What I Learned This Weekend

Today I had the privilege of gathering with 10 other women at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center for a class I taught on Mindful Stress Reduction. The class focusses on different practices which ease stress and improve mind, body & spirit health and well-being through mindfulness and meditation. Each time I teach, I learn so much and today was no exception. Although many of the women were going through multiple losses including the loss of loved ones, their light was bright and illuminating.

Here are some of the insights they shared.

  1. Even in the midst of sorrow, practice gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for and while it won’t take your sadness away, it reminds you of life’s goodness.
  2. Sometimes what you need most is to stop and take care of yourself. Let the laundry sit unfolded or whatever you think you “need to do” before you stop to recharge. Sit still or do what nourishes you first.
  3. Take time to be in nature. Go outside with your family and turn off the indoor distractions. Reconnect with each other. Tune in to the simple pleasure of being together.
  4. You are not alone. Everyone is affected by life’s ups and downs. Stop feeling bad because it’s only you. It isn’t.
  5. Be prepared to make mistakes and fall in the same hole over and over. Become aware of the control you have to make a different choice. Even if you still fall in, notice where you are and how to get out. Then, learn to walk around the hole and finally, walk down a different street.
  6. It’s important to grieve the losses you experience in life. This is how you heal. They won’t go away if you deny them.
  7. In spite of what others want from you, be willing to say no especially if it’s best for you. Leave others to deal with the unpleasant circumstances they create.
  8. We create our own suffering. Learn to set aside unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, by finding activities you enjoy rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Life happens in the present moment. Embrace it.

For your homework this week, think about what you’ve learned this year which has helped you grow mind, body & spirit. Then, let us know. Remember, we are here.

Namaste

For Lillian as You Leave

Lillian Michalsky is an extra-ordinary person and someone I’ve been privileged to know if only for a short time. I met her over a month ago at a women’s retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch. Although she was not teaching the class, her wisdom and insight made an impression as she sat in her lounge chair in our circle, living with pancreatic cancer. Her life is a legacy for the strength of human spirit which I know will continue in the hearts and souls of those she’s touched long after she dies.

In truth, I don’t know much about Lillian’s past. I know that when she was in her early 20’s she came out to Montana on a mission trip, got “adopted” by one of the Native American tribes who live there, and became a medicine woman because of their trust in her. Until then, this tribe’s language had only been spoken, and they were afraid of losing their stories which they wanted to impart to their children and others. Together, she helped them develop a written alphabet and translate their stories so they could be preserved. Remarkable indeed.

I was fortunate enough to be in a prayer circle she led at Feathered Pipe at the conclusion of our retreat. As we shared our prayers with Lillian and India and prayed for each other, we created a sacred space which lovingly held our souls. It was the most meaningful, spirit-filled ceremony I’ve ever been in and a beautiful way to end our time together. For this, I am forever grateful. I am likewise grateful for the generosity and compassion of all my sister goddesses in the circle.

Saturday, I learned that her physical strength is dwindling and her time here may be drawing to a close. In celebration of Lillian, I am asking that this week each of you meditate on a song which is one of her favorites, “Give Yourself to Love” by Kate Wolf. It is a good reminder for all us. Here are some of the lyrics:

“Kind friends all gathered ’round, there’s something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside;
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can’t hide.

You must give yourself to love if love is what you’re after;
Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.”

You can listen to the song  by clicking here.

With much love, Lillian. Namaste.

Mind, Body and Spirit Comfort to Ease Perinatal Loss

Losing someone you love is always challenging but losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss often feels unbearable. When a baby dies during pregnancy, delivery or early postpartum, there are multiple losses which include the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for this child, hopes and dreams for you as their parent, and postpartum hormonal and birth-related changes without a baby to hold in your arms to feel that it’s  still worthwhile.

Here are some suggestions to help ease your mind, body and spirit. Remember, none of these tips will take away your grief but perhaps allow you to have a little more physical energy, mental ability, and spiritual comfort to deal with your loss.

  1. Try to eat at regular intervals to keep your body fueled. Substitute more frequent snacking if that’s all you feel like and choose whatever sounds good. Stay well-hydrated. Take a multi-vitamin. Let others bring you food or pick up ready-made healthy meals.
  2. Take breaks which allow your body and mind to rest. Don’t push yourself to resume your “normal” schedule if you have the flexibility to slow down. Strike a balance between distracting yourself and always having something to do. Grief takes a toll on us body, mind and spirit, and it takes time to heal.
  3. Nourish yourself with pleasant experiences and sensations. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to soothing music. Light a candle. Take a warm bath or shower. Do some gentle exercise or yoga. If you have other children, play or spend time with them. You are not betraying your baby by choosing to participate in life.
  4. Be-friend yourself. Imagine what you would say to a good friend or loved one whose baby died. Would you judge them for their feelings? Would you tell them to stop having a tough time or be done with their grieving? Chances are “no.” Don’t treat yourself that way either.
  5. Don’t tell yourself that because your partner isn’t grieving in the same way you are, they don’t care. Men and women grieve differently. Women are generally more open with their feelings and men seem less emotional. Again, don’t judge or be critical. Acknowledge that grief is expressed by each person in his/her own way.
  6. When other people make comments which seem uncaring, don’t take it personally. Our culture is fairly unskilled at dealing with death. Often. we think we need to say something to make the grieving person feel better instead of listening. Comments like “it’s probably for the best or now they’re with God” may provoke anger when intended to be comforting.
  7. Seek out people who do understand and bring you comfort. Although friends and family my worry about you and want to stop by to talk, it is up to you who you want to see and when. Steer clear of people who aren’t helpful and trigger bad feelings. Also, you may not want to see pregnant relatives and friends or participate in baby-related activities (showers, first birthdays, etc). Give yourself a break and don’t go.
  8. Be grateful. This is especially challenging after losing your child. However, if we let ourselves, we may find something in the midst of our sorrow which helps us feel supported and loved. Although you may feel alone in the darkness, the light of a new day will dawn. It is the nature of life.

Take good care. Namaste.

Two in One: Mindfulness is Good for You and Often Fun

Last week, I had the best time practicing “mindfulness”. Yes, I mean it. By learning to notice and savor the moment I was in, life became very juicy. Let me explain.

Working from home, I got to start my day listening to Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s Meditation Experience on Grace and Gratitude. When I was done, I sat on the deck off my bedroom, having coffee and enjoying the breeze and lush greenery. I had time to reflect on many things which escape me when I’m too busy including my gratitude for all I have, especially the people in my life I cherish. I even finished a book I was eager to read, “Artemis An Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman” by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen who led a retreat I attended 5 weeks ago in Montana which was awesome and inspiring. Click here to listen to Jean read from Artemis.

The highlight of the week though was going Friday to my colleague and friend, Ashley Nanney’s new venue, The Corner Gates, to tape some videos on health and healthy eating for her company, Feed Your Vitality. I showed up at 11:15 with agenda in mind but to “stay in the moment” and experience whatever unfolded. If you have participated in theatre or media before, you know that being “shot” (an interesting word) can be stressful, especially if you’re worrying about how it’s going to turn out. Actually, the hardest part was saying the name of my practice, Midwest Mind Body Health Center. Who knew?

Moving on “mindfully,” I stayed for several hours and enjoyed watching the presentations of other guests, savored a fabulous lunch in good company (as always happens there), and finally, got to sample a leche martini. Yum! Those are good! Little did I know when I showed up that morning, the day would be wonderful but by being present and letting the day unfuld, it was-mindful and fun. Two for one.

This week, see if you can stay present to the moment you’re in and notice what it brings. Listen to the mindfulness exercise which follows to help you “Stay in the Moment.”

Have a good week. Namaste.

“Without Mud, The Lotus Blossom Doesn’t Grow”-Thanks Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone is a tireless warrior, crusading for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders(PMAD’s) to “like the lotus which can only blossom in the mud,” turn the “unfortunate circumstances” of their life into something beautiful. She has inspired tens of thousands of women to accept themselves and be “transformed not trapped” by the experience of PMAD’s. A survivor of Postpartum OCD herself, she knows what it is to suffer but more important what it is to survive and learn to thrive.

In 2004, Katherine introduced her blog, Postpartum Progress to moms all over the world. Postpartum Progress is one of the most read blogs by women anywhere and has become an invaluable resource to moms and professionals in the PMAD community. In 2011, Katherine created the non-profit organization, Postpartum Progress, Inc. to spread the message that women need not suffer in silence, that help was available, and that through supporting each other, we can heal.

Next, she launched “Climb Out of Darkness,” in 2013. Held on or near the longest day of the year annually to help shine the mostlight on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, the event features mothers and others across the globe joining together to climb mountains and hike trails to represent their symbolic rise out of the darkness of maternal mental illness and into the light of hope and recovery. This year, “Climb” participants raised over $240,000 to assist women who are still in the dark and have not healed yet.

Last weekend, she hosted the first “Warrior Moms” conference in Boston, attended by 120 participants, celebrating perinatal health, recovery and self-care. An opportunity for moms to once again transform the pain and suffering accompanying PMAD’s into the “compost” for nourishing their growth into a more resilient woman who knows that life can be perilous and finds the strength to carry on with her sister moms arm in arm. As Katherine would say, “warrior moms” supporting and caring for each other, bearing witness to trial and triumph and together, getting through.

From the community of moms and providers that you’ve served so tirelessly, Katherine, thanks so much! Also, a huge “namaste,” which means, “the light in me honors the light in you.”

For your practice this week, I encourage you to sign up for the Chopra/Oprah meditation experience which is about gratitude and grace. I’ve already joined and feel it’s one of their best programs yet. Click here and go to it directly.

Best to each of you. Namaste.

Self-Compassion Always: An Important Skill to Learn

Sometimes I think self-compassion may be the most important aspect of mindfulness that I teach. When students first come to class, they often judge themselves and worry what others will think of their practice despite my reminding them that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to approach mindfulness. Over time, they learn to treat themselves with more kindness and caring like they would a friend. Instead of evaluating themselves negatively, they learn to appreciate themselves and their effort regardless of outcome.

This is also true of many moms and especially women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders who think they have to be perfect in order to be good moms. Last week, I got a FB comment from a postpartum mom about last Monday’s post on Paula Sims and it touched me so, I wanted to share it.

Here’s what she said,

“I think the mothers who are suffering with PMADs have not taken a freedom yet, and I am trying to get what I want and what I need, not what my culture wants. My culture tends to push a mom to be perfect, a supermom, and my journey to be a mom was not easy, and I felt I was a failure. In fact, my family said that what happened to me occurred because I was too inadequate and weak to be a mom. So, I hid my depression and tried to be a supermom and not to be weak but my illness got worse. Striving for perfection does not heal anything..

Finally, I put down my mask, speaking out to my friends and told  them I experienced Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Psychosis. I said it is a medical condition and was not my fault. This is not what I expected…I don’t care what people around me say now. That is my freedom, putting down my mask, to not be perfect and to forgive my self,,love my self which I am starting to do..I love myself and am accepting my depression as part of my life’s journey, not a disaster,,

I am glad Paula Sims has forgiven herself, and I need to learn from her. My psychosis was different than Paula’s, but still very strong. When my son died at birth two years ago, I believed I had killed him even though my doctor said it was not my fault but a genetic abnormality. When my daughter was born, I told myself I was evil because I could not deliver her vaginally and was unsuccessful in breastfeeding her.

Now I realize, ‘Hey it is okay not be perfect.’ I FORGIVE myself and that’s my freedom.  I will not let anybody tell me I’m a “bad mom” and lead me to do what I don’t want to..I have learned this.”

Your mindfulness practice for this week is to practice self-compassion always and gratitude for who you are despite your “imperfections.”  Please listen to the video which follows.

Best to each of you. Namaste.

Finding Freedom Wherever You Are

With celebrating Independence Day and returning from my women’s retreat, the question of “How do we become truly free?” has been on my mind. While many external circumstances seem to limit our freedom, I am increasingly struck by how much we “Imprison ourselves” through recurring thoughts, feelings and memories which is often called our conditioning. If Viktor Frankl could find meaning and choice in a Jewish concentration camp during the second World War, maybe we can too in spite of what may be happening in our lives.

So today, here’s an excerpt from my friend Paula Sims, whose babies died from her postpartum psychosis, and has been incarcerated in Illinois for the past 25 years. Listen to what she says with an open mind and compassionate heart. See what comes up for you and then practice the mindfulness exercise below if you’d like to explore this further.

“The other day while on a walk at the ‘Yard” I enjoyed the freedom of the great outdoors. I saw the freedom in a robin’s flight. I heard freedom in the rhythm of the rain As I stood under a tree. I felt freedom in the warm wind’s caress. It occurred to me that like the robin, rain and wind, I am also an expression of freedom.

Regardless of my circumstances, I choose to affirm my freedom. I experience freedom with my mind, body and soul. My unlimited spirit can never be bound by outer/inner conditions. One can’t bind peace, joy or love. I express my spiritual gifts with every thought of forgiveness, every moment spent with a friend/family and every word of kindness. As I share my gifts, I experience liberation, I’m free inside right where I am and it’s an awesome feeling…”

Now, here’s a mindfulness exercise about “liberating yourself” by not feeling stuck in negative or unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations. Practice it this week and let us know how it goes.

Best to you. Namaste.