5 Intention-setting Ideas for Supporting the Immune System Through this Holiday Season and Beyond!

“Compassion, bringing inner strength, is good for our health.” – The Dalai Lama

While we may do our best to eat well, get enough sleep, and continue our exercise routine through the holidays, sometimes that is just not enough to avoid catching a cold or flu, especially because we find ourselves spending more time with others at this time of year.  And there is no worse time to find these germs breaking through our defenses then over the next 6 weeks!

So, as we make plans to gather with friends and family around the dining room table this holiday season, it is my hope that you might relax a little more knowing that there are some tried-and-true ways to bring more comfort to the body, support the immune system and shorten the length of time that the body needs to suffer from the symptoms of the common cold.  Below are several intention-setting ideas to consider should you find yourself “under the weather” this holiday season:

  1. ZINC!  Research has shown that taking zinc gluconate during a head cold shortens the duration of the symptoms.  Over-the-counter products, such as Cold-EEZE or Zicam, contain zinc gluconate and the research suggests that the zinc ions block the cold virus from replicating.  What this means is that we may not be able to stop the germs from breaking through our natural defenses, but we can stop them from replicating any more once inside of our bodies, thus giving our immune system a better opportunity to win the war faster.  Therefore, as soon as you feel that scratchy throat or heaviness in your head, start taking zinc and don’t stop until your nose can smell the cookies in the oven and visions of sugar plums dance in your head once again.
  2. Essential Oils.  Look for an essential oil blend that contains oils such as cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and wild orange which have been shown to have immune-boosting properties.  Simply add a few drops to some coconut oil or almond oil and rub it into your skin around the throat, chest and even the soles of your feet.  Adding these essential oils to a room diffuser can work to kill any germs that might be lingering in your home.
  3. Warm Up.  Research is finding that when our body temperature is warmer, viruses replicate slower and die off quicker.  Therefore, when you start to feel the first signs of a cold, create environments for yourself to raise your body heat, such as taking a hot bath or shower or sitting in a hot tub or steam room.  You can add the above mentioned essential oils to your bath or sprinkle a few drops on the floor of your shower.  Or wrap yourself up in your favorite comforter and snuggle up by your fireplace (or space heater) with a good book or movie!
  4. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Honey.  Raw organic honey contains enzymes and antimicrobials that not only fight germs, but soothe scratchy throats and coughs.  Studies have even demonstrated an improvement in sleep quality in children who took honey with upper respiratory tract infections, so try eating a teaspoon or two of honey before bed.  Throughout the day, you can simply boil some water, add honey and maybe some freshly grated ginger root to sip on to comfort body, mind and spirit.
  5. Stimulate blood and lymph circulation.  Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, offers a practice that can be done on a daily basis to stimulate circulation and cleanse the lymph system – dry brush lymph massage.  The lymph system helps rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials by transporting lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.   Doing this practice when a virus has invaded our body is important to promote detoxification, supporting the elimination of the toxins as quickly as possible.  Try a natural-bristle brush that you might use to wash your back in the shower and start at the feet.  Using short, brisk strokes work up the body towards the heart, focusing on areas where lymph nodes are most concentrated, such as inner thighs/groin area and arm pits.

Thanksgiving Day Football – Why I will NOT be watching!

I can remember watching football as young as 7 or 8 years of age because it was where we could find our father on Sundays.  My dad would be so engrossed in the games that we could stand behind him and say “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad” and not get a response.  However, if you said something “Wow, that was a good catch”, he would turn around, look at you, and say something like “Yes, it was”.  So we learned very early on that if we wanted our father’s attention it was best to join him in his world and a lot of his world revolved around sports.

Living in the southern part of New Jersey, I found myself surrounded by Philadelphia Eagles fans, although my father was/is a die-hard New York fan.  I quickly joined the ranks of Eagles fans and it was something that my husband and I had in common.  By 1990, I had joined his Fantasy Football team and my partner and I were the only women in the league.  My interest and knowledge of the sport became a source of pride for me.  That all changed two years ago when I saw the movie Concussion.  If you are a huge football fan, you may want to stop reading now.

In this movie, Will Smith plays the forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu that discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is a neurodegenerative brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s disease that arises from repeated head trauma.  He embarks on a mission to raise public awareness about the dangers of football-related head trauma, even with the players wearing helmets and a professional football league rule against helmet-to-helmet contact.  Subsequent research of deceased former high school, college, and professional football players showed that 177 out of 202 players were diagnosed with CTE, with the disease being diagnosed in 110 out of 111 (or 99%!) of the former NFL football players.  This data hurt my mind and body!

CTE can only be diagnosed via autopsy so identifying the signs and symptoms much earlier is vital.  This knowledge made me think about our little ones and their beautiful developing brains.  Then I came across even more recent research looking at the mental and behavioral challenges experienced in adulthood that might be tied back to playing tackle football before the age of twelve.  Researchers questioned 214 men whose only organized sport participation growing up was football.  The results reflect that those who started playing tackle football before the age of twelve were 33% more likely to show signs of depression and about 28% more likely to have behavioral problems in adulthood.  Lead author of this research Dr. Michael Alosco writes “Research on the effects of football on the brain is now at a point where it cannot be ignored.”

Well, I for one no longer am ignoring the data.  After more than 40 years of being a dedicated fan, I have stopped watching football this year.  Instead I have joined the ranks of mental health professionals who work to help relieve the suffering that comes from the symptoms of depression and behavioral challenges and raise the awareness and collective consciousness around the underlying causes of such suffering.  So this Thanksgiving, you will not find me in front of the TV watching a sport that appears to value the almighty buck more than the mind-body health of the players.  I still greatly value team sports and supporting the community it creates and I hope that this research will encourage new ways of playing that dramatically reduce or eliminate the inherent risk of concussions.  Until then, I am learning to enjoy the time I have freed up on my Sundays by connecting with like-minded souls.

If you would like to read more about this research, below are two links.  Click on the first link to read about the research based upon the autopsies.  Click on the second link to read about the research on playing tackle football before the age of twelve.

 

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support the Development of Santosha

“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.”― Anonymous

With the holidays fast approaching, it is likely that our minds are kicking into high gear, with thoughts beginning to focus on what needs to get done before they arrive!  These types of thoughts tend to encourage us to reach for our “To Do” lists, possibly adding a boat load of tasks, lighting the fire under our expectations around what this time of year is supposed to bring.  And when expectations enter into the picture, we set ourselves up for suffering at the hands of disappointment.

I attended a workshop many years ago about letting go of my expectations as a way to reduce the stress of the holiday season.  I remember thinking “Why would I ever want to lower my expectations?”  It sounded like I was being asked to let go of my goals, which ran counterintuitive to my (at the time) Type A personality, but I was willing to try anything to avoid the inevitable pain that I came to experience when it came to this time of year.  When I tried it out that year, the result was one of the best gifts I ever gave myself!

Now, fast forward to my present day experience, where I have loosened my grip on my attachment to my Type A personality traits, I set intentions instead of having expectations, and I trust that the Universe will co-create something even better than I every could imagine by myself.  How did I get from point A to point B?  Well, it hasn’t always been a straight line, yet one particular practice has proven invaluable, especially at this time of year.  The practice is the development of Santosha, which is Sanskrit for contentment.  And even though the human mind’s default position is to worry or focus on the negative because it is what keeps us safe when danger approaches, it doesn’t mean that we can’t flip the switch by seeking the beauty, harmony and peace in every experience.Now, I’m not going to tell you it is easy.  It takes practice, just like any new sport or hobby you might want to take up.  So, if the idea of expanding the sense of inner peace sounds appealing to you, below are some ideas to support the practice of Santosha and I recommend trying them out now BEFORE the holiday season is upon us!

  1. Let go of what you can’t control.  When we really think about what is truly under our control, we quickly realize not too many things come to mind.  To support the expansion of our awareness of this adage – or something similar like “letting go instead of holding on” – you might want to write it down and put near your tooth brush so you can remind yourself on a daily basis, even several times a day.  As you allow this awareness to become more evident in your mind, also tune into the felt experience in the body too.  When you feel the pain of disappointment or loss, the body is informing you that you were probably trying to control something out of your control and had attached expectations to the outcome.  So try letting go of the need to control and the associated outcome expectations.  Not only will you reduce the pain that naturally accompanies loss but you will reduce the experiences of disappointment altogether!
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others.  When we spend our energy focusing on others, what they have that we want, we discount our own unique gifts and zap ourselves of the potential we have to live our dharma.  Instead, shift your energy to focus on discovering, cultivating, and growing your own gifts and notice how much more vitality and peace you experience.
  3. Look for the silver lining.  When we find ourselves stuck in a unhealthy or painful situation, it can be very difficult to tap into our reservoir of inner peace and contentment.  In those moments, I suggest sitting for a moment and ask yourself “How might this situation be serving me?”  Everything serves although it might take us a little while to figure it out.  Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in order to learn what we don’t like or want in our lives, especially when it doesn’t bring us comfort.  Use this information as a guide for moving forward in a different, more authentic direction for yourself.
  4. Develop discernment, don’t judge.  Judgment can sometimes be a mask for expectations.  We expect people to behave a certain way or to say certain things and when they don’t, we judge them.  Judgment is very contagious and when we catch ourselves judging another, we start to realize how much judgment has seeped into our experience, where are thoughts are now judgments of ourselves!  Instead, allow others to express themselves, however differently than you might express yourself, and consciously distinguish what is appropriate or inappropriate for you.  When we bring consciousness to our thoughts, we open up to discernment and, with discernment we make healthy choices for ourselves and uplift the collective consciousness at the same time.
  5. Practice gratitude.  Our social culture motivates us to spend a great deal of time, energy, and resources to create and generate, from simple ideas to literally concrete structures.  However, our culture does not encourage us to spend an equal amount of time, energy, and resources in appreciating what we have achieved.  This culture creates an imbalance and this imbalance disturbs our Santosha.  Think about how much effort it requires to cook a meal for our families and how little time it takes to eat it so we can run to our next expectation or commitment.  However, research has shown that if we took more time cultivating appreciation for what we already have, including the food we eat, we begin to expand our sense of contentment, bringing more inner peace into our minds and bodies and to the world.

Do essential oils truly calm stress and boost the immune system?

I remember my first exposure to essential oils through my yoga teacher training and was fascinated by the claims made that certain aromatic scents had differing impacts on the mind and body.  Now, I’m not the type of person that believes everything I hear, so I figured I would try it out for myself.  What I immediately experienced was a sense of attraction to some oils and a sense of resistance to others.  It also reminded me that one of the first perfumes I liked as a little girl because it brought me a sense of calm was one that smelled like lemons!

My yoga teacher training also expanded my view of what yoga is.  Most of us think of it as a movement-based practice, commonly perceived as stretching.  However, what I learned is that before you even venture on a mat to move your body, there are actually two rungs of the ladder to step on before coming to the asanas or poses.  The first rung is known as the Yamas or guiding principles in how we interact with others and the second rung is known as the Niyamas or guiding principles to how we interact with ourselves.  The Yamas and Niyamas are 10 “common sense” guidelines for leading a healthier, more peaceful life and have as much to do with the mind and spirit as they do with the body.

So what do these yogic guidelines have to do with essential oils you ask?  Well, one Niyama in particular, Santosha or contentment, suggests being at peace within even while experiencing life’s challenges.  For many of us this idea seems quite elusive, especially if we suffer from the lingering impacts of trauma.  When our bodies are in a hyper-alert fear state, it is very difficult for the mind to focus on being happy with what we have.  Instead, we find ourselves simply doing what we can to survive and our immune systems suffer right along with the mind.  So when I read a new research study that showed encouraging mind-body results by merely inhaling orange essential oil, it got my attention!

This recent research looked at PTSD symptoms and the types of immune cells that play a role in the PTSD disease process when mice passively inhaled orange essential oil.  The results indicated a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and decrease in the related immune cells.  These outcomes are very encouraging since essential oils are much more economical than the medications that are currently prescribed and do not have the adverse side effects of such medications.  Plus they’re pleasant to the nose!

Whether or not you suffer from PTSD symptoms, we all live in a very stressful world.  So what do you have to lose by simply buying a bottle of orange essential oil and a diffuser (prices range from $10 to $50 dollars) and setting it up at home or even in your office?  You can sit back, breathe deeply, and tune into your level of Santosha and that of your family, friends, and co-workers.  Worst case scenario is you might find them craving oranges and wondering why!

If you tend to be a little skeptical about all of the complementary and alternative medicine practices that claim to produce the same benefits as our more traditional, Western medicine, click the link below to read more on this recent study:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support Our Connection to Nature

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” — Anonymous

My sense is that Mother Earth is trying to get our attention.  With the floods in South Asia, earthquake in Mexico, and Hurricane Harvey and Irma, she is shouting at the top of her lungs! And I, for one, am listening.

With the fall equinox upon us this week, it is a great time to contemplate our connection to nature and in our own small ways, begin to set intentions to strengthen that interdependent bond.  Both equinoxes, spring and fall, are times when there is a balance between light and dark.  Between the fall equinox on Friday, September 22nd and the winter solstice, on Thursday, December 21st, days in the Northern Hemisphere will give way to longer nights.  Mother Earth begins her journey into the quiet darkness of night where nature moves into a stage of inner preparation.  Animals prepare for hibernation.  These outward signs offered by nature can guide us on our continued journey of transformation.  And if we each do our own inner preparation, embracing the quiet darkness within, we’ll discover new ways of being that may be more in harmony with the cycles of nature and supportive of the larger web of life.

Below are some intentions to contemplate at this time of year to demonstrate to Mother Earth that we are listening and are open to honoring our connection to her:

  1. Balance.  The word “Yoga” means union, or to yoke or join, and suggests that in uniting or joining opposites, such as light and dark, we bring balance, wholeness, and peace to our bodies, minds, and consciousness. When we reject the darkness, we are rejecting parts of ourselves that are simply mirrors for us to use in reflection.  Plan to spend some time in reflection, looking deeply into the mirror, seeking the light in the darkness and the darkness in the light.  Ask yourself if there are parts of yourself that scare you, invite them to sit with you awhile and get curious about why you might be rejecting them.  If we reject a part of ourselves, such as our angry part, this part provides just as much fuel to what moves us as the parts we accept in ourselves.  In fact, our rejected parts tend to pop up as uninvited guests sometimes at the most inopportune moments because we have not integrated them into our view of self as a whole and balanced being having a human experience.
  2. Cleanse.  As the trees begin to drop their leaves, let it inspire you to turn up the heat under your practice of Satya, which is the active pursuit of truth. Satya is one of the Yamas of yoga, which guide us in how to interact with others, which is a reflection of how we treat ourselves.  This practice requires us to loosen our grip on what we think is truth, because it most likely is simply our – or someone else’s – opinion.  So, one idea is to listen for any judgments that come up at this time, especially when it is towards another and watch how that judgment guides your behavior.  Again, get curious about the judgment, asking yourself where did it come from and do I really believe it, and if you discern that it didn’t come from you (instead it came from someone else or it is a societal message) and you don’t really buy into it, visualize it being washed away.  Then you might ask yourself how might you respond differently in that situation moving forward now that you have gained some clarity around what you believe is true.
  3. Let go.  Create space for yourself by planning to take a Restorative Yoga class this month.  This yoga practice focuses on our parasympathetic nervous system, the “relaxation and digestion” response in the body.  Poses are supported with props, such as blankets and bolsters, and are held for a minimum of 10 minutes, to provide enough time for the body’s activation system to turn off.  The signal to the muscles is “let go” and soften to bring balance to all of “the doing” found on our schedules.  When this practice is integrated into our schedule on a regular basis, it begins to show up off of our mats when we find ourselves letting go of thoughts and deeds that no longer serve us, others, and the world!
  4. Honor the Void.  To support your practice of Satya, consider starting a meditation practice to help quiet the mind and create space between your thoughts.  Most of us try to distract ourselves from our thoughts as they are often critical and judgmental of ourselves.  When we meditate, we don’t try to stop our thoughts so much as we create space around them, to allow us to drop beneath them and not be under their control, as they tug at us to engage in the conversations of the mind.  In the space between our thoughts, we are able to connect to our inner light that is intimately and eternally connected to source, reminding us that we are divine, perfect beings living in a imperfect world.  Meditation does not need to be hard – simply start out by taking 1 minute a day for a week to stop, bring the awareness of the mind to your breath, and actively lengthen both your inhales and your exhales. Then maybe explore the many free meditation apps available and find one that you like.  As you continue your practice, the space created in the mind invites in more peace, enabling you to share that peace with others, including Mother Earth, more readily.
  5. Practice Pranayama.  Pranayama is Sanskrit for the practice of controlling or channeling your essential life force energy in your body.  Prana, or life force energy, floats on the wave of your breath, so simply sitting for a moment to watch your breath, sensing where you feel your breath in your body, and working to expand and lengthen the inhales and/or exhales  has you on your way to awakening the energy and tuning into your own cycles of life. With each breath that you experience with awareness and control, the mind is drawn back into alignment with the heart in the body, supporting mind, body, and spirit health.  The basic yogic – and human – breath pattern is described as a 3-part breath, with the inhale expanding the belly, then the ribs, and then the collarbones and the exhale releasing from the collarbones first, then the ribs, and then the belly.  If your mind would prefer, you can simply silently count to yourself, maybe starting with a count of 4 for both the inhale and the exhale, and then working slowly towards a longer count, maybe a count of 6 or 8.  This pattern of controlled breathing actually helps the body and mind to reconnect to the natural rhythm of breath that our babies experience, before life weighs down on us, causing us to hold or shorten our breath cycle.  The longer our breath cycle, the longer our cycle of life!

Loneliness – when acceptance and connection are elusive

Why is it that we can be surrounded by people – even our friends and family – and yet still feel alone?  Research has suggested that loneliness is more common than we might think, with 80% of children and 40% of seniors experiencing it.  Loneliness results when we believe if we reveal our true self to others that we will not be accepted and, instead, will be judged negatively.  To avoid the emotional pain of rejection – or lack of acceptance – we either wear masks and pretend to be someone we are not and/or tend to pull back and isolate ourselves, cutting off our life-giving connection to ourselves and others.

As a young person, I often felt different from the people I found myself surrounded by.  People would tell me that I shouldn’t feel the way I felt or that I should pursue a particular career because it was the smart thing to do, implying if I didn’t want to pursue it that I must be dumb.  I spent a great deal of my life trying to fit in, hiding my emotions and behaving in ways that I was told was right.  I remember talking to friends about feeling like I was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and they would look at me with a funny look on their faces.  I just kept thinking that if I continue to put myself out there I will eventually find my place in the world.  So I kept searching and searching, trying on different masks to see if I could find the “right” one.  Ultimately, my search for acceptance left me exhausted and full of self-doubt!

I found my way into therapy and spent several years on a journey of self-discovery.  This journey took me deep, to the roots of where the seeds of my beliefs came from so I could understand why I was looking for external validation versus allowing the expression of my authentic self.  Once I understood where my beliefs came from and why they developed, I then got the opportunity to question them to decide if I still believed them or if they actually weren’t my beliefs in the first place.  Once I was able to get to a place where I could embrace (yes, accept!) my uniqueness and stop trying to conform just to fit in, I found a greater sense of peace.  This inner peace brought me more ease when interacting with others, reducing the judgment both of myself and others.  And once I got a taste of that felt sense of inner peace, ease, and acceptance, my way of being in the world changed and opened the door for a deeper connection in all of my relationships.  I was able to relatively quickly find my tribe where I no longer had to put on any masks because they appreciated my energetic vibe just where it was.

As a social species, humans grow when we feel accepted, connected, and supported on our journey to remain true to our purpose in life and the expression of our unique talents in the creation of the meaning of our purpose.  If we feel stuck and alone, it may be a sign that we are disconnected from our authentic being, chasing that elusive sense of acceptance from others.  What we might need is some time and space to work on accepting ourselves.  And what research is showing is that reaching out and asking for help through therapy might just be a way to alleviate the pain of loneliness and deepen our felt sense of connection.

If you would like to read some of the research about why increasing our understanding of loneliness matters, click on the link below:

 

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Tap Into the Energy of the Total Solar Eclipse

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” ― Leo Tolstoy

Total solar eclipses are not as rare as we might think, happening somewhere in the world every 18 months or so. However, the next one to cross the United States from coast to coast, like the one that will occur this Monday, 8/21 won’t occur again until August 12, 2045!  And the last one was almost 100 years ago!  So, even if you are not able to watch the current incredible visual spectacle, you can still take advantage of the heightened level of energy that can be felt two or three days both before and after such a huge astrological event.

The heightened energy impacts both the external environment and our internal environment.  Solar eclipses occur at the new moon and new moons are a time to reflect on our goals and plant the seeds of our intentions, just like the Farmer’s Almanac recommends planting seeds in our gardens at the new moon to give them the best chance to grow. With the elevated level of energy from the total solar eclipse, our seeds will receive an extra boost from nature.  So let this not-to-be-missed visual reminder help you gain clarity around what you want to manifest at this time.

Below are some ideas to consider to support the change this total solar eclipse can bring into your life:
  1. See the Total Picture.  Take inspiration from this total solar eclipse to embrace both the light and the dark in our lives and our world.  We often struggle with things that we can’t see, don’t understand, or are different than our values.  However, if we open ourselves up to seeing another perspective, to seeking to understand before seeking to be understood, and to honoring our differences, we are expanding the light and shining it into the darkness.
  2. Live in the Moment.  Our lives are so busy, with our culture pushing us to constantly multi-task to the point of exhaustion.  Allow this total solar eclipse to create an opportunity to just stop for a moment, look up and notice the color of the sky while taking 3 long, deep breaths.  It doesn’t have to wait until Monday – start today!
  3. Celebrate Nature’s Cycles.  And although total solar eclipses are not an every day event, they do occur in a pattern.  So let this one be a reminder to celebrate the cycles of nature and life.  Maybe plan to light a candle at the time of the total solar eclipse and use the two to three minutes of darkness as a time to just BE, reflecting how interconnected life is.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the Dark.  Many of us deny our shadow side due to fear. However, we all have a shadow side and we need to learn to lean into it, instead of trying to run from it. It is what makes us HUMAN!  Maybe set an intention at the time of this total solar eclipse to find the courage to explore and embrace your shadow side. What you just might discover is the inner peace you have been searching for!
  5. Lighten Up!  With the light of the world shining into the dark corners, now is the time to make sure no one or nothing tries to put your inner light out – it is needed more than ever!  Let the total solar eclipse motivate you to plan to do something that fans the flame of your inner light and let it shine out like it has never done before!

Does Yoga Change Our Brain and Improve Memory as We Age?

At any age, in today’s fast-paced world, we may be challenged by our ability to maintain our focus long enough to actually create a memory worth remembering!  I hear myself saying almost daily “Thank God for Google” or I wouldn’t be able to remember the name of the new restaurant in town I saw on my way home from the office to tell my husband or the movie I saw last week to tell my friends.  We have come to rely more on our electronic devices with all of the available apps to assist in reminding us of where we need to be and when, to keep track of our finances and when to pay our bills, and to prompt us so we don’t forget a birthday or anniversary.  There are even apps to remind you to get up from your desk every hour and to stop whatever you are doing and simply breathe!

As we age, the brain does change and it is not unusual for all of us to experience some level of memory loss, specifically working memory.  This expected memory loss due to aging does not necessarily mean we are developing dementia.  However, with an increasingly older population, it is important to understand ways to support our brains and our memories to maintain our mind-body health.  A new research study has shown that yoga may be one of those ways!

In this research, the intention was to focus on the brain’s cortical thickness, which has been shown to decline with age and is associated with executive functioning relating to memory and attention.  With the assistance of MRI scans, the results showed an increase in the cortical thickness, specifically in the left prefrontal cortex which supports working memory and cognitive flexibility, in the older women who had practiced yoga for at least 8 years.  The researchers suggest that it is the unique contemplative or attentional component that is an integral part of yoga that differentiates it from other conventional forms of physical fitness exercise.  So even if you consider yourself active and regularly participate in other forms of physical movement, your brain may not be getting the same boost as it would from integrating yoga into your self-care routine.

This study is important for people of all ages, not only those of us that may believe we have reached the peak of our life span.  Yoga comes in many different forms and styles and is not one size fits all.  Yoga ranges from very little movement at all, such as with yoga Nidra or Restorative Yoga to the other end of the spectrum, with continuous movement, such as with a Vinyasa or Ashtanga class.  So no matter how old you are in the present moment, it is a great time to explore this practice and find a style that works for you.  It is never too soon or too late to integrate yoga into your overall preventive health care efforts.  Your body and mind will thank you now and well into the future!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Raising Happy and Healthy Kids

“It takes a village to raise a child.” ― African Proverb

Many of us may not have children or our children may already be grown, yet it doesn’t mean that we can forget about our parenting skills, because we never know when our “parent part” may be called upon to assist in raising happy and healthy kids.  And, if you are a furbaby parent, as I am, the following intention-setting ideas are appropriate for our four-legged kids too.

So, in honor of Purposeful Parenting Month, I thought it was critical in order to raise the vibration for all children – the “little one” inside all of us, the ones we may have the honor of raising directly now or in the future, and the ones that we may find ourselves interacting with in a less direct relationship – that we reflect on some ways that we can foster the development of trusting, loving, and healthy kids.  Below are some ideas for consideration:

  1. Set Boundaries.  It’s important to set rules and boundaries for our kids, whether two-legged or four-legged.  We all need to know how to behave in a respectful manner when interacting with others and it is up to us, the responsible adults, to model and teach our children what that means.  It is also important to be consistent once a boundary is set, otherwise, we will create confusion.  Children look to adults for protection and direction and setting healthy boundaries goes a long way toward making them feel safe and calm.
  2. Make Time for Play.  Play is a basic human need – no matter how old our bodies get!  Embracing this need allows us to prioritize fun in our lives and include our children.  Research has also shown that it is important to play with your animals if you want to improve their behavior.  Playing with children is not only good for them, but good for you as it allows you to stay connected with your own “inner child”, that part of you that wants to express its sense of creativity, stay true to your authentic self, and pursue goals with passion.
  3. Catch Them Doing Something You Like.  Positive reinforcement has been shown to be the most powerful motivator as it makes us feel good about ourselves and more connected with others.  Expressing appreciation and gratitude towards your children when you observe them doing something that brings you joy, especially when it is not expected or tied to achievement, can be especially powerful.  For example, simply thanking your child for sharing with or showing kindness to another person can plant a seed for similar behaviors in the future.  When it comes to our four-legged kids, a simple pat on the head when they sit down next you quietly or come to you when you call them, will create the connection that invites them to repeat such responses.
  4. Love Equally and Uniquely.  It is important to not show favoritism, even if you feel it at times.  So, recognizing that our children have different personalities and other qualities that will draw us towards and away from them at different times, find a unique way to express your love to each of your children that fits with them.  Then, set the intention to use those unique expressions of love at least once a day with each child.  This guidance can also be applied to our furbabies.  Maybe one four-legged is a “morning” or “sunshine” baby while the other is a “nighttime” or “moonshine” baby, so you can plan to spend time with them when they most need it.
  5. Make Eye Contact.  Providing  our little ones – both human and furry – with a loving gaze produces a biochemical response that strengthens the connection, or bond between you and them. The level of the hormone oxytocin has been shown to increase in both humans and dogs after spending time looking into each other’s eyes.  Oxytocin is also known as the bonding or cuddling hormone and is sometimes referred to as the love drug. It is associated with trust and that warm, fuzzy feeling when you are close to another.  So, if you want to give yourself a boost of love or a sense of connection, slow down and LOOK to make eye contact with your children!

Perfectionism – is self-compassion the antidote?

Growing up in a dysfunctional, toxic family environment left deep, ingrained patterns of thinking and acting to avoid the uncomfortable, powerful emotions that boiled just beneath the surface, until my ability to stuff them down and sit on them didn’t work.  It was at those times that the emotions would come out – and come out strong – to the point of overwhelming me and any one near me!  What I came to learn is that I worked very hard – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to be perfect, to do everything right so I would avoid disappointment and feel that elusive sense of acceptance from others.  Now I understand that a common human condition is imperfection and from that deep understanding, I am able to tap into a reservoir of self-compassion to remind myself that we reach perfection when our spirit leaves the human body.

So, as long as I am alive, I have come to accept the fact that I will make mistakes, even some that may hurt others although it is not my intention to do so.  Coming from this place of acceptance that I am not perfect, I am able to not only express forgiveness and kindness to myself, I am more easily able to reach out to others with that same sense of compassion for their humanness.

Don’t get me wrong, getting to this point was not a short trip or an easy one, but it has been well worth the journey.  I was my own worst critic, as many of us are, and would judge myself harshly for a long time.  No matter how much I accomplished, it never felt like it was enough or good enough.  The first step in being kinder to myself was to reflect on why I was so judgmental in the first place.  Well, as you can probably guess, I learned it from my family.  And it wasn’t only from my family, it was a bigger, broader experience of society’s judgment and subtle messages that to be accepted, we must be perfect.  Once I was aware of my inner critic and why and where she grew from, I could then own my suffering that this inner critic created.

In recognizing the suffering, I began to get curious about the emotions that came up, such as fear of being criticized, losing the acceptance of others, guilt, and the sense of being less than and unworthy of the acceptance I so needed.  As I sat with these uncomfortable feelings and explored what messages came from these powerful emotions, I started to ask how they might be trying to serve me in some way.  I learned that feeling guilty was a guide that led me back to my authentic self whenever I might find myself straying away in my thoughts and actions.  Sitting with criticism informed me that it is important to be open to the feedback of others because sometimes we are blind (and deaf) to our behaviors and words, specifically how those behaviors and words might impact another.  I also discovered that when I would be criticized by others, I was simply acting as a mirror to reflect back the other person’s felt sense of inadequacy, so it really wasn’t about me.

When sitting with the fear of losing the acceptance of others, I realized it was because I really feared accepting myself.  Somewhere down the line I was told I was different, because I was so emotional, which was projected on to me as I was “irrational” and thus not acceptable.  When I began to challenge this message and not only accept but embrace my emotional self, I also began to accept the idea that being perfect does not mean you will be accepted by everyone.  I looked at how I comforted others when they experienced making a mistake and tried offering that same comfort and compassion to myself.  With practice, I began to internalize that we innately all try to do our best with the gifts and limitations we have and when I viewed the human experience from this more balanced – logical and emotional – perspective, I felt a deep sense of peace within.

So the journey took time for me to stare my fears in the face, accept my humanity completely, and practice self-compassion when I find myself feeling the pain of suffering.  Now when my fears come up, I no longer try to ignore it and instead invite it in so I can engage in a dialogue with it.  At first, I might feel overwhelmed and I now recognize in these moments that the emotion is coming to me so strong because I may have been ignoring before it when it tried to get my attention more subtly in the past.  When this happens, I might have to sit a little longer and take a couple of extra deep breaths before the conversation can begin in earnest.  As I engage with my powerful emotions, a common theme emerges, that reminds me that I am not alone and that most people would have a similar response, even if they are not ready to admit it.  When I am able to accept I am human and express my gratitude for my emotions as the intelligent guides they are, self-compassion floods in to soothe my momentary suffering and helps to release the grip of judgment and perfectionism.

More and more research is being done to explore the effects of deepening our ability to have self-compassion as it is showing a strong association with mental well-being.  It is being shown to reduce self-criticism, judgment, self-blame and isolation, therefore, increasing acceptance and connection.  Should you be interested in reading more about the results of recent research on the benefits of supporting the development of self-compassion, click on the link below: