“Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust.”
My reading notes for Kelly McGonigal's great book by the same title.
Change is the only constant. I’ve been dealt this teaching over and over. Now I seek it, sometimes to a fault. I enjoy change, I enjoy the learning, the challenge, the reaffirmed knowledge that I’m OK, that I can take it, that I am resourceful, that I have what it takes. That while everything seems to fall into pieces, everything is falling into place.
This change is no different. I had been contemplating the possibility of renewing my website for some time, but the tech-burden seemed impossible to overcome. Every excuse was valid to postpone until it was made clear to me that change was inevitable.
It’s not easy to move one’s internet dwelling. Like with any move, some things were lost or broken. All the like and share counts on my posts are gone, so are all the comments. The pictures have been violently separated from their posts, and I honestly doubt that I will have enough time, patience, and (frankly) priority to reunite them all.
Luckily, most of my texts are still in Scrivener, and some did make it intact in the backup files. I do wonder however if I’d rather forget them all and start anew. If you ask me, I’d rather spend my time writing new entries than piecing the old ones together. I’d rather look forward.
So, without further ado: Welcome to my new digs! I hope you like them as much as I do and that you’ll visit often. I have lots of sweet and calming surprises for you.
My goal is to inspire you to believe that you can move from overwhelm and indecision to calm and clarity, so you can know what you really want and you can make it happen powerfully, in harmony with your wellbeing.
Change is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard. All you have to do is make space for the pieces to fall in their place.
I’m so excited to share my favourite books of 2015 with you! I’ve been hard at work on my new website (I hope you like it!), and have gotten behind on posts. Better later than never, as they say.
As I compiled my list of favourite books for 2015, I realized that fiction has completely disappeared from my new line-up shelf. I was not expecting that! If you’re curious, check out the list of 2014.
Every year I add one of David Frawley’s books to my reference shelf. In 2015, his work on the ten Mahavidyas swept me off my feet. I keep going back to it over and over. I love how detailed and concise his compilations are. Here, he covers the whole range, from mantras to yantras. Now, if he could fulfill his wish for a whole book on Tripura Sundari…
You may have come across Amanda’s amazing TEDtalk, or you may know her from her punk rock music, or via her prolific husband, writer Neil Gaiman. Her talk rocked my world, and so did her book. It’s hard enough to ask, but it may be harder still to receive. If 2015 has given me one lesson, it’s this one: for some of us, giving is a lot easier than receiving. There is vulnerability in receiving, but there is also grace, trust, and connection. Amanda Palmer does a great job at putting all of it in perspective by sharing her own stories of discomfort, refusal, misunderstandings. It felt like she was talking to me, directly. A great read!
This book is more about falling in love with meditation than about learning to meditate. Sally Kempton has a powerful yet understated way of appealing to the receptive part of us waiting to be embraced and loved. Meditation is not a linear process, and it certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach. This book provides a wide range of experiential techniques, as well as guidelines to stay on track. This is a wonderful read if you’re experiencing a falling-out with your practice.
If I write that Dr. Benson’s research is uncovering what we always knew, you’ll think it’s useless. But that’s exactly what he’s doing, and he’s helping the modern homo scientificus that we have become make peace with the fact that we are first and foremost feeling and believing beings. Dr. Benson was a pioneer in the research on the relaxation response in the 70s, and he has since made great strides in demonstrating that relaxation can be used as an actual healing method. In Timeless Healing, he explores the relationship between healing and beliefs. I needed to read this book to understand that my beliefs have a direct impact on my wellbeing and on my ability to recover. It was about time!
This book came recommended by Julia (find her at thetalsam.com). I really didn’t know what to expect. Within the first few pages, I knew I’d learn something and that it wasn’t all a waste of time and resources. By the 100th page, I knew I’d never deal with my emotions and those of others the same way. Rasas, or emotions, are powerful teachers. Learning to experience them without judgement can actually free us from our own limitations. The author even explores sadhana, practices, that can help us engage deeply with our feelings in a systematic exploratory manner. Although Joy and Love rasas may seem like the ideal emotions, I’m completely in awe of Wonder right now. I remember the child within.
Three letters. The MD gave me three little miserable letters to explain all the pain and suffering I’d been going through for years. IBS, as in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It seemed too little, too common, too simple. I don’t know what I was hoping for, some badass degenerative disease? “It’s only IBS,” she said. “The tests show no damage, no nutritional deficiency. This is good news. You just need to relax.” I was secretly hoping for something complex because it might have been treatable. Medication seemed easier than to relax. How the hell does one relax, I thought. You think I haven’t tried?!
IBS is one funny unpredictable condition. You’re fine and the next minute there’s so much pain you can’t stand up and walk. You feel bloated, sometimes nauseated, your digestion is funky, you’re not hungry for hours and then you suddenly want to eat an elephant. Let’s not even mention the episodes of diarrhea, interrupted by mysterious bouts of constipation.
And so the best advice the MD had was to relax! And avoid uncooked veggies, especially lettuce and red pepper. By then, I had already made many changes in my life. I had ditched all my jeans (too painfully tight) for dresses and yoga pants; I had abandoned dairy (oh, ice cream, where art thou?). I knew I could easily adapt my habits, but to relax?! That was a different ball game. I didn’t even know what it meant.
In my mind, relaxation was for retirement. It was completely incompatible with real life. There was no way I could even imagine myself as anything but stressed-out, over-active, over-zealous. I did every task as if my life depended on it. I was intense, and I did pride myself on getting things done, fast. Fortunately for me, the pain caused by IBS was so unbearable, I had to pause and revisit this assumption.
What I have since understood is that our digestive system is directly affected by our nervous system. Regular stress, when it goes unmanaged, will seriously impede our digestion from beginning to end. Stress affects the foods we choose, how we chew, how we breathe (which in turn influences our digestive organs’ work). It may divert the energy away from the intestines, slowing down digestion, or even cause food to move faster along the digestive system causing discomfort, and serious inconvenience.
What’s even more interesting is that your body knows about the stress reaction before you do. Before you can cognitively recognize that “I am under stress right now,” your body has initiated the response: dry mouth, tightening muscles, faster breathing. Although the mind is a serious player in the stress reaction, the body is the only way in.
That’s how I slowly learned to relax and make friends with stress, and successfully managed to eliminate my IBS symptoms. The first step into deconstructing stress is to take care of the body, breathe mindfully, and move the body in sync with the breath. The mind is completely clueless in this regard. Try talking yourself out of stress, and see if it works. The mind cannot lead this transformation, it can only follow.
I really thought we were over. But now I would like us to be friends instead. I hope we can work it out.
There is no such thing as good and bad stress. Stress is stress. Stress manifests in different ways in the body, it takes different shapes and personalities, but it’s still plain stress. The human stress reaction is necessary and practical. It’s what allowed us to fend off predators or run as fast as we could to save our lives. It helps us ace interviews or exams with sharp clear thinking.
Unfortunately, our relationship to stress has gone wry because we experience too much of it. Over and over, we neglect the fact that our bodies and minds need to rest after a stress reaction. Stress is so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it as such until it’s too late. In fact, it is so much so that even our ‘resting’ activities are stressful. Television is number one in line standing accused. We slouch in front of the screen and we let it bombard us with sensational, negative and aggressive talk. That’s not resting. That’s nervous system boulimia. And let’s not even mention having coffee as a break from work…
As Kelly McGonigal explains in her latest TEDtalk, stress is healthy… if you believe it is. Stress is not in your head, but rather everywhere in your body. Once you start exploring your stress reactions in your body and you recognize that they are real, you will naturally feel the need to rest the body and mind after a stressful event or day. Activities that make you feel like yourself are a good place to start.
When it comes to resting from stress, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some of us need strong physical movement, others will prefer restorative yoga or meditation. When you ask around about activities to relax from stress, you’ll hear about going out for a walk, having sex, reading, gardening, sailing, wood carving. I’m not sure what all these have in common, but my guess is this.
• First, none of these activities are passive. Contrary to what we might think, resting the body and mind is not synonym to slouching. It is an active form of letting go.
• Second, the activity must be enjoyable for the person doing it, which is why what works for you might not work for others.
• Third, all these activities are free of competitive drive, unless it’s completely friendly competition of course. When you start introducing a goal or a benchmark in the activity, you start adding stress.
• Fourth, all activities are practiced with balance. Too little is just as bad as too much. Again, we are all different. For me, an uphill hike longer than one hour puts stress on my body and mind, but my sister-in-law can keep going for 3-4 hours. (And I’m not saying it’s bad to put stress on the body with such activities, I’m rather saying that it’s no longer a stress-resting activity at that point.)
The final thought of this long comment is that stress is what you make of it. If you think it’s bad for you, it will be bad. If you think it’s good for you, it will be good. Don’t let it rule your life. Be proactive and get some restful activity going.
Kelly McGonigal strikes again with this amazing demystifying TEDtalk on stress. She explains it all, concisely. Enjoy!
Here's a note to let you know I’m doing fine without you. Thank you for checking in a few times this week with our old friend Digestive Discomfort. I assure you that you did not have to trouble yourself. Would you please find something else to do? Go do yoga or something.
As I mentioned in my last post about stress, it’s important to reconsider the benefits and aches of your relationship to stress if you wish to part with him (yes, in my creative unconscious, stress is a Him. Don’t ask me to explain.)
What we refer to as stress is in fact a normal response from the sympathetic nervous system to perceived threats, whether it be a wild beast, a bad driver, an unforeseen event, or bills.
That response in itself wouldn’t be so bad for us personally if it weren’t for the resources it borrows from other systems in the body, especially from the parasympathetic nervous system. When you feel threatened, your sympathetic nervous system calls for all resources to be directed its way so it can prepare the body to fight or run by speeding up the heart beat, dilating the pupils, drying the mouth, constricting blood vessels. You get the picture.
The nervous system comprises sub-systems, two of which are important to understand to have a better relationship with stress. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the counterpart of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). You can think of them as two scales of a balance. When the SNS is activated the PNS loses some of its resources, and vice versa.
Ideally, you would want both sides of the balance to be roughly equal in their share of resources. The SNS controls the fight-or-flight responses. We are so well accustomed to this reaction that we barely notice it anymore. Unfortunately, we spend too much time on this side of the scale, and we forgo the necessary restorative and renewal phase of the process once the potential threat is done with.
This deprives the PNS of its resources on a regular basis. And this is where it hurts the most, because the PNS is associated to our digestive, reproductive, cardiovascular, and immune systems. Ergo, when you are always stressed-out, or “normal” as it is, you are seriously compromising your digestion (heartburn, constipation, bloating, anyone?), your capacity to have children, your heart rate (headaches, high blood pressure, anyone?), your body’s ability to protect itself from colds, flus, viruses.
Restorative Yoga aims to trigger the PNS response so it can take back its share of resources within the body. The result is a feeling of lightness, rejuvenation, and calm. After practicing Restorative Yoga, it is typical for practitioners to say that they feel clear-headed, rested, balanced, more comfortable, more open, more present.
Come and experience the wonders of Restorative Yoga with me. Check Myriam's schedule.