Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back

The end of the calendar year is upon us. A lot of companies end the year by having employees complete an annual self-assessment. Now I've never had a corporate job, and have never had to complete this type of exercise with regards to my job. I've been told it usually entails looking back at accomplishments, describing areas that need improvement and goals for the coming year. I decided to try writing a year end review for my personal growth, to see where I've been successful and where I could improve. Then I can formulate some goals for 2011. Not resolutions, but concrete ideas of what I would like to work on next year.

I followed a pretty simple outline: 1. Did you set any goals for 2010? If so, were they met or worked on consistently? 2. What were your particular successes? 3. What areas could be improved? 4. Are there things you're allowing to limit your growth in some area? What is holding you back? I set aside some quiet time to reflect and journal on each of these questions. I was initially concerned that I would dwell on the negative and the failures. I was happily surprised to find this to be a positive exercise. I was able to recognize successes for which I wasn't giving myself credit. I was able to see progress toward goals even if they haven't been completely realized yet.

Then I started on my areas of improvement and attachments that are holding my back. I think in a work-related inventory, it can be tempting to list small things that are easily fixed rather than really being honest about our shortcomings. In a personal review, if you're not honest you're only lying to yourself. So, I really looked at myself. Not easy, but I took a compassionate stance and was able to avoid beating myself up too much. I found this to be really helpful because I can recognize some areas of my life where I'm stuck. Seeing where growth can occur allows us to foster these areas and make progress. Being compassionate kept me from ending every sentence with "you big dummy" or something similar. This is about moving forward, not dwelling on the past, after all!

Finally, I looked at goals for next year. I have a few that I recognize cannot be accomplished in one year, but I can start to work toward them. I also have some that will require a consistent commitment, something I'm not always good at. Now I can recognize things that could potentially hold me back, and create a clear vision to focus on my goals. I hope this clarity of purpose will help me stay motivated throughout the year, rather than losing interest in a few months, as usually happens with simple resolutions. I will be starting the new year pointed in the right direction, with the tools to help me stay on course.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Matters

The holidays can be challenging for a lot of people. I am one of those who stress over the details. I was in an unbelievable tizzy last week because I couldn't find round pretzels to make candies. It was like I was watching myself from a distance as I ranted about the pretzels and worried that my dinner would be ruined without this key component. Seriously. I can let it go now, because I found the pretzels. No, what I realized was my emotional state was not about the pretzels. I was becoming frantic about small, meaningless issues, completely stuck in my head. Every year I fall into the same trap. I worry that I'm not making the right food, or that it won't be enough, or someone won't like it. I can honestly say, I don't think people really care what they eat. What matters is that we are together.
The details can become more important than the reason for the event if I'm not careful. If I focus on filling every one's glass and preparing too many desserts, I can easily miss the entire evening. It also makes me tense and irritable and I don't sit down long enough to enjoy the company. I may get a rave review for the meal, but I won't have any memories of our time together. I risk spending the whole time in my to-do list, and not present in the moment. This doesn't just happen during the holidays, of course. It's easy to lose track of what matters in any day. In the rush of trying to get everything done, we lose sight of what's happening right now. What matters is the present moment.
I know when I'm creating my own stress. As I said before, it's like I can watch myself from a distance, fabricating reasons to be anxious and worried, so up in my head I don't even notice what's in front of me. If I took the time to exhale (try it now with me: Ahhhh), I might find the urgency has lessened. I can slow down, re-focus, and recognize what's really important. Staying present means the holidays don't fly by too quickly, and we won't miss the best moments. This time of year, enjoy the company you're blessed to entertain, remember to breathe and you can be the one smiling serenely as others push past you at the mall.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What we can't change

I saw a patient a few week who was struggling with some personal relationships. I'm not talking about her family or closest friends, but a woman she runs into at social events every few weeks. To hear my patient describe her, this woman is nasty, opinionated and possibly cheats at cards. Regardless of what she's really like, she makes my patient absolutely crazy. When she walks into a room with her, she starts to become agitated, and she literally hunts for things to be mad about while the other woman presumably enjoys her socialization. Only one person appears to be harmed by this situation...
Other people behave in ways we may not like, and they may say things we don't agree with. They have their own background and their own motivation guiding them, and we can't ever really know where they're coming from. We also can't change them. I am not talking about a debate or meeting of the minds, but about truly changing their core nature. I heard my patient saying if only this woman would behave in this way, if only she wouldn't say that. Finally I stopped her and asked if she was familiar with the Serenity Prayer. We all know it's power for people struggling with addictions, but I find it to be a perfect guideline for many of life's uncomfortable situations. The Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." That breaks things down neatly into categories: things we can change, and things we can't. The things we cannot change, we have to accept, or let go of.
So, then it came time for strategy. I asked my patient some other ways she could handle the situation with this woman. We came up with several options that allow her to be in control. The first and most obvious is to avoid social interactions when this woman is present. She can control what invitations she accepts. Another is to change the way she responds to this woman. Instead of looking for the negative, try compassion or even humor. She can control her own thoughts and behavior. Another is to look for a time out if she finds herself getting upset. Ask to help in the kitchen, step outside for some fresh air, ask another friend to go to the ladies' room with her. All behavior that she can control. I was a bit amazed that she had never considered her alternatives to anger and disappointment in this situation. It had not even occurred to her to decline attending functions with this person. She told me she felt she had options now, and that felt good.
Every day we encounter people who, for some reason or another, rub us the wrong way. We can't change them, their thoughts, or their behavior. We can accept people the way they are, or change the things we can: our own thoughts and behavior. I find this to be so helpful every day. I realize I can choose how to react or respond in any situation. This takes control away from others and puts me in charge of my day. How empowering to have choices!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grief

Emotions are part of being human. We react to situations around us in our thoughts and our feelings, for good or bad. Sometimes feelings are wonderful: joy, happiness, peace. Other times they are very hard to face: anger, sadness, hurt. But this range of emotion serves as guideposts to help us navigate our lives more skillfully. Sadness let's us process a loss and move forward, anger cues us into something not right with a relationship or our jobs. Yet I am asked frequently if I can help a patient avoid emotion altogether, especially in the case of grief. Sometimes the pain is too great, a loss too recent, and I understand the need to cope. But eventually the feelings must be faced. They're still there waiting.
Grief is one of the most difficult processes humans can go through, I'm sure. The loss of a loved one brings up a wave of emotions, ranging from sadness to anger and denial. Many people want to avoid this pain, to move on without moving through the stages of grief. We can be surprisingly successful at avoiding and stuffing emotions for a while, ignoring pain and pretending everything is ok. Eventually the pressure starts to leak through the cracks, though. Little upsets cause big reactions, physical pain and illness becomes more frequent, or current relationships suffer. The emotions are simmering under the surface, demanding attention. Avoidance will not make feelings disappear.
Grief and depression have a lot in common. They are both marked by sadness, loss of appetite and sleep, and lack of focus. But grief does not always lead to depression. There is a culture of awareness of depression, but, unfortunately it causes a lot of people to believe there is a pill to take away every sad feeling. We then forget that grief is a normal process in recovering from a loss. Sometimes the loss is a death of a loved one, sometimes it's a divorce or loss of a job, but the process is similar. Anti-depressants can't catapult us over the emotion and into the next phase of life. Don't get me wrong, there are times when medications are necessary. But that is the exception, not the rule, in cases of grief.
So how do we navigate a loss and move forward? There are many ways to work through grief: counseling, support groups, individual religious or spiritual traditions, to name a few. The important thing is to experience, not avoid, the feelings. So-called negative emotions like sadness and anger are very tough to deal with, but they are part of being human. We can sit with our feelings, recognize them and name them, and notice the bodily sensations that accompany the emotions. We can laugh and cry, sit or run with it, but be fully aware of it all. This doesn't take away pain, but acknowledges it for what it is, and how it's affecting us. Feelings don't weaken or destroy us, but we must face them when they arise, for good or for bad. The experience of grief reminds us that as humans we can form strong bonds and emotional attachments. I am grateful for that, even in loss.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall Back

In yoga class yesterday, my teacher talked about fall and the time change. She asked us to think about how words matter, and this time of year we "fall back," but in spring we are "springing ahead." Her point was that fall and winter are dormant times when we can fall back into ourselves, and reflect. I loved that, because this time of year is very challenging for me. I was looking at falling back as a euphemism for the low mood, lethargy and avoidance of self-healing that tend to suck me in every fall.
So I can choose to self-reflect and learn something about myself instead of assuming I have to battle my way back from the brink. I am studying my reactions, and my tendency to let the easy way guide me. I haven't been sitting, journalling or blogging. I have been on my mat, but not as often as I'd like. I'm letting the wind stir up my anxiety and worrying about phantoms instead of using my self-soothing to quiet my mind. Eventually it becomes a sticky mire that is harder and harder to escape. The self-reflection mirrors my choices back to me, and I can see now how far I've slid.
Now my choices are becoming depressed and angry that I've allowed this to happen, or I can start back on the path. I got up earlier this morning to sit. I did a mindful yoga practice with some gentle backbends to open my heart and stimulate my energy. It is a lot harder than it was in the summer, though, and we've had great weather so far. I know I have to stay focused and set my intention every day to care for myself the best ways I can. I know the ways, now cones the action. If I open my intention to the universe, I believe I will get the support I need. I just have to do my part and keep looking for it!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crossed Paths

My husband likes to lift weights. He used to be really into it, bulking his muscles with repetitive curls and crunches and squats. Now, he lifts weights for health, and is much more balanced in his exercise. He mentioned recently that, while I do yoga nearly every day, I never seem to get uneven from it. I didn't understand what he meant, and he explained that a lot of exercises can lead to over-strengthening in one area. Or, one part of the body can get focused on so much, that it no longer makes any progress with training. I wasn't surprised by his observation, because yoga is a whole-body program, nothing gets left out in a good class, including the mind and spirit.
A lot of people have one type of exercise that they love. I have friends that run, and do not do anything else. They're runners, after all. That can lead to injuries to the lower half of the body, obviously, because the feet, ankles, knees and hips are pounding the pavement repetitively. I have friends who swim, and they can be prone to shoulder injuries from doing the same stroke over and over. Weight lifters tend to focus on the large, bulky muscle groups, ignoring the antagonists that provide balance to the joints. Ok, I'm making generalizations to demonstrate a point, but you get my drift. A lot of exercises are very focused in their goals, and also in the parts of the body they affect.
Yoga isn't like this. In fact, a lot of single asanas address multiple areas of the body at once. Consider Trikonasana, or triangle pose. The legs are strengthened, the core is isolated, holding the torso up, and the arms are working to stretch the chest open. Add in mindful breathing to expand the lung capacity, and a twist to stimulate the abdominal organs, and the entire body is being used. When Trikonasana is part of a logical flow in class, different parts of the body are flexed and extended, all with the goal of taking the triangle pose to a new level. Once again, yoga addresses the whole body.
Because of this fact, yoga can easily cross paths with other forms of exercise, making an athlete stronger and more flexible, less prone to injury, and possibly more successful at their sport. Runners can benefit from stretching the legs, particularly the hips, the IT band, and ankles. Bikers can open the hips and upper back, which gets rounded and hunched over the handlebars of a road bike. Weight lifters can balance the flex flex flex motion with stretching of antagonists to prevent injury over the long term. Really, yoga can enhance any other type of physical activity. You don't have to consider yourself a yogi to reap the benefits from the practice, and the physical aspects of yoga may be all you want. But maybe, over time, you'll start to see that the physical practice is opening you up in other ways, making you a stronger and more flexible person throughout your life. Then the real benefits of yoga begin!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Silence

My mom once told me she almost never listens to the radio when she's driving by herself. I was surprised by that because previously, I always had some noise on. It had never occurred to me to just drive in silence. Since then, I read The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and Deepak Chopra talks about having some silence in every day. I take time to meditate in the morning, but what about silence during random moments throughout the day? What an interesting idea. I started turning my radio off in the car sometimes, and just driving. It really takes some getting used to, and some days I really cannot stand the crazy lady jabbering in my head, so the music helps me be centered. Other days, after a few minutes of discomfort, I start to feel more peaceful.
Now I'm noticing how hard it is to find silence during a normal day. I fill up my car at the gas station, and there is a TV on the pump. The TV is not telling me anything important, it is really mindless idiocy. Do the people at Shell think we can't be alone with our own thoughts for the 4 minutes it takes to fill the pump? Or that they'll really sell more sodas and candy bars by advertising them in this way? My husband told me there are now TVs on the elevator at his work. He works in a high rise in the city, so I'm sure some of those rides can be long. But again, God forbid we wait in silence, or, worse yet, talk to someone else riding with us!
Sometimes I wonder if our culture of constant sensory bombardment is contributing to increasing rates of ADHD. No one does just one thing anymore, and almost nothing is done in silence. We are a nation of distraction. No wonder practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga are enjoying such popularity. I believe they are the antidote to the gas pump TVs of our lives. Quiet time on my cushion in the morning makes me better prepared to meet the day. Quiet time on my mat (when I practice at home, I don't turn music on anymore) calms my stress response and slows down the rest of my thoughts. Eating mindfully ensures I not only enjoy my food, but eat the right amount and improve digestion. These are small moments in an otherwise noisy life, filled with normal distractions. I don't think we have to take a vow of silence to see benefits, but maybe a few moments of quiet can bring us all to a more centered place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Differences

Can people with different beliefs get along? Can they even be friends? I recently discovered during a conversation that a new acquaintance of mine had some very different political opinions than I do. Now, I won't go into details, because I do not have strong political leanings. We'll just say she made a statement supporting someone in politics whom I don't consider worthy of respect. My husband and I have different political ideas, but we agree on our opinion of this political figure. He is more vocal than I am, and started to debate the topic. When it became clear that our dinner companions were not joking, I changed the subject.
Later, I found myself wondering what else they could be hiding beneath their seemingly normal outward appearances. Does that make me shallow, opinionated and judgemental? Decidedly so. I work toward an open mind and an open heart on a daily basis, and we're not talking about hate-filled or violent people, so why did this conversation affect me so much? I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have different backgrounds and beliefs than I do. Most of the time it adds interest to our interactions, and I wind up learning something new. However, acceptance of differences is challenging. We have to acknowledge that we may not be "completely right" in whatever we believe, because clearly others believe something else.
That's usually pretty easy for me to wrap my head around. This time, I honestly hadn't considered that someone might share an opposite view. I feel humbled, because I felt so strongly "right" when they spoke that I ignored their other qualities in that moment. I instantly questioned their intelligence and wondered if we could still be friends. Wow. That is a slippery slope to a shouting match and never speaking again.
There is an old saying: "Would you rather be right or happy?" This can help us to determine if our opinions are getting in the way of our relationships. Mine were in this instance, and it was surprising to me because I haven't had to release my need to argue in a really long time. There is a time and place for intelligent debate, but there are also times when no one will change their mind based on the conversation, and feelings can only end up getting hurt. So, the best answer is a deep breath, recognition that my opinion is not the only one, and people are allowed to disagree with me. It still isn't easy to let this one go, but I will breathe into my heart and love their other qualities, since they will have to do the same toward me!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding the Positive

I have been battling a sinus infection. It's hard for me to stay positive when I'm sick. I am frustrated because I can't do my usual yoga class today. I know, let go of expectations of a particular outcome. But with this headache, all I can focus on is the negative. It feels like I've been sick forever, and it will never get better and I'll never get back to yoga class again! That's pretty negative. How can we access our inner joyful nature when we feel terrible?
I am starting with small steps today. I did some simple stretches instead of my usual advanced Friday morning class, because even 10 minutes of yoga is better than none. I am spending time catching up on some work that I would have had to postpone, had I gone to class. That gives me some stress relief, and I can feel pleased that I used my time wisely even though it wasn't what I wanted to do. I am already imagining my cup of chai later, how good it's going to taste, and I can feel another sigh of pleasure, in spite of my headache. So simple small things to attune to the positive. So far so good...
I have to remind myself that I don't actually get sick often, and find some gratitude in my overall state of health. Gratitude is good, it's impossible to feel grateful and angry at the same time! Now I can remember to be grateful for other positives in this day: it's Friday and the sun is shining. My parents are here, and my family is together for a fun weekend. I'm almost ready to smile :) Our home renovation project is getting closer to completion, and for that I'm so very very grateful. I am definitely smiling now!
Ok, so I still have a headache and sinus pain, but I am focused on things outside my aches and pains and can look forward to the day. Even though I don't feel well, this day doesn't have to be a loss. I will use the small pleasures and gratitude to turn my energy around, I will smile at others and receive back what I give. I will look forward to the weekend without self pity and irritation. I'm ready to face the day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Home

My house is under construction. It's actually not a major project, most of our living area is still untouched. But there are a lot of things happening every day that other people are in charge of. Once again I have to work extra hard at letting go of expectations. Water from my shower gushing out of the ceiling downstairs? Can't control it, have to wait for the guys to come. Flooring guys arrive unexpectedly at 7am? Ok, let's get started tearing out some tiles!
I haven't been doing badly with the letting go for once, because I heard so many stories ahead of time, I guess I was more mentally prepared. I am struggling with the invasion of my space, however. I never realized how attached I am to the feeling of home. Maybe it's the privacy, or the quiet spot I can always find, the memories attached to each place, I'm not sure. But I know that I've felt ungrounded. My home is full of noisy dusty strangers and when they're gone, the dust and disarray stay as a reminder.
My yoga routine has been disrupted because I have to get ready so quickly in the morning, but today I rolled out my mat regardless. I stretched and flowed to the tune of crashing and breaking ceramic tiles, but somehow the noise didn't bother me too much. I felt so much better after I was done, and my poor stressed cats seemed to appreciate the return to routine, too.
We are living with chaos, but it will only be a few weeks more. I have to look for the sense of home where I can find it until things are back to normal. My yoga mat was home today, my own practice and my own breath brought me back to stability.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mindful Eating

This summer I spent a week at Kripalu yoga center in Lennox, MA. I loved the place, the people, the food, but one of the things I loved best surprised me a lot. They have silent breakfast every morning, and the program I was involved with actually took it a step further, and we were silent from wake time, through our initial practice, until after breakfast. That sounded really scary to me. I spend a lot of time in my head, so I envisioned worrying and thinking, or reading a magazine or book so I wouldn't have to be alone with myself. However, it turned out to be my favorite part of the day.
When I first sat down for silent breakfast, I was amazed. The room was filled with people, and almost no one was doing anything other than eating. People would acknowledge one another with a nod or smile, and choose their breakfast. I spent more time considering what I might like to eat, and I didn't rush my meals. I actually tasted my food, and savored the experience. I've read about mindful eating before, but had never attempted it prior to this trip. I really felt calmer, the food tasted better, and I never had the urge to over eat. I recognized my body cues because I was present in my body.

Reflecting on the experience, I realized that I almost never just sit and eat. I am usually reading, or surfing the internet, or playing Scrabble on my phone. I have even contemplated trying to dictate patient notes between bites, but I haven't sunk that low yet. I know food at times has become mere fuel, almost an inconvenient part of the day that I must attend to, but really don't enjoy, I just get through it as quickly as I can. I believe this attitude has contributed to a rushed feeling during my lunch break. I have also ended up with stomach upset that could be due to eating too fast, or eating things that weren't right for my body just because they were convenient. There are days I can't even remember what I ate.
Society today prides itself on moving quickly, multi-tasking and accomplishing more and more. I am starting to recognize that this comes at a cost. I remember the delicious Masala Chai tea they had at Kripalu one morning, and how I sat and sipped that cup thinking I'd never experienced a sweeter moment. How wonderful to accomplish presence and joy rather than reading one more article on the internet! I can't say I've been as good about keeping up with the mindful eating as I'd like. I can't convince my kids (ages 6 and 8) to participate in silent breakfast. But I can be mindful of how and what I'm eating, and take time to savor the food and the moment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worry

I've been worrying. This isn't too unusual for me, because I spent the better part of my life as a super-worrier. I could worry about just about anything, allowing it to keep me awake for hours at night, or leading me to gnaw at my fingernails until they were raw. I have made great headway on calming the worry in recent years, so this recent case has been irritating. I have decided to revisit some of my favorite ways to settle an anxious and worried mind, in the hopes of reminding myself how to tone down the mental drama.

1. Mental distraction. This works well if you are worrying during your daily activities. When the wheels start spinning, find something else to do. I like to read an entertaining but not particularly heavy book. Chick lit or a good thriller works well. Crossword or Sudoku puzzles can also give the brain another bone to chew on.

2. Physical activity. You already know, I turn to yoga. My style is Vinyasa flow, so the movement between poses combined with the breath really quiets the mind. If you aren't into yoga, taking a walk or lifting weights can serve the same purpose. I also learned a bounce technique from a Qi Gong master that I thought was amazing: simply stand with your knees and body soft and bounce up and down in place gently. Let your hands flop at your sides, your head loll from side to side, relax the spine and just bounce softly, breathing quietly. Try it for a few minutes, I think you'll be amazed at how relaxing this super-simple exercise can be!

3. Journaling. Set aside a specific period of time to write about your worries. When the time is up, close the journal and put it away. This allows the worry, but there is an endpoint. I find this most helpful before bed. I like to finish with something to change the tone, either a gratitude practice or listing 5 things that were good about the day, anything you choose to put the mind back onto something positive.

4. Mantra meditation. Simply sitting down and expecting to go into a meditative place when you're already keyed up and worried is a set-up for failure. Instead, give the mind something to focus on. You can use any phrase, it doesn't have to be Sanskrit or handed down by a guru or anything. I like So Hum, which means "I am that." It's simple but has more than one syllable, so I can easily pace it with the breath. But you can try "Peaceful" or anything that has meaning for you. Then just sit quietly and breathe in and out, thinking the mantra. If you are really unfocused and agitated, even try saying it aloud. If thoughts stray, simply come back to the words.

5. Evaluate the worries. This is another technique that doesn't try to stop the thoughts, but rather focuses on classifying them and deciding if they're worthwhile or not. So, if I'm laying there at night worried that I will forget to write a note to my child's teacher the next day, I can evaluate that thought. Is this a valid worry? Sure, I often forget things in the morning rush. Can I do anything about this worry right now? Absolutely. I can get up and write the note now and put it in her backpack. Done. Back to sleep. Alternatively, I'm worried about my health. Is this a valid worry? Sure, anyone can get sick anytime. Can I do anything about this right now? No. I can schedule my routine doctor appointment in the morning, but not at 11pm. This technique can at least allow me to "triage" my worries into things I can fix now, things I can fix later, and things that are out of my control completely and not worth getting worked up about.

Worrying hits all of us at one time or another. I find I worry less if I'm consistent with meditation and yoga, but they can't cure everything. When I get anxious, one or more of these techniques helps me to find my center again, and I've found it helpful tonight to reassess my tool box. I'm hopeful that a peaceful sleep will be my reward!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wellness

What does wellness mean? It's a term that's thrown around quite a bit right now, I've even seen it at the massage place I go to. Is wellness synonymous with health, or are they different things? In medicine today, health is often seen as the absence of disease, as opposed to a total condition of mental and physical balance. I see wellness as a new description for that state: we are sound in body and mind, balanced and whole. Certainly we must be physically free from disease to achieve this state. I think western medicine has that pretty well covered. But how do we get to the next level, where we are truly "well"?

I think there are different routes for different people, but I believe most of us find it comes from an approach that addresses not just the body, but the mind and the heart as well. I've read multiple studies showing the emotional benefits of a spiritual practice of some kind, whether it's prayer, organized religion, or a simple belief in something greater than ourselves. Spirituality in one form or another addresses the heart, and fosters compassion towards others. We realize we aren't alone on this journey, and can recognize a greater purpose.

Use of our minds is the next step. Activities that keep us thinking prevent the decline of memory in older age. They also bring a greater sense of satisfaction than a mindless pursuit such as parking in front of the television. Reading a book, discussing politics with friends, learning something new, all form new connections in our brains, allowing expansion of our mental power. We are not stagnant, we are moving forward and growing, another way to recognize we are well.

Our bodies house our brains and our hearts. We must keep them in good shape as the body is the vessel for the soul, as I have read. Any physical activity is good for the body, walking, dancing, mowing the lawn, and, of course, yoga. Many studies have found yoga to be better than other forms of exercise for improving symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yoga also addresses the other aspects that keep us well: it keeps our minds active with meditation and philosophical lessons, and it opens our hearts to compassion and kindness. I see yoga as one path to wellness, and have felt the effects in my own life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Negative Nellie

I saw a statistic today saying over 80% of our thoughts are negative. Now I have to admit, I don't know what kind of study this statistic came from but I think it's probably fairly accurate for most people. I spend a lot of energy trying to counteract this tendency in myself most days! For example, I started today with a lot of crisis phone calls to answer. My thoughts immediately spiralled into doom and gloom: "Oh, this is a great start to a Monday;" "It's going to be a terrible week;" and "What else could go wrong?!" I even told my yoga teacher I was pretty sure I'd have to leave class to answer phone calls at some point. Talk about negativity! That didn't actually happen, by the way, and I felt much more centered after class. If I had turned my thoughts around before they went sour, I could've saved myself a lot of angst this morning.

Apparently negative thinking has been a problem for humans for centuries. It's even addressed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Verse II:33 says "To counteract destructive attitudes one should cultivate thoughts of the opposite kind." That sounds pretty simple, right? We all know in practice that it's not so easy. The first step is actually recognizing the thoughts as they come up. We can't do anything to change them if they stay largely unconscious, wreaking havoc on our emotions without our knowledge! One way to start to observe the thoughts is in meditation. Sitting in silence demonstrates very quickly how negative and ugly our thoughts can be. The goal then is to sit and observe and silently remain unattached to the stream of madness that flows through our brains in any given moment. Eventually the mind is quieter (or so they tell me, I'm still waiting!), and the angry or sad or anxious thoughts don't affect us as much.

Cognitive therapy uses the technique of writing down the thoughts as we notice changes in mood. This allows us to track how the "stinking thinking" brings us down, to recognize patterns, and begin to change the thoughts and behaviors to break the cycle. One of my favorite cognitive tricks came from a psychologist friend of mine: you can't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend. This helps us observe the thoughts (bye-bye name-calling), and forces us to change the thought immediately. This is also hard work! These patterns have taken decades to form, and operate largely without our help. We have to step into the driver's seat and take control, all of the time. It's exhausting. Once again, it becomes pretty obvious how deeply the negative thought patterns are ingrained.

This sounds pretty negative so far... Ok, the good news is that the negative thoughts can be recognized and changed. Meditation and therapy really work. For less serious cases, such as a bad case of the Mondays, we can try Patanjali's route and simply change our attitude. It's helpful for me to recognize the ridiculous nature of my negativity. Of course I'm not doomed to a terrible week, my life will not be miserable because of a lot of phone calls, and a couple of pages don't equal a ruined morning. It's almost laughable how worked up I can get, but it may take me a while to shift the balance. I am constantly working on letting go of expectations of how things ought to be. I'm finding that reduces the negative attitude to begin with, because there is no "should be" to live up to. I will try again next Monday...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fix You

When I hear about problems, my tendency is to want to fix, find a solution, provide an answer. This is part of my job, of course, and comes with being a parent, a friend, or a partner. If my child comes home in tears about something, first I want to go mama bear on whoever made them cry, then I want to find a solution to their issue. If a patient has anxiety, I want to offer sound ways to overcome it. But sometimes, that's not what the person needs.
I have learned to recognize when someone is asking for help finding a solution and when they simply want an ear to hear them. This isn't always easy, because I have had to sit on my hands when I had good advice to offer, but the time wasn't right. In the case of grief, telling someone about a grief support group can be very helpful. But if all they want is to tell the story of their loss, it could be intrusive and unkind to cut them short to talk about counseling. Better to listen and respond to their words, maybe hand them a card with a phone number as they leave, and let them think about it another time. This is listening and responding to the need in front of you.
The same is true with my children. Not every friend drama requires a dissection of how they could have responded differently. Most of these things work themselves out over time, and offering advice when they only want to be hugged is not the best use of my mothering. I am still working on this one, because I want the best for them, and don't want them to repeat mistakes that I've made growing up. Sometimes they need to learn their own lessons, sometimes they just need to be distracted by a fun game, and sometimes they just need a cuddle. I have to learn to navigate these tides a little differently if it's my son versus my daughter (yes, the drama runs in the family...). Their needs also seem to change on a weekly basis, and I'm certain what I've learned to do this week won't work next month!
Sometimes there simply are no solutions for the problems we face. I cannot fix my patients' unemployment, bad marriage or history of childhood abuse. I can help them heal and cope, but I can't make it go away. I also can't help everyone. I have found myself repeating the same suggestions to the same clients time after time, knowing they will never follow through, and also knowing that my advice could truly help them. Today, I shelved the suggestions and just listened. My patient seemed to relax more as we talked, and she left looking lighter. I think I finally gave her what she needed from me. Attention. Kindness. Understanding. Without judgement. She didn't leave with a fix for her problems, but she left feeling better. I felt better afterwards, too. Sometimes silence and an open ear are all the solutions we need to offer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Body Talk

I spend a lot of time listening to my heart, my intuition, my thoughts (which never stop), but have not ever gotten proficient at listening to my body. As a yogini, I know this revelation is going to out me in a negative way. I've been in classes where the teacher instructs us to choose our own version of a pose, going by what our body needs on that particular day. I am really not good at this!! It makes me anxious, and then it gets worse when she follows it by saying not to look around at what everyone else is doing, because that is just what I was going to do next. So, how do we know what our bodies need?
I get confused, because low energy, as I've experienced the last week, could mean I need to step it up and do an energizing practice. It could also mean I need to rest and take it easy. I try different things and eventually discover that one practice feels better than another. I can't say I decide this easily or quickly. In fact, this whole week I've been going down the wrong path, apparently. I have been fatigued, not sleeping well, and my joints have been acting up in irritating ways. I assumed I'd overdone it, and proceeded to take a couple of days off of yoga. Then I did a home practice that was not up to my usual level. And I felt worse and worse. Today, I finally said to heck with it and headed to my usual intermediate yoga class. And lo and behold, I instantly fell into the groove. We worked our core, and I realized that my third chakra needs some firing up. I also discovered that my wrists felt better after a bunch of vinyasas, and my mind finally shut up for 5 seconds by the end of class. Huh.
So how can I tune in more quickly and recognize my needs? I think I discount my body's cues because I expect limitations from it. I was not a strong person physically for the first 35 years of my life. I get aches and pains, and it takes me a long time to work the stiffness out of my joints in the morning. I have spent time scanning my body for pain and swelling, but not for clues to what I can do to nurture it. I have a fear of my body failing me, yet I don't listen to it and respond in a healthy way. Spending some time every day doing some basic body sensing, my energy level, any restlessness, fatigue, aches and pains, and then listening from the inside will help me to recognize the cues, I hope. I am going to experiment with this and see if i can become more mindful of my physical self, when too often I neglect it in favor of the emotional/spiritual body. If the body is truly the vessel for the soul, as I've read, then the care and nurturing of the physical shell can only enhance the spirit within.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Changes

There are a lot of changes this time of year. Summer turns to fall, and the fun of camp makes way for the classroom. My daughter will be starting first grade at a new school, and riding the bus for the first time. She is as change-averse as I am, so we are trying to work through the transitions together. I have enlisted her older brother's help in walking her through some school activities, like getting her lunch in the cafeteria and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, which was not part of Montessori school. She is nervous, but seems to be excited, too.
My own changes are also approaching. I will be cutting my hours at work and turning over my practice in one office to another provider. Someone new, whom I don't know. I have a lot of ambivalence, even though this is a change I initiated, and that I know will allow me to move forward in exciting ways. I feel an obligation to my patients, understandably, and want to know they are well cared for. Underlying this, I'm certain, is a desire to control the transition. I have to trust that the new person will treat "my" patients well.
Both transitions will require an element of letting go. Change means that we adapt to new situations and continue to move forward, releasing our grip on the past. My daughter will have to learn new ways in first grade, things that will be very different from her former school. In my own transition, I have to accept letting go of some patients so I can incorporate new techniques into my work. My daughter hasn't known another way, and will have to trust her teacher and the other kids in her class. I am forging my own way, and have to trust my intuition that I will find my direction. Change can be scary, but we can't reach our full potential if we stay stuck. I am expecting some growing pains for myself and my daughter, but I'm certain we will move ahead with the support of family and friends.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Mornings

I recently saw a long-time patient who is struggling with a lot of negative thinking. She described her mornings as dreadful, not because of sleep issues, but because she wakes every day thinking of all the things she must do, how difficult it will be, how much she dislikes her job, so on and so forth until she is nearly in tears. These thoughts are definitely part of her chronic dysthymic disorder (a long term, mild depression that is often difficult to treat), but this type of negative thinking is very common outside of depression or dysthymia. I know I've heard the alarm clock and spent the next 9 minutes of snooze time dreading my day.
My patient wanted ideas to help improve her mornings. The good news is, she easily recognized that her thoughts were affecting her emotions. I shared with her a few simple suggestions to try to start her mornings off in a more positive way. These are things I've learned from various sources, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my yoga teacher, several inspirational blogs I read, and probably Oprah is in there somewhere :) The suggestions are overly simple, and designed to be tailored to fit each person, and they are certainly only the tip of the iceberg! If you decide to try to change your own routine, commit to the new practice for at least a month. There is research that says it takes 20-30 days to create a new habit, then it becomes second nature.
1. Get up around the same time every day. Seriously, even on weekends. Try to go to bed around the same time every night, too.
2. Get out of bed the first time the alarm goes off. This prevents the extra time spent stewing and dreading getting up. Put the clock across the room if needed, to make this more likely.
3. Start the morning with a positive thought. Anything will do: "This will be a great day" or "I can't wait to begin," anything you like. You don't have to believe it the first hundred times you try this, but eventually I think you will!
4. Get out of bed on the right foot. Literally. I have read that Ayurvedic science recommends this as part of a morning routine. Hey, every little counts, and so long as it doesn't get all OCD, give it a try!
5. Start the morning with a gratitude practice. Think of things that are great in your life, even if you can only get to "I'm breathing today," choose that and be grateful for it.
6. Consider starting the day with meditation. This has been a huge day saver for me. The peace I find in meditation affects my attitude and reaction to the whole rest of my day.
7. Try some energizing or balancing pranayama (yogic breathing exercises). Yoga Journal is a great resource for more information on these practices.
8. Try to do something active in the morning, like exercise or yoga. Morning yoga loosens up my tight muscles, but I also feel a great sense of accomplishment for having completed my exercise for the day. I can check that box off my to-do list!
9. Eat breakfast. Most important meal of the day, just like mom used to say. A body needs fuel to make it through the day.
10. If all else fails, do what my 8 year old son does, and play an inspirational song. Like I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas or Don't Stop Believing by Journey. Something that makes you smile, sing along and move your body.
I will have to wait a month to see if my patient takes my suggestions, but I use some or all of these most days, and I have seen a huge difference in how I feel as I'm getting going in the morning. It took a while to create an actual routine, and I won't say I pop out of bed with a grin every day, but the odds are much greater than they used to be!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sleep #2

Someone who has no trouble sleeping...



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sleep

Our bodies are designed to sleep at night, to allow our mind to enter a state of complete withdrawal where we can rejuvenate. Yet as natural as sleep is, it is very difficult for a lot of us. Insomnia plagues millions of Americans, and sleeping pills are some of the most prescribed medications available. We label insomnia in different ways, such as initial or early (can't fall asleep), middle (can't stay asleep) and late (wake too early). All are maddening in their own way. I have struggled with insomnia at various times in my life, usually the early type, because I'm worrying and stewing about something. Lucky for me, I can empathize with others going through the same issues. Unfortunately for me, those others have often been my children.
My 8 year old son DJ had a long run of bedtime fears. He started to hear every noise in the house and create elaborate scenarios about the possible source until he was sobbing in the hallway. I tried everything I could think of, including teaching him some "tapping" therapy (google EFT for an explanation), all to no avail. We finally allowed him to turn on his iPod with a sleep mix (prepared by me) that is mostly James Taylor. This has worked well, but he clearly has inherited my worrying mind.
Zee, on the other hand, has had sleep issues since she was born. She was colicky as an infant. That resolved after what seemed like an eternity, only to be replaced by mild night terrors as a three year old. She would start wailing and crying around midnight. She looked awake, but was totally unresponsive to us. In the morning she had no memory of it. This got less and less frequent, until now it happens maybe once every few months. Now her mind is starting to whirl at bedtime, as she processes her day. She often calls to me wanting to discuss some friend or conversation. I am certain this is all just the beginning!
So what's a mother to do? I do use the tapping/EFT that one of our therapists taught me. First of all they like it, it's simple, and it does seem to make them drowsy. I have also tried yoga nidra (a kind of guided meditation), but I need to find a more kid-centered script, so I think it's just my soft voice that helps. I have an alpha wave cd that is designed to bring your mind to a relaxed state, and I can vouch for its effectiveness after falling asleep on the floor to it one night. I have also had them do some simple supported yoga poses, including legs up the wall and child's pose, and taught them three part breathing. So I have tricks up my sleeve, that I have found beneficial for myself, too.
I am slowly trying to incorporate this teaching into patient education because insomnia is so prevalent. It is a symptom of multiple mental illnesses, as well as grief, substance abuse, and just modern day stress. If a particular technique is helpful, it can even assist in weaning off sleeping pills. I keep searching for more techniques to add to my arsenal, since I never know when I'll need something new to try in my house, too!



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Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Ways to Find Your Balance

The yoga class I attended yesterday included a number of balances, from simple tree pose to a "floating" ardha chandrasana. I am not certain why, but I was struggling to find a steady balance on one side. I had arrived feeling flustered because the camp bus was late, and I walked into class after it had already begun. So, my mind was spinning and worrying as we worked our way into the flow. I had to struggle to make my gaze steady, and I was starting to beat myself up in my head for the wobbling on my left leg. Then I had a realization: This is really the whole point of balancing poses, if not yoga itself! The point is simply to be with yourself, no matter where you are at that moment. Later, I thought a lot about balance, and how we try to find it in our lives. So, my little list of 5 Ways to Find Your Balance certainly applies to asana, but I see this as a metaphor for the bigger picture, too.
1. Take a Risk. Balancing requires a leap of faith. We must trust in our one leg to steady us, as the other takes flight. We test our limits so we know what we are capable of achieving.
2. Find Your Focus. We keep our eyes on a steady object. This allows concentration of the mind, and minimizes distractions that would throw us off our goal.
3. Loosen Up. Balancing on one leg requires strength, but we also need to relax. If every muscle is clenched, we're actually more likely to fall over. The micromovements and tiny adjustments are part of the pose, and we can't flow with the breeze unless we let go of a little bit of control.
4. Embrace the Falling. Give yourself a break! Balancing is hard, and we will fall. A lot. Some days, it seems impossible to find the stillness. Instead of the inner name-calling, try laughing and recognizing that the effort is as important as the result.
5. If You Fall, Get Back Up Again! This one is the most important. Persevere. Don't call it a failed attempt and give up, when the next try may lead to success. Or maybe it won't, but if not today, maybe next week.
Balancing poses require extra effort. But when everything comes together, these poses steady our minds and help us attune to our intentions. Balancing on the mat can help us focus our commitments off the mat, which, I've heard said, is where the real yoga is practiced!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Assumptions

I've started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's book on mindfulness, "Wherever You Go There You Are." He often ends a chapter with an exercise to try on your own. The one I read today asked that I truly see the people around me, rather than just my thoughts or judgements about them. I was struck by how difficult that may be immediately after I read it, and watched someone leave their Starbucks cup in the middle of the parking lot when there was a garbage can nearby. I was full of judgements and negative opinions right then!
This exercise seemed to be easier for me with strangers. I have formulated opinions about my regular patients, and all day today I had to remind myself to come back to the present moment and see them as they are, rather than my conceptualization of them. With a stranger, I have no past to color my thoughts, so I only have to watch out for my judgements. It was disconcerting to find out how often I made assumptions about people based on their appearance. I had always thought of myself as an open-minded (and hearted) individual, but I was pretty much pointing and labeling in my mind all day!
I was also on the receiving end of presumptive ideas today. As a psychiatrist, I try to present something of a "blank slate" to patients. They don't know a lot of details about my life or me as a person, this allows them to paint me into whatever role they need to for their treatment. Two patients I've seen for a while now made broad assumptions about me based on my appearance. One was discussing her weight and stated that clearly I had never had weight issues. While I've never had serious weight problems, I was 10-15 pounds overweight for a decade. Another woman assumed I spend a lot of time lifting weights, when it's all yoga, baby. I know a lot of my patients assume I live the perfect healthy life, and that I never struggle the way they do, but that simply isn't true. And I can't assume the person who left their coffee cup in the parking lot is an evil soul who hates the earth... When I jump to these conclusions, I see through the distortion of my thoughts and judgements, rather than seeing a person for who they truly are.
I am thankful for this exercise, and plan to continue to watch my thoughts. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of the mind, for me at least. I tend to leap to the future, regret the past, and forget to enjoy the sunshine while I'm sitting in it. However, I never thought of it as applying to perceptions of people around me. I know I can't stop my mind from jumping from thought to thought, and I know my judging doesn't make me a terrible person. I can recognize the judgements and gently, kindly, bring myself back to the present. Only in this moment can I fully live, and that goes for everyone around me, too.

Book referenced: Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reunion

Next weekend is my 20 year high school reunion. I plan to attend, and have been in contact with some fellow classmates on Facebook. A lot of people are posting about the reunion, and how they wish they could change something about themselves or their lives beforehand. One friend said he needs to lose weight and get married, another said she wished she had taken better care of her skin, another is worrying about what to wear (ok, that's me).
I guess it's natural that a reunion would force us to take stock of our lives. We know we'll see people we knew back then, and I for one would like to prove that I'm not that same girl with the bad perm. But, I am satisfied with what I've accomplished in life, and don't feel I have any regrets about what I bring to the conversation. But what about my friends who are divorced, or unemployed, or are not satisfied with their appearance? I would like to think we are all going to this event to reconnect with old friends, to catch up and have fun, not to judge or look down on people to whom the years have not been kind. I would like to meet people where they are, but I'm sure there will be a lot of looking back. The people who were popular in high school will still be remembered that way, and those who were "losers" may be viewed through that lens, rather than for what they are today.
I don't see any value in regretting the past, and I certainly don't think it's useful to regret our present situation. Attending a reunion with something to prove also seems like the wrong approach. But can I show up as myself, as I am today, which only came about as a result of everything in my past? Can I feel confident but not condescending, and look for the positive in everyone else, even if they used to be a bully or a rival? I hope so. I have worked on opening my heart, and recognizing the divine in each of us. I understand this may be a challenging situation to stay in the moment, and not return to the roles I often assumed as a teenager. I am interested to see what comes up for me back in my old home town!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Be Present

I tried to start meditating a couple of years ago. I know it's supposed to be really good for me, and I had good intentions. I read a couple of books, and learned a lot about the process. Then I sat down and actually tried it. I discovered that my mind never shuts up. I thought about the dumbest stuff, and that led to other dumb stuff, then that led to Lady Gaga songs, and then I couldn't stand it anymore and got up off my zafu. I admit it, I gave up for a couple of years. In the meantime, I continued to do yoga, and we often do short meditations as part of class. Well, in the last several months I started to realize some peace during those times of sitting. When I went to the training session last week, we spent a lot more time meditating and I discovered that I can actually stand to sit now. I'm not sure when it started to happen, but I'm loving it. I have a goal of daily seated meditation for 20 minutes.
I am reading a fabulous book called The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope, and a great deal of the book discusses meditation. I wish I had read it a couple of years ago (although I don't think I would have been ready to "get" it). The author tells about someone new to meditation, and how they wiggle, get uncomfortable, and say they can't stand all the thoughts when all they are trying to get is quiet. He goes on to say that it is like that for everyone. Everyone! No one can fail at meditation, because the point isn't to have an empty mind, it's to be able to observe the thoughts and let them go, to not get attached to the worries and lists and Taylor Swift songs (can you tell who is in charge of the iPod at my house?). It felt so good to realize that my experience is actually the norm. I'm not a bad meditator, just a total novice.
I recommend meditation and other mindfulness practices to patients every day. I know I live too much in the past and future, thinking about what I've messed up and what I need to practice to do better later rather than enjoying this moment right now. I see this same pattern in many people with anxiety and depression. Meditation brings us to the present, and asks us to cultivate an internal "witness mind" that sees the swirling patterns of thoughts, and lets them go, realizing that those thoughts and worries, memories and fears, they are not our True Self. So, I plan to keep coming to my cushion every morning. Sometimes I practice focusing on my breath in and out of my nose, other times I need a mantra to give my mind something to latch onto. Either way, I feel better the rest of the day. I feel more grounded, focused, and Present. Isn't that the point?

Book referenced: The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Body Sense

I just got home from a week of training in LifeForce Yoga for Depression and Anxiety. The training was led by Amy Weintraub, and if you haven't checked out her book, Yoga for Depression, I would highly recommend it. I learned a lot from this experience, and I'm sure it will fuel a number of posts in the coming weeks. One of the most memorable experiences from the week was also one of the strangest for me. It was a therapeutic long hold of a bridge pose.
Bridge pose is a simple back bend, but it requires a lot of leg and spine strength, as well as flexibility in the psoas muscles. The psoas muscles reach from the rear of the body along the inside of the spine, through the hips, to attach to the top of the femur bone. They are involved in balance and stability, and are also thought to be a repository for emotional baggage such as past trauma, a lack of support in early development, and chronic everyday stress. The theory behind a therapeutic long hold is that the body will release tension without the mind having to get involved. This allows for opening without re-experiencing traumatic memories. However, this is not an exercise that should be done by anyone with PTSD or acute traumatic symptoms, it is simply too powerful.
I have to say I was extremely skeptical that this exercise would do anything other than test my endurance, because I don't love bridge pose. I was with a really great group of people, however, some of whom have done this before, and assured me it would be worth it. So, I dove right in. We held the pose without props, and with no idea how long the experience would last (we later found out it was about 13 minutes). The facilitator also told us we could push up to full wheel pose if we felt the need for more opening. I did go between the two poses a couple of times, and it really allowed me to take it to the next level. Amy and her staff also helped us stay grounded, telling us to stay present and not "zone out" in the pose.
People around me were in varying states of emotional release within 5 -8 minutes. Some people were sobbing, some were laughing, singing, chanting, or just trying to muscle through. In the first 5 minutes I had a flash of a childhood memory, not traumatic, as I fortunately had a pretty "normal" childhood. It was a moment I can best describe as feeling unheard. I don't know why that memory popped up, as I've honestly not thought about it in decades, but there was really no emotion attached to it, in the usual sense of the word. Then I really kind of lost myself in the sensation of my body in the pose. I felt extremely strong and free, and after a second full wheel, I started to cry. I have no idea why. There were no thoughts attached to it initially, but then I had a burst of insight about a dilemma I've been batting around in my mind for months now. When they told us we could release the pose, I didn't want to. When we finally came down, the facilitators led us in a really deep yoga nidra experience (literally "yogic sleep") which is a guided body sensing that relaxes the mind and body and allows you to connect to your deepest source. We did some processing, and some people were unable to let go, and ended up feeling angry and let down by the experience. But most of us had some form of emotional release, whether or not it resulted in any great revelations.
I do not think this is an exercise to be undertaken alone. First of all, I'm not sure it would work without a safe presence in the room to allow you to release. Secondly, I believe the processing afterwards is needed to really garner the benefits. However, it can really open the body and the mind for yogis wanting to get at their deeper core. Interestingly, my body felt really good afterwards. My legs weren't sore, my hips and lower back didn't ache, they felt magnificent, and still do. Amy told us that would be the case, but I honestly didn't believe that for a second. My main lesson from this was that the body is connected to the mind in ways we cannot see in an anatomy book, and not all emotional release needs to come from talking. I do not foresee using this technique with patients or students, but it was a revelation for me personally, and I'm very grateful for the insights I gained.

Here is a link to Amy Weintraub's LifeForce Yoga for Depression website: http://www.yogafordepression.com/index.html
Check out http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/472 for a description of bridge pose.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Law of Detachment

I have admitted in previous posts that I struggle with expectations, I become too attached to a particular outcome and lose sight of the journey. This has been a lifelong issue, as I have always been a planner. I like to know ahead of time what the schedule will be, who I will see, what I need to bring, then I tend to list it all in a notebook so I can refer to it as I'm going. I do believe I've gotten a bit "looser" with this tendency since I've started doing yoga, but I'm betting my husband would say I still have a ways to go.
I just finished reading The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, and it has forced me to have another look at my attachment. This book has been on my list for a long time, but I finally got around to reading it after yet another yogi said I really needed to get this one in my head. Boy, he was right. The book is short, but very "spiritually dense" if you know what I mean. The whole thing is filled with passages I've highlighted, but the last 2 laws resonated the most with me.
The penultimate law is the law of detachment. This fits in perfectly with my little expectation and planning problem, as it states we must let go of our attachment to the outcome or result of every situation. In this book, he is relating it to "success," but this certainly applies to many other areas of life. Deepak Chopra explains that if we have only one way to reach any goal, or only one perfect result, we set ourselves up to miss other possibilities. What if there were other, more interesting ways to reach the same goal? What if we flowed with the universe, allowing it to guide us, instead of planning every inch of the way?
I read this and felt a light bulb go on in my brain. I'm hopeful this will be the light bulb that finally allows me to budge on this whole attachment thing, because I am telling you this tendency runs deep! I am trying to put this into practice, as I'm leaving Friday for a training program on Yoga for Depression. I am excited, but I have no idea where I'm going, who I'm going to meet, what the schedule will be, and what or where I will eat. I could probably find out a lot of these things if I compulsively checked the internet, quizzed every yogi I know, or called the course director, but I don't actually need to know these things. I know when my flight leaves, and where the shuttle will pick me up. I know roughly what I need to pack. I know I'm excited to learn something new and different and connect with other mental health professionals who are passionate about yoga and how it can help our patients. Beyond that, I am going to let go of my expectations, open my heart, and see what possibilities arise!

Book referenced: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success - A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams by Deepak Chopra

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seriously, No Happy Pill

As a psychopharmacologist, I prescribe a lot of medications for people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. I have tried to become clear in recent years in describing what I expect these medications can and cannot do. Sometimes I forget to give the speech, but a lot of times people do not hear what they do not want to hear. I believe medications can save lives and can take a depressed person from complete despair to functional. Sometimes the results are nothing short of miraculous, most of the time they are not.
My short speech explains that medications can provide symptomatic relief for the illness they are intended to treat. They can make a person more energetic, sleep better, feel more engaged and less irritable, and reduce unwarranted crying spells. They will not, however, make a person happy. The pills cannot bring joy or love, they can't take away a terrible job or marriage, and they will not make every day a lovely party filled with sunshine. Ok, that last part I don't actually say, but it's implied. Yet at least every week, if not more often, I am told by formerly depressed people that they are not happy. Or worse from my standpoint, that they still have bad days now and then. Really? So do I... Life is full of ups and downs, and emotions will change with circumstances. If you have a lousy job, you will have to find a way to cope with it and not let it create despair, or you will have to find another job. Prozac will not change that fact.
I am on a roll on my good old soap box here, but I think this topic is so important, I named my blog after it! I have been reading a lot of so-called happiness psychology, and it makes serious sense to me. We have to choose each day to be in the moment, to not let the little things bring us down and to practice gratitude. These choices will help us stay afloat on the waves of circumstance and emotion that can affect our mood. Again, medications are necessary for some people to allow them to get to the point of being able to choose. That is their value. Then, as my speech usually ends, the real work begins. We can choose to exercise, breathe, practice a spiritual pursuit, eat well and find a way to give back to others. These plus many other positive experiences will help us choose happiness each and every day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Self-Doubt

My son DJ is 8. There are days when he thinks he is the greatest thing ever to walk the earth. The smartest in his class, the best looking, the best athlete. Then there are days like today where he misses a fly ball and he thinks he is the biggest dork in the world. No amount of reassurance can convince him that he is a great ball player in spite of his error, and the great throw he made to get an out at second is completely irrelevant in his self-assessment. There are factors that make him more likely to doubt himself: being seen messing up by other people (especially his peers), being overtired, and really wanting to do well.
These seem to be fairly universal factors. If I wobble in tree pose in my home practice, I can shrug it off. If I'm in the front row in yoga class, I am likely to call myself an idiot for hours afterwards. So, fear of being judged harshly by others makes me doubt myself. The second factor, being overtired, is just another way of saying our defenses are down. Overtired, behind schedule, not enough prep time, my lucky socks were dirty, whatever, if the situation is less than ideal, I am less confident. The third factor, wanting it so badly, is also universal. DJ really wants to hit a home run. Hitting the fence is therefore a failure.
So let's put all of these together for a recent scenario in my life. I offered to teach a gentle yoga class to my parents in my basement. I didn't have enough time to practice beforehand, so I was nervous and doubting some parts of the class. I really wanted to do well in front of my parents so they would approve of my yoga teaching (yes I have mother issues), and my kids were taking my class as well. It was a perfect storm of factors to create self-doubt and criticism. I did come off nervous initially, and didn't present as well as I would've liked. The kids got squirrelly, and the middle of the class became a bit of a circus when our cat Jack Jack caught a mouse in the furnace room (I swear I'm not making this up) and ran toward the stairs. Afterwards, I felt I had let myself down. I didn't show myself as the teacher I'm striving to become, because the class completely dissolved into chaos. Ok, how could it not, after that? I can laugh about it, because it was clearly ridiculous, but that doesn't stop the self-questioning. How could I have prepared better? Why don't I practice mirroring more so I'm not confused in front of people? Why didn't I lock the cats in another room? Why was there a mouse in the basement?!
I don't know a way around the three factors I mentioned above, except to be aware of the traps that tend to create self-doubt in the first place. We cannot prepare for every scenario, and we cannot prevent crazy random things from going wrong (seriously, a mouse?). However, self-confidence doesn't have to come out of perfection. Being able to laugh at myself goes a long way towards recovering from embarrassment. Preparing properly allows me to feel confident no matter what the outcome, because I know I've tried my best. Walking tall in front of others shows that I recognize I am a strong and intelligent woman, even if I trip and fall. Letting go of a desired outcome lets me enjoy the ride rather than striving for something I cannot control. Now if only I can teach all that to DJ so he doesn't have to work on self-doubt when he gets to my age!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Breathe

From the moment we are born to the moment our souls leave our bodies, we are breathing. It is the one constant thing in our lives, yet our breath is also ever-changing. If we are calm and relaxed, it is slow and deep. If we are anxious or upset, it can be shallow, gasping and tight. We have to breathe, and if we try to stop, eventually our brain will force the issue, making us take an involuntary breath. Yet we can control our breathing to some extent, unlike most other biological functions. Behavioral techniques can lengthen the breath and calm the body, reducing tension and slowing the heart rate. So, we can affect how we feel by changing our breath!
I hardly ever give a thought to my breathing. I don't notice it until I'm feeling short of breath, quite frankly, then I wonder if I'll ever feel full of oxygen again! The typical posture of a stressed out American works against getting a full breath into the lungs. Our shoulders slump forward, our chest caves in and our neck collapses. This reduces our lung capacity significantly and leads to shallow breaths into our upper chest, which only perpetuates tension in our muscles. I feel the effects of a day slumped over my desk in my neck and shoulders, and I bet you have felt it, too! Taking time to stretch the shoulders, open the chest, and take some deep breaths can restore energy during a mid-day slump. Our minds can refocus because our oxygen saturation goes up. All this from a simple stretch at the desk!
The other wonderful thing about the breath is it's constancy. I am working on becoming more mindful, and one way I can come back to this moment at any time is to stop and notice my breath. Listening and feeling the air going in and out of my nostrils grounds my flighty thoughts and zaps me back into the now. This is actually a simple form of meditation anyone can perform, simply sit quietly and "watch" the breath. Notice the air as it flows in and out, and let all other thoughts simply drift away with your exhales. Try this the next time you're living in the future, worrying about all you have to get done. See if it doesn't ground you back into the present. The breath is a gift, keeping our bodies alive and our minds calm and focused, if we use it wisely.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beauty

Beauty is all around us, and some days the brillance just dazzles me. I'm not certain if it is the sun and blue sky after so much rain, the amazing yoga class this morning, or the nice woman who painted flowers on my toes at the nail salon, but I'm feeling the sweetness today. Some days we keep our heads down and avoid looking at anything. Our shoulders slump and it gets harder to feel our heart energy. Today I'm standing tall!
We can find beauty all around us, if we look. The women trying to lift off into crow pose for the first time, and the pros flying high, they all shine. The warmth of a smile and a kind word from a stranger shows me their beauty, no matter what they look like. I believe my open heart today will draw kindness to me from others. Smiles are meant to be returned, whether or not you belive in the law of attraction. Join me in keeping your heart open and your eyes lifted today, enjoy the beauty around you!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Take Time

Every summer I try to schedule a few extra days off to enjoy myself. Every year, I wish I had blocked out more time. Summer is short in the Midwest, and we pack it full of art fests, outdoor ballgames and fireworks. This year, we already have something planned every weekend in July! Our schedule is packed! When I am on the go so much, it becomes more of a challenge to remember to breathe and enjoy myself. Even if we are headed somewhere fun, it becomes an item on the calendar, rather than a Cubs' game. I get cranky if we don't get out the door when I expected, or if someone forgets their water bottle. I lose sight of the entire objective: a good time!
I am still a novice at staying in the moment. I spend a lot of time planning and expecting, when I should be relaxing and letting it be. I work every day on staying present and not projecting into the future. It's not easy for me, though! Shopping for groceries the other day was a perfect example. I was racing around the store trying to remember every item we needed. I looked over, and couldn't find my daughter Zee for a moment. I turned and saw her, back by the front of the store, and started to yell at her to keep up. Then I noticed she was smelling the flowers. Literally. The big buckets of them in the front of the produce section. Wow, didn't that bring me up short. There was absolutely no reason for my hurry, and she was just enjoying her surroundings in this moment, rather than anticipating what was coming in the next one.
My goal this summer is to take more time. Time off, time doing what I enjoy, and yes, time smelling the flowers. I have a lot of commitments scheduled, and I will accomplish what needs to be done. In between, I will enjoy the moment, hopefully outdoors in the sunshine! Summer vacation is upon us, and even though we don't get three months off, we can still savor the fun we find time for, even if it is scheduled in advance.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Balance

I read somewhere that a balanced life looks different to different people. Sounds strange, but I think we can find truth in that statement. Balance to me means enough time for each sphere of my life: family, work, yoga, and maybe some left over for me. Maybe I ought to move myself up in the priority list :) Finding balance is a challenge for most people, I hear about it all day long. We work too much, and let the demands of career overtake everything else. There's no time for exercise, no time for simple pleasures like coffee with friends, and there is never time to make and prepare nutritious food. All of these things would fall under the "me" category, I believe!
In yoga, when we are doing balancing poses, we find a steady gaze, or dristi. We keep our eyes focused softly on one point and it helps keep us upright. A single focus allows the extraneous stuff to become less of a distraction, and our minds calm, too. However, what if our focus is too one-pointed? I have recognized in a challenging balance sequence that I'm staring at the dot on the Buddha tapestry for all I'm worth. I forget to notice my hip in tree pose, and sink into it instead of lifting out and allowing some sway. Eventually it becomes more likely that I'll topple over, not less! So, I have to find balance in my focus, as well.
In real life, this can mean keeping a goal in sight, but not at the expense of everything else. We have to allow for the flow, sway with the breeze a little bit, and remember that balance is never static. In every pose, we have some movement, little corrections that redirect our energy and weight. We may appear to be quite still, but our body is always balancing effort with relaxation and finding the best way to keep us upright.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Expectations

I read a wonderful blog post today that concluded with these words: "...the ability to be happy and experience peace at any given moment is not contingent on how I expected an event to occur. We all have the ability to manage expectations, change our state of mind and ultimately be happy regardless of how we expect things will unfold." (Posted on tinybuddha.com by Jared Akers, author of the blog spiritualzen.net)
This article came to my inbox at the perfect time, as I am feeling disappointed because my expectations are not going to be met. I have made great progress on my spiritual path, but this is my biggest sticking point. I want things the way I want them, and right now. Maybe it's growing up an only child in America. Maybe it's my inner control freak, or my vata-pitta nature. Whatever the reason, it's hard for me to avoid projecting my wants onto most situations. I didn't want to be stuck in traffic on the way to the dance recital last night. I don't want to cancel my upcoming lunch with a friend. But these things are out of my control, and I have to change my state of mind here! (You can hear the "dammit" at the end of that statement, can't you? I'll leave it off then.) The only control I have right now is over my reaction. I know this is true, and eventually I will get back to my breath and recognize that I can still be happy even though things will not go the way I would like.
Expectations creep up for me all day long. I expect sunshine, happy children and Life cereal for breakfast. Now you can see how I've set myself up to be disappointed all day long. Clouds, my son coming off the wrong side of the bed and something as silly as running out of my favorite cereal will bring me crashing down. I can roll with it and stay on top of the water, or I can sink into the muck. Some days I have to work much, much harder at changing my state of mind. Other days I have the fortitude to recognize the outcome of any given situation is beyond my control. Then I can stay in the joy that is my true nature no matter what is happening around me. I am hopeful these days will become more frequent, but I won't say that I expect it...
Much thanks to tinybuddha.com and Jared Akers of spiritualzen.net for the slap of perspective :) I really love the tinybuddha emails, you can sign up on their website if you're interested.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Body Image

When I was young I had a couple of naturally skinny friends. I was not fat, but these girls were very thin. We started to notice the differences between us as we got a little older, and in fourth grade or so I started to feel like the fat girl in the group. I wasn't nuts with negative body image or anything, but these thoughts were compounded as puberty hit and I rounded out noticably. I struggled with body image a lot in high school, trying different exercises and flirting with bulimia. I still have moments when I dislike parts of my body.
I think my body image issues are actually more the norm than anything disordered in our society, which is pretty sad as far as I'm concerned. I have a lot more respect for my body these days because of what it can do physically. Yoga has made me strong and mindful of my movements and my breathing, and I'm in the best shape of my life. Yet I still worry about my appearance at times, in an irrational way.
I have been constantly conscious of how I talk about appearance since I've had kids. I can honestly say I have never asked my husband if I look fat in something, and we don't talk about dieting or losing weight. But, my 6 year old daughter Zee has already made comments that strike fear in my heart. She said her belly is too big (and now will not even say the word belly). I have no idea where these ideas have come from but I am going to be all over them in an instant.
I believe yoga has significantly improved my body image, and multiple research studies support this, as well as it's effect on mindful eating. I hope to introduce Zee to some kids yoga at this impressionable age so she can feel more secure in her own skin rather than relying on external validation. I am also reading a book on fostering positive body esteem in kids (if it's good I'll post a reference later). I never imagined I would have to worry about this so soon!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Accountability

I am reading another book about happiness, called "How We Choose to be Happy" by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. It explains the traits shared by truly happy people whom the authors met during years of research. The book also offers ideas how we mere mortals with average happiness can incorporate these traits into our lives. I just finished reading about the second choice, "accountability." On page 46 of the book, the authors describe what this means to a happy person: "Happy people don't see themselves as victims, even under the most difficult circumstances. Their focus is on finding solutions to their problem and looking for what they can do to make their lives better." The happy people they describe accept responsibility for their own lives, the good and the bad, and recognize they can make choices that will further their own goals.
It follows that unhappy people make different choices. They may blame others for their problems, or get stuck in a victim or martyr role, as these sad choices have the potential to be self-perpetuating. It is never easy to accept responsibility for actions that have gone wrong or caused harm, yet if we do, we show a strength of character that can connect us with others rather than causing more separation.
I've been dealing with an ugly situation this week, in which one person is choosing blame and victimhood rather than accountability. Poor choices were made that couldn't have been ignored. However, had they accepted responsibility and said "I made poor choices, I'm sorry and it won't happen again" there are relationships that could have been salvaged. As it is, the finger-pointing, angry tirades and "How could you do this to me?" have closed doors that probably won't be reopened. Reading "How we Choose to be Happy" has forced me to look at my role in this scenario. Even though the choices weren't mine, boundaries could have been set that would have removed me from the action altogether. I can learn from this and ensure I am accountable for making different choices in the future.
But accountability is not just for mistakes and mea culpas. It also means responsibility for our own happiness. I am accountable to myself for my own life. Things don't just happen to me, I can choose actions to further my own success, my own comfort and my own joy. I understand how this philosophy leads to greater happiness, because it implies that we have the control and are not powerless in any situation. I don't have to sit around waiting for good things to happen! This means, however, that I'm not allowed to sit around and wait for good things to happen... I think I'm pretty good at accepting responsibility for my mistakes. My next step is actively choosing to further my own happiness.

Reference: "How we Choose to be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People- Their Secrets, Their Stories" by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks

Monday, May 24, 2010

Just Breathe

I had to remind myself to breathe today. I saw a new patient that became very angry and started shouting at their partner in another language in my hallway. It was a tense moment for everyone in my office, and I was afraid I would have to call 911. Luckily, the situation de-escalated, but my breathing did not return to normal for quite some time. I was agitated and anxious, and breathing fast and high into my chest. Instead of calming down, I wondered why I felt so nervous even an hour later. My own physiology was at fault. My rapid breath was increasing the CO2 in my body, and not allowing the exchange of oxygen I needed. When I finally figured this out, I was able to bring it back into conscious control.
Breathing is not a totally unconscious physical function of our body. We can control our breath, where it goes, how fast or slow, at least to a certain extent. And the way we breathe significantly affects our physical and emotional responses to stress. Deep, conscious breathing into the abdomen triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and can override the stress response. But we must focus to create this type of breathing if we are already anxious. Stress hormones like epinephrine increase our respiratory rate, and we tend to breathe quickly to suck in as much oxygen as possible. If we don't take the time to exhale fully, we can end up with too much toxic carbon dioxide in the blood, and become light-headed and dizzy... these can be some of the first symptoms of a panic attack!
So how do we take control of our breath? The first thing to do is recognize a stressed breathing pattern. Sitting quietly and simply observing the breath is a good place to start. I finally recognized my shallow breaths when I felt my heart pounding and kept yawning. Hmm, my body trying to tell me something! The next step is to slow the rate of breathing. Don't hold the breath, simply sip the air in more slowly through the nose. Inhale all the way into the belly, the chest and finally up to the collar bones, then exhale. Make the exhale longer than the inhale. A good place to start is inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 8. Do this for several breaths or a few minutes, ideally, and you will feel the calmness start to return.
Dysfunctional breathing patterns, like any good dysfunction, develop from years of bad habits, and can take a lot of observation and redirection to correct. However, the payoff is short-circuiting anxiety before it takes over. Fear and stress are a part of most of our lives at some point or another. The breath is a powerful tool we always have with us to regain our center.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Satya

DJ told me he has a friend, Keith, that tells lies. Keith tries to impress people by saying he has lots of toys and money. If someone gets a special honor, he claims he received the same one. DJ likes to play with Keith, but recognizes that his lying isn't cool. Tonight I asked him to think about his friend, and how sad it is that he feels he must tell lies to get attention.
DJ then told me about his other friend, Charlie, who is happy for him if his artwork gets displayed at school, and can be himself no matter what. Guess who he'd rather play with? Even at the age of 8, kids can tell a genuine person from a braggart, and choose who they want to spend time with on the playground. Charlie doesn't have more stuff than Keith, and he isn't better at sports or video games. But he doesn't have to pretend to be something he's not to feel good.
In yogic philosophy the term for truthfulness is Satya. It implies being honest with speech and actions, but also honest with our own thoughts. My guess is that Keith has an elaborate system of lies in his own mind to justify the way he acts. I feel sad that he lacks confidence and will surely lose friends because of his lying. It was a good way to talk about Satya, and how even little fibs that don't seem to matter can hurt you. The kids could easily recognize that Keith's lies were not terrible or harmful to others, but were hurting him all the same. I hope they also learned to show compassion to a braggart, and recognize that his lies come from sadness inside.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Little Things

I was at a large gathering of my husband's family this weekend. There were several relatives there I hadn't met before, and many others we haven't seen in a very long time. This included one of my husband's great uncles, who we met briefly several years ago. He is in his eighties, and I honestly don't even recall where we met. A wedding, maybe? Since that time, we've sent him a Christmas card each year. In this day and age, this is really not a big deal. You just type in the address, and it prints out with all the others. However, this gentleman did not regard this as a small thing. He made a point to tell me how much he appreciated our cards, and what a kind and thoughtful person I am for sending it to him. Huh. Who would have thought?

My lesson from this brief encounter is that we can never know the impact small gestures will have on someone else. I wonder if the Starbucks cashier knows how pleased she made me by complimenting my make-up this morning? That made it easier for me to smile at people in line at Walgreens, and maybe they will be more likely to offer a kind word to the next person they meet. It's an epidemic of kindness and love! That's so much nicer than the typical pattern of anger and frustration seeping from one person to infect the next. Little gestures can brighten a bad day, or make a person feel appreciated. I know I will be more likely to look for small ways to be kind after realizing the impact something so little can make to another person.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nerves

I am nearing the end of my yoga teacher training and taking the baby steps to progress from student to teacher. I say baby steps because I am holding myself back somehow. I did my first assistant teaching last night, which involves following the lead of the teacher and making adjustments or assists to students. Not a big deal, I didn't have to speak or create a series or theme, but I was so anxious before the class! It went well, and I actually really enjoyed it, so why all the nerves?
My next step is going to be creating my own class to teach to friends or family, people truly "on my side." But once again I'm so anxious! I haven't even started trying to put together a class plan yet. Although there is no urgency, it is the next step I must take to finish the program. There are several women in my class who are already teaching regular classes! I am a confident, intelligent woman with a lot of great ideas to share. Right?? So why do I get filled with self-doubt?
I think most of us have struggled with confidence at one time or another. I am trying to explore where my crisis is coming from. I have taught before, in various capacities, and I was a performer for years. But I think I'm struggling to find my voice. Am I soft-spoken and kind, sharing spiritual thoughts, or am I assertive and funny, weaving interesting anecdotes into the theme? Can I be both? I have had both kinds of teachers, and one beautiful teacher who can be both depending on the class. I don't want to be her, but can I inspire students the way she has inspired me?
I am going to start small with a simple class for my family, then for some girfriends, then for my office staff. These are kind supportive people who will be on my side. Then I can venture into more challenging groups where students don't know me personally. In the meantime, I will be working on my voice, speaking more, writing more, opening my throat chakra. I made great strides in opening up writing this blog, then let it slip away in the last several weeks. I hope to move ahead, and begin again on my road to self-expression. This will allow me to welcome inspiration and share it with others. That is my true goal!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, May 10, 2010

Motherhood

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and we moms deserve some serious credit. Motherhood is probably the most challenging job there is, in my opinion. Before we had DJ, one of our friends with kids asked us "What are you two going to do with a baby?!" I was mortally offended at the time, but later realized he was commenting more on the challenges of parenting than our inability to do it.
Every stage of growth adds a new challenge. I have to say we make really awful babies (one word: colic), and Zee was a particularly willful 3 year old. But they are turning out to be lovely young people. They are, of course, the smartest, most talented, gifted and beautiful children in the world :)
Motherhood requires an incredible amount of multi-tasking. I have to make dinner while helping with homework and piano practice. There's usually laundry going, baths to be given, and sometimes my pager starts beeping just to add to the fun. It can feel like a three ring circus. Sometimes it's challenging to take care of everything.
But the most difficult times are not the sports, dance, music, homework stuff, it's the emotions I experience when they are hurting. I can become a mama bear in an instant, but have to watch it and not go ballistic on some kid calling Zee names, or telling DJ he's not a good artist. My son is particularly sensitive to teasing, so we've had several of these kinds of situations. It's hard to stay back and let them fight their own battles when appropriate, and we can't fix everything. I try to help them make the best choices and stay true to themselves.
Motherhood can be a serious challenge, especially if I'm tired, or sick, or just need some alone time. That can be really hard to come by! I don't believe we should sacrifice all for our kids, they need to recognize that we must take care of ourselves, too. Sometimes I hide in the bathroom to get a few minutes to myself, but most of the time I wouldn't trade my job as mom for anything!


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Acceptance

DJ and I have been arguing about proper attire in the spring weather. The problem is that it changes daily in the Midwest, and while we could comfortably wear shorts earlier in the week, we will need jackets tomorrow. Yesterday he lamented that the weather "goes back and forth and back and forth and back and forth before it's finally warm!" Yep. That's right. We could fight the weather each day and keep wishing it was warm, but wishing don't make the sun shine, now does it?
We live in a society that is always searching for something better. We think a few more dollars, a better house, or sunny spring weather will bring us joy. Yet we are often disappointed to find we don't really feel that much differently even when we get what we want. Then we want something else... Consider common Midwestern small-talk (which is almost always about the weather): We go from complaining about the cold to moaning about the heat. We are not content with the present, and we are wasting time wishing it could be different.
Why are we so attached to one particular outcome? I used to make myself crazy worrying about things outside my control, hoping and praying events would turn out the way I wanted. I was fairly certain our trip to the water park would be ruined if it was cool, and obsessively checked the weather before we left. It was cool, and we spent more time at the indoor slides. And everyone had a great time. And... all that worrying was for nothing! Who says there is only one way for us to be happy?
I have only recently started to look at this tendency in myself, and I am learning about acceptance. In yoga, we practice "non-attachment" to the outcome on the mat, knowing that if we fall we just have to get up again. The perfect pose may be there one day, but not the next, so we accept where we are on this day. As so many yogic teachings do, this one works in real life, too. If I stay accepting of any outcome, be it the weather, the new patient who may be difficult, or the traffic, I remain calm and peaceful inside. No matter what is happening around me. I'm not saying this is easy. I have to remind myself constantly to let go of my attachment to a wished-for result. It is harder this time of year, because I can't disagree with DJ, I do wish it was warm and sunny! I want to get to the point of acceptance, so that rain or sun, my attitude doesn't change.