Nov 1

Sleep vs Problems

Like Frodo in the Ring trilogy, we Toronto dwellers are constantly fighting problems that come up like orcs. They show up so fast and so many that it can get overwhelming. Right when we are supposed to be getting a good night sleep, these monster problems keep appearing in our minds, making us restless and anxious and completely disturbing our capacity for sleep. While I don’t wield the magical skills that Gandalf has, I can offer you very practical and effective techniques to improve your chances for maximizing your sleep and conquer your problems.

The Bedtime Worry Movie

For us problem solvers, the issues starts right after we get in bed. When our mind quiets down from the daily obligations and goes over the loose ends of the day, the movie starts. The mind makes a “movie” of catastrophes that end taking over your awareness. Then it takes over our sleep. There are two things that in that distraction we do not see.

First, worrying is not an effective way to solve problems. It is a dead-end street. Spending valuable sleeping-time worrying only deprives us from the sleep we need to be in shape to think clearly. If instead of worrying, we would get some sleep, the next day our minds would be in perfect shape to think of ways to fix what needs to be fixed. What else are we missing?

The second thing is that at night, when everything is quiet, and nothing is open, and no action can be taken, it is not an optimal time for solving problems. The best time is when we can take-action and do something about it. That time is during the waking hours. A best solution would involve dealing with these two blind spots.

The One Simple Hack to Rule Them All

So there is a simple hack: take time before sleep to do a “mind dump” of all your problems and identify small steps you can take to move forward. This involves setting a time before sleep, before you start to wind down and turn screens off (they alter sleep patterns). At that time, take a sheet of paper and draw a line in the middle.

Now, pick a side of the sheet, and write down, for 5 minutes, a list of all the worry related things that you can fish out of your mind. You can use the other side if your list is very long. After 5 minutes, fill the other column with the first step you would need to take to solve each one of the problems.

Make sure the steps are small. Like Frodo getting to Mordor, a long journey starts with a small step. Big unattainable steps don’t ever work for busy people. Why? Because we are busy. You need something you can insert in your day that is small and easy.

Now, to make sure the problem get tackled, you need to get your schedule out, and schedule the 5 top tasks in the new few days. There! You took the first step! 

Now that you have actually taken action (scheduling something at a reasonable time) give yourself permission to sleep soundly. Make a pact with yourself that even if you come up with the cure for cancer in your sleep, you will refuse to stay awake. You can practice a short relaxation exercise, too.

Bedtime Breathing Technique

Using belly breaths, focus on the sensations of breathing, then extend your exhale by two counts longer than the inhale. That will help your body relax. Relax any tensions with each exhale. Let go of any thoughts with each exhale. Don’t judge what you are doing, or yourself. Just relax, let yourself become heavy and drift off…

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

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Nov 1

Top 3 Supplements to Get You Sleeping Like a Pro Athlete

If you don’t think sleep is important try not having it and you’ll realize just how critical sleep is!  I have 3 kids, so trust me, I have had my fair share of sleepless nights and not only is the next day a train wreck but so are the next few days!

If you are an active person or a runner, the demands on your body are harder.  Therefore, you NEED to sleep harder and replenish even harder!

Obviously, there are many factors that can interrupt one’s sleep resulting in a variety of treatment options.  As part of your comprehensive health assessment, I determine which treatment protocols will best help you hit the hay!  Here are my top three supplements to support a good quality sleep:

Worry

For myself, it is worry.  If I am going to have a restless night, its because my mind simply won’t shut off. Rhodiola is a plant that can help turn off that endless train of thoughts that come once the sun goes down.  Rhodiola is most commonly used for increasing energy, endurance, strength, and mental capacity.  Because of its affects on your musculoskeletal system, I often use it to help the performance of runners and active people. To assess how excessive worry and anxiety might be affecting your sleep, I use an in-office stress test.  If the results are high, it may encourage the release of hormones that keep you awake. Rhodiola helps your body adapt to these hormones allowing the anxiety to ease and you to get a restful night’s sleep.

Difficulty Falling Asleep

Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in your natural sleep-wake cycle.  If you have difficulty falling asleep, melatonin can be used to help ease you to sleep and keep you asleep.  Shift workers are at particular risk of having low levels of melatonin which can make it hard to fall asleep because of the disruption in their sleep-wake cycle patterns. High levels of stress can also affect how we are sleeping.  When we are stressed, we release high levels of cortisol that can interrupt melatonin production in turn keeping you awake at night.  If you are not sleeping, you are not recovering.  This will impact your ability to perform. With my patients, I use functional testing to assess how melatonin and cortisol levels are interacting with your hormones.  This provides us with the underlying causes to your poor-quality sleep and helps personalize your treatment protocols, getting you the results you need faster.  

Sore Muscles Keeping You Up

If sore muscles are keeping you awake, this may be a sign you need more magnesium.  Magnesium is used in 300 different reactions in your body and is a nutrient I find many are deficient in, especially runners who are suffering from calf cramps.   It is a natural muscle relaxant that can help your body chill out after a tough day at the office or gym and fall asleep faster.  There are many different forms of magnesium.  To determine which is the best form for you, ask your Naturopathic Doctor.

According to the studies, you need a minimum of six hours of sleep to function.  Our lives involve more stress than they use to, therefore I believe you need more sleep for optimal recovery.  To maximize your potential, this week’s goal is to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every day. 

Sleep is an important part of our lifestyle.  I am here to help you make informed decisions to improve your health and wellness. Link in bio to book your appointment today.

Still not convinced sleep is the key to a great work out, tons of energy and success?  Check out how sleep is affecting your game and just how much sleep pro-athletes are getting.

Do not start any supplement protocol with out the advice of a professional.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19725252

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/should-you-nap

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/naps

https://www.fastcompany.com/1663723/infographic-of-the-day-why-pro-athletes-sleep-12-hours-a-day#targetText=If%20you%20thought%20your%20lazy,10%2D12%20hours%20a%20night.

Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence-based practice with a focus on sports and performance-based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation. In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

www.drjennifertannernd.com

@drjennifertannernd

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Nov 1

Self-Hypnosis for Zzzzzz

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m a hypnosis junkie.  I’ve been using hypnosis for myself since I was 10 years old, and let me tell you, the uses are endless.  When my clients express interest in hypnosis, at the top of their list of issues is “poor sleep”.  When clients come to me for hypnosis for sleep, I inwardly clap my hands.  Hypnosis is a phenomenal tool for improving sleep, and my clients mostly see success the first night after our session together.  Having your hypnosis practitioner teach you self-hypnosis that is specific to you is ideal; I teach my client self-hypnosis in session.  If you can’t scoot in for a visit, consider giving self-hypnosis a try for a better night’s sleep.  It’s easier than you think!  These are my top tips to get started on self-hypnosis for a good night’s sleep:

1. Non-negotiables. 

This is the fine print of safe practices for hypnosis.  Do not practice hypnosis while driving a car or operating any other heavy machinery.  Do it at home, while comfortably in bed or on your couch, during a time when you don’t feel pressured to leave (if you’re picking up the kids or leaving for a meeting in five minutes, wait until later).  Do not do it when you think you may be interrupted or while responsible for small children.  Do not have any food in your mouth you could choke on.  Good to go?  Get yourself comfy in your bed or on your couch, and let’s begin.

2. Set the stage for deep relaxation.

Close your eyes, and let your arms and legs be unencumbered.  Begin with slow, deep breaths, bringing your focus to the rhythm of your breath.  Next, let’s free the body of tension; bring your focus to each group of muscles throughout your body, seek out any stress or tension you may be holding there, and release it with your next exhale.  Going from head to toe, begin with your temples and jaw, then down to your neck, shoulders and arms, down through your back and abdomen, and down through your buttocks, legs and feet.  Note how relaxed and free from tension you feel.

3. Guide yourself deeper.

Keep key words in your head that give way to relaxation.  Some good ones are “calm, comfortable, relaxed”, but use any words that you connect to.  Envision yourself in a special, relaxing place.  This place can be somewhere you know or someplace that your mind created; all that matters is that it is a calm, comfortable place in which you feel completely safe, content, relaxed, and happy.  This is a place to keep your conscious mind busy and content while you begin speaking to your subconscious mind.

4. A note about the subconscious mind…

The subconscious mind is that part of consciousness that is susceptible, where memories are stored, and where functions happen automatically.  This susceptibility lets your mind take in the suggestions you give it very easily.  If you are practicing hypnosis on your own, keep things simple. 

5. Give yourself the instructions.

As mentioned above, your subconscious mind should now be primed for suggestion.  I advise you to consider your needs to create your own suggestions before beginning your hypnosis.  For example, if you’re struggling with initially falling asleep at night, a good suggestion would be, “I will find that my mind and body are completely ready for sleep once I get into bed at night.  Knowing this, I find it so easy to fall asleep comfortably and naturally.  I will wake up feeling rested and refreshed tomorrow morning.”  In the event of emergency, you would easily come out of your hypnosis and be able to deal with whatever may be happening, however I always suggest including a suggestion to ensure that you will easily regain consciousness quickly in case of emergency.  A good suggestion for this may be, “While I’m sleeping, if there is something urgent that needs my attention, I easily and immediately wake from my sleep feeling ready to deal with anything.”

6. Wrap it up.

If you are conducting your hypnosis while in bed at night and want to fall asleep at the conclusion of your hypnosis, your final suggestion to yourself may be to fall asleep and that you will wake up feeling refreshed and ready for your day at <insert time here> o’clock.  If you are doing your hypnosis during the day and want to carry on with the rest of your day before having a restful sleep later, a good conclusion to your hypnosis would include counting from 1 to 3, and telling yourself that with each number you will become more and more aware, refreshed, alert, and ready to carry on with your day.  You should then awaken feeling very relaxed but ready to go on with your day, and the suggestions you’ve given yourself will be ready to go once you go to sleep at night.

While hypnosis may seem really involved, it is a natural state of mind that we all go into and come out of throughout the day.  Ever feel “zoned out”?  That’s natural hypnosis!  Using it to guide your relaxation or reach a goal is a wonderful way to harness a tool you already possess.  If you feel unsure about using hypnosis safely, always visit your hypnosis practitioner; they will be able to guide you and teach you methods for hypnosis specific to your individual needs.  Remember that everyone is unique and may respond better to different suggestions and imagery; this is a generic guide to get you started, but is completely adaptable to your unique self.  Sweet dreams!

**Disclaimer:  The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**

Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI.  Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at lauren@laurenberger.ca, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.

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Oct 31

Sleep Guide for Superior Sleep

When you wake, do you feel refreshed and ready to tackle your day? Or, do you wake up feeling exhausted? Do you toss and turn at night, waking at the slightest noise or movement? If so, you might be a light sleeper.

Not getting the recommended amount of sleep can have serious short and long-term impact on your physical and mental health. Sleep disruptions can cause weight gain, a lowered immune system, impaired concentration and memory, slower reaction time, errors, and accidents. Studies have even shown that low sleep quality impairs our cognitive and motor functions, the same way that drinking too much alcohol does.

The quality of your sleep is affected by a number of internal and external factors. Genetics, age, and lifestyle play significant roles in the type and length of sleep stages and sleep cycles you experience. For light sleepers, the consequences of low-quality sleep can be distracting at the least and dangerous at worst. But there are many ways to improve your sleep. Here are some of our favourite tactics for conquering light sleep problems. 

Night-time Practices

1. Create a sleep environment that is dark and quiet. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

2. Give some thought to your bed’s comfort level. Research shows that your mattress, pillow, and bedding can greatly impact sleep quality by reducing joint and back pain. One study found that a bed suited for your body type can improve sleep quality by 60%.

3. Lower the bedroom temperature. Bedroom temperature has been shown to affect sleep quality even more than external noise. If the room is too warm, it can interfere with your body’s natural nightly temperature dip and make you more restless through the night. Research suggests that your bedroom should be between 60-67 degrees and that temperatures above 75 degrees or below 54 degrees can interfere with sleep. 

4. Consider taking a melatonin supplement. Studies show that taking melatonin has a major impact on sleep quality and quantity. Just be sure to read the dosage recommendations on the label. Start slowly to determine the amount that’s right for you, and take the supplement about an hour before bedtime. 

5. Avoid alcohol and over-the-counter sleep medications. Research shows that those who drink before bed woke more frequently and experienced lighter sleep during the second half of the night, preventing the Level 3 and 4 sleep that restores our body and mind. In every person, alcohol metabolizes at 0.016% per hour. So, you can do the math. The more heavily you drink, the earlier you should stop drinking.

6. Avoid late-night eating, especially high-calorie foods and those that cause heartburn. This disrupts the natural release of melatonin and serotonin, which relieves anxiety and improves time spent in REM sleep. Instead, try eating a complex carbohydrate 2 to 4 hours before bed. Choose a whole grain snack like popcorn, oatmeal, or a whole grain cereal. Also consider having a little low fat cottage cheese or milk, both of which contain tryptophan, or a fruit such as tart cherries, bananas, or oranges, which contain melatonin.

7. Establish a consistent bedtime schedule. After awhile, your brain will automatically cue you that it’s time to start feeling tired. If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read a book or listen to soothing music. Then, go back to bed when you’re tired. 

8. Set up a relaxing bedtime routine. The routine tells your brain that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Try dimming the lights, taking a warm bath, playing relaxing music, lighting a lavender candle, or whatever works for you.

9. Consider a technical shutdown 2 to 3 hours before bed. The blue light emitted from computer monitors, tablets, TVs, and smartphones closely mimics the light emitted by the sun, causing our bodies to lower production of sleep-inducing melatonin. In fact, an article in Scientific American says, “The light from our devices is ‘short-wavelength-enriched,’ meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.”

10. Try practicing deep relaxation techniques. If you wake in the night and have a hard time getting back to sleep, try systematically tensing and releasing of each individual muscle in your body one at a time may help. Start with your toes and slowly proceeding toward your scalp while breathing deeply and concentrating on the stress leaving your body as you exhale.

11. Keep a journal. If a life event, like moving or a new job, is the source of your light sleeping problems, get the worries out of your mind and down on paper. Store your journal by your bed, and if a stressful thought occurs, take it out of your mind and commit it to paper. You can readdress that stressor in the morning, if needed.

12. Address the stress. If you think that your light sleeping issue is stress-related, try to figure out what’s stressing you out. If it’s situational, consider making some life changes. If it’s not, it might be time to consult a mental health professional who can teach you how to change your thought patterns or who can determine if medication is needed.

13. Consider other supplements that are scientifically proven to help you relax, reduce stress, and sleep better, but make sure to try them one at a time. 

Plant-Based: Ginkgo, Valerian Root, Lavender, Passion Flower
Amino Acids: Glycine, L-Theanine, Tryptophan

14. Keep a sleep diary. This will help you identify day and nighttime habits and patterns that might be contributing to your light sleep problems. Keeping a sleep diary is also especially helpful if you decide to see your doctor or a sleep expert. Your diary should include:

  • The times that you went to bed and woke up
  • Total hours you slept and and an estimate of how much of that time you had quality sleep
  • Amount of time you spent awake and what you did (got out of bed, watched tv, drank a glass of milk, meditated, etc.)
  • Types and amount of food, liquids, caffeine, or alcohol you consumed before bed, and the times at which you consumed them.
  • Your feelings and moods before bed (happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety)
  • Any drugs or medications taken, including dose and time of consumption

A sleep diary can pinpoint day and nighttime habits that may be contributing to your problems at night. After keeping the diary for a week or two, you might notice, for example, that when you have more than one glass of wine in the evening, you wake up during the night.

Day-time Practices

15. Wake at consistent times, even on weekends. Irregular sleep patterns can confuse your circadian rhythm, causing you to lose quality sleep. Eventually, once your sleep/wake cycle is consistent, you might not even need to set a morning alarm!

16. Get some morning sun. Our eyes have special receptors called melanopsin that help us wake up and stay alert. They work in conjunction with our hypothalamus,  which controls your circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep/wake cycle. Together, they play a role in triggering the release of serotonin in the brain – the neurotransmitter that helps regulate natural sleep cycles. Getting plenty of bright light early in the day, preferably within one hour of waking will help you feel more energetic, and sleep more soundly at night. Sleep Specialist Dr. Michael Breus wrote: “How much sleep we get and how well we sleep is profoundly affected by light [and] exposure to light at the right time of day can actually help your sleep. ”Recently, scientists at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign investigated how daylight exposure affected the health, including nighttime sleep, of a group of office workers. The study revealed that the employees who got more sun, through office windows, slept an average of 46 minutes more than their coworkers who did not have windows. They also had more energy during the day. So, if possible, snag a desk by a window and if you don’t have access to sunlight, consider purchasing a light therapy box to use indoors. Also, try taking a walk outside on your morning break without sunglasses, which filter the full-spectrum light and confuse the signal received by your brain.

17. Avoid nicotine. Because it’s a stimulant, nicotine can reduce the amount of deep sleep you get. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University conducted a sleep study of 40 smokers and 40 nonsmokers. Five percent of the nonsmokers said they commonly experienced light sleep problems, whereas 22.5% of the smokers said they struggled with restless sleep. If you’re not ready to quit, try just cutting back, and don’t smoke close to bedtime.

18. Avoid all forms of caffeine (like coffee, black tea, some sodas, and energy drinks) or any other stimulants past noon. Researchers at Wayne State College of Medicine and the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital analyzed the sleep-disruptive effects of caffeine consumption at different lengths of time before bed. They found that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bedtime resulted in significantly diminished sleep quantity and quality. If you’re in the habit of drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening, try switching to decaffeinated coffee or an herbal tea. Also, check the labels on other drinks and supplements. Diet pills can contain large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants.

19. Exercise regularly to clear your mind, but avoid working out at least 3 hours before bedtime, as vigorous exercise can increase energy. So, what is the best time of day to work out or take a vigorous walk? According to Dr. Sofie Laage-Christiansen of Aarhus University, Denmark, “Exercising in the morning daylight helps you to sleep. It helps to kick-start the brain in the same way as when you expose yourself to bright light early in the morning, and it makes the body release melatonin earlier in the evening.” A National Sleep Foundation study compared the sleep quality of those who exercise and those that don’t. Both groups said they slept about the same amount of time, but sleep quality was significantly different. And, those who exercised reported far better sleep compared who didn’t.

20. Limit naps. For some people, sleep during the day can affect sleep at night. Naps that are more than 30 minutes or that occur close to your bedtime can compromise your ability to fall or stay asleep. It’s easy to see how napping can become a bad pattern: Nap during the day, sleep poorly at night, then feel sleepy during the day. Avoiding this habit is simple, though. If you truly need a siesta, just keep it around 20 minutes so you get solid rest and wake up alert.

Dr. Jen Newell, ND is the founder of the Naturopathic Skin Care Clinic at the Integrative Health Institute. She is committed to helping others resolve frustrating skin issues because she struggled with hormonal cystic acne and mild rosacea for over 10 years. Dissatisfied with the results from oral contraceptives, antibiotics and other conventional treatments, Jen decided to take matters in her own hands and find a safer and more sustainable solution to achieve healthy, glowing skin.

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Oct 21

Suicide: Every Minute Counts

It was an ordinary day. And then it wasn’t.

I was rushing down Yonge Street to get to the next thing I had to do, when a man fell from overhead and landed on the sidewalk, ending his own life directly in front of me.

I did not know this man. I have no idea what his story was or what kind of person he was, but I wanted to honour him and dedicate this blog to him, in gratitude for what I learned from him that day and in hopes that it may help someone else…

In the instant that the thud of his body registered in my awareness, I was shocked into the present moment and the scene before me flooded my senses. Everything became quiet as I tried to make sense of what was happening and I remember these few things…

The primal scream of a young woman.

The stoic cop who was managing the environment—without raising his voice, instructing people to not be callous and not to film.

The security woman who stood quietly by—in a way that I’m not sure it is accurate to describe as maternal, but whose presence was that of a compassionate witness in a way that only a woman could be.

As the external environment became vivid, so too did my internal environment. As I walked past, I could feel his pain. I could viscerally taste what had just happened. And, for the first time, I felt that we are truly all connected.

As I continued on, I tried to maintain some sense of normalcy in my day. I continued on to work and acknowledged what had happened to my co-workers. I expressed my appreciation for them; it seemed prudent to note how the small annoyances that we may cause each other don’t actually really matter.

One of my last clients that day revealed to me that they were moving, and told me that the only checkpoint for staying in the city was me. I was struck by the fact that that was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me professionally, and it came on the day when I’d had one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The irony and the duality were noted and appreciated as I realized that many things in life are a trade-off.

In the days that followed, I called all of my friends who have gone through trauma—be it an accident or fall—to acknowledge them and that I appreciate their struggle on a different level. Within myself, I noticed how within three or four days, I was processing it even more through unexplained symptoms, as well as anxiety, anger, and fear. I now have a better understanding of when patients say they feel like their body is failing them—I can control my thoughts, but when your body is doing something else, it can be upsetting.

I thought about how all of the work I have put into the Brainfullness Experiment as a student of my own teachings, helped me to create a better mental model in which I could process the complexities and difficulties of this experience. I appreciated the conversation I had that very day about the difference between complexity and chaos, as it helped me realize that I can still have some degree of control even when there is chaos around me.

Yet, I also saw a paradox within myself. My initial lens was to want to use this event to be a better person, but there was also a part of me that has more of a tendency to become jaded that wondered what would have happened if he had landed on me.

But, if I am to be truly honest, this was incredibly powerful for me in a very personal way…

I don’t believe that suicidal thoughts are uncommon. Some people that I admire greatly have committed suicide—David Foster Wallace and Anthony Bourdain, as examples. I always believed that somehow, being a strong man, you should always have an exit plan—in case you become a burden to others, or the pain or heaviness of life becomes too overwhelming.

As I would walk over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver or Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in watching a documentary called ‘Falling Man’ about people from 9/11 who chose to jump rather than succumb to the inferno, I always felt there was something noble and strong, courageous or even heroic about it.

In the moment that I witnessed this man’s death and felt his pain, I realized that it is none of those things.

In the time since, I have realized, too, that I profoundly love this man for making me realize how wrong I was about that. And I simultaneously hate him for taking away that illusion because I somehow found it comforting.

But it has also occurred to me the notion that nothing is either good or bad, it is what you bring to it. In many ways, this has caused me to pause and challenge myself to learn the lessons of this, without engaging too much with it.

I am grateful for this opportunity to be more present and to acknowledge other people. It was a wake- up call to upgrade my own thoughts—to not fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when’, to not make assumptions, and to consciously make the choice of whether I want to expand or shrink in the face of difficulty.

But it also brings to the forefront how we can do better as a society for ourselves and for each other. When something like this happens, there is a rush to simply categorize it as ‘mental illness’ to be able to label it in a way that both provides us some certainty about it and also some distance from it. As we are faced with what it triggers within ourselves, we must also look at how we can be more human-centric in how we treat each other and how we approach such issues. As the prevalence of mental health issues comes to light—with suicide being one of the top ten causes of death in Canada and, on average, one man being lost to suicide every minute globally—it is something we must acknowledge as a societal issue and not just an occasional occurrence amongst a certain ‘type’ of person.

A friend told me to be kind to myself, but I think we can also practice active kindness—whether it be trying to acknowledge other people around us to the best of our ability, or the people in our lives that we may take for granted out of familiarity and forget to acknowledge in a meaningful way.

In a world that is outcome focused, we can also learn to acknowledge the process—as it is the process that allows us to be prepared and that softens the blow when the chaos of life appears. I gravitate toward the notion of anti-fragility, in which we build the reserves and the resilience to manage the challenges we face; yet, I have also been reminded of the fragility of life itself and the importance of how we take care of ourselves and one another in making the most of the time we have.

In the days since this experience, I still get upset and confused while having some questionable thoughts, but it doesn’t have the same bite. We can learn to be incrementally better every day and use whatever are our wake-up calls as the lessons and stepping stones of life.

I can’t say I know what the answer is, but I do know what it is not.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

If you’d like to learn more information about the Brainfullness Experiment Workshop click here.

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Oct 1

The Best Tests for Stress

Fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, overwhelm, irritability, brain fog.  The symptoms of stress are a laundry list of misery, and most of us are intimately familiar with them. 

While most people can tell me they are experiencing stress, many of us don’t realize the impact that stress is having on our bodies.  Because stress isn’t just in our heads, it’s in our bodies.

Testing Stress

As a Naturopathic Doctor one of my favourite adages is “Why guess, when you can assess”.  So while many of my patients know they are stressed, showing them a quantifiable measure of their stress can help motivate them to change their lifestyles, to lessen stress and overcome the negative impact stress has on our minds and bodies. 

At the Integrative Health Institute we have two different tests available for patients who want to better understand the impact stress is having on the function of their body. 

1. Koenisburg Stress Test

A simple, in-office urine test, that takes less than 5 minutes to complete.  The Koenisburg test looks at adrenal function and gives an indication of either low stress hormone output (“burnout”) or high stress hormone output (“overdrive”). 

I recently did this test on myself and scored in the “burnout” range.  I was surprised by the result, until I spent a moment to really reflect on my workload and overall life balance.  Burnout was not too far from the truth.  This simple test gave me the motivation, and moment of reflection, I needed to return to an intentional balance in my life.

Speak to your ND about the Koenisburg test – it is part of our new Integrative Medical Screen, and can be done at any visit with your naturopathic doctor. 

2. DUTCH Test

The gold-standard in hormone testing, the DUTCH test (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones) is the most in depth analysis of stress hormones, neurotransmitters, and reproductive hormones, currently available.  Done over 4 points in the course of a day, the DUTCH test gives you and your naturopath unprecedented information about the metabolism of hormones in your body.  This test is highly recommended for people who are showing signs and symptoms of stress in their bodies and who need to make drastic changes to regain their lives. 

This in-depth functional test is available through all the naturopathic doctors at IHI.  Speak to your ND to determine if it is right for you.

Dr. Lisa Watson believes that you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy.  Lisa encourages her patients to take a proactive approach to their health – taking meaningful steps towards achieving their goals for balanced and vibrant health.  An expert in women’s health and hormones, Lisa is a passionate advocate for women’s health and strives to educate all the women in her practice on how to achieve lifelong abundant health.  Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in downtown Toronto and writes regularly about women’s health on her website at www.drlisawatson.com

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Sep 30

Top Six Mindset Tips to Successfully Transform Your Injury and Yourself

What constitutes an optimal recovery mindset? Through over 20 years of clinical experience of observing those patients who were able to overcome their pain and injuries, and navigating my own personal experience, I have come to understand the importance of this aspect of, not only recovery, but healing and transformation. It shapes how you experience your pain, how you participate in your process, and how you communicate with your health care providers. And, as you may have guessed, it is heavily influenced by your brain.

Welcome to the Growth Mindset.

Herrmann’s Model looked at 130,000 brain dominant surveys and synthesized that there are four ways of learning and understanding: analytical, procedural, relational, and innovative. We are born with all four, but some become more dominant depending on other aspects of our lives, as we develop preferences and biases—as Herrmann says, our “lives shaped the way the wind sculpts a tree.” The analytical asks ‘why’, the procedural asks ‘how’, the relational focuses on ‘who’, and the innovative wonders ‘what if’.

When faced with pain, injury, or adversity, any and all of these questions can play a role. ‘Why is this happening?’ is a common question. ‘How am I going to get through this?’ usually comes up. ‘Who can help me?’ is beneficial when seeking a health care provider. Additionally, we can ask, ‘What can I learn from this?’ and ‘How can I not make the same mistakes?’

Understanding, not only how we answer these questions, but which ones we gravitate most toward and how we ask them, can be useful in determining our current mindset and how we may need to shift to best help ourselves. Learning to understand and optimize your mindset allows you to stand for yourself and seek excellence when it comes to your health—excellence, not only in the care you seek out, but in the care you give yourself.

With that in mind, here are my top mindset tips:

1. Openness and Curiosity

Openness is about changing your perception, and curiosity is about maximizing the brain’s novelty bias. We all get excited about shiny new objects or stimuli!

2. Shared accountability

There is a therapeutic alliance that exists between practitioner and patient. While it is up to me to monitor and guide the biological and physiological responses to make someone more recovery-prone, the psychological aspects of managing the responsibilities of life and other social determinants of health must be co-managed. Having a practitioner that is cognisant of all of these aspects is important.

3. Capacity not to fixate.

The harder we stare at any problem, the less likely we are to see solutions and the more distorted becomes our sense of the time we have spent looking at it. Yet it is important to remember that change in life is not only possible but certain. If you are able to give yourself a break and not perseverate on your pain, the doors to change are more likely to open.

4. Resolve and purpose-driven

Pain is challenging, but it is important to have a growth mindset and match your resilience with the challenge. If you believe that the locus of control is within you and you have a purpose in your recovery, resolve is that much easier to come by.

5. Worthiness of health

Knowing that you are worth the effort required for self-care and healing is a cornerstone of recovery and transformation. It is what allows you to continue on when other things in your mindset slip or when they are not going as you had hoped.

6. A dash of no-nonsense, bad-ass attitude

Because it aids resilience—and it makes my messages easier to take!

As a couple of ‘x factors’, maintaining optimism and being able to be your own cheerleader are also useful strategies. Having support both around you and within you helps to keep you moving forward in difficult and uncertain times, especially for those who have more relational tendencies. A love of learning fuels an internal desire for growth and allows us to see the gift in any situation when the question of ‘why’ gets heavy. If you can have the capacity to problem-solve and re-frame your story, you can find other ways to measure progress other than simply absence of pain.

We all know that, when it comes to our health, we pay for things either on the front end or the back end. There is a cost of time, effort, and discipline when it comes to maintaining or regaining our health, yet the cost when we have lost it is much higher. We do not achieve health through passive measures, it is behaviour change that improves health outcomes. It starts with adapting, then believing, and following through with action. If you learn to move better, think differently, and expand your understanding of yourself and your pain, that is the goal of my practice, virtues, and teachings.

But first, you have to show up. Show up for yourself first.
Show up November 17 for the latest Brainfullness Experiment to put your mindset in action. Sign up here

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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Sep 30

LIFE HAPPENS

When my patients start psychotherapy, many have taken a long time to get to the point where they would act seeking my help. For highly sensitive people who process things deeply, this makes some sense. But…does it? Really? Why wait to feel a great sense of relief to know someone will be there with expertise to help you solve your concerns?

Most of us would get help from a plumber to fix a toilet faster than going to our doctor or therapist. Why is it that our toilets have priority over our lives? A broken toilet can be a drag, but it feels way easier to get a plumber than to open one’s innermost concerns to another human. That can make one feel very vulnerable.

What folks usually do not know is that unlike plumbers, who do not need to help the toilet feel safe, psychotherapists are trained to help people feels safe and protected. When you come in, we do our best to help you feel less weird about it. Many of my patients don’t realize how many others I have seen with similar problems, so they feel exposed. They do not have to.

Our society is rather predictable in this regard. For example, Canada is one of the happiest countries on Earth, according to a recent poll by the Ipsos foundation. Yet it is fairly common for Canadians to think they have depression or anxiety. Much of that is generated by common life changes and ups and downs, or life circumstances, which we believe should not happen. We Canadians expect life to be even.

When life happens, we get worried when we have strong unfamiliar emotions in response to those events. Since one of the features of highly sensitive temperamental trait is high emotional intensity, we get strong emotions in both directions, up and down. Unfortunately, we tend to get distressed by the intensity of the less desirable emotions.

Having problems can be distressing in itself, without the extra burden of being worried that one is worried. The world we live it cultivates this tension. Much of the mediatized environment that surrounds us is engineered to make us feel less than adequate, so we avoid at all costs to accept we may need help.

Having a problem is not a problem, it is part of life. Neither it is a failure.

This belief that having problems makes us a failure gives us anxiety and leeches away the energy we might need to fix the problem in the first place. It also prevents us from facing the problem sooner. Tackling this mindset can help improve our life.

Next time you have a concern with your health or your mind, think of your priorities (health vs toilet, for example) and whether you want to buy into the engineered mindset that nothing needs to be wrong with you. Expecting surprises and change from life is a mindset that can help solve them without extra suffering that comes from avoidance. It is about letting the world unfold as it does. It is about compassionately letting yourself live your life as it presents itself, without judging it or yourself.

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

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Sep 20

How do you want to feel this Fall?

I want to feel CONNECTED. PASSIONATELY ENGAGED. CURIOUS.

When we are clear about how we want to feel we are more likely to recognize unwanted feelings that lower our souls vibration and keep us stuck – think fear and anxiety. Most forms of discomfort are communicative; sending our bodies and minds messages that something is off. I have experienced anxiety since I was a little girl, worrying about things out of my control, always fearing the worse, and allowing self-doubt to stop me from shining my light. When I started listening to my anxiety, I noticed something fascinating. My anxiety was incredibly wise; leading me towards a greater understanding of myself, my boundaries, and the world around me. Once I learnt how to harness the wisdom of anxiety through different mindfulness practices, I began living a more connected, fulfilled life. And now, when anxiety shows up, I ask it in. I sit with it. I listen to the messages it carries. I ask it what it needs. And then, I practice a little self-compassion. If you’re suffering with anxiety, recognizing that within your anxiety lies a well of wisdom is the first step towards transformation. 

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Mood and anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders affecting Canadian men and women today. To learn the tools needed to take control of your anxiety book an appointment to meet with Kaitlyn today. 

Calling in support requires courage and strength and it shows that you have warrior style determination towards living your best life.  As a therapist, I strive to be challenging, but never judgmental; warm, open minded, and willing to let you explore options in life; careful to never rush to quick solutions; and deeply respectful of the intricacies of your unique experience of yourself and the world around you. 

Kaitlyn is a Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist at the Integrative Health Institute where she also offers group and individual yoga therapy. Her approach to therapy weaves together her education and training in professional Psychotherapy with her experience in Holistic Nutrition, and Yoga. To help unlock stuck areas with tools and strategies that honour the intricate relationship between mind, body, and spirit.

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Aug 30

An Open Letter To My Pre-Natal Vagina

In keeping with the trend to give advice to our younger selves, I want to do the same for my vagina.

Dear Pre-Natal Vagina,

You are beautiful, magnificent, strong, resilient, and tough AF.  You likely don’t realize your potential to do great things yet.  Much like every other part of our youthful body, you work seamlessly and with little effort or maintenance.  Oh, to be young.

I’m from the future, a post-natal and experienced vagina.  I’ve seen things you can’t imagine.  I’ve felt things that you only read about in books or learn in school.  I want to take this opportunity to discuss some of the things you will experience and how it will change and shape you. But, if you heed my advice, you will have confidence to face any challenge that comes in your direction (and, FYI, they come either direction…)

1. STRESS

We associate holding stress in our body in many areas; our necks, our shoulders, our jaw, and between our temples.  We rarely think about holding stress in our vagina, but it is often one of the first body parts that reacts to stress. Think about a gory image. Maybe your fingernail ripping off or cutting open your hand with a sharp knife.  Did you feel any sensation between your legs or into your stomach?  Your pelvic floor just contracted because a stressful image was envisioned and we will guard our most intimate area first and foremost.  We hold stress in our vaginas like we hold stress in any other part of our bodies and the longer you let it become a static state, the harder it becomes to turn around the normal.  You will be exhausted being on high alert all the time.

You don’t know how to relax much yet, pre-natal vagina, but you can learn today!  Do not wait till a problem arises or we become pregnant.  Learn how to breathe relaxation into this area.  Learn how to release those muscles with stretches, a tool or your own finger.  Learn how to recognize when either is needed. 

Book in to see a pelvic physiotherapist to give you a baseline and help you develop an awareness for your pelvic floor muscles and help maintain tranquility down there.

2) PRESSURE

Let’s talk about the two types of pressure we will experience during and after pregnancy:

  1. First, there’s the pressure from the sheer weight of our growing baby and how they sit (headstand actually) on our pelvic floor muscles.  Our pelvic floor acts as an active sling to keep our bladder and reproductive organs from falling on the floor.  It’s a tough job and now there’s anywhere from 1-11lbs of baby weight making the job even harder. This is going to be pretty demanding on all our muscles down there.
  2. Second, after we give birth, our abdominals are pretty out of whack.  They’ve been stretched out, but, truthfully, at this point, we may be self conscious of our stomach sticking out so we suck in every time we pass a window or mirror. This directs our intrabdominal pressure downwards, which is the internal pressure we hold in our core.  More pressure down, means more pressure for our pelvic floor muscles to hold up.  They are already so tired and to be honest, traumatized from that baby passing through that all they know how to do is clench and never let go.  An exhausting task.

So, once again, pre-natal vagina, my advice is to book in to see a pelvic physiotherapist who will teach you to get into safe positions to relieve the baby weight off your pelvic floor. They will teach you how to appropriately strengthen or release this region and finally, they will assess how you are using your abdominal muscles to ensure the downward pressure is minimized.

3) BIRTH & PERINEAL MASSAGE

To be blunt, a watermelon needs to come out a hole the size of a lemon.  I mentioned earlier that you have tremendous potential to adapt and be resilient in the face of a challenge.  Birth is one of the greatest challenges a vagina will ever face.  You have no idea how large of a baby will stretch you apart until they are out and already on the weigh scale. 

Dearest pre-natal vagina, I failed you when I foolishly chose not to prepare your tissues. Who runs a marathon without training?  Who gives a presentation without preparing the PowerPoint slides? Who goes on a road trip without filling the car up with gas?

I’m so sorry pre-natal vagina, I took you into birth blind.

In fairness, our first birth was huge and I could barely reach you around my belly.  I read about letting my partner do the perineal massage for me but could we really trust him down there?  He’s not skilled with his hands and in the last month of pregnancy, we don’t need him to mistaken this as foreplay.

There is evidence to support that perineal massage helps prepare your pelvic floor to the type of stretch that is needed when giving birth.  Over the last 4-5 weeks of pregnancy, you slowly start stretching this tissue to grow accustomed to what you will feel during active labour.

Book in to see a pelvic physiotherapist in your last 6 weeks of pregnancy and they will show you an effective way to massage your pelvic floor and ready it for that watermelon.

Pre-natal vagina, I’ve even done you one better to over compensate for how poorly I let you down. You will tell all your vagina girlfriends so no other vagina will go into labour as unprepared as I allowed you.  I’ve developed a tool to help with perineal massage and manually releasing your pelvic floor muscles from stress.  I can’t give away all the details yet but it is in it’s final stages of production and will be manufactured this fall. It’s beautifully designed to add a little reach and innovative for the different thermal needs a vagina may have before and after birth. It’s sleek as hell so stay tuned, it will be brilliant.

You see a dentist every year, even if you don’t have a cavity. You see your doctor annually, even if you are not sick.  You see a massage therapist, even if you have not strained a muscle. You do regular maintenance and oil changes on your car, even if the engine light isn’t on. 

So if I have not been explicit enough, book in to see a pelvic physiotherapist before you even get pregnant to check the health of your vagina.  As an experienced vagina, trust me, you are sacred and deserve the same care we give the rest of our body.

With love and respect,

Your Post-Natal Vagina

Kate has been a physiotherapist for 14 years at one of the top sport medicine clinics in Toronto.  After the birth of her two very large babies, she became a busy, athletic mom with all the “common but not normal” post-partum incontinence symptoms.  She has since become a certified pelvic health therapist and a Studio Lagree Pilates instructor.  Her extensive background in all these areas lets her be uniquely suited to restoring pelvic floor function and overall functional movement in women and men trying to be active and accident-free.

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