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Beat the seasonal blues

Tips from a shaman and an Ironman champ to help you get out of that rut and ready for spring.

Jen Weigel

Lessons for life

February 17, 2011

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Have the whiplash weather changes of this season left a mark? Need a mental health boost? According to Ironman champion Mark Allen and shaman Brant Secunda, co-authors of "Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You" (BenBella Books. $14.95), beating the seasonal blahs could be as easy as connecting to something greater.

Jenniffer Weigel: Your new book talks about lots of ways you can stay healthy and happy. Why did you collaborate on this?

Allen: I was competing in [Ironman competitions] and couldn't win no matter how hard I worked. I teamed up with Brant and won six Ironmans after I started bringing his philosophies into my life, so now I'm a believer. Never in a million years did I think I'd be working with a shaman. Never!

Weigel: Just the word "shaman" can bring about a negative connotation. Brant, how do you explain your concept to people without sounding too "woo-woo"?

Secunda: Nobody is running around with a rattle. We define it as loving nature, having an open heart, connecting with the individual and the earth. It's really a normal tradition. I completed a 12-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Indian tribe in Mexico, and this is how they lived their lives. Your soul and your body have to connect at all times. They aren't separate. My mentor, Don Jose Matsuwa, lived to be 110 years old living by these principles.

Allen: Everything we teach is designed to help our ancient genetics to feel whole and healthy. Our bodies used to do much more physical labor and spend more time outside than it does now. In ancient times, people gathered to watch the sunrise and sunset. They did things with families and spent time together. We are just reminding our bodies of what's familiar, and then we start to feel whole.

Weigel: What if you work in the city and spend your days indoors? Some people don't have time to do physical labor or take a walk outside.

Secunda: Just the simple act of slowing down your mind or looking at pictures from nature will have a physical effect. You will create a sense of calm.

Allen: The nervous system will react to visuals, whether you are outside or not. I have a screensaver of flowers and when I'm trapped somewhere for long periods of time, I look at that to remind me there is a whole world out there that I'm feeling disconnected [from].

So how can this connection benefit you? Here are some of Secunda and Allen's tips to snapping out of your seasonal slump.

Balance your response to stress. "Part of being down when we are hibernating is being unable to deflect negative thoughts," says Secunda. "If you have people in your life who send negative energy, don't embrace it. Just like in martial arts, you can sidestep it and avoid the interaction. That way you don't engage and don't absorb it. It won't have an impact."

Reconnect with nature. "You know how fresh and regenerated you feel when you go outside for a few minutes," says Allen. "Walk outside and breathe in the elements at least once a day for three minutes. If you can't physically get outside, look at pictures of some of your favorite places. Even the act of looking at a picture of a soothing sunset will have an impact."

Get some sleep. "We neglect our physical needs, and a good night's sleep is essential to overall wellness," says Allen. "To help with this, limit alcohol and caffeine consumption, and avoid big late-night meals."

Move for 30 minutes a day. "To do 30 minutes of activity a day—even just walking through the neighborhood—you don't need to join a gym," says Allen.

"The ancient generations used to walk for days. Just doing a small amount of walking shifts attitudes, so unmanageable stress becomes manageable," adds Secunda.

Get centered. "Like in yoga or when you go running, you need to turn off your mind to calm your body," says Allen. "This could be thinking a repetitive mantra over and over, or just watching a candle burn. Either way, this will lower your heart rate and help you feel at peace. Peacefulness will help you get through the next task, even if you're not motivated to continue."

Stand up. "Standing up and getting a drink and going down a flight of stairs helps to calm the nervous system down," says Allen. "If you can stand for 30 minutes a day at work that will help with weight loss—and with mental health."

jweigel@tribune.com