Don’t Put the Cat Before the Horse!
Happy 2020 everyone! Did you make a New Year’s resolution pertaining to your health? If so, how’s it going? It’s February and sadly many people are already discouraged and struggling to maintain the goals they set for themselves. As an acupuncturist I find myself giving pep talks and offering words of encouragement to my patients who really want to incorporate lifestyle changes to improve how they feel, but can’t seem to get any lasting momentum going in that direction. Over the years I have found that many people put the cat before the horse (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be cart before the horse but I’m into cats and one of my resolutions is to be even sillier than I already am) when embarking on a big lifestyle change which ultimately sets them up for failure. For instance, starting a running practice is a great idea but not if you haven’t at least been walking on a regular basis. A drastic change of diet is another popular resolution but just cutting back on sugar would be radical enough for many people and a better way to begin. It has been my personal experience and that of many of my patients, that lasting success is more easily obtained when certain bottom line criteria are in place before trying to incorporate a big lifestyle change. Those bottom line requirements are proper hydration, a deep breathing/meditation practice to relieve stress, restorative sleep and a healthy diet and good digestion. If any one of these categories is lacking then you’ve put the cat before the horse😺and forward progress will be harder!
Let’s start with water. In a nutshell, proper hydration supports every function in the body. Period. Our bodies are made up of upwards of 70% fluids. Water is a vital part of those fluids. If you are even slightly dehydrated and you add in a new, daily physical activity, you will be putting stress on your whole system. Cartilage, which cushions our joints, is made up of 80% water. Dehydration slows the delivery of vital nutrients needed for cartilage repair and joints are left susceptible to injury. Chronic unintentional dehydration lowers blood volume, putting stress on the heart and causing palpitations and increased heart rate. Lower blood volume also results in less blood and oxygen getting to muscles. Muscle strains, tears, and bone fractures are common effects of exercising while dehydrated. If you have embarked on a new exercise routine and you’re not properly hydrated you’re putting the cat before the horse 😹and setting yourself up for injury and discouragement.
I recommend drinking ½ your body weight in ounces of pure water every day. Add 8 oz. extra for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage. If you aren’t even close to the baseline, then start out slow and build up over several days to a week. When increasing your water make sure to include plenty of good quality sea salt to your diet. The pH of our body fluids is close to that of sea water so it is important to keep your electrolytes balanced, especially salt. For further reading about dehydration and chronic illness I highly recommend reading Your Body's Many Cries for Water by Dr. F. Batmanghelidj
The simple act of taking 10-15 minutes every day to sit quietly and breath deeply can have a profound impact on your health. Like water, the cells of your body also need plenty of oxygen. Giving your cells a charge of fresh oxygen on a daily basis is a sure way to boost your metabolism, lower stress, decrease pain, improve your digestion and lower your blood pressure, just to name a few. I come from a long line of shallow breathers. My mother holds her breath and I learned it from her. There is always a way to blame everything on our mothers! If you aren’t breathing deeply every day, then you’re putting the cat before the horse!😸
Daily deep breathing is as important as staying properly hydrated and sleeping well. For more inspiration and information on deep breathing meditation and the benefits checkout the following links:
Now let’s talk about sleep! If you’re not a good sleeper and you’re always chronically tired, and you’ve decided to start a new, strenuous activity to boost your metabolism, you’re putting the cat before the horse!😹 Sleep is the place where your body repairs and refreshes itself. Muscles that don’t get a chance to repair at night are more prone to injury. Like dehydration, consequences of chronic sleep deprivation effects every organ and system in the body and goes beyond muscular skeletal injury, including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. Making a resolve to find ways to improve your sleep is truly something worth focusing on in this new year and will be a very important foundational building block to your overall health goals. If you’d like some good tips on improving sleep please visit the following websites:
8 Tips for Beating Insomnia and Improving Your Sleep Chris Kresser, M.S.
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep A resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
How to Sleep Better Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.
Healthy diet and good digestion...
I listed food last because I think that unless you’re hydrated, rested and sufficiently chilled out, your digestion is impaired and what food you do eat isn’t being digested and metabolized very well anyway. When you regularly engage your sympathetic nervous system (releasing your fight or flight hormones) your digestion system slows or shuts down. When your body thinks it is being chased by a tiger digestion slows or evens stops so that the body can divert all its internal energy to facing a perceived threat. Eating in a relaxed mood and chewing thoroughly promotes good digestion. The food you choose in that atmosphere has a better chance of nourishing your body. What food you choose to eat is a personal choice but one thing is for sure, if your diet is heavy on sugar and processed foods and you want to establish a long term wellness and exercise program then you’re putting the cat before the horse! Making a New Years resolution to quit added sugar (except on very special occasions!) would be one of the absolute very best things you could do for your overall health.
The take away?
Resolving to implement and maintain even one of the above recommendations would be a wonderful goal for this New Year. Rocking all of them would make you feel amazing and set you up to reach all your goals around health and beyond!
Move your liver Qi! What?!
Almost everyone has heard of Qi these days and knows, according to Asian medicine anyway, it’s needs to flow smoothly in our bodies or we feel less than great. In Chinese medicine every organ has a function in our overall health and the Liver has many jobs, but the most significant role is to promote the smooth flow of Qi and Blood in the whole body. An old Chinese proverb says “if the Qi and Blood are free flowing in the body then there is no disease” That is one of the reasons acupuncture is so effective in treating many illnesses and speeds recovery after physical injuries or operations – it gently reminds your body of its natural rhythm and flow and promotes your body’s own healing capability.
Aside from acupuncture, there are many ways to promote Liver function, both from a Western and Eastern point of view. The obvious ones are reducing stress, limiting sugar, caffeine and alcohol, more exercise and daily meditation. The one thing that often gets overlooked as a wonderful way to promote the flow of Liver Qi is being creative. Getting into the zone is one of the best ways to support Liver function and therefore the smooth flow of Qi in the whole body. Being creative is different for everyone. The act of creating can take many forms and it doesn’t have to be the usual things we think are creative like painting, writing etc. Being creative can be something as simple as clearing a space on a cluttered shelve and arranging a pleasing bouquet or re-creating space in your home or office so that you just love it when you walk in.
Like laughing, getting in the “zone” and letting our creative juices flow, has a real and measurable physiological impact on our bodies. According to an article in Forbes magazine by health coach Ashley Stahl, being creative increases happiness, reduces dementia, improves mental health, boosts your immune system and makes you smarter! There is a lot of scientific research that substantiate these claims and many large leading edge corporations are providing space and time for their employees to be creative as a way to promote health, along with job performance and satisfaction.
In this New Year I’ve finally made the decision to honor my inner found object (trash)artist and am regularly scouring the beach for materials. I have even made a makeshift studio space in our garage. To inspire you here is a picture of me playing with my beach findings. I’ll keep updated. But one thing is for sure, liberating my inner trash artist is the very best thing I’ve done to relieve stress and move my stagnant Liver Qi in years! So get out there and uncover your creative genius!
Here is me getting happier, healthier and smarter! 😻