Up Side of Stress
Stress seems to have become a hallmark of our times. Life presents us with many stressors, physical or emotional, long or short duration. And also, what feels stressful to me may not to you. The other day, for example, I felt minor stress when I was running late for an appointment, a situation that may not rattle others.
Stress Evokes Response
Stress is designed to empower us in emergencies thus ensuring our survival. But just how much stress is 'too much' is not easy to answer. Some of us thrive on stress, others not. This issue made headlines when Clif Bars, a major supporter of rock climbing, removed its sponsorship from athletes involved in risky techniques.
Stress Takes Many Forms
Stress takes many forms—gets us out of bed in the morning, helps us accomplish our goals, entertains us with TV thrillers. Horror movies draw capacity crowds, talk about stress! As a society, we sometimes relish the feeling of an #adrenalinerush.
Stress Pushes Us to Act
Recently someone told me about driving at 4 AM to catch her flight on the way to vacation in Mexico. A half hour later she realized she had forgotten her passport. Panicked, she raced home, then barely made her departing flight. She did make it to Mexico but she described spending the next two days recovering from exhaustion.
Down Side of Stress
In chronic stress situations, the presence of cortisol in the blood stream makes its way to every cell and tissue in the body. It can eventually take a toll on health. #Chronicstress can leave our immune systems weakened and open us to conditions such as colds, flu, respiratory infections, and worse.
Depletes Body If Chronic
Stress has become so much a part of our lives that we don’t think of it as a major cause of physical or emotional symptoms . Its effects on the body are so gradual, like the tide coming in. We are more likely to attribute diminishing health to “getting older” than to stress.
Adrenaline gives us the energy to deal with emergencies such as in the passport incident. The body does take a beating, but it recovers after the stress has passed.
Since we have the power to choose how we act and react in any situation, we can learn to use our energy in more positive ways than stressing out. We may just begin to shift into a more peaceful lifestyle, with less stress, and more energy for doing good.
by John van Dorp
To those of you who have lost a family member, I grieve with you. To those who have lost a home, a pet, your belongings, your sense of direction, I am truly sorry. I can hardly imagine losing everything. The scope of these fires, woven with harrowing stories I hear every day, continues to boggle me.
After my own mandatory ten-day evacuation with my wife and cat, I had to accept the possibility of losing everything as flames engulfed three sides of my community. It did not happen. For those whose possessions were reduced to the clothes on their backs, I extend my heartfelt care.
Those of us who have not suffered such deep losses, have nevertheless been deeply affected by the multi-level events of October in the North Bay. Somewhere in our hearts we are feeling the emotional tug of deep gratitude for being alive, a deeper awareness of our vulnerability, of grieving what has been lost, and an awakening humility in the face of nature’s power in the wind and fire.
So many shifting feelings in a short time can lead to profound exhaustion, which is not all bad. Exhaustion stops us in our tracks, slows us down, forces us to reflect on our existence on the planet, our lives here in Sonoma County, and our purpose in being at all.
Daily reminders of burned-out plots and charred mountains tie us to that tense two weeks. No wonder fatigue continues to linger. Many are virtually wrung out,…as in ‘emptied out.’ We have hit a wall telling us to slow down, to allow our compassion to dominate, to reflect on our life purpose, and to uplift those in need.
In addressing our sadness of loss, our fear of the future, overwhelm in ‘starting over,’ there is a technique, which can help us focus on the present. This is not easy for any of us, especially when there seems to be only a past and a future, and neither feels very good.
The goal of being in the “now” is intended to help us reduce the spinning in our minds when it runs wild. Engaging in these practices can help break the spell of anxiety in the midst of a crisis. They include meditation, massage, Tai Chi, a walk in the woods, or sitting quietly alone. They bring us inside ourselves; they open space for our souls to be fed..
Nutrient Rich Soil
One of my chores as a young boy was to bury the kitchen waste in the compost pit behind the barn. Eventually, as the compost turned into soil ‘mystery’ seeds began to sprout. It became my personal ‘laboratory’ for observing the exceptional growth of melons, tomatoes, and sunflowers in the rich soil.
Nutritious Food - Key to Health
I became witness to a basic gardening principle that healthy plants have their foundation in healthy soil. I was learning an important lesson for my future, that healthy people have their foundation in healthy food. Nutritious food supports healthy cells which support the body’s defense system in disease prevention.
It is not surprising that the idea for composting came from a small, unimpressive magazine, called “Prevention,” which inspired my family to embrace and practice organic gardening, balanced nutrition, and healthy cooking.
My early education impressed on me that diseases can be prevented through not only what we eat but by how we live---our lifestyle. Actually, as it turns out, the prevention of disease is a big motivator that keeps any of us on the track to ever better health.
Everything Impacts Health
A major question continues to crop up: What should I do in order to live a long, fulfilling, healthy life? There is much focus on longevity and anti-ageing these days. While I continue to believe that diet is at the core of health, I also believe that the definition of health needs to include everything in our lives . By “everything” I mean not only what we eat or drink, but exercise, social life, stress, spiritual connection, work, creativity, and on. Beyond this, I also add: whatever we think, believe, say or feel.
Toxic Overload Lifestyle
The caveat is that because our diseases are a result of our lifestyle the following factors also impact our health---speed, stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, overwork, inadequate or excessive exercise, pollutants in the soil and atmosphere, chemical additives to food and skin care products, and on….
The impact of these toxic factors on the body has led to the term ‘toxic overload’ which seems to be at the root of the prevalent degenerative diseases today. While this may sound overwhelming, the good news is that there are ways to manage these toxins with minimal impact on the body.
While there are adjustments and changes required to modify how we live, I believe it is worth the effort, and it is a choice I have made. For me it has been continuous effort with the huge benefits of healing, balanced energy, and increased peace of mind.
My dedication is to helping people become more aware of how they can, not only PREVENT illness, but enjoy healthy, fulfilling lives.
by John van Dorp
“I’ve been having numbness in my left hand,” a client told me. “What do you think that might be?” It’s difficult to pin down any symptom without some understanding of its context. But actually many alarming symptoms have very simple lifestyle causes. It's good to rule them out early on. Numbness is such an example.
Appreciation Instead of Fear
I try to answer questions like this in a way that opens the door for appreciation of a symptom instead of fear. Each of us has on-going symptoms, some being more familiar than others. New ones may cause us special concern because they are unknown to us; often we fear the worst.
Follow the Course of a Symptom to Its Origin
I try to reframe a question by asking, “What do you feel this symptom is telling you?” In the case of the numbness, my questions follow along this line: When were you first aware of the numbness? Where exactly in your hand do you feel it? What size is it? Is it sporadic or continuous? If sporadic, what time of day are you most aware of it? What were you doing when you first noticed it? Does the numbness get in the way of your normal activities? Does it vary during the day? If so, how?”
Observe, Study, and Record a Symptom
I suggested that my client record her observations by taking notes on everything related to the numbness. Writing information down for a few days creates a handy reference journal. We don’t remember specifics about symptoms after they diminish simply because we can’t remember pain or discomfort, only our responses to them. That’s why describing specific observations on paper is most helpful.
Simple Causes Mean Simple Solutions
Three days after our conversation, my client phoned me with this update: “While I was playing solitaire last night, I noticed that the way I was holding my hand on my iPad was triggering my numbness! I guess I’ve answered my own question!”
Be Curious in Order to Understand a Symptom
Not all symptoms are this easily resolved; in fact, some can be daunting. Yet a series of simple steps can help anyone who wants to understand what is happening physically. Through observing and recording, we can expand our understanding. Then, as we assess symptoms, we will be better able to track the healing process.
You Are CEO of Your Body
You make the ultimate decisions about your body and its care. Our bodies are always talking to us in a kind of ‘feedback loop.’ In order to maintain good communication with your body, listen to it. By doing so you are bound to enjoy better health.
by John van Dorp
Legend of Black Eyed Peas
There’s a long standing tradition in the South that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings good luck. This custom began at the time of the Civil War when peas were considered animal food, not worthy of human consumption, certainly not for soldiers.
Confederate Soldiers Survive on Peas
By the end of the war, however, General Sherman’s troops had looted just about everything in the South except the peas. In an ironic twist of fate, it was peas that enabled the Confederate soldiers to survive that last, long winter. Since then Southerners have considered them to be good luck. Thus, they became associated with New Year’s Day, symbolic of bringing good luck for an entire year.
Good Luck or Nutritional Value?
Perhaps the ‘good luck’ associated with eating black eyed peas had to do with their high nutritional value. Whoever ate them could expect to enjoy abundant health! If only it were that simple.
Peas, A Goldmine of Nutrition
It is true that black eyed peas are rich in protein, potassium, iron, and fiber. They contain some of the strongest anti-cancer, anti-diabetes and heart-protective substances in nature. Just half a cup contains the nutritional equivalent of one ounce of lean meat. Beyond all that, black eyed peas are a hearty and satisfying winter food, though they are versatile enough to be enjoyed any time of the year. They are indeed a gold mine for health. Even if they were a good luck charm, how far does ‘good luck’ actually go?
by John van Dorp
By now, you have heard of text neck but even if you have it is worth revisiting.
Now Its Your Neck
Another peril conspiring to turn us back into Neanderthal man, our hunched over ancestor, has cropped up. As if we didn’t have enough to think about to keep ourselves fit, we need to consider this one before it gets the best of us.
The blame for “text neck” points to our phones, of course, and specifically to texting. If you text, or even just use a smartphone, you may well find yourself rubbing the aching muscles at the back of your neck.
Emerging studies give accounts of people who, due to excessive texting, have damaged the cervical vertebrae in their neck. This is another form of ‘repetitive stress.’ Cup one hand at the back of your neck, and you will be directly on the affected area.
Neck and Shoulder Tension
Neck and shoulder tension are among the most common complaints I hear from clients. Both forms of tension reduce blood and energy flow to the head, eyes , and brain. For good posture, our head needs to balance at the top of our spine. Try standing in your best posture and have a partner check you. Chances are you may need adjusting. This is not negative input or a judgement, just feedback you will want to know because it empowers you to change.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, there are ways to avoid spending hours each day hunched over. Think of how often we bend our necks forward—at the computer, driving, reading, writing, fixing things…. and texting.
Preventing Neck Stress
Here are two tips to help prevent neck pain: (1) Focus on looking down with your eyes instead of bending your neck, (2) Do exercises for good posture, including strengthening your neck and shoulder muscle. Just becoming more aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it is an initial step, but awareness by itself changes nothing . You have to commit to the action of changing your posture by attending to your neck. Even a minor pain in your neck will “call you to attention" reminding you to stand tall.
Save Your Neck
Continue to enjoy your smartphones and the wonder of this technology. Just remember—keep your head up to “save your neck.”
by John van Dorp
While chopping a bunch of kale I sliced my thumb. It was one of those experiences where I was fine one minute..., not the next. I didn’t have to think about what to do. To get past the initial rush of pain, I instinctively wrapped my hand around my index finger, then found a paper towel to soak up the dripping blood.
I point out my simple response to illustrate a basic principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine . TCM is based on the healing power of touch (even your own), a common ‘hands-on’ approach to bring in a rush of energy to reduce pain and promote healing.
Chances are that you have had similar, totally instinctive responses of your own—placing your hands over an injury to quell the pain. If not, observe yourself the next time you stub your toe.
Ancient Chinese Observation
More than 2,500 years ago the Chinese observed that pressing certain points on the body, not only made that area feel better, but also, benefited remote parts of the body. Over time they correlated holding ‘pressure points’ with healing specific health issues.
The underlying theory here is that blocked energy leads to the pain of inflammation which, if not addressed, will eventually cause more serious symptoms. The goal, then, is to restore one's energy to a balanced state of health, or suffer future consequences.
If you were admitted to a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital in China today, for example, due to back pain, you would lie on a massage table while a health practitioner manipulated your muscles, joints, and bones to remove energy blocks and restore balance. This type of massage, known as Tui-Na (pronounced “Twee-Nah”), is intended to reduce pain and promote healing. It is intended to address almost any physical ailment including, neck and shoulder pain, carpel tunnel, sciatica, arthritis, joint pain, digestive issues and more.
Tui-Na massage uses gentle to firm hand pressure, stretching and flexing joints to promote energy flow throughout the body. The theory is that when energy stagnates, inflammation follows and pain eventually settles in. The intent of TCM, or Asian Bodywork, is to eliminate pain and to prevent illness.
Bodywork Supports Healing
Your body already knows how to heal and the attention you give it through massage, or bodywork, supports this process. The Chinese have a saying that addresses the prevention of disease: “Take care of the small problems before they become big problems.”
by John van Dorp
What About Bananas?
A recent food blog challenged readers, including me, to question my habitual consumption of bananas. More accurately, I didn’t feel it as a challenge as much as a reminder of what I already knew to do but hadn’t.
I sat thinking again about the cost of transportation for getting a bunch of bananas to northern California. With all the information about carbon footprints and responsible living, I knew our demand for “what we want when we want it” was not “healthy for the planet.” Though an advocate for “ buying local ”, I continued my familiar buying habits…for the moment.
Justifying Our Habits
The thing about habits is that we easily find ways to justify what we do and why we do them. I was in conflict with one health guideline which I advocate, namely that “the best food we can eat is grown locally, or within a 100-mile radius of where we live.” Bananas are a prime example of food grown far away. They are, after all, tropical, coming from Latin America, too far to justify their carbon footprint!
Open to Change
I have tried to maintain a level of transparency with my clients knowing that what I say or do in one year may not be the same next year. My banana confession represents my need to “walk my talk.” And, as I said, the information I read in the banana blog was not new; it just arrived at a time when I was ready to listen and to take action.
Information Trickles In Slowly
We humans are slow to learn and slow to apply. We hear something once. Then we hear it again; and again, and again. Information often trickles into our consciousness little by little in a rather tedious manner. When we finally see the ‘light’ we want others to see it, too.
Buy and Eat Local
I finally got it about bananas. I won’t be buying them as I have years past. It makes sense to me that our bodies are most nourished by foods grown in soil and harvested where we live. When we eat local food, we are most in harmony with the natural environment which surrounds and supports us. Local farmer’s markets offer the best food we can buy—local, whole, in season, fresh, and often organic.
It took me a long time to change my mind and take action about banana consumption. I also believe that by changing one thought and one behavior, we can influence the thoughts and actions of others though we may never know when and how it happens.
Make a difference
I believe we each have the power to make a difference in our world by slowing global warming through the food we buy, or don’t. In fact, I may just wake up tomorrow seeing the truth about mangoes, and pineapples, and …..
by John van Dorp
The San Francisco Giants lost to the Cardinals 6-0 in August, 2015. Ouch! But as soon as the game was over, the Giants manager told the players, “take a shower, wash it off.” A shower, especially a cold one, can break up energy and open the way for ‘starting over,' a remedy that applies to any situation.
Break the Energy
The instruction to ‘take a cold shower’ is intended to shock someone into squelching an idea (in this case, the downer of the lost game), an activity, or the pursuit of a particular direction. Being doused by cold water is certain to break the energy of the moment and diminish further thoughts surrounding a conflict or a ‘stuck’ feeling. Who isn’t repelled by the chill of cold water, a universal repulsion that helps explain the endless jokes about “cold showers.”
A New Habit
Whenever I mention taking a cold shower for its health benefits, the reception is predictably icy. But before you abjectly dismiss it, at least consider its simple addition to your daily routine. As with any new habit, it may take some weeks to establish.
Benefits of a Cold Shower
The benefits of a cold shower are numerous. They include reduced pain, improved circulation, elevated mood, a stronger immune system, and normalized blood pressure, all for no cost and no additional time taken out of your schedule. Plus you will immediately enjoy more energy and think more clearly. Talk about a ‘win-win!’
There’s just one caveat: actually doing it. However, during the adjustment period, there are ways to acclimate yourself, and you may even learn to like it!
How to Take A Cold Shower
One way to get started is by alternating between hot and cold water, gradually increasing the length of the cold. Or, try running cold water for the last 10 - 15 seconds of your shower. Or, by creating your own system by feeling out what works best for you.
If you begin while the weather is warm, you could well be a pro before winter. The truth is you can start any time of the year. For immediate gratification, as early as tomorrow morning, you are guaranteed an invigorating start to your day!
P.S. For those of you out here in the drought ridden west, regardless of whether your shower is cold, hot, or mixed, remember to keep it a short! Be well.
by John Van Dorp
My physical stats
The DMV renewal notice for my driver’s license arrived. I was reminded to check my height which I haven’t done in years. I don’t really like thinking about my height as changing—especially when it's shrinking! And so, I no longer know my true height. Why?
Not wanting to grow 'shorter'
I haven’t really wanted to know. There must be others of you who feel the same way. I’m actually saying I don’t want to know the real truth. Whatever the truth is, there’s not much more I can do about it than I’m already doing to keep my body going—Bikram yoga, more water, hanging from an inversion table, and eating collards for calcium.
Our bodies always changing
That our bodies are changing all the time is no surprise. Just looking into a mirror is proof enough. Most visible body changes creep up ever so gradually such as wrinkles, thinning hair, and stooped shoulders. Then, one day there is no denying...
Losing height after 30
Estimates suggest that we humans lose an average of ¼ to ½ inch every decade after age 30. We lose height because the discs between our vertebrae dry up. Then, too, our spines become more curved due to loss of bone density and fatigue. Add to all this that gravity is pulling us down!
Wake up to what's happening
Aging happens naturally, but the reality of shrinking is something we don't want to talk or think about. Awareness of what is happening, hopefully, awakens us to take charge, maybe to slow it down. But how does one prevent shrinking? Are you aware of slouching while at your desk? Does your diet include minerals that fortify your bones? Are you drinking enough water to hydrate your discs?
Take charge of your body and health
Just note that our awareness, by itself, does nothing to motivate us to change. Until we take action to create change in our daily habits, we are living in fantasy land. We are simply dreaming.
So, what can I do to slow shrinking?
To support your spine and bone health just remember what your mother told you: "Stand up straight and eat your vegetables", perhaps all in one breath. Add to this a couple other suggestions: (1) exercise, especially weight bearing exercises for bone density and strength, (2) drink ample water to keep your discs hydrated.
Take charge of your body
Consider that you are really the only one responsible for your body and health…and your rate of shrinking! Note just how tall you are from time to time, even when you don't want to. This will help you get over your EGO faster. But most important of all: Take charge of your body for health and strength throughout your life.
By John van Dorp
Fresh, Organic, Whole Figs
During the fall I am fortunate to have access to my neighbor’s fig tree in order to eat whole food. These figs can be picked and eaten right on the spot! The tree receives minimal care and attention which means no herbicides or fungicides. I am talking about ‘unsprayed,’ fresh, organic, whole food---Calimyrna figs.
I emphasize ‘unsprayed’ based on an experience I had after picking and eating fresh Bing cherries in a Michigan orchard. That evening I experienced dizzy spells which prompted me to research a health compendium for “dizziness.” The sole cross-reference simply said: “See CHERRIES.” Since that incident I have been wary and now consume only ‘unsprayed, organic, whole’ fruit.
Processed food is run through peelers, seed removers, cookers, coolers, slicers and dicers. Next it is preserved with enhancers, sugar, and additives—all for “improved” flavor and long shelf life.
Example of Whole Food
The fig is an example of a fruit which can be eaten ‘whole:’ skin, seeds, and pulp. The skin, nature’s way of protecting the vulnerable pulp, requires chewing, and that’s a good thing. Chewing skins and peelings strengthens the teeth and gums. It also provides fiber for the GI tract to facilitate the removal of toxins from the body.
Whole versus Processed
‘Whole’ is defined as “ a food that is considered healthy because is it grown naturally, has not been processed, and contains no artificial ingredients .” It does not come out of a box or a package. Fig Newtons are a good example. Processed with refined sugar, flour, and preservatives, they bear little or no resemblance to a fresh figs from which they are made.
Known and Unknown Nutrients
The value of eating the whole fig is that all its parts (fiber, sugar, nutrients) work together synergistically to provide optimum benefits. When eating ‘whole’ foods your body is absorbing nutrients which are both known and unknown .
More than 25,000 phytonutrients are found in plant foods such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and resveratrol. While phytonutrients are not as essential as vitamins and minerals, they are believed to help prevent disease and to keep the body functioning. In any case the body knows what to do with them. And the extent to which these nutrients are damaged or destroyed during processing is unknown.
More Whole, More Health
The body knows what to do with ‘whole’ food. A good rule of thumb is this: The more ' whole ’ your food, the more it will support your health .
by John van Dorp