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Q&A: What is Positive Psychology? And can it help me during this time of stress?

Happy woman standing with her back on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

Q: What is Positive Psychology? And can it help me during this time of stress?

A: Positive Psychology is a relatively new field of study that focuses on improving our mental health by means of “building what’s strong”—a term coined by Martin E.P. Seligman, one of the foremost advocates of positive psychology. It encourages patients to focus on positive emotions and mental states, such as happiness, joy, compassion, love, and “flow” (a state of being undistracted by thought), in contrast to the traditional psychotherapy that focuses on negative emotions, like anger and sorrow.

Although the majority of research in mental health over the last 100 yrs has focused on pathology and “fixing what’s wrong”, or identifying and treating disease and disorders, modern research is showing that augmenting the traditional psychotherapy approach with positive psychology can contribute to long-lasting peace, calm, connectedness, joy… and even longevity!

Positive psychology is also beneficial to advance the well-being and optimal functioning in healthy people. Some psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers, saw early on that there was a benefit to studying the holistic nature of our mental health and created popular theories such as Maslow’s Hierarchy, which shows a hierarchy of what makes people happy and the things that they do to achieve that happiness. Today, we continue to learn and study less clinical forms of positive psychology that can be practiced daily, and eventually formed into positive habits (learn how to form healthy habits in 6 easy steps).

Almost 25 yrs ago, National Geographic did a study on populations with a high rate of Centenarians (people who live to over 100), because not only do these populations live longer, but they are also considered the happiest people on earth. Their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, radiate vitality, calm, peace, joy, and connectedness. There is a correlation between their positivity and their longevity (to be fully transparent, there are a host of other lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and work habits). If you want to dig into this some more, the findings and the continued research can be found on Bluezones.com.

Now, each year, the United Nations rates the “Happiest Nations on Earth”, and is finding that these “Blue Zones” are constantly topping the charts. For relevance, Canada currently ranks 6th behind the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. The United States ranks 18th. So what do these populations do differently? Below are 6 mental health behaviors that are found in the Blue Zones that you can implement to counter mental and emotional stress, anxiety, and depression, while contributing to a deep satisfaction with ourselves and our life’s circumstances:

Smile

It takes less muscles than a frown and is infectious. Consider making a practice of smiling at the first 5 people you see in a day. You’ll likely receive one in return.

Practice Gratitude

Finish your day by journaling 5 experiences or people you appreciated in your day… completing your day with your ‘glass half full’.

Savor

Slow down to bring as much presence as possible to a pleasurable experience. Relish in it with as many senses as possible. This builds your enjoyment of being singularly focused in the present.

Flow

Revisit or start fresh with an activity that seduces you into full engagement. It could be creative or physical. Immerse yourself so deeply that you lose track of time and self-consciousness or mundane thought.

Connect

Trade an hour of social media engagement for an hour of face to face sharing. We are wired for attachment to others through our limbic, emotional-social brain. Cues from facial expression, body language, and voice inflection are essential for all trusting relationships.

Be Mindful

Employing the same mindful presence that we use when we savor a pleasurable experience, practice 5 minutes of deep breathing while staying present, curious, and self-compassionate for any quality of thought or feeling that arises while you are still. Notice, allow, and let it go.

Exercising these positive psychology tools will deepen happiness, contentment, and peace of mind, and will enrich our lives, and those around us, with the key elements for joy and longevity.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: What does isolation and loneliness do to our physical and mental health?

Sad woman looking out of the window in loft apartment

Q: What does isolation and loneliness do to our physical and mental health?

A: More research is confirming that physical isolation and emotional aloneness can contribute to premature death at the same rate as sedentarism and obesity, which have been proven to cause a 30% increase in premature death. Eliminating social interaction entirely dramatically heightens one of our greatest fears—dying alone. This constant fear—which underpins many of the feelings, thoughts, choices, behaviors, and habits in our life—spikes anxiety and cortisol, which when chronically elevated, decreases immune function, deteriorates sleep quality, drives emotional food cravings, and increases the incidence of depression. This is why, say during a pandemic that mandates isolation and restricts social gatherings, a lot of news is turned to mental health.

However, it’s equally as possible to turn isolation and aloneness into an opportunity for growth.

Even though we are wired for relationships via our social and emotional limbic brain to mitigate the fear of dying alone, we also have a need for ‘me time’. Whether we take alone time to meditate, contemplate, take a walk, go for a run, or commune with nature, this time affords us the opportunity to build a deep relationship with ourselves. In fact, we all probably know of individuals who live alone and are very comfortable with themselves and go on to live long lives. Why? They exhibit many lifestyle traits of a positive mental attitude, like gratitude, self-confidence based on self-appreciation, savoring life’s little pleasures, connecting to ‘flow’, and going for joy over happiness. We will share more of these traits when we discuss positive psychology and it’s findings for mental and emotional health in our next Health Talk Happy Hour.

If we invest in “in-the-moment” alone-time (whether we live alone or not) to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise in relation to being isolated or feeling alone, we can learn a lot about ourselves. We can choose to become curious about the various ways we all avoid the discomfort that connects to our deepest existential fears, and the feelings of heartache, boredom, and anxiety that are connected to those fears. We can also see how our hardwired habits of desire, craving, compulsion, and even addiction are tied to avoiding these uncomfortable feelings. Through compassionate (non-judgmental) self-observation, we can be curious about what is underneath our feelings and actions. This mindful self-awareness expands our sense of self and gives us the freedom to make different choices. And when we make choices that are aligned with our core values, we build a positive mental attitude, which ultimately, supports longevity.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: Should I use a posture corrector or posture brace?

Overworked woman with back pain in office sitting on chair with bad posture

Q: My posture at work is terrible. Should I use a posture corrector or posture brace?

A: Back pain is now the second most common reason North Americans visit the doctor (after the common cold). With an estimated 80% of North Americans sitting for their work and with screen viewing averaging more than 11 hours per day (we have never been so stationary in our entire existence!), it’s no wonder that posture-related health issues are going through the roof—but no matter how much our parents have nagged us to “sit up straight”, our bodies weren’t designed to sit, they were designed to move!

Almost all previous work involved moving constantly (bending, lifting, standing, walking), so posture-related pain in the workplace is a relatively new thing. When our spine is chronically out of its natural alignment (hunching over our laptop or looking down at our phone), the muscles that support our spine become imbalanced. Some muscles atrophy while others are in constant strain. The result is pain, lack of energy flow, muscle exhaustion, headaches, bad mood, osteoporosis, a lack of balance, and even compromised immune function.

Recently there have been a plethora of products invented to remind us to get up and move, buzz us to straighten up, alert us to stretch, or brace us into a ‘neutral spine’. While these devices can give us a glimpse of correct posture, they do not fix the underlying issues—they are like bandaids, and should only be used temporarily. Here are 6 actions that you should try to habituate to make your good posture permanent:

  • Learn what neutral spine is (get a C.H.E.K postural alignment assessment)
  • Lengthen some of our chronically tight muscles (sign up for weekly gentle Hatha Yoga class)
  • Strengthen our core and stabilizing muscles (sign up for a weekly pilates class and strengthen your back and neck muscles, not just the chest)
  • Move (functional fitness and HIIT classes), and remind yourself to stand and walk whenever you are on a phone call
  • Ergonomically adjust our workspace (standing desks, elevated computer screens, forearm supported keyboard)
  • Build your mindfulness practice to constantly scan and readjust our body posture until it becomes habituated

Once you implement the above, you will notice your back and neck pain subsiding substantially. If you’d like to read more about the dangers of sitting, read our article, Why Sitting Is Bad For You and 5 Ways To Fix It.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: My Body Feels Toxic—What Should I Do?

closeup of a label-shaped chalkboard with the text time to detox written in it, placed on the branch of a pine tree

Q: My body feels toxic—What should I do?

A: The topic of detoxification is old and new, detailed, and confusing. All modalities of detoxification are essentially supporting the eliminatory systems of the body to release unwanted substances that are taxing the body’s health and energy. Our body naturally filters all chemicals and bio-toxins via the kidneys, liver, and lymphatic system. We expel particles of waste via breath, our urine, feces, and sweat. In our modern world, we are ingesting thousands of chemical compounds from the food industry, inhaling toxic chemicals from our urban atmosphere, and even absorbing elements from the other periodic table from cosmetics to cleaning products via our semi-permeable skin.

Our filtering organs are taxed.

Here are seven simple lifestyle tips to help your body avoid the negative effects of hormonal disruption, cancer cell stimulation, and organ duress from the accumulation of excess minerals, heavy metals, plastics, and petroleum chemicals:

  • Drink a minimum of 10, 8 oz. glasses of filtered plain water to help your kidneys flush water-soluble toxins.
  • Aim to get 2-3 bowel movements a day with a fiber-rich diet so that the fat-soluble toxins that the liver filters and releases into the intestines don’t get reabsorbed.
  • Go for a fitness hike in a clean natural environment whenever you can to expel unwanted waste via your lungs.
  • Enjoy a relaxing sauna or steam once a week to purge toxins through your sweat glands.
  • Include natural “chelators” into your diet like cilantro, garlic, spirulina, chlorella, or miso. Chelators bind to heavy metals and pull them out through the digestive system in a process called chelation.
  • Relax with a full body massage that includes lymphatic drainage to support bio-toxin removal.
  • Do a simple 24-hour water or juice fast once or twice a year to give the eliminatory organs a break.

We hope these tips help you feel cleaner, inside and out.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: What are the best hiking shoes and hiking poles?

Hiking-in-British-Columbia

Q: What are the best hiking shoes and hiking poles?

A: Hiking Footwear is all about function and fit. Since we all have wildly different feet, there is no one best brand, but there are ideal shoe types for what we aim to get into. If you are hiking on smooth trail surfaces (gravel) and have reasonably strong ankles, a very light “trail-runner” would be fine. As their name suggest, trail-runners are a hybrid between street running shoe and hiking boots. They offer great traction and are lightweight, but aren’t as stable as a hiking boot. Here are some trail-runners we recommend. If your trails are more technical and have loose rock, roots, rock steps, are quite narrow, and your ankles are prone to rolling, an over the ankle light to medium-weight hiking boot will best serve your needs. If you are planning a multi-day backpacking excursion on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest trails, a well broken-in, heavier-duty, stiffer over-the-ankle hiking boot will over the traction and support you need for a long journey.

Once you have determined your function needs, we suggest you try on as many different brands of that style of footwear as possible (with your moisture-wicking wool hiking socks, of course—we highly recommend Darn Tough). Every brand uses a different size and shaped sole and footbed, and since each of us has differently shaped feet and toes, it’s paramount that you try your shoes on to find the right fit. A poorly fit boot and low quality sock is a guaranteed recipe for blisters. Here are the critical things to look for when trying on your shoes:
  1. Ensure the fit is snug when laced. You want to lace your boots firm, but not tight—somewhere around an 7 or 8 out of 10 on the pressure scale. Ideally the shoe will have even pressure across your entire foot once laced and not have “hot spots”, or places where your boot will rub excessively when hiking, causing a blister.
  2. The right size will need to find a good middle-ground. It needs to have a bit of room in front of your toes so they don’t hit against the shoe/boot when going downhill, but not so roomy that the heel lifts when walking uphill. Read our full guide on how to properly select a hiking shoe.

Most larger retailers (MEC, REI) will have fake rock ramps for you to demo your fit on. Make sure you use this, so you can see how the boot performs on all angles. After choosing the best fitting shoe, ensure that you can take them home to wear around the house for a couple of days to ensure the fit is optimal (and still return them if not).

Trekking poles are a fantastic addition to your hiking gear arsenal. They distribute workload and force, allowing you to hike farther and faster while providing additional stability and protecting your joints. They propel you forward on flat and uphill terrain, and become a brake, or shock absorber on downhills, unloading our knees from upper body weight. 30% of your effort should be distributed to your arms when using trekking poles, so they provide a full-body workout while hiking.

Choosing a hiking pole is less personal than choosing hiking shoes or boot. When choosing your poles, follow these tips:

  1. Ensure that when they are extended, your arm can be bent at 90 degrees while holding the handle.
  2. Look for poles that have built-in shock-absorbing springs or cushion. This addition will keep the jarring out of your shoulders, elbows, and wrists when the poles make contact with the ground and is well worth the small cost increase.
  3. Carbon poles are nice, but not necessary. While these poles save weight, which is great if you are doing a multi-day backpacking trip, their increased price tag isn’t usually worth.
  4. Choose a cork grip if available. Cork is a great, and natural, material for hiking poles that offers both good grip, breathability, and traction when wet.
  5. If you want the full-body workout when you go for your evening walk around the neighborhood, choose a set that comes with rubber tips that you can put on for urban fitness hiking.
We hope these tips help you find the right footwear and poles for your hiking needs. Nordic trekking, which is what hiking with poles is called, just like it’s winter counterpart, Nordic Skiing (Cross-Country skiing to most of us), is one of the best full-body, cardiovascular endurance exercises out there. Couple these physical benefits with the mental benefits of nature immersion, and it is arguably the most overall healthy exercise option possible. Proper footwear and trekking poles will only heighten your experience.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: How do I make or break a habit?

image of dice spelling old habits

Q: How can I use this period of isolation and working from home, to make or break some healthy habits?

A: This time of restricted travel and socializing is an ideal time to add or delete 1-2 actions or behaviors that we want to change. Creating or breaking a habit requires consistency and repetition, but this isn’t usually easy with our normal hectic lives. With this mandated break, we have the benefit of consistency right now—no racing to the airport for a work trip for the next two days, no commute to work, and no random party or gathering we feel obligated to attend. To fully capitalize on our newfound consistency, there are a few other things we can do to dramatically increase our chances of successfully forming a new habit or breaking an old one.

First, focus your attention on a maximum of two specific actions that you could commit to doing on a daily basis for the next 4 weeks. Before COVID, we needed 3-6 months to solidify an action into a habit because our work life was in constant flux and flow. By finally having some consistency in our life, we can significantly shorten the time needed to make or break a habit.

Next, ensure you could continue your specific actions into your lifestyle once the travel and work restrictions are lifted.

Third, call it a 30-day ‘experiment’, to take the pressure of perfectionism off.

Fourth, set a 2-week reminder in case you fall off the wagon.

Fifth, take a tip from Ultralearning, by Scott H Young, and remove an unwanted habit by understanding and replacing the needs that it services. For example, if eating Ben & Jerry’s while watching Netflix gives you a sense of reward and relaxation after a productive day of work, you could replace those needs with some restorative yoga and a candlelit Epsom salt bath—both great ways to reward yourself and relax. Another one of his suggestions that we support at Mountain Trek, would be to remove the temptation all together in the first place, e.g. just remove the Cherry Garcia from your freezer in the first place.

I suggest diving deeper into proper habit formation by reading our article: Building Healthy Habits in 6 Easy Steps


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: How do I control my snacking?

Young man taking potato chip out of glass bowl while sitting on sofa in front of laptop on table and having snack

Q: Why do I crave snacking so much now that I’m working from home because of coronavirus and how can I stop it?

A: Firstly, Mountain Trek supports snacking! In fact, in our approach to mindful Balanced Health, we don’t judge food or eating to be “good” or “bad”. It’s all about what, how much, and when that makes what we choose to eat either positive and healthy, or derailing. If you’ve ever been to Mountain Trek, you have heard our nutritionist, Jenn, say to eat a mix of foods every 3-4 hrs up until dinner in order to provide a consistent blood sugar (energy requirements) throughout the day. Varying blood sugar is what gets us in trouble with caffeine (hello 2 pm crash) and snacking. This means we actually need to snack in order to optimize our mental and physical health, and vitality! But we need to ensure we’re eating the right amount of the right thing at the right time. Ideally, each meal or snack will have a little protein with a variety of colorful items from the plant kingdom. As stated above, we should be eating snacks 3-4 hours after breakfast and then again after lunch. Timing our snacks will balance our energy levels and prevent over-snacking. If we can take the time to organize our snacks on the weekend, we can make healthy and timely grazing even easier. Pre-cut and containerized veggies and protein dips and a variety of fruit choices with nuts, seeds, cheese, nut butters, hard-boiled eggs are all great, healthy snack options.

As for your “craving”, the reason you find tasty, but unhealthy snacks, on your mind is that we all get attracted to the “Carb-Fat-Salt Trifecta”. There is a biological wiring from our tongue’s taste buds to the neurotransmitter release of our “feel-good” hormones, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These mood enhancers bathe our brain with a positive and uplifting break from the vigilant and diligent state that we typically experience throughout the day, when we’re under the influence of our stress hormone cortisol. So eating potato chips, which hit the trifecta on the head, makes us happier, chemically at least. Emotional eating is real! When we feel blue (disconnected, compressed, inundated, lonely, bored, exhausted, uncertain, etc), we are emotionally stressed. It is normal to unconsciously reach for a little something something to pick our mood up and feel satisfied. But that short term pleasure turns to long term pain.

Setting ourselves up with actions that we can habituate while we have the kitchen so close to work can pay dividends when we go back to the office or begin traveling again. Prepare snacks and set timers to remind yourself to step away from the screen to refuel. Make your snacks nutritional, but also pleasurable; pre-cut and containerize veggies and protein dips (like above), a variety of fruit choices with nuts, seeds, cheese, nut butters, and hard-boiled eggs are all great, healthy snack options


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Mountain Trek’s Guide To Great Sleep

a woman waking up and stretching her arms

Without having to commute to the office and run from the dentist to the bank to the hairdresser to the dry cleaner, you may find you have more time to sleep. But is that sleep actually sleep? Are you tossing and turning for hours? Are you waking up feeling foggy, irritable, and just as tired as when you went to bed? If so, 1. you’re not alone, and 2. we’re here to help.

Between COVID-19’s sneakiness and scariness, and having had a wrench thrown into your routine, it’s no wonder your anxiety levels have skyrocketed, while your sleep quality has done the polar opposite. You’re worrying not just about work, your kids, their school, their happiness, your happiness, but about how much (or little) toilet paper to use. Times are changing.

Pandemic or not, sleep is critical for our health. A bad night’s rest lands you in a fiery place, where a not-hot-enough coffee equates to THE END OF THE WORLD, but what we’ve really got to pay attention to is what happens to our bodies when we’re chronically sleep-deprived. In come heart disease, weight gain and diabetes, a weakened immune system, low sex drive, and mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, impulsive behavior, and paranoia (this is why sleep deprivation is a highly-effective method of torture). Sleep deprivation is not something to sweep under the rug with a tall cup of frothy caffeine–it’s something to take seriously. Otherwise, your life’s at risk.

It’s now clear that it’s not just during developmental years that you need to clock the correct amount of sleep; for the sake of living longer, you need to make sure you get a good night’s rest at every age. But how do you do this? How, with all of today’s stressors, do you get that kind of sleep where you wake up feeling genuinely refreshed?

Just like anything worth pursuing, you need to work for it. Sleep is an essential component of Balanced Health, and something we need to put just as much effort into as our diet and exercise. Follow our guide below to give yourself a headstart on sleeping better tonight, and for the rest of your (now longer) life.

Step 1) Turn your room into a sleep sanctuary

Just like you’d struggle to read a book at a construction site, how can you expect to sleep well in a space filled with disturbances? Here are the basics for setting up your sleep sanctuary:

Never let your phone cross the threshold

Your phone is quickly becoming one of the main causes of your poor sleep. The entrancing blue light your screen emits has a similar wavelength to sunlight, a natural stimulant, they ping and ding throughout the night, and whether they wake you or not, they disturb your sleep. Curtail your spinning brain and fall off into a dream-world by not scrolling through social, news, or email feeds right before, during or after placing head to pillow.

Read Related Article: 9 Ways To Digital Detox

Your best bet is to make a hard and fast rule: never let your phone enter your room. Charge your phone on a table outside of your room, and make sure it is set to “silent” and/or “do not disturb” mode.

Install blackout shades

Humans are hardwired to get up when the sun rises, but that’s not always necessary, like in the summer months. This is where blackout shades, or curtains lined with blackout fabric, come in handy; as the name implies, they create a blackout effect, blocking light from streaming through your windows, and thus letting you clock in all the hours of sleep you need before waking. The summer’s sunlight aside, we also need to block light from street lights and cars; thanks to our semi-transparent eyelids, we register light from all sources even when our eyes are closed. If blackout shades are not an option, or if you are traveling, you can use an eye mask, but beware: eye masks are often uncomfortable.

Keep your room between 64-66°F/18-19°C

Your core temperature naturally decreases during sleep, so matching this cooler temperature with a cooler room promotes not only falling asleep faster, but staying asleep throughout the night. Don’t go wild and turn your room into a refrigerating chamber–your body will react to being cold by raising stress hormones (it thinks it’s in danger)–but strike a sleep-promoting balance by keeping it between 64-66°F/18-19°C paired with a warm and cozy bed.

Control room noise

The really loud noises that wake you up aren’t the only sounds that disrupt your sleep. Every random car driving by, ring, ping, hum, bang, and buzz—no matter how subtle—is processed by your brain and disrupts your sleep cycle. If you live in an area where there are a lot of disruptive sounds throughout the night, try a white noise machine or earplugs. Yes, white noise machines are sounds themselves, but they produce an even and consistent sound that your brain doesn’t react to, making them great options for drowning out the jarring, inconsistent sounds that do disturb your sleep. Earplugs are another option but tend to be uncomfortable if sleeping on your side. If you’d like to try earplugs, try silicone earplugs—they mold to your ear shape for maximum comfort.

Restrict your bed to only sleep and sex

Stop eating, watching, scrolling, and even reading in bed. These actions just train our brain that when we climb into bed, we’re not there for sleep. If you must read before bed, cozy up in your favorite chair, and use a dim, but not eye-straining, light.

Remove all other distractions

Take the TV out of your room—that’s the biggest distraction culprit–but we’re also calling out anything else you might spend time on that’s not to do with sleeping or having sex.

Invest in a good mattress, pillows, sheets, and duvet

The final piece of the sleep sanctuary puzzle is to invest in quality. Every person is different, so it’s hard for us to tell you exactly which mattress, pillow, sheets, and duvet to buy, but what we can tell you is this: you spend 1/3 of your life in your bed, so you might as well be as comfortable as possible. If you’re a side-sleeper, purchase an extra pillow so you can put it between your legs to improve spinal alignment and comfort.

Step 2) Start preparing for great sleep the moment you wake up

From the moment you wake up, everything you do affects how well you will sleep that night. And how well you sleep that night will affect how well you do the next day. It’s a cycle, and these days, it feels like more often than not, a negative one. Take the following steps during your day to right the ship and turn your cycle positive:

Soak in some sunshine immediately upon waking

A blast of sunlight first thing in the morning will stimulate your endocrine and central nervous system, reducing grogginess (and, consequently, our dependence on caffeine) and kick-starting your circadian rhythm, making it more likely that your body will cycle into sleep-mode earlier in the night when it’s best to fall asleep (~10 pm).

Exercise, and do it at the right time

Exercise increases the amount of deep sleep we get, which is when both our brain and our body repair themselves. Exercise is also positive for our mental health, reducing anxiety, and slowing down our thoughts; two cognitive processes that help sleep quality.

While it’s best to be active and move throughout the entire day, if your routine allows for only one dedicated daily exercise session, exercise after work, well before bedtime. Exercising immediately after work will help you decompress and will allow enough time for your body to return to a calmer state, where you don’t have endorphins and other hormones coursing through your body, making it harder to settle down into sleep.

Eat the right food, in the right portions, at the right time

Going to bed full is a recipe for bad sleep. Your body innately tries to metabolize whatever food is in your stomach, requiring energy and the attention of your autonomous nervous system in the process. This effectively keeps the “engine” running while you’re trying to do the exact opposite—power down and put things to sleep. Make dinner your lightest meal and finish it a few hours before bedtime to give yourself enough time to digest. Skip spicy or heavy foods, which can keep you awake with heartburn or indigestion, and eat magnesium-rich foods, like fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Magnesium is a vital mineral that regulates melatonin and the neurotransmitter GABA, which reduces activity in the central nervous system, calming us down and reducing stress.

Going to bed starving is no recipe for success, however. If your body is entering a state of starvation, it will release stress hormones that will prevent you from falling asleep (again, your body thinks it’s in danger). Eat a small calcium and magnesium-rich snack, like a bit of milk and some Seedy Trail Crackers with cheese, before bed.

Avoid caffeine 8 hours prior to sleep

Coffee is the obvious perpetrator, but tea, soft drinks, and chocolate all have high levels of caffeine as well. A cup of black tea has about half the caffeine as a cup of coffee, while a cup of green tea, a can of coke, and a serving of 70% dark chocolate all have about one third as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Step 3) Power down your brain, and body, properly

Get off all electronics at least 1 hour prior to sleep

Watching anything good on Netflix usually means there’s drama, emotion, action, or violence involved—all of which leave us in a heightened state. And, as mentioned before, the light emitted by the screens of your TV, tablet, laptop, or smartphone is in the blue spectrum, making it very stimulating. Pry yourself off of your devices at least one hour before sleep to give your body enough time to calm down. At the very minimum, reduce screen brightness and ensure you have night mode enabled on your devices so that you reduce the amount of blue light you’re taking in.

Take a warm bath 90 minutes before bed

In line with lowering your room’s temperature to mimic the process of your body cooling heading into sleep, a hot bath, while initially counterintuitive, has the same effect. Taking a 104-109°F/40-43°C bath will cause blood to go to your extremities (why we are red when we get out), and when blood is in your extremities, vs your core, you lose heat easily and your body temperature decreases. This cooling triggers your circadian rhythm, and your pineal gland kicks in, releasing melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Add Epsom salts to your bath to promote natural detoxification and healing.

Add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath to increase relaxation and calm. Similarly to magnesium, lavender regulates the neurotransmitter GABA, calming the central nervous system and reducing anxiety.

Restorative yoga

Supporting your body weight with props and bolsters and holding poses for 5 minutes or more, restorative yoga calms the parasympathetic nervous system and allows you to fully relax and rest.  It’s a great practice for your pre-bed routine. Learn four poses you should try from Mountain Trek’s yoga instructor, Katya Campbell.

Physical stress release

Target acute areas of stress with spiky stress balls. Place these balls directly under knots and other tight and painful locations and just rest, allowing the ball to massage your myofascial tissues to reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow, similar to how a deep massage works. Or actively roll out. Watch this video to see how to properly use the spiky ball.

Step 4) Employ techniques to fall asleep

The inability to fall asleep is usually caused by a spinning mind, which, in turn, is usually caused by anxiety, stress, and depression. Anxiety is regretting the future; depression, regretting the past; stress, regretting the present. Regret is just a feeling elicited by thought. If we can teach ourselves to shift our thinking away from regret, we will be able to fall asleep faster. The techniques below are also great if you wake up during the night and find your mind spinning.

“Download” your thoughts into a journal

By the end of a long day, you’ve got a lot on your mind. Instead of climbing into bed and letting these thoughts bounce around inside your head, write them down first. The act of writing down what’s on your mind sends a signal to yourself that you won’t forget anything, allowing you to move on.

Meditate

Meditation, by definition, is the practice of intently focusing your attention on one single thing. Whether that be a candle, your breath, or feelings of gratitude, when you focus your attention, work, your anxiety, depression, and your stress are unable to possess your thoughts. There are thousands of guided meditations available that are specifically designed for sleep. Insight Timer is a great, free resource for meditations. You can easily filter by sleep. And practices such as Tong-Lin are excellent for ensuring your mind is focused on something positive.

Breathe

Often the most simple act holds the most power. Just drawing your attention to your breath and witnessing your inhales and exhales as closely as you can is often the best way to put yourself to sleep. Be specific in noticing where you feel your breath—is it the rising and falling of your chest, or at the tip of your nose—and follow your inhales and exhales in their entirety. Some people benefit from adding a layer and counting the seconds of their breath. This simple exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness and drift off into a great night’s sleep.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Similar in purpose, progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique where you systematically tense, and then release your muscles. For instance, you might start with your toes and work your way up to your head, tensing each muscle as you go during a long, slow inhale, and releasing on the exhale. This is a good exercise for those who prefer more physical vs mental practices.

Step 5) Develop a routine

Your body craves routine. Routines reduce your cognitive load and energy requirements, which consequently reduces your stress levels, the linchpin to great sleep. It may take you a few weeks to find a routine that works, but when you do find that magic combination, stick to it. Your sleep will continue to improve as your routine becomes a habit. Once it’s a habit, it’s a lifestyle. Congratulations, you have just significantly decreased your risk of mortality.

If you’re still curious how to improve your sleep, contact us below, or come visit us for a week of unplugging, resetting, and sleeping deeply.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

What is Intermittent Fasting and How to Do it Right

 

looking at wrist watch in nature

At Mountain Trek, we hear a lot of guests say they’re “intermittent fasting.” To some, this means skipping breakfast; to others, this means eating just dinner. Which is right? Which is wrong? Mountain Trek also practices intermittent fasting (IF), and has developed a specific method over the past 20 years proven to help guests ignite their metabolism. Here, our Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Jenn Keirstead, gives us the scoop on Mountain Trek’s approach to IF:

Jennifer-Keirstead-Nutritionist

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting has become the latest health fad that allegedly assists with weight loss. It has even ranked as the “trendiest” weight loss search of 2019. The dietary term is used to describe the cycling between periods of fasting and eating.

Experts say: it’s not all hype. In fact, many agree that the diet can be helpful in boosting longevity, maintaining blood sugar levels, and reaching a healthy weight.

Not surprisingly, given the popularity, several different types or methods of IF have been established. Explained below, are a few of the most popular methods:

Time-restricted eating: Fast for 16+ hours each day

This method involves fasting every day 16+ hours and restricting your daily “eating window” to 8 hours. For example, if you finish your last meal at 8 p.m. and don’t eat until noon the next day, you’re technically fasting for 16 hours.

The 5:2 diet: Fast for 2 days per week

For one to two nonconsecutive days per week, you consume just water plus 500 calories, (200 of which are protein), either in one meal or spread out over the day. The other five or six days a week, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want.

Alternate-day fasting: Fast every other day

For the first 24 hours, you consume just water plus 500 calories, (200 of which are protein), either in one meal or spread out over the day. For the second 24 hours, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Repeat the cycle every two days.

After reading about a trend, I always like to ask myself: is this diet restrictive in anyway, and is it sustainable long term? These are always good points to ponder before you find yourself in yet another diet + binge cycle.

Also, a word of caution from Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Hu explains: “It’s human nature for people to want to reward themselves after doing very hard work, such as exercise or fasting for a long period of time; so there is a danger of indulging in unhealthy dietary habits on non-fasting days. In addition, there’s a strong biological push to overeat following fasting periods. Your appetite hormones and hunger center in your brain go into overdrive when you are deprived of food. He also comments, “Part of the fascination with IF arises from research with animals showing that fasting may reduce cancer risk and slow aging. One hypothesis is that fasting can activate cellular mechanisms that help boost immune function and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease.”

How to do Intermittent Fasting correctly

Here at Mountain Trek, we too have our opinions about the structured fasting and eating cycles. Program Director, Kirkland Shave, describes our version as a, “12 on, 12 off.” He explains how, “The Mountain Trek program, where we take a 12-hour break without food (glucose) at night, aids in deeper sleep, less calorie storage, less LDL cholesterol production, and lowering the potential for Insulin Resistance (precursor to type 2 diabetes).” We also believe that fasting is beneficial in supporting the anti-inflammatory response of cellular autophagy (self-eating). According to Priya Khorana, PhD, in nutrition education from Columbia University, this is the body’s way of, “Cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells.” Autophagy occurs when sleeping—another reason to fast at night.

The idea of eating during the day makes sense to us. This is because you’re eating when your body and brain are most active. This way you consume your calories when your body needs them the most. You are literally fueling your metabolic engine as it needs energy, rather than operating on a full tank all the time. When done correctly, with proper portions and timing, this means your engine will be running as clean and efficient as possible. No build up, no excess.

We support a daily 12-hour fast, for our reasons above—we’ve just restructured the guidelines, to encourage a more healthful, sustainable, and practical approach.

Break your fast first thing in the morning

Let’s begin by “breaking the fast.” Once you’re up and ready to roll, consider breaking your fast with food. Real food first please, not coffee! Ideally, this happens within 30 minutes of rising.

There are options here. If you’re the exercise-before-work type, you can grab a quick snack consisting of a fruit/veggie, with a protein. Some examples include: apple + seeds, carrots + nut butter, or a 5 oz smoothie made from frozen berries, spinach, banana + hemp hearts. This amount of nutrition is enough to boost your anabolic metabolism by supporting the steroids that stimulate protein synthesis, muscle growth, and insulin production.

You can also break your fast with actual breakfast. Fantastic examples include: a veggie omelette with sprouted, whole grain bread, or a bowl of oatmeal with berries and seeds.

Eat every 3-4 hours for 12 hours

We suggest that you continue on throughout your day with both lunch and dinner, including 1 snack in between each meal. This means you’re eating every 3 – 4 hours during the waking hours, which will continue to support blood sugar levels, leaving you more satiated and energized.
If you intend to adhere to the 12 hour fasting window, dinner is required to be an earlier meal. This may take the most planning. To enjoy dinner at a more reasonable hour, you may want to try batch cooking on the weekends, a crock-pot meal, or one of the many convenient, health-supporting Apps, in which you can pre-order food right to your door. Do whatever it takes to make having an earlier dinner easier!

Fast for 12 hours overnight

That brings you to your “12 hour nighttime break without food.” This might feel challenging at first, as many of us are accustomed to late-night eating and snacking. Many people find themselves mindlessly eating late at night, even when they aren’t hungry.

Something to consider is that nighttime eating may be the result of an overly restricted daytime food intake, leading to ravenous hunger at night. You may find that more consistent eating throughout the day helps curb the out-of-control feeling around food in the evening—ideally you will leave at least 3-4 hours to digest before going to sleep. Speaking of sleep you may notice your sleep improve, as you’ll get to truly rest, instead of digest. Learn more about our sleep program.

Another bonus of IF and eating dinner earlier: after 12 hours food-free, you’re actually hungry when you wake up! This helps make the breaking-the-fast upon rising a breeze.

To learn more about proper nutrition and living a healthy, balanced life, read more of our articles or join us for a week long health-immersion at our retreat. More below.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below: