Tag Archives: Vivian Law

Circumstances don’t make a man, they reveal him

Circumstances don’t make a man, they reveal him. This is a quote from a Wayne Dyer that came to mind this week when discussing how to handle difficult times in life. It’s easy to make plans to guard ourselves against failure and heartbreak, but it doesn’t serve your highest good in the long term, as that strategy limits your growth and opportunities. Taking the attitude that you are being ‘tested’ by your circumstances allows more growth, learning and character building.

Dwayne the Rock Johnson also has a similar quote: When life puts you in touchy situations don’t say ‘why me’ just say ‘try me’

I laughed out loud when I saw the quote, as it takes a playful and tough attitude towards coping with situations. When we are tested we need to be better by taking the life lesson as an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.

Invest in Yourself

Spring is here and after 2 years of living with a global pandemic it is natural to feel like making changes of some sort or try something new. I imagine the pandemic has had varying effects on our mental and physical well being. I gained a few pounds being away from the gym. Fortunately, regular exercise and some sunshine have helped me get back into shape.

I got into doing some private pilates the past couple months and it has been hugely beneficial to my physical well being. In fact, I achieved a new FTP at my class the next day after my first pilates session! I will admit it, I can be a bit resistant to doing core work. I got more into the habit working with a trainer a few years ago, and it is very empowering. Pilates is excellent for improving posture and working all the small muscles we easily neglect. Maintaining your posture is the ultimate way to stay youthful!

I also took a swim lesson today to get more comfortable in the water and found it to be hugely beneficial. This is something I’ve been meaning to work on and finally took the step to do so and it felt great to actually take a step towards improving at swimming. Anything that you want to learn, achieve or accomplish you will likely benefit from the help of a professional to coach you on the skill. It’s an investment in improving yourself, which is one of the most worthwhile investments we can make to be our best. What are you inspired to do this spring?

New Year Check In

It’s Chinese New Year, more appropriately named Lunar New Year. We celebrate in our family, although not to the same extent that is celebrated in Hong Kong. With another ‘new year’ so soon after January 1, I find it is a good opportunity to check in goals for the year. A friend asked if I had any resolutions and my response was I make goals at the start of the year, preferably on a beach. It was great to receive the feedback that I am someone who accomplishes what I set out to do which got me to consider how achieving goals works for me.

More than any other practice, I believe being true to my word is of utmost importance. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say is the foundation of being able to achieve any goal. The question becomes how do you create the achievable goals? If you have not read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I highly recommend the book. One of his key points is tying your goals to your identity, which I completely agree with to my point of being true to my word is embedded in my identity. I will also add for any goal the question of what kind of person do you want to be can be layered in to help clarify the goal. For example, for the goal of being fit, it requires time and effort with exercise and food choices, however, if you like to eat pizza and booze up regularly, you are unlikely to be ready for a fitness competition. You can try your best to have it all, but most of the time you need to prioritize what is most important to you. I make it my business to be fit, and I like pizza, booze and sweets, so I accept not being all that lean and identify with being a person who enjoys food. Unreasonable expectations derail goals, as it creates disappointment and you need to feel like you CAN and WILL do it to achieve goals.

One month into the year you can take stock of how things have gone so far and see what needs improvement and adjustment. Goals can always be adjusted. Being a flexible and adaptable person makes it easier to achieve goals. There’s a lot of ‘experts’ touting magical ‘routines’ that supercharge a person to be productive and I disagree. It is not the routine, it is the commitment and holding yourself accountable to working on what you need to do. Missteps and failures happen, so you need the flexibility to get back on track. Breaking down goals into smaller, more manageable chunks is helpful. Big goals are like a test of endurance and focus, so it pays to give yourself markers along the way. Wherever you are, clarify, adjust and keep going- yes you can, yes you will!

Farewell 2021

2021 has been a year with many challenges. For those of us that are fortunate to have our health, our livelihood, family and friends, we have plenty to be grateful for. With all the different challenges any of us may have faced, I believe it served everyone well to find a way to go along with life, do our best and find some peace and contentment at any given time.

It is of more importance than ever to stay healthy and well, physically, mentally, emotionally. I’d like to share some resources that I have found to be helpful in implementing ways to be well.

All of us can benefit from a mindfulness/meditation practice. There’s many options available and the key is being consistent, even a few minutes a day makes a difference. For those that could use a bit of movement to help relieve stress and tension I highly recommend qi gong practice, which brings together gentle movement with breathing and mindfulness. Much like yoga, this type of practice is a form of self discipline for me, it’s not my favourite thing to do, but the difference it makes to my well being makes it necessary. Try any program here that catches your interest, I have tried a few myself and find it highly beneficial to well being(qi gong for better breathing is really good):

https://www.holdenqigong.com/product-category/healing-series/

I read the popular book Breath this fall and it solidified what I understood of the benefits of nose breathing. I also read The Oxygen Advantage, which has valuable information on how to apply better breathing techniques. I had trained myself to do mostly nose breathing during exercise for a number of years and encourage it for lower intensity efforts at my cycling classes. Japanese master Tak told me to use a piece of surgical tape over the lips for sleep and I told him he was crazy. I tried it a few times and finally made it a habit this year- it really makes a difference. I find I recover from hard cycling workouts quicker and I notice my breathing capacity has improved during exercise. Breathing is something that needs to come naturally, so any effort to make changes ought to be gradual and fairly easy to start.

https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/breathing-videos

Going further with nose breathing during exercise, there’s evidence to indicate that working at a lower intensity is beneficial to having your cells become more efficient at utilizing oxygen and fuel. Here’s the deep dive:

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-peter-attia-drive/id1400828889?i=1000546195791

This article gives more information on this lower intensity (zone 2):

The concept is to train yourself to breathe through your nose during exercise all the way to a fairly high intensity (heart rate)- which I will need to go over in more depth and explanation at another time. This is also demonstrated regularly at my Stages cycling classes at the Toronto Athletic Club, which are also super fun!

Cheers to health and wellness for 2022!

Mental Health Check- Exercise Today

The days are getting shorter and darker here in Toronto so this is a time of year where mood can easily go down and mental health can also go downhill. For a few years now, I have advocated to be more serious about getting exercise around the holidays and mental health is one more reason to prioritize workouts this time of year. Holiday parties may not be the same this year, but exercise still needs to be done to balance festive eating. I feel very grateful that the Adelaide Club and the Toronto Athletic Club are open.

There are some sayings that indicate diet is more important than exercise such as ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’ or ‘abs are made in the kitchen’. I like to eat what I want within reason, so I prioritize exercise and accept not having highly visible abs. At this time, exercise provides the additional benefit of elevating mood and improving mental health- go get some exercise!

I also highly recommend speaking with a mental health professional should you ever feel overwhelmed or need help to learn more coping skills for your life circumstances. Working with a therapist (Ashley Parsons) is one of the most beneficial things I have ever done to improve the quality of my life, you can find her here http://www.ashleyparsonstherapy.com

Best wishes for this festive season

Improve your digestion, improve your health

If you have ever experienced a stomachache, you would likely want the pain to end soon and you may have a visceral understanding that digestive health is important to well being. On the other hand, if you hardly ever experience digestive issues, then you may take your ease of living almost for granted and be surprised when faced with the need to adjust your eating habits or lifestyle. What we eat and what happens thereafter is a living relationship we have with food and ourselves. Ideally, we have a good appetite to seek and enjoy food regularly to nourish ourselves, and after we have eaten, the food is digested and assimilated in a reasonable amount of time, with the waste eliminated easily. Ideally, food goes in one end and comes out the other, nice and easy.

There is wide variability in digestive capacity. Some people seem to be able to drink black coffee, alcohol and eat all the spicy food they want. Others seem to have a limited variety of food they can eat without consequence. Some people are very diet oriented and are always seeking to find more control on their diet to reach various goals they have. The most interesting explanation I have read in terms of diet seeking behaviour was in a Traditional Chinese Medicine textbook which references a deficiency in digestive ability causes the person to become overly obsessed with their diet. It could also be a chicken or the egg question, does the diet seeking behaviour start in the body or the mind? You certainly need plenty of mental energy to plan and adhere to a diet, especially restrictive ones. Culturally, we seem to be constantly drawn to the latest diet that promises weight loss, brain function, more energy along with age defying benefits.

I consider the digestive system to have several components- a mechanical, structural portion, a chemical component, and a neurological component. The mouth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines would be the mechanical structural component. The chemical component would be digestive enzymes, stomach acid and the various secretions needed to digest and assimilate food, and the gut bacteria could included here as well. The neurological portion of the digestive system is a component we are learning more about, which could encompass our mental and emotional health, one example being the vagus nerve (here’s an interesting video on the vagus nerve: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6e_Un6dv8) starting in the brain with feedback also coming through the gut. There is the enteric nervous system exists within the gut and has many mechanisms of feedback and function. We need all of these components functioning well to have optimal digestion. The food we eat is a variable we have the most control over. What eat and how it affects our health is a non linear equation and process, so there are a many aspects to consider.

We can all strive to have optimal digestive health which in simple terms is being able to enjoy food with a healthy appetite, digest the food eaten with ease, feel energized, have no bloating, gas, pain, and eliminate the waste material on a daily basis with ease and minimal smell.

Having studied nutrition and Traditional Chinese Medicine and knowing the benefits of healthy eating, I don’t like to prescribe diets to anyone. I believe it is best for a person to improve their eating habits by becoming more mindful of their body, appetite and lifestyle. I do my best to lead by example at every opportunity- I order the side of veggies when we’re out for dinner, I balance the sweet treats I like to enjoy with exercise, and I work at having a good relationship with food, which involves being enthusiastic about eating.

In cases of illness, allergies or skin conditions, it is helpful to make dietary changes to help alleviate the condition. In my acupuncture practice, the most common benefit experienced after relaxation is improvement in digestion. A patient may not come in with a digestive complaint, but they are able to note that their digestion improves with acupuncture treatment. It could be less propensity toward soft stool or diarrhea, improvement in acid reflux symptoms, relief from bloating, constipation, gas, or pain. The question becomes, how does acupuncture affect digestion? Acupuncture improves digestion by stimulation of the nervous system directly through the selected acupuncture points and indirectly through the relaxation response, which activates the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. The nervous system can respond instantaneously, although habitual stimulation for an optimal or dysfunctional state needs training over time.

Your digestive system is also very much related to your immune system, so improving digestion can also improve your immune health, which also relates to the skin. Your skin is the exterior of your body and the stomach and intestines are the exterior tube within the body. It takes processing before what we eat is taken into our internal organs. We are what we eat along with when and how we eat. We need to eat food for fuel and to rebuild/repair our cells on a daily basis. We also need adequate amounts of clean water to thrive. Food needs to be eaten at appropriate times to provide the right fuel for activity. Often overlooked, food is best eaten in a relaxed state to optimize digestion, which is a process that requires energy itself.

The stomach needs to be warm with adequate acid to have optimal digestive fire power. It appears that no one has improving digestive fire as they get older, the tendency is for digestive power to grow weaker with age. There is an element of habit and lifestyle that influences this slowing down. For example, eating cold, raw food requires more digestive energy and over time can cause backup, diminish digestive power and create further weakness. Consistent overeating also causes backup in the digestive system over time. The general thinking in TCM is to eat warm, cooked foods most of the time, especially in winter and have raw foods more in the summer for optimal digestion. This is dietary advice I have been able to adhere to for many years myself, as I enjoy real food and liquid meals like smoothies are unappealing to me. Moderate amounts of all foods can be healthy. Vegetables and fruit are required on a daily basis.

Whether you experience digestive issues or not, it is to your benefit to optimize your digestive health through your diet and lifestyle. Exercise is hugely beneficial, as it maintains circulation and encourages regular elimination. If you need help, consider acupuncture as a form of treatment that stimulates your nervous system to affect the digestive system and naturopathy as a form of treatment that can modulate the digestive system chemically through supplementation prescribed. It is best to consult a health professional who can assess your needs and help tailor your diet and lifestyle, so you can feel your best. Jumping onto the latest diet is not a long term formula for optimal health and wellness, anything restrictive or extreme is generally unsustainable and could cause health issues. Quote me on this: It is healthier to have some pizza, sweets and an occasional drink than the ‘achievement’ of the no sugar, low carb and no alcohol program. Cheers!

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!

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.