Wow...Could an entire year have gone by? I guess I really haven't been attending to my webpage if an entire year and global pandemic has gone by and I didn't write one thing about it? It's all up here (in my head) I guess. That and I have worked really hard this year, increasing my client load tremendously because of the greater need, and volunteering some pro-bono sessions at the start of the pandemic when things were just NUTS really. We all didn't know what was going on, what was going to happen and could we really do this? Well the answer on that one is YES we did do this FOR A YEAR...and here we are in March 2021- we are not quite there but we are closer.
It has been amazing and a privilege to watch so many of my clients move from panic, deep depression and inability to sit with "what is" and being with themselves in very uncomfortable situations; being laid off, recovering from a surgery, ending a relationship, not seeing family for over a year, working from home and managing babies at the same time to practicing step by step to sit with themselves, take small challenges, build in self care, have hope, take risks and not merely survive this beast of a year but THRIVE. I know that this was not the case for everyone but being witness to this transformation is why I and other therapist do what we do.
For me I dug in too. I kept my structure- which I constantly reminded my clients to do; get out of your pajamas! Get dressed, take that morning walk/run whatever but do not just sit in one place all day.
I started running regularly again, one small social event twice per week during this cold cold winter.
I literally just asked two friends I would see every day on my morning walk with my dog, "hey I think I need to move more, "Can I run with you guys?" The answer-"yes", and so I started. ACCOUNTABILITY.
Now I have placed accountability all over my schedule. With my sister once a week to work on our career goals, with a coach I hired to keep pushing me to create the online course I have been pushing to the back burner (or just plain avoiding) for two years- YES 2 YEARS! I feel more engaged, Have more energy and I feel focused on what I want out of this next chapter of my life. How did COVID do this for me? Somehow it has, it has brought in the reality of life- we just don't know what is coming next, so perhaps we should dig in to what we have because it can change just like that.
This is What I Know…My breath has become my anchor, and I use it all the time to keep me grounded. I get a lot of practice, given I lead pretty much all of my clients in mindfulness practice for about ten minutes in their session, and so I am practicing as well. I notice that if I am getting affected by a client's story in a way that I'm connecting it to myself- getting distracted almost by my own stuff, I actively take in a breath and use the exhale to regroup, resettle and refocus on their stuff. Honestly this doesn't happen too often but big things have happened in my life and I must attend to my clients despite this. A good example is during the time my father was dying, I had two clients whose father's were also dying. This was not easy. When I got pulled to my own sadness- the breath kept me balanced, present, and grounded.
And yes, I'm becoming that annoying person in yoga that breathes loudly! I kind of don't care anymore, and that in itself is a fabulous feeling. My breath is releasing lots of stuff, stuff we don't even realize or recognize that we are carrying around ; physical tension, sadness, worry, fear and letting go of the day. I love to do this in child's pose. There is something about resting my forehead into the mat, allowing the body to rest into the pose and exhale. When I'm exhaling I think about all the "stuff" I'm leaving on the mat. This visualization is very helpful for releasing the physical tension from my body. The day is done, so I'm leaving it here, thank you very much.
If you didn't already know here are some of the amazing benefits of our life force...
When we breathe deeply and fully...
*The body relaxes and begins to release tension allowing for greater absorption of oxygen into every cell.
*Oxygen increases within the body, which creates energy and improves functionality of all the bodily systems; circulatory, immune, muscular, endocrine, digestive, nervous and cardiovascular systems.
*The nervous system is balanced by the stimulation of the parasympathetic branch, the "rest and digest" system. This helps to slow heart rate, conserve energy and enhances the body's natural ability to heal.
*The heart rate lowers, the muscular system releases tension and the blood vessels are able to dilate, allowing for improved circulation and lowering the body's blood pressure.
*Oxygen levels flowing to the brain increase, heightening mental clarity, concentration, stamina and promoting fuller awareness and mindfulness.
*Pent up emotion and tension can release. When you're upset, take a few deep breaths, you may still feel upset but you may experience a little more head space, to allow for more clarity.
*Stress hormones are lowered, in particular adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are known to suppress the immune system. So recovery and healing are improved by intentional breathing.
* The mind is harnessed, so that we are more able to watch our thoughts, like an active witness as opposed to getting caught up in them. With practice you can see you are more than just your thoughts.
*The body's production and distribution of natural opiates increases, helping to strengthen the threshold for pain.
*Oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are balanced, which helps to create an alkaline environment which reduces acidity, inflammation and infection.
So, your breath is your superpower .... maybe you should start using it!
Meditating aggressively... what is that you ask? This was a moment in session with a client this past week. It's an oxymoron, right? But he was saying; "I am doing all the things; yoga, connecting with friends, meditating- meditating aggressively! We had a laugh about this, partially because it is funny and partially because it was a bit true. So why am I up in my head still, self assessing and self questioning? Still unhappy?
Our discussion led to the experience of duality; on one hand a nihilistic outlook given the current state of things in the world and at the same time- doing "all the things" to be a content and happy person. Sometimes this can lead people to feel that hopelessness of "what's the point of it all"? Another way we talk about this in therapy, especially in addictions is the "all or nothing" thinking. A good question when you are at one of those poles, at either all or nothing, is, "what would the middle, or the happy medium look like right now? In mindfulness that might be seeing humor in your wandering mind. Just when you think you're in the moment- you recognize you are thinking (insert-laugh at yourself)! In connecting with friends, it might look like taking time in the moment to notice what you are enjoying; the way your friend tells a story or says something nice to you-notice the good. And in yoga, maybe it's not pushing yourself to intensify that pose, maybe it is letting go and easing up. The backbone of all of this is cultivating that self compassion to accept the experience you are having. It is okay to feel the feels, like everything else it will shift. Feelings rise and then they fall-think of waves crashing and then receding.
What would loosening the grip of your practices look like?
What are you holding onto that you can maybe set down?
What is it about "falling off", falling off the structure that has been keeping us feeling good, organized, mentally calm and physically strong. All I know is that once we fall off-Damn is it hard to get back on. Do you know this experience? Of course you do- everyone does.
I am a seriously structured person in my schedule and rhythms of my day. Sometimes to my fault. A few weeks ago when my teenage son and I were both leaving the house at the same time; him to go to school and me to walk the dog, I said, "do you want to walk together?" He said "okay"- so a yes from a 16 year old boy to walk together. If you don't know- this doesn't happen too often! But then, I commented, "oh well I have a route I take Lexi, so maybe....". It was then I realized I was structured to my own impairment. I quickly realized it and course corrected. I followed my son, on his route, we walked together and it made my day.
Today is a good day, because today after having fallen off my structure due to illness, that lasted awhile I made the plan to start back at yoga. I went to my 6:30 class this morning and it felt so good (even though it was hard), even now 8 hours later. Why? Because I broke the spell. And this after about 1 month, where after being ill, and recovering I still wasn't able to "get back at it". Because it is not just a matter of beginning again. When we get pulled off our structure, other things fall to the wayside and so there can be a lot of catch up to do that maybe we prioritize over some of the wellness pieces of our structure. That was the case for me. Before I started to get up early again, do my morning stretches, and meditate I had to take care of the immediate demands; finishing my grading for the class I teach at Lesley, completing my taxes, catching up with end of year events for my kids. All this kept me up later at night- catching up, and so sleeping in was what was required on the other side.
We all fall off, and we all can slowly, step by step get back on our own path. You don't have to do it all at once. Choose one thing to add back in. Maybe it is setting the alarm early one day a week as opposed to every day, for that early morning time you need before the rush of the day. Maybe it is cooking one healthy dinner and enjoying it, Healthy eating will fall back into place if that is part of your regular habit, or maybe it is carving out some weekend time to give yourself a break.
However you find your way back to your own structure, remember it requires NOT BEING HARD ON YOURSELF. Beating yourself up when you are down does not make sense, does it? When we are down; whether it be illness, our mood, a family crisis we need to actually be KINDER TO OURSELVES. Wouldn't that be the case if it were your dear friend? Wouldn't you offer them support and compassion if they were having a hard time? Of course you would. Try practicing this on yourself. Ask, would I talk to _________ like this? Then send yourself the same loving kindness you would your loved one. Feeling good about yourself is definitely a quicker route to getting back on your path then feeling bad about yourself.
My latest thoughts on anxiety in its purist form is that it is a lack of trust...
TRUST IN YOURSELF
TRUST YOU'LL BE OFFERED OR GIVEN WHAT YOU NEED
TRUST IN THE UNIVERSE
If you are a religious person, this would be equivalent to faith.
If you get pulled into the busy mind and the anxiety that plagues you is the flavor of "what ifs?" or maybe your anxiety takes the form of "what if I make the wrong decision?", Finally there is another form that is "what if someone thinks I'm _______."
Trusting yourself. Can you start to ask yourself these questions, can you trust yourself? Have you shown up in the past for yourself?
Exercise 1: When you're in a good head space, start to make a list of all the times you showed up for yourself? The time your sister called you in need of help and you went, the time you committed to that work out class at 6A and you went, the time you applied for that job that was a bit out of reach. Just list them down the page.These are all times you showed up for yourself. When you are in anxiety mind, you cannot always think rationally and you may only see the times you did not follow through.Your global statement is "I never do anything right". That is just not true. Now keep that list at hand, read it often, add to it and start to trust yourself, you can rely on yourself to show up BIG.
Trusting you'll be offered what you need. For some of us we have been offered what we need in the past and therefore seeing that in the future, going forward is a lot easier. What if you haven't? What if your parents weren't there for you? What if you had no fallback plan financially? Some people are truly on their own. That is stressful. So taking the tack- have I landed on my feet, in the end? It may have been challenging and filled with different kinds of loss, but yes, I am still standing- and there was certainly learning from that. If you have been through A LOT, then you are a survivor, you continue to come back, slog through and try again.
Exercise 2: The reality is that yesterday is gone. Let me repeat, everything that happened yesterday no longer exists. Only our thoughts, interpretations and the meanings we put on yesterday remain. There is a way that yesterday has no bearing on what happens today. Remind yourself, just because it has been hard in the past and you haven't been given what you need, that does not mean that will be the case moving forward. There are always opportunities moving forward. Practice being open to possibilities. Keep your eyes up and open and you will notice them.
Trust in the Universe. When we choose one path, yes that is our direction, and other doors are closed to us (for now). Was it the wrong choice? who knows? You don't know until you are on the path, you have to be willing to take the risk. And guess what, if it is the wrong choice....course correct. You will know the signs, they will keep popping up, whispering in your ears listen to them. You ALWAYS get another choice. It may not be easy but you do get other choices.
Exercise 3: Practice taking small risks. This is a good way to start to test this out, and realize the cost is not such a big deal. Start small, sign up for a class, go on that blind date, get all that long hair cut off! These may sounds silly but small risks can show you- hmmm, that wasn't so bad. Oh hindsight... and they can lead to taking on bigger risks- breaking things off with that person where you know deep down you are not happy, moving to a new part of the country, returning to school.
The universe has your back, really it does so give it a chance...if you have any doubts just go out in nature and notice the amazing way that everything just makes sense.
This image exemplifies my new online therapy mentoring idea. This child is so joyous, you really can't help smile upon seeing him. And even before I saw what his little t-shirt said, this image spoke to me about what it is we are all seeking. Really when you get down to it, what do we all want? really, really want? Love, happiness, connection? Maybe they vary a bit in how we say them, maybe it's joy, peace and to be seen. But we are all talking about the same things. And this child is it in this moment-is he not? Do you remember this feeling? Thrilling, exciting and pure joy. Now, today, (well maybe not today because it's winter) would you run through that sprinkler on a hot summer day? When was the last time you did this? Maybe it's time again. I've started to think about our lives as made up of areas to be giving attention to, or mailboxes that ask us to open them and both empty them out of the junk mail and fill them up with intentional letters or cards we are sending off. You know, when it's your sisters birthday next week and it takes a lot of focus and energy to get a real card at the pharmacy, fill it out, find a stamp, figure out or find her address and then get it into the mail on time! Seriously, it's no small thing these days. It takes focus and practice! They come down to this; health and wellness, spirituality, friends and family, intimacy and sex, adventure and discovery, and money and abundance. There may be more for you but this is a good starting place. If you are finding yourself just going to work and coming home, and not feeling really in your life the way you want to be, maybe this hits the mark.
Lets break some of these down, health and wellness. What is this about? maybe it is about changing some aspects about your daily diet, or how you move your body? Maybe it starts with drinking more water? Did you know that the average person is most likely dehydrated? The system requires about half our body weight in ounces each day to do so much! It helps with digestion/elimination, helps our skin-getting that glow, helps keep the brain active and headache free, and helps with peak performance if that is your thing. So that's just one small change you could do to feel better today. Spirituality, this can be a tricky one if you aren't connected to a faith, or if you were raised in a certain faith but have long let it go. Spirituality can take so many forms; being in nature, practicing meditation, giving back by teaching english to immigrants or exploring death and dying in a faith group and the list goes on, many things can be a spiritual practice, emphasis on practice. Other aspects of our life are friends and family, intimate relationships- are we staying present and connected, or are we just comfortable and afraid of being lonely. Adventure and discovery; when was the last time you went on an adventure? This could be taking a tap dance class down the street or planning a trip to Machu Picchu, but either way it leads to a growth, an eye opening and an opportunity to open up to some aspect of yourself that may be dormant. Finally money and abundance, this also proves to be fertile ground for conflict, especially for those of us in the helping field! Holy guacamole, I didn't even realize I had such a conflict with money until this year. But that is another story. Here's a clue, do you both have feelings of disdain for wealthy people like, "I don't really like rich people there not my tribe anyway", and then also make statements like, "I can't believe someone can charge that much... what do they have magic pixie dust"? Okay you see where I'm going here! What are the messages you have about money, hint- they are ingrained in your childhood in various ways. But the truth of it is, you living the most full life you can, and making all the money you want to doesn't take anything away from the next guy. In fact if you want to make a positive change, money is one of the most effective tools you can use to do that. These are the thoughts and ideas that led me to offer the therapy mentor service. It comes from working on these in my own life. At 50, it is not time to slow down, but to start examining closer!
There is a lot of talk about "yoga therapy" these days. So what is yoga therapy intended to mean? Given that I am not a certified yoga teacher I cannot clearly give you a definition of what yoga is, despite practicing it for 25 years. Although we all have an idea in general about what this is, and it is true that a yoga practice can be therapeutic. But the two are different.
Yoga can be differentiated from yoga therapy in the following ways. In Yoga Therapy, which is offered by either a certified yoga teacher or a mental health therapist with training in yoga therapy (100 hrs- 500 hrs.), the following principles are adhered to. A safe environment is created, meeting the client where they are at, individual empowerment, working within the client's "zone of tolerance", belief in the client's innate capacity for healing, inviting clients to embrace their instincts rather then brace against them, and finally there is as a rule no touch or hands on in yoga therapy.
On the last point, I know there are various opinions, and of course non sexual touch can be very healing. But as a starting point, no touch is the standard. If these principles are in place a client can move through challenging and perhaps uncomfortable internal experience with increasing tolerance for this eventually changing their relationship with their own body and changing the default. So the shift in Yoga to Yoga Therapy is from a focus on yoga methods and practices to the client's needs, and helping to balance their fight/flight/freeze system. The therapist here, needs to be aware of the client's system- is it being activated? Can I offer something to help bring the activated system back down, engaging the parasympathetic system or rest and digest. Yoga is a perfect system to assist in this; there is the physical work, the use of breath and the use of focus (harnessing the mind) so it uses the whole body to address a whole body problem. For example if depression is the identified problem, well depression does not just live in one's head and thoughts. One cannot think oneself out of depression. When you think of it nearly all mental health problems affect the individual's basic functions; appetite, sleep, energy, and the individual's moods. If the problem lives in the body, then the body must be engaged to help the problem move out of the body.
A key part of Yoga Therapy is the language that is used. It can be categorized as "welcoming" or "Invitational". so some examples are; become aware of... notice...if you're willing...when you're ready...be curious about...What do all of these have in common? Choice.
Food for thought; next time you are going to your favorite community yoga class, be curious about the language used.
This is What I Know… Your mindset is at least 80 percent of the outcome. Just like arriving to your first therapy session is 80% of the work- for real. It's hard to believe this but our minds are very powerful things. All you have to do is take a look at some amazing stories that seem humanly impossible and you can see it; Monks in India who are wrapped in wet blankets and meditate in the cold and can raise their core body heat to dry, yes I said dry the said towels, or the recent news story of the teen girl who went to go ask her father for the car and he was pinned under it. What did she do- lift it- no big thing. Or even the simple research experiment of test taking and cell phones. Three scenarios; high schoolers taking tests with phones facing up sounds off, phones facing down sounds off and the third group, phones away in bags- no sounds or images. Can you guess which group gets the best test scores? Enough said.
What IS anxiety? There are so many technical definitions of it (google DSM definition of anxiety), but what is it really? One of the ways I talk about it with my clients and often in the first session is that anxiety can be seen as obsessing about the past or worrying about the future, right? So what if you are right here right now? Is that a problem? What anxiety is not, is being in this moment right now.
Clients very easily see this definition and can start to think of anxiety in this way. Which brings me to homework assignment #1 (if you like homework). "Next week, notice how much of the time you are not present". This is best observed doing the mundane, like preparing dinner, taking a shower or washing your dishes at the sink. Are you "all in?" That is, feeling the warm water running over your hands, noticing the pattern/colors of your plates, smelling the scent of the soap. That is being all in or fully present. Most likely you are elsewhere; running over that awkward conversation you just had with your neighbor, reminding yourself to call your mother later, or finding yourself in fantasy land where you are CEO of your own successful company that helps companies throw the best rewards parties for their employers! Some places our minds go are fine, helpful and even good for us like the last one, the fantasy job-but that blog is a whole other topic!
But what if our minds continue to take us to the negative, dark and scary places? That has a real effect on the system; physically and mentally. If the thought is a worry one, it can start to trigger the Amygdala center or our fight or flight system. Are you aware of what is happening inside your body when this system get initiated? The body's sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. These are primarily adrenaline, and cortisol and they get released to prepare you for battle! To be at your best, your amazing system works to dilate your pupils so you can see better, your senses become sharper, your muscles feel tensed up but what's happening is your heart starts beating faster pushing blood to the muscles for increased strength and the breath feels shorter but lungs airways are opening to take in as much oxygen as possible. Think people with superhuman strength in an emergency! All this to help you prepare to defend. But what if your really aren't in a situation where you need to defend yourself, like for example forgetting to call your mother? Well the system gets triggered anyway if your thoughts are worrisome enough to initiate the system, and this may indicate your system needs a tune up. And guess what, the more we worry, the more we prime ourselves to worry. Our system loves habit,"Oh last time you had that thought- it was green light to the amygdala! You're having that thought again? Let's go!"
So you can see how our system can get on auto-pilot, meaning it is over reacting to things that shouldn't really be triggering the fight or flight system at all. The good news is we can actively work to reset our system so it can return to the natural guardian it really wants to be for us. Now, isn't it a better idea to stay focused on that boring old dish we are washing? Give it a try, this is active mindfulness. See how much you are actually present with your current experience for 1 day. When clients return the following week they report they are amazed at how much they are actually not present much of the day. This is a good starting point.