Why Massages and Mud Baths Aren’t Cutting It During this Pandemic and What to Do About It.

I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women today and heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Lisa Damour, Ph.D., and author of the book, Under Pressure: Confronting Anxiety & Stress in Girls, was talking about anxiety and she referred to “disciplined self-care.”

I need to say it again: “Disciplined Self Care.” It feels like it should be capitalized. 

I am slightly surprised that I am not triggered by this term. Self-care, as a term, has always triggered me. It has always felt like massages and mud baths. I know it isn’t, but that is where my brain goes. That’s for another blog.

Because of this bizarre brain trickery, I have had to reframe self care to fit my needs which include boundaries, community, freedom, and choice. I love a good mud bath, but I know I am taking care of myself when I thoughtfully weigh and measure what I say yes to, what words or behavior I’ll accept in my presence, and being able to operate from choice.

And “discipline?” I have a love/hate relationship with that word. I am drawn to it and also have all kinds of stories and judgment about how my form of discipline isn’t the right kind of discipline. And maybe I judged it in the same way I judged self-care. I’ve been shining a light on that shadow in my inner work.

But I digress (duh, don’t I always?).

Disciplined. Self. Care. 

Dr. Damour talked about the Quar and her research that led her to shift what is called for as a way of establishing positive, long term, coping skills for chronic stress. Chronic stress comes when we can’t get a break from the stressor. Self-care isn’t enough.

Chronic stress calls for Disciplined Self Care.

I love it.

She described the need to build physical and emotional care into our lives as a matter of discipline. No matter what. Disciplined self care, she said, would be the practice that helps us cope for the long haul.

If you’ve worked with me, you know I talk about shining a light on our truth which requires us to shine a light in some shadowy places and name what we find there. Often, we find an emotion that we have resisted. Our loved ones often know what’s going on, but we can’t see it. We are blind to what we don’t want to see. This is resistance. 

She talked about the same thing, but she also took it a step further. When we are working with chronic stress, Dr. Damour shared that by adopting Disciplined Self Care, we are building resilience. The Quar is ongoing, so the stress will come and go, but the windows of relief can open further. 

Disciplined Self Care:

  • A sleep routine;
  • a habit of eating regularly and nutritiously;
  • getting our bodies moving; and, 
  • “getting out of our own way on someone else’s behalf.”

This will do the job. 

So there is something to this. If you are feeling the impact of the Quar in ways that feel burdensome, or someone in your family (Your mom? Your siblings? Your kids? Your friends?) is salty or withdrawn or into their negative coping in some other way, suggest they take a walk with you. Make a delicious, healthy, meal. Go to bed at the same time every night. Reach out to a neighbor or someone else in a way that sshifts your focus to be in service of them.

Check in with yourself. Check in on your pals. No one is exempt from the impact of the Quar. It calls for Disciplined Self Care.

What does that look like for you? 

And if this doesn’t do the trick, reach out to me. Or someone else. Ask for help. You might be the one who needs to benefit from the service of another. Allow yourself that. 

That, too, is Disciplined. Self. Care. 

“My Grandmother Got Drunk,” and Other Thanksgiving Stories

You know you have a friend who knows and trusts you when you ask about Thanksgiving and they respond,

“My grandmother got drunk and fell down the stairs.” 

What keeps us from sharing the truth with people? Why, when most of us are asked, do we say, “It was great!” Or “I love Thanksgiving!” Even when that isn’t actually true?

Or maybe you say,

“It sucked. COVID sucks. I hate turkey.” 

It’s all paradox right? Some of us want to be with people who lift us up. Some of us want to be with people who can join us in our emotional realness. But all of us want to be with people who are real and neither of these perspectives offer the whole truth.

How do we get that?   

Presence.

When someone asks you about your holiday, do you immediately wonder, 

“What will they think if I tell them?” 

Or, in my case, I ask myself, 

“What do they actually want to know?” 

Curating my response has become a habit. I think about what they really want to know and then I give it to them. Because my quick mind can do some mental gymnastics pretty darn quickly and it always comes out in a way that they feel satisfied with my answer and I stop being caught up in whether I answered the question “the right way.”

But what if I didn’t do that?

What if I didn’t have the thought, “They aren’t really interested.” 

What if you didn’t think, “They’ll judge me!” 

What would be true then? 

I’ll tell you. 

Without the thought that they are just making conversation, I’d tell them the truth. I’d take a breath. I’d go within and wait for an answer to rise up. It might look like this: 

“You know, it was a really different year. I missed the high school football game and the energy of my extended family, but I really loved hanging out in my PJs, watching the parade, and smelling the turkey all day. Dinner was a loud shit show, but that’s how we are when we are together so I guess that it was like any other dinner that way.” 

When we layer a bunch of thoughts on top of the truth, we get confused as to what is actually true. When we jump out of the moment and into the future when (in our made up story) the person is judging us for our Thanksgiving, we fake it. We put a story on top of the truth so that it isn’t quite a lie, but it is a curated response. 

We aren’t in relationship with one another.

We are in relationship with each other’s stories. 

If we want to be living life wide awake, we need to start shedding the stories and get at the truth. Presence allows us to do that. A quick breath. A turning inward to check in.

An intelligent response comes from all three centers: our bellies, our open hearts, and our quiet minds.

Here is what happened. This is how it felt. This is what I think. The End.

Genuine, intelligent, real; a quality response to the question. 

So on Friday, when someone asks you how your Thanksgiving was, you might answer,

“My grandmother got drunk and fell down the stairs. We laughed away our fears when she stood up and joined us at the table. So I guess it was like any other family dinner that way.” 

Enjoy the holiday, however you spend it, and feel free to share how it went.

Really.

How my “little” Yin practice has become a prescription for Joy.

I’ve been taking some Yin classes with my (high school!) friend, Ellen (@friendlyyogabeans/@ohyesIwouldgirl), and am noticing that this way of accessing the intelligence of my body….is the same way I am dipping my toe into the intelligence of my heart.

Ellen is the only person I’ve ever taken Yin from. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it was early in the Quar and I saw “yoga” and “Ellen Olson-Brown” and had to do it. Plus, she’s fun and funny and the timing worked.

What she says about the body during class is so powerful and I can’t help but compare it to the inner work I am being called to do in my heart right now, too.

Enneagram 7s (that’s me!) are thinkers, which we support with our intuition, but we can forget that our hearts exist. Our hearts are where our deepest longings live. It is where we are in touch with our emotion ~ our pain and our joy. We need all three centers of intelligence to be whole … and I have spent many, many years using about 2/3 of my intelligence.

Ellen says things like, “push yourself until you feel that tug, that edge, and then relax around it.”

My inner work calls me to push myself towards my heart in this same way.

I place some attention on my heart, notice what is there, and relax into it. The edge, for me, is just allowing it to be there. Nothing to do about it, nothing to judge. Just notice it.

And she says things like, “Sometimes the body tells us we feel pain, but it isn’t really pain, so allow it to be there for a bit, and notice what happens; it might shift, but it isn’t used to holding this edge like this and wants you to know.”

Yup. My heart sometimes tells me, “Hells, no. Don’t go there. That’s a danger zone. If you go in, you’ll never come out. You will be feeling for the rest of eternity and there is no way you can handle all that feeling. That’s for other folks.”

But what I do, is try it out for a moment. I put on a recording of a meditation that pushes me a bit, and I allow it to be there. Sometimes, I pull away, like I was touching a hot flame. Boy, I had no idea that was a lifelong habit. I have spent my life being afraid that if I feel too deeply, it won’t ever end. But sometimes I get willing and I allow it. I trust it.

And I hear Ellen saying, “We don’t want to release the tension in our muscles because we are afraid our bodies can’t handle it. But try it and see. Just give those muscles a chance.”

And so it is with my heart. It’s not so much that I don’t like to feel. I love to feel. But I want total control over when and how and how much and when it will all be over. So I just don’t go there, because that is awfully complicated for someone who moves about the world as fast as me. I really don’t have time. Emotion isn’t efficient. It doesn’t make sense (hear me escape to the logic of the 7?).

But when I do, when I allow it, with a recorded meditation, or not, I am teaching my heart that it recovers. It actually opens up. It reveals (literally 100% of the time) something really powerful and true that I’ve kept locked away. It might be a painful truth, and it often is, but it is a truth that frees me up. Something is learned, revealed, explored, or brought out of the shadows. 

Whatever it was, was always there. I put all my energy into avoiding it, resisting it, and being efficient, which exhausted me. Now, my exhaustion is a clue that I need to check in with my heart. I am not tired because of the world, I am tired because I resist allowing the world to impact my heart. Instead, I think my way through it. I make it logical. I reframe it. I look on the bright side. This is all a part of being a Type 7. But this isn’t true. There is pain in the world and we can hold that, too.

So where I was once afraid in my body, my Yin classes offer small, corrective experiences to teach my body what is possible in there. Those muscles don’t have to be tense. Relaxation is possible and healing for all those parts of my physical self. 

And by the way, Ellen always gives us permission to come out of the position if we don’t want to stay there …. Nothing is ever prescriptive, it is always a choice. 

Just like in my heart. If I offer it the opportunity to learn that when I “go there,” I can always come out. I can always decide that it feels like too much today and I can choose to come back to it tomorrow. I have choices here that I had no idea I’d have (and sometimes I hear myself getting stuck thinking I have none again).

Because I offer myself  these corrective experiences to learn that I can handle the heart center, that I can allow for what is there to be seen by the rest of me, each time it gets better. It gets easier to access and I see more. And I feel whole when I do.

That is true freedom. Wholeness is freedom. Welcoming it all is freedom. Seeing truth is freedom. Being able to freely feel pain, allows me to freely feel joy. Real joy. Not the fake, sugary, optimistic joy. But real, wholehearted joy. And like with Yin, if I don’t go to that edge and feel that “tug” of the pain, I don’t get the release into the joy, either.