The "x" factors that impact your health

The "x" factors that impact your health

For vibrant health, we must attend to our spirit/mind/emotions—what I call the “x” factors that impact our wellbeing.  To nourish this part of us, we need to do things that fill us, lift us up, bring contentment or make us feel vibrant and alive.

Five things “The Martian” taught me about health

Last weekend, I went to see "The Martian" with Matt Damon. (Point of clarification: he plays the protagonist, Mark Watney, in the movie; he did not accompany me to the showing). I was expecting to be entertained by the movie; I did not expect to be inspired. But I definitely was! martian-movie

Here are five out-of-this-world health tips from the movie!

  • Farming is critical to survival.  My high school had a club called Future Farmers of America. Even back then, I was like, "Whaaat?!" I didn't understand what the club was about, nor why anyone would even think about joining it. Farming seemed so foreign to me, a young suburban girl who only went to farms in October...for hayrides. Now, all grown up, I realize that food doesn't magically appear in my neighborhood grocery store. It has to come from somewhere. For us to be able to eat, someone somewhere has to cultivate land, tend to crops, care for animals. Farming is critical to our survival. Mark Watney figured this out pretty quickly, too!
  • Passion and purpose makes everything worthwhile. With death a possibility at every turn, Mark sent a message to his parents. “I am dying for something bigger, more beautiful and greater than me."  What are we committed to? What are we living for? Is it "bigger, more beautiful, and greater" than we are? If so, it will certainly be worth living and dying for. If not, begin to seek out possibilities. What cause or movement moves you? Passion and purpose turn the most grey, dull life into one that is vibrant, colorful, and pulsing with possibilities!
  • Spice up your life. I confess that I have a tendency to stick to the tried and true garlic and onions to spice up my dishes. When I'm feeling adventurous,  I'll add a dash of cumin. But I am slowly and surely learning to expand my "spice life" horizons. I recently discovered turmeric, a wonder spice that has been used for millennia in India. It has been identified as a help in fighting cancer, improving eyesight, and reducing joint inflammation, among other benefits. Spoiler alert: desperate for seasonings, Mark pulverizes some painkillers and puts them on his potatoes. Don't let this be you! Spicing up your life with real life-giving spices will not only improve your health but also please your palate!
  • Never, never, never give up - Mark faced obstacle after obstacle, challenge after challenge. If he had given up early on, that would've been the end of the movie (and I would have felt short-changed)! Instead, he soldiered on. Happily, he didn't have to tackle all of the obstacles at once. He faced them head on, one by one. This should be our approach as well. When I feel particularly overwhelmed or out of control, I clean my kitchen (or my living room). If one room is clean in my house, and if at least one thing is done, it gives me the sense that maybe I can do the next (bigger) thing, too. The idea is to keep pressing on, and not try to take on too much at once. Just put one foot in front of the other (and pray to God you do not get caught up in a Martian wind storm!)
  • Remember you are not alone - Though separated by miles (light years?), Mark turns to his friends for support, words of encouragement, and a laugh or two. We need each other desperately here on earth, too, don't we? When we feel all alone, we must resist the temptation to cocoon. When we push ourselves to reach out to a friend, their words of reassurance can go far in restoring our perspective and hope. (My own daughter did this for me just yesterday, when I was in a low spot.) Speaking of reaching out, prayer is another wonderful way to reach out for help. Mark utters a prayer out loud, at one moment in his journey. I'm pretty sure there were lots of unuttered prayers going on, too.

Did you see this movie? What did you think? What movies have you seen that have inspired you, health-wise or other-wise?

Four health tips...from the Pope!

pope_francis_072813Did you get swept up by the hope, peace, and love that the Pope's visit generated in the U.S.? Or did you just see it as a lot of hype? Whatever your stance, I can tell you this. Most people expect to learn about faith from the Pope, but I think we can learn about wellness from him, too. For starters, did you know that he is 78 years old? What stamina and enthusiasm he has at that age, no?! I would love to be so vibrant and enthusiastic in my late 70's.

Here are four health tips that I gleaned from the Pope: What on earth are we the earth?   For a long time, all I cared about was good food. I wanted to eat well for my own health, and the health of my family. I got into health coaching because I wanted to communicate the importance of good nutrition to everyone. I didn't understand or care where my food came from. And then it dawned on me (not so much a slow realization as a frying pan across the back of my head, I must say): good food MUST come from good soil. In other words, the quality of all food is inextricably tied to the wellness of the soil from which it springs!

Now I am learning all about the benefits of permaculture, rotational grazing, and other ways of farming soil and raising animals, that cooperates with nature, rather than trying to dominate it and force it (via chemical and technological means) to yield unnatural quantities or foodstuffs. For too long, we in the U.S. have focused on money as the bottom line, to the detriment of the land we are tilling and the animals we are raising. The Pope puts it this way: "When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society."

It's not just how we farm the land, but how we treat the whole earth that is troubling. It's as if a friend lent us his car and we started racing around the city, driving recklessly, parking carelessly, oblivious to the consequences. The car gets banged up and so do we. We are disrespecting our friend, and it is clearly dangerous for us and the vehicle. Here's another way to look at it. "A great challenge: stop ruining the garden which God entrusted to us so that all may enjoy it."

It's about how we relate, not just what's on our plate.  "Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change." Have you ever been so mad at someone that you were unable to eat? Has a fight or disagreement with a friend or coworker ever caused your stomach to hurt? Yes, our digestion is tied to more than just our stomach acid levels. How we relate to those around us has a tremendous impact on our health (and theirs, of course).

But we cannot change their behavior. So our only recourse is to ask God for help to change our own. Ask him to give you perspective, to see each person through God's eyes. They are also "imago dei" (made in God's image) and worthy of your respect and empathy, even if you disagree. If you hold onto unforgiveness, you may think you are hurting them, when in reality you are only hurting yourself. Unforgiveness is a poison to your system, corroding your inner life, and, yes, your physical body as well. We can't conjure up forgiveness on our own, however. We need a supernatural source. "When we experience the merciful love of the Father, we are more able to share this joy with our neighbor."

Go to the Source.  We can only give what we have been given. When we need faith, hope, peace, or love, we can't just will it into existence. We must reach for something higher.

What if you have no faith? Seek it. Faith is moving forward without immediate, visible evidence. Take steps of faith as you move forward---like attending church, reading the Bible. God says  "Seek me and you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 33:3 And do not be discouraged on the way. Remember that the faith life is a journey. “There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall … but always think of this: Don't be afraid of failures. Don't be afraid of falling. What matters in the art of journeying isn't not falling but not staying down. Get up right away and continue going forward. This is what's beautiful: This is working every day, this is journeying as humans."

Be honest. Be humble. When we think we've got a corner on a certain diet, career, or experience, we can all become self-righteous and Trump-like. The key is to remember that we are not God. It's okay to admit that we are small, deeply flawed, and often limited. In the midst of this truth, we are loved and beautiful, still. "God loves the lowly. When we live humbly, he takes our small efforts and creates great things."

Does the Pope inspire you, too? Have you learned anything about life and health from him? Post your comments below.

Oh, and one final footnote: I got so inspired by the pontiff's visit that I decided to follow him on Twitter. I got the suggestion from Twitter" "You might want to follow these similar accounts." It then listed President Obama, the Dalai Lama, and Ellen DeGeneres. Hmmm.

Confessions of a poor listener

"You're not a good listener." I was taking a walk with my college roommate when she spoke those words. Jen and I hadn’t been getting along, so we had carved out time to try to get to the bottom of some relational snags we had hit. In the middle of the conversation, she spoke these words. I'm not going to lie. I felt like I had been slapped across the face. I loved Jen. Did she really think I didn’t love her enough to listen to her? I stammered and reeled, wanting to defend myself. Once the initial shock wore off, I wanted to slink into the shadows. Her words shed an unwanted spotlight on a weakness of mine. The spotlight is an appropriate metaphor, I think. A natural entertainer, I subconsciously saw relationships as a mini-stage where the other person was my audience. I loved people but rather superficially. I wasn’t stopping to get to know them. I thought that charming them, and amusing them, was enough.


Jen was telling me that there had to be more. I had been ignoring her. It wasn’t just that she couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, though I am sure this was also the case; it’s that I wasn’t pausing long enough to see her at her core.

rock creek

It’s as if I had been taking a walk in Rock Creek park, and was so focused on my destination or listening to my ipod, that I was missing the smell of the pine trees, the scattered twigs, and the uneven rocky path. I wasn’t hearing or seeing Jen.

This might seem like an odd post for a blog focused on everything pertaining to health. However, awareness is a key element, as we grow in understanding in relationship with the broader world and ourselves. We need to hone our observation skills in all areas. It can begin with emotions. You might be feeling stressed or angry. Observe yourself, without judgement. Where did this feeling originate? Seek to understand yourself. It's a great first step in changing patterns. Take these observation skills to your relationship to food. Are you eating right now because you're hungry or is it a response to a situation in your life that has you worried?

Strong relationships are also critical for our well-being.  And as Jen was trying to tell me, they are a two-way street and require focus and intentionality. I’ve come to realize that listening to someone is not just about hitting “pause” on my end of the conversation (though there is that) but it’s about discovering the wonder of another person.

“It’s like people who are busy planning their vacation; they spend months planning it and they get to the spot and they’re all anxious about their reservations for flying back. But they’re taking pictures alright, and later they’ll show you pictures in an album of places they never saw, only photographed. That’s a symbol of modern life. I cannot warn you enough about this kind of asceticism. Slow down and taste and see and hear and let your senses come alive.”  ~ “Awareness: the perils and opportunities of reality” by Anthony de Mello

I’m still growing in my awareness, in observation, in listening---to my surroundings, to myself and to others. I’m not there, yet. But I’ve started the journey. Especially in relationships, I am working on focusing on people around me in a new way. I’m making efforts not to jump in to help them finish their sentences (as if I would know better than they what they were trying to communicate). I’m getting more comfortable with silence and pauses in the conversation. I’ve learned many a thing as I’ve truly grown in my ability to see and know others. Eye looking thorough magnifying glass

When Jen told me straight up that I was a poor listener, she gave me a gift, though I certainly didn’t see it that way at the time. “Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.”

As the new year kicks off, and we are all thinking about goals, resolutions and ways to      improve ourselves, let’s not miss nurturing our relationships. And a key way to do so is to learn to  listen.