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The holiday season can be full of excitement, family, friends, and...busy-ness. Before your season becomes a blur of things to do and places to go, take some time to create intentional practices to help you slow down and appreciate the inspiration of the season. Here are five ideas to get you started.

Use a word, image, or memory to guide your holiday season. Take some time to think about what you truly want from your experience this year, then allow that idea to become a touchstone for your time and energy. For example, if your guiding word this year is gratitude, think about how you can enliven that word in your life, perhaps through journaling, writing a holiday letter of thanks to your friends and family, or finding opportunities to express gratitude within your community.

Getting outside, away from technology, is one of the best ways to slow down and appreciate the here and now. Being in nature calms the body, mind, and spirit, and beneficially affects the nervous system and immune system. Take time to walk in the woods. While you're there, stop to take notice of what you see, hear, and smell. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Plant yourself firmly and remind yourself that you, too, are part of the natural world.

When we become busy and stressed, we change our breathing patterns, taking shorter breaths out of the chest rather than the relaxed, deep breaths that help us feel calm and balanced. Breath awareness techniques can help your mind and body establish a state of relaxation in which you can operate from a state of intentional response rather than stressful reaction. Here's a quick breath awareness tool you might try when you notice yourself feeling rushed and stressed:
  • Close your eyes if you can.
  • Breathe in and feel a touch of cool air at the tip of your nose.
  • Breathe out and feel a touch of warm air.
  • Notice how in each moment of breath awareness you are just here, just now, in the present moment.


In our focus on "getting it all done," we can forget to nourish ourselves. Whole, minimally processed food can reduce our stress levels, provide the energy we need to stay balanced, and remind us of the comfort of a good, healthy meal. Choose colorful veggies and fruits, savor the smells and sights of your meal, and enjoy it mindfully, one bite at a time.

Nothing can take away from enjoying the season like sleep deprivation. Sleep is the time when our bodies rest, restore, and gather the resources necessary to wake up focused and ready for an intentional day. Especially during the busy holiday season, your body needs this time to reset. Adequate sleep helps the body to recover from stress, fight off illnesses, balance hormone levels associated with appetite and food cravings, and improve mood, just to name a few of the benefits of healthy sleep. If you are not waking up feeling rested, consider changing your bedtime routine to help you establish a calm state before bed. A few ideas include creating a consistent bedtime, turning off all technology at least one hour before bed, and avoiding substances that interfere with sleep (alcohol, sugar, caffeine, etc.). Treat yourself to a relaxing warm bath or cup of herbal tea and notice how your body can begin to relax and become calm before you get into bed.

Give yourself and those around you the gift of mindful presence this holiday season. Slow down and create a season of intention. Notice that you can find a moment of peace and joy, and take the time to absorb and extend that sensation.

Many Blessings to you all this holiday season,
Katie Winnell RN, BSN, NC-BC

b2ap3_thumbnail_katiewinnell_thumbnail.jpgKatie Winnell is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Nurse Coach with Credentialing in Clinical Meditation and Imagery and Health Education. She helps clients reveal and activate a lifestyle of wellness though Integrative Nurse Coaching and Clinical Meditation, Mindfulness and Imagery techniques. Katie is now seeing clients through the Integrative Medicine Office of Dr. Carin Nielsen.


In the busy-ness of our everyday lives, we often forget one of the most powerful tools we have to create physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Breathing. It seems so simple, yet so many of us breathe in ways that actually cause an increase in physiologic and emotional stress. The adage “breath is life” is finding ground in the medical community, with an increasing number of evidence-based studies showing the link between breath awareness practices and improved health. Indeed, these practices have the ability to positively impact multiple symptomologies, from test anxiety to high blood pressure, the common cold to chronic pain. Further, because breath awareness techniques have the ability to alter brain functions such as brain wave patterns and how parts of the brain “talk” to each other, breathing techniques can set the stage for new understandings, emotional integration, and spiritual development.

The link between specific breathing techniques and health outcomes lies in our innate ability to affect our nervous system function by simply breathing. Just taking a moment to be aware of the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out begins to switch your body out of stress and into relaxation. This happens because calm, focused breathing both mechanically and biochemically stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of your autonomic nervous system sometimes called the “rest and digest,” or “tend and befriend” nervous system. Its activation has been linked to positive health benefits such as decreased heart rate, lower blood pressure, decreased pain, and increased immune response.

The polar opposite of this state of relaxation occurs with the activation of the other branch of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system. Chronic activation of this part of the nervous system can contribute to multiple health problems such as cardiovascular disease, GERD, weight gain, and anxiety. Given the hectic, busy nature of our lives, we spend a large amount of time in “fight or flight,” and not nearly enough in “rest and digest.” Subsequently, our culture is seeing a precipitous rise in stress related chronic illness. Many of these states of illness, however, can be positively affected by practicing breath awareness as a stress management tool, effectively altering the nervous system balance between “rest and digest” and “fight or flight.”

In the upcoming workshop, Breath Awareness for Stress Reduction, we will explore and experience three powerful breath awareness techniques: Simple Breath Awareness, Diaphragmatic Breathing, and Extended Exhalation. These evidence-based techniques, when practiced over time, can truly lower your physiologic stress levels, allow you to access your “rest and digest” nervous system, and decrease chronic illness indicators. Moreover, they set the stage for more in depth explorations of meditation as a tool for health and wellness. Whether used independently or as an introduction to meditative practices, breath awareness can be an effective tool to reach your wellness goals. So, go ahead, Just Breathe.

1. Bergland, C. (2013 Feb.). The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. Retrieved from:, accessed 03/22/17.
2. Med Sci Monit. 2013; 19: 61–66. Published online 2013 Jan 21. doi:  10.12659/MSM.883743
3. N.A., (n.d.), Stress. Retrieved from:, accessed 03/22/17
4. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19
5. Pain Med. 2012 Feb;13(2):215-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01243.x. Epub 2011 Sep 21

Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative MedicineIf you are interested in learning how I can help you manage chronic illness risk factors and access your own unique lifestyle of wellness through wellness management, health education, health coaching, workshops, and clinical meditation instruction or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact the office of Integrative Medicine - Carin Nielsen, MD at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

An Introduction to Mindfulness Practice

Chris Frasz, BS, MSWMindfulness, an eastern meditation practice with a history of over 2,500 years, was established as a foundation for developing a clear and focused mind, allowing one to then analyze in depth various topics for self improvement.

With the gradual introduction of this practice to the west in the 60’s, interest has gradually built, supported by a great deal of research and empirical evidence, clearly showing many mental and physical benefits. Now, the practice of mindfulness is part of our culture, being incorporated extensively throughout the United States, from hospitals to businesses, from schools to professional athletic teams. Most recently, 60 Minutes aired a segment on mindfulness, touting both its efficacy and widespread use.

Mindfulness practitioners learn to better understand and regulate their thoughts, thus taking a more active role in improving their mental well-being. With developed stability and awareness, practitioner’s benefit by viewing and relating to their mental and physical states in a more objective and healthy manner. And, as the medical world builds empirical evidence relating to the connection of one’s mental and physical well-being, the mental growth and improvement has shown significant physical benefits, including:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower heart rate
  • Increase in immune system
  • Stress reduction
  • Growth of grey matter in the brain (Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging)

Within our upcoming course, Introduction to Mindfulness for Stress Reduction, we review the mindfulness practice in detail, giving participants various ways of engaging in the practice and the rationale behind why and how the practice is effective. Guided, in-class participation, combined with discussion and presentation, enables participants to learn and grow in a supportive and safe environment. Active engagement allows participants to build their own practice and create a foundation for future growth.

Chris Frasz received his B.S. from Michigan Technological University and his Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has many years of experience teaching Mindfulness Meditation at a variety of levels, drawing on his exposure to various meditation techniques from both Western and Eastern meditation teachers, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Kyabje Gehlek Rimpoche and others. His background in engineering, business, social work, and family life give him a unique perspective in understanding and working with the various stressors related to work, family, and life in general. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of mindfulness and our Introduction to Mindfulness to Stress Reduction courses, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.


Today we finalized and published our fall Mindfulness class schedule and I am really excited about it.

What is Mindfulness?

Here is a textbook definition:  Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to our thoughts and feelings purposely, in order to become more present within our own lives.

Need more clarification? Here is how I explain the concept of Mindfulness to my patients:  Mindfulness is a tool to create some distance between yourself and your “brain chatter”.


There will always be stress. Often in life it seems we finish dealing with one stressor, and there is another waiting around the corner. We can't change that. What we can change is our reaction to stress. We don't have control over the presence of stress in our lives, what we do have control over is our response.

When you start to think of stress in these terms, the concept of stress itself becomes external. You can put a little distance between yourself and the stress. By doing so, the effects of stress are less likely to "take over" your mind and body.

If you feel chronically “stressed”, it is likely that you have a good amount of what I like to call “brain chatter”. As a Type-A busy working mom, I am very familiar with this concept.  “Brain chatter” is all of that stuff that is spinning around in your brain.  It is the to-do lists, the thoughts about what happened at dinner last night, about where the kids need to be picked up later, about your worries about your job, about that kitchen faucet that still needs to be fixed, and everything else.  It is all of those thoughts that are spinning around in your brain while you go about your day.

With a brain so full of chatter – it’s difficult to concentrate on anything else.  You go about your day almost on “auto pilot”. You could get yourself ready in the morning, eat breakfast, and drive to work and yet be totally unaware of your actions because you are so distracted by your “brain chatter”.  If that chatter is full of worries and negativity, it can cause you to be irritable and snap at others for no apparent reason. You react quickly, perhaps in a negative way, because you are not focused and present within moment, your brain is focusing instead on negative chatter. The chatter escalates and spreads throughout your body, causing you the physical symptoms of stress (muscle tension, headaches, and heart palpitations to name a few).


It is called Mindfulness practice for a reason. You can read about the concept all day long, but it is putting it into action that gives you results. It isn't easy! It takes time to retrain your brain to become more aware and less reactive. With patients I often use the analogy of running a marathon. You wouldn't just wake up one day and run a marathon. You would spend months, oftentimes up to a year, to train. It is similar when training your brain. When learning Mindfulness meditation, you start with a few minutes here and there, and gradually work your way up to longer meditations.


"STOP" is a quick and easy way to start incorporating Mindfulness into your daily routine as a means of reducing the effects of stress. It takes about 30 seconds. I often do this routine in between seeing patients.

S = Stop what you are doing

T = Take a deep breath.  A " belly breath", Relax your abdominal muscles and breathe deep as though you are filling your belly with air.

O = Observe. How is your body feeling? Where are your thoughts right now? If your mind is spinning with "brain chatter", acknowledge this chatter and then set it aside. Put a little bit of space in between you and your "brain chatter"

P = Proceed. Go on about your day with a mind that is slightly more clear and a body that is slightly more relaxed.

Have I sparked your interest? I’ll discuss the science and research of Mindfulness in future posts, but if you are interested in getting started this fall we will offer everything from one-night workshops to a six-week course to teach the principles and practices of Mindfulness.

Chris Frasz, MSW

Back by popular demand, we will be offering our six-week introductory course "An Introduction to Mindfulness for Stress Reduction". This course is facilitated by Chris Frasz, MSW who has facilitated several courses for us in the past and gets many rave reviews and requests for additional classes. Chris recently completed a week-long Mindfulness intensive under the direction of Jon Kabat –Zinn, the founding and executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Learn more about this class and Chris Frasz by clicking here,

Kelly Daunter, PsyD, LLPIn addition to the six-week introductory course, clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Daunter will be offering three one-night Mindfulness Workshops - Mindful Eating, Mindful Parenting, and Mindfulness for Stress Reduction During the Holidays. These workshops are a great way to “get your feet wet” and see what Mindfulness Practice is all about, while applying the concept to everyday life stressors. If you’ve ever mindlessly ate a bag of potato chips, snapped at your kids and regretted it, or felt run-down by Holiday stress, one of these workshops might be for you!

Workshops will be held at Integrative Medicine | Carin Nielsen, MD in Downtown Petoskey. Space is limited and advanced registration is required. Please contact us to reserve your spot (231) 638-5585 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank" style="color: #f05329; line-height: 1.5;">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.