Archive | February, 2015

Happily Coupled Creating Loving Relationships that Work by Judith Fertig

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Jason

“To be fully seen by somebody… and be loved anyhow—this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert


At the conclusion of her bestselling memoir, Eat Pray Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert had fallen in love with Jose Nunes (called Felipe in the book), a Brazilian living in Indonesia. The divorced Gilbert, reluctant to have her heart broken again, had vowed never to remarry… yet ultimately changed her mind when U.S. immigration law presented her with multiple choices: marry so they could live together in this country, stay single and live as ex-pat partners or say goodbye to Nunes.


Gilbert chose a marital partnership that suits the shared life they want: honest, and after years of travel, settled in one place. She says, “For the first time in my life, living in a small town with a lovely husband in an old house with a big garden and several pets—I feel absolutely rooted in a way I have never experienced before, and never would have imagined even desiring. But it is what we want—at least for now—and we’re relishing that stability.” Gilbert records the process of going from two global wanderers falling in love to a married couple sharing domestic chores in her follow-up memoir, Committed: A Love Story.


Love Science


The spark that ignites such a partnership is love, which is “primarily about connection,” says Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a positivity expert and author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. “It’s vital to our health and happiness, affecting our brains and bodies at the cellular level.


“We were born to love,” emphasizes Fredrickson who also serves as a psychology professor and director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The evidence comes from research that shows how our brain and nervous system are designed to enhance our chances of experiencing it.”


When we share positive emotions with another person, experience a synchrony between their biochemistry and behaviors and ours, plus exhibit mutual care, love can bloom, whether we stay happily single or decide to pursue a committed relationship. She calls this triple action sequence “positivity resonance”. Love, she observes, is less a smooth, solid path than momentary experiences of connection.


Making Love Last


The more areas of connection we have with our partners, the more opportunities we have to positively resonate every day, adds Frederickson.


Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California’s Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, agrees. “Long-term relationships, like marriages, are partnerships in living,” according to Plante. “The vast majority of the time couples are together they’re not having hot sex, but are sharing a practical day-to-day life together.”


Shared activities aren’t always exciting or glamorous. Raising children, working, managing a home, cooking and cleaning, shopping, being with friends and family and the rest of regular daily living is where the rubber meets the road in relationship satisfaction, observes Plante. “If couples aren’t compatible in these areas, then the connection and attraction will inevitably atrophy, tensions emerge and too often, relationships fracture and fall apart.”


Compatibility means different things to different people, and requirements can change as individuals in a romantic partnership change over time. Compatibility also means agreement that the relationship is worth the effort to nurture and sustain it.


Partnering Life’s Dance


Five couples in different stages of loving partnerships share how they make their special relationships work. The key to them all is shared values.


Doing everything together. For newlyweds Drs. Josh and Chelsea Axe, of Nashville, Tennessee, a mutual commitment to vigorous wellness and physical fitness keeps them together. Says Josh, “The healthy lifestyle I have chosen to live is so important that I need someone who is able to not just agree, but also partner with me.” Married in 2012, the two chiropractic physicians went on to co-found the BurstFIT interval training program and meld their professional, as well as personal lives.


Chelsea notes, “There is truth to the phrase, ‘Couples that sweat together, stay together.’ When working out together, you share a specific energy you create while pushing yourself to your mental and physical limits. You have your partner right there doing it alongside you, knowing they’re supporting you; so when you each break through a mental or physical barrier in your workout, you step over together into a strength and confidence that carries over into your marriage. Being a part of each other’s goals and the struggles to reach them unifies us.”


Remarks Josh, “I feel like we can both be successful individually, but when we’re a team, the outcome is synergistic.”


Chelsea adds, “It’s never a mindset of ‘me.’ It’s always ‘us.’”


Balancing work and play. Barbara and Bob Unell, of Leawood, Kansas, dated as teenagers, went their separate ways in college and then found each other again in their early 20s. “We went on a blind date in 1968 and both belted out songs on the car radio,” recalls Barbara. “I thought he had a great sense of humor and was fun to be with. All these years later, it feels like we’re still dating. We’re crazy about each other.”


Both Barbara and Bob describe themselves as enthusiastic, playful, entrepreneurial, altruistic and geared toward creative projects, whether undertaken together or separately. “We’re both ‘Let’s try this,’ sort of people,” says Barbara with a laugh.


When the Unells had twins, now grown, they realized there was no national publication addressing how to parent multiples, so they launched Twins magazine in 1984. Bob founded and managed an advertising agency while Barbara wrote bestselling parenting books, but the whole family traveled together on her speaking engagements. In response to becoming a breast cancer survivor, Barbara founded the nonprofit Back in the Swing in 2000 to support survivorship care at cancer centers. When they needed additional staff, Bob joined the team in 2009. One of the biggest things that Barbara has learned from Bob is, “You can make work fun.”


“Although we come from different backgrounds, Bob and I know the power of mutual respect, trust and kindness,” reflects Barbara. “Part of our connection is that we have shared history and never take each other for granted.”


Making long-distance work. Lisa Ekus, who runs the full-service culinary talent agency The Lisa Ekus Group, in Hatfield, Massachusetts, had been married twice and already raised her two children when she met Atlanta Chef Virginia Willis. They got to know each other through culinary events and to their surprise fell in love. Over the past six years they’ve evolved a relationship that works for them—keeping a deep personal connection, but maintaining separate residences.


Cookbook author Willis gardens, develops recipes and writes for her Food Network blog, “Down Home Comfort,” at Ekus’ New England compound in the summers; Ekus travels to the South during cold months. They also meet up as often as they can at conferences, food and wine festivals, and other events during the rest of the year.


“We are both smart, professional women who love what we do, have strong ethics and a high level of self-expectation in how we work,” says Ekus. “We are also best friends and work together professionally. The respect we have for each other and our work is instrumental in our relationship.”


“We often joke about the North/South, fast/slow cultural difference,” Ekus continues. “I’m more spontaneous; Virginia is more thoughtful in her responses. I tend to move fast and focus on checking off items, while Virginia is more about the journey and being in the moment. It often makes us each take stock and consider what we’re doing and saying.”


They make the geographic separation work despite its inherent long-distance complications via

consistent communication, saying good morning and good night every day by phone and texting

often. They hold regular agent/author meetings to make professional plans and personal

calendar meetings at least weekly, recognizing and respecting what is important to each of



Bridging the age gap. Karen and Dick Eagle, from St. Louis, Missouri, are 16 years apart in age, but are close in the ways that count. Both are strong-minded and still vie to get their own way even after 30 years of marriage. “We argue over the stupidest things, and then resolve our disagreements and realize how good we have it,” says Karen.

What first attracted them to each other—and keeps them together—is a love of playful fun and good times with friends. Karen remarks, “I knew Dick was ‘the one’ when he jumped flat-footed over a wingback chair at a friend’s house. That showed me that he was young at heart.”

Making ends meet. Eleven years ago, when family therapist Susan Franklin lost her husband, Michael, a university college professor, she felt bereft and overwhelmed. The pair had owned a country property near Cleveland, Ohio, where they boarded horses. Susan realized, “I couldn’t keep up with everything on my own,” and Jake Marshall, a musician friend of Michael’s, offered to help. Over time, Susan and Jake became close, and they now live together.

Although Jake is a great supporter in many ways, he’s not in a position to help financially. Susan depends on her late husband’s insurance and pension benefits, which she would lose if she remarries. “Jake is so laid back and easy to be with, I can relax,” says Susan. Michael, on the other hand, always seemed to fill a room. Jake helps Susan with chores around the property and she is always there cheering him on from the front row when he performs at local venues.


Cultivating Care


Working out as a couple, sharing a creative project or making a gourmet meal together can do more than keep partners feeling connected. Shared activities also keep the positive experiences ongoing and resonating. “That special bond and commitments people often build around it are the products of love, the results of the many smaller moments in which love infuses you,” maintains Frederickson. Such moments not only accumulate, they can also be stored in memory and banked to feed a relationships during the tougher times.


“Love is something we should re-cultivate every day,” she says. A loving partnership is always a work in progress.


Judith Fertig is a freelance writer from Overland Park, KS.

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Blues-Beaters The Right Foods Fight Off the Blahs by Lane Vail

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Jason


Advertisements for antidepressants abound, yet a recent analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the benefits of treating mildly or moderately depressed individuals with these drugs “may be minimal or nonexistent” compared with a placebo. Most physicians agree that at least part of the prevention of and recovery from depression can be addressed through diet.


“Every molecule in the brain begins as food,” says Dr. Drew Ramsey, author of The Happiness Diet and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. “Food choice is the biggest puzzle piece patients have under their control.”


Ramsey describes the modern American diet as being overwhelmed with highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, omega-6 fats and sugar. His food philosophy serves as an overall prescription for mental health: “Eat food that comes from farms and not factories; simple, recognizable human food.”


Registered Dietitian Kathie Swift, an integrative clinical nutritionist in Lennox, Massachusetts, and author of The Swift Diet, agrees that food is powerful medicine. She recommends a balanced, flexitarian diet founded on plants but including high-quality, animal-sourced foods. Just shifting our processed-foods to whole-foods ratio yields an improved mood, Swift says, which continues to motivate dietary change.


Prebiotic/Probiotic Potential


Recent science suggests a deeper meaning to the “gut feeling” adage. Bacteria in the gut and neurochemicals in the brain communicate intimately and bidirectionally via the vagus nerve, explains Swift. Altering the gut’s microbial population, whether from chronic stress, antibiotic overuse or nutritional deficiencies, can change brain chemistry and thereby influence mood, mental clarity and sleep, she says.


In 2013, Canadian researchers altered both the neurochemicals and behavior in mice by switching their intestinal microbiota; anxious mice given the microbes of intrepid mice became braver, and vice versa. Another small study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed a decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms in volunteers taking probiotics for a month.


Essentially, says Swift, “We have a brain in the belly,” which must be nourished by both prebiotics (soluble fiber) and probiotics (fermented food). “Fiber is the quintessential substance to feed the lovely community of bugs in the gut,” says Swift, “while fermented foods interact with resident bacteria and give them a boost.” She recommends a variety of vegetables as a primary source of fiber, legumes especially, along with fruits, nuts, cheese and the occasional gluten-free whole grain. Probiotic foods include fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt with live active cultures and apple cider vinegar.


B Happy


Most psychiatric medications target feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, says Ramsey, but the body also manufactures these chemicals naturally during the methylation cycle, a B-vitamin-dependent neurological process. “B vitamins are superstars of the brain,” Ramsey says. “Think of them as lubrication for the brain’s gears.”


Folate, or vitamin B9, is particularly important to healthy nervous system functioning. A meta-analysis of 15,000 people reported in the Journal of Epidemiology associated low folate with a higher risk of depression. Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard are high in B vitamins, as are beets, eggs, lentils, beans and whole grains; helpful fruits include papaya, avocado and berries.


Omega-3s Please


“It’s a horrible notion that fat is bad,” says Ramsey.


Swift agrees, noting, “We need a major renovation and reeducation of this important neuro-nutrient.” The integrity of a neuron cell membrane, which Swift describes as “a beautiful and fluid layer of lipids,” is crucial for brain health because it dictates communication among neurotransmitters. “The fat we eat becomes the fat of our cell membranes,” she says. “So nourish your membranes with adequate amounts of the right types of fat.”


Long-chain omega-3s DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) build and protect neurons, help prevent cognitive decline with age and can boost overall mood and mental performance, says Ramsey. A study in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that treating depressed patients with omega-3 EPA was as equally effective as Prozac. “DHA and EPA are the two most important fats for brain health on the planet, period,” states Ramsey.


Foods rich in omega-3s include fatty seafood like salmon, mussels and oysters, plus sea vegetables, walnuts, flaxseed and grass-fed beef. For vegetarians and vegans, Ramsey recommends an algal DHA supplement.


Focusing on feeding the brain doesn’t preclude staving off heart disease, obesity or diabetes. “Follow the rules of eating for brain health,” Ramsey says, “and you’ll also be slim, energized, focused and resilient.” It’s all a recipe for happiness.


Lane Vail is a freelance writer and blogger at


Good Mood Meal Plans


Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon with Sautéed Swiss Chard, Pickled Beets, and Banana-Avocado Pudding

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s, and Swiss chard offers fiber and folate. Beets are high in folate, as well as nitrites, which improve circulation throughout the body and the brain, says Nutritionist Kathie Swift. Double-down on beets’ power by eating them pickled in apple cider vinegar, promoting healthy gut flora. Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid involved in serotonin production, and avocados are high in folate and oleic acid, a model unsaturated omega-9 fat needed for healthy brains, advises Dr. Drew Ramsey.


Lentil Salad with Hummus, Grilled Asparagus, Broccoli, Red Onion, and Grilled Watermelon

Lentils, chickpeas and asparagus are high in fiber and B vitamins, while walnuts add omega-3s. Broccoli is an excellent source of chromium, a mineral found to lower blood sugar and reduce symptoms of depression in some people, according to a Cornell University study. Grilled onions (along with garlic, which can be blended into hummus) belong to a food family called alliums that promote healthy vascular function and blood flow to the brain and also contain a high concentration of chromium, says Ramsey. Watermelon’s red color is due to its high concentration of the antioxidant lycopene, which helps resolve free radical damage, inflammation and hormone imbalances associated with depression, notes Swift.


Grass-fed Beef with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Kale, and Greek Yogurt Swirled with Raspberries

A British Journal of Nutrition study showed that beef raised on chlorophyll-rich grass provides more omega-3s than grain-fed beef. Like other animal proteins, beef is a significant source of tryptophan. Kale and sweet potatoes contribute fiber, folate and vitamin A, which promotes the enzymes that create the pleasure neurotransmitter, dopamine. Yogurt is also high in tryptophan, and raspberries provide folate and antioxidants.


Free-Range Egg Omelet with Spinach, Tomatoes, Cheese, and Fresh Papaya

Eggs are a power-packed food full of B vitamins, tyrosine and tryptophan amino acids, plus selenium, zinc and iodide, micronutrients vital for proper functioning of the energy- and metabolism-regulating thyroid, says Ramsey. Tomatoes and natural cheese are high in lycopene and tryptophan, respectively, and spinach and papaya are packed with folate and fiber.

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Be A Fitness Sleuth Seven Clues to Detect the Perfect Workout Place by Debra Melani

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Jason

Six years ago, Sherry Salmons, of Oak Ridge, Illinois, was perplexed by her “glowing, smiling, energetic” neighbor who worked full-time while raising three young children, yet never seemed drained. Finally, she asked: “What’s your secret?” The answer was a life-changing visit by Salmons to a nearby holistic fitness studio.


Lucking into good recommendations can whittle down the mass of choices available at 32,000 U.S. health clubs and studios, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. With the dual trends of niche studios and low-cost fitness centers fueling a diverse burst in workout options, club-seekers should apply their sleuthing skills before deciding on something that can prove so pivotal to their health.


Clue #1: Location and hours. If a facility isn’t near home or work, people won’t go, says Jim White, an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) health fitness specialist, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Our time is so valuable that going to the gym can’t be a hassle.” Check online and list nearby facilities and hours, scratching off any that aren’t open at convenient times.


Clue #2: Know what you need. Some people have absolute necessities for fitness success. “For instance, avid swimmers need a pool,” says Grace DeSimone, an ACSM personal trainer in New York City. “That’s going to reduce their choices considerably.” Other non-negotiable provisions might be a yoga studio, indoor track or child care.


Clue #3: Gym rat or newbie? A fitness facility that costs pennies a day might seem like an obvious choice, but not if our fitness level and knowledge are near zero. “A lot of people don’t know what to do in a gym,” observes White, who owns personal training studios in Virginia. “We’re especially for those who want their hands held or want to see results fast.” Niche studios focused on modalities from kick boxing to dance therapy can offer added guidance. DeSimone notes that other reputable facilities will likewise have accredited trainers, often at a low cost. Larger facilities also may offer more options for a newbie to try out before settling on what they like, she says.


Clue #4: Take a test drive. Make use of trial periods and guest passes. “Get a feel for the culture,” says Chris Freytag, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and a personal trainer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “People are more likely to stay motivated in an environment that inspires them and with people who motivate them,” Freytag says. During on-site visits, do we feel at home among kindred spirits our own age? Is the facility clean and secure?


Clue #5: Look at the equipment. If the gym doesn’t have the equipment we want to use, whether it’s Pilates or TRX equipment, free weights or Kettlebells, then move on. A gym worth joining will have plenty of up-to-date equipment that follows the latest fitness trends and works properly, says White.


Clue #6: Investigate the staff. Checking out the staff is key for those seeking specialized guidance, such as yoga, martial arts or personal training. Look for trainers and instructors available to help that are certified by a reputable program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Investigating key employees’ backgrounds, including acupuncturists and massage therapists, is crucial.


Clue #7: Sign with caution. Avoid signing long-term, complicated contracts, which are rare these days, DeSimone counsels. “Don’t be overwhelmed by a high-pressured sales pitch; just stand your ground, because those people are at your service.” White recommends making sure the price includes expected services; feel free to negotiate, especially with initial fees. Understand all policies, especially cancellation clauses, and use a credit card, which is easier to correct if problems arise, adds DeSimone.


Although Salmons was lucky, with her neighbor’s recommendation leading her to her perfect studio, people should investigate to find their ideal fit. “It starts when you walk in the door,” Salmons says about her attraction to The Balance Fitness Studio. “The space is open, exposed and it’s got this very clean, feng shui energy.”


Not a traditional, iron-pumping, music-blasting gym fan, Salmons prefers Pilates but participates in all of the studio’s offerings, including massage, acupuncture and nutrition classes. While finding the right club has boosted her fitness level, she notes that the real magic has come in the form of revitalized energy. “It’s changed me in all aspects of my life. When I leave, I feel mentally focused, emotionally balanced and refreshed. It’s kind of transformational.”


Freelance journalist Debra Melani writes about health care and fitness from Lyons, CO. Connect at or

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When Your Pet Passes A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing by Julianne Hale

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Jason

A pet’s love is extraordinary because it is unconditional. It doesn’t have expectations, pass judgment or try to leverage guilt. It is rich in loyalty, trust and adoration. Domestic pets provide warmth, companionship and love, as well as purpose, fun and conversational gambits for family members. For lonely hearts, they are a lifeline, providing a physical, emotional and spiritual connection to life that may prove critical to survival and happiness.


Loving pets seem like an endless source of happiness while with us, but few outlive their owners. Loss is as much a part of having a pet as potty training and vaccinations. For some, the loss of a dog or cat is debilitating and the grieving process can take months.


Rev. Gary Kowalski, author of Goodbye, Friend and a Unitarian Universalist minister in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contends that the depth of the relationship that we develop with pets emerges from the time we spend with them every day, exercising, feeding, grooming and even sleeping with them. The relationship is pure and uncomplicated, and the pain of separation can be especially intense and profound.


The challenge of pet loss is often complicated by the difficult decision to euthanize an aged or suffering animal. “One of the hardest things about having a dog is that sometimes you have to decide to end its life,” says Jon Katz, of upstate New York, a New York Times bestselling author of many books about dogs, including Going Home: Finding Peace when Pets Die. “Our job as pet owners is to be an advocate for our pets, making sure they do not suffer. Don’t poison the joy that you shared with your pet with guilt over your decisions,” he says. Katz recommends taking photos of pets and making intentional memories in the time leading up to parting to encourage closure.


The same kind of rituals we use to honor and say goodbye to other family members can likewise help ease the pain of a pet’s passing. Owners can gather with loved ones and friends to celebrate the life of their pet with a burial ceremony or memorial. Kowalski likes adding meaningful words. His book includes a variety of readings that pet owners can use in their rituals of grief from poems, literature, the Bible and other sacred texts.


When a human friend or family member dies, compassion and empathy flows from everyone we meet, but many may not be aware of, or understand the depth of grief associated with a pet’s death. “Some people feel embarrassed or don’t understand that mourning a deceased pet is a normal process,” explains Julia Harris, a pet bereavement counselor from Ellijay, Georgia, and author of Pet Loss: A Spiritual Guide.


Support is essential during times of grief, and it can be difficult to find an understanding friend to discuss it with. Several online communities are devoted to providing support. An Internet search of “pet loss support” yields a wealth of online resources.


In the same way that the belief in an afterlife comforts people of many faith traditions when a person passes, the possibility of the same destiny for pets can offer comfort. “Perhaps one of the most common questions I am asked is whether or not animals have a soul,” explains Harris. “I encourage people to know the soul, like love, is eternal. It leaves the physical body, but the loving relationship continues.”

While there’s no standard timeline for the grieving process, it’s important to keep perspective. Excessive grief can lead to depression. “If the grief is interfering with life and your work, then you may need to seek professional help,” advises Katz.


Not even a parent is capable of providing the purely unconditional love we receive from pets. Kowalski views it as a sacred connection, observing that through the unconditional love and acceptance that we receive from our pets, we get a little glimpse of what God’s love must look like.


Julianne Hale is a writer and editor for Natural Awakenings and blogs about family life at


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