Many women in midlife suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain. I do! With arthritis and degenerative disc issues from years of over-doing it, I have to be very attentive to taking care of my body these days. The good news is that the experts tell us a particular way of eating can have a profoundly positive effect. Changing the way you eat to eating anti-inflammatory foods can make all the difference for women over 40. It has for me! As a part of my simple life project I have boiled down my shopping list to a very specific short list of staple items which I will provide at the end of this article for you.
Research indicates that diet should be an integral part of a pain management program — especially as women age. Before we go into the specifics of what are the anti-inflammatory foods you should be eating, let’s talk about what inflammation is and why it’s so problematic.
Painful inflammation is the body’s way of trying to heal
Inflammation in short term can be a way the body tries to heal itself. The inflammation that lingers over time, however, not only causes pain in the body, it can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and mental health issues such as severe anxiety and depression. Scary stuff! And it’s something we must take seriously as we are here in the midlife point!
While you should always consult with your team of health care professionals who practice medicine (traditional and/or alternative), it’s good to know that we can combat this chronic inflammation to a large degree by selecting anti-inflammatory foods.
“Following an anti-inflammatory diet is powerful therapy for pain control with many beneficial side effects,” Dr. William Welches, pain management specialist at The Cleveland Clinic says. “The anti-inflammatory diet is considered an integrative approach to pain management, along with exercise, stress management, osteopathic manipulation therapy and acupuncture.”
Three anti-inflammatory foods tenets to follow
Here are three basic shopping and eating guidelines based on the guidance of Dr. Welches:
- Eat the rainbow: Take in eight to nine servings of highly nutrition vegetables and fruits every day. Go for the dark greens and dark purples and blues in the veggie and fruit aisle and make sure you include plenty of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower too. Think black berried, blue berries, purple cabbage, swiss chard, spinach and kale. The fiber and anti-oxidants in these foods helps return the body to balance.
- Miminize dairy and grains: Keep the dairy intake to a bare minimum – maybe a sprinkle of parmesan cheese or a bit of greek yogurt but otherwise steer clear. Also, avoid all refined sugar. Instead, reach for whole grains, including barley, buckwheat, steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt. Keep the servings small (like 1/2 cup) and only once/day.
- Make meat an occasional thing. Take red meat or other meats very infrequently. Instead, include clean fish high in omega-3’s such as wild caught salmon as the “meat” or choose vegetarian main dishes that combine legumes and small portions of whole grain along with lots of dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous veggies.
Go the extra mile to get your inflammation down!
To get the most of your efforts to reduce inflammation, in addition to eating anti-inflammatory foods observe the following practices according to Dr. Andrew Weil, alternative medicine doctor who promotes an anti-inflammatory lifestyle: .
- Get outside and take a brisk walk for at least 20 minutes every day or hop on the treadmill. Be sure you are getting your heart and breath rates up to what is ideal for your age and health (consult with your doctor!).
- Manage stress with meditation, breath exercises and very gentle yoga.
- Incorporate organic herbal teas into your daily regimen rather than rushing to the coffee pot. The caffeine in coffee and the acidic quality of coffee can increase inflammation.
My simple life project grocery list
As promised I’m going to share my own grocery list of staple items I have on hand at all times:
Wild caught salmon
Blackberries and blue berries
Tri-colored organic bell peppers
Fresh basil and mint from my garden in summer
Organic virgin coconut oil
Free range, organic eggs
Spelt or Millett
Ezekiel bread (sprouted grains metabolized as highly nutritional as this “bread” contains no processed flour)
Himalayan pink salt
Other purse spices
Organic herbal teas
Organic green tea
Organic oolong tea (good for inflammation!)
I remember my first low back injury as my gateway into a lifestyle of yoga and regular care for my back, neck and shoulders. We were moving into a new house 20 years ago and I went to pick up a box and next thing I knew I was in agonizing pain and immobile. My doctor sent me to physical therapy. It was from my physical therapy experience I realized I had to keep my back, hips, legs stretched on a daily basis so I began attending yoga classes. It became such an integral part of my life I eventually went through training to teach yoga and have since taught thousands of classes over the years.
As women reach the mid-life point it becomes more and more important to ensure we are taking care of our back, neck and shoulders. Here are some tips backed by many experts in chiropractic and orthopedic medicine but remember you should always check with your own health practitioner before starting any new physical activity.
- 1. A daily gentle stretching of the entire body along with some rhythmic breathing goes along way in ensuring flexibility. Allow a certified yoga teacher or a physical therapist to demonstrate the safest stretches you can do at home on your own.
- Find a gentle yoga class and go at least once/week. It is helpful to have a registered yoga teacher assist you in person with your positioning and provide guidance on how to breathe to maximize the positive effects of the postures.
- Try some gentle online yoga classes. You can download them to your device and practice at your office or home anytime! Search for classes that cater to low back care or neck and shoulders.
- If you do tweak your back or neck and are in pain grab an ice pack. Getting inflammation down right away is key. You might look into the benefits of turmeric for inflammation as a natural option or you can take an over the counter anti-inflammatory if you know you are in pain. Check with your health care practitioner.
- If in pain, make an appointment to see either your chiropractor or your orthopedic doctor. Try to relax as much as possible because many times we tighten up around the area that has been injured which causes further pain and sometimes muscle spasm.
- A topical analgesic that contains a wintergreen essential oil and/or white fir can help with muscle pain.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water on a daily basis helps keep the discs between the vertebrae soft and supple.
- Watch your posture. Taking yoga classes will likely help with this automatically. Being more conscious of how you hold your head, shoulders and pelvis when you sit, stand and walk can be so important. Check out my friend Lisa Wolf’s Posture Program
- Express gratitude to and for your body as it is. Your body has been carrying you around for over 40 years! Every day make it a practice to give thanks and treat it as the treasure it is.
I pledged on September 6, 2016 that I would devote myself to a simpler life on a daily basis which requires practicing mindfulness in daily life.
I have a reminder that pops up on my phone at 6:50 am every day that says “A Simple Life Project.” By committing to daily reflection as to how I might simplify my life this day, I have noticed how important it is to be a gentle observer.
What is a gentle observer? The practice of mindfulness in daily life requires we practice observation without judgment.
If we dedicate ourselves to this mindfulness practice we have to learn how to observe in a gentle way. In other words, we notice what is happening inside of us and outside of us with a bubble of awareness between what’s happening and any internal reaction we may have.
If we can manage to just be and breathe with what we observe including the internal reaction, we create a soft, gentle space where we can discern how or if we wish to respond rather than react.
Mindfulness in daily life is key to creating a simpler, more vibrant life. Here are 4 tips to being a gentle observer:
We must become aware of how hard and tense we are in our expressions, our voice, our posture, our manner in order to become softer. There is tremendous strength in being soft.
Mindfulness in daily life invites us soften into ourselves, our relationships and whatever is happening around us. Try right now. Notice what happens if you just think about the word SOFT and allow your facial muscles to grow soft, your shoulders to soften down, your breath to flow softly.
Next, before you speak aloud, intentionally soften your voice and your mouth. Try walking softly rather than stomping about unconsciously.
Breathe with awareness.
We are all breathing automatically but when we bring awareness to the breath we step into the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
Begin by making it a habit to NOTICE your natural, automatic breath. Notice how it feels as it enters and exits your body.
Befriend your breath by checking in ongoing throughout your day. Play with deepening your inhales and extending your exhales for instant calm to your tense body and mind.
Feel and express gratitude.
At the end of all of the thousands of yoga classes I have taught over the years, I always guide students to bring hands together in the “prayer position” at the center of the chest and with eyes still closed in a relaxed seated position after deeply resting in savanna.
Next, I suggest we seek a palpable sense of gratitude for the breath, the body and this day of being alive. Mindfulness in daily life is a practice that is enriched when we seek opportunity to feel and express gratitude. It might be gratitude toward the cashier at the grocery, or gratitude for the vibrant colors in nature out in our front yard, or gratitude for the opportunity to help someone who is struggling, or gratitude for a comfortable bed.
If we can adopt a habit of feeling and saying “thank you,” we begin to marinate in gratitude all of the time. And if we can marinate in gratitude all of the time we naturally experience a simpler life and the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
I was leading a meditation class one Sunday and a long time student was expressing how hard it is to let go when she is so worried about her son who is making poor decisions as he prepares to leave the nest. I leaned in softly and replied, “This is letting go. . .” and I lifted my gripping fists and opened my hands and softened my fingers and wrists. I said, “Just release the grip.”
Her whole body and face softened in that moment as she realized she was creating her own suffering by gripping so tightly mentally, emotionally and physically.
Letting go does not mean that we give up on our loved ones. Letting go does not mean that we become numb to the suffering of others. We can be dedicated to a project without gripping tightly. Mindfulness in daily life requires a regular practice of releasing the grip.
My own spiritual teacher told me many years ago that clasping my child to my chest in a tight grip of worry is not love rather having arms wide open for the child to come to me if and when he chooses is love. We can adopt this same practice for ourselves in our daily life.
By softening, breathing with awareness, feeling and expressing gratitude we are more able to release what no longer serves us and let go of the tight grip of anxiety. Practice clenching your fists very tightly – hold on for dear life! Now, release. Let go. Soften your hands and fingers.
Being a gentle observer is a practice of noticing with softness and then consciously choosing to continue to soften, breathe withe awareness, feel and express gratitude and let go of what you do not need to hold onto. This is the essence of mindfulness in daily life and key to having a simpler life.
Conflict happens. A disagreement with a spouse. A run-in with a neighbor. Opposing political views. Torn within your own mind and heart about what decision to make. It is an unpleasant experience and yet it is inevitable. It is when we allow conflicts to become bigger and more complicated than they need to be that we find ourselves in a bind.
Here are 8 steps:
- Breathe. When you realize you are in the midst of a conflict our brain typically tells the body it’s time to tense up and our breathing becomes short. Soften your belly. Drop your shoulders down away from your ears and take a deep full breath in. Release the breath slowly through your mouth. Ahhhh.
- Identify the conflict. There is power in naming it. What is happening? Where is the conflict’s origin? Take a step back into neutrality and just notice what’s going on.
- Own your part. If your conflict is with another person, be sure to look at how you have contributed to this conflict or caused it to escalate. Be willing to own that and if needed to sincerely apologize for your part.
- Listen and reflect. Even if you don’t agree with what you are hearing it can go a LONG way for the other person to feel heard. Listen for content and reflect back (out loud) what you hear the other person saying. Here’s an example: “So, what I’m hearing is that you really believe strongly that all children should be vaccinated and that parents who don’t vaccinate are neglecting their children’s wellbeing. Am I understanding you correctly?”
- Empathize. Even if you don’t agree with what you are hearing, seek the place where you can empathize sincerely and this will help to soften the conflict. Here’s an example, “I can hear that you feel strongly about this and I can understand that for you this feels like a really important issue. I get that.”
- Pause and breathe again. Repeat number 1.
- Respond softly and respectfully. After you have helped the other person feel heard and understood and you’ve take a breath break, it’s your turn to respond. Soften your tone and choose your words carefully.
- Agree to disagree. Not all conflicts can be resolved with compromise or direct solution. Sometimes you can simply make peace by agreeing to have opposing views and walk away peacefully.
Accepting that we will have disagreements and practicing ways to resolve conflict on a regular basis contributes to smoother sailing and a simpler life.
So when I first set out on this 125 journey to live a simple life with this project that started on September 6 I was quite ambitious. I was going to write a blog post every day for 125 days dedicated to this simple life project. But guess what? Life happened. And I I have been having incredible opportunities to actually interact with life with my simple life mindset day in and day out. So, I decided to change my mind. Change the nature of my commitment to this project and just blog a couple times each week. Maybe only once a week. And you know, it’s good. It’s healthy to be able to just simply change your mind. Because life is NOT a one way street. We get to choose and change as a part of harmonizing with this human experience we are having along the way.
Now, let us not undervalue the virtue of reliability. I am all about being where I say I will be and showing up and following through on my promises. I think we can take it too far sometimes. It’s important to stay fluid and change direction when needed.
I decided to let myself off the hook because I’ve had a tendency to be overly committed and overly reliable. I’ve no intention of suddenly letting down my clients, friends and family but I’m also tuning in each morning to what my inner-self wants and needs and allowing this to guide me. And this practice is actually allowing more time, energy and space in my daily life to be of service to others. Strange how that works.
So, maybe today you can let yourself off the reliability hook and tune in. Give yourself permission to simply change your mind. After all, isn’t a woman’s prerogative? ; )
I honestly can not remember what boredom feels like. When I hear people say they are bored it’s such a bizarre concept to me. Can’t comprehend. What does it mean to be bored? Is it restlessness? Is it discontent? Is it an addiction to stimulation (caffeine, visual images, talking, doing)? Deciding to lead a simple life is all about shifting the mental paradigm from constant movement and stimulation to just easing into what is with acceptance and surrender.
Just BE-ING where you are and diving deep into the sounds, sights, sensations of your present moment is living in fullness. There is no such thing as boredom in that place! A simple life is about feeling FULL in the beauty of simplicity rather than chasing constant stimulation.
This week I am staying at a house right on the beach of the Pacific Ocean with my dear husband, my nearly 17 year old daughter, her bestie and our wonderful friends Josh and Beth. We have embraced the simple life by cooking together, watching the lightening storms while listening to Ray LaMontagne’s album Ouroboros. A simple life here means riding the waves on boogie boards and going for long walks on the beach watching the pelicans fly in formation and the gathering of sea gulls on the sand. It’s about collecting sea shells and thinking of which of my child clients will enjoy using these shells in the sand tray in my office when I return. It’s about seeing my teenage daughter and her friend have the time of their lives jumping waves with squeals.
Boredom is not something we experience once we embrace a simple life. With acceptance and celebration of what is right here right now, there is no such thing as feeling bored. All of life is a celebration with an embrace of a simple life. This is the essence of mindfulness. Being with what is. Accepting. Surrendering. Celebrating. Appreciating.