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!

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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.


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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!


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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.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Words Matter

I was at Target yesterday, and the woman in line behind me was growing more flustered with her kids by the minute. Her child committed one final egregious offense, and she said loudly "I swear you're birth control for people without kids!" This wasn't the first time I've heard this comment, maybe some comedian made it popular? But I was shocked. She also had an older son, who clearly heard her and knew what she was saying. I have also had the experience of asking people how their kids are, and been told (with their kids right next to them) that they are "rotten," and my favorite of all time, "buttheads." Seriously. Kids were right there. Now you have to wonder if maybe their behavior has something to do with the parents? Kids have particularly sensitive ears when you're talking about them.
But our words can hurt adults, too. I think we've all made comments in frustration, or "jokingly" (when really we weren't), that we regret later. Our words can affect personal relationships, business interactions, or total strangers in line with us at the Target. I heard a quote once that says "Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our character." Kind of puts a new spin on it, doesn't it? Now I'm thinking more carefully about my thoughts, too!
The book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz is a wonderful little book in size, but it contains profound ideas about how to live life. It won't ruin the book to tell you that the first agreement is "Be impeccable with your word." Don Miguel argues that our words are so important that they can "change a whole belief for better or for worse." Think of the example of the kids at Target. The mom was really saying he was a terrible kid, and I think it could be inferred that she wouldn't have had him if she knew what she was in for. Maybe that child was just having fun being a kid, and mom was having a bad morning. He now believes that mom thinks he's rotten. Perhaps even a butthead. Possibly he then questions his own worth for the first time? I'm not saying he will end up in a gutter as a teen, but you get the idea. Our words reflect our innermost thoughts, and they tell a lot about our character. Speaking with intention to communicate clearly and honestly is a goal that can be achieved, if we are working on our thoughts and character, too.
Words can also have a positive impact. Giving a compliment, saying a heartfelt thanks, or offering a sincere apology can foster better relationships. If our thoughts are coming from our hearts, from a place of love and peace, then we can use our words to influence those around us in a beautiful way. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. I like to think of the positive things I can do with my words. What we say really matters, and can affect the world for good or bad. If I work towards kindness or "impeccability" in my speech, I can hope to influence others around me to do the same. Maybe then kindness and peace will attract more kindness and peace and all of our interactions will be sincere.