I’m sure you have noticed the barrage of flu related news stories, Facebook posts, products and conversations lately. It’s been hard to miss. I spent some time thinking about “Cold and Flu Season” and wanted to share some of the simple action steps we can take to enhance our immune systems and reduce our susceptibility to illnesses such as cold/flu. I deliberately used the word simple rather than easy. Most of the things I am about to mention are very simple, but can prove to be much more challenging that we might think. I think that with a little awareness and an eye toward how good we can feel with a healthy, active lifestyle, it’s a challenge that we can all enjoy!
I don’t believe that there are germs and viruses that lay in hiding during the rest of the year and suddenly emerge from December to March with a vengeance… so what is it about this time of year that makes people sick? After thinking for a while about what is so different about this time of year that could predispose people to cold/flu I believe a big contributing component is “the holiday hangover”. Regardless of your ethnic and/or religious background and what holidays you choose to celebrate, many people spend more time than usual in celebration mode from November to January. Getting together to celebrate any uplifting holiday or message is a wonderful thing. A less wonderful thing is the cumulative result of eating much more sugar than usual, drinking more alcohol than usual, exercising less than usual, getting off of your normal sleep schedule, stressing about finances and family interaction… and the list goes on and on. If you have ever experienced illness after the “let down” of a big stressor (after exams in school, after your wedding, etc) you know what I’m talking about. The holidays can take a toll as a stressor in many ways… chemical, physical, mental/emotional. At this time of year, we have run our immune systems into the ground and then we are surprised when we get sick. While we can’t go back in time and change the choices we made this past holiday season, we can take steps to get back on track and to plan for future celebrations in a more mindful way.
Another element that can contribute to both decreased immunity and the winter blahs in this climate is Vitamin D levels. It has been a while since we have seen or felt the warmth of the sun. Many people have waning levels of Vitamin D at this time of year, so it is a good idea to see your primary care doctor to have you levels tested to determine the appropriate amount of supplementation (remembering that D3 is the more beneficial form).
To help feel your very best and to prevent all types of illness, start with the basics. Build a firm foundation on a whole foods diet that is heavy on vegetables (all colors) and includes healthy fat and protein sources (such as grass-fed beef, game, free range chicken, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, soy free eggs, etc). Have fruit as a dessert if you feel the need for some sweets. Eliminate or reduce tobacco products, other drugs, processed foods, alcohol, soft drinks, caffeine, refined grain products, soy and any other foods that you know don’t agree with you. Drink lots of water each day.
Spend time moving for at least 30 minutes per day. Walk, run, ski, yoga, CrossFit, Pilates, bike, dance, whatever feels good to you! Get up from sitting and move/stretch often… like at least once per hour of seated work!
Breathe! No… really breathe. If your mind or your body has forgotten what this means or what it really feels like, take a yoga or Pilates class with an instructor who will spend time reminding you, or contact me and I would be happy to work with you on breath retraining. Breathing well is one of the best, easiest and least expensive things we can do for ourselves and all it takes is a little practice and awareness. Better (more aware) breathing is my main physical goal for 2013. That’s how important I think breathing well is.
Seek out services that support your wellness journey. This will be a different and diverse mix for each individual. Let yourself try many services (bodywork, energy work, etc) and see what combination works best for you. Remember to include active care (the stuff you do for yourself like postural exercises/stretches, self massage, meditation, etc) in your bag of tricks.
Befriend your mind and allow it to be your ally in life, rather than your tormentor. You are the one person you will be with for your entire life. Decide what kind of person you want to spend your time with and be that friend to yourself.
Make time for restful activities and good quality and quantity sleep. Most of us know what this means and can follow through with intention. If you want more information about sleep hygiene, let me know and I would be happy to provide it for you.
There you have it. My list of ways to stay healthy during flu and cold season. While it isn’t all inclusive and it is a bit rambling, it is a great starting place for just about everyone (myself included). If you are looking for other ways to support your immune system check out the Flu Prevention and Care workshop held at Spark Wellness on January 26, 3:30-5pm (cost $35). A variety of wellness approaches to flu prevention and care will be presented.
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions. Please leave a comment sharing how you and your family are staying healthy this cold and flu season.
The idiomatic phrase “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree…” fits beautifully in the context of understanding why chiropractic care is important for children. Children experience physical, chemical and emotional stressors (just as adults do) and this can contribute to the development of the vertebral subluxation complex (possible combination of altered joint and nerve function, pain may be present). From the birth process to learning how to walk and falling on their bottom many times per day to falls from trees and off of bikes, an active child’s life is full of opportunities for physical trauma. If you have even seen an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos, you have a great visual list of potential reasons children could benefit from chiropractic care. While children are very resilient and can often “walk it off” when mild bumps and falls happen, if the underlying structural component is not addressed their body is merely compensating and developing a maladaptive pattern that the body will only cover for so long before symptoms begin to develop. Injuries sustained as children often present as symptomatic areas of degeneration or “wear and tear” in a person’s twenties, which is commonly when a person chooses to seek chiropractic care for the first time.
A common misconception is that chiropractic care for children looks the same as chiropractic care for adults. All of the techniques used are modified for the child’s specific stage of development and comfort. I am so happy to provide gentle, specific chiropractic care to little ones to help prevent their bodies from getting used to these poorly functioning joint segments and maladaptive compensatory patterns so that they have the best chance of not keeping these imbalances and misalignments as they age. While it would be silly to bring your child in to the chiropractor after every minor bump or fall (you might as well just move into the chiro office while they learn to walk), some key times to have your child’s spine checked by a chiropractor match up well with some major developmental milestones. Important times to be checked would be shortly after birth (stress to bones of skull, neck and possibly pelvis), after learning to hold his/her head up (stress to neck), after learning how to roll over (stress to transitional area between mid and low back), after learning how to sit independently (stress to low back and pelvis), after learning how to walk (stress to low back and pelvis), or after any falls or injuries where your child acts like it might have been significant (things to watch for include not resuming play immediately, reacting differently than normal, continuing to mention discomfort). At a minimum, it is prudent to have your child’s spine checked by a chiropractor at about 6 month to 1 year intervals (similarly to how you would take them in for a dental check-up). The longer a child lives with (and adapts to) the vertebral subluxation complex, the harder it will be to release that pattern… this is why periodic checks are important despite the fact that your three year old will most likely not hobble over to you and say “Mommy, my back just went out”.
Every person (including a child) experiences the richness of his/her life experiences through his/her nervous system, which is housed by the protective structures of the skull and spinal cord. There is an intimate relationship between structure and function in the human organism and the relationship between the skull and spinal cord with the nervous system components it protects is no exception. The changes to the nervous system cannot be predicted based on how the structure is altered (enough research does not presently exist to say “this issue will produce more activity here or less here), however any change from a neutral/typical form can be expected to produce a change in function. The changes that occur at the site of vertebral subluxation complex are many and the effect cannot be described simply as “a bone out of place puts pressure on a nerve”, because more often the situation is more subtle and complex than all that. The most compelling reason to provide chiropractic care for children is due to this relationship between form and function. The goal of a chiropractor working with kids it to allow them to grow and develop to their fullest capabilities without any interference to their nervous systems and how they perceive and interact with their world!
Besides being well versed in the detection and correction of vertebral subluxation complex, a chiropractor trained by the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association in working with the pediatric population can be a great resource for identifying the best options for baby carrying/wearing devices that support baby throughout development, general family health and wellness lifestyle information and other structural concerns such as appropriate backpack fit and style. For more information about chiropractic for kids, please check out the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association webpage.
If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know the importance of movement in your own life. That is one of the reasons why we all do what we do, right? Yoga, Pilates, Running, CrossFit, Biking, Dancing, you name it… it’s all good!
When we’re talking about spinal movement, it’s important to talk about whether we mean movement of the whole spine in total (global motion) or the motion taking place at each spinal joint (segmental motion). Both global and segmental spinal motions can include flexion (folding forward), extension (bending backward), lateral flexion (bending to the side) and rotation (turning) or a combination of these four motions, like extension + lateral flexion.
Often times, and in ideal conditions, global and segmental motions are one and the same (you flex your neck, dropping your chin to your chest and each of the vertebrae in your neck moves in flexion in the amount that it is supposed to… different segmental levels of the spine have different degrees of each range that are appropriate depending on their job, but that’s a discussion for another day).
Unfortunately, there are times when our joints become subluxated – or lose their ability to move through their full range of motion. How a joint becomes subluxated is definitely enough information to discuss in its own post, so I will save that for another time as well. For now, one way to think about a subluxation is to picture the specific joint in question as a door. In order to be a fully functioning door, a door needs to be able to completely open, completely close, and to gently glide through the entire range between open and closed. A “subluxated door” could look like a door that is closed, but won’t open… a door that is fully open and won’t close… or a door that is stuck in any range in between. Now we can talk about what happens when you have a joint that won’t move through its complete ranges of motion on a segmental level and what the consequences for that loss of motion can be.
Intervertebral Discs (IVDs) are the gel-like shock absorbing pads between the bodies of most of our vertebrae (I say “most” rather than “all” because as with all things in life, there are some exceptions and some segments don’t have discs between them). IVDs require movement during waking (upright) hours to maintain proper hydration. As we move, fluid is drawn into our discs in a process called imbibition, helping the discs to remain the squishy little shock absorbers that they are born to be. If we don’t move (especially for long periods of time… think sitting at a desk 8 hours/day), as we age our discs can become dry, inflexible and brittle, losing their lovely (and important) shock absorbing capacity. The overall takeaway message here is that decreased motion and decreased axial loading result in disc degeneration, and sadly, IVD degeneration begins as early as the second decade of life. This has huge implications for the amount of inactivity faced daily by kids, with their physical structure still developing.1
When a joint is not moving through its full range of motion, we still move our bodies through the same global ranges (golf swing, forward fold, swan dive, kettle bell swing, etc). So where, then, is the body compensating for this segmental loss of motion? At the joints above and below the fixed joint! When one motion segment (set of joints at a particular spinal level) is not able to move to its fullest capacity we don’t stop moving and we expect to be able to reach the same ranges… so the joints above and below the level of subluxation/fixation become “sloppy” or hypermobile to compensate for the stuck spot. These joints above and below become less stable and more prone to injury and the accompanying sensations of pain and discomfort as a result of having to pick up the slack again and again for their subluxated neighbor.2,3 It’s easy to see why professional athletes and people who really value the long term function of their bodies utilize chiropractic care to keep all their joints moving (people like Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice, Mary Lou Retton, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to name a few… even Kim Kardashian gets it – although we’ll get to talking about the “believe in” portion of her comment at some point on the blog).
The big take away message here is that fixation/subluxation at one motion segment can lead to degeneration of the IVD at that joint and hypermobility/destabilization at the joints above and below the fixed motion segment. This is why getting a good workout is not the same as getting adjusted… it is also why nothing is really the same as getting adjusted. SO, this is why the wonderful work I do is important… not just for back/neck pain or after a car accident or for “old people” (whatever that means)… but for everyone and anyone with a spine, who wants to age well and maintain function in their joints.
Chiropractors like me are uniquely trained to assess, detect and restore motion to individual joint segments in a controlled and specific way. There are many different techniques available and your preference in how you receive your chiropractic adjustment is unique and valid. From very light and gentle to more dynamic approaches, there is a style and a chiropractor for every person who would like to find one. I am committed to working with you to find your preference and to help get you moving again – both segmentally and globally. If you think I might be the right chiropractor for you, feel free to schedule an appointment with me at Spark Wellness online at www.sparkwellness.net, contact me via email at email@example.com, or call me at 612.321.6913.
Be Well and Take Care!
Martha DeSante DC, CYT
1Twomey L & Taylor JR. (1990). Structural and mechanical disc changes with age. J Manual Med, 5, 58-61.
2Kotani, Yoshihisa MD; Cunningham, Bryan W. MS; Cappuccino, Andrew MD; Kaneda, Kiyoshi MD; McAfee, Paul C MD (15 March 1998). The Effects of Spinal Fixation and Destabilization on the Biomechanical and Histologic Properties of Spinal Ligaments: An In Vivo Study. Spine, 23, 6, 672-682.
3Chou, Wen-Ying; Hsu, Chien-Jen; Chang, Wei-Ning; Wong, Chi-Yin. Adjacent segment degeneration after lumbar spinal posterolateral fusion with instrumentation in elderly patients. Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery, 122, 1, 39-43.
This past weekend I had the awesome pleasure of going to the first (soon to be annual) Bhakti Fest Midwest. It was a truly heart opening experience, as all in attendance practiced yoga, learned at workshops and experienced ecstatic chanting and dancing fun through kirtan. Whoo- hoo!! What a hot, sweaty, shiny liberating good time! For those of you not familiar with kirtan, it is the devotional practice of chanting the many names of the Divine and experiencing the love and divinity that always surrounds you in abundance when you dare to open your eyes and heart.
I say dare because it can be so very scary to live life with an open heart. If you are open to feeling and experiencing everything this life has to offer, there is a chance you will get hurt… and we all will sooner or later. Intense sensation is part of the human experience.
This weekend shook some things up in me and reminded me that yoga is so much more than the “blissed-out” sensation that can sometimes accompany the practice. Yoga is a tool for all the times in your life. Being a yogi/yogini does not mean that you must constantly maintain a state of serenity and detachment… this is not realistic for a long term state while operating as a householder in the wide world.
Being a yogi/yogini simply means that you allow your higher consciousness to bear witness to all of your experiences. Yoga teaches you tools to observe what shows up in your life on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels without passing judgement. Yoga lets you breathe into those observations and sit with whatever you find, rather than defaulting to whatever knee-jerk reaction patterns that may have held you in the past.
I have noticed for a while that before I teach a class I feel the need to put on the yoga teacher persona, the calm, chill act. While I am at many times both calm and chill, at many others I am goofy, silly, happy and very enthusiastically fired-up about shit that I love. Sometimes I say words like “shit,” too.
I have been fighting this battle with “vanilla” for as long as I can remember… the need to make myself more bland and palatable so as to be more widely accepted and to not offend. While there is nothing wrong with vanilla (if that is your natural resonance), there is something that feels very wrong with continually trying to hide or erase anything that might make me seem odd or quirky… it feels like I’m squashing my own fun. I’m so done with that. My fun wants out… and it wants yours to come out, too.
I’m not really sure what flavor of ice cream I am, but I am becoming more sure every day that it isn’t vanilla. As long as it’s not pralines and somethin (think Wayne’s World) I’m okay with whatever flavor continues to develop as I let my fun emerge. It is my intention to let my heart shine in all it’s beautiful, vulnerable glory… to give myself permission to be weird and silly and as long as I’m not hurting anyone, to not take it personally if “me doing me” doesn’t work for everyone.
This realization has allowed me to be more real with students in the classes that I teach and with the practice members in my chiropractic practice. My husband Paul recently participated in a yoga class that I was teaching and remarked that it felt the most authentic that my teaching had in a long time. My heart is full and grateful for the reminder that Bhakti Fest provided by once again breaking it open through the gifts of yoga and joyful song and dance.
Until next time… breathe and keep it real
Yesterday something occurred to me. I was speaking with a friend who was surprised to hear that I was
experiencing back pain, and that I was going to see my chiropractor. I am a chiropractor… and a yoga
and Pilates instructor. Apparently, I ought to feel healthy and fit all the time. Here’s the catch. As all
chiropractors know, you can’t adjust yourself.
I have run into similar reactions of surprise after sharing something with friends about an area of my
life where I needed help to feel my best (physical, emotional, mental or spiritual). I actually had one
girlfriend tell me she was surprised because she “thought I had the perfect life.” I’m still not sure what
I took it to mean that I (like many people) am only comfortable sharing the “Yay!” moments with those
around me… that I am much less comfortable candidly sharing what is hard for me , or instances when I need help.
How many people can relate to allowing some physical pain to become unbearable, thinking that you
would just tough through it… until you finally broke down and got that much needed bodywork that
made you feel better? Why do we let things become that acute and awful? This also plays out in the
psycho/social/emotional areas of our lives. Perhaps if we were more comfortable seeking help at the
first sign of trouble, issues would not build up and require as much of an intensive intervention.
Marianne Williamson is often quoted as saying “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most
frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who
are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.
In the past I have read this to mean that we should all feel empowered to go out and lead the lives we
have imagined for ourselves in our wildest dreams. Live BIG! SHINE!
While I still get that feeling from reading this quote, more recently I have wondered about the
implications of the final sentence. It’s not about living “the perfect life”… it’s about each of us living our own most authentic life. Sometimes it can be messy and hard to figure out how our most authentic life looks/feels/is… and sometimes we need help along the journey. Ditching fear and un-sticking the places where you feel stuck (again this works in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms) is a big job.
There is something very liberating in realizing that asking for help with this big job is okay…that you
don’t have to “keep it together” all the time or “be perfect” or do it all alone. Maybe sharing our areas
where we need help and not so carefully guarding our “work in progress” part of own personal growth
process (including what we utilize for help and support along the journey) is just as important as sharing
our strong, happy and shiny parts of ourselves.
Most people’s lives look much more put together from the outside. Perhaps sharing a bit of your own
vulnerability with another will give them the courage to realize that there is nothing wrong with them
and that there is nothing wrong with asking for help in whatever area of life they feel the need for it.
Allow your presence to liberate others. You may provide them with the opportunity to move more fully
into their own authentic life of their dreams.
I am happy to say that I utilize the services of many wonderful healers to keep me balanced in all aspects of my life. I love the things that chiropractic care, acupuncture, homeopathy, massages of all kinds, energy work, yoga, Pilates and art and movement therapy have done (and continue to do) for me. I am proud to say that I am a work in progress and that I am becoming more comfortable seeking help when I need it.
I encourage you to explore what blend of healing, life affirming activities and therapies will provide you with the support you need to live your most authentic life.