Might direct neurofeedback reduce impulsive behaviors?

The symptom of impulsivity can be found listed under several mental/behavioral health diagnoses, including but not limited to intermittent explosive disorder, substance abuse, OCD, PTSD and binge eating disorder.  When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5™) was published in 2013 and included binge eating disorder, I finally felt validated and, at the same time, gratitude for discovering yoga, which helped to reduce my anxiety and my out-of-control eating, especially in light of the fact that I didn’t want to start taking any prescription medications.

My relationship with food has been a long and winding road.  I have memories when I was 4 or 5 of sitting at my kitchen table by myself, long after everyone else finished eating and was allowed to move on, because I was not allowed to leave the table until I finished everything on my plate, including those horrible green vegetables.  I tried every trick in the book, including slipping some to the dog under the table and putting some in my mouth, wiping my mouth with a napkin and spitting what was in my mouth into the napkin.  I also hear my parents in my mind saying “Eat your food!  There are people starving in Africa” and thinking to myself “Great, send them my food!”.

From there, after my parents got divorced, food became scarce for most of my adolescence.  My parents’ divorce and subsequent relationship was very contentious, pushing me into the land of anxiety.  I began to worry about where my next meal would be coming from and if it would be enough.  The pattern that grew from there involved eating large amounts of food (even if I wasn’t hungry) when food was available and eating very quickly (to ensure I got enough before it disappeared).  I also have memories as a young adult where I would eat my meal very quickly and then eat what was left by others on their plates.

As time passed, my relationship with food changed when my weight began to increase.  At this point, I would not allow myself to eat anything until the end of the day, after I had taken care of everyone else’s needs on my list.  Only then, almost like a reward for completing my “To Do” list for others and my sense of self-restraint or control, would I allow myself the indulgence of fulfilling one of the most basic human needs.  What didn’t change at this point though, was the speed in which I ate and the amount of food I would eat!

I then ventured into the many ‘diets’ being promoted.  My weight began to yo-yo.  My life felt so out-of-control as did I!  It wasn’t until I discovered yoga that I found myself in a space to really confront this unhealthy relationship I had with food, facing the fears lying beneath my journey in the land of anxiety.  And even with the support of my yoga practice (and a boost from some hypnotherapy), it took me many more years to see food as simply a source of energy for my body, like gas or electric for a car.

So how excited was I when I read the recent promising research on using direct neurofeedback (i.e., transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS) to reduce impulsive behaviors!  Although it is not exactly clear how it does so, a positive effect was found in 74 out of 92 research studies.  It warms my heart to learn that there is an alternative to prescription medications, something that specifically supports the brain’s innate ability to reorganize itself towards health, and does so relatively quickly.

If you would like to read a little more on this research, click on the box below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Bring More Joy Into Your Life

This time of year can be stressful for most of us to say the least!  For some, including myself, it might also bring up memories of loss, family discord, and unfulfilled dreams.  So I did a little research on tools that have been shown to shift us into a space of joy and, when integrated into a regular practice, can make that joy more sustainable and available to us any time of year (also see my Reflections below on Positive Psychology).

To take a deeper dive, perhaps consider saving this website (https://itsallgoodhere.com/) in your Favorites and set a new year intention to explore these tools more.

In the meantime, consider the following intention-setting ideas to try this month:

  1. Positive Moments.  Consider setting an intention to identify at least one positive moment each day in the month of December.  You may consider it small, even insignificant, such as the first sip of your morning coffee or tea on a cold morning or climbing under the warm blankets at the end of your day.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you take time to reflect on that moment and hold the experience in your awareness, perhaps for 10 to 20 seconds.  Then, consider sharing that positive moment with someone.  If you do this at night and would prefer, you can share it on Social Media.  The act of sharing allows the positive moment’s effects to linger for longer, inviting a deeper level of positivity into the body and mind.
  2. Personal Strengths.  Another option to consider for setting an intention for the month of December is to identify one of your personal strengths and then think about how you used it today or within the last couple of weeks.  You can stay with one of your personal strengths all month and challenge yourself to identify multiple times/ways you used it or challenge yourself to identify a new strength each day, along with an example of how you applied it in your life.  Or it can be a combination of both, it is all good!
  3. Set a Goal!  Perhaps start by simply reflecting on how you felt the last time you accomplished something you set out to do.  Can you remember the feelings that come with accomplishment, such as satisfaction, peace, motivation, joy?  From there, consider setting one small, attainable goal each day this month with a further intention to track your progress.  It can again be something simple like making your bed, finishing that book that you started awhile ago or reaching out to a friend that you haven’t connected with recently.  The key is to track your progress, specifically to reflect on how many times you met your goal that day.
  4. Reframe Negative as Positive.  This intention-setting idea might be a little more tricky – looking for the ‘silver lining’ in what our culture might label as negative.  When we are able to discover some benefit from an experience that brought us some level of aggravation or upset in the moment, we are doing what is called a ‘positive reappraisal’.  How do we do this?  Well, it starts with identifying something, whether an event or a routine activity that we find distasteful, for whatever reason.  Perhaps it is doing the dishes or getting stuck in traffic.  From there, we search for how these things might provide us with some positive outcome that we simply have been ignoring or have refused to consider in the past.  So, for the dishes, we might reframe it as now I have dishes ready for the next meal or the kitchen looks more welcoming.  For getting stuck in traffic, consider that you have more time to listen to your favorite podcast or music.  The more you practice this skill, the easier it gets and you tend to discover multiple positive aspects to every situation!
  5. Random Acts of Kindness.  Honda does not have to have the corner on this market!!  And it doesn’t have to cost you a thing!  During this season of connection, consider doing something kind for someone else each day this month.  It can simply be offering a genuine smile as you pass them walking by, opening a door for someone, or helping someone carry their bags in or out of their car.  Remember to take a moment to reflect on what you feel afterwards, sensing how the joy you feel inside is spreading out and touching others!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Holiday Self-compassion Breaks

Once again I feel the holiday season crept up on me this year without a sound!  Although my eyes enjoyed the seasonal changes in nature and my skin noticed the chill in the air, my fine-tuned skill of denial also kept me from fully leaning into what’s to come.

Why, you might ask . . . well, it’s because my Perfectionist starts to get really loud at the beginning of November!  My “To Do” list seems to grow exponentially longer and, with the number of daylight hours shrinking, my energy level seems to decline.

It is at this time of year that I remember one of the things I am most grateful for in my life and that is my self-compassion practice!  And it is a practice, one that must be tended to on an ongoing basis to keep that harsh, critical voice of my Perfectionist at a low roar.

I also like to remind myself that I am not alone in this experience.  So, if you too experience a loud, critical voice inside of you, that tries to drive you to do more with less and sits in the shadows waiting to judge your every move, below are some intention-setting ideas to invite the more accepting, nurturing voice of your compassionate self forward:

  1. Honor your unique qualities.  Our Perfectionist part looks through the lens of what is needed for improvement while our Compassionate part looks through the lens of complete acceptance of who and where we are on our journeys.  So taking a moment to be proactive and choose to move through the holiday season from something inside of you, embracing your unique expression of you, instead of from that space where we feel pressured to do ‘it’ from an outside influence or pressure.  Consider trying this self-compassion break soon, before the rush of the season becomes overwhelming:  Find a space to sit for a few moments and invite your Perfectionist part to step forward.  What does it look like?  Let your imagination flow.  What does it sound like?  What does it want you to do?  What does it want to do to you?  Notice how your body feels when visiting with this part of you.  Let the images fill in as many details of what the experience is like to sit next to this part of you.  Now invite your Compassionate part to step forward.  What does it look like, sound like?  What does it want you to do and what does it want to do for you?  Again allow the images to flow to fill in the details and notice how your body feels when sitting with this part of you.  Now as you are sitting with your Compassionate part, ask your Perfectionist part what it is most afraid of and respond to that fear as if it was a dear friend revealing their deepest, darkest closet that holds this fear.  These two parts of ourselves often feel as though they are in battle and through this self-compassion break, they can realize that they both are valued and can be friends instead of enemies.
  2. Step-up your self-care.  The mantra that you will often hear me repeat is ‘Self-care is not selfish!’.  It is mission critical for survival.  So consider setting an intention now to commit to setting aside time each day for an act of self-care and while engaging in that self-care act, invite your Compassionate part to be present, reminding yourself that you deserve such care and acts of kindness.
  3. Accept your limitations.  Let’s start with the simple fact that we only have 24 hours in a day and we are all limited by this fact.  Now, start with an intention to not compromise on the number of hours you need for sleep during the holidays.  From there, begin to consider how you currently spend the rest of the hours you have each day, such as working, commuting, etc.  Inviting your Compassionate part to participate in this break, sense into what you are doing that truly brings you comfort and what does not feel good or healthy to you.  If you sense anything that brings you discomfort, this is an area for change.  When we act from a place of discomfort, even if the mind thinks it is necessary to please others, we are not serving the world or ourselves.  When you act from a place of compassion and comfort, even if it creates disruption and inconvenience to others, you are spreading true joy to the world.  And when you bring joy to what you do, it might surprise you how others will respond to this change. Remember, we cannot be everything to everyone, we can only be ourselves!
  4. Stop trying to digest other people’s energy.  When we become more aware of what our Perfectionist part looks and sounds like, we might realize that the critical voice inside is not our own.  If the voice belongs to someone else, such as your mother or father, then you can begin to accept that you might be carrying and trying to integrate or digest their stuff!  Inviting your Compassionate part to engage more fully in your life, you will be better able to discern what is yours and what is not.  Having compassion for others is a way of being of service, yet we cannot take responsibility for another person’s choices, including their intention for healing and growth.  When we are able to take responsibility for disentangling ourselves from the processes of others, we might just feel relief, lighter, brighter and more freedom to be ourselves!
  5. Use your voice.  Perhaps start with writing down what your Perfectionist part has been saying, what that inner critical voice has been saying to you repeatedly that you now recognize is not your own encouraging, motivating voice.  Then, for each statement that it makes, confront it, inviting your Compassionate part to assist with the words.  It might be something like “No, I don’t have to listen to you, because I don’t believe you anymore”.  Or, if your Perfectionist part keeps saying “You must continue to work very hard to be worthy of love”, then you might say (out loud!), “I’m worthy of love simply by being here.  I do not need to work hard to be worthy of love.  I am love!”  Perhaps consider taking such a self-compassion break under the Full Moon this month on the 12th, where you take what you have written down, use your voice to express your Compassionate response, and then burn what you have written down!

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!