. They smooth it and shape it. They make a tiny bow and string it with sinew. They make him some tiny little arrows. But still this child will not stop crying. Muini'skw is rocking him on her lap, and finally she says to him, "My little son, what would make you stop crying?"
"I want to be warm," he says to her. "I want it to be summer. If you made it be summer, with little birds and flowers, the I could stop crying."
Muini'skw calls his three older brothers. Tities, Blue Jay. Kwimu, Loon. Kiunik, Otter. She calls them, all three of them and tells them, "You must go and fetch Summer to your younger brother."
"How shall we do this thing?" they are asking her.
"I will tell you," says Muini'skw. Muini'skw has Power. "You must take three big hide bags. You must travel far to the west, to the place where the Sky is burning, where the air is hot. You must ask Sky to help you."
Those three brothers are journeying far to the west. It is getting hotter and hotter. The air is burning, the Sky is burning. These three brothers open their hide bags.
"Help us, O Sky," they call out. "Give us Summer. Give us Nipk to take home with us."
Now a Voice is speaking to them. It is Sky. Sky says, "Close your bags quickly. Tie them up tightly. Go to my wigwam over there, and take a few of the plants you see with you. Take a pair of birds of each kind. Take all these things home with you, and when you get there, open your bags again. All my hot air will come out. If you have snow, it will go. If you have ice, it will go. Where ever you are, there will be no snow. Kesik, Winter, it will be gone.
"After all the snow is gone," says Sky, "take out all the little plants and birds and spread them around. Then you will have summer."
These three boys have made a long journey, and now they have come home. They open the hide bags and all the warm air rushes out. The snow begins to melt. Soon it is gone. The ice is gone. Summer has come to the People in the camp below the mountain.
These three brothers make a nice garden, with all those plants and all those little birds, nice little summer birds. Pretty little flowers begin to bloom. And the child comes out of the wigwam and begins to smile.
Old Bear Woman, Muini'skw, she says, "Now I must go home. Your little brother is smiling; he forgets about his mother and father. He will not cry anymore."
That little boy learns to use his bow and his arrows. The People stay in that camp at the foot of the mountain. They go hunting everyday, and that little boy grows up.
That little boy grows up. He learns, he becomes a chief, he wears the shell medal. His People have canoes, they cross the ocean, they explore and see many things.

And now, maybe I can stop crying. Thank you to whomever finally fetched summer!

**This story was taken from a book called "Stories from the Six Worlds: Micmac Legends" by Ruth Holmes Whitehead**
**Drawing taken from "Little Thunder", a film from the National Film Board of Canada**

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inner Jogging ..

I once lived in a house in Cabbagetown with two male roommates. I was in my graduating year at CCNM (The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine) working part time and grinding away at 12-hour school days. Inevitably, this reduced my schedule to absolute necessities: sleeping, coffee and brushing my teeth. More often than not, on those nights when I arrived home with my head hung low absolutely defeated by my life, I was lured to roommate #1's computer screen with the promise of something I "HAD TO SEE" on YouTube. In seconds, we would be in hysterics with laughter, much to (sleeping) roommate #2's dismay!
Laughing has been referred to as "Inner Jogging" because of the physiological process that accompanies it. Not only do your facial muscles contort but muscles throughout your entire body: your vocal cords, your diaphragm, your jaw and your accessory shoulder muscles, vibrate in preparation. Before your laugh is in full swing, a blast of air enters your trachea flinging any unassuming mucous against the walls of your windpipe. When your laugh finally erupts, it can be travelling as fast as 170 miles an hour, producing a strange, often disjointed, cackling sound. In the throws of a full-bodied laugh, your body bucks like a bull: you torso flexes, your arms flail - often to slap the table or your thighs - your lachrymal glands produce additional tears that let loose through the open ducts. You puff and wheeze like a marathon runner, your legs become wobbly and you eventually end up writhing on the floor or couch trying to both stop the experience but looking for any reason for it to continue: it's physiological pandemonium really!
The process includes an increase in metabolic rate, which leads to burning more calories; an increase in respiration, temperature and circulation, which leads to a toned cardiovascular system and an increase in cellular oxygen profusion (more oxygen circulating in the body) with an increase in carbon dioxide exhalation. The additional oxygen in the lungs discourages bacterial growth and the typical cough that often follows a laugh assists in clearing out any residual bacteria after the influx of oxygen. In addition, there is an increased secretion of adrenaline, which makes us feel good all over for up to two hours after our laughter has subsided! More immune modulators are produced when we laugh in conjunction with decreases in stress hormone production: these two together prevent us from getting sick!
Because laughing causes forced contraction of so many muscles of the thorax and abdomen, post-laugh muscles have achieved a more fatigued and relaxed state than they would have otherwise.
And for those individuals out there with digestive complaints, laughing can also stimulate the production of enzymes that act as natural laxatives (my apologies to those of you who are regular).
Doctors Ornstein and Sobel suggest that "most of us do not take laughing seriously enough" and that as hardworking, responsible adults (I am not sure that they are talking about me specifically), we often wrongly associate laughter with child's play. Perhaps what health care providers of all disciplines need to do is to incorporate a joke as part of their scripts! After all, considering all the health benefits of laughter, I might not be here right now if it hadn't have been for roommate #1 and YouTube!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Because I am a Girl ..

Congratulations to all the women who participated in the Women's 5km Race today in Markham to support "because I am a girl" (Plan Canada). Plan Canada organizes gifts of hope through ethical giving; "giving real dollars to real projects that change real lives". The "because I am a girl" event was started in 2010 on Mother's Day to celebrate the ability of women to come together and financially support the educational needs of future women in Africa. 2011 marks the second successful year of this event.

Because of the dangers of travelling the distance to school, only 5% of teenage girls in Tanzania actually make it to class! As little of $10 000 can build a school residence in Africa allowing teenage girls to access their right to education. After raising $20 000 at the first 5km event last year, event organizers Sara Sterling and her daughter Maddy continued the momentum. The proceeds to this years' event will work toward building a second school residency in Rwanda.

I was honoured to be involved in this event this year: a few of us from the clinic went over and volunteered by giving all the tired participants some post-race massage. It was wonderful to be involved with such a fantastic event and to be around a wonderful group of women and girls contributing their resources to support other women many miles away. All and all: a fantastic Mother's day!

For more information on Because I am a Girl, please go to:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Doing Vegas

Sometimes life is like a dream: from busting my butt at the clinic until 10pm finishing up paper work to waking up and finding myself in a plane that's landing at McCarran airport, it all seemed more than a little surreal.

Having thrown a few items into a carry-on by midnight, I closed my eyes for a 4-hour rest .. a 4:30am flat tire on route to the airport meant scrambling to reach my departure gate on time. Meeting my flight and connection with adrenaline intact seemed to be an appropriate way to land in Vegas.

I can't tell you much about my experience there - after all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas but, instead of my usual rambling research, let's talk a bit about Vegas culture. Vegas is blatantly excessive: from the 80 ounce flasks of tequila-rich margaritas to the full-sized roller coasters that line the strip. From breast enhancement surgeries that have inevitably led many women to require weekly chiropractic adjustments to male dancers that have abs so defined that you would swear they were painted on, Vegas is a place where people live out fantasies, where people can pretend to be something they aren't in real life and where this is completely acceptable.

After a day of exploring, I began to question the evolution of Vegas: how did this desert town become a haven of debauchery?

Its gone something like this: Vegas has always been a city for nomads, beginning with Paleo-Indians who would often use the valley as a rest stop. In 1829, Vegas was officially "discovered" by a European scout named Rafael Rivera, who came upon the valley and praised its abundance, from the lush wild grasses to the plentiful water supply. In the late 1800's, minerals including precious metals were discovered in Las Vegas which led to the beginning of the mining industry and perhaps the perpetual association between Vegas and anything glitter! The completion of the railway sealed Vegas' fate: Vegas became a railway town between Salt Lake City and Southern California. Soon, Vegas was known to provide more than just potable water to passers through: divorce laws were liberalized in the state of Nevada making "quickie" divorces (after 6 weeks of residency) available. Men waiting on these divorces stayed at "dude" ranches which offered wonderful opportunities for (then) illegal gambling and premature romantic rebounds. The construction of the Hoover Damn brought even more money into Vegas which supported the development of debauchery .. however real debauchery didn't actually start until after the second world war. In 1945, Vegas became the largest tourism and entertainment employer in the US however, it wasn't until 1957 that Vegas had its first topless showgirls show.

Fast forward to 2011: Vegas remains the place where you can get married and divorced in a matter of hours, where you really can find your wildest fantasies and where you can start out a rogue and leave a millionaire (or vice-versa).

So why exactly was I there? Well my friends, some things in life must remain a mystery!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Disease of Helplessness

Spring has finally graced us with some warmth. So after finishing a light 1/2 day of work, I jumped on my bike to take full advantage. Cycling out east at warp speed provided the illusion of considerably respectable fitness: surprising after a winter of creating a significant indentation on my favourite couch. Heading back west offered me the true reality of my current state: recovering sloth. In Ontario, we may not have mountains like the ones that abused me in France, but we do have wind .. and lots of it! Regardless of the challenge today, the experience left me with a feeling of gratification that I only really get from cycling.

On a kind of related note, I read a study the other day out of the University of Pennsylvania. Rats were grafted with the exact quantity of cancer cells known to induce a fatal tumour in 50 percent of them (it is related .. you'll see). The rats were divided into three groups: the control group were grafted and were left to live their lives as normal in the laboratory cage. The second grafted group received small, random electrical shocks which they had no control over receiving. The third grafted group also received random electrical shocks but were provided with a button that they could press to avoid getting extra shocks. One month after the graft, of the rats in the control group, 54% had rejected their tumour. The second group, the rats which received random shocks and had no control over them, demonstrated despondence: they lost their appetite for food and sex and did not respond to intrusions into their cage. 27% of these rats rejected the tumour. In the third group, the rats that received the shocks but had control over avoiding extra shocks, did not become despondent: they became agitated when their cage was intruded, they ate well, copulated as frequently as rats do in a normal environment and, most interestingly, 63% of these rats successfully rejected their tumours! Recall that this is a higher percentage than the rats who were left alone. The study suggests that the feeling of helplessness associated with receiving shocks and having no control was capable of hastening the tumour's spread.

The theories of a "cancer" personality have changed over the years. Initially, the type "C" personality was popular: the person who has never felt welcome in their childhood, the "really nice" people who avoid conflict and sacrifice themselves for others, the "saints" of our society. This theory has been rejected though, due to lack of scientific evidence supporting it.

Whatever the personality type, what does ring true from a science perspective is that there is an indisputable association between cancer and a feeling of helplessness. David Spiegel MD coupled with Yale psychotherapist Irvin Yalom MD and conducted a study involving women with metastatic breast cancer (this is the kind that has already spread beyond the breast tissue. It is much more serious). The expectant survival rate of the participants was between a few months to a few years. Groups of 8-10 women met weekly to develop relationships that facilitate attaining "powerful authenticity"through openness to others. In comparing the psychological states of the women in the meetings to those that had recieved the same diagnosis and were not participating, Spiegel noticed that the women who had participated in the group meetings experienced less depression, anxiety and physical pain. In addition, ten years after the diagnosis of their disease, when Spiegel evaluated the lifespan of the women participating in the group sessions compared to the ones who had not, three out of the original women from the group sessions were still alive (which is amazing in and of itself) verses none of the women from the group that had not participated. In addition, he discovered that the women who participated in the groups sessions lived an average of twice as long as the ones who had not participated. Spiegel concluded that the authentic relationships, the support, the empowerment that was achieved by those participating in the group sessions contributed to their better prognosis.

In addition, an alternative scientific study has demonstrated that women with breast cancer who were better able to face the disease psychologically had more active NK cells (immune cells that fight cancer) than those who sank into depression and helplessness.

I could go on and on citing studies but I think you all get the point. By bringing this to light I am, in no way, suggesting that cancer happens solely on the basis of psychology alone. Cancer is a complex disease with many contributing factors. I am suggesting however, that our state of mind plays a significant role in immune function and does influence our ability to fight cancer.

When it comes to helplessness, having strategies in place that allow you to access your power allows an avenue for cultivating a more positive mental outlook and, potentially, a healthier immune system. My strategy is cycling - I like to think that Lance Armstrong and I are alike in this (although I don't look quite as good naked and I'm not in the usual habit of comparing myself to Lance Armstrong in any realm of cycling)! In reading his book however, cycling as his coping strategy is clearly illustrated. He writes, "so long as I was on the bike, I knew that I was still alive". Riding gave Lance Armstrong the strength that he needed to persevere through cancer and treatment. In the depths of disease, finding hope, finding power, finding your ability to step out of helplessness can mean the difference between resilience and despondence. So, on days like today, when I'm fighting wind, riding about 2km/hr and wondering how I possibly rode the French Alps a few months ago when I can hardly get across Whitevale road, I take comfort in the fact that I may be weak but at least I'm not helpless.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Skinny on Skinny ...

As a kid, I was skinny: a genetic predisposition that occasionally led to name calling: parachute pants were in style at the time resulting in the unfortunate and politically incorrect "gail" reference of "Ethiopian in a bag"! My parents tried to fatten me up by changing "FRI"days to "FRY"days and force-fed me french fries at least once weekly!

As a teen, skinny began to mean something entirely different. With fashion magazines reinforcing skinny as beautiful, maintaining my skeletal genetics became of utmost importance! Walking four kilometres a day, to school and back, coupled with two aerobics classes on less than a few cookies and an apple became my norm. When I think back on my years from ages 14-18, I cannot fully comprehend how exactly I survived.

Anorexia (long-term calorie restriction to the point of starvation) is an interesting pathological disorder: from a mental-emotional perspective, anorexia gives the sufferer a sense of control when everything else in their lives seems completely out of control - it is a coping mechanism of sorts. From a patho-physiological perspective, the body attempts to maintain homeostasis in the event of starvation which results in an inability to determine hunger (due to a slower metabolic rate) and an inability to determine when the appetite has been satiated (an inability to determine fullness). This mechanism is implemented as a protective measure: if the anorexic begins to eat, the body does not initiate the feeling of fullness because it doesn't really want the person to stop eating! Chemically, low levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is found in anorexics. This neurotransmitter plays a key role in learning and memory: it's really no surprise that I was failing high school organic chemistry and couldn't add to save my life!

Anorexia and body dysmorphia are not conditions that an individual recovers from with ease: many physiological mechanisms are still in place long after an individual has achieved a healthier lifestyle. For instance, even now, I have a difficult time determining hunger and fullness - these mechanisms have never re-regulated themselves completely.

In athletics, anorexia and body dysmorphia are glaringly present. In a 2002 study of 425 female, university level athletes, 43% said they were terrified of being or becoming too heavy, 55% reported pressure to maintain a certain weight. I can appreciate this! Even years after my difficult eating challenges, while training to compete nationally (age 27, height 5ft 6.5", 106lbs), I was told by a coach that I would run faster if I lost a "good 5lbs". I never went back to that coach: better to run and not feel like collapsing and dying!

Anorexia is a complicated condition with a multitude of influencing factors. Recovery is a bit of a winding road with quite a few setbacks. Sometimes it is difficult to let go of behaviour patterns that don't serve us simply because they become our comfort zone. My disordered eating was an unhealthy behaviour pattern that I used to cope. Letting go of that pattern meant letting the illusion of control and the outside appearance of having it all together. This still feels vulnerable and chaotic sometimes, but at least now I have the chaos AND some curves!

**For additional information and statistics, please go to NEDIC: the National Eating Disorder Information Centre**

Friday, April 8, 2011

An Exciting Week in the World of Gail Sauer

There have been many times in my life when I have felt completely overwhelmed: like a ball of string with about a thousand loose ends, of which, none are true beginnings. This week, however, was a rare week in which those thousands of loose ends seemed to come together to form a beautiful and scripted pattern: a pattern of possibility and potential, a pattern of budding flowers timidly playing with their new found splendor, a pattern of birth and growth. Let me explain ...

Early in the week, I decided to take a trip to Dundas, Ontario to "shadow" one of the true pioneers in our naturopathic field. As a rule, it is unusual for an individual who is already practicing to indulge in a "preceptorship": we are all forced to do this as students to satisfy a certain number of required hours. As practicing doctors, we usually have too much ego and too little time to indulge in learning from the masters. I, however, after the IV weekend, decided that I need to continue being inspired by the roots of my profession: the true healers that have found the art in practice. So off I went to a 14 hour day of some of the most stimulating moments of learning in my career so far. I cannot say enough about how moved I was by the passion I witnessed, coupled with efficiency and true patient care. As humbling as it was, it was equally inspiring.

Midweek came and I checked the mail .. some of you know that, a few weeks back, I wrote a really "important" exam ("important" may not be entirely accurate, when we have nuclear reactor leaks on the other side of the world)! Needless to say, it was important in my little microcosm. Suspending my anxiety attack, I opened the envelope containing the results and to my shock and surprise, I passed every element of the exam (and it really was a shock: during the practical component of the exam, my examiners mistook me for a deer caught in headlights .. it was bad)!

Next my website, that has sat dormant for almost a year, was finally launched. My brother kindly bought me this domain for my birthday last year. Knowing nothing about website design, my dear and generous friend, Audrey, came to my rescue. It amazes me that I have such precious and generous friends in my life that are so willing to share their talents and lend a hand. I am so lucky and so blessed! Check out the site, if you get a chance. It's a work in progress, but it looks wonderful so far:

And now, Friday, the end of the week , my brother's birthday: I picked up the card brochures for the Women's Cycling Tour of the Alps (this is on my website). The tour is scheduled for Aug 20th-27th and is designed to give women who are intimidated by mountain cycling, a safe space in which to achieve their riding goals .. in a supportive and encouraging environment. It's exciting to think about the opportunity we all have to help each other to achieve our potential.

So, there you are: a week that makes me feel that maybe things have started to fall into place, a week that feels like the vision is slowly coming into fruition, a week that's inspiring and fun and that has made me feel so fortunate for the freedom that I have to create.

I will leave you with this .. in the Native Indian tradition, spring is said to be a time of creation; a time where ideas are put into action and a time where there is an abundance of energy to facilitate the growth of ideas. In the summer the ideas that are meant to move forward will flourish and in the fall (harvest time), we harvest the ideas that have produced fruit and discard the one's that have not served us. We are coming into spring: embrace your ideas and cultivate the forward energy of growth. It is time ....

Friday, April 1, 2011

Off Coffee, Trying to Avoid Homocide!

I have been drinking coffee since I was 8 years old. Call it child abuse or call the influence of my European roots, either way the beautiful caramel-roasted flavour and aroma has become a full blown addiction for me. It's an addiction that I have come to peace with really and have accepted as one of my few vices when it comes to healthy eating. Regardless of my peace, however, every year around this time I kick the habit in honour of a 4-6 week cleanse.

It always seems like a good idea .. a good idea that I almost get excited about. Then, around day 3, reality hits, cravings are through the roof, the coffee headache is at its most intense and I am ready to kill someone!

Now, coffee is an interesting little substance. 81% of Canadians drink coffee, 63% of Canadians over the age of 18 drink coffee on a daily basis, versus Americans where only 49% of people in the US drink coffee on a daily basis. The highest provincial consumption is in Quebec at 70% (oh, the French)!

So what's the deal with coffee then? Is it good or bad? Like anything, moderate consumption (2-3 cups of brewed coffee per day) is not going to put you at risk for any really awful pathology and may assist in optimizing short term memory. Dr. Koppelstatter MD, PhD (Medical University Innsbruck, Austria, 2005) conducted a study using fMRI scans after subjects consumed 100mg of caffeine through coffee (2 cups). When asked to perform exercises that required short term memory skills, subjects on coffee performed better and had noticeably improved short term memory.

Another study conducted in France by Karen Richie PhD (French Institute for Health and Medical Research, Montpellier, 2007), found that women over the age of 65 who consumed moderate amounts of coffee (3 cups of coffee/day) had less decline over time on tests of memory than women who drank one cup of coffee or less.

I find it especially interesting that many studies in support of coffee consumption are actually based out of Europe!

On the less beneficial side, coffee can increase your blood pressure, increase your heart rate, can cause sleep disturbance, can aggravate gastric acid reflux conditions (GERD) and can predispose susceptible individuals to migraine headaches. Caffeine also causes a cortisol surge, however, with regular consumption (or in my case, addiction), the surge is lessened (please see this study). Increased cortisol, due to stress as well as coffee consumption, is part of the reason for the increased blood pressure and increased pulse rate associated with a cup of java (anyone that does not drink coffee regularly and has a shot of expresso can tell you about this)! Cortisol in excess has been also associated with increased abdominal fat retention. This, of course, leads to increased pressure on the heart and visceral organs .. that isn't too good and in the long term, can be a contributing factor to heart disease. However, since the cortisol surge is lessened with regular consumption, if you are going to consume coffee, you might as well do it daily! :)

So here I am, writing this blog, drinking some matcha green tea (and trying to be happy about it) and wondering why I have a headache that resembles someone taking an axe to my cranium! A little digging revealed that caffeine/coffee increases cerebral blood flow velocity (that is, the rate at which blood travels through the brain). Yet another study found that people experiencing caffeine withdrawal had a decreased cerebral blood flow velocity .. which, we can extrapolate, less O2 (oxygen) getting to the brain. No wonder I'm having difficulty putting sentences together!

So what can I do about it - and what can all the people out there on a spring cleanse do about their caffeine withdrawal symptoms? First, find a replacement: green tea and matcha green tea are good options: they are high in antioxidants and have just enough caffeine to curb the headache a little. Second, incorporate activities that will increase the cerebral blood flow velocity. These means move! Exercise will increase blood flow - just don't jump around too much as this will likely aggravate your headache!! Third, be patient!! The withdrawal doesn't usually last more than a few days. Forth, if you are absolutely dying, have 1/4 cup of black tea or coffee just to take the edge of your discomfort and last, but definitely not least, warn everyone around you that they are at risk in your presence and really, really try not to kill anyone!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

1/2 Marathon Recap

I'm hoping your Sunday morning went a little more smoothly than mine! First, after a very long and treacherous drive through the fresh snowfall, a late arrival at the 1/2 marathon start line and soaking wet, slushy feet before the race even started, I ran about 4km of the 21 pain free; after which, I began to realize very quickly that I had no business being in that race this morning! This 1/2 marathon was the absolute worst 1/2 marathon that I have ever endured and my worst running performance ever!
Did I learn anything from throwing myself into a winter half-marathon without training properly? Well, yes! I learned that I will never ever, ever, ever do that again: it's way too painful, the weather is too unpredictable and it's simply demoralizing!
I also learned some compassion for those people out there that run events at a very moderate pace. Forever a runner and an athlete, I am accustomed to running a race pretty close to the front: there are a lot less people up there, which means, fewer people to dodge, fewer puddles to hit and fewer kicks in the ankles and legs! It is MUCH harder mid-pack! I honour and commend these people!
Now .. in order to completely distract you from my utter failure this morning: watch this video! It is a really cool video of a crazy downhill bike race in the slums of Brazil. I actually lost my stomach a few times on some of the jumps!! Enjoy lovely people .... :)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moments ..

My half marathon is scheduled for early March, a week today, in fact! I've been doing a little training, but still I'm feeling rather unprepared. Anyone who has ever run a half marathon will tell you that, when it comes to distance running, the half marathon is an attainable distance. If you run regularly (4-5x/week), you could probably get a half marathon under your belt with a minimal amount of extra training. Since I've neither recently indulged in the regular running, nor the extra training, I had a long run planned for this morning (as a last ditch attempt).

When my plans went arye do an unforseen physiological event last night (more on that another day), I overslept and missed my group run. Initially, I felt rather guilty for not forcing my exhausted, depleted and drained body out of the bed and onto the road. You see, there is something about being an athlete: being an athlete assumes that you regularly push your body beyond its limit. This needs to happen for the body to become stronger, faster and better adjusted to the physical demands imposed on it. As an unfortunate result however, athletes will push themselves even when their bodies are screaming for a rest!

Since my body was screaming for a rest, this was my day of resisting the guilt and loathing that is usually experienced from missing a fundamental training run: after a double Nespresso with almond milk and a visit with the morning paper, my sin was absolved. From here, my Sunday opened up to me. This is often the beauty that comes with welcoming the moment and letting go of diligent planning.

As you can see from the photos on this post, I ended up east of the city today for a little winter hiking, fit with a friend I haven't seen in months, a few great dogs, a little campfire and herbal tea and even cute little snowmen that welcomed us along our path: all the gifts of spontaneity!

Sometimes a little rest and a little less training is the best thing: for the body and for the mind!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Attraction: "LAW" or simply "Legislation Waiting to be Passed"?!

I've been listening to the Abraham Hicks meditations lately after one of the massage therapists at our clinic has raved about the change it has affected in her life: from better communication to attracting financial abundance, apparently, these meditations are the greatest thing since sliced bread! And since the meditations were sold out the first day that they were launched, they must be worth something.

So, what has my experience been with this "law". Well, it hasn't been going quite as well as I had hoped when it comes to facilitating life change. However, I am likely part of the problem when it comes to not moving forward! Esther and Jerry Hicks (the creators and inspiration behind the Abraham Hicks meditations and much of the information contained in the movie The Secret) suggest that our vibration attracts what resonates with it. They offer the example of Mike Tyson who has earned billions of dollars in his career yet struggles with debt. Esther and Jerry explain this phenomena by looking at how Mike Tyson's vibration is conditioned to be in poverty: he was poverty stricken growing up and has adopted that vibration and, as a result, he creates being in debt as his reality because it is the vibration that he resonates with most. Make sense?!

Let's take this example a little closer to home: I believe that I have some pretty bad car karma. If I was to make an illegal U-turn at exactly the same time as someone else, on that same road, with the same cops looking on, I would surely be the one pulled over and ticketed. I have it in my head - through much conditioning over many years - that my car, having my license and parking anywhere in Toronto is going to result in tickets, expenses that I haven't budgeted for and much frustration .. so - despite my listening religiously to these meditations as an attempt to change my vibration - I have, as of Thursday last week, attracted yet another unfortunate car expense!

This is not the end of the world, but continues to be an obstacle to me going forward financially. What can I do to change this vibration? Well, according to the Law of Attraction, I need to be making a more conscious attempt to change my cognitive habits from "I keep being blindsided by unexpected car expenses!" to "I like the feeling of well-being that comes with not having unexpected car expenses".

It is an interesting thing that Esther Hicks speaks about in the informational video on their website. She talks about being in the "Vortex", in "alignment" or in connection with your "vibrational source" and describes this as a feeling of being in the flow, of empowerment, joy, happiness, a connection in which everything falls in line or comes together. I think we've all had these moments: whether its getting into your zone through exercise, or doing that amazing presentation at work where there are no obstacles and everything just flows or whether it's those days with your romantic partner that feel simply perfect! We all know the feeling, but how do we create this feeling more frequently and keep in the flow when we're there? Well, instead of asking for the things that we don't have (because in doing this, we put energy into the absence that exists), we need to bring awareness to the feeling of possessing the things we want. For instance, instead of "I really want/need a new car", change that to "I like the feeling of well-being that comes with driving a new car". In this way, we are able to create the vibration of driving a new car .. and from here we can attract that into our lives.

And so my meditations will continue with the acute objective of taking myself seriously when I say that I like the feeling of well-being that comes with owning that gorgeous, little, $600 000 house that I am so in love with and not breaking the bank at the same time! And, now that the ball is rolling: I like the feeling of well-being that comes with never get wrinkly and having my lean fit body until I turn 90 years old! Enough said people, let the attraction begin ...

**FYI: the Abraham Hicks meditations are now an iPhone app .. it does use a lot of data though. For more information on Esther and Jerry Hicks and the Law of Attraction, check out their website.**

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Honour of Valentine's Day ..

Happy belated Valentine's Day to everyone out there! I am a day late in this post due to some unforeseen Valentine's Day events: editing articles for today's Markham Stouffville Hospital Health Fair, which I was honoured to be a part of. I know, I know .. it sound pathetic spending Valentine's Day engrossed in medical data! I may be pathetic .. but at least I'm pathetic and smart! :)

Considering V-day, let's talk about the heart. So, it's interesting to note that there is an undeniable correlation between depression and heart disease! When we talk mortality, depression ALONE doubles mortality risk; heart disease ALONE increases risk by two thirds. It is interesting to note, as Scientific America Mind (Jan-Feb 2011) did by summarizing a study, that, on any given day, individuals with both depression and heart disease were approximately five times more likely to die than their peers!

This peaked my curiosity so I began researching the mechanism of action of this lethal pair. Early research shows that individuals that suffer from depression are at greater risk for developing a heart condition, including arteriosclerosis, arrhythmias and MI (myocardial infarction or heart attack). As I delved a little deeper, I found that the physiological explanation to why depression leads to and can worsen heart disease is still unclear. An article called Biological Mechanisms in the Relationship Between Depression and Heart Disease reviews the scientific data and the theories associated with this correlation: it is plausible that people who have had a cardiac incident can become depressed which negatively impact lifestyle and increase their chances of another cardiac incident. On the other hand, people that are depressed already, may not be indulging in healthy eating and exercise which could contribute to them acquiring heart conditions. This, although relevant, is simply a contributing factor. The situation is seemingly more complicated that just lifestyle: depression is associated with dysregulation of the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). Studies indicated that the feedback loop of this axis is impaired in depressed individuals resulting in an increase in glucocorticoid production. This causes a cascade of events that lead to an increase in corticotropoid releasing hormone which acts in the brain to increase your stress response. More circulating norepinephrine and epinephrine act to increase heart rate and contractility which can predispose individuals to heart disease and increase their risk of cardiac incident. I could continue with the pathophysiology of it all (the research study is 17 pages long) but I will spare you!

Considering the unfortunate circumstance of living in dark, cold Canada in the month of February and knowing that there is an nice, tidy association with heart disease and depression, what is a girl like me to do?!

According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) there is a distinctive heart-mind connection. Balancing the heart-mind connection usually involves cooling the body with foods that are simple and nourishing: unrefined grains like wheat (germ) and brown rice will "cool" the heart and provide your body with much needed magnesium (a natural muscle relaxant that slightly dilates blood vessels) and B vitamins which mitigate stress. Mind-body techniques such as listening to uplifting music will induce a happier state of mind consequently interrupting the negative cascade of endocrine dominoes which eventually lead to heart pathology. Increasing serotonin by ingesting l-tryptophan-rich miso soup on a nightly basis will help you balance mood and avoid the winter blues that lead to seasonal depression. And if all this fails, pack up and move to a sunny, hot destination spot and fall in love over and over again to keep the positive endorphins flowing ... or just run a marathon daily, which will produce the same endorphin rush (despite the eventual need for bilateral knee replacement surgery). Regardless of which you choose, make sure you have fun doing it!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Poke Worth Talking About!

Last weekend was a cold one in my part of the world: a perfect weekend to spend inside on a romantic getaway with one of my favorite men. Have I peaked your interest? Well, let me start by saying that, as difficult as it might be to believe, I did not end up on a romantic getaway with hot Dr. Andre La Gerche (see Breaking the Athlete's Heart)! Instead, I spent a 4-day weekend with Dr. Paul Saunders with a whole lot of poking that was absent of orgasm but full of satisfaction. Yes people, I survived the parenteral therapy course: the first step to qualifying me as an ND that practices IV therapy.

This may not seem very exciting to you: the prospect of spending a weekend with 16 of my colleagues taking turns sticking each other with intravenous lines, but .. for a geek like me .. it was a very engaging weekend that left me feeling stimulated with new information and buzzing with the fresh energy of IV nutrients coursing through my veins.

So, how does this translate into information that you guys, as active, health-seeking individuals can appreciate? Well, for those of you who are athletes, IV therapy is a beautiful way to increase your energy and improve your recovery post workout! There are a variety of substances that are used in IV therapy: from nutrients, to herbs, to amino acids, to vitamins along with a variety of reasons that a Naturopathic Doctor might prescribe IV therapy including athletic support, asthma, migraines, cancer support, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and Parkinson's. From my experience, both as a recipient and a practitioner who has witnessed the benefits of IV, this therapy is a beautiful adjunct (and occasionally sole) treatment for both healthy and compromised individuals.

A weekend of treatment (and a number of extra holes in my arms) left me feeling somewhat bruised but with an energy that I have not experienced in quite a while. A little bounce in my step is always welcome, especially a few weeks before having to run a half marathon (which I am not entirely prepared for)! And speaking of the half marathon, here is Tip #2:

Find a licensed Naturopathic Doctor who is board certified for IV therapy and get hooked up for a few treatments. The practitioner will create a cocktail appropriate for your constitution, concerns and athletic goals. Get ready to run fast and recover well!! Please take note: if you are competing in elite or pro categories, ANY IV administration is banned - it does not matter WHAT substances you are actually administering, the simple act of administering via blood infusion, is banned in higher level competition .. so save IV for your off season!

Considering my lack of training, I may have to run the half marathon with an IV line sticking out of my arm. This may increase my risk of having a little fall and breaking a wrist or leg. However, since beating my trash-talking colleague is of utmost importance, I believe the risk may be warranted!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lifting the Roadway Restriction ..

As some of you recall from my December post, Are YOU Roadway Restricted?, I was in the process of embracing my winter weight. Well, it's now well into 2011: time to re-evaluate resigning to weight gain and embracing positive change. As every athlete knows, a period of rest from intensive exercise is important for both physical and mental rejuvenation; but how how do you get back into athletic shape after months of rest, aka: slothfulness?!

Let me tell you what not to do: when one of my beloved colleagues suggested a few weeks ago that we do a spring half marathon as a clinic .. "it'd be fun", he chimed ... I was reluctant to commit. After a bit of encouragement (more like trash-talk), I agreed to be a sport. I mean, I've done a million half marathons before .. whats one more, right? I had a plan: run a little, get in OK shape and kick my colleagues a**!

After a few short runs and inhibiting soreness, I thought it might be a good idea to change it up a little. Afterall , we live in Canada: why not get the heart pumping with some good ol' cross country skiing? A 5 hour break a the clinic a few days ago offered the perfect opportunity: change into ski stuff, take a quick drive up to the trails, get out there for 1.5 hours -a quick 15km - then back to the clinic for my last few clients: genius!

The sking itself was not the issue, it's been the inability to get out of bed, walk, put on pants, sit down and get up without looking (and sounding) 95 years old and bend to tie or zip up my boots. Yes people, going from nothing to a fast 15km ski is NOT the way to get back in shape, unless you'd like to kill yourself in the process.

I am fortunate to not have suffered long lasting injury but doing this CAN cause injury, serious injury: stress, strain, sprain (possible tear) and pain. Not a desirable consequence for any athlete!

To re-start your workout regime for the upcoming season, take tip #1:

We're still in January: No need to rush things!!! Start slow and peak well. If you've been inactive for a while, go out for a short (5km), easy run the first time or a bit of spinning on the trainer. Be sure to stretch and enjoy an Epsom salts bath after your workout (2 cups of Epsom salts for a 20-minute, warm soak).

When I can sit on the toilet without releasing embarassing groans, I'll be back to my half marathon training: follow the next few weeks for updates, to support my journey and show my colleague who is boss on the half marathon circuit! :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pellets or Placebo?

There is often an interesting timing that happens with certain events in life. I practice at a clinic called Balanced Living a portion of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) called "Markham". At one time, Markham was a small town with one main street, no "mall" and was moated by farmland and trees. Despite the fact that Markham has become a place of sprawling suburbia and new condos, it tries to maintain it's small town charm. It has its own little newspaper that lists it's own little community goings-on and that features it's own little yearly awards to various up and coming businesses. Included in these awards are the "Readers Choice Awards" which feature "Markham's best voted Massage Therapist" and "Markham's best voted Homeopath" and the "Markhams best voted Reflexologist". Unfortunately, there is no award "the best voted Naturopathic Doctor", however, because NDs use homeopathic medicines, yours truly was nominated for AND WON the Homeopath award! All of us at the clinic were thrilled, not only because I obtained my first award, but also because Fiona Thompson, one of our Massage Therapists also won!
The celebration of last Thursday night was short lived. 24 hours after I was informed of my new title as best "Homeopath", a 20 minute feature on CBC Marketplace discussing homeopathy as both an “unproven practice” and a “scam that is not evidence-base” was aired.
So, lets talk about this a little. First, as a Naturopathic Doctor, I have a 4-year, post graduate degree in Naturopathic Medicine which is an evidenced-based medicine that has qualified me to practice like an MD but naturally: I perform physical exams (the same ones you might get from your MD), draw blood (phlebotomy), treat with acupuncture, chinese medicine, homeopathy, botanical medicine, lifestyle counselling, nutrition, bodywork (massage), chiropractics and nutrition, to name a few. As you can see, Naturopathic Medicine encompasses a broader scope of practice than simply homeopathy.
Now let's talk a little about the homeopathy controversy: does it work? Homeopathic medicines are based on a theory on micro-dosing. This involves taking a chemical constituent and diluting it to a minuscule amount. Traditional homeopathic preparations are in the form of small pellets that are dissolved under the tongue, which contain lactose as part of their base. Interestingly, the "study" performed for CBC Marketplace involved evaluating homeopathics for the amount of active substance in them: the researcher concluded that there is no active ingredient in homeopathic preparations and that they are simply sugar pills. This is already well known by practitioners who use homeopathy: despite there being no detectable ingredient, the homeopathic still contains the energetic "blueprint" of the original substance which is undetectable in the laboratory. Sound like a scam .. well, ya, kind of sounds like it ...
The television feature went on to say that there are no research studies supporting the efficacy of homeopathic medications. This is true: most of the research out there is in the form on case studies on a variety of individuals that have had success with homeopathic preparations. But why are there no double-blind, placebo trials, you ask?? Well, for starters, homeopathics don't work the same way as pharmaceuticals: there is no one homeopathic designed for folliculitis, for instance. Homeopathics are prescribed on the basis of a collection of signs and symptoms as opposed to one pathology. So, two people with folliculitis might be given two entirely different homeopathic preparations that work equally well. Because the preparations are so individually prescribed, it would be very difficult to do a double-blind placebo trial on one homeopathic medicine for one specific pathology. Make sense?
And what about their effect? Do they really work? In my practice, I am in the habit of using homeopathic medicine in conjunction with other naturopathic interventions. So, what's working? Well, fortunately, I am not a lab and don't have to submit data! Perhaps my patients improve strictly because of the homeopathic or perhaps it's due to the counselling we often indulge in together or maybe other naturopathic nutraceuticals (natural medicines) bring success or perhaps it's even a combination of all of these things, the bottom line is that I see changes that can be measured scientifically: through blood work and through physical exams (blood pressure, etc). Would I used homeopathic in a case of breast cancer? Personally, I would not as both MDs and NDs recognize that there are more effective natural and pharmaceutical approaches for cancer care.
A significant part of what we do as Naturopathic Doctors is to encourage the body to find its own equilibrium so that it can heal itself. Encouraging the body to heal involves correcting physiological imbalances. There is extensive research supporting the mind's role in healing: meditation has been proven to assist in lowering blood pressure for instance. So, really, whether the little sugar pill assists in healing or whether the result is attributable to a placebo effect created by the mind's belief that homeopath medicine does work, doesn't really matter in practice. The bottom line is that people are getting better and, isn't that why we are in this business?

Check out the CBC Marketplace feature here:

Check out an abstract supporting the blood pressure lowering effect of meditation: