Monday, August 27, 2012

Meditation Coaching

Bring more focus, creativity, & flow into your life

Next Session Starts Tuesday October 2nd! 

Join Pam McDonald, psychotherapist and meditation coach, 
for a 30-day meditation practice jump-start! 
Pam will guide you to discover and experience meditations that fit your needs and lifestyle.

The meditation coaching package includes:
-4 weekly, 45-minute meditation practice and coaching sessions at Healing Circles
- 4 digitally recorded meditations to  keep your practice going
- Daily emails to inspire and  strengthen your practice
- Personalized coaching and instruction  to fit your needs
Dates:  Coaching series starts on the 1st of each month
Meditation practice times for September will be: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 9, 16, and 23 at 6:00 p.m. at Healing Circles Wellness Center

Special Offer: Receive 30 days of supportive meditation coaching for only $100.

To register, please call Pam at 301-712-9015, x1022 or

About Pam: Pam's approach to teaching is open-hearted, compassionate and joyful.
She has been meditating daily for over  17 years and will teach from  her rich experiences.
Pam is passionate about making  meditation accessible to everyone!
Learn more at her website:

BeLight Massage and In Honor of Her, Inc.

Through September and October 2012, BeLight Massage will donate a portion of it's proceeds to benefit the

"4th Annual In Honor of Her Memorial Dance",

a fundraising event to honor and raise support for those affected by domestic violence.

When:  Saturday, October 27, 2012
Where:  The Oak Room, Sandy Spring Firehouse (Sandy Spring, MD).

In Honor of Her, Inc. works closely with many women's shelters and organizations across Maryland and Washington, DC, including our very own Heartly House of Frederick, MD.  For tickets and information, please visit

and don't forget to book your massage today!

Call or email to schedule your appointment:
301-712-9015, Ext 1036

Back to School: Encouraging Optimal Brain Function in Kids and Adults

Back to School : Encouraging Optimal Brain Function in Kids and Adults

As the lazy days of summer are winding down to an end, it is time to get young schooling brains back in focus and ready for the rigorous school days ahead.  Summer is an important time to allow free flowing, unstructured creativity, but there comes a time when structure and support should take over in preparing for a busy brain season ahead.  There are many nutrients and certain good habits that are needed by growing bodies for optimal brain function.  Whether you are an eager child, or a studious adult, or just want to keep your brain healthy, these are the fundamental needs for a healthy brain. 

The Importance of Healthy Sleep Patterns

Adequate sleep is as crucial to a human body as air, water, and food.  It helps young brains consolidate learning into memory.  Sleep needs vary from person to person, but because their brains are so rapidly developing, children generally need more than the average adult, about 10 hours of sleep per night.  The best results are achieved when there is an established bedtime and waking time.  Scientists studying the brain have found that a healthy deep sleep increases the amount of nerve connections in the brain after an experience more than if the time of the experience is doubled.  

With this in mind, studying for an important test for a short time before getting a satisfying full night's sleep is more effective than studying all night.  It is a known fact that humans do not perform well on memory tasks after sleep deprivation.  Sleep not only plays a big role in brain function, it also has a big impact on behavior. A study of 500 preschool children found that those who got less than 10 hours of sleep in 24 hours had a 25% increase in behavioral problems, and more associations with health problems like allergies and ear infections.  Do your kids a favor and gently enforce a set bed time, or at least a quiet time when television and electronic gadgets are no longer allowed. 

Eat Your Breakfast!

The brain uses glucose from the bloodstream as fuel.  Just like a car engine needs a steady stream of gasoline to run properly, it is extremely important for a growing brain to have a sustained release of glucose, rather than peaks and valleys. Since our bodies have fasted for several hours before and need to refuel, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many studies have demonstrated the effect of skipping breakfast on a young brain.  Kids who eat breakfast always perform better on short term memory and verbal fluency scores.  The type of breakfast eaten is also important.  Ideally, a breakfast should contain a balance of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber.  Protein is needed for the body to manufacture important neurotransmitters like serotonin, which has a calming and focusing effect.  Complex carbohydrates are needed to provide a lasting supply of glucose, and fat and fiber help slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.  Whole cooked grains and legumes like oatmeal (not instant), rice, beans, and pasta are excellent sources of complex carbs.  The sugary cereals that kids love are an example of high glycemic carbs that enter and exit the bloodstream quickly, causing hyperactivity and inability to focus initially, and then impacting mood and energy levels throughout the day.  

Recommendations for a healthy breakfast: peanut butter and jelly on high fiber bread, scrambled eggs with cheese and toast, steel cut oatmeal with milk and walnuts, yogurt with berries and nuts, smoothie with fruit and protein powder. If you are in a hurry and don't have time to cook in the morning, try eating leftovers from dinner for breakfast. We often put so much time and thought into making a nutritionally balanced dinner, when all we are doing is going to sleep afterwards. Breakfast is the time of day when we are going to use the nutrients we have so carefully selected for important functions.

Feed Your Brain

In addition to the need for balancing blood sugar levels, there are certain foods which help supply necessary nutrients for brain health.  One of the most important nutrients is Omega-3 fatty acids, notably DHA and EPA.  These fats make up the cell membrane of every cell, and are responsible for ensuring proper communication between cells.  Omega 3s are extremely important for brain health because they make up 60 % of the structure of the brain, and without them the brain could not function optimally.  Think of the brain as a city highway system.  Without the bridges, there is no traffic going across.  Without the structure, there is no function.  If the body is deficient in Omega-3s, then other types of inflammation causing fat (trans fats from processed foods) from the diet will fill the gaps in the cell membrane.  Remember, you are what you eat!  

Modern research is discovering that the makeup of the fatty layer surrounding each cell has a huge impact on quality of life.  The body uses fats from the cell membrane to make chemical messengers- if inflammatory fats are part of the cell membrane, then the chemicals made will be inflammatory in nature, which may translate to behavior disruption and distractibility.  Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty, cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout, and in small amounts in flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts, avocado.  The average american child does not eat any of foods, so supplementation with fish oil is critical for a healthy brain. 
Other foods that are beneficial for brain function are green vegetables for magnesium which helps with nerve transmission, eggs for lecithin and choline, an important neurotransmitter, and berries for antioxidants and increasing circulation to the brain.  Sounds a lot like the diet our ancestors ate, right?  Scientist are discovering that the unique combination of omega rich foods and vegetables, nuts, and berries may be the building blocks for the evolution of the human brain which allowed our species to thrive and create a new society.  Lets keep the evolutionary process going forward and encourage healthy brains in our children!

Read labels!  Avoid brain toxins! 

In this day and age, we have to be very careful about how additives in food affect our young people.  Kids have very sensitive, vulnerable nervous systems which can be easily overstimulated by strong chemicals.  If your child has trouble focusing or being calm, it might be time to start reading labels and policing the pantry. 

Things to avoid: artificial flavors (MSG), colors (especially red and yellow dye) and preservatives (BHT, BHA, nitrates, sulfites, phosphates, sodium benzoate), artificial and unnecessary sugars (aspartame, high fructose corn syrup), and caffeine. These chemicals can be too stimulating to a young child’s brain, resulting in behavioral and attention problems.  Food allergies can also trigger excitability and other distracting symptoms, so be aware of the common offenders: gluten, dairy, peanuts, and soy.  If observing isn't enough to find the culprit, it is often helpful to do an elimination diet, where the child does not consume the food for 3 weeks before it is reintroduced. 

Sugar is a common aggravator of many issues, and we simply have too much available in our modern diet.  Sugar acts like a drug in the body of children and some adults, causing strong reactions, distractions, and addiction.  Upon consumption, sugar leaches vitamins and minerals like magnesium from the body to aid in its metabolism, causes a rush of adrenaline and energy as it floods into the bloodstream, and then causes depression, anxiety, or feelings of malaise as the body tries to catch up with heavy doses of insulin or runs out of neutralizing minerals.  It also has a dampening impact on the immune system function, and compromises the friendly bacteria that lives in our bowel.

Sugar does not just include sweeteners- it hides in various forms in many different foods which the body converts to glucose. Fruit juice, honey, refined flours and refined cereals count as sugar too.  To avoid the roller coaster, balance all sugar sources with protein, fiber, fat, and nutrient dense vegetables.  This means only using whole wheat flour, and looking for at least 3g of protein, fiber, and fat if a food is sweetened with sugar or refined.  Do not use sugar as a reward, especially not for doing homework!  You are inadvertently sabotaging brain function!

Herbs for Mental Function

Herbalists love to give herbs, but only when the essential needs for sleep, nutrition, and avoidance of toxins are met.  Herbs can assist mental function by tonifying the nervous system, smoothing out nerve impulses to allow focus to occur, increasing circulation to the brain, neutralizing toxicity in the body and brain, and balancing the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) function to allow normal brain processing to take place.  In some cases of hyperactivity and ADHD, stimulants are given because they increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex where logic and reason take place, and encourage the release of beta brain waves, associated with analytical thinking and focus.  Children with ADHD have been shown to have a higher proportion of alpha and theta brain waves, and are unable to shift appropriately into beta brain wave state as needed.  In order to achieve optimal levels, kids have to literally wake themselves up by running around.  In these cases, a mild stimulation of adrenal function and circulation to the brain is more effective than calming the body down, as would be expected.  The herbs that seem to be most effective with these cases, as well as non-ADHD cases are a combination of antioxidants, nutritives, and a balance between sedatives and mild stimulants.  Ginkgo biloba is probably the most well-researched herb in regards to mental function.  It is an antioxidant that helps bring blood flow and oxygen to the brain, improving brain glucose metabolism and neurotransmitter function.  Adaptogens such as bacopa, gotu kola, ashwagandha, eleuthero (siberian ginseng), and rhodiola are useful to neutralize the effects of stress, often through antioxidant and rejuvenative effects.  Nutritives supply important minerals and nutrients that support the integrity of the nervous system- Green oats, lemon balm, catnip, chamomile, skullcap, hawthorn.  Some of these herbs also calm the "second brain" in your gut by enhancing digestion and soothing the nerves in the digestive tract.  Gut irritation, inflammation, or compromised intestinal integrity certainly has an impact on mental function via connection through the spinal cord, so any digestive problems should be treated with utmost importance.  This points to the added benefit of consulting an experienced herbalist.  We treat the whole body, so that any imbalances in other systems are addressed along with the primary complaint.  The whole body is interconnected, and the brain tends to reflect whatever imbalances are present.  Optimal learning capability reflects optimal health.

Susan Hirsch, LDN- Herbalist and Nutritionist
301-712-9015 ext. 1016