Floating to Wellness

Floating to Wellness

I first floated in February 2012 when my friend and colleague John Balquist first opened Oakland Floats. I loved it right from the start. I walked out of the session in the magnesium salt-filled tank feeling lighter, clearer and more energized. That night I had a deep, relaxing, healing sleep that I completely aatributed to the float. Even two days later I was still feeling the positive effects: I got things done so easily and effortlessly, like I had eight arms and each was carrying out the task with ease and joy. Floating restored me to my center, allowing me to move and act from a place of balance and clarity.

If you have never floated before, at Oakland Floats you step into a tank or small room filled about 10 inches with warm water saturated with Epsom salts. According to the website, “Floatation tanks are lightless, almost soundproof tanks of warm saltwater. They remove external physical stimuli, creating a state of ‘sensory’ relaxation. Under these conditions your body has a chance to restore its natural powers of self regulation, while you simply lie back and relax. The temperature inside the tank is kept at 93.5 degrees, the same temperature as your skin. As a result, the nerve endings which cover the surface of the skin no longer perceive any sense of separation between the skin and the silky mineral solution which surrounds it. Free from all external stimulation, your body can achieve a state of relaxation which is deeper, purer and more beneficial than sleep. With no body to look after, your mind can attend to other business.”

Oakland Floats picThe first few times I floated, my mind took a little while to settle down and ease into the darkness. However, I would eventually relax and once I started to get used to being in the tank, it was really amazing to feel where I carried tension. I was floating there totally relaxed except I was clenching my jaw. I thought, “Why am I clenching my jaw?” and then released it.  Floating, because it removes other sensory input like sight and sound, helped me really tune into my body and fully realize where I carried tension so that I could fully let it go.

I continued to float every few months or so and loved the peace and clarity it brought to me each time. However, just like any wellness practice, regular visits are an important part of maintaining balance, and so I decided to float three times in three weeks to see how that might effect my health and well-being.

Consecutive floats really amplified the positive effects for me. I found I was able to relax into the water more quickly each time, and I noticed right away my body would just let go. My mind was another story, of course. Boy, was there a lot of chatter in there. With nothing else to stimulate it, my mind would go into overdrive at first but then eventually it just sort of ran out of things to say. Then would come a quiet so deep, a silence so delicious.

It is so wonderful to set aside time to be in a space with no light and no sound. We are constantly bombarded, whether we conscious of it or not, with so much artificial light and sound—from our computers, TV, phone, radio, etc. It is so refreshing and relaxing to really get away from all that stimulation for a little while. Floating also has allowed me to see where I might be holding on to something that is no longer serving me and not even realize it. With all other stimuli gone, the body has time to really check-in on itself and return itself to a state of balance. 

So who might want to consider floating as part of their wellness plan? Anyone who is having difficulty sleeping, feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, challenged with food/sugar addictions, suffering with joint pain, pregnant, or just needs a little time to reset and restore. I think that covers just about all of us!

If you want to check out the floatation center or learn more about ways to reduce stress and cortisol levels, please come to my free talk at Oakland Floats Tuesday, November 17 at 7 p.m. 

Yoga Helps to Lower Cortisol

Yoga Helps to Lower Cortisol

From my guest post on Yoga with Julie B’s blog! Julie is a Registered Yoga Teacher, Crossfitter, rock climber, foodie, and lover of life. She very kindly posted the following on her great yoga blog.

There are so many wonderful reasons to practice yoga. I personally have practiced yoga for greater flexibility, to increase my strength, to complement my other physical activities like dancing or rock-climbing, and for an amazing workout in itself. In my previous post “Yoga for Stress Management,” I addressed some of the great research out there on the many benefits of yoga for managing our stress as well. So how exactly does yoga help with our stress? It is all about lowering those cortisol levels!

What is cortisol? It is our stress hormone, the one that kicks in when we face a perceived or real danger. It is what sets off a series of responses in the body that allow us to fight, escape, tend or cope with all the stressors in our lives. Although cortisol serves an important role in our bodies, chronic stress—the kind many of us experience on a daily basis—can lead to an imbalance of cortisol in our bodies.  So is imbalanced cortisol a problem? According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, Harvard educated doctor and yoga teacher, chronically high cortisol can led to a multitude of health problems, including:

  • Abnormal blood sugar, diabetes, and prediabetes
  • Obesity, increased body fat, and metabolic syndrome in women
  • Mood and brain problems, including depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Worsening sleep
  • Bone loss in menopausal women
  • Accelerated aging
  • Imbalance of other hormones like thyroid, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone

We need to find healthy ways to lower our cortisol and yoga is truly one of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and spirit. How does yoga help? When you take those deep breaths, you are lowering your cortisol and adrenaline levels and increasing our oxygen flow to the brain. Inverting by putting your feet above your heart will also lower your stress responses by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. For example, the pose Viparita Karani with your feet up against the wall, is a great position to help with insomnia or calming anxiety. Practicing Yin Yoga in particular—with its focus on mindfulness, compassion, and longer held poses—can be very helpful for lower cortisol levels. In fact, Dr. Sara Gottfried specifically recommends Yin Yoga for lowering cortisol in her book The Hormone Cure (p. 113). Lastly, think of Savasana as the ultimate stress-releasing pose. The ability to truly let go at the end of your yoga routine is the culmination of the wonderful gift of yoga you have given yourself.

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As I work with clients on their health and wellness goals, one pattern I see with almost everyone is the need to manage our stress more effectively. Stress management connects to our weight, our sleep, our digestion, our levels of inflammation, and our overall sense of well-being. Yoga can be one of the most effective ways to begin to bring balance back into our lives. So grab your mat and head out to one of Julie B’s amazing classes today! Your body will thank you for it.

My review of encuentro cafe and wine bar from “Check Please! Bay Area”

My review of encuentro cafe and wine bar from “Check Please! Bay Area”

In honor of World Vegetarian Day, I thought I’d post a copy of my review from the recent episode of “Check Please! Bay Area.” You can see all three reviews HERE or watch the whole episode below!

encuentro café and wine bar creates flavorful, nourishing and delicious vegetarian and vegan food in an atmosphere that is inviting and cozy. The food is always fresh and inventive, the wine list options are well-considered, and the wait staff is ready to answer any questions or offer suggestions. encuentro means “to meet, gather, encounter” and I think that is a perfect description of this charming Oakland dining experience.

Since much of the food is local and organic, their menu changes with the seasons. In general they serve small bites, salads, bruschetta, and then a variety of smaller meals ranging from inventive sandwiches to fresh takes on dishes like gnocchi, quesadillas or polenta. The menu is always interesting and lovingly prepared and really celebrates the quality and flavor of seasonal foods. They also have amazing desserts, some of which are dairy-free, like tiramisu, hazelnut pudding and their amazing chocolate cake.

Check please group photoFor my most recent visit, I went there to celebrate my birthday with my husband and three friends. It was so much fun to order so many different foods and share them. The flavors of the food are really highlighted through creative pairings like dates with macadamia nut pate and walnut honey for a lovely appetizer or the bruschetta with roasted beets, hazelnuts, macadamia nut “cheese” and golden balsamic reduction. Each of the dishes offered something both surprising and comforting in their tastes, combining earthy flavors with sweet and spicy in an excellent balance. The dark green salad with kale, arugula, roasted beets, and cashew cheese was perfectly dressed and rich without being heavy; it was also well-plated in a deconstructed style that made sharing a great experience.

Everything in the restaurant is vegetarian and many of the plates can be made vegan. However, rather than finding replacements for meat, encuentro selects quality foods in delicious combinations that really celebrate the wonders and flavor of the food. Since it is also a wine bar, the well-thought out and varied wine list also needs to be acknowledged. One of my favorite things to do is to get the wine flight because you can choose which three wines you want from the list, making it a great way to try new wines or pair different wines with different small plates.

encuentro has managed to make its small location feel open and welcoming with large windows, modern yet cozy eco-friendly décor, and delightful touches like fresh flowers on the tables. It is a great place to make an evening out of, to share food and wine and conversation for hours, or also a good place to come in for a salad, bruschetta and glass of wine. This place can be a special occasion destination or a light meal before or after a show in Jack London.

By the way, if you have ever thought of applying to be on the show, I highly recommend it. I had a wonderful experience. Leslie Sbrocco and the entire staff at KQED were so lovely, gracious and welcoming.

I also want to give a great bow of thanks to my fellow guests that day on the show–Jack the longshoreman and Jill the horse trainer. I had a really great day with you!

The reviews of encuentro start around 18:30!

 

 

Julie Bailis, Guest Blogger & Yoga Teacher: The Whole Life Challenge

Julie Bailis, Guest Blogger & Yoga Teacher: The Whole Life Challenge

by Julie Bailis

First of all, I have never been one for diets.  I have always been athletic and thankfully, have never really had to watch what I ate in order to maintain my weight.  As a young adult,  I generally ate well, occasionally drank too much or OD’ed on ice cream, but never really thought too much about my diet.

It was the birth of my son that forced me to really think about what we were eating.  He was diagnosed with multiple food allergies at age 1.  Although, his multiple food allergies were somewhat of a mixed blessing.   Yes, it was difficult managing his allergies (have you ever tried making a gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, birthday cake?  I have and mine sucked). However, it was the first time in my life that I began reading ingredients lists and making food from scratch.  We were never really junk-food junkies, but his allergies had turned me into a “whole foods cook”…good stuff.

Fast forward 7 years.  I had been eating well (or so I thought) and exercising my butt off.  After two kids and 7 years of mothering, I decided that it was time to get my body back in shape.  I got back to climbing, yoga and even started CrossFitting.  I felt great, but still looked in the mirror and was bothered by my stinkin’ spare tire!  It just didn’t look right! It didn’t make sense!  I exercised plenty, but that dang spare tire just wouldn’t go away.   On top of all that, my energy level was not steady.  After 1 pm, my energy level would just plummet and I would just want to take a nap.   It just didn’t feel right.

croppedropeclimbShortly after starting Crossfit I learned about the Whole Life ChallengeMy gym and many of its members were participating in this lifestyle challenge and it sounded interesting. Hey, I’m always up for new things. So, I signed up. Below is a little summary about my own experience with it during the Fall of 2012. There were food and lifestyle challenges (see below) and we got points for all of these activities and could even earn bonus points if we did extra things (i.e. post a comment on the leaderboard every day or participate in the weekly challenge that week).   One week our challenge was to get 8 hours of sleep everyday.  SWEET. 

The food challenge aspect went a little something like this:

I could eat:

  • meat
  • nuts
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • WHOLE FOODS PEOPLE!!
  • NO grains
  • NO sugar
  • NO artificial ingredients

The lifestyle challenge went like this:

  • We had to exercise for at least 10 minutes a day
  • We had to mobilize (or stretch) for at least 10 minutes a day
  • We had to take a fish oil supplement every day.

Nuff said.

Things I noticed early on:

  • The first thing I noticed that starting on the first day of the challenge, my energy level was steady Freddy!  Seriously, I didn’t hit “that wall”.  That wall, that has you immobile on the couch and/or making your 3rd cup of coffee of the day.  I just never hit that wall. It was awesome and that was incentive enough to keep going with the challenge.
  • After the first week, no joke, my spare tire had shrunk, seriously, shrunk.  By the end of the 8 weeks, clothes fit me differently, and this summer I actually wore a bikini to the pool and felt pretty dang good about it (thank you very much)!

Things I learned:

  • I learned that I ate a lot of my meals standing up. Shoving food in my face without thinking because I was too busy putting kids lunches together or cleaning the kitchen.  Food was shoved and not enjoyed.  Not good.
  • I learned that I nibbled on my kids lunches as I packed them.  I promptly stopped that once the challenge began because,  “Mama wasn’t going to lose no points to rice crackers, no Ma’am.” I was going to win or so I thought :).  Besides, I’d rather use any bonus points I had earned on a glass of wine with my hubby on a Friday night and not waste them on stale bits of rice cake.
  • I learned that I didn’t really need a glass of red wine everyday and that saving my glass of wine for Friday night helped me really savor its flavor.
  • I learned that crappy coffee sucks when you can’t mask it with cream or sugar.  I now am officially a coffee snob.  No cheap coffee date here.
  • I learned how to be a better, more creative cook.  Having inspiring cookbooks full of “food porn” helped though.  I will wholeheartedly recommend, Everyday Paleo and Eat  Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids.
  • I learned that my own body works much better without dairy and wheat.  I was less bloated and had more energy.  I know some people can tolerate dairy and wheat well, but I quickly realized that I did not.  I have been mostly dairy and grain-free for about a year now and I feel so much better for it.

Things I loved:

  • I loved the structure and accountability the challenge offered me.  I quickly got into the habit of logging my points in on the website every day.  I looked forward to reading other members’ comments and thought hard about what comments I would make.
  • I loved the “forced reflections”.  It’s not mandatory that you post a comment everyday, but it is highly encouraged and if you do it for a week, you will earn a bonus point or two.  The comments really made me think about my own progress and how I felt about it all.  It really enriched the experience for me.  However, if you aren’t one for reflection, you don’t have to; so don’t worry about it!

Challenges:
The hardest part for me was explaining to other people what I was doing.  I dreaded going to parties and explaining my food restrictions. I would often get a lot of comments like, “Why are you on a diet?  You’re not fat!” or “What’s Paleo?  Is it like Atkins?  No carbs, right?”  At first, all of the questions annoyed me and I didn’t want to let anyone know about the WLC.  Then, I decided that I would think about it as an opportunity to educate, not preach, but educate.  I would tell the curious person about the challenge, but most importantly, I would tell them about my own experiences and how much better I felt living without dairy and grains.  How I had more energy and slept better.  My defensiveness to their curiosity turned in to genuine conversation.  That can be hard to come by at a party sometimes!

Surprises:
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that the challenge was about so much more than food and exercise.  It was about living.  Living mindfully and living fully. It really wasn’t about winning at all, even though I really, really wanted to :).  It was about feeling better, looking better, and having the energy to do the things that I love. 

I plan on participating in the Whole Life Challenge again this fall because I look forward to the community, the new recipes, and maybe even some new insights into my most recent lifestyle choices.

If you plan on participating in The Whole Life Challenge this year, good luck to you, and chances are you will not be disappointed!

 Written by Julie Bailis, a Registered Yoga Teacher, Crossfitter, rock climber, foodie, and lover of life. Learn more about her at www.yogawithjulieb.com.

Yoga for Stress Management

Yoga for Stress Management

We all experience stress on a daily level. Usually most of our stress is the chronic stress of annoyances like those nagging “to do” lists always in our minds, the hassles of driving, or the bombardment of information and technology.  Current research is showing that daily yoga, if even for a few minutes, can help alleviate that chronic stress and leave not only our minds clearer, but our bodies healthier.

The physical effects of stress are numerous—blood pressure rises, the pulse quickens, digestion is adversely affected, and by the end of the day, we are often exhausted physically and mentally.  Stress can bring on headaches, migraines, asthma, and even coronary heart disease. The long-term effects of this stress can also lead to allergies, susceptibility to colds, insomnia, and cancer (Seaward, 2011).  Managing our stress can literally save our life, and yoga is one of many possible techniques.

Yoga_at_a_Gym

Yoga is an ancient practice that has gained new popularity in the United States, and numerous new studies are finding that yoga indeed reduces stress.  A study published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine (2011) found that “ongoing yoga training reduces the level of mental disturbance, anxiety, anger, and fatigue not only over the short- or intermediate-term, but also over a long term.” This study also found that long-term yoga reduces anxiety, anger and fatigue.  Another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health (2011), found that those doing yoga showed “marked improvements in feelings of clear-mindedness, composure, elation, energy, and confidence. In addition, the yoga group reported increased life purpose and satisfaction, and feelings of greater self-confidence during stressful situations.” The researchers of this study went so far as to suggest that employers offer yoga classes in the workplace as a way to manage stress effectively. 

The more we make relaxation techniques like yoga a daily part of our practice, the easier it is to relax, unwind and return to homeostasis or balance. Having relaxation tools means we are more likely to be able to “roll with the punches” of the day with a little more grace, a lot more humor, and greater sense of integrity. As our yoga practice become more and more part of our daily lives, we will feel a greater sense of ease, be able to recover from a stressful situation more quickly, and that chronic nagging feeling will start to dissipate.  Also, the more we practice these kinds of management techniques, the more easily we are able to recognize when we are out of balance and then we can take action to return to homeostasis sooner before the depleting effects of chronic stress have a chance to set in. 

 

References

Hartfiel, N., Havenhand, J., Khalsa, S. B., Clarke, G., & Krayer, A. (2011). The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace.  Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(1), 70-76.

Seaward, B. L. (2011). Essentials of Managing Stress (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Yoshihara, K., Hiramoto, T., Sudo, N., & Kubo, C. (2011). Profile of mood states and stress-related biochemical indices in long-term yoga practitioners. BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 5. doi:10.1186/‌1751-0759-5-6


 

Salad in a jar: The great lunch idea that I can’t stop sharing!

Salad in a jar: The great lunch idea that I can’t stop sharing!

Summertime is a great season to be enjoying all the fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets.  Because it is usually hot, summer is also a great time to eat foods like fresh vegetables and fruits that are both cooling and hydrating. Salads can be great way to eat these, but how do you eat and prepare salads if you are on the go?

Well, I have to share one of favorite lunch ideas, and really, this is one I just can’t stop sharing! Have you heard of salad-in-a-jar? The basic concept is to make your salads ahead of time to save time in the week, but the idea is to use a mason jar to keep the contents separate until you are ready to mix them together.  The dressing goes on the bottom and the greens on very top to keep them from getting wilted and wet. Brilliant!

You can really be creative with this idea, but my favorite recipes to get started are found on this great recipe blog called The Yummy Life by Monica Matheny. I love that  she starts with cooked quinoa at the base, so you get some great protein and fiber in your salad and the salad dressing gets soaked up there. The recipes are also all gluten-free and vegan. Lastly, not only are the recipes yummy and varied, but she also has some excellent preparation tips.

Take this concept and run with it! The variations and possibilities are endless. You could use brown rice instead of quinoa or no grain at all. What some meat in there?—Then add some grilled organic chicken or smoked wild salmon. I also like to vary the nuts I add to my salads, so one day it will be walnuts and another pistachios. The vegetable choices are endless—green beans, celery, carrots, shredded beets—you name it! You could even add some seasonally fruit like berries or peaches for some added flavor. Lastly, I love that you can make these ahead of time and be ready to grab and go the rest of the week!

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

And for other salad-in-jar inspirations, check out the following:
http://backtoherroots.com/2013/04/09/salad-in-a-jar-101/
http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/how-to-make-salad-in-a-jar-2
http://www.skinnymomskitchen.com/2013/02/12/my-thoughts-on-mason-jar-salads/
http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2012/06/vegan-salad-in-jar-make-ahead-bliss.html

salad closeup

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