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trisha hadley

CAM Series: Psychoneuroimmunology

The second in a series of posts on CAM topics. I spent a year studying the integration of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into the Western healthcare system at Georgetown; here I share my thoughts. See this post for some background on the biopsychosocial model as it's related to all things CAM.

 

If I had to pick a favorite, this would be it. It's right up there with 11.1.13 set two, acai + blueberry Ombar chocolate, and sunsets at Grand View Park.

As the name so eloquently implies, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) lies at the intersection of several scientific fields. If neuroscience is the intellectual older brother, PNI is his hip, younger sibling (likely dancing around barefoot listening to 11.1.13 and dreaming of summer tour.)

Illuminating an intricate web of the body's circuitry, PNI involves the physiology of the brain, activity of the mind, communication and integration with the endocrine and immune systems. While the entirety of PNI is much beyond the scope this post (and our current understanding), there are aspects that I have found quite compelling. Simply put, thoughts and emotions have meaning and tangible, measurable effects on the body.

Let's illustrate a sliver of this web by looking at natural killer (NK) cells, a powerful immune component fighting cancer and viral infections. Studies of depressed individuals show diminished NK cell activity, while guided imagery and relaxation techniques have been shown to increase NK activity (as well as providing a slew of other augmented immune responses) in women undergoing breast cancer treatment. NK cells also have receptors for different hormones that can further modulate their activity. Let's refresh. Depression = less NK. Relaxation = more NK. Hormones can change NK. These dynamic responses exist due to the integrated nature of all of the (previously characterized as separate) body systems. Elements of each system have the ability the enhance or suppress elements of the others via direct signaling, secretion, and/or the the presence of receptors, and this communication is far more comprehensive than originally characterized. 

If that was a bit too much on the science front, take away the connection between the mind and body. Our immune system is stronger or weaker based on the state of our mind. That's pretty amazing. Utilize your mind and its untapped potential to be well. I often find the hashtag #healthyishappy on popular health and wellness sites. While I agree with that (#obvi), I think we underestimate the power of #happyishealthy. (CheckItOut.)

See what I mean? PNI is just the hippie little sib of neuroscience. And you thought that was just a labored metaphor into which I tried to incorporate Phish. It really is all peace + love, people.

But really, who's ready for summer tour?

Google + Wellness. Sign me up.

A fusion of one of the most powerful technology companies in the world with a health and wellness agenda. Hell yes.

A few months ago Google CEO Larry Page announced the creation of a new company in the Google family, Calico. Their all-star team is tackling one of the biggest problems in all of healthcare: aging gracefully. No, I'm not being facetious. Aging is inevitable, obviously. But aging in a way that preserves your quality of life? That is much more elusive in the US. Our "healthcare" system is really more of a "disease management" system. People live longer, sure, but unfortunately many not to an extent where they are able to enjoy life in a significant way. 

While I actually have no idea what Google has in store for their ambitious anti-aging venture, the possibilities are virtually endless and all exciting. Will Calico become a traditional biotech company (as "traditional" as Google can be) complete with R&D, labs full of pipettes and white coats, and a pipeline of pharmaceuticals? Will the focal point be technology and our interaction with it as we age? Perhaps they have a line of droid robots in store on which one may download their brain, thus removing the need for a body.

Likely a mixture of all (hello, droid brain future), the acquisition of Nest as announced in a press release today has me leaning toward the second option. (Not to mention Google's standing as a, um, technology company.) Utilizing and maximizing information to allow users to lead optimal lives with minimal persistent effort. This is the kind of model that might work extremely well in the aging population. Imagine a screen that automatically adjusted the brightness, contrast and even content based on ones pupil diameter and breathing rate, saving your precious eyesight while delivering über personalized content that you are most apt to process at that moment. What if by placing your hands on the keyboard, your heartbeat was recorded and automatically uploaded to your medical file that your doctor would be alerted to review if any inconsistency arose? How about using that heartbeat information to sense when you are anxious or tense, and tweaking the color scheme and music on your computer/phone/tv/living space accordingly? 

From telomeres to tablets, I'm excited to see what Calico has in store. And live to 200 at least. 

CAM Series: Acupuncture

The 1st in a series of posts on CAM topics. My MS degree focused on the integration of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into the Western healthcare system; here I share my thoughts. See this post for some background on the biopsychosocial model as it's related to all things CAM.

Acupuncture is one of the major therapeutic components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). One of the most common methods involves placing extremely thin needles in various parts of the body to manipulate the flow of qi, or the body's life force energy, which according to TCM theory gets blocked or out of balance, causing any array of symptoms. 

Yes, I've had acupuncture a number of times (and currently still receive treatments). Yes, I have worked at a TCM wellness clinic. You already know about my master's program all about CAM. Does this make me an expert? No. Do I have insights and connections based on my education and experiences? I think I do.

The first, and often most challenging, hurdle to clear when understanding acupuncture via the Western thought process is the concept of qi or the idea of energy imbalances. If you're having trouble with the latter, see my post on energy and why it is also the foundation of the scientific theory we know and love in the West.

Qi is a difficult concept. There really is no exact translation but it might be thought of as "life force energy" -- which usually doesn't translate in meaning much better than the Chinese character. If you are familiar with Ayurveda, you might think of it like prana. If you are not, I like to think of qi as a specific energetic fingerprint that sustains me. The summation of all the physical and mental processes that are simultaneously occurring in my body, brain, being. (Heart beating, blood circulating, water balance, lymph movement, nerve conduction, respiration + all of the less characterized processes such as thoughts, emotions, and other somewhat esoteric elements.) When this is happening at a near optimal state, I feel healthy, balanced, and invigorated. When it's not, I may be tired or sick. Why does this happen? Possibly an outside pathogen, extended period of ignorance or neglect, or an intense emotional experience or trauma. And what exactly happens? Qi is thought to flow through the body in meridians (pathways); an imbalance might be an excess or deficiency of qi in a certain area or a blockage of its flow. 

A staple in many alternative modalities is the body's innate ability to heal itself; acupuncture is no different. The needles that an acupuncturist uses guide the body toward salutogenesis. But how, you ask? The needle acts as a conduit connecting you to the universe, allowing you to tap into its energy and giving you the power to heal. But how, you ask? Right? Sounds a little loco. Or maybe not at all...

You see, when you start to wrap your head around the whole energy concept you may start to see connections. 

Think about about a simple circuit. Different metals conduct electricity to a different capacity. For example, silver has a lower resistance than copper or aluminum, and will as such function in the circuit to a differing effect. In the same manner (maybe) there are different kinds of acupuncture needles. Gold, silver, or copper can be used by the acupuncturist to evoke a different response in a patient. So you might think of the needle as a conduit of energy in relation to the metal used to conduct electricity in a circuit.

One therapeutic means in acupuncture is via the circulatory system. For example, muscle tightness or constriction is an excess of cold and is treated by adding heat, i.e. by bringing blood flow to the affected area. Straightforward enough, right? Now take this thought process a step further. Blood circulating through our bodies is a form of energy movement. You can think of it as governed by the laws of fluid dynamics, or perhaps electromagnetic flux. Either way, energy is moving, flowing, changing.

And maybe, just maybe, those metallic needles had something to do with the way it did.

 

 

Festival Love, Biopsychosocial Wellness

4 hours and I'll be in paradise. Epic jams, feet in the sand, salty air, sun, sun, sun. (Nevermind the forecast of rain everyday.)

Music festivals have a certain energy to them. Their seemingly exponential increase in popularity would lead one to infer it's a good energy. An attractive energy. My imminent adventure has got me thinking about the implications of such festivals. 

So, you read the title. Bio-whaa, you ask? Pretty much my exact response the first time I heard it as well. Then I heard it 100 more times. Then 1000. 10,000? It wouldn't surprise me.

Biopsychosocial is a model first proposed by George Engel in the late 1970's claiming that biological, psychological, and social factors all play a role in the illness--wellness continuum. Consider an example of a person with cancer. Clearly there is a biological component of abnormal cell growth and division, a treatment plan often involving radiation or chemotherapy. Psychologically, what is going through their mind when they receive this diagnosis? Are they depressed? Confused? Inspired to live life to the fullest? There is certainly a change in their social existence, accommodating said treatment plan and sharing familial responsibilities. People may treat them differently in social situations (which may then affect their psychological being, which may then affect their biological being). The point is these 3 areas of our lives are all intimately intertwined and all contribute to our wellbeing. You can read more here if you're interested, so this post doesn't turn into a CAM lecture. 

But somewhere in the middle of said lecture that I'm trying to avoid subjecting you to, it clicked. We are more than just our bodies (though our medical system often reduces us to just that). And our health and happiness depends on more than just our bodies functioning properly. 

In comes music festivals. 

 

[bio]

They may not be the first thing you associate with wellness, but festivals provide much nourishment for our bodies (and souls). The simple act of standing -- or dancing -- for hours on end engages muscles, uses energy. Spending the day outside connecting with nature, breathing clean air, and soaking in the sunshine for a vitamin D boost are all healing elements of the experience. If it's hot, keeping a Camelbak full will keep you hydrated. If you're sweating from said heat -- or dancing -- you're detoxing. Not to mention the awesomely unique and healthy food truck options available at many festivals. Sign me up. 

[psycho]

Music is good for the soul. Anyone that enjoys festivals understands that to a certain extent. It may mean something different to each person, but that sweet vibrational nourishment feeds your soul. Your psyche. Break from a monotonous reality. Submersed in a new one. Standing at a show, completely present, worries gone, stress melting away. Mental wellness at its finest. 

[social] 

I love festivalgoers. Yeah sure, there's always that guy that had a few too many Sierra Nevadas and is talking ridiculously loud during the show about nothing of importance, but overall festival people rock. Especially when you find your niche, your people. I absolutely love the jam community. I'm convinced they are the best people in the world. I see people at shows that I don't know, but I know them. (Probably better than 50% of my Facebook friends.) People take care of each other at festivals. Always. Even if it is the annoying-drunk-show-talker guy. This social element is in addition to the quality time you're spending with your close knit friends. Community big and small. Beautiful, beautiful community. 

 

And then there is intersection of the 3. That moment at a show when every person in the crowd is completely invested. Different interpretations, same stimulus. Mirror neurons engaged. Totally present. One with the music. Collective consciousness. 

There you have it. Festival love, biopsychosocial wellness. 

As if you needed another reason to go.  

7 Elements Of Conscious, Healthy Travel

Not many places are as inspiring to me as airports. My hypothesis is that it's the rush of travel, excitement of going somewhere new, adventures by the dozen on the horizon. The vast majority of my writing has taken place on airplanes (and it's usually in the Notes app on my iPhone). On my most recent trip to NY, the following materialized. Enjoy. I hope it allows you to travel a bit more consciously, and who knows, maybe airports will become your new mecca of inspiration, too.

1 Hydration -- Go ahead. I give you permission. Actually, I insist. I know it's a $6 bottle of water, but it's also your best travel buddy. Keep your cells happy; fatigue and illness at bay. I always make sure to splurge on a giant bottle of water at the airport. If you do nothing else in this list, do this. (Even if you're not thirsty.) (Yes, both ways.)

2 Immunity -- The very best arsenal against the bombardment of foreign germs waiting for you around the world is your very own immune system. Help it run optimally with a vitamin and nutrient boost. A few days before departure, have a series of green juices. Bring a supplement for daily support while traveling. I'm currently obsessed with these Korres vitamin tablets I purchased while in Greece this past summer. And I am dying to try this new green powder from Aloha for my next trip! Nutrient dense green juice to-go? Yes, please. Staying super healthy while jet-setting? Check.

3 Nutrition -- Snacks. Snacks. Snacks. There's few things I love more than going to Whole Foods and stocking up on a plethora of healthy snacks for upcoming travel. (Too cool for school, huh?) A few of my favorite, easy, items to bring: apples, kale chips, and nuts with sea salt (will help keep you satiated and hydrated!) But seriously, who doesn't want to be snacking on a trail mix complete with almonds, blueberries and dark chocolate while your neighbor picks through a microwaved meal of fake meat and bread wrapped in plastic from 2009? #duh

4 Clean -- Few things rival the cleanliness (err, sea of contained germs) aboard your trusty 747. Some of my go-to ways to stay fresh while galavanting the globe are face wipes, travel-sized castille soap, and washable pillow cases. Baby wipes do wonders for your face, hands, and cell phone screen. For an especially nourishing experience, I absolutely love Josie Maran's Bear Naked wipes (which also donate a portion of proceeds to protecting polar bears affected by global warming -- a small, but meaningful way to offset your travel carbon footprint). Dr. Bronner's castille soap is another inexpensive, natural way to keep your hands and face clean in sub-par airport bathrooms. If you like to bring a neck pillow, make sure it has a washable cover (and wash it!) Do you really want to snuggle up to everywhere that pillow has touched over the years of being dragged through planes, trains, and busses around the world? Exactly.

5 Comfort -- The only rival to the cleanliness of your seat is the comfort it provides. Combat that by wearing comfy, versatile clothes. And layers. The temperature of planes and subways are always variable, often extreme, and generally unpredictable. Being prepared and comfortable will give you the ability to relax and enjoy. I also love to stick a pillow or blanket behind my lower back for extra lumbar support.

6 Rest -- When else do you have 6 hours of uninterrupted me time? Totally disconnected from the constant bombardment of work calls, social media updates, and daily errands? Take advantage of it! Close your eyes. Throw on some chill tunes. If I'm feeling especially anxious or stressed, I'll take a moment to sit straight in my chair, connect my feet to the floor, and place my hands over my chest or heart chakra. Then I'll continue to #7.

7 Breathe -- Travel can create some of the most hectic situations you'll ever encounter. It can also allow for the most peaceful moments of your life. Breathe. Mindfully. Stay disconnected from the digital world and connect to the world around you. Look out the window at 37,000 ft and take it all in. This unique vantage point. Change of perspective. Realize there is always sun above the clouds no matter the weather on the ground. Enjoy its rise. Wonder at the mystery of the world. Soak in its immense beauty. Meditate. Relax. Breathe. Be.

6 Ways To Create S P A C E In Your Life

Those tips I promised in yesterday's post:

1 Keepsakes. Always a hard one to justify. Try allowing yourself a certain, reasonable amount of space. Something small enough that you could sift through in 30 min or an hour maybe. I allowed myself one quart size ziplock bag for ticket stubs, cards, etc., and one shelf for yearbooks and whatnot. Also, see #2.

2 Digitize. This is super helpful for some of those “keepsakes” that are flirting with the border between junk and funny (i.e. not the ticket stub from your first Phish show, but maybe the flyer for an aftershow that you didn't even make it to). I spent the better part of Tuesday texting, emailing, and Instagramming so many memories that I came across. Not only did it make for an evening filled with laughs and connecting with old friends, but it also helped me realize what a great gift the digital era has brought. Now instead of saving that flyer, send a mass text ("next time we'll make it for sure..."), have a few laughs, and toss it. You now have a digital copy somewhere when you feel the need to see it again (which you probably won’t, because let’s face it, it’s a old flyer).

3 Prioritize. Take a moment to meditate on what’s really true and meaningful for you in your life. Certainly this important information to know about yourself (you’re thinking “DUH”, but, ummm, you’d be surprised...), and it definitely makes for a more efficient life-cleaning-process. For me, music is everything. So I decided to keep my record collection, but sell the majority of my books. Per #2, I figure Kindle is the way to go in my reading endeavors. Even though most of my music is digital (Spotify premium has even helped me clear most of my hard drive -- score!), there’s something about that beautiful vinyl that holds meaning for me, not least of which is the sound quality. So I’m keepin’ it.

4 Clothing. A good friend of mine once said, “If you haven’t worn it in 2 years, get rid of it.” That’s a good place to start, but it’s relatively easy to part with things you haven’t really thought about in years. The next step I took was the “Would I wear it this weekend?” question. This helps weed out the clothes you actually like. This final step separates the boys from the men: “How do I feel when I wear this?” If it’s something less than “amazing”, let it go. Think about this. What we wear has the ability to empower us, make our day, our life, better. It affects our environments. It could be amazing because it’s super comfortable, flattering, or simply expresses your style. All are great reasons to wear something. Because it’s sitting in your drawer and clean... not so much.

5 Burn. Not just found in abodes of hippies and yogis, sage and incense can provide much needed cleansing to any space. When burning, bring the sage to the corners of the room, windows and doors, and anywhere else your intuition calls. Clearing the energy will allow for peace, stillness. And space.

6 Cloud. I love the cloud. A few months ago I purchased a Macbook Air and really discovered its benefit. Even with the upgraded hard drive, this baby has minimal space. And who needs it? Dropbox. Spotify. Netflix. It’s the 21st century people! Stop hoarding, start streaming. Try backing up all of your files and clearing your hard drive or phone every once in a while. Who doesn’t love the feeling of a brand new gadget?

Alright, that should get you started. Ready? Go!

Creating Space

I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again. I’m cleaning out my life. And this time I mean it.

Ok, I really have said that countless times. But this time I really do mean it. Well, I guess we’ll see...

For someone that has moved as much as I have in the past 8 years -- ok, I’ll count... 18 times. Give or take a few, but yes, 18ish moves. 13 different homes. 6 cities. 3 countries. Actually 3 continents. You get the picture, I’m a nomad.

And I really do love my wandering ways. Meeting people, learning about life, love, self-care. Mmmm goodness. Let’s make that another post for another time though and focus for now. Stuff. I have a lot of it. Eeevery time I move I become more and more aware of it. The Stuff. (cue pseudo-scary dramatic sitcom sounds here)

So much stuff.

So what’s a girl to do? Well -- (is this obvious?) -- get rid of it. Donate to Goodwill. Donate to a friend. Have a garage sale. Recycle. Use as fire wood. Do anything, just make it go away. This is my new mantra.

Now clearly one has useful items in their life. I’m not suggesting to go über Buddhist and renounce all possessions, but take a good survey of all of the stuff that you have and be honest with yourself on what you actually use and what you should part with. If you aren’t utilizing it, someone else could, or you could benefit from the money you’d get from selling it or (spoiler alert) the space that you create.

How? I’m currently smack dab in the middle of “cleaning out my life” and I’ve posted a few helpful tips in a subsequent post that have made this time, the time, that the first statement in this post will be true.

While this is the place that my little journey began, you might be surprised that the best part about it is not the tidy dresser or clean shelves or even the $33.09 in Amazon credit from trading in old books (though that was pretty sweet). It’s the other space it creates and the realizations that have come along with that.

Physical space creates mental space. Mental space allows change, softness, growth. When our minds are cluttered we are often stressed (or the clutter is because of the stress). We forget to breathe. When we create space, we allow ourselves the opportunity to live a more mindful life by making a greater amount of our resources available in the present moment. This past summer I worked with a biofeedback device that measured heart rate variability. The more constricted your heart, the lower the variability, the less adaptable you were to change. Conversely, with greater variability -- or more space in the heart -- came greater adaptability, less stress.

Ridding your life of stuff is not the only way to create physical (and mental) space. During my yoga class this week I realized that this is one of its benefits. Moving the body as one does in yoga stretches muscles, loosens fascia, creates space. The detox that I’m planning for next week flushes toxins out of the system, helps rid the body of excess fat, creates space. Staying hydrated keeps all of your cells happy, creating space in the body’s cells for optimal efficiency. Creating space in life for an optimal state of being.

Optimal state of being. Seems like reason enough to succeed in the life-cleaning, space-making, more-room-to-breathe-and-live endeavor this time around.

Energy Musings

All we are is energy.

This concept has resonated with me for quite some time. Lately it's taken on a whole new meaning.

All we are is energy. Think about it.

Our whole body is made up of cells, living via metabolic processes, sustained by ATP, its very own energy currency. The currency is in the form of molecular bonds that when broken or formed facilitate a transfer of energy allowing the cell to do, to grow, replicate, move. To live. Without this we would be nonexistent. At least not alive.

The entire universe is made up of energy. The sun shines on the earth. At its minuscule levels, tiny particles of mass, atoms, vibrate at certain frequencies. e = mc^2. Mass is energy according to Einstein's famous equation. And all this universal energy is constantly in flux, every instant different than the last, time marching on, allowing change. (Causing change?) New arrangements of energy. Continually.

So there we have it. Energy surrounds us. It makes us. It is us. It provides a framework for our reality.

In comes the role of environment.

Clearly, with this integral part energy plays in our lives -- it is our lives. It is life. -- it's not a huge extrapolation to understand that the energy in our surroundings affects us. Our environment constantly bombards us with stimulation. Some of it we are aware of, the vast majority of it we are not, but that doesn't mean that our brains are not taking it in, interpreting it on a subconscious level. Whether conscious or not, our environments play a vital role in our current state. One could argue they actually create our current state.

Consider the environment of a spa. A soft gray or blue color scheme, harmonious music in the air with hint of lavender scent as you sip your chamomile tea. All of these facilitate relaxation. You're probably more relaxed just reading these words and imagining their realization. The same could be said for the environment of a burning building, busy airport, family dinner. All of these states are brought about by the energy of the environment.

We can use these concepts to our advantage by being particularly conscious of the energy surrounding us and the environment in which we submerse ourselves. From the color of the clothes you choose to don to the scent in your car to the lighting in your bedroom, so many elements converge to create your state of being. You know the feeling you have when you're wearing a new outfit that you particularly love? That's not a coincidence. That is you creating something great in your day. In your life.

Do that more often.

Background image by Sebastian Glasl.