Things You Can Learn From Your Dog About Living Well

The old adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ gets completely turned around on us when you consider the life philosophy of a pooch. In fact, my six-month old Australian Shepherd (pictured right) never fails to remind me how much we’ve both benefited from her energetic spirit and how it has affected my own well-being.

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For instance, my electronic alarm clock has been replaced by a cold nose and warm heart that rouse me from slumber to visit the great outdoors at 7:00 a.m. each morning with unfaltering regularity. Now, this might not seem like much but, believe me, I would otherwise drift right back into z-land were it not for her insistence. After all, being a freelance writer and editor working from home for most of my adult life, I could always indulge in the classic, ‘I don’t wanna go to school today’ excuse to lay beneath the covers longer. Fortunately for my pup, she’s immune to such pouts and she doesn’t come equipped with a snooze button. Neither does her bladder.

Fortunately for me, however, she allows me to get my work done during the day. In fact, right after a morning cup of tea for me, and a slosh in the water bowl for her, I actually announce that it’s time to go to work. That’s her cue to select a chew toy and toddle down the hall after to me to my office. However, there comes a point in the afternoon when I’m asked to take a cue from her: the leash dangling from her mouth clearly says, “It’s a nice day. Get your walking shoes on.”

There are other daily highlights that we both look forward to and learn from. Obedience and agility training provides an opportunity to develop honest communication and mutual trust. It teaches the life lesson that if you want to win the prize, then do the work to get there, whether it’s learning to sit and stay or to jump through a hoop. And, sometimes, just the sense of accomplishment of a job well done is reward enough, even if liver treats are available. Most importantly, never take your eye off the ball.

What else can you learn from your dog (or mine, if you don’t have one of your own)? Perhaps it’s this: live simply, but mindfully. While your busy juggling work, family, home, finances and…oh, yeah…making time for yourself, remember to keep your eye on the ball, whether your goal is to shed a few extra pounds, build muscle, or increase your energy and stamina.

See what you can take away from the following ‘tips’ offered by Arden Moore, author of 50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Dog (Storey Books 2000), who no doubt channeled these life-affirming guidelines from a canine guru…
  • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • If you want what lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Take naps and stretch before rising.



Meet Your Inner Child

You may have heard the term ‘inner child’ before but, aside from being a trendy psycho-catchphrase, what does it really mean? Put simply, to embrace your inner child is to reunite your adult self with your past self for the purpose of exploring what makes you the unique individual you are today.

Does this sound scary? It could be for some of us, and for valid reasons. However, there is a point to doing so beyond nostalgia. Revisiting the environment you were exposed to as a child has a very big impact on your life script—how you perceive yourself today, the roles that you play, and how you developed the voice given to your inner dialogue and self-critic.

Believe it or not, most of us have laid out our life script by the time we reach kindergarten. By this tender age, we’ve learned to police our own actions so that we may keep our hands to ourselves and model other forms of behavior that make us socially acceptable. However, we also discovered a few loopholes along the way. For instance, we learned that being sickly brings extra attention while rebellion equates to withdrawal of the same. Some of us may have even learned to think of food as not being necessary for survival and good health but as a symbol of reward or punishment. While exceptional performance at school or in sports might have yielded a gooey treat, poor behavior might have resulted in being sent to bed without dinner. Then there's the mixed messages to contend with. Good girls clean their plate, but eating more than a bird's portion carries the risk of seeming unladylike, not to mention the danger of growing beyond a size two. These deep-seated social stigmas are often where eating disorders--from binge eating to crash and yo-yo dieting--stem from.

We also learn early on that our parents and caretakers have certain expectations of us. Falling short of these expectations can sometimes mar the blueprint for fabulousness we were born with and give birth to feelings of inadequacy instead. In fact, this is essentially when we learn to identify ourselves as winners or losers.

But, that’s all in the past, right? Not necessarily. The lingering memory of the feedback received about yourself from your parents and the world at large continue to influence your actions, emotional response and rational self-evaluation skills. And guess what? If those messages were more negative than positive, then chances are you permit your current coworkers, spouse and others in your adult life to pick up the slack where your past left off and continue to stamp your life script.

Now for the good news: You can learn to integrate your adult self with your inner child. In other words, we can let our inner child out to play, but then invite her to grow up. When the adult self leads the inner child instead of the other way around, we no longer surrender our identities to be defined by others. We also move beyond self-imposed instructions and restrictions that limit our potential.

How can you do this? By using the same tool that many therapists use—you make a contract with yourself to change your life script.

Next blog The Contract



Is Stress Triggering Your Hunger Hormone?

We all know that stress, albeit unavoidable at times, is bad for us. Chronic stress can lead to health problems as well as emotional issues, including depression and anxiety. To counteract, we sometimes respond by eating comfort foods, even though we’re not necessarily hungry. However, there may be a physiological reason for this behavior beyond simply hoping to nurse our battered selves into feeling better (at least temporarily). That reason may be due to the action of the hunger hormone, also known as ghrelin.

Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas whenever we’ve gone without food for too long. Its primary mission is to stimulate the brain to send the message that it’s time to eat. Naturally, once we submit to this command and take in some food, levels of this hormone begin to subside and our brain tells us that we’ve had enough. In fact, this is where the sensation of feeling full first stems from.

Unfortunately, enduring stress causes ghrelin levels to increase. Not only does this trigger the brain into thinking we need to eat more, but it also makes memory centers in the brain remember food better. In effect, increased production of the hunger hormone in response to stress can turn us into food junkies.

We know this due to a recent study on the effects of ghrelin, the findings of which were reported in New Scientist. The study researchers scanned the brains of a dozen subjects and then allowed them to enjoy breakfast. A few hours later, the study subjects were injected with ghrelin and their brains were scanned again, only this time, after showing them pictures of juicy hamburgers, pizza, and other enticing foods. Not only did the study subjects become hungry again, but certain brain areas also lit up like Christmas trees. As the article states, “Seeing pictures of pizza and other treats sparked activity in several brain regions involved in decision-making and anticipating a payoff.” In other words, their brains responded to food in the same way that an addictive personality might respond to the thought of receiving alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.

The next time someone tells you that they’re a junk food junky you can believe it. Only now you can tell them why (not that they’ll want to hear it). But, the question is, how can you prevent yourself from falling into the same trap?

The answer is to take steps to manage your stress. To that end, we have some suggestions to help you do just that.

Learn to delegate responsibility. Unless you operate under a written contract, there’s no reason why you can’t farm out certain tasks that can be completed by someone else whenever possible. This applies to your domestic life as well as your work environment.

Open up and say OM. Setting aside a few moments a day to meditate can do a lot to help you reduce stress and stay balanced. You don’t have to become a robe-clad philosophical guru to benefit from meditation either. There are scores of books, videos and audio tools available to help you learn the basics.

Get moving. Exercise in any amount naturally lowers stress levels as well as offering additional benefits, such as improved circulation and immunity. So get out there and do what you love, whether it’s hiking, cycling or just taking the dog for a walk around the block.



Lose Weight and Gain Better Health with Green Tea

In the west, the U.S. is second only to Great Britain in tea consumption, brewing more than 2.2 billion gallons each year--enough to fill more than 160,000 swimming pools. But, tea offers more benefits than being a soothing beverage to be served at social gatherings, or to ward off the chill of a winter's night. There is mounting evidence to suggest that drinking tea may also reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular disease and many forms of cancer. In addition, green tea is an effective and easy way to help you lose weight.

Different Cups of Tea

The three most common types of tea manufactured are green tea, black tea (often labeled as pekoe or orange pekoe), and oolong tea. The difference between them lies in how the leaves are processed. Black tea is by far the most popular, comprising 77% of the world's tea production, and is the result of allowing the leaves to ferment before drying. Oolong tea production involves partial fermentation, while green tea is not fermented at all.

Tea leaves are an abundant source of flavonoids (sometimes called bioflavonoids), a group of compounds with antioxidant properties that lend many plants their color. Of specific interest are the flavonoids catechins and flavonols which prevent the synthesis of peroxides and free radicals, agents that can invade cell membranes and damage genetic material. Certain chemicals found in the molecular structure of these beneficial flavonoids, collectively known as phenolic groups, bind with peroxides and free radicals to annul their ability to cause damage.

The fermentation process activates the oxidation of catechins to convert them into the secondary flavonoids theraflavin and thearubigin, also highly oxidant and responsible for the rich color and flavor of black and oolong teas. Green tea, on the other hand, is manufactured without fermentation and the original catechin structure is preserved. The most significant catechin present in tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is much more abundant in green tea, with a single cup yielding from 40 to 90 milligrams.

British researchers recently published the results of two studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which reported that green tea increases fat and carbohydrate oxidation when combined with just 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.

New Life from an Old Tradition

Tea drinking is an ancient custom with origins in 2737 BC China. Reputedly, the Emperor Shen Nung, known as the great "divine healer," first sampled tea after a gust of wind carried a few stray leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant to an open pot of boiling water. Today, approximately 3,000 varieties of tea are made from this single plant, at least 300 in China alone. Perhaps that's why the old Chinese proverb relates, "Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one."


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