Pinch Me. I Must Be Dreaming.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming. I’m seeing too many things that make so little sense they don’t seem real. A dream state could explain this and ease the distress I feel from being surrounded by cognitive dissonance.

But I know I’m awake. I know the contradictions that have dominated pandemic news will continue to be paraded before me in my newsfeed, on TV, and on Twitter. If I’m going to stay abreast of current news, I have to tolerate what feels delusional.

I believe thriving and making good health decisions require staying abreast of current research, virus spread, government policies, and community activity. Doing so demands tolerance, fortitude, humor, and the ability to shift as things change. It isn’t easy, but to me, it’s worth it.

If you feel a need to stay informed, but worry that you’re not up to the task here are some tips to keep you feeling balanced:

Adopt a learning perspective.
When someone else’s point-of-view annoys you or sends you down a dark path, get curious. What motivates that person? What do they gain from taking a particular position? Are their values aligned with yours? If not, what values do you see demonstrated in their actions? Are they just taking a different path to reach the same conclusion you reach?

Sometimes things that look opposite on the surface are not. Further investigation can be revealing. Beginning with curiosity rather than assumptions or knee-jerk reactions can enrich your understanding.

Not to be forgotten, knowledge is power. While it may be a cliché, it’s also a good reminder that learning will give you more leverage than simply reacting.

Reject attempts from others to define your priorities.
You can set your own priorities and stick with them. These may go against the grain. That’s okay. In retrospect, conventional wisdom is often wrong. You may just be ahead of your time.

Feel free to hear a message while rejecting shame.
None of us are perfect. We make mistakes that can’t be taken back. Sometimes we see our errors reflected in the mistakes of others. Sometimes we need the opportunity to view our errors so we can correct them.

Once we recognize our mistakes, express remorse, learn and do better, there’s simply no reason to feel ashamed or punish ourselves. Period. It does not matter how other people respond.

If I would grant someone else grace and forgiveness for the same offense. I can forgive myself.

Have confidence in your perceptions.
You don’t have to believe incorrect information. Just because something is often repeated doesn’t make it true. Trusting your perceptions will allow you to keep an open mind and see past deception.

When you live or work in a dysfunctional system, there can be immense pressure to conform to distorted ways of viewing things. You may believe you’re alone in seeing things differently. Even if you are, that doesn’t make you wrong. Reread The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Choose your battles or choose no battles.
You don’t have to fight. Some of my friends and family are now ignoring the news because they feel they have to fight every single piece of misinformation and that looms so large they give up before they get started. You can stay informed without fighting. It’s a choice.

Doing something of value is centering. It doesn’t have to be large to be significant. Sew masks. Send encouraging texts. Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn. Organize a driving celebration. Call a friend who lives alone. Create an online social experience. Raise money. Design and assemble goody bags for your neighbors.

You can create an experience each day that puts you in the position to be at your best and show it off. The result will boost your spirits and resilience.

Allow yourself to be strong.
If you always avoid the difficult, you’ll never know how strong you are. You may need that strength to get you through an unavoidable illness or natural disaster down the road. Most of us have internal resources we have not tapped. Now is a good time to get familiar with them.

Of course, you can use all of these tips and still feel crazy right now. Rest assured, there are other people who see things like you do. You haven’t lost your mind. Things are swiftly changing and uncertain. It’s unsettling.

I often feel like I’m living in two realities at the same time. I don’t enjoy that, but I know I’m okay and I will be okay. It’s the circumstances in which I find myself that have changed. And boy, have they changed! Pinch me. I must be dreaming!

Yoga is a Perfect Home Workout

namasteIf the gym isn’t your cup of tea, yoga is a perfect home workout. We’re all aware that regular exercise is important to overall health so it’s important to find a workout that works for you. A couple of years ago, I was swimming laps 3 – 4 times a week. Swimming is a great low-impact workout which I needed because of a knee injury. Then came the day that I jumped into the pool to get started, landed on that leg, and re-injured my knee. On top of the damage the chlorine was doing to my hair and the constant lane sharing, I’d had enough. I needed a new workout routine.

At my age, I’m aware it’s important to have some sort of resistance training as well as with aerobic exercise. I began searching for a good mix of the two. After months of experimentation, I now have two weight lifting routines and three or four yoga routines I rotate on a regular basis. I chose these workouts because I can do them at home and because they make me feel good. If your workout makes you feel good, obviously, you’re less likely to skip it. I now work out 5 – 6 days per week.

About 4 years ago, I attended a yoga class for seniors once a week for a few months. At that point, I didn’t even own a yoga mat. I just went to the class, threw $5 in a basket and borrowed a mat. I felt weak and shaky sometimes, but the routine wasn’t all that difficult and I enjoyed it when the instructor rubbed our foreheads during Savasana at the end. I wasn’t really hooked, but this low-key introduction helped me get past the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do the poses.

When I decided to seriously explore yoga as a primary workout, I started with two DVDs featuring Bethenny Frankel. I jumped right into the 40 minute session instructed by Kristin McGee. Occasionally, I’d switch over to the DVD led by Mike McArdle. As I became more proficient with the routines, I also became more aware of the pace and the tone of each workout. I noticed that I preferred Mike’s instruction. I also got curious about other instructors. Once I realized how many yoga options were available on Amazon Video, I was like a kid in a candy store.

There are almost 3000 yoga videos available from Amazon Video. Almost 400 of those are included free with Amazon Prime and you can watch them as many times as you want. Even if you watched nothing on Amazon Prime, but a single workout, that workout ends up costing you about 25¢ per year. I don’t know of any club you can join for 25¢ per year.

The only equipment required for these yoga routines is comfortable clothing, a yoga mat, and a way to access video. A blanket, block, or strap is sometimes helpful as well. It’s not hard to find a yoga mat for under $20 or a beginner’s kit with a mat, block, and strap for $35 – $40. And if you’re not leaving the house, there’s no clothing or gas budget required. You’re bound to have something comfortable to wear stuffed away in a drawer.

I’ve previewed quite a number of yoga workouts. If I don’t immediately feel both relaxed and challenged, I move on to a different option. I prefer those that move at a slower pace with an instructor who fully demonstrates proper alignment and form. My current favorite is, Yoga for Beginners: Poses for Freedom and Renewal with Kanta Barrios which I can watch free with Amazon Prime. It’s 30 minutes designed to tone the muscles and strengthen the core. Full of plank to Chaturanga to cobra to downward-facing dog sequences, the poses may be for beginners, but I don’t feel like I’m slacking. In fact, the reviews of this video sometimes complain that it’s too hard for beginners.

When I want a longer workout, I choose Yoga for All. Also available free with Amazon Prime, these sessions are each about an hour in length and feature 3 instructors simultaneously demonstrating beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions of each pose. Season 1 contains 4 episodes: Basic, Core, Strength, and Vinyasa. I follow the intermediate instructor and modify to the beginner level when working on an area in which I’m weak.

Obviously, your preferences may differ from mine, but with so many choices you’re bound to find something that will suit your personality, goals, and fitness level. And if your preferences change as you become stronger and more flexible, video content providers offer a never ending stream of prospective selections.

Once you land on a possible workout, be sure to watch the whole session before practicing it. This will get you attuned to the rhythm and manner in which you’ll be instructed. While you still may be a bit behind the instructor at first, a full viewing reduces frustration and allows you to more fully concentrate on form from the beginning.

Yoga makes it easy to target any part of your body that needs improvement. Have back problems – there’s a yoga workout for that. Need to relax your hips – there’s a yoga workout for that. Have digestive trouble – there’s a yoga workout to improve it. And no matter where you practice, yoga can help you gain strength, flexibility, and balance.

If you wake up stiff and sore; if you have plantar fasciitis pain; if you are losing flexibility; if you want to improve balance or breath control, yoga is a great workout to explore. You can workout when you want. Target any part of your body. Gain strength, tone, flexibility, balance, and breath control. Avoid prying eyes. Learn to be mindful. Save money. Feel amazing.

All of this is possible when you practice at home. Yoga really is the perfect home workout.

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.”

Inspiring Lessons of Connection from Parents with Critically Ill Children

The past few days, I’ve had a chance to see both the best and worst of humanity. The stark contrast presented by a unique week of interaction has me pondering the importance of connection, personal power, fear, and our contributions to our own misery.

Okay, admittedly that’s a lot of territory so, for now, let’s look at the best and see if there’s anything we can learn that will help us improve the quality of our lives so that our families can thrive.

My week started with a photo shoot of several families who have children that are critically ill, injured, or have recently received a transplant. As I asked each family if they were having a good day, I received varied answers. One family’s son had just had his chest tubes removed after his third open-heart surgery. He is three. The mom told me that she was grateful to have learned it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. When you are told your child may die, it only matters who you are and what’s in your heart. A family that had arrived in town because the mom went into labor on an airplane and we had the closest airport, moved carefully because of her recent Caesarian. Her new daughter is still in NICU, she is having to shower in a communal bathroom, and her husband has been unable to start his new job. She calmly instructed her 3-year-old son who has to wear his blue sweater several days per week because there’s been no chance to locate other clothes. She wasn’t much for talking; her quiet smile said it all. One young mom wrestled her 4-month-old son who recently had a heart transplant. He has gorgeous red hair, a feeding tube, a mask over his face, and he cries incessantly. He was frightened by the photographer’s strobes. As he wriggled and screamed, his young mom remained relaxed and gentle with him. Her unflappable serenity shines through in the photos.

All day long, I kept expecting to see people at their worst – exhausted, frightened, struggling, hopeless. What I kept discovering was that I was seeing people at their best. They may have felt exhausted, frightened, and helpless, but what I experienced was calm strength and total presence in the moment. Without time or energy for the usual niceties or pretense, connection was natural, easy and inspiring. Over and over again, I felt an immediate connection. With each meeting of our eyes, each smile or look of empathy, I knew my presence made a difference. I felt honored, humbled and powerful.

For these families, life has been stripped down to the absolute essentials. Their challenge is to embrace each bit of kindness, joy, or relief that appears while surrounded by the most difficult of life’s realities. If they choose to spend five minutes wondering why their child must suffer when others don’t, they know that’s five minutes they aren’t fully relishing the time they have with their child. What a choice!

It’s easy for most of us to draw a contrast between our everyday lives and that of these families, but maybe there’s something we can learn from them and apply to our everyday interactions:

Because these families are painfully aware that the time we get in this life is limited and uncertain, they focus on making the most of each day. We can all benefit from this type of focus. Our priorities will then allow us to rid ourselves of the activities or friendships we have chosen that do not feed us or contribute positive energy to our lives.

While they have real reasons to worry, these folks recognize that worry is a distraction that keeps us from being present in the moment and thereby prevents us from fully connecting with each other. It is through this connection that we can give and receive empathy, care, comfort, and love. 

Although presented with heart-wrenching circumstances, the families I observed show up each day to face the situation and make difficult choices. We too are faced with everyday choices that affect our health and quality of life. Do we choose to cower in denial or do we gather our courage and make the choice that best serves our overall well-being even if that’s not the easiest choice?

In the role of parent, the adults recognize that they must function as adults. If they weep and wail and act helpless, their children will become frightened. If they are disrespectful to the nurses or staff, they may inadvertently jeopardize their child’s care. If they decide that they just can’t handle the stress of the hospital, their child will be left alone. These loving parents do not choose to burden their children with adult matters so they summon their best selves and find the strength to cope with each difficult day. How often do we fail our children by neglecting to summon our inner strength to set and enforce limits on sugar consumption, screen time, rude behavior, or frivolous spending?

When parents are separated for days or weeks by taking shifts to provide a continuous presence in a child’s hospital room, the importance of adult time to connect without the children cannot be taken for granted. Are we remembering to value our connection with our partner? Do we make time and space for connection on a regular basis? Do we present a united front to our children?

As days turn into weeks and the world begins to shrink to the size of the hospital room, these parents must find small ways to care for themselves and keep a connection with the larger world in order to remain inspired. There is no energy to feel guilty for a few “selfish” moments; in fact, there’s a realization that feeding their own spirit is not just important, but critical. Some of them make sure to take a walk and watch the sunrise or sunset. Others read a book that allows them to empathize with the characters. Some schedule a meal out once a week so they can get out and people-watch. Some moms just take a long bath and a nap or get a massage. Do we measure our worth in self-sacrifice that causes us to lose our identity or feel guilty when we take care of our spirits?

This week in the midst of tragedy, I had the privilege of seeing the best. I also had the experience of seeing the worst. This contrast reminded me that life-changing events are a chance for people to reveal their real character. Sometimes you learn that your partner, sister, aunt, mom, or dad is too fearful to be supportive, too needy to put another’s interests first, too interested in comparison to have compassion, or too threatened by real connection to let down their walls and be there for you. Can we have compassion for their weakness and the courage to let go of our expectations of more from them so that we can recognize and be open to receiving what we need when it presents itself? 

When we allow ourselves to see the truth, we may be faced with other difficult life decisions. Can we be grateful for a chance to face our fears, embrace grief, loss, and change in order to move forward and heal ourselves?

While we may never have a critically ill child, we will all face trying circumstances. Some of us will choose to live in chaos, pain, worry, and dissonance without ever recognizing that we’re making a choice. If you are struggling at the moment, can you tell yourself the truth and begin experimenting with tiny changes in your behavior? Can you take inspiration from what resilient parents have learned? 

 If so, are you willing to share your story? We’d love to hear it.