How to Map Your Own Nervous Sytem: The Polyvagal Theory

With anxiety, depression and stress on the climb, have you ever wondered how you can understand your reactions to life’s challenges and stressors? Or maybe you wondered how you can become more resilient? Did you know that you can map your own nervous system? This is such a powerful tool that can help you shift the state of your nervous system to help you feel more mindful, grounded, and joyful during the day, and more importantly during your life. Before we discuss how to map your nervous system, let’s break down the autonomic nervous system a bit more.

The terms “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” are typically what we refer to when discussing this autonomic nervous system. However, there are different aspects of the nervous system referred to as the polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. The vagus nerve, referred to as the wandering nerve in Latin, is one of the longest nerves and is a cranial nerve that originates in the brainstem and innervates the muscles of the throat, circulation, respiration, digestion and elimination. The vagus nerve is the major constituent of the parasympathetic nervous system and 80 percent of it’s nerve fibers are sensory, which means the feedback is critical for the body’s homeostasis. .Pretty amazing, wouldn’t you say?

When we are in this stressed state or potentially anxious state, then we cannot be curious, or be empathetic at the same time. In addition to not being able to be empathetic or curious, we are also not able to break the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function,  communicating, guiding, and coordinating the functions of the different parts of the brain, back online. This essentially means that we are not able to regulate our attention and focus. Sound familiar?

Three nervous system states

  1. First, our “fight and flight” response is our survival strategy, a response from the sympathetic nervous system. If you were going to run from tiger, for example, you want this response to save your life. When we have a fight response, we can have anger, rage, irritation, and frustration. If we are having a flight response, we can have anxiety, worry, fear, and panic. Physiologically, our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline increase and it decreases digestion, pain threshold, and immune responses.
  2. Second, we have a “freeze” state, our dorsal vagal state, which is our most primitive pattern, and this is also referred to as our emergency state. This means that we are completely shut down, we can feel hopeless and feel like there’s no way out. We tend to feel depressed, conserve energy, dissociate, feel overwhelmed, and feel like we can’t move forward. Physiologically, our fuel storage and insulin activity increases and our pain thresholds increase.
  3. Lastly, our “rest and digest” is a response of the parasympathetic system, also known as a ventral vagal state. It is our state of safety and homeostasis. If we are in our ventral vagal state, we are grounded, mindful, joyful, curious, empathetic, and compassionate. This is the state of social engagement, where we are connected to ourselves and the world. Physiologically, digestion, resistance to infection, circulation, immune responses, and our ability to connect is improved.

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Adapted by Dr Stephen Porges

As humans, we have and will continue to experience all of these states. We may be in a joyful, mindful state and then all of a sudden due to a trigger, be in a really frustrated, possibly angry state, worried about what may happen to then feeling completely shut down. This is human experience. We are going to naturally shift through the states. However, when we stay in this fight or flight or this shut down/freeze state, that is when we begin to have significant physiological effects and also mental/emotional effects. As I mentioned earlier, this could be an emergency state. This can also be a suicidal state, if we are in this shut down mode for too long. If we are in a fight or flight state, we can have constant activation of our stress pathway, also known as the HPA axis, and we can really impact our stress hormones, sex hormones, our thyroid, etc. This stress will have significant inflammation effects on the body as well. All of these states can have considerable effect on our overall health, positive or negative, of course. Also, you can not get well if you are not in your “safe” state. No treatment intervention or professional will help you if you are not safe. This is why it’s really important to identify the states for each of you.

How can you map your nervous system?

  1. Identify each state for you.

The first step is to think of one word that defines each one of these states for you. For example, if you are in your ventral vagal state, this is also called the rest and digest state, you could say that you feel happy, content, joyful. etc.

When you are in your fight or flight state you could use the words worried, stressed, overwhelmed, etc.

In the freeze state you could use the words shut down, numb, hopeless, etc.

The first step is identifying the word that you correlate with each of those three states. This is really important because then you’re able to recognize which state you are in and identify with it quickly. This will allow you to really tune into your body and understand how you feel in that state, so you can help yourself get out of it.

2. Identify your triggers and glimmers.

You’ll want to identify triggers for your fight/flight state as well as your freeze state. These could be things like a fight with your boss, an argument with your spouse, a death of a loved one, if someone cuts you off while driving, etc. It is whatever things that cause you to feel stressed. You want to eventually have at least one trigger, if not many, written down for each of those states.

Glimmers are the things that bring you to that optimal nervous system state. It could be something as simple as petting a dog or something bigger like going on a vacation.

Click here for Deb Dana’s Worksheet to Map Your Nervous System

Summary

Once you can identify what those states are for you, then you can recognize what your triggers and glimmers are for that state. You can really begin to make a profound difference in your nervous system state. You can take ownership of what’s happening to your body, you can tune in to what’s happening, and know how to regulate your emotions and your responses to stress. Ultimately, this is how we can begin to develop resilience. This means being able to have respond appropriately to life’s challenges, go to that fight or flight state for a short period, and then return back to your state of social engagement. That should happen a few times a year not multiple times a day, or every day for that matter. To truly enjoy life, returning to your state of safety where you are mindful, grounded, and joyful, is a practice. It can start with mapping your own nervous system.  

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

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8 Common Mistakes in Your Plank & 8 Ways to Improve it

Have you ever done a plank or would like to know why you should do planks? Let’s discuss eight ways that you could potentially compensate in your plank and more importantly, eight ways to correct them.

Why are planks important?

The plank is considered an anti-extension, or back bending exercise, that is targeting the anterior (front) core. It really helps to improve the midline stability of the body. We need that for all movement patterns. If we think about our basic daily life patterns to our exercise patterns such as deadlifts, squats, and kettlebell swings, the plank is a foundational movement for all these. We’re not looking for perfection, we just want to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise that you’re doing. That’s what you want to do with all your training, but especially in this exercise. So, let’s take a look at compensations you could be doing in your plank and ways to improve on them.

  1. Holding for time

When you set up with the timer in front of you and you hold as long as you can, you are probably not getting the benefits of the exercise. It is easy to “power through” with your legs and arms. Some try to hold for three or five minutes, but really that’s not the point of the plank.

What to do instead:

Use your breath as your repetition

Instead of using time, use your breath as your repetition. When you get in the plank position, take a nice big inhale through your nose and exhale (out of your nose or mouth) drawing the belly button toward the spine and bringing your rib cage down. You want to hold that position for as many breaths as you can, which typically is about five to ten breaths.

2. Breath Holding

When people do not breathe during the movement pattern it can cause your body to recruit other muscles such as your back or neck muscles, and more importantly, you won’t be getting the most out of your plank.

What to do instead:

As we talked about using your breath versus time, learning how to breathe properly in the plank and all movement is very important. As you’re inhaling, your abdomen is expanding 360 degrees, when you exhale, belly button goes in towards the spine and ribs come down to create some tension and bracing. When you are using your breath as your repetition and you are doing it properly, I can assure you that it will be many less reps than what you were probably doing already.

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3. Looking up or looking down during your plank

Looking up with a hyperextended neck or just the opposite, looking down, can cause changes in how the body is stabilizing. If you are already having trouble with stabilization, this matters!

What to do instead:

Gaze towards the floor, holding your neck position nice and strong. This will prevent any discomfort and make sure that you’re stabilizing through the whole anterior chain in the front of your body.

4. Sagging your low back

The low back drops down or sags when you hold your plank position. You may even feel a little “tight” in your low back. This also causes a whole chain reaction and effects how you are stabiizing.

What to do instead:

Try slightly tucking the pelvis. You want to think about it as if your pelvis was a bucket of water and you are are pouring it out the back. This little tuck will bring the ribcage over top of the pelvis. That will give you a much stronger position through the trunk, and it allows us to really maximize the recruitment of the front of the core.

5. Having your butt up in the air

This means that you’re really not stabilizing.  This could be intentional and it could be to accommodate certain movement patterns or pathologies, like limited toe mobility. That is okay-that is your intent!

What to do instead:

Bring your body more parallel towards the ground, and in which case, your shoulders will be slightly higher than your pelvis. You will have a slight angle there, but that is normal.

6. Bending the knees in the plank

When you bend your knees, you lose control in your whole body, especially the low back. A lot of times the low back sag and knee bent position will go together.

What to do instead:

Think about lengthening through your heel. That will give you a really nice strong tension position.

7. Sinking your shoulders

This is a really important one because a lot of times we see the shoulder blades sinking down. It can also commonly be referred to as “winging” shoulder blades. That creates a lot of stress on the shoulder, and it really destabilizes the trunk.

What to do instead:

Press the ground away. Spread your wings, which means that you’re spreading the shoulder blades. That gives you a really nice strong connection of some of the important scapular stabilizers that actually intimately connect with your core. This is really powerful because you get a lot more tension through the whole body when you do that.

8. Thinking you should do planks to improve low back pain

The truth is that when there is pain, there is decreased motor control, which means decreased stability, coordination, timing, sequencing, and activation of all these muscles. If you have acute low back pain and you think that doing a plank is going to help it, it might not be the best choice of exercise at that time. You want to make sure that you’re in a good place and you’ve been instructed by a qualified health professional to direct you on when this is appropriate.

What to do instead:

Focus on breathwork first and activating the deep core stabilizers. When you are in pain, it’s going to be more important to focus on the reflexive stabilizers, which is the inner core.

Summary

In summary, the plank could be a great exercise to include in your training program. If you’re already doing the plank, you can take this opportunity to clean up any compensations that we discussed today.

In summary, here’s how to do a proper plank:

  1. When you set up, you can think of setting your index fingers parallel, and having a really active hand, which means spreading those fingers really wide and that will take pressure off of the wrist.
  2. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and step back into that high plank.
  3. Make sure that the head is nice and neutral, keeping the eyes gazing at the floor.
  4. Press the ground away spreading those wings  (shoulder blades) with a slight tuck in the pelvis to stack the ribcage.
  5. Use your breath as repetition.
  6. Lastly, lengthen through the heels to keep that strong position.

If you need help on your journey, please reach out!

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How to exercise your brain

Have you ever feared losing your mind as you age? Have you ever wondered how you can exercise your brain? It is really important to do since it is estimated that by 2050 we are going to have 30 million Americans suffering from dementia, and currently there’s five million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s. After the age of 40 we are going to begin to have some cognitive decline and after the age of 60 we really should have a brain evaluation, otherwise known as a neuropsychological evaluation. I know that many of you have the fear of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. So, let’s discuss how to prevent all of this!

Stages of Cognitive Decline

There are three different stages that are associated with cognitive decline. The first is a preclinical stage where we might notice some memory difficulties or other subtle changes, but it would never show up on an actual test. The second is going to be a mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In this stage, we might begin to forget people’s names and we may go into a room and forget what we were looking for. The third stage would be dementia. This is where those types of memory loss really begin to interfere with your day to day capabilities to go through life.

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Dementia vs. Alzheimers

Dementia is an umbrella term and is in fact, a group of symptoms, very different than Alzheimer’s, which is classified as a neurodegenerative disease. The process for Alzheimer’s is very different and it is important to make that distinction.

How can you prevent cognitive decline?

So, what can you do about it? Exercise, exercise, exercise! Specifically exercise geared towards integrating your brain and body. All of your aerobic activity, strength building activity, and really any skill development are critical for cognitive health and preventing cognitive decline over time.  Try a new practice or discipline such as Thai Chi or Qi Gong, deadlifts, aerials, dance, golf, tennis, etc. At the end of the day, all movement is really important for brain health. A 2015 study showed that those who make aerobic activity part of their life are able to decrease brain disease risk by over 50 percent!

Additionally, I am going to provide you with three exercises that you can do on a regular basis that can be super valuable to preventing these declines, and keeping your brain and body healthy for a lifetime.

  1. Puff breathing with a march– Inhale for two quick sniffs and exhale for four as you march forward.

Extended exhalation-based practice can improve CO2 and oxygen. Oxygen is the one of the top two sources of energy for the brain. Take two puffs in through the nose and follow it with four puffs out through the mouth. Add marching, walking, side stepping, cross crawl pattern.

2. Cross crawl pattern– Place your hands behind your head and bring your elbow to your opposite knee as you march forward.

The cross-crawl pattern of the brain stimulates more complex and nervous system integration. In essence, you are reorganizing your mindbody connections by stimulating the corpus collosum, the dividing of the two hemispheres.

3. Dual tasking– Walk backwards as you count back from 100 by threes.

Performing a physical and cognitive task together can yield excellent benefits in both gait and executive function in the brain. Try walking and the alphabet backwards, too!

Summary

These are simple things you can incorporate daily to prevent losing one of your greatest assets. Make sure to “build the time in” not “fit it in.”

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

For more content, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

What’s the deal with gluten?

So what is all this talk about gluten? You’ve seen more and more gluten-free items on the menu. Many of your friends, family and colleagues are gluten-free. Gluten sensitivity? Gluten intolerance? Celiac?  You may be thinking, “is this a real thing and should everybody avoid gluten?”  Let’s dive in.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s in everything, it’s in sauces, breads, pastas, crackers, cakes, etc. We’re surrounded by it.

Celiac Disease

Let’s first talk about celiac disease. Celiac disease is associated with one percent of the population. It is an autoimmune disease. When you consume gluten or gluten containing foods for quite some time, your immune system attacks itself.  It causes inflammation in the small intestine, and then people are not able to absorb or digest the gluten properly. This contributes to malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies which can lead to a whole host of problems.  

Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity

What if you know that you are not in that one percent? Outside of that population, it is estimated that 13 percent of the population has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Although it may seem there are more than that, that is what’s reported at this time. Fifty percent of those people that are reporting a non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience either constipation or diarrhea on a regular basis. In addition to that there are lots of symptoms that you could experience if you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.  See my video on adverse food reactions here. Some of these symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, depression, anxiety, skin issues like psoriasis or dermatitis, iron deficiency or anemia, and neuropathy. These symptoms especially draw a red flag if you experience them right after you consume gluten or foods containing gluten.

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When you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is very important to get properly evaluated by a doctor, registered dietitian or functional medicine practitioner. These symptoms can of course be associated with other conditions as well. This will help to determine if you have undiagnosed celiac disease, especially if you’re symptoms are a little more severe, or to see if you might have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

You can also evaluate if gluten is an issue for you by doing some form of an elimination diet. Please feel free to reference some of my other videos on adverse reactions, elimination diet, and inflammatory foods to understand how you would eliminate the food and then reintroduce. The reintroduction is the most important aspect of it and one that most people forget about. That can provide insight into a sensitivity.  Of course, you can also determine if your symptoms resolve by removing our diet.

Leaky Gut and Gluten

Gluten can trigger the body’s release of zonulin, a protein that opens up the spaces between the cells of the intestinal lining. Because gluten can initiate the release of zonulin, it can contribute to leaky gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability. When leaky gut is present, the spaces between the cells open up too much allowing undigested food, pathogens, bacteria, viruses and larger protein molecules to get into the bloodstream. This in turn causes an immune reaction. Once that happens, the body is constantly in defense mode, contributing to an overload on the liver and chronic inflammation.


So, what are some causes of increased zonulin and leaky gut ?
1. SIBO( small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
2. Candida or fungal dysbiosis
3. Parasites
4. Gluten containing foods – Gliadan Yes, gluten.  Therefore, it’s important to recognize that gluten affects intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in everyone to different extents.  More importantly, if you have a thyroid condition, autoimmune disease, chronic disease, or leaky gut, it is HIGHLY recommended to be gluten-free.

But wait … don’t forget that when you eat other non-gluten grains like corn, rice, oats, etc. your body can detect it like gluten . It can have a cross reaction and see them as foreign invaders.

But wait, why can you eat gluten in Europe?

Now here’s a quick, little fun fact.  Have you ever gone to Europe and eaten all the bread and pasta that you want and not had any issues, but when you’re here you have digestive issues, fatigue and joint/muscle pain from eating gluten?  I’m sure if you haven’t, you’ve heard of somebody that has. Often, I tell my patients and clients not to worry about it when they are in Europe and just enjoy themselves. Eat the gluten and things will be fine. Sure enough, they are! So why is that?

There’s a few theories behind it and nothing that’s clearly evidence-based at this time. One of the huge factors is that there are different types of wheat that are used in Europe versus the U.S. In Europe, there’s actually a lower gluten content naturally in the type of wheat they’re using. The other huge factor is the glyphosate. I’m sure many of you have heard of glyphosate that is used in the pesticides and it’s been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s on infomercials everywhere. The glyphosate specifically has been linked to gluten sensitivity and is used everywhere in the U.S. We’re exposed to it constantly as it’s used in our produce, wheat products, and our surrounding environment. It is the first and center product that you see when you walk into big chain stores.  So, the question is, is it the glyphosate or is it the gluten that our bodies are having such a hard time with? In addition to that, there’s GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). In essence, a GMO is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. In Europe, GMO’s are highly regulated and illegal in some countries where in the US, more than 93 percent of the corn and soy planted is genetically modified in some way. We are not meant to eat genetically modified foods. We have a wonderful abundant food supply that we shouldn’t need to have genetically modified foods. Last but not least is preservatives. In the U.S. we have way more preservatives added to our food supply, specifically our wheat products, then we do in Europe. Specifically, there are far more vegetable oils to preserve the shelf life of breads in the US.   All of these conditions factor in to why our stomachs are not happy eating gluten in the U.S. compared to Europe.

Summary

Yes, it can be challenging to explore gluten’s affect on your health, but I strongly suggest that if you have a host of conditions, complaints, and medical symptoms,  that you explore gluten. For many people it can be very beneficial and sometimes life-changing.  For others, not so much. It’s a valuable experiment to determine if this is an issue for you. If nothing else, it might just make you think a little bit more about what you’re eating and how it is affecting your health.  There is always a reason to why you are feeling a specific way, and it’s just about figuring out what that is.

Summary

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

7 ways to improve your sleep

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Having trouble losing weight? Do you feel groggy in the morning? If you do, you should definitely read this. Here are  seven important tips of how to improve your sleep habits.

  1. Minimizing or Avoiding Stimulants

Do you want to take a guess of what the biggest offender is?… drumroll… alcohol. It’s important to limit alcohol within three hours of going to bed because it is something that will negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Even though you might be asleep for seven hours, it doesn’t mean that you are getting the proper REM and deep sleep that you need. Have you ever woken up after drinking and felt a little crappy, under the weather, with a little brain fog? That’s the effects of alcohol.

Decrease TV and phone time! If you are using blue light, please consider wearing blue light blockers after 7 pm. Otherwise, this can be a huge stimulant. See number three for planning and preparation.

Third, consuming caffeinated beverages after two o’clock such as soda, coffee, or iced tea can contribute to restless nights.

You also want to limit any type of decongestants or other cold medicines because they act as stimulants.

Lastly, you want to try to limit aerobic exercise after six o’clock, or at least three hours before bed time.

These are all things that can keep you awake or prevent you from going to sleep in the first place.

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  1. Decrease Nighttime Tension and Anxiety

First, avoid any anxiety-provoking or stimulating activities before bed. Some examples of these activities are watching the news, having an argument with your child or spouse, doing financials, reading the stocks, etc.

The more you perseverate on what you need to do the next day, the more stressed you become, followed by a rise in cortisol levels.  Also, try to limit negative judgments associated with not being able to go to sleep. If you feel like you can’t go to sleep and you keep having thoughts about why you can’t go to sleep, then that will also feed into the inability to fall or stay asleep. When you start to have those thoughts, try taking some diaphragmatic breaths and remind yourself that there is nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.

3. Planning and preparation.

The most important aspect of preparing for sleep is developing some type of ritual before bed. We know that the amount of sleep is really important and it’s a little bit different for each person. However, you do want to think about allotting for eight to nine hours of time in bed, although all of that will not be actual sleep time. So, when you are preparing your schedule keep that in mind so you can strive to prepare for that amount of time in bed.

Another thing to plan for is preparing for sleep about 30 minutes before bed with something that will relax your nervous system. This could be done by breathing, meditation, yoga, reading, essential oils, taking a bath with Epsom salt, etc. So, there’s lots of options and you just need to figure out what is best for you.

You also want to think about finishing eating within three hours of bed time. The late-night snacking is not ideal because your body is trying to digest, which is a huge metabolic process, while you’re trying to rest, regenerate, and repair. It’s really challenging to do both of those things at the same time.

Overall, just think about preparing your body to relax, so you can calm your nervous system. Epsom salt baths and lavender can be really powerful for that.

4. Strategies to use with trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

These strategies can be very beneficial and it doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, or the reason for your ability to not be sleeping. These are all universal.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re up for 20 to 30 minutes, then you want to actually get out of bed. Go into another room, perhaps a relaxing room and do something calming. That could be breathing, meditating, journaling, or write down what you’re experiencing in that moment. Try to down-regulate (i.e. relax) your system and then return back to sleep.

If your beloved partner is snoring, consider ear plugs to prevent you from awakening.

Drinking water before bed is almost a sure way to wake up in the middle of the night to urinate. Try to limit within an hour of bed.

Another strategy is to make don’t have any EMF within eight feet of you, which includes your phone, tv, etc. This will help you get good quality sleep.

5. Light, noise, temperature, and the environment

Try to keep your room as dark as you possibly can. You can use dark window shades and block out any lights that are showing in your room. Also, keep your room cool. Electric blankets, for example, can cause you to wake up very hot and frequently during the night.

6. Bedding and pillows

As it relates to bedding, think hypoallergenic. Also, the appropriate amount of pillows is important.  If you’re a side sleeper, for example, make sure you have enough support for your neck so that you’re not in an uncomfortable position that causes pain. If you have bursitis in your hip and it’s difficult to lay on your hip, roll away from the hip so there’s not as much contact there. And of course, if you have pain anywhere, see a physical therapist!

7. Supplements

Melatonin is the most commonly prescribed over the counter sleep supplement. One to five milligrams can be taken to fall asleep, and/or you could take five to 20 milligrams of a time- release melatonin to stay asleep. Taurine and magnesium can also be beneficial. There are calming herbs like ashwagandha that can help decrease cortisol. Also, drinking herbal teas before bed can be very beneficial.

Summary

These are seven tips that can really help you get that quality sleep you deserve. Just like anything else, start small. Choose one or two things out of this list and work on them until they become a habit.  

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

How to start a fitness program or step up your game

Who’s excited for the New Year? You may be thinking “new year, new me,” so you want to either start an exercise program or step up your game. I am here today to help you with that! This is a time where so many people get injured because they are trying to start a fitness program for the first time or they’re trying to step it up too quickly. And nearly 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Let’s take this as an opportunity to help you think about some different aspects of fitness, so you can prevent injury and get the most out of your fitness and your health this year.

Know your baseline

The first and most important thing is knowing your baseline. Are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced fitness enthusiast? Do you have any pain or discomfort, or any potentially old injuries that you’re dealing with? What is your mobility/ stability, or functional movement, baseline? Working with a qualified professional to properly screened and know exactly what your starting point is highly recommended.  If you don’t have that opportunity, then you really want to be able to seriously reflect on your true baseline, your starting point, so that you know how to systematically progress safely from there. Once you figured that out, now we can jump into what to include in your fitness program.

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1)Warm-up and prepare

This does not mean jumping on the treadmill for five minutes to get your body warmed up for your workout. It means taking the time to tune into your body. Notice what pain or tension you might have that day. Are you tired? Did you eat well that day?  Really take a deep inward look to see how you are feeling that day and how that will affect your workout. Once you’ve established that, then you can think about how can you prepare yourself best for the demands of the activity that you are about to embark on. If you are going to do strength training for example, then doing some static stretching, ie holding a stretch for 30 seconds, is not beneficial. Instead, think about how you can prepare your body for the demands of the activity. For example, instead of jumping on a treadmill and walking for five minutes, you could do lunges with a reach. This will help to activate and wake up your whole body and nervous system, so you are fully prepared for your workout. 

2) The systematic progression of your activity.

For this to be successful, it is vital to have a preparation period. One to three months preparation time is recommended to prepare for it, so that you can just go into it with ease. The last thing you want it to do is create stress, ie. Inflammation, on your body.  You’ll want to make sure it is the right time in your life and things are relatively calm. It is extremely challenging to eat out when you are on the Elimination Diet. Lastly, it’s often easier if you slowly work out one to three foods at a time and find replacements for them before you begin. You want to be fully prepared, which is why it is strongly recommended to work with a professional to guide and support you through the process.   

How to do this for a running program

If you are just starting out with a running program, running for 30 minutes three times a week is unrealistic, especially if you haven’t done that in months or years. That will set you up for injury. When, starting a running program, or any program for that matter, you want put stress on your body, and then take it off, put stress on your body, and take it off, and so on. This will create an adaptation, which means you are getting your body familiar to a certain exercise or training program through repeated exposure. This will help to create fascial elasticity in our body, like a rubber band, which can really aid in preventing injury. If you want to start a running program, make sure that you can walk for 30 minutes three times a week first without any symptoms before you progress to running in any capacity. You encounter 1-1.5 x your body weight in force with walking and almost double that with running. When you’re symptom-free and ready to progress, you would slowly start with a walk-jog interval. You could start with the one minute of walking and one minute of jogging. I would suggest starting at five minutes total, so it’s only a few minutes total running time. Once you feel comfortable with that, then you can slowly progress to 10 minutes, and then 15 minutes and so on. This is going to take weeks to months to get you to 30 minutes of running. On the other hand, if you’ve already been running, and you want to step it up you could follow the same protocol, but you would just have a different baseline than a beginner does. For example, if you want to go from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, then every other day you can add a few more minutes to your run assuming there’s no symptoms, pain, discomfort, or injuries. You can continue to progress that way to achieve whatever goal you have.

How to do this for strength training program: If you’re strength training for the first time, I would suggest starting at two sets of eight to 12 repetitions two times a week. Then you can slowly progress that towards three sets of 10-12 repetitions three days a week.

How to do this for a yoga program: There are a lot of different yoga classes out there, but you need to make sure that it’s a yoga class that you can do safely. For example, a Hatha yoga class may be more appropriate for a beginner as opposed to a power yoga class. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do that, it just means to start with something where you can learn how to control your body and coordinate your movement with your breath first before you go into something more advanced.

How to do this for a HITT training program: Please reference the video on for pros and cons of HIIT training here or read the blog post here. For the intermediate to advanced fitness enthusiast, this can be great way for you to step up your program. Beginners have a higher injury risk because they really need to develop a basic fitness or strength baseline before they move into something more advanced like HITT training.

3) Cool-down

A cool-down is different for every person. It could be a short walk, stretching, basic breath work, or even meditation. It can also be a great way to reflect on what happened in that session. That means reflecting on what went right and what didn’t go as well.  Does your body feel energized and revitalized or does it feel kind of worn down and sore? Did you work too hard or not hard enough? Use this information as an opportunity to change your next session.

Summary

Fitness is a journey, no matter if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. You are always fine tuning, and reflecting on how to maximize what your doing.  Do you need to add yoga in because you’re doing too much strength and HITT training? Do you do too much yoga and need to add in strength and  power exercises? I definitely encourage you to reach out to a professional that can help you reach your goals while staying injury- free. It is important to take ownership of your health and movement to be able to continue to stay pain-free for a lifetime.

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

How to do an Elimination Diet

Have you been experiencing fatigue, chronic pain, allergies, sinus issues, depression, anxiety, bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation? Or maybe you just aren’t feeling your absolute best.  If so, you might want to consider the elimination diet. The elimination diet is the gold standard for uncovering food sensitivities and food intolerances that are frequently overlooked as a major contributor to a whole host of inflammatory conditions. It’s been used by allergists and registered dietitians for decades and is currently used frequently in functional medicine.  It can be extremely valuable in finding information.  It uncovers foot triggers which can help you determine what foods are best for you…and of course, what foods are not. There is no one size fits all.  Everyone is unique.

What does the Elimination do?

The elimination diet helps to decrease inflammation, identify food triggers, reduce intestinal permeability i.e. leaky gut., decrease inflammation, reduce toxic burden, and it is high in phytonutrients and it is not calorie restrictive. If you have already been diagnosed with leaky gut, autoimmune, or any other inflammatory condition (nearly 90% of all conditions), then this would be something that is highly recommended to initiate a gut healing protocol to remove these potentially inflammatory foods. It is not a calorie restricted plan, so it is not meant to be a weight loss diet. Instead, it is meant to be an “information diet”, which means it is not a forever plan. This diet is comprised of all whole natural foods, there’s nothing processed. You are eliminating all of the potentially inflammatory foods. Some of those foods include, coffee/tea, alcohol, corn, soy, peanuts, processed meats, red meat, gluten, dairy, and so on. (See below) You would be eliminating these foods for at least four weeks.

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What foods do you eliminate?

  • corn
  • dairy
  • gluten
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • white sugar
  • shellfish
  • soy
  • beef
  • processed meats
  • pork
  • coffe, tea, chocolate

How to prepare

For this to be successful, it is vital to have a preparation period. One to three months preparation time is recommended to prepare for it, so that you can just go into it with ease. The last thing you want it to do is create stress, ie. Inflammation, on your body.  You’ll want to make sure it is the right time in your life and things are relatively calm. It is extremely challenging to eat out when you are on the Elimination Diet. Lastly, it’s often easier if you slowly work out one to three foods at a time and find replacements for them before you begin. You want to be fully prepared, which is why it is strongly recommended to work with a professional to guide and support you through the process.   

How to reintroduce

The reintroduction phase is the most important part and many people fail to do this. They sometimes get frustrated and eat something that has multiple inflammatory triggers like pizza that includes gluten, dairy, and tomato sauce. Then, they don’t feel their best and don’t really know why. What it the gluten? The dairy? The tomato sauce with all the preservatives? This is why it’s really important to do a very careful and systematic reintroduction of foods. To give you an example of how that looks, you would do the elimination diet for 30 days. Then, on day 31 you choose a food that you really want to bring back into your life. Let’s say its eggs. So, what you would do is have eggs on day 31 in the morning and in the afternoon. You would wait four days, and you would see what kind of symptoms or adverse reactions you may have. A food reintroduction tracker is very helpful for this information. You might have nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, joint pain, etc. If you have negative or adverse symptoms within that four-day window, then eggs, right now, are a ‘no go’. You would wait at least three months before you reintroduce them again. This might mean that your gut needs more time to heal or that eggs are never going to be part of your diet. You can then make a conscious decision to include this in your life knowing the effects it has on you, or now that you have that information, limit or eliminate it. The goal is to find this information, so you know exactly what is helping you feel your best. That means having energy and living with vitality, versus feeling like crap every day, but not really knowing why.

Summary

The elimination diet is extremely valuable when you’re dealing with multiple medical symptoms. It is very challenging for many because they don’t realize just how many of the foods they are consuming on a regular basis. Most people need a lot of support and guidance through the process.  So, again I strongly encourage you to reach out to a registered dietitian or functional medicine doctor to help you through this process.

If you are interested in feeling your best and you need help, reach out to schedule an appointment to get you started on your journey.

Pros and Cons of HIIT

With the holidays coming around, many of you may want to get fit as fast as you can. We all know deep down that’s not the best solution. But, part of improving your fitness quickly probably includes some kind of speak of high intensity interval training (HIIT). As with anything, there are pros and cons of HIIT and I’d like to educate you on making an informed decision of whether or not it’s appropriate for you.

What is HIIT?

You may be asking yourself what is HITT ? It is essentially a vigorous activity, followed by a low to moderate intensity activity in an interval format that is often done between five to 30 minutes, and the intervals can range from 15 seconds to two to three minutes. There are many options to perform HITT such as using bodyweight, calisthenics, free weights, or even a machine like an elliptical or stair climber.

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Pros

First, it can help to decrease body fat, as well as improve overall metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is really important because it helps you to burn more calories throughout the course of the day when you’re not working out, which is really powerful. Second, it can help improve oxygenation, which is the muscles ability to use oxygen. This means if you do 60 minutes of HITT training versus 120 minutes of steady state cardio you can have the same benefits. This leads me to my next point, which is that you get maximum benefit for decreased time investment. Since we are all super busy and stressed for time, and can’t find the time in the day to exercise, this can be very valuable. It has been shown to also increase muscle growth, however, that is not the gold standard of muscle building.  Strength training always wins. Even though there has been shown some benefit, it’s not the most valuable way to build muscle.

Cons

Let’s shift gears now and talk about some of the disadvantages. First, it can lead to a higher injury risk. Some of the reasons why I think this happens is because many people that choose to do HITT training are often deconditioned at first and they think ” this is a fast way to get in shape”. So, they begin doing it at a high volume, high intensity and often do not have a solid movement foundation, or even a fitness foundation to support it. This is why I would recommend starting out slow and then gradually building yourself up. Second, recovery time is always important in exercise, but it is especially important in HITT training. This is because it is a physical stressor on your body, so you need more time to recover. HIIT four to six days a week is extremely high because the it may take two to three days to recover from a session.  I typically recommend my patients and clients do it no more than two to three days a week if they are an appropriate candidate. Lastly, if you are training for a sport or a movement skill, you need to make sure that you’re really focusing on the specificity. HITT training is not geared towards specificity whatsoever. It is general conditioning, so you may want to consider that with your training goals.  

Other considerations:

  1. Stress? Are you experiencing a tremendous amount of acute or chronic stress in your life. If so, I do not recommend HITT training, because again, it is a significant stressor, a physical stressor. This can contribute to a constant cascade of stress hormones which also can further impact hormonal and immune health.
  2. Beginner? If you are a beginner, I do not recommend HITT training. Learn how to develop the proper movement patterns, learn about your body, and really understand what’s happening to be able to recognize if you are feeling discomfort or pain. Tune in through mindful movement and develop a basic level of fitness first before volume and intensity is added.
  3. Intermediate to Advanced? If you have been working out for a while and you want to take things to the next level to really boost your cardiovascular fitness and fat loss, then I think HITT training can be really valuable.

Summary

Nothing is black and white. It’s really about understanding the different pros and cons of this or any other fitness program to see if it is appropriate for you at this time in your life. If it is not appropriate for you at this time in your life, then just hold off and revisit it later.  It will always be there.  Movement is a skill that you keep refining your whole life. There’s so much to learn. You really want to continue that journey forever, so there’s always room for improvement.

If you are not sure where to start, please reach out to schedule a private session to begin your movement journey.

3 Simple Informal Mindfulness Practices

Let’s chat about some informal mindfulness practices that you can do in your day to day life to become more aware, more present, and more connected. Often times we think about meditation as sitting in a meditative seat for 30 to 45 minutes. You might think, “how on Earth and I am going to do that?” I want to reinforce how important that practice can be in an overall mindfulness practice, however, that’s not for everyone. There are many things that you could do in your daily life to become more present in your own life, become more connected, more aware and hopefully help you to live your best life.

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Three Informal Mindfulness Practices

  1. Find an anchor.
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How to decrease sugar cravings in 3 days

With the holidays in full gear, many of us struggle with those darn sugar cravings. Some people suffer with some type of sugar craving or even a so-called sugar addiction all year long.

We know that sugar cravings cause a dopamine response as well as other neuro chemicals that ultimately creates a biochemical and neuro chemical response in the body. The addiction of sugar can cause a similar response in the brain as in drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.  However, there’s a little bit more to sugar cravings than just that.

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Sugar Cravings and Gut Bacteria

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