Marinating in Gratitude

Feeling good is good for you. More specifically, feeling good emotionally & spiritually is beneficial to your mental AND physical health. While this may seem straightforward, there is a gap between knowing this truth, and being able to actually get there. Right? Without elaborating, it can sound suspiciously like telling someone who is depressed to smile. I assure you I would never say that! One thing that makes a measurable difference to health – that is possible no matter what your current circumstance – is having an active, authentic gratitude practice.

As we approach Thanksgiving here in Canada; and as we celebrate the arrival of our little one in my family; I thought I’d share some new research findings on the health benefits of gratitude. Of course, I’d also like to offer some concrete suggestions for how to incorporate more gratitude into your life.

How can we “marinate in gratitude” more often – and why would we want to?

gratitude-heartWell, both physically and emotionally, “a grateful heart is a healthy heart”. Practicing gratitude is associated with increased well-being, less fatigue, improved sleep, decreased inflammation, and fewer symptoms of stress.

Recent studies to add to the evidence:

Managing Workplace Stress, Depression

Taking stock of thankful events reduces stress and depressive symptoms. In this 2015 study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers looked at stress and depressive symptoms in health care workers at 5 hospitals. The participants were divided into 3 groups. The gratitude group wrote down something they were thankful for in their work twice a week, the hassle group wrote down hassles, and the control group did not note hassles or good things. Assessing participants’ mental health and stress at the end of the four week study, researchers concluded that a gratitude practice was an effective intervention for managing stress and depression in health care workers.

Heart Health, Inflammation, Fatigue, Sleep, Mood

Another interesting 2015 study found that practicing gratitude – in the form of writing down gratitudes most days for 8 weeks – improved health outcomes in people with stage B heart failure. Not only did a gratitude practice result in better mood, better sleep and better energy, but it led to a measurable decrease in inflammatory markers associated with heart disease progression. And all from an intervention that is free and has no negative side effects!

Gratitude Practices

Writing

gratitude journal paperMany people choose to write down one to three things they are grateful for from their day. Some days it may be that only the snuggles you had with your cat move you to true gratitude. And, that is ok. Other days, you may find your gratitude expands to include helpful strangers and supportive friends, a moment of noticing sunlight filtering through the leaves, or even access to clean drinking water. The important thing is that it is something you are authentically moved by, and feel thankful for. Let yourself feel that. You may choose to start or end your day with this exercise. If you know that you are unlikely to keep it up without encouragement, why not take it to social media, and post your gratitude(s) each day?

Out Loud: Sharing with Loved Ones

1) In bed: Share 3 gratitudes from your day with your partner before you go to sleep. What a nice way to shift into a better headspace at the end of a stressful day! And what a great way to support each other in this health-promoting practice.

2) Over dinner: This is a great way to connect with kids and create a simple family ritual. Some people will frame it as “best thing that happened to you today”, which is more concrete for younger kids. No matter how you label it, going around the table and sharing something positive from your day can be a great way of shifting attention to the good things, and celebrating that. Some days it might open up a conversation about something challenging that is happening, too, and this is also important.

Read more about gratitude’s gifts here.

Tree Medicine: Linden

(Tilia tomentosa, Tilia cordata, T. platyphyllos, T. europea. T. americana)

Aka Lime Blossom, Lime Tree, Basswood, Tilleul

 

These great trees create shade and spread calm on city streets where I live (in Toronto), and for the longest time, I had no idea of the medicine they offered.

I didn’t even know their name.

This knowledge gap is illustrative of the disconnection that plagues us here in the cities. The medicine we need is so often right beside us, but lacking an introduction, we have no idea. By sharing what I have learned thus far, I am aiming to change this. My hope is that you will be inspired to meet some of your plant neighbors, too, and spread the healing potential by sharing what you have learned with those in your circles.

 

Lovely Linden

(with thanks to herbalist Rosalee de la Foret for the alliteration that fits so perfectly)

 

Parts Used: Flowers (and bracts)

 

Form of Use: Tea (steep covered to retain medicinal volatile oils), Tincture, Bath

 

Actions: diaphoretic, antispasmodic, hypotensive, nervine sedative, digestive, demulcent, astringent, pectoral, antioxidant

 

Indications: cold or ‘flu with fever, nervous tension, nervous headache, high blood pressure (usually in combo with other herbs), insomnia (especially in kids), some types of PMS or painful periods

 

In France, linden tea a popular drink in the evenings, served in people’s homes as well as at five-star restaurants. The majestic tree it has long been part of the herbal medicine chest in both Europe and North America. And it turns out that Linden (Tilia spp) grows widely on both continents. Linden is a common choice for planting along city streets, and graces many a park.

 

When Linden blossoms in late June or early July, you can you can find the trees by their sweet scent, as well as by their distinctive lopsided heart-shaped leaf, with flowers attached to what looks like half of a maple key.

 

With a low-hanging branch, permission, confirmation of identity, and thanks to the tree, you may harvest the flowers for use in your household. I encourage you to expand your tea repertoire and get to know this #backyardmedicine this season! (If Linden doesn’t grow near you, you may purchase it from Mountain Rose Herbs or your local herbalist).

 

Harvest on a clear day, and spread flowers to dry on a clean screen or sheet, turning daily. Store in a sealable glass jar.

 

A cup of flowers to uplift you

Preparing and drinking tea is a ritual that many people enjoy. It is not an obligation, or a responsibility. It is a pause, it is nourishment, it is – in some cases – flowers in a cup. And yet, herbal teas – even the gentlest and safest of them, such as linden – can be powerful medicine.

 

 

 

Linden helps to cool and calm

This tree medicine is used to help bring sleep to anxious children (and adults), and to gently lower blood pressure. Linden is also used to decrease fevers during ‘flu. In a study at a Chicago hospital, children on bed rest who received Tilia (along with aspirin, if needed) recovered more quickly, and had fewer cases of ear infections, than children who received antibiotics alone, or antibiotics with Tilia. Note that Aspirin is no longer recommended for children – this study is older.

 

The herb is a great ally in times of stress. Linden calms the nervous system, soothing the nerves for sleep, relieving a tension headache, or easing an upset stomach. The herb is also known to ease menstrual cramps. Further, it is considered a heart medicine, where it protects the heart through its antioxidant actions and ability to dilate & heal blood vessels.

 

Bathe in Flowers

For the ultimate in nourishing self-care, treat yourself to a linden blossom bath:

Option A:

  • Place a few cupfuls of linden blossoms in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, tied to keep the herbs from escaping into the bath water. Add to bath and fill with hot water.  Steep, enjoy.

Option B:

  • Brew a very strong pot of linden tea, strain, add to bath.

 

 

Safety

Safe for children, safe in pregnancy & during breast feeding, safe for long term use. Consult your naturopathic physician for information on use with your specific health concerns.

References & Further Reading:

Bruton-Seal, Julie & Seal, Matthew. Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. New York, NY: SkyHorse Publishing. 2009.

 

Conway, Peter. Tree Medicine: A comprehensive guide to the healing power of over 170 trees. London, UK: Judy Piatkus Publishers Limited. 2001

 

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 2003.

 

Mase, Guido. The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 2013.

 

http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2124007#hn-2124007-uses

 

http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/the-linden-tree/268 8900

 

http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2011/09/lovely-linden.html

 

Hawthorn: Heart Healing from Physical to Spiritual

by Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Crateagus oxycantha, flower

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is medicine for the heart on all levels. Indigenous to countries across the northern hemisphere, this small thorny tree has a long-recorded history of medicinal use in both Europe and China, as well as in North America. Poetically – and significantly – Hawthorn is a member of the Rose family.

Hawthorn’s place as heart medicine was noted by Greek physician, Dioscorides, in the first Century AD. Medical herbal research has validated this use, finding hawthorn to be effective for increasing the strength of heart contractions, increasing blood flow to the heart, decreasing blood lipids (ie decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides) and modulating blood pressure (AltMedReview, 2010). A Cochrane review of trials on hawthorn for chronic or congestive heart failure found that Crataegus extract decreased fatigue and shortness of breath and improved exercise tolerance relative to placebo. And while the traditional context is different, the Traditional Chinese Medicine use of Hawthorne for fat or rich meal digestion highlights the ability of Haw/berry antioxidants to prevent cholesterol deposits from oxidizing.

Additionally, hawthorn is used in the form of an energy medicine for the heart.
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Meditation is good for you. The Evidence from a Reluctant Meditator

by Mahalia Freed, ND

It took me years of resisting and suffering to develop and sustain a regular meditation practice. I share my tips and lessons in this article, Confessions of a Reluctant Meditator, or Tips for Fitting Meditation into Your Life.

If you are the kind of person who likes to know the why of things, here is a very brief summary of why meditating will be beneficial for you, too:

The evidence

As a naturopathic doctor I am well-versed in the evidence and clinical applications for meditation. It is amazing how effective various kinds of meditation can be. An unsophisticated PubMed search on the term “meditation” yields 2, 215 studies. Depression? Meditation may be as effective as medication. Cancer? Meditation improves mood, sleep, immune system, quality of life. Stress? Meditate to lower blood pressure. Heart disease? Yup. Meditation helps. Indeed, mindfulness-based stress reduction for heart disease, chronic pain and many other conditions is taught at hospitals and in private practices across North America based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

Even more compellingly, my clients are a fantastic and inspiring bunch. They tell me that meditation practice helps them manage anxiety, gives them energy when their work involves long hours and traveling, keeps them happier, helps them connect more with their friends and family. So not only do I know about the benefits from reading the studies, I know about it from clinical practice.

The bullet points:

  • It feels good.
  • It is free.
  • It can help restore emotional clarity and balance, making you feel better if you are stressed or sad.
  • It can energize you when you feel tired (though it’s not a substitute for quality sleep, you type A’s out there!).
  • It can help you tap your inner wisdom when you feel uncertain about a decision.
  • It can reclaim stillness from the frenzied pace of modern day life, readjusting the skewed balance between being and doing.
  • It can reconnect you with your intuition and creativity.
  • It will give you unexpected gifts (for me this has included concrete reassurance when things felt dire, and recently, the name of a remedy I hadn’t consciously heard of that was the perfect fit for someone in my care with a complex clinical case).
  • It doesn’t have to be hard.

Want some tips to help you find a way to integrate meditation into your full life? Get started here. And please share what works and doesn’t for you!

Confessions of a Reluctant Meditator, or Tips for Fitting Meditation Into Your Life

by Mahalia Freed, ND

I am delighted to tell you that I proved myself wrong this year.

In the past 12 months I have gone from a firm, “meditation is for other people” identity, to being a person who strategizes to find that time in my day.

Huge shift!

Yup, despite ‘knowing better’ via the clinical evidence I saw regularly and the clear benefits in the research, I was sure it was something I couldn’t do. I truly believed that meditation was great for other people – but not for me. I couldn’t sit still, couldn’t quiet my mind, didn’t feel “good” at it. And you know, overachievers like me, we like to be good at things right away.

In effect, I was seeking less challenge, more comfort zone.

Sound familiar?

But, why leave the comfort zone? Well, you can’t grow in the comfort zone. And I got to the point where the benefits of growth outweighed my need for the ‘safety’ of the familiar. I felt like there was more within me but I couldn’t access it. I was frustrated. And stressed out. The tools I had weren’t enough to get me where I wanted to go. And then one more person told me meditation would allow me to get there, right after I finally found the type of meditation that resonates with me (see lesson #1 below). And I tried it. And I liked it. So I did it again. And again. Interestingly, leaving the comfort zone has felt great. So much for holding ourselves back to avoid hard, painful things. In retrospect, resisting meditation was a lot more painful.

I share this in case you – unlike myself – are gifted with the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than needing to make them all yourself.

I hope you find the lessons I’ve learned and the tips I’ve gathered helpful on your own journeys. Why? Because meditation IS good for you (details and evidence via this link).

My two important lessons:

1)    There is no ‘one-size fits all’ with meditation, just like there is no one magic nutritional supplement that is right for everyone. Once I realized this, I stopped trying to fit myself into someone else’s favorite kind of meditation. I found one that was right for me. As someone with a short attention span and a tendency to be “doing” all the time, Shamanic journeying fits, as it gives me a focused something to do while I am breathing and observing. I found I really liked how I felt afterwards. And I liked the gifts it brought me, each and every time. Even when I approached it metaphorically kicking and screaming. Simple – and eventually kind of addictive, in the good way.

2)    Limiting my personal growth with pronouncements like, “meditation is for other people” is only as fun as laughing at myself is later on – when I prove myself completely wrong, again. I am now resolved to limit the limiting pronouncements.

Tips for incorporating regular meditation into your already full life:

1)    Most importantly, be a seeker. Be open and find the sort of meditation practice that works for you. Is it Transcendental? Mindfulness-based stress reduction? Guided meditation? Visualization? Chanting? Shamanic journeying? One of the many specific yogic meditation practices, from Kundalini chanting and breathwork to Sahaja yoga’s mental silence? One of many Buddhist meditation practices? Walking? Sitting in nature? Prayer?

Once you’ve found something that works for you,

2)    Schedule it into your planner. Block off the time or it will get swallowed by the many important tasks and even greater number of unimportant distractions that gobble up our days. Very first thing in the morning is the most popular time to set aside time for stillness. Interesting, isn’t it? Here is the tone for the day: Calm, still, centered, grounded. When you put it like that, why don’t we all do it?

3)    If possible, create a corner in your home that is set up for meditation. Having the space ready, welcoming and comfortable removes some practical and psychological obstacles. It doesn’t have to be a separate room, though it is helpful to have a door that closes if you share your house with others.

4)    Do it together. Meditating weekly with a group can help to deepen and reinforce your home practice. Or meditate with others in your household!

5)    Modern times, modern technology. Use YouTube and other electronic resources. Seriously. Whether you are looking for guided visualization or shamanic drumming, you can find it online, for free. Use those 10 minute clips as your company or motivation if this is helpful.

6)    Be flexible about the details. At the cottage for the weekend? Meditate on the dock. Meeting cancelled? Close your office door, close your eyes and breathe into your heart centre for 10 minutes.

For more about stress management and the impact of meditation on your brain, see for instance Alice Walton’s article, Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope.

Ready to take stress management to the next level? Want to use meditation as a tool for getting clear as you “feel your way forward” to total health? Join us for our popular seminar, Stress 3.0: Feeling Your Way Forward to Total Health (dates under Events).

What works for you? What doesn’t? Share your meditation experiences on my facebook wall or via twitter. Change is possible, folks, and it feels good!

Holly & The Holidays

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is one of those plants classically associated with Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere. Gorgeous and festive with its shiny green and red, Holly is more than just decoration. While it isn’t common in herbal medicine materia medica, it is one of the original flower remedies used and researched by Dr. Edward Bach.

What is a flower remedy? Similar to homeopathy, flower essences are created using a specific technique that extracts not the physical constituents but the energetic essence of the plant. Flower essences are most often prescribed for emotional or spiritual states, rather than physical concerns. For example, Rescue Remedy is a popular retail formula for anxiety and shock. Essences may be prescribed to help with confidence, self esteem, stress, depression, or even for smoking cessation.

In the spirit of holiday healing, here is some information about Holly as a flower essence (from the Flower Essence Repertory, 2004 Edition). Isn’t it interesting, how the medicine we need is so often right near us?

Holly essence nourishes the heart, and is used to cultivate loving and inclusive gestures to others, ability to express gratitude to others, and compassion. Holly helps to broaden our sense of self to one that knows that we are connected, that “love is an infinite resource that is available to all.[…]When we feel separate from others we can take no joy or compassionate interest in their affairs; instead our isolation is compounded into negative states of jealousy, envy, suspicion or anger”. Holly is about community, and joy, and the joy of shared love. Holly “restores the soul’s ability to feel unity and wholeness”.

Sound like a good addition to your holiday gatherings? I think so. Thank you Holly, for your festive spirit (pun intended)!

Health in your own backyard: Introducing Motherwort

by Mahalia Freed ND

An important herb for the uterus, heart and nervous system, Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a great example of an urban herbal ally. This often-overlooked plant is central in formulas for menopausal/perimenopausal women as well as post-partum, and for PMS and painful periods. Motherwort is recognizable by the distinctive jagged shape of its scratchy leaves and characteristic square stem.

You can find this larger member of the mint family growing as a healthy, wild “weed” in laneways, ditches, and untended yards throughout the city. Now that you know what to look for, pause, sample a leaf, and appreciate the medicine at your fingertips!

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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Heart Health

By Mahalia Freed ND

This article highlights a common women’s health concern seen in my practice. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, affects not only reproductive health and fertility, but also cardiovascular health.

Definition and Clinical Consequences

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a label referring to a complex and broad health picture. PCOS is diagnosed by presence of two of the following three things: (i) irregular ovulation or absence of ovulation, (ii) clinical and/or biochemical signs of high testosterone, and/or (iii) polycystic ovaries seen on ultrasound. While presentation varies, the most common clinical manifestations are infertility, male pattern hair growth, obesity, and absent or infrequent menses. However, these concerns represent only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the PCOS picture. Less obvious consequence of PCOS lie below the surface. Women and transgendered men who have PCOS are at risk for hypertension, insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, type II diabetes, and abnormalities in blood lipids such as elevated triglycerides and oxidized cholesterol. Additional complications include increased risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer, an altered (increased) stress response, and difficulty maintaining or attaining desired body weight compared to people who do not have PCOS. Finally, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

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