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Symphony or Soloist? You Get to Choose!

Recently my husband and I attended the Carol King songbook symphony.  My husband looked around the room and joked that the audience looked like the same group as the recent Bruce Springsteen concert (we baby boomers have great taste!)

The symphony was accompanied by three wonderful Broadway vocalists.  As I listened and watched the full scope of what was happening, I was mesmerized.  What struck me was how much there was to notice at the same time.  When the vocalists joined in, the experience was exhilarating.

ASO Theater of a Concert production of John Adams's Doctor Atomic in November 2008.

You might be wondering what this has to do with my work in pain, and chronic illness.

Think about how much there is to notice each and every second.  Every moment there is a full symphony of sounds, smells, sensations, thoughts, emotions, and so on.  Often we get caught up in focusing on only one thing, shutting out the rest, and leaving us missing out on most of what is in front of us.  If I had only been focused on the pianist, I would have missed everything else.

This relates to mindfulness – the ability to stay anchored in the present moment, expanding your awareness to all that is happening- without judgment.  For example, at this very moment I am writing this newsletter, aware of fatigue in by body, my dog making noises, the cars passing by, my stomach rumbling, sensation in my hip, my mind wandering to the sunshine outside, my feet on the floor, and my fingers pressing the keyboard.  I am sure there is more to notice, but you get the idea.  If I got into judgment about any one of these, I would be missing most of my experience, because my mind would be somewhere in the future or past.

So, there you have it.  You get to choose your experience.  Do you want the full symphony or only the percussion?  I want the symphony (percussion included.)

It is a constant daily practice of noticing it all, anchoring yourself in the present moment.  Let me be clear, it is noticing it all at the same time, not a game of ping pong – going from one thing to the other.

Spring is a great time of year to begin to cultivate this approach.  Take in the smells, colors, sounds, and sensations. When you are outside, engage your senses and see for yourself how much richer your experience is. Who knows, maybe you will notice an Easter egg hiding somewhere.

Happy Spring!

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Help… I’m Drowning in the Muck!

When life get difficult and is filled with constant negativity, at some point you feel as if you were hit by a Mack truck. This is especially true for those dealing with chronic illness, difficult life changing events, or caregiving responsibilities. I would venture to say, everyone has experienced this from time to time.

I experienced this recently. This past weekend I visited my mom and new great nephew in NY.  AT 95, my mother watches all of the debates and reads the NY Times daily. She is amazing (and no, I do not have her great genes- I’m adopted!). I spent a lot of time keeping her company as she watched the debates. I also read more of the paper than I am used to.

Ellen-and-baby-OliverI noticed that my reactions to small frustrations escalated. The political climate is oozing with negativity and I was above my quotient. I was allowing myself to be “slimed” by negativity- if you watched the movie Ghostbusters, I wanted their de-sliming solution! I needed to find creative ways to cultivate a positive attitude, especially since I was not in the comfort of my home.

The question is:  How do we balance life when there is negativity looming around us? Escaping to a desert island sound compelling, but not practical. I am not advocating avioding or numbing – it is more about learning how to fill up while dealing with negativity. No matter how hard we try, constant negativity will get to us. The truth is, negativity breads negativity.

Here is what I did:

  • I realized I was feeling negative-naming it is a big key
  • I took a walk, even in the cold NY weather (yes mom, I wore a hat!)
  • I upped my meditation time
  • I added more Loving Kindness meditation to my practices and repeated the phrases from time to time during the day
  • I ate warm fresh NY bagels and nova lox – yum
  • I held my adorable baby great nephew-very effective for a quick joy boost
  • I made a phone call to someone I trusted and talked about it.  This kept me out of isolating- it is very important not to isolate
  • I read an uplifting book by my favorite author of wholehearted living- Brene Brown
  • I laughed and joked- humor goes a long way
  • I helped my mother and went grocery shopping
  • One big area that helps me on a daily basis is doing or focusing on what I love.

I focused on my upcoming presentations:

When the focus is on what makes my heart sing, negativity quickly transforms to joy and gratitude.

Creating my newest program is my way of helping others to live in the solution and I have a blast teaching that.

Remember this – no matter what is happening in your life or the world, bring your focus back to small steps to embrace what fills you up.

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I Stand Corrected: I am an Overachiever, Underachiever!

My last newsletter was titled I Am the Worst in Class: If you did not read it, check it out.

After I sent the newsletter, I received this email from my older daughter: How much fun it that?

Subject line: Ellen’s philosophy on being a beginner  07c066f2-5eb0-4f7c-b085-95d6486b772b

If I am going to be a beginner, I am going to be the best damn beginner in the whole class. And I will write a newsletter about how excellent (expert, even) I am at being a beginner! I think you’re great!

After I stopped laughing, my first reaction was one of elation- my daughter was reading my newsletters! Then I started thinking about her response. She had me pegged. I am still an overachiever even when I am the worst! I have to face the fact- I am not cured from perfectionism.

I enjoy reading Brene Brown’s work. The focus of her book Daring Greatly is on vulnerability. Early in the book she talks about our fear of being ordinary. She says: “I know that yearning to believe that what I’m doing matters and how easy it is to confuse that with the drive to be extraordinary. I know how seductive it is to use the celebrity culture yardstick to measure the smallness of our lives.”

We can easily be seduced into measuring ourselves to others and feeling less than.

It is difficult to just be ordinary, part of the pack. I admit, using my jewelry class as an example is a stretch, but it reminds me of how many of us get caught in the spiral of wanting to be the best or extraordinary at something, and chase after the notion of what or where we should be. Even if we are really good at what we do, it is easy to find someone who is more successful and it robs us of feeling at ease with ourselves. I venture to say everyone deals with this. I have dipped into that space over the years and it is no fun.

As for my jewelry class, I guess I knew I could not be the best, so I am mastering being the worst. Last week I broke 4 blades trying to saw my necklace shape. I guess having my beginning necklace be a circular shape was a bit overachieving after all! I do see other beginners in the class making mistakes. Now I can go and just be oaky- not the best, not the worst (still up for debate!) Just part of the pack.

We all have areas where we excel and areas where we are not strong. When we accept that we are an ordinary part of the pack, we are able to relate more to others- a part of, rather than apart from. I will always strive to improve, and for now I want to improve just being Ellen- cute, messy, and fun!

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I Am the Worst in Class: How much fun is that?

I had to write about my latest experience – maybe you can relate.   

My work with those dealing with high stress or chronic conditions include many techniques and perspectives.  With all that I teach, there is one more ingredient that is vital to success:  Finding balance by getting back to doing the things that we used to enjoy.  Even if you are unable to do exactly what you used to enjoy, then dive in and try something new.

I took my own advice (yes, I was out of balance) and signed up for a jewelry class.  I had always wanted to try this and finally gave myself permission to commit my precious time to a weekly class.  I signed up for a beginners class (an improvement for this overachiever!)  I am learning how to light a torch, how to solder, make a bezel, sand down metal, cut out designs and more. In the class, there are many who have previously taken this class.

I had to purchase materials and am happy to report that I did not invest in sterling silver (tempting as that was) for my first project, just to take the pressure off.

Our first project was a simple ring, which went well except I jump every time I light the torch, and got tiny cuts from snipping the solder. My first ring turned out well, with a decent soldering job and a bit of hammered texture.  Feel like a kid in art class!   I just finished my third class and must admit I still jump when turning on the torch, but no longer cut myself.  Ahhh, making definite progress.

I bring this up because I remember the last class I signed up for a few years back.  It was a mosaic class with students at mixed levels of experience.  Rather than picking a simple coaster for my first project, I decided that I could handle a Lazy Susan.  That was  not challenging enough – I made spiral designs.  No wonder why I quit!  My overachiever was alive and well, derailing me from enjoying myself.

I remember a conversation with my older daughter.  I was telling her that I wanted to learn to knit scarves and I was going to take a class.  She laughed at me and said; “Mom, you will either quit in a week or open a knitting store!”  She was correct – I quit after one lesson.

I have learned a lot since then.  I am now happy to be the slowest, least knowledgeable in the class.  I am really having fun just being inexperienced me.  After all, aren’t we supposed to have some fun without it being a contest of comparing, competing, and over achieving?

When I allow myself to simply be a beginner, I am able to stay present with what I am doing while enjoying the process.

I also love a challenge and always will, but allowing myself to balance work with play gives me more stamina and willingness to step up to the hard stuff.

Begin to notice when you are comparing yourself with another.  Also, notice when you are comparing yourself to your own high standards. What might happen if you allow yourself to just be where you are?  I would venture to say that your experience will be much richer, less stressful, and enjoyable.

Try it and see for yourself.  Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Nothing Exciting to Share – Now That’s Exciting!

I have been picking my brain to send you something funny and exciting to start the New Year. Then I dawned on me, there really wasn’t anything profound to tell you.
I did take a family vacation in early December to the west coast.socks 2

It is a rare occasion that my children and their significant others can get together. Nothing earth shattering occurred. We hiked, ate, swam, and basically chilled out. A wonderful time was had by all.

After returning home, the holidays came and went and though much of it, I had a bad cold. My work was at a standstill was the Cancer Support Community closes the last two weeks of December and clients are busy.

I dealt with insurance companies for hours on end (no excitement does not equal frustration!) Went to a few doctors, I watched mindless TV (love the Price is Right), slept late, waked the dog, meditated, read, saw my daughter, and hung out with Robert (in our new fireside socks) and the dog.

As I write about this, it makes me re-examine excitement. I relaxed and slowed down. For a person who loves to feel productive, and be socia
l, it took a lot of unwinding.

I would venture to say many of us thrive on “doing” for many underlying reasons, probably the greatest being society’s value on success and productivity.

Now that it is mid- January, I am finally writing a newsletter. I am sleeping a little later and taking more me time, letting go of trying to make something happen. Every so often my mind kicks in and tells me I am a lazy bones. It is good I know when my mind is messing with me. When that happens I acknowledge the feeling and do a few moments of breathing or meditation to reset my thoughts.

So there you have it. Looking at what I wrote, I would say it is totally awesome just to be me not doing much. The best part is giving myself permission that it is okay.

Not so easy, but quite exciting!

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Meditation in a Car Wash? That sounds crazy!

738b490e-a5d8-4518-b5aa-dfbcd01bce31My daughter and I took my car through the car wash.  She has the ability to make the most mundane activity into a playful, exciting experience.  When my girls were young one of the greatest gifts I received as a mom was permission to be totally childlike.  Somewhere along the way, I lost some of that playfulness, until recent years.  I let go giving a S@!% what others think about me and have not only regained this playfulness, but took it to a whole new level.  One of the benefits of wisdom… or is it age?

This is what happened in the carwash:  I watched the water, noticed the sounds from the water, the scrubbers, and blowers. Some were loud and some pulsing, others soft like a light rain.  I looked at the soapy bubbles the colors, and textures.  I laughed with my daughter at the wonder of it all.

I would have missed all of that if I was on my cellphone, thinking about what I had to do after the car wash, or trying to just “get my errand over with.”  This mundane experience reminds me that everything we do is part of our day.  How we interact with what we do is what uplifts us and determines how our day goes.   

This is the essence of mindfulness meditation.  Being where your feet are planted.  Noticing, being aware of it all without judgment.

You might be thinking; “But Ellen, this is multi-tasking. I will get dizzy.” Ah, that is where we get caught up. You do not need to get distracted by one or the other because it is all part of the present experience. It is not one or the other, but allowing it all to be in any given moment.

See if you can notice:

•    What do I see?
•    What do I hear?
•    What do I smell?
•    What do I feel?

This is simply awareness of what is going on in any given moment.  Your mind will take you away from this into the future or past.  All you need to do is notice you are thinking and come back to the moment by engaging your senses.

Start with a daily task.  A bath, a shower, the market, dry cleaner, or of course the awesome car wash.

Let me know how it went and don’t forget to have some fun with this.  The practice of meditation does not have to be all “serious” and “zen.”

Why not approach this as a child would–full of wonder and play.  If you have trouble, I am happy to teach you how.  After all, I learned from the best–my kids, (and a ton of training)!

Warm regards,

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Breast Painting? That I have to see!

breast strokes imageThis weekend I had the honor of being host and Chair for an event raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research. It is called Breast Strokes, and it the second year we have taken on this project.  It is one of the many powerful programs offered by Hadassah, a women’s empowerment organization.

As many of you know, I am not your traditional stress, pain, and chronic illness solutions teacher. I am a tell-it-like-it-is, upbeat, and yes, a bit strange teacher, and that is exactly why this program was so compelling to me.

We begin with Paint Day, the program I was chairing. Female artists painted 35 models breasts, with a variety of designs, mostly chosen by the models. There were female photographers and volunteers. It was a day of pampering, emotions, community, yummy food, and a bunch of fun.

I was involved last year, but being in charge gave me a gift I had not received in the past. The battle scars that many models both young and old had from surgeries had left them with many inner scars. The healing that took place was astounding, as many walked around baring their painted breasts to others around them.

Knowing that we are a part of, rather than feeling different from, can only be experienced when we are able to be vulnerable and seen.

One model told me she hadn’t looked in the mirror for 5 years and this experience helped her move on. Another now sees more than scars when looking in the mirror- she carries the painted image in her mind.

This day was much more than getting a great image painted. It was not about perfect photography or whose art was better. It was the process of seeing yourself beyond the externals of what your body looks like and sharing it with others. Everyone was more than their scars, experiences, abilities, and limitations.

This is at the heart of yoga philosophy:

If you visualize an iceberg, on the top are all of your identities; who you see yourself to be. You might be a teacher, a daughter, a southerner, and so on… Then one of your identities goes away. In this case it might be that you were young and healthy and now you have breast cancer, leaving your breasts uneven and scarred. You ask–who am I now? You might feel lost.

Since I am in the solutions business, the answer is simple but not easy. Look beyond the top of the iceberg into the water beneath–the iceberg is vast and you miss this when you only focus on the top of the iceberg. You are much more than your identities.

I saw this clearly at Paint Day. The models, artists, photographers, and volunteers had no idea of the impact they had on one another. They were looking beyond the tip of the iceberg. It was community at its best–there for one common purpose. To celebrate who we are.

The day was worth the intense preparation and long exhausting day. The only thing I would change is coming home Sunday to a sick dog keeping me awake all night (thanks Kiddo!)

I look forward to the Big Reveal on February 20th where all the art is shared. Stay tuned!

I leave you with this thought: Remember, everything you have gone through is just part of your story, not who you are. Please, never forget that.

Posted in: A Calm Perspective, Physical Wellness

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I Went Back in Time: And it was great!

group fernwood

I had the pleasure of attending my summer camp reunion. They were celebrating their 95th year. As a child, my sister and I went to Camp Fernwood in Maine for 8 weeks (my parents promise they missed us terribly!) My sister was the perfect camper, playing by the rules. I, however, loved to break the rules and had mixed memories of my camp experience–unsure if I had made a mistake in coming.

I have been to my high school reunion and made sure to look my best. After all, I was not in the cool group and needed to impress. I will be joining my husband at his upcoming 40th law school reunion and was concerned about looking great in front of his old girlfriend, until he informed me she was 72 (about 7 years older than he is). He told me not to worry–people will think I am his trophy wife!

My camp reunion was different. No makeup (well almost), sloppy shirts and t-shirts, no hair styling, and no one cared what you did for a living, how much money you had, whether you were single, divorced, married, kids, grandchildren or anything else.  Fourteen of us wanted to be together in a cabin with no power and one bathroom–somehow it was okay.

There were campers attending from the age of 15 to 85. I was catapulted back to a time where we all wore green and white, shirts (tucked in of course), slept in bunks that had no power, went to flag raising, canoed, swam, sang the same timeless songs, song lead, color war, campfire, and so much more.  Even my first year counselor was there.

It was a time of no hiding behind identities to impress others or create a sense of self.

I relate this to the core of yoga philosophy. Who are you beyond who you see yourself to be?  I had thought of myself as the trouble maker at camp, but the truth is, I was just being me: a bit of mischief, with no harm done.

I struggled at times during the weekend as many who attended had been to many reunions and had children who also attended camp. There were a lot of people, and I like peace and quiet. I began to feel a bit overwhelmed and not a part of it, so I went right to my comfort zone. I taught a group of campers some chair yoga. Ahhh, how we like our comfort zone. The great thing about that was I noticed this and made a decision to include myself rather than isolate. An opportunity and a choice to stay in solution.

All in all, the weekend was wonderful. I realize that my perception of my early experiences was focused on what I did not enjoy. Going back, I received the gift of remembering how much of it I loved.

Begin to notice what you do to get into your comfort zone. Notice if your focus is on the positive or the negative. You might realize that all you need to do is stay open to the possibilities and be just plain old you.

I have caught myself singing camp songs, even today. I will be returning for the 100th–maybe with some new pranks up my sleeve!

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Let Go of Attachment? NO, I Don’t Want To!

This is what happens when you are attached to the outcome: Stuck, big time!

We have all been there–we get attached to the results. I would say, not only attached but Superglued! This has been the theme of many of my clients as of late.

The problem with attachment is that it is the root of much of our pain and frustration.

Here are some examples:

I was at the airport, on line to board the plane.  In front of me was a grumpy woman trying to juggle her small children and her carry-ons.  I offered to help her and she muttered a yes.  After helping I was surprised that there was no “Thank You”.  After all, I was being a good person, right?  I should go down in the nice person hall of fame!  I smiled at myself as I realized that my actions had attachments, rather than doing the right action because I chose to.

This happens with holding the door for someone, letting someone in front of you in the car–we wait for the thank you wave, the nod, or smile.  The need for acknowledgment takes the pleasure out of your action.

What about the serious situations–painful experiences to either yourself or a loved one?  A family member, co-worker, your boss, or job. We say: When things improve, then I will be happier.  We expect another human being to act with a bit of humanity. We think: Is that too much to ask? What a schnook I’ve been! Or, I could just spit! (Oops, that’s my mother talking, and no, she never did spit!)

I get it.  However we all know that not everyone chooses to change their behavior, and they might be clueless.  We behave decently, but they do not.  We replay these situations over and over again, trying to figure out what makes them tick.  Meanwhile they are happy campers 🙂 and we are not :(.

Please Ellen, what’s the solution???

Okay, I am happy to say, there is one.  Begin to become aware of when you are attached.  Take a breath, plant your feet on the floor, and simply notice. You might even say to yourself; Hmmm, I’m attached. You might find some of the smaller stuff humorous.

For the big stuff, ask yourself: Do I really want to go down this road again?  How is this serving me? I will step out on a limb here–it is not serving you, no matter how right you are.

Remember that attachment to results is robbing you of joy. The next time “You could just spit!”, then just spit, get it out of your system, and go about enjoying your day.

I must finish with a special thank you to my mother for her great sayings. Thanks Marjorie!

Warm Regards,

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Give Up My Heels? Have you lost your mind?

Years ago I hosted a yoga class for a group of attorneys attending a weekend conference. (For those of you who do not know, I am an advanced gentle & prenatal yoga instructor in addition to my stress and pain solution expertise).

We began chatting about back pain. I mentioned that high heels can contribute to back pain. They looked at me as if I had just asked them to cut off their arm! Their heels make them look professional and they needed them. REALLY? I get it–we want to look our part, but the question is: Could they be a rocking effective attorney with lower heels? Absolutely.

Some of you might be cringing at this most revolutionary thought: You are more than your shoes. For those who just held their breath at this epiphany, relax your belly and take a full gentle breath. It’s okay, you can keep your collection of heels, but know that you do have a choice.

High heels create low back compression–there is no way around this reality.

Here is the low down of other ways we compress our spine form the book Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual. You might find this very eye opening–I did.

  • Sitting hunched over a desk: 200 lbs.
  • Sitting leaning back on chair with low back rounded: 150 lbs.
  • Standing with leaning forward posture: 200 lbs.
  • Standing in proper alignment: 100 lbs.
  • Lying flat on back: 55 lbs.
  • Lying flat on back with knees elevated: 25 lbs.

When I teach yoga, I have all students prop their knees in relaxation. It decreases spinal compression by over 50%. I also teach students how to hinge and lengthen their sacrum to lesson spinal compression. These simple alignments go along with the heart and soul of my work–Small changes, big results.

I remember when I was writing my book, my editor would often show up to our meetings in high heels, which exacerbated her existing back pain. I assured her that she will still be a fabulous editor wearing flats (okay, a low heel with a sole that bends) that will reduce compression on her spine. She began to notice the effect her shoes had on her body.

So, what is the point? To make a choice, you must first have knowledge and awareness of the reality. After that, you can make an informed decision. It takes the stressful guesswork out of decision making.

As I am finishing the article, my colleague just walked into my house to stay with me for a conference. The first words out of her mouth were: “I only brought flats because my knees are hurting me–heels make it worse.” I am not making this up. I thanked her for the perfect timing.

When I do wear heels to a party, you will see me with a patent pair of flip flops tucked away in my purse. I love to avoid pain if I can. How about you?

If you want more information on the gentle yoga and alignment component of my work, shoot me an email. Would love to chat with you!

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