The Path We Walk

“Diseases can be our spiritual flat tires – disruptions in our lives that seem to be disasters at the time but end by redirecting our lives in a meaningful way.”
~ Bernie S. Siegel

Not So Grand Illusions

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So many of us are afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves or appearing prideful, but what about always assuming the worst. When we lack self-compassion and continually judge ourselves it becomes easier to do the same to others. It is almost impossible to judge only yourself harshly. Unfortunately judgement and negativity becomes a viscous cycle that can be hard to break. So how do we let go of negative self perceptions without swinging to the other side of the spectrum? Tuning into the truth as it is right now in the present moment………..Ok, easier said than done. Personally I have found that cultivating the skill of acceptance has been extremely helpful. When I first starting learning about 3rd Wave CBT (Mindfulness and Acceptance based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) I was really turned off by the concept of acceptance. It sounded too much like resignation or just plain giving up. Luckily I investigated further and discovered something more subtle and gentle. Acceptance is about being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our truthful feelings, possible biases, and basic desires. Acceptance is the opposite of resistance. When practiced with awareness and an open mind, acceptance can teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us.

For example, I was recently speaking with some friends about the conclusions we jump to when we don’t get an expected response from a person we know well. It is easy to assume that someone didn’t laugh at our joke because they are mad at us or we just aren’t funny. Usually the reason has less to do with us. A usually jovial friend who doesn’t laugh is probably distracted by a task, received somber news or just is not having a good day. When we engage in acceptance we keep our mind open to current information and not succumb to making assumptions. There are assumptions that seem to be common to many of us. These are often referred to as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are basic PSYC 101, but I never quit finding value in revisiting them.

The below list of cognitive distortions was retrieved from healthymind.com:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  1. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  1. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  1. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  1. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    • Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
    • The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  1. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  1. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  1. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  1. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Working and Living

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A little over three months ago I was on the verge of burn out. I love my work and had used that as an excuse to overwork myself. Afterall, if you love what you do how can you really complain about doing it a lot? Well, of course the lesson of moderation struck me again. November rolled around and I was seeing a whole month go by without a full day off. Not only had I become less tolerant and cranky, but my physical health began to suffer. Most of us realize at some point that if we don’t consciously make the decisions to care for ourselves than our bodies will make it so we don’t have a choice.

Luckily, working for myself, I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. Once I recognized what was happening I immediately cut my schedule back. I had to make some extremely difficult decisions to let go of some teaching positions that meant a lot to me. I discontinued the NAMI Yoga program, quit teaching for the Shanti Yoga School, gave up my class at Health & Welfare and cut my Ophidia studio classes by more than half. I cut my work schedule by a third and it was the best decision I have made in years!

I was afraid of the financial challenge of working less, but more frightening was the change in my sense of self-identity. Through the first month after cutting back I felt a bit lost and admit to turning to food and television for comfort. The comfort was short-lived and I soon began to embrace my new schedule. All of a sudden I had time to slow down and pay attention to the details of life again. I slowly began to let go of that constant sense of urgency and to breathe a bit more deeply. Sleep became more restful, food tasted better and my creativity began to flow.

Three months later and I am feeling alive and strong. I have almost completed a huge collaborative artistic undertaking and feel my sense of self firmly intact. Just like our rituals of spring cleaning and seasonal yard clean-up, so too our professional lives need the cobwebs blown out from time to time. Hopefully it does not always have to mean drastic changes. A light ‘tidy-up’ can sometimes be all that is needed to make a huge impact. I have never failed to gain benefit from revisiting my priorities and making subtle changes to my daily habits. It is the small habits we engage in everyday that end up defining the bigger picture of our lives.

Published in: on February 28, 2013 at 2:13 am  Comments (3)  

Yoga for Bone and Joint Health

The following is a guest blog by fellow yogi and blogger Carolyn Fallon.  Check out Carolyn’s blog at http://fullonfit.blogspot.com

Yoga for Bone and Joint Health

Yoga, as it is usually practiced in the United States, utilizes poses or asanas that improve strength, balance and flexibility. There are many different types of yoga that offer essentially the same physical poses, but each has a different emphasis. Hatha style is gentle and is a good introduction to basic yoga asanas. For someone who has arthritis or low bone density, this would be a good place to start.

Millions of Americans, mostly women, have osteopenia. Osteopenia means low bone density, and it often progresses to osteoporosis or porous bones. According to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Osteoarthritis, or wear-and-tear arthritis, often results in symptoms such as stiffness, pain, and/or a sensation that the knee has “locked” during walking or other activity. Some studies have shown that yoga, paired with a diet high in vegetables and alkaline foods, can slow the condition and possibly even reverse it. Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise that uses the body to resist gravity. It
causes the bone to lay down new growth without damaging joints or cartilage. In addition, yoga improves balance and coordination and, therefore, lowers the risk of falls that lead to fractures.

While yoga is bone-saving exercise, it can be harmful to someone with osteopenia or osteoporosis if it is not practiced correctly. Anyone with low bone density should check with her doctor before starting a yoga program and then be sure to find a qualified instructor who is experienced in working with people with osteopenia. Extreme twists and forward bends should be avoided, and other poses can be modified.

Arthritis, both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), also responds well to yoga. As of now, only a few medical studies have been done, but more are being conducted. So far, the studies show that yoga, in conjunction with adequate medical treatment, improves the quality of life for arthritis patients. Scientists at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center are very interested in conducting clinical research trials.

Before beginning yoga, the arthritis patient needs to check with his or her doctor to see if there are any restrictions of movement that need to be observed. The yoga instructor must be qualified to work with arthritic patients and know how to modify standard asanas.

The pain of arthritis causes those who have the disease to become inactive, and the inactivity causes even more damage and pain in the joint. Lack of movement prevents the inner lining of the joint from producing the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. Gentle yoga keeps the fluid moving through the joints, but it needs to be started very carefully, never going beyond what is comfortable. An experienced teacher will know which poses are appropriate and will encourage the student to listen to his body and make modifications as needed.

Research and clinical trials will shed more light on the benefits of yoga on bone and joint health. Until then, there is evidence that the practice of yoga will improve the quality of life for those affected with low bone density and arthritis. Yoga is gaining increased attention from traditional medicine, and, in many cases, is becoming an integral part of the treatment plan.

Carolyn Fallon is a 20-something year old with a passion for life, fitness and overall well being. She is an avid cycler, golfer and has known to bust some serious moves on the dance floor. Check out Carolyn’s blog at fullonfit.blogspot.com!

Alternate Nostril Breathing

The first time a student is introduced to alternate nostril breathing (ANB) they usually feel silly or don’t believe it is worth the effort.  Luckily, most people try it and finish with an excited, “WOW”.  Students have reported feeling significantly calmer, their sinuses clearer and their breath deeper.  Some of the power of ANB comes from opening the sinus passages, but a lot of its power comes from bi-lateral stimulation.  I plan to talk more in-depth about bi-lateral stimulation in a future post, but for now let us keep it simple.  Bi-lateral stimulation refers to activating one side of the body-mind and then the other, which in turn alternately activates the two halves of our pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brain responsible for higher order thinking.  Well to make a long story short, these two halves of the brain communicate with each other through areas of the brain that are responsible for homeostasis.  This homeostasis or balance is both physiological and emotional.  In essence we are strengthening our ability to feel balanced. If you want to investigate further on your own, here are some places to start:

12 Great Reasons To Start Alternate Nostril Breathing: by Carole Fogarty

www.emotionaltuning.com

Mapping the Mind: Revised and Updated Edition by Rita Carter

Basic Instructions for Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. Sit upright with your spine tall. If you are uncomfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor, you may want to sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Keeping your spine tall will allow your breath to move in and out of the chest cavity with less resistance.
  2. Relax, close your eyes and breathe naturally for several cycles of breath. If your sinuses feel blocked you may choose to gently blow your nose. (Keep tissues nearby while practicing ANB.)
  3. Bring your right hand up to your face. Practice closing off one nasal passage at a time. Usually the thumb closes the right nostril and your middle finger closes off the left nostril.  Experiment using other fingers if this is not the most comfortable combination for you.
  4. Start by exhaling fully and then closing off the right nostril with your thumb. Inhale and then exhale through the left nostril. Switch and close off the left nostril. Inhale and then exhale through the right nostril.
  5. Repeat for three or more cycles. Return to your natural breath for a few moments and then begin ANB again.  When you feel ready you can extend the number of cycles of ANB.  If you begin to feel tense or panicky return to your natural breath and focus on a slow gentle rhythm of breathing.

Extra Tips for Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing

  • Try to always stop and start with your left nostril. The left side is believed to activate the calming and cooling aspects within the brain.
  • Eventually you can work up to practicing for 5-10 minutes.
  • If you find your mind wandering, gently guide it back to attending to your breath.
  • If allergies make this practice difficult, using a neti pot can help tremendously.  The combination of the neti pot and ANB can greatly reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

How many therapies do you see?

  1. Yoga – ‘legs up the wall’
  2. Full spectrum light therapy
  3. Pet therapy
  4. Meditation
  5. Positive Ion air purification
  6. Pranayama – deep breathing, breath awareness

The perfect way to start the day!

Mind-Body Connection?

Researchers and yoga practitioners alike speak about the mind-body connection.  I often bring it up and spent time contemplating it’s meaning and existence.  What if it doesn’t literally exist, because there is not a separation that requires connection?  The separation itself is an illusion.  It is this illusion that we tackle through the practice of yoga.  “Candace Pert,  former chief brain biochemist for the National Institute of Mental Health, said, ‘In the end I find I can’t separate brain from body. Consciousness isn’t just in the head.  Nor is it a question of mind over body. If one takes into account the DNA directing the dance of peptides, [the] body is the outward manifestation of the mind.'”

When you contemplate the question of a mind-body connection what do you think?  How do you believe those thoughts might effect the body?  What are the origins of the messages we receive from our bodies once we become conscious of them? Isn’t the subconscious still a form of conscientiousness and therefore are thoughts able to evolve around mechanical actions of the body?  What does this all mean in regards to how we practice yoga asana, meditation, pranayama?  How does the mind-body effect our choices and actions?

Mechanism Behind Mind-Body Connection Discovered

Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health

A Shift of Mind: Rethinking the way we live by Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W.

Tummy Resources

Thank you everyone for your great recommendations for information.

Websites:

But You Don’t Look Sick

diabeteshealth.com/read/2008/09/22/5283/when-diabetes-leads-to-a-lazy-stomach-the-goods-on-gastroparesis

Blogs:

Gastroparesis and Gastronomy

My Crazy Colon

My Sleepy Stomach

Published in: on December 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lazy Tummy Muscles

I woke up this morning feeling wretched.  I was racked with nausea and stomach cramps.  I am regularly challenged with the symptoms of a condition called gastroparesis.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “Gastroparesis is a condition in which the muscles in your stomach don’t function normally.”  Basically I have very lazy tummy muscles and it makes it hard (often times impossible) to digest food.  Having this condition has made eating “the right stuff” a constant pain, literally.

I have spent so much time researching and asking every imaginable expert what I should do.  Results have varied, but unfortunately I still haven’t found myself symptom free.  I recently spent some time on a forum connecting with other people with gastroparesis.  They shared similar stories of mixed results and frustration.  If any of you have resources you think would be helpful I would be grateful to learn of them.

 

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 8:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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Are you still afraid of the Neti Pot?

Many of my students have been commenting on allergies and colds.  Not only is weather likely to be effecting your quality of breath, but we are all turning on our heaters again.  Particularly if you have forced air heat, you may want to spend some time cleaning your vents, duct-work and replacing your furnace filters.  This will help cut back on the particulate matter blown into the air within your home.

This is also the time to be making regular use of your neti pot.  If you still feel hesitant to try it out, I highly recommend giving it another try.  To make the experience as comfortable as possible make sure you use plenty of salt and use warm water. It can feel a bit strange the first couple of times you use it, but after that you will wonder how you lived without a neti pot.

“The practice of nasal cleansing – known as Neti – has been used by practitioners of Ayurveda and Yoga in India for thousands of years. Neti is one of the 6 purification techniques performed prior to practicing yoga as a way of preparing the body for the yoga practice.”

The practice of nasal irrigation originated in India, but now many people around the world use it on a regular basis. It can be used daily or as needed. Using a neti pot one can use warm salt water  to gently cleanse the nasal passages. As the water flows through your nose it washes away pollens, mucus, viruses and bacteria. The nasal passage, with its fine hairs and mucus membranes, is one of the ways nature protects us from illness. The neti pot can have an amazingly positive effect on your body’s ability to stay healthy and fight off sickness.

Here in Boise there are a number of places to purchase a neti pot. I bought a very pretty ceramic one at the Boise CO-OP for about $12. They all come with clear instructions and the salt can be purchased right off the same shelf. Below are some basic instructions and a short video to give you an idea of how it is done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFEXjzGagMI&feature=related

Neti pot instructions:

1. Fill the neti pot with warm water and the recommended amount of salt. Hot water is dangerous and cool water is not soothing. You may also play around with the amount of salt you use, to find out just the right amount for your greatest level of comfort.

2. Tilt your head to the side. One ear pointing down toward the sink and your forehead is lower than your chin in relation to the counter.

3. Insert spout of neti pot gently into the raised/top nostril creating a seal between the neti pot and the nostril. Try to relax. If you are too tense the solution just won’t flow. Breathe gently through your mouth throughout the process.

4. Raise the neti pot slowly to develop a steady flow of saline solution through the upper nostril and out the lower nostril.

5. When you’re done, exhale firmly several times to clear the nasal passages.

6. Reverse the tilt of your head and repeat the process on the other side.

Published in: on November 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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