Oh, Everyday

As everyone is returning to school, I hear parents talking about ‘getting back into a routine’ for the kids. Returning to school is a big transition in a kid’s life as they are being placed in a new environment with new people, new situations, and new stressors. Parents recognize the benefits of routine for their kids as it provides stability, predictability, and comfort for the child’s nervous system. This helps the child feel more secure and at ease.

As we get older, we tend to forget that we have the same nervous system that our kids do. Routine is good for everyone and it has the same calming effect on an adult nervous system as it does on a child’s. As adults, we become more creative in how we distract, ignore, and numb the signals our brains and bodies send to us as a plea for more security and ease, but these interventions are all short-term fixes.

If it helps, think of your nervous system as a child that needs to be attended to and given a routine. This is all about getting back in to rhythm with nature and what your brain and body need to feel their best.

Over time, we burn out when we continually work against what our system naturally needs. Creating a routine in our daily living can help us to feel more calm and cope with the stressors of life with more ease. Here are a few simple ways to create routine that will lead to an increased sense of security and calm:

  1. Go to bed at the same time every night. Yes, every night. Even weekends. This can help send the signal to your body and brain that it is time to go to sleep and can improve your quality of sleep. Creating a night-time routine to help the body wind down and get tired by unplugging from electronics, connecting with those you live with, and dimming the lights in your home will make bedtime more enjoyable.
  2. Get up at the same time every morning. Yes, again, every morning. This too can help to reset your circadian rhythm and signal your brain to know when it is time to wake up and be alert. Regular rest and wake times can improve energy levels and decrease inflammation in the body. Think of your ‘ideal morning’ and create a routine to support your day starting off as well as possible. Allow yourself time to sit in silence, move your body, and move your bowels before rushing off into a stressful day.
  3. Eat your meals at the same time every day. This helps the body to know when fuel is coming and how to allocate the nutrients as you take them in. Again, predictability is helpful for the brain and the body and it frees up energy that can be used elsewhere. If you can meal plan for the week, this will free up even more energy that has been used on the decisions of what to eat at every meal.

As kids are returning to school, the seasons are beginning a transition as well. Summer is waning and the promise of Fall is on the horizon. This will also bring a change in environment and different stressors for the body to cope with. As parents we focus on what is best for our children, but good self-care should be counted as one of those things. We all know that rest is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, but we believe that we do not have ‘time’ to rest. In times of transition, routine can provide the stability and sense of rest that the nervous system needs to be able to better handle the stress of the change. So, allow routine to be your way to rest from the inside out.

The more you rest, the better you will feel. And the better you feel, the easier it is to navigate times of transition or difficulty...

If you can make things easier on yourself, why wouldn’t you? Creating routine in your life is a simple way to increase ease and calm. If you feel like you want some support in the process, reach out. I would be happy to help.

I will be working on my own routine right along side you. We can do it together.

Chat again soon,

k

Loosen Your Grip

In our lives, we experience a pulsation between different poles or pairs of opposites. In Ayurveda, we call this pulsation ‘spanda’ and we experience it every day, every hour, every minute in both our inner and outer environments.

One such pulsation that has been popping up on my personal and professional radar most recently is that between contraction and expansion. All of our experiences in pulsation serve a purpose and all are needed, but sometimes, we get stuck on one end of the spectrum and that’s when problems arise.

Contraction is a tightening, a clamping down, a holding on, and this can occur for us both physically and mentally. In the extreme, contraction is the opposite of growth and it is all of the ways that we attempt to control, close ourselves off, stay stagnant, and brace ourselves for ‘what might happen’. Contraction can be a form of not trusting, not allowing, and defintely not going with the flow.

Expansion is a relaxing, an opening, a letting go. Expansion is allowing things to happen and trusting that the universe knows what it is doing. Expansion is opening our minds and our hearts to new opportunities, new ideas, and new ways of functioning. In the nervous system, expansion is experiencing rest and digest rather than fight or flight. Expansion brings ease.

Expansion is Life

There are so many ways that we contract on a daily basis and many of those contractions come out of fear. When we refuse to see a different perspective, when we get angry because things didn’t go the way we had planned, when we hold on to resentments and blame, when we choose not to ask for help when we need it… these are all examples of contraction that can keep us stuck and work against growth.

Take a moment to breathe. Notice the natural expansion of the body with the in-breath; the space that is created within and the room that the body expands into as we draw in a full, deep breath. And then, notice the gentle contraction of the body with the out-breath; fully expelling all of the air, narrowing down, emptying in order to allow for the next breath. The contraction of exhalation is necessary for the expansion of inhalation to be possible.

We pulsate between the two and after contraction comes expansion. However, we can get stuck in one or the other and more frequently, it’s contraction, which causes a multitude of problems. When trauma occurs, our normal pulsation and flow of life stops. The nervous system can get stuck in a stimulated state and we experience fear, tension in the body, abrasiveness in our relationships, inability to relax, etc. This same thing can happen from chronic stress and many people are living in a state of contraction these days and then wondering why they are frequently ill, unhappy, and feeling stuck.

Begin to observe your own tendencies and notice when you are in contraction more than expansion. Over time, contraction will physically cause wear and tear, illness, and can eventually lead to disease. Emotionally, contraction can cause issues in our relationships, limit our ability to cope, and hinder our ability to feel positive emotions, leaving us depressed, anxious, and angry.

So, where do we start? First, we must become aware of when we are stuck in contraction. Next, we must take the one small step of letting go in some way. Perhaps that means taking a few slow, deep breaths or taking a break from the stressor for a bit or just talking to someone. But, if we are not aware of it, we can’t change it, so just noticing what is happening is always a great place to start.

Take some time this week and observe where you are contracting. It can become a habit to contract reactively, so we must practice becoming aware without judging ourselves. Then, we can start to open to other possibilities. Reach out if you don’t know what to do next. We can chat about it.

I am here, trying right along next to you. I’d be happy to help.

Chat again soon,

k

 

I’ve Got The Power

Is what you are doing every day taking you closer to being the person you want to be in the life you want to live? Or are your actions keeping you stuck right where you are? What you are doing regularly could even be moving you further away from where you want to be in your life. You have the power to feel how you want to feel in your mind and body, but it will take awareness and then effort.

In yoga, one of the ethical teachings is called Brahmacharya. (Pronounced much like it looks: ‘bra- ma- char- ya’) This teaching is about the allocation of your resources. It’s about assessing how you are using your energy every day. The best use of your energy to propel you in the direction you want to go in. This means your mental energies and the thinking patterns that you repeat over and over. It means your physical energy including your exercise or lack there of, what time you go to bed and what time you rise, and the sources of energy you are feeding your body. And it means your relational energies including who you spend time with and how you are interacting with them.

All of these things that we do on a daily basis, many times without even thinking about them, or while thinking that they will not have much of an impact on our lives or our future, are the very things that are keeping us stuck or moving us away from the goals that we have for ourselves. This makes things much harder than they need to be.

Assessing the use of our energy and making small adjustments can result in big changes toward the life we want to live. Brahmacharya is often described as moderation, but the idea of moderation can be one of limiting ourselves and feeling cheated out of doing what we want. This view will then lead us to rebel against the restriction and rebound in the opposite direction even further. You may also see brahmacharya defined as celibacy, but again, this definition can narrow the view. If we can simply use our energy to our own advantage in growing toward being the best version of ourselves, then we are practicing brahmacharya.

Brahmacharya will be expressed through making the small decisions every day that may seem inconsequential, but as we do so with our goals in mind, we start to make steady progress in the direction in which we want to go.

worth your energy

Let’s say your goal is to lose 10 lbs. Start to assess eating times, eating habits, and exercise habits on a daily basis. Pause and observe how you are making things harder than they need to be. And then, break it down into small doable changes that are so simple you feel compelled to do them. Try your small changes for a week and see how it feels. Reward yourself every time you do it- maybe with a pat on the back rather than a bag of M&Ms…

Or let’s say your goal is to change your thinking patterns and to stop beating yourself up mentally. First, you have to be aware the thoughts before you can change them. We often say things to ourselves that we would never say to others and then we minimize how powerful and hurtful those thoughts really are. Maybe you start by actually writing down the critical thoughts as they pop up throughout the day to see what’s really going on in your own head. You can always tear the paper up or burn it as you begin the journey of redirecting the thoughts to something more positive. When you catch yourself falling back into the negative thinking pattern, try to talk to yourself like you would your child or your best friend.

You truly can be who you want to be and feel how you want to feel, but that means living your life on purpose and doing things to support who you want to be. You have the power. And yes, I know some of you are thinking that this sounds so controlled or boring, but when you start to feel good in your mind and body, the last thing you are thinking is that it is boring.

Think about how you want to feel in your mind and your body in the next year. Are your daily habits supporting that goal? The little things that you are doing every day are  shaping who you are becoming.

Give it a try for a week and see how it goes. Don’t worry about forever right now.

Let me know how I can help. You know I will be practicing right along with you.

Chat again soon,

k

 

Be Here Now

I introduce people to meditation and teach how to start off with a small and simple practice. Meditation is beneficial in so many ways, but it is very overwhelming for many people. I frequently get feedback like “I tried to meditate, but I can’t empty my mind and have no thoughts”. Many also believe that meditation means only to sit in quiet stillness for an extended period of time.

But, really there are lots of different types of meditation and you can customize your practice to fit your needs. The intention is to settle the thoughts and direct the mind to one thing so that there isn’t as much processing happening in the brain. We are giving the brain a break from analyzing, planning, worrying, and thinking so much.

A simple way to begin a practice of meditation is with intermittent meditation- short periods of checking in throughout the day. And an effective way to direct the mind away from all of the thinking is by using a simple mantra.

A mantra is a sound, word, or phrase that is repeated over and over in the mind or aloud to give the mind direction. It can be in any language that feels comfortable to the user. However, I would suggest that if you choose to use a mantra in Sanskrit, (the language that yoga was originally written in), you do explore the meaning of the mantra. The intention is more important than the language.

Here I will offer 2 simple mantras that you can try.

The first is a simple Sanskrit mantra that is used silently with the breath. The mantra is ‘So Hum’. Simply think So on the inhalation and Hum on the exhalation. It means “I am that” or “I am that which I am becoming”. This mantra is about acknowledging our connection to the energy of the universe and leaning in to our evolution into the next, best version of ourselves.

So Hum

If you would prefer to try a mantra in English, ‘Just This’ can be used in the same way. Inhale and think Just and exhale and think This, bringing yourself into the present moment just as it is. This enables the mind to let go of all distractions in the moment and to be fully present.

Both of these mantras can be practiced anytime, anywhere, and for any length of time. It might be that you default to one of these mantras multiple times per day for just a few repetitions to calm the mind. Or you may sit and set a timer for 5-10 minutes for a more formal practice.

I have found that mantra is helpful all throughout the day no matter what I am doing as a way to keep my mind from wandering off to unhelpful places. I repeat mantra as I walk my dogs, as I do housework, as I drive, and in a seated practice.

So, try it out. Write the two words (and you can make up your own if the suggested mantras don’t fit for you) on a notecard and stick it in your dashboard or on your mirror. Repeat it when you see the card or every time you feel your mind wandering off to worry or stress. Breathe into it and see how your body feels in the moment.

Taking this short time out from our usual stressful thoughts can have amazing mental and physical effects on the body.

And, I will definitely be using mantra right along with you.

Chat again soon,

k

 

You Can Go and Love Yourself

Have you ever felt as if you just don’t belong? I would assume that we have all felt that way at some point in our journeys. But, for some people, this is a pervading sense of always being an outsider.

I remember being at a convention several years ago and feeling super excited to be there. I loved the association and had been a part of it for years. I was excited to go be among other people who had similar passions. However, standing in a huge ballroom full of other people who also supported what I supported, I felt as if I just wasn’t one of themI remember participating, but thinking to myself that I wasn’t like everyone else there. I had an overwhelming sense of pretending to fit and feeling all alone as an outsider.

As I have studied the ancient mind-body science of Ayurveda and have begun to teach others the daily habits of self-care for truly getting in touch with the body’s natural rhythms, I have begun to see that I felt like an outsider around others because I didn’t feel at home in my own body. Feeling that you don’t belong out there is inextricably tied to feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

I have perfectionistic tendencies and extreme standards, especially for myself. For years, starting in high school, I hated my body. I was constantly criticizing myself, comparing myself to others, and wishing that I looked a different way. I believed that because my appearance wasn’t like the models on the covers of magazines that I was ‘less than’.  I put tons of pressure on myself to prove my worth in other ways and had serious doubts that I was worth being around. I resented my body and felt as if I had no control over it at all. I judged myself as a failure for not being able to force my body into perfectionistic ideals that the media portrayed as the standard. These beliefs led to very unhealthy habits and disorders.

As I got into working out and learned more about nutrition, things got better, but I never really loved myself or accepted my body just as it was. I believed that I could beat my body into submission and I could accept it as good enough. I still didn’t feel great in my body or comfortably ‘at home’ in my own skin. I always felt as if I had something to prove to overcome this belief of lack.

Yoga made a big difference for me and for years, it was my mental and spiritual therapy. It still is. And then, I began learning about Ayurveda and this strange recommended daily habit of self-massage. At first, I read about it and cognitively learned the benefits and procedures, but still did not actually practice abhyanga or oil massage. And then I found a tribe of people who were also learning about Ayurveda and some of them expressed having the same doubts and experiences that I was having.

So, I tried it.

A post on chopra.com, tells us that “the Sanskrit word Sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love.” It is believed that the effects of Abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, Abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth.”

The practice of self-massage can actually be done with or without oil depending on your level of comfort and it is supremely nourishing for not only the body, but also for the spirit. I have experienced the magical transformation that occurs when the hands really get in touch with the body. I have also seen clients who are suffering from a great deal of anxiety and self-doubt experience remarkable transformation through this practice of abhyanga.

This practice is recommended to enable healing from all manner of trauma as well as eating disorders, body image disorders, anxiety disorders… the list goes on and on. Tuning in to the body with gratitude and appreciation every day is a remarkable way to feel as if you belong in your own body and in the universe.

Take Care of Your Body

Sometimes we also need the reminder that we are not our bodies. We are the spirits living inside of our bodies for this journey. And we will have this body for the entire ride, so it is important to feel comfortable and at home there. Also, our appearance, experiences, and abilities do not define our worth. We have worth simply because we are here.

If you are interested in trying self-massage, but using oil seems like too much, start by massaging your skin with your hands when you first wake in the morning. Use long strokes on the long bones and circles at the joints. Start at your feet and make your way up to your head to draw energy up and get ready for the day ahead.

Or you can start with giving yourself a foot massage when you get into bed at night. I love using a little coconut oil (it soaks in quickly) and massaging my toes, feet, ankles, and calves to help settle energy get ready for sleep.

If you want to feel like you belong, you have to start within. You can use your own hands as a way to shift your beliefs about yourself and how it feels to show up in the world. Give it a try.

You know I will be right here trying along with you. Every day.

Talk again soon,

k

You can check out the article on chopra.com here for more details and directions for your own self-massage practice: https://chopra.com/articles/the-benefits-of-ayurveda-self-massage-%E2%80%9Cabhyanga%E2%80%9D

When life is hard you have to change

Why doesn’t everyone just listen to me?! Seriously. I ask this question a lot. But, I also feel good in my body and I am passionate about sharing what has worked for me. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe some people don’t listen because they don’t need to. What they are doing is working for them, so then good choice! They should stick with what is working.

However, I come across a lot of people who are not happy and don’t feel good in their minds, bodies, and lives, and they also don’t seem to listen to anyone. Fear keeps them stuck and closed down. Change is really hard and it takes the willingness to open to new possibilities as well as the effort to actually do something different and out of our comfort zone.

First, we must be brave enough to admit that what we are doing is not working for us. It is keeping us stuck and not moving us toward the life we want to live or the person we want to be. We have to get really honest with ourselves and evaluate if we are on the path we want to be on or if we are going to look back years from now and wish we had done something different. This could pertain to all areas of our lives- our health, our relationships, our livelihood, etc.

Once we see that what we are doing is no longer working- although it may have worked for us at one time- it is important to identify WHY we want to change. The why will help us to stick with it when the going gets tough. The why will remind us of our goals and who we want to be. The why will carry us through when we doubt ourselves and why we started this whole changing thing to begin with. And your why may sound something like, “I am tired of being tired” or “I deserve to do something I love” or “I want to feel better in my body” or “I miss doing the things I love to do”, etc.

Finding-Your-Why-Quote

Next, we must be open to exploring options outside of what we have been doing. Maybe this means talking to friends about what they do, talking to a professional, or reading a book. This is where we begin to open our hearts and our minds up to trying something new. And to learn about new ways of doing things, we must listen to someone who is doing the different things. Even if it’s not me you are going to listen to…(I guess).

We must also recognize that the first different thing we try may not work for us at all. Or it may work a little, but not have life changing effects immediately. We can’t give up at this point. We revisit our why and keep trying. Remember, we most likely didn’t get to where we are in one day, so it will take some time to get to a new and better place. Aaaand we don’t have to put pressure on ourselves to make all of the changes at one time. Taking small steps toward how we want to feel and remembering why as we feel overwhelmed or frustrated will get us to the next one thing to do. Also, taking time frequently to look back at how far we have come is super helpful. Even if we just started working toward the change a few days ago, we are further toward our change than we were a few days ago. It’s ok to celebrate that!

Finally, we mustn’t try to do it alone. Asking for help along the way and identifying someone who has done it before can be a key factor in success. Ask them how they did it. Join a group of people who are on the same journey, find an accountability partner, approach a mentor or coach for the journey. Working toward change in a group of people who are also on the same path increases chances of success multiple times over. Maybe joining a group is one of the new things we might be trying. Be brave because that can serve as the springboard, propelling us into the person we are working so hard to be.

Life is not meant to be lived in fear or apathy or misery. Life is to be molded into what you want it to be, but we can’t expect to know how to do that on our own. There is no guidebook on how to be a human, but we can share experiences with each other for support along the way. There is no shame in asking someone else how they got where they are. In fact, this is what many successful people will tell you they have done!

Change is scary and we don’t know what to expect when we step out of our comfort zone, but we have to start to trust enough to try something new. Maybe we try it and it doesn’t work for us…but maybe it does!

Reach out, stretch yourself, and try something new so that you can start moving closer to that next best version of yourself.

You know I am right here trying with you.

Talk again soon,

k

 

 

 

You Spin Me Right Round

Things in nature don’t happen in a straight line. They unfold, unfurl, uncurl. Growth in our lives follows this same natural principle. So, when we expect our lives to go from point A to point B in a straight line, I’m sorry to tell you but, that’s literally not natural.

In nature, we can see examples of this beautiful sacred geometry in spirals. Things may end up looking like a straight line- a tree trunk, a flower stem, a fern frond, but they began in a curled up manner.

In our lives, we also evolve in a spiral shaped pattern. The growth spiral can be enlightening or maddening depending on how you respond to it. We often experience a challenge in our lives and afterward, we think that we are done with that never to be bothered by it again. But, that’s not necessarily true. Regardless of how we handle the issue the first time around- even if we feel that we handled it “perfectly”- that may not be the end of our experience. In the spiral of growth, things tend to come around again so that we can learn more, grow more, and understand more.

Once we recognize going through things more than once as an opportunity rather than some sort of universal punishment, we can be aware of what is happening and embrace it. This doesn’t mean that we automatically know what to do about it, but we may be able to see a way to respond differently this time around or learn something more about ourselves.

The magic of the growth spiral is that when things come back around, as they many times will, we don’t have to get mired down in the thought that we are stuck, but rather, moving forward on the spiral. Yes, the same situation is arising again, but this time, we have the advantage of being further up the spiral. We have lived through other experiences, we have seen this happen before, and hopefully, we have learned something along the way that will help us to handle it differently this time.

There are different theories as to why things come back around for us. Perhaps it’s our karma, perhaps our soul is still in need of the lesson to be learned, perhaps our ego is drawing us toward the same thing over and over. Or maybe it’s a bit of all of these things. Whatever the reason, rather than looking at how far away we are from where we want to be, we must learn to look at how far we have already come. And we must also work to accept where we currently are as a step forward.

We so often fight against where we already are, wishing things were different. But, if we can learn to accept where we are, allowing ourselves to be HERE, then we can continue to move forward and better see how we can grow from our present state.

Hermann Hesse

Often in therapy working with patients who are experiencing the same or similar challenges yet again, they lament and feel that they are “right back where they were”. However, when we focus the microscope and look at all of the little steps of progress that have been made along the way, they are able to see that they are further along the spiral and more equipped to handle the stress of the situation. Going through something more than once does not mean that you are a failure. It simply means that life is happening.

The next time something pops up in your life AGAIN, try to look at it as an opportunity to grow and to take a step closer to the person you want to be. Imagine how your best self would respond to the situation and do one thing that that person would do. Recognize how far you have come and what you have learned since the last time this popped up in your life. Practice gratitude for the awareness of recognizing this opportunity. Accept what is happening and recognize that you have the choice to crumble or to rise. I know that you can do it, one little step at a time.

Believe me, I am right here next to you trying as well.

Talk again soon,

k

 

 

 

 

Your Body is a Wonderland

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brady said, “My body is my asset,” in reference to taking care of himself and being strict with his habits. He talked about the fact that if his body is not working, he cannot do what he loves. And this is true not only for a supremely successful NFL quarterback, but for all of us. If we don’t take care of our bodies, we will be limiting ourselves and our lives- our livelihood- in a number of ways.

Soooo, we make the decision to start practicing healthier habits and we know what we should do, but our minds come up with all of these excuses as to why we can’t or shouldn’t change what we are already doing. Change is scary and our identity is tied to our daily habits. Our mind starts to fight against the idea of losing its current identity and we start to think things like ‘Things are fine the way they are’ or ‘It would be almost impossible to make that work with my schedule’ or ‘It probably wouldn’t work anyway’ or ‘I just don’t have the energy to add something else right now’ or even ‘My wife/husband/roommate/etc would not go for that’. We start to talk ourselves out of changing and question why we really wanted to change in the first place.

The changes that we want in order to feel better in our bodies, many times, are thwarted by our minds and we keep ourselves small and stuck right where we are, fearful to change anything. This can happen with even the smallest of changes.

I am here to tell you that you can be a better version of yourself simply by looking at what time you do the things you do in a 24-hour period. The WHEN can set you up for the WIN.

Our brains have the ability to know the difference between day and night. There are specific cells in the brain specifically for this function to regulate our circadian rhythm and hormone release schedule. This awareness helps our bodies to know what time to turn on different functions. In the ancient science of Ayurveda, this body clock is the basis of setting up a daily routine. In the West, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to 3 men who had done research on the effects of living outside of one’s circadian rhythm, so western society is starting to recognize the importance.

If you can look at what time you eat dinner and what time you go to bed, you can begin to shift how much energy you have throughout the day, your weight, how clearly your brain is working, how rested you feel when you wake up, digestive and elimination issues, inflammation in the body… the list is long and magical.

 

Daily Routine

So, let’s start with these two things. Dinner and bedtime. And yes, your brain will fight with you on this as well. Ok, dinner first. I cannot tell you how many times recently I have read, “If you want to lose weight, eat dinner earlier.” Seriously. Moving dinner time to before 7pm can HUGE difference in your body in many ways. It’s SO simple that people do not believe it could work and thus, won’t even try it. Yes, it will take some effort for some of you, but it will pay off. The energy you put in to making dinner happen earlier will be paid back and then some if this can become a regular occurence. This may take some meal planning and prepping, maybe getting things ready first thing in the morning before leaving for work, or maybe even enlisting the help of others in the household.

If you can begin to eat dinner before 7pm and make dinner a lighter meal, your body will be much more able to digest and assimilate the nutrients, it will be more ready to go to bed and get deep, restorative sleep, and you will see a difference in your energy levels, weight, and digestive issues. Earlier, lighter dinner is like the ‘magic diet pill’ many have been looking for.

Next up, bed time. What time you sleep can be more important than how many hours of sleep you actually get. The restorative effects of sleep before midnight are worth changing your nightly routine for. Believe me, I know this first hand. Now, for some of you, 10pm seems really early to be going to bed. What about all of the work you do late at night? Think of it in these terms: the nightshift in your body has a certain time that it comes on shift to do its work and if you are still up working, your body must wait. That waiting causes a depletion of energy for the next day, an increase of inflammation, and decreased ability to clean toxins out of your cells. At sundown, your digestion turns off after gradually slowing down since 2pm.  At 10pm, the internal restoration is scheduled to begin if you are in bed to allow it to occur. If you can put the late night work off until early the next day, you will be more efficient and creative in getting the work done and you will be more rested and restored.

The goal with this is to start small. Try backing dinner and bedtime up by 15 minutes each to begin. And don’t expect perfection as you are just trying it out for the first time. Just do your best. Tom Brady and I both believe that all people can be the best version of themselves with attention to what the body needs. Try not to let your brain get in the way of your body too often and remember that your body is your asset.

It really will pay off. And if you need support in practicing it, reach out. That’s what I’m here for.

I will be practicing right along with you.

Talk soon,

k

Suddenly I See

One of the most common things I see as I am coaching people into physical and mental health is how unaware we are of what our bodies are telling us. We repeatedly ignore the signs and signals that our bodies send and we do lots of things to override our natural tendencies. Our bodies are wise and they know what they need, but we, so often thinking that we know better than our bodies, ignore, distract, numb, and push through. And this leads to more problems down the road.

Our society trains us into listening to the brain over the body, allowing the ego to be in charge. This means that we are more concerned with what other people might think or what we might look like than doing what our bodies need for us to do. Our bodies are amazingly smart and are designed not only to survive, but to adapt into thrive. We must learn to meet our bodies half way. Many times the issues that we become frustrated about in our bodies or that we feel like popped up “all of a sudden” were actually warned about through previous signs that we overlooked or overrode.

Here are a few steps that may help you to tune in and move into more ease in your body.

  1. Notice. Awareness is key; if we are not aware, we cannot change anything. Whether we are beginning to notice how our bodies feel after we eat certain foods, how we feel during a stressful situation, or how we feel in our bodies after staying up too late at night, we must begin to tune in and listen.  If we are not aware of what we are being told by our bodies, we cannot adjust what we are doing to either gain a different outcome or to continue to do the same thing on purpose. In yoga, we teach about becoming “the witness”. This is a way to start to notice what we are experiencing without labeling it as good or bad and without placing expectations on how it “should” be. It is simply noticing, drawing our awareness to what is going on, and becoming purposefully aware with our full attention.
  2. Allow. Once we notice what is happening in our bodies and what we are experiencing in the moment, the next step is to allow it to happen. It is already happening, we are already here, so we may as well allow ourselves to be here. It sounds simple, however, this is where we often switch to numbing, distracting, replacing, and ignoring. Our brain may say something like, “The last time we felt that, it wasn’t comfortable, so no thanks. I will just do something else in order to not feel that again.” However, by not feeling it, we are simply putting off having to feel it at some point and the longer we put it off, the more severe the experience of feeling it can be. The body may make us notice with an illness or disease, an injury, or a mental health imbalance. When we take a few breaths and allow what is happening in our bodies in the moment to happen, we can process it and prevent it from sticking or growing in the body. So, in this step, we breathe and we draw our attention what we are feeling physically and/or emotionally while recognizing that in that moment, we are okay. Yes, this may be very difficult and the opposite of what we actually want to do. But, this is where the healing begins.
  3. Transition. After we have noticed and allowed ourselves to feel what is going on, then we can move forward. Maybe we transition into responding to the situation in a new way or maybe we aren’t quite there yet, but we move forward with more awareness about how we are handling what we are experiencing. This is where we have the opportunity to start to change our patterns and work on our daily habits. What we do over and over every day is shaping who we are becoming. Once we notice and allow, we can transition to an action, no matter how big or small, that supports who we want to become. No, it won’t go perfectly every time, but if we have gone through steps 1 and 2, then we are already successful and we are much more likely to be able to transition in the direction in which we want to go.

awareness

So, for the next week, give it a try. Start to notice what your body is telling you and how you are responding to it. Become aware and see if you can allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. And then, you can make a choice in how to transition from there. Ask for help when you need to. Talk to a friend. See your doctor or a therapist. What the world and our bodies need are for us to be more aware. And if you forget, just try again the next time. We all need reminders until it becomes a habit.

I am proud of you for trying. You can do it.

I will be trying right along with you.

Talk again soon,

k

 

Sweet dreams are made of this…

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Yoga Health Coach in training. I talk to people about how to get their bodies back into rhythm with nature and how to thrive in their lives. I teach daily habits that can get to the root of the issue in the body and help to reduce and alleviate symptoms like inflammation, pain, weight gain, digestive disturbances, skin issues, brain fog, and mood disorders.

I talk to people a good deal about the importance of sleep- not only how much sleep, but what time the sleep is occurring. Don’t get me wrong, this was definitely not always a priority for me. I am still working to catch up on the deficit I created from years of sleep deprivation. I too believed that 5-6 hours of sleep per night was sufficient and I fell into that trap of staying up later to get things done, but then getting up early to start the next busy day. I didn’t understand how I could be so tired, but then once I was in bed, not be able to sleep. And I definitely didn’t understand the damage that was being done to my body.

According to the National Institute of Health, getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night equals sleep deprivation. Only 30% of high school students are getting 8 hours of sleep each night, but, did you know that kids really need 9-10 hours of sleep? And adults need 8 hours to feel their best and function optimally. When I learned this, I realized that I had been sleep deprived since I was a teenager. Without knowing the damage that I was doing, I was pushing through and saying things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. With that attitude, I was going to get there sooner than I had hoped.

As a society, we are taught to keep going, to “do whatever it takes”, to ignore our bodies’ signals and signs. Then, we often find ourselves dealing with illnesses and dysfunction in the body down the road and have no idea where it all came from.

(This guy has no problem sleeping any time, any where. If he is sleepy, he lies down and gives in. Maybe we should take a lesson from my dogs…)
IMG_5787

Let me tell you a little about what happens in the body with too little sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to an increase in traffic accidents, slower reaction times, and lower brain function. When we are in that state, we also can’t realize that we aren’t functioning as well as we could. When we don’t allow the body to restore and rejuvenate itself through rest, it takes a toll on the immune system and things start to break down. Our brains and bodies aren’t able to efficiently digest all of the things that are coming in to the system. We begin to rely on stimulants to get us going and then suppressants to wind us down. Our system ceases to function as it naturally would and we lose overall body and brain efficiency. Our hunger and cravings get knocked out of whack because we don’t feel well, turning to quick fixes like sugar and caffeine more and more, and we begin to develop inflammation in the body. The body begins to work against itself and it shows up as illness or develops into long-termer issues like autoimmune disease. And all of this has an impact on our mental health and our ability to not only cope with stress, but also manage our moods.

Sleep is the best medicine for repair work. – Cate Stillman

Ayurvedic practitioner and my teacher, Cate Stillman points out that issues like Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Chrohn’s disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Lupus, etc, are provoked by extreme stress in the body (chronic or acute) that was not recovered from appropriately. Our body’s natural rhythm gets thrown off and until we take the time to reset that rhythm, we cannot benefit from immune integrity. Our body can’t support itself until we take the time to recover from the extreme stress. Recovery time can vary depending on the degree of damage done, but it can get better!

There are other factors that will influence your ability to get more sleep, and it won’t always go perfectly, but believe me, changing your daily habits to support healthy immune function can be done. Taking charge of your body through small, daily changes leads to health altering benefits. I invite you to start to explore how much sleep you need right now to heal and rejuvenate. It may be more like 9 hours to begin to fill in the deficit. Can you put your body’s needs first and make bedtime between 9 and 10pm? I promise you, it is worth it. You can do ‘all of the things’ early in the morning rather than late at night and support brain efficiency at the same time.

Begin to think of sleep as the tool that will help you feel your best. You can undo damage that has already been done and prevent other issues. Give it a try for the next week. Run an experiment to see if you can go to bed between 9 and 10pm every day to see what it does for you.

I will be trying right along with you.

Talk again soon.

k

That’s What Friends Are For

I find that both in myself and in the patients and clients I work with, the tendency to fall into self-judgment and self-criticism can come on quickly when things are not going as planned. If you experience something similar, don’t beat yourself up (more) over it. Why is it that when something painful or hard happens for a friend, we empathize, we recognize how difficult the situation is, and often, we offer to just be with them while they wrap their minds around it all, yet we neglect to do that for ourselves? We give them time to be in what is happening before moving on to the “doing something about it” phase.

When we experience challenging times in our own lives, we must treat ourselves as we would treat that friend. And to do so, we must turn to self-compassion.

Frequently, we are supportive and compassionate to what others are feeling and going through, but for ourselves, we neglect to acknowledge how difficult the situation may really be and instead skip straight to the completely non-compassionate step of problem solving. We expect ourselves to be able to “handle it all” and we set the expectations too high to reach. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and insecurity in our own ability to cope.

Kristin Neff explained the role of our judgmental selves in her book Self-Compassion: “The pain caused by self-judgment is so strong that we get lost in the role of the self-critic. And sometimes it is more comfortable to be in the role of the critic because the critic isn’t the one who is messed up.”

Self-criticism and beating ourselves up all of the time is not making us better people, it is making us feel insecure and inadequate. We can stop this by treating ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion that we would show a good friend, a child, or even a stranger.

If you find yourself thinking that your self-judgment keeps you on your toes and keeps you motivated to do “better”, it may be time to really look at that theory. Self-esteem is actually based on the feedback we receive from others and it uses self-judgment as a way to lecture us into what we think others would expect.

Self-compassion steps in where self-esteem lets us down- when we fail or feel inadequate. Self-compassion teaches us to accept ourselves regardless of the amount of praise or feedback we receive from others. Self-esteem only thrives when the feedback from others is positive.

self-compassion-by-kristin-neff

People are often afraid of compassion because they think they need self-criticism to keep themselves in line and to motivate themselves to succeed. However, Neff points out that motivation by self-criticism, which is actually born out of fear of failure, doesn’t work. Self-criticism leads to a loss of faith in oneself and a perceived lack of confidence and competence which is an important factor in people’s continuing to try. Without the perception that success is possible, one doesn’t even try due to a fear of failure.  Often, we become attached to our self-criticism because it allows us the illusion of control. Self-compassion provides the emotionally supportive environment needed for change and growth simply by planting seeds of acceptance.

Self-compassion is correlated with higher levels of happiness and is associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression, lower levels of cortisol, increased heart rate variability, less rumination and perfectionism, and less fear of failure. Self-compassion is also associated with better coping with stressors and pain.

It sounds like we could all use a little more self-compassion doesn’t it?

In the coming week, try being your own friend and giving the inner critic a break for a bit. Acknowledge when things are difficult before jumping right into the lecture and the problem solving. See how it feels to treat yourself as you would a good friend. My guess is that it will feel pretty damn good.

You know I will be right here trying along with you.

Chat again soon,

k

It’s the climb

As the new year begins, we set new goals and intentions to make changes. We start off with gusto and enthusiasm. We envision ourselves as this totally changed person and see the journey there as a bumpless one. And then, as the weeks wear on, we slip up and miss a day or two. We skip a day and tell ourselves that it won’t make any difference. We start to question why we wanted the goal and if we could have really reached it anyway. Often, we end up reverting back to our old ways of being and giving up on our new goals as we act as if we never set those goals to begin with and hope that no one notices.

As a recovering perfectionist, I find that, our view of our personal reality can limit our ability to reach our goals. Instead of taking a missed day or a ‘slip up’ in stride and starting over the next day, we can get down on ourselves, losing focus and motivation. You, too, may have experienced something similar in your journey to make changes. In his book Being Happy, Tal Ben-Shahar identifies two types of personalities along a continuum that we all experience: Optimalists and Perfectionists.

Optimalists accept reality as it is and accept failure as feedback on the journey to success. This identifies Optimalists as having a Growth Mindset and viewing failure as something to learn and grow from.

Perfectionists fight against reality and expect that the journey should be a smooth one with no failure along the way. Perfectionists do not see failure as an option and define a ‘happy life’ as one of experiencing a constant stream of positive emotions. Anything that is a challenge on the path toward success is viewed as negative and an unwanted obstacle. This can close perfectionists off to possibilities presented by the obstacles along the journey and it identifies perfectionists as having a Fixed Mindset, not able to see that success can come from failure.

Optimalists expect bumps in the road and detours as part of the process. They acknowledge that negative emotions are part of the experience of life and they accept that life will include sorrow, pain, and disappointment. Perfectionists tend to set goals that are impossible and have difficulty feeling satisfied. No matter what they accomplish, there is always something more to achieve in order to “be happy”, thereby rejecting the possibility of happiness for themselves where they are. This can be illustrated as that ever-dangling carrot that is always just out of reach.

 

success-perception-vs-reality

Perfectionists experience anxiety related to the possibility of failure and reject reality for the fantasy of perfection, defining happiness as being dependant on success. The opposite is actually true: Happiness causes success. People who experience positive emotions have higher levels of creativity, enhanced resilience, better physical health, stronger immune systems, and a higher degree of success. When we increase the levels of happiness in our lives, we are thereby increasing our chances of success. (Shahar 2011) Living with a perfectionistic mindset can put a limit on the positive emotions that we experience as we are judging ourselves and comparing where we are to where we thought we would be or how we expected the journey to go.

Optimalists take on challenges with the intention to learn and grow and without the constant fear of failure. This attitude toward failure and success has a great impact on levels of self-esteem and self-confidence and it highlights a lack of self-compassion on the part of the Perfectionists.

In her brilliant book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene’ Brown states, “Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is at its core about trying to earn approval and acceptance.” Perfectionism can paralyze us due to our own fear of failing or presenting ourselves as imperfect. We then become addicted to our perfectionistic thinking patterns in an attempt to control our fears when we are really fueling them. Brown advises, “It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection.”

 

Our imperfections are what make us unique and relatable. When we can embrace that the journey will have challenges, we are more equipped to overcome those challenges without giving up.

As you move forward with the goals you have set, be kind to yourself. Try on an Optimalist mindset regarding failure and attempt to see slip-ups as opportunities. Keep learning as you take each step toward who you want to be. And along the way, remember to take a look back at how far you have come rather than only looking forward at how far you still want to go.

Finally, try to think of a FAIL this way: First Attempt In Learning.

Keep trying. I will be trying right next to you. It won’t always be easy, but the things worth working for often aren’t. You got this.

Talk again soon.

k

I Want To Hold Your Hand

My husband and I get together with four other couples once per month to have dinner and spend time together. Last night, we all hugged each other as we arrived and again as we left. Later, as I was revelling in how good I felt inside after such an enjoyable evening, I started thinking about oxytocin, the vagus nerve, and memory as related to happiness. (I mean, wouldn’t those be your first thoughts?!)

For now, I would love to delve further into oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter (hormone) released by the pituitary gland and it is related to our ability to bond as well as our preferences to someone in our group as opposed to outsiders. It is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone” because it is released when we hug, snuggle up together, or bond socially.  In women, oxytocin is also involved in labor, breast-feeling, and mother-child bonding.

Oxytocin affects the brain and the organs in the peripheral nervous system.  The release of oxytocin has been shown to increase trust toward others with whom we are bonding, but also to quiet stress response in the body by modulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol, inhibiting cardiovascular response to stress, and lowering the amygdala’s (fear center in the brain) response to stimuli.

oxytocin_molecule

The oxytocin molecule.

Healthy touch has been shown to stimulate the Orbito-Frontal Cortex in the brain; the area associated with reward and compassion. It also calms the cardiovascular system, activates the vagus nerve, and leads to the release of oxytocin. Those who touch more are, on the whole, healthier. Research on healthy touch has also shown an increase in a patient’s trust with his or her doctor, as well as an increase in student participation in class when appropriate touch is used, such as a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder, or a touch on the arm.

So, what are some ways that we can experience a boost in oxytocin? I happen to have a few ideas for you.

  1. Schedule quality time with your children, friends, family, and pets.  Be open to both giving and receiving healthy touch through hand shakes, hand holding, hugs, pats, and squeezes.
  2. When you wake up and  you are still warm in bed, treat yourself to a little self-massage to wake your brain and body up together. Use this as a way to check in with your body and to practice gratitude for all that your body does for you each day. Start at your toes and massage each toe with your fingers, then your feet, up to your ankles, calves, around the knees, thighs, hips, and buns. Next, move to your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, around the elbows, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and chest. Gently massage your face and all over your scalp.  Finally, give your back and belly a little rub down and take a few deep breaths before hopping out of bed to face the day.
  3. Before (as the warm water will drive the moisturizing oil into your skin) or after showering, try a sweet self-massage with oil such as cold-pressed sesame, coconut, or almond oil. Your skin will thank you and you will begin to feel better in your own body.
  4. Schedule yourself to go and get a massage from a professional. Massage helps to boost immune response in the body, so really it is a preventative practice during cold and flu season.
  5. Don’t be afraid to pat a co-worker on the back who has done a good job or to shake the hand of a stranger as you wish them happy holidays. Or at least look them in the eyes and smile.  The vagus nerve will know exactly what you are doing and take it from there.

We could all benefit from more love and kindness in the world and you can contribute by simply reaching out to those around you.

So, in the coming week and beyond, give it a try. Believe me, it feels great.

I will be trying right along with you.

Talk again soon,

k

 

 

What a bright time…

The holidays are upon us. This fact is very exciting to me, but to some, it means more stress, exhaustion, and huge expectations. I thought I would share some ways to experience this holiday season in a more enjoyable way.

These suggestions are merely that- suggestions. Things to try.  Some may work for you and some may not. But, if you never try anything different, you will never get a different result.

Let’s start with mindfulness. In the coming month, practice being in the moment. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, pause and take a few deep, belly breaths. Notice how your body is feeling and how it feels to actually breathe. Notice the colors, scents, and sounds around you. Be where your body is. So frequently, our bodies are one place and our minds are millions of miles away. Let’s practice being in one place at one time. This will help the mind to calm and to recognize not only that right now is all we really have, but also, in this very moment, you are ok.

Next, let’s look at the expectations we put on ourselves to do more in the holiday season while resting less. The practice of heightened expectations and increased stress leads us to eating more sweets for an energy boost (and hey, the sweets are around this time of year), drinking more alcohol at night in an attempt to wind down, and caffeinating more than usual in the morning to get ourselves going.  These habits then contribute to our feeling run down, heavy, moody, and susceptible to illness all while trying to act like everything is ‘merry and bright’.

Expectations

Let’s also look at what we are giving this season. Financial stress can increase exponentially during the holidays. What if we moved away from giving only material things and shifted into giving more of our time, attention, and energy to ourselves and others? Maybe that looks like visiting or cooking a meal for a friend or family member this season. Maybe that looks like volunteering at a toy drive, soup kitchen, or shelter. Maybe that looks like playing with your kids for 30 minutes of full attention. Or maybe that looks like taking time to sit in a warm bath and breathe for a bit before going to bed because your body is telling you that it is tired.

Finally, let’s take a look at our priorities. What can we put off until after the holiday season and what must we really get done now? What will have the biggest ROI (Return on Investment) for our health and happiness? Five years from now, will your job remember that you worked late that one day and missed your child’s holiday play? Probably not, but you and your child will both remember that you weren’t there. In the future when family members are gone, will you wish that you had taken the time to be with them this season? Try to focus on what is most important and what you will feel best about later.

This season should be spent focusing on personal connection. This is a free and effective way to show others that you care about them. WHAT?! The massive barrage of holiday advertisements you are bombarded with this season is created in an effort to convince you that happiness can come from a package. However, we cannot expect to feel long-term fulfillment from things outside of us. The memories that will last are those related to feeling connected, loved, seen, and appreciated. And yes, that most likely means putting down the phones and tablets to give someone a hug and talk to them while looking them in the eyes.

Try it. You’ll like it. No expectations, no pressure. Just trying.

 

Talk again soon,

k

You’re a hard habit to break

As we are nearing the end of the year, it is time to begin to evaluate and plan. If we truly want to get a different result next year, we will have to do things differently. I know. Damn. This means taking an honest look at where we want to be a year from now and working backward from there.  We must determine the behaviors and the habits that would support our getting there and then compare that to the behaviors and habits that we are already living.

Our habits shape who we are becoming. What you do on a regular basis is forming your future self. In some ways, this may be an alarming thought. As a therapist and a coach, part of my job is to get people to look at their habits and to evaluate if those habits are working in favor of who they want to be or not. I find again and again that many people are not aware of the habits they hold or how those habits are keeping them stuck right where they are.

HabitAristotle

A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Awesome. Even by definition, a habit is not something we can instantly change with ease. That is where support and baby-steps come in.

Taking a look at yourself and recognizing that you are regularly doing things that are keeping you from moving toward your goals is not a comfortable feeling. And sometimes, we have on blinders to those behaviors. We choose not to see the habits or the effects of those habits, or we may choose to believe that those habits “aren’t that bad”. The good news is that once we are aware, we can change it.

Now, when we decide we want to change a habit, we tend to think in terms of “cold turkey” and “all or nothing”. However, this is not the most effective way to attempt to change something that we have been doing regularly for a long time- even a lifetime. This type of attempt often brings about feelings of overwhelm and burnout, leading us to give up and fall back into the habit we were trying to change in the first place. Think about cutting all sugar or caffeine out of your diet cold turkey. You have good intentions and the why behind your desire is to feel better and get healthier. You start off strong and 3 hours in, you are feeling good about your decision. However, shortly there after, you start to feel poorly, your energy wanes, you have a pounding headache, and your mood is nowhere near inviting. And then you starting thinking that just one candy bar or one latte would help. One is no big deal… And the slope becomes slippery.

The good news is that tiny steps each day can lead to big change. The habit was formed over time and it can be broken over time as well. If you look at your future self and determine the habits that your future self would have, you can reverse engineer the steps to get there. Let’s stick with the no caffeine example. One year from now, you are planning to be caffeine-free, but now you have 3 cups of coffee in the morning and a Venti latte at lunch along with chocolate for your afternoon pick-me-up. A great place to start might be to have two cups of coffee in the morning rather than three or to reduce the size of the latte at lunch. Try this for several weeks and then take another baby-step toward reducing your daily intake. Things that look like insignificant and tiny steps now can lead to lasting and major changes.

Another way to support habit change is to focus on what you will be adding in rather than what you want to take out. When we focus on what we do want rather than what we don’t want, what we no longer want can more easily fall away. Perhaps you exchange the first cup of coffee for a mug of hot water with lemon in it to get your digestive system started for the day. Make a big deal out of that cup. Put some of that organic local honey in it. Sit and savor it as you think about what you are doing to reach your goal and feel healthier. After your few weeks of making the change, reward yourself (but not with caffeine!).

Finally, find someone to be an accountability partner or group for you. There is a ton of research that shows how much easier we can reach our goals when we have support around that goal. I know, there can be some resistance around finding an accountability partner or group as well. None of us looks forward to someone reminding us of how we are not reaching our goals. That is why it is very important to find the right support that is free of judgment. The key word here is support. Maybe you partner someone else who is also working toward habit change or find an online group to check in with to support your efforts.

Remember that you can shape yourself in any way you would like. Simply determine who you want to be in the future, establish the baby-steps of habits that person would have, and start your journey. Finally, whatever you do, try not to aim for perfection. I know for some that sounds counter-intuitive. Instead of perfection, aim for good enough, for 4 days per week, or for 80% success. This will allow you to be human and to resist the urge to give up on those days that some afternoon chocolate is the only thing that will get you through.

Believe in yourself and your ability to transform.

I will be right here taking baby-steps along with you.

Talk again soon.

k