Laughter, the best medicine

Browsing through a magazine one day, Najwa Zahhar stumbled upon an article discussing the importance of breathing, relaxation and meditation in relation to health. Central to the piece was information about the work of the Centre of Integrated Health – now known as InspireHealth.

Najwa, who lives in Jordan, was staying with her sons in Vancouver, at the time. She made it her mission to visit InspireHealth during this trip. Upon walking through the doors of the Centre, this passionate lady, like so many, changed not only the outcome of her own future, but also that of many cancer patients in the Middle East.

Finding Inner Joy

Visiting InspireHealth provided Najwa with the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals – those who provided her with advice, information and most importantly, inspiration. She learned about finding inner joy though laugher yoga, the importance of meditation in the healing process, and how breathing can reduce the physical toll that stress and illness can have on the body.

It was not until a personal experience with cancer, through the passing of her closest friend, that Najwa branched out into the area of laughter yoga and meditation. “She was my soul mate, my sister and my best friend,” she explains. “I spent many days in hospital with her and could not help but notice the tension that the doctors, the nurses and consequently, the patients were carrying around with them.”

Following the death of her friend, Najwa visited Dr. Jamal Khatib, the Director of the Psycho-Social Oncology Program at the King Hussein Cancer Center.

She had a plan.

An Inspired Moment

During this meeting, Najwa spoke about the stressful and tense atmosphere that she had experienced during the long days which she had spent with her friend at the hospital. She proposed introducing a series of meditation and laughter yoga classes for cancer patients to help them discover their own natural laughter and personal joy. She wanted this to act as a light in the sometimes dark presence of the hospital ward.

Dr. Khatib agreed to give her a trial to determine whether the hospital would take on her idea.

The morning of the test, Najwa admits she was anxious. Still grieving the passing of her dear friend and anxious about this opportunity to share her techniques with so many people, Najwa sat in her home preparing herself.  “I was so nervous. I closed my eyes and attempted to relax. Suddenly, I found myself laughing. It was this moment which provided me with the inspiration that I needed. It was then I realized that I could do it!” And she did!

 Healing Through Laughter

Najwa is now a laughter therapist who volunteers at the hospital with children and cancer patients. Through her work she encourages them to find happiness and relieve themselves of the worry and pain they may experience along their journey.

Laughter yoga can assist the healing process by reminding us that no matter what we are experiencing at the deepest level, there is a part of us that is always free and joyful. Science is beginning to reveal how important joy and laughter are in supporting our health. Mirthful laughter significantly enhances many important aspects of immune system function, including increasing natural killer cell activity, immunoglobulin production, helper T cells and cytokines. Humour and laughter have been demonstrated to lessen anxiety and pain, reduce production of stress hormones and stress, and increase well-being in patients with cancer.

Connecting with InspireHealth

Najwa first came to InspireHealth over a decade ago. She visits her sons annually and during her vacation spends time at the Vancouver Centre. In addition to volunteering at the Centre, this inspired individual also makes use of the extensive onsite library to learn as much as possible to bring back to the hospital in Jordan. For example, after taking Susan D’Agostino’s Emotional Freedom Technique class at InspireHealth, Najwa was so inspired that she delved into learning more about this form of energy-based healing. She now teaches it to cancer patients at the King Hussein Cancer Center in the Middle East. An international advocate of integrative care, Najwa also shares the monthly Research Updates with Dr. Khatib, who in turns passes them on to his medical staff.

Najwa hopes that one day, we will live in a world where people will learn to forget their troubles, discover their inner self and be happy. “Too many people live their lives like they are stuck at a traffic light. Always looking outward, impatient, and not happy to be sitting still. All of the world will change if we only stop to look inside ourselves. It’s very simple,” she says.

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InspireHealth meets the Queen of Green

InspireHealth’s Nutritionist, Lisa Marie, meets David Suzuki’s ‘Queen of Green’ – Lindsay Coulter. 

Tell us about your latest sustainable seafood campaign?

There is a saying that goes, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Unfortunately, this is a lie. However, there is a solution to this problem. Choosing ocean-friendly seafood is a simple and effective way to help ensure that we have healthy oceans (and healthy humans) for generations to come.

Learn how to make the best choices at your local grocery stores and restaurants with tools like the SeaChoice Guide and Suzuki’s Top 10 Seafood Picks. Watch for easy recipes, tips and videos featuring ocean-friendly seafood and join in by becoming a SeaChoice ambassador in your own home. If you make one change this week, decide to eat SeaChoice green listed species only!

What do you feel is the connection between keeping our planet clean and keeping our bodies healthy?

Let’s look at organic food as an example. We often think of organic food as solely pesticide-free, but really it’s so much more. Organic farming is a balancing act. From waste to water to wildlife, farmers have to take each “W” into consideration. Buying organic is great for:

  • Saving energy and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Respecting ecological systems and promoting a healthy planet.
  • Protecting the health of farm workers.
  • Not applying sewage sludge to cropland.
  • Eating tasty and nutritious food.

As David Suzuki says, “what we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.”

Tell us about the perils of eating food without considering the source?

Watching your “foodprint” is one way to save the planet from the comfort of your kitchen table. Choices about what you eat can make as big a difference for the environment as how you get around – and  you make these decisions at least three times a day!

Neither the planet nor your body needs another fad diet. Learning about where your food comes from and the type of impact it’s having on the planet will help you eat more sustainably.

What are the best ways for health-conscious consumers to start making better choices when shopping for their food?

Choosing sustainable and locally-sourced food is obvious, but there are many other planet friendly choices to be made in the grocery store aisle.

  • Did you know that you can cook an even healthier meal by reducing your exposure to chemicals like Bisphenol-A (BPA) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)? Environment Canada and Health Canada has called BPA one of the 200 chemicals of greatest risk. If you’re avoiding hard plastics and bottled water, you’re already on the road to reducing your exposure. But this hormone disrupting chemical also leaches from the epoxy resin which lines many canned goods. Buy fewer canned foods. Choose alternative packaging like glass jars because they won’t leach anything and they’re reusable! Instead of canned fruits and veggies, buy fresh, frozen or dried. Dried beans or chickpeas, for example, taste much better this way (once soaked and cooked of course), and you can control the salt and sugar content.
  • Almost every kitchen has at least one piece of non-stick or Teflon coated cookware. PFOA is a chemical used in Teflon and other products including some kinds of dental floss, microwave popcorn bags, frying pans and even pizza boxes. As products with PFOA age and wear, the toxic compound is released. It is a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor that we know stays in the body and environment for a long, long time. Try safer alternatives like cooking with stainless steel, glass or cast iron. Want to recycle your old non-stick cookware? Contact the manufacturer of your product. See what they offer in terms of rebates or returns. You can also contact your local city recycling depot to see if they take scrap metal or can refer you to a metal recycler.

Are you interested in lightening your footprint and adopting a green lifestyle? Check out Lindsay’s do-it-yourself tips, eco-friendly cleaning and cosmetics recipes, and how-to videos that will help you protect nature – from building a bee house to reducing food waste. 

Visit her blog here!

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Emotional Connection

Learn the Language of Your Emotions
Emotions are often misunderstood in our society and, in many cases, are either repressed or acted out in an unhealthy or uncontrolled way. Learning the language of emotions and how to utilize this incredible, often untapped, and misunderstood resource is a vital and significant part of each individual’s journey toward wholeness and vibrant health.

Emotions manifest in our bodies as physical sensations. For example, anxiety about an upcoming event can manifest as a nervous stomach. Rather than habitually avoiding, denying or viewing our emotions as an inconvenience, we can begin to develop an awareness of the felt sense of these emotions in our bodies and learn to respond in a wise way.

Observe the Physical Sensations of Emotions

Once we become practiced at observing the physical sensations of our emotions and have found the appropriate words to convey our experience to ourselves and others, we no longer fear these emotions. We can then allow them to ‘wash through’ us without repression or strong reaction. We begin to experience more ease, joy and freedom in our lives as we are cultivating a deeper, and sometimes more honest, relationship with ourselves. Our relationships with others then become more authentic.

There are many ways to learn how to access and appreciate our feelings. It is strength to feel, share, and express our feelings.

At InspireHealth, we provide many opportunities to explore the realm of emotions.

Humans are by nature, social beings. It is our emotional connection with others, our sense of community and shared humanity that defines and sustains us. By connecting with others, we heal ourselves.

Emotional Connection Aids Healing

Research from the field of psychoneuroimmunology attests to the important role that emotional connection plays in the healing process. Landmark studies have shown that the simple act of meeting with others once a week to share emotionally and provide mutual support not only improves well-being, but can significantly improve the chances of recovery from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. 

For example, cancer researcher Dr. Frank Fawzy found that patients with malignant melanoma who were randomly assigned to participate in a weekly support group for a six-week-period after diagnosis were much more likely to be alive five years later than those who were not1.

The simple act of sharing emotionally with others over a period of six weeks had a very significant impact on the chances of survival five years later.

Express Feelings

Similarly, Dr. David Spiegel found that women with metastatic breast cancer who attended a weekly support group lived, on average, twice as long as those who did not2.  As Dr. Spiegel wrote, “Patients were encouraged to express their feelings about the illness and its effect on their lives. Social isolation was countered by developing strong relations among members. Members encouraged one another to be more assertive with doctors.”

A Large Network of Support Helps

More recent research by Karen Weihs has demonstrated that for women diagnosed with breast cancer, a large network of supportive friends and relatives is associated with a 60% reduction in recurrence and death over seven years compared to women who are socially isolated3.

Emotional connection with oneself and with one’s family, friends and loved ones plays a vitally important role in the healing/recovery process. Spend time with those whom you love and tell them how important they are in your life. Friendship and love are as important as any therapy, medication or vitamin.

Foundations of Healing

Fawzy F.I. et al Malignant melanoma: effects of an early structured psychiatric intervention, coping and affective state on recurrence and survival 6 years later. Arch Gen Psych 1993;50, 681-9.

2 Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kraemer HC, Gotthiel E. Effect of psychosocial treatment  on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet 1989;2(8668):888-91.

3 Weihs K. George Washington University Medical Center. Presentation to the American Psychosomatic Society. March 2001.

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Host a third party fundraising event in support of InspireHealth!

Andy White’s mom, Linda, was an active member of InspireHealth before she passed away in 2010. Having witnessed firsthand how much InspireHealth touched the life of his mom, Andy was inspired to host a third party event benefiting InspireHealth, and so, The Prints Show was born. This innovative event – a silent photography auction – raised over $3,000 for InspireHealth in the summer of 2011.

Click on the image below to watch a video of Andy and his co-host, Leon  Kozlov, talk about what inspired them to hold this amazing event!

What is a third party event?

A third party event is something special organized by an individual, community or business that is external to InspireHealth. You get to design the event, invite and play host to friends, family and members of your community AND make a difference to those facing a cancer diagnosis.

InspireHealth will support you with assisting to market the event, and be on hand to offer advice and tips about the best way to make it a success. We will also provide you with information about InspireHealth and brochures and leaflets to hand out at the event.

Why host an event?

InspireHealth continues to run and operate as an organization thanks to you – our enthusiastic members and generous donors. By hosting an event and donating to InspireHealth you are helping to ensure that we can offer those with a cancer diagnosis the best care possible through a combination of our programs, consultations and classes.

Many patients come to InspireHealth and the first thing they say is, “Why didn’t I hear about you sooner?” As a non-profit organization we depend on our dedicated friends and community members to share the news about InspireHealth and the benefits one can receive here. By hosting an event for InspireHealth you are helping to publicize us in your community and are letting those who need our services, know that we exist!

Event ideas

Event ideas are only limited by your imagination! In 2011 alone, dedicated members of our community hosted a myriad of events including: a movie screening, a silent auction, a fashion show, a photography show and a cycling challenge – in France!

Your event can be as small or as large as you choose – it is up to you! Some examples of third part event ideas include:

  • Special Occasions: birthdays, weddings or anniversary parties where people can donate to InspireHealth in lieu of a gift.
  • Sales: host a book sale, bake sale, yard sale or a craft fair and donate the proceeds to InspireHealth.
  • Ticketed events: host a movie night or throw a party or fashion show as a fundraising event!

Think about your passions, interests and what really inspires you. Events based on an existing hobby can be a lot of fun to host and you can take advantage of your existing friends and contacts in the community.

We want to hear from you!

Many of you mentioned in our recent readership survey that you would like to see us feature more events outside of Vancouver. Here is your chance to make this happen!

We invite and encourage you to host your own third party event and spread the word of InspireHealth to your community. If you are interested in hosting an event and donating the proceeds to InspireHealth, please contact Sinead (

 Thank you for your interest, passion and dedication to InspireHealth. We appreciate the commitment and time that you, our inspired community, dedicate to us. It is together, that we can make a difference.

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January Research Updates

Dear Reader:

In this issue Joshi et al. found additional supporting evidence to indicate that soy can benefit men with prostate cancer. Vollbracht and colleagues found that intravenous vitamin C helped to reduce treatment-related side effects for women with breast cancer. Ruder and associates reported that adolescent and mid-life diet may play a role in the development of colorectal cancer. Tasevska and colleagues investigated the link between sugar and cancer development. Borch and associates found that low levels of physical activity are associated with an increased risk of mortality, and Pronk et al. found that increased physical activity is associated with lower breast cancer risk. Kastelein and associates reported that use of statins and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines helped to slow the progression of Barrett’s esophagus. Naing and colleagues reported that utilization of complementary and alternative medicine is common in patients in phase 1 clinical trials. Lim and associates found that patients with incurable cancer benefited from acupuncture and nurse-led care also was beneficial in the longer term. Pardanani and colleagues found that low levels of vitamin D are common in cancer patients and that its relevance to prognosis is limited. In our study of the month, Parkin et al. drew a link between lifestyle and environmental risk factors for cancer such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, exercise, etc. and provided a fractional analysis of the incidence of 18 different types of cancer in the UK in 2010.

Click here to read January’s Research Updates



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Juices, blended and vibrantly healthy

Those who embark on a healing journey can often find themselves facing a time when certain foods are difficult to digest. It is during such times when sippable meals work as an alternative food option.

Juices and smoothies, when filled with fruits, vegetables and low sugar additions, super-charge your body with the vitamins, minerals and powerful phytochemicals that your body needs to repair, recover and restore.

Whether you’re interested in eating more raw foods, incorporating more veggies into your diet or need convenient nutrition when you aren’t feeling well, juices and blended drinks can be an excellent addition to any eating plan.

So, where do you start if you are new to drinking your produce? I suggest that you try a smoothie. As most people already have a blender, smoothies don’t require investing in expensive new equipment that may not fit your lifestyle. Smoothies are beneficial because you are consuming the whole food, with all of its cleansing fibre and any associated nutrients intact. Use a neutral, low-sugar liquid for your smoothie such as coconut water, unsweetened almond milk or plain water, and then experiment with endless possibilities!

Frozen berries are a nutritious base for a super smoothie. Their rich flavor also makes a great foil for kale. Simply strip kale off of its stalks and add 3-4 leaves to a blueberry smoothie for a gentle introduction to gulpable greens. If you are looking for extra energy to keep your strength up during recovery, blend raw avocado into any smoothie to transform it into an energy-rich, creamy treat. Other easy-to-enjoy smoothie combinations include pears with cultured coconut and ginger or raw cocoa, or almond butter and bananas.

For those ready to explore juicing, frequent your favourite juice bars first to ensure that daily juicing works for you before investing in equipment, and do your homework carefully when choosing a juicer. If you will be juicing lots of fibrous veggies such as carrots, greens and celery, then you will need a heavier duty machine rather than your standard orange juicer. Juicing stands out because it concentrates nutrients in a way that is easily digested and assimilated into your body.

Because you are concentrating your food, choose organic fruits and veggies whenever you can. It would be difficult to eat 5 cucumbers, 6 cups of spinach and 2 apples in one sitting, but it is easy to drink a juice made out of those ingredients! When the fibre is removed, nutrients move into your system rapidly, and it is, therefore, important to watch the amount of fruit and sweet veggies that you juice in order to keep blood sugars stabilized. Beets and carrots are naturally sweet and offer a great introduction for those new to vegetable juicing.

Of all the liquid love, green drinks deserve special recognition. Greens are particularly cleansing and nutritious, so sipping your greens is a great way to get a nutrient boost without a blood sugar spike. Try juicing cucumbers with lemon, apple with fennel or kale, or watercress and pear.

Smoothies and juices provide a flexibility that can be very helpful in times of taste and appetite changes. If a food tastes particularly bitter to you, sweeten things up with carrots, beets, oranges or apples. If food tastes sweet or metallic, add a bracing squeeze of lemon to your juice. If you find that juicing is bothering your stomach, pull back from the greens and consider drinking more smoothies than juices.

Have fun and experiment with different varieties. The combinations are only limited by your imagination!

Desiree Nielsen, RD, Choices Dietitian

For more grocery and cooking tips, I invite you to visit us in store or come along on an InspireHealth Nutrition Tour. To support the InspireHealth community, we are offering this new, complimentary service every other Friday at 11:30am at our Kitsilano location. The key InspireHealth food and nutrition teachings will be put into practice at the store with Choices’ dietitian. Learn practical tips and techniques for incorporating more healthful foods into your life and understand more about foods you should be cautious towards.

Tours are FREE and open to all InspireHealth members, however, registration is required. Please call 604-734-7125 to join the next tour!

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InspireHealth Holiday Wish List

Searching for a special gift for the holiday season? 

Then look no further than InspireHealth. 

F Cancer Embrace Life bracelet 

Jewelry designer and cancer survivor, Susan Fiedler, was so inspired by her cancer journey that she wanted to create something for herself to express what she had been through.

She created a bracelet, and with it, the F Cancer Embrace Life initiative was born.

Susan first came to InspireHealth after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had received radiation treatment that left her feeling “wiped out”. What Susan learned from InspireHealth had a profound influence on how she chose to live her life going forward. It was a transforming experience that inspired Susan to create this unique piece of jewelry.

In appreciation and gratitude for the positive experience and assistance she had at InspireHealth, Susan donates $50 for every bracelet sold directly to InspireHealth. To date, over $100,000 has been raised since its inception in October 2008.

Embrace Life this Holiday Season and share this inspiring message with your loved ones!

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