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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Stress Buster Tip: What Does no B.S. & Bunny Slippers Have in Common?

EJYjhYn_D3cNsIS0eCI-auTY0t0jQT2YLXghCFuiVIYIt is soapbox time! This newsletter will contain two parts. Since I am a no B.S. blunt coach and trainer that wears big fluffy pink bunny slippers, I will give you a full perspective on a topic that is of upmost concern.
Okay, here goes:

My no B.S. Soapbox:

I run up against this time and time again: Women who are overwhelmed by chronic stress, pain, or illness–they are crashing and want help, yet refuse to put themselves first and take charge of their life. They take care of everyone else, work, run a household, have a serious illness or life challenge and still will not invest the time and money in helping themselves.
They would do it in a heartbeat for their loved one–they even tell me so. I am both saddened and frustrated after hearing about how out of control their life is and how much they want things to improve, yet choose stay stuck in the same spiral. It is a tricky situation–stress and pain is exacerbated when we do not take care of ourselves. We stay in the spiral because the mind is too chaotic to make a clear decision. We are stuck.

The outcome is a slow destruction and deterioration of everything we care about, including our health. We do not see that self care is the most selfless thing we can do–the more you take care of you–the more you have to give.

This might sound harsh, but it is the truth–like it or not.

My Bunny Slipper Compassion:

I have been there, done that until my body imploded with lupus and my anxiety made me not a fun person to be around. No one forced me to put everyone first–I was raised that way, and so were many of you. I had to burn out before I made a decision to learn how to take care of myself.

When I get off the phone with someone whose life is falling apart and they are too scared to take charge of their life, my heart goes out to them. What I realize is this: Like an alcoholic, everyone needs to hit bottom, where it is more painful to stay stuck then to take the risk of putting their wellbeing first. They must see not only what it is doing to them, but the ones they love the most.

Compassion is the key. My hope for any of you in this situation is to do something before stress takes you down. Put your toe in the waters of treating yourself with compassion and begin to take care of you too. It is easy and does not take much time. After all, you deserve it.

If you saying to yourself, “yes Ellen, but my stress is not that bad and has not had an effect on my health”, join me at the Emory 2nd Reward Your Heart event at St. Joseph’s Doctors Center, and hear the truth while having fun–yes, chocolates, yoga, wine, tea, massage, and more ( I always need some enticement.)

I hope I have not offended any of you, and if I have, maybe I have struck a chord of truth. Take a breath, feel your feet on the floor, and without judgment ask yourself what you really want. Do you want to survive, or thrive?

I say, thrive in a life filled with awe, inner calm, play, compassion, and of course chocolate! Why not? After all, this is the only life you have.

Posted in: A Calm Perspective, Physical Wellness, Splash into Calm, This Stuff Works

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Shout Out to Caregivers:  You Rock!!!

image smallThis month we celebrate Nurses Appreciation Week.  Frankly, we need to celebrate nurses, doctors, and other caregivers on a daily basis.  In my work, I go to the infusion center to help patients and their families.  I also work with Hospice nurses and social workers. What I notice is how busy and frenzied the nurses and case managers are.  They are giving much more than medicine to patients.  They are on the front line of dealing with sick, fearful, and frustrated, patients and family members. They must always remain cool, calm, and collected.  They barely have time to breathe.

This is why I designed a Continuing Education program specifically for nurses, case managers, and social workers on Compassion Fatigue:  Help Yourself, Help Your Patients. Professionals, or as I call them the mega-caregivers, need support.  If they are not supported, how can they help family member caregivers or patients?

I first designed my programs with family caregivers in mind, and then realized that I was leaving out the most important group.  It must begin at the top. As they tell us on the airlines: Put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on the person next to you, even it if is a child.  I am not sure how many of us would heed that advice, but I can assure you of one thing:  You cannot give what you do not have.  For most caregivers I find that they put everyone before themselves and then they go home and give some more. I know from working with others along with my personal experience– if you do not fill up, you will burn out. 

How do you help yourself when you have no time at all?  Ahhh, that is my expertise. Let’s begin with creating a simple ritual the moment you wake up (okay, you can go to the bathroom first and for those who must have a sip of coffee to be civil, go ahead).

 Begin with this practice:

  • Sit for a moment and focus on the movement of your breath.
  • Your breath is like an ocean wave.  It is comprised of parts: Inhale, pause; exhale, pause.
  • There is a wavelike movement to your breath as well:  It begins, rises, pauses, descends, and again pauses.
  • I want you to follow your breath and notice the entire wavelike movement.
  • Do this for 5 cycles.
  • If your mind gets busy (and it will), no worries- that is normal!  Simply notice your mind and kindly guide it back to the wave of your breath.

The reason I want you to do this every day is that it will become ingrained.  When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed you will automatically know to take a moment and follow the wave of your breath.  This simple technique is a great beginning in putting the oxygen mask on yourself first so you can give from a full tank.

Remember, you deserve to take a few moments to recharge and calm down.  With the utmost respect for both professional and family caregivers out there– I ask you to take care of YOU. I guarantee, everyone around you will benefit. 

Posted in: A Calm Perspective, Physical Wellness

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Stress Buster: Tired? No time to revitalize? Sure you do.

Breathe sticker-enhanced

I was in conversation with a new client and she shared how exhausted she felt, juggling everything she had on her plate. Throughout the day, she would feel tired by the demands of her job with little down time to take care of herself. She reported that she felt better when she exercised, or got involved in other activities, but had little time.

Sound familiar? I see this as a universal challenge: Too much to do– not enough time.

How do we get through the day when we are fatigued? I am a practical person and I realize that going for a jog, playing loud music, belting out a tune, or any other energizing activity cannot be done while at work or when we are out and about, so we need some simple, realistic options.

Simplicity is my specialty: BREATHE. Yes, I know this suggestion is overused and I realize you are breathing or you would not be reading this newsletter, but when you think about it breath is always available. Let me entice you with a few benefits:

  • Breath eliminates toxins.
  • Breath massages your internal organs with blood and oxygen (and who doesn’t like a good organ massage?)
  • Breath is free.
  • You have your lungs with you everywhere you go.
  • Breath relaxes your body.
  • Breath will help you to anchor your mind back to the moment.
  • A regular breathing practice will stimulate the relaxation response- which lowers your blood pressure, regulates your heart rate and shunts blood to the digestive system by balancing the involuntary nervous system.

In a nutshell: The more breath, the more oxygen; the more oxygen, the more vitality. 

Convinced?  Even if you are not, read on and give these simple practices a try:

To calm down and increase breath:

  • Relax your belly. If you tend to suck in your belly allow yourself to let it all hang out for a few moments- nobody will know, I promise!
  • Take a slow deep inhale through your nose, and count how long that took- it is usually somewhere around 3-6 beats of breath.
  • On the exhale, add two more beats, so the exhale is longer than the inhale. Slowly exhale through your mouth as if you were blowing out a candle.
  • Repeat three times while keeping your focus on the breath.

For a quick perk up:

  • Take a slow deep inhale through your nose, and count how long that took- it is usually somewhere around 3-6 beats of breath.
  • Now, instead of making the exhale longer, make it shorter. It will be a faster exhale than inhale. Exhale through your mouth as if you were blowing out a candle. Repeat three times.
  • If you tend to be an over achiever, do not strain.

These simple practices will support you throughout your day.  Allow yourself to be a breathing machine and you will notice more energy, more focus, and calm.  Now, that’s a bargain!


Posted in: A Calm Perspective, Physical Wellness

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Love the Holidays? Hate the Indigestion?

I did it again – I overate and I feel awful! I’ve tried everything and I continue to get indigestion! Have you heard this complaint before?

Digestion issues are common for many people; but even if you aren’t one of them, this time of year, we tend to either overeat or eat richer foods than usual, resulting in some form of indigestion. This occurs often because we are not aware that we are full. According to current information, it takes about ten minutes for our brain to register that we are satisfied, so when we eat quickly or are distracted, we do not realize that we are satiated until it is too late.

The Wall Street Journal’s March 2009 article in New Health Journal addressed the effects of stress on our digestion. L. Edwards, director of the Behavioral Chronic Pain Management program at Duke University Medical Center, said: “Now, we recognize that what happens in the brain affects the body and what happens in the body affects the brain.” The article goes on to say:

“The digestive tract has its own extensive system of nerve cells lining the esophagus, stomach and intestines—known as the gut brain—that are extremely sensitive to thoughts and emotions. That’s what creates the feeling of butterflies in the stomach. When anxiety persists, it can set off heartburn, indigestion and irritable-bowel syndrome, in which the normal movement of the colon gets out of rhythm, traps painful gas and alternates between diarrhea and constipation.”

This is not a pretty picture, but it is the truth. While most of us acknowledge that stress has an effect, it is greater than we imagine. Stress produces tension in our internal organs, decreasing their oxygen supply. This directly influences our ability to take in nutrients from food. The more oxygen that is absorbed in our internal organs, the healthier they are. We definitely want to keep our internal organs happy!Breath provides many digestion benefits. First of all, it slows your eating down, allowing you to really savor your food. We are told by the medical community that it is beneficial to take slower, deeper breaths. The reason is to create movement in your diaphragm that massages your stomach and other organs, increasing oxygen flow and nutrient absorption as well as expediting the elimination of waste. In addition, there are more aggressive breathing practices that stimulate your digestive fire, but you must learn them in person from an experienced instructor.”

A great beginning is to practice slowing down your breath. Notice if the breath expands into your belly as you inhale; or maybe the breath expands your ribcage. Whatever you notice, simply becoming aware of your breath is a great beginning to enhancing your digestion.As you prepare for the holidays, give this a try – your body, mind, and Thanksgiving guests will thank you!

Posted in: Physical Wellness

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Sleep Problems in Adults? Try these 2 Techniques


Recently the CDC sponsored Natural Sleep Awareness Week.  They reported that many of us are sleep deprived and it affects public safety, health and wellbeing. This comes as no surprise as most of us reading this probably have sleep problems.

In my book, I open a chapter about sleep as follows:  Remember the sweet bedtime saying: “Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite?” Back then, we tightened up because we were on constant alert for the dreaded bed bugs, and this was our good night sendoff!  Today, we still fight off bedbugs, but they have morphed into the constant chatter in our mind, hindering our ability to get a good night’s sleep or to wake up refreshed.

We try many techniques but inevitably our thoughts get in the way.  How can we shut down our thoughts?  The truth is that you cannot force your mind to stop, but you can tame and relax your mind, allowing for a deeper state of relaxation and much needed rest.

Here are a few simple techniques:

This Simple Bed Twist calms your nervous system, massages your internal organs which increases their blood and oxygen supply, and lengthens and twists the spine.

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Try this:

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest.
  • Hold your knees and roll over to the right side, keeping your knees bent at a right angle, and allow them rest on the bed.
  • See if you can have your legs are no lower than the right angle to your torso.
  • Slide your left hand to your waist and allow your elbow to rest back, creating a gentle twist to your spine. If your knees come apart, or if you feel too much pull, place a pillow or your hand between your knees.
  • Rest your head wherever it is most comfortable.
  • Stay here for 2-4 minutes noticing your breath; then change sides.

*If this hurts in any way, come out of the pose. If you have any disc problems or any form of osteoporosis, you must be extra careful as any deep twisting may be counterproductive.

Breath: A few of the many benefits is that breath oxygenates your body and calms your nervous system.

Try this simple Ocean Sounding Breath (it is one of my personal favorites):

  • Place a pillow under your head to slightly tuck your chin.
  • To find the ocean sound, pretend you are fogging a mirror through your mouth and then do it again with your mouth closed. It is the sound that you make when you are trying to whisper to get someone’s attention with no one else hearing you.
  • Gently narrow the back of your throat passages and breathe in and out through your nose. The sound is similar to the sound of a conch shell at your ear, or when you submerge your ears below water. It also reminds me of the sound of Darth Vader’s voice from Star Wars.
  • Once you have the soft ocean sound, make it smooth and steady. You are breathing normally, but with a gentle narrowing at the back of your throat. The key is to listen to the sound of your breath and make it so quiet that only you can hear it, both on the inhale and exhale. Every time you have a thought (and you will), guide your awareness back to the sound of your breath. If you cannot find this sound, do not force it, rather simply listen to your easy breathing.

These two techniques are very effective to help you access a deep state of relaxation.  Even if you still cannot sleep, you will reap the benefits of a calmer body and mind.  Until next time:  Sleep well!

Let me know in the comments below if you tried these techniques.  How did the work?  Were you able to calm your mind a bit more?



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Posted in: Physical Wellness, Splash into Calm

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