Rocky Gorge Wellness December Newsletter

Time to Stretch

The Year 2020 stretched us in ways we never expected. Now that we’re reaching for 2021, we can all admit that we’re pretty tense! Many of us have spent months working at our home desks, zooming classes and meetings, and participating in virtual social gatherings. While we are locked down, our neck and shoulders are getting locked up, not just with “tech neck” from sitting in front of screens, but from the tension we experience doing normally low-stress activities, such as grocery shopping safely as we try to social distance and breathe through our masks. Cold weather, as well, makes our shoulders and neck muscles tighter.

This strain on our upper body takes a toll on the muscular-skeletal system, as well as leading to headaches, poor sleep and balance. So, this month we’ll share four stretches to relieve tense upper-body muscles and tight joints with therapeutic movement.

The Benefits of Stretching

  • Prevents sore and stiff muscles
  • Improves range of motion (ROM)
  • Supports the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our breathing and heartbeat and light sconces

Four Upper Body Stretches

Shoulder Shrug:
This stretch can be performed seated or standing. As you slowly inhale in through your nose, bring your shoulders up gently towards your ears. As you exhale slowly through your mouth, gently drop your shoulders. Repeat 3-5 times.

The “Oy Vey” Neck Stretch:
This movement stimulates lateral flexion of the scalene muscles of the neck. While sitting or standing straight, place your right hand on top of your head. Gently pull your head so your right ear is over your right shoulder. Repeat 3-5 times, then repeat for your left side.

Elbow Squeezes:
Standing or seated, place your fingertips on your shoulders. Slowly bring your elbows towards each other in front of your chest. Don’t force contact if your elbows don’t complete touch! Repeat 3-5 times.

The “Rooster”:
This exercise squeezes the shoulder blades to open up the chest. While standing, place your knuckles on your hip bones with elbows outward. Contract your shoulders (pretend there’s a tennis ball between your shoulder blades). Hold for a moment and relax to the original position. Repeat 3-5 times.

Plants of the Month

The Miracle of Mistletoe (Viscum album)

And you just thought it was a Christmas tradition intended to tempt someone to kiss you! Even if you’ve only seen artificial mistletoe used for holiday decorations and have never actually seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus, you’re probably familiar with some holiday songs in which mistletoe is mentioned. How it became associated with Christmas tradition is debatable, but it’s been part of a popular kissing ritual in England in the last couple of hundred years. And it’s not hard to imagine earlier influences.

The mystical, symbolic associations of mistletoe go back thousands of years among many pre-Christian cultures, including rituals practiced by the Greeks, Romans, Druids, and the Norse. Hanging the leaves and berries over doorways were believed to promote friendship and peace and protect against evil spirits. Ancient medicinal applications of this herb have been used for infertility, arthritis, hypertension, and epilepsy.

European mistletoe is a hemiparasite (partial parasite) plant that depends on its host tree or shrub for water and nutrients. Its evergreen leaves produce clusters of waxy white berries. While European mistletoe has been identified as having toxic constituents, the danger is minimal unless taken in high concentrations. As with any plant, side effects or allergies can occur.

The seeds are coated with a waxy, sticky substance called viscin that allows them to attach to a host plant with the help of hungry birds that distribute the seeds. That viscus substance is the key to recent research in therapeutic applications of mistletoe, most notably the prevention and treatment of some cancers and benign tumors.

In Europe, complementary therapies using extracts and infusions for cancer patients have been acceptable for quite a long time. In a review of the book “Mistletoe - From Mythology to Evidence-Based Medicine,” edited by Kurt S. Zänker, and Srini V. Kaveri, Manuela Monti writes that “mistletoe extract therapy is among the most thoroughly studied complementary treatments in Europe. Several studies and meta-analyses have shown it to be beneficial for cancer patients in terms of survival, improved quality of life and minimized side effects of cancer chemotherapy” (US National Library of Medicine). Its earliest documented use was in 1917.

In the U.S., clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine are underway to explore and test mistletoe’s role in supporting traditional oncology, especially its potential for reducing tumor-related pain, for cancer recurrence, for stimulating bone marrow production, and for alleviating chemotherapy and radiation side effects. This integrative approach, which is administered intravenously or through injection, is gaining traction as patients seek a complementary, more comprehensive, but less invasive approach to their health.

If you are interested in learning more about supporting individuals undergoing cancer treatment, please visit Believe Big, the U.S. organization that has been the forerunner in acquiring clinical trials and FDA approval for mistletoe therapies.

Balsam (Abies balsamea)

There’s probably no aroma more evocative of the winter holidays than the scent of balsam! A popular material for wreaths, trees, garlands, and other festive swag, this North American evergreen is symbolic of endurance, resilience, healing, generosity, and hope. That unmistakable fragrance comes from terpenoids, organic compounds that lend aroma to many plants, including eucalyptus, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, to name just a few. The terpenoids we associate with December’s festivities are emitted by all varieties of conifers, including pine, spruce, and of course, balsam.

Balsam’s therapeutic properties have been appreciated for centuries. Its mentholated qualities help open clogged respiratory passages, often in aromatherapy applications. A tea made from the green needles eases coughs and cold symptoms. The sticky resin (also known as pitch) has exceptional protective antimicrobial and pain-relieving properties. Balsam is familiar to outdoorsy folks as the survivalist’s go-to plant for wilderness kits. In dentistry, the resin is used for durable antiseptic cements.

Easily harvested by tapping small blisters on the bark, the resin is applied directly to skin wounds and insect bites to heal tissue and prevent infection. Its reputation as a wilderness wonder plant is well- deserved, for it is accessible year-round, including the deepest months of winter in the highest altitudes. My sister Amy Metnick, a content developer for our newsletters, makes a salve composed of oil that’s been infused with balsam needles and resinous twig shavings. The scent is heavenly. The oil or salve is useful as a liniment for sore muscles, pain relief, and chest and nasal congestion. It has also long been used as a flavoring for foods, such as sweets, ice cream, and baked goods, to mention a few. From the several balsam trees on her land, a local distillery harvests her balsam as a flavoring agent for their specialty gin.

If you are interested in learning about or ordering essential oils, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Back by Popular Demand: Eggnog!

As an encore, we are reintroducing our popular eggnog variation from last year. Eggnog is a rich, creamy beverage typically prepared with high-fat dairy, sugar, eggs, and spices. It’s often spiked with spirits, such as bourbon, brandy, or rum. In all its variations, it has been a festive (and highly caloric!) winter drink that’s been enjoyed for hundreds of years in England and the U.S.

You can savor this creamy holiday tradition without sacrificing the flavor. At this time of year, we can find store-bought health-conscious nondairy, egg-, alcohol-, and sugar-free versions. But why not whip up a winter nog smoothie yourself? Custom-tailor it to your taste buds and dietary preferences. Here’s my recipe with some options.

Healthy Winter Nog Smoothie

To tone down the calorie content, use a low-fat dairy product. If you opt for nondairy, nut milks provide the richest flavor, but you can also use rice, soy, flax, oat, or hemp milk in these versions.

1 cup of milk (fat content is your choice) OR
1 cup of unsweetened nut milk, such as almond, coconut, or cashew (these taste the creamiest), OR
1 cup of an alternative non-dairy milk if you have nut allergies
½ cup of Greek yogurt or nondairy Greek-style yogurt OR coconut cream
½ cup of vegan non-dairy creamer
½ cup of sugar (white or turbinado) OR maple syrup OR 1 teaspoon stevia or to taste
½ teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract
1 pinch of ground cloves
Optional: a pinch of turmeric for color and anti-inflammatory benefits

Pour all ingredients into a blender and whip it up until frothy. In less than two minutes you’ll have a soothing, healthy winter nog smoothie! You may also warm this gently. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

The Three A’s: Adapt, Adjust, Accept

As we reach the end of an unprecedented and challenging year, we have had to learn new ways to adapt, adjust, and accept as we navigate our altered daily routines with patience and fortitude and prayerfully wait for a vaccine and for the virus to go away.

I care deeply for you all and encourage you to continue to be vigilant in maintaining safe protocols to ensure health and safety for all of us. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of good nutrition and physical endurance.

I look forward to a happy and healthy 2021!