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Inner Balance: Time for Yourself

Finding time for yourself is something we all struggle with, but it’s essential for peace of mind and mental wellbeing. If you want to know how those zen-like friends of yours do it, all you have to do is take a look at how they spend those precious few hours of spare time they get each week. It can be tempting to just pull out Facebook and see what everyone’s up to, but all that does is set your mind racing as you inundate yourself with information. Take a look at the following wise words and you’ll be able to enjoy every second of life as you restore your inner balance.

Take Some Time to Just Sit and Listen to the Birds

There’s a lot to be said for embracing boredom and leaving your phone in your pocket, so why not give it a try? It’s something we could all do with doing a little more often, and it’s a great way to start your day. Taking the time to make yourself a cup of coffee and sit outside in the garden is the ideal quiet start to what will likely prove to be a hectic day. It’s a chance to ground yourself, to relax, and to take in the simple things in life. If you do it every day for a week, it’ll become a key part of your daily routine that you can’t do without.

Head to a Clinic for a Pampering Session

Cosmetic clinics are the place to go to if you want to really pamper yourself. By having an expert use their skills to soothe your body and put your mind at ease you can get the best of both worlds. Ideal if you want to feel refreshed the moment you wake up the next morning. It’s also a great way to spend some time with the best friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with for ages now. Get together for some coffee beforehand, and then show each other the results of your latest beauty session. It won’t just help you love the way you look, it’ll also make you feel at home in your own skin as you centre yourself.

Take a Walk Late in the Evening

The evenings aren’t solely devoted to TV and social media if you don’t want them to be. Taking the dog for a walk as the sun goes down is a great way to let your hair down and enjoy one of the simple things in life. It’s a chance to get plenty of fresh air before bed, and the break from screens will give your eyes a chance to rest. Some people even leave their phone at home so they can totally disconnect for an hour so.

Binge Watch Your Favourite Shows

Despite what we just said in the last point, binge watching is one of the most fun ways to rest and relax. It allows you to immerse yourself in a whole new universe of entertainment, and to lose yourself in a story. If you find a series you’re hooked on, keep watching it. There’s nothing better than getting into a plot and picking out your favourite characters. Find a friend who’s watching the same show and you’ll have something to chat about when you meet up next week.

Join the Gym and Take Pride in Your Fitness

Joining the gym is a great way to restore your inner balance, and it’s easier to do than you might think. If you’re new to exercise it can feel intimidating going to a muscle bound gym, so why not go with a friend? You could avoid the peak hours straight after work, and go on the weekend morning for a little while as you build your confidence. One thing is for sure, once you start going and you see some gains, you’ll be hooked. It’ll give you confidence, balance, and something to focus on.

Start Baking Healthy Sweet Treats

Baking is a great mindful activity that will have you feeling at ease in no time at all. Pick a recipe you’ve been meaning to try, walk to the shop, and then get busy rustling up something amazing. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t nail it the first time — the key point is that you’ve got yourself moving and thinking about something new. Just by working with your hands you’ll be stimulating new parts of your brain that you don’t necessarily use during work hours.

Take your pick from the options above, think about how you can fit them into your daily routine, and then dive in feet first. It might sound easier said than done, but when you make a start you’ll find you really don’t want to stop. It’ll certainly be worth it when you wake up relaxed and refreshed every single morning.


About the Author:

Rebecca is a translator by day, and a traveler mostly at night. She is an expert on living with jet lag – and packing in tiny suitcases. You can read more of her exploits at RoughDraft.

Why You Should Consider Yoga and Meditation


It is estimated that one in five adults will experience a mental illness in any given year with anxiety disorders as the leading cause. Mental illness is recognized when an individual shows ongoing signs and symptoms of stress that affect their ability to function. Mental illness may impact a person’s mood, behavior, and capacity to think or concentrate.

While those suffering from mental illness may feel alone, lost, or incapacitated, research has shown that along with diet and exercise, mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation can offer amazing benefits that may help some to reduce and/or manage symptoms of mental illness.

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is one of the oldest body-and-mind practices in the world dating back nearly 5,000 years. Through the use of body positions and postures, breathing techniques, and mindful meditation, yoga provides several benefits to help manage your mental illness. Here are three.

Improves Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate variability is based on how your heart rate varies when you inhale and exhale. A higher variability is an indicator of physical and mental resilience. Studies show that practicing yoga for as little as six weeks shows an improved heart rate variability as well as a lower resting heart rate; two indicators of a strong stress-response.

Cultivates Positive Thinking

Mental illness is often identified by chronic or frequent bouts of sadness, emptiness, and irritability that impacts a person’s ability to function. Studies have shown that the physical and mindfulness of yoga actually changes the long-term effects of how your brain responds to depression, in some ways acting as a natural antidepressant.

Creates Better Understanding of Self

The mindfulness and mental development promoted by yoga helps a person realize “shadow” qualities they did not know they possessed. Whether those qualities are empathy toward others, confidence, the ability to overcome obstacles, or greater control over mind and body, yoga can open profound possibility.


Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is the practice of achieving mental clarity and emotional calm through mindfulness and awareness techniques. The goal of meditation is to bring a person into the “now” while putting aside the stressors brought on by overthinking the past and future. Here are three ways meditation can benefit mental illness.

Improves Sleep

Insomnia is a leading cause of mental illness causing a disruption in your circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Meditation helps to reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality by focusing your mind on the now rather than the past which cannot be changed and the future which is unpredictable. This awareness helps to place perspective on your surroundings and ease your mind of daily stress leading to a sounder sleep.

Reduces the Chemical Cytokines

Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals that your body releases in response to stress. They can have a negative impact on your mood and emotions. In fact, one scientific-based study on meditation showed significant measurable signs of positive thinking and optimism.

Can Control Pain

How you perceive pain has a direct connection to your state of mind. For people who experience mental illness, their perception of pain can be elevated while experiencing stressful conditions. Meditation has been shown to increase brain activity in areas that control pain. In fact, meditation is used to manage chronic pain for people with terminal illnesses such as cancer.

Yoga and meditation whether practiced independently or symbiotically have been shown to improve the negative effects of mental illness by creating mental and physical awareness, improving sleep, and directly impacting your body’s chemical imbalances to create a positive mental state of being. So, if you’re looking for a mindful way to manage mental illness, ten minutes of yoga or meditation is a great start.


About the Author:  Laurie is a writer based on the east coast who enjoys spending her days writing on health and wellness topics. In her free time, she loves doing anything that gets her outdoors breathing fresh air.






5 Energy Boosting Moves To Do Every Morning

Waking up early in the morning and getting your workout on may feel like a hard chore. These workouts can boost your mental and physical energy as well as promote a healthy frame of mind for the entire day. Waking up to morning workouts will help kick-start your metabolism, allowing you to burn tons of calories hours after your workout. Here are five energy boosting moves you should do every morning:

Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are a classic full-body, calorie-burning exercise. 10 minutes of jumping jacks every morning is incredibly good for your body. This workout is ideal for starting your workout sessions as it increases your body temperatures and prepares your body and mind for the workout session. It does this by triggering your heart to pump out fresh, oxygenated blood to your muscles. It also makes your lungs work harder to deliver the much-needed oxygen.


  • Start this exercise in the standing position with your feet and arms pointing outwards
  • Jump your feet apart to hip distance simultaneously raising your arms stretched up until your fingertips touch above your head
  • Jump your feet back to the starting point at the same time lowering your arms to your sides
  • Repeat these jumping motions for 5 to 10 minutes straight
  • Make sure to maintain proper abdominal tension to work out your core muscles


Walking Plank 

After the Jumping jacks, get your abs, and the whole body warmed up by getting into the plank position.


  • Get into the push-up position by planting your palms on the floor directly below your shoulders
  • Plant your toes on the floor and then squeeze your glutes to steady your body
  • Slowly move your right leg up and outside your right hand on the same side
  • Still in the same position, stretch up your right arm toward the ceiling and bring it down slowly
  • Repeat this pose several times alternating on both legs and arms


Hip Opener 

The hip opener is great for opening the hips and stretching the back, which tends to get knotted up from sleeping and sitting down all day. This exercise also helps to strengthen your arms, legs, shoulders, and back.


  • Move into the downward dog position (a great energy-boosting pose) by placing your palms on the floor and lifting your hips towards the ceiling and the crown of your head pointing downward
  • Raise one leg behind you
  • Raise it as far up as you can and then bend the raised leg and draw it toward the bum
  • Keep your shoulders aligned with the front of the mat
  • Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg


Quad Stretch

Like most people, you probably wake up with tight quads. Taking a few minutes every morning to stretch can energize your body by loosening up your muscles. There are plenty of ways to stretch these muscles including;

Lying Side Quad Stretch Directions:

  • Lie down on one side and prop your head up with your hand
  • Pull the foot on the upper side towards your butt and hold for 30 seconds
  • If you have trouble staying steady, you can bend the bottom knee to provide support

Easy Quad Stretch Directions:

  • Stand on one leg with both knees touching (you can hold on to a chair or wall for support)
  • Now grab on to the raised foot and pull it toward your butt
  • Try your best to maintain an upright posture with your chest upright to give your quad a good stretch
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds before stretching the other leg


Kneeling Quad Stretch Directions: (This stretch helps to loosen the muscles above your knee particularly well)

  • Start off in the downward dog position
  • Slowly drop your right knee to the ground
  • With your right hand, reach back for your right foot toes
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and slowly release
  • Get back into the downward dog position
  • Switch sides to perform the same move on your left quad


Good Morning Bend 

This exercise provides one of the best ways to build leg, hip and back strength.


  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width and place your hands behind your head
  • Slightly bend your knees and torso straight
  • Bend your back forward until it is parallel to the ground
  • Make sure to keep your weight on your heels and hips
  • Hold for a few seconds and then return to standing


Always keep in mind that for these workouts to be highly effective, you need to combine them with a healthy eating habit. The Whole30 diet is highly recommended as it helps to push the reset button with your eating habits and health. This is done by cutting out foods that may be negatively impacting on your health and making you feel tired all day long.

Lydia Mattern, NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Lydia Mattern 1Lydia is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer at fitnessgoals, with a passion for writing and a love for chocolate. She enjoys long walks with a breeze and finding ways to make dessert healthy.


Eat your Herbs

You think of herbs, and you think of the cute little garden you plant every spring, and kill by summer. You think of your standard chives, cilantro or thyme — anything green and summery.

You’ve got to think a little broader than a summer garden here, because herbs and spices are far more vast than a little basil and group together things like cinnamon, garlic, ginger root, cilantro, coriander, tumeric, paprika and so forth. Who knew?

They are the thing that takes a good dish to great, a standard cookie to your secret recipe, and the ‘how to’ of Turkeys. But they serve a far greater purpose then to season the perfect steak. In fact, all herbs and spices alike contain powerful anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Not only that, almost all of them are full of vitamins and trace minerals as well. For example, pure, pink sea salt has 93 rich minerals in a single serving alone. What bang for your buck!

As with anything, fresh is best, and the best nutritional value can be found in fresh cut, crushed or grated herbs and spices from their raw form. They are all derived from plants, seeds, nuts, barks, roots and seeds. You may actually find that your green thumb comes a little more naturally in the winer in your kitchen, when you can control the elements, then in the summer. Basil, cilantro and mint all flourish in the winter on a sunny, warm windowsill, in direct light, with the right amount of water. Don’t be shy, grow whatever greenery you can get your hands on!

I myself love to use herbs and spices when I cook. It just kicks it up a notch, and helps me steer away from added salt, sauces or dips for flavour. My favourite trick is to add a combination of basil, cilantro and peppermint leaves to my salad mix! Such a savoury treat for the pallet.

Here are a few of my favourites, and their benefits! These are super easy to incorporate into everyday dishes:

  • Cinnamon: a warming spice that helps to balance blood sugar, aids in fat loss and reduces inflammation best on apples, in coffee, in soups.


  • Basil: light and savoury, this herb compliments a variety of dishes, is anti-inflammatory and anti-viral in nature delicious in salads, pasta and as pesto.


  • Mint: calming for the digestive system (every wondered why restaurants give out peppermints?) best consumed as tea, but I love it in salads!


  • Turmeric: a bit of an acquired taste, but is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been known to aid in joint and arthritic pain best in soups, tinctures and smoothies – also a powerful dye, so careful with your wooden cutting boards and fingers!

pile of fresh turmeric roots on wooden table

  • Cayenne: a somewhat feared, yet versatile spice, aids in digestion, the absorption of nutrients, boosts circulation and is your BFF during cold and flu season best in chilis, soups, smoothies, and tumeric/ginger/lemon tea.


Try my made-from-scratch basil pesto for a big bang of benefits! Can be stored in the freezer for up to three months, and is great on zucchini noodles, pasta, salmon and tomato slices!



  • 2 cups of fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup of raw cashews, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and drained
  • 1/2 cup of sun dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp of pink sea salt
  • 1/2 cup of organic extra virgin olive oil *add a little extra as you blend if needed
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon



Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse until smooth and you’re done!


5 Mood Boosting Foods

Did you know food can impact your mood? Wow! Isn’t that empowering? It puts you, the consumer, in the driver’s seat. After all, food is composed of nutrients, which affect our brain chemistry, therefore, influencing mood. Today, I will highlight five mood boosting foods, how they work in our bodies and how to incorporate them into your diet.

Before we jump in, I want to share that people often seek dietitian-support to better manage physical health (i.e., cholesterol lowering, blood sugar control, digestive issues, etc.). However, less often do people proactively seek dietitian-support to optimize their MENTAL HEALTH. This needs to change! Diet is a modifiable factor and one that’s often overlooked when addressing mental health.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience a mental-health condition such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder in his or her lifetime.

Food is composed of nutrients –> impacts brain chemistry –> impacts mood


Salmon is mood-boosting because it contains a high amount of Omega 3 fats. These anti-inflammatory fatty acids are beneficial for heart health and brain functioning. Specifically, the EPA and DHA fatty acids (in Omega 3’s) help with maintaining integrity of the brain cell membrane, to send signals to other parts of the body and reduce inflammation. Salmon contains vitamin D which can help with management of depression and support immune functioning.

In a large research study of 4,644 New Zealand adults, fish consumption was associated with higher reported mental health status. Research has found lower intake of omega 3’s appears to be associated with risk of depression. More research is still needed in this area; however, research is promising, especially from EPA fatty acids.


Dietary Omega 3’s:

Health Canada recommends adults aim for at least two servings of fish per week. This would approximately meet the recommended (500 mg) dosage of DHA and EPA daily. However, most people are not even getting to 100 mg of EPA and DHA daily. Try your best to consume adequate omega 3’s (through diet) and if necessary, your dietitian can recommend supplements.



Lentils are a mood-boosting food loaded with the B vitamin folate, which is needed for the production of serotonin (neurotransmitter and happy hormone). Lentils are also high in fibre, making them a low glycemic index food or complex carbohydrate. Fibre-rich carbohydrates slow the release of sugar into the blood stream. This helps regulate mood and stabilize energy.


Ideas for Incorporating Lentils Into Your Diet:

I like to recommend clients start by using lentils in place of meat or in combination with meat-dishes. For example, if you are making a spaghetti Bolognese (beef and tomato sauce), try adding cooked lentils with beef to extend the recipe and boost the nutrition. You can also swap out the meat and go for meatless Bolognese using lentils. To make a folate-packed casserole, soups or sauces be sure to include other folate-rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, avocado.



Bananas are mood enhancing because of the effect of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that supports the production of serotonin (ie., your happy hormone). Tryptophan may also help with sleep, and we all know sleep impacts our mood. Bananas are also a good source for potassium, fibre, and Vitamin B6, all of which help our bodies utilize that mighty tryptophan!


Banana-Boosting in your Diet:

Include bananas in your breakfast by slicing half a banana on top of your hot or cold cereal. You can pop it into your smoothie or have it as a snack with peanut butter or almond butter. Click HERE to download the Dietetic Directions 16 Healthy Snacks. Banana is awesome to use in baking. Try Mom’s Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.



Kefir is like a “drinkable yogurt” with 10 to 20 different probiotic strains whereas yogurt has only a few. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that may improve mood. Science is still evolving in the area of the ‘gut-brain connection’. It is sufficient to say that we want to feed our gut bacteria (with probiotics) to support our brains and mental health.


Ideas for Incorporating Kefir Into Your Diet:

  • Drink it! Plain.
  • Add it to a smoothie
  • Enjoy with cereal instead of milk
  • Combine with nuts, granola or high fibre cereal to make a parfait
  • Add chia seeds and keep in fridge overnight to thicken to pudding
  • Use as a substitute for yogurt or buttermilk in baking


Sweet Potato

Sweet potato is another mood-booster because the antioxidant beta-carotene helps with reducing free radical damage to brain cells. Sweet potatoes can also prevent oxidative stress leading to DNA damage, which appears to be a common in emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. The carbohydrates in sweet potatoes help with serotonin production. If you are trying to restrict or avoid carbs, click here to read my blog, In Defence of Carbs, Stop the Hating.


Bottom Line

Your overall health includes your mental health. The foods you eat impact your brain chemistry and how you feel. Take time to check-in for how you’re feeling. Think about how lifestyle and/or diet may possibly be worsening symptoms. Lastly, take action and try some mood boosting foods!

P.S. Know that you are not alone. Professional support is available for diet and mental health.

Now it’s your turn. What do you enjoy as mood boosting foods? Do you find certain foods end up negatively impacting your mood?





Andrea D’Ambrosio, a Registered Dietitian and owner of Dietetic Directions, a nutritional counselling and education company in Kitchener. Founded in 2012 with the mission to inspire busy people to achieve life-long behaviour changes through motivational coaching and mutual goal setting. Dietitian services are covered by many extended medical benefits. Saturday appointments also available

Click here for your free download of Dietetic Directions’ Power Snacks Guide.

Less Thinking, More Sweating

You may read articles, blogs or tweets writing about our cultural objectification of women and the sexualization of the female body.  I hear more and more women struggle as they work to feel comfortable in their body and with their figure in a society that scrutinizes and comments on the female form. Introduce those insecurities into the sometimes egocentric, often loud, mainly male dominated arena of the public gym and there is the potential for anxiety, over thinking and lowered self-esteem. Sadly these thoughts and cognitive distortions can be counter-productive to the benefits the gym can offer to anyone willing to participate.

For years I have slyly tried to spy on the personal trainers as they worked with their clients at my local gym. From a distance I would watch them and then try to imitate the exercises that they took their clients through. Though my solo version of the trainer’s activities seemed like a cost effective way to benefit from their knowledge without paying the could-buy-a-good-used-car price, my adaptation was saggy, soggier and generally lacking in proper form.  It wasn’t until I had struggled with lower back pain for ten years that I finally decided it was time to get a lot stronger.  I would have to stop spying on trainers like a hokey cartoon villain peering from around the squat rack, and legitimately enlist the help of a personal trainer.

wonder-womanTraining has been a growth experience for me and some of the things that I have discovered in my initial few months of training have genuinely surprised me. For one, I sweat even more than I thought that I did.  I credit this charming fact to an excess of body heat and the awkward nervousness I feel about most things relating to physical performance. Mark my words, despite the help of chalked hands, at some point I will slide off of a machine or drop some kind of dumbbell on my feet simply due to my sweaty, failing grip.

The other thing I discovered is how markedly different the bodily positions (necessary for proper weight training) are from the ways that I had become accustomed to holding my body. For example, while working on strengthening the chest muscles, it is necessary to puff out one’s chest like a superhero.  And when I say, “puff out,” I mean way out.

Many of my training sessions have been focused on the supreme importance of the gluteus muscles. While I certainly knew that within the body one’s rump is a muscular powerhouse, I had no idea that the key to some exercises involved sticking out that rump with wild abandon! After finally letting go of my self-consciousness and doing what comes naturally in order to move heavy weight (e.g. letting your bum muscles expand and exert control), I almost burst with laughter when my trainer exclaimed, “That’s it! Do that every time.” The caboose that I had always tried to camouflage was going to actually come in handy? Well I’ll be darned.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that sexualizes women (and men, but particularly women) in all spaces.  As a public space often characterized by randy pop music, roving eyes, and tiny outfits the gym can be interpreted as an arena that sexualizes women, perhaps more than any other. However, it also presents people with the opportunity to focus upon building strength. The gym can create an environment to empower ourselves to let go of self-consciousness and open up to the opportunity to become stronger than we might have ever thought possible.

Show up, stick your stuff out, and be proud of your fearlessness!

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