Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fullmind or Mindful?

"An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind" - Gandhi

Choices.  As we close 2013 and launch into 2014, we all have many things on our mind.  We have to choose what consumes our thoughts and actions and what will be left out.  A simple question to ask yourself is, 

"Do I have a full mind or am I being Mindful?"

A full mind is stuffed with stresses stemming from people, relationships, finances, career, illness, family….you name it.  The full mind is overtaken with so much for so long that life seems to overwhelm you.  The past haunts and scares you enough to create goals and behaviors that hinge on unrealized events well off in the future.  When you think about what you plan to do today, you immediately think to the future, but not to the present moment.   Your mind wanders to the hours, days, weeks, months and years ahead.  Then it shifts backwards to the past and how those experiences will influence how you achieve your future state.  

What about the present?

Being Mindful is the state of being aware and attentive to what is happening in the present.  Breathing.  Taking a shower.  Brushing your teeth.  Eating.  Walking.  The strange feelings and pains that you have in your body that you should have checked by another person and not the internet.  Really listening to the person directly in front of you.  Taking 15 minutes each day to do absolutely nothing and to think absolutely nothing.  Letting things go, albeit for a just a short while, each day.  Earlier forms of mindfulness were linked to Buddhism, but the current mindfulness programs are independent of religion.  

Let's face it.  Being mindful can be a challenge.  Perhaps an appropriate analogy would be to the Motivation Triad of 1) Avoid pain 2) Seek pleasure and 3) Do it all at the lowest energy cost.  Many times the Triad is applied to life areas such as diet and nutrition but it can be expanded to anything.  In our world, we are constantly buzzing about trying to optimize our triad, reduce our stress and make our loved ones happy, yet we run out of mental and physical energy that then puts our physical, mental and spiritual parts out of balance.

How do I be more mindful?

There are many ways.  Most of them focus on breathing, simplifying and practicing.  Two of my favorite outlines on how to be more Mindful are Zen Habits and from Tiny Buddha.  In short, they focus attention to breathing, keeping things simple, and paying attention to those in front of you.  Sure, meditation is a super way to practice being Mindful, but you certainly don't have to meditate to practice mindfulness.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the use of mindfulness to help many with stress reduction, anxiety and coping.  He founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.  I leave you with one of his most notable quotations regarding life and stress, 

"You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf" 

Happy 2014 to All!  Be present.  Be mindful.  Be well.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013: Life under pressure

2013.  Another great year.  Full of expectations and pressure.   That's life, right?  We are all going somewhere with a goal or purpose.  Here's what I learned...under pressure.

1. Character - under enormous pressure, the world sees who you are via what you say what you do.  Not only that, it's how you say it and how you do it.  It can be said that actions speak louder than words but communication is how we exist cooperatively so what you say and how you say it can be just as important.  Just as Captain Sullenberger told the flight tower he was "unable" to return US Airways Flight 1549 to LaGuardia before landing in the Hudson River in January 2009, what he said and what he didn't say were paramount to the ultimate survival to the crew and passengers that day.  Intense training prepares you for moments when you must react in a pre-programmed and instinctive manner to help others.

2. Awareness - when you are under a constant heavy burden of expectations and pressure, the world is still turning.  You may be inundated with your focus, but don't forget there are still important people, events and milestones that shouldn't be forgotten.  Stay aware and connected.

3. Reflection - look inside at who you are and know that you are doing this for a reason.  Sometimes the reflection might not be clear, yet something inside you tells you it is right.  They say, "Good judgment comes from experience but, unfortunately, the experience came from bad judgment."  So very true.  Your past experiences help motivate, inspire and drive you.  But don't let them chain you down.  In that context, many religious texts state,

"The present is the only moment you are truly alive."

and we all can appreciate another oldie but goodie,

"Yesterday is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift - that's why they call it the present."

Use the past to drive your present and to dream and create the future.  The only guarantee is right now.  Don't forget that.

4. Definition - as you arise each day, you are molding your future.  Bamboo trees grow roots for 4 to 5 years before rising above ground.  Bamboo roots are so strong once the tree sprouts above ground that they are heralded as strong, durable and sustainable.  That's the same thing you are doing when you take on a special project, mission or goal in this life. You may be unseen for awhile, but that is because you are planting and growing those future roots.

5. Control - under pressure and duress, you yearn to be in control.  To a degree, you can be organized and relieve some of the stresses.  Let's face it, you can do your best with what you have every waking hour - but the ultimate control of things is not in your hands.  Whoever you receive your faith from, you can translate "Let go and let God" into whatever works for you.  So true, so simple and yet so powerful. 

6. Mindset - pressure and stress are influenced by external forces but is mostly internally created and sustained.  You have the power to influence how you feel, when you feel it and how to manage it.  I read somewhere about having "appropriate fear" every time you go into a test or exam.  This is so true for pressure as well.  Pressure can be imagined as large boulders floating down a river - they look imposing and intimidating coming at you but then fade into the distance once they pass.  Appreciate the pressure but don't let it consume you.  Your positive "self-talk" is what is going to push you over the mountains.  Stay optimistic.  Stay positive.  Yes, you can. 

7. Purpose - we all have a purpose in life.  The moments when we define, question and shape our callings in life are always in flux.  Under stress and pressure, you question everything - and frequently for that matter.  It's ok to not have the energy.  It's ok to admit you don't have it in  you at that moment.  It's ok to just get by.  It's ok to think maybe this isn't for you.  It's ok to talk to your family and friends about your absent life because of your choices.  But it's NOT ok to quit.  Never, ever, quit.  Never.

8. Chunking - small things matter.  So take the never ending tasks in front of you and break them down into manageable pieces.  Then start going through them until it's done.  Yes, get the big stuff.  Agree to don't sweat the small stuff, but don't forget it, either.  The small stuff does matter.

9. Time - it is said you can tell a lot about someone on where they spend their time and where they spend their money.  Money is our currency and energy that comes and goes in life.  Sure, it's important.  But under heavy pressure, there is no greater resource than time.  Time is so fleeting that every moment counts.    It is like the Golden Goose of resources.  Do everything with a love of life and the wonderful people on this earth.  With time, you can influence, change and inspire lives.  I've always appreciated how vital time is, but the last year elevated it to a whole new level.  Don't waste your time.  Don't waste others' time.  Use time to do good. 

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails."  -Henry David Thoreau

Happy holidays, many blessings, and here's to a prosperous 2014!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nutrition: One size does not fit all

Happy April 2013.

In the past few weeks, I've been neck deep revisiting the current nutrition trends in our country.  Back in 1998, I remember reading the book Protein Power by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades and then deciding I wanted to lose 20 pounds in two weeks with this high protein/ high fat/ low carb diet.  At first, it was hard to follow, but, in the end, it worked great.  Unfortunately, I gained back those 20 pounds as I reverted back to higher carbohydrate (carb) intake over time, which was how I had been taught to eat growing up.  Being a curious scientist myself, I was wondering if more proof would be generated for the high protein / low carb diet before deciding to tackle it again.  [Note: see below for how I characterize "high" and "low" carb].

For the past 15 years, I've been reading and absorbing the changing nutritional trends in our country.  It's hard to argue that the Qualified (Nutritional) Experts certainly agree to disagree!  Some of the most outspoken are on two sides of the spectrum:  Low fat vs. Low carb.  Making some generalizations for simplicity, this can be reduced to Low fat (mostly plants) vs. Low carb (mostly meats).  Low fat typically has medium/higher levels of carbs (more than 100g per day and as low in fat as possible) whereas Low carb (less than 100g of carbs per day and often less than 50g of carbs per day) has a higher fat and protein intake.

Talk about polar opposites indeed!  There is nothing hotter than this in the nutritional field these days.  In turn, this can really confuse us on how, when and what to eat.  As it is in basic human nature, making these recommendations comes with a responsibility to explain why and to explain the justification. That's where the plot thickens.   

In case you missed it, a great debate took place on March 27, 2013 at the University of Alabama-Birmingham between Plant Based Diet Champion Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the The China Study, and Dr. Eric Westman, of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University and a proponent of a low carb ketogenic diet.  The debate can be found here.  

Wow!  Both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Westman make excellent points during the debate and you can make your own assessment on the validity of their remarks and who may have justified a stronger position.  With that said, I will touch on one particular remark that Dr. Westman makes during the debate.  As a practicing clinician, he acknowledges that a plant based diet is a good program with respect to whole foods intake, but he also challenges that this type of diet is not appropriate for everyone, as each person is unique.  Sure, we all are human and share the same overall biochemistry.  However, just like any machine that ages with time, our bodies have different needs at different times due to age, composition, function and performance.  

I couldn't agree more!  

In short, just like a good pair of shoes, nutrition is specific to the individual.  

One size does NOT fit all.  

Listen to your body and talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet

More on nutrition in the future.  Research evidence has been generated that strongly suggests that diet influences 80-90% of our body composition and weight, with exercise contributing the remaining small fraction.  Of course, exercise has other benefits too, and we'll talk about that later.   

Stay well!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What a mess!

We've all heard it.

"Go to the mess hall."

"Clean up your mess!"

"MESSage me when you can."

In this case, it's a bit different.  

Robin Roberts made her return to Good Morning America (GMA) this week.  Congratulations Robin!  Amidst her battle with breast cancer and now most recently with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), she's back in action.  Whether you watch GMA or not, I think it's worth a minute to reflect on this story.

Her mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, died on August 30, 2012, as Robin was about to undergo treatment for MDS.  Among the endless things a parent says to their child, her mother said one simple thing to her daughter before she dies.


Wow.  What a simple yet powerful comment.  You may be sick.  You may be down.  You may feel like nothing is right in your world.  But there is someone or someones that can benefit from your story.  Don't ever forget that.  Ever.  It's not cancer or disease that will define Robin.  It is her spirit, perseverance and attitude.  We all see the positive light shining through.

Everyone matters.  And so does their story.

Thank you Robin Roberts for your mess.  

It's a message I won't forget.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 Holiday Faith + Inspiration

It's the 2012 holiday season.  For many in this world, this time of year is about family, friends and faith.  

With the tragedies that continue to unfold in our wonderful country and in other places in the world, many are rightfully questioning faith.  Things quickly twist to politics, press and criticism.  I'd also echo the thoughts widely published after the Sandy Hook tragedy about the state of our media and how information is reported, updated and analyzed.  The media focuses on the evil (the killer) and not on the good (the victims and their families).  In short, it's not a bad idea to watch or read as little of the news as possible.  The weather and traffic reports might be helpful, but how much of the rest is actually helping us bolster our faith in the world?

For starters, and there are many places to find faith let's take a look at a few reasons to keep our faith.  I'd suggest you start here for a dose of faith in humanity.  Some reminders on why we are here always put things in perspective.  

Second, keep looking for inspiration.  There are plenty of great examples.  I chose to find mine from Zach Sobiech, who is battling osteosarcoma.  You can check out his music video called "Clouds" right here.  It's worth the 3 minutes and 13 seconds of your time.

Third, those that read this blog aren't likely the people that need our collective help to stay on the right path in life.  Just like the global fight on terrorism, if you see something that looks out of place, or a person's behavior or comments appear to indicate a mental illness, communicate with someone.  Communication with people is our key to at least having a clue to their state of mind.  In my last blog, I wrote that, even though our ways to communicate have skyrocketed, our true communication is lagging.  Many times we find out too many details that may have aided us in preventing a tragedy.  The take home point: communicate with you family and friends.  It sometimes is painful but give it a shot.  

I'm not saying communication will prevent all of the tragedies of our world.  To the contrary, maybe it's just part of trying to improve the state of our world and making tomorrow better for everyone.   However hard to do in these times in which we live, have faith in the good of our world.  The planet, the people, the purpose.   You may be familiar with the Sanskrit term "Namaste", which is sometimes said between two people to mutually honor the divine light of each person.  

Namaste to all, from my heart, and Happy Holidays 2012.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Facts, advice and intuition

October, November and December.  Fall to Winter.  One of my favorite seasons if not the most favorite.   Between a stop in El Paso, back to school in South Carolina, and then the Thanksgiving holiday in Philadelphia, the past three months have been filled with thinking traveling and absorbing.   Today's post is when you need to satisfy your self, your soul, and your life - all at the same time.  The power of intuition.  

In other words, when you are at a crossroads with where to take your life, how do you make a decision?

Facts and their sources are numerous.  Trusted people, websites, traditions.    They guide our lives and our decisions.  Maybe sometimes too much.  Who do you believe and why do you believe it?  Trust, trust, trust.  But how do we gain trust?  Through positive repeated experience for certain.  As the old saying goes, good judgment comes from experience.  Unfortunately, the experience came from bad judgment.  So true, so true.  

In terms of advice, it can come from anywhere.  These days you hear it, read it or live it.  We spend enormous amounts of time texting, facebooking and twittering.  More times than not, we are reading, assimilating and judging based on social media.  Our ways to connect have went up exponentially but we spend less time actually communicating face to face.  

Our intuition is a bit harder to gauge.  It’s that internal compass.  It’s that gut feeling.  It’s always part of that voice inside.  Sometimes it is right on the mark.  Sometimes maybe not so much.  But it really depends on the person, situation and timing.  So how do know what the heck to do with the voice that never quits talking to you?

A few thoughts on how to manage all of this torment:

1. Facts and advice are pieces of information that you decide the validity, significance and impact.  

2. Your intuition shapes your self.  Don’t ignore it.

3. Both are equally important to what you do and when you do it.

4. Fight like hell for what you want, but don’t be afraid to change the plan if that voice inside you is screaming for a change.

5. Don’t have regrets.  Yeah, right.  That sounds easy.  It’s not.   Don't look back and painfully look at what could have been, could be or might be.  Go forward.  

As this Fall comes to a close, it's worth repeating:

Facts, advice and intuition are all important.  

Listen to your voice.  

And always be going forward.  Always.  

Have faith that things will fall into place.  

No regrets.  Ever.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Live Strong Day 2012

Every day I try to give thanks in my own way for being a cancer survivor.  One particularly special day is Live StrongDay through the Lance Armstrong Foundation on October 2nd every year.

Sometime in 2011, I decided I would grow my hair and then donate it to one of the organizations that make hairpieces for children with cancer or other diseases.  A list of them can be found below.  Here’s the before picture:

Here’s the after picture:

I ended up donating to Pantene Beautiful Lengths Program because there are varying length/color requirements for donation.  Of course, I learned a few things along the way.

What I Learned by Growing and Donating My Hair
AKA Simple Reminders on Why Goals are Important

Having a goal and being committed to something for a long period of time takes patience, resolve and determination.  There are plenty of days where I thought I should just cut my hair.  I had a corporate job so image was important.  “Doing” my hair in the morning was a pain. 

Sometimes the path to reach your goal may require adaptation.  Having applied to medical school, I had to take a few steps (or inches in this case) by cutting my hair for the interviews.  Fortunately, it worked.  Remember, don’t deviate from your goal, but be open to modifying how you get there.

Find people that will give you an honest opinion.  Many times I had people tell me my long hair looked nice when I could look in the mirror and tell that it didn’t look so good.  Upon getting it cut, those same people said I looked so much better.  For me, life is about brutal honesty.  Find people that are going to give you the honest feedback – even if it isn’t what you want to hear.

Once you reach your goal, reflect. In my case, my hair on top of my head is a bit thinner so I got an unexpected surprise at the end!  All kidding aside, we set and reach goals but then we need to reflect on we pursued them in the first place and whether we would do it again if in the same situation.

  Having your friends send you to the all-girls team at the bowling alley isn’t that bad.  Just a few days ago, I got to see some good friends and they sent me with my long locks to the girls team.  Not so bad!

Organizations for Donating Hair

Locks of Love needs all hair types from all types of people, all hair colors (except gray), textures, and so on. If your hair is long, you should be able to donate. You can even donate your permed or colored hair (as long as it's not damaged). The only real stipulation is how long the hair has to be: ten inches. It also has to be sent as a ponytail or a braid.
How It Works: You give your hair to Locks of Love. Once it's been transformed into a beautiful, natural looking wig, it's given to a child who wouldn't be able to afford one otherwise.

This is a Canada-based organization that provides kids with wigs made of real and synthetic hair. The wigs are custom made from ten to twelve ponytails. They will even visit the child themselves if he or she can't go in for the wig fitting because of the illness.

Most organizations that collect hair for wigs are created in order to benefit children rather than adults. This one is no exception. Wigs for Kids asks for at least twelve inches of clean, dry hair in a ponytail or braid.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths' requirements are not as high as some of the other organizations'. Hair only has to be eight inches long, not ten as with Locks of Love. Other guidelines: if you've bleached your hair or used permanent dye on it, you can't send it in. If you used vegetable dyes, rinses, and semi-permanent hair color, you can.
Have your hairdresser put your hair in a ponytail to cut the length off, then you can take it home and get it ready to mail. Put it in a zipper baggie, stick that in a padded envelope, and off it goes. Visit the website for all the details.

Children With Hair Loss only requires hair to be eight inches long, and while they prefer the hair not to be chemically treated, as long as it's still in good condition, they will accept it. In addition, Children With Hair Loss will accept gray hair. Certificates are given to the donors as a thank you.

The Childhood Leukemia Foundation accepts hair that's ten inches long, but it can't be colored or chemically damaged. If the hair is curly, you can pull it straight to reach ten inches.