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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Should yoga be part of your life?

Saturday, February 25, 2017
Yoga pose by martin louis via MorgueFileYou’ve probably seen those lycra-clad people purposefully striding towards their yoga class, colourful rolled-up mat tucked under their arm. Should you be doing yoga too? After all, so many folk seem to be taking part these days, and apparently enjoying extra flexibility and strength as a result. 

But you’ve heard yoga’s a spiritual practice, requiring membership of a religious group. And don’t these yoga classes mean you’ll be contorting yourself into uncomfortable, impossible positions like wrapping your leg around your neck? 

Fear not. Yoga certainly is an ancient practice, ‘originating from a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline’ according to Google. So it began as a spiritual practice, certainly. But as more people around the world joined in it’s been modified into many different versions for those with specific needs and preferences. Some spiritual groups emphasise yoga, but just as many groups are focused only on the physicality of the practice.

Yoga has become popular because it helps develop your flexibility and strength. That means more ease of movement, and for older adults, less pain and inconvenience from lost mobility that threatens your ability to continue living independently. Yoga also returns you to connection with your body, often needed by those of us who work in intellectual fields. It also allows you to pause and de-stress, especially with the period of quiet meditation that concludes classes. Pretty good all round. 

Because yoga has become so popular, it has sparked the interest of scientists, reviewing how helpful yoga is or could be for supporting specific conditions like asthma, pain, mental health and high blood pressure.

There’s now specific yoga classes for seniors, for mums with bubs, pre-natal yoga, hot yoga, anti-gravity yoga, and some traditional forms too, Iyengar and Hatha. It’s pretty simple to work out if you fit into the ‘seniors’ or ‘pre-natal’ categories, but how do you choose which yoga style is right for you?

The best way to find a class and a teacher you can relate to is through trying out a few different classes and yoga styles, until you find one the best one for you. Keep in mind that yoga is called a ‘practice’ for a reason: you need to keep practising to achieve better results. Check your teacher is accredited to ensure they’re been trained professionally; that helps keep you safe. And, of course, if you have any pre-existing health conditions it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Learn From Your Dog About Work Life Balance'

Image credit: Martin Louis via morgue file

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Help for when the mosquito leaves more than just a bite

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mosquito. Image credit Dodgerton SkilhauseYou’re entitled to feel a little nervous: relaxing outside on a balmy tropical evening, you notice a mosquito feasting on your arm. Although your instinctive reaction means the mosquito’s life comes to an abrupt end, you can’t help but worry.

That concern is justified: That tiny mosquito could suck out your energy and joy of life in one brief visit, through infecting you with of the tropical mosquito-borne viruses like Ross River or Barmah Forest. These viruses can flatten previously healthy, active people for months with debilitating symptoms including joint ache and relentless dragging fatigue. Some become too unwell to work.

Although many people recover their health completely, others are affected for months or even years with their vibrancy impaired and sometimes with ongoing pain. The urban myth claims nothing can help, but in fact, from a naturopathic perspective, several tools are available to help relieve the symptoms and speed recovery.

If you’ve been struck down by one of these tropical viruses, one of the key strategies you have is rest. Your body is literally fighting an infection; that uses immense amounts of energy. Remember the last time you had a flu or cold, how depleted you felt? Well, the tropical viruses are like the flu, but a more serious form of infection. 

You’ve probably noticed how easily colds and flus can ‘hang on’ when you refuse to allow recovery rest, soldiering on as if nothing was happening. It’s the same with the mosquito-borne viral illnesses: Refuse to rest and you’ll suffer the symptoms even longer. So rest is your number one priority.

Another strategy is to utilise food as medicine and incorporate more immune-boosting, inflammation calming foods into your diet. That means fresh raw foods with a high nutrient density: raw juices, salads, fresh fruits. Remember that home-made chicken soup as an anti-viral isn’t just an old wives’ tale, it’s been scientifically proven to help as it calms down the inflammation-inciting activity of particular immune cells, neutrophils. And that helps because a large contributor to your aches and pains is the waste materials of the immune battle irritating your nerve endings. Calm the inflammation and you help reduce the pain.

Finally, your herbalist has natural remedies available to help too. Some research has identified particular herbs as active against specific viruses; other herbs have a broader range of activity. There are also natural remedies to help calm the inflammation that can create joint and muscle pain. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Quenching the Fires of Inflammation' here 

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You can blame bacteria for your bad breath

Saturday, February 11, 2017
Bad breath is one of those embarrassing conditions that can really put a dampener on your social and romantic life. Finding the source can be challenging though, so here are some common causes and a couple of home remedies to help.

The key point to remember is that bacteria smell. The more bacteria, the more powerful the odour they create through their sulphurous off gassing. Somehow, humans are attuned to detecting the distinctive aroma of harmful bacteria. Perhaps that’s how we’ve learnt to detect ‘off’ food that could poison us and to feel repelled by the smell of contagious infection. Bad breath means bad bacteria, means instinctive revulsion.
The challenge with treating bad breath is discovering what part of your anatomy that smell originates from, and persisting long enough to evict the unwanted colony. Start at your mouth, as it’s a hive of bacterial activity. 

Bacteria are constantly being ingested through food, on air particles, and through kissing (technical term for a process of exchanging body fluids with others). To help keep you safe your immune system has established boundary patrols on all surfaces, called immunoglobulins. They identify potentially dangerous bacteria then alert immune cells to destroy them. This happens in all areas of your body where the inside meets the outside world: sinuses, nose, mouth, intestines, ear canals, vagina, urinary tract.

We also host colonies of commensal (helpful) bacteria on these surfaces. Although the good bacteria also have a distinctive smell, to us they don’t smell ‘bad’, because they’re ‘good’ bacteria.
Change the conditions on your internal mucous membranes and the bacterial balance will change, as will the smell. When you consider your mouth, tongue, tonsils and sinuses are full of moist little crypts harbouring bacteria, you can see how easily an odorous colony could set up their own safe haven.

Further down your digestive tract, reduced stomach acidity (which often happens with age) promotes bad breath; simply because the pH of food when it leaves your stomach affects the bacterial balance of your intestines; and bad bacteria love a more alkaline intestinal environment that an inadequately acidic stomach promotes. 

Some people find the addition of a little apple cider to water before a meal helps boost their stomach enough to restore bacterial harmony. Another home remedy for bad breath is chewing fresh parsley. But to wipe out bad breath completely you need to locate their safe havens and dislodge them by changing your internal environment.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'foods your liver will love'

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Nutritional help for adolescent acne

Saturday, February 04, 2017
As an adolescent rite of passage, acne can make life hell for some teenagers. Some aren’t affected at all, for others the condition is bad enough to draw taunts of ‘pizza face’. It’s cruel: this is a time of life when teenagers become more conscious of their appearance as individuals, and discern their place in the world. If you experienced acne when younger you know first-hand how the embarrassment can really dent your confidence and self-esteem.

What’s behind that acne, though, can vary. So if your adolescent is experiencing acne despite a careful skin care regime, here’s some of the causes, and ways to help nutritionally.

In male adolescents, the growth surge of puberty can bring on shortages of nutrients like zinc and vitamin A. Zinc has a multitude of roles in body biochemical processes, and is needed to get vitamin A out of storage. A protein-rich diet actually enhances zinc absorption. 
Teenager image by Cheryl HoltAt the same time an adolescent’s body needs lots of extra zinc is the time of life your teenage child is becoming more independent in their food choices. What they choose to eat away from home is likely to be influenced by their peers’ food preferences. The teenage years can also be a time when different dietary regimes are explored; so many teenagers try out vegan or vegetarian diets that can be low in micronutrients like zinc and vitamin A.

A teenager’s circadian rhythms can also interfere with their nutrition: many teenagers don’t completely wake up until late morning; so they’re less unlikely to have the appetite for food before school. That can make encouraging them to eat a healthy breakfast challenging.

In young girls, acne can reflect an imbalance of hormones including excess oestrogen and insufficient progesterone promoting over-sensitivity to androgen hormones. Acne in young women can be a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome, which could later interfere with their fertility.

You can help support adolescent nutrition so they’re less vulnerable to acne: Protein-rich foods like eggs, meat and fish are particularly high in zinc, so consider packing hard boiled eggs for their recess snack if they can’t face breakfast. Include high quality protein with their lunch. Nuts are also rich in zinc and other minerals, ideal as snacks. 

Although you can’t control all of what your adolescent eats, you can help support their nutrition with good quality meals when they’re at home. You know, the kind of home cooked meals created from fresh, unprocessed foods. 

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Get More From Your Iron and Zinc Supplements' 

Image credit: Cheryl Holt via MorgueFile 

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Are you really too busy or is it just not important to you?

Saturday, January 28, 2017
man in hammock by ardanea via morguefileI’m not sure if you’ve ever heard yourself murmuring that modern mantra “I’m too busy to….make a real breakfast…..exercise….meditate…. (insert term for any particular health-boosting activity that takes time and effort). But in fact “too busy” could really be code for “this is not important to me”. 

We all have the same allotment of time resources – 24 hours every day. Energy levels differ from one person to another, and our incomes vary.  But we can all make time, gather together energy and money to do what’s important to us. I came across a tweet recently that summed it up beautifully: “People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do.” (@justsitthere) .

Only you can decide what’s important to you and where you want to expend your time, energy and money. But not everyone knows what they value, and when there’s a mis-match between their values and what’s actually happening they can become pretty uncomfortable.

That discrepancy between values and activities is something I often see in clinic as the source of much physical and emotional distress. So there’s a chance a reality check could make you a lot happier – and healthier.

For example, someone whose top priority is family relationships is likely to be happiest working in a field that doesn’t take them away from their family for long periods. A person whose top priority is health will be happiest when devoting resources towards improving their well-being. A parent who has made the conscious decision to make child rearing their top priority will feel best when involved with their children. Someone whose highest value is travelling will devote their resources towards that. 

Want to know what’s most important to you? On a sheet of paper list the areas of parenting, personal growth, leisure, spirituality, health, work, community, family, partnerships and social relationships. Number them in order of importance to you. Then, number the list again by how you’re actually spending your time/energy/money. If there’s a mis-match between the two lists, you might be feeling unfulfilled, dissatisfied, even stressed. 

Health crises can sometimes be a wake-up call that the activities you’re pouring your effort and resources into don’t actually match your values. So if you catch yourself murmuring “I’m too busy to….” perhaps what you really mean is that it’s not an activity you value. That’s OK; but when your life activities revolved around what’s important for you, more happiness and health can follow.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Controversies of Health: Why do they keep changing the rules?"

Image credit: Ardanea via MorgueFile

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What those meal replacement shakes can't provide

Saturday, January 21, 2017
You’ve probably heard of meal replacement shakes, the nutrition and weight loss ‘solutions’ promoted for people so busy they can’t stop to eat. You might also have heard of complete meal replacements like Soylent, a manufactured drink of nutrients designed to save you from ever having to pick up a saucepan, knife or chopping board again.

On the surface, the meal replacement shake seems an effortless way to shift your breakfast from carbohydrate-based (toast, cereal) towards a healthier protein base. It’s this shift in macronutrient balance that can accelerate weight loss, certainly. But those shakes can’t provide the emotional benefits of eating real food.

Some brave souls have tried living on those powdered meal replacements and wrote about their experience. I think one of them, Josh Helton, put it best when describing what he missed most from food: “The process of eating solid food creates space, breathing, and slowness. It creates perspective”.

So although meal replacement shakes may seem to offer you extra time, it could add to your sense of stress and overwhelm too. For example, imagine you catapult yourself out of bed, grab a meal replacement shake, concentrate to get through peak hour traffic safely. Juggle the demands and priorities of work and eat at your desk. Rush home through more heavy traffic. How stressed are you likely to be without having paused all day? How available will you be for your relationships?

Compare this with a day where you deliberately sit down at the breakfast table with your family. Then take a break at lunchtime away from your desk to enjoy a salad. Sure, you’ve had to put a little extra effort in, and there will be more dishes to wash; but how are you feeling emotionally? How are your relationships with your partner and your family as a result of making this extra effort? 

Along with real food, you get the chance to stop and think. To connect with others around the table. To enjoy the sensory input of the sight, smell and taste of food. Eating is one of the great pleasures of life. There’s the sensory input of the smell and taste of food. The comforting energetic warmth of home-made dishes. 

If you’re considering meal replacement shakes, consider also whether this way of eating really reflects what you want out of life – or are you willing to make the extra effort, so that food becomes a part of nurturing you and your relationships?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How Mindful Eating Can Improve Your Health'

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Your holidays restored's how to hold on to the benefits

Saturday, January 14, 2017
How did you feel returning to work after the Christmas holiday break? I bet that by the time you closed the door on your office for the last time in December you were really craving a little time out. Hopefully that restorative rest has put you in a better place to handle the challenges of life again.

Even if it was just a short break – only the public holidays – didn’t it make a difference? Got more energy now? More patience with people? More easily able to focus on your work, less reactive? That’s the power of restorative rest. Imagine if you could feel the benefits of time out between holidays, despite the relentless demands of modern life.

We have developed an unhelpful collective cultural expectation that you’ll be available to take that call, respond to that text and compose a reply to that email 24 hours a day. Being busy is a badge of honour, it seems.

The result can be burnout, a subtle and insidious erosion of your emotional and physical health: Three signs of burnout are an increasing incidence of irritating behaviour in others, reduced tolerance, and you can’t remember the last time you laughed. 

Although you can’t change that people and work have expectations, what you can change is how you manage it. To help you rest and restore your equilibrium like a holiday does. The key is to make your breaks deliberate and regular.

Daily meditators have learnt this advantage. They switch off from the world, completely, for a period of time every day. This reduces the chronic cortisol (stress hormone) secretion that leads to so much unhappiness and physical ailments too. Not yet a regular meditator? Try out some of the guided meditations readily available for free through websites like You can start small with just a few minutes, and build from there. 

If there was just one health-boosting tool I could use for all my clients, it's daily meditation. 

Children can learn meditation and there are free online resources to show you how. So why not include your entire family in your meditation practice?

Meditation as a mini-rest is one of those subtle mood boosters that seem to have no obvious benefit in the moment, but in the long term you and those around you notice your improved mood. Taking this time out will help you cope better with life, and help you feel happier, just like a holiday does. Worth making time out of your busy day to make it happen, do you think?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How to Meditate' here 

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The season of silly diets

Saturday, January 07, 2017
Loud and proud, there it was on the back of a bus: The advertisement proclaiming the aero club could teach you to fly solo in just one week.  For those of you familiar with the process of learning to fly this is quite a bold statement. There’s the theory element to understand, plus plenty of practice in getting that plane off the ground, keeping it in the air and, most important of all, landing without damaging you or the plane. Understandably, this takes time, patience and effort. But the ad was promising lots for little effort. 

There are some parallels, perhaps, with silly diet season; that time after the season of over-indulgence. Characteristically, in silly diet season magic diets, tablets and powders appear promising you can lose X kilos without effort on your part, and without exercise. They seem to work, too, if you believe your bathroom scales. 
But what the marketing won’t tell you is what happens when you return to your normal diet. Which most do, because you this isn’t a diet you can live with forever. When you do, the kilos will bounce back on, often plus a little bit more. All because your body can’t tell the difference between a magic diet and being starved to death.
The silly diet with its radical change sets off metabolic alarms in your body. In response, your body will favour maintaining your fat deposits, and preferentially take the calories it needs from your muscles – the muscles you’re not using because this diet promised you didn’t have to exercise.

Indeed, the numbers on the scales will drop, and you feel a sense of success. Goal achieved, you decide to return to normal eating. And that’s when the problems begin. 

You see, muscle cells are constantly hungry for energy. The more muscle cells you have, the faster your metabolism runs and the more food you can eat without gaining weight. Fat cells, in comparison, use up almost no energy.
 Since you end up with fewer muscle cells after a silly diet, you don’t need as many calories now and your weight loss will bounce straight back on. 

The moral of this story? Like learning to fly, if you want to lose weight and keep it off forever you’ll actually have to put in the time consuming, uncomfortable yet essential hard work of self management, changing what you eat, and exercising to build up those muscle cells.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "The Paris Diet vs The SAD Diet" 

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Are your buttons being pushed?

Monday, January 02, 2017
Image credit Anita Peppers via MorguefileIdly waiting in the post office queue, the toy with a “try me”! sticker caught my attention. A hole cut in the packaging was just big enough to push the button and create a noise loud enough to make everyone around me turn around to look. It made me think of the metaphorical buttons we can all wear from time to time; the ones that seem to control our reactions (but don’t have to).

Ever heard the term ‘that person really pushed my buttons’? It just means they’ve (unconsciously or deliberately) located a way to make you respond in a particular way. Somehow, people close to you can learn intuitively how to generate a reaction. Children especially seem to have an uncanny ability to locate these buttons on their parents. In response they get anger, or a hug, or perhaps they know you’ll cave in on their request if they repeatedly push the same button.  

It can seem that you have no choice but to respond in a pre-defined way when someone in your life pushes your buttons. That you are helpless to respond in any other way except the way you have in the past. But in reality, how you choose to respond to another person actually puts you in a far more powerful position than you might think.
Victor Frankl, a psychotherapist and survivor of internment in the Holocaust, put it well: He pointed out that his captors could never take away his power of choice in how to respond. You also have this power too if you want to learn how to use it. The key is to be present enough to notice when your particular emotional buttons are being pushed.

You might sense a flash of emotion burst forth when it happens. For example, while hunting down a car parking spot, someone cheekily pushes ahead into the space you’ve been waiting for. Your emotional button labelled “How Dare You” lights up, and you automatically reach towards that big loud button situated in the centre of most steering wheels. Anger ensues, and your mood plummets. Instead, you could decide to just let it go. Move on, knowing another parking spot will open up.

What’s the reward if you choose to notice your automatic emotional reaction and this time, respond differently? In letting something like this go, you get to enjoy life more, spend your day in a better mood. Worth the trouble, do you think?

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Managing Your Inner Toddler' 

Image credit: Anita Peppers via MorgueFile

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The breakfast to beat fatigue

Monday, January 02, 2017

"Feeling tired" is one of the most frequent complaints I hear in clinic. But sometimes the cause of that fatigue is actually something that can be easily addressed: by starting the day better, with the kind of real breakfast that will actually support energy production during a demanding day.

People on the standard Australian diet (SAD for short) customarily catapult themselves out of bed, briefly pausing in the kitchen to grab a bite to eat before rushing out the door. In some circles it’s a badge of honour to boast about how little time it takes from when your eyelids open to when you put the key in the car ignition.

Some people do this a slightly different way: bypassing the kitchen, then a pit stop at the bakery or café for food and coffee, somehow balancing both with the steering wheel as they rush to work.

Problem is, either kind of breakfast isn’t going to power you through a busy day. A high carbohydrate breakfast like a bakery pastry will be absorbed quickly. Your blood glucose level will soar upwards, fast. But because it’s just carbohydrates, by mid-morning your blood glucose level will drop, leaving your brain short on fuel, prompting you to reach for the coffee and biscuits. 

Your day can become an exhausting energy rollercoaster of highs and lows that leave you with almost no energy by the end of the day. But deliberately making time to eat a real breakfast while seated at the table, can set up stable, calm energy for your busy day.

Stopping for a real breakfast also offers you the chance to pause; and digestion always works better when you’re more relaxed. That’s because eating mindfully (undistracted by rushing) reduces your cortisol secretion, enabling digestive enzyme production. If you suffer from indigestion eating on the run could be the cause.

Change your breakfast and you’ll notice positive changes within a week. You’ll miss the mid-morning sugar cravings. Even better, that mid-afternoon energy slump will begin to evaporate. And in the evening you won’t be as ravenously hungry. Perhaps you’ll be able to say ‘no’ to dessert for a change. This is all good for your mood and your waistline.

So what’s a “good” breakfast? Something like eggs and avocado on toast; or a vegetable omelette; perhaps home made baked beans with hard boiled eggs. None of these take much time to prepare and cook, and yet the energy benefits will stay with you all day. 

[Need some breakfast inspiration? Take a look at my Instagram account , I often post breakfast shots there. ]

The photo is one of my favourite breakfasts, zucchini fritters with home made baked beans. You can follow the links to the recipes on this blog. 

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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