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Orange County Fitness and Wellness
The Wellness Connection – The Link to Vitality
Every person has the capacity for optimal wellness. Disease affects the entire person, not just a specific organ or body system. The ability and capacity for self-healing is inherent in everyone. It is our job to uncover all the tools and methods available to optimize your wellness.
The word “vitality” comes from the Latin root “vita” literally meaning “life”. An offshoot of the word vitality is “vital force,” which is another way of saying ‘chi’, ‘ki’, ‘prana’ or simply ‘energy’. So, if life revolves around energy, then creating, maintaining and balancing your body’s energy is crucial for a life full of happiness and unlimited joy. Vitality has grown over time to mean living life at a higher level. And, therefore, peak vitality is taking life to the highest level. Wellness is needed for peak vitality.
Eastern philosophies teach us a great deal about our body’s energy. Western philosophies often dismiss the concept as nothing more than psychosomatic. Consider the following: Our brain has electrical energy. It is measured with an Electroencephlograph (EEG). Our heart has electrical energy measured with an electrocardiograph (ECG). Our bodies’ temperate has thermal energy, measured by thermography. Our stomachs digest food by way of chemical energy. When a weightlifter looks into the mirror, thinks about the muscles being used and places his intent in that area, more energy is transferred to that part of the body and strength is increased. Harvard University conducted several studies showing the benefits of acupuncture, which relies exclusively on energy pathways in the body.
What is wellness? If you ask ten people who strive for wellness, each will return with there own definition. An Olympic athlete enjoys a high level of fitness. This same athlete may, at the same time, experience demineralization of his or her bones, overuse injuries, depression and sleep apnea. Fitness alone is not wellness and therefore peak vitality is absent. Health can be defined as “disease processes being absent from the body”. This is not wellness. You can eat healthy, only selecting organic foods, and still not have overall wellness. People can be fit, eat well, and be disease free but still lack quality sleep. In turn, they suffer from fatigue and experience accidents from lack of physical recovery.
So how do you know that your life and wellness are in balance? You must first pause and analyze what you know to be missing. On the other hand, you must pause to understand what you may be doing may be considered overindulgent.
Often times, people will visit a medical doctor for a check-up, or for a lifestyle-oriented ailment such as stress or low back pain due to obesity. The patient is told to "exercise". Nothing more is said. What is the patient’s next step? Your physical body must have strength, flexibility, endurance and balance to increase your physical wellness. It's true that even poorly structured exercise, in most cases, is better than being totally sedentary. However, exercise must have structure to be highly effective and be optimal. Because of this, we will be discussing frequency, intensity, duration and mode of exercise programming. These four factors are determined by your exercise history, health history and personal goals.
Exercise frequency is the number of exercise sessions completed per week, month or year. The intensity of exercise can be defined as a percentage of maximum heart rate, percentage of a one repetition maximum (1RM), or rate of perceived exertion (RPE). RPE is a scale that goes from one to ten; one being very easy or light and ten being heavy or very difficult. The duration of an exercise session is based on factors including the volume of work to be completed within that session, the focus of that particular session, and type of exercises. If you are resting less between exercises, sets, or drills, it will increase your intensity due to lack of recovery time, but it will also decrease the duration of your training session. Different modes of exercise can be classified as: strength training, cardiovascular exercise, flexibility training, and mind-body.
As a baseline, here are some general rules for creating an exercise program. First, seek a medical doctor's clearance. Be honest with yourself about your overall commitment, availability, and goals. And then realize if you feel you don’t have the energy to exercise, you’ll be given more energy by the exercise itself. Your goals need to be realistic and include immediate, intermediate and long term desired outcomes. Your overall journey to wellness and vitality will also have these various milestones.
Strength training can yield benefits for two to three sessions per week of just thirty minutes each. Always rest at least forty-eight hours between weight training sessions if you are exercising the same body part back-to-back.
Flexibility training can be structured such as yoga, or less formal such as a general flexibility class at your local health club. It's a time to ask your body for permission to relax and be present at that very moment. In return, this will teach you how to carry this knowledge into all aspects of your life.
Mind-body practices can be integrated at any time throughout your day. Meditation or guided imagery practice will improve mental clarity, improve recovery from cancer, ease labor pains, and even be done after meals to aid in digestion.
Passive forms of attaining physical wellness can be included to enhance overall results in a person's quest for aesthetic change and overall physical functionality. Passive forms of physical wellness can include all modalities in which the individual is 'not actively involved' in the movement or treatment. Examples of passive treatments include: chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and acupressure. These passive forms of wellness all have one thing in common. They are designed to improve your body’s functionality and energy. When your body’s energy pathways are open and free flowing, you feel and function at a peak level. Active forms of physical wellness, by default, burn more calories and teach your body to learn motor patterns and breathing techniques while under the stress of the exercise itself. Passive forms of physical wellness allow the individual to have the modalities 'applied' to them. Body awareness and sensitivity are still learned in either. However, passive modalities don’t train the body to understand how, why and when the body should move in certain patterns. Remember that active forms of physical wellness are needed to burn calories, to learn skills and improve physiological change on a large scale. Passive forms of physical wellness enhance all the efforts of active physical wellness and reward your body for diligent efforts in the quest for getting fit.
There is more cancer in the world today than any time in history. There are more types of cancers and more people with cancer than ever before. Modern science and Western medicine have improved the likelihood of survival of many cancers, but it has done nothing or very little to stop people from initially becoming ill. Western medicine is reactive - not proactive. We must put our bodies in a state where cancers find it difficult to thrive. In addition, we must create our personal environments which are free from toxins, chemicals, herbicides and pesticides.
Physical wellness is enhanced with complementary treatments which enhance the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, improve posture, strengthen the immune system, speed recovery from exercise and illness, enhance body awareness and relieve stress. We will discuss some of these techniques. I encourage you to continue extensive research into all complementary wellness modalities and find the ones that suite your needs and preferences.
Chiropractic is based on freeing the body’s energy through a well aligned spine which is free from obstructions In some cases, chiropractic adjustments can be more successful in eliminating pain than invasive and surgery. There are dozens of techniques and each school offers a slightly different approach to aligning the spine, making joints more mobile and restoring proper posture. Some chiropractors include massage therapy, exercises, hot and cold packs, and various electronic muscle stimulations to enhance the benefits of the chiropractic adjustment. Other doctors do what is called "straight chiropractic". In other words, they just adjust the spine (or joint) and send you on your way.
Naturopathic medicine (or naturopathy) has been around in various forms for hundreds of years and is gaining popularity in the U.S. It combines lifestyle counseling, nutrition, exercise, herbs, homeopathy and stress management. Then, depending if the practitioner is a "traditional naturopath" or licensed naturopathic physician, the courses they study will vary a great deal. Traditionalists will also study NLP (neuro linguistic programming), hypnosis, aromatherapy, life coaching, and even personal training. A licensed naturopathic doctor studies the same sciences and courses as a medical doctor for the first two years of school and then switches gears and includes studies ranging from acupuncture, massage, nutrition therapy, chelation therapy, bio feedback and even environmental health.
Massage therapy is one of the most widely used complementary wellness tools. There are literally hundreds of massage styles and techniques ranging from sports, to pregnancy, Asian, Hawaiian, therapeutic, scalp, foot and even ear massage. I am still astonished when I speak to people and they tell me they have never experienced a professional massage. It is truly one of the greatest treats you can do for yourself. The documented health benefits of massage are wide ranging. They include stress relief, injury prevention, injury recovery, ease of child labor, reduction of pain, and reduction of gastrointestinal problems. Massage has also been shown to help manage migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, Epstein Barr, and even cancer recovery.
Food is energy. Proper foods give you optimal energy. That's it! It is not to replace a lost love, fulfill a need, or keep you company in front of the TV. It's true that food is frequently a centerpiece for gatherings. This, in no way, states that the food is the reason for the gathering, or that you must eat all or most of the food that was prepared for that gathering. Instead of associating food with joy, happiness, sadness, celebration and even anger; associate food with making you strong, healthy, and full of energy. Changing your thinking, by itself, will get you to make better food choices.
Move towards a diet which is organic. Since 1945, over 80,000 chemicals have been added to our environment. Many chemicals end up in our food supply through irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, urban run off, packaging and cross contamination. Organic foods are brighter in color, more flavorful and are approaching the same cost as conventionally farmed foods. It is equally important to buy from local growers. There are simply not enough checks and balances to ensure organic foods grown off-shore are really certified organic.
Eat whole foods. Processed foods often lack important fiber. In addition, the processing exposes more of the foods surface to oxygen which can more rapidly reduce its nutrient density. The processing itself usually includes the addition of chemicals to enhance flavor, shelf life or color. Remember, if something is added to a food to improve its shelf life, that same ingredient will reduce your shelf life. Some people may argue that these additives are so minute; they cannot have a serious biological affect. In rebuttal, I say that it is not a matter of the volume ingested per sitting. Toxicity takes place over time as your tissues absorb and store unhealthy elements.
Nutrigenomics is the science of how food communicates with your genes. Some foods, such as soft drinks (diet or not), fast foods, and most candy, express or "turn on" genes which cause inflammation, a reduction in energy, irritation, chronic disease and auto-immune disorders. Other foods such as wild Alaskan salmon, flax seeds and oil, organic berries, spinach, broccoli, spices such as cayenne, ginger, cinnamon and even green tea express genes which reduce inflammation, increase metabolism, energy and improve body system functions such as digestion and elimination.
If you live in a toxin-free environment, always sleep eight hours, have little or no stress and eat only organic foods; you will not need to take any nutritional supplements. Please remember the name – supplement. This means that they are taken "in addition to" not "instead of" a proper and hopefully organic diet. Eating poorly and thinking that the supplements will magically mitigate all the adverse effects of a lack-luster diet is foolish. I strongly urge you to investigate the efficacy of various nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals. A short list of items I encourage you to research are licopene, Omega 3, spiralina, wheat grass, glutamine, saw palmetto berries and milk thistle. There are many others that can drastically improve your health. Please remember, mega-doses of vitamins and minerals are frequently not needed and, in some cases, toxic. As a general rule, use time release supplements when available. In addition, in general, take your supplements with some food in your stomach. This food stimulates acid in your stomach which helps break down the supplements and makes them better absorbed by the body.
Linguistics and Self-talk
We have the ability to improve our health and increase our energy simply by our words. We have developed some interesting ways to describe health conditions and challenges. As an educator, I have observed countless individuals limit their potential for optimal health by their existing language, especially their internal dialog (self-talk). Examples include: “I'm just fat”, “it's just my genetics”, and “I come from a fat family”. Outwardly, we say things such as, “the fight against obesity, the struggle to be thin and the battle of the bulge”. And of course there is our societal favorite "The war on drugs." That has obviously not done too well. When we use verbiage, either internal or external, which is negative, we get negative results. Tell yourself and others exactly the health and wellness you deserve, instead of what you are trying to avoid.
Health and wellness enhancement is easily attained with positive and empowering language patterns. Decide now that you will state your health desires in the form of positive and empowering statements. Remind yourself on a regular basis that you are grateful for your health and you are continually moving towards even greater health. If you find yourself slipping into your old habits, quickly rephrase in a powerful and positive way.
Another technique is to scan your body with your mind. Start at the head and move downward. Each time you breathe inward, ask yourself how you feel at that level of your body. If you get to an area of your body which doesn't feel as well as you'd like, start asking questions. How did this imbalance occur? What tools do I have to get back in balance? What have I learned? How will I stay in balance going forward and enjoy the process? You can see how the questioning became progressively more and more positive. This is essential.
Sleep is more than getting your required number of hours each night. Quality sleep includes your sleep environment and rituals leading up to the sleep itself. Your sleep environment must be very dark to experience the deepest levels of sleep. This is so because the pineal gland in the center of your brains senses, via the retina of the eye, the onset and degree of darkness. When this detection occurs, the hormone melatonin is released. Melatonin has important effects on circadian rhythms, which are your body's twenty-four hour cycles. The deepest levels of sleep cannot be reached without proper release of melatonin. Consequently, it has been reported to have significant effects on reproduction, recovery, immune health and overall wellness. Keep your sleep environment as dark as possible. Your bedroom should also be free from excessive electronics, televisions, and other distractions.
To improve the quality and depth of your sleep, a ritual is required. How do you prepare for sleep? Do you just fall into bed and go to sleep immediately? If you do, you are likely overtired. It should take a few minutes to settle in and begin the sleep process. I would like to share a skill I learned in my hypnosis training. Hypnosis requires progressive relaxation. We'll just take it a step further and fall asleep. First, stand at the edge of your bed and walk twenty steps away from it. I do this process down my stairs. So, now you have a starting point for your progression towards sleep. Each night, as you step on that space, you begin counting backwards from twenty to zero. As you take a deep inhale and exhale at "zero" you will be tucked under the covers. On the way, each step slows your body and prepares you for deep sleep. Over time, you won't need to count. Simply stepping in that "twenty" space will begin your relaxation process. Other rituals to enhance sleep include taking a shower, an aromatherapy bath, candles, gentle yoga and meditation.
Rituals to avoid include late evening exercise, alcohol consumption and TV. Sometimes people feel they have no other time to exercise, so late evening is better than no exercise at all. Exercising too late in the day can interrupt your circadian rhythms and make it challenging to fall asleep. On a side note, people who exercise in the morning tend to be more dedicated to their exercise program over an extended period of time.
According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have found that in nonalcoholics that occasionally use alcohol, both high and low doses of alcohol initially improve sleep, although high alcohol doses can result in sleep disturbances during the second half of the nocturnal sleep period. Furthermore, people can rapidly develop tolerance to the sedative effects of alcohol. Television is too engaging to be used as a ritual for promoting sleep. In addition, once you do fall asleep, the TV usually remains on which then increases the light in the room and decreases melatonin secretion.
I strongly suggest staying away from prescription sleep medications. They can be highly addictive and have numerous side effects which can be worst than lacking sleep. Instead, I encourage you to learn about the following natural and safe alternatives: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), L-Theanine, melatonin, mucuna pruriens, valerian root, chamomile root and passion flower root.
Information on sleep would be incomplete without discussing napping. There are different theories as to whether or not people need to nap. One theory states that if we get enough quality sleep at night, there is no need to nap. The other theory is that a nap can be greatly beneficial to overall wellness. One thing is certain. If you do nap during the day, it needs to be short in duration and a time which is ritualistic. During the course of each day, your body goes through various levels of energy and temperature change. When you sleep too long during the day, it interrupts the appropriate temperature decline in the evening, which enables deep sleep. Learning meditation and practicing it for 20 minutes each day can have similar or even better benefits than napping, and will not disrupt quality sleep at night.
I did not call this section "stress elimination". This is because we live on planet Earth. Stress occurs and our body responds accordingly. It's a matter of interpretation and having the tools to effectively manage the stress. Some stress is good. Those “small butterflies” a performer feels before any type of production helps them attain a peak state. This is good. It's a matter of management. For others, it's the brief feeling of "ready to perform" for a written exam can help increase performance. Again, it's a matter of identification of the feelings and management of them. It's a matter of stimulus and response.
For most of us, life balance is the most challenging component of attaining optimal wellness. Start by asking yourself, “What can I eliminate that isn't working for me?” It could be a poorly planned business venture, an ill-fated relationship, or even too much exercise, which is sapping your energy. Maybe you are too focused on your family's needs, and not your own. Creating life balance is about being honest with yourself. It's often necessary to pause, step back, and view your life from a third person perspective. Now that you are removed, at least for a period of time, what is glaringly obvious that you must change to enhance the overall balance in your life? At this time, if you where your own life coach, what would you immediately modify, omit or enhance?
One of the best times to do this "balance assessment" is when you are on vacation. There are far fewer distractions, a reduction in stress, and perhaps greater access to massage, exercise classes, and time for contemplative walks. I learned an important skill from my yoga instructor Erich Schiffmann. He says to pause, be in the now, and wait for the inner cue to begin. When your mind and body are ready, ask yourself for permission to move, think, ponder, experience and understand the message your body is giving you. It is this pause between stimulus and response which allows you to make better decisions, which ultimately will lead to a more balanced life. This in return will lead to optimal wellness. When in doubt – pause.
Putting it all Together
When developing your wellness and vitality plan, you need to address the cause and effect of any previous or current condition. Take into account the specific physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental signs. Wellness is a way of life. It's always being aware of how the things you do, say, eat and surround yourself with, affect your wellbeing, energy and vitality. Wellness is about pausing, if only for a moment, and determining if what you are about to do is in the best interest of your mind and body.
Listening to your body is essential. Learning to listen takes time. Practicing various mind-body modalities will enhance your ability to listen and then understand how to respond to what your body is saying. Treat yourself to a variety of treatments ranging from massage to facials to various water therapies. If these treatments are new to you, a great surprise awaits.
If you have not practiced many of the wellness concepts discussed in this chapter, it is unlikely you are actually well. This is a bold statement, right? If you have never really felt well, and I mean unstoppable, you truly have no contrast to understand that your health and wellness may only be at a level of mediocrity.
You deserve to be well and full of energy. Life can only be experienced to the highest level when we have our bodies performing at a peak level. In closing, I want to present you with two options for success. Option number one is gradual integration of various modalities into your daily routine. For example, it may just start with organic food. The following week, you can add massage therapy. Progressively add positive practices until you have attained the correct balance for wellness without it becoming a chore. The other option is a massive shift in your daily and weekly routine. You make a clear and decisive change which includes mind, body and spirit. If you choose this path, it is important to still be intelligent and progressive when it comes to your physical activity.
Wellness is a choice. Choose to live a healthy life full of bliss. Peak vitality can only be attained when your body systems are operating at the highest levels. Embrace the opportunity to take your body and your energy to these levels. You will amaze yourself with what is possible.
Learn about the author Dr John Spencer Ellis
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