Be Prepared – A Motto for Life

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I seem to remember that the Girl Scouts motto was “Be Prepared”. I like that and, even though I was a Girl Scout for a very brief time, it has stayed with me. I remember collecting badges for completing practical tasks as I learned new skills and found new interests to explore (and let’s not forget the cookies every February). Actually, being prepared is a great motto for living life.

Of course, there are times when all the planning in the world has not prepared for the curve balls that life throws my way. These last several weeks have been an uptick in stress and crisis for me. I’ve had a feeling of being unprepared to navigate a seemingly ongoing storm of urgent requests, crises to manage, and unexpected changes. I keep asking myself if there is some way to be prepared, even for this?

I know that I like preparing – for projects, for travel, for daily meals, and for my regular practices such as meditation, yoga, hiking and writing. I gather materials before starting a project from reading a pattern, testing stitch gauge, to being sure I have the buttons for finishing. For meals, I like to have what I need for making meals ahead because I know I’ll be grazing my kitchen if I haven’t planned and prepared. For my yoga & meditation practices — turn off my phone, lay out my mat with props, choose music, and light candles. My preparations create an ease so that my life is more fulfilling and gratifying.

Most of my preparations have become steadfast habits that guide my day leaving time for spontaneity without my mind obsessing over what to eat or when will I get those stitch markers. Some of my habits have morphed into my personal rituals that are an integral part of my practice or project. Preparing the space, the list, and the plan free my energy for enjoying what I am about to do. I find I can relax more when I have done the preparations. While choosing music, lighting candles and laying out my mat I have already begun my asanas and meditation. After years and years of a daily practice, I no longer need to think about it because the preparing and doing are part of the whole.

So too, when it comes to being happy and healthy — I have practices in place that have created a firm foundation for the rest of my life. Each practice supports those times when plans go awry. The unexpected is not a question of if but the reality of when.

For example, deep yogic breathing is integral to my yoga and meditation practices. After many years, I find myself subconsciously turning to deep breathing when the unexpected happens. The breath helps me relax and clear my mind for addressing what is suddenly present.

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Another example is my practice of making lists — I love my lists. So when I need to make big decisions or head out the door for several days, I begin with a quick list. For big decisions, my lists help me weigh in on pros & cons and gain perspective on the whole picture. For travel, a list assures that I travel with most, if not all, of what I’ll need. I find security in my lists — whether a gratitude list or a shopping list — and, like my breath, I can be in the middle of a list before I realize I’ve been making one.

Being prepared when and where I can in my day-to-day is my preparation for the unexpected that is certain to come along and challenge my resilience and fortitude to handle a crisis. When I become overwhelmed by what life is serving me, I know I’ve got daily practices that become my secure river banks in the storm. These storms are part of life with some storms worse than others. What I do daily or regularly are my safety rafts and life vests when I need them for navigating the emergencies and unexpected in life.

Be Prepared — A Good Motto for Life

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A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

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We are living in such precarious and, even, perilous times. Each day another worry whether from natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, north, south, east, and west or another unfortunate expression of chaos in our government. I find myself checking the daily headlines for what new disaster is unfolding, what tweets have been sent from the hands of an immature man-child, what undoing has been done for the safety & health of people everywhere, or how much closer are we to a nuclear war. Emotions seen on everyone’s face — anger, fear, grief, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness — is more and more common.

I find myself between wanting to stay home, hibernate, and stay out of harms way OR being more social, nurturing connections, and reaching out. I cling to my practices that calm my nervous system for my sanity and support my health.

On the day of the shocking Las Vegas shooting disaster, I was driving home from North Carolina. The highways were busy and full of trucks carrying their cargo and nearly everyone in a hurry to get somewhere (yes, I’ve noticed more aggressive driving in this last year). I drove along in silence with my inner conversation my companion and my destination of home my focus. After hearing of the devastating number of people hurt or killed in Las Vegas on the heels of an unprecedented number of people who have lost everything from hurricanes or wildfires, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, rage, and fear.

In my silence, I considered answers to many questions: Why is there not more gun control in place after so many mass shootings? Why is there diminishing compassion and instead a growing hatred toward fellow human beings through racism, LBGT, women’s rights, our environment, immigration (supported by this man who is president)? How can I help? How can I pull myself up and out of my own anger, sadness, and fear so that I can help others to do the same? What action(s) can I take to move forward in a positive way and help change the trajectory of our country?

I recall that Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish, speaks of kindness as important and powerful to positively affect both myself and those I extend kindness towards. A simple practice of being kind to others. Am I kind enough? Can I extend more kindness to others in the course of my day?

This recollection and my inner dialogue led me to re-committing to kindness as a mindful practice. Kindness, I know, has a rippling effect. How can I do more to be kind? For the rest of my drive, I practiced mindful kindness — allowing truckers into the passing lane by slowing down, moving out of the way of the person in much more of a hurry than I needed to be, and being mindfully courteous as the miles passed by. At rest stops, I made a point to make eye contact, say hello, and wish other travelers a good day. At gas stations or while getting food, I did the same. I began to feel lighter and a smile peeked out from other emotions.

What I noticed. When I extend kindness to someone on the highway by letting them by or pausing for someone to pull into traffic I notice that within a short period they will also extend kindness to another driver. When I open a door for someone or say a kind word with eye contact, a softening happens and that kindness ripples to others. Quite amazing and simple.

I have made kindness a mindfully conscious practice and am encouraging others to do the same by asking them to join me in spreading goodness and connection. The feedback has been incredibly satisfying! Those who have tried it for a week have also noticed a ripple effect in action (of course, not every time or with every person).

Kindness leads to more kindness.

How easy it would be to hibernate, keep my head down, and stay in the busy lane of life. It feels safer, protected, and effortless. However, it also keeps me in my fear and anger. In practicing mindful kindness, I can feel more hope because I see the positive ripple with each kind action. I may not be able to change the larger picture of discontent. However, I can make a difference toward changing my world one person at a time as I meet them on my way – a smile, a moment of eye contact, and a kind gesture goes a long way.

Your Place In The Natural World

I know my place in the world is entwined with the natural world around me — my community is the wildlife, trees, and fields that surround my home. I talk to them, I listen, and I witness the wisdom that is always there. Most days, I walk the same woods and have become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. The variegated rocks left behind by the receding glaciers eons ago, the stonewalls (unique only to New England) that mark long forgotten boundaries through the woods, and even familiar trees that have fallen from storms, wind, or age. The owls, hawks, chipmunks, and squirrels are all my friends. I’ve seen the occasional deer and turkeys cross my path though they are not interested in hanging around. I’ve stepped across bear scat and moose droppings so I know they wander the mountain too. Of course, there are always snakes and newts on their way somewhere. These woods – my place – are just beyond my backyard and stretch up and over the mountain to the Appalachian Trail. I am grateful that all I need to do is step outside my front door to be in nature. It is where I go with my thoughts, questions, and explorations. I always return with a deep calm, clarity, creative solutions, and wisdom.

Where do you go for solitude, healing, aligning, and communion? Does nature play a part?

There are studies around the world and books that speak to the healing powers of nature and its importance in the health of the planet of which we are all a part. The benefits of being in nature are so many that there are places around the world offering prescribed nature therapy through nature walks and retreats. Like most, I spend my workdays with people and spend social time with friends — they, too, are an essential part of my community. However, at the end of the day, I go to nature for my deeper healing and calm.

Having a sense of place, for me, is also a spiritual experience. I walk among the trees and listen to nature spirits, talk to God, and observe changes in nature as reflections of my own process. When we know our place in the immediate world around us, we open our senses to become aligned with that world. I know people who know their place within a city and their local neighborhood — their senses are aligned with who lives nearby, neighborhood cats and dogs, and what to remain alert to. I know those whose sense of place is from their porch or deck. I am one whose place needs to walk among the trees or touch the soil and plants in my gardens.

We are an integral part of the larger natural world around us. Too many suffer from nature deficit because our lives are filled to overflowing with activity and surrounded by concrete, city streets, and the ever present technology. Nature has become something disconnected from the fabric of our daily lives and experienced (maybe) on vacation or the occasional weekend walk.

When I suggest nature therapy for healing or stress relief, I am often told of fears to laying in the grass, pulling weeds in the garden, or trekking into the woods. Here in New England, ticks are the #1 fear. I suggest regular and thorough tick checks on returning home. I’ve heard that others fear bears, moose, and coyotes that are sure to lurk behind trees and rocks — I’ve seen more bears at my trash can or on my deck, the occasional fox or coyote hurrying across the yard while I watch from the window, and only once have I seen a moose who was both injured and sick. Still others fear injury or getting dirty. In my experience, injury is a result of my not paying attention. Dirt and its health benefits have been traded for our sterilized world of antibacterial soaps and wipes.
The benefits you can experience in nature: connection, healing, solitude, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, more awe and appreciation, wonder, relief of pain, lower anxiety, feeling more centered, mental clarity, and improved creativity, among others. Also, nature needs our awareness in order to protect its being available for us to enjoy.

What form of nature calls you? The woods, the beach, a lake, a garden, a nature trail, or a nearby park? Who do you go into nature with? Alone, your partner, your children, friends, or your dog. Studies show that going with another increases our commitment and likelihood of going outdoors through accountability.

The important thing is to get outside and be surrounded by the natural world for your own physical, emotional, and mental health.

If fear keeps you from nature or you live in a town or city with little of nature in easy access, begin with a few plants you can care for indoors or create a container garden on your porch or deck. In your yard or neighborhood, find a tree, bush or plant to befriend. Watch your ‘friend’ through the seasons and the varieties of weather that affect it (you may find you learn something valuable about yourself).

Venture outdoors into your yard or a nearby park (most towns have small parks) or a nature trail (growing in popularity in urban settings) close to home. Go for a walk, breathe in the fresh air, and touch a tree trunk, gaze up at the leaf canopy, or watch a bird. Let nature fill you in whatever way it does for you — own the place as your place in your natural world.

You will return calmer, healthier, and ready for your next adventure into nature.

Art Camp – A Summer Day Camp of Making Books

Last week I assisted and participated in a local, backyard art camp arranged and produced by my friend, artist and book making teacher, Suzi. A group of women and one man gathered early Sunday morning for four days of making art — painting paste paper, cutting paper, covering book boards for book covers, and using coptic stitch to make one of a kind, creative, and beautiful journals.

This was an outdoor summer day camp — under tents with materials & tools on tables ready to shape into journals. This was a day camp for creatives who yearned for something different to celebrate summer. (Most exciting for me was that I have never attended a summer camp! Better late than never – yeah!)

We came together in the mornings for ritual, writing, and making journals to write into later. As each day unfolded, we laughed, shared stories, learned about one another (what work we do, where we are from, where we live and why we came to this camp). Our group was creatively diverse — some were artists, some were new to the process, and others (like myself) have worked with Suzi over the years making journals and simply wanted more! What was clear, was that we were all artists for those four days exploring color, shape, design, and creating something personally beautiful. And, we were all happy to be spending four days outdoors creatively focused.

I found myself listening with all of my senses. At first, I was curious to know what brought these amazing people together — in short, everyone had some connection to Suzi who is a natural community builder in everything she does. Each day — flying by much too quickly — I continued to listen and watch as everyone was engaged and, at times, challenged though willing to work through any vulnerability that arose from lifetimes of “not good enough” messages floated to the surface. We supported and helped one another with such love and grace.

Each morning we gathered in circle under a grand oak tree and around our nature mandala to write into suggested prompts on paper intended to go into the journals we were making. To finish our circle we moved through a mudra meditation that focused on honoring, transforming, offering, receiving, opening our hearts, and grounding to Mother Earth. The mudra meditation reminded me of my connection to the earth as we worked outdoors. From the moving meditation we returned to work on our journals. Everyone was eager and focused on diving in and getting dirty in the process of creating. Each day was designed to focus on a part of the process so that we each had at least one finished (or nearly finished) journal with a second one to finish at home.

Throughout the four days I would step back for a broader view of the group as a whole gathered around tables full of creative chaos. I was in awe in realizing that we were all artists — each and every one while sharing ideas, tools, paint and story — making beautiful journals together.
Everyone working and focusing on their own work, yet within community.

At one point, on the day of the eclipse, Suzi suggested working in silence for part of the afternoon. The resulting focus and flow was palpable under the tent — everyone working and moving mindfully and slowly. The silence was a joy and much progress was made on making our book covers and assembling signatures for the inside. Even needing assistance was manageable in the silence as we continued to be aware of one another.

Silence is a powerful way to work, especially if you are outdoors like we were. We let nature be our music — the wind in the trees, bird song, even the shuffling of materials. In silence we moved and worked with ease and slowness. In silence our work became a practice in actively noticing or mindfulness. In silence we worked with greater presence — what Paulus Berensohn (Suzi’s teacher) calls radical presence. Every movement, stitch or stroke becomes art simply because of our quiet presence.

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Our final circle at the end of the four days was a celebration of displaying and honoring our work both finished and in process — a display of artistic beauty we were all proud of. As we prepared our farewells, we laughed, hugged, and promised to gather again next summer. Looking at one another after four full days of focused mindfulness, we were a happy, light-filled group who had shared a truly transforming experience.

I am grateful for my friend, artist, and book maker, Suzi, for having an idea, making it happen, and inviting us to be part of a summer art camp for creatively inspired adults (and young adults).

 

Coping with Challenge, Loss, and Change

 

Some days and weeks are more challenging than others in my ability to maintain my upward spiral of positivity and goodness. The last few weeks have been more challenging than most with one blow after another keeping my emotions on a roller coaster of grief and sadness as I ride the waves of transition and loss. Each time I feel my sense of self moving back to normal another shock comes along and I find myself tumbling into more raw emotion – more tears, more grief, more sadness, and more questions centering around “Why?…”

Yes, I have my daily practices of writing, meditation, gratitude, and yoga that anchor me to the moment. Though, I find during times like these, I need more to ground me into balance and bring me back to joy. So I write more to explore my questions, express each story, and sort through my emotions. My journals become my rudder to navigate the emotional storms. I am grateful for my daily writing.

Another practice important for channeling my disrupted and lost feeling is focusing on creative expression — I’ve made several journals, sifted through photographs for a new album, (even doing dishes and cleaning are creative channels) and I have a crochet project ready to begin. Each of these provide focus and each brings me into a fine balance of mindful action and mindless free thought — because they tap into a cellular memory from doing them so often, my hands know the way. I find a sense of quiet calm when I am in flow while making something new.

A practice that connects me to my spiritual self is to look for beauty in nature. Yesterday, I went for a meditation walk with my camera. Each step taken slowly and mindfully while opening my senses to beauty. Sometimes I’ll walk with a prompt or question then wait for what is before me — I listen to nature for answers, calm, or a redirect. My walk led me to explore my gardens. I was captivated by the lush growth and the recent challenges of weather. We’ve had an over-abundance of rain which invites overgrowth.

I then focused on the finer details. My eyes found something quite interesting as I stepped closer to a gourd plant — as it grows it sends out these spiraling shoots to grab hold of what’s available for stability and support as it grows taller. These reaching shoots create more than support, they generate my sense of awe and wonder as I witness the beauty and intelligence in nature.

Do I not also need something to hold for stability as I feel insecure and off my center? How do I find my anchor in turbulent times?

Later I reflected on my list of anchors I’ve recently utilized as reminders of my inner strength and resilience as well as support:

~ Reach out to a friend, whether by phone or in person.
~ Make something – like a journal, a weaving, or a photo album.
~ Make a plan for a next project when these are finished.
~ Go for a long hike into the woods feeling my connection to the natural world – not only are my hikes connection to nature, they are also movement which is always healing and calming.
~ Write in my journal exploring my questions and writing the stories in response to each situation.
~ Read something inspiring – poetry works well for me, as well as uplifting authors such as Brene Brown, Tal Ben Shahar, Megan McDonough, Maria Sirois, or Elizabeth Gilbert.
~ Give myself permission to feel all of my feelings. By expressing them without holding back, I move through them more easily.

By doing, I am reminded of using my strengths of appreciation and curiosity. I use these strengths on my meditation walks. I am also reminded of the research studies supporting the positive benefits of writing about troubling or traumatic events — writing about the same topic over 4 – 5 days allows me to integrate my emotions and my experiences into a greater sense of well-being. I am also reminded of the power of my breath to fortify my immune system, improve vagal tone as well as to lead me into my meditative calm. My creative self is grateful for my flow experiences that take me out of myself and into a focused process of creation — a healing balm in troubling times.

As I sit with a friend for support I feel the oxytocin – or know it’s being released through our connection – and find comfort in the positivity resonance shared between us.

All of these guide me in making sense of troubling times and make room for my thoughts and tears to flow while being balanced in positivity.

What do you do to lead you into a positive upward spiral during challenging times?

 

Nature Deficit Disorder

 

 

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
~ “The Last Child In the Woods” by Richard Louv

Do you play? How do you play? Do you spend time wandering in nature? Perhaps play is a memory from your childhood traded in for the responsibilities and busy-ness of adult living?

For the last four months I’ve had the gift of both witnessing and participating in the play of my grandchildren. From the time they wake until bedtime, they are involved in some form of play. Life is an endless stream of curiosity and exploration. As I watch them, I remember my own childhood of play with Pennsylvania farmland as my back yard.

Except for weekdays in school, I remember being outdoors soon after breakfast until lunch, then out again until dinner. In the summer we would be out again after dinner until just after dark. The only time we stayed indoors was if the weather prevented us or if we were sick.

With plentiful seasonal clothing, I learned to love being outdoors and using whatever was available as props for play. My siblings and I made up endless stories and games for fun. I remember knowing the names of trees, bushes, and flowers that grew around our neighborhood.

Now, I am grateful for the days, seasons, and years spent outdoors. I am grateful to my mother for sending us outdoors throughout my childhood. As an adult, I prefer the outdoors to being indoors. I prefer curiosity and creativity in nature over sitting in front of the television or my computer. Most days I look for ways to get outdoors to walk, stretch, work, and enjoy the changing weather and seasons.

In the last decade or more it has become increasingly rare to see children outdoors simply playing (even at playgrounds). Though I understand the dilemma parents must face now — fear of children being bullied, abducted, or our own over organized schedules preventing time for play, as well as the hours of homework children must do after school — I wonder if we are robbing our children of important play and exploration, without a schedule.

Today, the process of squelching play begins at younger ages (even in preschool). We exchange their natural curiosity of learning through play for standardized tests so they can succeed in the world of academia. Are we robbing them of something essential? I believe so.

Watching my grandchildren in their play, I see that play is their learning. Through their play they are acquiring knowledge and important skills they’ll need for life. I am excited by their enthusiasm, curiosity, and exuberance as they run, explore, use their imaginations, and ask endless questions about what surrounds them in nature. Being outdoors has seen them grow in so many ways. My almost seven year old granddaughter can take you on a nature tour, identifying flowers, plants, and trees she has learned. My grandson, who is just two, has improved his running style, digging skills, and strengthened his bond with his ‘always by his side’ dog. They have both honed their frisbee throwing, gardening, and ball throwing skills. As a family we have enjoyed hours of birdwatching while the seasons have changed from winter to summer. On rainy days or just before bed, we listen and learn the birdsongs of the birds we’ve seen. Walks in the woods now include listening as well as seeing to identify birds.

We’ve rescued birds, turtles, and toads from danger or injury. We’ve made a nature book to create pages with nature’s findings — butterfly wings, leaves, feathers, and treasures.

Richard Louv in his eye-opening book, “The Last Child In The Woods”, speaks about the decline of children being outdoors to hike, walk, fish, play, and garden. Science studies indicate that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and speaks of children missing out on important outdoor play and exploration. Florence Williams in her book, “The Nature Fix”, has followed scientists around the world who study the positive effects of being in nature. When we are outdoors in nature — the woods, the beach, or hiking mountains — we can lower blood pressure, calm our minds, and decrease the effects of daily stress. Nature allows us to be more creative, improve problem solving skills, and leads us back to our busy lives refreshed.

The fresh air, the changing seasons as well as the sunshine has helped my grandchildren grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. They have become more independent and resilient being in a natural setting. Each day they are filled with nature. They are not experiencing nature deficit disorder that is so common with children today.

For myself, I’ve re-learned to relax into play and exploration while letting some of my ‘responsible to do’ lists take a back seat. I enjoy watching butterflies land on flowers, hummingbirds drink from the feeders, and looking for toads.

Do you play? How do you play?

Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu Center

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“Love is when your name sounds safe coming out of someone’s mouth.”
~ anonymous child’s quote

I spent last week at the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit held at Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA. It was a smorgasbord of ideas, techniques, and stellar presenters. Connecting with friends I know and meeting new friends was a real boost to my positivity. My only regret was that I couldn’t go to every workshop — we were challenged by needing to decide as many workshops were happening at the same time.

I’m writing about this to whet your appetite and encourage you to plan to attend the next Summit a year from now. The topic on this Summit was Love within the framework of embodied positive psychology. I attended the one last year and have decided that it will be part of my schedule for every one. I’d love you to be there!

Note: this is my synopsis from my own notes & experience. Apologies if I wasn’t able to attend your workshop.

We began on opening night with Megan McDonough of Wholebeing Institute asking us to consider what we wished to gain, give, and grow into during our time at Kripalu and the Summit. We were asked to consider our own growth within a larger ecosystem of ‘we’. We looked at love as so much more than romantic love — how we love one another in micro-moments of connection that reaches beyond romance to our daily interactions.

Neal Mayerson spoke of VIA strengths and our personally unique imprint through our own strengths. One of his pearls that remains with me is that “Deep love requires BEING in order to be SEEN.” In other words, the importance of being ourselves.

Caroline Miller talked about grit and hard goals which both nurture and require resilience. She talked at length about how our children don’t take risks anymore and our educational system is, sadly, dumbing them down to a fearful degree.

Joan Borysenko inspired us with her wisdom on compassionate presence, empathy, humans as social animals, and how we require the shelter of one another in order to thrive.

For me, Lynda Wallace’s workshop on ‘Love and Work’ helped me clarify an idea I’ve been tossing around for a few years. I’m excited to see where my exploration and research lead.

Howard Martin, of the Heartmath Institute, reminded us of the critical juncture we, as humans, have reached where disruption is the new constant. From there he talked about heart coherence of positivity and our hearts natural intelligence.

On Thursday morning, Stephen Cope enlightened us about friendship and, even with its risk, is important. To know more, consider reading his newest book, ‘Soul Friends’.
I went to listen to Karen Whalen-Berry present her inspirational wisdom on intentions, goals, and working toward our ideal or best self. I appreciated her handouts which we could explore our own intentions and ideal self.

Later in the day, my own workshop on the impact of eye contact for deep connection and trust was an honor to present to so many open hearts, open minds, and open eyes.

Friday morning, Barbara Fredrickson spoke of positive emotions unlocking other-focused thinking or more ‘we’; less ‘me’. She then spoke of the upward spiral of Positivity Resonance and cardiac vagal tone. She reminded us of the importance of mindfulness and awe. Barbara Fredrickson ended with encouraging us to bring more positivity resonance into our lives by making a plan to do so.

Ending the Summit, Megan McDonough left us with a question, “What value do we take into the world?” She let us in on next years theme by reminding us to become leaders by aiming for our highest and our best.

I left feeling full, inspired, and plans to continue my own positivity resonance and creating micro-moments of love throughout my day.

(The Summit was book-ended with Masterclasses which I will write about in a future post)

Practicing Gratitude with “The Little Book of Gratitude”

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Robert A. Emmons has a real winner in his book, “The Little Book of Gratitude.” I find this book a bright gem to carry with me anywhere, reminding me of the benefits of a gratitude practice and a wealth of activities for expanding my daily gratitude practice.

Emmons research has shown that gratitude, among many other strengths, is the best indicator of emotional well-being and strong relationships. He says, “It (gratitude) is also the truest approach to life.” In this little book, Emmons reminds us that gratitude is a valuable life orientation. Research shows we more easily notice the negative because we are wired for negativity as a survival mechanism. Through daily practice we can reorient our focus to what is good, what is going well, and all that exists in our days to give thanks for. When we do this we experience better health, increased well-being, and live with more contentment and inner peace.

“The Little Book of Gratitude” is filled with research, wisdom, activities, and even the myths surrounding gratitude. Many of the activities I have practiced for years and I have learned even more by reading this little book. Yes, it is little and can easily fit into a purse, backpack, or bag.

My favorite reminder for gratitude, as a life practice, is Emmons, ‘The 3 Stones of Gratitude’. What are the 3 stones? 1. Look for the good. 2. Receive the good. 3. Give back the good. I have my three stones on my altar and, often, in a pocket as I go about my day.

I highly recommend this book to learn about gratitude and develop a regular practice of gratitude so that you, too, can experience both the health and happiness benefits of giving thanks.

The Value of Massage

I was recently asked the value of massage? I am a massage therapist, massage instructor, and have received massage regularly for most of my adult life, yet, I found myself pausing before answering the question. I have been participating in the massage world for so long, I take its value for granted and give it little thought beyond scheduling my own massage or preparing to give a massage to a client.

My first answer to her question is that massage is an essential part of my self-care routine along with exercise, good food, rest, yoga, and meditation. I get massage regularly — once a week when I can and, at the very least, twice a month — because I can’t imagine my life without it. Massage, both giving and receiving, has been a valuable part of my own healing from childhood trauma. Massage helps me relax when I can’t on my own or simply want the support to relax. Massage is therapeutic when I’ve been injured or have overworked muscles from exercise or work (and too much snow shoveling) – it facilitates my own healing and balancing. Massage also allows my mind to relax as I get to receive care from someone else’s experienced touch.

I am an advocate for regular massage whether once a week or several times a year. Massage balances our nervous system by boosting our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the relaxation response as well as decreasing inflammation, lowering heart disease, and increasing heart rate variability (an important marker for overall health). Massage also lowers blood pressure, aids in creating a quiet mind, encourages our immune systems to work better, inspires our body’s healing systems, and improves circulation. Massage helps facilitate healing from stress, overexertion, injury, and emotional upset. Massage also facilitates the release of Oxytocin, the calm-and-connect, feel good neuropeptide I spoke about in my last blog post.

Massage is safe touch so I don’t need to worry about unsavory or unwanted touch. I know I can talk with my massage therapist if her touch is too firm or too light. When I work with clients, I encourage them to let me know if my strokes are painful or too light. I tell them that they live in their bodies, I don’t. So communication along the way is essential for me to do my best to serve their needs.

[Note: I do know there are those uncommon & unfortunate scenario’s where massage therapists overstep safe touch boundaries. Unfortunately, those are the folks who give massage a ‘bad’ name.]

Massage is self-care, which I encourage all my clients and/or students to include in their health protocols. I am grateful I learned the value of self-care early in my adult life as everything I do for myself, my health, and happiness allows me to be more fully present in my work and enjoy a full, healthy, and active life.

If you have never tried massage, go and schedule one today. If massage doesn’t appeal to you, consider acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu, or acutonics as part of your self-care. You owe it to yourself.

Carving a Path to Health through Chemical Boosts

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Did you know that your body has a host of chemicals accessible to you for boosting both your health and happiness? As a health practitioner, I find this fascinating and exciting. I get to see my clients with a different perspective — which chemicals are they a bit short on that could be a player in their compromised health?

These chemicals — Serotonin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Endorphins — when released, provide you with opportunities to feel healthier and happier. In fact, you can turn them on for a boost by doing simple and fun exercises/activities throughout your day.

By learning about these naturally existing chemicals and how they detract or enhance our health, we can look for those things we can do to help them be released. These chemicals get released in short bursts and don’t tend to last. We can increase the frequency of their presence with new habits. We can create micro-moments of chemical boosts. Micro-moments add up over time to improved over-all health and positivity.

Here is a quick overview of our inner chemistry — the four major players for health and happiness. (Note: there are many chemical processes in our body happening all the time, these are the major players).

1. Dopamine: For most of us, when we are low in dopamine, we experience self- doubt and tend to procrastinate. When we have enough dopamine circulating we feel motivated. One of the easiest ways to boost our dopamine is to take our large goals and chunk them down to smaller goals. Each time we accomplish one of our smaller goals, consciously celebrate your work. Celebrations can be simple — no need for a party with all of your friends (unless you want to). I like to celebrate by going to my favorite bookstore or cafe for my favorite coffee or tea. I return with more motivation to go onto my next goal.
2. Oxytocin: Too little of this neuropeptide and we experience mistrust or separation. We can boost oxytocin through holding hands, hugging, touch (massage anyone?), and, my favorite, eye contact. Each day we can boost our oxytocin in simple ways that connect us to others leading to a calm and connect state of mind.
3. Serotonin: When we lack serotonin, we feel depression and/or loneliness. The easiest way to boost serotonin is to practice heartfelt gratitude. End your day with listing 3 – 5 things you are grateful for from your day. You will feel better and improve your sleep as well.
4. Endorphins: Most associated with the second wind that athletes experience. When we lack endorphins, we feel pain and increased stress. Exercise is one way to increase endorphins. Another way is a good laugh (a full belly laugh) or even a good cry. If the weather prevents me from getting out into nature (my favorite endorphin release), I keep a stack of movies that always bring on my laughter or my tears.

I hope you find this useful and will plan for daily boosts of one or more of your naturally occurring chemicals for health and happiness. Let me know how it works for you!