The Mind-Body SHIFT

Nourishing the Body, Feeding the Mind, Nurturing the Soul


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Connecticut runner moves beyond tragic event to train for 2014 Boston Marathon

Connecticut runner competes in Boston MarathonAfter a lifetime of imagining the day, West Hartford native Elizabeth Lynch was awed as she stood at the starting line, ready to compete in her first Boston Marathon last year. Ever since she watched her mother first run the race when Lynch was 7, she dreamed of the day she too would tackle the route. At 15, she sprinted Heartbreak Hill with her older brother as he ran the marathon. Then in 2013, at age 22, her nearly lifelong dream came true.

“Last year when I walked to the starting line with my mom and brother, I couldn’t believe I was there,” Lynch said. “For 26.2 miles I felt like part of the Boston Marathon family. It was better than any dream.”

 In The Aftermath of An Unanticipated Tragedy

Her older brother met Lynch at the finish line, but within minutes the race was forgotten, she said. It was then that the unfathomable happened—two pressure cooker bombs exploding during the marathon, killing three and injuring approximately 264 others.

“I couldn’t understand how a bomb could go off at the Boston Marathon,” Lynch said. “And as I realized that it was real, I was completely terrified by the sheer violence and destruction at such an innocent event, and my own helplessness and inability to protect or help anyone.”

Her brother was able to find their mother less than a mile from the finish line. Lynch’s best friend, also running the marathon, was out of contact for about three hours.

After the bombing, Lynch could not immediately feel any of happiness, excitement or satisfaction of fulfilling her dream. “It was almost like the race itself, and anything I felt during it, hadn’t really happened,” she said. “All I could think about or remember was the aftermath.”

Then, Lynch felt the solidarity and sense of community among the other runners and spectators at her hotel. She was buoyed by the generosity of strangers looking out for strangers. Numerous friends allowed her talk about that day, which helped her heal.

Celebrating the Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream

Eventually after talking about the race enough times, ripples of good memories from the marathon began to filter back into her mind. She realized she wanted to celebrate and enjoy the accomplishment of her dream.

“It was also great to have my Mom and brother helping me work through it, she said. “They helped me to realize that it was okay to feel proud and it was okay to be happy about the race instead of just feeling guilty about it.”

While last year’s race was not Lynch’s first marathon, it was her first Boston Marathon. Ever since she was 7 years old, she watched relatives and friends running the marathon every year. She and her brother were the little kids on the curb along the marathon route banging pans together and cheering until we were hoarse, she recalled.

After her older brother graduated, he too began running marathons, participating in his first Boston Marathon when Lynch was in high school.

“I have the most vivid memory of running up Heartbreak Hill with him because that is where we were cheering for him. He was so fast even at mile 18 that he beat me up the hill! And now I am finally following in their footsteps and running the Boston marathon with them,” she said.

“To step up to the starting line, to be one of the runners instead of the little kid on the sideline was surreal,” Lynch said. “I had become the person I wanted to be. I was a Boston Marathon runner. And to start with my mother, the very person who inspired me the first time I saw Boston was the most beautiful experience.”

Lynch says she felt she was running through her hometown during the entire race. People whom she did not even know were excited as she ran by.

“That is what I love most about marathons. For one day, for 30 seconds when I run by a stranger, they cheer for me like I am their sister or cousin,” she said. “Every one comes together to support each other. Boston is the epitome of community support. The only feelings I remember during the race were happiness, sheer happiness—and really sore legs at the end.”

The Family Legacy Of A Love For Running

Her aunt started the family tradition of running the Boston marathon, and Lynch’s family always went to cheer her run. When her mother turned 40, she decided to start running marathons. Her mother has been running the Boston marathon ever since Lynch was 7. “She has been a marathon machine ever since,” she said.

Lynch’s already strong relationship with her brother, now 29, grew even closer when she started running with him. “The time we used to spend playing around in the back yard together we now spend running and catching up on each other’s lives.”

Running is Lynch’s main sport, but she enjoys most athletic activities. In addition to running indoor and outdoor track in high school, she played field hockey. In college she was on the Marathon team at the University of North Carolina for four years.

“I also love swimming and hiking too,” she said. “Basically anything that lets me be outside!”

Lynch enjoys cross training, so she doesn’t run every day. “I usually run 5 days a week and do cardio cross training on the other days, or take the day off,” she said. “I am a strong believer in the importance of letting your body rest and recover so I take that seriously during my training!”

She typically goes on 5- to 7-mile runs, with one long run per week. “Depending on where I am in my training schedule the long run will be between 12 to 22 miles,” she said.

She does not listen to music or bring her phone. “I just let me thoughts wander wherever they go when I am running and that distracts me so much I don’t even notice how long the run is,” she said. “It is the only time I really feel free to disconnect from everything else and just be with myself. That is all I need to get through a run!”

Lynch loves training in her childhood hometown of West Hartford, Conn. Long runs take her by favorite neighborhoods and all the schools she attended as a child, which makes the exercise more enjoyable. “It reminds me of the days when we used to run laps around the soccer fields for the mile test in gym class,” she said. “It is amazing how much I have changed since then and yet still love running just as much!”

Training for a Marathon

The 2014 Boston Marathon takes place next Monday, April 21, on Patriot’s Day. Lynch said that training for any marathon requires as much mental preparation as it does physical preparation.

“I can tell when I am thinking negative thoughts that the run is harder,” she said. “I really just have to convince myself that I can do it, that I will make it through no matter what. Once I believe that inside I don’t let any negative thoughts or doubts creep in—or I try not to, at least. If I tell myself I can do it, if I mentally prepare myself to succeed, then the run is always easier!”

Marathon runners must train with discipline and commitment. “I like the structure and buildup of training because you can feel yourself getting stronger and making progress and that is a great feeling,” said Lynch.

She admits there are days when a marathoner doesn’t want to run or wishes she didn’t have to wake up early and do a 20-mile run in the cold. “But the day of the race, and crossing the finish line, make all those hard days worth it. The payoff is incredible,” she said.

For last year’s Boston Marathon, Lynch was an undergrad at UNC and was training with its Marathon Team. She had people to run with most days of the week, which definitely helped motivate her. Without the UNC Marathon Team, her runs are more solitary.

Helping to fill the gap of losing her Marathon Team camaraderie, this year Lynch will run the Boston Marathon as a member of Team Stonyfield. Her story about living through the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon and her fight to keep her spirit strong won her entry to an already sold-out marathon from New England-based company, Stonyfield Organic, the official yogurt sponsor of the race. Due to her winning entry, Lynch has also been receiving training tips from Team Stonyfield coach and nutritionist Heather Bauer.

“I am so excited to be running [the marathon] for Stonyfield Organic yogurt—another childhood staple for me—and with my Mom and brother again that I feel very motivated,” said Lynch. “I am reading Heather Bauer’s blog posts and am learning a lot more about healthy nutrition as I gear up for the race!”

She shares her training diet, which is much like her regular diet. “I try to eat a lot more protein after long runs to help my muscles recover and get nice and strong!” she said. “I can’t eat dairy any time before running, but I love to have a Stonyfield Organic Greek yogurt as a high-protein recovery snack for a regular run—and ice cream after my long runs—as a reward!”

Before every marathon, she eats a bagel with peanut butter and half of a banana for breakfast. “I get very nervous if I don’t eat that exact meal,” she said. Lynch also stays very hydrated by drinking water “all day, all the time.” She said she only has a few sips of Gatorade if she is feeling very dehydrated during a race.

For Lynch, training this year is a lot different from last year. “I have a much greater emotional investment and personal attachment to the Boston Marathon this year than I’ve ever had to any other race,” Lynch reveals. “That has helped make the training more meaningful and less of a challenge.”


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Cesar Chavez’s legacy lives on in fight for food system workers’ rights

Today, March 31, honors Cesar Chavez, the civil rights leader and labor organizer who grew up the son of migrant farm workers. As farm workers continued to face long hours, poor working conditions, low wages and the use of dangerous pesticides into the ‘60s, Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (now known as United Farm Workers union, UFW) with Dolores Huerta.

Chavez and this farm workers association helped to organize and lead “La Causa,” bringing migrant farm workers together to march, fast, participate in non-violent strikes for fair pay and treatment on the job.

In 1966, Chavez and the NFW drew national attention by leading a strike of grape pickers from California on a march to the state capitol in Sacramento to demand higher wages. All Americans were encouraged to stop purchasing and consuming table grapes in support. This boycott lasted for five years.

In the early ‘70s, the UFW organized the Salad Bowl strike, the largest farm worker strike ever in the U.S., to protest for (and eventually win) higher wages for those working for grape and lettuce growers. The UFW also helped pass the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which allowed farm workers the right to collectively bargain with an employer for wages, work hours, overtime and the processes to file grievances.

“(Farm workers) are involved in the planting and the cultivation and the harvesting of the greatest abundance of food known in this society. They bring in so much food to feed you and me and the whole country and enough food to export to other places,” said Chavez during his fight for farm workers’ rights in the 1960s, according to Food Bank. “The ironic thing and the tragic thing is that after they make this tremendous contribution, they don’t have any money or any food left for themselves.”

While there have been great strides in improved wages and more humane treatment of workers, there is still much to be done to improve the conditions of the working poor and immigrant labor.

“As we push to fix a broken immigration system, protect the right to unionize, advance social justice for young men of color, and build ladders of opportunity for every American to climb, we recall [Cesar’s] resilience through setbacks, his refusal to scale back his dreams,” President Barack Obama said in his proclamation for Cesar Chavez Day 2014.

(Obama’s “Yes, we can!” 2008 campaign phrase was, in fact, inspired by Chavez and Huerta’s slogan, “Sí se puede!” during a 25-day fast in 1972 to protest Arizona passing legislation that banned farm workers from boycotting and participating in strikes during harvest seasons. The Spanish phrase means, “Yes, it can be done.”)

“When we organize against income inequality and fight to raise the minimum wage — because no one who works full time should have to live in poverty — we draw strength from his vision and example,” said Obama.

Food Tank offers five critical ways to fight for the rights of workers in the food system and to continue Chavez’s legacy of working toward living wages, safe working conditions and safe food for all. This includes raising the minimum wage for all tipped workers, improving the safety and health standards at meat packing and processing facilities and giving fast food workers a living wage. Read more here.

One way you can get involved right now is to learn more about the issues farm workers face—while learning about Chavez and his life—by catching a screening of Cesar Chavez, released March 28. Look to your local theaters for screening times.


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Get kids to eat their greens by showing they are safe, not just tasty

Parents Who Eat Veggies Have kids Who eat veggies?

Recent studies appear to back what child nutrition experts have been saying all along—the secret to getting kids to eat their greens is to see their parents consuming vegetables as well. However, one reason for this seems to be significantly more complicated than young children simply modeling adults.

Yale psychological scientist Annie Wertz speculates it might be an evolutionary holdover from our early ancestors who relied on gathered plant sources for food, but had to exert caution determining which plants were safe to eat and which were toxic or deadly. Young children, thus, may still carry the biological wiring to be wary of plant food sources.

“Young children’s decisions about what to eat are, famously, not determined by simply copying adult behavior,” Wertz and co-author Karen Wynn note in the paper “Selective Social Learning of Plant Edibility in 6- and 18-Month-Old Infants” published in Psychological Science. Instead Wertz and Wynn hypothesized that children tend to be drawn to specific types of plants, but only after an adult does so.

To test this, Wertz and study co-author Karen Wynn performed four experiments with infants. Researchers observed 18-month olds to see how they distinguish between edible plants and ‘artifacts.’ Artifacts had the shape and texture of plants but did not look like real plants. Dried fruit hung from both the real and artificial plants.

“We predicted that human infants may possess selective social learning strategies that rapidly identify edible plants,” wrote Wertz and study co-author Karen Wynn in their paper “Thyme to touch: Infants possess strategies that protect them from dangers posed by plants,” published in the journal Cognition in January.

Studies Show Infants Eat What They Think is Edible and Safe

An experimenter took a fruit off each plant and pretended to eat it.  Then infants were offered a fruit by another experimenter and asked, “Which one can you eat?” Infants strongly preferred fruits from the real plant, even though they received the same social messages. However, if the fruit was placed behind the ear instead of the mouth, infants chose randomly. Even younger children, with no experience with solid food, also preferred real plants.

According to Psychological Science, because infants looked longer at the adults who placed fruit from the fake plants into their mouths, the fruit “violated their expectations for edibility.” Another test was done with the 18-month-olds, where experimenters simply looked at the plant, then artifact, with their hands at their sides and faces neutral, simply saying, “Hmm.” Another experimenter asked the infants which fruit could they eat. The children chose randomly.

A Huffington Post article reports that these findings suggest that, without a model for placing fruit in the mouth, infants “no longer identified the plant as a more likely food source.“ They rely specifically on social cues from adults.

According to Wertz, these experiments demonstrate that “infants use social information from adults to rapidly and selectively identify plants as food sources.” Instinctively, young children know not everything that goes into the mouth is considered food.

Infant ‘Thyme to Touch’

In their paper “Thyme to Touch,” Wertz and Wynn reported on a study observing how infants reacted to a variety of objects while sitting on their parent’s lap (whose eyes were closed shut). Six objects would be placed, one at a time, in front of the child, while the experimenter said, “Look what I’ve got.” Infants were timed for how long it took to grab the object.

On average, infants in these studies took five seconds longer to touch plants than other objects put in front of them. Fake plants also had a slow response time. Wertz and Wynn believe the reluctance may be a behavioral strategy, serving to protect them from the potential dangers of plants—not, as some suggest, that they are afraid of—or simply dislike—leafy greens. The scientists believe adults can reprogram this strategy by showing young children a particular plant is safe to eat or use for another purpose.

Social learning is just one section of the plate for children’s food education and development for what they like or don’t like to eat. However, Wetrz believes that the research findings showing infants propensity toward fruits from edible leafy green plants offers “strategies for getting young children interested in eating novel fruits and vegetables, such as taking them to a ‘pick-your-own’ fruits and vegetables farm.”

Educating Youth About Food and Agriculture

Last week, Sarah Small of Food Tank offered 10 additional ways families can educate youth about plants, nutritious food and agriculture in the UK’s The Telegraph:

  1. Read books about food—find books that teach children about where food comes from, who grows it, and which foods are both nutritious and delicious.
  2. Play games that teach food-related topics, then test your smarts with quizzes.
  3. Encourage farm-to-school and environment-based curricula in schools.
  4. Engage kids in community gardens and farms.
  5. Understand the importance of biodiversity, especially as it pertains agriculture and farming.
  6. Start a school campaign dedicated to food security issues.
  7. Start a family garden.
  8. Watch educational programs about the food system—how it works and who creates what.
  9. Involve kids in meal planning, including bringing them on family trips to farmers markets and grocery stories.
  10. Establish family meal times.

To read more about these ways to educate your children about food and healthy eating, visit 10 Ways to Teach Your Child to Eat Well at The Telegraph.


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Yoga Meets People With Movement Disorders Wherever You Are

Vrksasana, or Tree Pose

Vrksasana, or Tree Pose

Toward the end of 2013, I was looking for more tools to not only help me serve clients as a health coach, but to also become a part of my own healing regimen. I had studied and become certified as a holistic health coach, specializing in nutrition at IIN. I had studied as a women’s fitness specialist with NASM. I had even taking the first steps toward getting certified to teach various mind-body modalities that continued to help me and that I wanted to help teach and coach others in so that they could see the positive, healing effects from it as well. And then, I came across Lim Yoga.

But first, a little history: Yoga has interested me for many years, as a more health-focused approach to the skills and movements I first learned as a gymnast when I was a child. However, there were years where I was very limited in what I could do and how often I could do it, due to the autoimmune disease’s extreme chronic pain of the nerves and muscles, stiffness of the muscles and bones, and post-exercise malaise that just compounded the severe fatigue I felt daily. When I began to build my strength and endurance back again a couple years ago, to the point where I felt my healthiest in more than a decade, yoga began to really call to me again.

I began simply enough. I started doing the poses I knew, working along to Gaiam TV’s instruction yoga show Namaste Yoga, as I had done with my mother years prior, whenever I could muster the will and enough energy. I loved Canadian Kate Potter’s athleticism, strength and graceful flexibility.

Arm Balance Eka Pada Koundinyasana

Eka Pada Koundinyasana

Meeting Yoga Challenges With My Health Challenges

And then, I discovered Instagram. When you are curious enough, technology can be the most incredible tool and resource. Through this app, I found the most amazing yoga teachers/yoginis, not just across the United States, but also in different areas of the world. Some had their private practice that they shared with their followers—some of the most amazing athletes I’ve ever seen inspire and humble me daily. Perhaps even more fun to me, there were practitioners who got together to lead monthly challenges, which often featured poses that built on previous ones as the days of the month passed by. About two years ago, I began embarking on several yoga challenges each month.

Living with unpredictable autoimmune disease and then, with the even more unpredictable movement disorder called dystonia, there were days when I had to skip yoga challenges. There were days when I felt fantastic and could catch up on four or five days’ worth of several challenges. I tried everything! As a recovering athlete, I especially loved poses that relied heavily on body strength, but I soon learned to really enjoy challenging and improving my balance and flexibility as well.

Over time, as I felt my body once again becoming more limber, balanced and strong in new ways, I allowed the little seed of a dream to bloom into the full-fledged goal to one day teach yoga.

Unfortunately, when you have something like dystonia, there are some days you cannot stand up without falling down, much less try to hold a yoga pose for longer than a couple breaths. During these times, trying to invert the body inevitably will lead to falling—fortunately, gymnastics taught me to be an excellent roller when I fall. When the body is already contorting without abandon, twisting poses like Half Lord of the Fishes Pose and Bharadvaja’s Twist can actually cause more contraction of the muscles for a longer period of time and thus, increase pain and muscle fatigue.

Yet, there are many poses—like upward salute, downward dog, tree pose and mermaid—that ground me, even when I may be having trouble with balance or strength.

Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose

Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose

Finding Control on the Yoga Mat

There are days when I feel like it is only on the yoga mat where I have any control of my muscles at all. Off the mat, I have no control if my head twists to the left, if my mouth contorts, if my legs start dancing, if the muscles around my ribs and hips start twisting horizontally or my arms curl up into fists. On the yoga mat, I am purposefully placing my body in certain poses. If I am moving my body into the full body stretch and more gentle twist of Gomukhasana, I am doing so for a specific reason. When I release the pose, I control when and how I untwist, breathing with control. When I am move to put my weight on a leg, I am controlling the shift in balance, not some unknown force.

There are days when that control is missing completely. But the days where I can help steer, they give me hope and joy for that day, no matter how short (or long) my time on the mat may be.

Toward the end of last year, I was surfing Google, looking for information on yoga and movement disorders. I wanted to learn more about which poses were specifically contraindicated to this misfire of the central nervous system. My massage therapist had felt unease doing cranio-sacral release after my diagnosis of dystonia, worrying she could be causing more damage. My neurologist and my boyfriend both had expressed concerns that there was a link between certain intense workout sessions and increased irregular muscle movements and the clenches and freezes. I was signed up for a training course specifically for tai chi and movement disorders—surely someone must have done research into yoga and movement disorders as well.

And then I came across Lim Yoga: Yoga for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders with Renée Le Verrier (great name, by the way). Just looking at her website gave me hope. I put her book, Yoga for Movement Disorders, and its accompanying DVD on my Amazon wish list. At Christmas, I was extremely excited to find it in my hands after some unwrapping.

Coming Back to Center With Yoga

Finding Center with Breath Control

Coming Back to Center With Breath

It wasn’t until this past week, however, that I finally began reading it. I didn’t realize that La Verrier was actually teaching from personal experience. Not only does she have Parkinson’s, she has lived most of her life with partially lost mobility after a very early stroke. As I read about her diagnosis, prognosis and yoga journey, I immediately felt a kindred spirit. While we had differences in our stories, we experienced very similar things from yoga.

Living with a movement disorder, you can become very self-conscious about your body, especially in front of others. You may judge yourself because your body won’t listen to what your mind is begging it to do. As a result, there is often an unhealthy relationship between the two. Yoga doesn’t stand for this. Yoga engenders compassion toward your body.

“I was learning to rest comfortably in the present, instead of worrying about the past or fretting about the future,” La Verrier writes about her beginning experiences with yoga. “Any body, I discovered, even one with Parkinson’s, can find that calm abiding place.”

In this centering place, she and I both find that we are in a state of sadness over losses due to disease with the past is behind us and we’re not worried or fearful of degeneration or new symptoms popping up in the future, because we are right here, right now on that mat.

Becoming more comfortable in your own skin again is one of the greatest gifts yoga can give to someone with a movement disorders. It not only physically strengthens you, helping to regain balance and some flexibility—it also builds inner strength. It helps you keep a calmer and more stable center. Bringing awareness to your body can help identify the sources of tightness, tension and spasm—breath can help us release.

Perhaps, right now, this is a rough hour (or couple hours or days), but I will ride it through, because I know better hours are ahead.

With Unpredictable Movement Disorders, Yoga Meets You Wherever You Are

La Verrier’s words are so encouraging, reinforcing what I know at the core to be true—that it’s totally okay to begin practice wherever you may be at the moment. Just because you can’t do an arm balance—or even stand on your legs one day—does not mean you cannot gain the benefits of yoga.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Forward fold in one-legged King Pigeon pose

“Adjust your yoga practice for where you are that day, even if that starting point bears no resemblance to yesterday’s starting point,” writes La Verrier. “Your body’s cues tell you when to modify a pose are try a variation.”

Pain, strained breath and fear of falling or some cues that signal when you should try variations. There are so many modifications—allowing you to do poses seated instead of standing, using props to relieve pressure or restore balance when your body is jolted out of alignment from spasms or muscle stiffness, using light weights of sandbags or rice sacks to help calm tremors and uncurl tight arms.

These modifications offer the benefits of strengthening and stretching without worry of falling or overdoing it, causing harm. Just a few moments in seated tadasana, or mountain pose—which guides body alignment and a more balanced gait—has lasting, energizing effects, La Verrier points out.

If you can’t do an hour-long practice, do 15 minutes. If you can’t stand, then sit. If you can’t do a forward fold, or bend, with straight legs, then gently bend your knees, with your quads engaged. If “all you can do” is focus on your breath, you are bringing attention and awareness to your body in a wholly different way then when you are simply reacting to symptoms. With each inhale and exhale, you are drawing in more air, releasing and relaxing tension in both the body and the mind.

La Verrier’s Lim Yoga is an excellent reminder for hindered athletes like me that you can be doing excellent things for your body without doing crazy acrobatics that will draw accolades (even if you’re just seeking your own). It is also reassuring for those of us, when bedbound and feeling completely overwhelmed by what we can’t do due to our cyclone of symptoms, to know there are simple movements we can do that have very positive and beneficial effects on both our body and spirit.


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Ode to the Wild Woman

I am a wildwoman

by Renée Canada/The Mind-Body Shift

I am a wild woman
I know, inspite of myself
and in spite of what I’ve been told
that there’s beauty in every age
no matter how old

I am a wild woman
I’ve learned what it means to be a life bearer*
to bear children
to create art
to plant seeds of love

I am a wild woman
from the depths of the dirt underneath my fingernails
to the height of my very soul
I am one with the Earth
the winds from the four directions whisper through my skin

I am a wild woman
and the spirit of every wild woman coalesces in me
for we are each wild women
and we are all the spirit of the wild woman
I will follow the voice in my heart

I am a wild woman
I sing from my heart
I dance with the stars
I howl at the moon
I love uncontrollably

I am a wild woman
from the deepest, darkest, most sacred part of me
I am fearless
I cry in strength
I open my arms to the sky and welcome the rain

I am a wild woman
I nurture, love and protect
I stand, strongly, silently, sweetly for my brothers
I walk dutifully, prayerfully, joyfully upon the mother
and I will not be stopped

I am a wild woman.

~ Melissa Clary (aka, Bright Star Woman)

*Not from firsthand perspective yet, for me!


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Sleep Deprived are Gaining Light But Losing Sleep to Daylight Saving Time

Losing Sleep to Daylight Savings TimeIn the wee hours of Sunday, March 9, it will be time to change the clocks once again. At 2 a.m. most of the states in the country spring ahead. While the morning birds—which I have miraculously become after a lifetime of being a night owl—lose an hour of light in the morning, we can all enjoy the extra hour of daylight in the evening. More sunlight boosts serotonin, our “happiness hormone,” which few would complain about. Unfortunately, Daylight Saving Time (DST) can wreak havoc on your health and sleep.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME EFFECTS ON HEALTH

“The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack,” said UAB Associate Professor Martin Young, Ph.D., in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease, in Science Daily. “The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.”

Young added, “Sleep deprivation, the body’s circadian clock and immune responses all can come into play when considering reasons that changing the time by an hour can be detrimental to someone’s health.”

Every cell in the body, including immune cells, has its own “clock,” Young said, to help it anticipate and prepare for something that is about to happen. “When there is a shift in one’s environment, such as springing forward, it takes a while for the cells to readjust,” he said. “When time moves forward, cell clocks are anticipating another hour to sleep that they won’t get, and the negative impact of the stress worsens; it has a much more detrimental effect on the body.”

Naturally, night owls have a more difficult time than morning birds with DST, especially when sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation, according to Young, can alter inflammatory response, which can contribute to a heart attack.

Sleep deprivation also increases production of the hormone ghrelin, which helps to regulate hunger. When ghrelin increases, so do cravings and the desire to eat more.

Less hours of sleep also means less time for the body to reenergize and recuperate from the day.

However, some feel that an hour time change is nothing to worry about.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION IN AMERICA

“One hour variation is not a big deal,” says Dr. Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and chief of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at Wayne State University, in TIME.com. “It’s not a major factor if you have healthy sleep habits; you have enough physiological reserve to make the adjustment.”

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have healthy sleep habits. According to the National Sleep Foundation, while 22 percent have trouble falling asleep every, or nearly every, night. Women are more likely to report insomnia than men. The older you are, the more likely you’ll report insomnia than younger folks.

We watch TV and use our smartphones in bed, instead of preserving it for sleep and hanky-panky—and maybe a short period of reading. We don’t go to bed at the same time every night. We have caffeine in the late afternoon and night. We drink too much alcohol. We eat heavy (and spicy) foods before bedtime. We stress over the day at bedtime instead of talking it over with a friend or loved one during the day or writing things out in a journal (or to-do list) in the daytime, or meditating to relax the mind before bedtime.

As a result, we get insufficient sleep and become less efficient at getting tasks done, make more errors and have less focus and more difficulty remembering things. We have difficulty managing our finances. We become more irritable and our quality of life drops immensely.

We also become riskier drivers. The National Department of Transportation estimates drowsy driving to be responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States.

Why do I say we? Well, it’s because I am one of the 22 percent who has nightly insomnia. I have onset insomnia, which means I have trouble falling sleep at all over the night. My chronic insomnia came around at the same time I began having constant pain and muscle spasms. Not being able to sleep rebounded on me, causing even more pain and spasm. It seemed a cycle I couldn’t break, until I found some help, through medication,  or preferably through Yoga Nidra.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. It is estimated that 50-70 million adults in this country suffer from sleep or wakefulness disorders. According to its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, those aged 18-24 and 64 and above were the most likely to unintentionally fall asleep during the day.

Regularly having trouble sleeping can cause depression and contribute to other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, as mentioned earlier, as well as fibromyalgia.

Many health organizations, including The National Institutes of Health, suggest adults need 7-8 hours to function normally. A sleep study in which I took part in a Sleep and Dreams class at Stanford revealed that some need more; for example, I found that I need at least 8.5 and sometimes 9 hours of sleep to feel and function my best. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) also found that those who sleep less than its recommended 7-9 hours had more difficulty performing many daily tasks, according to the CDC.

Some need more than 8 hours and some feel just fine getting 6 hours of rest. The number of hours people need to sleep to be at their best also usually changes as they get older.

TIPS FOR GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE

For those who don’t have a medical reason, like sleep apnea, for difficulty falling or staying asleep, practicing proper sleep hygiene may completely change your night.

Improve your sleep hygiene to cope with Daylight Savings time changeSleepRate, a company that works with Stanford to help people sleep better—working with you to create a personalized sleep improvement plan via your smartphone—offers a few tips for helping to improve your sleep hygiene to prepare for the DST time change:

1. Give yourself a bedtime. If you already feel sleep deprived, get a little extra sleep the night before the change to help minimize the effects of the time change. I also recommend you keep your bedtime and wake time consistent, with no more than an hour variance on the weekend.

2.  Thank goodness for the sunnier weather today in Connecticut. SleepRate also recommends you get your Vitamin D to quickly adapt to the change. On Sunday, soak up the morning’s sunlight to sync your inner clock with the new time. Try opening your blinds first thing Monday to jumpstart your exposure to natural light – it will help with alertness and brain activity.

3. Avoid alcohol: minimize potential sleep disruptors such as alcohol by avoiding it the night of the change. The CDC recommends avoiding nicotine outright. I also suggest you avoid caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime.

4. Mentally prepare yourself: Compare the time change to the kind of jet lag that you’d experience when traveling to a region one hour ahead. You might lose some sleep, but if you tend to clock seven to eight hours of sleep normally, you won’t feel as groggy as normally would when operating on six hours of sleep.

Time.com also suggests eating dinner an hour earlier on Saturday to help prepare you for the time change. Going to bed earlier on Sunday, when it feels like 11 p.m. but it’s actually 10 p.m., will help decrease feeling foggy on Monday morning. Young suggests also waking up earlier than you need to on Sunday, as well as eating a good-sized breakfast.

Exercise can be helpful as well, but should be performed at least four hours before bedtime.

“Doing all of this will help reset both the central, or master, clock in the brain that reacts to changes in light/dark cycles, and the peripheral clocks—the the ones everywhere else including the one in the heart—that react to food intake and physical activity,” said Young. “This will enable your body to naturally synch with the change in the environment, which may lessen your chance of adverse health issues on Monday.”

Find more tips for year-round healthy sleep at SleepRate.com.


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Plans Canned Due to the Greedy, Movement Monster Dystonia

Beating the movement disorder DystoniaIt turns out that today’s post is going to be a more personal one. Yesterday, the uncontrollable muscle movements returned after a pretty significant absence. Yes, it certainly is a pain in the neck (and face and legs). Yet I haven’t been as disheartened as frustrated.  So many plans have been canned due to the greedy movement monster: Dystonia.

Last night I couldn’t go to the book club I was eagerly looking to attend for weeks. Nor could I catch all buzz at the community meeting to create a town youth center. I won’t be attending my town’s big girls basketball game at home tonight. And my #VionicWalkabout has certainly been put on hold, as just walking around the house leads to falls.

Why the sudden reversal, one might ask? My suspicion is that my body just knew I was soon due for the infusion I’ve been getting every four months. I am technically supposed to start it next week, but due to some “issues,” it will be pushed off until later in the month—if I’m lucky.

My boyfriend said that I seem to have little regressions every time I change my dose in medication. In some cases, this is true. Yet I’ve been decreasing the dosage of prednisone I was on for an autoimmune flare-up every week for almost a month with no perceived ill effect. On Monday, I switched to the extended release version of my dystonia medicine, and it didn’t seem to last as long as taking the lower dose version three times a day.

Then, I woke up on Tuesday feeling like I’d severely pulled my trapezius muscle. I had excruciating pain turning my head in any direction. The next day, my neck was more mobile temporarily after doing yoga. Yet I developed severe head pain to accompany the muscle pain toward the end of the day. By Wednesday the pain was much more tolerable—when you have lived through what I have, constant pain is something you learn to almost ignore unless it’s acute and unusual in nature. I just felt like my shoulder blade and neck area were sore from too much exercise.  (No head pain today yet—knock on wood. Oh, and also no yoga, hmm…)

At the same time, I noticed that my jaw was starting to catch. Sometimes I would be trying to converse out loud and the minor spasm in my jaw would cause me to stutter. Yesterday, that worsened into occasionally forming unintelligible words on the telephone as my jaw locked. Today, I would get caught on one word and keep repeating it until I was out of the episode. I would type the wrong letters and words than what my brain was trying to convey. Usually I am fairly eloquent and a speedy writer, but my limbs are on delay.

Full-blown dystonic episodes began yesterday. I was washing dishes when it happened, and I felt my right leg bouncing uncontrollably as it tends to do before a fall.  Sometimes I can almost will away the potential onset of a fall, so I repeated “no, no, no” to myself, as if those words alone could stop it. But my body apparently ignored it as I fell to the ground. I won’t bore you with the rest of the episodes I’ve had in the past two days. To summarize, they stink.

Writing has been my lifeline, even though I’m not usually writing about myself anymore. It gives me purpose while I’m committed to the couch. Yet, certain loved ones seem to want to punish me because I am trying to create larger pockets where I don’t have to do anything at all and can just focus on rest and getting better again. You just can’t win.

Believe me, I know the perils of being a workaholic. I know how critical work/life balance is to all, especially to people with health struggles like mine. Sometimes I just need that slap in the face to remind me, I guess; even if it hurts.

Dystonia, you’re not staying long, so don’t get comfortable. I’ve got big, big plans for the year that you’re just not allowed to stop.

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