2020 Monthly Film Viewing and Reviewing Parties

Come join the party on the last Sunday of each month starting in February, 2020!

Doors will open at 6:30 pm so that you can get some popcorn and hot tea before the movie starts.  Doors will close when the movie starts at 7 pm.

After each movie, a discussion will be facilitated so consider bringing a journal to take note of what you took away from the film or what you learned from other film critics.

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Honor Our Achievements

The Season of Harvest is Upon Us – Let’s Celebrate!

I had the pleasure of visiting the Kripula Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts for a day recently and participated in creating this sand mandala (below) or sacred cosmogram with a compassionate community of others raising awareness of something larger than each of our small worlds.  It was a reminder of the impermanent nature of all things – including ourselves.

As we move deeper into the Fall season, Mother Earth and her beautiful nature begin to remind us that we are all shapeshifters.  When we are conceived and born into this incarnation, it is the infinite universe manifesting into a finite human form.  And what we have to always keep in mind is that this incarnation is temporary, transitory and will ultimately shift us back into the infinite universe.  When we can truly embrace that, by divine design, we are all simply passing through this human experience, constantly in flux, growing, changing, transforming, we open our hearts up to embracing every moment as an opportunity to celebrate our lives.

So let this change in season, when nature offers its last harvest for the year before its annual shapeshifting where it begins to pull back within itself, shedding its last fruits, flowers and leaves, slowing its growth down, and turning brown and as the breezes begin to cool down, encourage us to honor the abundance in our lives by celebrating.

Below are some intention setting ideas to honor our personal experiences of shapeshifting by acknowledging, sharing and celebrating our own achievements:

  1. Reflect on achievements.  If I were to ask you right now what is the biggest thing you have accomplished in your life so far, what would come up?  Is it difficult to identify what you have accomplished, what you have done that might bring you joy when you think about it?  Does it seem that no matter how much you do achieve, it feels like it is never enough and you find yourself needing to accomplish more and more, until you feel overwhelmed and exhausted?  Well, you just might need some perspective that offers an alternative to measuring the value of your life by the number of achievements.  I remember when I was younger, I would tell people that I wanted ‘She was productive’ engraved on my headstone.  As I write this now, I am laughing at myself.  Perhaps set an intention to see your achievements in a different light, as ones that have contributed to your growth and transformation instead.  When seen in this light, failures might now be relabeled as achievements.
  2. Write down achievements.  After reflecting on those things that you have done that brought growth and change into your life, write them down.  Some of these life-changing events might be graduating from school, having and raising a child, buying your first car, taking your first trip, or starting your own business.  Keep this list out where you can see it every day . . . and set an intention to add to it, perhaps every couple of months or once a year.  Reminding yourself on a daily basis that you too are a shapeshifter will help to challenge those moments when you might think that you haven’t accomplished enough or feel a little stuck or stagnant.
  3. Share your accomplishments.  This suggestion might feel like I am asking you to brag about your successes.  However, many of us avoid sharing our accomplishments for fear of appearing boastful.  But keeping your achievements to yourself or minimizing them robs your friends and family from learning and growing.  It’s good to share such experiences with your loved ones as long as you do so in an authentic and humble way.  When we allow ourselves to tell others what we have achieved, we are letting them know that it is not out of reach or impossible.  In fact, we can inspire them to continue to reach for their own personal goals for growth and transformation and connect more deeply with what is really important to them!
  4. Celebrate moments of accomplishment.   As we move through this process of honoring our experiences of shapeshifting, we must not forget the celebration!  Whether it is folding the last piece of laundry after doing 3 loads in one day, getting to work on time after getting your kids dressed, fed and off to school in the morning, and/or after a long day at work where you finally finished that project that you have been dreading for so long, if you begin to experience a sense of accomplishment, celebrate!  Consider setting an intention to not rush onto the next thing on your “To Do” list without taking a moment to relish the fact that you accomplished something you set out to do.  The more you don’t sweat the small stuff and instead celebrate it, the more joy you will invite into your life and the lives of others!
  5. Celebrate milestones.  Last but absolutely not the least is the intention to celebrate any and all milestones in your life.  Whether it is a birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion, plan to celebrate to commemorate your human beingness.  Some of us avoid doing so for fear of bringing attention to ourselves, again believing it might be viewed as self-focused or selfish.  Consider setting an intention to mark such moments in your life, whether you celebrate by yourself or with others, to remind you that the sands of time are flowing, moving, changing by divine design and you are too!

Might integrating trauma-informed yoga into group psychotherapy be helpful in healing and health?

As a trauma-informed yoga teacher and holistic psychotherapist, I’m always on the outlook for new ways to integrate these two (East meets West) healing modalities, better supporting the alignment of the body, mind and soul (think spirituality).  Research continues to emerge in support of integrating both with positive effects.  As we continue to expand our understanding, we are learning that treating the mind (psychotherapy) separately from the body (yoga) limits the healing benefits.  Just as we are learning that treating the body (medical health) without considering the mind (mental, emotional health) limits healing.  Yet, as I have written about in a previous Blog, there are many yoga style options.

What makes trauma-informed yoga different?  A central tenet of such an approach is choice.  As such, the language used to guide students is specific to creating a choice-based environment and reminds them that they are always in control of their practice.  Certain words are used to empower participants to make choices that feel comfortable and invite a more gentle compassionate approach.  The teacher’s role is to be a supportive and non-judgmental presence.  They are aware of how their own movements and interactions are perceived, demonstrating predictability and consistency to create and maintain safety.  In maintaining such healthy boundaries, they model those boundaries, which includes no physical assisting as such assisting may be triggering to someone recovering from trauma.  Trauma-informed teachers ‘invite’ participants to draw their awareness to the sensations in their bodies to guide them in their choices of shapes and timing of their movements, not ‘tell’ them what to do and when.  Even the guidance around how to breathe in such a class is a suggestion to find a supportive breath that invites comfort.  So no focus on holding the breath is offered.  If you are interested in reading more about trauma-informed yoga, I would suggest checking out Zabie Yamasaki’s website here.

Trauma-informed yoga is new.  In fact, in 2017 the Trauma Center’s trauma sensitive yoga (TCTSY) became the first dedicated yoga program in the world to be listed as an evidence-based program/practice of psychological trauma.  So how excited was I to read the emerging research on integrating trauma-sensitive yoga into group psychotherapy for at-risk groups, such as survivors of intimate partner violence.

What this research suggests is that it may not only have positive effects for clients in Group Therapy, but also for the care providers!  If you would like to read more about this research, click the box below:

Is direct neurofeedback safe and effective for depression when pregnant?

I believe most of us want to do what is best for our health, such as eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and staying connected with friends and family and I imagine maintaining our health and wellbeing takes another step up on our list of priorities when we think about getting (or are) pregnant.  If we smoke, we might consider stopping.  If we drink alcohol, we again might consider stopping.  However, if we experience a mood imbalance (think anxious and/or depressive symptoms), do we consider stopping any medications we are taking that are currently supporting our experience of more balance in our moods?  And what happens if we begin to experience some of these symptoms for the first time during our pregnancy, do we consider taking medications while pregnant or try to tough it out?

It is not uncommon for physicians to encourage women to stop such mood management medications as the side effects can be premature birth and low birth weight, similar to the impacts of smoking and drinking during pregnancy.  Where does this leave moms-to-be that are either taking such medications or might experience antenatal anxiety and/or depression?  There is research that shows babies have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol when moms experience untreated depression, which increases the risk of that baby developing anxiety, depression, and other mental and behavioral challenges later in life.  So it is well known that depression in pregnancy negatively affects both mom’s and her baby’s health, so is there any other option?

A recent pilot randomized controlled research trial shows hope for a non-invasive, non-medication brain stimulation treatment option, specifically transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), also referred to as direct neurofeedback.  The results of this trial reflect the feasibility and acceptability of such an option along with encouraging preliminary effectiveness and no serious adverse (i.e., side) effects in this under-treated population.  The effects even lasted a month after delivery!  The results of this pilot study supported the next step to a definitive random controlled trial to evaluate tDCS for antenatal depression.

If you might be interested in reading more about this treatment option, either for yourself or someone you know that is struggling with such a decision, please click on the link below to learn more:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Self-care in Chaotic Times

It is so difficult to not be affected by what is happening in the world, especially when we are deeply aware of how interdependent and connected we all are.  We can feel small, scared, overwhelmed and helpless in such times of chaos.  We might think to ourselves “What can I do, I am only one person and this is so much more than I can fix by myself.”  Yet action, even the smallest of steps, is the antidote to such feelings and supports the flow of love and healing back out into the world!

One of the quotes by the Dalai Lama that might support our efforts to take some small action this month is “World peace begins with inner peace”.  September is also National Yoga Month, which might just be an ideal time to consider trying one of the intention-setting ideas for self-care to cultivate inner peace when chaos presents itself:

  1. Try something new.  If you already practice yoga, perhaps take your practice somewhere new, like outside in a park, or by a body of water.  If you typically practice by yourself, maybe consider joining a Yoga or Meditation MeetUp to sense into the powerful collective energy of such a group.  If you typically take a Vinyasa class, consider trying a different style, such as Yin or Restorative.  Maybe you have had your eye on a workshop around the new or full moons – make a step toward getting it on your calendar, whether this month or next.  If you don’t practice yoga, consider attending a Beginner’s or Gentle class, or an introduction to yoga workshop.  Yoga encompasses so much more than the shapes on the mat, so consider a group gathering that peaks your mental or spiritual interests!
  2. Share the gift of yoga.  If someone you care about is also currently struggling to connect with their core center of inner peace within, invite them along with you as you try something new.  You might frame the invite as their presence would be a great support to you to face the fear head on. Knowing you have each others’ backs can in and of itself reduce the level fear that comes with trying something new, even though we know it is good for us.
  3. Mindful minutes.  Throughout your day, consider committing to taking a mindful minute several times a day.  It does not have to be scheduled or occur at the same time each day.  Instead, perhaps having a Post-It note on your mirror or computer screen as a reminder and then, when you sense your body and/or mind tensing up, stop what your are doing for a minute.  In that minute, you can simply acknowledge the tension, place your hands in a gesture of care to yourself (e.g., right hand over your heart, Garuda mudra, Adhi mudra, Hakini mudra, etc.), and draw your awareness to your breath.  Another way to practice mindful minutes is to give what you are doing your full attention for that minute.  For example, if you are washing dishes, encourage your awareness to focus on the details of the object you are washing, such as its size, color, shape, texture and material.  Offer it your appreciation for being a part of your kitchenware and its role in nourishing your body.  Another example might be giving someone your full attention for that minute, such as when you interact with your family at the end of the day.  This one can be more challenging as we often are planning our response after the first few words.  So consider committing to only listen and releasing the attachment to the almost automatic need to comment on what they are sharing.
  4. Practice kindness.  Toward yourself!  When we experience chaos, it rattles us.  Recognizing how this manifests in yourself, whether it creates irritation, fear, anxiety, self-criticism, withdrawal, and/or dissociation, is the first step.  With this awareness, you can begin to discover techniques that help to soothe those responses, such as deep breathing, yoga Nidra, creating, reading, and/or talking with yourself as if you were your best friend.  The kindness is creating space to offer yourself those techniques.  Consider this mind bender:  If we don’t act kindly toward ourselves, how can we expect ourselves to act authentically kind to others!
  5. Plan a gathering.  Surrounding yourself with your tribe, those people that are like-hearted and lift you up, is important to remind you that you are not experiencing this chaos alone and by gathering together, we exponentially impact the collective love, compassion and intention of peace that the world so needs.  Consider a gathering dedicated to exploring the world chaos a little more directly by inviting your tribe members to share how they know the world chaos is impacting them and their ‘go to’ act of kindness to self-soothe.  Perhaps ask some of your members to guide the tribe through one of their acts of kindness or listen to a yoga Nidra practice together and talk about the change it created in the moment.  Make sure to check back in with everyone at the end of the gathering and collectively set the intention to continue to share newly discovered acts of self-kindness, facilitating the flow with love from the inside!

Do emotions have a role in healing childhood trauma?

I sense that most of us are aware that our brain, especially the rational part (i.e., prefrontal cortex) does not reach full development until age 25 or so, which implies, by default that until that age, we tend to operate more from the emotional parts, such as the amygdala.  And, as our brains develop, the connections between the two (emotional and rational) centers are still developing as well.  What we may not be so aware of is the impact of childhood trauma on such connections.  We also may not be fully aware of many of the situations that are now understood to be traumatizing to children.

Let me start with the latter.  Extensive research has been ongoing since the original group of participants were recruited for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study between 1995 and 1997 in California.  Although the study ended in 1997, most states continue to collect such information through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The information collected focuses on child abuse and neglect and other household challenges, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and if a household member was incarcerated. This research has resulted in the inclusion of a new diagnosis of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder, also referred to as developmental PTSD, within the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, recently officially endorsed by WHO’s World Health Assembly and set for implementation outside of the US in 2022.

This is a HUGE step forward in identifying the underlying cause of most challenging symptoms to mental health, including anxiety and depression, and how these symptoms link to most chronic physical diseases, such as heart disease and cancer!  I have been known to say we don’t need a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, we simply need The Book of Trauma.  When we all can embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and instead can understand it is what happened to us when we were little that makes it so difficult to live a life full of joy and meaning today, there will no longer be any stigma to seeking support and we can begin the process of healing by shedding the shame and suffering we have been carrying.

Now to expand on the awareness of the impact such developmental PTSD has on the growing connections between the emotional and rational parts of a child’s brain.  When we are little and presented with trauma (as defined above), the emotional input to the brain is overwhelming to the point where we only ‘feel’ and are unable to ‘think’ because the developing rational part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional part, cutting off the connections that encourage a more balanced perspective.  The most familiar and natural fear responses of ‘fight or flight’ in many cases may not be an option for children.  Therefore, the ‘freeze’ response may be the most accessible, especially in young children.  The freeze response is used when the presenting danger cannot be escaped or beaten down, and if either were to be attempted, might actually increase the risk of harm.  The freeze response is a survival response that encourages stillness and silence to avoid being seen and offering a mental escape instead.  What this normal response to danger also does is narrow the range of emotional awareness to flavors of fear and shuts down the development of a more diverse range of emotions, including engagement, joy, comfort, confidence, empowerment and enthusiasm.  When the freeze response helped us to survive the traumas of our childhood, it also stunted our emotional intelligence (aka alexithymia), locking us in a world where danger lurks around every corner, even as adults.

So what can we do to unlock the door to the fear chamber and open it up to a safer, more peaceful existence?  In order to facilitate improvements in trauma-specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, impulsivity, and interpersonal problems, emotions need to be welcome to express themselves.  Working with a therapist that embraces the intelligence of emotions, through perhaps using Emotionally-focused therapy, can address the emotional challenges associated with alexithymia and thus, begin to resolve issues of childhood trauma.

To read a little more of the research on how working with emotions heals childhood trauma, click on the link below:

 

 

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Celebrating Happiness Happens Month

Starting from the humble beginnings of celebrating happiness on Admit You’re Happy Day on August 11, 1999, Happiness Happens Month is now a whole month dedicated to celebrating what makes you happy!

This movement is founded in the belief that what you focus on grows – energy flows where attention goes!  Understanding that humans are born wired for connection, it is also rooted in the science that emotions are contagious, especially when we embrace our innate ability to feel empathy for others.

And since summer is typically a time to slow down a little and have some fun, I thought I might offer some ideas to celebrate such a noteworthy effort and invite happiness into focus:

  1. Watch the movie ‘Happy’.  The movie ‘Happy’ might be a bit dated (from 2011), yet always worth a second (or third) look and is available on most streaming services such as Amazon Prime, NetFlix, etc. Set the intention to watch this movie this month and afterwards, take a moment to note if your perspective on an area of your life might have shifted.  And, if so, I would love to hear from you on how!
  2. Read a book about gratitude.  The benefits of gratitude are gaining traction in the scientific realm, so if you want to delve a little deeper into this pool of happiness, pick up a book on the topic.  One of my favorites is The Gratitude Diaries:  How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan.  Perhaps setting your intention to explore this idea by clicking on the link and dropping this book into your cart now!
  3. Try a mantra.  A mantra is simply a tool to help focus the mind and typically is practiced by repeating any meaningful word or phrase that resonates with and inspires you.  It can be your favorite quote, a line from your favorite song or simply a word, such as happiness.  Set an intention to identify a mantra and practice repeating it for one minute a day this month.  Don’t worry if your mind wanders away during the practice, simply return to the practice as soon as you notice the mind has wandered.  My mantra for the month is “Happiness is an act of courage”!  What’s yours?
  4. Do a good deed.  Personal experience and research has shown that humans feel good about themselves when they can help others.  This phenomenon might be tied to how we are wired for connection and born with the innate ability to feel empathy for others.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate, actually small acts of kindness, including smiling at strangers have been known to support the growth of happiness.  Set an intention today to try it!
  5. Watch a sunrise or sunset.  There is something magical about watching the sun rise and set that is hard to put words too, perhaps transcendent, spiritual, supernatural, or mystical are some of the words you have used to describe such experiences.  For me, I think it is a reminder of how connected everything is, how interdependent and supported we are, which warms my heart and soothes my soul.  Set an intention to recreate this experience for yourself this month and notice if you might simply describe the experience as HAPPINESS!

Can practicing Yoga Nidra improve academic performance?

When I was in college way back when, I remember hearing about the research that suggested when students nap during studying, they remember more about what they were studying or in other words, students improved their memory retention.  This research flew in the face of what I observed most students doing instead – pulling all-nighters before exams.  However, I always thought about it when I found myself napping on the weekends while reading my textbooks or writing papers as it made me feel less guilty about nodding off.  Flash forward thirty years and now the research is showing that practicing Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep or sleep of the yogis) can improve academic achievement.

Yoga Nidra has been referred to or described as deep relaxation, sacred rest, nirvana, an altered state of consciousness, psychic sleep, a meditation practice, and/or resting in awareness.  No matter how it is referred to, Yoga Nidra is a guided awareness practice that has the effect of supporting the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of our autonomic nervous system responsible for rest and digestion.  When practiced, the physical body is positioned in a comfortable, supine position, supported by blankets and pillows to provide comfort and the awareness of the mind is directed away from thoughts and guided to focus on the body, breath, senses, emotions and even imagery.

By supporting the parasympathetic nervous system, balance is invited into the body and mind with the effect of creating greater access to all parts of the brain and, thus, facilitating the digestion of our external experiences, such a learning something new.  Although the research findings indicate that practicing Yoga Nidra reduces stress levels and improves academic achievement, it is not clear if these findings are a result of increasing cognitive functioning, including attention, learning and memory, or as a result of increasing emotional regulation, or a combination of both.  Regardless of the mechanism, this research offers a powerful tool to not only students, but to teachers, the educational system and its entire support structures.

For more information on the beneficial impacts of Yoga Nidra on academic performance, click on the links below: