Category Archives: Spirituality & Heath

Spirituality, shamanism, nature

Passageways

Passageways are magical. 

Passageways call your attention to a shift, a transition, a ‘passage’ from one way of thinking, seeing, being to the next. 

We are continually flowing through these shifts every second of our days, but often it takes the physical symbol of a passage to bring it home, to make it real to us: like a real life tarot reading that tells us what we should already be aware of, but have chosen to overlook with our conscious mind. 

Passageways are that magical set of places where the conscious and subconscious intermingle, merge, and if you allow yourself to hover there (physically, spiritually, mentally) then you might just bathe yourself in the natural upwelling of inspiration and comprehension, the understanding of your purpose and place in the natural world beyond the domesticated role of “consumer”…

 

Just sayin’

Rewilding 101

 

In our every day lives of texting, Twitter, Instagram and Angry Birds, we often don’t take the time to peel our eyes away from our iPhones and notice the amazing natural world around us.

The modern media tends to over-dramatize being a part of your natural environment as a major effort. While mother nature can have a harsh side, you don’t have to run around naked eating bugs to help reconnect yourself to your wild side (unless you really want to!).  Start with some of these easy steps and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll find yourself thirsting for more of the great outdoors.

  1. Stargazing– long ago, the patterns of nature used to be the source of our stories- and our nightly entertainment. From Orion, the giant huntsman whom Zeus placed among the stars, to the Casseopia, the queen of the night sky, their sagas have been slowly replaced by “Breaking Bad” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.

Take a night to return to your roots. Get a hold of a book to help you identify the constellations. Then head out with a pile of comfy blankets and pillows to the back yard. Lay back and let your eyes wander amongst the stories of the heroes and villans of old, or challenge your family to come up with their own constellations, along with their unique sagas. (Although, from experience, this can get silly fast!)

  1. Firelit night. Use only candle or firelight after dark and give yourself the dual gift of a digital detox and a uniquely bonding experience with your loved ones. There’s nothing like gathering around the warm glow of a fire with your tribe of friends and loved ones.  As the warmth pulls you in closer, coversations flow more freely around a flickering flame, stories grow more meaningful and life seems somehow more real. (No, you are not weird for not having the TV buring bright holes in your retina like all your neighbors.) The campfire has been the most popular “Late Show” in human existence! (And, as a nerdy bonus, the red spectrum light from a fire doesn’t interfere with your production of the sleep hormone melatonin like bright electric light and mess with your stress, blood sugar and other hormone levels throughout the next day.)
  1. Gardening, Hunting and Gathering. Age old skills like fishing, hunting, wild food gathering and gardening are at the heart of what has made us human.

Which skill would you rather pass on to the next generation- stalking the gleaming grocery aisle and heating up the perfect package of Hamburger Helper, or knowing where and how to look for the fish in a river, or when to plant, how to nourish and harvest the perfectly ripened tomato or head of corn? Yoir kids should recognize what an actual potato plant looks like and know that trout doesn’t swim in prepackaged in plastic. Just because your parents didnt teach you doesn’t mean that you can’t learn and pass it on.

Don’t know where to start? As part of the rewilding rennaisance there are a bevy of amazing courses, meetups, clubs and gatherings that focus on helping you gain or improve traditional “primitive” and survival skills. This can be a good way to help yourself gain confidence in and reconnect with your natural skills.  Somewhat ironically, you can find most of these resources by doing a quick online search for that particular skill.

There are thousands more ways to reconnect with nature at home- we’ve barely scratched the surface. Take a moment to wake yourself from your digital daze and appreciate the natural world that surrounds you every day.  Not only will you come closer to your natural roots, but along the way you may discover a deeper connection with the loved ones and friends you share these experiences with.

“The mountains are calling…” and I am distracted.

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“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~Quote, John Muir

Now, good old John Muir didn’t say “the mountains are calling, but I just have to finish this TV marathon of Frasier first.”

Nope.

He clearly focused his priorities to fulfill his purpose, to do what he needed to follow his joy. He certainly wasn’t going to let any minor distractions clutter up his path!

The Seductive Power of Distraction

I’ve been combating a tendency towards distraction lately, trying to manage my online presence …“Hey people I’m over here!”, while still trying to live a balanced life. A life that lets me walk through the woods, prepare nutritious meals, talk with, hug and snuggle those I love, and get in a bit of work and very important play into every day.

That can be a pretty tall order when confronted with the “terrible twins” of distraction:

1. Mindless Distraction: What about that last half hour you spent obsessively pinning things to Pinterest? Neurotically checking for Facebook notifications? It’s soooo easy to get lost in your devices, to push on past your stopping point for “Just 15 more minutes”... (oh really?)

2. Overcommitted Distraction…  Maybe you’ve said yes (and yes and yes) once again to helping out again with that Charity Function, and taking over that field trip, and oh yeah, laboring at home on that office project. Whatever it is, you are petrified of saying no, of disappointing someone, of being seen as a “bad” person… and so you whip up your compromise “meal in a box” for the kids and rush out the door to make your commitment…

However you used it, that  collection of seconds, minutes and hours was unique- it was yours to spend, and you will never get it back. Did you use it on things important to you?
Will you look back from your deathbed and see that as “time well spent?”

The Power of Clarification

Ask yourself:

-What is important to you?

-What do you need to be healthy and happy? (Family time, love, travel, financial security, your dream job, physical health…?)

-How many of your daily activities help support the things most important to you?

-How many move you closer to achieving your goals, to being a happier person?

You say you’ve been too busy to even set goals? hmmmm….. Sounds like a clear case of distraction.

Make a list… and check it twice!

Sit yourself down. No distractions. No leaping up to wash the dishes. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Really take the time you need. Write up a list of your mindless activities and (over)commitments, from checking your Facebook, to always saying ‘yes’ to every charity function and event that comes your way. How many of these activities contribute to your goals and well-being?

Now that you’re clear on your priorities, which activities need a strict cutoff time? Which should be cut completely? BE RUTHLESS.

If you can, consider removing the distraction completely. Take your apps off of cellular data access- you can’t use them except for on wifi. Get rid of the video games, get rid of your cable subscription and substitute your mindless TV watching for reading a good book or playing outside with your kids.

Moving On

So, next time you find yourself mindlessly hitting the refresh button on that Instagram feed to check how many likes you got this minute, take a deep breath, put down the phone and pick up your list of goals.

Next time someone asks you to commit to something, realize that they are asking you to sacrifice a part of your life to their goal… How important is it to you? Are you willing to pass up chunks of your and your loved ones lives to be a martyr this particular cause?

 

 

Breathe in the Sunset

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Want to know one practice that has made a major difference in my life and lowered my stress by half?

Ready for it?

BREATHING.

No, not just any kind of breathing, but regular, brief bouts of deep, thoughtful, belly-breathing. The kind of breathing that expands your lower abdomen into a mini-impression of a happy buddha belly, while leaving your overworked chest to take a break from breath production. Your abs take on the work, expanding outward into a deliberate pooch as you slowly suck in massive quantities of much needed oxygen, then gradually tightening and contracting to exhale those last vestiges of CO2…

Health benefits of deep breathing:

Turns out that simply five minutes a day of belly breathing, broken up into one minute segments can be a real miracle! This deep, considered breathing actually resets your nervous system from your typically harried scamper into a parasympathetic (read: relaxed) state. (If you want to go into more detail, I suggest you check out the whole technique and its context over at Steve Barnes’ blog. )

Reset your Stress!

Guess what? Resetting your stress with belly breathing can be vitally important for your health. Among many other things, people under stress tend to:

be more forgetful about past knowledge, and unable to commit new ideas to memory (feel like working towards early dementia?)

be more likely choose bad foods, be cranky and make bad decisions due to poor blood brought on by cortisol and insulin spikes. (Junk food noshing, moody, impulsive shopping anyone?)

use up key nutrients at an alarming rate.  If your body thinks a tiger is chasing you, it’s going to put itself into overdrive- it can’t tell that it’s just your reaction to your 3 year old screaming for Flaming Cheetos for the thousandth time.

Under extended or extreme stress your body can use up vital nutrients like magnesium, zinc and B vitamins at an alarming rate- anywhere from 2-300 times your usual expenditure (reference to come.) Yowza! So even if you are eating what you think is a good, nutrient dense diet, you may be worse off than the guy down the street eating McDonalds if you can’t get a handle on runaway stress.

On the plus side, implementing deep breathing is one of the simplest steps you can take to help short circuit this dastardly loop. It may not solve everything, but it’s a great start that can help you get a toehold into choosing other positive behaviors.

How I Fit it in to My Life:
Let’s be honest, if you’re already stressed, you’re not going to remember to stop and breathe in the middle of the last minute deadline dash at work. I set a recurring alarm on my phone spaced out regularly through my day to help remind me.

The alarm goes off and I take that minute to breathe… and this is critical folks-

I do it even if I don’t think I need it!! (We are building a pattern here people!)

Set yourself up for anti-stress success:

Do what you need to keep up your consistent dedication to deep breathing practice. Build it into your life, make it easy for yourself with alarms, notes, visual and location triggers (every time you walk past the water cooler…?) to reap major rewards.

As you form the habit, you will eventually catch yourself unconsciously using your deep breathing more and more throughout the day- without even needing an alarm, resetting your nervous system any time you need it…

Major win!

After the Fire

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Amongst the charred remains of once tall trees and the blackened, barren mountain slopes there is already hope of rebirth. In the years that will follow, the burn scars will slowly fade. In the blackened earth, grasses and wildflowers will spring up from the ashes. Over time, tiny pine trees will take root and and stretch their limbs up towards the sun.

It’s so easy to look at the aftermath of the fire and only see loss and destruction. We often forget that with the pain and destruction of a fire, nature also offers the hope for cleansing and rebirth. At the same the Mountain Fire was destroying what we loved, it was it creating something new and beautiful, shaping the new forest to come.

Even as the flames crackled through the branches of our manzanita, cedars and pines, this new forest was already being born. Many tree species, like our native Coulter pine, have adapted to survive and even thrive after a forest fire. Their cones shelter seeds in shells that are so tough that only the intense heat of a fire can set them free. The Mountain Fire dumped millions of these seeds on the forest floor. In less than a month, a fraction of those will begin to germinate, pop their heads up through the soil and start growing into little seedlings.

Not only will the ashes of the old trees serve as Miracle-Gro for a crop of windflowers and hopeful pine seedlings, the clearing of the undergrowth will open up more nutrient and water resources for the older trees that remain, strengthening them. With the recent influx of cooling rain, our singed meadows and streams, have already slowly begun their recovery. Fire ecologists say these areas closest to water will be the first part of our high country to regain their full majesty.

Mother nature will do all this and more to not only restore, but to rejuvenate and re-imagine our forest into a beautiful new place. Fire is change, yes, but change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now that the imminent danger is over, our homes once again safe, it’s time to ask ourselves, “what can I do to help?”

1. Give it time to heal. We all want to get up there and see the damage, take stock of our losses. The urge is almost irrepressible- we are drawn like a bystander at a gruesome accident. But before you decide to sneak up for “just one look”, remember, this is a very fragile time for our high country.

The most critical long-term issue for a forest after a fire is erosion. Without plants to hold the soil in place, erosion can strip nutrients from the soil and make the earth too unstable to support new growth. The recent rains have already ravaged the burnt areas. Traveling this already fragile earth can do much more damage than you know.

Allow the forest time to heal, give it space that is needed to rebuild without excess foot and horse traffic that could degrade already fragile areas. “But, what harm could just one person do?” Well, not much, but you know it won’t be just one person that goes up. You could choose to make one less set of footprints to damage the soil.

2. Respect the Forest Service rules and timeline. Rest assured, they are not closing the Wilderness just to punish you. They set the rules in place to protect you and more importantly to protect the high country from overuse during this delicate time.

NOTE: Even after the flames are long extinguished, that does not mean that the danger for visitors to the high country has disappeared. Many charred trees are unstable, ready to fall, waiting for some impact to trigger their release. New holes and ruts hidden just below the surface from burnt out roots wait to twist unwary ankles.

3. Volunteer to help rebuild. Before the Wilderness can be re-opened the. Already severe erosion will need to be dealt with, damaged trails repaired, reinforced, possibly even rebuilt entirely. If you want to do something for the High Country you love, donate to, or volunteer to help with a trail maintenance program. The Forest Service Volunteer Association (FSVA), the California Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) have long worked to preserve our local trail system and they will need all the help and funding they can get in what promises to be a challenging year.

Eating for Hiking: How to Heal

Foods to help you heal for hiking

Why is it that some people seem to bounce back and be ready for another day of hiking right away, while others may well be limping around in misery for days afterwards?

UNDERSTANDING HEALING:

Any strenuous activity like hiking is going to cause some damage to the body. This damage causes inflammation that kicks off the cycle of cellular repair, rebuilding your body so you can carry more, hike longer and faster. This is a process exercise scientists refer to as hormesis. It may not make you into the bionic (wo)man- but it can come pretty close! But, what happens when something goes wrong with this healing process?

OBSTACLES TO HEALING

Nutrient deficiency: Your system is short on the right nutrients to repair itself properly so it stays inflamed for an extended period and takes a long time to finish healing.

Nutrient imbalance: Imbalances in certain nutrients can cause your body to be unable to turn the inflammatory process off.

Food sensitivity: Hidden food allergies and sensitivities may be setting off your immune system and unnecessarily kicking off the inflammatory process.

Each of these things can contribute to chronic pain and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, muscle and joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and more, none of which make for good hiking (or much fun in general).

WHAT TO DO?

What you eat day to day off trail can determine how you feel on trail. Here’s a quick overview of foods to help your body control inflammation and repair itself to tackle another tough day.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods:

Choose wild and grass fed meats: Just as you are what you eat, animals are made up of what they eat. Certain types of fats in your food help calm inflammation (omega 3s) while others will promote it (omega 6s). Having the correct balance of these fats is critical to controlling painful inflammation and healing properly.

Nowadays conventionally raised beef is fed corn high in omega-6 fatty acids. This inflammatory fat becomes part of the meat. In comparison, grass-fed animals have naturally low omega-6 levels and far more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Wild cold water fish such as salmon and sardines, are high in omega 3s used by the body to calm inflammation. Conventionally farmed salmon typically lacks these benefits.

Eat your Veggies! Yup, you’ve heard it before, but you should “eat the rainbow”. Colorful veggies, plentiful servings of leafy greens and moderate fruit intake provide nutrients and anti-oxidants necessary to reduce inflammation and help you heal quickly.

2. Avoid inflammatory foods These foods are generally highly inflammatory and will cause you far more pain than they’re worth in the long run:

Avoid highly processed oils. Your corn oil, sunflower oil, ‘vegetable’ oils and yes, even “heart healthy” margarine are usually highly processed with heat, pressure and some pretty nasty industrial solvents. Touted as ‘healthy’ before scientists understood the importance of Omega 3 to 6 balance, they are high in chemically reactive Omega 6 fats easily damaged by the heat used for cooking, making them even more damaging for your body.

Avoid highly processed ‘foods’. In the words of Jack LaLanne: “If man makes it, don’t eat it”. While this might be a bit extreme, I’d recommend you take a look at the back of your packages with a skeptical eye. Most packaged foods are packed with inflammatory ingredients designed to make them addictive and/or shelf stable. These will only worsen your aches and pains on the trail: HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), trans and hydrogenated fats (linked to heart disease and diabetes), omega 6 oils and more.

3. Address common nutrient deficiencies Veggies and leafy greens are high in critical nutrients and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Magnesium in particular has strong anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and pain reducing effects, helps the body produce energy and has been shown to be unfortunately deficient in many people eating the Standard American Diet.

4. Discover hidden food sensitivities which may be setting off your immune system and causing inflammation. If you have unexplained chronic joint pain, or an autoimmune condition it’s worth it to try an elimination diet to see if it reduces your symptoms. It’s more common than you think, but can be tricky to figure out, since symptoms can show up in any system of the body from the skin to brain (migraines anyone?) and can be delayed up to 36 hours. The most common sensitivities are to wheat, cow’s milk, soy, and nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes).

None of these steps are a magic bullet. They won’t immediately get rid of your aches, but as your body includes more and more quality building materials you will be in better shape for tackling a long day on the trail.

Health Rules: Eat in Context

Jack LaLanne said: “If man made it, don’t eat it!” Looking at the average state of health in the nation, Jack just might have been right.

Your body is designed to absorb nutrients in the form they commonly appear in food: as a network of intertwined molecules, often providing much of what we need to absorb and use the nutrients as part of the whole package. Modern “food science” treats forgets this critical interdependency and treats these nutrients as individual, interchangeable parts, isolating, concentrating, and otherwise altering substances out of our food until they barely deserve the title of nutrients.

This modern industrialization of food has created a situation where we often take in these nutrients out of context. They are eaten without the cofactor nutrients necessary for their absorption, and in huge amounts that never would have occurred in nature. This creates imbalances in the body that contribute to the rise of many modern diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more.

So, how do we bring our own food consumption back into a more healthful, natural context? Here’s a few guidelines to help you choose your food.

1.”If it has a label it stays off my table”. If it has a box, bag or a label and contains multiple ingredients, minimize/avoid it in your diet. Your body will thank you

2. Put down that processed oil! Man-made and highly processed modern oils are often extracted under high heat and pressure with toxic industrial solvents like hexane, and must be bleached and deodorized in order to become sellable (think of them as ‘rancid’). With high levels of Omega 6 fats, these oils tend to be very inflammatory and have been shown to have strong links with the development of diabetes and heart disease.

Example: Margarine, corn and many canola and vegetable oils are NOT healthy, despite claims to the contrary. Excess omega 6 fats and Trans-fats, particularly oxidized (damaged) ones have been strongly linked with increased risks of chronic pain, inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

3. Ditch the processed starches. careful with foods that convert quickly to sugar: breads, pastas and foods with “starch” on the label (corn starch, tapioca starch, etc) and foods made with flour. Since theses foods have all been highly processed and ground into small particles (normally the work of your stomach), they don’t take very much work for your body to break down and convert very quickly to sugar. Look at the G.I. (Glycemic index– a rate of how fast foods convert to sugar) of even whole wheat bread- it converts to pure sugar in less time than a snickers bar!

4. Table Salt is not Salt! Despite what the label in the grocery store says, Sodium and salt are not the same thing. What we commonly call ‘table salt’ has become a mix of chemically extracted pure sodium and aluminum anti-caking agents. True high quality sea salts naturally contain a blend of minerals that provide the sodium the body needs while maintaining proper mineral balance. Many new studies on hypertension are pointing towards not excess sodium as the culprit in hypertension (high blood pressure) but too little of other critical minerals: magnesium, calcium and potassium.

5. Remove the ‘added sugars’. Many foods contain HFCS (High fructose corn syrup) or other sweeteners. While small amounts may be just fine, we Americans rarely eat sugar in truly moderate amounts.

Consider: the human body on average keeps only about 8 grams (1tsp) of sugar at any time in your blood stream. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugar- and for a 2000 kcal diet, one can of coke already exceeds that.

A typical Coke has 41 grams (10 tsp sugar), and even a “healthy” Yoplait yogurt has a whopping 27 grams (6 3/4 tsp). If you’d like to see how much sugar this is, get out a teaspoon and measure it into a glass for a big surprise!

In normal physiological amounts fructose, sodium and omega 6 fats all have a vital role to play in our health. But the industrial level concentration of these (and other) nutrients is overwhelming to our systems and can greatly interfere with the dynamic homeostasis of our bodies and lead to looming health problems down the road.

(In)convenient

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“Oh you poor girl… that must be so inconvenient.”

Convenience is something that we often shape our lives around. We take on so many things, we fill our days so much that we give ourselves a free pass when it comes to “the little conveniences” of life. It’s so easy to give in and just grab a quick dinner at the fast food joint, to pop something in the microwave, to order in for a sizzling hot cheesy pizza.

Two years ago, when I got my lab results back, I finally had to stop giving myself the free pass to all these “little conveniences”. Celiac (an immune reaction to a protein in wheat), in all of it’s inconveniences, has made me really think about my food, and my life, in a new way. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the quality of my food, where it comes from and how my body will use or be abused by it. Believe me, when an unknown food may make you sick for hours, days, or even weeks you learn to examine every bite with the care of a monk painting a holy script on a grain of rice.

Celiac is a unique gift. It has made me conscious of the many ways we view food- as pure fuel, as sumptuous pleasure and, in extreme cases, as a matter of life and death. I’ve learned to see food that is safe to eat not as a simple convenience, but as a goal to be striven for and invested in daily. Good tasting food that will nourish and not poison is not necessarily a given (for anyone).

Learning the rules for a celiac to healthy (not just safe) eating is a spotty process full of mistakes, setbacks and not a little bit of pain along the way. Trusting food made by others, with multiple ingredients is sketchy at best (beware potlucks!). “If it has a label it stays off my table” has been a good rule of thumb for me, a rule that has taken me solidly out of the realm of processed “convenience” foods. Yes, there are boxed gluten-free foods- but after examining the labels I can firmly say that gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy!

I cook mostly at home, or eat at a few trusted local restaurants where they know my needs. I almost always use whole food ingredients: tomatoes, peppers, greens, local pastured meats and eggs. I’ve even branched out and experimented with new foods I would have never considered before; tacos de lengua (tongue), liver, sweetbreads, herring, kombucha, new vegetables and greens… The list goes on.

Meals take longer to prepare now, are more “inconvenient”, but something interesting has been happening over the past two years. With less exercise and eating as much as I want I’ve lost over 25 lbs and increased my muscle mass dramatically. I’m never sick, rarely tired and my moods have evened out. My friends have all commented on the changes. I have a lot more mental and emotional clarity about what I want and the determination and patience to do what it takes to get there. I get more done in much less time.

Looking back to 2 decades ago I’m astonished. I’m far stronger, healthier, happier, and hopefully (I think) wiser than my twenty year old self. Yes, if you want to know, I think I could kick my twenty year old self’s butt in a race, hands down.

So is my lifestyle inconvenient? You be the judge.

Run Away From Your Problems

Exercise and stress

A tightening in my throat,

‘Put down the plate.’

‘Don’t break anything don’t break anything’

Go for a run. A sprint… let it out, breathe through the tightening throat until it loosens, push the quads up the steep slope till you can only think about what you have to do right now, not worry about what was or is or might be…

Turn it all off and just run.

Let me go…. Let me run.

My cousin is sick. Very sick with something that in her case won’t get better and probably will get worse. I just got news that she’s in the hospital again. I have a similar condition, but I’m in remission. I’m a nutritionist, I’m a trainer with a passion for medicine and health, I make things better, I’m a healer. But I can’t heal this. I can’t make it go away. And as I watch her waste away I feel hurt and powerless… and it just adds to the baseline. I’m worried about my family- the stresses of my brother’s life, my aging parents’ health, my own health that I’ve just reclaimed. Sometimes it gets to be too much and I need to run.

Walk in the door, drop down my keys on the counter. I’m fine, I’m in control… I’ll work through this’… The heavy red keychain clanks on the thick oak. The sound breaks something in me. Suddenly I’m crying.

Bawling and gasping.

Standing there in the kitchen. I pick up and manage to put down in quick succession: my favorite red flower plate, my handmade acorn mug, a drinking glass…. “Don’t break anything, don’t break anything.” I must be angry under all of this crying, because the urge to break something is almost undeniable.

“Go for a run, girl. Go for a run. You’re ok, you just need a run. You’ll be ok. You’ll be ok.” Keep repeating it as I shimmy into my running pants, shrug on a sweater and my Merrells and beeline for the front door, barely closing it behind me.

Icy air bites my face. I wedge my headphones into my ears, take large strides to clear the end of the driveway and swing right to take on the steep street. Crank the volume up and jump forward to a song with an aggressive beat that takes me up the hill and away.

Run Away.

It turns out that ‘running away” from your problems is not a problem. I used to think that there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t just “think it out”. But guess what? We’re not made that way! We are made to move- and there’s nothing wrong with using physical activity to deal with stress- in fact it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Exercise is one of the best to ways to clear the mind. According to researchers (and a lot of people like me) it’s a great and natural way of dealing with anxiety. Recently scientists have started to pin down exactly how exercise works to help us cope by disrupting the various feedback loops that worsen the effects of stress.

Anxiety Feedback loops

“The mind is so powerful that we can set off the [stress] response just by imagining ourselves in a threatening situation,” relates neuroscientist Bruce McEwen in his book ‘The End of Stress as We Know It’. So, the more we think out our stress, we literally make it more real and threatening to us and make our response to it worse and worse. Thanks, real nice catch 22.

By providing something else to focus on, exercise short circuits this nasty loop before you work yourself into a frenzy… And here’s the news flash- If you can work yourself into a frenzy, you can run (or hike or bike) yourself out of it. Just as your mind influences your body, your body affects your mind.

How it works: made to move.

In order for your mind and body to be optimally functioning, you need to move. Staying still and dwelling on it will just make matters worse:

“Researchers immobilize rats in order to study stress. In people too, if you’re locked down — literally or figuratively — you’ll feel more anxious. People who are anxious tend to immobilize themselves — balling up in a fetal position or just finding a safe spot to hide from the world…in a sense any form of anxiety feels like a trap. The opposite of that, and the treatment, is taking action, going out and exploring, moving through the environment.” Sparking Life

Tense muscles? You need to get out and go. Physical activity (especially short bursts of intense activity) reduces the resting tension in your muscles. This disrupts a nasty anxiety feedback loop between your muscles and brain. If your muscles are tight, you are much more likely to be anxious- and vice versa. If your body is calm, your brain is less likely to spiral into worry.

Exercise also produces calming neurochemical changes. As our muscles begin working, it sets a process in motion that makes more tryptophan available to our brains. More tryptophan = more serotonin. This helps to calm us down and enhance our sense of safety. Heart muscle cells chip in and produce a molecule called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) that puts the brakes on the stress response. Trust me, this is a good thing for your overall mood.

The best thing is, exercise works both immediately as a quick shot in the arm and increases stores of serotonin, GABA (the main target for most of our antianxiety medicines) and norepinephrine in the long term. In fact, research reveals that it’s at least as effective as anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications without the side effects. Sparking Life

So, when you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a run, hike, or even a swim, you are.