meditation

To Those With Invisible Illnesses

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about invisibility. I’m not talking about the super power, I’m talking about things that can’t be seen. Like invisible illnesses. If you have followed me for some time or know me you are aware of my invisible illnesses: eating disorders, anxiety, un-diagnosed GI issues. But there are also more invisible illnesses: depression, other mental disorders, addiction, autoimmune diseases (fibro, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc…)With 1 in 5 adults experiencing or diagnosed with mental illness, and approx 50 million people living with an autoimmune disorder , chances are you have known someone who is suffering without you being aware of it it.

 

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Those of us who live with these various illnesses become masters of masking our pain with smile and concealing it better than the best make up concealer in the world. Sometimes we are too good at covering it up that people don’t believe us.  Invisible illnesses are also hard to explain when on the outside you look happy and healthy but internally your body is waging war. It seems that unless we bear our souls, post a billion IG videos documenting our lives, send up prayer requests in small groups, act sick all the time, become hermits; then do people only sorta begin to understand or have a bit of sympathy.

I can’t tell you how many times people don’t believe me when I say I have an illness. When I first began to seek help for my eating disorder I constantly heard, “you don’t look like you have one”, “you aren’t emaciated, just thin, only emaciated people have eating disorders”, “but you eat. how can you have anorexia when you I see you eat all the time?”,  “you can’t be addicted to exercise, exercise is healthy!”. Now with my mysterious GI issues I hear, “you are too young to have this problem”, “are you sure you have a problem?”, “it’s just IBS”. Do this sound familiar? “You’re just tired, “all you need is a nap”, “you’re being over dramatic”, “do more yoga”, “try this essential oil”…the list goes on and on.

 

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I have blogged about this before and keep discussing it in therapy, how difficult it is for me to work on cultivating a positive body image when my body hates me. Who else has been there? Between people not believing us, the doctors appointments, the episodes, bland diets, and tears we forget that we aren’t our illness.  It is so easy to get caught up in the physical that we wear ourselves down even more. The disconnect continues to grow and fester till it’s unbearable. But is it truly unbearable?

How can it be bearable? By coming together and lifting each other up. Reminding one another that we are beautiful beings who are capable of so much more; that there is more to life and even on our worst day it’s a miracle that we are even here. We can also see each other–and I don’t mean physically look. I mean really see. Recognize others who are like us and show support. Educate others on these invisible illnesses and teaching them how to show support for people like us. For my yogis out there, really practice Namaste.   Lastly, take time to remind yourself that you aren’t your body by reading this meditation. Then reach out to someone who needs to be seen, fully loved, and fully heard.

 

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So next time you are all alone in our bedroom wrapped up in our favorite blanket cuddling with our doggy waiting for our episode to be over, that we aren’t alone. There is someone else out there wrapped up in their favorite blanket, cuddling with their animal, waiting for their episode to be over.

 

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When the Yoga Works

I have been practicing yoga for sometime but have really prescribed to it over the past few years and more so lately because I am a yoga teacher! So I really have to live up to the yoga hype right? Actually, I don’t have to live up to the “yoga teacher” hype but it does help me to be more aware of yoga practices, how to live more yogiclly, and to practice what I preach (which is so much easier said than done!). My biggest challenge in the realm of yoga and recovery life is that of being meditative.

Meditation is not what most people think, thinking of nothing. Meditation is developing a mindful attention to one thing at a time and giving all your energy and focus on that one thing. My meditation practice isn’t sitting there in lotus with my malas smelling lavender essential oil and chanting Ohm. In fact, my meditation is practice is anytime I can just be still and focus on one thing, usually it is a chore/task/yoga pose. My meditation practice has stepped up since yoga teacher training, before then it was non-existent. In my teacher training we were required to establish a meditation practice and journal it. I went from zero minutes all the way to seven minutes in the course of eight months. I went from manic monkey mind to just monkey mind. I went from unmindful and hustle bustle to a more mindful hustle and bustle. Sometimes I never really notice how far I have come until someone points it out or I am in a situation where normally I’d be a walking ball of stress and anxiety and I am surprisingly clam. Like a magically fountain spring in the holler calm. Nothing showed me this more than my recent trip to the allergist.

I went to the allergist to get my food allergy panel retested because it’s been a while and it needed a check up. If you haven’t experienced an allergy than you a lucky duck. Allergy panels suck. You  lay on your belly and they prick your skin. If that isn’t bad enough they begin to fill the little pricks with possible allergens. Right as those allergens hit the pricks your skin goes on fire if an allergen is present. Then you have to lay there for fifteen to twenty minutes. No music, no TV, no human interaction. Just you and the burning, itching, kerosene soaked fueled fire, that is on your back. You can’t scratch it. You can’t move. All you can do is lay there and breathe. Breathe. All I did was breathe. I practiced my breath counting exercise (my favorite pranayama, count inhales and make the exhales the same length). 1,2,3,4,5,6, in and out 1,2,3,4,5,6. I began to feel the groundedness of laying on my belly. I began to close the eyes and imagine my breath filling up my body, just like I tell my students. I kept counting. 1,2,3,4,5,6, in and  out 1,2,3,4,5,6. When my mind would wonder or think of something else I would acknowledge it and go back to counting. 1,2,3,4,5,6, in and out 1,2,3,4,5,6. I didn’t feel my back burn. I didn’t feel the itching. I lost track of time. I almost feel asleep (but that could’ve been because it was 8 am). Before I knew it the alarm went off and it was over. They counted my results and we discussed my test. After I left the allergist office I realized that yoga works. I was in a situation where I normally am unhappy, irritated, and dread. But I didn’t really notice much of anything. I barely felt any itching. I just accepted the moment.

Yoga works when you want it to. All you have to do is surrender to it and just do it! Just do yoga. Breathe in. Breathe out. 1,2,3,4,5,6.

Yoga and Eating?—why yes and it is not what you think!

When I first got my yoga teacher training book list I saw a book I was scared to read/thought it would be triggering….Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein. What I thought would be another book on how to eat like a yogi, or another “diet” book, I wanted to avoid it. I have a hard time reading anything that has to do with eating or “dieting” because of my own issues and how I am navigating my own recovery. I heard from my peers how great the book was, even from one who was in ED recovery too. So I decided to give it a whirl. Boy, was I surprised! This book is great for ED’s. It isn’t about what to eat, but how to eat better with where you are in your “diet” or lifestyle.Eisenstein breaks up the book into a variety of chapters addressing willpower, breath, personality and food, karma, fat, sugar, different kinds of diet, food preperation/cooking, and so much more. He dives deep into each subject and relates it all to his idea of Yoga of Eating. Take mindfulness and love of food and you got Yoga of Eating!

Yoga of Eating has definitely helped me navigate this world of ED recovery and how to approach my lifestyle with happiness and food appreciation. I believe that those of us in recovery and professionals who work with ED patients need to read this book. It can definitely help with perspective and break down some barriers ED sufferers have with food.

Here are some nuggets of food wisdom I found worth sharing:

*”Self-improveent is an appealing but malignant idea, a poignant rejection of our innate goodness. It means that we have accepted and internalized those messages of deficiency, laziness, and sin. Sometimes people take up a strict diet in hopes of therefore being good, deserving, or pure, thus establishing a tendency to withhold from themselves what they really want or need. Even without this tendency, because our conventional dietary recommendations are a confusing mish-mash of shoulds and shouldn’ts that seemingly have little to do with our desires as expressed in the body, a diet of self-improvement inevitably becomes a diet of self-denial. ” (12)

*”You are a symphony of vibrations that encompasses every thought you think, everything you do, everything you eat, everything you are.” (20)

*”The idea of deep breathing is not to impose upon the breath, not to direct it or control it in any way; rather it is the opposite–to liberate the breath, to free it of the constraints already upon it. That is why the foundation of deep breathing is what I call natural breathing…The same joy of liberation applies to diet as well, and equally it requires a release of physical habits and mental habits such as belief systems.” (32-33)

*”The central practice of the Yoga of Eating could not be simpler: to fully experience and enjoy each bite of food.” (41)

*”The benefits of the Yoga of Eating come not from self-denial, but from uninhibited enjoyment of and delight of food. nonetheless, the practice I have described may seem demanding and extreme. Meals, after all, are our main theater of social interaction. Who wants to spend every meal in silence? It would seem that the Yoga of Eating take all the fun out of eating…Why do we use meals for social interactions; for dates, for instance? One reason is that without distractions–such as a meal, a view, an activity, at least a cup of tea–interaction with other people gets uncomfortably intense. True intimacy develops under conditions of silence or joint creativity–and true intimacy is scary and uncomfortable. So, we use various means to keep intimacy at arm’s length, interposing small talk, glances away, facial masks, insincere remarks, little jokes changes of subject, sips of tea…or bites of food. Eating helps us maintain a comfortable distance from one another. Any time things get uncomfortable, you can escape into your food. Moreover, the acts and sensations of eating themselves dull one’s awareness of other presences.” (49)

*”The good news is that when you practice attentive eating, even once a day or less, you progressively {instill} a habit of complete chewing and assimilation of nutritive energies. Eating becomes so enjoyable that it calls to you through the conversations and through the distractions. It is not willpower that draws you back to the eating sensations, but rather the sheer pleasure of the sensations themselves, which begins to overwhelm the allure of distractions. Just as meditation brings serenity and mindfulness to all of life, so also does a daily  practice of attentive eating.” (52)

*”Do not be afraid to let go of a diet when it no longer serves you.” (61)

*”Let your {food choice} be okay, no matter how {shocking} it violates your knowledge of nutrition and good diet and, with full attention, enjoy what there is to enjoy.” (67) (very important for us with ED’s!!!!!)

*Neither does “health worship” reflect a sincere love of the body. there are people, most notably extreme adherents of various dietary philosophies or exercise regimens, who worship bodily health, seeing it as an indication of virtue, and disease as a sign of, or punishment for, some impurity of diet practice.  According to this calculus, the healthy zealot of our scenario is superior to the sick people of the world. He is better than they are. He has found the True Gospel, and will not hesitate to prozelytize. Very often (as with anyone who clings to pride) the result is humiliation–and what could be more humiliating to the health zealot than a serious illness? But even if the health-worshipper never gets sick, what good does his health do? The body is our vehicle for living and acting in the world; it is meant to be used. There is more to health, to wholeness, than mere physical integrity. You have been incarnated as this body for a purpose, and to achieve it your body possesses tremendous strength, resilience, and resources.” (72)

*”Like a young child, your body loves you totally and instinctively. Like a faithful dog, it stays loyal even when you kick and abuse it.” (74)

*In regards to fasting…”It does no good to clean the body without doing any deeper spiritual work.” (80)

*”A healthy diet thus becomes a constant battle between or natural appetites and the received belief that fat is bad.” (89)

*”In Chinese the most common world for fat in describing a person, pang, is never used to describe fat, fei, piece of meat, and I’ve been told this is true in other languages as well.” (90)

* In regards to meat eating/veganism/vegetarianism…”In general, though, to sustain a state of being that is energetically involved in the world, and that is hale, hearty, and humorous, meat is necessary for most people…You may choose to ignore your body’s needs. That’s okay! If you have a physical need for meat but nobly chose a vegan diet out of compassion, that is fine–as long as you can accept with equanimity and without resentment the physical degeneration that may follow. I have known quite a few vegans who have developed some kind of chronic disease or degenerative physical condition…Physical degeneration is virtually assure if the motive for the diet is not entirely compassionate, but tainted with the kind of vanity–a factitious self-image of purity, superiority, or exculpation from the sins of industrial society. Self-righteousness and judgmentality indicate that vanity-love of an image, in this case the image of compassion–has supplanted compassion itself as the motive for eating a vegan diet…Of course there are people who thrive on a vegan diet–most often people who are well-nourished in the spirit, secure and generous, autonomous and nurturing of others. They do not take pride in their diet or derive self-esteem from it. They do not advertise it or urge it indiscriminately on on others; they seldom mention it. They are radiant people. But even these people usually do better with some amount of eggs, butter, milk, and cheese, unless they practice a very monastic lifestyle.” (99)

*”The Yoga of Eating is quite the opposite: that each is the ultimate authority on his or her bodily requirements, and that the body will reveal its requirements given sufficient attention and trust.” (100)

*”Closed off from the experience of sweetness in life, yet hungering for it to the depths of our souls, we turn to the imitation of this sweetness in sugary foods. Sugar does nothing to allay the essential longing, though; at most it temporarily distracts our attention from the soul’s craving for sweetness.” (104)

*”Perhaps sweet foods are here to remind us and reaffirm that yes, life is sweet.” (106)

*”For yoga means union, and the Yoga of Eating extends beyond bodily integrity to encompass every aspect of our individual and collective lives.” (130)

*”Thus the fundamental method and practice of the Yoga of Eating is to listen to your body-soul, trusting the tools of taste, smell, and intuition, not imposing any specific expectations, not expecting any specific results. The results will come themselves. Meanwhile, enjoy the delights so freely available from food, a gift that never ends.” (145)

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depression hurts *blank* can help

We all remember those Zoloft commercials, “depression hurts, Zoloft can help” and they have that very sad looking circle be bopping along…The other day I was reading some articles about how this or that can cure depression. It also happened that I was in a depressive (I have dysthmia) episode and I was talking to my husband about how much crap that is. Nothing can cure depression. Things can help it but there is no cure. In certain articles depression is viewed as a thing someone chooses, that it is just like any other sickness. One will get over it in a few days, it isn’t a big deal. Now, I believe everyone will experience the kind of “feeling blue depression” at one point in their life, but there is a difference between that and clinical depression or a form of depression where one needs to seek treatment.

First, let us start off with the different types of depression (Webmd and NIMH):

  1. Major Depressive Disorder
  2. Persistent Depressive Disorder, sometimes known as dysthmia
  3. Bipolar Disorder (though I view this as a different disease all together)
  4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  5. Psychotic Depression
  6. Postpartum Depression
  7. Atypical Depression

*The first two are the major ones, the other ones develop under unique situations*

Today, I want to mainly focus on the first two because those are the most common and also seem to be the most misunderstood.  According to the ADAA  approx 40 million adults suffer from a form on an anxiety disorder while of that about 6.8 million adults suffer from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). Major Depressive Disorder affects 14.8 million adults/year and 3.3 million adults suffer from Persistent Depressive Disorder/Dysthmia. It is also not unusual for a form of depression to have a co-existing disorder such as but not limited to: bipolar, eating disorders, PTSD, IBS, fibromyalgia, sleep issues, chronic pain, substance abuse or alcohol abuse, adult ADHD.

From facts let us move on to biologically what goes on:

We all know that it is a chemical imbalance, but what about the other biological factors? The limbic system (regulates emotions, sexual drives, stress responses), the hypothalmus (regulates temperature, appetites, and regulates the pituitary gland), and the hippocampus, all can get out of wack and mess with hormones and regulation. The neurotransmitters can also not transmit signals to parts of the brain correctly, again causing deregulation. All of this together, combined with certain genetics, can cause one to have depression. Also, when one experiences a traumatic event it can trigger a portion of the brain, possibly a part of the limbic system, to not function properly. For a more in depth look at depression please check out the NIMH website here

Medicine and therapy are the best way to manage depression. Since it is a chemical imbalance, we need the medicine to help us make those chemicals. There are natural ways to help depression but they do not fix the problem. It is important to understand that when articles are being published saying, “fix depression the natural way”, “your diet is causing depression”, “eat this and fix your depression”, etc…Now, I am very into natural medicine and herbs, I really don’t like to take medicine but there are times when it is needed. The list below are some natural aids that can help make your depressive days better. Again, like most treatment programs, what works for one does not work for another. It is also important to remember that it is very important to talk to a healthcare professional if you think you have any symptoms of depression or to find a program that works for you.

Natural Aids to help your Medicine and Treatment Programs

*Holy Basil

        -I use this regularly in tea form. Of many things I have tried, this has really been beneficial to my medication.  It is also called Tulsi. IAs tea you will find it as pure tulsi, or be blended with other herbs. Holy Basil also makes for a great tincture to put in water. For more info on tulsi click here

*Exercise

       -Another aid I use regularly. Cardio is the most effective, but any form of exercise releases endorphins that can promote happy feelings. Ever heard of “runners high” or experienced it? Then you felt endorphins! just a minimum of 30 minutes can have major effects on depression.

*Cashews

       -I still don’t know how I feel about this, though I do enjoy cashews. Research is still iffy but I figured it was worth mentioning. I haven’t felt instantly happier after eating cashews like I do with Tulsi, but I do love the nutrition of a cashew!

*SAMe

         -An over the counter medicine, it has been available in the US since 1999 but has been studied in other countries. It is said to help parts of the brain and  make more of certain bodily nutrients that we already make. For an investigative article click here

*Meditation

         -I did not meditate till I started teacher training, and wow! I can definitely tell a difference on days I meditate and days I do not. I have also talked to some other friends who have depression or bi-polar and said meditating helped them a lot. One can just google depression and meditation and multiple scholarly articles come up.

*Acupuncture

          -Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that uses special needles to open energy channels which can heal the body. I have also used acupuncture and it was amazing! Again, many people turn to this aid and have seen great improvements in their depression/anxiety. Here is another great overview acupuncture and depression.

*Magnesium

        -This is a nutrient that our body needs. Magnesium helps with the biochemical reactions that happen in our body. Taking magnesium, like holy basil, help alleviate the symptoms of stress. For more info on magnesium and the brain read this fascinating article.

*Yoga

       -Last but not least the great and powerful YOGA! Yoga combines meditation and exercise. Yoga has been used for many many years to help individuals who have depression among other mental health issues. There are certain asanas in yoga along with certain breathing techniques that can calm one down and help the mind-body connection. Within the realm of yoga there are certain styles of yoga that can help even more than traditional Hatha yoga. Give yoga nidra or restorative yoga a try 🙂

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Are there any other natural aids that you use that I forgot to mention?

How do you manage your depression?

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Sources:

allaboutdepression.com

ADAA/Anxiety and Depression Association of America

WebMD

NIMH/National Institute of Mental Health

Dr. Weil

I am not my body-a meditation

This weekend was another emotionally taxing weekend at yoga teacher training. After last sessions anxiety attack I didn’t think it could get much worse. O was I wrong! This past weekend it was all about stripping down, tearing down our outside, being our own witness and looking deep within. This stuff always makes me uncomfortable (be it therapy or yoga) and I always fidget and avoid, avoid, avoid. I have very high walls around my heart and inner soul that I really don’t like to be torn down because I hate feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability makes me feel out of control and I HATE LOSING CONTROL. I know I still, even in therapy, have not fully let go. A part of me just cannot let go of the hurt, self-deprecating, and negative emotions. It is comforting to me even though I know that that statement is a lie. I have such a hard time letting people truly see me and letting control, maybe it is because I don’t know who I truly am. That is one reason why I am embarking on this yoga journey, that I can clear up the fog in the mirror and look deep into my own eyes and not be afraid of what I see.

This weekend we did a meditative practice(that I did not hate), that really  moved me. It spoke to me in a deep way that got me into my body in a good way. When my yoga mama read it, I knew that I had to share this with my fellow ED recoverers and strugglers. Please read this slowly, meditate on the words and see what this stirs up inside of you….

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Who am I? Meditation by Sri Ramana Maharshi

 

I have a body, but I am not my body. I can see and feel my body, and what can be seen and felt is not the true Seer. My body may be tired or excited, sick or healthy, heavy or light, anxious or calm, but that has nothing to do with my inward I, the Witness. I have a body, but I am not my body.

I have desires, but I am not my desires. I can know my desires, and what can be known is not the true Knower. Desires come and go, floating through my awareness, but they do not affect my inward I, the Witness. I have desires, but I am not my desires.

I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. I can feel and sense my emotions, and what can be felt and sensed is not the true Feeler. Emotions pass through me, but they do not affect my inward I, the Witness. I have emotions, but I am not my emotions.

I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. I can see and know my thoughts, and what can be known is not the true Knower. Thoughts come to me and thoughts leave me, but they do not affect my inward I, the Witness. I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts.

Affirmation:

I am what remains, a pure center of awareness, an unmoved Witness of all these thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations.

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Peace and Namaste.

softening up

As I go through my yoga teacher training I am continually opening myself up to new forms and practices of yoga. I am normally a power yoga, vinyasa yoga, inversion, junkie. Fast pace, breath filled movement is the way to quieten my brain. Yin yoga and restorative freak me out. Being still for an hour!? Holding poses five plus minutes. Ugh! Yoga torture!

I am always filled with stress or really up tight but the fluid movement of vinyasa or the crazy amounts of Sun Salutations in a power yoga class really calm my sea of chaos. The other styles of yoga seem to make my chaos worse, even though my  mentors say that is what I need. The great thing about yoga teacher training is you experience a wide range of classes and I also observe multiple classes. Each teacher training weekend my mentors keep telling me to explore the softer side of myself and yoga. That I need to not be afraid of the quiet and see what the quiet does.

In my three months of teacher training I have made it through a two hour restorative class and more recently a yoga nidra class. I am even able to be quiet in corpse pose for more than 5 minutes, well depending on the class I took. But it took me a few years to even be still in savasana/corpse pose for at least 5 minutes.

My first successful “quiet” class was a 2 hour restorative class in my RYT training. Out of all my classmates/peers I was the only one dreading this class. I could not imagine just laying there in poses, being still, restoring myself. An hour I could see, but 2…as class started I used my blocks, bolsters, straps, and breath to calm down and restore my body. With the help of the instructor and beautiful adjustments I was able to be quiet. Except in pigeon. Pigeon is my worst pose, I cannot do it and seeing everyone else melt into it was very difficult. My perfectionist, competitive side came out. I almost cried. But even after that I was able to calm down and find my inner stillness. I will say, after that class it was the best I felt ever! It even lasted into the following days. My body moved better, my inner workings seemed to be calmer, and I felt peaceful. I woke up that next morning with an inner peace that I hadn’t felt in quite some time or ever. Now I cannot wait to do another one and then learn to teach it and pass on this wonderful practice!

On Sunday, I took my first yoga nidra class. For those of you not familiar with yoga nidra, it is also known as yoga sleep/sleep yoga. In this practice you will hover between this state of awake and sleep. It is without a doubt the strangest thing I have experienced. Luckily there were Tibetian singing bowls to help ease into the process of nidra. I definitely spent the first ten minutes of the time fidgeting around but as I gave myself up to the relaxation/guided meditation and the sounds of the singing bowls I started to fall into the nidra, well as much as I could. I started to meditate and do the meditation exercises focusing on my breath (thank you Hanh) and continued to focus on the nidra. The next hour I just spent time getting into my body, feeling the vibrations, not beating myself up when I fell out of the nidra. Just like the restorative class, this hour flew by! I thought I would be sleepy afterwards, but I was revitalized. Energized. And hungry! Starving. I was so thankful that I got to experience yoga nidra and just like restorative, I can’t wait to try it again.

Now I can go to my mentors and with joy say that I have been still for hours, and have finally made an intention to explore the soft side of myself. Not only in yoga, but with my daily life in practicing self-lovingkindness and gentleness. I even want to take these practices off the mat and into my life, and others lives. So I challenge you today to embrace your soft side or try a challenging practice. Peace, love, and namaste darlin’s!

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