Have you thought about your lymphatic system lately, or taken a close look at how your body processes sugar? When was the last time you sweat your ‘bad ass’ off? Our annual Health Issue spotlights inspiring stories of nutrition, fitness and holistic wellness that get you thinking about these three things and more.
The Lowdown On Lymph
Recipe: Gentle Green Goodness
The contagious fitness zeal of local cardio kickboxing teacher and vegan bodybuilder Billy ‘Bad Ass’ Prusinowski
What does a teenage teetotaler do to keep busy? Work out. At least, that was how it went for Billy Prusinowski.
It was as a vegan youth in New York’s hardcore, straightedge music scene that Prusinowski first started hitting the gym. “Being straightedge, I couldn’t party with everyone, but I didn’t want to be a loser,” he says, laughing. “So I started lifting weights.”
Fast forward to 2009, when the now 28-year-old moved to Santa Cruz and became a personal trainer and then, in 2010, a cardio kickboxing teacher at Gold’s Gym—earning the nickname Billy Bad Ass along the way. Today, through his company Herbivore Athletics, Prusinowski teaches cardio kickboxing twice a week at the Tannery World Culture and Dance Center and once a week at Acadia Fitness.
“I try to make it ridiculously hard so that people can try something their damned best and not necessarily be able to make it that first class or maybe even their first year, but eventually they’ll get there,” he says.
The “herbivore” half of his fitness business is subtle—some of his students are vegan or vegan curious, but abstaining from meat and dairy isn’t a requirement or even a focus of his classes.
“I don’t say the word ‘vegan,’” he says, “I’m not like, ‘vegan supremacy!’ But I do like to encourage people to eat their veggies, because everyone could use more fiber and nutrients.”
Mostly, his vegan insights shine through in his e-newsletter, which has around 200 subscribers and provides vegan nutrition, cooking and fitness tips. The newsletter, similar to the blogs he posts to herbivoreathletics.com, pumps his followers full of inspiration (a line from a recent mid-week newsletter read, “Come to class consistently, sweat your ass off, [and] get prepared for the best year of your life—2013!”) and gives shout outs to regulars who have accomplished health improvements.
His own fitness journey is veering toward bodybuilding—a field with a small but growing number of vegans. Prusinowski has joined forces with eight other vegan bodybuilders to train for a natural (as in, no performance-enhancing drugs allowed) bodybuilding competition in Austin, Texas this summer.
By day, Prusinowski (who, it’s worth noting, was once an accomplished Ukrainian folk dancer) is a middle school language arts and social studies teacher, and his passion for good health appears there, as well. He recently taught an after-school boot camp for kids, and works inspirational health videos and information into his regular classes.
His long-term dream is “to become the Secretary of Childhood Wellness in Washington, D.C., targeting childhood obesity,” says Prusinowski, who cringes thinking about the Hot Cheetos and gigantic sodas he sees his students consume regularly.
Until then, he hopes to make positive changes in the world with the audience he already has. On March 6, his cardio kickboxing class will be transformed into the first of what he hopes will be many fundraisers: a benefit for Soquel High School senior, jiujitsu fighter and leukemia patient Jeremy Montes Jr. (More info below.)
“This whole world, people are too locked into their own lives, in their bedrooms in front of their computers,” he says. “If people just come out and get together and smile together and sweat together—especially—and achieve goals together, it’s so good.”
Kick Cancer’s Ass, a cardio kickboxing class and benefit for local leukemia patient Jeremy Montes Jr., will take place from 5:45-7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 at the Tannery World Culture and Dance Center, 1060 River St., Santa Cruz. $10 donation requested, with all proceeds going to the Montes family. Learn more on the Tap Out Leukemia Jeremy Montes Facebook page or at Prusinowski’s website, herbivoreathletics.com. | Elizabeth Limbach
The Lowdown On Lymph
Why your lymph system deserves a little extra TLC
Poor lymph system. The ignored stepchild of biological systems, it carries out crucial functions that ensure our health but receives none of the attention or glory. But pay it a little more mind, and the system—which serves as the body’s filtration mechanism—will perform even better.
Here’s how it works: As cells rejuvenate, they push waste out into the fluid found in the tissue between cells. The lymph system, along with the circulatory system, is responsible for draining this waste by flushing it through a network of lymph vessels to deliver it to lymph nodes—which, believe it or not, are actually organs that we have up to 700 of—where it is filtered.
“Most people have a sense that the lymph nodes help to break down bacteria and get the bad things out of your system,” says Miriam Janove, Certified Massage Therapist and owner of Santa Cruz Bodywork. “When the fluid gets flushed, it brings along with it all of the toxins and bacteria and other waste products your cells produce. It makes the tissues healthier and works to sterilize all of that stuff and get it out of your system.”
Janove, a Certified Lymphedema Therapist through the Dr. Vodder School in Walchsee, Austria and one of only a small handful of practitioners in Santa Cruz who offers Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD), compares the lymph system to a more familiar one, but with one important distinction: “It’s very similar to the circulatory system, but unlike the circulatory system, it doesn’t have a heart to keep it moving,” she says. “It needs to rely on all of these other systems, as well as gravity—which is why it’s really important to lie down and sleep.”
An inefficient or blocked lymph system means cells remain surrounded by their waste, resulting in sluggishness and swelling, known as edema.
“It’s kind of like the garbage disposal system for our body—if it’s not working, our body is full of garbage,” says Natalia Roberti, who studied at the Center for Lymphatic Health in Santa Barbara and now offers lymphatic massage, along with several other healing modalities, in Santa Cruz County.
Along with gravity, exercise and deep breathing help the lymph flow as it should. But for those with a lethargic system, or for those who simply enjoy its myriad health benefits, there is also MLD, a manual technique that stimulates the lymphatic system.
Often described as a light-touch massage, MLD’s creation is credited largely to Danish doctor Emil Vodder, who developed the technique in the 1930s—a time when the medical world understood very little about the lymphatic system.
Soft, repetitive strokes rouse lymph vessels in the skin layers, speeding up the system’s process.
Although used widely in much of Europe as a post-surgery treatment and general wellness service, MLD is not well known in the United States outside of lymphedema circles.
Realizing there were few resources locally, Janove decided to learn MLD in order to help clients who suffered from lymphedema—swelling that results from lymph system blockages that are often caused by cancer surgeries, particularly breast cancer operations. She reports encouraging results from MLD treatments on lymphedema clients, citing clients whose ankles were so swollen that they could not walk without a cane who now walk unassisted.
But some of her best outcomes have been with clients without compromised lymphatic systems, she says. MLD is often used to speed up healing after any operation or injury, to treat allergies and sinus problems, promote detoxification and digestive health, and provide immune support. Janove will be sharing information about MLD with locals at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 at Staff of Life.Estheticians were some of the first professionals to embrace MLD after its genesis. Local “wellness esthetician” Angela Peck discovered this fact while searching for a way to treat clients with under-eye dark circles and puffiness, and went on to become certified in MLD through the Vodder School. Based on the more than 3,100 MLD treatments she’s given since, Peck says she has seen results that she never achieved in her earlier days as a conventional esthetician (read: extractions, peels, prods and pokes) or, later, as an all-natural practitioner.
“Lymphatic drainage has changed completely how I do skincare,” Peck says. “[Before], I was already including acupressure in my facials because, as in Chinese medicine, I believe the whole foundation of heath is movement and nourishment. Lymphatic drainage is an extension of that—relieving stagnations and getting energy moving.”
With the aid of her go-to, natural product line, Sequoia Beauty, Peck says MLD has worked wonders for rosacea, eczema, acne, blackheads, puffiness, and dark circles. In general, MLD produces brighter, healthier skin: “Slowing down of our dead skin cells sloughing off is due to lymphatic congestion,” she explains.
“[Those results are] a cosmetic difference, but it’s a reflection of what’s going on inside,” Peck says. “That’s one reason I love this—it’s not just improving the way you look. I couldn’t work in skincare if it was just all about surface.”
But the most universal appeal of MLD can be enjoyed by anyone, even if they don’t have one of the aforementioned afflictions: deep relaxation.
“I have a lot of MLD addicts because of that feeling you get from it; it’s so sedating,” says Peck.
The technique’s rhythmic motion mimics the system’s natural pattern, stimulating it into motion. This eases the body from its usual flight-or-fight mode, or sympathetic nervous response, to the deep relaxation of a parasympathetic nervous response, when it can set about resting and repairing.
“In our world, we spend so much time in this stress zone, even if we don’t necessarily feel it because it’s normal to us,” says Janove.
However, while it is heavily sedating, calling MLD a “massage” is somewhat of a misnomer.
“People need to know what they are getting into,” explains Janove. “If someone comes in and wants a massage, and wants to try the lymphatic drainage, I have to explain that it is a very light touch and doesn’t feel like what they might consider a massage to be.”
Janove incorporates as much or as little MLD into her massage sessions as the client wants, and says that sometimes the gentle technique just won’t satisfy someone’s need for deeper bodywork. “It does have all of these great effects,” she says, “but if they really have a muscle knot they want worked out, we might want to consider doing a deep tissue massage.”
After a treatment, MLD recipients are urged to drink lots of water (to help flush out the toxins), and avoid foods and beverages that are toxifying or inflammatory. In everyday life, exercise (especially swimming), dry brushing, and resting are all helpful for maintaining a healthy lymphatic system, and there is an increasing number of serums and salves that purport to stimulate the lymph, as well.
More information: santacruzbodywork.com, angelapeckskinwellness.com, and nataliaroberti.com. Miriam Janove will discuss Manual Lymphatic Drainage at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 at Staff of Life, 1266 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. | Elizabeth Limbach
Mary Toscano breaks down the sugar quandary in her new book ‘Sweet Fire: Sugar, Diabetes and Your Health’
After 20 years as a computer and electrical engineer, Mary Toscano decided to take a few years off from the fast-paced career to spend time with her young daughter. That was in 2000, and she hasn’t looked back since.
Soon after, the Santa Cruz resident enrolled in massage school to learn more about the body. “But as an engineer, you can’t learn something a little bit—you have to learn it to the nth degree,” says Toscano, who remains a massage therapist today. Massage school provided a small introduction to nutrition, which sparked her voracious appetite for information and led her to become a Certified Nutrition Educator.
Despite being thin, she says her own health “was a disaster,” characterized by mood swings and energy crashes. Suspecting issues with blood sugar levels, she embarked on a nutrition career specializing in sugar.
“I have this very vivid memory of being on the inside lane of a five-lane highway with my ex-husband and all I said was ‘I’m hungry,’” Toscano recalls. “I’ve never seen someone cut across five lanes that fast to get me food. He knew how I was when I was low blood sugar.
“I wanted to understand why this was happening,” she continues. “That’s why I focused on sugar.”
She has taught about sugar and diabetes for more than 12 years, releasing an educational DVD on the subject, titled “Sweet Fire,” in 2003. In January, she published “Sweet Fire: Sugar, Diabetes and Your Health,” a book she hopes will provide people with a fundamental understanding of how our bodies handle sugar. As many as one in three Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In light of this, and the fact that Americans eat an average of 230 pounds of sugar each year, according to her own calculation, Toscano argues that “we all need to know the a, b, c’s of sugar.”
The tome took four and a half years to pen, and brought about a life-changing discovery for Toscano, herself.
Six months ago—four years into writing the book—she enlisted the help of her assistant, Janelle Evans, and conducted blood sugar level tests comparing her levels, as a 50-year-old with a history of diabetes in her family, to Evans’, as a 25-year-old with no diabetes in her family. The tests revealed that Toscano had a much deeper connection to the book’s material than she had thought.
“I found out I am prediabetic,” Toscano says. “I was doing [the experiment] because I like data. I was completely blindsided, and upset.”
Despite feeling shocked, she says the discovery made sense of why she felt so compelled to write the book.
“I didn’t really understand this incredible drive—it was like I didn’t really have a choice; it was a drive that was beyond me,” she says. “And when I found out I was prediabetic, then I understood why I had that drive.”
If she hadn’t written the book, she fears her personal health would have taken a turn for the worse.
“I definitely would have gotten diabetes,” she says. “Writing this book saved me, no question.”
It also saved the book, she says, allowing her to take stock of the work with a new perspective—that of a prediabetic—and revise thoroughly as a result.
Using easy-to-understand descriptions, illustrations and charts, the books gives the 411 on everything from the science of sugar and what unsuspecting foods are packed with it, to the lowdown on sugar addiction and several chapters simplifying the sweetener debate. (Toscano says that sweeteners are the No. 1 thing she is asked about: “There is huge, mass confusion over sweeteners,” she says.)
“The basic premise of the book is get as many whole foods as you can,” Toscano says, “because the nutrients in there work like a symphony in ways we don’t even understand.”
“Sweet Fire” is available at many Santa Cruz businesses, including New Leaf Community Markets, Staff of Life and Tom’s Pharmacy. Learn more at marytoscano.com/sweetfire, or by attending one of Toscano’s upcoming talks: 6 p.m. on Monday, March 4 at The Healthy Way, 3251 Mission Drive, Santa Cruz; 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at Staff of Life Market, 266 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 at Westside New Leaf, 1101 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz, register online at newleaf.com. | Elizabeth Limbach
Gentle Green Goodness
A happy & healthy recipe from ‘The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen: Finding Harmony Through Food’ by Talya Lutzker
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Yield: Two to four servings
1/2 bunch dinosaur kale, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut butter
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 cups water
Juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
Place the kale, celery, ginger, coconut butter, brown rice syrup, salt and 1 cup of water into a blender, food processor or Vitamix. Blend until smooth, adding water as needed to reach a smoothie-like consistency. Add the lemon juice. Due to its high fiber content, this is a shake that you sip and chew.
Note: Gentle Green Goodness makes a cleansing, energizing breakfast. In ayurveda, it balances vata and pitta, and decreases kapha. It can be an effective “morning after” drink to help your body recover from over-consumption of alcohol, sugar, oily or processed foods, chocolate, refined salt, and wheat.
Rising To The Challenge
With so many fitness centers to explore in Santa Cruz County, it’s possible to get overwhelmed and turn on the television. For those of us who need some encouraging when it comes to focusing on our health and fitness, there’s the Santa Cruz Challenge.
Developed by the founders of Optimal Health and Fitness (OHM), the program takes participants on a journey through various fitness studios in Santa Cruz County, starting with OHM’s signature boot camp the first week, and then moving into yoga, martial arts, dance, cycling, Zumba, kayaking, Qigong, and other activities.
Participants also have access to a lecture series that runs throughout the eight weeks and covers topics from personal finance to developing healthy relationships.
The third annual Santa Cruz Challenge begins on Saturday, March 9 with health and fitness testing. Only around half of the 80 people who took the challenge last year finished the then 12-week program. Now shortened to eight weeks, OHM hopes to see 150 participants enroll. The person who improves the most after eight weeks wins the grand prize of $1,000, but the organizers say that competition is not the real focus of the challenge.
“It’s all about what you’re really doing with your life to feel good,” says OHF co-founder Michelle Bean, “And how that ripples out to your family, friends, and everything.” For more information visit optimalhealthandfitness.com. | Aric Sleeper
Finding Purpose In Tragedy
When 23-year-old Santa Cruz native Jon E. Nadherny took his own life in 1995, his family sought for some way to deal with the tragic loss. Teaming up with Dominican Hospital, they formed The Nadherny/Calciano Youth Symposium, an annual forum for professionals to discuss topics relevant to the mental health of today’s youth.
“If this symposium can help prevent just one death from suicide or drug abuse, then we have accomplished our goals,” says Josh Nadherny, Jon’s brother and co-chair of the symposium advisory committee.
This year’s symposium takes place on Friday, March 1 and will spotlight substance abuse among youth, with a focus on the abuse of marijuana, prescription drugs, alcohol, and the effects of substance abuse in Santa Cruz County. According to the 2012 Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project Report, self-reported use of alcohol among county ninth graders has decreased in recent years, while self-reported use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines has increased.
The Jon E. Nadherny/Calciano Memorial Youth Symposium takes place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 at The Cocoanut Grove, 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. Registration is $75. For more information, visit calcianoyouthsymposium.org. | AS
Cutting Through The Confusion
UC Santa Cruz will host a symposium on health, nutrition and food policy next week that aims to deconstruct the plethora of health advice given today and discuss “the place of nutrition science in public health policies and cultural policies today.” The event features six leading nutrition, public health and food policy scholars, and takes place Friday, March 8 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 261 Social Sciences I on the UCSC campus. Admission is free; the public is invited. | EL
Santa Cruz Receives Health Award
Santa Cruz County has been awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Roadmaps to Health Prize, which praises counties that promote healthier lives for their residents. The award, which includes a $25,000 cash prize, was granted on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at an event at the Robert Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ.
Local efforts to improve health that led to the award include coverage to 21,000 uninsured children through Healthy Kids, a local health insurance plan; promotion of healthy eating alternatives in restraints from the Watsonville Health Eating Options Ordinance; prevention of teenage binge drinking by Together for Youth; and alternative incarceration with education, training, and employment by the Sheriff’s Custody Alternatives Program.