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Dr. McCarter's Spotlight on: Stillness and Reflection

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Take a moment to be still. Close your eyes or focus your gaze in front of you. Take a few slow, deep breathes, filling your belly and feeling your chest rise, filling your lungs breathing slowing in and out through your nose. How did that feel?

It is not uncommon to hear "there aren't enough hours in the day". We are constantly on the go often putting everyone and everything else first, including our health. We live in a society where we have become accustomed to doing more, or have fallen into a routine that does not include time for stillness and reflection. I have seen this manifest in patients as an inability to achieve certain health goals despite the feeling of working quite hard to do so. I have also of course, seen this manifest as increase stress, anxiety and insomnia, which have adverse effects on ones health. This has led many that I work with to feel frustrated and fall into habits and a lifestyle that lead them on a path of suboptimal health. 

Often when you hear that you should take a moment to be still and reflect, what comes to mind is meditation or writing in a journal, both of which are associated with taking up time-time that is perpetually in short supply. While journaling and meditation promote stillness and offer a time for reflection, it is not necessarily the case that they have to take up large chunks of time out of your day.  Considering the demands of work and tending to the needs of family, it is a real challenge for some to carve out 15-30 minutes to sit and meditate or journal. What about taking a few seconds either and the start or end of your day to simply breathe deeply? The start of this post began with taking seconds to be in still and take a few deeps breathes. It can be just that simple initially.

During "good" weeks, the beginning of this post is how I begin my day. Taking literally 2-3 minutes after shutting off my alarm to breathe deeply and think about the day that is ahead of me. When I am really on top of things, I take a bit more time to reflect on what I want to accomplish for that day, journal for 10-15 minutes or create my agenda/to-do list for the day and then begin with all of the things that need to be accomplished in the next 12-18 hours. On the days that I do this, I have observed that I feel less stressed throughout the day, I am significantly more productive and I am more calm at the end of the day. I go in and out of regular practice. I generally fall back into practice when I begin to notice, as I mentioned above that I am doing quite a bit but not getting very much done or, I am feeling increasingly and easily frustrated. These are my clues that I have not been taking time for stillness and reflection. 

In last week's blog post, I spoke on the importance of planning. What I did not mention is that your plan, be it toward better health or some other goal does not have to be grand in scale. We accomplish all tasks, however great or small, one day at a time. Begin with a plan for your day. Take a few minutes at the beginning or end of your day to sit in stillness, breathe and reflect on the day you have had or are going to have. On the days that you do this, be mindful of how this practice impacts your mood, stress levels and productivity throughout the day.

Once a regular practice, you may find that you want to take bigger steps toward better health. At that time, when a more robust plan is needed, come in to Northwest Wellness to see a Naturopathic physician that can support you in your health goals by working with you to create your personalized plan for wellness

Dr. McCarter's Spotlight on: The Menstrual Cycle Part II

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The relationship that some women have with their menstrual period can be tense. It is often preceded by stories of pain, inconvenience and accidents. Ideally, the menstrual period should be relatively uneventful. Meaning, it should not be marked by debilitating pain, extreme mood changes, or blood flow that is so heavy that it interferes with one's ability to complete their daily activities.

Let's talk a bit more about what I would define as atypical regarding the menstrual cycle and menstrual period. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there is a pretty wide range of what is considered normal with regard to the length of the menstrual cycle and menstrual period with ranges of 21-35 days and 2-7 days, respectively. In order to gain an understanding of what is normal for you as an individual, I highly recommend tracking your menstrual cycle and period for 3-6 months. This way, you will know what is normal for you rather than comparing your experience to that of someone else. This will allow you to become familiar with the subtle changes that can take place during this time, such as a minor difference in cycle length. Meaning, you may see that one month your cycle is 27 days and another month it is 29 days or 25 days. This is a minor change and no cause for concern and if you continue to track your cycle you will find out what your average cycle length tends to be give or take couple of days. You should be able to fairly accurately predict when your menstrual period will begin. What would be cause for concern would be if there were more drastic changes in your cycle length from one to the next, with one cycle at 23 days and the next at 33 days and another at 29 days. In other words, if, when asked, your response is " I never know, when my period will come", this may be a clue that it is time to speak with a physician. Also, regarding the length of your menstrual period, if you are actively bleeding in excess of 7 days and/or the amount of blood flow interferes with your ability to sleep at night or your ability to get through your work or school day, you should check in with your physician. Lastly, if you have severe menstrual cramps or mood changes that interfere with your ability to get through your work or school day, this is also an indication that you should check in with your physician. 

There are many ways that Naturopathic medicine can be helpful in managing the symptoms that you may be experiencing with your menstrual cycle and menstrual period and I would be happy to work with you!

Dr. McCarter's Spotlight on Sleep: Part II

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As I mentioned in my previous post, sleep is a key component for maintaining overall good health and a sense of well being. It is estimated that we spend roughly a third of our life sleeping. It is also estimated that approximately 35% of adults, for a variety of reasons, complain of insomnia when visiting their physician. With so much of our time devoted to sleep and a relatively high number of adults having difficulty falling or staying, sleeping, and understanding the adverse impact on health that poor sleep quality and short duration has on our health, this is a topic well worth exploring thoroughly. 

Yesterday we celebrated International Women's Day! This day, (acknowledged during Women's History Month), specifically highlights the achievement of women in all sectors of society.  Throughout the day yesterday I reflected on all the strong, accomplished, seemingly perpetually multitasking women that are in my life. While I am often in awe of all that they seem to get done in a relatively short period of time, I am also reminded of the adage, ""You can't pour from an empty cup".  My interpretation of this is that if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of others. Self-care is critical and is about far more than an occasional spa day. Getting the recommended amount of sleep is self-care! This is important for everyone but for women especially, particularly as we age. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases for women after menopause (natural or medically induced). The decrease in estrogen that accompanies this transition in a woman's life consequently decreases the cardio-protective effects of estrogen. Additionally, one of the most common complaints during this time of a woman's life is a newfound difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. 

Naturopathic medicine, botanical/herbal medicine specifically can be very effective in addressing insomnia in general and specifically when associated with menopause. I have some "go-to" herbs that I frequently recommend, alone in some instances, but most often in combination to address insomnia due to a variety of reasons. The list below is not meant to be comprehensive, in fact, I will just be starting with five herbs and I am highlighting one or two specific actions of the herbs below. All of the herbs have more actions than those that I have listed. 

Note: It is best to work with a licensed Naturopathic doctor or an herbalist as some herbs are not suitable for all and may interact with prescription medications. Additionally, many should be used with caution or avoided altogether during pregnancy and lactation.  There are also specific combinations that work well depending on what the underlies the cause of insomnia that is best to be explore with your licensed Naturopathic provider. 

Avena Sativa commonly referred to as Oats/Wild Oats: this is an herb that I like to use because it is nourishing to the nervous system, particularly when under stress. This is an herb that I would use in a blend particularly for someone that has been under long-term stress. 

Valeriana Officinalis (Valerian-root): This herb acts as a sedative and is a mild muscle relaxant. I would use this in a blend, particularly if there was sleeplessness due to anxiety.

Scuterllaria Lateriflora (Skullcap): This herb also acts as a sedative and is particularly useful in easing nervous tension, it also acts as a bit of a tonic for the central nervous system. This too would be used in a blend for someone that has long-term stress. 

Nepeta Cataria (Catnip): Yes, that catnip! This herb is a mild sedative and antispasmodic, so it can help to relieve muscle tension. 

Lavandual Angustifolia (Lavender): No list of relaxing herbs would be complete without mentioning lavender. Not only are Lavender flowers good for use internally, the volatile oils are great for diffusing. Lavender is a relaxing and is also antispasmodic in action. 

Why Should I Meditate?

Why Should I Meditate?

There are thousands of studies that support the benefits of meditation and the positive effects produced when it is practiced regularly.  If you have never meditated, the possibility of sitting quietly on a pillow for 30 minutes simply focusing on your breathing can seem daunting.  In this day and age, it is difficult to imagine not checking your phone, text messages, email or social media for 5 minutes!  The more you recognize yourself in that statement the more I would compel you to take some time to study this ancient practice and reap the many benefits available.  Here are just some of the many advantages offered by a daily meditation practice:

·         Decrease stress and anxiety

·         Better and more restful sleep

·         Clearer thinking and calmness

·         Improved memory and brain function

·         Decreased physical pain

·         More harmony in your relationships

·         Increased sense of happiness

·         Improved Mind-Body-Brain Integration

World-class athletes, top managers and world-class performers have all shown high levels of what’s called brain integration. This means that their brains are wired with strong connections between the different areas, they have heightened attention, and they’re able to think quickly to deal with problems. In addition to all of the benefits listed above, meditation is also the new key to success, as noted by U.S. neuroscientist Dr. Fred Travis.  A study from Harvard Medical School also demonstrated that meditation causes changes in brain waves that actually improve the brain’s functionality. 

For more information on the benefits of meditation please call Northwest Wellness in Federal Way, WA at 2539270660

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Reasons Why You Should Get A Massage

Top 10 Health Benefits of Massage

 

  1. Boost your immune system
  2. Relaxation; which in turn improves quality of sleep
  3. Reduce stress
  4. Reduce muscle tension and stiffness
  5. Increase range of motion
  6. Ease symptoms of depression
  7. Reduce occurrence of injuries (especially athletes)
  8. Relieve headaches and migraines
  9. Reduce chronic pain
  10. Lower blood pressure

 

While there rare instances when massage is not recommended or may need modifications (i.e. pregnancy, high blood pressure) there are still many benefits in receiving consistent treatment work. I recommend, in general, that individuals should receive a massage at the very least once a month. Twice a month is a great plan and will allow the benefits of massage to last longer.

How To Choose The Best Mattress For Your Spine

How To Choose The Best Mattress For Your Spine

One of the most frequent questions I receive from patients is how to select the best mattress for their spine.   These days’ mattresses can be quite sophisticated and expensive.  It is certainly worth your time to do your homework and to buy a mattress with a reasonable return policy should it not be the right fit.  When shopping for a new mattress keeps these things in mind:

·         Select a mattress that is medium firm.  Too hard will not for enough cushion for your soft tissue and too soft will not support your bones and joints.

·         Chose a medium cushion top to allow for comfort, cushioning and proper circulation.

·         Find a mattress with a high number of individually wrapped coils to provide support and allow for movement.

·         Replace your mattress at least every 10 years.

·         Consider your sleep position; either on your back with a pillow under your knees or on your side with a pillow between your knees.

·         Use the proper pillow that allows support to the cervical spine when lying on your back and keeps your head aligned with your spine when lying on your side.

·         You don’t have to break the bank to purchase a good mattress.  Be sure to shop for good quality, but not necessarily lots of bells, whistles or specialized electronics.

For more information on spinal health, posture and restful sleep contact Northwest Wellness in Federal Way at 2539270660

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Staying Fit Through The Holidays

Staying Fit Through The Holidays

For most of us it is difficult to fit in all the exercise we need and to eat with proper nutrition throughout the year.  The Holiday Season makes that even more challenging; shorter days with more hours of darkness, holiday parties and preparation with too little sleep and too many tasks to accomplish leave little time for exercise.  There is no question that my fitness levels drops this time of year.

In some ways I think that is OK.  I train hard through the year and feel that there are times where my body needs a rest.  As a result, I make proper rest and nutrition a higher priority rather than attempting to follow a strict workout plan.  Here are a few ideas to help get you through this holiday season:

·         Strive for 8 hours of sleep. This time of year it’s better to get that extra rest than wake up for an early workout.

·         Take an extra 10 minutes to do regular stretches throughout the day.

·         Walk as much as possible; take the stairs when you can.

·         Drink 8 glasses of water daily.  There are so many health benefits to this and it is important to keep hydrated with the cold weather and holiday parties.

·         Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and health proteins throughout the normal day.  Then you can indulge a bit on the sweets and treats at a holiday party.

·         Take 5 minutes daily to practice deep breathing to relive stress and increase oxygenation. 

·         Fit in your regular workouts when you can, even if they are for an abbreviated time.  A little exercise is better than none at all

Be sure to take time to enjoy the season and understand that there will be time in January to restart your program and maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the year.

For more information on health and fitness contact Northwest Wellness in Federal Way, WA at 2539270660.

 

 

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The Positive Effects of Music

The Positive Effects of Music

The way music affects our lives and our moods is pretty astonishing. You can hear a song and be instantly transported into a memory or listen to the lyrics and find yourself identifying with the words. Our attitudes can change instantly but how does music help with things like improved memory or immune system function?

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