Category Archives: Brain Health

The surprising results of my exercise program

I have been working out 3-4 times per week for several months and have had some surprising results from it. I have attempted this in the past and failed miserably, but this time it is sticking and I like it. I have a couple of markers for this success that I will share with you at the end of this article, but let’s get to the nitty gritty for now.

Result #1 – My diet changed with very little effort from me

tempI really like lifting weights. It’s a lot of fun to feel my muscles get leaner and stronger. I found that when I ate a crappy diet on a day when I was going to the gym to lift that I couldn’t lift as much or as smoothly. I also noticed that when I grudgingly did my 20 minutes of cardio it was a whole lot harder. Simple carbohydrates like white flour based foods – pasta, bread, breading, Krispy Kremes, etc. – resulted in what I calculated with my bad math skills to be about a 20% decrease in strength and energy. Seriously people – don’t take that number as hard science! I noticed that when I ate cleanly (veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs like whole grains) I could lift 50 lbs doing lat pulldowns, but when I ate junky I could only pull 40 lbs.

That gets frustrating really quickly and I was seeing the correlation between diet and energy in ways I couldn’t deny. Soon I found I was making better food choices. Eating well and cooking for myself instead of going out to eat, eating more vegetables and fruits than simple carbohydrates. I started avoiding white foods like white rice, white breads, and potatoes. Now I am lifting even more and doing it with better form.

This translates to life outside of the gym too. I have more energy, my thought processes are more efficient, and concentration and memory are better too. There is a bit of a downside that I must admit too. I do love sugary treats. When I indulge in an occasional treat I feel pretty gross. My heart races, my anxiety level increases, my thoughts get scattered, and I feel overwhelmed by life. These are all things I used to feel on a daily basis but they became normal to me. Now the normalcy of this sick process is gone and I see the mental chaos for what it is. Blinders off! I can’t unsee it now.

A friend of mine recently said you can’t exercise away a bad diet. She is right in a way – you eat like garbage and exercise but it won’t cancel it out. But she is also wrong in a way – I think I am exercising away a bad diet!

Result #2 – Frozen shoulder gone!

I have had adhesive capulitis (commonly called frozen shoulder) in my left shoulder for years. It hurt to move it toward my body, over my head, or behind my back. It got severe enough that I couldn’t put my clothes on without some seriously contortionist moves. I had tried everything I could think of to resolve the problem: acupuncture, Reiki, massage, etc.

Dumbbell-Front-RaiseOnce I started lifting weights I began to do lateral raises, front raises and reverse flyes for my shoulders. I know that’s gym-speak, but what you need to know is that those exercises work the different parts of the deltoid muscles, those big muscles that attach your arms to your shoulders. I started with very light weights – 3 lbs. About 3 weeks after starting at the gym I realized I was able to put my clothes on and take them off like a normal person! The first time I whipped a shirt off and lifted both arms over my head I danced around the house in excitement! dumbbell front raise 2

With just a little bit of exercise my frozen shoulder began to thaw. It wasn’t passive therapy I needed, but active therapy. I soon noticed that with other exercises my creaky knees were getting less creaky. I was able to go up and down the stairs more easily, my back hurt less.

Cat’s Ten Tips for Gym Success

I know everyone is different about motivation. I am a long-term couch potato who hates to move and am a creature of convenience. I have friends who thrive on movement and actually run marathons for fun. (Fun?!) I have a long history of joining gyms and failing miserably, guiltily paying the gym membership without going for months on end. Here’s why I believe it is working this time.

  1. I have a partner in crime. 
    She motivates me, I motivate her. Sometimes it’s motivation by way of not wanting to let each other down. Last night after my workout I felt great. In my fit of endorphins (and yes, there really is an exercise high) I confessed that I hadn’t wanted to go but did because I told her I’d be there. She grinned said the same thing happened with her. Whatever gets you there, eh?
  2. I can see the gym from the road on my daily route home. 
    I pull up to the last major intersection before my house and there it is on my right waving and looking at me, daring me to pass by. I rarely ignore the dare. I pull in and work out. But if I had to go out of my way to get there, as I did with the last gym, it would never happen. Bonus: since it is literally 5 minutes from my house I don’t have to shower there. Always hated that.
  3. I keep my workout clothes in the car. 
    I got myself a gym bag I like and I keep it packed and ready to go – shorts, top, sports bra, shoes, socks, headphones, lock, water bottle, etc. I keep a sweatshirt hoodie in there too. If I’m sweaty and it’s cold out this keeps me from getting sick.
  4. Real people work out there. 
    It’s an all women’s gym and people there look like me in varying stages of getting fit. The staff is awesome too. Very friendly and helpful. No judgy-ness.
  5. I found an activity I love. 
    I am fond of saying I like to lift heavy things. Actually, that’s an understatement. I love to lift weights. I don’t know why. I did that for the first few weeks and then a friend who is a trainer clucked at me until I started doing some cardio. Nothing mammoth – just 20-30 minutes on a treadmill. I hated it at first, then realized I could do it and it was kind of fun.
  6. I track my progress.
    That tells me that I’m actually making progress. That motivates me to keep going. “Look! I went from 50lb on the lat pulldown to 75! Awesome!” (And yes, I really have progressed that far in the last 3 months and I’ve done it safely.)
  7. My secret to cardio: watch an ampy TV show or movie.
    I take my iPad, get on the treadmill, and link up to Hulu. (I’m not up to the elliptical trainers yet….someday.) I watch Bones, Castle, or (my favorite) Grimm. The Olympics have been working pretty well this week too. One day I forgot my iPad. I had to settle for music on my phone. I chose classic rock, so I sweated to the oldies: Rolling Stones, The Who, Three Dog Night. Almost as good as Grimm. Some days I choose music over video, listening to Nirvana, Guns and Roses, Janis Joplin, or whatever else iTunes radio throws at me.
  8. I check in with a personal trainer from time to time
    I can’t afford it all the time, but every month or so I work with a trainer about my progress, safe workouts, etc. We talk about new routines, what’s working and what’s not. I find it very helpful.
  9. I know my limits. 
    My "post-military-presses" face.

    My “post-military-presses” face.

    I can’t get work done at home. Just can’t do it. I can’t write, study, and I certainly am not going to exercise when I have such a lovely comfortable couch and a cat who likes laps. I have to be out and about to get anything done. Exercise is no exception. If I had a Nautilus, a treadmill, or a stationary bike it would be a clothes catcher.

  10. I have a goal.
    OK, no I don’t. I just wanted to put in 10 tips. It’s such a nice round number! But I know a lot of people who have a reason they want to go – like they want to run a marathon, hike in the Himalayas, etc. I just want to remain active as long as possible and I was feeling my body get less and less able to do really simple things like go up the stairs in the morning or sit in a chair without my back aching. I’m too young to be old.

So that’s it. Surprising results for really very little work! See you at the gym?


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Filed under Brain Health, Exercise, Mental and emotional health, Pain Management, Processed foods, Self-care

Quick Fix For Stress

To do lists and stressIt’s Monday morning. The alarm sounds and you roll out of bed. You hit the floor with your to-do list running in your head. The momentum of your day carries you forward through one task, one stressor after another. Before you know it, it’s time for bed. Go to sleep. Wake up to the alarm on Tuesday morning. Repeat. 

That’s how the vast majority of us live: checking off things on our to-do lists with little time to actually be. And yet it is crucial to our well-being and thus the well-being of those who depend on us that we take time out to just be. 

Take a look at the link and see how just a few minutes of stillness in your day can change your life and the life of your family.

Meditation Health Benefits: What the Practice Does to Your Body

If you don’t know how to quiet your mind, to relax your body, and reduce your stress I can help you. I offer acupuncture, acupressure, and Reiki to help you balance your body, making it easier for you to find your inner stillness. I offer simple to apply meditation techniques to get you started and will show you how to fit it into your day without adding one more “to-do” to that list. 

Click here to book your appointment online or call 512-619-5549 to schedule with me. 


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Filed under Acupuncture, Brain Health, Mental and emotional health, Pain Management, PTSD, Stress, Trauma

After the disaster

Last year early in the fall I sat on a hill in Austin, Texas and wept watching the entire eastern sky turn a deep black as the fire in Bastrop County raged in uncontrollable fury 30 miles away. When the sun slipped below the horizon I could see the flames from this massive maelstrom of heat reflected angrily in the clouds of smoke that filled my field of vision. The fire burned for a month without relenting, claiming over 34,000 acres. Over 1600 people lost their homes. I will probably never forget this. Even as I write this it is hard to keep from crying, remembering the horror, shock, and sorrow on the faces of people who lived it, people who lost everything, often including pets, homes, and livestock.

After the disaster I treated a number of people who survived the fires. Many of them had nightmares,  both sleeping and waking, experiencing recurrent memories from which they couldn’t look away. Hurricane Katrina had a similar effect. Even now, seven years later,  I see people in my practice who are still shaking with the wind that battered New Orleans. Some of these people have alcohol and drug problems accumulated in an effort to deal with what happened to them.

The common thread between these two disasters is post traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD). PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur when a person experiences or even witnesses a shocking or terrifying event of any kind. The folks at risk for developing PTSD include but aren’t limited to:

  • Survivors of war, both soldiers and civilians in the path of war
  • Survivors of hurricanes and other natural disasters
  • Anyone who as been sexually or physically assaulted
  • People who have survived abuse (child abuse, domestic violence of all kinds, religious abuse, etc.),
  • People who have been incarcerated in prison
  • Emergency service and rescue workers
  • Anyone who has experienced the unexpected death of a loved one

Even families of these people and counselors can develop a form of PTSD called secondary PTSD which results from listening to and helping people recover from trauma.

Do you have it?

There is no specific test for PTSD, but if you have lived through or witnessed a traumatic event and find that you recurrent symptoms such as the ones below for more than 30 days, then you just might. If you have these symptoms but it’s been less than 30 days, then the acronym changes to ASD (acute stress disorder), but it is no less disabling. PTSD and ASD include both physical and mental/emotional symptoms, many of which are listed below.

Mental and emotional symptoms fall into 3 main categories.

  • Reliving
    Many people keep reliving the event, which disturbs daily activity and can be paralyzing. Your brain generates the same chemical fight/flight signals during the reliving of the event than it did when the event or events occurred, so it’s as if you keep experiencing the trauma over and over again.Reliving includes flashback episodes in which the event seems to be occurring again, repeated upsetting memories of the traumatic event/s, nightmares, and strong emotional reactions to situations that remind you in some way of the trauma or  event.
  • Avoidance
    Avoidance is a way of dodging the memories – a sort of “just don’t think about it” tactic. “Numbing out” is one way of doing this. This refers to feeling like you just don’t care about anything at all or feeling detached from life or activities you usually enjoy. Sometimes the mind just blocks the event or part of the event out so that you can’t remember important aspects of the trauma you experienced. If you feel as if you have no future or you find yourself avoiding places, thoughts, or people who remind you of the traumatic event or events, this too is a sign of avoidance.In the longer term, avoidance can lead to a chemical form of numbing out through the use of alcohol or drugs, leading to alcoholism or drug abuse. Depression is a very real problem too, as the feeling of having no future or a sense of helplessness against the memories lingers.
  • Arousal
    Hypervigilance is a feeling that you are more aware of your surroundings and what is going on than normal. It’s as if you are always “on guard” and can’t relax. This can lead to irritability and sudden outbursts of anger. You or others around you might notice an exaggerated response to things that startle you or annoy you. You might also be aware that you are startled more easily and have trouble sleeping.

Physical symptoms such as agitation, dizziness, fainting, feeling your heart beating in your chest (also called palpitations) and recurrent headaches are also common for people with PTSD. You might also feel a sense of guilt over having survived trauma such as war or a disaster, or you might feel as if you generated the event if you are a survivor of abuse or rape.

So is this all in your head? Yes and no. “No,” in that this is not in your imagination. “Yes” because there really are physical responses occurring in your head, specifically in your brain. There are several parts of your brain that seem to be involved when you suffer from PTSD. One is the amygdala, the part of the brain in which your fear and fight/flight responses are generated. Once the amygdala is in “go” mode the fight/flight responses stay on, hence the hypervigilance. This is also the part of your brain that triggers the stress hormone, cortisol. The hormone keeps flowing as long as you are in stress mode, which in the case of PTSD is basically always. The hippocampus controls long-term memory and your ability to navigate through the world. The excess cortisol produced by the triggers from the amygdala will actually shrink the hippocampus, impairing your ability to store and recall emotional content, which is why some people have all of the stress but can’t remember significant parts of the trauma.

So what do you do about it?

Identifying whether or not you have PTSD or ASD is just the first step to recovering from it. There is a pervasive idea in western culture that there is some kind of cure-all pill or surgery for every condition. While you might alleviate some of the more debilitating symptoms of PTSD by taking anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications, there are other ways to get relief without the side effects of drugs and actually heal the disorder. True, if the condition is so debilitating that you can no longer function, you may need to start with medication to take the raw sharp edges off of the pain, but please consider these other options. And bear in mind that most physical, mental and emotional challenges respond better to multiple forms of therapy than just to one.

  • Acupuncture
    A great deal of research and testing has been focused on using acupuncture for both battlefield and domestic trauma. Acupuncture can shift blood chemistry by signaling the brain to shift from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system, a restful mode which promotes relaxation and stimulates the healing systems in the body. This gives instant relief from the stress reactions which keep the body in a hypervigilant state. In 2007 Dr. Michael Hollifield at the University of New Mexico performed a study on this very subject and found that acupuncture provided an effectiveness similar to that of cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Energy therapies
    Energy therapies include Reiki, Qigong, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Therapeutic Touch and more. These methods work with the energetic body, providing calming and a sense of ease. Energetic therapies are used by the US military to help heal battle trauma and PTSD, allowing soldiers to return to their units if they choose. Energetic medicine gives people affected by PTSD the tools to shift out of fight/flight and into a calmer state of mind, thus changing the body chemistry, shutting of the shower of cortisol, and allowing the body and mind to relax and heal.
  • Herbal therapies
    Herbs are a more natural and less processed form of medicine  which can calm the mind and body without the side effects associated with drugs. Many herbs are also food, and indeed food therapy can have a definite effect on state of mind and body.

These are just a few of the therapies available to people who suffer from PTSD. Others include exercise, cognitive and talk therapies, and more. If you or someone you love suffers from PTSD, give me a call (512-619-5549). Acupuncture is a great first step for many people, opening the door to healing and a return to a peaceful life.

June is National PTSD Awareness Month. For the month of June, treatment for PTSD is 20% off at Calhoun Acupuncture. I offer package deals too which can help make treatment more affordable.

Health and happiness,

Cat Calhoun, L.Ac.


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Filed under Brain Health, Mental and emotional health, PTSD, Trauma

Summer Tuneup and De-Stress

Welcome to summer (almost)!

This is a busy time in Austin: you probably have kids graduating from high school or college, kids getting out of school and going to summer camps, vacations to plan, weddings to attend, and more outdoor activities than you can go to even if you had every day free and all the money you’d ever need. This is supposed to be fun season, yet for adults it can be the beginning of a whole lot of stress and enough items on your to-do list to overwhelm an overly caffeinated Type A personality.

With all of that on your plate how do you cope? You could hire someone to do it all for you, but most of us don’t have those kinds of resources. I’ve got an even better solution: take a little time out for yourself to de-stress and rejuvenate so you can conquer the world. It’s simple to say that, but most of us are not trained in how to let go and take care of ourselves, nor does our culture even encourage us to do so. But it is absolutely vital to our bodies, our mental state, and to our families that we do just that.

Here’s why:

  1. Stress is a killer.
    Sure it goes by other names: cancer, heart attack, diabetes, arterial sclerosis, obesity, stomach ulcers, adrenal fatigue, etc. but stress is a huge contributor to all of these physical problems. Stress triggers a flood of chemical changes in our bodies that are linked to all of the problems listed above and more.  Want more information about what stress can do to you? Check out Stress: Portrait of a Killer.
  1. Stress is linked to all kinds of psychological and emotional problems too.
    Anxiety, depression, and insomnia are all linked to and triggered by stress. Most of us are under a constant level of stress that never decreases. Why? Because most of us are never taught how or why we need to decrease it.
  1. Stress affects our relationships.
    Ask any couple who has had problems in their relationship why they had problems and most of the answers you hear will be about money, sex, work, kids, or housework. What it really comes down to is stress: stress about having enough money, stress about not having enough time or desire for sex, stress about kids (fill in any number of options here), stress about working too much or not enough, stress about getting everything done in the house.

OK. So now you know why you should. How do you do it? Here are 3 simple ways:

  1. Get body work!
    It only takes an hour and will give you long term benefits. Acupuncture is a proven way to de-stress andimprove your health at the same time. I’m great at this. You can read testimonials here. You can book online or call me at 512-619-5549.I’ll customize a treatment just for you. Acupuncture relaxes and un-stresses you, changing your body chemistry, improving digestion, energy, and your ability to heal from the damage that stress does to you. I will give you some simply relaxation tools to take away with you so you can help heal yourself.
  1. Go for a swim.
    Water is a great way to wash your cares away. Barton Springs Pool, Deep Eddy, or your local pool are great for this. Want to do it for free? Go to Big Stacy Pool. Go by yourself or with friends if you can. Leave the kids at camp, at summer school, or with your mom. You need time for yourself and you need time to have fun.
  1. Take a yoga or qigong class.
    If you live in Austin haven’t driven by at least one yoga studio this week I would be surprised. There are tons of options and many by-donation classes available.Qigong is a little harder to come by, but very valuable. I can help you with this too.Qigong is something you can do for yourself anywhere you are. I can teach you simple Qigong for de-stress and healing – call me at 512-619-5549.

Learning to lower your stress gives you the resources to be a better partner, parent, and friend. You can’t take care of the world around you if you have no resources to draw upon!

Wishing you health, happiness, and prosperity,

Just in case you’re still reading, click here to get an unadvertised special savings on appointments booked between 5/23/2012 and 6/6/2012. Book an appointment, print the coupon and bring it with you to get a $5 discount on any treatment you get in this date range.

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Filed under Brain Health

Wanna get dumb quick? Consume HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup).

Suffer from foggy thinking? Feeling the mental slow-down since you were younger? Are your kids having trouble keeping up academically?

Sure, there are a lot of possible reasons, not the least of which is getting older. But the culprit could be the high-fructose corn syrup in your diet. It’s hidden in an awful lot of common foods in the American diet because it’s so much sweeter than sugar and so much cheaper.  You’ll find it in everything from baby food to yogurt to crackers to pizza and spaghetti sauces. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to avoid unless you’re paying attention.

Unfortunately, HFCS changes your brain’s ability to remember and to learn in addition to the well-publicized research showing that it contributes to diabetes, obesity and fatty livers. Yet Americans love it – we consume something like 40 pounds of this stuff per person every year.

I know how hard it is to make conscious choices about your diet, even when you know your food choices are slowly damaging or even killing you. Though the better choice is to eat foods free of HFCS, if you just can’t live without that ice cream sundae or those Nutter Butters, you can still do something about it. Here are two suggestions which help counter the disruption that HFCS causes in your brain:

  • Consume more foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds or flaxseed oil.
  • Take DHA supplements daily. DHA is essential for synaptic function (communication in the brain)

If you want to read more about this, you can read the full article by clicking here.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Cat Calhoun, L.Ac.

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Filed under Brain Health