Tag Archive: emotional health

Part 2 of our anger management series focuses on tips and strategies to help you control your anger response in the very moment you are experiencing it.  As with anything, the following strategies will get easier over time, becoming more like second nature as you practice them.  Experiment to find out what works best for you; which tips and strategies help you to control and diffuse your anger response quickly and easily.  While these tips are designed to help you ‘in the moment’, they will also help you long term because the less you give in to your anger (and the more you become accustomed to these techniques), the less hard-wired your brain will be towards uncontrollable anger (and the more hard-wired it will be to the calming effects of these strategies).

  1. Take a time out and BREATHE. This is the first, very important step to diffusing anger, and it is very powerful.   Some experts tell you to count to ten; others say to take three long, deep breaths.  We say try both, together and separate, and see what works best for you.  Either way, it should be the very first strategy you employ when you start to feel the anger bubble up inside of you.
  2. Check in with your thoughts and downgrade as necessary. Often when we are angry, our thinking centers around words like “awful, terrible, everything is ruined” which contribute to how angry we are over a given situation.  Once you are calm, gain perspective and downgrade those thoughts to, “This is frustrating and annoying, but not the end of the world.  I can find a solution to this issue.”
  3. Express Your Anger Clearly and Assertively without Aggression. When you are calm, express your concerns in a non-confrontational, direct manner.  State your needs clearly, and without hurting others.  Stay away from “always” and “never”, in both your thoughts and speech.   When you think in terms of “he always does this,” and “she’ll never change”, it fools you into thinking your intense anger response is justified and that there is no solution to the problem.  When spoken, it alienates and humiliates the people around you and makes problem-solving very difficult.  Instead, stick with “I” statements, like “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to do the dishes,” instead of “You never help out around the house.  I always have to do everything.”
  4. Think before you speak. Anger can cause us to say things we would never dream of in our more calm and loving moments.   Words can hurt and can’t be taken back once spoken.  When anger is involved, it is wise to pause before speaking and ask yourself, “Do I really want to say this? Is there a better way to express how I am feeling?”  If you are unsure, imagine how you would feel if what you are about to say was said to you.
  5. Focus on solutions. If you keep focusing on the problem (which is what angered you in the first place), it will be very hard to stay calm because every time you think of the problem, you will be angered all over again.  Instead, purposely switch your focus on finding a solution to the problem.

If you were to Google “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”, you would be hit with page after page of people advising you to apply this concept to all areas of your life.  Some will focus more on how it can help you in business, others on its benefits in exercise and health, others for its effect on relationships and social life, and still others on how it benefits you, the individual.  But, while the focus may change, they will all say the same thing:  Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is the key to success.

We are creatures of comfort, naturally.  Most of us resist change because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable.  But, change cannot occur in any aspect of our lives until we leave our comfort zone and switch up the status quo.  When you are uncomfortable, you are pushing your boundaries, trying new things, stretching yourself to do something you have not yet done.  This is the source of growth and change.  In your workouts, for instance, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone translates into achieving that next level of fitness, whatever it may be for you.  In your relationships, being vulnerable and uncomfortable is how you create true intimacy and form new bonds.  In your career and business, taking risks and working on things you haven’t “mastered” yet is how you will grow your business and advance your career.  Being uncomfortable leads to growth and change.  Ever went through a big growth spurt as a kid?  Remember how uncomfortable (and sometimes even painful) your body felt right before?  Discomfort before growth and change is a universal principle that can be applied across the board in all areas of life.

So, how does one get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  Here’s the thing.  While you will never be completely comfortable with the discomfort – how could you be? – you can become more and more accustomed to “dealing with” the feeling and, eventually, embracing it.  Our normal reaction to feelings of discomfort is to avoid what is making us uncomfortable, to push back and resist it, to procrastinate, or eat too much, sleep too much, drink too much, become moody, and many other unhelpful coping mechanisms.  Instead, try something different next time.  When you feel yourself tensing as a result of discomfort with whatever you are facing in that moment, pause and check in with your body.  Pay particular attention to your breath.  If you are tense, your breathing will most often be shallow and short.  Consciously take a few deep breaths in through your nose, sending the breath way down deep into your belly and lower back.  Visualize yourself harnessing all that nervous and uncomfortable energy with each deep breath.  Then, once you feel more centered and in control, use that newly harnessed energy to follow through and accomplish whatever it was that was taking you out of your comfort zone and into uncharted territory.  One day in the not-too-distant future, when the growth has occurred and you’ve expanded your life, you’ll be happy you did.

When most of us think of posture, we recall memories of our parents, grandparents, and other caretakers chiding us to “sit up straight” and “stand up tall”.  If only they had told us all the reasons why, we might have actually listened!  The sad fact is many of us have bad posture.  Blame it on all the work and traveling that is done sitting down hunched over a desk or in front of a wheel.

As it turns out, posture is a big deal, bigger than I ever realized before I began researching this post.  It effects not only whether we will suffer from back and neck pain, but also our circulatory system, our blood pressure, our lungs, our digestive system, our endocrine (hormone) system, our energy levels, and even our thoughts, our confidence, and how others perceive us.  Let’s take these all one by one:

Circulatory System: Hunching over a computer or other bad posturing can restrict blood flow to the back of the head which can cause tension headaches or worse.

Blood Pressure: A study published in the August 2007 issue of “The Journal of Neuroscience” suggests that strain in the neck muscles (from hunching over your desk for instance) may contribute to higher blood pressure, as this type of strain can trigger brain cells to raise blood pressure.

Lungs: When hunched over your lungs are physically unable to take a full breath.  This can also contribute to raised stress levels, as deep breathing helps create relaxation while shallow breathing contributes to feeling stressed.  It has also been suggested that if a spine is out of alignment, it will cause a misalignment of the rib cage, which in turn will put undue pressure on both the lungs and the heart.

Digestive System: The bulk of our digestive system is located in our torso area.  When we are hunched over, we sort of crush and squeeze these digestive organs, thus hindering digestion.  Here is an experiment that can help you understand this in a visceral way.  During the holidays, after you have eaten that too large meal, try getting up and going for a short walk directly after, being sure to keep good posture the whole time.  Notice how your body feels.  Then, next time you eat a similarly large meal, force yourself to just sit there, hunched over, and notice how that makes your body feel.  Now, to be clear, the movement of walking does stimulate digestion, which gives that first experience an extra advantage, but there is something to be said for giving your digestive system the space in which to properly digest.

Endocrine (Hormone) System: Hormones play an important role in the overall health of our body.  Because poor posture forces our muscles to work harder to keep us upright, this creates unnecessary physical stress on our musculoskeletal structure, which in turn causes disruption to the release and concentration of stress hormones in the body, which then causes imbalances in the entire endocrine system.  (There is another component of how certain posturing affects our hormones, which I will touch upon later on.)

Energy Levels: Our energy levels are affected by bad posture (and conversely by good posture) because restricted airflow and extra stress on our muscles cause us to fatigue quicker and more easily.

Our Thoughts / Levels of Confidence / Other’s Perception: If you think of posture as how you occupy a space, you can easily begin to understand how it could affect what others think of you, as well as what you think of yourself.  Here’s an easy example:  If you were to walk in a room with your head down, shoulder’s hunched, fleetingly making eye contact with those you meet, you are going to perceive that experience through that posturing.  Likewise, the people you encounter will read you a certain way through that same posturing, thus causing them to treat you according to their perception of you, which will then reinforce the view your posturing initially gave you.  Conversely, if you were to walk into a room with your head high and your shoulders back, boldly making eye contact with all you meet, that experience will be the polar opposite, both for you and for others, and you will be treated differently as well.

Another compelling example of the power of posture has to do with the findings of a recent study.  Basically, it was found that if a person were to spend as little as 2 minutes striking certain power postures and poses (for example, standing with your arms stretched out wide, standing in front of a desk with your palms pressed on it, or reclining in a chair with your hands behind your head and your feet on the table), their testosterone levels would rise, and their cortisol levels would dip, leading to an optimal hormonal balance to help that person feel more powerful, confident, and able to take risks.

Another study found that if you sit up straight you are more likely to believe your thoughts.  I bet that if they did a similar study they would find that others would more likely believe your thoughts too.  Good posture displays confidence and openness, while poor posture tends to relay the opposite message.

Yoga is an entire discipline based on various postures and poses aimed at creating harmony, balance, and calm in our bodies and our lives.

All in all, good posture is much more than something your mom nagged you about as a kid.  How we hold our bodies and how we occupy the space around us has a profound affect on us physically, mentally and emotionally.  Changing your posture can literally change your body’s chemistry, its functioning, and its energy.  It can also change your perception and other’s perception of you.  It is much more powerful than most of us ever gave it credit for.  I don’t know about you, but I plan on calling my mom later today and thanking her for every time she told me to “Straighten up!”

Sources:  “The Power of Posture” Courier Post

The Effects of Bad Posture on Heart Health, Livestrong.com

The Importance of Good Posture, Buzzle.com

Poor Posture and Health, Root2Being.com

Sciencedaily.com, October 5, 2009

Natural Remedies for PMS

OK, so before the men who read this blog completely check out, I’ll ask that you reconsider.  This post may help you to listen and to understand the women in your life a little better.

PMS has been around a lot longer than the name itself – pretty much since the beginning of the human race, and women in particular.  Experts say that the definitive cause of PMS is unknown, but many think it has something to do with the flux in hormones.  First, lets brush up on some of what happens during a typical menstrual cycle. From the onset of menstruation (when you get your period) until ovulation, your body is essentially ripening an egg.  It is the pre-ovulation stage, the first stage of the menstrual cycle.  Estrogen is a hormone made by your body throughout your entire menstrual cycle, but it peaks right around the time of ovulation, the 2nd and 3rd week respectively, and declines before you menstruate.  Once you ovulate, we move into the luteal phase.  During this phase your body also produces the hormone progesterone.  So, basically, PMS is the time when your body is experiencing a decline in estrogen, as well as the effects of progesterone.  Both these hormones affect certain neurotransmitters that influence mood, by the way.

Some of the common symptoms of PMS include breast swelling and tenderness, headache, cramps, nausea, abdominal bloating, depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, trouble sleeping, food cravings, swelling of the hands, ankles, and face, anger, increased emotional sensitivity, and anxiety, to name a few.  If you have these symptoms and they are severe or debilitating, you might be suffering from PMDD and should seek medical treatment from your gynecologist.  Interestingly, PMS symptoms are often most pronounced for women in their 30s and 40s, so unfortunately if you are PMS-free now, you may not always be.  Also, if you are in your 20s and you do have PMS, it may worsen as you get older.  All the more reason to do what you can now to lessen the symptoms.

There are some key dietary changes you can make that will help control your symptoms of PMS.  Calcium has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms.  Supplementing with Vitamin E has also shown some effectiveness.  There is some evidence, although less, that supplementation of magnesium and Vitamin B6 can also alleviate symptoms.  (Both magnesium and B6 can have side effects if you consume too much, and magnesium should not be supplemented if you have heart or kidney disease without consulting your doctor first.)

On a whole, it is important to eat well.  Specifically it is helpful to reduce salt and sugar intake, as well as decrease the fat in your diet.  Reduction or elimination of caffeine is also helpful as it can aggravate anxiety, depression, and breast tenderness.  Keep your blood sugar level stable by choosing sturdy, whole grain, complex carbohydrates and by eating small, healthy meals throughout the day.  Keep your fiber intake up.  Adding flaxseed can be helpful for this as it contains both insoluble and soluble fiber.  It also contains plant estrogen, which may help when your body experiences that decline in estrogen.  Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, as well as omega-3 rich foods, as they will help with mood levels.

Exercise has also been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.  Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood-improver.  Stress is a big culprit for aggravating PMS symptoms, so it is advisable to adopt regular stress-relieving practices like meditation and yoga.  Some deep breathing at various times throughout the day can also help regulate stress.

As for herbal remedies, women have used evening primrose oil for quite some time to relieve PMS symptoms.  It is generally considered safe, but it is still recommended to check with your doctor before taking it regularly.  Another common herbal remedy is chaste berry, often brewed into teas.

As someone who experiences PMS every month, I can say that in my personal experience I have noticed that as my lifestyle got healthier over these past few years, my PMS symptoms have lessened.  I, myself, plan to try some of the other remedies I found in my research to see if they, too, can help me decrease my symptoms.  Having said that, there is something to be said for the natural cycles and rhythms of our bodies.  I think some of the stress caused by PMS, which then worsens PMS, is because we fight it.  We fight the days when we feel a little more down than usual, a little more sensitive, a little more tired.  If, after incorporating all or most of these remedies, you still find yourself experiencing some mild symptoms of PMS, then I would advise you to surrender to them.  If you fight them, it will just cause extra stress, which will then in turn make your PMS symptoms that much worse.  The menstrual cycle has its natural phases, just as the moon does.  It’s part of who we are as women.  (But, let me reiterate the importance of doing all you can to lessen the symptoms first, especially if you find that your PMS is disruptive in any way to your life or relationships.)

In conclusion, I will leave you with some food for thought.  When I came across this in my research, it sure opened my mind up to a new possibility.  The following is a quote from an article by Dr. Christiane Northrup, noted author and gynecologist.   “The luteal phase, from ovulation until the onset of menstruation, is when women are most in tune with their inner knowing and with what isn’t working in their lives…. In fact, it has been shown experimentally that the right hemisphere of the brain—the part associated with intuitive knowing—becomes more active premenstrually, while the left hemisphere becomes less active. Interestingly enough, communication between the two hemispheres may be increased as well.”[1] Now, doesn’t that put a whole new (and positive) spin on PMS?   Maybe if we stop thinking of PMS as the time of the month when we go a little crazy and instead start regarding it as a time where we may gain insight into our lives, it might then alter our experience of it?  Wouldn’t that be nice?



Ehow.com :  How To Use Flaxseed Oil to Treat PMS

Medicinenet.com : PMS-Free Diet? What You Eat May Effect PMS

Livestrong.com : Natural Ways to Help with PMS

About.com : Natural Remedies for PMS

Drnorthrup.com : Premenstrual Syndrome

[1] Wisdom of the Menstrual Cycle by Dr. Christiane Northrup, drnorthrup.com

Giving Thanks

I mentioned to a colleague the other day that Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays.  (Thanksgiving and July 4th actually.)  She wisely noted that Thanksgiving is one of the only holidays where there is no expectation, other than good food.  There are no presents, baskets of chocolate, or major decorations to contend with.  In fact, the craze for Christmas usually starts the day after Thanksgiving, so even its build up is much more calm and un-frenzied.  Thanksgiving is simply about getting together with people you care about and giving thanks.  (And eating, of course J)

There is a relatively new branch of psychology known as positive psychology.  Positive psychology is founded on “the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.  Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.”[1] It is a branch of psychology that is placing the emphasis on “making normal life more fulfilling”[2] thus expanding the role of psychology outside of its traditional purpose:  the study of, the understanding of, and the treatment of mental illness.

Robert Emmons, a leading practitioner in positive psychology, as well as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology and author of the book, Thanks! How Practicing the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier has conducted multiple studies on the effects of gratitude along with his partner Professor Michael McCullough.  In some of the studies, the participants kept daily or weekly gratitude journals in which they wrote at least one thing for which they were grateful.  (The control group would simply journal about neutral, daily life.)  Emmons and McCullough found, among other things, that those who kept the gratitude journals “performed more regular fitness training, reported fewer symptoms of physical pain, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week(s).  Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.  [And] Self-guided gratitude intervention resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy and improved sleep.”[3] Overall, Emmons has found in his ten years of research on gratitude that it can increase happiness by 25%.  Since this is the case, boy am I glad America has a holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

So, this Thanksgiving, let’s all be extra conscious of being grateful and thankful for all our blessings and for all the wonderful people we are lucky enough to have in our lives.  Not only will it serve to make for a happier, more peaceful, more meaningful holiday, but it will increase our own happiness by 25% (at the very least!) and will most likely increase the happiness of those we love as well.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and giving thanks, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our readers.  I truly enjoy writing this blog and I am grateful that there are many out there who read it and benefit from it.  Happy Thanksgiving all!

[1] Positive Psychology Center, positivepsychology.org

[2] Wikipedia.org/positive_psychology

[3] www.palmbeachpost.com : “This Thanksgiving, give a healthy thank you for gratitude”

Chronic stress is very damaging to both our physical and mental well-being.  (For more about the effects of chronic stress, read our blog titled “The Earth’s Heartbeat”.)  Yet, most of us encounter stress in some form almost every day.  So, what to do?  One very effective way to alleviate stress and to combat its damaging effects is to meditate.

Meditation can reverse your stress response and help shield you from the effects of chronic stress.   When you meditate, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure normalizes, you use less oxygen, your adrenal glands produce less cortisol, your mind ages at a slower rate, and your immune function improves.   Besides reversing your stress response, mediation quiets the mind.  As a result, you become more focused, more creative, have a clearer mind, and can even gain a better perspective on stressful situations.

Mediation can be self-taught or you can take classes taught by a certified meditation instructor.  (If you have the time, an experienced teacher can be very helpful when you are just beginning your meditation practice.)  Simply put, the practice of meditation is sitting comfortably in a quiet space, clearing your mind, and breathing in and out.  While it is simple in design, meditation does take practice and discipline.  If you are just beginning, it is recommended you only attempt 5 minutes of meditation at a time (the bare minimum needed to produce desired results) and then build into longer meditations (20 minutes or so.)  You may find it hard at first to clear your mind of its endless chatter, but that is normal.  Whatever you do, don’t let it stress you out!  Simply notice the intruding thoughts, let them go, and re-focus.

For some, it is helpful to focus on one thing during meditation.  This can alleviate distracting thoughts.  You can focus on your breath, even counting how many breaths you take.  Alternately, you can focus on an object such as a painting, a flower, or a candle.  Some like to focus on a particular sound, the classic one being the Sanskrit word “Om”, which means perfection. With this method, you would chant “om” (or any other word you like) with each exhale.  Still another method to help quiet your mind is to focus on a single thought or idea.  Some good ones are love, gratitude, peace, and forgiveness.

Some people who practice meditation find it helpful to use imagery as a tool.  With this method, you imagine you are in a pleasant and relaxing place as you meditate.  It is helpful to be detailed in your imagery, as this will make the place come alive to you, as well as focus your mind more efficiently.  Listening to calming music is another way to clear your mind as you meditate.  There are some great CDs out there specifically geared towards meditation.  Alternatively, you can purchase guided meditation CDs (or through itunes).  These types of CDs involve someone talking you through the meditation.

In the beginning, I would suggest trying all the methods to best figure out which ones work for you.  Remember, don’t get discouraged.  Be patient with yourself and trust the process.  With practice, everything gets easier and the benefits are too great to pass up.  If you stick with it, before long you will find yourself looking forward to your few minutes of peace and quiet and relaxation.  It is amazing how great it feels to just be still.  To just be.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a quote I came across not that long ago:

“Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted.

Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Hans Margolius

Stress is not good for us.  Most of us know that by now.  We hear it daily from doctors, news reporters, medical journals, health magazines and talk shows.  There is plenty of research about the adverse effects of chronic, unmanaged stress.  They include:  a weakened immune system, heart issues such as high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, blood clots, and hardening of the arteries, muscle pain in your neck, shoulders, or back, stomach issues such as aggravated irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers, reproductive issues such as low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy and painful menstrual cycles, a worsening of certain lung conditions like asthma and COPD, and skin issues such as acne and psoriasis are also made worse by stress.  As if all that is not reason enough to get your stress level under control, there are a myriad of emotional issues linked to chronic stress such as feeling generally cranky all the time, feeling overwhelmed by even the smallest of issues, lack of patience, feelings of frustration, lashing out for no reason, finding it hard to focus, feeling either jumpy or tired all the time, and chronic fear as you imagine all the bad things that can happen.  Bottom line, being stressed out all the time is no way to live.  So where does all the stress come from? Have you ever wondered if there is an external force affecting the stress level of our world?  What can we do to reduce our stress and get back in sync with the world around us?  Please read on and consider this….

Did you know the Earth has a heartbeat?  I’ve recently been reading a fascinating book called Nature’s Secret Messages by Elaine Wilkes, which is where I first learned about it.  The heartbeat is known as the “Schumann Resonance” – named after the German physicist W.O. Schumann who predicted it.  More scientifically speaking, the Schumann Resonances are “quasi-standing electromagnetic waves that exist in the Earth’s ‘electromagnetic’ cavity (the space between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere).” (1) They are not caused by anything internally in the Earth, rather they are related to electrical activity in the atmosphere, particularly lightning storms.  “In the normal mode descriptions of Schumann resonances, the fundamental mode is a standing wave (also known as a stationary wave because it is a wave that remains in constant position) in the Earth–ionosphere cavity with a wavelength equal to the circumference of the Earth. This lowest-frequency (and highest-intensity) mode of the Schumann resonance occurs at a frequency of approximately 7.83 Hz.” (2)  There are variations in frequency, depending on the electrical activity in the Earth’s ionosphere, but what we do know is that the Schumann Resonances typically stay well below the 50 Hz – 60 Hz frequency most of our technology runs on.

The human race evolved in this frequency, this Schumann Resonance.  It is very important to us.  So important that NASA created a Schumann wave simulator (basically a magnetic-pulse generator that mimics the Earth’s frequency) because they noticed that without it the astronaut’s physical condition severely deteriorated while they were in space, away from Earth’s heartbeat.  There are many people today who believe that all the manmade frequencies of our technology is “polluting” the Earth’s heartbeat, the Schumann Resonance, thereby causing us to feel more stressed, fatigued and out of balance.  If astronauts’ physical condition can deteriorate because of a lack of it, it stands to reason that the general population’s physical condition may also be affected by its distortion.

So, what to do?  We can’t shut off all our power, that’s for sure.  That is not a practical solution.  However, we can get more connected to Earth and to nature by spending more time in it.  I’ve often noticed how the energy changes when I vacation with my family at the Jersey shore.  We cross that bridge into Ocean City and it’s as if all the troubles of normal, everyday life just disappear and I instantly feel more relaxed.  I’m sure it is influenced by the collective energy of all the other people there who are also in “vacation mentality” so to speak, but I wonder if the fact that we spend a majority of our time there barefoot on the beach and in the ocean, connected to nature day after day for hours at a time, also plays a significant role in that collective, more relaxed energy.  Maybe our increased connection to our collective heartbeat is what helps us all feel more relaxed.

Have you ever spent a day hiking in the woods, or just lounging at a park, and felt as if you lost time somehow?  I think that feeling is due to being exposed to Nature’s rhythms, which are so different than our own manmade ones full of alarm clocks and artificial lighting and cell phones that never stop ringing.  The astronauts have shown us how important it is for us to be connected to our Earth, and specifically its heartbeat.  Being in touch with nature can ground us, and help us to feel more centered.  It can take us back to our roots as human beings.  Next time you are feeling stressed out, give it a try.  (Better yet, use Nature as a way to prevent stress by visiting it regularly.)  Take a trip to the nearest piece of nature – even if all you can do that day is simply stand barefoot in your own backyard – and just take in all that nature has to offer.  Breathe deeply.  Feel how Earth’s gravity roots you to the ground.  Look up at the sky and watch the clouds roll by.  Look around and watch the other forms of life sharing your piece of nature – the squirrels, the insects, the birds.  Close your eyes and feel the wind as it moves around you, listening closely to all the sounds of nature that surround you.  Reset your rhythm to Mother Nature’s rhythm.   It may be just the medicine you need.

1.  www.lessemf.com

2.   www.wikipedia.com/Schumann_resonances

Other sources:  Web MD

Music: A Healing Art

If I had to guess, I would say that 99.999999999% of the people who live on this Earth listen to some sort of music.  The type of music, I’m sure, varies as widely as the people that listen to it, but music is a cross-cultural, cross-generational phenomenon.  Archeological evidence suggests that music came before any language.  If you are human, chances are music is a part of your life.

I think we all understand the power that music has on us, especially when it comes to mood.   Most of us have experienced it first-hand.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found her bad mood lifted by an upbeat song she loves.  (Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen does it every time.)  Or alternately, her joyous mood dampened by a piece that evokes sad or angry emotions.  (Prime example:  Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  It, too, gets me every time but it is an exquisite piece of music that I love listening to.)

If you exercise, I’m sure you understand the power music has on the quality of your workout.  Music can motivate you to push through that last set or rep, or to sprint that last mile when every muscle and fiber in your being is begging you to quit.  It is also pretty well known, although sadly ignored, that music positively effects learning.  Children who play a musical instrument often perform better in math and language skills.  In musicians, the corpus callosum (the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres) is more highly developed.

One of music’s first important social roles was as a means of healing. Today, music therapy is being employed in many different settings to promote both physical and mental healing.  For example, it is used today to help people suffering with depression.  While the research about its effectiveness is limited, it does indicate that music therapy does well to ease depressive symptoms, often being used when more conventional therapies are not as likely to be successful on their own.   It can help to tap into a patient’s emotions and memories that are otherwise repressed.  Music has been shown to also physically affect the body in a therapeutic manner.  It has been proven to help slow down heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, encourage better breathing, and help patients rest and recover.

Bottom line, music is powerful.  It has an influence over us that is, in many aspects, unparalleled.  Used wisely, it can be a great tool to help us all navigate daily living.  For the days where you find yourself feeling blue, have a play list or CD ready that you know will put you in a better mood.  Have one ready for those days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing seems to be going right. Have one ready for when you are feeling angry or agitated or anxious that will help you feel calm and serene and peaceful.  Have one ready for when you are feeling down on yourself, when you doubt whether you can achieve or accomplish your goals.  (I would suggest the Rocky theme music for this one :) )

I will conclude with some great quotes about music:

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” Martin Luther King

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Victor Hugo

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Plato

“Music is love in search of a word.” Sidonie Gabrielle

“When the music changes, so does the dance.” African Proverb

This blog is going to be somewhat personal, probably the one and only, but I’ve learned never to say never.  The last blog TLC posted was on June 14, 2010, almost a month ago.  For those of you who check in regularly to see what we have posted, I am sorry that we have been silent for this long.

On June 14, 2010 at about 7 PM, I was in a pretty severe car accident.  It was 5 days before my wedding.  I was only a few minutes away from my house, on my way to pick up some extra groceries for my brother who would be staying with us that week before the wedding (he lives in Taiwan.)  I was in the middle of making a left hand turn, when I was hit on the driver’s side door by a car coming from my left.  I remember I saw the car a split second before impact and I screamed.  In that instant, I knew the car was going to hit me, I knew it was going to hit my door, and I knew it could be very bad – that I could die, or be severely hurt.  In the next instant, it was over.  The car had hit, I was in pain, but I was alive.

As it turned out, I had fractured my pelvis in three spots.  Of course, my first thoughts were about the wedding.  No bride-to-be wants to find herself in the hospital, with a fractured pelvis, just days before her wedding.  It was a difficult week, to say the least.  Physically, mentally and emotionally trying.  But, it was also a week of miracles.  The accident put a hyper-focus on all that is truly important:  the love of the man I was about to marry, the love we shared for each other, the love of our families who pulled together and made this wedding happen for us, the love of our friends who supported us through this difficult time.  On the day of the wedding, a day of beautiful blue skies and warm sun, I was able to walk (albeit slowly) down the aisle towards the man of my dreams, on the arm of the man who had so lovingly raised me, surrounded by all my friends and family – I truly felt like the luckiest woman in the world.  A family friend said to me, “This accident will forever be a part of your wedding – they are forever tied.”  In a strange way, I am glad.  I am glad because it will always remind me how precious life really is and it will help me to live it better.

I heard once that Buddhist monks are taught to carry death on their shoulder.  It sounds morbid, but I think it’s just a way to always remember how fragile life really is.  Not so that you walk around scared of dying all the time, but so that you remain grateful for every moment that you live.  It is so easy to get caught up in our everyday lives, to get caught up in the problems and issues that we face.  This is not to say that you can ignore your everyday life – you can’t and shouldn’t.  Nor is it to say that you should not face up and work through any problems or issues you encounter – you should and must.  It is often our challenges that, when faced openly and courageously, help us to become better people and enable us to get even more enjoyment out of life.  And everyday, “ordinary” life is where the miracles occur – we just need to be open to them.  If you really contemplate not being here tomorrow, then all of a sudden it is a miracle to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, the cool breeze as it blows through your hair, the hug of a loved one, the sound of your child’s voice, the feel of your body as it runs or hops or skips or jumps, a great cup of coffee, a wonderful conversation, a beautiful sunset.

I am grateful for my accident.  I am grateful because it has taught me to be grateful for my life.

I hope that anyone who reads this will take a moment to remember all they have to be grateful for.  I’ll consider it a wedding present. ;)

There are many of us at The Listening Center who have been fans of the show Biggest Loser for quite some time now.  We love to watch the contestants change their lives in such a positive manner.  Usually, their experience on the ranch gives them not only their leaner, healthier bodies, but also a new outlook on life.  In confronting their weight issues and making the changes necessary, the contestants are often forced to confront the psychological and emotional issues that are behind their massive weight gain.  The trainers on the show, Bob and Jillian, are good at getting to the root of the contestants’ issues, the core problems of which their weight is just a symptom.  It is this element of the show we love the most, because it reinforces the concept of the Mind – Body connection.  It reminds us, and America, that the two are inextricably linked; that if you address one, it will ultimately lead you to the other.

Jillian Michaels, one of the trainers on Biggest Loser, now has a new reality series, Losing It With Jillian.  The first episode aired last week and it promises to be as uplifting a show as Biggest Loser.  Its format is different, so there is not any of that game playing stuff that goes on in Biggest Loser (the part of the show we like least).  Basically, Jillian moves in with a different family each week and helps them get healthy and make a positive change in their lives.

In the premiere episode, we met the Mastropiestros family of Massachusetts.   All the Mastropiestros’s were overweight, in danger of serious medical issues unless they changed their ways, except for the daughter who had undergone gastric bypass surgery.  (The dad, too, had gastric bypass but it did not work for him.)  And they all had emotional and psychological issues underneath their weight to grapple with and address in order for true change to occur.  The mother and father had to fully confront the death of their son, who died when he was just a month and a half.  The father had refused to talk about him since his death, and it was eating him up  along with his wife because she felt like she was alone in her grief.  The daughter, while slender from gastric bypass, had to confront her inner issues, including a major lack of self worth – issues that gastric bypass cannot address.  What was beautiful about the show was that, with the help of Jillian, they all not only finally began to address these issues and heal them, as well as practically learn  how to lose the weight they need to lose, they also grew closer as a family and connected in a way they had not before.  If the rest of the series is as good as this first episode, then this show could turn out to be even more inspirational than Biggest Loser – and it will definitely highlight the Mind – Body connection.

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