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:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Embracing the Slow Flow of Summer

What if somehow you could know what days were the best ones to move your intentions and manifestations forward by doing more?  And, in addition, what days were best to simply do less and, instead spend time reflecting and daydreaming (or better known as visualizing what you want more of in your life)?  Would you change how you spend your time and energy to go with the flow more?  Or would you dig your heels in and continue to push ahead without such guidance?

In the past, I came to believe that in order to be successful I had to keep “the pedal to the metal’ so to speak 24/7/365!  With this belief, no matter what was going on, I pushed and I pushed hard.  There were times when I felt like I was banging my head up against a brick wall and/or swimming against the tide it was so exhausting.  I grew to believe that life was hard!  When I was finally able to take a step back from the chaos, I began to notice small coincidences that would occur making my next step forward that much clearer and easier.  When I began to express gratitude for those small coincidences, the size of the coincidences grew as did the frequency.

I started to pay attention to my own natural energy levels and how those levels ebbed and flowed, similar to the ocean tides.  My awareness continued to grow as I realized that the ocean tides are impacted by the cyclic energy of the moon.  I began to think ‘why wouldn’t we be impacted by similar energies?’.  This growing awareness brought the focus of my eyes to the sky and I started to lean into the universal flow of life more.  And when I did, life began to flow with more ease, providing a more balanced appreciation between working hard and taking time to rest.  So, when the planets all align, like they are this month, it is a clear message to me that July is NOT the month to be doing more, but instead, with 7 celestial bodies in retrograde, it is the month to do less, move more intentionally, spend time relaxing and enjoy the slow flow of summer!Below are some intention-setting ideas for embracing this slower moving time frame as we pass through the Eclipse Gateway:

  1. Leave things behind.  What might you consider letting go of if you knew it would take you to a new level of effectiveness, efficiency, ease, confidence and abundance?  What if you learned that in order to gain something, you must leave something behind in order to make room for the new?  During this Eclipse season, we are going to be asked to evaluate what no longer fits, whether it is clothes in our closets, people in our lives, or old beliefs.  The first step is considering what you might want to let go of, raising your awareness to what is holding you back or down.  The second step is simply to express what it is you decide you want to let go of, either writing it down or verbalizing it to the Universe.  The third step might be visualizing what you want instead, to fill the void created by the release, which could be purely more space.  Then all you need to do from this point is to follow the lead of the Universe as the coincidences begin to present themselves to you to assist you in making the change!
  2. Identify what does still fit.  Reflecting on what no longer fits assists us in gaining clarity on what we want to keep in our lives as well.  If we identify people around us that seem to bring us down when we gather and consider moving in a different direction without them in our lives, this effort will shine a light on those people that bring joy and comfort into our lives.  Consider setting an intention during the month of July to spend time with those people, connecting on a deeper level and enjoying the ease of the relationship, sensing how the connection fans the flame within, providing you with more clarity, energy, and motivation once we pass through the Eclipse season.
  3. Trust in the cyclic nature of life.  Remind yourself that this opportunity to move more slowly as you flow through this month will not last forever, so enjoy it while you can!  See the planets that are slowing down their rotation giving you permission to do the same.  View this time as an opportunity to look, listen, pay attention, and recalibrate your instrument (read your body and mind) to align more naturally with your soul’s calling.  If you need a little reminder, consider spending time in nature, whether at the beach, or taking a hike in the forest, or rafting down a river, as Mother Earth demonstrates to us around every corner how letting go creates space for new growth!
  4. Start a new self-care habit.  When the world starts to slow down around us, it seems to be beckoning us to consider taking better care of ourselves.  When things are more on the move, we barely have time to think clearly none-the-less add something new to our plates.  Have you always dreamed of taking piano or guitar lessons?  How about singing or surfing lessons?  Or trying a yoga or meditation class?  Consider looking at your community summer school guide and signing up for a class.  You might just surprise yourself at how much fun you have or at how much more ease you sense when you find a new groove to flow in!
  5. Embrace your spirituality.  Now I’m not talking religion here, although if you participate in a formalized religion, it might be a natural place to start in seeking the meaning of life.  When I think about spirituality, it takes on a more secular perspective in that I view it as a universal human experience that involves seeking our purpose and how fulfilling life feels when we offer our gifts to the world with an open heart and an intention of connection, embracing the meaning we make of our existence.  Consider creating some time during this slow flow Eclipse season to reflect on your gifts, what you might be good at or what might bring you joy.  It might include exploring your core values to ensure they still feel in alignment with how you are experiencing the world today.  You might also revisit some of the significant challenges you have gone through and consider the take-aways from those challenges again, as they might have gathered some dust.  Perhaps you write down your personal vision statement or, if you have written one in the past, you pull it out to review it – or revise it if it no longer resonates at your current vibration.

Can Stimulating the Prefrontal Cortex Calm the Default Human Survival Flight/Fight Response?

When humans encounter situations that they perceive as threatening, the parts of the brain responsible for our survival (i.e., amygdala, hippocampus) kick in to determine if running away from the threat is possible, to fight if not, and if neither is possible to stand still, hold our breath to be quiet and ultimately faint.  This flight/fight/freeze/faint response is not only the default position of our brains, it can be so activated over time from trauma and stress that it stays turned on even when we are not in harm’s way.

As someone that grew up in a home that would now be described as chaotic, I found myself in a series of situations that I either ran away from or fought, with a few where I found myself frozen in fear.  As a young child we don’t understand how these experiences are effecting our development, we just do what we have to – anything to survive.  As a young adult, I began to sense the amount of pressure I held in my body and used that energy to drive myself forward, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

Through several years of psychotherapy, I discovered that the survival response in my brain, when activated (which happened to be most of the time), reduced my access to the parts of my brain that helped me to focus and communicate.  I subsequently learned that this is referred to as ‘amygdala hijacking’ and I describe it as the amygdala literally turning off the light switch leaving it in the dark to fend for itself without being able to see that there is access to support, specifically the prefrontal cortex.  And when you can’t access this part of the brain on a consistent basis, it loses its ability to offer a more balanced perspective of life.  Remember that saying “If you don’t use it, you lose it”, well it applies here too.

When I discovered yoga, I found a way to keep these two parts of my brain connected and when I did, it reduced the level of anxiety in the moment and began to strengthen the bridge that allows space to response, instead of react.  One of the most powerful tools that I learned from my time on the yoga mat was deep belly breathing, which was the first tool that I took off of the mat and into my everyday experiences.

Research has shown that practicing such breath techniques has neurophysiological impacts through respiratory vagus nerve stimulation.  The vagus nerve is the main part of our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system that is responsible for rest and digest processes and when stimulated is closely associated with emotional balance, mental flexibility, empathy and attachment.  It does this through decreasing hippocampal activity among other things, reducing the reactivity in the fear center of our brain, making access to the prefrontal cortex easier.  Now, what I have to admit is that I practiced such breath techniques for years until I began to consistently experience the emotional balance I so craved.  So, from personal experience I know it works, yet it can take time.

So how excited was I when I read the recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry that looked at this bridge from a different perspective – stimulating the prefrontal cortex in order to allow it to stay online and calm the fear center of the brain when experiencing threatening circumstances, reducing anxiety.  This research looked at the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation, such as used in direct neurofeedback, of the prefrontal cortex on amygdala threat activity in people who experience chronic anxiety.  Neuroimaging was used to assess the impact and the results reveal a direct connection between the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate the fear response in the amygdala.  These findings offer more support to the neurocognitive mechanism contributing to the positive effects of direct neurofeedback and offer much hope to more directly and quickly reduce anxiety through such a non-pharmaceutical treatment option.

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Professional Wellness Month

When we start to attach our identity to our work, job and/or employer, we are teetering on a tight rope without a net.  Today, more than ever, it is vital to our well-being and longevity (both at work and in life) to find ways to maintain a balance between who we are and what we do!

Many employers, in an attempt to build a more harmonious work culture, encourage employees to socialize outside of normal working hours.  However, such encouragement from employers can create an internal conflict for those employees that are unable to join such social gatherings due to other commitments outside of the workplace.  It can also create a perceived sense of preferential treatment for those that do attend such gatherings versus those that don’t – or can’t – participate.

Employers would better serve their employees by supporting such things as flexible work hours, encouraging workers to go home after an 8 hour day in the office, requiring workers to take regular breaks and vacations, creating spaces in the office where workers can go for a few minutes of peace and quiet throughout the day, like a meditation room, a garden and/or a walking path, and offering regular group exercise opportunities during work hours, such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong classes.

Until all employers buy into the research that indicates such things enchance a worker’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, boosting productivity, focus, memory, and creativity, below are intention-setting ideas for you to implement for yourself, to remind yourself every day that you are so much MORE than what you do and avoid burning the candle at both ends:

  1. Walking meetings.  If you find yourself either needing to schedule a meeting with a colleague or are invited to one, ask your colleague if they would mind making the meeting a walking meeting.  Take the walk outside and, if possible, into an area that has some greenery, like trees or flowers, or near water, such as a lake or water fountain.  Perhaps you can locate a bench outside that you can stop at and sit for part of the meeting.  Even if you are able to make one meeting a week a walking meeting to start, before long this idea might catch on as others begin to feel the difference it makes in their day!
  2. Take multiple short breaks.  Consider taking a one-minute break every hour.  You can set an alarm on your phone or a reminder in your calendar.  Some ideas for each one-minute break include:  closing your eyes and taking several, long deep breaths while visualizing something that brings you joy; bringing in a jump rope and/or hula hoop and using it for one minute; doing some seated yoga poses at your desk; and/or listening to a guided meditation.
  3. Ask a co-worker for support.  If you find the support of another as motivation to hold you accountable, ask a co-worker to start an at-work health challenge with you.  It could be around the number of steps you take at work (think taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or the amount of time you hold a challenging shape, such as wall squats, plank or balancing on one leg.  It might also be eating more healthy, such as getting points for eating fresh fruit or a salad instead of a taco or hamburger.  If stress is an issue, maybe consider keeping track of the number of meditations you participate in (by taking those one-minute breaks every hour!).  Don’t forget to set a goal, perhaps the ‘winner’ at the end of the month treats the ‘other winner’ to lunch.
  4. Start a gratitude circle.  I know when I worked in the corporate world, it was very easy to get caught in the experience of complaining about work to my co-workers, whether it was about other co-workers not pulling their weight, the unrealistic work expectations, and/or the lack of communication.  Although at first it might have brought some temporary relief, such complaining did not change anything.  Therefore, consider turning complaining on its head the next time you find yourself looking for a co-worker to vent with by challenging yourself to identify something that you are grateful for from your experience at work and sharing it with another.  Better yet, start a gratitude circle with several co-workers, scheduling a 5 minute gathering at some point in the day where everyone gets to share what they felt gratitude for that day (limiting the time to 1 minute or less for the sharing).
  5. Play music.  No, not your favorite dance music or rock or rap album.  Find some music without lyrics that you might enjoy and make sure to play it at an ambient noise level to avoid disturbing your co-workers.  It might be jazz or classical or it could be nature sounds, like the ocean or the sounds of the forest.  Research has shown music to improve mood, which impacts productivity and creativity

What does your attitude about crying say about you?

Take a moment and ask yourself which of the following four statements reflects your belief about crying:

  • Crying is healthy
  • Crying is controllable
  • Crying helps one feel better
  • I hate crying

Recent research reflects that your beliefs about crying reveal your attachment style.

When I grew up, I got mixed messages from my family about crying.  My mother would cry all of the time and I would presume that she would identify with either the ‘crying is healthy’ and/or ‘crying helps one feel better’ beliefs.  Whereas, my father on the other hand would never cry and most likely would identify with ‘crying is controllable’ and/or ‘I hate crying’ beliefs.  More recently, I heard several quotes that stuck with me, one within my yoga roots by Kripalvanandji “One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice.” and the other “Crying is how your body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain you feel” which appears to be from an unknown author.

Crying is a universal human attachment behavior and starts at birth.  As little ones, crying notifies our caregivers that we need something, to relay important information to our attachment figures, such as food or sleep.  As we grow up, crying is a part of emotional processing and acceptance of loss.  The act of crying tends to elicit care and comfort from others throughout our lives.  But what happens as we grow when our caregivers have different beliefs about crying and they may not respond to our needs with care and comfort as intended?

I remember times when I was crying and my father’s response was something like ‘I won’t speak to you until you stop crying’, which implied to me that he was not available to provide care and comfort and somehow I must find a way to do that for myself.  I also witnessed that same response when my mother would be crying and he would not provide her with any comfort.  I quickly learned that crying does not elicit comfort and care in my family and, instead, makes the source of comfort and care unavailable.  As you might suspect, I tried my best to ‘stuff’ my emotions, especially my fear and sadness, and tried to rely on my words to explain my responses to the world.  But what happens when words fail?

Another memory comes back to me when I was a young woman working in the corporate world and I found myself feeling unsupported at work, even bullied.  I approached Human Resources and started to use my words, until my tears starting flowing and the dam broke.  I could not stop crying and I felt ashamed.  The HR person even alluded to the fact that my tears made it difficult to navigate the circumstances.  Well the research findings now show that the beliefs we develop about crying as a result of our experiences with our attachment figures have implications for interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning throughout our lives, impacting all of our relationships.

Learning and embracing the wisdom of Kripalvanandji helps us embrace our humanness, which includes the capacity to feel and experience emotions, and release any shame around crying.  It is a normal, natural human response to loss – whether we learned to deny/avoid the pain that comes with loss or cry more and stronger when we experience loss, hoping to get the care and comfort we all deserve – that has the power to heal.

If you would like to learn more about how your beliefs about crying may reflect your attachment style in relationships, click the box below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Helping Kids Reduce Anxiety

Each May, I feel it is so important to promote Mental Health Awareness month, as it is a belief of mine (backed by recent research) that when we support the health of the brain/mind, our bodies respond in kind.

This year I would like to focus on the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute, reflecting on the significant increase in child and adolescent anxiety disorders.  Below are some of the highlights:

  • In the past 10 years, there has been increasing recognition of anxiety in young people by health care providers, including a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis.  Yet anxiety symptoms are minimized or ignored. As little as 1% of youth with anxiety seek treatment in the year symptoms begin.
  • At some point, anxiety affects 30% of children and adolescents, yet 80% never get help.
  • Untreated anxiety disorders are linked to depression, school failure and a two-fold increase in risk for substance use disorder and suicide.
  • The average age of onset for Separation Anxiety Disorder and specific phobias is age 11.
  • The average age on onset for Social Anxiety Disorder is age 14.
So, even if we don’t have children of our own, all of us interact with children at some point, whether we see them while taking a walk or shopping at the supermarket.  How might we help?  Below are some intention-setting ideas you might consider modeling as body-mind self-care tools known to reduce anxiety.  You never know when a child is watching, listening, and learning!
  1. Practice Relaxation Exercises.  If your begin to feel yourself getting stressed out over something, maybe you get stuck in traffic or you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work (think homework!) ahead of you, consider cutting off the stress-to-anxiety circuitry by taking a breather!  Bee’s breath is a fun one that kid’s love because they get to make sounds and visualize themselves flying back home to the ‘family hive’ for a sweet treat.  Take a few moments to learn how to do it yourself and add it to your toolkit to do in front of your kids, inviting them to join you to clear their minds and soothe their bodies.
  2. Face Your Fears.  We all have them, whether we are afraid of spiders or dogs or flying or thunder and lightning or being alone.  Knowing that fear is part of the basic human condition brings with it some comfort in understanding we are not alone in this experience.  So, if we can admit we have one and then take a step towards our fear (instead of running away from it), we model our ability to experience both fear and confidence in our ability to conquer our fear.  And, don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards to provide additional motivation to lean into our fears, reminding ourselves that fear is an emotion that will pass if we let it.
  3. Mindfulness.  Anxiety arises when the mind gets caught in the ‘what if’ loop, whether about the future or the past.  So, helping the mind to break that loop, by focusing on the present moment for even a few moments, will help in reducing the level of anxiety.  Again, we can do this with our children so they learn this self-care tool from us.  Consider practicing right now – sit comfortably and begin to allow the awareness of the mind to focus on all of your senses.  Maybe start with the sense of touch, where the body is connected to something whether the ground beneath the feet or the body resting in the chair.  Move to what your eyes can see, noticing the colors and textures of the items in your view.  What might you be smelling or tasting?What do you hear – perhaps noticing the sounds in the distance first and then moving to the sounds closest to you.  Last, you might consider allowing yourself to sense into the body and simply labeling what you might be feeling, such as tension in a part of your body, or a temperature, or even a sense of that fear or anxiety.  Practicing this together once a day, even when you are not feeling anxious (perhaps right before going to bed) for a minute or two will give the gift of mindfulness for a lifetime!
  4. Self-talk.  We all talk to ourselves and setting an intention to be more transparent with it can be transforming.  Consider talking out loud, expressing your thoughts verbally to the universe.  The first thing we might notice is how biased (towards self-harm) our thoughts might be, which starts to raise our awareness around the energy these thoughts carry. Once aware of such energy, begin a dialogue with yourself to challenge those heavy thoughts, by offering yourself a different perspective, one that a dear friend might offer you.  Once you have practiced this for awhile, you might begin to demonstrate such dialogues in front of your children, admitting that you too have negative thoughts yet you create space for different ways of looking at things and how you might respond to someone you care about that might also have such negative thoughts.
  5. Self-compassion.  One of the most powerful gifts we can offer to and model for the next generation is the practice of self-compassion.  It is important to not only acknowledge our successes, but also our failures, without beating ourselves up.  It is only through the acceptance of our humanness, with both gifts and flaws, that we truly step into our authentic skin and be the shining light in the darkness.  Owning and expressing our imperfections to others is quite powerful, as it begins to empower others to step onto the path of self-acceptance.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience and, as such, we will trip and fall and make mistakes along the path as this is how we learn.  Reminding ourselves – and our children – that in order to discover our true gifts, sometimes we need to stumble through the heap of mistakes.  Consider setting an intention to use a mantra of “I am (you are) human and perfectly imperfect” as a response to mistakes, failures and flaws!

What type of yoga is best?

As a Hatha yoga trained teacher under the umbrella of the Raja type of yoga, I am often asked if one style of yoga is better than another.  It has always been my belief that all yoga has mind-body-soul benefits and recent research appears to support such a belief.  However, what I think is important to understand is that yoga does not just include the physical poses or shapes that most of us first think of when asked ‘What is yoga all about?’.

Sacred yogic texts offer that there are four types of – or paths to – yoga, which is often defined as the union of body, mind, soul and spirit.  Raja yoga is the type of yoga that includes techniques, such as movement, meditation, and mudras, and is what is most often practiced here in our Western world.  Bhakti yoga is the type of yoga focused on devotion, also referred to as the path of love.  Jnana yoga is the type of yoga focused on the attainment of knowledge or wisdom through study and self-inquiry.  Karma yoga is the type of yoga focused on action without attaching to the outcome of your efforts, also referred to as the path of selfless service.

With this basic understanding of the four types of yoga then, when we think of yoga practices we start to realize it is all yoga.  When we focus on the yoga most practiced here in the US, Raja yoga, then we can begin to broaden our perspective as to what is included in this particular type, beyond the physical movement we do on our mats in a yoga class.  Yoga practices or techniques can include breath (pranayama), intention setting (Sankalpa), visualization (Bhavana), mudra (body/hand positions), mantra (chanting/sound), meditation (all kinds!), and how we interact with others and ourselves.

When we do take a moment to focus on the physical movement on the yoga mat, within the Hatha yoga style of Raja yoga, multiple yoga styles have emerged, which makes this type of yoga available to everyone.  Options run the gamut from Vinyasa flow, which is a faster-paced, sweaty practice to Restorative, where bodies are supported by blankets, bolsters, and other props to find comfort and held for at least 10 minutes.  Other classes might simply focus on breath practices or sound healing through musical instruments or chanting/singing.  Even others might offer guided visualization meditations.  Yoga class descriptions might represent the offering as a Beginner’s class or a Level 1 class.  Newer trainings include Yoga of 12 Step Recovery and Trauma-informed Yoga.

Therefore, my answer to the question is ‘Whatever works for you!”.  Not all yoga is equal.  Yoga is not the vanilla flavor of union and instead has evolved into a more ‘flavor of the month’ approach to broaden its reach and appeal.  And, the more we learn about the roots of the ancient tradition, we come to realize that it was originally taught in a one-on-one format, passing the knowledge of the guru to student, most likely taking into consideration that student’s individual needs.  So, in reality, yoga (with all of its techniques or ingredients) is meant to be a personal practice, customized to what is needed in the moment.  With this understanding then, my answer might include a response such as “You are your best guru, so listen to your body and allow it to join the mind in making the decision as to what feels best in the moment”.

If you still believe just one type or style of yoga is best, I encourage you to click on the link below to read more about the research that concluded that the choice of yoga style can be based on personal preferences and availability:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Allergy Season

As we move into Spring, the air begins to warm and Mother Nature begins to blossom once again.  And here in southern California, after our deliciously wet winter, the flowers are already in full bloom!  For many, this season can bring tears to their eyes just thinking about the flowers, not from their simple beauty but because of the misery they bring to the body due to seasonal allergies.

If you experience an increase in nose and ear congestion, sneezing, and/or itchy eyes and/or throat during this season, I offer 5 intention-setting ideas below for a more natural approach to reducing the suffering that accompanies such allergies:

  1. Honey.  Consider adding honey to your daily food intake.  And not just any honey – it must be LOCAL honey.  Bees create honey from their immediate environment and it contains trace amounts of the environmental allergens that your body may be trying to flush out through your allergic symptoms.  So, by adding honey either to your tea, smoothie, or oatmeal in the morning, over time you will build up your immunity to such substances and with a whole lot less pain than allergy shots!
  2. Bee Pollen.  Bee pollen is similar to honey and offers an alternative to how you ingest these substances.  You might consider adding bee pollen to your salads or other fresh fruit or vegetables.
  3. Nasal Cleansing.  Using a neti pot to rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution has been shown to not only relieve sinus symptoms due to allergies, but research has also shown using a neti pot can prevent several upper respiratory conditions, such as the common cold and seasonal allergies.  Not sure how to start such a practice, I recommend purchasing the Health And Yoga stainless steel pot that comes with a DVD for guidance.  If you still don’t think this is a practice you would want to try, consider using a saline nasal spray on a daily basis to wash away the irritants.  Personally, I got over my fear of pouring water up my nose and I no longer experience allergy symptoms and I believe I have successfully warded off a couple of head colds after traveling on airplanes!
  4. Apple Cider Vinegar.  Amongst many other uses, Apple Cider Vinegar has been shown to support your immune system, facilitate lymphatic system drainage, and reduce mucous production.  If the taste is too hard to take, try diluting one tablespoon in a glass of water with lemon juice and drink this concoction several times a day to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.
  5. Nettle Leaf.  Adding nettle leaf to a tea has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory and naturally blocks the body’s ability to produce histamine, which are the chemicals the immune system produces to get rid of something in the body it does not like and cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies.