Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Good, Hard Look in the Mirror

I make an effort to live a life of peace. I make an effort to eat well, to give myself time, to find joy, to feel love. I make an effort to be in harmony in all aspects of my life. But, on occasion, something will happen that drives me into a state of passionate rage. Inside me, it feels like an unyielding ocean storm liberating a wave of devastation.

From time to time, we all feel anger. Anger is human. From time to time, we all blame others for our anger. Blame is also human. In an effort to resolve anger in a healthy way, we need to suspend both the anger and blame, and .. from time to time .. we all need to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

Anger towards another human being or situation is an excellent opportunity to take a step back and see what it is about the situation or other person that you are not willing to accept within yourself. People and situations that evoke a volatile emotional response are simply mirrors for us to see our own unloved parts: places of shame, resentment, judgement. Often our resentment and dislike towards others reflects our resentment and dislike towards ourselves.

I've been looking in the mirror lately, and it is not a pretty sight.
In finding peace with anger, first we need to welcome the anger as a teacher. Second, evaluate what it is about ourselves we are angry with or not accepting. Third, let go of our anger and work on coming into a place of love for self. Once that happens, acceptance of the other person or situation will necessarily flow.

I leave you with this Rumi wisdom:

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Wecome and entertain them all! ....

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughting and invite them in.

be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Can't Be "Beet"!

After asking him whether he was wearing lipstick or not, my cycling-crazed, mountain climbing friend Steve, responded, "Noooo, it's my newest thing: beetroot juice to improve my time on the bike"!
You see, Steve tries everything he can to have an advantage over me up the mountain and has a distinct habit of taking complete advantage of my naivety. So, despite the fact that, as a naturopath, I've been drinking beet juice and eating beets for years, there was a cynical part of me that imagined Steve feeding me pints of liquid beet and laughing all the way up the mountain, as I suffered on the side of the road from beet-induced (red) .. shall we say .. digestive distress!

Beetroot juice for athletic performance, Yay or Nay? This is how it works: beetroot has high levels of nitrate (NO3). When ingested, NO3 reduces to NO2 (nitric oxide) and can decrease the need for (inhaled) oxygen for muscle contraction and efficiency. Because there is an increase in oxygen in the blood as a result of the reduction of NO3 to NO2, muscles are necessarily supplied with more oxygen, thus reducing the perceived, necessary amount of inhaled oxygen for optimal muscle efficiency. In essence, when tested on rats, the rats that received a dose of beetroot juice before exercise had improved blood flow and increased O2 delivery to fast twitch, type-II muscle.

Studies were conducted initially out of the Netherlands and have been repeated since with varying results: some favourable, some inconclusive.
Regardless of improving muscle efficiency and performance, we should all be eating beets anyway: they are an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, including B's, and minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese. In addition, beets contain glycine betaine which lowers homocysteine levels in the blood. High homocysteine levels are associated to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eat the green tops to maintain vision, which is high in vitamin A!

Cooking is easy: the roots can simply be baked in foil in the oven. After baking, you can remove the tough, outer skin before eating (I don't bother)!
The greens can be steamed and eaten as a side, put in soup, or lightly sautéed as a salad topper.
Whenever possible, try to buy organic!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Celebrating Sex or Talent .. or Both?

I first saw the "sexy" video of Michelle Jenneke a few days ago when I was between patients at work. Sometimes I click on random "Yahoo News" videos to pass the five minutes of waiting: one of my guilty pleasures! Conscious of the other practitioners and patients at the clinic, I turned the volume off before I played the video. At first glance, I observed a beautiful, spirited 19 year old girl, warming up for her race. What was striking to me about the video was, not only how stunning a woman Michelle Jenneke is, but also how much she smiled while she was both warming up and coming to the end of her race: the smile was plastered from cheek to cheek before she reached the finish line! In addition to her absolute and obvious joy in the experience of her sport, I noticed her complete focus and strength throughout the entire 100 metres of hurtles. It is refreshing to see a woman so talented, so focused, so committed to training and competing and so blatantly blissful in the experience of racing. With all of these positive things to focus on about Michelle Jenneke's performance, I find it interesting that she is being celebrated for solely the sexiness of her warm up.

In the many articles depicting the particular roles and talents of the various riders in the Tour de France 2012, I've seen glorious pictures of beautiful male cyclists moving through picturesque French landscapes. Interestingly and surprisingly though, I have not seen any photos of Bradly Wiggins (the winner of the 2012 TDF ) with captions referencing how sexy he looks in his yellow jersey and bib shorts. Perhaps this is because Mr. Wiggins looks more goofy than sexy - but THAT is beside the point!

As female sport has become popularized, I have noticed more focus on the sexiness of the athletes than the grandeur of their accomplishments. Although this disappoints me to some extent, the silver lining comes with the recognition of females in sport. Part of being a woman is being beautiful. If this fact leads to more women in sport obtaining media exposure, I suppose it is a start. Perhaps this will lead to the eventual appreciation of their talents opposed to just their appearances.

**To fully appreciate Michelle Jenneke's hurdle performance, I would suggest turning your computer's volume off!**

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tour Mania ..

For anyone following the Tour de France, tomorrow (July 12th) the tour will ride through the same village I visit yearly and guide a bike tour from: Albertville! If you are watching, watch for the Col de Madeleine. Take note of my picture (left) .. you will see the same summit tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Riding the Wave

This post speaks to the last one May 14th titled Life: An Opportunity for Resilience .. Perhaps I am being moved to write this because of the challenge I see in people around me or perhaps I am reiterating this as a reminder to myself!
I was out on a 100-km ride yesterday. I have often commented that I "much prefer to ride my bike in Europe" and that I find Ontario "boring" with its absence of anything greater in gradient than an anthill! Sounds pretentious, doesn't it?! I air these frivolous woes with quite a supercilious disposition: pompous and patronizing, you would think I am nothing less than cycling royalty!
Yesterday's ride changed my mind: heading north, wind at my back and effortless pedalling allowed me to really look around. Beautiful Ontario farms, stretches of forest and the smell of poplar buds and fresh pine graced my senses. It is in these moments that I feel like my life is perfect. It is when life is flowing with me and I am riding the wave of the wind, that I see and experience beauty.
This beauty however, went as quickly as it came, when I realized the head-wind turning south. A few moments of struggling against it in the extreme heat, coupled with a wrong turn led to a shortage of water and quick dehydration. I went from travelling 38+ km/hr without effort to struggling against wind, gumby-legged and the efficiency of jello at 22km/hour. I had "cracked".
Panic did not set in however, because I am all to familiar with this "cracking". The mind begins to wander, the breath becomes laboured, the feeling of effort does not translate to your recorded speed and thoughts that your odometer MUST be broken, cross your mind.
In these moments of really trying to get home, I got to thinking: how interesting is it that on the effortless journey north, all I perceived was beauty and wonder. However, now travelling through the same scenery against challenge, I cannot see beauty for the life of me regardless of it being ever present. It is an interesting metaphor for life really: when challenge faces us, all the beauty that is STILL in the present moment is absolutely imperceptible due to the shroud of our own experience.
In an experience of synchronicity, I came across this short video last night (yes, I did make it home - and beauty was restored after a few large glasses of water and some much needed food)!
Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about finding beauty in every moment despite our subjective experience of it. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fpLGpeeW5c

Monday, May 14, 2012

Life: An Opportunity for Resilience

I have come to conclude in this short time that I have had on this earth that life is wrought with challenge. I've seen it in my travels: to India, where poverty eats at the soul and awareness of our North American abundance gnaws at my thoughts. I've seen it in my practice with illnesses of both the spirit and the physiological self. I've seen it in my own life when my triumphs have been quickly stolen away with devastating loss. I have come to conclude that life is truly wrought with challenge.

I do believe however, that we have a choice in terms of what we do with the challenges we face. There is a strange beauty in every experience if we are willing to see the good, the lesson and the power in our resilience.

I came across this art exhibit, The Scar Project, that showcases women who have been challenged with breast cancer, subsequent surgery and their journey to power in accepting their new selves. I found it not only beautiful but completely inspiring. These women have stepped out of the negative, surpassed the grief and have allowed themselves to realize their beauty, their resilience and their ability to be complete despite having parts of themselves removed.

Please take a look - it's awesome.
Thanks for reading ...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Alzheimer's Disease & Coconut Oil

My weight loss group is always surprised when I lecture on the importance of fatty acids in the diet. Ingesting fat for a society focused on skinny seems counter-intuitive. The discussion becomes even more interesting when I begin to outline the beneficial properties in coconut oil!
The saturated fat in coconut oil has been long associated with elevated cholesterol levels. This association is not entirely incorrect since coconut oil does in fact increase HDL (good) cholesterol. This rise in HDL cholesterol, however, is good for the body. Since coconut oil increases HDL (good) cholesterol without affecting LDL (bad) cholesterol, it creates a more favourable ratio of LDL:HDL.
More recent research on coconut oil has suggested that the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil may have some beneficial effect on the Alzheimer's brain. Alzheimer's disease involves a decreased uptake of glucose by brain cells. Because glucose is the main sugar feeding the cells of the brain and promoting their normal function, a decreased uptake of glucose translates into decreased and impaired cellular function and, consequently, brain activity.
Medicine has long known that ketones are an alternate fuel for brain cells. What has been found in the Alzheimer's brain is, despite the fact that glucose uptake is impaired, ketone uptake is not. Providing the brain with this alternate fuel may preserve and improve brain function.
Where does coconut oil fit into this picture then? Ketones are typically produced by the liver when your systemically circulating glucose is low (low blood sugar), during a period of fasting (sleep, etc). The issue in Alzheimer's is that so long as we are eating, our blood sugar will not be low enough to result in ketone production. This results in the brain not having access to this alternate fuel. However, if ketones are available to the brain on a continued basis, brain function will improve. Fortunately, the metabolism of medium chain triglycerides produces ketones regardless of blood sugar status .. AND coconut oil is one of the best sources of medium chain triglycerides!
Could altering the prognosis of cognitive outcome in the Alzheimer's patient be that easy? Apparently, YES! This video was brought to my attention as a phenomenal example of the wonderful therapeutic potential of coconut oil. It is inspiring to see that some MDs are willing to acknowledge the promise of naturopathic therapies! Please watch: CBN News - Mary Newport MD (click on the link .. also please look beyond the 20-second advert for the religious book)!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Confessions of a Failed Commuter

I've had to gather my courage and suspend my pride to write this particular blog post .. hence the delay. In September, I committed to the grand idea of parking my car, taking the insurance off and commuting everywhere via bicycle and public transit. My intention was to embark on this endeavor for a year.
Let's talk about what has come of this ambitious undertaking: in a nutshell, I failed miserably! However, it may not be for the reasons you would think!
The unravelling began when I almost got hit by an SUV on a Markham residential street which sent me scraping the curb and scrambling for balance (so I wouldn't end up UNDER the vehicle). As an experienced cyclist, this wasn't really that big a deal. However, it did get me thinking, "if this is happening on clean roads in broad daylight, what is going to happen in snow and complete darkness?".
Arriving at work and having to sit through patient visits with wet pants after being unexpected caught in a downpour didn't do anything for my level of enthusiasm! In addition, specifically taking a road with a designated bike lane only to find that the lane was full of parked cars, was a little infuriating!
The clincher came though when I was scheduled to be at a conference for the weekend in Mississauga. After checking into public transit and realizing that it would take approximately 3 hours to get to my destination from Markham (due to the absolute inefficiency of public transit in the GTA), I explored renting a car as an option. Renting a car at a cost of $450 for the weekend seemed absolutely ridiculous considering putting my own car back on the road for 6 months about $900!
Some of you may be asking why I didn't get a zip car. Well, there are no zip car - like options for the Markham resident. The GO train/bus schedule is so limited that getting to a zip car location from Markham before 10am on a weekend is impossible!
I think a lot about my roots: my relatives in the Netherlands - my 16 year old cousin who will hop on his bicycle and ride 25 very safe kilometres to go a visit a friend in a neighbouring town. There is a lot of me that is frustrated with the lack of infrastructure to support such healthy, active lifestyles. I am beginning to realize that this lack has less to do with finances and more to do with our willingness to passively accept what we have verses taking a stand for what we want.
Take a look at this video: it is a excellent depiction of what the Netherlands went through to create the progressive, world-renowned cycling infrastructure that they have today. Let's hope that we can follow suit! How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths (Click on the title)

**FYI: The Toyota Echo and my beautiful red commuter have come to accept that they must share me and have developed an amicable and functional relationship as a result.**

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Creating a Community to Achieve Health

I found myself in Buffalo on the weekend where I had the pleasure of lecturing to 30+ amazing women who belong to the Breast Cancer Support group at the Buffalo Cancer Centre. In my experience, cancer support groups are not what people typically think they are: instead of being a opportunity to focus on the grave reality of the cancer situation at hand, these groups are often a space of love, joy, peace, spirituality and health. Instead of focusing entirely on the illness, there is often talk of what's happening on the weekend, the latest interesting book, restaurants, performances, children .. the list goes on.
At the PMH (Princess Margaret Hospital) cancer support group (www.healingjourney.ca), I can typically pick out the attendees in the elevator based on their positive disposition. More often than not, I'm correct! I find it interesting to note that the people with cancer are in better spirits than those who are likely in much better physical health!
What do support groups do with people that are facing life threatening illness? According to research featured in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, women who were isolated before breast cancer diagnosis had a 66% increase risk of all-cause mortality and a two-fold increase risk in breast cancer mortality compared to women who were socially integrated. Women without family, children or close friends had elevated risks of both breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality compared to women with the most social ties.
This is telling! No doubt, the women with families likely have more complete care (meals made for them, increased exercise, etc) which certainly affects prognosis. However, emotional support, love and joy found through companionship are equally important. For people facing cancer without this companionship, these social groups can be a lifeline.
For those of us not facing cancer, we cannot forget that sense of community is equally important for us in maintaining health. Part of being human is indulging in companionship, loving and laughing together and sharing our lives. And for single people, absence of a romantic partner does not mean absence of companionship and community. Companionship can be found through different people in a variety of social groups from wine tasting socials to cycling clubs. Taking steps to create community can happen before the wake up call of a cancer diagnosis: it can be as simple as saying good morning to people at your local coffee shop!