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You can also sign up for the newsletter, Integrated Roots, on the The Kingston Integrated Healthcare Clinic website homepage www.kihc.ca to receive the monthly column written by Kaye-Lee, Simply Sublime Musings, as well as articles relating to physical, mental and emotional health by other clinic practitioners. Check out our clinic facebook page that Kaye-Lee moderates.
- Fall, Stillness and the Immune System
- Stillness, Strength and Bones
- Holding on to Letting Go
- Wellness and a Rich Environment
- Kids, Self-Esteem and Communication
- Sustainability and The Soup
- Spring, Transitions and Stillness
- Avoid Stroke through Creativity
- The Temperature Keeps Rising
- One Item Off the Bucket List!
- Chronic Pain & Doubling our Suffering
- Women & Heart Disease
Women & Heart Disease
We know that heart disease is a real issue for women these days. However, most of us act like it isn’t going to happen to us. What worries me about how we as women live is the speed and complexity of our lives. So many of us play so many different roles that we barely have time to check-in with ourselves. It is often our bodies that tell us we need to slow down. Unfortunately we are usually so busy that we seldom pay attention.
Everything is such a time crunch. We have to get so many things done in the course of a day or week that slowing down isn’t an option. This means that things that don’t demand our attention get shoved to the back burner, like our health. How many times have we said we have to slow down or we want to join a yoga class or get a massage but don’t actually do it?
Here is a thought. I have been doing some readings on aggression. What I have learned about myself is that when I speed through my day I get aggressive, short tempered, irritable…you know what I mean. My aggression is subtle and may not be noticed by others but I know it is there. My body tells me at the end of a long week that I have been racing and have therefore been aggressive because it is tight and so is my mood.
I have discovered that if I identify this aggression when it is happening by just noting it I am able to get some perspective back. This helps me drop my shoulders, breath, be more present at the time. Noting our own aggression is something we can do that won’t take up any of our limited time but can be very effective in terms of improving our sense of wellness.
It is also important to recognize the ill effects of being aggressive with ourselves. Racing is aggressive but so is berating ourselves for missing a deadline, or forgetting to pick something up or rushing through a less-than-healthy meal or planning a day with far too many demands.
In order to reduce our risk of heart disease and other illnesses we can simply pay attention to our inner chatter. As we race through our day by noting our aggression we can soften towards ourselves and then find some words of compassion. Maybe we can even slow down enough to get to a yoga class or massage or acupuncture or just to sit quietly for a moment with a cup of tea and drink it while it is still hot.
I once read an account by an ageing rock star about his drug addled past. The reporter asked what he missed about those days. He said that what he missed the most was his memory. That stayed with me, however I can’t remember which rock star said it, ironic you say? Well memory is like that isn't it? We have bits and pieces and if we have enough of those the whole picture might return.
Memory definitely fades when we age but age isn’t the only thing against us. Most of us take in so much stimulus that we barely attend to what we are doing. Think about driving that same route every day. All of a sudden we are home without remembering the drive.
There are things that we can do to improve our memory like take care of our physical health but one of the most important things we can do is to learn to be mindful or present. Mindfulness means we actually pay attention to what we are doing or thinking at the time. Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking.
I have often counsel people on paying attention to locking their door when they leave their house, paying attention to placing their keys in their pocket or bag. I even suggest that they say to themselves, “I am locking my door now and putting my keys away.” Far too often people’s minds are already at work when they are actually locking their door. Losing keys or having to go back and check to see if they did lock their door is a common complaint.
Memory is only as good as the one using it really. Maybe we were better at remembering things when we were a certain age but the bad habit of not paying attention, not being mindful, accounts for more memory lose then you would think. That can happen at any age. The moral of the story is that paying attention, being here now, being mindful is a great remedy for losing your keys…don’t miss your memory like the rock star, pay attention now.
Chronic Pain & Doubling our Suffering
The Buddhists have an interesting way of looking at life. Generally speaking they believe that all life is suffering. Well if you have chronic pain you know this to be true. But what the Buddhists also believe is that here in the West we double our suffering. In other words, we may have a physical pain but we add to the discomfort of this pain by telling ourselves how unhappy we are to have it in the first place. Now to you and I feeling unhappy about our pain makes perfect sense but upon reflection the Buddhist have a point. Let me illustrate this point.
For about a decade now I have been getting migraines. I have come to believe that they are related to the changes my body is going through as I age. I have tried every manner of over-the-counter method including medications, vitamins, exercise, relaxation techniques you name it, to no avail. These damn headaches visit me like a space ship. They arrive out of now where without any warning and disappear in exactly the same manner. Now like most of us I don’t care for the pain or the feeling of having no control over it. Finally I went to a doctor who prescribed a heavy duty drug and it worked. However, it made me feel nauseas, dizzy and my throat constricted. I only take this drug as a very last resort and I have dubbed it the “nasty-ass medication.”
I resent taking this medication. I get down right pissy about it. One day when the pain was too much I found myself marching toward the cupboard where the medication lives. In my mind were the most explosive adjectives *#!#*!. You know the ones, the ones that just make you more angry and upset. However, something happened mid-stomp. I heard my internal tirade. At that moment I understood what the Buddhists say about doubling our suffering. I realized that I had a very bad attitude and that that attitude was causing me more suffering. That is when I asked myself why. Why would I want to make it worse? How was getting angry going to help me feel better? It was making me more tense, stressed and miserable.
Since that day when the light bulb went on I try to keep an eye on my bad attitude. I try to maintain perspective. I am not saying it is easy or that I no longer have pain but I try very hard not to double my suffering and that helps. I am not wasting my precious limited resources on feeling bad about feeling bad.
One Item Off the Bucket List!
On Saturday August 25th Jane Lambert completed a long time dream of swimming from Wolfe Island to Kingston. I learned of Jane’s dream one day this summer when she came to visit me at the small lake where we spend our weekends. She said that she wanted to practice for a bigger swim in Lake Ontario. So as she climbed into our little lake I climbed into my kayak to accompany her. As she swam and I paddled along beside her I thought about how her goal was related to overcoming her physical obstacles. It seemed so fitting that our clinic would support these goals because we are interested in promoting wellness. So I took this idea back to the team and everyone got excited. All our practitioners and staff got behind Jane and before we knew it there was a great deal of momentum moving this adventure forward. I put up some information about the swim on our Facebook page and it was picked up by a group in Kingston that Jane had been talking to, who want to raise awareness about the lack of beach access here for swimmers. They sent out a press release and much to Jane’s surprise she was interviewed a number of times by local radio and television stations.
On the day of the swim we had a team of people in a large boat that took Jane and dropped her off at the winter ferry dock on Wolfe Island. They also dropped me off in my kayak. I positioned myself within a few feet of Jane so that we could communicate if she needed anything. On board the large boat we had the captain, a swim advisor, a life guard, a photographer and a number of other supporters. In addition, we had a small dingy with another life guard at hand. Jane swam the distance in two hours and 15 minutes which was well under her estimated time. We had a team of people on the beach waiting for us when we arrived. When Jane got to shore she needed a hand climbing up the rocky beach but was otherwise in great shape. She stood and talked to everyone who came out to support her. All in all it was a wonderfully successful day! Jane says her next adventure is storm chasing…
The Temperature Keeps Rising
Once upon a time I was a girl who always carried a sweater just in case I got cold. Not anymore. Now I am woman who seems to need the window open and the fan on even in the winter! So what happened? Perimenopause is what it is called, the stage before menopause. This is a time when we may feel all kinds of changes in our bodies and moods but might not necessarily know what we are experiencing. During this stage it is not uncommon to have our eyesight change, our memory slip and our brains just feel plain old fussy. We may even feel bone tired at times without explanation.
The first hormone we lose as we enter perimenopause is progesterone and that is the “calming” hormone. The result of lower progesterone is an increase in agitation and irritability. This can also account for difficulty sleeping. Night sweats is another common perimenopausal symptom which disrupts sleep.
So if you are feeling bone tired, agitated, mentally fussy or forgetful and you can’t read the impossibly tiny print on the aspirin bottle anymore, even if your cycle hasn’t changed, you are likely in the perimenopausal stage.
At first the thought of our bodies changing can be frightening if not overwhelming. It is true that some of the symptoms can be unpleasant but being prepared and knowing what to expect can take the fear away. The problem is that we live in such a youth culture and have been taught that staying young is more important than anything. Sadly this leads to denial and unhealthy behaviours and attitudes. However, aging is natural and can’t be stopped. Besides they say that after menopause we experience a second adulthood. So there is hope.
What to do if you are perimenopausal. It is important to do some reading to learn more about it. Here is some reading material; G.Sheehy, The Silent Passage, M. Lundin, The Female Brain Gone Insane, S.Somers, The Sexy Years: Discover the Hormone Connection. Educating yourself about this time of change is important but so is consulting a practitioner that you trust. It is also important to get rest, eat properly and slow down. Your body is going through massive changes just like it did when you entered puberty so it is important to listen to it. The transition into the second adulthood is natural and can be smooth as long as you take care of yourself.
Avoid Stroke through Creativity
I just finished reading “My Stroke of Insight” about a female neuroanatomist who had a stroke at the age of 37. She had a bleed in her left hemisphere and was able to remain conscious of losing her left hemisphere functions, like language. This book is about her experience. What I learned in reading this material is how important it is to balance our right and left hemispheres or brain. Each hemisphere is responsible for different functions. The left is language and along with it the sense of purpose and drive. The right hemisphere is where creativity lives and our sense of connection to everything around us.
Currently we live in the information age, at a time where the left hemisphere functions are considered to be more important than the right. However, using both hemispheres is essential to our health. As a therapist I am at time struck by the limits of language to adequately express people’s experiences. I also see how language gets in the way of us accessing our wellness. For instance, language alone can create a loop of chatter that keeps us stuck in a cycle of negativity and stress.
It has become more important to me than ever to help people find alternate tools to both cope with and understand their experiences. I have found the visual arts to be one such tool. With methods such as the mixed media arts or photography we can gain insight into our selves in a way in which language alone will not allow.
In my most recent Mindful Photography workshop we used our cameras as a tool to “see” what we thought and how we could shape and influences these thoughts. This kind of insight is essential to wellness because the better we are at “seeing” ourselves the more likely we will be to make healthy choices. When we “see” ourselves more clearly we can detect more subtle things like symptoms of stroke such as speech impairment, tingling or numbness in our body, coordination problems, vision or memory problems. In this way we can get the help we need, or avoid this dangerous path altogether, long before we experience anything like the devastation of a full blown stroke.
What we need to do is make a conscious effort to exercise both sides of the brain especially the right hemisphere. To this end it is important to allow yourself to create without an actual purpose or daydream for the pleasure of letting go. We can meditate to access the right hemisphere or paint or take our cameras out and play with images. Our physical and mental wellness depends on it.
Spring, Transitions and Stillness
As spring approaches we begin to anticipate the new kinds of activities that we can engage in like biking, hiking and gardening. Transitions are a challenge because we are not where we were, but not yet where we want to be. The wonderful anticipation of what is to come can often also lead to feelings of frustration. How do we manage these in between times? All too often we get overly busy rushing toward what is to come. The challenge is to be where we are now. However, the human brain does not want to be here now. I read a wonderful book by Doidge called The Brain That Changes Itself. In this book he described the brain as a creature with an appetite. How true that feels when we are in transition.
If Doidge is right and our brain has an appetite then we need to be very aware of what and how we feed it. This is why it is so important to learn how to be mindful, conscious of how we push ourselves to be active not listening to our bodies telling us to slow down. Mindfulness is about simply paying attention now to both our environment and how our bodies react to it.
Transitions are a time when we push ourselves to tomorrow but leave us feeling unfulfilled today. If we are mindful of these impulses then we can remind ourselves to slow down, stop and pay attention. This is a great time of year to practice mindfulness because there is so much to pay attention to as winter gives way to spring.
The one thing that I really enjoy about this time of transition is the birds. I deliberately listen for them. This is an act of mindfulness. I stop my activities to actually listen to my environment. I also like to search the trees to see if I can find the one bird that has made me stop and listen.
These small acts of being in the moment, even when we would rather be somewhere else, are hugely healing. They allow us to stay connected to our senses which help us stay connected to our feelings which help us stay connected to ourselves. What better way is there to manage times of transition.
Sustainability and The Soup
Sustainability is about living within our means, economically but also environmentally. In other words, it is about reducing our footprint on this planet in a number of ways such as reducing the use of fossil fuels but also in maintaining our health and the health of the communities and environments in which we live. Essentially sustainability comes down to lifestyle choices.
In my case I have chosen to be an urban dweller and have deliberately established what is called a walking lifestyle. Up until very recently I worked, shopped and spent the majority of my time within the down town core of the city where I live. Unfortunately the grocery store where my neighbours and I shopped relocated to a suburban part of town. That means getting a weeks supply of food has become somewhat more challenging. Also, I just moved to a new office location. I was a 6 minute walk to work which meant snow or hail I could get to work. Now it is a 25 minute walk which, I must say, is much more challenging during snow and hail storms.
Regardless of these challenges I have continued to make these choices because I want to keep my stress to a minimum which for me means in part reducing my dependence on my car. In addition, I am not a gym girl so for me exercise has to be part of my lifestyle which is why I like to walk to work. And the truth is that at this stage of my life a 25 minute walk is a better choice than a 6 minute walk.
Finally, sustainability also means healthy connections to each other. I am able to walk my son to school on my way to work. This makes me feel like we are part of each other’s day. In addition, walking through the various neighbourhoods to get to work makes me feel more connected to my city. However, I must admit I cannot wait until I can get my bike out but that too is another choice that is in keeping with sustainability.
Why is my investment in sustainability good for you and why should you invest in sustainability too? Well the truth is that we are all connected. If I make healthy choices I will likely be a better neighbour, parent, worker, and citizen. I like to think of us all as being in a great big soup. Some of us are carrots, some potatoes, some celery, some are even the stock. The reality is we are all in this soup together. If I take care of myself, my neighbours and my neighbourhood then you do not have to. If I take responsibility for me and you take responsibility for you then together we can take care of the soup. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in sustainability?
Kids, Self-Esteem and Communication
One of the best books I have read about kids and parenting is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. One technique that I got from Faber's book that I still use is to "say it in a word." I read the book when my daughter was 4, thankfully. At that stage I found myself repeating myself endlessly. This felt exhausting and made me very irritable and impatient. Neither of which are ideal qualities in a parent. Faber explained that when we use a lot of words with kids they get lost. She suggested that we distill it down to the one word and simply repeat that word.
At the time I was trying to teach my daughter to say "please" and thank you" at the appropriate times. However, I often found myself saying "say please or say thank-you" which made me feel irritated because she didn't seem to remember when to use these words. After reading Faber's book I tried to think which word would accurately describe what it was that I was trying to teach her. I realized that it was manners that I wanted her to learn. Once I realized that was my word I sat down with my daughter and explained what manners were and that I planned to say that word from now on instead of telling her what to say. She nodded and agreed that she did understood what I was saying. Next I had to figure out how apply it.
One day as we stood in the kitchen and I handed her a treat instead of telling her what to say I said "manners." She looked at me funny. I repeated the word "manners." However, just as Faber said it wasn't long before she recalled our previous conversation and was able to reach for the treat and say "thank-you." I felt like it was such a huge accomplishment. None of that old irritability and impatience returned. I continued this technique broadening my one word collection all the time. I was able to say "teeth" instead of "I told you a million times brush your teeth." I said "car seat", "shoes"...the list goes on. There was nothing I couldn’t reduce to a word.
Faber explained that when the child is put in a position of having to remember, supported with prompts, their self-esteem goes up. This is because they do the remembering. This makes them feel smart and proud of themselves. They also become a little more independent because they are using their memory and not yours. It is a win win as far as I am concerned.
Wellness and a Rich Environment
The crow caws even by the ocean drawing my attention away from taking pictures of the boys, my husband and son, boogie boarding in the surf. What I love about Florida is the big sounds, big waves and big sky. I am constantly reminded that I am a mere grain of sand of the beach. The ocean is the great leveler. Its immensity and power reminds me that we are but mere mortals no matter how big we imagine ourselves to be.
It is unpredictable too. Some days it simply swallows the beach leaving us little choice but to sit back in awe and wait until it grants us passage. And when the sun rises or sets over it it simply takes your breath away. The sky and the clouds and the roar of the surf tap into a primordial self that knows, even when we don’t, how to be humble and at peace.
When the gentle warm sea breeze kisses your skin you feel blessed and grateful to have been touched both inside and out. If you allow it the ocean will help you let go of what ever you imagine that you must hold tightly to. It will help you release your grip on your agenda and need for speed and those nagging thoughts that disrupt your peace.
The ocean doesn’t care what is going on inside your head. The surf roars and thunders and throws itself against the beach simply because it is following the rhythms of the universe. This rhythm lives deep inside all of us. However, we lose touch with it as we plug into our devices and lives and unplug from ourselves.
What I love about the ocean is that it simply hijacks our senses. The sights, sounds, touch and smell of it invade every orifice, every entry point into us. In so doing it brilliantly reconnects our senses back into each other creating a loop of integration. The ocean reaches deep into our very nature. It integrates us within ourselves, our bodies and our world.
However, to the ocean we are nothing more than the beach that it throws itself against. But if we allow it, if we stand still long enough, the ocean will wash over us too. It will soften our edges in the same way that it smoothes the surfaces of the immense rocks that lay in its path. And if we don’t pay attention the ocean can knock us down, drag us under and fill our lungs with salt water. Even this can bring us back to our senses, to ourselves.
This is why I love the ocean. This is why I like to end the year and begin the next one at this juncture where the sky meets the water and the ocean forces my senses to reintroduce themselves to each other.
Even if the ocean is miles away we can use the lesson learned from it to provide an environment for our senses that is rich and full rather then impoverished. We can fill our sight lines with colour and beauty, we can fill our auditory sense with pleasing sounds, we can enrich our tactile sense with softness and comfort, we can fill our environments with sweet, rich, smells and we can stop to taste what we put in our mouths. Our wellness is dependent on it.
Holding on to Letting Go
Recently when I was meditating, something I do to relieve myself of stress, I was able to let go and relax. I felt my body and mind were pulled down by gravity, in a good way. I felt my shoulders drop and my mind quieten. I remember thinking “Ah this is good, this is letting go”. The next thought was “how can I hold on to letting go?” This of course struck me as funny because first of all when you meditate you are not suppose to pursue your thoughts and you are certainly not suppose to hold on to anything. However, the fact that I could laugh at myself was also part of the letting go because there was no inner-critic judging me. Letting go of the inner critic is important to our mental health.
The inner critic is the one who chatters endlessly about what we should be doing, how we should be living our lives. That inner critic causes us stress and reinforces the negative self talk that leads to so much unhappiness. An accumulation of negative self-talk undermines our strength and it can lead to feelings of sadness or, if allowed to persist, depression. When this happens we feel ineffective and helpless. Martin Seligman, a specialist on depression claimed that, when people feel helpless they feel depressed.
Taking action by letting go of the inner critic is one antidote to feeling helpless or depressed. The action doesn’t even have to be so active. Take meditation for example. You sit or lie still and focus on your breath or your posture and try to let go of your thoughts and body tension. This may not seem all that effective but it can be. When we realize that we can stop the chatter and inner critic by focusing on something as simple as our breathing it give us a feeling of being effective, a feeling of strength, the opposite of helpless.
We can learn to shut the chatter or inner critic down by sitting between the in breath and out breath. If you allow the breath to completely leave your lungs and then sit there and count to ten before you take in the next breath, you will find that there is no room for that inner critic. Your focus will be so intent on mastering this simple technique that you will not be able to chatter and not breathe while you count to ten.
Once we have learned to let go of the inner critic, relax our body and mind, even laugh at ourselves, our stress will go down and our sense of effectiveness will go up. This is why I recommend holding on to letting go.
Stillness, Strength and Bones
Sit up straight my father always us to say to me, and elbows off the table. Well at the time it just seemed like another adult peculiarity. Kids don't care about posture. But as an adult I am acutely aware of my posture and even more so as I get older. Osteoporosis isn't a term that only applies to my mother's generation any more. But having strong bones is just part of it. Having a healthy attitude toward our bodies is essential to aging well. And feeling strong physically is related to feeling strong emotionally and psychologically. When we accept ourselves with all our imperfections we are more likely to listen to our bodies. Listening for the accumulation of stress and strain is important to staying healthy. I really believe that stillness is an exceptional tool for tuning into ourselves.
The opposite of stillness is speed. We live in a stimulus junky age where we have learned to speed through life. This doesn’t make us stronger it makes us less connected and integrated. A yoga instructor once told the class I was attending that we should start each day with a good long stretch. She pointed out that even babies know to do this when they wake up. But if we start each day with speed we are deaf to our bodies’ natural impulses and rhythms. This leads to deterioration in both our physical and mental health.
In this information age where speed is our new mantra and ever changing technologies hijack our attention it is easy to lose sight of ourselves. These technologies connect us increasingly to each other and the bigger world but they also separate us from our surroundings. We become less integrated because we are seldom here now. When this happens we don’t tune into our bodies. We don’t tune in to how we feel. We don’t process our experiences.
Don’t get me wrong I love my Android like the next person but we have to remember it is a tool. Like any good tool it has its uses but we have to make decisions about how we use it. Balance is the key. We are lead to believe that constant motion is productive while stillness is not. However, without stillness to moderate the speed we are unable to tune into our bodies and minds to monitor our health.
So back to stillness we must go. We can start the day by intentionally slowing down with a good long stretch when we wake up. Then we can do one task at a time for at least the first 15 minutes of each day. Then throughout the day we can periodically remind ourselves to sit up straight, do a little daydreaming and pay attention to our bodies while we eat our lunch. Tuning into ourselves by slowing down is essential to build strong minds and strong bones.
Fall, Stillness and the Immune System
The leaves are mostly yellow now. A crow caws and draws my attention away from my journaling. I had to wrap myself in three blankets. It is cold in the fall in the woods. It is closing weekend at our trailer. It is time to shut down our beloved get-away. It is a sad time because our woodland retreat provides such joy and pleasure. We all hate to say goodbye. We know it will be a long time before we can come back and play outside all day. Next spring seems a long way away.
What does our woodland retreat provide that is so important? Ah, that is the question but where do I start? Our home away from home provides us with a place to be still. This is a place where the body drives the activities and the mind gets a rest. The fresh air fills our lungs and slows our pace. Sleep comes easily when you have been outside all day. I call it being pummeled by nature. The sun, wind, air, rain, sky, water, trees set the agenda.
When we allow nature to set the agenda and we allow our minds to slow down our bodies slow down too. When our bodies slow down we are more in touch with how they feel. This attunement provides us with opportunity to listen. We can hear where we are holding ourselves too tightly. We can feel that stress in our shoulders. This feedback gives us an opportunity to remedy these problems before they become chronic.
Remedying these problems is essential as the seasons change and we need to prepare ourselves for the oncoming colder weather. Going into winter knowing our bodies more intimately allows us to do all we can to reduce our discomfort and boost our immune systems. We need to use all our resources productively to fight not only the colder weather but the stressors and seasonal illnesses that the come along at this time of year.
So what can we do if we haven’t been playing in the woods all summer? We can find the time to be still. Stillness is healing. We can take ourselves outside at any time of year and let our bodies drive our activities. A slow walk in the woods or the park can be very therapeutic. Sitting by a lake watching the waves can allow the mind to rest while the senses soak in the beauty. Looking up at the sky at night to search for shooting stars can be very calming. These activities provide the immune system with an opportunity to rebuild, repair and recharge.
One activity that I wish everyone would adopt to boost the immune system is daydreaming. If you can’t get outside you can always look out the window and daydream. Let your body be still while your mind wander off into some soothing place, not thinking about your to do list, not rushing to get to the next thing, just daydreaming. That activity that we were reprimanded for in public school is one of the best activities that we can do to boost our immune system. So just stair out the window or look off into space and allow yourself to daydream. If someone has the nerve to interrupt, just tell them you don’t have time to talk because you are far too busy boosting your immune system!
You can also sign up for the newsletter, Integrated Roots, on the The Kingston Integrated Healthcare website homepage to receive the monthly column written by Kaye-Lee, Simply Sublime Musings, as well as articles relating to physical, mental, and emotional health.
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