Healthwise: Battle cold and flu naturally this season

December 23, 2012 4:55 pm
“Dr. Penny Kendall Reed has been practising naturopathic medicine since 1997.”

Healthwise: Battle cold and flu naturally this season

Jennifer Chauhan

Ottawa is covered with snow, residents are busy preparing for the winter holidays and anticipating meals shared with friends and family. As wondrous as this season is, it is also prime time for colds and overtaxed immune systems.

It seems that we are being hit particularly hard in Ottawa this year with those affected being run down for weeks at a time, completely exhausted and unable to maintain their normal busy pace. The best way to survive cold and flu season is by building up a strong immune system and taking action to protect yourself against illness.

I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, who shared natural solutions for these two strategies.

Strategy 1: Build a strong immune system

Building your immune system naturally is not as difficult as it seems when using a combination of supplements and healthy lifestyle choices.

Jamieson’s FluShield™: An echinacea-based product unlike any other brand, FluShield™ helps to boost the immune system and protect against the onset of cold and flu symptoms. Kendall-Reed, who is not a representative of the company, explains that Jamieson has isolated the t-cell part of echinacea, which boost the immune system, unlike other echinacea products that also consist of isobutylamide, which can depress the immune system.

Probiotics: According to Hippocrates, “all diseases begin in the gut.” The truth of this statement has been proven more so over recent years and Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed agrees that the health of your gut and your immune system go hand-in-hand and therefore recommends a probiotic for adults and children alike.

Sleep: A full eight hours of sleep is best. But if you cannot quite manage the full eight hours over the holidays, Penny recommends a melatonin supplement that will encourage your body to achieve a healing and more restorative stage of sleep. Contrary to popular misconception, melatonin supplements are not sedatives and are non-addictive, but instead increase the body’s ability to combat disease.

Strategy 2: Protect yourself against illness

Zinc lozenges: An easy way to fight infection this season is by sucking on zinc lozenges. Our mucus membrane is the first line of defense when we are exposed to a virus, for example when someone coughs on us. Zinc lozenges help lubricate the mucus membrane and act as an anti-viral and therefore better protect us from those who are infected.

Oil of oregano: Oil of oregano is a natural anti-bacterial and just a few drops can ward off illness. However, be sure to mix the drops with juice to avoid a burning sensation in the throat.

Ginger & Garlic: Garlic is an antimicrobial and ginger is an anti-inflammatory as well as an anti-viral – so cook with it as much as you can, or take as supplements to keep your body in fighting form.

Hand-washing: Be diligent when it comes to hand-washing, especially when working on computers or using public transport. It is the simplest way to avoid getting sick.

Exercise: Exercise is a great way to prevent illness because it boosts white blood cell count, and helps to remove toxins and inflammatory markers from the body.  It also helps to oxygenate all tissues. However, if you are sick, avoid strenuous exercise as it raises blood pressure, which can actually increase replication of a virus.

Healthwise: The Power of Positive Thinking

December 14, 2012 10:58 am
Make the choice to be happy

It’s perfectly normal to feel down and out sometimes, especially during these long and dark winter days. But when your negative thoughts and attitude begin to hinder your productivity, personal relationships and overall happiness, it is time to kick positive thinking into high gear.

Fake it until you make it

If you simply do not feel happy, then fake it. It is possible to rewire your thought processes and render optimism your default mindset. Recent research has shown that “focused, repetitive mental activity can affect changes in your brain’s structure, wiring, and capabilities.”1 And why wouldn’t you want to be an optimist? Thinking positively promotes serotonin production in the brain and creates a sense of well-being.

Keep a gratitude journal

In order to focus your mind on the positives, set out to identify three to five things for which you are grateful every single day. Be specific and identify particular events from the day rather than focus on more general facts (e.g., I am grateful for my family). This way, you will look for the good within each day instead of getting stuck on the bad.

Reduce stress

If stress is causing your sour mood, attack the problem head-on. Identify the source of your burden and eliminate it. If you cannot completely eliminate it, find a way to manage it. Take up yoga, go for a walk, get to bed early, or make time with friends. Do whatever you need to do to put yourself first and prioritize your wellness.

Laugh more often

The simplest stress-buster is laughter. The great thing about laughter is that there is no right way to do it, as long as you are doing it. William Fry, a psychiatrist whose career spanned more than 50 years, found that “laughter increases circulation, stimulates the immune system, exercises the muscles, and even invigorates the brain.” 2

So make the choice to be happy. It is not as hard as it looks.

Learn to laugh and let go

Healthwise: Small Changes, Big Results

December 13, 2012 7:23 am
Reduce stress and improve your sense of happiness.

As we inch towards the end of the year and prepare for a clean slate in 2013, it is important to prioritize our individual wellness. By “wellness” I mean mental and physical health, life satisfaction and a sense of overall wellbeing.  It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind of studying, working, raising kids and the whole gamut of responsibilities that come along with adulthood. Despite these responsibilities, and more specifically becauseof them, we owe it to ourselves to prioritize our wellness and invest the time to ensure physical and emotional balance.

It is known that constant high levels of stress can be detrimental to your health and can shorten your life expectancy. That is why it is so important to develop effective stress management techniques. Ask yourself, what one small change could you incorporate into your routine to better your wellbeing? It is important to first identify the change that you are yearning for, then find a way to mend the gap. How can you get out of your rut?

Here are some suggestions of easy ways to improve your health:

  • Head outdoors for a walk on your lunch break
  • Eat one more piece of fruit per day
  • Drink more water
  • Cut back on one cup of coffee
  • Meditate for five minutes before bed
  • Join a book club
  • Have lunch with a friend instead of eating at your desk
  • Have dinner as a family

No matter your definition of wellness, the key is to make one small change that you can consistently maintain. If you set unrealistic goals, you risk being discouraged and abandoning your new habit.  It may surprise you how making some time for yourself can help reduce generalized stress and improve your sense of happiness. Go on, try it!

Healthwise: Natural Health Solutions

November 30, 2012 11:24 am
Natural Health Solutions

It seems that more people are going back to the basics when it comes to their health, and this includes turning to natural cures for minor ailments. Often, the ingredient you need is already in your pantry, so why look any further?

Here are some of the ingredients you can put to good use:

Spices for fresh breath

No need to maintain a wholesale inventory of chewing gum to ensure fresh breath. Instead, chew on cloves! A few minutes of chewing should do the trick (then spit them out). The essential oils found in cloves are antiseptic and therefore eliminate bacteria causing bad breath.

Nourish hair and skin

It seems that coconut oil is all the rage these days, and with good reason. Coconut oil is a source of medium-chain fatty acids, which are used by the body to produce energy, growth and repair.

Not only can you eat this healthy fat, you can also use it to nourish hair. How? Simply massage 2 tbsp of coconut oil into dry hair and scalp. Leave for 30 minutes, then shampoo.

Or dab coconut oil onto skin to help ease dry patches, rashes or even to reduce fine lines, saving you hundreds of dollars on expensive cosmetic creams and skin lotions sold in pharmacies.

Sage helps calm a soar throat. PHOTO:

Soothe a sore throat

Instead of relying on cold medicine this season, turn to anti-inflammatory sage to soothe a sore throat. Boil 2 tbsp of dried sage and a pinch of salt in water, let cool and then gargle the mixture to help kill germs and ease symptoms.


Calm a stressed mind

Unwind with a warm cup of green tea – rich in a powerful antioxidant that helps fight cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Green tea also improves immune function!



Healthwise: Maintaining your Health over the Holidays

November 26, 2012 11:00 am
Staying healthy 2

We all know that the holidays are approaching fast. It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of social commitments and to-do lists. However, maintaining our mental and physical health this season is critical. It is sometimes easier to sacrifice healthy food choices, adequate sleep and relaxation in favour of sustaining a hectic schedule. Unfortunately, such choices can be taxing on your sense of overall wellbeing and can start the New Year off in the wrong direction (like flat on your back).


Eat well

What are the holidays for if not to indulge in sweets and large meals shared with family and friends? In fact, our culture often uses food as a foundation for socialization; however, it is easy to get carried away when socializing is extended over the period of two to four weeks. Therefore, it is important to choose the times when we decide to treat ourselves – and even more important to avoid some of the sweets and cheese trays at hand. Instead, infuse your meals with healthy choices: load your plate with veggies and fruit and other nutritionally-dense food, leaving less appetite for desserts or snacks.


Late nights and high excitement can certainly affect the quality of one’s sleep. Aim to get an average of eight hours per night but, should that be impossible, try to take a nap in the afternoon. The holidays can be hectic and the last thing we want is to return to the hustle and bustle of January completely exhausted.


Although exercising means that we are expending energy, we will also gain energy from it. Don’t have time to run to the gym? No problem. Instead, head outdoors for a walk in the cool air. Take your family with you and incorporate it into your social time. The outdoors will help refresh you and keep you energized.


Don’t forget to breathe through the chaos. No matter how fun holiday celebrations can be, sometimes we need a time out. Remove yourself from it all and take a few minutes to sit in a quiet room or outdoors to take a deep breath or meditate a little to allow time to process thoughts and emotions.

“Maintaining our mental and physical health this season is critical.” PHOTO:

Just say no!

It can be difficult to decline an invitation to one more party or respectfully refuse to bake a pie, but between shopping, work, cooking, parenting and social engagements, we risk exhaustion if we do not. The truth is that saying no can be the best gift we give ourselves this holiday season.


Healthwise: The Benefits of Meditation

November 19, 2012 12:00 pm
Meditation 1

In the past, health was almost always associated with the physical body. Nowadays, more people are discovering the benefits of exercising the mind. The advantages of adding brain-teasers and crosswords to your routine have been lauded over the last few decades because they sharpen the mind and help keep dementia at bay. But even more at the forefront these days are the multiple health benefits of meditation.



The simple truth is that meditation is a discipline that can improve the structure of the brain and thereby encourage positive thought patterns to replace negative stress responses. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford University outlined how regular meditation leads to a cortical gyrification, which enhances neural processing. Gyrification is a good thing because the less gyrification, the more susceptible one is to depression, aging and Alzheimer’s disease. This means that meditation leads to bigger and more efficient brains (


There are multiple benefits to a regular meditation practice, including:

  • Improved attention span
  • Reduced stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer feelings of depression
  • Reduced risk of dementia
  • Positive attitude

Simple Techniques

When learning to meditate, it is important to understand that frequency is more significant than duration. Therefore, it is more beneficial to meditate every day for three to five minutes, than to meditate for 20 minutes once a week. Try one or all of the simple techniques listed below. Set up in a quiet space and allow yourself these few minutes to release mental tension. With practice, you may even be able to transfer your skills to busy environments, such as when using public transportation.

  1. Breath-focused Meditation: Focus on your breath. Count your breath cycles (inhale/exhale) until you reach 10 and then start again.
  2. Mindfulness Meditation: Become mindful of your breath. Notice your chest and belly rise and fall in connection with your breath.
  3. Notice how you feel. Allow your thoughts to flow freely. Acknowledge each thought, and then let it go without dwelling on one single thought.
  4. Walking Meditation: Stand with shoulders away from the ears and chest open. Begin walking slowly and deliberately. While walking, become aware of each step, including the distribution of your body weight. The great thing about this technique is that it can be practiced discretely in almost any environment.
  5. Visualization Meditation: Visualize an object and focus on the details of the mental image. For example, picture a rose. Imagine the petals, the stem, the leaves, a drop of water rolling down the petals, etc. Try to block all other thoughts from your mind. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your mental visualization.
  6. Loving-kindness Meditation: Sit quietly and close your eyes. Think of someone who would benefit from emotional support. Think positive thoughts and direct this loving-kindness towards that person, whether a friend, family member or complete stranger.

Whatever your style or preference, a regular meditation practice will surely help prepare you for the hectic holiday season, or any other challenge life may bring.

Just breathe!

Healthwise: Revitalize Your Health with These Five Superfoods

November 7, 2012 1:33 pm
5 Superfoods1

Ever heard of superfoods? Nowadays, it is a term that is thrown around often but may not be understood by everyone. A superfood is a food that is nutritionally dense and considered especially beneficial to health and well-being. These foods can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall mood.

Dark Leafy Green

Dark leafy greens are a nutritional powerhouse and one of the least expensive sources of nourishment. They can help manage healthy weight as they are high in dietary fiber (making you feel full longer) and high in vitamins, not to mention their cancer-preventing properties. Don’t like the taste of these vegetables? Try masking the flavor by blending them in a smoothie along with bananas or other fruits to help sweeten the bitter flavor.

Sources: kale, spinach, wheatgrass, broccoli…

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds contain healthful fats essential for managing inflammation and maintaining the normal structure of the cells in our bodies. They are also full of essential vitamins and minerals. To incorporate them into your diet, snack on a handful of nuts, sprinkle seeds on your salads, or add them to your smoothie.

Sources: almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, flax seed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds…


Sprouted seeds are one of the most beneficial foods because they support cell regeneration and can help prevent damage done by free radicals. They are a good source of essential fatty acids, which can help boost the immune system.

Sources: bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, lentil sprouts…


Kefir is a liquid similar to yogurt, made by fermenting kefir grains in milk. It is filled with beneficial bacteria, proteins, lipids and sugars, which contribute to a healthy digestion. Consider drinking it on its own or mixing it in a smoothie.


Often overlooked, water should be considered a superfood since it is absolutely vital to our survival and optimal health. Drinking sufficient water will help your body avoid headaches, fatigue and lack of concentration that is often caused by dehydration. It flushes toxins from the body and can lead to weight loss. Water intake will contribute to shinier hair and healthier skin, and will help lubricate joints and prevent constipation.



Healthwise: Healthy Sleep Habits

October 31, 2012 10:33 am

The crucial role of sleep in everyday functioning becomes ever more apparent when you are not getting enough rest. As a result of too many sleepless nights, you may battle headaches and chronic fatigue, feel greater irritability, struggle to concentrate and discover you have more difficulty problem-solving throughout the day.
Notably, sleep-deprivation impacts our metabolism’s proper functioning, and leads us to make unhealthy choices, such as depending on sugary foods and excessive caffeine to keep functioning, which over time results in weight gain and other associated health issues. Even more seriously, sleep disorders can put you at risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.[1]

By adhering to a few healthy sleep habits, you are contributing to your health:

1. Strive for a minimum of 7-9 hours of sleep per night: While everyone requires a different period of sleep, those who only need four or five hours to function optimally are rare. Keep track of the hours slept each night and make a point to notice the days that you are at your best. Identify your magic sleep number.
2. Get your exercise: Exercise plays an important role in helping to release stress after a long day. Not only will exercise ease the tension in your muscles, but it will also help to clear your mind, which will then allow for more restful sleep.
3. Turn off the television: Watching television late into the evening can lure you into staying up way past your bedtime as you ignore your natural rhythms in favour of the exciting distraction. Not only does watching TV keep you up past your natural bedtime, it also stimulates your mind and can keep you from falling asleep long after the TV has been switched off.
4. Meditate: Instead of watching television, sit quietly at the end of the day. Find a comfortable and quiet area in your home and take the time to notice what you are feeling. Process your thoughts and slow your breath in preparation for sleep. This simple activity helps relieve worry and cues your body for relaxation.
5. Sleep on your side: Sleeping on your side with knees bent promotes the natural curvature of your spine as opposed to sleeping on your stomach, for example, which forces the neck into a hyper-flexed position and can cause tension and discomfort during the day, and may even lead to long-term problems with your spine.

No matter what steps you decide to implement into your routine, recognizing the importance of sleep is vital to your overall health.


Healthwise: Are you treating the symptoms or the cause?

October 24, 2012 12:35 pm
cold season

I once knew a man who complained of chronic headaches. He managed his ailment with multiple daily doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.  After months of suffering, he lamented the state of his health over lunch.  We questioned the fellow and came to identify the fact that he never drank water. His beverage consumption was limited to caffeinated soft drinks and coffee. Within 24 hours of committing to drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water per day, his headaches disappeared!

Turns out all his grief had been caused by dehydration. The medication he had been ingesting was simply masking the pain temporarily, whereas the water treated the direct source of the problem.

Our tendency to treat the symptoms rather than the cause is quite rampant in Western culture. We focus on masking the aches and pains, seeking temporary relief over long-term betterment. That is not to say you should never rely on short-term remedies, only that it is important to recognize them as such and seek long-term solutions to your health problems instead.

An ounce of prevention

Cold season is nearly upon us.  Instead of waiting to treat your symptoms, try to focus on preventing them altogether. Simple ways of doing so include: washing your hands frequently; getting plenty of rest and sleep; clearing your nasal passages with a saline solution; committing to a regular exercise routine; and boosting your immune system by consuming certain superfoods and vitamins.

You are what you eat

Proper nutrition plays a huge role in a person’s overall health and well-being. On the one hand, a diet based on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and good fats can optimize health and increase energy levels. On the other hand, poor diet can induce high-cholesterol, insulin resistance and heavy metal toxicity, which are all factors in the development of heart disease. Certainly not every health concern can be solved by diet alone; however, you may be surprised how much diet can impact the way you feel. Food is what fuels our bodies and allows our organs to function properly.

So next time you reach for medication, ask yourself whether you are treating the symptoms or the cause.


Healthwise: Living with anxiety and depression

October 12, 2012 10:19 am

I am honoured to be welcomed as the new Accredited Health Blogger for Ottawa Life Magazine. For my first post as such, I have decided to explore an illness that affects a significant number of adults: anxiety and depression.

Because of this particular time of year, and given the recent economic climate in Ottawa, some of us are sure to experience symptoms of one or both conditions. Depression can occur after major life events, such as job loss, retirement, divorce, death of a loved one, or following a serious medical diagnosis. Anxiety, on the other hand, is often triggered by life changes, such as starting a new job, returning to school, and the birth of a new baby or the departure of older children.

Unfortunately, there is a certain stigma associated with mental illnesses but, as the CBC reported, the impact of mental illness is greater than that of cancer and therefore must be given our proper attention. While these findings may not come as a surprise to those familiar with mental illness, such studies are necessary in helping to lift the shame often associated with such conditions.
According to the Royal Ottawa Hospital Mood Disorders Clinic, anxiety and depression are two of Canada’s fastest growing disabilities. And unfortunately the effects of these illnesses are not confined to the diagnosed individual but rather permeate the realms of work, relationships and home life.

Signs and Symptoms

When experiencing depression, one can display a variety of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, such as reduced or increased appetite and sleep, lack of focus, social withdrawal and decreased motivation, among others, whereas anxiety presents itself as fear of the future and can be manifested in different ways, whether as generalized anxiety, phobias or obsessive behaviours. Of course, we all experience bouts of one or more of these feelings once in a while, but one should seek treatment if any of them persist for more than a few weeks.

How to Cope

In order to minimize the symptoms of anxiety and depression, it is necessary to recognize the illness but also to take positive corrective action by ensuring adequate exercise and sleep, a healthy diet, work/life balance, perhaps taking up yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques, as well as establishing a support network of friends and consulting a medical professional if needed. Meanwhile, various local resources exist, namely the Canadian Mental Health Association and Mood Disorders Ottawa.
Remember, you are not alone.

The “Rugby Parent” polar opposite of rink-side counterpart

August 7, 2012 6:00 pm
Members of the Barrhaven Scottish Rugby Football Club men's team prepare for a scrum in a game at South Nepean Park.

It’s a Wednesday night at South Nepean Park in Barrhaven and friendly trash talk and laughter are being thrown around along with a rugby ball.

A group of parents are doing their own round of laughing and talking. They occasionally stop to watch the impromptu game of touch rugby that has broken out among the half dozen teenage boys and offer an encouraging shout or two.

These teens, members of the Barrhaven Scottish Rugby Football Club, are a minority. Youth participation in rugby hovers between five pin bowling and field hockey in Canada and is well outside the top 15 sports played in the country, according to the most recent StatsCan report.

A member of the Barrhaven Scottish Rugby Football Club women's team goes for a score during a game at South Nepean Park.

But being a minority has helped Canadian rugby stave off one of the most common plagues in minor sports; the so-called Hockey Parent Syndrome.

It is no secret that in the hockey-crazed land that is Canada, passions can run high among parents hoping and wishing their child will be the next Sidney Crosby. This fervor has led to fights in the stands, harassing of referees and other inappropriate behaviour in rinks around the country.

The animosity has spilled from the ice to the baseball diamond, soccer pitch and other mainstream sports venues for youth.

But junior rugby is mostly immune to the Hockey Parent Syndrome, says members of the Ottawa rugby scene.

“Among Canadians, hockey parents have the worst reputation of any sports fans around. Every year you’re hearing horror stories about them,” says Gord Tennant, president of the Barrhaven Scottish,“But with rugby you got a really good community base and the parents seem to have more of a community spirit. Our kids go out and win or lose, the parents are usually happy unless there’s an injury. It’s all about being together on Saturdays and playing the game and enjoying the game.”

And it’s easier to enjoy the game when you know almost nothing about the game, says Tennant, a former coach and father to three rugby-playing children of his own.

“There are a lot of parents that are really new to the game,” he says, “so you’re not going to get people screaming and yelling at referees or coaches or volunteers because of calls they’ve made since they’re just learning what the calls mean. Instead, the parents will cheer the good plays and enjoy watching their kids play rugby.”

“Everyone in Canada knows hockey so everyone in the stands is a referee or a coach with their own opinion, but in rugby you don’t get that as much,” says Tennant.

A member of the men's team clashes with an opponent in a game.

When Cairine Rose put her son, Miles Anderson, in rugby at the age of 8, she knew just as much as her son did about the sport, which was next to nothing.

“I didn’t know anything about (rugby) so I just sat back and watched (Miles) and enjoyed it,” says Rose, “I don’t yell and scream. I think the coaches should run the team because they know more than the parents on the sidelines.”

The absence of so-called hockey parents in rugby leaves room for improved play and a better outlook among the youth, says rugby parent Sherry Jones.

“The parents trust the coaches and don’t try to be the coaches and so the kids trust them too,” says Jones whose 15-year-old son Aiden plays rugby for the Barrhaven Scottish.

“And because of this they learn more and they enjoy the sport more.”

Tennant agrees and says that in what he considers the hardest all-around sport there is, having unselfish parents on the sidelines lets players focus on teamwork and playing their best, not individual accolades.

“Rugby is probably the most complete team sport that I know of. When you have a breakaway in rugby, 90 per cent of the time you’re going to be passing the ball to someone else to score,” says Tennant.

“No one person alone can win a game in rugby. Our juniors know that and can focus on that and they can enjoy the game more,” says Tennant.

A member of the minor program practices at South Nepean Park.

Ridding a sport of jeering, infighting and disrespect can go a long way in helping a child enjoy the game. It can also take them a long way through life. That’s why the Barrhaven Scottish has teams that range in age from under six to over 50.

Tennant tells of a member from the team that is getting married soon. His whole wedding party is made up of teammates from the Scottish. It was the same, he says, for himself.

“Rugby is a real community sport, it’s inclusive, there is no disrespect from the sidelines here. You can enjoy it and be competitive at the same time and make lifelong friends.”

Somatic Movement, Computers & the Red Light Reflex

June 1, 2012 4:42 pm
Sitting and computer work can be an adaptive or maladaptive process.

Today we spend much of our work or personal time in front of computers.  While this is often considered normal in the frantic pace of contemporary life, working on computers can be a great source of muscular tension and stress in the body.  Long hours in front of the computer can result in the emergence of the red light reflex.  Somatic movement can correct this reflex, align the body and make it more functional while creating greater health in the muscles.

The Red Light Reflex is also known as the startle response.  It is the muscular reflex that our body moves into when it is startled. Constant sitting at a computer can cause a person to begin displaying this same reflex.  It results in:

  • a rounded pelvis
  • hunched shoulders
  • compressed chest cavity
  • tight hips and legs
  • tight back
  • hyper extended neck
  • shallow breathing

Over time, all these symptoms can contribute to a significant amount of pain and stress in the body and spine.

Bad posture while sitting can contribute to a significant amount of pain and stress in the body and spine.

If these symptoms are not corrected, we forget how to release the stress we hold in our muscles and restore the body back to a stress-free and comfortable state.  Somatic movement relaxes muscles, reduces muscular pain and soothes the nervous system.  The movement also teaches the muscles how to be relaxed in the body and this muscle re-education can reverse the red light reflex.

All the exercises are done slowly, actively and without force.  By moving slowly, a student can feel how a muscle contracts and relaxes, as well as recognizing other muscles that also contract to assist that specific muscle.

Because Somatic movement is slow and deliberate, it is healing and restorative.  With these exercises, people develop a greater awareness of how their muscles function as well as a deeper feeling of relaxation and comfort.  As a person develops greater sensory awareness, she/he can use that awareness to sense when the body is out of alignment and correct it.  This is of great value when sitting in front of a computer on a daily basis.

Sitting and computer work can be an adaptive or maladaptive process.  We learn to be in our body through experience and a Somatic practice can teach anyone to be functionally healthier and more alive.  This is the value of a Somatic practice.

The NHL’s Strange Cup Final

May 30, 2012 7:57 am
Stanley Cup Finals

The Ottawa Senators faced the New Jersey Devils four times in 2011-12. Two of these games went past the allotted 60 minutes of regulation; the Sens won once, in a shootout, while the Devils claimed the other three games by narrow margins. On none of these occasions, or at any time during the regular season, did New Jersey appear to be favourites in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Despite featuring high-calibre offensive players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, as well as the ever-dependable Martin Brodeur in goal, the Devils seemed merely a fraction of their former dynastic selves, destined to take advantage of a favourable first-round matchup and bow out of the NHL playoffs soon after.

Tomorrow, the Devils will take to their home ice in Newark to host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

A year after an invigorating postseason climaxed with a seven-game duel between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, the NHL is set to conclude its strangest set of playoff series in recent memory. Based on the standings, neither finalist was expected to accrue even four postseason victories, but the Devils and the 8-seed Los Angeles Kings have bucked history and conventional wisdom in outlasting their conferences, and now stand four wins away from hockey’s Holy Grail.

Jonathan Quick has a 1.54 GAA and a .950 SV% during the 2012 playoffs.

Only in these playoffs could an 8-seed – generally the weakest of the NHL’s elite teams, or the best of the mediocre – be considered favourites in the Stanley Cup final. Although the Devils will open the series at home due to their numerical advantage, it is the Kings who enter the championship round having dropped just two games all postseason, and none on the road. Captain Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have led the offensive charge; defenseman Drew Doughty has rebounded from a pedestrian 36-point campaign; and goaltender Jonathan Quick has somehow managed to raise his game from a superb regular season, one that garnered him a Vezina Trophy nomination.

As it stands, Quick will be a shoo-in for Conn Smythe Trophy honours if he stonewalls the Devils. Such a performance would also make the Kings the beneficiary of an unforeseen incongruence: the most unlikely Stanley Cup champions of all-time, as well as one of the most dominant. Just the second 8-seed to reach the Cup final (after Edmonton in 2006), LA has defeated the Western Conference’s top three seeds in a brisk 14 games. 29th in goals for during the regular season, the Kings have scored four goals or more in exactly half their playoff games, never conceding more than three and never allowing their opponents any modicum of hope. A team that saw their coach fired 29 games into the year, the Kings are on the verge of going where no 8-seed has gone before, and going there with a nearly unblemished record.

The Devils, meanwhile, have appeared for years to be the remnant of one of the NHL’s last dynasties, a team that clashed with Detroit and Colorado for Stanley Cup supremacy during the decidedly unbalanced late 1990s and early 2000s. Decried throughout their championship years for their monotonous, trapping hockey, the Devils have tallied three goals or more in 14 of their 18 playoff games. (They’ve also been shut out three times.) Brodeur, who looked each of his 40 years at several points in the regular season, has not been dominant (certainly not on the level of Quick), but has performed well enough to stymie each opponent the Devils have faced. New Jersey has made less noise in the media and among fans than any other successful playoff team, scuttling through the Eastern Conference and emerging with home-ice advantage. Killers move in silence, and so do 6-seeds that make the Stanley Cup final.

Ilya Kovalchuk leads the playoffs in scoring with 18 points.

Each top team has looked impervious during this erratic NHL season, before crashing and burning not long after. The Canucks won their second consecutive President’s Trophy, lost Daniel Sedin to a concussion in late March, then lost in five to Los Angeles, with Quick playing the role of Tim Thomas reincarnate. The reinforced Pittsburgh Penguins bowed out meekly in the first round, with Marc-Andre Fleury adopting the form of a common kitchen appliance. The Philadelphia Flyers blitzed Pittsburgh to the tune of 30 goals in six games, then found themselves unable to hit the net against New Jersey. The St. Louis Blues thrived under a stifling defensive system implemented by their affable head coach, before being swept away by the Kings faster than a John Tortorella press conference. Tortorella’s New York Rangers, for their part, struggled to defeat the conference’s two lowest seeds in seven games, before their dismal counterattacking style was exposed by (of all teams) the Devils.

So who remains? The Devils escaped in double overtime of their seventh game against the league’s weakest division champ, before finding their stride and outclassing two detested rivals. No 8-seed has ever advanced so far and with such ease as the Kings. Neither team can be considered a favourite or underdog, partially because neither team should be anywhere near the Stanley Cup playoffs at this time of year.

Regardless of which club emerges victorious, the NHL will crown its lowest-ever champion in terms of seeding. If these playoffs have taught us anything, however, it might be that seeding has been rendered meaningless, giving way to a new brand of parity where dominance is exhibited in the seemingly weakest teams. Credit the Devils and Kings for what they’ve accomplished, but this much is clear: in the post-post-lockout NHL, practically anyone can win. This year, it might as well have been anyone.

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Eulogizing the Senators

May 9, 2012 8:43 am

Breakout, drop pass, gather, wind-up, wrister, twine, the last step serving as the swiftest route to pandemonium. The horn rang for 36 seconds, resonating from the sound booth to the rafters, delighting and fuelling the raucous crowd stretching the limits of the building’s capacity. Each decibel commemorated a landmark season that had begun 194 days before for the Ottawa Senators, one accompanied by a minimum of 82 twists and turns and one that would be cut short eight days and three cross-border flights later.

When Kyle Turris snapped his overtime winner over the shoulder of the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist on April 18th, he was met with a roar unlike any he’d heard in Glendale as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. Anecdotally, it appears that the roar eclipsed any in other in the 16 years that the Senators have played at the Palladium, the Corel Centre or Scotiabank Place, as well as any in the franchise’s 20 total seasons of existence. In a year prolonged and defined by unforeseen, unforgettable, comeback, moral and statement victories, Turris’ tally cemented the sweetest win of all.

The win was one of just three in the first round of these playoffs, one devastatingly short of the marker necessary to advance. While past Senator teams would have been skewered nationally for failing to produce even a measly first-round victory, this unit was celebrated differently, having surpassed any sort of expectations by reaching the postseason in the first place. For a franchise who lorded over the NHL for nearly a decade without sipping from Stanley’s cherished Cup, the newfound role of underdog was one embraced by established veterans and unproven youngsters alike. It took a carefully constructed mélange of burgeoning superstars and role players with hearts emblazoned firmly on their sleeves to accomplish what the Ottawa Senators did in 2011-12, a diverse cast of characters that were, in a word, family.

The city of Ottawa awoke on April 27th much like it had in each day of the previous 20 years: without a Stanley Cup championship and smarting from another untimely playoff elimination. Past Senator squads, replete with considerable talent and the burden of anticipated success, wilted under the brighter lights of spring hockey, either bowing out in early rounds or hanging on until the bitter end, losing rapidly and violently on the game’s biggest stage.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a series of theatrical performances, presented to the viewing audience in an escalating sequence of vignettes within the backdrop of two contrasting cities. They are epitomized by conflict (team vs. team, player vs. player, Shanahan vs. NHL fanbase), emboldened by familiarity and the overarching brutality of the sport. In the span of four to seven games, lengthened by overtimes and interspersed over the course of two weeks, an innumerable amount of storylines will emerge as players enter, fade or are forcibly withdrawn from the limelight, turning themselves and their teams into heroes or heels, champions or failures, or something in between.

These Senators were heroes and heels, depending on whom you talked to. The same goes for champions and failures, though neither term is particularly apt for characterizing a team whose final results place them in the very middle of the pack. Pre-season expectations had them failing miserably and historically, while post-Turris goal fantasies vacillated to Lord Stanley’s doorstep. They fell somewhere in between.

Nearly every man on the roster made their presence felt to some degree at some point during Ottawa’s seven playoff games. With the top scorers shackled through the first four, the Sens remained in the series on the strength of their previously unheralded grinders. Chris Neil, Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka antagonized Rangers players and fans with their physical play and by chipping in offensively in the most crucial of moments. Neil banged in a rebound off Ryan McDonagh’s leg to clinch Game 2 in overtime. Carkner set the stage for the Game 4 comeback by slipping out of the penalty box and threading a nifty pass to Milan Michalek. Konopka cemented his reputation as one of the world’s premier faceoff men by securing draws at a tremendously high rate.

Moral justification aside, Ottawa needed Carkner’s beat-down of Brian Boyle in Game 2 to enter the series. Cast aside in Game 1, with the liberties taken by Boyle on Erik Karlsson reverberating from the defeat, the Senators announced that they would be no easy out by inserting Carkner and watching him turn a 6’7, 244lb man into a quivering punching bag. Boyle had every opportunity to defend himself, choosing to accept his beating in the hopes of capitalizing on the ensuing major penalty. Five minutes later, the Senators had killed off the major and officially entered the series.

Karlsson, tabbed for a perplexing roughing minor during the initial Boyle ruckus, struggled to produce offensively but remained Ottawa’s best skater. Spending nearly half the series on the ice, Karlsson matched the defensive prowess of the Rangers’ shutdown duo of McDonagh and Dan Girardi, much to the consternation of those who still dismiss the Swede’s ability in his own end. In a series marked by the Rangers’ rugged and aesthetically depressing defensive play, it is fitting that Karlsson’s lone goal (on 31 total shots) came from behind the goal line.

Up front, Jason Spezza was locked down for the most part by McDonagh and Girardi, but still won Game 5 with his two goals and led the team with five points. Despite the rampant trade talk that will ensue this (and every) offseason, the future captain was hardly the reason Ottawa failed to advance. Craig Anderson was nothing short of superb, while Daniel Alfredsson rebounded valiantly from a malicious Carl Hagelin elbow to score Ottawa’s lone Game 7 goal.

Like any evenly-matched series, it came down to bounces. In Game 1, the Senators didn’t show up to play. In Games 2 and 4, Ottawa came back, both physically and on the scoreboard, and won each minutes into overtime. Games 3 and 5 hinged on single snaps of the puck, set up by an unlikely ricochet and a dexterous saucer pass, respectively. Game 6 turned on a questionable penalty call, Game 7 on two defensive lapses, and the series lead was extinguished and then wrenched from Ottawa’s hands at the final horn.

The sadistic nature of sports is that it inevitably declares winners and losers based on cold numbers, maintaining the right to strike down a team’s season on the grounds of one series, one game, one bounce. The numbers exist to validate and regulate the Senators’ accomplishments, but not to define them; numbers should have no significant place in any proper eulogy. If there’s any lasting message that should be extracted from the 2011-12 Ottawa Senators season, it is this: the season cannot be defined by seven games or two goals or even 36 seconds. This season, of any, was never about the final result. This season was about identifying holes, topping expectations, refusing to yield to the NHL’s elite or accept what was postulated as inevitable. It was a season in which the unheralded became heralded, and on that note, I’d like to leave Jesse Winchester with the last word.

Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: March and April

April 9, 2012 10:32 am

In several previous monthly reports, I’ve used this space to skewer Adam Proteau and The Hockey News for predicting the Ottawa Senators would finish dead last in the Eastern Conference in their September season preview. While the forecast certainly wasn’t uncommon (nearly every major hockey publication, website and Toronto media outlet had the Sens stuck in 15th place), the callous, boastful manner in which Proteau sentenced Ottawa (and their presumably “hole-identification challenged” fans) to last place leaves his argument open to gleeful revision seven months later.

In the interest of equality, here is my season preview, in which I pegged 12th place in the Eastern Conference as the likely finishing spot for the rebuilding Senators. 82 enthralling games later, I am overjoyed to admit that I was wrong, nearly as wrong as the hole-identification challenged Mr. Proteau, as the Sens will finish the regular season in 8th place and face the New York Rangers in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

So much had to go right this season for Ottawa to stave off the doubters and clinch a playoff berth. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek had to rebound from injury-riddled seasons in 2010-11. (Each did, producing near their maximum output offensively.) Erik Karlsson had to break out in his third season in North America. (78 points, 25 up on the next defenseman? I’d say he exceeded even the loftiest expectations.) Craig Anderson had to duplicate his late-season form from last year, while veteran defenders Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips had to prove they weren’t finished after dismal campaigns. (After some early struggles, Anderson was terrific, while the veterans were integral in stabilizing the Ottawa defensive corps.)

For many reasons, this is the Senators team I’ve enjoyed following most during my time as a fan, even more so than the pre-lockout powerhouses or the Pizza Line-era clubs that challenged for the Cup. The Sens endeared themselves to fans by staying competitive throughout the season, never quitting on games and embracing their role as underappreciated underdogs. In terms of expectations, it was a freebie season: as long as the young players played hard and showed marked improvement, any outcome would have been acceptable. In a year where nothing could go wrong, nothing did.

Record: 7-8-2. (Finished 41-31-10. 2nd in Northeast Division. 8th in Eastern Conference. 16th in NHL.)

Leading Scorers: (March & April) – (Total)

Milan Michalek (17 GP: 7 G, 8 A, 15 PTS) – (77: 35-25-60)
Jason Spezza (15 GP: 6 G, 7 A, 13 PTS) – (80: 34-50-84)
Erik Karlsson (17 GP: 4 G, 8 A, 12 PTS) – (81: 19-59-78)
Daniel Alfredsson (17 GP: 5 G, 7 A, 12 PTS) – (75: 27-32-59)
Kyle Turris (17 GP: 6 G, 6 A, 12 PTS) – (49: 12-17-29)

Game-by-Game Recap

Following a 1-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins to close the month of February, the slim possibility that the Senators could pass Boston for the Northeast Division lead remained alive. Those hopes were dashed after an inconsistent March, during which Ottawa nearly played itself out of the playoffs entirely. The Sens managed just three goals in consecutive losses to Chicago and Florida, before tallying 11 in two straight victories (7-3 over Tampa Bay and 4-1 over the New York Rangers). Shootout losses to division rivals Buffalo and Montreal would follow, before Ottawa avoided a shootout by topping the Canadiens 2-1 in overtime.

With Washington, Buffalo and Winnipeg all challenging for the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa embarked on a patently unwelcome three-game losing streak, scoring just two goals in defeats to Toronto (3-1), New Jersey (1-0) and Montreal (5-1). Just as the offense looked to have dried up entirely, the Senators rebounded with a vengeance, potting 23 goals in their next four games, wins over Pittsburgh (8-4), Winnipeg (6-4), Philadelphia (4-3 in a shootout) and the New York Islanders (5-1), officially clinching a playoff spot with the victory in Long Island.

With their postseason hopes secure, Ottawa fell in their final two home games, 2-1 to Carolina and 3-1 to Boston. The Senators wrapped up the regular season in New Jersey, falling 4-2 to the sixth-place Devils.

Players of the Month

With the season coming to a close, it makes sense to honour the veteran players that spurred the Senators’ prodigious offensive charge. A year after netting 192 goals, good for 29th in the 30-team NHL, the 2011-12 Senators finished with 249 goals, proving that preseason concerns about their offensive ability to be wildly off base. Alongside young Erik Karlsson, the offense was powered by healthy seasons from Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek, each of whom thrived in Paul MacLean’s freewheeling attack.

Michalek led the club with 15 points in March and April and topped the Sens in goals with 35, nine more than his previous career high. Alfredsson could challenge for both the Masterton Trophy and the Lady Byng, scoring 59 points at the age of 39. Spezza finished 4th in league scoring with 84 points, ending the year as the Senators’ (partially disputed) MVP, with apologies to Ottawa’s heralded Swedish blueliner.

Goal of the Month

No contest here, although the winning entry will be forever commemorated on highlight reels and YouTube compilations for the primary assist rather than the goal itself. Having taken two straight tripping penalties against the Winnipeg Jets on March 26th, Jason Spezza began to hear the jeers from the partisan crowd at the MTS Centre. Locked in a 2-2 game in the second period, Spezza took a pass from Erik Karlsson, burst into the Winnipeg zone and tucked the puck behind his back along the half-wall. Curling back towards the blue-line, Spezza found open ice and headed straight for the Jets goal, unfurling an absolutely disgusting dangle around centre Bryan Little. Corralling the puck on his backhand to elude defenseman Ron Hainsey, Spezza lofted a pass by outstretched goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and right onto the stick of Kyle Turris, who tapped in for the easiest goal of his professional career.

In a year that will be remembered for great Senators assists (including passes from Karlsson, the erstwhile David Rundblad and Clarke MacArthur), no play stands out more than Spezza’s terrific individual effort, a play reminiscent of some of the prettiest moves in the talented centre’s career. A cursory reminder to Jets fans: don’t get Jason Spezza angry.

Game of the Month

Coming off of a potentially devastating three-game losing streak, Ottawa needed to rebound at home against the surging Pittsburgh Penguins. 60 minutes and eight goals later, the Sens accomplished just that, seeing 11 players register at least a point in a commanding 8-4 victory. Daniel Alfredsson led the way with two goals and two assists, while Nick Foligno added three helpers of his own. Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop combined for 36 saves, while the Sens victimized Brad Thiessen, who surrendered all eight goals behind an embarrassing effort from the Penguins’ defense.

Erik Karlsson Norris Watch

A relatively weak March and April may doom Karlsson when it comes time for Norris Trophy voting. (Of course, he still tallied 12 points in 17 games.) There have been suggestions that Karlsson is nursing a minor injury of some sort, though he has continued to play down the stretch even after Ottawa secured a playoff berth last Sunday. Teams have begun to gear their entire defensive game plans around Karlsson’s ability to lead the breakout, trying to shackle the young blueliner as a means of stopping Ottawa’s offense. While his production has slipped a tad, Karlsson finishes 2011-12 with 78 points, just below a point-per-game in a season where no other blueliner topped 53. Forget comparisons to Mike Green and Lubomir Visnovsky – Karlsson’s season is reminiscent of the offensive dominance of Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch in the 1980s and early 1990s (when adjusted for differences in goal-scoring rates league-wide).

Karlsson doesn’t do things that a conventional All-Around Defenseman does: throw hits, block shots and kill penalties, to name three. Instead, Karlsson has improved his positional defending by leaps and bounds, leading the league in takeaways, often by letting opponents beat him to loose pucks in the corner before stripping the puck away and leading the breakout. By playing 25 stellar minutes at even-strength and on the power play, it would be foolish for Paul MacLean to increase Karlsson’s ice-time even further or waste his offensive talents by sticking him on the penalty kill, where players like Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen can play to their strengths by blocking shots and harnessing their size.

Karlsson has been the league’s best all-around defenseman by playing a distinctly non-traditional brand of defense, one that may never be recognized by the mainstream sportswriters who wield Norris votes. (Case in point: this ignorant tweet from Toronto scribe Damien Cox touting the Rangers’ Dan Girardi over Karlsson for the Norris. Girardi has all of 29 points on the year and isn’t even the best defenseman on his team.) Every error Karlsson makes is overblown as evidence of his general disregard for defense, while a similar mistake from, say, Shea Weber, is considered an anomaly based on his accumulated reputation. (Case in point: this snide tweet from St. Louis broadcaster Darren Pang blasting Karlsson’s defensive play during the March 26th game against Winnipeg. Karlsson would respond by finishing the night with three assists and a +5 rating, effectively silencing Pang.)

Who do I think will win the Norris? Based on the men voting for the award, it will likely be Nashville’s Shea Weber, with St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo (a Pang favourite) also garnering support. Personally, I feel that it would be unfortunate if the writers choose to overlook a 25-point scoring gap and don’t award the Norris to the best all-around defenseman in 2011-12, the blazing Swede from Ottawa.

Looking Ahead

The New York Rangers. Round 1. Two years removed from their last postseason tilt, Ottawa will travel to Madison Square Garden to face off with the Eastern Conference champions. Let the hate flow, and the playoffs begin.

Jen’s Jibberish: All About the Butt – Discover Your Inner Booty Beauty

March 29, 2012 3:40 pm
Screen shot 2012-03-29 at 3.08.56 PM

Who doesn’t appreciate a nice rear view? It’s nice that there is a month dedicated to the butt. However, I am not talking about what’s on the outside here. It’s all about your inner booty beauty. While Colon Cancer Awareness Month, comes to an end, I couldn’t let the month pass without flagging it.

Now, this stuff isn’t glamorous. Fair enough. But think about this. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to stack the odds in your favour. Sure, there is the usual advice (eat right, get enough fibre, watch the belly fat, cut back on the red meat and processed foods and of course, exercise). But there is also an important part of bottom health: screening, aka, colonoscopies.

Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada

Have you experienced any of the following? A change in your pooping habits? Blood in your stool? Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain or a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely when you are, you know going?  If so, consider calling your doctor. And of course, if your family has a history of colorectal issues, ask to get screened. You’ll be glad you did. In fact, you will just be joining the trendy set. Colonoscopies are becoming the in thing. Oprah had one and dedicated part of a show talking about it.  Need I say more?

The trend is a good one.  Imagine you had something there, some little nugget or two (known as polyps), didn’t know about it and it eventually turned into cancer. Imagine what a chump you would feel like for not taking a tour of your bum years earlier. Generally speaking, it takes a few years for a growth to turn into cancer so it is even more crazy not to get checked out, if not for peace of mind.  In fact, caught early enough, colon cancer is 90% treatable.

Early detection through regular check-ups can save your butt!

If the screening results are clear, you’re good to go for years to come. And if the doctors do find something then all the better for early detection.  It can be dealt with and might just save your life. You’ll have to go every 5 years after that for a follow-up colonoscopy. But it’s really not that bad. Why people live in fear of the procedure is beyond me. Some people complain that the two days before are extremely unpleasant as you discover reserves of  number two you probably never thought possible in the human body.  But it’s a great way to cleanse yourself and it’s a great excuse to take it easy, sit around, watch too much tv or read eating vats of jello.

Then there is the procedure. Nobody tells you, but the drugs are fabulous and if you have a great doctor like I did (Dr. Arni Sekar 613-729-3179) or a great anaesthicist, they are your new best friends.  The experience isn’t bad and sure beats the alternative. Fear is just not worth  risking your health. Period.

Last but not least, remember that fibre is your friend.  I have a great cookie recipe if you’re interested. Email me at  I have nicknamed it Jen’s Colonoscopy Cookies.  These suckers will kick your ass into gear if you need a little help. And they even taste good.

Learn more about your bum at the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada web site The organization also has a great PR campaign to boot (no pun intended).


The Final Four: Kentucky, and the Rest

9:03 am

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas sparked an interesting debate on Twitter last Sunday: how many Final Four appearances has Kentucky head coach John Calipari actually made? The NCAA has vacated two of Calipari’s previous visits, with Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, due to rules violations involving star players Marcus Camby (in 1996) and Derrick Rose (2008). Bilas contends that Calipari’s first two Final Four appearances are, in fact, legitimate, as both teams lost upon reaching the national semifinals, and none of Calipari’s losses were vacated. Bilas’ point, unfortunately, is neither foolproof nor accurate. Not only was Memphis’ entire 2007-08 season vacated (including the losses), but Bilas’ point begs the question: If Calipari’s teams had won the national championship instead of losing, would the Final Four appearances still be legitimate?

Semantics aside, Kentucky’s four victories in the 2012 NCAA Tournament has guaranteed Calipari a trip to his second consecutive Final Four. (His 2011 appearance with Kentucky, which culminated in a 56-55 loss to Connecticut in the semifinals, has yet to be vacated.) Calipari has won 11 tournament games in just three seasons at Kentucky, and while previous teams populated with future NBA talent failed to survive March Madness, this Wildcats squad has a golden opportunity to clinch the school’s eighth national championship, and Calipari’s first as a head coach.

Anthony Davis swats one of his 175 blocks on the season, best in the country.

Kentucky will enter the 2012 Final Four as prohibitive favourites, a result of the team’s overwhelming proficiency at both ends of the basketball court and the elimination of their strongest possible opponents. Calipari plays just seven players with any regularity, yet those seven men form the most destructive, cohesive and talented unit of teammates in the entire country. Sometime this upcoming weekend, Anthony Davis will collect the Naismith College Player of the Year award as the top men’s player in Division 1, becoming the first freshman to claim the honour since Kevin Durant in 2007. Davis’ interminable wingspan and peerless defensive presence evokes a hybrid of Durant and Kevin Garnett, while 2011-12 averages of 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game have entrenched the 6’10 Davis as the top prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Davis is complemented by 6’7 freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a devastating athlete in transition with the ability to score, defend and rebound from the small forward position. Explosive sophomore forward Terrence Jones, sharpshooting sophomore guard Doron Lamb and gifted freshman point guard Marquis Teague (brother of the Atlanta Hawks’ Jeff) round out the starting lineup; senior Darius Miller is the nation’s best sixth man, while Canadian freshman Kyle Wiltjer provides depth in the frontcourt. The length and versatility of Kentucky’s wings and forwards allows Calipari to rotate these seven players in any possible combination, shifting ball-handling duties to Lamb or Miller when Teague goes for a rest or relying on Jones to control the interior with Davis on the bench.

Despite their youth and potentially frightening lack of depth, Kentucky has rolled through their competition, dropping just two games en route to the final weekend of March Madness. (One of those losses came on a three-pointer at the buzzer against Indiana in December, though Kentucky avenged the defeat with a 102-90 beat-down in the Sweet Sixteen.) The Wildcats have gotten this far with such ease due in large part to their impressive ability to defend without fouling. Although Kentucky broke the NCAA team record for blocks in a single season (326, through the Elite Eight), they have committed 154 fouls less than their opponents. Davis has fouled out of just one game this season, while Kentucky loses a player to fouls just once every four games on average, keeping their core group on the floor late in games.

John Calipari is searching for his first NCAA championship as a head coach.

The other reason that Kentucky has enjoyed so much success in 2011-12 is, simply, that they’re better: better than previous Wildcat teams under Calipari, better than their fellow #1 tournament seeds and most certainly better than the three teams joining them in New Orleans this coming weekend. Indiana shot 52.2% from the field and scored 90 points in the Sweet Sixteen, only to watch Kentucky score 102. The Wildcats went on a 16-0 run against Baylor in the Elite Eight, turning an early deficit into a rout within four minutes. Unlike Calipari’s last two Wildcat teams (who still enjoyed considerable tournament success), Kentucky is equally destructive on offense and defense, picking from a myriad of worthy scoring options and suffocating the opposition with unprecedented vigour.

Despite their loss in the SEC Tournament final to Vanderbilt, Kentucky appeared to be a tier above their fellow #1 seeds entering the NCAAs: Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State. Syracuse was hamstrung by the suspension of center Fab Melo for academic reasons, avoiding the greatest upset in tournament history with significant help from the officials, topping a plodding Wisconsin team by one and eventually falling to #2 Ohio State. North Carolina lost sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall to a fractured wrist in the second round, narrowly surviving in overtime against #13 Ohio and falling apart late in a loss to Kansas. Michigan State earned a #1 seed on the basis of their Big Ten tournament championship, but imploded offensively in a 57-44 loss to Louisville.

A mere 76 miles separate Louisville and Lexington, one of American collegiate sports’ most heated rivalries, a conflict dominated on the basketball court by Kentucky, both recently (Kentucky is 3-0 under Calipari) and historically (29-14 Wildcats all-time). Saturday’s semifinal will represent the schools’ first NCAA Tournament matchup since 1984, and their first-ever meeting in the Final Four. The focus will be cast upon Calipari and legendary Louisville bench boss Rick Pitino, who led Kentucky to a national title in 1996 (topping Calipari’s UMass team in the semifinals). Kentucky is a tremendous favourite on paper, however, and nothing the Wildcats have done in their first four games suggests that they will falter now. It is exceedingly unlikely that the leadership of point guard Peyton Siva, the three-point prowess of Kyle Kuric, the inside presence of Gorgul Dieng (who should play an admirable foil to Davis, nonetheless) or the boundless energy of sixth man Russ Smith will be enough to derail the Kentucky machine.

Louisville's Peyton Siva, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Kansas' Thomas Robinson will attempt to derail Kentucky this weekend in New Orleans.

The same goes for the finalists on the far side of the bracket: dueling 2-seeds Ohio State and Kansas, who rode the absences of Melo and Marshall, respectively, to minor upsets in the Elite Eight. Ohio State is led by a quartet of sophomores, most notably prospective lottery pick Jared Sullinger and crafty point guard Aaron Craft (there’s really no other word to describe him). The Buckeyes are plagued by the same depth issues as Kentucky, though Ohio State’s reserves offer no reliable secondary scoring option. Expect all five Buckeyes starters to play upwards of 35 minutes if they can escape foul trouble.

The Kansas Jayhawks, meanwhile, start five upperclassmen, led by player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson and emerging 7-footer Jeff Withey, who form a daunting tandem on the inside. The Ohio State-Kansas tilt promises to be the most enthralling of the weekend, with the victor likely to combat Kentucky in the national championship. Barring any injuries, Kansas should be favoured by a smidge, but the Jayhawks’ recent success against Calipari (defeating his Memphis team in the 2008 title game) will offer no reprieve against the Wildcats on Monday night.

A more pressing debate concerns a statement made by CBS temp Charles Barkley, who asserted, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that this Kentucky team would defeat the Toronto Raptors. While the Wildcats boast seven future pros in their lineup, Barkley seems to have ignored some of the obvious problems Kentucky would face in such a matchup: Marquis Teague trying to corral Jose Calderon; Andrea Bargnani and his 20 points per game in the NBA; the unspeakable atrocities that would occur when Davis inevitably got into foul trouble; and the general strength, experience and basketball knowledge possessed by professionals in the greatest league in the world. Unless the bulk of the Raptors can regain NCAA eligibility by Saturday evening, however, it appears that Kentucky will cruise to Calipari’s first title and solidify their positions as champions of March Madness and the best team in the country.

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