Category Archives: Health
Lately I’ve been noticing how people are like cell phones – we regularly send out energy waves of our own, and not just light or sound energy that we can perceive with our eyes and ears, but the invisible kind, too. I can’t prove it, nor do I know if anyone else can, but I’m certain that it’s true, and here’s how I know: my kids told me. Here’s how the Great Wall in China inspired this insight, and how it has changed my daily routine…
In May I spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about meditation and other mindfulness practices, and toward the end of the last post, “Minding the Gap”, I introduced the idea of self-compassion because I know most parents are very hard on themselves — worry and guilt seem to play a big role in this job. It’s true that there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with raising children, which is why we feel so much pressure, and it’s also true that we’re all trying to do the best we can with the time, energy, and other resources we have available. It’s easy to forget.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue to try to do a better job, however. We can simultaneously hold the ideas that we are “good enough”, while at the same time knowing that we can do even better. To really rise to our potential, to enjoy this process of raising children, learning and growing are key. And in order to learn and grow, we need to take care of ourselves. It’s the familiar “put your oxygen mask on first…” concept. Which makes sense and sounds great, but can be so hard to do in the midst of working, laundry, and shuttling kids around. So here’s the deal — we need a plan.
As a crazy coincidence, as I’ve been thinking about these ideas of self-care and self-compassion this week, I happened to be listening to a recorded conversation between two authors, Lissa Ranking and Brenee Brown, and they touched on this very topic of taking care of themselves. Here’s what they both said: they have written themselves their own health prescriptions. They have these prescriptions written on pieces of paper that they carry around with them. On their lists are things like how much sleep they need, foods they avoid, exercise schedules, and other items that fall into the category of “sanity maintenance”, like limiting work hours and getting comfortable with saying “no”.
Before this, I hadn’t really thought about how I take care of myself as a “prescription” before, but the idea really resonates with me. Without knowing it, I would say that up until now my prescription has included:
- 9 Hours of Sleep: I’m a sleeper — always have been, always will be. For years I’ve envied those who could get by on seven hours or less (my uncle is a four-hour per night person), and tried to get by on less myself for a while, hoping I could train my body. Nope. So finally I’ve accepted it — I’m a sleeper.
- Daily Meditation. I’ve written a lot about this recently, so will only say that I’m on my cushion for 30-minutes a day. When I miss a day, my emotions and energy suffer.
- No Sugar or Flour. I started following the Paleo diet when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and it has made a world of difference for me. I have almost no inflammation in my body, and have much less pain than others who have the same health issues I do. The first weeks coming off of sugar were tough, I can’t deny it, but they were totally worth it. I eat protein, vegetables, and some fruit (low glycemic, primarily apples) and have no sugar cravings.
|Sooo fresh — we picked them ourselves!|
Now I’m thinking about adding to it, and have had a lot of fun the past couple of days just thinking about what I will include. I want my prescriptions to be realistic and sustainable — daily massages would be wonderful, but just won’t happen. Maybe a monthly massage, though? And I love having fresh flowers on my desk, so maybe a weekly purchase of fresh flowers? The possibilities are endless, and soooo much fun to consider. So I’m curious to know — What’s on your personal prescription list? What should be on it? Any good ideas?
“Enjoying a life of extreme self care means living and working in a soul-nurturing environment; developing a greater appreciation for, and connection with, nature; doing work that provides an opportunity to express your greatest gifts and talents; and caring for your emotional, physical, and spiritual health in a way that’s aligned with who you are and what you most need.”
If you’re in the “not certain” group, the only way to know for sure is to try a few meditation sessions or develop some mindfulness practices and see for yourself (see the link to guided meditations at the end of the post “Do You Meditate?”). Trying to describe meditation is like trying to describe crème brûlée (I’m something of a fanatic about this dessert) to someone who has never tasted it: I can list the ingredients, tell you how it was prepared, and compare the taste to another food, but you can’t really know what it is like until you try it for yourself.
If you are in the “unconvinced” group, or maybe you’re convinced but you’re having difficulty making meditation part of your regular routine, looking at the science behind meditation may help. You have likely heard about (and maybe experienced) the reduction in stress and anxiety that comes with meditation, but did you also know that a regular practice can have physical impacts on your body? For example, researchers are finding that meditation can:
- Reduce your blood pressure,
- Change the structure of your brain, increasing the connections (and size) of the areas responsible for decision making, attention, and memory,
- Affect how your genes are expressed,
- Decrease the occurrences of stress-related illness, and
- Slow down the aging process.
- Schedule it. All healthy behaviors need to be scheduled until they become a habit. Ideally you should schedule it at the same time every day, and connect it to something you already do every day (like after you brush your teeth).
- Work up to it. Thirty or forty minutes of meditation will be hard if you’re just starting out. Start with just 5-10 minute sessions, and add 5 minutes a week.
- Start with guided meditations. A guided meditation, especially one geared for beginners, will give you the assurance that you’re “doing it right”. It will take a few sessions to get the hang of it, so be patient with yourself.
- Make peace with restlessness. It’s completely normal for everyone, even experienced meditators, to feel restless while they are trying to sit still. One way to help with this is to do some gentle stretching beforehand (yoga is actually a physical preparation for meditation). When you do start feeling restless (because it will happen sooner or later!), don’t react — see if you can just notice what restlessness feels like in your body. Some people have found that this is particularly challenging for them, so do your best to keep working with it, and keep in mind that restlessness has never killed anyone, so you’ll be fine!
Activities for Meditation, Week 2
- Understand how meditation can affect your health and well-being,
- Be more aware of how your thoughts affect your emotions and actions,
- Experience how focusing on one concept like gratefulness can affect you.
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of compassion for all human beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.” – Saying of the Buddha
- “Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you’re grateful for, particularly items you’d normally take for granted. Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item.”
- “After about thirty seconds, stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness. You’ll feel it coming directly from your heart.”
- “As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving.”
February is the least favorite month of the year for many people, with the holidays well behind us, spring and summer vacations too far out in front of us, and the typical cold, gray weather hanging heavily. But for me, at least this year, I’m very glad to turn the page on January and welcome February in. January was filled with an unexpected series of life lessons for me this year, and I need these slow days of February as time to rest, recover, and reflect.
I started the year feeling physically not all that great, although I was optimistic and full of plans. Unfortunately, my body decided it needed more of my attention and my health went downhill quickly — I found myself without the energy or mental clarity to do even the simplest of activities: prepare a meal for my family, run errands, read or write. For several years now I have been struggling with what I thought was a not-so-serious condition that compromised my immune system, but ever-increasing symptoms toward the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 drove me to seek out more information and help from other sources in the healthcare community. Now, after several weeks and many appointments with MDs, naturopaths, and nurse practitioners, I am on the road to understanding what is going on (a little more serious than what I originally thought) and am working with a practitioner who I trust to help me figure out the rest.
So, the good news is that over the past few days I’ve begun to feel slightly better, and even though (or really, because) I still have to spend most of my day sitting, my mind is clear enough for the first time in weeks to reflect on what I’ve been going through and begin to understand that there are some important life lessons to be gleaned from my recent experience. The first, and most important, is that nobody cares about my health more than I do (nor should they!). Yes, my family cares and my doctors care, but I’m the one who needs to push, and question, and drive, and push some more — nobody else can do that for me. My husband certainly tries, and deserves a medal for how well he has supported me, taken care of me, and even filled in for me when I was too weak or tired to do so, but the ultimate responsibility for my health rests with me. Knowing what’s normal for my body, educating myself, asking lots of questions (even when they are discouraged), and not allowing someone’s strong opinions to sway me from what I feel to be true or helpful are really important.
Which brings me to the next of January’s life lessons: healthy skepticism is, well, healthy. If someone’s opinions or recommendations don’t seem right, even if they are an “expert” (actually, especially if they claim to be an expert!), you need to be skeptical, and take the time to do your own research, get other opinions, and ask as many questions as you need to. I consulted five people from different areas of healthcare over the course of six weeks, and each one, without fail, told me emphatically why their diagnosis and recommendations were right, and why the other opinions I had gathered (and asked them about) were wrong! Had I gone against my own judgment and intuition, and just stopped with any of these first assessments, I would be much worse off right now, and risking further and more serious health issues. It turns out that each of them had a piece of the puzzle, but the person who is now treating me was able to see all of the pieces together (and identified a few others, too).
And the third life lesson of the month? We are not built to live in a constant state of stress. Our bodies and minds are designed to help us survive short periods of fight or flight situations — to kill the bear, or run from the tiger. We are not designed for the non-stop, worry-filled lifestyles we all have. This is not news to me, as it probably isn’t to you — magazine articles and other sources of health information are always warning about the negative impacts of stress. And even though I’ve really tried to be aware of this and make healthier choices, I still have more to do, I guess, because the severity of my current health issues are a direct result of too much stress. So, as I continue to recover, I’ve decided it’s time for a whole new operating system. What does that mean? It means living differently, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed; it means basing my thoughts and behavior on a new and improved set of beliefs and expectations. I’m thinking about it as “reformatting my hard drive” — loading a whole new operating system whose functionality and features I will consciously choose. There’s no doubt this will require a lot of soul-searching and tough choices, but for me it’s not an option, and I’m actually (kind of) looking forward to it because I know I will feel better, and I also know that my kids will benefit as well.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, both of my boys are very emotionally aware, and I’ve noticed how my emotional states impact theirs, both positively and negatively. When I am calm and centered, they are much more relaxed and happy; when I am rushing around or frazzled from doing too many things, they become more emotional or quiet. Whoever first described children as sponges was entirely correct, and I tend to forget how much of an impact the example my husband and I set has on them. I’m hoping that the changes I make now result in our days moving at a slower, more peaceful pace (which I can already see happening), but I’m also taking a longer-term perspective. The choices I make and tools I employ will hopefully set an example that the boys will remember when they are adults and making lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. So, even though the weather outside is damp and gray this month, it’s perfectly-timed for me — I have lots of thinking, and even more resting, to do!
One of the lasting impacts of all those years I spent in school is that Fall always feels like a beginning to me. The frenzied summertime rush to do it all — vacations, amusement parks, summer camps, overnight guests, and every outdoor concert and art fair is over, replaced by cooler nights (though still-warm days) and a return to a regular routine. After a solid month of guests (our guest room was totally booked in August!), the beginning of September found me breathless and tired and vowing to simplify my life. I enjoyed seeing the family and friends who were here (well, mostly anyway!), but am overjoyed to have my house back to myself and more control over my days.
And I’m not alone. Since our final guests departed almost a week ago, I’ve certainly noticed that I’m feeling more centered and calm, but it struck me just today that the boys have been more settled as well. They’ve been choosing quieter activities, like reading and Legos, over the more typical choice of Nerf gun battles. And they’ve been very connected, both physically and otherwise, to me and my husband. When I asked Ben how he was feeling the other day, he said “I’m glad to have our tight-knit family tight again.”
So, as I regain my energy this week, I am reminding myself that we don’t need to take advantage of every opportunity to sign up for a new class or take on a new activity. The temptations to fill our time and “not miss out” are strong for me, and the vow to simplify is easily broken amidst the excitement of possibility (if you could only see what our schedule looked like last Fall!). But the joy we’ve all been feeling this week as we wake up and realize we don’t have to rush out anywhere, or to entertain anyone, or to quickly clean the house before the next guest arrives is sweet — and very much worth savoring!