5 Intention-setting Ideas for Emotional Wellness

I believe we are all feeling the heaviness of the divisive energy that we are experiencing in the world, whether we want to acknowledge it or try to pretend it doesn’t exist.  So many of us can’t wrap our minds around what is happening!  I keep reminding myself we must have destruction before construction.  The heavy, destructive energy is bringing the darkness into the light, so we can more clearly see what needs to change in order to elevate the collective consciousness.

It will require serious perseverance and energy to take back our power from whatever it is that we believe is keeping us powerless.  And, yet we don’t have to do this alone.  The past couple of years brought even more clarity to the people in my life, helping me to better discern those that I can turn to and trust to have my back, no matter what, while, at the same time, helping me to release those who I refer to as “energy vampires” that were vibrating at a different wave length.

As we experience the October new moon today (10/08/18), let it be a reminder that we are presented with another opportunity to start a new cycle, a chance to build upon what we already know.   When we experience a new moon, it is not visible from Earth as the moon steps directly between the Sun and Earth.  However, with each following day, the moon slowly begins to reveal itself again, thanks to the Sun’s reflective light.  Let this monthly lunar cycle inspire our sense of hope that there is light after the dark and that the Universe is at play here, bringing the world into a new state of balance as it continues to work toward homeostasis.

It is our growing awareness and understanding of the cycles of life and how connected we are that helps us acknowledge the impact of not only the energy of others on a more intimate level but also on a more global level.  Therefore, in honor of Emotional Wellness Month, I offer the following intention setting ideas to fan the flame of your internal light that will support your emotional wellness and help you navigate these trying times:
  1. Get more sleep.  I think most of us experience a change in how we move through the world when we have a bad night’s sleep.  One of the most important – if not the MOST important – way to support our emotional health is to ensure we get an sufficient amount of sleep each night. And when we are feeling more stress, we need even more sleep.  Lack of adequate sleep affects the brain, turning up the pressure in the parts of the brain that support the ‘flight or flght’ response and short-circuiting the connection to the parts of the brain that support awareness, compassion and gratitude, all of which are necessary for our emotional well-being.  Therefore, consider setting an intention to create space for yourself to add more time to your regular sleep schedule, following the cycle of the shorter days/longer nights that this month presents us.
  2. Gather together for meals.  When we experience overwhelming situations, we can feel alone in our pain and suffering and tend to want to withdraw from the world.  Set an intention to share as many meals this month with someone that “gets you” instead of eating alone.  Maybe include a new restaurant that you have been wanting to try one week with your best friend.  It has been shown that spending time together during meals supports overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  3. SLOW DOWN.  Don’t buy into the belief that we must multi-task and do more than others to be appreciated, accepted and/or worthy.  In fact, this belief supports the divisive energy that is so prevalent right now.  Set an intention to give something – better yet, someone – you care about your undivided attention for one hour and then step back to assess the impact, both on your sense of well-being as well as on the outcome of your undivided attention.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised  to discover that being fully present (AKA one-pointed focus) in your interactions with the world creates space that welcomes in peace and a sense of connection to the flow of life, that calms the mind and opens the heart.   
  4. Ground yourself through breathing.  When the world begins to push our buttons, we become more reactive, instead of responsive.  Consider setting an intention this month to make a plan to breath more consciously when you notice one of your buttons has been pushed and has turned on your internal alarm system.  One simple practice I learned and use often includes closing my eyes, visualizing my inhale coming up through the soles of my feet and traveling all the way to the crown of my head as I say to myself “I am” and then releasing a long, slow exhale (from my crown back down through the soles of my feet) as I say to myself “here grounded”.  I do that two more times, saying to myself “I am, here present” and “I am, here ready” before allowing my breath to return to a natural rhythm and open my eyes.
  5. Commit to your own self-care.  Our social culture has twisted this practice into a belief that doing self-care is selfish.  And, if it is the current state of our social culture that is supporting divisiveness, then now is the perfect time to challenge this belief!  It is mission critical to our own individual emotional health as well as that of the world to ensure we prioritize our own self-care. Otherwise, we won’t be able to provide kind and nurturing care of others, thus contributing to the vicious cycle of neglect and abuse that the light is in the process of bringing out of the darkness.  Reflect on what keeps your inner light burning brightly and consider setting an intention to embrace that self-care practice this month!

Might direct neurofeedback be worth a try?

I’m a big believer in our innate ability to heal ourselves, the power of the human body and mind to continually work together towards homeostasis and health.  I also have personally experienced the chaos created in both by trauma, challenging my body and mind to maintain that state of equilibrium and well-being.  Through my own healing journey, I have discovered tools along the way that have worked to reinforce that innate ability to heal and feel sense of encouragement when the research supports personal experience.  Direct neurofeedback is one of those tools.

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, grew up on a home with one or both parents suffering from a mental illness or addiction, or were a witness to domestic violence while living with adults or going through a contentious divorce.  The enduring nature of the trauma from such interpersonally violent upbringings stems from the impact on the developing brain and nervous system.  When we embrace this fact, then we can also embrace the fact that sometimes the mind cannot talk itself out of such experiences when not involving the body in the process.

The brain, along with the spinal cord, forms the body’s main control center of our central nervous system.  This control center is where incoming stimulus is evaluated and decisions about what action to take are made.  It is the neurons in the brain that support the mind’s awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts and ultimately behaviors when they communicate with each other.  When our neurons communicate, they produce electrical pulses referred to as brain waves.  These brain waves can be compared to the radio waves and the various stations that we tune into to listen to the radio.  AM stations work on a lower bandwidth, while FM stations have a higher bandwidth.  Our brain waves change according to what we are “tuned into”, with our slower brain waves being the AM stations and our faster ones being the FM stations.  Therefore, the brain is the main body part that is driving our beliefs, perceptions and reactions.

Understanding this very complex organ has taken some time as we waited for science to catch up with the personal experience of many.  With the advent of the electroencephalogram (EEG for short), we are able to see the various brain wave activity and now research has been able to identify the brain wave patterns associated with various neurological and emotional conditions, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.  This information created the opportunity to identify and work with tools to change or modify those brain waves, supporting the brains natural tendency towards balance and health.

Therefore, we are now better able to understand that when our brain waves are out of balance we will experience dis-ease in our minds and bodies, creating an unnatural, unhealthy environment that jeopardizes our overall well-being and health.  This understanding allows a more specific focus on tools that change or balance our brain waves to return the brain to its natural healthy state and thus creating an atmosphere for peace of mind and strength of body.  It helps us to appreciate the past experience with psychotherapy (or “talk” therapy), where it has been shown that changing our perceptions changes our experience of the world.  It also better explains the use of drugs (prescription or otherwise) to alter the brain’s ability to function and alleviate symptoms of dis-ease in the mind and body.

A newer approach to what ails many in the Western world is the use of more traditional Eastern practices such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, which research is now able to show that these practices support the brain’s natural balance by modifying the brain wave patterns that create the imbalance.  In addition to these techniques, which work best when implemented as daily practices over the long haul, direct neurofeedback is showing success in altering brain waves more quickly that underlie the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, offering more immediate relief.

If you would like to read more about the research to determine for yourself if this tool might be worth a try, click on the button below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Help Save Lives

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about and yet that is exactly what is needed in order to reduce the growing rate of this tragedy.  Conversations can make a difference when someone is thinking about suicide.

Did you know that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, that, according to the CDC, suicide rates have increased by more than 30% in half of the states since 1999, and that the youngest person to kill themselves was only 6 years old?

Many of us will notice changes in people around us and get the feeling that “something is not right”. You may not want to say anything for fear you won’t know what to say if they confirm your concerns. While these conversations can be very difficult and confronting, just one conversation can save someone’s life by preventing suicide.

You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice. Here’s what you need to know to start saving lives today:

  1. Know – and look – for the warning signs.  There are several warning signs of suicidal thoughts that you may hear or see, such as:  1)  Seemingly harmless comments such as “I wish I was never born”, “I wish I wasn’t here” and/or “I wish I was dead”; 2) Withdrawing from friends and family and/or wanting to be left alone; 3) Having dramatic mood swings; 4) Impulsive, aggressive and/or reckless behavior; 5) Obsessed with death, dying or violence; and 6) Increasing use of drugs or alcohol.  Additional warning signs that the person’s thoughts may be moving toward putting a plan into action include:  1) Giving away their possessions or getting their affairs in order when there is no other explanation for doing this; 2) Saying goodbye to friends and family as if they are not going to see them again; 3) Their mood shifts from a sense of despair to calm; and 4) Taking action to secure the tools needed to complete suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling prescription medications.  Take any and all signs of suicide seriously.  If someone tells you they are thinking of harming themselves or behaves in a way that suggests they may be thinking of suicide, don’t dismiss or ignore the situation as many people who have killed themselves had expressed the intention at some point.
  2. Know the risk factors.  According to NAMI, the following are risk factors for suicide:  1) Previous suicide in the family; 2) Personal history of trauma or abuse; 3) Prolonged stress; 4) Agitation and reduced sleep; 5) A recent loss or tragedy; 6) Isolation; 7) Substance use and intoxication; 8) A serious or chronic mental illness; 9) Access to firearms; 10) Gender (men are 4 times more likely to die from their attempt) and 11) Age (under 24 and over 65 are at a higher risk).
  3. Ask questions!  If you sense something is not right and you have noticed some of the warning signs, connect with the person by asking them some questions.  Be sensitive and direct and ask some of the following:  1) How are you managing with what is going on in your life?; 2) Do you ever feel like just giving up?; 3) Are you thinking about hurting yourself?; 4) Have you ever thought about suicide, or tried to harm yourself, before?.  If they tell you that they have or are currently having suicidal thoughts, continue to ask the following questions: 1) Have you thought about how and when you would do it? and 2) Do you currently have access to the weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?  Please know that asking someone if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push that person into doing something self-destructive. In fact, connecting with someone by starting the conversation and creating space for them to talk about their feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
  4. Know what to do.  If you become concerned that your friend or loved one may attempt suicide:  1) Stay calm (don’t fidget or pace) and don’t leave the person alone; 2) Ask what you can do to help, including “Can I help you call your therapist or psychiatrist?”; 3) If they ask for something, give it to them as long as the request is safe and reasonable; 4)  Don’t argue, threaten, or raise your voice, especially if they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions, instead be gentle and compassionate; 5) Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong; 6) Seek support by telling another family member or friend what is going on, by getting help from a trained professional, and/or encouraging them to call a suicide hotline number (i.e., in the U.S., National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).  Even if your friend or loved one may not be in crisis, it is important to still offer and provide support.  Let them know you are open to talking about what is on their mind.  When listening, demonstrate you are actively engaged in the conversation by providing positive reinforcement, reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts.  Actively listening can help your loved one feel heard and validated.  Reassure your friend or loved one that you care and are concerned for their well-being and that they can lean on you for support.  If your friend or loved one has attempted suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately or take them to nearest emergency room if you believe you can do so safely.  Try to determine if they have taken drugs or alcohol, whether they are under the influence or may have taken an overdose.  As soon as possible, tell a family member or a friend what is going on for additional support as you don’t need to try to handle the situation alone.
  5. Do more.  Start a dialogue now.  Consider watching “13 Reasons Why” and ask others if they have seen it, what they thought about it, and when (i.e., at what age) they might consider it appropriate to have a proactive conversation with their own children on the subject.  Consider helping out at a crisis center or volunteer with an organization that makes house calls to isolated individuals, such as single, house-bound seniors, such a Meals on Wheels.  Share images and graphics on social media to promote awareness and reduce stigma.  Remember that your engagement might just might help prevent suicide by letting others know that there are people that care and that there are other options available!

The Legacy of Childhood Trauma – Transgenerational Impact!

I had a dear colleague once say to me “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.  When we know, we do better”.  I hear myself repeating this phrase often, because blame and shame are not healthy, period.  Yet, if we don’t look back to reflect on the need for change and growth, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  I have written reflections in the past on the research around the impact of adverse childhood events (ACEs) on the individual and today I want to share the research that shows the impact of such events doesn’t stop with the individual!

Both of my own parents experienced childhood trauma and stressors, which thwarted their emotional growth trajectories, yet they didn’t know that about themselves and neither did society.  However, I definitely sensed that something was off and, as little ones will naturally do, I attempted to fill in the gaps.  Impossible, I know now, but I didn’t know then.  How ironic.

With this new research from UCLA reflecting a strong association between children’s behavioral health problems and their parents’ adversity histories, we now know better.  When our awareness grows around our past, it brings a deeper understanding of our experiences and our normal, natural adaptive responses.  With that deeper understanding, our hearts can begin to heal from events that our conscious minds were not even present to directly witness, yet stuck in our bodies instead.  We can create opportunities for ourselves to challenge those strongly guarded, unspeakable beliefs that there must be something wrong with us or that we are not worthy of acceptance and love, which keep us from a meaningful connection with ourselves and to others.

So, if you currently suffer from symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and/or depression, and are not aware of experiencing any adverse childhood events yourself, perhaps consider exploring any that your parents might have been subjected to as they grew up.  Please remember that this exploration and what it might uncover is not meant to blame your parents.  It is meant to shine a light on the blame and shame that you might be carrying and that is feeding the self-judgment that is holding you back from a life full of connection, meaning and health.

To read more on this research, click on the button below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Navigating This Eclipse and Retrograde Season

On Tuesday, August 7th, with the planet Uranus going retrograde, we will now be under the influence of six planets in retrograde for the next two weeks, until the 19th when Mercury returns direct and Mars returns direct on the 27th.  In addition, we have the last eclipse of the year, a solar eclipse occurring on the 11th.  What is the Universe trying to say to us with all of this heavenly activity this month?  It is encouraging us to stop pushing forward right now and take some time to reflect on our past.  There is much opportunity this month for healing our hearts and souls and elevating the collective consciousness of our planet if we do so!

Below are some ideas to consider that will help you navigate this month, until the energy starts flowing again next month:

  1. Take a vacation.  Vacations do not have to be a week long event that requires a great deal of planning and money.  Consider planning a day retreat or a weekend away.  Simply finding yourself in a different place for a short period of time can shift your perspective. Have you always wanted to visit a particular local city to immerse yourself in a different culture? Or has a certain spiritual center or temple been calling your soul? Or have you been planning to try a new hiking trail that someone recommended to you?  Now’s the time to just do it!
  2. Spend time in nature.  With the heat of the summer, we might be finding ourselves spending more time inside in the air-conditioning.  While, in the short term, being inside where it might be cooler can be beneficial, especially at the peak of the heat during the day, avoiding the outdoors for any length of time can wreak havoc on our body, mind and spiritual health. Try to plan a early morning or late evening walk near a body of water, like a lake or the ocean, or taking a hike where there are canopies of trees.  Create an opportunity to sit down at some point and set an intention to notice the smallest form of life, maybe through your eyes, ears or skin.  Watch that life move for a short time and sense your connection to it.  Reflect on how you might impact that life and how that life might impact you.
  3. Review and renew commitments.  With Mercury retrograde at this time, we are reminded that now is not a good time to start anything new, especially when a legal contract is required. So, instead, we can take this time to review previously made commitments and determine if any adjustments might need to be made.  We might reflect on those that seem effortless and those that require more effort.  And for those that require more effort, we might ask ourselves is the amount of effort we are expending outweighing the return in soul nourishment?  From our reflections, it might become very clear where we need to focus our energy and renew our commitment to it.  And, in doing so, other commitments might need to be transferred or released from our lives.
  4. Practice gratitude.  When our lives might begin to feel a little stagnant or stuck, having ‘an attitude of gratitude’ has been shown to be the wind beneath our wings that can lift us out of a rut. So, as the universal energy is supporting this time in reflection, keep the handy tool of gratitude with you at all times.  Schedule a gratitude break each day.  Express your gratitude to another, whether it is simply to share something you are grateful for with them or to share your gratitude for them.  Dig out your gratitude journal or start a new one.  Merely reading a past gratitude journal can remind our hearts and souls of the abundance that already exists in our lives without having to push forward and grasp for more!
  5. Read.  Speaking of reading, now is a great time to pick up that book you have been meaning to read. When we allow our minds to be engrossed by a good book, it is like a vacation from our thoughts!  When we spend time in reflection of our past, gaining awareness of how our experiences in life impacted our beliefs, thoughts and emotions, we open ourselves up for a deeper understanding of how connected we really are in the human form.  And often, in this space, when we read, we discover new things about ourselves that might have been hidden (or forbidden) from revealing themselves before.

Self-acceptance, what is it good for? Absolutely everything!

Some days I get washed away by a tidal wave of gratitude for discovering yoga all those years ago.  I first embraced the practice “on the mat”, showing up for classes sometimes 5 to 6 or 7 days a week depending upon the kind of week I was having, and ultimately integrating it into my daily life “off the mat” and pursuing it as a way of life through the process of becoming a yoga teacher.  One of the first things that I learned in my training was that there is so much more to yoga that the poses that you do in a yoga class.  The first limb of the eight limbs of yoga is a list of observances or moral ethics to guide us in our thoughts and behaviors, in how we engage with ourselves and in the world, before we even get on our mats.  The first one on the list is ahimsa, which often is translated from Sanskrit to English as non-violence.

When most of us think about violence, our perspective is external – don’t harm another, whether it is another person, an animal or any sentient being on Mother Earth.  Yet consider for a moment the harm we might do to ourselves.  If you could record your thoughts toward yourself, would you be willing to recount those thoughts towards another?  Would you impose your limiting beliefs on another?  What is it like to lie to yourself?  Would you insist that everyone must be able to touch their toes before coming to a yoga class?  We can be our own worst critic!

What lies beneath such self-harm in body, mind and spirit is fear and self-judgment; ahimsa can guide us in a different direction, towards self-acceptance and ultimately self-love.  Now, applying ahimsa toward yourself requires practice and patience because, as humans, we are perfectly imperfect.  Ahimsa does not require perfection, and in fact, asks us to accept and love ourselves despite the fact that we are flawed.  It asks us to respect ourselves enough to offer ourselves kindness when we wander off course into the weeds of self-judgment, which will happen.  So maybe embrace the concept of ahimsa as a process of growth, as a verb and not a noun, which implies it is a destination instead of a journey.

So, why might you want to embrace ahimsa and lean into the opportunity to practice self-acceptance?  Well, if you take it from me, it brings much needed relief and inner peace.  However, if you don’t believe me, take a look at some recent research that suggests acceptance (or lack thereof) is a central factor in the onset and maintenance of mental health.

Click the button below to read more:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Beat the Heat

Although we are technically still in the first third of the summer, we are in the middle of the dog days of summer as children start to plan to return to school next month!  And not only are we busy down here on earth moving through the changes that come with summer vacation, but the skies are busy too, with two Eclipses this month and a total of five planets in retrograde.  The stop and go type of energy surrounding us this month is encouraging us to slow down.  The Universe is conspiring right now to support internal reflection and a focus on what is already right in front of us.  At the end of next month, forward moving action will be supported, just in time for the kids to return to school!

And, at this time of year, we begin to experience the heat.  Continuing research on climate change has focused on the impact on worker productivity and ultimately, on the effect on the economic status of entire countries.  I know I don’t need to tell you that when you feel the heat, your level of motivation to do anything – even fun things – goes way down.  So, in addition to continuing to do what you can to reduce your personal impact on Mother Earth, I offer the following intention setting ideas to keep your cool during the dog days of summer:

  1. Breathe and visualize yourself cool.  If you find yourself overheated in the moment (whether body or mind of both!), consider trying a yogic breath practice (i.e. pranayama) such as Śītalī/Śītkarī (Cooling Breaths – pronounced SHEE-tahl-lee, SHEET-kar-ee), which have been shown to cool the body and calm the agitated (AKA angry) mind. To practice Śītalī, open the mouth and form the lips into an “O,” curl your tongue and stick it out of the mouth slightly, inhale through your curled tongue making a (ssssss) sound to fill your lungs. Fill your lungs completely, while focusing your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath, using your tongue like a straw. Withdraw the tongue, lower your chin to your chest, and hold the breath for 5 seconds, while visualizing yourself in an environment that makes you feel cold, like skiing or ice skating. Exhale through the nose slowly and completely, lift the head, and repeat the cycle for five minutes. If you cannot curl your tongue, practice Śītkarī: mouth open, tongue tip at the roof of your mouth. Inhale through the side of your mouth along your cheeks and jaw, following the other steps as described for Śītalī.
  2. Do Less.  When our “To Do” lists are constantly long, the natural, adaptive human response of “flight or fight” turns on in the body and mind, and with this response, your blood vessels tense up, which is called vasoconstriction, causing the body to heat up very quickly.  So, consider reducing the number of items your have on your daily list or at least give yourself permission to not complete as many on those days where the thermometer is on the rise!
  3. Spend more time in savasana.  I think we all learned in science that heat rises.  And for those of us that have ever been brave enough to enter into a sweat lodge know this personally to be true!  So, when you find your temperature rising, let this be a reminder to practice savasana.  Savasana, also known as corpse pose, is the Sanskrit name for the final resting pose in most yoga classes.  We rest on our backs on the floor, supporting the body in any way needed to find comfort in the body, and we give ourselves permission to stay in the comfort and stillness while it permeates our bodies and minds.  Consider placing an ice pack, frozen hot water bottle, frozen bag of peas or frozen wash cloth in a towel and putting it on a strategic body part, such as underneath the back of your neck, on top of the belly or on the wrists, to get an extra dose of “cool down” in this pose.
  4. Eat more fresh food.  If you have been considering a change in diet, the summer months might be a really good time to embark on such an endeavor.  Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whether whole or juiced, reduce the need to use the oven or stove, two huge culprits for heating up our homes.  In addition, there are certain foods that have a cooling effect on the body, such as cucumbers, watermelons, and leafy greens.  Considering the mantra for beating the heat of summer is hydration, hydration, hydration, fresh summer fruits and vegetables bring along additional water content to boot!
  5. Peppermint tea mist.  When we find ourselves outside in the heat, with no opportunity to duck inside an air conditioned building, consider carrying a spray bottle to mist yourself with.  Even better, add some peppermint tea for a enhanced cooling effect.  It’s pretty easy to do.  Brew a pot of peppermint tea (before bed when the peak heat of the day is subsiding) and then stick it in the refrigerator.  In the morning, pour some into your spray bottle.  The menthol in the tea gives you a tingly, cooling sensation on the skin. If you forget to brew the tea the evening before, no worries, just put it in the freezer until it is cool enough!

Neurofeedback – Promising non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies for anxiety and depression!

Many people that I connect with express a desire to try other approaches to address symptoms of anxiety and depression before turning to medications, especially when it is their children that are suffering from such symptoms, as all prescription medications come with undesired side-effects.  As a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, I share the research with them that shows the effectiveness of integrating these two (yoga and talk therapy) healing arts to support the shift in focus toward health promotion for those who prefer to take a more natural, holistic approach to healing. Now I am excited to share recent research that demonstrates combining neurofeedback with heart rate variability training (e.g., deep slow abdominal yogic breathing) provides another viable non-pharmaceutical approach to address the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  And the research showed a reduction in symptoms for both children and adults!

Neurofeedback is not new and is a form of biofeedback, where instruments are attached to the body to provide information to the individual on the functioning of their body.  Biofeedback, including neurofeedback, as a field of study has been growing since the 1960s.  Neurofeedback (or EEG biofeedback) is the form of biofeedback that enables people to change the brain’s electrical activity.  An EEG (electroencephalography) is the device that captures the real-time brain wave activity so it can be displayed and assessed for any unhealthy patterns that might be contributing to symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.  Being able to offer a way to change unhealthy brain wave patterns through neurofeedback is of special interest to those of us working with clients to relieve such distressing symptoms because the brain is a central contributor to the emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviors that define many problems for which people reach out for support.

Yoga and it’s slow, controlled deep abdominal breathing is also not new.  What is new is the research that is showing how this yogic breathing impacts heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV has been shown to be linked with an increase in cardiovascular disease, specifically when the variability is low.  (Please refer to last month’s Reflection to learn more about HRV.)  Stress and anxiety increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the flight-fight response in the body, leading to increases in heart rate and a lowering of heart rate variability. On the other hand, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the rest-digest response in the body, has been shown to decrease heart rate and increase heart rate variability, specifically through the stimulation of the vagus (Cranial X) nerve that controls the heart, lung and digestion.  It is the controlled breathing found in a regular yoga practice that stimulates the vagus nerve, bringing balance to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system activity.

Even more recent research has brought these two healing modalities together to assess the impact of stimulating both the brain with neurofeedback and the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing on symptoms of anxiety and depressing in both children and adults.  The results showed evidence that such training may provide an effective, non-pharmaceutical approach to reducing such symptoms, with some additional benefits such as improving blood pressure!

To read the full research article, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Shining Light on the Human Need for Acceptance

The Summer Solstice is upon us as we are celebrating Pride Month and making plans to mark International Yoga Day on Thursday, June 21st!  As I reflected on the intersection of these events and celebrations, I came upon a thread that runs deep, connecting the acknowledgement of the light on the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, dignity, equal rights and self-affirmation, and discovering the sense of oneness – ACCEPTANCE.  Rejection is the darkness, so tapping into the light of acceptance opens the door wide to better mind, body, and spiritual health.   

As humans, we have a fundamental emotional need or desire for validation that we are intrinsically valuable and worthy of belonging.  We can try to ignore or discount – or dare I say reject – this basic human need in our culture that puts a very high value on independence, yet when we do so we are simply rejecting a part of ourselves, making us even more vulnerable to the rejection of others.  When we are a part of a group, we tend to feel protected and safe.  When we are rejected or excluded, it can contribute to a sense of isolation and feelings of embarrassment and loneliness.  Research has supported that the experience of rejection leads to poor health – both physically and mentally – and increases the tendency toward violence, both towards oneself as well as towards others.

So, below I have offered intention-setting ideas to allow the external light of the sun be a reminder to keep our own internal flame burning brightly, so it can bring light to those dark corners of our minds and hearts that have us holding the false belief that because we are housed in different earthly human vessels with unique expressions of being in the world, we aren’t valuable and don’t deserve to be here unless we conform to what others say is acceptable.

  1. Embrace your intelligence.  Alfred Binet’s research from the early 20th century on what is intelligence is ‘so yesterday’ if I might say so!  How many of us felt stupid if we didn’t excel at math or science or language.  I know I did!  I hated English until a teacher gave me permission to be creative in my expression.  As I allowed myself to be more creative in my writing, I discovered a whole different part of myself.  Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, theorized in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, that there are nine categories of intelligence.  If what he suggests moves us in the direction of recognizing and valuing the diversity of human expression, it definitely supports our basic human need for acceptance.  And I am all for not limiting the definition to just logical intelligence, where dare I say most of us would count ourselves short, which feels detrimental to the experience of being human. So consider setting aside some time to read more about Gardner’s theory of nine intelligences to see where your natural gifts might reside within your brain!
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments.  At the end of each day, think about taking a few minutes to focus on what you accomplished that day.  Most of us have VERY LONG “to do” lists and are not able to cross everything off each day, which tends to invite self-defeating thoughts.  To cut off the stress that accompanies those self-defeating thoughts, close your eyes for a few minutes and reflect on what you did do that day.  What you may realize is that you accomplished way more than what was on your list, including some less tangible tasks, like making someone smile or listening to a friend in need, which are invaluable.
  3. Express appreciation towards yourself.  Most of us are taught to thank others when they do something kind for us, yet I bet most of us were not taught the practice of thanking ourselves for making ourselves a priority.  In fact, I suspect most of us were taught the exact opposite, that putting any attention on ourselves would be considered selfish and thus not acceptable.  Therefore, I challenge you to identify something that you did to take care of yourself recently and formally thank yourself for doing so.  And if you can’t identify anything, might I offer that it’s been way too long and that you plan to do something for yourself this week.  And don’t forget to thank yourself for taking care of yourself, remembering that self-care does not mean selfish!
  4. Say something kind to yourself.  How radical would it be for you to stop right now and say something like “You are intelligent” or “You are lovable” or “You are worthy”?  Remember how our mothers would tell us “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?  Well, I personally wish my own mother would have empowered me to apply that to myself!  If we were able to record our thoughts and then listen back to the recording, I suspect most of us would experience more negative, critical judgments of ourselves than we would hear expressions of loving kindness.  And if you are like most people and experience “out of sight, out of mind”, then consider identifying something kind you would like to say to yourself and write it down on an index card and place it by the bathroom mirror, where you can see it each morning and night as you brush your teeth.
  5. Get in touch with our common humanity.  When we make mistakes, there is a tendency to beat ourselves up mentally and emotionally, and sometimes physically. Yet the expression ‘it’s only human’ exists as a reminder that to be human is to be perfectly imperfect and that it is by design that we are all fallible and will make mistakes.  So why are we so harsh on ourselves?  Why are we able to comfort a friend when they are being down on themselves, yet find it difficult to offer comfort to ourselves when we are suffering?  When we can consciously open ourselves up to and explore the concept of common humanity, we are more able to remind ourselves that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal, a shared human experience.  We all experience the same pain even though the mistakes we make may be different.  Remembering we are not alone in our pain and suffering brings comfort, acceptance and peace.  Try it out soon!!