In this season of giving, we are all thinking about what we can do for others. This is certainly noble and important. But we’ve also all heard the expression, “charity begins at home”. In particular, I’d like to focus on what Buddhists call “right speech”.
Traditionally, this concept refers to how we use language to avoid hurting others. According to the Discourse on Mindfulness Meditation, right speech is defined as “refraining from lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and meaningless speech”. An abbreviated version of this definition can also be as simple as “speaking truthfully and helpfully”. In a recent article in Tricycle magazine titled “If the Buddha Were Called to Jury Duty” by Mark Epstein, the author writes, “Conventionally, right speech refers to how we speak to others, but I also believe it can help us pay attention to how we speak to ourselves.” This got me to thinking about self-talk and how we treat ourselves.
It is safe to say that all of us without exception have some kind of internal dialogue going throughout each day. For most of us it is, in fact, a pretty constant companion from the moment we wake until we fall back to sleep. The most common reason people give for their perceived inability to meditate is that they can’t quiet their constantly chattering minds. Those of you who have a meditation practice know that this is not really what it’s all about, but I’m going to leave that aside for now and focus instead on the internal dialogue itself.
Throughout this blog I have often pointed to the fact that we are our own harshest critics. In fact, most of us would never treat other people the way we routinely treat ourselves. We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards and then mercilessly berate ourselves when we fail to reach them. The fact that they were unrealistic to begin with rarely enters the conversation. We compare ourselves to others who we are certain are doing better and tell ourselves we are failures because we can’t measure up. Or we will find some external source to blame. In other words, we could have been perfect if it weren’t for ______ (fill in the culprit du jour). Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have to work with in any given moment. And none of us – without exception – is perfect. But instead of acknowledging that fact and moving on, we will often poke and prod at the wound of our inability like a toothache and just keep reinforcing that negative perception. The “should haves, could haves, would haves, ifs, ands. and buts” are rerun ad-nauseum in our mind’s eye until we feel incapable of doing anything right.
It is interesting to me that it seems almost like human nature to focus on the negative. During my years of teaching and training, whenever evaluation requests are distributed to participants, 99% could come in saying “this was the best course I ever had in my life”. But then 1 person says, “This was horrible. A total waste of my time.” Instead of focussing on the positive majority, trainers will inevitably worry about the 1 or 2 instances of negative feedback. As the expression goes: negative experiences cling like velcro while the positive ones repel like teflon.
Turning negative thinking into positive is a practice. There are many articles that tout this concept. For example positive self-talk is used by athletes to improve performance. According to Psychology Today: “Positive self-talk is not self-deception. . . Rather, [it] is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself. . . One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes. To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic.” The Mayo Clinic suggests that positive self-talk can help relieve stress. This article presents some ideas to help you practice. For example, if you are thinking “I can’t do this because I’ve never done it before”, you can change that to “this is an opportunity to learn something new”. Or “this is too complicated” can change to “I’ll try it a different way.” Or “I don’t have the resources” can become “maybe I can get creative – necessity is the mother of invention.” Of course, there are more, but you get the picture.
So to bring this back to the season we’re in and to my favorite topic – mindful movement, if you find yourself lamenting lack of time, funds, patience, skill or any other perceived shortcoming, recognize this as an opportunity to practice turning the negative self-talk around. Remind yourself that all of the generosity you want to express during the holidays needs to begin with your own self-compassion. You can’t give what you haven’t got. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you will be no good to anyone else. Be kind to yourself and everyone around you will benefit.
By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
October 30, 2017
Our bodies are made up of so many parts and systems that it’s almost impossible to think about all of them at once. There are numerous muscles, bones and nerves, but also fluids like blood, lymphatic and spinal. Then there are the energetic systems that enable all of those parts and systems to interact with each other. At the cellular level, there is an entire universe within each of us. If you think about the precision with which everything needs to interact in order to move us, it’s no surprise that sometimes things go wrong. In fact, it’s often more of a wonder that things go right!
Among the goals of both yoga and Pilates is to help us get to know our bodies and really start to pay attention to how the different elements of mind and body work together for optimal movement. “Optimal” is a subjective terms and may mean different things for different bodies, but the more we learn about ourselves, the more we can move toward optimization.
This week I read a great little book called “The RBG Workout”. What is “RBG” you ask? It’s the initials for our Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an inspiration to all of us at any age. Tag line for the book is “How she stays strong and you can too!” Of course, I’m sure she is also blessed with good genes, but she has certainly had physical challenges including two bouts with cancer. The book was written by Bryant Johnson, who has been her personal trainer of almost 20 years. Throughout the book he talks about how tough and strong she is, but also how she progressed during those years. The workout described in the book seems pretty challenging, but Mr. Johnson takes pains to remind readers that it took time and persistence to get her to the point where she can now do the whole workout.
One of the quotes in the book that I especially like is this: “. . . exercise is a great equalizer. A push-up, a squat , a lunge, or a plank doesn’t care who you support or . . . about your race, religion, color, gender or national origin. You may have a powerful job . . . but your body will still have veto power over you. . . . If you don’t use it, you will lose it.” One more reminder that we are mutually dependent on all of those systems described above. We need them, but they need us, too. Taking care of our bodies is no guarantee that things won’t go wrong, but it will certainly improve the odds. And if things go wrong, you’ll be better able to deal with the problems if you’ve made that effort to stay strong, flexible and mobile.
The message here is that it’s never too late to start moving and no matter where you start, you can improve. It might take some time – maybe longer than you thought it would – and there may be moves that will continue to elude you, but if you stick with it you will make progress. As I’ve often said throughout these blog posts, the hard part is starting. Once you start you’re already making progress. After that, the only obstacle standing in your way is you. In her foreword to the book, Justice Ginsburg talks about the demands of her job. Yet she prioritizes her workout. When the time comes, she sets everything aside and maintains her commitment to her body and, ultimately, her health.
As Mr. Johnson says, if Justice Ginsburg can do it so can you! Maybe not in the same way that she does, but if you can move and breathe there is still a level of exercise that each of us can manage. The terms “balance”, “strength” and “flexibility” have multiple meanings. Balance is not just about standing on one foot, but also about maintaining a balance in your life. If one aspect of your life starts to overwhelm all the others, stress will result and your body will react. Exerting strength will help you maintain the discipline you need to take care of yourself. And flexibility will help you to go with the flow when life takes a turn you hadn’t planned on. All of these qualities are part of what you will build when you commit to movement.
So next time you’re tempted to blow off your workout because you think something else is more important, remember that all the systems in your body are depending on you to keep them running. All the important things in your life need you to be functioning at your best. You’re no good to anyone if you can’t function. Help yourself to be the best that you can be!
Changing of the seasons marks a time of transition. Although the calendar tells us that Fall has arrived, we still experience remnants of the season just passed while not yet quite fully ensconced into the new season. This uncertainty can create mixed emotions. For example, we might experience confusion (as in “How should I dress today? Can I plan an outdoor activity?”) or sadness (e.g., “I love summer! I’m sorry to see it go.”) and maybe a bit of anxiety (“What will winter bring? Am I properly prepared? I don’t feel ready.”) Or all of the above and more.
In addition to changes in the weather and the scenery, each new season marks the passage of time. We get so involved in our daily lives that we rarely recognize that we are changing along with the seasons. That is, until something happens to remind us of that. It might be something dramatic like a fall or an accident, or something more subtle like last year’s winter clothes not quite fitting anymore. Sometimes it’s an illness or other physical change that affects us in ways we’ve not previously experienced. Whatever it is, even when it’s right in front of us, we can still manage to get lost in denial. We want things to be like they were. Yet change is all around us. At this time of year all we have to do is look out the window to see its manifestations. Yet still we can’t believe that change is occurring within as well as outside.
Actually it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s difficult to see and accept change in ourselves. After all, we’ve never before been as old as we are now – whatever age that is. Even though we’ve witnessed aging in people around us, we can rationalize that it happens to others but not to us. It’s also easy to believe that what happens to others won’t happen to us because we’re different. And – yes – it’s true! Each of us IS different and we all age in different ways. That’s why I get a kick out of every interview with a centenarian. The interviewer asks “What is the secret of your longevity?” as if the answer will provide some magic path that everyone can follow to get to the same place. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I’ve often said, we are all an experiment of one. That applies here, too. Just because one person can drink whiskey and smoke cigars daily and still live to be 100 doesn’t mean everyone can. Everyone wants a magic bullet and a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work that way. It would be nice if our medical system would acknowledge that fact, but that’s another subject.
Since change is constant and inevitable, we each need to find our own individual way to cope with that change. Those of us who are accustomed to regular activity often find this particularly difficult, but it’s difficult for anyone used to doing things a certain way. Realizing that what used to be easy is now more difficult or even impossible can be a bitter pill to swallow. But looking back at some mythical “better” time or wishing things hadn’t happened the way they did won’t change the way things are. As difficult as it may seem, the best way to accommodate any new reality is to adapt. This doesn’t mean giving up. It simply means finding a way to accept the changes. That’s not to say that this is easy. But if you want to have any peace of mind, it is necessary.
So with the changing of the seasons, perhaps it’s a good time to take stock of how you’re handling the changes in your life. And change is happening whether you realize it or not. Further complicating matters, every change differs from any change that occurred before. So perhaps an intervention that worked before no longer has the same effect. You might have to try a different approach. This, too, is reflected in the seasons. Fall comes every year, just like daylight comes every day. Yet each Fall, like each day, is different from the one before. And what you did last Fall or even yesterday might not work today, even when you’re addressing the same problem. If you look back through the seasons of your life you will be hard pressed to find two seasons, or two days, that were exactly the same as the one before. Think about it. Memory is faulty but if you reflect honestly, you’ll see that’s true.
Ignoring change won’t make it stop and going back in time is not possible. Moving forward with our lives from this point in time is the only option. No matter how bleak things look, there is always something positive in this moment. After all daylight came and you’re still breathing. That’s something positive! Maximize what’s positive right now and remember that change is constant. Whatever you’re experiencing today will change tomorrow.
By now we all know of the tragedies and struggles emerging in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. There will no doubt be more as the days and weeks go by and people try to move forward with their lives. Soon, too, we will be able add tales from those enduring Hurricane Irma and the storms and other events that will inevitably follow. Our hearts go out to all the people encountering so much loss. Many of us are trying to help in any way we can. With these events happening over such a wide swath of our country, everyone seems to know someone who is personally effected. These are events beyond our control. Technological advances have helped give some warning, but ultimately these events often behave in ways that are unpredictable and difficult to foresee. No one is at fault. It’s just the way things are.
While Houston struggles to emerge from the watery deluge, the opposite problem has been creating disaster conditions in several northern states. These states have been experiencing extreme drought. In addition, years of various fire suppression policies have resulted in an abundance of fuel susceptible to any stray incendiary source. As a consequence of this volatile mix, fires are burning out of control in many areas from central Canada south to Montana and beyond. The smoke has been drifting southward for most of the summer and is now being acutely felt in my area, the Black Hills of western South Dakota.
As I looked out my window last week, I could see the haze settling among the trees. Each morning the sun has risen as a blood red disk in the sky, its light being filtered through layers of smoke. Last Sunday was so bad that it was difficult to be outside. The Rapid City Journal reported that “wildfire smoke exceeded unhealthy levels” over Labor Day weekend. The smoke stings your eyes and the back of your throat. Locally we, too, have had small fires all summer and, in fact, there was one burning a few miles south of my town a few weeks ago that caused some home evacuations. Still we in the Black Hills have gratefully been spared any major fires this summer and we remain quite a distance from the worst of the current burn areas. Yet here we are, having to rely on our internal filtering systems to be able to absorb the air that we humans depend on. Those of us with weaker systems or respiratory ailments have an even harder time getting what they need from the air. And those living closer to the fires themselves are in real danger from the many problems the heat and smoke can cause.
All of this serves to highlight both the fragility and amazing resilience of we human beings. These conditions also remind us of the importance of the true necessities of life. We may be able to live without our houses and our cars, but we can’t live under water and we can’t live without air. This is true for ALL human beings. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what language you speak, where your parents come from or any of the other ways in which we each think we are different from each other. The basic necessities of life are great equalizers. They are also things we derive directly from the earth and the sun. We may think we can be independent and self-sufficient, but are all dependent on the gifts of the planet. And we are all subject to the whims and uncertainties of the atmosphere that surrounds us.
As humans, we have specific requirements for survival. We all need nourishment. Although water is essential to our survival, no human can live under water for long without accommodations. Which further reminds us that we all need to breathe. We take these things for granted, allowing ourselves to get caught up in our small concerns and petty grievances. Some of us even have the hubris to believe that they are somehow more deserving of the basics of life than others. True, we each have our own unique qualities, but there are so many ways in which we are all in the same boat (pun intended!) just trying to survive and make the most of our short, mysterious and perplexing lives.
Being directly in the path of the smoke, I could not help but reflect in particular on the importance of each breath. Breathing is so instinctive that we usually don’t even think about it until something interferes with it. Yet inhaling breath is the first experience we have when we come into this world and exhaling is the final experience we have when we leave it. Every breath in between is hugely valuable and worthy of celebration. Yoga and Pilates teach us to focus on the breath and its relationship to movement in particular, but also to our health and well-being in general. In fact, Joseph Pilates theorized that because most of us, to our detriment, breathe too shallowly. We neglect to exhale fully leaving as much as 30% of our intake of air sitting at the bottom of our lungs. Take a moment to think about that. This could mean that you’ve had some of the same stale air inside you for years. No wonder we have lung diseases! In fact, it’s a wonder we don’t see more of them.
On a more positive note, here’s another concept of breath that I’ve heard in different ways from several sources including yogic breathing specialist Leslie Kaminoff and native plant specialist Michael Stuart Ani. Earth’s atmosphere has been circulating wind and water all over the planet since its inception. These elements carry with them minute traces of everything that exists on Earth. This means that the breath of all living things has also been circulating for all of existence. We are, therefore, connected to our ancestors – and to each other – through our breath. This concept can be extended to reveal that each of us contains all of us and every human life that has ever existed. Wow! What a concept!
In yoga classes we often incorporate various breathing practices as part of the experience. These serve as a reminder that although many of our bodily functions are not easily controlled (e.g., heart beat, cellular functions, nerve impulses, etc.) breathing is one essential bodily function that we can control to some extent. For example, we can change the length of our inhales and exhales. Some people can even train their bodies to go for extended periods of time without breathing. But there is always a limit. Humans like to test their limits to see how far they can be pushed, but there is always still a limit. We might last a few days or weeks without food or water, but we won’t last very long without breath.
So next time you are in a yoga class and find yourself resisting the breathing practices, or forgetting to breathe in a Pilates class, try to remember and treasure the value of each breath. This is also something you can try if you’re feeling stressed. Bring your attention to your breathing. It is said that focusing on your exhales can be calming. Just letting yourself recognize each breath can help bring your mind back from whatever brink it is perched on. Breath is life and without breath there is no life. Breathe gratefully
In last week’s blog post I talked about acknowledging changes in our lives and finding the resilience necessary to accept the changes and adapt to the new reality whatever it might be. Acceptance is the first step toward moving forward. But what comes after that? Depending on the type of setback, it’s length, your age and a host of other variables, the next steps will be different for each of us.
For some of us, the idea of returning to any kind of routine might seem impossible. The change feels so great we may feel like the darkness is permanent and unyielding. We can easily sabotage ourselves and become our own worst enemies. For example, if you’ve fallen and suffered an injury you might develop a debilitating fear of a recurrence. This might keep you from making even simple moves toward regaining your strength. We’ve all heard the expression “get back on the horse that threw you”. This can be a totally daunting prospect. And, in fact, might not be appropriate in all cases. Still, inertia can become a wall and finding a way through or around that wall can be overwhelming. In previous blog posts I’ve often talked about the difficulty of resuming activity, especially exercise, after being away for a while for whatever reason. Of course, it is important to take steps to avoid the circumstances caused the fall, but that shouldn’t become an excuse to stop you from all activities.
On the flip side of that coin, there are those of us who throw caution to the wind and get back on that horse way before we should. Perhaps we have not fully recovered from the injury, illness or whatever precipitated a change in our lives. Some of us might even have the hubris to believe that our case is special and the usual rules don’t apply. This type of thinking might lead one into that “danger zone” referred to in an earlier post when your energy begins to feel restored and you start to feel like your former self again. This is a place I know all too well. The desire to return to the way things were overshadows the reality of the way things are. Returning too quickly can lead to discouraging setbacks. At best, the process of recovery will take that much longer or, at worst, may be jeopardized altogether.
Actually both cases call for the same prescription – courage, patience and above all the decision to go on with your life taking whatever baby steps are necessary to follow through on that choice. Interestingly, in my opinion the same leap of faith is required wherever you’re at. If you are the fearful type described above, the decision means taking that first dangerous step back into your life no matter how scary that might be. If you want to start moving again, the first step is the hardest.
After my back surgery a physical therapist gave me some exercises to do right away. They were pretty simple movements, but they were difficult at first. Among them was the suggestion to walk for 5 minutes several times a day. For a person who used to run ultramarathons that might sound easy, but just getting up and overcoming the initial stress of moving was itself a formidable task. My doctor had given me the simple instruction, “If it hurts, stop; if you think it’s going to hurt, don’t do it.” Sounds reasonable enough, right? For the fearful person, that initial hurt might be enough to encourage stopping altogether. In fact, I even found myself thinking I would never overcome that initial discomfort. But what I discovered was that if I just got started, I would eventually start to feel better. If I began to feel pain I stopped for a few minutes. The pain would usually stop and I could resume the walk. Or I could simply try again later. I would set a timer for 5 minutes, stop it when I needed to wait for pain to subside and start it again when I started walking again. It might take me half an hour to do 5 minutes worth of walking but I quickly learned that the more I walked, the easier it got. I noticed too that once I got going and my body adjusted to the movement, the initial soreness would usually subside.
Our bodies are made for movement. Fortunately, the medical profession has recognized that movement following a trauma like surgery is actually beneficial. Anyone who has had surgery recently knows that patients are required to get up and move as soon as possible. Although rest and sleep are important to the healing process, retraining your body to move as much as it can is also essential. Still it’s not easy to overcome the many excuses that loom in front of the starting line. That’s where the decision-making process comes in. Making that decision to try to move even for a few minutes takes courage. Beyond that is the resolve to follow through even if it the first few efforts are unsuccessful. I knew the physical therapist would not have told me to walk if it wasn’t the right thing to do. But I also knew I had to abide by my doc’s advice and stop if it hurt. Even that was hard for me having been a person schooled in the old notion of “no pain, no gain.” So both starting and stopping required decisions. I had to consciously remind myself that extremes in either direction would not help my recovery. That meant believing that I would, in fact, recover and that the directions given provided the road map to get there.
Bottom line – moving forward is not rocket science. Have patience and be kind to yourself. Do what is recommended and stick to it until you’ve healed. After that be mindful in all your activities and avoid being careless, head strong or just plain stupid. If it hurts, stop; if you think it’s going to hurt don’t do it. That’s not an invitation to do nothing. It just means pay attention. Simple, right? But not easy.
Making the decision and taking that first step is the hardest part. Especially if you’re not used to moving in the first place. If you keep at it, no matter what you are doing will get easier. Although we often think of stress as a negative, your body needs a certain amount of stress to adapt to a change. The trick is to know when to back off. As acknowledged in last week’s post, life may be different after a set-back. Those differences need to be honored. But that shouldn’t be a license to drop out. No matter what has changed, there will still be things you can do. Give those positives a chance to shine and they will lead you forward.
CUSTER, SD – Lunafest, an annual traveling international festival that features women filmmakers, this year highlights a showing of “Chosen”, a short film made to help stop human trafficking. It will be followed by a discussion, and a presentation on “Service and Advocacy of Indigenous Women.”
The festival of “Short Films By, For, About Women” is hosted by Zonta Club of the Southern Black Hills at Custer High School Saturday, April 1, 2017 beginning at 10 a.m. The club is part of a worldwide organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women.
“Chosen” is a true story of two teens tricked by traffickers. Brianna, 18, was a star student, cheerleader and waitress eager to break out of her small town to attend college in the big city. Lacy, 13, enjoyed church and school but struggled to help care for her siblings while her stepfather was deployed and mother worked to support the family. Brianna and Lacy relate how traffickers used manipulation to lure them into the world of sex trafficking.
The 20-minute movie will be shown at 12 and 2 p.m. The film discussion group will be at 12:30 p.m. and the presentation on Service and Advocacy of Indigenous Women is from 1 to 2 p.m.
In addition to this and other documentary shorts, Lunafest includes films in the genres of art, animation, and fictional drama. Nine movies on the program cover topics such as health, leadership, motherhood, body image, aging, cultural diversity and breaking barriers.
All proceeds from Lunafest benefit the Breast Cancer Fund and Zonta Club of the Southern Black Hills.
The movies will be screened in connection with a trade show of exhibitors representing local businesses and services. Trade show hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Refreshments will be available for purchase during that time.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Trade Show featuring Business and Service Exhibitors
10:00 a.m. Continuous showing of Lunafest films begins; final showing at 3:00 PM
12:00 Noon Film “Chosen”
12:30 p.m. Film Discussion group
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Presentation on Service and Advocacy of Indigenous Women
2:00 p.m. Film “Chosen”
TICKETS: Admission to Films: $10.00 Suggested Donation
No Charge for Trade Show or Presentation Service and Advocacy of Indigenous Women
SPONSORS: Edward Jones, Black Hills Energy, Carson Drugs, State Farm Insurance, Women Escaping a Violent Environment (W.E.A.V.E.), South Dakota Coalition Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence, Custer Real Estate
On April 6, 2017, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, FDA is conducting a public meeting on Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) for Sarcopenia. FDA is interested in obtaining patient perspectives on the impact of sarcopenia on daily life and patient views on treatment approaches. Registration to attend the meeting must be received by April 6, 2017.
In addition to providing input at the public meeting, stakeholders are invited to provide their perspectives on the discussion questions through the public docket. The docket closes on June 6, 2017.
WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin while testifying in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on March 7, 2017, announced his intention to expand provisions for urgent mental health care needs to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. This move marks the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.
“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one or our top priorities,” Shulkin said. “We know the rate of death by suicide among Veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than Veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one Veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”
It is estimated that there are a little more than 500,000 former service members with OTH discharges. As part of the proposal, former OTH service members would be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line.
“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” Shulkin continued. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately. Far too many Veterans have fallen victim to suicide, roughly 20 every day. Far too many families are left behind asking themselves what more could have been done. The time for action is now.”
Before finalizing the plan in early summer, Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and Department of Defense officials to determine the best way forward to get these Veterans the care they need.
“I look forward to working with leaders like Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado, who has been a champion for OTH service members,” Shulkin added. I am grateful for his commitment to our nation’s Veterans and for helping me better understand the urgency of getting this right.”
Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.