Summer Thrive Guide

Summer is here in all it's hot, dry & busy glory. If you've been on the roads this summer, you've seen it. Everyone out and about making the most of the season, some of us more frazzled and fried than others -  all of which takes a toll on our bodies and minds.

I have some simple tips to help you keep your cool this summer. No, it's not the latest low-cal spritzer wine or a unicorn floatie, although both do look pretty refreshing. 

Summer can be described as hot, dry, humid and fast and since we aren't separate from nature, we also experience these qualities in our bodies and mind. (heartburn or road rage anyone?)

When we notice symptoms of burn out in our body and mind, it's time to incorporate some cooling, neutralizing and relaxing activities. Think: watermelon, cool showers, and hammock time.

And I recommend incorporating the first habit I teach in my Vibrant Body/Wise Mind course which is eating an Earlier, Lighter Dinner.

Why?
Your body is designed to digest it's largest meal during the day, not at night. Eat earlier and lighter and you'll digest your food before bed reducing the toxic load on your body. You’ll wake up sparky vs. with a food hangover.

How?
Aim to eat dinner before 6:30 pm then close your kitchen. No snacking. 

What?
Aim for simple, easy to digest foods: think soup or salad. Avoid meat, alcohol and heavy foods.

Try it out. I promise you will decrease the physical load on your body and therefore your mind, too. (Remember, the body and brain are connected.) You’ll feel lighter in body and mind. 

You'll avoid arriving in fall burned out and fried which results in reduced immunity leaving you susceptible to every germ bug this winter.

When you incorporate more cooling, relaxing activities and eat an earlier, lighter dinner, you’ll have more energy for all the summer fun yet to come. 

Invitation to Change

“This lunar cycle opens up with a fiery new moon on Aries which occurs on April 15...On the same day as the new moon, Mercury will station direct. Revealing what was hidden, Mercury’s change in direction sets us out on a new cycle with greater clarity.  

“This new moon is also the last in Aries to conjunct Uranus for the next 80 or so years….this new moon promises to be awakening, helping us to break new ground and make bold new beginnings.”   -Chani Nicolas.

I don’t know a lot about astrology, but I look at it like the seasonal changes around me. The planets and stars have their own patterns and relationships much like the ecosystem around us (and in us.)

My limited understanding allows me to hear what I need rather than getting caught up in what each planet's position means for my present moment.

Looking to the stars helps me gain perspective. “WOW! The Universe is so vast and amazing and here I am worried about whether my pants fit.”  Small. Problems.

It helps me see what’s possible. “Each day up there is different than the next. Relationships and positions are in constant motion. If that’s true for the stars and planets, and I am not separate from the Universe, that must be true for me, too.” Nothing is permanent or static. Not my feelings. Not my bad habits. Not my thought patterns.

It helps me trust. I think, “If things are always changing and it happens without me orchestrating it, how much more easeful could my life be I be if I aligned with the natural rhythms of the world around me?” Ahhh....I feel relaxed. I feel supported. I feel relieved that I'm not actually running the show.

I know tapping into this sense of wonder and trust and relief is difficult for some people. I see it all the time in my own self and my work with people. It takes time and patience. It helps to have practices and habits to allow it to show up more. 

Hear this... Everyone is capable of this alignment and ease. In fact, you’ve already experienced it many times in your life.
Remember that amazing sunrise?
How about that time your were fishing alone on the river?
You know that feeling your get when you walk the trail by your house?
When you hold a brand new baby? 
It’s there inside you. 

If you want more ease, trust, alignment, invite it. Cultivate it. (It is planting season after all.) 

Design your lifestyle to allow it to show up. Slow down. Schedule down time. Put down your phone. Get quiet for a minute. Look out the window. Get up and walk in nature. Do some yoga. Take a bath. Listen to music.

You can always start somewhere. Wherever you are.

YOU are not static nor permanent. You are not stuck this way forever. You, like the planets, are always in motion. Always changing. Allow it to be.

#1 Habit for Staying Healthy

Number one habit for decreasing stress and staying healthy??

Sleep. Not diet. Not exercise. Not herbal supplements. Sleep.

To stay healthy in body and mind, we must begin to prioritize sleep. Winter is the ideal season for sleep banking. It's naturally dark. It's cold. Think hibernation. When you are sleeping, the body and mind clean house. They can't do that when you are Netflixing at 11pm. Aim for 8-9 hours.

If you aren't getting good sleep (can't fall asleep or stay asleep), more often than not you are stressed. Either your body/physiology is stressed or your mind is stressed. You probably know which. Or both. (They are connected, by the way.)

What do you need to do to reduce your stress?
Don't get caught up in the mainstream belief that you are somehow a slave to your lifestyle, your career, the demands of your family. This is outdated. You can design your life. In fact, you have designed the way it is right now. And so, you can change it.

What is the one teeny change you can make today to reduce the stress on your body or mind?

You might think that isn't enough. And it might not be for good sleep tonight, but it's moving you in the direction of better sleep. More than believing you can't change. More than continuing your stressful habits!

How bad to do you want it?
How much more of a life could you have if you weren't sick all the time? We're stressed all the time?
How much more available could you be to your kids, your work, your own hobbies if you felt good?

Keeping Kids Safe

Yesterday, a friend texted me feeling anxious after hearing news of kids being molested by a trusted adult and wondered what she should be doing to keep her own kids safe. What should she tell them? What do I tell my kids?

These are difficult parenting moments, right? No parent wants to tell their kids bad things happen in the world. No one wants their kids to learn some adults hurt kids. We want them to stay innocent and protected from these horrible things. It makes sense. We're wired to protect our kids, but just like real self-care sometimes means doing the difficult thing (getting our ass out of bed and to the gym), protecting our kids sometimes means having uncomfortable conversations.

Here are some tips to make it easier for you and effective learning for your kids.

1. Teach body safety like you teach all other safety rules. Examples: "Look both ways before you cross the street." "We wear bike helmets to protect our brains." "No one is allowed to touch your body without your permission." Keep it simple and matter-of-fact. 

2. Keep your adult anxiety and fear out of the conversation. You wouldn't show your five year-old pictures of a mangled kid under a car to teach them about street-crossing safety. You don't need to watch the evening news with them or share details about child molestation to teach them body safety. In fact, depending on their age, you shouldn't. 

3. Teaching body safety is an on-going conversation. Just like you don't show your kid a cross walk once and then never mention again how to cross a street safely, you don't talk about body safety rules once and then never again until they are dating. Take the pressure off yourself and consider you are starting an on-going conversation.

4. Use natural teaching moments. Use everyday events to remind or quiz (kids love a quiz!) your kids about body safety rules. Example: your kid has a doctor appointment.
Parent: "Now is Dr. _____ someone who can touch your body? Why? Why not?"
Another example: Your kid is going on a playdate at a new-ish friend's house.
Parent: "You haven't played at ____'s house before. This is a great time to review the safety rules. Can you remember some?
Kid: "Wear a helmet. No leaving the property. Never touch a gun and immediately leave the room and tell an adult (OMG. That's another blog post.) No one is allowed to touch my body without my permission. If someone wants to touch my private parts or wants me to look at or touch theirs, I tell _____'s mom and you."
When it is an on-going conversation and part of everyday activity, kids internalize the safety rules.

4. Develop their skills to decrease vulnerability. Knowing body safety rules is one thing; having the ability to say "No" to a big kid or an adult is another. Especially if your kids are rule-followers vs rebels. Help your child develop the skills necessary to stand up for themselves by practicing in real life.  You want them to be able to be...
Assertive: To say "No" to an adult in a firm and respectful way.
Intuitive: To trust their gut.
Courageous: To ask for help from an adult when they need it, and not just you.
Attached: To tell you if something happens.

Real life strategies to foster these skills:

  • Have your kid order for themselves in a restaurant. 
  • Allow your child space and time to answer an adult's questions, especially strangers making small talk (like grocery store clerks, for example).
  • Ask your child to run something over to the neighbor's house for you.
  • Have an older child purchase something from the corner store while you wait in the car.
  • When rough-housing at home, stop as soon as your child says, "Stop."
  • Knock before entering the bathroom or bedroom.
  • Invite your child to give you honest feedback. Practice taking it. ("What do you think about this meal? How did you feel when I lost my temper?")
  • Listen, really listen (like put down your phone and make eye contact) when your child is telling you something about their day. Give them the message everyday that you want to hear everything; that they can tell you anything. 

5. Have an explicit conversation if you haven't already. The age and stage of your child determines how much you tell them and when. Just like the birds and the bees. You don't explain intercourse the first time your are talking about puberty. When they are ready, you tell them more. Fortunately, most kids ask questions or show us behaviors that tell us they need more information. Some kids don't, though and we have to be more direct. I find books are a great way to introduce concepts and get the conversation going. (Please re-read any book like this before you share it with your child to determine whether it is appropriate for your child's age/stage.)

For 2-5 year olds
It's My Body: A Book To Teach Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch by Lori Britain

For 4-8 year olds
Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman

For 6-10 year olds
I said No: A Kid-to-Kid Guide for Keeping Private Parts Private by Kimberly King

6. Educate your kids about their entire body. Start "sex-ed" early and and often. The more educated and aware a child is about their entire body (physical, mental, energetic, intuitive) the better care of it they will take. The more they value and honor their bodies, they less likely they are to let anyone else hurt it. The days of telling kids about puberty in 6th grade and sex/AIDS in 8th grade are gone. Our kids are living in different times. We need to equip them with the body knowledge and self-care habits from the get-go. Amazing You by Gail Saltz is a great book to start with. Tracey Biebel, LCSW at Practicalparentingpdx.com is the best for advice in this arena. In fact, much of what I know I learned from her. 

7. Model what you want them to know. Don't underestimate the power of what you are showing your kids. How you conduct yourself. How you care for yourself. How you assert yourself. How you ask for help. How you trust your gut. All of this, they are watching and learning and absorbing. Take comfort in that where you may be lacking in terms of the right words at the right time, your kids are learning how to be safe in the world from watching you. If you aren't sure you're role modeling what you want for your kids, it's time to turn it around.

Okay. Hope that helps. Always happy to talk more. Drop me a line with your questions or concerns. If I can't help, I know people who can!

 

Morning Quiet Time

I love my morning quiet time. I love the benefits of it. I feel more connected to myself, my body, the world around me.  I feel less hectic and have greater perspective. (So why do I sometimes fall out of habit?!)

This morning I started again. Morning quiet time for me sometimes means sitting quietly in the dark before I head to the gym. Sometimes I take more time to read a passage from an inspirational book or pull a medicine card. It often involves taking a few notes. It helps me hear my own voice and set my intention for the day.

One of my goals for 2018 is to deepen my meditation practice. I want to be come more consistent with this practice and I'm setting up some strategies to help me with this goal. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

If you want to experiment with starting a morning quiet time, set yourself up for success with these tips.

Set up your space before you go to bed. A spot on the couch perhaps? Your yoga mat? Gather all your supplies. A blanket, a candle, your journal.

Make it so easy you can't say no. Start with sitting sitting quietly for 2 minutes. Just sit. Say a prayer or repeat a mantra. Read a passage from a daily devotional. Write in a few notes in your journal. It doesn't matter. You are just trying to develop the habit. Pick something that works for you.

Allow the feelings/experience to sink in for a few moments before you are off and running. This helps you internalize the "reward" of starting your day with reflection.

Here's an example of something I read this morning.

Read it slowly.
Read it like a prayer to yourself.

live with intention.
walk to the edge.
listen hard.
practice wellness.
play with abandon.
laugh.
choose with no regret.
continue to learn.
appreciate your friends.
do what you love.
live as if this is all there is.

- mary anne radmacher

Sit quietly for a minute. Notice how you feel.

That's it! You did it! 
 

 

Thrive the Holidays

The holidays are upon us! How are you all doing?? I love so many things about the holidays. My cranberry spice candle, seasonal coffee beverages, road trips to see family, the lights, the music, holiday cards with the cutest family pictures, the anticipation. 

I also have a tendency to over-do it. I am prone to doing too much and burning out in all the ways. Too much food. Too many sweets. Too many parties, plans, obligations. I'm like a kid in a candy store and I don't know my own limits.

I resolved to do this holiday differently. I am learning from my past mistakes. I realize that more than two sips of an eggnog latte makes me feel crappy. Staying up late to address 100 holidays cards can be more stressful than rewarding. Saying yes to all the invitations because well, FOMO results in me being grumpy with my family and skimping on my self-care. Boo. No more of that.

This year I said no to holiday cards. (Sorry folks. Maybe next year. Thanks for sending me yours though!!) We decided to buy fewer gifts for fewer people. No eggnog lattes for me, but I'll peer pressure anyone I'm with to get one so I can have some sips. And I'm sticking with my morning self-care routine. It keeps me healthy in body, mind and spirit. 

I gave a talk a few weeks ago on how to thrive, not just survive the holidays. I created this tip sheet for people as a reminder to take good care of themselves during the holiday. Simple habits with big results. 

If you are prone to getting swept away in all the energy of the season, join me in resolving to do the holidays differently. To be more present. To arrive in January intact. Your future self thanks you!

Holiday_tipsheet_2018.jpeg

What's up with you?!

If you've been hanging around for a while, you've noticed there's been some changes to my work. I'm writing more, offering free talks, leading courses in addition to working individually with people. I'm experiencing a time of rapid growth and sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the ideas and desires flooding in. Today I felt compelled to write about what's motivating these changes.

Ultimately, it comes down to wanting to help people wake up, to love themselves, to make the most of this short life we've been given. I want to help people thrive. Nothing is better than seeing someone light up, start believing in themselves, and seeing the potentiality of their life. When that happens, the changes in them are exciting to witness. It can be a rocky ride, no doubt, but compared to snoozing through the years? Totally worth it. 

I've  been a therapist for nearly 17 years now and in the social work field for 22. I've worked with hundreds of children, families and adults in a variety of settings. I've learned a lot about what helps and what doesn't. 

In that time, I've gotten married. Lost friends. Made new ones. Had two kids. Got sober (6.5 years now!) Beat cancer. Faced my demons. Learned to love myself. (Still working on those two). My life experiences have changed me and are affecting how I want to be in the world.

It boils down to me feeling called to work with people in a different way. While therapy has it's benefits (I've been a happy customer myself for many years), I'm feeling led to be with people in a less clinical way. I want to teach. I want to connect people with each other. I want to be in a community of people who want to grow and change. Not just to improve our own lives, although that is where we all need to start, but to ultimately heal our families, our communities, our world. We need it now more than ever.

It starts with us. It starts with us taking very good care of our bodies. All five of our bodies: physical, energetic, mental, intuitive and bliss bodies. Talking about our stuff is helpful for sure, but it has it's limitations. We have to take what we've learned in therapy and life and put it into action. That's what I feel called to help people do in a very practical and proactive way.

I'm doing this by giving free talks, leading workshops, coaching people and teaching a self-care habit course several times a year. It feels good. It feels right to be integrating my personal experiences and my clinical expertise to help people who are tired of talking about it.... and ready to grow and change. 

That's all. Just wanted to share what's going on "behind the scenes." Thanks for being willing to ride along with me. 2017 has brought a ton of growth. I have some idea where I want to go in 2018, but mostly I'm opening up to allow what's unfolding to continue to do so.

I want nothing more than for you to have what I'm experiencing. You deserve it!

The Voices in My Head

"I don't deserve it. I haven't earned the privilege or the right. I don't work hard enough. I don't have enough money. It's selfish. It's indulgent and self-centered. It's a waste of money. It's impulsive."

"Only self-centered, fancy, rich, shallow people do this. Only people who are joiners, who are weak, who need others. Only people who need external things to make themselves feel better. I don't need that. I can do it on my own. I'm practical. I know how to go without. Look at how well I've done despite depriving myself."  

"I can't be away from my family, from my kids. Selfish people choose themselves over their children. I can't ask other people to help me. I can't expect other people's lives to be disrupted for my needs and desires. I can only ask for help if it's dire. I can't ask my partner to do more than he already does. I can't take time and money from my children for myself. I shouldn't have fun unless it's with my family."

"I don't even like groups. What will they think of me? Maybe I'll just be myself. Which self? What if I don't like the people there? What if it's too much time around other people? Or worse, what if I'm not authentic and I waste the precious opportunity? What will I eat? What should I wear? How will I fit in?"

I don't share these thoughts to make you feel bad for me or to tell me I shouldn't think these things.  And depending on your relationship with me, it might be hard to hear I have these kinds of thoughts. 

I share them to demonstrate how voices in our head operate. They are very real. Very distinct and often very powerful. They have competing fears, needs, and ways of coping. They have a different feeling sense to them: angry, defensive, hopeless, protective, self righteous, vulnerable, etc. 

They operate all the time. Mostly in the background, but sometimes right out front. Embrace the opportunity to witness your thoughts no matter how uncomfortable. Get to know the voices in your head. They are driving your feelings and reactions all the time anyway. 

I share these to exorcise them from myself. To put them out in the open. The voices lose their power when the light of day comes and are witnessed by myself and others. It's easier to see their lies. It's easier to understand where they came from, how long they've been around and what they are trying to do to help/protect me. 

I can see how flimsy their arguments are and how they hold no power over my burning desire to continue to evolve and grow into the person I'm meant to be.

You will have your own feelings when you read this. You might know me and think, "She's messed up. I feel bad for her." Or "She shouldn't feel that way. She's great."  Or "I'm relieved to know other people have these kinds of thoughts."  

Whatever it is, it doesn't matter to me. But it should be curious to you. Because right then you'll have the opportunity to witness the voice in your own head. 

Aging Gracefully

Perhaps this blog post should be titled "Tips for Staying Vibrant as You Age," because I don't know many women who walk around being all that graceful or dream of being more graceful as they age. Most of us are living large, living loud and intend to make the most of our lives up until the end.

But if we want to do all these things, we have to have a healthy body and the energy to sustain us. We must take better care of our bodies, minds and spirits starting now. Massages, pedicures and weekends at the beach aren't going to cut it. Sorry! 

Fortunately, the yogis and the ancient healing tradition of Ayurveda lend us their wisdom for longevity and vitality. Ayurveda philosophy reminds us that we are a part of nature.  We are made of the same elements as the natural world. God did not create this beautiful world and then plop us down on it like little Lego people. We came from it, belong to it and are therefore inseparable. 

Disease and dis-ease arise when we do not respect this fact. When we go against the natural rhythm of life. When we row our boat upstream versus going with the flow. (More on this topic later...) And health, vitality and longevity are ours when we align ourselves with the rhythm of the natural world around us. Think: sleep when it's dark, arise with sun. Respect the seasons and adjust your diet and activity level to align with them, etc.

Check out these tips from me and from yoga and Ayurveda for Aging Gracefully (or Wildly if that's more your style.)

  • Visualize yourself in perfect health as often as possible. Get a feeling sense of how this healthy person (you!) feels, acts, looks. Let this internal feeling guide your choices and your actions throughout the day.
  • Be honest with yourself about your current state of health and the effects on your life. Minimizing your symptoms or ignoring them does not help. Wise action can only be taken when you are honest about what you are dealing with.
  • Align your daily rhythm with the natural world. You are not separate from that out of which you arose. Eat seasonally. Respect the cycle of day/night. Adjust your activity level to the time of day and the season. Aim to restore balance when your habits are out of alignment.
  • Eat an Earlier, Lighter Dinner. Your body is not made to digest heavy food at night. When you eat heavier and later, you burden your body and rob it of it’s energy to repair and restore. Eat earlier and lighter and you’ll sleep better, wake lighter and feel energized.
  • Go to Bed Earlier. When you eat earlier, you’ll be ready for bed earlier. Aim to be asleep by 10pm so your body can use that time and natural energy cycle for repairing and healing your body and mind. Develop a bedtime routine to help you fall asleep easier and sleep longer.
  • Start the day with Quiet Reflection. Begin each day by connecting to the larger Universe, Source or your higher self. Take time to connect with your breath and your body. Practice gratitude. Pray. Journal. Set your intention for the day. Starting the day with quiet reflection will help you make conscious decisions regarding food, stress level and daily activities.
  • Maintain Social Connections. Studies show that people who are socially connected live longer, happier lives. Invest in your friendships. Prioritize time with others. Join a club or community. Commit to staying connected to you the people around you.
  • Use it or lose it. Your brain that is. The more you challenge your brain, the sharper it stays. Play games, do crossword puzzles, read challenging material, build new habits.  Have lively debates. Think of your brain like a muscle in your body. If you neglect it, it becomes soft. When you make it work, you strengthen it. A healthy brain is key thriving as you age.

If you want to have a conversation about your personal wellness goals, call or email me. I'd love to schedule a time to talk by phone or in person. Together we can explore where you are now, where you want to be, and the best plan to get you there.

lael@laelpetersen.com                  503.313.4802                   www.laelpetersen.com

Get Yourself Connected

Mother Teresa said one of the biggest diseases today "is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but the feeling of not belonging." She knew better than most the pain of not belonging. She saw it every day. We also know how it feels to be disconnected  - whether it be from our family or our peer group or even from ourselves. Our true feelings and desires. 

We are wired for connection, but our modern life can make that challenging. We are way too busy. We are pulled in so many directions. We're distracted and tired. In this disconnection from ourselves, we are quick to judge each other, to fear each other.

Sometimes when I'm driving around, I look around at the other drivers in their cars. When I'm at the grocery store, I sometimes look at the people around me. I can't help but think, "Man, we are all the same! In more ways than we are different. We are all trying to do a good job, love our kids, be the best human being we can despite our pain and our personal challenges." It makes me sad that we aren't each other's cheer leaders on this journey of life.

What kind of difference would that make?

We thrive when we feel connected. Awareness is what helps us remember that we are.

Connection with each other begins with us. Practicing mindfulness - just a few moments of non-judgmental awareness of what is going on in our bodies, our minds and around us - cultivates awareness. That awareness creates connection with ourselves and therefore with others. Its a natural progression. 

Do you feel disconnected? From yourself or someone in your life? Do you feel like you don't quite fit in or that everyone else has a tribe and you don't? It's not true. We are all connected. It's a matter of perception. 

So, how can you practice mindfulness today to cultivate that awareness within yourself? What's the one small step you can take toward creating more connection?

Okay, Autumn... here we come!

Autumn is upon us... at least according to the calendar, but from the weather in Portland today (warm and sunny) you wouldn't know it!

For those of us who recognize we are not separate from nature, that we are made up of the same elements as the natural world, we pay particular attention to these changes in season. We consciously shift our focus and align our lives to be more in balance with the natural world around us. 

But why? Why does that matter? What's so important about aligning with the current season?

Isn't that "living in rhythm" stuff all a little hippie-dippie?

It might seem like it at first, but hear me out.  If you are reading this, you are probably invested in your health and well-being. You want to know how to feel better, how to grow and evolve. So it would benefit you to know there are significant health and mental health consequences for not living in alignment with the season. 

Imagine rowing a boat upriver all the time. Now imagine that boat is your body and mind. It's exhausting, right?  

When we align ourselves to the natural world including the qualities of the season, we begin to move with the current of life - like gently guiding our boat down stream. We immediately relieve the drain on our energy or life force.

How might your lifestyle be draining your energy and contributing to your anxiety and overwhelm? How might it be affecting your lack of clarity and depression? your chronic pain and health issues?

Okay, so you get why it is important, now how do you relieve this constant stress? Understand this: "like increases like" and "opposites balance."

If you're anxious - do more and sleep less. You'll definitely create more anxiety. Conversely, if you clear your calendar and rest more, your anxiety will decrease.

When we apply these principles to ourselves and the natural world, we see that autumn carries the qualities of being light, dry, cold and mobile (windy). We recognize that these elements are also present in our own bodies and minds: think dry skin, unfocused mind, restless sleep, variable energy. Living in rhythm with the season calls us to balance these naturally occurring qualities of autumn with ones that are more grounding and stable (think: warm, soft, heavy and slow).

You can do this by...

  • eating cooked foods that are heavier and warming (soups and stews)
  • practicing yoga that is grounding and relaxing versus fast and athletic
  • taking mini breaks throughout the day to rest your eyes and mind
  • massaging your body with oils and/or taking a warm bath 
  • using scents in your home and work space that are warming and grounding (think nutmeg, cedarwood, ginger, vetiver)
  • going to bed earlier

You probably do some of these things already. (Where did you learn it??)

Recognize the change in season brings changes inside you. You can either work with or against your natural state. Both have consequences. Which do you prefer?

 

When your crutches are removed

It's hot outside. The gorge is on fire. In fact, much of the NW is on fire. The air is too unhealthy to breathe, so the house has been shut up tight for two days. No cool(ish) evening breeze coming through the windows as the sun goes down. No window AC unit to blast arctic air into our bedrooms. Not tonight.

Just when I'm about to start fussing about being hot or the fact that I'll probably get less sleep in these conditions, I think of the families who are currently displaced, waiting and hoping their homes aren't burning down. I think of the firefighters who head straight into the most intense heat and danger to save us, our homes, our beautiful and sacred land. I think of the animals. I can surely suck it up and sleep on top of the covers.

But this wasn't intended to be a post about attitude adjustments or how gratitude shifts our energy, it's about... 

What happens when our crutches are removed? How to we handle it?

What came up for me last night after I stopped feeling sorry for myself, was the awareness of how much I rely on creating "ideal conditions" for optimal mood stability. In that moment, I recognized again how much I pad my environment with routines, supplements, accessories (clothing, furniture, the perfect mug) in order to maintain a good mood. A stable mind.

Don't get me wrong... I'm all about self-care not self-deprivation, so if you love a certain pillow by all means, don't put it on the floor to deprive yourself! I'm all about knowing what your mind and body need to be efficient, awake and aware and being grateful for the blessings we have. What I'm talking about here is what happens when we have to go without? 

Perhaps there is some room in our very wealthy, very comfortable lives to notice what we miss out on when we are continually supported in our melatonin-taking, soothing-cool-bedtime -showering, perfect-comfy-jammie-wearing, arctic-air-filled-bedrooms lives. 

What comes up for you when your crutches are removed? Do you rush to find another thing to prop you up? (Where's that fan?!) Or do you take the opportunity to stop, notice what feelings are arising and inquire as to whether there is another way to be with the feelings?

It is in these moments... and life gives them to us all the time if we are paying attention... where we can get a glimpse into what we are feeling underneath. What we are really made of. Who are truly are. 

So I invite you to consider discomfort or inconvenience as a way to go deeper into yourself. To experiment with this self-inquiry and who knows, you may just get some insight into a habit or belief that has been holding you back in more ways than you realize. And that you can be grateful for.  

Hawk Medicine

Yesterday as I was returning from an early morning walk, I noticed two hawks (Cooper's Hawks, I think) swooping around my block. I'd never seen them before so I stopped to watch them for a while. Turns out they were interested in the newly independent, but not quite street-wise adolescent crows. For a meal, I'm supposing. They perched and swooped and generally riled up our neighborhood crows for nearly 90 minutes. The crows didn't seem frightened which was surprising, more annoyed although they did call in some neighboring crow families for some added protection.

I've learned that when something catches our attention like that - something beautiful or unusual - especially if it's occurring in the natural world, it's a prompt for us to stop, take notice and sense whether there is some lesson or message for us. It's a lovely practice and one that provides me much joy. Like a more grown-up version of looking up someone's birthday in those astrological birthday books and seeing if what it says is true! I approach this with a curious attitude, a playfulness - as a reminder to get out of my head and tap into the larger cosmos around me.

My medicine cards had this to say: "Hawk medicine invites us to pay attention. To observe the signals Life is sending you. It's time to heighten awareness and receive the message." It goes on to say, "You are only as powerful as your capacity to perceive, receive , and use your abilities."

Thank you, Hawks. I know you were doing your thing without a thought about me, but your presence this morning was a break from the routine and a gift to remind me to pay attention what's happening around me - not just with my mental mind, but with my intuition as well.

The Feeling Afterward

After being in the social work and therapy world for over 20 years, I know a lot of strategies for helping people find peace and well-being, but the lessons I learn myself seem to be the most meaningful to teach. Maybe that's true for most things. Isn't there that saying that first you learn it, then you practice it and finally you teach it? Something like that.

Well I experienced one of those life lessons again this morning and I want to share it with you. Maybe it will inspire you in some way!

First off, I still feel some resistance to talking about my personal life (but I also think talking about things in code is kinda weird.) Therapists aren't supposed to talk about their personal lives with their clients, so there's a part of me that cringes when I write like this. Another other part of me just wants to be human and connect with the people around me whether they are my friends, family or clients. So here goes...

I haven't done any strength training in over a year. I took a break from it when I was losing sight of what was best for me and my body. I turned my attention once again toward yoga which this time helped me realize I wanted to teach it. (Everything happens as it should.) So for the past year and a half, I've been softening my body: stretching and opening. Through a series of messages from the Universe, it's been made known to me that my body actually needs both: softening and strengthening.

So time to figure out what to do. Go back to the community I was a part of before? Find a new class or group? Do it on my own? For weeks, I've been caught up in the details: where to go, what to do, how to do it. I've also been wrestling with my "shoulds" and "cant's," waiting for the ideal situation and motivation to arrive... all the things that FEAR does to keep us from taking the next step.

But today it happened. I went to a circuit class at my gym. I didn't want to go. I woke up at 330 this morning and I have a full schedule today. I heard myself start in with all the reasons I could try it next week, but I stopped myself. I stopped and thought... 

"How will you feel if you don't go?"

Well, I would feel relieved. But then frustrated and disappointed that my excuses and fear are keeping me in this (soft) place. And a bit hopeless that things were never going to change.

Then I thought, "How will you feel if you DO go?"

Nervous at first, but then stoked! Tired, in a good way. Proud of myself. And relieved that I pushed past my fearful self-talk that's keeping me in this cycle of avoidance. 

By asking these questions, it became clear that going to class would result in MORE of the feelings and self-talk I want in my head and body rather than avoiding. So I went.

I say all of this to share with you this helpful strategy:

When you are scared to do something you need to do - like something to advance your physical or mental health or something to change up a situation in your life that is not working (job, relationship, lifestyle.....)

FOCUS more on the FEELING you'll have AFTERWARD and less on the self-talk beforehand.

When you do, you'll bust out of those old habits and patterns. You'll make more progress toward your goals. You'll find some freedom from old conditioned thoughts that keep you living small. And then watch fear take the backseat where it belongs.  

Expectations

From my reading this morning...
"And the miracle is
that when you are no longer placing an impossible demand on it,
every situation
person
place
or event
becomes not only satisfying,
but also more harmonious, more peaceful."
-Eckhart Tolle

I sat in quiet for a while and let my spirit absorb this. My mind has all kinds of things to say about it, but I'm not interested in that narrative. I know it all too well.

I'm interested in the part that knows so much of my angst, stress and worry is because of the habit of having expectations. Of wanting things to turn out my way - the way I think things should go.

How limiting this is! How small and contracted my world becomes! I'm grateful to be able to recognize in my body when I am in this fearful and controlling place. (It feels like tension or irritability.) Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes I notice but want to ignore it. Sometimes it's hard to let go.

It takes practice and self-compassion to surrender and accept what IS versus what I wish or want it to be.

Preventing summer burn out

Summer is almost here! The days are longer, the weather is warmer and our moods are lifting. There is a palpable surge of energy here in the NW after our long, wet and dark winter (and spring, this year). We can hardly help ourselves when the sun finally comes out and the temperatures start to rise. You'll find us furiously planting our gardens, BBQing all the things, and making plans with everyone we haven't seen for months despite the fact that we live less than a mile apart. Summer feels like a re-birth... but if we aren't mindful, it can also be exhausting.

Summer season has a inherent elevated energy. The changes in nature invite us to get out and get moving, but if we don't balance the naturally occurring high energy of summer with consciously created chill energy, we are guaranteed to burn out by August. We'll enter fall season exhausted and prone to sickness, lethargy and major let-down.

 Here are some tips for enjoying all the summer things and avoiding the inevitable burn out.

1. Prioritize your summer fun. Take moment to consider what do love about summer? What stands out as making this season extra sweet? Maybe its your annual Fourth of July plans with family or that beach trip you took with your friends. Maybe it was picking berries with your kids last summer or eating dinner outside. Take a moment to reflect on the summer activities that bring you joy and then rank them from most important to less important. By doing this you'll get clear about how you want this summer to go down. If you see that you value leisurely dinners at home, you'll prioritize them and then be less likely to over commit to evening activities out of the house. Reflection brings consciousness into the present moment. By doing so, you'll increase the odds that you're doing exactly what you want to be doing this summer versus running around doing all the things that come your way.

2. Pace yourself. Stop right now and take a look at the month ahead. What do you have planned? How much unscheduled or down time is there? Is what you've committed to doable, given your current work load and family responsibilities? Be honest with yourself. Now, take a look at your summer priorities from Step 1. Do they match up with your current calendar? If not, clear some space or schedule in some down time.

3.  Anticipate the week ahead. On Sundays, stop and look at the week ahead. How does your (or your family) schedule look? Does it seem doable given your current energy level and mood? Maybe three weeks ago you thought this would be a good week to tear out the front yard or attend that three-day music festival, but now that its here, you realize you don't have the energy. If it is still a priority based on your reflection in step 1, you'll need to create some space in your schedule this week for down time. Pencil in some early bedtimes, go in to work late one day or postpone that meeting or playdate.  That way you'll have what it takes when it comes time to do what you love.

4. Wind down daily. So you've prioritized your summer activities and you're adjusting your schedule each week to assure you have energy for the things you love, now it's time to focus on giving your mind, body and spirit daily respite. (If you are a parent, this is crucial for your kids, too.) Consider the Ayurvedic wisdom of daily rhythms. Between 6pm-10pm is known as kapha time - the time of day that is naturally more mellow, reflective and relaxing. During summer, we tend to ignore this naturally occurring down time and instead embark on a second shift of socializing or yard work or other stimulating activity. While some physical activity after dinner is advisable (think light house work or a walk), engaging in mental, emotional or overly physical activity is not recommended. Doing so can be too stimulating resulting in missing nature's cue to wind down and relax. Begin to see 6pm to bedtime as down time. Consider a walk after dinner, doing some yoga or stretching, reading outside in the hammock, or taking a bath or shower. Make it a habit to wind down daily and you'll avoid burn out.

5. Be here now. This last step will require you to slow down. Right now, stop what you are doing, , shut your eyes and take a deep breath. Make it a habit to be present in the moment. Doing so will help you encode in your body and your mind all the sweetness of summer. You can engage your senses help you with this. Whenever you remember, let your eyes take in the beauty of the sky, the people around you, the colors of the food on your plate. Eat slower so you can enjoy each bite of your favorite summer foods. Stop and smell the roses or the neighbor's BBQ. Listen to the birds, the sounds of children playing, your favorite summer tunes. Let your spirit absorb where you are in this very moment. You'll find that when you do this, you need less activity and less stimulation to truly enjoy your summer.

How Yoga Helps

So much has been written about yoga and mental health that we all know there are benefits. But what exactly does yoga do? How does it help? Most of us know we'd be more flexible and less stressed if we practiced yoga, but yoga offers us so much more than that.

At first when we practice yoga, we begin to see changes in our physical bodies. It doesn't take long to be able to touch our toes or twist our torsos a bit farther as muscles lengthen and learn to contract and relax. We then start to notice we feel more relaxed after class and that our minds seem less hectic. Eventually we start feeling better about ourselves and seeing solutions to problems we hadn't seen before. Why does this happen? 

Whether we are aware of it or not, many of us exist as if we are just a body with a mind on top. In fact, many mental health treatments seem to believe this as well. But we are much more complex and beautiful than that. We have a physical body (our bones, skin, organs), an energetic or subtle body (our breath, energy field, chi or pranic body), a mind or mental body (what we think and perceive) and an intuitive body (our internal knowing, Higher Self). So many layers! At the core of all this is what we all have in common - our true nature or our bliss body or pure love.

Practicing yoga affects all the layers of ourselves. We might just notice the physical changes first. ("Hey I can touch my toes now!") Then, since we pay a lot of attention to our thinking, we might notice the changes in our mind or mental body. ("My mind isn't racing like it was when I came in.") After some time, we begin to notice we "feel better" or are more relaxed or energized after practice. This is tuning in to our energetic bodies. And if we are really paying attention, we'll begin to notice that we are having insights or clarity about things we have not had before. Our awareness expands. We begin to see ourselves and others differently. We begin to act versus react. We begin to see we are the creators of our lives and our experiences.

These changes directly affect our mental health - whether its depression, anxiety or mood swings we deal with. When practicing yoga, we also begin to care for our bodies in a more nourishing way. We manage our energy levels with more care. We observe our thoughts versus being dragged through the emotional mud by them. We look for and listen to our inside voice, our intuition to help us make healthy decisions. We begin to sense that we may be so much more than we realized, that our lives hold more possibility than we thought. Yoga provides a pathway to change and gives us hope. 

 

Not good at it? Do it anyway.

Stephen Guise http://stephenguise.com/ wrote the books Mini-habits and How to Be an Imperfectionist. The following are quotes from the latter:

"In general, the idea behind imperfectionism is to not care so much about conditions or results, and care more about what you can do right now to move forward with your identity and your life."

"Care less about results. Care more about putting in the work.

Care less about problems. Care more about making progress despite them. Or if you must fix something, focus on the solution.

Care less about what people think. Care more about who you want to be and what you want to do.

Care less about doing it right. Care more about doing it at all.

Care less about failure. Care more about success.

Care less about timing. Care more about the task."

 

Is this liberating? To be invited to shift your focus from waiting until you're "ready" to  ________ (fill in the blank) to just taking small steps toward that goal. In fact, it is in taking those small steps that we become the person we're waiting around to become.

So, stop waiting. Stop waiting until you feel ready. Until you have enough money. Until you feel more confident. Until all the things are lined up perfectly.

When you put yourself out there, it inspires others to do the same. And this world needs more people who are living large and doing great things. We need more people sharing their gifts and talents with the world. Sharing exactly who they are right now without all the Instagram editing. 

I'm not a good writer. I'm writing anyway. I don't have my shit figured out. I help people anyway. I'm not super athletic. I move my body anyway. I'm not great at teaching yoga yet. I'm teaching now anyway. I'm moody and indecisive. I'm still making small steps toward my dreams.

How about you?

Cancer-versary

Four years ago this week, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And every year around this time, I find myself re-reading my journal from that year.

In honor of those who died, those who survive and all their loved ones, I share some excerpts from my journal of that year with you.

 

June 17: "Two days later, I'm in Fred Meyer with the girls and the phone rings. It's the radiologist and she says, "I'm sorry. It's cancer." I didn't even have a pen or a piece of paper on me. She gave me the name and number of a surgeon and told me to make an appointment with him. I was in shock. Cancer? Really? That little thing?? Are they sure? Maybe they mixed it up with someone else. Really? I was not expecting that."

June 21: "They say denial is the psyche's way of protecting itself. As if the truth of what is happening were to rush in all at once, it would be too much for us. Denial allows it to seep in little by little, so the mind and heart can absorb reality in a more manageable way." 

July 17: "This I know: Things are as they should be even if I don't like or understand them. That I am not alone. God is closer to me than I am to myself. I am held."

"So when people ask how I am doing....sometimes I feel nervous. Sometimes tired or nauseous and frustrated about that. Sometimes annoyed at this interruption to my life plans. But I'm also calm. I am not afraid (at this moment.) Everything will be okay. It already is. I am not alone. I am held."

July 21: After my sister came to visit. "But most of all, she brought me a sense of safety, a deep comfort and peace to what feels very rushed and scary to me at times. She brought her Sister Love - What she's always been able to do for me since we were small. It's as though when I was setting about my course for this life and deciding all the challenges I wanted to give myself, God wisely suggested I also choose the most gentle, faithful companion of a sister to provide just what I needed in those most difficult times. I'm glad I listened and that we found each other."

July 30: "I've been feeling a little flat. Just off. Like I can't quite get my bearings. My routine is all out of whack and Lord knows, I love my routines. I have them for everything. Tonight, I noticed the kitchen floor is dirty and realized it's not part of my nightly routine to sweep it anymore. Haven't swept the floor in weeks. (Someone else has thankfully!) Filling water bottles, heating up my hot pack and lying out my meds is my new nightly routine. Going for a run is usually part of my morning routine. Not so much now. So I shed a few tears and feel sad about what I miss. There's so much for me to learn about all of this, about myself." 

"Note to self about a future post: The lessons of cancer."

August 13: "But now, I do not have a shaved head. I have a baldish, chemo head. It's patchy. Mostly gone on the top and sides and thin in the back. It's not cool or liberating. I've had some tears about my new (temporary, I know!) look. But more and more I'm getting okay with it."

August 25: "I'm trying to remember the spiritual principals and practices that seemed so meaningful and vibrant prior to my diagnosis. I rest in the intellectual knowledge that all is the the same even if I feel disconnected. But I long for the sense of peace and well-being that was so present for me before I got sick. It makes me notice how much of feeling physically well, healthy, and active is linked with my positive mental well-being and sense of the Spirit. I am considering other ways to stay spiritually fed that do not include accomplishing tasks and moving my body. I guess I can see this as an opportunity to broaden my spiritual practices."

September 23: "Remember when I was feeling good last week? So crazy how it comes and goes. I just have to take each day as it comes and enjoy it as much as I can. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I'll be thinking today wasn't so bad and I should have been "enjoying" what I had. It's hard to predict and it's crazy making. And frankly, I'm tired of listening to myself talk about it."

October 2: "I was supposed to run the Portland marathon Sunday. I had just started training when I was diagnosed almost four months go. I think I will go cheer on the runners at mile 20 with my new "F*ck Cancer" tee shirt that my sister-in-law sent me."

October 5: "I have had times in my life where I have felt very alone and lonely. I can see more obviously now that it was a creation of my own mind since the opposite message keeps coming my way again and again. I am not alone. I have friendship and support all around me. I just need to be open to receiving it. This is one of those lessons having cancer is teaching me that I want to remember when this is all over."

Regarding my husband: "To be honest, accepting his love and help hasn't always been easy for me. I struggle at times with feeling like I don't deserve it. I am learning this is not only hurtful to him (and others who are freely offering their love and support), but also not actually true. This is another one of those thinking errors that's being challenged again and again since this cancer thing came on our scene. And one new way of being - accepting love freely given - that I'd like keep even when this is behind us."

October 31: "What I did not expect yesterday is that I would burst into tears walking into that office building. I get overwhelmed and emotional at times and walking into that building triggered it for me yesterday. Sometimes the bigness of it all hits me. Chemo was a big deal. Surgery is a big deal to me. It feels scary at times. Fortunately it passes. Adjusting to having cancer has taken me months. I can see that adjusting back to life after cancer will also take some time."

November 13: Regarding my physical appearance: "And for anyone who goes through this themselves or who has someone close to them go through it.... The supportive response to this is, "I'm sorry. That must be tough." Not, "You look great!" Because its not that I think I look ghastly and I need a reality check from someone on the outside. I'm aware I don't look as sick as some. I have good color and can apply makeup with some skill. But this surely isn't my best look. And telling me I look "great" makes me feel like I'm not allowed to be sad about my lack of hair, eyelashes and eye brows. I know it is temporary and I know I should be grateful for what I have. (It could be worse, I know.) But sometimes I just feel upset about it."

"It's another one of those humbling things about cancer. And I'm reminded again that we are who we are on the inside regardless of how we look on the outside."

December 17: "Mentally and emotionally, I feel pretty happy and positive most days. Occasionally, I'll get these waves of fear or dread. Mostly its about the cancer coming back (chemo!) or about dying young and leaving my family. I really have to bring myself back to the present moment at those times and I'm thankful that doing so brings me peace. I tell myself, "I'm just fine today, right now."

"But having those scary thoughts also makes me think about not putting things off; not saying, "I'll get to that someday." Because really. If I don't do it now, when will I? Next year? What if I have a recurrence next year or the year after? What if these are the "good" days right now? In this way it makes me check my priorities all the time. Is this how I want to be spending my time? This is just another way cancer has changed things for me and it will take continued awareness to keep this lesson close."

January 28: "And while I'm eager to focus on other aspects of my life including my work and my relationships, I do not want to lose the many positive changes that have come about since getting cancer. And for that I'll continue to do my spiritual and emotional work. Because it just feels so much better to do so." 

February 27: "I'm going to tidy up my desk and bed side of all my cancer stuff this weekend - the books, folders of info, notes, labs, etc. The time has come to put it away. Although I will never be the same as before cancer and am grateful for everything I've received with this life experience, I can feel myself moving on. And that feels pretty darn awesome."

Shifting into ease

I've had the same conversation with several clients this week which means one of two things: it's something I need to take note of myself or people are having a shared human experience and we need some skills to deal. This is what I'm hearing... people, myself included, want less stress and more time. Some people even fantasize about being able to stop time to catch their breath. Can you relate? Our schedules are full, our lives are busy (sometimes with fun stuff, but oftentimes with not-so-fun stuff) and the energy to keep up is taking a toll on our bodies and minds.

We all know we should do less or at least take a look at what stressors we can eliminate. We're well aware that we're supposed to be prioritizing and scheduling our self-care. In fact, a whole industry has been built on the fact that women NEED massages and spa days and happy hours because our lives are so hard. If you aren't doing them by the way, you aren't taking good care of yourself.

Or perhaps you've already scaled back and are doing less than you used to and yet unanticipated events have landed you right back in Stress-ville.

We've all heard how we're supposed to mitigate our stressful lives with relaxation, but what if you can't afford a massage every week? Or the babysitter to get a night out with your friends? What if you can't actually quit your job right now or leave the relationship you know is slowly killing you? And what if can't prevent stressful things from happening to you or others around you (think fender bender, sick kid or parent)? Are we doomed to just suffer the effects of our stressful lives as well as the shame that we aren't taking good care of ourselves?

I don't think so. I think there's another way and its actually easily accessible. Anytime. No babysitter required. Anyone can do it. It begins with realizing we have the ability to notice what stress feels like in our bodies and minds and then choosing to shift those sensations from stress to ease. Sounds nice, huh?

Learning this practice will not only help us actively counteract the physiologic stress coursing through our bodies (which we know has long term health consequences in addition to the short-term discomfort), but shifting from stress to ease also induces a sense of spaciousness or wider perspective from which we can act more effectively and efficiently. It actually creates time! Chronic tension and stress constrict our flow of energy, like a kink in a hose. We have to work harder and harder to produce the same outcome and often with devastating effects on our bodies and our relationships. Shifting from stress to ease unkinks the hose and allows our natural, limitless energy to flow freely.

So let's do this differently! Let's say No to the cultural pressure of more, more, more. Do more. Be more. Accomplish more. Let's lead the revolution of easeful living! And then see what kind of positive changes we can make in our lives, the lives of those around us, and the world at large. 

There are many ways to shift into ease (observing your breath, tensing and relaxing muscle groups, yoga) but let's start with this simple one-minute practice adapted from Cate Stillman of yogahealer. com.

 

Whenever you notice stress is taking over your body or mind...

Take a moment to feel the ground or earth beneath you. Drop your awareness into the sensations of where your feet or body meet the earth or the chair below you. Feel how the earth is always there for you. Always supporting you.

Then shift your attention to the sky or heavens above you. Look up. Take in the sky, the clouds, the sun. Sense the vastness that's beyond. 

Allow your awareness to shift between the two. Steady, supportive, life-giving earth below you. Beautiful, spacious, awe-inspiring sky above. 

Notice as you do this you feel more expansive. Notice your awareness feels more spacious. Observe the tension melting from your body as you shift into ease. 

 

I'd love to hear how this goes for you. Leave your comments, insights and inspirations below or on my Facebook Page.