Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Big Rocks

By Richard Lund, M.S.
Integrative Health Associate

An expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and to drive home a point, told a story these students will never forget.

As he stood in front of this group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He pulled out a large wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more would fit inside, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Everyone in the class agreed, “Yes.”

“Really?” he teased. He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some in and shook the jar, causing the gravel to work itself down into the spaces between the rocks.

Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

“Probably not,” one brave student ventured.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He dumped the sand in the jar and it filled the spaces between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Now the whole class was on to him. “No!” they shouted.

Once again, he replied, “Right you are!” Then he grabbed a pitcher and began to pour water in until the jar filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager student raised his hand and exclaimed, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you work hard, you can always fit some more things in!”

“No!” the teacher replied, “That’s not the point. The truth is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all.”

Friends, what are the “big rocks” in your life? What are your priorities, the most important things in your life, which only you can decide? If wellness is a priority, are you putting your life’s purpose, exercise, good nutrition, sleep, and stress-management into your schedule? Connect with us digitally to learn about our Five Pillars of Health & Well-being and how to optimize your whole health – mind, body, and spirit.

Website: HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Question May Not Be Why Do We Come To Yoga…But Why Do We Stay?

By Debi Heptig, RYT
Specializing in yoga for cancer, restorative yoga, yoga and mindfulness for children

According to the Sports Marketing Survey, 8.7% of Americans are practicing yoga…that’s 20.4 million people! The survey goes on to note that 44% that do not practice said they would like to.

If you are one of the 20.4 million who practice yoga, maybe, like me, you were initially drawn to yoga because of a physical injury - or maybe you wanted to be more flexible or physically strong - or to get bendy like the people on the cover of yoga magazines! But after a while you discovered that what kept you coming back to your mat was not just the physical benefits, but how yoga made you feel in your mind, heart and soul.

Yoga, a Sanskrit word meaning “yoke” or union, is an ancient Indian practice of aligning the physical body (Asana) with the breath (Pranayama) and the mind (meditation) to awaken the awareness of the inner divine self. We spend most of our day reacting to the external demands of life. We are checking off our “to-do” list for work and home, managing life’s chores and people’s expectations. These activities require our constant attention to everything outside of our self. It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed and fatigued at the end of our day!

Yoga is a dive inward. A time of letting go of the “to-do” demands of our everyday life and taking a much-needed pause to just be present with yourself – your whole self – with total self-acceptance, unconditional love, curiosity and non-judgement. No place to get to, no competition. Your mat is your sanctuary for self-discovery.

And if that isn’t enough to convince the other 44% to try yoga, just google “health benefits of yoga” and read the research! Thanks to advances in science and technology we now have research showing that a regular yoga practice can help alleviate a variety of ailments. An impressive list that includes lowering blood pressure, increasing circulation and cardiovascular health, enhanced memory, better focus, improving balance and strength, and helping to alleviate insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Take yoga’s diaphragmatic breathing. This deep long inhale and exhale controlled breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system telling the brain that the body can rest and digest. The mind calms, the heart rate and blood pressure slow, and blood flow is directed to digestive and reproductive organs and to the endocrine and lymphatic systems of the body.

Now add meditation. MRI’s and EEG’s have shown that regular meditation activates areas of the brain that deal with concentration and memory while decreasing gray matter in areas related to fear and anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2011 concluded that mindful meditation can even reduce sensitivity to pain.

Combine this with the asana or physical practice and we learn body alignment, balance, flexibility, range of motion and build strength. From activating our parasympathetic nervous system and increasing the neuroplasticity of our brain, to aligning our body, we can almost say yoga is our fountain of youth!

So why not add “yoga practice” to your to-do list and make time to stop time and just be….you may just discover yourself and increase your health and well-being!


Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine offers many yoga classes, including Survivor Yoga for Those Living with Cancer and Yoga…The Mind Body Happy Hour. Visit our website to view the class schedule.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Winter Is Coming!

By Amy Grutzmacher
Licensed Massage Therapist

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan or beach enthusiast like me, then there’s a chance the phrase, “Winter Is Coming!” sparks some feelings of apprehension and unease. As autumn fades and we settle into December, it’s not uncommon for our energy levels to decrease, we tend to eat more and exercise less, our joints stiffen and our skin dries out. No wonder why many of us dread the winter! 

Of course, winter isn’t all bad. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge a few things that I enjoy about the cooler months: delicious warm and spicy drinks, twinkling snow covered lights, cozy slippers, hearty stews, thick comforters, toasty fires, my beloved winter boots and the quiet calm after a snow fall. You see? Winter isn’t all bad.

But despite the enjoyable parts of winter, as we transition to shorter days and colder temperatures the winter blues and additional body aches are common for many of us. Massage therapy may be an effective method for easing these common seasonal challenges. Some studies have shown that massage therapy increases levels of serotonin and dopamine (the hormones that make us feel good and help us sleep), while decreasing cortisol (the hormone that makes us feel stressed).

Massage therapy is known to boost our immune systems and increase lymphocytes, the white blood cells that play a large role in defending our bodies from disease. This can help our bodies fight off the many communicable diseases that are common during the winter months. Massage is proven to stabilize the collagen in our skin and it also helps to maintain our skin’s elasticity. This, coupled with moisturizing massage lotion or oil can improve our overall skin health-especially during winter.

Cooler months can bring on stiff joints, our muscles and fascia tighten, and aches and pains can increase. Massage therapy increases circulation while warming the body, hands and feet. Massage, when coupled with warming elements such as a heated pad, can help bring new and healthy blood to tight areas and help muscles perform more efficiently and with greater ease.

Skiing is another joy of winter for many. But skiing and shoveling snow are two of the top activities that cause injuries during the winter. Massage can help ease sore muscles and speed the healing process. Speaking of shoveling, remember to protect your back by using good posture--bend at the knees and use a wide stance! 

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that self-care is important no matter the season. Even though winter can be a busy and challenging time, continue the habits that help you stay healthy and happy.  

And even though winter can seem like it lasts forever, we’ll be back on the beach, soaking in the warmth (and precious vitamin D) of summer before you know it!

Schedule your winter massages with Amy by calling 732.994.7855.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Achieving Ultimate Wellness

By Lisa Wielgomas
Community Outreach Manager

Having grown up, attended school, and lived in Toms River for over 30 years, you could say there is a special place in my heart for this community. When I was asked to represent Hackensack Meridian Health’s Integrative Health & Medicine program on the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition, naturally, I was honored and up for the challenge.

While this coalition has identified quite a few issues that Toms River faces, as well as potential solutions, in our upcoming blueprint for action, I believe that an upstream approach to wellness is as important as individual mental health challenges and substance abuse needs in the community. While our subgroups address these needs, an overarching theme of wellness fits across all of these focus areas.

Many call themselves “healthy,” making statements such as “I got my flu shot – I’m healthy,” “I don’t have a cold – I’m healthy,” and “I eat my veggies – I’m healthy.” This is what I grew up knowing as the definition of health: “I’m not sick. Therefore, I’m healthy.”

Not so. The World Health Organization defined health in 1948 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

While we need to address the critical issues and treat those affected, we also need to teach the current and next generation how to swing the pendulum in the other direction and move toward awareness, education and growth to achieve ultimate wellness as a community. This will ensure that there will be less chronic illness, food insecurity, senior isolation and substance abuse – because it’s all connected. An overall wellness initiative works across a continuum to impact all of the challenges that Toms River faces and ensures a lasting healthy future.

It all begins with making the healthy choice the easy choice. The people of Toms River want to be happy and healthy. We can start with promoting the definition of health, then offer education, meet people where they are by refreshing our parks and making them more accessible to encourage community members to participate in physical activities. We can appeal to businesses to provide healthier choices, offer programs, collaborate and partner with our coalition. The possibilities are endless. We need to consider sustainability in our work – that what we are doing will last. We need to address the underlying challenges that prevent our community members from the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. We need to rally together to be the healthiest community in NJ. And we will.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Just Breathe

By Sharon Yeskel, B.A.
Integrative Health Provider

When I was five years old, my mother signed me up for acting classes. On the night of our end-of-the-season performance, I had a bad case of stage fright. I was supposed to go out on stage all by myself and recite a poem. I don’t remember the poem I memorized, but I do remember that right before my entrance, I froze with fright. With tears in my eyes, I told my mom, I couldn’t go out on that big, scary stage.

My mother squatted down in front of me, put her hands on my shoulders and told me a story: "There was a famous actress named Helen Hayes who used to get scared, too. And do you know what she did?” Of course, I shook my scared little head no. Mom continued, “At every performance, she would take a deep, deep breath before saying her lines. Then she wasn’t afraid.” My mother told me that I should do the same thing before reciting my poem and insisted that I would not be scared either. Then she gently pushed a reluctant little performer toward the stage.

I made my way to my mark, glancing back to see my mother and the director urging me to start. I looked out into the audience of impatient mothers and fathers who just wanted to see their own children take the stage. I was still scared, but I took in a very deep breath and let it out with an exaggerated sigh. The audience giggled. I recited my poem-every word, every line and I went running off the theater stage and into my mother’s arms.

My mother didn’t realize it at the time, but she was on to something. Breathing techniques for relaxation, pain relief and optimal health are commonplace today. Slow, deep breathing doesn’t take our problems away, but it does turn on our parasympathetic nervous system which activates the calming hormones that help us to relax. When we are relaxed, we think more clearly, feel better, and can handle whatever comes our way.

Now that I am all grown up, there are still times I get scared and feel stuck. We all have moments in our lives when our daily stressors become too much for us to handle. Worry and anxiety can cause constricted breathing. This can sabotage healthy breathing and put stress on the lungs and cause tension in the body. It also activates the sympathetic nervous system which then releases stress hormones like cortisol into the body. Prolonged stress can contribute to a myriad of health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.

Breathing is the one body system that we can control. We can take slower, deeper breaths to relax our bodies and minds and help us deal with that big scary stage known as life.

Try this simple, yet effective, breathing technique:

Take a nice deep breath in through your nose and then blow it out slowly through pursed lips. Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation. For example, breathe in to the count of four and breathe out to the count of eight. Repeat slowly and steadily for a minute or two, a few times a day.

To learn more techniques like breathing work, guided imagery, and grounding exercises, sign up for Sharon’s free “De-Stress to Feel Your Best (Holiday Edition)” class on November 15 (Raritan Bay Medical Center Perth Amboy) or November 16 (Raritan Bay Medical Center Old Bridge). Call 1-800-560-9990 or register here.