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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This Stuff Works: Even In The Shower!

When I speak at events, keeping true to my style, I keep it real. I was recently speaking to the Georgia chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers about how to turn chaos into calm. The focus was on helping both themselves and clients stay calm so they could organize their thoughts. We also focused on how busy they are, going from one appointment to another. I talked about how to fill their well with mundane tasks, even though they had little time.

I shared the concepts from my book Splash Into Calm. This excerpt is on our mundane routines:


Routines are part of our daily lives. Often, we do not notice what we are doing, as the routine is deeply ingrained in our day. The daily shower is a great example of how much more there is to experience from the simple activity of getting clean.

Have you ever taken a shower and forgot how many times you have shampooed? Maybe you have showered and you were thinking about an upcoming meeting or reviewing the list of things you had to do for the family.

Whatever you were thinking about, it kept you from enjoying the feeling of the water on your body, the warmth when you rinse the lather of shampoo out of your hair (if you are bald this still applies), or even belting out your favorite tune. You were showering alone (yes, I am making this assumption), but there was an entire committee there with you!

When you pay attention and embrace the moment you will discover how much there is to relish in your everyday routines.


At the event, I used the shower as an example of how we do not stay present to what could be an uplifting experience. The next day, I received two remarks that went around their group. Thought I would share them with you.

“We had a great meeting on Tuesday. Our speaker, Ellen Sichel, owner of Custom Calm helped us all relax. I personally would benefit from hearing her speak 4 times a year.”

“I am wondering if anyone who attended on Tuesday had a similar experience on Wednesday morning. I was in the shower thinking about my day and all of a sudden Ellen Sichel’s voice spoke to me, ‘I want you in the shower!…naked…fully enjoying the shower, not thinking about your day.’ It was pretty funny.”

Another person reported:

“I breathed deep in the car on Wed. Fighting traffic and heading to my 3rd meeting that week”

Yes, simple but not as easy as one might think. I invite you to catch yourself “thinking” and not being aware of your mundane activities. Showers, walks, marketing, driving are just a few examples. Give it a try and let me know what you noticed. Enjoy!

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Mind–Would you please shut up already!?

Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you try, no matter how many tools you use, your mind is still a runaway train? Good news, you are not alone. Calming your busy mind can be a frustrating process, and there will be times where you want to scream out at your mind to just stop! You can try this, but I have not had much success with this technique! Force does not work.

There are times where you just have to ride it out. Let me give you an example of how this worked for one of my clients. She writes:

I thought I would share my practice this morning as I felt it was a good one and I had not had a good practice in about a week.  I did them except for last Sunday but I just didn’t feel like I was letting things go.  This week was really busy for me.  I had visitors from other offices and I had a doctor’s appointment dealing with a continuing issue.  So after my visitors left yesterday I decided (because I have the luxury of good technology) to work from home today.  I got home last night and I was tired but I decided to go for a walk –it was cool but not as cold as it has been.  So I walked 2 miles and tried to make some of it mindful but of course many thoughts were on the doctor’s visit and the week at work.  I did not do any meditation last night as I was just too tired.

So this morning I got up and got my tea and emptied the dishwasher and then went up to my meditation room.  I read 2 days of Deep Breath of Life and both readings hit home for me. One in particular was about something that I’ve been working on for a while.  

 I did some deep 3 part breathing and I did about 6 of these.  And then like Ellen’s meditation CD, I brought my focus to how my body was feeling and then back to my breath. Then I started saying some Loving Kindness. Then a bird started singing outside my window and I just let myself listen to the wave of the birdsong and it was so very lovely.  I was able to gather the thought that no matter what ends up happening with the doctor–it doesn’t matter –I am still me; I can still continue to do what I want to do.  In addition, a different bird starting singing and it sounded like it was right over my head. I finally felt the peace that I had been looking for this week.

Yes, it is a process. Do not to get stuck in wanting some kind of wonderful, peaceful outcome. That is a set-up for chucking your practice out the window–leaving you feeling like a meditation loser (not sure if there is such a thing!)

Hang in there–it is a process. Stay present with what is happening in the moment, and who knows, maybe it will be a bird, a plane, your cat, or something else happening that will help you make the shift to a calm, centered you.

Would love to hear about your experience.

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Meditation: It Is Not Granola Anymore!


This is the title of a recent LA Times article, and another confirmation of the power of Mindful Based meditation. The most intriguing part is who is reaping the benefits. IT not only yogi’s anymore. A few exerts are:

“The room was full of hospital executives and managers in lab coats and scrubs, jeans and sports coats at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. And the teacher was Marturano, once a top executive at General Mills.”

“The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity.”

I have said over and over (and over…) again that simple mindful based practices will save you from the harmful consequences of stress that are imploding in many of us.

Mindful based practices are not about getting rid of stress because that is unrealistic. The practices are not about disappearing from life (that is not practical when driving!)

Let’s get real… you can go to the mountain top there will be a cloud or bug that is getting on your nerves. The problem is: No matter where you go, you take yourself with you!

The realist in me realizes that stress is here to stay.

So, what is causing all of our stress? It is your reaction, not the event that causes your stress. The good news is- you can make a shift, and it only takes a moment.

Next time you have the thought that meditation is “out there”, think again. It is old as the hill, here to stay and spreading like wildfire. Why not give it a try?

If you are a business person, why not increase your stamina and productivity?
If you are in healthcare, why not avoid burnout and get back to loving your work?
If you are a stay at home mom or dad, why not enjoy your kids even more?
If you are ill or caregiving, why not get back to enjoying life?

This list will keep on growing because meditation works. It’s that simple…

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Stress Buster Tip: This Stuff Works–No Label’s for this Woman!

6XGYl8RHRYI0J8ibpRTuGvbSEKBdEf88NhJBe9DhKOELast week I wrote about the iceberg and received many wonderful responses. If you missed it, you will find it on my site–it is worth the read. I told you that I would have a client tell their story about how looking beyond the tip of the iceberg helped her.  I asked Jan to share her experience and she graciously accepted (I can be irresistible at times). She is one of those people who inspires me, and I am sure she will inspire you.

I Am More than My Labels  

Flash back to a Wednesday in May of 2008.  I was at work as a Nurse Practitioner, seeing my morning patients at a pediatric clinic. After noticing an unusual discoloration on my leg. I asked the lab tech to check my blood. The next thing I knew, I was being admitted to Emory Hospital with a diagnosis of acute leukemia. The following day, an IV line was put into my chest and my first chemo treatment began. I was told because my immune system would be taken dangerously low, that I would have to make many changes.

They are too numerous to mention but the major change involved living in isolation from germs. No more job, no church, no shopping. I had to deal with a devastating illness that turned my life upside down. The loss of many aspects of my life in so short a time was very hard to endure. The world as I had known it was gone in an instant.

My faith and family sustained me as I wandered through a fog that was now my life. I could hardly comprehend who I was–where I had ended up or where I was going.

My journey since then has had many bumps in the road. It is now almost 7 years later and I am recovering from side effects from a stem cell transplant. It hasn’t been easy. I have learned a lot about myself along the way.

The teaching about the iceberg was a real breakthrough for me. Looking at who I thought I was (the tip of the iceberg) represented to me over 20 losses that I had listed on paper. I had been going through life thinking my identity was gone. But as Ellen told me, looking inside (or below the water level)–I was SO MUCH MORE! Many attributes and qualities that were with me before the diagnosis are still with me today. In fact they aren’t just “with” me. They are growing and thriving.

If you haven’t tried looking at the massive part of the iceberg in yourself, I suggest you do it. Ellen was right–You Are More Than You Imagine.

Jan Mastin CPNP


Warm Regards,

Ellen Sichel

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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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Bonnie’s Sleep Improves with Breathing Practices

Bonnie’s Challenges

Bonnie had cancer and suffers with Fibromyalgia.  She is active, but struggles with chronic pain and sleep disturbance.  When I worked with Bonnie, we focused on a variety of breathing practices to help lesson her symptoms and improve her sleep.


What Worked

Bonnie states:

"As someone who has dealt with cancer, I am always looking for ways to minimize my stress level and to try to stay in a more relaxed state of mind. My times with Ellen have been very beneficial for me.  The power of breath is something I knew little about, and through her instruction, I have learned what a valuable tool it is during times of stress.  I have found myself doing the breathing techniques while waiting in a doctor's office. When I used to wake up during the night and couldn't get back to sleep, it meant being exhausted the next day.  Now, I simply do a couple of breathing exercises and am able to go right back to sleep.  Ellen's expertise and soothing manner enabled her to help me find a sense of inner calm that I had been missing in recent years."

What you can learn from Bonnie's Experience

There are simple techniques that sustain you in times of stress and discomfort.  Much of our problems with sleep stem from the busy mind and when you can effectively quite your thoughts, you will enhance your ability to sleep.  Custom Calm techniques work and are accessible to everyone.

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Meditation or Medication?

There is an ongoing story which has been captivating the attention of many.  Aimee Copeland has been fighting a flesh eating virus that has taken both hands and one leg.  Her story is inspiring.

What I found remarkable was the title and main concept of the most recent article:  “Victim:  No pain meds.  Ga. Woman battling flesh-eating bacteria opts for meditation.” 

Amy had been studying holistic pain management and did not like the effect the pain meds were having on her.

Many might wonder why meditation helps with pain.  It does not make the pain go away, yet it lessens the pain.  There are many types of meditation techniques and how I think it impacts pain is two-fold.

  1. When we quiet our mind we become less reactive, as our focus in within.   There is much evidence that supports the reduction of pain through learning how to ride the wave of pain, rather than judge and react to the sensations.
  2. With practice, meditation can quiet  your mind to the extent that the focus is no longer on the sensation, but it is deep within.  We are aware we have a body and thoughts, yet we are able to get beyond them to the vastness inside.

There are many articles and schools about meditation.   The medical community supports these practices and now refers to them as Complementary.  It is a viable avenue for dealing with stress, pain and illness and accessible to everyone.  

Let me know in the comments below if you have meditated and what your experience was.

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Unravel the Moods from Stress



In her book on yoga and depression, Amy Weintraub makes this statement, and I agree with her:

Managing your breath equals managing your mood. 

We are now inundated with the importance of breathing.  The yoga community and now the medical community are all supporting breath as a key to optimal health.  What is the big deal?

The January 24, 2012 Wall Street Journal article looked at the positive influences that non-harmful stress can have.  It is that feeling of being pumped up a bit, excited in a positive way that can increase blood flow to the brain and limbs.  However, we are unable to turn it off.  Stress envelops us producing harmful consequences to our health. 

Martin Rossman, a clinical instructor at the University of California Medical School explains:  People under harmful stress lose the ability to re-engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which drives the body's day-to-day natural functions, including digestion and sleep. While individuals vary in how long they can tolerate chronic stress, research shows it sharply increases the risk of insomnia, chronic disease and early death.

What this is telling us is that the moods swings propelled by stress can be controlled and we are the ones that have that power.  The sad thing is that many of us would prefer to simply take some medication to take care of the problem.  Yes, we need help with symptoms produced by stress but even the best medicine will not help if we are not proactive. 

There are many simple techniques that are effective and they do not cost a dime or take much time.  This is why I began Custom Calm-to make it attainable and easy to learn how to live with the ups and downs of stress, because stress is a fact of life. 

Why not give it a try?

Let me know in the comments below how you deal with stress?  What kind of impact do your moods have on your life?

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Mindfulness Practices Improves Stress Symptoms

Article:  Annals of Behavioral Medicine- 2010

Authors:  Branstrom, Kvillemo, Brandberg & Moskowitz

Background:  Increasing recognition of mindfulness and mindfulness training as a way to decrease stress and increase psychological functioning.

Objectives:  Examine the effects of mindfulness stress reduction training on perceived stress and psychological well-being.   

Methods:  Seventy one with previous cancer diagnosis were randomized into a control group and an intervention group that participated in an 8-week mindfulness training course.

Results:  Those who participated in the intervention reported significant positive effects on perceived stress, posttraumatic avoidance symptoms, and positive states of mind.

Conclusions:  Improvements in psychological well-being resulting from mindfulness stress reduction training are measurable, which is important for future research.

Custom Calm employs the same practices as researched in this and other studies.  The ease of implementation into daily life makes the integration of techniques manageable, directly improving daily living.

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