Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gifts That Can't Be Wrapped

If you're looking for gifts that touch the heart, consider one of the following variations of The Gift of Yourself:
  • The Gift of Time - Who do you know that would appreciate regular visits from you?
  • The Gift of Reading - A senior, a child, someone who is bed-ridden - reading is one of those things that unites and transports.
  • The Gift of Listening - On the phone or in person...turn off your cell phone, the television and the mind chatter and listen with your heART.
  • The Gift of Assistance - Who can you help? Perhaps something comes easily to you that your friend or family members find difficult?
  • The Gift of Acceptance - gifts, person, time, situation.
  • The Gift of Forgiveness – others and yourself. This includes letting go of guilt – an emotion that keeps you stuck.
When you give freely and without resentment, you also give to yourself. Your heart rhythms smoothen out, which means that the chemical composition is different....and that's good news!

A smooth rhythm sends signals to your brain indicating that all is calm, all is bright. (Okay, I had to insert that - it is Christmas, after all!) This means that the stress response is not activated. You benefit with better emotional, mental and physical health. Those positive changes also leave their mark on your loved ones and the planet. Why? Think about how you are when you feel good. Are you more magnanimous? Do you get more things done? Are you able to ignore the petty things?

When you are able to see your heart rhythms change in response to how you think and feel, how you think and feel becomes a very powerful agent of change.

Conrad Hake, a generous San Franciscan, pleasantly surprised me last year with a gift that touched my heart. You can see it here:
  • The Gift of Music - See how well he does with his piano playing!:)
From my home and heart to yours Merry Christmas! May you travel safely and be surrounded by moments (big and/or small) of love, peace and joy.

Image courtesy of Robson Talaveiras.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mirthful Monday - Like Lightning!

My friend's cousin volunteers at one of the branches of the Humane Society. She related this anecdote:

"So, I did my shift today at the Humane Society. They call those poor adoptees all sorts of weird names, so I didn't really think much about the name 'May Bolt'.

When I opened one cage, the crafty little cat shot out and hid underneath the kennels. Despite much cajoling on my part, and meowing on his, he refused to come out."

When the vet assistant came to help me out, she said, "Didn't you read the warning?"

"What warning?" I asked.


Image courtesy of  Sande Hamilton.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Jolly...Or Is It?

'Tis the season to be jolly, or is it?

For a child growing up in the home of an alcoholic, any holiday season is fraught with painful memories of years gone by, when the season was anything but joyous.

Even as an adult, living away from the situation, the alcoholic can still have a strong hold on how one perceives the holidays. For many years, I was unaware that just turning the calendar to “December” was enough of a trigger to cause my body to go through 1400 chemical reactions.

These reactions produce a host of side-effects which can leave you feeling anxious, worn out and unable to enjoy life. Their purpose is to prepare the body for flight or fight. Untransformed, they can impact your memory, decision-making and problem-solving skills. They are not to be taken lightly. Cortisol, “the stress hormone”, and one of the 1400 hormones that is secreted during times of stress,  is connected to a variety of serious illnesses , many of which do not show up for decades.

Merry-making is ramped up during this season of peace and joy, which makes it difficult for the alcoholic to avoid the drinks scene. Despite vowing to abstain or limit the alcohol intake, there is extreme pressure to consume. “Aww, c'mon, one drink won't hurt.” “It's the holidays. Live a little!” For someone who is addicted, it doesn't take much encouragement before they're raising a glass or the bottle.

This type of atmosphere is tough on everyone. It creates a state of hyper-vigilance or acute awareness, where one is always alert, wondering when the next big explosion will take place. One can cycle through a myriad of emotions:
  • Disappointment - “Not again.”  
  • Hope - “This year it will be different.”  
  • Anger - “Why can't this stop!”  
  • Blame - “If only I were prettier/smarter/better/more lovable....”
Living in an alcoholic home means that there is a lot of conditioning that takes place, often at a young age. The amygdala, a small gland in the brain that is responsible for emotional memory, vividly remembers the feelings associated with past events. In prehistoric times, it allowed you to learn that the sabre-toothed tiger was a threat to your life and that you had to beware or be eaten.

In an alcoholic home there is repeated exposure to fear-producing events, thus causing a strong association to things that remind you of that time. As you go through life, the amygdala continues to look for matches and when it finds something that is close enough, will prepare your body for the stress response – flight or fight. The trigger is often imperceptible – it could be the sound of someone's voice, ice in a glass, a certain expression on someone's face or the sight of a particular decoration. It could simply be the turn of a calendar page.

Unless you are aware that you are reacting to a trigger, you can experience a wide range of less-than-seasonal feelings which can include:
  • depression
  • regret
  • loneliness
  • anger
  • fear
For me, the awareness that my amygdala is looking for a match, of which the Christmas season means plenty, has made an impact upon my healing. Now that I know that a lot of the negative feelings are side-effects to the stress response, I can usually catch them in time and transform them with heart-activated feelings.

I know that the changing of the calendar no longer means "danger". I also know that the Christmas gatherings I now attend do not end in fights, nor does anyone end up in tears. I do not have to scan the faces of my loved ones to see what kind of mood they're in and how I should react in light of that mood.

This has been a process of learning and growing and one that I continue to use on a daily basis. It also helps to know that I can have an effect on my “internal pharmacy” by choosing my thoughts and emotions. When I choose to activate positive emotions, I know that I am changing my heart rhythms – the smoother the heart rhythms the better I feel. The better I feel, the better I do. When our mood changes for the better, all the little things that bothered us fall away and we live our lives in a way that is resourceful for us. We make wiser decisions and we are in a better position to share the gift that is ourself with others.

In an old pattern of thinking and feeling? Consider the fact that you've noticed what are you are doing and that you are looking to make some changes by replacing your old behaviours with new ones. That's a big step in itself and one that is worth appreciating and celebrating. Be patient and stick with it, the rewards are well worth the effort.

If you're interested in developing some emotional management skills, please send me an email.

Is there instance in your life where, now that you look back upon it, unbeknowst to you, the stress response was triggered?

Image courtesy of Carlos Aguiar.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mirthful Monday - What the Quack!

This is just too good not to post!

When things aren't as you typically expect them to be, there often is an element of surprise - and delight!

As a car was pulling out of the parking lot on Saturday, I saw what I thought was an orange beak peering out of the driver's side window. Sure enough, a second glance confirmed it.

What did I see? Something that brought a smile to my face. There, nestled alongside the driver and the car door, was a white duck! (Where is my camera when I need it?)

I can safely say that it's not every day that you see a duck going for a weekend drive! (I don't even want to think about the ramifications of having a duck wandering about one's car.)

Perhaps you can postulate a theory as to how this domestic duck came to be a passenger in that car?

Have you had an "I can't believe I just saw that!" moment?

Image courtesy of deFig.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Yet Another Ten Sneaky Little Health and Well-Being Tips

  1. Watching television? Use the commercial break as an exercise break. Do a few sit-ups, leg raises or stretches.

  2. Thinking about going swimming, for a walk or to the gym?  Don't. Just gather the things you need and go. Too much time spent in thought often leads to not! Paralysis by analysis.

  3. Keep some healthy snacks in your car. If you are delayed and your blood sugars take a dip, you're far less likely to hit the nearest drive-through window if you have some options in the car.

  4. Read food labels. If you can't pronounce it, restrict your intake of it; it's usually a manufactured food. (Sounds like an oxymoron to me!)

  5. What are your food rules? If you make some simple ones, you'll find it's easier to stick with them when the going gets tough. For example, you may wish to have a dessert day where you can eat any dessert you'd like or no eating after dinner.

  6. Sunglasses. I don't wear my sunglasses at night! But, I do wear them in rain, sleet and sun. Not only do they prevent UVA and UVB damage, but they also provide invaluable eye crinkle wrinkle control.

  7. Laptop not! There is conflicting research as to the safety of having a laptop on your lap. I prefer to err on the side of caution and work with the laptop as far away from sensitive organs as possible.

  8. Are you in bed, cosying up to a nice, hot.........computer, cell phone or other electronic device? Make the bedroom an electronics-free zone. Sleep cycles are interrupted by the allure of checking your email one more time before bed or the buzzing of an incoming text message. Each time you respond you are forging new neural pathways, entrenching a habit, that may seem innocent enough in the beginning. Set up some rules about who is the boss of the electronics. Hint: It's you, not the electronics!

  9. Too much retail therapy leading to buyer's remorse (stress)? Create a time-out zone for your new purchases. Place them in a special spot and wait it out. After a few days, you may find that you aren't really in love with that bejewelled sweater or that you don't need those blue suede shoes, after all.

  10. Practise stress transformation as you go about your day. How do you stop the cascade of 1400 chemicals that are released during stressful times until you can get to the spa, the gym or the bathtub? Learn techniques that you can apply right when you need them.
Related Posts:  
    Image courtesy of Vangelis Thomaidis.

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Heart of Gold Leads to Second-Chance "Tails"

    I am fortunate to be surrounded by many talented and intelligent friends. Friends who are kind, caring and possess a keen sense of humour, like my friend Cindy. I briefly introduced you to her before - she's the one with a heart of gold who painted that timely picture of Murphy.

    Cindy and her good-natured dog, Kone, are often seen padding through the the hospital and care homes in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Their regular visits help to ease the stress (negative thoughts and emotions) of patients, residents and staff. This Halloween, Cindy (bee-keeper) and Kone (bee) buzzed through the hallways, positively pollinating the day with laughter and good cheer.

    When Cindy retired as a principal, she also began volunteering at Thunder Bay Animal Services.

    Concerned that a number of cats were being euthanised, she took some of them home to provide them with care and comfort ... many began to thrive. Realising that there was a gap in services, Cindy and a small group of dedicated volunteers formed Kitty Kare, a non-profit cat rescue group in partnership with the City of Thunder Bay. Their mission is to foster and adopt out rescued cats/kittens; educate the public on the need to spay/neuter pets; promote responsible pet ownership and prevent animal cruelty.

    I urge you to sign up for their newsletter. It documents the work of Kitty Kare and the stories of the rescues, as well as the on-going work of the group. Through the dedication of Kitty Kare volunteers, these cats go from alarming to amazing. Happily, with proper care - nutrition, medical attention, shelter and love, many of these "fur babies", as Cindy calls them, go on to bring joy to the families who adopt them.

    As you read these "tails", you'll soon come to the conclusion that Cindy and her colleagues have a great gift for bestowing names on these "second-chance" cats and kittens. There's Angelina, the big-lipped kitten, Cory (Ten Boon), named after the survivor of the prison camps. I'm sure that Mama Cass needs no explanation.

    There is a special bond that forms between the pet and rescuer - one that I've been fortunate to experience with our adoptees. Making room in your home and heart for a pet that someone else has discarded is good for the heart and soul. It is a wonderful stress undresser, provided you approach it with the right attitude. (Overcare can lead to burnout and produces stress.)

    For $8.00, excluding shipping, you can support Kitty Kare by purchasing About Mandu, the story of Cindy's first feline rescue.

    “About Mandu” is a love story leavened with gentle humour. It begins with someone who thinks she's incompatible with a cat, then feels the spark of attraction, falls in love, and encounters  a variety of complications.  This true story explores their deepening bond, the struggle to cope with life-threatening illness and the support she receives from friends, family and professionals in both veterinary and alternative animal care.  As with many classic love stories, the ending is bittersweet. ~ Bobbi Florio Graham, International Award Winning author

    To order your copy, please email Kitty Kare.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Death of Desire - Breath of Acceptance

    When you live with a chronic debilitating disease, you often find yourself at a crossroads.

    The desire to do so much - the desertion of your body to carry that through.

    It can be frustrating, even downright infuriating. It's a great lesson in acceptance - one that I struggle with, at times.

    My house isn't as neat and tidy as I'd prefer. I'm not playing in the dirt, as Your Garden Nanny, would say. Nor am I currently swimming, walking or dancing through life with grace...more like moving mechanically and jerkily like a poor prototype of a robot.

    Who knows why the body turns on itself? An over-protective immune system with a wonky on/off switch that wreaks havoc with joints, muscles, ligaments, organs and life.

    This fall has been a trial. I've thrown everything I've had at this bugger of a disease, to seemingly, very little avail.

    Sometimes you're on the crest of the wave, other times in the trough. So goes life.

    At the very least, I'm able to stay afloat while in the trough. A part of me knows that this will pass, the inflammation will settle down and I can get back to a more regular lifestyle. In the meantime, I know to take extra care - to treat myself well.

    Things happen over which we have no control. However, we do have control over how we react to those things that come our way. At times, it is very easy (perhaps too easy?), to just let go and sink below the surface. With stress techniques, I'm able to use them and take a breath, then another one and another.

    Related Post - Climate Control - My Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Image courtesy of Michelle Dennis.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Six Signs That You May Be Tweeting Too Much

    1. You say "LOL!", instead of laughing aloud.
    2. Before engaging with someone, you want to know their bio.
    3. You're dropping parts of the sentence or question, all the time. "Do you want..." becomes "Want...".
    4. Whenever you type an email, it is filled with abbreviations: @ for at; w/ for with; 2 for to, too; u for you; urself - yourself; abt - about; and on it goes
    5. You say "Retweet," when you ask someone for a second time to do something.
    6. "Call me," is replaced by "DM" me.
    What have you noticed as a result of your tweeting habits?

    Image courtesy of Jade Gordon.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Groovin' to the Music of Your Life - Undress Your Stress!

    I have been practising these stress techniques that I teach for almost four years. From time to time, I revert back to my old ways of doing things, despite knowing better. What this tells me is that the journey that is our life is a process.

    Sometimes, you dance merrily along, easily keeping time to the music that accompanies your life. Other times, you find that the music doesn't please you, or you've that you've lost the beat. Perhaps the band decided to take a break? You may even discover that you are partner-less on the side of the dance floor.

    How do you get your groove back?

    By paying attention to how you are feeling. When you notice that you are engaging in non-resourceful thoughts and emotions, have techniques on hand to:
    1. stop the cascade of 1400 chemicals
    2. add deeper techniques that move you into feelings that transform your stress.

    I notice the old patterns creeping in when I move out of my heart. That's not surprising, as the heart is the organ that pulls the other systems into synchrony. When your system works in synchrony, it works more efficiently and burns less energy, which leaves more for you to do the things you want to do. Think of the heart as a conductor that keeps the rest of the orchestra in time and on tune.

    When you engage in positive heart-felt emotions, you will be back on the dance floor, swaying to the music.

    How does that feel?

    Photo courtesy of Asif Akbar.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Add Elegance - Use Heart Power

    Your brain can mess you up.

    Don't believe it? Do any of the following apply to you?
    • Worrying endlessly about something to the point that you lose sleep? 
    • Trying so hard that you fail miserably. 
    • Knowing the right thing to do, yet you do the worst thing you could do.
    • Beating yourself up over ________.
    The brain is a marvelous thing. I wouldn't want to be without one. However, like all good things, it can run amok.

    One of the best ways to get back on course is to add elegance to your brain function.

    The heart is the way to go. Did you know that when you are stressed you are using different neural pathways than when you aren't? By using the power of your heart as a catalyst, you engage the prefrontal cortex, as opposed to activating your survival mechanisms - flight or fight.

    The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the expression of personality, moderating social behaviour like choosing what is appropriate to say, predicting future events and decision-making. In the words of your kindergarten teacher, it's part of your "thinking cap".

    Open the door to your heart and activate some genuine heart-felt feelings with some simple to use techniques. Then, marvel at how easily and elegantly your "thinking cap" works!

    To ponder:
    • When do you do your best work? 
    • How are you feeling? 
    • Have you noticed stress getting in the way of your ability to make sound decisions?
    Image courtesy of Artem Chernyshevych.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Climate Control - My Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis

    I have rheumatoid arthritis. And I’ve had it for far longer than I've not had it.

    A recent full-blown flare-up reminded me how fortunate I am not to have experienced one of this magnitude since I began practising stress transformation techniques.

    To help you understand what someone goes through when they live with the pain and deformity of rheumatoid arthritis, I've created some simulations for you to imagine:
    • Tightly wind some elastics around your fingers. Then, put some heavy winter mittens on your hands. Now, open a carton of milk, unscrew a jar or unlock the door.
    • Place some marbles in your shoes. Put your shoes on. Go for a walk.
    • Bend your knees. Apply duct tape vertically along the front and back of your knees. Now straighten them.
    How was that?

    Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissue. The disease is characterised by inflammation - hot, stiff, swollen and painful joints. As the disease progresses, it affects the synovial lining of the joints, erodes bones, and can damage ligaments, tendons, cartilage, joint capsules and organs.

    Oh yeah, and energy. It can suck the life out of you. Everyday living tasks not only hurt, but are also next to impossible to do. (Even when the disease isn't active (flaring), the damage the disease inflicts echoes on...dislocated fingers mean that opening bottles without an aid can be next to impossible. Slipping your credit card into the slot at the pay station is a struggle. Low seats or benches, although inviting, mean that getting up off them will require fortitude.) If you take these things for granted, stop and appreciate how well your body works; regular heart-felt breaths of appreciation are an excellent antidote to stress.

    The pain of rheumatoid arthritis varies and can include, but is not limited to, some of the following descriptions: throbbing, aching, sharp or dull pain, grabbing or nagging. That is the querulous nature of the disease. When I first moved to British Columbia people often said, “Wait five minutes and the weather will change.” Somewhat like rheumatoid arthritis. An hour can see a change, either for the better or the worse.

    Since I've learned about stress and work daily on transforming it, my flare-ups are further and fewer between. I am much better at pain-management, which frees up my energy.

    The constant activation of the stress response wears out the nervous system, which wears you out. Think of it as stepping on the brake and gas of your car at the same time. Not good for the car. Not good for you.

    If only I had known about these techniques thirty-three years ago, I may not have had to go through as much pain, joint and bone damage and surgeries. But, it is what it is. Perhaps I was not yet ready to learn and practise these on-going in-the-moment techniques? As in stress transformation, you start where you are.

    One of the most challenging aspects of living with this disease has been to learn to maintain joint function by protecting the joints from undue stress and strain. I enjoy getting things done and it can be frustrating knowing that engaging in the activities of everyday living can contribute to the further destruction of delicate and damaged joints. Similar to what I teach my clients when they are learning to transform their stress, it is about balance. How much can I do? How often? How heavy? With what assistance? What to let go?

    If you live with a chronic condition and feel like you're being blown about in a storm of uncertainty and are ready to take some control over your "internal pharmacy", please consider learning some stress transformation techniques.

    The way you think and feel is important for your "inner climate", which in turn, affects your "outer climate". Adjust your climate control.

    Read on for a sneak preview of “Thirty-Three Years, Ninety-One Tips – Getting Things Done with Rheumatoid Arthritis”.

    Around the House
    # 7. Sleep with a pillow between your knees. If you have longer legs, opt for a king-sized pillow.

    In the Kitchen
    # 3. Large containers, such as two litre cartons of milk are hard and heavy to hold. Decant them into smaller jars or pitchers.

    In the Car
    #14. When you are shopping for a new car, create a wish list. I had a check-list that I would take with me when I visited each of the dealerships. That way I would be sure to make the best purchase possible.

    Out and About
    #1. Keep a surgical glove in your purse – great leverage for opening things.

    Everyday Living
    #29. Transform your stress. Negative thoughts and emotions create a very different chemical cascade than do positive ones. The flight or fight response is designed to help you deal with a life-threatening situation. Become aware of how you are thinking and feeling. Get knowledgeable about what stress is and what you can do about it. Practise, practise, practise new life-enhancing behaviours.

    For the rest of the ninety-one tips, please pre-order my forth-coming e-booklet "Thirty-Three Years, Ninety-One Tips – Getting Things Done When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis". Now only $6.99.
    Please click here to place your name on the list.

    Image courtesy of  Eva Schuster.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Time Thievery

    Twenty-four hours. That's it. No more, no less.

    How do you spend your days? Are you jumping out of bed, stretching, reaching for whatever the day brings? Do you feel like you are in a marathon, last person in the group, never quite crossing the finish line? Or are you buried alive under a casket weighted with deadlines, lists and obligations?

    It is not my job to advise you on how to spend your days. However, I can help you to bring some awareness to how and where your time is leaking and some skills to arrest the "thief".

    If you are thinking and feeling frustrated, worried and fearful about the erosion of your time, you are creating stress - a cascade of 1400 chemicals that distract you from using your time wisely.

    The "auntie"-dote: Learn some techniques that help to balance your nervous system, so you'll be using those twenty-four hours wisely.

    Image courtesy of Chris Gilbert.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Not the Same Gal

    During a disagreement, a friend's husband complained that she was not the same woman he married.

    "Well, I hope not!" was her speedy response.

    I believe that  we are here to learn, change and grow. Her pithy comment shows that some change has taken place.

    As a friend, I can say that this change has been for the better. Way to go, H!

    As we gain new information and delve deeper into the depths of our soul, we grow. We throw away thoughts and behaviours that no longer suit us and enjoy the better fit of our new way of be-ing. Or not. Some people are not ready to change their "wardrope".

    As I continue to do this stress work, I notice changes within myself that I like a great deal. They haven't always been easy, but they are worth it!

    In which ways have you changed for the better?

    Thanks to Zsuzsanna Kilian for the image.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Remembering Murphy

    The timing never seemed right - until now.

    Last year, on August 31st, while enjoying our daily dog walk, Murphy fell. At first, I thought that he had injured his hip. Later, I noticed a lump about the size of a walnut in the area of his back hock (close to the knee). Diagnosis was swift. Cancer.

    Our veterinarian advised against chemotherapy and amputation. She felt that it would be too hard on all concerned; the amount of time that would be bought wouldn't be worth the cost. Neither emotionally nor financially.

    We knew that the end was inevitable. Just when?

    I knew my dog. I trusted that he would "tell" me when it was time to say good-bye. In fact, I asked him to let me know when he was ready to go.

    It was a beautiful September, and I was fortunate enough to be able to sit outside and work while he luxuriated in the sun. Many tears were shed during that month. Murphy was a rescue and we had a special bond, forged by the fact that I was the person who drove him away from the noise and chaos of the animal shelter.

    As September marched on, it was apparent that Murphy still wanted to remain in this world, despite the rapid growth of the tumour. His appetite was as good as ever. He was interested in us and what went on around the house; even barking when someone came to the door. He looked forward to his walks.

    On the morning of October 6th, he finally let me know. He slowly made his way to the tree in our backyard and curled up underneath. I had been paying attention, looking for him to tell me. I then knew that it was time.

    For those who have not gone through the experience of euthanising a much-loved pet, it is many things: kind, cruel, heart-breaking. It can also be one filled with judgement.

    I heard and felt disapproval from a few people. "You need to put him down, now." "Tsk! Tsk!" The looks.

    The thing that some people didn't seem to understand is that I knew my dog. I trusted that he would let me know when it was time. And, he did. It wasn't for anyone else to judge. It was between us.

    Often, when decisions need to be made, it is easy to judge the person because they are not doing it as you would do it.

    Before passing judgement, I suggest the following:
    • stop
    • ask open-ended questions 
    • trust that the person is doing the right thing at the right time with the right amount of information.
    It may not seem that way to you. However, I stand firmly by my decision. It was the right thing to do at the right time.

    If you find yourself in similar circumstances, I recommend:
    • considering the opinion of a veterinarian you trust
    • using stress transformation techniques, so that you and your pet will be as comfortable as possible, given the situation
    • listen to your heart and your pet - trust you will know when the time is right (stress transformation techniques will help in this regard).
    Murphy will always have a place in my heart. Fortunately, he also has a place on our living room wall. Shortly after we adopted Murphy, my friend surprised me with the painting you see at the top of this post. (If you are interested, Cyndi is taking orders for pet portraits. Please email her directly.)

    I prefer to remember him, as you see him in this video, below. Full of life. This was the first time that we had taken him to the beach. As you can see, he didn't quite know what to do with the waves!


    Related posts:

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Ten More Sneaky Little Health and Well-Being Tricks

    1. Cultivate the habit of an after-dinner walk with your family. It doesn't have to be long - 10 to 15 minutes to walk, talk and connect.

    2. If you have a commute, use the time to learn something new. Pick a subject you've always been interested in, but haven't had the time to explore.

    3. When you have a chronic illness, there's a good chance you spend a lot of time waiting for medical appointments. Lose yourself in a book; it makes the time go by faster, plus the foot-tapping and sighing triggers the stress response.

    4. Sliced bread isn't what it used to be. Do you remember when there were more slices of bread per loaf because each slice was narrower? Thicker slices are good for the bakery; you go through a loaf of bread much faster. If you are watching what you eat, you are getting double the bread you once did.

    5. If you are watching your waist, avoid wearing gym pants, unless you're working out. The give of the fabric allows you to forget that you may have been indulging.

    6. Learn to forgive...for your own health and well-being.

    7. Sleeping with a pillow between the knees will help alleviate strain on your back. (If you have longer legs, use a king-sized pillow.)

    8. Sleep is invaluable. You know how much you need in order to feel good the next day. Poor sleep quality is related to stress. If you have a chronic disease and it is active, you'll need to give yourself extra time to rest.

    9. Trying to break a bad habit? Remember that you'll need to replace it with another behaviour. For example, instead of eating, try getting up to clean or going for a walk. Do something physical and you'll have an added benefit.

    10. Stress impacts safety. When your mind is occupied by what is stressing you, you may not be as careful as you would normally be. This includes the kitchen, the highway and at work.
    Related Post: Ten Sneaky Little Health and Well-being Tricks

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Kindness: The Bog Fire

    In September of 2005, a fire ignited in Burn's Bog, a large nature preserve which is dubbed the lungs of the Lower Mainland.

    A bog fire can be tricky to fight, as the crew is concerned with what is above-ground and highly visible, and that which is voraciously burning underground.

    Kindness can be compared to a bog fire. The "above-ground", which you readily see, hear and feel, if you're paying attention.

    But, kindness is also "underground", or more aptly, "inside". The donor is fueled with the fire of life when an act of kindness is performed with an open-heart. The benefits are measurable in a change in heart rhythms, if the person has taken the time to learn what this means and what it feels like. It is a conscious choice, which needs to be practised. But, it doesn't require a lot of time and can be done in any situation. (Some of the places that I've practised these techniques include the operating table, traffic and before a presentation.)

    In stress coaching, you'll learn to see and feel the difference between jagged heart rhythms (stress) and the smooth ones.

    Image courtesy of Jan K.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Wash that Stress Right out of Your Hair

    As I was shampooing my hair in the hot shower this morning, a powerful memory washed over me.

    Growing up on a farm was hard work; there was always something to be done. It was a rare treat, when on a Sunday afternoon, or an odd evening off, my parents would load us into the car and we would head out to one the many fine bodies of water that surround my home town. Lakes, rivers, streams and waterfalls; there are plenty to choose from in the Thunder Bay, Ontario region.

    The memory that came alive was going to what we called "Little Falls". It wasn't even a waterfall, just a series of miniscule rapids, or washboarding, underneath which you could sit and get cooled off. It was also quite entertaining to search for crayfish and tadpoles in the squelchy, moss-lined pools.

    Recalling the excitement - yes, it was a big deal playing hooky from the farm - instantly changed my heart rhythms, so that the two branches of my nervous system were operating in an orderly fashion. (The more often you are able to do this, the better it is for your health and well-being.)

    When you start paying attention to how you feel in a variety circumstances, it becomes obvious what brings your heart (and body) into a more coherent state.

    Hair needs constant attention, just like stress transformation. The great news is that you don't need huge pockets of time to bring your system into balance.

    Recognising those moments that bring you into balance is something you can train yourself to do. Please click for more information.

    Image courtesy of Maria Amelia Paiva.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    A Room That Means Living

    On a recent trip to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, in Washington state, we had the great pleasure of having dinner at Cameron's Living Room Dining.

    And, it truly is like dining in someone's well-loved living room - the kind where love, laughter and life abound! It is definitely not one of those "shrouded in plastic" living rooms, nor dining rooms, for that matter.

    It is the type of place that exudes warmth; from the moment you're greeted at the door, until you cross the threshold to go out into the cool Pacific Ocean-kissed air.

    The decor is a mix of old and new and includes many fine objets d'art to keep the conversation flowing, should you find yourself suspended in a conversational dead-zone, which, I think is unlikely to occur, mainly because Cameron and his business partner, chef David Burdette have created a fine dining experience that pulses with good energy.

    How do I know this? Simple. It's in the way I feel. Also, by watching and listening to the other patrons. You can tell that they feel it, too.

    Lively conversation and banter seem to be an invisible menu items here, not only at each individual table, but also between tables.

    If you're in for a quieter meal, that can also be accommodated in one of the more private nooks that are available.

    It was a treat to be jointly-waited on by Cameron, the proprietor who loves what he does - it shows - and the lovely and attentive, Erica. (Anyone who doesn't need to be asked to refill my water glass receives high-points from me!)

    Ah, the food! This is food, that is locally-sourced and prepared with respect and love, which you can taste. (If you have any doubt about this, notice that when you are in a negative mood, the food you prepare often reflects that.)

    I enjoyed halibut, which was that evening's Chef's Special - so fresh, I'm sure that it swam into the kitchen!

    Cameron insisted that we try the White Chocolate Banana Rum Tart, which my husband and I shared. This recipe was featured in Bon Appetit magazine, so I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions!

    The portions are hefty and will leave you well-satiated. I recommend an after-dinner stroll to aid digestion and to enjoy the murals in Anacortes.

    If you do go, please be sure to tell them that Auntie Stress sent you. (Why not go on a spontaneous road-trip? It'll do you good to seize the moment and do something out-of-the-ordinary - forge new neural pathways! It's only a short drive from the Peace Arch border crossing.)

    Watch for the launch of Cameron's To Go: Creperie and Catering, located at 704 Commercial Ave., Anacortes, Fidalgo Island, Washington.

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Is Your Heart Wrapped-Up Like Baba's Floral Couch?

    I won't ever forget Baba and Dido's floral couch...carefully and lovingly wrapped in plastic. This was a prized possession and it needed to be protected.

    My grand-parents immigrated to Canada in the 1920's with very few possessions. When they were finally able to save up enough money to purchase big ticket items (a couch being one of them), they did their utmost to ensure that it would last. What better way to protect the couch than to shroud it in a strong sheet of plastic?

    But isn't furniture meant to be used? That means enjoying it and taking a risk that it may get stained.

    How many of you have taken to wrapping your heart up in an effort to protect it? You may have been hurt before. You may not wish to go through that experience again. Although it may not be wrapped in plastic, it may as well be. Your heart (and you) begin to suffer. The stress of living in this fear-protection-based mode deprives you of the joys of life.

    In an effort to keep yourself safe, you are, inadvertently, keeping out the good things that come your way. Fears may prevent you from seizing opportunities.

    Imagine if you were shrouded in plastic, just like that floral couch. You would experience constriction and an inability to breathe caused by a lack of oxygen. Not dissimilar from the some of the side-effects of stress.

    One of the amazing things that occurs when you begin to practise heart-based stress techniques is that the "plastic" seems to melt away. Some of your long-standing issues, are no longer issues.

    Are you ready to strip away the protective plastic sheeting?

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Just Peachy!

    Firm. Well-rounded. Tinged with a rosy blush of colour. They looked like the perfect peaches, so I purchased a pound.

    WYSInotalwaysWYG! (What you see is not always what you get!)

    One bite of what I thought was going to be a delectable peach certainly proved that statement to be true. These peaches were far from "just peachy"!

    People can sometimes be like that, too. A perfect "outside" can mask the pain and stress swirling around "inside".

    In an effort to make themselves feel better, their closets may be over-flowing, the make-up drawers bulging, the charge card bills growing and the bank account dwindling. (And, stress increasing.)

    In an effort to assuage the "inside" hurt, they spend more and more on beauty products, services and clothing. It may help...for a short while. They look great, but the "outside" doesn't really address the deeper hurt. It may be that they don't feel like they are enough. Or perhaps all the shopping and spa'ing serves as a distraction...one that keeps them from looking at what is really going on beneath the beauty?

    Self-care is important for health and well-being. It's fun to go to the spa or to get a few new items for the up-coming season. When one looks good, they generally feel more confident, but that feeling may soon be replaced by those other feelings - the ones that were hidden by the make-up and the fine clothes, that bubble up when the lights (of the make-up mirror) are turned off.

    (A good example of the outside not matching the inside is when people have gastric bypass surgery and go on to develop another addiction after losing all the weight.)

    Just as in life, there is a balance to beauty.

    Did you know that stress ages? It also skews your balance. What might have once been moderate beauty and self-care rituals (spa, clothing, make-up, exercise, etc.) can cross into obsession or addiction.

    Stress coaching can help. Learn how to hear and answer the call of your heart. Work from the inside and change the chemical cascade and improve how you feel - emotionally, mentally and physically.

    Then, when you look in the mirror, you'll see the sparkle in your eyes, your glowing skin and you'll know that your inside is as peachy as the outside.

    Image courtesy of Linda DuBose.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Witching To Ease the Pain

    One year, the well on our farm dried up. My dad decided to call in a dowser.

    I remember following this man with his forked stick as he walked in ever-increasing circles around our house, divining for water. I was amazed that the twitching of his stick indicated where to find an underground river that kept the house well-supplied with water.

    I sometimes feel like I'm a modern-day dowser - not for water but for spotting people who are in pain, especially when they're at work.

    Today, I was in a large Canadian-owned store and was surprised to see that the cashier had a stool. I remarked how progressive it was that she was allowed to sit at the till. She quietly confided that it wasn't without a fight. Apparently, her manager is not in agreement with this; but thanks to a note from a surgeon, she was the only cashier who was allowed a stool.

    Standing in one position is very hard - not only for the feet, but the knees, hips and back. It is far easier to move or walk than to remain stationary, especially if you have mobility issues.

    There is a movement afoot (pun slightly intended!) to increase inclusivity of people with disabilities. However, there is still a perception that cashiers must stand to do their work. I find this out-dated and restrictive.

    This past year, a number of news anchors have had their chairs removed. I don't see why they need to stand in order to deliver the news? 

    How many people suffer by having to stand in place for hours during their work shift? This takes a toll on the body - it creates stress and pain. It also exacerbates the situation.

    What is your opinion? Have you had a similar experience?

    For the curious, here is more information on dowsing.

    Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    From Black and White to a Colourful Symphony of Sound

    "I'm always looking for the next note I'm gonna hit and right or wrong, I'm heading for the next song - as in life, " tweeted Chris in a DM (direct message).

    So sums up Chris' enthusiasm for the grand adventure that is life. His love of  music has provided him with an incredible propensity for resilience, which he uses in his business, emusicmotion.com, providing customized music for whatever your needs may be.

    Chris kindly answered some of my questions:

    When did you know you were going to be a musician? Who/what inspired you?

    "I became musically aware at a young age. I was only five when Peter, my nine-year-old brother, died from hemophilia. My only memory of him was when he played the piano in the dining room. That memory left and indelible musical mark on my childhood. I remember climbing up on that piano bench and rolling my finger joints over the black keys. I always hit the same keys in the same way, with the same rudimentary results. My dad got the idea that I was interested in music at that tender, young age.

    My father used to rock out on his accordion every night. I remember him for that - his fire and exhilaration, whenever he was on that thing - he was like the rock star in the family. He was also a stereo enthusiast and I still remember the day we went to the stereo shop and picked up a turntable with speakers. From then on, I was exposed to everything in his record collection: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles...

    I also recall listening to Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence over and over again. Perhaps a metaphysical correlation to the fact that my mother is completely deaf? She knows what silence sounds like, and although she has never heard my music, she feels it with her hands and feet. To this day, she tirelessly supports my musical inclinations."

    [Chris' mother also senses the joy that Chris exudes whenever he is playing music.

    When you engage in activities you love, your "Internal Pharmacy" releases a very different set of chemicals. Positive thoughts and emotions have an impact on how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically. Learning to implement them is a powerful stress undresser.] 

    I began piano lessons when I was eight. As a pre-teen, I was a big fan of Captain and Tennille. Watching Daryl Dragon (The Captain) man the helm of that giant stack of keyboards and synthesizers showed me the possibilities of those black and white keys. I remember being glued to the television, in awe of Dragon's musical abilities and versatility.

    In 1976, I used the piano and started to decipher my favorite songs, note for note, beginning with Pablo Cruise's Zero to Sixty in Five. Three years of piano lessons gave me the basic theory. With the power of Album Oriented Rock, I discovered a manic love for music. I found myself immersed in the sounds of the keyboardists of that day, such as Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Kerry Livgren of Kansas, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Billy Joel and Jan Hammer (Miami Vice theme).

    Jazz violinist, Jean-Luc Ponty, influenced me, as well. His pioneering of Jazz fusion and sound effects led me to explore other modes of musical expression with keyboards and synthesizer.

    In the 80's, I became interested in the modernistic, arpeggiated sounds of Michael W. Smith and the soft, introspective colors of Michael Omartian. Ironically, I was head-over-heels in love with the rock group Rush and attended every concert I could. At that time, I was newly-married and had just joined the Service. I could not afford keyboards, so I just found places to play, such as recreational facilities that had pianos. 

    I finally managed to hustle my first keyboard sequencer, the Korg 01-W Pro-X Music Workstation - basically, it was a keyboard that could imitate other instruments and record tracks within the keyboard. My first crude recordings were created."

    In the late 80's and early 90's, Chris was residing in Washington State, an "inspiring and romantic place, especially during the winter". He took an interest in the New Age Movement and found himself shifting towards a "deeper and more feeling kind of music".

    "Then a nightmarish divorce came about, in which I ended up living a nomadic, surreal life between '93 and '98. I consider this time to be the most crucial aspect of my inspiration - desperation in the midst of nowhere, with nothing to hold onto. I traveled across the mainland via car. I'd been driving from Arizona to New Mexico for fourteen hours at night, with what must have been thirteen cups of coffee. All I could see ahead of me was the roadway, illuminated by my headlights. Around five in the morning, I took a winding road into a desert valley.

    The highway stretched thirty miles across a colossal bowl of desert terrain. In the twilight hours I could only see gray-scaled shadows of images of the road ahead. Then, the morning sun appeared, peeking over the valley. As it climbed above the horizon, the sunlight poured into the valley, colorizing everything it illuminated. Like a good omen, this was telling me there was hope ahead, in faith in the unknown. I remember being ecstatic for the rest of the day.

    Which leads to the present. Somewhere between then and now, the music came gushing out and it's still a ketchup bottle with lots of ketchup left waiting to be shaken."

    When and where do you feel most inspired? 

    "A sunrise or a sunset is meditative. To paint a picture of them musically is like spreading jam on toast. Mental imagery leads to inspiration; as long as you listen to it."

    Chris' senses are finely-attuned to the world around him. He uses what he loves to create his music, which in turn allows him to create more music. Those black and white keys help to inspire and colour the lives of others, in ways of which he may not even be aware.

    Helen Keller once said, "The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."

    Chris' audiences are fortunate. He takes what he feels in his heart and turns it into a beautiful symphony of sound...something they can feel in their hearts, through their ears.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Ten Sneaky Little Health and Well-Being Tricks

    1. You know that slowing down to eat allows time for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full. A good way to slow down is to ditch the fork and eat with chopsticks.

    2. Long line at the store? Use this time to do some Kegel exercises, stretches and leg lifts. These are a few examples of exercises that aren't overly obvious.

    3. You can easily reduce the salt in a recipe when it calls for cheese.

    4. Long ago, I realised that a sandwich didn't need butter. Condiments like mustard or mayonnaise over-ride that buttery taste. So, why add extra fat? If you're having toast and jam, leave it to toast and jam.

    5. Are you an impulse-shopper? Rather than getting angry at the long line-up. Use the time to reconsider your purchase. Do you really need that bag of chips or litre of ice-cream? Look at the line-up as the universe's way of helping you stick to your budget or diet!

    6. A sure-fire way to ensure you get a walk or three in every day is to get a dog. They need to go regardless of whether or not you feel like it.

    7. Struggling to fall asleep in the heat? Tuck an ice-pack or three into your pillow-case. You'll cool off surprisingly quickly and soon you'll be dreaming of swimming with the fish!

    8. Always carry a healthy snack with you. For me, it's some fruit and a few nuts.

    9. Are you getting enough water? If you don't like water, start by increasing the amount you drink by half a cup each day.

    10. Red lights. A perfect time to check in on how you are breathing and feeling and make a positive shift. Learn how here.

    Related Post: Ten Suggestions for Undressing Your Stress

    Image courtesy of Vjeran Lisjak.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Access Your Power

    "Auntie, please come play Mario Kart Wii with me?" asked my niece.

    How could I refuse that enthusiastic request?

    As I was "driving" around the track - I want it put on the record that I don't drive like that in real life! - she continued to encourage me. "Access your power, Auntie! Access your power!" (For those uninitiated, one is able to do just that - access their power - when a particular feature of the game pops up.)

    Since then, I've been thinking about how we choose and don't choose to access our own power.

    Our power centre is the heart. Both literally and figuratively. It keeps us alive and it serves as our guide. When we listen to what is in our heart, we are able to do better.

    The heart is the strongest organ in the body and it can work independently outside of the body. It has a powerful electromagnetic field, which sends information to each and every cell. It also conveys information to those around us. You know when someone is open-hearted, don't you?

    Start paying attention and notice when you immediately feel comfortable with someone - what is their emotional state like? That's heart energy at work.

    As I continue to practise stress techniques, I am better-able to access my power - it is pure, energy-efficient and driven by the heart.

    How and when are you accessing your own power?

    Image courtesy of Abdulaziz Almansour.