Chocolate. It is happiness in a wrapper.

Have you ever wondered why chocolate is so delightful? For anyone who has delved into a bar and emerged with a grin, you will agree that the sweetness of this cocoa-based treat resembles the healing powers of Grandma’s homemade apple pie.

Chocolate. It’s chicken soup for the soul.

According to the European Heart Journal (as reported in The Guardian), chocolate can significantly lower your blood pressure and stave off other ugly cardiovascular illnesses. I know a little square of dark chocolate now and then prevents me from losing my top at the people in my house.

The crumbled wrapper on my desk reveals that four squares of my Milka chocolate bar remain. With hungry mouths that devour anything close to junk food in the kitchen, I swept away the remnants of the bar with impunity. We had a tense weekend with the kids, a blend of financial planning and misbehaving Wee Ones whose main goal was to see how far their limits could go while they thought we weren’t looking.

We were.

It was nothing a little chocolate couldn’t cure. My blood pressure has stabilized, thanks to the flavanols and the joy emitted by the brown candy sitting on my desk!

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If you don’t know TED, drop what you’re doing and run, do not walk, to this site. An actor friend of mine got me turned on to this organization that hosts conferences on the most diverse subjects.

TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design. It was originally created to foster discussion about these areas by professionals in those fields. But it quickly went viral as countries around the world wished to partake in the conversation. In 2009 TEDx was born. It stands for independently organized TED event. On Friday, I attended one in Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart with a town center so quaint that it almost hurts.

My new friend, Albert Frantz, held the first talk of the day. He discussed the meaning of music and how to embrace dissonance because that is the very thing that makes the music interesting. Later he played a piece by Beethoven that gave me chills. In that moment I realized how healing music can be.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes about music is

Music is what feelings sound like.

I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of the mind-body connection, SANOSON is an example of a therapeutic approach to healing through music. It has been scientifically proven that you can regulate your heartbeat, blood pressure and more through its process. From a subjective standpoint, music has a centering and calming effect like nothing else.

So how can music help you bring more slow to your life?

Listen to a recording of African drumming or some other rhythmic beat. Dance to it. Let yourself really go for it as you become one with the instruments. We did this technique in my acting class yesterday. It was incredible how everyone in the room was transformed when they let the music flow through them. We were more concentrated, productive and, ultimately, happier for it.

I bet you will be, too.

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Forest Bathing

August 18, 2010

The Japanese are at it again. No, I’m not talking about their being replaced by China as the second largest world economy. I’m referring to their most interesting way of looking at life, Nature and well-being.

The other day I stumbled upon a New York Times article about forest bathing. Before you think you’ve got to grab a zinc tub and some Ivory soap and head for the woods, think again. Forest bathing refers to the Japanese term, “Shinrin-yoku”, which means to literally surround yourself with forest air. The airborne natural chemicals, phytonides, that plants emit to stave off insects and strengthen their immune system have been proven to increase our natural killer cell (aka white blood cell) activity. In a 2007 study of men who took a two-hour forest walk twice a day, their white blood cells increased by 50% in just a few days!  Japan’s Chiba University conducted another study that found the forest air let to lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure. Now those are even more reasons to strap on your boots and go for that nature walk.

Although the University of Sussex claims a nature walk reduces stress only by 42% (as determined by pulse rate) while reading just six minutes brings your stress levels down by 68%, the side benefits of walking through the woods are very compelling.

So the next time you find you’re teetering toward burnout, push your chair back, walk away from your computer and head for the wooded hills for a slow walk.

Take a dip in the forest air. Your heart will thank you for it.

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