February is usually highlighted for expressing love for family, friends and significant others, but it's also important to remember to love yourself. The fact is that loving yourself increases your health in two major ways. When people love and respect themselves they tend to make better food and lifestyle choices, promoting physical health. Plus, loving yourself will help you view yourself in a more positive light, promoting emotional and mental health. Physical, mental and emotional health all have been proven to be closely linked to each other, and multitudes of studies have shown a positive attitude can be the largest factor in all three.
Despite mounting evidence in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology - the study of how the brain and behavior affect the immune system - Western (MD) medicine continues to struggle with the concept of non-physical elements such as thoughts, feelings and emotions affecting our physical health. However, basic anatomy and physiology clearly illustrate the process.
The human body is a complex system of bones, muscles, organs and tissues that work together to sustain life. Still, as with any complex system, the body would not function properly without someone or something in place to call the shots. In the case of the human body, it's the chemical brain - comprised of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland - that runs the show. These two glands regulate the release of hormones based on information collected through your perceptions and speech. The hormones then act as chemical instructions and play an integral role in every function our bodies perform. In this way, you have a clear pathway for perceptions -- what you see, hear, say, think and feel -- becoming a physical process.
Cultivating self-love and positive perceptions can be done in a number of ways - here are six techniques that can help you change your life.
1. Make your health a priority. Nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods and plenty of hydration. Exercise regularly. Stretch. Pamper your body, mind and soul with natural spa and relaxation techniques. You can even strengthen your mental health by letting go of your focus on what you see as imperfections. Instead, focus on your favorite things about you and celebrate them!
2. Protect yourself from people who drain you. It's true that misery loves company. Avoid getting sucked into negative situations and thoughts by surrounding yourself with people who genuinely want only the best for you. These people know that you deserve to love yourself as much as they love you.
3. Practice saying no. Often people create undue stress in their own lives by over-committing and not leaving time for them to recharge. And while a little stress can motivate you, too much stress can deteriorate you. Whether at work or in your personal life, say no to anything or anyone that will drain you or make you perceive the world negatively.
4. Maintain control and be true to yourself. Studies consistently have shown that the healthiest people are those with a sense of control, while passive people are the least healthy. Maintaining control is a matter of being able to choose how you view yourself as well as your reactions to people and events. Do some soul searching and get to know who you are and what you want from life. Let this knowledge be your guide. Live the life you want, not the one others want for you.
5. Forgive yourself. You are not perfect. Nobody is. Before you can love yourself, you must first forgive yourself. Practice learning from your mistakes rather than punishing yourself for them.
6. Have an attitude of gratitude and trust your feelings. Make a list of the things about you and your life that you are grateful for. When you show appreciation for others you earn their support. The same goes for yourself. Appreciate what makes you unique and you will learn to love yourself.
Maintaining a positive attitude and love for yourself actually can determine the course of your life. So as you take the time to affirm your love for those special people in your life this month, don't forget to benefit your heart and soul by cultivating a loving relationship with yourself as well.
A Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love. Psychology Today.
Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., and McKay, M. 2008. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook Sixth Edition. New Harbinger: Oakland.
Hay, L. L. 1991. The Power is Within You. Hay House: New York.
Karren, K. J, Hafen, B. Q., Smith, N. L., and Frandsen, K. J. 2006. Mind Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions, and Relationships. Pearson: San Francisco.
Rizzo, D. 2006. Fundamentals of Anatomy and Physiology Second Edition. Thomson: New York.
You know it's love when you and your partner can eat garlic together. Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants and one of the oldest recorded medicines. In fact, every culture on the planet still employs some species of garlic in their diet. Garlic supports overall heart health, stimulates the immune system and lowers cholesterol levels. One of the best antibiotics provided by nature, garlic is effective against both gram positive and gram negative bacteria. And unlike with man-made antibiotics, bacteria find it impossible to build resistance to garlic. Additionally, garlic is anti-viral, anti-septic, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-protozoan.
While most people prefer to take their garlic in supplement form, there is a reason we made it this month's food instead of the supplement. When you chop or crush garlic, it stimulates an enzymatic process that converts alliin (a phytochemical in garlic) to allicin. Allicin mainly is responsible for the pungent odor of garlic many people attempt to avoid by taking it as a supplement, but it is also the compound responsible for many of garlic's health benefits. Since allicin dissipates over time, the only way to ensure you are gaining the maximum benefit from garlic is to eat it fresh. If the odor of garlic is your concern, chew fresh parsley after consuming garlic to counter the odor.
Marz, Russell B. 1999. Medical Nutrition from Marz: A Textbook in Clinical Nutrition. Portland, Or: Omni-Press.
Gaby, Alan. 2011. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, N.H: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.
The next time you have the urge for a snack, try turning to an easy-to-prepare, health-boosting treat like roasted garlic. This bite-size dish helps regulate blood pressure, has anti-viral, anti-septic, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-cancer properties. It may even help regulate iron metabolism and fat production. For the well-being of your heart and total body, give garlic a chance.
One or more bulb(s) of garlic
Baking or muffin pan
Preheat oven to 400° F. Peel away the outer layers of skin from the garlic bulb, leaving the individual cloves intact. Use a knife to cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch off the top of the garlic cloves, exposing the individual cloves. Place the garlic heads in a baking pan (muffin pans work well for this purpose) and drizzle a couple teaspoons of olive oil over each head, using your fingers to make sure the garlic head is well coated. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when pressed. Allow the garlic to cool enough so you can touch it without burning yourself. Use a small knife to cut the skin slightly around each clove. Use a cocktail fork or your fingers to pull or squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins.
There is, perhaps, no better herb to help maintain healthy heart, arteries and veins than Hawthorn. This woody shrub grows throughout the world and its berries are used in both western herbalism and Ayurveda to strengthen and tone the heart, as well as regulate blood flow, blood pressure and heart rate. It has proven effective in treating emotionally and physically induced heart issues, including heart strain, tachycardia, inflammation of the heart muscle, enlarged heart and valvular heart diseases. Hawthorn also increases oxygen uptake and enzyme metabolism in the heart, stimulates circulation, and dilates coronary vessels, bringing more blood to the heart. Moreover, it long has been used to help reduce cholesterol and blood lipids. As if that weren't enough, Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends Hawthorn for improving digestion. And as a flower remedy, it can act as a mild anti-depressant. Although Hawthorn is generally a very safe herb, caution is recommended as it may alter the effects of other heart medications. Consult your Naturopathic Doctor prior to using Hawthorn.8
Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. 2000. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Pizzorno, Joseph E., and Michael T. Murray. 1999. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Lipoic acid, also known as thioctic acid, has been used for decades to treat complications from diabetes and to protect against stroke and heart disease. Nonetheless, Lipoic acid is often overlooked as a viable heart health supporter. Unlike other antioxidants, Lipoic acid is both water and fat soluble, and very effectively recycles antioxidants including Vitamin E, CoQ10, Vitamin C, and even itself! One of the most important contributions of lipoic acid in the body when it comes to antioxidant activity is that it helps stimulate glutathione synthesis. A healthy human body usually produces enough lipoic acid but there are times we need to supplement, such as in certain disease states (diabetes) or in times of illness. Because Lipoic acid supplied from food is not absorbed well, it is usually taken as a supplement. As always, you should discuss any supplement plans with your Naturopathic doctor prior to use, to decide which supplements will be the most beneficial and pose the least risk to your health.
Packer, L. 1999. The Antioxidant Miracle. John Wiley & Sons: New York.
Webb, Geoffrey P. 2006. Dietary supplements and functional foods. Oxford: Blackwell Pub.
Just as you would express your love for another through compliments and praise, you should also express your love for yourself. Positive affirmations are extremely important, and an excellent mind conditioning exercise that will help you to develop and maintain a positive attitude about yourself and the world around you. You can begin this exercise by making small changes in your thinking.
1. Become aware of your thoughts and make an effort to notice at least three things per day which bring you joy; a sunset, the feel of your child's hand in yours, or the pleasure of crawling into bed after a long day.
2. Become aware of how you speak to yourself, and correct any negative thoughts you might have throughout the day. Be vigilant.
3. Make a list of all of the things that you love about yourself.
4. Make a list of the things you wish to change in your life. When thinking about these goals, focus on what you want, not what you don't want. Your thoughts should be recited in the present tense to instill the feeling of accomplishment.
Your goals should be specific, so that you can clearly envision and work toward them. For example:
1. If your goal is to lose weight, try approaching the idea with thoughts like, "I am becoming slim and healthy."
2. If you want to feel like you are being heard, try reminding yourself that, "My words are important and my voice is commanding."
3. If you are feeling unappreciated, by yourself or others, and want to find your inner strength, repeat after me: "I am strong. I am worthy. I am the master of my own universe."
Some affirmations will feel effortless and true, while others may feel empty. Do not worry, this takes practice. You have spent your entire life thinking about yourself and speaking to yourself in certain ways, consequently some affirmations may conflict with your present mental conditioning. As you work with more positive affirmations, your resistance will erode and you will begin to see that what you are telling yourself is true. Congratulations! You are moving in the direction of manifestation.
Karren, Keith J. 2010. Mind/Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.
McTaggart, Lynne. 2008. The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts To Change Your Life and The World. New York: Free Press.
Grabhorn, Lynn. 2005. Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting: The Astonishing Power of Positive Feelings. London: Hodder Mobius.