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Activate the Healing Powers of Love in Your Life

activate the healing power of love in your life

Our immune system operates according to a moral code that favors love over fear and compassion over hatred. Dr. Mario Martinez

Love is the most powerful healing emotion. It has been described as a bio cognitive healing field that improves our health and well-being. Love is not just a feeling; it is a way of thinking about ourselves and others. Practicing the act of loving will increase our happiness, confidence, relationships, and health. This article describes how love improves our lives phsyically and emotionally.  More importantly, it presents a tool to live a life of love; regardless of the problematic circumstances and people in our lives.

Healing Properties of Love

George Solomon’s research  reveals that thoughts and emotions influence our immune system. Negative emotions narrow our focus to being more self-centered (i.e. “what’s bothering me”). While positive emotions expand our focus to a more inclusive and warm “we.” The field of  psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) reveals that positive emotions allow us to better remain focused in the face of set-backs and frustrations of life. These positive emotions also produce a direct impact on the functioning of our immune system.

Research  on forgiveness shows that it decreases the physical damage that stress does to our body. We are much less likely to experience the physical wear and tear on our bodies in repose to life stressors when we cultivate positive emotions like love. Forgiveness is extending love to ourselves and others.

Dr. Mario Martinez,  a leading PNI researcher, is so convinced of by the evidence of emotions impact on our health, he states our immune system operates according to a “moral code that favors love over fear and compassion over hatred.”

Love Yourself

Self-compassion is a critical component of love. We can not give to others, what we do not already posses. So self-compassion becomes a core requirement for healthy relationships. But self-compassion is also required to help us reach our optimal health and our optimal levels of success in life.

Self-compassion produces positive mental health outcomes. A study published in the journal Body Image showed that people with higher levels of self-compassion are less likely to be depressed. They have lower rates of eating disorders and are less likely to experience body shame . Another study of college students showed that self-compassion served as a protective layer against academic burn-out. Under normal conditions that would produce burn-out, those students with higher levels of self-compassion didn’t experience the burn-out. Research also shows that self-compassion leads us to more healthy behaviors (e.g. healthy eating, regular exercise, good sleep habits, and stress management) which supports our long-term physical well-being.

Loving ourselves creates positive mental and physical health. Too often we try to improve our physical health or productivity by “shaming” ourselves into good behavior. We imagine that being a hard task master on ourselves will force us to get our act together and perform our best. Yet, research shows the exact opposite. We feel and perform our best when we practice loving ourselves on a daily basis.

Practicing the Tool of Active Love

It is easy to love people who are kind to us, but how do we love those who are not? How do we show love to the driver who cuts of off, the rude cashier, or family member who has just made a hurtful comment to us? We’ve already discussed how important love is to our health and well-being. As well as how critical love is in reshaping our relationships. So we can not allow our quality of life to be diminished by the action of others. We must learn to love at all times, especially when it’s difficult.

In their book Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels introduce us to powerful tools of visualization that help us to create a successful life. Often we think of ourselves as helpless and subject to our current feelings or circumstances. In the book Tools, we learn how we can actively create the (inner and outer) reality we seek.

These tools are built on a combined 60-years of psychoanalytic practice with hundreds of patients. The authors remind us that theses tools are not just cognitive exercises. The exercises position us to access the power of the spirit realm to strengthen and shape our daily life.

Personally, I’ve practiced the tools since reading the book and have found it very effective in restructuring my reality. I’d like to share with you the second tool (Active Love) to help you increase your capacity to live a life of love. Stutz and Michels describe the tool of active love as having three important components: concentration, transmission, and penetration. In the section below, I walk you through the three steps of the visualization of active love.

Tool of Active Love

Get into a relaxed position, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply. Breathe so that your belly rises and falls with each breathe. Listen to your heart beating and the flow of your breath. Now visualize your heart soaking up all of the love that is around you. Your heart draws love to it like a magnet. As your heart attracts love it is growing larger and larger. Watch your heart grow in size and power with the fullness of love.

Now visualize your heart directing the full strength of its love outward like a laser beam. Your heart is pulsing a laser beam of love. The love flows in a steady and powerful stream from your heart.

Next visualize the person to whom you want to direct that love. It could be the cashier person who was rude to you, the family member who made the hurtful comment, or even the driver that cut you off on the road. Even if you have not seen the person’s face, make up a face for that person. Visualize them standing directly in front of you, facing you. If the object of your anger is an abstract idea (e.g. poverty, a nation, religion), visualize that entity as a person.

Visualize the pulsating beam of love emanating from your heart going directly to the heart of that person. Watch it pierce through their outer layers and penetrate to the deepest parts of them. Feel the point of contact and connection with that person. Feel you giving them a transfusion of love. This love comes from you, but does not start with you. This is the love you have freely received and you are sharing with this person.

Watch the laser beam of love fill their hearts. Watch it circulate throughout their entire body. Visualize it flowing from their heart to their head. Watch it flow into their arms, legs, fingers and toes. Every part of their body is washed in this flow of love. Now watch the flow of love completely envelop them in a bubble as they float off into distant space.

Open your eyes and notice how you feel. You have just given that person, and yourself, the gift of love. You have played an active role in promoting physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in our world. Love is the gift that keeps on giving. When you give away love, you wind up with more than when you began. Practicing the tool of active love increases the healing power of love that you experience.

Practicing Love in Your Daily Life

Although this exercise only takes a few minutes, it produces substantial changes in us and in our world. Some of these changes happen immediately and some occur over a longer period of time. It is important for you to know that what you have done matters. Practicing active love is an important way of changing your life and changing your world.

Stutz & Michels encourage readers to be critical skeptics. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the power of the tool, it only matters that you use it. As you use the tool, you will see the changes produced in your own life. Ultimately, this is all the proof you need.

I urge you to commit to using the tool of active love this week. Use it whenever you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated. Practice active love whenever you experience feelings of anger, find yourself ruminating on past injustices, or are preparing to interact with difficult people. Whenever you want to promote healing and connection with another person use the active love tool.

Every day will present you with many opportunities to practice the tool of active love. Record your observations and reflections on this experiment in a journal each day. At the end of the week, you will have a written record of some of the immediate impact of the tool of love on your life.

Share below your reflections on practicing love on a daily basis and the difference you see it making. I’d personally like to thank you for supporting yourself and adding more light to this world. Thank you!

How to Palooza Your Birthday: The Secret to Getting Better as You Age

Positive Aging Through a Birthday Palooza

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

In my book, Your Life As A Celebration,  I discuss how you can transform your life into a celebration of you. You can create a life that affirms your core values and engages in your life purpose. In short, you can create a life that honors your purpose, personality and perspective. This is a life that fills you with energy and joy because it is an authentic reflection of you. Rather than living into someone else’s definition of success, you are able to create your own personalized success vision. This personalized vision of success inspires you to take action.  Your inspired actions transform your life into a true reflection of your innermost desires. Here success is not a destination, it is the process as well. The goal is to have every day be and more complete expression of your talent and purpose.

One way to express and track this transformation is through your birthday celebration. Your birthday becomes an opportunity to celebrate what you love about yourself and life. Your birthday also allows you to track your progress of becoming more authentically yourself.  Here, I describe the process of turning your birthday into a celebration that honors the gift of you.

Your Birthday: The Most Important Holiday of The Year

Everyone who knows me, knows how serious I am about my birthday. I have never gone to school or work on my birthday. My friends say that’s because I have a summer birthday. But I believe that if you only celebrate one holiday a year, it should be the day you were born. It’s a celebration of your life and all that you contribute to the world. That is worth missing a day of work or school.

Unfortunately, too many women avoid celebrating their birthdays. For them birthdays marks their decline in beauty, vitality, and worth. The negative images associated with aging lead many women to attempt to remain 29 years old forever.

Yet as you connect with your life purpose, you will find that you have much to celebrate with each passing year. You are no longer wandering through life or looking backwards to some romanticized glory days of youth. You are  daily living out your life purpose.  You are nurturing your gifts and contributing them to your community. This is definitely worth celebrating. Since you grow within a community of supporters, your celebration should also be communal.

With each passing year, you know your heart better. Now you can incorporate that wisdom into activities that fill your life with purpose, meaning and joy!

Creating Your Birthday Palooza

My birthday celebration takes up an entire month and is affectionately known as Keshapolooza. I encourage you to make your own personal birthdaypalooza. It may be a day, week, month, or even a year for special milestones. Regardless of the length of time, it should be a celebration of your life’s purpose and contribution.

Here are some questions to consider to help you plan your own birthday Palooza:

  1. What activities bring you joy?

Joy is an amazing emotion in that it feeds off itself into expanding circles of joy. Regardless of what they are, joyful activities will shape your bio-cognitive functioning. For a better understanding of how your emotions influence your health, read my article on natural boosters of your immune system. The experience of joy also improves your general sense of well-being. Thus, it changes how you experience other areas of your life.

2. What images symbolize your life’s purpose?

Living a life of purpose is critical for your happiness. Individuals who have a clear sense of meaning and purpose in their life are happier, healthier, and live more productive lives. While most people are clear on the importance of life purpose, they remain confused about how to identify it for themselves.

If you are looking to gain clarity on your life purpose, sign up for my free life planning toolkit. This resource will guide you step by step in identifying your life purpose. You will then use that purpose to craft your personal mission statement and vision statement for your life. These resources serve as guideposts in decision-making about your time, energy, and resources. They also inform the imagery and symbolism of your birthdaypalooza. Because, the symbols of your birthday celebration are powerful affirmations of your life purpose.

3. On the best day you can imagine, what are you doing? Who are you with?

The answer to these questions will give you a concrete lists of people and activities to include in your birthday celebration. You may not be able to do all these activities, or include all these people. But this will serve as your initial brainstorm planning list.

Be as creative as possible in thinking about how to include this list in your celebration. If an activity you dream about doing is climbing Mt. Everest, perhaps you can include indoor rock climbing or a local hick as part of your celebration. Or perhaps you can include images of Mt. Everest in your celebration.

There may be people on your list of ideal birthday celebrants who live far away or are no longer living. Think creatively about how you can connect to that person or your memories of that person across the distance. Remember, this is your celebration. Whatever activities evoke personal connections for you are ones that you want to include. This reminds you that you are not alone and allows you to experience the joys of life with your community. Such social connection is crucial for happiness, health, and longevity.

4. What foods or tastes bring you pleasure?

Food is a sensory pleasure that connects us to feelings of satisfaction and well-being. The strong connection between food and emotions is where the “emotional eating” ritual begins. Except now you are not using food to escape painful feelings. Rather than mindless eating, you intentionally savor the food and all the other sensory aspects of your celebration. This practice of mindfulness intensifies the joy and pleasure of the experience.

5. What music/sounds immediately transport you to a happy place? A peaceful place?

Music has been described as the “universal language” because of it’s ability to communicate directly to our souls. With our without words, music moves us. Music is highly personalized. What moves us may not have the same effect on others.

For your birthday celebration, identify a piece of music that is particularly moving for you. Make sure that this music inspires you and reminds you of your life purpose. This will be your “theme song.” Every great movie (and great hero) needs a theme song and so do you. You should play your theme song frequently throughout the day, throughout your birthday celebration, and throughout the year. Play it when you are feeling happy, depressed, confused, angry, ect. Play it whenever you need reminding of your purpose and inspired into action. You may need different theme songs for different phases of your life. I change my theme songs annually.

6. What have you learned about your heart this year? How would you like to apply or/ expand this insight in your upcoming year?

Remember that your birthday celebration is a way of tracking and celebrating your self-discovery process. Be as specific as possible about what you have learned about yourself and about life in this past year. Each birthday is a sort of graduation celebration. You want to be clear on what you have accomplished thus far. We recognize that life is a journey. Therefor we can look forward with anticipation to the upcoming year(s) and all these wonderful gifts we will discover and experience in the next leg of our journey.

Document Your Growth

Write all your answers to the questions above in your birthdaypalooza journal. These will become the seeds of your creative brainstorming about how best to honor your life journey this year. The form of your birthday palooza will change with each year, but it should always be a “full-sensory” event, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and movements that bring you joy and help you to connect with your life’s purpose. The meanings of these objects and activities do not need to be obvious, only significant to you. You may decide to consult books about color therapy or aromatherapy in your selection of specific images and smells, or you may choose to go with what you know at your gut level moves you. This is your personalized holiday and today you can have it your way!.

I’d love to hear about your birthday palooza and join in your celebration. Please feel free to share photos, cards, or notes about your process. You can tweet photos and descriptions of your birthday experiences to me and our community @coachkesha #birthdaypalooza. Your celebration is not selfish or self-centered. It is a public recognition that you are a unique creation and that your life matters. This is true for you and for everyone else who shares this planet with us. Honoring yourself gives others permission to do the same.

Celebrate Your Talents and Create a Life of Freedom and Happiness

Create a life of freedom and happiness

“Everyone has talent. What’s rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.”
― Erica Jong

Discovering and developing your talents is your key to freedom, success, and happiness. Developing your talents may or may not include formal schooling. Sometimes your career will be the manifestation of your life’s purpose. Other times your career may be the vehicle that supports your ability to do your life’s work. Either way, a meaningful and successful life is dependent upon celebrating your talents.

Celebrating your talents involves reconnecting with your innate curiosity, interests, and abilities. It also includes designing a plan to nurture these talents. But how do you identify your innate curiosity, interests, and abilities?

For people still grappling with identifying your specific talents, this article can guide your self-discovery process. Learning and self-discovery is a iterative process; so you need not know all the answers now. The questions and interests that you identify now will lead you along a path. As you proceed on that path, you will identify even more questions and interests.

Isn’t it exciting to know that this process of discovery and growth continues throughout your entire lifetime?

Once you learn how to ask yourself the right questions, you never have to worry about being bored or retiring from life. Connecting with your inner fire and curiosity will fuel your productivity, energy, and growth. Activating these resources will make you a life-long learner and contributor to our world.

Celebrate Your Talents

The quality of any relationship is based on the quality of the conversations that occur within that relationship. In my coaching practice, I support my clients in improving the quality of the conversations (and thus the relationship) they have with themselves.

So how do you improve the quality of conversations with yourself? Simple. By asking more powerful questions of yourself.

Questions are more powerful than answers as they open up a dialouges and invite new ways of seeing the world.

A good answer can do the same thing because good answers also contain more questions. Unfortunately, our model of schooling often teaches us that answers close the dialogue. We are taught that there’s no more need to raise a question because “we already know”. This shuts down curiousity and is the opposite of learning.

In both my personal and professional life, my focus has been on asking better questions. I’ve found that the right question can fully activate our whole being, mind and body.  Asking myself the right questions gives me energy to sustain my process of growth and discovery.

Below I’ve listed some powerful questions that can help you discover your unique gifts and abilities. These gifts are the basis of your contribution to our world. Thus, it’s important for us all that you discover, develop, and share your talents.

I urge you to write down your answers so that you can more clearly see patterns in your responses. These patterns are your clues to discovering the talents and interests that may have been suppressed by the expectations of others. You owe it to yourself to identify your unique gifts and share them with the world.

Identify Your Unique Talents

Grab your journal and ask yourself the following powerful questions:

Who do you admire?

  1.  Identify five people you admire. They can be people that you know well in your personal life or that you have read about – past or present. For each person selected, write down at least five character traits that you admire about them. These traits may or may not be accurate. It is only important that you perceive this person as possessing these desirable traits.
  2. Once your list is complete look for patterns among your lists. The character traits that you identify and admire in others are the ones you most want for yourself. They reflect your personal values and life goals.
  3. Now write your name in your journal as the sixth person you admire. Write those common themes of desirable character traits under your name. It does not matter whether you yet feel like you possess those traits. Trust that they are in you. If they were not within you, you wouldn’t be able to see and become attracted to them in others. Like attracts like and we see what we are.

What jobs did you dream of having as a child?

  1. In your journal list as many of the various jobs you wanted to pursue throughout your childhood and adolescence. No job is too silly or unimportant to make it to your list. If you dreamed about being an astronaut and a clown, write them both down. By taking all of our dreams seriously, we begin to take ourselves seriously.
  2. Once you have your complete list of dream jobs, write down what attracted you to each one. Why did you want this job? What did you enjoy doing that you thought you could do regularly in this job? What didn’t you like about this job?
  3. Now go through your completed desired job list and look for themes that emerge. Were there common motivations across multiple jobs? Were there common activities? What were the things that lead you to decide a particular job was not for you?
  4. Now take what you have learned and write on a fresh sheet of paper in your journal “my dream job/life contains….”. Write down all the common themes about your motivations, activities, settings, and people across your desired jobs. This list is your dream job/life because you may decide to pursue a career that contains all these elements. Or you may choose to structure your career so that it enables you to sustain a life filled with these activities. This is your choice to make, but we’re not at that deciding point yet.

What messages did you get from others about your career and life choices?

  1. Write down the responses of significant others in your life to your dream jobs. These responses could have been stated explicitly or implicitly. Your sense of others’ responses to your dreams have been internalized by you.  To some extent they unconsciously shape your beliefs about the value of pursuing your dreams.
  2. Make sure that your discussion of others includes people who have played significant roles in your life in the past as well as those in the present. It is important to include messages from parents, teachers, peers, friends, and spouses or romantic partners. Reading through this journal entry will help you to separate your life focus from those of your loved ones.

Whether they gave you messages of encouragement or discouragement, the feedback from these people was more about them than it was about you. In the spiritual book The Four Agreements, we’re advised not to take anything personally. This is because people’s responses to you are actually their responses to projections of themselves. Even messages that seem discouraging or critical may have been grounded in love. A father may discourage you from pursuing a career as a dancer because he is concerned about your ability to become self-sufficient in that career. His comments are products of his worldview, his fear, and his love for you.

The purpose of this activity is not to judge others for the way that have or are currently responding to your life dreams. It is only to allow you to see that their responses do not have to shape how you respond to yourself. You have the power to choose to honor your dreams and decide how you want to nurture your talents.

Honor Your Gifts

Now you can more clearly see what you admire about yourself and what you desire in your dream job and life. You can distinguish your own desires from those of your loved ones. You are prepared to take responsibility for your dreams and begin making them a reality.

If you’d like additional support in building a life that engages your talents in fulfilling your life purpose, sign up for my free Life Planning Tool and for an advanced order of my upcoming book Your Life as a Celebration.

Each day is an opportunity to make a change, to shift direction, to come a little closer to the desires of your heart. This is accomplished by identifying your unique gifts and committing to develop them on a daily basis. Do it for yourself!

Comment below some of your unique gifts as well as how you plan to nurture these abilities.

Sensory Walk: A free gift from nature

Sensory walks improve your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk improves your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk optimizes one of the best forms of exercise: walking. Walking lowers blood pressure, improves blood circulation, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves sleep. Walking in nature has even more positive physical and emotional health benefits.

 

Research comparing walking in nature versus walking in urban areas showed that individuals who walked in nature experienced lower levels of stressincreased attention span, as well as improved creativity and problem solving. An easy way to optimize the physiological and psychological health benefits associated with walking is to take sensory walks.

 

Sensory walks are a mindfulness practice that enables you to have a whole body experience with nature while walking. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Sensory walks are an easy way to integrate mindfulness into your daily health and wellness routine.

 

How To Do A Sensory Walk

 

Sensory walks, like many other mindfulness practices, encourage you to use all five of your senses to connect with the natural world. It can be helpful at some points in the walk to stand still and close your eyes. Ending your reliance on sight can heighten your awareness of the other senses. Whether you are walking or standing still, the goal is to notice as much as possible the beauty of the world surrounding you.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself that can guide your focus as you practice your sensory walk.

 

What are you hearing?

Sound is a powerful sense that activates our emotions, promotes visual imaginations, and strengthens our memory recall. As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to the distinctive types of sounds that you hear.

 

Can you hear your footsteps? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear running water? It’s important to take the time to really notice the sounds of your external environment rather than drowning them out with your internal dialogue.

 

What are you feeling?

No, I don’t mean identifying your emotional state. I mean paying attention to the largest organ in your body: your skin. Skin is a primary vehicle through which we experience the world, both sensations of pleasure and pain. Our skin has the most nerve endings that provide us with a fine tuned gradient measure of our environment. We can even sense very subtle changes in the environment with our skin and respond quickly with goose-bumps or having the hair on our necks stand up.

 

As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to your skin and the sensations it communicates to you. Depending on the weather, there may not be a lot of your skin exposed to the outside elements. However, even when covered with clothing and shoes your skin is still communicating important sensory information about your environment.

 

Can you feel the sun on your skin? What does the ground feel like under your feet? Is it firm, mushy, rocky? What does the temperature feel like on your skin? Again, stopping to closely your eyes briefly will help you better tune into all this lovely information your body is experiencing.

What can you smell?

Smell is often thought of as one of our most potent senses. It is closely connected to our memory and can quickly recreate feelings associated with a past experience. We are usually aware of smells at the extreme of the spectrum, either very pleasant or very offensive. But as we practice mindfulness we can become aware of all the varieties of smell around us.

 

Practice using your sense of smell to create a “map” of your sensory walk. What smells are associated with the various areas of your map? What smells can you identify? Can you distinguish the distinctive smells among the various flowers? What about the trees?

 

It’s useful to stop and get up close the the objects you are smelling. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Yes, I do want you to stop and smell the roses…and the daffodils….and the pine trees. Allow yourself to fully savor the sensations of the smells of nature.

What can you taste?

Our taste sensations are closely connected to our sense of smell. As you allow yourself to experience more fully the smells associated with nature, you may notice an activation of your taste buds. You may even begin to salivate. Great! Enjoy these tastes of nature.

 

Those of you who are more knowledgeable about the various edible flowers, nuts, and berries that grow freely in nature may want to partake in enjoying these delicious gifts during your sensory walk. My children and I love the smell and taste of wild growing honeysuckle and often snack on these sweet treats. Nature provides us with so many gifts and fully experiencing and enjoying these gifts is one way to say thank you.

How are you moving through space?

This is known as our proprioceptive sense and is often overlooked in our discussions of our sensory experiences. However, proprioception is responsible for our perceptions of our body position, motion, and balance.

 

Without proprioception we wouldn’t experience the excitement of our stomachs dropping when we ride on a roller coaster or the relaxation we feel when sitting in a swing or a rocking chair. Proprioception allows us to know where our body is positioned in space even when our eyes are closed. Our proprioceptive sense also helps us to be more alert when on an unstable or elevated surface.

 

As you practice your sensory walk, vary the surfaces you walk on and notice the changes in your body. Do you feel different walking on a gravel path than walking across a fallen tree? How does it feel when you cross a stream using the river rocks as your bridge? Vary the pace of your walk (fast then slow) and notice the differences in your body.

What do you see?

Sight can be a very pleasurable part of our experience of nature. Just looking at a beautiful nature scene can bring feelings of peace and relaxation. As you engage in your sensory walk, imagine that you are a cinematographer trying to capture footage for National Geographic.

 

Take the time to see what is likely a familiar environment for you with fresh new eyes. What are the “postcard moments” of your walk? What images bring you feelings of warmth, pleasure, relaxation, excitement, or awe?

 

As you notice these sights, stop and focus on them to intensify your experience of the moment. For at least 20 seconds, pause and focus on the image, breathing deeply and enjoying the feelings that are evoked by this sight within you.

 

Remember, what you focus on becomes magnified. As you focus on the pleasure of nature and wonderful feelings you are having at this moment, your joy and gratitude will be magnified. Moreover, these feelings will stay with you and can be brought back to mind long after you are physically removed from this experience.

 

Capture Your Sensory Walk

 

As you complete your sensory walk, reserve time at the end to sit quietly and capture the beauty of these moments. You may want to bring a sketchbook or a journal to record your reflections. Regardless of your artistic skill level, draw at least three items that you noticed on your sensory walk.

 

Although the drawing activity is visual, you do not want to rely only on the sights of your sensory walk. How might you be able to visually represent the smells or physical sensations that you experienced on the walk? What about the tastes and movement sensations?

 

After you’ve captured at least three sensory memories of this walk, write 1-2 sentences of gratitude for what you have just experienced.

 

As you focus on the sensations and emotions produced from the sensory walk, your awareness of the gifts of nature will abound. These gifts of nature are free and always available to you whenever you need them. Even when you can not physically return to the site of this walk, you can review your journal reflections and activate a full sensory recall of the memories of this experience.

 

As we celebrate the beginning of spring and Earth Day, I encourage you to add a 10-15min sensory walk into your routine. You will find that this practice greatly reduces your level of stress, expands your sense of joy and connection to a larger world, as well as increases your energy and feelings of well-being.

 

Today, give yourself a gift of vitality and joy! Take a sensory walk.

 

What are the benefits you received from your sensory walk? Leave a comment below or you can email me directly at [email protected]. If you have pictures from your walk, please share so we can expand the joy!

The Missing Ingredient in Your Weight Loss Program

Your weight loss program may be missing this fat busting secret ingredient.

Your weight loss program may be missing this fat busting secret ingredient.

Many of us have worked hard to lose weight only to find that that scales aren’t turning in the right direction. We are eating a clean diet, exercising three times a week, but  we are still not losing weight. If this is true for you, it may be that an unknown culprit is conspiring against you in your plan for healthy weight loss: stress.

An effective stress management system can be the missing ingredient preventing you from obtaining the strong, good looking, and healthy body you are seeking. Continuing to neglect this vital area of weight loss can be a costly mistake. While we know chronic stress is not good for us, many of us have no idea what it does to our bodies and how it undermines our health. Here I’ve listed some of the biological pathways through which stress promotes weight gain.

How stress promotes weight gain

Stress encourages the body to store fat.

Stress activates our body’s fight or flight response. It produces hormonal changes signaling to our muscles the need for quick energy. The muscles get this energy by increasing insulin production to move sugar from the blood to our muscles. This physiological response makes us more alert and alive in a stressful situation. We are stronger, quicker, and can think faster. All of these responses to stress are helpful in keeping us alive in dangerous situations. However, if our body does not actually use this surge of energy to react, we store this unused energy as fat. In situations of chronic stress or worry, our body produces the same increases in sugar and insulin that creates new layers of fat. Much of the fat tissue that is produced from chronic stress is “visceral fat” that builds up deep in our bellies. This can be seen in the “pot belly” we gain as we age. Visceral fat in the belly is the most life threatening fat and the hardest to get rid of.

Stress encourages emotional eating.

We have all experienced the food cravings that occur when we are feeling stressed out. For me it’s starchy and fatty foods like mac & cheese and fried chicken. This connection is so strong and immediate that we often find ourselves eating before we are even aware of it. When we become aware, we are already eating a bag of chips or in the refrigerator nibbling on left overs. We know that this pattern of mindless eating undermines our health goals and we often blame ourselves for not having enough willpower. Yet, science shows that there is a biological basis to this pattern of mindless emotional eating. Researchers suggest that we might actually have a “flight, flee, or chow down”  response to stress, meaning  that the activity of eating physiologically relieves the stress in the same way as the reactions to flee or fight. Jason Perry Block, MD, an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard, “This happens, in part, because the body releases chemicals in response to food that might have a direct calming effect.” Thus emotional eating is a learned habit that is connected to biological triggers and rewards.

Stress promotes inactivity.

Chronic stress produces the couch potato syndrome. In the APA study “Stress in America”, 42% of Americans reported watching television more than two hours a day to relieve stress. Unfortunately, this strategy of stress management actually increase weight gain and other health complications that arise from a sedentary lifestyle.

Stress lowers your metabolism.

In their pioneering research, Profs. Annette deKloet and Eric Krause discovered a “fat to brain feedback network”. This study suggests that the density of fat tissue influences the way the brain controls stress, regulates energy and other metabolic activities. It’s not just that stress encourages your body to produce more fat, but that the fat changes the way your brain regulates your metabolismWhile in the short term this is adaptive, the fat to brain feedback network under situations of chronic stress is dangerous.

How to relieve stress and promote healthy weight loss

The good news is that we can reverse the pattern of weight gain directly implementing a stress management system. An effective stress management system will not only reduce your current levels of stress, but will promote healthy weight loss, increase your energy, boost your immune system, and heighten your joy. You will look and feel better and get more enjoyment out of the people and activities in your life. I’ve listed five activities you can do to begin implementing an effective stress management system. These activities will quickly reduce your level of stress and promote healthy weight loss.

Moderate exercise.

Exercise is a great stress reliever because it actually uses the increases in insulin and sugar created by stress in more productive ways. It also promotes the release of endorphins which make us feel good, think “runner’s high”. However, exercising for stress relief should be moderate and not too rigorous. High intensity exercises actually raises cortisol levels, contributing to over eating and increase and fat production. Think a brisk 20 minute walk.

Sleep.

Sleep reduces feelings of stress, promotes healthy weight loss, and increases well-being. Most Americans are sleep deprived. We should strive for 6-8hrs of sleep each night. If worry or anxiety is keeping you from getting a good night of rest, some of the activities below can help.

Relaxation.

Meditation is a powerful relaxation strategy that has been proven to lower stress, improve health, and increase our sense of well being. The wonderful thing about meditation is that you can do it anywhere and you can reap the benefits of meditation with a small investment of time (10-20mins/day). Other relaxation techniques (deep breathing, listening to music, walking in nature, taking a bubble bath) can also be used on a daily basis to reduce stress and promote weight loss. What is most important is that you integrate these behaviors into your daily life.

Mindful eating.

We eat every day, but do we eat mindfully? Mindful eating is a slow sensory experience of food. It encourages us to notice the color, smell, taste, and texture of our food and to eat slow enough to enjoy the experience. Mindful eating is the direct opposite of fast food or tv dinners. A research study of binge eaters showed that participating in mindful eating program produced fewer binges and lower rates of depression. Mindful eating can lower our stress, improve our mood, and prevent our over eating.

Self-exploration.

While the above techniques may help us manage the levels of stress in our lives, we need to engage in structured self-exploration to identify the causes of stress in our lives and actively address them. Living under chronic stress compromises our health, career, relationships and sense of well-being. It is up to us to commit to identifying and eradicating the sources of our stressful lifestyle. Processes of self-exploration that are research-proven to be effective in increasing emotional and physical well-being are: journaling, counseling, and working with a life coach. Choose the method that works best for you, but by all means commit to your personal development. Through your process of self-exploration, you can uncover ways of thinking that are increasing stress and weight gain, as well as develop a plan of action to move you closer to your goals of health, peace, and joy.

You can not change your genetic makeup, but you can create a strong, lean, healthy body. Implementing these five components of a stress management system will permanently transform your body and your life. Most people acknowledge valuable information that could help them achieve their goal, but never act on it. You could be different.

I’d love to hear about the improvements you are seeing in your body and in your life as you implement your stress management system. Leave a comment below or email me.

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