The Art and Practice of Self Care for Women

              Many of my patients have a difficult time with the concept of self care. Often they are mothers, sometimes working full time as well, trying to keep up with household responsibilities, attending social obligations, and taking care of everyone else’s needs before their own. Often, the only rest they get is the time they are sleeping, and even that can be insufficient or restless due to worrying or planning for the day ahead.
We are often taught in our culture that self care is selfish. We feel guilty if we put our own needs before the needs or wants of others. This can often leave us feeling overwhelmed, unfulfilled, and exhausted.

So where to begin to create change? An important place to look first is into our minds. What is our belief system around self care? What did we learn from our role models? Were we taught that self care is selfish? Do we believe that we deserve to be nourished, nurtured, loved, cared for, and happy? 

Another essential place to be aware of is our body. What sensations or symptoms do our bodies express when we aren’t listening? What comes up when we are saying ‘yes’ but mean ‘no’? Is the body screaming for rest? Does tension in the body let you know you are feeling angry? What is your experience? 

Finally, it is imperative to become mindful of our emotional reactions. When we do for others before ourselves do we feel upset? frustrated? resentful? or perhaps needed? Do we get a sense of self worth from doing for others? 
Once we tap in deeply to our internal world, the picture becomes clear and we gain insight into where we can begin to create change so that we can live a more fulfilled, meaningful, happy, and healthy life. We can create this AND still be a good mother, employee, friend, wife, etc. Both are possible.

I would argue that self care is SELFLESS! When we create time to nurture ourselves we are able to serve others in our lives to a greater capacity. When we are rested, we have more energy to get what needs to be done accomplished. When we are grounded and centered, we are less likely to be reactive in our relationships at home or at work. When we make time for our health and well being, everyone benefits from our increased vitality. It’s a win-win. Sure, initially when you first start to create time for self care, those feelings of guilt or uncertainty might come up.

Sit with those feelings too. I have learned that if you sit with a feeling long enough, it transforms. In my own experience, guilt shifts into gratitude. I have learned to see self care as a significant accomplishment, more than any other task crossed off on my to do list. I come first, so that I can serve the world better of a place of fullness, vitality, and authenticity. I want to give more because I have been nurtured. I shift from guilt to gratitude, because I know how much more others with benefit from my being grounded and energized and I’m grateful to have the opportunity and wisdom to take care of myself. 

Just over 4 years ago, I made the commitment to make the very first thing I do on my to do list something that serves me. For me, it is often a yoga practice, a hike in nature, journalling, watching a majestic sunrise over the bay, or a slow morning with good food and cuddles with my baby, pup and hubby. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as I am left feeling nourished. I believe this commitment has served me more than anything else in life. I am able to serve my patients better because I feel full and can be present to their experiences. I am more focused and more productive. I have more energy. I can connect deeper in my relationships. I am less reactive. I am more in touch with the big picture. I can connect to life in a deeper way. It has been invaluable! 

As with any big shift, it can be helpful to start with baby steps. Take some time this week to contemplate and plant seeds. What nourishes you? What lights your fire? What helps you to ground? When do you feel most alive? What do need more of in your life? Once you have planted seeds, begin to water them. Perhaps once each week or each day if you can, carve out time in your schedule that you dedicate to care for yourself in the ways you need most. Practice, practice, practice. The practices you create will become habits. These habits become your life. Imagine a life where you feel constantly filled up, energized, and would that feel for you? How might it change the world?

Laura is a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified yoga instructor. Her naturopathic practice Awaken Wellness Within is located in Synergy Wellness Centre downtown Collingwood. 

"As a naturopathic doctor, through education, empowerment, and example, I endeavour to guide patients toward manifesting optimal health and living their most inspired life!" 

“As a yoga instructor, my intention is to guide students towards getting in touch with their breath, listening to the innate wisdom of the body, observing the connection of the mind, body and spirit, and awakening the life force within.”

Have you been diagnosed with a Groin Injury?

One of the most common hockey injuries is a groin strain, also known as an adductor strain.

 The adductor muscle group pulls the leg inward towards the midline of the body. During the skating stride the adductors and hip flexors help to stabilize the hip. Studies have shown that adductor strains in hockey may be a result of the adductor group attempting to decelerate the leg during a stride. They can also be related to a muscle imbalance between the propulsive and stabilizing muscle groups.

This muscle imbalance comes from the hockey stance where the hips are constantly in flexion causing the hip flexors to become very tight and pull the pelvis down. This causes the spinal erectors to also become very tight and pull the pelvis up in the back, causing the pelvis to be pulled forward or anteriorly. 

Anterior tilt.jpg

 The prime movers in the skating stride are the hip extensors, abductors and external rotators. When you have an anteriorly rotated pelvis, the prime movers end up in a lengthened or stretched position. This causes extra strain and load on the adductor group as they are responsible for the opposing action and are trying to counteract the abductors and external rotators as well as decelerate the leg in the skating stride.   

Studies have shown that there is a relationship with groin injuries and decreased strength and decreased flexibility. Tyler et al were able to demonstrate that strengthening the adductor muscle group could be an effective method for preventing adductor strains in professional ice hockey players.

Unfortunately, even though these risk factors have been identified and strengthening protocols have been implemented, adductor strains are still very common and continue to occur in most sports, especially hockey.

Tyler et al found that recurring groin strains could be due to incomplete rehabilitation or returning to sport too early before tissue repair was complete. Hagglund et al studied 12 elite Swedish male soccer teams and determined that prior injury such as a previous hamstring, groin or knee injury were 2-3 times more likely to lead to re-occurrence of that injury the following season.

Homlich et al and Tyler et al found that an active strengthening program that consists of strengthening the abductors, adductor and core along with proprioceptive training may reduce the re-occurrence rate of groin injuries and help in treatment of chronic groin injuries. 

Here are 3 exercises to help increase your adductor strength and core all in one:

1. Lunge with wood chopper

woodchopper side lunge A
wood chopper lunge B


2. Side lunge with oblique twist

side lunge

3. Single leg squat against the wall

single leg squat


1.       Sim FH, Simonet WT, Melton LJ III, et al: Ice hockey injuries. Am J SportsMed 15: 30–40, 1987.

2.       Arnason A, Sigurdsson SB, Gudmundsson A, Holme I, Engebretsen L, Bahr R. Risk factors for injuries in football. Am J Sports Med. 2004;32(1)(suppl):5-16 [PubMed]

3.       Ekstrand J, Gillquist J. The avoidability of soccer injuries. Int J Sports Med. 1983;4(2):124-128 [PubMed]

4.       Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH. Risk factors for groin injuries in hockey. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(9):1423-1433 [PubMed]

5.       Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH, Powell JW. Groin and abdominal strain injuries in the National Hockey League. Clin J Sport Med. 1999;9(3):151-156 [PubMed]

6.       Knapik JJ, Bauman CL, Jones BH, Harris JM, Vaughan L. Preseason strength and flexibility imbalances associated with athletic injuries in female athletes collegiate athletes. Am J Sports Med. 1991;19(1):76-81 [PubMed]

7.       Orchard J, Marsden J, Lord S, Garlick D. Preseason hamstring muscle weakness associated with hamstring muscle injury in Australian footballers. Am J Sports Med. 1997;25(1):81-85 [PubMed]

8.       Tegner Y, Lorentzon R. Ice hockey injuries: incidence, nature and causes. Br J Sports Med. 1991;25(2):87-89 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

9.       Tyler TF, Nicholas SJ, Campbell RJ, McHugh MP. The association of hip strength and flexibility on the incidence of groin strains in professional ice hockey players. Am J Sports Med. 2001;29(2):124-128 [PubMed]

10.   Tyler TF, Silvers HJ, Gerhardt MB, Nicholas SJ. Groin Injuries in Sports Medicine. Sports Health. 2010;2(3):231-236. doi:10.1177/1941738110366820.

11.   Tyler TF, Campbell R, Nicholas SJ, Donellan S, McHugh MP. The effectiveness of a preseason exercise program on the prevention of groin strains in professional ice hockey players. Am J Sports Med. 2002;30(5):680-683 [PubMed]

12.   Hagglund M, Waldén M, Ekstrand J. Previous injury as a risk factor for injury in elite football: a prospective study over two consecutive seasons. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(9):767-772 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

13.   Holmich P, Uhrskou P, Ulnits L, et al. Effectiveness of active physical training as treatment for long-standing adductor-related groin pain in athletes: randomized trial. Lancet. 1999;353(9151):339-443 [PubMed]

What are Athletic Therapists?

Athletic therapists, as defined by the Ontario Athletic Therapists Association, are health care professionals that specialize in the prevention, assessment, and care of musculoskeletal disorders, especially as they relate to athletics and the pursuit of physical activity (OATA, 2009).

If you watch professional sports on television, you’ve seen Athletic Therapists jump over the boards, or on to the field, to respond to a medical emergency or injury. You have likely seen someone on the sidelines of a local football or rugby tournament with a first aid fanny pack slung over their shoulder or around their waist. And if you have been in a busy sports medicine clinic, they are there too! 

 Athletic therapists (ATs) are first to respond to an injury or emergency typically in a sports setting. All levels of active people and teams use ATs for their knowledge of acute injuries. With advanced first responder skills, an AT will control the emergency, and can assess for the injury onsite. This leads to a faster diagnosis and treatment time. All athletes and active people want “rapid return to work and play” (OATA). Once the diagnosis is made, the AT will treat and manage the injury, from the initial reduction of pain and swelling to agility and power exercises as indicated. What separates ATs from other health care professionals is the keen awareness for acute injury management, biomechanics, strength and conditioning, and manual therapy. This along with advanced first aid makes an athletic therapist a great choice for athletes of all levels.

The sporting world is dealing with a new awareness of concussions. Athletic therapists are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries (concussions). Managing these injuries can take a coordinated effort amongst health care professionals and an athletic therapist can be your quarterback. Athletic therapists use advanced assessments, like cranial nerve testing and the SCAT test, to determine if a concussion was possibly sustained. Manual therapy and working along side sports medicine physicians is also in the scope of athletic therapy.  

All certified athletic therapists write a nationally standardized written exam and four components of practical testing. Candidates are tested on assessment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries as well as medical emergencies and non-emergencies in the field. Once the national exams are passed, certified therapists must continually update their sports medicine education and first aid certifications. 

Go ahead, give athletic therapy a try!

Synergy's Athletic Therapist is Alex Barton - Find out more about her by clicking here.

For more information about athletic therapy, check out the recently completed White Paper put out by the OATA:


Author: Jen Mark, BSc., CAT(C), CSCS | Athletic Therapist, Gormley ON |

Food Sensitivities and Your Health

Many people are unsure about the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. A food allergy elicits an IgE (a type of antibody) mediated reaction that can cause hives, shortness of breath, swelling, etc. Most people with serious food allergies (i.e. to peanuts, fish, egg, etc) are very well aware they have these allergies and will carry and Epi pen to avoid emergencies in the case of anaphylaxis.

Mild or moderate allergies to foods, dust, mold, and various animals can be detected using a skin prick test at your GPs office. A food sensitivity is not as immediate or severe as an allergy. It is mediated by IgG antibodies which cause a delayed type hypersensitivity reaction. This means that a person can react to a food even 48 hours after the food has been ingested.

Symptoms of food sensitivities vary from person to person. Some experience digestive upset, gas, bloating, heartburn, cramping, diarrhea or constipation. Others may experience headaches or "brain fog". Some notice inflammation on the skin in the form of eczema, psoriasis, or acne. For some, joints are affected. Some suffer from recurrent sore throats, chronic ear infections, or sinus congestion. Others may just feel fatigued or moody after eating a food they are sensitive to, or notice they seem to be gaining weight (usually around the midsection) despite a generally balanced diet and exercise routine. In children, food sensitivities can present as behavioural issues, sleep disturbances, chronic ear infections, gastrointestinal dysregulation, or a depressed immune system where they just seem to get every cold and flu that comes around.

Food sensitivities can be identified using various methods. I commonly use a blood test to determine food sensitivities. The test measures whether or not you are producing an IgG antibody to a food antigen you are consuming. This is by far the easiest way to determine the culprits. It takes out the guessing when you don't know whether it was the dairy you had for breakfast, the pasta the night before, etc. Still, some patients prefer to determine food sensitivities using an elimination diet. With this method, the most common food allergens (dairy, soy, sugar, gluten, eggs just to name a few) are removed from the diet for a period of 6 weeks and introduced one at a time after that with 48 hours between introductions.

The process takes awhile but you are able to listen to your body's reaction and understand exactly how and where that food is affecting you and your health.
If food sensitivities are identified, often the culprits will be removed from the diet for a period of time and a natural prescription may be given to you by your naturopathic doctor to heal the inflammation in the body and aid in optimal digestion. A prescription is always tailored to the individual and symptoms presenting. 

Choosing to determine food sensitivities can be a commitment, but the differences patients notice in their health are incredible. Aren't YOU worth it?







Prenatal Classes at Synergy!

We are thrilled to be opening our doors to Nicola Syed - Internationally Certified Child Birth Educator. She will be hosting a 4 week Prenatal class on Thursday nights from 6:30-9:30 here at Synergy Health and Wellness Centre. 

Classes are $250 and include birth ball, massage oil, intensive comfort measures for labour class and all hand outs. 

Register by calling 705-209-0152 or visiting for online registration. You can also contact the clinic for more information - 705-446-5828

There are only a couple of spaces left and classes begin November 5, 2015. 


Welcome Laura James, Pilates Instructor, to our team!

The Pilates Method has been a passion of Laura’s for many years. She has over 20 years practical experience with the Pilates method and has been teaching since 2013. Laura certified with BASI (Body Arts and Science), a world renowned leader in the education of the Joseph Pilates method, located in Costa Mesa, California. She is also certified in Myofascial Compression Techniques and will certify her personal training in 2016.


Everyone has a different body, doing a different job, responding to stress a different way, so the techniques Laura uses provides each individual with unique approach to help the body return to health. Laura believes in the body’s ability to heal itself and, as an athlete with plenty of injuries to brag about, her and the Pilates Method was the breakthrough she needed to assist in that healing from the tips of her toes to neck. It is the reason she became an instructor. One of Laura’s clients put it into words succinctly recently saying, “a quality one hour session with a great instructor is like an hour of personal training mixed with physiotherapy. Such a great combination and you walk out feeling much better than when you walked in”.


Laura has success stories from clients with varying needs and goals including:

·      spine, shoulder, knee, hip and foot recovery

·      pre and postnatal goals

·      professional athletes recovery and maintenance goals

·      general weight loss and health goals


She is new to Collingwood but her family lives here so she is thrilled to make the move. Laura lived in Whistler for a few years a while back so she is happy to live to be back in a community where people know how to work to live, not live to work.


To book an appointment with Laura, please contact her via email or call / text 416.937.0704. Bookings can also be arranged through the clinic at 705-446-5828. 


Pilates explained

In the 1920s, physical trainer Joseph Pilates introduced Pilates into America as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then, Pilates has been adapted to suit people in the general community.

Pilates can be an aerobic and non-aerobic form of exercise. It requires concentration and focus, because you move your body through precise ranges of motion. Pilates lengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in your body in a balanced fashion. It requires concentration in finding a centre point to control your body through movement. Each exercise has a prescribed placement, rhythm and breathing pattern.

In Pilates, your muscles are never worked to exhaustion, so there is no sweating or straining, just intense concentration. The workout consists of a variety of exercise sequences that are performed in low repetitions, usually five to ten times, over a session of 45 to 90 minutes. Mat work and specialised equipment for resistance are used.

The Pilates method is taught to suit each person and exercises are regularly re-evaluated to ensure they are appropriate for that person. Due to the individual attention, this method can suit everybody from elite athletes to people with limited mobility, pregnant women and people with low fitness levels.

Classes are held in specialised Pilates studios, physiotherapy clinics or at your local leisure facility or community centre.

Health benefits of Pilates

The health benefits of Pilates include:

  • improved flexibility
  • increased muscle strength and tone, particularly of your abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of your body)
  • balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • enhanced muscular control of your back and limbs
  • improved stabilisation of your spine
  • improved posture
  • rehabilitation or prevention of injuries related to muscle imbalances
  • improved physical coordination and balance
  • relaxation of your shoulders, neck and upper back
  • safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
  • prevention of musculoskeletal injuries
  • increased lung capacity and circulation through deep breathing
  • improved concentration
  • increased body awareness
  • stress management and relaxation.

Pilates suitable for everyone

Pilates caters for everyone, from beginner to advanced. You can perform exercises using your own body weight, or with the help of various pieces of equipment.

A typical Pilates workout includes a number of exercises and stretches. Each exercise is performed with attention to proper breathing techniques and abdominal muscle control. To gain the maximum benefit, you should do Pilates at least two or three times per week. You may notice postural improvements after 10 to 20 sessions.

Pilates and challenging your body

Pilates is based on putting yourself into unstable postures and challenging your body by moving your limbs.

For instance, imagine you are lying on your back, with bent knees and both feet on the floor. A Pilates exercise may involve straightening one leg so that your toes point to the ceiling, and using the other leg to slowly raise and lower your body. You need tight abdominal and buttock muscles to keep your hips square, and focused attention to stop yourself from tipping over.

Types of Pilates

The two basic forms of Pilates are:

  • Mat-based Pilates – this is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and your own body weight to provide resistance. The main aim is to condition the deeper, supporting muscles of your body to improve posture, balance and coordination
  • Equipment-based Pilates – this includes specific equipment that works against spring-loaded resistance, including the ‘reformer’, which is a moveable carriage that you push and pull along its tracks. Some forms of Pilates include weights (such as dumbbells) and other types of small equipment that offer resistance to the muscles.

You can't suck at yoga!

I love to meet new people and learn about their lives and their passions! While meeting a new friend for coffee the other day, she shared with me that she doesn't practice yoga because 'she sucks at it', to which I replied ' That's impossible, you CAN'T suck at yoga!'. To be 'good' at yoga, you don't need to be flexible, or strong, or injury free. It doesn't matter if you are 13 or 75, large or small, short or tall, or if you are male or female. Anyone can do yoga!!! Let me explain...
The root word of yoga is 'yuj' which literally means 'to yoke'. A translation often extracted from this is 'to unite' or 'to join'. Yoga unites! There are many ways to interpret this - union of breath and body, union of mind, body, and spirit, union with all living beings, union with the earth and our environment, union with divine energy, and the list goes on. Nothing is separate. Yoga brings us to this understanding through a very palpable experience. 


So how did union with our heart get translated into pretzel postures? Simple. Asana (the physical practice of yogic postures) is one of the eight limbs of yoga, and probably the most accessible to our north american culture. We can use our physical body as a tool to connect to our deeper layers that are sometimes inaccessible to the conscious mind. We can move energy. We can release tension. We can sharpen our senses. We can de-stress.


We are more than just a physical body, but we need to BE embodied in order to access the rest. This is my experience. When I began my journey into yoga nine years ago, I saw it as just another way to 'work out'. I felt better after yoga than I ever had working out but I couldn't put my finger on why. It wasn't just that I felt stronger, or more flexible, or more energized, or more grounded - although these are all wonderful benefits of yoga! I felt more connected to myself, more tuned-in to my life, more inspired, naturally joy-filled. I felt AWAKE in my life! My focus shifted. I could concentrate easily. My relationships improved. My life transformed. The shift is subtle, but powerful beyond rational measure.


As a yoga teacher now, my goal is to inspire my students to get a 'work-IN'! through yoga. The physical effects such as more strength and flexibility are just the icing on the cake, but not the point. Yoga helps you to be more flexible in your life, not just your body. The practice encourages strength of heart more importantly than strong muscles. Can you touch your toes?  It doesn't matter! Can you wrap your ankle behind your head?  Who cares?  If you are present in the moment, if you are breathing, if you are listening to the innate wisdom of your body...this is yoga. You can practice on the mat AND in your life!


There is yoga for everyone and every-BODY. So many styles and teachers. So many modifications for each posture. Can't touch the floor? - let's bring the floor up to you with blocks or chairs! Can't reach your toes?  Let's get a strap to make that easier. Are you injured?  No problem, there are so many modifications to keep you feeling comfortable and pain free. It's not about bending and breaking your body to conform into physical shapes. That's not yoga. If you show up on mat willing to try, open hearted, breathing deeply, present, then you are not only GOOD at yoga, you are GREAT at it! 


If you feel shy around others or just can't find a yoga schedule that works for your life at this time, you can do private classes on your own schedule. Your teacher will customize a program that is right for you, your life and your body! 


When I'm not practicing as a naturopathic doctor, I teach yoga to groups or individuals. It is so rewarding to witness people coming more fully into their bodies, and themselves! In the therapeutic private yoga classes I teach, the wisdom and philosophy of yoga is combined with the science and philosophy of naturopathic medicine to specifically address the patients physical, mental, and emotional health concerns through a  tailored yoga practice.  Specific practices can be designed for health conditions and dis-ease including stress and fatigue, headaches and migraines, insomnia, anxiety and depression, menopause, PMS, hypertension and heart disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity, chronic pain syndromes, hypermobility or joint laxity, scoliosis, injury prevention and rehabilitation, as well as for performance enhancement. I primarily focus on therapeutic yoga specific to my client in my practice at Synergy Wellness. It is so rewarding to be able to design a practice that gives the individual EXACTLY what they need...and a tailored practice they can take home as well!


It's been said that 'practice makes perfect'. I disagree. The practice of yoga reminds you that you are ALREADY perfect, already whole, just as you are, in this moment. We get on our mats, connect with our breath, and move our bodies in order to REMEMBER. Our natural state of being is joy-full and peace-full. Yoga is the experience of reconnecting to this essence. Ready to practice? What have you got to lose in comparison to what you could find?

Laura is a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified yoga instructor. Her naturopathic practice is located in the heart of downtown Collingwood within Synergy Wellness Centre on First St. where she treats patients and teaches private therapeutic yoga sessions.


"As a naturopathic doctor, through education, empowerment, and example, I endeavour to guide patients toward manifesting optimal health and living their most inspired life!"


“As a yoga instructor, my intention is to guide students towards getting in touch with their breath, listening to the innate wisdom of the body, observing the connection of the mind, body and spirit, and awakening the life force within.”

Healthy Habits, Vibrant Life! A Naturopathic & Yogic Perspective on Creating Sustainable Change!

In a previous article earlier this year, I talked about change: why it is so difficult to create change and what can be done about it. We discussed awareness as a key principle of initiating change. Awareness and clear seeing of old habits that no longer serve us begins the process of dissolution of these habits and reinforces healthy habits. The mind-body connection has a huge role in transforming unhealthy patterns into healthy ones. 

Yoga can help, whether you have a physical practice or choose just to employ the philosophy. In yoga, we call conditioned or habitual
patterns, samskaras. Yoga asana (the physical practice of yoga postures or 'seats') teaches us to 'sit with' what is arising in our mind and our body. What are our habitual ways of reacting? How do we show up in the real world when we face challenge? How we show up on our mat, what we practice every day, the mind- body connections we set, all determine whether a pattern in life will be reinforced or transformed. The change simply starts with awareness. 
Yoga is no different from the health and lifestyle habits that we practice. 

In my naturopathic practice, I see numerous patients who are unhappy with the lifestyle habits they have been practicing. They aren't eating healthy, or not making time
to exercise, or staying in relationships that are unhealthy for them. The first step is guiding them to see the pattern. Awareness creates the ah-ha moment. We see how our thoughts and actions are contributing to a negative health outcome. The next step is setting goals. We need to identify the habits that create the life we want, and work towards them. Most patients find baby steps are easiest and more sustainable. If too many habits are challenged at once, we can become overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. They key is to take the next right step, in the right direction, and be content with your effort. This creates momentum and positivity for more positive change to occur. If in every small thought, action or reaction, we can ask ourselves "Is this serving me? Is this in my best intention? Is this contributing to my goal?", then all the moments will add up to big change. 

Our state of health is a result of a combination of many influences: genetics, environment, diet, exercise, relationships, thoughts, emotions, addictions, 

reactions, etc. The nervous system, immune system, endocrine (hormonal) system, emotions, pain pathways, enteric nervous system (our 'gut brain'), and our mental body (thoughts) are all intricately connected. A disharmony in one system effects all others. A positive change in one system causes a change in all others. We can't separate ourselves into compartmentalized parts. We are not machines. We need to look at the whole. This is also true for setting goals to change habits. If we only address the physical, for example, we won't completely heal the pattern or habit because other systems have not been addressed. This can still be accomplished in baby steps, one thing at a time, but it is essential to look at the whole picture. One of the principle philosophies in naturopathic medicine is to 'treat the whole person in an individualized manner by addressing the root cause'. When patients initially come in to my office, they often have 10 plus health concerns they want to address. Let's say for example, their main concern is weight gain but they also suffer from fatigue, mood fluctuations, body temperature dysregulation, and seem to catch every cold or flu that comes around. If I just gave them something for each symptom (‘this for that’ mentality), they would never fully heal. These concerns are not separate issues. My job is to educate the patient around how these symptoms interrelate. They are all different ways the body is flagging us to look at the underlying disharmony. When we treat the root cause, all symptoms will start to heal concurrently.


You can apply these principles of creating sustainable change to any habit! Not sure where to start? Below, I have outlined a few healthy habits you may want to consider working towards transforming. 

1. Food does matter!

The most optimal diet for preventing chronic disease, maintaining a healthy weight, and increasing energy and mental functioning is a whole-foods, mostly plant-based, organic, local diet. This can be further individualized based on your unique make up, but provides a general guideline for health. Regular consumption of whole grains, nuts, seeds, a variety of fruits and vegetables especially dark green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, and healthy quality oils such as hemp, olive, avocado, almond, flax, and coconut to name a few. If my patients are consuming meat and dairy regularly, I always recommend the animals be organically fed, free to roam, hormone and antibiotic free. This diet supports optimal cardiovascular health, decreases inflammation, enhances the immune system, is a rich source of minerals and vitamins, and high in fiber. I also address food sensitivities as these can contribute to inflammation, increased discomfort, and poor absorption of nutrients.

Learn to read labels! 
The simpler the ingredient list, the better. Chances are, if you don’t know what an ingredient is, your body doesn’t either and won’t be able to utilize it to create a healthy internal environment. 

Create an individualized diet that is optimal for YOU! 
Patients will often ask me what I think about current diets like the Zone diet, Bernstein, Paleo, Raw Food Diet, Blood type diet, etc. The truth is, there is scientific evidence for all of these diets and many people experience success in reaching their health goals by following them. However, an equal amount of people try these diets and feel unwell, gain weight, or move further away from health. The point is this: there is no one perfect diet for every person. For most, it takes time to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. You can also use lab tests to determine food sensitivities. Elimination of these will decrease inflammation and stress in the body and lead towards greater health balance. Often times, following a diet based on your ayurvedic dosha or Chinese meridian diagnosis can be beneficial. If you are suffering from a specific physical disharmony/diagnosis, a diet tailored to address the underlying cause might be best. Your Naturopathic Doctor or health care provider can help you determine and experiment with the diet that is right for you. Most importantly, let your body be your guide. It is your best teacher! 

Rather than focusing on what you don't want in your life, set your
dristi (gaze or focus) on what you DO want. For example, integrating healthy foods into your daily diet, by default, omits unhealthy choices. If half of your dinner plate is green vegetables, you will naturally eat less meat and be less likely to overconsume carbohydrates, or sweets after dinner. Start on a positive note. Being hard on yourself won't get you to your goal any faster. In fact, it's more likely to suck up a lot of the energy you could be using to manifest what you do want. 

Drink at least 2L of CLEAN water daily. If you drink coffee, alcohol, or soda (not recommended), you need an extra glass for every dehydrating beverage consumed. 

2. Move it or lose it.

Move your body every day. We all know exercise improves mood, helps with sleep, aids in maintaining a healthy weight, and benefits overall health. It is one of the best medicines available to us! If you’re not exercising regularly, check in with why. Is it a time issue? Lack of motivation? Is it painful to exercise? Low energy? Identifying the reasons why we choose not to exercise is the first step. For example, we know that exercise helps to produce endorphins and increase energy, but if you are starting at a point of adrenal fatigue, you may need help to create a movement routine that is suitable for your state of health at this point. Going from exhaustion to trying to run a marathon will likely leave you feeling defeated, more fatigued, and frustrated. I will often design a tailored therapeutic yoga practice for my patients based on their energy level, physical health, underlying health condition, or pain tolerance. Specific practices can be designed for health conditions and dis-ease including stress and fatigue, headaches and migraines, insomnia, anxiety and depression, menopause, PMS, hypertension and heart disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity, chronic pain syndromes, hypermobility or joint laxity, scoliosis, injury prevention and rehabilitation, as well as for performance enhancement. No matter where you are starting from or what your health goals, an exercise program can be tailored for you. If time is the issue, start small. Creating 20 minutes to move your body in the morning can give you more energy, focus, and productivity for your day. It practically creates time! Is it lack of motivation that prevents you from exercising? Join a local hiking group where you can make friends and depend on each other for motivation and accountability. If you have the finances, hire a personal trainer or private yoga therapist to keep you on task. Don’t let excuses get in the way of living the vibrant and healthy life you deserve! 

3. Choose to get Un-stuck

If it's not working for you, let it go. You don’t need to keep the jeans that you haven’t worn for ten years, and you don’t need to hold on to the habits that aren’t serving your life any longer. I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results. Makes sense! Perhaps easier said than done. Again, baby steps. Become aware of the limited pattern or habit. Acknowledge the underlying causes in order to begin to move through them. Take the first step. Shift something. Shift anything, no matter how small. A good friend of mine uses an analogy I have come to love: If there is a vase full of yellow balls and one red ball in the centre, and you want to move the red ball but can’t get to it, start by moving a yellow ball. This will cause a shift in all of the balls in the vase. Eventually the red ball will be affected. 

Be accountable. Call yourself on your excuses. No time? We create time for what is important to us. Our bodies are a gift. Health needs to be a priority. Is organic food too expensive? What are you willing to trade off for? Packaged food? Alcohol? Eating out? When you make your health a priority, your body will pay you back ten fold! Any movement in a positive direction is worthwhile. Staying where you are will give you exactly the same outcome. 

4. Connect with nature daily

There has been a recent term coined ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, a hypothesis that less time in nature has contributed to many of our physical, mental, and emotional health concerns. Coming back to the understanding that WE ARE NATURE is the first step. Nature is in us and all around us. Our bodies cycle with seasons, moon changes, day and night. We are dependent on our environment, and the earth is affected by our every action. When we come back to this remembrance, every choice in our life becomes more healthful and in balance. We eat organic because we understand what pesticides are doing to the state of health of the environment and our own body. We are mindful not to litter (yes, this includes cigarette butts!!!). We walk more instead of driving. We are more mindful of eating and don’t overconsume. An activity that a yoga instructor I know once encouraged is to make time every day to note your ‘nature appreciation moment’. It could be the sun setting over the Bay, the way the snow stays heavy on the branches, noticing a bug on your front porch, the vibrant green moss on the rocks as you hike the Bruce, robins frolicking with each other in the early spring, or whatever else touches your heart. Setting this intention daily, brings us back to nature: our true essence. It brings us into the present moment. It invites us to remember to be grateful for the simple things. All of this naturally augments our state of health on all levels of being: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic. 

5. Rest, restore, and nurture dailyAnother helpful tool is to develop a ‘sleep routine’. Many of us push all day and use our relaxation time at night to watch television, catch up on emails or Facebook, or even finish work we didn’t accomplish during the day. This causes the nervous system to go into sympathetic mode (fight or flight response) and leaves us feeling tired but wired and often having difficulty falling or staying asleep. Our body loves routine! Our adrenals thrive on it! Physiologically our stress hormones are optimally lowest around 10 pm (when we should be going to bed) and highest first morning around 6-7am (to give us energy to start the day). Rolling with our natural cycle can give us more energy for our day, a more restful sleep at night, and affect many other systems including mood, weight, and mental clarity. I encourage my patients to begin a sleep routine at least an hour before bedtime. This is a time for calming activities only. A restorative yoga practice in low light, journaling, a slow mindful stroll, meditation, calming music or reading material, or a bath with calming essential oils and epsom salts are great ways to wind down.

Sleep is wonderful to restore, but it's not the only thing we can do. I recommend a minimum of ten minutes of active rest per day. Most people can integrate this even into a busy schedule. Active rest can be accomplished lying on your back or even sitting in a chair. The idea is to actively participate in the rest. Observe your body resting. Watch your breath ebb and flow. Notice the mind if it's busy but without attachment and choose to return to the sensations in the body. Other ways to restore and nurture may include a gentle yoga practice, mindfulness eating, tai chi, time in nature, meditation, and journaling. 

Do your best and be content. Our minds need rest too. If your body is resting but your mind is continuously running a story about what you should or could be doing that is more productive, you are not completely resting. A helpful way to slow the mental chatter is to notice the mouse on the wheel and smile at it. Maybe even giggle. The nature of the mind is to think. We don’t need to work so hard to try and stop it. In fact, this can just be more frustrating! Simply noticing the busyness of the mind and having compassion for yourself can begin the process of calming.

6. Be Your Authentic Self. Be Real. Be Open. 

For most of us, this is not likely a habit we want to change. Our mental habit tends to revolve around wanting to appear as if we are strong, productive, and have it all together. The truth is that most of us underneath it all are afraid to say that we need

help, love, validation, and reassurance. We think admitting this makes us look weak. I would argue the contrary. Asking for help is one of the most courageous acts we can make. It takes strength to be vulnerable. It takes guts to put ourselves out there and admit we don't have it all together. I am constantly blown away by my patients' courage to tell their story. Most of us have suffered some grief in our lives, have struggles or challenges we are trying to overcome, and feel lost at times. These feelings are all part of the whole picture of health in an individual and need to be addressed and nurtured as well in order for optimal change to occur. Again, changing the physical alone is not enough. We need to address our whole being. This includes taking a closer look at the underlying emotional or mental habits that motivate our lives. Embracing, accepting, and loving all parts of ourselves, just as we are, is one of the keys to becoming more of who we want to be.

Sound like a lot to swallow? Remember, it’s okay to start slowly. Commit to one thing at a time perhaps. Every baby step counts. When we change our lifestyle habits, we can transform our health. You will notice a change on the outer physical level, of course, but what’s more, creating healthy habits also shifts our DNA expression, which influences the state of our health in the future. You might be even more amazed to watch yourself move towards living a more aware and empowered life. You may notice yourself inviting more of what you want into your life - love, energy, healthy relationships, and joy. You could notice that life feels like a little less of a struggle and more fulfilling and enjoyable. All of this, simply by becoming aware of a few subtle changes of habit that make a world of difference! You CAN do it! 

Laura is a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified yoga instructor. Her naturopathic practice Awaken Wellness Within is located in the heart of downtown Collingwood. She can be found teaching yoga at Buddha Rider Yoga & Cycle studio. 

"As a naturopathic doctor, through education, empowerment, and example, I endeavour to guide patients toward manifesting optimal health and living their most inspired life!" 

“As a yoga instructor, my intention is to guide students towards getting in touch with their breath, listening to the innate wisdom of the body, observing the connection of the mind, body and spirit, and awakening the life force within.”