Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Forget Consumerism… Save Thanksgiving! Parts 2, 3, 4, 5…Ad Infinitum

The Sacrificial Lamb!

Well perhaps the heading above is not quite correct. Perhaps instead of “the sacrificial lamb” I should say the sacrificial turkey. And perhaps what I mean by “sacrificial turkey” is…. You! (Gobble, gobble?). Well, not YOU the reader, but you collectively – or “we” collectively – as the Black Friday consumers.
Believe-it-or-not, there are some “sacrificial consumers” out there in consumer-land! Did you know that there are actually fatalities associated with this mad, MAD consumerist day known as Black Friday? Seriously, no kidding! Just Google “Black Friday tragedies.” If you do, you might find something that looks like this:

·         Wal-Mart Worker Dies in Rush
·         Two Killed at Toy Store
·         Three Die in Black Friday Tragedies
·         Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death
·         Unborn Baby Crushed in Wal-Mart

(And you thought your grandmother’s Thanksgiving “turkey a la mode” was bad!)

Seriously folks, this is not a joke – at least it is not a joke to me. I mean look at that last headline… “Unborn Baby Crushed in Wal-Mart.” Is this what we have become? Are we so desperate for that “grand deal” that we are willing to become “sacrificial” in our efforts? The sacrificial “turkeys” indeed!!!!

What I find most troubling is that we – and I do mean “we” – all know about the Black Friday madness. More Google searches confirm this:

·         New Times dubs Black Friday “Carnival of Capitalism”
·         Time Magazine calls Black Friday “Full Contact Sport”
·         CBS News described Black Friday as “the Super Bowl of Shopping”

A “carnival,” “full contact sport,” and “super bowl?” And who are the winners at these “games?”  The truth is – there are no winners. It seems as the though our special time with family and friends and our Thanksgiving “blessing” wears off by morning just in time for our id impulses to kick-in. We become the savages that Freud new we were deep, deep, deep in our unconsciousness – savages for a 20% discount at Wal-Mart or Target or Best Buy!

Let the games begin?

Along Comes History – Revisited

Let us pause and think back to what Thanksgiving was – and should be again – for those bravest of men and women, the Pilgrims:

“The purpose of this first “Thanksgiving” was to celebrate a bountiful harvest,
to celebrate kinship with the Native Americans…to give thanks to the Lord…
for family, friends, safety, and the harvest…a focus on cooking…and the sharing
of a bountiful meal with family and friends…not one day, not two days, but three

So, in the midst of a day devoted to consumerism and materialism, I think it is time to remember our Pilgrim predecessors and the “traditional” Thanksgiving that they “carved” (ha ha ha – a pun!) for us. Perhaps too, I think it is time to begin reading Blessed Mother Teresa's "A Simple Path" and take some time for some family bonding and self-reflection. As the Buddha says, the root of all suffering is ignorance and desire of carnal pleasure, material goods, and immortality.

Let us be spiritual – and not savages!

Oh, and by the way…Happy Post Thanksgiving!

Gobble! Gobble!



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Forget Consumerism… Save Thanksgiving!

Well, yes, that is the title of my blog, strange as it may sound. However, I must give credit where credit is due…the title above is not mine, it is the name of a Facebook profile devoted to foregoing the mish-mash of holiday consumerism – especially Thanksgiving’s “Black Friday”  – and going back to the roots of Thanksgiving: the celebration of the harvest (e.g., food) and the giving of thanks for what one has! Sounds reasonable, yes! But do you concur? Have we lost the spirit of Thanksgiving and sacrificed its original intent upon the cross of consumerism?

Along Comes History

As I am sure you know – and as the story goes – the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts when the men and women aboard the Mayflower – those famous England Separatists known as the Pilgrims – broke bread with the Native Americans. According to tradition, the purpose of this first“Thanksgiving” was to celebrate a bountiful harvest, to celebrate kinship with the Native Americans living in Massachusetts at the time, and to give thanks to the Lord (aka “higher power”) for family, friends, safety, and the harvest. What came out of this “celebration of celebrations” was a focus on cooking (and I mean a lot of cooking!) and the sharing of a bountiful meal with family and friends. We are told that this Thanksgiving celebration lasted not one day, not two days, but three days! (Holy cow…and I am stuffed after only one meal and tired after only half a day!).
Some historians (including some Native Americans) debate the veracity of this “first Thanksgiving” story. However, whether or not you believe the story itself seems moot.  What seems most important, at least to me, is the implication of the story: making new friends, sharing with others, celebrating with others, giving thanks to our higher power; generally being mindful of who we are, what we have, where we came from, and where we are going. Well call me crazy but that sounds an awful lot like…like…are you ready for it? – Spirituality! So, it would seem that the “first” Thanksgiving embodied something quite spiritual. (Ha, you knew I was going to bring in SOMETHING about mind-body-spirit in this blog! J). But let me stop there before I continue (and believe me… I do have a lot more to say about this “Thanksgiving versus Consumerism” issue over the next several days).

I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the story of “Thanksgiving” shared above? Do you believe it was a spiritual moment for the Pilgrims and the Native Americans? Do you believe that this “spiritual” moment is the purpose of Thanksgiving? Do you get the sense that we may have lost the original meaning of this first Thanksgiving?

Stay tuned to the next part of this blog, which will focus on Thanksgiving consumerism – often referred to as “Black Friday,” and what this shift to consumerism might mean for the development of our Mind-Body and Spirit!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Taking It one step Further...

Hopefully, your interest has been stirred and you would like to explore more information on these topics! If so, here’s an interesting website, a couple of books, and a movie that I highly recommend:

The Pesticide Action Network. Want the latest scientific information on the pesticides used on our foods today? This is the place:

Green goes with Everything by Sloan Barnett. This book has great, easy to understand information about common household pollutants, the problems that they cause, and green alternatives.

Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber, PhD. This book is chock full of scientific studies on various pesticides and more. At first glance, you may think it would put you to sleep, but on the contrary—it is eloquent and moving. I love this book. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have the time to read it, you can order the DVD: http://www.livingdownstream.com/

Please take a moment to watch the trailer:

Happy Holidays,

Nancy Silva, ND
Faculty, Health Sciences

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's Easy to Go Green

This National Resources Defense Council website has information and tips about everything you can imagine from shopping for fish, choosing chemical free sunscreens, controlling fleas without chemicals, to organic lawn care, and so much more! They even have a searchable database where you can get the scoop (health and safety concerns) on common chemicals found in many products on the market today.

Take a moment to check it out:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Going Green

This week I’d like to offer resources for “living green”. First up is a website discussing body burden.

We literally live in a chemical soup. We are constantly breathing in, ingesting, and/or absorbing chemicals. Our air is contaminated by pollution from cars and industrial emissions, our food is covered in pesticides and herbicides, and we slather ourselves in many chemically laden skin care products. We also sit on furniture with flame retardants, use chemicals to clean our homes, etc, the list goes on and on. Have you ever pondered how much of this stuff enters your body? I have and the information is frightening.

 “Body burden” refers to the sum total of these exposures persistent in the human body. Experts estimate the average body burden is in the hundreds. You can read more about this topic here:

The Coming Clean website:

If you would like to explore the latest CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, please click on this link:

Stay tuned for some tips on how to go green…

Nancy Silva, ND
Faculty, Health Sciences

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Missing Element: Part III

The ground work has been laid and if I've done my job, you now have a basic understanding of the importance of strength training.  And if I haven't done my job, take my word for it and try the darn exercises and experience the benefits for yourself.

As I mentioned yesterday, you don't need fancy machines or a lot of equipment to start getting stronger.  I'm going to give you two tracks to choose from.  The first we'll call "Novice Track" and the second we'll call "I've Done the Stuff in Novice and am Ready for More (More)".  Please note:  Don't jump ahead to the More option unless you've actually done (and are competent with) the movements in Novice Track.

I lied a little yesterday.  I said we'd focus on four exercises.  This is true.  But in the Novice program I'm proposing, we're not doing all four of those movements, we'll save a couple for the More Track (hey, it will give you something to look forward to). 

Novice Program
Summary:  You'll do these exercises two times per week.  You'll do 10 repetitions of each and do three sets each session.  The focus should be on good form, not how fast or how many you can do. 

Exercise 1: Body Weight Squat
The squat is a fundamental human movement.  If you lived in a developing nation you would spend much of your day in a squat.  In the developed world chairs have ruined our squats and we are worse for it.  But you're going to correct that and start to squat because squatting makes you stronger in every way.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so watch this video and then start squatting.  But please, focus on deep squats.  Friends don't let friends squat high.

Exercise 2:  Push-Up
Everyone should be able to do push-ups.  Every. Single. Person.  If you haven't done a push-up since grammar school, you may need to modify and start on your knees.  This is totally acceptable.  After a while you'll get stronger and can advance to standard push-ups (on your toes).  Here's a standard push-up with progressions shown.   

Exercise 3: Pull Ups
There are few body weight movements that are as effective for building strength as the good ol' fashioned pull up.  Start doing them.  If you can't do an unassisted pull-up, try using resistance bands for support or a machine at your fitness center.  You can even do "jumping pull ups" (stand with your forehead at bar level and then pull yourself over the bar while jumping). Worst case scenario would be to substitute a lat pull-down, but this is a poor substitute. 

Exercise 4: Sit Ups
Strong abs are key for many of the movements we do in More Track.  Start doing sit ups.  Remember them, you hated them in elementary school too.  I'm not including a video, you know what they look like.

Sample Week of Novice Track
You can do your sets of exercises across (all your squats, all your push-ups, etc) or you can do the format I prefer:

10 squats, then 10 pushups, then 10 pull ups, then 10 sit ups.  Repeat 3 times
Do this two times per week.  It's not a race, focus on good form. 

When you have done this format for a couple weeks, try to progress.  Continue to add more repetitions to the exercises while still maintaining good form.

More Track
Once you feel comfortable with the above mentioned exercises and can do each with good form and relative confidence, it's time to progress and add some new exercises and additional weights.  For this program you still have two strength days, but you will be doing two sets of different exercises:  The squat and the press (day 1) and the deadlift and bench press (day 2).

Day 1: Squat and Press
Nothing makes me happier than squat and press day.  Nothing.  Soon you'll feel the same.  If you've never back squatted before, I strongly urge you to start with a goblet squat.  All you need is a dumbbell.  At first, that dumbbell can be light.  You'll hold it to your chest, and squat in the same manner you did in Novice.  But you've added weight (thus making it harder).  Here's a video.  They use a kettlebell in the video (and you can do) but most of us are more familiar with the dumbbell.    As you progress, your dumbbell should get heavier.  Once you feel proficient with the goblet squat, you can advance to the back squat (which will require additional equipment in the form of barbells and a rack.  You'll need a gym for this).  If you never want to back squat, stick with the goblets, you're still way ahead of 99% of Americans. 

After you do your squats (yes, do them first) you'll do your presses.  I recommend the standing press.  You can again start with dumbbells or with a barbell.  Choice is yours.  Form remains the same. Check it out. 

Day 2: Deadlift and Bench Press
The deadlift may be completely foreign to you, but I'm betting my life savings you know what the bench press looks like.  The deadlift is basically picking-up weight from the floor and standing tall.  Similar to our previous exercises, starting with dumbbells is advisable.  For the deadlift, maintaining good form is critical. Check out the DB deadlift here and with barbells here

After the deadlifts, do your bench press.  I'm not showing you a video, everyone knows how to bench press.  Start with dumbbells.

Sample Week of More Track
Day 1:  3 sets of 10 squats then 3 sets of 10 presses
Day 2:  3 sets of 10 deadlifts then 3 sets of 10 bench presses

And there you have it.  Once you learn the movements there is no limit to how strong you can get.  You can change the exact number of reps and sets over time and be sure to add weight (if you want to get stronger, which you do).  To my knowledge, the world record in the back squat is 1,268 lb and the world record in the deadlift is 1,015 lb.  When you get close to these numbers let me know and I'll take credit for your training.

Posted by Rachel L. May, M.S.
Adjunct Faculty, College of Health Sciences

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Missing Element: Part II

Are you giddy with excitement thinking about the new strength training program you're going to begin this week?  Perhaps you went out and bought a home gym with barbells and dumbbells, perhaps even a kettlebell or two.  Or maybe you still think I'm full of _____ and you're just going to keep on runnin'.  Let's hope it's the former.

Before we discuss exercises, let's address some of the concerns I typically hear from clients when I encourage them to begin a strength training program.  We'll review the ones from yesterday's post. 

1) They don't realize it's included in the Guidelines and is a critical component of fitness. 
ACSM includes strength training in the Guidelines "at least two times per week" with a focus on major muscle groups.  Shocking, I know!  But if it wasn't important for fitness, good health and heck, looking good naked, the fine folks at ACSM wouldn't have included it.  They would have said, "Do lots of cardio, and if you're bored and have time on your hands, lift some weights."  But they didn't.

2) In a time-crunched world, strength training takes a backseat to aerobic activity.  If a client only has 30 minutes a day, I find they focus on the cardio thinking they are getting the most out of their time.

Is aerobic activity important?  Absolutely!  But being strong is important too.  Being strong promotes bone health, functional movements and decreases the risks of falls as we age as well as increases the chances we'll live independently in our golden years.  Personally, I'd prefer to be able to care for myself at 90 than have to rely on someone else to do it for me. 

3) They think only aerobic activities promote weight loss.
Actually there is considerable research that shows that moderate intensity aerobic activity over long periods of time (over 30 minutes) can actually decrease muscle mass -- ever heard of "skinny fat"?  You may weigh less on the scale, but be higher in fat.  No one wants that (or shouldn't)!  Focusing on the scale is the wrong objective, focusing on fat is correct.  Increasing muscle (which burns more calories than fat at rest) should be a goal.  Plus, muscle looks better than fat (see: look good naked above).

4) For women, they think if they do strength training exercises they will "get big" and end-up looking like a masculine, professional body builder.
If a woman has huge, masculine muscles she is on drugs. It is that simple.  Show me a woman with huge biceps and quads, and I'll show you a woman on drugs.  Women do not have enough testosterone to produce big muscles.  If we did, we'd be men.  To the women who say they "get big" when lifting weights, they may.  But that's not big, bulky muscles. That's slightly larger muscles underneath fat -- and this is a nutrition issue.  As my favorite saying goes, "You can't out-exercise a bad diet."  Muscles are under there whether you have a layer of fat covering them or not.

5) They think a strength training program involves many different exercises, scary looking machines and many hours in the gym.

Not only do you not need machines, if you're new to strength training, all you need is your body weight.  The exercises I encourage you to incorporate into your program involve only four movements (though I'll give you some additional choices should you feel froggy) and involve either dumbbells or barbells -- standard equipment at any decent fitness center (or available for purchase at a reasonable cost for a home gym).  Don't use machines -- be the machine!  As for the time requirement, well, how long do you think four exercises can take?

I hope I've convinced you (or at least given you reason to consider) that incorporating strength training (and the right kind of strength training) into your fitness program is important.  No, not important, critical.  Tomorrow we'll discuss the only four exercises you need to know to get stronger:  the squat, press, deadlift and bench press.  As mentioned, I'll give you additional options, but these exercises when performed correctly work nearly every muscle in the body and do so in a way that is relevant to human performance and daily life.   Stay tuned for the good stuff!
Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Missing Element: Part I

"Tell me about your exercise program."  I must say this two dozen times per week.  The answers from my clients vary widely.  Some clients exercise for hours each week and some exercise not at all.  But among all my clients (and I would argue for most members of the community at large) they know two things about exercise: 1) It's good for you -- it promotes good health, disease prevention and weight control and 2) You should do aerobic type activities at least 30 minutes most days of the week.  Leading health promotion organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine have done an excellent job in promoting awareness about the health benefits of moderate intensity aerobic activity, and almost all of us (exercisers or not) are familiar with the guidelines. 

But rarely do my clients (and again, I'll argue members of the larger community) realize that strength training exercises are equally (if not more) important for their fitness and overall health.  The ACSM Guidelines in fact include recommendations for strength training exercises at least two times per week.  But for whatever reason, the focus in public health has been almost exclusively on aerobic activities.  As such I meet very few people, especially women, who engage in any kind of regular strength training activities.  This is a shame, no, not a shame, a tragedy!

Most of my clients are women.  When I say to them, "Tell me about your exercise program", the majority (who are physically active) tell me they do some form of cardio exercise, usually walking/jogging, several times per week.  I have yet to meet a woman who comes in for a consultation and tells me about her squat, press and deadline routine. 

Why don't more people, especially women, engage in a regular strength training program? 

1) They don't realize it's included in the Guidelines and is a critical component of fitness.

2) In a time-crunched world, strength training takes a backseat to aerobic activity.  If a client only has 30 minutes a day, I find they focus on the cardio thinking they are getting the most out of their time.

3) They think only aerobic activities promote weight loss.

4) For women, they think if they do strength training exercises they will "get big" and end-up looking like a masculine, professional body builder.

5) They think a strength training program involves many different exercises, scary looking machines and many hours in the gym.

In this week's blog posts I am going to put your misconceptions about strength training to bed.  By the end of our series you'll understand that lifting heavy weights -- regardless of your gender -- is critically important for health, weight loss and aging.  But more important than the fact that you will know why you should be lifting heavy weights, I'm going to tell you how to do it using basic equipment and exercises.

So c'mon, let's get strong! 

Posted by Rachel L. May, M.S.
Adjunct Faculty, College of Health Sciences
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Elderberry Elixir

It's funny how daylight savings time always seems to be synonymous with the cold and flu season in my family.  Maybe it's some kind of circadian rhythm reaction, but it never fails to hit us.  Luckily I have my secret weapon.

I know, I know, I posted this last cold and flu season so it's actually not so secret.  Well, it's back by popular demand…..Elderberry Elixir!  This fantastic tonic made from Elderberries and honey boosts immunity, has great anti-viral properties, works as an anti-oxidant, and contains high amounts of Vitamin C.  It has even been reported to lessen the symptoms and duration of a cold or flu.  It has worked its magic for my family and could be just the medicine for yours.

Although it's a very gentle and safe herb, be sure to research contraindications and talk to a qualified health care professional before you mix up a batch. 

 Elderberry Elixir

-4 oz Elderberries (about ½ cup)
-1 Cinnamon Stick
-1 tblspn Ginger
-3-4 sticks of Astragalus
-2 cups Water
- 1 cup Honey


1. Mix ingredients (minus the honey) in a small saucepan
2. Bring to low boil.  Then, simmer covered until reduced by half (about 20 minutes).
3. Strain through mesh strainer or cheesecloth
4. Add Honey
5. Enjoy!
***Store in glass jars refrigerated for up to 2 weeks

By the way it tastes great, and is an excellent way to boost immunity in your little ones.
General dosage is 1-2 tsp for children, 3X daily.
Adult dosage is 1-2 tblspns, 3X daily.

Stay Healthy!
Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween Harvest

This year Halloween in our town was cancelled.  Really!  Perhaps you heard about the massive power outages and severe tree damage in Western MA?  Yeah, my town was included in that.  And because there were trees and power lines everywhere, trick or treating was not even an option. 

Of course I can't say I was too terribly sad about this development, although I did feel bad for my kids.  But worrying about whether or not my kids gorged themselves on too much candy was just one more worry I didn't need.  I mean, when you have a 50 ft. Maple tree through your bedroom window, you want to keep it simple. :)

Instead of filling buckets with candy this year, we went to a friends farm to share a meal (and their heat and power).  Almost everything on their table was grown right there on the farm.  From the corn used to make the corn chowder and muffins to the acorn squash and potatoes.  Even the after-dinner Tulsi tea was grown and dried right there on the farm.  Looking around at the barrels of apples waiting to be dried or canned and the herbs hanging from the ceiling I was reminded of what Halloween used to represent.  The celebration of the harvest.  Being thankful for the bounty of the summer and preparing for the long winter ahead. 

It felt good to be thankful for hot home-cooked food and good friends.  And although I'm sure next year you'll find us wandering our neighborhood for candy with the kids again, I think I might add a new tradition of family, friends and harvest into the mix. 

Happy Harvest!
Kristin Henningsen M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.
Saturday, November 5, 2011

Movin On

Embracing change is by far no easy task.  A few weeks ago my family and I uprooted from our small South Carolina town to move back up to the Northeast.  Just in time for a few weeks of fall colors (or so we thought)!  We were sad to leave our sweet little southern town, but excited to get back to a wonderful community that offers so much.

Even when you are excited and ready for change, it can still be bittersweet.  Our family moves around a lot.  As an alternative health practitioner this can be a challenge.  It takes time to build yoga classes and clients for a health and wellness business.  Luckily the internet can be a big help for keeping a practice alive no matter where you are in the country.  Maintaining a website, networking within your region, and reaching out to local community groups is a great way to build your business as well as make lifelong friends.

Aside from these business practices to embrace change, it is also important to have a personal practice to embrace change.  The Buddhist Doctrine of Impermanence tells us that change is inevitable, so we need to honor it and surrender to it.  Here are some other techniques to help embrace the change that is inevitable.

1.  Meditation: Change often involves many surprises along the way.  The antidote to uncertainty is to explore it rather than push it away.  Taking the time to meditate and stay present with your feelings (whatever those may be) will help you stay steady throughout a life changing process.  This meditation can be as simple as listening to your breath or repeating a mantra, as long as your meditation connects you to your inner self.

2. Have a Goal or Intention: Whatever is changing in your life, it is important to set a goal or intention for what you want to achieve.  It's okay if this too changes.  Simply having a direction in which to go allows you to bring your goal into the present moment and move to the next step.

3. Baby Steps:  Taking small, determined steps in the direction you want to go allows you manifest your goal or intention.  Break your goal up into small, manageable pieces so you don't get overwhelmed.  Each step will lead to the next and will eventually end with you reaching your goal.

Whatever your goal, using these small techniques to embrace change can help you with whatever life changing event occurs.  So go ahead and surrender to the inevitable change.  You just might like the results!

Now for more unpacking………

Kristin Henningsen, M.S., C.H., R.Y.T.

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Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
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