Deep breaths AND chocolate

I used to think it was all or nothing. If I taught yoga, then I must be very yogic at all times or else I was a fraud. So I best be eating organic chia seeds marinated in bone broth with kale chips and a green smoothie to wash it all down with. I thought to myself, I can’t be a calm, loving mother if I am also feeding my kids Cheetos and yelling at them to clean up the pile of shoes on the floor or their underwear on the coffee table. (We have a history in this family of undergarments being left in odd places – just last week my mother-in-law found a strapless bra in my husband’s car – I hate strapless bras and took it off as soon as I could after a recent event, fortunately it was mine and she thought it was funny).  The list goes on, I can’t be healthy and have dessert or teach others about meditation if I need medication to help with my anxiety. I can’t be sensitive and strong. I can’t be brave and scared. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

Oh yes I can.

I am so grateful to my new friend Charnell, who during a recent women’s circle, stressed the importance of the word, and. “You can wake up anxious and still cut up apples for your kids lunch”, she said. And while I have certainly thought of this, lived it in fact, I have never realized how glorious the word and really is.

And it is liberating. And is spaciousness. And is kind. And is acceptance. And is compassion. And is the antithesis of perfection. And is sincere. And is genuine.

This chasing happiness business is crazy making. Because it is impossible. So maybe we find meaning instead and stop worrying so much about finding this elusive perfect happiness. Like Vikor Frankl who survived the Holocaust teaches us in his beautiful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, we can survive hardship when we find meaning in our struggles.

As I prepare for facilitating a new women’s circle starting this weekend, I am swept up in gratitude for the bright and beautiful creature in my back yard. It is a cardinal and to me this sweet little bird signifies that my dad is near, telling me I’ve got this even though I am not sure I do. These days I don’t strive for perfection or even happiness, I strive for acceptance. And meaning. And unconditional love. And in addition to deep breaths, I need chocolate.

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worrying sucks

It really does. Especially in the middle of the night. Usually the morning brings about relief. Sometimes the sunlight washes away the worry and I think to myself, wow I was really worked up for nothing. Everything is exacerbated in the middle of the night.

But then there are the days when the worry keeps going.

Fortunately, most of what we worry about doesn’t happen. And unfortunately, sometimes it does.

I have realized there are tactics to deal with worry when it occurs and then there is what we can do the rest of the time to prevent worrying from even starting or from getting worse.

It’s mental hygiene, it is self care and it can make a world of difference. Especially if you are someone like me who is prone to anxiety.

For me watching the news is off limits. Reading the paper is still upsetting but I can avoid the images which just get stuck in my head and make me feel sick.

If you want to read more and are interested in some tips to help tame worry, please check out my post today on the Tampa Bay Moms Blog.

America Ninja Worrywart (and 7 surefire ways to tame your inner worrier)

 

 

fire it up

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Today my therapist said these words to me, “Fire up your frontal lobe.”

A bell went off.

Why?

Because it helps deal with anxious thinking. And I deal with that from time to time. My hope in sharing this is that it will be of help to you too.

I’ll explain.

But first. Here is what is so wretched and cunning about anxiety, it is fear. It is just fear with a different name. It is fear manifesting itself in the body. In a million different ways. Shaky hands, racing heart, flushing face, irritability, sadness, stuck-ness, tiredness or buzzing can’t catch a breath energy. It is fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of death. Fear of illness. Fear of accidents. Fear of losing someone you love.

Anxiety for me is like this. I am perfectly happy. I am driving around town by myself or hanging out with my family on the couch feeling the quiet joy of a mellow evening at home when whoomp there it is. Oh no things are going smoothly, too smoothly, things are about to get real.

It’s not a full blown panic attack. It’s more insidious than that.

This anxiety is in the background. It is noise. It is internal. It is underneath. It is palpable and at the same time elusive.  It digs it’s teeth into negativity, darkness, and uncertainty.

It feels like something bad is going to happen. That’s it. In a nutshell, that for me is how I experience anxiety.

And it’s total and utter bullshit.

Here is the good thing about it. Anxiety is treatable. Here is where the “Fire up your frontal lobe” part comes in.

Anxiety does not like reason or logic. Anxiety resides in a different part of the brain than reasoning does and reasoning makes anxiety small. Logic, like magic, makes it vanish in a big bellowing cloud of smoke. POOF!

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain associated with analytical thinking and reasoning. So when anxiety starts to creep in, it can be helpful to talk to it. Engage this part of the brain because anxious thinking has no base in reality.

Anxious thinking doesn’t make any sense. Although, it feels very real.

Along with therapy, yoga, meditation, and writing helps me deal with anxiety. Avoiding an abundance of sugar, alcohol, and too many carbs helps too. Not watching the news or violent shows helps. Exercise helps. Distraction helps. Nature definitely helps. And medication too can help when needed.

And reasoning helps too. Reason with that shit. Fire up the frontal lobe, the analytical part of the brain that doesn’t bye into all of the fleeting emotional crazy talk . Catch yourself. Hear yourself going down that path. Observe it, become witness to it and then say Sayanora anxiety!

Anxiety, I hear you. But I am not listening. I‘m watching you go. Away in that puff of smoke. Away in a balloon. Thanks but no thanks. 

I’m going back to my breath and enjoying this beautiful sunshiny day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

speaking engagements

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Last weekend I spoke to a group of women about mindfulness meditation. I was nervous. So I did what any sensible person does when anxious about public speaking, I summoned Marsha Brady and envisioned the audience in their underwear!

No, I didn’t really. But never say never. I keep this tool in my back pocket just in case.

I did, however, stand in front of a mirror in the hotel lobby bathroom posing like Super Woman. Hands on hips, feet hip distance apart (and paranoid that someone was about to open the bathroom stall). I expanded my chest widely, dropped my shoulders away from my ears and stared at myself in the mirror for 3 minutes. Is that spinach in my teeth again? I didn’t even eat any spinach today!

I have been doing this a lot lately. Not finding spinach in my teeth but assuming powerful poses when I feel nervous. Why, you might ask? Well, I got inspired after watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk. In it, she discusses the science behind posturing and body language.

By doing this particular pose we drastically decrease the stress hormone, cortisol in our bodies while increasing testosterone. This is a good thing since testosterone is associated with feelings of power and strength. And it works, I always feel a bit more clear headed after assuming a more open and welcoming posture.

I also talk to myself. Usually in my car. There, I sound cool and collected like I have my shit together. Although, most of the time I don’t.

But, (if you recall from Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure, there is always a but) even though I still get nervous, I have found that I really like speaking about topics I feel passionate about. Like meditation.

And I also remember that it’s not about me. It’s about sharing something important to me and letting something move through me. I don’t mean the latter to sound like a laxative commercial. But I mean by remembering that we are connected and part of a bigger more spirit infused picture, we can get out of our own way and make room for our souls to shine through. Even if we have spinach in our teeth while doing so.

 

a way to be here

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“It’s clear to me that a crisis like this requires us not even to think of G-d. Like the writer says, to go beyond thinking. Into a place of forgetting, even. Maybe even beyond creating, receiving, aligning. Maybe this sort of crisis requires the individual to unlayer down to our most true naked nature. Where there is just the beating of the heart. And the breath. Held by love.” – Laura Munson from This is not the Story You Think it is.

Yoga.

What I like most about yoga is this: My teacher’s soft voice like a lullaby.

And the sound of her feet sticking to the floor as she moves generously from student to student dropping lavender oil on our palms. I can’t help but hope she comes over and presses those healing hands onto my shoulders in savasana, melting the stress away with her alchemy and warmth.

In those moments, I am reminded of what it feels like to be a little girl, safe and secure as the adults work magic around you. Drifting off to sleep, you can hear them talk in hushed voices in the room down the hall. My dad is there too; big, soft palms gently caressing my face, putting me to sleep.

It works every time.

I like feeling stretched out like a lazy cat laying in the sun. Like there is more space between my shoulder blades and rib cage. I like feeling like there is room to breathe.Like I just grew three inches in length.

I like that my neck no longer feels stiff and my hamstrings no longer tight.

I like that when I am drowsily rolling up my yoga mat, the one that has a big bite mark on the side from when my rambunctious puppy ate it 3 years ago, that I feel like I have visited my therapist as well as the spa.

I like that yoga is a reset button so even if I had Heathbar Crunch yogurt yesterday and afterwards, I may just have a piece of pumpkin bread, I am still detoxifying and exercising now.

I like it best when my teacher says, “Find a way to be here.” Because sometimes here really hurts. Especially when attempting a split. But there is always a way to be here.

Find a way to be here. I repeat this to myself today in class as I smell the gardenia, and the lemongrass and ginger. Find a way to be here, I think, when here feels like my heart is breaking. Find a way to be here, I think, even when here is tight and chaotic. Find a way to be here, I think, choosing to pick a new narrator of my story because anxiety is no longer welcome.

But the soft ocean waves of others breathing as it rolls in and out around me, inviting in light, softness, authenticity, and grace certainly is.

This is the way to be here, through breath, through our beautiful breath that whispers to us, also in a hushed voice, that we are whole, and never truly broken.

of peace and power; a manifesto (of sorts) for the pregnant mama

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I wanted to yell at the midwife yesterday. She asked me if I had eaten right before I came in for my check up because I was a few pounds heavier than I should be.

I explained to her that I had just been on vacation for three weeks and perhaps indulged a bit more than I usually do (maybe.)

That is when she said the words that really sent me over the edge, “Well the vacation is now over.”

Currently, I am in my last trimester with my third child. I readily admit that I get irritable on occasion. And this day was no exception. Two days prior I spent four hours at their office fasting and blood letting, I mean drawing. And there I was yet again, this time waiting to get a shot. I was well aware of the fact that the vacation was now over .

Fortunately, I felt some much needed kinship this past weekend amidst a torrential down pour which resulted in our street being flooded and our kids getting stuck at the neighbors for hours (unplanned on my part, I swear!) while my husband and I obsessively watched the last three episodes of our new favorite T.V. show, Catastrophe. The female lead, also pregnant, begged for her doctor to tell her some good news for a change after being told she was at risk for having a baby born with a genetic abnormality due to her “geriatric pregnancy.”

I too am considered to be of “advanced maternal age” (much better than geriatric but still not great) or “high risk” (worse.) There have been a lot more tests and a few more complications this go around.

And the problem is, just hearing the words “high risk” makes me more anxious. It is no surprise that my blood pressure has been high. Probably because I feel terrified that every time I go in for an appointment (which is an awful lot these days,) I am going to hear that something else is wrong, in addition, to my aging uterus and elevated blood pressure.

My blood pressure is always high the first time the nurse checks it and better the second, although, still elevated.  This is when I breathe deeply and try to visualize a peaceful and calming image usually the lapping of ocean waves crashing on the shore. But the last time I did this, I thought about flesh eating bacteria which I had just read about in the paper. There went my relaxing moment on the beach in my mind!

When I was young, I remember my mom talking about suffering from “white coat syndrome.” I tried telling my doctor that this too was my problem, that getting nervous when seeing a doctor in a white coat runs in my family. He didn’t exactly buy it. Understandably and responsibly, after allowing me to try and control my blood pressure naturally, he recommended medication.

This same angel doctor is the first one I met after changing practices during my last pregnancy. When he walked into the room, he looked alarmingly young. But with kind eyes, he heartily shook my hand, and thoughtfully asked, “So tell me why would you like you to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)?” It was the first time anyone had actually asked me this question. There was no judgement or patronizing tone, he was just curious and wanted to listen to what I had to say. His kindness and sincerity brought tears to my eyes.

My husband and I were both overwhelmed with gratitude during this interaction. Especially after an ultrasound technician (the same one who told me once that I had a “bi-unicorn” in my uterus – at least that is what I thought she said – but she really said a bicornuate uterus – which was also incorrect) while putting jelly on my belly said, “You know, it doesn’t make you any more of a woman to have a baby this way” upon learning that I wanted a VBAC.

Another great weird ass comment came while in the delivery room and in active labor with my son. My hospital gown, unbeknownst to me, had opened up in the back, exposing my bare bum. The nurse, horrified, said in a really off putting and snippy way, “Let’s close this up, the doctor doesn’t need to see that.” As if showing my butt was what I was trying to accomplish in the midst of contractions and awaiting an epidural.

I can laugh at these comments now because they seem so ridiculous. But really they all pissed me off considerably. However, I am nice, and I put up with it.

But you don’t have to put up with anything. The thing is, this sort of negativity can certainly impact our pregnancies. With the growing list of rules and limitations – don’t eat soft cheese, drink more water even though it might make you feel like you are going to throw up everywhere – and unsolicited advice – think positively, don’t get stressed, do kegels, exercise, play Mozart for your baby…now, have a water birth, don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, save your placenta to plant under a tree, etc. – it is no wonder we get irritable from time to time and want to yell at our midwives.

The reality is, when we can keep it all in perspective, we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to carry a child. Not everyone who wants a baby is able to experience the trials and triumphs of being pregnant. It is a miraculous, sometimes challenging, and incredibly sacred time. And although it doesn’t always feel like this, it goes pretty darn quickly.

It is also true that we don’t have much control over how people speak to us or how the whole birthing process goes down. But the great news is that we do possess the ability to choose who we want to care for us during this special time. And I for one, will not be making another appointment with “the vacation is over” midwife.

So in the spirit of Oprah, below are some of the things I know for sure...in regards to expecting a child:

Being pregnant is not a sickness.

Pregnancy is a time of wellness, health, wholeness, and empowerment.

Our innate wisdom and intuition are to be honored and trusted.

We deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, compassion, and dignity by those we are trusting with our prenatal care.

We are free to change our minds.

And we are even entitled to be irritable from time to time.

Prenatal yoga, prenatal massage, or even a foot massage from someone who really likes you are always a good idea.

So is watching something funny on T.V.

Walking, meditating, writing, and being out in nature are great medicine when feeling more panicky than peaceful.

We own the right to decide whether or not we want to stick around and hear the Negative Nelly at the party talk about her labor story and how everything went wrong (Not that you asked but I say protect your ears and your baby’s ears and run…run away fast. You can send your best wishes and compassion from afar).

Most importantly, we choose what words and thoughts we tell ourselves. Choose to believe that all is well, and all will be well. (I keep an index card with a positive affirmation by my bed that I read before I go to sleep, and when I get up. It really helps ease my mind…if you are not familiar with Louise Hay check her out and her positive affirmations.)

And now that my vacation is over, I can go back to enjoying my chocolate croissant. I will go on trusting that I am where I need to be in this very simple moment…my dog breathing next to me on my son’s soft bed, my baby girl swishing around safely inside of me, the sound of the rain dripping from the metal gutter outside, the air conditioning kicking on providing a cool reprieve, and my son’s clothes piled dangerously high on his dresser.

I feel a deep sense of ease and gratitude.

And this may be even better than being on vacation.

Inside Out; Exploring Emotion

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We returned home last night after spending a few weeks with my extended family in the Northeast. Yesterday was a long and exhausting travel day. We all felt sad to be leaving family that we only get to see a few times a year. And my son was so upset that he spent the entire day crying at the mere mention of anything regarding our trip.

I wanted to make him feel better. And I wanted to make myself feel better. I wanted to say something funny or distract him with a silly story. Cheering others up or ourselves for that matter, is how most of us deal with sadness. But I know this doesn’t always work. And we can’t protect ourselves from sadness, we can only learn how to soften into it. Although it was hard, I tried to allow him to have his experience, gently reassuring him that it was okay as he moved through the rawness.

I was reminded of the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, which we saw on a dreary day earlier in the summer. I thought of the starring role that Sadness played and how much I appreciated the message that joy can’t exist without it.

I didn’t enjoy everything about the movie especially when I questioned whether someone had dropped LSD into my drink as the characters, Joy and Sadness, got lost in little Riley’s Long Term Memory. Along on the journey with Sadness and Joy is an imaginary friend who is part cotton candy, part elephant, and part something with a bushy tail. They start “deconstructing” and begin to change shapes morphing into abstract images reminiscent of a Picasso painting.

As the movie progressed, it took lots of weird twists and turns but, fortunately, ended on a sweet and poignant note. I most appreciate that Inside Out presented a very realistic portrayal about the challenges of moving to a new town and the opportunity to talk about being sad.

Because I found it to be insightful and clever on so many levels and because I am constantly looking for ways to teach and incorporate emotional understanding into my life, my children’s lives, and the work I do with others, I created a list of how Inside Out inspired me to explore emotions. Especially sadness.

1). All emotions are important and all emotions come and go. Although the movie mostly dealt with Sadness, it also explored the major emotions of Joy, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. While emotions like shame, humility, nervousness, jealousy, excitement, compassion, empathy, gratitude, and love were not major players in the film, it certainly creates an opportunity to start a conversation about all emotions. For instance, a friend of mine talked to her son about the particular characters he has in his head. Because he tends to worry, she added “worry” to the list of characters. If a child can identify something such as worry as just one of the many emotions he feels, it can help take away some of its significance and power.  And helping children visualize their emotions by identifying them with colorful characters or images helps them befriend their feelings and relate to them in a more proactive and helpful way.

2). Emotions don’t just live in our heads, they live in our bodies too. You can ask kids what it feels like or looks like when they are feeling a certain way. Maybe when they are sad you can inquire about where they feel sadness in their body. Think of “lumps in our throat” or “butterflies in our stomach.” These phrases help kids understand their emotions and the connection between our minds, hearts, and bodies.

3). We cannot experience joy without sadness. I loved the message in the movie that Joy and Sadness need each other. One can’t exist without the other. And sadness is not bad, and we can, in fact, learn a lot from it. Also, joy all of the time can get really annoying and may even hinder us from reaching our full potential and finding true peace and happiness.

4). Anger is to be expected but making choices when we are angry is not wise. When Anger was in charge in the movie, Riley made some really bad choices. If we let anger rule our decision making process without also listening to reason, kindness, and compassion, then we will most likely end up making some really stupid decisions. These decisions may cause more harm and regret in the long run. Teaching our kids (and reminding ourselves…often) how to pause and breathe first when feeling red hot anger, is a great step towards a more mindful existence. We have no control over others, only how we choose to respond to them and perceive our realities. Trying not to take others outbursts or crazy making comments personally is helpful too. And creating space before reacting (and maybe regretting), allows us to respond mindfully coming from a place of choice instead of operating on auto-pilot.

5). Talking about our sadness eventually helps lift us out of our sadness. At the end of Inside Out, Sadness is finally in charge and the little girl, Riley, is able to talk about her sadness instead of just acting indifferent and grumpy. Her whole demeanor changes as she opens up to her parents. Her dad puts his phone away, and her mom stops gabbing incessantly, and they actually listen! Then the parents talk about their feelings too, and one gets the sense that the weight is slowly lifting off all of their shoulders. Finally, it seemed, Riley felt understood and not so alone.

When my son was four, he told me that laughter and tears were pretty much the same thing. I believe he is right, both are outlets for deep feeling, and both help keep us balanced and whole. Without one, we can’t fully experience the other.

For more on the significant role emotion plays in our life and the topic of emotional intelligence, check out Daniel Goldman’s book, Emotional Intelligence.