Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spinning Plates

Often when people speak about the many competing demands on their time, they use the metaphor of juggling. For me, I prefer the image of the Chinese acrobat troupe spinning plates atop long poles. It always seems amazing that they are able to get one plate or bowl spinning, let alone seven or twelve. Watching these performers as they add more and more plates, I laugh to myself and reflect on my life. I love the challenge of adding a new plate while keeping the already spinning plates spinning. This usually remains possible. And when it isn’t possible, I have learned (and continue to learn) that it is okay to put down one plate before getting another one going. And sometimes it is even okay to put them all down for a while, walk off stage, and leave the theatre altogether for a while. There are other acrobats in the troupe, others who will keep the audience entertained while I do what I need to do to take care of myself.  During these past few months, this blog was a plate I decided to stop spinning while my gaze turned elsewhere. Today, I am happy to pick it up again and rejoin you in this dialogue.  How DO we care well for ourselves while focusing our efforts on taking good care of others? 

I am someone who keeps myself pretty busy.  Professionally, I like to do a lot of different things and therefore am usually involved in several different work projects simultaneously. I lead a supervision group for those seeking LPC Licensure. I facilitate a women’s personal growth group. Working with couples, I help them learn communication and conflict resolution skills, change non-productive ways of relating, and help them develop greater intimacy and compassion for one another. As an individual therapist, I help people heal unresolved traumas so that they can experience greater joy in their lives. I provide consultation to other therapists seeking certification in EMDR (a comprehensive, trauma-informed therapy model). I teach workshops on practice-building to other practitioners in healthcare and healing arts. I have my hands in many different activities simultaneously, and I love it.

Socially, I enjoy staying in touch and sharing time with many colleagues, friends, and family members. I have remained connected to friends since high school, college, and graduate school. I have friends who are artists and writers, friends who are in the helping professions like me, friends in corporate jobs, friends who are entrepreneurs, close girlfriends, couples friends with whom my husband and I enjoy socializing, and fellow travelers on a spiritual path.

In addition to time in connection with others, I also love seeing live music, attending interesting cultural events, reading, and pursuing a range of hobbies from painting to hiking to photography and whatever else strikes my fancy in the moment.

I cherish and celebrate the diversity in my life. It is difficult for me to imagine “streamlining” my life, or simplifying it, such that I would focus only on one aspect of my work or one type of leisure activity at a time. The way I live my life brings me tremendous reward and joy and really fuels my curiosity and thirst for variety. However, for people who are enthusiastic about life in the ways that I am (if you know the Enneagram, my “type” is “The Enthusiast”), we run the risk of burning the candle at both ends and, ultimately, burning ourselves out if we don’t learn to say “no” to some things, set limits, and prioritize balance and health.

This is an ever-present challenge for me. There is always something new and shiny on the horizon pulling me towards it, enticing me with promises of how fascinating or fun it will be.

I have learned, over time, that the two most important practices that support mindful discernment and balance in my life are sleep and meditation.  When I get at least seven and a half hours of sleep, I think more clearly. My choices are more likely to be in harmony with my long-term goals and my current-day well-being.  Meditation – and mindfulness practices in general – help me to slow down, and slowing down is absolutely essential for someone like me. When I slow down, I remember what is most important. I am able to filter through all the many choices that appeal to me in a given moment and see the big picture of my life.  I am able to pause before saying “yes” to the new gleaming possibility on the horizon and consider how saying “yes” would really impact my life in the short term and the long term.

Even with these practices in place, sometimes my life begins to feel like a locomotive going one hundred and twenty down the tracks with no station in sight. I have committed to too many things at once, and it requires more than sleep and daily quiet reflection to get myself back in balance.  I begin to feel depleted only half way through my day, and I lose the spark, the joy, for my work, my play, and my relationships.  At these times, a walk in nature provides the solace and connection I seek. Remembering the metaphor of the plate-spinning acrobat, I make a choice to walk off stage and devote an hour, a day, a weekend, or even longer to time with myself doing whatever most feeds me in the moment. This time in retreat offers the rest and replenishment I need to re-enter my life feeling replenished, curious, and juicy once again.

If you are a plate-spinning caregiver like me, what do you do that most sustains and nourishes you? How do you keep your feet firmly planted on the ground as you spin plates in your own life?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude for every little thing

I have been on quite a journey in these past several months, and I imagine you have been too. Life IS such a journey, such an adventure. While there have been many things that have struck me as fascinating, several moments of exquisite joy, and profound experiences of quiet reflection since I wrote last, I haven’t yet found a way to capture this leg of my journey in written words. I’ve jotted down a dozen different ideas for blog topics from the experiences of these past several months, and my hope is to begin writing them down, one by one, over the next few weeks. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Today, I was moved to write by my appreciation for the holiday of Thanksgiving. I love that we set aside an entire day to express gratitude. Gratitude has been on the forefront of my mind for a while now, as I made a decision in mid-August to begin posting a (nearly) daily expression of gratitude on my Facebook wall. A friend of mine had been doing this, and I just loved reading what she wrote. I decided to challenge myself to do the same, and I have really enjoyed it. Some days, I find that my gratitude is more related to work, and sometimes it is more personal. There are times that I have witnessed beautiful, awe-inspiring events, and there are challenging moments that help me appreciate better all the other moments I experience of genuine ease. Today, I was stuck behind a driver whose slow, traffic-light-stopping behavior created an initial reaction of judgment and annoyance. Stopped at the yellow light behind this person, I reflected back on all the times I made the light easily and all the commutes when I drove effortlessly to work and home again. By the time the light turned green, my energy had already completely changed for the positive, and I found myself smiling. From the simple practice of intentionally keeping my eyes open to all there is to appreciate, I have been experiencing a profound shift and lightening in my perspective.

I believe that every moment has the potential to engender gratitude. Regardless of whether I may wish to judge a single moment as “good” or “bad,” the accumulation of these single moments comprises the fabric of my life. So, what kind of tapestry am I weaving? I have the freedom to appreciate each moment. Or the freedom to lament about what that moment could have been but was not. For me, I choose to cultivate a spirit of gratitude – to celebrate the wonderful moments and to honor the gifts of those difficult times too.  I am grateful for my ability to make this choice and for the support I’ve received along the way that empowers me to do so.

On this Thanksgiving holiday, I express heartfelt love for the healers and teachers who have deeply enriched my life, whose nourishing spirits have empowered me to reach further and believe more, and whose compassion has sustained me in the darkest hours. I am also grateful for all the unintentional teachers I have known, those people and experiences who taught me lessons I had no desire to learn but that helped me grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine possible.

Finally, I wish to thank all of you who are following this blog. I appreciate your support along this journey and your encouragement to keep writing.  If you feel inspired to share your experiences, I’d love to hear about the role of gratitude in your own life. 

Wishing you peace, joy, inspiration, and resiliency on Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Laughter Yoga

Laughter Yoga is an exercise and wellness routine that combines fun laughter activities with deep yoga breathing. It was developed in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria.  A physician fascinated by medical research demonstrating the positive health benefits of laughter, he decided to start the very first laughter club through an informal “experiment” in which he brought together a group of just five people at a local park in Mumbai, India with just one task: To laugh. They told jokes and funny stories and invited others in the park to join them. Their small group quickly grew to over fifty people! However, Dr. Kataria soon realized being funny was not the best pathway to laughter, as sense of humor is very personal, and offense is as likely to emerge as laughter when jokes are involved.  In his effort to address this challenge, he reviewed laughter research and discovered that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. We get the same profound health benefits whether we are simulating laughter or engaging in the real deal!

Laughter yoga is based on the principle that anyone can laugh at any time for no reason whatsoever, without relying on humor, jokes, or comedy. Since that first gathering in the park only 16 years ago, laughter yoga has now expanded to over 6000 laughter clubs worldwide.

In laughter yoga, we encourage laughter through simulated body exercises and interactive activities in a group. Using eye contact and childlike playfulness, this “pretend” laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The health benefits from laughter include improved mood, strengthened immune system functioning, decreased stress, lowered blood pressure, and experiences of pain relief. To top it off, laughing is FUN!

For more information on laughter yoga, check out the links below, and enjoy the video of the baby laughing. This baby was born knowing how to laugh. Research has shown that, on average, children laugh approximately 200 times per day, whereas adults laugh only seven times. Laughter yoga helps us reclaim our natural tendency to laugh and helps us learn to take ourselves less seriously. Join Elizabeth Venart on Mondays at 9:30 a.m. at The Resiliency Center for a weekly laughter yoga club. Learn more and RSVP through our Meetup group

Laughter yoga can be practiced in groups, done alone, or learned and deepened by working individually with a Laughter Yoga Instructor.  Elizabeth Venart, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and the Founder of The Resiliency Center, gained certification as a Laughter Yoga Instructor in June. Since that time, she has been offering the laughter club and also infusing laughter yoga into her work with individuals and groups.  To learn more about Elizabeth Venart, visit her website or give her a call at 215-542-5004.

Dr. Kataria’s Laughter Yoga Website

Dr. Kataria, Founder of Laughter Yoga, Laughing Silently at 5:00 am

Yang-Sheng Mind-Body Research Update article

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reap What You Sow and How You Sow - Republished from Social Work PRN

Reap What You Sow and How You Sow

Cash Crop
Soil, it appears, is no respecter of seeds. Good soil will grow whatever is planted in it – be it weeds, tomatoes or grass. It’s not really particular about how the seed gets there either. It can blow in, be dropped on the surface, planted, and transplanted or root from a vine that creeps down from a planter. Soil has one job – to provide nutrients to what is sown.
It’s a lot like the human brain that way. Whatever thoughts, bias, beliefs, words or concepts are blown or sown into our awareness, through books, movies, video games, conversations or friends – the brain will nurture those things, grow them and make sure we reap what we have sown – for good or bad.
By consistently weeding my garden this summer I’ve kept the plants I didn’t want – the crabgrass, clover and whatever – out, and allowed the plants I did want, tomatoes, squash, peppers and herbs, to flourish – at least until the squash bugs invaded.
Sowing and reaping has become a metaphor for me in other ways. I’ve watched my fears; my doubts, my confidence and my habits grow just as easily as my garden has. What I’ve learned of course is that the old clichés are true – what you water grows, pluck out the bad or undesirable thoughts before they have a chance to grow and so on. But I learned something else I did not know:
What vegetables you plant next to each other impacts how each plant grows. By planting basil next to my tomatoes for instance, I inadvertently helped both plants grow bigger and stronger and increase the flavor of both plants!
The pungent odor of marigolds keeps certain diseases and bugs off of tomato plants.
I learned that I shouldn’t plant fennel next to tomatoes because it inhibits their growth – which is true in the corner where I planted one tomato plant next to fennel. It is the smallest plant in the garden.
There are dozens of combinations of plants you should or should not plant next to each other. Some combinations include providing shade for a plant at a critical growth stage; others involve plants that compete for the same nutrients versus plants that give back beneficial nutrients.
It’s all very fascinating and complex to me, a new gardener. But it occurred to me that by combining certain habits and thoughts in my life I can also inhibit or support the thoughts and habits I’m planting. By combining exercise and breakfast, working out early instead of waiting until my sleepy afternoon energy lull, my exercising has gone so much better because it’s actually easier to go in the morning and nap later rather than sleep in.
By making the phone calls and doing the things I don’t enjoy doing after I eat lunch instead of on an empty stomach, I’m less likely to be grouchy and impatient and more likely to be calm and relaxed. Those are the obvious things. But when I made the connection around environment, energy, mood, habits and other things I realized that by grouping certain things with other things (no matter how bizarre it may seem to other people) I can get more done with less effort.
If you’ve been in the profession any amount of time you know that who you schedule as your first or last appointment can set the tone for your day, or for your evening.  Not many LCSW want to come back from lunch to their most non-stimulating client of the day if they tend to be sleepy after lunch.
If client placement in your day is so important to conserving energy and attention, what about the rest of your life? Do you really think about how you group things like dinner? Paperwork? Meetings? Exercise? Self-care? Vacations? Dating or time with your spouse?
Married friends of mine have a regular “date night” once a week so they can get away from the kids for a few hours. The dates had been mostly stressful and filled with talk of the kids and non-romantic things and not going very well. They even talked of stopping the practice. Then their work schedules one month forced them to change date night to a Wednesday night instead of the usual Friday night. What they found was they were less stressed in the middle of the week and had more energy. Date night became fun!
They realized that by going out on a Wednesday instead of a Friday they weren’t thinking of the next day and all the soccer games, kid’s sleepovers, laundry, cleaning and chores they had to do over the weekend. They could relax and enjoy each other’s company, knowing all they had the next day was work. The restaurants they liked were less crowded, almost empty, as were the theatres and other places they typically visited on a Friday night. The trade-off was they were up later on a work night, but realized they slept better with a mid-week break so the change worked.
The added bonus was that instead of date night with each other, Friday nights became date night with the kids, enabling them to spend time with their children watching DVDs, eating pizza, playing games and just hanging out before they all went in six different directions the next day – a Saturday.
You’re going to reap what you sow, so why not plant your life in a way that what you reap is the best it can be?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Enjoying life’s unexpected gifts and simple pleasures

This morning I was blessed to experience – and notice I was experiencing – a series of pleasantly surprising and truly enjoyable moments.  It began on a visit to my chiropractor’s office. Donna Funk is a network chiropractor and works simultaneously on several different people (allowing your body to rest between adjustments). Between Donna’s skill, the comfortable tables, and the peaceful music, the experience of having Donna work on you is relaxing and transformative. There were five of us on tables during my visit this morning, and, as sometimes happens, we somehow ended up engaging in a very funny conversation. Today’s topic was   “Chocovine.” Chocovine is a chocolate-infused dessert wine from Holland. We were all giggling at the thought of drinking chocovine through straws as we lay face down on the tables getting adjusted. We broke into laughter at the idea that we could create a wildly funny commercial endorsing Chocovine and our chiropractor, beaming in unison about how “divine” our experience had been. Getting adjusted, laughing, enjoying community – What a fabulous way to start the day!

From my chiropractor’s office, I headed out on some errands. I marveled and rejoiced when the first spot in the parking lot was available for me at, not one, but all three of the stores where I went. Amazing! Then, at the bank, they were able to resolve a previously complicated issue with ease and humor, and I really enjoyed talking with the bank employee who helped me. After this, I went on my Blackberry and scrolled through Facebook posts, only to learn from my friend Edie Weinstein that today is “Wiggle your toes day.” This piece of information not only caused me to wiggle with glee but to giggle enthusiastically. What fun! Since being trained in laughter yoga in June - and engaging in a regular laughter yoga practice since then - I have been able to laugh more and more easily. I love laughing, and I love sharing laughter yoga with others. I find myself opening to deeper experiences of joy and love. 

When I settled down on the couch at home to read a book later, my two kitties snuggled up beside me. On my right, sweet Zoe had her paws criss-crossed in front of her, resting gently on my leg.  On my left, Lucy placed her little head on my lap and purred. What a beautiful moment to celebrate! Filled with gratitude for this wondrous morning, I sat down to write and share my experiences with all of you. While seemingly simple, and possibly insubstantial to some, this lovely tapestry of moments uplifted my spirit and energized me for the day ahead.

Today I wish you moments of laughter, love, and pure joy – and an open heart with which to experience the mini-miracles around you every day. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Self-Care is Not Self-Pampering: Republished from Social Work PRN

Posted: 22 Jul 2011 03:00 AM PDT

Ask anyone what they do for “self-care” and their answers are more likely to sound like “self-pampering” or “self-indulgence,” such as:
“I take a hot bubble-bath. I treat myself to a meal in a nice restaurant or some new shoes. I get a pedicure or a manicure. I get a massage. I have a pizza or drinks with friends when I’m stressed. I do something nice for myself as often as I can afford it.”
Pampering and self-indulgence are fine if you can afford them, but they’re not the things you do to ensure self-care that meets your needs for physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health.
Self-care is personal health maintenance – in other words, it’s anything that restores, improves, maintains, treats or prevents disease. It’s what we do to balance the stressors and demands of our life in a way that benefits our emotional, physical and mental health.
Self-care includes meeting our needs for:
  • Physical fitness and exercise and overall health
  • Nutrition and medical care, adequate supplements, medicine and treatments
  • Hygiene – including a healthy home and work environment and surroundings
  • Sleep and relaxation
  • Spiritual needs, emotional and mental health needs
  • Life Skills such as communication, relationships, assertiveness, boundary setting.
If you’ve felt frustrated after pampering and indulging yourself and still not feeling complete or healthy – chances are that misunderstanding the role of self-care and why we need it is part of the problem.
If you have a client who is unable to find or hold down a job, sustain a healthy and safe relationship, eat healthy foods, give up alcohol, drugs and compulsive behaviors, take responsibility for themselves or their lives, money, health or personal safety, you’re not likely to tell them to “take a bubble bath,” or “buy yourself something nice,” until their most basic self-care needs have been met first.
Self-care for yourself is no different. Social workers who don’t have life skills such as critical decision making, communication, boundary setting, financial literacy, cognitive restructuring, self-soothing, anger management and even parenting skills aren’t going to improve their lives with a manicure, a weekend at the beach or a bubble bath. Those things might distract us from the lack of life skills, or fitness, or spiritual needs – but they won’t meet those needs.
Self-care includes all the health decisions you need to make for yourself in order to get and stay physically and mentally fit. If you’re feeling stressed, burned out, fatigued, exhausted, angry, depressed or anxious some self-pampering might help, but it won’t heal. Self-care is giving yourself the gift of wellness.  Putting yourself first is not selfish. It’s smart. Nurturing yourself and making sure you are 100% fit ensures you’ll be around for a long time to take care of all the people in your life you love and are responsible for. If you can’t evaluate yourself, then find a medical or mental health professional that can.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Risking Vulnerability

In July, The Resiliency Center hosted the second half of the EMDR Basic Training with trainer Barb Maiberger (from Boulder, Colorado) and twelve dedicated and caring clinicians. As a Certified EMDR therapist, I was honored to participate in the training as a consultant and to offer support and guidance to the therapists learning this new modality.  Over these three days, I felt inspired by the courage I witnessed in our practitioner community. A large part of the EMDR training is experiential, as therapists authentically engage from the roles of both counselor and client. Bearing witness to the risks taken by the community of clinicians in the EMDR training was deeply gratifying, as I saw tremendous openness, compassion, and health among this amazing group of practitioners.

Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is rarely easy. While we may know intellectually that all people have old hurts and unprocessed “stuff,” we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that, as practitioners, we should somehow be immune from the effects of our past experiences or have already worked through all of them. In reality, personal and professional growth is a lifelong endeavor, and our old wounds may surface time and again for deeper healing. Prioritizing time to do our own work is a key component of what keeps us well and thriving in our work – and in our lives. I know that my ability to be fully attuned and skillful as a counselor and consultant depends upon my own active process of healing and growth. I love engaging in this process. I love experiential trainings as well as acupuncture, massage, laughter yoga, journal writing, meditating, painting, and participating in a women’s group. I also love dialoguing with other professionals about their wellness practices. If you haven’t already responded to any of the posts on this blog, please do. I’d love to hear from each of you about how you keep yourself healthy. In what ways do you insure that you are keeping your instrument tuned?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Super Powers - Republished from Social Work PRN

Sponge ManSuperman had lots of powers, but he was most often referred to as “The man of steel.” Other superheroes have their own power – usually one unique power that sets them apart from other superheroes. It’s what defines them and gives them control over their environment. Must be nice eh?
The fact is human beings have a super power. It’s the same super power – the power of choice, but it’s incredibly empowering once you learn how to use it. The thing is, very few of us use our power and even more of us complain that we have no power at all.
All seven of the reasons I gave earlier this month about why so many of us fail at self-care (self included), revolve around our one failure to exercise the power of choice, or our failure to focus on the things we can control, not the things we can’t.
We all have the power to choose to stay, or go, or do, or not do something. We say, “I hate my job but I have to work.” No, you don’t have to work. You choose to work because you don’t like the consequences of not working. It’s still a choice.  When you invest your power of choice in the areas, relationships and decisions where you have control (your choices), you tap into your superpower.
“I can’t afford to go back to school, buy a new car, or move into another apartment or house.”  If you believe this, talk to Dave Ramsey. Ramsey has thousands upon thousands of examples of people who believed the same thing, and then turned around and paid off thousands of dollars in debt and then went back to school, bought new cars and paid off mortgages.
Social workers and those in various healing professions make the mistake of trying to change the things they cannot control – such as another person’s decisions, lifestyle or behavior. When they do that they give their power away, or negate it. If you remember your superhero lore Superman was susceptible to only one thing – Kryptonite. Kryptonite not only robbed Superman of his superhuman powers – it gave them to humans around him! Attempting to change the things you cannot change is Kryptonite to our power of choice. Not only does it rob us of our power, it hands that power over to the very people we’re trying to control!


The only power you have is choice in areas of your life that you control – namely anything to do with you. Choices have consequences. When you make a choice you choose the consequences that accompany that choice.
You don’t have to work at a job you hate. You are free to quit. The consequences of quitting may mean less money or no money, or a choice about pursuing a different job or career, but it’s still YOUR choice. It’s not that you “can’t choose to quit your job.” You’re choosing to stay in a job you hate and that makes you miserable rather than to quit and have no income or security. It’s still a choice. When you start seeing choices as a conscious decision among consequences your life will change dramatically. You will be empowered.
You can choose what to think about, what to read, what to think, what to focus on. You can choose in any arena in which you have control – namely, you only control yourself, not anyone or anything else. You can vote and choose whom to vote for, but you can’t control who wins the election.
You can choose to stop eating or buying or cooking unhealthy food, but you can’t control what other adults choose to do with their choice of food any more than you’d want them choosing what to do with yours.
You can choose to set and enforce boundaries related to your job, your family, your work and your relationships and clients. You can choose how to think, and thus how to feel, about a situation or relationship in your life.
Choice is scary. There’s no doubt about it. Too many of us prefer to live in a world where we believe decisions and choices are forced upon us. We find it easier or even comforting to believe that it’s better for others to make those decisions for us. You can do that. It’s your choice. So look at the consequences of it.
Choosing to abdicate your ability to choose means deciding to live a life of learned helplessness and lack of control over the things you can control if they are contrary to the boss, spouse or person you’ve handed your control to. Do you really trust other people so much that you know they’ll make the right choice for you?
Choosing not to abdicate your ability to choose means living a life where you make all the decisions about the things you can control. You choose between or among alternatives based on what you need, want, like or dislike. You’re free to include or not include the opinions and suggestions of others. After all – it’s totally your choice.

Which will it be? Isn’t it about time you owned your superpower?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Committing to Self-Care by Becky Blanton (Social Work PRN reposting)

Committing to Self Care

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” – Anne Morriss
Get lots of sleep. Eat healthy. Go to the gym. Treat yourself to a night out. Keep up with a regular support group. Do you know what all these things have in common? They’re impossible to do if you don’t make YOU a priority. And if you can’t set boundaries, say “No,” to people, including your family, friends and boss, then chances are you aren’t going to be able to do any of these things regularly enough to make a difference.
You’re a candle flaming out on both ends and an inferno waiting to catch fire and burn the house (or your life) down.
If you’re serious about self-care the first thing you’ll evaluate is your ability to make you the number one priority in your life. Unless you’re committed to yourself, no one else will be. Why should they be? If you aren’t important enough to you to take care of you, why should anyone else care?
Back in college I had a friend who was a runner. Every morning, or every day, rain, shine, freezing sleet, hail or snow she ran five to ten miles. It didn’t matter if a group of us went on vacation, or she was in some strange city for a job interview, she ran.  When she partied until 3 a.m. and came home drunk, she still got up at noon and ran, whether she had a hangover or not. We all tried to everything we could to dissuade her from her routine and couldn’t. In the 20 years I’ve known her the only thing that kept her from the treadmill or the road was a physically disabling injury that prevented her from walking or running. And then she swam.
That’s dedication. She wasn’t an Olympic athlete. She didn’t compete outside of the occasional local road race. She was just devoted to her running. I never understood that until this week. I was expecting friends from out-of-town. They were having car problems and weren’t sure when they’d be in. I gave them the address of the gym and told them if I wasn’t home they could find me there – that I didn’t take my cell phone to the gym. I not only didn’t change or rearrange my schedule to be there for them, I never even considered not going to the gym – even if it inconvenienced them. That’s a huge step for me – queen of the co-dependents – to take.
Oddly enough, the decision to commit to my own health came in one fell swoop, with an off-the cuff remark from my trainer. I came in to a session one morning talking about all the objections I had to overcome every morning in order to show up to work out. She listened patiently then shrugged.
“You just haven’t made yourself a priority yet,” was all she said. She didn’t need or want excuses. They were just flags that kept me from facing the reality of what was going on. I hadn’t made myself or the gym, a priority. After thinking about it over the weekend however I decided that no matter what, come hell or high water, I would be at the gym every day at 6 a.m. I committed to making myself, my health and well-being, a priority.
I quit focusing on the reasons I didn’t want to go (tired, sleepy, sore, too much work) and focused on one thing – that I had committed to be there no matter what. Then I went. If I was tired, behind schedule, on deadline, sick, sore, distracted – I went. Once I was there the thing I thought might keep me from being there disappeared. In about six weeks I discovered a really strange change. I couldn’t NOT go to the gym. Now when something appears to try and dissuade me from my workouts I get antsy, anxious, irritable, even angry. Maybe it’s the endorphin addiction. Or maybe I’ve just discovered how good it feels to take care of me and I don’t want to lose that.  But I believe it’s just a demonstration of the power of commitment.
Three months ago I committed to never going to bed without my kitchen sink being empty, clean and all the dishes put away. Now it’s a habit. I committed to eating breakfast (I’ve NEVER been a breakfast eater), and now I never miss a morning. The secret is not so much in finding reasons to do it as much as it is in simply deciding to do it. A reason is nice, but it can make it easier for your rationale mind to talk you out of your decision.
Things to AVOID when committing to self-care
  • Avoid hedging your bets. As Yoda, the Jedi Master in Star Wars says, “Do or not do. There is no try.” Hedging your bets is not committing. You can’t be “a little bit pregnant.” Think of breakfast – the chicken (eggs) is hedging their bets; the pig (bacon) is committed.
  • Avoid saying, “I’ll try it.” That’s a different version of hedging your bets. If you want to limit your commitment, then set a date. “I’ll commit to one week of walking 20 minutes a day. I’ll commit to six months. I’ll commit to 12 sessions.” Just commit and stick with it. Remind yourself you only committed to it for set amount of time. Alcoholics say, “One day at a time.” If that’s all you can commit to, then commit to one day, one hour or one minute at a time.
  • Avoid considering other options. Don’t say, “Well, I’ll take this job, but I’m going to keep looking.” Commit to the one job for a period of time and say, “I’ll commit to this job for six months, or a year and if it doesn’t work out after I put everything into it, I’ll start looking for another job.” Then commit to a date that you’ll find another job or quit by. I guarantee it will definitely drive your hunting if you commit to quitting by a certain date, job or not.
  • Avoid committing to self-care simply because your boss or spouse wants you to do it, or because it’s important to them. If your spouse wants you to commit to exercising and you really don’t want to do that, then commit to your spouse. That may mean you both walk or exercise. If you love your spouse and want to commit to spending more time with them more than you want to commit to going to the gym, chances are you’ll find the energy and drive to stick with the exercise. If you don’t have a spouse, then find something you can commit to, such as “I’m committed to keeping my job and that involves self-care such as eating healthy and exercising.”
  • Avoid committing to anything that violates your personal ethics, boundaries or beliefs. The guilt you’ll feel over the duration will erode or corrupt any gains you may receive from the commitment.
Things to DO when committing to your self-care
  • Have a plan and write it down. Read it every morning. It might be something as simple as, “I’m going to get up an hour earlier every morning and work out, or write my book, or meditate, or eat breakfast,” but have a plan and review it every day until you know it in your sleep.
  • Set a time frame and commit to the duration of it. E.g., “I’m going to walk for 30 minutes every morning until I lose 25 pounds.”  It doesn’t matter if it’s one day, one week, one month or one year. Pick a time frame and finish out the time.
  • Take your head out of the game. Stop rationalizing; stop looking for or considering excuses, quit coming up with reasons to change your mind or your plan. Just commit and go. As Nike says, “Just Do It.”
  • Commit to something you want to do, never commit to something someone else wants you to do. If you want to be successful commitment has to come from your desire to do whatever it is for you and your best interests.
  • Commit only to things you believe in and that are in keeping with your faith, ethics and boundaries. When things get difficult or challenging our rational mind will find any excuse to quit and quitting over shame, guilt or non-compatible beliefs about the project is one of the first things we consider when deciding whether to quit.
Examine all your options, ethics, consequences and potential conflicts BEFORE you commit. Once you come up to the edge of the cliff you can’t change your mind once you’re in mid-air. Have the same mind-set when committing to take care of yourself and you’ll soon realize that what looked like a leap off the edge of a cliff was really a leap into the updraft that will help you learn to fly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spiritual Sustenance

This past weekend, I had the great honor of participating in a Spirited Explorations workshop, hosted by Sacred Journeys ( and led by Andy McClure and Maria Buckalew. The weekend combined music, art, poetry, ritual, laughter, tears, movement and dance, play, and spontaneous improvisation within a supportive container of community. This was the fourth spiritual growth weekend of this type that I’ve attended through Sacred Journeys, and each experience has inspired deeper self-reflection, sacred connections within a loving community, and greater levels of healing.  One of the biggest takeaways from these weekends is always a powerful felt sense of the “Big Love” – the magnificent, transcendental experience of the unconditional love and interconnectedness of all beings.  Awakening to the Big Love is true spiritual sustenance for me.

During this past weekend, I read a lot of Rumi’s poetry – to myself and aloud – and felt transformed by connecting with Rumi’s experiences of the Divine and by engaging at such a deep and intimate level with other travelers on the spiritual path. One of the participants described the weekend workshops, previously called “Shaking Medicine,” as an adventure in “dancing with God.” During our sacred time together, Andy suggested, “We are the drums upon which the gods play.” We are actively co-creating the experiences throughout the weekend, but there is also a strong element of surrender. When we bring openness to self, to community, and to spirit, we are changed and blessed.  We surrender to the mystery, not knowing what will happen during the weekend or how our lives after the weekend may change in response to the growth that occurs when together.

For me, some of the sweetest and most remarkable mysteries this past weekend occurred during the Giveaway Ceremony. We each brought a wrapped item that held some personal meaning for us, placed those anonymously in the circle, and then randomly selected a new item to take home. The exchange was magical. Each person received something absolutely perfect and appropriate for who they were, why they were there, and where they were on their journey.  We marveled at the poignancy of how our stories intertwined and how the gifts we brought ended up in the hands of people who needed them and with whom we’d made meaningful connections during the weekend. As for me, I host a drumming circle at The Resiliency Center, and I received a fabulous new rattle. It was similar to one I had previously, loved, and accidentally broke. It’s a playful instrument and absolutely in keeping with what I am seeking in my life at this time. A community member who has struggled with dyslexia throughout his life but has started reading more and more recently received an absolutely beautiful book and wept. To witness the mystery unfold in such personally meaningful ways for each person was stunning and inspiring. It further strengthened my faith in the Divine and in my place in the magical web of life. Despite the seeming contradiction, I have found that the further I open to the mystery, the more loved and less lost I feel. In the mystery, all things are possible. I am grateful for this growing spiritual community, for the opportunity to connect with such amazing men and women, and for experiences of the Big Love that support me on my journey to be and become my highest self.

Today, I wish you magic and mystery and spiritual sustenance on your travels. Whether you define spirituality as a direct connection with God, walking in the woods, participating in a religious community, deep communion with other people, or time alone in meditation or prayer, I wish you nourishment. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Laughter - and Developing a New Habit

Last weekend I attended a laughter yoga leader training. It was marvelous fun. We engaged in laughing exercises, practiced deep yoga breathing exercises, and learned about the tremendous health benefits of laughter. At the end of the training, the teacher encouraged all of us to cultivate a new habit of daily laughter yoga. The health benefits take effect with even 15-20 minutes of laughter daily. When laughter exercises are combined with yoga breathing for a daily yoga laughter practice of 45 minutes, the resulting boost to physical and emotional health is significant! After only a weekend’s practice of 2 laughter yoga sessions each day, I was amazed at how good I felt.  A woman in the class who struggled with fibromyalgia reported being pain-free for the first time in years as a result of the exercises in this training.

Tonight, as I reflected on this past week, I give myself credit for my intentional introduction of at least 15 minutes of daily laughter. I used driving my car as a prompt for remembering to laugh and to practice the sitting laughter yoga exercises. It has made my drive to work far more enjoyable. Reflecting over the week, I also note that I fell short in integrating a solid 45 minutes of laughter yoga practice into my daily routine. Cultivating a new health habit requires motivation, discipline, and planning. I believe it also highlights any current habits that may impede our ability to be successful. Introducing laughter into my drive was not difficult because I didn’t have any current driving practices besides driving and listening to music. Adding laughter to that is easy to do. But introducing a 45-minute laughter yoga practice, well, that takes some planning and requires a bit of schedule and priority reorganizing.  Ideally, I’d practice in the morning – so I would get the benefits of laughter throughout the entire day. This requires getting up earlier. Getting up earlier requires going to sleep earlier. Going to sleep earlier requires skipping The Daily Show and Colbert Report – or taping them. There is a whole chain of things that need to change to put this new routine in place. While the changes I need to make aren’t particularly elaborate, sometimes cultivating a new health habit demands many different adjustments simultaneously.   

Changing many things at once, replacing old behaviors with new ones, letting go of the habits we currently have, well, this is tough stuff!  Research varies on the amount of days necessary to establish a new habit – from 21 days to 90 days depending on whom you ask. I wonder how much of the challenge in adopting a new habit is really a reflection of our difficulty letting go of whatever habits we currently have. Even if we know that jogging is better for us than watching “The Bachelorette,” we may continue succumbing to our desire to watch the show. Maybe we enjoy seeing the places they travel on their dates and imagining ourselves visiting there, or we find ourselves hooked on the adrenalin rush we get from screaming at the television set as if it we were on the sidelines at a boxing match and had some input into the decision-making.  We human beings are often more emotional than we are rational, and struggles with habit change really illustrate this.

Is there a new habit you want to begin in your life? Is there something that continues to get in your way? I encourage you to be gentle with yourself, remember all the positive reasons you want to do this new thing, and then find a way to start – even if you start small at first. Find a way to make it easy for yourself. Laughing in the car works for me. I also bought a Laughter Yoga DVD that I can follow (rather than having to create my own routine each time – which can be challenging as a newbie). A friend of mine has wanted to focus more on his physical health for a while now and decided to hire a personal trainer. Great move! This professional has created a nutrition and exercise plan to help him reach his goals – and offers support through every step of the process. Support makes a big difference. I am fortunate because my sister also attended the Laughter Yoga Leader Training – so we’ve been checking in with each other about it. It also helps that once we begin a new health habit, the tangible benefits we experience often reinforce our commitment to the new behavior. This is definitely true for me with laughter yoga. I LOVE laughing, and I feel great when I do it.

What have you found really helps you stick with a new positive behavior? What do you know about how you can best support yourself and get support for yourself in creating the positive changes you desire?  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Laughter Medicine

I am happiest when I make time to prioritize laughter in my life. Watching a funny movie or spending time with friends who are naturally gifted storytellers are some of my favorite pastimes.  I also love sharing an afternoon with one of several female friends who share my sense of humor and really get the absurdity of life. We can laugh and laugh until our stomachs hurt, often about the same sorts of things that could have us in tears on a different day or in different company.

Finding really good comedies to enjoy can be a challenge. Often I return time and again to the same old favorites. In my estimation, there simply aren’t enough comedic movies starring women. Many films with female casts are too sappy or too stupid.

When several women whose opinions I respect had been raving recently about the new movie Bridesmaids, co-written by Kristin Wiig of Saturday Night Live fame, I was a bit hesitant.  Watching Kristin on SNL, I have admired her ability to transform herself into any number of crazy characters; however, I have found many (if not most) of the female characters she plays a bit painful to watch. The movie trailer for Bridesmaids didn't help, as it made the film look like a female version of Dumb and Dumber. I wanted to laugh, not be annoyed. I wanted a fun ride, not another movie that insulted women more than it really “got” them or their humor. My friends reassured me I would love it.

Well, I am happy to report that Bridesmaids definitely delivered! I went to see the movie last night and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The film provided a healthy dose of laughter. It included great physical humor, silly antics and inside jokes among women, and dialogue and portrayals that made fun of just about everyone but no one in particular (unless perhaps the type of man John Hamm portrays – but that seemed justifiable). 

The movie had some truly over-the-top scenes and moments that were absolutely ridiculous. I adore this in my comedies. I enjoy the opportunity to step outside reality, suspend disbelief, and just enjoy.  The cast was brilliantly expressive, and I still smile to think back on various shenanigans and the actors’ side-splittingly funny emotional reactions. One visual image in particular – seeing Maya Rudolph’s character in her custom-designed wedding dress – still has me giggling.

As a big fan of laughter, I loved the opportunity to giggle, laugh, and even snort at times throughout this film, one that ended up being far sweeter than I had anticipated.  A fun female friendship film, Bridesmaids provided me with many minutes of laughter. I am so grateful! Laughter is definitely one of my very favorite ways to nurture my resiliency. Laughter is medicine – good for our physical and emotional health and fabulous in helping us see new perspectives and gain more appreciation for life.

Today, I encourage you to see a funny film or do whatever else makes you laugh heartily.  I hope you giggle so hard that you snort, your belly aches, and you even have trouble catching your breath.  That’s the good stuff. :-)  Enjoy! 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Discovering your personal bliss

In New Orleans recently, a friend of mine experienced what he described as one of the top ten best moments of his life. We were in Café du Monde in New Orleans during the wee hours of the morning, enjoying beignets and café au lait.  My friend’s wife noticed an employee had rolled the largest mixing bowl we’d ever seen into the room where we sat – and then walked away. It seemed that we hit Café Du Monde at perhaps its quietest hour, and the staff were in the process of cleaning. The mixing bowl seemed next in line.

To say that my friend is a “fan” of raw dough would be an understatement. While we may all enjoy a little raw cookie dough or brownie batter from time to time, he delights in all raw dough.  His eyes absolutely lit up to see this giant bowl before us. Within the bowl remained some of New Orleans classic beignet dough, a pastry favorite in the French Quarter. My friend walked over to the bowl and scraped out a spoonful for his enjoyment. He was absolutely giddy with his discovery and savored every tiny morsel of his find.  He was ecstatic. His joy sprang from the combination of tasting one of his favorite things (pastry dough) and the purely random experience of getting to “steal” it in the middle of the night from a giant bowl the kitchen staff happened to wheel within ten feet of us. He was delirious with joy.

The experiences that create bliss for each person are so unique.  None of the rest of us felt inspired to taste the dough ourselves and may have even been a bit incredulous at his response. However, witnessing him experience so much bliss at this find – and hearing him describe his delight with such emphatic, wide-eyed enthusiasm – had us all smiling and often hysterical with laughter for hours to come.

Watching him giggle about how much fun he had taking the dough and how much pleasure he experienced tasting it, I wondered to myself, “What could I do at this moment in time that could give me the same incredible high? What could delight me to the tips of my toes such that I would dance a jig in celebration?”

I didn’t figure it out that night, nor have I since returning home a few days ago. But the question lingers. In my mind’s eye, I can still see my happy, happy friend giggling and as full of joy as I’ve ever seen another person. And I wonder.  . . What simple act could I do that could bring me so much bliss? And if I knew what it was, if the desire surfaced spontaneously within me in a simple moment of time, could I allow myself to do it? 

Entering each new moment of each new day, may we all discover and embrace whatever opportunities arise to experience our personal bliss. Enjoy!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring nourishment... by Guest Blog Writer Tracie Nichols

Spring is a time when nature’s returning abundance reminds us how well nourished we can be by our relationship with the rich and loving Earth. In the spring we have the chance to work with the energies of season and place to sweep away dusty habits and thoughts, finding the bright shoots of new nurturing practices for ourselves. Through our relationship with nature we are encouraged to ground deeply. We are prompted to remember our intrinsically wild nature...our deeply embedded need for the rhythmic patterns of stillness and movement our bodies remember, but our minds often forget.

As a practitioner supporting the well being of clients & patients, this relationship with the natural world offers you firm ground to stand on as you do your work. It helps ease feelings of isolation, connect you more deeply with your intuition, and discover a powerful spiritual expression. I’m speaking from personal experience. I live immersed in a flow of conscious relationship and communication with the natural world, and that keeps me grounded and centered, clear and focused. It helps me find a balance among the demands of my day as a business owner, educator, consultant, wife and mother, and spiritual woman on an ever expanding journey.

I bridge people and nature, teaching awareness practices co-created with the energies of nature. These practices offer people ways to reclaim that relationship for themselves. This vibrant spring, I’d like to share a simple awareness practice with you. I invite you to gift yourself with this experience of grounding into the compassion and gratitude radiating from the Earth daily, when you first wake up or when you are preparing to sleep. You and the natural world have so much to offer each other, truly!

• Sit or lay comfortably. Allow yourself to turn off technological distractions.

• Bring your awareness to your breath, inhaling gently for about 8 seconds, and exhaling gently for about 10 seconds. Continue focusing on your breath until this breathing pattern feels comfortable (usually just a few more breaths).

• With each exhalation allow your loving awareness to flow through your body toward the Earth - visualize roots finding their way into the soil, if it helps.

• With each inhalation notice that you can sense a loving, compassionate awareness from the Earth - visualize roots reaching out and touching yours - nourishment flowing between you, if it helps.

• Breathe into this growing sense of connection, allowing it to expand, feeling it in your body, knowing it in your heart.

• Notice how still and deep this feels. Notice how your breath softens. Notice how your sense of belonging grows, here, in this connected state of being. You are nourishing and being nourished, You are loving and being loved.

• Breathe here until you feel complete.

• Offer gratitude. Repeat often. Share liberally.

Tracie Nichols, M.A. teaches people how to fall in love with themselves falling in love with the Earth again. She teaches how to lovingly transform the lovingly transforming themselves. Her work transforms the pain & anxiety of isolation, of not belonging, into grounded peace and vibrant living by helping people remember their intrinsic, intuitive relationship with the land. She does this through private consultations, classes, public speaking and writings. Tracie invites you to connect with her through her website, or by email at

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cat Wisdom: It’s Always a Good Time to Play or Take a Nap

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the stream of tasks we “must do” that we neglect the principles of living a good life that our feline friends know quite well. My two cats Lucy and Zoe teach me a lot about how to stay well. Some of my favorite kitty lessons include:
  •          You can never take too many naps.
  •          Naps spent snuggling with people or animals you love are the best.
  •          Play is essential.
  •         Although running around and jumping through the air can happen in the midst of play and get your heart beating fast, play is NOT a chore (because cats don’t do chores or know that “exercise is good for you”). Instead, play is a joyous adventure.
  •         It is almost always a good time to play, and even when you aren’t in the mood to play, it’s still fun to watch people and see the silly stuff they do to try to get your attention.
  •         When someone comes home and you haven’t seen them in a while, run to the door and greet them to let them know how much you missed them.
  •         If you want something, ask for it. If you don’t get it, keep asking. If that doesn’t work, find creative ways to get the person’s attention until they DO give you what you want.
  •          Never underestimate the power of being sweet and adorable on the behaviors of others.
  •         When you’re with someone you love, there is nothing else you need to do and nowhere else you need to go.
  •         Nothing is so stressful that play, a nap with a loved one, or a good meal can’t fix it.

What have the animals in your life taught you about life?