Monday, August 26, 2013

Seaweed for Health and Wellness ...

The fall has always been a kind of mini-New Year for me. A time when my mind naturally goes to thoughts of quality of life and what I might want to do, or un-do, to open myself to the flow of vitality and veriditas.

This wellness mindset has been hovering for the past few weeks, with a particular focus on adding variety to my exercise routine and diet. This afternoon, after collapsing on the couch following my aerobic DVD (motivated by the Cobb's cinnamon bun I'd enjoyed with my latte at the Quay), I flipped on the TV for a moment and caught the end of an Irish magazine program on PBS featuring Prannie Rhatigan, a family physician living on Ireland's west coast where she practices organic gardening and seaweed harvesting and cooking.

The program was fascinating and so was reading Prannie's website later in the day. As a Vancouverite, I have eaten nori in sushi and toasted as a snack, but here is a woman so convinced of the benefits of eating seaweed that she has written a 288 page seaweed cookbook covering everything from seaweed smoothies to risotto to chocolate fondant. Amazing!

So, what, exactly, is so good about eating seaweed (or sea vegetables as the marketers like to call it)? While further research is needed, and some of the benefits seem to have been exaggerated over the years, it seems that there are several advantages to adding some seaweed to our diets:

1.  Improved cardiovascular health:  A study in 2011 in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed 100 studies on the health benefits of seaweed and reported that some of the proteins in seaweed could serve as better sources of bioactive peptides than those in milk products. (These reduce blood pressure and boost heart health.)
2.  Reduced inflammation: Seaweed is a source of antioxidants and may help to prevent inflammation, a contributor to many chronic illnesses. 
3.  Helps to regulate hormones:  Studies suggest seaweed may help to regulate estrogen and estradiol levels, and thus may have the potential to affect breast cancer risk and ease pre-menstrual syndrome in some women.
4.  A strong source of dietary iodine, a nutrient needed for healthy thyroid function:  After years of iodized salt programs through the World Health Organization, we rarely see serious iodine insufficiency any more but mild iodine deficiency is making a comeback, perhaps due to iodine-blocking agents in our environment or the trend toward using smaller amounts of iodized table salt. Brown seaweed carries an extraordinary level of iodine - 5-50 times the recommended daily intake depending upon the water from which it is harvested.  (Red and green seaweeds carry less.)
5.  A strong source of vitamins and minerals:  Most seaweeds are full of vitamins and minerals - calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B, C, and B12, depending on the type.
While seaweed looks to be a wonder-food, there are a few caveats regarding its dietary use. When sold as a supplement, seaweed may not be regulated, depending on where you live. This means that the actual amount of active ingredients can vary from bottle to bottle and that there may not be proof of safety or effectiveness.

When using edible seaweed, it is possible to inadvertently take in too much of certain nutrients such as potassium, iodine or sodium, resulting in serious side effects.

There have also been studies showing concentrated amounts of heavy metals, including arsenic, in some seaweeds. These can have serious toxic effects so it is important to obtain your seaweed from a reliable source.

All this said, if you are healthy and have access to safe product, a few of servings of seaweed every week could be just the thing for boosting your nutrient intake without adding excess calories. Here, for example, is Prannie Rhatigan's recipe for a Breakfast Seaweed Smoothie:

** Always use produce in season and always vary ingredients.  ** 
1.  Seaweed:  Alaria -  6 grams or 1/4 ounce dried alaria, rinsed and soaked in a cup of cold water overnight
2.  Juice:  8 ounces blueberry, ruby grapefruit or apple juice
3.  Seasonal greens:  4 handfuls of spinach, chard, lettuce, rocket, collard greens or beet greens, plus young nettle tops in spring or 1-2 leaves of kale or 1-2 leaves of dandelion greens
4.  Herbs:  Sprig of mint, lemon balm, coriander or fennel.
5.  Fruit:  1/4 ripe pineapple, core included, or a handful of frozen berries or 1/2 apple plus 2-3 frozen or fresh bananas or 3-4 pears.
6.  Spices/seeds:  1 inch ginger.  Ground hemp and flax seeds.
7.  Optional extras:  A shake of cocoa nibs or bee pollen.
8.  To sweeten, if necessary:  A dash of local honey or agave syrup.

1. Pour the soaking water from the Alaria into a blender. Chop the Alaria roughly and add to the blender with the juice and pineapple. Blend on high before adding the rest of the ingredients.
2.  Gradually add all the greens and fruit leaving the chopped bananas until the end. Add more water or juice if you like. Taste while it is still in the blender so you can adjust the flavour.
3.  If the smoothie is too bitter, add a little more banana or a small amount of honey or agave.
4.  Cook's Tip:  to freeze bananas, pack them into a plastic container that will hold 3 bananas and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Freeze until needed.
5. You can store your smoothie mixture for 24 hours covered in the fridge.
** Yields 1 1/2 - 2 litres so adjust the ingredients to fit your blender jug size. **
Prannie says you can enjoy this smoothie daily provided you check to see that your iodine, sodium and potassium are within WHO limits.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Fall 2013 Compassion Fatigue Workshop for Helping Professionals ...

Hi everyone! Here, as promised, is the registration information for the Fall 2013 Caring on Empty: Creative Tools for Compassion Fatigue Transformation and Resilience workshop. Mark your calendars now and please register as early as as you're able because the venue is small and the number of participants, limited.

This renewing, interactive, discovery-based workshop is designed to introduce helping professionals to the concept of compassion fatigue (the natural and expectable diminishing empathy, emotional detachment and secondary posttraumatic stress that can come from exposure to, and wanting to help, others' suffering and trauma). 

Within a rich, multidisciplinary environment you will have the opportunity to discover your current level of compassion fatigue, to identify your personal early warning signs and to learn positive practical tools for reducing CF risk and increasing CF resilience.

You will gather information about yourself throughout the day using lecturettes, pencil and paper tools, film, small group discussions and large group conversations, and then use the information to create a detailed personal wellness plan.

Workshop Details:

Date:  Friday October 18
Time:  9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Location:  Accent Inn, North Burnaby, BC (Henning Drive and Boundary Road)
                            Ample free parking
                            Walking distance or a short bus ride from Gilmour Skytrain Station
Cost:  $167 (Includes GST, lunch, tools, handouts and book draw)
          Who should attend: Anyone working to help the suffering or traumatized
          For further information and to register:  email me at for
                                                                               a registration form

***  If you have a large group wanting to attend, or you live a distance away,  please email me for a Speaker's Information Kit and consider bringing the workshop to your organization or community.

***  Education budget too small?  Consider joining forces with a couple of other organizations. This not only reduces workshop costs but enhances relationships between organizations and enriches the learning environment.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Going Back to Work ...

Hi everyone! I know it's still August but my walk at the Lake this morning showed definite signs of fall - a light mist rising from the water as the sun came up, a heavy dew on the spiderwebs and a subtle coolness in the air in the early hours. The leaves were even beginning to change colour along the lane as I walked back to the car.

This is my favourite time of year - so full of energy and possibilities! I suspect that this rise in energy is a reflection of both the sunny but cooler days and many years of excitement at going back to school in September. Now, not everyone shared my love of school and not everyone will be relishing a return to work at the end of summer vacation, either.  For those of you feeling a little angst or dread, here are a few tips for making that transition a bit easier:

1.  Remember why you do the work you do.  Take a moment to sit back with a cuppa and remember why you came to this work in the first place and what has made you stay. What motivated you to want to make a difference? Remember the excitement and energy that buoyed you through the early days. Feel it flowing through your body now as you reflect upon the best aspects of your work. 
2.  Reconnect with your values.  Go a little deeper and remind yourself of the values that fuel your work on your best days.  Compassion? Justice? Kindness? Integrity? Patience? Working hard? Creativity? Individual or societal rights? Honesty?  When we reconnect with what drives us, we can return to work with that energy and a sense of direction.
3.   Reflect upon your successes. Many of us are better at remembering our mistakes and failures than our successes. Our harsh inner critics take up more space inside our heads than the softer voices of balance, kindness and self-compassion. Take a moment - or an hour - to reflect upon the things that have gone well across the years. Your contributions. Your accomplishments. The things you've learned. The things you've been able to pass on to others. The people you've helped who suffered less because of you and your work. 
If you have a professional gratitude scrapbook, this is the time to take it out and look at it again. If you don't have one, now's the time to start. Find a beautiful blank book that speaks supportively to your heart, and in it place reminders of all the positive feedback you get for your work - thank you cards and notes and emails, copies of performance evaluations, notations of the nice things people say about your work. You might also like to add inspiring quotations or poems or pictures that remind you why you do the work you do. It's a great resource for the days when things are tough and nothing seems to be going well - or the days when going back to work is looking less than inviting.
4.  Begin as you mean to go on, as my girlfriend's Mom used to tell us back in highschool. On the night before your first day back, go to bed early so you're well rested. Get your briefcase, clothing and a healthy lunch and snacks ready before you go to bed. In the morning, think of 5 things you're grateful for and then get up in enough time that no one has to rush. Eat a good breakfast, get some exercise and spend some quiet time alone to read, think, meditate or pray. 
4.  Make it an easy transition back to work.  Work a half day on your first day back if you have control of your schedule. Or go in early if you have to work a full day and give yourself time to reconnect with your team, to find out what's changed, to read the communication book and generally get the lay of the land.
5.  Create a transition ritual. Transition rituals are habitual thoughts or actions that you use every day to mark the end of the work day and the beginning of home time. It doesn't matter what you choose for your ritual - changing your clothes, taking a shower, singing in the car, going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea, writing in your journal. What does matter is that you do it regularly so that your body can recognize that it can let down it's usual level of work arousal and relax. It allows you to turn off the work day, be present to yourself, and present to your family and friends

Dread and anxiety at the thought of going to work are warning signs of compassion fatigue. If these tips don't seem enough to handle the size and weight of your feelings of dread, you might consider taking the PRO-QOL, a compassion fatigue tool designed to determine your current compassion fatigue and burnout risk. If you have become traumatized through working with traumatized people or by an unhealthy work environment, it is likely to show up here and then you can make a plan for healing and wellness.

(If you want to learn how to do this, you are more than welcome to join us at the next  Caring On Empty: Creative Tools for Compassion Fatigue Transformation and Resilience Workshop on October 18th in Burnaby, BC.  More details will be available here next week. )


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Myth of Closure ...

Hi everyone! I've been working hard on the chronic sorrow book all summer and while doing some research for it, I came across a TED Talk by Nancy Berns, sociologist and author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. It was great to see that someone this thoughtful had taken the time to address our society's popular myth that closure is the endpoint of grief.

We all live with loss. In fact, transition specialist, Bill Bridges, says that, "Where there's change, there's loss; where there's loss, there's grief." So, even if we have a positive change like a new baby or a new job or move to a new house, we still lose whatever it was that we had before - and thus we grieve.

Grief is painful. When we grieve, we automatically start looking for ways to alleviate the pain and move on, to find closure as quickly as possible. But Nancy Berns says that there is no such thing as closure:

Closure doesn't even exist. It's a made up concept that we use to talk about sadness and grief...that can do more harm than good. ... We don't need closure to heal.

The notion of closure seduces us, though. It promises that we can escape the painful place of grief and return to joy through closing off our grief. This notion distorts what's actually going on with our grief. The truth is that we don't leave grief to go to joy - the two are entwined like light and shadow. We can experience both at the same time so we don't have to push for premature "closure" in order  to feel some happiness again.

Nancy recognizes that our grief will take as long as it takes and that what we really need is companioning rather than implicit or explicit messages about putting our grief in a box, putting a lid on it and shelving it so we can join others in their world of happiness. These messages are well intentioned because our loved ones hate to see us hurt  - but they are not helpful.

We could all do worse than to listen to, and act on, Nancy's TED Talk advice on how to support someone who grieves:
So, the next time that you see someone who's entering that space of grief - it might be a family member, might be a friend, a coworker, just someone you recently met - don't hand them a box. Don't tell them to find closure. Meet them where they're at. And they might be broken and down and beaten up.
She then goes down on one knee on the stage and continues ...
Meet them where they're at. And while you're there, take a moment and look around, 'cause you might be surprised at the view you have when you're on your knees. And if you're the one broken, you might  be surprised at how comforting it can be to have someone just meet you where you're at, not to try and get you to stand before you're ready, not to try and take away your pain or explain it away. Just to be with you. And when you're ready, to give you a hand up, to take those steps ... 
You see it's not about closure. Healing? Yes. But that's different. 

Nancy's full talk, Beyond Closure, is well worth hearing. You can watch it on YouTube.