I've been reading a lot lately about how much of our health depends on the health of our stomachs - or more specifically, healthy microbial activity in our digestive tracts.  Many of my favorite health writers are certain that more and more attention will be paid to this area in the next few years, and I tend to agree. We are coming to a crisis point in the health of our nation, so obviously many of the things we've been doing for the past 50 years are not working so well....

Of course, this isn't just related to the health of our gut flora, but an overall neglect of our health as a holistic system, much to our detriment. Addressing symptoms (as modern medicine does) does little to nothing to correct the imbalances which caused these symptoms in the first place. It is akin to, as one of my favorite health writers often says, sticking a piece of masking tape over the "check engine" light on your car, and going on as if the problem is fixed. Eventually, whether it be 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road, things WILL fall apart - it's just a matter of time. Many of us are starting to experience this "falling apart" effect now, and wondering, "why now?," and "why me"?  But that's a topic for another day! Stay tuned to this blog for more on maintaining comprehensive (or holistic) health, such as the article posted two weeks ago on the "systems model" of health.

Today, what I want to talk about is an important piece of that healthy system - in fact, maybe one of the most important pieces.... Those little bugs in your belly!

It's almost that time of year - the time we all dread - unless we're tax professionals! Tax season is almost upon us, and it always brings up a number of questions and conundrums to deal with.

Obviously many of us invest in some type of qualified plan (aka government-sponsored retirement vehicle), hoping that our money will be waiting there for us (nicely compounded) when we are ready to retire.  But all too often, this isn't the case. With the massive numbers of baby boomers retiring each day, the problem is only going to get worse. What happens when we suffer another market crash, and the majority of thousands of people's retirement savings are virtually wiped out - right when they are about to retire?
Qualified plans may sound like a great concept, but they don't always work the way we want them to. Remember that the majority of funds in a 401k, 403b, IRA, etc., are at risk and subject to market fluctuations. They are also not liquid, and it's hard to access them before retirement age, unless we want to pay a penalty. (But wait a minute - if it's YOUR money, why should you have to pay a penalty to access it??) And then of course there are taxes....

We all love the idea of a "tax-deferred" plan - if we can defer paying taxes until some later date, why not? We tend to think of it in the short-term as "saving" money on our tax bill - even though it's actually deferred - not saved. Of course with our human desire for instant gratification, this sounds like a great idea! I don't have to pay taxes on my retirement savings until I retire? Sweet!!  Well, the government is wise to our tendencies of procrastination, and don't think they haven't thought this through!  Setting up these qualified plans was very strategic - and the strategy wasn't necessarily designed to favor YOU....

Let me show you what I mean. Let's start with a very basic example, and I will make a few assumptions to make this easier to calculate.

This week I read an excellent article by Deepak Chopra - one of my favorite revolutionary thinkers on health and spiritual well-being. In it, he dug a little deeper into a topic we often talk about here - finding a balanced state of health.

He described the four major models of health and the human body that we humans have subscribed to over the course of our existence, starting from viewing the body as a collection of elements from nature, through the Christian view of the body as merely the temple of the soul, Eastern views of the body as expression of life force, up until today's current model of the body as a machine.

The way we approach health and healthcare depends on which model we are currently using. For example, if you view the body as a machine, then solving a health problem is as simple as "fixing the part" - which is how our current medical system deals with illness and disease (and we're seeing the results of this piecemeal approach in our declining health as a nation - not to mention our skyrocketing healthcare costs).

However, as we are coming to find today, as we start to recognize more and more the connections within and between ourselves and the universe, all of these previous models are in some way incomplete. For example, as Dr. Chopra points out, it's obvious that your body is not just a machine! For one thing, it can heal itself - which no machine can do. It is self-regulating and self-organizing, with no outside inputs. It is self-renewing - which also means that, as Chopra notes: "
Exercise makes it stronger, whereas a machine, if used more often, begins to wear out."
We are learning that, indeed, it is time for a new model - of the body, and of our health as a whole. Dr. Chopra calls this the "systems model" - in that "every cell is intelligent. The body holds together through a constant stream of information that reaches every cell. Homeostasis - a state of dynamic balance - represents health." This model recognizes the reality that "your body is a process -  not a thing."

One of the biggest shifts in building this new way of thinking about our health will be recognizing the powerful part that our brains and minds play in our physical health. Or, as Chopra puts it simply in systems terminology, "Positive input promotes well-being; negative input impairs well-being."  Obviously this is logical even in the machine model, BUT input will no longer just mean physical input like food, exercise, sleep, etc., but also include positive and negative ways of thinking.

This will mean an entirely new approach to healthcare - one that comes from YOU - not your doctor - as I've been saying for years! In the systems model, "self-care becomes primary care." Chronic disease and disorders of the bodily system are then preventable through routine maintenance of the whole, your beliefs and attitudes towards your body take on as much importance as physical inputs, and mindfulness practices such as prayer and meditation have a recognized impact on the health of your system.

As you can see, this is a pretty major shift in approach towards our health - but it's one that's long overdue. I hope that, as Dr. Chopra seems to believe, this model is well on the way to becoming a reality in the way we treat our bodies and care for our health.

Lastly, Chopra makes one more major point in relation to listening to your body - as I just talked about a couple of weeks ago: http://www.newholisticliving.com/1/post/2014/02/your-body-is-smarter-than-you-think.html 

And lest you think that this shift will require unrealistically drastic changes in the way you live, Dr. Chopra puts it in very simple terms which should make sense to just about anyone: "In short, we need to let the body take care of us, for that is what it's actually doing. The one thing this amazingly self-sufficient system needs from you is better input."

This "better input" can come in many forms, but in general, most are summed up by habitually listening to your body's feedback, loving and caring for yourself and others - as well as the world around you, and developing your spiritual awareness.

For more tips on giving your body better input, read Dr. Chopra's full article here.

And be sure to stay tuned to this blog, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and connect with us regularly - this entire blog and website is designed to support this new "systems model" - which is what holistic living truly is all about!

At long last, I have finished The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals! It took me longer than anticipated, for several reasons. First, I never read one book at a time, which means it takes longer to finish one! Secondly, although I started into the book gung-ho, and plowed through over half of it within a month, the last third of the book turned out to be surprisingly less interesting to me than the first few sections. And thirdly, Michael Pollan is such a great writer, I kind of didn't want it to end! Sometimes with a great book - like a great meal - I like to savor them slowly....
The Omnivore's Dilemma
Although it took me a few months to finish the book, it was, and remains probably my favorite book about food that I have ever read - and I've read quite a few! The information in Nina Planck's Real Food was excellent, but her writing style was quite plain (although not boring).  The other dietary and food-related books I have read have ranged from dry to overly pedantic in nature, although many also contained valid and helpful information.

But The Omnivore's Dilemma was the best of the best - smart, interesting, thoughtful, and well-researched, plus a joy to read! Funny at times, poignant and sad at others, cleverly written, and with a poetic slant you don't often find in modern non-fiction - particularly about the food system! I thoroughly enjoyed it, although some parts more than others.

Here is a quick rundown of the book's four sections, and my observations on each - plus why I recommend reading it - to...well...anyone who eats food!!

It may sound funny, but one simple way to improve your relationship with your spouse (or other romantic partner) is to learn to take a compliment! Seems too simple? Actually it's not. I would say the majority of women I know (and some men) just don't seem to handle this well at all. (Note: This post is not just for women, although women seem particularly susceptible to this malady. If you're a man who has trouble accepting compliments, read on. If you can take a compliment like a champ, but your lady can't, share this post with her!)

I'm not sure if it has to do with our poor body image as a nation, the constant barrage of airbrushed advertising, or simple false modesty, but for some reason we women seem nearly incapable of accepting a compliment. (I used to be one of them, and I'm still working on it, but I've gotten a lot better at it over the past few years - through conscious choice - mind you. It has definitely made a difference - particularly in my romantic relationships!)

First of all, let's review some popular ways NOT to respond to a compliment (I've heard some version of just about all of these within the past 30 days), and then we'll discuss why these responses are so destructive to your romantic relationships: