Monday, January 24, 2011

Feel the Pain

Lately I have been in an unbearable amount of pain. A few months ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. RA is one of those pesky autoimmune diseases where the immune system attacks itself. Unfortunately it’s attacking my right wrist in a pretty bad ass way. What’s amazing is just how unpredictable it seems to be and also how much it hurts. Being in pain is like being in a constant bad mood. I am just a little bit cranky all of the time. It’s also affecting other parts of my body. I protect my wrist from possible pain by tensing my shoulders and tightening my jaw. In doing that I am most likely causing the pain in my wrist to worsen because I can’t relax.

Most of you know that I am a mindfulness maniac and I believe we should all be paying more attention to our bodies, our minds and our meals, but our pain? I mean come on, why would I want to purposely draw attention to this part of my body that hurts so bad I want to cry sometimes. I don’t want to pay more attention to it. I want to escape it. I want drugs. Give me something to take the pain away!

Unfortunately my doctor doesn’t make 8pm drug runs on a Monday night so I was stuck with mindfulness. I sat down on my sofa and looked at my hand. I started to describe to myself what I saw without any judgment. I described the way the skin looked on my wrist. I counted the freckles and hiked the terrain of my veins with my eyes. Next I began to describe the feelings in my wrist and hand. Words like sharp and tightness and warm and cold and pulsing began to surface. I stopped labeling these sensations as the thing that is pain and rather as the sensations coming and going. Because it’s true that the pain does come and go and if I focus on the pain, this thing that I hate, my zoom lens is incapable of seeing anything but it. If I keep telling myself how painful it is, I risk getting caught up in un-mindfulness and I am making pain the enemy. If I instead describe the feelings and the present moment, it becomes something else. It's not something bad or good, it just is.

Does this make sense? Mindfulness is not about just paying attention to something. It’s about paying attention without judgment. Just notice it. Be curious about it. Describe it.

This week I would love for everyone to join me in taking a look at your pain and actually noticing what it feels like. No pejorative terms allowed. Instead use words like heavy, tight, tingling, sharp, tense, stiff and dull. You can use pain that’s emotional or physical. Mindfulness can work for both; in fact, it’s great for both. And it’s actually been proven to help reduce overall “pain” and change our brains for the better, so there.

So get focused, get present, and get rid of pain for good.

Be Good to your Body, it's where you Live

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Any suggestions on how to cure the 'common' but oh-so-annoying cold? I'm tired of not being able to breathe or smell or taste anything! Thanks!

My belief with the common cold is that it is telling us something. When I have a cold I think of it as a signal from my body telling me I need to re-evaluate some of my choices. Have I been going to bed too late? Not drinking enough water? Letting stress get the best of me? A cold is a chance to do some healthy things for yourself. Stay in bed and watch a movie, drink lots of fluids and take care of yourself. A lot of the time a cold will stick around because we don't give it a chance to get better.

Ask me anything

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let them eat cake

How many of you have a "bad" foods list? Even if you don't have a full blown list I bet you have a couple of thoughts on the matter. I'm not talking about bad like, "I don't like it, it's bad", I mean "bad" as in, I have pejoratively decided to label this food as detrimental to my health and waistline. Can you relate and if so, what's on your list?

Mine is candy, baked goods, cookies, cake, cream, bread and pasta. Now to clarify, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of these foods. I think cake is awesome, coffee means nothing without cream and there isn't anything better than cappelini with tomato sauce. But sometimes when I eat some or many of these foods I will subconsciously feel as if I have done something wrong, as if I have failed. This is a common occurrence for a person who has lived for many years in the mindset of a dieter.

What happens to the average dieter when they have eaten something "bad"?

Well many things could happen but here are some common ones I've seen. The dieter may feel guilty and overcompensate by exercising excessively in order to negate the trigger food. She might feel sick and disgusted with herself which could lead her to eating more of said food because, "the diets already ruined anyway, right?" He might go into a starvation mode and decide adamantly that he will never eat said food again, thus creating anxiety about the possibility of future engagements in which this food is present. Regardless of which scenario occurs, the end result is too much time obsessing about a food that isn't actually bad in the first place.

What if instead of writing foods off as bad or good, we start to pay attention to what our body wants to eat. What if there were no more labels? What if we could eat whatever we want, without any of the negative feelings and none of the anxiety? What would happen? Well for about the first week we would probably go crazy, bingeing on sugar and pasta and baked goods. But then, once we realized that sugar isn't going anywhere, that we can have it whenever we want, that eating it does not make us bad or weak or wrong, we would begin to notice that our body craves other foods as well. And then eventually we would settle into a lifestyle of eating when we're hungry and eating what our body needs.

I know that the idea of letting go of negative food ideals is a little scary for some people. You may be thinking, "But Sarah, what if I eat cake every day and then I gain 10 lbs?" If you truly let go of your "bad" food label you wont eat cake every day because your body will crave other things. Do you really think that your body would want to eat nothing but sugar all day long? If you truly listen to what your body needs and wants, you will crave a rainbow of foods. Sometimes it will include cake, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

Be Good to your Body, it's where you Live

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hope for a miracle

There is a sea in Margarita; an island off the coast of Venezuela where it is said that “taking a bath” there can heal even the most horrific of disease. There is a man in Brazil named John of God, who has cured brain aneurisms with only the touch of his hands on your heart. As a therapist I meet people regularly who have experienced the most horrible traumas and tragedies and yet still have unbelieving faith that where they are now would be impossible without the help of something bigger. There are stories in every culture, in every language, of miracles that happen, at times when it just doesn’t seem possible that they could. Believing in those miracles keeps us healthy and it paves the way for even more miracles to occur.

Many people believe that this thing, this helper greater than us has to do with religion or a God. I think it’s absolutely wonderful if you have found a God to believe in and that helps you have hope, but if you haven’t found a God or if you just don’t believe in a God, that’s fine too. I am not trying to get you to believe in God. In fact I am not even fully sure what sort of God I believe in, but I do believe, in the healing power of hope.

“Hope is the desire for something, combined with a belief or positive expectation that it is possible to have what you want.” There is an element of trust or faith in our notion of hope. In fact, many linguists believe that the word hope shares its roots with the word hop, as in leaping in expectation of a good outcome.

In Greek legends, when Pandora opened her box to let out all the Gods, hope remained in the box. That kind of says to me that hope is the one that will always be there to guide us even when the Gods have left the building.

You may be scoffing me right now, “Sarah, I have desire and I have belief that greatness can happen, but it still doesn’t happen.” And to that I have a religious joke:

There once was a man named Joe. Every day Joe would pray to his God to give him a million dollars. Joe believed so deeply that God could grant him this wish. Religiously, every night Joe would kneel in front of his bed and pray, “Please God, please, give me a million dollars. Every day Joe would visualize how he would use the money to help his family and save his home and every night he would pray. Eventually Joe passed away and he never made a million dollars. As he stood at the gates of heaven he pleaded with God, “why did you never give me a million dollars?” And God said to him, “Why did you never buy a lottery ticket?”

“Hope is a desire for something and a belief or positive expectation that it can happen.”

And it is also about having the will to make it happen.

This year, in 2011, my hope for all of you is to believe in yourself. To have the desire, the hope, the positive expectation and the drive to make your life the way you want it to be. Be your own miracle.

Happy New Year!