success through stillness meditationI have always been a person who appreciates the idea of meditation and its benefits more than the act itself. Having many friends who practice meditation, I have heard it all: “You should really try meditation.” (or the more direct) “You NEED to meditate!” That turned me off (somewhat) from the whole practice. I feel like meditation is a spiritual and calming journey that one must come to on their own terms. While I appreciate others wanting to offer their insight, I couldn’t force myself to be someone who meditates on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had pleasant experiences with meditation. For example, I participated in a guided meditation in one of my college classes and found it to be very enjoyable. The instructor had the entire class close their eyes and simply focus on the words she was speaking. After being lead across an open field until we saw a forest in front of us, we discovered our spirit animals. Mine is an owl. This form of meditation was very successful for me because I had someone telling me what to focus on. I have always felt as if I wasn’t meditating the right way because my thoughts would be scattered and unorganized. I’d jump from one thing to the next and couldn’t “turn my mind off.” However, this isn’t necessarily the goal of meditation. It is perfectly all right to acknowledge all thoughts as they surface as long as you don’t get caught up on them and lose focus.

art of stillnessI recently completed a meditation course through Gale Courses. These free courses can be accessed through the research section of Howard County Library System’s website. Just enter your library card number and you can access a variety of subjects. This course in particular explored the origin of meditation, the health benefits, as well as various techniques. Mindfulness meditation was especially interesting to me. It involves focusing on your breath or bodily sensations, acknowledging distracting thoughts in a non-judgmental manner, and then returning to the present moment. After completing the entire lesson on mindfulness meditation, I was familiar with the seven key factors of the practice. They include: Non-judging, Patience, Beginner’s mind, Trust, Non-striving, Acceptance, and Letting go. As a whole, mindfulness meditation is about being in the now. You are to release the need to judge or change thoughts and not get caught up on the past or future. You are to be open and accepting about what occurs during meditation and trust your awareness. In addition, you have to be able to “just be” and realize in that particular moment there is nowhere else for you to be and nothing to be attained. You are then able to allow things to naturally unfold and “let go” of expectations. I was drawn to this technique because it’s basically saying that you are allowed to acknowledge thoughts as they arise as long as you don’t let them consume you. It encourages the one meditating to place their focus where it needs to be; in the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness is something I try to do in everyday life. I take note of the colorful leaves on the trees and each foot step as I walk up to my apartment building. I keep a non-judging attitude in daily interactions and stay aware of my moment-to-moment experiences. Learning about the various ways to meditate has allowed me to find a technique that will work for me. I am looking forward to mindfulness meditation becoming a part of my regular routine and seeing all the ways that it enhances my life and well-being.

Laci Radford is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch and STEM Education Center. She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.

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Through Jan. 4, 2015 Symphony of Lights, a 20-minute drive through more than 70 larger-than-life holiday light displays, benefiting Howard County General Hospital, is open nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 4, 2015 (closed on Tuesdays and Dec. 31). The display, presented by Macy’s, is in Columbia’s Symphony Woods. Admission is $20 per car or van up to eight. $5 off coupon.

Wednesday, Dec.31, 5-8 p.m. Midnight at 7 at Columbia’s Symphony of Lights is a New Year’s Eve celebration for families with fireworks at 7 p.m. (weather permitting). The event includes a walk through holiday light displays, music, entertainment and giveaways. Proceeds benefit Howard County General Hospital.

Monday, Jan. 5, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.

Tuesday, Jan. 6, 7:00 p.m. Guided Meditation at Miller Branch. Enjoy a guided mindfulness meditation designed to impart a feeling of peacefulness and connection. Please bring a cushion or meditation pillow. Presented by Star Ferguson, M.Ac., L.Ac. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

Thursday, Jan. 8, 10:15 a.m. & 11:30 a.m. Healthy Kids at Miller Branch. Explore simple health concepts inspired by children’s literature. Ages 3-5 with adult; 45 min. Multi-week series. Well & Wise event. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class. Ticket Required.

Thursday, Jan. 8, 7:00 p.m. Cutting Edge Discoveries in Neuroscience to Boost Your Brain (Part 3) at Miller Branch. As this three-part series continues, Majid Fotuhi, M.D., Ph.D., teaches how to boost brain capacity at any age. The founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand, Fotuhi has written three books about brain health: Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance; The Memory Cure; and The New York Times Crosswords to Keep Your Brain Young: The 6-Step Age-Defying Program. Fotuhi received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His research findings have been published in The Journal of Neuroscience, The Lancet, Nature, Neurology, Neuron, and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Fotuhi has been featured on PBS, The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, Discovery Channel, NBC’s TODAY show, and numerous other national media.Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

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Photo by David Fournier with Thanks to The Magic Hour FoundationWinter is a time when the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and temperatures dip to their lowest. However, winter is also a time when some dealing with the “winter blues,” and are overcome with tell-tale signs of depression– a medical condition that affects a person’s thoughts and feelings as well as the body, and can be associated with various physical problems in areas such as sleep, appetite, energy, libido, and thinking (Albrecht/Herrick16). The feelings and sensations, or lack thereof, associated with depression may be experienced by a person for any number of reasons specific to the individual and their circumstances. However, depression, which occurs regularly during certain times of the year, and which most typically affects people during the cold, dark, months of winter, is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, “the classic characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.” One might ask why is it that a person becomes more prone to these feelings of depression during winter versus other times of the year. While the onset of SAD symptoms “usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April, in a minority of cases, symptoms occur in the summer rather than winter. There are certain factors (circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels) that have been identified as influencing the occurrence of SAD and its symptoms, but a specific cause has not yet been identified.

sadIn order to better understand how SAD affects individuals, let’s take a closer look at the three influential factors mentioned above: circadian rhythm, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. Exposure to decreased light may disrupt the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which helps us time our wake and sleep cycles, and determines when various important biological processes (ex: sleep, appetite, digestion, etc.) will take place. For instance, most of us are acclimated to how the presence or absence of sunlight influences when we wake up (in the morning), when we are at our most productive (during the day), and when we go to bed (in the evening after the sun has set).

Serotonin, aka “happiness hormone,” is a monoamine neurotransmitter biochemically derived from tryptophan, which regulates intestinal movements, as well as mood, appetite, sleep, and muscle contraction. The less light there is, the lower the production of serotonin, which disrupts the way the neurotransmitter effectively communicates with nerve cells, and leads to symptoms of SAD.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland when it is dark, in order to make us feel sleepy. On the other hand, when there is light, the hypothalamus inhibits production of this hormone, which causes us to feel awake.

In conclusion, the darker days of winter cause the circadian rhythm to be affected by the lowered levels of serotonin, as well as the increased levels of melatonin. The body responds as if it were in pseudo-hibernation mode, and the SAD sufferer feels sleepier, increasingly tired, has less energy, appetite decreases, and mood is dampened. In order to curb and combat the symptoms of SAD, there are effective forms of treatment available, which consist of antidepressants, light therapy, and psychotherapy.

If you or anyone you know may be experiencing SAD, talk with your health care provider, or a qualified professional. For more information regarding SAD, and/or available treatment options, the following local resources are just a phone call away: NAMI (410-884-8691); Howard County Mental Health Authority (410-313-7350); Thrive Center (410-740-3240); Congruent Counseling Services (410-740-8066).

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.

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woman with pretzel

© Arne9001 |

Good nutrition is essential to a healthy lifestyle. For people with diabetes, nutrition has even more critical implications, so keeping track of what you eat to make sure you get a variety of the right foods in the right amounts is an important element of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

According to the National Diabetes Education Program, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, a serious disease in which blood sugar (glucose) levels are above normal. Most people with diabetes have Type 2, once known as adult-onset diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is not caused by obesity, and many people with this disease are of normal weight. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is strongly related to being overweight or obese, and losing even a moderate amount of weight can reduce the need for treating the diabetes with medication. In some cases, it can even eliminate the diabetes and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. Anyone with diabetes needs to watch their carbohydrate consumption to avoid spikes in blood glucose levels.

“You are somewhat in the driver’s seat. Typically, diabetics require more medicine over the years to manage their disease. But, if you can lose weight and make dietary changes, you may be able to reduce the medicine you need.”
—Teresa Love, MS, RD, CDE

Myth: Diabetics can’t eat fruit, bread, potatoes, rice, carrots or anything white.
Truth: They can in moderation.
People with Type 2 diabetes need to be aware of the carbs in their diet, but reducing overall calories and exercising regularly are the biggest keys to weight loss success. It is important to eat three meals a day with a balance of complex carbohydrates (vegetables and whole grains), healthy fats (think nuts and olive oil) and lean proteins (fish, chicken and beans). It’s also a good idea to keep some healthy snacks on hand.

Strict limiting of one particular kind of food over a long period of time is difficult for many people to stick with, so eat a well-balanced diet and get more exercise! The goal is not to eliminate all carbohydrates and sugars, but to practice moderation.

Lifestyle changes that can help you lose weight
The Diabetes Prevention Program, an evidence-based program led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has shown that you can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes by losing weight through a reduced-calorie diet and by increasing physical activity. “Individuals should aim for a seven percent weight loss over three months and 150 minutes of physical activity weekly,” said Teresa Love, MS, RD, CDE, a nutritionist at Howard County General Hospital.

Diabetic diet DOs
Our nutritionist recommends that you:

  • Keep a log of all your food and beverages using a notebook or websites and apps to track calorie intake.
  • Incorporate lima, kidney and black beans into your diet. They are a good source of iron and fiber and a carbohydrate that doesn’t raise blood sugar significantly.
  • Try not to drink calories in the form of sugary beverages or alcohol.
  • Eat breakfast within an hour or two of getting up.
  • Eat consistently – a meal or a snack – every three to five hours.
  • Don’t consume all of your food at the end of the day.
  • Eat more vegetables.
  • Try to have a protein-based food with each meal: lean meat, eggs, cottage cheese, or yogurt to control hunger and blood sugar.
  • Practice strategies that help control portions like using
  • Do not buy all sugar-free and no-sugar-added products. Instead, eat whole foods that are natural and less processed. The fewer ingredients, the better the food is for you.
  • Eat half of your meal when you eat out at a restaurant and take the rest home or share with someone. Restaurant portions are typically too large.
  • Remember that exercise not only helps you lose weight but can help lower blood glucose levels.










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Comfort foodHave you ever told yourself, “Just one more potato chip,” and then proceeded to finish off the entire bag? Or have you bought a box of cookies with the intention of eating them in reasonable portions – and later, finding yourself stressed, eating the entire box in one sitting? I have and you are not alone.

It has been proven that women, more so then men, particularly stress about what and how much they eat. Why do we feel so guilty when we overeat? Personally, some of the reasons I find myself eating more to soothe feelings of anger, boredom, loneliness, and stress (and as a result, end up feeling guilty too). This is something I struggle with on a regular basis and it becomes a vicious cycle. Once I have overeaten for the day, I feel guilty and continue to overeat thinking, “What’s the point? I’ve already eaten poorly today.”

According to Lisa Elaine Held from an article that was published in Prevention magazine in May 2012, “Media messaging doesn’t help. Women’s magazine headlines are full of “guilt-free” burgers, snacks, and desserts. The underlying message is clear: If the foods in this article are guilt-free, then those others you’re eating are guilt-y.” So, how do we distinguish between eating as a source of nourishment and emotional eating?

10 day detoxAnother important question to consider is, “Are certain foods physically addictive?” According to The Blood Sugar Solution 10-day Detox Diet by Mark Hyman, MD, “Foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive. So yes, food addiction is very real. It’s the root cause why so many people are overweight and sick. They are stuck in a viscous cycle of cravings.” I know that once I’ve gotten a taste of something sweet, there’s no doubt in my mind that the phenomenon of craving is overpowering and hard to shake.

“For some people giving up certain foods proves as difficult as it may be for an addict to give up alcohol or drugs. The same components of addiction are present and the brain may be affected in the same way. For many people their relationship with food is comparable to that of a drug user’s with drugs,” states Kimberly Steele, who is a bariatric surgeon at The Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery.

What can we do to separate food with emotions? Ask ourselves some honest questions. I think the best question to ask yourself is, “Am I physically hungry or am I trying to fill some emotional need with food?” What has worked for me, is maintaining a daily food diary. I’m honest in my reporting, even when I feel I have “messed up” that day with overeating or eating junk food. This helps me see just how food and my emotions are intertwined. I know that this may not work for everyone, but maybe we should cut ourselves a break and try to separate food and guilt.

Alex Hill is a Customer Service Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She has worked for Howard County Library System in the Customer Service department for more than 5 years. Alex enjoys giving movie recommendations, talking to East Columbia’s teens and in her spare time, taking pictures.

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calendar_2014smMonday, Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 10:15 a.m. I’m Going to Be a Big Brother or Sister at Savage Branch. Prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding your baby. Resources for parents, too. Families; 30 – 45 min. Ticket required.In partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.

Monday, Jan. 5, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.

Tuesday, Jan. 6, 7:00 p.m. Guided Meditation at Miller Branch. Enjoy a guided mindfulness meditation designed to impart a feeling of peacefulness and connection. Please bring a cushion or meditation pillow. Presented by Star Ferguson, M.Ac., L.Ac. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.


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Many thanks to Kelly Mack for her contributions to Well & Wise.

In my farewell reflections, I want to share my thanks for allowing me to tell some of my health stories and lessons learned. I view health as a journey, trying to find a good balance in our daily life. With this approach, taking a look back at the path can be very helpful for planning next steps.

In my case, I made some great steps in physical therapy and gaining strength following knee replacement surgery. While I still have additional goals, I have found regular exercise to be very beneficial in my recovery and overall health. On the more challenging side, my chronic rheumatoid arthritis (RA) provides more adventure than I would like. This year I went on a new medication, but the side effects of weakening my immune system have led to bronchitis, pneumonia, and similar issues.

For me, health is a tricky balance. I don’t often feel I have a handle on it, but try to approach health as a daily practice. When I can string together some healthy days, I feel encouraged. A few weeks and I get ecstatic. I’m never 100 percent, but I’m always working on my health.

For the coming year I have a good foundation to build on. I’m happy with my exercise practice and feel I’ve made great improvements to my eating habits with the help of a nutritionist. I plan on incorporating meditation to help manage stress and pain from my RA. Continuing to gain strength will always be an important goal while also trying to maintain (or even improve) my quality of life with RA.

More elusively, I need to find a better balance with my RA treatment’s side effects and the attack of the disease. Unfortunately, I don’t have a plan for this piece, but need to consult with my doctor and work step-by-step to find a way.

With this in mind, how would you assess your year in health? Made some improvements? Noted some setbacks? Can you pick out one or two new practices you can embrace every day to support your health? It may sound crazy, but I’ve found making a change to daily habits can build gradually over time and give the confidence that long term health goals are possible to achieve.

Best of luck in your assessment and hope you can stake out some wins in the New Year!

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.

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