Posts tagged ‘health’

July 24, 2018

Speed Kills

Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.

Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.

Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.

On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.

In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.

At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.

Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.

I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.

One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?

It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.

In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
speed
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.

It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.

In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.

Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.

The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.

When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.

I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)

Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.

I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.

Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.

http://www.doitnow.org/pages/psas.html

http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/

https://www.fredrogers.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_to_Be…_You_and_Me

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/untold-story-america-mindfulness-movement/

http://childhood-developmental-disorders.imedpub.com/systematic-review-of-mindfulness-induced-neuroplasticity-in-adults-potential-areas-of-interest-for-the-maturing-adolescent-brain.php?aid=8553

https://seattleyoganews.com/yoga-in-america-2016-statistics/

https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/sometimes-stop-order-start/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/travel-tip-17-stay-home/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

July 12, 2016

What We Eat Reflects Our Priorities

scaleLooking back at the horrific events of the past week reminds me that our actions always reflect our priorities – even what we eat reflects our priorities. No matter what we tell the world, what we do sometimes belies our words. Not only can this sometimes confuse those around us, it can hinder us from reaching our goals. No change can come until we have the courage to stare the facts in the face.

There are millions of choices when it comes to food and health. What works for one person may be detrimental to another. We each have a unique ecosystem within our bodies. The only way to know what works for you is to become aware of your body’s signals and educated about the foods you choose to eat.

Keep a food journal for a month and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your priorities. Sometimes when we express a priority, what we really mean is we feel we “should” focus on a particular thing because of peer pressure or a doctor’s recommendation. It often turns out to mean much less as far as our everyday behavior. Not only does this make us feel bad, it becomes an impediment to making positive change. For example:

If your stated top priority is to limit the sodium in your diet, but you don’t take the time to read the labels on your salad dressing, sandwich meat, cheese, packaged soup, and whole wheat bread, then you will not be able to achieve your goal because you won’t know whether you’re within your limit.

It could be that limiting sodium is not a top priority, but instead falls below work, screen time, working out, or whatever it is that keeps you too busy to read labels. That’s okay. Once you recognize the facts, you are in a great position to make the best choice for you.

muffinsIf your stated priority is to avoid sugar and you continue to eat bread, breakfast cereal, frozen pizza, muffins, ketchup, barbecue potato chips and Ranch dressing, you are choosing foods that contain sugar. Once you recognize this you can decide to: 1)Eliminate these foods and all others that contain sugar, 2)Limit sugar by not eating dessert or “sweets”, but stop trying to avoid it 3)Eat as much sugar as you want.

Any of these choices is okay. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Once you look at the facts, you’ll be able to see how to achieve your personal goals more easily.

If your stated priority is to avoid processed food, but you eat at fast food or fast casual restaurants every day at lunch, then a revision of your stated priority or a change in venue may be appropriate.

If your stated priority is to avoid carbs, but you eat potato chips, drink beer, consume commercial smoothies, or coffee drinks, eat bagels or yogurt with fruit on the bottom, then it’s time to review your priority. It could be that research must take precedence while you learn more about carbs or it could be that you decide you don’t want to avoid carbs other than those from added sugars.

asparagusIf your stated priority is to feed your children real, unprocessed food, but you grab the Lunchables®, packaged mac & cheese, or fruit roll-ups more often than the broccoli, black beans, sugar snap peas, carrots, cauliflower, squash, green beans, and asparagus then perhaps it’s just a goal and not a priority or maybe you believe education, sports, or dance are more essential building blocks for a good life and have prioritized those over real unprocessed food. If so, that’s okay and only your stated priority needs to change.

This flight of fancy may seem unimportant to you, but choosing and owning our choices is the only real power we have in life. You cannot control other people. You cannot control nature. You cannot control what foods make you feel bad. You cannot control all public policy. You cannot control feelings that come rushing from a subconscious trigger. You can control when and how you act on your feelings and you can seek help if prior trauma leaves you doubting your perceptions.

Ultimately, it is our choices that allow us to create the best possible life we can have no matter what uncontrollable or tragic circumstances we encounter. This is true when it comes to diet and health. It is also true in relationships, finances, on the highway, and in a job situation. Changing our lives for the better is always within our power, but it will not happen until we have the courage to observe the facts and tell ourselves the truth no matter how ugly or difficult that truth is. It is at that point that it becomes possible to give up excuses and blame in order to craft the lives we desire.

When I can embrace and accept the things about me about which I feel the most shame, I begin to treat myself as though I matter, my priorities matter, my health matters, and my heart matters. While I hope that this will be valued by everyone I encounter, I know it will not. When my values run counter to yours, I can make a choice to argue with you, bully you, harm you, dismiss you or hear you, inspire you, and have compassion for you. I will not always make the ideal choice. It is then you can have compassion for me.

I wish us all the courage to become our best selves.

May 24, 2016

Is It Me or Is It Kanye? Practice. Practice. Practice.

I’ve been wondering if Kanye West is mostly delusional or just sometimes oddly effective. Of course, I’m knitting while I ponder this question which makes me further wonder – is it me or is it Kanye or is it everyone for that matter? Are we all a bit unhinged?

The words in the previous paragraph sound as loosely related as a Kanye West rant. See why I’m concerned? Here’s the deal…

I HAVE been knitting. It’s something I haven’t done in 25 years and really only did once before last week. I made a decently well-constructed pair of wool socks in 1980. Now socks may not be the easiest knitting project for a beginner, but at the time I was determined and willing to put in the concentration to keep uniform tension on the yarn and count rows when required. The ribbing at the ankles turned out perfectly.
sock
Through sheer force of will, I completed the socks, gave them as a gift, and vowed never to knit again. I understood that I had no real talent for it and not near enough patience. I was clear that my greatest contribution to the world would not come from a pair of knitting needles. Yet here I am 30 years later amusing my sister by adding rows to the one my mom had cast on a needle and trying to remember what it means to purl.

I can see what a terrible job I’m doing. The weave is too loose. There are dropped stitches here and there and I have no idea what I’m making. But will I stop, rip out the flawed rows, and start over? Oh hell no! I just keep going as though this is something I feel compelled to do – as if it’s a creation that will somehow add required beauty to the world.
knitting
This is where I begin to see a resemblance to Kanye. Why do I keep putting effort and time into something I know isn’t for me? Why not invest that time in an artistic pursuit at which I know I excel? Am I being effective? Does Kanye make an effective argument when he rants that he wants to make the world better and stop bullying by producing clothes? Maybe he’s already made the world a better place through his music.

So, here’s what I’m really wondering: Why do we sometimes promote our own outdated, unrealistic, or Ill-suited goals to the detriment of real, positive contributions we can make to our families, communities and the world? If this were a rarity it wouldn’t be worth noting. In my realm of personal contact, it is not rare. It is rampant. Of course this may indicate I need a new social circle, but I don’t think my experience is aberrational.

I don’t really plan to answer this question. I don’t have the answer. I believe the answer is rooted in our relationship to ourselves, our truth, and our perception of our place in the world. I think it has something to do with our relationship to shame and vulnerability. I think it has a lot to do with our relationship to fear. And I believe these are the same relationships that left neglected, disrupted, or dysfunctional leave us vulnerable to over indulgence in numbing behaviors – over-drinking, over-eating, over-working, over-scheduling, over-spending, binge watching, and drug dependence.

The question is complex, the answers myriad. But maybe the solution is simple! Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice stillness. See what comes up.
Practice gratitude. It’s the quickest path to seeing a silver lining.
Practice self-compassion. This is where all real compassion begins.
Practice fearlessness. Sit with your fear as long as you can. Leave it. Come back to it. Eventually, that particular fear will be gone.
Practice truth telling. Allow yourself to see what is. Not what you want it to be.
Practice joy. Experience what makes you feel full, free, warm, and content. Choose those experiences.
Practice problem prevention. Make deliberate choices. Own the choices you make and the reasons you made them.
Practice forgiveness. Forgive yourself for your flaws, poor choices, harmful behaviors.
Practice health. Feed your body nutrients. Move, move, move. Lift. Breathe.
Practice curiosity. This is the path to unlimited possibility.
Practice healing. Learn to release yourself from your emotional habits.

Now, back to my knitting. It’s a great opportunity to practice truth telling, self-compassion, and problem prevention. The truth is, my knitting quality is poor. I don’t need to push myself to do a better job at it or try to convince anyone it’s going to turn out better than they think. I can prevent myself from feeling inadequate by giving up this activity that I recognize is not my forte – an act which is itself a practice in healing because feeling like a disappointment is one of my emotional habits.

Wow, now I feel grateful for this knitting experience! Look what a great opportunity for reflection it provided. And that, Kanye, is how you make peace with what is. You’re welcome.

May 11, 2016

Maybe the Big Picture is Really Smaller Than You Think

When it comes to living a fulfilling, healthy life, maybe the big picture is really smaller than you think. I’ve spent a week surrounded by irony. My sister and I are cleaning out my mom’s house. It’s a four room farmhouse that over the years grew to 3500 square feet. Located seven miles south of the nearest town and 10 minutes from the first national river, the setting is lush, green, pastoral.
porch
Mom was obsessed with her health. Well, not so much health as her “something must be wrong”. It’s a well catalogued journey. The house is filled with handwritten lists, typed medical history, actual medical records, lab reports, and book after book after book on health, healing, diet, meditation, spiritual healing, and alternative medicine.

It is also filled with spiders, trash, mouse poison dumped in odd places, and dust. The furnace filters clearly haven’t been changed recently. The kitchen counters were so dirty when we arrived that we had to scrub them before we’d even sort dusty dishes on them. The irony? One of Mom’s primary health obsessions was allergies. She wore a dust mask if she went outside and sometimes inside. Well, okay clearly she needed it inside this house.
trash
Another favorite focus was food allergies. In the past two days, I’ve read three allergy reports in which she had skin tests for food allergies. According to an email she wrote, she tested allergic to all but 14 foods. In the lab results I read, there was only one allergy common to all 3 reports – brewer’s yeast, and only 3 foods overall above the moderate range of sensitivity. This wasn’t all that surprising. One of our favorite family stories is the time she told a waiter not to bring her coffee with dessert because she couldn’t have caffeine and then asked him to please bring her a coke. Not only did he look confused, he actually asked her which way it was. Was she allergic to caffeine or not?

For all the time, energy, and attention devoted to identifying foods she could have in order to protect her health, she ate little nutrition at all. We used to laughingly say she lived on Dr. Pepper, saltine crackers, and the occasional piece of cherry pie for 20 years.

That is how I remember it, but I’ve always doubted whether that memory was accurate. Then I found a health history Mom had written. In it she says she drank 12 to 14 twelve ounce Dr. Peppers per day. I read it three times to make sure. 12 to 14. That’s 1800 – 2100 calories per day of nothing but soda. My mom was 5’7″ and never weighed over 125 lbs. It sounds like I wasn’t that far off. She was mostly living on Dr. Pepper.

After days and days of following her health saga in bits and pieces as I sort trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell; trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell; trash, recycle, shred, donate, sell, a clear pattern has emerged. If only Mom had taken small steps each day to change her environment, perhaps she would achieved the overall health or healing she was seeking. Instead, she created an environment that isn’t healthy for anyone. Each decision she made contributed to exactly the health crisis she feared.

If she had chosen not to buy over 300 books (we’ve boxed 310 so far) on allergies, alternative cures, cancer prevention, and spiritual healing, she would have had room on the book shelves for books that stimulated her passion or imagination. Or better yet, she’d have had less books to collect dust the dust that irritated her allergies.

If she had chosen to sit on the porch swing every morning and watch the bluebirds, cardinals, swallows, and woodpeckers I saw this morning while drinking a cup of coffee, maybe she would have felt a greater sense of wonder at the beauty in her front yard.

If she had chosen to ride horses with my dad and me, she could have felt the freedom of a rush of wind when the horse hits a gallop.

If she had tried the vegetables from my grandmother’s garden next to our house, perhaps she would have feared eating them less.

Or perhaps she just would have decided she didn’t like them any more. Last year when the blackberry bushes began to produce loads of delicious blackberries, she decided she wasn’t too fond of them after all.
black berries
I will never understand or be able to explain why my mother made the choices she made, but she has provided me with many reminders that the way to create overall health lies in the small choices I make to improve the quality of my life each day.

I can choose to lift weights because it makes my muscles feel more loose and I like that feeling. I can choose to practice yoga because it helps me recognize my tendency to hold my breath when I feel stressed. I can choose to spend time with people who love to laugh. I can make time to sit on the porch and watch the birds. I can read something interesting every day. I can let go of possessions when I no longer need them. I can say no to buying something new unless it solves a problem. I can spend time playing with my granddog. I can show up to help when I’m needed and stay out of things when I’m not. I can take time to plan my meals so that I eat a variety of fresh food that tastes great. I can make time for those I love. I can sit still. I can get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. I can practice gratitude and always, always tell myself the truth no matter how ugly it is.

Each of these choices is small and each of them improves the quality of any day. When I choose well, then add the days together, I construct a life that is improved one small choice at a time. Eventually, taking care of the small stuff every day will give me the big picture result I desire. And thus, the big picture turns out to be nothing more than one small choice at a time.