Our epic family adventure to begin 2018.
Your thoughts become your beliefs
Your body is aching. You've trained 2 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 6 weeks straight. You continually push through the 'no pain no gain' barrier for faster results.
You know you should slow down but this punishment is given for the reward of rock-hard abs and a tight butt.
You took some time off your regular tennis classes last Christmas and got comfortable. You are rapidly gaining weight and losing muscle tone as the months pass. You are well-versed in the ins and outs of tennis, but you can't seem to find the motivation to pick up that racket and ball.
You know you need to head out and do a work out, but that snooze button is being thwacked at a consistent rate most mornings. And you roll over.
You love your yoga class. You've been going for a few weeks now and you feel like you're getting into the flow of it. If only you were as flexible as that long-legged, muscular dude who practices at the same studio.
You strain to touch your toes with straight legs, ignoring the teacher's instructions to move slowly into the pose and bend your knees to protect your lower back. You feel a twinge in your lower back, but ignore it and go deeper.
You might be a mathematician, an astronaut, a psychologist, a counsellor, an artist, a performer, an IT professional.
You might have an average to high IQ - intelligence quotient. You might have an enviable EQ - emotional intelligence.
You may be vibrantly skilled in any number of the multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, such as musical or linguistic intelligence.
However, in order to have a thriving physical life, you really need enhance your BQ - your body intelligence, according to Margaret Moore, MBA, and Jim Gavin, Ph.D., in the November 2010 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal (Gavin and Moore, 2010). While Garner highlights that kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are key to an athlete's impressive and graceful abilities, Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, argues that BQ requires much more than that.
BQ is considered to be the combination of 3 important skills, or pillars:
somatic awareness - knowledge - engagement
Somatic awareness means how aware you are of your body; knowledge, what you know about your body; and engagement, what you do for and with your body.
This subtle and finely-attuned form of intelligence brings you in touch with what your body feels, needs, and knows, things which are uniquely different for each of us. It seems that this type of knowledge is essential for both enhancing your personal wellness, but also avoiding injury and illness.
You may know people who have a vast amount of knowledge about the body's physiology, anatomy, or perhaps even information in one particular skill, such as a football coach, or a dance instructor. Yet, when they themselves go to train, they push far beyond their own physical boundaries, causing micro-tears or strains that may eventually lead to long-term damage. Despite their incredible knowledge, they aren't tuning in to their own body telling them when enough is enough.
Or perhaps you know a brain surgeon or a famous mathematician who works well into the night, ignoring their own physical needs, the need to move, the need to hydrate, to the point of self-destruction.
Where do I get off making statements like this?
The truth is, I am one of those people. I admit it. I believe my BQ could be better, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for many of you. Most of us are lacking in at least one of the three pillars which make up a well-rounded body intelligence. Becoming aware of BQ and identifying where you are falling short could be the key to living with vibrant health for the long-term.
I can safely say that my BQ has improved over the years, especially after I began yoga and, much like anything you begin to pay attention to, I'm quite sure it will continue to improve. There's no end point to building this intelligence really, so there's no reason to put it off for later. You can begin to improve your BQ right now.
The question is, where are you letting yourself down? Is it one pillar, or two...or perhaps all three! Let's find out more...
Somatic awareness is the level at which you are tuned in to your body and listening for subtle shifts and signs of change. If your body could speak, these tiny sensations would be the words, or messages, telling you what the body needs and feels. Wilber (2000) distinguishes different kinds of sensations from subtle to gross.
Subtle sensations incorporate awareness of depleted or heightened personal energy, the awareness of where joy or sadness sits within the body, or the shifts in energy of the environment around you.
Gross sensations include the feeling of muscle tension when stressed, a limit to your range of motion, or muscle and joint stiffness.
Sometimes your awareness can be raised on either a gross or subtle level after eating a particular food. Perhaps this food gives you satisfaction and sustained energy, it may give you a quick rush and a massive dive, like processed sugar, or perhaps it gives you indigestion or stomach upset.
Developing awareness around the gross and subtle messages from your body allows you to make quick decisions and shifts in action, so you can guide your body to a safer, happier, and hopefully healthier place.
Somatic awareness and yoga
Having awareness of the subtle and gross physical sensations within the body is a key player in most yoga classes. It may be the first time that you have listened, really listened, to the inhale and exhale of your breath and noticed whether it is calm and gentle, or rapid and rasped, or somewhere in between.
It may be the first time that you have slowed down and paid attention to the sensation in your hamstrings as you stand and fold forward in Uttanasana.
It may be the voice in your mind, noticing the signs from your body and telling you to hold back from going into a full headstand until your shoulders and torso are strong enough to hold you safely.
A good yoga teacher will ask you to tune into your bodily sensations in each class, becoming aware that you are not on autopilot and that a pose which was accessible one day, may not be there for you the next day, like the balance needed in a standing pose. If the balance isn't there for you, you don't need to force yourself into it. It's simple. Yet it is so hard for many to let go of the need to push through it, and stop and really listen to their body's messages.
You don't need to go to a yoga class in order to develop awareness of the subtle and gross sensations from your body. See below for some tips on how to develop somatic awareness on a day to day basis.
Knowledge is a confusing subject in the internet age. And yes, I can say 'the internet age' because I remember a time when there was no internet!
So, on the one hand, we are able to access the answer to pretty much anything with a few key word searches on Google. This is an amazing thing. We can bring the University into the home and educate ourselves! Yet it can also lead to a self-proclaimed expertise in almost any subject area, including Google Doctor self-diagnoses, and remedies and concoctions to cure illnesses which are unproven and sometimes downright dangerous.
Using Google searches can lead to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in 'analysis paralysis' as we sit like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure of what to do with all the Google 'answers'. Despite this, enhancing our knowledge, and connecting with like-minded people all over the world, for free, is an absolutely incredible achievement.
So much can be gained, and shared through the internet.
So we have all the information we need at our fingertips. All the knowledge in the world. Yet still people engage in unhealthy choices. As Gavin and Moore (2010) state, 'most people live as if the rules did not apply to them'. Are you one of those people?
Body knowledge is also known as 'health literacy' and considers things like, your level of knowledge over health standards and guidelines; how well you know generic scientific information and the application of it to your personal health; knowledge of scientific facts and practices; knowing what the appropriate actions are to diagnose and treat physical conditions, or what to do in the case of not knowing.
Let's try this. Can you answer the following questions:
What is the recommended amount of sleep per night?
What is the minimum amount of water you should drink every day?
What should you eat or drink to be healthy?
What is the maximum amount of alcohol you should drink per day or week?
How much exercise should you do?
What is appropriate exercise for you?
How should you sit when working or studying?
Do you know when an illness can be managed at home and when you should see a doctor?
Building knowledge can definitely be done with the help of Google. There's no doubt about it.
The important thing to be aware of though, is where you get your information from. I'll be the first to admit that sourcing knowledge from a blog is a murky place, sometimes more of a bog than a blog.
There are many experts or trustworthy people (plug plug) who write blogs. However, if they are providing evidence or new knowledge, just make sure they give you the source of their information. Check the source. Is it reputable? Is it from a scientific journal or reliable source?
These things matter
Because what Joe Bloggs says in Joe Bloggs Blog can't be taken as evidence unless they can show you it is true in scientifically controlled conditions or, at the very least, published by an academic or professional in the industry. And if it can't be taken as valid evidence, you are taking a very big risk in blindly following the advice.
Ok, I'm going off on a little tangent here I guess! But it's still related. It's all about knowledge. Grow your knowledge around health. Use your brain to determine whether the source is trustworthy, and give more weight to the information which has been proven. It is done to protect you. Phew! Ok. Moving on.
Knowledge and yoga
Yoga is another minefield altogether. Yoga can help you to build knowledge alongside awareness of your physical body. As you learn the strengths and limitations of your physical body and mind, you may also learn more about certain poses, and the philosophy that is the foundations of yoga, because the physical practice is really only one small part of it.
Having said that, these days you can have yoga asana in virtually every form.
I'm surprised I haven't seen cooking yoga yet... you heard it here first!
As there are so many yoga styles, and so many teachers around, it is easy to try something new. The only caution I would add to the pillar of knowledge is to check out the knowledge of your teacher also. Yoga seems like a very passive and harmless practice, but it is easy to sustain long-term damage to the body while doing it. Please practice in an environment which is safe, with a teacher you can trust.
Where to begin when building your knowledge? Scroll down for some tips below!
If you are able to tune in to your body and understand what it needs, and then actively engage in it, you are performing 'engagement'. There are no rules as to how long or how much you need to do something in order to be engaged. For some who rarely exercise, a short walk around the block - because you know you need to start moving - is a form of engagement. Being fully aware of what your body needs, and then actively participating means that you are totally tuned in to the fruition of awareness and knowledge through engagement. The other two pillars cannot function effectively without this pillar.
It is important to remember that, based on knowledge and awareness, your engagement can change all the time. You may start with a short walk, and then become aware that your body is used to it and can move more. You may then progress to a longer, brisker walk, taking into account all the time, that this may change, based on what your body needs each day. Awareness is about understanding when your resistance is psychological, and when it is due to a true physical barrier, and then engaging accordingly.
Yoga and engagement
If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with your teacher saying something like, 'honour yourself for showing up', or 'yoga isabout showing up'. What does this mean?
Like any physical practice, you probably have many days where you'd rather stay at home in your pj's. For many, even getting changed and making your way to class is an act of engagement in your own wellness, and you should be proud of yourself for doing it.
Showing up to the yoga class when you are aware of your body and know what it needs - this is engagement.
Then, within the poses, bringing your full awareness and attention to the sensations of the pose, bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment of engagement in that pose - this is engagement.
Check out the tips below to build your pillar of engagement.
Putting it all together
I hope I have given you some sense of what Body Intelligence is in this blog. There is a lot more to uncover, but I wanted to share the basics with you. I am constantly focussed on improving all three pillars but, really, there is so much more to learn.
The first step is really to have a think on your own practices to determine whether you are not paying attention to one or two particular areas.
Perhaps you know very well what you should be doing, but you are not making the time in your day to do it.
Or perhaps you've recently thrown yourself into a boot camp, when really your body needs to start with some gentle walks and swims first.
No one is perfect and there are plenty of ways for us all to build our BQ.
How to build your pillars
- Stop and notice - set up regular points during the day to stop and notice how your body is feeling, especially during any physical activity.
- Perform a mental scan of your body - perhaps do it before you exercise, after you exercise, and a few hours later.
- Start a journal on your physical practice routine. It doesn't have to be long, just a few points on how you feel before, during , and after the practice.
- Find some reputable journals and news sources to build your health literacy
- Join the mailing list of a news health website you can trust
- Participate in a knowledge-building workshop, whether it is for healthy cooking, a first aid course, and so on.
- Find yourself an exercise buddy you can check in with. You don't necessarily have to exercise together, but you can check in weekly and help each other to stay accountable.
- Book yourself in to classes or sports. When the time comes to do the class, you can scan your body and decide whether it is appropriate for you.
- Have a go at a new kind of exercise. There are plenty of free trials around. You might find something you like!
As a coach, I can work with you to identify the pillars you should be focussing on, whether it is one or all three. Together we can build a plan to help you gain confidence in your own body. I'm happy to chat with you about it at any time.
Disclaimer: As always, please see your GP before engaging in any new forms of exercise, especially if you are suffering from a medical condition.
Gardner, H. 1983, Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Book Inc.
Gavin, J., and Moore, M., 2010, Body Intelligence: a guide to self-attunement', in Idea Fitness Journal, November 2010, accessed 19 March 2016, <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-intelligence-a-guide-to>
Wilber, K. 2000. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.
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Ph: 0421 487 406 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Or book here!
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Sometimes, 'being positive' has been getting a bit of a bad rap...unfortunately the concepts of gratitude and positive thinking tend to conjure up the cringe-worthy image of a smarmy smiley Eastern suburbs green smoothie gurgling yoga fanatic with 'no sense of the real world'. In fact... if you look on the surface, you might even see that in me! Youtube parodies and TV shows mock the stereotype that yoga and healthy living has become, but does that mean some people are missing out on something that might change their lives?
The truth is, positive thinking runs much deeper than that, and the thread can be followed to the increasing presence of Eastern philosophical practices in our Western society. As many of you know, the standard Western lifestyle has left many dissatisfied and disillusioned. The drive to --> work --> earn --> build --> and buy - has left many feeling unfulfilled, off-track, and sometimes flat out depressed.
While more and more of us have sought insight and inspiration in Eastern philosophies on the individual level, many scientists and researchers have also sought to glean new knowledge from ancient practices. In fact, such has the line separating Eastern from Western practices blurred through modern global living, that practices like yoga, meditation and Buddhist philosophies have become a common part of the every day life of many. Also, the anecdotal quips of the benefits of these practices are often being backed up by thorough scientific research.
So why is it that makes some of us recoil when we hear about positive thinking - yet again!?
What is it that gets us all worked up about it?
The truth is, we all have our own inner demons to battle, and sometimes being told to 'just smile' or 'think positive to get positive' when in the midst of our darkest moments can leave us feeling alienated, strange, and misunderstood. If only it were that easy! For those going through real, 's*@! is hitting the fan' life events, hearing this can be the ultimate slap in the face. Yet, while well-intentioned do-gooders can sometimes be annoying, there is something to be said about giving it a go.
---> Confession! You may class me as one of those well-intentioned, do-gooders - it's true! In fact, I am passionate about finding ways to improve health through body and mind, including living with authenticity and positivity. But anyone who knows me will agree that I am not your run-of-the-mill, smiley, 'bless thee' yogi sterotypes, and you don't have to be either if you want to live with more optimism. You can improve your mindset and, as a result, improve your health, without floating away into blissville.
What I'd like to do today, is to urge you to look a little deeper than the modern, superficial presentation of 'positive thinking' and:
- Consider how practicing positive thinking can benefit your physical health;
- Consider how it can benefit your emotional health; and
- Consider how it can help build and sustain emotional relationships around you.
I'm asking you to consider how, on a day to day basis you might start to just appreciate 'being', the mere fact that you are alive in this very moment, and that is all.
Barbara Fredrickson is a social psychologist who has been researching human emotions and psychology for over 25 years. She points out that optimism is a mindset that produces many positive emotions, such as, amusement, joy, happiness, gratitude, serenity, inspiration, and peace. Her research has found that an increase in positive feelings leads to an improvement in levels of happiness, and an enhancement of physical and psychological health, even to the point of seeing healthier gene expression (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015). Other researchers support Fredrickson's work. Harvard School of Public Health researcher, Laura Kubzansky, found that engaging in meaningful positive emotion and engagement can improve mood, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce systemic inflammation, and increase antioxidants and good blood cholesterol (The Observer, 2013).
A number of leading universities have taken great interest in researching this fascinating subject. The University of Pennsylvania's 'Authentic Happiness' website of the Positive Psychology Centre is dedicated to researching, reporting, and providing resources on the influence positive psychology has on health and well-being. Centre Director, Dr Martin Seligman, an influencer of Fredrickson, has also spent decades researching positive psychology, focussing on how character strengths and optimism can serve to enhance the well-being of people and communities. If you'd like to discover more about your own character strengths, virtues and approach to happiness, head on over to the website and register to take some of their free questionnaires.
Choosing a different mindset
Some of Fredrickson's work focussed on what happens to people when they consciously change their input and output of positive emotions each day, i.e. when they 'choose to be happy'.
In her trial, participants were randomly assigned to be taught certain techniques to self-generate positivity each day for more than 6 weeks. The techniques were derived from ancient Buddhist and meditation practices. At baseline, the participants were measured physiologically, and completed an extensive survey on their emotional habits. Participants were tracked via a daily log for 3 months. At the end of the study they were assessed again, with monitoring of the heart and blood samples taken, and they also completed the same extensive survey that they completed at the start of the study.
What the researchers found was that those who learned to consciously 'chose' positive emotions had improved heart rate variability and alterations in the gene expression of their immune system (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015).
What does that mean for us?
So, I bet you're wondering, what are these techniques? What are these positive practices that researchers are proving to be so health-giving?
Does all this mean you have to run around with a smile on your dial all the time, like some kind of Stepford wife?
> I'm happy!
> I'm happy!
> Yay I'm happy!
Firstly, let's be clear. All emotions are useful and should be listened to for what they are communicating. One of the beautiful aspects of yoga is the way it makes you slow down and pay attention to the physical presentation of the body in connection with the mind.
Emotions are not only contained in the mind. You know it yourself. What happens when you feel hurt or overwhelmed or angry? You get a physiological response don't you?
Anger increases the pulse rate, switches on many muscles, clenches your jaw, and prepares your sympathetic nervous system for 'fight or flight'.
Sadness closes in on you. Your world becomes smaller. You become smaller, your eyes are downcast, your shoulders are rounded. These are universal presentations of different emotional states. No one is telling you to just pretend they aren't happening! But what you can do is take a moment to...
Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Focus in on your breath and ask yourself,
What emotions am I feeling now? How is this showing up in my body?
Begin to recognise your emotions. See them and accept them.
Often what happens is, we tend to stay in negative emotional states longer than we need. The situation has passed or changed but we are still hanging onto the emotion.
Like ruminating on a past event, going over and over in your mind what someone said to upset you.
Building a positive mindset is about having strategies to move from a negative state up the emotional scale to a more positive state, and as the research shows, doing this on a daily basis builds resistance and makes you more likely to stay in a positive state.
So, step number one is to recognise the state you are in, and step number two is to employ some effective techniques to improve your mindset.
This is the key when those negative emotions are no longer serving you and are only causing you distress and physical strain.
Even more so, this is the key to moving from a flat, humdrum existence, to living with more vitality, greater health, and a daily sense of joy...
...simply for being alive.
There are many techniques to help you improve your mindset.
Try some different techniques to see what works for you.
Or, if you'd like to go a little deeper, contact me to set up a free 15 minute Discovery Session via phone or Skype and we can talk through your next steps to a better mindset and good health.
Wishing you great happiness ;-) xo
'New Frontiers in the Science of Positive Emotions', 2013, Observer, Vol 26. No.6, July/August, accessed 10 February 2016, <http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/july-august-13/new-research-on-positive-emotions.html>
Positivity: All in the mind, 2015, Radio Program, Radio National, ABC, 14 June 2015
University of Pennsylvania, 2016, Authentic Happiness, accessed 10 February 2016, <https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/home>
What do you do at the end of a long week...perhaps unwind with a beer or wine? Kick back, relax with friends, have 'one more' and 'just one more' after that to release the stress of the week?
We're back into the swing of things at work and it is very tempting to throw back a few drinks at the end of the week, isn't it? I mean, after all, if you're like me, you've been really good all week! You didn't drink much during the week, you ate well, you went to the gym...there's nothing wrong with a wine or two....right?
I'm the same. I also enjoy a glass or two of wine with my husband on the weekend now and then...but after seeing this, I might be re-thinking exactly how full my glass is (the one with alcohol in it, anyway!), or how many glasses I have.
It is interesting to watch this little experiment (Is Binge Drinking That Bad, 2016) with identical twins. For one month, they each drink the U.K.'s recommended intake of alcohol per week, one at a moderate pace over the week, and the other all at once, binge-drinking style. The results are admittedly funny, and also a little terrifying. Most interesting of all, *spoiler!* is that they both had major changes in their blood work from baseline after 4 weeks, in areas such as liver inflammation and systemic inflammation, and more - with systemic inflammation, the body behaves as if it is fighting a virus - perhaps the cause of that fuzzy headed feeling. So, clearly it's not the greatest news. More changes were noted in their blood tests, but you'll have to watch to see for yourself.
Also very interesting is that they were both only drinking the U.K.'s recommended intake! They were not drinking any more than what was recommended as safe.
1. The U.K. recently reviewed those guidelines and changes were made to the recommendations. It is important to note that in this show, they were drinking the recommended intake before (Arnett, 2016) the changes recently made, i.e. they made the show before the changes came out, following the older guidelines. Still, their findings are very interesting and it is worth considering your own intake compared to theirs, and also how it changes from country to country.
2, Also, to be fair, it should be stated that this is not a scientifically valid experiment, especially with only 2 subjects! The conclusion that can be drawn from it is that, for their particular body composition, the U.K.'s formerly recommended alcohol intake is actually not sufficient for them to avoid long-term liver damage. Quite a sobering thing to discover, isn't it? - yes, pun intended! Their results also beg the question, if this is true for these two people, how many others is it also true for? And, will the new changes to the U.K. guidelines be enough for the majority of people?
Ok, so what are the recommended guidelines and how are they shown?
Well, as you probably know, women are generally recommended to drink less than men, because we metabolise alcohol in a different way to men due to our higher body fat composition.
The recommendations are presented as units, where one unit = 10 grams of alcohol, however I have read here (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) that the U.S. guidelines take a standard unit to be 14 grams of alcohol so...not sure what to say about that, except that it is best to research the advice for your particular country to be sure.
The number of units recommended varies from country to country actually, and those variations are really surprising! As a guide of what a standard drink actually equates to, a small (125 ml) glass of wine is 1.6 units, a bottle of wine is about 10 units, a 25 ml shot of spirits is 1 unit, and a pint of beer is 2.3 units (Change for Life, 2016).
Here's the breakdown for Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.A.
Women = 14
Men = 14
* and no more than 4 standard drinks at any one time.
Here's some further information (Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2015) on the alcohol guidelines from the Australian Government. I also found this super cool organisation (Hello Sunday Morning, 2016) through www.alcohol.gov.au. They've created an app that is designed to help you change your relationship with alcohol, join like-minded people, and share your hangover-free Sundays. Loving this as it totally aligns with my concept of Sunrise-ing Well through making better lifestyle choices. Here is the app for iPhone, not sure if there is an Android version. You can also find their Facebook page here.
U.K.: ---> NEWS! The Guidelines were changed since the doco was made! So they were right when they predicted in the show that the amount of alcohol per week would be reduced. The changes were made in early January and now stand as:
Women = 14 units or less per week
Men = 14 units or less per week
Here's a nice little graphic display (Change For Life, 2016) of how much that actually translates to based on alcohol type in the U.K.
Notice how there is no difference in the recommendations for men or women?
Women = 7 units or less per week (in Australian/U.K. terms that works out to almost 10 standard drinks)
Men = 14 units or less per week (almost 20 standard drinks in the Australian/U.K. equivalent)
*Note that the U.S. measurement of a unit is higher than that of the U.K. or Australia so I've given the rough equivalent above. Here's a link (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) to more on this.
So what does this mean for you and me? Well, look, I'll be honest...I don't drink more than a standard glass every now and then these days, and after looking into it, I'd say I'll be cutting back even more!
What about you? Can you see yourself cutting your intake back a little? A lot? For many it is not as easy as just saying you will stop or cut back and hey presto it's done. There are many factors that need to be considered before making a commitment to cut back. In my one-on-one coaching sessions, I help you to identify the areas you need to address in your life in order to make the changes you want to make. For example, it may be that you need to work on improving or changing your habits in the area of relationships, or how you deal with stress, before you can tackle the goal of reducing alcohol. Together we can identify the areas where you are stuck and build a strategy towards change. Making huge commitments in short periods of time runs the risk of rebound and bingeing even more, so I encourage you to start slow and build up as your confidence grows.
Plus - big news! - I haven't made any official announcement yet, but I am planning to run a group coaching program to help you 'Stress Less and Live More'! This could be the perfect opportunity to start reducing your alcohol intake with a group of people supporting and sharing the journey. Keep your eye out for my posts and contact me if you are interested in finding out more...exciting!!
If you'd like to chat with me about your goals around alcohol or any other health habit, I offer a free 15 minute Discovery Call where we can discuss the areas you want to change. The call is totally risk-free and can give you a chance to hone in on what's important for you. Use my contact form here to get in touch and set up your call.
Arnett, G. 2016 'How do the UK's new alcohol guidelines compare with the rest of the world's?', The Guardian, 8 January 2016, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2016/jan/08/how-do-the-uks-new-alcohol-guidelines-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-worlds>
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2015 Alcohol Guidelines: Reducing the Health Risks, NHMRC, viewed 29 January 2016, <https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol-guidelines>
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015, Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm>
Change For Life, 2016, Alcohol Units and Guidelines, Change for Life, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/Pages/alcohol-lower-risk-guidelines-units.aspx>
Hello Sunday Morning, 2016, Hello Sunday Morning, viewed 29 January 2016, <https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/>
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended to share publicly available information and assist you in making informed choices for improved health. It in no way replaces the guidance of your GP or health provider. If you feel your alcohol intake is unsafe or dangerous, or that you are suffering from alcohol addiction, please see your GP for medical assistance right away.
I am super excited about this TED Talk I want to share with you all, 'How to make stress your friend', by health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal. As a yoga teacher and mindful wellness coach, I'm all about reducing unnecessary life stress, but does that mean there is no place for tension in our lives? Current research shows there is a place for stress and making friends with it is a good idea.
New research out of Harvard demonstrates that it is not stress itself which causes health problems and possible early deaths. Rather, it is the way we perceive stress which is the big issue. What I want to show you is that we can experience the stress response* in a healthy way.
* What is the stress response? Follow this link to a clear explanation on the stress response via the Harvard Medical School. As you will see, the stress response begins in the brain and induces a whole-body physiological and emotional response. This response was borne through evolution and serves a very important purpose in our survival, but these days it is often induced in non-threatening situations time and time again, day in and day out. Chronic activation of the stress response has been linked to high blood pressure, anxiety, poor sleep, depression, and more. It is important to understand the role of this stress response, befriend it so to speak, but also to develop personal tools to help counteract the negative effects.
Of course that doesn't mean we have free reign to head out and overload our lives with stressful situations thinking it is good for us! No doubt, it is better to try to reduce the amount of stress in our lives as much as possible. However, sometimes we are in situations which really do call for a natural stress response in the body and, if that does happen, research shows it is better to consider this reaction as a normal part of your physiology. Listen to your body, rather than trying to fight it.
Yes, it sounds like a bit of a Catch 22, and in some ways it is. The point is, do as much as you can to reduce stress in your life, but if it does come up, roll with it rather than fight it!
If you have or you know someone who has stress-related health issues, have a listen to the link above. It might change your life, and may make you think twice the next time you are stressed out.
---> For those short on time - and stressed out about it! - here are some of the main points from the talk:
- For many years Kelly McGonigal preached against stress, considering it our worst enemy, something to be avoided at all costs. She pushed the notion that stress makes us sick, reduces immunity and can bring on preventable illness and death from cardiovascular disease.
- Her beliefs were dramatically reversed when she came across the results of a longitudinal study in the U.S.A of 30 000 people. The study found that people had a 43% increased risk of dying after a highly-stressed year, only if they perceived that stress as harmful. If they didn't consider it harmful, their risk of dying was even lower than people who only reported a little stress. I know! Crazy right?! So, all this time we have been thinking it is stress itself which is the issue, but it may be the way we look at that stress which really needs the work.
- Science indicates that if you change your mind about stress and consider the experience in a positive way, your body will listen and act accordingly. This doesn't mean the physical stress signs disappear. Rather, what happens is that you view those physical changes in a positive way, which allows the body to move through the process naturally and comfortably.
- Key points from the Harvard study: Participants were told that the heart pounding is to energise the body and prepare for action, the increased breathing rate is to give the muscles much needed oxygen. In short, they were told their body is doing exactly what it is supposed to do in a stressful situation. The study found those participants then had reduced anxiety and stress over this reaction and were more confident in stressful situations.
- The results: In typically stressful situations, the heart rate goes UP and the blood vessels CONSTRICT, a situation which is commonly associated with cardiovascular disease and a possible increased risk of stroke. In this study, after participants learned to be aware and accepting of their stress response, their heart rate still went UP, which is normal, but their blood vessels STAYED OPEN AND RELAXED. This type of physiological response is quite similar to the positive emotions of JOY or COURAGE. Clearly this is a much healthier response for the cardiovascular system.
- The stress response also releases the famed neuro-hormone OXYTOCIN, known to be the love hormone of the body. Many people do not know that oxytocin is as important as adrenaline when responding to stress. So what does it do in this situation??
Firstly, oxytocin creates a sense of connection, it makes you crave physical contact. You know when you're all stressed out and all you really want is a hug? Well, good! Your body is working! Hopefully you'll get that hug and your oxytocin will increase even more!
- The other thing oxytocin does is work on helping your body. It is an anti-inflammatory agent, helping the blood vessels stay relaxed and open, as discussed above. It also does incredible things to the heart muscle itself. The heart has receptors for the hormone and the oxytocin helps the heart cells to heal and regenerate from any damage caused to the heart muscle during stress. So it all works in a cyclical, healing way! The stress response is a natural part of our physiology, and we have in-built mechanisms to reduce the damage caused by the stress!
- Final study: 1000 adults in the U.S.A. ranging from 34 to 93 years of age. The participants were interviewed about the level of stress and kind of stressful events they had experienced in the previous year, and also how much they had been involved in helping out friends, family, or the community. They were followed for 5 years and rates of death were recorded.
- Findings: For every stressful life event, the risk of dying increased by 30%....BUT! Those who reported caring for other people (family, friends, community), had 0% increased risk of dying. SO...caring created resilience! Yay!
The take aways on this...
So what does this mean?
Should we run-out and get stressed-out as much as possible in the hopes of increasing our oxytocin levels and possibly getting more hugs?? Obviously not! Though hugs are great - I'm all for extra hugs in your day!
Ultimately, the more you can avoid landing in a stressful situation, the better. This may mean improving your planning or communication skills, working on your romantic relationship, talking to your manager about your workload, or whatever you need to do to help reduce stress in your life. Even doing this though, it is likely we will still come across stress in our lives.
In that case, the first thing to do is develop the skills to differentiate between normal stress versus over-reactive stress.
There are various techniques available to us, such as mindfulness and meditation, which can give the ability to step back from a situation and evaluate it, deciding whether it really is a stressful situation, if you are over-reacting, or if the situation can be viewed in a different, more positive way.
If the situation calls for some level of unavoidable stress, perhaps one of the best things to do is to accept it for what it is, understand that your body is fuelling you and preparing you for what is coming up, and possibly go seek out a hug from a mate or partner to boost that sense of connection with the outside world.
No mate or partner available? A sense of connection can also be found by heading out to a community sport, grounding yourself with a yoga class, or receiving the healing touch of a full body massage.
--->In short, don't fight stress, or perceive it in a negative way. Your body is your friend trying to help you, so roll with it!
Note: If you are experiencing high levels of stress or illness induced by stress in your life, it is important that you seek external support and visit your GP for advice and medical support. (Dr Google is handy, but information you find on the internet is not a substitute for a face-to-face physical examination by a health care provider!)
The New Year...
Oh that exhilarating time when we can choose to throw out old habits and start anew! There's something so enticing about a fresh start, a chance to review the year past in a bid to have a better year moving forward. A better year can mean so many things, a better relationship, a better diet, a better exercise program...such noble and positive desires that anyone even contemplating them should be applauded. Being reflective and looking for ways to improve are fantastic qualities and important skills to develop if you want to engender real change in your life. But there is one fundamental error that people make at this time which, ultimately, becomes their unraveling. That is, the failure to plan SMART. We will look at this from the case of Bob and his new year plan to handle stress better and, as you'll see, Bob's success really depends on how he focusses on his vision of change, and how he plans the next steps.
Meet Bob. Bob is almost 40 years old. He has been married for 10 years and has 2 kids under the age of 8. He has been working in an office in the city for the last 15 years and is pretty close to paying off the whole mortgage on their small suburban home, however the family is struggling financially, living in an expensive city and struggling to keep up with bills, payments, and living costs. A few years ago Bob realised that the only way he and his family will be able to improve their financial situation is if he moves from his office job into a higher role or a different company. So, last year Bob started studying in the evenings and on weekends. To say the least, Bob had a Very Stressful Year, juggling work, studies, kids and family life, and, truth be told, he didn't always handle his stress well. When he reflected on this over a glass of wine with his wife on New Year's Eve, he boldly proclaimed: "Next year, I won't get so stressed with you and the kids. Things will be different. This is my resolution".
Boom! First mistake right there! Ok, that's dramatic, but I got your attention didn't I? Now consider the following: rather than exiting from a poor habit, create your plan to be something you are moving towards, something enticing!
"I won't get stressed with you and the kids..."
In this scenario, Bob, like most people, focusses on something from the past that he doesn't want in his life anymore. Bob announced that he doesn't want to get stressed anymore. This is ok, but really what he's deciding then, is to take something out of his life, call it 'the deficit', but he isn't considering what he wants to bring into his life, call it 'the positive'. Still, he has a bit of a goal, which is better than nothing, and he pushes on resolutely with his new, hopeful vision. He may even write some things down and follow through on it with some action.
Here's what happens next. Choose from Option 1 or Option 2. Which do you think is more likely to succeed?
Option 1: The typical approach - all or nothing
Bob has already identified that he got too stressed with work, study and family life last year. He may have seen it take a toll on his relationship, his family life, or maybe his wife or a friend even told him. Whatever the case, he has identified the issue and declared that he wants to move towards a life vision which doesn't include this way of handling stress. Bravo Bob! It's not the most enticing or alluring vision, but the fact that he has even considered change is a positive step forward. Many don't even get that far, so let's give him a pat on the back for being open to change.
Bob realises from talking with his wife, that his stress is coming from 3 main areas of his life: time management issues, quality family time issues, and lack of exercise and relaxation. So, in the first week of January, he joins a yoga studio and, not knowing which is best, he buys a bunch of books and CDs on meditation and mindfulness. It seems like a positive step, doesn't it?
Then, because he knows over-work is contributing to his stress, he makes a vow to leave work every day at 5pm on the dot, no excuses.
To improve his family life, he sets up a plan with his wife to spend an extra 3 afternoons a week with the kids and go on a day out as a family every Saturday.
This is something along the lines of what many people do when they decide to make a dramatic change in their life in the new year.
Option 2: The 'Bob is set to thrive' approach:
In this scenario, Bob is again aware of his problem with stress management and spends a good deal of time thinking of his dream living situation. He has realised that the way he deals with stress is having a negative impact on his life, his health, and his relationships, so the motivation to change it is strong. He begins by writing down a clear vision of what he wants. He is aware of what he doesn't want, that is to be stressed and have stress rule his life. So he asks himself what he wants to replace it with.
"I want to not get stressed with my wife and kids" becomes something like, "I want to manage my stress levels and find ease and flow in my day to day life".
Can you see how that moves the goal from wanting something gone, to striving for something new and positive?
The next step is to really focus on the WHY. Why does Bob want this? What are the drivers behind it? Clearly Bob, with a little soul searching, has identified his strong connection to his wife and family and has already realised how important it is to have a positive relationship with them. So, in this case, he may say something like: "I want this so I can have easy, relaxed and fun times with my family and appreciate their presence in my life". So you can see there he has tapped into his personal values, for something outside of himself. He has dug a little deeper to find a really compelling reason to tie his vision to and, in that way, he is setting himself up to have a stronger motivation to succeed. He might even pin a photo of his family above his books in his study to remind him of his goal.
Next, the goals. Remember Scenario 1? Can you guess what might be the danger in the way he set up his strategy in the first week of January?
You got it, it's the goals themselves. They need to be SMART goals and they need to be part of a plan. A SMART goal is as follows:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable/Attractive
R - Realistic
T - Time-specific
So, what can Bob do? Well, to start with, he can be reasonable with himself. With all his good intentions, perhaps Bob really should just take a step back and be honest with himself. He might ask, "What could I be doing in 3 months time to reach my vision of managing my stress load?", and, based on that, "What could I reasonably expect to do this week to move me towards those goals?".
If you want long term change...Be Realistic! If you don't, the main person your harming is you! If you have a dream to run a marathon and you've never run one, would your first training session be a 3km run, or a 30 km run? It's logical! Start small and build up.
Doing it this way, this is something like what Bob's first week of January might be:
- On meditation and yoga, "Am I ready to join a yoga studio and go on a meditation retreat?" - No, I'm not up for it yet.
Ok, what can I do this week?
1. Take the flyers of 3 local yoga studios and talks with the manager of each one about the classes and how they might help him with stress management.
- On leaving work every day at 5pm, "Is this possible right now?" - No, I'm not ready.
Ok, what can I do now?
2. Schedule a meeting with his boss on Wednesday to talk about the distribution of work tasks to see whether some tasks can be taken up by the new Junior Office Worker.
- On scheduling more family time, "How much time can I honestly spare right now, outside of my work and studies?" - Probably no more than one afternoon right now, while I sort out my work load.
3. Plan a picnic for next Saturday afternoon from 1pm with his wife and children.
See how much more manageable this is?
Which option is more likely to succeed in creating long term change? Something broken down into easy steps, or something that start off the size of Mt Everest?
The idea is to start small.
Don't try and do everything at once.
And slowly build on each successful step forward in order to create momentum.
Despite his gallant efforts in Option 1 to become a gym junkie, yogi, family man, there's a good chance that Bob will not be maintaining the strict schedule he has set up and, worse still, if he doesn't arrange things properly around his work and study tasks, there is a good chance that he'll focus on his family and new found yoga, only to have the pile of work building in his absence! If he really wants to manage his work and study time so that he has time and energy for his family and is able to manage his stress, he needs a clear and well laid out strategy, with SMART goals.
So, here's a little game plan for Bob, and for anyone else who has made a bold resolution for the coming year:
Step 1: Get a piece of paper and write down a very compelling, positive vision.
Step 2: Spend some time thinking and writing about your why, your motivation for change - use visuals to really get your heart moving on it!
Step 3: Think about and write down what you would like to be doing in 3 months time to get yourself closer to your vision - and make it SMART!
Step 4: Think about and write down what you can do in the next week to take you your first step towards your vision - and again, make it SMART!
Step 5: Take the first step! Then take another small step, and another, and another and after a while look up and you'll see that you're well on your way to reaching your long term goal!!
***** I hope you get something out of this little story about Bob. Just a little disclaimer here. I've simplified Bob's story and Bob's game plan right down to make it more palatable for a little blog post. In actual fact, it often takes quite a while to really nut out the Whats and the Whys of making a big change in life. In our first 90 minute coaching session we explore this and more, such as blocks, strategies, and value systems in order to really help you define and shape your vision of success and make a clear and compelling strategy to get you there. We've managed to condense the simplified version into Bob's Story, but I'm sure you'll appreciate the basic concept and use some pointers in your own goal-making. *****
Best of luck!!
I joined the gym last year and only went twice! ; I swore I'd stop drinking so much and yet, there I was last week with a killer hangover ; Why do I keep eating that fast food??? Why?!... and it goes on.
Many of us hit the new year with bold ambitions to lose weight or quit smoking, while others are a little more cynical about the true effect of creating new year's resolutions. For many, it can be a time of personal torment, rather than satisfaction and excitement about your plans. As a health coach, I help you create a strong vision and strategy around you health aims and coach you through the process of change. I will be sending out some articles on goal-setting in the next few weeks to help you along with your aims for 2016 ---> so stay tuned!!
For some, their main goal for 2016, is simply to be happier. Sounds pretty straight forward doesn't it ---> Be. Happy.
Then why is it such a struggle?!
What I want to do today is share with you some key information on happiness and well-being and show you 5 free simple apps you can use to increase your happiness and well-being pronto!
We all know that rush you get when someone gives you a little gift. It's definitely a feel-good moment, a part of what Dr Martin Seligman (see below) would call, The Pleasant Life. Like most things pleasant, my way of looking at The Pleasant Life is that it is nice enough, there is appreciation and joy in this life and all your important needs are met, but it's just a little bit bland...perhaps there is a sense that there can be more some how. Going a little bit further with this idea, we meet The Good Life where we use our own unique strengths and gifts to live a better and more fulfilling life. Finally, along this path, we meet The Meaningful Life in which we can use our unique strengths and talents to improve the lives of others and through that gain a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment.
The Meaningful Life: one of the greatest ways to increase personal happiness is to contribute to the welfare of others - volunteering, donation, charity, unpaid work, and, to make this super easy, there are apps you can download to help you!
Study after study demonstrates the positive effects volunteering and social contribution have on health and well-being. Here are just a few articles to read up on:
1. The Journal of Social Science and Medicine, 2008 - Their study suggests that volunteering can increase levels of happiness regardless of socio-economic status.
2. WebMD.com 2015 - cites a study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in England which suggests that there is a link between volunteering and better health and well-being, though more research is needed.
3. The Pursuit of Happiness 2016 - (my favourite research into happiness and a great contributor to my coaching programs!) Dr Martin Seligman states that happiness can be gained through altruism, and there is a chance for great gratification in giving and kindness.
So, there are many ways to donate your time and energy to a good cause. If you don't have a lot of time, you may prefer to give a regular donation to a charity of your choice. What I'd like to share with you today though are 5 easy ways you can contribute to a good cause, all from the comfort of your own phone! Technology today, it's just incredible, isn't it?!
So here are 5 apps that you can download onto your phone right now (I believe they are all free downloads) to start making a positive contribution to the lives of others (are you getting the feel-goods yet??).
Note: I'm giving Android apps - because I heart Android over Apple, sorry, haha - but if you take the name and google it, you'll find the iPhone version easily, and I won't hold it against you ;-).
Share the Meal - with US$ 0.50 cents you can feed a hungry child for a whole day through the United Nations World Food Program.
Dream Lab - The Garvan Institute of Medical Research can harness the power of your phone to speed up cancer research, while you sleep!
Tree Planet 2 - One for the gamers! This app donates one real tree for every game tree planted.
Donate a Photo (main site) - For those who love snapping pics! Snap a pic, upload it on the app, share it on social media - basically what anyone with Instagram usually does, except every time you do it, $1 is donated to a charity you have chosen from their list.
Pay it Forward app - This app looks fun! You are given daily suggestions of 'random acts of kindness' to do, can keep track of your 'kindness progress', and view where the most acts of kindness are being performed in the world through the app.
So, time to get downloading! Which of these apps interests you the most? I want to download them all! I currently have the Dream Lab on my phone and I will definitely get the Pay it Forward app. I might switch it up a bit to save space on my phone.
I'd love to hear what you think of them, maybe you can suggest other contribution apps, or even tell us about other volunteering experiences you've had.
Would love to hear from you!
1. Borgonovi, F. 'Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness', Social Science and Medicine, vol. 66; iss. 11, p.p.2321–2334
2. Preidt, R. 2015, 'Volunteering may make people happier, study finds', WebMD Health Day Reporter, 23 August 2015, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20130823/volunteering-may-make-people-happier-study-finds>
3. Pursuit of Happiness, 2016, Martin Seligman, The Pursuit of Happiness: Bringing the Science of Happiness to Life, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/martin-seligman-positive-psychology/>
Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.
These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life.
*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door.
Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more. So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.
An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).
Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture. Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!
Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.
If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.
If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.
If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.
After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.
As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine. Let me know how you go!
* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*
Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.