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Tag: #Mindfulness

Pearls of Wisdom

By Michael Crespo

Last Saturday I had an amazing experience. I attended my first daylong meditation at Spirit Rock Meditation center in Woodacre, CA. Attending a daylong has been on my bucket list for awhile because I believe in meditation/mindfulness as a potent skill to cultivate a deeper knowledge of yourself. I am somewhat of a super spiritual person, but I perceive myself as being very practical/rational at the same time. I say all that to say that what attracted me to this particular day long meditation was the title of the event. “True Nourishment From Mind, Heart, to Cell”. As a practicing health coach looking for tools to better serve my clients, this had my name written all over it. If there was ever a time to attend a daylong, the time was now.

Saturday finally came. Armed with a good pen and notebook, I left my cell phone in my truck and prepared to immerse myself in this new and exciting experience.

Our speakers for the day were three amazing ladies. One speaker was a buddhist monk of the Gelugpa Tradition (The same order as the Dalai Lama). The second speaker was an amazing meditation teacher and mindful eating nutrition coach. I gained something from each speaker but the one that spoke to me the most was the third speaker, Dr. Elissa Epel, PhD. Dr. Epel is a Professor in Psychiatry at The University of California San Francisco and she is one heck of an amazing human being. Dr. Epel leads many research studies on stress and the effects it has on our health and longevity. It was from Dr. Epel that I gained many pearls of wisdom.

I know many people who don’t believe that meditation works for them. The cool thing about meditation is that there are about a million different practices. Also for the purposes of this article I will use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably. Mindfulness equates to being fully in the present moment. Practices can range from sitting alone in silence for extended periods of time, to going for a walk in nature, or even playing sports (entering the zone). People practice mindfulness in many different forms sometimes without realization.

What was amazing about Dr. Epel is she was very thorough in explaining the science behind mindfulness. The how and the why. By definition the mind is the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences moment to moment, which includes their environment, their bodies, and thoughts. It is everything that we feel from the temperature outside to the self criticism inside.

I often discuss with my colleagues the connection between the mind and the body. Much like the chicken and the egg one of the questions I wrestle with is what comes first, the feelings of the body or the emotions of the mind? According to Dr. Epel the feelings of the body shape the mind. The mind is also something that is not easily measured. We can measure pieces such as blood flow, attention, and even compassion but these are all parts of the sum. My intent going into going into the daylong was to walk away with something to share, the following bullets are key takeaways I learned from Dr. Epel;

    • “Context shapes cognition” we are easily influenced by our environment (people, places, and things) this perhaps explains why the community aspect of CrossFit is so integral
    • Our natural state of being (default mode network) exists in the midline prefrontal cortex of our brain. With regular mindfulness practice (about 7 months) our thinking shifts to being more aware of actual reality you can see all of this via brain signatures (neuroscans)
    • “Selfing” one of Dr. Epel’s terms creates the illusion that we are separate and leads to feelings of depression and ruminant thoughts (a wandering mind) in the mind which leads to loneliness which she stated is a “sickness of the mind and body”
    • Stress in the body = unconscious stress. We can trick our minds into thinking everything is okay but our bodies hold onto that stress and elicit a stress response
    • When we sleep at night our stress response is supposed to “dip” but if our bodies still feel stressed and do not dip. This has been associated with more occurence of chronic disease.
    • Positive stress (exercise), breathing, and meditation, are ways that you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system to to control your physiology in a better way and lower the stress response.
    • Situations that we know have an end and that we are in control of are positive stressors that add to our lifespan (Hour long CrossFit class anyone?)
    • You can remind yourself you are safe by giving yourself safety cues, it is as simple as being in an environment that you feel safe in and actually telling yourself you are safe and trying to feel it in the body
    • We need more self-compassion in the west. Unique to our western culture is our vulnerability of social stress and our inner critic. Social stress is our common condition
    • Overcoming social stress is about finding emotional independence and not being attached to conditions
  • Loneliness is as dangerous as smoking and causes inflammatory responses in the body

Dr. Epel has a book “The Telomere Effect” which I purchased and am currently reading. In it she discusses her work on telomeres which are parts of our cell whose lengthening and shortening are associated with aging. Behaviors that are detrimental to our health = shorter telomeres and in effect, shorter healthspan and quicker entry into chronic disease. On the other hand behaviors that are beneficial to our health can stall the shortening of our telomeres and in some cases even lengthen them. Now more than ever the reasons for living a healthy life are backed by science. So why don’t we do it?

The truth is it is not as simple as it seems.Turn on the television and within half an hour you’ll see 5-6 different fast food ads. Exercise can be a very vulnerable activity. Without support, a person that comes from a family that suffers from chronic disease may not be able to make the necessary changes to live a longer more quality life. Why should they? Their family and friends likely struggle with making healthy choices themselves and thus the cycle continues.

Health Coaching is one of the newest and fastest growing professional fields. One in two americans has a chronic disease, one in four have multiple chronic diseases. The need for a collaborative health model that is client centered is needed now more than ever. What do I mean by client centered? I mean that the client needs to take charge of their own health. Intrinsic motivation (or self motivation) is the key to reversing this most vexing problem that we face in the US. Were everyone to have enough will power to make the changes necessary to lead healthy lives there would be no need for the health coach. This however is not the case, and as it turns out willpower is a finite resource.

After Saturday the fire in my heart grew tenfold and a lot of pieces came together. The journey to better health is not easy but it is possible. “Many hands make light work”  this is where the health coach comes in. The client holds the keys within. It is our job to help evoke the person that our clients truly are and wish to be for themselves, and their loved ones. Their best self. Through, accountability, support, and compassion. I believe we are in the middle of a health revolution and not only is the future fit, but the future is one that is full of health, self-love, and compassion.

High on Sobriety; A Few Things I’m Noticing

High on Sobriety; A Few Things I’m Noticing

By Andy Boone

 

A few years ago I was talking to a close friend about his journey to sobriety. He was approaching his 20th year completely sober and I was fascinated with my constructed idea of the discipline it would take for me to get sober; completely sober as a way of life. Not a drop of booze, no other substances whatsoever. In his case, not even Advil. Why did that seem so ridiculous? This idea had me spinning.

Within a week I reached back out to the same friend. I had questions. Why had he made the decision? Was it a single incident? How had the decision changed his life? Any regrets? Any temptations? I shared my typical consumption patterns and routines. For me, consuming alcohol had more or less become a way of life. A part of most social events. Included in most restaurant dinners. Was it time for me to take a break? If I reduced the quantity and frequency, would that be a worthy exercise?  Could I be the guy that just had a few beers now and then or should I test what it was like to go without?  

His simple response set me on a new course and it went something like this: “If you are connecting with so many honest thoughts and questions about the subject well, maybe there’s your answer.”

Alcohol and the connection to my overall health was on my mind much of 2017. Could I make it Sunday through Thursday with no alcohol and then ‘back to normal’ with a green light to have a few drinks Friday and Saturday? Should I not drink during the week, but allow myself the obvious few at the organized social events? Could I make it through a weekend without a drink? How many was too many?

All the while, my friend’s comment kept spinning in my head. “If you are connecting to all of these questions well, maybe there’s your answer”. Maybe I did in fact have my answer.

With a few failed stop then start attempts during 2017, I took my last drink this past December. As I approach nine months sober, I thought I would use this week’s blog post to share some of what I’m noticing. This IS NOT an ‘everybody needs to stop drinking and get sober’ post. The last place you will ever find me is standing on a box preaching the way your life should be. If alcohol is a substance you are curious about and you’ve wrestled with the idea of making a change, here are a few things I’m noticing.

I Feel Better

I’m not sure how best to describe this one, so I’ll just sort of lay it out there. I feel better. I don’t feel the low-low energies that I used to. I don’t despise Monday like I used to. My outlook on my own health and life is generally more positive. I feel more patient and I feel more loving. It feels good to feel good.

I Ruminate Less

I’ve spent many years of my life living in my head. The voice that never quiets. I suspect that a mindfulness practice and consistent exercise are also factors that reduce rumination. I also know that after even the most enjoyable alcohol-fueled social event, the morning after is filled with reflection and rumination and sometimes regret. Quitting drinking has helped me to step out of my head.

I Sleep Better

For many years of my life I would wake at about 1 AM. Often times when drinking alcohol I would wake at 1 AM and have a difficult time going back to sleep. Even when I quit drinking during January and February this pattern would sometimes continue. Then in months three and four something shifted. Today it’s not uncommon for me to sleep through the entire night. I experience lucid dreams and awaken feeling rested like I didn’t know was possible.

More Present in Relationships

I especially notice this one with my wife, children, good friends and even teaching classes. I’m more engaged in conversations and am naturally and authentically more curious about what’s going on around me. When we feel better about ourselves and the life we are living, I believe that opens the door to show-up with others. 

I Feel Strong (again) During Workouts

I found myself in the gym discouraged with how I felt during workouts. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like I could really face intensity. Also in a scary sort of way I started feeling like I couldn’t recover. Thus, my participation suffered. I’m enjoying our program more than I ever have.

I Make Better Food Choices

When we drink alcohol, our propensity to choose the sweet and the super savory only increases. Our guard comes down, we crave the garbage and don’t hesitate to dive-in. I don’t crave sugar like I used to.

My Kids Notice

I know that they’ve noticed because they are old enough and they tell me so. They like this dad better. They tell me they are proud of me. That about sums that up.

I’m More Curious About the Long Term Impact

In one of Peter Attia’s recent “Drive” podcasts, he summarizes the physiological effect of alcohol on the body. I encourage you to checkout Attia’s podcasts and, in general, his work on Health and Longevity.  

With respect to “alcohol” we are really talking about the physiological effect of the molecule ethanol on the body. Attia points out that ethanol is in fact a toxin, and that the dose makes the poison.

Many people (not in the world of toxicology) forget there is a probability distribution that drives the impact of a toxin on a population. There are going to be some people at one end of the spectrum who are largely impacted by certain toxins and there are going to be others who are not.

Ethanol is no exception. Like Attia, I don’t believe that there is a single benefit to ethanol, the molecule, in the human body. Ethanol in its metabolic pathway is metabolized by the liver and has an effect on both the liver and the brain. The effect on the brain is what people drink alcohol for. So we can feel deliciously buzzed. You know, that “Oh, heyyy…” feeling. But it also acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and this kicks up some euphoria. So, it’s a depressant, but also excitatory and thus why it feels uniquely yummy and allows us to feel like we can let go of our stress AND feel good.

The effect on the liver is not so yummy. Even though this varies by individual, Attia points out alcohol is metabolized very similar to fructose. They share similar metabolic pathways. Not identical, but not surprising that they overlap given fructose is fermented to make ethanol. Just like sugar, different people tolerate different amounts. Over time, I believe many of use lose our ability to metabolize alcohol, just like we do the refined carbs and sugar.

Writing a New Chapter

If we are willing to first examine and then potentially say NO to certain aspects of our life, especially with habits we’ve developed over many years, where then can we finally say YES? If we can develop the strength to let go of the stories we’ve told ourselves for many years, then what? What new doors can we open? 

A few years ago I found a physician who helped me begin to get really curious about my health. Perhaps more importantly, he helped me begin to pay attention to the life I was living. How did I want to show-up in this great game? Where was I willing to make changes? Where did I need to let go?

Today I am connecting with myself and others more deeply. For the first time, I’m seeing where I want to show-up bigger and stronger, as well honoring opportunities to rest and just be.  The fight, the persistence, the courage as well as honesty and transparency feels right. I am inspired to share my journey with you. 

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