Yoga and Your Brain

Yoga. It can feel like an intimidating word for the uninitiated, can’t it? Visions of perfectly chiseled bodies in spandex holding positions that look impossibly difficult. But yoga is so much more than that. I’ll leave it to the countless experts who explain that the physical movements of yoga are only a tiny part of the whole practice (google will lead you to lots of resources if you’re interested). But the physical piece which ties into the mental component and so many other benefits is a great way to move forward and “deepen” your healing.

After an accident or an acquired brain injury the sheer volume of appointments of follow up care can feel like a full-time job. But yoga is a practice that can be added at any time in the recovery process and shows great promise at helping those who have sustained a brain injury with balance, balance confidence, range of motion, pain control, strength and mobility. Studies have shown the practice to improve balance by 36%, balance confidence by 39%, lower extremity strength by 100%, and endurance by 105%. Those statistics speak volumes for the benefits of such a gentle exercise and practice. In addition, it can be helpful to so many who suffer from anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder after an injury or even a car accident without injuries. One study done at two centers involving a Canadian location and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in conjunction with Harvard University found a 10% reduction in PTSD anxiety symptoms following only an 8-session program of Kundalini Yoga.  Another study through Boston University and the Trauma Center found significant reduction in PTSD symptoms after 5 weeks of yoga, and individuals held an improvement for at least another 5 weeks.  So, it seems that we should be thinking about yoga much more frequently in the field of PTSD and brain injury!

There are studios throughout the country which offer yoga classes geared toward those with brain injury through the Love Your Brain Foundation and rehab centers. You can find some resources online at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga though if you do a search right now you’ll find that in AZ, classes are not yet available (check back soon as a provider training is happening in April and is already full—so we should see some offerings coming!) The other place to check is the outpatient rehabilitation program through your local TBI hospital. In the Phoenix area, Barrow has some yoga classes with details found here. Although they have no specific yoga offerings at this time, Ability 360 is also a great resource for those with brain injuries and changes. A recent search of google for trauma and yoga in Phoenix brought up several studios with classes specifically for traumatic stress or PTSD. So, there appear to be some options, but take caution with these studios, doing homework to ensure their credentials are what you’re looking for and are the best choice for you.

These in-person classes are a great resource and whenever possible, I do recommend that people attend with an instructor present. That hands on advice and adjustment to a position can be very beneficial, but if it can be intimidating to try something new, can’t it? A big barrier to entry for an untried activity is the lack of understanding what the cultural norms are, what’s to be expected, and not wanting to look foolish doing something for the first time. Rest assured, the classes that are geared towards beginners, and specifically for those with brain injury, are not going to include the difficult poses that you see highlighted in yoga articles or images. Everyone in the class will enter with about the same level of expertise, that’s why there are classes for a variety of different audiences. Also, there are modifications that can be made to make this gentle stretching available to anyone, in any condition. If you’d like to see what a class may include, or would like to try something at home without an audience, there are some videos of classes for brain injury you can try at your own risk (check with your physician first to be sure you’re ready for these). Love Your Brain says it best, and I agree with their statement, “I cannot assume responsibility for any exercise and/or subsequent injury you may incur, “Yoga is for everyone. However, when online, it is up to you to assess whether you are ready for the class you have chosen. The techniques and suggestions presented here are not intended to substitute for medical advice. LoveYourBrain assumes no responsibility for injuries experienced while practicing these techniques.” And we cannot assume any responsibility for injuries experienced either through their program or others. That’s why it’s best to check with your doctor or physical therapist first. Classes online are an option for you to try if you cannot find anything available near you and once cleared by your medical health provider. Take a look at https://www.loveyourbrain.com/yoga-videos for some classes geared toward healing from a brain injury.

As we move through 2020 and we continue to explore our word for the year, deepening, I hope you’ll give some of the ideas I propose a try or use these suggestions to look for ways to incorporate new ideas into your life. I will be offering a workshop for you and your partner or spouse in April that will discuss the changes brain injury has on your work and home life. For more information, click here, and together let’s incorporate strategies to help you heal to be the very best you can be.

Feeling the heat… already!

sun

Those of us living in the Phoenix area have truly hit summer … regardless of the fact it’s not “technically” summer yet. Most of this month’s temperatures have already exceeded 105 and this Father’s Day weekend we’re supposed to hit 120!  Most of us who have lived here awhile will tell you that until it exceeds 105 or 110, or fill in the blank, it’s really not bad.   But those who work outdoors – air conditioning and other contractors, delivery folks, mail carriers, etc. will all say that water is key to making it through summer, and plenty of it.

Last year I wrote about mental health and heat related to seasonal affective disorder. So if you would like more information on that take a look at article in the May/June 2015 newsletter at http://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/newsletters.html. This June, I want to briefly talk about getting through the long, hot days in creative ways. Talk to the native or long-term resident and you’ll learn all kinds of secrets – get out of town every month for one; take a mini-vacation at a spa with a slide for the kids for a weekend says another; get up north as much as you can; get some sunshine either by swimming or by hiking or walking every day – it prevents feeling cooped up for 3-4 months; look for indoor entertainment so you get out on weekends, but remain cool; drink lots of water. That last one comes up very frequently out here in the summer – and everywhere you turn. These are all great ideas – and I’ll list some below for you to consider this summer.

Also remember that summer leads to depression for many – so if you have a seasonal issue watch for it – ask your partner or close friend to help you monitor it, and ask for help early. Dehydration leads to multiple problems, and it actually includes a couple that can appear to be mental health issues: depression and difficulty thinking clearly. Remember the basics – once you begin to feel thirsty you’re already dehydrating. So keep that water bottle full and near you – and remember to sip regularly. If you’re on a mental health medication or any medication there can also be challenges. Being on lithium, for example, which is a salt, increases the likelihood of dehydration when the water and salt levels become out of sync. If you’re in the sun and taking St. John’s Wart, as another example, it’s easier to sunburn. And this can happen even when in the car and driving. So be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor if any of your medications or supplements can increase sun sensitivity and be aware, being sure to use sunscreen regularly through the day to offset this. Neurotransmitters, which control our mood and functioning in many ways, also are impacted by heat. Further, hormones such as thyroid, prolactin, and others are also impacted and these lead to other mood and functioning difficulties. Thus our increased hospitalization rates for mental health issues as well as the increased rage we see in traffic throughout the summer. All of these are things to remain aware of – and ask someone for assistance if you think you’re struggling or experiencing a reaction to the sun beyond normal sunburn and dehydration.

And, what can you do to just endure the heat and yet enjoy life? There is a reason why the valley clears out so much throughout the summer months beyond that of school vacations – we all want cooler climates! I know for myself getting away for a long weekend, even if only to Payson, can help me make it through the next month in Phoenix. So I’m going to share some activities I found both in Phoenix metro this summer as well as throughout the state. Perhaps you can plan for one with your family or friends.

This is an opportunity to see the Garden from 7pm on and enjoy time outside while doing it in the cooler part of the day. You have to bring your own flashlight and it’s only available after 7 pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, 480-941-1225, http://www.dbg.org

  • Cool Art in the Pines – June 9-June 30 – Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff

An art exhibit that is sponsored by Art 35° North and Coconino Centers for the Arts to present “A New Latitude”, a series of exhibitions, art tours, demonstrations and workshops June through August 2016, http://art35n.org.

You’ve got to love the part that’s free and indoors where it’s cool! There will be a variety of special hands-on, educational programming designed to appeal to visitors of all ages, noon – 5 pm, second Sundays of the month, http://www.PhxArt.org

There will be tram rides until sundown; a walking tour of indoor hangars; hands-on aviation-related activities for kids, 8 pm last admission, http://www.pimaair.org/news-events/event/416-night-wings

24th Annual Family Cornfest, Arts & Crafts Fair – 60 arts & crafts exhibitors, fresh sweet corn, free admission and parking, $9 for lunch, 602-231-0300 or http://www.el-zaribah.org

19th Annual Celtic Festival celebrating all things Celtic: music, piping, athletics, educational workshops, vendors, historical reenactment, clans and societies and a kid’s area, 928-556-3161 or http://www.nachs.info

Ok, you have some ideas for places to try – I plan on checking out a couple of them myself! Keep your energy, water level, mood, and sense of humor in tact by trying new things and watching your mood as it heats up. We’ll make it – one more year!

smilingfamily

Spring – Time to be Revived

Spring!!!  My two favorite seasons are fall and spring – so I was thrilled to realize spring was so close and we would be soon enjoying the final celebration of Easter (for those who are Christian).  There are always a lot of articles written about spring and Easter and how both bring new life and hope after a time of darkness.  For those of us in the valley we did have shorter days, but very little cooler weather and lots of warm days once we hit the 70’s on February 6 and it’s never cooled down again according to AccuWeather.com.  So, we are moving into spring with hope for longer days and closer to average temperatures here!  If I consider this in my approach to my life it would be for days full of more of what I hope and want to do with people I love; and average work/life balance.
Recently I was struck again when I was reading about people interviewing for jobs.  The fact that many in Gen X will ask about how employees are able to manage work/life balance is notable.  According to Workplacetrends.com employers are trying to respond to this newer demand with more flexible hours and settings.  Still, 20% of employees are still reporting that they are working an average of 20 hours a week at home in addition to their regular hours at work.  Technology appears to be driving this as employees are no longer working “regular hours” but are expected to be available by phone and/or email even on weekends and evenings.  I hear this often when I see people.  While it varies, I’ve seen it limit severely a client’s ability to do anything due to excessive demands placed on her to the point she became ill from working 7am to 10pm most days with weekends requiring 4-6 hours of her time answering her boss’s emails.  I’ve also heard of individuals who are not required to work at all on off hours, although very few when in a professional position.  Most of us may cry for work/life balance, but are now working longer hours and finding our serenity and balance compromised.  Gen X and Gen Y both tend to use the flexibility offered through many companies, i.e.:  days to work at home, 4 day work weeks, vacation time, etc. better than others.  So if you’re not doing that, begin there.  Then after using these employment flexibility tools, what to do?
Plan Activities for Yourself:  Seems like an old idea, right?  Well it’s amazing how many times I hear that people are not planning an activity that they enjoy very often, if at all.  If you have a family, be sure as a family that both a fun activity is planned that you all enjoy (movie night) as well as couple time (walk and coffee, dinner, go out dancing).  Also create planned time for yourself (take a bath and pamper yourself, take a yoga class alone or with a friend, paint some pottery, take a walk with the dog).  Having those activities on your calendar (yes, enter them on your calendar – don’t just keep them in your head) will help you begin to see there are other parts of your life and you’ll maintain awareness.
Make Time for Spirituality:  Whether it’s a church service or daily journaling or prayer or walking the labyrinth once a week, find what fits for you.  I’m always amazed when I talk with one young woman who is finishing college and taking 15 units including her final project, doing 2 internships which each require a full day’s work, volunteering for a group, maintaining an active social life, completing her job search, and yet she also finds the time to journal and pray each night.  At her age (22) she has developed habits that would do all of us quite well regardless of our age.  Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.  So to be balanced, and include a dimension other than work and household chores, we must begin including those activities on a regular basis.
Limit Electronics:  This is the toughest for so many people – myself included.  It is the electronics that have brought the end of the 8 or even 10 hour work day.  And also brought much in the way of ease of reading, access to information, and kept us in closer contact with loved ones.  But much is in how we manage them – or they will not manage our lives, but take them over.  I found it interesting that when I did a quick search for limiting electronics all that popped up were sources related to children.  So, we know we need to or we are looking for ways to limit children at times – a good practice, for sure.  I found an excellent article in which the author wrote her goals for limiting her own time, and I loved it because all of the guidelines were also expanding her life!  Melissa Monahan wrote on Global Business Hub at Boston.com ideas like planning half-hour periods during which she will not even look at electronics, taking time during her travel weekly to read a book and not look at her email and phone, and phone a friend rather than text three times a week, etc. (see http://www.boston.com/business/blogs/global-business-hub/2013/09/screen_time_rul.html – it’s worth the read!)  While you may have work related concerns, it’s important to also take time away – even those of us on 24-hour call for crises take breaks and it’s incredibly important to your health and that of your relationships to do so.
If you do some of the above, you’ll actually find you’re bringing some life balance back.  Winter is a time of hibernating and slowing down.  Spring is a time for new adventures and growth.  As Harriet Ann Jacobs said:  “The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”    So go outside and soak in the sensory experiences of walks, bike rides, working in the garden, or having a picnic at a park.   And go within and with family and broaden your experiences each week.  It’s time to bloom!

Highlight on Health; The Whole You

As the flu virus spreads throughout our nation and wellness is a goal for many of us, I thought today I’d consider health in a broader sense, and the benefits of some alternative therapies. How is your back feeling? Have those migraines started up again? Did you just have your first hot flash? Or perhaps it’s a pulled ligament from a workout? Seems we all face physical aches and pains at times and often we can’t figure out from whence they came.

One of the guiding principles from which The Wholeness Institute was born was the need to care for a person as a whole–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Many of us have gotten a handle on one area of life to find the other areas amiss. It seems a constant struggle to balance all areas.

Philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, and healers have for centuries argued and theorized about whether the body and mind can and/or should be separated. It seems current research is proving what many have theorized–the body does affect the mind and the mind affects the body. Many, if not most, sexual abuse survivors will tell you of migraines, stomach problems, chronic fatigue and the pain of fibromyalgia. MRI’s are now showing us that early neglect or lack of nurturing prevents neural connections from being made. Chiropractic physicians are able to clear emotions through kinesiological interventions in some cases. Body and mind are intimately connected.

In addition to considering psychological care there are many avenues of care now able to adjunct and even quicken therapeutic results. From optometric to chiropractic to neurological to psychopharmacological to herbs to massage–the possibilities are endless. Here is a brief review of some of the therapies available today.

Chiropractic and Kinesiology can both offer help for not only sore backs but sore minds. Boris Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago so eloquently discussed the body/mind connection years ago:

“The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction, it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

Although many of us aren’t able to understand exactly how these sciences work, it is clear that kinesiology is able to bridge between the physical body and the emotions.

Nutrition is an area absolutely essential to our overall state of well-being but is one many find difficult to manage. High fat, low carbohydrate, no sugar, low sugar, no fat, low calorie, gluten free, and vegan are all types of diets most of us have watched cycle through in terms of popularity and nutritional value. It’s important that the person you are working with evaluate your body type, ancestry, and emotional habits to best prescribe an eating plan.

Massage is often thought to be for “special occasions” or pampering. In actuality, it is a wonderful method to treat not only muscular aches but remove toxins, increase energy, and encourage body systems to work more effectively. In addition, the impact on anxiety and stress are profound.

Aromatherapy also offers scents for health! Try some vanilla or lavender candles or oils next time you’re depressed. Lemon and peppermint can increase energy. And rose can increase passion. There is a reason for the recent trend in use of essential oils – consider it next time you’re stressed or not feeling well.

Optometry has therapies such as vision and academic to assist in strengthening not only eye muscles but also address early developmental deficits. Many children, as well as traumatic brain injury survivors, are being found to also have eye coordination problems which can now be identified and treated.

Medicine: We have to remember that many cases of depression are actually due to medical problems such as hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, sleep disorders, and neurological impairments. In most cases we consider this in every intake and ask if depression or anxiety have worsened. But it’s important to also recall this when your physician asks questions or wants to evaluate your mood. Working together we can provide better, more integrated, care.

Integrated health providers are abounding. In fact, in a recent search for concierge doctors I discovered a vast majority of those who came up in the Google search were actually integrated health providers. These individuals, regardless of naturopathic, osteopathic, homeopathic, or traditional medical backgrounds also focused on the methods above as well as herbal treatments, eye color and characteristics, homeopathic treatments, and in some cases even spiritual care. Further evidence that as our health issues increase in the US, as well as the more we understand the head/heart and body/mind connections, the more we are considering balanced care from various methods and sources. These are but a few of the treatments available to you which we’ve found to be powerful adjunctive therapies to psychotherapy. With more awareness and a bit of perseverance we can heal both our body and our mind. Wynona Judd said a few years ago: “I learned again the mind-body-spirit connection has to be in balance”. So, too, must we consider our care providers and methods of treatment.

Pathway or Highway?

I have heard two definitions of psychotherapy I’d like to consider. The first one was in a newsletter of my friend and colleague, Dr. Robin Dilley: “a journey into one’s self to help facilitate a deeper awareness about one’s self while developing a passion for living”. The second definition was provided by a psychologist working for a very large managed care firm in town: the process whereby change is made in symptoms that can be measured and that is a result of interaction between a therapist and a client. He went on to state that ideally this should be quick and not a journey on a path but rather a trip down a super highway. Hmm.

I suppose that there is truth in both definitions although those who know me can probably guess that I align myself much more along the lines of Dr. Dilley’s definition than that provided through managed care. Do we want to settle with getting rid of the stuffy nose or do we want to live a life that is challenging, health producing, and joyful? Now the truth is that our insurance policies don’t always pay for the second. After all, the insurance contract is not a personal growth policy but rather a contract that agrees to provide services to return a person to their prior level of functioning.

I urge you not to settle for your prior level of functioning. We only go through this life once, and it is our choice how we live it. To live at your prior level of functioning means that you don’t take the opportunity to grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. It means you do choose to stay where you are. If you are on the pathway then you are choosing to see the ground beneath your feet, smell the air and the flowers around you, hear the sounds of the birds and the animals that are scuttling about. If you choose the super highway you get a fast trip with no smells, few sights and the blare of the other vehicles and their horns blowing.

This year, you can choose the pathway. In her book, “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer speaks of the invitation to live, to grow, to experience life. Much of what she suggests is part of the psychotherapy adventure: “I want to know you can live with failure, yours and mine.” — It is as we face our failures and our successes with another that we learn how to live with them. Psychotherapy provides this opportunity. “I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done.” I would add, can you also stay in bed when you truly need to and take care of yourself? So often we take care of others but ignore ourselves.

Psychotherapy provides time and attention for our own needs and it is through taking time for oneself that one becomes available to others in a truly free and honest manner. Thus so, one can be seen in pain and not need to hide.

“I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back” is a superb description of the group experience one can have through psychotherapy. The women’s groups I have had the privilege of facilitating have born out women choosing to stand in the fire with others and bearing testimony to the pain and the growth.

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”. Ah, the most profound and deeply felt successful therapeutic experience will allow you to say “YES” to this experience.

I would invite those of you currently doing your own therapy to examine your journaling, your heart, your soul to see if you are walking on the path or whether you’ve stopped to enjoy a piece of the scenery. Is it time to move on? Take that next step? Then ask your therapist for assistance with this. If you have been considering taking such a hike, I invite you to call and schedule an appointment with me. If you are already walking down this pathway, enjoy the walk and know it will lead you to further peace, further ability to stand in the fire, and deeper, more meaningful life experiences. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, “I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”