Author Archives: Vivian Law

Work out smarter, not harder

It’s been an awesome September being back teaching fitness and yoga classes at the Toronto Athletic Club and the Adelaide Club. I really missed teaching classes and it’s so wonderful to be back doing something I love to do. 21 years of being in fitness and I still love it!

From my perspective, leading a group class is delivering an experience in education, having studied physical education. At a cycle class, I’m teaching some exercise physiology while sweating it out with you to some awesome tunes. At yoga, we’re working on breathing, being mindful and attuning to our bodies while moving through postures. At a strength, weights or circuit style class, we are teaching 8 basic human movements: squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. Each instructor will have a creative way of putting you through these movements and combining them for varying amounts of effort.

We’re happy to welcome everyone to any class. At the strength, weights, or circuit classes, it is in your own best interest to gain the ability to squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotate and reverse plank, as it will optimize the benefit of the classes and prevent injury. If we see any difficulty in performing these basic movements, we do our best to help you learn them and when that is not possible in the class setting, we recommend that you work with a personal trainer for a few sessions. The purpose of working with a trainer is to learn these foundational movements correctly, so you develop more ideal movement patterns, which is to your benefit for improved posture, ease of movement, and improvement in body composition. Yes, you read that correctly- improvement in body composition. It was only when I doggedly persisted in improving my squat range of motion that I finally developed some abs. It took me 20 years to get an acceptable squat and it sure has been worthwhile!

Think of coming to a class as constantly practicing and improving your squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. That is our goal as instructors and trainers to help you work out smarter, not harder. You will naturally work harder with better form!

Numbness, pain or tingling- try acupuncture ASAP

As I go further with Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture practice, I learn more and more about the benefits. Once a person starts to feel a difference, the most common question is- How does this work? This is a question that is both easy and difficult to answer at the same time. Acupuncture affects the nervous system. The needles stimulate the nervous system and from there a variety of responses can occur- the release of neurotransmitters with cascading effects on the digestive system and hormones, changes in the level of stimulus in muscle (activation or inhibition), and improving nerve signals (activation or inhibition), as a few examples. Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture serves to support the body and maintain optimal health through acupuncture points that bring balance to the function of the organs and the body as a whole.

Whenever you have a health condition, it is best to address it sooner than later. In the case of neurological symptoms like numbness, pain, paralysis or tingling, acupuncture as soon as possible is especially helpful. In the event of any of these symptoms, there is some level of impediment to the nerve signals- acupuncture can help resolve the issue of impediment by providing stimulus for the nerve to improve function. Neurons may degenerate and creating new signals with existing nerve tissue is always possible.

What can cause neurological symptoms like numbness, pain, paralysis or tingling? Injury- acute or chronic, infection can cause Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis), transient ischemic attack or stroke, diseases that cause nerve degeneration such as multiple sclerosis, and neuropathy as a result of other conditions. No matter the cause of the neurological symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that is ideally applied as soon as possible.

Why I got the SARS COV2 vaccine

I was offered an appointment for the SARS COV2 vaccine when I joined the team in March at the Adelaide Health Clinic. I have wanted to write this for some time and meditated on it until now. I know there was a level of frustration at the availability of the vaccines and I didn’t want to flaunt my privilege of receiving one earlier as a health professional. I also feel nervous about needles. I’ve become accustomed to acupuncture needles, but injections or drawing blood still has me squeamish. Without some help at the workplace, it is unlikely I would have been quick to get myself an appointment with a needle!

Like many people I was a bit cautious about the vaccines being developed and available in record time. We do not develop lasting immunity to coronaviruses, which is seen by repeat infections throughout the lifespan of the common cold. Covid 19 is as easily transmissible as a common cold with potential long term or lethal consequences where we don’t know who gets very sick, which makes a vaccine highly useful. Fortunately, I learned that these vaccines are do not offer sterilizing immunity the way the measles vaccine does, which allows us to not get measles. It seems a reasonably miraculous achievement to me, a vaccine that prevents severe illness. Here’s some further info on the immunity these vaccines offer: https://dalewharrison.substack.com/p/covid-vaccines-confer-no-sterilzing

We had a major family disagreement over the Christmas holidays when I did not press my mom to get the vaccine when she was hesitant and refusing. At the time, the vaccine was not yet available and if we weren’t going to be the first in line, I figured we could easily observe the many who wished to be first in line to get more comfortable. I didn’t know when I would get a vaccine, but had been weighing the pros and cons, coming to the decision that is was best to get the shot for the benefit of others and myself. I also felt it is my duty to do so as a health professional. I work with people and I need to take every step possible to prevent passing illness to people I interact with. Plus, I miss teaching cycle classes the most, which is a higher risk activity. See this study from Hawaii where we learn of how the illness is transmitted. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7009e1.htm Getting the vaccine is a personal choice and civic duty at the same time. It is ‘experimental’ and we live in a part of the world that has this privilege.

So what happened with the shots? I had the Pfizer vaccine first and I felt slightly woozy with slight fatigue for a day. My second shot was Moderna due to the supply being allocated for younger people and I chose to go ahead with it to comply with public health efforts. I was ill for a day with a mild fever, lightheadedness, no appetite, fatigue and transient aches- like an illness I have not experienced before, seemed like getting a controlled case of covid. At the time, I was sent some info that the mRna vaccines cause spike proteins to be stored in the uterus and ovaries, which I believe is misinformation after looking at the scientific source material. Here’s some explanation of the pathways: https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/21/mrna-vaccines-what-happens In short, the vaccine goes into your arm and circulation- through the lymph system into your armpit, then mainly liver and spleen and circulating throughout the body.

When you are ready to get the vaccine, I advise being as well rested, well slept and well rested as possible to give yourself a better response, as you are asking your immune system to do some work.

Sleep Well

We all know that 7-8 hours of quality sleep is ideal for our physical, mental and emotional health. How many of us have struggled with sleep? This is a struggle that most of us will encounter with varying degrees of frequency. Habits are a major component to our sleep along with awareness of stressors, and what we need to do to unwind at the end of the day for restful sleep. I have a flexible work schedule, so I’m not too attached to specific routines, although habits are always a priority. For sleep, I find it is very important to have routines that let your body and mind know you are preparing for rest and sleep. It could be as simple as having some herbal tea, brushing your teeth, washing your face and a little reading. Anything that helps you relax at the end of the day is helpful, since sleep is a letting go process. 

Here is a sleep meditation that I have enjoyed and shared (it’s ok if you fall asleep within minutes!): 

https://music.apple.com/ca/album/celestial-sleep-healing-sound-for-rest-relaxation-crystal/1538626410?i=1538626411

Modern life comes with electricity, plenty of ‘artificial light’ and screen time. Prior to our ability to have light on demand beyond sunset, humans needed to keep to what sunrise and sunset provided. There seems to be some variance in what times we feel best and this can be looked at with this questionnaire: 

https://www.chronotype-self-test.info/index.php?sid=61524&newtest=Y&lang=en

Keeping to a schedule where you feel best and rely on an alarm clock minimally will improve your sleep quality, energy level and general well being. 

The general advice for good sleep is to stop screen time an hour before bedtime, sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room, have your dinner well digested and stop caffeine intake before 3pm. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, insomnia, is differentiated between inability to fall asleep, waking in the night and being unable to fall back asleep, and general unrestful sleep. Some people tend to feel hot at night, others cold. Some enjoy their dreams and others are disturbed by the types and amount of dreams they have. Some need to urinate more than once in the night. Some wake far too easily and find their sleep restless. Some sleep for 8 hours and wake up foggy and lethargic. Ideal sleep is being able to fall asleep easily and wake 7-8 hours later refreshed and full of energy. This may not happen too often for some, but there is always hope that sleep can be improved. TCM acupuncture is very helpful for improving sleep, as it helps to calm the nervous system and treat the underlying conditions that cause poor sleep quality. 

All of us have different perceptions of sleep. Our society values productive work, so sleeping minimally can be a badge of honour. Some people insist they need only a minimal amount of sleep. Others like taking sleep aids sometimes to a fault, since the body becomes less sensitive to any sleep aid over time. Mother’s Little Helper, anyone? Some of us can sleep on planes and through various noises, but no snoring, please! I have observed in myself and have had many clients report their sleep is less sound around the full moon, so there is natural variance in sleep quality. Longer daylight hours in the summer months brings longer waking hours and less sleep for the season. Winter is conducive to hibernation. Anyone raised kids? That’s a phase where sleep is likely deprived! 

Sleep quality is also something we perceive differently. I generally sleep well, although I work at this and have tried all sorts of sleep aids to improve sleep. This is not medical advice or endorsement of any product, just sharing of knowledge of remedies tried. 

Sleep Aids: 

Mother’s Little Helper is a tea available at Davids Tea. It is a blend and contains valerian, which has not worked for me in other formulations, but Mother’s Little Helper works well for me. 

SleepyTime Tea by Celestial Seasonings- this is a classic formulation that has a relaxing effect perhaps tied in with the ritual of having a cup of tea, and I prefer this tea over others. 

Vitamin D- I started taking vitamin D at night after dinner in March and have found it to be helpful for higher quality sleep 

5 HTP- a serotonin and melatonin precursor, it helps with restful sleep 

Chinese herbs- I have found various patent herbal formulations to be tremendously helpful in being able to stay asleep more soundly. The herbs work best with some professional guidance, where a TCM practitioner is able to assess your condition and constitution. 

Wherever you are in relation with sleep, it is a most important health habit to prioritize, as it is the time your body regenerates itself. Quality, restful sleep makes life good!

What is a Healthy Amount of Exercise?

This is a question that does not have an easy one size fits all answer. Regular exercise is necessary for health, as it maintains and improves our circulation and breathing while working our musculoskeletal system. All of our joints have an optimal range of motion and the body is very much use it or lose it in function.

Specific exercise was not necessary when we had to hunt and gather our own food. The work in chasing down an animal and gathering plants for food provided plenty of natural physical activity. We still have activities of daily living today, but that is dwindling with time spent sitting in front of a computer screen, the vast variety of prepared food and modern gadgets, as vacuuming can be done with an automated device!

I’ve been asked many times in my career how much do you exercise or you must work out every day? The answer is I make an effort to be active daily. Anywhere between 20-60 minutes of some form of physical activity daily, is my commitment. It could be a walk, weight training, yoga, running, tai chi/qi gong or a spin class. Personally, I like walking to a specific destination or walking to get food, so it is like working for the food at least a little. Find out what motivates you to take that walk, hit the weights or do a few yoga poses- making it easy for yourself to complete the task regularly will build the habit. The key is to complete any amount of activity regularly- 5-10 minutes is better than nothing. It’s important to see yourself as someone who exercises regularly to take care of themselves. For the purposes of health and longevity, light to moderate intensity exercise is enough, which is also the healthy living guidelines of traditional chinese medicine.

Of course, once we get into a regular habit of exercise and have some specific goals, it becomes possible to overdo things. Injuries or lingering pain are usually a sign of overdoing exercise in terms of your current capabilities. Pushing through is generally not a good plan, since it typically makes the injury worse. Speaking from experience, it is best to seek care sooner than later, before the injury worsens. Any activity that you are not accustomed to doing will require a bit of training. It may seem strange, but after a long period of inactivity, you will need a bit of time to adjust to even walking longer distances. The pandemic has likely left many of us myself included a bit less active and it will take some training to get back to our previous fitness levels.

In answer to the question of what is a healthy amount of exercise, I think it is safe to say some physical activity daily is ideal. The type and intensity of the activity is a different story. For health and longevity purposes, a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training and energy cultivating exercise like yoga or tai chi is ideal for optimal health and wellness.

Bay Street Shoulder

Over the years I’ve seen a few complaints of neck, shoulder and upper back discomfort. Through assessment of a person’s range of motion, a pattern appeared among accountants, lawyers, and finance professionals, many had an inability to bring their arm behind their back comfortably. I gathered the symptoms, made up a diagnosis and called it Bay Street shoulder. The purpose was to inject a little practical humour into coping with a condition that builds up over time due to posture. Being chained to a desk for an indeterminate amount of time starts to a change a person’s posture and breathing.

When we look at elderly people, many are more stooped, slower and possibly shuffle. Is that diminished posture a ‘natural’ occurrence of older age or is it habit? I would argue that habit plays a major role and there is much we can do to maintain our height and posture as we age. This requires being mindful of our daily habits and tasks then making appropriate adjustments.

A regular strength training program with a focus on the core and posture is required to stand tall for as long as possible. Regular posture breaks if you work at a desk is essential in addition to specific mobility exercises. A few easy ideas are included in the video:

Prehab for Running

By Vivian Law BPHE, Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture 

Spring is here so many of us are eager to enjoy the warmer weather and perhaps pick up running again. Running outdoors is an awesome activity that many enjoy, which also comes with an increasing incidence of injury as we age. I love running and received an injury before the age of 20, which limits my running to shorter distances. How do we minimize the risk of injury with running? Some will suggest not running at all, which is the case when a person’s body no longer allows the process with an injury. Another option is to run within your current limits and to run smarter. 

I have needed to rehabilitate myself from injury a few times and it is just fine to combine running and walking. In fact, I completed my first and only 10km race a couple years ago in under an hour by walking a minute every 10 minutes I ran. If you are new to running or starting up again, running 1 minute and walking 1 minute is a great place to start. It is better to run a little for a long time, meaning being able to run until older age than run a lot and break down. If it is not possible for you to run for long, consider running shorter distances faster, such as sprints. I’m a bit faster than a giant tortoise, but I practice running 100m, 200m and 400m sprints, with the 400m being my arch nemesis. An additional benefit of sprints is our fast twitch muscle fibres are lost first with aging, so doing some hard work such as sprints, helps us maintain our muscles and abilities longer.

Running is a complex biomechanical process that requires a significant amount of weight bearing load and shock absorption. As we age, our bodies ‘wear out’ in different spots and become more susceptible to injury due to the way our body is used. We can prevent and manage aches, pains and injuries by becoming more aware of how our body is being used and areas where we can improve our strength, stability and mobility. 

Here are some tips on how to better prepare yourself for your next run. You may be accustomed to just lacing up and going, however, should you have any potential injury sites or any concerns, you will benefit greatly from preparing yourself for the run, by doing some prehabilitation work that is specific to your needs. How do you know what prehab is needed? Working with a trainer, coach, or clinic professional such as yours truly, can help you better assess your situation and how you can improve. Here are some tips so you can get started on running smarter right away: 

-Be sure you have optimal range of motion in your toes, especially the big toe joint. Having your toes move easily improves the mechanics of your feet as shock absorbers 

-Work on the mobility of your ankles, especially in terms of dorsiflexion, so this typically means stretching your calves. There are very few people who are particularly mobile this way and mobility in the ankle joint does not naturally improve with age

-Assess and improve the mobility of your hips, especially in relation with being able to extend your hip backwards. Many of us are lacking in this range from our time sitting, so even a few standing hip extensions just before your run can help activate the muscles needed for improved hip extension. 

-Strengthen your core, which includes the hips. Core exercise is hugely beneficial to improving your posture and stability through your pelvis, which contributes to force being efficiently coordinated and distributed through your muscles and joints. 

-Improve your ability squat, so you are able to squat with your feet flat, keep a long spine and get your butt close to the ground. This is the basic test of mobility in the ankles, knees and hips- something that we can always work at improving. The more we can squat as smoothly as an Olympic weightlifter with no weight for us regular humans, the better our hips, knees and ankles are functioning.

-Work on your breathing. Being able to breathe through your nose most of the time, including while running is beneficial to your general health, as your nose filters and warms the air before it enters your lungs. Of course, once you reach a certain intensity, breathing through both the nose and mouth become a necessity. The goal is to breathe through your nose for as high an intensity as possible for you. Practicing a more ideal breathing pattern also helps your posture, which indirectly helps with the load bearing of running. Try this stretch on a regular basis before and/or after a run to encourage deep diaphragmatic breathing: http://www.vivianlaw.ca/relax-and-improve-your-posture/

There are 6 areas mentioned above to consider, so choose 1-3 areas where you know you could improve and pick a quick exercise to do before a run. It could be a bit of stretching, mobility work or a strength exercise. For example, I use a mini acu ball and roll through my feet, do calf raises and stretch my calves before I go for a run, as my ankles are a limiting factor for me. Every runner will have unique needs. If you could use some guidance, we are always here to support you at the Adelaide Health Clinic, 100 King St W, First Canadian Place, Toronto  

Recipe: Yellow Split Pea Soup

I’ve tried a few different split pea soups in my time, sometimes they are very tasty and other times not great. I’ve tried to make split pea soup myself a few times and have failed miserably with hard peas after a long cooking time. Long cooked, hard split peas are difficult to digest, highlighting the point that food needs to be cooked well to aid digestion. I looked through cookbooks, and various websites to finally learn that it is best to soak and cook the peas before adding them to the soup. In the pre cooking process, it is likely the peas turn into mostly yellow mush, so the soup turns out like it has been pureed.

Having more plant based foods is a healthy choice, so here is a quick and easy recipe for a flavourful yellow split pea soup:

1 cup yellow split peas, soaked overnight

1 onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stalk celery, finely diced

1 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed), finely diced

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 small piece of ginger peeled

2 tablespoons coconut oil

4 cups vegetable broth

1 tsp curry powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 lime, juiced

In a small pot, bring soaked and rinsed split peas to a boil in 1.5 cups of water, simmer until the desired tenderness is reached.

In a large pot, heat coconut oil and lightly sauté onions, celery, carrot and jalapeño until tender, then add chopped tomato. Season with a little salt. Add cooked split peas and a bit more salt. Add vegetable broth, curry powder and ginger, bring to a light boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir in lime juice and season to taste. Enjoy topped with some chopped cilantro

Eat, Move and Sleep with the Seasons

I love tropical fruit and strawberries. My good friend Emily suggested I eat fruits more in season back when we were in school for Phys Ed. I took her advice to heart and have made an effort since then to choose fruits and vegetables in season, although I do admit to buying berries year round if available.

Practicing and studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, I have learned that it is ideal to eat more cooked, warm foods in the winter and cool, raw foods are best in the summer. This makes it easier for the body to digest the food we eat, as we work harder to stay warm in the winter and could use a little help to stay cool in the summer.

The amount of sunlight changes with the seasons and our sleep patterns can go along with that. Sleep a bit more in the winter and a bit less in the summer.

When I first studied psychology, we did a short questionnaire to determine how much of a morning or evening person we were and I was surprised to learn I was in the middle. This appears to be genetic to an extent. Here is a questionnaire to take and find out your type:

https://www.cet-surveys.com/index.php?sid=61524

Be sure to scroll down after you get your results, as the questionnaire will list your estimated peak time of melatonin production and your ideal bedtime. Provided that you are able to answer the questions based on your true ideals(you must know them somehow), it is ideal for you to keep a sleep schedule based on the bedtime listed. I have known since the start of university that I am not a morning person, and this has not changed at all!

Exercise in the winter is different, as the weather makes it difficult to go for a bike ride or run, walks are possible, although not the same. Winter activities like skating, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding are great when available. Ordinarily, one could exercise at the gym, which are unfortunately closed at this time. That leaves us with home workouts for now. No better time then winter to get into more mindful movement like yoga and tai chi, which fulfills the need for movement in a mindful way.

How Does Acupuncture work?

Sometimes things work backwards. I would never have agreed to become a yoga teacher 10 years ago, so yin yoga was even more of a stretch. It is not my thing to sit still, and it remains more natural for me to not sit for more than 20 minutes, since it is my tendency to move. I believe it is a natural inclination to fidget or not and apparently it burns more calories.

I started to study Traditional Chinese medicine over 4 years ago with interest in herbs first, then it became a goal to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner of herbs and acupuncture. I had no plan to be a registered acupuncturist, and here I am practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture. Needles still scare me and I have learned to peacefully coexist with them. I take great care to be gentle inserting needles during an acupuncture treatment, treating patients as I would like to be treated. Having practiced on quite a few willing subjects in the past 4 years, I can say I am becoming more and more of a believer in acupuncture, seeing the benefit and difference people feel after receiving a few needles.

You may wonder- how does acupuncture work? On the simplest level, acupuncture works by providing the body with a stimulus (fine needle) to elicit change. How does that change happen in 10-20min with needles retained or within seconds with Japanese style contact needling? The change happens within the body- insertion of the needle affects the nervous system, which transmits (energy)signals within the body. Ideally the treatment calms the nervous system and the specific selection of points provides stimulus for healing or bringing balance to the body. Key concept is all change starts on an energetic level first, then it becomes physical.

Various health professionals can perform acupuncture and it really matters WHO gives you the needles. The more the practitioner knows about the human body/mind and the potential impact of the needles the better. My dad persistently calls needles ‘noodles’ and I do not correct him, since it makes a scary word seem harmless, plus it is funny! Allow me to make an analogy with ‘noodles’ here, imagine an acupuncture treatment as a session where you and the professional are working together to cook ‘noodles’ to the perfect consistency (al dente). You and the acupuncturist are working together to help you feel ‘just right’ (more like yourself- refreshed), so ideally the needles are inserted in the right places for you.

How do we find the right points for insertion of needles? This is a skill with a major variance between practitioners. There is approximately 20 square feet of skin on a human body, 600 muscles and over 360 acupuncture points. We are looking for impact with an acupuncture treatment, a little can go a long way, especially as a form of preventative medicine. In my experience so far, acupuncture is highly effective for regulating energy in the body. For example, heartburn and nausea can be relieved with acupuncture and this is accomplished by encouraging the body movement of the contents of the stomach downwards, which is ‘normal’. All processes in the body have an orderly movement and is more likely to stay that way when a person lives a healthy lifestyle, keeping everything moving as best we can. Acupuncture encourages this ideal circulation.

It is a process to understand traditional chinese medicine and acupuncture, simultaenously simple and complex, so I will keep writing on this topic to offer explanation.

Wishing you all the best for 2021!