May 26

Persevering Through Grief

In my work with people, there are a wide variety of concerns brought to our sessions. The one area that I greatly appreciate and cherish working with is loss and grief. Deep grief and loss allow us to connect to our most vulnerable part of ourselves that is authentic and raw.

As long as we value something or someone, we will all experience grief and loss during our lifetime. Loss is the unwanted change or an absence of someone or something (i.e., person, situation or an object) we value and cherish. Loss can be perceived or an actual loss. Perceived loss is when the grieving person experiences loss that is unique to that person and is less obvious to others. For example, loss of identity, financial independence, or self-esteem.

Grief is an internal reaction and an emotional response to loss. Often grief is a strong emotional pain that is hard to put into words. Grief does not only occur due to a loss of a loved one through death, but can also occur from relationship breakdown, loss of job, loss of identity and anything that is significant to a person.

Stages of Grief

There are 5 stages of grief that was introduced back in 1969 by an American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

Stage 1: Denial

In order to cope with the overwhelming emotion from a loss, one might be in denial or be in a state of shock. During this stage, one feels life becomes meaningless and often goes numb, or unable to see themselves going on with life. Focus is on getting through each day as it comes. Denial serves a purpose. It allows us to pace how much we can cope with the feelings of grief and helps us manage by letting in what we can handle gradually. We begin the healing process once we start to accept the reality and as we move out of denial, the emotions we were denying or pushed aside during this stage begin to surface, which is also a part of the grieving process.

Stage 2: Anger

Anger is a necessary emotion to our healing process. It is often known as a secondary emotion because it is used to mask other vulnerable feelings such as underlying emotions of deep pain, abandonment, rejection, and fear. Anger can be directed to people, situation, or objects. Some may not experience this stage, and some may linger here longer than others. Anger can be experienced as feelings of resentment or bitterness. As anger eventually diminishes, we create space to process other vulnerable emotions that we’ve been pushing away.

Stage 3: Bargaining

In the stage of bargaining, people often find themselves with “if only” and “what if” statements. Often in grief, we feel helpless and out of control in our situation. As a result, we do what we can to try to regain control. It is common for someone who is religious or believes in higher power to bargain for a different outcome or for healing and relief from pain and grief. It is a defense to help us cope with vulnerable emotions of grief like pain, hurt and deep sadness.

Stage 4: Depression

Depression is an appropriate response to great loss. After anger and bargaining stages, we settle into quiet and empty feelings of sadness. Withdrawing from life and wondering what the point is in going on with life. Depression is not a state to be fixed or snap out of, it is a necessary step towards the process of healing. It is important to note the distinction between depression from grief with clinical depression. In grief, feelings of sadness and depression lessens in intensity and frequency over time but with clinical depression, mood remains negative or might worsen over time without treatment and can impact self-esteem and sense of joy and pleasure in the long run. That being said, there is also the possibility of developing clinical depression during grieving process if left unchecked which can also lead to complicated grief.

Stage 5: Acceptance

This stage is not the same as feeling happy or being “okay” with what has happened. Rather, it is a stage of acceptance and coming to terms with reality of loss. Through acceptance we may experience more good days than bad, and as we begin to enjoy life again, often one might feel guilty. We are never truly okay with this new reality, but we make peace with it and accept it. We can never go back to the way things were and find ourselves living with our new “normal” – we readjust.

The Grieving Process

It is natural and normal to experience these emotions after a loss. In fact, not everyone will go through all of these stages, and that is okay too. Each person experiences grief in their own unique way; there is no right or wrong way of grieving. How a person grieves depends on their culture, personality, life experiences, and coping mechanisms. While grief may be experienced differently by people and culture, there are aspects of grief that is universal. The intensity of grief is determined by the level of significance and meaning attached to the loss. The different stages of grief happen in a non-linear manner and there is no timeline to one’s healing process. No matter how you grief, it’s important to be gentle and patient with yourself to allow your healing process to unfold naturally.

Seeking Help

During this time of loss and grief, you might want to withdraw from others. But connecting with your loved ones during this difficult time is vital and helpful for healing process. The comfort of those who care about you and sharing your loss with others can help you carry the burden of grief.

If you are someone who has experienced a loss and is having a difficult time grieving, please reach out for help. You can book a free meet and greet with Jennifer, before getting started on your healing journey.

To connect with Jennifer please click below to book a free meet and greet, before getting started on your therapy journey.

Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational purposes only. It is not to be used for diagnosing or replacing treatment from medical and mental health professionals.

Jennifer Leong is a registered social worker and psychotherapist with a professional goal to help improve and maintain good mental health for anyone who is willing to seek supports. She has a great interest in working with people from all walks of life who are facing difficulty with various life adjustments, stresses, and loss. She also works with people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, issues with boundaries, issues with self-esteem and self-worth, past difficulties and interpersonal relationships.

She would love to hear from you, connect on Instagram @jenniferleong.msw

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
May 26

3 Ways Stress Can Impact Digestion, & What You Can Do About It

How stressed are you?  You may not think you are that stressed because many people function at a high level of stress on a daily basis and this becomes their new normal.  Stress is a natural response to pressure when faced with challenges. Illness, work deadlines, or misfortune are examples but it can be brought on by, or anticipation of, any physical or emotional disturbance.  Being very busy, having lots to do and not enough time to do it, high workload, parenting, road traffic, worrying, watching news or violent shows are some other examples. 

In small doses stress is a good thing. It keeps us focused and alert and gives us the push we need to do our best.   Chronic stress, which is what most of our society is experiencing, is the problem.  The sympathetic nervous system, our fight, flight or freeze mode, is constantly on. Since stress affects the entire body, you can bet your digestive health is taking a major hit.   It diverts blood, oxygen and energy away from the digestive system and to the brain, heart and limbs.  Digestion slows down and focuses on storing fat as energy.  Relaxion is the switch to turning on your digestive system.  

Whether or not you feel stressed, your digestion will let you know.  Our emotional state is directly linked to our gut health via the enteric nervous system, or second brain.  Gut motility and fluid secretion increases with stress.  This can show up as diarrhea or frequent urges to urinate before, during or following a challenging event.  Changes in bowel patterns, abdominal pain, bloating or indigestion after meals and the need to always know where to find a bathroom are signs something is not right. 

It has been found that stressful life events are associated with the onset of symptoms, or worsening of symptoms, in several digestive conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  Not to mention that having a digestive condition can be a source of stress and anxiety in itself.  

3 ways stress impacts your digestion

Reduced stomach acid (HCl) and digestive enzymes:  Food is meant to be chewed well as this act releases digestive enzymes in your mouth and that stimulates your stomach to release the necessary HCl and more digestive enzymes to help break down your food.   When we are eating in a rush and otherwise stressed, we tend to eat too quickly and miss this step, which means we produce much less of these substances.   Stress hormones such as cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline are released when we are in this state and this halts digestion and the release of these secretions. When food cannot be broken down properly it increased bloating, indigestion, heartburn and nausea. 

Compromised nutrient absorption:  The impact of not having enough HCl and digestive enzymes is that your food cannot break down enough to properly absorb nutrients.  Optimal levels of HCl are needed to separate minerals from protein and not having enough can hinder the absorption of iron and magnesium for example.   This can contribute to many different symptoms such as feeling tired all the time, hair loss, muscle cramps, mood changes and high blood pressure.

Gut dysbiosis: Stress leads to a decrease in the diversity of gut microbes in the intestines, the gut microbiome, and increases the number of potentially disruptive bad bacteria.  This increases gsatrointestinal permeability and inflammation, psychological impairments and increased susceptibility to illness and infection.  This can manifest as a plethora of gut symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, heartburn, stomach cramps, joint pain, anxiety, depression, acne, eczema, brain fog and more.

3 tips to ease into relaxation and turn on the switch to your digestion

Relaxation therapy:  Mediation, progressive body scanning, yoga, breathwork are ways to incorporate more relaxing activities into your day.  In addition to it switching on your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for optimal digestive function, it will provide an opportunity to check in with yourself.   Observe how stress affects you.  Does it settle in your shoulders, perhaps you clench your jaw or have stomach aches?  The more you can connect to your body, the more you can learn how to help yourself.  

Try sour or bitter flavours:  Bitter herbs are used to stimulate the digestive system, liver, intestines and stomach.  Sour tastes stimulate acid and enzyme production.   This can aid in relieving constipation as it improves sluggish digestion.  Try adding bitter foods to your diet such as watercress, chicory, roasted dandelion tea and artichokes.  Lemon is the perfect sour taste and easy to add some to warm water.  Just remember to use a straw to protect your teeth enamel. 

Mindful eating:  Taking some deep breaths before you start eating helps to turn on that switch for your rest and digest mode of your nervous system.   Be mindful of eating slowly, perhaps putting down your cutlery in between bites can help tap into this.   Do not underestimate the power of chewing your food.  Chewing thoroughly until it is almost a paste really cuts down on the work the rest of your digestive system has to do.  It is one of the first stages of digestion and if it is not being done well enough, your stomach and intestines are under even more pressure when they’re already under functioning.

If you notice any change in your digestive function it is important to speak to a healthcare practitioner who will ask the right questions and perform the necessary testing to determine the cause.  If stress is considered to be a major factor, which most of the time it is, addressing the source of the stress is a priority.  If you have tried these tips or know something is off and you still need help, I am here to help you.  Take action by booking a complimentary discovery call so we can discuss a plan to get you feeling your best.

Take action by booking a complimentary discovery call so we can discuss a plan to get you feeling your best.

Click below to book an appointment with Dr. Ramlal.

Dr. Ramlal believes that we can all be the best version of ourselves and this starts with taking care of our health.  We are worthy of having the life we want and doing all the amazing things we want to do.  She is passionate about looking at the bigger picture of the factors that shape our health and curating strategies to help others reach their greatest potential. Dr. Ramlal has a strong belief in creating a space to cultivate growth, awareness and fostering the mind-body connection to nourish the foundations of health. As a clinician, her area of focus is helping those with digestive concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, break free from the constraints of diarrhea, bloating and constipation that are keeping them from living and feeling their best.

I would love to hear from you, let’s connect on Instagram @drroxanneramlal

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Digestive Health, Mind-Body Medicine | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
May 2

TCM and Brain Health

If we want to know how acupuncture can help improve brain health, it is important to first understand how the brain is viewed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). When I first started studying acupuncture, I struggled to reconcile my existing knowledge of common Western medicine theories with those of classical Eastern medicine. I was often perplexed by how differently each science communicates their understanding of the human condition. While Western medicine is firmly rooted in neat, textbook style theories, Eastern medicine is more conceptual in nature, with an almost poetic twist to it. However, there are many similarities between them, and we only need dig deeper to find that the underlining message is very much the same and has been echoed through time, again and again.

The TCM brain is considered one of the six Extraordinary Organs. It is often referred to as “The Sea of Marrow” and like in Western medicine, is responsible for:

  • Intellect
  • Concentration
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • The five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing)

Also, similar to Western medicine, the healthy functioning of the brain is largely dependant on an abundant supply of blood, oxygen, energy, nutrition, and rest.

Establishing these similarities, we may now begin expanding our understanding of how TCM’s understanding of the brain begins to diverge from its western counterpart. According to Chinese medicine, the TCM brain has its origins in “essence” (closely related to DNA from a Western perspective). We receive our “essence” from our parents at the time of conception, i.e., the semen and egg. It is stored in our kidneys and is the original source of life-giving or “Pre-heaven” (before birth) energy or qi. It is finite and begins to decrease from our very first breath. “Essence” plays a vital role in many of the body’s functions and is a major contributor to the creation of marrow, which fills our bones and brain. In short, healthy “essence” leads to a healthy brain!  

The TCM brain is also closely dependant on three other organs, i.e., the spleen, heart, and liver.

Where the TCM kidneys are the source of “Pre-Heaven “qi, which is sadly finite and not replenishable, the TCM spleen is considered the primary source of “Post- heaven” qi or energy we receive from the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Post- heaven qi can be replenished, and its quality can be controlled through our lifestyle choices, such as a healthy well-balanced diet, exercise, and sleep. The TCM heart plays an important part in creating and supplying fresh blood to the brain. It also nourishes the spirit (Shen), which in housed in the mind.

Last, but not the least, the TCM liver is responsible for ensuring the free flow of qi in the body. When qi is allowed to flow unobstructed, it results in sufficient blood circulation to the body and mind, easy conversion of nutrition to energy and the healthy functioning of all organ systems. Therefore, a healthy liver makes for a healthy brain.

For me, brain health encompasses not only the ability to learn and communicate knowledge, but also how well we can process complex emotions and environmental stressors, in order to maintain our mental and emotional wellbeing.

TCM and acupuncture can help achieve both these goals through a variety of modalities and techniques. Acupuncture is the insertion of fine, sterilized needles into the body at specific areas called “acupoints” with the aim to bring balance to the mind and body. The amazing thing about acupuncture is that because it works closely with the nervous system. Many conditions can be treated by applying needle therapy at both the area of concern, but also at points that are further away from the site of injury or trauma.  For example, a headache can be treated by working with the scalp but also by working with areas on the hands, arms, legs and feet. In fact, your TCM practitioner will often combine local and distal points when creating your treatment plan.

Here are a few ways in which acupuncture can help with brain wellbeing:

  1. Physical pain management: Acupuncture works closely with the brain and nervous system to release endorphins (the body’s pain-killing chemicals). It can also control the body’s release of adrenaline and return the body to a state of rest and digest. It has had clinical success in treating any type of headache and migraine.
  2. Knowledge processing, retention, and communication: As explained above, the heart, liver, kidneys, and spleen all play an integral part in the formation and maintenance of brain health. Each organ is further involved in the development of its own type of intelligence. For example, the TCM heart is in charge of long-term memory, while the TCM kidneys are responsible for short term memory. The TCM spleen, being the source of “Post- heaven” qi is responsible for cognition and intelligence, and the TCM liver ensures that the other three organs have enough qi and blood supplied to them to function smoothly. A recent article published by the Journal of Neural Regeneration Research found acupuncture treatments can lead to improved cognitive function. Functional brain MRIs showed an increase in activity in the areas of the brain connected to cognitive function and memory. Strong cognitive functioning increases our ability to stay focused and alert.
  3. Emotional and spiritual wellbeing: Acupuncture can help regulate moods, by boosting the production of serotonin (the brain’s “happy hormone”) and thereby contributes to a feeling of relaxation. It effects the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” functions of the body. In this way acupuncture can help with anxiety, stress, insomnia, frustration etc.
  4. Increased blood flow to the brain: While acupuncture has long been believed to improve general blood flow in the body, making it a useful tool to alleviate musculoskeletal pain, it can also improve the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, helping you function better overall.

The next time you visit your acupuncturist, with concerns about brain fog or fatigue, forgetfulness or a lack of concentration, insomnia, or anxiety or even a headache, they might use points such as Tai Yang or GV20 (Hundred Meetings) to ease your headache or migraine. SP 06 (Three Yin Intersection) or ST36 (Leg Three Miles) to invigorate blood generation and circulation. Or perhaps, HT 07 (Spirit Gate) and Yin Tang to calm your heart. They might even throw in the Four Gates- LI 04 (Joining Valley) and LV03 (Great Rushing) to regulate qi flow for good measure! In reality there are hundreds of point combinations to choose from, your acupuncturist is there to help you find your custom fit therapy. In addition, they might use cupping therapy, or massage or gua sha to manually sooth the nervous system, or moxibustion to warm and nourish the body.  Traditional Chinese medicine is a rich and complex science that takes a holistic approach to healing. It is wonderful because, just like you brain, your treatment will be unique to you and your needs.

Click below to book an appointment with Desiree.

Desiree is a licensed Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac) in good standing with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO). She completed her acupuncture training at Eight Branches Academy of Eastern Medicine, Toronto. Her practice is governed by the understanding that we each have a right to invest in our health and well being, and that the path to healing is never linear but instead is constantly evolving based on our unique experiences.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Acupuncture, Mind-Body Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
May 1

Managing Anxiety

Anxiety is certainly at the top of our minds during these unprecedented times. Life is unpredictable and uncertain – this creates anxiety and stress in people. But when there are collective world experiences that bring greater uncertainty in our daily lives, this can fuel and perpetuate our anxieties even further. During these times of heightened doubt and constant change, coping can be challenging for many.

What Anxiety Can Feel Like

Anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. Essentially, anxiety is an unpleasant feeling that we all experience from time-to-time but for some, it is a constant feeling of fear and dread that can be all too consuming. When suffering from anxiety, we experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms and sensations:

  • Psychologically – rapid negative thoughts and constant worrying over extended periods of time
  • Emotionally – feeling nervous, stressed, irritable or uptight
  • Physiologically – tense body, heart racing/palpitations, tension in chest or stomach, dizziness, or shortness of breath
  • Behaviourally – pacing around, difficulty relaxing, getting flustered and snapping at people

Almost always, our way of coping with anxiety is avoidance – we’ve all done this.

Understanding Anxiety – What Causes it and Keeps it Going?

Life Experiences. We experience anxiety when life is stressful and when there are multiple pressures that occur at once. For instance, someone who might be experiencing difficulties at work, financial issues and interpersonal conflicts might be at a higher risk of suffering from anxiety. Adding the complex stresses we all face during this pandemic into the mix can often amplify stress and anxiety. We can also develop anxiety based on past aversive life experiences. For example, when someone gets into a car accident, they are more likely to be afraid to get back into the car.

Thought Patterns. Anxiety can develop and be maintained through our thinking styles. People who are anxious often have patterns of thoughts that resemble worst case scenarios and have excessive worries. This thinking style also allows us to focus on things that aren’t going well, which makes us hypersensitive to situations and experiences that don’t go according to plan. As a result, people often feel on edge, and are unable to relax.

Basic Survival Mechanism. As evolutionary creatures, anxiety serves a purpose in protecting us. Perceived threat or danger triggers fear, which signals our bodies for a fight or flight response to help us respond to that perceived threat. These responses served us back in the days when there were constant threats to our primitive selves; however, modern humans do not experience the same threats and often we cannot run away or fight them (i.e., relationship, work or financial issues), thus we are left feeling stuck and in a ‘freeze’ state.

All these factors and how you cope determines the intensity and frequency of anxiety and negative effects of stress.

Anxiety and stress can feel overwhelming when too much is happening too quickly. Managing your anxiety can be more effective when you put these skills into practice regularly, even when things are good so that you are better able to use your tools when things don’t go so well. Key here is consistency.

Managing Your Anxiety

Learning to Tolerate Uncertainty

The nature of life is such that it is unpredictable, and we can never see what our future holds. This is an unavoidable part of life – scary, I know! The key to being more tolerant is to start acting “as if” you are tolerant of uncertainty; easier said than done! It’s about putting yourself in situations where you force yourself to tolerate the unknown. The more you do something and expose yourself to certain situations, the more you learn something new about yourself and that the situation isn’t too bad. Life will not go accordingly as planned if you allow some uncertainty into your life, but this is not an indication of failure – far from it. In fact, practicing tolerating uncertainty allows us to learn that even when things do not go as planned, and something bad happens, that we can cope with it and we can deal with things even if they don’t go perfectly.

Radical Acceptance

“What you resist, persists.” This idea tells us that when we struggle and push away what is happening to us that we find terrible, it makes the problem worse. Radical acceptance teaches us simply to accept and acknowledge our reality, without judgement. It’s an attitude of “it is, what it is.” Radical acceptance does NOT mean that you approve of what is happening and that you have to like it. Acceptance is not waving our hands up in defeat and giving up. Instead, acceptance allows us to focus our energy and strength on how to move forward and what we need to do to handle our situation better. It teaches us to accept the anxiety and work through those feelings rather than avoiding it or fighting it. Oddly enough, accepting our anxiety often leads to decreased anxiety.

You Always Have a Choice

Anxiety is the culmination of your beliefs around overestimating risks and underestimating your resources to cope. Risk of anxiety increases when someone believes their probability and severity of risk/threat is high and they do not have the internal or external resources to cope. When we believe we don’t have a choice in our situation this makes us feel stuck and helpless. The truth is, people are resilient and are very capable of coping with difficult situations. Find ways to remind yourself that you can cope and that you have the internal and external resources to help you manage difficult situations.

STOPP Technique

STOPP is a mindfulness-based technique that is used in different models of therapy. It that can be useful in reducing stress, anxiety or distressing emotions. Being able to pause, slow down and come back to the present has proven helpful in dealing with stress and anxiety.

S – Stop

Stop what you are doing when you become aware of your automatic negative thoughts or caught up in rumination or noticing your anxiety setting in.

T – Take a breath

Taking a deep breath and notice your breathing. Breathe in through the nose, expanding your belly and breathe out through your mouth. Do this until you feel calmer and have collected yourself.

O – Observe

Once you feel calm and collected, spend some time observing different aspects of yourself. Observing yourself enhances your self-awareness and mindfulness over time.

Thoughts – What am I thinking right now? What’s on my mind? What am I telling myself?

Feelings – What am I feeling? What emotions are coming up?

Bodily Sensations – What physical sensations am I feeling? Where in my body do I experience it?

Behaviours – How am I acting and reacting? What am I doing?

P – Perspective/Pull Back

Bringing in some perspective will allow us to see the situation differently and help us see the bigger picture. We don’t have to believe every thought that pops up. How else can I see this situation? What is another way of looking at this problem? Fact or opinion? What would someone I trust say to me right now? What would I say to them? What are some reasonable explanations for what’s happening?

P – Plan and Proceed

Proceeding with more awareness and being mindful with how you want to respond.

What are my options? What is the most important thing for me? What is the most appropriate and effective course of action? What are some of the things I can do that aligns with my principles/values/beliefs? What are the consequences of my action?

Taking it moment by moment, one step at a time.

Extra “P” in the STOPP technique

P – Practice

It is a simple skill to use but it does take some practice – practice makes progress. Just like a habit, the more you do something, the more engrained it will be. The best time to practice this is when you are not feeling anxious or overwhelmed and in a calm state. This will allow you to access the skills quicker when you experience intense emotions. Key is consistency and practicing daily even on your good days.

Seeking Help

If you are someone who is suffering from anxiety and going through a lot of stress, major life transitions, experiencing a loss and/or struggling with mental health concerns, please reach out for help from a mental health professional.

It is a sign of strength, not weakness, when we admit that we are stuck and suffering. Everyone – including yourself – deserves to live a meaningful life.

To connect with Jennifer please click below to book a free meet and greet, before getting started on your therapy journey.

Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational purposes only. It is not to be used for diagnosing or replacing treatment from medical and mental health professionals.

Jennifer Leong is a registered social worker and psychotherapist with a professional goal to help improve and maintain good mental health for anyone who is willing to seek supports. She has a great interest in working with people from all walks of life who are facing difficulty with various life adjustments, stresses, and loss. She also works with people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, issues with boundaries, issues with self-esteem and self-worth, past difficulties and interpersonal relationships.

She would love to hear from you, connect on Instagram @jenniferleong.msw

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling, Mind-Body Medicine, Psychotherapy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
May 1

Understanding Pain

The fastest and most predictable response to an injury is how fast the system responds to it. In the acute phase, the body does its job to heal itself. The most complicated and least predictable response is how much pain you are going to experience from it. Pain scientist, Lorimer Moseley, says that pain never tells you how much is damage, it just tells you to protect the area.

When we think about the information that our bodies have to interpret, 30% of it is through nociception, which is your danger detection signal, and 70% is mechanoreception which, broadly said, allows you to move and navigate yourself. There is a constant conversation that exists within the body to address everything that we are sensing and perceiving, however, if we have an acute trauma or injury or we get a viral infection, there is a lack of mechanoreceptor input as all we get is the nociceptive signal that something is wrong. The danger signals hijack the system and, when we try to decode it, we can run into a problem; all it says is that something is wrong here. The system is on high alert and it is always being revved up, so we are unable to recalibrate.

There is a common group of disorders that are misunderstood and difficult to comprehend because they have no organic or structural cause. Classified as functional neurological disorders, they include such conditions as fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, and chronic fatigue, and they are among the most common and least known diseases out there.

When pain occurs in these seemingly inexplicable situations, patients are often given medication, sometimes in the form of opioids. This can become detrimental because of the two circuits that influence our experience of pain. There is one circuit that sends the pain signal, and a separate system that re-shuffles the pain when the system has made its point. Opioids mess with the re-shuffling system so that we don’t integrate the signal and can’t move on from the pain. In that sense, it is like using noise-cancelling headphones when you have a screaming baby, rather than calming the baby. When the system can’t re-shuffle and integrate, the screaming continues.

What I want to make clear, is under no circumstance am I stating that your symptoms aren’t real. You need to be validated for the experience you are having that is going haywire in your system, and no clinician or doctor should ever dismiss it.

The thing about these particular disorders is that the brain is working too hard to do something that it usually does involuntarily. Successful treatment requires a practice that allows you to give yourself a better buffer to handle situational stresses and traumas that may come your way. Spending time driving those pathways now, rather than when you are in the eye of the storm, is more difficult to convince yourself to do, but is beneficial when they are ultimately needed.

There is a certain amount of fear that arises when we realize how the system can go offline. But, if we give the brain a simple task to do, such as counting backwards in increments of 7 or 9, such low level activity of the brain can allow things to re-calibrate and come back online. Even when dealing with symptoms like tremors or dissociative episodes. Engaging with art, sound, or music can also be beneficial in bringing the brain back to task. That is the beauty of this concept of bioplasticity— through the process of sensory substitution, the system can adapt.

Hands on treatment from a skilled practitioner also stimulates the sensory system and can provide the therapeutic touch that elicits a greater feeling of neurophysiological safety. Additionally, you still want to be able to exercise and move to your tolerance to gain that input to the system. If the pain is constant, I acknowledge that relationship changes and it can be a challenge to navigate.

Much of health care is largely based on structural pathology and anatomical systems, leaving some of these functional and less explainable issues on the periphery of care. In the organic tissue model, there are problems to be fixed and we go from there. Yet the real challenge is in knowing what is predictable and what is not, and empowering people to make better decisions, giving them freedom from obsessing over the wrong things.

But the brain and behaviour and body is not a puzzle to be solved, it is a mystery that you embrace.
In medicine, if we don’t find a structural issue, we dismiss it; but there is a beautiful mystery that exists in terms of how you function as a whole. And finding a clinician that allows you to explore and expand the buffer with connection, understanding, and shared outcome can lead to greater healing.

Click below to book an appointment with Dr. Tabrizi.

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.Check out his instagram at @drt_toronto or visit his website at https://www.brainfullness.org/

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic, Pain Management | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment
May 1

Neuroplasticity & Mental Wellness

In the past, the scientific community believed that by early adulthood, the adult brain structures were primarily fixed and permanent with a set number of brain cells. They once thought that changes to the brain structures only occurred during infancy and childhood. More recently, our understanding of the most complex machine – our brain – underwent a revolutionary paradigm shift.

The term neuroplasticity (aka brain plasticity) suggests that our brain and nervous system, which is made up of billions of nerve cells and neurons (neuro), is malleable and can change to help adapt to our experiences (plasticity). Neuroplasticity occurs when our brain is exercised to help us retain and learn new skills, tools, techniques, languages, habits, and making lifestyle changes.

Understanding Neuroplasticity and How it Impacts Mental Health

  1. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

The more you practice something, the brain strengthens the neural connections that are engaged together. These connections become stronger when you learn and practice something new. Neural pathways are formed by doing something repeatedly and becomes a shortcut. Just like habits, whether good or bad. Re-learning something new may initially be difficult but overtime it becomes second nature. This is important to remember when practicing skills or tools that can help manage anxiety, stress and regulate emotions. Practice makes progress.

  • Change mainly occurs when the brain is engaged.

When you are focused, alert, and motivated, the brain produces and releases necessary neurochemicals that facilitate new learning and change to occur in your brain. When you are distracted, disengaged and do something without your full attention or interest, the chemicals in your brain and the process of change is turned “off.” This is perhaps why people who experience anxiety, stress and depression often express their difficulty with remembering something new. Likewise, when you are in a heightened state of anxiety or emotional distress, you will have trouble putting skills into use if you have never practiced them before when things were calmer, which can set you up for failure. It is beneficial to learn and practice something when things are going well so that you are better able to focus and stay attentive. Grounding yourself in mindfulness strategies can help you regroup and refocus on the task at hand.

  • The stronger the focus on something, the greater the brain change.

The more effort you put into something and the more you focus on something, the bigger the brain change. This is also true the other way around – if you focus on something negative and engaged in unhelpful behaviours, those neural pathways are strengthened. This is why they say, habits are hard to break – but it’s not impossible. Ask yourself: what are you focused on right now? Where do you want to shift your attention to? Is it helpful or unhelpful?

  • Use it or lose it.

Every new opportunity of learning and putting new things into practice allows the brain to stabilize and solidify neural pathways to help advance skill mastery. Similarly, this also weakens neural connections that were not implemented in that exact moment. This is extremely helpful with unlearning old unhealthy behaviours and patterns. Additionally, if healthy practices are not maintained, negative changes and negative plasticity can also occur. You always have a choice on what you can do and what you focus on!

How to Enhance Brain Plasticity

Below are some beneficial ways you can help promote your brain to kickstart the change and adaptation process.

  1. Enriching Environment

Creating enriched learning experiences encourage positive changes in the brain. Find opportunities that allow you to challenge yourself and enhance focus attention, such as: reading, practicing new skills or instruments, teaching yourself a new language, traveling, and exploring.

  • Emotional Health

Enhancing emotional health can provide enriching experiences with ourselves and in relationships with others, which promotes positive neuroplasticity. Feeling safe and secure, trust and love serves as a strong foundation for bonding and thriving relationships with ourselves and others. Emotional health can be cultivated through emotional awareness, and mindfully expressing and communicating our feelings. Engaging in activities like socializing, volunteering, emotionally bonding, journaling and doing psychotherapy all contribute to healthy brain plasticity.

  • Exercise

Moving our body through regular physical activity helps us better manage and overcome negative effects of stress and anxiety through the body’s natural physiological response – like endorphins, which would otherwise be turned off due to physical inactivity. When stress and anxiety is managed, you are in a better state of mind to learn and focus on new and novel experiences. Additionally, exercising and movement allows us to feel more empowered and in control of our body thus giving us some agency over our environment.

  • Relaxation and Rest

Getting plenty of sleep promotes dendritic growth in our brain. Dendrites are the roots of neurons that transmits neural information from one neuron to another, thus encouraging stronger connections for positive plasticity. Deep breathing and meditation helps with relaxation and better managing our stress-induced activity of fight/flight/freeze responses which fosters healthy brain changes.

*Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational purposes only. It is not to be used for diagnosing or replacing treatment from medical and mental health professionals.

Click below to book an appointment with Jennifer Leong, RSW.

Jennifer Leong is a registered social worker and psychotherapist with a professional goal to help improve and maintain good mental health for anyone who is willing to seek supports. She has a great interest in working with people from all walks of life who are facing difficulty with various life adjustments, stresses, and loss. She also works with people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, issues with boundaries, issues with self-esteem and self-worth, past difficulties and interpersonal relationships.

She would love to hear from you, connect on Instagram @jenniferleong.msw

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling, Psychotherapy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
May 1

A healthy gut means a healthy brain, and that means a healthy you!

Have you ever experienced that sensation of butterflies in your stomach?  Or feeling a pit in your stomach when you are upset or stressed?  These are simple ways we can see the gut-brain axis (GBA) in action.  Our digestive system is known as our second brain because it has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS) which along with the vagus nerve creates a two-way stress for the gut and brain, our central nervous system, to communicate with each other. 

The ENS has millions of nerve cells within the lining of the digestive tract running from the esophagus to the rectum that influences gut motility (how food moves through the digestive tract), absorption of nutrients and gut secretions, that help with breaking down our food and more.   The vagus nerve is associated with our “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which you can think of as a parachute that slows things down and takes us out of the stimulated “fight or flight” state of our sympathetic nervous system.  This is a healing state that we need to have optimal digestion function and immune system and hormone function and more. 

Gut microbiome impacts our happiness and mood

Up to 90% of the cells involved in the gut-brain axis send information from the gut to our brain rather than receiving information.  This means what is happening in our gut has significant influences over what is going on in our brain and so it impacts mood and behaviour.   Our gut microbiome, bacteria in our gut, produce up to 95% of serotonin, our happy hormone.  It also produces gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an important calming neurotransmitter, helpful in the reduction of anxiety and stress.  These chemicals also affect gut motility and nutrient absorption.  Gut bacteria produce many other hormones and neurotransmitters that influence mental processes such as learning and memory. 


When something is off with the gut-brain axis, this can show up as various symptoms.  Some of the more common symptoms may include, but are not exclusive to:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, acid reflux/heartburn
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression and/or anxiety 
  • Excess weight gain or weight loss
  • Low energy
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Increased sadness or anger
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Difficulty concentrating or brain fog
  • Problems with memory

Many of these symptoms can be related to other underlying causes, but the importance is to consider the root cause and not to ignore these signs of disharmony in the body. 

Strategies to support the gut-brain axis

Stressors will always be present, but our perception of stress is an area that we can work on to reduce the physiological and psychological effects.  We know that stress and anxiety change the diversity of bacteria in our gut and impairs optimal digestive function and has impacts on gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.  It can cause the symptoms of acid reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and indigestion.   Since we are aware that the health of our gut bacteria influences our mood and brain health, let’s discuss ways to support both directions of the gut-brain axis.

Box Breathing

Using the technique of box breathing activates our PNS can be used at anytime as a stress management tool and is especially helpful before meals to promote optimal digestion.   Picture a box by inhaling for a count of 4, holding that breath for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four and holding that breath for a count of four.  This can be repeated for 5-10 cycles. 

Nourishing foods:

A health microbiome rich in beneficial bacteria will help foster healthy brain function.  Some gut and brain nourishing foods to eat regularly include:

Omega 3 fats: nuts, seeds, cold-water fish like salmon are great sources of these fats that are anti-inflammatory for the brain and gut. 

Prebiotic foods:  fibre rich foods such as asparagus, chicory root, apples, dark leafy greens are great sources as well as soluble fibres such as legumes and oats.   Oats are also a nervine, meaning they calm and nourish the nervous system, making them very supportive to stress and anxiety management.   

Choosing whole foods over processed and packaged foods:   Refined sugars and processed foods feed the bad bacteria in your microbiome and lead to more inflammation in the gut and the body in general.  Choosing whole foods that are nutrient dense will provide abundant sources of nutrients for your gut and overall health. 

References:

Martin CR, Osadchiy V, Kalani A, Mayer EA. The brain-gut-microbiome axis. Cellular and molecular gastroenterology and hepatology. 2018 Jan 1;6(2):133-48.

Osadchiy V, Martin CR, Mayer EA. The gut–brain axis and the microbiome: mechanisms and clinical implications. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2019 Jan 1;17(2):322-32.

Suganya K, Koo BS. Gut–Brain Axis: Role of Gut Microbiota on Neurological Disorders and How Probiotics/Prebiotics Beneficially Modulate Microbial and Immune Pathways to Improve Brain Functions. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2020 Jan;21(20):7551.

Strandwitz P. Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain research. 2018 Aug 15;1693:128-33.

If you are looking for ways to optimize your gut and brain health or you are wondering if some of your symptoms are related to dysregulation of the gut-brain axis discussed here, I am here to help you.  Take action by booking a complimentary discovery call so we can discuss a plan to get you feeling your best.

Click below to book an appointment with Dr. Ramlal.

Dr. Ramlal believes that we can all be the best version of ourselves and this starts with taking care of our health.  We are worthy of having the life we want and doing all the amazing things we want to do.  She is passionate about looking at the bigger picture of the factors that shape our health and curating strategies to help others reach their greatest potential. Dr. Ramlal has a strong belief in creating a space to cultivate growth, awareness and fostering the mind-body connection to nourish the foundations of health. As a clinician, her area of focus is helping those with digestive concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, break free from the constraints of diarrhea, bloating and constipation that are keeping them from living and feeling their best.

She would love to hear from you, connect on Instagram @drroxanneramlal

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Digestive Health, Mind-Body Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
Apr 10

What Do Your Gut Microbes Have to Do with Estrogen Detox?

The digestive system is connected to every other system in the body.   When we are working on optimizing our digestion, this means more than just keeping our gut happy.  Digestive health is inherently linked to our overall health and hormone balance, estrogen in particular. 

Our gut microbes and the estrobolome

Our gut microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tract, has far reaching impacts on our health such as

  • influencing our mood
  • absorption of nutrients
  • vital role in the immune system
  • production and regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones

To add to the list of amazing functions of our microbiome, we also have a collection of bacteria in our gut with the ability to metabolise and modulate the circulating estrogen in the body.  This collection is called the estrobolome.  The bacteria in our gut and the estrobolome affect our estrogen levels and has influences on weight, mood, menstrual cycles, heart and bone health and more. 

The liver metabolises estrogen and sends conjugated estrogen to the bile which is excreted in the gut.  These gut microbes produce the enzyme beta glucuronidase which is responsible for changing estrogen to its active form.  Estrogen levels are increased and reabsorbed by the gut, sent into the bloodstream and then binds to estrogen receptor sites in the body and produce hormonal physiological processes. 

In other words, the more beta glucuronidase is produced the less estrogen is excreted from the body through stool and urine and so more remains in the body to be recirculated and have influence on various physiological processes. 

A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal hormonal balance

A healthy microbiome with diverse bacteria produces optimal levels of beta glucuronidase and minimises the reabsorption of estrogen and allows for the safe removal via stool and urine.  A happy microbiome is essential for hormone balance.  Dysbiosis of the digestive system, meaning there is an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria, or a reduction in the diversity of the bacteria in the microbiome can lead to more or less production of this enzyme, which means it can lead to increased or decreased levels of estrogen in the body. 

Some signs of estrogen imbalance include:

  • heavy, light or irregular periods
  • painful periods
  • acne
  • bloating and digestive upset
  • premenstrual symptoms
  • weight gain
  • libido changes
  • changes in mood
  • endometriosis
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness or fibrocystic breasts

Keep those bowels moving

When estrogen is eliminated through the bowels and urine this is phase 3 of detoxification.  It is a very important step because if the bowels are not moving well and there is constipation or sluggishness of the bowels, then this can also lead to hormonal imbalances.  Having a bowel movement at least once per day is the goal to ensure excess hormones are leaving the body.  If you are experiencing constipation speak to your healthcare professional to get to the root cause and get some relief.

Tips to improve gut health and hormonal balance

Hormone balancing diet

Diet impacts the diversity of our gut microbes and therefore impacts our estrobolome and hormones.  Foods that support this are

  • Probiotic foods that includes fermented foods such as kimchi, pickled vegetables, miso, kefir
  • Prebiotic foods which are high in fiber and feed our good bacteria such as garlic, leeks, asparagus, dandelion greens, chicory, green bananas
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts help to detoxify hormones including estrogen and provide an abundance of fiber for our microbiome
  • Array of fruit and vegetables and whole foods that are high in fiber such as nuts, legumes. Grapefruit, oranges and apples are beneficial for hormone detoxification as well

Exercise

Physical activity is a great way to aid in our body’s natural detoxification processes.   It also helps to manage stress which is needed to keeping our hormones balanced.    Exercise balances circulating levels of estrogen in both the short-term and long-term so know that you are doing wonders for your hormones when you are moving your body

Be mindful of your exposure to toxins

Xenoestrogens are synthetic compounds found in plastics, pesticides and fragrances to name a few.  They are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen in the body and can alter the microbiome. 

  • Minimize use of plastics especially when heated such as food containers and plastic water bottles
  • Eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible
  • Read the ingredients of your personal care items and avoid parabens and fragrances

If you are struggling with symptoms of hormonal imbalance and confused about the next step to take to find a solution, you are not alone.  Speak to a naturopathic doctor that will take into account oof unique needs and create a strategic plan to get you being the best version of yourself. 

References:   PMID: 28778332, PMID: 26541144, PMID: 31636122

Click below to book an appointment with Dr. Ramlal.

Dr. Ramlal believes that we can all be the best version of ourselves and this starts with taking care of our health.  We are worthy of having the life we want and doing all the amazing things we want to do.  She is passionate about looking at the bigger picture of the factors that shape our health and curating strategies to help others reach their greatest potential. Dr. Ramlal has a strong belief in creating a space to cultivate growth, awareness and fostering the mind-body connection to nourish the foundations of health. As a clinician, her area of focus is helping those with digestive concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, break free from the constraints of diarrhea, bloating and constipation that are keeping them from living and feeling their best.

She would love to hear from you, connect on Instagram @drroxanneramlal

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Detoxification, Digestive Health, Hormonal Health, Naturopathic Medicine, Uncategorized, Women's Health | Tagged , , | Leave a comment
Apr 7

Facing the Long Journey

I am sitting in the same place as one year ago, a year older. The trees I see are the same trees. In the lock-down’s “new normal” mode, life seems to have boiled down to a long wait. The cycles of nature have continued through our lockdown. This is reinforced by noticing that my garden has thawed now, and tiny green leaves are beginning to emerge from the ground. Is this emergence of the young leaves a time to rejoice?

I am not sure how to feel about it. I am reminded of the Greek myth of the goddess Persephone, that explains the barrenness of winter and the return of life in Spring. What is the story teaching us?

Persephone was believed by the ancient Greeks to be the Queen of the Underworld. Her name means “Bringer of Death”. She did not start as the Queen of the Underworld, however, she started as a Goddess of agriculture.

The story tells that she was abducted by Zeus’s triplet brother Hades, who ruled the Underworld, to force her to be his wife. (Yes, quite a #MeToo moment!) The myth mysteriously layers connections between creativity, life returning, and the realm of death.

Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, grains, and fertility. When her mother, the powerful Demeter, angered by the abduction, negotiated with Zeus her return, Hades tricked Persephone. He fed her pomegranate seeds from his realm so she would have to return to his dark realm every year for an extended period.

So the rhythms began. She spent part of the year in the world of the living, and part in Hades’ Underworld. When she was in Hades, she ruled the souls of the dead and was the Queen of the Underworld. When she would return to the world of the living, Demeter was the Goddess of Spring and renewal. There is a poetic connection here between death and renewal that we can use to inspire us.

I find that the myth reflects the sense of I have about this Spring, that our liveliness, like Persephone’s,  has been abducted to a hellish realm. COVID has felt, for the ones who have remained healthy, a lot like I imagine the souls of the Dead might have felt, all our desires alive but not a way to express them. We wait.

This wait may hold a hidden treasure, I hope. If we think of the wait as Winter, when Persephone is in the Underworld, then it is time to nurture the seeds of what will emerge in the Spring. When Spring finally comes metaphorically at the end of this COVID imprisonment, I hope most of us will emerge ready to bloom.

When we emerge, I want to have learned something and become better at living, at being human. In a sense, I want this journey to the darkness of COVID count for some form of renewal. I have tried to convince as many people as I can to embrace this.

Knowing that we will definitely emerge at some point, lets nurture the seeds of our future by making small shifts for the better. Let’s tend to the energies we will need to harness a better life when we start being in the open world again. There are all these things we ignore when we are busy, but which need tending. What are those for you?

We all know that tending to the body is a given. It is a must. We do get mushy if we stay inactive. Our bodies need movement and exercise. We all know that inactivity leads to low mood. It leads to poor self-image. It leads to ill health. How about our psyches?

Tending to our psyches is something we often do not know we can do. The psyche, which some understand as the soul, others as the mind, needs tending to as well. Like the body it needs exercise, skills and training.

For some, tending the psyche means learning how to use one’s moods and personalities for success. For others, it means to learn to understand or regulate emotions that distract us. For others is to learn to see gifts where we only see burdens, or learn how to tackle obstacles. For others, it means to pay attention to the images of ourselves and to the longings we have, and maybe find a way to embrace our full selves as we go through this precious life.

Like seeds, each one of us is unique and gifted, so each one of us has to figure out how to root one’s life on this earth. My colleagues at IHI and myself are here to help you do that, physically and mentally. During this COVID winter, I invite you to look for small steps you can take to let this year count, to move forward, to emerge in full bloom when the time comes to emerge again.

Click below to book an appointment with Ariel!

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.

Check him out on instagram at @arielblaumsw or visit his website at https://www.arielblau.com/

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Apr 7

Let’s Make Your Posture Great Again

That is a delicate question. We know posture matters, but how much?

There are different lenses through which we can look at posture and its effects. When it comes to training and heavy loading, posture really matters to have that stable base and alignment from which to begin.

If we are to look at it from a strictly biomechanical perspective, we can liken it to the most basic and fundamental component of mechanization: the wheel.

The wheel was the most evolutionary invention of mankind that really shifted society. It came about in 3500BC as a potters wheel, yet it was 300 years before the axle was invented and someone used it on a chariot. How we consider our posture requires a similarly sophisticated upgrade. Being able to identify an ideal zone for one joint is much easier than thinking about how the whole works; yet, if we are to really be able to maximize how we move and what we can carry, we have to think about the totality of the system.

Though it is crucial to have an eye on how the whole body is affected, it is very difficult to train this way. There are literally too many moving parts! So, for the purposes of posture correction, we think global but train local.

Joint centration is a biomechanical concept that describes the sweet spot of positioning of a joint for optimal movement. While we can explore different ranges through movement practices, we can also pay more attention to positions that translate into more efficient use of our bodies and can help prevent injury.

It is also worthwhile to consider that, beyond simply chasing optimum position, being able to maintain certain capacities throughout your lifespan is a more functional and realistic goal. This notion gives us an opportunity to relax, resist the tyranny of misplaced precision, and explore isometric holds and other subtle movements.

Isometric contraction is when we activate a muscle without changing its length—resistance within a static position. While this mode of training doesn’t necessarily fit the typical fitness model, 91% of muscle fibres are recruited in isometric contraction. We can take 10-40 seconds in one position, incorporate our breathing, and be present and strategic in our application of this approach.

We know that complication is a road bump to execution, and one of the goals of Brainfullness is to organize the body. We can make biomechanics and kinematics as complicated as we want, but I think it is more important to focus on making it user-friendly.

There are different ways that we can work with our posture in different areas of our bodies. With that in mind and in looking at the basic foundations, here are some things to do…

  • Statically supinate and pronate your feet. That is to roll from the outside of your foot to the inside and feel the effect on your arch and your balance.
  • Untether your big toe from your other four toes. This fires up your intrinsic foot muscles and creates more motion within the 33 joints of the foot—separate from the typical motions of gait.

Functionally, the foot is connected to the hip, so there is also an upstream effect for the health of the hip and longevity of walking.

  • Fire up your quads at equal strength to feel greater balance in how you are loading your body.
  • Anterior and posterior rotation of the pelvis. This mobilizes the spine and explores a variability of movement, while also drawing attention to our postural tendencies.
  • Stacking up your thorax on your pelvis allows you to activate your core and have a more balanced posture that does not put unnecessary stress on other areas of your body.
  • Reaching your arms up. There is a compressive load in the rotator cuff just from having our arms hanging down at our sides all the time which we can counter by exploring overhead ranges of motion. If we don’t practice the movement of reaching overhead, not only do we run the risk of losing the range but, if we then go to the gym and try chin ups, adding load to an unfamiliar movement, we may be asking too much of our bodies. It is more important to focus on the details in these types of activities. You don’t have to do all of them —even just doing one of these things and practicing active awareness in what happens in the rest of your body can be a gateway to improving your posture. It should be noted that when we sustain injuries we develop protective postures and compensatory movement patterns based on a particular pattern of pain. It is equally important to explore these altered positions and appreciate their value as we heal, but also to exercise that awareness to ensure that we do not carry them forward beyond recovery. And we must also acknowledge that there is a big sociocultural aspect to posture, and there is a challenge between looking at the cultural aesthetic expectation of posture versus the physiological energy efficiency of it. There is also an emotional tag that creates posture and there is a certain vigilance that goes into monitoring those cues for ourselves as well. You tend to shrug and exhibit a more protective posture if you have just received a nasty email from your boss, versus having the more open posture that you may exhibit when playing with your kids. Even being open to new ideas has a posture… We can be nuanced in our approach to health, being more targeted and consistent in how we practice. There is no perfect posture—but there are benefits to complex movements and an importance in how we load our bodies. Just as there is no perfect way to be, just the complexity of our experience and the value in how we live it. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just maintain it. And make sure we are driving in the right direction.

Click below to book an appointment with Dr. Tabrizi.

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.Check out his instagram at @drt_toronto or visit his website at https://www.brainfullness.org/

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
Apr 1

Using Your Female Hormones to Your Metabolic Advantage

There is an underlying negative connotation associated with periods. From the time we are young women, it is ingrained in us that periods get in the way. We are taught that our female physiology works against us and that we need to work twice as hard as men to achieve the same fitness levels and health goals. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Our female hormones are SUCH a blessing in disguise. Once we understand how to work WITH them, instead of against them, they become our best friends and can actually help us reach our fitness and health goals with a lot less pain and effort. Girl power is real!!

Popular diets and exercise programs are centered around the idea that we need to eat less and exercise more. This concept is based on male physiology. When this doesn’t work, we eat even less and exercise even more. We ignore our bodies and push through. Thanks to our amazing female hormones, we don’t actually need to suffer this much to attain our goals.

So how does this all work?

Estrogen is your “building up hormone”. It is highest during your follicular and ovulatory phase (days 6-18ish). When estrogen is present, energy is high and our bodies can handle more stress. This means we can exercise more intensely and recover well. Estrogen suppresses our appetites, making it easier to stay on track with our nutrition. Estrogen also shifts calories towards muscle building and away from fat storage, allowing you to eat more and exercise more if you want to put on some muscle, speed up your metabolism and/or promote body recomposition. This is the time to use intense exercise to burn calories, load up on endorphins and hit those PR’s!

Exercise strategy: HIIT, Spinning, Heavy Strength Training, Running, Sprinting, Power Yoga

Nutrition Strategy: Eat more to support muscle building and fitness goals, or experiment with eating lower carb and intermittent fasting to balance lower exercise intensity/frequency.

Don’t: Eat less and exercise more.

After ovulation, estrogen drops and progesterone is dominant (day 19-28ish). This phase is called your luteal phase. Fun fact: your metabolism naturally increases during this phase. How. Awesome. Is. That!? During this phase, women’s bodies do not respond well to very low carb diets. It’s very important to make sure you’re getting a moderate, steady supply of complex carbs to keep your blood sugar stable and to support energy levels, mood and sleep.

Our bodies are more stress-sensitive during this phase, making intense exercise counterproductive. Too much exercise and not enough carbs during this phase overwhelms the adrenals, promotes muscle wasting and fat storage – effectively slowing down your metabolism, and can lead to thyroid issues and hormone imbalances. Your luteal phase is not an excuse to stop moving and to fuel with pizza and twinkies for 2 weeks, but we really don’t need to excessively restrict calories and exercise intensely here. Our bodies do a lot of the heavy lifting for us. Adding more to the energy bank (complex carbs) and removing less from the energy bank (less intense exercise) leaves our brain and body with more energy reserves, promoting better mood and productivity. Say goodbye to the pre-period lows! Thank you hormones!!

If you’re experiencing menstrual dysfunction, or haven’t seen your period in a while, you can consider yourself as being in an extended luteal phase. Often reducing intense exercise, and increasing calorie and carbohydrate intake will correct hormone levels within a few months and help to fire the metabolism back up once your body feels it’s safe to do so.

Exercise Strategy: Try Pilates, Walking, Yoga, Barre, Slow strength training, Biking, Hikes. My favourite 2 week program to follow during my luteal phase.

Nutrition strategy: Small meals every 2-3 hrs. Choose sweet potatoes, squash, chickpeas, oatmeal, apples & pears to provide nutritious carbohydrates.

Don’t: Very low carb diets, keto, intermittent fasting, HIIT, long runs, spinning.

Nutrition and exercise form the foundation of health. For strategic, personalized nutrition coaching that optimizes your health and metabolism, book an appointment with Victoria.

Victoria has been a fitness and nutrition coach for almost 10 years. She specializes in women’s metabolic health and body recomposition.

Victoria teaches women how to achieve their health goals without sacrificing their sanity. She believes that learning to work with your body is both an art and a science that can be mastered when given the correct tools. Her mission is to empower all women to feel in control of their health.

The choices you make around what you eat are more impactful on your health than you probably realize. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, boost energy, improve mental performance or alleviate chronic disease symptoms, food is your absolute best tool.

But with so much circulating information, busy work schedules, family and social commitments and expectations, maintaining a healthy diet to reach your goals can feel overwhelming, unattainable and often low on the priority list. However, it is during this reality of time shortage and stress overload that we need sound nutrition the most.

I believe eating healthy shouldn’t be complicated or stress inducing.

I don’t believe in eating less and exercising more. I won’t gauge the healthiness of your diet by how many trendy superfoods you eat. I won’t expect you to count your calories or to spend your weeknights cooking extravagant meals with endless ingredients.

As your nutrition coach, my mission is to empower you, to improve your connection with food and to help you establish healthy behaviors that really last. Using simple, realistic strategies I will help you overcome the every day barriers that keep you from losing the weight, attacking your day and feeling your healthiest. I am a problem solver at heart and believe that every person can feel in control of their health.

Victoria’s passion for nutrition began at a young age. Being raised by a single mother who is also a nutritionist, Victoria learned that it is possible (and important) to prioritize healthy eating even when life gets really crazy. Seeing this first hand is what drew her to pursue a career in nutrition. Victoria completed her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with a minor in Physical Activity Assessment and Promotion at Ryerson University. She is a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and holistic lifestyle coach. She has special interest in metabolism, functional medicine and behavior change psychology.

Click here to get started with the Integrative Nutrition Coaching

Book an appointment with Victoria here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Women's Health | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
Mar 1

Anxiety Action Plan: Coronavirus Edition

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

The topic on everyone’s lips around the world is Coronavirus and, if you’re like me, you might be finding it all a tad overwhelming.  Widespread health care scares can induce anxiety symptoms in the most chilled out people, so those who regularly experience anxiety may not be feeling so hot right now.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless, know that you’re not alone.  I’ve got some strategies that can help you breathe a little easier while we move through this funky time.  Keep reading for my top tips on reducing anxiety amidst COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

1. Remember: You are not powerless

The idea that you’re definitely going to contract COVID-19 (or have your business or social life suffer as a result of quarantines) no matter what you do is incredibly defeating.  While curling into a ball and waiting for the world to end may seem like all that’s left to do, it’s not.  There are ways to take control that help minimize your risk, and therefore minimize your anxiety to healthy levels.  The simplest measures can be the most empowering.  The advice agreed upon by most health care professionals right now is to wash your hands well and avoid touching your face.  This is a concrete action you can take, and that makes you more powerful.  Avoiding touching others in business settings (bub bye, cold fish hand shake) or social settings (see ya, uncomfortable cheek kiss) seems very wise now.  How to get around these social norms?  Use your words.  Again, this is a way to exercise your power and feel in control.  Here’s your script: “Hello, it’s such a pleasure to meet you!  Please excuse me for not shaking hands today, but I think we’re all trying to avoid extra touching right now.”  This is direct and to-the-point, and I bet you that the other person will feel just as relieved as you.  Picking up a few extra canned or frozen goods when at the grocery store helps feeling prepared in case of a quarantine situation.  Preparedness leads to empowerment, as it reminds us there is a plan in place.  Planning ahead relieves anxiety symptoms, especially if you use your self-talk (your inner dialogue) to remind yourself of your plan. 

2. Turn off the news.

Ah, the media.  While we depend on media to, you know, give us the news, it’s not a secret that media outlets have a way of catastrophizing everything.  While COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly, many agree that the extent to which the news may be causing fear is heightened.  Regardless, there is a difference between being informed and being bombarded.  Checking in on the updates twice a day seems very reasonable.  Checking Twitter every 15 minutes is not.  This just keeps the issue top of mind when your brainpower is likely better spent on other tasks, such as your work, your hobbies, and keeping up with you friends and family.  If you find the conversation is frequently turning to Coronavirus as a substitute for small talk or gossip, feel free to direct the conversation away (again, this puts you in a position of power over what you’re consuming and therefore puts you in control of your mental health).  This also applies to social media.  Take more tech breaks in your day to reduce exposure to the bombardment.

3. Let’s get physical.

Your body is more than just a willing host for a virus.  It is a crazy awesome machine with systems in place to help you stave off illness, stay mentally healthy, and thrive.  Tap into these resources!  My personal fave is to engage in deep breathing.  This is a quick and effective way to calm the mind and body by reminding us to relax and release excess tension.  Focus on inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6.  Feel your belly expand as your lungs fill with fresh air.  Feel your belly contract slightly as it expels old air and energy.  Try this for about a minute and notice how you feel.  Now that you’ve set the stage for calmness, connect with a physical exercise that you enjoy.  Dance, hike, lift, or yoga pose your way to some relieving endorphins.  Show yourself how strong and powerful your body is.

4. Clear out the clutter.

When panic seeps in, logic goes out the window.  If your mind is feeling cluttered with overexposure and anxiety is riding high, just pause for a moment.  Take a breath.  Imagine your mind is like an Etch-A-Sketch.  Now give your head a good shake, and imagine that Etch-A-Sketch is now completely clear – a clean slate.  With another deep breath, remind yourself that you are a person who is capable of handling tough things.  Find a mantra that serves you during this time and reminds you that you are in charge of your thoughts.  My suggestions? “Precaution over panic.” “I am safe.”  “My mind and body are strong.”   This brings us back to my first point of reminding ourselves that we are not powerless here.  Whenever thoughts seem overwhelming, remember that they are just thoughts – they are not truths.  Bust out the Etch-A-Sketch imagery as necessary to clear your mind so you can replace the clutter with simple, soothing words instead.

5. Be social – safely.

As the recommendations have been changing daily regarding being in public places, we can quickly become isolated.  While some physical isolation may be prudent now, we’re fortunate to be in an age when technology can keep us connected.  Humans are inherently social creatures, so finding alternatives to the usual get-togethers is crucial.  Phone a friend.  Text.  FaceTime.  Take funny videos and send them to your friends and family.  Frequently check in on those more likely to feel isolated and lonely, such as elderly grandparents.  Not only will this help keep up your morale, but it will give you the same positive feeling as doing a good deed.  Remember: even if physical isolation is needed, we do not need to shut down communication.  Engaging in your relationships safely reduce lower depression symptoms and can even boost immunity (bonus!). 

6. Find the positives. 

They are there.  A great way to remember that there are good things in your life is to record them in a gratitude journal or list them to yourself at the end of the day.  These positives may include anything that makes you feel good, such as a favourite new song on the radio, holding a plank for 60 seconds, feeling accomplished in a work task, getting laughs after telling a good joke… if it brings a smile to your face, then it was a positive in your day; and it had nothing to do with Coronavirus. 


While concern is natural and our daily routines may temporarily change, consider how you’re handling your mental health.  My rule of thumb?  Consider if your thoughts and actions are helpful or unhelpful.  By categorizing them this way, you’ll be able to find what works for you.  If you’re really struggling to cope, reach out to your mental health professionals.  I personally am offering online counselling to provide people with support and individualized psychological solutions to make it through this time feeling strong.  Try out my top tips and notice how empowered and mentally strong you feel.

**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 [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Mar 1

Successful Life and Aging Starts With Movement

Movement is medicine.

Wrong.

Movement is life.

Movement is what separates us from plants. While they exogenously produce chemicals to keep predators away, we have the freedom to move.

In our most primitive form, we had the flight or freeze response—that is something that we share with other mammals. The fight response emerged later as it was learned to be evolutionarily beneficial; however, fighting is a high risk, high reward behavior.

Beyond our most primal system, though, humans are more complicated in terms of our thinking, in that we can have a direction and intentionality with regards to our metaphorical or actual movement. In terms of our health, we are capable of setting targets and planning the actions to meet them.

Exercise is generally viewed as a subset of movement, yet this highlights a mismatch between how our bodies were evolved and the environment we are living in. We evolved with the necessity of movement for survival, but that is no longer the case in terms of having our basic needs met. We have a dopaminergic system which rewards us and combats our tendency for inaction, yet, if we look at our bodies with the flow of blood and the lymphatic system, we see that movement is always occurring within us.

When considering types of movement and exercise there are some areas that are non-negotiable for prehabilitation, and also some extra considerations:

1. Strengthening

Lean muscle mass is predictive of longevity. While it is important to strengthen our large muscle groups for general mobility, it is also good to be strategic. Strengthening the posterior rotator cuff, for example, can help combat our usual protracted postures where our shoulders round in.

2. Endurance

To meet our cardiovascular demand for function and health, anything that gets your heart rate up will do. It can either be in short bursts of high intensity, like doing 10 sprints; or longer duration of lower intensity, like a half hour conversational jog. Bearing in mind that everyone starts at a different level of fitness, and small, incremental progress is good!

3. Subtractive Movement

This is about being aware of our habitual movements and minimizing unnecessary compensation. For example, using your arms to push up from a chair. Do you need the boost, or are you unnecessarily straining your shoulders? These are things to notice.

4. Sociogenomic Axis

This refers to the social aspect of health. Whether in organized sports or dancing, playing with friends can also be beneficial to our overall well-being. In our current pandemic circumstances, having accountability partners to stay active is imperative.

5. The X-Moves

These are the moves that test your limits. The goals that may scare you a little and may even seem unattainable. They allow you to expand your idea of what your body is capable of, and experience gratitude for it. Climbing that mountain, running the half marathon, or being seen in a bathing suit, everyone has different lines that they feel they cannot cross that are worthy of working towards.

This is the buffet of options—feel free to take a bite. But instead of singular sophistication in one thing, become a generalist virtuoso in which you try new things.

The term ‘movement is medicine’, is used in the context of our musculoskeletal system, in keeping our bodies healthy, but it is a concept that can be expanded even further to the totality of the human experience as a way to intellectual curiosity, creativity, and emotional stabilization.

When we look at movement metaphorically, in terms of moving forward in life, we note that momentum and friction play a role in the obstacles that we face and the friction within our emotions as we move toward a goal. As we become more self-aware, we can see emotions as a way to inform us rather than simply reacting negatively toward them.

From a Brainfullness perspective, we can think about movement as anything that regenerates, optimizes, and allows you to organize your thoughts. While this is a brain-centric view, we can also include that the mind or soul is embodied, and that the mind emerges as the interaction in the brain, body, environment interface.

And, when we formulate a wellness model for ourselves where movement is embodied and our notion of health expanded, we can even recognize forgiveness as a way to moving on for inherent peace for ourselves.

Medicine is usually something that you take externally, but movement must become something that is your natural state and is generated internally. We are made to move. If you stop someone’s eyeballs from moving, they will go blind because they can’t perceive the world. Likewise, if we stop moving, we can gain no new perspective to view the world or to see the possibilities for our lives.

As the brain works as an action-perception system, movement is required if we are to reach the targets that we set to create a new reality for ourselves. Understanding how deliberately you can do your daily activities is going to be the spring board from which you can be more clear in your thoughts, more focused on your goals, and more able to move through life’s challenges with confidence and resilience.

People generally do things either out of fear or because they want to be more. Getting you to experience minimal disability and fluid movement would be a starting point I could help you with.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic, Mind-Body Medicine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Jan 30

Honour Your Neurology, Upgrade Your Health

The inner workings of our bodies are complex and exciting but, when we look at the neurological system, we can learn the bedrock from which to build and support ourselves for optimum health.

Optimizing our nervous system is different than looking at our health through the lens of disease or degradation. If we are to think in terms of longevity, sustainability, or high performance, we realize that most of the states that we desire—whether you refer to them as the zone or simply flow—occur when the system is harmoniously doing its thing (coherence).

To sum up the role of the nervous system, information from our senses gets filtered and processed by our brain, and some form of action or movement is produced. You can think of it as a unifying, self- correcting vortex or tornado that goes up and down from sacrum to brain through the spinal cord—in constant communication, with no separation between the brain and the body. One unimaginably beautiful system.

That may sound like a recipe for chaos, but when we learn some of the finer points, we can learn to honor our neurology and harness its power.

Things to know…

• The architectural design

The way the nerves are situated within the body, the sensory nerves are more external than the motor nerves, so they are the ones more likely to be affected in either injury or spinal issues, like stenosis or disc problems.

• The brain has to constantly make predictions.

That is part of its job with regards to protection. But, with less information if we are not receiving as much sensory input or if we are overloaded with sensory input, there is less accurate prediction, so there is more disruption to the system with regards to motoric output—whether that be in movement, behavior, or experience of pain.

• The brain is a self-organizing system that is on a metabolic budget.


We develop not only habits, but also compensation patterns in our bodies to optimize energy expenditure. These patterns may not be biomechanically sound, but they save energy.

• The complexity of the stress response

The stress response is often reduced to fight or flight, but studies on primates indicate that there is an anticipatory component. Humans have taken it to the next level with the cortical processes that allow us to continue to ruminate in those stressors and keep us anticipating based on the past in our unreasonable demand for certainty.

In knowing these things, the question becomes: what can we do?

The goal is to create protective lifestyle factors, or practices for our neurological system, that allow us to explore both the sensory and the motor components.

Things to do…

• Celebrate extension

Serious neurological events, like a stroke, often result in people getting stuck in flexion patterns as the brain inhibits other possible options. The majority of our daily activities also involve us being in flexed or forward postures. Exploration of extension, whether it be of the spine in gentle stretching, or even simply wrist extension, is a novelty and also a necessity against the forces of gravity.

• Breathe

Breathing is a simple and evolutionary system that allows us to be able to recruit and relax certain muscles. Inspiration is active extension, expiration is more flexion. When you inhale, a lot of the stabilizing muscles in your legs calm down. Breathing has a central role in giving those muscles a break and, in a way, recycling that energy.

• Attention training

Through our neurology, we are constantly experiencing sensations, yet it is through our perception that we have active choice in where our attention goes. For example, you may feel the pressure of the seat beneath you once you become aware of it, but it was always there. This has applications in everything from our posture to our social environment.

Looking at the constraints and affordances of the nervous system, we diminish the boundaries between other systems and look at how our health is affected as a whole. While that helps to take some of the confusion out of what is happening in each system individually, the flip side is looking at how everything we do, even something like obsessing over things we can’t control, has an impact on our overall well-being.

Studies have shown that people with autism process sensory information differently, which is perhaps linked to the peripheral nervous system in an interruption in proprioception. While so much of the focus is on the brain and spinal cord as vital components of the transmission and interpretation of input, the manner in which we take in and process things at the level of first contact is also part of the equation.

Western philosophies tend to focus more on the motoric output of the nervous system, while the eastern perspective is more attune to the sensory input that is being received. Brainfullness aims to meet at the intersection, understanding how we can influence our nervous system with strategic action to affect the anticipatory aspect of the stress response and more accurately welcome those sensory signals.

Having an understanding of neurology helps to break down the barriers between brain, body, and mind, so we can be conscious and contributing participants in the constant communication that is happening within the system.

Check out the links below for other neurodynamic exercises to further celebrate your neurology.

Video 1: click HERE

Video 2: click HERE

Video 3: click HERE

Video 4: click 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.

Dr. Tabrizi completed his undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., obtaining a Bachelors degree in Psychology with a focus on cognitive neuropsychology. He later went on to obtain his Doctor of Chiropractic from Logan Chiropractic College in St. Louis, Missouri, after which he completed studies in osteopathy.

Book an appointment with Dr. Tabrizi here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Jan 15

How I Learned to Fall in Love with My Food Sensitivities

Chances are you or someone you know has experienced some unpleasant and unwanted symptoms after eating something.  It could have been gas, bloating, skin irritation or brain fog among other symptoms.   I can relate because it happened to me.  I, like many others, have food sensitivities. 

Are you wondering what exactly is a food sensitivity?

Let’s first break down the difference between food sensitivity, food allergy and food intolerance

Our immune system is our body’s army of defense, it protects us from potentially harmful organisms by producing antibodies called immunoglobulins. 

Food Allergy:

This is an immediate reaction brought on by immunoglobulin IgE.  This is what we know as an allergic reaction that can occur after minutes of eating.   This is an intense inflammatory response with redness, swelling and tissue damage.  Some common symptoms are a rash, itchy or watery eyes and more life-threatening symptoms can be difficulty breathing.  An anaphylaxis reaction to eating peanuts or shellfish is an example of this. 

Food Sensitivity:

It is a delayed inflammatory responsethat is triggered by immunoglobulin IgG.  Symptoms may appear after hours or even days, so it can be hard to tell which food was the culprit.  These inflammatory symptoms are not exclusive to the digestive system.  Here is a list of some of the symptoms:

  • gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • acne
  • eczema
  • Headaches or migraines
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • joint pain

Food Intolerance:

This is not an immune reaction, so it does not produce an inflammatory response.  It is simply the body being intolerant to something for various reasons.  An example is lactose intolerance, where the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in dairy.   This can cause a lot of gas, bloating and diarrhea. 

Ok, are you now wondering how could I possibly fall in love with my food sensitivity?  Let’s get into that.

My constant bloating after meals, especially those I ate from restaurants, my irritated skin that would breakout routinely and fatigue were all clues that the foods I was not regularly eating were not treating me well.  One of the reasons I found naturopathic medicine and eventually became a naturopathic doctor, is that I wanted to get relief from these long-standing symptoms and understand what was really going on.  With the help of my naturopathic doctor, we uncovered my food sensitivities.   At first, it was an adjustment to find the foods to replace the ones that I was sensitive to, cane sugar and dairy.  It wasn’t fun to remove these foods and not have desserts or certain sauces and so on.  However, embracing my food sensitivities was a gamechanger for me because it brought me relief from my symptoms and guided me towards my most optimal health. 

The symptoms we experience are clues that our body is giving us to let us know something is not right.  With food sensitivities, we need to remove the foods that are not treating us well, in order to reduce the low-grade inflammation and give the digestive tract a chance to repair the tissue damage.

Are you saying I need to stop eating the foods I love?

Adjusting your nutritional lifestyle is not about feeling restricted from eating the foods you love; it is about eating the foods that love you back!   You are not restricting the quantity of food you are eating. You are choosing to eat foods that keep you energized, fuel your mind and body and that don’t cause you pain and suffering.  Here are some ways to foster this body positive outlook when managing food sensitivities.

Reframing the narrative

Let’s reframe the narrative from I am not allowed have these foods, to I choose to have foods that make me feel great.  Choosing foods that nourish and fuel the body is a narrative you can adopt when it comes to managing your food sensitivities.   The goal is to feel good in your body and creating heathy boundaries around the foods that do and do not move you closer to this goal.  

Mindset shift from scarcity to abundance

A mindset stemming from scarcity creates a narrow focus on the foods you cannot have.  This does not serve you well.  Shifting to an abundant mindset allows the view that you can add other foods instead and you can make as many new foods as possible available to you.  The prevents a mindset of restriction. 

Act of self-care

You are engaging in self-care when you choose the foods that nourish, heal and support you to live your best life.  You are making choices that allow you to stay true yourself and your health goals because you feel the difference.   You are no longer in pain and suffering because you chose to eat the foods that love you back! You are working with our body and not against it.

You are not alone.

I often meet clients who are struggling with inflammation and digestive complaints.  They are confused and striving to find a solution, just like I was. If you think you might have food sensitivities or just want to improve your digestive health you need a strategic plan for evaluating your digestive function. Identifying your food sensitivities is the first step.  Most people fear food sensitivity elimination but it is often much easier to do than live with suffering and dysfunction.  Having a food sensitivity does not always mean it is a life sentence.   It is possible to acknowledge what is right for your body and give it what is deserves so you can be the best version of yourself.  You do not have to go through this alone, speak to a naturopathic doctor.  It changed my life in many ways, and it can change yours too.  

Click here to book an appointment with Dr. Ramlal.

I would love to hear from you, let’s connect on Instagram @drroxanneramlal

Dr. Ramlal believes that we can all be the best version of ourselves and this starts with taking care of our health.  We are worthy of having the life we want and doing all the amazing things we want to do.  She is passionate about looking at the bigger picture of the factors that shape our health and curating strategies to help others reach their greatest potential.

Dr. Ramlal has a strong belief in creating a space to cultivate growth, awareness and fostering the mind-body connection to nourish the foundations of health.

As a clinician, her area of focus is helping those with digestive concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome, break free from the constraints of diarrhea, bloating and constipation that are keeping them from living and feeling their best.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Autoimmune, Digestive Health, Hypoallergenic, Naturopathic Medicine, Nutrition | Leave a comment
Jan 5

How to Boost Your Psychological and Physiological Immune System

It matters. 

We may find ourselves challenged in many practical ways right now, but I think this collective pause also challenges us in many ideological ways as well. 

This particular time has made me think of what is in my radar. In the constraints of this pandemic, whether it be tent cities, empty shopping malls, home-schooling, overwhelmed hospitals, or economic inequality, I have found myself less tunnel-visioned in what I see in my slice of reality. 

As many of us examine our lives, the concept of purpose comes up. That is a term that can have a broad and very overwhelming feel to it when we think about it in terms of our life. In terms of business, it can also seem loaded and pressure-filled as we are encouraged to explore our overarching ‘why’. Personally, that notion has never especially landed for me. I have found uncovering why we do what we do to be an ongoing process. 

But, as many have lost some aspects of their livelihoods, we endure losses of various kinds, and we live with the daily uncertainty, somehow correlated to purpose, we may look to find meaning in our situations and in our lives. 

And as I think about the meaning of things, I am also challenged to explore the concept and application of faith. 

My early exposure to religion wasn’t especially rewarding. As things happened in my early life that left their mark, I have at times rejected the notion that everything happens for a reason. At this point, however, I find myself more willing to consider it. I like to believe that the universe is on my side or things happen for a reason, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and in the possibility of karma—but none of that is internally generated, it is more intellectually manufactured.  

We may be drawn to the notion of faith through a desire for belonging or to make sense of things, but considering how or where to explore it can be confusing in itself. So, true to my training, I approached this exploration with a bit of research. 

And I came upon a word that I found interesting: acedia. Acedia is defined as a “spiritual or mental sloth.” Yet it is not related to laziness as we might assume, rather it comes from a Greek word which means “lack of care.” With so many things weighing on us right now and so much information to take in, many of us are struggling with, among other things, if we are doing enough or if we are doing the right things. With so much to worry about, it is difficult to find the energy to care about everything that is going on. 

Acedia was once thought to be one of the deadly sins—and it is not hard to see how apathy can be dangerous. When faced with uncertainty and change, when that apathy is creeping in, that is when faith becomes key. 

Of course, there are also health implications when it comes to faith. Studies have shown that having faith and hope are determining factors in those undergoing chemotherapy and in people with chronic pain. Being able to see that light at the end of the tunnel and imagine a better and healthier future are important elements in both mental health and physical recovery.

There are many ways to think about faith. Confidence means to have faith in oneself. This is a critical piece as well. In the broadest scope, we may consider faith as love. However, if that is too long and imaginative of a perceptual bus ride—to take that leap, we might say—it is possible to think of faith as the antidote to fear.  

Yet perhaps the most practical use of faith right now is to counteract the frustration—the general unease that we may be feeling about the state of the world or the desire and messaging for ‘self improvement’ that accompanies a new year. Finding some sense of contentment in the push and pull of those internal and external forces may require us to summon some faith—even when it doesn’t come naturally. 

When we rely just on the perception that we have through our auditory and visual systems, we have to acknowledge that we are limited when we are trying to explore something as abstract or esoteric as faith. Our brain is really not evolved enough to get it. When our perception is further clouded by our past experiences and present realities, faith may seem even harder to grasp. 

In looking at how we interpret things and draw conclusions in our brains, we return to the fact that the brain is an action-perception system. In this instance, purpose can be viewed as the action, seen through our perception of faith. But whether we reduce faith to confidence or expand to consider a divine being and the meaning of life, trust is the common denominator. 

And with so many unknowns, trust can be elusive as a cognitive pursuit at this time.  

We all hope to find or see some signs that we are on the right track. A little validation would be nice now and then. Yet I believe that finding faith is more about that active pursuit than curiosity. 

Not pursuit of knowledge, but the acknowledgement of things that we can’t fully perceive or conceptualize. Belief in something beyond what we can study or even understand. When we feel psychologically or physiologically stuck, faith is the tow truck that can pull us out. It reminds us that we have a purpose, even when it is unclear. And it allows us to not feel alone, even when we are physically separated.

If you want to learn more, visit brainfullness.org.

I’d love to hear from you, connect with me!

Click here to book an appointment.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic, Cold and Flu Prevention, Fatigue, Gratitute, Mind-Body Medicine, Osteopathy, Pain Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Nov 4

Getting to the Finish Line

This pandemic brings with it extended periods of generalized stress, uncertainty, and feelings of being locked-up with our thoughts, either alone or only a few other humans. We are all finding that it is lasting long enough that staying in a positive mindset can be a challenge. I have been looking at ways to help my patients and also myself, to get into a mindset that gets us to the finish line.

Fortunately, in my field we have been studying what makes people have the capacity to endure and keep a positive mindset. Spiritual traditions have been doing this for much longer than psychology became a “science.” So…how can we help everybody get into the right frame of mind?

My first idea was to look into track and field, a sport I used to practice. I used to run 800m races. These races leave you breathless and your whole body feeling like lead. I look around and see people doing basically that, leaving everything in the track. The race, unfortunately, may just have started, yet nobody knows when this will be over.

Spending all our strength at the beginning of a long race is nuts, because this pandemic is a long-term event. While this pandemic is obviously not a marathon, it feels like a marathon. The metaphor helps us realize that managing our energies and keeping a mindset focused on the long haul might be a much better idea than burning out right now.

Burnout is a condition that results from subjecting our bodies and minds to sustained high levels of stress. We talk about burnout a lot here at IHI, because burnout is the enemy of career enjoyment, good health and effectiveness. Burnout results in depression, anxiety and feeling that everything is wrong. We want to avoid burnout!

People who suffer from burnout tend to fall into states in which they start to make mistakes at work, loose sleep and suffer stress-related health problems. Staying healthy now is necessary to get to the end, both because we want to avoid COVID, and also because we want to enjoy the ride until it is over.

You will not be surprised that I have been encouraging everybody to start with the foundation: 8-9 hours of sleep, regular exercise and good eating. You also need time to recharge and enjoy leisure. I am sure you knew that! We know, by now, that the mind and the body are connected, so this is the scientific start of building a mindset for the long-haul.

Once your basics are in order, then you can move to strengthening your skills and using the pandemic as an opportunity to learn to have an even better mindset. Every problem has an opportunity for change connected to it. There is always something you can do to improve this moment or make the future better. Why wait?

The first powerful transformation skill is to change your mind from “this sucks” to “let’s see what I can do.” The first attitude breeds helplessness, and leads to depression. The second makes you feel positive and brings attention to what agency you may have to transform your life. If you look at the previous paragraph, you will notice that that is exactly what I did. It breeds hopefulness.

Another tool is a time-honored Buddhist idea called “Radical Acceptance.” The idea is simple: stop fighting-reality. Surrender. Stop doing the useless work of fighting the unfolding of the world. “Radical acceptance” saves your energy. This may sound a bit counter intuitive, since we are programmed to strive to better ourselves. Getting better at being in the-world-as-it-is can help us focus on what is important.

The whole world has been changed by a pandemic. How does one “radically accept” that? The trick is that accepting something does not mean liking it. You CAN go from bemoaning how much things have changed, to using what energy you might have for finding ways to improve the things that CAN be improved.

Science has only recently begun to figure out what Buddhists knew all along! Sonia Lubomirski’s research focuses on happiness. She shows that happiness results from many factors. The ones that we cannot change are circumstances and genetic make-up that is hard-wired. We can only be as happy as our genes allow!

The good news is that there is one thing that CAN be changed: attitude. Why does this matter? In her research she figured out that our attitude impacts 40% of our happiness. That is one big chunk! It is the ONE thing that we can actually have any influence on. Modern research agrees with Buddhist wisdom!

One way to build a positive experience is to expect that things will change. It is a given! Your cells changed since you started reading this. The world is changing and we might be missing the miracle. What if focusing on negatives only is distorting your perception?

Look around, there were amazing things already happening. Your new task is to go about each day finding out what they are. If you can’t, then you can take initiative and do something that makes a change.

When you get to the finish line, your life will not have been put on hold. You will have gone through the journey with a positive mindset, and this precious time would not have been wasted.

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.

Book an appointment with Ariel here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
Oct 9

I Have A Gut Feeling…

I HAVE A GUT FEELING…

Did you know that your state of mind can affect your digestion? There is a huge connection between what is in our minds and how our digestive system responds. The gut-brain connection has been studied intensively in the last twenty years and it has opened new ways to help us feel better. The integrative health care services we offer at IHI, are at the forefront of health care because they offer a way to look at this connection from many angles. How does this work? How can this benefit you?

We know now that our moods are connected to our metabolism. When we feel intense emotions, the brain sends messages to the gut that can get it going or get it out of whack. If you want quick proof of this connection, just think about a tasty food, and suddenly you will notice that your intestinal juices are flowing? Maybe you are salivating? There is an instant and powerful connection!

The digestive system (or “gut”) has a complex neuronal network. Part of the system is connected to the brain and central nervous system. The Vagus nerve system is part of this connection. Another component is the “enteric” neuronal system that lines the intestinal walls. Psychological changes have a direct effect on gut physiology through these pathways, and can cause digestive havoc or help regulate it.

Dr. Steven Porges has been studying the Vagus nerve system (or Polyvagal system), its impact on wellbeing and its connection with trauma. His research is used widely to help people who get stuck in stress modes. For example, when you feel “butterflies in your stomach”, your digestive system is sending the brain messages in response to the nervous system’s state of alert, which is highly influenced by the brain as well.

When we feel depressed, the body responds to the low moods and low energy by modifying the way it fulfills vegetative needs (eating and sleeping). Some individuals with depression change the food they want to eat, for example, and start consuming more carbs. Others feel less appetite. Others sleep less, or more. Mood states have other direct impacts on our gut, too.

Mindset also affects weight gain. People who eat mindfully have 20% less weight concerns than those who don’t. Anxiety states, and fear, interrupt the digestive process and coopt blood flow to send to other areas of the body.  This is similar to what happens under stress, and why managing stress is so important.

The physiological effects of moods can range from impact on swallowing, enzymes release (like when we imagine tasting a food) and how the digestive system processes foods. Mindset also affects the muscular components of the gut.

Changes in stress levels can affect how muscles in the gut move. Peristaltic movement (that pushes food along) and contractions are affected. Stress can also increase inflammation and symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders (IBS, IBD, GERD).

Uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, bloating, pain, indigestion, acid reflux, diarrhea can also increase. It affects constipation, too.

The mind-gut connection also goes in the other direction. It affects how the gut alters the nervous system and the brain. When someone’s digestion is not going well, information from the enteric neuronal system triggers emotional changes.

Studies show that a higher-than-average percentage of people with digestive problems develop depression and anxiety. Recent studies have linked gut biome populations to different mood states, so make sure you eat in a way that keep this balanced! The fact that it is a two-way street can be good news.

For many people, psychotherapy and counselling can help improve your mood, which in turn can affect digestive conditions. This is why when people work on reducing stress and anxiety in my office, they start eating better and sleeping well.

For those with chronic conditions, working with a psychotherapist or counsellor can help them cope with the symptoms and suffer less distress. Psychotherapy and counselling can help minimize the psychological effects of stress and, as a result, on the body.

Aside from reducing distress, being in an integrative clinic allows us to communicate with the other health providers to provide all-around care, when the patient desires. This way we can harness stress management techniques such as naturopathic tests and hormonal support, exercise, mindfulness, sleep management, massage, acupuncture, and diet, to help you live in the best way you can.

If you believe that your digestive health may be negatively impacted by your mental health, it’s important that you speak with me, or any one of the other knowledgeable and empathic psychotherapists and counsellors at IHI. We all offer you free no-obligation “meet and greet” sessions called Discovery sessions.

These are great for meeting us and give you a chance to ask questions and start the road to an optimal state of mind. I invite you to take-action: a Discovery call can get you the information you need and start you on the way of feeling better. Make your appointment now. Let’s talk about we can help you feel better!

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.

Book an appointment with Ariel here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
Oct 9

The Impact of Hormones on Digestion

My journey towards becoming a Naturopathic Doctor had a lot to do with my gut.  Not just a gut feeling that this profession was my calling, but a sick feeling in my gut that caused me to vomit every day for over a year.  

I was a 17 year old, living in Kingston – a new city far from home, and coping with typical teen stress and angst.  But on top of it all, I was losing my hair and I was so digestively unwell that I was vomiting every day.  Every day.  I knew that was not normal.  

Some of you know how this story goes.  I saw medical doctors, they ran pregnancy tests and told me I likely had an eating disorder – because I was a vegetarian.  Seriously.  That was it.  If I wasn’t pregnant, I was somehow making myself vomit every day, even though it most certainly wasn’t voluntary.  

I was lucky enough to have a grandmother who was obsessed with natural healing, who turned me on to the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was another approach to understanding what was happening in my gut.  

I am so glad I had her.  I discovered naturopathic medicine, healed my gut (it was 100% stress related), regrew my hair (it’s GD glorious now), and found a career where I could serve others and change lives.  Thanks Grandma – I miss you every day.

The Hormones of Digestion

My expertise is hormones.  I have spent over a decade building a depth of knowledge in this topic.  While many people think of periods, menopause, and PMS when they think of hormones, hormones actually control just about everything in your body – including digestion.

Five main hormones control digestion.  

  • Gastrin, a hormone that stimulates your stomach to make the all-important stomach acid.  
  • Secretin, a hormone produced by the small intestines that stimulates the liver and pancreas to produce digestive enzymes
  • Cholecytokinin, slows down our digestive movement so that we can more completely digest our food 
  • Gastric inhibitory peptide, which inhibits gastrin production and stimulates insulin so that we can start to use some of the nutrients we have digested
  • Motilin, a hormone that causes our bellies to rumble when they are empty and remind us that we are hungry

But I don’t think this is what women are really asking about when they ask me about how hormones influence digestion.  

Hormones and Digestion 

A woman’s hormones 100% impact her digestion.  We know that gender plays a role in many digestive conditions – women are twice as likely to have IBS as men.  And women on the birth control pill are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease, especially Crohn’s disease.  Women often have worse digestive symptoms at different times in the menstrual cycle, and even women with healthy digestion are often subject to the “period poops” – loose or urgent bowel movements on the first day or two of their period.  

The main menstrual hormone that impacts our digestion is progesterone.  Progesterone is produced after ovulation, for the last two weeks of our period.  One of the main effects of progesterone is to relax smooth muscle tissue.  This is hella important to prevent our uterus from contracting and rejecting any potential pregnancy.  However, this impact doesn’t just stay in our uterus.  It also causes our digestive smooth muscle to relax, reducing peristalsis (the contraction that moves food along our digestive tract), causing an increase in constipation.  When the progesterone disappears with our period, that is when the dreaded period poops arrive.  

Another hormonal issue impacting digestion also occurs during our periods.  During our period we make an abundance of a compound that has hormone-like effects, called a prostaglandin.  Prostaglandins are responsible for pain and inflammation, and are unfortunately necessary to signal our uterine wall to contract and expel the lining during our period.  Some women make more prostaglandins than others (you can read about this in my article on Pain Free Periods) and these prostaglandins can move through the bloodstream, hitting the bowels and causing them to contract and cause pain, inflammation, cramping, and diarrhea.  Sigh.  Because that is what a woman needs during her period.  

Stress and Digestion

Let’s not forget the hormonal imbalance that started my story – stress.  While we may not think of stress as a hormone imbalance, it is one of the most common ones impacting both men and women (and children and teens.) Stress is managed in our body through a balance of hormones, most notably cortisol.  During stress, when our body is producing high levels of cortisol to help us cope, our body shuts down digestion, shunting our resources towards survival – blood rushes to our brain, our eyes, and our muscles to help us escape or fight back.  

With our stress system shutting down digestion the results can be unpredictable.  Some people experience what I like to think of as “the emergency evacuation system” where any food in the digestive tract is expelled via diarrhea or, in my case, vomiting.  Other people experience constipation during stress when the digestive system just ceases all activity, leading to infrequent bowel movements, gas and bloating.  

In either case, reducing the stressor, and calming the stress response can improve digestion.  However, with so many of us in a perpetual state of stress, this can be a major impact on digestion.  

Help for Hormones, and Digestion

Digestion is a topic we naturopathic doctors are passionate about.  Digestion is paramount to health – if you can’t get nutrients from your food we are pretty much shot at being able to achieve abundant health.  Our digestive tract also produces most of our feel-good neurotransmitters, controls inflammation, and regulates our immune system.  It’s pretty damn important.  If you are experiencing digestive issues, speak to a Naturopathic Doctor.  It changed my life, in oh-so-many way, and it can change yours too.  

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Naturopathic Medicine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
Sep 7

Resiliency & Clarity

All of us are showing a lot of resilience during these COVID-19 times. Every day brings new challenges. How we will survive this pandemic depends on many factors, but it definitely depends on the level of resilience we can muster.

One of the big differences between people that are more resilient and those that are less resilient is our capacity to imagine ourselves overcoming whatever is happening.

If you think you will not be able to withstand the stressor, you might be priming yourself to giving up sooner. You might believe that whatever is happening is too much for you. This belief tends to be erroneous, because humans have an amazing capacity to adapt.

There is a big difference between what you actually can overcome, which is a lot, and what you believe you can, which in many cases is a lot less than your potential.

Awareness of your huge capacity is more helpful than the belief in limitations in terms of supporting your efforts.

Another difference between people that have more or less ability to overcome adversity is whether one has something to live for. This has to do with whether one knows what one is living for, since everybody does have something to live for. Why is this important for resilience?

Viktor Frankl, wrote about the connection between resilience and goals in his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning” (yes…the title is very dated, it should read “The Human Search for Meaning”). What he figured out is incredibly interesting.

In this book, Frankl shares what he discovered in the Nazi concentration camps about the human mind. He noticed that some people floundered and others pushed harder to survive. He built a whole theory of psychology on this realization.

He figured out something important about one of the elements of resilience. He learned that people that had something they wanted to accomplish or do after the ordeal of being in the concentration camps were more likely to survive.

Knowing that they had a life goal, a project to finish, or someone to reunite with, helped them feel they could do whatever was in their power to live one more day.

Frankl himself is a great example of what he found out. In the middle of adversity, he followed his love for psychology and transformed the horrors of the concentration camps into an experiment for learning about human beings!

Others who had lost hope and had less clarity about what they hoped to do after the terrible experience, were less likely to keep going. Frankl lived to write his book.

Maybe at this moment you are checking in with yourself to figure out whether you are the person who can keep going or the person that gives up.

Are you clear about what life you are forging during and after the pandemic is over? Are you curious about what each moment brings? Are you working towards something meaningful to you?

Or are you feeling despondent, hopeless and living every day as it is a burden? Are you paralyzed by fear?

We are all feeling rather stressed these days. You would be a block of wood if you did not. Any perceptive and aware person has to have some level of worry now.

While negative feelings might not be surprising, they are not conducive to keeping your life moving. Uncertain times require that we develop as much resilience as we can, so when this is over, we can move on, and not waste our precious life.

We need to know what to act for and not waste the opportunity to regroup. The team here at IHI, can help you in this journey by working on your whole being.

In sessions with a social worker, you can work through doubts you may have, clarify your life goals, and get yourself moving in the direction of your dreams.

You can work on feelings you have left on your back burner, and use the time available to center and strengthen yourself psychically.

This is also a good time to work on your physical needs, get yourself straightened-up about your health, and prioritize being in top shape. Getting your mind around self-care is a very worthwhile goal right now.

Getting focused on self-care is not a choice, really. Self-care is fundamental for resilience. It allows you to integrate your experience, and thoughts with your body’s needs.

You can do that right now. You can take action. You can take the first step, and get the support you need.

No need to go about all this alone. We are here to support and help you get there.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Counsellling, Psychotherapy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
Sep 2

Pain: What Is It Good For?

There’s nothing more damaging to a human, a society, or a culture than a suitcase word. Something that is so big that you can throw everything in it with no approximation to control it. 

Pain can be one of these concepts. It covers such an array of areas and has such a broad association of meanings that we don’t know how to deal with it. Yet when we see in most imaging studies that there is no correlation between pain and degree of tissue damage, we can look to our knowledge of the brain for greater insight. 

When we look at different types of pain, we acknowledge both physical pain and psychological pain, and that either can become chronic. Looking at the biopsychosocial model can also help us to better understand our experience of pain, as we can see how hyper-integrated the system is and how everything is interwoven in the things that influence it. 

Bear in mind, this is not meant as a diagnosis, but an overall view of what pain is and how the brain responds to it. It’s complicated, but this is meant as a helpful invitation to understand pain in a different way and, while it might not land for you as an individual, this is what we collectively understand of pain. 

Biological 

We must recognize that there are genetic prompts that influence pain. Yet, when we look at the factors that affect our genetic expression, we can see immediately how difficult it is to uncouple the psychological and social aspects, as we look at developmental patterns which form early in life. 

The social element of our family culture plays an important role. If we are raised to understand pain as something from which there is recovery and has an endpoint, versus a catch-all term of pain that reflects an ongoing state, we have a better framework to begin. 

When it comes to the role of the brain, ideally, we want to have positive experiences with movement and relationships in early childhood to set you up to be less reactive to pain. If we think of successful aging beginning in our 30s and 40s, successful interpretation, resiliency, and reaction to pain should start at a very young age. 

In the absence of that, we may have a tendency from a psychological perspective to catastrophize pain, which tends to magnify degeneration as we move through life. For the part of the brain, we don’t want to centrally sensitize pain—that is to say that we don’t want it to become a core part of our being which governs everything else. 

When pain becomes chronic, being able to project into the future to predict if it will get better is a skill which is predictive of recovery. Yet, if we did not have that template from early childhood, it becomes something that we must cultivate. 

Psychological 

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” 

But, in order to understand the instructions, we need to understand our brain. And its primary functions are to predict and protect. 

Pain is protection. It keeps us from doing the things that our brain perceives as dangerous. The brain doesn’t actually sense pain, it interprets data (based on your physiology, your memory, and your emotions) and it organizes a pain response. 

In attempting to be predictive, we can become very hyper-vigilant in the presence of pain, like a smoke alarm that is very sensitive, and also very hyper-responsive to new things, whether they are good or bad. It is also in the desire to anticipate that we may become anxious about the recurrence of pain, which can be one of the most challenging parts of the rehabilitative process. 

In addition to safety, the brain is also very concerned with conservation of energy through allocation of resources. 

As a result, pain affects our working memory and decision-making capacity, so people with pain tend to lose confidence in their ability to make decisions. And while we may simply desire to feel better, we may not really have a sense of what that means. 

It also likes to use old tracks and patterns. It is a clever system that allows it to bootstrap new things onto existing pathways; however, it can also make it challenging to form new habits in times of conservation. 

To further save energy, we have a more limited capacity to understand new information when we are in pain as well, so a cautionary tale about the information your consume with regards to researching your symptoms. While it may feel helpful and empowering to know what is going on, it can also create a feedback loop that only drives the cycle. 

Because the brain is also an amplifier. Any emotional, social, or general life conflict that we have intensifies this psychological aspect and amplifies the experience of physical pain, as our emotional and physiological state are the same. In this context, a practice of strategic awareness and consistent forgiveness is the antidote to the vicious cycle of shame and blame that we all have in common as human beings, regardless of pain. 

Social 

We touched on the role of family and culture in how they affect the formation of our perception and experience of pain, and those continue to affect us throughout our lives. Our ideas of how we should deal with pain are also very society driven. 

From a rehabilitation standpoint, there are multiple studies that demonstrate that the number one determinant of recovery post-knee surgery is social support, and I think this tends to be overlooked. In our more vulnerable times, we all need someone to help us up the stairs or get us a drink of water when we cannot do it for ourselves. People who boost our spirits and help give us hope are important. 

While it is an area that we do not always have control over, it is worth noting how you are affected by the people you are surrounded by, and if they are contributing to the psychological elements we talked about. 

Though biologically we are social creatures and are hard-wired for connection, it is also important to remember that you have to be the most important person on your team. 

And while this all may seem like a lot to manage, there are things that you can do to help yourself in the day to day. 

From a Brainfullness perspective, these are some tips for navigating pain: 

Practice feeling without story. Often the meaning that we give our pain only feeds the cycle of it. 

Incorporate purposeful movement that celebrates aliveness. You will experience less pain if you are lifting that suitcase to go visit your grandchildren as opposed to going to aquafit class. 

Optimize other aspects of health. Because any pain is such a total experience that there is that stacking effect, if you optimize other aspects of well-being, such as sleep or nutrition, you are able to have a positive effect

Don’t overcook it. Throughout evolution, pain was used as a signal to change behavior. Challenge your behavior without provoking your pain. 

Knowing what your own goals are in terms of what you hope to optimize is a useful way to guide your course of action and what type of practitioner you are looking for to help you. In that way, we can divide the suitcase up into more manageable categories for your immediate practical usage. If you are looking to be preventative and minimize future risk, wanting to be pain-free or minimize pain at work, that may be a different process than seeing your pain as a window to your emotions. 

But also know that the bias of the brain will always have us looking for the ‘silver bullet’, that is the magic pill or practitioner that will be the key; yet it is often the multi-disciplinary and multi-factorial approach that is most useful for pain. 

There is a nuance and care to successfully navigating the puzzle of pain. It is important to know that, even though we have no control over the foundation we have and the magnitude of pain may seem overwhelming, we can still build a construct in which we can overcome it, and we can minimize the disability we may have during the process. 

In looking at what pain is good for, it can bring us into the present moment and, like the brain, prioritize what is important. Health issues have a way of testing your resiliency and your perseverance, and they force you to have a reason to learn about yourself. 

But it is also worth noting that people often make the mistake of thinking that when they are pain-free, they will ‘feel good’, and that is also a multi-faceted construct. 

My aim is to not turn you into a fragilista by overwhelming you with information and prognoses. It is important that the interventions, whether in self-care or prescribed, are designed to have impact and to have the right dosage. Dealing with persistent pain can be challenging, but to be able to keep going is the main thing. 

While it can be daunting to carry the suitcase alone, if you are looking for a practitioner to help you 

build that framework with deliberate and efficient strategies, feel free to book an appointment. 

I have designed Brainfullness to help you create a better interface between your brain and your body through your sensory system in order to have sovereignty in treating your pain. Through simple neurological resets you are generally more able to manage stress and handle life better. I will be offering 45 minute virtual appointments in which we will do an overall assessment of health, and personalize some moves and techniques to help you in a way that is user-friendly and fits your lifestyle.

Join us at our Virtual Launch Party on October 1st at 7pm here.

I look forward to seeing you online!

Click here to book an appointment.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted in Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Pain Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment