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Health and Your Happiness

Dr. Susan BlumAs the days get longer and finally warmer, my mood has felt lighter, too. I spoke on a panel a few weeks ago on the topic, “Happiness,” and ever since, I have been thinking about what happiness means to me.  As I sit and talk to my patients day after day asking about their mood, I have uncovered what I think is an epidemic that I call health anxiety.  This has led me to wonder how health affects mood and if you need to be 100% healthy, without any symptoms, in order to be happy?

The words health and happiness seem to go together.  However, given the fact that we are all destined to age and have health issues and eventually die, we need to find happiness even while we address health concerns.  So how can we do this?

The answer is to understand what happiness is about after we strip away the labels that we place on ourselves and our illness or challenges.   It takes a personal and very truthful look into how we individually define happiness to be able to answer the question, “What makes you happy?”

Here is what happiness means to me: I believe that we all have a purpose in life and it is up to us to figure that out. For each of us to find our own true north. I have found that as long as I am checking in with my deepest self and am living in alignment with what’s true and right for me, then I am happy.  I feel unsettled and unhappy when I lose myself and get so involved with other things that I veer off my path.  This also happens when I let my mind get too busy with worry and noisy thoughts so that I don’t pay attention to my own intuition. And then I rely on mind-body practices to bring myself back to center again.

I love meditation and guided imagery.  I also love to walk my dog outside in nature, quietly and off the phone.  These are called mindfulness practices.  As you learn to quiet your mind, you can hear your deeper voice that can guide you on the path toward happiness.  This can sound complicated, but it really isn’t! To help you learn these tools, Elizabeth and I have created a 1-Day Happiness Retreat we will co-lead on June 6.  We’ll practice these techniques together for a full day of learning, sharing, and fun! We can only include 14 people in our group that day, so register soon!


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Blum Nutrition for May


I believe diets make people very unhappy.   They don’t work long term because every one of us is different and requires an individual food plan. When you try and fit the mold of a restrictive diet, you live within the confines of your new program instead of exploring the freedom of foods that make you feel better.   All of our nutrition programs, whether through testing or food experiments, are designed to help you figure out what makes your body work well and feel well, which is a key step on the path to overall happiness.

Our 21-day elimination food plan is brilliant at helping your discover how food actually makes you feel.  Removing all allergenic foods for 21 days and then adding them back individually is a great way to experience this body-mood-food connection.  These food reactions can be very insidious at first, but with care and mindfulness you can discover, for example, that dairy can give you brain fog, or that eggs make you gain 2 pounds.  I have found that sugar can feed depression, and that for some people, taking it out of the diet is the best happiness cure there is!

Choosing the right foods for your body can tap your highest potential.  While I know that finding your true north food plan is a process, it is important to me when I work with you to bring you into your own power of healing – and happiness —  by finding the foods that work for your body and then staying the course.   Join me on May 11th for our 21-Day Group Detox and discover the foods that make you happy!

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Pineapple Kale Smoothie

Start your day with a smoothie that will make you smile! This colorful and refreshing smoothie is a great way to add greens into your breakfast routine with a taste of the tropics.  Kale has detoxifying benefits for the liver and pineapple is loaded with digestive enzymes that are good for the stomach.  The coconut oil provides your body with healthy fats and a flavor that instantly transports you to a tropical island getaway.  A VitaMix-type blender is the best blender to achieve a smooth consistency. There’s happiness in every sip!

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Yoga Posture for Happiness: Sun Breaths

Elizabeth GreigSun breaths, a simplified version of sun salutations, are a heart-opening, uplifting, and peaceful series of movements that help to bring your physical body back into alignment.  If happiness in life is finding your own true north, then sun breaths in a yoga practice are like tapping on the stuck compass needle of your body. Perform this series in the morning to awaken and stretch the body or after the physical stresses of a long day.

Be sure to pair the movement with breath.  The movement between the four static postures is as important as the postures themselves!  Inhale as you rise, exhale as you lower.

  • Start by raising your arms out and around to meet over your head, while gazing at your fingers and opening your chest (even adding a slight backbend if it’s comfortable).
  • “Swan dive” forward over your legs, keeping your back flat, until you are folded at your waist. Reach your hands down towards your feet, keeping an easy bend in both knees and softness in your spine.
  • Lift your head to a flat back posture, looking up with hands comfortably on the knees, and release again into the forward bend.
  • Finally, lift up with arms outstretched, rising up to stand with your hands above your head.  Complete the sun breath with your hands in Namaste over your heart, your gaze soft towards the horizon.

Move through the series four times, honoring your internal compass, the teacher within you. Face north, and meditate on what it is that is your own true north.  Face east and feel the potential of each new day.  Face south and accept the warmth of the growing Spring sun.  Face west with gratitude for the passage of time and your place in the universe.

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Fermented Foods and Why You Should Eat Them

Dr Susan Blum, Functional MedicineHave you been to your local healthy grocery store and wondered about all those “pickled” looking vegetables in jars that have shown up in the refrigerator section? Chances are these vegetables are fermented. They might seem strange to you if the only fermented vegetables you have tried before are sauerkraut (cabbage) and pickles (cucumbers), two foods that originated in Europe and found their way into the American diet.

However, when you dig a little deeper, these fermented foods have been eaten by people all over the world as part of their daily diet. They have wonderful health benefits, especially when it comes to your digestive system. This month we dedicate our newsletter to introducing you to these health-promoting, gut-supportive vegetables, so that you can bring them into your food-as-medicine pantry.

Initially, fermentation was created as a way to preserve foods before refrigeration. In addition to pickles and sauerkraut, there are many familiar and maybe not-so-familiar foods to explore. From Europe, there are beets and carrots, grape leaves for dolmas, and olives. From Asia, umeboshi plums, tempeh, miso, kimchee, and assorted pickled vegetables such as turnip, carrot, cabbage, onion provide great variety. And from India, various fruit chutneys are also fermented.

Here’s how the process works. All vegetables and fruits have beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus on their surfaces. The process of lacto-fermentation combines starches and sugars with salt in an oxygen-free, or anaerobic, environment. The Lactobacilli bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid that kills harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. The sour flavor comes from the fermentation process. The end result is a deliciously sour vegetable that also has Lactobacilli, known as the good bacteria “probiotic” most commonly found in yogurt and supplements.

As you can see, these fermented foods act as natural probiotics, and because they are also high in fiber, they provide prebiotic nutrients, too, that help the good bacteria grow. Numerous studies have proven the connection between gut flora and illness: not enough good bacteria, or overgrowth of harmful bacteria or yeast, increase your risk of chronic disease, especially inflammatory illnesses and autoimmunity.

Think of eating these foods every day as health insurance!

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mary-gocke_fullThe fermentation process enhances the digestibility of foods. As the fermenting bacteria break down the cell walls of the vegetables or fruits, they become gentler on your system. Another added benefit of fermentation is that it increases the amount of glutathione, the mother of antioxidants, as well as choline in the food.  Both of these are nutrients that support liver detoxification.

Fermented foods help the good bacteria in the gut flourish.  The production of neurotransmitters, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, and vitamin K increases, all manufactured by the gut bacteria to make a healthier, happier you.





Here are some of our favorite, easy-to-find fermented foods. Choose the unpasteurized products to get the living probiotic benefits:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Soy sauce
  • Kombucha tea
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Kimchee
  • Umeboshi plums

When you start eating fermented foods, go slowly. Bloating and gas are sure signs that you have overdone it.  So nice and easy does it!

Are you feeling adventurous and want to try your hand at making your own fermented veggies?  This month’s recipe is a great introduction to making fermented carrots. The results will be delicious and a great way to incorporate fermented foods into your diet. Your gut will be happy and your kids will love them, too!

Check out our class calendarto learn more about our cooking class dates and times.

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Yoga Posture of the Month – Twist Your Way To Better Gut Health

Dr. McConnell Functional Medicine Doctor

The yoga pose classically associated with encouraging digestion and gastrointestinal health is matsyendrasana, or spinal twist.  Like most yoga postures, it exists on a spectrum of difficulty: from a restorative supine spinal twist lying on your back, to a seated spinal twist with legs in simple cross-legged position, to the most advanced seated half lotus with arms bound and the entire spine in a perfect vertical twist.

To benefit from the gut healing aspects of this posture, try supine matsyendrasana, or reclining spinal twist, a restorative posture that aids in digestion, vitamin and mineral absorption and elimination by passive internal organ self-massage and release.  It’s an easy posture to do first thing in the morning or last thing at night, even while lying in bed. Give it a try!


  • Lying on your back, reach your arms up above your head, and extend your legs straight along your mat or mattress, fingers and toes stretching away from one another. Feel the opening through your torso, abdomen, and along the length of your spine.
  • Then, slowly and mindfully, draw both knees into your chest and hug your knees in, feeling the curve of your back against the floor or bed and bringing your abdomen and torso into a compact ball.
  • Now, lengthen your right leg out along the mat to be straight again, keeping your left knee hugged into your chest, and let the back of your head rest against the floor, or mattress.  Remember to breathe deeply into your belly.  You may already feel a bit of a squeeze in your lower abdomen.
  • Next, gently allow your left knee to cross your body and come to rest on a bolster or the floor or bed on your right side, feeling your lower spine and belly twisting to the right.  Keep your right hand resting on your left knee to encourage moving further into the twist, as your left arm reaches out to the left side.
  • To complete the twist in the upper body, allow your gaze to rest on your left hand, by turning your head to the left.

Restorative asanas, or yoga postures, should be soft, easy, and meditative.  Use props, pillows or blankets to make yourself really comfortable in your posture.  Ideally, stay in the pose anywhere from 5-10 minutes per side, completely relaxing into the twist and reaping the benefits of “wringing out” your internal organs.

Twisting to the right first and then left encourages elimination, while twisting to the left first helps to slow a too-fast digestion.

Twisting in either direction gives your intestines a nice massage and, just as massages do, brings increased blood flow and nutrients to the area.  In this way, your entire gut is nourished by the spinal twist.

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Get Down and Get Dirty!

Elizabeth GreigIt’s time to dig!  I can’t wait to get my hands and feet in the dirt with the arrival of Spring.  Gardening is a great way to get grounded, to get some healthy microbes, and to plant something that will bring beauty in the months to come.  Even if you’re not a gardener, I recommend you find a warm day when you can take your shoes and socks off and plant your feet on real earth!

Try this open-eyed visualization once you’ve got your bare feet on the ground:

● Feel the bottom of your feet: the texture of the dirt or grass, the temperature.  Wiggle your toes, move your feet, dig in!

● If you’ve been sitting, stand up and feel your weight sinking into the ground. Feel how the Earth supports you; notice the impression you are leaving.

● Take a deep breath and notice if there is a fragrance in the air.

● Look around at the colors; notice the little hints of green appearing here and there.

● Listen for the birds, the trickle of running water, the sound of the wind in the trees.

● Take a few minutes to keep checking in with yourself and just enjoy the freshness of Spring, feeling yourself grounded in the dirt and the top of your head reaching up to the sun–you might even grow a little taller!

Visit our class calendar to learn more about our mind body spirit class dates and times.

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Come Together – The Value of Creating Community

Dr Susan Blum, Functional MedicineIn the spirit of community, we are having our One-Day Mindfulness Retreat that I will be leading with Elizabeth Greig, FNP.  It’s a wonderful way to come together and experience the supportive community that we have created here at Blum Center for Health.  While I am on vacation in Asia, I am handing off the reigns to Darcy McConnell, MD.

Dr. McConnell Functional Medicine Doctor

Have you ever attempted to make a big lifestyle change alone?  Of course you can, but to ensure your success, we encourage you to not go it alone.  Having the support of your community – friends, family, and colleagues – has proven positive health outcomes.

Here at Blum Center we believe that real and lasting change in behavior is necessary to achieve the goal of feeling better and getting well.  There are old habits to be broken and new habits to be ingrained.  Social connectedness not only helps you achieve your health goals, but is also linked to improved heart health, decreased inflammation, and less depression and anxiety.  This is true for one-on-one relationships like marriage and friendship, as well as for social relationships such as at work, school, or in a religious community.

Simply having social connection in and of itself leads to a healthier life, but research shows that better health outcomes are achieved when coming together in groups.  For instance, support groups for exercise (e.g., walking), weight loss (both medically supervised and commercial), and illness support groups (for anxiety, cancer, or autoimmune disease) have a powerful effect on mental and physical health.  And there is even evidence to suggest that joining a health support group with a friend increases the likelihood of continued adherence to a lifestyle program long after the group meetings end.

Bottom line: Sharing a lifestyle changing experience with a partner, your family, or a group will lead to improved outcomes and overall better health. So nourish your connections and use them to help you grow and be successful.

This philosophy is the reason Blum Center for Health offers a variety of ways to come together in shared community.  We provide a safe environment to meet up and share experiences with others as you navigate these sometimes challenging lifestyle changes.  Some groups, like our ongoing mind-body groups and weight loss groups, meet more than once, allowing the members to get to know one another more deeply.  While other programs like our cooking classes, Learn at Lunch, and weekly meditation groups, allow you to meet an ever-changing array of like-minded people looking to share and connect.

If you are not in our area, we encourage you to sign up for our free Do It With Us! online programs that correlate to Dr. Blum’s book, The Immune System Recovery Plan.  It’s a great resource that provides you with added support and valuable information as you work toward your goal of healthful living.  To further expand your support community, look for a meditation group or yoga classes near you.

Nurture your social connections – it’s really good for you!