My Fat Story – the unplugged version

fat-ice-creamIt has to be told. Being overweight was just a given since I was a child. Growing up with 4 brothers and their appetites combined with the processed food boom of the 60′s provided the backdrop for my growing body and mindset about myself. My body/mind seemed in sync until I “went to school”. Floating back to kindergarten I remember my first brushes with self awareness of the comparing type. I was bigger and my dresses were snug around my body. The blue and red plaid of the dress as I stood, my hands holding onto the edge of the skirt; a solemn look on my face. This was my first day. I don’t think I have a smiling picture from that year and I’ve always wondered why. I remember the musical instruments, the triangle, the tamborine and some type of blocks with sand paper…they made a cool hissing sound. Playing music sticks with me but not the singing. My music voice was quiet. My memories come in glimpses and hazy perceptions. I “feel” the past more than see it. My sense of keen observation and desire to fit in and the hopes and dreams of the magic of life were there. My bedroom at that time was at the top of the stairs of an old house, the parsonage house next to the Methodist church in Williston, ND. Continue reading

Tracing Transitions

transition-church“We are facing another summer of transitions.” So says the latest newsletter of the United Congregational Church in Moorhead, MN. The writer referred to the year of transitions after the pastor moved away to CA last June. In September, an interim pastor came on board. After a successful 9 months, she too, left this rather small but feisty and lively congregation. On a recent Sunday, we (I’m not an official member but that’s ok with them) the “new” pastor came from San Jose, CA to give her first sermon. Following this service, the congregation met to affirm and confirm as they say so that she is good to go in Sept. There were a few Sundays to find fill in speakers for the weekly message before Sept came. I remember the polite request from Pastor Zoe, our interim pastor in early June. Historically, I am not a big volunteer person so changes in the usual”nice for somebody else but not interested” response was strange. Thoughts tumbled in from all parts of my brain…thoughts like “I wonder if I could do this” “Dad and I together – how creative would that be? I wonder if he would want to. Me, get up and give a sermon? Well, I sung in the choir this year for the first time. Why not just go for it? Continue reading

Tracing Transitions

“We are facing another summer of transitions.” So says the latest newsletter of the United Congregational Church in Moorhead, MN.  The writer referred to the year of transitions after the pastor moved away  to CA last June.  In September, an interim pastor came on board.  After a successful 9 months, she too, left this rather small but feisty and lively congregation.  On a recent Sunday, we (I’m not an official member but that’s ok with them) the “new” pastor came from San Jose, CA   to give her first sermon.  Following this service, the congregation met to affirm and confirm as they say so that she is good to go in Sept.    There were a few Sundays to find fill in speakers for the weekly message before Sept came.  I remember the polite request from Pastor Zoe, our interim pastor in early June.   Historically, I am not a big volunteer person so changes in the usual”nice for somebody else  but  not interested” response was strange.   Thoughts tumbled in from all parts of my brain…thoughts like “I wonder if I could do this” “Dad and I together – how creative would that be?  I wonder if he would want to.   Me, get up and give a sermon?  Well, I sung in the choir this year for the first time.  Why not just go for it?  They need a volunteer.  Why not?”   My brain was hot with wonder and dare I say excitement.  How would it go together; my father the retired United Methodist pastor and veteran administrator and me, who has yet to define my role in relationship to the church.  My  brain has carried around emotional allergies about religious practices since childhood.   Church and wonderful excitement just never coincided before.  I grew up with those four brothers, and Pastor parents, meaning my dad was the pastor and my mom was the pastor’s wife.  Duties were prescribed to  both roles at that time and there was plenty of guilt and judgement to go around if one deviated in any number of ways.  That’s just how it was growing up in Jamestown, ND in  the 60’s and 70’s.  We moved from the Williston, ND  church to the Jamestown church in 1966, the summer before I started 5th grade.  It was a very big move in very big ways only no one had a clue as we drove down interstate 94 in the big brown station wagon.   There were many transitions going on with each one of us individually and as a family.  I have to admit it didn’t help that the parsonage we moved into was well ,old  and lived in.  Think brand new house with lavender colored bedroom away from all the traffic to a vintage 1900’s model with orange/red shag carpet, tiny bedrooms and one bathroom for 7 people and no shower.  OK then.

Life was checkered that summer.   I liked the big church that was down the street.  It had many nooks and crannies that were fun to explore.  There were some nice people to meet and Sunday schools to prepare for.  Dad preached every Sunday.  No weekends off.   No lake cabins for us.  This was before I heard of lake cabins so I really didn’t know what I was missing.   I was lonely and remember the sting of that feeling many times in those months after the move.  We ate a lot and all gained some weight and, for me,  the TV was the place to be every night; that and Saturday morning cartoons.   All “us kids” were tumbling into each other as one day turned into the next and we survived.  No one talked about feelings in those days and I was all about feeling feelings.  I didn’t know it then but I was a therapist in training.

The body keeps the score of your life as I like to say and I often do in my work with myself and others.  Transition times are vulnerable junctures and times of special needs.  Some of those needs got met that “big summer” in that there were people who reached out, invited us out for meal, made a point to greet and be kind.   There were many hopes in those initial months  for the church, the congregation and beyond.  I had a sense of that collective mission of Christ’s love and faith.   But, for  an 11 year old, my insights were primarily the felt kind and  I think I had big hopes too.  When I think back on this time, I imagine an angel disguised as a person gathering our family together and compassionately creating the structure of this new life, acknowledging needs and challenges of each individual and combining that with the needs of the family and what that would look like behaviorally.  A fancy game plan with many chances to re-assess and make adjustments as needed.  One of the keys of resilience I’m thinking.  So this angel would be the one to gather us all and motivate movement.  I wanted to fit into this big new church family like I had in the Williston church as a very young child.  I felt like the church was an extension of my family, most likely because we lived only steps from the side door of the church office and spent a big amount of time playing there.  I realize now how unique this connection was and it underscores how important these early childhood experiences are.  My feeling is that there was energy, collaboration and gusto in the congregation and my parents were on a mission…no major knock downs yet.  That came in Jamestown.  What is a knock down?  As a child of a pastor, I witnessed church happenings with a unique perspective.  I heard and felt church conflict and challenges by just being around.  I felt what the pressures were, the pains of divisiveness, and felt stress in my body. For me this stress leaked out with anxiety, back issues and obesity.   This is all in hindsight of course, and there were plenty of external influences and daily life issues  but God’s presence was always there and represented by the church.  I kept a hopeful heart.  My journals written at that time are reflective of this.  My parents experienced many “knock downs” over the course of my life time; many in relationship to the church.  Over the years, through my father’s retirement and countless conversations, we’ve covered all these areas, did the “If we only would have known what we know now” thing, and explored how change was both a positive influence and a painful one.   One key is self understanding and the willingness to approach these touchy subjects with courage and openness.  It’s easier to avoid, withdraw or sometimes just get physically or emotionally ill.   Paying attention to what we need and nurturing a positive attitude every day is a rich and preventative practice for your mind, body and relationships; the most vital being your relationship with God/Holy Spirit.  I believe God puts us where we need to be.  Timing/events aren’t always to my liking; that I have to admit, but its the belief that I’ve adapted and one that puts this precious love relationship up front and center.

Resiliency and  change has been studied by the researchers of sociology, psychology, education  and other neuroscience fields.  What are the factors that create in some more resiliency to stress than others?   Are some prone to have long lasting effects of stress while others seem to deal with challenges and trauma better, like water running off a duck, they rise to the occasion and shake off stress more efficiently.  Research does suggest that certain brain pathways and chemical reactions relate to these traits of managing stress.  Yet everyone needs the antidotes to stress in one form or another,  whether its severe PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)  or a near fall when walking up the steps.  We need to understand what happened, experience support, learn what calms our bodies and take steps to recover.   Animals physically shake their stress away.  There are many human practices to help us do that too.  This transition story focuses on how early transitions affected  my  perceptions about religion, spirituality and my own self esteem.   I am still searching in some ways and learning all the time.  I encourage exploration of how each of you experienced transitions in your lifetimes and that connection to your life’s purpose and meaning.

My fat story – the unplugged version

It has to be told.   Being overweight was just a given since I was a child.  Growing up with 4 brothers and their appetites combined with the processed food boom of the 60’s provided the backdrop for my growing body and mindset about myself.  My body/mind seemed in sync until I “went to school”.   Floating back to kindergarten I remember my first brushes with self awareness of the comparing type.  I was bigger and my dresses were snug around my body.  The blue and red plaid of the dress as I stood, my hands holding onto the edge of the skirt; a solemn look on my face.  This was my first day.  I don’t think I have a smiling picture from that year and I’ve always wondered why.. I remember the musical instruments, the triangle, the tamborine and some type of blocks with sand paper…they made a cool hissing sound.   Playing music sticks with me but not the singing.  My music voice was quiet.  My memories come in glimpses and hazy perceptions.  I “feel” the past more than see it.  My sense of keen observation and desire to fit in and the hopes and dreams of the magic of life were there.  My bedroom at that time was at the top of the stairs of an old house, the parsonage house next to the Methodist church in Williston, ND.  There was an odd shaped set of windows that I saw the” wish upon the star” stars and Rudolph’s bright and shiny nose at Christmas.    Right across the street was the Red Owl grocery store.  I still smile when I see the icon of the owl and the many trips we must have made there.  I have no specific memories of being  in that store which is curious to me, but they must have  been positive as to this day I enjoy going for groceries and can get taken in by all the products, colors and choices.    There was a small bakery near the store where my dad would sometimes take us for breakfast of french toast and juice.  Lots of syrup and butter.  The memory is the taste of  cinnamon sweet grilled bread and the connection with my dad.  Oddly, french toast took on a different meaning later in my childhood when I stopped eating it. More on that later.   We ate lots of church food over the years and attended many potlucks.  I can only imagine how many times I would travel back to the food tables or ask for more.  I’m thinking I loved to eat the all the gooey, comfort and sweet stuff which is most potluck fare.   I have memories of the scales in the classrooms in our twice yearly weigh in.  The emotions are a combination of controlled nervous tension and shame, wondering why I wasn’t the same as most of my peers.  I didn’t protest in any way and still hear the teacher in one of my classrooms calling out my weight to who I do not know.  The waves of tension, invisible and absorbed.

I loved softball and four square  and we played a lot in our front yard;  wearing paths in the grass before we found another, better playing field nearby.  I was a good pitcher and loved the first base so I could personally tag the runners out.  I remember the confidence in those moments – the grinning when I tagged a good one or hit the ball squarely. ..and eating pizza the night my brother was born.  Yes, I was waiting for a sister.   Whether these are accurate memories or not, the emotions were mixed and confusing.  Pizza became an emotional food.  These are memories of the year  prior to our move away from Williston to Jamestown, ND.  This was a major transition for everybody in all ways – our pains were connected with fresh ice cream every night at the local creamery store called the Country Boy Dairy.  Memories are clear as I am mezmarized my the 50 flavors of ice cream.  I couldn’t get enough and gained lots that first year.  I was 10 and on the way to 200 lbs.  I got there when I was 12.  I remember eating lots of cereal, lots of peanut butter toast and hotdish, grilled velveeta  cheese and tomato soup.  Don’t forget the iceberg lettuce, Catalina or miracle whip.    I am certain there were many fresh vegetables around and Mom was good with that, better than most but there was just too much of the other in my case.  I didn’t understand about individual metabolism or the effects of hormones/cravings and puberty.  But I did understand that food made me feel better.  During one of  those early summers in Jamestown I decided to build a blanket fort on the balcony adjacent to my parents bedroom, the balcony with the beautiful ally view of the Buick garage and the auto parts store.  Many afternoons were spent hiding away, perhaps reading or writing in my journal  and eating some array of candy or chocolate that I had obtained.  There are no memories of how this was accomplished and I wasn’t known to walk out of the Red Owl without paying so…I must have been resourceful, a quality I maintain today.   I remember feeling conflicted – the dissonance of what I was doing and feeling was way off  kilter.  Summers were also  filled with swimming and biking so I know I was active yet  each activity seemed to be  food connected – the frozen candy bars at the pool or the snacks/cookies after our bike rides.  I wanted to be active but it wasn’t easy being as large as I was and performing in sports.  I had dreams of swimming on the team but never tried out.  Later, I realized my preference to non-competitive activities.  Unfortunately, that didn’t fit the culture which only added to the confidence problem.   By the 6th grade I had tried several diets on my own. The stretch marks on my body were red and embarrassing.   The one I remember was the cottage cheese and pineapple diet at almost every meal.  I felt determined yet uncertain – brave to try it on my own I thought yet so frustrated when I couldn’t maintain.  Diets weren’t something we did growing up so I was carving my own path so to speak.  Customized nutritional plans weren’t invented yet…well at least not where I lived.   I have no recall of scales in our home and did not use them.  The ones in school were enough.   My tension with scales  stayed with me many years.  Still, I have a “relationship” with the scale.  One summer my mother was away at school for some weeks.  I remember cooking breakfast on the round griddle with french toast and pancakes usually on the menu.  Weight watchers frowned on these types of foods and I consequently developed  an emotional food allergy towards them.    

When I reached 13, something in my life happened.  A new psychiatrist had come to town.  They were from California or so we heard and they went to our church.   One day, his wife came up to me and asked me if I wanted to lose weight.  She was willing to help with a brand new program from the west coast called Weight Watchers.  At that moment I started  on the road less traveled and stayed on it for “a mighty long time”.  Perhaps I’m still on it.  Interestingly, this is the road  I’m coming to accept and truly embrace.    This memory is a meeting we had with my mother just to make sure she was on board.   This was a  foreign idea for her but she didn’t object.  I had no idea what a life changer this moment was.  I said yes and listened to what this wonderful woman  told me to do.   It didn’t take long and I was down about 40 lbs.   I really listened relying on canned tuna, chicken, hot dogs and green beans with mustard  as a side.  I ate it because it was on the list of “legal” condiments.  Sugar-free gum was too until the company decided regular gum was OK.  Enter bags of Bazooka Joe bubble gum which replaced my candy bar cravings during high school.  It also created a mouth full of cavities and dental work years later but at the time I was “going by the rules”.   Adolescence brought along a new bag of issues  – a mixed bag of emotions, rebellion and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  My body was still overweight and awkward.  I hadn’t been  encouraged on  exercise, creative expression and the  movement part of the weight loss.  In its beginning Weight watchers focused more on the food and group meetings…and I was the youngest member of Jamestown’s first Weight Watchers class held in the Civic Center not far from our house.  I have the memory of sitting in the class.  I didn’t particularly like it but I knew I had to go for myself.  They were kind and encouraging.  I continued to go to class on a student scholarship over some of these years and even into college.  I became a believer in the power of the support group at an early age.  Still, I felt alone.  Not many teenagers were in the same boat.  I dreamed of being fit, beautiful and popular;  more importantly  just a place to fit in and find acceptance.   This part of the story is the most difficult to articulate.  I had a lot of energy, was boy crazy and impulsive at times  yet I persevered.  Fat was still a big part of my life.  I remember looking at my abdomen often and getting mad at it.  The power of positive thinking wasn’t invented although this was the 70’s so actually it had been invented…but I would have to wait.   I dreamed of walking on the beaches of California  with a bikini.   My ocean would have to be the Jamestown High School pool where I spent 3 grueling weeks earning my water safety instructor certificate in my Sr year of high school.  I still remember the announcement over the intercom about this course and the highly unusual emotional reaction I had.  Normally, I avoided these things but I know now that it was a “divine intervention”  and nudge me in this positive direction.   In the class there was one girl, Laura, who encouraged me on those difficult days.  I will never forget her.   I was able to experience exercise in a positive light, built some strength and lost some weight in the process.    She was my angel at that moment in time.  I often ponder these angel moments and wondered why I had  to “go through all this shit”  because at that time it felt that way.  I felt the dissonance in my body but felt helpless in some ways to change.  Transformations for me have always been rather slow and gradual…call me the gradient girl.   One step and one lesson at a time.  But I persevered and survived and kept moving forward.   One of my worst fat memories was those of being teased.   “Buffalo butt”  or Fatty fatty two by four, can’t get through the kitchen door, or butterball or  “the fat girl… She could be so pretty if she would lose weight”.

This is where I will end my story.  My journey with weight continued but I was no longer so defined by my body.  I became aware of some of my gifts and talents in the process and wonderfully enough, there were quite a few, some of which I am still discovering.  I now have healthy strategies to manage food and be healthy.  I have developed a much healthier relationship with food and it is still in process as I age.  Finding the balance between what your body needs and what it feels like is an adventure.   I’m learning to communicate with my body in a whole new way.  This requires presence and quiet to observe yourself.  One healing  practice that is helpful to me now is to place my hands on the abdomen, the spot I would criticize and just listen to its reaction when I express love and support for that area.  I encourage my husband to communicate with this part of my body too as love is the key to any transformation.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, just a statement of acceptance and reassurance of its beauty and beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.  There are many roads to healing your body image.  For me the old standbys of being resourceful and perseverant have come in handy.   New ones that I’ve discovered are creative learning such as singing  and mind body exercises such as Tai Chi and yoga.  The study of aromatherapy and using essential oils have also been so uplifting.   What’s important is the open mind, courage to try new things and practicing the art of speaking out when inspired.   The angels at work.   That and a some muscle power!

 

 

 

The Body Remembers – Empowerment through Somatic Experiencing

I recently attended at training that focused  on  Somatic Therapy which is a treatment for emotional and physical issues related to trauma, stress and the rigors of life.  I was amazed once again at the powerful connection between what we experience and how the body processes it.  As one researcher, Bessel van der Kolk puts it “The body keeps the score.”  What does that mean?  For years, since elementary school I remember back discomfort.  In my household, if you were sick, the attitude was “just wait and it will go away”,  “grin and bear it” or maybe  good excuse to miss school, stay in bed and get a little extra attention.   That was my normal and I proceeded on, ignoring my “issues” and stuffing any emotional residue.   Over the years, back pain continued to connect with stressful situations which eventually resulted in some chronic tension/muscle pain patterns and an impact on my life both in my belief systems about myself such as “I’m weak” or avoidance behaviors “I can’t do that right now”   Anxiety was a common emotion woven throughout  body/mind.   This training highlighted the  impact of these stress reactions in everyone’s life.   Ideally we thrive in the zone of balance.

I often refer to the life of a healthy baby with their rhythms of  living – being warm,loved,  touched, fed, cleaned and stimulated in that safe environment of the home.  When early relationship traumas occur , this zone of balance is tipped and our relationship to our world is changed.   We develop from a secure or an insecure backdrop of experience and interpretation.  Since no life is perfectly balanced we can be sure that the body holds many secrets and mysteries of how we came to be here today.  The good news is that the human body and soul wants balance and freedom.  Sandra Paulson, PhD  commented in the training about the potential of Somatic strategies  “emancapation for what has been sequestered”  within us.  In my therapy practice, I often focus on the body’s reaction to a particular trigger/experience.  This isn’t easy for many as we aren’t trained to tune in to our bodies.   Like relationship education skills, we didn’t learn body awareness/release exercises in school.  The good news is that there are strategies and practices that can be learned and practiced by anyone interested in living a more balanced and healthy life.  It’s more than stress management – I’m not exactly  sure what it is but I know it’s available for all if we want to learn.

One exercise to help open this door of awareness to your body is:  Think of  things in your life that create a positive feeling.  It can be an image, a memory, words or a touch.  Dr. Paulson referred to her poodle as a “grounding professional” meaning that when she touched her dog,  her body calmed.  Make a list of these grounding  things in your life and choose one to practice.   For example, I thought of the aroma of one the essential oils I use called Happy.  Just the thought of this aroma of tangerine, spearmint,  and rosewood created a change.  The key here is awareness.  Check in with your body or better yet have a partner to share this with you.  Observe any subtle body signals and if you are energy sensitive you may notice waves of radiant energy. The key is noticing how it feels in your body in that moment.  Each time you practice this, your body will have different responses depending on the state of balance at that moment in time.    With practice, you will begin to tune in to yourself better and that leads to a sense of  inner  strength/mastery.  Somatic Experiencing is an actual treatment to release trapped emotional energy that your body has stored from past trauma or stress and if you are interested in this subject I would refer you to the book by Pat Ogden called Trauma and the Body.    The first step is developing that awareness that our mind/bodies have minds of their own  and many of our everyday problems no matter how difficult are connected to how the body stores stress.   There are many paths to healing emotional and physical pain and unbalance and each individual’s needs are different.  My husband and I recently did a presentation on stress management.  Biologically, there are reactions that we all have in common being human – that is the activation (sympathetic system) and calming (parasympathetic system).  The other new one recently discovered is called the Ventral Vagal  Nervous System and relates to feeling connected with another.  This connection is necessary to make lasting changes in our lives.  We were designed  to grow and thrive within these healthy connection.  With all the world’s challenges and realities living in balance can be a maze.  We were also designed to be intelligent and learn….Let’s  keep learning.

New Relationship Rule – Massage Table in Every Bedroom

We are born – we are touched.   Newborns thrive on the handling and loving care that is doled out generously in the delivery room.   Science now knows the vital importance of getting the baby into connection ASAP.  My first child was whisked away shortly after birth to “put her under the lights” to care for the slight jaundice that she experienced.  I learned that she was alone in the incubator  while she was receiving the phototherapy.  Now, this treatment has special considerations with it – frequent holding, singing and touching the child while the child is being treated.   The sense of smell and touch are essential and primary to infants and are our earliest perceptions of the world.  Is the world safe and secure?  This is the first step to love.   As adults, a happy love relationship is shown to be indicated as most important for a satisfying life.  We  fall in love, we touch  and desire to be touched in however our love language desires. For many couples, this manifests in hand holding, caressing, cuddling, sexual and non-sexual touches.  Our attention is riveted on each other thanks to the ancient code of mother nature, and our needs are met.  Love is alive in our minds and our bodies.  Fast forward a few years, a child or two, a few of life’s stressful events and perception may be transmuted to frustration and disillusionment. The riveted attention on our partner is now distracted and busy. Physical affection and touch often has been put on that proverbial  back burner.   As a marriage therapist, there are many reasons couples seek help for their relationship and by this time, the emotional pain level is smoldering or on fire.  Sometimes they blame each other, blame themselves or blame the world.  There is no shortage of blame…the blame game…find the bad guy.  Someone needs to change as they rivet their gaze on the other.  Communication not put aside,  there should be a new rule and put somewhere on the papers couples sign to get married and that is Have a Massage Table in the Bedroom and Use Regularly.  This is the communication of the body and the mind and when combined create a powerful love bond between two people.

                                                                                                                         

The bonding stage of relationship can be the most powerful and fulfilling but it needs attention and some skill.  These skills are easy to learn, and if practiced will lead to mastery and a sense of well being in your relationship.  With touch, the hormone of oxytocin is stimulated.  This is the hormone we often hear about after a woman gives birth to a baby – the “feel good” hormone that allows her extra feelings of warmth and connection to her infant.  Oxytocin restores the balance between stress and calm and plays a role in stimulating muscle activity of orgasm in both sexes which strengthens the emotional bond. In the context of a love relationship, both sexual and non-sexual touching can increase this hormone and the attachment bond of the relationship.   The massage itself doesn’t have to anything fancy. Listening to your partner is the key: what body parts are wanting to be touched more than others, the pressure of the touch.  Communicating the thoughts/emotions of this experience during the massage can sometimes be a bonding experience of itself.  The body has a story to tell.  Most people are disconnected from these sensations and it can wake this part of yourself up.  This takes some courage and, like after a workout, you feel better after you do it.  The body has a mind of its own so any way you can cue into yourself the better it is for your relationship.  If, for some reason, your body reacts negatively to touch, getting to the body’s understanding of this reaction is empowering because there are some conditions  – both psychological and physiological that cause these reactions.  Understanding and being creative in alternative ways to fill these emotional needs can  prevents future problems with a partner.    The best stress management strategy is in the process of establishing and building  a positive and trusting relationship.  Touch is a vital part of that strategy and good strategies need an action plan.   The investment is small; the table  folds up for storage and you can put a reminder on each other’s phones for your next massage session.  Blending touch with smell can enhance this experience and your brain.   I often suggest specific essential oils that are known for their calming or energizing benefits depending on the desires of the couple.  It is fun to experiment on each other.  This is one of my favorite parts: customizing the aroma of the day.  Find a way to practice, believe in your relationship, and have fun.

A resource link to learn about essential oils is:  http://bit.ly/NkoTV0                          

 

The Brain in Movement – Tai Chi Chih Shines

 

Stop for a brief minute, close your eyes, and try to feel energy.   Tune out from the outside, and notice any sensations that you feel such as warmth, coolness, tingling, pulsing, heartbeat, emotion, pain or discomfort, ringing or sounds.  The body is one big energy machine and when we are in balance it all works in brilliant synergy.  The image of a happy toddler comes to mind – exploring, sensing and seemingly endless energy to do this with.  Then the memory of the nightly mother routines, the fatigue of the duties that would sometimes emerge.  The”too much on the plate syndrome”.  My child’s energies were burning and bright, mine seemed to dull in comparison.   For many years I accepted this reality and assumed there was little one could do to counteract the effects of aging, parenthood, work and the wear and tear of life.  I believed that, and that belief turned into symptoms of stress which over time diminished my reserves, challenged my health and decreased my creative abilities. Then, I didn’t know about brain health, brain envy or how the brain really works which is still a mystery to medical science even though we have institutes, research and lots of mental health professionals who talk the good talk.  The ancients had some good sense when it comes to keeping that inner light going.  They moved in ways to cultivate the chi, or life energy within our bodies and combine it our environment to bring it together  – the balance of mind and body that is.

I attended a Tai Chi Chih class this morning and experienced the effects of these simple, mindful movements that almost anyone can learn..T’ai Chi Chih is a set of movements completely focused on the development of an intrinsic energy called Chi. It’s easy to learn and usually takes about two months (or eight classes). T’ai Chi Chih (TCC) consists of  19 stand alone movements and one pose   T’ai Chi Chih is not a martial art. T’ai Chi Chih is completely non-violent.  Our experienced teacher, Christeen McLain, seemed to flow with joy through the movements and connection with the students – I felt this joy and the ease of these poses yet knew my muscles were very awake.  These movements can be done standing or sitting.  Because it is a practice, benefits develop more over time.  One year ago today, I was enjoying the sun in the Bahamas while learning the practice of yoga for mood management.  We learned  poses to move the body’s energies through breath and movement to improve mood and treat depression.   T’ai Chi Chih shares many of the same goals yet doesn’t focus on breath strategies.  I believe we need a combination of good breathing and mindful movement to strengthen mind and body.  Sun really helps too but we won’t go there as it is February in Fargo, ND.    Just take your Vitamin D, cod liver oil and visualize your favorite summer scene as you look out the window.

Belief carries with it more energy than we were ever taught in school and the brain is full of beliefs. One positive practice:   Make a list  of 10 beliefs you have about yourself.   For example; I should always eat the food on my plate.  Don’t talk about your feelings, always be strong, when the going gets tough, the tough get going… there are many.  These beliefs hold energy and are zapping your energy if they don’t fit with your heart truth.  What is heart truth?  It is connected with your being…who you were born to be if you really look deep.  Along life’s way we have many choices and forks in the road and every day we have new opportunities to make healthy choices for who we ARE.   Today, Tai Chi Chih reminded me of the magic within each one of us; that it is accessible to anyone who would want it.   Try a class, or better yet get trained and have a class.   My belief is that mind body practices cultivate a healthy brain/body, joy  and love for oneself and our world of everyday life.  Breathe in and experience something new.

Brain Revealed and All Those Tests

Calling all you impulsive, compulsive  or anxious people.  For that matter, everyone else can jump into the bus as we all have a lot to learn about this brain of ours.  I’ve been in the mental health field for over 25 years and have weathered many changes, career shifts and passion shifts, I  find myself again at a marvelous crossroads.  I use the word marvelous because the vision of  the everyday person getting savy with their brains is sweet to me…(I’ve cut back on sugar, the mind creates diversions)  Sweet because knowledge and accessible strategies are now available.  We still have a long journey ahead but it is on the road.  I begin with the second brain assessment that is mentioned in Dr. Amen’s book,”Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain” which I have been referring to in the last several blogs.    Falling in love with your brain means having a working knowledge  about how your brain works.   This test is the thinking test – no distractions allowed.  Thirty minutes of focused concentration.  “I can do this, I can do this.”  My rather seasoned mind reflected  both concern and curiosity.  The last time I considered taking the ADHD test in a clinic I worked at was in the 90’s which was conveniently put off for another day.  This test examines emotions, thinking style, concentration and problem solving.   My brain felt exercised by the end; with some harried moments between the tests.  Think fast Zumba class of the mind.  Mind boggling.  The reward for my brain gymnastics was the results page.  I was expecting some kind of grade; where I did well, where I didn’t etc.  This was not the case.  They covered the four areas mentioned above and labeled you in terms of what may create more balance in your brain and the strategies you need to strengthen it.   In my case, I was labeled the Empathizer, great in understanding others, but stress sensitive to the world around me.   Novelty problem solving was the term used  which I think is one way to imply challenges in step by step organized process of negotiating life.  I am researching this as this is a different type of approach to evaluation; positive and novel which, for my brain type is pretty awesome.

There is an app that was recommended  for me and I noticed it was a free one: MyCalmBeat   This is an exercise in calming the breath and can be done multiple times a day to increase awareness and tune into your body which strengthens your brain!  Back to that.   I almost always teach specific breathing strategies to clients in my practice.  Breath is one autonomic system in the body we can control.   No matter what stage in life you are in, managing breath is managing stress and a key to life, love and mental health.  I have decided to follow up on the strategies suggested for me to sharpen and balance.  We’ll see what happens.

Know Your Brain Type – Yikes!

We can’t see our brain…the 2.7-3.1 pounds of brain tissue that floats around in our heads guiding our every movement and thought.  I imagine that there are those who as children were fascinated by biology and dissected all kinds of things to find out how body parts worked.  I think I bribed someone to help me open up the frog in 7th grade.  I simply didn’t want to know, and my stomach, known as the second brain, gave me plenty of signals to avoid these types of situations from then on.  Would there been another way to help us sensitive students to look and see without getting sick?  The digital age may have been just the ticket for me.   Consequently, my perception of the biology of my own brain was limited.  Like many, my mind and body didn’t have a healthy relationship.  I was more driven by impulse and emotion.  What I felt like doing vs what may have been the best for me, meaning my body, mind and spirit as a whole.

I’m continuing my research on Dr. Amen’s book “Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain”.  In my last entry, I highlighted the positive attributes of woman’s brain as well as the related challenges that are associated with them.   Dr. Amen refers to the brain being involved in everything you do.   “It makes the healthy choices or unhealthy choices that make you feel good or bad.  When your brain works right, you work right.  When brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life.”   I was inspired today to clear my glasses and use Dr. Amen’s research tools to further examine my own brain type.   I want to know what’s inside this brain of mine – open my eyes as clearly as is possible to learn ways to change and improve my brain functioning.  The vision of energy, logical thinking, creativity, confidence, and flexibility dance in my mind’s eye.   I took the long test to determine my brain type.   It wasn’t as pretty as I hoped.

Impulsive-Compulsive-Anxious.  There, I said it.  With this assessment came a list of strategies and action ideas to help me improve my brain.  Instead of being a embarrassing label (automatic negative thought) I see this as an opportunity to grow and move through the inner resistance of accepting all parts of self.   To fully accept yourself, you need as much awareness as possible.  This, of course varies with each person.  What is awareness?  This is the subject of  spiritual and philosophical experts now and in ancient times but what I mean here is the ability to see more through the eyes of your heart/soul; where our truth lives.  Connecting can be the tricky part.   The media today is filled with stories on reaching our potentials, maximizing what we like, minimizing what we don’t, and finding love either within ourselves or with others.  The brain has all the  gadgets and switches necessary to make all these decisions.  I’m in awe of this brain of ours.

My assessment indicates decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), commonly associated with low brain dopamine levels, increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, commonly associated with low brain serotonin leverls and increased activity in the basal ganglia, commonly associated with low GABA levels.  My strategy?  Balance serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain through natural means, avoid stimulants, and exercise the brain with tools and techniques that enhance cognitive flexiblity, forethought and relaxation.  OK, then.  I have my mission.  I encourage anyone interested to take this assessment.  amensolution.com   It cost me $1 for a 2 week trial.    There is an action plan included in the assessment.  Good base to start on the your goal to healthy brain envy.  I may look for a poster of a healthy brain as my pin up for the year.  More on the action plan later.