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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Jun 24

Racism & Me

By Dr. Tabrizi BA, DC, DO

As someone who likes to make sense of things, the world is a difficult place right now. On the topic of systemic racism, I neither want to preach nor project, but can only speak from my own experience.

I could easily be accused of making a judgement error. That I am virtual signalling and that I should lend this platform to African American people. But I do not feel that I am making a normative mistake.

I don’t feel that shame, or fear of feeling stupid or not woke enough can lead to anything positive. It is important to not be complacent, and to take an honest inventory of our own behavior.

As part of a visible minority myself, I have experienced racism in my own life, yet I realize that does not give me a free pass in terms of checking my own biases with regards to other people. Having lived in parts of Asia and the Middle East, I have seen how global this issue is in the systems of inequality and the attitudes of superiority between different cultural groups.

Growing up in my dad’s village when I was very young, there were a lot of refugees and, as the locals, there was the sense that we were somehow ‘higher’. But as the travels of my youth took me to various places, I always felt like an imposter myself—like I had to adapt to fit in. When I first came to this country, being surrounded by the overwhelming positive messaging about being white, it felt like I had to apologize for everything I was not. In looking different and not speaking English, I was not immune to racial slurs and even being physically beaten.

In going to school in the U.S., I remember being in anatomy lab late one night with friends, and seeing the security guard ask for the ID of only my black friend.

And I have come to realize the effects this can have across a lifespan. The ways that it shrinks you as an adult and makes you feel small. Bruises heal, but losing your voice and being marginalized is a much bigger price to pay.

This is not meant to elicit pity. Or even empathy or understanding. It’s not about comparative suffering. It is about being able to learn to trust each other, and in recognition of a pain that we can all connect to in some shape or form.

Because without trust, we continue to jump to immediate judgement.

Those experiences prime your nervous system and make you hyper-aware. Whether they are physical or emotional, blatant or subtle, once or repeatedly—racism is not a monolith, but a spectrum of beliefs and behaviors that show up in many ways. And they leave a mark on how we see ourselves.

If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would say the things I wish I would have known back then. As children we see things. Your parents tried to shield you, but didn’t teach you how to deal with it. I wish you had someone tell you, not just the empty words of ‘it gets better’, but show you how to metabolize it.

As an adult, I try to have the discipline to not reduce this issue to blaming colonialism or even white privilege without truly understanding it. I try to acknowledge the complexity of how we got here without being distracted from what we need to do to move forward.

In recognizing that our brains focus on the negative over the positive, we tend to recognize only our headwind and not our tailwind. Examining the ways in which we have privilege and acknowledging that, sadly, we are not alone in our suffering can generate the awareness needed for change.

There will be awkward conversations ahead, including the ones we have with ourselves. They are imperative for the wellness of our community and society. As we neither discount nor reduce our own experiences, while being courteous, open-minded, and human in recognizing someone else’s struggles.

The challenge is to try to be open to what is happening in life now. We can forgive ourselves for the technical errors and the judgement errors—those being the errors we make from not quite understanding the scope of the issue or in misjudging a moment. As long as we are honest with ourselves and proceed with the intention to learn and be better.

I believe people should not be defined by their mistakes and, as long as we continue to evolve, it’s a good thing.

But we must be committed to examining and eliminating the normative errors. The ones in which we over-generalize and make assumptions and try to cover up for what we don’t know. There are times when we don’t have the bandwidth to fully understand or simply don’t want to feel stupid. Even though it may not be based on malice, the capacity for harm remains. Anytime we index ourselves against someone or something, we may, consciously or unconsciously, exercise micro-aggressions or injustices against other people.

We have often chosen self-preservation over doing the right thing but, in this case, they are both the same. Because when we lose trust in the basic constructs of civility and society, no one wins.

Historically, humans have been very tribal beings, with a tribe being defined as a group of people that are self-sufficient. But that level of tribalism or romanticism of the past has little value to where we are now, as we have seen through the pandemic how we need each other.

It is not about giving lip service to the term ‘ally’, but doing the personal work so we can exercise sovereignty in our actions. Supporting those people and organizations that really understand and have lived this experience so that trust can be regained.

For a better understanding and more education around this complex issue, joincampaignzero.org is one of many resources.

Join our Virtual Town Hall this week on Tuesday June 30th at 12pm to continue this important discussion: 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. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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