Recently at the naturopathic medical school where I teach I was approached by two students requesting that I record a guided meditation for students to use during final exams. I was pleasantly surprised, and curious about the request ... why me?
They told me that it was important to them that the person making the recording be authentic. They said that when I teach, I seem very calm and peaceful.
I found this very interesting. I have been teaching for close to a decade and a half, and throughout that time I've struggled with the dichotomy in the student feedback I receive. Very consistently I hear two strong themes. The first is that I am smart, strong, passionate, and a good role model - especially for women. The second strong theme is that I am unapproachable and intimidating.
This has always intrigued me. I'm the same person. I'm unaware of changing my persona from student to student. However, while some people are in a place in their journey where my assertiveness and confidence is motivating and exciting, others find it off-putting. As I've explored this over the years, I've played with looking at it from different perspectives. From one angle, I could simply say, "This is me - unapologetically me - if you don't like it, that's a you problem." From another angle, I could feel the need to hide my light and be less demanding in order to make others more comfortable.
As almost always, the wisest approach is a hybrid of the two. I have been sitting with the Serenity prayer over the past little while, reflecting on what role I have to play in situations, and what I can release. I don't ask anything from anyone that I don't ask of myself ... which is part of the struggle. My current prayer is to balance the pursuit of excellence with compassion towards myself. I have been working on fostering that, believing that it will spill over in my interactions with others. From a practical perspective, this means that when my students (or patients! or kids!) haven't done what we've contracted to do (prepare for a class; make the lifestyle change we discussed; done their chores), my role is to have compassion and curiosity about the obstacles to success. As the original serenity prayer acknowledges, the path to peace is often along a difficult road.
A very helpful tool along the way has been Metta, or loving-kindness meditation. I have danced with various types of meditative approaches over the years but I don't currently have a seated practice. I believe I am becoming more skilled at moment-to-moment mindfulness, and am practicing yoga quite regularly, but I have struggled with other types of meditation. Other than loving-kindness.
I find this style beautiful and healing. I was first exposed to it through song at my church - a simple, yet powerful musical prayer that consistently brings me to tears. When I discovered that this was a core practice of Buddhism, I found myself drawn to its cultivation. I can be moved to anger and disappointment quite easily; I find that practicing loving-kindness is powerful at fostering compassion ... both towards myself (where it needs to be directed most of all) and towards others. And how fascinating that students - at least two of them - are feeding back to me that I am, "calm and peaceful." I must be making progress along that road.
Different scripts phrase the sentiment in different ways, but the central theme is to extend a prayer for peace and serenity to oneself; to one's loved ones; to one's acquaintances; to those to whom the prayer is a struggle; and to the wider world. I find it nourishing and calming.
If you're curious to learn more about loving-kindness meditation, visit:
There are many resources available to explore this style, and every meditation app that I've used offers guided versions. May you be at peaceful and at ease.
A recent publication in the journal of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors; a meander through the evolution of my understanding of cultural sensitivity.
I recently held a workshop at my clinic and my local library to chat about the top habits that can promote good health (and thanks to all of you who responded to my survey!). None of this is rocket science, but these behaviours go a really long way to keeping everyone in your family at their best. It can be tricky sometimes to stay on top of making good lifestyle choices; for each of these habits, I encourage you to consider if you're doing well, or if you could use some work. Consider how motivated you are to make a change - even a small one. What's in your way? How could you overcome whatever obstacles are preventing you from being at your best? Start small - make one small, tangible and measurable change for the better and see how it feels! Enjoy!
1. Eat more fruits and veggies
Increasing fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods increases fiber (critical for good digestive function), improves satiety (helpful for moderate caloric intake), increases anti-oxidants (necessary to reduce cell damage and aging), and offsets the consumption of less healthy options. Aim for at least 7 servings of brightly-coloured fruits and veggies daily!
2. Drink more water (or herbal tea)
Minor dehydration leads to sluggishness, brain fog, constipation and irritability. Drinking more water (coffee, juice, pop and alcohol don’t count) boosts cognitive and physical performance, clears the mind, elevates energy, promotes detoxification and helps maintain a healthy weight. Try keeping a refillable water bottle with you that you aim to drain at least twice per day. Check out my recent post on the subject for more inspiration!
3. Get outside
Time spent outside reduces stress, increases physical activity, and nourishes environmental stewardship. It may also support our natural symbiosis with microorganisms, which is good for our immune systems - especially the kids’. Aim for at least 30 minutes outside daily. Check out David Suzuki's 30x30 Challenge!
4. Go to bed
We all have different needs for sleep, but getting what our bodies need is important for stress management, immune system function, healthy body composition, mood and mental health. Try to have a consistent bed- and wake-time, create an optimal sleep environment (dark, comfortable, quiet), and keep screens out of the bedroom! Take a look at the recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation for your sweet spot!
5. Move your body
Nothing is more critical to good health than physical activity. From promoting healthy body composition, to encouraging detoxification and elimination, to improving cognitive function, it’s tough to do too much. Aim for 30-60 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity (get your heartrate up, break a sweat) every day, and increase from there. Check out the Canadian guidelines - how are you doing??
6. Detoxify your stuff
We are swimming in sea of over 80,000 industry-made chemicals, many of which are known to be harmful to our bodies, and many more which have not even been tested for safety. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental toxins. Choosing alternatives to plastics (think food packaging and toys), fragranced personal-care items (visit www.ewg.org/skindeep/ for more), and industrial-strength cleaning products (vinegar and baking soda work miracles!), you’ll be giving your body an enormous break! Once again, Suzuki for the win!
7. Create space for mindfulness
In a world bombarded by social media, sensationalized news reports and high-paced schedules, a little bit of mindfulness goes a long way. Purposefully paying attention to the present experience has myriad benefits to all facets of health. Practice moving/eating/sitting/breathing mindfully every day until it becomes a more natural and automatic part of daily being. Kids respond really well to this - try youtubing “mindfulness”, with or without “kids” and see what pops up!
8. Touch someone
We all need physical contact. We take it for granted in infants and children, but our need for touch doesn’t decrease as we get older. Touch impacts our hormones and immune systems in important ways that are necessary for good health. Hold hands. Hug someone. Caress a shoulder. Go for a massage.
9. Have a sense of purpose
Purpose is one of the most important aspects of psychological well-being. Stress is more tolerable when we feel there is a point to the task. Feeling appreciated and like we are making a difference in the world actually bolsters the immune system and positively impacts mood. Caring for children, volunteering, contributing to your community, and engaging in fulfilling paid work can all satisfy the need for purpose. If you are lacking a sense of purpose, consider engaging in inventory of your values and attributes, and brainstorm how you are or could be sharing them with others.
10. Be grateful
Gratitude is one of the most impactful practices on happiness, stress management and well-being. Overwhelmed with the pressures of work? Be grateful you have a job that pays the bills. Tired of the cold winter? Be grateful you live in a country that is (generally) safe, democratic and … cold. Seek opportunities to be (genuinely) thankful to shift your outlook and increase happiness and health.
And a bonus ... Be moderate
It’s possible to go to extremes on either end of the healthy behaviour spectrum. Certainly there are some things that are just never a good idea, but some less-than-healthy behaviours are often balanced by the pleasure they bring. On the flip side, exercise, extreme diets and environmentalism can be taken too far. Unless there are unique concerns, enjoy a glass of wine or a piece of cake mindfully and intentionally - savour the pleasure of the experience. Creating space for some flexibility and compassion for yourself is important for a balanced existence.
Let me know how you're doing!
Next week I will be offering two workshops on the top 10 healthy habits for families. I have ideas about what I think are the most important behaviours to make routine, but I'm curious about others' experiences. Let me know - what behaviours are important to you, and what makes it difficult to make them habitual? I will work your responses into my workshop - where I hope you'll join me!
It’s that time of year! We’re supposed to feel in love, sexy, horny, romantic - right? Hallmark expectations aside, I hear from women in my practice ALL THE TIME that they’re not that into having sex. Their libido isn’t where they’d like it to be. They love their partners (and I find this happens more typically among women who are in committed, long-term relationships), they want to be intimate, but they’re just not feeling it. So here are some ideas to consider … just in time for Valentine’s Day!
(Sexual function is a complex topic; if you have concerns about yours, consider this article that I wrote about exploring and managing low sexual desire in women, and talk to your healthcare provider. Or me :)
Think of intimacy as a holistic concept.
When partners are vulnerable with one another in general - sharing their imperfections, their emotions, their experiences - and ACT with love, they are more likely to feel close to one another, enhancing relationship satisfaction, and naturally fueling a desire for physical connection. (I love this article about the research of John Gottman’s “Love Lab”). One of my most important life lessons is that love is an action, not a feeling … but I know that choosing to act with love can deepen the feeling … the trust and appreciation and deep connection that enhances sexual desire.
Broaden your definition of “sex”.
Particularly for heterosexual couples, “sex” often means “penis-in-vagina”. But there are so many ways to explore sex! And so many ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. When the need and expectation for orgasm is set aside, and space is created for mindfulness, “sex” can be many different things. “Guide to Getting it on” is a great primer. It is heteronormative, and it won’t make everyone happy (is that even possible??) AND there are many great books out there for folks of all orientations/kinks/persuasions. Explore! And comment with your favourites!
While familiarity is comfortable, and knowing and trusting your partner(s) builds intimacy, our brains seek novelty in order to stimulate reward centers. If sex is the same all the time, and predictable, it can get boring and less inticing. Consider talking to your partner about shaking things up a bit! There are many questionnaires available online that can facilitate the potentially awkward conversation and stimulate creativity - try this one! AND couples that engage in new experiences outside of the bedroom (or wherevever else you like to get it on - good for you!) are more likely to connect sexually as well. Try a dance class! Pottery (channeling Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore)! Eating in the dark! See what happens.
Make space for sexual intimacy.
As Dan Savage says, “Fuck first”. We often get busy, put other priorities ahead of our connection with our partner, and end up tired and sapped. Even if you're not exactly in the mood to begin with, being willing to dip in your toe can get the juices flowing. It could be argued that scheduling sex is contrived BUT imagine the turn-on when you sext one another all day in anticipation of what’s to come! Have sex before going for dinner, before catching up on Netflix, before your workout. Don’t succumb to not having time for … business time!
Be good to yourself!
Many conditions including (but definitely not limited to!) hypertension, diabetes, depression, and multiple sclerosis are associated with lower libido. Stress and fatigue can damage our desire. Eating well, exercising most days, getting sufficient sleep, managing stress effectively, and looking after any health concerns can make a big difference. Some medications can dampen libido - touch base with your healthcare provider to explore strategies to navigate this possibility.
And sometimes we just don’t feel like it. And that’s okay too. Especially mothers - we often feel touched out, particularly when our kids are small (and breastfeeding!). When we feel drained and needed, it can be overwhelming to know that our partners need us too. It may be okay to ask your partner to look after YOU … a foot rub, a back tickle, a head massage, more … without the expectation (today anyway) of reciprocity. It will pay long term dividends.
(Full disclosure: I am not a sex goddess, and am working through all of this myself. Just as I am doing with pretty much everything I recommend. As always, a work in progress.)
It's that time of year. It's dark; it's cold; the bills from December's indulgences are rolling in. It's a tough time of year to feel upbeat and energetic. I want to channel a little black bear and just curl up in my cave until the spring. I know I'm not alone. We just passed "Blue Monday", apparently the most depressing day of the year. Whether or not it's a PR stunt, a significant number of adults struggle in the winter with energy and mood that's lower than they want it to be. There are many things that can sap energy and depress mood, but after obvious disease processes are properly ruled out and managed, we're left with what we call a "functional" concern: there's nothing pathological, but the body just isn't functioning at its best.
In my experience - both clinically and personally - there are a few common contributors. The first is inadequate sleep. This might seem really obvious, but many folks simply don't get as much sleep as they need. Sleep is when we rest, heal, regenerate the wear and tear of our waking hours. Most people do not function well on six hours a night, and many people don't sleep well, even if they're in bed. Inadequate quantity or quality of sleep increases our body's stress response, a known contributor to low energy and low mood. The solution? It can be as simple as getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and there are many effective strategies we can explore if there are difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep.
The second issue is often a poor diet. The body needs foods rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients - not from supplements, but from food. We need adequate proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy oils to maintain blood sugar, and plenty of fibre to clear out waste products that can weigh us down and make us sluggish. Abundant fruits and vegetables help protect our bodies from oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which sap energy and drag down mood. It's tough to eat a good diet with a busy lifestyle. I can help with simple strategies for convenience, meal planning and improving what's going down the hatch.
The third issue is physical activity. It's not very often that the problem is too much exercise, although over-training can be an issue for some. Most people tend to not do enough. The minimum recommended for basic healthy functioning is 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity - that's 30 minutes, five times a week, of something that gets your heart going. It could be skating, swimming, playing at the playground, shooting hoops, or dancing - ideally, it would be something you actually enjoy! It's a particularly interesting one, because low energy and low mood are things that stops many folks from exercising. However, energy and mood both tend to increase as activity levels do. Exercise also improves the ability to think clearly, sleep quality, bowel movements ... all of which has the effect of improving energy. Think of it as an investment. Despite the cold weather, exercising outside might increase the benefits even more!
There are certainly other factors that can drag down energy ... stress, physical illness, pain, worry ... everyone has a different story. Beyond the basics, there are a range of herbs and supplements that can address your unique needs. Come on in and we can figure out what will work for you!
Over the last few years I've become utterly convinced of the value of mindfulness. The literature is bursting with evidence of the benefits of mindfulness practice on everything from cardiovascular disease to weight management to reducing the burden of infections. Likely much of the benefit is due to the impacts on how the brain perceives stress, and thus how the body manifests stress in a physical way. We know that chronic stress shifts the body into survival mode - storing fuel, increasing alertness, placing demands on the heart and lungs, and putting functions like digestion, growth and reproduction on the back burner. In the short term this is brilliant and wise. In the long term, the impacts of stress are so detrimental on health, impacting everything from fertility, sleep, diabetes and how satisfying your poos are.
Most stressors in our modern world are perceived. Deadlines, relationship tension, traffic jams ... these are not situations that will benefit from the way our bodies evolved to handle much more physical stressors thousands of years ago. Pausing to notice our emotions and thoughts when stressful situations arise can be remarkably helpful to temper the involuntary cascade of ALARM hormones and behaviours that can be so unhelpful. Much of the research into "Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction" suggests a daily practice of seated mindfulness meditation. Many people find this a challenging practice to nurture. I often encourage folks to give it a try for a period of time - even if it's only for 5-10 minutes a day. Sitting quietly, noticing thoughts, emotions, distractions without judgement. With an air of curiosity and kindness. Even acceptance. Translating those principles into the every day - pausing before reacting (eating, yelling, striking out, tensing up ...) ... practice can help foster an awareness of how we perceive situations, and whether we choose to interpret the situations as stressful.
Here's a little acronym that can help. If you're someone who engages in emotional eating ... try it when you're craving that treat. If you're a parent ... try it when your patience is running thin. If you're working on a deadline - take a five-minute pause (honest - it won't blow your deadline ... and might actually make you more efficient!) and do a quick scan. Start with whatever letter is most obvious to you, and then inquire about the others. It can help to learn about yourself ... again, with non-judgement, curiosity and compassion. Let me know how it goes!
B - behaviour ... what actions are you taking in this situation? (eating chocolate? yelling? pounding on the keyboard?)
A - affect ... what emotions are you feeling? (anger, joy, fear, sadness, variations of these)
S - sensation ... what physical sensations are you experiencing? (tight muscles, churning stomach, headache)
I - image ... what images are in your mind's eye? (a growling bear, a sad child, a tiny box)
C - cognitions ... what thoughts are in your mind?