Massage, Health, and Oxytocin

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This weekend I get to do something I love doing and look forward to every May and August! I go to Camp Unleashed right here in Becket, MA. Yes, Camp Unleashed is all about dogs and their people. For three days, people come out to a YMCA camp in the woods of Becket with their dogs and do everything involving their dogs. They play, learn, swim, hike, and deepen their bonds.

What do I do? I get to lead Canine Massage workshops in the evenings — teaching and leading people in how to massage their dogs for health, healing, and being better advocates for their dogs by being the first to notice when something changes or goes wrong – conditions like arthritis (joint pain), injury, growths, and ticks which can lead to Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases (and yes, tick borne diseases are as unpleasant for dogs as they are for people). Both evenings are fun and relaxing for everyone!

Why am I writing about this? Canine Massage is an evening about being happy and healthy for both the dogs and their people! Many of us know the benefits of receiving massage. Our health improves through the skilled and healing touch of massage in many ways such as needed relaxation, improved circulation, lowered blood pressure, reduced stress hormones, and healing from strain or injury. For dogs, the benefits are the same when they receive massage. Massage calms them when they need calming such as after a long hike or when they are nervous before or during a storm. Massage can be done to energize them when they are getting ready for agility and/or show events so they are at their best. Massage improves healing times, increases circulation, lowers stress hormones, and increases the bonds we have with our canine companions.

Another important benefit of massage is the increase of oxytocin in both ourselves and our dogs — especially when we also include eye contact. Oxytocin is the hormone that not only leaves us feeling good, it also decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) which strengthens our immune system and our health. Oxytocin’s effects go even further — it plays an important role in social bonding and attachment while building trust. Also, when we increase our levels of oxytocin, we are more likely to experience a calm-and-connect response which aids in our feeling good and receiving all the benefits of massage — isn’t that something we’d all rather experience?

If you have a dog in your household, consider taking a few minutes to give some calming massage. It’s easy to do, fun, and you will both feel calmer and healthier.

If you don’t have a dog, no worries! You can massage your cat. You can also share massage with all the members of your family. We all deserve more oxytocin and the healing that comes from even a few minutes of a shoulder or foot massage.

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Creating Balance Through Recovery, Rest, and Restoration

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“A human being needs rest and recovery for optimal psychological and physiological functioning.”
~ Tal Ben-Shahar in The Certificate in Positive Psychology Course

There are times in life when our routines are disrupted, change is in process, unexpected events appear, and deadlines are fast approaching. And, in spite of or in addition to, the routines of our lives continue — work is a must, picking up children and taking them where they need to be, preparing meals, and all the chores of running a household do not pause to make room for the extras that are sure to come along.

How do you handle additional stress and disruptions? What goes to the back burner first? Most of us (me included) tend to skimp on our routines and practices that are essential for our self-care. We put off going to the gym, do not go for that walk in the woods, or go for that early morning run. We reschedule our yoga classes or walk past our meditation cushion to make room for doing the ‘more’ that has presented itself.

I know this because I am guilty of letting my self-care practices go until… the project is finished. I know this because I hear it every day from clients who say, “I’m too busy to take care of myself this week. Once I’m finished with ________, I’ll return to my routine.”

I am currently in the middle of such an unexpected change requiring my time, effort, and energy above and beyond my daily routine. My deadline is fast approaching with, still, much to do.

I’ve decided to approach this deadline differently. I have consciously insisted on rest and recovery when I need it over pushing it to the back burner for later. I am continuing my morning practice, my walks in the woods, and time to simply be or do that which provides for restoration time — like taking a walk around my yard with my granddaughter on FaceTime yesterday.

At first, my mind tried to rebel by chattering on endlessly about the long list of necessary ‘to do’s’ and the limited time I have before my deadline arrives. My mind wants me to let go of time to meditate, write, or hike in the woods by saying, “There isn’t enough time for everything, especially a walk in the woods!”

I, on the other hand, am insisting on continuing all those self-care activities! What I am learning is that allowing myself the time to rest, restore, and recover through my self-care routines and practices is that I am actually getting more accomplished. Yes! Having my self-care needs met means I am more focused on the tasks with fresh eyes and refreshed energy. And, yes, the deadline is fast approaching. I know there is plenty of time to get everything done and take care of myself.

By ignoring my self-care or plowing forward (which I am so good at) I was creating imbalance —ok, for several days I tried to plow through. The imbalance left me arguing with myself or fighting my physical need for restoration and being fully unfocused in whatever task I was trying to do. I was spending a lot of time resentful, frustrated, and scattered which meant valuable time was, indeed, being wasted!

Once I paused to honor my need for balance, everything began to flow with more ease. I am getting more done in less time because I am consistent with my need for rest and restoration through the consistency of my self-care practices.

How do you provide balance in your busy schedule? Do you honor your need for rest and restoration? If you are someone who puts your self-care on the back burner in order to plow through, what can you consider doing, today, to restore balance?

Changing Habits of Questionable and Unrelenting Mental Chatter

Transforming negativity, fear, anxiety and worries to more positive and upward thoughts with neuroplasticity.

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I don’t know about you, but my mind chatters on endlessly, especially when I am making changes, big decisions, or facing some unexpected challenge. It is like an endless loop of worry, questions, old habitual patterns, and over thinking. Sound familiar?

A number of years ago I began to relabel my chatter from ‘annoying interruptions’ to ‘giving myself instructions.’ At the time that relabelled my experience with the endless loop. I felt relief simply by renaming my mental chatter. Since then, I have learned that I have more choice around the conversations in my head.

Now, being someone (in my younger years, of course) who has always viewed rules and instructions with a sharp eye for loopholes and ways to live around the rules, this new label created a doorway of opportunity! I could make a choice whether to listen and follow my brain’s instructions or redesign those messages into a new story — a story with more positivity and hope. I felt a new sense of freedom.

Then, I learned about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to create new pathways, new learnings, and, quite simply, change — all the way to our last breath! I read ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’; ‘Evolve Your Brain’; ‘You Are Not Your Brain’; ‘The Power of Neuroplasticity’; and others. Each one confirming my move to change how I viewed my mental chatter!

How refreshing to learn that I did not need to continue living from by brain’s instructions that, too often, sounded old, familiar, habitual, and leaning too far into negativity. These messages were generally old stories or deceptive brain messages (DBM’s for short) that Schwartz and Gladding talk about in ‘You Are Not Your Brain’. Albeit, my brain’s efforts have been noble! All these instructions were & are an effort to keep me safe by keeping me in the familiar old programming — free from risk, new adventures, and considering choices that took me out of my box and into new, unfamiliar territories.

For those who know me, I haven’t been a great rule following model as my life has involved many alternative choices, risks, and leaps into the unknown. However, I have avoided many changes and challenges because my DBM’s have felt so real in my brain and my body — leading me down the path to perceived safety.

What I am learning in neuroplasticity is that my old neural pathways step up their game whenever I am faced with a change, new adventure, or challenge by becoming louder and insistent. Unless I decide to make a new neural pathway of positivity by renaming, reframing, and redirecting my focus. Does it take work? Of course it does! In order to change and create new habits that are positive, I make a plan with reminders posted around my house to remind me of my effort to change.

Here is what I do: First, I identify and relabel my DBM’s as what they are — deceptive brain messages. Second, I thank my brain for its valiant effort to keep me safe. Third, I refocus my attention toward my new direction of a positive habit. It is this last step that takes the daily work of doing and affirming – over and over again. It takes anywhere from 20 – 30 days of consistent effort to create a new habit (sometimes longer). My judge is when I am doing and acting in a new way without having to remind myself. Personally, I like to create 30 day challenges for myself, inspired by the Certificate in Positive Psychology Course that I’ve taken — a month is a nice stretch of time to begin carving a new neural pathway!

I must add that the deceptive brain messages and instructions don’t necessarily go away. In fact, my clever brain continues the endless loop just in case I am not paying attention! I simply keep returning to relabeling the chatter and sensations as deceptive brain messages (not based in current reality but following old programming), reframing by thanking my brain, and refocusing my attention in the positive direction I would prefer to follow.

Begin to notice what deceptive brain messages are chattering inside you! Then either try what I’ve suggested here and/or go get the book, ‘You Are Not Your Brain’. To learn more about the Certificate in Positive Psychology I mentioned above, go to http://www.wholebeinginstitute.com, to learn more. Best of luck and enjoy the more positive you!

“Your mind is your biggest ally. It gives you the capacity to choose where to focus your attention so that your actions align with your true self.”
~ You Are Not Your Brain

 

Embodied Positive Psychology Summit

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Lucky me! I just spent the week immersed in positivity at the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit held at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health! What an inspired week connecting with fellow students of the Whole Body Institute and meeting new friends as we explored how we carry forward the principles of Positive Psychology. Throughout the week there were numerous workshops, speakers, excited conversations, and opportunities to clarify and consider how we, both as individuals and community, will continue to live our lives directed by the science of meaning, happiness, and purpose. I am still wonderfully full as I look through my notes, photographs, and remember — it surely has been a week of memories!

Some of the topics discussed were ~ how character strengths support whole being; embodying compassion; resiliency; living with lovingkindness; the art of authenticity; embodied gratitude; positive psychology and narrative practices (the stories we live); songwriting with soldiers (not a dry eye in the room listening to this essential project); the connection between yoga and embodied positive psychology; spirituality; prioritizing positivity; and oh so much more!

Many of the speakers were fellow Positive Psychology students/colleagues ~ how exciting to hear how they are finding their niches in carrying all that we’ve learned into the world!

Personally, I was over the moon listening to Sharon Salzburg, Maria Sirois, Neal Mayerson, Tal Ben-Shahar, Megan McDonough and Barbara Fredrickson!

The focus of the week was Embodied Positive Psychology which looks at the whole person – body, mind, emotions, and spirit – and how we can and must embrace positive psychology. There were yoga classes, healthy meals, and (a high note for sure) Megha led her awesome ‘Let Your Yoga Dance’ sessions each noon break.

I am so grateful from every experience this week! I am also inspired to continue my living positive psychology and doing my own work in the world! I’ll finish with the spirit of loving kindness which truly was a theme throughout the week.

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you know ease of well-being
May you be at peace.