Nikkis Nature

A Place For Sharing Holistic and Healing Insights


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The Truth About Barefoot Shoes

Just recently I was wearing my five toe Vibram shoes while attending a workshop where we were doing a bit of hiking around in the woods.  A very nice woman who also in my group saw my shoes and said “Hey, there is a whole class action settlement going on for people who have used these shoes-  I can get you the information if you want to try to get in on it.”  My instant response was “Oh, no thanks-  I love my shoes!  I wouldn’t accept money for damages because these shoes have been the opposite for me-  really amazing.”  I went on to explain my experience with barefoot shoes as well as my take on the whole controversy.  So here is the deal:  Five-toed and barefoot shoes began to become very popular with all the claims that they were wonderful for runners, for joint health and for preventing injuries.  Many people began switching to using this type of shoe, maintaining their regular running or exercise routines and simply switching out their previous running shoes for a pair of barefoots.   You can’t just do that, and that is where the main problem occurred, in my opinion.

Yes, barefoot running and hiking is wonderful for you-  it is true that you have better agility, that you strengthen and mobilize all of the small joints and ligamentous articulations of the feet and ankle that normally are blunted and rendered unused when using shoes with cushioning in the soles.  However, you can’t just switch from one mode to the other safely.  Barefoot activities require a gradual buildup of strength and tolerance.  When first using the shoes, one should start by taking short outdoor walks in them.  You’ll notice mild joint soreness as you would when starting any new or different form of exercise.  As you increase your distances this will diminish.  Try to stick to trails, grass or dirt/track walkways, and avoid pavement.  A big part of the issue with barefoot shoes is that you absolutely need to run on the balls of your feet if you will be on pavement.  Not many people run this way at all… so imagine the runner who switched to barefoot shoes.  This person kept their normal route along paved roads, pounding step after step into their heels, suddenly with no cushioning.  The bottom line is that even the act of switching from heel first running to ball of the foot running requires training and a period of time to allow for gradual build up of strength and acclimation to the activity.  The injuries reported from switching to barefoot running shoes were likely caused by lack of preparedness to use them in the proper way.  Now, the claims about their use probably should have been accompanied by this detailed information, but marketing is what it is, and people that engage in strenuous fitness activities do need to take responsibility for making sure their choices are safe and reasonable.

So here is the bottom line:  Use barefoot shoes in moderation, easing in to running and trying to stick to routes that are on trails or softer ground.  Alternate every 1/8 to 1/4 mile using a heel-toe and then a toe-heel sequence.  Over time you will be able to run multiple miles and rugged terrain without any issue, and you will feel strong and great.  Your old sneakers will begin to feel like evil, restrictive clunkers.  I feel incredibly agile and natural in my barefoot shoes and I wear them while hiking, gardening, running, walking, you name it.  I have hiked up and down mountains in them and also completed two twelve mile Tough Mudders in them.  I have not ever been (knock on wood) sore or injured in any way related to my shoes.  As a physical therapist I can tell you for sure that the health of all of the joints in your body is definitely affected from the ground up-  in other words, the slight differences in how your ankle and metatarsal joints angle themselves and adapt to motions and altered terrains is felt all the way up the chain to the final interaction between your highest vertebra and your skull.  When these ground level joints are adaptable and strong, the effect trickles up the chain.  Of course you still need excellent core training for optimal fitness and injury prevention, but I love the part my five toe shoes play in my own fitness.  If you have questions about this or want to continue the conversation here, please feel free to do so.  I have been using these shoes for a number of years now, and have lots of experience with them personally and as a physical therapist.  Have a wonderful, naturally healthy day!


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Holistic Approaches Becoming the Norm? A Glimpse of Hope

A couple of days ago I attended a continuing education lecture at Quinnipiac College regarding approaches to chronic pain when treating patients.  This one evening course was geared specifically toward physical therapists, and was presented by two male physical therapists who were relatively new to the field, and were involved in research because they were continuing to study toward their doctorate degrees.  I left the course feeling refreshed and relieved about the climate of  today’s research and college curriculum for health professionals.  I am going to date myself here, but when I first finished my physical therapy degree at UCONN (wow Huskies!!) almost two full decades ago, we really were released into the field of health care as fixers.  What I mean is that your worth as a PT was measured by your proficiency to manually fix orthopedic problems.  We expected to be able to simply fix people, and in turn, patients simply expected us to be able to fix them.  Well, I can tell you from firsthand experience that this mentality leads to burnout in a matter of a few short years, because a big percentage of the time, it just doesn’t work this way.  Here is the truth that was plainly discussed in the course I attended the other night:  in many, many cases of chronic pain (no matter what the original cause) there is no lingering tissue damage that can actually be “fixed”.  The central nervous system is super adaptable and learns to perpetuate the original protective response of pain to ensure safety of the involved tissues until healing has occurred, but in many cases, this isn’t unlearned even though the original issue has resolved.  We discussed this in detail, and how to begin helping people to deal with their pain story and change their responses to movement, emotions, and expectations.  We dealt with the possibility of people maybe even getting mad about such a pain discussion and retorting “so you think this is all in my head??!!”.  I raised my hand and offered that maybe in such cases we should come right out and be sure to teach that yes, all pain is in our head.  Pain is a signal from the brain to pay attention to, or protect some part of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that the need to protect that part is still valid.  Helping people to deal with fear and rewire the responses of their nervous system is very holistic-  we are talking about integrating mental and emotional work with physical approaches.  I was ecstatic to see that young guys right out of school today are already thinking about this and incorporating it into their practices!  This was not presented to me in school in any way.  Now, I wouldn’t change any part of my educational history, mind you, for if I had not started burning out in the first five years of my career I would not have started seeking the education in energy healing, meditation and integrative health care that has led me to the unique, rewarding private practice that I am currently running today.  However, I feel happy and hopeful for new graduate physical therapists and also for their patients.  There is the hope that they will have a faster and better understanding of how healing truly happens, and that this will help their work to be rich, long-lived and full of deep and important connections with their clients.  It is this type of work that lets the client-practitioner relationship thrive and feel successful on both ends.  Please feel free to allow this space to be an open and supportive forum for any questions or concerns or insights that you may have regarding chronic pain.  It is a huge and difficult issue, but also one in which no one should be alone.  Thanks for hearing my words today-  have an amazing day!


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The Overlooked Health Factor

At this time we are being bombarded with constant information with regards to health.  There is an overflow of articles, blogs, radio pieces, books and television shows telling us what to eat, how to exercise and which supplements are currently in fashion.  We are worried about GMO’s, BPA, gluten, pesticide, hormones, DEET, vitamin D, calcium absorption, osteoporosis versus rhabdomyolysis and much, much more.  However, we have a shortage of articles circulating on a topic that I consider to be possibly the most important element to real health, and that is inspiration. I think of health as the ability to enjoy the richness of life through learning and inspiration.   I have spoken with at least three people in this week alone who know that what they are missing is true inspiration in their life.  Now, I give these folks a lot of credit for recognizing this.  If I had to grossly over-simplify the current state of things, I would say that the smallest group is comprised of people who have found and recognize true inspiration.  The next rarest group would be those mentioned above:  the people who know they need real inspiration but are searching to figure out what that might be for them.  And then there are all the rest-  masses of people living in varying states of monotony and stress.  Many people constantly seek to fulfill their unmet needs with simple comfort-based pleasures such as food, alcohol, drugs, sex or media.  I’m not saying that these things are at all wrong when enjoyed in a healthy way –  but I recognize an overarching pattern of running to these things  blindly over and over again, without any true pleasure or engaging in real richness, real meaning, or gratification.

So what is inspiration?  I believe inspiration is when some activity or realization adds meaning and connection to life.  I believe this can manifest in as many different ways as there are people and circumstances.  For me, it means being able to use spiritual experiences and explorations to help people.  I have developed a very unique holistic health practice where I am able to provide outlets for any combination of physical, emotional, energetic and spiritual healing and exploration.  I have a big focus on educational experiences and small group sharing regarding metaphysical topics.  Now, because I am constantly enthralled with the possible experiences that can occur on the energetic and spiritual planes, I feel intense gratitude and awe when I am able to share those ideas and outlets with others.  But that is just me-  other people find inspiration through the realization of an amazing creative outlet they never realized they had, or simply by diving into an area of study that they find incredibly stimulating.  There is nothing like longing to learn, and realizing that learning is so fulfilling that it could provide you with a lifetime of gratifying intellectual work.  Some people find inspiration by learning how to work on bettering themselves in new ways.  Many people stumble upon a source of inspiration through a connection to nature… if you are wondering where your own inspiration lies, I suggest taking regular walks alone in a quiet, natural setting.  If you have no access to a place like this, you might consider having  shamanic practitioner or holistic health expert lead you on a guided meditation or journey that allows you access to nature on another level of consciousness.  In any case, it warrants some kind of personal examination.  I would love of any of you reading this would share what really inspires your life-  the sharing you provide could prove to be incredibly helpful to someone else.  As you round out this week and head toward the weekend, I hope you have some personal time to look forward to that includes a source of true inspiration.  Peace and love to you on each of your amazing and unique paths.


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The Gluten-Free Trap

I am fortunate in that I have not yet had any sort of medical issue that has resulted in having to be tested for gluten sensitivity.  However, I have been a very clean and healthy eater for a long time now and this has caused me to naturally put a severe limit on the amount of wheat I eat.  I have found that when I abstain from eating wheat for a time and then reintroduce it, that I am much more prone to bloating and periods of low energy and low mood than when I stay away from it altogether.  My normal diet is probably what you would call pescatarian-  I do eat fish and I do eat eggs, but I don’t eat meat and I rarely eat wheat and dairy.  Anyway, I had the pleasure of having my brother from the west coast stay at my house for almost a month during this recent holiday season.  I enjoy having him around for many reasons, but one is that we have fun eating and cooking together because he is also a very health conscious eater.  We both eat with a concerted effort to support environmental incentives as well as for optimal nutrition, and we both enjoy a wide range of multicultural flavors and cooking styles.   My poor husband always tries to eat healthy but struggles to enjoy many of the curried and vegetarian dishes I like, so when my brother Ry is around I feel I have a partner in crime.  So Ry arrived, and I discovered he recently found out that he has allergies to wheat and dairy and needs to keep clear of them altogether.  This didn’t bother me as I already was pretty close to eating this way myself, save for the occasional pizza.  We did a great job of cooking and buying a lot of food that satisfied everyone’s requirements and still maintained a festive holiday atmosphere.  What I did realize, though, was this:  the number of processed gluten-free products that are readily available is now so high that you could potentially say that you stuck to a pristine gluten-free diet, but not be eating healthily at all.  It is such an easy trap to fall into the habit of filling up on delicious gluten-free cereals, snacks and rice cakes that you can still eat loads of carb-oriented calories and not be prompted to fill up on hearty, nutritious fruit and vegetable dishes.  I know that even my brother Ry, who cooks and loves to buy organic, whole food can easily get sucked into this buying pattern because it feels so convenient and easy and you are still technically adhering to your medical advice.   Here is my thought on the whole issue:  if you have a gluten intolerance, it is because your immune system has had some sort of breakdown where you can no longer function healthily while that substance is around.  Therefore, you need to work on boosting immune health from the ground up.  If you just replace all of your gluten foods with gluten-free products, you will not feel great and you may be prone to weight gain.  When I eat gluten-free processed foods, I experience the same sensations of bloat and low energy that I do when I eat wheat.  You need to replace your gluten foods with fruit and vegetable dishes, and only use the packaged gluten-free products in a pinch, not as daily staples.  In other words, it seems like people find out what the culprit is that is making them sick and feel that they are all set once they remove it.  I don’t believe this to be the real truth-  having allergies to otherwise normal food items is not a normal functioning state, so we need to remember that when a food allergy becomes a problem, we need to not only remove the allergen, but also greatly increase the richness of our nutritional intake in order to better support overall immune health.  I have found it easiest to do this by eating a lot of smoothies, salads, crockpot stews and baked vegetable dishes.  Fruits are easy enough to just eat on their own for your snacks, but the smoothies, salads, soups and baked dishes ensure that vegetables can be the highlight of each meal.  The same principles hold true for all food intolerances, and for the diets of children as well.  We can’t escape the basic ideas that unprocessed, organic whole foods are our greatest source of health, just like we can’t escape the fact that physical exercise is a necessity.  I think one of the reasons that health is such a huge focus and industry for us is because it so easily crumbles in today’s toxic environment.   I once worked with a nutrition teacher named Joan Palmer who taught “you can pay the grocer now or the doctor later”.  This will always be true, and I say there is no time like the present, so you know which choice I prefer.  Actually, I would say there is no time BUT the present… but that is a topic for another article.  🙂  I wish a peaceful and happy new year to you all, and welcome comments and discussions below to foster greater depth of thought and insight on gluten free products, food allergies, diet trends and healthy eating.  For personal help in meeting your health goals, peruse http://www.nikkisnature.com.


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Learning to Use the Mind to Heal the Body

Upon a friend’s recommendation, I have been reading the book “E-Squared” by Pam Grout.  This book is about energy, and specifically the energy of thoughts.  It is similar to “The Secret” in the sense that it promotes the idea that we can manifest what we’d like to happen in our lives by using the power of our thoughts.  The difference though, is in the format.  Instead of just teaching these truths, this book presents a series of actual exercises, or experiments that the reader is supposed to conduct in a very formatted way.  So you read a chapter, and then take the prescribed time, often 48 hours, to conduct a certain energetic thought experiment and record your results.  It is a very rewarding and inspiring practice!  Now, I did not need this book to convince me that my thoughts are useful in forming my reality, as I already believed this fully.  But this book is worth reading both for the novice as well as the savvy energy practitioner, as it reminds you of the depths of the extent of your influence, and it also serves to keep your awareness coming back to the manifestation abilities of your thoughts more and more often throughout the day, thereby increasing their effectiveness.    So far I have been impressed with the experiments.  In one experiment I had to set the intention to see a butterfly within the next 48 hours… well, what are the chances of seeing a butterfly in Connecticut in October?  Lo and behold, I opened a web page that suddenly fluttered beautifully with colorful butterflies as its opening… shortly thereafter as my children were returned home after a visit to their grandparents’ house, my daughter proudly revealed the new shirt her grandmother gave her-  you guessed it-  it had several pretty butterflies on the front, with the phrase “butterfly kisses” embroidered on it.  In another experiment, I was supposed to ask for something I want, and give the universe 48 hours to provide it.  I asked for 2 new clients to call and book sessions at my practice… this happened within an hour of my asking!  Anyway, re-engaging with the powerful energy of thoughts in this way has also reminded me that our thoughts may be our best medicine.  We can absolutely use our thoughts to have a positive effect on how our bodies will behave, how we respond to different situations, and on how we feel emotionally in tough situations.  We can actually use our thoughts to send healing energy into our own bodies to ease illness and injury.  Now, this is what Reiki practitioners do when they activate healing work, but you do not need to be one in order to have a physical healing influence on your own body using your mind.  The biggest obstacle seems to be that people doubt that they have the ability to do this.  My next thought was that this would be a wonderful concept to have people work on with hypnosis-  strengthening the underlying belief that your mind will be able to send healing energies wherever they need to go in the body, at will.  The session would involve actual practice at doing this while in a deep state of relaxation, bolstered by suggestions that these practices will effectively work for you whenever you wish.  My thought is that getting doubt out of the way could help many people to start using more mindful, mental focus to create a sense of wellness, and a sense of empowerment with respect to health.  I highly recommend reading the book “E-Squared” if only to reignite your experience of how connected to the universe you really are.  Your human mind makes you a beautiful, unique, sensing, creating, interacting, fluid being.  Love and enjoy this, and have a lovely day full of your freshest manifestations!  Feel free to post questions or comments here, or email me anytime at nikki@nikkisnature.com.  Peace!


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Fall is For Honoring the Unseen

For many people that I interact with in person and online, this fall has been an emotional time so far.  The atmosphere has felt somewhat scattered, and people including myself have been having trouble maintaining the normal levels of momentum in their motivation and inspiration.  Things feel difficult, but I think these “things” are only physical.  Just as energy healing can have profound effects on our health, we are also  greatly influenced by the energies that are active and around us at any given time.  This season I’ve found that I have been talking a lot about our need to honor the parts of ourselves as well as the things in our lives that are not physical.  Our culture is currently very focused on the physical:  our bodies, our physical health and capabilities, our material wealth, that which we can see and feel and physically touch, and that which science can prove.  As the trees shed their leaves, it’s a great time for us to shed, to release our attachment to everything we see and physically expect.  If we can loosen our iron grip on our physical lives now and then (preferably now!) we can make space to remember all of the important things about us that are not physical.  The biggest of these is the very essence of ourself-  the part of you that comprises your personality, your uniqueness, your connection to your thoughts and imagination and dreams… your spirit, if you will.  Taking note of who you are regardless of what your body is doing is a very valuable exercise.  It can provide amazing perspective, allowing you to feel a connection to a bigger picture, which lessens the stress we feel about some of our day to day struggles.  Getting in touch with the essence of yourself is a very grand and abstract idea to many, though!  In a smaller, and maybe more approachable way, you could start by taking note of the things that inspire you that are unrelated to your physical capabilities.  What would you do with your day if you suddenly could not walk?  I take pleasure in reminding myself that I love, love love reading, that I love music and philosophy and exploring my dreams and the psychic corners of my mind.  I try to imagine a self that can easily occupy itself in these pursuits and still feel a sense of productivity, value and fulfillment.  Another aspect of identifying the nonphysical in our lives is in noting what might be unseen other than the inner aspects of ourselves.  By this I mean things like the energies and cycles of nature that we sense and feel but can’t fully explain, episodes of thoughts noticeably passing between people without words spoken, or miracles or synchronicities that occur with no scientific explanations.  Taking note of any of these nonphysically explainable things can help us look inward and attune with times and cycles that would otherwise cause us to feel that we are caught in a state of chaos.  It can also help to prepare us for the future, and give us tools that sustain our sense of ourselves through times that are physically trying, such as health issues, or periods of financial loss or instability.  I usually write about health and healing ideas that are more mainstream and familiar to the general public, but I would not be true to my holistic tendencies if I did not also try to shed occasional light on the topic of doing more inner, spiritual work.  The exploration of how one’s essence is connected to the universe, or to something larger that is unseen, is certainly a life’s work.  For me, if I am not doing that, then I am not doing what I know I am here to do.  I feel very comforted knowing that I will always have mysteries to explore, that maybe a key to life is recognizing that we are never meant to know and understand everything, but that life is about experiencing glimpses into a great nonphysical mystery that can never be fully solved.  I hope that this fall that you will be able to feel at least one moment of awe in regarding the mystery that is the beautiful, unseen essence of you.  Once you do, I hope you never want to stop!  Wishing you peace, inspiration, and improved health by connecting to the amazing energies of nature.  www.nikkisnature.com


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Quitting Smoking is Long Overdue

If you are a smoker, you know that this is much more easily said than done.  The thing is, we know a lot more about the effects of smoking on people than we did even ten years ago, and the information is startling.  We have known for a long time that smoking is associated with the development of lung cancers and other respiratory syndromes such as emphysema.  Well, now studies show that it is much worse than that.  I went to a course last year held by a very highly educated professor and nutritionist, and the topic of discussion was longevity.  She stressed over and over again that smoking is the absolute number one worst thing you can do for your health.  Studies have shown that if you smoke, not only are your chances of getting lung cancer and emphysema much higher than they are for the average person, but your chances of getting loads of other types of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and many others are also astronomically higher!  What it boils down to is that smoking seems to help break down the immune system in such a way that you will succumb to the chronic illnesses that you are most genetically predisposed to far more easily than the average person.  This does not bode well for longevity at all, or for having an energetic, pain-free lifestyle.  Plus, smoking is a huge financial burden-  imagine the pay raise you’d be getting if you no longer needed to buy cigarettes each week!  In any case, what I am saying is that smoking is no light matter.  Today while I was out doing errands, I bumped into a previous hypnosis client who came over and hugged me and relayed that she has been a nonsmoker since our one hypnosis session together.  This totally made my day, reminded me of how thankful I am to do the job that I do, and reminded me that I have not been spreading the word enough about my ability to help people with the daunting task of quitting smoking.  Now, this is not a magic fix, and certainly the person using hypnosis to beat the addiction needs to be ready to quit, but it can be amazingly helpful.  Some people quit right away after a session, some just start decreasing the amount they smoke and then taper until they don’t need it anymore-  everyone is different with their willpower and their clarity of mind when it comes to reaching their goal.  Just as weight loss or managing stress vary greatly from person to person, so does the task of quitting smoking.  But the key is that hypnosis can give a person clarity  of thought and a greater sense of control over their actions.  They come away with new relaxation skills that allow mindful awareness practices to strengthen and become a part of their daily life.  I am feeling wonderful about being able to offer therapeutic hypnosis to my community at an affordable rate, so if you know someone who has been saying they need to quit, please share this page with them.  I am deeply committed to helping create a strong, high integrity practice that supports the ideals and optimal richness of lifestyle for those in my amazing community.  Feel free to leave comments or questions here, or email nikki@nikkisnature.com for more information.  Have a peaceful and healthy day!