My father has high blood pressure. His parents had high blood pressure. My mother has high blood pressure. Her parents had high blood pressure. So, it came as no surprise when in a 2010 annual check-up I had blood pressure readings of as high as 140/95. Instead of immediately prescribing medication, mostly because I had no other major risk factors, my doctor suggested that I purchase a home blood pressure monitor and take my blood pressure in a particular way and on a regular basis. I bought an Omron electric sphygmomanometer at Target for under $60 and began measuring my blood pressure, taking 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, morning, afternoon, and evening. The 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, are a much more accurate picture of actual blood pressure, as any one reading might be abnormally high or low. I’m certain statisticians can agree that larger sample sizes often lead to more accurate results. I recorded the readings in a spreadsheet that allowed me to calculate average and see time of day and longitudinal patterns.
While I am certain that the doctor’s recommendation was more aimed at gathering data, it turned out to be a prescription for awareness. Simply taking my blood pressure regularly made me more aware of this phenomenon that was always present inside me, which in my case lead to some more mindful choices. I was already a runner, yoga practitioner, and vegan. I’ve been running since I was a teenager, doing yoga since college, and eating vegan since 1995, all studied interventions for blood pressure reduction. But just doing these things in general was not enough to impede the encroaching family induced high blood pressure. What more could I do lifestyle wise?
First, I scheduled a consult with a registered dietitian. She had me do another data collection/awareness exercise, a 72 hour food diary with extremely precise descriptions of each food and each meal. I measured amounts, listed brands, and counted everything I ate and drank for that 72 hour period. While she did give me some very specific ways to change the way that I eat, which I will enumerate, the exercise itself, taking 72 hours to mindfully observe (without judging or changing anything in that 72 hour period) everything I was eating and drinking, had a profound effect on my awareness of what I was specifically consuming.
After my diet diary was complete I had my consult with the dietitian. She suggested, based on the data I had collected, that, even though I was already eating a plant based diet, I was consuming too much sodium, a known culprit in elevating blood pressure. As a result during my next several grocery shopping trips I made note of the sodium levels in some of the foods I had been consuming. While I did do some elimination of a few processed items, I mostly just shifted from one brand to another, or the low-sodium version of a product. I know that many people would rather “just take a pill” than give up some of their “favorite foods.” Although I would have eventually acquiesced to taking medication if lifestyle interventions proved inadequate, I was determined not to end up on prescription blood pressure medication. I wanted to see if simply changing my choices could impact my physiology.
What I also learned from the diet changing process is that taste and food favorites are not fixed. Once I had reduced sodium levels for a couple of months, I no longer noticed the missing salt. In other words, my taste buds and brain had adapted to the new circumstance. Foods that I once found delicious (like certain frozen enchiladas and pizzas) now tasted too salty and foods that I had found bland now tasted just right. I am certain that some of you will attribute this to some kind of placebo effect, that I wanted the bland food to taste good, so it did. I don’t think so. I think my taste buds and brain chemistry changed. Even dishes that I have never eaten will now taste too salty to me while not salty enough to some of my friends. This cannot be explained by placebo alone.
Still, others, in defense of their own lifestyle choices will critique mine. They will exclaim that I am missing out, that I am deprived, that I don’t know what I am missing. In my place, they would make a different choice. They would risk the higher blood pressure for the convenience meal, or the social comfort of sharing in those foods with friends and family. That is their choice to make. While it is not my choice, I accept that others will make it. This exposition is not for them. It is for those of you who understand and connect with my desire to be in control of my own life, my own body, and who have the desire to do the same, but lack the tools and support to do so.
As I took more control over food choices, I also made changes to my running routine. The biggest and most profound change I made was to create and stick to an exercise schedule, no matter what. I did increase the intensity and duration of my runs, but not by much and not anything close to extreme. I run 2 times per week, between 2 and 4 miles each time. What has proved most effective is not how far or intensely I run, but simply that I show up for the routine regardless of circumstances. For example, if I am injured, or just run down, I do not “take a day off”. Instead, if it is my scheduled time to run, I go to the same place that I usually run and either walk for the same amount of time I would have run, or if I am so sick that I cannot or should not spend that much time exerting myself, then I show up at the usual place, at the usual time, and just stand and breathe in the fresh air for a few minutes. I have found that it is keeping the schedule that has been most effective in supporting not only my lowered blood pressure, but also my sense of wellbeing.
I also began scheduling consistent, but not necessarily frequent, acupuncture and massage, once per month each. Once a month I go to the acupuncturist to help keep my blood pressure in check. I have found that acupuncture can be a very powerful tool for affecting the nervous system. Similarly, I began scheduling 1 massage per month, with an emphasis on relaxation and blood pressure reduction (rather than deep tissue muscle release for example). During these sessions I begin with visualizing the release of tension from my body and end up very often (almost always) drifting off into a very restful sleep. Like with running, I have found that, as much as the acupuncture and massage practices are specifically helpful, it is the routine of keeping these appointments that has bolstered a consistent path of self care.
Like the changes I made to my running routine, I made similar changes to my practice of yoga. While I have had a practice for some time, there was a period when it was more haphazard and less consistent. Once I got the blood pressure warning, I started scheduling a more regular yoga practice. I have said for a long time that 80% of the benefit of doing yoga comes from just doing yoga, and that you can adjust the intensity and duration to tweak the other 20% of the benefit if you want. Philosophers, sages, thinkers and people of good common sense have had it right: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” So, I set a routine to do a little bit of yoga 5 days per week. The standard I started with was set around my family responsibilities. At that time I needed to start prepping breakfast and lunches at 7:30 a.m. So I decided that my practice would start at whatever time it could and always end at 7:30. Some mornings I would get up and start practicing by 6:30, but most morning I would start around 7:05. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to start until 7:26 and I would contemplate just scrapping it altogether, but then I realized that the routine mattered more than the duration. So I would practice for 3 or 4 minutes and then end at 7:30. Other times when I did end up scrapping the practice altogether for the day, I would be more irritable, moody, stressed, and inevitably my blood pressure readings would be elevated. In other words, even just 3 or 4 minutes made a dramatic impact in lowering my blood pressure! Don’t get me wrong, I am not starting a new fad “3 Minute Yoga!” There are times when a longer practice really helps and makes a bigger difference. I’m simply suggesting that an all or nothing attitude is ultimately destructive.
Having said that, I did make some changes to the type of postures I practice in order to positively impact my blood pressure. For example, I started prioritizing the inclusion of more inverted postures: headstand 1, headstand 2, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulder stand. People with excessively high blood pressure above 145/95 should avoid fully inverted postures. When one first goes upside down, cerebral blood pressure is increased. This increases the risk of stroke for those who already have extremely high blood pressure. However, after a few moments upside down, the body readjusts to the new circumstance and blood pressure lowers. This lowering effect is magnified as inverted postures are practiced longitudinally (over time). While there is a complex physiology as to why this happens, including baroreceptors and the autonomic nervous system, the main point is that by practicing inverted postures I was retraining my body to lower its own blood pressure. I also included some specific forward bends to have a similar blood pressure positive effect.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I made adjustments to my practices of breathing (pranayama) and meditation, like including them. While in the past sitting in meditation was an afterthought, I began front-loading a sitting practice before moving through yoga postures (asana). Meditation can be just an important a tool as physical exercise when reducing blood pressure. Sometimes I would sit with my sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) going and experiment with different ways of breathing to observe which breathing practices best lowered my blood pressure. Longer inhalation as compared to exhalation increased my blood pressure and longer exhalation as compared to inhalation decreased my blood pressure. As a result of these self experiments, I started engaging a breathing pattern of elongating the exhalation with relationship to the inhalation. I also experimented with different meditation foci. While many topics of meditation/contemplation had a positive effect on lowering my blood pressure, some that seemed to lower it most and most consistently are thinking of my loved ones and how I love them, broadening my view of nature and the natural world, and whatever makes me smile.
I suspect that comedy is like aerobic exercise or practicing inversions. In the short term it elevates blood pressure, because you are laughing and the breath is shortened, but in the long term it lowers blood pressure. I have just some scant evidence from my own blood pressure readings, but would love to see a study on this. Perhaps I could even participate!
Today, as I write this, my blood pressure reading is 113/74. It is my hope that my personal example of change and self determination will be of support and inspiration to those of you who are engaged in similar struggles. You can make change, big change, and it can be made without tremendous shifts in your life. Laugh. Meditate. Breathe. Do some yoga (any yoga). Get outside. Think about what you are eating before, during, and after you eat it. Make commitments. Be consistent. Be dedicated. Be mindfully aware.
This rule does not challenge people to limit their overall alcohol intake over the course of the day nor during the course of the week, alcohol intake increases the risks of several major diseases such as hepatitis, breast cancer, and prostate cancer just to name a few, most people begin drinking well before 7:30 p.m. (particularly on weekends) which may lead to higher than usual alcohol intake prior to 7:30 p.m. for those attempting to comply with the challenge
No more than 1 serving or bread or pasta per day:
There is nothing nutritionally notable about bread or pasta that is not also true of other foods high in refined carbohydrates such as cheesecake, french fries, ice cream, soda, commercial energy drinks, and many breakfast cereals; given the increasing incidence of diabetes in this country and the preponderance of highly refined carbohydrates in our marketplace, we must immediately extend the conversation way beyond bread and pasta to empower people to control their blood sugar
7,000 steps or 30 minutes of exercise daily:
This recommendation is acceptable but should make exercise more appealing to busy adults by adding a clause that states all at once or in short bursts of activity per day (You get the same cardiovascular benefit from three 10 minute sessions of exercise as you do from one 30 minute session)
The Most Important Things for People To Do If You Want to Transform Your Health:
Individualize your goals and healthcare
Stay well hydrated via pure water.
Make plants the majority of your plate every time you eat.
Be mentored along the way to clear up nutrition confusion and address longstanding habits.
We recently asked Kim and Dani to appear in our newsletter for a member spotlight, and they gave us such a glowing review that we couldn’t fit the whole thing! Here it is in its entirety:
“Where do we begin. Dani started going to the Om room and fell in love with Victor’s teaching from the very first class. When they started Nourish, Dani signed up and convinced me to try it because I was having problems tying my shoes. Both of us have very demanding careers, her a State Park Ranger and me a San Jose Fire fighter we needed some place that was not only a place for exercise but a place where we could decompress from the stress of our careers. We had tried the gym membership gig and felt like it was a chore to get there every day. Nourish is no chore, it is a sanctuary that works on not only our body, but our soul and mind. We are getting better results then we ever did at the gym, I can not only tie my shoes but can do it standing on my head.
This is just the beginning. I started seeing Jocelyn about my eating habits and weight and have had for the first time in my life real life changing results. Not a diet, a change in what I choose on a daily basis. I feel better inside. I have lost over 25 lbs and felt like I never went on a diet. Before I started Nourish, I was taking two different blood pressure medications to control my high blood pressure. We decided to go on Jocelyn’s cleanse last October and I can truly say that my blood pressure became under control in a matter of two weeks. I no longer take medication for my blood pressure.
Wait there is more. When we go into Nourish we feel like part of a family. We have met and become great friends with other people that all want the same thing in life, and did I mention the music. While in Yoga class we listen to great music that fits with the yoga teachings. Nourish rocks!”
Cleansing…Ahhhhhhh… All right…my cleansing diary begins. Here we go!
I’m participating in Jocelyn’s spring cleanse. It’s been over 5 years since I’ve been able to do something like this because I was breastfeeding up until last week! Ha! So I jumped on board Jocelyn’s program…knowing that if I let this train go I’d be unlikely to hop on another any time soon. I am ever curious about nutrition and the workings of the body. I am also a skeptic around ‘wellness lore’ that hasn’t been adequately studied, because I’m wary of the financial motivations of the wellness industry. So I probably wouldn’t have done this kind of thing through anybody else. Thanks Jocelyn!
I’ve made it through the weekend. I have to say I’m making it sound a little more dramatic than it’s actually been. My first day I ate too little, and drank too little of the 2 cups of black tea I’m extremely attached to. I wound up with a throbbing headache and that nauseous feeling I get when I eat too little. In the middle of the night I woke with the headache, and the realization that despite my careful listening, I had failed to follow Jocelyn’s instructions.
I usually eat 3 square meals and a snack (and sometimes dessert). So even though I heard Jocelyn say we were to eat 4-5 small meals…she held up her hands in the shape of a small bowl…I somehow decided on that first day that she meant 3 small meals and 1-2 snacks. So my calorie intake on day 1 must have been about 1/2 what I usually eat. (And I’m an eater!) I was expecting to feel bad, and I did. That night I asked myself, “why did I think this was a good idea, again?”
The second day was better. I was more organized, ate as instructed, and allowed a little more caffeine into my tea cup. Today (day 4) I am headache free and settling into the new rhythm easily. I think I’m down to a little less than a full cup of tea, and headache free. I’ll be done with caffeine by the end of our week. In terms of food I feel satisfied, but I get hungry more often (because of smaller meal portions)…Then again, I get to eat more often. So that’s not so bad! I’m not really missing wheat and dairy. I like soy milk, and I have a healthy habit of alternative grains to bread and pasta already. I imagine those things might be harder for people who like sandwiches.
I usually drink about 20 ounces of green ‘smoothy’/ day. I blend up greens, avacado, a little apple juice, and sometimes some fresh herbs like ginger or cilantro in my Vitamix. Because I’m not sure where to fit that into a ‘meal’ and still keep it small-bowl-sized, I have not been getting in those extra helpings of veggies. In that way I’m actually eating less vegetables/day than I usually do. I’ve been feeling more secure with stick-to-the-ribs choices in my meals like beans and grains. I’ll probably try to change that ratio some in the next weeks.
I purchased a selection of rice crackers, and gluten free breads…packaged foods I don’t usually like to buy, but going off wheat was feeling scary. It turns out I eat a lot of grains, veggies, and legumes in my diet anyway, so I haven’t been dipping into that supply as much as I thought I would.
So far the cleanse has been (dare I say it) fun. I’ve only been mildly uncomfortable a few times. My energy is good, and it’s nice to focus some attention on taking care of my body by feeding it consciously. I mean, we eat every single day. And though I think I’m pretty good at the internal housekeeping, I reach for food for plenty of reasons other than nutrition —reasons like boredom, addiction (to sugar and caffeine), and the ever popular stuffing of emotions! It’s nice to give those impulses a rest for a while.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep cruising so comfortably…but I’ll keep you posted.
Please feel free to comment! I’d love to answer any questions you might have about my experience as the days tick on…
First of all I want to give a final farewell to my friends and coworkers, Ant and Dana…I miss you already guys. I also wanted to mention that I have heard that many of you have been reading my blog and I want to give a big Thank You! It’s nice to hear.
So I have much to update you on. We are nearing the end of our second week and I can really feel that the toxins are being released form my body. Everything has centralized around the bladder and intestinal area. According to my recollection of Jocelyn’s explanation from when we first began on what to expect during the second phase of detoxification: the toxins have been released into the body out of the liver and gallbladder and the free radicals are now being picked up and flushed out of the body. I have to admit, there is much gas involved in this releasing process. You have to make sure that you are getting enough liquids and exercising at least 4 times a week to help things process well. It can be a little uncomfortable at times, but over all it is not too bad.
We have been drinking 3 shakes a day for the past 2 days now, which has been a bit difficult. I am barely hungry at all for a substantial meal, the shakes are really filling. I’ve found that if start my day later than usual and I get distracted at work, in the evenings I am pounding a couple shakes and I feel as though I am shoving food in my body. I end up being overly full by the evening time. I’m working on eating two small meals a day and evenly spacing my shakes in the afternoons.
At the end of our first day of the 3 shakes a day routine I felt really sick. I had also splurged and had some potato chips (maybe a little bit too many) that day as a treat to myself. I couldn’t tell whether the sickness was from too many potato chips, the fact that I had pretty much only eaten shakes that day or from the increase in cleanse powder in my system. Whatever it was I felt sick through the evening and had a horrible headache until I went to bed. However, whatever detox that I was going through was worth it. My skin now has a really hydrated soft feeling all the time, as well as a glossy feeling on my teeth and besides the intestinal processing I’ve been feeling great, sleeping really well and waking up refreshed. I have also lost noticeable weight. My clothes fit better and I am getting comment from co-workers and clients/friends that they notice a difference.
I highly recommend getting massages and other additional detoxing methods during this period as they really help things along. Massages help physically manipulate toxins in your body and release them in ways other methods just can’t reach. I had a massage from Sarah the other day. If you haven’t had her before, I suggest making an appointment! She is AWESOME!
I am excited that we’ve almost reached the finish line, it seems like it went by so quickly. I am a little apprehensive about easing off the cleanse, but I suppose I will cross that bridge when the time comes.
I wanted to open today by following up from my last blog and letting you know that the day after my champagne experience I felt much better. The sickness was short lived, but definitely apparent. In case you were worried 😉 Now back to the present day…
Just as I think everything is going well, I am totally wiped out today. Earlier I would have told you that things are going great and it feels as though I have settled into a routine, just cruising along. Today, however, I was incredibly tired. Although I am not fatigued anymore, I definitely require a full nights rest. If I do not get a good night sleep I am totally exhausted and need a nap. I just woke up from a long 3 hour nap, catching up from my long day yesterday and a short nights rest.
I wanted to mention a couple things regarding the transition into our Cleanse powders. As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the first week is essentially preparing your body to really cleanse with the powders and shakes. I guess it didn’t click with me that this could be an intense experience for some people, until today. One of my fellow cleansers was telling me that she had a severe day this past weekend (a couple days into our shakes) where she actually got sick and didn’t feel well detoxing the whole day. The negative aspects for me have only translated into a couple pimples in weird spots and requiring more sleep. For the most part I have been cruising along, but I understand now that it could be quite difficult depending on your previous detox level.
Another thing that I have heard has been difficult is incorporating the proper amounts of protein, whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables into breakfasts, lunches, and dinners now that we have shakes that substitute afternoon snacks and make us not as hungry throughout the day. I have definitely noticed that unless I am really paying attention to my vegetable intake, it is easy to not eat enough in the day. Jocelyn has us preparing meals that include a “mostly carb” food, “mostly protein” food, and “mostly fat” food to keep us full and give us a well rounded diet and blood sugar level throughout. It has seemed, however, pretty easy to skip over the wide variety of vegetables and fruits that I used to intake because our meals are so small now. At any rate, you just have to be conscious and keep in mind that those still need to be eaten.
I am learning how to fine tune my shakes and staggering the fiber and greens powder throughout the day, rather than all at once like I was doing before. I am trying to be aware of my diet and exercise as well as continuing to drink lots of water. Jocelyn says that she would prefer us to have bowel movements twice a day, which I am not up to, but I am definitely regular. I have also lost 4 pounds thus far, which I am very happy about. All seems to be well up to this point. I will continue to update you with my ebbs and flows in the next couple days!