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:

 

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Supporting the Parasympathetic Nervous System

“PTSD isn’t about what’s wrong with you, it’s about what happened to you.” ― Author Unknown

Much of our time is spent crossing items off of our “To Do” lists and attempting to juggle multiple demands and commitments.  This fast paced lifestyle over time can wreck havoc on our nervous systems, literally leading the body toward a nervous breakdown.  With summertime upon us and the heat encouraging the body to slow down, it might just be the right time to consider integrating a practice that nurtures our body, mind, and soul!

The human body’s Autonomic Nervous System has two branches:  the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which are designed to compliment each other.  Our SNS is the part of our nervous system that gets activated in times of stress, whether that stress is considered positive or negative.  When the SNS is activated, our heart rate and respiration increase and our blood pressure goes up.  Our PNS is the part of the nervous system that gets activated in times of rest and relaxation, typically after the cause of the stress is removed from our awareness.  When the PNS is activated, our heart rate and respiration decrease and our blood pressure drops.

During stressful times, if we want more peace in our life, it is important to consciously activate our PNS to support the balance between “doing” and “being” and prevent our nervous system from breaking down.  Therefore, below I have provided 5 simple ideas to try to invite the rest and relaxation response in the body to become more present throughout all of the seasons of our lives:
  1. Mindfulness.  This intention might simply start with acknowledging that the human mind, just like a computer, is not designed to multi-task.  Embracing this natural state, we can then begin to invite opportunities to focus on just one thing at a time.  Starting with simple one-minute meditations, sprinkled throughout our day, can create just enough space for a deeper connection with our authentic self as reflected through our experience of gratitude, compassion, peace, and love   Some short meditation ideas include stopping what you are doing and trying one of the following:  taking a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender and orange are two that have been shown to support our PNS) in your palm, rub your hands together, hold your hands up near your nose and take 10 long deep breaths; redirect your attention to your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your face, tightening one muscle group at a time (e.g., feet, lower legs, thighs, etc.), taking one full, deep breath for each muscle group before releasing and relaxing; and.or close your eyes and allow you other senses to sharpen, first by identifying all of the sounds the ears might notice, then describing the sensations the skin might be experiencing, and then deepening your breath to notice the scents that might be in the air in that moment.
  2. Breathe Less.  No, I don’t mean hold your breath!  Instead, taking more conscious, extended diaphragmatic breaths, where you lengthen both the inhale and exhale, but allow your exhale to be longer than the inhale, means you may end up only taking 4 breaths per minutes instead of the normal 12 to 20 breaths per minute.  To practice lengthening your exhale, grab a straw and release your exhale through the straw and see if you can get your exhale to maybe be 30 seconds long!  Your inhales support your SNS, while your exhales support your PNS, so encouraging your exhales to be longer than your inhales allows the PNS to express itself.
  3. Stop and smell the roses.  Being out in nature has also been shown to trigger the PNS. Therefore, consider becoming a silent “tree hugger”!  You don’t have to tell anyone and you can do it when no one is looking.  Maybe try it for 40 days and see what happens.  Another option might be the next time you see white clouds in the sky, find a patch of grass to lie down on, look up and begin to identify shapes that the clouds are taking. Maybe you will see a dolphin, unicorn, or heart!
  4. Restorative Yoga.  Some may suggest that all yoga is restorative and I certainly wouldn’t argue with them.  Yet, a pure restorative yoga practice includes poses that are supported with props, such as blankets, pillows, and bolsters, and held for 10 to 20 minutes to allow the muscles to release built up tension.  So consider seeking out a restorative yoga class in your neck of the woods and pencil it in your calendar.  If you would prefer to try it right now, find yourself near a wall (or the back of a closed door), lie down on your right side and scoot your hips close to (but NOT touching) the wall, and then slowly roll onto your back and you lift your legs to the sky and rest the heels on the wall.  For even more comfort and support of your PNS, place a pillow or folded blanket under your hips/sacrum. Hold this pose as long as you feel able, then slowly roll to your side again, and wait at least 3 breaths before pushing yourself back up to a seated pose.  Check in with yourself before standing up and returning to the next item on your “To Do” list.
  5. Yoga Nidra.  This practice is also known as “yogic sleep”.  It is a guided meditation that encourages the mind to drop into deeper states of consciousness.  There are 5 levels of brain waves in the human mind. Gamma waves reflect active thought, Beta waves are present much of our waking time, when we are alert and working, Alpha waves reflect a more relaxed and reflective experience, Theta waves are experienced as a state of drowsiness and meditation, while Delta waves occur while we are sleeping and dreaming. Yoga Nidra creates a space for the mind to experience a more steady Theta wave experience, even floating between Theta and Delta wave states, supporting the activation of the PNS.  It has been said that 1 hour of Yoga Nidra is equal to 4 hours of sleep.  You can find free Yoga Nidra meditations on-line, so find your pillow and blanket and check one out soon!

Spreading the word, expanding awareness, lifting consciousness – healing trauma with yoga!

Growing up in a family that was “broken” by divorce for multiple generations, I experienced a great deal of stress as a young child navigating the after-effects of such an interpersonal event without any logical awareness that such an event would someday be viewed as trauma.  Many people may view post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a condition that predominately affects our military service members.  And while it is true that research focusing on veterans returning from war contributed significantly to the creation of a formal diagnosis of PTSD, the experience of combat is not the only source of trauma leading to this diagnosis.

To support efforts to bring more awareness to the experience of trauma during PTSD Awareness Month, I want to first highlight what type of events and/or experiences may underlie the diagnosis of (complex) PTSD and second, recent research that suggests yoga is a promising complementary treatment that not only helps to reduce the symptoms of PTSD but also supports personal growth, including increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude, acceptance, and empowerment.

According to the National Center for PTSD, types of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include:

  • Combat and other military experiences
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Learning about the violent or accidental death or injury of a loved one
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Serious accidents, like a car wreck
  • Natural disasters, like fire, tornado, hurricane, flood or earthquake
  • Terrorist attacks

And as I talked about last month, the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) measured additional types of childhood trauma, leading to a diagnosis of complex PTSD, including the following:

  • Personal trauma
    • Physical abuse
    • Verbal abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Physical neglect
    • Emotional neglect
  • Trauma related to other family members
    • A parent who is an alcoholic
    • A mother who is a victim of domestic violence
    • A family member in jail
    • A family member diagnosed with a mental health disorder
    • The disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment

As the understanding of how the human body-mind interprets situations that don’t appear immediately life-threatening from the casual observer but none-the-less traumatizing to the person grows, it is vital that alternative treatments beyond medication and therapy be considered when considering the percentage of the overall population impacted by such experiences.  When considering complex PTSD which stems from a child’s inability to utilize the body’s natural “flight or fight” distress response to escape from a destructive family dynamic, such as the psychological ware zone of a contentious divorce, the body is forced into a freeze response for survival.

In this freeze state, the body is still full of adrenaline and cortisol, yet the child shuts down, dissociating from the body’s natural response sensing its inability to help.  At this point of development, the logical brain’s cognitive abilities to understand and act are still forming, so the body and mind are at odds, where the body continually senses danger yet the mind feels helpless to relieve the threat.  Symptoms that reflect a diagnosis of complex PTSD include:

  • Loss of emotional and physical awareness
  • Dissociative episodes
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Difficulty regulating emotions, such as anger
  • Somatic complaints, such as headaches and stomach aches
  • Overdeveloped sense of responsibility
  • Chronic sense of guilt
  • Difficulty trusting people or feeling intimate
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness

As a “thriver” post PTSD and a trauma-informed yoga practitioner, teacher, and psychotherapist, I understand the need to engage both the body and mind along the healing journey toward re-integration and balance after trauma.  So it is not only important to familiarize ourselves with the nature and impact of trauma but it is vital to know what treatments are available and found to be effective so we can guide our loved ones with compassion towards healing and provide hope.

My own journey of healing first led me to the traditional psychotherapy experience, which did help to move me from victim to survivor through awareness and understanding.  However, I still found myself chronically anxious and easily triggered into an unbalanced state of mind.  Then I found myself in a yoga class.  I was immediately hooked by the change I experienced in my body that day, although not completely aware of what the change was exactly.  After integrating a regular physical yoga pose and breath practice on the mat into my life, I increasingly became aware of a palpable sense of relaxation in my body and a sense of peace in my heart.  My breath pattern became a reflection of my state of mind and a guide toward maintaining balance in my body-mind connection.  I learned that I could control my breath and when I focused on my breath I was able to change my reaction to a trigger to a response to a stimulus.  I found that the breath creates space to keep the body-mind aligned when navigating the world.  As I continued my practice and explored additional mindfulness techniques over time, my capacity for gratitude and compassion grew, I felt more connected to myself and others, I was more accepting and less judgmental, and my ability to remain centered even in chaos has steadily increased.

With my own personal healing journey as evidence that body-mind strategies are necessary to turn off the sympathetic nervous system and release chronic tension in the body, and reflect to discover the beauty in our challenges, I am excited to share some recent research that supports my experience with yoga as an important treatment option for complex PTSD.  In this study, 31 adult women with PTSD related to chronic childhood trauma participated in a 10-week Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TSY) class.  For the results, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Build Resilience

“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind.  The goal is to find it.” ― Buddha

We all experience challenges in our life that cause us pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual. Adversity is a fact of life and part of the common human condition.  So accepting this fact might be the first step towards improving our health and well-being and reducing the suffering that accompanies the inevitable painful experiences of this life.

Research on resilience has shown that increasing our levels of resiliency correlates with improved overall health. Resilience can be defined as the ability to adapt well to change or bounce back after adversity.  Life can be hard at times, but I won’t buy into the mantra that life is hard.  If we can learn to go with the flow of life more quickly and stop banging our heads on the same wall thinking we will get a different result, we might just realize that life is full of beauty in any given moment or circumstance.

The human spirit  is quite adaptive and resilient naturally and the road to such resiliency is loaded with potholes.  It is the ongoing process of learning how to navigate the potholes of life that actually builds resiliency.    That’s the good news – we all can continue to learn new ways to build our resiliency, and thus our health, and I offer 5 practices below for your reflection and consideration:
  1. Seek the Silver Lining!.  Yoga, commonly understood to mean union, provides an alternative view of life than our culture, where independence – or being separate from others – is the goal if you want to be happy.  When you view life through the lens of being separate, it guides you to pick a side, such as I am either happy or sad. However, when you view life through a yogic lens, or take a non-dual approach, then you realize you can’t experience happiness without sadness.  And this applies to all emotions, thoughts, circumstances and experiences.  So, the next time you hit a pothole in life, let it stop you for a moment of reflection and search for the goodness – the benefit – of the situation.  If you search long and hard enough, you will always find the silver lining – and it might just be more valuable than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!!
  2. Move Toward the Pain.  You will never be able to escape the pain, no matter how fast you run or how many things you add to your “To Do” list to distract yourself.  The only way to get to the other side of pain, is through it. If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it.  So, once again, when you realize that you have hit a pothole in life, take a moment to get curious about the pain.  Ask yourself, what is this pain telling me or what can I learn from this pain?  Pain, and the accompanying mixed emotions, have great wisdom to offer and will revisit us often if we don’t learn to appreciate our natural emotional intelligence!
  3. Give Your Heart a Workout.  The art of giving to, and receiving from, others has been shown to build empathy, compassion and gratitude, which have been shown to reduce harmful chemicals in our bodies while increasing positive hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and serotonin.  Giving to others does not need to be something tangible, like money or food.  You might simply set an intention to give each person you interact with during one day a silent blessing, such as “may you too find happiness” or “may you live life with joy and ease”. Then reflect at the end of the day on how your heart feels.  What may be harder for many of us is to gracefully accept the help of others when offered – receiving support is counter to our culture of independence.  But just remember how you felt after your day of offering silent blessings to everyone you met and remind yourself that you make others feel good about themselves when you accept their generosity, whether it is their time or compassionate ear.
  4. Vibe with Your Tribe.  Connect with friends and family that you know will understand what you are going through. Good relationships have been shown to increase resiliency during times of change.  If you have a tendency to isolate yourself when you experience a painful situation, know that just being in the presence of other caring and compassionate people will be the balm to soothe the soul.  If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s ok. Instead you might join a community event or find yourself in a yoga class with your favorite teacher!
  5. Perform Daily Acts of Self-care.  Being kind to yourself does not mean you are selfish or lazy.  It means you are committed to your health!  And when you are healthy, you are in a better position to bring your gifts to the world. One of the most effective daily self-care practices is to take regular mental breaks throughout the day, even if it is only a minute or two each hour.  Stopping what you are doing, closing your eyes, and taking 10 slow deep breaths allows the body and mind to process and integrate information taken in through our five senses.  If you have more time, find yourself out in nature, maybe for a short walk or a longer hike, paying attention to your surroundings and what your five senses are experiencing in the moment.  Laughter has also been shown to reduce tension, so watching a funny video or show might just be what the doctor orders!  Just set an intention to do at least one activity a day that you enjoy or that you find relaxing for one week and then reflect on how you experienced your week overall.  Let me know what you discover!

Transgenerational trauma transmission – What does our childhood experiences tell us about our future health, both body and mind?

The month of May was proclaimed National Mental Health Awareness Month back in 2013 and, as I indicated in my last Talk Therapy reflection in March, I want to share more about the research around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the resulting developmental trauma, and the long-term impact on body-mind health.  The intention behind this reflection is to bring more awareness to the underlying causes of dis-ease and, through such awareness, expand our collective capacity for compassion for those suffering from the effects of early childhood trauma.  It is only through more education and awareness that our society will move in the direction of prevention by aligning resources with ways to stop the causes and turn away from just focusing on the treatment of the symptoms.

I also want to mention right up front that it is not my intention to place blame as that would be an attempt to simplify a very complex human condition.  As one of my dear colleagues once said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.  However, when we know better, we do better.”  Therefore, as you read this reflection and maybe read more about the research on this topic, I hope you will come to see, as I did, that our traumatic experiences are not isolated and, in fact, most likely emanate from past generations living through similar experiences without the resources that are available today.

The first ACE study that began in 1995 was conducted in collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization in southern California.  The participants, over 17,000 patients with health insurance were asked to complete a confidential questionnaire that asked about childhood maltreatment and family dysfunction to identify any relationships between specific ACE and known risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol/drug abuse, for chronic disease.  Since this first study, many studies have been done to validate the original results, using larger and more diverse population samples to assess if the exposure to ACE increases the risk of adult disease and disability. If you are interested in reading more, the CDC website (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/journal.html) contains a listing of journal articles by topic area.

The original study included seven categories of ACE, including abuse (physical, psychological, sexual), domestic violence (violence against mother), and household dysfunction due to any members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned.  Future studies expanded the ACE categories to include family dysfunction due to divorce and to track alcohol and other drug abuse separately.

What all of these studies have come to show is that ACEs are more common than any of us would want to know.  These studies have also shown that a majority of ACEs are not experienced in isolation, meaning that if children experienced one ACE they probably experienced more than one ACE, guiding future research to investigate the cumulative impact of multiple childhood traumas on the development of disease.  In addition, the higher the cumulative ACE score, the greater association with many mental, physical, emotional, and social problems, including substance use and abuse.

Expanding our awareness of what constitutes an ACE and the fact that ACEs impact the neurodevelopment of children, disrupting the healthy development of the human nervous system, begins to open our minds and hearts.  Deepening our understanding further that a damaged nervous system may guide children toward unhealthy coping strategies to survive the complex traumas they have lived through, opens the door to compassion, instead of judgment and punishment, by helping us all to realize that these unhealthy behaviors were not a choice these children made, but were normal, natural adaptive responses to inhumane conditions that they found themselves in by no choice of their own.

If you are interested in learning more about how ACEs are being assessed or to determine your own ACE score, click on the ACE SCORE CALCULATOR button below.

If you would like to read a summary of the ACEs study data presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), including prevention efforts based upon this growing awareness and understanding of developmental trauma, click on the SAMHSA button below.

 

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Celebrate Earth Day

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. — William Shakespeare

The scientific research on climate change indicates that humans need to step up and start making changes to support Mother Earth.  We might think to ourselves “But what can I do, I’m only one person?”  Remember even small steps, taken by many, add up and the choices we make can have a significant impact on slowing climate change when viewed from a broader, more global lens. And when we take time to honor Mother Earth’s abundance, we too reap the rewards knowing we are connected to such abundance and beauty!

Earth Day has been honored each year on April 22nd since 1970 in the US.  In 1990, Earth Day went global.   According to Earth Day Network (www.earthday.org), “More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.”  So know that you are not alone even if you decide to honor this special day in your own way, on your own!

Below are just a few ideas that you might consider trying:

  1. Community Cleanup.  This idea can be as simple as grabbing a large garbage bag, going to your favorite outdoor spot, and picking up as much garbage as you can carry or it can be as elaborate as organizing a community cleanup of a local park or beach.  Or maybe it is something in between, like inviting a few a your neighbors to join you to clean up an area that has been neglected and then celebrate together afterwards with a pot luck lunch or dinner.  Or you could join a community cleanup that has already been organized for your favorite park or beach.  Remember, no effort is too small when it comes to expressing our gratitude for Mother Earth’s support and nurturing!
  2. Grow Food.  Again, this idea might be to simply start with your favorite herb or it might be to plant an entire garden of your favorite vegetables.  Or if you have always wanted to have a fruit tree in your yard, consider adding one this year!  If you don’t have a yard where you can start a garden or plant a tree, no worries, start with your favorite herb and put it on a windowsill.  Growing just one thing that can be enjoyed by your entire family is a great way to connect with and honor Mother Earth.
  3. Unplug.  You can interpret this intention in one of two ways and both are wonderful!  One way is to consciously unplug appliances when not in use. Your efforts will not only reduce your electric bill but also reduce overall electricity consumption.  Another way to unplug is to leave your smart phone, computer, or any other electronic device at home while spending time outside listening to the music nature makes for our listening pleasure. Try this for a whole day and check in at the end of the day to sense what might have shifted inside.  You might discover that the body asks you to unplug more!
  4. Go Paperless.  Have you thought about switching from receiving your bills in the mail to e-bills?  Well, Earth Day is a great day to set the intention to do so and help save our trees.  Remember we breathe in the oxygen trees produce, so by saving trees, we are saving ourselves!
  5. Replace Light Bulbs.  If you haven’t already, maybe consider replacing any traditional incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones to save yourself time and money, while once again relieving some of the pressure on Mother Earth.  According to Energy.gov, replacing the five most used light bulbs in your home with ENERGY STAR versions can save you $75 a year.  After changing over my light bulbs several years ago, I actually can’t remember the last time I changed a bulb.  Energy.gov’s comparison of a 60W traditional bulb’s life of 1000 hours to an equivalent 12W LED bulb’s life of 25,000 hours allows me to stop worrying about having to stock up on light bulbs!