Baby sleeping on a tiny bed

5 Essential Tips for Getting a Great Nap

You might be surprised to discover that great naps don’t just happen—there’s actually a strategy behind them! Researchers at Harvard have come up with the following five pointers for making the most of your afternoon shut-eye:1. Keep it shortWhen it comes to naps, less is more. A 20- to 30-minute nap is actually more effective than a longer one, which can create a condition known as “sleep inertia”—the post-nap grogginess that can be difficult to get rid of.2. Find a dark, cool, quiet placeSure, a siesta in the sun sounds like a great idea, but one of the keys to a successful nap is being able to fall asleep quickly. Shutting out light and noise will help you nod off faster, and cool temperatures are also proved to help you fall asleep faster and more_comfortably.3. Schedule itIf you wait until you’re nodding off at your desk (or, worse— in your car) to take a nap, you’ve waited too long. Not only will you lose productivity while fighting off sleep, chances are you’ll also be miserable. And, since we are creatures of habit, your body will welcome a regularly scheduled nap and will help you fall asleep faster and wake up more quickly.4. Schedule the Starbucks, tooSince caffeine doesn’t hit your system immediately, some experts suggest drinking a caffeinated beverage right before your nap. A small Japanese study found that was the most restful combination because the sleep occurred just before the caffeine took effect. And, once the caffeine kicks in, you’re going to wake up easily!5. Lose the guilt!This might be the most important thing to keep in mind! Most of us are conditioned to believe that nodding off for 20 or 30 minutes in the middle of the workday seems like laziness, so adjust your thinking. The truth is, a well-timed nap can not only make you more productive at work and at home, it will also make you more enjoyable to be around!
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Woman squeezing her stomach

QUIZ: Do You Love Your Body?

Body image is such a loaded, complicated subject—especially for women. How we view our bodies is tied up inextricably with how we were raised, how our culture and community view women’s bodies, control issues and of course, self-esteem. Research shows that between 70 and 90 percent of women dislike their bodies. (In my own experience talking to women over the last 20 years, I am inclined to believe that it is closer to 90 percent.)On top of that, few of us realize how damaging a critical body image can be. If you are unhappy with your body or appearance, it can lead to eating disorders, excessive weight loss or gain, and it can impact how you feel emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually, leading to feelings of depression, hopelessness and anxiety.Spurred by cultural pressure and unattainable images of perfection in the media, most of us are either unappreciative, critical or downright unrealistic about our bodies. This quiz has been designed to help you assess whether you have a harshly critical view of your body; a loving, accepting image; or if you walk the line in between.1. You’ve walked out of the shower and realize that you didn’t grab a towel in advance. Your partner is in the next room. Do you…A. Quickly figure out a way to dry yourself without asking him for a towel, because you don’t want him to see you fully naked.B. Hide behind the shower curtain or do your best to cover up your “less attractive areas,” and ask him to please bring a towel to you.C. Call out to him to please bring you a towel and wait patiently in all of your naked glory for him to come into the room.2. You run into a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and she says, “You look great!”Do you…A. Feel uncomfortable and say something like, “Oh no, I look terrible,” or “You need new glasses!”B. Thank her for the compliment, but then say you think you look tired, your outfit is old, or that it’s only because you’re wearingSpanx.C. Appreciate her for being so complimentary, take it in as positive feedback and move forward with your day knowing you’re looking good.3. When you walk up to a full length mirror, do you…A. Immediately notice all of your faults and begin to pick yourself apart.B. Acknowledge both the good and the bad that you see in front of you.C. Immediately notice something positive or good about yourself.4. You’ve been invited to a dressy event such as a wedding or banquet, and you need to buy a new dress. Do you…A. Think you are fat and dread going shopping because everything will look awful.B. Have some concerns that, due to your imperfections, shopping will be challenging, but expect you will find something.C. Know that you will find something flattering that will make you happy.5. It’s time for your annual doctor’s visit and the nurse has asked you to get on the scale. Do you…A. Panic, look away and tell her not to tell you what your weight is.B. Get on reluctantly, and hope for the best.C. Get on the scale knowing that whatever the number on the scale is what it is, and it doesn’t change how you feel about yourself.6. Someone you were dating casually has stopped calling. Do you…A. Immediately think it’s because something is wrong with the way you look.B. Wonder if it is because of your appearance and also think of the other reasons it could be.C. Assume that it has nothing to do with how you look.7. How often are you in a bad mood or depressed about your appearance?A. Daily or most of the week.B. Whenever appearance-related things are brought to your attention.C. Rarely. You feel pretty good about your appearance overall.8. A friend has joined a gym and asks you if you want to join with her and go together. Do you…A. Think: “Wow, she must think I am out of shape.”B. Wonder if she has been judging your body, but appreciate the concern.C.Be glad she is trying to be healthier and exercise, and appreciate that she is interested in spending time with you.9. When you are thinking about your body and your appearance, do you…A .Find yourself being critical, judgmental and downright mean.B. Spend some time picking yourself apart while trying to find the positives as well.C. Know that you aren’t perfect, but try to think of the things you actually do like and appreciate about yourself.Results:If most of your answers are “A”:You are way too hard on yourself when it comes to your weight and overall appearance. Being this critical can lead to depression, anxiety and even an eating disorder. It is important that you work on how you see yourself so you can find the positive in who you are and how you look. If you feel truly stuck in this negative cycle, seek counseling or other professional guidance.If most of your answers are “B”:You walk the line between being hard on yourself and emotionally well-adjusted when it comes to your body image. If you have more A’s and B’s and not enough C’s, you are in danger of becoming too self-critical and hurting your self-esteem. Pat yourself on the back for the areas where you are accepting of yourself, and note that you need to focus a bit more on the positive so that you can have a more kind and loving view of your physical self.If most of your answers are “C”:Congratulations! You are comfortable and accepting of your physical self. This will benefit your confidence and wellbeing on a larger scale. Take a moment to read through the answers where you may have chosen “B” or “A” so that you can work on being more positive in those specific areas.The goal of this quiz is to cause you to think about how you might be sabotaging your self-esteem by being overly critical of your body and appearance. If you came up with a lot of A’s, I encourage you to work on your self-image and retake this test again in a week and then again in a month to see if the view of yourself has improved. No one is perfect and few people likeallparts of their physical selves.When working toward being emotionally healthy and having a positive sense of self, it is imperative that we be as kind and accepting as possible. After all, you are with yourself 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If you are constantly criticizing yourself and obsessing over flaws, it’s almost a form of self-abuse. Be as kind and loving to your body as possible. Try to be grateful and appreciative of all the things your body does for you!
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Person meditating against a sunset sky

Step-by-Step Guide to Compassion Meditation

Below is a step-by-step set of instructions on how to practice compassion meditation, from members of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism training team. For more about Compassion Meditation, see our companion article with audio, as well as the June 2014 issue of Live Happy magazine.1. Create a spaceIt might be a small room in your home or an outdoor garden where you won’t be disturbed, or anywhere you can find a few moments of quiet. If you have a regular practice space, make it beautiful—bring in images, smells and sounds that are meaningful to you.2. CommitBegin by committing to 5 to 10 minutes of meditation once a day, and plan to expand it to 20 minutes once you feel comfortable slipping into meditation. Studies show that the more time you spend in meditation, the more compassionate you become.3. Feel your natural rhythmFind a comfortable place to sit and take a posture that is straight but not overly rigid. Take a few deep breaths, then let your breath settle into its own natural rhythm. Take a minute or two to settle into your body, lightly focusing your attention on the physical sensations of the breathing process.4. Think about the people in your lifeOnce you are settled, think about all the people in your life who love and support you. Now, think about the ways in which you, too, play a supportive role in the lives of countless others. Let your mind abide in this awareness of interconnectedness for a little while.If you are doing a self-guided compassion meditation, you might think of someone with whom you are irritated or frustrated. Picture the person in your mind if you are a visual thinker, or just focus on your sense of that specific person. Consider that this person has a desire for a life imbued with purpose, work that is meaningful, relationships that are supportive. Consider this person’s web of social connections—the people they are important to, and how much these people care about them. Think of their rich, textured life experiences, including their disappointments and successes.5. Listen to your bodyNotice how focusing your attention on this person shows up in your body. Take note of the kind of physical sensations you are experiencing. What is the emotional undertone?Turn your attention toward your own inner experience with a sense of curiosity. Perhaps your reflections are enhancing a sense of connection to the person or perhaps the opposite. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Simply notice, with curiosity. You can stay with this exploration for as long as it feels comfortable for you. If you are a new meditator, this could be three to five minutes; if you are experienced, you might stay longer.6. Feel your connection with othersAs your meditation practice draws to a close, let your heart and mind be touched by the feeling of common humanity and connection with others, and rest your attention on the natural rhythm of your breath.7. Extend your awareness back into the worldWhen you sense you’re nearing the end of the time you’ve set aside, take a few minutes to make a conscious transition into the space you’re in, sensing the temperature of the air on your skin, feeling the floor beneath you. Take your time and experiment with seeing how you can carry the continuity of your awareness forward into the activities that you move into next.8. Tinker and find your wayOnce you’re comfortable with the basics of a compassion meditation, think about how you might personalize it. Adapting practices to fit your values, your language and your inclinations is important.With time, this kind of practice should help us learn how to reach past that moment of discomfort in which we turn away from those who need our help.Do you have a specific method to your meditation? Tell us about it in the comments, below.
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Laughter Yoga in action

Laughing for Life

Lori Stein might never have learnedhow to laugh if her husband hadn’t losthis job. “Right after he was laid off, hehad to go back east, so I was left herewith lots of time on my hands,” recallsthe accountant from Pasadena, CA.Already battling clinical depression,and feeling lonely and overwhelmed by her circumstances, Lori remembereda woman who’d mentioned a LaughterYoga club that met on Friday nights.With nothing to lose, she decided tocheck it out. “From the moment I walked in, Iknew this was for me,” says Lori. “Itwas so not who I usually am. I am soanalytical and serious and literal, andthis was the opposite of that. It waschildlike and carefree. It was absolutelyfreeing for me.” Lori made it her Friday night ritual,and when her husband returned home a few weeks later, he began attending withher. Now, almost seven years later, theyboth are staunch believers in the powerof Laughter Yoga, making it a priority toattend weekly sessions. Not only has it improved their marriage, Lori says, butit has helped her reclaim a sense of joyand youthfulness that she had forgottenexisted. It has also helped her manageher depression, she says. Lori is one of a growing numberof devotees worldwide who havediscovered the power of Laughter Yoga.Launched with just five participantsin 1995 by Madan Kataria, a medicaldoctor in Mumbai, India, today themovement has grown to include morethan 7,000 clubs worldwide. This isn’t a simple chuckle or a quietgiggle; it employs what experts referto as “mirthful laughter”—the kind ofdeep, shaking laughter that puts thewhole body in motion. It is that fullbody motion, according to the Mayo Clinic, that unleashes laughter’sgreatest benefits. In addition to freeing the mind,which provides instant stress relief,hearty, mirthful laughter stimulates the heart, lungs and other organs; itincreases the endorphins released bythe brain and heightens the intake ofoxygen-rich air. Over the long term,evidence suggests, it also strengthensthe immune system by releasingneuropeptides that help fight stress andother more serious illnesses. Bridging Breathand Laughter The notion that laughter has healingproperties is nothing new; in his 1979book, Anatomy of an Illness, NormanCousins wrote about combating lifethreatening illness with humor. As farback as the 1960s, Dr. William Fry of Stanford University began publishingstudies about the physiological processesthat occur during laughter, also notingthat they had a powerful effect on healthand survival. Inspired by existing research,Madan was writing an article about thebenefits of laughter for a medical journalin the mid-’90s and, as he did moreresearch, decided to start a laughterclub in Mumbai. Gathering a handfulof friends, they met in a park andtold jokes. “It didn’t take long for us to run outof jokes, so I knew that humor was notenough,” he says. “I started searchingfor ways to laugh without humor.” William’s research indicated that the human body cannot differentiate between genuine laughter and fakedlaughter, so Madan began looking atways to create laughter—even in theabsence of something to laugh about. “If you act like a happy person, yourbody responds,” he says, “so I startedtrying different laughter exercises.” His wife, Madhuri, was a yogainstructor and both of them werelong-time yoga practitioners, so theyimplemented gentle yoga breathing,called pranayama, with the laughter toboost its health benefits. “I never in my life thought itwould become so popular,” he says.“However, there was a need for peoplethat [Laughter Yoga] met. The stressin this world is too much, and peoplefeel lonely. And they like LaughterYoga because it’s simple—that’s whyit works.”Better Living Through Laughter Madan isn’t the only one who istaking laughter—and its effect on themind and body—seriously these days.Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicagois one of many hospitals worldwide thatuses Laughter Yoga as complementarymedicine. The hospital uses it as partof its pulmonary rehabilitation programin addition to implementing it into chemotherapy sessions for cancerpatients. While cancer is no laughingmatter, studies indicate that laughtermight be just what patients need. A 2003 study of cancer patients atIndiana State University SycamoreNursing Center looked at howhumor affected patients from botha psychological and physiologicalstandpoint. The study showed thatlaughter had the ability to reduce stressand improve NK, or natural killer, cellactivity. The study’s final conclusionwas that, since low NK cell activityis linked to a lowered resistance todisease and an increased morbidity ratefor individuals with cancer and HIV,“laughter may be a useful cognitive behavioralintervention.” “Even after all this time, I remainshocked in a positive way by what I see,”says Sebastien Gendry, founder of theAmerican School of Laughter Yoga inLos Angeles, CA. Sebastien trainedwith Madan to become aLaughterYogateacher in 2004, then worked alongsideMadan in India for two years. “I can’t prove that laughter really isthe best medicine, but I have seen manyexamples of people who have had results that are nothing short of miraculous,”he says. “The doctors can’t explainit, but they can’t deny that somethinghappened in those sessions that had amajor impact [on the person’s health].There is something of real substancethat takes place when you experiencelaughter like that.” Laughing – particularly whencombined with the breathing techniquesused in Laughter Yoga—also expandsthe capacity of the lungs and oxygenatesthe body. As more oxygen reaches theorgans, it helps flush out toxins while at the same time generating more energyand promoting overall relaxation.And as much as it does for the body,Sebastien says, it’s even better for themind and soul. “Healing the body is secondary to healing the mind,” he says. “Butthe research is valid. In the pastfour decades, over 400 medical research studies and more than 4,000psychological studies have beenpublished about the healing power oflaughter. The data is there.” Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the world’smost respected experts on holistic healthand founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, even testifiedbefore a Senate committee in 2010that laughing —and Laughter Yogain particular—could have a dramaticeffect on the overall health of the nationand could help lower America’s healthcare costs. Andrew isn’t alone in believinglaughter could help lessen the effects of awide range of ailments. A Japanese studypublished in the journal Diabetes Carediscovered that test subjects with Type 2diabetes – the most common form of the disease – were able to significantly lower their blood sugar levels after a meal bywatching a 40-minute comedy showthat induced laughter. Dr. Lee S. Berk, a well-respectedresearcher at Loma Linda (CA)University’s School of Allied HealthProfessions and a pioneer in the field oflaughter research, was one of the firstto discover the positive effects laughterhas on the endocrine system. Lee haspublished multiple studies showingthat laughter can decrease cortisol levels, which leads to stress reduction,and increase production of antibodiesfor greater immunity. One of his morerecent studies, presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology Conference inAnaheim, CA, even indicated thatlaughter may be useful in restoring theappetites of elderly patients who havebecome depressed and lost interest infood. His study found it could be an“accessible alternative starting point forthese patients to regain appetite and, consequently, improve and enhancetheir recovery to health.” Laughing With Class Sebastien says the growing evidenceabout the benefits of laughter havemade people more eager to exploreLaughter Yoga. Classes follow the same basicstructure, although each instructor maythrow in his or her favorite “tricks” forgenerating laughter. Classes generallylast for 45 to 60 minutes, and require nospecial equipment other than a bottleof water (laughing so much can drythe throat) and a willingness to leaveinhibitions at the door. There’s plenty of clapping whilechanting, “Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!” followedby different exercises, done with apartner or as a group, designed toinduce laughter. Fake laughter oftenerupts into uncontrollable giggles asparticipants let down their guard andbegin playing—and laughing—likechildren. Much of the time, it feels morelike an improv comedy class than ayoga session. “Each class is different becauseDr. Kataria encourages teachers to becreative, but the basics of every classwill be clapping, breathing, laughing,stretching—and of course, a childlike playfulness,” explains Judi A. Winall, acertified Laughter Yoga instructor andleader of the Joyful Healing LaughterClub in Cincinnati. “It helps people, through play and laughter, get in touch with the joy that is in each of us. And when we tap back into that, it helpsus stay connected, stay healthier and be happier.” “Laughter is a cathartic way to release emotions. It stimulates the parasympathetic system, which allows you to be able to let go. And that letseverything in our lives flow better,”she says. Patrick Murphy Welage of WorldPeace Laughter in Cincinnati, a teacherwho discovered Laughter Yoga inMumbai and learned it from Madan while it was still in its early days, hasheld workshops and retreats around theworld. He also has taken it into prisons, universities and other high-stress environments to help release tension. “People want to feel valued and validated. When you look into someone’s eyes and laugh with them, you recognize one another’s humanity,”Patrick explains. “It’s non threateningandnon-judgemental. It’s like music; ittranscends your culture, race, gender orsex and reminds you that we are all inthis life together.” Some have sought to push the fitnessaspects of Laughter Yoga, claiming that it burns up to 500 calories anhour. Others have equated laughing 20 times consecutively to working out with a rowing machine. Sebastien, however, is quick to dismiss such claims, noting their vague citations and lack of supporting data. “The idea is correct, but the numbers are not,” he says, adding thatthere is nothing that can specificallymeasure calories burned through ahearty session of laughter. And, justas with any other form of activity,individual results may vary. However,he also recommends that people don’t get too hung up on the numbers; whatwe do know, he says, is that it has apositive effect on the cardiovascular andimmune systems, as well as the mind. In other words, it can’t hurt. Sebastien predicts that the Laughter Yoga movement will continue growing and become more accepted in the U.S.Just as it has in India and other partsof the world, he expects to see it entermore mainstream settings. Part of thereason is that laughter feels good, it isan inexpensive form of stress relief and,as people discover its many benefits,he says they are hard-pressed to findreasons not to try it. “At this point, there are so manystudies on the impact of laughter thatit’s no longer a matter of whether or notlaughter works,” he says. “It’s a matter of when you’re going to accept it.”
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Origami swans

Hopeful People and Their Superpowers

This special emotion is a constant in our lives that helps us achieve what might have been beyond our reach. Hope thrives inside us the moment we are born. As infants we cry out, hoping for comfort. As young children, we anticipate special days and the rituals that go with them, while when we are adolescents, we want a particular boy or girl to like us, a driver’s license and a college acceptance letter. Young adults hope to find a life partner, build a successful career and have a firstborn. We yearn for a loving family to care for us and a long life in our sunset years. While hope evolves and changes throughout our lifetimes, the feelings, motivational benefits and successful outcomes stay the same. More than 20 years of experience and numerous clinical studies have shown me that those who live in a “hopeful” state tend to be more motivated, driven and adventurous, all of which tend to reinforce a strong sense of self-worth and provide more moments of happiness. They benefit from more satisfaction in their chosen careers, have greater romantic success and more friends. They tend to be excited with the possibilities in their lives and surround themselves with successful, hopeful others. As an added bonus, research has proved again and again that happy, hopeful, productive people with solid support systems benefit from a longer, healthier life. Some people turn up their noses at the very concept of hope without realizing that a hopeful person can accomplish things others might find to be out of reach. We live in what can sometimes be a cynical, critical world. Life delivers hard knocks to everyone, no matter what they believe or how positive their attitude. While a hopeful outlook can be somewhat of a hard-wired character trait—often upbringing, difficulty moving on from life’s disappointments such as divorce or financial problems or just one too many tough times—can cause even the most positive person to have partially or fully put hope away. When this happens, the goal is to coax that glorious and life-changing sense of hope back out and reignite it. It starts with hope. The first step begins with taking some time to think about goals that are realistic and within reach, being open to exploring new options, rallying your support system, and doing whatever possible to turn hope into something that is real, tangible and happiness-making. Hope is related to your perceptions about yourself, others and the world around you. If deep down you still believe that good things can happen to you, that life still has possibilities and that you can find a way to make what you are hoping for come true, that is a terrific beginning. Take a moment and think about all the things that you are continuing to hope for. Are you hoping to accomplish a New Year’s resolution? Reach a new level in your job or relationship? Trying to become a kinder person? Lose some weight? Make a hope list. For each item on that list, think about all the things that you can do to accomplish what you were hoping for, and then get started on the easy ones right away. Spend time around a person or a group that you consider to be hopeful and optimistic. Hope is contagious. Being around others who see potential and possibility in their lives will have a ripple effect on yours. Consider joining a group focusing on weight loss, volunteering or attending a book club— it’s much easier to stay motivated and hopeful when you are surrounded by individuals with the same goals. Fill a “hope jar” with slips of paper that include all of the positive things that you hope for. Include the smallest item you can think of, like mastering how to bake cookies without burning them, to larger items, like learning a new skill or finding or improving a relationship. Pull one piece of paper out at the first of every month, and commit to spending the next 30 or so days doing all that you can to accomplish it. Hold onto hope and don’t give up until you’ve turned that idea into a reality. If you feel you are stuck and struggling to re-ignite the fire of hope, reach out to family or friends who appreciate your assets and skills and ask them to offer input on how you might move forward. Often it takes a person who is wiser than you to help you see how to be your best you. As a therapist, I am often asked how I hear so many stories on a daily basis that include struggles, fears and pain. My answer has always been that I see at least a sliver of hope in every person and a grain of optimism in every situation. That’s good news for you, because that means that there is hope and optimism living and breathing inside of you. Stacy Kaiser, the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, is a successful licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert and media personality. She has a B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Northridge and her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. With more than 100 television appearances on major networks, including CNN, FOX and NBC, and a weekly advice column for USA Today, Stacy has built a reputation for bringing a unique mix of thoughtful and provocative insight to a wide range of topics.
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Tia Mowry-Hardrict in "I Insist!" video for FluMist Quadrivalent

Tia Mowry Insists on Healthy Living

Having a healthy and happy family is a goal most of us would like to achieve. In Tia Mowry-Hardrict’s mind, it is the foundation on which she is able to thrive in her personal and professional life. Being successful and constantly on-the-go does not deter Tia from making sure her family and their health are top priorities. “Basically I’m a working mom. I am an entrepreneur, I am an author, I am an actress, I am a producer, I am a wife and I am a sister. I live a very, very busy lifestyle,” Tia says. “My family’s health is my No. 1 priority, and living a healthy lifestyle is something I have been extremely passionate about.” The former Sister, Sister star recently teamed up with MedImmune, the makers of the nasal-spray vaccine FluMist Quadrivalent, for the launch of a Web video in which she portrays a busy working mother who needs to slow down and find time to vaccinate her family against the flu. While the “I Insist!” video takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to a day in her life, keeping her family healthy is very important to Tia. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu every year. Fewer than half of adults and just over half of children get vaccinated. The flu, an unpredictable disease, can cause mild to severe symptoms that sometimes leads to more serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. Tia says that in the past she has overlooked flu vaccinations. But after learning about the toll that influenza can take on a household, especially on the household coordinator —mom—she makes certain that her family is vaccinated every year. And the fact that there are no needles involved makes that decision even easier. “We all know that when the mom is out, being sick is like instant chaos in the house,” Tia says. As she understood more about them, “flu vaccinations became a part of my family’s annual routine. I was extremely excited to bring awareness and educate families about the importance of flu vaccinations.” Taking preventative measures, combined with an organic diet and plenty of exercise, help Tia and her family stay healthy and maintain a sense of wellbeing. “My diet consists of predominantly organic foods; I am vegan. Also, I exercise on a regular basis,” she says. This wasn’t always the case. Her decision to change her diet stemmed from her doctor’s advice that it may help alleviate symptoms associated with endometriosis. This painful disorder affects the tissue in and around the uterus, often making it difficult to become pregnant, and in some cases, impossible. Red meat, non-organic meat and wheat tend to exacerbate symptoms of endometriosis, while a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables coupled with plenty of exercise can have the opposite effect. After two surgeries and the looming possibility that she might not be able to have children, she decided to drastically change what she was eating. She believes that by eating more organic foods and staying away from damaging processed foods that promote inflammation, she was able to get her body healthy enough to become pregnant. “When I saw that there was a benefit from eating healthy, I realized that food can be medicine,” Tia says. Eating healthy is now a big part of her life, and because she took the time and effort to research and essentially learn a new way to cook, she feels and lives better. With all her exciting endeavors pulling her in so many different directions, you would think that she never has time to unplug and make room for the normal family experience with her husband, actor Cory Hardrict, and young son Cree. But staying dedicated, working hard and having the right attitude affords her the luxury to do what she loves while keeping an unwavering focus on what is most important to her. “We realize that this a job that we have. It’s not our lifestyle. Our lifestyle is not about entertainment. We love what we do, but when we come home we shut it all off,” Tia explains. “My husband is my husband; I am his wife. All that other stuff goes out the window. I think what has helped me stay grounded is that I am a true believer in family. It’s what I value the most.”
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"time to meditate" by BettyNudler, on Flickr

Want Peace of Mind?

Multitasking—it's the small-business owner's Red Bull. Without it, you feel like you'll never get through all you have to do in a day, right? Well, get this: "The newest research shows that multitasking results in greater stress and lower productivity. That means the more you try to get done at once, the less you get done in practice," says David Dillard-Wright, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina Aiken and author ofMeditation for Multitaskers. If you're thinking, Research, smesearch. Give me one good reason why I should change the way I work, Dillard-Wright offers this word: "Peace." "I think that we have been conditioned to believe that life must be hectic and unmanageable," he says, "that it's just a dog-eat-dog world and we all have to scramble to survive. That mentality leads to a lower standard of living, measured in quality of life, for everyone." Dillard-Wright says meditation has been shown in a number of peer-reviewed studies to reduce stress and improve health, not to mention focus. And, he says, "far from being impractical or escapist, meditation actually induces a more realistic perception of the world by helping us to see clearly." Meditation can also help youlearn to remain calm in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It changes your thought processes, says Dillard-Wright, "getting to the very basis of problems like depression and anxiety. Oftentimes we think that something must be wrong externally with our lives when the real problem lies in false perceptions." To begin, try sitting still for a few minutes and noticing your breathing. Count the breaths or listen to some soothing music. Don't overcomplicate it. Be quiet, and let that be enough. Stress Less > Get relaxation on the go with these apps for meditation and stress reduction Stress Free With Deepak Chopra—​Five relaxing soundtracks, including breathing and sleep programs, guided by the meditation master. $1.99 for iPhone/iPad StressPile—A stress tracker that helps you identify where and when you're most vulnerable to a meltdown so you can start to manage repeat offenders. $0.99 for iPhone/iPad Simply Being—Guided voice meditation for 5-20 minutes, plus music or nature sound options. $0.99 for iPhone/iPad/Android Medication Objections > Think you can't meditate? You're not alone. I'm not crossing my legs like that. "Don't get too focused on having the proper techniques," says David Dillard-Wright, author ofMeditation for Multitaskers. "Meditation should be the simplest, most intuitive part of your life. There are plenty of good meditation teachers, but practice is the best teacher of all. In the beginning, don't be intimidated and just get started. Silence will teach you everything you need to know." I can't sit still that long. "The ability to sit for longer periods of time comes with practice. Everyone has a set point beyond which continuing to sit brings diminished returns. You will know when you have reached that point when you either fall asleep or want to throw something against the wall. Just like in physical exercise, you develop your meditation 'muscles' with repeated use." My mind never shuts up. "You don't have to master your mind in order to meditate, if mastery means beating it into submission. As thoughts arise you simply dismiss them, like pop-up advertisements." I have about five minutes of spare time. "Meditation is as simple as taking a few deep breaths and developing a receptive attitude toward the world. Rather than imposing your will on reality, you simply pay attention to whatever arises in yourself or in the world."
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Woman running outdoors

Drs. Oz & Roizen: Make Your Good Mood a Habit

In this month’s column, we respond to your questions about happiness and suggest ways to increase your sense of well-being.- - -Q:When I turn on the television, I often see advertisements for antidepressants, herbs and other treatments that “guarantee” happiness. Isn’t there a straightforward, no-nonsense guide to real joy—one without pills or othertreatments?A:Secret formulas to instant happiness are as hyped as a used-car salesman’s deals, but real happiness comes from having a purpose in life, which is determined by the choices and changes you can make every day. Make the following actions part of your regular routine, because we know that happy people do these things more often than unhappy people.Talk nicely to yourself.Out with the put-downs (Why can’t I do anything right?) and in with encouraging, positive words (Great job!). So give yourself regular pep talks.Get really connected.Swap the Facebooking and other electronic communications for heart-to-heart conversations with people you care about and who care about you. Talk to them in person if you can, or telephone them if you can’t meet face to face.Say thanks.Keep a daily journal to remind you how much you’re grateful for. Review your gratitude journal each day so you remain optimistic and thankful.Get moving.Sitting around brooding perpetuates a cycle of negative thinking. Schedule at least 30 minutes of activity a day to boost happiness.Meditate.The process eases stress, strengthens immunity and increases happiness.Understand unhappiness when it occurs.When things get you down (which they will), learn from them. Hard times help us see what really matters.And most important: Share your passion.It’s great to give to charity or volunteer, but there’s more to the golden rule than meets the eye. Getting involved with a cause that matters to you benefits you as much as others. You don’t have to donate money, just time and passion. You don’t have an obligation to society to find a bigger purpose; you have an obligation to your own health and happiness. And the more you value what you are doing with your mind, the more you’ll do healthier things with your body.- - -Q:I’ve recently been running and often hear about a so-called “runner’s high” that has to do with endorphins. What is this?A:Endorphins are proteins produced by your cells (mostly in your nervous system) that act like narcotics to relieve pain and stress. Aerobic exercise—a workout that makes you sweat in a cold room—increases endorphins. Even a little exercise improves your mood.Endorphins are powerful. Their release can reduce depression more effectively than many antidepressants. And athletes say strenuous endeavors such as a hilly, long-distance run can produce an endorphin high that lasts many hours.Endorphin release may allow you to exercise more, too. Many scientists credit endorphin release for a runner’s experience of what’s often described as a “second wind,” a feeling of peace or almost effortlessmovement.Regular exercise also provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment that is a crucial ingredient to happiness.- - -Q:People say that simply by smiling, someone can be happier. Is that true?A:We all have friends or family who fit the polar ends of personality: the cheerleader types who smile after getting puddle-pummeled by a bus and the negative types who scowl at butterflies. Scientists aren’t sure how or why, but research has shown that smiling lightens a person’s mood (and frowning drags it down).Positive emotions play a crucial role in developing the enduring relationships that are critical for your happiness. One example of this is the shared smile between mother and baby. If you add laughter to that smile, you increase the feel-good effect, reduce stress and pain, relax your body and boost your immune system. If you share your smile by making someone else smile, you’ll pass on the benefits to him or her. - - -Q:Every winter I feel down even though I haven’t been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. I know it has to do with the sun, but can you explain it?A:Sunlight and the vitamin D3 it provides both have important effects on mood. Those who are depressed because of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, feel better when they’re exposed to special ultraviolet lights for the home for 20 minutes a day. Another option that’s been shown to work: Go to sports events or arenas where there are a lot of bright lights because any strong lights can brighten your mood.Also ensure that you’re getting adequate exercise and enough vitamin D3 in supplements (1,000 IU a day) to keep the downside at bay.- - -Q:How does adequate sleep affect a person’s happiness?A:Individuals with insomnia, especially chronic insomnia, are a whopping five times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety! Sleep is the major stimulant for your own growth hormone, which is superior to what you can get from a vial. Your own growth hormone helps keep your skin taut and vibrant. After all, nobody looks all that beautiful with bags under the eyes. So sleep makes you feel better and look better.We’ve all suffered from sleepless periods, and if you’re not getting adequate sleep for weeks and months on end, it’s time to see a physician. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report estimated that 50 million to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic but treatable sleep disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment, and one such program is GO! To Sleepon the Cleveland Clinic Wellness site. The $40 web-based program, designed for at-home use for six weeks, is smartphone-accessible.In the meantime, make your bedroom a no-electronics zone to remove distractions that interfere with sleep. Before bedtime, spend 10 minutes to prep for the next day (making a list or lunch), 10 minutes for hygiene and 10 minutes for meditation. Keep the room cool and dark during sleep hours.Relearning a healthful sleep pattern may take six to eight weeks, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll function better, look much better and be much happier.- - -Q:What are the benefits of a good sex life?A:Sexual intimacy increases the body’s release of oxytocin, a chemical that enhances happiness and pleasure for you and your partner.The benefits don’t stop there, though. Mutually monogamous sex reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and even accidents; it makes you look and feel younger; and it dampens pain. Why? Sex and orgasm increase blood flow to your arteries (that’s why your skin plumps in important areas and certain organs get bigger and harder). This increased blood flow provides more oxygen and nutrients to places that need it most, including your brain, which is really your biggest sex organ. Sex rejuvenates hair and skin for the samereason.We’d say that it’s nature’s best, and most fun, way of reducing your RealAge (the age of your body based on your health history and practices) and making you more beautiful (for more about how to measure and improve inner and outer beauty, visit our website - -Q:My friend has been eating a dark chocolate bar with chili pepper in it. To me it sounds disgusting, but she says there are health benefits and it lifts her mood. Is this true?A:Yes, spicy foods and chocolate make your RealAge younger, but you don’t have to eat them together—that’s up to your taste buds.First let’s start with dark chocolate. Dark chocolate (it must contain at least 70 percent cocoa)—not milk chocolate—contains natural chemicals that help protect your cells from free radicals that cause inflammation and disease. Dark chocolate also contains agents to lower your blood pressure. A half-ounce a day is the recommended “dosage.”Spicy foods (and chili peppers in particular) activate endorphins, natural painkillers. The result? For some, it’s all watery eyes, a flaming mouth and tingly lips; for others, it’s pure pain relief and happiness. Chili peppers also contain an active ingredient called capsaicin, which can be found in some topical arthritis creams and is beneficial in relieving joint pain in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.Our recommendation is that you eat a half-ounce of 70 percent or greater dark chocolate each day and enjoy spicy food if you can handle it.
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Happy woman in pink workout top.

Happier Mind, Healthier Body

In 1964, Norman Cousins checked himself out of a hospital and holed up in a hotel room with a bucket-load of vitamins and lots of Marx Brothers movies.He believed that along with the vitamins, laughing and fostering a positive mood would help him beat ankylosing spondylitis, a debilitating inflammation of the spine. Cousins then told his story of recovery in the book Anatomy of an Illness, which helped popularize the notion that positive thinking (and laughter) is the bestmedicine.“People have known for centuries that positive thoughts benefit health, and scientists are now coming up with the research to support it,” says Louisa Jewell, president of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, who holds a master’s degree in applied positive psychology. “We’re getting a lot more information from neuroscientists who are trying to understand the physiological effects of our thoughts.”Over the years, little by little, these researchers have established how positive thinking can contribute to a healthier body. One example: In 2005, Dr. Dennis Charney, dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, examined about 750 Vietnam veterans who had been prisoners of war; he found that those who didn’t suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder shared 10 common characteristics. The primary trait Charney believes contributed to these veterans’ resilience:optimism.A 2008 study by Ruut Veenhoven, a Dutch researcher who’s pioneered research into happiness, discovered that happiness is a predictor of physical health. More recently, Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that happiness even influences our bodies on a cellular level. And in 2012, researchers from Emory University found that a lack of positive mental health increased mortality rates for people of all ages.Each study is a different piece of the puzzle of how positive thinking affects the body. With each new study, the picture becomes clearer. Even now we have some revealing and amazing ways happiness provides physiological benefits. Here’s a body-part-by-body-part rundown of this happiness-healthconnection:BrainThink about the biochemical activity in your brain as sort of background music. If those tunes are like the soundtrack to a horror movie, you’ll likely feel a grueling tenseness all day long. But if that music is happy and uplifting, your day will seem easier, and you’ll be able to focus and be less stressed. That music is sort of how mood affects thebrain.As part of a 2009 study, Northwestern University researchers determined that subjects in a higher positive mood solved more problems with more insight compared to those in a lower positive mood. Also according to a 2010 study, increases in mental health, or optimism, predict declines in mentalillness.Being able to problem-solve at work may mean taking a break to get in a positive frame of mind. Think positive, do better at your job. And, there’s also potential for positive thinking to be another tool to help bolster mentalhealth.Nervous SystemMore than merely increasing satisfaction in life, optimism can seep into your nervous system to convey some surprising benefits. Being optimistic can reduce sensitivity to cold and pain, according to a study of 79 university students by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. To establish a level of pain, subjects had to immerse their hands in ice water. Then a random half of the students were asked to imagine their Best Possible Self, which has been shown to increase levels of optimism. The results revealed a causal relationship between optimism and pain. The students who received the positive interventions felt less pain.Also, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Florida discovered that more optimistic people rate their pain as less severe. The study examined 140 with osteoarthritic disease and measured responses to heat and pressure.The Dutch researchers believe that positive emotions may be used to provide pain relief similar to medication. And the University of Alabama at Birmingham scientists think that a positive outlook may improve patients’ outlook on future pain and may mean better care through improved compliance with their doctors’treatments.Immune SystemWant to test how much a positive attitude can affect your health? Just wait for flu season. In 2006, Carnegie Mellon University researchers gave nasal drops carrying the rhinovirus or influenza to 193 healthy volunteers. Those with a positive emotional style had a lower risk of developing either condition. In 2005, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University exposed 81 subjects to hepatitis B vaccine and monitored the antibody reaction among those who had positive and negative attitudes. Those with a positive attitude felt subjectively less sick and not bothered by symptoms. But more compelling, the antibodies of those with a positive attitude were 1.73times higher than those with negative attitudes.Reproductive SystemResearchers from Israel exposed women using in-vitro fertilization to 15-minute sessions of a clown making jokes and doing tricks. The study published in Fertility and Sterility showed that this lightening of mood dramatically increased pregnancy rates. Of the women in the study, 36.4 percent who experienced positive emotions after embryo transfer became pregnant versus only 20.2 percent of those who failed to become pregnant. The positive emotions brought forth from the entertainment may have reduced the stress felt by the women, researcherssuggest.DiabetesThe American Diabetes Association estimates that about 25.8 million Americans have diabetes. And positive emotions may have a place in helping these diabetics manage blood glucose. For example, in a Japanese study of diabetic subjects, one group listened to a dull presentation and the others saw a comedy. The test subjects received identical meals, and the researchers monitored the glucose levels. They found that those who viewed the comedy had lower glucose levels.Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle also found that diabetes patients who had higher resilience (defined by self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-mastery and optimism) could face worsening conditions better than those with lower resilience. The study of 111 patients with diabetes also found that those with lower resilience had fewer self-care behaviors.LongevityNot only does happiness contribute to a longer life, but it also helps bolster resilience as people age and need to fight against declining health. Several studies have found a link between positive emotions and longevity. For example, Ed Diener of the University of Illinois and Micaela Y. Chan of the University of Texas reviewed studies related to happiness and longevity and found that positive emotions can predict physical health and longevity. In addition, researchers from the University College London discovered through another review of 25 studies that happiness extends the life of healthy individuals and those suffering from chronicconditions.More dramatically, perhaps, happiness not only contributes to a longer life, but happiness enables aging people to maintain high levels of mental health, despite physical limitations, changes in social roles and diminishedstrength.CirculationA good mood may also increase the health of blood vessels. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore studied 20 volunteers who were shown 15-minute clips of two movies. One movie was serious, the other a lighthearted comedy. Ultrasound images of the subjects’ blood vessels were taken before and after watching the clips. The results showed that the endothelium, which is the lining inside the vessels, expanded to allow more blood flow when a lighthearted clip was viewed. Such expansion may help keep the endothelium healthier, possibly preventing atherosclerosis, according to the research team.Similarly, a 1998 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Robert W. Levenson of the University of California revealed that movies that provoked positive emotions boosted recovery from cardiovascular activation after test subjects had seen a film that evokedfear.And want to lower your blood pressure? Think positive. According to a 2009 study published in Psychophysiology, positive feelings were associated with lower blood pressure. The study, conducted at the Duke University Medical Center, included 328 subjects whose salivary cortisol, which is known to contribute to high blood pressure, and other blood levels were measured. Then, as they recalled an incident that made them angry and then one that made them sad, their blood pressure was monitored. The study revealed that the levels of waking salivary cortisol were lower for those who more frequently experience positive emotions.Another happiness-circulation relationship: In a study by researchers at the Rockefeller University, those with high positive emotion had a lower fibrinogen response to stress than less positive people. Fibrinogen is a blood-clotting substance produced in the liver. Overproduction can lead to blood clots and thickerblood.CancerAnother field that’s beginning to be explored is the relationship between optimism and cancer. An Israeli study published in the August 2008 issue of BMC Cancer reported that happiness and optimism can play a protective role against breast cancer. The researchers asked 622 women about levels of optimism, happiness and depression prior to their diagnosis of breast cancer. The scientists found a link between the subjects’ level of optimism and their chances of developing breast cancer. Those who were more optimistic had 25 percent less risk of breast cancer.HeartSome of the most compelling benefits of happiness involve the heart. Several studies show that optimism is strongly related to preventing cardiovascular disease. Other studies demonstrate that a positive outlook affects the fundamental source of life: the heartbeat.One of the most compelling of these studies was done by Laura D. Kubzansky, a researcher and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard School of Public Health. In 2007, she followed more than 6,000 people and found that having a sense of hopefulness, enthusiasm and the ability to cope with stress reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Having such optimism may cut the risk of heart disease in half.Also, being lighthearted in everyday situations may prevent heart attacks. University of Maryland researchers examined 300 people, half of whom didn’t have heart disease. The other half had suffered a heart attack. Using a multiple-choice questionnaire, the study measured how much participants laughed and calculated hostility and anger. Turns out, those who had heart disease had less humor and positive attitude in their lives.Further evidence of the heart-happiness connection is just as compelling. As part of the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study, 1,306 veterans had their health monitored for 10 years. During that time, 162 cases of heart disease occurred. The study found that those who were most optimistic had 25 percent less heart disease than the average. Conversely, those who had the least amount of optimism had 25 percent more cardiovascular disease.And in the largest study that shows the beneficial relationship between optimism and cardiovascular disease, the health of 97,000 women was tracked from 1994 to 2002. Known as the Women’s Health Initiative, this study also measured optimism. The results were striking: Those with a positive attitude had 30 percent fewer coronary deaths than pessimists.Doug Donaldsonis a medical writer who focuses on health and fitness. His work has been featured inMen’s Health,Better Homes and Gardens,Men’s JournalandHeart-Healthy Living.
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