Gene VI and GMO: What You Need to Know

gmoThe European Food Safety Authority published a study in GM Crops and Food that brings to light a disturbing problem with the majority of GMO products in North America: A hidden viral gene that has far-reaching health implications. The gene, called Gene VI, is found in many GM crops, including Monsanto’s RR MON810 soya, NK603 maize. These crops are sold not just for consumption in North America, but also to various EU countries for food and animal feed products.

Some 2/3rds of approved GM crops in the US feature this gene. With such a large number of crops featuring it, what are the risks?

Gene VI is linked to the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus promoter gene. Scientists are concerned that normal functions of crop plants could be adversely affected. For example, plants may become unnaturally susceptible to some pathogens while less to others, resulting in poor crop health. Interference with messenger RNA could cause the production of novel proteins and/or toxins, with unknown consequences. Finally, gene silencing could occur (genes normally “on” being turned off), which could have far-reaching implications with regard to plant defences.

Viral genes act similarly to drugs: They disrupt normal function. Gene VI acts to suppress normal anti-pathogen defences. So, the question is: Does this gene suppress immune function in those who are exposed to GMO products? Currently, nobody knows.

Since GMO labelling is not mandatory in the US, no epidemiological studies can be carried out to gauge the safety of GMOs. What’s more, not a single country that has approved GMOs has bothered to implement monitoring. With the nearly forgone conclusion that Gene VI will cause aberrant gene expression, we’re clearly setting ourselves up for trouble.

The body’s immune system triggers inflammatory response in the presence of known pathogens and substances that it does not recognize whatsoever. Should GMOs be producing novel proteins or toxins for which the body has never encountered, the result will be inflammation. And inflammation is the common ground for all chronic illness.

With this cat out of the bag, one must wonder how much the likes of Monsanto and DuPont will spend to sweep the mess under the carpet. My advice? Eat organic.

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Feeling SAD

seasons-tree-300x300As winter settles in for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, many people will find themselves in the rut of the winter blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a complex issue, being a mix of environmental and lifestyle elements that create the potential for deep and lasting depression.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that SAD’s effects can be largely mitigated by carefully attending to some very basic lifestyle tweaks. I’ll outline them here:

Diurnal Cycle

This is the biggie. Many people in modern times forgo the mantra of “early to bed, early to rise” and time-shift their daily routine such that they go to sleep many hours after sunset and rise a similar number of hours after sunrise. This time shift puts the body into a state of perpetual jet lag, where our exposure to the earth’s day/night rhythm is disrupted and out of sync.

The solution is to put our diurnal cycle back in order. Our task is to be awake and exposed to natural light for as many hours as there is daylight. And in order to alleviate the cultural time shifting imparted by Daylight Saving Time, your best bet is to fix your rise time to match the dawn of the longest day of the year. Where I live, for example, summer’s peak has sunrise at 4:25 a.m. and sunset at 7:01 p.m. As such, my optimal wake up time is 4 a.m., with bedtime correspondingly coming at 8 p.m.

In winter, holding to this schedule has my morning starting off in the quiet of night. Sunrise doesn’t come until 6:47 a.m. on the morning of the solstice. It’s a short day, too, with sunset coming at a mere 4:32 p.m. With such a short day, it’s important to optimize our exposure to natural light. But how to do that?

The Sun at Zenith

The second aspect of dealing with SAD is to ensure that you get adequate exposure to natural sunlight. This means not only getting outside often during daylight hours, but timing that excursion to be at the best possible time of day. Our serotonin/melatonin hormonal cycle depends on this optimal exposure. We produce serotonin by having correct daylight exposure, which then promotes adequate melatonin production during our peak sleep hours (between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. at night).

When is this peak daylight exposure? When the sun is at zenith (at its highest point in the sky, also known as its “transit time”). The transit time is fairly stagnant. That is, for a particular region, the transit time will be within about 10 minutes (ignoring DST) between the shortest day and longest day. Where I am, transit time for the sun on the winter solstice was 11:39 a.m. At the summer solstice, the transit time was 11:43 a.m.; a mere 4 minutes difference.

Our serotonin production peaks when our UVA and UVB exposure is in optimized ratios. UVB exposure is highest when the sun is at zenith. UVA exposure stays mostly the same throughout the daylight hours. UVB is the ultraviolet wavelength that is associated with causing our body to utilize cholesterol to produce Vitamin D3. It also triggers an anti-inflammatory response via stimulation of the hippocampus via the optic nerve. Conversely, UVA triggers an inflammatory response. As such, we want, as much as possible, to optimize our sunlight exposure to those peak hours when the sun is high in the sky.

We grew up under the canopy of the trees. The canopy filters out most direct sunlight until the sun is directly overhead. Because of that, it makes sense that we should forgo the “common sense” wisdom of avoiding sunlight during peak hours. We evolved to expect and require the opposite! Tickle your orbs with sunlight during midday and you’ll enjoy a better mood and improved health.


The last ingredient in your recipe for winter health is exercise. Exercise promotes all manner of hormonal release in the body that benefits both physical and mental health! Moderate exercise that makes you perspire will induce production of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and estrogen, as well as various growth factors. Exercise sufficient to cause perspiration will also encourage the body to express toxins.

Light Box Therapy and Tanning Beds

For severe SAD episodes, you might wish to purchase a light box. There are any number of them on the market, but I have some thoughts on those that may be better than others. The first rule for an effective light box is one that optimizes UVB output. Feel free to get one that promotes Vitamin D production and even tanning.

As with tanning beds, light boxes should not use magnetic ballasts, which are implicated in melanomas and other cancers. Only light boxes and tanning solutions that implement electronic ballasts should be considered. Choose wisely.Your light box should use full-spectrum bulbs, optimized for UVB output ratios. As close to natural sunlight at zenith as possible is ideal.

When using a light box or tanning bed, consider using them only during peak sunlight hours. The reason is that we want to stimulate our skin and our eyes to mimic that of natural sunlight. (In a tanning bed/booth DO use eye protection!) The idea is to get the right amount of light at the right time. Artificial lighting can do wonders, but at the wrong time of the day, it will be detrimental to your health.

Vitamin D3

Finally, consider supplementing your diet and lifestyle with Vitamin D3. The human body needs anywhere from 4,000-8,000 i.u. of D3 per day in order to be healthy and have optimal immune function and appropriate inflammatory response. Whatever we’re not creating naturally by virtue of skin exposure to the sun, we need to supplement. Food for thought.

I hope this helps shed some “light” on the subject of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Get outside and enjoy the sun. Sleep with your mask on and blackout drapes. Eat well. Exercise. Don’t be SAD, be happy!

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Proposition 37: Facts or Fiction?

photo of Trane FrancksCalifornia is coming down to the crunch over the next few days. The issue of knowing whether GMOs is present in a certain food is up for grabs. As a voter, are you going to believe that somehow Americans’ rights to know about GMO in products is somehow different than what other countries have experienced for years?

Companies such as Monsanto would have you believe that if you know what’s in your food, some great evil will befall you. The price of your food will increase or, worse, some foods will be banned. Folks, Proposition 37 does not ban ANYTHING. It merely seeks to ensure that if there are GMO products in a food, it is labelled as such.

The top 6 companies financially supporting the No To 37 campaign are also leading pesticide manufacturers. I want you to think about that for a few moments. It is my belief that any company who is against labelling of GMOs is bound to benefit from a lack thereof. GMOs and pesticides go hand-in-hand. And if you don’t believe that, spend some time looking up pesticide usage for RoundupReady crops over the last 5 years.

The No On 37 campaign has spent some 40 million dollars to ensure that people are kept in the dark regarding the contents of their food. We have long expected our lists of ingredients to tell us what we’re eating, but the No camp wants to ensure that we CANNOT get information about eating GMOs. Period.

Kashi is one example of a manufacturer who uses GMOs in their “Natural” cereals. Kashi is also a big-time financial supporter of the No On 37 campaign. This … uh … might not be a surprise.

The following image says it all:

Please give all due consideration to the idea that we have the right to know what we eat.


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Food is Love: Vote Yes on Proposition 37!

As the United States nears its always important election day, one of the more pressing issues has been percolating on the West Coast. Californians are facing an epic decision regarding food labelling and GMOs.

Proposition 37 is all about the right for consumers to know what’s in the food they buy and eat. As it stands now, the United States does not have mandatory GMO labelling on products, which means that consumers have no way to know for certain whether or not a particular food contains GMO ingredients. Prop 37 posits that consumers have the inalienable right to know what they’re getting and, if passed, will make it mandatory for manufacturers to indicate whether GMOs are included in their ingredients.

Monsanto and their ilk have spent more than $40-million fighting a propaganda war against Prop 37. These companies want to keep you in the dark in their efforts to propagate their frankenfood products throughout the world. Voting Yes on Prop 37 would be a huge blow against these deceptive tactics and help ensure that consumers have the opportunity to make informed decisions over whether or not to eat products containing GMOs.

This is a hugely important vote. While Prop 37 is a California-only issue for the moment, other states and countries are watching the outcome closely. Due to the economics of mass production, passing Yes on Prop 37 in California would very likely have a rippling effect all across the country. Labelling products to indicate whether they have GMOs is vital to making informed decisions, and the broader base of such labelling available means that consumers everywhere would be able to make good choices.

Remember: Food is Love!


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The True Nature of Healing

T-cell killing a cancer cell

What is the true nature of healing? That question has been on my mind a lot lately. This October marks the 6th anniversary of the passing of my mother from a combination of cancer and Wegener’s Granulomatosis. As this anniversary crawls closer and closer, I find myself being ever more sensitive to news articles and punditry that expounds on how we get sick and how we get well.

Most of it is alarmingly wrong. And most of that comes from the medical profession itself.

You’ve likely heard of the so-called “snake oil salesmen” who travelled from town to town espousing the benefits of their wares. Somebody from the audience would usually yell from the background that his niece or wife had been sick and on the very urge of leaving this mortal coil, yet the power of Dr. Strangelove’s Magic Potion was the cure-all that got them back in the pink. It’s a metaphor for healing that we cling to till this very day.

Most of us were raised to go to the doctor when we were ill. The doctor would give us a quick once-over and scribble out a secret cipher on a piece of paper you would then take to the pharmacy to get your magic pills or potions that would cure you from your ailment. Over some period of time, we got better and our belief in the magic cure-all of allopathic medicine was enforced. If you feel lousy, take a pill. If you want to avoid getting sick, get vaccinated. If you want to live longer, drink this tonic. If you want better sexual relations, the blue pill fits the bill.

The reality is that healing isn’t about pills. It isn’t about potions. It isn’t about anybody but yourself. When it comes to cancer, chemotherapy doesn’t cure you. The trick to chemo is the (dark) art of the oncologist having a knack for almost, but not quite, killing you with some of the most toxic substances known to man and, in doing so, killing the cancer first. It’s a tricky task and a lot of people die from their treatments along the way.

It bears repeating: Healing isn’t about anybody but yourself. Nobody can cure you. Doctors might like to take the credit, but all the good ones are doing is tripping up the balance within your body such that a pathogen is inconvenienced to the point that your body can heal itself and rid itself of the problem. If you don’t get that, read the sentence again. This is the most important truth with regard to physical well-being: All healing is self-healing.

Because all healing takes place within the body, driven 100% by the body’s inner mechanisms, it’s important for us to participate in our healing journey by making choices that assist our body’s ability to do what’s necessary to repair itself. If you’re recovering from a chemo series and sitting down to a jumbo bag of gummy bears while eyeballing American Idol, I can assure you that you’re NOT helping your body to heal. What you’re doing is helping your cancer to maintain its foothold despite the chemo’s potential to set the cancer on the run.

It is this self-healing paradigm that this web site advises you to “Take responsibility for your well-being and master your life!” By taking ownership and responsibility for healing yourself, it leaves it up to you to make the right decisions to assist and augment your healing journey. By taking responsibility, you empower yourself. You might want to passively go along with everything your doctor prescribes for you, but those (in my experience) generally amount to drugs, drugs and more drugs. Your body does not need drugs. It needs its building blocks to effect repairs in the form of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It needs a diurnal clock along with correct day/night exposure to trigger the proper serotonin and melatonin cycle (essential for healing). And it needs you to sleep 7-8 hours/day.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you don’t work with your doctors or take their advice. By all means, get assessed and assisted by qualified medical professionals! The point is to not leave it only and all up to them to make you well. Your well-being, despite the convenience of so thinking, is not their responsibility. Your well-being is your responsibility. All the doctors in the world could ever do is help your body heal itself. Since it’s your body, I’d say that you’ve got the biggest role in helping your body to heal.

My mother smoked well into her WG, which she fought for at least 8 years. Her unwillingness to give up that vice helped keep her body inflamed and off balance such that cancer eventually set in. Despite heroic efforts by her oncologists and WG specialists, it was just too late. Her demise was the truth for countless people around the world these days. Don’t be one of them.

If you’re dealing with an illness of some sort, don’t be a passenger on your journey. When you’re a passenger, you’re powerless over which direction your journey takes. It is only in being in full control of your journey can you determine exactly where you end up. It’s an important aspect of becoming well, just as it is an important element in becoming the best you can be in any area of life.

Life is not a spectator sport. Neither is healing. So, stand up and take on the task of driving your healing forward instead of sitting back and waiting for somebody else to either make you well or let you die.

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How Much Food Are You Wasting?

Part of the big picture of a Utopian future must include efficient use of resources. Efficient use of resources often is depicted as limiting our use of fossil fuels and preserving our forests. These are both important elements of efficiency, but they aren’t the whole picture.

Food waste is a huge problem in advanced countries. Here in Japan, consumer protection laws make it difficult for stores to sell produce and other perishable goods that have passed their “Best Before” dates, even when those foods are still quite viable for consumption. In our zest for mitigating risk to consumers, much of the food we could eat gets thrown away.

In fact, it goes beyond just the Best Before date. Much of the food we buy and sell must meet certain criteria for display. If a product is blemished, such as a blackened, rough surface on the skin of a tomato, the farmer won’t even take it to market. If a product is the wrong size, shape or colour for sale, it is simply disposed of, regardless of its fitness for human healthful consumption. It’s a tragic waste.

When I lived in Shizuoka with a friend some years ago, I remember hiking through some orchards only to come across a pile of “waste” fruit. It was a pile of at least 500 kg of mandarin oranges that was left to rot. I filled my backpack to the brim, hiking back home with some 15 kg of beautiful, firm and delicious oranges. In studying the pile, I couldn’t find any reason for these fruit to have been discarded. The fruit was, to my layman’s eyes, perfect. It was delicious. It was my first, but by no means my last, venture into freeganism.

Tristram Stuart recently gave an excellent talk on the subject of food waste. In an economy and environment that must understand how to feed a growing world population, food waste is an important topic to tackle. I encourage you all to take a few minutes to more deeply understand the issues involved.


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CAFOs/Big Agri vs Family Farms: Biodiversity At Risk

There’s a struggle going on between Big Agriculture and small, family owned farms. It doesn’t get much coverage on the news, but the family farm as we grew up to know it is disappearing. And with it, not only is a way of life being left behind, the biodiversity that we have come to expect in our foods is turning out to be greatly diminished.

Did you know that comparisons of seed availability was done for the years 1903 and 1984? You might be shocked to discover that in 1984, a study of all seeds available from all seed companies in the U.S. and Canada netted only 3% of the varieties that were available only 80 years earlier.

Further complicating the issues is that many of the 200+ seed companies that were in existence in 1984 have been bought out by the large chemical companies, such as Monsanto and BASF. These companies are only too happy to remove seed varieties from the wild and make them only available from their own seed catalogues. Worse, companies such as Monsanto may choose to remove non-adulterated seed from the supply chain entirely, opting instead to only offer genetically modified strains.


Seed and Biodiversity Forum

This is a huge issue because as our seed varieties diminish, so too do the genetic variations that exist in nature. The ramifications of this lack of biodiversity is well known from the standpoint that food monocultures are vulnerable to single-point failures, e.g., drought or pestilence. What isn’t perhaps quite as well known is that our own genetic material is determined by the genetic makeup of the organisms we eat. We like to think that our genetic material is 100% our own, but nothing could be further from the truth. What we ingest has a tendency to be absorbed into our body. Over time,  certain characteristics may express as genes as our makeup absorbs new material.

We have the risk of this happening with GMO foods, and the risk of having pesticides being excreted in our intestines by our very own gut flora is very real. We become what we eat. It’s important that not only what we eat is healthful, but that we get a wide variety of it.

The other element of risk, then, is that biodiversity is coming under threat from large-scale agriculture. Big Agri is a fan of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). CAFOs, literally factory farms, are working to encourage government to go after small farmers and prosecute them for growing produce that does not fall under the mainstream. Choice, it seems, is not a good thing.

In an article at Mercola’s site, small farmers of heritage-breed pigs are under threat of being shut down because of false allegations that their pigs are feral and a threat to CAFO pigs. Anybody who understands anything about free-range, grass-feed farming knows that these animals tend to be healthier; just the opposite of the allegations being tossed at the farmers.

With the Michigan Department of Natural Resources currently engaged in a witch hunt for non-white pork, our choice of food once again comes under threat. And, once again, the threat against biodiversity and all the risks associated with it should not be underestimated.

I encourage all readers to watch the embedded video and read the Mercola article. There’s a lot more at stake here than just how many apple varieties you’ll find at the local supermarket.

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The Optimism Bias: Shaping Reality, Creating The Future

One of the more interesting elements of human thinking is our tendency towards optimism. The vast majority of emotionally healthy individuals exhibit a strong bias of believing that things are going to turn out for the best. Regardless of whether that be getting a promotion, not getting cancer or our ability to pass our driving exam, we nearly always expect a successful outcome.

This bias towards optimism is wired into our brains. Using functional MRI, researcher Tali Sharot was able to quantify the brain activity associated with assimilation of good news and bad news. The results were interesting, but I’ll leave it to her in the accompanying video to talk about it. What I’m more interested in today is discussing the implications of an optimism bias regarding creating our realities, both positive and negative.

The first order is to sum it up with: Science has definitively proven that regardless of how you describe it (The Secret, Law of Attraction, Manifesting), the fact is that if you expect to achieve positive results, you will have a far greater chance of that happening than if you expect to achieve negative results. Moreover, if you expect to achieve big things, you’ll be happier. The idea of having low expectations and being happy when you’re proved wrong is a nice theory, according to Sharot, but it also happens to be wrong.

Understanding the bias is interesting because it puts a lot of our cultural behaviours into sharp focus. According to Sharot, “We’re optimistic about ourselves, we’re optimistic about our kids, we’re optimistic about our families, but we’re not so optimistic about the guy sitting next to us.” On a broader perspective, we tend towards realism and are able to see the bigger picture. When faced with looking inward, we tend towards optimism.

The benefit of this optimism with regard to health is obvious. People who expect to be healthy tend to experience good health (or at least better health) than people who expect to experience illness. The power of positive thinking is quantifiable and real. So, just as an Olympic athlete may imagine a successful outcome of their competition over and over prior to executing a brilliant performance, the more we can envision or imagine our own successful outcomes, the more likely we are to experience them.

The downside of our optimism bias, however, is very real. Being optimistic about ourselves, but not so much about the other guy, means that cancer from smoking is something that happens to others. It means that we’re less likely to truly recognize that 64-oz. colas are just as likely to cause us to develop diabetes as the next guy. In our tendency to seeing the bright side of things, we may be led to engage in risky behaviour in the unfounded assumption that we’ll be spared the consequences.

I think this optimism bias may be part of the problem with regard to our cultural unwillingness to deal with environmental issues in a timely manner. If we get stuck assuming that somebody will fix it in time, it frees us from the moral impetus to do anything about it ourselves. It enables us to label something “SEP” (Somebody Else’s Problem, to borrow the term from the wonderful Douglas Adams). At some point, an unrectified negative situation will become our problem, and it’s imperative that we be able to recognize this before we reach a tipping point of no return. The recognition of the tipping point and our distance from it is a skill that we each need to develop and nurture. The optimism bias is a vital part of being a successful human being, but too much of it can be a bad thing. The knowledge of this bias and how it operates can work very much to our advantage. Enjoy!


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Thought For Food

If you’re at all like I am, I grew up having friends and family in the farming community. I got to hang out with cows in the pasture, was chased by geese while trying to cross the yard, drove tractors and simply enjoyed the freshest produce possible. And when we were no longer near our family-run farm, my mom always had a garden planted. Nothing quite tastes like “summer” to me than a tomato fresh off the vine.

The move to self-sustainability has seen a recent increase in families gardening. Some have turned their balconies into vegetable or herb gardens. My own roof balcony has wild mint for us (and cat grass for Lila) growing on it. Here in Tokyo, it’s quite common to see a vegetable garden growing on a lot between two houses. City farming is not simply common here, it’s encouraged.

Some of you may have read a recent article on Mercola’s site that discussed the problems being faced by urban gardeners in some areas of North America. In Drummondville, Quebec, a couple planted a beautiful garden in their front yard, only to be told by city officials that they needed to dig it up because it broke city bylaws. Dirk Becker in B.C. faced similar problems after he took a 2.5-acre gravel pit and, over a decade, healed the land to create a vast organic garden landscape. He was threatened with jail for that. There are other incidents and it’s worth both reading the Mercola article and other sources to get a better understanding of the issues at stake.

That, however, is not what today’s article is about. I mentioned the downside of it because it is such a counterpoint to my experiences. Although North Americans seemingly have lost their connection with the soil and no longer find gardens attractive, the same is not true for other parts of the world. Consider, if you will, the fact that what North Americans call a “yard”, the English call a “garden”. Really stop and think about that.

During my frequent travels to Austria, I was constantly reminded of the urban gardener by the existence of communal garden plots scattered throughout the cityscape. These were areas where families would go to work the land and then sit back and enjoy some quiet time. It’s a lovely pastime that promotes sustainability and encourages making healthful and productive use of unused land.

A town in West Yorkshire called Todmorden had such a surplus of unused land. A few people decided to do something about that and spurred on an entire movement within its population of 15,000 to reinvent their landscape, access to food, educate its young people and even generate tourism where none existed before. Please have a look at how Pam Warhurst and the town of Todmorden could inspire YOUR town to do something, too.


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Mind Or Body: Take Your Pick

A lot of us have been taught that our emotional state is entirely dependent upon our thoughts. This belief has many of us completely ignoring our physical health even as we’re concerned with improving our emotional well-being. That separation of thinking stands in stark contrast to the reality of life: We are one, multifaceted, complex system.

In another perspective, it’s important for us to realize that our physical well-being is directly related to our emotional well-being. If we’re bombarded by external emotional stressors, it’s only a matter of time before we experience diminished physical well-being. There’s no separation, really, between the emotional and physical. You can think of them as connected systems that mirror each other within the contexts of their own components.

One way that we experience this can be seen in a healthy person coming down with an illness. As the illness sets in, our mood sours and we may become grumpy and even prone to lashing out at those around us. This connection between mind and body, the emotional and physical, is important not just because they show us quantifiable links to illness, but because they offer us a roadmap to creating overall health and well-being!

Some of us seem to be more cerebrally oriented than others. Others are far more physical. These biases and preferences give us a direct line to working towards feeling better. If we can consistently improve our emotional state for a period of time, our physical well-being will respond in kind. Conversely, if we consistently improve our physical well-being for a period of time, our emotional well-being will also improve.

The best advice I could possibly give you in terms of improving your well-being (and, in fact, creating a life rich with the experiences you wish to enjoy), it’s to focus first and foremost on being happy or feeling good from the perspective that is most easy for you. If you’re a cerebral type, get yourself laughing and feeling happy as much as you can and as often as you can. If you’re a physical type, meditate or exercise in ways that make you feel physically really good. By doing so, you’ll raise your emotional energies and your overall feeling will dramatically improve over time.

If you always see yourself as a complete system rather than a collection of disparate parts, you’ll find it much easier to address all aspects of your well-being.

If you have any questions about this (or anything else), feel free to leave a comment!

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