The Health Benefits of Sisterhood

 

People laugh at me sometimes, with how obsessed I am with book club. More than guiding my current reading habits and being an outlet for intellectual curiosity, it takes up priority space in my calendar. Some would say I’m almost religious about it. Could be.

One thing I know for sure: that one night each month feeds my soul.

I used to have a similar take on a choir I’d joined for a time. About the art school office I worked in for 10 years. About natural health school. About hanging with my friends – girls’ night dinner parties being the cherry on the cake.

The common denominator in all these enriching scenarios? Female community.

(Maybe my need for such circles is a bit religious. Being part of a value-based collective certainly adds appeal to any religion. Having stepped away from the Catholic Church I was raised in, my need might be greater than someone who’s stayed more fully connected to a specific faith.)

My girlfriends, and the other clutches of women I mention above, were key to my survival post-divorce. Over 5 tumultuous years, I first learned how a non-judgmental circle of women (& a few special men) grants me

  • the courage to surrender the masks/labels and be myself;
  • the safe space in which to pour my hopes and fears;
  • shoulders to cry on, buddies to dance with;
  • the permission to put myself first (not that we women need it, but we think we do).

I learned that a strong group makes each individual woman stronger.

Being immersed in a community of like-minded, supportive women is the most direct route to knowing and loving yourself.

This solid container works for anything you want to improve really, however, in terms of health, the support of a group is proven to speed recovery and reduce risks of recurrence.

As part of a community, you have a built-in buddy system – someone to hold you accountable, to cheer you on, to hold your hand when things get rough, and to celebrate with you when they go well.

Knowing someone has your back in that way makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone.

On my own, I doubt I’d have had the energy to find another man, let alone explore the world of online dating. Without the love of friends and colleagues, jumping full-tilt into a new line of study might not have been so effortless, and I may never have discovered a new career – one that continues to stretch and fulfill me 14 years later.

A healthy relationship and enriching work serve to nourish you in mind and soul – essential pieces of your health picture.

More than just having a body free of disease, health literally means to be whole. To have balance in the lifestyle choices you make, so you can enjoy balance in your life.

That “being healthy” umbrella covers every part of your life – relationships, heart & soul, mind, work, money, society. It’s not just about the perfect body or a body free of disease. In fact (this is a discussion to explore further another day), it’s possible to be healthy even with a disease.

Every part of your life stands to improve with the health-giving support of a collective.

Community also means a place to ask questions and learn from the experience of others.

In recent years, I’ve discovered pockets of loving circles online. Some of the small Facebook groups I belong to hold the same magic as I’ve experienced in person. They might be a network of colleagues and other alternative health practitioners; financial advice; business support for solopreneurs; accountability and cheerleading through a challenge or a course. I’m also a part of deep spiritual circles through the internet.

I have connected with like-minded women all over the globe who I now consider good friends.

No matter the area of life, my book club, my friends, these online groups all prove to me yet again that it takes a village to raise a healthy woman.

Which is precisely why I have opened a community of my own. The Whole Health Dinner Party is a closed Facebook group for members of my community. It’s a place to talk about food and body and soul and life. For asking niggling questions and sharing thoughts. A place for conversation about health in all its shapes and forms.

Won’t you join us? Enter your email in the box below and I will send your invitation.

Want more Food for Thought like this?
Sign up to join the community conversation (and receive more goodness fresh to your Inbox every other week)!

(I'll also send a copy of my e-book: 3 Steps to Feeling Like Yourself.)

No spam. No obligations.


Your friends are welcome too! Invite them using any (or all!) of these sharing buttons.

The Missing Ingredient from your Meals

Aside

You’ve a plate full of colourful vegetables, a tasty protein, maybe a bed of hearty grains, all chosen and cooked with care. You add a sprinkle of fresh herbs and some grey sea salt. Lovely.

But you worked late and the kids have hockey, and so you forget the one ingredient that ensures this meal is as healthy as it can be.

You forget to breathe.

Not just at mealtime.

Every time you rush around clearing the list, shuttling the kids, meeting the deadlines, your breath takes a back seat.

Every time you let your worries get the better of you, and you get lost in your head, in a tailspin of overwhelm and fear, your breath is an afterthought.

You know from yoga, from Pilates, from running, from working out, from meditation, that the breath is how you stay connected to your body. It’s how you manage your pace. It keeps you energized through the tough bits. It’s how you stay anchored in the present moment.

Those same perks of breathing apply when you get home from the gym or the studio. They apply when you sit down to eat. Yes, taking the time to breathe between bites will slow you down, letting your digestive system get in on the game. It’ll give you a chance to notice when you’ve had enough.

There are also physiological benefits to conscious breathing before and during your meals.

Breath keeps you apace and holds you in the present moment

Taking a long, slow, deep breath reduces stress.

The stress response, aka fight or flight, isn’t conducive to digestion – you would never stop for a snack while being chased by a predator or battling a foe. Though there may not be enemy tribes pillaging your village, your body reacts the same way in the face of an angry customer, your son falling out of a tree or being cut off in traffic.

During a day when you’re always “on”, you’ve got to turn “off” for your digestion to function efficiently. Eating under stress contributes to heartburn, bloating, gas, dysbiosis, constipation, IBS, diverticulitis, colon cancer,…

Regardless of the quality of the food on your plate, your body can’t break down, absorb and assimilate the components effectively if it’s not relaxed. Taking a long, slow, deep breath engages the relaxation response, aka rest & digest.

You might even settle down enough for some pleasant conversation!

Breathing keeps you energized

Your breath – oxygen specifically – plays a major role in how efficiently you use your food.

Other than the nutrients that go into the maintenance & function of your body, most of what you derive from food is energy (calories). The carbohydrates get dismantled into glucose; under certain conditions, fat and protein get converted into glucose. Inside your cells, that glucose is burned by oxygen (in a process known as cellular respiration) to release the energy stored in its bonds.

Breathing consciously before and during a meal oxygenates your blood for maximum energy production.

Incidentally, if you’ll forgive me a little geek-out here, that energy is the sun’s heat and light that have been bound with carbon dioxide and water by plants eating and breathing. It’s perfect symbiosis: the plants had exhaled the O2 you need, now you exhale the CO2 they need, and you shine the sun’s light right back out to the Universe.

Breathing connects you to your body (and soul)

Your digestive tract contains a large part of your nervous system. As such, it works according how you approach, experience and react to life. Think of the times – like when you’re on holiday – and you can eat whatever you feel like without repercussion. Then you get home and you sneeze with the first piece of cheese or bloat from the first piece of bread.

Your digestion is also where you take in products from the outside world – plant or animal – dismantle them, and rebuild them according to your current needs. It’s how you literally create your (human) body. So, you could say that digestion is an expression of your humanity, of your uniqueness, of who you are.

Now the breath brings you into deep connection with your body; with its feelings and emotions. While you may think of those as secondary to your health, they are, in fact, vital to your survival.

Fear tells you when to move back. Joy & love compel you to move forward. Anger is how you protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.

The feelings (or your felt senses) are clues to what works for you and what doesn’t. When you sit through a job interview feeling tight in your chest, shoulders curled forward, it’s an indication this place may not be the best working environment for you. As opposed to an office that leaves you feeling open, with head held high.

Knowing how you feel in a situation, or after having eaten a certain food, is exactly what listening to your body is all about. It’s one way to get to know yourself at a deep level.

Noticed with this in mind, your feelings and emotions act as beacons to where you need to go – be it with food, other health-related decisions, relationships, work, where you live, how you play, etc.

Taking the time to breathe – to get in touch more fully with your body, to get to know yourself and express who that individual is – your body will in turn manifest who you are from the inside out. That manifestation happens through your digestion.

Breathe – fully and deeply – through your day, before your meals, in times of joy, in times of strife.**

You’ll have less bloating, better energy and feel more satisfied after your meals.

You’ll be connected to your body, be fully energized and stay anchored in the present moment. All essential ingredients for enjoying and assimilating your meals, your life, and moving more fully into vibrant health.

** When you sit down to a meal, before you make a difficult call, before you step into the big meeting or onto the stage: breathe in for a count of 7, hold for 7, exhale for 7. Do this 3 times. One minute to feeling more relaxed and grounded.

Take a deep breath and go ahead and tell us how it makes you feel right now. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Give your friends a taste of this simple health tip by using any (or all!) of the buttons below.

Vibrant Health: Better than a Magic Bullet

There was a moment with the client I had the other day – she’s by no means the only one who does this – when she was hit with the reality that there’s no magic bullet. She won’t leave my office with her pants feeling miraculously looser any more than one day without gluten will see her through every meal without bloating.

It’s the point when she realizes that achieving her health goals will involve choice and commitment every day. It’ll take effort and persistence both inside and out.

As we talk more, and I learn more deeply about what she wants – how she wants to feel – I watch as that sense of burden transforms into hope: she can do this!

It’s not only possible, it goes above and beyond her desire for more energy, less weight and easy periods. While it may take a couple of months to ease her symptoms, this is something she can have today.

That something is Vibrant Health.

Vibrant Health is being connected to your body – aware of sensations, emotions, likes & dislikes, and using them as beacons to where you want to go in life.

Vibrant Health is engaging with life sensually: with all your senses. Tuning into the colours, smells, sounds, textures, tastes all around you, and letting them guide your decisions.

Vibrant Health is a state of balance – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – the wherewithal to navigate daily challenges with grace.

Health isn’t static or finite. We act as if it’s indelibly lodged in a certain weight, a lack of disease or the ability to complete a half-marathon in under 2 hours. I watch people run the race for health in frantic attempts at perfection, fearing that one step in the wrong direction will have them tumbling back to square one, or worse, an early grave.

On the other hand, I see people (ok, women) put the priority of their own health way at the bottom of the to-do list, letting it get buried under a pile of kids’ and husband’s and work needs. (Read more about the wisdom of putting yourself first here and here.)

Regardless of how much you weigh, how many cookies you eat, whether you opt for organic (or not), it’s possible to be healthy.

Health isn’t an absolute. Like anything in life, once you arrive at your intended goal, more doors will open to lead you towards the next big thing.

This is natural and to be expected. As you create new habits and discover who you are underneath those symptoms – as you grow and expand into who you want to become – that new version of you will have a whole new set of priorities and desires.

Vibrant Health is the joy you feel knowing you’re doing everything you can, in this moment, to be as helathy as you can, to live the life you want.

Vibrant Health includes knowing you’ve got what it takes to make positive changes on your own.

Vibrant Health means being honest enough with yourself to know when to reach out for help from friends, colleagues, accountants, lawyers, health practitioners, body workers, contractors, a cleaning lady,…

Vibrant Health goes beyond food and exercise. Yes, whole food choices play a huge role; they’re part of the inner shifts that create the glow as you blossom on the outside. As promised by miracle detergents, Vibrant Health turns the washed-out version of your life into the vivid colours you’ve always imagined.

Vibrant Health isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.

Like any journey, it takes planning, time and perseverance. Like any journey, you get where you want to go one step at a time. Like any journey, you’re the one who has to take those steps. As with any professional who helps you along the way, my role is to act as your guide, showing you the simplest path.

Because it’s my desire to see women all over the world expand into a state of Vibrant Health, I’ve come up with a recipe to get things cooking. Enter your details here and I’ll send it to you.

In the meantime, tell us what your vision of Vibrant Health looks like. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Have a friend who’d enjoy this post? By all means send it her way using any (or all!) of these social share buttons:

Contemplate This!

Meditation was something for yogis and the crunchiest of granolas.

You know, something for people without their feet planted firmly on the ground. It was something they did to take them out of life – to become “detached” from all that was around them.

Or so I thought.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Just as yoga had quickly shattered my notion that it was simply about stretching the muscles, meditation has revealed how a spiritual practice effects the physical. Meditation grounds me so fully into myself and into my life that there are days when I can’t function (on a solidly practical level) without it.

Sitting in stillness quiets the inner voices calling out all the shoulds to my day.

It removes the worry about what others will think and gives me the freedom to just be who I am – one of the things that can suck my energy dry if I let it.

Along with yoga, meditation has become the logical antidote to our overly stimulating lifestyles, to the stress levels at the root cause of just about every ailment we currently know.

I love how mindfulness and breathing have trickled into the mainstream world of business, sports, medicine, law – everyone’s getting in on it.

It makes us more relaxed, more productive. Seems so counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? That taking time out of you jam-packed day to sit quietly would improve how you work. But it does.

Since starting my morning practice about a year ago, my ability to focus and stay on task has sky-rocketed. It’s effect is abundantly clear on the days when I don’t sit for those vital 10 minutes and I find myself back in some form of working-mom-ADD.

No lotus position required.

That’s the thing: It doesn’t take a huge investment in time. It doesn’t take any special equipment or cost a dime (unless you want to train more deeply).

Simply sit in a comfortable position – legs crossed or feet on the floor – so that your sitting bones are settled evenly on the cushion/chair/floor and your spine is straight.

Then breathe.

You can get apps to help with specific techniques, such as at headspace.com where they have intro videos and a free trial period. (No, I’m not an affiliate.)

The simplest is to stay focused on the in & out of your breath, and label any thoughts as such and let them float away as a cloud.

That analogy always seemed rather airy-fairy and elusive to me until I heard the folks at a headspace explain it like this:

The blue sky is there all the time, yet on grey days we focus on the clouds, letting them get us down or change the focus of our day. But, get in an airplane and there it is: perfectly blue sky.

Who you are, the essence of you, the seat of your gifts is like that blue sky: there all the time. Again, we focus on the clouds; our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, criticisms, bad news, etc. as the source of our self-definition. Like the clouds, these things are nothing more than what’s most readily visible in a given moment.

In the 10-15 minutes that I sit, I revel in the concrete sensation of being fully in touch with my essence. I’m reminded that it’s accessible all the time by simply parting the clouds.

Spending that time with that internal truth is just as valuable as spending 20 minutes playing with your child or chatting with your sweetie. It strengthens the relationship.

Acknowledge it or not, housewife or CEO, holistic practitioner or plumber, that deeper connection to self

  • Builds trust and improves the communication channels, giving you better access to your values, and priorities.
  • Helps you get clear about your needs
  • Eases the struggle with lifestyle choices…and business choices
  • Deepens the connection to Source and engages the Universe to move with you and for you, in whatever you undertake.
  • Improves your health and vitality. Unplugging from the constant buzz of the outside world gives your adrenals a break, which means better sleep, concentration, creativity. More libido and less belly fat. (Read more about those interactions here.)

When I was preparing the “recipe card” for vibrant health that I now hand around as a business card, the first “ingredient” was a no-brainer.

Warm your heart with daily contemplation until it holds the steady glow of a pilot light.

That’s the source of your inner glow, the heat that sparks any action you take, the flame of the gifts and integrity you spread to your loves ones, your community, to the world.

So I dare you, have a seat and breathe.

Try it for a few days then come and tell me what you’ve noticed. Or what’s changed for you in a big way if you’ve already got a practice going. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Get your friends in on it too! Use any (or all!) of these social share buttons to dare them.

The Soul of Movement

 

This isn’t about telling you to do more physical activity.

You should know that I’m not the kind of gal who’s going to tell you to eat less and move more, to move for the sake of moving.

Yes, I’m gonna tell you to get your body in gear. But I want you to know why you’re doing it and which types of movement will serve you best.

Stating the Obvious

Let’s get this part out of the way:

If you change nothing else in your life, but add a half hour of physical activity 5-6 times a week, you’ll lose weight. Even if the number on the scale doesn’t budge much at first, notice the fit of your favourite jeans or the way your dresses fall as your body composition shifts.

Articles and studies abound in the ways that exercise will boost prevention, management and healing of many disease conditions. Stabilize blood sugar, improve bone density, circulation and digestion, lift depression and ease anxiety – all as if from a magic pill. If you want the details on any of these concepts, by all means, Google away!

It’s kind of a no-brainer: The human body was made to move.

Your muscles and joints are part of a complex system that ensures your survival. Traditional societies got through by hunting, farming, building, walking, climbing, hauling as part of daily life.

Now look inside.

Your cells and their exquisite machinery are in constant motion, generating proteins and manufacturing energy. The amoeboid migration of immune cells, the peristaltic flow of digestion, the exchange of ions and release of neurotransmitters throughout the nervous system, the shifting of proteins in the dance of life: it’s all movement.

The molecules that make up your cells, the atoms, are containers of energy, vibration. Movement.

As much as we love our modern conveniences, they physically deprive us of an important aspect of our very nature. We deny the body its joy, and experience a breakdown in optimal functioning because of our current lifestyles.

Move It or Lose It

The breakdown doesn’t stop with physical ailments. Mental health is also at stake.

I look at the growing number of kids with ADD & ADHD compared with the dwindling time they spend running around outside. I look at the rising numbers of adults on meds for anxiety & depression compared to the number of hours we spend sitting in offices.

Yes, these are multi-factorial conditions, but like diabetes, physical activity is a key factor.

Mental-emotional issues have a deep root in the fact that we suppress, repress, negate and hold back our feelings. No surprise there. How many of you were actually given the space to have a full-on tantrum or bawl uncontrollably or rip apart your bedroom?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: emotions are energy-in-motion.

The best way to clear the anxiety around that upcoming thing, to dispel the fury boiling in your gut after that fight, to loosen the grief binding your heart is to move. Feel right into it, then do whatever it asks of you. Go for a run, punch a pillow, dance around the kitchen like an idiot. Whatever.

Like a wave, the emotion will swell, peak and wash away in peace.

Move It AND Lose It

Getting back to the type of movement you “should” do. Like with food, we tend to think that there’s a good and bad. OK, there are right and wrong ways of going about certain activities.

What I mean is that it’s not about getting to the gym 3 times a week, running marathons and driving yourself hard at boot camp. That whole “No pain. No gain.” thing is rather outdated. As much as I get nostalgic for ‘80s music, there are some things – along with zippered jackets and big hair – I can do without.

You’ll notice that I’ve avoided the word “exercise”. That too conjures up bad memories of cramps and frustration, and feeling like a failure during the Canada Fitness Test.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter what you do.

Your body works differently than mine – your idea of invigorating won’t necessarily be the same as mine.

One winter I joined a circuit-training gym to stay in shape between biking seasons (my main transportation for years). Sure my legs stayed strong but I was freezing cold for 4 months straight. That type of exercise was too draining for me.

I adore yoga, but the thought alone of doing it in an over-heated room makes me wilt.

Find something that works for you, for your constitution and your lifestyle.

It might be yoga, walks, runs, jazzercise, Groove, gardening, weight-training, Zumba, boot camp, swimming, circus arts, biking, hiking, skiing, golf, curling, swing, tango, ballet, Pilates, karate, tai chi,…

Make your heart beat faster

Find an activity that makes your heart beat a little bit faster, that stretches you and strengthens you. And yes, I mean those metaphorically as much as physically.

Grab a buddy, set a weekly goal, or listen to music for motivation.

Choose a form of movement you love and DO it with utter abandon!

You might even lose a few pounds in the process.

The Way Out of the Rut

The most not-so-surprising side effect of movement is that it’s the only way to get out of a rut.

Whether you’re stuck in a job, a relationship, an illness, how you feel about your body or your life in any way, you need momentum to help you climb out.

You’ll never rise out of that stuck place if you don’t take that first step.

My tendency is to get lost in my head and disconnect from my body. I get stuck in the overwhelming inertia of shoulds to the point that I get nothing done. The beauty of engaging your body is that it requires movement, it was made for movement, and being connected to that helps you move forward in your life.

Clear that one thing that’s been nagging you from your To Do list for far too long, and notice the burst of energy you feel when it’s done. Take an hourly dance break from your computer. Grab the dog or the kid and go run around at the park.

Moving forward isn’t always easy and it does take some effort to get started.

But oh, to revel in the expansion you’ll experience when you do!

What type of movement did you enjoy today? And how did you feel when you were done? Be it exercise or inner work, a step for your business or an improvement in your home, I want to hear about it in the comments. When you share your thoughts, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Like what you read? Pass it on! Use any (or all!) of the social share buttons below.