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The Stigma of Stuttering – Can Direct Neurofeedback Improve Speech Fluency?

If you know – or have ever known – someone that struggles or struggled with stuttering, then you most likely are aware of how physically and mentally exhausting it can be for them to communicate as they attempt to control the disruptions in their speech caused by this neurodevelopmental condition.  And when we realize that this condition typically begins before the age of 6 and impacts about 5% of preschool children, then I’m sure that most of us can imagine how children might develop additional mental and emotional challenges, such as anxiety, embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem, that most likely will have a significant impact on how they experience life as they grow up.

The good news is that many children outgrow this condition as their brains continue to develop.  With the help of speech therapy, many others will be able to learn how to slow down their speech enough to manage the disruptions.  However, some (approximately 1%) will continue to stutter for a lifetime.  Research focused on these adults is beginning to show changes in the actual structures of the brain when compared to adults without this neurodevelopmental condition.  This is great news as it allows for exploration of treatments known to impact those brain structures.

Once such treatment, direct neurostimulation is beginning to gain some traction in the realm of research on stuttering.  There may be variations in the neurostimulation technique; however, the treatment is non-invasive and includes the delivery of direct, low-intensity electrical currents to the scalp.  If the intensity of the electrical current is higher, it will work to change the neurons (stimulating or reducing neural firing), while lower intensity currents will work with the brainwaves, specifically disrupting dysfunctional brainwaves patterns and supporting the brain’s innate ability to organize and regulate itself.  Either way, these treatments that gently work to stimulate the brain directly are bringing hope to those who continue to be challenged by this condition into adulthood.

So, if you, a loved one or someone else you know is part of the 1% of the adult population still dealing with this neurodevelopmental condition, consider reading the recent research by clicking on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Open Your Heart

November is National Gratitude Month!

The ‘attitude of gratitude’ is finally having its day . . . or an entire month!  Research focused on the benefits of cultivating more gratitude in your life is showing many measurable psychological, physical and interpersonal benefits, such as lower blood pressure, less feelings of isolation and loneliness, and higher levels of positive emotions, including compassion.  If you are interested, you can read my personal experience below (Heart and Soul Healing Reflections) to learn how the practice of writing down what we are grateful for significantly impacted my own journey of healing, inspired by a recent research study validating this anecdotal experience.

Also, below I have offered some simple practices you might explore to celebrate this month and kick start your own gratitude practices.  I encourage you to set a global intention as you try out some of these practices of focusing on your heart center and lean into the sensation of creating space for expanding the sense of appreciation, for what we have in our lives, for others and for ourselves.

  1. Say Thank You!  As we grew up, somewhere along the line, we were told to say “Please” and “Thank You” to others that do something kind for us to be polite.  Maybe our ancestors instinctively sensed that the act of saying “Thank You” had a more profound purpose.  My suggestion for consideration is to delve a bit deeper into the act of expressing this form of appreciation to another by bringing more awareness to this expression, being more conscious in our choice of when, how and to whom we express it.  For example, instead of simply saying “Thank You’ to someone that holds the door open for you as you enter a store, you might slow down and say “Thank you for being so kind and considerate to take the time to hold the door for me today.  I truly appreciate it”.  And then watch, listen and sense into the response!  And, if you are feeling even more adventurous, you might try it with a dear friend or family member.  Set an intention in the morning to catch a loved one “doing something good” and when you do observe them in the act, stop and thank them for what they did.
  2. Focus on the Positive.  Even when things in our life don’t go as planned, if you take some time to sit with the experience, you will be able to discover a unexpected benefit of the change in plans.  By doing so does not necessarily diminish the immediate impact of the sadness or disappointment; however, searching and finding the silver lining and appreciating the benefit has the amazing power of shifting us into an experience of more positive energy, creating space for a more balanced, equilibrated perspective and sense of being.  Consider trying it out today!
  3. Create kindness.  Here’s a fun idea you can do as a craft with friends and family and then share with anyone and everyone.  Collect a bunch of rocks and write something kind on each one.  Then go around your neighborhood or office park and place them where they can be easily found. To read more about this movement started by Megan Murphy, check out this website:  https://www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.  Trust that your message will find the right person at just the right time to change their life!  After you have placed your rock messages around, take some time to sit with yourself and reflect on how the experience in your heart has expressed itself.
  4. Honor our Service Members.  Feeling like you might want to stretch yourself a bit this month and go beyond our borders?  Perhaps consider writing a ‘thank you’ note or letter to a Service member.  Our Active Duty Service members are dedicated to making a difference in our lives without even knowing us.  And, although they may not admit it to many, combat is a scary place, even more so without the comforts of home for some solace.  Receiving an unexpected thank you from a stranger, acknowledging their contributions and sacrifice, might just fan their internal flame of dedication and validate their motivation to serve and protect our freedoms.  Check out Operation Gratitude to learn more about sharing your appreciation with the troops and cracking your own heart wide open!
  5. Write a letter to yourself!  Or maybe this month you are feeling a bit more reflective and sensing your heart needs a more intimate approach to cultivating gratitude.  Then may I recommend writing a ‘thank you’ letter to yourself.  The ultimate practice of kindness might be to express kindness to yourself.  See if you can identify at least 10 aspects that you love about yourself.  Maybe ask someone you care about deeply to do this practice with you and consider sharing what you come up with by saying them out loud to each other.  Again, sit a few moments afterwards to sense into the experience, especially noting the sensations around the heart.  I would love to hear about your observations!

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!

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!

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!!

Heart Rate Variability, Stress Reactivity, and Diaphragmatic Breathing – How Yoga’s Basic 3-part Breath Practice Supports Body-Mind Health

One of the designations for the month of May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month with the social media message of #MoveInMay.  So in support of this awareness effort, I would like to share the benefits of learning how to move your diaphragm to support your body-mind fitness!  Yes, that large skeletal muscle that divides our chest cavity from our abdominal cavity.  Did you know that the diaphragm is the primary muscle responsible for our ability to breath?

When I attended my first yoga class, I struggled with the instruction to allow my belly to expand on the inhale and to pull my belly button in on the exhale.  This was due to several societal messages that informed me that I needed to hold my belly in to look thinner and to hold in my powerful emotions as it was not acceptable (or safe) to reveal such feelings openly.  I had become what is referred to as a “reverse breather” where I held my belly in on the inhale and let it soften on the exhale.  Reverse breathing keeps the diaphragm from participating in the natural breath process, slowly starving the body of the oxygen it needs to function optimally.

When we get stressed navigating overwhelming situations, our bodies naturally react by pulling and holding the belly in, while our minds support the stuffing of our emotions down deep in the well of the body.  So for most of us who have suffered some adverse childhood event or events that traumatized our bodies and minds, allowing our breath to release the tight grip in our bellies is scary!  So reconnecting to this powerful muscle might be a slow process for many and yet, the research is showing that the effort is well worth the reward of improving our overall body-mind-spirit health.

A new measure of our health status, known as heart rate variability (HRV), is being researched as a marker for overall body-mind health identified through imbalances in our autonomic nervous system (ANS), between the sympathetic (flight/fight) and parasympathetic (rest/digest) branches, as reflected by the variation in time between heart beats.  When the variability is low, your overall health is reduced and we experience life as more stressful.  When there is greater variability, your overall health is increased and your ability to navigate stress is improved.  We may not have any conscious control over our ANS and the beat of our hearts; however, this does not mean that we have no way to impact our HRV to improve our overall health and well-being.

Recent research out of the University of Pennsylvania showed that learning to re-engage our diaphragm in our breath process has a direct, positive impact on HRV.  The research studied indices of physiological stress reactivity in varsity athletes before and after introducing a task that created cognitive stress.  Slow diaphragmatic breathing was shown to significantly increase HRV, while also reflecting a trend toward greater relaxation.  So if we are not able to eliminate stress in our lives, we now know we can simply look to one of our most basic processes of life – respiration – for relief.  And with that inner resource to relieve the external stressors of life, we can improve our health – body, mind, and spirit!

If you would like to read more about this research, click on the button below:

 

Does the ability to be self-aware of our inner emotional world contribute to our mental health?

In March of last year, I explored alexithymia when reflecting on how this difficulty in identifying, describing, and feeling our emotional world may be a factor in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), specifically how early childhood trauma impacts the developmental ability to integrate thinking and feeling.  I find myself revisiting this topic again due to recent research that suggests alexithymia has a role in anxiety and depression in general, placing an even greater emphasis on the importance of the intelligence of our emotional experiences and the need to promote both self-awareness, and cultural acceptance of emotional expression as a way to improve mental health.

From my own personal experience growing up, I spent a great deal of energy navigating between the emotional overload of one parent (AKA chaos) and the emotional desert (AKA rigidity) of the other.  Initially, rigidity was winning the battle as I did everything that I knew how to in order to suppress my emotions, including disassociating from them altogether and relying heavily on logical intelligence to figure life out.  What rigidity taught me was how to be on my own, embracing the cultural value of independence and discounting the need for human connection (or is it the human need for connection?).  What I came to understand many years later is that you cannot ignore your emotional world for long without severe consequences.

In holding on to my basic right to autonomy so tightly, I kept the door closed to connecting with others, viewing their emotional needs as monsters that would eat away at my independence.  I used to say “I don’t need anyone.  I may want you in my life, but I certainly don’t need you!”  At that point, all I understood was that if I was not independent, I would be judged as co-dependent and needy, which was not acceptable and dangled rejection over my head.  I didn’t know that neither end of the spectrum (from dependent to independent) was ideal for my overall health and well-being.  When I started to learn that humans are part of a complex system that requires interdependence to thrive, I was able to start the journey towards wholeness, unlocking the doors that had been holding my intense, seemingly uncontrollable emotions out to be heard.  The anxiety that I felt for most of my life was because I had rejected those parts of myself that I thought would make me unacceptable in the world.  As I learned to listen to my emotions and the wisdom they had to offer, I was able to accept all parts of my human self and to open my heart to deeper connections with others.

The lessons of both my familial and societal cultures had impaired my emotional self-awareness and my sense of the emotional experiences of others and thus my ability to emotionally connect with others, creating a great deal of anxiety.  With the support of a kind and patient therapist, I was able to allow myself to feel again, learn to reconnect with my emotions by giving them names, listen for understanding as to why those emotions arose, and, perhaps most importantly, that by allowing them to flow through me instead of denying them, learn to value them as much as my logical intelligence bringing more balance and compassion to my experience of the world.

So, how excited was I when I read this research that reflects how experiencing difficulties with identifying, describing and feeling emotions (alexithymia) explains the association between finding the healthy balance of interdependence (autonomy-connectedness) with anxiety and depression as it validated my personal journey.  Prior to this research, evidence showed that the concept of autonomy-connectedness was related to anxiety and depression, yet little was known about the underlying causes.  The results of this research offer guidance to mental health practitioners when supporting people experiencing anxiety and depression, specifically assessing, supporting, and increasing emotional awareness.

If you would like to read more on this research, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Reduce Stress

“We can never attain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”― Dalai Lama

The month of April, among other things, has been designated Stress Awareness Month.  The first step to making any change in our life is awareness.  Without awareness, we tend to  continue on our journeys doing the same old things, repeating old patterns, all while hoping the results will be different.

With awareness comes understanding, which leads to compassion and choice.  One of the best habits we can develop for our body/mind/spirit health is learning our personal triggers and noticing when and where we feel stress.  To this end, below are some ideas to consider to support this healthy habit:

  1. Understand common sources of stress.  Change – good or bad – tends to create stress.  Therefore, recognizing the amount of change we are experiencing in the moment can help the mind to understand why we might not feel ourselves.  With this awareness and understanding, we might be more willing to offer ourselves some compassion, letting that compassion support our next choice.  We all might recognize that the loss of a partner or other loved one as being stressful, yet we might not be as aware that marriage, pregnancy, retirement from work, quitting smoking, vacation, and/or moving to a new home are stress producing life events.  Consider taking a moment to complete the Life Change Index Scale (The Stress Test) to deepen your understanding of what life events are considered stressful and determine your current level of stress from those events.
  2. Know the symptoms of PTSD.  The source of our stress might not be coming from our current experience of change but may be emanating from a past experience of trauma.  Most of us are aware that war Veterans may experience Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); however, many (I dare say most) of us are not aware that PTSD can be a result of early adverse childhood experiences such as divorce, having a parent with a mental health challenge and/or addiction, and/or witnessing domestic violence, non-the-less more overt abuse and neglect. Consider taking a moment to complete the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Questionnaire to determine your ACE score and how your childhood experiences may be impacting your current body/mind/spirit health.
  3. Identify where you experience stress in the body.  Once you have gained a greater awareness of what life events (past and present) cause change and stress, consider taking a moment to sit in reflection, welcoming your stress to be present in your awareness, and sense into your body.  We all experience stress in our bodies differently.  Some of us might experience headaches/migraines.  Others might experience digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  And others may experience frequent, diffuse muscular and nerve pain.  Our bodies hold great wisdom, so taking the time to welcome the sensations and notice where the mind’s awareness is drawn into the body, contributes to the foundation of the healthy habit of acknowledging when and where we are experiencing stress.
  4. Give yourself permission to learn to relax.  Many of us were not taught to value fun and relaxation as a basic human need.  In fact, I think the message most of us sensed was that we must work hard to be successful (whatever the definition of success might be for each of us) which does not leave time and space for anything else.  So know that it is up to you to challenge that message by embracing a new message, one that allows you to prioritize you.  Prioritizing your self-care is not selfish!  It is absolutely necessary to find balance and peace and health!!  Therefore, consider finding what works for you, whether it is movement, writing, connecting with others, anything that is a way to release stress from the body and mind and give yourself permission to just do it.
  5. Set limits.  I discovered a mantra many years ago that I found very freeing:  Say no so others can grow.  And yes, it can be easier to say than do!  However, with a little practice and a change in perspective, you will find it gets easier.  The change in perspective is seeing “saying no” as a gift you are giving the other person (and also to yourself!).  For example, when teaching a little one to tie their shoes, at some point you must say to them, “No, I’m not going to do it for you today as I know you know how to do it yourself.”  And, although they might get mad and cry (and even scream), if you stick it out, the joy they experience once they have done it themselves is the gift.  When you can really embrace this new perspective, you will begin to think “Who am I to think I have to do everything myself and rob others of opportunities for growth?”  If one of your personal values is growth then saying no to others can be seen as the necessary rain for the growth of others (and, oh, by the way, for yourself).  Setting limits in this way results in growth while reducing stress by reducing the probability that we will overcommit ourselves

Increasing stress and anxiety in children – can yoga help?

Although my adolescent days are several decades behind me, I still clearly remember the stress I experienced during those years, not only from the academic pressures but from the social pressure to “fit in”, while trying to manage potentially conflicting expectations from family and friends.  Unfortunately, I was not taught ways to manage that stress, although I had to take PE classes and voluntarily participated in sports regularly after school.  So, when I moved through my early adult years and began to work full-time, I attempted to continue to participate in those sports to help relieve the chronic stress I felt, only to discover that it wasn’t working.  The only relief I discovered at that time was planning and taking vacations, where I found I didn’t want “to do” anything but relax.  And there was simply not enough vacation time to effectively create the required balance in my life to reduce the growing anxiety I was experiencing.

It wasn’t until I found yoga – in mid-life – that I experienced an immediate sense of release of tension, stress, and anxiety.  I still tell people that ask me about yoga “I wish I found yoga at 4, instead of 40!”, although I am eternally grateful for finding it at all, as it truly has been a life saver.  So when I read the recent research on how yoga can help children cope with stress and manage their anxiety symptoms, my heart’s sense of gratitude grew even more.

Eight published studies were reviewed together and found that school children who regularly practice yoga show an improved ability to cope with stress and anxiety.  And with the majority of children reporting growing academic pressures to achieve, along with more challenging family life with both parents needing to work outside of the home, it’s about time we offer our children a life-time tool to create more balance in their bodies and minds.  What makes yoga different than the typical physical education classes currently offered in schools is that it is a meditative movement practice and it does not have a competitive focus.  There are no winners or losers.  There is no forming of teams, leaving some children feeling inadequate in some way when they are picked last (or not at all) to join a team.  It is most often practiced in a group setting, yet the practice encourages and welcomes individualized, unique experiences.  It is a practice that can be done by everyone, regardless of size, shape, strength or flexibility level, and/or any other physical limitation, such as chronic health conditions, including asthma or diabetes.

The review article looked at the interventions, which incorporated postures, breath, concentration, and meditation that are different paths or parts of a full yogic practice, and came to the conclusion that these combined features of yoga, when practiced regularly by children, provide an accessible tool to reduce stress and anxiety.  The author also recommended that yoga should be integrated into schools.  It is my personal belief that by offering yoga to children – even before they enter school – sets them up not only for success in life but happiness too.  And don’t our children deserve that balance!