Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tip #48: Practice visualizations (or not)

This is something I don't do often, but when I do I always feel better, happier and filled with optimism. It's a technique called the "10 10 Visualization." I read about it in Mathew Ferris' blog. I do it this way: I sit in front of my window (in the photo) and I first think of ten things I'm grateful for at that moment. Then, I move on to think about ten goals or desires I also have at that moment. The first part is always easy, there are so many things and people I am thankful for! But the second does take some work, as I often think my life is quite blessed as it is. I'm getting better at it, and I now tend to think of some long term goals, but mostly short terms ones, like maybe a project at work or the next doctor's visit. Like I said, when I remember to do it, I always feel happy afterwards, so it can be something to do just for that reason.

But, as I like to research anything I write here, after a bit digging on visualization, I found an article which mentions that many athletes, including Tiger Woods (I don't know if any of this is true) use something called "creative visualization," which consists of imagining themselves playing the game and doing really well. And, maybe it could also help you in your everyday life in the same way. The Wikipedia entry for "creative visualization" is also quite interesting.

On the other hand, I also found some research that actually says the opposite, that when we visualize something as if it had already happened, we tend to believe it and then we actually do LESS to attain it, as our mind thinks we have already done so. I saw somewhere else (I cannot find it now, of course) that when you actually tell your goals to other people, you are more likely to fail, for the same reasons as above. But maybe the visualizations are different in these cases. In "The right kind of visualization," we learn that we need to visualize the process, instead of the outcome. 

In my case, I don't know if what I do could be called "creative visualizations" or not, but they do help me be calmer. It's like a voice telling me, "everything is possible" and "everything will be all right," both at the same time. Plus, the ten items to be grateful for puts your mind in the right place for the next step of visualization. Always be thankful first for what you have. We do have so much!

What do you think? Have you tried this?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tip #47: Cultivate compassion (even to yourself)

As I have mentioned before, I have been watching, whenever possible, Rick Hanson's Compassionate Brain series. It is subtitled "Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and Love. Practical Neuroscience for Transformation." In the series, Dr. Hanson interviews leading scientists and teachers from different fields on the topic of compassion, its origins, its characteristics and the transformative effects of its practice.

I'm a bit behind with the talks, but, thankfully,  they can be also watched on demand as well (the series is free, but you do have to sign up for it). So far, I have enjoyed everything I have watched, and today I will tell you about two of the talks which I thought were particularly fascinating.

The first one is by Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. He is also the creator of another wonderful website, Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life, which has many resources (articles, videos etc.) about the topic. From his talk, I learned the following:
  • Compassion is something innate to humans. Why? Wouldn't it be better if we were all nasty to each other, winner takes all, mentality? Well, no, because we start as extremely vulnerable babies, who could not survive if the adults around them didn't feel compassion for them. He pointed out that, as species, we are the only ones who take such a long time to be able to defend ourselves on our own. 
  • Kindness turned out to be the number one characteristics that people all over the world, in many different cultures, chose as their number one characteristic they look for in a mate. Not beauty or money or strength.
The second one is Dr. Kristin Neff's talk, called "The power of self-compassion." She wrote Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave your Insecurities behind.(I wish I had time to read all these books!). She talked about how, in our society, we have elevated the concept of self-esteem, but that this always involves being better than somebody else, and thus, it becomes a source of anguish and frustration, because this is just not possible. By comparison, cultivating self-compassion will allow you to move on with life in a more gentle, caring, and better way. She did emphasize that self-compassion is not to be confused with indulgence, but that we should talk to ourselves as a loving parent would talk to a child who has failed an exam, for example. You wouldn't tell your child, "you are such a loser!"(hopefully), but would try to encourage him to not let this defeat bring him down. Her talk did remind me about the ideas I had outlined in the post about perfection not being the goal, but it may also be another way to look at the same problem. We all have failings, or setbacks. It is part of a normal life. How we respond to them is what can really make the situation different. It is, in a way, my goal with my tips, my mental exercises as I call them. I do believe my life (and with it, my health and all my surroundings), will be better, it is already better, from these type of lessons which reaffirm and enlarge my own understanding of it.

Dr. Neff's website, Self Compassion, is also full of practical resources, including exercises, even physical ones (how to move your body in certain ways) to help you develop your own self-compassion. And she was also fascinating for another reason. She is the mother of an autistic child, and they are the protagonist in a documentary about how her son discovered by accident that he had a connection to horses, and how the whole family traveled to Mongolia to experience life with horses in nature ( In the talk, she mentioned how she had used her own techniques of self-compassion in the (many) cases when his son would have public fits (like in long plane rides). It was, all in all, very moving.

Well, I manged to write much more than I thought.  But, I do believe that by being aware of these things we can really start to understand that we, as humans, do have to strive to be good, to each other and to ourselves, regardless what society or other forces may be telling us.

What do you think? As always, I'm amazed and thankful that anyone reads these tips and I hope you may want to share your thoughts. I actually discovered Dr. Hanson thanks to a comment by my friend Jennifer to my Tip #5. So wonderful!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tip #46: Try fasting

So, what do you think? Let's NOT eat together? Well, why not? I have been interested in the idea of fasting as I would encounter many mentions of it when dealing with alternative methods to treat cancer. But lately, it is not just for alternative methods or only cancer. Here you can see how doctors in Utah found that regular fasting can boost heart health. Those who fasted for about a day a month had a 58% lower risk of coronary disease as those who didn't. And Dr. Weil, tells us in this article that intermittent fasting can indeed improve not only caridiovascular health, but also diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer, and improve cognition in general. Even my nutritionist recommends caloric restriction for certain patients, as there are many studies already associating this with better outcomes in cancer patients. And, there's a new book just published, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease, by Seyfried, PhD, a cancer researcher who worked at Yale University and is now Professor of Biology at Boston College, which reviews the literature on caloric restriction and its beneficial impacts on tumor growth. Here's an older article which summarizes the main points of the book.

I became a bit more interested in the topic after seeing this BBC documentary this summer, Eat, Fast & Live Longer. It is an hour long, but well worth it. Here's a summary, with commentary, if you don't have time to watch it all.

By the end of the show, Dr. Mosley, the guy that goes around looking for ways to implement fasting, decides to try the 5/2 diet plan: five days your normal consumption of food, and two days of only 500 calories for women, 600 for men. After trying for five or six weeks, many of his "aging" markers, like IGF-1, CRP, or blood sugar level, came down considerably, plus he lost some weight and felt better.

In the show, they also talk about a group of people in Ecuador, who are very small because they suffer from something called the Laron syndrome, but that, surprisingly, never develop cancer or diabetes. I had read about them in the New York Times last year, and I think they may hold the key to something very important.

In any case, this year I did something that I don't recommend anyone to do (please, please, please), but, after researching a bit more the 5/2 diet, I found that there is a doctor in Great Britain testing it to actually cut breast cancer occurrence in patients at higher risk. According to her, it could reduce the risk by 40%. So, at the beginning of October, because I knew that I had blood work coming four weeks later, I decided to try it without telling neither my doctors or nutritionist (or even my family, I guess I just came out). Well, my blood work was fantastic, particularly my HbA1c, which measures blood sugar control. It is the lowest I've had it, finally at the level my nutritionist recommends. My CRP, which measures inflammation, did not go down, but it also did not go up (it was quite low to start with), and I think it's also remarkable, as it tends to go up with medication and I've now been on treatment for close to two years. Of course, I don't know if the diet was the cause. I did stop it after the results came in. i\It was just an experiment that I may take again in the future, hopefully next time with some type of medical supervision. I lost a little bit of weight while on it, but not much, maybe two or three pounds, and it was not too hard to do.

But, I also wanted to share something else in this blog post. My husband mentioned that somebody in his work were doing a 48 hour weekend cleanse, recommended by Dr. Oz. I went to check it out, and I really like it, and I think that may be also something I try to do, maybe once every two months or so. Here's the link. Maybe after Thanksgiving could be the ideal time. :)

Do you fast regularly? Any recommendations?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tip #45: Give dry brushing a try


Let me start by saying that I hope everyone is safe and sound after Hurricane Sandy. I feel extremely grateful, as not only we were fine, but I got many e-mails and calls from friends all over the world who  made me realize once more how loved we are. Thanks, everyone. You are truly amazing.

And now, to this week's tip. Through the book Crazy. Sexy, Diet, I learned about dry brushing and although it is not something that I do often (maybe twice or three times a week), I do notice some differences in my skin (it is softer and less dry), so that's why I thought I would pass along the tip. In addition, it is supposed to help with your lymph system (there's more information about that in the video below), something I definitely cannot prove, but I feel that it's important enough. Some people say it also helps with cellulite or weight loss. That, I just don't think it is true, but let me know if it happens to you!  

The way I do it, is this. Right before my shower, I put on the gloves (in the picture. I bought them at WholeFoods) and I start massaging my feet, all the way up to my neck, dividing my body in chunks, as explained in the video. It does feel great, particularly when I get to the neck area (remember not to dry brush your face!) and I think this is mainly because it is a massage, even if it is yourself doing it and not a professional masseuse. It only takes me about five minutes, so this is not a time consuming activity. I honestly forget to do it more often, but I always remember how wonderful it feels when I do it, and even after one time doing it, I can notice a difference in my skin. 

Here's the video, from my beloved Greensmoothie Girl herself. I hope you enjoy it and find it beneficial as well.


And I also have two unrelated notes that I thought may interest you:
  • Deepak Chopra is offering a free 21 day meditation challenge which starts tomorrow. You can sign up for it here. I actually have tried his meditation challenges before, and although I didn't finish them, I found them soothing the days I got to them.
  • Gym-Pact, the tool I have been using with great success to help me go to the gym, is offering a $5 bonus for you and $5 for me if you sign up. I honestly can say I love this app, especially since they added integration with RunKeeper, another app that tracks your outdoor activities as well. So far with them, I have made $70 and lost only $10.(And if you see me walking around my block on a Sunday night, you now know why). If you have a smartphone, I highly recommend this app. It definitely helps me with my fitness goals (if only there were a Gym-Pact for medtitation!). If you do sign up, my referral code is SkippPilar, so we both get the $5. Hey, and I'm going to throw a party if I do get lots of money. What do you think? Want to come over? 
Well, let me know what you think about all this. I always like to hear your thoughts.