UNLOCK THE POWER OF EXTREME FOCUS | Wake up your Reticular Activating System

Do you want to unlock the power of extreme focus and be able to use your mental energy to do whatever you want? Well, let’s start by waking up the reticular activating system of your brain.

Have you ever decided to buy a car, or if you’ve bought a car and you’ve picked a certain color and now you see that everywhere? When I decided that I wanted a jeep, I began to see jeeps everywhere. When I bought a jeep, I realized that the roads are inundated with Jeep’s. My Reticular Activating System has brought to my attention, to my consciousness, that all these Jeeps were around all along, but now, I am noticing them. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of neurons located inside of the Reticular Formation, which is in the brainstem. This is the most primitive part of our brain. The Reticular Formation is responsible for cardiovascular function, pain perception, sleep cycle, consciousness, and habituation, which is directly linked to the Reticular Activating System.

The Reticular Activating System is responsible for our wakefulness, our ability to focus, our fight-flight response, and how you ultimately perceive the world. It can control what we perceive in our consciousness, essentially a gatekeeper of information. When we are at a restaurant and we’re speaking to our friend or significant other, we can tune out all of the extra noise that’s happening, and be able to focus in on the conversation that we’re having. That is a perfect example of the RAS at work because otherwise our system would be overwhelmed and just inundated with constant sensory information. The RAS acts as this gatekeeper so that we can focus our attention on specific things, and remember… these specific things can help us meet the goals that we’ve set for ourselves.

How can you wake up your RAS so that you can have extreme focus, better sleep/wake cycles, and be able to have a deeper consciousness and intention throughout your life? Read on.

1) Evaluating the head and neck position. If you have had a concussion, some kind of traumatic brain injury, a sports injury, whiplash from a car accident, or just chronic overuse and repetitive stress injuries; you could have some type of misalignment in the cervical spine. This can cause compression on the brainstem and affect cranial nerve innervation.  As the head comes forward into this extended posture it can create compression, and therefore decrease blood flow around the brainstem for the cranial nerves and the reticular activating system to function at its optimal capacity. So, reach out to your physical therapist or movement expert to help you with this.

2) Vestibular/Visual Exercises: The RAS is connected to our vestibular system, so think of our inner ear, and the connection with our visual system. A great exercise to do is to hold your finger out in front of you, keeping your eyes focused on your fingertip, and then turning your head back and forth. As you’re continuing to gaze right at your fingertip, you can start to move your head side to side, then you can go up and down, and you can even go on a diagonal.

3) Meditation: Meditation is a fantastic way to be able to use your senses to hone in on your present experience and filter out whatever is unnecessary. Of course, just like anything meditation is a practice that needs to be cultivated over time, but probably one of the best ways to begin to tap into the power of the RAS. This can help bring you clarity and focus to allow you to reach your goals.

4) Turning your brain on the exact messages that you want:  If you want a silver Jeep, start thinking about the silver Jeep. It’s that simple. If you want to be confident in a dress that you want to wear, then start thinking about it. If you keep thinking that you can’t do that, you keep getting distracted from my goals, you keep thinking about all the things that you haven’t done or you can’t do, then unfortunately you will not be directing your attention, focus, or drive and activating this RAS to achieve what you want. So start thinking about what you want in your life, and use that as a way to really drive your conscious behavior and therefore your subconscious behaviors.

I hope this helps you become more successful and achieving what you want in your life and your health.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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WHAT IS A HEALTHY PELVIC FLOOR?

Let’s discuss a much-overlooked topic in modern medicine, especially as it relates to rehabilitative medicine…the pelvic floor. Yes, both men and women have a pelvic floor, and both can be compromised and contribute to many different conditions including but not limited to incontinence issues, sexual issues, and chronic pain.

The pelvic floor is essentially the base of our core. It has to be integrated with the rest of the surrounding anatomy. That means the organs, the bowel and bladder, the connective tissue, and the ligamentous tissue all have to be deeply integrated and fine-tuned for everything to work in this rhythmical dance back and forth. It also helps to support our daily functions, prevent urinary and fecal incontinence, improve sexual function, and many other functions that we’ll discuss.

So, what does a well-activated pelvic floor actually do?

1) We are constantly transmitting force through the body. So, a well-activated pelvic floor is going to attribute to the closing force to prevent any leakage of urine, fecal, or gas.

2) Research shows that between 60 to 80% of women with stress urinary incontinence can cure it or significantly improve it with pelvic floor retraining.

3) A well-activated pelvic floor is also going to allow the appropriate relaxation response of the pelvic floor muscles to allow for proper emptying of the bladder and to prevent any post dribble or leakage after you’ve finished urinating.

4) It should also be relaxed enough for proper evacuation of the bowel, but provide enough resistance for optimal defecation.

5) It supports the internal organs such as the vagina, the bowel, and the bladder. Especially as it relates to women and pregnancy, the more intact the pelvic floor musculature is, the less likely there will be a prolapse.

6) It increases the tone which allows for greater sexual awareness, and you need to have a pelvic floor that can relax completely so that you can have more pleasurable pain-free sex.

7) A well-activated pelvic floor will relax and significantly stretch during vaginal delivery.

8) A well-activated pelvic floor will work in coordination with your diaphragm and the rest of the abdominals. This is very important in looking at overall movement and movement efficiency.

In summary, a well-activated pelvic floor is important for so many necessary functions. When it is not functioning well it can contribute to a whole host of problems, one of which, that we see consistently in our office, pain. Chronic pelvic pain, low back pain, hip pain, and even knee pain can all be driven by pelvic floor dysfunction. It’s way more common than you think!  It’s also an area where we tend to hold our emotions. So, I want to point out that as important as it is for the pelvic floor to contract, it is equally important for the pelvic floor to relax. If it is always tight, then we are not able to fully contract and fully relax it, which can contribute to the same issues. That is why it is very important to get evaluated properly. If you are having any type of symptoms that might indicate you have a pelvic floor issue, please contact our office to schedule a pelvic floor examination.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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MINDFUL EATING 101 | Having a healthy relationship with food

Did you ever wonder how mindful eating can help you have a healthier relationship with food? The first step in having a healthier relationship with food is really to begin to change your perspective about food. Food is amazing. It is a connection, it is a way to bring people, families, and cultures together. If we think of it from the perspective of medicine; food is medicine. It can be healing in so many ways. Not only can help with mot chronic and autoimmune diseases, but it can also be preventative for the majority of lifestyle-related diseases. Food is also information. This is so important! Food is constantly giving us information, it’s just whether or not we decide we want to listen to it or not. It gives us information about how it affects our energy levels, it may or may not contribute to digestive issues, or even aches and pains in our body.  Once again, we just have to listen to it and explore it. Food is a powerful. When we think of it as this powerful gift that we have in our lives that not only allows us to  survive in this world but to thrive; it seems that we can be more present in our eating and improve our relationship with food.

When you sit down to eat your meal, be aware of what’s happening in your body. Are you actually hungry, or are you full, bored, stressed, or even sad? Take inventory of what’s happening and a pause to tune in to see why you’re eating. Then, aim to eliminate all distractions. Try to clear your environment and make sure there’s no TV or phone. Try to limit all distractions so that you can be present with your meal, be in tune with the process of eating. Next, you want to think of non-judgment, one of the pillars of mindfulness. We tend as humans to judge ourselves and other people especially as it relates to food. We can tend to have a lot of rules and rigidity about what’s good and what’s not good. So, taking that moment to pause and allow yourself to be present, to be still, and to think about the food that you are putting in your mouth. Free yourself of all the rules and allow yourself to experience the process of eating.

Now, try to use your senses to experience the process of eating. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste? Let’s say that you are going to have an apple. You can start by observing the apple. What shape is it? What color is it? What texture is it? You can even smell it. Smell it before and maybe after you take a bite of it. After you take a bite of it, chew the food thoroughly, 20 to 30 times.  The digestive enzymes in the saliva allow for the start of a healthy digestive process.  Actually taste the food in your mouth and assess all  the flavors.  Then as it goes down the esophagus into the stomach, try to sense what’s happening. How does that feel as it moves through your body, what does it feel like after you chew the food entirely? Assess your experience. It can be such a beautiful experience because it can shift your perspective on how you look at food. If we did this all the time, none of us would eat too much. We also wouldn’t eat foods that don’t make us feel good because we’re really in tune and completely present in the moment with our eating.

Try to introduce mindful eating into your life. It’s a way to begin practicing mindfulness. It is a way to begin to have a healthier relationship with food. It is a way to eat what your body is signaling you need to eat, as opposed to just eating because you’re stressed or bored and using emotional triggers as a driver. There are so many benefits to this. I encourage you to explore it and see how it is for you and how you can introduce more of it into your life.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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HOW TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS; Hacking your subconscious

Have you struggled with setting goals for yourself? Or maybe you have struggled with achieving your goals? Our conscious mind is one percent of our mind where our subconscious mind is 99 percent of our mind. To achieve whatever goals you set out  to do,  then you have to make sure that those two are aligned. The conscious goal could be, for example, “I am going to work out three days a week,” but the subconscious mind takes into account all of your past experiences with trying to work out either successfully or unsuccessfully, all of your thoughts, emotions, and day to day activities. We have to make sure that if your goal is to work out three days a week, that you are doing everything in your power to set yourself up for success so that you can achieve that goal. For example, if you do not necessarily block the time out, you don’t have enough time in your schedule, you don’t know where you’re going to work out, you don’t know what you’re going to work out with, or you don’t know what you’re going to do for your workout; then, the goal of working out three times a week will be highly unsuccessful. A good example of this is New Year’s resolutions. Many people set forth all of these New Year’s resolutions, and the majority are not successful because they are not aligning that subconscious mind with the conscious mind.

The second thing to consider when goal setting is using the different language of how you make your goals. “I would like to work out three times a week or more by January first or sooner is a good way to write your goal. That allows you to change the power of the subconscious mind. By changing how you set your goals and then also how you set yourself up for success to achieve your goals is a sure way to success.

I am 100 percent confident that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to, but make sure that you go through the process of setting a realistic goal, setting yourself up for success to achieve a goal, and then also using the right language and not limiting yourself by barriers or numbers. Instead, create an openness to do really amazing things.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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Arthritis: An Inflammatory Condition

Have you or someone you’ve known experienced some kind of arthritis? Perhaps it has been debilitating and or it has affected your quality of life? Let’s define arthritis and discuss the drivers of osteoarthritis, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, and what you can do to prevent it.

Many people experience aches and pains as they age. Is this normal? Not really. Is this common? Yes. Is there something that we can do about it? Yes. You do not have to embrace the deterioration of your body as you get older. There are things that you can do to prevent osteoarthritis, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.

Let’s talk about some misconceptions about osteoarthritis. First, “everyone gets it”, which is not true. Second, is that it is genetic, and that is also not true. It is in fact, a matter of diet, lifestyle, and the environment.

Osteoarthritis is pain and inflammation in the joint or multiple joints. Research shows, however, that osteoarthritis is due to inflammation in other parts of the body. Specifically, it can be related to high insulin levels.  With diets, specifically the Western diet that is high in sugar and processed foods, can lead us to high insulin levels and poor blood sugar regulation. This is one of the key drivers in osteoarthritis. We want to remember this key thing, osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition. Seventy percent of our immune system is in our gut. If we are having any type of systemic inflammation or excessive inflammation in our body, this can drive osteoarthritis. Often, you will see that a person that is experiencing severe osteoarthritis all over their body. They are in a very inflammatory state.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition. It affects 1.5 million Americans, but the interesting fact is that it has been happening at younger and younger ages. This is when the synovial fluid becomes thick and murky and creates degeneration in the cartilage of the joints. The joints can become very stiff and painful. One of the biggest drivers of autoimmune conditions, once again, is going to be a predisposition genetically, the environment, and activities of daily living. One of the biggest contributors to autoimmune disease specifically rheumatoid arthritis is a leaky gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability. Our immune system begins to attack healthy tissues, too.

Before we get into what would be most helpful, let’s talk about what you should not do; take chronic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). These will ultimately turn off your immune system, contributing to poor regulation. Although it may mask symptoms temporarily, it is not optimizing your immune system for the long-term.

In both cases of arthritis, a major goal is to reduce inflammation. Also, reducing your insulin, eating less sugar, eating to balancing your blood sugar, and keeping them stabilized throughout the day is critical. Improving your gut health and determining what foods are inflammatory for you is necessary. Doing so will help you to optimize your overall immune health and be able to prevent these types of inflammatory conditions.

As it relates to movement, please consider seeking out a qualified movement professional to help you on your journey to make sure you are moving well and without compensation.  Even though it’s inflammatory, you want to optimize the joint positioning, referred to as joint centration. Think about the shoulder joint, a ball and socket joint. When the ball isn’t in that center position of the joint, it will shift forward and often start to cause pain and irritation in the joint. So you’ll want to make sure that you’re stabilizing the joint and strengthening around it. Essentially, you’ll want to load the joint in its pain-free non-restricted range of motion.

There you have it; powerful ways to prevent and improve arthritis as you go into your older years.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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5 INFLAMMATORY TRIGGERS you should know about

Do you suffer from chronic conditions such as chronic pain, joint stiffness, muscle stiffness, digestive issues, skin issues, delayed onset allergies that have seemed to haunt you later in life, or perhaps any other chronic health condition you’ve been suffering from? In this case, you may have what we refer to as systemic inflammation, where your body had a loss of tolerance and it is not able to manage inflammation well on its own. Seventy five to ninety percent of all human disease is linked to excessive or persistent inflammation, so it is really important to figure out what may be inflammatory for you in your body. Let’s discuss five different categories of inflammatory triggers.

1) Food. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is a western-style diet filled with rich, processed foods, fatty foods, and sugary foods. It is the classic pro-inflammatory diet that a large majority of Americans consume. Additionally, there are also 12 potentially inflammatory foods that could be driving your health conditions. Some of these foods may seem healthy and very well can be, however that doesn’t mean they are healthy for everyone. This could be anything from soy, peanuts, processed meats, red meat, shellfish, and the list goes on. Click HERE for a video on 12 inflammatory foods. Your friend may be able to eat gluten, but you may not be able to.

2) Bugs. This could be a parasite that is causing an infection and ongoing inflammation in your body. It is really important to be tested for this especially with chronic health conditions that you’re trying to determine what the root cause is and a comprehensive stool test including a parasite test will evaluate for that specifically. This could also be something like a tick-borne illness contributing to an ongoing infection that your body is trying to manage.

3) Toxins. This can include internal toxins as well as external toxins. External toxins are things like herbicides, pesticides, and cleaning chemicals. We also have it in the products that we use on our bodies. On average, a woman uses 168 chemicals before they leave the house in the morning and a male uses 87. A female teenager uses even more than that. So, we want to think about the toxins that we are exposed to in our daily environment but also in our outside environment. Mold is a common example of a toxin that many people are exposed to without knowing. We can also have internal toxins. Yeast overgrowth, for example, is an internal infection your body many be trying to manage or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). There’s a lot of toxins that we are exposed to in our environment, even if we try to control what we can control.

4) Trauma. This can be anything from chemical trauma, mechanical trauma, or emotional trauma. One of the biggest aspects of trauma is going to be stress. Stress is one of the number one things that contribute to inflammation in the body. There is also physical trauma.  You could roll your ankle or hurt your knee while you’re running, etc., which can cause acute inflammation. If your body can’t manage it, then it can become systemic inflammation.

5) Hormone dysfunction. Oftentimes we think of just the sex hormones when we think about hormone dysfunction. However, the hormone dysfunction that typically is the kick starter for most people is our stress hormones (think cortisol!) and especially right now in life. This is such a challenging time for so many of us that the stress hormones really can drive thyroid issues and other sex hormone issues such as estrogen dominance or progesterone and testosterone deficiency. Everything works in a hierarchy. Don’t forget about our hunger hormones, too. Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. Its main role is to regulate fat storage and how many calories you eat and burn but not if it’s dysregulated. Weight gain anyone??  If you are consuming too many carbohydrates and sugar, insulin can also become dysregulated.  Hormone dysfunction is complex, multifactorial, and can surface in many ways.

You will have a greater inflammatory response when more of these receptors from all these different categories light up. Think of this as molecular signaling. So if you are a person that is eating inflammatory foods, you’re under a lot of stress, you already have a thyroid issue, then your inflammatory response is likely going to be greater. Therefore, you will lose tolerance and you will have systemic inflammation which puts you at great risk for many diseases. This can range from heart disease to cancer to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, MS, and Alzheimer’s. You want to think about how you can manage these five categories, and looking at all of them clearly and carefully to determine what are the driving forces for you that are contributing to you not feeling your best.

At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about…feeling your best. How can you optimize your health, how can you take ownership of your health, and make sure that you are living with vitality and not just skating through the world? You CAN feel energized, motivated, and live you’re best life.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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Are you in tune with your body? | INTEROCEPTION

Did you ever wonder why some people are so much more in tune with their emotions and their bodies than others? Did you ever wonder how in-tune you are with yourself? Interoception, otherwise known as your internal awareness is also referred to as the eighth sense, one that we’re a little less familiar with. It also tells us about our autonomic function, such as respiration, digestion, our heartbeat, and even our emotions. We have visceral receptors that are constantly giving us information about our internal senses, but often times we don’t listen to them. At the most basic level, interoception allows us to ask the question, how do I feel? Am I hungry? Am I safe? Am I full? Am I sad? Do I have to go to the bathroom? Being in tune with what is happening inside your body is an amazing skill to have and has been shown to improve emotional regulation.

Interoception helps us to be able to manage our bodies, listen to the signals,  and take action. Having this greater sense of internal awareness helps us to be able to manage our emotions as well. We often tend to stuff our emotions and push them away as if they don’t exist. When we can be in touch with our own body, emotions, feelings, and be able to learn how to express them; we can have a better quality of life. This also decreases our risk of chronic disease and illness that is associated with not being in tune with all of those things.

So you may be wondering, how can I test my interoception? A simple heart rate test:  You can do this by sitting in a chair with your arms down to your side.  Close your eyes or keep them open and without actually putting your hands on your body try to take your pulse. You want to attempt to sense your pulse, your heartbeat, for one minute. After you record your number, then you will actually take your pulse. To do this you will use your pointer finger and middle finger and put them on your wrist on the thumb side to feel your radial pulse. You can also use those two fingers and put them right behind your jawline to feel your carotid pulse. You want to use very gentle pressure, and you should not need to dig in. Take your pulse for one minute and record your findings. You’ll wait two minutes, and then you repeat the test. Then, average the results of both the actual pulse and the sensed pulse.

Now to complete the following calculation:

1-((Average heart rate- estimated heart rate)/ average heart rate) = _______

For your results: a result of .80 or higher indicates that you are very interoceptly aware. A score of .60 to .79 indicates you’re moderately self-aware. Lastly, a result of less than .59 indicates that you have poor interoception.

Although this is not the only way to measure your self-awareness, it is a good starting point. If you find that you have poor self-awareness that is okay, there are lots of ways that you can begin to improve your internal awareness. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to become more in tune and aware of your emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, surroundings, and become present in your own life. Many times we are anxious about the future or we may be depressed about the past, when in fact being present is actually a really wonderful place to be. Hopefully, you will appreciate how important it is to develop and integrate these interoceptive skills in your life so that you can be fully present and enjoy everything life has to offer.

If you need help on your journey to better health, contact drarianne@themovementparadigm.com to schedule.

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12 Immune-Boosting Foods

Although there is extreme uncertainty in the world right now, let me ease your mind by giving you 12 different immune-boosting foods that you can use to support your immune system!

1. Citrus foods

These include grapefruits, oranges, clementines, lemons, and limes and many more. They are perfect for the nice weather soon to come. They are packed with vitamin C and have the ability to increase production of white blood cells. They can help you build antibodies and help you resist bacteria and viruses that you’ve encountered before.

2. Red bell peppers

These are perfect for stir fries, salads, fajitas, etc. They are also packed with vitamin C and have beta carotene. Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, which is great for vision health, skin health, and immune health.  

3. Almonds

These are a great little snack to have and the good news is you only need half a cup a day (two servings) to get the recommended daily amount (RDA). They are packed with vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant in the body to protect the cells and help fight off free radicals.

4. Ginger

Ginger has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects It is a really easy thing to add to your meals and cooking. It has been known to help with a sore throat, and it has also been known to decrease inflammation. Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger, responsible for much of its medicinal properties.

5. Green tea

Green tea is packed with flavonoids and antioxidants, specifically one of the antioxidants that’s really powerful for immune function, which is epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. Now, this specific antioxidant is destroyed during the fermentation process of black tea. However green tea is steamed not fermented, therefore it is not destroyed during that process. So sip your green tea every day!

6. Spinach

This is also perfect for a salad or a side dish with your meal. It is packed with vitamin C, as well as beta carotene. Just remember, many of the nutrients are destroyed during the cooking process so you can enjoy spinach with just a little olive oil and herbs, and it tastes delicious.

7. Shellfish

Who would have thought shellfish would make this list? Shellfish contains lots of zinc, and because we only need a small amount of zinc in our diet, a small serving of that can provide it. Men need 11 milligrams, and women need eight milligrams for the recommended daily allowance. It’s a great thing to add into some of your dishes and it’s a nice variety to your typical cooking.

8. Garlic

We all know how we love our garlic! It has been known to be an anti-inflammatory mainly due to the sulfur-containing compounds specifically, one of the compounds, allicin. Sprinkling this on different dishes that you might be having will be fantastic for your immune system. Using actual garlic cloves will have much more of the bang for the buck from a nutrient perspective, however powder is simple and convenient.

9. Broccoli

It is supercharged with vitamins and minerals specifically vitamins A, C, and E. This, just like spinach does lose a lot of its nutrient value when you cook it, so you do want to cook it as little as possible. Perhaps considering steaming, but not over cooking. Including this in different dishes and having it as a side or throwing it on a salad is a great way to get the benefits of this food.

10. Poultry

Yes, your chicken and turkey are great sources of vitamin B-6, which not only helps to prevent you from getting sick in the first place, but can also help with minimizing cold symptoms. Vitamin B-6 is also important in so many chemical reactions in the body, and also the formation of blood cells. We can get our recommended daily amount from having two, three ounce servings of chicken or turkey a day.

11. Probiotics

In order to maintain colonization in the digestive tract, probiotics must be taken or eaten regularly. General recommendations call for ingesting 1 to 25 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) daily. Whether you’re getting these from fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or even perhaps yogurt. Most store-bought probiotic yogurts, however, contain about 1 billion CFUs per serving. To get the maximum benefit from fermented foods, it’s important to read product labels and choose only those that contain “active, live cultures” and preferentially raw, unpasteurized, perishable ingredients. You could choose to get it from food, but if you feel like you’re not getting that on a consistent basis, then a probiotic is recommended for most people. You do want to make sure that you have two specific strains which are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium that can also help with the gut-brain connection. This is something that can improve our gut bacteria and really help keep our immune system optimal. Remember, 70 percent of our immune system is in our gut.

12. Papaya

This is packed with vitamin C, potassium, vitamin E, and folic acid. It has 224% of the RDA of vitamin C from just one papaya! It also has a digestive enzyme called the papain, which actually has anti-inflammatory benefits. It tastes wonderful with coconut milk so give that a try!

Summary

In summary, eating just one of these immune-boosting foods is not enough to stave off disease and infection, especially COVID-19. However, having a variety of foods in your diet, and perhaps including some or all of these immune-boosting foods can be really powerful. The more diverse your diet is, the more ability you are going to have to include all of the vitamins and minerals that you need. I hope this helps, and I hope that you stay healthy during these times.

If you need help on your journey, please reach out! Virtual appointments available so we can see you from anywhere in the world.

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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!

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

Beat anxiety with curiosity

We all know that anxiety and chronic stress is on the rise, especially with young adults, older adults, and even in children. This is why it is really important to understand this powerful concept that can be possibly life changing for someone. When we are in a stressed state, our limbic system, our emotional center of our brain is going to detect a threat, specifically the amygdala in the brain. When this happens, we activate  the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis). When this axis, i.e. stress pathway is activated, it induces the pituitary gland (located in the brain) and the adrenal gland (located above the kidney). This signals a cascade of stress hormones. A little of this here and there is normal, however it is commonly overactivated in may people.

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?

How can you beat anxiety with curiosity?

So, how can we use curiosity to help decrease anxiety? When we are curious that means we are also able to be empathetic, turn the prefrontal cortex back online, and able to regulate our attention. We can accomplish this in a few different ways:

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1) Be curious about your anxiety

Ask yourself what sensations you feel in your body? Tension, warmth, coolness? Explore what you are feeling. You can totally flip the script by exploring how it feels in your body.

2) Seek out new knowledge

Become curious about something new. It can be finding a completely new skill, hobby, information,  that can make you curious about learning.

3) Mindfulness

This is one of the best ways to regulate attention, be aware, attentive, and present. Check out Three Informal Mindfulness Practices . Also, if you are already meditating, check out Three Tips to Improve your Meditation Practice. It’s a practice that needs to be cultivated, but that practice of being aware and being attentive can assist you in exploring your own body and your own needs. Practicing this on a regular basis can be profound in once again regulating attention, which means that you’re being curious, and you cannot be anxious.

4) Improve interoception, otherwise known as self-awareness

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs? The bottom of the pyramid is our basic physiological needs. For example, are you hungry or are you full? Do you need to go to the bathroom or did you hold it for too long?  Do you need to rest today or can you push it a little harder in your workout? Tune in to what’s happening from an internal standpoint, not necessarily just external. We want to think about what are we feeling on the inside.

Summary

Bonus! Curiosity can significantly enhance learning and retention of information over time!

Seeking out new knowledge, cultivating mindfulness, and tuning into to what is going on in your own body can have profound impact on decreasing anxiety and also preventing anxiety, and potential undue stress.

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

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